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CNN: Michael Cohen's Lawyer Talked Pardon With Trump Team More Than Once; Credibility Of Cohen's Testimony In Question; Standing By For Judge To Sentence Ex-Trump Campaign Chair; Paul Manafort Could Get Up To 25 Years In Prison; Putin Cracking Down On Free Speech And Americans As Popularity Falls, Claims Hundreds Of Spies Captured; Judge Sentences Paul Manafort To 47 Months In Prison. Aired on 6-7p ET

Aired March 7, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


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[18:30:59] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, sentencing suspense. We're awaiting word on Paul Manafort's fate as the former Trump campaign chairman faces up to 25 years in prison. The marathon hearing continues this hour. The judge could rule at any moment.

Perjury on a pardon. CNN has new confirmation that Michael Cohen's attorney raised the prospect of a pardon with the Trump legal team more than once. Did Cohen lie to Congress, when he publicly denied, ever asking for a reprieve from the President?

Suing Trump. Cohen is seeking millions of dollars from the President's company in unpaid legal fees, fines and expenses. The former fixer now demanding financial payback as he prepares to go to prison.

And Putin's crackdown. As the Russian President trots out a new photo up, his parliament is making it a crime to disrespect him. Tonight, the Kremlin is taking Trump-style attacks on critics to a dangerous extreme.

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

We're following breaking news. The former chairman of the President's campaign is now facing a federal judge in Virginia and facing his punishment for tax and bank fraud. Paul Manafort could spend the rest of his life from prison if ordered to serve the maximum of 25 years behind bars. This hearing has been going on now for well over an hour. And we're going to bring you the sentence as soon as it happens.

Also a breaking, multiple sources tell CNN that Michael Cohen's attorney discussed a possible pardon with President Trump's legal team more than once. Tonight, an administration official says the Justice Department may examine whether Cohen committed perjury when he publicly told a house panel that he never asked for a pardon. I will talk to Congressman Denny Heck. He is the Member of the Intelligence Committee that also heard Cohen's testimony.

And our correspondents an analyst are also standing by.

First, let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent Pamela Brown along with CNN Crime and Justice Reporter Shimon Prokupecz. He is outside the Federal Courthouse where Paul Manafort is about to be sentenced.

Shimon, this hearing now has been going on for a while? What is the very latest?

SHIMON PROKUPECS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, the very latest just coming in to us now from the court, Manafort's Attorney just telling the judge that Paul Manafort will speak to the judge, will address the court before he is sentenced. Obviously, this is something that's going to be an important part of this hearing. That is going to take place at any moment now. And we will be bringing you updates as they come in about what he is saying.

Significant is that up to this point, it would appear that the judge, from everything that we can see, has not shown any leniency towards Paul Manafort. This will be his last chance, his last effort to try and get the judge to reduce his sentence, a sentence which could mean life in prison for the 69-year-old Paul Manafort who faces up to 25 years in prison right now.

Before Paul Manafort's attorneys got up to speak just moments ago, I just want to note a couple of things. One of the prosecutors from the Special Counsel's Office said that the reason why Paul Manafort that you will recall, met with them for 50 hours, seems like a lot of time.

Well, the prosecutor says the reason that reason why it went on for so many hours was because Paul Manafort was lying. There was no other reason why. It wasn't that he was providing anything helpful to them. They said that he did not tell them anything they didn't already know. But the reason why the cooperation went on for so long, why it went on for 50 hours, was because he kept lying to them. So now, a big part of this hearing gets underway as we await Paul Manafort to speak to the judge.

BLITZER: Pamela, this is -- let's not forget, the President's former campaign chairman for five or six months. He was on top of the presidential campaign.

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And now he's about to go to jail potentially for the rest of his life.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I remember covering it when he first joined the campaign. As I'm sure you did, Wolf. And it's an astounding downfall for someone who joined the Trump campaign, who then run the campaign as chairman three years ago, and now, he is awaiting his fate. As we know the Special Prosecutor's Office has -- Special Counsel's Office rather, has requested that he be sentence to 25 years in prison for an array of charges including bank and tax fraud.

And remember, this -- he is one of six Trump associates charged in the Mueller investigation. This has been one of the most high profile investigations. And now, he is awaiting to learn his fate. You remember the time, Wolf, when he joined the campaign, Trump allies were praising this move. It was a big deal. He was there to get Republican delegates on board. And it was touted as a big deal at the time. And now, this today.

BLITZER: Yes, who would have thought? Shimon, he will be sentenced momentarily in this federal courtroom in Northern Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C. But next week, I think next Wednesday, he's got more trouble. He's going to sentenced for other crimes he committed in a D.C. courtroom.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. That's going to happen next year -- next week, I should say, Wolf. Here is what's happening behind us here right now. One other point I wanted to make was that the prosecutor, when they were wrapping up their part of the hearing here, they asked the Judge, T.S. Ellis, for a substantial amount of prison time, that he should give Paul Manafort a substantial amount. So how that will play into next week, is that if this is as significant as what prosecutors are asking for here, he is facing perhaps the rest of his life, right, in prison.

So the judge in D.C. will have to consider this sentence, whether or not she needs to tack any additional prison time to his sentence here out of D.C. She could run concurrently that he could serve it in the same amount of time that he is serving in this sentence. But then she could also ultimately decide that she wants to add an additional ten years. So whatever it may be to Paul Manafort's sentence.

