Return to Transcripts main page


Justice Department Wants Subpoena Dropped; Oversight of Trump; Grilled on Family Separations; Interview with Rep. Michael Waltz (R- FL). Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 7, 2019 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:22] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, the president's red line about to be crossed by Democrats. From his finances, to family separations at the border, the oversight of President Trump begins.

Plus, new details on the president's carefully guarded tax returns. We now know where they are and how desperate some are to get them.

The controversial acting attorney general set to testify and Democrats already have a subpoena waiting if he refuses to answer questions.

And, jurors deciding the fate of one of the world's most notorious gangsters keep asking questions. Day four of deliberations as El Chapo waits.

But first, breaking news.

The Justice Department says Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker will not testify before a House panel tomorrow unless he is guaranteed that he will not face a subpoena. The House Judicial Committee voted today to authorize a subpoena ahead of Whitaker's testimony tomorrow.

We have CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett with more on this breaking news.

Why is the Justice Department drawing this line in the sand?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, the Justice Department really views this as a breach of the agreement that they had with Whitaker to voluntarily testify tomorrow morning. And in their view, they've gone around that process, the Democrats have, by issuing a subpoena preemptively before any questions have been asked.

Now, of course, the Democrats are very focused on Whitaker's communications with the president, his -- questions that he may have exchanged with the president and the White House about the special counsel's Russia investigation, as well as his ethics recusal. And on all of these issues, the Justice Department has a point by point letter -- just I got my hands on -- and I just want to read to you one of the things that they say that Whitaker would be willing to testify here because it's something that Democrats have really harped on, Brianna.

They say, the acting attorney general will testify that at no time did the White House ask for or did the acting attorney general provide any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel's investigation. But they go on to say, Brianna, we do not believe, however, that the committee may legitimately expect the acting attorney general to discuss his communications with the president.

And that's the whole fight here because Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, had said, tell me ahead of time if your -- the Trump administration plans to invoke executive privilege to have Whitaker avoid those questions. The Justice Department saying we can't tell you ahead of time. That just usurps the whole process. And so there are in this escalating battle, this standoff now with Whitaker saying, unless I get an assurance by 6:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, that you don't plan to use that subpoena that's in your back pocket, Jerry Nadler, I am not showing up to the hearing tomorrow morning, Brianna.

KEILAR: Because what would a subpoena do, Laura, to any assertions of executive privilege?

JARRETT: Well, it was an interesting move by Nadler to proactively have the authorization ready to go. They had a vote on it today. So that if, in fact, during the hearing Whitaker said, I'm not answering that, Nadler could presumably show the subpoena and say, you have to answer it. And if then Whitaker still refused to answer it, the Senate -- the House, I should say, rather, could try to vote to hold him in contempt.

Now, that would be a lengthy process. They would have to go to court to enforce it. So there would be a back and forth here that would take quite a while and it would obviously be quite a spectacle. And some might say, what would be the point considering that the attorney general, who is supposed to be the permanent pick from the president, Bill Barr, is expected to get confirmed next week.

So we'll have to wait and see how all of that would actually play out, but that would be the risk here, is that they could try to hold him in contempt, having that subpoena in their hand at the hearing.

KEILAR: All right, Laura Jarrett from the Justice Department, thank you.

Let's bring in chief political analyst Gloria Borger to talk more about this.

What do you make of this move? Is this -- is this an admission, in any way, of the Justice Department that we would have seen a lot of executive privilege claims --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's sort of -- it is. And I think what they're trying to say here is that they don't want to establish this precedent for other people in the administration where somebody could have a pocket subpoena, a preemptive subpoena, sitting there on the table forcing other members of the administration to testify on things they don't want to testify on. And I -- and I think that, you know, what they're -- what they're saying is, we're not going to do this. If I had to bet, he wouldn't show up. It's not going to happen.

And, you know, as Laura was saying, you know, if he's held in contempt of Congress, what does it matter, he's gone. He's leaving. But I do believe that this may sort of set some kind of -- sent -- they want to send a signal to Democrats and say, you know, you really -- you really cannot do this.

[13:05:02] KEILAR: Because they are expecting there to be a number of hearings.


