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Hundreds of Documents from FBI Raid on Cohen's Home & Businesses Released; Warren Proposes Getting Rid of the Electoral College; How the White House Can Keep Parts of Mueller Report Out of Public Eye; Sen. Tom Reed (D) of Rhode Island Discusses Public Seeing Mueller Report. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 19, 2019 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:02] RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ryan Nobles, in today for Kate Bolduan.

Right now, we are learning more about what led to the dramatic FBI raid of President Trump's former personal attorney. This morning prosecutors released the search warrant documents from Michael Cohen's home, office and hotel room almost a year ago. Thee big headlines from the hundreds of pages released? The special counsel was investigating Cohen far longer than previously known and investigators were able to reveal years of e-mails from the time that Cohen worked for President Trump.

CNN's Kara Scannell breaks it all down.

Kara, what are you learning from these documents?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ryan, we are scouring through these nearly 900 pages of documents. A couple of things that really jump out is that the special counsel's investigation began in May of 2017. Just two months after that they had already applied and been granted search warrants for Michael Cohen's G-mail accounts and an I cloud account. The special counsel's office had obtained this data going back to June of between. They were looking at Michael Cohen and his communications for two years before they even began their investigation. Then we have also learned that they had referred the investigation and everything that they had been looking at which included campaign finance violations, consulting contracts of Michael Cohen to the U.S. attorney's office in February of 2018. It was then that the U.S. attorney's office had sought and been granted their own search warrant applications in addition to looking for Michael Cohen's e-mails and other records they also obtained the so-called pen registries, which means they were able to see who Michael Cohen was communicating with based on the phone numbers and cell tower information of where Michael Cohen was located. So in a sense we have prosecutors retracting Michael Cohen almost in real time. Knowing what he had been communicating for several years. That all culminated in the April of 2018 raid of Michael Cohen's hotel room, office and safety deposit box. Ultimately Michael Cohen was charged with campaign finance violations. He pleaded guilty to those as well as lying to a bank and tax returns. We knew that the investigation encompassed potential foreign lobbying violations, which Cohen was not charged with. And Michael Cohen pleaded guilty last August with the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan. He is expected to go to prison for three years in May -- Ryan?

NOBLES: Kara Scannell, pretty big document you and your team unpacking it. Thank you for bringing us the headlines.

Joining me now to talk about this, CNN political analyst, Sabrina Siddiqui, CNN legal analyst, Jennifer Rodgers, former federal prosecutor, and CNN senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

Evan, let's start with you.

I know you guys haven't had too long of a period of time to dig through this document. What stands out to you so far?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: One of the interesting things is the timeline of how quickly this investigation got going and how quickly they were obtaining some of this information that the Mueller prosecutors and the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York started getting some of that data. The earliest is July of 2017. In august of 2017 that summer the Mueller prosecutors obtained warrants on his e-mails as well as his I cloud and then they get permission from a judge to track Cohen's phone calls essentially looking to see who he was calling, who was calling him. This was a time when the president has already taken office. You have to think of the president and people close to him have to be wondering what exactly they were after during that period. Of course, in January 2018 they get additional information to track those phone calls.

A couple of things stand out to me from these documents. And 20 pages have been redacted. We don't exactly know why. One of the things that they say is that they are essentially looking at what Michael Cohen was doing while he was acting as the president's attorneys. We do know that this is still an ongoing investigation and it is something the president's own attorneys believe is going to be an investigation that will continue through the end of Donald Trump's presidency. A couple of other things.

A couple of other things. The prosecutors even got permission from a judge in order to force basically use Michael Cohen's own hands or his face to try to get access to some of his devices. Again, that's something that judges are allowed to sign off on. And there was a period in 2018 when G-mail refused to turn over some information to prosecutors they were able to use a new law in order to force Google to turn over that data because this information allegedly was being stored overseas. Under federal law, they're required to turn that information over to prosecutors.

