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Cohen Sues the Trump Organization; Sentencing for Paul Manafort; House Vote on Anti-Hate Resolution; Sherrod Brown Not Running for President; Biden's Possible Presidential Run; Rep. Tom Suozzi (D) New York is Interviewed about the Anti-Hate Resolution. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 7, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Busy news day. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, he lied, he cheated and he is one of the people at the center of Robert Mueller's investigation. Today, the president's former campaign chairman learns his fate.

Anti-Semitism is bad, yet Democrats can't seem to agree on how to say it's bad and the public feud is getting messy.

Plus, in the 2020 race, it turns out it's the week of not running. Why Sherrod Brown just decided against a bid.

And President Trump hiding the consequences of war, ordering his administration to stop publicly reporting the number of civilians killed in U.S. drone strikes outside war zones.

But we begin with breaking news.

Former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen is suing the Trump Organization.

We have reporter Kara Scannell in New York with details on this.

So what is the basis of this lawsuit, Kara?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Brianna, this lawsuit that Michael Cohen just filed in a New York state court is alleging that the Trump Organization basically breached its duty to indemnify him, and they're not paying his legal fees. Cohen said that he performed -- he was owed these fees as a -- as part of his duties as a Trump Organization employee, everything from the work that he had done there, to his televised appearances during the campaign. He includes in the lawsuit part of this work, including paying those hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. And Cohen also alleges that -- that this was all part of the agreement for the congressional investigations, for his testimony and cooperation with Robert Mueller's investigation. He's saying that the Trump Organization stopped paying his fees once he agreed to cooperate and switch legal teams.

Now, we have not heard back from the Trump Organization. This lawsuit was just filed in court. But Michael Cohen is seeking attorney's fees that he says he was owed under a deal with the Trump Organization as one of its employees, as well as the work that he did for the campaign and after the campaign, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, I want to bring in CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero into this conversation.

Does he have a basis for this? So it's a suit saying that the Trump Organization failed to fulfill its contractual obligations to indemnify him or pay his attorney fees related to his work there.

Does he have a case?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'll look forward to reading the actual documents. Just hearing about it from Kara now, I have to wonder what the actual contract was. So one question would be, what was that contract? What did it actually say? What were its terms? And then, was it actually enforceable?

So, for example, we know that the Trump Organization has a practice of using non-disclosure agreements. But oftentimes when those are actually -- not the Trump Organization but more generally, when those types of agreements are litigated, they turn out not to be enforceable. So it really will depend on the terms of the actual agreement that he had and whether or not a court would find that to be an enforceable contract.

But I have to wonder what the benefit is to Michael Cohen of bringing this suit at this time if all he's seeking is legal fees. And, again, I'll look forward to reading the actual pleading documents. But if all he's seeking is legal fees, the money that he would spend on the legal fees to bring this suit would sort of perhaps counterbalance that out. So I'm very curious as to what the motivation is for this suit.

KEILAR: That's a good point. All right, Carrie Cordero, thank you so much.

Kara Scannell, appreciate that report.

From a life of excess to the possibility of life behind bars. From a python jacket, to a prison jumpsuit. Just a short time from now, a federal judge will sentence President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, on convictions stemming from the special counsel's Russia investigation.

The sentencing represents a spectacular fall from the pinnacle of American politics. Last summer a jury convicted Manafort on five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of hiding foreign bank accounts.

Political correspondent Sara Murray is outside of the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

What's the sentence that he is facing here?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, prosecutors have asked for him to face up to 25 years in prison. So essentially Paul Manafort is going to learn today whether he's going to spend the rest of his life behind bars. And prosecutors say their suggestion for the sentencing really fits the crime. They believe that Paul Manafort has shown very little remorse. They pointed out the fact that, you know, after they had struck a plea agreement with him, after he was supposed to be cooperating, that he lied to them after the fact.

And we haven't heard Paul Manafort speak on his own behalf. He didn't take the stand during the trial in Virginia, and he will have the opportunity to speak one last time in this Virginia courtroom today. He can speak before he is sentenced and we'll see if he chooses to do so.

In filings he's asked the judge for leniency, and I suspect if he does decide to speak he will do that again. I mean this is someone who has been behind bars for nine months already. He's 69 years old. His health has begun declining. He -- we've seen him at times using a cane, at times using a wheelchair. So this will be sort of his last shot for he and his attorney today to essentially beg the judge for a shorter sentence than this 25 years prosecutors have asked for.

[13:05:17] And don't forget, Bri, that this is just the first crack at sentencing. We're going to see him sentenced today in Virginia. But next week he's going to be sentenced before another federal judge in Washington.

KEILAR: Yes, that's very important to point out.

