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Sanders Kicks Off 2020 Presidential Campaign in Brooklyn; Trump Slams Russia Probe, Dems, Jeff Sessions & Rallies Base; ; Trump Rallies Base as Sanders Rolls Out 2020 Message; GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz Being Investigated by Florida Bar for Possible Threats to Michael Cohen; SDNY Investigates Trump Organization Payments & Inaugural Committee. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired March 2, 2019 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[13:00:00]

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I), VERMONT & DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The United States will no longer snatch babies from the arms of their mothers.

(CHEERING)

Today, we say to the 1 percent and the large profitable corporations in America, listen up because this applies to you. We say to the 1 percent in large corporations that under a Bernie Sanders administration, you are not going to be getting more tax breaks.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Quite the contrary. We're going to end your tax breaks and your loopholes. You are going to start paying your fair share of taxes.

(CHEERING)

(CHANTING)

SANDERS: We will no longer accept the absurd situation where large multibillion-dollar corporations, like Amazon, Netflix and General Motors, pay nothing in federal income taxes.

(BOOING)

SANDERS: And we're not going to allow these corporations and the billionaires to stash their money in Cayman Islands and other tax havens. Yes, the wealthy and multinational corporations will start paying their fair share of taxes. We're going to end austerity for working families and bring a little austerity for the wealthy and the powerful.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Today, we say to the military industrial complex --

(BOOING) SANDERS: -- that we will not continue to spend $700 billion a year on the military, more than the top-10 nations combined.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: We're going to invest in affordable housing.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: We're going to invest in public education.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: And we're going to invest in our crumbling infrastructure.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: No more major, major investments in never-ending wars.

(CHEERING)

(CHANTING)

SANDERS: Brothers and sisters, we are going to win this election not because we have a super PAC funded by billionaires.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: We are going to win this election because we are putting together the strongest grassroots campaign in the history of American politics.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Donald Trump wants to divide us up based on the color of our ski skin.

(BOOING)

SANDERS: Based on where we were born.

(BOOING)

SANDERS: Based on our gender.

(BOOING)

SANDERS: Based on our religion our other sexual orientation.

(BOOING)

SANDERS: What we're going to do is exactly the opposite. We are going to bring our people together.

(CHEERING) SANDERS: Black and white, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, gay and straight, young and old, men and women, native born and immigrant, we are together.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: And together, we will transform this country.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: If I might take a moment, as I return here to the area that I was born, let me say a few personal words. As we launch this campaign for president, you deserve to know where I came from because family history obviously heavily influences the values that we develop as adults. I was born literally a few miles away from here, on East 26th Street and Kings Highway.

(CHEERING)

[13:05:06] SANDERS: And my family and I lived in a three-and-a-half- room rent-controlled apartment.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: My father was a paint salesman who worked hard his entire life but never made much money machine, and my mother raised my brother and me. I learned a great deal about immigration because my father came from Poland at the age of 17, without a nickel in his pocket, without knowing one word of English. He came to the United States to escape the crushing poverty that existed in his community and to escape widespread anti-Semitism. And it was a good thing that he came to this country because virtually his entire family was wiped out by Hitler and Nazi barbarism.

I am not going to tell you that I grew up in a home of desperate poverty. That would not be true. But what I will tell you is that coming from a lower middle-class family, I will never forget about how money or really a lack of money was always a point of stress in our family. My mother's dream was that, some day, our family would move out of that rent-controlled apartment to a home of our own. That dream was never fulfilled. She died young while we still lived in that rent-controlled apartment. My experience as a child living in a family that struggled economically powerfully influenced my life and my values. I know where I came from!

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: And that is something that I will never forget.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Unlike Donald Trump, who shut down the government and left 800,000 federal employees without income to pay their bills --

(BOOING)

SANDERS: -- I know what it is like to be in a family that lives paycheck to paycheck.

Now it is true, I did not have a father who gave me millions of dollars to build luxury skyscrapers, casinos and country clubs. I did not come from a family that gave me a $200,000 allowance every year, beginning at the age of 3.

(BOOING)

SANDERS: As I recall, my allowance was 25 cents a week.

