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CUOMO PRIME TIME
President's Right Or President's Abuse Of Power; Rep. Thomas Massie (R) Kentucky Was Interviewed About North Korea Building Nukes Again, And About Michael Cohen Hearing; A Crisis At The Border, But Not What President Trump Is Claiming; Trump White House Defiant; Federal Deficit Is Getting Bigger; DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen To Face Congress Tomorrow. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired March 5, 2019 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[22:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: The president wants you to be afraid of the migrant. Here's the truth. You need to be afraid for them. They're coming with false hope and in most cases nowhere to turn. They're dealing with a system that can't handle them and a president who wants them treated like ants in a kitchen.
Now you know. Now Congress knows. What will you demand? What will they do? I'm going to go back. If these numbers come true, you have to see the reality. I hope they don't. I hope the projections that we showed you tonight are off. But if they do come to fruition, Congress, it is time to do your damn job.
You know the president has been selling something else. I know that people don't expect anything better from the system right now. Please show the American people they are wrong. Do your damn job. Address this situation.
All right. That's my argument. I've got more time for you tonight. How about a bonus hour of PRIME TIME? All right. Another security clearance firestorm is brewing, developing news on our watch. First it was Jared Kushner. Now it's Ivanka Trump. Access to our nation's secrets under the microscope.
There's a zoom lens on the president's role in it again tonight. What does Anthony Scaramucci think about this? He worked in the White House alongside all of them, a great guest to have on a night like this and we have him.
We also have exclusive information on our southern border that is at a breaking point according to the people protecting us. We've got to take a closer look at what they see is coming, where the help should be and why it isn't there.
The president's national emergency is an obvious abuse of power say the Democrats. Only a few Republicans, however, are objecting. We actually have one here willing to stand up for why it is wrong. What do you say? Let's get at it.
We now know the president not only bypassed U.S. intelligence to get his son-in-law top secret clearance, he insisted his daughter have it too. Pressuring aides, even trying to set them up to take the fall for any blow back. That's our reporting new from three sources that contradicts everything the president has been telling us.
Anthony Scaramucci is here. It's good to see you.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Hey, it's good to see you, Chris.
CUOMO: Here's what I don't get. Once again, we've talked about it cyclically.
SCARAMUCCI: Well, I mean --
CUOMO: He has the right, but he lied about it. Why?
SCARAMUCCI: Well, I mean, I don't know the answer to why he lied about it. I can't tell you why he lied about it. I think it was just a bad strategy, bad tactics, or it could have been a reaction to pressure. I mean, he could have been in several meetings where people told him hey, look, don't give this to them, here are the 1,600 reasons why you can't do it, as a result of which he said give it to them.
He has a right to do that. You know he has a right to do that.
SCARAMUCCI: I think the recommendation would have been just tell the truth in the beginning. Say listen, American people were voting for disrupted change. My daughter and my son-in-law worked with me during the campaign. Ivanka specifically worked with me at the Trump organization and in "The Apprentice," so she's coming with me. I want her to have access to this sort of stuff.
I think that was inside the bandwidth of him and who he is and who the American people voted for. So, I mean, lying about it was probably not the right thing, but I haven't heard their side of the story since these allegations have been made.
CUOMO: You're not going to hear it anytime soon. They don't want to come --
SCARAMUCCI: So, OK. I think it's fair to just say let's wait for their side of the story.
CUOMO: They won't put it out.
SCARAMUCCI: Let's see what they say. But here's what I would say.
CUOMO: They're saying we won't talk about clearance. SCARAMUCCI: He has the right to do what he did and so, you know, it
seems like we're in a got you cycle where a lot of things come out, if it was OK. This is the kill shot on the president.
SCARAMUCCI: Or this is the kill shot.
CUOMO: Look, I don't --
SCARAMUCCI: Not you. Not you.
CUOMO: I think you guys focus on the expectations too much of the outcome.
SCARAMUCCI: No, no, no. Not you.
CUOMO: No, I'm not saying it's me.
SCARAMUCCI: I'm saying that seems to be --
CUOMO: But I'm saying it's not a got you cycle if he creates it.
SCARAMUCCI: No. He had a right to do that.
SCARAMUCCI: So, at the end of the day --
CUOMO: But that's what abuse of power is. You have the right but the way you use your power is abusive.
SCARAMUCCI: OK. If my mom tells me I can have seven scoops of ice cream, OK, and then five days later I lied about it and said I have five scoops, I was allowed to do it, OK. It's a bad analogy.
CUOMO: Yes, it's terrible. And I know your mom.
SCARAMUCCI: But the point --
CUOMO: You know what your mother would tell you?
CUOMO: If you're going to do it, own it.
SCARAMUCCI: it's a bad analogy.
CUOMO: If you're going to do it, own it. That's what he should have told you.
SCARAMUCCI: He should have told the truth about it. Jared and Ivanka had the right to the security clearance if they wanted it.
