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Virginia Lieutenant Governor's Accuser Issues New, Detailed Statement on Sexual Assault Allegation; Dem Field in 2020 Packed with Senators, More May Jump in Soon; Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA); House Launches Sweeping Investigation of Trump. Aired on 6-7p ET
Aired February 6, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The House Intelligence Committee chairman is zeroing in on Mr. Trump's finances. Democrats detailing their dramatic expansion of the Russia investigation and turning over evidence to the special counsel.
Presidential harassment. The president is firing back at House Democrats tonight, calling the Intel Committee chairman a hack and claiming he's being harassed. Is the sharpened focus on his finances and family hitting Mr. Trump where it hurts most?
Delayed by Mueller? Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen postpones testimony before a second House panel for what's being described as the interests of the investigation. Is that a clue about Robert Mueller's next move?
And lack of support. More than half of Americans say they are not likely to back President Trump in 2020, as more Democrats are preparing to reveal their White House plans. We will tell you who's on top in our exclusive new poll.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, House Democrats launch a sweeping investigation into the president, undeterred by his State of the Union attack on their new oversight powers or his complaint of presidential harassments.
House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff promising to go beyond Russian election interference and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. He now says the committee will dig deep into the president's finances and whether Russia has leverage over Mr. Trump and his family.
The panel also has voted to send Robert Mueller the transcripts of more than 50 interviews it conducted, including with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner. The special counsel getting closer to revealing the outcome of his investigation, even as the House probe is expanding and likely to continue for some time.
I will get reaction from Democratic Congressman John Garamendi. And our correspondents are also standing by.
First, let's go to CNN Political Correspondent, Sara Murray, along with our CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, Josh Campbell. He's a former FBI special agent.
Sara, is this new and expanded probe by the House Intelligence Committee a reprisal, in effect, of the Mueller investigation?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in some ways, it certainly looks like that.
Remember, it used to be the word from Democrats was, we are going to wait until the special counsel, Robert Mueller, finishes his investigation, we're going to see what he turns up, and then see where we're going to go.
But now the word has changed, as Adam Schiff announces this sweeping investigation into whether President Trump had any financial interests that basically sparked his decision-making. Here's how Schiff described it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: The American people have a right to know and they have a need to know that their president is acting on their behalf and not for some pecuniary or other reason. That pertains to any credible allegations of leverage by the Russians or the Saudis or anyone else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: So this question goes straight to the heart, Wolf, of Donald Trump's finances, of his family's finances. And, of course, we know that there are plenty of people on the Hill who would like to get their hands on the president's tax return. So you can imagine that could eventually be a part of this.
BLITZER: How problematic, Josh, could all of this be for the president and for his family?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So we know that the Mueller investigation has been a source of great frustration for the White House since its inception.
The bad news for the White House is that the last two years are going to look -- sound like the good old days now the House of Representatives, it has subpoena power, they're launching this very sweeping investigation.
Now, there are some similarities here. We know that they're looking into allegations of possible Russian collusion, which has been Mueller's mandate. But there are also two key areas of interest that really stuck out. And that is first of which being whether foreign actors have sought to compromise the Trumps, those in Trump world, but also this one element that was in the Schiff mandate.
And that is whether or not those in Trump world are actually acting in a way, influencing U.S. policy industry in the service of a foreign interest, which is a big deal. When you look at the totality and actually compare with how the House Intelligence Committee has acted in the past, one thing that will be interesting to see is whether the White House approaches the Schiff committee differently than they did the Nunes committee.
Remember, under Devin Nunes, the White House actually overruled the FBI and Department of Justice in releasing information, in the spirit of transparency. We will see if that same transparency applies now that Adam Schiff is in charge.
BLITZER: And, at the same time, Sara, Michael Cohen, who was the president's longtime lawyer and fixer, spent more than a decade working for the president, he was supposed to appear behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee this Friday.
That now has been postponed until, what, February 28. What does that signal?
MURRAY: Well, Wolf, it's hard to ever know what exactly is driving the Michael Cohen drama.
We have now seen that there were two committees that he was supposed to speak before, one publicly, one privately. Both have been postponed. But today, when Adam Schiff was asked about this, he suggested that the postponement may have something to do with an ongoing investigation, perhaps the Mueller investigation.
