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Trump Legal Team Prepare for Executive Privilege Fight Over Mueller Report; Mueller's Team Interviewed Trump's Pollster; Michael Cohen to Testify Before Congress; Trump Returns from Border, Says He's Ready to Declare National Emergency. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 10, 2019 - 17:00   ET


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Neither responded to our requests -- Jake.

[17:00:05] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Jason Carroll, thank you so much.

You can follow me on Twitter or @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Back against the wall. President Trump is returning from the southern border, declaring that he's almost definitely ready to declare a national emergency to get his border wall built. With negotiations in the state of collapse, is that the only way to end the government shutdown?

"I never said this." One of his key campaign slogans was that Mexico would pay for a wall. Now the president insists that he never said those words or actually meant them. So if he starts building a wall, are U.S. taxpayers now on the hook?

Cohen public. He's already pleaded guilty and faces three years in prison. Now President Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, will testify publicly before Congress. The president says he's not worried. Should he be?

And blocking the report. With the Mueller probe winding down, the president's legal team is getting ready for a battle over executive privilege. Can the White House keep Congress and the public from seeing the special counsel's report?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump is on his way back from the southern border, a visit he earlier dismissed as simply a photo-op.

But he spent the day insisting there's a crisis that only a wall can fix and makes it clear he's ready to declare a national emergency. That would let him start a wall without congressional funding, the main obstacle to ending the 20-day government shutdown. White House lawyers are now laying the groundwork for such a move.

And with the Mueller investigation clearly in its home stretch, the president's legal team is also preparing for a major fight over executive privilege. CNN has learned they believe much of the special counsel's report should be kept from Congress and the American public.

But new light may be shed on the Russia investigation as former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has now agreed to testify publicly before Congress.

I'll speak with Mazie Hirono of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with the breaking news in Robert Mueller's investigation and bring in our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, and our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Evan, you first. Why does the White House want to block the Mueller report from becoming public? Doesn't that make the president appear to be guilty?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they don't believe that it does. But what it comes down is what you said, executive privilege. They believe that the information that the White House shared with the special counsel is protected by the president's constitutional powers, essentially, his right to get confidential advice from his advisers.

And so when they shared that information with the investigators, they did not give up the right for -- in essence, to challenge that information from becoming public.

So one of the things that we expect to happen when the Mueller investigation ends up wrapping up, and when he produces a final report, Wolf, we expect that one of the big things that's going to happen, is it's going to move to a new phase, essentially a new political and legal fight here in Washington over what and what portions of the report become public, what portions get even turned over to members of Congress.

And so we expect, perhaps, some more political and legal fighting, perhaps some things -- some of this going back to the courts before the public gets to see any of this.

BLITZER: So Shimon, if the White House successfully argues that this report can't be released publicly because of what's called executive privilege, is there any other way that members of Congress and the American public, for that matter, could get their hands on it?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There could be subpoenas that could be issued for it to the Department of Justice for this information.

And certainly, we do expect, also, there's a chance that Robert Mueller will come before some of these committees. They're going to want to ask him some questions about the investigation, about what he was doing, about some of the things that he had been looking at, some of the things that his members were looking at. So that's how some of this could possibly come out, as well.

Just because the White House exerts their executive privilege doesn't mean it ends there. There's going to be -- I think everyone expects battles down the line to try and get this information from the Department of Justice and from Robert Mueller, too.

BLITZER: And Evan, there's another major development that's unfolding right now in the Russia probe. CNN has learned that the president's lawyers are deeply concerned that the president's public statements, his tweets, his lies over the course of the last few years, potentially could be used by this special counsel's team as evidence that he obstructed justice or tried to influence witnesses.

PEREZ: Look, I think, Wolf, one of the things that is happening behind the scenes is everybody is getting ready for whatever Mueller comes up with in his investigation. And this is one of the smaller things that's been going on behind the scenes.

[17:05:10] And that has to do with some of the questions that Mueller's investigators have been asking of some of the witnesses. The White House lawyers have noticed, for instance, that in the Michael Cohen sentencing documents, the special counsel seems to be pursuing this legal theory that, if you make public statements that are false or misleading, that they believe are false or misleading, it could be an attempt to coach witnesses, to try to get other witnesses to also line up false and misleading testimony. And in that way, could be caused -- could be called obstruction of justice.

