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Dems Demand Documents; Trump Ordered to Stop Merger; Luke Perry Dies at 52; Tornado Rips Through Alabama; Hickenlooper Announces Run for 2020. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 4, 2019 - 13:00   ET

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


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: But I suspect that's not the course they will take in trying to make that case.

Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. Don't go anywhere. A lot of news ahead. Brianna Keilar starts right now.

Have a great day.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: John, thank you.

I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, President Trump's legal problems just got worse as Democrats demand documents from dozens in his inner circle, including his own children.

A bombshell new report that says the president ordered his aides to pressure the Justice Department to block a merger involving the parent company of CNN.

Plus, those failed nuclear talks with Kim Jong-un, Michael Cohen's fault now says the president.

And a nightmare in Alabama. Nearly two dozen people killed, including a six-year-old, after tornadoes ripped through the state. We are live on the ground.

Up first, a new demand for documents. Democrats ramping up their investigation of President Trump with a political paper chase. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is requesting documents from more than 80 individuals and organizations in the president's orbit, including his sons, Donald Trump Junior and Eric, and the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler says it's about gathering evidence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: It's very clear that the president obstructed justice. It's very clear -- 1,100 times he referred to the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt. He fired to -- he fired -- he tried to protect Flynn from being investigated by the -- by the FBI. He fired Comey in order to stop the Russian thing, as he told NBC News. He -- he's dangled parts -- GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST, ABC'S "THIS WEEK": But it's --

NADLER: He's threatened -- he's intimidated witnesses in public.

Impeachment is a long way down the road. We don't -- we don't have the facts yet, but we are going to initiate proper investigations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Over the weekend the president tweeted, I am an innocent man being persecuted by some very bad, conflicted and corrupt people in a witch hunt that is illegal and should never have been allowed to start and only because I won the election.

Senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is tracking developments on Capitol Hill.

So fill us in on who else is on this list of Democrats.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, 81 people connected to the White House and entities connected to the president have received letters from the House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler asking for a wide range of documents related to its new investigation here into alleged obstruction of justice and the Democrats' allegations that the president abused his power in office while also trying to benefit himself financially.

Now, the 81 people include not just the president's son but also his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions, a former attorney general, David Pecker, who is the head of the parent company of "The National Enquirer," which was involved in those so-called catch and kill schemes to silence stories about these alleged affairs before the election, the president's alleged extramarital affairs.

But in addition to his current campaign manager, Brad Parscale, former aides including Hope Hicks and Don McGahn, and, of course, people very close to the president's company, including his long-time CFO Allen Weisselberg and Rhona Graff, who is a long-time gatekeeper at the Trump Organization.

But in addition there are a number of entities who have gotten these letters as well, the White House, the Justice Department, the FBI, the Trump Organization, the foundation, the charity, asking for this information, Brianna, within the next two weeks. And I am told that they are ready to move forward with hearings, potentially public hearings, in a matter of weeks with some of these individuals. They're waiting to see what kind of cooperation they receive first to determine whether they should subpoena for records and documents and whether to compel any of these witnesses to come forward.

But suffice to say a very long and breathtaking investigation in scope, and expect this to take place for the matter of weeks, months and dominate the rest of this Congress for this particular committee. And this is just one committee. Several investigating various aspects of the Trump Organization as Democrats here prepare for the largest investigation perhaps of any sitting president. Brianna.

KEILAR: It is quite a list. Manu Raju on The Hill. Thank you for that.

A stunning, new reporter in "The New Yorker" reveals that President Trump ordered a top aide to pressure the Justice Department to stop the merger between AT&T and CNN's parent company Time Warner.

Let's check in now with CNN's Sarah Westwood. She's at the White House for us.

This is -- this new report is pretty interesting, and there's a lot of details. Catch us up.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Brianna, this report in "The New Yorker is raising new questions about President Trump's potential involvement in the decision made by the Justice Department to try to stop that AT&T merger from going forward.

Now, President Trump's opposition to that deal was well known, but this report goes one step further, claiming that President Trump instructed his then-top economic adviser Gary Cohn, his then Chief of Staff John Kelly, to get the Justice Department to file a lawsuit and try to stop that deal from moving forward, which the DOJ ultimately did. But Justice Department officials have consistently denied that any political considerations, any pressure from the White House, played a role in that decision.

[13:05:24] Here's what "The New Yorker" reported. Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, I've been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing's happened. I've mentioned it fifty times and nothing's happened. I want to make sure it's filed. I want that deal blocked.

