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Sen. Ben Cardin (D) Maryland is Interviewed About Congressional Oversight of Trump's Emergency Declaration; President Trump Announced Grounding of Boeing 737 MAX Planes Yesterday; 420 Members of the House Approve Resolution to Release Mueller Report to the Public; Director and Producer of "Tricky Dick" is Interviewed About CNN Original Series. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 14, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Now, yesterday, during the Senate GOP lunch, Mike Pence went and the president called in on speakerphone and told these GOP senators he was not going to support a measure that would limit his own constitutional authority here, this executive power that he feels he has to declare things like a national emergency.

Yesterday, these three senators were trying to get to the White House. But the White House staff was saying, essentially, "There's no point in you all coming so do not come for right now."

Now, we're learning that they actually showed up here at the White House last night, including Senator Lindsey Graham calling the White House to tell the president he was on the way.

Later last night, while the president was having dinner to talk about this, and it turned into some kind of heated discussion. And right -- this morning, it seemed like the president was still set on vetoing that measure if it did get enough Republican support.

It's not really a question of if it's going to get enough, but how many Republicans are going to break with the president and -- but now he just seems to have reversed course in a series of tweets. I'm going to read these for you, what the president said.

He's saying that "Prominent legal scholars agree that our actions to address the national emergency at the southern border and to protect the American people are both constitutional and expressly authorized by Congress."

It's the second tweet that's the crucial one here. The president says, "If, at a later date, Congress wants to update the law, I will support those efforts. But today's issue is border security and crime. Don't vote with Pelosi."

So what the president is saying is, he's telling these Republican lawmakers not to vote in favor of overturning that resolution today, and that he'll be open to amending his emergency powers, the emergency powers that he has, in the future. Of course, if this is a solid commitment from the president, it's

still an open question because right now, we only have it in tweet form. But now the president is reversing course and signaling he would be open to that.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: That's (ph) really (ph) --

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: But just to be clear, I mean, the issue with that, that's kind of the same thing as the Republican proposal, which was to say --

COLLINS: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: -- "These emergency declarations are unconstitutional, except this one." Right?

COLLINS: Yes. They wanted to essentially say, "We're going to vote with you on this one, Mr. President. But in the future, we want to be able to limit your ability to do this."

SCIUTTO: Yes.

COLLINS: That's why you saw Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, people who typically do not like when presidents overuse their power here, trying to appeal to the president to do something like this.

Yesterday, he called into that lunch, said, "No, I'm not supporting that." Now, on Twitter, he seems to be open to supporting it.

HARLOW: Yes. That's what, as Jim right points out, Senator Mike Lee wanted. So let's see if this is more than just a tweet. Which, by the way, are official statements from the White House. So maybe it is.

Kaitlan, thanks. Great reporting.

With us now, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He serves on the Foreign Relations Committee. He's the second ranking Democrat on the committee.

Sir, what's just your reaction this morning, Senator, to that? That the president seems to be reversing course a little bit here, and willing to rein in his own executive power if he gets enough Republican support on this one.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, first, it's good to be with you. There couldn't be a clearer issue here. The Congress has specifically acted on border security. We had the president's proposal. We acted on it. We passed it. The president signed it. It's the law.

We appropriate the funds. Article I, the legislature is responsible for the appropriation bills and appropriations of our nation. The president's required to follow that.

So this is not even a close call. The emergency declaration is not for this type of a purpose. I think everyone really understands that. That's why so many Republicans have problems supporting the president on this issue, even if they may support the underlying policy. That is, the border security issue. So I'm quite confident that, when the vote is taken today, the majority will override the president.

HARLOW: But that's interesting. I mean, you say so many Republicans. Right now, all we know is that it's these five Republicans, which leaves you with, still 46 senators not checking the president on this.

CARDIN: Well, I think if you talked -- even Senator McConnell acknowledged that this is not what should be happening. He'll vote with the president, but he knows it's wrong.

There's a lot of Republicans who may support the president who know this is wrong. That's why they're going to the president, saying, "Hey, let's change the law to make it clear. You can't do this again in the future." Because they recognize this is wrong.

SCIUTTO: I wonder if you notice, Senator Cardin, because this, of course, follows a vote earlier this week with Republican support, to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. That's counter to the president's wishes in his own party, voting against him. You have this emergency declaration here.

And I wonder if you're noticing, among your Republican colleagues, a greater willingness to disagree, to vote against, to contradict this president?

CARDIN: Well, when we get to specific policy issues where the president's clearly out of step with the majority in Congress, including in his own party, you're going to see that type of an erosion in the United States Senate. I'm proud that we are able to cast those votes.

What I would like to see is, greater unity in Congress to carry out our constitutional wall (ph). We're an independent branch of government. We should be acting as a check and balance on this president more aggressively than we are in the United States Senate.

HARLOW: Senator Cardin, this didn't make a lot of headlines. But I think I speak for Jim and I, both, when I say it should.

[10:35:03] The State Department released its Human Rights Report yesterday, for 2018. And of course, it does note the murder -- the assassination -- of the "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

What it does not do, Senator Cardin, is it does not once mention, as related to that, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, even after U.S. intelligence at the highest level said that this was believed to be at his direction. Your reaction?