Here's what Schiff said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: We look forward to his testimony on February 28. And Mr. Cohen has been fully cooperative with us, and we hope and expect that will continue. But we felt it was in the investigation's interest that we postpone to that date.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: And, Wolf, I think one of the things that our colleagues on Capitol Hill who have chased these lawmakers around all day have noted is that these guys seem to be very purposely vague when it comes to these questions of Michael Cohen and whether he will appear and when he will appear.
And, remember, he's going to be going to prison soon. So if this doesn't happen soon, it's probably not going to happen.
BLITZER: Supposed to start, I think, March 6 in Upstate New York.
How many investigations, Josh, could Cohen be helpful to? CAMPBELL: So, look, those of us who've been covering this investigation, we have created spreadsheets and link charts and flow charts.
But from the 30,000-foot view, for our viewers I mean, you look at the four key lines of inquiry here, you have Bob Mueller. Obviously, we know about his investigation. You have congressional investigators. You have the Southern District of New York, which poses significant challenges to the president, based on his past, and then also possibly those in the FEC world, the Federal Elections Commission, looking at possible violations there.
All of those lines of inquiry are potentially informed by Michael Cohen's testimony because he was so closely in Trump's orbit. We know we have long described him as possibly the person who knew where all the bodies were buried.
The idea that Adam Schiff is now saying that this is going to be postponed because Cohen is cooperating, he's providing information, should trouble the White House in a major way.
BLITZER: Certainly a very good point. Josh Campbell, thank you. Sara Murray, thanks to you as well.
Tonight, the president is accusing Democrats of harassing him just hours after he dismissed their efforts to investigate him as partisan and ridiculous.
Let's bring in our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, after his State of the Union address last night, the president is now apparently off-script. He's clearly on the attack.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's gotten on his nerves.
And those calls for unity that we heard in the president's State of the Union speech appear to be long gone, as he bashed the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. That chairman, as you just mentioned, Adam Schiff, announcing he will be launching investigations into the president's ties to Russia and his various business.
As he so often does, the president stooped to name-calling. The president said he doesn't want to see new investigations, but that he's starting to learn what life is like in Washington with Democrats in charge of the House for Mr. Trump. It's bye-bye, bipartisanship.
ACOSTA (voice-over): The president has gone from kumbaya to combat, as he lashed out at House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Did you say Adam Schiff?
ACOSTA: Brand-new probes into Russian election meddling.
TRUMP: Never heard of him.
ACOSTA: And any possible links to Mr. Trump's global business dealings.
TRUMP: Under what basis would he do that? He has no basis to do that. He's just a political hack who's trying to build a name for himself.
It's called presidential harassment. And it's unfortunate and it really does hurt our country.
ACOSTA: The reason for the president's outburst? Schiff's investigations will be invasive, looking into whether the Russians have any compromising information on the president or his family members that's being used as leverage.
SCHIFF: We will be conducting our investment to make sure that the country is protected.
ACOSTA: The Democratic chairman's announcement comes on the heels of the president's plea during his State of the Union address for the Democrats, now control in the House, to not open new Russia investigations.
TRUMP: If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn't work that way.
ACOSTA: That was just one of many moments that seemed to divide, not unite, members of Congress during a speech that was falsely billed as bipartisan.
TRUMP: Simply put, walls work and walls save lives.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ACOSTA: Even with another government shutdown looming over his demand for his wall, the president previewed his strategy for the 2020 campaign, labeling Democrats as socialists.
TRUMP: Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ACOSTA: But the president is facing an uphill climb, as a new CNN poll finds more than half of voters are not likely to support Mr. Trump's bid for reelection. Driving much of that opposition, women, a voting bloc the president tried to woo in his speech, to unexpected results.
TRUMP: No one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the newly created jobs last year.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) TRUMP: You weren't supposed to do that. Thank you very much.
ACOSTA: As he called on Americans to resist the resistance.
TRUMP: But we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution, and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ACOSTA: He received a bit of shade from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
All throughout the speech, female members of Congress could be seen registering their disapproval again and again.
TRUMP: We are considered far and away the hottest economy anywhere in the world. Not even close.
ACOSTA: And the president will be going back to doing what he seems to love most about being president, and that is a holding a reelection rally in El Paso next week.
Expect the president to continue to accuse Democrats of being socialists. As one campaign adviser told me, Wolf, the president wants to run against socialism, no matter who his Democratic opponent is in 2020 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And he spoke about El Paso in the State of the Union address last night.
