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White House Braces For Impact Over Mueller Report Release; Ex- Trump Aide Hope Hicks To Cooperate With Dem Probe; Trump: McCain Didn't Get The Job Done With The V.A.; Gov John Hickenlooper (D) CO.: Why Aren't Female Democratic Candidates Asked If They'd Pick A Man As VP?; Fmr. Sen. Joe Biden (D) DE. Looks To Gather Support Ahead Of Expected White House Run; Elevated Benzene Levels Found Near Site Of TX. Plant Fire. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 21, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: And possibly protect not only yourself but people around you as well.

[10:00:04]

Poppy?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: All right. Doctor Sanjay Gupta, thank you for setting the record straight. Also, I should note that Sanjay journeys around the world to find the secrets to living a better life, better for the mind, body and soul. His series, Chasing Life, premieres Saturday, April 13th at 9:00 P.M. only on CNN.

All right, 10:00 A.M. Eastern, 7:00 A.M. out west. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim Sciutto has today off.

This morning, a change in strategy as White House braces for the Mueller report. The President just a week ago said, quote, there should be no Mueller report. Well, now, he says he wants transparency, that the Special Counsel's findings should be made public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Does the American public have a right to see the Mueller report?

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't mind. I mean, frankly, I told the House, if you want, let them see it. Let it come out. Let people see it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. Well, the President's change in tune may be partly due to the overwhelmingly bipartisan majority of Americans who say the public should see the report. That's 87 percent in CNN's polling.

Sarah Westwood joins me live at the White House with more. Was this an intentional shift in strategy from the White House or was the President, I don't know, caught off guard by questions at what he said?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Poppy, this certainly does seem like a shift in tone from the President who just last week said that there shouldn't even be a Mueller report and who has repeatedly gone after this investigation as a witch hunt, as a bunch of other names. And yet, now, he is calling for transparency and increasingly saying that republicans too should vote in favor of transparency, in fact, Tweeting last week that they should play along with the game. But, obviously, the White House here, along with all of Washington and, really, the country on the edge of their seat waiting for the Special Counsel to deliver its report.

Now, what's going to happen is Special Counsel Robert Mueller Will give a copy of his confidential report to Attorney General Bill Barr, who will then decide what to give Congress. And sources tell CNN that the White House expects to have a chance to review that version, the version that Barr is going to send to Capitol Hill for executive privilege. Perhaps they will try to shield some of the report. And the White House's strategy is really going to depend on what's in that report.

If it's damaging, obviously, there will be some incentive to try to exercise executive privilege. It it's exculpatory in the President's eyes, perhaps they will push to make that report public. And, obviously, there is mixed emotions here in the White House as we prepare for the potential coming of the Mueller report. There are some aides who have a little bit of dread, a little bit of fear because what's in that report is so unknown. But there is also a sense of relief among aides that perhaps a two-year legal ordeal for this White House could soon be over. But folks here at the White House, Poppy, really just holding their breath waiting for this report to get delivered to the Attorney General.

HARLOW: Sarah Westwood at the White House, thank you very much.

A former very close aide to the President has agreed to give the House Committee at least some of the documents it is asking for. Hope Hicks was the President's communications director and strategist for a little over a year, worked for the Trump campaign and the Trump organization before that. A democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee says she is critically important as a witness. The President has called her a truly gifted person.

Our Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill this morning. It's interesting that Hope Hicks is sort of one of the few cooperating here among those 81 agreeing to turn over documents. Do we know why and why that member is calling her critically important?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she's one of the President's closest confidant [ph] for a long time. She had been by his side in the Trump organization, the Trump campaign, then became communications director. And Jerry Nadler, the Chairman of the committee had sent a very detailed list of questions about what he wanted her to respond to, about what she knew about the firing of then FBI Director James Comey, about things that happened during the Trump campaign and the transition, those conversations that also occurred that Michael Flynn had with the FBI, false statements he made about his contacts with the Russians, whether the President was involved in that, whether the President was involved in any discussions about firing the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, her knowledge of the pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project, as well as hush money payments that the President made to reimburse his formal personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to silence stories about the President's then candidate Trump's affairs were about to come out during the 2016 elections.. All of those matters are now before Hicks. The question is how much does she ultimately provide?

When she spoke to the House Intelligence Committee last year, she would not discuss her comments, her conversations about things that occurred when she was in the white house. Has that changed now that democrats are in the majority? That's a question going forward.

Now, another big question going forward is how do democrats approach the coming release or the finish of the Mueller report?

