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Trump Set to Deliver State of the Union Address; Republicans Now Express Concerns Over Wall Funding. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired February 5, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:20] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Tuesday morning to you. It's a big day. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington where exactly 12 hours and 10 minutes from now President Trump is due to begin his second State of the Union address to a Joint Session of Congress.
It will be his first address to a divided Congress and his tone, his message, we are told, will be bipartisan and optimistic. We can bridge old divisions, he's expected to say, heal old wounds, build new coalitions.
But if that's the text, the subtext will certainly be his looming threat to bypass Congress all together to build his border wall, in the process potentially triggering another government shutdown and even perhaps a constitutional crisis.
This morning a growing number of Republicans are speaking out against executive action to spend money at will on the president's desired wall.
And we begin with our coverage with CNN's Joe Johns at the White House.
So, Joe, a message of unity from this president.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, Jim. But what's not so unifying is immigration. This is the issue that has torn up Capitol Hill and Washington all month pretty much. And we do know we had that big government shutdown, of course that was the longest shutdown in American history. And the president is going to address immigration question.
The question of course is whether he's going to declare an emergency and -- in order to get his wall on the southern border built. Still, as you say, unity is one of the key issues. Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, just a little while ago on "NEW DAY" talking about the issues that she says can unite the president and the Congress. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly I think you can expect that the president will talk about infrastructure. You'll hear the president talk about the opioid crisis in this country. I'm going to leave some things left for the president to talk about. But there are a number of policies that Democrats and Republicans know need to be addressed. I think infrastructure is one of the easiest ones for us to look at.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Now let's talk about some of the guests that the president and the first lady are going to have at the State of the Union, offer some clue about the direction the president is going. One of the guests we do expect in the box with the first lady will be Alice Johnson. This is the convicted drug trafficker the president actually granted clemency to after an appeal from Kim Kardashian. She's expected to be there.
On immigration we do expect three family members of a couple murdered in Nevada last year to be there as the president talks about immigration issues. Now those people allegedly killed by an illegal immigrant.
They are also expecting to see some police officers, law enforcement including one police officer who was shot at that -- in the synagogue in Pittsburgh last year.
Jim, back to you.
SCIUTTO: Joe Johns at the White House.
We should note that next hour Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, will join me live here on CNN on set to talk about the State of the Union and other pressing issues.
CNN's Phil Mattingly is on the Hill.
Phil, Republicans seem increasingly worried about it and publicly expressing opposition to the president's possibility at least of declaring an emergency to fund the border wall. Even some of his closest allies, John Cornyn included, raising constitutional concerns here. That must concern this White House.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, that's exactly right. And I think the concern for the White House is that the national emergency declaration has always been seen as the escape patch of sorts. If they couldn't reach a deal between lawmakers, between parties to prevent a government shutdown, you declare the emergency, allow the government not to shut down again and then move forward with the border wall.
The problem becomes that it's now Republicans that are voicing concern. And Jim, I'm told behind the scenes Republican leaders have informed their rank and file, if you have problems with this, make it public now because people like Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, they have problems with it and that's exactly what we're hearing.
Take a listen to what Susan Collins had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I am concerned about it. I think it's of dubious constitutionality. And as a member of the Senate, I am concerned when any president, regardless of party, circumvents the appropriations process and repurposes large amounts of money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: So you hear concerns on constitutional grounds, you hear concerns on ideological grounds. The idea that a president can act unilaterally, but you also have concerns about Republicans like, as you noted, Senator John Cornyn, who make the point, it's not necessarily always going to be a Republican president in office.
He told my colleague, Manu Raju, quote, "The whole idea that presidents, whether it's President Trump, President Warren or President Sanders, can declare an emergency and somehow usurp the separation of powers and get into the business of appropriating money for specific progress without Congress being involved is a serious constitutional question.
[09:05:11] I think one of the big issues right now, Jim, besides the fact that Republicans are raising concerns, they're trying to head this off before it actually occurs. Obviously the backdrop being that negotiations between that conference committee trying to figure out a path forward on boarder security funding are still ongoing.
But the reality is, if there is no deal struck with the conference committee, if the president does declare a national emergency, Congress can actually push back on that. And I'm told House Democrats are planning to vote on a resolution of disapproval or vote on something to try and block this.
If that occurs, Senate Republicans would almost be -- would be forced to vote on the same thing. That's something that could split the conference. And that, more than anything else is why you're hearing Republicans both on the leadership level and rank-and-file urge the White House not to take this course. They don't want to see that get to the Senate floor if the president does follow through with that course of action, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Yes, might even set up a veto battle down the line.
Phil Mattingly, on the Hill, thanks very much.
Joining us now, "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick and Washington bureau chief for the "Daily Beast" Jackie Kucinich.
