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Anticipation Builds for Release of Mueller Report; White House Rejects Democrat's Request for Trump/Putin Communications; House Democrats Accuse Officials of Conducting Official Government Business on Personal E-mail & Text; House Democrats Accuse Jared Kushner of Using WhatsApp to Communicate with Foreign Officials; Trump Recognizes Israel's Claim to Golan Heights Boosting Netanyahu Before Election; Beto O'Rourke Swings through S.C., Hires Campaign Manager; Joe Biden's Presidential Plans. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 22, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We'll keep you posted on that.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Poppy Harlow, in New York. Jim will be back in the chair and I will be off next week. I'll see you soon.

"AT THIS HOUR" starts now.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ryan Nobles, in today for Kate Bolduan.

Reading the tea leaves and watching the clock. Will this be the day that Special Counsel Robert Mueller turns over his report on the Russia investigation? A short time ago, President Trump said he has no idea when the report will be submitted to his attorney general. But from the West Wing to the halls of Congress, anticipation is building as are the signs that the investigation is wrapping up after nearly two years.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz points out that members of Mueller's team are bringing family members to the office for visits with some staff members carrying out boxes. Also, the top prosecutor is leaving for another assignment. And the special counsel's grand jury has not been seen in two months.

While he waits, President Trump is keeping up his attacks.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. Everybody knows it. It's all a big hoax. I call it the witch hunt. It's all a big hoax.


TRUMP: So we'll see what happens. I know that the attorney general, highly respected, ultimately will make a decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NOBLES: CNN's Sarah Westwood gets us started from the White House.

Sarah, what else did the president have to say?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ryan, President Trump started linking that special counsel investigation to the several House Democratic probes that are now ongoing into his White House and business. He called those probes a continuation of the same witch hunt, his favorite name for the Russia investigation.

And he was also asked about allegations that his son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, has been using WhatsApp, a private messaging application, to communicate with foreign leaders. The president said he knows nothing about that. That's just one of several areas of inquiries for House Democrats. House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings said yesterday that his committee had evidence several White House officials were using personal messaging services to conduct official business.

The White House also indicating yesterday that they would be resisting requests for information about communications between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that courts have argued that those communications are protected, it hurts the president's ability to conduct foreign diplomacy.

The president also down played the prospects for impeachment, saying if House Democrats were to initiate impeachment proceedings, that would only help Republicans politically. Although, Ryan, House Democrats have not expressed interest in pursuing impeachment even as they expand their several investigations into this White House.

NOBLES: Sarah Westwood, live from the North Lawn of the White House. Sarah, thank you for that.

While President Trump may be playing them down, House Democrats are still demanding answers from the White House on a number of new investigations. Sarah just mentioned one of them, looking at whether or not Jared Kushner conducted official government business on their personal e-mail and text.

CNN's Manu Raju live on Capitol Hill.

Manu, tell us the latest on that investigation.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Elijah Cummings sent a letter to the White House demanding information about the use of personal e-mail at the White House. What he is alleging in his letter is that the Kushner attorneys, as well as Ivanka Trump's attorney, Abbe Lowell, who represents both of them, told them in a December meeting that Jared Kushner has used WhatsApp to communicate with foreign leaders. He also contends that Jared Kushner's attorney has said that Ivanka Trump used personal e-mail to conduct personal business and did not forward official e-mails to the government account, which is required under the Presidential Records Act. This is something that Abbe Lowell, the attorney, has pushed back against. He disputes the way Cummings characterized the meeting. He did not dispute that Jared Kushner used WhatsApp. He said he has been in compliance with federal law by essentially forwarding the messages to his official account. Nevertheless, this is something that Elijah Cummings wants more answers to.

He also says Steve Bannon and K.T. McFarland, former White House officials, also apparently using some of their personal e-mails to do their government business.

Of course, all of this comes after the president has relentlessly attacked, still attacks, Hillary Clinton for her use of a private e- mail system -- Ryan?

NOBLES: One might say a little ironic.

Manu, meanwhile, the White House rejecting a request from Democrats to obtain documents relating to President Trump's communication with Vladimir Putin. What can you tell us about that?

RAJU: This was a request that several Democratic chairmen have made because there have been few details about the face-to-face interactions between Trump and Putin. There have been questions about whether the president had taken steps to conceal notes about those meetings, what exactly the American interpreter might know. Those chairmen demanded information. They wanted to interview official with knowledge of the meeting. But after the White House rejected it, they made clear that they were prepared to fight this in the long haul.

