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Trump Says Cohen Directly Asked for A Pardon; Trump Says Democrats Have Become an Anti-Jewish Party; Why Did 23 Republicans Vote Against the Anti-Hate Resolution?; Interview with Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD); Trump Says I Feel Very Badly for Ex-Campaign Chief Manafort. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 8, 2019 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hi, I'm Ana Cabrera in for Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with us on this Friday. You are watching CNN.

We're staying on top of several breaking stories swirling around the Trump White House this afternoon. Communications Chief Bill Shine is out taking a job with Trump's reelection campaign is bringing him on. More on that in just a moment. Shine's departure comes as the President is sending a message out of his own about his former fixer Michael Cohen blasting him for comments Cohen made to Congress last week.


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


CABRERA: In a tweet today, the President called Cohen a liar, saying he directly asked Trump for a pardon, but the President had a kinder, gentler response to Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman convicted on several counts and now sentenced by a judge to 47 months in prison for financial crimes. That sentence was far short of the 19 to 25 years recommended by Robert Mueller's team. The news sparked sharp criticism throughout the legal and political world. The President, however, praised the decision.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. I think it's been a very, very tough time for him, but if you notice, both his lawyer, a highly respected man and a very highly respected judge, the judge, said there was no collusion with Russia. This had nothing to do with collusion. There was no collusion. It's a collusion hoax. I don't collude with Russia.


CABRERA: Just to be clear, despite what you just heard the judge in this case did not say there was no collusion only that it did not pertain to the charges in this particular case. Asha Rangappa is a legal and national security analyst. First, let me start with the President of the United States saying point-blank today Michael Cohen directly asked for a pardon. What does Mueller now do with this? Could his boost his case that the President needs to be interviewed?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Mueller would definitely be looking in to that conversation and I think it's important here to remember the difference between their relative positions. Petition, you know, the White House for pardons. That's what people do. They ask for mercy or leniency. That isn't running afoul of any kind of law or constitutional provisions. The question is -- what did Trump say on the other side? Did he dangle it in any way? Did he use it as an enticement because he is the President and though he has broad pardon power he cannot use it as a way to entice someone to behave in a particular way and we know he may have done this with other people in the Mueller probe like Paul Manafort and so that would definitely be of interest to Mueller in his investigation.

CABRERA: Then we're looking on Twitter, this initial tweet from the President sparking Michael Cohen's response, saying, this is just another set of lies by the President. He brings up International Women's Day and Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. What's your reaction to the President and his former lawyer arguing over who's lying on Twitter?

RANGAPPA: Yes. This just continues to be strange to me that President Trump will actually -- like say things on Twitter as there's an ongoing investigation. Michael Cohen is going to jail for lying. He knows that Mueller has -- if he has lied again, then he's going to get nailed for it and he will pay the consequences, and I think that he's quite aware of that. Having Trump continue to divulge information like the fact that they had a discussion about pardons, for example, is really not helping him and I think that he would be wise as we've said for the last two years to simply not tweet about ongoing investigations.

CABRERA: He's tweeting and he's talking about ongoing investigations, one that has now come to a close and that is Paul Manafort in front of Virginia's courtroom. Paul Manafort sentenced now. The judge sentencing him to about four years in prison. What's your big takeaway from the outcome of this case?

RANGAPPA: I think like most people who are watching this and expecting a much higher sentence I'm quite astonished at the low sentence considering exactly what Manafort pleaded guilty to which were pretty significant financial crimes and defrauding, you know, the treasury out of millions of tax money and defrauding banks.

[14:05:04] What I think is happening here also, though, is an appeal for a pardon. We were just talking about that. He did not express any remorse. He's signaling to the President that he is continuing to stay loyal and if we look at the pattern of pardon that the President has issued, he tends to pardon crimes for which he himself might be on the hook, so he pardons Scooter Libby who was convicted of obstruction of justice, he pardoned Dinesh Da Souza who was convicted of campaign finance violations and now the southern district may be looking into his finances and I wouldn't be surprised if there's some sort of, you know, self-exoneration through Manafort by potentially pardoning him after he is sentenced next week.