However, it does seem like at this point right now, from what prosecutors are asking for, they want a substantial amount of prison time for Paul Manafort.

And, really, ultimately now, what we await is his words. What he is going to tell the judge? Is the judge going to find any remorse? Is the judge going to see that maybe Paul Manafort finally is admitting to his guilt, finally realizes as what he did here. Because up to this point, the judge has indicated that he is not going to accept any remorse from Paul Manafort. Perhaps, Wolf, that changes after Paul Manafort speaks here momentarily.

BLITZER: Yes. He's 69. He turns 70 on April 1st. So if he gets 10, 20 years, potentially, that could be a life sentence. How significant is what's happening today to the overall Russia probe, Pamela?

BROWN: It's extremely significant. First of all, this is the culmination of one of the most high profile investigations under Robert Mueller. You will recall, CNN was first to report in October of 2017 on Mueller's first charges against Manafort and Rick Gates. And it has been an investigation that is lasted a year-and-a-half. And now, today, of course, he is being sentenced. So in the overall Russia investigation, this is certainly a very important part of it. BLITZER: And, Shimon, what do you think? How is this going to play out in terms of the big picture, the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe?

PROKUPECZ: I mean, for them it will be a huge win, right? They are asking for significant amount of prison time for him. I think they are pretty much fed up with Paul Manafort. They made it very clear, they brought him in, they tried to get him to cooperate. It was really unclear why he didn't cooperate from the beginning. They were offering the same deal they gave to Rick Gates.

But think about just what this means in terms of this entire investigation. Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were the first people indicted in this investigation. We are back here in court, obviously, for the significant matter, for the significant sentencing of Paul Manafort. But this will be a big sort of win for them perhaps if they can get the prison time that they're asking for here.

BLITZER: All right. We're now being told, Shimon, that in the federal courtroom behind you, Paul Manafort is now addressing the judge, presumably seeking some sort of mercy. I have no idea what he is saying. But do you get a sense of what we should anticipate, the first time we are hearing from Manafort, I guess, in a long time?

PROKUPECZ: It is the first time. Remember, there has been a gag order over this case out of Washington D.C. So the attorneys and Paul Manafort have not been permitted to speak publicly about this investigation. So it will be significant because it's going to be the first time that we are hearing from him. And obviously, it's going to be all about remorse. How does he explain what he did here?

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Is he going to ask for leniency from the court, from the judge? Because Paul Manafort knows at 69, given the amount of prison time right now that he is facing, he may never, ever see the light of day again. He may never walk out of a prison cell again.

Now, obviously, perhaps, there's always the chance that the President will pardon him, and that may be his last effort here. How he addresses any of that, certainly what he did. Will he in some way, I think it's significant to point out, be speaking to the President by what he is going to say here? I mean, we can't forget about that. So we'll see. I think it's going to be obviously a moment to finally hear what he has to say and how he addresses the substantial prison time that he is facing here today.

BLITZER: He has already been in jail, Pamela, as you know, for nine months, serving in prison awaiting this sentencing, awaiting the trial. And apparently, that's had a huge impact on his health.

BROWN: Yes. I was just going to say, his legal team has argued that, as a result, his health has been deteriorating. And he came today in a wheelchair for the first time. We're seeing him in a wheelchair in that courtroom. And in terms of what he is saying to the judge, remember in the recent filing from his legal team, Wolf, they basically argued that, look, this is a man who doesn't want to die in prison. He is almost 70 years old. The chances of him committing crimes once he is out of prison are very low.

So that was part of the case they made to the judge in that recent filing and also saying that, look, the punishment in this case doesn't fit the crimes he committed, according to Manafort's lawyers in that filing.

BLITZER: I guess a lot of people think, Shimon, that if he would have cooperated, pleaded guilty from the beginning and avoided pleading not guilty, maybe things would have turned out a bit better for him.

PROKUPECZ: Absolutely. And he wouldn't be here today, right? It's not entirely clear why he chose not to cooperate from the beginning when they offered him the plea that they gave to Rick Gates. So, Wolf, I want to just give you a couple of words we're now getting from inside the courtroom. Paul Manafort has spoken. He has said, and I'll read you some quotes, that the last two years have been the most difficult years for my family, is how he began.

He then spoke at length, according to our folks inside the courtroom. He said, quote, humiliated and shunned would be a gross understatement, is what Paul Manafort said. The court now is in a recess. I don't exactly know why that is. But perhaps the judge is taking the time now to think about what he is going to do here. So yet again, another recess.

Paul Manafort has talked for the first time. We are hearing from him, describing how humiliated and shunned he is, saying that the last two years have been the most difficult years for my family. And that is how he began his statement in court. Apparently, this went on for quite some time.

The judge now has taken a recess. And we're still waiting to find out what the judge will give him in terms of prison time. But think about it, for all this time, Paul Manafort has been in jail, as you have been saying, Wolf. He is now waiting to find out if, perhaps, the rest of his life is going to be in prison.

BLITZER: And it's up to this federal judge to make that decision. Do we know -- I guess we don't know yet whether he formally said, I'm sorry, I apologize, I beg for forgiveness, words along those lines.

