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Rudy Giuliani Says Trump Didn't Collude, His Campaign Might Have; Interview with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL); Michael Cohen Hired Firm to Rig Online Polls in Trump's Favor; Interview with Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN); Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2019 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:48] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good and busy and newsy Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We're glad you're with us.

We have brand new comments this hour from President Trump's most vocal, most visible lawyer who is now attempting to diffuse an explosive admission that he made right here on CNN last night. In an interview with our Chris Cuomo, Rudy Giuliani admitted for the first time that someone on the Trump campaign may -- may have colluded with Russia. Listen to this.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER: I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign.


GIULIANI: I have no idea -- I have not. I said the president of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.


SCIUTTO: Well, in an attempt to explain those comments just moments ago Giuliani said the following, and I'm quoting, "The president did not himself nor does he have any knowledge of collusion with Russians. If anyone was doing that he is unaware of it and so am I. But neither nor I could possibly know what everyone on the campaign was doing."

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins us with what this all mean.

Shimon, I don't know if that's quite a denial, maybe a clarification? But the fact remains, he is no longer denying full stop that any collusion with the campaign took place.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. And the other thing he told our Dana Bash this morning was that he was not intending to signal anything that he thought may be coming and he is trying to get ahead of it as we've seen him do in the Michael Cohen- Stormy Daniels situation. I think Rudy Giuliani is waking up and realizing what he did here.

I think -- more importantly I think the legal team, the real legal team that is behind the president is realizing what happened here. And he is, he is trying to clean it up here. But that's just not going to happen. Right? The issue has certainly changed in terms of the collusion issue since we've learned about this Russian intelligence official that Paul Manafort shared campaign data with, and it could be why Rudy Giuliani is now sort of saying, well, maybe there was collusion but certainly he is continuing to protect or at least try to protect the president.

Now as for the president, certainly his view on collusion, he has denied it. And here is what he has said previously.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian people.

There was no collusion whatsoever. There never has been. The last thing I want is help from Russia on a campaign.

There has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians.


PROKUPECZ: So certainly the question about collusion has changed, you know, as I said, since we've learned that Paul Manafort shared this data with a Russian intelligence official. More information came out just days ago in another filing from the special counsel where they listed and they gave evidence to support why they believe Paul Manafort had lied to them repeatedly, specifically about this Russian intelligence official Konstantin Kilimnik.

He is now at the center of what appears to be this grand jury investigation and certainly more questions to come because we don't know what he did, what Konstantin Kilimnik did with the polling data that Paul Manafort gave him. And that can be what all this collusion is about.

SCIUTTO: Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Let's bring in our legal analyst, former prosecutor Paul Callan.

Good to see you. Look, and I think Jim rightly points out, even Giuliani's sort of explanation of his comments last night this morning to Dana Bash is not a walk back, it's not a denial. I mean, he's not saying no way did no one on the Trump campaign ever collude. The question becomes why, why has he moved very deliberately here twice now in two CNN interviews the goal post?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: My suspicion is that Giuliani is dealing with a client who doesn't tell the truth. I mean, the president has a big record of not being truthful in public appearances. The biggest fear that criminal lawyers have is that the client is going to lie and you're going to go out on a limb and say something that backs the lie.

Now you've seen now at least on two occasions with the Stormy Daniels payoff and now with respect to this collusion issue him walking -- Giuliani walking things back. So he's just in a terrible spot, I think.

[10:05:09] SCIUTTO: You do have -- you'll often have people say well, Giuliani is imprecise with his words and clearly this morning he's attempting to say I was imprecise with my words here. But it would have been an easy thing to say, would it not, that they did not -- you know, no members of this campaign colluded. We were -- you know, we took country over party, country over victory which is a phrase that he is no longer saying having said it many times before.

CALLAN: Yes. That's exactly true. And I think, you know, if you look at it, just -- if you transfer this into an ordinary case it would be like somebody saying there was no bank robbery, there was no bank robbery, and now the position is well, there was a bank robbery but I didn't know about it.