KEILAR: A lot of oversight --

BORGER: Right.

KEILAR: Where they would pull folks in from the administration.

And what's the point of doing this when you have Barr coming in as the -- presumably, as the attorney general --

BORGER: From the Democrats' point of view?

KEILAR: Yes, what's the point?

BORGER: Well, you know, I think the Democrats want answers to questions about the communications that Whitaker, who, as you know, was on CNN calling this, you know, the Russia investigation a witch hunt, right, that they want to know what communications Whitaker had with the president, either before he took this job and after he took this job.

KEILAR: They want to know -- do they want to know assurances that he's given the president --

BORGER: Exactly.

KEILAR: Or whether he's given him information about what's going on with the Mueller probe?

BORGER: Yes. They want to know -- they want to know how much he's told the president, if anything. They also want to know why he wasn't recused from this in the beginning since he made it so very clear that he did not believe the Russia investigation was a valid investigation.

So I think, in a way, what the Democrats are doing is trying to kind of flex their muscle. It is a little bit of theater here to say, OK, we're going to preemptively subpoena you so just get ready when you testify before us. So the Democrats are saying, you know, there's a new sheriff in town and we're -- we can do this. And what the Justice Department -- what Whitaker is saying and the -- presumably the administration is saying is, you can't. No, you can't do this to us because we're not going to show up. I dare you to hold me in contempt.

And we may see this play out multiple times now that the Democrats are in charge and the White House and the administration is saying, not so fast, we're going to try and figure out ways to avoid this.

KEILAR: All right, Gloria Borger, thank you.


KEILAR: Just moments ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee gave a yes vote to William Barr, set to become the next attorney general in the United States.

CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill following this.

So the Russia investigation, Manu, is hanging over this entire process. Talk about the vote and also tell us what's coming next after this.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, 12-10, on party lines, a straight party line vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee approving a nomination of Bill Barr to be the next attorney general. Setting up a floor fight and before the entire Senate probably next week when he will get confirmed almost certainly given Republican support for this nomination.

Now this all said -- the fight over Bill Barr's stand over how he would handle the Mueller investigation once he assumes this job, assuming he gets confirmed. Will he allow it to proceed? Will he allow that final report to come out publicly? He has not said so categorically. He said he would follow Justice Department guidelines. But Democrats want to hear -- wanted to hear more and they wanted to hear that he would not interfere with the investigation whatsoever.

One thing he did say, Brianna, is he said he would not allow the White House to assert executive privilege to hide wrongdoing in the Mueller report. And I asked one Democratic senator, Dick Blumenthal, whether that is enough to reassure him. He said it was not.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I find no reassurance in renouncing executive privilege, because that's only one of the excuses that could be given to forestall conspiracy. And the American people deserves to know, not just whether the laws have been broken, but whether wrongdoing has occurred that may not be criminally charged. William Barr is likely to take the position. There can be no indictment of a sitting president. If there is no indictment and there's no report, there's a cover-up.


RAJU: Now, this comes as a new CNN poll today shows that there's significant public support on both sides of the aisle to release that report. A staggering number of 87 percent of the public wants a public report, including 80 percent of Republicans. That's up 8 percent from May.

And, Brianna, as you know, there are very few things that get Democrats and Republicans united. This certainly does, getting this issue -- this report publically, which is why some Republicans say there's nothing to worry about with Bill Barr because there's going to be so much pressure for him to release the report. We'll see what he ultimately does, assuming he gets the job.


KEILAR: Yes, those are some numbers there.

Manu Raju on The Hill. Thanks.

The special counsel investigation may be winding down, but several congressional investigations of President Trump are just getting started. So much for the president's red line when he declared that his personal finances are off limits. House Democrats promise a sweeping investigation into whether the president's financial interests are driving his political decisions.

And they do plan to push for release of his tax returns. In a tweet today, the president wrote, the Dems and their committees are going nuts. The Republicans never did this to President Obama. There would be no time left to run government. A continuation of witch hunt.

[13:10:11] CNN politics congressional reporter Lauren Fox is here to walk us through all of this, because there's a lot of oversight here. There's a lot of hearings that we're going to be seeing.


