Return to Transcripts main page


Rep. Chris Stewart Reacts to Trump Being Implicated in Crimes; Trump Reacts to Cohen Guilty Plea, Manafort Verdict & Talks North Korea; Sen. Hirono Cancels Meeting with Kavanaugh after Cohen Guilty Plea & Manafort Verdict; Hawaii Prepares for Cat 4 Hurricane. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 22, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] REP. CHRIS STEWART, (R), UTAH: This is something quite different. This is FEC law. This is, you know --


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Well, let me rephrase the question. Would it be appropriate for another committee in the House of Representatives, the Oversight Committee, Judiciary Committee, for example, to take a close look at what has just happened?

STEWART: Well, and that was the point I was about to make. Not under Intel Committee, but under Judiciary or, as you said, perhaps Government Oversight. I think, though, the more effective way to oversee this and prosecute that is through the courts, through the southern court in New York City, as it has been placed. They are the ones who have the investigators, the expertise. It really is a court proceeding, not so much a political proceeding, which it would become if any one of the committees were to take and reopen this. Would they have a responsibility for oversight? They have a responsibility to ask these questions. If they feel that's necessary, I wouldn't object to that.


STEWART: But I don't think it should supplant the judicial process.

BLITZER: We know there was a judicial process under way during Watergate and the Nixon impeachment process. Yet the House Judiciary Committee, they went full speed ahead and they opened up a full Oversight Committee hearing in that area. Remember when John Dean, the White House counsel, stood up and testified and said what he said about those secret tapes. We know what that eventually resulted in.

And I want to pick up this conversation, Congressman. I know you are going to stand by with me. We have a lot more to discuss, including Michael Cohen's bombshell sparking calls for President Trump's impeachment. We'll discuss that among other issues.

Also, there's more breaking news. We're getting word right now that the Democratic National Committee headquarters right here in Washington, D.C., has again been targeted in what's being called the sophisticated attempt to hack into voter database issues. The details just coming in.

Stick around. There's a lot going on.


[13:36:29] BLITZER: We're back with Utah Congressman Chris Stewart. He's a Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, as you know, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser, just to name three members of the Trump inner circle who are in serious legal jeopardy. Then his former HHS Secretary Tom Price, Scott Pruitt from the EPA, they've resigned under fire. What do you say to your colleagues, your friends, your constituents about the president's initial promise to surround himself only with the best people.

STEWART: Well, I mean, that clearly hasn't happened. Not in every instance. I think he does have some amazing people around him, some very capable people. Especially his national security team, General Mattis, Mike Pompeo, and so he has had a very good team in some cases. In some cases, he's clearly had people who have disappointed him. You have to differentiate degree and scale here as well. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Flynn under very different circumstances. The accusations against them are very different. General Flynn served his country for many years. You know, the accusation about lying to the FBI is one incident with a very minimal potential jail sentence. That's very different from Mr. Manafort and Mr. Cohen. In fairness, it's important to draw that distinction between those two.

BLITZER: All right. While I have you, I want to shift gears dramatically. You're just back from a visit to South Korea where you have had a chance to assess what's going on with North Korea, the aftermath of the president's meet with the North Korean leader. What's your bottom line assessment as you look back at where things are.

STEWART: Thanks for giving me a few minutes to talk about that. The reason is, I'm encouraged. If you'd asked me a year ago, do I think there's any way Kim Jong-Un is going to agree to denuclearization, I would have said no. I would have said there's no possible way we're going to convince him of that. And that wasn't just me. It was the CIA analysts and others who shared that view. But I really think there's an opportunity now. Last fall, military members there, and as you said, I was just back from the trip. Spent a lot of time with CIA and other agencies and military. They were actually preparing for the possibility of war some time this spring. And they feel now they've got a breath of relief. They feel there's an opportunity for diplomacy and for negotiations, which we just didn't have before. And that's such a good thing for the people in Korea. Such good thing for the American people. It's not going to happen by the weekend. It's going to take years. Just like our negotiations with Russia took years and the SALT and START negotiations. I'm really optimistic we might be able to do something that just a year ago I thought impossible to do.

BLITZER: The president keeps praising Kim Jong-Un, saying he's ready for another summit with the North Korean leader. We'll see if that happens.


BLITZER: Welcome back to the United States, Congressman. Thanks for joining us. As I said earlier, so many of your Republican colleagues are reluctant to speak out on this day. You're a good man. Appreciate it very much.

