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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Devin Nunes Suing Twitter; New Details on Mueller Investigation of Michael Cohen. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 19, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:55]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

Our national lead now. We learned today that special counsel Robert Mueller started investigating the president's one-time lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, nearly a year before that April 2018 FBI raid of Cohen's office and hotel room and residence.

These new details come from freshly unsealed search warrants in the Cohen case. They reveal the president's fixer was being investigated for lying to banks, breaking foreign lobbying laws, and money laundering, and that Mueller was tracking some of Cohen's calls and e- mails.

But, as CNN's Sara Murray reports for us now, key information about Cohen's efforts to protect President Trump is still being shielded from public view.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hundreds of pages of newly unsealed warrants revealing today that the special counsel's team was allowed to pore over years of Michael Cohen's e-mails and online data from his time working for Donald Trump.

Robert Mueller targeted Cohen, the president's former lawyer and fixer, soon after his appointment as special counsel in May 2017 and long before the FBI raided Cohen's home, office and hotel room.

Investigators dug into Cohen's Gmail account as far back as 2015, as they searched for evidence of illegal foreign lobbying, money laundering and other crimes. By February 2018, Mueller handed certain aspects of its investigation into Cohen over to prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

Those prosecutors then sought additional phone and electronic data from Cohen. According to the warrant, they were investigating "a criminal violation of the campaign finance laws by Michael Cohen, a lawyer who holds himself out as the personal attorney for President Donald J. Trump. As detailed, there is probable cause to believe that [redacted]." The FBI raided Cohen's properties in April 2018. Cohen later pleaded

guilty in a Manhattan courthouse to making an illegal campaign contribution and other crimes.

In the new batch of documents, details of the campaign finance schemes stretching almost 20 pages are completely redacted, a signal that the investigation into hush money payments to two women who alleged affairs with Donald Trump remains ongoing.

The documents highlight the extraordinary lengths investigators went to uncover Cohen's illegal activity. On two separate occasions, a judge approved Mueller's request to track the numbers of Cohen's incoming and outgoing calls. They also tracked the location of his cell phones, seeking a warrant for prospective and historical cell phone location information and used an electronic technique commonly known as triggerfish to determine the location.

Investigators also uncovered details about Cohen's consulting work, including seven payments from a company linked to a Russian oligarch totaling over half-a-million dollars from January to August 2017, the first few months of the Trump administration.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, of course, all the stuff we really want to know is the stuff that is underneath those reactions that they are not ready to make public yet.

It raises the possibility that there are others, Jake, in Trump's inner circle who could potentially have legal exposure or even that Donald Trump, when he's no longer president, could face some problems in the Southern District of New York.

TAPPER: Wow. All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss this is Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. He was fired by President Trump. And he's out with a brand-new book titled "Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law."

Preet, thanks for being here. Great book. Congratulations.

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Thank you.

TAPPER: I have to ask you, what's your biggest takeaway from the Cohen search warrants released today?

BHARARA: That they're not done. We have seen this in filings over and over again.

And if there's one thing that people have learned is to look at where the reactions are. And if the special counsel's office has decided that some things can't be known, or the SDNY has decided some things can't be known, that's because they're still working on stuff. And because the redactions, 19 or 20 pages, I think, relate to the campaign finance issue, and along with that, we already know that the Southern District has sort of endorsed the statement by Michael Cohen that he committed that violation in coordination with it and at the direction of Individual 1, who is President Trump, that means there may be another shoe to drop.

[16:35:00]

TAPPER: Yes, well, that's what -- that's what's so curious, because the shoe to drop about Michael Cohen has dropped.

He's going to go to jail in part because of these campaign finance violations. But there are pages and pages dealing with the campaign violations that are redacted. What else could it possibly mean? Somebody else is going to get indicted?

BHARARA: Yes, there may be other people who were assisting or were conspiring, up to and including the president, and they haven't decided how they want to proceed on that.

That's my best guess, in the same way that we saw with the Rick Gates submission last week by the special counsel's office. It was not an issue of redaction, but the special counsel's office made it a point to say that they wanted to adjourn the sentencing of Rick Gates because he's continuing to assist them in multiple investigations.

So it seems to me that a lot of folks are still doing work and we're not going to see any closure imminently.

TAPPER: And Mueller was allowed to review years of Cohen's personal and professional e-mails. And Mueller was allowed to track some of the numbers of Cohen's incoming and outgoing calls, given location data of calls made in October and November 2016.

Very little, if any justification is provided for those measures by Mueller. Take us inside the investigation. Would the special counsel be able to access any data he wanted?

BHARARA: You have to have a good-faith basis.

