Return to Transcripts main page


White House Goes on Attack after House Democrats Launch Sweeping Investigation into All Things Trump; WSJ: Michael Cohen Attorney Sought Pardon from Trump; Ty Cobb Calls Robert Mueller "American Hero". Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 5, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR; Sunlen, on the Hill. Thank you so much.

Thank you all for being with us today. We'll see you tomorrow. I'm Poppy Harlow.


"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

President Trump and the White House go on attack after House Democrats launch a sweeping investigation into all things Trump, and seemingly, all things in his orbit, even. The White House, the campaign, his business, and his family -- they are among the 81 requests for documents and information sent by the House Judiciary Committee. They want answers within two weeks. What happens after that? No one knows.

But the Democratic chairman of the committee, Jerry Nadler, he makes it pretty clear, this is only the beginning.


REP. JERRY NADLER, (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Our goal is to hold the administration accountable for the obstruction of justice, the abuse of power, and the corruption. Our goal is to vindicate the rule of law, to protect the rule of law in this country.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us.

Manu, let me start with you.

Other than the harsh reality that elections have consequences, what are lawmakers telling you about all of this on the Hill today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they believe -- the Democrats believe that these document requests should be fulfilled rather easily over the next two weeks, given that these 81 individuals have participated in some level of investigation over the last couple of years. And they say the record requests are not -- at that point, in two weeks, the next steps could be subpoenas. They do expect public hearings at some point, but all of that still needs to be sorted out. That's on the House side, the Democrats are ramping up their investigation. On the Senate side, Republicans are still in the majority and Democrats here are trying to push the Republicans to investigate, at least the president's role in those hush money payments, to silence those alleged affairs that occurred, those payments during the 2016 elections and the president's reimbursement of those payments in 2017.

And Senate Republicans today are rejecting calls to investigate.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D), CONNECTICUT: We should bring back Donald Trump Junior and other witnesses who have knowledge about the hush money payments. The Senate Judiciary Committee has responsibility to be more aggressive in continuing its investigation, which, unfortunately, was short circuited.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R), TEXAS: This is all about setting up the stage for impeachment proceedings. That's pretty clear.

MANU: But why is it not a concern of yours, that the president may have been involved in hush money scheme?

CORNYN: There's been investigations by the special counsel and others. If there's any evidence of crimes, I'm sure he will find evidence of that. But if there's not -- I think what the Democrats are worried about now is, after all of the hysteria over the alleged collusion, that they're worried the Mueller report will come up with basically nothing against the president, as regards collusion.


RAJU: And Cornyn's view is in line with other Senate chairmen, including Ron Johnson, who chairs the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. He told me that he has no plans to investigate the hush money payments. He said he's going to wait for the Mueller report going forward.

So, Kate, you're seeing a pretty stark division between Democrats going very aggressively over all aspects of the president's personal, political life, business life, raising concerns about abuse of power and obstruction of justice. And Republicans not planning to do any of that, believing that is an overreach and not planning to do that kind of oversight -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, Manu. Much more to come. Great to see you.

So, Kaitlan, this push may not be entirely unexpected from Democrats in the House. Though, how broad the focus is might be. What are you hearing there? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN: Well, Kate, they knew it was going to be broad,

but they didn't realize it was going to be this broad. They've been preparing this since the Democrats took back the House in the midterm elections, and they know that this is essentially their new reality. And right now, they're bracing for more document requests like this, including potentially going after the president's tax returns.

Now, publicly, the White House and the president are saying that they will Cooperate with these requests, but you can look at their statements they put out yesterday. One, they put out a statement saying, yes, we received this request, we're going to review it. Pretty standard, not a lot there. And then came the second statement from Sarah Sanders, which, in part, reads: "Chairman Nadler and his fellow Democrats have embarked on this fishing exhibition because they are terrified their two-year witch hunt is crumbling." Sarah Sanders continues to say, "The Democrats are more interested in pathetic political games and catering to a radical leftist base than producing results for our citizens." She ends with, "The Democrats are not after the truth. They are after the president."

Essentially echoing what you heard those Republicans Manu was talking to there say as well.

Now, Kate, the question is going to be, what is their response going forward? And certainly people could slow-walk the document request. They could defy subpoenas. And there's a chance the president could exert executive privilege over some of these documents, like those pertaining to his conversations with the former White House counsel, Don McGahn. That's the question here. If the president does decide to do that, it would be a very distinct turn in how they respond to this so far -- Kate?

