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U.S. federal deficit up 77 percent from 2018, DHS Secretary Nielsen faces grilling by House Dems, Cohen resumes testimony before House Intel Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D) California says Trump doesn't know what oversight looks like, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D) Michigan says she plans to file impeachment resolution this month, Satellite images show new activity at North Korean missile site, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) Marlyland plans to write DOJ to get to the bottom of report that Trump tried to block AT&T-Time Warner merger, Aired 10- 10:30 ET

Aired March 6, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:03]

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: White House is that that huge corporate tax cut with super charged economic growth to rein in the deficit. I mean, growth last year around 3 percent, that's good, right? But it's not the 4 or 5 percent that the President had most optimistically said and it's not reining the trade deficit -- the budget deficit rather here.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Well, and it never has, right? I mean, there are decades of history to back this up. But, anyway --

ROMANS: Deficits matter when it's -- deficits matter when the other party is in power. When your party is in power, suddenly, deficits don't matter again.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWS ROOM: Unreal.

SCIUTTO: Christine Romans, always good to have you.

HARLOW: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: A very good Wednesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto here in New York.

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. Another long awaited showdown about to get under way on Capitol Hill. Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, is coming before the House Homeland Security Committee at a time when Congress is very close to rejecting the President's national emergency claim at the southern border. Nielsen is expected to cite a surge in illegal border crossings in February to argue that the system is, in her words, severely strained.

Also on Capitol Hill, this hour and probably for several more hours to come, Michael Cohen, the President's former lawyer and former Trump Organization executive, was initially supposed to start his prison term today. Instead he's resuming his closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.

SCIUTTO: There will lots of questions for him. At the White House this hour, there is no comment on CNN's exclusive reporting that the President personally gave his daughter, Ivanka a top secret security clearance, this over the objections of career White House personnel screeners and the White House Counsel and the White House Chief of Staff. Presidential son-in-law and Middle East Peace Envoy, Jared Kushner, got the same preferential treatment from this President, much more on that in a moment.

But we begin this hour with Michael Cohen's return to the witness chair. CNN's Manu Raju is on the other side of the hearing room door. Manu, we're hearing that Cohen might make a public statement after this closed session testimony.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I actually asked him going into this closed-door hearing whether or not they brought any new documents to the committee as the democrats were expecting him to do. He said he didn't want to comment. He said he will make a statement afterwards. His attorneys also would not make a comment.

But the democrats, in particular, are very interested in whether or not the White House and the President's attorneys had any role in the false statements that he initially made to the same committee back in 2017 about that Trump Tower Moscow project, at the time he lied. He admitted to lying to the committee about his statements suggesting there wasn't much of a role by the Trump Organization or then- candidate Trump has been much more extensive, their involvement, according Cohen's own testimony.

They also want to know whether or not the President's team, legal team, had discussions with Michael Cohen about any potential pardons to essentially prevent him from flipping against the President after last year when Cohen's properties were raided. That's something that we'll see what comes out in this testimony.

Now, Adam Schiff is making it pretty clear that he wants this to be one part of a larger series of oversight activities by his committee. Last night, I got a chance to ask him directly about the President's concerns about what he's doing with his committee. Schiff responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), C.A.: The President has had two years of a Republican Congress that did no oversight, whatsoever. So he doesn't know what oversight looks like. There are all too many serious allegations of impropriety of the administration. And, you know, they have multiplied every day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: And, basically, we're expecting a lot more out of this committee, including whether or not what those communications were between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in those face-to-face interactions. Schiff on one of several committees demanding information from the President and the President's administration, we'll see what they turn over. We'll see if Schiff decides to subpoena for more information going forward. But, yes, today's testimony is just the beginning of a number of activities that this committee plans to ramp up. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: A number of investigations, no question. Manu Raju on the Hill, thank you very much.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House. And, Abby, what strikes me is that the President was clearly aware of how bad it would look for him to personally intervene for security clearances for his own family members, so he tried to pressure others to issue those clearances. When they refused, he did it himself.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Jim. The President, on two occasions now, that we have learned through our reporting and through the New York Times has tried to get his then Chief of Staff John Kelly and his then White House Counsel Don McGahn to do this for him, to grant these clearances over the objections of career officials.