CARDIN: Well, here, again, I think you'll find that there's strong support in the United States Senate, including among Republicans, that there needs to be accountability for this atrocity, for this horrible act.

And that if it -- the crown prince cannot be immune from accountability. And we're sending a clear message on that. We already did that with letters. We have legislation here to do that. No one's -- he should be held accountable for his actions. We all know he was involved.

SCIUTTO: So when and how? I mean, because Republicans and Democrats have been talking about holding Saudi Arabia accountable for weeks and months now.

And we know there was this briefing Treasury officials gave to Republican senators last week. They were not satisfied with the administration's answers. And yet, you know, where is that anger going? When is the Senate going to act and what's it going to do to hold Saudi Arabia accountable?

CARDIN: One avenue we have is the Magnitsky sanctions. We've already asked the administration to consider imposing Magnitsky sanctions, including on the crown prince. That would revoke his ability to travel to the United States or use our banking system.

There are other manners that we can do in regards to the -- the credibility of the crown prince in international circles. There are things that we can do to hold accountability for this -- for this tragedy.

HARLOW: Of course, got to ask you about Beto O'Rourke jumping in the race this morning, announcing in Keokuk, Iowa, he is acknowledging the challenges he will face as a white man running for the presidency right now. What do you make of that? Is this a difficult time, not the right time for a white man to run for the presidency?

CARDIN: I think we have a whole host of great candidates that are seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Beto O'Rourke, I have a great deal of respect for him. He's joining a pretty crowded field.

I think the Democratic Party's going to have a great choice in the primary. But the real battle, the real prize is winning the White House in November.

SCIUTTO: Final question because this just came in to CNN. It's coming over the transom every minute now. But we understand that your Republican colleague, former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney will vote for the resolution of disapproval, in effect, vote against the president here. Your reaction?

CARDIN: Well, I think you're going to find a growing number of Republicans who will vote for that resolution. I must tell you, if this was a secret ballot, we would get the majority of Republicans voting for this, not just (ph) about (ph) every one.

But we'll get a significant number of Republicans who will vote their conscience, recognizing this is a really fundamental constitutional issue. We had a letter from former members of Congress, Republicans, who urged their colleagues to recognize that, "What are you going to do when there's a Democratic president, who you disagree with the policy, that uses this power? Will you have the same attitude?" And the answer, of course, is no. They should vote for this resolution.

HARLOW: Senator Ben Cardin, thank you for being with us on a host of news this morning.

CARDIN: Thank you very much, Poppy.

HARLOW: We always appreciate your time.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. Thank you, Senator.

Well, President Trump took his administration and the FAA by surprise when he called for the grounding of Boeing MAX jets. We're going to have the details on that right after this.

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[10:43:10] SCIUTTO: The black boxes from the plane that crashed in Ethiopia have arrived, now, in Paris to be analyzed by aviation officials there. Meantime, the FAA -- or maybe more properly, the president -- has grounded all Boeing 737 MAX planes flying here in the U.S.

HARLOW: This comes after the agency discovered similarities between the Ethiopia crash and the Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October. Our political analyst Josh Dawsey is learning more about what went on before the president called yesterday for the full grounding of those Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets here in the U.S.

Your piece is fascinating this morning, Josh. Walk us through it.

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN ANALYST: So the president yesterday kind of came out of the news conference about immigration and kind of made an impromptu announcement that the 737s would be grounded. FAA had decided to announce that later in the day. The president agreed to that, but he decided to suddenly do it himself.

Earlier that morning, the president had gone on a pretty long rant in the Oval Office about his problems with the 737. He said that he preferred the 757. That was his private plane. That when he owned an airline, Trump Airlines, he would have never bought 737s and that Boeing was a great company and they should have never made them. He seemed to have a personal predilection against that plane.

And that kind of explains his tweet from earlier this week, when he made, you know, the claim that planes didn't need to be so complex, and pilots didn't need to be so smart. He preferred the older less complicated plane.

And so after a couple days of dithering, the government was obviously one of the last governments across the world to ban the planes, President Trump did it.

SCIUTTO: He is the first president to own his own plane. But the fact is, by the way the country works, right? This is not the president's call, right? It should be the FAA, the regulators' call. [10:44:59] DAWSEY: Well, it certainly is the FAA regulators' call. I

mean, all of these sorts of decisions at agencies, as you know, go towards the White House. Normally the White House approves or is at least kept apprised of all of these things.

But the president fashions himself as something of an aviation expert. He has been very involved in these decisions this week. He's met with Elaine Chao. He's called the Boeing CEO on several occasions. He's been very interested in this story, partially because it's been dominating the headlines. So what began (ph) kind of an agency decision, or what normally would be an agency decision, made it to the Oval Office level here.

HARLOW: Josh Dawsey, important reporting. We appreciate it. Thanks -- Jim.

