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Chaos in Virginia Politics; Trump Furious Over Congressional Investigations. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 7, 2019 - 16:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The president, who has long been accused of harassing people on Twitter, is today objecting to what he calls presidential harassment.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Forgot Robert Mueller. President Trump has a whole bunch of new targets, House Democrats, as investigations begin and a standoff erupts today between lawmakers and Trump's acting attorney general.

Hope and pray, that's the strategy one Republican said senator says they're using to try to avoid another government shutdown, because Republicans are still not sure what the president will agree to.

Plus, at this point, can Virginia's top three elected officials all embroiled in scandal actually stay in office? If history is any guide, the answer might be yes. We will take a closer look.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with our politics lead today. President Trump is calling it presidential harassment. Democrats are calling it their constitutional duty, telling the president this is his new reality.

House Democrats, now armed with subpoena power, announcing more investigations into more of the president's business.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We will not surrender our constitutional responsibility for oversight. That would make us delinquent in our duties.


TAPPER: Right this very minute, the House Ways and Means Committee, now run by Democrats, is holding a hearing on new legislation to require all presidential candidates to release their tax returns. It's perceived as the opening salvo in that committee's plan to ultimately subpoena President Trump's tax returns, thus revealing whatever it is the president has been hiding for all these years.

And President Trump, who has long been complaining about Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, now has even more investigations to complain about, tweeting today -- quote -- "The Dems and their committees are going nuts, a continuation of witch-hunt."

The president's gripes include the fact that the House Intelligence Committee just unveiled a new sweeping investigation into whether the president's business interests are influencing in any way his foreign policy decisions.


REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: From an intelligence perspective, we need to make sure that the president of the United States is putting America first, not Russia or some other country.


TAPPER: The president also complaining about these investigative committees -- quote -- "even stealing people who work at White House" -- unquote.

That's an apparent reference to the House Intelligence Committee having hired officials with experience at the National Security Council, including during the Trump presidency, to help them with their oversight of the president.

On top of all that, the House Judiciary Committee authorized a subpoena this morning for acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, prompting yet another standoff.

As CNN's Abby Phillip now reports for us, this is just the beginning of this new era of congressional oversight today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today and every day, let us pray for the future of our country. Let us pray for the courage to pursue justice and the wisdom to forge peace.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): A prayer about pursuing justice and forging peace, ironically coming just hours after President Trump fired off a barrage of attacks against Democratic lawmakers who plan to investigate him.

Trump tweeting: "Presidential harassment, it should never be allowed to happen again."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not taking the bait.

PELOSI: I always think that whatever the president says about us, he's projecting his own unruliness. He's a projector. And that's what it's about.

PHILLIP: Trump also claiming that Republicans never did this to President Obama, even though:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She described Benghazi as a soft target.

PHILLIP: Republicans did lead a probe into the Benghazi attacks during Obama's presidency that lasted more than two years.

This as House Democrats announcing sweeping plans for public hearings with Trump Cabinet officials and probe a laundry list of issues, including the separation of children from their families at the border. Democrats also not shying away from potentially crossing Trump's red line, his personal finances.

PELOSI: I think, overwhelmingly, the public wants to see the president's tax returns. And so they want to know the truth. They want to know the facts. And he has nothing to hide.

PHILLIP: Pelosi ignoring the president's unusual warning during the State of the Union address.

TRUMP: If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn't work that way.

PHILLIP: The House speaker today firing back.

PELOSI: We will not surrender our constitutional responsibility for oversight. That would make us delinquent in our duties.


PHILLIP: And President Trump's contention is his tweet this morning that investigators are stealing staff from the White House for their investigations reflects the president's anger over some hires being made by Adam Schiff in that Intelligence Committee.


Now, Adam Schiff responded to the president's tweets, telling reporters that it's not unusual for NSC staffers to be hired by the Intelligence Committee.

And he added this, that maybe Trump should work on being a better employer.

Now, it is not unusual for NSC staffers to go over to the Intelligence Committee. Even Devin Nunes, Adam Schiff's predecessor as chairman of that committee, hired an NSC staffer who worked in the Trump White House, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Abby Phillip, thanks so much.

And it's also true that the White House NSC just hired a senior Republican staffer from the House Intelligence Committee. So it does work that way. But, Symone, let me start with this. One of the president's tweets today reads in part: "The Republicans never did this to President Obama. There would be no time left to run government."

There were a lot of hearings about President Obama, but I suspect President Trump would differentiate. He'd say Benghazi, Fast and Furious, those were -- IRS -- those were hearings about the Obama administration. The Democrats are doing investigations into my finances, things that I did before I even took office.

Is that fair?


Jake, look, I think the Democrats are doing their job. Congress is now -- Democrats are now in charge of the House of Representatives. They're in charge of the House representatives because the American people sent Democrats there to put a check on Donald Trump and to get things done.