STEWART: Thank you, sir. Thank you.

[13:39:34] BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. We're getting President Trump's first reaction to Michael Cohen's guilty plea and implicating the president in -- there's a new interview. Stay with us.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right. Breaking news. President Trump now responding to the bombshell from his former fixer and attorney, Michael Cohen. In a new FOX News interview, the president was asked about Cohen's testimony, his statements yesterday under oath before a federal judge that he directed that the president, Mr. Trump, directed him, coordinated with him to make hush money payments to two women who said they had an affair with Mr. Trump.

Here's what he said just moments ago. This is the president of the United States when asked about his knowledge of those payments.


[13:44:57:] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Later on, I knew. Later on. But you have to understand. What he did -- and they weren't taken out of campaign finance. That's a big thing. That's a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn't come out of the campaign. They came from me. And I tweeted about it. I don't know if you know, but I tweeted about the payments. But they didn't come out of campaign. In fact, my first question when I heard about it was, did they come out of the campaign because that could be a little dicey. And they didn't come out of the campaign. And that's big. But they weren't -- that's not -- it's not even a campaign violation. If you look at President Obama, he had a massive campaign violation. But he had a different attorney general. And they viewed it a lot differently.


BLITZER: All right. Let's assess what we just heard with our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, who is with us, and our politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza.

Chris, what's your reaction?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Two things. First, Donald Trump saying he didn't know at the time runs directly counter to what Michael Cohen said in the plea agreement. Mr. Cohen said it was directed and coordinated with the president of the United States.

BLITZER: This is what he told the federal judge in New York. He made these two payments to these two women, Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal, quote, "in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office." And he then said it was designed to, quote, "influence the election."

CILLIZZA: OK. So you can say, well, it's a "he said/he said." Sort of. Michael Cohen is testifying under oath in that plea agreement and the southern district of New York, the prosecutors have to believe that he is testifying truthfully in order to say, OK, we'll give you a plea agreement. That's point one.

Point two, I don't know that Donald Trump understands what he's talking about as it relates to campaign finance law. Sure, if it didn't come from the campaign, that's one thing. But even so it would mean that he was loaning money to Michael Cohen as sort of an in-kind contribution to his campaign. That would then have to be disclosed. Put aside the fact that, according to Cohen, this was all part of an attempt to influence the election by keeping these two women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, silent. He's not on solid legal ground here.

I defer to Shimon.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Here's the other things, and they made this very clear, prosecutors, that this was being done to influence the election. So what does it matter in terms of whether this was a personal, whether this came from the president personally or the campaign? They made it very clear. And Michael Cohen in court made it very clear. I was doing this to influence the 2016 campaign at the direction and the cooperation of Donald Trump. So, you know, I think this is going to probably be one of Trump's perhaps arguments in all of this. He keeps changing the story as we know when he knew, what he knew about these payments. You know, and it's better off for him. He has to defend himself. But legally, when you think about it, he should let his lawyers deal with this.

CILLIZZA: One other thing to add because in a tweet this morning and in that clip, he mentions the Obama thing. Barack Obama campaign paid a massive fine.


BLITZER: His campaign.

CILLIZZA: Right. Now what was that in regards to? It was in regards to, basically in the last, I think it's -- in the last two and a half, three weeks of a campaign of a primary or general election, you have to report contributions you get in the last 48 hours. It's so that it's not backlogged in the last months of the campaign, where you say, oh, I can't believe X donated to him. That's what he was fined for. Not adequately filing those 48-hour reports in detail. That's a very different thing than directly coordinate -- again, testimony under oath, coordinating and directly sort of advising him, Michael Cohen, to use money to silence two women making allegations about the president of the United States. And let's remember, Stormy Daniels, it was 11 days before the election that Michael Cohen had a shell company pay him.


BLITZER: I'll never forget, Shimon, the payment was $130,000 to Stormy Daniels, $150,000 to Karen McDougal.

PROKUPECZ: You have to assume here, because prosecutors have been working this investigation for quite some time, that there's other evidence here. This isn't just the word of Michael Cohen. They're not going to just do that in this situation. So there's got -- they have text messages, there are phone calls they know of, e-mails. Remember they did the search warrant. They have all this information, thousands of documents and text messages. So it's a problem, I think. For the president to say, you know, he's just kind of picking and trying to figure out exactly how he can perhaps maybe explain all of this. I don't know.

