Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Michael Cohen Back Before Congress; North Korea Rebuilding Missile Site?. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 6, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It's not one of those issues that very many companies are deciding to join -- join on to.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Toluse Olorunnipa, nice to have you back with us today. Thank you.

I'm Erica Hill, in for Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for joining us.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Michael Cohen drops the mic and potentially a bombshell on his way to the slammer.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news. On the day he was originally supposed to report to prison, the president's former fixer has more to say on Capitol Hill and could, could be holding the most damning piece of evidence yet against the White House.

Democrats today demanding to know whether and why President Trump pressured officials to get security clearances for his daughter and son-in-law approved, as Democrats say the White House is stonewalling them on the matter.

And from falling in love to, it's complicated. Days after the Trump- Kim summit crumbled to pieces, North Korea has been caught putting back together a rocket launch site. Now the president's responding.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start with the politics lead.

Breaking this afternoon, President Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, handing over new evidence, documents to the House Intelligence Committee that he says show edits to the false written statement he delivered to Congress in 2017.

That false statement to Congress for which in part one Cohen will be going to prison deals with the Trump Organization's pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project in 2016. Cohen said in his testimony last week that President Trump's then personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, made changes to his statement, and Cohen suggested that he himself was guided by what he thought the president wanted him to do, to not be honest about how long conversations with Russia lasted during the 2016 campaign about that Trump Tower Moscow project.

The big question, of course, does this document provided by Cohen provide any evidence of anyone at the White House or affiliated with the president suborning perjury?

Any minute now, we expect Cohen to come out of his private meeting with the House Intelligence Committee and to speak to reporters. He's been behind closed doors for about seven hours now in his fourth testimony in the last eight days.

As a convicted liar headed to prison, Cohen now says he's speaking his truth.

Let's go to CNN's Manu Raju, who's waiting for Cohen to come to the mic.

Manu, what more can you tell us about this document?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're learning -- we're trying to learn more about exactly what these edits show.

But we do know that Cohen provided this to the committee in the aftermath of his statement last week that the president's attorney Jay Sekulow had a role in editing the statement that was later a false statement delivered to this very committee about the effort, the Trump Tower -- the Trump Organization effort to pursue that Trump Tower Moscow project.

At the time, he downplayed it. He later pleaded guilty to those discussions. And he also suggested that Abbe Lowell, who's the attorney for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, had a role in preparing for that false testimony.

Now, we don't know what exactly these edits say. But we do know that today the members have been asking questions about these documents that he provided to the committee. It has been a significant portion of today.

They also have tried to figure out exactly whether there was discussions about the president trying to move forward on any pardons for Michael Cohen or if Michael Cohen sought any pardons in exchange -- before he actually flipped and turned on this president.

But in relation to the edits of the statement, Jake, today, the Trump attorneys are standing by their statements from last week, in which he said -- the statement that Michael Cohen made last week about the edits being done by the Trump attorneys was -- quote -- "completely false."

Right now, they're saying that they still stand by that, it's completely false. So we will see how the members respond when they leave this closed-door hearing, Jake, in just a matter of minutes.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Our experts are here with me.

Just to remind you, Cohen talked about the edits to that 2017 statement last week publicly. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: There were changes made, additions. Jay Sekulow, for one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were there changes about the timing?

COHEN: There were several changes that were made, including how we were going to handle that message.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Were you finished?

COHEN: Yes.

The message, of course, being the length of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And, Amanda, we know that that message was false, the one that Cohen gave to the House, to Congress. Cohen lied.

So obviously we always have to weigh what his word today means regarding -- vis-a-vis anything he said in the past. But if the White House or anyone affiliated with the president had anything to do with adding to the lie, that could be a big, big issue.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

[16:05:00]

These are the two outstanding questions. Number one, did the president or his lawyers direct Michael Cohen to lie to Congress? That also implicates Jared and Ivanka Kushner because they also shared a joint defense agreement at one point in time.

The other outstanding question is, what was the length and duration and scope of the Moscow Trump Tower talks? Michael Cohen has not been totally clear on that, except to say that he wanted to coordinate with the messaging from the White House.

And I think back to Rudy Giuliani a few weeks ago, who said that maybe this went many months into the campaign, the late stages of the campaign. I speculatively wonder, did those talks ever end? Because Donald Trump continued to have secretive talks with Russian contacts.