And a lot of fact-checkers says -- saying he was not exactly precise.
ACOSTA: Oh, that's right. He made a misleading claim. He said that crime went down in El Paso after a section of the wall was built there. But that's just not the case.
Crime actually fell in El Paso between 1993 and 2006 by some 34 percent. That was before new fencing was authorized by the Congress and signed into law by former President Bush in 2006. The construction of that section of the wall or fencing, whatever you want to call, didn't begin until 2008.
And so the president has made this claim before, and so has the White House, that crime went down in El Paso after fencing went up down there, and it's just simply not the case, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta over at the White House, thank you very much.
Let's go up to Capitol Hill right now for the very latest on negotiations aimed at preventing another government shutdown.
Our Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is joining us.
Sunlen, Friday is the unofficial deadline for lawmakers to try to come up with some sort of compromise deal. So is the clock running out?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there certainly, Wolf, is not much time left.
Next Friday, the 15th, that is the official day that we could see another government shutdown without a deal. But the negotiators, they have been very clear and very open that they would like to see and they feel that they need to see an agreement on Capitol Hill this week, by Friday, in order for the bill to move through the House and Senate in time.
Now, today on Capitol Hill, the 17-member team of lawmakers negotiating this deal, they sat down for over two hours. They received a classified briefing from experts on border security, on the so-called border wall, of course, as you know, one of the thorniest issues here.
And lawmakers, though, they emerged from that briefing really no closer to an agreement. In fact, it seemed like both sides chose what they wanted to hear at the conclusions of that briefing. And certainly that was notable when it comes to when they're talking about these discussions over finding the right balance of technology, personnel at the border and potentially new physical barriers at the border.
There was absolutely no agreement on those issues. Now, notably, the posture of the negotiators in recent days, it's been remarkably upbeat. Negotiators say they feel that they are making progress. But certainly the cloud hanging all of this, as we're talking about the work and these meetings and these negotiations, is the fact that President Trump, he has to be the one to sign off on any deal.
And at this point, you have even top Republicans on Capitol Hill really unsure what President Trump would indeed sign, Mitch McConnell telling us that he's hopeful that whatever the Hill comes up with, the president will find worthwhile to be signed -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I take it a whole bunch of Republicans, though , were comforted by the fact that president at least not yet has declared a national emergency and gone around Congress to come up with funds to go ahead and build his border wall.
SERFATY: That's right.
And we have heard in recent days a lot of consternation from Republicans up here on Capitol Hill, essentially firing warning shots to President Trump: Don't go down this path. We don't feel like this is the right precedent to set and certainly questioning the constitutionality of that.
So, certainly, the feeling that the negotiators are continuing to go forward is one that Republicans are heartened by, the feeling that potentially this threat at this point does not seem like it could potentially happen. But that is an open question up here on the Hill.
We know that President Trump has said, wait and see, wait and see what I could do. So, right now on Capitol Hill, the negotiators at least putting their faith in these -- this conference committee. Whether that threat of a national emergency is on the table or not, we will have to see in the days going forward -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A couple of days now between now and Friday to see if they can come up with a compromise.
Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.
We have got lots to discuss with Democratic Congressman John Garamendi. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Let's -- let's first talk about Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
He's now expanding the investigation. The president's going after him, saying there's no basis to expand the investigation into the president's personal finances beyond Russia. In his address last night to Congress, the president warned, these investigations could hurt the economy, the peace process.
What message is the president sending to you and your fellow Democrats in the House?
GARAMENDI: Very simple. He's saying: Lay off. Leave me alone.
We won't. We're going to investigate. We're going to investigate, as we are required by the Constitution to in our oversight responsibilities and our investigation responsibilities. And we will investigate everything that could be troublesome to this country.
And that is the president's finances. How about talking about the Emoluments Clause and the Trump Hotel here in town? All of these things need to be investigated. And we will do that.
BLITZER: And do you think the House Ways and Means Committee is eventually going to get access to the president's tax returns over the past 10 or 20 years?
GARAMENDI: We should have had them two years ago.
BLITZER: Well, you don't have them, but do you think they will have -- do you think they will be able to get those tax returns?
BLITZER: And will they make them public? GARAMENDI: Doubtful.
I don't know that they have the authority to make them public. They certainly have the authority to get the tax returns, to analyze them, to see if there's anything that is nefarious, incorrect, wrong, tax evasion.
