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Interview With Florida Congressman Ted Deutch; Former Trump Fixer Michael Cohen Set to Testify Before Congress; Trump Visits Border on Day 20 of Shutdown Over Wall. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 10, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Trump's former fixer and lawyer agrees to appear before Congress and publicly give answers to the American people. How damaging could Michael Cohen's testimony be to the president he turned against?

Keeping it secret. The White House's lawyering up before the release of Robert Mueller's report, exploring claims of executive privilege to try to hide big chunks of the special counsel's finding. Would the strategy work?

And basis for obstruction. We're also learning that Mueller's team is focusing in on Mr. Trump's conflicting public statements, including his tweets that could be seen as part of an effort to influence witnesses and obstruct justice.

Stand by for the exclusive details.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following a lot of breaking news right now.

President Trump is on his way back to Washington from the southern border, a trip that did nothing to end the 20-day-old government shutdown. He now seems poised to declare a national emergency to get the wall funding he's been demanding.

The White House already is prepping a legal defense of the move, as we have learned that Mr. Trump rejected a compromise proposal by a small group of Republicans.

Also breaking, the former fixer who knows many of Mr. Trump's secrets is now set to testify in public. Michael Cohen has agreed to appear before the House Oversight Committee on February 7, this as we're told the White House is gearing up for a fight to block the release of some or all of Robert Mueller's final report, hiring 17 new lawyers to help pursue potential claims of executive privilege.

This hour, I will talk with the new House Ethics Committee chairman, Ted Deutch, and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He is in Texas. He's at the border with Mexico, where Mr. Trump visited today.

Jim, there's no movement apparently on the shutdown. But we heard all sorts of wild statements from the president.


No movement on the shutdown and no movement where we are on the border. It's almost tranquil and quiet where we're standing right here on the border with Mexico. The president went down to the border earlier today to get a look at the situation down here. He declared that the nation is under attack on the border.

But that is only one of many misleading statements he's made throughout the day, as he's in hot pursuit of that 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.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we had 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 roundtable 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 that 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?


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 billion 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 the 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: Oh, 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 some of the newspapers. And then Schumer always has his standard line, he had a separate dead.

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 Pelosi. 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 catchphrase, "The buck stops here."

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

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: And, Wolf, oddly enough, the president chose one of the most secure communities in the country to make his pitch for the border wall.

Here we are in McAllen, Texas, which has been consistently ranked one of the safest cities in the country. And it's one of the safest cities in the country and the people feel safe here, despite the fact that they have kind of a hodgepodge of barriers between the U.S. and Mexico.

Yes, you can see some of these steel slats behind me, the kind that the president likes to talk about from time to time, but that's right next to a chain-link fence. And if you go to other portions of the border here between McAllen and Mexico, there is almost no fencing or levees or a variety of different types of fencing.

And yet the people have been telling us all day long here, Wolf, they feel very secure in this community. And, by the way, they have also told us they'd like to see the federal government get back to work -- Wolf.

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

Now let's get the latest on the shutdown standoff.

Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, he's up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, a Republican compromise proposal appears now dead. You have some new information. What are you learning?


And the lead senator behind that compromise with that now having imploded is now calling on the president to invoke emergency powers. He says, Lindsey Graham, the senator who is leading these negotiations, it is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund construction of a border wall.

The reason that those deals or that negotiation fell apart was actually, according to two individuals close to the process, the president. I'm told that the skeleton deal that had been put together by a small group of Republican senators -- they started meeting last night and continued meeting today -- they met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- they presented to Vice President Mike Pence -- was rejected by the president because that deal would have in the near term reopened the government, as congressional committees worked through a deal that would have provided the president money for the border wall in exchange for temporary protections for DACA recipients.

The president decided, according to these sources, that that would not work, given the fact that reopening the government immediately might mean he might not get a deal in the end.

How did Graham respond to that a few hours ago? Take a listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I have never been more depressed about moving forward than I am right now. I just don't see a pathway forward.

Somebody has got to, like, get some energy to fix this.


MATTINGLY: And with that in mind, Graham coming out later tonight with a statement saying that the president needs to act unilaterally, act on his own.

And I can tell you, Wolf, from talking to Republican aides up here, that is the expectation that that is eventually coming. And the reason why is, there simply nothing else on the table. There are no negotiations. There are no proposals being traded.

There are no new meetings scheduled. The Senate is not expected to have any more votes for the rest of this week. Most senators already on airplanes home to their home states. The reality on Capitol Hill is the impasse is real. The impasse at this point seems borderline permanent and there is no clear legislative way out.

