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Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA); Did Trump Administration Endanger Democrats?; Trump and North Korean Leader Set for Second Summit; Report Alleges Trump Directed Cohen to Lie to Congress; The White House Slams Bombshell Report by BuzzFeed News; Congress Moves to Condemn Chinese Persecution of Muslim Minorities. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 18, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Nancy Pelosi says Mr. Trump put lives in danger by abruptly grounding her trip to a war zone and making details public. The speaker and the president locked in battle, as the shutdown near as the one-month mark.

And team of vipers. A former White House aide sheds new light on the infighting and backstabbing in Trump world, revealing the president created an enemies list, targeting members of his own staff.

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 breaking news on what may be the most damning allegation yet against President Trump that's fueling new talk of impeachment.

BuzzFeed News reporting that the president personally told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project.

Tonight, the White House issued a firm denial, as Mr. Trump has been slamming Cohen's credibility. But according to BuzzFeed, the special counsel has evidence Mr. Trump told Cohen to lie, in addition to testimony from his former fixer.

CNN and other news organizations have not confirmed the story. But, if true, it certainly could give Mueller and Democrats a powerful argument that the president obstructed justice.

Mr. Trump's reaction to all this apparently is making Michael Cohen nervous. His adviser, Lanny Davis, says Cohen fears that Trump supporters in this country and maybe abroad could harm him or his family.

I will get reaction from Democratic Congressman John Garamendi. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider. Jessica, you have been going over the court documents, comparing them

to allegations in this new BuzzFeed report. What are you learning?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if you read between the lines of these court filings, BuzzFeed's reporting fits.

Mueller's team has previously revealed that Michael clued them in about how he prepared for what turned out to be false congressional testimony. And now, of course, BuzzFeed is saying it's the president who coached Cohen and directed him to lie.

Well, the revelation is prompting Democrats to say impeachment is a possibility if the reports are true and even possible indictment.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, explosive new claims that the president directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about how long talks over the Trump Tower Moscow project lasted, which, if true, could mean the president committed a crime, obstruction of justice.

CNN can't corroborate the BuzzFeed report. But BuzzFeed cites two law enforcement officials who say Mueller has evidence, in addition to Cohen's claim, that the president personally instructed Cohen to lie.

BuzzFeed says the special counsel's office first learned of the president's command through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization, plus internal company e-mails, text messages and a cache of other documents.

Court documents from Michael Cohen's plea deal with prosecutors also provide clues to the evidence the report may be referencing. In Mueller's sentencing memo for Cohen, prosecutors revealed how 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.

And while BuzzFeed details the president's 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen and his directive to -- quote -- "make it happen" when it came to an in-person meeting between candidate Trump and Vladimir Putin of Russia during the campaign, the court papers said much of the same, recounting how Cohen took steps in contemplation of Individual 1's possible travel to Russia.

The president has repeatedly pinned Cohen as a liar.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He is a weak person. So he's lying, very simply, to get to reduced sentence.

SCHNEIDER: And, today, the White House denied the report.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, that's absolutely ridiculous. I think that the president's outside counsel addressed this best and said in a statement earlier today that it's categorically false. SCHNEIDER: In a statement, the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani,

also repeating the line that Michael Cohen is a convicted criminal and a liar.

But if BuzzFeed's report is true, the president's pick for attorney general, William Barr, told senators Tuesday, a situation like that could be a felony, obstruction of justice.

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.

SCHNEIDER: It's all prompting some Democrats to renew calls for impeachment.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: This is obstruction of justice. If these facts are true, this is suborning perjury. I think there's no question it's an impeachable offense.

SCHNEIDER: And Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse says, if this is all true, it's clear obstruction of justice, and an indictment of the president should be not be off the table, saying: "It would be preposterous to block indictment of a sitting president based solely on DOJ Office of Legal Counsel policy without a federal court having ruled on the question."



