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House Votes on Anti-Semitism Resolution; Cohen's Shifting Stories; Biden's 95 Percent Committed to a Run. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 7, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you all so much for joining me today.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing this busy news day with us.

House Democrats plan a vote today on a resolution condemning anti- Semitism. It's a response to a series of statements by freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. But the issue is causing major family friction just as the new Democratic majority tries to advance its policy ideas.

Plus, judgement day for Paul Manafort. The former Trump campaign chairman faces up to 25 years in prison. And the special counsel says he deserves the max because he kept lying after promising to cooperate.

And who should we believe, the Michael Cohen who told Congress under oath he never asked the president for a pardon, or the Michael Cohen whose lawyer talked to team Trump about the possibility of a pardon?


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: If Michael Cohen asked for a pardon, I do think that that is problematic because it casts doubt over the veracity of all of his testimony.


KING: Back to that in a moment.

But we begin the hour with breaking news on Capitol Hill. A plan by House Democrats to vote today on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and other hatred and bigotry. It is an effort to show displeasure with a series of anti-Semitic statements by the freshman Democratic congresswoman, Ilhan Omar. It is also an effort to move past a debate that is causing a big, internal Democratic family feud. Some members believe it is critical Omar's statements be rebuked. Others believe she's being singled out unfairly, or they see an effort to stifle any criticism of Israel. It also is a major early challenge for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is

finding it difficult to keep the larger Democratic family on the same page, especially newly elected members who don't like to wait or don't like to tame their tweets.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: It should not mention her name, and that's what we're working on, something that is one resolution addressing these forms of hatred, not mentioning her name because it's not about her, it's about these forms of hatred.

QUESTION: She hasn't apologized. Does she need to apologize?

PELOSI: It's up to her to explain, but I do not believe that she understand the full weight of the words.


KING: CNN's Sunlen Serfaty live on Capitol Hill tracking this drama. The speaker trying to put it to rest, Sunlen, but you could see the tension just as she spoke there.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. This certainly has frustrated leadership, the fact that this original controversy over Ilhan Omar, it has only snowballed for them over the last 48 hours and really turned into a larger controversy as the infighting within the party has really boiled over. Sources describe to me as this as being a very messy, very nasty moment for the Democratic Party over in the House where you have openly fighting between members over this issue, over what should be included in the resolution.

So the fact that that House leadership now is saying, look, we are going to vote on this today, there is going to be a resolution to vote on, really is an attempt for them to try and silence all of this squabbling and refocus on what they want to be focused on right now. Very clear from Nancy Pelosi there, although members and aides here up on Capitol Hill still do not have a final version of this text are unaware of what exactly it covers. But it is clear, if you listen to Nancy Pelosi correctly, that it has grown from just being an anti- Semitism resolution, to something much broader. She says not only it's going to cover only anti-Semitism, but also anti-Islamophobia and anti-white supremacy. And that is in response to a lot of concern of members up here on Capitol Hill, a lot of Democrats saying, look, if we're going to chastise one of our own, we can't single out one Ilhan Omar over this, many other people who have said similarly hateful things. So that an attempt for House leadership to really pull other members in and to potentially pass this later today.

KING: And we'll wait for the actual text. Come back to us if you get it during the hour. An interesting day, an interesting moment for the new Democratic majority.

Sunlen, thank you. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie

Pace with "The Associated Press," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Franco Ordonez with McClatchy, and Rachael Bade of "The Washington Post."

This is a big challenge for the speaker early on in her new days. Listen to her here now. Ilhan Omar has said several things, some before in Congress, but three or four just since coming to Congress in the last month that are clearly anti-Semitic. But listen to the speaker here saying, not that she thinks she's anti-Semitic, but she thinks she just doesn't understand.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: 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 at somebody outside. And I feel confident that her words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitude, but that she didn't have a full appreciation of how they landed on other people where this -- these words have a history and a cultural impact that might have been unknown to her.


[12:05:13] KING: I'm going to call that good cop Nancy Pelosi in the sense that Kate Bolduan just moments ago had the head of the Anti- Defamation League on her program who said, sorry, I can't agree with that because she did it again and again and again.


KING: It's not that it happened once. She was called out by her colleagues, say, hey, talk to us. Other Jewish members saying, talk to us, let's talk though this. Let us teach you why this is so offensive. And she kept doing it. So why is the speaker being, I'm going to say, kind there?

PACE: So the point that Pelosi's making is one that she's been making privately to some of these freshmen. You know, there is a difference, she says, between what you said as a candidate, what you said as an activist, and what you're saying as a member of Congress, in part because you reflect on the whole body, the party as a whole.

