Return to Transcripts main page


White House Official Used Personal Email for Government Business; U.S. to Recognize Israeli Sovereignty Over Golan Heights; White House Braces for Mueller Report; 2020 Campaign Heats up. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 21, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Right now. Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, a White House on edge preparing for the Mueller report. Find out what to look for when it's released.

And the president taking his politicization of the military to a whole new level, saying the military is on his side as he insults a war hero.

Plus, would revealing a running mate on day one make a splash or box you in?

And as the White House defies Democrats and their investigations of the president, see who is cooperating from the Trump orbit.

But we begin with this just in to CNN. Some senior White House officials facing questions about their alleged use of permanent e-mail to conduct government business at the White House.

Senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, tell us, where is this coming from, what all can you tell us about it?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings sent a new letter to the White House just moments ago saying that they have obtained new information saying that several senior White House officials have been using their personal e-mail, personal messaging applications to conduct official government business.

Now, in this letter, Cummings does single out individuals and say that they have had meetings to essentially confirm their suspicions and public reporting, saying that there has been use of public -- personal e-mails and personal devices to conduct this official business.

Now, one of the questions that's being raised by Elijah Cummings is whether or not the White House officials are violating the Presidential Records Acts by not conducting their official business through official accounts and also by not forwarding some of these messages that were being done, some of these personal messages that came to their personal accounts to their official accounts. Cummings raises the concern that perhaps this is a violation of federal law.

Now, of course, this is -- harkens back to 2016 when Hillary Clinton faced significant questions from the White House, from Republicans, from President Trump about using her use of personal e-mail and a personal e-mail server to conduct government business while serving as secretary of state. And for months there have been concerns and questions that have been raised about whether or not senior officials have done just that. So Elijah Cummings, he launched this investigation several months ago when he was in the minority, but then when he became the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he renewed this investigation, renewed this request, and he says that some new information has come to light making it very clear that some senior officials have, in fact, used their personal e-mail, used the application WhatsApp to conduct business with foreign leaders as well. He says he wants answers to these questions from the White House.

Now, we have reached out to the White House. They say they have just received the letter. They are reviewing it. We'll see what they have to say. But this is going to be part of the Democratic investigation going forward, particularly on this committee. We'll see what they have to say -- we'll see what the White House has to say if they do respond to these questions.


KEILAR: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thank you for that.

And we do have more breaking news.

President Trump announcing a significant move involving Israel. He tweeted just moments ago, quote, after 52 years, it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical, strategic and security importance to the state of Israel and regional stability.

Let's go live now to Michelle Kosinski. She is at the State Department following this.

Tell us why this is so significant, especially ahead of this visit.


You're right, you know, this is not an internally recognized sovereignty over the Golan Heights. In fact, just the opposite. Israel seized this land from Syria in the six (ph) day war in 1967. It's been seen by the United States for years as occupation. And in documents and in policy statements, the U.S. would recognize that.

So we started to see indications that this could change in a number of ways. Recently, for the first time, the U.S. voted against a U.N. resolution condemning Israel's occupation of these lands. So we saw the opposition to it there. And then just days ago, in a State Department report on human rights, for the first time instead of calling it "occupied," the U.S. called this land "Israeli controlled." So we've been asking the State Department ever since then what does this mean exactly? And the State Department has played pretty coy with it. It's as if they didn't want to draw attention to it. And when asked, they wouldn't give any detail on it. I mean just today Secretary of State Pompeo, who is traveling in Israel, today he's in Jerusalem, he was asked by reporters repeatedly, what does this mean for U.S. policy? Can you tell us what the U.S. policy is? He refused to answer. And now we see this massive change by the president via tweet, Brianna.

[13:05:25] KEILAR: Not unusual, but still significant.

Michelle Kosinski at the State Department, thank you.

And I want to bring in former defense secretary, former CIA director and White House chief of staff as well, Leon Panetta, who is with us from Monterey, California.

Sir, this is our breaking news here, the president recognizing the Golan Heights. What is your reaction to this?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, it raises a lot of concern because he's tweeting out another policy that obviously has not been worked out with our international partners, has not been worked through the United Nations in any way, and, frankly, gives up one of the chips that everyone thought would be part of a Middle East peace agreement deal.

And the problem is that it's going to create real problems with our Arab partners in that part of the world. It isn't that Israel doesn't control the Golan Heights. They do. The real question is whether or not recognizing that the Golan Heights are now part of Israel can be accomplished without working with our internal partners and international law.

KEILAR: What -- do you see a role here when it comes to the re- election bid of Benjamin Netanyahu?

