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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Grounds All Boeing 737 Max Jets; Interview With Rep. Chris Stewart (R) Utah On Trump Conversations With Matt Whitaker; Legal Drama Unfolds In College Admissions Bribery Scheme. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired March 13, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: grounded nationwide. President Trump announces the grounding of all Boeing 737 Max jets in the United States saying the move follows new information learned about Sunday's crash in Ethiopia, the second involving the airliner.
Why did U.S. regulators suddenly drop their reluctance to ground the jets?
More Manafort charges: less than an hour after a judge nearly doubled Paul Manafort's prison sentence, a New York prosecutor unveils state charges against the former Trump campaign chairman.
Is it meant to ensure a presidential pardon won't set Manafort free?
Pardon the request: a CNN exclusive, e-mails show a back channel between Trump's legal team and Michael Cohen assuring Cohen he could sleep well because he had friends in high places.
Could that mean a pardon was sought or offered?
And up for sale: a popular actress is in court as new details emerge about the extraordinary college admission scandal that has dozens of parents facing federal charges for allegedly scheming with coaches and officials to get their children into top schools.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: President Trump has announced and emergency order grounding all 737 Max jets. U.S. regulators had resisted the step taking by dozens of countries after Sunday's crash in Ethiopia, the second involving the airliner in five months. The FAA now says the move was prompted by new information from the wreckage along with satellite tracking data, suggesting similarities between the two crashes. Also breaking: there may not be any light at the end of the tunnel for Paul Manafort. Just minutes after a federal judge nearly doubled his prison sentence in a federal case, a New York prosecutor reveals state charges against the former Trump campaign chairman. That means if Manafort is found guilty, those are pardoned proof a get out of jail card wouldn't help. I'll speak with Chris Stewart of the Intelligence Committee and our correspondents will have full coverage of today's top stories.
Let's begin with breaking news. The president announcing the grounding of all Boeing 737 Max jets in the United States. CNN's Martin Savidge is in Atlanta. Let's go straight to the White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.
U.S. regulators have resisted such a move for days.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House had been facing an increasing amount of pressure to do something, especially Canada suspended the use of the planes. The U.S. was the only major player still letting them fly in their airspace.
The president said this was not a move he had to make but he didn't want to take any chances.
COLLINS (voice-over): In a rare move late today the president personally grounded Boeing's embattled 737 Max 8 jets in the U.S., along with the company's Max 9 models.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of those planes are grounded effective immediately.
COLLINS (voice-over): Announcing until the company can provide further answers on what led to the crash in Ethiopia, the planes won't fly.
TRUMP: Any plane currently in the air will go to its destination and there after be grounded until further notice.
COLLINS (voice-over): The move came shortly after Canada announced it was following the lead of dozens of other countries, suspending the planes from Canadian airspace, leaving the U.S. flying solo.
TRUMP: We were coordinating with Canada. We were giving them information; they were giving us information.
COLLINS (voice-over): Trump appeared to be reversing a decision made by U.S. safety officials, who said Tuesday there were, quote, "no systemic performance issues" with the planes. But tonight the FAA said it made the call to ground the planes based on new data from the crash.
A federal database accessed by CNN revealed several U.S. pilots had anonymously complained about problems controlling the planes though U.S. airlines say they hadn't heard those complaints. Some experts believe a software problem related to controlling the plane may have brought down a 737 Max 8 flown by Lion Air last October that killed 189 people.
TRUMP: Pilots have been notified. Airlines have been all notified. Airlines are agreeing us, the safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern.
COLLINS (voice-over): Trump said the airlines had been told --
COLLINS (voice-over): -- of the move. But Southwest Airlines, one of two U.S. carriers who fly the 737 Max 8, appeared surprised by the decision, issuing a statement saying it was "seeking confirmation and additional guidance from the FAA."
The deadly crash in Ethiopia killed all 157 people on board minutes after takeoff.
The flight data and voice recorders on their way to Europe to be analyzed. Today as the president was grounding the planes, he was voicing confidence in Boeing, where his acting Defense Secretary Worked for decades.
TRUMP: Boeing is an incredible company. They are working very, very hard right now. And hopefully they will very quickly come up with the answer. But until they do the planes are grounded.
