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Trump Announces Grounding Of All Boeing 737 Max Jets; Kremlin Accuses House Democrats Of "Russophobia;" Manafort Slapped With New York Charges Minutes After Sentence Increased To More Than Seven Years In Prison; Interview With Rep. Mike Quigley (D) Illinois; New Michael Cohen E-mails Revealed. Aired on 6-7p ET

Aired March 13, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hard time, new charges. Paul Manafort gets more prison time, as he is sentenced here in Washington. And less than an hour later, the Manhattan district attorney announces state fraud charges against the former Trump campaign chairman, potentially blunting the impact of a presidential pardon.

Friends in high places. CNN obtains the e-mail Michael Cohen gave Congress to bolster his claim that the Trump team dangled a pardon before him through a back channel. He told Cohen he could sleep well because of his connections. It's a CNN exclusive.

And on the ground. President Trump announces all Boeing 737 Max planes in the United States are now grounded, as the country becomes among the last letting them fly in the wake of two deadly crashes. Tonight, we're learning new details of pilot complaints about the aircraft.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories tonight, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler revealing that the former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker did not deny that President Trump talked to him about the case against Mr. Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.

That comes as former Trump Campaign Chairman, Paul Manafort was slapped with new charges by the New York district attorney less than an hour after he was ordered to serve an additional 43 months in prison for conspiracy, on top of his 47-month sentence for tax and bank fraud.

Also breaking, an unprecedented move by President Trump, personally announcing that all Boeing 737 Max planes in the United States are grounded immediately.

I will talk about the breaking news and more with Congressman Mike Quigley of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents, analyst and specialists, they are also standing by.

First, let's get details on the breaking news about former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker.

Our Justice Reporter, Laura Jarrett, and CNN's Kara Scannell, they are both working with story for us.

Laura, first to you. What are you learning?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we're learning that the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, is raising new questions about conversations between President Trump and acting Attorney General, former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker.

We reported back in December that Trump had vented to Whitaker about prosecutors in Manhattan going rogue over the Michael Cohen investigation into those hush money payments that were made just before the 2016 election.

Matt Whitaker was very circumspect in his testimony, providing different answers when he testified originally on the Hill. And according to Chairman Jerry Nadler today, he changed his tune. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Unlike in the hearing room, Mr. Whitaker did not deny that the president called him to discuss Michael Cohen, the Michael Cohen case and personnel decisions in the Southern District.

Two, while he was acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker was directly involved in conversations about whether to fire one or more U.S. attorneys. And, three, while he was attorney general, 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 No. 1.

Those are the three takeaways from our -- from today.

QUESTION: What do you mean they did not deny the president's involved -- the president -- he did not deny the president's involvement? The president interacting with him about as to...

NADLER: Just what I said. He did not deny it ,unlike in the hearing room.

QUESTION: So that means that he had conversations with the president about the Michael Cohen guilty plea?

NADLER: He would not say no.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JARRETT: Now, the top Republican on the committee, Congressman Doug Collins, had a very different takeaway from the exact same closed-door session with Whitaker this afternoon. Take a listen to what he told our Manu Raju just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Nadler said there were three takeaways. One, he said that the president -- that Whitaker did not deny that the president called him to discuss the Michael Cohen case and the personnel decisions in the Southern District of New York.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R), GEORGIA: I think that's an interpretation of what he said. Mr. Whitaker said that he did not have conversations with the president about Cohen.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: He said he did not deny it.

COLLINS: Yes. I mean, in this corner, the understanding is, is from what we went through, what I just said, he had those conversations with him.

If Mr. Nadler chooses to say, by absence of what he didn't say, if that's the way he's interpreting it, then I will have to -- Mr. Nadler will have to answer to that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: So, clearly a fair amount of confusion, Wolf, on Capitol Hill about what exactly Whitaker said, what exactly he meant. We have got two different members of Congress, potentially two different stories from Whitaker.

[18:05:00]

None of this apparently getting resolved, even though the whole point was for him to come to the Hill to get it resolved, especially after our story in December.

BLITZER: Because you remember "The New York Times" had reported that the president wanted to replace the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who had recused himself from all of this.

How significant potentially -- if that is true, how significant is that compared to what we heard today, at least according to the committee chairman?

