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Michael Cohen Back Before Congress; North Korea Rebuilding Missile Site?; DNC Bans FOX News From Hosting Debates. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 6, 2019 - 15:00   ET



SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that is exactly what this committee hearing is focused on and working on. This comes at a time up here on Capitol Hill that they have been hearing from many members of Congress, many women members, who have come forward with their own MeToo stories.

You have Jackie Speier and Joni Ernst, who talked about her abuse. So, clearly, this perspective from women sitting members of Congress, bringing that forward, gives new weight to what they're actually working on.


Sunlen Serfaty, Sunlen, thank you.

Top of the hour here on CNN. I'm Erica Hill. Thanks for being with us today, in for Brooke Baldwin.

Breaking news at this hour out of Washington, where on a day when he was supposed to report to prison, Michael Cohen is instead back on Capitol Hill in a closed-door session with the House Intelligence Committee, and with him today, new documents which show edits to his false written statements about that Trump Tower Moscow project.

You may recall he gave that statement to this same committee in 2017, not before, though, he says, the president's lawyers made the edits, a claim Cohen made last week in his public testimony before another House committee.


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?


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: The gentleman's time is expired. You may answer that question.

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

CUMMINGS: Were you finished?


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


HILL: Jay Sekulow called Cohen's allegations that Trump's lawyers edited or changed his statement to Congress completely false.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

So, Manu, what more do we know about these documents, about these edits?


We were told that Michael Cohen did provide those documents to the committee after his public testimony from last week in which he made that allegation, saying that the president's attorneys, Jay Sekulow as well as Abbe Lowell, were involved in the preparation of that false testimony in 2017 in which he initially downplayed the role of the Trump Organization and then candidate Trump's effort to get that Trump Tower Moscow project moving forward.

Now, from what we understand is these documents that he's provided show edits that were made to that testimony from the attorneys. Now, it's unclear exactly what those edits are at this point, but they're intended to further explain what he said in that public session.

Now, Jay Sekulow pushed back last week in the aftermath of Cohen's testimony, saying the testimony by Michael Cohen that attorneys for the president edited or changed his statement to Congress to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations is completely false.

You will recall that at the time, in 2017, Cohen said that the timeline ended in January of 2016. And he pleaded guilty, saying, no, actually, it occurred up until June of 2016. So that's one aspects of this dispute here.

We're now hearing from the Trump attorneys, saying they stand by their statement from last week, so we will see what ultimately they learn here in this committee, but documents that Cohen believes corroborate his testimony. We will see if the lawmaker agrees with Cohen's assessment -- Erica.

HILL: Manu Raju with the latest for us from the Hill, Manu, thank you.

I also want to bring in now Lisa Lerer, national political reporter from "The New York Times."

As we look at this, yes, there's the legal fallout to it, and legal analysts we have spoken with are saying, depending on what these edits are saying, this is potentially, yes, a very big deal.

Politically, though, what could we see the fallout be, Lisa?

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it just underscores how much the Michael Cohen testimony last week is just the gift that keeps giving here for Democrats.

Not only did that testimony prompt this flurry of investigations -- I believe they requested 81 different documents and entities and people to come and testify and submit information to Congress -- it also led to document requests for people very close to the president, including his family.

So this is just another example of how that hearing, how Michael Cohen getting up in front of that committee last week really broadened this whole investigation out for Democrats, and also how much of a strategic mistake the president made by not being able to keep his personal lawyer, the guy who was his fixer for all those decades, in the fold.

HILL: And that is a fascinating point.

Stay with us for a minute.

This latest Cohen revelation, of course, comes as the battle between House Democrats and the Trump White House ramps up, which Lisa just alluded to there, a battle that may soon ensnare, we're learning, the president's daughter Ivanka.

CNN has learned Ivanka, who is a senior adviser to the president, was granted her security clearance at the insistence of her father, and over the objections of both his former chief of staff and White House counsel.


Now, this news comes just days after a similar report about her husband and fellow Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner. For his part, the president has said he didn't intervene, and so has Ivanka.


IVANKA TRUMP, ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance.

QUESTION: So, no special treatment?



HILL: CNN political commentator Ana Navarro is also here with me.

Ivanka Trumper -- Trump, rather, senior adviser to the president.