Now, in this case, we're reporting this was done for his daughter, Ivanka Trump, whose clearance was being held up and for reasons we are not -- we are not exactly sure what those reasons are. But they were serious enough that those officials did not want her to have a clearance and Kelly and McGahn both refused to grant it over their objections, forcing the President to do that personally.

[10:05:07]

And this was coming at a time when people around the President were denying that he was having any involvement in this process at all. And as recently as several weeks ago, Ivanka Trump made this statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IVANKA TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: The President had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: That was obviously not the case. But people close to this process say that it's possible that Ivanka Trump may not have even known that this was happening on her behalf. But at the same time, it raises a lot of questions about the preferential treatment that the President gave to his children, his daughter and his son-in-law, and it is more fuel for these investigations that are going on on Capitol Hill.

One interesting part of all of this is that the President told his aides that he didn't understand why Ivanka and Jared wouldn't be given their clearances, because he believe they would be leaving the White House for New York within a few months. That was last year. Obviously, they are still at the White House working here in their post, working on a portfolio of issues. And now, these questions are at a fever pitch. The White House, for their part, is not commenting. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you.

Let's talk about all of it. CNN's Senior Political Analyst, Senior Editor for The Atlantic, Ron Brownstein, is here, and former Federal Prosecutor and CNN Legal Analyst, Renato Mariotti. How did I do?

SCIUTTO: You did well.

HARLOW: Usually, Sciutto says it a lot better. Good morning, gentlemen.

Ron, to you, this is not on the security clearances, an issue of whether the President can do it. He can and our reporting is he did. This is an issue of should he do it? Was nepotism at play? Why were there concerns about issuing these security clearances, et cetera? So at this point, what are the implications of our reporting that the President pressured his senior staff to do it and then just did it against their will?

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: And then lied about it publicly. And even Ivanka Trump, you know, if she didn't know that he intervened. That isn't what she said. She didn't say, I don't know whether he intervened. She said he didn't intervene as a kind of affirmative statement. So it implies that she believed or was simply misleading that he was not involved.

Look, I just go back to 2016, I go back to the exit polls. Roughly a fifth of the people, in some polls, maybe a quarter of the people who voted for Donald Trump did so with some hesitation. They wanted change. They wanted a business executive in the White House. They wanted to shake things up. But they had doubts about how he would run the government, whether he had the temperament and experience to do so.

And I think all of these deviations from presidential norms, all these kind of breaking of the rules of presidential behavior, like the use of profanity in his CPAC speech last weekend, the questions about his veracity, you know, with the incredible number of statements including this that have been judged to be misleading or flat out lies. All of that, I think, causes at least some of those voters to go back to their original doubts and say, this may be just a little more than I bargained for.

SCIUTTO: Well, we'll see if the party is sticking with him today. You know, let me ask you about this. Beyond the President intervening in a way that even he knew would look bad, right, you had intelligence agencies that have concerns about Jared Kushner. We know the nature of those concerns. He has foreign business entanglements. He had -- he tried to open a secret channel, a back channel with Russia. We also know that they have concerns, we don't know specifically what they were, about Ivanka. How serious is that for intelligence, because intelligence agencies don't express those concerns about potential senior White House officials without having something to back it up? RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It's very interesting. I think that, first of all, it may tie in to the counterintelligence investigation which is ongoing. Obviously, Robert Mueller has taken some of the mantle on that. But I suspect that Kushner's ties, for example, that worried the CIA and other intelligence agencies may have been to other countries, like Saudi Arabia.

To me, what we're seeing now is really the consequence of having democrats in control, because you have investigations of matters that might not have been investigated otherwise. In other words, you know, Kushner, to the extent that he has ties with Russia that haven't been disclosed, we're going to hear about that in the Mueller report or certainly Mr. Barr is going to hear about it in the Mueller report, whether or not that's disclosed.