And according to the article, Cohn emerged from that meeting. He told Kelly not to contact the Justice Department.

And this had prompted criticism that this is a potential overreach from Trump. For example, George Conway, the husband of top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, tweeted that if this conversation was proven to have taken place as "The New Yorker" reported, it would amount to retribution for the exercise of First Amendment rights and could be grounds for impeachment.

But, again, Trump's hostility to the merger, that was known before. He spoke publically about it on the campaign trail in 2016, saying that if he won, he wouldn't want his administration to approve the deal. But White House officials, Justice Department officials, have said throughout this process that the government's decision to bring this case was not based on anything other than anti-trust concerns. "The New Yorker" article, Brianna, paints a very different picture of the motivations behind that lawsuit.

KEILAR: It sure does. Sarah Westwood at the White House. And let's talk about the legal and the political ramifications of all of these top stories we're covering. We have legal analyst Seth Berenzweig with us and our chief political analyst Gloria Borger as well.

So the -- we knew, right, that the president had this opposition. We knew this. But his opposition to the deal has kind of been seen as punishing CNN for news coverage he didn't like. He's often a -- a very animated, anti-fan, I guess you could say.

Would -- certainly this would be an abuse of power, but I wonder if there, even so, are political consequences for the president.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I don't know. It's potentially that Congress is going to look into this. It's clearly an abuse of power. The president doesn't like CNN. He didn't want this deal to go through, and he was willing to say to his chief of staff and say, you know, get this done, because he believed that the Justice Department actually worked for him, right --

SETH BERENZWEIG, BUSINESS AND COMPLIANCE ATTORNEY: Right.

BORGER: And not for the American people. They were like his own person -- he considered them his own personal attorneys and he could order them to do whatever he wanted. And they say that he didn't.

KEILAR: And George Conway, who we all know so well, Kellyanne Conway's husband, critic of the president, though --

BERENZWEIG: Right.

KEILAR: Said, if proven, such an attempt to use presidential authority to seek retribution for the exercise of First Amendment rights would unquestionably be grounds for impeachment.

Are you so sure of that?

BERENZWEIG: Well, I think it points in that direction as a constitutional issue. I agree it's an abuse of power. But I would really call it an abuse of power on steroids.

Take a look at the case itself. That case fired to block the merger was frivolous. The administration didn't lose, they got clobbered. They got destroyed at the trail level. Pending appeal -- they filed a motion for a stay of the ruling pending appeal. In these kinds of cases, usually judges will grand that as a curtsey. The judge even at that point said forget it, you guys are going to lose, and a couple of days ago they got clobbered on the appeal as well.

So it's going to be very difficult, if not impossible, for the president to say, I was just trying to uphold the law. I think he was probably going against the law, especially in this case.

KEILAR: So you've seen this list of -- it's extensive. A separate story we're covering today, the Judiciary Committee and the House Judiciary chairman is requesting documents from dozens of people. BERENZWEIG: Right.

KEILAR: So about 80 individuals and also entities, including the Trump Organization, including Cambridge Analytica and others.

And this is all, of course, related to President Trump. How significant is this list to you, Seth?

BERENZWEIG: Oh, for -- well, from my perspective, I think the list really marks a new chapter in terms of setting a new, broader tone on Capitol Hill.

There was a lot of heat before, particularly in light of the Cohen situation. But now you have a completely new situation with this broad shot by jerry Nadler. This is really like a broad buffet of letters going after all kinds of criminal violations. But if you'd open up the buffet menu, you'd probably see two legal issues principally at the top of the list, abuse of power and obstruction of justice. And I think that this is going to get broader and it's going to accelerate very quickly.

BORGER: Well, this is also, though, sort of a strategy on the part of the Democrats, which is, they need to -- and Jerry Nadler said it this weekend, if they are going to go towards impeachment, they first need to persuade the American public that what they're doing is actually the right thing to do. So by subpoenaing documents, calling people publically to testify -- you know, this happened in Iran Contra a long time ago. They're presenting the case that they have to the American people in the way that Bob Mueller won't when we finally get his report.

BERENZWEIG: Right.

[13:10:13] BORGER: And I -- and I think, in many ways, impeachment may be going on now but we just don't call it that or know about it, right? I mean we --

KEILAR: Do you think there's a possibility, Gloria, that the gauge that maybe there isn't this ability to impeach successfully, that maybe Republicans are going to stand by President Trump, but they're at least going to exact some prolonged suffering.