[10:04:57]

One thing that they are planning to do is fight relatively hard, very hard, they say, if the report is not fully released, including the underlying evidence to the committee or at least to the public. Jerry Nadler, the Chairman of the Committee, said last night the White House tries to assume a sort of execute privilege to try to deny the release of the project, if it's to cover up wrong doing, he says they are not on firm legal ground.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), N.Y.: It's fundamental law that executive privilege cannot hide misconduct. You cannot use the executive privilege to hide misconduct by the President or anybody around him. In the Nixon case, which was decided not to [INAUDIBLE] by the Supreme Court, was very dispositive on that point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So the one point that Nadler has been making both last night and before is that the Mueller report will essentially provide a road map for his committee to investigate further about their investigation to obstruction of justice, potential abuse of the White House. Depending on how much information they get could help determine what holes they want to fill. If they don't get information, that's where the process fight is going to play out, subpoenas and the like to try to get that information on what exactly what Bob Mueller found. Poppy?

HARLOW: All right. Manu, thank you for the reporting.

President Trump is on the attack again. He is continuing to blast the late senator and war hero John McCain. The President listed several reasons why he doesn't like John McCain at a speech in Ohio that was supposed to be about the economy. He even went as far as to slam the former prisoner of war, Vietnam War hero and veteran for his record when it comes to helping veterans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: McCain didn't get the job done for our great vets and the V.A., and they knew it. That's why when I had my dispute with him, I had such incredible support from the vets and from The military.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Paul Raikov is with me. He is the founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. Thank you for being here.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, FOUNDER, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: Thank you, good morning.

HARLOW: Thank you for your service to this country.

Is the President right that John McCain didn't help veterans?

RIECKHOFF: No, it's absolutely absurd. I mean, this entire dust up is disgraceful, it's deplorable and is destructive. It's bad for America, it's bad for our politics, it's bad for our military and veterans community and it's bad for Donald Trump. This doesn't help him. I can't imagine who would support this position, continuing to attack a war hero, someone who maybe is the most famous war veteran in the world, someone who is respected on the world stage. It's really bringing the Commander-in-Chief to a new low. And I think it's hurting him and it's hurting America in a very big way.

HARLOW: Are you hearing from veterans in the last 24 hours or so about this and particularly some that had supported the President, endorsed him, stood by him, donated to his campaign?

RIECKHOFF: Yes, I'm hearing from a ton of them. And many of them are political jump offs. They're not strongly partisan. They put their country first, just like John McCain did. And they see our Commander- in-Chief being petty and destructive and he can't let it go. There is a lack of discipline here that I think disturbs folks in the military, because if you can't let this go, what does it mean for other areas of his leadership. And we're looking to him to set a what we'd call in the military a command climate, to be a leadership example, to show people how you are supposed to be as a leader, and this is not that example.

HARLOW: Do you think he can still do that?

RIECKHOFF: I don't know. I mean, every day he continues this, he brings himself down further and he brings our military and our veterans community down with it. This has been a trend. It wasn't just McCain. It's been a McCain for years. But it was also recently General Mattis, it was Admiral McRaven. So what is his deal with the military and retired folks? Why can't he let this go and move forward? I think that's the real question.

And we hope people step up. Republicans, democrats, people need to condemn this kind of rhetoric and this kind of behavior.

HARLOW: Well, we heard Republican Senator Johnny Isakson vehemently condemned it repeatedly.

RIECKHOFF: Yes. He is the former Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He is a republican, he's an honorable guy. I've worked with Senator Isakson just like I worked with Senator McCain. And I think we need more voices like that to step up. Our children are watching. Our allies are watching. Our enemies are watching. And when they see our Commander-in-Chief continue to attack people in our military and veterans community, that's something that our enemies celebrate, so we've got to stop it.

HARLOW: Can I ask what kind of message you think the President's attacks on a military hero, like the late Senator John McCain, what that says to young men and women who are considering dedicating their lives to service? Because, remember, without the draft we are protected because of volunteers, people who choose a life of sacrifice and service.

RIECKHOFF: Right. Well, this is kind of in the third rail in American politics. He didn't attack people in the military. He didn't attack war veterans and POWs. And the President continues to hit this third rail. And I do think it gives people pause. It makes it seem like military service may not be respected by the Commander- in-chief in the same way it was in the past. And that's something the President really needs to think about. This does impact young recruits, it impacts morale in the military and it distracts us from other priorities.

