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White House Pushes Back on Investigations; Trump Organization's Insurance Broker Hit With Subpoena; Most Voters Believe Trump Committed Crimes. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 5, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And pushback this hour from the Trump administration, those in response to growing congressional investigations into the president.

First, Democrats getting their first outright rejection from the White House. They're asking for more information about security clearances, like that of Jared Kushner.

Also, CNN has new reporting that the White House is working behind the scenes to mitigate the trove of documents requested from some in President Trump's inner circle, letters, you may recall, sent out to 81 people and entities within the president's orbit.

Mr. Trump for his part publicly condemning the inquiry just moments ago. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I guess we got 81 letters. There was no collusion. It was a hoax.

There was no anything. And they want to do that, instead of getting legislation passed; 81 people or organizations got letters. It's a disgrace. It's a disgrace to our country. I'm not surprised that it's happening. Basically, they have started the campaign, so the campaign begins.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee says he won't hesitate to issue subpoenas if he needs to.

Let's go through these developments.

CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger is with us now.

Gloria, always good to see you.

So, let's start with what we're hearing most recently. At the White House, perhaps not surprising that we're seeing the pushback, and one would imagine the Democrats were preparing for it, but this is really the first indication of how ugly things could get and how quickly that could happen.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's a very strong pushback from Pat Cipollone, who's the White House counsel, to Chairman Cummings' demands on security clearance issues.

And the White House counsel says that the committee has not established any legitimate legislative purpose for wanting all of these documents. And Cipollone calls it unprecedented, extraordinarily intrusive, and says that the committee, what it really wants to do is examine the entire investigative files of numerous individuals whom the president has chosen as his senior advisers.

In other words, he's saying, you're going on a fishing expedition here, and we're not going to let you do it because you haven't established a legislative reason that you actually need all of this information.

HILL: Although, what we're hearing, of course, from Chairman Cummings is that this is all -- what this is about what is separation of power.

BORGER: Exactly.

HILL: And this is about oversight. And this is about Congress doing its job.

BORGER: Right. And he says, we just -- we have the authority to do this and that it defies the constitutional separation of powers, as you were just saying, and it also defies decades of precedent by the committee and, as he put it, and just plain common sense.

So, you can see that these two sides are far apart. There is some talk of some kind of accommodation that Cipollone says he was seeking and the chairman said he was seeking, so they can figure out a way to get around this. But, really, Erica, this is a sign of things to come.

I don't think the White House is going to let these things just flip by and say, oh, sure, oh, sure, we're going to give you everything you want. They're not.

HILL: Well, what is also interesting, too, that we get this on the same day that we hear from two lawmakers who say they want to now call for an investigation into the security clearance of Jared Kushner.

And you put that all together in one day, and it's only 3:03 on the East Coast. Who knows what else could happen this afternoon, Gloria?

BORGER: Right, right. It's a lot.

And I think there's a question here of whether the Democrats need to start coordinating what they're doing, so they don't look like, and as the president talked about overreach, so they don't look like they're out there just trying to gather every morsel 10 times.

They have to coordinate with each other, because there is overlap of jurisdiction on these committees. HILL: Right. And that's been some of the criticism, right, not going

too broad in the beginning.

BORGER: Exactly.

HILL: So, that you end up shooting yourself in the foot.

What is interesting, though, as you point out, there is some overlap. And I think we're still trying to figure out where that overlap is. Certainly, some of the committees are.

BORGER: Right.

HILL: But it is interesting to see, today, as we learned about this new hire from Adam Schiff, Daniel Goldman, who he's bringing on, with this history of fighting Russian organized crime. That is a very clear message that we're seeing there from House Intel.

BORGER: You think? It's very clear. This is somebody who has prosecuted Russians, who has prosecuted the Genovese crime family.

So, you have the sense that Adam Schiff is going in a certain direction. It's very clear that he sees, and he has said it, parallels between the Trump family and the mob and that, of course, Russia is at the center of this investigation.

So, as he staffs up, the White House takes a look at this and says, you know, you're just out to get us and we know which direction you're headed.

HILL: And what's interesting, too, is, we're seeing all of this movement in just the last 24 hours. It's also yet another clear indication that Democrats are not waiting on Robert Mueller.

[15:05:07]

BORGER: No.

I think they would like -- I think, honestly, Erica, they'd like to see Robert Mueller like today, but they're not going to, or maybe, and so they have decided they can't wait.