SCHNEIDER: And Republicans, on the flip side, are so far reacting cautiously, or at least keeping quiet in response to the BuzzFeed report, most of them saying they want to see if this report is verified before they discuss any potential consequences -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, stand by.

Sara Murray is with us as well. She's working her sources on all this.

If this report is true -- and it's still a big if -- if the report is true, Sara, it could be the biggest challenge yet to President Trump's presidency.


And the funny thing is, there are plenty of people in the president's orbit who aren't sure if it's true. But I think we heard from these lawmakers, we heard from legal experts, we heard from the president's pick for attorney general that if this is something that he actually did, if he tried to convince a witness to lie, if he tried to manipulate that testimony, yes, that's obstruction of justice.

That's a major issue, a major threat to the presidency.

BLITZER: And the BuzzFeed report says that it's not just Michael Cohen who makes an allegation along these lines; they have backup evidence, texts, e-mails, statements from others in the Trump Organization that they say back up this allegation.

MURRAY: That's right.

With the usual caveat that we haven't seen those documents, and it doesn't sound like the BuzzFeed reporters have either, this is what you need if you are Mueller's team and you're planning on raising this allegation.

They have not done so in any of their filings so far, because Michael Cohen is a guy with a lot of credibility problems, who's already admitted to lying. And Donald Trump is a guy with a lot of credibility problems, who has lied plenty to the American public.

So if you are going to take something like this and try to put it in a filing or try to put it in a final report, you are going to rely on something to back up what essentially would be Michael Cohen's version of events, whether it's documents, whether it's recordings, whether it's other witness interviews.

BLITZER: Yes, it's interesting.

Jessica, the Congress certainly has the authority, the constitutional right to impeach a sitting president of the United States. But the current guidelines at the Justice Department are that a sitting president can't be indicted.

Is there any move to change those guidelines at the Justice Department?

SCHNEIDER: Not yet, and it doesn't look like they would change those guidelines.

In fact, Democrats have really pushed for it, for the DOJ to reevaluate its guidance here, saying that a sitting president can't be indicted. In fact, just a few weeks ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that it wasn't conclusive.

And that's why it's interesting that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said in a tweet today, you know what? Forget about the DOJ. Take this right to the courts, because the truth is, the Supreme Court has not ruled, has not taken up this issue, and ruled definitively.

A lot of legal scholars say the only remedy within the Constitution for a sitting president is impeachment. But the truth is, the courts haven't definitively ruled. So maybe there's an opening there. And maybe, if Democrats have their way, they sidestep the DOJ.

BLITZER: Yes, let's see what happens.

All right, guys, thank you very much. Jessica and Sara, good work. Also breaking tonight, plans for a second summit between President Trump and his nemesis-turned-pal the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong- un.

Let's go live to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, in the midst of this new BuzzFeed report and the government shutdown, the administration is now eager to tout this second summit.


The White House saying today that the second summit with Kim Jong-un and President Trump is planned to happen late February. This news following a nearly two-hour meeting today between President Trump and North Korea's envoy and Secretary Pompeo here at the White House.

But this-high stakes meeting happen against the backdrop of this ongoing government shutdown, with apparently 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.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: 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 Nancy Pelosi, who today accused the president of endangering her and the rest of a congressional delegation after Trump canceled 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 had 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.

[18:10:02] PELOSI: That was very irresponsible on the part of the president. We never give advance notice of going into a battle area. You just never do.

Perhaps the president's inexperience didn't have him understand that protocol. The people around him, though, should have known that.

BROWN: Even some Republicans believe that Trump's decision went too far.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: 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. And 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 canceled 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 as news today that, in 2017, President Trump created an enemies 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 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.


BROWN: Now, as for the shutdown, President Trump just tweeted moments ago, saying: "I will be making a major announcement concerning the humanitarian crisis on our southern border and the shutdown tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 p.m. live from the White House.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says this is going to be live from the Diplomatic Reception Room. She didn't want to go any further. She didn't want to get ahead of the president.

