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Aired January 21, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A deal with the Trump administration that supposedly required painful concessions. Is Oleg Deripaska breathing a sigh of relief from sanctions?

Trolling Trump's tower? The Russian pop star involved in that infamous Trump Tower meeting in New York cancels a U.S. concert tour after he fails to strike a deal with Robert Mueller. Was the backdrop for his announcement designed to send the message, a message to the president?

And not backing down. There's no movement toward ending the government shutdown, as the president's new proposal to get his wall built fails to break the deadlock. Is there any new hope for compromise tonight?

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: Breaking news tonight.

The president's lawyer is trying to defuse new land mines he dropped into the Russia investigation. Rudy Giuliani went on the record in multiple interviews indicating the conversations on building a Trump Tower in Moscow went on longer than many thought, all the way until the 2016 presidential election.

He even quoted the president, himself, as saying the talks went on until the day he won. But now Giuliani is revising his story, calling his claims -- quote -- "hypothetical."

It's another day and another layer of confusion surrounding the president's actions and the potential legal peril he faces from the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

I will get reaction from the former Defense Secretary, former CIA Director Leon Panetta. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

But, first, let's go to our political correspondent, Sara Murray. Sara, Rudy Giuliani is muddying the waters once again. What's the

latest?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

After many shifting statements, now he's saying everything he said previously was based on hypotheticals, but still no straight answer today from Rudy Giuliani about when the conversations ended between President Trump and Michael Cohen about the potential Trump Tower Moscow deal, as Giuliani tries to clean up a mess of his own making.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani doing damage control today over his own media blitz.

After first admitting the president had conversations about a Trump Tower Moscow deal all the way through the 2016 election...

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Could be up to as far as October, November. Our answers cover until the election, so anytime during that period they could have talked about it.

MURRAY: Giuliani now tells CNN President Trump has no recollection of discussions as late as Election Day. Trump couldn't know the exact date the talks ended, Giuliani claims, because there's no record of the negotiations.

But just yesterday, Giuliani said Trump had acknowledged discussing the Moscow project with his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, during the election.

GIULIANI: He acknowledged that they had conversations about it throughout 2015, 2016.

MURRAY: Giuliani even telling "The New York Times" that Trump told them, the discussions were -- quote -- "going on from the day I announced to the day I won."

Giuliani's comments flying in the face of Trump's claims ever since he was campaigning.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia.

MURRAY: The new timeline of discussions revealing how Trump's business dealings with Russia coincided with his foreign policy proclamations on the campaign trail, like in March 2016, when he disparaged our most critical international alliance, NATO, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has also frequently criticized.

TRUMP: And I said it's obsolete. And it is. It was done at a different time. It was done at a time when you had the Soviet Union, which was different than Russia.

MURRAY: The conversations also happening in July of that year when then candidate Trump made this call to action to Russian hackers:

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

MURRAY: The discussions may have even been happening during the transition, when Trump's incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was communicating with the Russian ambassador about sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration.

Yet the president-elect kept claiming:

TRUMP: I have no loans, no dealings and no current pending deals.

MURRAY: Giuliani causing another star Sunday, telling Jake Tapper, it is possible Cohen did discuss his congressional testimony with the president ahead of time.

GIULIANI: If he had any discussions with him, they'd be about the version of the events that Michael Cohen gave them, which they all believed was true. I believed it was true. I still believe it may be true.

If Corsi...

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: But you just acknowledged that President Trump might have talked to him about his testimony.

GIULIANI: And so what if he talked to him about it?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, in a completely separate bit of Russian news, Emin Agalarov -- he's the Russian pop star who initiated this now-infamous Trump Tower meeting in 2016 with members of the Trump campaign -- he announced a sad turn of events. He's had to cancel his U.S. tour.

That is because his lawyers could not reach an agreement with the special counsel's office and Congress about the contours of his testimony.

[18:05:03]

And if Emin came here to the U.S., Wolf, he would, of course, be subject to U.S. law, U.S. jurisdictions there, and the special counsel's office won't talk to him.

BLITZER: And he's not coming, at least not now.

MURRAY: He's not coming now.

BLITZER: Even though he had a concert planned.

Sara, stand by.