Now, Wolf, House Democrats have continued to pass individual appropriations bills, trying to amp up pressure on Senate Republicans and House Republicans to try and reopen the government. Senate Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has continued to make clear, if President Trump does not sign off on a proposal, he is not willing to bring it to the Senate floor.

President Trump has very clearly rejected where Democrats stand on this, both their individual proposals and their broader proposal to reopen the government and continue negotiations on border security in the days and weeks ahead.

And because of that, the stalemate continues. Because of that, one of the president's top allies, one of the senators who was trying to figure out a last-gasp Hail Mary-ish deal to save and reopen the government, he has now decided the president needs to act unilaterally, there's nothing else that will -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And let's not forget 800,000 federal employees won't be getting a paycheck tomorrow; 800,000 individuals and their families will suffer.

Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

Let's turn to multiple breaking stories in the Russia investigation right now, including what's likely to be bombshell public testimony by the president's longtime lawyer and fix, Michael Cohen.


I want to bring in our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown, and our CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, as we know Cohen, he will testify next month before the House Oversight Committee. He has flipped on the president. He's already pleaded guilty to various charges, going to begin a three-year prison sentence in March.

How damaging could this public testimony be for the president?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think, given everything that we already know about what Michael Cohen has said in court, has told the Department of Justice about the president's involvement in the payments of the hush money, how he was directed by the president, how the president was part of the decision-making in how the money was going to be paid, it's going to be a big problem for the president.

And they for certain know this. They knew that he would be a problem going along. So this is going to be a monumental day, I think, for this White House, for this investigation in terms of what Michael Cohen is going to say.

But it's not going to be limited, as we now know, by just what his involvement in the hush payment, Michael Cohen's involvement. We just learned that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has cleared him to testify. So that means that opens the door to all sorts of questions about Russia, the Moscow project, whether or not anyone in the White House directed Michael Cohen to lie to members of Congress.

There's been some indications that people at the White House knew what Michael Cohen was going to tell members of Congress. Did anyone at the White House approve of this? Did they say, yes, go ahead, go ahead, it's OK?

That's going to be a big part of this here and now as well. So it seems like nothing's off the table and that the Department of Justice and that Robert Mueller have cleared Michael Cohen to go ahead and say whatever it is that he's going to say.

The other thing to keep in mind is that Michael Cohen can use this testimony to try and get more leniency for his jail sentence. He could go to a judge and say, I have cooperated with members of Congress, I have given them credible information, I'm hoping that you can give me less than three years.

There is a chance that that can happen. This hearing is -- takes place about a month before he is set to report to prison. So he will have a month to work with the judge in New York to try and get his sentence even further...


BLITZER: February 7, he testifies. March 6, he's supposed to begin his three-year prison sentence.

A lot of people have said potentially -- and I'm anxious to get your thoughts, Shimon -- this could be like when John Dean testified before Congress. We know how that -- the fallout from that, what happened to the then president of the United States, Richard Nixon.

PROKUPECZ: It's certainly the first thing that came to my mind.

We have not had a time like this really since then, probably. The last time someone so significant in this investigation testified was James Comey. And you remember all the attention that he received. But this is so much bigger, because this -- what Michael Cohen represents goes back years, his relationship with the president, the president's business dealings, the family's business dealings.

He knows a lot about Russia. He knows a lot about payments, other payments perhaps. But the key thing here is the cover-up, in terms of the cover-up of the payments, the cover-up of the contacts with Russia, the cover-up of the Moscow project. That is central to this entire investigation and what members of Congress are going to want to know about it, because that goes to the obstruction issue.

And that is where the members of Congress can be key in perhaps impeachment hearings.

BLITZER: Pamela, you have some new reporting on the White House legal team gearing up potentially for this Mueller report and the ramifications that could bring.


All indications are pointing to the special counsel nearing the end in the next few months. This is setting the stage for a new political and legal fight over the findings and who gets to see them.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump won't say whether he wants Robert Mueller's report on the Russia probe to be made public.

QUESTION: The special counsel's final report, do you want that to be made public?

TRUMP: We will have to see. There's been no collusion whatsoever. We will have to see.

BROWN: The president's remarks come after CNN has learned that the White House Counsel Office, under the new direction of Pat Cipollone, is gearing up for a fight to keep the report private by adding 17 more lawyers to its team.

Trump's legal team is preparing to argue that a large portion of the information in Mueller's investigation should be protected by executive privilege, leaving only a heavily redacted version of the report to be released to the public.