COLLINS: Now the president also has a close relationship with the CEO of Boeing. They have spoken twice over the last two days. One conversation yesterday the CEO told the president these planes are safe, clearly a very different conversation today, which we're told happened right before the president announced he was going to suspend the use of these planes because White House officials view the situation as untenable, especially after new satellite data revealing what happened with that crash and with Canada dropping the use of these planes.
BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much. Let's go to Martin Savidge at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for us.
Martin, the FAA now says new information from the wreckage, together with satellite tracking data, suggests similarities between the crashes.
What are you learning?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ever since it was announced that the emergency order grounding the flights in the U.S., the FAA has been clarifying why they made their abrupt turnabout. They say, quote, "The agency made the decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed.
"This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning led to this decision."
We don't know what the new evidence may be that they gathered at the site. We do have insight as to the telemetry and satellite data because the Canadian government referenced that today. It too announced it was grounded the aircraft. It is essentially telemetry that looked at the flight pattern of the Ethiopian airliner from the moment it took off until it crashed. They matched it up against the Lion Air flight that crashed in October. They found a disturbing number of similarities.
As a result of that and other information, the FAA made the decision to ground the aircraft.
BLITZER: The so-called ballot box recorders, the voice flight data recorders, are on their way to Europe for analysis.
What are we learning?
SAVIDGE: The interesting thing about the black boxes is that there are NTSB investigators on the ground. They had thought perhaps they would be transporting the black boxes to the United States. Then the FAA would get a quick read exactly as to what happened.
That's part of why the FAA was delaying any kind of decision. Now we know the Ethiopian government instead is sending those boxes to France. They'll arrive in Paris in the morning. French officials will look at whatever information the recorders have. But it is up to Ethiopian officials to release that information. The FAA realized it would be a while. So they acted on grounding the aircraft.
BLITZER: All right, Martin. Thank you.
We are also learning some breaking news here in Washington coming out right now from the House Judiciary Committee. Manu Raju has details.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and the top Republican on the committee, Doug Collins, just met with the former acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, after the very contentious hearing last month. That was a public hearing; this was behind closed doors. The Democratic chairman had concern about things Whitaker initially said and did not believe he was telling everything about his interactions with the president about the Mueller investigation as well as the Southern District of New York's investigation into the former president, the president's former attorney, Michael Cohen, and interactions Whitaker may have had with the president about that investigation into Michael Cohen and how Whitaker acted while he was top of the Justice Department before he left just a few weeks ago.
Now Jerry Nadler emerged about this roughly two-hour meeting and laid out what he viewed as the top three takeaways.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: One, unlike in the hearing room, Mr. Whitaker did not deny that the president called in to discuss the Michael Cohen case and personnel decisions in the Southern District.
Two, while he was acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker was directly --
NADLER: -- involved in conversations about whether to fire one or more U.S. attorneys.
Three, while he was acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker was involved in conversations about the scope of the Southern District of New York U.S. attorney Berman's recusal and whether the Southern District went too far in pursuing the campaign finance case in which the president was listed as Individual number 1.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So I asked him after that, what did you mean about not the president -- him not denying conversations that he had with the president about the Michael Cohen guilty plea?
Because at the public hearing, Whitaker denied a CNN report at the time that the president lashed out at Matt Whitaker in the aftermath of the Cohen guilty plea, which implicated the president in two federal crimes. He was later asked in the public hearing about those interactions. He sidestepped that question.
So I asked him what do you mean he did not deny that interaction?
And according to Nadler, he said he did not deny it. He would not say no.
When I asked the ranking Republican on the committee about this moments ago, Doug Collins, he downplayed it. He said Whitaker didn't confirm any conversations he had with the president. Simply because he didn't deny it doesn't mean they actually happened.
Doug Collins also pushed back on all of those points, saying there was really too much ado about nothing. He said conversations about firing U.S. attorneys. That didn't happen. He said it's not unusual to talk about getting rid and replacing U.S. attorneys. He said it was a normal course of business. He didn't say -- he did not specify which U.S. attorneys that they were potentially talking about. Whitaker did not specify that.
He said Whitaker must talk about the probe in the Southern District of New York investigation affecting Michael Cohen. He said -- Nadler said that Whitaker suggested it went too far. He said Cohen said that conversation did not happen with President Trump. So he downplayed that as well.
But nevertheless, two different interpretations about what happened here. Nadler views it as revelatory; interesting that they believe they learned a little bit more behind closed doors.