PROKUPECZ: Yes, we don't have that yet, Wolf. I'm looking through our emails from our team inside the courtroom. We don't have that. Right now, it's all essentially what I just said to you, the last two years. I mean, think about this, Wolf. The last two years have been the most difficult years for my family and I, right?

This is a man who had all the lavishes of life, lived a very high life. In this courtroom, we heard about it. The ostrich jacket, the homes in the Hamptons, the restaurants, the Yankee tickets, all the money he made, the way he lived his life, the suits, the clothing that he bought.

And think about this, the last, while this trial has been going on, has been sitting in solitary confinement, away from his family, away from friends, certainly, away from the lavish lifestyle that he has led. Of course, he says, he feels humiliated and shunned. And that would be a gross understatement. So far from everything that I have here in terms of from our team inside, I have not seen any other words, Wolf.

But you can see why this man would feel humiliated, right? He comes from living a pretty high life to now having been in prison in jail all this time, and now, probably and likely could be facing the rest of his life in prison.

BLITZER: In addition to the prison sentence he is about to receive, Shimon, the prosecutors say that they want to fine Manafort up to $24 million. He has ordered to pay restitution of almost $25 million, for another $4.4 million to the federal government.

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Does he have anything near that kind of money?

PROKUPECZ: Well, they don't know. It's interesting you ask that, Wolf. Because they just said in court that Paul Manafort, while they were going through the sentencing process -- and you have to go to the probation officers, Paul Manafort gets interviewed. He has to reveal his finances, he has to reveal other information. They don't know what his finances are because he didn't tell them.

They do say though that he is still living a rich life. And they highlighted that to the judge during their arguments about the sentencing and the money and the fines that he should pay. They say that he is living a rich life. He was not forthcoming with the probation officers about how much money he had, the property that he owns. He is still, they say, living a rich life, still has millions of dollars in his name that he has to use for his own, for himself, for his family.

We know it was always a big deal for him. It was a lot of concern for his family during this trial after he was convicted. And then even during cooperation agreement, he wanted to be able to -- still be able to keep some of his money. And they were going to work that out. There was going to be a deal on the table where they were going to be able to work that out.

But, obviously, given everything that occurred during his cooperation, how he lied to the Special Counsel's team, how he lied to the grand jury about what he knew, that played a significant role. And prosecutors say, hey, you know what, these fines and the restitution should be imposed because he still has a lot of money. So the argument that perhaps he has no money, he can't pay for a lot of this, that's not going to fly here with the prosecutors.

And again, we're just waiting really now for the judge. This has been going on now for well over two hours, nearly three hours, Wolf. We have been here since 3:30 and we are still waiting to find out what this judge will going to do in terms of the sentence. How much prison time is Paul Manafort going to get? BLITZER: Pamela, take us behind the scenes a bit over at the White House. You cover the White House sources over there. How are they dealing with this? And once again, let me stress, this is the former Trump campaign chairman now potentially about to go to jail for the rest of his life.

BROWN: That's right. Well, they are watching this closely, obviously, watching it play out, because some people at the White House were also there on the campaign when Paul Manafort came on board. But what you notice after Paul Manafort was charged, Wolf, publicly, White House officials tried to distance themselves from Paul Manafort.

Even the President himself distanced himself from Paul Manafort, saying he didn't know him very well. He was only on the campaign for a few months. But that doesn't mean that this type of investigation of the former Trump campaign chairman has not been a thorn in their side from the very beginning, for a year-and-a-half since he was charged.

And so, this is a certainly a pivotal moment for White House officials too as they watch this play out. Also, to note, Rudy Giuliani, the President's attorney came to the White House earlier today. He was seen going into the West Wing. And so you can imagine that he is also paying close attention to this.

BLITZER: So he is watching this together with the President's other private attorneys.

BROWN: Presumably.

BLITZER: As well as White House Counsel. I'm sure they are watching it very closely as well.

All right, everybody stand by. I want to make sure that Shimon -- is Shimon still with us? He will be back in a moment. I want to turn to another important issue that we're following right now, Michael Cohen and CNN's new reporting on whether he sought a Presidential pardon.

Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is joining us right now.

Manu, let's talk a little bit about what you are learning on this front.

MANU RAJU, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Michael Cohen last week testified before the House Oversight Committee saying that he never sought a pardon from President Trump while -- during the -- in the aftermath and during the raid of his properties last year.

But we have now learned that there were multiple conversations that did take place around the time of that raid from last year of his properties. And Michael Cohen's attorney -- Michael Cohen directed his Attorney to have these conversations after, according the view of Michael Cohen's attorney, these were dangled in front of him. Now, the question is whether or not he lied to Congress, including in their concerns from Republicans who say that he did, in fact, lie to Congress. Jim Jordan, the ranking republican on that committee, has plans to refer this to the Justice Department to investigate further. He told me earlier today.

And also I caught up with Elijah Cummings, who's the House Oversight Committee Chairman, who said he is very concerned about if anyone lied to his committee and plans to look into it further.

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REP. ELIJAH CUMMING (D), MARYLAND: I said I will nail you to the cross and I meant that. I've to look at it and see whether, less assuming, there're some inconsistencies. I've got to make sure they are true inconsistencies and not outright lies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So he said, I would nail you to the cross if you did lie to the committee. That's something that he said -- he told Michael Cohen.