NOBLES: Thanks, Evan.

Jennifer, I want to turn to you and talk about Robert Mueller's interest in Cohen.

[11:04:57] JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's very interesting because of course Mueller's mandate was to look at the connection to potential interference. They were looking at the campaign. Cohen wasn't really a part of the campaign formally. I think they focused on him so early because he was so close to the president and he did have personal Russia ties. He was negotiating the Trump Tower Moscow deal. I'm not so surprised that Mueller and his team focused on Cohen in the early days even though he didn't have an official position with the campaign. The interesting part is when they turned up some evidence of criminal behavior that wasn't really within the mandate they handed it off and ultimately Cohen only pled guilty to a charge with the Mueller team that had to do with his false testimony in front of Congress. Whatever it is that they found with him in connection with the Russian interference didn't result in criminal charges at least not yet.

NOBLES: They were looking into a lot of things and so far only charged and convicted on a few.

Sabrina, Michael Cohen has a credibility problem. He pled guilty to lying to Congress. He is facing issues after his public hearing. Do you see anything in these documents that could help or hurt his credibility problem?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there's no question that Michael Cohen has a built-in credibility problem with respect to the fact that he is poised to begin a three-year prison sentence in part because he lied to Congress. But the context has changed dramatically in light of his public testimony on Capitol Hill where the stakes were a lot higher for Michael Cohen to commit the very same crime that he is poised to go to prison for. There's no longer any hope of a pardon from this president. As we know their relationship deteriorated in dramatic fashion. He of course has Cooperated fairly extensively with the special counsel, sat down for countless hours of interviews with federal prosecutors providing information about his work as it relates to Donald Trump. And polling in the aftermath of his testimony did show that while the American public continues to believe that Cohen has baggage they are more inclined to believe his account versus that of the president's. I don't know how much given how these documents are heavily redacted will change the public perception of Cohen, but certainly it should be concerning for the president that the prosecutors were able to obtain a warrant long before they raided Cohen's home at a time when he was still in touch with his former personal attorney. And a lot of the information that we don't yet know. As it likely relates to the hush money payments and the timeline of the Trump Tower Moscow Project.

NOBLES: Redactions may end up being bigger revelations.

I'm specifically interested in that the entire section related to campaign finance reform was redacted. Evan, is there something we should read into that?

PEREZ: We know, Ryan, that there's still an investigation into for example the campaign finance violation and one of the theories that the lawyers who are involved in this case on the Trump side believe is that the prosecutors want to make sure that they look into whether anybody else was aware of this campaign finance violation and the violation we are talking about is the payments to Stormy Daniels, to the other women in 2016 in the run up to the 2016 election whether or not anybody else helped cover up those payments and in so doing essentially helped make that violation, hide that violation from prosecutors from the government. We know that that is one of the focuses of this investigation. We also don't know whether there's anything else that the prosecutors are still looking to. This is something that is being handled out of the Southern District of New York because the Mueller investigation is drawing to a close.

# Jennifer, you mentioned that, as well. There's the possibility of other charges that could come down and these documents maybe foreshadow that. Are there specific angles that you think the SDNY could look into?

RODGERS: On the bank fraud side, where we did see a lot more detail, there's someone else who was involved in that with him. They may be planning to charge that person. On the campaign finance side they literally blocked out everything. It is really hard to see where they are going. The fact that they are going and the judge is holding their feet to the fire. He wants them back in two weeks in May with an update if the investigation is still ongoing. They had a back and forth about this. Prosecutors ended up convincing the judge the reason they had to redact everything is because of the investigation which tells me they are working on charging.

NOBLES: Sabrina, of course, we are still waiting on the Mueller report. We assume that will be revealed at some point in the near future. From what we saw from this document, so much of it being redacted, do you think this raises the stakes for members of Congress to really push to have the Mueller report revealed in its totality?