BLITZER: Yes, very significant indeed. Stand by. Laura Jarrett, our Justice Department reporter is with us. You and
Pamela Brown were reporting extensively on what Nadler was saying months ago. So it certainly doesn't come as any surprise to you.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. And the issue had always been how Whitaker was going to toe the line. Remember back when he was the acting attorney general, he was very circumspect about his conversations with the president. He denied the characterization from our reporting that the president had lashed out at him, sort of homing in on those words.
But he didn't deny the fact he actually had conversations with the president about the Southern District of New York, even though he also acknowledged in the hearing that he hadn't had any conversations with Mueller.
He was trying to make some sort of distinction between the special counsel's probe and the Southern District of New York probe. Now we hear from Nadler that he wasn't willing to actually shut down the fact that he might have had conversations with the president about the Southern District of New York and Michael Cohen and also about the U.S. attorney Berman.
The issue there was one of recusal because Berman had not been allowed to oversee that issue and "The New York Times" reported that the president called up the acting attorney, Matt Whitaker, and had said, essentially, "Is there anything we can do about this situation?"
So all of it is kind of now interesting to see how Whitaker is changing his testimony compared to what we saw in public.
BLITZER: Very significant. The acting attorney general, at the time, his conversations with the president of the United States, his boss, it opens potentially right now what we are learning today, courtesy of the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Jerry Nadler, a whole new potential line of inquiry.
JARRETT: Absolutely and I think we also seeing the tale of two Whitakers. We've also seen the key Republican on the committee, Collins telling Manu Raju, that was not his interpretation. So he is disagreeing with Nadler. We haven't seen a transcript in order to read for ourselves what happened. But there's a disagreement here on what exactly he said.
But the overall takeaway is that the conversations between the president and Matt Whitaker did happen.
BLITZER: Let me go back to Manu on Capitol Hill.
Manu, you have a chance to speak with Judiciary Committee chairman about pardons.
What else did you learn?
RAJU: That's right.
RAJU: Involving Manafort after the sentencing today and questions about whether the president would move to pardon his former campaign chairman, the president has not ruled that out. Jerry Nadler is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that would be overseeing any impeachment proceedings. The Democrats at the moment don't want to go down.
I asked him directly, do you think this will be an impeachable offense if he were to pardon Manafort?
Nadler said pardons done for improper motives could be an impeachable offense but you would have to know the improper motive. He said it could be. So that was one subject of discussion afterwards. If the president does move to pardon Paul Manafort, this is something this committee could very well look into and Democrats, particularly this chairman, could certainly push back on.
BLITZER: Stand by, Manu.
Stand by, Laura. We'll have more on this.
There is other breaking news right now. The former Trump campaign chairman faces new legal trouble, an array of state charges filed in New York right after a federal judge basically doubled his prison sentence. Our Justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is joining us.
Take us through the latest developments.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For the first time, Paul Manafort apologized for his crimes in court but in the end it did not get Manafort the lenience he asked for. The judge adding on 3.5 years onto his Virginia sentence. Just when those legal proceedings had wrapped up, state prosecutors in New York City filed more than a dozen new charges against the president's former campaign chairman.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Paul Manafort facing compounding legal problems tonight, minutes after being sentenced for the second time in federal court. The district attorney in Manhattan filed 16 new charges against him in New York, alleged state crimes that cannot be pardoned by President Trump.
The new charges announced moments after Manafort learned he could spend about 7.5 years in prison. Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordering an additional 43 months or 3.6 years, adding onto the 47 months received last week in Virginia.
KEVIN DOWNING, MANAFORT ATTORNEY: -- that is totally unnecessary.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Manafort's attorney spoke briefly outside the courthouse and claimed that the judge found no collusion. DOWNING: Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Still, Judge Jackson was careful to state that was not her conclusion, saying, "Any conspiracy, collusion was not presented in this case; therefore, it was not resolved in this case."
The judge listened to Manafort as he took responsibility for his crimes, coming across as more contrite than during his Virginia sentencing, when he simply said he was ashamed of his conduct.
Manafort telling the D.C. court, "I am sorry for what I have done. Let me be very clear, I accept the responsibility for the acts that caused me to be here today."
Manafort pleaded with the judge to not add on to his sentence from last week.
"Your Honor, I will be 70 years old in a few weeks. Please let my wife and I be together."