CABRERA: Asha Rangappa, always good to have your take.

Jamie Raskin is a member of the Oversight Committee where Michael Cohen gave that explosive testimony in public. He's on Capitol Hill now, the President saying that Michael Cohen asked him personally for a pardon. Sir, what do you do with this?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, one can only regard with some amazement the President's casual disclosure that he's been talking to people about pardons in this process and certainly it piques our curiosity. Of course, before Donald Trump the way that people would approach a President about a pardon was through the office of the pardon attorney in the Department of Justice where there was a whole process for a written submission and, you know, filing of questions and answers and so on.


RASKIN: The President has bypassed that and he deals it out like a political favor like we saw in the case of Dinesh Da Souza --

CABRERA: Which he has the power to do, I'm curious, who do you believe, Cohen or the President?

RASKIN: Well, you know, the President I think has told over 8,500 lies, that was a week ago. So, it might be up over 9,000 now. I don't know. For him it's just routine. Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying for the President before Congress and we're still trying to get to the bottom of exactly how that particular lie about the President's involvement in the Moscow tower project came about and we will get to the bottom of that, but at this point Michael Cohen has no incentive to lie and all of his testimony before our committee was coherent and consistent and, you know, as I said then and I'll say again, they're not mad at Michael Cohen because he lied for the President. They're mad at Michael Cohen because he stopped lying for the President.

CABRERA: I hear what you're saying, but now there is a question about whether Cohen was completely truthful in front of your committee the second time around when he talked about this issue of the pardon. Do you think the President should be called before your committee to testify as a witness now on this issue?

RASKIN: Well, there are obviously a multitude of issues we'd love to hear from the President about it and I am going to leave that to Chairman Cummins and Chairman Nadler --

CABRERA: If it were up to you, would you call the President?

RASKIN: Let me make one point that causes me real doubt about the President's story right now. The President is obviously an extremely close contact with the Republicans in Congress and had suggested a whole line of questions for them to pose to Michael Cohen when he came there. It seems to me if it were true that Michael Cohen had gone to President Trump to ask for a pardon before that testimony at some point or before he's pleading guilty, the President would have let the Republicans know so they could have asked about it. It does seem one of these whimsical last-minute Presidential inventions.

CABRERA: I know your committee has attempted to get documents about security clearances at the White House. Have you gotten your hands on any documents yet?

RASKIN: I have not seen any yet, but this is something of intense concern to the oversight committee, to the judiciary committee and also, I know to the intelligence committee, indeed to every member of Congress because the security clearance process is serious business and yet what we've heard is that it's been completely trampled by President Trump. Apparently, the officials who were in charge of reviewing Jared Kushner's application for security clearance rejected it and then the President overrode them repeatedly and they were so concerned about that that they insisted on documenting every step along the way. We are trying to get our hands on those documents to figure out what exactly happened and why.

[14:10:04] CABRERA: But you're saying you haven't seen any of those documents just yet, correct?

RASKIN: I have not. There were questions raised about Jared Kushner's relationships to different foreign governments including Saudi Arabia.

CABRERA: Right. I just want to clarify that issue. I have to ask, of course, about the President saying this about that antihate resolution you all passed in the House yesterday. Watch.


TRUMP: I thought yesterday's vote by the House was disgraceful because it's become the -- the Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They've been an anti-Jewish party and I thought that vote was a disgrace --


CABRERA: You are one of the lead coauthors on that resolution, what's your response to the President?