CUOMO: No, they didn't.
SCARAMUCCI: Yes, they did.
CUOMO: No, they didn't. They didn't have the right to it.
SCARAMUCCI: No. The president has the right to give it to them.
CUOMO: He had the right to give it to them. They didn't have the right to get it. It's a different thing.
SCARAMUCCI: OK. But definitely if he gives it to them, then they have the right.
CUOMO: I know. But they didn't have the right to it.
SCARAMUCCI: There you go. We're now --
CUOMO: They had to go through the process and the guy whose do the processing for this say --
SCARAMUCCI: We're not debating semantics.
CUOMO: No, no, no I'm just saying, no, you have to look at the components of the process. They've get vetted just like you did.
CUOMO: And the guys say you didn't fill out the paperwork the right way. You keep adding contacts, it makes us nervous we don't want to give it to you and the president said too bad.
[22:05:00] SCARAMUCCI: I think that's where the fibbing came in. Because I think there was probably pressure on the president. They were probably explaining to him that maybe there was certain protocol that needed to happen, and also the fact that there was some nepotism involved. They probably put pressure on him. And so that's why they wanted it to flow as if it was a natural process.
But at the end of the day, he did have a right to give it to them --
SCARAMUCCI: -- and there's nothing illegal. He didn't do anything wrong. And so, you know, I'm OK with it.
CUOMO: Well, he didn't do anything illegal.
SCARAMUCCI: But probably you're not OK with it but I'm OK with it. CUOMO: True. He didn't do anything illegal. True. Did he do something wrong? I argue yes. Why? He lied about it. That's abuse of power. And that's what they're coming at him for with all this oversight is these aren't crimes --
SCARAMUCCI: So, I'm not like this other guy that come --
CUOMO: -- but they are political malpractice.
SCARAMUCCI: You had one guy in the show and I can't remember the guy's name, he's trying to pretend that the president hasn't told fibs or lies. I'm not that guy.
CUOMO: That's the point of Matt Schlapp, head of CPAC.
SCARAMUCCI: OK. So, I'm not him. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the guy hasn't contorted the truth and he hasn't told fibs and done that stuff. He's obviously done that. Most politicians do that. It's not an excuse for him to do it.
CUOMO: I think that is the excuse, by the way.
SCARAMUCCI: No, but I'm not -- I'm not --
CUOMO: People don't expect anything better from the system that's why his supporters don't punish him.
SCARAMUCCI: OK. Chris, I didn't come on the show to make excuses for the president.
CUOMO: I know. I actually --
SCARAMUCCI: I'm a supporter of his. I'd like to see him do well. I think by and large, OK, when you look at the -- this is the big trouble with this situation. Because when you look at the style and look at some of the things you cringe at, and say gees, I wish he didn't do that or I wish he didn't say, that but then look at the totality of the policies and look at a lot of things that are going well for the country, you know I'm a trained economist.
You can go through that quarterly report and you can look at the depth and the breadth of the economic experience and the American people are doing much better. And I'm telling you that's attached to his approval ratings, you know.
SCARAMUCCI: That's a Wall Street Journal/NBC News approval rating.
SCARAMUCCI: So, there's a lot of things that he's doing well and the approval ratings are going up. And so, you would just say geez, I wish from style, OK, he's like a phenomenal figure skater, but there's some style points that the judges are going to --
CUOMO: But why doesn't he get --
SCARAMUCCI: -- are going to hit him on.
CUOMO: Yes, but I don't --
SCARAMUCCI: And so, I just wish he would stop doing that.
CUOMO: I wish he'd stop doing it too. I just, I don't see it as --
SCARAMUCCI: I brought up ice cream and figure skating. I'm going to fine the right analogy --
CUOMO: No, no. You keep doing it. Keep doing it. You'll get there.
SCARAMUCCI: -- before that segment is over with Erin Burnett.
CUOMO: The idea of style I think doesn't put enough emphasis on the issue because you look at his ratings. To have the stock market where it is, to have the perception of the economy be where it is, to have us go this long, thank God have nobody hurt us, OK? He's not even close to 50 percent. He's not even close. I don't care what number you take. Quinnipiac just came out, they put him at 38. Some people put him at 43. Doesn't he get that the way he's doing it --
SCARAMUCCI: All right. Forty-six percent number feels pretty good.
CUOMO: I'm sure he does. It's the highest one you can find.
SCARAMUCCI: That 46 percent number feels pretty good to me. But here's the thing.
CUOMO: I think it's high. I think it's high because of how he is.
SCARAMUCCI: If he asked me, I'm not saying he does, but if he did ask me, I would say, gee, there's probably three or four things you could do. Style isn't good. One of them is in situations like this, just say hey, I'm the president, I'm doing it this way, that's the way it's going to be, like it or lump it.
CUOMO: Lying isn't style.
