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Interview with Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY); Democrats on Ways & Means Committee Fight to Get Trump's Tax Returns; Trump Blasts Democrats as They Ramp Up Multiple Investigations; Top-3 Virginia Officials Embroiled in Scandal; Virginia Lt. Gov. Accused of Sexual Assault; Nancy Pelosi & Kamala Harris Weigh in on Virginia Scandals; Former Boyfriend of Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina Indicted; Trump Touts Gains Against ISIS in Syria & Iraq. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 7, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:52] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: A new fight to get President Trump's tax returns will start a short time from now on Capitol Hill. Democrats on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee holding a hearing on the important of presidents disclosing their tax returns. Democrats plan to call for future presidential and vice presidential candidates to release 10 years of tax returns as part of an ethics reform package known as H.R.-1.

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Tom Suozzi, of New York, who is a member of the Ways and Means Committee, also the Problem Solvers Caucus.

Your committee, sir, is holding that hearing later this afternoon. There's a lot of interest in it, as we know, and also on the thinking behind this. This could turn into a lengthy legal fight. Do you believe you'll be successful?

REP. TOM SUOZZI, (D), NEW YORK: I think we'll have a hearing today. We'll go through the process. One thing our chairman pointed out is he wants to go through a process with everything we do, actually listening to the experts. We are looking at this prospectively, looking forward to the 2020 race that anybody that's running for president or vice president, on a future going basis, will have to disclose their individual taxes.

HILL: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called this political. How do you respond to that?

SUOZZI: Well, you know, we are trying to look out for best interest of the United States of America. Every single presidential candidate and every president since Richard Nixon disclosed their taxes. It was really an anomaly that this president decided not to disclose them. We need to look at this from a public-policy perspective on a forward- going basis whether it makes sense for presidential and vice presidential candidates to show what their entanglements are related to their business relationships that they have in their personal business dealings. HILL: Your colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee, expanding

their investigations. We heard a lot about it from Adam Schiff yesterday. You heard the response of the president calling this "presidential harassment." Do you agree with this broad expansion we are seeing in terms of investigations?

SUOZZI: There has to be a balance that we have to find in this process. We have a duty, as a separate branch of government, of oversight. That's our job. That's what the Constitution says we have to do. So we have to do our job to look at things where we think things are irregular and all of the different committees of jurisdiction. But it can't be only about investigations. We have to govern as well. So many other big issues going on in the country right now. We can't obfuscate the fact that we have a real duty to the American people of oversight, as every Congress has had throughout history.

HILL: Speaker Pelosi telling "Politico" in a recent interview that she is treading carefully anywhere the president is involved personally. Are you concern that, yes, there's importance of oversight, and that is what you are elected to do as part of your job, but is there a concern, though, about this very delicate line where things may come across as being purely politically motivated, as we saw the response from Kevin McCarthy?

SUOZZI: I think that's a great way to put it, a very delicate line. You're on a nice edge of balance. You can't go all the way over here and you ignore your responsibilities of oversight. And you can't go all the way over here that you become political and you're going after the president because he is from a different party. It's a balance. I believe the Republican Party, when in the majority, didn't do much investigating whatsoever. We had to find that right balance between what our obligation is constitutionally to do oversight of the president, of the executive branch of the United States of America while, at the same time, not letting it become something that's partisan. We hope our Republican colleagues will join us as other Democrats and Republicans throughout the history of this country have looked at things in a bipartisan fashion when it's for the good of the country.

HILL: Is there anything that would concern you and would be a step too far politically from your view?

SUOZZI: I think when people make a rush to judgment on things. And there's people out there saying, impeach the president today, investigate this right now. That's not responsible. One thing I'm very happy that the speaker is doing and the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee is doing and that other leaders of different committees in the House are saying, is we have to be very judicious, we have to go through the process, we have to follow the law, we have to follow the Constitution, and we have to follow our values, to make sure that everything we do is in the interest of the United States of America and the people we represent. Not in the interest of our party, not in the interest of some political agenda, but in the interest of the people of the country, the Constitution and our constitutional responsibilities. [11:35:20] HILL: Speaking of people you represent, you brought as

your guest to the State of the Union, the president of the National Air Traffic Controllers' Association, who went 35 days working without a paycheck. The president didn't mention the 800,000 federal workers. What did you hear from him? What does he want you, meaning broader Democrats, to do to give in on and to agree to and to ensure there's not another shutdown?

