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THE SITUATION ROOM
After His Own Racist Attacks on Minority Congresswomen, Trump Says He's Not Happy With "Send Her Back" Chant; FBI Search Warrants Show Trump's Close Involvement in Hush Money Effort; Notorious Mexican Drug Lord Now Faces Life Plus 30 Years in America's Only Supermax Prison; After His Own Racist Attacks, Trump Not Happy with Crowd's Chant; Search Warrant Documents Reveal Trump Spoke with Cohen Multiple Times on Day Stormy Daniels Hush Money Was Sent; Interview with Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Judiciary Committee, on Search Warrant Documents; Tonight's Draw for Presidential Debate Lineups. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 18, 2019 - 17:00 ET
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news: too little, too late. President Trump now is trying to back off his rally crowd's "send her back" chant aimed at a naturalized U.S. congresswoman but he let that ugly chorus continue after days of saying basically the same thing himself.
Trump's involvement: newly unveiled search warrants show the FBI believed that candidate Donald Trump was involved in phone calls aimed at covering up an alleged affair with a porn star on the very day that the hush money payments were made.
Full transparency: tonight, in a television first, CNN will draw names for the Democrats' next debates live. It's all designed for full transparency, as you'll learn who will be on stage with whom the same time as the candidates do.
And looking to escape?
The world's most dangerous drug lord was just moved to a U.S. Supermax prison but El Chapo has escaped from tough places before.
Could his associates already be looking to bust him out?
I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news: President Trump now claims he's not happy that his campaign crowd broke into a chant of "send her back" after he slammed a congresswoman who is a naturalized U.S. citizen. But the president let the ugly chant continue a full 13 seconds last night.
He later encouraged the crowd to, quote, "Tell them to leave," referring to four minority congresswomen he had first attacked with his own racist tweets.
Also tonight in a stunning detail, federal court documents unsealed today show how the FBI believe that, in the waiting weeks of the 2016 presidentian campaign, candidate Trump was directly involved in efforts to cover up an alleged sexual affair with a porn star.
The documents show how Trump and his associates scrambled to do damage control. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was at the center of the conversations after the notorious "Access Hollywood" tape came out. Trump spoke at least twice with Cohen on the day a hush money payoff to Stormy Daniels occurred.
I will speak with Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.
Let's begin with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, President Trump's attacks on minority congresswomen led to an ugly display at a campaign rally and now he's trying to distance himself from it all.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump is now gaslighting his way out of the mess he started with his racist tweets. The president claimed he tried to put a stop to the "Send her back" chants comning from his crowd in North Carolina last night, but that's not true. Unlike the president, the video doesn't lie.
ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is finding out there's no going back after "send her back."
The president tried to fudge his way around accusations that he didn't do enough to stop chants of "send her back" aimed at congresswoman Ilhan Omar at his rally in North Carolina.
TRUMP: I felt a little bit badly about it but I will say this, I did -- and I started speaking very quickly.
ACOSTA (voice-over): But that's just not true. Watch the video. The president paused and allowed the chants to continue for a full 13 seconds as he attacked Omar.
TRUMP: And obviously and importantly, Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds.
And she talked about the evil Israel and it's all about the Benjamins, not a good thing to say.
ACOSTA (voice-over): When pressed on the chant, the president pointed the finger at his own crowd.
TRUMP: I disagreed with it but, again, I didn't say it. I didn't say that, they did.
ACOSTA (voice-over): But hold on: the crowd was essentially echoing the president's racist tweet from earlier in the week, when he told four Democratic women of color to "go back from where they came from."
Asked a second time about the chants, the president praised his audience and then blasted the congresswomen once again.
TRUMP: These are people that love our country. I want them to keep loving our country and I think the congresswomen, by the way, should be more positive than they are. The congresswomen have a lot of problems.
ACOSTA (voice-over): But the president's targets aren't holding back, either, as Omar accused Mr. Trump of fascism.
REP. ILHAN OMAR, (D) MINNESOTA: I believe he is fascist. This is not about me. This is about us fighting --
OMAR: -- for what this country truly should be and what it deserves to be.