Pamela Brown, our senior White House correspondent, is doing a lot of reporting on all of this as well. You got a chance to speak to Rudy Giuliani today. He tried to clean

up all the confusion.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, because what he said during his media tour yesterday has major implications for the president.

So let's go through why that is, Wolf. First of all, it extends the timeline that was previously known. Michael Cohen, the president's former attorney, had said those discussions about Trump Tower Moscow ended in June 2016. Well, then you heard Rudy Giuliani say they probably could have gone on through October, November.

And then he is quoting his client, Donald Trump, in this "New York Times" article, saying that Trump told him the discussion happened from the day he launched his campaign until the day he won.

So what's interesting, so he is quoting Donald Trump, and then he goes on to say, actually, it was just a hypothetical. That doesn't really square.

But this timeline that Rudy Giuliani alluded to yesterday, saying it could happen to the campaign, also happened when Donald Trump was making comments that appeared cozy to Russia, talking about pulling out of NATO, talking about taking away sanctions from Russia, things that raised eyebrows during the time.

And so if it is true he was saying those comments at a time he was working on this Trump Tower Moscow deal, that certainly raises questions. And, additionally, what this could do is, could catch the attention of Robert Mueller. He could look at what Rudy Giuliani is saying and make the case that he needs to interview the president in order to align the facts, because Rudy Giuliani has been so all over the map with what he's been saying.

Final point, though, I should say Rudy Giuliani told me this morning that, look, it doesn't matter when they talked about Trump Tower Moscow. He says the president doesn't have any recollection, but Trump Tower Moscow was so insignificant, in the president's view, in then-candidate Trump's view, that it doesn't matter when they spoke. I should add that in.

BLITZER: Insignificant, but it could have been worth potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to the Trump Organization.

BROWN: That is what he's claiming. That is what he's claiming.

BLITZER: That doesn't sound all that insignificant to me. If he had lost the presidential election, presumably, he would have liked to have seen that Trump Tower in Moscow deal go through.

BROWN: That's right. I mean, and I think that, of course, you could raise that.

I should point out, though, Rudy Giuliani is Donald Trump's attorney, and so he is trying to make the case that, look, this was an unfunded letter of intent, that he claims it wasn't even a project, it never got off the ground, so it was so insignificant because they hadn't gotten very far in terms of developing it.

BLITZER: You know, there's another development, Sara, you're working on, this whole development involving a controversial Trump administration decision to try to lift sanctions on some Russian companies closely associated with Oleg Deripaska, who's at the heart of a lot of this Mueller investigation.

Tell us what you're learning.

MURRAY: Yes, this has been sort of a slow-rolling drama in Washington.

Oleg Deripaska and a number of other Russian oligarchs and Russian companies were sanctioned. He reached this arrangement where he was going to give up some of his ownership, he was going to give up some control and Congress was going to lift the sanctions.

Now, the Trump administration was supportive of this move. There were some hiccups in Congress when they recently were voting on it. You know, in the House, a number of Republicans broke ranks. They said they didn't want to lift these sanctions.

And now we're learning new details from "The New York Times" suggesting this may not be such a bad deal for Oleg Deripaska. You know, under this agreement that "The New York Times" reviewed, Deripaska could be relieved of hundreds of millions of dollars of debt. He would also still get to keep a pretty significant share of his company, in exchange for these sanctions being lifted.

So, of course, the big question is, is the Trump administration just completely fine with this, they think it's fine if Oleg Deripaska gets away with a pretty good deal, or were they just not aware he may still stand to essentially benefit from this arrangement, Wolf?

BLITZER: The Trump administration just Treasury Department may be fine with lifting the sanctions, but a lot of the members of the House and the Senate, they are clearly not fine with it right now.

Guys, thanks very much. Great reporting, both of you.

Now to the shutdown standoff. The president is lashing out at Democrats as they're rejecting his new immigration proposal as a nonstarter.

The impact of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history is clearly evident and escalating, even on this federal holiday.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, you have new reporting for us. Update our viewers.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know that right now the White House is expecting the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to introduce that proposal that the president laid out over the weekend, that proposal that the White House believed was a sign they're at least trying to move negotiations forward to end this shutdown, but Democrats said the White House knew was a nonstarter from the beginning.