But Judge Jackson came down hard on Manafort, emphasizing Manafort's seeming lack of remorse prior to his in-court sentencing statement, saying, "'I'm sorry I got caught' is not an inspiring plea for lenience."
And she questioned Manafort's lawyers repeatedly, referencing the special counsel's inability to charge Russian collusion their sentencing memo, saying, "No collusion is simply a non-sequitur. The defendant's insistence he was caught up in a Russian collusion probe is just one more thing that's inconsistent with the notion of any genuine acceptance of responsibility."
Judge Jackson wondered aloud if Manafort's words were a plea to the president for a pardon, asking if he was trying to persuade some other audience. The Manhattan district attorney trying to take a pardon off the table with the latest state charges for a mortgage fraud scheme, saying, "No one is beyond the law in New York."
President Trump just a short time ago still leaving the pardon question lingering.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you pardon Paul Manafort?
TRUMP: I have not even given it a thought as of this moment. It's not something that right now on my mind. I do feel badly for Paul Manafort. That I can tell you.
SCHNEIDER: And while the president didn't directly comment on these 60 new criminal counts Paul Manafort is facing in New York, he did say that Manafort's legal troubles overall are a very sad situation.
Now as for the Manhattan DA, he's been investigating Paul Manafort since 2017 and the mortgage fraud crimes span from 2015 to 2018, which includes the time he served as the president's campaign chairman.
BLITZER: All right, lots of developments. Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.
Joining us now is Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah. He is a key member of House Intelligence Committee.
Thanks for joining us.
REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: Good evening.
BLITZER: What is your reaction to this news from the chairman?
He says the former acting attorney general did --
BLITZER: -- not deny President Trump spoke to him about the Michael Cohen investigation, seemingly in contrast to what he said the other day when he was testifying.
STEWART: Yes. I wasn't part of that testimony. I would have to talk to these individuals. I want to be careful. My initial response is I don't know that it's terribly important, frankly. It's not unusual for the president to have those conversations with the attorney without U.S. attorneys. They work for the attorney general. They work for the president. As you know, the ranking member came out and had quite a different interpretation it sounds like.
BLITZER: He now says in his testimony that according to Nadler that Whitaker was involved in discussing the possible firing of one or more of U.S. attorneys.
Does that concern you?
STEWART: Not at all. I think those conversations take place all of the time. The U.S. attorneys work if the president. Now if some were to make some claim they were firing him or firing her, that would be different. But every U.S. attorney works at the pleasure of the president. I think they have those conversations quite often.
BLITZER: But the concern, Congressman, is he may have been involved in having a discussion about the firing the U.S. attorney in New York who had cited the President of the United States as Individual-1 in the case against Michael Cohen.
Does that concern you?
STEWART: Well, is that true?
Is that what you are reporting, they spoke specifically about the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York because of this investigation?
BLITZER: If that is what happened, would you be concerned about that?
STEWART: That would be different.
The indications is these conversations were not about that, they were about other U.S. attorneys. They're not apples and oranges.
BLITZER: He is now saying that he did have conversations with the president about the Cohen case.
STEWART: Yes. Once again, I don't think it would be terribly unusual. The president doesn't operate in a vacuum. He has to speak with his attorney general. They discuss many things. But to tie these together --
BLITZER: Let me point out, it would be unusual to have a conversation with the president if the president were involved in that specific case that the U.S. attorney was looking at.
STEWART: Well, that would be true but again, according to -- unless I misunderstood, that's not what they were claiming here. I don't you ought to get ahead of your skis on this. I don't think it's a big deal.
BLITZER: You make a fair point. I'm asking if that did happen, you would be concerned. So clearly you would be. And we'll be precise, you're right. Manu is not reporting precisely that; others have reported that. But we'll pursue that line of inquiry.
STEWART: Fair enough.
The Judiciary Committee chairman Nadler, he also said that a pardon of Manafort could be potentially an impeachable offense if there's an improper motive.
In your view, what message would it send if the president were to decide to pardon Manafort.
STEWART: I think that's such an enormous if. Even an if is an enormous exaggeration. The president has not given any indication that's he's going to pardon these individuals. I hope he doesn't. I don't think he should. I don't think that he will.
BLITZER: Manafort has been sentenced to a total of 7.5 years in these two federal courts. That's a very significant sentence. In a few weeks he turns 70.