The basis on which and the evidence you need to provide to get certain kinds of information that's not so intrusive is not that high. Prosecutors are allowed to issue grand jury subpoenas on the basis of generalized belief that a crime has been committed.

There's actually -- something that surprises people, there's a provision in the guidance that says you can issue grand jury subpoenas and investigate something to assure yourself that a crime was not committed. So the bar -- the bar is very low.

And when you're dealing with somebody about whom you think there's certain criminal conduct, and you have a lot of financial information coming in, you can sometimes spread out like tentacles to all sorts of things. And from the reporting that I read, it sounds like the Mueller folks didn't know for a long time the evidence relating to the campaign finance violation. So, sometimes, if you keep digging, you will actually find pay dirt.

TAPPER: So you write in your book "Doing Justice" that a big part of building cases for prosecutors such as yourself and Robert Mueller is convincing the accused to cooperate.

Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn are both examples. Here's what you write in the book about the tactic -- quote -- "Cooperating witnesses have long presented a legal, moral and ethical thicket."

How does that come into play when you look at a Michael Cohen or a Michael Flynn?

BHARARA: So, prosecutors have been living with cooperation for a long time. It's been interesting, from my perspective, having done that work for most of my adult life, to see the general public becoming aware of it, to see a president who nominally oversees the entire government apparatus, including the Justice Department, say that cooperating should be illegal and it's unfair in some way.

It's complicated and it's difficult. And, as I said, it is a thicket, which is why everyone has to be very careful not to get bamboozled by somebody who used to be a criminal and have said they have changed their lives around, and has decided to come clean.

And we saw that in the Michael Cohen case. There still is not a formal cooperation agreement between the Southern District and Michael Cohen. We saw it in the case of Paul Manafort. He got convicted at trial in the one case, tried to cooperate. And then prosecutors found that he wasn't being credible, wasn't being truthful.

And they decided they couldn't, as I say in the book frequently, get into bed with somebody who's not a good person if they haven't turned their life around. So everyone has to be watchful, everyone has to find corroborating information.

And you have to make sure that the person who's deciding to cooperate is going to be truthful with you about all sorts of things. And in the Southern District in particular, they have a policy when I ran it, and before and I presume now, that you can't just give selective information. You have to tell everything you know.

TAPPER: Part of your focus in the book is also on judges. You take particular issue with Judge T.S. Ellis, who presided over the Virginia trial of Paul Manafort.

You suggest Ellis was rude to the prosecution, perhaps overstepped in his comments from the bench. Some people might say that you're playing politics with that. He's a Republican. You're a Democrat. How might you respond?

BHARARA: Virtually every case in the book that I described is something that I personally oversaw or was involved with myself personally.

Because, during the time I was writing the book, there was this interesting back and forth, it was being reported on and the transcripts we saw publicly with respect to how Judge Ellis was dealing with the prosecution, I actually don't think Judge Ellis is biased politically in one way -- in one form or the other.

But I have seen that type of conduct by a judge before. And every prosecutor and defense lawyer knows that there are certain judges -- and I was only mildly critical of Judge Ellis. There's certain judges who like to sort of play to the crowd, create a certain atmosphere of levity, who attack one side more than the other.

Sometimes, it's judges who attack the defense more than the prosecution. And, in this case, I wanted to tell the story from my perspective of how Judge Ellis on a couple of occasions was nasty to the prosecutors in front of the jury, made a mistake about what he had agreed to, but then apologized for the mistake, corrected the wrong, and in the process admitted, in what I thought was an important moment for a sitting judge, that the robe doesn't make him anything other than a human being.

[16:40:00]

One of the points I make throughout is that judges are people. Prosecutors are people. The defendants are people. And they act like people who are flawed all the time.

And for justice to be done, you need to deal with that and appreciate that.

TAPPER: All right, the book is called "Doing Justice."

Preet Bharara, thank you so much. Best of luck with the book.

BHARARA: Thank you, Jake. Thanks so much. Thank you.

TAPPER: A major Trump ally now suing and complaining about online trolls and mean tweets. Really?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: What do a cow, a congressman, and Twitter all have in common?

Well, they're all part of a $250 million lawsuit. Congressman Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee and a strong Trump supporter, is now suing Twitter and three Twitter users for alleged defamation.

[16:45:00] The California Republican claiming those users smeared him and Twitter allowed it because of political bias. Check out one of these accounts. It's called Devin Nunes' cow whose Twitter bio is hanging out on the dairy in Iowa looking for the little treasonous cowpoke.