Now, if you look at the president's lawyers, they believe that that is a very thin -- thin ground for the special counsel to be pursuing. They believe that any public statements that are made by the president are protected by the First Amendment, for instance. And they don't believe that this is really something that the special counsel is going to win on.

But for sure, they have already noticed this, and they want to make sure that they're going to be able to -- they're going to be ready to fight the special counsel, if this ends up being part of the report that Robert Mueller produces.

BLITZER: And if that were not enough in the Russia probe, there's yet another major development that's been unfolding.

Evan, it was revealed that the president's campaign chairman, as we all know, Paul Manafort, that he released confidential, internal Trump campaign polling data to a Russian who was well placed with the Russian military unit, the GRU, according to U.S. officials, and that potentially that could have been used to help the Russians, the GRU, go ahead and engage in the hack e-mails of the Clinton campaign.

CNN has now some exclusive reporting -- You've been working on this, as we know -- that the -- the Trump campaign's chief pollster was actually called to testify before Mueller's team earlier last year. PEREZ: That's right, Wolf. Our team that keeps an eye on the special

counsel noticed Tony Fabrizio, who is the chief pollster for the campaign, going into the special counsel some -- several months ago. And we've known this now for several months.

But it takes on new importance, really, in light of this new reporting, that -- in light of this new revelation from Robert Mueller -- from Paul Manafort's lawyers, who accidentally let it be known, essentially, that this information, this internal polling data had been turn over by Manafort to -- to this Russian, this Konstantin Kilimnik, somebody he had done business with.

So the question is, you know, why was that information being turned over? So we know that Fabrizio went in and provided an interview to the special counsel. We're told by a person familiar with the -- with the interview that he was asked a lot about Manafort and what his knowledge was with regard to Manafort and his business. We do not know what else he was asked about. We also don't know whether or not there were any follow-up interviews.

And you can see, there's Fabrizio going in and out of the special counsel's office there. Our reporters who stand there and keep an eye on the office were the ones who noticed this.

And so the question is, Wolf, did any of this go back to the president? The president himself was asked about whether he knew that Manafort had provided this information to the Russians. Take a listen to what he had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, did you know -- did you know that Paul Manafort was sharing polling data from your campaign to the Russians?

TRUMP: No, I didn't know anything about it.


PEREZ: Of course, the answer to that question, we're going to find out whether Mueller has a different answer from what the president has.

BLITZER: And I suspect they wanted to find out from Fabrizio, the pollster, if any of that information that Manafort provided to the Russians, for whatever reason, was used in the hacking of the DNC, the Hillary Clinton campaign, and the WikiLeaks campaign that the U.S. government alleges --

PEREZ: Right.

BLITZER: -- the Russians coordinated.

Shimon, another major development. All of a sudden, we've learned today that Michael Cohen, the president's long-time former lawyer and fixer, he has now agreed to testify publicly, open session, before the House Oversight Committee early next month.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. And, Wolf, quite honestly, this is going to be a big, big day here in this investigation. And I think this is something that we have not seen in quite some time. We're talking perhaps Watergate era. In terms of you're going to have the president's personal attorney come in and just open up on everything he knows.

And the other significant thing that we just learned is that Robert Mueller has cleared him to testify. So that should tell you something there, too, in the sense that perhaps Mueller is now done with him. Whatever information he's been providing to them about Russia is now over; and so Mueller is at a point where he feels, you know what? Michael Cohen, you can go ahead and publicly tell members of Congress, tell the public what you know.

[17:10:00] This is going to be be a day, certainly, I think, that is going to not sit well with the White House. They should be worried about this day. You know, they're going to do -- make every effort they can to probably discredit Michael Cohen in the month leading up to the day he testifies.

And also keep in mind, this is going to be a month -- he's going to testify a month before he reports to jail. So he could -- to prison. He could be seeking some more leniency from the judge.

But whatever the case may be, this is going to be blockbuster. Right? He's going to come in and talk about these hush payments, these payments that he says the president directed him to make. The Department of Justice has implicated the president in this crime. It's going to be a big day. And then we're also going to --

PEREZ: And any false statements.

PROKUPECZ: And any -- well, the Moscow project.

PEREZ: Right.

PROKUPECZ: And did anyone at the White House condone the lying to members of Congress when he first appeared at Congress to talk about the lying -- about the Moscow project? And did anyone in the White House know that he was going to go and lie? Did anyone sign off on it? Those are going to be huge questions.