What questions does it raise that the campaign chairman committed these very serious crimes?
STEWART: I think you're trying to tie the campaign for crimes that didn't exist. These crimes took place years before his association with Trump, in some cases 10 years. Mr. Manafort broke the law. That's clear. I'm not sure he has showed appropriate remorse.
I think he should be punished for this and I've never indicated otherwise. But to tie that to the campaign in some way, when none of these crimes have anything to do with Trump or the campaign, I think it's unfair to tie them together. [17:25:00]
BLITZER: Here's a way it ties to the campaign. The president kept leading the chant, "Lock her up," referring to Hillary Clinton. His campaign chairman is going to prison. His personal lawyer is going to prison. His campaign foreign policy adviser already served time in prison. His deputy campaign chairman is still facing time in prison. His national security adviser is still facing time in prison.
What does it say about the president's judgment that these top officials are now going to prison?
STEWART: Well, I think it's a fair observation. I would say this. Some of these individuals I look at them and I think they are not the types of individuals that they have demonstrated that I would feel comfortable have associated with me and my campaign.
But it's fair to vindicate they have been accused of nothing that ties to the president and certainly not to collusion, conspiracy, obstruction. These are financial misdealings. Crimes that took place after Mueller was appointed.
For example, General Flynn, this was a man that served his country honorably for many, many years. He clearly made a mistake. I don't think you look at him and say this is some kind of shady character. I think it's unfair to characterize him that way.
BLITZER: He did plead guilty. He did have a distinguished record in the U.S. military which is a fair point. The federal judge involved in today's sentencing said collusion, in her words, was not presented in this case.
T. S. Ellis, do you think it is appropriate as a result of what these two federal judges, for the president to claim that Manafort's case proved there was no collusion?
STEWART: I think the judges are splitting hairs here. They said there has been no evidence of collusion presented to them and that's true. You can say there could be collusion. But there's been no evidence of collusion presented before any case.
If there is, show it to us.
BLITZER: We'll see the final investigation from the special counsel Robert Mueller has to say about collusion. That report presumably will be made available to the new attorney general soon.
Thanks so much for joining us.
STEWART: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the breaking news. Matt Whitaker testifying behind closed doors at the House Judiciary Committee, you heard what the chairman just said.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And you'll remember what he said before the committee, which was that he did not have conversations with the president about the Cohen case. He didn't deny that he did. It seems to be a very different kind of testimony. He also didn't deny that he discussed personnel in the Southern District of New York.
He admitted that he was directly involved in conversations about whether to fire one or more U.S. attorneys. I think they were sort of stunned by the conflict.
BLITZER: Pretty significant development.
DANA BASH, CNN SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The U.S. attorneys are controversial. The Cohen situation is explosive.
If it is true that the president had a direct conversation with the acting attorney general about a case, an active criminal case for and about, at the time his fixer, attorney, whatever you want to call it was, that is wholly inappropriate. Whether the lawyers say whether it goes beyond inappropriate.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: If accurate, I think it opens up a whole new line of inquiry about whether or not the president may have attempted to obstruct justice.
There's nothing inappropriate about the President of the United States and acting attorney general discussing firing U.S. attorneys.
It is, however, inappropriate to discuss firing a particular U.S. attorney, for example, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, because he has recused in the oversight of the investigation because the President wants to replace him with somebody who has not recused much like he did when he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This essentially nears the firing over James Comey, right? It's not the that President lacks the authority to do this, it's that doing it for a corrupt purpose is a violation of the law.
So, first and foremost, there's a question about whether or not Matt Whitaker may have perjured himself under oath, relatively qualified language with the testimony. So he might a strong argument there. The far bigger question is the substantive one, did they actually have this conversation, and if so, is there going to be an inquiry about whether, once again --
BLITZER: Let me get Joey Jackson involved in this. So you were watching this closely too, Joey.
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, Wolf, inappropriateness is the new normal, right? I mean, I'm not being sarcastic. We are talk about the President doing something inappropriate. Wow, what a news, news flash before us that this President would do anything that was inappropriate. The fact is is that we're in a new era, really, right? Let's go back to Giuliani's statements about facts or not facts and alternative facts with Kellyanne Conway, et cetera. I'm not sure what world we are living in.
