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Trump on John McCain Tweets; Mueller Tracked Cohen's Phone Calls; Rep. Steve Cohen (D) Tennessee is Interviewed about the Mueller Report. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 19, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Right now. Have a great day.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, from wild tweets to white nationalism. The biggest questions for President Trump when he faces reporters just a short time from now.

And breaking today, the secrets behind the raid on Michael Cohen revealed as we learn about Robert Mueller's pursuit of the former fixer.

Plus, it's how presidents are elected. But more 2020 hopefuls backing plans to eliminate the Electoral College and more and more states agree.

And a Republican lawmaker is suing Twitter and a person behind a fake cow and a fake mom for mocking him online. Can he even do that, or is this just a stunt?

Up first, President Trump doubling down on his criticism of the late Senator John McCain. In a photo-op with the leader of Brazil just moments ago, the president was asked about his weekend Twitter tirade where he denigrated the senator. He pointed to McCain's vote on Obamacare.


QUESTION: Why are you attacking Senator John McCain (INAUDIBLE)?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very happy that he didn't repeal and replace Obamacare, as you know. He campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare for years. And then it got to a vote and he said thumbs down. And our country would have saved a trillion dollars. We would have had great health care. So he campaigned. He told us hours before that he was going to repeal and replace, and then, for some reason, I think I understand the reason, he ended up going thumbs up.

And, frankly, had we even known that, I think we would have gotten a vote because we could have gotten somebody else. So I think that's disgraceful. Plus, there are other things. I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.


KEILAR: Our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us now from the North Lawn.

So, the president, Jim, says his dislike for John McCain is because of Obamacare. Over the weekend, though, it was about the so-called Steele dossier.

What is at the root of his disdain, some of these other things that he mentioned, for John McCain, who most consider, even if they don't agree with his -- didn't agree with his politics, a lion of the Senate and a hero?


Now, you know, we were just in Vietnam when the president had that summit with Kim Jong-un, and a bunch of us went by the Hanoi Hilton, where John McCain was held in captivity. There's no question John McCain is an American hero despite what the president of the United States thinks about him.

And, you know, you have to go back to -- I think the conversation we were having yesterday about how the president likes to throw this red meat out there, likes to throw out these shiny, bright objects to get the media focused on other things than -- that what perhaps might be getting under the president's skin.

And, yes, you're right, over the weekend, the president was accusing John McCain of spreading that unverified dossier of alleged misdeeds of the presidents before he was elected to the White House. But putting all of that aside, we do know, if past is prologue, that the president does bear a grudge against McCain for giving that now famous thumbs-down vote on repealing and replacing Obamacare. President Trump has talked about this on a number of occasions, at rallies and so on. And it is startling to be at a campaign rally, for example, and hear the president talk about John McCain in that fashion and then hear the crowd cheer. The president clearly feels he has his base of support on his side when it comes to these attacks on the late senator, no matter how unseemly it comes across.

And my guess is, is -- and when you saw that just a few moments ago, when he was asked about this, he didn't hesitate. He was ready to jump right in and go after John McCain again, even though he was laid to rest back in August.

KEILAR: The president -- we're going to hear more from him. He's going to face some tough questions and certainly some of them are going to be about this Twitter storm that he had over the weekend this hour, in a joint news conference with the leader of Brazil. What are you expecting him to have to answer for.

Well, I think there's going to be a whole range of questions, Brianna. I mean we have to keep in mind, you know this from being over here, this is likely to be one of those two plus two news conferences, two questions for the Brazilian press, two questions for the U.S. press. I think a lot of the discussion is going to be about the situation in Venezuela. The U.S. would like to see where Brazil strands on all of this. I think there's a very deep concern in Latin America, particularly border -- bordering countries of Venezuela, what happens if that country breaks down? What happens if the United States ultimately decides to be involved in some kind of military action there?

There's a debate going on within the White House, among the president's advisers, as to how far he should go down that road in terms of, you know, U.S. military involvement in Venezuela. You heard the president say just a few moments ago that all options are on the table.

But one of the things we should point out, Brianna, is that Jair Bolsonaro, the leader of Brazil, he's been described as the Trump of the tropics. I talked to a source earlier this morning who has advised both President Trump and Bolsonaro who said Bolsonaro is Donald Trump. These two men are very similar in a lot of their views, particularly on immigration. And so I think you could hear a whole range of questions asked.