BORGER: Oh, absolutely, which could then lead to impeachment if the public -- if public opinion changes.

BERENZWEIG: Right.

BORGER: You know, you can't do it unless the public is with you.

BERENZWEIG: Yes.

BORGER: So pain is on their list. Yes, I would say that.

KEILAR: Pain.

BERENZWEIG: I agree. And I think Rudy Giuliani has said, look, we're going to try this in a court of public opinion. Well, even -- everybody who's watching this, the public understands, it's a lot easier to impeach a witness than a document. If you take a look at a document, like a $35,000 check that the president wrote from the White House, you can't really impeach that document. There's not a lot that you can tee up on that. So there are a lot of serious issues around the bend.

KEILAR: When you look at this list, Gloria, Ivanka Trump is not on here. And Michael Cohen mentioned Ivanka Trump in his hearing for sure. Everyone else he mentioned is on here. I -- I heard from -- privately from a member of the House, a Democrat, who said, you know, we have to be really careful about the optics of pulling in or involving the president's children here, and Ivanka especially.

BORGER: Right. And Don Junior is on that list. And I --

KEILAR: And Eric Trump too, yes.

BORGER: Whatever your course is telling, I'm hearing it too. There's disagreement in the Democratic Party about whether -- how far down the list you want to go in terms of family members. I mean we know that Don Junior had the meeting with Russians in Trump Tower. That puts him in a different category. Ivanka did not. And we know how Trump feels about his daughter. And I think that they probably decided it was wise to keep her -- to keep her off that list.

KEILAR: It's a very interesting decision.

Seth Berenzweig, thank you so much. Gloria Borger, as always, thank you.

BORGER: Sure.

KEILAR: Breaking news. We are just learning that actor Luke Perry has died at the age of 52. We had first heard the news that he was hospitalized just days ago.

I want to check in now with CNN's Stephanie Elam.

This -- Stephanie, this is an -- this is an icon for people our age who grew up on "90210." What are you learning? This is -- I mean this is -- it's unbelievable. Even the news that he was ill was unbelievable to so many people.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So true, Brianna, for so many of us we grew up watching Luke Perry play Dylan McKay on "90210" throughout the 'SC. He was sort of the brooding and pained but super rich coming of age teenager on that show. And so many people will remember him from that.

He did go on from that and taking on roles that were very different from that role he played on "90210." Most recently, right now, he was on the CW's "Riverdale," playing Fred Andrews. So being a protective father in that role on that show. But definitely throughout his career you saw him as a bull fighter on "8 Seconds." He was also in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." He did so many different things. What we are learning, and what we have now confirmed, is that he did have a massive stroke last week and it seems that he just did not recover. We just got a statement from his publicist that said that he passed away today after suffering a massive stroke. They said that he was surrounded by his children. He has two children, Jack and Sophie, and also his fiance, as well as his ex-wife. His mother was there, his step-father, his brother and sister and other close family and friends were with him when he passed away today.

They're saying there's been such an outpouring of support and love for the family. But obviously 52 years old, this is surprising news for them. It's a very difficult time for them to deal with this. And, obviously, he was planning on having more life ahead of him as he was planning to get married. So just shocking news coming in that Luke Perry has passed away at only 52 years of age, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, it is shocking. Stephanie Elam, thank you for that report.

Some dramatic moments here in Venezuela as the self-proclaimed president arrives back in his country despite concerns of his capture or arrest by the Maduro government.

Plus, as the president blames Michael Cohen for the failed talks with Kim Jong-un, we're now learning that North Korean hackers reportedly hit the U.S. as the summit was going on.

And we will go live to Alabama where nearly two dozen people have been killed after tornadoes tore through the area. I will speak with the coroner of that county.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:18:59] KEILAR: The warnings came but it still was not enough time to escape the powerful tornadoes that killed 23 people in Alabama. You can see video of this monstrous tornado, one of two. It's one of at least a dozen that touched down in Alabama and Georgia on Sunday. Search and rescue crews are on the ground right now. They are sorting through debris for any sign of survivors still, but, sadly, the death toll is expected to rise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF JAY JONES, LEE COUNTY, ALABAMA: Houses completely destroyed. Homes that just basically just slabs left where once stood a home.

DONALD ESTES, LOCAL RESIDENT/VOLUNTEER: We ran inside, and after that it was just a lot of debris flying and we just watched it out the window.

CHARLIE PATEL, GAS STATION ATTENDANT: Just, I'm scared because I am on the counter. And ten second the tornado come and everything is gone. Everything destroyed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Bill Harris is the lead county coroner. He is joining us now on the phone.