SCARAMUCCI: OK. But you're saying if he did it the other way where he said like it or lump it as opposed to, you know, contorting it, I think his approval ratings would go higher. If he dialed back some of the style points on the Twitter feed, I think the approval ratings would go higher. I think he's got a 7 percent to 8 percent head wind as a result of the
approval ratings like in a (Inaudible). If you call the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dumb as a rock on the Twitter feed, that may feel good in the moment, you may not like what Rex is saying about you, but then you have all these suburban women, OK, in my town like in Long Island and they'll go gee, OK, I don't want my kids to read that. That's not something I want my kids to see.
And so, you could get your approval ratings with those people hurt and they could slow down their voting for you. He got 52 percent of those white women to vote for him last time. And so, when you're doing stuff like that, you say hold on a second, that could hurt you with those people who genuinely like you and like to see you do better on those issues because they like all the policies that you bring.
So, the election is going to be on a number of different things. Who he is running against? And it will be about, OK, we like so many of his policies, but we're sort of sore at his style and the approach that he's taking. If you want to say it's not style or you could say it's his --
CUOMO: No, I don't think it's style.
SCARAMUCCI: -- communication. You could say whatever you want to say to this.
CUOMO: I think that it's going to be a referendum on him. If it's about policy, then it's going to be for the Democrats to figure out how they can own --
SCARAMUCCI: It's not policy when he wins reelection.
CUOMO: I don't know about that.
SCARAMUCCI: I think he will.
CUOMO: I don't know about that because that's why we have the race.
SCARAMUCCI: Here's the thing. In a rising economy --
CUOMO: It's tough to beat an incumbent president in a good economy but you haven't had, God forbid had. It's true. But he has anomalies many different ways.
Let me ask you about things. I've got a bee in my bonnet about what's going on at the border. I knew that this was the truth. I knew that the wall was a problem in terms of where the priorities lay. Not that if you want to build barriers, you should or shouldn't. That's a political discussion. Fine. There are outcomes and you get judged by the electorate.
[22:09:56] But I knew from the data, from the reporting and from my personal experience there are bigger problems that a wall can't affect and now they're upon us. This president has not spoken about them. Is that political malpractice? He's not prepared us for what's about to happen.
SCARAMUCCI: You know, I don't want to say that. I mean, again, I'm not being apologist for him. I don't think it's a political malpractice as much as it is surfacing right now and it's getting into the psyche and I think he's becoming more aware of it. Let's see what he does --
CUOMO: But he was told --
SCARAMUCCI: Let's see what he does -- let's see what he does over the next three or four weeks.
CUOMO: We need the wall, Mr. President. You have to --
SCARAMUCCI: Let's give him credit on one thing. When the child separation policy got to his desk and it was inside the gear box, he was understanding what was going on and it got right into the kill shot, he reversed it. And so now --
CUOMO: First he said it was good. It was a deterrent. Kirstjen Nielsen was misleading about it. It was their policy.
SCARAMUCCI: It was the Monday that the -- the Monday the volcano was erupting, on Thursday he turned it back.
CUOMO: Yes, but first --
SCARAMUCCI: You've got to give him credit.
CUOMO: -- he said he liked it and he was pitching it as a good thing to keep people away.
SCARAMUCCI: OK. But once he fully understood it, come on, there's five million --
CUOMO: Why he needs to understand?
SCARAMUCCI: Chris --
CUOMO: He doesn't have kids?
SCARAMUCCI: Chris --
CUOMO: What happens when you take a kid away from her mother?
SCARAMUCCI: Chris, be fair to the guy for a second, OK? When the stuff is on his desk, that means there's 5,000 other people in the government that could have made the decision. There are very, very tough decisions on his desk. You know his plate is full all day. When it got into his gear box and he fully understood the magnitude of the problem, he reversed it. So, let's give some time to understand what's going on here. OK?
And I see the human crisis. I don't think it's a George Soros sponsored caravan. OK? If women who are moms are moving very young children below that are below the age of 10, 100 miles, 800 miles, it's a humanitarian crisis, no question.
And so, we have to, as a humane country, and people that has these great American values and this great American experiment, we have to handle it appropriately. And we have to handle it without any level of callousness.
And so, I'm hoping and praying that him and his team sit down and look at the situation and say OK, we certainly can't have a mass migration into the country. We certainly need to have this done process wise and legally so that it's legal immigration, but we need to come up with a humane solution that is classically American that from a bipartisan basis all of us can be proud of.
CUOMO: We'll see.
SCARAMUCCI: And so, let's see.
CUOMO: Tomorrow they're going to be presented with the facts by the people in charge of keeping us safe. We'll see what they do.
SCARAMUCCI: OK. Good to be here.
CUOMO: Anthony, always a pleasure. I appreciate it.
SCARAMUCCI: Thank you.
CUOMO: All right. So, we're going to see Ivanka Trump, I believe called to testify about her own security clearance scandal. Will she go? That's a very different question. But it looks like the Democrats, give how broad their aperture is, they're going to bring her in. Now we've got this drama unfolding in the West Wing. What is the law? What is right?