RASKIN: It's obviously absurd what the President just said. The statement was one denouncing anti-Semitism and racism and anti-Islamic bigotry. I wish the President would support it. Of course, we tried to bring a resolution after the disgraceful events that took place in Charlottesville. The Republicans wouldn't bring it to the floor and the President, of course, equivocated on which side he favored there saying there were very good people on both sides. The President is lucky that he escaped being named in that resolution because a lot of people wanted to add the last tv campaign ad he ran in the Presidential campaign in 2016 which identified three Jewish people, Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein and George Soros basically the enemies of the American people and this was denounced by the antidefamation league and was widely seen as the anti-Semitic ad in the history of politics. The President should really be careful about entering into this whole terrain and one can only regard with astonishment the fact that he's attacking a resolution which was bipartisan in nature which the vast majority of members of Congress voted for denouncing racism and bigotry.

CABRERA: But 23 Republicans did vote against the resolution and their reasoning is that it was too watered down, didn't call out a Representative Omar by name. Again, you are one of the lead coauthors, why didn't you call out Omar by name?

RASKIN: We didn't call out Omar by name, we didn't call out Donald Trump by name, despite his statements about Charlottesville, despite that tv ad which still has not been denounced by members of his own party which targeted Jewish Americans for a charge of essentially dual loyalty or opposition to the American people. The President should apologize for that now that he's entered into a debate about anti- Semitism.

CABRERA: Why not name Omar given that this spurred this?

RASKIN: We didn't name Donald Trump and we didn't name representative Omar and we didn't name a number of other individuals. We could have named, why, because the issues are too serious for the usual finger pointing and point scoring that takes place in American politics today. We wanted to lift this up to a level of principle and values and it was a magnificent statement of values that we as the Congress of the United States, we deplore and we oppose in every way and we reject anti-Semitism, we reject racism and we reject attacks on the Muslim community as well. We stand together as Americans e pluribus unum, for many, one. The fact that the President would set himself against that statement which the vast majority of Republicans voted for is just remarkable to me.

CABRERA: Congressman Raskin, thank you for being with us.

Surprise news from the White House today. Bill Shine is out. Word is the President was starting to lose enthusiasm for his communications director, so what went wrong for the former "Fox News" executive?

We're also following reaction to Paul Manafort's sentence and the judge's comments, how can it be said that Manafort lived an otherwise blameless life? We'll discuss.

And who are the 23 Republicans who voted against condemning hate and bigotry? Dana Bash knows and she'll join me to talk more about this.


CABRERA: Another communications director has left his post at the White House. Bill Shine, the former "Fox News" executive says he is joining the President's 2020 election campaign, but a source tells CNN the President had begun to sour on Shine questioning his judgment on a number of issues in recent months. With us now to discuss, CNN media analyst Bill Carter -- I almost called you Bill Shine and Oliver Darcy CNN senior media reporter.

Let me just ask you about the timing here. There was this explosive report that came out earlier this week about "Fox News" and the White House working hand in hand. Do you buy the timing that this is just about the campaign?

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: I think -- a lot of stuff in that story was pretty well-known so I don't know if it necessarily was a big factor. People knew these guys. It was not a good relationship. What's interesting in the story that they emphasized the fact that Shine was still getting paid from "Fox News" getting $7 million. I can see that bothering Trump a little bit. I can see that being maybe a last straw for him but he was on the outs and this was going to happen any way I'm pretty sure.

CABRERA: You had an inkling that he and Trump were getting along.

[14:20:00] CARTER: Trump felt as he's felt about all these communications director and he's had five of them, this is not a job you take if you want long-term employment. He was unhappy that he's not getting good press. He blames the communications director even though he makes bad headlines that wind up getting bad press. He wants to know why the communications director can't control that. He is unhappy with all of them.

CABRERA: We never really saw Bill Shine. He didn't put himself in front of the camera. Oliver, what did he do?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: When he came in there was a narrative that he might be the one that reins in Trump's messaging and the White House messaging, get it under control. It's unclear what he was actually doing and it seems like Trump sour because he wasn't getting a positive press coverage. His job at the end of the day became booking people on "Fox News." Maybe foreshadowing that he left the White House today because he wasn't even in Vietnam during this big North Korea conference. He was at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

CABRERA: You bumped into him there.