JARRETT: Well, the question there was always why. Why did he want his guy, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney, to be back on the case, instead of Robert Khuzami, the first assistant who by all accounts was perfectly capable and a great lawyer?

And there's no reason that he couldn't oversee the case. And so the question was, why did he want to try to get Berman back on? We don't have any insight into that yet, but we do know, at least according to Chairman Nadler, that he did have discussions -- Whitaker I should say did have discussions about potentially replacing U.S. attorneys and other personnel decisions.

What we just don't know is who with and why.

BLITZER: Because, Kara, it's interesting that Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District, he's completely recused from all Trump investigations, including, for example, the Trump inauguration.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

I mean, in the inauguration, which that investigation just got under way late last year, and they sent that subpoena that we have all seen copies of to the inaugural committee asking for a range of documents.

That subpoena was signed by Geoffrey Berman, so it's very clear he's not recused from that case. And as we have seen, some of the issues that have come up and perhaps why they're looking at the inauguration came out in some respect to the cooperation of Michael Cohen.

So just because he recused from Michael Cohen's case, with those campaign finance violations, it doesn't mean he's entirely recused from anything involving Michael Cohen. We also know that the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan is still investigating aspects of the Trump Organization.

They have said repeatedly in court that that's an ongoing investigation. Remains to be seen where that leads.

BLITZER: All right, Kara Scannell, Laura Jarrett, guys, great reporting, as usual. Thank you.

The other breaking story this hour, the new charges against the former Trump Campaign Chairman, Paul Manafort, whose prison sentence has now grown to more than seven years.

Our Political Correspondent, Sara Murray, has details for us.

Sara, Manafort was sentenced today on conspiracy charges, a separate case from his tax and bank fraud conviction the other day.

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

After back-to-back appearances before a judge in Virginia, and then a judge here in D.C., Manafort now faces seven-and-a-half years behind bars, and this may not be Manafort's last day in a courtroom.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Less than an hour after a judge piled more prison time on for Paul Manafort, the Manhattan district attorney hit the former Trump campaign chairman with a new round of fraud charges, alleged state crimes for which Manafort could not be pardoned. Today, a federal judge in D.C. added 43 months of prison time to the

nearly four years that Manafort was already facing for financial crimes

Judge Amy Berman Jackson's sentenced Manafort for the crimes he pleaded guilty to in D.C., conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy witness tampering, bringing Manafort's total sentence to seven-and-a- half years.

But with the possibility of a presidential pardon still on the table, Manafort's attorney was quick to step outside the courthouse and reiterate one of President Trump's favorite talking points, no collusion.

KEVIN DOWNING, ATTORNEY FOR PAUL MANAFORT: Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case. So that makes two courts.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no collusion. And there hasn't been collusion. And it was all a big hoax.

MURRAY: As for the president, today, he didn't rule out a future pardon for Manafort.

TRUMP: I have not even given it a thought as of this moment. It's not something that is right now in my mind. I do feel badly for Paul Manafort.

MURRAY: But a presidential pardon won't help Manafort if he's convicted of the charges he faces in New York. State charges can't be waived away with pardon powers.

He's accused of mortgage fraud, falsifying business records, and conspiracy, according to a 16-count indictment unveiled in Manhattan. Dressed today in a suit, instead of an inmate jumpsuit, Manafort showed little emotion as he spoke from a wheelchair in a D.C. courtroom.

"I am sorry for what I have done," he said. "Let me be clear, I accept the responsibility for the acts that caused me to be here today."

In a plea for leniency, Manafort said: "Your Honor, I will be 70 years old in a few weeks," adding, "Please let my wife and I be together."

Manafort's lawyer also painted his client in a sympathetic light, claiming, but for the 2016 election, Manafort would not be in this situation.

But Judge Jackson blasted that approach to the case, saying, "I'm sorry I got caught is not an inspiring plea for leniency."

The judge spoke directly to Manafort about his foreign lobbying, saying: "He lied to Congress and the American people. If the people don't have the facts, democracy doesn't work."

She later rebuked Manafort for lying to prosecutors after his arrest, noting: "Court is one of those places where facts still matter."

Judge Jackson also took issue with the assertion from Manafort's team that the charges Manafort faced were not linked to Russian collusion. She dismissed those claims as a non sequitur in this case, calling them "just one more thing that's inconsistent with the notion of any genuine acceptance of responsibility."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[18:10:03]

MURRAY: Now, there's been plenty of speculation that Paul Manafort was just angling for a presidential pardon from the start.

