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White House Denies Buzzfeed Report on Trump Directing Cohen to Lie; Trump to Meet with North Korean Leader for Second Summit; Interview with Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT); White House Denies BuzzFeed Report That Trump Directed Michael Cohen to Lie to Congress About Moscow Project; Trump Adviser Calls Pelosi Fight "King Kong Versus Godzilla". Aired 5-6p ET
Aired January 18, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I will see you Sunday morning.
[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Directed to lie. The White House denies a bombshell report that President Trump directed his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about a major Trump business project in Russia. But lawmakers warn that, if true, the Buzzfeed allegations would amount to obstruction and a clear case for impeachment.
Second summit. After the president talks to North Korea's nuclear negotiator, the White House announces he'll meet with Kim Jong-un next month. Is the timing a coincidence, and is there enough progress to warrant that second summit?
Endangering the speaker. After President Trump bars her use of a U.S. military aircraft to visit the Afghan war zone, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accuses the administration of endangering the congressional delegation by leaking their travel plans.
And meeting his match. President Trump's bitter feud with Speaker Pelosi is escalating by the day as the powerful Washington veteran thwarts his push for a border wall. As the shutdown grinds on, who's winning?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news: the White House is finally denying an earth- shattering report which, if true, could threaten Donald Trump's presidency.
Buzzfeed reports that President Trump directed his fixer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about a Trump Tower project in Moscow. Buzzfeed cites two law enforcement officials involved in the investigation. CNN and other news organizations have not matched that report, but some details are consistent with court documents pertaining to Cohen.
The White House calls the story categorically false. President Trump's own attorney general nominee this week confirmed, hypothetically, that persuading another person to commit perjury would be obstruction of justice.
If the president is looking for a distraction, he certainly found a good one right now, after he met today with North Korea's lead negotiator. The White House said there's enough progress to hold a second summit with Kim Jong-un late next month.
No such progress towards ending the government shutdown, as the president is locked in a very bitter feud with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, a day after pulling a plug on the trip to the Afghanistan war zone.
I'll speak with Congressman Jim Himes of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by with full coverage.
But let's begin with our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, and our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, first to you. If true, this could be the most significant risk yet to President Trump's presidency.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. Encouraging someone to lie under oath before Congress would break the law in the simplest terms there.
With the proviso that CNN has not confirmed this story, nor have other news outlets, here are the facts of the story as reported by Buzzfeed. One, that the president instructed Michael Cohen to lie about the Trump Tower Moscow project, that he also planned, the president, then candidate Trump, to visit Moscow during the 2016 campaign to meet with Vladimir Putin, and as well, that Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, were given regular updates on the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Buzzfeed saying it's not just Cohen's word here but that they have multiple witnesses, and that the special counsel has text messages, emails, documents to substantiate this.
We should be clear: the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has denied this outright today, as has the White House spokesperson, Sarah Sanders.
But we should also note here, Wolf, that there are -- there has been a pattern here. The president instructing, at least based on Michael Cohen's word and a crime that Michael Cohen has pled to, that the president instructed Michael Cohen to break campaign finance law with hush-money payments. And that there had been repeated lies from Trump himself and members of the Trump campaign and Trump world about when those discussions about this Trump Tower project ended. Initially saying in January. Now we know it went many months before [SIC].
So there's been a pattern of misleading the public and prosecutors about this. The question, of course: does it go this far?
BLITZER: It's interesting, Evan. Because the court documents from Michael Cohen's guilty plea deal with the federal prosecutors, they seem to provide some clues related to this report.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There are some clues. And look, the court documents, and certainly the special counsel and the prosecutors in New York, don't go as far as this Buzzfeed report. And I should note, these are some very good reporters of Buzzfeed. They've been ahead of everyone on parts of this story. So we haven't been able to verify this.
But if you look at the court documents, there are some very important hints that provide at least some clues as to where the special counsel has gone with this.
Let's look at, first, the sentencing memo from Michael Cohen, in which Mueller, the special counsel Robert Mueller, says, quote, "Cohen described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries, while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements contained within it."
In other words, there was an effort that Cohen had with people inside the Trump world to try make to sure that the stories aligned. At least according to Michael Cohen. And the special counsel has now put this in the record as a finding of fact, essentially.
