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Chaos in Virginia Politics; Will Trump Shut Down Government Again?; Interview With Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL); Trump Furious Over Congressional Investigations. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired February 7, 2019 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Now, a committee aide confirmed this to us, but, Brooke, they declined to say how recently these people worked on the National Security Council, whether or not they worked under President Trump, and they declined to identify who these individuals are.
But, Brooke, what we also know is that, clearly, this move has enraged President Trump, because, as you saw from his tweets this morning not only talking about what you noted, that recently launched investigation from Adam Schiff that is much broader than people originally imagined, but also this interesting quote from the president on Twitter this morning.
He said -- quote -- "I hear other committee heads will do the same thing, even stealing people who work at the White House."
Now, we asked the White House, what did the president mean when he said even stealing people that work at the White House? And, essentially, the White House is implying that right now Adam Schiff has either recently hired or is currently interviewing people who have worked in the Trump administration.
We asked about that line in the president's tweet, and an administration official said, ask Adam Schiff what that means. So we did. And a committee aide got back to us with this statement.
We are going to put it up on the screen. But they said -- and this is from a committee aide on the House Intelligence Committee. "We have hired staff for a variety of positions, including the committee's oversight work and its investigation. Although none of our staff has come directly from the White House, we have hired people with prior experience on the National Security Council staff for oversight of the agency and will continue to do so at our discretion because we do not discriminate against potential hires on the basis of their prior work experience, including the administration."
So, they're declining to say whether or not any administration officials from the Trump administration are currently working on the staff, but, clearly, we're seeing the White House imply as much.
Now, Brooke, it's not unusual for someone that's worked on the NSC to go work on the House Intelligence Committee. It's happened before. Even Devin Nunes hired someone who worked in the Trump administration National Security Council when he was the House Intelligence Committee chairman.
But this does raise the concerns that you have heard from the White House ever since Donald Trump first took office, which is that there are people inside, the career -- these career staffers who work here despite whoever is the president that could potentially be going to work on Adam Schiff's committee that has now, as you noted yesterday, launched this huge investigation into the president, not just him, but also his finances and what drives certain national security decisions that he makes.
So, certainly, this is giving some cause for concern back here at the White House right now. But, Brooke, we should note we do not know yet who these individuals are, and we're still working to find out what their identities are.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, well, I happen to have a member of House Intel waiting in the wings to talk to me live. So, we're going to ask him some of those key questions.
Kaitlan, thank you so much for all of your reporting and your scoop on that.
But, first, let me also bring you up to speed on this. In a week where Democrats are preparing to ramp up oversight of everything from President Trump's policies to his personal finances, you now have the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, who is issuing an ultimatum just a day before he's scheduled to appear at one of these hearings.
Whitaker telling the House Judiciary Committee, essentially, I'm not testifying unless you guarantee in writing that I won't get subpoenaed. Moments ago, President Trump said he did not know of that threat, but he praised his acting A.G.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: should Matthew Whitaker testify tomorrow, Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he's an outstanding person. I would say, if he did testify, he'd do very well. He's an outstanding person, a very, very fine man. Thank you all very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Laura Jarrett is on this for us.
She's our DOJ correspondent.
And, so, explain this ultimatum to me, Laura.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, at this hour, the battle between the Justice Department and Capitol Hill has really escalated over the past couple hours, I should say, as Whitaker has now made it clear that he will not show up for tomorrow morning's closely watched, anticipated hearing before the House Judiciary Committee unless he gets certain assurances, I should say.
And what he wants is written confirmation that the House will not use that subpoena that it had in its back pocket in case he tried to avoid certain questions on executive privilege. He says he's happy to come and testify about the department's work in general, but what he will not do, the Justice Department making clear this afternoon, is to discuss his confidential communications with the president.
We remember Chairman Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter outlining a series of questions that they wanted to go over with Whitaker, including all of his communications with the president about Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia, as well as our own reporting that the president lashed out at Whitaker about the SDNY's investigation into Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer and fixer.
Well, the Justice Department now saying he will not be discussing any of those conversations. And so now it's going to really be up to the Democrats to decide, what do they want to do with this, how far do they want to push this? Do they want to try to hold him in contempt of Congress? Do they want to try to refer this to court and try to take it there?
Do they want to refer it to prosecution for the executive branch, which would really be pointless here, considering it would be the Justice Department's own Justice Department going after the attorney general.
So the Democrats are going to have some tough choices to make in the next few hours, Brooke.