While New York Democrat alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the president is playing with fire.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: His rhetoric is endangering lots of people. It's not just about threats to individual members of Congress but it is about creating a volatile environment in this country.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Top Republicans are backing the president.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MINORITY LEADER: I did talk to somebody there. He said it was a small group off to the side. But the president, did the president not join in. The president moved on.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Senator Lindsey Graham said the president is just fighting back against his critics.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If you're a Somali refugee, wearing a MAGA hat, he doesn't want to send you back.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Graham was asked why Mr. Trump didn't control his crowd the same way the late senator John McCain corrected one of his supporters, who attacked Barack Obama in 2008. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's not -- he's not -- he's a -- he's an Arab.
He is not?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZ.: No. No, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No?
MCCAIN: No, ma'am. No, ma'am. He's a -- he's a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that's what this campaign is all about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: I don't remember anybody treating President John McCain the way they're treating Trump. I don't remember John McCain having to go through this crap every day, all the time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now the White House is encouraging its allies to stay focused on their attacks on the four Democratic congresswomen who were being targeted by the president but we're told some of the administration surrogates are concerned about the chants from last night's rally, as one Trump adviser put it to me -- the chants were, quote, "gross" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim, what are you learning about the U.S. targeting an Iranian drone?
ACOSTA: Yes, Wolf, the president just announced this a short while ago in the middle of this controversy over his racist tweets. The president revealed that the U.S.S. Boxer shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz.
This happened after the drone got within about 1,000 feet of that ship. And the president said the ship had no choice but to shoot down that drone. It's another sign of the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
But Wolf, it happens in the middle this controversy that was started by the president's racist tweets.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much. Let's go up to Capitol Hill. CNN's Phil Mattingly is on the scene.
How are Republicans reacting to the campaign rally chants?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's been a week where Republican lawmakers here the Capitol have been dogged repeatedly by the president's own words, the president's own tweets. And today was no different.
Many Republicans deciding not to weigh in at all, several saying they're just over this entire experience. But more also acknowledging that the chants were significantly problematic, caused major discomfort.
Kevin mccarthy, the Republican leader in the House, saying those types of chants have no place in our party and no place in our country.
However, if you take a listen to mccarthy, Republican lawmakers also trying to distance the president from it, at least publicly. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCARTHY: I didn't see the rally but I saw a clip. The president didn't join in in any chant like that. And you've got to claim the president having a battle over a socialist issue and the socialist Democrats, that's one he's taking up even in the State of the Union. He promised that this country will never have socialism here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: An interesting thing is while some of the public statements may have at least tried to distance the president from this entire exchange or those chants themselves, I'm told behind the scene several Republican lawmakers, including osme senior Republican lawmakers, made it clear to the White House in phone calls throughout the day that this was problematic and the president likely needed to walk it back.
It also happened in a private breakfast this morning with the vice president, with House Republican leadership, where I'm told this was a subject that came up, several lawmakers making clear this was a problem and they were very uncomfortable with the chant lastnight and it needed to be addressed.
So at least behind the scenes Republicans making clear this was something that had to be talked about today. You saw the president's reaction to that. But publicly Republican lawmakers making clear while they have an issue with the chants, they want to separate the president from the crowd.
BLITZER: Phil Mattingly, up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.
New court papers just released, which in effect lift up a rock and shine a light on some of the dark activities of the 2016 Trump campaign. Our political correspondent Sara Murray is joining us.
Sara, you've been digging through these documents.
What are you learning?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wolf, these documents really show how directly Donald Trump was involved in coordinating this effort to make these hush-money payments to women he allegedly had affairs with.
This same scheme that landed his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, behind bars.
MURRAY (voice-over): Tonight, new court filings reveal how Donald Trump and his campaign scrambled to keep allegations of Trump's alleged sexual indiscretions under wraps. After the "Access Hollywood" tape surfaced in October 2016...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY (voice-over): -- the Trump campaign went into damage --
BROWN (voice-over): -- control. According to phone records obtained by the FBI, Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, spoke to candidate Trump and Hope Hicks, the campaign spokesperson.
Then he reached out to David Pecker, the chief executive of American Media, which owns the "National Enquirer."
Over a series of at least 10 frenzied calls, Cohen played middleman, seeking to keep Stephanie Clifford, AKA adult film star Stormy Daniels, quiet about the affair she allegedly had with Trump.
