Return to Transcripts main page


Vote on Anti-Hate Bill Causes Distraction for Democrats After Rep. Omar's Comments on Israel. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 7, 2019 - 16:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Stay with us here on CNN.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Any moment, Paul Manafort could find out if he's going to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news, the man who helped steer Donald Trump towards the White House in court right now, about to learn how long he's going to be locked up -- the sentence and instant reaction coming up.

A split over how to handle a freshman congresswoman's incendiary comments about supporters of Israel forcing a vote in the House this hour and drawing attention to a generational divide in the Democratic Party.

Plus, a long rumored 2020 hopeful has made his decision. It's a longtime Washington guy, a senator, a populist thought to be able to speak to working-class voters. No, no, no, I'm not talking about Joe Biden.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news. Right now, President Trump's former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, is about to learn his fate. He is in federal court for his sentencing, facing up to 25 years in prison, which for a man who turns 70 next month could effectively be a life sentence,

Manafort is charged with bank fraud and failing to pay taxes on millions of dollars in money that he earned from political consulting for pro-Russian Ukrainians, charges that stem from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

And let us just take a quick moment to acknowledge, however much we have all gotten used to this wild era, that it is simply stunning. The former campaign chairman for the current president of the United States is a crook, and he's about to go to prison, maybe even for the rest of his life.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

Shimon, what are you learning about what's happening inside there right now?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We are waiting to get under way here, Jake. This could get under way at any moment now.

Paul Manafort, his family, prosecutors are all in court now. And all we're waiting is for the judge to take the bench so that this hearing can begin.

Paul Manafort was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair, with a cane. He's wearing his green jail jumpsuit. We have seen Paul Manafort in court before, not in a wheelchair, in a regular suit, dressed with a tie. Today, though, a different look for Paul Manafort. He's in a wheelchair with a cane. And now we're waiting for this hearing to get under way.

TAPPER: And it just started, we're told.

Shimon, Manafort does have the option of speaking in court today.

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

And this would be the really the first time that we would be getting to hear from him. He would have the option certainly to get up, if he could stand, presumably. That's why he has this came with him. And he will be able to address the judge and really, as you say, ask for leniency, because he is potentially here facing the rest of his life, with the fact that he's 69, about to be 70, facing 25 years in prison.

He could spend the rest of his life there. So this will be perhaps his last chance where he could address the judge and hope to spare some time, some free time, so that he doesn't spend the rest of his life in prison.

TAPPER: All right, Shimon, thank you so much. We will go back to you when you have news on the events in that courtroom.

I want to bring in our CNN legal analyst right now, Elie Honig, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and Shan Wu, former federal prosecutor and former attorney for Paul Manafort's deputy Rick Gates.

Shan, let me start with you.

Judge T.S. Ellis, he's known for his colorful, colorful courtroom quotes, but they don't always reveal what he will ultimately rule, right? One time, he sided with the special counsel after scolding them, saying that they were just trying to get President Trump.

Can you read into any of Ellis' past statements about what might happen today?

SHANLON WU, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR RICK GATES: Ellis is a judge who speaks his mind freely. That doesn't necessarily mean, at the end of the day, it will affect his conclusions.

I do think, though, that those particular comments give us a little bit of insight, which is that he may be thinking that Manafort in some ways has been more of a target for a more thorough and vigorous investigation than he might have had he not been associated with the Trump matters.

That may factor in for him. I think my personal view is that we're looking at a sentence that's going to be well below the guidelines' range. And certainly Manafort's team has really been angling for that by making arguments about this doctrine of proportionality, which goes to whether you can come lower than what the guidelines would normally allow you to do.

TAPPER: Elie, in the special counsel's reply to Manafort's sentencing memo, prosecutor said this week -- quote -- "Manafort blames everyone, from the special counsel's office, to his Ukrainian clients, for his own criminal choices. His efforts at misdirection are further proof that he has not accepted responsibility for his criminal conduct" -- unquote.


So the special counsel's office arguing that Manafort has a lack of remorse. Might that weigh in on his sentencing?


Remorse and acceptance of responsibility are key factors at every sentencing. And I think that's the one thing that this judge is going to be looking for today. Will Manafort address the court?

I was advising Paul Manafort, I would tell him, you are speaking and you are going to -- you are going to express genuine remorse for what you did. Judges put a lot of stock in. That is absolutely fair play at sentencing.