There are a lot of questions here, number one, the fact that she says, no, nothing, nothing happened here. It's possible she didn't know anything about it. There's also a question of why she would need the security clearance in the first place in her role as senior adviser, and if it was appropriate, even though he has the right to, for the president to step in like this.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, there's a reason why there have been nepotism laws. There's a reason why people don't hire folks close to them with whom they would have emotional conflicts of interest to work in sensitive jobs in the White House.

Why would she need the job? Why would she need the clearance? You would think that somebody that is a senior adviser would be privy to and read stuff and listen to stuff that is classified, that is sensitive and for what you would need the security clearance.

I think that when you put it together with what we have heard about Jared Kushner's security clearance, where the same thing happened, it's very troubling. And I am glad that the Oversight Committee is asking about this and investigating.

This should, should lead to further legislation to tighten up nepotism laws and to tighten up laws regarding national security and how do you receive it.

HILL: You just mentioned needing to read perhaps certain documents, being in certain meetings. Is that why she -- the only reason she would need this security clearance? Because at least, as we look at her role as senior adviser, it's not entirely clear in that role that she would need even perhaps the same security clearance as her husband, based on some of the meetings that he's having.

LERER: Well, I think she wants to be privy for -- to as much as possible that's going on in the White House.

I mean, this comes in a moment, these investigations into Jared and Ivanka's security clearance, at a moment when Jared Kushner's power is considered to be fairly high at the White House, that he's almost acting as a de facto chief of staff.

So this is very problematic to the functioning of the White House and crippling to the president's daughter and son-in-law.

HILL: As we look at this, there's a heck of a lot going on today, which is really just another normal Wednesday in 2019. Let's be honest.


HILL: But, Ana, we also know that freshman Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib says she is going to be filing an impeachment resolution later this month.

I spoke to one of her fellow lawmakers who said, no, I would not support it, that this is not the road that we should be taking at this point.

Is it a smart move for her to do that?

NAVARRO: I don't think so. I think it's premature.

I understand where she's coming from. But I think if you take a look at what Democratic leadership is saying, they are not on the same page. And we're seeing that more and more where some of these younger members of Congress, some of these newer members of Congress are, frankly, not singing to the same hymn that Democratic leadership is.

Look, we're at this point less than two years from an election. I think the American public is very wary of a possible impeachment. I think everybody remembers what it was like during -- well, not everybody, perhaps not the youngins, but certainly those of us who were old enough to remember, how traumatic and how difficult and polarizing it can be for the country.

And we are much more polarized already than we already were then. I think they have got to tread carefully, particularly with an election coming up, because they don't want to overreach. They don't want to turn Trump and his family and his -- and Trump world into victims deserving sympathy.

So they have got to tread very carefully. And I think what people want is transparency in the process, and if that there were real crimes committed, if there is evidence of real crimes, then I think that's the time to think about it.

HILL: We're also just getting some news in today about upcoming debates. The Democratic National Committee now saying they're banning FOX News from hosting any Democratic presidential debates, citing a -- quote -- "inappropriate relationship" between FOX and the White House.

This, of course, comes out of the report in "The New Yorker" earlier this week which detailed the president's frequent contact with FOX News hosts, mentions, of course, there's that rating loyalty system that he has.

For its part, FOX is also now responding, saying, in part: "We hope the DNC will reconsider its decision to bar Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, and Martha MacCallum, all of whom embody the ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism, from moderating a Democratic presidential debate."

And, Ana, I have to go back to you on this one. First, what do you make of this? I have to say, when I first read that from the DNC, I thought this is an interesting position to take.


Was it the right one?

NAVARRO: Look, it's true that those three journalists that were just mentioned in that FOX statement, Chris Wallace, Martha MacCallum, Bret Baier, are good journalists and have shown great professionalism.

But it is also true that FOX News is tainted with partisanship and defense and loyalty towards this president. We have seen time and time again that he takes from FOX News to name people and appoint people into his administration, including now the chief communications person in the White House, Bill Shine, who comes from, you know, the corporate offices, the executive branch of FOX News.

We have seen the beyond cozy relationship with people like Sean Hannity and other of the opinion hosts on that network. So I think it's a -- and after "The New Yorker" piece, it's not irrational, it's not illogical for the DNC to wonder and suspect that they can't get a fair shake from FOX News, or they will be set up.