Mitch McConnell is expected to introduce that as part of a broader package tomorrow, which could potentially set it up for a vote on Thursday. Of course, that's a vote that's going to need 60 votes, including some Democrats. And even though no Democrats have publicly voiced support for the president's proposals, so far, there's only been criticism from Democratic leaders, including Senator Chuck Schumer.

[18:10:03]

They're hoping they can get some support, at least persuade them to come over to their side of this, even though right now a senior Democratic aide is predicting to our Hill team that they will not be able to get the 60 votes to pass that.

However, the White House believes that by putting this forward, they will be able to ratchet up the pressure on Democrats and put them on defense.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump making an unannounced visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington today.

TRUMP: It's a great day. A beautiful day. Thank you for being here.

COLLINS: But declining during his two-minute-long trip to answer any questions on the longest government shutdown in history.

QUESTION: Can you come and talk about the shutdown at all?

COLLINS: Now 31 days old, with 800,000 federal workers bracing to miss their second paycheck. Hopes to end the stalemate remained slim this weekend, as Trump blasted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a radical Democrat who's lost control of her party.

Those tweets coming after Pelosi immediately rejected Trump's latest proposal to restore three years of deportation protections for some immigrants, including many of those brought to the country illegally as children, in exchange for $5.7 billion for his border wall.

TRUMP: Number one is three years of legislative relief for 700,000 DACA recipients brought here unlawfully by their parents at a young age many years ago.

COLLINS: Democrats declared the offer dead on arrival.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: If he opens up the government, we will discuss whatever he offers, but hostage-taking should not work. It's very hard to negotiate when a gun is held to your head. COLLINS: And immigration hard-liners dismissed it as amnesty,

including Ann Coulter, who tweeted: "We voted for Trump and got Jeb Bush."

The president pushing back on that criticism from conservatives, saying amnesty isn't part of his offer now, but might be later on in a much bigger deal.

And on the eve of the Martin Luther King holiday, Vice President Mike Pence likening the president to the civil rights icon.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But one of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was, "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."

You think of how he changed America. He inspired us to change through the legislative process to become a more perfect union. That's exactly what President Trump is calling on the Congress to do.

COLLINS: Martin Luther King Jr.'s son pushing back on that comparison.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III, PRESIDENT & CEO, REALIZING THE DREAM: And Martin Luther King Jr. was a bridge-builder, not a wall-builder.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Wolf, as McConnell is preparing to introduce the president's proposal, we're told the Democrats are ready to introduce their own, a deal and packages that include $1 billion for border security, but no funding for the president's border wall.

Now, that is expected to happen as we're seeing this feud between the president and Nancy Pelosi very much continue, with the president tweeting just a short while ago, saying -- quote -- "If Nancy Pelosi believes that walls are immoral, why isn't she requesting that we take down all of the existing walls between the U.S. and Mexico, even the new ones just built at San Diego at their very strong urging? Let millions of unchecked strangers just flow into the U.S."

Now, Wolf, the president says there that new wall is being built. We should be clear that's wall that's already existed. It's simply just being replaced. No new wall has been built since the president took office.

But, Wolf, if you step back and look at this larger picture, the president and Nancy Pelosi are the two people who have the power to end this government shutdown if they come together, but so far, Wolf, judging by the president's tweets and Nancy Pelosi's comments, that doesn't seem any more likely to happen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly doesn't.

All right, Kaitlan, thank you, Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Joining us now, the former defense secretary, the former CIA director, Leon Panetta.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's get right to the issue of Rudy Giuliani. On Sunday, the president's lawyer told "The New York Times" that President Trump described the Trump Tower Moscow project discussions as -- quote -- and I'm quoting him -- "going on from the day I announced to the day I won." That's Giuliani quoting the president.

Less than 24 hours later, Giuliani now says that was just a hypothetical, not a real conversation. Why doesn't the president's lawyer seem to have his story straight?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I suspect because no one really understands what the real story is at this point. And Rudy Giuliani is basically operating like a human pinball machine, in which his ball is bouncing around, lighting up different facts that he throws out there and then reversing them.

This is -- this is only extending the web of lies that we have seen take place for the last two years. And every time he comes up with another story, every time he comes up with another explanation, it only proves the fact that the defendant, in this case, the president, as well as those associated with the president have basically been telling too many stories that simply don't establish themselves in truth.