I do agree with Shan, though. I think the sentencing guidelines range here, which is 19 to 24 years, that's advisory. Judges have to consider that. They do not have to sentence within it -- 19 to 24 years is an extraordinarily high sentence, even for all of the fraud crimes that Manafort has committed.

I would look for something in this sort of low double digits.

TAPPER: And we're told right now from inside the courtroom that it is packed, a packed courtroom, with federal investigators and spectators and members of the media.

Elie, the special counsel also argued that Manafort shouldn't get any credit or mitigation for cooperation because he lied to the government and the grand jury. Might that have an impact? HONIG: Sure.

Not only does he not get acceptance of responsibility. Typically, if a defendant accepts responsibility, he gets a three-level reduction, which can result in several years. Not only is Manafort not going to get that. He made it worse. He did about the worst thing that any defendant can do, which is try to cooperate, go in and intentionally mislead Mueller's team.

So that's just going to pour gasoline on the fire here.

TAPPER: And, Shan, Manafort has asked the judge for leniency in the past, saying that he is sorry, arguing that his health has deteriorated. Might that be effective?

WU: That will certainly be a factor.

I mean, those sorts of issues, age, lack of criminal record, are already reflected in the guidelines. So they really have to gain some further ground. I mean, there's so much speculation about him angling for a pardon, but I don't think that's what his team is looking at here. They're doing the ground game.

They're focusing on this judge, trying to figure out what they can do with this judge to lower a little bit off that sentence.

TAPPER: All right, gentlemen, stick around. We're going to come back to you as news develops, when we get the news from inside the courtroom, what the sentencing actually is.

As we await word as to Paul Manafort's sentencing, it is worth underlining again just how significant this is. This is the president's former campaign chairman. He could be heading to prison for the rest of his life.

CNN's Pamela Brown is digging into just how historic this moment may be.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An astounding downfall for a man who, three years ago this month, joined the campaign and soon ran the campaign of the man who is now president of the United States.

However much the president attempts to distance himself from Paul Manafort now...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He worked for me for a very short period of time.

BROWN: ... at the time, Trump allies sounded quite different.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help build this campaign to where it is right now. BROWN: A Gingrich quote that Trump ally Sean Hannity even tweeted,

though it has since been deleted.

At the age of 69, a lengthy prison sentence could land Manafort behind bars for the rest of his life. Manafort was brought on to the Trump campaign in March 2016 to help secure Republican delegates uneasy about Trump's nomination.

Manafort brought with him his deputy, Rick Gates, who ultimately testified against Manafort himself.

The Mueller investigation stems from the overwhelming consensus within the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election; 26 Russian nationals are charged with spreading misinformation on social media in the U.S. or conspiracy to commit computer crimes.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: With the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.

BROWN: And we still don't know why Manafort shared internal Trump campaign data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a man who Mueller alleges has ties to Russian military intelligence.

Manafort's conviction represents just a sampling of the illegal acts associates of the president or accused up. Mueller's investigation has yielded guilty pleas from several people in Trump's inner circle. And so far, 37 people and entities, including Russian nationals, have been charged with crimes relating to the probe.

Watergate, which resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon, is the only political scandal that produced more charges, at least so far.


BROWN: And Manafort, who turns 70 next month, will learn his fate any moment now.

His legal team argued to the judge in a recent filing that he should serve less than the 25 years because he will be less likely to commit crimes after serving in prison, given his age, and they said, the punishment the special counsel is asking for doesn't fit the crimes he committed.

That was the argument they made. But this is the first two sentencing hearings for Manafort -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Let's dive into this with the experts.

First of all, just to make clear, he has not been charged with anything relating to conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election. So we will hear no collusion. [16:10:01]


TAPPER: And that is at least accurate when it comes to the charges and the sentencing today.

But do you think we're kind of underplaying, the nation and the media, the gravity of this? This is somebody who was very instrumental to Trump winning, and he's going to be going to prison.

CARPENTER: I always remember that interview that he did during the campaign where he was asked directly, do you have any financial ties to Russia? And he stumbled, and it was all very strange.

And the reason he could not be honest with the public about his ties to Ukraine and Russia is because he had been so dishonest with the government in regards to his taxes, his lobbying, his banking, for so many years.

And during the campaign, a lot of Republicans warned against this, because we knew there was a lot of questionable activity that Paul Manafort had been involved in, and then we questioned why he would be given such a prominent role in the campaign.

And the amount of arrogance that was displayed by the Trump campaign towards anyone that raised questions, saying, you don't have our interests at heart, people did. This is why. People's lives are ruined. He's looking at life in prison.