Jackie, if I could begin with you, you're hearing the message from White House advisers, the message from the speech tonight will be one of unity, bipartisanship. Is that a message that this president can credibly deliver?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not at this point. Given the divisions between Democrats, given the divisions in his own party, it's too little too late to say the least. And not to mention, you know, his recent actions and the actions -- I mean, look at what Phil was just talking about on the shutdown. I mean, there could be another government shutdown in just a few days
because of the president's and the Congress's stalemate over what to do about the border wall. So there hasn't been trust. There continues not to be trust. And I don't think a State of the Union speech is going to heal a lot of the divisions that are very present right now in this country.
SCIUTTO: And it was a similar message to last year.
SCIUTTO: You know a message of unity. And then we saw how the last year went.
David Swerdlick, is a shutdown a real possibility here? Because you also hear on the Hill, Republicans included, working on their plan really without the president's involvement here. I mean, if they don't have the president's support, will they just find some way to keep government open?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning, Jim. Happy Lunar New Year to everybody. Kung Hei Fat Choi. Gong Xi Fa Cai.
To your question, here's my thought. I don't think either party has an appetite for another shutdown. Republicans see the Democrats are dug in. The White House sees that, too. Democrats, though, I don't think want that either. They see how government workers were hurt and how things like air traffic control were messed up during the shutdown.
So then you look at this potential for the president to declare an emergency. And even if it's eventually a loss for him I think it's a win for him for this reason. It's probably the one way that he can get out of this jam without looking to his base, the 40 percent of people supporting him, like he has retreated on this issue.
Even if it goes to the courts, even if the courts ultimately say it's unconstitutional, he can go back to his base and say, I fought, I took this all the way, I took it to the courts and the courts thwarted my efforts.
SCIUTTO: But before it gets to the courts, I mean, if, Jackie, Republicans do stand firm on this, at least the ones who've publicly come out in opposition to this, you could have a resolution of disapproval which would require a presidential veto to get the emergency declaration through. I mean, so, it might not even get to the courts, right, if Republicans are unified in opposing this move.
KUCINICH: Right. I don't know that we'll get -- it's hard to say whether Republicans will or won't be unified because we've seen Republicans come out and say one thing and then when the president is like, I need you.
KUCINICH: They'll come and back him up. They certainly don't want to publicly rebuke the president. And that's why --
SCIUTTO: But some of them are publicly coming out --
KUCINICH: They're saying please don't do this.
SCIUTTO: When you have John Cornyn saying it's a constitutional issue, I mean, in the current environment that's going pretty far from a Republican senator.
KUCINICH: Right. A Republican who is looking at a re-election battle. And Politico has a great piece on this today, I think. So also consider those considerations from a politician's standpoint. But I think they're trying to head this off at the pass as we've seen. We'll see if they're successful because the president really only listens to himself at the end of the day.
SCIUTTO: David Swerdlick, Bernie Sanders will be giving his own State of the Union address for the third straight year. Of course Democrats has selected Stacey Abrams.
SCIUTTO: Unsuccessful candidate for governorship in Georgia. Why is Bernie Sanders doing this? Because there's been some opposition from Democrats.
SWERDLICK: Yes, and I think there are people out there saying, and with some justification that it seems like, even if this isn't the intent that Senator Sanders is stealing some of the limelight away from Stacey Abrams, a rising star in the Democratic Party, lost that governor's race, but was the head of the Democrats in the Georgia legislature.
Lots of Democrats want her to run for Senate next time around. And she is seen as one of the new faces of the party, an African-American woman, Yale Law graduate, someone who people put a lot of hopes on in this last cycle.
[09:10:004] Senator Sanders, of course potential presidential candidate, you can see why he would want to do it. At the same time we know what Senator Sanders thinks about a lot of these issues. We've heard from him all through 2016. Why is he doing this now? Not 100 percent clear.
SCIUTTO: One final note, Jackie, the optics tonight are always interesting.
SCIUTTO: Because you have the president, you have the speaker and the vice president behind him. And now after years of Republicans occupying those seats you will have a Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, behind the president looking over his shoulder.
SCIUTTO: Do you think he'll be aware of that? Do you think she'll be very aware of that as well?
KUCINICH: So in the past the president really has stuck to decorum when it comes to the State of the Union. It's one of the rare times he actually has stuck to the teleprompter. Really stuck to the format. Will he turn around and sneak a look at Nancy Pelosi here and there, and say, hey, Nancy, let's work together on something? I wouldn't put it past him.
SCIUTTO: It's possible.
KUCINICH: Yes. It's possible.
SCIUTTO: We'll also expect to see some of her reactions to some of the statements as well.
KUCINICH: Absolutely. She has quite the poker face.