BLITZER: What is really significant -- this is a big deal. In early February, Cohen goes before the House Oversight Committee. A month later, as you point out, he then begins his three-year prison sentence.

The fact that -- that Mueller and his team allowed the House Oversight, gave their blessings to the House Oversight Committee to allow him to go up to Capitol Hill and testify in open session, it seems to suggest, A, they probably believe what Cohen is saying now but, B, it looks like things are wrapping up. Otherwise, they wouldn't want him to go out and spill the beans. PEREZ: Right. Exactly, Wolf. And I think this changed the -- this

changes the complexion of this investigation. Because heretofore, everything has been behind the scenes. Mueller doesn't speak about what exactly he's doing, except in indictments.

Now we're going to have public hearings. And this really kind of -- as Shimon says, recalls the Watergate era. This is what has the potential of changing the public view, the public perception of the president, of this investigation. And I think it's a preview of what the Democrats plan to do, going forward in this investigation.

BLITZER: It's going to be big.

PROKUPECZ: It's going to open the door for other things to come in, too.

Now, does the hush payment became a central part of this investigation? And do other people who were involved in it, like David Pecker, "The National Enquirer," do those people get called before Congress? Does Michael Cohen open the door to many other parts of this investigation? It's quite possible that could happen.


PROKUPECZ: And the thing that's been saving the president politically and publicly, is that many people have been constrained from speaking because of Robert Mueller. Once that investigation is over, as we're seeing now with Michael Cohen, and Robert Mueller is giving his blessing and saying, "OK, go ahead. Go do what you need to do," things are going to change dramatically. People are going to be able to speak.

BLITZER: February 7. That's the day he testifies. I guess -- I guess we'll be busy on February 7. We'll all be watching those hearings, I'm sure, live.

And then on March 6, he actually begins his three-year prison sentence. We'll be watching that very closely, as well, guys.

I know you're working your sources. You've done a great job today. But get us some more news if you can. Thank you very much.

There's other major news we're watching. I want to discuss all of this with Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. She's a key member of both the Judiciary and the Armed Services Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Good to see you.

BLITZER: All right. So let's begin with the Russian probe.


BLITZER: The president's legal team may be preparing, we understand, to exert executive privilege to try to block a report from the special counsel, Robert Mueller. How -- how would Democrats respond to such a maneuver?

HIRONO: It's not surprising that the president would try to hide everything that he can, but we're going to do everything we can to make sure that not only is the report given to members of Congress, but that it is made public.

BLITZER: Does that suggest to you, though, that the White House is preparing for, potentially, an extremely damning report from the special counsel?

HIRONO: I'd say that that is their expectation, but their whole perspective has been that the -- at least from the president's side, that the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt. But I think that they are having to be very serious about what their response is going to be, and they're going to do everything they can.

I think he's hiring a lot more lawyers. They expect investigations to occur from the three chairs of the relevant House committees. So they need to be prepared.

But at the same time, I want to make sure that -- that there is nothing that interferes with the Mueller investigation. That includes the questioning of the attorney general nominee, Barr.

BLITZER: He'll be testifying for his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I understand.

HIRONO: Next week.

BLITZER: Net week, you're right.


BLITZER: And you're a member of that committee.


BLITZER: I'm sure you'll have a lot of questions.

The White House meanwhile, as you heard, is -- it believes that Mueller is pursuing a strategy of President Trump's public statements, finding the public statements -- his tweets, his other public statements -- to try to build a case against him.

Do you believe that lying to the American public, to the public constitutes an obstruction of justice?

[17:15:02] HIRONO: I think that there are certain statements that he has made that goes to, perhaps, indicating to witnesses how they should testify.

The president lies every single day, but there are those lies that go to, probably, a cumulative argument that he has engaged in obstruction of justice, and that is fair game for Robert Mueller's investigations.

BLITZER: Let me give your thoughts on CNN's exclusive new report. Last year, Mueller met with Trump campaign pollster Tony Fabrizio. That's a significant development, in light of the news that Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, shared internal confidential polling information with a suspected Russian intelligence asset.

What's your reaction to this new report?

HIRONO: I think it, once again, raises the real specter of what kind of discussions were going on with the people who are heading up the Trump campaign and his sons, all of that.

This again points out how important it is for the Mueller investigation to proceed without any kind of limitations being placed on it.