[11:05:16] This is what Pat Cipollone said in a letter to the three Democratic chairmen yesterday, saying, "The president must be free to engage in discussions with foreign leaders without fear that those communications will be disclosed and used as fodder for partisan political purposes. And foreign leaders must be assured of this as well." That's from Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, suggesting that they are on firm legal ground if Democrats decide to pursue subpoenas to move forward and demand this information.

The Democratic Chairman Elijah Cummings, as well as Adam Schiff, Eliot Engel, who chair three separate committees, say they are now weighing their next steps about how to pursue this information. They say, in a statement, that, "This is a troubling pattern by the Trump administration of rejecting legitimate and necessary congressional oversight with no regard for precedent or the Constitution."

This is all part of a growing fight between House Democrats, who sent letters asking for voluntary compliance. Now that they're not getting that voluntary compliance, they're about to hit the next phase, which is subpoenas. The question is, how does the White House respond after they get hit with those -- Ryan?

NOBLES: All right, Manu Raju, live on Capitol Hill. Thank you, Manu.

Plenty to unpack now. We have a great panel to talk about it. CNN political commentator, Joe Lockhart, who served as White House press secretary to President Clinton, Samantha Vinograd, who served as a senior policy advisor to the National Security Council during the Obama administration, and CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Paul Callan.

Let's talk about the legal implications so far of the Mueller report.

First, with you, Paul.

If Robert Mueller doesn't think he can charge the president here or anymore of his associates, is there really anything we will learn from this report if it ever does become public?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This will depend on how much Attorney General Barr authorizes the release of, because he really has control over how much of Mueller's product, whatever it is, goes public. I suspect there will be a lot of very interesting details in the report that have not been revealed. Mueller has been extremely effective in keeping the report confidential, keeping his investigation confidential. I would look for some really important factual items, new ones, to be revealed.

NOBLES: I want you to comment on the letter that Rod Rosenstein sent to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley a few months ago where he kind of offers a road map, if you will, of the Mueller report's findings. This was one section of it. He said, quote, "Punishing wrong doers through judicial proceedings is only one part of the department's mission. We also have a duty to prevent the disclosure of information that would unfairly tarnish people who are not charged with crimes."

One might argue that is what James Comey did when he held the press conference on Hillary Clinton's investigation. Could that have an impact on what is delivered in this report and made available to the public?

CALLAN: Absolutely, it could, Ryan I think it is an important principle. If this were a garden-variety prosecutor doing an investigation and coming up with some things that maybe suggested criminality but didn't make the reasonable doubt standard, you wouldn't have the right to release that in public and tarnish the person.

NOBLES: Right.

CALLAN: That only gets released when the case is brought into court. Of course, the president is a political figure, so the standards are going to be different. I think we will see more details.

The second thing I want to mention quickly, if this report is coming out imminently, the grand jury did a lot of the work for Mueller. And grand jury proceedings are absolutely secret under federal law. So the biggest problem I think that Barr and Mueller are going to have in deciding what to put in the report is whether it is grand jury secret material. Because if they put that in the report and it is released, that's a violation of criminal law. So watch for that when the report comes out.

NOBLES: Joe, I want to turn to you because there has obviously been a communication strategy between the White House and the president. He has been effective at boiling down the goal of the report to determine whether or not the issue is collusion. Should he be more worried about obstruction of justice or something related to obstruction of justice coming from this?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he should be most worried about collusion because we don't know the answer to that. But even if the president is right that he didn't personally collude, we know his campaign did. We know the Russians influenced this election. Just because we have heard that before doesn't make it less big news.

The obstruction thing is really rare. And in the Mueller basket of things, he probably should be most concerned about because he did it in plain sight. I'm not talking from a legal point of view, but from a political point of view, he did everything he could to impede this investigation. It's generally not, in political terms, the way innocent people act. So I think -- he can do almost anything, as he says, and his base is not going to leave him. But to the rest of the country, the 65 percent of the country, I think this is a real problem. And they are going to take this with them to the election booth in 2020.