Obviously, if he is convicted of these charges in New York, that won't be of much help to him. So far, Manafort has not entered a plea in the charges he's facing in New York now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara thank you, Sara Murray reporting.

Let's talk about this and more.

Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois is joining us. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Thank you.

BLITZER: According to your colleague, the committee chairman, the Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, the former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker wouldn't deny that he discussed the Michael Cohen investigation with the president, and he admitted to discussing whether that investigation had gone too far, also discussing whether to fire one or more U.S. attorneys.

What does that tell you?

QUIGLEY: The continued attack on the rule of law.

I have often said what the Russians did, as Mike Morell, the former CIA director, said, was the political equivalent of 9/11. Well, when this is all over, I'm worried that the president's reaction to what the Russians did will have a longer-term, more lasting impact on the rule of law in our country.

What's of great concern is, did they, Mr. Whitaker and the president, talk about what the Justice Department was doing? Did he tell -- share him -- share with him information about the investigation? This goes from being unethical to extraordinarily illegal.

BLITZER: Well, in part, I assume, because the president, he was referred to as Individual No. 1 in the Michael Cohen case, as far as the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York was charging.

How improper would it be for him to weigh in on an investigation that directly implicated him?

QUIGLEY: I think Mr. Whitaker should have known that the president was potentially implicated, given all the evidence that was going back and forth.

And his -- from what he said, his knowledge of the case. So he is now using his office to help someone implicated in the case, with -- no other way to describe it -- with the defense of their case. Again, it is not just unethical. It's illegal. It's an extraordinary broadside on the rule of law.

BLITZER: Are you concerned, Congressman, that the other person in the room with Whitaker today, the House Judiciary ranking member, Doug Collins, has a completely different interpretation of his testimony, Whitaker's testimony, than the committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, has?

QUIGLEY: It's not a surprise.

I think we're now living in an age where the appropriate expression is, I will see it when I believe it. So, the truth and the facts matter less and less.

Remember, we have witnessed two-and-a-half years of an investigation in which my committee, the House Select Committee on Intelligence, worked hand in glove to help the president of United States obstruct this investigation. So it's hard to watch.

We have to keep up our due diligence on it.

BLITZER: Well, if you believe Jerry Nadler's interpretation, do you believe President Trump may have attempted to obstruct justice through those conversations with Whitaker?

QUIGLEY: It wouldn't surprise me.

Again, I believe there's a pattern of behavior of obstruction by the president of the United States, from the initial stages of this investigation. And I don't think it's stopped. I don't think it will stop.

I think, when the president doesn't rule out and he continues to, by implication today, talk about a public dangling of pardons, we're in the same territory. The constitutional crisis has begun. And we need to be prepared.

BLITZER: You believe Whitaker may have perjured himself, based on what he said today, as opposed to what he testified when he was still the acting attorney general?

QUIGLEY: I can't say for certain. I need to look at this, the testimony more carefully.

But, again, there has been an extraordinary pattern of behavior of lying, the people around the president of the United States, to protect the president of the United States. And, of course, the president has probably misled and lied about this investigation more than anyone else.

BLITZER: We also learned, of course, Paul Manafort's full sentence today, seven-and-a-half years, combining with the sentence he got in Northern Virginia, the sentence he got in D.C. today.

The committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, says pardoning Manafort, from his perspective, could be an impeachable offense, if there's an improper motive. Do you agree?

QUIGLEY: Well, it's -- it would be part in my mind of that larger pattern of behavior of obstruction.

But I keep reminding people I don't think it's appropriate to talk about impeachment. Let's get the Mueller investigation complete, and turn loose to the American public and Congress. Let's see where the results of these criminal investigations take us. [18:15:01]

Let's find out all the evidence. It makes absolutely no sense. For those of my -- colleagues of mine who wanted to talk about, oh, a year-and-a-half ago, they wouldn't have known anything about the Manafort wrongdoing and the Cohen wrongdoing.

If all they care about is impeachment -- and I think that's the wrong tack -- they may get one shot at it. So what I would suggest to them is, keep impeachment off the table until we have all the information.

BLITZER: Yes, I guess you agree with the speaker on that.