That's what Cuomo's Court is all about. Look at those heavyweights next.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CUOMO: Back now on the big news tonight Ivanka Trump security clearance. Is the president guilty of special treatment for his family members? Yes. Is this an abuse of his power?
Let's gavel Cuomo's Court into session. Berit Berger, Jim Shultz, thank you both.
Jim Shultz, you argue why this is an abuse of power. I'm just kidding. Berit, you make that case. Jim will defend. Do you believe that the
president exercising his right to give security clearances as he sees fit, can it in any way be an abuse of power?
BERIT BERGER, FORMER PROSECUTOR, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: Absolutely. I think these falls within the theme that we've seen a lot in this administration which is just because you have the power to do something doesn't mean that you can do it correctly. So, whether it's firing employees, whether it's issuing pardons, or whether it's ordering a security clearance, if you're doing something with a corrupt intent, you lose your absolute ability to do it.
So, I think it could absolutely be an abuse of power if the normal process was somehow subverted or tainted.
CUOMO: Where is the corrupt intent?
BERGER: Well I think we don't know yet. I think that's what needs to be, you know, discovered. What the reporting is suggesting though is that the normal process here was not followed. And that should not be something that's political.
I mean, with respect to security clearances more than almost anything else, this should be fully apolitical. There should be something that the career officials that do this every single day are really trusted with, can let their process play out, and are given the autonomy to make these decisions not for any sort of political favor, but based on the facts before them.
CUOMO: Jim, there are two theories. The first theory is this is about paperwork. That they didn't fill out the paperwork the right way. They kept adding to it, especially in Jared Kushner's case. Adding contacts with people that would make hairs go up on the back of the neck of an intel type.
They didn't like it. So, they responded by being slow walking on the paperwork and on the clearance. The president got frustrated with it and he went ahead. The second theory is they had good reason to not want to give them clearance and the president overrode it. Which do you subscribe to and why?
JIM SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: So, look, this is squarely within the president's article two powers to security clearance.
SCHULTZ: You know, you've established you've been talking about that all night.
SCHULTZ: But at the same time, look, the president had his -- has Jared and Ivanka with him all through the campaign. They came into the White House. They've been working, Ivanka has been doing great work on the domestic agenda and Jared has some success on that and foreign policy issues. And the president clearly relies on them and clearly trusts their
judgment. And he's probably thinking to himself, look, I know these folks better than anyone and it's within my power to make this decision.
Now, there was some reporting and who knows what's true and what's not as to what staff said no, we're not going to sign off on this for you.
CUOMO: There are memos.
SCHULTZ: But OK, there may be memos, but at the end of the day the president has the power to do that.
CUOMO: There are memos.
SCHULTZ: OK. But it's not within their power to make that determination.
CUOMO: No, but it is within their purview --
SCHULTZ: It's within the president's power.
CUOMO: If they're recording something that they found was offensive and abusive of that power, and recording the same contemporaneously and then the president lied about it. Why lie?
SCHULTZ: But at the end, what's the president -- what's Congress going to do about it?
CUOMO: Why lie, Jim?
SCHULTZ: They can't change the laws and make it so that the president can't approve security appearances -- of clearances.
CUOMO: But why lie?
SCHULTZ: Look, I don't know. I mean, we're relying upon sources and other things. I don't know why --
CUOMO: Memos prove it.
[22:19:59] SCHULTZ: -- he told the story that he told. Right? And I have no idea why he told the story that he told. If he did, in fact, make that decision himself, he should have come out and said that he did it himself.
SCHULTZ: No question about it. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's not within his power.
(CROSSTALK) CUOMO: No, nobody is saying it's not within his power.
SCHULTZ: It doesn't mean that there was some corrupt intent associated.
CUOMO: Nobody is saying it's not within his power. Don't go for the low fruit. The question is, did he abuse the power? Did he misuse it? Did he do it in a way that he should not have? But, Berit --
SCHULTZ: But if he felt comfortable -- let me address that. If he felt comfortable with them, that's within his power as president of the United States. If he looked at that memo, he knew those two individuals better than anyone else, he can make that judgment if he wants to.
CUOMO: Yes, that's fine, although I would love to know if he knew about the contacts of his son-in-law.
SCHULTZ: And the Constitution allows him to do it.
CUOMO: I would love to know if he was aware of everybody that his son-in-law met with. If he did, he's got a bigger issue.
SCHULTZ: And going back to the --
CUOMO: But hold on, Jim. So, Berit, to Jimmy's point, what are you going to do about it? What's Congress is going to do?
BERGER: Well, that's the million-dollar question. I just want to address one thing fist that Jim said.
BERGER: I mean, look, just because he knows these two people and I absolutely agree, he probably does know them better than most people. It does not necessarily mean that he knows all of the surrounding factors that go into granting a security clearance.
