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INSIDE POLITICS

Muller Obtained Cohen Warrants Months before Raid; Warren Calls to End the Electoral College; Warren Talks about Reparations. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 19, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Tom Foreman, thank you for that report. We appreciate it.

And thank you for joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Big, new revelations about the Russia special counsel's investigation. Robert Mueller won permission to search Trump fixer Michael Cohen's e- mails and digital files months before that high-profile raid on Cohen's home and offices.

Plus, you feel better and better about the track of the American economy. And that optimism makes team Trump feel better and better about the president's re-election odds.

And welcome to Pennsylvania. Beto O'Rourke, fresh from a headline grabbing visit through Ohio. The 2020 Democratic contender gets a reality check of sorts at Penn State.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One, are you going to release the number of individual donors and their average donor donation, because I know your campaign has that data. If it didn't, it would mean you'd be running a very incompetent campaign, and I don't think you are. You seem like you have your stuff together, mostly. And, two, when are we going to get an actual policy from you instead of just like platitudes and nice stories?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Back to 2020 a bit later.

But we begin today with new insights into the Russia special counsel investigation and now indications of just how much information Robert Mueller and his team have. Today the government unsealed copies of search warrants served on the former Trump attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen. The warrants span hundreds of pages. There are plenty and plenty of redactions, especially concerning materials related to campaign finance crimes to which Cohen pled guilty and in which he implicates the president.

But the warrants reveal or confirm several key findings. The first is this. The Cohen investigation started with Robert Mueller. The documents revealed the special counsel sought and obtained a search warrant for the attorney's Gmail account in July 2017. That is months before the dramatic raid of Cohen's home and offices.

CNN's Kara Scannell has more of the details in these remarkable documents.

Kara, tell us more.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That's right, John. So, I mean, the real key thing here is that just two months into the special counsel's investigation, he has already obtained from a judge a warrant for Michael Cohen's Gmail accounts and iCloud account. So that's when Michael Cohen was still the president's personal attorney. The special counsel's investigation was already looking at him.

And we -- we understand from these warrants that they were seeking information of these e-mails dating back to June of 2015. This relates to the campaign finance violations that Cohen ultimately pleaded guilty to. We also learned from the warrants that the U.S. attorney's office, which had received a referral from Mueller's team in February of 2018, that they immediately applied for their own warrants. And in those warrants they were seeking historical cell phone tower data so they could track Cohen's location the month before the election. And that's when these payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were made, as well as tracking his cell phones from January of 2018 for 45 days after the raid, which was in April of 2018.

And they also had pen registers, which means that they could see who Michael Cohen was calling and who was calling him for 45 days after the April raid. So they would be able to capture any phone call data, not necessarily the -- not the contents of the conversations, but who Michael Cohen was calling and receiving calls from. We've been reporting in the past few weeks that Cohen was in touch with Donald Trump during that period, as well as attorneys for his team. So that's information that the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York has had.

Now, we also know here that they were looking at him for crimes of these -- many of the crimes he pleaded guilty to, the bank fraud, the tax fraud, as well as the campaign finance violations. But there are some 20 pages of redacted information here, redacted because the judge found that this was still an active, ongoing investigation and that that information all relates to these campaign finance violations.

John.

KING: A lot of new information. And, as always, a lot of new questions.

Kara Scannell in New York, appreciate the reporting there.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Paul Kane with "The Washington Post," former federal prosecutor Shan Wu, and CNN's Sara Murray.

I should note, you just saw the president of Brazil arriving at the White House, being greeted by President Trump. We could hear from the president and the Brazilian leader in the hour. We'll bring you that if it happens and when it happens.

So let's pick up a place where Kara left off. It talks about the campaign finance investigation. And it's really revealing, page after page after page. Obviously that means there is still sensitive, investigative details that the court is not willing to release right now.

Let me start with the attorney at the table.

We get new information and then we always get new questions when this happens. What's more significant to you?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Most significant to me, I think, is the timeline here. When we see how long ago they began this, and they were looking for his e-mails all the way back to 2015, so I think the breadth tells us a lot. Obviously it rebuts the president's usual point that this is a recent, fabricated witch hunts.

[12:05:00] The other thing that struck was, there's a lot of emphasis in here about the inflating and deflating of financial statements and assets. And that really very much mirrors the same allegations about what the president's doing.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that's right. I mean also think -- you were holding up all of these redacted pages. You know, that's the meat of what we would love to know. Investigators are still looking into.

And, you know, I think we've talked a lot about how the special counsel seems to be nearing the end of his investigation, although we don't know when that will be happening. But it's clear the Southern District of New York has this ongoing investigation into campaign finance violations. That's why, as Kara pointed out, so much of this is still redacted. And we know in New York they're looking into a number of other Trump entities. And I don't think that we can rule out the fact that, you know, when President Trump is no longer president, he may face legal troubles, whenever that is.