[11:05:15] BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Kaitlan. Thank you so much.

Thank you, Manu, as well.

Joining me to discuss this is former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, Charlie Dent, now a CNN political commentator.

Congressman, it's good to see you.

So what's your -- what do you think of this strategy? It's kind of almost a blanket request from House Judiciary for documents from 81 people and entities in every aspect of the president's world. What do you think of this?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, my initial reaction is, I think that their requests are -- some of them are a bit premature. I would, frankly, have a more targeted strategic approach to the document request. That's just me. But maybe their strategy is not to impeach the president, but to, you know, to kill him with a thousand cuts. They're throwing as much up against the wall as they can and see what will stick. Now, they've sent out requests for documents for about 80 people. And I suspect it may take a little bit of time to get those, for the reasons that Kaitlan Collins just mentioned. So I think they should be more targeted. They should let Director Mueller help inform their investigation. I mean, I know it's hard to be patient, but let's see what that report says before they cast this wide a net.

BOLDUAN: And it will be interesting what comes out of the report and how casting of the net changes, if it does, once the report does come out.

The president calls it a fishing exhibition. Do you think he's justified in calling it that?

DENT: Well, despite the merits of many of these requests, and I think many of these requests are meritorious, but because it is a wider net, it does help the president with that narrative that this looks more like a fishing exhibition, when they throw this much out, this early. So I think this should have been better sequenced in terms of the document requests. You still could have gotten 80, but I don't know that I would have put out that request in one fell swoop.

BOLDUAN: So the flip side of it, Jerry Nadler is speaking out about kind of why so much at this one time. Let me play you what he said on what he said last night on CNN, on why the list is so big, why the list is so broad. Listen.


NADLER: For two years, the Trump administration has been attacking the core functions of our democracy and the Congress has refused to do any oversight. They've refused to -- they've shielded him. They've acted more as shields than what Congress is supposed to do, which is to be a check and a balance. We are going to be the check and the balance.


BOLDUAN: I mean, look, Nadler's point is, is that they're playing catch-up a bit after two years of what he views as no oversight. Does he have a point?

DENT: He has a point. And certainly, the Trump administration is a target-rich environment. There are plenty of targets. But when everything's a priority, nothing's a priority. So I think really the issue for the Democrats is, where do they want to focus their efforts? I know that the chairman laid out three areas that he felt were very important for his oversight, but, still, he's not going to be able to see all of these people at once. I think it would be better to sequence this. And once Robert Mueller issues his report, that will inform some of their judgments. And they'll be able to find areas where they think, you know, Mueller didn't do enough work or Mueller may open up more paths for them. And I think that might help them a bit. But I get it, you know, they're anxious, they're under a lot of pressure to move. And that's why I think Nadler did what he did.

BOLDUAN: And Nadler says, kind of on the question of impeachment, he says that impeachment proceedings are a long way off, a long way down the road. Do you think that's the case? DENT: I do, actually. I think Jerry Nadler and Speaker Pelosi have

both indicated that they believe that it will be very difficult to engage in a partisan impeachment process. I don't see the Democrats really moving forward on impeachment, unless there's something really big out of the Mueller report or unless they get Republicans to join them in the effort to impeachment. Other than that, I don't think they're going to want to do this. They realize there's a risk to this partisan-only impeachment process. They saw what happened with Bill Clinton and how it, in the end, it may have helped him. So I think they're treading very cautiously here.

BOLDUAN: Something that's oddly broken through partisan politics, the president -- somewhat. The president's emergency declaration to get more money for the border. So the House voted on this resolution to stop the emergency, if you will. The Senate has to vote on it now. They will be doing that soon. Right now, it appears there are enough Republicans to defy the president on this one, but then the president vetoes it, and they don't have veto-proof majority. What does this whole episode mean for Washington?

DENT: Well, I believe that, you know, this is -- I think this is a very easy vote for Republicans. I believe Rand Paul made a very good argument for conservative Republicans. They may agree with the president on policy, but this encroachment on legislative authority is just a bridge too far. They would have never stood for it with the Obama administration or the Democratic administration, so I think they have a very easy -- I think Republicans have a very easy "yes" vote here. So I do think this is going to pass. I don't know how many are going to vote for this in the end. I doubt they'll get to the veto- proof majority, but I would expect, you know, maybe 10 or more Republicans could end up voting for this, this resolution of disapproval. I think it's a very easy vote. I hear McConnell is not putting much pressure on Republicans. And what's the White House going to say, you know? How much pressure are they going to be able to put on them?

