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Interview with Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL); DOJ: Whitaker Won't Testify Unless Democrats Drop Subpoena Threat; Top-3 Officials in Virginia Embroiled in Scandal; Virginia Lt. Gov. Accused of Sexual Assault; Interview with Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY). Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired February 7, 2019 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] REP. MICHAEL WALTZ, (R), FLORIDA: 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. And then separately, let's get to enforcing what we already have on the books to lower gun violence. I think those are things that we can all work towards. And again, I'll let him go through the tick-tock of exactly what happened when. I wasn't there and I'm not sure.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Congressman Michael Waltz, thank you for being on. We appreciate you joining us today.
WALTZ: OK. Thank you so much, Brianna.
KEILAR: We have more breaking news. We have a showdown that just erupted over tomorrow's testimony of the president's acting attorney general. The Justice Department says he won't testify unless the Democrats drop their subpoena threat.
[13:35:37] KEILAR: So, 6:00 p.m., tonight, that is when the Justice Department wants written assurance from the House Judiciary Committee that they will not preemptively serve Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker with a subpoena.
We have Julie Hirschfeld Davis, a congressional correspondent for the "New York Times," and Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor and a defense attorney with us now.
Shan, this is all unfolding, still, ahead of what we're going to see as a scheduled appearance maybe, maybe not, probably not at this point, at this oversight hearing on the House side. It began with Democrats authorizing a subpoena before the testimony. Why did they do that?
SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They want to control the action, and that's what Whitaker wants to do, too. If he says I'm here voluntarily, he sets parameters, he can remind them I'm here to be cooperative. I'm here as a volunteer, not under compulsion. They want him under compulsion so they can have more rules about what he has to answer. Technically, legally speaking, under subpoena if he doesn't comply with it or he doesn't answer something, they have the threat of contempt. Practically, that's a lot of steps to get to the contempt point. I would call this a beating one's chest contest between the DOJ and the Hill.
KEILAR: A nice way to put it.
The committee wants to know about maybe what assurances or what kind of information Whitaker has given the president, right?
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, they want to know about these conversations Matt Whitaker has had with the president or people at the White House about the investigation. Was he ever asked to do anything in particular? Was he ever asked to restrict the scope? Was he ever asked to, in some way, prejudge or communicate to the special counsel about the length of the inquiry? And I do think that part of the reason that the Democrats decided that they wanted to issue or prepare this subpoena, even before he appeared, is because it's a timing issue, right? He is now acting as the attorney general. They have gotten the agreement for him to appear before the committee now. And I think they anticipate -- and actually, the letter from the Justice Department confirms today that he is going to say, no, that category of question he is not willing to answer. And so anticipating that, they sort of are trying to cut out a few steps and say, OK, we have this ready in our back pocket. If you're really not going to answer our questions, which are legitimate questions of the committee, they think, then we're going to have this ready for you.
KEILAR: Bottom line, do you think we'll see him testify?
HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Seems pretty unlikely based on what we're seeing right now. There was an illusion in this letter from the Justice Department about the usual back and forth that happens with issues that government witnesses don't want to testify about in public where you meet behind closed doors, they may come to some accommodation, but I would be very surprised if they came to an agreement like that.
WU: Whitaker statements are about how he's preparing to talk about everything except that.
KEILAR: That's right. And that's what they to know, so there you go.
Shan, Julie, thank you so much.
From blackface to alleged sexual assault, Virginia's top-three officials are embroiled in scandals. It there a chance that all three or any one of them rides it out?
Plus, the jury in the trial of one of the world's most infamous criminals keep asking questions. Hear what's going on behind the scenes.
[13:43:12] KEILAR: First it was the governor, then the lieutenant governor, and now the state's attorney general. The top-three Democrats in Virginia are all caught up in scandals. Governor Ralph Northam is under fire over that racist photo in his medical school yearbook and his admission that he appeared in blackface to mimic Michael Jackson in a 1980s dance contest. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 2004, which he denies. And Attorney General Mark Herring admitted he also once appeared in blackface at a party when he was 19.
We have Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks, of New York, with us.
Sir, thank you so much for being with us.
REP. GREGORY MEEKS, (D), NEW YORK: Good to be with you.
KEILAR: So if all three top Democrats resigned, then you would have the Republican Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox becoming governor. How much of a setback would that be for Virginia Democrats?
MEEKS: I think it would be a setback but I think we have to analyze all three of those scenarios. We have to make sure the people of Virginia -- this is a democracy -- have voice also.
From my viewpoint, with the governor, he complicated things. When the governor first came out or the pictures first came out, I did not immediately say he need to resign. I wanted to hear the rest of the facts. He instantly had a credibility problem, which leads to a problem for him to continue to lead his government because surely you would know whether it was you or not, whether you ever dressed up in blackface or in a KKK costume. So that's him.
[13:45:01] Clearly, we have to make sure the situation with Mr. Fairfax, you know, when all of the facts come out in that regard, clearly you have to take seriously the allegations that are put forth and listen to the individual who has a voice, and we have to take that very seriously. But those, I think we better see how those facts are and how they turn out. I have three daughters so I take it very seriously.