BERGER: His intel chief, the people making, you know, these types of decisions arguably have much more information that would go into this kind of process than simply do you know this person, you know, was she a good daughter, is he a good son-in-law. So, there are a lot more factors that go into this whether his son is a good person or not.
SCHULTZ: Well, yes, but, Berit, he probably had -- he probably had the benefit of that information when he ultimately made the decision or you would think that he had the benefit of that information.
BERGER: You would think so, except if the decision was already made that they were not going to get a clearance and then he chose to override that decision. It raises some real questions as to why.
BERGER: Why go against the advice that you're going to be given. I mean, look, I understand why he would want the way it would be a benefit for him to have them have a clearance. Right? He wants to have them in certain meetings.
BERGER: He wants them to be able to see the documents. I get why he wants them to have the clearance. What I don't understand and what I don't think any of us do is what were the concerns that were raised that really stood in the way as an impediment to them getting the clearance?
BERGER: I mean, I have to say, in my experience, this was not, you know, some sort of huge uphill battle to get these clearances. This is not something that you hear about every day of people being rejected for, you know, no good reason.
So, I think it does raise a red flag. Now Chris, to your question, what happens next? I mean, that is the million-dollar question here. I mean, we know that they have sort of said they will not --
BERGER: -- give documents over to Congress based on this, so I think this really puts Congress in a tough position right now. Do they want to press this issue and really take this to the courts ultimately as to whether they're going to challenge this?
BERGER: And I think that's a tough challenge.
CUOMO: I would make it the $9.99 question, because it's just one more example of this president doing things the wrong way and lying about what he does. Is it a crime? No. Could it be a political crime? We'll see. Because that's obviously where the Democrats are looking to build a case.
Jimmy, well argued. Thank you. Berit, always a pleasure. Thank you for being on the show.
Just a week after Trump's failed summit with Kim Jong-un, why fail? Because they left early. Now what do we hear? North Korea caught rebuilding a missile launch facility.
What do Republicans say about it? So far, that. We're going to talk to one of them next. Congressman Thomas Massie joins us next.
[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) CUOMO: President Trump has been desperate to get a nuclear deal done with North Korea and with good reason. That is a good goal. But how do you it matters. He's held two peace summits. Not had any real concrete steps, except elevating Kim Jong-un to equal footing with the president. And how has Kim repaid him?
Satellite photos appear to show Kim Jong-un has begun rebuilding parts of a long-range missile testing facility. Implications?
Let's discuss. Congressman Thomas Massie, Republican on the House Oversight Committee. Good to have you on the show, sir.
REP. THOMAS MASSIE (R), KENTUCKY: Thanks for having me, Chris.
CUOMO: So, there was a messaging issue here. Nobody is surprised to hear that the North Koreans are being shady, you know. And they're doing something that is pernicious, so wicked. We're not surprised by that. That's who they are. Except the Trump discrimination keeps telling us they're no longer a threat. The president says. Nuclear threat days are over. Pompeo tries to clear it up and gets more confused. Why that messaging?
MASSIE: Well, I think the president has extended an olive branch instead of treating the North Korean leader as a pariah on the spot of the planet. He's trying to bring him to the table and it's hard to bring somebody to the table by calling them names 24/7.
CUOMO: True, although he was the one who played the rocket man saber rattling game, right? So, he's done it both ways. But I'm wondering do you have concerns about dealing with a murderous despot this way now that you see how he returns the favor?
MASSIE: I think you have to go to the table and talk to him and I think words like murderous despot, even though that might be true, it doesn't advance your agenda to call him that in a meeting or to call him that on a national stage.
CUOMO: When you ignore it, what do you empower? What do you tell other bad guys around the world? When you forgive these atrocities like you did with Putin, with MBS? What like you did with Kim? What do you think other strong men say? This guy is somebody I can work with. Right? I think I'm going to do whatever I want. He'll be OK with it. He's just like me.
MASSIE: No, I don't think that's the message that the president is giving. Clearly, we've got just about every sanction you can imagine on North Korea now and the pressure is getting to them. I actually think the change that's going to pressure their leader to change is actually going to come from the people themselves as they learn more about how society in an advanced civilization lives, they're going to want those lifestyles too.
So, I think the pressure is going to come from within. The president has to be there to give the dictator an opportunity when he feels that pressure from within and when he feels some of that pressure from China to comply with normalized world standards. [22:30:01] I think the president has to be there to receive him. So
I'm glad he's having talks. I was with congressional delegation last year. We visited Korea. We went to the DMZ and then the U.N. building where those talks could happen. And, you know, people forget. It doesn't take a long range missile site to take Seoul, South Korea off the map.
CUOMO: That's true.
MASSIE: It's about 30 miles away from the DMZ.
CUOMO: That's true.
MASSIE: So, you know, even though it's troublesome that he's building a long range missile site, if that in fact is true, the danger is present and it's there now.
CUOMO: A hundred percent. Let me ask you about the oversight concerns that the Democrats have on the committee that you are on.