And then that would probably become public through the criminal side of it.
BLITZER: Yes. As they say, elections have consequences. The Democrats won 40 seats in the House of Representatives. They're in the majority. They have got subpoena power. They can -- they're the majority right now.
What does it tell you that Michael Cohen, who spent a decade as the president's personal lawyer and fixer -- he's been convicted. He is supposed to begin a three-year prison sentence in March. His testimony before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors, supposed to be this Friday. It's now been delayed until the end of the month, February 28.
What does that signal?
GARAMENDI: I think it signals that there is additional information that is coming in, questions that the Intelligence Committee wants to ask to be on point, gathering the information, so that when he does come in, when he does answer questions, the pertinent information is made available.
BLITZER: Do you think the president will accept a compromise deal if, in fact, your colleagues on this bicameral, bipartisan House-Senate appropriations conference committee, if they can come up with some sort of deal on border security, some sort of fencing, some sort of -- all sorts of other issues, if they come up with a compromise, do you think the president will accept it?
GARAMENDI: He should.
He should, for one very important reason. That is that he -- if he ever uses his emergency powers, he is going to run right smack into a major constitutional issue. If we do not fund a border wall, and then he uses his emergency power to literally take up the power of Congress to appropriate money, to determine where the money is going to be spent, he has money into a major constitutional fight with the Congress of the United States.
BLITZER: But what can you do? What, if anything, can the Democrats do about that?
GARAMENDI: Well, first of all...
BLITZER: If he declares a national emergency and says, I'm going to take funds that were going elsewhere, but I'm going to use it to go ahead and build a wall? GARAMENDI: You go to court, and you get an injunction against that. And I think that's likely to happen, because there is a very dubious case to be made on emergency.
And the Congress, if it has not provided the money for a border wall, and then he assumes the power of Congress, I think a judge will say, we can't go forward with this. Let's take it up, and indeed back in the...
BLITZER: You're a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
The president, in his State of the Union address last night, he said if they can't negotiate over the next six months a new INF, intermediate nuclear force agreement with the Russians -- that's a key nuclear treaty that's been around going back to Reagan -- he says, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.
How do you interpret that?
GARAMENDI: I interpret that as a new nuclear arms race, which we should not, should not engage in.
We need to hold to that INF Treaty. We need to hold Russia accountable. Clearly, they have cheated, but we just gave up all of the leverage. And it took half-a-day for Putin to say, OK, I'm going to start building my missiles, which he probably already has.
BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks for coming in.
BLITZER: John Garamendi of California.
The breaking news continues next, the House Intelligence Committee voting to send more than 50 transcripts from its Russia investigation to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. So, which ones will be turned over and what will Mueller be looking for?
Plus, the cascading scandals rocking the top tier of the government in Virginia. Now the state's attorney general is also embroiled in controversy.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news.
The House Intelligence Committee chairman revealing plans for an invasive probe of Mr. Trump's finances. The panel also voting to provide Special Counsel Robert Mueller with potential evidence for his investigation.
Let's go to our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill.
Manu, the Intel Committee, they took its first action today, voting to send more than 50 transcripts from its Russia investigation, interviews, to the special counsel, Robert Mueller. So what transcripts will be turned over and what will Mueller be looking for?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is -- there are more than 50 individuals who did testify before the House Intelligence Committee in the last Congress as part of that Russia investigation.
The Republicans, of course, wrapped that one up, said they didn't believe there was evidence of collusion. Democrats said there are a whole bunch of leads that were not investigated as part of that probe.
But they said -- Democrats believe that some of these people closest to the president may have misled the committee. They want Mueller to investigate this further in order to determine whether any charges potentially should be brought.
Now, the people that these transcripts -- testimony involved include some of the president's closest confidants, people like Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, his own son Donald Trump Jr., as well as Steve Bannon, his former adviser, Hope Hicks, his former communications director, people who have been -- were part of the Trump campaign back in 2016.
Now, the question for Mueller is whether or not he does believe that this adds any new information to his investigation, whether or not any individuals here or elsewhere may have lied to the committee.
Mueller did make the determination, in his view, that one witness to this committee, Roger Stone, did lie when discussing his alleged efforts to talk to WikiLeaks as part of that -- in 2017, when Stone came before the committee. That's because the committee sent Mueller transcripts back in December of just Roger Stone's testimony.