BALDWIN: All right, Laura Jarrett, tick, tick, tick, 6:00 is around the corner. We will have some news then. Thank you very much.
So let's see what this congressman has to say about all of the above.
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi is on Capitol Hill for us.
Congressman, a pleasure sir. Not a dull day in your neck of the woods.
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D), ILLINOIS: No, it's not. It's another slow fake news day, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Well, yes, very, very slow.
So I should point out you are on the House Intel and Oversight committees. But I want to just actually begin with you on what Laura was just reporting out with regard to Judiciary and this whole ultimatum between the acting A.G. and Chairman Nadler. My question to you is, why do you think Matt Whitaker is so fighting this?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I don't know.
My understanding was that originally he said, if he -- he did not want to be subpoenaed. He was going to come in voluntarily. And so his concern about a subpoena appears to be moot to me.
So I'm not really sure exactly what the holdup is, Brooke.
Next, on to the Intel news that we just heard from Kaitlan at the White House, that the chairman of the committee on which you sit, the chairman, Adam Schiff, is hiring these officials, former members of the National Security Council.
And since you sit on Intel, I have to ask you, who have you hired?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I can't get into that.
I think the chairman has the prerogative to hire people who are qualified to do the oversight of the intelligence community that he chooses to hire. And I don't see a problem with people having White House experience in the past.
As you mentioned before, even Devin Nunes did that as well.
BALDWIN: OK. Let me stop you there, Congressman.
Let's be specific, because I -- if you can't name names, White House experience, how recently have they worked at the White House?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: No, I can't comment on that.
But what I can say is that...
BALDWIN: Can you all tell me if they have at all worked under this administration?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: No, I can't. I honestly can't, because the -- I think the interviewing process is ongoing.
But the -- but the main point, Brooke, is that the White House should not have veto power over whom the chairman can hire to conduct oversight over the intelligence community.
I think that's been an ongoing problem with this president. Just the other night, he said, if you investigate us, that would amount to war. That's practically what he said.
And we're not going to be cowed into not doing our constitutionally prescribed duty of oversight.
BALDWIN: Congressman Krishnamoorthi, if you can't tell me who, can you tell me what these individuals will be looking into precisely and why this national security expertise is so important?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, what I can say is that the people that are going to be hired for the ongoing Russia investigation, for instance, are going to have to look into all the different areas that the chairman talked about day before yesterday, including, obviously, Russia's malign influence on the 2016 elections and countermeasures that we need to adopt against them, also whether individuals in the current administration, including the president and his affiliates, might be vulnerable to foreign influence, or whether foreign actors are trying to exert leverage over them financially.
Also whether there are any linkages between the Trump Organization and the Russians with regard to the 2016 election, and then finally whether anybody committed obstruction of justice in answering any of these questions.
BALDWIN: What about -- let me just move on from that, because you're also on this committee investigating the president's finances. And the president says, you are harassing him. You crossed his red line
To that, you say what?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Again, he likes to draw red lines.
However, they may be meaningless within the law.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I'm sorry?
BALDWIN: Are you harassing him?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: If he thinks that oversight equals harassment, that's -- that's his decision, but we're just conducting oversight, Brooke.
A senior Democrat on the House Intel Committee, Eric Swalwell, said this -- quote -- "We are going to take an MRI to any Russian financing that the Trump Organization and the president may have had."
So you tell me, would you use the same analogy of an MRI? And can you be specific about why you're suspicious particularly about the president's finances?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, look, I think that the fact that the president is not willing to share his tax returns, the fact that he's -- he's got connections with so many Russian oligarchs and others, that it basically raises the question of, what were exactly the transactions that occurred in 2016 leading up to the election?
Just one example, the Trump Tower Moscow meetings.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: What exactly -- what exactly was the reason why Michael Cohen found himself lying over and over again about when those discussions ended?
First, it was January. Later, it was the summer. Rudy Giuliani said it went up all the way through the election. So, those are just some of the issues that beg the question about, what exactly is within the president's finances that they don't want to share with the rest of the world?
BALDWIN: It's interesting you mention Michael Cohen.
I'm just curious, Congressman. Now that these hearings are starting, who is the one person you want to hear testify the most?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I got to tell you, Michael Cohen is at the nexus of his -- of the president's professional life, his campaign, as well as his business affairs.
And so he knows a lot about a lot of things. So I think that he would be one person that I think all of us are going to ask a lot of questions of.