[11:10:11] NOBLES: So, Sam, I want to turn to something on Twitter last night that got a lot of retweets from one of the most talented social media politicians, and that is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A quote tweeting a CNN report about Jared Kushner's use of WhatsApp for foreign correspondence. And Secretary Clinton responding, saying, tell me about it. This is something you know about, first, the use of social media, the potential pitfalls related to it in terms of the national security issue. Would it surprise you to learn that Jared Kushner is in communication through an app like WhatsApp with foreign leaders, especially given the position that he has in this government?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Jared Kushner is following the president's lead. He is using his devices in an unauthorized way. It doesn't surprise me in that respect.

But the use of WhatsApp to communicate with a foreign leader is really hitting a triple but not for the home U.S. team. Every White House staffer that enters the White House is briefed on at least three things, the Presidential Records Act, classification procedures, and counterintelligence risks. By using WhatsApp, Jared Kushner is knowingly violating the Presidential Records Act. He is using a device and not keeping a record of information that has to do with presidential records. I did not throw out a Post-It when I was in the White House if it had something to do with the president's business because that is the law and that information belongs to the public.

I may have missed something, but WhatsApp is not a classified app. So even if it's encrypted, if Jared Kushner was speaking with a foreign leader -- and that is normally a classified conversation -- he was doing so using an unclassified device. That's breaking the classification rules.

Finally, from a counterintelligence perspective, Jared Kushner's lawyer said he gave screen shots to U.S. government officials. We have no way of knowing whether that is true or not. Mohammad bin Salman, with whom Jared Kushner was communicating with, may have more information than the U.S. government that gives the Saudis a manipulation point over Jared Kushner yet again.

NOBLES: And, Paul, do you think this is one of the issues with Jared Kushner's security clearance, a concern for people that were looking into it?

CALLAN: I think this probably effects both he and Ivanka Trump in terms of use of personal devices. The Presidential Records Act is very clear that within 20 days of you using a communication device that has an effect on presidential deliberations, it has to be preserved. Of course, we have to find out if Jared Kushner has been preserving and saving these things via screen shots or some other thing, as Sam was mentioning. I think this is a very, very serious problem.

NOBLES: Joe, finally to you, I want to talk about Manu and the stonewalling of these congressional committees, Manu's report. How long can the White House hold off on giving this information that congressional leaders are looking for?

LOCKHART: My guess is they will stonewall them through the election and that their strategy is that there's no benefit for them in releasing any of this information because it is incredibly damaging. Just take Jared Kushner. He can't get a security clearance. He is running the Middle East peace process. The Middle East peace process is falling apart because Trump is going outside the channels of his own government. So this would be -- they would much rather take the heat for stonewalling than to have the facts come out. Now, that's a very difficult campaign to run. But again, for his base, they don't really care.

VINOGRAD: If I could just add quickly, on the Putin transcript, this is President Trump's own bed and now he has to lie in it. He made this bed. He refused to brief Congress when he got back from his trip as to what happened. He refused to keep them fully informed. Now they are trying to perform their oversight function, get access to information that President Trump knowingly withheld from them. He could solve some of this by going to Congress, telling them what happened with Vladimir Putin and getting at this that way.


LOCKHART: And the bottom line is there are professionals that do this. Right now, Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, two people who have no experience with foreign policy, are running our foreign policy, and that should scare everyone.

NOBLES: We have to leave it there. Excellent conversations.

Guys, Joe, Paul, Sam, thank you all for being here. We appreciate it.

Coming up, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says it's possible God sent President Trump to protect the Jewish people. What is the State Department saying now? And is President Trump interfering with Israel's election. [11:14:29] Plus, it was sold as a newer, more efficient jet. New

details on how Boeing promoted the Boeing 737 MAX. Did they give airlines and pilots a misleading impression that minimal training was required?


NOBLES: President Trump is reversing more than a half century of U.S. policy in the Middle East, claiming it's time to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. That means a foreign policy win for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu less than three weeks before his reelection bid.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a Middle East tour this week including a visit with Netanyahu. Listen to what Pompeo told Christian Broadcasting Network about what he is doing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could it be that President Trump right now has sort of been raised for such a time as this, just like the prime minister to help save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: As a Christian, I certainly believe that is possible. To see the remarkable history of the faith in this place and the work that our administration has done to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state remains, I'm confident that the Lord is at work here.


NOBLES: CNN senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, is live in Washington.

Michelle, is this being seen as Trump interfering with Israel's election?