The federal judge today, Amy Berman Jackson, she pointed out that collusion was not presented in this case involving Paul Manafort. Is that exonerating, as the president has claimed?

QUIGLEY: Now, I think what was revealed in court documents is direct evidence of not collusion, but conspiracy.

Let's remember what Mr. Manafort did. He met with Mr. Kilimnik, with ties with Russian intelligence, and handed over Trump polling data, which is exactly what you would use to attack the democratic process.

One of the elements of what the Russians did was to weaponize social media. When you want to weaponize social media, you want to know how to target. What the Trump -- the Trump campaign did through Mr. Manafort was give them the ammunition to attack our democratic process.

When this investigation began, what did Mr. Comey say at the first public hearing, and all 17 intelligence agencies agreed? The Russians attacked our democratic process to help one candidate, Mr. Trump, and to hurt another candidate, Mrs. Clinton.

BLITZER: But those issues that you just raised, which are important issues, of course, Congressman, Manafort was not charged with any criminal activity related to that either in Northern Virginia by the U.S. attorney there or what was going on with the special counsel, Robert Mueller's charges today. QUIGLEY: Well, I think the Mueller investigation has still got work to do.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But Manafort wasn't specifically charged with any criminal activity, when he supposedly handed over confidential polling information to a Russian operative.

QUIGLEY: The justice system sometimes disappoints.

The facts remain that those were -- that was information in court documents, court documents that can't be -- they can't put that information in there if they believe them to not be true.

BLITZER: The Manhattan district attorney, Cy Vance, today unsealed a 16-count indictment of Manafort just about an hour or so after his sentencing here in Washington.

Are you concerned that this was a political calculation?

QUIGLEY: It's hard to imagine that they had everything ready, and that it wasn't -- that it was timed right after this sentencing.

Typically, something as complicated as a multi-count criminal charge takes quite a while to prepare. So what's more likely is that this just happened at the same time the sentencing took place. It's hard to imagine they were conferring and deciding when this was going to be released.

I will say I -- the judge today, in her sentencing, she said all the right things, that Mr. Manafort showed he wasn't remorseful in a sense that he apologized, but did nothing less. He tampered with a witness. He lied to investigators. And, of course, his underlying crimes were serious.

I still felt that both sentences were light, under those circumstances. Obviously, this is not an upstanding citizen, but he's clearly getting every break at this time.

BLITZER: Yes, the Manhattan district attorney had been investigating Manafort since 2017, had apparently all these charges under seal, decided to wait until the sentencing in both of these cases against Manafort were concluded, and then he immediately went ahead and released the charges, the indictments.

Congressman Quigley, thanks so much for joining us.

QUIGLEY: Thank you. Anytime.

BLITZER: All right, there's more breaking news just ahead. The House Judiciary Committee chairman says former Attorney General Matt Whitaker does not deny talking with President Trump about Michael Cohen. Could this be a case of obstruction?

Plus, we will have more on Paul Manafort's growing legal peril. Moments after learning his fate from a federal judge, the former Trump campaign chairman is slapped with pardon-proof charges from prosecutors in New York.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:54]

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories tonight, including new questions about the testimony of the former Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee says that in a closed- door session today, Whitaker did not deny talking with President Trump about Michael Cohen's case.

Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts.

What exactly the chairman Jerry Nadler, Laura say, and how does that line up with what Whitaker testified not too long ago publicly?

JARRETT: So, there's a big discrepancy here even between members of Congress about what exactly Whitaker said behind closed doors, and, unfortunately, there is no transcript. It was just these two members and their staff.

But what Chairman Nadler is saying is that Whitaker did not deny having conversations with the president about the Michael Cohen investigation and prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

We had previously reported that the president was venting about it, he was frustrated, he thought prosecutors had been running amuck. And so that was one of the questions that the hearing earlier this year for the acting attorney general, tell us about that. He didn't want to go into it.

He had denied the idea that the person had lashed out. But when pressed about whether there were any conversations, he wouldn't go into it. So now Jerry Nadler is saying he didn't deny that there were conversations.

[18:25:03]

On the other hand, Republican Doug Collins is saying, no, no, no, that didn't happen. He didn't bring that up at all. That's not what happened. That was not his interpretation of Whitaker's testimony today.

BLITZER: And Doug Collins, the ranking Republican, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

JARRETT: Yes.