They have to continue to sort of move, but it's also clear that they're coordinating. They want to make sure that they're not stepping on the Mueller investigation or the Southern District of New York's investigation into Trump.

I mean, after all, they say that they don't want to endanger any of those, but they do have to get organized. They do have to send out these requests. And when the Mueller report comes out, there's going to be another fight, because, of course, they're going to want to see the whole thing. And it seems very likely that the new Attorney General Barr may just give them a summary, and that's not what they want.

HILL: They will not be happy with that. That is for sure. BORGER: No.

HILL: Gloria Borger, always a pleasure. Thank you.

BORGER: Thanks, Erica.

HILL: All right, let's take a look.

As we talk about all of the different people and the players, these 81 layers -- letters, rather, to different people and entities.

Rhona Graff is President Trump's longtime personal assistance, largely seen as the gatekeeper of Trump Tower and, as we dug up in some old CNN footage, clearly, the president's right-hand woman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Rhona, let me have the calls, please.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: CNN political correspondent Sara Murray has been digging in a little bit more into that video, 1989.

She worked for Donald Trump for a long, long time, Sara. What more do we know?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. She's worked for him for decades.

She is an executive assistant, but her title and her responsibilities in the Trump Organization have grown. And she obviously earned Donald Trump's trust over the years. And there's a reason that they call her the gatekeeper.

And it's because, more often than not, if you wanted to get to Donald Trump, you had to go through Rhona Graff first. Donald Trump is someone who does not use text message, he does not use e-mail, and he's obviously someone that a lot of people throughout the course of his business life and certainly his political life, people have been trying to get him on the phone.

And so the phone calls would first go to Rhona, and for a while she even had this sort of coded system that she would sometimes use if it was someone who really needed to get through to Donald Trump. She knows a lot about his schedule. She obviously knows about his communications, about who he's talking to when and was in her own way very powerful.

HILL: And so what sort of documents could House Judiciary be asking for when it comes to Rhona Graff? Is it the schedule? Could it be phone logs?

MURRAY: Well, they basically asked her for a laundry list of communications, anything to do with payments to Michael Cohen, anything to do with payments to the parent company of "The National Enquirer," any potential Russian business deals with the Trump family business, Trump Tower Moscow project, any communication she was involved with that had to do with that 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

We know there was at least one e-mail where she was referenced from someone who was trying to set that up, saying, I can go through Rhona to do this. And we also saw, when Michael Cohen was testifying on Capitol Hill, he was talking about how he was saying Roger Stone called and wanted to talk to then candidate Trump about WikiLeaks. And then that phone call may have gone through Rhona Graff.

They asked her for any communications involved with WikiLeaks. It's an open question, how much of this she actually has, how much of it she will be willing to turn over. And if they're simply call logs, that might not be something that she has available.

That might be something you have to go to the cell phone company to get.

HILL: Right.

MURRAY: You can tell by the way these requests are written, there's a reason some of these folks are calling it a fishing expedition. They're very long, they're long, long requests about documents that maybe exist or maybe don't.

HILL: Oh, so many questions. Sara Murray, good to see you. Thank you.

Up next: Nearly two-thirds of voters now believe President Trump committed a crime before taking office, that coming to us from a new poll. We will take a closer look at what that means as campaign season heats up.

Plus, we're joined by a translator who's been in the room with some of the world's most powerful leaders. What he thinks about the Democrats' new push to interview the interpreters who were in the room with President Trump and Vladimir Putin.

And, later, a teenager who defied his parents' wishes to get vaccinated speaking on Capitol Hill today. His message about the rise in preventable diseases.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:13:48]

HILL: Early polling suggests the 2020 election will be all about Donald Trump. And the numbers show, that could be bad news for the president.

CNN senior political writer and analyst Harry Enten has the breakdown for us -- Harry.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICAL SENIOR WRITER AND ANALYST: Yes, so let's take a look. This is a key thing in the NBC/ "The Wall Street Journal" poll. Look,

here, we have the approval rating for Donald Trump at 46 percent, his disapproval at 52 percent. That's like most of the other polls that we have seen out there, where the president is more unpopular than he is popular.

But the big question heading into 2020 is, how does that actually translate into the horse race, how does it translate into the Democrats vs. Trump? And this I think is rather key. Look at this.

We have the Democratic candidate, according to this "The Wall Street Journal"/NBC News poll, leading with 48 percent to Trump's 41 percent. Why is that important? Because look here. The gap here is 7 percentage points. And if you look at the prior gap of Trump's approval rating, minus his disapproval rating, it was six points.