[11:10:14] SIDDIQUI: That is certainly where the battle is headed. We saw a very strong vote in the House in favor of making the Mueller report public. This was a sticking point when Attorney General William Barr was in the midst of confirmation hearings. It is clear that there are bipartisan calls to do so but the president's attorneys want the opportunity to review the Mueller report before Barr submits any version of it to members of Congress. Yes the White House does have the purview to try to make certain claims with respect to executive privilege, but it will also give the perception that perhaps the White House is trying to hide or alter in some ways the release of the report. And I think that Barr is going to face significant pressure from Capitol Hill. This is something that ultimately may end up in the courts and making its way as high as the Supreme Court.

NOBLES: Someday this Mueller report will be released. That's going to happen. We believe it is going to in some capacity.

Sabrina Siddiqui, Jennifer Rodgers, Evan Perez, thank you all for being here. We appreciate it.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

NOBLES: Coming up, Senator Elizabeth Warren unveils a controversial new proposal that would dramatically change the way presidents are elected. Those details are ahead.

Plus, will the White House try to keep parts of the Mueller report under wraps? We just talked about that. CNN has new reporting about how Trump's lawyers are preparing for that.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:16:12] NOBLES: How exactly do you stand out in a growing field of Democratic presidential candidates? If you are Senator Elizabeth Warren, maybe you say something like this at the CNN town hall in Jackson, Mississippi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D), MINNESOTA & PRESIDENIAL CANDIDATE: Come a general election, presidential candidates don't come to places like Mississippi. My view is that every vote matters. And the way we can make that happen --

(APPLAUSE)

WARREN: -- is that we can have national voting. And that means get rid of the Electoral College.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: Warren mentioned Hillary Clinton's winning the popular vote in 2016 but losing the election and said the Electoral College disenfranchises voters in states dominated by one party. That was just one of the ideas that she put out there.

Joining me now to talk about this, CNN senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, and CNN political correspondent, M.J. Lee, in Jackson, and covered the CNN town hall last night.

M.J., let's start with you.

Warren chosen to do this event in Mississippi. That's not a swing state. She took pretty bold positions related to race and the African-American community. She talked about reparations and said Mississippi needs to get a new state flag and talked about taking down Confederate monuments on federal grounds. She implies that the Electoral College disenfranchises minority voters. Was that her goal to reach out to the black community? And how did she do?

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITIAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it is really important to talk about how unusual it is. It is march of 2019 and we have a Democratic presidential candidate who is campaigning in Mississippi. That is really unusual. I was counting the number of states that she has travelled to so far this year. When she heads to Alabama today, that is her 11th state. That goes to show how extensively she is traveling. She is not just focusing on the handful of early states that most presidential candidates you would expect to see travel to at this early stage in the campaign. I think particularly the southern swing that she is doing this week traveling through Tennessee and Mississippi and Alabama, it really goes to show the focus that she has placed on trying to win over minority voters especially African-American voters and the issues that she talked about yesterday at CNN's town hall really help to highlight that. This is something that we have seen actually from the first day of her campaign. Whenever she talks about a policy issue and she can sort of bring it back to the importance of that policy issue to minority voters, she will do that. She will take that opportunity. So when she is talking about economic inequality, she is not just talking about that in a broader sense, but she always brings it back to how African-Americans, for example, are more hurt by economic disparity across the country. When she is talking about her housing plan she will talk about how this is the kind of thing, housing inequality is the kind of thing that hurts black voters more than anybody else. Clearly there's a theme here.

NOBLES: Jeff, another thing that Warren is doing that is a little bit different from other contenders is that she is really rolling out a different detailed policy plan every week. She is struggling in most of these polls, not just the national polls but the early vote polls. Are voters really paying attention to these policy proposals?