"I believe at least some of these communications concern the need to prevent Clifford from going public, particularly in the wake of the 'Access Hollywood' story," an a FBI agent wrote.
Two weeks before the general election, Cohen initiated the $130,000 wire transfer to pay off Daniels. The same day, he spoke with Trump over the phone at least twice. As president, Trump has insisted he had no knowledge of the hush money payments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CATHERINE LUCEY, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
TRUMP: No, no. What else?
LUCEY: Then why -- why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to her allegations?
TRUMP: Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my ... attorney. And you'll have to ask Michael. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN (voice-over): But Cohen, who is now serving three years in prison, implicated the president when he pleaded guilty to eight counts of financial crimes, including campaign finance violations. And new court filings reaffirm what prosecutors previously alleged, that Cohen acted at Trump's direction in making illegal payments to silence women.
This week the judge demanded the less redacted versions of search warrants and other materials related to the campaign finance violations be made public, calling them a matter of national importance.
The filings show prosecutors have effectively concluded their investigation, a sign they're unlikely to bring charges against anyone else.
When it comes to Trump, they can't. Justice Department guidelines say a sitting president can't be charged. During the Trump campaign's final sprint after Daniels was paid off, Karen McDougal's story was about to burst into public view.
The unredacted documents reveal another scramble with Cohen, American Media and Hicks. A forthcoming "The Wall Street Journal" story was about to reveal that McDougal, a former "Playboy" Playmate allegedly had an affair with Trump and American Media tried to suppress her story.
Months earlier, in September 2016, Trump and Cohen had discussed paying McDougal off, a conversation that was secretly recorded by Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: So I'm all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be --
TRUMP: Wait a sec, what financing?
COHEN: Well, I'll have to pay something --
TRUMP: -- pay with cash --
COHEN: Oh, no, no, no. I got it. No, no, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN (voice-over): When "The Wall Street Journal" story was about to publish, an American Media official texted Cohen, "I think it will be OK, pal. I think it'll fade into the distance."
Cohen responded, "He's pissed," an apparent reference to Trump.
McDougal's story came after a number of women came forward with allegations that Trump had groped or sexually assaulted them. And some aides were relieved to see McDougal's story getting relatively little attention.
"So far I only see six stories, getting little to no traction," Cohen texted Hicks, according to court filings.
Hicks responded, "Same, keep praying, it's working."
MURRAY: Now I actually spoke to Hope Hicks earlier today. She's standing behind her previous statements and insisting that the calls she had with Michael Cohen had to do with that "Access Hollywood" tape, that she didn't have anything to do with these hush money payments involving Stormy Daniels -- Wolf.
All right, Sara, thank you, Sara Murray reporting.
Joining us now, Democratic congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Congresswoman, thanks so much for coming in.
REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA), MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: I want to get your thoughts on these Michael Cohen documents that were released today.
But first of all, do you think the president sufficiently disavowed that hateful "send her back" chant that we heard at that political rally in North Carolina?
DEAN: Well, certainly not. He wallowed in it. We all saw the tape. The tape is not lying. For 13 seconds, he wallowed and enjoyed that racist chant, that, of course, he set on fire through his racist tweets about my colleague.
BLITZER: Says the president passed up an opportunity to scold the people who launched that chant, "Send her back, send her back."
What would you have liked?
What would you like to hear the president say?
DEAN: Think of it, he's the man with the microphone, literally the biggest microphone in the world. And he stood there for 13 seconds and silently enjoyed that chant. I would have liked him to immediately speak to the mike and say, "Not here, not on my watch, no racist talk like that will be tolerated at my rallies."
BLITZER: As you know, your Democratic colleague, Congressman Al Green of Texas, he introduced an impeachment resolution yesterday. He was overwhelmingly rejected in effect.
And you voted with him. You want to see this impeachment process go forward.
But do you think it's a good idea for Congressman Green to continue to submit these kinds of resolutions in the face of pretty significant Democratic leadership opposition?
DEAN: I think I really admire Representative Green. And he was utterly appalled and is utterly appalled by the racism of this president, among other wrongdoings and corruptions. I'm a member of the Judiciary Committee. We are looking at important --
DEAN: -- oversight. We have Robert Mueller coming in this week. So I think there will be more and more members who call for an impeachment inquiry as I have called for. And I hope we -- our oversight reveals to the American public the extraordinary wrongdoing of this president.