(LAUGHTER)

But I had something more valuable. I had the role model of a father who had unbelievable courage of journeying across the ocean with no money in his pocket to start a new and better life.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: I did not come from a family of privilege that prepared me to entertain people on television by telling workers, "You're fired."

(BOOING)

SANDERS: I came from a family who knew all too well the frightening power employers can have over everyday workers.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: I did not come from a family that could afford to send my brother and me to an elite boarding school. In fact, I was educated proudly in high-quality public schools here in Brooklyn.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: And began my higher education right here on this campus.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: I should also mention that my brother, Larry, graduated from Brooklyn College.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: I did not come from a family that taught me to build a corporate empire through housing discrimination.

(BOOING)

[13:10:07] SANDERS: I protested housing discrimination.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Was arrested for protesting school segregation.

(CHEERING) SANDERS: And one of the proudest days of my life was attending the March on Washington for jobs and freedom led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Brothers and sisters, over the last two years and before that, you and I and millions of Americans have stood up and fought for justice in every part of our society. And we've had some successes. Together, as billionaires and large corporations, unions destroyed pensions, deregulated the banks and slashed wages, we have succeeded in raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour in states and cities all across this country.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: And together, we forced Amazon and Disney Corporation to do the same.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: And together, we have stood with teachers all across this country --

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: -- who went out on strike to fight for better schools for their kids.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Together, as the forces of militarism have kept us in never ending wars, we have stood together and fought back. For the first time in 45 years, we have utilized the War Powers Act to move us forward to end the horrific Saudi Arab-led war in Yemen.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Together, as so many of our young people have received criminal records for nonviolent offenses, we have fought to end the war on drugs and have seen state after state decriminalize the possession of marijuana.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: And are beginning to see states and communities expunge the records of those who were arrested for marijuana.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: We have won some victories. But clearly we have a long, long way to go. And I'm here to tell you that because all of the work we have done together, we are on the brink of not just winning an election but transforming our country.

(CHEERING) SANDERS: And let me tell you a little of what that means. When we are in the White House --

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: -- we will enact a federal jobs guarantee to ensure that everyone in this country is guaranteed a job.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: There's more than enough work to be done in this country. Let's get it done.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: When we are in the White House, we will attack the problem of urban gentrification.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: And build the affordable housing this country desperately needs.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: When we are in the White House, we will end the decline of rural America.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: We will reopen rural hospitals that have been closed.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: And we will make sure that the young people in rural communities have decent jobs so that they can remain in the communities that they love.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: When we are in the White House, we are going to end the epidemic of gun violence in this country.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: And we will pass the common-sense gun safety legislation that the overwhelming majority of Americans want to see.

(CHEERING)

[13:15:00] SANDERS: When we are in the White House, we are going to address not only the national disparities of wealth and income, but the racial disparities of wealth and income.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: We are going together to root out institutional racism wherever it exists.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Not only will we end the cowardly outrage of voter suppression, we're going to make it easier for people to vote, not harder.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: When we are in the White House, we are going to protect a woman's right to control her own body.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: That decision is a woman's decision --

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: -- not the federal government, not the state government, not the local government.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Please make no mistake about it, the struggle that we are undertaking is not just about defeating Donald Trump. This struggle is about taking on the incredibly powerful institutions that control the economic and political life of our nation. And let me be very specific. I'm talking about Wall Street.

(BOOING)

SANDERS: I'm talking about the insurance companies.

(BOOING)

SANDERS: The drug companies.

(BOOING)

SANDERS: The military industrial complex.

(BOOING)

SANDERS: The prison industrial complex.

(BOOING)

SANDERS: The fossil fuel industry.

(BOOING)

SANDERS: And a corrupt campaign finance system that enables billionaires to buy elections.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Brothers and sisters, we have --

(CHANTING)

SANDERS: Brothers and sisters, we have an enormous amount of work in front of us. And the path forward will not be easy. The wealthy and powerful elite, who decade after decade, have gotten everything they want will do all that they can to defend their financial interests. And they have an unlimited amount of money at their disposal.