BALDWIN: And, lastly, just by the way, it's your committee that has been infamous for not exactly getting along and quite divided over this whole Russia investigation.
What are your Republican colleagues saying to you about you guys going after the president's finances?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I think that I'm very hopeful that Chairman Schiff can bring more comity to the committee now.
BALDWIN: That was a dodge, Congressman. What are those Republicans saying to you?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, look, I think that the Republicans, you have heard them yesterday complain about whether there was collusion or conspiracy between Hillary Clinton and the Russians.
And I think Chairman Schiff said it best. If you have evidence of any of this, present it to the committee. And then let's go forward from there.
BALDWIN: Congressman Krishnamoorthi, thank you so much for your time. Good to see you, sir.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Good luck.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you.
Coming up next: The clock is ticking for Congress to reach a new deal over border wall funding -- why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is so sure there will not be another shutdown and why she prays for this president -- quote -- "all the time." And Democrats calling for an investigation into Virginia's lieutenant governor amid an accusation of sexual assault, but most have stopped short of calling for his resignation. So, let's talk about this response in the era of MeToo.
And the mystery over President Trump's tax returns. CNN has learned new details on where they might be and who has been trying to get them and what they were willing to pay.
BALDWIN: President Trump is about to find out what oversight really looks like.
Democrats are launching a whole series of investigations into his administration on everything from family separations at the border to security clearances and, of course, the president's personal tax returns.
Any moment now, the House Ways and Means Committee will ask questions about precisely that.
And Lauren Fox is standing by. She's our CNN politics congressional reporter up on the Hill.
And so, Lauren, one major question are, where even are his tax returns?
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, that is a key question.
And presidents before him have actually released their tax returns. So it hasn't come up before. But one of the things that a lot of Democrats are going to be looking for in this hearing is exactly how Democrats could get ahold of the president's tax returns.
We do know that there is a process for getting them. The House Ways and Means chairman, Richard Neal, could request them to the IRS, and then Treasury could respond to that request. Now, we do expect that that would be long legal battle.
But expect in this hearing today that lawmakers are trying to set the table, and Democrats are trying to make the case for exactly why it's essential to have this information. Democrats have been arguing for a long time that the president's finances are a national security issue, that Americans should know if the president is profiting off of the decisions that he makes an office, all of that things that you should be watching for in this hearing that's coming up in the Ways and Means Subcommittee -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: And then I know we have all this reporting out on, like, where literally are the president's tax returns, right? I mean, presumably, someone at the IRS has them. Are they behind lock and key? It's my understanding someone offered up a lot of money to get their hands on them. What do you know? FOX: Well, what we do know about this is that leaking the president's
tax returns would be a felony. You can't leak them. So, yes, they are being under close watch.
And the reason that it just hasn't mattered before is that presidents have just handed them over. That's been part of the electoral process. So that's the case that Democrats will make today. But when it comes to President Trump, we know he does not want the public to see them. He has not released them publicly.
And you can bet that the IRS is keeping a close watch on the president's tax returns.
BALDWIN: Lauren Fox, thank you very much.
Meantime, the clock is ticking, as this bipartisan group of 17 lawmakers try to reach a deal to keep the government from shutting down again. They're hoping to have an agreement in place by tomorrow, as the president continues to insists funding for his wall must be included.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I certainly hear that they're working on something, and both sides are moving along. We will see what happens. We need border security. We have to have it. It's not an option. Let's see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: We will see what happens, he says, in just eight days.
But if the president doesn't get his border wall funding, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is confident Republicans will not dare shut down the government again.
The speaker tells Heather Caygle of 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."
CNN political commentator Ana Navarro is here.
Too hot to handle. So, she says too hot to handle, it's not going to shut down. She is like brimming with confidence, right, because of the way the whole last one ended.
And, again, this is a woman who equated like the president's manhood with the wall.
ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right.
BALDWIN: Is this -- is she just totally trolling him?
NAVARRO: Yes, and loving it.
BALDWIN: Yes. NAVARRO: She is relishing the position she's in.
Like, she's had somewhat of a tough ascension to the speakership. She had a tough race. She had to make all these deals in order to become speaker.
But then, in the last few weeks, she's been on a roll. She has hit her stride. She's done great on the one-on-one negotiations with him in the White House, the optics of it.
She's become a one -- the one with the sunglasses, now the one with the clap.
BALDWIN: Oh, my gosh. Can you do the...
BALDWIN: Can you do it?
BALDWIN: Yes, it totally became...