BLITZER: The president's former personal attorney and his fixer, Michael Cohen, as you know, has now accepted an invitation to testify publicly before the House Oversight Committee on March -- On March -- excuse me, February 7.

HIRONO: February.

BLITZER: February 7. Should that worry the president?

HIRONO: I think he's worried about a lot of things, and this is why he constantly engages in efforts to distract us from what's going on.

I think he should be very worried, because Elijah Cummings is -- is going to ask the kind of questions that will reveal what was really going on and what did Donald Trump know. He certainly directed the payments, as Michael Cohen has already testified.

BLITZER: And the fact that Mueller has authorized, has approved, has sanctioned the Cohen testimony before Congressman Elijah Cummings's committee, what does that say to you?

HIRONO: Well, people are saying, and I think it probably is the case, that perhaps Mueller is winding down certain aspects of his investigation. So he's going to let Michael Cohen, who has already -- he's already been sentenced, so that's going to be very revealing. And I know that everybody is going to be watching that, especially the Trump people.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the ongoing government shutdown, now day 20. President Trump said today that he would almost definitely declare a national emergency to -- in order to get his border wall built. He would direct funds that are supposed to go to the Department of Defense, the U.S. military, use that money to build the wall along the border with Mexico.

How would Democrats respond to that?

HIRONO: For one thing, this is a vanity wall, and he's caused a government shutdown so that he can get the wall. Eight hundred thousand people are being held hostage by this president, who makes no distinction between right or wrong. He doesn't care. And so the other person who can end the shutdown right now, apart from

the president, who has no intention of doing that, is -- is our majority leader, Mitch McConnell. He can bring the bills that the House has already passed to keep government running; and these are the same bills that we already passed in the Senate last year. He has the power to bring those bills to the floor right now.

And what his lame excuse this morning was that, "Well, it won't do any good, even if we pass these bills out of the Senate. The president won't sign it."

We are a separate branch of government. I am calling on Mitch McConnell to do his job as majority leader, to use the power he has to end this shutdown.

Because we're not just talking about some theatrical harm. Eight hundred thousand people who need their paychecks won't get them. Not to mention the thousands of contractors and the ripple effect that will ensue.

So Mitch McConnell is the second person, aside from the president, who won't do anything, because the president is amoral; and he's a hostage taker. We shouldn't be negotiating with a hostage taker.

The president -- Mitch McConnell can bring these bills to the floor. And I'm calling on all the Republicans to listen to their constituents, who are in great pain, to say to Mitch McConnell -- and some of them have come forward, which is a good thing. More of them need to come forward to say to Mitch McConnell, "Let's do our jobs. Let's reopen government," and then we can argue about the wall with regard to the funding for homeland security.

BLITZER: I've got to let you go, but very quickly, you say the president's a hostage taker. What do you mean specifically?

HIRONO: He's taking 800,000 federal employees hostage so he can get his vanity wall. That's what I mean. He's a hostage taker.

He can't negotiate about the wall on the substance of it. He has to take 800,000 people hostage in order to get what he wants.

And this is a vanity wall. Because of course, we Democrats want border security, but we want it to be a smart border security, not the kind of physical wall that so many people say is not going to do the job.

[17:20:05] So he's created this crisis. It's a manufactured crisis, and he's doing everything he can to make everybody believe that he's literally up against the wall. And the only real wall is the one that's closing in on him.

BLITZER: Senator Hirono, thanks so much for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, President Trump heads home from the southern border after claiming he never said Mexico would give the U.S. a check to pay for the border wall.

And the president's legal team gets ready for a major fight over who will get to see the special counsel's Russia report. Can the White House block it from the public or from Congress?


BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories. President Trump is heading home from the U.S./Mexican border right now, signaling that he's prepared to declare a national emergency to get his wall built.

[17:25:05] Let's go live to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's along the border in McAllen, Texas, for us.

Jim, so any sign of a crisis where you are?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No sign of a crisis, Wolf. And as you said, the president is on his way back to Washington after getting a look at the situation down on the border here.

Earlier today, he declared that the nation is under attack here on the border. But I can tell you, Wolf, we've been standing here all day long. We don't see any sign of an attack, no sign of an invasion down here on the border. But that's not the only misleading thing the president has said today while he's been in pursuit of his border wall.