This isn't an I told you so moment. This is a sad moment.

TAPPER: And, Kirsten, we haven't even seen the Mueller report yet, but so far the probe has resulted in 199 overall criminal counts against 37 people and entities. Six Trump associates have either been indicted or pleaded guilty, Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, and, of course, George Papadopoulos.

Again, none of the charges relating to people close to Trump have anything to do with interference in the election, as far as we can tell and according to the documents. But it's still not a great ledger.


Well, I mean, I think if this was any other president, we would recognize that this would be just absolutely breaking, splashing news everywhere, if this had been Barack Obama's campaign manager and if this was happening to them.

And so it says something about the fact that this has become somewhat normalized, that you would have somebody who is being described by the prosecutors as a hardened, remorseless criminal, who they had hoped, actually, would be able to help them somewhat on the Russia probe, especially because he had given this campaign data to someone who had ties to Russian intelligence. But they determined that he was so dishonest that they couldn't

believe anything that he said.


And President Trump, David, has not taken a pardon for Manafort off the table. Take a listen to him. This is him talking about this back in November.


TRUMP: It's very sad, what's happened to Paul, the way he's being treated. I have never seen anybody treated so poorly. But the question was asked to me by "The New York Post," and I said, no, I have not offered any pardons.

And I think they asked for, whatever, would you? I said, I'm not taking anything off the table.


TAPPER: Do you think a pardon is a real possibility?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have no idea. But what I do have an idea about, because I was there, is the involvement of Paul Manafort in the campaign.

As you correctly note, Paul Manafort -- none of these charges had anything to do with what Bob Mueller was sent there to find, right? This is -- Paul Manafort had been investigated by the FBI for years before the campaign even started, before this even got under way.

And I think that they may have come to some conclusion they didn't have enough resources to prosecute him and kind of -- for whatever reason, they didn't pursue it.

And so, lo and behold, they have unlimited resources, and they go after Paul Manafort. And, listen, the things that he did are criminal. I mean, wire fraud, bank fraud, tax evasion, I mean, those things are criminal and should be punished.

But I think we shouldn't conflate them in any sense or any way that they are somehow to do with the campaign. What Paul Manafort did on the campaign, and I was there, Paul Manafort went to Cleveland, he organized the convention, he was prepared to fight a floor battle against Amanda's old boss, Ted Cruz, right?

When we went to Cleveland, we weren't worried about the Russians. We were worried about Ted Cruz.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You weren't worried about the Russians.

URBAN: We were worried about John Kasich. We were worried about John Kasich.


URBAN: We were worried about Marco Rubio.

We were worried that Donald Trump might not even have been the nominee at the end of the convention.

TAPPER: And I'm told that the judge in court, Judge T.S. Ellis, just said, this has nothing to do with Russian collusion, which is the point that we had just made a couple minutes ago.

President Trump has tried to distance himself from Paul Manafort. Take a listen.


TRUMP: I feel badly about a lot of it, because I think a lot of it's very unfair. I mean, I look at some of them, where they go back 12 years.

Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked for John McCain -- or his firm did.

He worked for many other Republicans. He worked for me, what, for 49 days or something, a very short period of time.


TAPPER: It was five months, not 49 days.

But, in any case, that's been the attempt. He was his campaign chairman. Look, he's not -- he was not as vital to him as obviously David Urban was or Jared Kushner.


TAPPER: But he played an important role.

SIMMONS: Or Michael Flynn, who has also been indicted and pled guilty.

TAPPER: Awaiting sentencing.


[16:15:00] So, here's the problem. I'm old enough to remember when Al Gore used a phrase no control in legal authority because the '96 Clinton campaign was being investigated for contacts and perhaps illegal contributions from Asian fund-raising sources. Imagine we found out that the chairman of the Clinton campaign had been meeting with possible intelligence operatives from China at the same time they were being investigated. Do you think there would be this sort of equanimity -- like that had nothing to do with it? We don't know what this is all about?

This is an outrageous scandal under any other presidency. If this is Hillary Clinton and we found out someone else in her campaign was doing this, we would not be so calm about this. Nothing else would be happening in Washington. Nothing else. The United States Senate would be shut down because the Republicans would only be talking about this.

URBAN: I'm not certain there's nothing else. If you look at the queue of satellite trucks outside the courthouse here, have you seen the 81 letters of people being investigated by the House, I'm not sure there's nothing going on. I mean, there's a Mueller probe that's been going on for two years.