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So --but he's not willing to say he lied to his committee just yet. He wants to review everything, the transcript and perhaps any follow- up questions with Cohen and his attorney about exactly that statement about never seeking a pardon. So that's something that at least the democrats want to continue to pursue. But Republicans have already drawn the conclusion. They want the Justice Department to investigate possible perjury to this committee, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we're going back to Pamela, who is also working this story. What else are you hearing about what Cohen's attorneys may have discussed about a possible pardon with the President's attorneys?

BROWN: So the reporting that our team has gathered is that there were multiple discussions about pardons at various points, including after the raid on Cohen's home and office. What we were told from a source close to Cohen is that he, at some point, and this is what he told congressional committees, is he felt like a pardon was being dangled to him. And so he directed his attorney at the time, Stephen Ryan, to talk to members of Trump's legal team about this.

And so our reporting is that Stephen Ryan did reach out to Jay Sekulow, the President's attorney, to speak about a pardon. A source familiar with this says it was part of any conversation as part of a joint defense with attorneys where they would discuss resolutions. And so that's sort of the context.

But then we have this reporting that Cohen told the committee about these two emissaries for Rudy Giuliani. He would contact Cohen, raise the idea at a certain terms about a pardon as well. And so why prosecutors would be interested in these conversations is to determine whether there was any effort to obstruct justice, whether there was a pardon offered in exchange for Cohen to not provide truthful testimony about the President.

Now, we don't know the full extent or substance of these conversations about a pardon, so it's difficult to say at this point how relevant they are in this investigation.

BLITZER: So, Manu, does all this talk about whether or not Michael Cohen committed perjury in his public testimony under oath before Congress last week overshadow what's going on right now in the House?

RAJU: Well, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff spent two days as part of his committee's investigation and holding hearings in behind closed doors with Michael Cohen, including a day- long session yesterday. I asked him about the lie allegedly that Cohen made to the House Oversight Committee. He said he will let the public decide. He did not want to pass judgment. He said, he will wait until the testimony comes out.

But he raised significant concerns about what he says are, quote, deeply concerning information that he learned from Michael Cohen in the two days of testimony. And, Wolf, he is raising concerns about any of the talk about the pardons and the President's dangling of pardons that allegedly occurred.

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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, we've had a deep concern for quite some time over the President's dangling pardons as a way of encouraging people to fall in line, to stay in line, promising them that, hey, there's relief on the way if you stay with team Trump, and, conversely, going after people who decide to cooperate, and whether it's praising Paul Manafort for essentially reneging on a cooperation agreement or not talking, condemning others as rats. The President is behaving like a mafia don.

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RAJU: And I asked him, what do they want to follow-up on after that testimony yesterday, do they even want to interview Trump's attorneys who were involved in edits of that statement that was later delivered to his committee, that false statement about the pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project, what their role in that is still very unclear.

Does he want to bring them forward? He would not say. He said there are may be other people we want to speak with before we release the Cohen transcript.

So they want to continue investigating what Cohen said behind closed doors, not just about the pardons but also about the Trump Tower Moscow project, which had been a big pursuit of the democrats on this investigation to learn more about exactly what happened back in 2015 and 2016, Wolf.

BLITZER: And amidst to all of this, Pamela, Michael Cohen's attorneys filed lawsuits against the Trump Organization, seeking millions of dollars in legal fees and other expenses. And they went to court in New York to do so. BROWN: That's right. They did. They filed this lawsuit in a court in New York. Michael Cohen's attorney contends there was an agreement between Michael Cohen and Trump Org for Trump Org to pay his legal fees after the raid on his home and office. And according to this filing, they didn't end up doing what they said they would do as part of the agreement. And Michael Cohen's Attorney claims that there were nearly $2 million in unreimbursed money that is owed to him by Trump Org.

Now, some people we've spoken to close to the Trump Organization say that, no, actually they did live up to the agreement, that that was just part of a document review paying for Stephen Ryan who was his attorney at the time. And once the document review ended and Michael Cohen hired another attorney, Guy Petrillo, that the agreement was off because it would be inappropriate to be paying his legal fees when the assumption was he would be cooperating with prosecutors about President Trump.

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BLITZER: All right. I want you to stand by, Pamela. Manu, stand by as well. Congressman Denny Heck is joining us right now. He's a democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman thanks so much for joining us. Let me get your quick reaction right now to these late breaking developments with Paul Manafort addressing the court just moments ago, seeking compassion as he awaits his sentence.

REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: Well, Wolf, the fact of the matter is that in the long and sordid journey that has been his prosecution, this would be the first time he has actually ever expressed any genuine or seemingly genuine remorse. The court filing of the prosecutor that characterized him as a hardened criminal and some words along the lines of a habitual liar, I think, are the characteristics that are going to be uppermost in the judge's mind when the sentence is actually meted out.

BLITZER: The -- Manafort, as you know, is facing potentially up to 25 years in prison. He's almost 70 years old. The prosecutor is asking for a substantial sentence. The federal judge has reiterated that this has nothing to do with Russian collusion. So what does that tell you?