HARLOW: Right.

CALLAN: Now what are the chances that the president wouldn't know that his campaign manager was slipping polling data to the Russians when his own son had set up a meeting in the Trump Tower with Russians.


CALLAN: There's a lot of circumstantial evidence here that's being built carefully I think by Mueller. And we may see more in the future.

HARLOW: You know, the old adage, ignorance is bliss. If indeed there is a world in which the president knew none of the things you just laid out, never knew about the meeting at Trump Tower, et cetera, legally here, is there any threshold where, you know, you should have known?

CALLAN: Well, it's hard to make out a criminal case on should have known. But circumstantial evidence sometimes makes out a very strong case. And I will say that in this case we have something else that we haven't talked about today, and that is the president destroying his notes of his meeting with Putin.

HARLOW: Not -- just to clarify. I don't think destroyed. We know that he --


CALLAN: He confiscated.

HARLOW: Hold on. There's a difference, right? CALLAN: There is a difference.

HARLOW: The White House still has them.

CALLAN: They could be there someplace and they could be subject to subpoena. But just that odd act of meeting with Putin the way he did and then taking the notes from the translator kind of suggests, what are you hiding? And then you look at more evidence like the evidence of Cohen rigging the polling data, of Manafort leaking it to the Russians who we know were hacking into the DNC and distributing adverse information about Hillary Clinton and pro-Trump information. It all starts to build into strong circumstantial case.

HARLOW: All right.

SCIUTTO: You would have to believe now that the president did not know about a meeting with Russian in Trump Tower to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, did not know about his National Security adviser speaking to the Russian ambassador about relaxing sanctions, did now know about his personal lawyer and fixer, you know, having this other back and forth here. That's a lot to believe.


SCIUTTO: Paul Callan.

HARLOW: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Thanks as always.

CALLAN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now is Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. He serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks very for taking the time this morning. First of all I'd like your reaction to Rudy Giuliani's comments yesterday. He could have said very simply, no one on this campaign colluded with Russia. We stand by our statements over the last two years, more than two years.

From your view, was there a meeting in his walking back that denial back?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I try to measure Giuliani's statements as a lawyer and as a politician. And it's a tangled web. It just makes no sense. It either reflects his client who may be leading or misleading him or his own musings as to what might have occurred here.

I don't see any clear statement from him, credible, consistent statement that I would want to take into a courtroom.

HARLOW: I want to ask you obviously as a member of the Judiciary Committee who heard the -- you know, who was present for the hearing for William Barr, the president's pick for attorney general, and who questioned him, have you made up your mind as to whether or not you will vote to confirm William Barr as the next attorney general of the United States?

DURBIN: Let me tell you, I'm wrestling with three things and I'll be very brief about each one of them. The first is I was glad to hear him say the Mueller inquiry is going to go forward without any interference. But when it came to disclosing the report of that inquiry, he equivocated. He should have been just as clear and straightforward on that.

Secondly his statements on immigration are unintelligible, to suggest that narcotics will be stopped by some glorious wall from sea to shining sea just belies the reality that 90 percent of them pass through existing ports of entry.

HARLOW: Right.

DURBIN: That's where we should focus. And the third part is, when we pass criminal justice reform, he was opposed to it in the earlier stages and goes back for years in strong opposition. Those are the three things that trouble me.

HARLOW: Yes. That sounds like a no to me that he won't get your vote.

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you at this point I'm looking at it very carefully.

SCIUTTO: I want to get to the shutdown now. We are hearing from some members of your own party who are frustrated as well with the continuing shutdown and have said, we had Congresswoman Katie Hill, new member of Congress, who told us last week, told Poppy last week, she would vote for some barrier funding. As you know, Democrats have supported legislation in the past several months that included barrier funding.

How do you convince the American people that the Democratic Party's stand now is about more than denying the president a win on the wall?

DURBIN: The president asked for $1.3 billion for barriers and border security and we gave it to him.