Now, I think there are two narratives as it relates to a conversation, inappropriate about an open case, of course, perhaps unethical, of course. But does it cross the line? That's the center of the question. And the narrative will be that the President of the United States is, in essence, the Chief Law Enforcement Officer. He has an interest, a vested interest in what occurs, yes, but he wants to know what's happening. That's one narrative.
The other narrative is that, clearly, in calling what was the implication of the call? Why would he call? It is obstruction of justice. That's what it is. And those will be the two competing parts that we're going to be talking about.
BORGER: And, you know, you have to ask the question whether this is something that Bob Mueller -- I know it's the end of his investigation, but you have to ask the question whether this rises to the level of obstruction, as Joey suggesting it could, whether this is something that Bob Mueller would want to hear about from Whitaker. I mean, in the -- you know, our reporting from Manu and Jeremy is that, behind closed doors, and this is what Chairman Nadler said, he did not deny it. He would not say no. What did he say? You're right.
BASH: He didn't want to say yes.
BORGER: He didn't want to say yes.
BASH: And he didn't have to.
BORGER: But I would think it would be something that maybe Mueller would be interested in.
BASH: Mueller or, look, I mean, this is what Congress is supposed to do.
BASH: I mean this is one of the major downsides for the President and major upsides for democrats and, dare I say, finding out basic facts of having democrats in charge of the House of Representatives, in charge of the committees who will look into that, first of all, just getting this information from the Democratic Chair of the judiciary committee.
But then the question is, and maybe this was asked in the briefing, what are they going to do about it?
HENNESSEY: Well, look, it's also worth noting that Trump did this after being fully aware of the possible consequences here, right? He has spent the first two years of his presidency tied up in the Mueller investigation, a Special Counsel appointed after he fired someone.
So there's no argument here that the President isn't aware that, one, these are inappropriate conversations, two, that it might represent some kind of legal peril. And so, in some sense, you have to wonder if he isn't essentially challenging the Congress to do something about it to sort of step so far over the line again and again and again. And one thing he has proven thus far is that, apparently, he can get away with it.
BLITZER: We know that --
JACKSON: Although this time --
BLITZER: Joey, go ahead and make your point.
JACKSON: Although this time, I think there are consequences, right? Initially, in the administration, he had cover because when republicans were in control of both Houses, no oversight, no investigation, so what, the President can do what he wants to do. At this time point in time with the democrats in control of the House of Representatives, there are consequences because many things are coming to light. There are subpoenas being served, there's information that being vetted, there are tax returns are going to become a separate issue.
But I just think that now, the President cannot do what he wants to do, expect to get away with it. He calls it presidential harassment. We call it transparency.
BLITZER: You know, let's talk about the sentencing of Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman. He's going to get now a total of 7.5 years. He has already served nine months mostly in solitary confinement. 7.5 years, he's about to begin a pretty lengthy prison sentence for someone who's about to turn 70 years old.
BORGER: He is. And then you have the U.S. attorney in New York charging him with mortgage fraud, falsifying records, conspiracy, and he could face additional years in prison on that.
BLITZER: That's the state attorney in New York.
BORGER: In New York, certainly. And as you have pointed out many times, this is something that Trump would have no ability to pardon. So he walks out of the courtroom. And within minutes, he gets slapped with these charges.
And so he's probably wondering what he's going to face there.
BLITZER: They were arguing that they have this -- they had been investigating and Cy Vance [ph] in Manhattan for long time. But they wanted to wait until the financial sentencing that he was going to receive in these two federal cases before they announced their indictments.
HENNESSEY: Sure. So there is an argument for states -- for the district attorney in this case to want to de-conflict from federal prosecutions. With that said, I think that based on the timing, it's reasonable to conclude that at least part of the district attorney's motivation here was essentially presidency-proofing this conviction, ensuring that Paul Manafort would serve time because, of course, these are state charges that the President wouldn't actually be able to pardon Manafort for.
Now, that's kind of federalism in action. There's a reason why we only allow the President to pardon federal crimes and not state offenses. But I do think that this was, at least to to some degree, motivated by precisely that --
BLITZER: And let me get Joey into this because the defense attorney in Manhattan cited that he indicts him on 16 additional charges. How serious are these charges? You have looked through the document.
JACKSON: Well, they are absolutely serious. And we all should wrapped our head around that the fact and the notion that Paul Manafort may never see the light of day again.