And it's clear now, the president, he has never separated his official business from his personal business. And so I wonder if there was ever an end to those talks. TAPPER: And, of course, we have to continually weigh that Michael

Cohen has been convicted and is going to prison in part because he lied to Congress. So who knows if what he said last week is true.

We already know that he said at least one thing not true in terms of that he didn't want a job at the White House. So, that said, this is the witness they have.

TIFFANY CROSS, THE BEAT D.C.: Right.

What I found interesting by his on-camera testimony before Congressman Cummings' hearing is that the Republicans consistently said, you're a liar. And when we examine what they're accusing him of lying about, it was a weird defense, that he was lying about the president's ongoing conversations about Moscow tower.

So you asked the question, but I kind of feel like that question has been asked and answered, that he consistently lauded praise on Vladimir Putin. He consistently ignored the advice of his own Security Council to believe -- take Vladimir Putin's word over everybody else's.

And so we now know that he may have had a multimillion-dollar reason why. And that's because he had this Moscow tower conversation going on. Look, I don't think that we learned anything major during this hearing. I think we all kind of already knew. And while I personally believe that, yes, we know he's a con man, a racist and maybe a cheat. So Michael Cohen didn't drop any major bombshells.

But I do think because of the Moscow tower exchange and that he placed Donald Trump on the phone with Roger Stone, which by definition shows collusion. If he was talking to him about the WikiLeaks conversations, that is by definition collusion. So he brought the receipts, proverbial and literal, in that hearing.

TAPPER: Although we should point out that Roger Stone and President Trump say there's no truth to the allegation.

CROSS: Well, they never lie, so we should believe them.

TAPPER: Well, there are a lot of liars in this story.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But speaking of receipts, last week, Cohen showed Congress six checks that he claimed were repayments for hush money paid to him on behalf of the fact that he had paid money to women who have had alleged affairs with the president.

"The New York Times" cross-referenced the dates. It turns out one of those checks was written the day the president met with the chancellor of Germany. Another one, he hosted senators to talk about tax cuts. Another one, he pardoned the Thanksgiving Day turkey. Another one, he talked to middies leaders about moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Take a listen to one Republican senator earlier today defending the fact that there's such a jarring statement of the fact that he was doing official business on one hand while also writing these checks at the same time. Here's how one Republican senator defended it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I think most of us have a concern any time you have a president who is trying to work through some very personal matters. I think -- I honestly think this president loves his family. And I think it has as much to do with trying not to -- not to have public discussions about something that is a -- for him a private matter that he didn't want to have discussed with his family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's the defense in terms of not being a crime, but I don't know if it's a great political defense.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I always get the easy questions, right?

(LAUGHTER)

URBAN: Always toss to me with the easy ones.

Look, it's not -- the juxtaposition is what is the problem...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: So, the president's doing these big policy things, global.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Talking to Angela Merkel.

URBAN: Yes, big global, importance America. And then on the other hand he's writing a check presumably, what Michael Cohen is saying, to hush up an alleged affair with a porn star, right? Pretty unseemly.

So, yes, it's troubling. It's a bad visual. And what the senator was talking about there is I think the legal defense here, that, look, even if the president did it, even if it's exactly as Michael Cohen said, the mens rea here's what's important, right, and whether it's a campaign violation or not.

If he was doing it simply to try to keep it from his family from coming to light. Remember, this was all long after the Billy Bush tape came out and everything at the end of the campaign. So it's hard to see that the voters turning away because of a consensual affair with a woman after that Billy Bush tape came on and everything.

So, it was kind of winding down, right? And so I think what he was offering was a -- you heard him. He said, I'm not offering personal defenses. I'm saying, this is what I think could be going on, right? TAPPER: Although the argument that he was -- on its face that he was writing checks to pay off a porn star to be quiet because he loves his family so much is -- can be a difficult one to...

(CROSSTALK)

[16:10:07]

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's very Christian of him. That's all I have to say.

(LAUGHTER)

PSAKI: Look, I'm trying to imagine if we had this conversation when Barack Obama was president about him paying off a porn star on the same day -- or through a lawyer, sorry, on the same day that he was having conversations about the global economic crisis or the oil spill or whatever it may be.

