Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Justice Department Says Acting Attorney General Won't Testify If He's Subpoenaed; Congressional Oversight of Trump Begins from Finances to Family Separations; CNN Poll Says Almost Everyone Wants Mueller's Report to Be Public; Pelosi Says Another Shutdown Is Too Hot to Handle for the GOP; Trump Speaks on Border Talks as Shutdown Looms. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 7, 2019 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Here is the breaking news now. A stunning ultimatum dropped on the eve of highly anticipated Congressional testimony. This standoff is quickly escalating now between President Trump's acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and the Congressional panel he's scheduled to face tomorrow afternoon. Whitaker drew this line in the sand saying he will not show up unless he's assured, he will not be subpoenaed should he avoid answering certain questions.

Not only that, but Whitaker has put the committee chairman here Jerry Nadler on the clock saying he wants that assurance in writing tonight no later than 6:00 p.m. all of this is happening as the President's permanent pick for Attorney General William Barr just cleared a big hurdle of his own. The Senate Judiciary committee voting to advance his nomination to a final confirmation vote next week.

So, we start with Laura Jarrett, our CNN justice reporter who's all over this breaking news. Starting with this development out of the DOJ between Whitaker and Nadler can you take us inside this standoff and what is going on?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: We're really in a limbo mode at this point with a will he or won't he will show up tomorrow. That 6:00 p.m. deadline now ticking away that Whitaker has imposed for the House Judiciary Committee, the chairman Jerry Nadler to let him know whether or not he's willing to withdraw that subpoena that was sort of preemptively issued earlier today for his testimony as we know Nadler wanted to have that subpoena in his back pocket in case Whitaker tried to avoid questions on executive privilege grounds. Whitaker now saying that's not fair. This is a breach of the agreement. I was willing to come voluntarily, but I will not discuss my confidential communications with the President, which is something Democrats have really keyed on and part of the reason they were so highly anticipating this testimony from Whitaker could really be their last shot at him as Bill Barr is now on track to get confirmed as early as next week. This was their chance to question Whitaker about his oversight of the special counsel's probe, about his communications with President Trump, how he got the job, why he chose not to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller probe. They wanted to question him on all of those issues but he's saying that his conversations with the President are protected privilege, that past administrations have recognized that and so he's not willing to discuss that. He says that this would really turn into a public spectacle and while he's happy to entertain questions about the oversight he's not willing to go there, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much for the reporting. Harry Littman is with me. Harry, so, you have Whitaker saying, all right, if you don't tell me by giving me this assurance by 6:00 tonight I'm not showing up tomorrow. Can you run us through possible scenarios?

HARRY LITTMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY AND DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes. Nadler had said he wanted to hear from him by Wednesday, so Whitaker --

BALDWIN: He had given him the 48 hours.

LITTMAN: They're playing a game of poker here. Scenario one as it might have been 15 years ago when they got along better, very quick negotiated compromise, perhaps Whitaker talks about some things and some others. Hard to see there's time for that. Scenario two, he shows up and just asserts executive privilege about all the things they want to know. Hard to see that happening, scenario three, it gets put off but as Laura said, next week he's not the acting Attorney General anymore and you could still subpoena him. The Republicans in the last Congress sort of broke the rules and even if he's a line attorney some where they could try to bring him in but the air is let out of the tires at that point. The Republicans on the committee say we don't need to know that any more. This last-minute gambit which was put in for a long time may actually keep him from testifying.

BALDWIN: What does this tell you about what Whitaker's plans for tomorrow were? There were all these thoughts about might he cite executive privilege here and there. What does this tell you about him?

LITTMAN: They never were to answer the questions that Nadler and the committee and the American people most want to hear. They were always going to assert executive privilege there and even though Nadler brandishes a subpoena, that would be a long-time legal battle.

[14:05:08] Would he have said the other things, I'm not sure. The other thing it says is, and the supposedly he's nervous, sweating, not doing a very good job, knows he's going to get whip sawed on the committee. He doesn't want to be there tomorrow.

