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Cohen Provided Documents Showing Edits to 2017 False Testimony He Made; Trump Pushed Staff to Grant Security Clearance to Daughter; Homeland Security Chief Grilled about Family Separations And Sexual Abuse; Interview with Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D) Michigan; A Second Judge Blocks Trump's Census Citizenship Question; War Escalates Over Document Demands And Will Likely Go to The Supreme Court; North Korea Missile Site Activity After Failed Trump Talks. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 6, 2019 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Erica Hill in today for Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN and we begin this hour with breaking news out of Washington where on a day when he was supposed to report to prison, Michael Cohen is instead back on Capitol Hill in a closed door session with the House intelligence committee and with him today new documents which show edits to his false, written statement about the Trump tower/Moscow project a statement he gave to the same committee in 2017, but not before Cohen says the President's lawyers made the edits, a claim Cohen made last week in his public testimony before another House committee.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR THE PRESIDENT: There were changes made, additions, Jay Sekulow for one --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were there changes about the timing --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman's time is expired. You may answer.

COHEN: There were several changes that were made including how we were going to handle that message, which was --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you finished?

COHEN: The message, of course, being the length of time that the Trump Tower/Moscow project stayed and remained alive.


HILL: Jay Sekulow called Cohen's allegation that's Trump's lawyers edited or changed his statement to Congress completely false. Cohen's repeat appearance today on the hill is just one of a number of oversight efforts by House Democrats, the House judiciary committee, of course, kicking off the week with an explosive list of 81 people and entities in President Trump's orbit that they want answers from as part of broad investigations including they're asking for answers from his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who's on that list, but not his daughter Ivanka, a senior adviser. This too as there is new reporting from CNN about the President's hand in security clearances for both Jared and Ivanka. There is a lot to get to. Elie Honig is a former attorney and a CNN legal analyst. I want to start first with this new reporting from Manu Raju about Michael Cohen showing up today with these documents. So, they reportedly show edits to the false written statement that he delivered to Congress in 2017. I do want to point out we don't know exactly at this point what they show was specifically changed but if you're hearing this, if you're watching this, if you're the President's attorneys or the President, how concerned are you?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Somebody ought to be very concerned here. We don't know exactly who, but somebody. DOJ gave us a very important clue on this. When Mueller put in his sentencing memo for Michael Cohen, he was listing the various topics that Cohen had cooperated about of significance and one of those was the, quote, circumstances of preparing and circulating his false Senate testimony. So that tells me a couple things. First of all, you do not list that as a prosecutor unless it's something you believe, first of all. Mueller believes and presumably has proof that there were others involved in circulating and viewing this testimony. The other thing is, you don't list it in someone's cooperation agreement if they acted alone. It doesn't count as cooperation if Michael Cohen just says, I did this all by myself. There has to be somebody else involved. Now who that person is up to conjecture but somebody needs to be very worried right now.

HILL: We don't know specifically what was changed, what if the statement that was already there was false to begin with, what does that do for Michael Cohen?

HONIG: Yes. One of the key legal issues is what we call materiality, was the change something that mattered or was it something peripheral, were they tweaking the grammar or syntax. If it was changed from something that was true to something that was false back to January, that's exactly what Michael Cohen pled guilty to lying about. If somebody else scratched out that date and made it earlier, that's big trouble.

HILL: It'll be interesting to see as we learn more about that. We will continue to follow that as we learn more from Capitol Hill throughout the day as well. I also want to bring in another voice here to talk about the other legal issues we're looking at today. Bradley Moss specializes in security clearance law and we brought you in specifically, Bradley, because CNN does have this new reporting about President Trump, that he pressured John Kelly and the White House Counsel Don McGahn at the time to give Ivanka Trump security clearance despite both men recommending against it and that, of course, is directly at odds with what Ivanka Trump said in an interview with ABC just a couple of weeks ago. Take a listen.


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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, no special treatment? IVANKA TRAMP: No.


HILL: There are a lot of things that are possible here. It's possible Bradley that she did not know at all. We do know the President has the authority to grant security clearance but as you look at all of this in the reporting there about the pressure, what does it raise in terms of concern for you?