ACOSTA (voice-over): With an end to the government shutdown nowhere in sight, President Trump took his quest for a wall down to the Texas border, where he claimed the nation is under attack.

TRUMP: If we had a -- a barrier of any kind, a powerful barrier, whether it's steel or concrete, we would stop that cold.

We're certainly under attack by criminal gangs, by criminals themselves, by the human traffickers, and by drugs of all kinds. Much of it comes through the southern border.

ACOSTA: But during a round-table discussion with law-enforcement officials, Mr. Trump was told some border crossers have been digging tunnels under areas where walls are already in place.

MELISSA LUCIO, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: Here, this is just a couple of miles from here, from where we're standing. This is a tunnel. This is the second tunnel that, recently, we have located. This is an area that we actually have wall.

ACOSTA: The president is also trying to rewrite history, clarifying what he meant during the campaign.

TRUMP: I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.

Who's going to pay for the wall? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mexico!



TRUMP: Who's going to pay for the wall?




TRUMP: When I say, "Mexico is going to pay for the wall," that's what I mean. Mexico's paying for the wall. And I didn't mean, "Please write me a check." I mean very simply they're paying for it in the trade deal.

ACOSTA: But that's not true. Before the election, his campaign released various proposals to force Mexico to fund the wall, stating, "It's an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5 to $10 billion."

As he was leaving for the border, the president revealed that White House lawyers have told him he could declare a state of emergency to have the military build his wall, an action that would likely be challenged in the courts.

TRUMP: I have an absolute right to declare a national emergency. The lawyers have so advised me. I'm not prepared to do that yet, but if I have to, I will. I have no doubt about it. I will.

ACOSTA: The president is trying to have it both ways, insisting the situation at the border is an emergency, while also claiming it's a crisis that started before he came into office.

TRUMP: Well, it began a long time. Ask President Obama. Obama used to call it a crisis at the border, too. I think he said it in 2014. Look, look, you can all play cute.

ACOSTA: Part of the reason for the president's frustration is that he can't seem to convince Democrats to agree to a wall. But reflecting on his meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the president argued he wasn't losing his cool.

TRUMP: I very calmly said, "If you're not going to give us strong borders, bye-bye." And I left. I didn't rant. I didn't rave, like you reported. Like -- I mean, some of the newspapers -- and then Schumer always has his standard line: "He had a temper tantrum." I don't have temper tantrums. I really don't.

ACOSTA: Still, he said he would rather deal with China than with the Democrats.

TRUMP: I find China, frankly, in many ways, to be far more honorable than Crying Chuck and Nancy. I really do. I think that China is actually much easier to deal with than the opposition party.

ACOSTA: Even though it's the president who once said he would be proud to own the shutdown, he is now offering his own take on Harry Truman's famous catch phrase, "The buck stops here."

TRUMP: The buck stops with everybody. They could solve this problem in literally 15 minutes.


ACOSTA: Now, the president chose one of the safest places in the country to make this pitch for a border wall. Today where we're standing right here in McAllen, Texas, is one of the safest places in America. It's been that way for years.

And Wolf, they are safe here, despite the fact that they have a hodge- podge of different barriers between the U.S. and Mexico. Yes, you can see behind me some of those steel slats that the president talks about from time to time. But that's right next to a chain-link fence that you would use in your backyard or something like that. There are also walls. There are also levies. There are also areas where you don't have much of anything.

And yet, the people in this community, they've been telling us all day long they feel very safe in their hometown -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta in McAllen, Texas, for us.

Up on Capitol Hill, the shutdown stalemate has deepened and the mood has clearly darkened. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty.

What's the latest there, Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly is a bleak mood on Capitol Hill tonight in a significant statement coming just moments ago from a top Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham. He essentially is throwing up his hands, and saying this is basically the end of the road for what Congress can do in the stalemate. He now is calling on President Trump to use his emergency powers to fund the construction of the border wall.

Now, earlier in the day, Senator Graham led a group of moderate Republicans, he had been trying just hours ago, trying to broker a compromise, some sort of deal, part of a larger deal to fund parts of the border wall in exchange for a temporary fix for DACA recipients that intended to bring some Democrats to the negotiating table. They pitched this idea, the White House officials met with Vice President Pence, met with Mitch McConnell today. But it was very clear, very quickly up here on Capitol Hill that this potential compromise was going nowhere fast. And by the end of the day today, Senator Graham said that it is dead, and that they are now in a complete stalemate.


depressed about moving forward than I am right now. I just don't see a pathway forward. Somebody's got to like get some energy to fix this.