But Democrats are vowing to use their new power in the House to release it.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm prepared to make sure we do everything possible so that the public has the advantage of as much of the information as it can.

BROWN: And as we await the release of the Mueller report, today, CNN has learned that Mueller interviewed Trump's campaign pollster Tony Fabrizio.

The revelation comes after it was revealed that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared polling data with Russian national Konstantin Kilimnik, who prosecutors say has ties to the same Russian military intelligence unit that hacked the Democratic Party during the 2016 campaign.


It's coordination between the campaign and the Russians that the Mueller team has been looking for. Today, the president said he had no knowledge of the information-sharing.

QUESTION: Did you know that Paul Manafort was sharing polling data from your campaign with the Russians?

TRUMP: No, I didn't know anything about it. Nothing about it.

BROWN: With Kilimnik as the go-between, Manafort's spokesman claims the data was ultimately intended for two powerful pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs who owed Manafort millions.

And, tonight, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Capitol Hill facing tough questions from House lawmakers on the department's decision to ease sanctions on companies tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It was one of the worst classified briefings we have received from the Trump administration. The secretary barely testified.

BROWN: In a statement, Mnuchin defended his decision, stating that these companies were -- quote -- "undergoing significant restructuring and governance changes that sever Deripaska's control and significantly diminish his ownership."

Democrats are now mulling over whether to formally push back against the sanctions relief for the Russian companies that was announced last month.


BROWN: And one of those oligarchs denies requesting or receiving polling data from Manafort.

But the revelations raise questions about why Manafort shared that sensitive internal data from the campaign with pro-Russian Ukrainians -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You're also getting some significant information, Pamela, that the president's lawyers are concerned that his public statements over the past year or two, his tweets, his various lies could be used by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team potentially as evidence of obstruction of justice or witness tampering.

BROWN: Yes, that's right, Wolf.

We have learned investigators have focused on conflicting public statements by President Trump and his team that could be seen as an effort to influence witnesses and obstruct justice, according to multiple people familiar with this investigation.

And the line of questioning adds to indications that Mueller views false or misleading statements to the press or to the public as obstruction of justice. And that could set up a potential flash point with the White House and the Trump legal team, should that become part of any final report from the Mueller investigation.

Now, Mueller's team has provided hints that it's interested in public statements as part of the obstruction probe. You may recall court filings from the plea of Michael Cohen, the president's former personal lawyer, included allegations related to false public statements.

That's not usually considered illegal, since they aren't made directly to investigators. But what's clear is that Robert Mueller's interested in it as part of the obstruction probe.

BLITZER: Could be used potentially as evidence if they go forward in that area.

Pamela, Shimon, guys, thanks very, very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch. He's the chairman of the -- the new chairman of the House Ethics Committee. He also serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. He's a very busy guy.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: Good to be with you, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: Let's begin with latest news in the Russia probe. And you have been hearing our reporters tell us about that.

The president and his attorneys might be preparing to assert executive privilege, in an attempt to block Mueller's report. If the White House were to do so, were to pursue that kind of a strategy, how should your party, the Democratic majority in the House, respond?

DEUTCH: Well, first of all, Wolf, there is -- there are safeguards in place to make sure that the president can't cover up this entire report.

But think about what he's suggesting. There's no executive privilege over presidential deliberations with respect to possible obstruction of justice, no executive privilege to hide potential witness tampering or the potential cover-up of the commission of a federal crime in order to get elected president of the United States. So what we're going to do is to make sure that the president and his lawyers, however many lawyers there are, can't be allowed to proceed with arguments that aren't permitted by law, and we will continue to stand by that.

BLITZER: The president's former personal attorney Michael Cohen will be testifying in public up on Capitol Hill next month. Cohen is scheduled to report to federal prison on March 7, after pleading guilty to multiple federal crimes, including lying to Congress.

Do you think his testimony will be credible, given his criminal history?

DEUTCH: Well, I think it's a really important moment to have Michael Cohen come to testify, after we have seen the past -- over the past two years the Republican leadership, when they were in charge of the House committees, refusing to hold oversight hearings.

We now have the opportunity. We will have the opportunity to question Michael Cohen, who is the president's cover-up lawyer. That's the role that he has played for Donald Trump.

Remember, Wolf, Michael Cohen is the person that worked with the president, who potentially is an unindicted co-conspirator, in a case to commit a felony violation of campaign law in order to be elected president of the United States.