The lack of outrage on things like this is -- continues to be jarring.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: Just to speak to one piece of this, the question is not whether or not the public would have changed their point of view.

It's sort of unknowable. The question is whether he held this from public view. The public has the right to make a decision about whether they thought this would have changed who they would have voted for. And that's why this is an issue and part of why Michael Cohen's going to jail.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

Brand-new demands from Democrats over Ivanka Trump's security clearance, after CNN learns her father pressured staffers to give her that clearance.

Then, President Trump just talked about his relationship with Kim Jong-un and the new photos showing North Korea is building up a launch site.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:10] TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead, and the battle over Trump administration security clearance is heating up.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings says he will continue talking to the White House before he resorts to using subpoena power after a White House official told CNN they believe Cummings and his committee are playing games by demanding documents that they claim they know they're not entitled to. Cummings also says he wants to know more about Ivanka Trump's security clearance after CNN learned President Trump overruled his staff to get his daughter a permanent clearance.

Sources say President Trump pressured his then-Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn to grant the security clearance to Ivanka Trump after the White House security office raised concerns about doing so.

But as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports for us now, when the top two officials refused to get involved, President Trump approved it himself.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democrats are outraged and the White House is playing defense after a new CNN report revealed President Trump pressured top officials to grant his daughter Ivanka a security clearance.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're not going to comment on security clearances.

COLLINS: Sources say the president lobbied John Kelly and then White House counsel Don McGahn to grant her a clearance against their recommendations. Trump wanted them to make the decision so it didn't look like he was tainting the process, but when they refused, he did it himself, contradicting what Ivanka told ABC News weeks ago.

IVANKA TRUMP, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: There were anonymous leaks about there being issues, but the president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance.

COLLINS: A source close to her adding it's possible she was unaware of her father's involvement. While clearances can sometimes be stalled if a married couple is involved, sources told CNN officials had separate concerns about Ivanka from her husband Jared Kushner, though those issues are still unclear.

INTERVIEWER: So what were the problems early on?

I. TRUMP: There weren't any other than a backlog that exists of close to a million clearances across government.

COLLINS: The revelation coming after "The New York Times" reported Trump pressured officials to grant Kushner a clearance, too. While he has the authority to grant clearances, Trump has denied getting involved.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was never involved with a security. I know that he, you know, just from reading, I know that there was issues back and forth about security for -- for numerous people actually.

COLLINS: It's a denial that has infuriated Democrats who are demanding more information.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: He's continued to lie. For example, when you talk about the security clearances, he said he had nothing to do with it, and that all the evidence comes out that he did have something to do with it. So, it's lie after lie after life from this White House.

COLLINS: That in addition to a new report from "The Washington Post" detailing efforts to bury the president's academic records.

D. TRUMP: I've also heard I was first in my class at the Wharton School of Finance.

COLLINS: According to "The Post", the superintendent of New York Military Academy instructed the school's headmaster in to find Trump's records and buried them, around the same time Trump was calling on President Obama to release his school records.

D. TRUMP: Everyone says he was a great student. Well, if he was, that's great, and if he wasn't, that's great. I was a very good student.

COLLINS: Evan Jones told "The Post", the superintendent, quote, had been accosted by prominent wealthy alumni of the school who were Mr. Trump's friends. He said, quote: You need to go grab that record and deliver it to me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, after CNN published that report, the chairman of the house Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, said he wants more information about how Ivanka Trump got her security clearance and that he's concerned if the president brushed aside those objections from the CIA or the FBI. And he says, if the president feels he did nothing improper here, then he should have no problem handing over those documents.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

And right now, Ivanka Trump and her father, the president, just arrived to a meeting about American workers at the White House. She is making some remarks there. It's an American Workforce Advisory Board meeting.

Let's continue to talk about this.

There's no doubt that she works on issues that are important to her, having to do with a child care, having to do with women and entrepreneurs at the World Bank. But you have had a security clearance at the White House. I don't know what that process means, but what would she need a security clearance for those kinds of jobs?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's a little unclear without knowing everything she works on why she would need a security clearance. That's actually one of the questions I would ask the White House, because a lot of the issues that she works on our domestic and there issue she clearly cares about.

But the need for security clearance, you know, is not -- everyone is not given one.

[16:20:01] It's an extensive process. It includes every country you've been to, every foreign contact you've had. It's very extensive, and the vetting process is required for everybody.