[13:05:20] I think particularly with the Mueller investigation, a lot of the speculation in Washington that the Mueller investigation may be winding down and we may see some sort of report from the special counsel soon, the president may be asked about that as well.

But certainly I think Venezuela will be on the top of the agenda. Immigration could also come up. And, again, as you said, this twitter tirade that the president went on over the weekend, that certainly has been the bright, shiny object that everybody's focused their attention on and the president may get asked about that as well. It was startling to hear him talk about John McCain in that fashion, but he knows that, Brianna. He knows that it gets everybody revved up, everybody fired up in Washington and he knows that that can drive the narrative and drive the coverage away from things that perhaps he really wants to talk about, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Jim, we'll be back live to the White House when that begins..

Thank you, Jim Acosta.

ACOSTA: You bet.

KEILAR: Documents just released today provide new details about the investigation of President Trump's former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen. They revealed that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was allowed to review years of Cohen's e-mails and other data from his time working for Trump. The unsealed warrants also show that Mueller obtained search warrants for Cohen's e-mail long before the case was referred to the Southern District of New York.

I have legal analyst Laura Coates, crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz, and political correspondent Sara Murray here with me to walk us through all of these documents.

What stands out to you, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think you really get, you know, for the first time the -- a sense of the scope and the volume of what Mueller is looking at. I mean we've heard from witnesses who go in and speak to the special counsel's team. They really knows everything. But this shows you exactly what they were looking for with Michael Cohen. Obviously we know the special counsel was looking into him. We know he eventually was charged by SDNY.

But for years they had years of his e-mails. They had years of data about him. They were tracking, you know, the phone calls he was making, the people who were calling him, the times those were happening. This shows you, when people say, you know, I went in to speak to the special counsel's office and they knew everything, that's what they're talking about. They have everything.

KEILAR: They have all the information that one could have about an individual person when we think, sort of, what our information personally would be, right?

So what does that tell us about the investigation and not just about Michael Cohen but other people who might have had this information gleaned by the special counsel?

SIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. Look, I -- it's very clear that the special counsel's investigation at the time was pretty broad in terms of Michael Cohen. And they were looking for very specific information though. But they were looking at his phone calls. They were looking at his e-mails. They were going back in time to try to get some of this information.

And one of the things that we do learn in going through these documents is what we're all interested in is the campaign finance violations. There's not a lot of information in these documents that we can read about the campaign finance violations because that's all redacted. It's about 30 or so pages. Clearly indicating to us that that is still very much under investigation, still potentially problems for the president.

KEILAR: He was -- we should note, he was implicated in -- in that.

PROKUPECZ: He was implicated by Michael Cohen, by the Department of Justice, as having directed all of this. And also potentially problems for his family and the Trump Organization. So that is really the biggest take out of all of this.

KEILAR: Years of his e-mails, his iCloud information, incoming/outgoing phone calls. Why is this significant, Laura?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, think about it. We know as (INAUDIBLE), Mueller has an aversion to anyone who lies to him. Before you can establish who is a liar, you have to establish what the truth is and then compare it to the actual notion. So you have him going back in time -- KEILAR: You know what, we're having a mic problem with you. I can't tell because I'm in -- I'm in person with you. But, stand by, we're going to have you opine in just a moment. I want to go back to Shimon though.

So prosecutors and the FBI got this warrant on the gmail account, on the iCloud account. This is from July. We should note, this is from almost a year, right, before this was actually done. Why is that -- is that significant?

PROKUPECZ: Well, so they were going back -- you know, so what the Southern District of New York was doing was they were following up on what Mueller gave them. Mueller had information. There was some issues that they needed to investigate further. Mueller then says, OK, this is now going to New York where the Trump Organization is headquartered, where Michael Cohen lives, where some of these issues, these crimes, they believe were alleged to have taken place. And so everything goes to the Southern District of New York.

But before that, Mueller had already obtained a lot of information that he shared with the Southern District of New York and they followed up on it. And that's where we learn about all this other stuff certainly involving the campaign finance violations.

It does appear, though, that they were looking initially -- it would have to have been that what Michael Cohen was involved in was the collusion investigation. And perhaps there was nothing there. And so this is what they found, what the Mueller team found, and so they said, here, FBI in New York and Southern District of New York, you take this. It has nothing to do with Russian collusion.