In the case of the attorney general, to me, he doesn't have the same credibility issue that the governor has. He realized he made a mistake. He came out and said it was a mistake. He came out and said -- so he doesn't have the same credibility issue that I think the governor has by him saying it was him, and then he just said it wasn't him.
I think we have to look at all three scenarios. There are still things to wade through and we'll find out what the end results are.
KEILAR: You think Northam should go, it sounds like you're saying, but what about Fairfax? You want to wait on the facts for that? And then you don't have a problem with the attorney general maintaining a position in the government of Virginia?
MEEKS: That is correct. That's basically where I fall. I think with Fairfax, we have to wait and get the pieces. With the attorney general, look -- there are some critical mistakes that were made that was going on in Virginia's history. But back in the '80s and America, racism alive and well. People were not as sensitive then as they should have been. The fact when I look at a medical school yearbook, when you talk of the Northam situation, that someone published it and they allowed that to go into a yearbook and the college acknowledged it and let it go, no one at that particular point said anything. That was a problem there, period. And so
KEILAR: But --
MEEKS: Go ahead.
KEILAR: Congressman, I want to ask you -- I'm sorry to interrupt you -- but I want to ask you, because I hear what you're saying and you're making these distinctions. A lot of people, even Democrats, have not made these distinctions when it comes to the attorney general or when it comes to an allegation that really should be taken seriously as a potentially credible allegation against Fairfax. When you have Democrats who have nationally taken issue with President Trump on the issue of sexual assault accusers, on the issue of race, how nationally can Democrats have the moral authority to do that if these three men remain in power in Virginia?
MEEKS: Well, look, you should be asking that the question of the Republicans when Trump is still the president of the United States. And when there was multiple women that came out in regards to Donald Trump. Lawsuits out with reference to Donald Trump. I say that with Mr. Fairfax, I'm not saying he gets off the hook or anything of that nature. I'm saying we better look very seriously. And there may be a price he has to pay once all of the facts are out and we're listening to everyone in that regard.
KEILAR: No, we did --
MEEKS: Compare Donald Trump --
KEILAR: You don't have to compare Donald Trump with Mr. Fairfax --
KEILAR: We asked those -- we asked those questions over and over when it came to then-Candidate Donald Trump. For sure we did, sir.
Let me say, a scenario where Northam goes, let's say, we learn more in the case of Justin Fairfax. If you have a case where it is the attorney general now becoming the governor, and this is someone who admits that he has been in blackface before, you can imagine what kind of ammunition that is going to give Republicans, supporters of President Trump's. Is that really where Democrats want to be spending their time defending?
MEEKS: Again, what you would do is look at his record as a public official. Look at his record over what he has done over his lifetime. If the record doesn't fit, where he says he is now and doesn't stand for, if the record shows that time and time again he's done certain things that are racist in nature, as is the fact with the president of the United States, when you listen to his -- look at his record, his words or repeat the basis, clearly, he does not deny who he is and his actions prove it. I say then you have to look at the actions and the record and the work of the attorney general in that regard. Clearly to me, if you ask me, can someone overcome and redeem themselves from a mistake they've made and acknowledged? Absolutely. It's happened time and time again. Look at former Senator Byrd, for example, who used to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan but has acknowledged that that was a mistake and then went on to do some good deeds. I do take that into consideration. But your credibility, as Northam did when he tried to deny something and you come back and say, well, you lose the credibility issue.
KEILAR: Can I ask you --
MEEKS: And that's where I think the difference takes place.
[13:50:04] KEILAR: Can I ask you, as a Democrat and you're looking at this happening, how disappointing is it, though, when you see the top three Democrats in Virginia in these straights?
MEEKS: It's disappointing in America when you see and understand the systematic racism that's been in place in America for a long period of time and we've got to continue to work to get it out and stop it. That's why we're trying to put policies in so we can stop the systematic racism that is taking place with reference to people. When you have a president of the United States who stands up even in the state of the union -- and if you listen to his words as he demonized and used racial terms to describe immigrants from South America, people who happen to be brown, that is a problem that continues to perpetuate itself. When you have a president who calls certain nations A-hole nations and that's OK, that's a systematic racism problem we have in America that we've got to address. And so when you have a president of the United States who feels that is OK to continue to do that, then that is a huge problem we've got to deal with, whether you're Democrat or Republican. We've got to stand up and prevent that from happening.
KEILAR: Congressman Gregory Meeks, thank you so much for the discussion. We appreciate it.
MEEKS: My pleasure.
KEILAR: Fascinating new details about where the president's tax returns are and how desperate some are to get them.
Plus, it's been four days, and jurors in the trial of infamous drug lord, "El Chapo," are still deliberating. What is the hold-up? We're live outside the courthouse.
[13:56:09] KEILAR: Did Nancy Pelosi throw shade at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal? Hear the remark and what's in the congresswoman's plan.
Plus, moments ago, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who has made Democrats furious over a possible independent run, just revealed some policy ideas of his own.
And Delta and Coke apologizing over the napkin that caught many passengers by surprise.