The bottom line is we know what the prosecutors here have said, we know what Michael Cohen has said. And basically that's what's out there. Michael Cohen did this under oath in open court, and it seems, I think the president obviously realizes that this is a problem for him. His people certainly realize it is a problem for them, and they need an explanation for this.


[13:50:05] CILLIZZA: To be clear, what he is offering in that interview and, in the tweets, is in no way, well, 50 percent of people say this and 50 percent say this. We're talking about results of an extensive investigation. We're talking about seizure of home, hotel, and office, document after document, e-mails, texts. Donald Trump can tell a FOX News source or tweet out something and make it apples and not even orange, apples to a car about Barack Obama, but that doesn't change the fundamental facts that we know according to SDNY and Michael Cohen.

BLITZER: And on almost every occasion, goes after the attorney general of the United States and the Justice Department of the United States.


BLITZER: Even though he says you've got to support law enforcement down the road, clearly, he's got issues with the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, made clear in this latest interview, as well as the Department of Justice.

Guys, stick around.

There's more news we're following. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[13:55:31] BLITZER: Let's bring in Democratic Senator from Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, a key member of the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

Let me get your quick reaction, first of all --


BLITZER: -- to the conviction of Paul Manafort on tax and bank fraud, and Michael Cohen pleading guilty to eight criminal counts, including campaign finance violations. What's your immediate reaction?

HIRONO: My immediate reaction is that the Mueller investigation must proceed and must be protected to its course. So what's happening is I think the walls are closing in on the president and he must be taking this whole situation as real now. He cannot continue to call it a witch hunt because there have been so many indictments already and his former campaign chair has been found guilty of eight counts, his former fixer has pled guilty to eight counts, implicating the president who is now an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal matter.

BLITZER: As a result of this, you announced dramatically today you're actually cancelling your scheduled meeting with the U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Tell us why.

HIRONO: The president is an unindicted co-conspirator and I do not owe this president the courtesy to meet with his nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who by the way is being nominated because the president expects Justice Kavanaugh should he make it to the Supreme Court to protect the president.

BLITZER: Your colleague on the committee, Richard Blumenthal, is calling for delay in the scheduled hearings, supposed to start September 4th for Brett Kavanaugh. Is that realistic? You're the minority, Republicans are the majority.

HIRONO: From the beginning, we Democrats have called for delay in terms of the hearing and we said what's good for the goose is good for the gander, whatever the saying is because Mitch McConnell held that seat for a year, we are asking for delay until this election so the American people can weigh in. We called for delay. Even more so now with what's transpired, we think it is important for us to get all of the documents we need and what is the all-fire rush to get the person on the Supreme Court. I think the rush is, the president wants somebody on the court who will protect him.

BLITZER: Let me move to what the president is strongly signaling, that he might be ready for a pardon for Paul Manafort convicted on eight counts yesterday. What do you think reaction would be if he were to pardon Manafort?

HIRONO: I think the president has no concept of the limits to his power and yes, he does have discretion to pardon people, but in this case I think it would be all admission of guilty. Conspiracy to affect the elections and conspire with Russia. I think that's what it would telegraph to me. I hope that's what it would telegraph to the American people.

BLITZER: Finally, I want to switch gears. A category four is moving closer and closer to the Hawaiian Islands. First of all, is your state prepared?

HIRONO: Yes. There's already been a declaration of disaster. Some schools have been closed, offices are closed. And I want to urge all of the people of Hawaii to take care. And also let's be kind to each other. Tempers flare at a time like this.

One more thing regarding Judge Kavanaugh, he can make his claim to this nomination, make his case in an open hearing under oath. I, at this point, will not be voting for him.

BLITZER: Let's see if he gets other Democrats to vote for him. If any Republicans vote against him. We'll see what unfolds in the coming weeks.

HIRONO: That's right.

BLITZER: Senator Hirono, as usual, thanks for being here.

HIRONO: Thank you.

BLITZER: And good luck to the folks in Hawaii as the hurricane moves closer. We'll hope for the best on that front as well. Thanks so much --

HIRONO: Thank you very much for that.

BLITZER: -- for joining us.

That's it for me. I will be back at 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUTATION ROOM."

In the meantime, the news continues right now, right here on CNN.

[14:00:07] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you.

And hello to you. I'm Ana Cabrera, this afternoon in for Brooke Baldwin.