CUOMO: First, the general, then I want to get to something specific.
CUOMO: What do you think of the ambitions?
MASSIE: Ambitions of?
CUOMO: Of your committee.
MASSIE: Oh, of the Oversight Committee? Well, they were trying to lay a cornerstone in the foundation of impeachment against the president.
CUOMO: They say they're not.
MASSIE: Well, what was the purpose of the hearing? I mean, they had Cohen in there. Was it just for a circus? And by the way, it was somewhat of a circus. The question that I asked Cohen, by the way, based on his opening testimony, he said when he made payments to Ms. Clifford that he didn't think about what was right and he didn't think about whether it was proper.
I asked him if you were the president's lawyer and you didn't think about whether it was legal or not, how were you able to advise him on whether it was legal or not? And it was just a long pause. He had no answer for that. He proceeded to basically tell me he was a fixer and not so much a lawyer. I think that somewhat exonerates the president.
If your lawyer isn't giving you good legal advice, are you -- can you, is it possible to knowingly violate the law?
CUOMO: A hundred percent. I think that it's pretty obvious that the president knew what he was doing and he knew why he was doing it, whether or not the American people care enough to pressure people like you to make a move on him, that's something very different. Because we're not talking about criminal behavior or criminal procedure, we're talking about political ramifications here.
MASSIE: You know what? I have never seen an FEC report that has disclosed a payment for hush money. In fact, I think it would have been illegal if he used campaign money to do it. So that's just my opinion. I am waiting for somebody to show me an FEC report that actually is an example of where you pay somebody hush money. You know, could I pay my children hush money?
CUOMO: They don't put it in there because they're trying to hide it. And you don't have to just fail to disclose it that way. It's about how it was engineered and how it was machined. But again, I have said this many times on the show.
I do not see a prosecution ending this presidency. I don't see it. And I think if the Democrats want to go down the road of impeachment, they are going to have to have buy-in from the Republicans. Otherwise, it's a waste of time, many would argue.
MASSIE: There was one other thing that Michael Cohen said. And he said -- I had him restate it to me. He said a lot of times he acted on what he thought the president wanted, not what the president told him.
MASSIE: And I asked him to repeat that and he said it again. So again, if they were trying to, you know, lay the foundation for maybe a conviction of the president, maybe that's what they were after. They were going fishing. I think they didn't catch any fish at our hearing the other day, and I think Cohen came across as the least credible witness we've ever had in the Oversight Committee.
CUOMO: Well, polls from Quinnipiac put it at about 50/50. But you have to go against who he's being measured against. This president takes the biggest beating in polls of any politician I have ever seen when it comes to credibility. Lucky for him, the American people, especially those who support him, have almost zero percent of expectation of you guys acting with integrity, and that is a sad commentary.
MASSIE: Well, we didn't get a call to witness. If you want integrity, I would suggest you don't bring Michael Cohen to the hearing.
CUOMO: Well, listen. That was a controversial first step for them to take. Let's see where it leads. Mr. Massie, I invite you back to discuss what the committee does, what you think about it, what you don't.
MASSIE: Absolutely. Thanks, Chris.
CUOMO: Be well, Congressman, and thank you. All right, there's a crisis at the border, but it is not the one the president's been telling you about. So why isn't anyone to trying to solve it? It is the great debate to have, because tomorrow, it's going to get very real in front of Congress.
[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CUOMO: White House once again resistant, defiant in the face of demands from House Democrats for documents showing how the Trump administration goes about its security clearance process. The president's counsel blasted the committee as "overlay intrusive", but House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings countered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I want the American people to understand that when you cannot get information, you cannot be a check.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: That what this is about? Is it about a check or is it harassment? Great debate and two perfect guests, Michael Eric Dyson, Ying Ma, Ying, start with you. Do you believe the White House should be complying with what the Oversight Committee is asking for?
YING MA, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, COMMITTEE FOR AMERICAN SOVEREIGNTY: Well, the White House has every right to negotiate how it wishes to cooperate with the committee. And as the White House counsel said in his letter, Congress cannot simply just demand everything and anything. There has to be some sort of relationship to how the information it seeks is going to actually help its legislative task.
And according to the White House, Congress has actually not made that clear to this White House. And so the White House has every right to push back. White Houses in the past have all pushed back against these things. It's just doing what is simply reasonable.
[22:39:51] CUOMO: What do you think of that? Do you believe, Mr. Dyson that this is about the Democrats once again overreaching?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, GEORGETOWN SOCIOLOGY PROFESSOR: Not at all. I think, you know, Chairman Cummings was absolutely right. You've got to be able to check by having information. When Ms. Ma makes the legitimate point that other White Houses have behaved similarly, then extend the analogy all the way, this White House has not acted the way other White Houses have acted. Therefore, there is a suspicion that has been created.