[10:10:05] And that's the offer we've made again to bring an end to this government shutdown. Now he has increased the demand to $5.7 or whatever the latest number happens to be. There is little or no justification as to how he would even spend that money. During the course of one year, even two, he's trying to spend money that we gave him two years ago. So there is clear misunderstanding as to where the president stands because it changes. And some concern in Congress as to what we're being asked to give him.

Yes, will we end up with more fences and barriers at the end of the day? We've done it for two straight years. We're likely to do it again. But this wall concept that brings us to this moment in history is much different. HARLOW: Well, that's really telling what you just said, that will we

end up with more barriers at the end of the day? That that's likely. Whereas Leadership Nancy Pelosi has said zero. There's not a dollar for the wall.


HARLOW: Would you like to see her budge a bit on that? And do you think this can end if leadership doesn't?

DURBIN: Well, let me just be careful in analyzing what Nancy has said. She has said she is opposed to the wall as the president portrayed it to the American people over and over and over again. Nancy would acknowledge, and I would, too, that we have put restrictions on what the Department of Homeland Security can build and they have been building 60 to 80 miles a year of fences and barriers with those restrictions.

That is what I was referring to. I certainly wasn't blessing any type of a wall structure that the president talked about in his campaign. Nancy hasn't either.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about the State of the Union.


SCIUTTO: As you know, Nancy has in effect disinvited the president, citing security as a result of a shutdown. We heard from the Department of Homeland Security yesterday saying in no uncertain terms that they have the resources to keep the State of the Union safe. Is this position from the Democrats -- is it about security or politics?

DURBIN: Well, remember that this started when the Department of Homeland Security secretary announced that, as is usually is on an annual basis, this is a major security event for our government to have all of these leaders assembled in one place.

HARLOW: Right.

DURBIN: So Nancy is certainly not fabricating that. That is a reality. Secondly --

SCIUTTO: But the secretary of Homeland Security says that they can secure all those leaders and lawmakers in one place.

DURBIN: And I understand just from what I read in the papers this morning that Nancy has heard otherwise. I have not spoken to her about it. I don't know how she reached this conclusion. But if security is the most important part of this, for goodness sakes, why in the heck isn't the Department of Homeland Security open for business with everybody showing up for work with paychecks? That's the point she is trying to make and it's one that we ought to make over and over again to the president.

HARLOW: I just wonder if you think the State of the Union is -- should be a moment to make a point. Do you think it's better for the American people, Senator, just to put a button on it, to not hear from the president the night of January 29th?

DURBIN: I would like to see a State of the Union with the government not shut down. Period. We can't take business as usual approaches to this government.


DURBIN: With so many people, 800,000 federal employees currently furloughed, half of them showing up for work and not receiving a paycheck now for over three weeks.

HARLOW: Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, we appreciate your time. Let's hope this can get worked out. Thank you.

DURBIN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: New this morning, the "Wall Street Journal" reports that President Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen hired a firm to rig online polls in the president's favor to help then candidate Trump.

HARLOW: It's a really extraordinary story. And Michael Cohen's confirmation of a lot of it is even perhaps more extraordinary.

Here's the deal. He allegedly gave the owner of a small tech company thousands and thousands of dollars in cash in a Wal-Mart bag, nonetheless, along with a boxing glove, I should note. Why? In exchange for writing online scripts to help the president score better in polls and rigging some polls in the president's favor.

MJ Lee is all over this story, she joins us now. You can't -- I mean, you can't make this stuff up.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: You can't. And apparently, this was one of the job descriptions for when you're somebody's fixer.

Let me just walk you through the story quickly and let you know what Michael Cohen is saying in response. The "Wall Street Journal" says that Michael Cohen enlisted a man named John Gauger. He was the head of a tech company based in Virginia to rig online polls to make Donald Trump look good. Just two quick examples of what this would have looked like. There was a 2014 CNBC poll that outranked business leaders and Michael Cohen wanted Donald Trump to do well in this poll.