But we have something that they do not have. We have the people together.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: So this is what I believe. This is what I believe from the bottom of my heart. If we do not allow Trump and his friends to divide us up, if we stand together, black and white and Latino, Asian- American, Native American, if we stand together, urban and rural, north, south, east and west, if we stand together, not as red state and blue state but as working people fighting for dignity --

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: -- if we stand together believing in justice and human dignity, if we stand together believing in love and compassion --

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: -- if we stand together, brothers and sisters, the future of this country is extraordinary and there's nothing we will not be able to accomplish.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Thank you all very much.

(CHEERING)

(SINGING)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Bernie Sanders, to an excited crowd there in Brooklyn, pledging his focus on his second attempt at winning the White House, focusing on economic, racial, social issues, environmental justice. You heard him there talking about the benefits of standing together.

[13:20:05] CNN's Ryan Nobles in Brooklyn where Senator Sanders has just wrapped it up, but taking to the stage there with his wife, Jane.

So what stands out, what seemed to touch that audience there, Ryan?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN REPORTER: You know, Fred, I think what was most interesting about what Bernie Sanders had to say here today was that lot of what he spoke about was similar to what he talked about in 2016. He talked in economic inequality, he talked about trying to level the playing field, make corporations pay their fair amount of taxes. He talked about reproductive health rights for women. All those things he said in 2016.

There was a small portion of the speech where he got personal and he asked the crowd, if you don't mind for a second, can I get personal. And this is not something that Bernie Sanders is comfortable doing. And he talked about growing up just a few miles from here, in Brooklyn, in a rent-controlled apartment. He talked about how his parented struggled to make ends meet. And he quickly juxtaposed that against Donald Trump and Donald Trump's background. He essentially made the argument that, because he grew up in a working-class background and that his parents lived paycheck to paycheck, that he understands the plight of the American people on a day-to-day basis much better than Donald Trump does.

And we talked to his advisers for several weeks up to today and they talked about how they really wanted to make this a part of Bernie Sanders' campaign. But it was going to be difficult because it just simply is something that Bernie Sanders doesn't like to talk about.

And actually we have a clip of him talking about that here. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: My experience as a child living in a family that struggled economically powerfully influenced my life and my values. I know where I came from.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: And that is something that I will never ever forget.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: Unlike Donald Trump, who shut down the government and left 800,000 federal employees without income to pay their bills --

(BOOING)

SANDERS: -- I know what it is like to be in a family who lives paycheck to paycheck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: So that's exactly what we're talking about. And, Fred, what was interesting about that part of the speech, as I was following his prepared remarks ahead of time, you know, you could tell that he was reading that to make sure he get through it correctly. But that one section where he got the most passionate where said, he basically screamed, "I know where I came from and I won't forget that," that was not a part of his prepared remarks. So you could tell that came from a deep place and he wanted to emphasize that point. And up until that point, this crowd was pretty quiet, especially during that section listening to him kind of tell his story, and the crowd erupted after that.

So the challenge here for him, Fred, is that many of the folks that support Bernie Sanders to do because of those policy positions and because he's never really waivered on those many different areas. What his campaign is hoping is that they can take it to the next legal, that personal connection between those voters can bring more people behind him. And then at the same time, drive home that vote so he cannot only win the Democratic Party, but also win the White House.

And is this a big difference for him. He got into the race the last time almost as a protest candidate because he was concerned that no one to challenge Hillary Clinton. He was more about pushing the progressive issues that were out there. This time around, it is not about that. He said he was not going to get in to this race unless he could win the White House. This is the start of that campaign that they believe this time around, Fred, that they can win.

WHITFIELD: So, Ryan, it was notable because, among the pledges that he was making, in step with what you were saying, leveling the playing field, he says, you know, no more private prisons, no more profiteering from locking people up, no more war on drugs that have destroyed so many lives, no more keeping people in jail because they are too poor to afford cash bail. And by the way, when we talk about criminal justice reforms, we will change a system in which tens of thousands of Americans every year get criminal records for possessing marijuana. He is not the only candidate who is talking about criminal justice reform. And if you look at the 2016, that is exactly how Hillary Clinton kind of opened up her campaign there in New York as well. And I heard similar language, "together," that use of the word "together." Hillary Clinton used it. Bernie Sanders using it today, standing together. Yet, it is Bernie Sanders who, you talked about challenges, will he be challenged with really differentiating himself from the other candidates. And also differentiating him as a candidate to that 2016 race.