But, Wolf, remember, the president recently has held high-profile talks with reporters, making announcements in the Oval Office, the Rose Garden and the Briefing Room talking about security at the border, but really just repeating talking points we have heard from him time and time again.

So it's unclear if tomorrow's announcement will be different from what we have heard previously in these other announcements the president has made -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we will see what he has to say tomorrow afternoon.

Pamela, thank you very much.

Let's talk about all the breaking news with Congressman John Garamendi, a Democratic who serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

And let me get -- let me get your reaction to this announcement from the president. He's going to have what he calls a major announcement concerning the humanitarian crisis on the southern border and the shutdown.

What do you anticipate?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, just give me a few seconds to digest all that you have just said in the last nine minutes.

I mean, this just sets your head spinning. What in the world is going on in America? What is happening here to us? I don't know what he has in mind. His previous announcements really hearken -- caused me to hearken back to the announcement that he said zero tolerance, which then set off the separation, if you would, the kidnapping of children from their parents.

And then I don't know what else he's going to do. The border wall isn't -- this isn't about a border wall. These people are coming seeking asylum. And they're not trying to enter the country illegally, but, rather, legally.

We will see what it's all about.

BLITZER: We will see.

GARAMENDI: But, yes, my head is spinning about, what in the world is he going to do next?


Well, let's talk about some of that stuff, including the latest Michael Cohen news.


BLITZER: If Robert Mueller has evidence that proves this BuzzFeed report to be true -- and we have not confirmed it -- no other major news organization has confirmed it -- that the president actually directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, is that obstruction of justice?

And would you and your fellow Democrats in the House begin impeachment proceedings?

GARAMENDI: Well, let me start with those two words. If true, the answer to your question is, yes, there would be impeachment proceedings, because, on the face of the evidence, if true, on the face of the evidence, he has committed a high crime.

I'm really interested in this business about an indictment. The Constitution says high crimes and misdemeanors, and then removal by impeachment. It doesn't say anything about not being charged or indicted on a high crime.

So we will see what all that plays out. But the answer here is, if true, then there has been a crime, a high crime. That then requires us, in my view, to proceed with an impeachment.

BLITZER: Do you have any independent confirmation, Congressman, that this BuzzFeed report that the president directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, do you have any confirmation of that?


GARAMENDI: No, I do not.

BLITZER: The president tweeted that Michael Cohen is -- quote -- "lying to reduce his jail time." And he also said these words: "Watch father-in-law."

Michael Cohen's adviser, Lanny Davis, says they fear the president -- that the president's supporters here in the United States or abroad might be motivated to harm Michael Cohen.

Should that be seen as witness tampering by the president?

GARAMENDI: Well, it certainly puts the fear into Michael Cohen and his family. Also, I think the word was used he's a rat.

Now, there's an interesting word that is often associated with New York mafiosos.

I'm wondering what -- not wondering -- if I were Michael Cohen, I would be very, very concerned about my personal safety and the safety of my family.

BLITZER: The president's nominee to be the attorney general of the United States, William Barr, wrote in a memo last year -- and let me read a sentence from that memo -- quote -- "If a president knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction."

Those are the words of the attorney general nominee. So how do you expect the Mueller team and the Justice Department to

proceed with this new reporting that Mueller may very well have confirmed for himself?

GARAMENDI: Well, I think the word proceed is not correct here.

I am sure they are way ahead of what the news has been reporting today. Mueller has been going through this for almost 18 months now. The result of that is, I believe, he has the information. I hope he packages it up. I hope he gets us to it right away.

And I do know this. I do know that the Congress of the United States will be conducting hearings, will be issuing subpoenas, and will be proceeding in a way that will not interfere with the Mueller investigation, but will produce additional information that may be foundational to the impeachment process.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Just ahead: a legal breakdown or -- a legal breakdown of the BuzzFeed report and what it could mean for President Trump, if it turns out that he did tell Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.