[11:19:53] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: There's no question that Elizabeth Warren sounded like the professor she used to be. There are very few presidential candidates who can compete with her in the level with the ideas. One thing she did not say back to the Electoral College is how difficult if not impossible this will be. Here is why. It has to be done by a vote of two thirds of the House and the Senate and then ratified by three fourths of the states. We should point out that she is not the first Democratic candidate to do this. Mayor Pete Buttigieg from Indiana has been talking about this idea for a long time. There's a lot of policy in this race for some candidates. It's an open question if voters are digesting all of this. I think after she is campaigning to all of these places, people get the idea that she is prepared for this job. She knows what she wants to do. She has big ideas if you agree with them or not. Certainly she has depth but that is her lane. Shoo she is not the candidate going out there taking selfies and Instagram with everyone. She is explaining a deep policy idea. We'll see if voters want that in the end or not. We don't know the answer to that question.

NOBLES: Speaking of the candidate taking selfies and Instagram's with voters. Of course, Elizabeth Warren has a lot of specifics. Beto not so much. Is there a strategy about not being so specific, fought being tied down to specific policy proposals this early on in the race?

LEE: I mean, there's no question about it that Elizabeth Warren is all about the policy. This is her M.O. I think as more candidates jump into the field we are really starting to see how the different candidates are starting to position themselves and Warren as Jeff was saying has put out these very detailed policy proposals already in a way that I think is unmatched when you look at the other candidates that are in the Democratic field. Four major proposals that she has already put out, taxing the wealthy, her universal child care proposal, breaking up big tech, her housing plan, all of these things are building her presidential platform, but on the other hand someone like Beto O'Rourke we don't know where he stands on the policy details. It doesn't mean that she doesn't have strength. He has clearly the power behind him, the fundraising numbers that we saw from him this week is not necessarily something that Elizabeth Warren has.

NOBLES: I think I have been to eight Bernie Sanders rallies so far this year. He has yet to mention any of the other Democratic candidates. Their names never come across his lips. Yesterday he sent out the fundraising e-mail telling his supporters that Beto O'Rourke outraised him and then trying to make the case that his fundraising, though less, was stronger because of the number of individual donors.

Jeff, from your perspective, is this a sign that Beto O'Rourke's initial foray into the campaign is making others nervous?

ZELENY: That is something that got every candidate's attention. We'll see if Bernie Sanders says it himself. That was his advisers putting it out there trying to get their own supporters to send in more money if it is $5, $10 to say Bernie Sanders is not going to come in a second behind this new kid on the block. I think Senator Sanders mentioned to you last week in South Carolina it's a free country. That was a sign, as well. He didn't welcome him into the race with big respect. The reality is most don't have a relationship with Beto O'Rourke. He didn't use them in his Senate race last year in Texas. Everyone is watching him because he is the shining new object who can raise a lot of money. After he jumps in and introduces himself he will have to put more meat on the bones. There's no question, all candidates are watching him because of the money race -- Ryan?

NOBLES: Of course, we are still waiting on Joe Biden.

M.J. Lee, Jeff Zeleny, thank you guys as always. Appreciate it.

ZELENY: Thanks.

NOBLES: Don't forget to watch a special CNN town hall with 202 John Hickenlooper. Dana Bash will moderate from Atlanta. You can watch that here tomorrow night on CNN at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

[11:24:25] Coming up, the battle over the Mueller report. New details on how White House lawyers could keep parts of the special counsel's report out of the public eye. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOBLES: It is still very uncertain if the American people will see Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report but CNN is learning that the White House lawyers will now expect to see a version of the report before it ever reaches members of Congress or the American people. That means the White House will have the chance to claim executive privilege and prevent some or all of the reporting from ever going public.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Jack Reed, of Rhode Island, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thank you for joining me.

SEN. JACK REED, (D), RHODE ISLAND: Thank you.

NOBLES: I want to first ask you about this Mueller report and the concerns you may have over the executive privilege opportunity that the White House has. Are you concerned at all that you may not get the opportunity to see this report in its entirety?

[11:30:03] REED: I am very much concerned. I believe that the attorney general has the first review of the report from Director Mueller.