[18:15:22]

BLITZER: You also heard Giuliani say -- and I'm quoting him now -- "so what" if the president discussed Michael Cohen's testimony on this issue of a Trump Tower in Moscow. What does that tell you?

PANETTA: Well, again, it just doesn't relate to what the facts would really establish here, because if, in fact, the president was conducting those discussions with Russia throughout the time he was running for president, it explains an awful lot about why the president made friendly gestures toward the Russians, whether it was taking their position on NATO, whether it was making complimentary remarks about Putin, whether it was asking the Russians to get involved in the e-mail controversy.

It begins to explain a lot about why this president was so chummy with the Russians.

BLITZER: So, what you're suggesting is that he was chummy in order to see the Trump Organization make money as far as the Moscow Trump Tower project was concerned?

PANETTA: Well, I don't -- I mean, this president is a New York developer who's interested in making money. That's been his whole professional approach to dealing with people and with anyone.

It's about making money. And when there are hundreds of billions of dollars involved in this project in Moscow, there is no question that I believe the president was doing everything he could to try to appease the Russians and make them buy that deal.

BLITZER: As you know, "The New York Times" has some new details on how the Trump administration's decision to lift sanctions on Oleg Deripaska, this Russian oligarch, is actually benefiting the Russian oligarch, even though they're framing it as though this close associate of Vladimir Putin had to make some major concessions.

How do you explain that?

PANETTA: I don't -- I don't think there is an explanation. I mean, why would we be providing relief to a Russian oligarch with regards to sanctions?

There's no reason to do this, particularly at a time when we're concerned about Russia, concerned about how Russia is behaving, not only in the Ukraine, but in Syria and elsewhere, not only concerned about how the Russians behaved in 2016 in going after our election process.

These oligarchs are, themselves, involved with the Russian government. Why would we want to provide relief to somebody who has probably in some way damaged American interests?

BLITZER: All this comes, as you know, Mr. Secretary, amid the longest government shutdown in American history. On Saturday, the president offered temporary protection for some undocumented immigrants in exchange for a border wall, for border wall funding.

Is a broader immigration deal possible while the government is still shut down?

PANETTA: Wolf, I think -- I think this is a very damaging period for the United States of America.

We are a country in which our government is in shutdown. It's damaging our economy, will most likely lead to a recession if it continues. It is hurting 800,000 American employees and their families, and it is hurting, frankly, our own credibility as a country in dealing with nations abroad.

All of these are weakening the United States of America. The focus here should be on reopening the government. That has to be the primary focus. And, frankly, there's no backdoor way to do this. I know Mitch McConnell's trying to put this package together, but the reality is, you cannot package these issues, because, if you do, it sends a message, not only to this president, but to future presidents, that all you have to do is shut the government down in order to get your way with regards to something you want funded.

That is not the right message that we should be sending. My view is open the government, even if you do it on a short-term basis, and then make a commitment both in the House and the Senate to take up a comprehensive border security approach.

[18:20:03]

That's the one way to try to resolve this issue.

BLITZER: Leon Panetta, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

PANETTA: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Just ahead, how much was the president involved in that Trump Moscow project, and for how long? We're going to talk more about the timeline and what it could mean for the Russia investigation.

And a Russian pop star fails to strike a deal with Robert Mueller. What could he have told the special counsel about that infamous Trump Tower meeting in 2016?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:25:07]

BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news on Rudy Giuliani's ever- changing story about the Trump Tower Moscow project.

The president's lawyer attempting to walk back his statements that the potentially lucrative project was under discussion up until the day Mr. Trump was elected president. Giuliani now claims his remarks were simply hypothetical.

Let's bring in our analysts.

And, Gloria Borger, how do you sift through these confusing and very complicated statements?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Not easily. Not easily.

But I think the most damaging one was Rudy Giuliani was quoting the president, himself, to "The New York Times." And quoting the president, he said: "The Trump Tower Moscow discussions were going on from the day I announced to the day I won."

And the reason this is so problematic or could be problematic is, we don't know what the president's lawyers said in their written answers to the special counsel about this. And he now is directly quoting his client. Now, never mind whether he's breaking attorney-client privilege in doing that, but I think that could give Mueller reason to say, you know what, I really do need to talk to the president about this.