BLITZER: Is there not a transcript, a recording of this session?

JARRETT: According to Representative Collins, there isn't, unfortunately for us, so we're not going to be able to assess this and figure out what happened.

But Republicans and Democrats have -- even though Matthew Whitaker's no longer at the Justice Department, they have been interested in this because he was so at the center of the Michael Cohen situation in those early days, especially after Cohen had pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.

Whitaker's right there in the hot seat at the top of the Justice Department. So that's why this matters.

BLITZER: All right, it matters because this is what he said when he was testifying as the acting attorney general before Congress under oath. Listen to this, Laura.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW WHITAKER, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: At no time has the White House asked for, nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel's investigation or any other investigation.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D), FLORIDA: I want to know whether you talk to President Trump at all about the Southern District of New York's case involving Michael Cohen.

WHITAKER: Congresswoman, as I have mentioned several times today, I am not going to discuss my private conversations with the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, her question was quite direct. Did you have any conversations at all? And he chose not to answer that question, which actually made people say, well, obviously, there must have been a private conversation you had, alluding to, perhaps, executive privilege that might be used or exercised, which is odd, because, of course, they told him in advance, please anticipate those sorts of questions.

And if you intend to say that the president, who owns the privilege, is going to assert that privilege, he must use it before the hearing.

Having said that, of course, the notion that the president would have a conversation about a U.S. attorney is actually not the oddest aspect of it. It would be on if he did it for a corrupt purpose ,as in this particular, of all of the states in our entire union, I want to know about this one, which so happens to be the one that foundationally overlies actually where I'm from, the financial dealings, Michael Cohen's investigation, the SDNY.

And you want your own guy to be there. Remember, it was SDNY that was one of the only places that the president of the United States actually sought to interview the U.S. attorney there, and was surprised that he'd been recused. So if that was his motivation, to get around this issue or find out

information or to somehow fire him because he did what Sessions did, which is recuse, for a very good reason, then you have another pattern of obstruction, another pattern that raises the specter.

BLITZER: But it's not unusual for a member of the Cabinet, in this particular case an acting attorney general, not to want to discuss private conversations with the president of the United States.

COATES: No, not at all. And, in fact, the executive privilege is there because we want our president to be able to be forthcoming, have candid conversations with his members of his Cabinet, because they want to have a free flow of ideas, even if the person is trying to brainstorm.

The issue, however, is, the privilege actually belongs to the president, as the member who's the head of the executive branch. If the president should choose to assert it, then so be it. But other people cannot simply say, I think he might do so, I'm not going to answer the question.

Jeff Sessions tried that very thing many moons ago at this point, when he actually was the attorney general, and actually was still in the good graces if any time with the president. And they said, hold on a second, we have no indication here that the president has actually asserted it, and you cannot say, I want to give you a smoke signal, Mr. President, this may be a question you don't want me to answer. Should I do it?

BLITZER: David, the Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, he also weighed in on the Paul Manafort sentencing today and suggested that if the president were to pardon Manafort, that could be an impeachable offense if there's an improper motive.

What is your interpretation? Sounds like some sort of warning to the president.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, Wolf, I don't think he's going so far as to say to the president, hey, we're going to impeach you, but trying to send the signal, look, Congress determines what is and isn't an impeachable offense.

And if we feel like this falls in a realm of some kind of obstruction of justice, even if it's not statutory, even if it's not something that the president can be indicted for, we might move forward on that basis.

BLITZER: So he now is going to serve seven-and-a-half years total in prison., Paul Manafort.

SWERDLICK: Yes.

BLITZER: The sentence he got in Virginia, when you add up what he got today, seven-and-a-half years for the crimes he committed. What do you think?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think that's fair.

I mean, if you look at the -- what's happened in this process, you go through everything, from probation, to the plea agreement, to what he said in front of multiple judges in Virginia and D.C., Paul Manafort now is saying, please, give me some room to deal with these charges, allow me to deal with my wife.

And, evidently, she's got health issues. Look, he had a -- time and time again an opportunity to look at federal prosecutors and investigators and say, I'm going to cooperate. Every single time, not only did he not say, I will cooperate. He also said, I'm going to lie.

At the end of this, he now says, please give me mercy. He would have been given mercy. Think of what happen with General Flynn, the prosecutor said don't give him any time. Give me mercy at the end of the process after I lied at every step of the way, I think 7.5 years plus is a gift. He should be thankful.