HILL: Lisa, this, though, could come with its own fallout.

LERER: Right.

Well, it's funny that you -- it's interesting you mention this. I was just on the phone with somebody at the DNC fairly recently, this afternoon, after they made this announcement. And what I was told was that the big fear over there is just that the president could have some involvement, either be privy to the questions that would be asked or have some role in crafting the questions that would be asked.

And even if that is a long shot, unlikely situation, it was something that officials at the DNC felt that they could not risk under any circumstances. And that's part of what motivated this, this decision that they knew would be fairly controversial and could, as you point out, prompt some blowback

HILL: We will watch to see if any of that materializes.

Lisa, Ana, good to see about. Thank you.

NAVARRO: Thank you.

Just moments ago, President Trump saying his relationship with Kim Jong-un is good, despite new satellite images that show North Korea appears to be rebuilding a nuclear site it claimed to have dismantled.

Plus, we're talking money, specifically the massive federal deficit that has ballooned under President Trump, despite his promises to cut it, so what is fueling the increase?

And, later, R. Kelly granting an explosive interview, his first public attempt to fight the sexual assault charges against him, at times crying, yelling, pounding his fists.



HILL: The president often talks about launching an economic boom, pointing to the soaring stock market, to low unemployment rates, both great things to focus on.

When the president took office, though, he also vowed to eliminate the federal deficit. And yet, in just the first four months of the 2019 fiscal year, it has exploded, ballooning a whopping 77 percent. Just let that sink in for a minute, in four months ballooning 77 percent.

It now stands at $310 billion. Now, at the same time, the U.S. trade deficit is now the largest in the country's history. That, you may remember, was another core campaign promise.

I want to bring in now Maya MacGuineas, who is president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Maya, good to have you here.

As we look at all of this, we heard that, yes, part of the increase is due to a shifting of certain payments, but that is not the only reason. Why is the federal deficit skyrocketing like this?

MAYA MACGUINEAS, COMMITTEE FOR A RESPONSIBLE FEDERAL BUDGET PRESIDENT, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Yes, particularly given how strong the economy is, this is extremely discouraging news, and yet at the same time entirely predictable, because the reason that deficit is going up so much -- and, honestly, we have never seen growth of a federal deficit at a period when the economy is so strong and growing like this.

The reason is pretty much self-imposed. Congress and the president keep adding to the debt and growing the deficit, as they pass borrowed tax cuts. They don't pay for the tax cuts. Those add to the debt. And then turn around and borrow more money for additional spending.

So we have increases in spending, tax cuts. No surprise there. The math is what one would expect. It is going to deficit massively. And it's continued -- it's expected to continue to grow on this path forever right now, which is very frightening news.

HILL: The fact that continue to grow is frightening news, especially because we know the White House right now is preparing a new government budget. That's out -- due, rather, out this month.

If you were to take a look at that specifically, where do you think there could be cuts that could start to make a difference here?

MACGUINEAS: Well, unfortunately, the president has promised not to make the kinds of changes which would actually close our fiscal hole.

So we know what is good to take to fix the situation. We're going to need more revenues and less spending. And, in fact, what we're going to see is the opposite. Both the president and Congress have been talking about additional tax cuts. We have heard about promises for more spending, particularly in defense, and walling off some of the most important areas of the budget that we have to attend to and fix, Social Security and Medicare.

We know that the White House budget is going to have significant cuts in one area, domestic discretionary spending, probably some other mandatory, not Social Security and Medicare, but some of the smaller programs. But when you look at the overall budget, I can guarantee you it's going to talk about borrowing probably beyond $10 trillion over the next decade. And that's just a path that's unsustainable.

HILL: That's a lot of zeros. It's tough to wrap your head around.

MACGUINEAS: That's a lot of zeros.


HILL: Is there anything you think, though, that could happen that could be a wakeup call for lawmakers across the board here, right, that would actually change anything at this point?

Or are we stuck in this cycle?

MACGUINEAS: Well, let's hope it doesn't, because the kinds of things that would be a wakeup call is a foreign country saying they don't want to lend us the money that we have become so dependent on.


That would push up interest rates. We could see signs of inflation. There are different things we could see in the economy which would be very negative, but not unsurprising results of these large deficits.