[11:20:08] MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Oh, by many, yes. Just the fact that Mike Pompeo is there standing alongside Benjamin Netanyahu, making this huge announcement that Trump is recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, which is not internationally recognized, by any means, that is disputed territory, making this announcement like it's this great gift. And this is meant to be, making these comments to Christian Broadcasting Network. How could this not be seen as helping Benjamin Netanyahu? And so when asked, Mike Pompeo makes no secret of supporting Netanyahu, of course. But it wasn't that long ago when he was asked about the Israeli elections that he himself said, well, it wasn't really his role to comment on Israeli politics and he shouldn't be weighing in there. But now, here he is beaming alongside Netanyahu as they're talking about this Trump announcement. This is one more big gift that this administration has given to him, and now just as he is facing a difficult election -- Ryan?

NOBLES: Right. Of course, meddling in elections, foreign governments meddling in elections is something that is a topic on many fronts. A little bit odd that the White House would choose to make such a bold statement at this time given where we are with the Israeli election.

Michelle Kosinski, live in Washington. Thank you, Michelle.

Coming up, a week after launching his presidential campaign, Beto O'Rourke sprints through his third state to try and court voters.

Plus, new details on the timing of a possible bid by Joe Biden. Does he run the risk of jumping in too late?


[11:26:34] NOBLES: Presidential hopeful, Beto O'Rourke, is making his debut in South Carolina as we speak. It's the third state he is sprinting through since announcing his White House bid last week. And it's where the former Texas congressman will get to test his message in front of a largely black electorate.

Meanwhile, CNN is learning it could be a while until Joe Biden jumps in.

Joining me now is Jeff Zeleny, CNN senior Washington correspondent, and Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large.

Jeff, let's talk about Beto first. He hits the campaign trail and makes a pretty big hire, adding a former Obama aid to run his campaign. What can you tell us about that?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He did, Ryan. Good morning. Beto O'Rourke also did something somewhat unusual, at least compared to last week. He got on an airplane last night and flew to South Carolina as opposed to driving there. He is hitting South Carolina as he stops through all of the early voting states. He will be in South Carolina for the next couple of days, on to Nevada, and then his kickoff rally in El Paso next weekend.

He did finally hire a campaign manager. It is one of the unusual unorthodox things about this campaign. He jumped in without a campaign manager. We are told he talked to several Democrats and he settled on Jen O'Malley Dylan. She is not a household name to many but, inside Democratic politics, she absolutely is. She was a deputy campaign manager for the Obama reelection campaign in 2012. She worked for John Edwards in '04 and '08. She is one of the experts inside the party on voter habits, voter data. She is seen as a very strong hire, a member of the Obama family, if you will, the political family. So she, I would suspect, brings on others with her. But she is going to be officially named as campaign manager coming up sometime soon. An interesting sign he is trying to put structure on what has been a kind of free-flowing road show for the last eight days or so.

NOBLES: Free-flowing is a great way to describe it.

Chris, basically, since he announced, Beto O'Rourke has been on the road, literally, not just figuratively. Does he have somewhat of an advantage here? He is essentially unemployed, did not win his race for the Senate, does not have a day job. He can put all of his focus on the campaign trail? CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: One-

hundred percent. Most of the other candidates that we would consider top tier, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, right, you could name -- Cory Booker -- they are all busy most weeks when Congress isn't on recess. They are in Washington. They have voting. Now, the exception to that is Joe Biden, who is also currently largely unemployed as it relates to politics, which will allow him to do that.

But if you are Beto O'Rourke, it is very smart. Part of your appeal is you're energetic, you're youthful, you'll go anywhere. His best attribute is himself. He's charismatic. He goes into these places, stands on counters and gives talks. The more of that you can do, it's not only good because you meet more voters, it reinforces the brand that is appealing to voters in Texas. And if you believe our national polling, and I do, appeals to national voters, too. Remember, this is a guy who ran for the Senate in Texas who is now in double digits in the latest CNN poll, which I think is saying something.

NOBLES: I guess we do have to take about Joe Biden. We spend this time trying to figure out when he is going to announce.

Jeff, you have new information about the possible timing. It could be a little bit longer than maybe we originally thought.

[11:29:58] ZELENY: I feel like we are sort of repetitive on this. Initially, Joe Biden was going to decide in January. It's moved down the line. Now we are told he may make a decision coming up in the next week or so, perhaps a bit longer.