[13:25:27] NOBLES: Yes, I think, on all fronts, Fred. You mentioned criminal justice reform, and I think that is an important thing to point out, because part of Bernie Sanders' problem in 2016 was that he never really got passionate support from the African-American community. That was a particular problem for him in the Deep South where Hillary Clinton essentially ran the table with the black vote, especially in South Carolina. He is trying to fix that. They have a much more diverse senior adviser staff that are behind him. You saw the group of speakers that introduced him. Three out of the five speakers were African-Americans. And criminal justice reform is obviously one of the most important issues impacting the African- American community. So he wants to make a special note of that.

What his supporters would tell you, and Shawn King, who is a prominent civil rights activist, who spoke before him, will point out this is something Bernie Sanders has always been supportive of, but hasn't necessarily highlighted that. He's been much more concerned about putting economic inequality to the forefront. This time around, he won't hide that position. It will be one of the big things he talks about everywhere he goes.

To the other point about uniting the Democratic Party, that remains a problem for Bernie Sanders. There are a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters that are still upset with the way 2016 went done and they feel that perhaps his role hurt her chances against Donald Trump. That is definitely an area that he will need to repair. And has to talk a lot more about uniting the Democratic Party and pushing forward if he wants to win this nomination -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: Ryan Nobles, thank you so much, in Brooklyn.

So as Senator Bernie Sanders vows there from Brooklyn to defeat Donald Trump in 2020, calling him the most dangerous president in modern- American history, President Trump is rallying his base at a conservative conference where the crowd started chanting "four more years."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CHANTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: The president hit on all of his favorite topics: Democrats, the media, the Russia probe, and he also slammed the "Green New Deal." And mimicked former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, while getting big laughs and applause from the crowd there.

Let's check in with CNN's White House reporter, Sarah Westwood.

So tell us more about the content, the tenor of the president's speech.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, President Trump is delivering a speech that sounds a lot like some of his early campaign appearances. It is freewheeling, off-the-cuff. Going from topic to topic. The president clearly reveling in the attention from this very enthusiastic crowd. It is striking a familiar tone of grievance, that Democrats, Never Trump Republicans, the media never giving him credit for his administration's many successes. And despite this being the first time we've seen him after he returned from those failed North Korea talks in Vietnam, the president is still playing up his skills as a deal maker, going into an extensive rift about his success, in his eyes, on the China trade negotiations.

Trump also spending a lot of time going after Special Counsel Robert Mueller saying Mueller never received a vote, neither did Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. As you mentioned, and mocking Attorney General Jeff Sessions and claiming that the forthcoming Mueller report will vindicate him. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's inspect every deal he's ever done. We're going to go into his finances. We'll check his deals. We're going for check -- these people are sick.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: They are sick. I saw Little Shifty Schiff yesterday --

(LAUGHTER)

No, it's the first time. He went into a meeting and he said, we're going to look into his finances. I said, where did that come from? He always talked about Russia, collusion with Russia, the collusion delusion.

(LAUGHTER)

So now we're waiting for a report and we'll find out whether or not, and who we're dealing with. We're waiting for a report. People that weren't elected, we have people that lost and, unfortunately you put the wrong people in a couple of positions, and they leave people for a long time that shouldn't be there.

[13:30:00]

And all of a sudden, they are trying to take you out with bullshit. OK?

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: With bullshit.

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: Now Robert Mueller never received a vote. And neither did the person that appointed him. And as you know, the attorney general said, I'm going to recuse myself.

(LAUGHTER)

And I said, why the hell didn't he tell me that before I put him in. How do you recuse yourself?

But the person that appointed Robert Mueller never received a vote. Robert Mueller put 13 of the angriest Democrats in the history of our country on the commission. How do you do that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Trump may have been eager to change the conversation after a week of tough headlines. He walked out on to that stage and hugged the American flag there, perhaps the first indication that this would be a lively speech. It's his third appearance at a CPAC event that he loves doing.