[10:10:00]

We are not talking about Syria, we're not talking about the 16th anniversary of the Iraq war. We're instead talking about this petty argument with a guy who died months ago and was revered by the country. It's really shameful.

HARLOW: And you remember the Gold Star family.

RIECKHOFF: Right, the [INAUDIBLE], yes.

HARLOW: Thank you very much for being here, for the reaction from the veterans you are talking to and for your service.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you, Poppy. I appreciate it.

HARLOW: Still to come, sources say the Justice Department has issued multiple subpoenas as part of its criminal investigation into Boeing. That company taking new steps to make fixes to their 737 Max airliners in the wake of those two deadly crashes in just a matter of months.

And democratic candidate John Hickenlooper raising more than a few eyebrows this morning after questioning whether female candidates should be asked if they would choose a male vice president. That's ahead. And the death toll is climbing after a cyclone rocked the African nation of Mozambique. Now, crews are desperately searching for thousands of stranded survivors.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:15:00]

[10:15:19] HARLOW: Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper raising some eyebrows this morning, questioning gender diversity on a female presidential ticket. When asked during a CNN Town Hall if the former Colorado Governor would consider a woman as a running mate, here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Governor, some of your male competitors have vowed to put a woman on the ticket. Yes or no, would you do the same?

GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), C.O.: Well, again, of course. But I think that we should be -- well, I'll ask you another question. How come we --

BASH: We are asking the questions here.

HICKENLOOPER: I know. But how come we are not asking more often the women would you be willing to put a man on the ticket?

BASH: When we get to that point, I'll ask you that question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Good response by Dana. Of course, the Governor clarified his remarks after the town hall and his team did as well, saying not asking the same question of a woman inherently discounts a female candidate's chances at winning the nomination in 2020. In fact, Elizabeth Warren, I should note, was asked would she have a man on her ticket last week in Mississippi.

Joining me to discuss, Hillary Clinton former presidential campaign manager, CNN Political Commentator Patti Solis Doyle. Good morning, my friend.

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning, Poppy. How are you?

HARLOW: I'm good. Thanks. Is this much to do about nothing or is there something eyebrow-raising about this?

DOYLE: I think it's just one of those answers that you really groan at. I certainly did when saw it. I think I'm going to send Governor Hickenlooper a copy of those place mats with the President's faces on them that are all men. And I'm with him. I would love to get to the point where we will be asking women, will you commit to putting a man on the ticket. And we will get to that point when there are as many women presidents as there are male presidents. And that will be in centuries to come, unfortunately. But I'm with him on that.

HARLOW: It reminds of when I asked justice with Bader Ginsburg when will there be enough women on the high court and she has famously said when there are nine. So we're ways off.

Let me ask you about something that fascinates me, and that is Hickenlooper's repeated refusal to label himself a capitalist. I mean, he was asked three times about it by Joe Scarborough, who would not see him a capitalist. But last night, finally, he did. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HICKENLOOPER: I was asked if I wanted to be a capitalist or if I was a capitalist. And my response, one response was, in the end, it's as if you asked if I was a nerd in high school. In which case, I would have said, well, it's not my first label I'd choose, but it would be hard to argue with, right? And I started -- I mean, if you're going to give me a label, I am a capitalist. I started 20 businesses. I created a thousand jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: I mean, the thing is, Patti, capitalism is what made him financially successful before he was a politician. And I just am seeing this growth within some of the Democratic Party and some of the candidates here to try to distance themselves from the word, capitalist and and capitalism and sort of peg it as a dirty word. Are you seeing that and does it worry you?

DOYLE: Look, I think the most important thing to democrats writ large, whether you are a progressive, whether you're a moderate, whether you're socialist, whether you're a capitalist is to beat Donald Trump in the general election. And a big part of beating Donald Trump in the general election is to be authentic, to be who you are, to embrace who you are, so say what you believe and mean what you say.

And the Governor's answer, as you pointed out three Joe Scarborough times couldn't own up to who he is and had clear discomfort, owning up to be capitalist at the town hall last night too. So i think that's the bigger problem for Governor Hickenlooper. He really just needs to own who he is. He is a businessman. He did create a lot of jobs. He did make money. That is the American dream. Embrace it. And I think voters will embrace it also.

HARLOW: When it comes back to the -- circle back to running mates here. CNN has reported that running Joe Biden has met with Stacey Abram. And there's Axios reporting this morning that some close to Joe Biden and around his team are seriously considering an early VP pick even before he would be -- presuming, I guess, that he would be the nominee and that they're really seriously considering Stacey Abrams. What do you think of that and is it all presumptuous to do something so early if they choose to?