Sara Murray in Alexandria, thank you.

And we're also keeping an eye on Capitol Hill, where there has been a messy debate over an issue that normally wouldn't take much debate, anti-Semitism. This afternoon the House is expected to vote on a resolution that condemns all forms of hate in the wake of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's remarks slamming pro-Israel groups and politicians.

Now, originally, there were plans for a resolution condemning anti- Semitism, but backlash ensued with several big name presidential candidates saying that Omar was unfairly being attacked.

We have CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty covering this on Capitol Hill.

And, Sunlen, we heard from the speaker earlier this morning. Where do things stand now?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's very clear, Brianna, that House Democratic leadership are very eager to move past this whole episode. They will be having a vote on this resolution at some point later today. And this response was after that controversy originally sparked by Ilhan Omar, but it was really only snowballed for House Democratic leadership into this really nasty, inner-party debate and battle where you have Democrats versus Democrats over what exactly should be included in this resolution, what exact language should be in this resolution, and that has led to a very hard 48 hours for House Democratic leaders.

Now, we did hear from Nancy Pelosi earlier today and she was asked if she felt that Ilhan Omar should apologize. She said, no, that is really up to her to make that call, and then said this.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: I don't -- I don't think that -- that the congresswoman is perhaps appreciates the full weight of how it was heard by other people, although I don't believe it was intended in any anti-Semitic way. But the fact is that that's how it was interpreted. We have to remove all doubt, as we have done over and over again.


SERFATY: Now, very clear, and I should note that they do not still have the final resolution released to members up here, causing some concern among many members and aides, Brianna. But very clear, in listening to Nancy Pelosi, that this is going to be a lot broader than they originally thought, not just condemning anti-Semitism, but we heard Nancy Pelosi there say it would condemn anti-Semitism, anti- Islamophobia, anti-white supremacy. That is in direct response to a lot of concern that many members in her caucus Pelosi is responding to who felt that it unfairly singled out Ilhan Omar.


KEILAR: All right, Sunlen Serfaty on The Hill, thank you.

And we're following some breaking news in the 2020 race. A little bit of a surprise here.

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio has announced he will not run for president, instead choosing to remain in the U.S. Senate saying, quote, I will keep calling out Donald Trump and his phony populism. I will keep fighting for all workers across the country.

Joining me now, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, and Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator Hilary Rosen.

Are you surprised by this?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I am surprised, and I'm -- I don't think I'm the only one whose surprised.

KEILAR: You're always surprised. Tell me why.

BASH: Look, he was -- he was -- he was preparing a run. There's no question. He did this dignity of work tour. That's what he called his, you know, listening tour, not just in his home state of Ohio, but in the four early caucus and primary states. And he wanted to kind of get a sense of what's out there. And, look, he is one of the -- you know, when you look at the very,

very big field of people, particularly those who have decided to go in, I think it's fair to say there was maybe less of a hankering for a number of people who are in than Sherrod Brown among a lot of the Democratic voters because they saw him as somebody who not only strategically can do well among working class Democratic voters, because he already has in his home state of Ohio, but has the right message.

I interviewed him on "State of the Union" a couple of weeks ago. He also has very, very specific ideas, policy ideas, that it looked like, and clearly he was preparing for, to be aimed at 2020 voters.

KEILAR: So what do you think about this, Hilary.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm glad some Democrat wants to stay in the Senate.

I think, you know, Sherrod Brown would be a compelling candidate on paper. You know, a Democrat who won in a pretty red state in Ohio and with good numbers, and that was sort of his sell. But I think beyond that, you know, the progressive lane really is pretty crowded right now in the Democratic primary. He wasn't going into the centrist lane, where people argue there's a little more room, maybe. I just think probably he looked at it and said, I can have more influence influencing the candidates who are going to be traipsing through Ohio than going on the run himself.

[13:10:21] BASH: And running for president, we all know --

ROSEN: It's not easy.

BASH: It's really, really hard.

KEILAR: It does take -- I mean it takes you away from -- you can't do both jobs at all effectively.

BASH: Yes, and --

KEILAR: You have to pick one, and normally it's running for president that gets picked.

BASH: Yes. And I'm glad that you said that about staying in the Senate. You know, because you have almost every member now except for Sherrod Brown of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate running for president --

ROSEN: Right.

BASH: It makes it seem like it's not a place you can do work. But you can.

KEILAR: So, in the meantime, Hilary, "The New York Times" is reporting Joe Biden is 95 percent committed to running and his family is on board.

So where is he? Where is he now? What's the delay?