Our senior legal analyst, the former U.S. attorney -- there you see him -- Preet Bharara, he's standing by. And we have got lots to discuss.



BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news.

The White House now responding to an allegation that could threaten the Trump presidency. The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, denying a BuzzFeed news report that Mr. Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project.

But if the report proves to be true -- and we have not confirmed that report -- it would suggest that the special counsel may be making a case that the president obstructed justice.

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

Preet, thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: And, once again, CNN and other major news organizations have not confirmed this story.

But when you read between the lines of some of Robert Mueller's own filings, do you think the BuzzFeed reporting lines up?

BHARARA: Well, it's hard to tell. There are some things that do line up.

So, for example, it's clear that the Mueller team, when they wrote the sentencing submission with respect to Michael Cohen, made reference to the kinds of things about which Michael Cohen was cooperating, including the circumstances surrounding his lying to Congress about the Moscow real estate deal, communications that were in connection with that, with those lies.

And it seems like there's some evidence from the BuzzFeed report, if you believe it, that other people assisted him in making those statements, and, in fact, he was directed to do so by the president.

The one thing that I have been thinking about over the last day that doesn't fully align is the following. You will remember that, when Michael Cohen pled guilty in the Southern District of New York with respect to a different crime, the hush money payments, he said very clearly in court -- and he didn't have to -- that he made those payments in coordination with and at the direction of the president.

And then the Southern District itself, in its own sentencing submission, made it clear that they adopted that formulation and said that Michael Cohen had make those payments in coordination with and at the direction of Individual 1, the president.

That document was filed on the same day, if I remember correctly -- and I think I was here with you, Wolf, on the show -- the same day as the special counsel filed the document with respect to the lie that Michael Cohen told to Congress.

And in that document, although they made clear that Michael Cohen engaged in that lie to Congress about the Moscow project in a way that was helpful to the campaign and helpful to the future president of the United States, it did not say it was done at the direction of the president, nor did Michael Cohen say in his guilty plea in this other case, the lying to Congress, that he did it at the direction of the president.

That doesn't mean that that's not true. But it's interesting that you have a difference where, in one case, he said it was at the direction of the president, in the other case, he didn't say that. And now BuzzFeed is reporting that it was true in the second case as well.

BLITZER: That's a very important point that you're making.

Big picture, Preet, if it were to be proven true, what would it be for the Trump presidency?

BHARARA: It's bad news for Trump presidency.


The question is, what does it mean to be proven true? The Trump folks who have been on television and on social media saying that Michael Cohen is a proven liar are correct. He is a proven liar.

There is some evidence -- not evidence, but there's reporting in the BuzzFeed article that there's corroboration of this idea that there was a direction made by the president of the United States from documents, e-mails and other sorts of things.

I don't know what those documents are. I don't know what those e- mails are. Obviously, if they can prove to a lot of people beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Trump really did direct this lying and he suborned perjury, then I think it's devastating for the presidency, which is one reason why I have been urging a little bit of caution.

It would be the most damaging thing I think that has come into play with respect to this entire investigation from the beginning of the presidency. And so, because the stakes are so high, and because it is such an important thing, and because it could be so devastating to the presidency, until I see some other news outlets, including CNN and others, confirm some of the important details, the essential details, I would just proceed with a little bit of caution.

BLITZER: Yes. No, CNN has not been able to confirm that BuzzFeed report. Neither has "The New York Times" or "The Washington Post" or "The Wall Street Journal" or other major television news organizations. So, that's raising some serious questions.

But let me ask you this, Preet. If Mueller does have evidence that the president suborned perjury, as it's called, what action does that require from the Justice Department and from members of Congress?

BHARARA: So, with respect to the Justice Department, I don't know that it requires any action.

As we have been talking about for many, many months now, everyone's very familiar with this idea that there's a Justice Department policy, as set forth in Office of Legal Counsel memoranda, that you can't prosecute.

Whether or not you can indict under seal is one question, but whether you can prosecute a sitting president is a separate matter. And the policy suggests that you cannot. So I don't know that he will.