PANETTA: Well, it's hard not to put two and two together. The president has made clear his support for Netanyahu. Netanyahu asked that this be done a few days ago. So two and two equals four, and I think there's no question that this is part of President Trump's support for Netanyahu in that election.

KEILAR: All right, secretary, if you can stay with me, we have much more ahead to talk with you about.

I do want to talk now about this Washington waiting game that we are in right now. The White House is on edge over the impending release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report. Mueller's investigation of Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election has been like this cloud just hovering over the first two years of the Trump administration. And the signs suggest that the investigation is winding down. So what happens when it is released?

Let's bring in White House reporter Sarah Westwood on this story. So how -- obviously the White House has had some time to think about what they're going to do here, Sarah. What is the plan for handling the report and determining who gets to see what?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, how the White House responds to the Mueller report is going to depend largely on what's in it. Obviously if the information is damaging to President Trump, there will be an incentive for the White House to try to prevent the public disclosure of some of it. And if the information is, in the eyes of the White House, exculpatory, then there will be an incentive to try to make that report public.

Now, the president's legal team has developed outlines of how to respond to this based on the different ways in which this could play out. Emit Flood, a White House lawyer, has been holding meetings with officials to game out strategies for different ways to respond based on a number of different scenarios. And what's going to happen is Special Counsel Robert Mueller is going to give his conclusions in the form of a confidential report to attorney general Bill Barr, and Barr will then decide what to pass on to Congress.

So sources tell CNN that the White House expects to review that version of the report, the report that Barr is giving to Capitol Hill, to see if there's some opportunities to try to exercise executive privilege there. And here at the White House, there are some mixed emotions among aides about the impending end of the Mueller probe. On the one hand, you do have a sense of anxiety among aides because, just like the rest of us, they're in the dark about what's going to be in Mueller's final report, but you also have a sense of relief that this two-year cloud may be coming to an end.

So, Brianna, folks here at the White House holding their breath in wait and see mode, just like the rest of the country right now.

KEILAR: All right, Sarah Westwood, thank you so much for that.

Now, as the White House and the entire country is awaiting Robert Mueller's final report, there are major questions that are still looming. And we have CNN's senior justice correspondent Evan Perez here to walk us through three of the big things that we should be looking for.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, there's a lot of anticipation, obviously, for this report. It's 673 days, by the way, since Robert Mueller was appointed as the special counsel. So that -- in case anybody's keeping count at home.

KEILAR: I'm sure you're not, Evan.

PEREZ: I certainly am.

But the -- you know, the three big questions, I think, are these. The fact is, if this investigation closes in the next couple of days, it's clear that the president has not sat down for an interview. So the question is, did Robert Mueller ask the Justice Department for permission to subpoena the president? We know that the president's team refused to have him sit down. The question is, did the Justice Department tell Robert Mueller, no, you cannot subpoena the president? How -- how was that resolved? Obviously it did not happen. But we -- the big question is going to be, you know, was there a rejection. And if there was, that's going to have to be reported to members of Congress. I think we're -- that's going to be a huge question for us to see.

[13:10:29] The second question, I think, that's on everybody's mind, whatever happened to Russian collusion, whatever happened to the question of obstruction of justice? Did Mueller -- Robert Mueller find any sign of Russian collusion? And, if so, why didn't he charge it? It's, at this point, so far, in all of the indictments that they have brought, Brianna, there's been nothing that looks like collusion, nothing that essentially charges someone with conspiracy of working with the Russians to throw the 2016 election. That's a big question at this point.

And then finally, what does Bill Barr tell Congress and what does he tell the public. The more detailed Robert Mueller's report, the more problematic it is for Bill Barr because Bill Barr then has to go through this and decide what he can cut out and tell members of Congress about the findings of Robert Mueller. And so the big question has been, you know, how detailed is this report going to be? Is it going to provide information about people who did not get charged? For example, what Jim Comey did with Hillary Clinton, where he said, well, it didn't reach to the level of a crime, but here's all the different things that she did wrong. And, you know, if we didn't -- if we weren't able to bring charges against her. So is that something that Robert Mueller does is in report. We do not know. But certainly what Bill Barr is going to handle -- have to handle is exactly those questions.

KEILAR: Could there be more charges, or is the sense that that phase is over?

PEREZ: Look, I think there could always be more charges. But it looks like Mueller's part of this is over, or nearing the end. And so the question is, are U.S. attorney's offices that are handling parts of this investigation that have been handed off, do they bring any additional charges? I think the big -- the big moment here for this president is that this cloud, as you said, is going to be lifted after 673 days and counting, it's going to be lifted and he's going to be able to declare victory, really, over the fact that there is no collusion, as he says.