I do think Omar, in these comments, though, are in a different bucket than some of the things you might see from Cortez or Pressley or some of the Tlaib, some of the more outspoken members. This touches on a very different issue with a very different set of sensitivities. And I do think Pelosi is going to get some pushback for not being tougher in her language, though she's obviously trying to straddle, you know, two parts of her -- of her party there. But I do think what Omar has been saying is different than some of the issues she's had with some of the other freshmen.

KING: To that point, the speaker gave her remarks. You would expect members of the Democratic family, even if they still don't like this, even if they're not happy, many of them just wanted a specific anti- Semitism resolution to make clear, without naming Ilhan Omar, this is about her, this is about what she said, now you have the broader language.

Ted Deutch, Jewish member of the Democratic Party in the House, normally loyal to the speaker, on the floor saying, I don't like this.


REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: We are having this debate because of the language one of our colleagues, language that suggests that Jews like me who serve in the United States in Congress and whose father earned a purple heart fighting the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge, that we are not loyal Americans? Why are we unable to singularly condemn anti- Semitism? Why can't we call it anti-Semitism and show that we've learned the lessons of history?


KING: She's trying to manage this bigger, more diverse, more interesting, more restive in some ways Democratic majority, and that would be evidence to me that not successful today.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, I mean, she's in this no-win situation, right? I mean she's got a very vocal incoming freshman class who -- some of who actually stood up in caucus yesterday and said to her point blank, I didn't come to Washington to fall in line with you. And they pushed back. A lot of not just these freshmen but members of the Congressional Black Caucus who wanted to condemn, you know, racist comments they've heard from Republican colleagues throughout the years and weren't able to do that, they all sort of banded together and said, look, we don't want to be giving headlines about rebuking one of our own. If we're going to talk about anti-hate, let's broaden it out and let's look at islamophobia, let's look at racist comments, let's look at all these things.

And -- but there is this group of senior Jewish Democrats, Deutch is one of them, there's a bunch of chairmen as well, who are very close with Pelosi and who called her over the weekend and said, we cannot let this stand. And so she, right now, and also there's a lot of Jewish donors who are upset and who have been calling the leadership and saying, you need to do something. She just can't win in this situation. And it's a real challenge of her leadership right now.

FRANCO ORDONEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "MCCLATCHY": She really can't win. I mean I have been talking with Democrats today who are just like -- just angry about the resolution itself and just -- that just stirred up more anger on each side. And they're just watching as the Republicans get more excited about this. This is a weapon for them. This is an opportunity.

I talked to one today who was just telling me that the Democrats have kind of forfeited their moral high ground. They can no longer say -- this is their words -- no longer say that Trump is, you know, doing all these prejudices when they're doing them themselves. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And the fact that

they're having a debate, a discussion, in fact a fight over what is anti-Semitic and what is not is not -- that's probably the biggest point of all here. And Congressman Deutch went on to say, he said, who gets to define what counts as anti-Semitism? He's like, it's the person who experiences the bias here.

So this is not going to go away. Republicans have been quiet on this because they are enjoying this, quite frankly. But Democrats trying to move quickly to get that resolution on the floor to avoid a competing resolution.

But the bigger narrative of this, it's complicated by presidential candidates as well also weighing in. But Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, you know, saying that, you know, she should not be excluded for this.

So I think the bigger point of this is, yes, it's a complication of having a majority, but this is not a simple squabble. And this is occupying, a, you know, important and valuable real estate time when other things should be happening, but, b, this is something that could linger as a real wedge inside the party.

PACE: In part because there's no sign that Omar is going to back off on this.

ZELENY: Or stop saying --

BADE: She didn't apologize.

PACE: Right. She has -- she has --

BADE: She has not apologized for this.

PACE: Right. she at times have said things that have gotten close to an apology, but also, in the same breath, defended the overall point that she's making.

[12:10:03] KING: Yes, and she is -- she makes the point -- and she says especially as a Muslim member, if she criticizes Israel, she's going to be accused of anti-Semitic, which is actually just -- that's not right. I mean that -- that should not happen, and I don't believe it would happen, if she just talked about settlement policy or Netanyahu or treatment of Palestinians. The issue is, when she says it's all about the benjamins, baby, or duel loyalties and things like this that are clearly anti-Semitic statements. You can criticize Israel.

The question is, where do we go from here? And you mentioned the presidential candidates, which is a fascinating dynamic in the sense that they're out there in a primary, which is more driven by the activist base than the broad swath of the party. Bernie Sanders, what I fear going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate, meaning about the Palestinians. That's wrong. Elizabeth Warren, branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse. Makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between the Israelis and Palestinians. Kamala Harris, I'm concerned the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk. We should be having a good and respectful discussion about policy.

Now, a Ted Deutch would say, sure, let's have that, but what she said isn't good and respectful.

So why are the candidates more to the left, if that's the right terminology?

