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Any Moment the Senate to Rebuke Trump Over His Emergency; Trump Sees Emergency Vote as Loyalty Test; Beto O'Rourke Says Any 2020 Democrats Far Better Than Trump; Mueller's Lebron James of Laundering Investigators to Leave; GOP Senator Changes His Mind, He Will Side with Trump on Emergency. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 14, 2019 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me on this Thursday afternoon. You've got live pictures of the Senate floor because any moment the U.S. Senate will put on Congressional record a rare rejection of President Trump and it is the second time in two days.

Plus, today's rebuke has an even deeper sting since it is over Donald Trump's marquee campaign promise, building that border wall. Senators are on the verge of approving a resolution to block the President's national emergency declaration. The declaration is supposed to unlock $3.6 billion from the Defense Department to go toward the wall. Just a short while ago, the President said this about today's vote.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll probably have to veto and it's not going to be overturned and we'll have our whole thing. It's been -- the legal scholars all say it's totally Constitutional. It's very important. It's a border security vote. It's pure and simple. It's a vote for border security and a vote for no crime.


BALDWIN: However, many members of Trump's own party say this vote is actually about a President overreaching his powers which is why the list of Republicans voting to approve this block is growing of the straight to Capitol Hill we go. Manu Raju has this vote tally. The fear from at least the White House that as many as 14 Republican senators could say yes to blocking the President's national emergency. What are the numbers you have right now?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ten Republicans have announced they plan to vote against the President, voting for that disapproval resolution in a matter of minutes, 47 Democrats are going to vote for the resolution, that means 57 at the moment at least will rebuke the President enough to send it to his desk that at the moment is short of the 67 needed to overturn a veto. We expect more Republicans potentially to vote for this measure but behind the scenes, the President and Vice President have been trying to limit those defections in the Republican side. They've had some success. One senator, Johnny Isaacson of Georgia, told he spoke with the President this week and the President made it very clear he wanted his -- this emergency declaration to go forward. Isakson said he would stand with the President. Others made their position known including Mitt Romney who told the President last week that he plans to vote against him, support this resolution and he's doing so because he needs to uphold the Constitution and he said the President urged him to change his mind.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH: I informed the President last week that I would be voting in favor of the resolution of disapproval.

RAJU: What did he say?

ROMNEY: He'd rather have me vote in a different direction but I let him know that this for me is a matter of defending the Constitution.

RAJU: The President's been lobbying pretty hard on this. Are you worried about backlash from the President for your support?

ROMNEY: I think the President recognizes that senators will vote their conscience and vote base upon their assessment of what's at stake and the principles involved and different senators see it different ways. That's an issue of a pluralistic Senate but the President can certainly express his views as he has and individual senators will express theirs.


RAJU: And three Republican senators last night, Brooke, tried to essentially stage an intervention at the White House last night. Senator Lindsey Graham along with Ben Sasse and Mike Lee all went to the White House in what Graham says interrupting Trump's dinner to discuss with him a possible deal to avoid more defections, urged the President to back a separate proposal to limit the use of national emergencies in the future. The President would not go along with that, but the pitch to him was, support that, perhaps you can limit Republican defections, the President would not go along with that so the behind the scenes effort by the President having not much success in preventing this vote certainly from passing today, the only question now is how many Republican senators will ultimately defect? At least ten right now, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We'll chat again during the vote.

While some Republicans and all Democrats see this vote as really a way to stop the power grab, sources say the President sees this as a loyalty test. Again, we are minutes from this vote and while we wait, let's talk to CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN political commentator Charlie Dent, a former Republican Congressman. So, Gloria, to you first on -- Trump sees this as a loyalty test.


BALDWIN: How big of an embarrassment might this be to the President?

[14:05:00] BORGER: Pretty big. This is the second time he's going to lose something in the Senate. The first time came when Republicans voted to pull back American aid to forces in Yemen and then this, again, as you point out, this is something the President campaigned on, it was his number one issue. He's trying to make it a loyalty test and say this is about border security. Republicans are -- should be united with me on border security and they're saying, no, no there's something important here and that's the Constitution. Even though the President sort of hinted, maybe, OK you vote for this and maybe later I'll support you on -- I'll never do it again or no President can ever do it again and that's a little hokey. That is a big embarrassment.