BLITZER: Is he quoting the president directly?

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: But then he says it's hypothetical. How do you explain that?

BORGER: Yes. Well, those two things do not match.

BLITZER: Yes. BORGER: It's very hard to square that one.

BLITZER: Very hard, indeed.

And, Susan, listen to this exchange that Rudy Giuliani had with our own Jake Tapper yesterday, trying to understand the whole -- the president's involvement in the Michael Cohen testimony before Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: As far as I know, President Trump did not have discussions with him, certainly had no discussions with him in which he told him or counseled him to lie.

If -- if he had any discussions with him, they'd be about the version of the events that Michael Cohen gave them, which they all believed was true. I believed it was true.

TAPPER: You just acknowledged that it's possible that President Trump talked to Michael Cohen about his testimony.

GIULIANI: Which would be perfectly normal, which the president believed was true.

TAPPER: So it's possible that that happened, that President Trump talked to Michael Cohen about his testimony?

GIULIANI: I don't know if it happened or didn't happen.

And it might be attorney-client-privileged if it happened, where I can't acknowledge it. But I have no knowledge that he spoke to him. But I'm telling you, I wasn't there then.

If Corsi...

TAPPER: But you just acknowledged that President Trump might have talked to him about his testimony.

GIULIANI: And so what if he talked to him about it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So what, the president said.

Susan, what do you think?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, the president may have had conversations with Cohen, who is -- on matters related to an investigation in which the president himself is a subject on congressional testimony that turns out to be false.

When Michael Cohen actually makes his testimony public, which turns tout out to be false, the president doesn't say anything about whether or not it be perjury. I think that is what, sort of just as a process matter, the notion the

president may have had these contacts in the first instance is really inappropriate. Any lawyer would tell you not to do this because you're going to open yourself up to accusations of witness tampering, obstruction, or suborning perjury.

But, as a substantive matter, the question really is whether or not Donald Trump knew about these Trump Tower Moscow negotiations. Now, we saw that Rudy Giuliani may have acknowledged that. Now he's attempting to walk it back.

Michael Cohen, himself, has actually already told us that. He admitted to that in the plea agreement, that he -- not only was he engaged in these negotiations, but he was briefing Trump Organization officials.

So that means that Donald Trump knew or certainly should have known that this testimony was false. And that's why, even though, of course, there's a lot of questions about the veracity of this BuzzFeed story, this ultimately really might end up being the president's undoing.

You know, recall that, for President Clinton, whenever he was charged or accused of obstructions of justice, you know, he didn't direct to Betty Currie to lie sort of in a literal sense. What he did was, he tried to coordinate testimony that turned out to be false by saying, we were never alone together, remember?

Congress said, look, that's not just coordinating a statement. That's not refreshing a memory. You knew it was false. And so it is obstruction of justice.

BLITZER: As they say, suborning perjury is the legal term for that kind of activity.

Joey, would it be perfectly normal, perfectly normal, direct quote, as Giuliani says, for the president to talk to someone like Michael Cohen about his upcoming testimony before Congress?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, under these circumstances, of course, as Susan laid out, it would not be normal.

But let's address what Giuliani, in my view, I think, is doing, which could be strategic, even though he's all over the place. I think one is conditioning the jury. And I will explain. And the other is defining the issue.

In terms of conditioning a jury, in the fact that facts come out that are detrimental to your client, right, you're always talking to the jury about them, and you want to be the one to reveal them. In this case, the jury is the American public.

And so what he's suggesting is that it's not the speaking to the president about the congressional testimony that's at issue, revealing that it could have happened. He's defining the issue. It's whether he expressed to lie. That would be the issue, which he did not. It's not, I never said that the campaign didn't collude with Trump,

right, or the campaign was not involved in collusion with Russia. I said the president wasn't involved in the collusion.

[18:30:02]

So what Giuliani is doing is he's conditioning the public as to these revelations if the event the report says they did speak about the testimony. So what, I told you about it. He didn't say a lie if the report says there was collusion against the campaign. So what? It wasn't the President, and that's exactly what he's spinning, I believe, in terms of a narrative that would be acceptable and get the President out from under any type of unlawful activity.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, how incredible is it that the lawyer representing the President of the United States can't seem to get his story straight?