Now, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, my former office, is adept and skilled at prosecuting financial crimes, mortgage fraud crimes, right? It's in the financial capital of the universe, and so prosecuting Manafort certainly would be nothing new.
And I think we all should know, understand and talked about the fact that his was an investigation that was underway. They paused out of deference to the federal government to see what they are going to do. But I think the fact that you talk about serious, Wolf, a B felony is something that carries 25 years in jail and state court judges in sentencing are not going to be interested in the collusion questions or any other questions. They're going to be interested in the central questions of did you commit fraud, what is the extent of the fraud, are you guilty of those 16 counts and what punishment should be meted out.
I think it's going to be steep and it would run, right, not concurrent, meaning, with these federal charges but consecutive. Serve your federal sentence and then come to New York and deal with the state charges, and that's on top of that. He will never see the light of day again.
BLITZER: And if he is convicted in New York State in these allegations, there's no presidential pardon that's going to get him out of jail as far as state convictions are concerned.
Everybody stick around, there's a lot more on all the breaking news. We'll be right back.
[17:41:45] BLITZER: We're back with our experts, our specialists, our correspondents.
Gloria, you've got some exclusive reporting on some e-mails that were sent from the President's team to Michael Cohen when he was still liked by those guys.
BORGER: Right. Well, these e-mails go back to April 2018 when they still had a joint defense agreement. And they were sent by an attorney named Robert Costello, who was somebody who was joining Michael Cohen's defense or wanted to join Michael Cohen's defense. And they are largely about Michael Cohen's relationship with the President and with the White House.
And I just want to give you a little phrase from it. Costello describes this relationship in great terms and says, he talked to Rudy Giuliani about it. It was very, very positive. You are loved. Sleep well tonight. You have friends in high places.
So these are part of the documents that Cohen gave over to congressional committees. But the interpretation of just what's being said in those e-mails is really -- it differs depending on whom you ask.
BLITZER: Well, you had a chance to speak with the President's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. What did he say?
BASH: Well, he says, point blank, that it has nothing to do with pardons. That was not part of the discussion that instead Costello called Giuliani and said that he -- that Cohen is concerned that the President was mad at him. Because remember, as Gloria said at that time, they were still simpatico personally and also legally.
And so what Giuliani was trying to do in response was to try to calm Cohen down to say, no, he is not mad. There was also concern according to Giuliani about Cohen's emotional state at that point. He was very upset. It was after the raid.
BORGER: So -- and, you know, what the Cohen sympathizers say is this was effectively dangling a pardon to him. I should point out, we don't have Michael Cohen's responses, which I think are very important for us to read here. And I can't characterize them one way or another.
So we need to hear what Michael Cohen was saying. But they're saying, look, this is clear that they were try to go keep me on board, get somebody on my legal team who would go back and report to the White House what I was thinking and what I was doing and it's the first step in dangling a pardon.
BLITZER: How do you see it, Susan?
HENNESSEY: Look, I mean, as with so many things with Rudy Giuliani, that explanation doesn't make sense on its face, right? Why would you say that you had friends in high places unless something about their position actually was relevant here, you know?
So I think it's also worth noting that we've seen the President effectively dangle pardons in public as well. So idea that we should be more surprised if he wasn't doing it in private than if he's only doing this in public and not in private. One thing that I do think is worth focusing on is whether or not Rudy Giuliani himself or any of the President's private legal counsel discussed pardons with the President or discussed pardons with other individuals sort of in the orbit of potential targets here.
These are not individuals who have any legitimate role in pardons. They are Justice Department employees. They don't work for the Attorney General. The pardon power that the President has is to be used on behalf of the nation. And so the idea that he would be discussing this with his private attorneys at all, I do think, is an indication that he was considering using this power not for the country but for himself.
BLITZER: let me get Joey in there. Joey, what do you think?
JACKSON: Stick with me and everything's going to be fine. I think that's the only reasonable interpretation, right? Stay on Team Trump and everything's going to be OK. One quick pivot, Wolf, to the issue of Cohen's a liar. He's a liar, you can't believe a word he says.
You know, in court, this is what happens, the judge instructs the jury. Every day there are trials throughout the country, and there are some witnesses who are less than candid. And here is what the judge tells every juror, and I would tell everyone listening as follows.