We basically see that those two numbers are very highly correlated, which is something that's key, because that means that this election right now in the minds of voters is a referendum on the president of the United States. And what that translates to is that if Donald Trump is going to win this election, it means he has to make it a choice between the Democratic candidate and himself.

[15:15:00]

These poll numbers suggest he's not doing that at this point. And why is that important? It's important because the president has consistently had an approval rating below his disapproval rating. And in order to win, he has to make it a choice. He's not doing that.

This is not 2016, when the president was able to win his first election, despite the fact that his favorable rating was 38 percent. He's actually more popular now, but this election is turning into a referendum on the president of the United States. And unless he gets his approval rating up, he cannot win in such a scenario.

HILL: Harry Enten there, Harry, thank you.

Another new poll builds on the trouble for President Trump. Quinnipiac just releasing these numbers a short time ago, which show 64 percent of voters believe Donald Trump committed crimes before he was president.

But take a look at this as well. Just 35 percent of voters support moving ahead with impeachment proceedings.

CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers is a "USA Today" columnist, and Ana Navarro is a CNN political commentator.

As we look at all of this, and specifically just at those new numbers, 64 percent say, yes, we believe the president committed crimes, but only 37 -- 35 percent, rather, support impeachment. This is a place where Democrats, Kirsten, have to tread carefully.

Can you hear me?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: You cut out for a second. Was that for me?

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: That was for you.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: Technology.

HILL: It's a beautiful thing, especially when it works.

POWERS: Yes.

HILL: But I was just posing to you in terms of these numbers, you can take a look at one part of that in terms of the crimes, but the other part in terms of whether or not people support, voters support moving ahead with impeachment, that is potentially a slippery slope for Democrats.

POWERS: Yes, I think, even without this poll, Democrats know that. Many of them lived through the impeachment of Bill Clinton and saw how badly that went for Republicans.

And it's a similar situation right now, in the sense that, even if the House was able to impeach him, the way they did with Bill Clinton, the Senate wouldn't convict Donald Trump, the same way they didn't convict Bill Clinton. And so you don't have any bipartisan consensus on the issues.

And if you didn't have bipartisan consensus, you really would have to have a slam-dunk reason to do it. And so I think they are treading carefully. And I think they are going to treat this as oversight, but be very cognizant of the fact that there was an election and there will be another election coming up where people can actually voice their feelings about Donald Trump.

HILL: Oh, and that election is looming large, isn't it?

Ana, as we look at all of this, we heard from the Trump campaign, where we heard already this new line that's coming out there, well, you know, it's sort of back to the, oh, it's all rigged. Things don't work out in my favor.

We know this playbook. We have seen it used multiple times before by the president, by the folks around him. But there are also a lot of Republicans who live in reality and who appreciate the world of facts. How do they then counter that and still maintain a certain amount of support that they need in the party?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, the Trump campaign and the Trump world is -- they are experts at pre-gaming and at spinning.

And, yes, remember when they talked about everything being rigged. It turns out they were right. Everything was rigged. It was rigged for them. They had the help of the Russians. They were rigging polls. We have now found out that, in effect, Donald Trump was saying the truth when he said that things were rigged.

What he wasn't saying is that he was the beneficiary of that rigging. Look, you know, I think what we are seeing right now is that, yes, people have to tread carefully, but I also think -- I think Kirsten's right.

People remember Bill Clinton. Donald Trump is not going to get impeached, and people are not going to react to the payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels or to a Playboy bunny. But if we're talking about working together with Russia in order to hack democratic institutions in the United States and compromise the integrity of the election, I think that's an entirely different array of crimes, because that goes into a level of national security and treason that sexual peccadillos do not.

People think he's committed crimes. I'm not sure they know exactly which crimes. I just don't -- it's what we've seen over and over again. The American people do not believe -- the majority of them -- that Donald Trump is honest.

And we have seen time and time again evidence of malfeasance, pushing the envelope, crossing the line, bending the laws to benefit them. To me, it's about what crime, if any, is revealed under the investigation?

HILL: In terms of these investigations, what may be revealed, one of the names that is not on this list of 81 people and entities that is getting a lot of attention, as we know, is Ivanka Trump, who, let's be honest, not only, of course, is the first daughter, but a senior adviser to the president who was a part of the campaign, intimate knowledge of the Trump Organization.

Kirsten, do you think this is a political move by Democrats, that they are perhaps treading carefully in that respect, even scared to go after Ivanka Trump at this point?