BALDWIN: You would expect the Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowskis and Ben Sasses of the world, Rand Paul, Rob Portman just got added to vote yes. You wouldn't expect these names, so is there a certain senator who is surprising you the most and who else are you really going to be watching for?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Brooke, I'm not surprised by any of the names you mentioned. I'm really, frankly, shocked that there are not more Republican members of Congress who aren't voting for this resolution.

BALDWIN: Really?

DENT: There is an emergency. The emergency is the Presidential assault on Congress's power of the purse authority under article 1 of the Constitution. That is the emergency. As far as I can tell, the loyalty here is to the Constitution, not to the President. The President is taking defense dollars, military construction dollars and moving them for a nondefense purpose. That breaks the law. There's all sorts of problems with this thing. I wrote the military construction bill before I left Congress, so I know a little bit about this. If you're a senator and you're going to vote against this resolution, understand that your state has many -- has many projects that the President could siphon money from and you'll be exposed on that issue.

BALDWIN: Why do you think they're not doing that? What are they afraid of?

DENT: I think the President gets the base ginned up and many members, Republican members, unfortunately, are looking over their right shoulder. They're worried about a primary or maybe a Presidential tweet and getting cross wise with the President. This is a simple issue of separation of powers, of Congress protecting its power of the purse authority, plain and simple. Slam dunk.

BALDWIN: Gloria, back to Manu's reporting about essentially you have these three senators, these are typical allies of the President, Graham, Sasse, Cruz and they barge in to this White House dinner and say, I'll do this, I'll vote in your favor but promise me you will never do this again? Where does Trump stand on this? BORGER: Well, he's sort of, like, OK, he tweeted at a later date if

Congress wants to update the law I'll support those efforts, but what is that worth and as Charlie Dent is saying, you know, these members of Congress, these conservatives and Democrats who are joining are saying to themselves, what are we doing here? If we allow this President to have this authority and we're supposed to be the ones with the power of the purse and then he can start moving around all the chips on the table when he wants to, you have to ask yourself whether you've essentially neutered yourself and your responsibilities as a member of Congress, not only to your constituents but as Charlie Dent is also saying to the Constitution.


BORGER: And every member of Congress has to ask himself and say, who am I and what am I doing here, to repeat a phrase.

BALDWIN: Why would they, Charlie Dent, why would they give him this one-time pass? Why even be allowed to do this once?

DENT: It all has to do with primary pressures, getting members of the Congress -- Republican members are worried about getting cross wise with their base. It's really that simple. There's no other reason for this. If you're going to declare an emergency, a national emergency, then the remedy, in this case a wall should address the underlying emergency and I can make a very powerful case that building a barrier is not going to stop, you know, poor migrants from central American entering a port of entry and surrendering. You can't build the wall fast enough for a whole host of reasons. There are all sorts of problems with this thing from the article 1 issue. The remedy isn't going to address the underlying emergency.

BALDWIN: We are minutes away from the vote. We'll talk about it when it happens live. Thank you very, very much for that.

Beto O'Rourke makes it official launching his 2020 campaign with a swing through Iowa and a front cover of "Vanity Fair". He says he was just born to do this but what does he stand for?

[14:10:08] And 33 parents facing charges in that massive college cheating scandal, but what about the students involved? Will they be expelled? What the schools are saying about that now?

And he's one of Robert Mueller's top prosecutors. He's been referred to as the Lebron James of money laundering investigations. What his departure says about the Mueller investigation overall? You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:15:00] BALDWIN: Coming in on live pictures, Beto O'Rourke standing up on a counter in a restaurant there in Burlington, Iowa. The big story today after months of hints, public events and self- described soul searching, the former Texas Congressman has finally made his decision, he is running for President in 2020 and he's already campaigning in the first state to hold a Presidential nominating vote, Iowa.