You can, when a person testifies, accept those portions of their testimony that you believe to be credible and are corroborated and reject others. It doesn't mean that when someone is lying, they're lying about everything. They could be lying about some things and not others. And that's what I'll leave you with.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Everybody, stick around because there's more news we're following, including the latest developments on a wide-ranging college admissions bribery scandal. The actress Lori Loughlin is due in court for her alleged role in the scheme. Stand by for details. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:50:42] BLITZER: Tonight, new details in the nationwide college admissions bribery scheme uncovered by federal prosecutors. The legal drama is just getting started as celebrities, CEOs, sports coaches, and dozens of others are making their way through the court system, including the actress Lori Loughlin.
CNN's Erica Hill is joining us. She has the latest developments. Erica, what are you learning?
ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we know that she is at the courthouse in L.A. at this hour after surrendering early this morning, waiting to face a judge. And those details that you mentioned and the headlines continuing to spark outrage.
HILL (voice-over): Actress Lori Loughlin, long known as straight- laced Aunt Becky on "Full House," surrendering to authorities this morning.
She and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, face charges related to Operation Varsity Blues and their alleged $500,000 bribe to ensure their daughters would be admitted to USC as recruits for the crew team. Neither daughter participated in the sport. The allegations a far cry from Aunt Becky.
LORI LOUGHLIN, ACTRESS: We may have -- well, he may have embellished, lied a bit on our application.
HILL (voice-over): According to the complaint, Giannulli e-mailed pictures of his daughters on indoor rowing machines to William Rick Singer, the man who's pled guilty to orchestrating the massive scam. The photos were used to create fake athletic profiles.
I created a side door that would guarantee families would get in, Singer told the judge on Tuesday. I was bribing coaches for a spot, and that occurred very frequently.
The senior associate athletic director at USC fired Tuesday after being indicted on racketeering charges related to the scam.
Another actress, Felicity Huffman, arrested at her home on Tuesday. Huffman is now out on $250,000 bond. According to the complaint, Singer told Huffman and her husband, William H. Macy, he, quote, controlled a testing center and could doctor their daughter's SATs. Huffman allegedly paid $15,000 for the surface under the guise of a donation.
ANDREW LELLING, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY FOR THE DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS: The parents' payments to Singer for these services were made at least in part as charitable contributions to the sham charity that Singer had set up. This enabled the parents to not only mask the true nature of the payment but also take the tax write- off at the end of the year.
HILL (voice-over): In consensually recorded phone calls laid out in the complaint, one from just last month, Huffman and Singer discussed using the same cheating scheme for her younger daughter. The details playing into a familiar narrative about the benefits of privilege, one Huffman's character embraced on "Desperate Housewives."
FELICITY HUFFMAN, ACTRESS: Please, you can't bend the rules just once?
WILL SCHAUB, ACTOR: Did you know the team could use some new batting helmets?
HUFFMAN: I'll get my checkbook.
HILL (voice-over): She and Macy ultimately decided against cheating a second time, according to the complaint.
Jane Buckingham, the founder and CEO of a California marketing firm, offered a sample of her son's handwriting so his tests could be forged, according to the complaint, which also includes detailed exchanges with parents across the country, laying there the lengths used to cheat. In some cases, falsely claiming students were nationally ranked tennis and water polo players.
Coaches were also heavily involved and compensated. The NCAA and affected schools are looking into the allegations. And while no students have been charged, prosecutors stress the investigation is far from over.
HILL: CNN has reached out to the parties named, including the coaches. We have yet to hear back from those coaches. I do want to point out, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig tells me he believes these charges, which are very well documented, are, in his view, very tough to beat.
One question that has yet to be resolved, Wolf, is what happens to these students who were admitted to various schools as part of the cheating scandal.
BLITZER: Yes. It's an awful, awful story indeed. The allegations are so serious. Erica Hill, thank you very much.
Coming up, the breaking news. The House Judiciary Committee Chairman says former Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker does not deny talking with President Trump about Michael Cohen. Does that raise another red flag potentially about obstruction?
[17:55:03] And right after a federal judge nearly doubles Paul Manafort's federal prison sentence, a New York prosecutor unveils state charges. Are they pardon-proof?
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Whitaker revelations. The head of the House Judiciary Committee meets behind closed doors with former Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and says he did not deny talking with President Trump about Michael Cohen's case.
[18:00:02] Hard time, new charges. Paul Manafort gets more prison time as he is sentenced here in Washington.