There is an awful lot that Michael Cohen will have to tell us. Obviously ,you always judge the credibility of witnesses. I'm glad that we're going to have the opportunity to ask him some very pointed questions about what the president did right before the election, covering -- potentially covering up a felony in order to be elected, and all of the ways that Michael Cohen might have been involved in the more than 100 connections that exist between the president and Russia.

There's a lot for us to learn.

BLITZER: When you say 100, 100 connections, elaborate. What do you mean?

DEUTCH: Well, if you look -- remember, you go back to the discussion that the president -- the statements that the president made at the very beginning, that there were no contacts between anyone having to do with him and Russia, and you now go through what we have already learned.

You look at the little that we do know from Mueller, you look at Manafort, and you look at the meeting that took place in Trump Tower, and on and on. And what's clear is that there have been meetings.

What's unclear to us is how much the president may have known about, for example, Paul Manafort trying to get sensitive campaign data to someone who can transmit it to Russian officials. We don't know that. Those are the kinds of questions that we are

going to ask Michael Cohen. Those are the kinds of questions, frankly, that the Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, the Intel Committee, all of us, working side by side, will finally try to get to ask the questions to get to the truth, even as we wait for Mueller to complete his investigation as well.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the government shutdown.

Congressman, the Trump administration is exploring declaring a national emergency, using billions of dollars in what they describe as unspent Defense Department disaster recovery funding to construct a border wall.

How should Democrats respond?

DEUTCH: Well, let's start with this, Wolf.

Unspent -- they use these bureaucratic terms. The president wants to take billions of dollars earmarked for recovery from storm-ravaged Puerto Rico. He wants to take that money and use it to fulfill a campaign promise that has nothing to do with national security.

There is something serious that's happening in our country right now. As you pointed out earlier, 800,000 federal workers will not be paid, many of them in the national security area. They work for the DEA. They work for CBP. They work for Secret Service. They work for TSA. These are people who keep us safe.

And because the president shut down the government in order to fulfill a campaign promise, which he's not going to be able to do -- he's already failed on the first part, when he told us Mexico was going to pay for a wall. When he shut that down, he's wreaking havoc on the lives, not just of those 800,000, Wolf, but the contractors whose pay will never be made up, and for all of the loved ones of those 800,000, and ultimately so many others, whether it's -- whether it's people who will suffer because the FDA can't conduct food inspections, or the tens of millions of Americans who are at risk of losing their SNAP benefits if this goes on much longer.

The president likes to talk about how he's done more in all these areas, he's been the best president, he's accomplished things that no other president has accomplished. He lies about that all the time.

In this instance, he will take credit, he has taken credit, and will have to own the longest shutdown in federal government -- in the history of the federal government that he proudly announced he wanted to achieve.

BLITZER: Congressman Ted Deutch, thanks so much for joining us.

DEUTCH: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead, we're going to break down all the risks to President Trump right now, as Michael Cohen is set to testify before Congress and Robert Mueller prepares to release his final report.

Our senior legal analyst and former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, he is standing by live.



BLITZER: And we're back with breaking news on the Russia investigation, the president's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen now set to testify publicly before Congress next month.

We're also learning about efforts under way right now within the president's legal team to potentially try to block the release of Robert Mueller's report.

Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, the former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.

Preet, thanks for joining us.

Do you think a potential White House effort to assert what's called executive privilege and block the release of Mueller's report could be successful?


The question is, what arguments are they going to make with respect to particular things that they think are incriminating or damaging to them that they don't want released to the public? Bear in mind, there's all different kinds of information that we expect to be in this report.

I don't know if any credible basis to say that statements made by a president to an underling to do something unlawful or bad would be covered by any kind of privilege. It would be against the whole philosophy and principal underlying the executive privilege in the first place, which is supposed to allow White Houses to have deliberations and discussions with complete candor, and without fear of those things being revealed later.

Separate and apart from that, one of the things that the Mueller team seems to be looking at, as we have been talking about for months and months, is whether or not there was coordination or a conspiracy or aiding and abetting -- some people call it collusion -- between the campaign and Russia.

And all that activity, or the large portion of it, would have been before the president became the president. So, no executive privilege would apply there either. And it'd be hard to understand why that would be so with respect to obstruction.

That said, in the absence of knowing the particular things that are going to be in the report and the particular arguments you could make about discussions within the White House, I think the argument will ultimately fail. But the problem, I think, for people who want transparency is, it may take a while for that to be resolved through the courts.

BLITZER: The White House believes that the Mueller team is preparing to use the president's public statements, including his tweets and various lies, to try to build an obstruction of justice case against the president.

What do you make of that theory?