BRADLEY MOSS, SPECIALIZES IN SECURITY CLEARANCE LAW: It raises the very obvious concern that legitimate security risks, things that would stop a normal person applying for a clearance to get one to be granted that access were overlooked, were glossed over and ignored because the President wanted to give this access to his daughter and to his son- in-law and this is why we had an anti-nepotism law.

[14:05:11] This is what we always feared was going to happen that when you brought these two in that it didn't matter what security was going to say, the President was going to overrule them and if that was the case, why did we bother going through the vetting? If there was no way he was going to accept no, why did he waste everybody's time? The President had the authority to just grant them these clearances, but he didn't. He put them through the process and when security said, no, this is too much, there's too many foreign contacts, too much foreign finance, he went I don't care. Get it done. Give them the access any way.

HILL: We know the House has raised questions about security clearances, the White House pushing back on some of those yesterday basically saying that this is complete overreach here, this is nothing to do with legislation. Chairman Cummins coming back and saying this is about oversight, separation of powers, insert Congressional duty here. With this latest reporting, what does that do to those requests? Does it add any more meat to them or is it --

HONIG: This is a preview. We'll see a lot of this over the coming months where one of the House committee's requests documents, the White House -- one of the strategies seems to just stonewall. The response to the request about Jared Kushner was a string of technical style objections from the White House. The next step is are we going to see a subpoena? If we see a subpoena, then we'll see rubber meet the road then we'll be in court fighting over the scope of these requests and whether they can be compelled to turn them over.

HILL: Just in terms of security clearances, remind us who actually needs them. Ivanka Trump is a senior adviser in the White House. Is that a position that would require security clearance at a very high level?

MOSS: Not necessarily, but it all depends on the nature of your portfolios and your responsibility. Jared Kushner is obvious. With Ivanka Trump it's not quite clear what her portfolio encompasses beyond things such as paid leave, things that are very important but more of a domestic side, she had to go through the vetting, she had to submit the paper work and just like everybody else, she should have been adjusted on the merits whether or not there was a legitimate security concern that warranted denying her but that did not happen here.

HILL: Appreciate it, thank you both.

The crux of the President's national emergency declaration taken to task today on Capitol Hill as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was grilled over the President's push for a wall at the southern border. The asylum process and the deaths of migrant children in the U.S. custody. Democrats also outraged that Secretary Nielsen still could not provide them with the number of migrant children currently separated from their parents.


REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D), CHAIRMAN, HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Are we putting children in cages as of today?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Children are processed at the border facility stations that you've been at, some of them --

THOMPSON: And I've seen the cages. I want you to admit that the cages exist.

NIELSEN: Sir, they're not cages.

THOMPSON: What are they?

NIELSEN: Areas of the border facility that are carved out for the safety and protection of those who remain there while they're being processed --

REP. NANETTE BARRAGAN (D), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Can you give me the numbers of how many children have died?

NIELSEN: Yes, I can, if you give me one second. I don't want to misspeak but this last year -- or so far this year we've had three --

BARRAGAN: So far? Are you expecting more children to die?

NIELSEN: I just want to be accurate.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Any asylum seeker who comes to a port of entry, you basically have -- let me tell you madam secretary, either you're lying to this committee or you don't know what's happening at the border? Did you initiate the separation of families for the express purpose of deterring families from coming to the United States?

NIELSEN: No, I did not. Again, the whole purpose of that was to increase consequences for those who choose to break the law. Did we increase the number of prosecutions? We didn't make up the law, the law was already there. Former administrations referred adult parents for prosecution. We took the prosecution numbers from about 20 to about 55 percent.


HILL: That last lawmaker who you just saw there is with us now, good to have you with us today.

SLOTKIN: Thanks for having me.

HILL: In that questioning, Secretary Nielsen was asked about the number of children separated from their parents, a number she said she had but not with her. Did it surprise you at all that those numbers were not readily available?

SLOTKIN: It did. I'm someone who spent a lot of time testifying in front of Congress before I became a Congresswoman and I assumed she knew she would ask that question so I was a bit surprised she didn't have the number at hand.

[14:10:03] HILL: At one point the secretary was also asked about the sexual abuse that is happening during the journey for some of these folks and she said that DHS gives a pregnancy test to every girl over the age of 10 once they are in custody. Can you tell us any more about that and why they are giving pregnancy tests to girls 10 and over?