PACE: Well, I think there is a part of the Democratic base -- and we've seen this for some time -- that actually is more critical of Israel, certainly the settlement policy, certainly some of the other actions of the Netanyahu government. So the idea that there is an audience within the Democratic Party for a tougher line on Israel, or at least not just a reflexively pro-Israel policy isn't new. I mean we saw this with President Obama as well, frankly. So that's not new. I think that is part of why you're seeing Democrats be -- be at least -- at least concerned about -- about Omar. Again, though, her rhetoric is different than what we have seen from a lot of other politicians for sure.

ZELENY: And the medium is different. This is playing out on social media.

PACE: Absolutely.

ZELENY: And it's being stoked, too. It's being stoked by the other side. And the White House is loving all of this because it does -- you know, we're in an era now that we've not seen before, largely because we have the president sort of like leading the charge on a lot of these hateful type things. So it's a different moment but a similar viewing.

KING: And I would -- quickly to the big -- bigger question in the long run. Nancy Pelosi, very sensitive about being speaker. It was hard to get speaker. She needed some of these younger Democrat's votes to be speaker, which I think is part of this. She doesn't want to alienate them right now.

But "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board saying, the most important question after this moral fiasco may be, who's really the speaker of the House? Is it Pelosi or the young radicals led by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez?

She's not going to like reading that.

The question is, how does she show, I'm in charge, when she still has over -- on this issue, you know, the family's in full feud?

BADE: Pelosi is smart. She picks her battles. She saw this was not something she could win and she wanted to move on. So that's what she's doing. She's trying to move the new cycle along to get this over with.

I think that, you know, obviously, that editorial is talking about AOC and these vocal freshmen, which are a big factor of this, but it wasn't just them. It was the Congressional Black Caucus. It was progressive members in the House who are -- this was a full uprising from House -- the House Democratic caucus. It wasn't just these vocal freshmen. But, again, these vocal -- these loud voices and the 2020ers coming out and weighing in on this shows that Pelosi is no longer, you know, the senior Democrat making decisions here. She's going to have to contend with these other loud voices in the room when she's trying to make her policy decisions.

ORDONEZ: For Pelosi it's just a difficult time. I mean things were going so well for her. Just politically she was just on top of the world. Now this is really just putting so many questions to her and she needs to get ahead of this because she does not want this to linger for 2020. These are the kinds of distractions you fought in the primaries, not now.

KING: Right. We'll continue to keep our eye on the floor, see if other members speak. See if we get the text on the resolution.

Up next for us here, though, Michael Cohen has more explaining to do.


[12:17:54] KING: Michael Cohen is a convicted liar, now trying to clean up what sure looks to be a dozy of a new lie told to Congress. This is Cohen under oath and under penalty of perjury.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from President Trump.


KING: Never, to most of us, means never, as in no wiggle room, never. But, today, Cohen's legal team is trying to redefine "never." "The Wall Street Journal" reports Cohen directed his attorney, Stephen Ryan, to ask about the possibility of a presidential pardon. This was last spring, just weeks after the FBI raided Cohen's home and his office. Last spring is not never. But Cohen advisor Lanny Davis, who worked for the Clintons back in the "I did not have sex with that woman" and it depends on the definition of is (ph) days, says this can all be explained. Davis tells CNN, Cohen was open to a pardon before July 2nd when Cohen left the legal cooperation agreement with the president and his associates. If you think that's an admission of a lie or a misstatement, then you don't know Lanny Davis. Davis goes on to say, what Cohen told the Oversight Committee last week is still true, quote, consistent with his post-JDA commitment to tell the truth.

I guess it depends on your definition of never.

How do we --

BADE: Well, it sounds like Lanny Davis is trying to say -- to parse this, right, and say, when he said never, he actually meant that -- that was after he had his, you know, come to Jesus moment or whatever, like where he decided he was going to be truthful from now on and work with investigators and tell all he knew about the president.

But, obviously, that's not what he said. And you look at this and you -- Republicans spent that entire hearing trying to knock down his credibility to the point that it almost became a joke on Capitol Hill. But this makes them look smart and everybody else look kind of foolish because, you know, Democrats are -- brought him in and are actually doing a bunch of investigations off of what he said. So what else did he say that wasn't the full truth?

KING: And so here's the paradox of Michael Cohen. The Southern District of New York was very careful when it charged -- when it had -- laid out the charges of saying that we know he's a liar and so we went -- we went through the records. We have documentation. Because they publicly accused the president of the United States of a felony campaign finance violation, the Southern District of New York, as individual one. But what they say is, we took what he said and we ran it through the records. Here's what we know to be true.

[12:20:11] The Democrats with these document requests, that's going to be the burden on them. You can't just -- you can't hook anything just on Michael Cohen.

ZELENY: No doubt about it. And he is really helping Republicans along in what they were trying to do last week.