[13:10:10] MURRAY: Yes. And it shows you how serious they -- their suspicions were about the criminal activity that they thought Michael Cohen was involved in. To be able to, first of all, go to the Justice Department and say, we want to be looking at Michael Cohen's information, you first needed the Justice Department to sign off on the idea that they were going to be monitoring the president's personal attorney. Then you need to go to a judge and you need a judge to sign off on that information. This is not a small bar to decide that you are going to start monitoring and, you know, data diving into a sitting attorney, much less one who is the president's personal attorney.

KEILAR: Well, that -- and that brings me to my next question, which is, at a certain point, where does attorney/client privilege come into this, does it not, because of what was being done was allegedly illegal?

PROKUPECZ: Well, the thing is, you can't hide behind the attorney/client privilege, right? There's -- you can't shield yourself from crimes. This has been a big thing in terms of this whole investigation, and why they have privilege teams that go through -- the FBI have agents that go through this information to take out whatever may be privileged. But there are things that may be involved where if someone is involved in crimes, that they need to look at that -- so you can't hide behind the wall of privilege in terms of crime. But it certainly has been somewhat controversial in this case that the FBI went ahead and did this.

MURRAY: And I think, you know, it's -- when we got to the Southern District of New York, when they raided Michael Cohen's properties, they obviously, you know, had appointed this third party who was going to look through all this information and determine what was privileged and what wasn't. But what we didn't know at that time, what we now know, is that the special counsel's team had already done that with all of the information that they were gathering. They had their own filter team that was looking through information and saying, OK, what is privileged, what will potentially be privileged, and what is information we can use? And, you know, privilege doesn't exist anymore when you're talking about a client working with their attorney to commit a crime.

KEILAR: And where does this leave us now, Laura, with the investigation?

COATES: Well, it leaves us with kind of a thematic knowledge of what Mueller and how he operates. He really will set up the receipts, first of all, and then compare and contrast to what you're actually saying. Also the notice of the other redactions. Redactions are extraordinarily important because given that Michael Cohen has testified publically, he has named individual one as Donald Trump. We have heard from Stormy Daniels. We have heard from Karen McDougal. We've seen all of these pleadings in California about the NDAs. And yet there's still all the information that's redacted about the campaign finance (ph). Which leads me to believe that there is more to come on that very issue. We thought that that chapter was closed with Michael Cohen's actual sentence being handed down. It seems that there's still an ongoing investigation that Mueller wants to keep under wraps. And you can be sure, given how he's operated until now, he will compare that based on historical evidence to compare what they know right now.

KEILAR: Laura, thank you so much.

Shimon, Sara, really appreciate your perspective on this and your reporting.

And CNN has some new reporting that the White House will see the Mueller report before it goes to Congress. One Democrat is calling that shocking. I'm going to speak live with a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Plus, should America eliminate the Electoral College. Why this idea is gaining traction among states and 2020 contenders.

And moments from now, the president, along with the so-called Trump of the tropics, the leader of Brazil, will give a news conference with many questions to answer.


[13:17:39] KEILAR: CNN is now learning that when the Mueller report is finally released, the White House wants first crack at it before it gets to Congress. Attorneys want the White House to be able to declare executive privilege over parts of the report to redact parts that include interviews with White House officials.

We have Tennessee Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen joining us now from Memphis.

And, sir, thank you for being with us and for giving us your perspective as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which, of course, is investigating alleged Russian meddling in the election -- or I should say, not alleged, Russian meddling in the election and potential collusion by Trump campaign members.

What is your reaction to this?

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: Well, firstly, they waved their right to executive privilege when they cooperated with the investigation. When they cooperated with the investigation, the investigation goes on to -- at the end of the investigation they make a report to the attorney general, who's supposed to then give it to Congress. And you don't just kind of reclaim your privilege after they've done their report to redact or eliminate portions of it that you don't like and claim executive privilege then. They've given up that right, number one.

Number two, any person who is under investigation would want to see the results of a study, normally in a criminal case, FBI study, before it went to the indicting authority. And in this case the indicting authority would be the Congress to look into impeachment since the president, according to the Justice Department policies, cannot be indicted. And the White House, in this situation, is the subject of this investigation, the possible target of impeachment, if there are shown to be violations of crimes -- high crimes and misdemeanors, and the idea that they should be able to go back after they've waived privilege and redact, edit the report before Congress sees it and the public sees it is just totally wrong.