BHARARA: I mean, I think that's what -- that's what prosecutors do.

I mean, I think there's this view in the public like that everything that people bring forward in court to prove a charge or an allegation is something that they found out through a wiretap or through a search or going through someone's garbage.

[18:30:13] People's public statements matter also. People's public statements often tell exactly what's going on in the person's mind. I don't think you could make a case in this circumstance and in many circumstances purely from the public comments of someone, unless they're in the essence of a complete confession.

But public comments and indications of the president's state of mind through tweets and other interviews that he's given, combined with testimony from other people about what the thinking was and what the reasons were for engaging in various bits of conduct, like firing Jim Comey and other things, those in combination paint a powerful picture, I think, that the prosecutors don't want to give up.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president's former attorney, Michael Cohen, is scheduled to testify before Congress in a public session early next month. As you know, he's a convicted liar. He's headed to prison in March, in part because of the lies that he told.

Do you think he's a credible witness?

BHARARA: Well, you know, Michael Cohen has a lot of problems with credibility. He's a convicted liar.

But remember, the forum in which he's going to be testifying on February 7, which will be a spectacle the likes of which we have never seen, or at least not in a very, very long time, since 19 -- the 1970s when John Dean did it -- it's a different forum from a court of law. And in a court of law when you're trying to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, there are reasons why you have to be even more skeptical of the things coming out of the mouth of somebody who's known to have lied.

Now, I'm not saying that's not important in the Congress also. But this is going to be not only sort of investigative session, but it's a a political session, too. And so the people who are doing the questioning are not necessarily trained lawyers who are going to be governed by a court of rules and rules of evidence and everything else that applies in a court of law. But you know, a much more easy, freewheeling, sometimes circus-like atmosphere -- I hate to say it -- that you see in Congress. And so the American people are all going to be able to judge whether

or not -- when Michael Cohen adds details to the allegations he has already made in court against Donald Trump, they'll be the judge of whether or not he's telling the truth. And sometimes public opinion will be swayed by whether or not they feel, in the moment, the temperament and the demeanor of the witness is truthful or not.

And remember, he's already said in court that has a much targeted mission to just make sure that there's a factual basis for the plea of guilty.

Now he's going to be untethered from that in this forum, where lots of people have different agendas, to say things even more than what he said before, which included saying that he made the payment to somebody with whom Donald Trump had an affair at -- in coordination with and at the direction of the president, implicating him in a crime. He can do a lot more damage in this open forum in Congress.

BLITZER: What does it say to you that Robert Mueller and his team haven't objected to Cohen's testifying before Congress in public? Does that subject his investigation, the Mueller investigation is wrapping up?

BHARARA: So I've been loath to say the Mueller investigation is wrapping up for a long time now and largely have been proven right, because it keeps going. But I think for the first time, I think there are a couple of indications that maybe that is true with respect to some part of the investigation.

The fact that they don't seem to be worried about Cohen speaking while they're still investigating things that may relate to Cohen and he's cooperating with them, combined with the reporting that Rod Rosenstein, who has every reason to be interested in the continued activity and conduct and closure of the Mueller investigation, that he is considering stepping down in the relatively near future, those two things in combination with each other suggest to me that we may be actually at the point that people have been speculating about for many months.

BLITZER: Yes. Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.

Preet, thanks so much for joining us.

BHARARA: Sure. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. The breaking news continues next. The government shutdown now poised to become the longest in U.S. history as the stalemate over a border wall drags on.


[17:38:18] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories tonight, including President Trump's former fixer and personal attorney, Michael Cohen, now scheduled to testify publicly before the House Oversight Committee next month. Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts. And Pamela, what information are members of Congress hoping to get

from Michael Cohen? What do they hope he will reveal?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is a lot of ground to cover with Michael Cohen. He worked for Donald Trump and the Trump Organization for more than a decade. He's his longtime fixer and lawyer and has connections to many of the central questions surrounding Donald Trump, not to mention, of course, the hush-money payments that he pleaded guilty to making during the presidential campaign as a campaign finance violation.

But also, of course, Russia. I mean, that is the big question. Were there any more interactions with Russians during the campaign we don't know about? Now, that will be behind closed doors with lawmakers, according to Adam Schiff, head of the Intelligence Committee.

But Robert Mueller has signed off on Cohen talking to lawmakers about exactly what he knows regarding Russia. So that is crucial.

And Michael Cohen has already said in court that he lied, that he committed crimes at the direction of Donald Trump. So you can expect to hear much of the same thing in this public forum, talking to Congress. It is significant. And it's certainly not good news for Donald Trump.