My view is that, with respect to the second part of your question, what's the duty of Congress, I think, if there -- if there's real and substantial evidence of suborning perjury or obstruction of justice or aiding and abetting perjury, then, at a minimum, I think Congress would be obligated, the House would be obligated to impeach.

And, remember, the impeachment is not the trial. The impeachment is the bringing of the allegations. So, if there's substantial evidence that Bob Mueller and his team say support such a charge, but they're not bringing the charge because of this policy with regard to a sitting president, I don't see how a sitting Congress can do anything other than impeach, which I know is a serious thing to say.

But I think that's -- that's the lay of the land.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is.

Already, Preet, thank you very much.

BHARARA: Thanks.

BLITZER: Preet Bharara helping us better appreciate the law right now.

And just ahead: The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, accuses President Trump of endangering her congressional delegation, as the shutdown battle escalates.

Plus, we're going to have more on the breaking news, that explosive report alleging that President Trump told his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress.


[18:32:37] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Some breaking news tonight. The White House is slamming a bombshell report by BuzzFeed News alleging that President Trump personally told his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project. The White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders calls the report, and quoted it now, absolutely ridiculous and categorically false.

Let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts, Mark Preston. If the report is proven true - we have not confirmed it, no other major news organization has confirmed, but if it's true, what is the big picture for the Trump presidency?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the Trump presidency would be over. But if this is true, you have to wonder what else could be true. Meaning, I know people are looking at this and saying, "Oh my gosh, this is absolutely an impeachable offense" what have you. But if this is true, perhaps there's even worse things that are out there that will eventually come to fruition. Here's what's interesting about this as we're going to find out the truth. We will eventually find out the truth. And other than that pushback by the White House, we didn't hear a whole lot of pushback from the White House in a while for them to do so.

BLITZER: It took them several hours before they released that statement. So, Sabrina, suborning perjury, as you know, those were part of the articles of impeachment against Nixon and Bill Clinton for that matter as well. So what are you hearing from members of Congress? How are they reacting?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, we already have democrats who are recently, of course, in the majority in the House coming out and saying that they will investigate this further. That's what we heard from Adam Schiff, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as well as Jerry Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

And the way democrats see this is, yes, if true, this would be one of the clearest examples of obstruction of justice yet, but it's also part of a pattern. And you have the firing of James Comey, you have the President's involvement in the Trump Tower meeting and crafting a very misleading response about the nature of that meeting. You have his attempts to get Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself when he was Attorney General. And then, of course, the attempts to fire Mueller behind the scenes but which were rebuffed by Don McGahn, the former White House Counsel.

So they do believe that there is cause perhaps even to pave the way for impeachment hearings. But remember, republicans still have been largely silent on this matter. And so even if you already start a conversation around impeachment, there's still the question of whether or not there would be support in the Senate. And with republicans, that's likely not going to be the case.

BLITZER: Yeah, good point. Phil Mudd, the BuzzFeed reports that the special counsel has what they describe as other witnesses, emails, text, other documents that corroborate what Michael Cohen is saying.


And in Mueller's sentencing memo, as far as Michael Cohen was concerned, Mueller writes this. He said, "Cohen provided relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017-2018 time period." And then adds, "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." What, if anything, does that tell you?

PHILIP MUDD, EX-DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE CIA'S COUNTERTERRORIST CENTER: Well, that tells me that Cohen is talking obviously about false statements and it's about half a step away towards saying, at least some element of the BuzzFeed report is true.

Let me tell you what I find really irritating at the end of a long week. If you were on the inside of this story on the Mueller team, and I served with him for 4.5 years, forget about all these, we don't know if BuzzFeed is true. They know. They know whether Cohen said this and they have access. Remember, we had raids on his apartment, on his home, on his hotel room and on his office. They know whether they have access, obviously, the emails and text messages that confirm it.