KEILAR: Do you have --

COHEN: It's an -- like what so much that they've done is an obstruction of justice, and that's what they want to do, and they're doing it right in front of the eyes of the American people.

KEILAR: Do you have confidence in this Justice Department that they would not allow the White House to successfully challenge information that should be given to Congress?

COHEN: I don't have faith based on who appointed the attorney general. Trump learned when he appointed Sessions that he made a mistake which he said many times because Sessions had to recuse himself. And Sessions did the ethical thing that an attorney general is supposed to do, and that's recuse himself when he had prior involvement in the alleged -- or the potential crime, and he recused himself, as he should have.

[13:20:15] Whitaker didn't recuse himself, but Whitaker did not take the attorney -- the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York off the case after he had recused himself because even that was a step too far, but Trump tried to get him to do that.

He did not, I believe, appoint Bill Barr, who has a good reputation in Washington, without having some belief that he wouldn't be making a second Sessions appointment. And he wanted somebody to take care of him. This is his Achilles heel. This is what will bring him down because I assure you that what we've seen already has shown us -- this to be the most corrupt administration ever. As President Obama said, he's got -- they've gotten a whole football team's worth of indictments and guilty pleas. There have been 34, 36 indictments or guilty pleas from people involved in his campaign, in his family business and in his administration. This is awful. It goes back to Warren G. Harding and maybe beyond that. And what Mueller has is --

KEILAR: What recourse does Congress have, though? Any?

COHEN: Congress can bring Mueller -- can bring general -- Special Counsel Mueller before our committee and hopefully he would come. I mean, if he wanted to, I guess he could challenge the subpoena, but I don't think he would. And hopefully he would testify fulsomely about what he learned. Because the democracy is in the balance of --

KEILAR: I want to -- I do --

COHEN: There are truly the rule of law is in the balance.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about these unsealed warrants that we're now getting a look at from the Michael Cohen raid. We should be clear, there is much that is redacted, so we're not seeing it all. But a lot of it the public can see for the first time. Have you been able to see these yet?

COHEN: No, and I'd like to. And I think what's interesting is, what was the probable cause that gave them -- the judge the reason to issue the warrant, and what did they know back in 2017? Was it simply the affairs he had with Stormy Daniels and Katherine McDougal, or was the more to it? Some of it had to do with working as a foreign agent without registering and who was he working for and which countries in all. And some of it was bank fraud. It was that bank fraud all related simply to Michael Cohen and his businesses or was it Trump's businesses.

The bottom line is, we know that Michael Cohen was involved in illegal activities. He was making tremendous amounts of money representing AT&T and others with interactions with the White House. And the fact is, Trump referred people to Michael Cohen, knowing that Michael Cohen would extort money in large sums for them with the idea that Trump was doing a favor to Michael Cohen. And Trump is -- wanted Michael Cohen to do a favor for him, which was to keep quiet. Then old mafia law of omerta (ph).

And then when Michael Cohen got busted, he changed his tune and started speaking at the truth because he has no choice but to speak the truth because he knows Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and the Southern District of New York have everything and more on him -- KEILAR: When you're -- you're talking -- when you're talking about the

referral by the president to Michael Cohen, what are you talking about?

COHEN: Well, I think it was -- I know of certain cases, I can't talk about them right now, that President Trump suggested to certain individuals that they should contact Michael Cohen for representation.

KEILAR: That's --

COHEN: And he basically was referring business.

KEILAR: And that's something that you found in the course of your work on the Judiciary Committee?

COHEN: I don't want to go any further than what I've said, but I -- it's come in the course of my life.

KEILAR: All right. All right. So at this point in time, the committee that you're on, the Judiciary Committee, has gotten a few thousand documents from the former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Is there anyone who has refused to turn over documents to the committee?

COHEN: Mr. Nadler feels comfortable with what we've received. We want to receive more. And only Mr. Nadler and his team, Mr. Ican (ph) and Mr. Burke (ph), that really know the results. He hasn't made a disclosure to the rest of the committee yet.

KEILAR: OK. I want to talk to you about earlier this year when the House approved nearly unanimously this resolution against white nationalism. And what the president has now said about this. He says, he -- he won't acknowledge that this is a rising threat. What's your reaction to that?