DARCY: I said why aren't you at Vietnam. That seems to be where the top communications official would be. He didn't answer the question. He declined to provide a real answer. His lasting legacy, Ana, he shut off White House access to the press, he was responsible really for getting rid of the daily briefing. The White House during his tenure battled with CNN over access to the White House there. That is going to be his enduring legacy, shutting off access.

CABRERA: We believe the President is his own best messenger. Who could replace Shine?

CARTER: It doesn't matter. Hope Hicks he liked and people he didn't get along with like Shine. It doesn't matter. He feels like he could do it better. If the press isn't good, the media's not saying -- I'll go out there and speak. I can control this and he's done it his whole life. Before he got to the White House, he was always in the press in New York.

CABRERA: He'd call in and pretend to be somebody else. CARTER: He managed his own image and -- he thinks nobody does it

better than him. He's probably right because he's done it very well and look where it's gotten him. He doesn't take direction, let's face it. That's not what he does.

CABRERA: Bill Carter, Oliver Darcy, good to have you with us.

We have brand-new questions today about Jared Kushner's real estate dealings. Last summer his property at 666 5th Avenue got a much- needed infusion of cash, but where did it come from? I'll talk about what the House Democrats are doing to find out. Plus, outrage erupts over Paul Manafort's sentence showing disparity in America's justice system.


CABRERA: We have this video just in to CNN. President Trump and First Lady Melania paying tribute to victims of the tornados in Alabama that struck this community earlier this week. The President and first lady have spent the last couple of hours there on the ground in lee county. To get updates on the damage and visit with survivors. You can see them honoring the 23 people who died ranging in age from 6 to 89 years old. President Trump on his way there talked about the Manafort sentencing, saying he feels very badly for his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort after a federal judge sentenced him to nearly four years in prison. A sentence that drastically fell short of expectations and prosecutors' recommendations. Prosecutors said Manafort should serve up to 25 years in prison, seasonal a life sentence for the 69-year-old. Joining us now to discuss, former federal judge Kevin Sharp and CNN commentator Bakari Sellers. Was this a fair sentence, Kevin?

KEVIN SHARP, FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE: No. I was surprised, a little disappointed in that. Certainly, the sentencing guidelines of something in the 20-year range I think Judge Ellis was right. That would have been too harsh, but a four-year sentence for based on these facts and circumstances, it came woefully short a sentence that would have been fair.

CABRERA: You say this is an example of how the criminal justice system in this country favors the white, the rich, the powerful. Explain how you see it this way.

BAKARI SELLERS (D) FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA HOUSE MEMBER, CNN COMMENTATOR: I don't think that -- I actually don't think this was fair at all and it perfectly exemplifies what I said and what you saw was privilege in that courtroom. I practice in the federal courtroom often. I'm going to meet with the solicitor today when I leave this studio and what we see is nonviolent drug offenders get far greater sentence than that of Paul Manafort. Seeing a downward departure from 20 years plus to four years is something that is rarely, if ever, seen in a federal courthouse and so, the only thing that individuals can attribute this to -- let me just say for your viewers, I'm not shocked by this at all. I'm too tired to be appalled by this because this is something that we see day in and day out in our criminal justice system where there is a group of individuals who benefit while there are many others who are toiling in federal prisoners for nonviolent drug offenses. It's over 2,000 nonviolent drug offenders that have been sentenced to life or serving over 50 years in prison compared to Paul Manafort who's had a life of criminality.

CABRERA: Do you agree with that assessment, Kevin, that the system is just messed up that way? That this is just a reflection of the system, not necessarily poor judgment by Ellis?

SHARP: I think it's a combination of both. The system favors the wealthy and the white. I don't think you can look at the data and disagree with Congressman Sellers on that.