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Cohen Provides Documents Showing Edits to his False Testimony; Trump Pushed for Ivanka's Security Clearance; Rep. Ro Khanna (D) California is Interviewed about Investigations Surrounding President Trump; Rep. Tom Reed (R) New York is Interviewed about the Homeland Security Secretary's Testimony. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired March 6, 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] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of news today. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a good day.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
Underway right now, did Ivanka Trump outright lie? She says her dad did not push for her to get a security clearance. We now know he did despite warnings.
Plus, she's at the center of some of the president's most controversial moves, and today Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen gets an earful on Capitol Hill.
Check and the balancing act. What the president was reportedly doing when he signed those infamous checks for Michael Cohen.
And the oversight fight is about to escalate. One Democratic congresswoman says it is time for impeachment proceedings to begin.
But we begin with breaking news.
President Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, providing new information about the false, written statement that he previously delivered to Congress about the Trump Organization's pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is here.
What can you tell us about this?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Michael Cohen today providing the House Intelligence Committee with documents that explain further the claim that he made in his public testimony last week that attorneys for the president edited and reviewed his false statement that he initially gave to Congress back in 2017.
Now, you'll recall those statements he later pleaded guilty to. But in those statements he downplayed the Trump Organization's pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project in the 2016 campaign season. He said that it ended in January 2016, all those discussions. But he later acknowledged that it occurred all the way through June of 2016. And then he said publicly last week that the president was involved in those discussions about the project.
Now, what we are told from multiple sources familiar with today's session was that Cohen actually provided the committee with edits of those documents showing that attorneys were involved in some of the changes. Now it's unclear exactly what they changed, but these documents were provided to explain what he said in his public setting.
Now, in that public testimony, he accuses -- he says that Jay Sekulow, the president's attorney, made changes to the statement. He also says that Abbe Lowell, who is an attorney for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, reviewed those statements that were made before they were falsely made to Capitol Hill back in 2017. Now, at the time -- after Cohen's testimony, Jay Sekulow put out a statement saying that there were changes -- he pushed back. He said the testimony by Michael Cohen, that attorneys for the president edited or changed his statement to Congress to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations is completely false. We're later told that those attorneys were relying on what Cohen said in his public testimony to push back. But we'll see how they respond now that there are documents that apparently show some changes that were made by the Trump attorneys to the statement that was later -- a false statement to Congress. That's one major focus of today's session, which is still happening behind closed doors. And we're now learning what that focus was, at least in the morning session here, Brianna.
KEILAR: Yes, that was a key point that he made in his testimony last week.
Manu Raju, thank you.
And our other big story is that it seems Jared Kushner was not the only top White House adviser to get a security clearance only after personal intervention from the president.
CNN has now learned the president overwrote the objects of the personnel security office and his chief of staff and his White House counsel to grant a clearance to his daughter Ivanka.
Let's get right to White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
Tell us more about this, Kaitlan.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, what our reporting is showing is that the president pressured not only John Kelly, but also Don McGahn, who was then the White House counsel, to grant Ivanka Trump a security clearance after that office you referenced, the White House Personnel Security Office, made some objections about giving her a security clearance. So the president lobbied John Kelly and Don McGahn because he wanted them to grant her a clearance because he didn't want it to seem as if he was tainting the process if he made the final decision.
Now, both of them refused. They had their objections to granting her a security clearance. So, in the end, it was the president who granted Ivanka Trump a security clearance.
Now, this reporting would seem to contradict what Ivanka Trump told ABC News not that long ago, which is that President Trump had no involvement in her getting a security clearance or Jared Kushner getting a security clearance. Something that's also contradicted by that latest "New York Times" reporting. A source close to Ivanka Trump told us when we were reporting this out, Brianna, that it's feasible she didn't know that her father was involved and that she didn't seek outside counsel trying to help her get that security clearance.
But, of course, it's raising questions about whether or not the president lied when he told "The New York Times" in an interview last month that he did not feel he had the authority to grant someone a clearance. He does have that authority. He did use his authority here. But he said he did not get involved in granting Jared Kushner a clearance, raising a lot of question about what the president's involvement here was.
[13:05:14] And, Brianna, one more thing I'd like to add is that when the president was frustrated by the fact that they had not gotten their clearances yet, he was asking aides, why is there a holdup, because he has said last year that it was likely they'd soon go back to New York, so what was the big deal in granting them a clearance anyway?