SERFATY: And again, to underscore how there is no pathway forward, as of now on Capitol Hill, there is really no movement, there are no meetings scheduled, absolutely nothing coming up the pike. And as this enters its 21st day of this government shutdown tomorrow, many of these lawmakers will be faced with a question, Wolf, what do you have to say to these federal workers who tomorrow will not receive their first paycheck? One Republican Senator tonight was asked that very question and he said it as simply as possible. He says, it is what it is, it is a standoff. Wolf?

BLITZER: 800,000 federal workers tomorrow will not receive any paycheck at all, a dramatic impact on them and their families and thousands of other federal contractors, they're going to go without pay as well. Sunlen, thanks very much. We have a lot to discuss with our political, legal, and national security experts. They're all here, they're standing by. We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.


BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now, including word the President's former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, will testify before Congress next month. We have a lot to discuss with our experts. And Gloria, what information are members of Congress, specifically the House Oversight Committee hoping to glean from Cohen?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to know what they're going to ask. I can tell you that, from my sources, that what Michael Cohen is likely to say is that he lied to protect the President on a whole variety of issues. In open session, it seems to me, since they've gotten clearance -- since Cohen, we're reporting, has gotten clearance from Mueller to talk, I doubt he's going to be able to talk a lot about things that Mueller is looking into regarding Russia. But I think some of the interesting questions here, we know that they're going to ask about the Stormy Daniels' payoff and the Karen McDougal payoff, and how involved the President was in that -- in that aspect of the President's problems. But I also think that they're probably going to look back at his false testimony to Congress.

And there was, in the sentencing memo that the SDNY provided and also Mueller, correct, provided. There is a point in it that says that Michael Cohen consulted with an administration official before he delivered his false testimony. They may want to know a lot more about that. Who was that administration official? Was there some kind of coordination with the White House about delivering false testimony to Congress, for which he has been prosecuted?

BLITZER: Yes, that's a significant charge if, in fact, they learn the identity of this administration official.

BORGER: And coordination with --

BLITZER: And coordination, yes.

BORGER: What was the extent of it?

BLITZER: Obstruction of justice, that gets into all of that. Bianna, how concerned should the President be about Cohen's testimony?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, any time I think the President hears Mueller or Cohen, it's not a good moment for him. Especially, on a day like today, when attention was diverted away from the southern border, which we know the President in his meeting with reporters, said he didn't want to go to and didn't think would make a difference, instead of focusing on what's going on down there. And on his trip, we get this Michael Cohen news.

So, on the one hand, I'm sure this is yet another headache for him, another blast from the past. He will likely describe this as a scorned former lawyer who has been, you know, obviously, outed as a liar in the past and so why would anything he say now matter? Though, I think the visual medium of him sitting there, testifying for the public to hear him for the first time could really make an impact, if not just for that one day, but going to the current crisis at hand, it could, in fact, force the President to dig his heels in even deeper with regards to a border wall. And then, you know, putting any idea of perhaps a deal coming any time soon or the government reopening any time soon, even further down the pike.

BLITZER: Susan, what is Cohen testifying in open session next month before this House committee tell you about the state of the Mueller investigation right now?

[17:39:57] SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY & LEGAL ANALYST: So, I think it could potentially tell us quite a lot, especially now that we know that Mueller has consulted with Cohen regarding this testimony. Usually, prosecutors do not want to allow individuals to give testimony on open session about anything related to an ongoing investigative matter. And so, Congress and the executive branch oftentimes have to really negotiate the lines of this testimony.

So, in some ways, the more that Michael Cohen is able to talk about, that might be an indication that the Mueller investigation is closer to wrapping up. If on the other hand, there's big categories of information, the entire Russia -- topic of Russia, for example, that gets taken off the table and put into close session, I do think that that's an indication that means that that's information that Robert Mueller thinks is part of an ongoing investigation, and he doesn't want Michael Cohen to compromise.

BLITZER: Well, I think Mueller not only cleared Cohen to testify but also cleared the committee to go ahead and have this open hearing.

HENNESSEY: So, we don't know whether or not there's been communication between the special counsel's office. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But wouldn't Elijah Cummings, the chairman of this committee, seek that kind of green light from Mueller before he goes ahead and says, there's going to be an open hearing like this, which will have live T.V. cameras inside?