DAWSEY: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Another story we've been following here, and just a remarkable one. The Education Department says it will look into massive college admissions scandal in which parents allegedly paid bribes to get their kids into some of the country's most elite institutions. Secretary Betsy DeVos saying that, this morning, "It is disgraceful that anyone broke the law to give their children an advantage."

We do want to clarify something that aired during our broadcast yesterday. A shot of Penn State's campus was included when telling this story. To be clear, Penn State is not a part of the scandal. Not one of the schools names. When we make mistakes, we want to acknowledge them.

HARLOW: Yes. We regret that error.

All right. Minutes from now, President Trump welcomes the prime minister of Ireland to the White House, ahead of a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office. We're following it.

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[10:50:44] HARLOW: All right. This just in. The House has just passed a resolution calling for Robert Mueller's report to become public once it's complete. It was an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in favor of this, 420 members of the House voted yes. Zero no votes. Four Republicans voted present -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Wow, that's remarkable. With another Republican vote -- or at least many against the president coming up soon in the Senate, virtually no politician in American history experienced the same kind of rise, fall, incredible comeback and then ultimate self-destruction as did Richard Nixon.

Now, an all-new four-part CNN original series, "TRICKY DICK," explores the life and career of the 37th president of the United States and offers insights into the parallels between the Nixon presidency and events taking place right now, during the Trump administration today. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): I don't give a goddamn what the story is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Richard M. Nixon has lied repeatedly.

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): No reporter from "The Washington Post" should ever be in the White House again. Do you understand?

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The tougher it gets, the cooler I get. I have what it takes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Impeach Nixon now! Impeach Nixon now!

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to say this to the television audience. Because people have got to know whether or not their president's a crook. Well, I'm not a crook.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This crap about Watergate --

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let others wallow in Watergate. We're going to do our job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): I'm going to kick their ass.

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): Nobody's going to package me. Nobody's going to make me put on an act for television. I'm not going to engage in any gimmicks or any stunts, wear any silly hats.

If people looking at me say, "That's a new Nixon," then all that I can say is, "Well, maybe you didn't know the old Nixon."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Listen to that voice. Joining me now is the executive producer and director of "TRICKY DICK," Mary Robertson.

It's almost been 50 years since the Watergate scandal began. As you watch this now -- and of course, people make comparisons between Nixon and Trump, many of which --

MARY ROBERTSON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER AND DIRECTOR, "TRICKY DICK": Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- are not backed up by the facts, but there are some parallels. You were in this deep. Which ones did you find most noticeable?

ROBERTSON: Well, certainly, there are many striking similarities between Nixon's era and our own era, between Nixon himself and our current president. Certainly, these similarities really provoked and stimulated our investigation initially.

I think one similarity that's often overlooked is when we look at the forces that ultimately propelled Nixon into office in 1968, Nixon was elected for a variety of reasons, many of which were out of his control, some of which were within his control.

Arguably a certain portion of the population was responding to these progressive forces that were coursing through American life, that had given new rights to black Americans, that saw long-haired students taking to the streets in protest against the Vietnam War.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ROBERTSON: And arguably, Nixon offered himself as a safe haven to those Americans who were alarmed by these progressive forces.

SCIUTTO: Silent majority, compare that to Trump's base, right?

ROBERTSON: Yes, yes.

SCIUTTO: And some of the issues that motivate them.

ROBERTSON: Yes.

SCIUTTO: You used -- just in terms of filmmaking --

ROBERTSON: Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- you used entirely archival video here. There is no voice of God, as it were, no narrator. The voice you hear most often is Nixon's himself. Why that choice? I mean, it's a powerful -- it's a powerful tool to use, really.

ROBERTSON: Yes. Thank you. Well, we're so excited to have had the opportunity to make a film featuring only archives. It means that we've been able to devote tremendous resources to finding new material that has not been broadcast before, and we're able to bring that to CNN viewers.

It also means that, yes, we're able to track Nixon's evolution, both in terms of his disposition and his ambition. And you see him emerge as a figure who had some ambition, but to really -- and some confidence. And you see his confidence grow through time, you see his ambition grow through time.

You see him master the medium of television, which I believe is a part of Nixon's persona that is often misunderstood. We think of Nixon as the man who flubbed the debate against JFK and was --

SCIUTTO: Right.

ROBERTSON: -- and was famously sweaty. But Nixon, in fact, came to master the medium of television. And we see evidence of that.

And then, of course, we see Nixon and hear Nixon speak pejoratively and with great fury about groups of Americans, about the press. And to speak with a callous disregard for Vietnamese life.

SCIUTTO: Yes. [10:55:08] ROBERTSON: And we hear this because he recorded himself.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's the thing. Those were -- those were in private. And then of course, you hear some of that discourse today, very much in public.

ROBERTSON: Yes, yes.

SCIUTTO: Mary Robertson, thanks very much.

Be sure to tune in for the premiere of the CNN original series, "TRICKY DICK." That is Sunday night, this Sunday, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, only on CNN.

HARLOW: That looks fascinating. We'll tune in for that.

All right. So the drama building in the Senate, ahead of today's critical vote. How many Republican senators will actually join their Democratic colleagues to rebuke the president's national emergency declaration? We're all over it. Stay with CNN.

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