So let's uh let's discuss this. Is this really about defamation? Is this about Twitter's alleged political bias? What do you think?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It sounds like Devin Nunes is you know, complaining that people are being mean to him. I mean, let's call his mother. My goodness, gracious.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm following her now in Twitter.

FINNEY: Right, exactly. Not the Twitter one. No, I mean, to some degree, I mean, we were just talking about how we all get really horrible, awful things said about us on Twitter. That's -- I hate to say it but it is part of the medium. And if we're going to you know -- let's -- how about go ahead and get rid of the Macedonian teenagers and the Russian bots.

Like, let's actually focus on what the real -- what the real problems are instead of the mean tweets. Because I can -- you know, I get plenty of mean tweets and you just got to ignore them. Maybe I should call Devin Nunes and say, just don't read the mean ones.

TAPPER: Yes. I mean, I don't think all -- we were all talking during the break. All five of us get some of the most horrific tweets ever. It never occurred to me to sue anybody for $250 million. I could -- I could really rake it in.

CARPENTER: (INAUDIBLE) Well, if mean tweets aren't allowed on the internet anymore, I have really bad news for Donald Trump's troll army.

FINNEY: Right.

CARPENTER: But Devin Nunes needs to be told, you don't have a constitutional right to popularity on Twitter. That's not actually in the Constitution. What is in the Constitution is free speech protections. And if you care about free speech, you protect the speech of those who criticize public figures like Devin Nunes who speech is so suppressed somehow he announced his lawsuit on a prime- time high rated Fox News show last night.

TAPPER: That's right. He did. And there is this other component of it which he's accusing Twitter of having a political bias, of shadow banning him. President Trump was asked earlier today about regulating Twitter and other social media companies. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It seems to be if they're Conservative, if they're Republicans, if they're in a certain group there's discrimination and big discrimination. I see it absolutely on Twitter and we use the word collusion very loosely all the time. And I will tell you there is collusion with respect to that because something has to be going on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I do hear this gripe a lot from Conservatives that there's shadow banning, that there are things like that. What's your take on this?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: I mean, I think there are certain groups that -- but you reap what you sow, have you know, cross the line in speech. You know my mother used to say your free speech ends at the end of your fist touching the beginning of my nose. And I think that's the same in --

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: (INAUDIBLE)

ROGERS: Yes, exactly. Very wise woman indeed. She got five boys in line. She knows what she was doing. So I would argue that you -- a little this is you reap what you sow. It is so permeated political conversation in social media spheres, I don't care what platform it is, where it's harsh, it's mean, people are nasty. They cross the line all the time. I don't know how you reel it in.

But as a public figure, you have very little recourse. I think the law is very strong on this. I'm sorry. When you decide to become that public figure, they can say just about anything they want. I think it's unfortunate but the problem is everybody's pouring into that vessel, everybody, Democrats, Republicans, everybody.

And what you've got -- what you -- what comes out of that is the sheer nastiness that you see. I'm sure he doesn't like it but I'm sure he's also walked down that road and his social media presence as well.

TAPPER: And to be empathetic for just for a second about Devin Nunes, I'm sure he's subjected to some horrific tweets. I don't make light of that. But I just think all of us are. It's -- and I know you are. I see some of your tweets and I can't even believe it.

POWERS: Yes. I mean, I have to say he the ones that he's cited that someone accused him of bringing shame on his family would be like a love letter compared to what I've got. You know what I mean? Like truly, that wouldn't even -- you know, it's not just that people are -- I mean, they say vile things but -- they threaten you, they tell you how they're going to harm you in the most graphic disgusting ways.

I mean, the idea that this is something that you would sue over, I just need something else is going on here and I don't know what it is.

TAPPER: I want to -- I just want to bring in a couple of other topics which is one of them as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has just announced that he's staying at the Justice Department for now according to a source -- he didn't announce it but we are now told that he's staying there for longer.

He was planning on leaving mid-March, but Attorney General William bar apparently talked to him. Now he's going to stick around a little bit longer. What do you think this means for the Mueller report?

ROGERS: I think that this means that Barr wants him there through the ushering of the completion of the report. So what tells me is that it is probably wrapping up but we wouldn't know how long because they haven't said how long his commitment is. But I'm guessing and if I were the Attorney General coming in under a

circumstance like this, I would want him to stay as well to the completion of the report so that in those debates inside of -- you know, remember this is going to go from one building to another building, and then they're going to debate about how much they can share with the American public right, from the counsel's office to the A.G.'s office.

I think this is a really smart move on Barr's part. It kind of tones down the heated rhetoric that will come around this if you're for Trump and it says something bad you hate it and vice-versa for the other side. And so I think this can help calm things down. I think it's a smart move. I'm glad that he's staying and I think it could be very helpful so that we can honestly get an assessment of what this report really means.