You know, Democrats did not take the president's advice essentially not touch him in these investigations. They are moving forward and there was so much action today on Capitol Hill. First this morning we do know that the House Judiciary Committee voted to preemptively have that subpoena ready in case Matthew Whitaker comes before the committee and isn't ready to answer questions. Tomorrow, we know now, that that is controversial and Matthew Whitaker is now saying that he may not even appear at that hearing.

And we also know that the Energy and Commerce Committee, the subcommittee, had a hearing on family separation. In a few hours, the Ways and Means Subcommittee is going to have a hearing on presidential tax returns. And there was a hearing on global warming in the Natural Resources Committee.

A lot of oversight happening very quickly.

And we do know that there are more than 11 committees at this point that are looking into more than 20 issues ranging from family separation, the president's finances, tax returns. There's so much to investigate, including the Russia probe, security clearances in the House Oversight Committee. There's just a huge number of things that Democrats want to look into. And I asked them this week, you know, what do you think about the

president essentially saying he doesn't want you looking into this? And they said, it's our constitutional duty to do this. If we have questions, we're going to do oversight on the Trump administration and find out what's at the bottom of everything.


KEILAR: All right, thank you for walking us through that, Lauren.

And right now a House subcommittee hearing is underway focusing on the effect of President Trump's zero tolerance policy. Today one Health and Human Services official said his agency would have never backed a program that separated migrant families.


REP. BRETT GUTHRIE (R), KENTUCKY: Would you have advised DOJ and -- or DHS to implement the policy of zero tolerance if they had asked?

COMMANDER JONATHAN WHITE, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SENIOR OFFICIAL: 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.



KEILAR: CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider with us.

That was some moment in that hearing. What else did we learn?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's really been a mixture of outrage and empathy at this committee hearing. So Democrats, as you can imagine, they are still incensed that this policy even went into effect last spring, separating children from their parents or their guardians. They're particularly outraged as well about the recent HHS inspector general report that says the Trump administration really doesn't have an idea of how many children were actually separated beyond their initial report that said about 3,000 children were separated. And now that report is saying thousands more children may have been separated. So that's been a big flash point at this committee hearing.

Also, some questions have begun emerging about which officials knew what when. You saw Commander Jonathan White there. He said that he's not sure which officials between HHS -- that, of course, is separate from DHS and DOJ, which implemented the policy -- he's not sure which officials there actually knew that this policy was even going to go into effect. And then he talked about the traumatic effects that this policy has had and will have on these children. And that's exactly what prompted a Democratic lawmaker to really speak out and criticize this entire program.

Take a listen.


REP. JAN SCHAKOWSWKY (D), ILLINOIS: 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 of children.



SCHNEIDER: So the Democrats there not mincing any words.

They're also criticizing HHS Secretary Alex Azar for not appearing at this hearing. Of course, HHS not responsible for the policy itself, but they implemented some of -- they're in charge of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which was responsible for the children. They're saying the secretary should be there to answer some of their questions.

HHS, of course, is now saying, well, the secretary is working with them, providing documents, and they're saying that the secretary will be at the committee for another subject where potentially he will answer questions on this as well.

KEILAR: He's certainly going to be asked them.

SCHNEIDER: He will be.

KEILAR: That is for darn sure.

Jessica Schneider, thank you so much for bringing that to us.

Did Nancy Pelosi throw shade at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's green new deal?

Also, a Republican congressman tries to have two Parkland fathers removed from a hearing when they speak up to challenge him.

[13:14:52] And the political implosion in Virginia, from blackface to alleged assault. Will the state's top three leaders survive these scandals?


KEILAR: Despite President Trump's warnings, House Democrats are beginning investigations on several fronts. There is a hearing today on requiring presidents to release their tax returns, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says they'll be looking into the personal finances of the president and his cabinet.

We're joined now by Congressman Michael Waltz. He is a Republican from Florida. Sir, thanks for being with us again.

REP. MICHAEL WALTZ (R), FLORIDA: Sure, thank you.

KEILAR: So when you look at these investigations and you look at Democrats seeking the president's tax returns, looking into his personal finances, is that fair game?