And then, if you look at another part of this, where the description of a discussion for Trump to visit Russia. Again, this is something that, certainly, candidate Trump never owned up to, but Michael Cohen says happened. If you look at what Michael Cohen says happened, he says, quote, "I took steps to and had discussions with Individual One" -- of course, President Trump -- "about travel to Russia." Again, these are now findings of fact.
And the problem for the president is he hasn't had a chance -- his lawyers haven't had a chance to dispute this in court. This is -- this is basically the words of prosecutors and Michael Cohen. And it has now been signed off by judges, Wolf. So these are now facts, as far as the government is concerned.
BLITZER: During his confirmation hearings earlier in the week, the attorney general nominee, William Barr, he was asked about a situation like this by a couple senators. And it's intriguing what he had to say.
SCIUTTO: Well, you might say that the president's own nominee for attorney general, to replace the attorney general the president said didn't defend him enough in the Russia investigation, set something of of a red line on suborning perjury. That is, encouraging someone to lie under oath.
Have a listen to what the nominee said under questioning from Lindsey Graham.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If there was some reason to believe that the president tried to coach somebody not to testify or testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice? WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Yes. Under that -- under an obstruction statute. Yes.
GRAHAM: So if -- if there's some evidence that the president tried to conceal evidence, that would be obstruction of justice, right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Not an equivocal answer there. And I should say that Amy Klobuchar questioned again along those lines, and William Barr gave exactly the same answer. Suborning perjury in sworn testimony, a crime. That's what Barr said.
PEREZ: And it really sets up an interesting thing for both the future attorney general -- we think he's going to be confirmed -- because if he decides that this is a part of Mueller's report. For instance, if this is -- if this becomes part of Mueller's report and he decides that he doesn't think this is something that needs to go to Congress, I think there's going to be a real fight. Because now you have the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, you have Republicans, who have asked this question. And I think it does set up a very interesting thing for the future attorney general to have to decide what to do with this, if this ends up in Mueller's report.
BLITZER: Those are intriguing indeed. Evan and Jim, guys, thanks very much.
Key Democrats are vowing to dig deeper into the Buzzfeed allegations. Our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill. Manu, some lawmakers are already talking impeachment.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Some on the House side are. But the leadership is being a little bit more cautious. They at least want to investigate it.
House Democratic -- on the House Intelligence Committee, led by Adam Schiff, made very clear that they want to look into the Trump Tower Moscow projects, all the conversations around that. Schiff said they've already started to look into interviews with other potential witnesses, demand some documents.
On the House Judiciary Committee side, the committee that would also be in charge of any impeachment proceedings. They're not raising the specter. At least, the chairman is not. Jerry Nadler said he wants to investigate this further to see exactly what happened, as well.
But some on the rank-and-file side certainly are raising the specter of impeachment. Joaquin Castro for one, who's the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Said if these allegations are true, the president needs to resign or be impeached.
Now Republicans, on the other hand, are either criticizing Michael Cohen, saying that you can't trust his word, are questioning this report, or are being far more cautious. Earlier today, I caught up with one of those senators, James Langford, who sat last Congress on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He says he wants to learn a lot more but says if true, these are very serious allegations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Being directed to lie to Congress, that's a very big issue. We've got to get both sides of the story and get the facts out, as we're trying to do with all this. But that's why special counsel is doing his work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, this is all a run-up into the testimony next month with Michael Cohen for the House Oversight Committee. Wolf, the question is how much can he get into those conversations over the Trump Tower Moscow project. I've been by the leaders of that committee and Adam Schiff that he will not talk about the Russia investigation. But does that mean he won't be able to talk about his conversations with the president about the Trump Tower Moscow project and what he told committees falsely initially in 2017? Big questions going forward. We'll see in the weeks ahead -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Manu. Thanks very much. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.
If President Trump was looking for a distraction from the trouble swirling around him, he may have found one courtesy of Kim Jong-un. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown. Pamela, what's the latest over there?
[17:10:05] PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Trump and Secretary Pompeo met with North Korea's envoy here at the White House for nearly two hours, and this high- stakes meeting happened against the backdrop of an ongoing government shutdown that appears to have no end in sight.
BROWN (voice-over): North Korea's envoy, Kim Yong Chol, arrived in Washington with a letter from North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, meant for President Trump. He left with the promise of another summit.