Part of that check is oversight. And so when we have not seen the tax returns from the president, when there are multiple people and individuals and things happening at the Cabinet level from -- I mean, we could talk about Secretary Zinke. We can talk about all these things that the Republicans, when they were in charge of Congress, they failed to exercise their oversight duties.

And so now Democrats are picking up where the Republicans left off.

TAPPER: Van, isn't there a risk here of Democrats being perceived as being too partisan, going after him and in terms of like his personal finances?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It plays into a narrative that he's trying to get something done and they're just stuck on the resistance mode.

The problem is that, the reason you didn't investigate Obama's tax returns, he released them. The reason that you don't have to investigate his business interests and other presidents is because they put them in blind trusts.

If you're going to do weird things, weird things are going to happen to you. And you don't -- you can't just complain about that stuff.

TAPPER: David?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I mean, there is a legitimate role for congressional oversight clearly. It's abrogated on many occasions.

I do think that that's legitimate oversight responsibility they have. I do though think that, as Van points out, there's a definite -- and you asked, right? There's a definite chance that the Democrats overplay this hand and they're seen as being incredibly overly partisan and not trying to actually get anything done. People say, oh, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. No, they

can't actually, right? The Congress can't walk and chew gum at the same time. They do one or two things at a time. And so when they're investigating, they're not legislating. And that's just the fact.

JONES: Look, if the president wants them to move on, he can just release all this stuff and we can move on.


URBAN: I think it's not just about his tax returns.

There's going to be -- there's a fine line between legitimate oversight and harassment.

SANDERS: Who gets to decide what is legitimate oversight?

URBAN: The American public.


SANDERS: Definitely not Donald Trump.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, welcome to the NFL, elections have consequences, other cliches that apply.

I think Democrats are within the rights to do oversight, obviously. And I think that he's within his rights to make the argument that this is a circus, which is the argument that he's going to continue to make, and it is a decision ultimately that will probably rest with the American people when it comes to the perception of this.

And the perception of it is pretty important. But I think they're on solid ground with asking plenty of questions, as you say, about sort of unorthodox situations.

TAPPER: The president's attorney Rudy Giuliani has openly admitted -- he said it to me on "STATE OF THE UNION" that the president's attempts to discredit Robert Mueller were part of a P.R. campaign.

Take a listen.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It is for public opinion, because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach, not impeach.

Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So our jury is the American -- as it should be, is the American people.


TAPPER: So it's kind of a similar thing that he's doing with these investigations in the House. SANDERS: Absolutely.

Jake, every good communications person, every time Rudy Giuliani goes on television, goes like this, because it's like, what are you saying? You're not supposed to be saying that.

Yes, it's very -- the president and his allies have been very clear that they are playing to not just the American people, but specifically to their base. And they are preparing for a situation to where public opinion will enter, and folks in the United States House, in Congress, and the Senate, will be looking to what the constituents and what the opinion polls are saying.

I frankly don't think that's a sound strategy.

URBAN: Listen, I was a staffer through the Clinton impeachment in the Senate.

And I will tell you the House was rabid about this. And it was -- remember, House and Senate were both Republican at that time. And the House tried to jam it through. And when it got to the Senate, it was a completely different ball of wax because public opinion and perception, people in America had had enough. They said enough.

They were up in arms enough. And at some point, that's going to happen in this case.

TAPPER: You really think so?

URBAN: Absolutely.



TAPPER: Well, let me ask you.

Is there one of these committee hearings, whether it's Judiciary, House Intelligence, Ways and Means, going after his tax returns, is there one you think that offers more particular danger for President Trump than the other?

HAM: I mean, I know the tax returns one is exciting for people because it's the solid concrete thing.

But it also was sort of -- it was dealt with during the election. So I'm not sure how much you get out of this. In the end, I think -- and it may seem unfair to Democrats, because Trump has sort of brought the chaos level up.

And the American people are sort of like, OK, we're right here. And I think if it feels like Democrats are taking it up another level, they will pay a bit of a price for that.

TAPPER: What do you make of Eric Swalwell and others on the Intelligence Committee forwarding the transcripts of their interviews,, closed-door transcripts to Mueller, and saying -- Swalwell said basically, we think there are more people that Mueller can go after for perjury, for lying before Congress.

JONES: Look, I worry that the very people that you are concerned about, that the Trump base won't accept the outcome if it feels that it's an unfair process.

And so I think it's...

URBAN: Or just America won't.

JONES: Well, listen, I think most Americans...


URBAN: Not the Trump base. That's what we should be concerned about.

JONES: No, listen, I think most Americans feel something weird and screwy is going on with Donald Trump, and they want to know what it is.


JONES: And I think that's quite fair, because no president has ever acted this way.