WALTZ: Yes, so, you know, Brianna, I'm not on the Intelligence Committee, but, look, I think this is kind of runaway investigations on the president. We have gone round and round, including on this network, on the Mueller investigation, what the FBI is doing letting that investigation play out, which I agree, I'm in the camp that it should play out even though it needs to play out fairly, before we start piling on a bunch of other investigations. So that's point one.

[13:20:22] Point two, this is the Intelligence Committee. And we have a lot of threats and issues that we're dealing with from China to metastasizing Islamic extremism, to you name it.

And then, three, if you're going to do this, which I disagree with, it should be in the Ways and Means Committee which handles tax issues. But my problem there is this really sets a precedent and a lot of privacy concerns for Americans from the president down to your average teacher, taxpayer, what have you on releasing their taxes and, you know, having Congress demand their tax returns and politicizing that issue. So I have issues across the board with it, bottom line.

KEILAR: Do you prefer when presidential candidates, though, release their tax returns?

WALTZ: Well, it certainly has been the precedent for presidents to do it in the past. You know, but again, right now we have a voluntary system. If we want to change that system, then let's look into it. But -- but using some type of subpoena power or just doing it involuntarily post facto is what I have problems with, not to mention the fact of the distractions that this is -- from the other intelligence issues, not to mention the fact we already have the Mueller investigation. Let's let that finish. If there's gaps or issues there, then let's look at supplements.

KEILAR: Let's talk about ISIS.


KEILAR: The president says that probably next week the U.S. will have destroyed 100 percent of the caliphate, the territory that ISIS had amassed.

WALTZ: Right.

KEILAR: That's not to be confused, though, with decimating ISIS, right?

WALTZ: Yes. So I give the president and the administration a lot of credit for taking the handcuffs off of our military that were frankly put on there by the Obama administration and destroying ISIS as a caliphate, as a country. And at one point it was bigger than Maine with a $250 million economy.

But, ISIS is not destroyed as a movement. It's metastasizing. It's growing. On the Armed Services Committee, we just received testimony yesterday about its growth all over the world.

So we have to keep our foot on its neck. We have stay on offense. And if we have them running scared of where they're going to sleep at night, they can't plot and plan to attack us in the United States in the west.

Brianna, there's a reason we haven't had attacks like Orlando and attacks like out in San Bernardino and all over -- and Paris, London and other places in the last couple of years. That's because they're running scared. But we have to finish the job.

KEILAR: You served in Afghanistan --


KEILAR: So I want to talk to you about the peace talks that are going on there.

WALTZ: Sure. Yes.

KEILAR: And the president talked about this during the State of the Union. He was touting how much the Taliban wants them. Is that really a sign of U.S. progress, though, saying that the Taliban wants to negotiate a way for the U.S. to get out of Afghanistan?

WALTZ: Yes, so I have some real concerns here, Brianna. Look, we all want the soldiers to come home. I mean that's -- that is -- that is just a universal goal. But we also don't want to give up our gains and we don't want another 9/11.

Right now half the world's terrorist organizations exist in the Afghan-Pakistani border today. And I don't think for a second -- one, I don't trust the Taliban when they say, trust us, we'll take -- we'll keep al Qaeda and ISIS at bay. That's like trusting the Russians, you know, to not build nuclear weapons.

Number two, even if you do buy that assurance, which I don't, they don't have the capability to keep ISIS and al Qaeda at bay.

And, number three, these negotiations haven't included the Afghan government, which is kind of a key component there. So, again, I'm not talking hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground. We need to maintain a counterterrorism capability. We need to maintain our ability to grow the Afghan army and their capability, like we have the South Korean army and others over the years to defend themselves on their own. And this is -- this is critical to keeping America safe.

At the end of the day, like I've said, we're going to fight this in Kabul, in Damascus, or it's going to follow us home to places like Kansas City, Orlando, San Bernardino. I prefer staying on offense on this.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about an exchange with -- that one of your fellow Florida Republican House members had in a Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence.


KEILAR: Congressman Matt Gaetz was making the argument that building a border wall would be a bigger deterrent to violent crime than gun control and other measures under consideration. There were fathers of Parkland victims who were in the gallery.


KEILAR: They took exception. Gaetz asked if they would be removed from the hearing. Let's listen to some of that exchange.