Of course, Brianna, they're still here.
KEILAR: Yes. They did not go back to New York. Thank you for pointing that out.
COLLINS: They did not.
KEILAR: Kaitlan Collins, thanks.
Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna is with us now from Capitol Hill to discuss this wide-ranging investigation of President Trump. Investigations, really, up there on The Hill.
First, I want to get your reaction to that breaking news that our Manu Raju just reported, that Michael Cohen has provided documents showing that edits were made to his false testimony before Congress, the testimony that he initially gave.
What do you make of this? What's your reaction?
REP. RO KHANNA (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, it's really a bombshell report. And some of us on the Oversight Committee suspected that this would be a very serious matter. I mean what Michael Cohen is providing allegedly is a document that shows that the president, or the president's lawyers at the very least, doctored his testimony, told him or encouraged him to give false testimony to the United States Congress. And that implicates, at the very least, the White House's lawyers in this criminal charge of -- that Cohen was convicted of and it may implicate the president. We need to find out.
KEILAR: Is it possible the lawyers didn't know that the facts were false, that they believed that what Michael Cohen was representing in his testimony was true?
KHANNA: I find that very hard to believe, especially when the president has been repeating Michael Cohen's lies publicly. It seems that the White House lawyers wanted to cover up something, and that's why they were involved in editing Michael Cohen's testimony. And what we really need to know is, where they acting at the direction of the president?
KEILAR: I want to talk to you now about CNN's reporting that the president pressured senior White House staff to grant his daughter Ivanka a security clearance. What are your concerns about this?
KHANNA: Here's what it's concerning. Look, no one resents Ivanka Trump having an impact on child care tax policy or women's rights. But what qualification does Ivanka Trump or Jared Kushner -- what qualification do they have to deal with foreign policy? And when you're overruling career staff and people with foreign experts to give them security clearances, and then we have reports that Jared Kushner is on WhatsApp with MBS, the crown prince in Saudi Arabia, and there's a real concern whether our national security secrets are leaking and whether civil servants are being ignored and foreign policy is being put in the hands of people who don't have any expertise.
KEILAR: Do you think then -- it sounds like you're saying this -- do you think that it's a national security risk for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to have security clearances?
KHANNA: I do. And I base this on the Yemen civil war. I mean we know that MBS, first of all, likely ordered the killing of Khashoggi. He's bombing people in Yemen in a civil war that's leading to millions of people possibly facing famine. And we know Kushner is there sharing information on WhatsApp with MBS. Why would we want him to be doing that? I mean that should be the secretary of state that's dealing with MBS or our national security officer, not the president's children.
KEILAR: Do you -- do you know he's sharing information or is it counsel? I mean do you have a sense of exactly what he's sharing? I just want to be very careful about this.
KHANNA: We don't know there -- that what he has shared, but we do know that he has had multiple meetings with MBS. We do know that he's on a WhatsApp group with MBS. We know that the president has put him in charge of Middle East diplomacy. And that's what's concerning. I have no problem with Jared Kushner being in charge of the White House Office of Innovation and focusing on technology. I have a problem when national security experts are saying he should not get sensitive information and he's driving America's Middle East foreign policy.
KEILAR: You are on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and the White House has rejected the demand from Chairman Elijah Cummings to turn over documents related to security clearances. The congressman -- the chairman is standing by that request. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We have a duty. It's not some witch hunt. It's a duty -- a sworn duty, by the way, to be a check on the executive branch. And I want the American people to understand that when you cannot get information, you cannot be a check.
We will very carefully consider our next options and we will do things that are responsible and consistent with the Constitution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:10:10] KEILAR: Congressman, will the committee now subpoena the documents?
KHANNA: Well, look, Chairman Cummings is very fair. He's going to give the White House another chance voluntarily to give these documents. If they don't, then we will subpoena it.
But I want to be clear, the president always talks about Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Well, Secretary Clinton complied with the Oversight Committee and their request. Every previous administration complies with Congress' request. It would be unprecedented for this president to just completely disregard Congress and not comply with some very basic document requests.
KEILAR: If they resist a subpoena, what do you do?
KHANNA: Well, then, I think it becomes a matter that goes to the courts. But Congress has the authority to exercise oversight. The only exception is if the president claims executive privilege, which means that there's some top secret national security matter that's implicated, and that's certainly not the case when it comes to the security clearance for his kids. And the American public, they have common sense. They know that that decision doesn't implicate some sensitive conversations and so the president should be forthcoming.