But there are other potential contacts here that may have worried the CIA that may not have been explored by Mueller. And now, I think the public is going to hear about them, and it is. It's certainly something there, going to the political point, that I think is going to be very concerning and problematic.

HARLOW: So, Ron, when it comes to this sweeping, broad investigation by House Oversight, these 81 entities and people so far on this list, I thought it was interesting what Newt Gingrich said, quoted a few times on The Washington Post overnight.

[10:10:08]

He said on this. He said, what the President will do is he will, first of all, respond grudgingly and slowly then he will negotiate. They will be subpoenaed. They will take it all the way up to the Supreme Court here.

And I guess that's, you know, the view of -- I mean, imagine how long that would take, by the way. But do you believe that is the White House strategy at this point?

BROWNSTEIN: I think the strategy is to try to run out the clock as much as possible, absolutely. I mean, look, we know from the 1974 Supreme Court decision on the Nixon tapes, that executive privilege is not an absolute right. There are limits to it. The court said he had to give up the tapes. We don't know exactly where the boundaries are.

And I suspect that this administration is going to be extremely aggressive, enforcing the courts and the Congress to define the boundaries each time. That's why I think you could see a dichotomy here where the folks in the private sector in kind of Trump world, in his private sector life, in business, his business, his charity, et cetera, don't have the executive privilege defense. They have fewer defenses. And they may go to court as well. But you could see the investigations move faster into some of those fronts, whereas the investigations directly into his activity that could be covered by executive privilege may be tougher.

I would say though that there's a third lane here, which is what we're seeing this morning, which is the -- which is I think is what the country had in mind above all last November, the oversight of how they have executed the basic functions of government, the idea that something as explosive as a child separation policy on the border did not receive any serious oversight under the Republican Congress is really the symbol of their abdication of that role. And I think this hearing today is really the kind of third lane that you may see quite a bit of in these coming months in addition to the investigation into Trump's own personal activities.

SCIUTTO: There are, Renato, a lot of investigations going on right now, particularly in a democratically-led House. Democratic Congressman Rashida Tlaib going to a space that democratic leadership, at least to this point, has been reluctant to go, which is impeachment. She said she'll soon be filing an impeachment resolution in the House of Representatives. Is this something that democratic leaders want now?

MARIOTTI: I don't get that sense from listening to Speaker Pelosi and hearing her comments. I actually think there's a great wisdom there. So when I was a prosecutor, I would investigate and prosecute a lot of cases. But if I knew I was taking on someone who is going to be fighting back very hard, I would make sure I had it locked down before I brought those charges. And here, there's that old saying, when you shoot at the king, you better not miss, right?

So I think Pelosi realizes she has one shot at this. She's, I think, being very careful and prudent. What I see now is investigations beginning and, as he just mentioned a moment ago, those investigations are going to take some time because I think there is going to be an effort on the other side to obstruct, to run out the clock.

So I think they're gathering information. Whether or not they make a decision in the short-term remains to be seen.

SCIUTTO: Ron Brownstein, Renato Mariotti, thanks very much to both of you.

HARLOW: Where is the accent on that one?

SCIUTTO: I think you give him a break [ph].

HARLOW: All right. On a very serious note, to North Korea, new satellite images appear to show North Korea may be rebuilding this long-range missile launch site around the time that that Trump-Kim summit failed that significant. This as CNN gets new information about those failed talks. We'll have exclusive reporting ahead.

SCIUTTO: Happening now as well, the battle over border security heating up on Capitol Hill. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen facing questions, tough questions before a democratic-led House panel.

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[10:15:00]

[10:18:05] HARLOW: All right. So this morning, the White House is continuing its strategy of slamming the democratic investigations into the President. Here is Sarah Sanders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They continue to be a group that is totally taken by a small, radical leftist fringe of their party and they're completely controlled by it. They know that's not enough to beat this president, so they're going to look for other ways to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Something tells me that democratic Senator, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, disagrees with that. He joins me now. Good morning to you, sir. And let me ask you about this, that Sarah Sanders' take, the President's take is this, and I quote him from yesterday, I'd rather see them doing legislation, instead doing infrastructure, healthcare. Instead of doing many things they should be doing, they want to play games. Are you at all concerned about the optics here for democrats that this can be spun as a fishing expedition?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), M.D.: No, I'm not, Poppy. And let me start by the fact that the House just the other day passed a major gun safety piece of legislation to provide criminal background checks to make sure that dangerous people don't get guns. The President says he wants legislation. I hope he'll announce his support for that legislation so we can actually do some legislation in the Senate too.