COHEN: It's really un-American and un-presidential for the president not to take a leadership position to protect the American public. We've seen Jews killed at the synagogue in Pittsburgh by white nationalists. We've seen political figures put on a list with bombs sent to them by a white nationalist, a crazy in Miami, who was politically driven. And then a Coast Guard employee who had political Democrats on his agenda to kill. We've seen Charlottesville, where they marched and said Jews will not replace us and marched with KKK and neo-Nazis. And then we've seen New Zealand, around the world, and while that's national, it's part of the same white national movement.

[13:25:12] This is a threat. The Southern Poverty Law Center has pointed out more actions by white nationalists and white supremacists killing people than any group really in this nation's history. And all the president talks about is Muslims. And he talks about any group that's not politically with him. And then if a group is normally aligned with him as white nationalists would be because that's his base is white people in America, he will not condemn them. He needs to start to act presidential as the president of all the people concerned about the rule of law and concerned about the standing of the United States of American and in its own people's eyes and in the eyes of the people around the world. But that's beyond Donald Trump because everything relates to Donald Trump personally. He's greedy. He is avaricious. And he cares -- is narcissistic. It's all about him, it's about his pocketbook and it's about his family.

KEILAR: I want --

COHEN: America is second or third.

KEILAR: Let's talk about the electoral college. There were many Democratic voters who continue to point out Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Donald Trump won the electoral vote. They're not happy about that. They want to change it.

And last night at the CNN town hall in Mississippi, Senator and Democratic president candidate Elizabeth Warren said that the U.S. should get rid of the Electoral College in the presidential elections. Let's listen.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Come a general election, presidential candidates don't come to places like Mississippi because we're not the battleground states. Well, my view is that every vote matters. That means get rid of the Electoral College and every vote counts.


KEILAR: Do you agree?

COHEN: I introduced, I think it's HR-7 (ph) in January to get rid of the Electoral College, a constitutional amendments. And we're going to be sending it to Senator Warren's office and asking her to sponsor it in the Senate for us. But we definitely agree --

KEILAR: But how do you do it when it's enshrined in the constitution? Is it this state -- this state sort of run around the Electoral College of making sure that electoral votes go to the popular vote winner?

COHEN: It certainly will be difficult but -- it certainly will be difficult. You have to amend the Constitution, and that requires getting a number of votes in Congress. That will be difficult, but possible. But it means to get three-quarters of the states. And that will be difficult because enough of the states get an advantage in electing the president that they may not want to give that up or probably won't.

A way to get around it is the compromise or the -- Colorado and a few states have tried to start a compact to say that if -- states with a total of 270 or more electoral votes agree that these all states will come together and give their votes to the winner of the popular vote.

The country is different than it was when the Constitution was drafted. And when the Constitution was drafted, a lot of it had to do with slavery. The stave states wanted equal representation in the Senate because they wanted to keep slavery. The slave states wanted to have an Electoral College to where the members that they had in Congress counted towards the vote of the president, where the slaves counted as two-thirds. In a popular vote they would count as zero. So the slave states didn't want a popular election because their slaves wouldn't count toward voting. And the slave states would have less votes.

This is all conceived in sin and a perpetrating -- perpetuating slavery on the American people and on the African-American people directly. We need to give the people who understand from town halls like Elizabeth Warren had in Memphis on Sunday and in Jackson and I think today in Birmingham the opportunity to vote. And as Senator Warren said, this doesn't give the people in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles the right to decide who wins. It gives everybody that's not in one of the targeted states in the Electoral College the opportunity to have their vote count. And the people in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, Republicans and conservatives live there too and vote there as well. But right now people in Tennessee don't count because we know the state's going to go Republican. But if it's a popular vote, people will come to Tennessee to get those votes and Memphis and other places and it will be a much more democratic system and fair, and the American people need to take control of their government that's being lost to entities that have really -- or eliminated the middle class.

KEILAR: Congressman Steve Cohen, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

And ahead, a fake cow, a fake mom, two parody accounts that a Republican congressman says are abusing him. Now, Devin Nunes is suing them and Twitter for defamation. Is this legit?

Plus, the State Department bars most reporters from a briefing. Find out which ones they let in.

And, moments from now, the president, along with the so-called Trump of the tropics, the Brazilian -- the leader of Brazil, give a news conference. Stand by for that.