BLITZER: And the nine months he has served, I take it. That will be reduced from the 7.5 years.

JARRETT: Exactly. So he'll get a little bit of time, shaved off of there. But it's interesting. You know, the judge had the opportunity to have the sentencing run concurrently or consecutive. And she's sort of split the baby on that. So some of the months are going to run in parallel with his sentence in Virginia and then she tacked on, you know, another 43 months or so on top of that sentence.

BLITZER: On top of the 47 months --

JARRETT: Forty-seven months he originally had.

BLITZER: -- he originally got. So he's -- in a few weeks, he's going to turn 70. He's going to be in jail for a long time.

COATES: Well, you know, there are people who are on hospice, who are in the prisons right now who weren't sentenced to life sentences. And, in fact, because of their predicament and because of their own life choices, they are there. So the idea of showing mercy on the basis of age alone is actually not what's done in the justice system if you want to be fair.

Part of the issue here is that the expectation is for non-violent and white collar and particular crimes that people should not have the book thrown at them, that there should be lenience, because it's seen as what's a victimless crime. Of course, we're talking about tax evasion and talking about money laundering.

And also in D.C., two crimes to which he actually pled guilty didn't have a trial where he could profess his innocence until he was blue in the face, which is everyone's try to do so. In these cases, he said, I did these crimes. And remember, it was this case in D.C. where he had an opportunity to remain out of prison for the past nine months and instead interfered and tried to influence witnesses, did not learn his lesson and then, again, continued to lie. And it was Judge Amy Berman-Jackson who said, hold on, I'm not buying

that you're truthful now when you lied during the plea, you lied to me before and now you'd like mercy. But she did say, perhaps you are not trying to persuade me.

Had you done so, you would have written me letters, like everyone else, or have a conversation about why you wanted to show remorse, but perhaps the audience you are going for is someone else. I think she was alluding to the President of the United States for obvious reasons.

BLITZER: Well, she also pointed out he pleaded guilty to these charges here in Washington, D.C. There was no trial. No -- they avoided a full-scale trial. As a result, you get a reduced sentence.

JARRETT: Yes. And that usually works in his favor. Although, I think she was pretty clear that some of the arguments his attorneys have made have really sort of rung crosswise with how she looked at this case. She talked about the fact that the attorneys have said in their pleadings, no collusion.

We've heard that time and time again. And she said, look, what point is that here. That has nothing to do with this case. I'm confused about why you're even raising it. And then, yet again, his attorney went out to the cameras after the hearing today and said it again. And so you can only guess there's an audience of one for that type of rhetoric.

MUDD: And let's be clear here. For everybody who wants to speed read this and look at the sentence, I would encourage you to spend two minutes and Google what the judge said. She took him, she grounded him up, sprinkled him in her coffee and drank him for breakfast. She crushed him. If you look at the sentence, you might say, he got off easy. If you look at what shame he faces in terms of what a federal judge says about what his responsibility is for a crime, she crushed him like a bug. It was ugly, if you look at the statement today. She just was merciless.

BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on all of these, and the other breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

[18:38:10] BLITZER: Tonight, CNN has exclusively obtained e-mails that former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen gave to Congress to bolster his claim that the Trump team dangled a pardon in front of him. You know, Phil, let's talk about this. Gloria Borger is doing some excellent reporting, obtained the e-mail from Robert Costello to Michael Cohen.

This is at a time when Michael Cohen was still liked by the President and his inner circle. After talking to the President's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, Costello then told Cohen that Cohen could, quote, sleep well tonight because he had, quote, friends in high places. What's the underlying message here?

MUDD: Nothing. If you want to go before a jury of your peers and say, this is concrete evidence one side or the other, if I were a jury -- if you have a group of, let's say, 12 jurors, you're going to have 14 opinions. What does that mean? Does that mean that the President offered something?

Does that mean that Michael Cohen over-interpreted? I look at that and say, there's a he said, she said here. And if that's your evidence and something wrong happened, you better bring something else to the table because I cannot figure out what anybody meant there. And you certainly can't prove anything based on what that e-mail is.

BLITZER: We know, David Swerdlick, Gloria reported this, we don't have Michael Cohen's response to those e-mails.