Because the U.S. is the safe haven and people, other countries want to lend us money, we have this real advantage, but what we're doing is squandering it and we're borrowing so much money.

And I would add to that, we're borrowing it for consumption, not investment. These aren't even big changes that are going to continue to grow the economy in the way we want to think about.

So if we get to that moment of a wakeup call, that means we're already in trouble. What we really want is, and I don't see this anytime soon, but bipartisan cooperation on making some of the difficult choices that budgeting actually requires.

If something's important enough to do, we should be paying for it. And that's just not the mentality we're seeing out of our political leaders right now.

HILL: That is a novel concept right there. Maya MacGuineas, it's some tough love, but we need it. Thank you.

MACGUINEAS: Thank you.

HILL: The Saudi crown prince going full gangster, that's what one Republican lawmaker says after a group of bipartisan senators slam a classified briefing by the Trump administration about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

They call the briefing worthless, a waste of time. We're not just talking about Democrats here -- why they're not getting answers to whether the Saudi crown prince is to blame for this man's death.


HILL: Interesting revelations out of North Korea today. Satellite images appear to show a key long-range missiles site that the country was, we were told, in the process of dismantling appearing to be rebuilt.

And that raises potential questions about the future of U.S.-North Korea negotiations. Two respected North Korean monitoring Web site say they observed activity at that site in the days surrounding North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President Trump's second summit, that summit, of course, which abruptly ended without a deal last week.

Max Boot is a senior fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations, a CNN global affairs analyst.

So, as we watch all of this, this movement, right, at those sites is clearly a message coming from North Korea. What's fascinating is the president weighed in very briefly today and said, listen, if this is true, if what's really happening is what we're seeing in the pictures, I would call that very disappointing.

It's almost like they're messaging one another again, but this time there's no love letter involved.


I'm getting the sense that Kim just may not be that into Trump.


BOOT: I mean, I think this is an attempt to rattle Trump's cage after the failure of the Hanoi summit, where the North Koreans were clearly very disappointed that the U.S. side was not offering massive sanctions relief, in return from some kind of symbolic step, like closing part of a nuclear facility.

And so now they're sending a message that, hey, if you don't give us sanctions relief, we're going to do stuff that you don't like -- like, for example, restarting the satellite launch facility that was supposedly closed last year.

HILL: So what could this do to the future of talks? If we're -- if these are the moves we're seeing right now, what does that say?

BOOT: I think a lot of it really depends on the attitude that President Trump holds, because, basically, what he has said pretty consistently ever since the Singapore summit is that all he cares about is whether North Korea tests their nuclear weapons or their missiles.

And so as long as they don't actually test something, as long as they don't actually fire something out of that -- out of that test facility, I don't expect to see much of a reaction from President Trump. And what I think we're going to continue to see is that President Trump will continue to live in this fantasyland where he imagines that he has a wonderful relationship with Kim Jong-un, and Kim will denuclearize somehow someday.

But if, in fact, North Korea decides to go ahead with a test launch, which is improbable, but not impossible, because Kim may feel that he is really getting nothing in return for playing nice with Donald Trump, and so if Kim actually goes ahead with the test launch, that will put Trump on the spot, and he will have to decide at that point whether he's going to continue this charade of talks, or whether he's going to go back to the maximum pressure policy that he was following in 2017.

HILL: I want to get your take too some of the developments involving Saudi Arabia.

So the administration -- as we know, there's been a lot of criticism about the administration's handling of the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be held responsible.

Here's how some senators described a classified briefing they just got about the probe: "worthless, miserable, a sham, I'm not happy," and "not the right approach."

The bipartisan frustration is mounting, clearly. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine saying the administration is not taking the Khashoggi murder seriously.


SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: The witnesses who came to the hearing had no idea, no information about whether the president would ever comply with the law and reach a determination about MBS' complicity in the Khashoggi murder.


HILL: A Senate Democratic source telling CNN the briefing was a -- quote -- "total joke," adding it merely served as more bipartisan fuel to hold the Saudi regime responsible.

So, Max, more bipartisan fuel, but the question is, what are they doing with that fuel and that outrage? I mean, what's the real action that's going to happen here?

BOOT: Well, that's a great question.

I mean, Congress did act and demand that President Trump impose Global Magnitsky Act sanctions on Saudi Arabia. And he is essentially not complying with that will of Congress.