I think what we're looking at in the Southern District of New York is probably going to be a long-running investigation that looks into not only Donald Trump's involvement in these campaign finance violations, but, you know, his involvement in the Trump Organization, what was -- what's been going on with his charity and all of these other various probes that we know are ongoing.

KING: And it also reminds you that we're just looking, in the case of Michael Cohen here, and everybody involved, anybody who's been part of the investigation, whether just to cooperate or whether somehow to be a witness where they have serious questions about you, they already know this, but now we have a better understanding of the depth and the extent to which Mueller's team, and then whatever he's handed off to other prosecutors, are going back, your e-mail, your phone records.

Where are you getting actual live warrants where they can track you as you move around?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, one I think, you know, one of the talking points that we've heard from the White House about Michael Cohen is that this has nothing to do with the president, that it's all related to his own personal financial issues related to taxicab medallions and other things like that. But what these documents seem to reveal is that this all actually started with Mueller and that that is actually, in fact, related to the president because that's the crux of the Mueller investigation is the 2016, you know, election interference investigation. So I think the White House is trying to spin this as well as they can, but there's a lot, a, that we don't know and a lot that it seems that they don't know about, you know, what -- what all is in these documents that could really have to do with the president, not just during the campaign and as president, but going back years. And we're talking about the inflating of financial records. I mean these are things that continue to be bubbling under the surface that all these other investigatory bodies might be looking into.

And, yes, once President Trump is not the president anymore, we don't know where this is all going to go and how much of this could come back and become a real problem for him.

KING: And how much of this might be in a Mueller report that we --

PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes.

KING: We expect him winding down. We don't know if that's days. We don't know if that's weeks. And then we don't know how much of that will be made public and when we will see it.

But if you look at some of this, Mueller started the Cohen investigation. Exhibit a, the first Cohen gmail warrant talks about Foreign Agent Registration Act. Was Michael Cohen trying to sell influence, sell access to the Trump administration.

Then you see the iCloud record, his gmail records, other warrants. So this is -- this is a meticulous thing that reminds us that as we're waiting for the Mueller report, there's so much we don't know about the scope. We know the things that have ended up in court with Paul Manafort or Rick Gates or Roger Stone or Michael Cohen. But there's a lot we don't know.

KANE: There's a lot we don't know and there's a lot that Congress is going to want to get at and what are they going to receive. If the Mueller report is coming out relatively soonish, you know, what are -- what is Congress going to be able to see? Are they going to be allowed to get some of those redacted documents? Are they going to be able to see that? Or are they going to be cloistered just to those who have the highest level of clearance, like Adam Schiff and the Intel Committee. There's too many questions left to be answered here.

KING: A lot of questions --

MURRAY: And just --

KING: Go ahead.

MURRAY: One of the things that, you know, you're talking about the volume of the data. You hear from witnesses over and over again when they go in for their interview, for their meeting with Mueller's team, they are stunned by the amount of information this team already has. And this is our first, real window into the volume of that information. You know, we're talking about basically all of Michael Cohen's Internet presence, all of his data, all of the phone calls he was making, not listening to the phone calls, but who he was calling, when he was calling those people, who was calling him. That is all stuff they knew before they ever had to have a conversation with him. It tells you why they are so good at pinpointing people who go in for lying to them because they already know so much. And this is our first real sense of exactly how much they have.

KING: And we will hear witch hunt or witch hoax, depending on which version the president wants to use on this given day.

Take us through how hard it is to do this. You can't walk into court and say you want a warrant for somebody's e-mail and their digital files or to track their cell phone and to watch who's calling them back and forth. You can't do that. It's hard to do that for anybody. It's harder to do that, is it not, for an attorney because of privilege issues and an attorney whose client includes the president of the United States. You've got a pretty high bar to cross with the judge, don't you?

WU: Absolutely. For any -- for any search of an attorney's office, it's going to have to be approved at a very high level at the Justice Department. And you'll see a little bit of how much background information the special agent who was putting together the affidavit supporting this already had about what their suspicions were. So even though we're only seeing the warrant request, you can also see just how suspicious they were of the many different threads going on.

[12:10:05] And the one thing about those cell phone records that I keep coming back to is, I think that's a great concern for the president's legal team because Cohen no longer has a privilege. But if there is lots and lots of calls going back and forth between him and those lawyers, I continue to think they may been converted into fact witnesses.

KING: And we'll watch that as it plays out.