BETO O'ROURKE (D), FORMER CONGRESSMAN, AND 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the first stop in our campaign to be President of the United States. This setting right now, the very first event of our campaign for President is an example not only of the way I wish to campaign across this country for every single American and I could careless, your party persuasion, your religion, anything other than the fact that right now we're all Americans and we're all human beings and we do everything within our power for one another, for this great country and for every generation that follows. This is democracy.


BALDWIN: His announcement coincides with an extensive profile in "Vanity Fair" and a very all-American photo shoot by Anna Leibovitz in which he says he is, quote, born to do this. So, with me now, Vic Kolenc, business reporter, "El Paso Times" and he just interviewed O'Rourke about join this already overcrowded Democratic field.

So, thank you so much for being with me. I got to start with this "Vanity Fair" bit because this is -- this is a guy that seems to me paints himself as, I was once on the El Paso City Council and I ride my bike to political events and I like to Instagram my family. I'm just like you. Why "Vanity Fair"?

VIC KOLENC, BUSINESS REPORTER, "EL PASO TIMES": I understand Leibovitz has a connection to El Paso. I think her father was stationed here in the military. So, she was here for a little time. That could be the reason that happened.

BALDWIN: Do you think it's fitting with his personality?

KOLENC: I'm sorry.

BALDWIN: Do you think it's fitting with his personality?

KOLENC: The "Vanity Fair" piece?


KOLENC: I saw part of it and read part of it. It portrayed his personality pretty well. He's just like -- when he was -- when he was a Congressman, you would just run across him on the street just by himself. Nobody with him. Easy to talk to, you know, so that part of him -- that's a correct persona.

BALDWIN: As we all know, this whole Democratic field, everyone that's jumping in has been shifting left and from what I read in local Texas politics, O'Rourke has had success with a large number of white Republicans and a former editor for your paper was actually quoted in "Vanity Fair" saying that O'Rourke does indeed have a Republican connection, but the article also points out that he can come off as, quote, politically indistinct and slippery. So, do you think, Vic, that's part of O'Rourke's strategy to not define himself as a progressive to appeal to a more moderate Democratic audience?

KOLENC: Well, he doesn't like to label himself in any way. When he was on city council here, he was -- you would call H&M a progressive. They did a lot of things -- they gave tax incentives to a big complex -- that's a big retail complex. They had some part in trying to get a baseball stadium in downtown El Paso, so he did have that progressive label here on the city council.

BALDWIN: So, would you label him a progressive even though he won't label himself as one?

KOLENC: Yes. I mean, I'd say he's a progressive leaning maybe moderate, maybe. He portrays himself, of course, saying that he isn't running against anybody. He's just running for the country, running -- he did a lot of that in his Texas campaign. He's just this guy that wants to bring the country together and, you know, that's what he said when Trump came to El Paso. He held a big rally, you know, several thousands of people that was just like right across the parking lot from where Trump was speaking to a big crowd also.

BALDWIN: Made his mark, has made his mark for years and now he's on the main stage, so to speak now throwing his hat in to be the next President of the United States. Vic, thank you for weighing in there from his hometown of El Paso.

[14:20:00] The next Presidential hall is with one of the 2020 candidates Elizabeth Warren, Jake Tapper is hosting that. Live from Jackson, Mississippi, Monday night, 9:00 Eastern here on CNN.

We are getting fresh reaction from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee today over emails that detail this back channel between Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani, something first reported right here on CNN, an attorney who said he was speaking with Giuliani reassured Cohen in an April 2018 email that Cohen could quote/unquote, "sleep well tonight because he had," quote, "friends in high places."


RAJU: I'm wondering if you take that as a dangling of a pardon, if you have any concerns about that?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA, CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We have seen the President dangle pardons publicly really through much of the course of the investigation. It doesn't require any great imagination to picture the President also having conversations privately as he's having quite publicly. We obviously are deeply interested in all the documents that Mr. Cohen produced and others that we've been able to obtain. We'll be looking to corroborate the evidence we've received and this is very much a deep interest of ours.