So this person would write computer scripts that would repeatedly vote for Donald Trump's name in this poll to again try to get his rankings high in this online poll. Another example in 2015 a Drudge Report poll on ranking Republican presidential candidates, Michael Cohen again wanted Donald Trump to do well in this poll. Here is an example of a Drudge Report poll back in the day.

Now in early 2015 what the "Journal" says is that this guy, John Gauger, went to Trump Tower to collect $50,000 from Michael Cohen for the services that he provided.

[10:15:02] But instead of getting $50,000, he says that he was handed a bag of cash of around $12,000 from Michael Cohen.

Now how is Cohen responding to all of this? He denies the cash part of it. He tells the "Wall Street Journal" all moneys paid to Mr. Gauger were by check. He also gave CNN a comment this morning. And here's what it says. It says, "As for the 'Wall Street Journal' article on poll rigging what I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of Donald J. Trump. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn't deserve it."

Now a key thing from this "Wall Street Journal" story I should note is that Michael Cohen then went to Donald Trump in 2017 and asked for the $50,000 saying this is the money I spent for the online poll services and other work that I did related to the tech, and Donald Trump paid Michael Cohen that money according to the "Journal."

SCIUTTO: Well, it's usually as with the Stormy Daniels payments, Michael Cohen says the president told him to do it.

LEE: Right.

SCIUTTO: So on a lot of these things, you would have to accept that a lot of these people working for the president did stuff without his direction on various other things that have been revealed but the pattern seems to be they got permission from the boss.

LEE: That's right. And this is the story line that we've been reporting on for so long. How much did Donald Trump know?


LEE: Where these situations where Donald Trump explicitly ordered the people working under him to do these things or were there some cases where there was a wink and they sort of knew what he was suggesting and they went out and executed it without necessarily letting him know every step of the way?

SCIUTTO: MJ Lee, thanks as always. Fascinating story.

In just minutes, the president heads to the Pentagon, this as the deaths of four Americans in Syria are raising hard, new questions about President Trump's decision to withdraw troops summarily from the country.

HARLOW: Also, this morning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tells CNN she has heard no response directly from the White House on her request to delay the State of the Union until the government is back up and fully running. She's set to take questions later this hour and we'll take you there live.


[10:21:25] SCIUTTO: Today we're kicking off a new monthly segment on this program where we interview Washington's game changers, the men and women, Republicans and Democrats, making history in the 116th United States Congress. In November Democrat Ilhan Omar of the great state of Minnesota became

the first Somali American to be elected to Congress. Ilhan and her family fled Somalia when she was just 8 years old due to that country's bloody civil war. They spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before finally making it here to the U.S.

HARLOW: It is remarkable. And that is why this picture is just so remarkable. This is Ilhan Omar returning with her father to the same Washington airport where they both arrived as refugees to this country 23 years ago.

Also this morning the "New York Times" made 27 special covers to recognize many of the new unique female voices now in the halls of Congress and she is one of them.

Joining us now is Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. She has just, I should note this morning, been appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you for joining us.

REP. ILHAN OMAR (D), MINNESOTA: Thank you, Poppy, for having me.

HARLOW: I remember interviewing you a few years ago when you were a local representative in my home state of Minnesota and thinking, is she going to go to Congress one day? And you did.

Let's talk about what you came in. You came in during a shutdown. You're dealing with the shutdown. You guys came in freshmen especially to change things. Are you frustrated at all with Democratic leadership at this point not willing to give any money for a border wall? Would you, like your fellow freshman Democrat Katie Hill, like to see some money toward a barrier to get an agreement and get the government back up and running?

OMAR: Absolutely not. I believe this is a manufactured crisis. And the president yet again is throwing a temper tantrum for his quest to get a racist, xenophobic big wall. I believe that the federal workers and the American people expect us to fund the government and make sure that government is operating and is open. And then they expect us to come back to the drawing board and have a conversation about what it looks like for us to protect the health and well being of Americans.

That conversation about immigration reform and having our immigration system be more humane, thinking about what border security and border protection should look like, those are conversations that we should have. And they are not conversations we are ready to have right now while the government is shutdown and we have over 800,000 federal employees not getting a paycheck.