BROWNSTEIN: It is incredible. Wolf, if you Google the phrase, Giuliani walks backs story, you get a result back that is comparable to Googling the phrase, cat video. I mean, you get a lot of hits on - I mean, many instances where Mr. Giuliani has said things and then walked in back. And I think part of that is that, as we all know, Donald Trump is someone who has different stories on different days for everyone. And I don't think lawyers are immune to that.

But I think the larger part of it is what Joey was just referring to and what we talked about in politics as we moving goal post. I think we have seen repeatedly that Giuliani attempts to, to use Joey's phrase, condition the public by essentially saying that something that we thought was a redline is not a redline, and constantly trying to move that so that if, in fact, information comes out that is adverse to the President and certainly adverse to what he has said, they can say, no big deal.

The problem is, I think, it does add to the general sense of chaos surrounding this White House and there is a reality that it's roughly 60% of Americans say that you cannot trust - that President is not honest and trustworthy. And he is not making that problem better. If anything, he is compounding.

BLITZER: All right. Every --

BORGER: There's a point to be made that maybe, and I don't whether Rudy Giuliani is doing this on purpose, but this confusion, in a way, can benefit his client because he can always say, well, I said that because he said just about everything.

BLITZER: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BORGER: And so it kind of, in a way, looking back, he can say, well, I said, or I said that. And it deflects and confuses and that may work to their advantage. And, again, what's -- BLITZER: Maybe some [INAUDIBLE]. Everybody standby, everybody standby, there's a lot more we're going to be covering right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

[18:37:01] BLITZER: We're back with our analysts following a rapidly expanding field of democratic presidential candidates. Senator Kamala Harris said, jumping into the 2020 race today. And she isn't the only announced or potential contender working to get their message out on this holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Our Senior White House Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is following all of this for us.

So she clearly chose this day for a reason?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, she did indeed. She is one of the five potential female candidates but the only African-American, of course. And she said her parents met during the Civil Rights Movement. And the words of Martin Luther King is, the language I grew up hearing.

Now, she did not mention President Trump by name during her announcement but other potential rivals had strong words for him as democrats had their biggest day yet of the young 2020 campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), C.A.: Truth, justice, decency, equality, freedom, democracy, these are --

ZELENY: With those words, Kamala Harris, made it official today.

HARRIS: That's I am running for President of the United States.

ZELENY: The California Senator making her announcement as the nation remembers the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., highlighting her own heritage as the first African-American woman in the race. Her mother is from India, her father, Jamaica. They came together in the Civil Rights Movement. She rose from prosecutor to California Attorney General before being elected to the U.S. Senate two years ago.

HARRIS: I describe myself as a proud American. That's how I describe myself.

ZELENY: In her campaign video, she didn't mention President Trump but she joined democratic leaders in rejecting the President's proposal to end the partial government shutdown.

HARRIS: And those folks don't want a wall. They want a paycheck.

ZELENY: Harris joins one of the most diverse and crowded fields of democratic hopefuls in history, one of five potential female candidates on the biggest day of campaigning yet in the young 2020 presidential race. HARRIS: I feel a sense of responsibility to stand up and fight for the best of who we are. And I'm prepared to fight and I know how to fight.

ZELENY: A fighting theme emerged today amongst some contenders, from Elizabeth Warren in Boston.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), M.A.: We must fight back because this fight is a righteous fight.

ZELENY: To Kirsten Gillibrand in New York.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), N.Y.: Fighting against this will take all of us. It cannot be left to people of color alone.

ZELENY: Then there are those still considering a run. Visiting South Carolina today, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), V.T.: It gives me no pleasure to tell you that we now have a President of the United States who is a racist.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), N.J.: We are dissatisfied. This is not a time for us to rest in our country. The work is not done.

ZELENY: And in Washington, Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg.

FORMER SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), D.E.: As Vice President, I saw first-hand, the courage of Barack every - excuse me, the President, he's my buddy.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, CEO, BLOOMBERG: Whatever the next year brings for Joe and me, I know we'll both keep our eyes on the real price, and that is electing a democrat to the White House in 2020.