HENNESSEY: No, typically, we would -- we would absolutely expect that kind of coordination, and we know that the last thing the Dems want to do here is actually compromise or in any way harm Mueller's inquiry.

BLITZER: There's another development, Sabrina, that we're watching. Now, we've learned -- CNN has learned that what the main pollster for the Trump campaign, individual named up, Tony Fabrizio, he was actually called to testify last year before Mueller and his team on the polling information. We now know that Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, was secretly providing sensitive, internal campaign polling information to the Russians through this individual. What does this all mean?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, this meeting took place in February of 2018, so almost a year ago. But it was previously unreported. It obviously does take on new significance, following the revelations that Paul Manafort shared internal campaign polling data with (INAUDIBLE) an associate of his who has known ties to Russian intelligence.

Now, it's not entirely clear if Mueller's team asked Tony Fabrizio about that exchange or if he was aware of it. But having said that, the reason why Tony Fabrizio is someone who is significant is he was actually recruited by Paul Manafort to join the Trump campaign based on some of his prior work with Manafort in Ukraine. And so, he's someone who not only has intimate knowledge of the interworkings of the Trump campaign but he also familiar with Paul Manafort's business dealings in Eastern Europe.

BLITZER: It's a significant development. We've also learned and I want to hear the legal expert, Susan, that the White House is hiring a whole bunch of lawyers right now, gearing up for the release of this report. The President, he keeps saying, including today, but he has said for so long, no collusion. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, again, John, there has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians or Trump and Russians, no collusion. Bottom line, they all say there's no collusion, and there is no collusion. I can only say this, there was absolutely no collusion, but it has been determined that there is no collusion. When they have no collusion and nobody has found any collusion at any level --


BLITZER: That was exactly almost one year ago in which he said all of that. But lawyering up -- lawyering up, is that something that people have nothing to fear about collusion would be doing?

HENNESSEY: So, I don't think that the fact that they're hiring lots and lots of lawyers, that would be expected, but some of the legal theories that they have appear to be sort of floating, I do think it indicate the extent to which they're concerned. They're talking a lot about legal theories related to blocking the report from coming out to the public. I think they're doing that because they understand that this report is going to be extraordinarily damaging. We know it's going to be damaging because the information that is already public is, of course, incredibly damaging to the President.

You know, but even if these lawyers attempt to block this report from coming out, it's not going to work. Executive privilege is not an absolute privilege, even if they're able to assert it in this case. It's a balancing test about the availability of other information, the need for the requesting party to actually obtain it. Now, Richard Nixon already fought these fights and lost. And so, I really do think that it's an indication of the desperation of the Trump's legal team because they understand that these are not winning arguments.

BORGER: But it would delay things. You know, that's the whole point, if they say let's redact this. Because, you know, they didn't claim privilege at first, when people went in for their interviews, but they reserved the right to claim privilege later. So, if they claim privilege, then Congress can challenge this, and then you can have a constitutional fight here with the White House versus the Congress and it goes to the -- who knows -- you know, the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Let me get Bianna -- go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: And the lawyering up isn't necessarily all Mueller- related. Remember, what's different now is that you have a Democrat- controlled House. So, whereas in the past, you know, they weren't worried as much about being subpoenaed and to have to present any sort of paper and to actually have to testify before Congress. Times are different right now, clearly as we've heard and found out from the news that Cohen will, in fact, be testifying today.

BLITZER: You want to button this up, please?

[17:45:00] SIDDIQUI: Well, I think that Bianna raises a good point. Remember, now that Democrats are in control of the House, the White House has been bracing for an onslaught of investigations. We focus a lot, of course, on the special counsel and potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, but is also the hush money that was paid to women who alleged to having an affair with the President, what he may have known about those payments. There is the misuse of taxpayer funds by members of the Trump cabinet. There is an ongoing issue of the President not having released his tax returns as well as his business dealings in Moscow, the list goes on and on and on. And so, I think some of that hiring up also has to deal with what they are bracing for from Democrats.

BLITZER: February 6th, Cohen testifies in open session. We'll be watching. Obviously, very, very -- February 7th?

BORGER: 7th.

BLITZER: February 7th.