SWERDLICK: We don't have Michael Cohen's response. And here's the thing, I agree with Phil. If you have to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt, no, this doesn't prove anything. The problem for Cohen is that he was so categorical in that open testimony a couple of weeks ago.

You know, I never wanted a pardon, I didn't ask for one, I wouldn't accept one. He could have taken that opportunity to say, yes, hints were thrown out there. I don't want to say more, but he didn't. And now, it's a he said, she said.

BLITZER: Because he did use the word, never.

JARRETT: He did. And now, there's this tit-for-tat between him and even committee members who now referred it to the Justice Department. They think he's perjured himself on the issue of pardons among other things.

[18:40:01]

And so I don't know what he gains by offering this as sort of evidence of the pardon. I think most people either think the President was going to offer him a pardon before he flipped on him and then things changed.

BLITZER: How do you see it?

COATES: Well, I think he was making the point for peek [ph]. He was trying to essentially say to people, look, I am this person. I am done with Donald Trump, and trying to distinguish himself in a variety of ways. But in doing so, he opened the door to Pandora's Box on the very issue that made him suspect in the first place. His credibility was always on the line.

Remember, he pled guilty to lying to Congress. So the idea of getting into a semantic space argument, we're now in this position [ph], not to talk about the substance of everything else he talked about, but to have certain aspects of his testimony about pardons now picked through to figure out whether the entirety of the testimony is truthful is or not is a problem. Because there were aspects of his testimony frankly that provided receipts to the people, talking about issues of campaign finance, providing and holding up that infamously now that check about $35,000 that the President did when he was in office, turning to him and saying, hey, sorry, FedEx has been delayed about your continuous payments about the President possibly being already inaugurated and in the White House talking about an ongoing crime.

So you have all these issues. And the problem is now he has put himself in a position to have his credibility mainly undermined yet again, and now, to deflect away from the issues that actually are at the core of what the Oversight Committee was trying to look into.

MUDD: But let's focus on one key issue. Let's say, you are at the Department of Justice and the republicans send this over and say, let's investigate this. That is about a two-year eye roll. I mean, in the midst of everything you've got going on in the planet, everything, from political to MS-13, you are saying, well, there's a dispute between democrats and republicans about whether he said or she said. I can guarantee -- close to guarantee you Department of Justice saying, really, we'll get to that in about 2022. This is a political issue. I don't think it's legal issue.

BLITZER: And Phil makes a good point. The Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Congressman Elijah Cummings, says he is not going to take further action against Cohen, not recommend some sort of investigation as a result of his use of the word, never, in discussing a discussion of a possible pardon.

SWERDLICK: Right, Wolf. Going back to Laura's point, first of all, it's a great area. Second of all, it's a situation where the President does have the pardon power. It's not like there's an underlying crime that might have occurred if the President had pardoned someone for a federal crime.

And the other thing is a situation where Michael Cohen is going to jail. So if you are Chairman Cummings, you can pile on and say, look, we want to press forward with an additional crime of lying to Congress. But it's not like in any case Michael Cohen is getting off scot-free.

BLITZER: Is that a factor if someone is going to jail as a result, you know, reopen -- or open up new parts of an investigation? He is going to jail for three years starting in May.

JARRETT: No. There's nothing that prohibits prosecutors from deciding they want to tack on even if you are headed to jail. I think the question here is really one of intent. And as Phil said, given limited resources, maybe this is not the one that they want to go down. They obviously don't need a referral to decide whether to pursue these charges. They were watching the testimony, just as the rest of us.

COATES: And also, one reason, right, one reason it is important though is the notion that he has not actually reported to jail, which means that there is still a moment in time when prosecutors could essentially say, we have changed our mind on the allegation we wanted to give and maybe ask for leniency at this point in time.

So maybe Cummings and the rest of them in the political realm don't want to do anything about it. But it puts the prosecutors who may have wanted to change their mind about what they asked the judge how long to serve. It puts them in a bit of a pickle to say, well, this person continues to lie, but could you please treat the person better. They are between a rock and hard place and it's Cohen's own doing.

SWERDLICK: Yes, I agree with Laura and Laura. I just want to -- it's a political judgment on the part of Chairman Cummings, right? You've already got a guy going to jail and that's I think what's --

BLITZER: Not going to refer it to the Justice Department, all right. Everybody stick around, there's more breaking news we're following.