ROSEN: You know, I don't know. I -- there's apparently a 0.1 percent chance that he won't run. But, look, Joe Biden is really beloved in the Democratic Party. I think that he does have a lane. You know, people want him to run. He's still polling at the top of the pack. He's got a long history of policy.

He's one of those people, maybe unlike Sherrod Brown, where, you know, and I've been with him places over the last year where no matter where he goes, people say, you're going to run, right? You're going to do this, right? You know, sometimes the problem is nobody ever says don't run to folks like this. But I think Joe Biden is -- you know, he's got a lot to offer and God bless him. I'm happy he's getting in.

KEILAR: No, he hasn't --

ROSEN: If he does.

KEILAR: He has a long record, and that's something that we know he's going to have to confront, because one of the speeches that he gave more than 25 years ago is getting a fresh look today. Let's listen.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT (1993): We have predators on our streets that society has, in fact, in part because of its neglect, created. Again, it does not mean because we created them that we somehow forgive them or do not take them out of society to protect my family and yours from them. They are beyond the pale, many of those people. Beyond the pale. And it's a sad commentary on society. We have no choice but to take them out of society.


KEILAR: So the context here, right, is he voted for the 1994 crime bill, which ushered in the era of mass incarceration that Democrats and Republicans are currently trying to reverse.

BASH: We've seen --

KEILAR: How does he explain that?

BASH: Well, you know, it's going to be hard. He's going to have to explain it. And we've seen in recent history the candidate you followed around in 2016, Brianna, Hillary Clinton, have -- she didn't have -- she wasn't in the Senate. She didn't have a vote.

KEILAR: She said super predators. And she had to explain that.

BASH: But she used the same language.


BASH: She used the same language.

ROSEN: Look, I think he explains it two ways. One, he was actually talking about violent criminals who nobody is for. Let's face it, there's no constituency for a violent criminal. That tape will get taken out of context a lot, but that's what he was talking about.

BASH: But he did vote for the '94 crime bill, which --

ROSEN: He voted for the bill. He didn't just vote for it, he led it.

KEILAR: And let's just be clear, that could --

BASH: Exactly.

ROSEN: Right. And I --

KEILAR: Let's just be clear, that is a violent crime precipitated by two -- you could have drug crimes is the third strike. Let's just be clear about what that was.

ROSEN: For sure. But he didn't -- he -- he led that crime bill at a time when the crime rate was really high. And the Assault Weapons Ban was in that bill.

BASH: Yes it was.

ROSEN: Violence Against Women Act was in that bill. There were -- there was -- there was extra money for rehabilitation for drugs in that bill. So there were a lot of things that I think he can say, you know what, you take the good with the bad and, yes, sentencing reform, I think he's been for since then.

But, look, those two things, the Republicans would do well to pass again, and they've let it lapse. So I don't - I don't think he's going to have to apologize forever about this. This is 25 years ago. Crime actually is down. And I think he's made a difference on it.

KEILAR: All right, Hilary Rosen, Dana Bash, thank you guys so much.

BASH: Thank you.

KEILAR: I'm going to speak live with one Democratic congressman who has criticized Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Plus, former Chief of Staff John Kelly completely contradicting the president on immigration and the separations of families on the border.

And more on our breaking news. Michael Cohen suing the Trump Organization in what looks to be the next big fight.


[13:18:44] KEILAR: House Democrats are hoping a vote today will end their first big family feud since taking control in January. Lawmakers will vote on a resolution condemning not just anti-Semitism but all forms of hate. The resolution is following comments by freshman Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar that many viewed as anti-Semitic. Sources described a messy, that is a quote, intense, that is what they said, behind the scenes debate over Omar and this resolution.

We have Democratic Senator Tom Suozzi with us from Capitol Hill.

REP. TOM SUOZZI (D), NEW YORK: Hey, you just promoted me, Brianna. You just promoted me to senator.

KEILAR: Oh, I apologize for that. I know you -- I know you're a congressman and you're on the House side there. Thank you very much. Right outside of the House chamber.

SUOZZI: Thank you.

KEILAR: How difficult is this for Democrats to agree on when you hear -- you hear these descriptions. People are saying this is messy and intense.

SUOZZI: You know, we have to start out with the basic concept that anti-Semitism is real. It's not a made-up thing. It's a real thing in our country. It's a real thing in our world. And it's actually growing right now. So we have to be very, very firm in clearly speaking out against anti-Semitism.

And what happened in this instance of Representative Omar, my colleague, having made these apologies in the past for statements that she's made, now doing something again, we have to be very firm and say, you can't do this. It's wrong to question people's loyalty because they're pro-Israel. I'm very pro-Israel. And I'm pro-Israel and I'm a proud American because Israel is our great ally and we have to support them every single way that we can.