BLITZER: On March 6th, he goes -- begins his prison sentence. On February 7th, he begins the testimony that could go for hours and hours and hours.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Coming up, in the wake of Kim Jong-un's visit to China, there's now new momentum for a second summit between the North Korean leader and President Trump. We have new information. Stand by for details.


[17:50:40] BLITZER: Tonight, there is new intrigue emerging as a result of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's visit to China this week. Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, there seems to be lots of momentum building toward a second summit between the President of the United States and the leader of North Korea.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, momentum is building. And South Korea's President is dropping strong hints that he thinks a second summit is imminent. But tonight, there's also something which bears watching for President Trump and his team, Kim Jong-un has been working his relationships with two key leaders, relationships which could work against President Trump at a summit.


TODD: Following a secretive trip to China on his armored train, Kim Jong-un, the once shunned dictator, has emerged tonight with two key world leaders and power brokers by his side, as he angles for a second summit with President Trump. One of those brokers, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, says he's expecting to hear news soon of a second summit, hinting it could be imminent.

MOON JAE-IN, PRESIDENT OF SOUTH KOREA (through translator): The second North Korea-United States summit to take place soon, and the reciprocal visit to Seoul by Chairman Kim Jong-un of North Korea will be other turning points that will firmly solidify peace on the Korean Peninsula.

TODD: Analysts say just about every side in this process needs a win right now. South Korea's Moon Jae-in tonight is seen as hell bent, almost desperate, to push a peace deal between Trump and Kim. Moon is suffering politically at home, sees a denuclearization deal as key to his political survival, and is seen as making moves that might go against the interests of the United States, which he partially depends on for his country's security.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: Moon at this particular time is trying to mediate between the two sides, but he's mostly adopting Kim Jong-un's negotiating position, which is the United States should give sanctions relief on a partial basis. And so, it seems that Moon is pretty much working with Kim Jong-un against the United States.

TODD: The other power broker in Kim's corner? His fellow strongman, Chinese President Xi Jinping, who Kim traveled some 800 miles by rail to meet.

CHRIS JOHNSON, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: It's really about reminding the White House that China is central to this discussion, and nothing is going to happen here that doesn't include the Chinese.

TODD: Kim was in China this week at the very same time that top American trade negotiators were also there, trying to work their way out of a trade war with China. Experts say that was no coincidence that Xi is now holding his influence with North Korea over President Trump.

What is the danger to the United States of Xi Jinping being so powerful right now with North Korea and the U.S.?

JOHNSON: I think the risk for the U.S. and China's leverage in this process right now is that if we don't start making some progress in the North Korea-U.S. bilateral channel, this makes -- gives Kim Jong- un a lot of leverage to be able to say, I have the Chinese backing me, you need to make more concessions to me on arms, on peace treaty, and so on, before I'm willing to start declaring what I have in terms of nuclear capability.


TODD: Now, will President Trump give in to the leverage that Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un might have right now? Some analysts are worried that Trump might do that. They point out that Trump has been bruised by midterm election losses, the government shutdown, the turmoil over the Syria withdrawal announcement. He might be just desperate enough for a win that he'll give away too much in this next summit with Kim Jong-un. Wolf?

BLITZER: You're also hearing, Brian, some rather sensitive issues with Kim having come up in the planning for a location for this second summit.

TODD: Pretty interesting, Wolf. Yes, one administration official told CNN the White House reached out to try to get Kim to go to Switzerland for the summit. The White House team thought that Kim would like that because he went to school in Switzerland in the 1990s, but they could not make that happen, partially because of the distance, and the fact that Kim Jong-un was still very sensitive about the criticism he received for borrowing a Chinese plane to travel to Singapore for that summit. The optics so crucial to Kim Jong-un.

BLITZER: Yes, very sensitive indeed. All right, Brian Todd, thank you. Coming up, the breaking news, with shutdown negotiations in a state of collapse, President Trump heads back from the border ready to declare a national emergency to get his wall built. And as the President's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, agrees to testify publically, the White House prepares for a fight over Robert Mueller's report. Can it keep the public from seeing it?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, Walled In, as the President wraps up a photo op at the border, he now seems convinced that the only way to get his wall is to declare a national emergency. Would that end the government shutdown or make matters worse?

Cohen to testify, Mr. Trump's former fixer and lawyer agrees to appear before Congress and publically give answers to the American people. How damaging could Michael Cohen's testimony be to the President he turned against?