BALDWIN: Robert Bianchi is a former prosecutor. Bob, obviously Chairman Schiff is interested in looking in to this. Do you see this as some sort of pardon dangling? ROBERT BIANCHI, HOST, "THE LAW AND CRIME NETWORK": I don't know yet.

I don't think we have all the facts. It comes down to what's being said of the there's nothing wrong with attorneys or people approaching the President who has the absolute authority of the pardon and say, we'd like you to consider this. The question becomes, whether or not if you play ball with us and don't cooperate, then we're inclined to give you a pardon. Here's the thing, he did cooperate because I think --

BALDWIN: He being Michael Cohen.

BIANCHI: Michael Cohen. Cohen saw something that we've been saying some lawyers for a long time in him being a lawyer knows, you can pardon Cohen for the federal crimes, but you can't pardon him for the state level crimes. I think unlike Manafort, Cohen's legal team sought smarter by not seeking the pardon. If I can get it, I can get it. I'd have to say to him as a defense lawyer, you get that federal pardon, you are going to be with the state AG and the Manhattan District Attorney's office in a hot flash and the President can do nothing for you.

BALDWIN: Yes, OK. We'll see where it falls with regard to Chairman Schiff. I wanted to ask you about prosecutor Andrew Weissman. He's a key member of Mueller's team. He was at Roger Stone's court appearance today. He's expected to leave the office and the DOJ soon. This is what Steve Bannon actually referred to him to Michael Wolff as the Lebron James of money laundering investigation, so -- I know. So, his departure. What does that signal for you?

BIANCHI: Having led an agency of people that are very dedicated investigative personnel, involved in a very large investigation like a wiretap investigation, things like this, they want to stay on forever to see it to its conclusion. Now absent a personal reason or personal calamity in his family, I don't think he just decided that, hey, look, let me get going. They want to see this to the conclusion so it leads me to believe that they are concluding and his efforts aren't necessarily as dramatic because it's going to move into a different phase.

BALDWIN: Yes. OK. You like that, Lebron James of money investigations?

BIANCHI: Pretty impressive.

BALDWIN: Good to see you.

Just a reminder, the Senate is set to rebuke President Trump over his emergency declaration and we're just now learning one Republican who was going to vote against the President just changed his mind. Hear why.


BALDWIN: We are back with the breaking news here, live pictures of the U.S. Senate floor. This vote is officially under way. The Senate is set to rebuke President Trump over his emergency declaration, but we have just learned about one Republican who was set to vote against this President but just changed his mind. Let's go back to our senior Congressional correspondent. Tell us what Senator Tillis he said?

RAJU: Thom Tillis made quite a flash just a few days ago when he wrote a "The Washington Post" op ed saying he was going to oppose the President on the emergency declaration saying that he was going to support for this resolution that is now on the Senate floor to disapprove of the President's move saying very clearly that he runs counter to the Constitution in that "The Washington Post" op ed. Over the last several days, he's been engaged in conversations with the White House, with the President, with the Vice President about changes to the national emergency law that the President is citing as part of this effort to move forward and because of those discussions that he's had, he's changed his mind.


[14:30:00] SEN. THOM TILLIS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: So, today, I come to the floor to say that I do not intend to vote for the resolution of disapproval and here's why. A lot has changed over the last three weeks. A discussion with the Vice President, a number of senior administration officials, a lot of collaboration with my colleague from Utah that's a serious discussion about changing the national emergency's act in a way that will have Congress speak on emergency actions in the future. The White House has been very gracious and I should say very patient given my initial position in working with us and as late as today having the President make a statement that he's willing to work with us. I suspect that we'll hear more from the President but we also heard today --


RAJU: And that's a much different than what he said in that "The Washington Post" op ed when he said, "I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress. As a conservative, I cannot endorse a precedent that I know future left wing Presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will

erode economic and individual freedoms."

Tillis is up for re-election in 2020 in North Carolina, a state in which he needs the President's supporters to really get behind him. We'll see how much that ultimately played in. He says it was discussions that he had with the White House.