One final thing, the Mueller team knows they can never put Cohen on the stand without him being tracked [?]. If they have all that information, the White House comments about Cohen not being credible fall by the wayside. If you got a bunch of text and emails that corroborate what a bad witness is saying, I think the jury, as we saw on the Manafort trial, is going to say, we don't believe Cohen, but all this stuff in black and white, that's pretty good, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's an important point you're making. Susan Hennessey, the President, he Tweeted this, that Michael Cohen is "lying" reduces jail time. He also said, "Watch father-in-law", Michael Cohen's father-in-law. Michael Cohen's advisor, Lanny Davis, says that Cohen fears that the President's supporters here or abroad might be motivated to harm Cohen. Could that, what the President is Tweeting the other statements, be seen potentially as witness tampering?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: So we don't know whether or not it would meet the legal definition. There's been a lot of questions about whether or not these public statements that the President is making could qualify for that tender [ph]. With that said, we plainly know what the purpose of this. There is only one reason for the President to be Tweeting essentially what is a threat directed on an American citizen. This is a form of retaliation. This is intended to make an example out of Michael Cohen, and either to encourage him not to testify in the future or to punish him for having testified in the past.

BLITZER: But it's not the first time, Mark, he'd brought up the issue of Michael Cohen's father-in-law?

PRESTON: No, it isn't. And on the flipside, remember, when somebody did not work or cooperate with the prosecutors, he sent out some very kind of words, and that was to Mr. Manafort. So the President is playing it on both sides. He is clearly directing threats at those who doesn't want cooperating and he's praising those who are not cooperating.

BLITZER: Listen, Mark, to this exchange that the Attorney General nominee William Barr had with Senator Klobuchar during the confirmation hearing earlier in the week.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), M.N.: In your memo, you talked about the Comey decision and you talked 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?



BARR: Or any person who persuades another, yes.

KLOBUCHAR: Any person, okay. You also said that a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would obstruction. Is that right?

BARR: Yes.


BLITZER: And she's just issued a statement saying her questioning of Barr had nothing to do - she had no idea what BuzzFeed was about to report.

PRESTON: Sometimes you're lucky, and she was lucky in that questioning. The one thing about Barr, and I'll make this quick, is that I found his testimony to be very interesting before the Senate. I know a lot of people weren't taken by it. But I thought he kind of have this attitude of, there's nobody that can force me to do anything because my career is basically over. In many ways, I like that independence that he was showing.

BLITZER: Yes, he was showing some significant independence there. Everybody stick around, there's a lot more in the breaking news right after this.



[18:43:49] BLITZER: Welcome back with our experts as day 28 of the government shutdown. And right in the middle of all the breaking news, like the BuzzFeed report, President Trump just Tweeted, he'll be making what he calls a major announcement tomorrow 3:00 PM Eastern about the Southern Border and the shutdown. The White House isn't giving us any other details, at least not yet.

Susan, what do you think? I mean, the President says he has got a major announcement concerning what he calls the humanitarian crisis on the southern border and the shutdown.

HENNESSEY: Well, Trump has been sort of teasing this possibility that he might declare a national emergency for weeks now. That delay actually sort of undercuts his argument that there actually is a national emergency here. President Trump has been basically open about the fact that this is a political move that it doesn't actually have any real underlying security concerns.

And so I do think that if he does declare a national emergency, this is ultimately going to be litigated in the court, and it's not clear that the President will win.

BLITZER: Yes, we don't know what he is going to announce tomorrow. We'll found out what the announcement is unless there're some good leads in advance.

So, Sabrina, he did try to garner some support today for his position on this border wall. He Tweeted this, and I'll put it up on the screen. Border rancher, "We've found prayer rugs out here, it's unreal."


Citing the Washington Examiner, People, he says, coming across the Southern Border from many countries, some of which would be a big surprise.