After a 90-minute meeting in the Oval Office between the president and North Korea's former intelligence chief, the White House announced Mr. Trump would meet with Kim Jong-un in February.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We continue to make progress. We're continuing to have conversations. The United States is going to continue to keep pressure and sanctions on North Korea until we see fully and verified denuclearization.
BROWN: But as the president continues to negotiate denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, shutdown negotiations at home remain at a standstill. Trump is locked in a battle with House Speaker Pelosi, who today accused the president of endangering her and the rest of a congressional delegation after Trump cancelled their trip to Afghanistan yesterday and suggested they fly commercial.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We had a report from Afghanistan that the president outing our trip has made the scene on the ground much more dangerous, because it's just a signal to the bad actors that we're coming.
BROWN: A White House official denying the leak, writing in a statement, "The idea we would leak anything that would put the safety and security of any American at risk is a flat-out lie."
Pelosi firing back.
PELOSI: That is very irresponsible on the part of the president. We never give advance notice of going into a battle area. We just never do. Perhaps the president's inexperience didn't have him understand that protocol. The people around him, though, should have him known that.
BROWN: Even some Republicans believe that Trump's decision went too far.
LANKFORD: I wish they could have gotten to Afghanistan. I think it's important to be able to see what's happening there and to be able to talk to people on the ground.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I think this is all petty. I wish -- if the president was going to cancel, maybe should have done it quite earlier so it wasn't the spectacle of one hour before. I also think the speaker probably should have cancelled that on her own.
BROWN: Meanwhile, President Trump is trying to turn the subject back to his need for a wall, tweeting today: "Another big caravan heading our way. Very hard to stop without a Wall!"
And attempting to further his argument that terrorists are trying to cross the southern border, tweeting an unverified claim that a border rancher found prayer rugs and "people coming across the southern border from many countries, some of which would be a big surprise."
One Muslim group denouncing Trump's tweet today, saying he was issuing a, quote, "dog whistle to those who would falsely associate a prayer rug with terrorism."
All of this is news today that in 2017 President Trump created an enemy's list made up of members of his own administration. Former White House communications aide Cliff Sims writing in his book, to be released later this month, "'Give me their names,' Trump said, his eyes narrowing. 'I want these people out of here. I'm going to take care of this. We're going to get rid of all of the snakes, even the bottom feeders."
Trump then writing down the names of about 15 staffers, 10 of which he deemed could not be trusted. That list later spotted in his jacket pocket. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BROWN: And as the spat between Democratic leadership on the Hill and President Trump continues today, now the Trump campaign manager is seeking campaign contributions, Wolf, to send a brick to Pelosi and Schumer. And now we are in the 28th day of this government shutdown, and there appears to be no strategy here at the White House or anywhere else to end the shutdown -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. No end in sight right now, and 800,000 federal workers with their families, they are suffering. No paychecks and millions of federal contractors, no paychecks for them either. They and their families are suffering, as well. Pamela Brown, thank you very much.
Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Good evening, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's begin with your reaction to this bombshell report from Buzzfeed News. If true, did the president of the United States commit the crime of obstruction by allegedly directing his former attorney to lie to Congress?
HIMES: Yes, well, thanks for framing it that way, Wolf. It is a news report at this point. And it is a news report that apparently comes from two sources inside the investigation, but also, apparently, there is documentation. There are e-mails.
We are going to need to see that documentation, because what the lawyers call suborning perjury, encouraging somebody to lie to the United States Congress, that is a very, very serious crime.
[17:15:00] And by the way, forget about whether that's a Democrat or a Republican talking. The precedent here, both Richard Nixon and President Clinton, the articles of impeachment against those two, including encouraging people to lie.
And of course, Cohen himself, who may come before the Congress soon, will be spending time in prison for lying to Congress.
BLITZER: I know you've spent, what, the last 18 months looking into all of this. Congressman, have you seen personally independent evidence to back up this Buzzfeed report?
HIMES: Well, the Buzzfeed report, Wolf, is -- the bombshell, as you called it, is that the president encouraged Michael Cohen and perhaps others to lie to the Congress. We, of course, have not had access to that in specific. I also am limited in what I can say about what we saw in the investigation.
But it should come as no surprise to you, you know, particularly since some of the transcripts have been made public, that there was anything but hesitancy on the part of the witnesses that we interviewed to mislead the Congress.