[13:20:14] KEILAR: You have been very vocal. Last month after the first controversial tweet that Congresswoman Omar made about political donations and the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, where she trafficked in an anti-Semitic troupe, you tweeted this. Rep. Omar's tweet yesterday went too far. To suggest that pro-Israel support is all about the benjamins and her follow-up that she is referring to AIPAC is not only inaccurate but conjures up the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes.

I wonder, in her most recent comments, do you distinguish between before, where she's clearly trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes, and then her comments that are more critical of Israel, or is what she said in the past just makes whatever she says about Israel problematic, in your -- in your view?

SUOZZI: This is -- yes, it's -- you know, she's a united -- she's a member of the United States Congress. She's 37 years old. She knows what she's doing. And she's made these statements in the past. She has to be much more careful going forward because people are listening very carefully to what she says. This is like, you know, President Kennedy, when he ran for president, and they said, oh, if he becomes the president, he's going to have a phone call to the pope to ask what to do.

My father went through this as an Italian American, people questioning his loyalty. He fought in World War II. As an Italian-American we're fighting Mousseline and they're questioning his loyalties as an Italian-American.

This is a real problem. And with the Jewish population, we have to understand, there a 2.5 billion Christians in the world. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. There are 900 million Hindus in the world. There are 300 million Buddhists in the world. There are only 15 million Jewish people in the world. And 6 million got killed during the Holocaust. It's no wonder that people are very sensitive when people try and bring out comments that could be determined as being anti-Semitic.

KEILAR: When -- I heard some Democratic observers say that doing this gives someone, Congresswoman Omar in this case, who has been very damaging to the Democratic brand, just more publicity. What do you say to that?

SUOZZI: I think that she's been getting more and more well-known. I mean, you know, we see a lot of the young people that have come in as freshmen have been very effective in being very well known. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Representative Omar, they're some of the most -- they're more well-known than I am well known and I've been doing this for a long time. So that's a positive in a way, but now you have to take that notoriety and use it in positive way to address very real problems we face in our country and in the world. And I think that this is a great opportunity for her to demonstrate leadership. You can't condition with these type of, I believe, irresponsible comments.

KEILAR: The Democratic presidential candidates are -- have been coming to her defense. Senators Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, they've all expressed supported for Omar. Do you think she is the best person for them to rally around?

SUOZZI: I -- you know, listen, people have to choose what they're going to do. The problem that we have in our politics today in America, for both Republicans --

KEILAR: Would you do what they -- would you do what they've done?

SUOZZI: No, I'm not -- I'm not going to defend this comment. I think this comment was wrong. I think it was a mistake. I don't think it should be done. And I think you have to call it out --

KEILAR: Do you think it will hurt them for their election bids?

SUOZZI: No, because the problem in America's politics today is that for the Republicans they have far right votes in the primaries. For the Democrats, the far left votes in the primaries. And this could appeal to the far left part of our party. That's why we need to stand up and recognize, we're all Americans. We're all in this together. And we need to figure out how to address problems that exist in our country and in our world. And anti-Semitism is a real problem in our country and in our world, as is Islamophobia, as is all the other issues that we're talking about in today's messaging resolution. But this -- we have to stand up and clearly call things that are wrong wrong regardless of the politics.

KEILAR: So the vote on the resolution was actually supposed to happen yesterday and then it was pushed to today. And the clock is ticking here because Republicans could put forward their own amendment on a similar topic. Are you worried that they could condemn anti-Semitism while Democrats are in this mess, in this intense mess rustling over how they do it?

SUOZZI: Well, you have to remember that we had a motion to recommit just a week ago, or two weeks ago, I can't remember the date, that the Republicans put up and the Democrats voted for overwhelmingly to condemn anti-Semitism. So it was very clear that people are taking a very strong position on this. We need to continue doing that and calling out anti-Semitism every time we see it. And call out racism. And call out Islamophobia. And call out all the other things. But we have to be very clear in this instance that we cannot --

KEILAR: But are you feeling the pressure to do this before they can, before Republicans can?

SUOZZI: I hadn't even considered that.

KEILAR: OK. All right. Well, that's very interesting.

Congressman Tom Suozzi, really appreciate you being on. Thank you.

SUOZZI: Yes, thanks for having me on, Brianna.

KEILAR: Michael Cohen is facing questions about whether he lied to Congress about seeking a pardon from the White House. Will all of his testimony now be called into question?

[13:25:07] And in the midst of a national debate on immigration, the president's former chief of staff is speaking out and breaking with his old boss in a big way.


[13:30:00] KEILAR: Just weeks before he heads to prison, the president's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, is facing new questions about whether he told another lie to Congress.