Bill, tell us how the community is doing today. This -- I can't even imagine. Tell us.

BILL HARRIS, LEE COUNTY CORONER, OPELIKA, ALABAMA (via telephone): They -- they seem to be coming together and helping each other. It's just a very -- it's just a phenomenal thing. But the folks have jumped in to assist these people that not only lost loved ones but everything else they own.

[13:20:14] KEILAR: Well that -- that is heartwarming to know that the community is rallying around people for sure.

I want to ask you about right now the casualties and the injuries, because the spokesman from East Alabama Medical Center told CNN that the Opelika, Kansas, received about 60 patients yesterday, but only four are still hospitalized at this point. What more can you tell us?

Harris: That was my understanding that they transported about that many. And I think around 16 may have been transported to other facilities. I don't know the condition of those patients. I still have two that were injured -- with serious injuries that are in ICU at the East Alabama Medical Center at this time. And right now the death count is still at 23.

KEILAR: Are you worried that's going to rise?

HARRIS: I am a little bit worried. I think -- I'm not sure what their plan was this morning. I think they were going to re-search the areas they searched yesterday just to make sure, then get into some of the new areas this afternoon that they were unable to get to yesterday.

KEILAR: So they --

HARRIS: But as of right now, I have not received any calls to uncover any more decedents. And we are almost done with identifying the 23 we have now.

KEILAR: So search and rescue teams are going into new areas. So are there -- are there areas where you have reports of people missing that search and rescue crews have not yet gotten to?

HARRIS: Well, at one point we were told we had about 26 missing, but now that number has considerably been cut short because of the -- we actually had those decedents in our custody. And I still think we may have two or three that are unaccounted for. Just within the last ten minutes, I did find one of those. He was a -- I talked to a family member and they said that they did locate him. He was in the hospital -- or had been taken to the hospital.

So it's hard to give you an accurate account on how many is missing because we really don't know how many were at home at the time and if they've been able to get in touch with any family or not, because there's -- there's areas where there's five or six cars in the driveway and there's no home there.

KEILAR: Yes.

HARRIS: And so they've had to have been at home when this storm hit. Those are the ones we're going back and researching and trying to find somebody that knows where they are.

KEILAR: Of the 23 who died, how many have you identified at this point?

HARRIS: We are -- we have processed -- they -- in fact they're on probably the last one now. We've tentatively identified all but six of those, and we're going to try to identify those through fingerprints, hopefully, and then maybe we -- if we can't get it done by fingerprints, then we'll have to go to a next step above that, which will be DNA.

KEILAR: All right, Bill Harris, we are thinking of this community. The pictures are -- are staggering. It is so hard to imagine what they have been through. And we appreciate you being with us.

HARRIS: All right, thank you very much.

KEILAR: Another day and another Democrat is entering the 2020 race. This time it is former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. Hear how he says he'll stand out.

Plus, it's a decision that Rand Paul says he had to make to save his political soul. The Kentucky Republican announcing he cannot support President Trump's national emergency declaration, so what does that mean for the president's border wall?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:28:28] KEILAR: The 2020 Democratic field is growing more crowded by the day. Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper just announced he is running for president. He says he made the decision to run because the nation is facing a crisis that threatens, quote, everything we stand for.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a crisis of division, and I think it's probably the worst period of division that we've had in this country since the Civil War. And ultimately I'm running for president because I believe that not only can I beat Donald Trump, but that I am the person that can bring people together on the other side and actually get stuff done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: CNN's political director David Chalian is with me now.

So the list is huge, right? We're now at 10 Democratic officially in the race and there's still a couple more with exploratory committees.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And I think we're still waiting on 14 others or 13 others to actually tell us their intentions. There are many more still out there. Some big names, too, like Joe Biden or Beto O'Rourke, Michael Bloomberg. We're still awaiting some big names to give us their decision.

But this is now the second governor to get in the race, Brianna, and he's trying to plot a centrist path here. A little bit more central path. Which the big question that will hang over the Hickenlooper candidacy is, is that what the Democratic primary electorate is looking for right now?

You saw just in what you just played, he's trying to sell himself as somebody who not only can bring the country together in a time he feels that that has to happen, but also because of his eight years as mayor of Denver, as governor of Colorado another eight years, that he has the executive kind of leadership experience not in Washington to deliver on the promises that he says the Washington leaders have failed. So not only is he running against Trump, but he's also just running against Washington as outside this swampy mess.

[13:30:07]