[11:10:33] BOLDUAN: That's a good point. You wonder what lessons are learned, if any. I'm doubtful, being cynical, that any lessons are learned from this episode.

Good to see you, Congressman. Thanks for coming in.

DENT: Thanks, Kate. Good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up for us, was Michael Cohen's team in search for a pardon? A new report in the "Wall Street Journal" says yes. So what does that mean for Cohen's testimony to Congress last week? And going before Congress again this week.

Plus, the family of a U.S./Saudi citizen says he's been beaten and tortured in a Saudi Arabian prison. So why hasn't the president weighed in?

We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:15:26] BOLDUAN: Now, here's something new that Michael Cohen might immediate to address when he returns to Capitol Hill tomorrow. A report in the "Wall Street Journal" that one of Cohen's own attorneys, quote, "raised the possibility of a pardon" with attorneys of the president and his company after federal agents raided Mr. Cohen's properties in April, according to people familiar with the discussions. That from the "Wall Street Journal."

Though, now, remember, here is what Cohen told Congress just last week about the issue of a presidential pardon.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I have never asked for nor would I accept a pardon from President Trump.


BOLDUAN: OK. Joining me right now on the phone is White House reporter for the "Wall Street Journal," Rebecca Ballhaus. She's one of the reporters who broke this story.

Rebecca, can you hear me?


BOLDUAN: Thanks for joining me. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

What did the -- what did Michael Cohen's attorney ask for and when?

BALLHAUS: From what we understand is that in the weeks after this April raid last year, he contacted at least five lawyers for the president and his company, including Rudy Giuliani, who joined about -- who joined the president's legal team about 10 days after that raid, and raised the possibility of a pardon with those lawyers. It's unclear how directly he said, you know, I want one or just continued to raise it with these people. But these were happening at a time that the lawyer, Steve Ryan, was working alongside those lawyers to review files seized by Cohen's premises from the FBI to determine whether they were protected by attorney/client privilege.

BOLDUAN: How much of a read have you been able to get as to how Trump's legal team responded to this?

BALLHAUS: So our understanding is that the president's lawyers largely dismissed the idea of a pardon. But we also spoke to Rudy Giuliani on the record for the story and Giuliani declined to say specifically whether he spoke with lawyers for Cohen. But said that he has often been approached by lawyers about pardons more their clients and that he always says the same thing, which is that the president is not currently going to consider any pardons and nobody should think that he is, but that whatever happens in the future, it's up to the president. So while that clearly isn't offering a pardon in that moment, it's also leaving the door to one in the future.

BOLDUAN: How much did Michael Cohen know about this?

BALLHAUS: That's a question that we don't know the answer to. So as you mentioned, Cohen said before the House Oversight Committee last week that he had never asked for a pardon. And there's no indication from our reporting that he personally asked for a pardon. And we also don't know whether he was aware of these discussions that his lawyer was having at the time.

BOLDUAN: I find that fascinating. And also, this is a really important part about all of this. Because, of course, it gets to the question of what your sense is, Rebecca, your reporting, and what you're hearing from your sources and his statement to Congress last week and whether both can be accurate.

BALLHAUS: Right. And I think what we've seen in the last week since his testimony is that Republicans on the House Oversight Committee have already sought to refer Michael Cohen to the Justice Department for perjury in that testimony. So I think that if more information comes out that he was aware of these or that he did personally ask for a pardon, I think that could potential be problematic for him.

BOLDUAN: That's great reporting, Rebecca. As always, thanks so much for coming on. Appreciate it.

BALLHAUS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: So joining me now, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Paul Callan, and CNN political reporters and editor-at- large, Chris Cillizza.

Great to see you guys.

Paul, from Rebecca's reporting, what you just heard, it's unclear how much Michael Cohen knew about the conversations his attorney was having with Trump's legal team. Do you -- when you see her reporting and see what Michael Cohen told Congress, can both of those statements be accurate?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, they both can be true. And what I see is inept questioning done by the congressmen during the hearing. Because they should have said to him, have you ever discussed with anyone the possibility of getting a presidential pardon? Instead, they allowed him to get off the hook, and he said, I've never personally asked for a presidential pardon. So, the questioning wasn't specific enough to lock him in on a perjury charge --


BOLDUAN: Is that something that Michael Cohen should have been more forthcoming about?