NAVARRO: I think you have to have like five children in order to really do it very, very well.
BALDWIN: It went viral. It went viral.
And one where the sunglasses did too.
NAVARRO: So she has all of a sudden become this -- this amazing leader for the Democrats that they are all supporting, after they weren't.
I think she's loving this. And I think he does have a hard time dealing with her. You will notice he gives everybody a nickname. What does he call Pelosi? Nancy. That's her nickname.
BALDWIN: Do you think that's a -- is that like a -- he doesn't have a name?
NAVARRO: I think she is too hot to handle for him.
It's not crying Chuck. It's not little Marco. It's not lying Ted.
BALDWIN: It's Nancy. NAVARRO: It's not low-energy Jeb. It's Nancy. That's Ms. Speaker to
BALDWIN: Yes, Madam Speaker.
Lastly, this whole story of the state of Virginia, like in the span of a week, which just again is the first week of a full week of Black History Month, I know, I see your eyes already.
You have the governor embroiled in this blackface scandal. You have the lieutenant governor having his own MeToo moment. He vehemently denies it. She's come out with her own story.
And then now you have the A.G. coming forward and saying, oh, yes, I dressed like a rapper and wore blackface back in the day as well. What's going on?
NAVARRO: Will the last Virginian who hasn't done something outrageous please step up, so that you can be governor? I mean, they're going to end up with a Japanese hologram as governor if this continues. They are running out of people, as the line goes down.
First of all, I don't understand. I really don't understand how Ralph Northam can still be governor. He is holding on not for Virginia. He is holding on for Ralph Northam. He is being selfish. It's all about him. What he did is outrageous. At best -- at best, he wasn't one of those two, but he allowed it in his Facebook page.
And he kept silent about it -- or not his Facebook page -- his yearbook page -- and kept silent about it for 30 years, this playing dumb thing. And for him to have his press conference where he says, where his excuse is, that was not me in blackface...
BALDWIN: Oh, but, by the way, I did do this thing.
NAVARRO: That wasn't me in that blackface, but I did do blackface before.
Please, really, do your state a favor. Do the African-American community a favor. Do the Democrats as a favor and get the hell out. Show some shame. If you want make reparations, if you want to reconcile, you can do it from your private perch.
You can go climb the Himalayas. You can go meditate in an ashram. But it is time for you to leave the governor's mansion. And the same, I would tell you, goes for the lieutenant governor.
BALDWIN: Would you?
NAVARRO: Listen, if you believed Christine Blasey Ford, if you found her credible -- and I did -- this woman's story is eerily similar, even more detailed, even more precise. She had told other people, including, it now seems, a congressman from Virginia. It is inexcusable. It does not pass the smell test.
I will also say to you that if you believe this woman, but did not believe Christine Blasey Ford, you're being partisan.
BALDWIN: We're about to talk about Justin Fairfax in a second.
Stick around, because I got one more question for you, Ana Navarro. Thank you very much.
Much on our breaking news ahead -- President Trump apparently irate over some of the new hires by the House Intelligence Committee just as they start investigating his finances.
Plus, the mayor of El Paso, Texas, joins me live. We will get his take on President Trump's false claims that the border wall is what lowered the crime rate there and what he expects when the president visits his city next week.
BALDWIN: The name Justin Fairfax is one that many Americans probably hadn't really heard of until this week, a rising Democratic star, Virginia's lieutenant governor.
Fairfax was poised to take over the commonwealth after blackface photos linked to Governor Ralph Northam sparked calls for his resignation.
But now Fairfax faces his own scandal amid accusations that he sexually assaulted this woman, Vanessa Tyson, at the DNC in 2004. Tyson went public with graphic details of the alleged assault and retained the high-profile team that represented Christine Blasey Ford during those Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings.
Fairfax, who is denying these accusations, has hired the lawyers who represented the now Justice Kavanaugh. Fairfax makes up a trio of Democratic officials who have put the rest of the party on the hot seat.
And that prompted my next guest to ask this question in a "Washington Post" column today: "Democrats rallied around Christine Blasey Ford. Will they do the same with Vanessa Tyson?"
Karen Tumulty is the national political correspondent for "The Washington Post."
So, Karen, welcome back to you, as always.
KAREN TUMULTY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Thanks.
BALDWIN: And let me -- let me start with this.
Last night, freshman Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton tweeted: "I believe Dr. Vanessa Tyson."
And, today, 2020 candidate Senator Kamala Harris said