BLITZER: Well, let me rephrase the question. Based on everything you know and based on what you can say, can you confirm the Buzzfeed report?
HIMES: No, I can't confirm the Buzzfeed report. And remember, that report was based on two sources who were inside the investigation and apparently refer back to materials -- and this is according to the Buzzfeed report -- that the special council has from the Trump Organization itself. Not from Michael Cohen, but from documents, e- mails and and other communications within the Trump Organization that I have not seen.
BLITZER: A lot of Democrats, as you know, they've been reluctant to talk about potential impeachment proceedings until Mueller finishes his investigation. But if this report is true, should Democrats consider beginning that process, even before Mueller releases his report?
HIMES: Well, I'm glad you asked the question that way, Wolf, because impeachment is a process. Impeachment is the process whereby the Congress determines whether the president is fit to continue to serve. And there is an impeachment in the House, followed by the trial in the Senate. That is an open process in which evidence is shown.
Look, I think we're at the point, Wolf, where certainly, if you look back at the impeachments of Bill Clinton and the the prospective impeachment of Nixon, because he was never impeached, you know, between the allegations that the president improperly paid or had two women paid off and now this allegation, if those things prove to be true, those would certainly be consistent with articles of impeachment levelled against other presidents.
But Wolf, there's a -- there's a thought process that needs to happen here. First of all, we need to find out whether, in fact, that is truly credible that these things happened.
But the other thing that we need to remember, Wolf, and this puts us in a real bind, because the Constitution would have us impeach a president who has committed crimes. But we're in a very ugly position in the Congress right now, because it is not clear to me that there is anything, any crime that would cause Republicans in the Senate or even Republicans in the House to support an impeachment or a conviction.
And look, let me quote the president. The president himself said that "If I killed somebody on Fifth Avenue, my people would stay with me." I am pretty sure that we are in a place today where, if it turned out that the president killed somebody on Fifth Avenue or anyone else, anywhere else, there are members of the Congress and members of the United States Senate who would still stand with him.
BLITZER: Well, let me just be precise on that. So in other words, believing, as you apparently do, that it wouldn't get two-thirds majority in the Senate for conviction following a formal trial, are you suggesting that it simply would be a waste of time for the House of Representatives to go through an impeachment process? HIMES: No, I'm not. I'm actually suggesting the reverse, which is
that Americans need to understand that impeachment is a process to get at the truth. And so, no, I'm suggesting the reverse, which is that if there is really substantial evidence that the president committed serious crimes, the Constitution would have us impeach.
Now, there's a couple of ways we can learn whether we crossed the serious crimes threshold. One is -- which I think right now is the appropriate one -- to listen and watch for what the special counsel tells us. And, you know, he's not done yet. And every week, there seems to be new allegations, new questions, new suspicions. But nonetheless, I think we should wait to see what he comes up with.
And of course, there's a second route, which is we don't need to rely on the special counsel. And in fact, if the special counsel is somehow prevented from issuing his report, and clearing up all of this craziness for the American people, Congress can independently subpoena witnesses, can get the information that the special counsel had so that we can conduct our own investigation and come to our own conclusions.
BLITZER: It's not just the president who could be in jeopardy. His family could be in trouble, as well. According to this Buzzfeed report, Donald Trump Jr. was briefed by Michael Cohen on this deal. If that's true, do you believe he perjured himself in front of your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, during his testimony back in 2017?
[17:20:16] HIMES: Let me not answer that too specifically. But let me say this. When we know what actually happened, because we get to see what the special counsel turns up in terms of these documents from the Trump Organization, we are going to want to closely compare that to what witnesses said to our committee.
Because we know one thing, Wolf. We have a lot -- we have a ways to go in terms of Russian collusion and the conclusion of the special counsel's investigation.
One thing we know without a shadow of a doubt today is that everybody, it would appear, was lying. Michael Flynn going to jail because of lying. George Papadopoulos in jail because of lying. Manafort lying, Cohen lying. The list goes on and on. And so lying seems to be the default tactic of an awful lot of the president's people. And so let me just answer your question by saying that nobody gets the benefit of the doubt.
BLITZER: I guess I'll -- I'll ask you a final question on this. You didn't mention, by the way, Rick Gates, who was Manafort's deputy. He was convicted, and he pled guilty, as well.