What's happened, Poppy, is you had a number of years when the House of Representatives just did not do its job with respect to oversight. In fact, you had republicans cheerleading wrongdoing out of the White House. And now, you have people who want to be transparent and hold the President and the White House accountable. And this White House doesn't like accountability.

HARLOW: So on that front, there is investigating and then there is articles of impeachment, right, that would be brought by the house. Just moments ago, your democratic colleague in the House, Rashida Tlaib, freshmen congresswomen in Michigan, told reporters she will soon be filing an impeachment resolution in the House.

[10:20:01]

At the same time, there's a new Quinnipiac poll. I think you've seen it. It shows only 35 percent of voters think Congress ought to begin the impeachment process. You yourself said people are not itching to get into impeachment of President Trump, quote, that is not good for the country. Is she moves too quickly on this, Senator?

HOLLEN: Well, Poppy, as you know, other democratic House members have also filed similar pieces of legislation. What matters is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she doesn't think we should be moving forward with impeachment. What we should be doing is what the House Committees are doing, which is holding hearings to get to the truth, get the facts on lots of important issues in order to hold the administration accountable. So we have the Mueller report coming still. Of course, the administration hasn't told us whether Congress will get it. So Congress may have to subpoena that. But there are all these other issues that have come up with regarding the Trump Organization and the possibility that it was used for money laundering from the Russians. Those are all important and national security-related issues that the country needs to know about. And so these are investigations where the House is doing its job.

HARLOW: So it's pretty clear, you're leader, Pelosi, has camped on this one in terms of not moving forward with articles of impeachment yet rather than Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib's at this moment.

HOLLEN: That's right.

HARLOW: Let me get you on North Korea. We learned overnight from the satellite images released that the North Koreans appear to be rebuilding parts of this long-range missile launching facility. This is according to two prominent Washington-based think tanks. You along with Republican Senator Pat Toomey have reintroduced a bill that would institute tougher sanctions on North Korea. It's the Brink Act. What would it do and what's your reaction to these satellite images?

HOLLEN: Well, Poppy, what we've seen is that as The President has engaged in these conversations with Kim Jong-un, the North Koreans have, first of all, continued with their nuclear enrichment program. That's according to the IAEA, the International Energy Association. And now we learned that they may also be sort of reconstructing one of their missile launch sites.

So Senator Toomey and I thought it would be very important to file this legislation. What it would do is apply what are called secondary sanctions, so not just sanctions on North Korea, but if you're a bank or business anywhere in the world and you're doing business with North Korea, watch out because you won't be able to do business with the United States. These are the kind of sanctions we imposed on Iran in order to bring Iran to the negotiating table. And it's way overdue that we pass this legislation.

There's been a lot of leakage in the sanctions regime. In fact, the President has acknowledged that China and others have essentially been looking the other way and helping North Korea. So this legislation sends a strong statement, we've got to be united, we need to be tough.

HARLOW: Okay. Because -- just listen to what we heard from National Security Adviser John Bolton on Fox Business News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We're going to see a lot of potential decisions coming out of North Korea, whether they're serious about the talks, whether they want to get back into them and, fundamentally, whether they're committed to giving up their nuclear weapons program and everything associated with it. That's what we think they need to do. If they're not willing to do it, then I think President Trump has been very clear, they're not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them and we'll look at ramping those sanctions up, in fact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Was that comforting for you to hear, Senator?

HOLLEN: Well, on the one hand, John Bolton says there, quote, crushing economic sanctions. But in the next sentence, he acknowledged that we're not doing everything we can. We're not applying maximum economic pressure. We shouldn't have to wait on the administration for this, that's why Senator Toomey and I reintroduced this.