URBAN: You shouldn't say most Americans. That's not a fair thing to say.

JONES: ... my opinion.


JONES: So, look, I think most Americans will accept the outcome, whatever it is. And they will judge it on the merits.

There are going to be some Democrats who are going to be way off on one side, but I think most -- but there is a concern that if you have a Trump base that's been primed to think this is unfair, and then there are acts on the part of Democrats that add to that narrative, that you could have -- you could have people not accept the outcome.

And I think that's dangerous.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

There's a standoff under way right now on Capitol Hill between the acting attorney general and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. It all leads back to President Trump. We will tell you that story.

Then, what do the top three Democratic lawmakers currently under fire in Virginia possibly have in common with Bill Clinton, Charlie Rangel and Mark Sanford? Stay with us.


[16:16:11] TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead now.

And a standoff on Capitol Hill. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has now threatened to skip his planned testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow because Democrats on the committee have a subpoena ready in case he refuses to answer questions, specifically questions about his conversations with President Trump about the Mueller probe.

That dispute unfolding as the man who will likely to replace Whitaker, Attorney General nominee William Barr faces his own partisan backlash. Barr's nomination advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with no Democratic support today. None.

Democrats say that's because Barr will not promise to publicly release the special counsel's final report. It's a move according to the recent CNN poll 87 percent of the American people support.

I want to bring in CNN's Laura Jarrett now. She's live at the Justice Department for us.

Laura, let's start with this back and forth between the acting general, Matthew Whitaker, and House Democrats. Whitaker issued a scathing statement this afternoon explaining his reasoning. What did he say?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Jake, the heart of this fight is all about the fact that the Democrats want to grill Whitaker about all manner of his conversations with President Trump. They want to know, how did he get the job? What have his conversations been like with the White House about the special counsel's probe and they even want to question him our reporting from last month that the president unloaded on Whitaker about how the Southern District of New York has been carrying out its investigation into the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen.

And knowing that these are going to be contentious topics, Chairman Nadler tried to go ahead and uses preemptive subpoena, an unusual move, to try to have it in his back pocket in case Whitaker decline to answer these questions. Well, Whitaker in turn issuing an ultimatum of his own, saying he will not come tomorrow to the hearing in front of the House Judiciary Committee meeting unless he gets an assurance in writing by 6:00 p.m. tonight that these questions are off the table.

Now, we wait to see exactly what the House does on this. But if hey try to pursue it, they could try to hold him in contempt if he does not show if they issue that subpoena, Jake.

TAPPER: And when it comes to attorney general nominee Bill Barr, he's now just one step away from becoming attorney general and the man who oversees the Mueller probe. Democrats have been vocally opposed to that today.

JARRETT: That's right. He is well on his way to Senate confirmation. By all indications, he was voted along party lines in the Senate Judiciary Committee today and Senator Graham, the Republican, a top Republican on the House -- rather on Senate Judiciary Committee saying that Barr reassured him he will not use executive privilege to cover up wrongdoing. The Democrats saying this is not enough. Senator Blumenthal saying they want to know about all manner of wrongdoing, not just the ones that have been criminally charged -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Laura Jarrett for us at the Justice Department, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this more. Barr said in his confirmation hearing that he would not allow the White House to use executive privilege to cover up wrongdoing but today, Senator Patrick Leahy said that's not enough. Take a listen.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE MEMBER: Long-held abuse of executive powers could essentially be weaponized by President Trump, a man who derides any limit on his authority.


TAPPER: Weaponized, what do you make of that?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: He has more advanced, or more expansive view of presidential power than I'm a huge fan of and different opinions on minimums and sentencing and such, which, by the way, can I just say, a good reason that Congress can put in laws like the First Step Act, and then the guy in charge has to follow those laws. That's the neat feature of our democracy.

What was the question again?

TAPPER: The question is about weaponizing his view of executive power.

HAM: So, he has things that I disagree with. I think his greatest strength is that he is basically a conventional political actor. He served DOJ under H.W. Bush. He knows Mueller. He's openly professed his affection and respect for Mueller and he's made I think some concrete promises about not cutting this off or standing in the way.

So, I think his philosophy is not terribly dangerous on this front.

[16:20:02] TAPPER: Symone, I want to listen -- I want you to listen to Bill Barr's answer to releasing a public version of the Mueller report from the hearing last month to get your reaction. Take a listen.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: I also believe it is very important that the public and Congress be informed that the results of the special counsel's work. My goal would be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law.


SANDERS: As much transparency as I can consistent with the law.

TAPPER: Not good enough for you?

SANDERS: Look, I think there are a lot of folks, maybe more so on the Democratic side of the aisle, they were concerned with Barr's comments, because he did not say yes, I promise to release the full Mueller report as much as I can. He said as is consistent with the law.