BALDWIN: He may very well not be. Hang with me. I've got more questions for you. After two years of Republican control in Washington, President Trump is getting a preview of what his next two years could be like with the Democrats running the House. Trump's policies, his staff, his finances all under the microscope during multiple hearings over the course of the next two days. This morning the President trotted out one of his favorite attacks on Twitter saying the hearings are Presidential harassment. As you may have guessed ahead of the House Judiciary Committee see things very, very differently. REP. JERRY NADLER, CHAIRMAN HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: There are a whole list of questions we don't know the answer to about foreign interference in the election, foreign influence over this administration and garden variety corruption, interference with the justice, obstruction of justice, abuse of power and we have to track all of that down. We can't allow the administration to stonewall us. We came in and we mean business.

BALDWIN: Chris Cillizza is our CNN Politics Reporter and editor at large, so Chris, break down what's going on?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Look, Brooke, the truth of the matter is on November 8th of last year, it should have been very clear to Donald Trump what was coming down the pike. This is what divided government looks like going all the way back to Bill Clinton with a Republican House. Oversight investigations central to what House Democrats had always planned when they took over the majority, I think he is just realizing it now. What are they looking at? There's probably more but let's go through some of the big ones. I'll start over here because this is the one that most people think about. Trump's tax returns. He was in the 2016 campaign the only major party Presidential candidate to release zero of his tax returns. He's currently the only President in the modern era since Watergate to release zero of his tax returns. He said it's under audit and he could do it but he's not going to. There is a way through the Ways and Means Committee run by Richard Neil, he has some access to those returns allegedly. They'll be a legal fight. That's one.

Trump's finances. This deals with the Trump International Hotels, putting his name on things, what he owes people. These two are tied in many ways because we don't know what his debts look like, we don't know what investments he has really because we don't have a detailed analysis. Whatever he says about how his personal wealth statements tell more of a story than those tax returns, they don't.

The Russia probe. So, yes, obviously Robert Mueller is continuing his investigation, but there will be an element of this, particularly once the report ends, it's going to leave some avenues that you can potentially go down and ask questions about. That's another one where I think they'll go to. These two, security clearances. You'll remember, Brooke, Donald Trump took away former CIA head John Brennan's security clearance because he was overly critical of Donald Trump. Democrats want to look into, can you do that? Can a President do that just because someone is critical of you? Is that fair grounds? Family separations obviously still an issue. Donald Trump's destination insist they didn't change policy. The facts disagree. Regardless we had a number of children -- young children separated from families for sometimes months on end. All of this is going to come under the purview of the House. They're going to be strategic. That's one thing that's important. Nancy Pelosi is urging strategy especially as it relates to Trump's tax returns. Do not put the cart before the horse. Make sure you've got everything in a row so it is unassailable when the investigation begins so it doesn't look partisan, number one, and it has the best chance of succeeding, number two. BALDWIN: It's so different the reactions from these freshman members

of Congress and to juxtapose that with Speaker Pelosi where she's saying let's slow our roll.

Congressional lawmakers are still grilling Trump administration officials about the President's controversial zero-tolerance policy. The program separated thousands of children from their parents at the U.S./Mexico border. Many of them still have not been reunited with their families. Today's hearing comes after an inspector general report said more children were separated than the government had reported. So today, members of the House subcommittee wanted to hear from health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar but he declined to appear angering Democrats. The department's efforts to reunite families was a major flash point.

[14:10:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS: Does anyone know how many are still separated from their parents? Nobody knows.

COMMANDER JONATHAN WHITE, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: I want to be very clear. Children in ORR custody, children who have been in ORR custody who were in ORR custody in the 26th of June, we have laboriously worked to identify --

SCHAKOWSKY: I understand --

WHITE: -- challenges those who exited ORR custody. Because HHS did not receive from DHS any list or any indication of the complete set of separated children.

SCHAKOWSKY: I just feel like what's been happening is more than irresponsible and sloppy but I really think that what we're talking about is state sponsored child abuse and I would go as far as to say kidnapping.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Commander White also said, if had been asked about if he had been asked about the Trump policy, he would have rejected it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you have advised DHS to implement the policy of zero tolerance if they had asked?