KEILAR: All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much for walking us through that.

And now to the relentless attacks by President Trump on the late Senator John McCain. During a speech in Ohio, the president complained that he didn't get a thank you for helping arrange McCain's funeral.

So, why does the president insist on denigrating a diseased war hero? A former Trump hotel executive offers this explanation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JACK O'DONNELL, FORMER PRESIDENT AND COO, TRUMP PLAZA HOTEL AND CASINO: There's a mean streak that runs through Donald Trump's heart that I don't think people can underestimate. And he does get a great deal of satisfaction out of that. So while I'm not a diagnostician either for mental health orders, there is a piece of this that is almost sociopathic, that he likes to hurt people. And you don't have to be a professional to see these traits come out in him. So I think it's part of him, quite frankly. It's who he is.


KEILAR: Back now with former defense secretary, CIA director and White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, joining us from Monterey, California.

So, sir, President Trump, you know, he's been going after John McCain now for his military service, he's gone after him for his academic record, his voting record. Now he's inaccurately questioning his support for veterans.

What is your reaction as you watch this continue?

PANETTA: Well, I think it's pretty disgusting when the president of the United States decides to attack someone who is regarded as an American patriot and war hero seven months after he died. The fact is that a president -- obviously it is gnawing to try to hit back at McCain for some reason. It's been something inside of him. He has not been able to control it. And now he comes out and attacks John McCain in this way when John McCain obviously can't defend himself.

I think what the president needs to understand, you know, I worked with John McCain, I know John McCain. He was a -- he was a dedicated public servant. But if John McCain were around, he would truly enjoy the moment of having President Trump continue to go after him seven months after he died.

KEILAR: I wonder about the broader implications of this beyond John McCain who -- and we've heard that too I think from Meghan McCain. She said her father would be entertained by that.

[13:15:07] But the president has routinely gone after other people in the military, associated with the military, even a gold star family, the Khan's, who spoke at the Democratic Convention. He has routinely politicized the military. Most recently he was in Iraq for Christmas and he held a campaign-style rally where you had young soldiers who were kind of co-opted into roles that they really should not have been even if they personally support the president politically. Some had on MAGA hats as he was slamming Democrats.

When you look at the broad implications for this kind of politicization of the military, what are your concerns?

PANETTA: I think the president's on dangerous ground. You know, the Constitution requires that he be commander in chief of our military. And our military is committed to our national security. And the president's responsibility is to use the military when it comes to our national security, not when it comes to his personal politics. And so the use of the military, whether it was on the border, whether it's on these political rallies, whether it's saying that somehow the military is behind him when it comes to attacking John McCain, all of these things are dangerous comments that imply that somehow the military belongs to the president of the United States. It doesn't. The military belongs to the country and to our national security. And the president would do well to avoid crossing that line.

KEILAR: And Americans, largely, when they look at the military, which does enjoy a pretty good approval rating as far as government institutions go, a very high approval rating, they don't really see the military through a political lens. What happens if that starts to change? What happens if Americans start to see the military through a political lens?

PANETTA: Well, that's -- that's the last thing you want to happen. And, first of all, people in the military don't want it to happen. You know, regardless of whatever their politics may be, the military leaders, the military men and women in uniform that I've met with and worked with and served with as secretary of defense, they are committed to the country. They're not committed to political parties. They're not committed to the politics of one side or the other. They're committed to doing their job to protect this country. And that's what makes us the strongest country on earth.

To suddenly use them in a way that you're trying to get the military to take political sides is going to undermine their ability to do the job of protecting our national security because then people will question the motivations behind any kind of military deployment. So it is -- it is critical here for the president to back off of trying to use the military as a political tool now and during the campaign.

KEILAR: Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who you worked with when you were CIA director, he's been very careful not to criticize President Trump. He doesn't think that former military brass should. But he's been concerned about the politicization of the military. He said recently on a podcast called "Thank You For Your Service," that, you know, he's been to a lot of countries where the military is politicized and he says, you wouldn't want to live in any of them.

Do you think the president believes that? Do you think he knows that when he behaves like this?

PANETTA: Well, I think Mike Mullen is right. If you -- if you look at other countries where political tyrants of one kind or another control the military, it undermines the credibility of the military in terms of the role that they have to play. And that military is used, not just to protect national security, but to implement the goals of that particular dictator or leader that controls the military. That's the danger. And that's why, under our democracy, under our Constitution, it's very clear that while the president may be commander in chief, that the military is the responsibility of the country and defending the country. And that's the way we have become the most popular nation on earth is because we recognized those lines. If this president muddies those lines, it will undermine the credibility of our military and the use of that military in future conflicts.