KEILAR: And I will just say that if you talk to Republicans about Hillary Clinton's documents, they will say they did not feel she was as cooperative as she could be, and that may be an understatement as I characterize their sentiment on that. I just want to make sure that I put that point of view out there.
I want to ask you about Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, though, because today she announced plans to file an impeachment resolution against President Trump. Democratic leaders say they're not there yet. Are you going to back her impeachment resolution?
KHANNA: I don't think we're there yet. I think we have to build a systemic case of evidence. Here's the reason. Most of Mueller's investigation has been done confidentially. The Southern District of New York has been done confidentially. The American public still doesn't have all the facts and all the evidence. We need to wait --
KEILAR: Is she jumping the gun then?
KHANNA: I would prefer that we build a case and have the evidence. I mean she's a member of Congress. She has a point of view. She has the right to introduce whatever she wants. But I think the vast majority of the caucus is going to follow Nancy Pelosi's lead, build a case, build evidence and I think they're -- once -- as we build that case, you may even have Republicans show deep concern for laws that were violated and broken, and then we should proceed after those investigations are done and the reports are there, then we can answer what the consequences should be.
KEILAR: Do you worry when she's pushing this impeachment process that it reflects on Democrats more generally? It certainly gives Republicans something to seize on and say that your party is over eager to go after the president.
KHANNA: No, Brianna, one thing I've learned, my second term in Congress, is, no single member of Congress can control the narrative. We're one of 435 members. She's representing the passion of her district and a perspective. But I think ultimately it's Nancy Pelosi and Jerry Nadler who speak for the Democratic Party when it comes to issues of what actions we'll be taking with the president.
KEILAR: All right, Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you so much for being with us.
The president likes to tout the economy, but America's budget and trade deficits are exploding to record highs. Let's hear the new warnings.
Plus, from Turkey pardons to high-level meetings, what the president was reportedly doing at the time that he signed several checks for Michael Cohen.
And first charges, now a meltdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
R. KELLY, MUSICIAN: (INAUDIBLE). You're all trying to kill me! You're killing me, man!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:17:59] KEILAR: The breaking news this hour, Michael Cohen is providing documents to lawmakers showing changes were made to his false testimony before Congress back in 2017. And that testimony included the Trump Tower project, his information about how long those discussions with the president went on.
We have Kim Wehle, she's a former federal prosecutor and former associate independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation, and Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst here at CNN.
You actually -- you have some new reporting because there's a lot of outstanding questions when it comes to this marked-up document.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there is. And let's -- let's just step back for a moment and understand the context of it. So, Michael Cohen is getting ready to testify on The Hill. His
attorney writes a statement, I'm told, and Michael then edits it and then it's circulated among the other attorneys because they all had a joint defense agreement. So it was Ivanka and Jared's attorneys, the president's attorneys, et cetera. Everybody makes their little red pencil inputs on it and that is the testimony Michael gives.
The question is, did anybody know that Michael Cohen was not telling the truth there? My source says, no.
KEILAR: That the lawyers didn't know.
BORGER: That -- that -- well, the lawyers didn't know. And the -- and the other question is, what was the input from the president, if any, into this testimony through Michael himself?
KEILAR: What do you -- Kim, what do you want to know that would affect the legality of this?
KIM WEHLE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I want to know what the changes were made by the lawyers. So he seemed to indicate in his testimony that the question had to do with the timing that the Moscow negotiations for Trump Tower went -- was ongoing and that that's what he actually perjured himself around. He said that it was -- that it ended earlier than it did. And so if the lawyers, in changing his testimony, actually changed the facts, that's quite serious for the lawyers. It's unlikely given the caliber of these lawyers, but that is a question I would want to know with respect to that particular document, in addition to the underlying question of, why did he lie. But that's not necessarily bearing on the changes to this particular document.
[13:20:03] KEILAR: And could Cohen -- could Cohen have been lying to his attorney? You know, that's a possibility, right?
WEHLE: Yes, I mean, it -- sure. And lawyers have an obligation to not allow their clients to perjure themselves. But there's limits on what you can do, of course, in that. But you do have an affirmative obligation to make sure your client is as trustworthy as you can make them to be.