WHITE: Neither I nor any career person in ORR would ever have supported such a policy proposal. I do not believe that separation of children from their parents is in the best interest of the child, but I am -- I did not participate in the discussions regarding the policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Lawmakers plan to question Azar when he comes to testify about the budget. Now, the special counsel Robert Mueller's probe appears to be winding

down, interest in the President's other associations particularly as it relates to his finances appear to be on fire. The red line that Trump had talked about in a "New York Times" interview he warned, "no one should delve into his or his family's personal finance beyond the special counsel investigation."

(BEGIN AUDIO)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mueller was looking at your finances and your family's finances unrelated to Russia. Is that a red line?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would that be a breach of what his actual --

TRUMP: I would say, Yes. I would say yes.

(END AUDIO)

BALDWIN: Harry Littman is back with me and so, Harry, the CNN poll out today, nine out of ten American think the Mueller report should be made public in a climate where so many people can't even agree on the color of the sky.

LITTMAN: Right.

BALDWIN: That nine out of ten American are saying it should be public, what does that tell you?

LITTMAN: It's sort of like nine out of ten would like an early winter. It's not very controversial and not simply because everyone wants to see it, but, look, it's a surpassing national priority. This is like 9-11, the Warren Commission. We've got to know what happened here quite apart from your feelings about Trump and if you want to see him in jail, any of that stuff. What the heck happened with the election 2016? We got to know.

BALDWIN: Lastly, you know, the President's anger today, he said, you know, in the back and forth with the "New York Times" that his personal finances would be crossing this red line and now you have not only the special counsel investigation, you have the federal prosecutors investigating, you have Congressional committees investigating all involving his finances and he really can't do anything about it.

LITTMAN: There never was a red line. There's no such thing and he does now have a 360-degree kind of focus on it. It's not simply that it's fitting the same way it was in whitewater where they went back to Arkansas. Because of his own actions, they're tied together. His personal finances and the possible influence from Russia are sort of one in the same as you're finding out more and more every month. So, it would be all the more untenable that you could somehow leave that part of the story out.

BALDWIN: Harry, thank you.

Happening right now, it's being billed as a fight over the President's mysterious tax returns. Democrats are holding their first hearings right now and expected to put a big old spotlight on this issue that the President has long refused to make public. But where actually, physically are those tax returns? Are they actually in a safe? Behind lock and key? CNN has these fascinating new details surrounding these questions.

And as Speaker Nancy Pelosi warrants Republicans another shutdown is quote unquote too hot to handle, whenever party's newest freshman introducing her green new deal. Find out what's in it.

[14:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: We're back. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Hard to believe we're talking about the possibility of yet another government shutdown when funding is set to run out in just eight days and even though the President insists the negotiations are under way by a bipartisan committee should include money for his border wall, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she's pretty confident there will not be another shutdown saying Republicans will not go down that road again. Speaker Pelosi telling politico, quote, I have a club that I started. It's called the too hot to handle club and this is a too hot to handle issue.

Heather Caygle is a reporter who interviewed the Speaker for "Politico," so Heather, what a quote. Good to have you on. Is the too hot to handle a continuation of the golf clap? Is this just total Trump trolling?

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I think that what we've seen the past few weeks since Speaker Pelosi won the Speaker vote, she's really gotten her groove back, you know what I mean? The clap at the State of The Union. She even suggested postponing the State of The Union. She surprised Trump with that and then the too hot to handle club, I think she has really resettled into her role as Speaker and not just Speaker but like the de facto leader of the party anti-Trump resistance and she's really enjoying it.

BALDWIN: If Pelosi's got her groove back and feeling so confidence, why is that? Does she just know she has the leverage because of the way the whole shutdown ended very recently, you think?