So, it's, you know, the questions here are obvious. You know, why should she -- just because she's the daughter, get a waiver and all those things. But the first question I would ask is, why she needs one?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

TAPPER: And then you also had a security clearance when you worked in the Senate. I mean, one of the other questions has to do with the fact that they haven't apparently been forthcoming about this. Take a listen to Ivanka Trump talking with ABC News about the rumors, the reporting rather, that her father intervened to get her and her husband security clearances.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

I. TRUMP: The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance.

INTERVIEWER: So, no special treatment?

I. TRUMP: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, maybe she didn't know, but that doesn't appear to be true.

URBAN: So, I don't know what the -- you know, I heard the congressman say, all the reporting, all the sources, right, all the reports. I think there's one report, right, from some -- you know, I think this is a subject of legitimate oversight, right, that can be done and if there is some issues, it should be -- it should be -- the president has the authority, of course, to grant a clearance.

TAPPER: To anyone.

URBAN: Yes, to anyone. As Jen said, you know, what does she need a clearance for? If she has walk-in privileges in the Oval Office, right, quite frequently you walk in, there are documents on the desk that are classified, there are meetings that are going on, so there could be actual, viable, you know, reason that she had a clearance.

And so, I'd like to see what the reporting is beyond, you know, one leaked source.

CARPENTER: I don't know that she knew she was lying to Abby Huntsman when she said that her father didn't interfere with this, but I know this, if she did not obtain her clearance through a fair and vetted process, she should surrender it immediately, because otherwise she is living an embarrassing life that she has their position in the White House through any fair means.

TAPPER: And this is this is why there are these rules against appointing family members to important positions.

CROSS: And, I mean, you're a lot more gracious than I am. I say this, the only thing that interview proves is that she's as bad as a liar as her father is. I mean, listen, not for nothing, I think we need to raise the fact that the Kushners have made over $83 million in outside White House income since they've been advising the White House.

TAPPER: When you say the Kushners, you mean the entire family or just Jared and Ivanka?

CROSS: Jared and Ivanka.

TAPPER: OK.

CROSS: Ivanka herself has earned almost $4 million just from her dealings with Trump International Towers. I mean, that opens a lot of questions about what international dignitaries, what business you had with these hotels. We saw that already with T-Mobile/Sprint merger. I mean, this is something that needs to be explore.

And I'm with you, Jen, I don't understand why she needs a high security, or a security clearance here.

And I also think with Jared Kushner, we don't know what red flags were raised with Ivanka, but we certainly have an idea of what these red flags could be with Jared Kushner. And I think when you look at some of the cozy relationships he has with some of these business dealings, particularly with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, with MBS, and the parallels between these two, I think it's worth exploring, and it baffles me that all of these patriots, you know, are defending this kind of process that it is clearly nepotism and clearly inappropriate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: If Barack Obama opens up and gives his college reports and applications, and if he gives his passport applications and records, I will give to a charity of his choice.

I asked to see his college records because I'd like to see 'em.

I don't know why he doesn't release his records. Why doesn't he release his Occidental records?

Everyone says he was this great student. Well, if he was, that's great, and if he wasn't, that's great. I was a very good student.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So at the same time, he was saying all that, his minions, including Michael Cohen, at least according to Michael Cohen and also according to "The Washington Post" reporting, we're doing everything they could to suppress Donald Trump's records. PSAKI: True, and look, I think the second part of the first clip is the key here, which was when he was asking for his passport. As we all know Donald Trump was an originator of the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States. That's something he pushed, he peddled through the conspiracy theory channels. And that was really what he was getting at.

Barack Obama wrote a book where he talked about wandering around aimlessly at Occidental College and how he wasn't a great student then. He was pretty transparent about that, and I think if we took a poll of the American people on who they thought was more intelligent or did better in college, Barack Obama would probably win by a landslide today.

CARPENTER: I would say the brazen acts of intimidation on behalf of Trump are more important than his grades.

[16:25:03] And that's something that continues to be explored.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around.

We're going to talk about President Trump reacting this afternoon to these new images of North Korea building up a launch site just days after the failed summit with Kim Jong-un. What is the president's new message to the dictator?

That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We have to solve a problem. We have a very nasty problem, that we have to solve a problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)