The FAA now says it sees similarities between two air disasters as the Trump administration grounds all Boeing 737 Max planes in the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:48:37] BLITZER: We're following breaking news, including President Trump announcing that all Boeing 737 Max planes in the United States are grounded immediately.

Our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins is joining us now with the very latest.

Update our viewers, Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House had been feeling the pressure after Canada suspended the use of these planes, leaving the U.S. as the only major country still using them and letting them fly in their airspace.

Now, today, President Trump said he didn't feel like he had to make this decision today. But he wanted to because he didn't want to take any chances.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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: Announcing that until the company can provide further answers on what led to Sunday's deadly crash in Ethiopia, the planes won't fly.

TRUMP: Any plane currently in the air will go to it destination and thereafter be grounded, until further notice.

COLLINS: The move came shortly after Canada announced Wednesday it was following the lead of dozens of other countries and suspending the planes from Canadian air space, leaving the U.S. flying solo.

TRUMP: We were coordinating with Canada. We were giving them information. They were giving us information.

COLLINS: The president 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.

[18:50:04] 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 crashed off the coast of Indonesia, killing 189 people.

TRUMP: Pilots have been notified. Airlines have been all notified. Airlines are agreeing with this. The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern.

COLLINS: Trump said the airlines have been told 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 onboard just minutes after takeoff, the flight data and voice recorders on their way to Europe to be analyzed.

Today, even 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'll very quickly come up with the answer, but until they do, the planes are grounded.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Wolf, yesterday, the FAA said they didn't see any systemic performance issues with these planes. But today, after they made the announcement to ground these planes, they put out a new statement saying the agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today.

They said this evidence together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning led to the decision, but, Wolf, they didn't say what that evidence is.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks for that report.

Just ahead, why the Kremlin is accusing House Democrats of what it calls "Russophobia".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:56:56] BLITZER: The Kremlin is accusing the House of Representatives of what it calls "Russophobia" after lawmakers passed a series of resolutions taking on Moscow.

Our Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen is joining us from the Russian capital.

Fred, Russia is clearly unhappy with the Democratic controlled House of Representatives.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Wolf. Very unhappy. And as President Trump appears to be under more pressure from the house, the Russians feel like they're under more pressure as well. Here's what we're learning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Tonight, Russia ripping into the U.S. after the House of Representatives passed several Kremlin critical resolutions, including one aimed to shed light on Vladimir Putin's finances.

Russian state TV trying to ridicule the measure.

OLGA SKABEEVA, HOST, RUSSIYA 1 (through translator): The crazy printer on the Capitol Hill set a new record, Guinness Book worthy record of passing four anti-Russian laws in one day.

PLEITGEN: As usual, Moscow railing against the U.S. while not criticizing President Trump.

Kremlin officials have long said despite the interference in the 2016 election, they believe America's president wants better relations but is hamstrung by Congress.

DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN SPOKESMAN (through translator): This is an ongoing very unfriendly and rabidly Russophobic line. It's a continuation of this emotional exaltation. So, of course, we don't expect any sober assessments from the House of Representatives because now they are a hostage to these emotions.

PLEITGEN: The Kremlin starting to feel the heat with Democrats now holding a majority in the House. Vladimir Putin's spokesman saying he believes times will get tougher for Russia as the 2020 election season heats up.

PESKOV (through translator): Any specialist who knows the recent history of the United States can easily predict that as the presidential election approaches, the intensity of Russophobia will only increase because Russophobia has always been used as an electoral tool in the United States, to our regret.

PLEITGEN: Moscow's reaction, a confrontation course with America and its allies. Vladimir Putin recently introducing new nuclear capable weapons he says can't be stopped by U.S. defenses.

And on Russian state TV, a vow, even after Putin is set to leave office in 2024, things won't change.

YURI AFONIN, RUSSIAN COMMUNIST PARTY (through translator): When the president's constitutional responsibilities end in 2024, you, our friends in America or Ukraine, think that our line will change after that? It will be even harsher.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, the Russians continue to say that they believe that better relations would be both in the interest of Russia and of the United States, but clearly, they're losing faith in president Trump's ability to make that happen, Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen with the very latest in Moscow, where things are always developing. Fred, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @wolfblitzer. You can always tweet the show, @CNNsitroom.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.