But now they're going to get a wide range of transcripts from more than 50 witnesses. We will see what Mueller ultimately decides.
But, today -- in today's closed-door hearing, Wolf, I'm told that Republicans agreed with Democrats to send this to Mueller, even though, in the last Congress, they resisted doing so, before there was any formal request from Mueller asking for these records.
So -- but now Mueller should get these in a matter of days, if not immediately -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, the Democrats are in the majority. They can do this now.
Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thanks very, very much.
We have got lots to discuss, lots of breaking news. Our experts, our reporters, specialists, they're here. We will be right back.
[18:30:53] BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, the new democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is promising to take the panel's Russia investigation where it hasn't gone before, deep into the President's finances. The committee also moving to assist the Mueller investigation, voting to turn over transcripts of more than 50 interviews it's conducted. Let's bring in our analysts to discuss.
And, David Swerdlick, I want you to listen to this exchange the President had with a reporter at the White House when asked about Congressman Adam Schiff, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee's decision to expand the probe. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Did you say Adam Schiff?
REPORTER: Adam Schiff.
TRUMP: I never heard of him. That wouldn't be partisan, would it?
REPORTER: Not only into Russia but into your personal financial transactions. Can we get your reaction?
TRUMP: On what basis would he do that? He has no basis to do that. He's a political hack who is trying to build a name for himself, and I think that's fine because that's what they do. But there would be no reason to do that, no other politician has to go through that. It's called presidential harassment, and it's unfortunate, and it does hurt our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But the president has to kind of get used this to reality.
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, Wolf. Elections have consequences. And the major consequence of the last election was that congressman Schiff is no longer ranking member Schiff, he's chairman Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee. Democrats want to expand the probe that was already ongoing but not wide enough to their satisfaction in the House to the President's comment about this being presidential harassment, the House is part of Congress, the Article I branch of government.
Part of their duties is to oversee the Article II branch of government, not oversee but to investigate and to advise on the activities of the Article II branch of government, and so that's where we are. And President Trump will have to get used to it.
BLITZER: In addition to expanding this probe, Jackie, the members of the House Intelligence Committee, they have voted today to go ahead and send about 50 of these official transcripts, individuals who were called to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, send them over to Robert Mueller and his Special Counsel team. How significant is that?
JACKIE ALEMANY, ANCHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST POWER UP: Well, I think this is hugely significant for a number of reasons. One, it undercuts this is White House's argument that this is ending in short order. Two, you know, the White House has sought to downplay their relationships to Roger Stone and Michael Cohen, all people who have been charged with lying to Congress.
Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying. But if it turns out that people like Hope Hicks, Jared Kushner and Don Jr., people who the president can't deny that he's close to turns up that they committed perjury, that defense is rendered moot. It's obviously highly suspect for people around him to all be accused of lying.
And then lastly, you know, this - I think that with Mueller charging Roger Stone with lying to Congress, this is just going to be something that continues. And a point that I think Susan would probably make is talking to a lawyer smarter than me, I think this also indicates that Mueller's had access to these unofficial transcript, right? Bus now, he's asking for official access to these transcripts, which means he already might have perjury charges.
BLITZER: And it's significant. Explain legally why it's significant to have these official transcripts as opposed to unofficial transcripts.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. So It appears that HPSCI is actually voting to turn these --
BLITZER: HPSCI is the House Permanent Select Committee Intelligence.
HENNESSEY: The House Intelligence Committee is voting themselves to refer these transcripts over. Robert Mueller did have the ability to actually ask for them in the past, and did ask for the Roger Stone transcripts. It's legally significant because if they actually want to mount perjury charges, they need to have those official transcripts.
So even though they are likely already aware of the content of that testimony, actually, this action of referring the official transcript over, one, it's a sign that HPSCI says there's something in those transcripts that we think we want to see, and two, it is necessary if, ultimately, charges might be brought.
BLITZER: Listen to the President, Ron Brownstein, last night in the State of the Union Address speak about this. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: An economic miracle is taking place in the United States. And the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations.
[18:35:09] If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what do you think, Ron?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, my first thought is that Ted Sorensen is not turning over in his grave at the quality of that rhetoric. But, look, the President's goal is to equate any kind oversight with partisan harassment. And, in fact, it's really the opposite, right? I mean, I think one of the clear motivations for voters, one of the impetus for voters giving democrats control of the House last fall was the sense that republicans were not providing any meaningful oversight or constraint over the administration.
