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White House Prepping Various Scenarios, Bracing for Mueller Report; Two U.S. Service Members Killed During Operation in Afghanistan; Trump Defends Insults Against McCain; Trump Backs Israeli Sovereignty Over Golan Heights; Boeing to Lose Nearly $5 Billion Deal with Indonesian Airline Over Max 8; Trump Slams McCain for Giving Russia Steele Dossier to FBI. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 22, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:14] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good Friday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim has the day off. And this may or may not be the hour or the day or even the month that Robert Mueller hands in his final report. But this much we do know.

While the speculation builds and apprehension grows President Trump can and will keep work-shopping responses. Case in point this morning in an interview with FOX Business News the president said, quote, "people," presumably his base, "will not accept a report that tarnishes his presidency." Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a deputy appoints a man to write a report on me to make a determination on my presidency? People will not stand for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: We'll see about that. We may hear from the president about all of this and more in just moments when he heads from the White House to Palm Beach for the weekend. And this morning, a fresh reminder that multiple investigations continue on Capitol Hill independent of the special counsel and the White House is -- independent of fact that the White House is resisting all of them.

No fewer than three House committee chairs are accusing the White House of flouting the Constitution by refusing to turn over documents related to the president's private talks with Vladimir Putin. Another House panel is demanding information on Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner's use of private texts and e-mail for government business.

Joe Johns is at the White House.

What is the mood there with filing from the Mueller team potentially, and I stress potentially, imminent.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, I'm sure this is going to surprise you but it depends on who you talk to at this point. CNN's Jim Acosta has talked to people here at the White House who have said they see this obviously as a pivotal moment. And they see it also as clearing the decks for them. And that would be true only if you assume that the news is good from the Mueller report. And no one can say that with certainty. But there is clearly some optimism.

I think it's also important to say that the White House has been having meetings and they've been trying to figure out, well, what do we say if the report says this and what do we say if the report says that. But you can really tell what's going on behind the scenes by what the president does. And what the president has been doing is a lot of positioning, a lot more positioning very recently.

We have heard all of the president's messages that this is a hoax, this is a fraud, this is a witch hunt. Now he casts himself as a victim. But I think most importantly the president has tried to make it clear that in his view, as you heard in that sound bite, he sees this as a political issue, if you will. And that's important because the constitutional remedy for a president accused of wrongdoing is impeachment which is a political remedy.

So that is what this White House is getting ready for. Possibly the worst case scenario, but at this point who knows?

HARLOW: OK. And before you go, Joe, the fight over documents pertaining to what was said in those closed door meetings between Vladimir Putin and the president, what's that all about?

JOHNS: Right. Well, it's pretty clear that Democrats on Capitol Hill, newly empowered, are demanding information. And that's one of the things they're most interested in. The conversations between Vladimir Putin and the president of the United States. And at least one case it's our understanding that the president even demanded interpreter's notes and took them away.

So the Democrats want to know what that's about. This has become an angry exchange of letters between lawyers on the one hand, Democrats saying they have a right to investigate, a right of congressional oversight. The White House saying that foreign policy is the province exclusively and solely the president of the United States. And that essentially the separation of powers is being violated by Democrats asking for this information.

HARLOW: All right. In a moment, we'll go to our experts about whose side the law is on that one.

But, Joe Johns, at the White House, thanks so much.

So what happens once Robert Mueller's report is finished? Kara Scannell is with me from Washington this morning.

If today is the day, after all it's only 9:04 in the morning, it might be, what are the next steps?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Washington -- sorry, that's right, Poppy. Washington is on edge. We're all amped up waiting to see if today is the day. So if it is, this is what will happen. So Robert Mueller will give his confidential report to Attorney General Bill Barr. Now Bill Barr will notify the House and Senate Judiciary Committees that the report is in and he will also have to tell them that any times that the Department of Justice had overruled the special counsel. That's if they wanted to subpoena someone or charge someone and they disagreed with it.

[09:05:03] Now after that Barr will make -- he indicated he will make a version of this report that he will ultimately give to Congress. And the White House has indicated that they expect that they will be able to see this report and make any claims of executive privilege. Now once that is done that report will go to the Hill and this is where it will get very interesting.

Bill Barr has not committed during his confirmation hearings that he would make this report public. Members of the Hill particularly the Democrats have said that they want to see the entire report and the House voted unanimously for the public to see the whole report. So this is the -- kind of where we're gearing up and heading toward a potential legal battle here. And this -- you know, we're all talking about this because of our great team, our CNN stakeout team has been outside Mueller's office through rain, sleet, snow.

And they have seen indications that this is all wrapping up. They've seen staff members leave with boxes. We know that the number of prosecutors has now gone down. The top prosecutors are leaving. They used to have six teams in the special counsel's office. They are now down to about 10.

The grand jury hasn't met in at least two months, at least from our stakeout team, that's what they have seen. So we're seeing all of these signs that this is wrapping up, bringing us to this moment. It could come today. And then we'll see this process play out. How much of a legal battle it is. It sort of feels like we're about in the fourth inning of this baseball game -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. There are nine in those games, right?