You mentioned the high bar. And someone high at the Justice Department would have to approve going to the judge. Then the judge has to approve it. So you've got two high bars. That person was, for the longest time, Rod Rosenstein, who we learned today is staying on a bit longer than anticipated. We thought Rod Rosenstein would be packed up and gone now with the new attorney general in place. I think I'm just counting the seconds until we get the deep state, you know, the Trump allies out there. We'll see if the president himself gets involved in this. That somehow Rod Rosenstein, who they view as exhibit a of part of this deep state in the Justice Department, now co-opting the new attorney general.

Why is he staying a little bit longer? Just to help? To help with the Mueller report? Do we know?

MURRAY: I would love to know why Rod Rosenstein --

KING: That was a chuckle. That was a -- that was a chuckle of someone who has spent months working this story.

MURRAY: Yes, you know, I would really love to know why he's decided to stay a little bit longer. It's certainly not lost on us that, you know, he did want to stay until he felt like the Mueller report was essentially done or in very good hands. Obviously the Mueller report, as far as we know, as of this morning, has not been handed over to the Justice Department, more broadly to Bill Barr. And so that may be at play here. You know, we record reported a couple weeks back that the Mueller report essentially was done and could be, you know, handed over to Bill Barr that week. It didn't happen. That's not because that reporting was wrong at the time. It's because there is something that is now sort of delaying this. And so our question is, is there more going on with the Mueller investigation now? Is this simply, you know, them trying to get their ducks in a row and figure out how they want to move this over to Bill Barr and then what they want to make public because it's pretty clear congress wants to see a lot of it. We don't know the answer to those questions. We wish we did.

KING: If you're Bill Barr, it makes perfect sense. If you trust Rod Rosenstein, and we know he does, keep the guy who was there at the beginning through the end if you can. If you're on the president side of this equation, or even the people who take it father than the president, you're a little suspicious today. We'll keep an eye on that one.

Up next, how Elizabeth Warren is hoping to put her campaign back on the map, literally.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:15] KING: Elizabeth Warren is the policy pacesetter of the 2020 Democratic race. In a CNN town hall last night in Jackson, Mississippi, the Massachusetts senator made the case that specifics matter and that her plans on issues, like the economy and education and child care would help families who feel left behind. Senator Warren added a new twist last night, one she says is best for the country, and, in her view, for Mississippi and other states she says get mostly ignored in presidential campaigns. Her solution? Dump the Electoral College.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's MJ Lee is live in Mississippi.

MJ, how'd the New Englander do trying to pitching herself to the south?

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the fact that it's March 2019 and Elizabeth Warren was campaigning in Mississippi yesterday, that kind of tells you everything you need to know. and when she heads to Alabama today, that is actually her 11th state that she is campaigning in so far this year. It just goes to show that she is taking a broad look at the map, not just hitting the early states, not just going to states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. And particularly when it comes to this southern swing that she is doing this week, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, it is a reminder how -- of how seriously she is taking the winning of minority support, of black supporters.

And what's interesting about Warren is that, from day one she has talked about the issue of racial inequality and tying all of that back to some of the policy proposals that she has. So, for example, when she's talking about economic inequality, she always points out that the issue of economic inequality is more painful and more damaging to minority voters, to black voters. When she talks about housing inequality, she will say it is black people that are hurt more -- hurt more than anybody else. And then yesterday at the town hall, when she said, we should just do away with the Electoral College, she said this is about the disenfranchisement of voters. This is not just about electoral politics. So, clearly, there is a theme here and she is making sure that she is doing some of this early outreach to black supporters and minority supporters, John.

KING: It was an interesting night. It's an interesting schedule. We will see if she gets the results that she hopes.

MJ, appreciate that, live from Mississippi.

With me in studio, Lisa Lerer from "The New York Times" and Jackie Kucinich with "The Daily Beast" join our conversation.

It is interesting in the sense that in terms of specifics -- not our job to agree or disagree with what she wants to do -- in terms of specifics, she's way out ahead of other Democrats, whether it's her tax plan, whether it's her child care plan, how I will pay for it. If you look at the polling, she hasn't gotten a lot of traction yet for that. But she's taking the tortoise approach and especially being in the south tells you she thinks in a crowded field this is going to be a long race.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. I was just in Mississippi yesterday actually with Senator Warren and she is running sort of the liberals dream presidential campaign. She's leading on policy. She's not spending any time doing these fundraisers with big donors. She said she's not going to do that. She -- she doesn't even do rope lines. She lines up 450 people. She can do it in an hour and take selfies with them and has a personal conversation with each person that comes up. At one point her husband, Bruce, was stacking chairs and helping to clean up the event.

So this is the kind of like campaign that liberals dream about. The question is whether it's going to work. I mean we are a long way away from the first round of voting in Iowa, but, you know, she has been sort of steady in the middle of the polls. Her aides think that she will -- could have a breakout moment in the debate. She's a strong debater. But I think it is an open question whether Democratic primary voters want specific policies or they just kind of want a big vision and a feeling.