The House is conducting oversight, which is needed and warranted, but maybe a little overbroad in this case. There are lots of things going on. There's lots of outrage from Republicans as well as Democrats. However, some of it may be a little bit overreaching.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

The judge could sentence Paul Manafort any moment. We'll bring that to you live as soon as it comes down.

Plus, a heated debate happening right now on the House floor on an issue dividing Democrats. Stay with us.


[16:20:333] TAPPER: The politics lead. Right now, debate happening on the House floor. You see Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin there, with a vote expected soon on a bill addressing a subject that's been a huge thorn in the side of Democrats, distraction and many other things. The resolution condemning several forms of bigotry, but largely focused on anti-Semitism.

This debate within the Democratic Caucus has consumed time, energy, and focus for the House majority party. This all comes, of course, after freshman Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar questioned the allegiance of Israel supporters in Congress. It's the third time that Congresswoman Omar has been accused by even many of her Democratic colleagues of using anti-Semitic tropes. The latest further dividing Democrats, with some saying the pile on has been too severe and others, including a handful of 2020 candidates coming to her defense.

I want to go to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She's on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, House Democrats delayed the vote a bit to make some tweaks to the bill. Do we know what changed?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't seem at this point, Jake, that there's any huge changes to this resolution. Democratic sources described it to me as a technical edit that was made, including adding some language about white supremacists targeting the LGBT community specifically. But certainly this last- minute change, text to the resolution, really speaks to how each and every word of this resolution has been a battle for Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) REP. MARCIA FUDGE (D), OHIO: We'll have to see if it brings us together or tears us further apart.

SERFATY (voice-over): With tensions high --

REP. JUAN VARGAS (D), CALIFORNIA: Obviously, there's difference of opinions and that -- you know, it is what it is.

SERFATY: Democrats spearheaded a vote today that has set off a messy internal "family feud."

REP. KAREN BASS (D), CALIFORNIA: I think that we've raised issues but it's not just the Congressional Black Caucus. Many members of the Democratic Caucus are just concerned.

SERFATY: The infighting first sparked by another controversial comment by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, this time slamming pro-Israel groups and politicians.

REP. ILHAN OMAR (D), MINNESOTA: Talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.

SERFATY: That comment invoking to critics anti-Semitic depiction of Jews as being disloyal citizens, unleashing a massive debate within the Democratic Party, over exactly how strongly to reprimand her with a House resolution.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D-NY), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I'm not going to sit silent as long as there are people who are yelling out anti-Semitic tropes or any anti-tropes.

SERFATY: In the middle of all this, Speaker Pelosi moving to squash the interparty squabbling today by putting the resolution on the floor for a vote, attempting to straddle a line between rebuking Omar and not singling her out.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I do not believe that she understood the full weight of the words. I feel confident that her words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitude.

SERFATY: The resolution released today just hours before the vote does not name Omar and has been significantly broadened in scope, no longer just condemning anti-Semitism, but now a broader anti-hate resolution.

PELOSI: Against anti-Semitism, anti-Islamophobia, anti-white supremacy and all the forms that it takes.

SERFATY: This interparty fight comes after a tough few weeks for House Democratic leaders. Their policy priorities like advancing their first major gun control measure in years overshadowed by the circus of Michael Cohen's testimony.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I regret the day I said yes to Mr. Trump. I regret all the help and support I gave him along the way.

SERFATY: Dustups over procedural motions with Republicans taking attention away from other measures and now this from one of their own.


SERFATY: And the debate over this resolution has finally started in the House. And you see live pictures of the House floor there right now. So, this will very likely move to a vote in the next few minutes. Very soon off from that vote.

And the expectation is that this will, after all of this, Jake, very easily pass. Certainly, House Democratic leadership are very eager to move past this debate -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.

Jamal Simmons, this started off as a resolution just condemning anti- Semitism. It's now been broadened to include anti-Islamic feelings, et cetera, like anti-LGBT, anti-white supremacists. The accusation from critics of what's happened here is that it's been watered down and that, in effect, House Democratic leaders have all lives mattered this bill.

[16:25:04] SIMMONS: I think there's nothing wrong with Democrats standing up for their values, as being against a lot of the things that we're talking about, a lot of those "isms." The problem right now is that the language across the board has gotten to be so intense and so extreme. This guy named Matt Walsh who was in the Hill yesterday, couple of days ago, calling the Democratic Party an evil institution. How do you negotiate with an evil institution?