URBAN: He said that.

SANDERS: He didn't say he would release the full report.

URBAN: He said I release as much as I can under the law.

SANDERS: As much as I can under the law, which is semantics --

URBAN: It's not semantics.

SANDERS: Well, I tell you, David, that there are a lot of people heard that and say, well, I guess we'll see some type of report, maybe we'll see an edited version of the report but we will not see --

URBAN: I will release as much of the report as I can, as is permissible by law. It's pretty black and white.

SANDERS: I watched the entire hearing.

URBAN: So did I.

SANDERS: At the entire hearing, he went on to say that --


URBAN: Those things that are classified, people who are not being charged. Things that are responsible.

I'm not quite certain what more he can say. I will release everything I can under the law. That's pretty blanket.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about the Matthew Whitaker versus the House Judiciary Committee Democrats showdown right now. Whitaker, his statement today, which is pretty scathing, said, based on today's action, that's the subpoena that they have in their pocket ready for him if he doesn't answer questions, it's apparent that the committee's intention is not to discuss the great work of the Department of Justice but to create a public spectacle. Political theater is not the purpose of an oversight hearing and I will not allow that to be the case.

What do you think?

VAN JONES, CNN HOST, THE VAN JONES SHOW: Look, I just said, someone earlier said welcome to the NFL. Look, Whitaker is a tough guy. He is no shrinking violet. He can defend himself. He can make that case, he can make that point directly to the face of those lawmakers and perhaps he should.

But the idea that we're going to have brinkmanship now on everything, brinkmanship on the wall, on the budget, on hearings, it doesn't make any sense.

URBAN: Let's start with Nadler having a subpoena ready at the hearing so he didn't have to go get a subpoena. So, talk about -- he moved the first chess piece.

JONES: I feel like I'm talking to my children most of the time. He started. No, he started.

URBAN: Van, it's clear here. Who made the first move, Nadler or Whitaker?

JONES: I'll tell you the same thing I tell my kids and who is going to make the responsible --

URBAN: I'm not your kid. That's demeaning, dude. That's demeaning.


JONES: No, if you and I can't, at this late date, have these conversations -- you're not my dad either and I'm going to tell you something.

URBAN: I'm not.

JONES: Hey, listen, you know for a fact that I didn't mean to demean you on this and I'm trying to make a point.

URBAN: Fair point.

JONES: And the thing that you said this on this thing to other people has not been fair, so let's not go there.

TAPPER: Moving on to Matthew Whitaker and whether or not --

JONES: My point is simply this. It doesn't matter who started this completely insane process that we're in --


JONES: -- of complete dysfunction, where grown people are saying I will not come and talk to you unless you do it my way. If he wants to make the point is all I'm saying, let him come. He is a formidable presence. He is a tough guy. Make that point to the American people. Don't --

URBAN: So, why a subpoena, though, right? SANDERS: Can I just make a quick point that Chairman Nadler is the

chairman of the committee. There's real contention between members of Congress on Capitol Hill that Matthew Whitaker is the acting attorney general that has not come to speak to folks on Capitol Hill and he was appointed in a process many of them do not agree with. So, it did not go with the line of succession and so, his indignation in the face of these elected officials is part of the reason that you see these members of Congress saying, OK, look, we will subpoena. One way or another, we need you to come speak to us.

TAPPER: Why not just come and say I'm not going to discuss those, that's a private conversation between me and the president?

HAM: Right. I think that would be the right move. Often, the Trump administration doesn't care what Ii think that's the right move.

TAPPER: Is he auditioning for President Trump, I mean, to show off?

HAM: I think it's -- I mean, it's like a bunker mentality and a fight, fight, fight mentality. And I'll say on the Mueller report, we should see as much of it as humanly possible because we're paying for it. But I do think there are legal restrictions, respect for people who are not charged whose names might be --

TAPPER: Sure. And sources and methods you want to keep out of it.

HAM: Right.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

A new strategy used by at least one Republican to try to stop another government shutdown as a critical deadline quickly approaches. Are we heading for another shutdown? That's next.


[16:29:18] TAPPER: Our national lead now.

We're nearly 24 hours away from a critical deadline on whether the U.S. government will shut down again. And if you're looking for a sign of hope that the U.S. will avoid another instance of pain being inflicted on the American people by their own government -- well, negotiators are saying just be happy talks have not fallen apart yet. As one Republican senator tells CNN, they're using a, quote, hope and pray strategy to get a deal together that Trump will sign.

I want to bring in CNN's Sunlen Serfaty.

Sunlen, the actual funding deadline is next week. Why are lawmakers saying they need to find an agreement by tomorrow?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they want to give themselves essentially, Jake, a safety net here. They want to give themselves the room and time to be able to move any deal through the House and Senate before that actual deadline of next Friday.