[14:20:00] CAYGLE: I think, you know, she just came through the toughest leadership battle that she's ever faced. She's been atop the Democratic caucus for more than 16 years now and there's a group of a dozen plus Democrats who wanted to try to overthrow her late last year and they didn't succeed and she came back out on top and she's stronger than ever. Came through the toughest leadership battle that she's ever faced. She's been atop the Democratic caucus for more than 16 years now and there's a group of a dozen plus Democrats who wanted to try to overthrow her late last year and they didn't succeed and she came back out on top and she's stronger than ever. Not only that, when she's in the room with the President, she feels like the adult in the room and you can really see that and she has been here -- he's much more inexperienced than she has. She's been through this rodeo with several other Presidents. She knows how it works. We've seen that confidence come through especially with someone like Trump. BALDWIN: You also talked to her about how she's handling the

investigations into the President and into his campaign. She's really distancing herself from the freshman members of Congress strategy where they want to immediately pounce on this President and things like tax returns, for example. You said that this is classic Pelosi. Heather, what do you mean by that?

CAYGLE: I mean, she is very methodical in what she does. I've been covering her for three years now. She thinks of a plan. She's always two steps ahead of her opposition and she never deviates from that step plan. She goes step-by-step to make it happen. We saw it with the Speakership race and other things like that. Her thinking and leadership's thinking is they don't want the first message coming out of the new Democratic House to be they're all over Trump. They want to impeach him and things like that. They want to show the people that elected them that we're here to work for you and get stuff done. She's very careful in the investigations and also making sure that they're putting stuff on the floor that people can see and saying, look, we're not going to overreach here. We'll take our time and do our due diligence.

BALDWIN: Just lastly, it was noteworthy when she said she praised for Trump, quote, all the time. And I'm just also wondering what has she said about her viral golf clap.

CAYGLE: She was asked about that yesterday. She said someone said madam Speaker, do you realize you went viral? Well, you know, it wasn't sarcastic. It was very sincere but even the way that she answered that question, you could see there was a little bit of sarcasm there. It's another example of her just really relishing the role she has and the platform she has now.

BALDWIN: Yep. She's enjoying it. You can see the confidence. Nancy's got her groove back. Heather, thank you.

CAYGLE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: She is the new Congresswoman who's caught both the left and the right by storm and now Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is releasing her Green New Deal to combat climate change. Here's what's in it.

The former Starbuck CEO who's made many Democrats angry about a possible independent run just gave a policy speech and said he'd be happy to pay more in taxes. We'll be right back.

[14:25:03] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TRUMP: Thank you very much. We're here today to launch the first ever U.S. government-wide initiative focused on economic empowerment for women in developing countries. A lot of people have worked very hard especially some of the people behind me. I want to thank Ivanka for the incredible job that she's done in leading this initiative. Thanks also to Secretary Mike Pompeo, Secretary Wilbur Ross, Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Ambassador John Bolton and Mark Green and Peace Corps Director Jodi Olson. Thank you all very much. Great job. So important. I also want to thank Senator Chris Coons who we just left. We had a wonderful prayer breakfast this morning which was a tremendous gathering of a lot of great people, along with Representatives Mark Meadows and Michael McCaul for being here. Thank you all very much.

We're thrilled to have so many government and private sector leaders with us. As my national security strategy says, investing in women helps achieve greater peace and prosperity for nations, not only our nations. This is all nations all over the world. We're getting together, we developed a lot of tremendous relationships because of what we're doing right here. American women demonstrate every day that when women are free to thrive and prosper, they create jobs, strengthen our communities and bring greater peace and prosperity to our nation and all over the world. Today we're here to take a historic step to achieve this goal. In just a few moments I will sign the national security Presidential memorandum to establish the Women's Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, also known as the WGDP. Good name. [applause]

[14:30:07] Through this initiative, our goal is to reach 50 million women and maybe more and it looks like it is probably going to be substantially more than that, substantially more than 50 million women in the developing world and that will be done, Ivanka, by 2025 they say.

BALDWIN: All right, so listening to the President there, here's really the news topic at the moment. There's this standoff between the acting ag Matt Whitaker and the chairman of the House judiciary, Jerry Nadler over whether or not he's supposed to be testifying tomorrow but essentially Whitaker is saying, if you don't assure me that you're not going to subpoena me by 6:00 tonight, I'm not showing up. Let's go to Abby Philip. She covers the White House for us at CNN. What did the President say about his acting AG?