BLITZER: It certainly isn't. He likes -- the president likes to control the narrative. He's not going to be controlling the narrative on this.

How concerned should the president be about Cohen's testimony in testimony?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the president has to be very concerned. This was Michael Cohen's mic-drop moment. He just blew up his day, his week, his month.

And let's not forget, tape recordings. Remember? He has -- we know he has some tape recordings.

[18:40:05] I think the other thing to remember is, as Pamela said, Robert Mueller OK'ed this. He's giving it his stamp of approval. Why? Because he believes Michael Cohen. And he doesn't believe him just because he takes his word. There's other evidence likely to be there, witnesses, tape recordings, other things.

Finally, I think what's very important for -- for Donald Trump is, this is taking it public. It's not just Robert Mueller in paperwork, everything. The case is going to the public. Not since Watergate --


GANGEL: -- have we seen something like this.

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Can I add one point about this? I agree with everything that's been said about the importance of this testimony.

But how the testimony is prepared will be enormously important. Prosecutors believe it takes ten hours of work to create one hour in the courtroom. If this testimony is to be effective and clear and well-organized, Cohen is going to have to sit with the staff of the committee in advance and go over all this material and allow the committee to distill what they think is the important parts of his story.

If that preparation isn't done, this testimony could be -- could be disorganized, unclear and not very persuasive. I think the issue of how much and whether Cohen agrees to this sort of kind of preparation will be very important, and we will certainly learn that in the weeks to come.

BLITZER: Interesting that Cohen, Michael Cohen just retweeted a tweet from David Corn, who's written extensively about the Russia investigation.

GANGEL: So to Jeffrey's --

BLITZER: We're going to put it up there. You can see the David Corn tweet that Michael Cohen retweeted.

GRAPHIC: David Corn (@DavidCornDC): @RepCummings announces @MichaelCohen212 will publicly testify on 2/7. Much to ask him beyond hush-money payments/campaign finance crime. Cohen can discuss Trump dealings in Russia & reaching out to Putin's office. And so much more. Buckle up.

GANGEL: So to Jeffrey's point, you know, will he sit down with the staff and prepare? Certainly, Michael Cohen retweeting this from David Corn, which has very specific details of what he can talk about, if nothing else, he is taunting Donald Trump.

BROWN: And he wants to clear his name.

GANGEL: Absolutely.

BROWN: I mean, he -- he wants to use this as an opportunity to defend himself after the attacks from the president and from the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, calling him weak, calling him a liar. Michael Cohen wants to come out and say, "Look, this is all Donald Trump's fault, to an extent. I was doing this at the direction of him."

At the same time, look for the president to continue those attacks against Cohen in the days leading up to this.

BLITZER: David, what does it say to you about the state of the investigation, the Mueller investigation?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I heard Preet Bharara telling you in the earlier segment that he thinks now maybe it's the first time when we might be able to say we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And that makes sense. First of all, I don't think the special counsel would OK the -- that

Michael Cohen going forward to Congress if there was a lot of information he wanted to hold back.

Second of all, he's knitting together all of these strands -- and they seem to be coming together -- around these various witnesses, Manafort, Tony Fabrizio, and also all this testimony that we're expecting from Cohen.

I don't think we should expect some magic fairy-dust moment when this is all just going to wrap up neatly in a bow. But we are starting to see this case take shape.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Jeffrey, the White House appears to be hiring a whole bunch of new lawyers. They're gearing up perhaps, even, to try to block the release, the public release of the Mueller report, citing executive privilege.

Seems to be in contrast with what the president often says on so many occasions about collusion. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, again, John, there has been no collusion between the Trump campaign 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: This was exactly one year ago today when he said on multiple occasions, "No collusion."

TOOBIN: He's said it many times since then -- since then, too. But repeating it doesn't -- doesn't make it true.

I think in fairness to the White House, the fact that they're hiring lawyers doesn't make Donald Trump look guilty. I mean, there are going to be all these Democratic investigations from the House of Representatives. They are going to have to answer subpoenas. They are going to have to answer document requests. You need lawyers. That doesn't mean that the president did anything wrong.

However, the big issue, I think, is whether the -- and how much the president's lawyers will object to the disclosure to the public of the Mueller report. How much will they claim executive privilege protects? How much will they say classified information protects?

That, I think, really does tell you how much they are trying to keep from the public.

BLITZER: Because then --

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That, I think, really does tell you how much they are trying to keep from the public.