The speech is still ongoing, Fredricka, and we have yet to hear him address other hot-topic issues, such as that failed North Korea summit -- Fred?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Sarah Westwood, thank you so much.

We'll hear more from President Trump and discuss all of that after a break.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:35:42] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Happening right now, President Trump is speaking to conservative voters, rallying his base ahead of the 2020 race for the presidency.

And Senator Bernie Sanders just wrapped up his first campaign rally as he races for the White House, 2020.

Let's discuss all of this now with White House reporter for the "Washington Post," Toluse Olorunnipa, and national reporter for the "Washington Post," Wesley Lowery, and CNN presidential historian, Tim Naftali.

Good to see all of you.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: So, Wesley, we have competing ideas, messages, leaders, now taking place near simultaneously. Bernie Sanders pledging to level the playing field. How is he going to distinguish himself from a pack that is growing? Right now, 11 running for that Democratic ticket. All this while the president wants to maintain his post at 1600.

WESLEY LOWERY, NATIONAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Of course, it was remarkable. I was thinking as I was watching Bernie Sanders, I was thinking back to his announcement for the last presidential run and I was covering Congress on the Hill and got the press release that Senator Bernie Sanders was going to be outside the congressional building and announce his presidential run and I went to lunch because I didn't have time to watch Bernie Sanders announce his presidential run. Imagine how much the world has changed. We now have Bernie Sanders in front of thousands in Brooklyn, laying out an expansive platform, laying out a biography of who he is. So much of his last run was about in opposition to the kind of Democratic establishment, to Hillary Clinton specifically. And this was a much more traditional campaign launch where he is defining himself and his biography and where he came from and contrasting himself personally --

WHITFIELD: And why does he feel like he needs to do that?

LOWERY: In part, I think because there was a sense the last time around that in a many ways Bernie Sanders was a candidate who caught the car, right, dog who caught the car, that he was essentially a protest candidate who, because it was a two-way race, and who brought some ideas that were very different than Hillary Clinton in the race, that he really caught fire. But I don't think at the beginning of the 2016 race he so personally defined himself. So some of the things that he got caught up on, he has issues with black voters, was defining who he was, what his track record was, what his fluency was with some of these issues. So now fast forward a few years and he is someone who has near universal name recognition, somebody with a donor base and supporter base. Again, this sounded much more like a traditional launching of a frontrunner-type campaign as opposed to someone saying, well, if no one else will run against Hillary, I'm going to do it.

WHITFIELD: And, Toluse, we heard Bernie Sanders drawing some comparisons. Sometimes he named the president, sometimes he just made references to the president's upbringing of privilege versus his own upbringing of his dad being an immigrant from Poland, coming with not a nickel, and how they lived in a rent-controlled apartment until the death of his mother, and how difficult that was. How does that resonate, you know, with the voting public while at the same time you had the president, you know, talking about and criticizing the Democrats now looking into his personal finances and, potentially, making issue of that?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, you have Bernie Sanders really trying to position himself as leader of a political revolution and making a target of President Trump's voters, who said that they were voting because they wanted to blow up Washington and put somebody in there looking after the forgotten man and woman with. And now Bernie Sanders is trying to target those voters, saying that President Trump got into office and ended up governing like a conservative who gives tax breaks to the wealthy, does deregulation that benefits corporations, but doesn't do as he said he would for the forgotten man and woman. And Bernie Sanders is really targeting those voters by saying that I grew up in a working- class community, I grew up not having a $200,000 allowance like President Trump did, and really calling President Trump to task over some of his policies, but also his personal biography. And we're learning more about the president's personal business now that the Democrats are digging in to his finances and taxes and years and years of potential wrongdoing. I think that you will see Senator Sanders really try to dig into that and look at how different President Trump is from the voters who said that they wanted him to look after the forgotten man and woman. And Bernie Sanders will have the opportunity to call the president to task for the policies he's pursued that in some cases have benefitted the wealthy and not the working man and woman.