HECK: Well, it tells me that he has a long pattern of other behavior in his life that warrants a long prison sentence. Bank fraud, tax evasion, advocating on behalf of a foreign government without the appropriate registration, these are things that harm America.

These are not process crimes. These are not light crimes. These are the behaviors. These are the actions of somebody who is a criminal. And who does deserve to go to jail, and that's what he is going to find out in a little bit.

BLITZER: Paul Manafort, he was the campaign chairman for Donald Trump for about five or six months. How will this sentence potentially years and years in jail reflect on President Trump?

HECK: Well, just to remind you, Wolf, we now have 199 criminal charges, 37 criminal indictments and plea deals and four, soon to be five prison terms associated. We have the campaign chair, we have his personal lawyer, we have his National Security Adviser and several other people who are either with guilty pleas or going to prison. So this is a part of a broader pattern.

Now, as it relates to some of the things that we're learning in the Intel Committee, I want to make this observation, Wolf. There is this fact pattern emerging that this very disconcerting with respect to potential obstruction of justice. But what I tell everybody is obstruction of justice is very, very serious.

But it's still begs the underlying question, which is, why. Why is it that all the people in and around the President lie, lie, lie? They continually lie. That's why many of them are going to prison for quite sometimes because they lie. Why are they lying? And that's what we have to get at the truth of.

BLITZER: I know that's what you guys are investigating at the House Intelligence Committee and the other committees in the House as well.

The President, as you know, in the past has expressed sympathy for Paul Manafort. What message would it send if, and it's a huge if right now, if the President decided to pardon Paul Manafort?

HECK: Well, I don't think he is going do that, Wolf, and I tell you why. I don't think he's going to do that because I think that's the invisible red line, that if he cross finely, some of our republican colleagues, so we keep waiting anxiously to step forward and put country before party might very well do it on that account. So I think he understands the peril of this and I don't think he's going to do it. But if he does, I think there will be swift and harsh consequences.

BLITZER: Well, what kind of consequences?

HECK: Well, I think you'll begin to see the support of his base significantly erode. And that could lead to who knows what kind of legislative action. Look, we are up here taking votes all the time, sometimes at odds with the President, disapproval of his emergency declaration, for example.

It could be the kind of thing that as it were rinse the clothe and causes there to be the run up in the number of Republicans who are finally willing to step forward and declare that, which most of us already know, the emperor has no clothes.

BLITZER: Let's go turn to the latest on Michael Cohen, the President's former lawyer, fixer. CNN has learned that the issue of a pardon did come up more than once with Cohen's lawyers and the President's lawyers. Do you think Cohen perjured himself when he testified under oath before Congress last week that he never sought some sort of pardon from the President? HECK: So, obviously, Wolf, we're not commenting on specific questions and answers that were given in the closed door session of the Intel Committee. But I will repeat what I said earlier. We learned more in two days of testimony from Mr. Cohen, who was fully cooperative during his time with us, both the previous time of eight hours and then the seven hours yesterday. We learned more during that period of time than we did in the previous two years.

BLITZER: As he said that publicly before the House Oversight Committee, he used the word, never, in discussing his seeking some sort of pardon. That wasn't behind closed doors.

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HECK: Well, I would tell you what I firmly believe, that if the President were to offer him a pardon now, he would not accept it, period.

BLITZER: Why do you think so?

HECK: Because he said so in a very convincing way.

BLITZER: Because he is going to jail now. He starts in May, a three- year prison sentence in a federal penitentiary in Upstate New York. Did Michael Cohen address the issue of a pardon when he testified before your committee? You don't have to tell us what he said. But did he even talk about what happened as far as a pardon was concerned behind closed doors?

HECK: There were lots of subjects that came up. And you might well imagine that the obvious ones were, in fact, discussed in some fashion.

BLITZER: We can imagine that. Do you believe the President's legal team was dangling a pardon in an attempt to obstruct justice in the Cohen investigation?

HECK: I believe that the President dangled the pardon and I think he did it publicly by tone and implication of some of his words. I don't think there is any question about it. I certainly think he did it with Mr. Manafort.

BLITZER: Because the whole question of Michael Cohen's credibility has, once again, come up. Do you think these new revelations, these new developments discredit the very hard work your committee, other committees have been doing? Does it discredit Cohen's testimony overall?

HECK: I think there are some people working 24 hours, seven days a week to discredit him. And, interestingly enough, they are some of the same members of Congress who don't ever even bother to show up for these marathon sessions which we're trying to get at the truth. So I think that's a better measure of how sincere they are. And they are touting these particular points of view.

BLITZER: Based on what you heard from Michael Cohen yesterday behind closed doors and the new documents that he provided, and he apparently provided a lot of them, who do you believe is responsible for Cohen's previous false testimony to Congress, one of the reasons he's about to go to jail for three years?

HECK: I think there are an awful lot of people involved in this. As I said earlier, is there anybody in and around the President who hasn't lied on his behalf? And I still think that while that's very, very serious, we have to remember that what is really important is why are they lying? What is it they are covering up? Why are they working overtime to lie and misdirect and put out falsehoods?

BLITZER: I'll rephrase the question. Do you believe the President's lawyers contributed to his lying under oath before Congress?

HECK: I have said earlier that I won't comment on anything that gets directly at the questions and answers in the closed door session, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman Denny Heck, thanks, as usual, for joining us. We really appreciate it.