And, you know, I think from the point of view of voters, it's not even primarily the big headline of the Russia investigation or the President's finances and tax returns, it's the execution of government. I mean, where was the oversight when children were being separated from their mothers on the border? You have a coal lobbyist who is the head of the EPA.
You have an oil and gas lobbyist who is in charge of the national parks. I mean, there are issues about how those Agencies are being run. The granting of security clearances in the White House, the kind of nuts and bolts of how this government has been, really, has not - the President has not faced any oversight because of this choice by the republicans.
And I will just add real quick, Wolf, that the choice of the President to portray any oversight as kind partisan harassment really kind of reflected, I think, the larger arc of the speech, which was to talk about unity and reaching out, but at its core, remain this very polarizing agenda aimed primarily at the republican base symbolized by the intense focus on building a wall that no more than 40% to 45% of the country has ever supported.
SWERDLICK: Yes. Wolf, can I just add one quick thing to what Ron just said? That clip you just played, the President has said numerous times in Tweets and statements, how can you impeach someone who's doing such a great job? That was the full length teleprompter version of that rationale in the State of the Union.
BLITZER: Yes. If there's going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. Michael Cohen, he was supposed to appear on Friday behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee. That has now been postponed until the end of the month. What does that say to you?
HENNESSEY: Well, so I think it is potentially HPSCI Chair Adam Schiff did say that this was about not compromising an investigation. Now, we don't know if this meant Robert Mueller's investigation or their own. I do think that - we know that they've been coordinating with Mueller's office. I do think it's some sign that Mueller may be concerned about the impact of Cohen's testimony. Now, one reason for that might be that he is worried he is going to say something, reveal some piece of information relevant to another target that they're looking at. But we also have to keep in mind the changing dynamics here. Think about what happened after that BuzzFeed story came out regarding the President potentially directing Cohen to lie to Congress, something that the Special Counsel's office very strongly refuted right away. Calls from Congress saying, immediate calls for impeachment, immediate calls for documents from Mueller's office even in advance of the report.
So I do think that if Robert Mueller has any reason to believe that there's something incendiary within Michael Cohen's testimony, it is, in his interest, are strong incentives for him to finish as much of his investigation before that testimony.
BLITZER: And before Michael Cohen begins his three-year prison sentence in Upstate New York on March 6. That is coming up fairly close. Everybody stick around, more on the breaking news right after this.
[18:43:14] BLITZER: There's breaking news right now out of Virginia where the three highest-ranking officials, all democrats, are battling scandals involving either racism or alleged sexual assault. CNN's Ryan Nobles is covering all of this for us. He's in Richmond.
So what's the very latest, Ryan?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just a couple days ago, the Attorney General Mark Herring called on the State's Governor Ralph Northam to resign after a racist photo emerged from the Governor's medical school yearbook. Well, now, today, we're learning that the Attorney General himself has appeared in blackface. He put out a dramatic statement this afternoon confirming that to the people of Virginia.
He wrote, quote, "It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others, we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup. This was a one-time occurrence and I accept full responsibility for my conduct."
Herring explains that when he was a college student at the University of Virginia, 19 years old, that he dressed up as rap artist as part of a costume party.
When this information was coming out in an already rattled Capitol Square, a new revelation came out. The full statement from the accuser of the Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax who claims she was the victim of a sexual assault from that Lieutenant Governor. And in that dramatic statement, she goes into very specific details on what she says happened on that night back in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention. This is what she says in part of the statement. She said, quote, "What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault. Mr. Fairfax put his head behind my neck and forcefully pushed my head towards his crotch. As I cried and Gagged, Mr. Fairfax forced me to perform oral sex on him. I cannot believe given my obvious distress that Mr. Fairfax thought his forced sexual act was consensual.
[18:45:02] To be very clear, I do not engage in oral sex with Mr. Fairfax and I never gave any form of consent. After the assault I suffered the humiliation and shame.
And the lieutenant governor today did release a statement shortly after his accuser's statement came out. It read, in part: Reading Dr. Tyson's account is painful and I have never done anything like what she suggests.
His statement has been much more tame than his response to this crisis up until this point. In fact, we know, Wolf, that in a closed door meeting with Democratic leaders, he launched into an expletive-laden attack against Ms. Tyson and those supporting her and he vowed to clear his name saying he is not responsible for all this.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders and Republican leaders for that matter who were quick to call on Governor Northam to resign have not been so quick to call for the resignations of either the attorney general or the lieutenant governor.