[18:45:04] And there, I think, that's -- there you can honestly say, the fact that they are gearing up does suggest some consciousness of guilty.

BLITZER: Yes, because your reporting suggests in part all these lawyers are there because they may try this effort to assert executive privilege.

BROWN: That's right. And sources I have been speaking with close to the president, to the White House, say the strategy or best case scenario for the legal team -- first of all, will be for none of the report to become public. If any of it does, it will be redacted. And the White House counsel is girding for a fight to evoke executive privilege.

My colleague Evan Perez reported today that Mueller has been looking at the president's false statements, public statements that are conflicting as part of the obstruction of justice probe. So, that very will could be in his report to make the case that the president was trying to limit the probe by making these false statements.

So, these are things that White House counsel will try to fight to make sure this doesn't get out in the public.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: And to Pamela's point, they are clearly worried. We have Rudy Giuliani telling someone that it's going to be horrific. A few weeks ago, Alan Dershowitz said it will be devastating.

The president, as we said, no matter how many times he says there was no collusion, if there's nothing to worry about, open up the report. But they are doing the opposite.

BLITZER: Let's switch and talk about the border wall with Mexico.

As you know, Pamela, the president traveled to the border today to assert what he says national security requires a border wall. He thought maybe going there wouldn't change anything. One thing that clearly did change is what the president is now saying about Mexico's paying for the wall. Listen to what he said today versus what he used to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When during the campaign, I would say Mexico is going to pay for it. Obviously, I never said this and I never meant they're going to write out a check. I said they are going to pay for it. They are.

When I say Mexico is going to pay for the wall, that's what I said. Mexico is going to pay. I didn't say they're going to write me a check for $20 billion or $10 billion.

I didn't mean, please write me a check. I mean, very simply, they are paying for it in the trade deal.

We will build a wall. Mexico is going to pay for the wall.

We will a build a wall and you know who is going to pay for the wall? Mexico. They're going to pay for it.

Who is going to pay for the wall?




TRUMP: By the way, 100 percent.

Mexico in some form, and there are many different forms, will reimburse us and they will reimburse us for the cost of the wall.

The American people will not pay for the wall.

You know, the politicians say, they will never pay -- 100 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're not going to write us a check.

TRUMP: They'll pay. They will pay, in one form or another. They may even write us a check.


BLITZER: They may even write us a check. He said he never thought they would write a check.

But there as well as in campaign policy statements, the possibility of Mexico writing a check for $5 billion or $10 billion was very much on their mind.

BROWN: That's right. The president is on the hook for this. He said it multiple times during the campaign and beyond. And it's something Democrats and his opponents continually bring up the fact that he is asking for $5.7 billion in taxpayer money to pay for the wall.

And, of course, he comes back and says, look, actually Mexico is going to pay for it with this reworked trade deal that our administration did with them.

But it's unclear how exactly that would work. That hasn't even been ratified by Congress. So, the president is once again bending the facts and the reality in order to sort of work in his favor.



TOOBIN: Not bending the facts. Lying. Just lying outright.

BROWN: There you go, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Just totally, totally lying.

BLITZER: Look at this memo the Trump campaign put out in March of 2016, March of 2016. And it says this. It's an easy decision for Mexico. Make a one-time payment of 5 to $10 billion. That was the policy. That was the position of the Trump campaign.

You heard what the president said today. He never thought they would write a check.

TOOBIN: Do you think -- the people who were yelling at the rally when he goes, who is going to pay for the wall, Mexico. Do you think those people in the rally were thinking, well, I think the trade balance will be different so we will be reimbursed -- no.

That's what was going on, and this is an incredible, total lie. I mean -- and that's the only way to describe this, I'm afraid.

BLITZER: So what he's saying, David, is that during the campaign when he would ask the crowds, and there were thousands and thousands of people, who's going pay for the wall? And he would put his hands up, and they said "Mexico." They didn't say, Mexico in some indirect form if there's a new trade deal.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. No, the president's got several problems.

[18:50:00] One, this was so central to his campaign in 2016. Two, as Jeffrey just says and just as you said there, right, it's not some indirect thing. It was just a bumper stick, Mexico will pay.

And lastly, even if you were doing this indirect dividend, the White House hasn't even laid that out. This trade deal hasn't even been ratified and we don't even know how it's going to benefit the U.S. treasury, will then be siphoned off for the 5.7 billion. No explanation, whatsoever.

BLITZER: Nancy Pelosi is proving to be a rather formidable negotiating foe for the president.

GANGEL: In Donald Trump's life, there's pre-January 3rd and post January 3rd. This is completely different.