[13:40:30] WHITFIELD: And, Tim, while Bernie Sanders is trying to impress that he is looking forward, you have the president at that CPAC conference who really complaint shake the 2016 race. He apparently even made reference while there about that moment where he challenged Russia if you are listening find those Hillary Clinton e- mails. And he tried to explain while there today, at the National Harbor, in Maryland, he says, I was just being sarcastic, it was a joke. So what is he doing? Why does he feel like he wants to continue to relitigate these moments or rewrite the script or rewrite the history?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Maybe only a psychologist can explain. But one thing that I think the president knows is that it works with the crowd he is speaking to. They loved it. They ate it up. As the president said, you know, I won because I went off script, and that is what I like to do. So he was basically throwing red meat to folks that wanted to listen to him. There was something very interesting today, one of those -- again

another split-screen day. Donald Trump has transformed the Republican Party. He had people cheering for protectionism. He had people cheering for his view of foreign policy. Both of which are totally Anathema to the conservatives that reshaped the Republican Party in the Reagan years. Bernie Sanders is seeking the nomination of a party that is different from the way it was four years ago. There are issues that Bernie Sanders talks about where he was the only one making this point at the national level four years ago and he isn't anymore. In fact there are a number of folks that have similar talking points, not the same talking points. Today, Bernie Sanders positioned himself to the left of all the other candidates running for the Democratic nomination. He made some promises that Elizabeth Warren has not made. So what is very interesting is that he is presenting himself as the left-wing disrupter while the president is saying that he is the right-wing disrupter.

WHITFIELD: So you see it as a real evolution of both leading parties, and particularly, the Republican Party as long as President Trump is president. Is this the party of Trump or are you see the Republican Party has changed and will continue to see more of the same of this party?

NAFTALI: Well, there's a struggle and a debate within the Republican Party. At the moment, the structure of the party is Trumpist. And so the messaging of the party is Trumpist. But as we saw in 2018 in the midterms, Republicans, there are many Republicans who are uncomfortable with Trump and they voted -- either they didn't vote or they voted for Democrats. So just as I would say the soul of the Democratic Party is going to be defined over the next year and a bit, the soul of the Republican Party at the moment seemed Trumpist.

WHITFIELD: Wesley, you're nodding. You're in agreement?

LOWERY: Certainly. The president is the president. He is the leader of the party. And we've seen from the elected officials down to 20, 30, 40 percent of the Republican base folks have lined up behind president. You have folks who were extremely upset about things like the use of executive power, you could think of people like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, who have now lined up behind President Trump. Folks who were supposed Institutionalists like, Senator Mitch McConnell, said screw the rules, whatever Donald Trump wants is what we'll do. You have conservative voters who spent the entire '90s attempting to impeach president Clinton over marital infidelity, who they tried to portray as not intelligent enough. And now they are lined up behind Donald Trump. So now, it is clearly the party of President Trump.

WHITFIELD: We'll leave it there.

Wesley Lowery, Toluse Olorunnipa, Tim Naftali, thanks so much.

NAFTALI: Thanks, Fred.

[13:44:39] And still ahead, the president has more to worry about than just the Russia investigation. New York prosecutors have their own investigation that could bring new damning evidence to light. Details on that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: A single tweet now triggering a torrent of backlash. Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz is being investigated by the Florida Bar and potentially the House Ethics Committee for that now infamous tweet he posted. Michael Cohen testified before the House Oversight Committee and Gaetz seemingly threatening the president's former lawyer with completely unsubstantiated claims about Cohen's marital fidelity. And after the testimony and widespread condemnation, Gaetz apologized to Cohen personally and publicly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MATT GAETZ, (R), FLORIDA: (INAUDIBLE) -- to oversight. But I think, upon further reflection, we should leave peoples families out of this. My issues with Michael Cohen and truthfulness should not include his family. And it's my belief that I could have chosen my words more carefully and I should not mention people's families in the context of congressional work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[13:50:18] WHITFIELD: Criminal defense attorney, Richard Herman, is here, with his Mardi Gras decor, joining us from New Orleans.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: -- along with me --

RICHARD HERMAN, CRIINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Happy Mardi Gras.

WHITFIELD: All right, happy Mardi Gras.

And Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney and law professor joining us from Cleveland.

AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: Not dressed in Mardi Gras attire.

WHITFIELD: All right, not, but the spirit is there. I'm with you.

So, Richard, let me begin with you.

You know, the Florida Bar Association, what kind of action might it take, as a result of this action?

HERMAN: Fred, no lawyer wants to be investigated by any Bar Association or grievance committee in any state. No lawyer wants that, Fred. And Matt Gaetz has an open investigation in the state of Florida. The Grievance Committee, the Bar Association, regulates a conduct of attorneys. And they're going to look at this tweet, and they're going to look at the threat posed by the tweet and they will make a determination whether that violates any of the ethical standards they impose on Lawyers. If they make an determination that it did, there will be hearings and activity taking place that will take place. If they find him guilty, what will happen is he could either -- he could be thrown out, he could be censured, he could be suspended, he could be disbarred, and there could be a criminal referral, if they believe it rises to the level of a federal crime. So it is not good for any lawyer, especially this guy, Gaetz, who seems to have lost all sense of reality, in his cult-like attraction to Trump and --

FRIEDMAN: Well --

(CROSSTALK)

HERMAN: -- and suspension of intellectual through.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: The bottom line is your behavior, as an attorney, you know, your behavior, your vernacular, all of it counts --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: -- even if you're not talking about a case that you are involved in.

As far as we know, Matt Gaetz is not involved in any way in a case or representation of anyone involving Michael Cohen, but you're exuding your personal opinion, the way in which you did via tweet, is egregious enough for any kind of Bar Association, Avery?

FRIEDMAN: Oh, absolutely. Look, the bar investigations are very serious, Fredricka, and if there's egregious ethical violations, there's a referral by the bar to the prosecutor. So the bar deals with ethical misconduct, and the criminal prosecutors, or federal prosecutors will deal with criminal, and there's a connect here.

You know what is really interesting about this, he apologized but then sent a spokesperson out and, Fredricka, the spokesperson said, well, the investigation is frivolous. No, it is not.

The other interesting thing about it is that, guess who referred a call after the tweet? Right while President Trump is dealing with North Korea, he takes time out time out in Hanoi, if you can believe this, to call Gaetz and say, basically, thank you, and Gaetz admits, I did it for you, Mr. President. So there, the most important thing here, is the intentionality, Fredricka, and the intentionality has ethical implications and criminal implications.

WHITFIELD: Gaetz said more on FOX last night in this interview. Listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GAETZ: Absolutely not. It is witness testing. When people come before the Congress with the intent to perpetuate their continuous lies, we have an opportunity and, I would say, an obligation to test who those people lied to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, Richard, what do you think about that? What's with that?

HERMAN: He's not, Fred, he's not the tester this. This guy is a complete moron, OK? The federal courts and the law enforcement take very seriously anybody's attempt to intimidate or coerce or obstruct justice, by reaching out to potential witnesses who are going to testify.

FRIEDMAN: Right.

HERMAN: I've seen people get five years in prison for this, Fred. This is very, very serious. And the operative language in the tweet that he made was, "Your wife's going to find out soon."

FRIEDMAN: Right.

HERMAN: That's bad for this guy, Fred.

(CROSSTALK)

HERMAN: I don't care how you color this, that is witness intimidation at a minimum.

WHITFIELD: It is hard for people not to see that as witness intimidation or a threat, right, Avery?

FRIEDMAN: That's right. And let me -- there's another part of this, of course, he apologized afterwards, whether or not he was sincere. Let me tell you something, that may or may not be a mitigator, that doesn't neutralize the crime or the unethical behavior. But when the spokesperson comes out and says it is frivolous, it basically trivializes the behavior. So where he gets off saying, well, this is witness testing, there's no such thing, Fredricka. It doesn't work. Either it's tampering or intimidation.

HERMAN: That's for cross-examination.

FRIEDMAN: The Bar Association will refer, I think, to law enforcement.

WHITFIELD: Or maybe, too, that's kind of the hope, or that's his hope that people will turn around and think it is not a big deal if you tell people it is frivolous.