But late tonight, a very influential Congressman, Jennifer Wexton, part of the new group of Democratic women elected to Congress in this past election cycle, she served as a state senator with Justin Fairfax here in Richmond. She tweeted out this afternoon: I believe Dr. Vanessa Tyson, who is, of course, the Fairfax accuser.
So, Wolf, a lot of controversy here in Richmond and there isn't too many people that have any idea how it's all going to end up.
BLITZER: Yes, Dr. Vanessa Tyson, she's a tenured professor right now and is very, very detailed statement that she did release.
Ryan Nobles in Richmond, thanks very much.
Let's bring back our analyst David Swerdlick.
Your newspaper -- they've had the story for a while, they didn't publish it but now they're going in-depth on it.
SWERDLICK: Right, and our "Washington Post" reporting was that we could not independently corroborate either Lieutenant Governor Fairfax's or Dr. Tyson's story. That is what was reported out this week.
But Lieutenant Governor Fairfax made a statement over the weekend saying that the "Washington Post" reporting months ago had found inconsistencies and red flag, which is not consistent with our reporting. And that, I think, is why now, Lieutenant Governor Fairfax is facing more pressure, including from Dr. Tyson's statement which, as you said, was very detailed.
BLITZER: Democrats, they are in trouble in Virginia right now, Jackie. How big of a scandal. How big of a problem is this for not just the top three Democratic leaders of the commonwealth of Virginia but for all of the Democrats right now. They're going to handle this.
JACKIE ALEMANY, ANCHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST "POWER UP": That's right. And Democrats all around have been slow to weigh in on this and respond. There has been sort of inconsistency with the way I think Democrats have handled some Republican scandals in the similar vein.
But what I keep thinking about is all of this could have been avoided if Ralph Northam in his primary against Tom Perriello have come out with this to begin with. Northam won and took the lead in part because of the support he was able to garner from the African-American community in Virginia. He got a lot of big endorsements, and then he had people like Cory Booker out there on the campaign trail after the primary campaigning for him.
So, I think, you know, Dems are obviously figuring out what to do here. The top three Democrats are imperiled. The system of succession needs to be -- is very complicated which could also be why responses are slow but regardless, I mean, the Democratic Party is in trouble in Virginia.
BLITZER: Deep trouble. And, Ron Brownstein, I'm anxious to get your thoughts?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think, you know, if you look -- if you follow all of this to its logical conclusion, you get to an illogical result, which I don't think we're going to end up. What I mean by that is the logical conclusion is, you know, as we saw last night in the House chamber, this modern Democratic coalition is a very diverse coalition that is also tilted very heavily toward women and the idea that the behavior, you know, either proven or alleged against any of these would be acceptable in the Democratic -- in the modern Democratic Party just seems to me, you know, untenable.
On the other hand, if all three of these individuals resign, the Democrats would turn over control of the state to a Republican governor and that is simply not going to happen. So, wherever this goes, and perhaps the most -- you know, some people in Virginia think that the most likely outcome is drawing a line at the attorney general and differentiating between his actions and those above him, you know, maybe where it ends up.
But there is just also -- I mean, it is just worth noting the contrast here between the way -- however halting the response, it's been a virtually universal call from Democrats on the governor to resign and that is just -- when you think about the response to President Trump and the allegations against him on both fronts, both kind of sexual misconduct and racist behavior, through his history from the Central Park Five to the birther controversy and the willingness of Republicans in essence to accept that, this is just part of the division that we are seeing between the parties at this point in our history. BLITZER: How do you see this unfolding, Susan?
HENNESSEY: Look, we're having a moment of reckoning here and this is going to be really painful to feel both parties in part because these issues actually exist across party lines.
[18:50:03] You know, one thing is the test of the commitments and the values is not wherever it's about taking down your opponent. It's about whether -- it's about standing for those values even if it's contrary to your own political interests.
So, Democrats clearly have staked out the moral high ground on Donald Trump, on Roy Moore, on Steve King and others. And so, I do think that they have a choice to make here. But if you decide, you know, whether or not you're outrage by something depends on whether there's a D or an R at the end of their name, it's not the moral high ground that you have, then it's just politics.
BLITZER: Were surprised when we saw the blackface revelations involving the governor of Virginia, now the attorney general of Virginia?