By the way, this bill passed the Banking Committee last session. It was put on pause when the President began his discussions with the North Koreans. But now that clearly those talks have gone nowhere, we cannot be letting North Korea off the hook in terms of these big loopholes that have cropped up in the sanctions regime. And we need to apply tougher sanctions to accomplish our ultimate goal, which is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

HARLOW: Senator, before you go, I want to ask you about a Tweet that you wrote. And you noted it's about the AT&T-Time Warner merger, of course, Time Warner being the parent company of CNN, and the reporting that the President intervened multiple times to try to get the DOJ to stop it, right? The reporting going to Gary Cohn, Chief of Staff John Kelly, to get them to stop it but they didn't act on that. You wrote that you are going to write a letter, a request for information to the Department of Justice. What component of the DOJ are you sending that letter to and what information are you requesting, meaning, what's your key question here?

[10:25:05]

HOLLEN: Well, we will be sending it to the new Attorney General. The key question is, what kind of political influence did the President try to assert over this process. Look, there can be legitimate reasons to be worried about a merger on the merits, but what is totally outrageous and unacceptable is for the President of the United States to abuse his power to direct the Department of Justice to try to punish an entity, whether it's CNN or any company or anyone, because the President doesn't like the content or the conduct of a particular company. That is a total abuse of power. Those are the kind of questions we'll be asking of the DOJ, what did the President try and do. We know he instructed Gary Cohn to make those calls and others. We want to find out if anybody from the White House tried to put their thumb to tip the scales of justice on this issue.

HARLOW: All right. Senator Van Hollen, please let us know what you hear back on that, okay?

HOLLEN: Absolutely, will do.

HARLOW: Thanks for being here. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Quite a strong statement from him, no question. On another story, this exclusive to CNN, new details about the failed nuclear talks in Vietnam, sources telling myself as well as my colleagues us that North Korea's Vice Chairman snubbed Secretary of State Pompeo ahead of the President's sitdown with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Pompeo had hoped to get a feel in advance for how receptive North Korea was to concessions, the negotiations. Of course, we know the end result.

But we are also finding out that in the final moments after the, quote, walk between the two leaders, Trump was preparing to leave his hotel when North Korea made a last ditch attempt to reach a deal on at least some sanctions relief.

CNN's Kylie Atwood joins me now. She along with our colleagues, Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Diamond, worked together on this report. Kylie, explain the significance here. Because it strikes me what this shows is there was a big swing from this kind of snub at the beginning to kind of a last ditch attempt to rescue the talks at the end.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Jim. I mean, these new details that we have reported out demonstrate just how fickle and unpredictable the North Koreans can be. Obviously, that has been something that has been the case for negotiators from the U.S. side for years and years, from one administration to the next. But it is very true with the North Koreans as they have engaged with the Trump administration. A stunning new detail we have learned that Secretary Pompeo was left waiting for a few hours, hoping to meet with Kim Yong-chol ahead of the Hanoi summit with Trump and Kim Jong- un.

Now, obviously, someone has pointed out to me, you know, what could Kim Yong-chol and Pompeo really have accomplished on the eve of this summit? Kim Jong-un was on his way, so was Trump. But that said, they were really not meeting with him. It left a bad taste in the Secretary's mouth. It left him frustrated. And then there was a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the negotiations from North Korea. They came back to the U.S. with some new commitments. It was something that had been discussed, but they were trying, U.S. officials believe, to try and seal a deal. It was too little and it was too late for the U.S. side. And Trump said that he just needed more when he spoke with reporters.

SCIUTTO: And, of course, it raises the question now, where do you go from here. And it's a very open question at this point. Kylie Atwood, great to work with you on this story, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Yes, great reporting. It continues to come out even after the summit and after he walked away.

All right. So take a look at this, live pictures of Capitol Hill. You've got DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen up there, the highest Trump administration official yet to testify this year on immigration policies. We'll bring you what is expected to be a contentious back and forth between her and this democratic-led committee, next.

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