I think people like Ilhan Omar are now in the bright lights of Congress and things that she may have said or thought in private or had conversations, been loose with her language, she's now learning she can't be that loose with her language when she is in Congress. She's got to be a little bit more careful.

I think that's okay for people to grow up and kind of -- or edge up and kind of learn how to speak in a civil manner in order to get legislation passed in the United States Congress.

CARPENTER: I've just got to say after watching the Democrats condemn Republicans for every "ism" known to man over the past few years, you would think they would know how to handle this internally. Bit of advice, life is easier when you're consistent. Do the resolution. The real issue to me is stripping her of the committee assignment.

If she needs to grow up and learn on the job, she shouldn't be doing it on a committee that has jurisdiction over those matter.

SIMMONS: I didn't mean to say grow up. That was actually a misstatement.

CARPENTER: Yes, other people have said that. I know what you meant. TAPPER: Kirsten, you hear Speaker Pelosi saying she didn't believe

that Congresswoman Omar's words were based on anti-Semitism. Here is some more of what Speaker Pelosi had to say today.


PELOSI: I understand how advocates come in with their enthusiasms, but when you cross that threshold into Congress, your words weigh much more than when you're shouting it at somebody outside.


TAPPER: Is that what you think is going on here?

POWERS: I always recommend people read a piece by Paul Waldman of "The Washington Post." He's Jewish. He says he grew up in a Zionist household. So, he's sensitive to these issues.

And, you know, I tend to see it more the way he sees it, which is she was speaking more -- she wasn't speaking about Jews having an allegiance as much as she was talking about members of Congress being pressured into having an allegiance. If you look at the average pro- Israel member of Congress today, they're more likely to be a Republican or an average person out in the country. They're more likely to be an evangelical Christian or a Republican.

So, it's not necessarily talking about Jews having an allegiance. It's talking about the fact that she feels like she should be able to make criticisms about Israeli policy without being called anti- Semitic. Now, she used the word allegiance. I don't think she should have done that, because I think it does ignite fears that Jews understandably have, and I think that's been explained to her.

But I am very uncomfortable with the way she has been singled out here. While we have a president who routinely makes racist comments about African-Americans' I.Q.s. He has made anti-Semitic comments as well and has never been condemned. There's never been a resolution by anybody on the Republican side. There's no resolution condemning him, you know, basically saying, you know, there's good people on both sides. So, why is this woman being singled out in the way she's being singled out and having the weight of all of Washington come down on her?

TAPPER: I will just note Steve King, there was a resolution --

POWERS: Ten years later. Come on, Jake.

TAPPER: I'm not defending it. I'm noting that he was taken off his committee.

POWERS: Even noting it -- no, Steve King has been doing what he has been doing --

TAPPER: For nine terms.

POWERS: The most outrageous, racist insane things he has been saying, nonstop. Then they finally do a resolution, which probably they did it so they could be doing what they're doing right now.

URBAN: Two observations. I think that her comments shouldn't be taken in a vacuum. There's a huge rise in anti-BDS sentiment on campus, in the Congress. There's been votes, Democrats are voting against these measures --

TAPPER: Anti-Israel?

URBAN: Anti-Israel, you know, Boycott, Divestment and Settlement (ph).

And then, secondly, there's a group that was glaringly omitted from the anti-bigotry from that resolution, Catholics. I'm a member of the Catholic faith and I'm wondering why it's not there. Now, listen, let me just say this --

TAPPER: I think I did see -- maybe it was taken out. There was reference to anti-Catholicism that was held against John F. Kennedy.

URBAN: John F. Kennedy, but you know what? And then I realize, they have to condemn half of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate, because all of their recent anti-Catholic comments and all these hearings for judges. So, there's a real -- that needs to be included as well. Throwing everybody in the kitchen sink in this resolution, I think Democrats, to their own peril, ignore Catholics in the midterms, coming up in the 2020 elections and all those Rust Belt states.

TAPPER: I just want to play a little clip from Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida. He's Jewish. He vented his frustration at his colleague Ilhan Omar's comments and the debate it's caused on the House floor. Take a listen.


REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: One of our colleagues invokes the classic anti-Semitic tropes, anti-Semitic language that Jews control the world, that Jews care only about money, that Jews can not be loyal Americans if they also support Israel. This, too, must be condemned.

And it feels like we can't say it's anti-Semitism unless everyone agrees that it's anti-Semitism.