SLOTKIN: Yes. She talked at length about the horrible situation we're in with the trip from these Central American countries all the way up to our border and how much risk there is to young girls, really heavy reports of sexual violence against women and girls, so they've taken this decision as a precaution, I guess. No one disagrees that it's a perilous journey to go from these countries and that's what she was emphasizing.

HILL: As you said, no one disagreed it was a perilous journey, do you agree the pregnancy tests are necessary?

SLOTKIN: I don't know. It surprised me. I think that they're probably just trying to make sure that if people are coming to the border, particularly given how much focus there is on the medical situation with these folks, that they just do everything to make sure they know what's going on.

HILL: Were you satisfied over all this morning with the answers you were getting?

SLOTKIN: I got to tell you, you know, I'm a former CIA officer and Pentagon official, I've worked on preventing homeland attacks my entire life, I'm a big believer in border security but the issue of separation of families at the border of young kids being taken away from their parents, it's just a moral issue that we as American -- we don't want representing us and I was not satisfied that she got it, that she understood that people, no matter what the policy was, no matter what the law was, that we don't put kids in cages. I found that lacking and I just feel like as a country we can't accept that.

HILL: There's been a lot of talk about the most recent numbers and as you point out, you have a lot of experience when it comes to what is happening at the borders with security. CPB reporting that 76,000 people were apprehended crossing illegally or without papers in February. That's the highest number over the last dozen years or so. What are you attributing that increase to you?

SLOTKIN: I was really surprised. All the media focused on the border would deter people from coming and the fact that the numbers are up is really disturbing. I think part of that has to do with what's going on in their home country. They're just fleeing, they're leaving terrible situations, they want hope and they see us where hopefully they can have a life for their kids but I was really surprised by that. I'm from Michigan so we're a non-border state and it's just something we're all paying attention to figure out why it's happening. We don't know yet.

HILL: As you're trying to understand all of these things, as you're trying to get everybody on the same page about what needs to be done, is the focus in the right place at this point in terms of the conversation that is happening in Washington?

SLOTKIN: Well, listen, I think it's unfortunately become a hot potato. Again, I was trying to direct the secretary to focus on the northern border not just the southern border. There's way more people on the watch list coming through our northern border. I think the focus on the southern border has met that we've taken our eye off the ball in other places where we're doing extremely important work and I think it's taken an issue that should be front and center, the security of our country, and made it too political.

HILL: I do want to just get your take on this as well. Your colleague in the House, Congresswoman Tlaib Is planning to impeach the President, do you support that?

SLOTKIN: I don't. She's from my home state of Michigan and I have always said that I did not get elected to spend the next 18 months on a political process of impeachment. I want to know that if we're going to go through this as a nation that it's because we have real substantial proof that we're basing that off of. I'm going to wait for the Mueller report. I'm a big believer in Robert Mueller. He was the FBI director when I was a baby CIA analyst. I really believe in him. I'll read every page of that report and act accordingly. I don't think it's time to do that.

HILL: Appreciate your time, thank you.

This just coming in the DNC slamming the door of the possibility of "Fox News" hosting a Democratic debate after a damning report this week. We'll discuss.

Plus, a last-minute attempt to keep President Trump at the table. Hear what North Korea tried to do as we learned that Kim Jong Un has restarted activity at one missile site.

And a stunning CNN investigation. How the former clients of the Acting Interior Secretary got so-called favors.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Excuse me, sir. Drew griffin with CNN, can we have a few moments of your time?



HILL: Just in to CNN, a second federal judge has blocked the Trump administration's effort to add a citizenship question to the U.S. census. They may remember Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross added the question to the upcoming 2020 survey. This judge in the northern district of California concluded Ross ignored federal law by adding that question. The administration has appealed a previous ruling from New York which will soon go to the supreme court. Census professionals have argued adding a citizenship question would produce inaccurate results.

[14:20:01] While Michael Cohen may be speaking to Congress voluntarily, those who are still apart of President Trump's orbit taking a rather different approach, some of them any way according to House Democrats that claim the White House is pushing back on the information the Democrats say they need to do their job. CNN Politics Reporter And Editor At Large Chris Cillizza joins us now from Washington. I guess we knew this might happen, huh?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: This is in some ways nothing new under the sun, Erica. When Congress or at least a chamber of Congress is controlled by one party, the White House controlled by another, there's a lot of this back and forth. Let's put numbers to it. OK.