Why, because there's a network of lies. There's a web of mendacity that's been spun by this White House from the very beginning at every level. So I think it's only right that the Congress, that is impaneled now, it has a responsibility to make sure that what is going on is clear, fair, and reasonable. And in order to make sure that they are the balance and the check to what is going on in the executive office, they've got to will their legislative authority.
CUOMO: Dyson went with web, Ying. I usually go with mountain of mendacity, because it's a alliterative, but he's much smarter. But the point remains is that when you look at the meat of the matter with this security clearance, nobody should be arguing whether or not the president had the right to do anything. I see that as a distraction. We all know he has that kind of purview with security clearances.
The question is did he do it the right way? Did he lie about it as the reporting suggests with the memos to back it up? Why did they handle it this way, legitimate questions?
MA: Sure. They're all legitimate questions. But let's not confuse these questions with the law. And I think the White House counsel's letter to the committee has actually made very clear that there is case law in place, saying very clearly that it's fine for you to ask for information, but there has to be some relationship to how you intend to legislate because Congress is there to legislate.
You're not there to enforce the law. But beyond that, one thing to keep in mind is also that Congress has always deferred to the executive when it comes to national security issues, such as granting security clearances. And I know you keep saying that the president having the prerogative to grant a clearance to somebody is a distraction.
You know, I think it's kind of funny you keep saying that, because it actually goes to the heart of the issue, because this is actually what he is able to do and it's not --
CUOMO: How do you it matters. Because if I want to come after you for abuse of power --
MA: But if it's within his power to do that, it's not abuse of power.
CUOMO: Well, so that means that if you have a power to do something, you can do it any way you want under any circumstances and it's OK? We both know the answer to that is no, don't we?
MA: He -- I mean it's up to him. He can grant a security clearance to Ivanka and Jared whenever he wants to, or to anyone else.
MA: So should he have -- and let me also back up a little bit, because right now we are basing our entire discussion on reporting from The New York Times.
MA: And we don't actually know for sure if these sources are reliable.
CUOMO: Right. But that's why the oversight is doing their job.
MA: Is that actually correct? I mean I have no objections to you asking the question. I think that's a very good --
CUOMO: That's journalism.
MA: On what the president is doing and in general what politicians are doing, but is this really something for the Oversight Committee to do, particularly the way they've asked for it.
CUOMO: All right.
MA: The White House didn't say they won't cooperate. They just object to the cumbersome way and intrusive way that committee --
CUOMO: But the practical effect is that they have refused to comply to this point. Dyson, make the argument about why this is legitimate oversight.
DYSON: Well, first of all, it's oversight. That's their sensible purpose and that's their realistic goal. But look, if lawyers all agreed on everything, there would not be a counter argument. So to say it's a matter of case law is one thing. To stipulate that is truth is not to make the argument. Therefore, there is no counter- veiling argument. Mr. McGahn wrote a contemporaneous memo to say hey, I don't want any part of this.
Mr. Kelly wrote the same thing. We have the very evidence of (Inaudible) by the very people who were meant to protect the president saying they got to protect themselves first, because if they don't protect themselves first, they will be complicit in this mountain of mendacity, this web of lies that is being spun by the White House. And of course, the only adult in the room is the legislative arm at this point.
You know, we see that Donald Trump is being, in one sense, facilitated by people who are complicit in his very mendacity. My, god, somebody's got to step in and say look. Did it happen? Didn't it happen? OK, we heard what you said. What do the facts say? I mean facts still matter. Truth still matters. And what actually happened, it makes a difference. Empirical is a word that means that which can be falsified or verified through the census.
Let's apply all the census. What the legislative process is asking, let us apply the common sense and the facilities and faculties we have to this particular test case. If the president says no, then let's see if it says no. But if we don't have the evidence, if we don't have the paper, if we don't have the documents, we don't know what we're dealing with.
CUOMO: This is a very good back and forth, and I appreciate it. I think it was helpful for the audience. It was certainly helpful for me. Ying, great to have you on the show, Michael, same to you, hope to have you both back and soon. Be well.
DYSON: Thank you.
MA: Thank you.
[22:44:54] CUOMO: All right. Federal deficit, it's getting fat. Why? Well, in part because of this tax cut, and in part because of our fiscal irresponsibility. But the interesting part is that Republicans are usually swinging a hammer at these kinds of situations. But they didn't criticize this president with the tax cut. They swallowed it. Why, answers next.
CUOMO: Economics is tricky. It's never just one thing. For example, right now, the economy is looking strong. But you have low employment and tax revenue plummeting, and government spending is going up. Now, what does that give you? It gives you a big, fat deficit for the first quarter of the 2019 fiscal year. Now, here's the political confusion.
[22:50:01] When you think Republican, very often you think fiscal responsibility, being abstemious, trying to keep things small. Now, it's the opposite, why? Catherine Rampell, three questions. Help me. You're the one with the intelligence on this. First four months fiscal year 19, federal deficit $310 billion, up $176 billion year over year, why?
CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There are a few things going on. One, of course, as you mentioned is the tax cut. Despite what was promised, the tax cuts sadly did not pay for themselves. Wouldn't you know, we cut taxes and tax revenues fell, so that snake oil still not working. But it's not only the tax cuts, right? It's also on the spending side.
So we had this grand bargain that Democrats and Republicans came to last year, in which they decided that they were going to increase funding for each other's pet projects, particularly defense, but not only defense. You saw a big increase in defense spending. The country's also getting older, so you have more spending on Medicare, for example.
So that's part of it as well. And also interest rates are rising, which means that the interest payments on the debt are also going up, all of that debt not looking so cheap anymore.
CUOMO: So the sell was -- listen. If you cut the taxes, they will invest more. They will pass along more. Individuals will benefit as workers. They'll also benefit as recipients of more cash in their pocket from the tax cut I am giving them as well. And they will spend more, and that will offset the decrease in revenues by increasing spending.
CUOMO: What happened? RAMPELL: The same thing that's happened every other previous time
that we have tried this strategy. It did not pay for itself. We had a nice...
CUOMO: Meaning that you needed to offset spending to anticipate the cut in revenues.
RAMPELL: Meaning that -- the idea is that if you cut taxes enough, that will increase investment. That will increase the number of people who decide to go work and the number of hours that they work. And that in and of itself, that additional economic activity, will increase the tax revenues that roll in, right? So it's -- the rate may fall, but the amount of activity that you see, the amount of growth --
CUOMO: It offsets and then some.
RAMPELL: It will offset it. That's not actually what happened. And again, we have seen this argument made, this snake oil sold many times before, and it turns out never to actually to bear out.
CUOMO: So tax cuts are not as good as they sound in general. They got to be targeted. They got to work the right way and at the right time, got you. Unemployment, thread this into it for me. Historically low. Historically low unemployment and a high deficit, do those two go together? Are they supposed to be anathema? What is this?
RAMPELL: No. This is highly, highly unusual. So if you look at the past 70 years, basically the entire period, the entire post-war period, the business cycle and the deficit moved in tandem. It kind of like -- looks like this and in the last few years it looks like this. And what's happened is essentially the two things have decoupled.
The reason why deficits and unemployment moved in tandem, why they were always sort of in sync for so long is what you would expect. That when the economy is good, people are making more money, and they're paying taxes on that money, right. So tax revenues should be going up. On the other side of the ledger, you should find that there would be less spending, because if the economy is strong, fewer people need food stamps.
Fewer people need unemployment benefits, other kinds of things like that. So, you know, you don't have as much of a -- as much red ink spilled. Beyond that, you know, there's this idea that when the sun is shining, you fix the roof. That when the economy is good, that's when we can sort of try to be a little more fiscally responsible than we would need to be if we're about to see the economy implode, along the lines of what we saw 10 years ago during the financial crisis.
Instead, the sun is shining, and rather than repairing the roof, we are blowing a much bigger hole in the roof, right, because we are increasing spending. We are cutting taxes. We are putting ourselves in a much less fiscally responsible situation than we need to be for the next time there is a recession, and --
CUOMO: The growth is up.
RAMPELL: Growth is up. But again, normally, you would expect that when growth is up, tax revenues would be up, and the opposite has happened. So this is historically anomalous. We've never seen this before, the only times when we have seen that decoupling that I mentioned was in times of war, was during the Vietnam War, the Korean War. That's when you saw -- OK, look we had to spend a little extra money because we were fighting a war.
You can't make quite the same argument now. You know, we don't have the same mass mobilization even if we do have troops abroad.
CUOMO: Catherine Rampell, well-argued and well-answered on the three questions. Thank you very much.
RAMPELL: Any time.
[22:54:48] CUOMO: Good to have you. All right, so it's a big day tomorrow for President Trump's - really it's more than just Kirstjen Nielsen. I was going to say for his point-woman on national security. But it's more, because you had the head of DHS. You got the head of CBP, and it's going to be a big day for his own daughter also, why? I got the answers for all of you ahead.
CUOMO: Big day. I think you're going to get something that you're not used to tomorrow in front of Congress. You're going to get the truth. You're going to get Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen. I know she's controversial, but she's going before a house panel. And I have already made my case about what's really happening at the southern border.
But it's based on their data about what they project is going to come. And it's not about a wall, and it's not about a bunch of marauders. But this hearing is going to be a big step, because once Congress gets the data, I don't know what they don't have it already, but once they get it, they have got to act because this is a real problem. And they're not ready for it.
Then you have got the White House facing backlash over reports that President Trump pushed officials to grant his daughter a security clearance. And unlike what was just argued to you, just because you have a power doesn't mean you can exercise it any way you want, right?
If he pressured people to give clearance to Jared Kushner, isn't it a legitimate question to ask why? We'll see you tomorrow and I'll see you as well. Thank you for watching. "CNN TONIGHT" with Erin Burnett, aka, the upgrade in for D. Lemon, starts right now.