What about Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter? She was mentioned in this Buzzfeed report, as well. Do you believe she needs to testify in front of Congress?
HIMES: Well, so I read the article and, evidently, there was some notion that she would have the spa in the Moscow Trump Tower, which of course, the president many, many times told us not only were we not even there in terms of talking about a spa but there was never any idea of a tower.
So if they were already sort of planning the architecture of a spa that -- in the building that the president told us never was even a figment of anybody's imagination, that's a problem.
I don't know -- I don't have any reason, sitting here today, to believe that Ivanka lied to the Congress. It's not clear to me when she did talk to the Congress. But --
BLITZER: Has she talked -- I'm not sure she ever was called to testify before Congress.
HIMES: Yes. Yes. So I don't -- I don't have any reason to believe.
BLITZER: But the question is, would he want her to testify?
HIMES: Well, you know, I'm a lot more interested in -- you know, because she hasn't come before the -- before the committee and made, you know, statements that might be questioned, I have other concerns. I mean, I hear that she may be in charge of choosing the next president of the World Bank. And again, it's a little hard to know what's true and what's not true in this White House.
But, you know, her husband testified in front of the committee. She did not. So I -- you know, I don't think there's any reason, necessarily, to believe we have the same kind of problem with her that we had with other witnesses in front of the Congress.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Himes, as usual, thank you so much for joining us.
HIMES: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to have much more on the breaking news. Stay with us.
[17:27:25] BLITZER: Our breaking news, the the White House denies a bombshell report by Buzzfeed that President Trump directed his lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about a Trump Tower project in Moscow. But there are other concerns for the president right now as the government shutdown grinds on and on and his battle with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi clearly escalates.
Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is joining us from Capitol Hill. Phil, Pelosi accused the White House of actually endangering troops and members of Congress with a leak. Tell us if that's true.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. The White House has said in a statement that that's a flat-out lie. But here's the background that was given to us by Speaker Pelosi's office. The president obviously decided to cancel, at least for the time
being, the use of military aircraft by a congressional delegation after that. And that publicized the trip to a war zone, something you're not used to ever seeing, either from members of Congress or the White House.
After that we're told Speaker Pelosi and the delegation were attempting to find commercial options to fly into the combat zone. That was when they started receiving calls from reporters that they said came from administration officials, talking about those commercial plans. That's where the allegation of the leak comes from.
The bottom line here, Wolf, is the back and forth between the White House and the speaker's office has only gotten more explosive over the course of the last 24 hours. The reality of cancelling the trip, notifying the public of the trip, and then, at least according to the speaker's office, leaking information about a potential alternative trip, certainly has left things in a worse place than they have been at any point during the course of the shutdown, Wolf.
BLITZER: So what's the latest, Phil, on how they're going to try to end this shutdown?
MATTINGLY: There is no latest, Wolf. And I think that underscores kind of the reality here on Capitol Hill. There's nobody left on Capitol Hill. Everybody has gone home for the weekend, for the most part, with the exception of local senators.
I'm told, over the course of the last couple of days, there have been no meetings between Democrats and the White House. There have been no phone calls. There have been no traded proposals.
Here's kind of the baseline. House Democrats have repeatedly passed bills that would reopen the government, even for a short period of time. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not take any of those bills up unless the president signs off. And the president has repeated that his baseline is border security, most notably, funding for his border wall, must be addressed before he will reopen the government. Democrats have made clear they will not accept that. The government must be reopened first. Not just because they're opposed to the policy but also the strategy of what this would mean if they were to give in on this situation for any future negotiations.
As long as those are the two baselines, as long as those are the two red lines, basically, Wolf, we're no closer to an agreement or a way out of this than we were 28 days ago when this started. As one senior congressman told me earlier, it's very easy to wander your way into a shutdown. It's a lot harder to figure a way out of it. This is becoming a historical representation of just that saying, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. In the meantime, a lot of Americans, indeed, are suffering. Phil Mattingly, thanks very much. We certainly have a lot to discuss with our correspondents and our analysts, they're all here. Stick around. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: The breaking news this afternoon, the White House finally denied a bomb shell report from BuzzFeed News which quotes: "Unnamed federal officials are saying President Trump directed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow." Let's bring in our political and legal experts to discuss all of this. Jeffrey Toobin, if true -- still like, huge if, if true, this would be perhaps the biggest break in this investigation so far.