HECK: You're welcome, sir.

BLITZER: All right, there's a lot to discuss right now, and let's go to Laura Coates and give us your analysis, legal implications. We're awaiting the sentencing of the President's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, everyone is waiting on bated breath to figure out whether or not the judge is going to take into account either the age of Paul Manafort, which he should not. Because the idea that he committed a crime at that advanced stage, so to speak, does not preclude him or immunize him from actually being in prison. Number two, whether or not the fact that this is not about collusion, as the judge has spoken about, the notion that if it's not about the Mueller probe, in an explicit way, will he be punished in terms of the way that the public may want him to be?

And, finally, this is a jury trial. It wasn't a matter of Paul Manafort simply saying, you know what, you got me, I agree to this. A jury of his peers in Virginia actually convicted him on 8 of 18 charges. They did not acquit on the other 10 charges. They had a hung jury on those. And by all accounts, only one juror kept him from having a full unanimous decision about all 18 charges. The judge must take that into consideration.

When you think about the idea of white collar crime in America, which is one thing that -- his attorney will talk about is, it wasn't a violent crime, they keep saying. He didn't murder anybody. Well, that's true. But it still is a crime. And the idea of having some sort of clarification [ph] about how things would go does not say much about our justice system. But the judge will look at his crime. And, in fact, that they say, he has zero remorse. That's a problem.

BLITZER: And it's interesting. Because only moments ago, Gloria, he addressed the court for the first time. He spent the last nine months in jail awaiting this day. He spoke for about four minutes, according to our reporters and producers who were inside the federal courtroom. He said he was humiliated and shamed. But he apparently didn't specifically expressed remorse for his crimes.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, he did not. And the prosecutor said that -- asked for a substantial sentence and made the case that Manafort never gave them any meaningful help when he was cooperating with them. I mean, we know that they ended their cooperation agreement when they accused him of lying.

But he said, look, we spoke to him for 50 years. And the reason it took so long is because he was lying to us. And so the prosecutor is standing there saying, look, this guy not only showed no remorse, but he lied to us. We spent 50 hours of our time with him and it was effectively wasted.

[18:35:01]

One thing we also have to point out here is that prosecutors really haven't told us what information they may or may not have gleaned from Paul Manafort regarding Russian interference in the election. So that is still a question mark here. But judging from what we're hearing today, maybe not much.

BLITZER: Yes. what do you think, David?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, everybody is innocent until proven guilty, entitled to defend them self strenuously or robustly. But as Gloria said, as Laura said, you have a situation where unlike other people with slightly different cases but all caught up in this wider investigation, General Flynn, Rick Gates, Michael Cohen in a slightly different way, there was not a lot of cooperation coming from Paul Manafort and his lawyers. And I think that will be reflected in how the court views him both in the Virginia case and the D.C.

BLITZER: It is pretty amazing when you think about it the President's campaign chairman, Jackie, convicted now, about to go to jail for a long time, maybe 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, we don't know. We'll find out momentarily. But it is pretty significant, historically speaking, that someone who was so involved in helping Donald Trump become President of the United States is now about to go to jail for years.

JACKIE ALEMANY, ANCHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST POWER UP: That's right. And I think Gloria makes a great point that there are so much that we don't know, especially with regards to Russian interference in the 2016 election, which is why actually The Post petitioned the federal courts today to unseal about --

BLITZER: ""The Washington Post"."

ALEMANY: "The Washington Post", 800 pages of information that relates to why Paul Manafort actually breached his plea deal. And we know from previous documents released that the breach of the plea deal actually gets to what they have called the heart of Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. So our Executive Director filed this petition and cited a profound public interest concerning integrity to the country's elections as to why the court should unseal these documents.

COATES: And, of course, we do know one thing about that, the idea that he provided polling data or information to Kilimnik who has a tie to the Kremlin. You do know there is that core argument being made about why the initial indictments against Manafort may not have included a discussion on collusion, which was the mandate initially of, of course, Robert Mueller. But it also it included things that would circle around that issue, and you have that.

And remember, talking about a plea agreement, the reason it's important is because it's about a bargain. You get something. I get something in return. If you stop scratching my back, I will stop scratching yours. If you lie about what you've said, then I no longer have any interest. And the only thing he had to hang his hat on was for the government to say, your honor, I'd like you to have lenience on this person. They may not have been upfront in the beginning but they deserve it now. He had a chance and lost it.

BLITZER: Shimon Prokupecz is outside the federal courthouse in Northern Virginia, Alexandria, Virginia, getting some more Information. What are you learning, Shimon?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. So the judge took a brief recess. We're now back. So we're in the last phase of this, Wolf. That means at any moment now, Paul Manafort could be sentenced. Remember, before the judge took this break, Paul Manafort addressed the court. He spoke to the judge. He explained how this has been on his life with difficulty and how difficult all of this has been on his life.

He ended his statement to the judge saying, I now await your decision. The judge took a break. He is now back on the bench. And at any moment now, we can get that sentence.

We expect the judge to address Paul Manafort. We expect him to say probably more than just a couple of words. It will be interesting, certainly, to see what the judge has to say, obviously. But at any moment now, the big moment could happen where we could finally learn how much prison time Paul Manafort is going to get. The judge is on the bench right now and he is speaking.