He is suggesting that Muslims are terrorists and that everybody should get worried about what's going on.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Yes. This isn't the first time the president has made a derogatory comment about Muslims. That was a central theme of his presidential campaign. He campaigned openly on banning all Muslims from entering the United States. And now, he is making this claim about spotting a prayer rug without any evidence to support it. You will recall that in the closing weeks ahead of the midterms, he also claimed without evidence that there were Middle Easterners who were part of a caravan that was heading toward the U.S.-Mexico border.

And one of the other problems with this claim, absent the fact that there's no evidence, is even if there were prayer rugs, there's nothing inherently wrong with there being prayer rugs or Muslims who are here in the U.S. wanting to, of course, be here and be part of this country.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Why wouldn't they take their prayer rugs with them? They wouldn't leave them behind. It's ridiculous.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN ANALYST: The underlying false claim that terrorists crossing the southern border as a major security threat, a claim so false that even Kellyanne Conway had to disavow it. He pairs it with the offensive suggestion that there's a connection between prayer rugs and terrorists.


BLITZER: Go ahead, Phil.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I mean, this is not that -- let me give you a cultural perspective on this. A party that aligns itself with religious conservatism says if another religion decides to pray that's bad?

Can you explain to me why somebody praying is a bad thing, whether you're a Buddhist, whether you're a Muslim, whether you're a Jew, whether you're a Christian? What's wrong with praying?

To affiliate praying with terrorism is some version in my view of racism. If you say that a billion Muslims are wrong because they pray, and if one crosses the border and leaves a prayer rug, that indicates that we have a problem with the southern border, are you suggesting to me that it's OK for a Christian to pray but not a Muslim? I don't really understand what we're trying to say here. I don't get it.

PRESTON: Can we -- think about this in basic terms. Somebody would have had to have that prayer rug who was trying to get across the border but doesn't want to get caught, doesn't want to be seen for being a terror -- a Muslim terrorist. Yet they have a prayer rug and leave it behind? I mean, it's not disposable. It's so outrageous to me.

SIDDIQUI: This reinforces the president makes these claims in the support of what is a very restrictive platform on immigration, because the facts simply support there is, in fact, a need for a border wall. The rate of illegal immigration has fallen sharply over the past decade. The undocumented population was at a 12-year low last year.

So, all he can do is stoke fears around the people who are trying to come across the border.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're covering. We will take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[18:52:40] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, the White House is denying a potentially game-changing report by "BuzzFeed News" that President Trump directed his personal lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about efforts to build the Trump Tower in Moscow. CNN and other major news organizations have not confirmed the story which is clearly the most serious allegation against the president of illegal activity so far.

Also tonight, Congress is considering a bill condemning China for its treatment of Muslim minorities in the western part of the country, where possibly more than 2 million people have been detained in internment camps.

Ivan Watson is joining us live from Hong Kong with an exclusive report.

Ivan, some of these people seem to be getting arrested simply because they have connections outside the country.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTENATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's deeply disturbing, Wolf. As you know very well there's very few things that U.S. politicians agree on and yet up this bipartisan group of lawmakers that have introduced this human rights policy act. It slams China for what the State Department estimate s the mass incarceration of between 800,000 and perhaps more than 2 million Uighur Muslims.

The scale of this is staggering. If anything close to true, not like anything we've seen since the days of Stalin.


WATSON (voice-over): There's a lot of love in this apartment in Virginia between a mother and her children, with something, someone actually, is missing here.

In 2015, ethic Uyghur, Mihrigul Tursun, then a citizen of China, gave birth to triplets in Egypt where she had been living and working. Barely a month later, she flew home with them. At the airport she says Chinese police detained her and took away her babies.

MIHRIGUL TURSUN, UYGHUR REFUGEE: I ask, where my baby? Please give me my baby. Then he --

WATSON (on camera): Taped your mouth.


WATSON (voice-over): Mihrigul says police jailed and interrogated her for the next three months. The day of her release, she went to the children's hospital in Iruchi (ph) to see her infant. [18:55:04] TURSUN: When I come to hospital, doctor say, OK, my baby

can go outside hospital? He say, yes, he die. I looked at him. What? What die?