[17:35:23] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's right, because the behavior described in the BuzzFeed story is a crime. If President Trump or -- it's unclear exactly when this took place, whether it was after the election but it's not clear if it was or before the inauguration, but if Donald Trump his subordinate, Michael Cohen, to lie that's a crime, that's obstruction of justice. But as you, and we've all been pointing out, we are a long way from establishing and this is true with all respect to BuzzFeed. We need to know precisely what Michael Cohen said and perhaps, most intriguing of all, we have to see what corroboration there is of this story, which is eluded in the BuzzFeed: e-mails, other people's testimony, other documents, that could turn out to be the most important thing of all.
BLITZER: And let's not forget, neither CNN or any other major news organization has yet to confirm, Laura, this BuzzFeed report. But once again, if true, suborning perjury, as Jeffrey says, that is a crime, just as Richard Nixon, who faced impeachment proceedings; he had to resign as a result. Bill Clinton, who was actually impeached in the House of Representatives, he wasn't convicted in the Senate.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Absolutely. So, there's some precedent for this. It's not coming out of left field. But I think, to Jeffrey's point, part of what makes this story, I think, of a different kind, is it's not subtle. There's not a debate about whether suborning perjury, in this case, would be illegal, would be a felony. It would constitute obstruction of justice. We had had so many debates over the last couple of years about things that we though were on the margins and the lawyers come out and say one thing and then other legal experts disagree.
Everyone is in uniform agreement about this -- that if it is true, it would be illegal. And the president can't hide behind some article to powers in the same way that they've tried to argue that the firing of James Comey, like Bill Barr has said, couldn't constitute obstruction of justice because of course, you can fire the FBI director. In this case, even Bill Bar admits the president cannot coerce someone else to submit false testimony.
BLITZER: It's interesting because until now, Democrats, as you know, Gloria, they've been pretty reluctant to even talk about impeachment. They say, let's wait, get the Mueller report and we can discuss, let's assess. But now, there seems to be a bit more momentum, at least, among some Democrats to discuss impeachment. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. Well, this is low-
hanging fruit, right, for Democrats. But the question is: is there documentary evidence? You know, even if, as the story says, Michael Cohen says this, well, what does that prove? You know, it doesn't really prove much unless you have documentary evidence about it. And maybe, you know, law enforcement does, but I think, you know, Democrats, of course they are jumping on this, but I think it's a question about whether key Democrats like Nancy Pelosi or Jerry Nadler are going to really -- are going to -- they want to learn more and right now, I think it's a question mark for everyone and they haven't seen the evidence of it.
BLITZER: In the BuzzFeed story, they say there is some corroborating evidence: some e-mails, some texts, some comments from people at the Trump Organization.
BLITZER: They didn't make that available, but --
BLITZER: -- they say there is that evidence.
BORGER: Right, and there's -- if they want to get it, I'm sure they can get it. And so, I think they're going to want to -- they're going to want to do that.
BLITZER: What about the Republican reaction so far to this report?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, not surprisingly pretty quiet from Republicans but not entirely quiet. Republicans privately you talked to, obviously understand the gravity of this if true. But again, there is not going to be a rush of Republicans towards the, you know, "I" word, toward impeachment, of course. But there is a sense among Republicans we heard Senator James Lankford say, if true, this will be an issue -- he told our Manu Raju that on the hill.
So, I think that this is solidifies the fact that there will, you know, there is a need to know more information, and that is significant. Because we are a longways beyond the witch hunt, if you will. We're a long way beyond the House Intel Committee from last year. This is going to show -- if there is something there, the house committees are indeed going to find it. But I think most strikingly, this is something you can imagine President Trump asking Michael Cohen, because their relationship at the time: he was the fixer to fix all of this.
So, it is not outside the realm of possibility. The question is: is there documentary evidence? As Gloria was saying, we don't know the answer to that. But the fact that Democrats won the election last November and controlled the house now is so significant because of things like this.
[17:40:04] BLITZER: It's a very good point. TOOBIN: Remember also, you know, that there already is evidence that
President Trump created a false explanation to the Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016. So, the idea that --
ZELENY: And lied about the woman.