PHILLIP: I can't help --

KING: It's --

[12:20:16] PHILLIP: Sorry. I can't help but see a little bit of a -- a corrective in what Warren is doing from what Bernie Sanders did in the last campaign. That they're talking about the same issues, but Bernie pretty studiously avoided kind of like tying it into issues of race. He kind of thought his message was universal and that he didn't necessarily need to speak to specific voters in that way. And I think what Warren is trying to do is say, these issues matter and addressing them in an aggressive manner matters, too. But let me show you how this also matters to minority voters and to specific parts of the Democratic constituency. That was a critique of Sanders in 2016. It hurt him in states like South Carolina, where black voters are such a huge part of the constituency. Hispanic voters. Similarly in other states in the Southwest. And that's a different strategy. But because they're running in similar lanes on some of these issues, I think it's important for her to draw a contrast on that. And I think Bernie's already trying to change that about his 2020 race.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": In some ways her message is a bit risky though, right, because how many times have we seen a candidate be able to lose in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, those early states, and still be seen as a viable candidate? It's a rarity indeed.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: So saying -- so her message that every vote counts, yes, of course, every vote counts. But say that in Iowa, say that in New Hampshire, where that traction, whatever you say about it, it does build momentum. It does build fundraising when they win these early contests.

KING: Yes, she's going to -- even if she builds a base in some of these later states, she's going to have to circle back at the beginning at the last. Ask Rudy Giuliani, it doesn't work that way.

Let's just listen a little bit of last night, to Abby's point, about trying to connect her policy proposals to the people she would argue need help the most.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We live in a world where for the average white family has $100, the average black family has about $5. So I believe it's time to start the national, full-blown conversation about reparations in this country.

I believe in HBC (ph). I am the proud recipient of a diploma that was granted to me at Morgan State University.

Right now, in America, African-American students are more likely to have to borrow money to go to college.

I would support removing confederate celebrations from federal lands and putting them in museums where they belong.

JAKE TAPPER, MODERATOR: Do you think Mississippi should adopt a new flag?

WARREN: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's interesting. We're going to get to other candidates a little later in the show. On the specifics she has answers for everything. She has thought this through. The question is, do Democrats want to fall in love or do they want somebody who they think has a good, thick, detailed plan?

KANE: And I think there's parts of last night where she was actually really great at connecting her own life and her own story. At the very end, Jake asked her about faith, and she immediately started quoting Matthew 26, when I was hungry, you gave me food. And it really tied together in a way that is her own liberal ideology through Bible verse, Gospel. And that's going to resonate. If she can do that, those two things, that will resonate particularly in black churches on Super Tuesday.

KING: And now the Electoral College, criticized by a lot of people for a long time. Elizabeth Warren by saying she doesn't want it isn't going to change it. Certainly not by 2020. But what's the play there in the sense that -- George W. Bush and Donald Trump, our last two Republican presidents, have won their first term by losing the popular vote, but winning the Electoral College.

KUCINICH: I mean I think you hear about abolishing the Electoral College, particularly when you have situations like that. But right now we're at a point in this campaign where we're talking about big ideas. It doesn't necessarily matter if they're executable ideas. But no one's shying away from really putting out these proposals that, you know, people want to hear, frankly.

KING: Stir it up.

LERER: And you're also seeing Democrats embracing ideas that were current -- that used to be on the fringe of liberal thought.

KUCINICH: Yes.

KANE: Yes.

LERER: And this is one of them. Packing the courts is another.

But, look, this Electoral College thing is gaining some traction. There is a -- I forget the number of states but it's 181 electoral votes that have signed onto this compact that would, you know, have them do the popular vote instead of the Electoral College. So, I mean, at some point they run out of blue states and then it gets hard. But, you know, it is something that there is some movement for it.

KANE: Three quarter -- three quarters of the states would have to ratify an amendment to --

KING: To get rid of it.

KANE: To get rid of it.

LERER: Right.

KUCINICH: It's all fun and games until it's not fun (ph).

KANE: Yes.

KING: But it's a -- look, it's one of many interesting debates. That's what campaigns are for. Let's have them.

Coming up, the president says the economy is better than ever. The Democrats say, it's really not all that great. Why, in some cases, they're both right.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:29:41] KING: We're just moments away from hearing from the president of the United States. He is in the Oval Office with the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. We saw the two leaders greeting each other at the top of the hour. They took questions from reporters. We know the president talked about his weekend criticism of the late Senator John McCain. Several tweets from the president that made the McCain family most unhappy, raised a lot of questions about the president's taste, especially after the massacre in Brazil. He's also talking about his new relationship with the Brazilian president. His hope it could become even a better relationship.

[12:30:07] Let's go to the White House.