SUOZZI: Kevin Manney (ph) is an air traffic controller that I brought. He's responsible for LaGuardia and JFK, some of the busiest air space anywhere in the United States of America. One of the things he said to me is, I have guys on my team that have peoples' lives in their hand. It is one of the most important jobs you could possibly imagine with incredible stress. I don't want them to worry about paying their bills. I don't want them to worry about if their car breaks down they're not going to have enough cash to pay for it. I don't want them to worry about anything else except for their jobs. And we can't forget, when this shutdown took place, 800,000 employees and their families were all effected in a negative way. There's a human story there. Every one of those 800,000 people is a story. Some people had the cash, they were fine, they could weather the storm. Other people were desperate. I heard about people selling their cars, trying to auction things off just to have enough cash to pay their rent or pay for medical bills. This is a human thing. In America, the strongest country in the world, we can't say, when Democrats disagree with Republicans, when the president disagrees with the Congress -- this has happened throughout our history -- we don't shut down the government. That's what banana republics do.

HILL: You have been pretty clear that you're OK with more money for a physical barrier as part of a comprehensive border security package. You've also said a number of times that people are really hung up on the world "wall" or the words "no wall." Are you confident that this bipartisan group is going to come to an agreement that the president will sign off on?

SUOZZI: We have been through these controversies in our history before. We end up working it out when they sit down and negotiation. People in my district are saying, why can't they sit down and work it out, this has been going on for years and years and years and they've ignored it so long, let's sit down and work it out once and for all. The happy news is the speaker said she will not interfere with the process. She will look at what the bipartisan committee does. We hope the president will say the same thing, don't interfere. Let these people that have been doing this for years and what they are talking about, that know the details, work together to find a comprehensive solution to this problem that gives us secure borders, robust border security, and protects some of the folks that have been here for decades playing by the rules, the DREAMers and TPS people, that we invited into this country, people looking to a path to citizenship, as well as other members of their family. Let's solve this problem once and for all working together for the good of the American people.

HILL: Congressman Tom Suozzi, appreciate your time. Thank you.

SUOZZI: Thank you. Thanks so much.

HILL: Coming up, crisis in the commonwealth. Three of Virginia's top lawmakers embroiled in controversy. Will they be forced to resign or will they fight to hold onto power?


[11:43:03] HILL: All eyes on Virginia because that's lot to watch there with all three of the state's top-ranking officials, all Democrats, embroiled in scandal. The attorney general, Mark Herring, now admitting to wearing blackface at a party in the '80s. This is after he called on Governor Ralph Northam to resign for doing the same thing. There's Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax who is accused of sexual assault, which he denied, prompting his alleged victim to come forward laying out the claims in graphic detail.

Moments ago, two powerful Democratic women in Congress giving their take on all of this. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejecting the notion that the scandals hurt the Democratic brand. California Senator and presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, went much further, calling for an investigation into the allegations against Fairfax. Take a listen.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D), CALIFORNIA: A letter written by the woman reads as a credible account. I think there should be an investigation to get to the bottom of it and determine the facts.


HILL: CNN national correspondent, Jason Carrol, is at the state capital in Richmond, Virginia.

Jason, what's the latest this morning? Anyone at this point closer to resigning or digging in their heels?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a question a lot of folks are asking. It appears, Erica, folks are digging their heels in. If you start with someone like Mark Herring, the state attorney general, he is basically saying, look, I did what I did, I did put on the black face back in the '80s. Releasing a statement saying, in part, that his shame of that moment that lasted and haunted him for decades. It still didn't stop him from criticizing the governor for doing the same thing. The governor has hired a crisis management firm to try to help him weather through this political storm. The governor is still reaching out to leaders in the community, African-American leaders in the community and others. He basically saying he needs more time at this point. So you have got these two political leaders who seem to be not giving in, trying to hold onto their positions.