TOOBIN: Right, and he would try to create a false narrative, is hardly unthinkable. The other thing that's worth remembering is February 7th. Michael Cohen is going to testify in public on February 7th. Now, whether his agreement with the Mueller team allows him to go into this part of the story, it's unclear to me at this point. But we are likely to know a lot more about this story in just a couple of weeks.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure we will. You know, Jeffrey, I want you to listen to this: the Attorney General Nominee, Bill Barr, he was asked hypothetically about this possibility in an exchange he had with a couple of senators including Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: In your memo, you talked about the Comey decision and you talk about obstruction of justice and you already went over that, which I appreciate. You wrote on page one that a president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction, is that right?
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Yes.
BARR: Any -- well, you know, any person who persuades another.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. You also said that a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction, is that right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, Jeffrey, if the report is true and if Mueller can confirm it, how would Bill Barr, do you think as attorney general handle it?
TOOBIN: I think he would let Robert Mueller do his job as he said he would, because this is not a legally controversial area. You know, Laura made the point earlier that, you know, all of us who've been covering this story have covered the debate about whether the president has the legal right to fire James Comey to stop an investigation. Is that obstruction of justice? I think yes. Alan Dershowitz thinks no. But I don't think anyone is going to be in any doubt about whether persuading a subordinate, telling a subordinate to lie to Congress is a crime as the past and future attorney general Bill Barr said, it is. BLITZER: What do you think, Lauran, because you cover the Justice
JARRETT: I think that Bill Barr, if confirmed, is going to have some pretty weighty decisions on his hands if he gets anything close to anything that sniffs like this. But part of the issue is -- the reason we're dancing around this whole thing about what Congress will have to do is because of the long-standing Justice Department guidance which says: you cannot indict a sitting president.
Now, I haven't seen any appetite at the Justice Department to revisit that guidance. There are certainly Democratic senators who think that that's hogwash and, you know, they can scrap that the moment they want to. Bill Barr signaled that he didn't see any reason, even though he hasn't read them in a while, he needs to go back and look at them but he hasn't any suggestion that he would want to depart from that, which really only leaves you with this political solution. And so, he's going to have to refer whatever Mueller finds to Congress.
BLITZER: You know, there's -- go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: I'm sorry, just based on my own reporting I know that Mueller has told lawyers for the White House and others that he will honor the Justice Department policy. He is not indicting the president under any circumstances. So, this is all impeachment or nothing.
BORGER: Right, he told them at a face-to-face meeting, in fact, that that would not --
BLITZER: The whole issue of witness intimidation, Gloria, has also come up.
BLITZER: And there was a tweet from the president today -- we're talking about Michael Cohen, is he being intimated. Well, let's put it up on the screen. We'll show our viewers and the president was quoting a Fox News reporter who said: "Don't forget Michael Cohen has already been convicted of perjury and fraud, and as recently as this week, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that it may have stolen tens of thousands of dollars. Then, the president says, 'lying to reduce his jail time! Watch his father in law'."
BORGER: What are we watching?
BLITZER: It's unclear what he's suggesting there. But Lanny Davis, who's an adviser to Michael Cohen has just said that: "There is fear among Michael Cohen and his team that the president and his supporters -- the president has supporters either in this country or maybe abroad that have the motivation to harm Mr. Cohen."
BORGER: Well, we know after Michael Cohen first announced -- that it was announced he was going to testify February 7th and we know that from our reporting, that he has reservations for this very reason, which is threats against himself, threats against his family. And to have the president of the United States say watch father in law and it's not the first time he talked about that, raises all kinds of questions. I mean, is the president threatening his father in law to reveal information or, you know, and so it raises the question about whether Michael Cohen will end up testifying or whether he will be intimidated and say, you know what? I really -- I can't do this.
[17:45:16] BLITZER: A lot of questions have been released.
ZELENY: February 7th, he's going to be watching, obviously.
BLITZER: Everybody will be watching on February 7th. Everybody, stick around. There's more news. President Trump's biographer now weighing in on the battle of wills between the president and the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; has the president finally met his match?
[17:50:05] BLITZER: As we near the end of the 28th day of the government shutdown, what began as a policy standoff between President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has grown in a more personal battle, one White House advisor calling it King Kong versus Godzilla. CNN's Brian Todd has been checking with the Trump biographers. You know, Brian, the president is apparently not used to people who refuse to back down.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is not used to that Wolf, and Trump's biographers say, he is especially thrown off by the fact that a very strong woman has taken him on, is being very tough with him and just may be winning this battle of public perception.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: There are no votes.