KUCINICH: If I'm remembering correctly from years prior.
SCIUTTO: Yes. She certainly has some experience with this.
David and Jackie, thanks very much.
Federal prosecutors have now subpoenaed President Trump's inaugural committee demanding documents, wide-ranging documents related to donors, vendors, finances. We have the latest on that.
Plus, governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, still standing his ground. He says that he needs time to clear his name over a racist photo in his medical school yearbook.
And the "Washington Post" is now reporting that the Trump Organization has fired at least 18 undocumented workers over the past two months. One attorney says that his client worked at a Trump golf course for 18 years.
Why only now is the president taking action?
[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, HOST, NEWSROOM: The president and his inner circle are under new scrutiny this morning, but not by special counsel Robert Mueller. Federal Prosecutors from the Southern District of New York have subpoenaed President Trump's Inaugural Committee.
The subpoena indicates that prosecutors are investigating a wide range of potential crimes from money-laundering to conspiracy against the United States. I want to bring in Cnn reporter Kara Scannell, she's been covering this since Cnn legal analyst Carrie Cordero.
Kara, if I can begin with you. It's quite a wide-ranging subpoena, documents, list of donors and so on. Tell us how wide-ranging, what appears to be the prosecutor's goal here?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That's right, so this is a very wide- ranging subpoena, it's asking for the list of donors. Any communications that they had with the committee, how they paid and made their donations to the committee, it's also asking for the list of the vendors, people who received the money.
Specifically, if any vendors were paid directly by a donor which would imply that they were skirting the disclosure obligations around this. Now, in the subpoena, they also lay out a wide-range of crimes that could have been violated here from both money-laundering, mail fraud, wire fraud, disclosure obligations and whether any foreign donors might have donated to the campaign through straw donors.
That is by -- you know, it's a crime for foreign donors to donate to the inauguration, and also to donate in someone else's names. So, that's one of the other crimes that they lay out. Now, interestingly, you know, this is a very wide-ranging subpoena, also seeking financial and bank records.
But they do identify one donor in particular, an American whose name is Imaad Zuberi; he's a venture capitalist, and he donated $900,000 through his company to the inauguration. It's not clear why he was singled out. There are 50 other individuals and corporations that donated more than him to the inauguration.
And he's a long-time Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama supporter. So you know, he's big in this space, he does a lot of donations. Now, his spokesman gave us a statement in which he says that "Imaad always give his own money from his own resources."
And they said that they are bewildered why he appeared in the subpoena and they only learned of this first when reporters called and I told them about this. So they're puzzled about why that -- why he's included in here.
SCIUTTO: So Carrie, first of all, will such a wide-ranging subpoena here, would federal prosecutors issue such a subpoena if they didn't have evidence to back up something here, right? Or can this be read at all as a fishing expedition or do you not go down this path unless you have evidence of a potential crime?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think it's -- I don't think it's on either end of the spectrum. A grand jury subpoena is a basic investigative tool. So it's a relatively low standard to be able to get it. The records that are requested and the information that's requested just needs to be relevant to whatever it's the underlying investigation.
So there is an ongoing investigation, to be honest I'm a little surprised that it took this long because it was five months ago that an individual by the last name of Patten pled guilty to having funneled foreign money into the Inaugural Committee.
So I've been waiting for a while to see if we were going to see any further information related to the Inaugural Committee. This is the initial step in the investigator's process to be able to gather a lot of information. It doesn't necessarily mean that the information that they acquire will end up being able to be prosecuted. But it's a necessary step if they're trying to --
SCIUTTO: OK --
CORDERO: Explore these potential crimes.
SCIUTTO: And to be clear, accepting money from a foreign source, that is illegal --
CORDERO: That is, that would fall under the --
SCIUTTO: If you know, if you know --
CORDERO: That would fall under the Campaign Finance Violations. So that's not what that particular individual was -- he was charged with other crimes, but one of the things that it turned out that he did was funneled the information, and at the time that plea came out, the American who he funneled the information through, the straw man was not identified in those documents. So we're still waiting to see who that was.
SCIUTTO: And the significance here, Kara, of this being federal prosecutors in New York, would this -- is this a pardonable crime? If someone was eventually to be charged, and again, as Carrie said, we're not there yet, but is it something that could be pardoned by the --
SCANNELL: Yes, I mean, it'd be a federal crime, it's been investigated by the federal prosecutor, so it could be something that's pardoned. But you know, to Carrie's point, I mean, that was Sam Patton who pled guilty and he's cooperating with Mueller's team.
[09:20:00] Now, we're seeing this in New York, and as we see, you know, sort of see the signs that Mueller might be wrapping up, we're seeing the New York prosecutors take on more of this because it wasn't just Sam Patten. We also knew that Mueller's team had stopped some Russian oligarchs including Viktor Vekselberg and questioned him about donations to the campaign if he had donated any money, and he did not cooperate with that investigation.