DOYLE: I think Joe Biden has two really big things going for him right out of the gate.

[10:20:02]

One is he's got that Obama juju as his Vice President for eight years and as his buddy, his self-proclaimed buddy. He really does sort of carry the Obama mantle. And Obama is beloved in a party, whether -- again, whether you're a moderate or whether you're a progressive, Obama is beloved.

And he also has the electability factor. Joe Biden brings with him the ability to talk to white working-class voters, the voters that we lost in 2016, specifically in the States of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, those Rust Belt voters.

So he's got some strong things going for him, but he is also going to face some criticism right out of the gate. And one of those criticisms is he is an old white guy that is born and raised in Washington, D.C. or in government, at least. I know he is from Delaware. And picking someone like Stacey Abrams right out of the gate sort of responds to those criticisms immediately. But I do think it has your presumptive -- presumptuous.

I think it also think it also ties his hands. I mean, let's say, hypothetically, Biden does win the nomination but someone like Kamala Harris or Pete Buttieg or Beto O'Rourke comes in a really close second, how do you look at those people who also answered those criticisms and say, I know you did a really good job and you have a lot of supporters, but I'm picking Stacey Abrams, who wasn't running. So I think it's problematic.

HARLOW: All right. Nice to have you, Patti. Obama juju, that's a first. That's like my word of the week here. Thank you. It's nice to have you, Patti Solis Doyle.

DOYLE: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. This is just in to CNN, a shelter-in-place has been issued in Deer Park, Texas where the chemical plant fire broke out earlier this week. Schools closed, people are being told to cut off all exposure to the outside air. We'll have a live report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:25:00]

[10:26:40] HARLOW: All right. This is just in. A shelter-in-place order has been activated in Deer Park, Texas. That's where a huge chemical plant, a fire broke out earlier this week. The National Guard troops have been called in after potentially hazardous levels of benzene were detected in the area.

My Colleague, Kaylee Hartung, is with me on more. At first, they were holding kids from school, then a few days ago, the kids could go back to school. Now, what?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN REPORTER: Well, now, Poppy, authorities are saying the readings crossed. Harris's county is very conservative, air quality standards. Levels are below those that represent an immediate risk, but out of an abundance of caution Harris County is advising people to shelter-in-place in the immediate area of this chemical plant in Deer Park, Texas. And sheltering-in-place means remaining indoors, closing all of your doors and windows, turning off air that that outside air would be getting into your home.

This area 20 miles outside of Downtown Houston has also closed schools today, as you mentioned. This fire, ignited four days ago. It remains extinguished. But the problem now is that they have indentified this benzene vapor coming from the side of the fire. A foam blanket was put in place to contain the fire but the Vapor has managed to escape the blanket.

Harris County says they knew vapor releases were a possibility. And they had plan in place. They say have activated and executed the plan as it was designed. So, now, authorities are working to determine if this was a short-term one -time exposure to this chemical vapor or if they are at risk for longer exposure in the area.

The level monitors we're seeing now should not cause any symptoms, even in this area that's impacted. But those symptoms, if you should feel them, if you're exposed to this chemical vapor in the short term are drowsiness, dizziness, headaches among others. Chronic exposure can lead to cancer. Again, that is what authorities are still trying to determine how long this exposure could be. But that would have to be exceedingly long exposure for anything of that sort to happen.

Authorities say if you feel these symptoms and you are sheltered-in- place, you should call 911.

HARLOW: Okay. Kaylee, thank you very much for the reporting. Please update us as you get more.

HARLOW: Sources say the U.S. Justice Department has issued Boeing several subpoenas in the wake of the Ethiopia Airlines crash. This comes as a criminal investigation if the airline maker heats up. This began after the first Boeing Max 8 crashed in Indonesia. Sources say multiple investigations are looking into the company's FAA self- certification, training, marketing of the plane.

Our Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider has been and joins us me this morning. Criminal investigation?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. There has been a lot of scrutiny here. But his is now turning into a criminal probe. So federal investigators now want information from being about its safety and certification procedures for the 737 Max. That includes details on its training manuals for pilots, plus, how the company marketed its aircraft.

And we know that Justice Department prosecutors, they've issued multiple subpoenas as part of this potentially wide ranging investigation. And, really, it could center on Boeing's self- certification process. Of course, that was largely left up to Boeing. This is sort of an ominous step here because criminal investigations into the aviation industry, they are rare. And instead issues that are the aviation level, they're typically handled by administrative agencies.

[10:30:05]