KEILAR: I want to ask you about Ivanka Trump because we have reporting that she, while insisting the president in no way helped her obtain a security clearance, we have found out -- CNN has learned that actually, yes, he did. He's the one who overruled his chief of staff, his, at the time his White House -- his chief counsel, Don McGahn, the intelligence committee to do just that. This is according to three sources who are familiar with the matter. And this comes on the heels of "The New York Times" report that the president did the same thing for Jared Kushner.
Do you think it's possible that Ivanka did not know, Gloria?
BORGER: I do, because her -- we -- we reported this that she did not seek nor have outside counsel involved in her process because no issues were ever raised. I mean Jared did have outside counsel involved in his process and she didn't. And her story -- I mean you -- is that why would I go on TV and lie about this? I didn't know. So the -- you know, the question is, did she ever communicate with her father about this? She says that she was informed by the regular process, you know, the people who were usually in charge of it, not by Kelly, and not by White House Counsel Don McGahn.
So I think it is a possibility. We just don't know the answer. We just don't know the answer.
KEILAR: Do you buy that also considering she went on TV --
KEILAR: Almost a month ago and she wasn't just speaking for herself. She was speaking about her husband not receiving help from the president to get the security clearance.
WEHLE: Well, I mean, I've been through this process. I've been through it when I was at DOJ. And generally, yes, you -- people talk to your friends, they talk to your former coworkers. You fill out a lot of forms and then you find out yes or no.
The question is, how close is she to her father? How much did they communicate about this?
And really the bigger issue is, I don't think there's any liability for her criminally for lying on television. The bigger issue has to do with the national security implications of why we have background checks. We have background checks to make sure that people at top levels of our government who have access to important information cannot be bribed. They cannot be, you know, swindled into doing things because they're worried about their own liability that are harmful to the interest of the United States of America. And if he overwrote his people on these background checks, it really should, in theory, be consistent with that goal. Did Trump override them for some other goal?
KEILAR: What, Gloria, does Ivanka Trump do in the White House that -- that, in general, that also that would necessitate this?
BORGER: Well, you know, she has kind of an amorphous portfolio, which is workplace issues, women's empowerment, S.T.E.M., you know, promotion, education --
KEILAR: It's not national security?
BORGER: It's not national security, but, and you know this because you've covered the White House, if you work in the White House and your father is the president and your husband is running Middle East peace --
KEILAR: Can you be in the conversations?
BORGER: Can you be in the conversations? Can you look at briefing books on an airplane? All sorts of stuff, particularly if you're a married couple and you do presumably talk to each other, and her father is the president. So the clear -- the fact that she wanted the clearance makes sense, even though her job, under normal circumstances, would not -- certainly not require it.
KEILAR: There is a wall even if it's your spouse, right? There should be.
BORGER: There should be, absolutely.
KEILAR: All right, Gloria Borger, Kim Wehle, thank you guys so much.
And, coming up, the battle over border security is heating up as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defends the president's emergency declaration before Congress. I'll be getting reaction from a Republican actually trying to rein in that presidential power. Congressman Tom Reed with us next.
And the interview that everyone is talking about. R. Kelly lashing out against his accusers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
R. KELLY, MUSICIAN: I hope this camera keeps going.
GAYLE KING, CBS ANCHOR, "THIS MORNING": Yes, we're going to let the cameras keep going.
KELLY: This is not true. This is no -- it doesn't even make sense. Why would I hold all these women, their mothers and fathers told me, we're going to destroy your career.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:29:01] KEILAR: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appearing before a House committee today as Democrats question her about President Trump's declaration of a national emergency in a bid to build a border wall. The secretary defended Mr. Trump, calling it a, quote, legitimate national emergency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: My conversations, of course, with the president, generally speaking, are protected, are privileged. But what I would say is his explanation in general in public has been that he hoped Congress would act, that it didn't have to come to issuing an emergency declaration if Congress had met his request to fund the resources that CBP has requested.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: I want to bring in Republican New York Congressman Tom Reed with us.
Congressman, thanks for being with us.
REP. TOM REED (R), NEW YORK: It's always good to be with you.
KEILAR: How -- so when you think about what is going on at the border, is -- do you agree with Secretary Nielsen? How would you describe the situation?
[13:30:00] REED: I would agree with the assessment that there's a crisis at the border. It is an emergency, especially given the context of which the powers of the presidency have been given.