These are numbers from our CNN's own Lauren Fox's reporting. These are Democratic numbers, worth noting. We've already had six refusals to appear in the Trump administration so far this year. Not uncommon, but does matter in that, appearing before committees is a way that you conduct oversight. We saw it today, by the way. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appears in front of a committee, gets questions asked, sometime hard question. A lot of what Congress does in terms of oversight and accountability is, what's the paper trail on this? How did we get to the point we're at? You saw this with Betty Thompson the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee with Nielsen saying we've made a lot of these requests for information. We really haven't heard in a timely manner why. That's a level of stonewalling. That's not a public hearing or private hearing, just coming in. What do you make of all of this? Let's remember context, Erica. This all came before this page. It came before what we saw on Monday, Jerry Nadler coming out and saying we've written letters to 81 entities and people in the Trump orbit, we want them to either come in or bring us information.

All of this is going to be added on to what we just went through and I'll put one that's on here right here that I think may be the biggest fight, the one that goes maybe all the way up to the supreme court. The ways and committee chairman under IRS law has the ability to look at any individual's tax returns, it's a 1924 code provision within the tax code, Richard Neil who's the chairman of that committee is going to ask Steve Mnuchin, the treasury second for Donald Trump's tax returns. Steve Mnuchin is not going to comply just like we showed on that last page. Then the fight begins. Do they subpoena those returns? Does the administration respond to those subpoenas? My guess big legal fight that eventually bumps potentially all the way up to the Supreme Court which could come in the middle of the 2020 election doing something we know the court doesn't like to do which is weigh in a white-hot political debate in the middle of a political campaign. This is not hypothetical or theoretical, this is something that will have real world implications in the next couple years.

HILL: Thank you.

More on our breaking news, the President's former fixer Michael Cohen providing Congress with new documents today as he tries to explain past discrepancies in his testimony.

Plus, North Korea apparently restarting activity at a missile site after talks collapse with President Trump. This as we learn Kim Jong- un was ready to walk away from the table.


HILL: Curious revelations today out of North Korea. Satellite images appear to show a key long-range missile site that the country was in the process of dismantling now being rebuilt and that raises potential questions about the future of U.S./North Korea negotiations. Two respected North Korea monitoring websites say they have observed activities at the site in the days surrounding the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump. That second summit that abruptly ended without a deal last week. Jim Sciutto, how much should we be reading into these images?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's a big deal for two reasons, one the timing. This activity is happening in the midst of a summit. The U.S. President's flown half way around the world to meet face-to-face with the North Korean leader, this is definitely message sending by the North Koreas. North Korea knows U.S. satellites are flowing overhead and they move vehicles and open up stuff and do construction it's going to be spotted. It was a little bit like, hey, look at us, which is a message to say, we still have these capabilities and if talks go south, we can easily turn back to this kind of activity.

HILL: Speaking of the talks, which went, I guess somewhat south, you have some new information as to what was happening inside those --

SCIUTTO: A big swing. This is a joint reporting with myself and our White House colleagues, enormous swing in the summit that at the very start, it started off badly. Mike Pompeo flew out there early to meet with Kim Yong-Chol and he was stood out. He waited for hours. Now, of course, the leaders were coming and they were going to meet face- to-face and they did meet face-to-face but this was an important meeting to set up those top-level talks and that perhaps a sign as to how the broader negotiations would go. Now, as you know, the two sides walked away from the table without an agreement but we also learned that in the final moments as Donald Trump is preparing to leave Hanoi, preparing to leave the hotel where those negotiations took place, that another North Korea envoy made a last-ditch effort to resurrect the talks, to resurrect the chance of an agreement, a hail mary delivering a personal message from Kim Jong-un saying perhaps we can make this exchange, this is an exchange we talked about before shutting down one nuclear facility in exchange for the relaxation of some of those sanctions, but there was not -- not enough specificity in the view of the U.S. side and therefore that last-ditch effort fell on deaf ears and they walked away.

HILL: That last-ditch effort, though, the fact that it was there, though, that clearly says the door is open one might think so what does this mean? What are next steps here?

SCIUTTO: That's the positive read. Yes, they walked away.