BLITZER: Yes. And we'll get that. As soon as we get that, you'll report that to our viewers.

You know, Gloria, today, we're not enough. Next Wednesday, he faces potentially another ten years in jail in a separate D.C. federal court.

BORGER: Right. And the decision has to be made, you know the lawyer here. The decision has to be made about whether the sentences can be served concurrently or whether they are going to be served separately. And I think we'll hear from Berman on that next week.

But Manafort sees his life here passing before his eyes. He has got to -- you have got the prosecutors saying this is a man with no remorse. This is a man who lied to us, who wasted our time effectively, that we needed time to figure out his lies.

That's why we spent 50 hours with him. You have a judge who said, look, I'm not going to take into account the fact that you cooperated or that you are full of remorse or whatever. This is a judge who points out that he has been very tough on crime. And that -- so we just -- we don't know how this is going to turn out.

Manafort, obviously, said this has been the most difficult years for my family and I, and that we were humiliated and we were shamed, and that's a gross understatement.

[18:40:00]

So the judge is hearing all of that and clearly going to take that into consideration. But we just don't know what the judge will do.

BLITZER: Because he said -- and I'm anxious for your thoughts on this, where he said he spoke for only four minutes before the judge. He said, quote, I am ready for your decision. But he did not specifically express remorse for his crimes. He simply said that he felt humiliated and shamed.

COATES: Well, on the one hand, and, David, you made this point, if you go to trial, you don't have to actually admit to guilt. In fact, it's your constitutional right for the government to prove their case against you.

BLITZER: Well, how does that impact the judge though who is about to sentence him?

COATES: Well, the judge knows and he's well aware that you have the right to actually go to trial, and you can't hold that against them. What you can hold against them is the fact once a jury has already said, the jig is up, you are convicted, you have to actually account for it.

I think what his statement is more about the idea of a pardon though, Wolf. Because -- who has also said that Paul Manafort has been humiliated and shamed, the President of the United States of America, who has also praised him for standing strong, unlike the, quote, unquote, rats of Michael Cohen and others and said, look, look at this strong person being treated as if he is some kind of common criminal or mob boss. He has talked about Paul Manafort.

So, in many ways, it's against his interest to, at the same time, be conciliatory to the court if it makes him look weak to the person who can actually provide him a pardon.

BLITZER: All right. We're awaiting the word from the judge. We expect that momentarily. Everybody stick around, much more on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:46:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The breaking news. A federal judge is about to tell Paul Manafort whether he will spend time in prison, years potentially, maybe the rest of his life. We're about to find out that decision by the federal judge.

Shimon Prokupecz is getting some more information. He is just outside that federal courthouse in Northern Virginia.

What, else, are you hearing, Shimon?

PROKUPECZ: That's right, Wolf. The judge has been speaking for the last several minutes, and perhaps some good news here for Paul Manafort. Here is why. The judge telling the court just moments ago that he believed that a sentence of 19 to 24 years as was recommended by the prosecutors in this case would be excessive for Paul Manafort.

Obviously, a significant development and perhaps a good sign here for Paul Manafort that he is not going to get the top sentence here. We don't yet know what the judge is going to do. The judge also said -- let me read this for you here, Wolf. He said that Paul Manafort lived an otherwise blameless life, was a good friend and generous person to others. That doesn't erase his crimes, however, Ellis said.

So, perhaps Judge Ellis here showing some sympathy, some compassion as Paul Manafort asked him to before he is going to issue his sentence. But the big point here is that right now, the judge is speaking, saying that the 19 to 24 years that prosecutors is asking for is excessive.

BLITZER: We did get word, Shimon, that before the judge began speaking, Manafort himself appealed to the judge, among other things, he said I appreciate the fairness of this court. He said, you bent over backwards to get me a fair trial. Thank you for a fair trial. I know it's my conduct that brought me here. My life personally and professionally is in shambles.

And he did, Shimon, speak from a wheelchair, is that right?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, he did. He appeared here court in a wheelchair wearing his prison, his jail green jumpsuit. He's been in the wheelchair. He had a cane with him. He addressed the court in the wheelchair.

And that's where he spoke. He spoke for four minutes to the judge. We're now obviously getting word, we're waiting for word on whether or not we're close to the sentence being imposed here, and what that's going to be.

But it's clear, I think, probably for Paul Manafort and his team, at least some good news that the judge perhaps is going to spare him a little here, is going to spare Paul Manafort and not give him the highest possible range. Perhaps he goes -- how much below he goes, we yet don't know. But he is showing some compassion to Paul Manafort here by saying that the 19 to 24 years is excessive. Now we wait to hear exactly what the judge is going to give him. BLITZER: It's up to the judge. You know, Jackie, the judge saying

excessive for 19 to 24 years. We will see what he decides, how many years he decides. Manafort appealed to him saying, I ask you to be compassionate. He said, what has kept him going over these months is his -- are the prayers and faith that has helped him going. He said that to the judge.

ALEMANY: Yes. I mean, Manafort seems to be -- we don't know the final decision yet. But this is someone who's been described as a hardened criminal with a track record. Meanwhile, he is being described during this hearing as living an otherwise blameless life.