BLITZER: Why continue to call for an impeachment proceeding to begin in the face of this kind of opposition, because it's not going to begin unless you guys come to an agreement, all the Democrats do?
DEAN: What we have to come to is public persuasion. We have to show the American people what went wrong here. I think Robert Mueller is the very first step. That's Wednesday. He'll be before our Judiciary Committee. We'll very thoughtfully elicit from him the narrative, the wrongdoing that is revealed in that report, 100 contacts with Russians and the Trump campaign.
And the Trump campaign never once thought to call law enforcement or the current administration?
They wallowed in that. This is something the president seems to do, wallow in wrongdoing. And then 10 instances of obstruction, where elements of obstruction by the president and those around him, with the exception of some who resisted him, by this president.
BLITZER: Is there something you specifically want to ask Mueller?
DEAN: I have a section I'm planning on.
BLITZER: Do you want to share some of that with us?
BLITZER: Some thoughts?
DEAN: No, I'll talk to you afterward.
BLITZER: After you question him?
Let's get to these Michael Cohen documents. Based on what we learned today, it's clear the president was heavily involved in the scheme, if you believe what the FBI is saying, do you believe potentially he could face legal trouble?
DEAN: I think he could. We of course have the Department of Justice policy or finding that the sitting president cannot be indicted.
BLITZER: If he's not reelected, the statute of limitations will not have run out.
Do you think at that point could he face legal problems?
DEAN: Certainly, for that and many other things.
BLITZER: What other things?
DEAN: Other corruption, other crimes.
BLITZER: Do you think the only reason he hasn't been charged is because of the Justice Department policy guideline that a sitting president can't be indicted?
DEAN: That's what we're hearing. We've heard from Robert Mueller and others.
BLITZER: But you want this impeachment proceeding to go forward full speed right after the Mueller hearing concludes next week?
DEAN: I called for an impeachment inquiry. And what that does -- and I believe the Mueller point will be to help launch that -- what that does is complete our oversight and it also signals to the court a greater urgency so that we will get people before us to testify much more quickly.
You know that this administration has blocked us at every turn. It is a lawless administration, cares nothing for the rule of law. And that's what our committee and other committees of oversight are fighting.
BLITZER: Representative Madeleine Dean, thank you so much for joining us.
DEAN: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: Up next, in a television first, CNN will draw names for the Democrats' next debates, live, it's all designed for full transparency. You're going to be learning who will be on stage with whom at the same time as the candidates do.
And President Trump tries to walk back his campaign crowd's "Send her back" chang, aimed at a naturalized U.S. congresswoman. But he let that ugly chorus continue and it's a refrain he basically started himself.
(MUSIC PLAYING) BLITZER: We're counting down to 8:00 pm Eastern tonight. That's when
you can watch "THE DRAW" to divide the 20 Democratic presidential candidates with a two-night debate event on July 30th and 31st. Those debates are only here on CNN.
Let's bring in our Mark Preston and Chris Cillizza.
First of all, Mark, how will this work?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: As you say, 20 candidates, two nights in Motown. Just imagine the excitement we're going to have up in Detroit. But of course, we've got to get there first. We got the 20 candidates but what night are they going to be on?
We're going to do a random draw, it's going to be split across three separate parts. In each part, the first part will have 10 candidates, the second part six candidates and the third part will have four candidates.
You will oversee the whole thing, make sure we kind of keep it all together. By the end of the night or the 8 o'clock hour, we'll know who will be on stage and what the matchups should be.
What I should note, this is all random, that's for transparency purposes. It's going to be two boxes for each draw, one with the date and one with the candidate's name, which will match a date.
BLITZER: We want all the viewers, all the voters to see exactly how these 20 candidates are divided over the two nights.
What's at stake for these candidates?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, look, we know that the first debate had consequences, right?
Kamala Harris surges; Joe Biden scuffles a bit, Beto O'Rourke goes from not good to even worse. So these are moments, especially -- there's 20 candidates over these two nights, it's hard for the average person to narrow all this down, there's so much going on every day.