[13:25:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: I hope we do not forget the pain and anguish and sense of loss felt by those all over the country who have been the victims of violence at the hands of illegal aliens. HR-8 would not have stopped many of the circumstances I raised, but a wall, a barrier on the southern border may have. And that's what we're fighting for.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentlemen will suspend.

GAETZ: Greatest driver of violence in the circumstances that I indicated was not the firearm. It was the fact that we have an immigration system that allows people to come here violently. We engage in --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There will be no comments or demonstrations, please.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Mr. Chairman, point of order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's doing that (ph). The gentlemen from Rhode Island.

CICILLINE: Is there any committee rule or a point of parliamentary inquiry, is there any committee rule that prevents a member of Congress from reciting false statements in a committee hearing that are unsupported by the evidence -- that are unsupported by the evidence, or are members of Congress entitled to just make things up in support of specious arguments? It's a parliamentary inquiry.

GAETZ: Is there a process in the committee whereby if the very same people are repeatedly interrupting the time of the members that those people will be asked to depart the committee, or is there --


KEILAR: Well, those people know a thing or two about the issue before that committee, as you know, congressman.


KEILAR: You know, you're from Florida, so I know this is something on your mind for sure.

WALTZ: Sure.

KEILAR: But do you agree with your colleague that illegal immigration is a bigger problem in America than gun violence?

WALTZ: Well, look, you know, first, Brianna, let me say that, you know, I'm the father of a 15-year-old girl. I can certainly and deeply sympathize with the Parkland parents. And just where they are emotionally and where they are on this issue. It -- certainly that entire incident certainly, you know, breaks my heart.

I think what the hearing was getting at was a move towards universal background checks. And, you know, my point, coming into this as a freshman, as a freshman congressman, has been that, you know, we've passed -- the past Congress passed laws called FixNICS, which was -- which tries to address the existing background checks and demands that states provide that information into that system. The states aren't doing that. Heck, in fact, the military isn't even fully doing that.

The shooting out in -- out in the church in Texas was done by an Air Force veteran. It should have been -- he should have been flagged in the FBI system. And the Air Force's own IG faulted the Air Force for not doing that.

So there's a lot of -- I think there's a lot of issues with the current system. Legislation has been passed to try to fix that. I think we need to enforce the laws that are on the books before we start getting to all of these other issues.

So, you know, I'll let Congressman Gaetz explain kind of what he's thinking and who they thought they were, but at the end of the day -- but at the end --

KEILAR: But is he right? Is he -- is he correct that it's a bigger threat?

WALTZ: Well, I think what he's trying to get at is that there has been gun violence from illegal immigrants. And try to make that point that we can -- we --


WALTZ: Don't we want to prevent all gun violence, right? And don't we want to get at legislative solutions --

KEILAR: But do you think building the wall would help prevent gun violence more than other provisions that were being discussed there?

WALTZ: Well, what I think, and this is what the president has said and what I have said is that putting in barriers strategically where the border patrol has requested them has been proven to slow down and deter illegal immigration. So to the extent that we have people that shouldn't be here, that then also get illegal firearms as an illegal immigrant, then, sure, it would help there. I think that's just common sense.

But what I -- what I'm not going to get into is this one or that one. That -- you know, I wasn't at the hearing. That isn't -- that isn't my issue. I want to stop it across the board.

KEILAR: But the point of -- the point of crime, when it comes to illegal immigrants, I mean when you look at those statistics, that argument doesn't hold water. So was this the place for your fellow Florida Republican congressman to bring that into this topic? I mean the hearing was about gun violence.

WALTZ: Right.

KEILAR: And he brought that up. And then asked to kick out parents who had a visceral reaction because their kids have died.

WALTZ: Well, first, I don't know that he knew that that's who they were. These hearings get protested all the time. And by all accounts of protesters --

KEILAR: Should he know? There aren't that many --

WALTZ: I don't think you can -- I don't think you can reasonably expect a member of Congress to know everybody that's in the audience or memorize faces.

[13:29:55] However, Brianna, what I want to get to, what I want to stick to is the issue at hand here, which is illegal immigration, which we're all trying to fix, which I think you have to do before we can get to legal immigration reform.