TODD: It just may be the most unlikely grudge match in American political history. The 6'3" Washington novice who shoots from the hip versus the 5'5" Capitol Hill insider whose every move is carefully calculated. And tonight, as the government remains closed, the gulf between the president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just opened wider. Pelosi fired the latest salvo today, accusing the president of endangering her congressional delegation and American troops by leaking that she was planning to take a commercial flight to Afghanistan after Mr. Trump canceled her military plane there on Thursday.
PELOSI: Perhaps the president's inexperience didn't have him understand that protocol.
TODD: Analysts say, Pelosi's timing was impeccable, her sarcasm unmistakable, when she asked if she viewed Trump's his letter on Thursday cancelling her trip as retaliation for her letter suggesting Trump rescheduled his State of the Union address. PELOSI: I would not hope. I don't think the president would be that
petty, do you?
TODD: While Trump has allowed his emotions to spill out over the government shutdown --
SEN. CHUCH SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: None of us have said.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You want to know something?
SCHUMER: You've said it.
TRUMP: Put that -- I'll take it.
TODD: Even at one-point storming out after a confrontation with Pelosi in the situation room, the speaker has countered by talking about the president almost like a mother, calmly telling a child they can't get what they want.
PELOSI: I'm not for a wall. I'm not for a wall.
BARBARA RES, FORMER EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I think that she has capitalized on his character or his deportment and is making fun of him in a way, in a very classic way that, you know, she can pull off and it's probably driving him crazy. But that's exactly what she's doing, she's treating him like a shield.
TODD: Barbara Res was one of the first women to serve as an executive at Trump's company and knows him well.
RES: He expected her to cave to him live everybody caves to him. He's always negotiated from a point of extreme power and had leverage over everyone whether it was their money he was holding or he was threatening to evict them from an apartment or whatever it was, he had the leverage. And here, he doesn't really have it.
TODD: In fact, their showdown over the government shutdown has pitted a president who acts impulsively, sometimes recklessly against a savvy political operator who views herself as his constitutional equal.
PELOSI: We are here to make progress. We have some important issues that --
TODD: And many observers believe Trump not only met his match but that Pelosi is flat out winning, issuing written statements instead of shouting back at the president over the trip cancellation.
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: She doesn't get reactive, she doesn't name call and she doesn't get emotional. And that's the best way, rhetorically, to stay above the fray.
TODD: Strong women have taken on Trump in the past, like Rosie O'Donnell. ROSIE O'DONNELL, COMEDIAN: There he is, hair --
O'DONNELL: Everyone deserve a second chance.
TODD: And he's hit back with vicious insults.
TRUMP: Rosie O'Donnell is disgusting, I mean, both inside and out. You take a look at her, she's a slob.
TODD: Or disparaging nicknames, like his moniker for Senator Elizabeth Warren.
TRUMP: I've got more Indian blood in me than Pocahontas.
TODD: But this time, those who know Trump say something is different. So far, they say, Trump's not come up with a nickname for Nancy.
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR: He is searching in his mind for some horrible name to attach to her, but he hasn't quite settled on it. He may be getting advice, perhaps, from his daughter on this issue and they may be telling him, don't do it. As tempted as you are, you're going to make things worse if you give her an awful nickname.
TODD: Now, despite indications that Nancy Pelosi is winning this battle of public perception, members of congress and political analysts are warning this could turn on a dime. And now, about a month into the shutdown, it soon might when both Trump's and Pelosi's base supporters will simply have had enough and they'll ask loudly: when are you two going to figure out how to work together on this? Wolf.
[17:54:32] BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you very much. Excellent report. We're going to have much more on all of the breaking news. The White House formally flatly denying a bombshell report that President Trump directed his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about a major Trump business project in Russia.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. On Trump's orders? As Democrats vow to investigate, the White House is denying and distracting from an explosive report that the president directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project. Is this a smoking gun in the Russia investigation?
Meeting Kim again. As the president faces new crises at home, the administration announces he will hold a second summit with Kim Jong- un. Will round two accomplish more than round one?
[18:00:00] Outing the trip. Nancy Pelosi says, Mr. Trump put lives in danger by abruptly grounding her trip to a war zone and making details public.