HARLOW: I would just note a point of fact here before we move on that indeed we did see a record number of families illegally crossing the border in December, up 240 percent year over year. As you call it a manufactured crisis, some people will point to that number, although the overall numbers as you point out often are down.

OMAR: Well, I mean, right now -- right now what we are about to see is you know, over 30 million American families who rely on food stamps face serious insecurity. We are about to see our federal courts shut down because they will not have adequate funding. We are about to see our federal law enforcement agencies not have an opportunity to operate because of the shutdown.

We've already seen what's happening with our airports with TSA and air control traffic. There is no funding for Coast Guard members.


[10:25:07] OMAR: And we know that even the president's Secret Service isn't able to collect a paycheck. They are all working without a paycheck. So this manufactured crisis is going to lead to a real crisis if this president and Mitch McConnell over in the Senate don't make an urgent decision to work with us.


OMAR: Reopen the government and come back a week or so and start the dialogue about what it looks like for us to deal with the humanitarian crisis that is happening at our border.

SCIUTTO: Congresswoman, one change you bring is your background, your faith. Congress voted down what had been an existing ban on wearing head scarves as you are now on the floor so that both you and fellow Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib could do so, could serve on the floor.

I just wonder, what message do you believe that sends to fellow Muslims in America particularly at a time when there are concerns about growing hostility among some Americans to members of the faith?

OMAR: Thank you for mentioning that. My sister Rashida doesn't actually wear the hijab. I'm the only one who wears a hijab. And it's really important to remember that within our Constitution there is not supposed to be a religious test constituted. And so I am excited for the opportunity to come walk into a body that recognizes that and was willing to vote to make sure that I am able to wear my hijab as I serve the people of Minnesota.

This sends a message about the strength of our Constitution. It sends a message about the religious liberties we get to enjoy in this country. And it sends a message about the kind of inclusive societies we can all live in.

SCIUTTO: Well, a positive one. We need to ask you about this. You tweeted, we're going to put this up on the screen, regarding Republican congressman -- Senator Lindsey Graham, I believe we have this tweet, saying they got him. He is compromised. And there it is.

I wonder if you would explain what you were talking about there. This has sparked a fair amount of criticism not just from Republicans. Can you explain that comment?

OMAR: So over the last three years, we have seen many times where Senator Lindsey Graham has told us how dangerous this president could be if he was given the opportunity to be in the White House. And all of a sudden he's made not only 180 turnaround, but a 360 turnaround. And so I am pretty sure that there is something happening with him whether it is, you know, something that has to do with his funding when it comes to running for office, whether it has something to do with the polling that they might have in his district, or whether it has to do with some sort of leadership within the Senate.

He is somehow compromised to no longer stand up for the truth and --

SCIUTTO: But that's quite --

OMAR: To make sure that he is fighting to protect the oath that he took in serving the American people.

SCIUTTO: But that's quite a charge to make. You say you're pretty sure based on what evidence? What facts? That's a remarkable comment to make about a sitting U.S. senator.

OMAR: The -- the evidence really is present to us. It's being presented to us in the way that he's behaving.

HARLOW: But that's not evidence. That's your opinion. But now as a sitting member of Congress you would have tweeted they got him on this. Again, just based on what evidence, Congresswoman?

OMAR: My tweet was just an opinion based on what I believe to be visible to me. And I'm pretty sure there are lots of Americans who agree on this.

HARLOW: I do want to ask you also about your comments on Israel, to remind people what you tweeted about Israel in 2012 during the offensive in Gaza. You wrote, "Israel has hypnotized the world. May Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel."

You've commented a lot since then trying to explain what you meant by that. And I wonder just what your message is this morning as the first on our "Game Changer" series to Jewish-Americans who find that deeply offensive.

OMAR: Oh, that's really a regrettable way of expressing that. I don't know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish-Americans. My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza war. And I am clearly speaking about the way that the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.