[13:20:08] KEILAR: All right, Secretary Panetta, thank you so much for joining us.

PANETTA: Nice to be with you, Brianna.

KEILAR: This is rarely done, but would Joe Biden announce his running mate on day one to make a splash?

Also, the pressure mounts on Boeing as the feds issue subpoenas in a criminal investigation after two deadly crashes involving the Max 8 jet.

And we have more on our breaking news. The president making a major move involving Israel, saying the U.S. will recognize its sovereignty over the Golan Heights.


KEILAR: Democratic presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper playing damage control today. At last night's CNN town hall, the former Colorado governor was asked if he became the nominee would he consider rounding out his ticket with a woman vice president?

[13:25:13] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, again, of course. But I think that we should be -- well, I'll ask you another question, how come we aren't asking --

BASH: But I'm asking the questions.

HICKENLOOPER: I know. I know. But how come we're not asking -- we're not asking more often the women, would you be willing to put a man on the ticket? When we get to that point, I'll ask you that question.


KEILAR: Hickenlooper is fighting back against critics and arguing that not asking the same question to all women who are running inherently discounts their chances of winning in 2020.

We have CNN political commentator Joe Trippi here with us now. He was also the campaign manager for Howard Dean's presidential run.

I wonder what you think about Hickenlooper's cleanup. Is it -- is it good?

JOE TRIPPI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A better one would have been, it will be really good when we have a woman asked if she'll have another woman on the ticket with her, wouldn't that be a great day for America. I mean I just think he's overthinking things, and you've seen this a couple times with him where he -- he kind of starts trying to think three or four steps ahead of the game and makes a mistake. But all the candidates are going to make these kinds of mistakes, and then we're going to, right, early on, they're going to run into turbulence and we're all going to talk about it. But in the end it's the ones who make these mistakes, learn from them, get back up and keep going. It's a marathon of gauntlet.

KEILAR: There's a lot of talk right now about Joe Biden. People are watching him. There's reports that he is close to, obviously, announcing and that he's also considering announcing a running mate when he announces his candidacy and that Stacey Abrams is actually the top contender? Would that be wise?

TRIPPI: I don't expect him to do that. You know, I'd be surprised if he does that. I think -- I don't think it hurts to have the speculation out there --

KEILAR: Why is it -- why is it good to have people talking about it but then to not actually doing this thing?

TRIPPI: It helps Stacey Abrams. She's a star -- rising star in the party, talked about for a possible senator run or a gubernatorial run down in Georgia. She's talked about running for president, potentially. So it doesn't hurt her to have this speculation, and it certainly doesn't help -- hurt Joe Biden to have us all talking about who he might -- will he do this, pick a younger and more diversity on the ticket kind of speculation doesn't hurt.

I think, though, you know, you -- in the end you look at what Obama was looking for when he picked Joe Biden as vice president, and it's, you look for somebody who can fill the role of president, who's qualified. Joe Biden was on the Senate -- chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Now, he may be looking at, I got that. I want somebody who's going to help on domestic, really looking at what's going on in our states and our cities and locally. That could be a reason for talking about this, but I think, in the end, you've got to vet your vice presidential nominee.

I been on a vice presidential selection team looking at this. There are tax records. There's all kinds of things. It's tougher to be picked as vice president than it is to be president of the United States. Had Donald Trump been trying to become vice president on somebody's ticket, that presidential nominee would have asked him for his tax returns.

KEILAR: That's a very good point.

TRIPPI: And if he didn't turn them over, he wouldn't have been on the ticket. So it's actually a tough thing. And you're going to -- the team's going to want to vet this. The candidate, Joe Biden, is going to want to vet this. So I think -- I don't know if this is just -- sort of puts some testing in the waters or what, but I really doubt that this will happen.

KEILAR: And too soon -- too soon to talk about this? I mean you would -- you would box yourself in, obviously.

TRIPPI: Yes. And, look, I think -- I actually expect Biden, if he gets in, to pick a vice president early.

KEILAR: Really?

TRIPPI: I think that might happen before the convention. But I think --

KEILAR: But now?

TRIPPI: On the announcement day, I would be a little surprised.

KEILAR: All right, Joe Trippi, thank you so much for being in studio. We appreciate it.

TRIPPI: Good to be with you.

KEILAR: So new today, top Democrats in the House are alleging that some senior White House officials have used their personal e-mail to conduct government business. The investigation is now underway on that.

Plus, New Zealand is taking drastic action on gun laws less than a week after a shooter's rampage killed 50 people. But will it inspire change in the U.S. as well?

And Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee, who has fought for stricter gun laws, is going to join me with reaction to that next.