[11:20:03] CALLAN: Not necessarily. Lawyers tell clients, ask only the question you are asked -- answer only the question you were asked. Because you don't want to give extra information that could expose you to possible charges. So I'm not surprised he stuck to an answer that was simply responsive to the question.

BOLDUAN: Chris, if he wasn't telling the full truth here, what does this mean for his seven-plus hours of testimony that people watched with rapt attention last week?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: So, yes, Paul, I always defer to him on legal matters. And legally speaking, Cohen may have been doing the right thing and answered only the question he was asked. But remember what we are being asked from a broad political conceit, we were being asked to believe, that a man who had been convicted of lying, pled guilty to lying to Congress, right, who was going to jail for that and other things in two months, was now on the straight and narrow, was now going to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Politically, I think this and the questions of whether he ever wanted a job in the White House, yes, are they major points? I don't know. I want depends on your perspective. But what they do is undermine the idea that Michael Cohen had some sort of moment, whether it was when they raided his home or when he pleaded guilty, he had a moment of revelation in which he decided, I'm going to speak the full truth, I'm not going to walk this fine line, I'm not going to slice that onion so thin that legally I might be OK, but sort of common sense would say, huh, you probably should have said that. So I think the more things like this come up, the more difficult it is to believe that a guy who has admitted to lying repeatedly never hedged, fudged, if not outright lied, which I don't think we have any proof he did, but if not outright lied during that hearing, and that's problematic in terms of his credibility.

BOLDUAN: I also wonder, Paul, if you're representing a client in a situation like this, you don't know how much Michael Cohen knew. That's" what the "Wall Street Journal" tells us. We don't know how much he knew about the conversations being had with his attorney. Would you reach out to explore the question of the possibility of a pardon without the go ahead or having informed your client you were doing so?

CALLAN: That's a great question. And I think a lot of people are concerned about that. Wouldn't the lawyers discuss this with their client if they were going to raise the subject of a pardon? And surprisingly, I would say, not necessarily. Lawyers, when they're involved isn't the discovery process, remember, they're going through thousands of documents trying to determine where there's privilege or a privilege issue involved. Small talk goes on between the attorneys. And what they do is try to get information from the other side. So it's not unusual for all kinds of subjects to be raised by the attorneys that may not have been raised by the client himself before the session. It's small talk among attorneys. And if they pick up little nuggets of information, they use that to help their case.

BOLDUAN: All fascinating, especially in light of everything we're looking at here.

There's another interesting thing that we're going to get to, I want to play for you guys. An interesting take on the special counsel, coming from one of the president's former White House attorneys, Ty Cobb. He joined the White House -- just to remind everyone, Ty Cobb joined the White House shortly after the Mueller investigation started and the months following and then left this last May. And here is what he now tells ABC.


TY COBB, FORMER ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP (voice-over): I think Bob Mueller is an American hero. I've known him for 30 years as a prosecutor and a friend. And I think the world of Bob Mueller. He's a -- he is a very deliberate guy. But he's also a class act and a very justice-oriented person.


BOLDUAN: I just find that fascinating, Chris, in what Ty Cobb is saying now. And I don't know why -- it leaves me to wonder if this means that Ty Cobb is confident that Robert Mueller, what he comes up with, will be good news for President Trump.

CILLIZZA: Here's what I would caution on that. Ty Cobb, from the start, was someone who urged Donald Trump to work as much -- and the people around Donald Trump -- to work with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, to not attack him publicly, to sort of play ball, because that was in their best interests. The reason that Ty Cobb no longer works there, and for the president, is because they decided on a very different strategy. Rudy Giuliani, in his approach to Mueller, to cooperation, to what he says publicly, is the exact opposite of what Ty Cobb counseled. So I think Donald Trump eventually reverted to form, which is the, "we're going to attack, attack, attack," because ultimately, this isn't about the legal processes for Trump, this is about the political danger of impeachment. So Ty Cobb, I think, was dealing in the world of the legal world, in which he saw Trump had not all that much of vulnerability and playing ball made sense. Giuliani very much dealing in the world of politics, where impeachment, not indictment, is the threat. Radically different approaches.

[11:25:10] BOLDUAN: Interesting.

Great to see you.

Thank you, Paul.

Thank you, Chris.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Appreciate it.

Coming up for us, a new story we're following this morning, a top U.S. general warning about the growing military threat from Russia. Where he wants to send more U.S. troops and warships now and why. That's next.


[11:30:07] BOLDUAN: This morning, a sobering new warning from a top U.S general in Europe about the growing military threat coming from Russia.