These are focal points, I think; you have a national audience and people pay attention, what happens in them matters. I've always said that to be the case.
Candidates know that, too. Joe Biden knows he's got to be better. Kamala Harris knows how much good she did for herself in the first debate. Elizabeth Warren knows she had a really good first debate, wasn't necessarily with the other people who she's competing with directly at the moment, according to polling.
So maybe that will be different this time around. So for all the people who said -- people do pay attention. And they have real-world effects. Go look at the polls before the first debates and --
CILLIZZA: -- the polling now.
BLITZER: You said there were three separate draws.
Why is that?
PRESTON: Look, the current state right now, candidate A is not necessarily equal to candidate D when it comes to popular polling what their support is. So what we've done is we've broken it into three parts.
The first 10 candidates are all basically around the same when it comes to public polling. The second draw will be candidates in the middle who around the same, six of those. And then the final draw will be the four who are leading the pack and, of course, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren.
What this is going to ensure is what we did see in June is we had one night where three of those candidates, minus Elizabeth Warren, were on one night. This assures that the front-runners will be even --
BLITZER: Which pairings of the front-runners would you like to see the most?
CILLIZZA: Let me go for the hour -- no, I'll do it quickly. The one that would get the most attention, I think is Kamala Harris and Joe Biden. That was the confrontation of the first set of debates. She clearly beat him up over busing. He didn't have a good answer, as he admitted. He wasn't ready for it.
One other one that's interesting I think is Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. They were not on the same stage in the first debate. They're both competing for the same thing, the most liberal voters in the Democratic Party.
How do they do that?
Are there contrasts drawn?
Warren has been slowly but steadily eating into Sanders' support there. He can't have that happen.
BLITZER: A lot at stake tonight. We're going to be watching it all very closely. Guys, thanks very much.
Once again, find out which Democratic candidates will face off on each night of the next debates in a special live event. Watch the draw for the CNN Democratic debates tonight, 8:00 pm Eastern only on CNN.
We have more breaking news. Next, President Trump claims he was not happy when the crowd at his rally last night started chanting, "Send her back," after he attacked a Democratic congresswoman.
And newly revealed court documents show the FBI believe then candidate Donald Trump was directly involved in the payments to women who claimed they had sexual encounters with him.
[17:31:47] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're following multiple breaking stories including President Trump repeatedly insisting, despite what the video shows, he was not happy when the crowd at his rally in North Carolina started the racist chants, "send her back," after he attacked a Democratic congresswoman. Let's bring in our political and legal experts to discuss.
And, Kaitlan, I want you to listen -- I want all our viewers to listen exactly and watch the President's response when that chant started.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds.
CROWD: Send her back. Send her back. Send her back. Send her back. Send her back. Send her back. Send her back. Send her back. Send her back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So you were there at the rally in North Carolina yesterday.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
BLITZER: The President waited 13 seconds -- we -- exactly 13 seconds before he started speaking again. The crowd, by then, had stopped the chant. What was it like on the ground?
COLLINS: Well, essentially, what the President is arguing today is completely contradicted not only by the video from being there in person where we started to look around -- because sometimes there are these chants that breakout, they don't get really loud. This was one that was loud. It was obvious. It was a large amount of the people in the room participating, and the President takes that step back from the microphone as they were shouting it.
Now, that comes after -- before the President had even arrived, we had been speaking with some of those supporters about what they thought about the tweets that he had fired off on Sunday and what their reaction to it was and whether or not they agreed that it was racist. A lot of them, many of the ones we spoke to, about 10 or so said they didn't find them to be racist. They agreed with the President's sentiment that he's been uttering all week. So you can see how it's contradicted by that video, what the President said today in the Oval Office.
But also, we should point out, what the President was saying was part of a larger scripted remark because White House officials had been teasing all day, warning that this is going to be a very fiery rally, more so than where it's the usual the President repeats the same talking points during it. And so this was something that they had planned on doing for the President to make these remarks, to go after them, and certainly knew this was a possibility.