[18:40:07]

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Lots going on, Jeff. I want everybody to standby. We're going to assess the politics of all of this right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:44:56] BLITZER: We're back with our experts. We're talking about the 2020 presidential race as another democrat, Senator Kamala Harris of California, announced her candidacy today.

Ron Brownstein, it's already a pretty crowded democratic field.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BLITZER: How are these candidates trying to differentiate themselves?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, Wolf, this could easily be the largest and most wide open field since Jimmy Carter won the nomination in 1976. And there are a lot of fault lines between them. Age is an obvious one. You have one group of candidates in their 70s and late 60s, like Biden and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. And another group that's in their 40s and 50s like Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, possibly Beto O'Rourke.

Ideology, there's a left group and more centrist group. Gender, race, all of the -- all the different manifestations of the diversity of the Democratic coalition.

But to me, the core divide really is around the strategy for winning. I think you have one set of candidates whose primary strength is the ability to reassure ordinarily Republican-leading voters who have broken off from the GOP coalition because they don't like Donald Trump and that's people like Bloomberg or Biden or some of the governors. I think you have another group of candidates whose greatest strength will be mobilizing the Democratic coalition that the elements of the Democratic coalition that don't always vote, but are deeply antagonized by Donald Trump.

And I think those mobilizing candidates are Kamala Harris right at the top of that list, Beto O'Rourke, maybe Booker, maybe Gillibrand. That I think will be an important divide as we go forward. What are Democrats looking for, what do they think is their best pathway back to beating Donald Trump, which after all, is their top priority in 2020?

BLITZER: And we heard no equivocation today from Bernie Sanders, Gloria, who said, now, we have a president of the United States who is a racist.

BORGER: Right. I think you're going to hear that from other candidates as well. I think after Charlottesville, for example, that was a refrain we heard a lot. I think they're trying to mobilize the base of the Democratic Party, which is voters of color, and I think that Bernie Sanders is not going to be the only one out there making that charge.

BLITZER: Does he have the momentum, Bernie Sanders, Jeff, for a second act?

ZELENY: That's the question. Among his core supporters, he definitely does. He will always have -- it reminds me of Ron Paul on the Republican side. There will be a group of people who forever love Bernie Sanders but his growth potential, I think, is limited and the pie is just split so many different ways than it was in 2015 and '16. He was the one alternative largely to Hillary Clinton but we'll see.

But we'll see. He was down in South Carolina today. He was -- he needs to do better in the South, obviously. So he's not giving up. Anyone who wants to write Bernie Sanders off, he may not win, but, boy, he could certainly cause trouble for other Democrats in this field.

BLITZER: And, you know, Joey, a lot of these 2020 hopefuls, they seem to be walking a fine line on criminal justice issues. Senator Kamala Harris, for example, defending her career as a prosecutor. Joe Biden defending his mandatory minimum sentencing policies. His 1994 crime bill. And Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, on stop and

frisk.

What does that tell you about where the Democrats are right now and the more progressive wing of the party?

JACKSON: You know, Wolf, it tells me a number of things that there's a real deep concern about a number of criminal justice issues, like what? Like excessive force in communities, like overpolicing in communities. What are you going to do as a candidate to address those issues and address community concerns that they're not being treated fairly?

There's concern about stop and frisk and pretext, right, stopping people because of presumptions about how they look as opposed to specific evidence is the conduct that would be illegal. And I think the progressive wing wants those issues addressed. At the same time, you don't want to be painted if you're a candidate as someone who's weak on crime, right?

And so, you have to be a person who acknowledges the shortcomings, acknowledges the issues and, finally, look, the Department of Justice, what it's done to gut the pattern and practice investigations that have occurred in looking at local police departments and their relationships with communities. So I think people want that address and if you're going to be elected, I think you can't ignore it and you have to, to your point, Wolf, defend their record and that's why the candidates are doing that.

BLITZER: You know, Susan, are you hearing a message from these Democrats that could appeal to independent voters right now?

HENNESSEY: I think certainly especially when we think about sort of national security and foreign policy issues. You know, voters are actually focused on that in a way they haven't historically been. Usually domestic issues really are at the forefront. They've spent two years worrying about the risks of things like a nuclear confrontation with North Korea, alienating our allies abroad.