[11:45:11] And you have the lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, who is lawyered up, hiring a very prominent law firm from Washington, D.C., the same law firm that represented Brett Kavanaugh, Supreme Court Justice. He is not backing down, very much denying the allegations.

A lot of folks asking, what is the next ball that's going to drop? It appears no one seems to be wanting to step down -- Erica?

HILL: And in terms of the woman that accused Fairfax, she came out with a very lengthy and detailed statement. What more did we learn in that?

CARROLL: She did, Vanessa Tyson. She came out with that statement yesterday, not wanting to get involved in the political fray in all of this but saying she wanted to set the record straight. She released the statement that says, in part, "What began as consensual kissing turned into a sexual assault. I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought that forced sexual act was consensual."

What's she's talking about is what she says happened in 2004, she says, at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. She alleged that Fairfax sexually assaulted her. He strongly denies all of this. He released a statement of his own saying. "Dr. Tyson should be treated with respect but I cannot agree to a description of events that simply is not true."

He denies these allegations. He questions the political timing in all of this.

Once again, though, the big question is, will any of these three men step down for these offenses? Right now -- tomorrow is a different day -- but right now, the answer is no -- Erica?

HILL: Next hour, it could be a different story the way these things move forward.

Jason Carroll, appreciate it. Thank you.

CARROLL: You bet.

HILL: Coming up, President Trump touting gains against ISIS, predicting an announcement that the terror group has lost all territory inside Syria could come as early as next week. So what's the reality on the ground?


[11:51:36] HILL: The ex-boyfriend of Russian spy, Maria Butina, now facing his own legal firestorm. Political operative, Paul Erickson, helped to infiltrate geopolitical circles before and after the 2016 election. He is accused of defrauding investors and wire fraud. Butina pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and trying to influence U.S. relations with Russia.

Sara Murray joins us live from Washington.

Sara, what are we learning here?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a case largely unrelated to Maria Butina. We knew her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, was in legal hot water in South Dakota. This is what these charges are stemming from. They came out of the attorney's office in South Dakota, and they are money laundering charges, they are wire fraud charges. It's 11 counts. So these are serious allegations.

But again, have nothing to do necessarily with this conspiracy Maria Butina was running here in Washington, D.C., that she pled guilty to. And it's an indication of just how much legal trouble Paul Erickson could find himself in.

When I was exchanging e-mails with his attorney last night, Erickson's attorney said they believe there's a different story going on than the government is portraying in this fraud case but, so far, we have heard nothing from Paul Erickson himself on this issue.

HILL: Sara Murray with the latest for us there. Sara, thank you.

President Trump predicting he could announce as early as next week the full territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States military, our coalition partners and the Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated virtually all of the territory previously held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It should be formally announced sometime probably next week that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate.


HILL: Joining me now, CNN senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, in Istanbul.

Arwa, you have covered this region extensively. When it comes to ISIS, when it comes to control of territory, what is the reality on the ground?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The reality is that, whether or not they control territory, they are still able to terrorize, Erica. And this is something we heard Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talk about in a much more nuanced statement where he said ISIS could still launch attacks, did have sleeper cells in territory that was no longer under their control. They are also widely believed to have sleeper cells in Iraq, even in areas of Europe, Asia and across the globe. Some analysts will even say ISIS has had a plan in place for quite some time now for the very day when its physical caliphate would be defeated. The caliphate also still exists in cyberspace. Let's not forget that. It still has the ability to reach out and lure vulnerable and disenfranchised populations.

What Trump's allies did not hear from those statements he made where what sort of plan would be put in place to ensure that territory captured from ISIS is actually secured. What sort of force will remain to ensure that these gains are not lost once the U.S. actually leave? What sort of indication is there that is a well-thought-out process and not just the president on the United States making a decision on a whim? That's what people in the region, allies in the region are greatly concerned about. They no longer really know how much they can rely on America to be a partner in all of this, especially when it seems like America is turning away, at the very least, from Syria.

[11:55:18] HILL: Arwa Damon with the latest for us. Arwa, thank you.

Coming up, Democrats expanding investigations into President Trump, including a new fight to get his tax returns.

Stay with us.