SWERDLICK: Yes, I think it's surprising and I think it's jarring that a public official would have this in their past in the record, because they have hold themselves out as someone as a position of leadership in the state, in the community. Clearly, these things went on. Two people in the top levels of Virginia governments alone have said this in the last few days that they were blackface as part of some kind of costume, so it's not unheard of at all. These things went on.
The question is, not whether these people can't move on from their past or learn from it or be forgiven. The question, Wolf, is whether or not they should be in a position of public trust. I think a lot of Democrats, to your point, have weighed in and said, we're not certainly so sure about Northam. We don't know yet about Attorney General Herring.
BLITZER: I think all three of them are in deep trouble right now. They have a lot of work to do in Virginia.
Everybody, stick around. There is more news we are following.
Some of the Democrats who want President Trump's job were staring him down during the State of the Union Address last night. We're going to take a closer look at the roster of U.S. senators seeking a big promotion from voters.
[18:56:22] BLITZER: Tonight, as the Democratic presidential field seems to grow by the week, if not the day, there is one group that's dominating, the packed members of the United States Senate.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly. He's up on Capitol Hill.
Phil, we can see more Senate Democrats I take it jump into the race fairly soon?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, as many as two. Amy Klobuchar and Senator Elizabeth Warren both teasing big announcements this weekend. The expectation is they will join the field, a historically large group of senators, leaving not just the candidates but also their colleagues back in the chamber, trying to navigate what actually happens next over the next year.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): The State of the Union was punctuated by pomp --
PAUL IRVING, HOUSE SERGEANT AT ARMS: The president of the United States --
MATTINGLY: Circumstance --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No matter the trials we face, no matter the challenges to come, we must go forward together.
MATTINGLY: And if you look closely, no shortage of Democratic senators who think they may be the next Oval Office occupant. There are already two running, two exploring, one who is listening, and another four actively considering -- the sheer size leaving even their Senate colleagues guessing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've seen nine, I've seen seven. We'll see what happens in the end.
MATTINGLY: Whatever the number, it creates a fascinating and potentially awkward dynamic amongst colleagues, one Democrats not running for presidential are keenly observing.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I have been struck lately how all of my different colleagues running for president have been able to hand him the challenge of continuing to work together in the senate.
MATTINGLY (on camera): How long do you think that lasts?
COONS: I hope months, maybe even years. We'll see.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): There are friends like Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They are friends, they are sisters, there'll be some sibling rivalry, but at the send of the day, we're family.
MATTINGLY: And some who are perhaps less so.
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: I like all of my colleagues that are running. Like some more than others. But I'll leave it at that.
MATTINGLY: Nine Senate Democrats with their eye on the White House, but what about the other 38? SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: First and foremost, it's
important for a few of us to stay in the United States Senate.
MATTINGLY: There's an array of policy and political fights the left behind caucus has their eyes on, with a hope that their colleagues on the trail may actually amplify their effort.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen of the crucial first in the nation primary state of New Hampshire won't be endorsing anyone, but she will utilize the state's outsize influence in the party's primaries to influence the policy debate.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Having an opportunity to have so many people running for president who will go through the state who will hear the challenges that we're facing.
MATTINGLY: Chris Murphy of Connecticut wants to focus on a progressive foreign policy. Hawaii's Brian Schatz, kitchen table issues and climate change. But both want their colleagues to keep the competition friendly.
MURPHY: As you get closer to you know decision time, candidates have to draw distinctions. They have to draw contrasts. There is no way for that not to, you know, ultimately cause a few bad feelings here and there. That's the nature of how this business works.
SEN. BRIAN SCHATZ (D), HAWAII: Statistically speaking, if you are running among seven or eight Senate colleagues and then a handful of governors and mayors, and others, the chances of you returning to the Senate are very, very high. And so, it behooves anybody who is running to just be nice.
MURPHY: And as to why so many in the world's greatest deliberative body fancy themselves executive material --
COONS: It's hard to be a senator and not see yourself as president. I so far have resisted the temptation.
MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, one of the key focus is for a lot of the senators back here is trying to keep things collegial. Senator Chris Murphy telling me at this point, he wants to make sure things don't get any uglier during this campaign than they have to be.
MATTINGLY: Yes, they used to say, every senator wakes up in the morning, looks at the mirror and sees a future president of the United States.
Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.
And you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.