PACE: Right.

ZELENY: I mean every day that passes for Michael Cohen's televised testimony as we learn other things, he does not look quite as rosy, I guess. And that shouldn't be a surprise because we do know that he is a liar, as you've said.

But I just think the ham-handedness and the -- you know, fact that, you know, he may not remember what he said in every circumstance because he wasn't telling the truth, obviously. But Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he had very strong words, harsh words, for Michael Cohen this morning. So I think that, you know, the longer he is testifying on Capitol Hill, bringing documents and walking through with his suitcase, the worst he sort of looks.

PACE: And what's amazing about this is, this was in his prepared testimony. This was not his opening statement. This was not something we got kind of caught off guard by a question that he didn't expect. This is something that was written, presumably vetted by his attorneys, who were also involved in some of these parted (ph) discussions, and then he was allowed to go on the floor and say it. So it -- I mean it is an amazing set of characters that you are dealing with that don't deal in the truth quite often, but there's a sort of recklessness to this that I think is actually still astounding no matter how much we know about these characters.

KING: And he also said, on another significant issue, he said this about his testimony. He was convicted -- he agreed he lied to Congress about telling them the timing of Trump Tower Moscow negotiations in 2016. Here's what he said about that testimony.


MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: There were changes made, additions. Jay Sekulow, for one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were there changes about the timing? The question --

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), CHAIRMAN: The gentleman's time has expired. You may answer that question.

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


COHEN: Which was --

CUMMINGS: Were you finished.

COHEN: Yes, I -- the message, of course, being the lengths of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive.


KING: You can't listen to that and not think he's dropping the president's lawyer's name, Jay Sekulow. They changed the testimony about the timing. There was a big lie. Cohen said it ended in January. Trump said it ended in January. And it turns out it went well into the campaign.

Lanny Davis, again, this corrects the record, Cohen's attorney, told CNN, Cohen himself authored the false line in his 2017 testimony to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow timeline.


ORDONEZ: I mean, as Rachael was saying, he is helping Republicans. Their strategy was shoot the messenger. He has no credibility, is a convicted felon, you shouldn't believe anything. But they're also very afraid because Cohen knows where the body is. Their words, not mine.

KING: The question is, can they -- can the Democrats now find documents to back up the other stuff?

ORDONEZ: Exactly. Democrats are saying find -- look at the documents, look at the documents. But they're so scared because nobody's going to believe him.

BADE: And I think it's interesting too because like Democrats wanted to talk about the pardon issue because they think it's a huge part of the obstruction of justice investigation that they're looking into right now and they very much thought it would very -- it would be, you know, the president getting out there and floating this idea, or his attorneys. You know, it's sort of -- it's coming back and being the exact opposite of what they expected and it's hurting their own cause.

KING: We will see if the documents back up any of the things he said. We shall see.

Up next, reading the Joe Biden 2020 tea leaves. But first, one already declared presidential candidate making note, yes, he has some trouble with name recognition.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "The Washington Post," Jenna Ruben (ph), does a column and calls you the smartest candidate -- the smartest presidential candidate that you've never heard of. What's your reaction to that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we've got to work on the second half.



[12:28:27] KING: To run or not to run is still the question for Joe Biden. But today we have a clearer sense of the odds. At least we think we do.

"The New York Times," in a new report, says this, in recent weeks, Mr. Biden's strategist, Steve Ricchetti, has called a handful of would-be candidates and their aides to signal that the former vice president is likely to enter the race and of late has been telling Democrats that he's 95 percent committed to running. As a candidate, Mr. Biden would present Democrats with a clear alternative to the hard-charging liberals who now dominate the race and test the appeal of his old- school political profile at a moment the party is hungry for fresh faces but even hungry to win.

As I was saying during the break, it's always good to get Steve Ricchetti's name in the program.

You've spent a lot of time on this. So we take 95 percent as, OK, he's in, or do we take 95 percent as, oh, by, 5 percent of doubt to leave you to get out?

ZELENY: I think you can do it either way. And the question is, is Biden's calculation in the 95 or is it in the five? If it's in -- I mean we do know that Joe Biden -- and we've said a million times -- wants to be president. And they are going down this path to have a campaign in waiting when he makes a decision. Everyone I talk to says he is almost certain to run. So I think that's what that signal is.

And the Bloomberg decision this week was also interesting because that, you know, allows the former vice president to sort of have that lane, if you will.

But I think a couple things we still don't know. What is the appetite out there for this center lane? In every type of discussion I have with voters and others, people say, I like Joe Biden, but. There is a "but" after that. So he does need to make his case anew for why this is a good idea.

[12:30:02] And I think he also has to be prepared to write out a long summer, if you will. He's not going to stay on top the whole time. He knows that. He's very well aware