[16:50:37] TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all. Meet the man who calls himself the conductor of the Trump train and the very different campaign he's running to get the president re-elected. An exclusive look at Trump 2020 next. Stay with us 2020.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Our "2020 LEAD." We're getting a rare exclusive look inside the Trump 2020 re-election campaign that's been humming since his inauguration day. We're hearing about the changes that they've made to better use technology and as CNN's Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash now reports, how even the president's campaign manager admits that Trump is the communications director, the finance director, campaign manager, and master of the Trump train.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Across the Potomac River in this sleek Virginia office space, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale is quietly building a massive re-election campaign far different from the insurgent 2016 operation.

This is a real as traditional as Donald Trump gets operation versus 2016.

BRAD PARSCALE, CAMPAIGN MANAGER, TRUMP 2020 CAMPAIGN: Yes. It's traditional but not traditional. There's traditional senses to it that we now have an operation in time to build out a building that has proper desks and proper things. Last time it was not for any fault of some of the people who run it but it just was fly-by-night sometimes because it was going so fast.

And this time we already know. We already have the President of the United States. We have the incumbency. We know where we're going, '

BASH: The Trump campaign never really ended.

TRUMP: I, Donald John Trump --

BASH: In a highly unusual move, the president filed for re-election the day he was inaugurated, a year later he hired Parscale who long worked with the Trump Organization but never in politics before the 2016 campaign as digital media director.

PARSCALE: I think maybe for other candidates it wouldn't been right, and maybe I'd never been here sitting in this chair in any other situation, but I wake up every day believing I'm the right guy for this situation.

BASH: In 2016, Parscale along with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner bought an unprecedented number of digital ads on platforms like Facebook targeting their message thanks to a massive voter data vault. Reince Priebus started at the RNC which is still growing in a big part of the 2020 plan.

PARSCALE: And it now can -- you know, has hundreds and millions of records in voter history and consumer data. And when we put polling data into that machine and we say this is what's happening, it can spit out models. They're saying these are the people you need to talk to and this is the messages you should talk to them about.

Imagine that it's a -- it's a country before with no roads and no maps and no directions, and all of a sudden, you can layer another piece of paper over it. It tells you where everything is.

BASH: How is it different now?

PARSCALE: I think you see a massive injection directly into your devices and to the places. We can communicate with you where you can't turn away.

BASH: What do you mean by that?

PARSCALE: Text messaging, other technologies and other things. There's other --

BASH: Well, that's -- I mean, Obama use that in 2008.

PARSCALE: Yes, but not to this scale. Look, Facebook he'd use also. The only difference is the scale we used it, the precision used it. And we can continue the scale precision.

BASH: Like stepping of technology, turning rally goers into volunteers.

TRUMP: We had one election, we won. Now, we're going to beat two for all and everything is going to be perfect.

PARSCALE: 10,000 may walk in each rally. Those 10,000 people may know ten people. They are the army that wants to work for the president. And so we need to give them digital technology right on their phone they're waiting, while they're standing outside, while it's a couple of days before, when they're excited, that their interest is -- that are peaking of I'm going to go see the President and say here's some activities we would like you do. Who your ten friends you would do it. It's much more efficient two years out to find a possible voter, a possible donor. It's just a considerable advantage that the other side won't have because you can't replace time.

BASH: It is still a family affair. Kushner has a leading role as do son Eric and his wife Laura who has an official senior advisor title but they all know who's really in charge.

How involved is the president in this?

PARSCALE: The President stays involved. When I show him the direction we're going, the things were building, he's excited and he gives me input. Like this is what we think we should be doing. You know, he's always -- you know, I've always said, he's the campaign manager, the communications director, the finance director. He is the master of the Trump train and I'm the conductor on it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, Trump sources tell us that in 2016, the candidate was angry when he learned that 50 percent of his campaign ad budget went to digital ads. But then after he won, he got it. Now, we are told to expect Trump 2020 to focus even more on Facebook and other online platforms as you just heard from Parscale.

But this is an important part of that to emphasize, that they are going to use detailed information on voters kept at the RNC in order to really target these voters with messages based on where these voters stand and what they care about, Jake.

TAPPER: And Dana, as you know, the Democratic National Committee is really trying hard to catch up with the amount of data that the Republicans had in 2020.

BASH: They are. They're trying very hard to do that. It's going to be -- it's possible but it's going to be a tough road to try to get there by 2020. For lots of reasons, the DNC is behind and the fact that they have somebody who's so focused on digital at the helm of the Trump campaign, the hope will help keep Trump ahead.