And we saw it -- I don't think you can play enough, that tape of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer sitting there where Donald Trump thought he was in control, called the cameras in, and then he backed himself into this corner, that he doesn't know how to get out of.

And to the point of the $5 billion, I think the next thing we're going to be hearing is, that famous line, the check is in the mail. This is, this is just ridiculous.

BLITZER: Remember that "Saturday Night Live" episode where the Mexican ambassador came in with the check.

All right, guys. Stick around. There's a lot more news we're following right after this.


[18:55:58] BLITZER: This Sunday night, the CNN original series, "American Style" looks at how the social, political, and chick changes of the past 100 years have defined America's unique style and identity. Here's a preview.


KIMBERLY TRUHLER, FILM & FASHION HISTORIAN: Forties and '50s were definitely America finding itself.

TIM GUNN, FASHION HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR: Americans felt very second rate when comparing ourselves to Europe.

VANESSA FRIEDMAN, CHIEF FASHION CRITIC, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Sportswear became the defining style of the United States.

GUNN: The bikini was the biggest thing since the atom bomb.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, AUTHOR AND PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, RICE UNIVERSITY: Through the '60, '70s, our style in fashion represents freedom.

DR. TODD BOYD, PROFESSOR, STUDY OF RACE AND POPULAR CULTURE, USC: When you look at hippie culture, it's really oppositional to the Vietnam War.

CHRISTOPHER REID, ACTOR, COMEDIAN AND RAPPER, "KID 'N PLAY": Disco was very important in terms of people being free to express themselves.

CHRISTIE BRINKLEY, MODEL, ACTRESS AND BUSINESSWOMAN: In the '80s, it was a lot of excess in every way.

REID: We had our Calvin Kleins and our Ralph Laurens and our Donna Karans.

GUNN: Calvin Klein's advertising was rather scandalous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His underwear ad stopped traffic in Times Square.

BOYD: By the '90s and 2000, things had become less formal.

TINA CRAIG, CO-FOUNDER AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "BAG SNOB": Supermodels really brought fashion into every household.

JOHN A TIFFANY, FASHION HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR: Now, what's embraced is being yourself. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Style gives you a voice. It's freedom.


BLITZER: Joining us now, CNN presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley. He's featured in "American Style."

Doug, this politically charged time when Washington's dysfunction is on full display, how do politicians use fashion to try to relate to Americans at home?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, you'll see, I just saw Ted Cruz today and Beto O'Rourke, both are in Texas, having beards now after losing. They're trying to show that they, after a political run, they don't have to shave.

You have politicians having to wear, you know, dueling ties. Right now, I've noticed a lot of us, I've been wearing blue ties, Hermes ties, going to fashion, showing you're a power player. The Republicans like red, the Democrats like blue.

And, of course, we have the #MeToo era going on right now, where women are saying, I can dress however I like and not be harassed and things like black life matters, Wolf, where this idea that if you're wearing a hip hop style clothing, that somehow you should be pulled over by police is being combated, thank God, by all sorts of progressive Americans.

BLITZER: Who in Washington, Doug, stands out to you as a master of this craft? Which politicians, past or present, for that matter, have been most successful in using fashion to create an image that helped his or her career?

BRINKLEY: John F. Kennedy, because he was so young when he ran for president in 1960, would always wear a navy blue suit and a blue tie. He actually didn't want to have a diversified wardrobe. He wanted to show people that consistency.

Now, that belies the fact that the Camelot photographs of that era would show the yachting culture of Newport and Cape Cod and the like.

Fashion was big with the Kennedys. Jackie Kennedy still ranks in my mind, number one for fashion. Now, when she went to Paris, they swooned over her and everybody would talk about her pill box hat or the Chanel suit she was wearing.

Nancy Reagan did very well with red and became in her own way a bit of a fashion maven and Barack Obama, a president in recent times, had a very great clipped professional handsome look about him. But when he wore mom jeans one time, the right went after him like nobody's business.

BLITZER: It wasn't just the right. A lot of people were concerned about those so-called mom jeans he was wearing.

Very quickly, how important is fashion for diplomacy? BRINKLEY: Oh, I think it represents the president of the United

States. You're always wearing a power suit. Bill Clinton got criticized when he was in the White House for not always taking his jacket off. Ronald Reagan would always keep it on. You want to exude a sense of power. Brooks Brother has been the suit of choice for most American presidents and politicians.

BLITZER: Our presidential historian, Doug Brinkley, thanks very much.

And the all-new original series "American style" premieres this Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.