BLITZER: You know, Sabrina, the chant, "send her back," was it really any different than what the President had originally tweeted?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, the President told reporters to go back to the voters in North Carolina and ask them what they meant when he is the one who first tweeted that Ilhan Omar, as well as these other three congresswomen of color, should go back to where they came from. But when it comes to Ilhan Omar and these "send her back" chants, this is much bigger than just the President tweets. The President and Republicans have really made Ilhan Omar this foil as they enter the 2020 campaign.
And look, Ilhan Omar apologized for comments she made earlier this year about U.S. support for Israel that perpetuated Jewish stereotypes. But since then, anytime she has even opened her mouth on the subject of Israel, Republicans and the President have labeled her as anti-Semitic. Anytime she has criticized the administration, they've said that she's unpatriotic, that she's ungrateful, having come here as a Somali refugee who is a naturalized U.S. citizen. And they've seen an opportunity to weaponize her faith and her Muslim identity. And I think that what you see in those chants, really, is the consequence of the way in which they have made her a target over the last few months.
[17:34:59] BLITZER: You know, Ron Brownstein, let me read a tweet that generated a lot of reaction, the tweet that you posted. It goes like this.
BLITZER: If 20 high school students chanted this at a classmate, how many would be expelled? If 20 employees yelled this at a colleague, how many would be fired? If 20 Army soldiers aimed this at a platoon mate, how many would be discharged? How much of U.S. will accept this as a new standard?
You got a lot of reaction to that.
BROWNSTEIN: I got 60,000, I think, reaction. Look, I think we -- if we focus on the President's maneuvering -- and all he's doing today is the same two-step he did with David Duke and Jake Tapper back in 2016. He puts out the message and then he tries to embroider in a little deniability. But if we focus on his maneuvering, we lose the magnitude of how aberrant this is.
And I think the way to understand how aberrant this language is, the original "go back," not to mention the "send her back" chant, is to imagine it, as I'm saying, in any other context in American life. Imagine 20 high school juniors standing around a classmate in a hijab on a football field in a high school anywhere in America, and saying, "go back," or chanting, "send her back"; or 20 people in a lunchroom surrounding an employee and chanting, "go back"; or for that matter, 20 soldiers doing the same thing. General Hertling, our colleague, last night, I asked him what would
happen if that happened under his command, and he said they would be gone. Instantly. Just before I came on the air, I got an e-mail from a senior executive at one of the leading U.S. business associations who said to me, quote, at major U.S. organizations and companies, we have strict policies and mandatory training programs against discrimination. It would be a fireable offense for any employee to say such inflammatory language to another employee.
I think we have to hear from the heads of Ford and G.M., and Walmart and Apple and Exxon and G.E., what would happen at their company if someone uses language at another employee. Or if they used it as a CEO, how long would they be in that job? This kind of thing gets normalized if people don't make clear how abnormal it is.
BLITZER: That's a good point, you know. Susan Hennessey, what's your analysis?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well, look, Trump gave them the script, right? And so to the extent he wants to distance himself from the center back chant, it's not unlike his attempts to distance himself from "lock her up" whenever that was the chant.
He knows how the game is played. His supporters know how the game is played. This was an unbelievably chilling scene. And the President, today, even was attempting not really to condemn them but sort of a mild, well, I didn't love that they were saying that; rather than saying this was racist, this was wrong, it was unacceptable, and I never want to hear it again.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we're following. Much more on all the breaking news, right after this.
[17:40:40] BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal experts.
And, Susan Hennessey, let's talk about these hundreds of pages of newly unsealed documents involving the Michael Cohen case, the federal investigation into the hush money payments that -- to women claiming that they had affairs with Donald Trump during the final days, the payments were made, of the campaign. What's the most significant new information you saw?
HENNESSEY: So there isn't substantial new information. What it really is is confirmation of what we already know, confirmation that Michael Cohen was essentially telling the truth, that Donald Trump was personally intimately involved in efforts to pay Stormy Daniels in order to silence her story about them having an affair while the first lady was reportedly pregnant and that Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to make that payment, the payment that was a crime.
We already sort of knew this because we saw prosecutors in the Southern District of New York stand up in court and allow Michael Cohen to say as much. And so, you know, while, of course, the President wasn't indicted and Michael Cohen wasn't indicted for a conspiracy charge, essentially, the -- this evidence confirms that the President is functionally an unindicted co-conspirator in a serious federal offense. Not some fringe issue that had nothing to do with the election, but a core part of attempting to defraud the American people before the President is elected.