FRIEDMAN: I don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

FRIEDMAN: I don't think so.

[13:55:08] WHITFIELD: OK.

Avery, thank you very much.

And, Richard, as well. Enjoy Mardi Gras.

HERMAN: Happy Mardi Gras. It's the place to be. Zulu rides Tuesday, Fred.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: Mark the calendar.

FRIEDMAN: I'll be with you in spirit. You bet.

WHITFIELD: Have a good time. And be safe.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much, you guys.

So the legal investigations into "all things Trump" just hit a whole new turning point. Federal prosecutors in New York may now pose a more immediate threat to the president than the special counsel's Russia investigation. The Southern District of New York is already investigating the president's Inaugural Committee. And the SDNY is seeking to interview Trump Organization executives. You remember Michael Cohen gave additional names, if they didn't already have them.

This is the same office that led the investigation into the president's former fixer Michael Cohen's financial dealings.

And this week, Cohen suggested in his testimony that his former boss is the subject of more federal investigations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP RAJA KRISHNAMOOTHI, (D), ILLINOIS: Is there any other wrong doing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven't yet discussed today?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yes, and again, those are part of the investigation that is currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: One reason the president may have more concern is because the SDNY prosecutes all kinds of, SDNY prosecutes all kinds of cases and is not limited to some parameters similar to some portions of the special counsel's Russia investigation.

Let's bring in Lis Wiehl, a former federal prosecutor.

Good to see you, Lis.

When you were watching, or listening to Michael Cohen's testimony, what portions made you, you know, wince, aghast, draw on the floor, what?

LIS WIEHL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, all of them. You know, the pandora's box was really opened when he was talking about, look, obstruction of justice, we knew about Stormy Daniels, but when he brought up that check, then we have corroboration. You can't believe anything that Cohen says boldly on its face because he is known to be a liar. But obstruction of justice that was corroborated. Then, of course, he is credible in the sense that he brings forth the, not only the check, but then he says, you know, he was directed to lie, lie in his testimony to Congress. Well, who directed him? Trump's lawyers directed him. That could be then tampering with a witness. That is then obstruction of justice charges that could be brought by Congress.

Then you also look then at, as you were talking about, you know, the bigger challenge to Trump, potentially, could be with the Southern District of New York. And what does the Southern District of New York have? They have grand jury subpoenas. Grand jury subpoenas are looking into, as we know, even money laundering. Money laundering? Grand jury subpoenas? Wow, you know. You can't, you can't indict a sitting president, but you can indict the Trump Organization. That is a big something that we really hadn't been thinking about, as much, until we looked at the Cohen testimony.

WHITFIELD: Which also helped underscore the potential reach and why his family members --

WIEHL: Absolute.

WHITFIELD: -- who are part of the Trump Organization. Even if they have temporarily removed themselves from day to day operations, they still are subject to, under the umbrella?

WIEHL: Absolutely. Absolutely, of course. They still are employees, high directors of the organization, are still under the umbrella of that. That grand jury subpoena -- and of course, grand jury is under the rule, very secret. Grand jurors are sworn to secrecy. Everybody is under that umbrella. Statute of limitations, they vary depending upon the crime. But, wow, that is a broad reach for the grand jury, and sometimes, in some respects, more dangerous for the Trump Organization.

WHITFIELD: Is it your view though that Michael Cohen revealed more? It's just lawmakers were hearing it perhaps for the first time, but SDNY, they already know all the stuff.

WIEHL: They already know. They already know.

WHITFIELD: They already know this stuff.

WIEHL: Yes.

WHITFIELD: So it may not necessarily promote, I guess, new investigations, would it?

WIEHL: No, I don't think so. Because he was already cooperating with Mueller. He was already cooperating with SDNY. But what I found was very, very interesting, was that the Republicans on the committee, you know, they didn't believe anything that this witness had to say, except for one statement, and that was about the collusion. You know, you can't, you can't cherry pick what a witness says, in my estimation, so it is only one statement that they would believe and nothing else?

WHITFIELD: Except that if a person is serving time because they're admitting to having lied, and they come back again to speak, does that -- that material now make it more believable? Because they're already paying the ultimate price?