He say, your son die, yesterday morning at 6:00. I don't believe. And I scream why you kill my son. They say if you scream, I call police. Stop. Be quiet.

And they give me my baby so cold. I say, why he die? What happened? He say, we make operation and he cannot strong. So he die.

WATSON: CNN reached for comment from children's hospital, but did not receive a response.

The surviving siblings have scars on their necks. A CNN medical expert says that suggests they like, their deceased brother, received intravenous tubes for a nutrition at a time they should have been breast-feeding.

Mihrigul says her son's death was the beginning of a three-year nightmare during which she was jailed and tortured.

TURSUN: They ask questions. When I say I don't know, they start, beat me so hard.

WATSON: During the second imprisonment, she says she was put in a crowded cell with 50 other women, all Uyghur from her hometown in Chirchin (ph).

TURSUN: Someone is my doctor, someone is my middle schoolteacher. Someone are neighbor. All the people, 80 percent I know.

WATSON: The U.S. government alleges this is part of a much larger, frightening pattern.

SCOTT BUSBY, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Since April 2017, Chinese authorities have indefinitely detained at least 800,000 and possibly more than two million Uyghurs, ethic Kazakhs and members of other Muslim minorities in internment camps.

WATSON: Beijing has gone from denying these alleged mass detentions to saying prisoners are getting vocational training. Authorities recently took some diplomats and journalists on a carefully supervised tour of some of these facilities. Some detainees told journalists the camps reeducate them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now do you understand?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): All of us found we have something wrong with ourselves, and luckily enough, the communist party and the government offer this kind of school to us for free.

WATSON: The climate of fear in Xinjiang can be felt halfway around the world. ARFAT AERIKEN, UYGHUR REFUGEE: I lost contact with my family in 2017.

WATSON (on camera): That was the last time you heard your mother's voice?


WATSON: And your father?


WATSON (voice-over): Twenty-one-year-old Arfat Aeriken came to the U.S. three years ago to get a university education. But, gradually, his parents stopped sending tuition money and stopped calling him. Then last September, Arfta made this desperate appeal on YouTube.

AERIKEN: I have confirmed that my father sentenced to nine year in prison and my mom is in concentration camps.

WATSON (on camera): If both of your parents are detained, who's taking care of your 10-year-old brother?

AERIKEN: I don't know.

WATSON: If you could say something to your parents, what would you say?

AERIKEN: I hope they're just alive.

WATSON (voice-over): Afraid to go home, Arfat has since been granted asylum in the U.S. Many Uyghur students are similarly stranded here.

PROF. SENAN ROBERTS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: They are terrified because they don't know what to do. They don't want to declare asylum in the United States because that reflects badly on their family. But they've also been getting messages from the region that they shouldn't come back because they will definitely be put in one of these internment camps.

WATSON: During her incarceration, Mihrigul Tursun claims she saw fellow prisoners die in detention.

TURSUN: In this same room, nine women die, I see. So, so much people die, have torture like, I become crazy.

WATSON: The Chinese government denounces criticism of its human rights records, saying these preventative counterterrorism measures protect more people from being devoured by extremism.

Mihrigul and her children are now in the U.S. going through the asylum process, but it's not easy. Three-year-old suffers chronic asthma attacks and Mihrigul can't afford a pediatrician. One day, she tells me, she'll tell her surviving children that the Chinese government killed their brother.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WATSON: Now, Wolf, CNN has reached out to prisons and police stations and government offices in Xinjiang, has not gotten any response about the allegations in this report. I think the part that's so chilling about this, is that people, like that student, who have family members who have disappeared, they are too frightened to pick up a phone and make a call back home because the climate of fear is so pervasive, they fear that simply text messaging will alert the Chinese authorities and result in further arbitrary detention of loved ones back home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So glad, Ivan, you did that report. Thank you. Thank you so much on behalf of all of our viewers.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.