BLITZER: Are you surprised no one else was charged?
HENNESSEY: I don't think that there's -- it's a surprise that the President himself wasn't indicted. That said, you know, it's a little bit surprising we didn't see the Trump Organization, Donald Trump, Jr., people like David Pecker, none of those people were indicted. That was certainly a possibility before this. I don't know that it's necessarily a surprise.
Prosecutors have said that their investigation is effectively concluded, you know. So while this is certainly politically very damaging, it is a legal win for the President. And I can't -- I would imagine that his lawyers are -- are breathing a real sigh of relief today.
BLITZER: And David Pecker had immunity. Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, had immunity in exchange for his cooperation.
You know, Kaitlan, the documents make it clear that the President was heavily involved in this scheme.
BLITZER: But on Air Force One, all of us remember, he said he didn't know anything about it.
COLLINS: Yes. So maybe it's a legal win for the President, but it really does reveal his dishonesty here and how the President has really not confronted the truth or admitted the truth about this until it's already been reported or verified in documents like these. Because the President went from denying knowing anything about, saying you have to ask Michael Cohen, and what these documents reveal is not only they named the President for the first time ever -- before, he was referred to as Individual One -- but, also, they talk about the level of contact that he had with Michael Cohen and Hope Hicks. Phone calls, e-mails, text messages, all going back and forth, talking and coordinating about this story, something that he denied before.
But it shows that they were on the phone right before Michael Cohen went up and set up that bank account where he transferred the $130,000. It really reveals the level of detail. And when you pair it that with what you're looking at today, the President saying that something happened last night at that rally that you can see by video did not happen, and here, the President on video saying he didn't know about something that these documents reveal he did know about, it does speak to a larger fact about the President.
BLITZER: How do you see it, Sabrina? SIDDIQUI: Well, I think that when you look back at that first
statement the President made on Air Force One, he said that he knew nothing about these payments, and that story quickly unraveled before the public's view. The White House has been all over the place on this issue months after the President said he knew nothing about it and told reporters to ask Michael Cohen.
He did acknowledge in an interview with "Fox and Friends" that, actually, the hush money payments did come from him, but he was insisting that they weren't illegal. That there was no misconduct here, there was no cover-up. And then, of course, he was named in federal court by Michael Cohen as the individual who directed Cohen to make those payments --
BLITZER: In those documents, he was Individual One.
SIDDIQUI: He was Individual One --
BLITZER: But today, in the new documents, they say Donald Trump.
SIDDIQUI: Today, they specifically say Donald Trump. And they also just reveal the extent of his knowledge about these payments. He was involved in these discussions from start to finish. It's not just something that he learned about after the fact or maybe discussed with Michael Cohen once or twice. He was repeatedly in contact with his former personal attorney.
And you now have Democrats saying he would've been indicted as a co- conspirator if he wasn't a sitting president. I suspect Democrats in Congress are going to continue their investigation. Sorry, go ahead.
BLITZER: Let me get Ron Brownstein to weigh in. Go ahead, Ron.
BROWNSTEIN: Wolf, real quick, these two stories are actually related. If you look at polling, roughly a third of the people who say they approve of the way Donald Trump is handling the economy, which usually -- which is usually one of the most powerful measures of a president's standing, say they don't think he's honest and trustworthy, to Kaitlan's point.
[17:45:05] And what that means is that Donald Trump is underperforming any incumbent president ever among voters who are satisfied with the economy. That is his biggest strategic vulnerability going into 2020. And what it means is that he -- since he can't get as many swing voters as he should because of his behavior, because of the kind of veracity issues and because of the kind of racially inflammatory language, he, I think, feels not only that he likes to go to racial division as a strategy, he has to go to racial division as a strategy.
Because he is going to underperform among these swing voters satisfied with the economy, that means he's got to gin up his own base with the kind of behavior we've see this week. Even at the price of alienating more of those voters in the middle. So the kind of behavior that we see in the Stormy Daniels case really helps push him in the direction that we are watching this week with the four Democratic women of color in the House. BLITZER: All right, everybody, stand by. There's more news we're
following, a notorious drug lord sent to what's supposed to be an escape-proof U.S. prison. So what, potentially, could go wrong?