But it's something that Mueller's team has been poking around them for at least a year. We know some information was picked up in the raid of Michael Cohen of a recording that he had with a member of the Inaugural Committee, one of the vendors.
So now, we're sort of seeing all of this come together, but under the New York umbrella, not Mueller's umbrella.
CORDERO: No, and many of these corporation agreements -- just to add, they demand cooperation from the individual who is pleading with other law enforcement sources, other law enforcement agencies including other prosecutors that wouldn't have to be the special counsel's team.
SCIUTTO: All right, certainly, something to watch, Kara, Carrie, thanks very much. Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam says that if he resigns right now, he would be labeled a racist for life. He is therefore asking for more time to clear his name for that racist photo in his medical school yearbook.
But politically, is it too late for him? And we're just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street, stocks set to open up this morning, you see all green arrows there, but investors are keeping taps on key earnings report, and of course, the State of the Union address tonight where the president is set to lay out his desired agenda.
[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SCIUTTO: Political pressure is mounting on Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to resign, but he is telling supporters that he is going nowhere at least for now. A source telling Cnn that Northam is pleading with cabinet members to give him more time to clear his name.
The governor was described as, quote, "begging for a chance to prove that he is not pictured in the racist photo in that medical school yearbook page." He says if he resigned now, he would be resigning as a, quote, "racist for life".
Joining me now is Cnn's Jason Carroll, he is live from Richmond, Virginia, with more. Despite those public calls, the governor digging in.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He is, and it appears to be somewhat of an impasse at this point, right, Jim? I mean, look, the governor, we are told is going to be spending part of his day reaching out to community leaders, reaching out to lawmakers, reaching out to those in the African-American community once again, trying to plead his case.
Once again, trying to tell those people that he's calling that, that is not him who is picture in those racist photos from that yearbook. That, that's not who he is as a person. But having said that, you've already seen a number of lawmakers here in the state, community leaders.
In fact, you've got several 2020 candidates, Democratic candidates for the president who have already said, look, it's time for you to let this end, it's time for you to step down. And the question now becomes, how effective can he be as a governor?
I mean, you look at what's happening here in the state, this is one of the busiest times of the year in terms of trying to get legislature bills passed through the state. And so, the question is how effective can he be as a governor? That's the big question, regardless of who he is, in his heart, who he says he is in his heart.
The question is how effective can he be as a governor? Well, this man says I can be effective, I just simply need more time. That's what he's going to be doing today, reaching out to supporters. He says he does have support from family, from friends, his wife standing by him, saying that he should not resign.
Again, the question is going forward, how effective can he be as a governor -- Jim?
SCIUTTO: Jason Carroll there in Richmond, Virginia, thanks very much. Joining me now, Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania. Senator, thanks for taking the time.
SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Jim, good to be with you.
SCIUTTO: You heard the report there, the governor of Virginia is asking for time to clear his name. Does he deserve that time or should he step down now?
CASEY: I think he should step down. It's deeply offensive to so many tens of millions of Americans. But also, when you hear from Senators Kaine and Warner, both of them served as governors, they can speak to the question of effectiveness. And I think that's pretty conclusive.
SCIUTTO: Moving on to the president's speech tonight, we're hearing consistently from his advisors that his intended message is going to be one of unity and possibilities, areas of bipartisan cooperation. In your view, can this president unify this country?
CASEY: Well, we'll see. I hope that he'll speak to or use language of unity, but also have an affirmative plan going forward, especially on things like infrastructure. I'd like him to focus his personal to me, I'd like him to focus on a broad agenda for children to finally have something akin to a marshal plan for kids which will help everyone in the long run, early learning and helping kids when they're very young.
Thirdly, I think he's got to and he should do this at the top, I think, is speak directly to the shutdown. Say the following, no more shutdowns as long as I'm president, number two, I'm going to make everyone whole, at least work to make everyone adversely effective and 120,000 federal workers, make them whole, not just with back pay, but with other help as well.
So, I'm going to have a young woman with me who suffered through this, an army reservist and TSA officer who is emblematic of the suffering that the shutdown caused.
SCIUTTO: Well, it appears though that the president is going to make no such pledge not to shut down, that he's going to say that he wants to stick with his wall, however he gets there. And there are other possibilities for how he reaches there.
I'm just curious, is there room for compromise on that to get Democratic votes on board? For instance, would you vote for money for a barrier on the border for first, a certain portion of the distance of that border if you receive, say, in return permanent protection for Dreamers?
CASEY: I think most of the negotiation here is going to be between and among the appropriators. That's the way it should be.