So, I really do think that there's an opportunity here to take a far more centrist position in part because in the past, staking out those really mainstream positions, support for NATO, U.S. global leadership abroad, candidates haven't been able to score points off of that because everybody agrees. Donald Trump is so far outside the norm that actually just by taking very, very safe mainstream positions, you actually can develop quite a contrast with the president.

BLITZER: And I want our viewers to stay with CNN for the first major television event of this, the 2020 presidential contest. Senator Kamala Harris will join our own Jake Tapper for a live town hall in Iowa. That airs next Monday night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

[18:50:04] And just ahead, a new and exclusive CNN report on the most serious allegations of criminal misconduct by Uber drivers and riders and how the company is handling them. We're talking about hundreds of cases every week.

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BLITZER: Tonight, a CNN exclusive on the Uber unit that deals with the most serious allegations of criminal misconduct by riders and drivers.

[18:55:07] We've obtained an internal memo revealing that Uber investigators in North America are handling more than 1,000 serious cases every week including claims of sexual assault, serious traffic accidents, and even deaths.

Our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin is here for us. He's following up on his groundbreaking reporting on dangers Uber passengers face.

Drew, Uber made some important safety changes after your previous reporting, what more are you learning tonight?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Uber said it commissioned this report because of its commitment to safety. What it found, though, was a unit that was overworked, underpaid and working under arduous conditions.

This internal report obtained exclusively by CNN, says Uber's SIU or Special Investigations Unit manages nearly 1200 cases per week. Sources familiar with this unit say those cases include fights, serious traffic accidents and deaths but many of them involved sexual assaults, sexual misconduct and rape by Uber drivers.

Uber has responded to CNN saying the number in its own internal memo is not an accurate reflection of serious safety incidents that occur on the Uber platform because it includes reports that following investigations are found to be unrelated to over withdrawn and/or fraudulent, and adds, we are working with experts to audit our safety incident data so that it can be responsibly released this year. CNN has been requesting the number of alleged rapes reported to Uber for more than a year.

A CNN investigation of public records, lawsuits and police files last year exposed more than 100 documented cases where drivers were accused of sexual assaulting or abusing passengers. Sources continue to tell CNN the true number of reported rapes to Uber is much higher. A second CNN report detailed thousands of convicted criminals, even sexual offenders and felons were approved to drive for Uber.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're putting safety at the heart of everything we do.

GRIFFIN: The company has launched several changes aimed at improving safety.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With just a single tap, let loved ones know you're on your way.

GRIFFIN: But former Uber employee CNN spoke with says it's not enough and the problem is much larger than Uber is willing to publicly admit.

Uber's internal report completed in May after CNN's report warns of the consequences should the full scope of the problem emerge. We know from the under reporting of incidents by CNN, the report concludes, the cost to the brand and reputation by Uber by a single case can cost a company millions of dollars in lost revenue that hold a lasting impression we're unsafe and not worthy of their trust.

The report was conducted to analyze workloads and stress levels of the 60 Uber investigators who shows how the company struggled to handle the nearly 1,200 serious allegations of inappropriate or illegal conduct per week. One worker quoted in the report said the number of cases in a week is crazy.

According to the document, the SIU staff are in 20s, 30s, underpaid, overworked, some have little relevant experience, according to a half dozen former Uber employees CNN spoke with. One Uber investigator went from being a Starbucks shift manager to handling calls from victims. Another was a kitchen manager at Chipotle, according to a review of online resumes, though the report cites many have law enforcement investigations and military backgrounds.

It says most loved working for Uber but also details the serious level of stress and anxiety. The staff directly interact with perpetrators and victims, discuss deeply disturbing sexual and other assaults. The report documents untreated depression and profound stress, requiring clinical care in at least six of its workers and warns of the potential for suicide.

In the months since the report was done, Uber tells CNN all key recommendations in the report have been acted upon, or are in the process of being acted on, including counseling, better work schedules and conditions, improved training and hiring, more experienced investigators. Uber says its transparency report detailing sexual assault and misconduct cases by Uber drivers will be released this year once the audit process is over.

But sources tell CNN Uber could tell most of the story right now. One former manager telling CNN it's a technology company built on data, the numbers are known.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: Wolf, Uber insists it doesn't know the numbers yet. It will release them sometime in 2019 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Excellent reporting, Drew. Thank you. Thank you so much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.