[17:50:44] BLITZER: Sentenced to life plus 30 years, Mexico's most notorious drug lord has been shipped off to America's most secure prison. Brian Todd has been looking into this for us. So, Brian, what is El Chapo up against?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A seven-foot cell. Tonight, the man who has staged two escapes from top security prisons in Mexico and other spectacular getaways is presented with his biggest challenge, but experts say so is that prison.
TODD (voice-over): His track record of violence is horrifying. His skill at spectacular prison escapes legendary. But tonight, the convicted drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman might have met his match.
In an operation designed to keep the modern-day criminal Houdini from escaping, El Chapo's lawyer confirms his client was flown by helicopter, and then plane, to America's only supermax prison called ADX in Florence, Colorado.
El Chapo was sentenced to life plus 30 years on Wednesday after being convicted on 10 counts related to his drug trafficking operations. But tonight, former DEA agents and other analysts tell CNN they believe El Chapo's associates may already have cased the supermax facility to plot a possible escape, something he has done time and time again.
MALCOLM BEITH, AUTHOR, "THE LAST NARCO: INSIDE THE HUNT FOR EL CHAPO, THE WORLD'S MOST WANTED DRUG LORD": You can find it on Google Earth now, so there's no doubt that his cronies, his, you know, hardest men, have looked into all possible scenarios. Would they be willing -- is he worth, you know, them launching a full-scale attack on the prison?
TODD (voice-over): The Florence supermax houses notorious terrorists like the Boston marathon bomber and the Unabomber. And no one's ever escaped. Former prison officials say El Chapo will be in a seven-by- 12 foot cell at least 23 hours a day, but experts say this is an inmate who could likely test this airtight facility like no other.
At Mexico's maximum-security Altiplano prison in 2015, El Chapo disappeared while walking through a shower stall. There was an escape hatch in the floor that led to an elaborate tunnel, complete with electricity, lighting, tracks laid along the ground, and a modified motorcycle cart for transportation. He once escaped another high- security Mexican prison reportedly hidden in a laundry cart. And he once got out of a safe house into a tunnel and escaped completely naked while police were closing in on him. MICHAEL VIGIL, FORMER CHIEF OF INTERNATIONAL OPERATIONS, DRUG
ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION: Chapo Guzman, I consider to be the modern-day Houdini. He escapes from the two most maximum secure penitentiaries in Mexico. And the one in Alta Plano was the most spectacular prison break that I have seen anywhere in the world.
TODD (voice-over): One former Bureau of Prisons official says unlike his previous attempts, it's not likely El Chapo or his men can get to the warden or guards at the supermax in order to breach the facility.
JACK DONSON, FORMER CORRECTIONAL TREATMENT SPECIALIST, FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS: It's going to be impossible to corrupt one person, two people. There's just too many checks and balances in the system, you know, control centers cracking doors.
TODD (voice-over): But could El Chapo's wife, Emma Coronel, a former beauty queen, help him escape? It's unclear if she would be given the chance to visit him there. At his trial, a former associate testified that Coronel helped him with that 2015 Altiplano escape, passing messages to and from him. She has not been charged with any crime, however.
BEITH: I think she'll visit him and pass messages to family. He has sons who are running the cartel. And I think that's going to stay her role.
TODD: Experts say, given that prison's security, it is unlikely that Emma Coronel would be able to help facilitate an escape. But could El Chapo be targeted by other inmates at the supermax? Analysts say he likely won't be allowed any contact with any other inmates. But one expert says some of El Chapo's oldest and most feared enemies are also at that same facility, and he says he couldn't rule out an attempt on his life -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, very intriguing indeed. Brian Todd reporting. Thank you.
Coming up, breaking news. President Trump, now, is trying to back off his rally crowd's "send her back" chant aimed at a naturalized U.S. congresswoman, but he let that ugly chorus continue after days of saying basically the same thing.
[17:54:57] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. What Trump knew. Newly released search warrants show the FBI believed President Trump worked directly with his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, on hush money payments and spoke at least twice on the phone with Cohen the day he paid off Stormy Daniels.
[18:00:06] Running on hate. President Trump tries to distance himself from the.