So, again, I think he is getting -- he is getting a little bit of sympathy for someone who was directly in touch with political operatives with a direct line into the Kremlin during the 2016 election.

BLITZER: What do you think?

COATES: I think he is taking into consideration more than just the punishment aspect of prison. The idea of having a trial and the justice system also includes deterrents. It includes rehabilitation. It's not simply throw somebody in prison and lock -- throw away the key for life.

[18:50:01] People are expected to return home after the majority of prison sentences.

I think by saying the idea he knows this person has a good reputation in the community probably before this is his way of saying, I read all of the letters that would send in support of Paul Manafort to say, please, demonstrate and show compassion and lenience here. But also, the dirty little secret in the justice system is that the prison is not full of monsters. They're full of people who are caught making mistakes that often are aberrations of their character. The judge is well aware of that and will take into consideration.

But I do agree that based on the track record of this case, including back in May, this is the same judge who said he didn't want Mueller to have unfettered power in America and challenged whether this was, in fact, a fishing expedition or witch hunt. It was very explicit about interrupting the prosecutors who have a very streamlined case. This is why Manafort is appealing to that site. Either way, he's always entitled to divert from the 19 to 24-year guideline and include some sort of probation and, of course, fines.

BLITZER: The fines are enormous.

COATES: Yes.

BLITZER: They're claiming he stole a lot of money from the American taxpayers. He's been ordered to pay restitution of almost $25 million, forfeit another $4.4 million to the federal government.

BORGER: And the prosecutor is saying he's not a poor man.

COATES: Yes.

BORGER: So, you know, he pointed that out. I mean, I think what Judge Ellis is saying really provides insight into how hard it is for a judge because the judge said, you know, you're a good friend and generous to others, you've lived an otherwise blameless life, but that doesn't erase the crimes that you committed.

SWERDLICK: No.

BORGER: And this is what a judge has to balance.

SWERDLICK: They have to balance that and, look, I don't know a lot about tax fraud and conspiracy cases, but let's just say if the judge's judgment is right based on what Shimon was just reporting out, there may be a sentence of 10 to 12 years instead of 19 to 24 years makes more sense compared to similar crimes, so be it.

But there's also a balancing act with the fact that this is, as Laura was saying, a serious crime that he was convicted of by a jury and that is what -- it's not simply a matter of having simply for someone who's there in a wheelchair.

BORGER: We're about to get word from this federal judge. We'll take another quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:54] BLITZER: Amidst all this, Russia is now cracking down on both free speech and Americans with President Vladimir Putin claiming that hundreds of spies have been captured.

Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is joining us live from Moscow.

Fred, this all comes as Putin's popularity, what, is it falling?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly falling and in fact, wolf, it is at an all-time low right now. You know, President Vladimir Putin often portrays himself as a very strong leader, but there are signs that he might not be so sure about his grip on power here in Russia, and as a result, is clamping down on free speech.

Here's what we're learning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Even as the Kremlin touts the power of Russia's new weapons technology, Vladimir Putin also revealing he fears the U.S. and others are trying to get their hands on it.

Speaking to his spy service, Putin telling his agents to be vigilant.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This is especially concerns the protection of information on the design, testing and manufacturing of advanced Russian weapons systems, as well as advanced military and dual-use technology. Control in this sphere must be very strict and thorough.

PLEITGEN: While the Kremlin keeps saying it believes President Trump is trying to improve relations with Russia, Moscow thinks America and its allies are ramping up their efforts to infiltrate and destabilize the country, claiming to have caught hundreds of foreign agents last year, alone.

PUTIN (through translator): We see that foreign special services have been trying to increase their Russia operations, doing their utmost to gain access to political, economic, scientific, and technological information. This means that you must work even better to counter these activities.

PLEITGEN: Russia is clamping down on Americans, recently arresting U.S. citizen Paul Whelan for alleged acts of espionage. Whelan's family claims he was in Russia simply to attend a wedding.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We're going to interrupt and go right back to Shimon Prokupecz. He's got the decision from the federal judge.

PROKUPECZ: Yes, Wolf, 47 months is the sentence that the judge just imposed on Paul Manafort. We're waiting to get more details on exactly what the judge said during the sentencing, but significant, a significant departure from what prosecutors certainly wanted here.

We're talking about 47 months in prison for Paul Manafort. Remember, prosecutors are asking for anywhere from 19 to 24 years, 25 years. Paul Manafort now is going to serve only 47 months, well below what prosecutors were asking for in this case.

BLITZER: Forty-seven months. That's just under four years. What do you think, Laura?

COATES: I think this is a reflection of Judge Ellis, what he has been doing for the better part of five or so years, gone before Congress, talks about the idea he hates mandatory minimum sentences, thinks they're excessive, not because he thinks the crime should not be punished, but because he feels as though, particularly when you have multiple counts and multiple charges, you are lopping, almost piling on in a way that's undeserved.

Now, I am surprised that 47 months is the amount of time given that a jury convicted 8 out of 18 different federal charges.

BLITZER: I wonder if the nine months he's already served will be reduced from the 47 months.

COATES: It will be added in there, absolutely.

BLITZER: It will be added in.

BORGER: Now we all look to what Judge Jackson is going to do in district court.

BLITZER: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is going to pick up our extensive coverage right now.