[15:20:07]

POWERS: Well, I wouldn't take it to mean that they will never go after her, but I think that it is obviously something that would have been, you know, sort of the nuclear option with Donald Trump, I think.

It would be something that, as much as he doesn't like what's happening right now, I think if Ivanka was involved with it, it would really provoke him in a different way. And I also think, you know, for whatever reason, you know, people feel more sympathetic towards her and more sympathetic towards her than they do towards her brothers.

I don't entirely understand that, but that is the way that it is.

NAVARRO: I do. Her brothers are insufferable. And they're constantly, you know, attacking people on Twitter. They are constantly inserting themselves into this debate for no apparent reason. You see both brothers and even one of their spouses say things which

are purposefully offensive. I think Ivanka tries to stay above the fray.

Look, even though she may not be part of the 80-plus names that Democrats are seeking information from, she is part of some of the investigations and things that are being looked at by the Southern District of New York.

And, you know, that is something that she does have to worry about and where she does have some vulnerability.

HILL: We're seeing the White House -- which is not surprising -- the White House push back, but really got a sense of what's to come just a short time ago today, when we heard from the White House in terms of requests for certain documents.

And they said, listen, no, there's no -- literally no -- in our estimation, there is no legislative purpose behind this, so you're not going to get it. We're hearing from Chairman Cummings, who says this is all about separation of powers, this is about Congress doing its job.

That pushback, Kirsten, isn't surprising, but what do you think it's really setting up in terms of a battle based on everything else that's been asked for in the last 24 hours?

POWERS: Well, I just think this is normal. This is what happens when you start trying to get these kind of documents really from anybody, frankly. They will fight back.

But I think, in particular, when you have, you know, two branches of government going at it, the first thing they're going to do is, they're going to try to deny access to every single thing, and they have every reason to fight it.

In fact, I think that's actually mostly normal behavior. You will give up what you feel comfortable giving up. But you are going to make sure that you're holding a pretty hard line to make sure that there can't be -- a fishing expedition is always the fear, which is generally what these things turn in to, so people will want to try to hold the hardest line they can.

NAVARRO: And I do think that there is and there could be a legislative purpose to all of this, because, look, we have issues like the Emoluments Clause.

Should there be legislation that tightens that up? We have issues like nepotism laws. Should there be legislation that tightens that up, so you don't have a father-in-law that can push through a security clearance for a son-in-law who otherwise would not get it?

Should there be a law requiring that all presidential candidates and certainly nominees release their taxes, so that the American people have transparency and can see who and what they are voting for and if there are any financial compromises? There definitely is in my eyes a legislative purpose and things that

Congress should be looking at.

HILL: Ana, Kirsten, thank you for being with us.

And, before we let you go, congratulations to our newlywed, Ana Navarro, on your wedding over the weekend.

NAVARRO: Thank you.

Kirsten is engaged.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: Beautiful.

NAVARRO: Kirsten, it ain't easy to put a wedding together.

(LAUGHTER)

NAVARRO: Call me, girl. What a production.

HILL: She will help you with the planning.

Thank you both.

And just a reminder, CNN will host three Democratic presidential candidates for back-to-back town halls. That happens this Sunday night right here. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash will moderate the live discussions with John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Pete Buttigieg, from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. It all kicks off at 7:00 Eastern, and only on CNN.

We are getting more breaking news. "The New York Times" now reporting the Trump Organization's longtime insurance broker was just issued a subpoena, this after Michael Cohen's explosive testimony.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:28:51]

HILL: Breaking news, "The New York Times" reporting the New York state -- New York regulators, that is, have just issued a sweeping subpoena to the longtime insurance broker for the Trump Organization.

The company, Aon, is one of the largest brokerage firms in the world. And the subpoena, of course, comes less than a week after President Trump's long time personal attorney, Michael Cohen, alleged that as, a private citizen, Trump inflated its assets, the Trump company inflated its assets, that President Trump inflated assets, for insurance purposes.

And I just want to play for you that exchange that happened before Congress. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: I want to ask a little bit about your conversation with my colleague from Missouri about asset inflation. To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Yes.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Who else knows that the president did this?

COHEN: Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman, and Matthew Calamari.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: And where would the committee find more information on this? Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them?

COHEN: Yes. And you would find it at the Trump Org.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: So, that's apparently what kicked things off.

Joining me now on the phone, CNN legal Analyst Elie Honig, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.