SCANNELL: Yes.

HARLOW: Yes. All right. Just checking. Kara, thanks.

I'm joined now by two former federal prosecutors and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and Jennifer Rodgers.

Good morning. So there's all of those things, Jeffrey, that Kara laid out but there's also the fact that it was just a week ago that Mueller's office told the court that Rick Gates is still helping them on several ongoing investigations. So?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: So as with so much we don't know, the details. But there are other investigations including investigations in the Southern District of New York, in the Eastern District of Virginia that are not directly supervised by Mueller but are related in some way with some overlap in the witnesses. So just because Rick Gates is still cooperating that doesn't mean that Mueller is going to issue more indictments.

It is very hard for me to believe that he will deliver a report and then do more indictments.

HARLOW: Right.

TOOBIN: So I think this is a signal that his investigation is over if, in fact, the report is turned over today.

HARLOW: When it comes to the report obviously then it's going to become essentially like the Barr report because the attorney general will get to go through it and write up report together what he thinks should be turned over to Congress. The White House wants to go through it. They want to see where and if they can exert executive privilege.

What are the odds, Jennifer, that the public will ever know the full extent -- the full extent of the Mueller findings?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, the odds. I have no idea. I mean, I think what's going to happen, there are going to be some executive privileges asserted. Mueller will have -- Bill Barr will have to negotiate with the White House over those. I think Congress is going to want to see the whole thing. So they I think will ultimately subpoena the unredacted report. We'll see a court battle over that. But whether it all becomes public even kind of taking out the classified information aspects of it that's really hard to tell.

HARLOW: I mean, Jeffrey -- yes, yes.

TOOBIN: But just keep in mind also that if in this review process the -- the document is turned over to the White House, as I expect it will be.

HARLOW: Yes.

TOOBIN: The president will claim vindication. He'll say, look, the report clears me completely. And the public will not have seen it yet.

HARLOW: Right.

TOOBIN: So it's a tremendous advantage that the report is being evaluated in the chain of command that the president himself is in charge of.

HARLOW: Barr is his subordinate.

TOOBIN: As is Mueller.

HARLOW: Right. You're a Supreme Court expert. You've written a book on the Supreme Court. We have some precedent from the Nixon time of what the Supreme Court will do. I mean, how do you see a Supreme Court with these justices' decisions playing out if it does go all the way up?

TOOBIN: I think the president is likely to win. I think both the general drift of the Supreme Court and it's worth remembering that in the famous case of the United States versus Nixon where the President Nixon was forced in 1974 to turn over the White House tapes, that was a subpoena from a court, from a trial subpoena. In the cases involving congressional subpoenas for the White House tapes and other documents, Congress didn't win those cases. So Congress has less of a claim --

HARLOW: Than a court.

TOOBIN: Than a court does.

HARLOW: Than a court does.

TOOBIN: Or, you know, in the context of a criminal case.

HARLOW: Interesting.

TOOBIN: So I think especially since the court has moved to the right since 1974, the president is likely to --

HARLOW: Although I think there were three justices appointed under Nixon making that decision, right?

TOOBIN: But the Nixon justices were a lot more moderate than the --

HARLOW: The two Trump justices.

TOOBIN: The Trump justices and the George W. Bush justices.

[09:10:02] HARLOW: Yes. OK. So James Comey, former FBI director, writing an op-ed in the "New York Times" this morning. Let me read part of it, quote, "I'm not rooting for Mr. Mueller to demonstrate that Trump is a criminal. I'm also not rooting for Mueller to clear the president. I'm rooting for anything except that the special counsel be permitted to finish his work, charge whatever case is warranted charging and report his work."

It seems like he's arguing that whatever the outcome here, the process worked. That there is a win in terms of this even happening.

RODGERS: Yes, I think that's right. And that's what folks have been saying all along. You know, the rule of law will get to the right results if you let it happen. And that's really been most people's gripe with this, is that the president is trying to undermine the actual functioning of the justice system, the functioning of the special counsel's office.

So if we let all of that happen the way that it should, everyone, you know, who can be charged will be charged. Let the justice system work in all of that. Then it will be a fair result. So we'll see.

TOOBIN: Well, maybe. But also, you know, the issue of how much of this report becomes public, that's very much unresolved. And I think, you know, we shouldn't have too much happy talk about how the system worked until we know the resolution for that.

HARLOW: I mean, the other issue here is, you know, although no one ever leaked anything in Washington ever, right? I mean -- (LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: Well, but not in this case.

HARLOW: No, not this.

TOOBIN: Yes.

HARLOW: But I'm saying once it's turned over. Once the White House sees things, once Congress sees things. Do you have any concern, Jeffrey, over partial leaks that are advantageous to the party leaking?

TOOBIN: Always. But I think -- you know, the Department of Justice is likely to hold this very tight. But as I say, if the White House is involved, the president is going to claim --

HARLOW: Anyways.

TOOBIN: -- immediately complete vindication regardless of the facts and regardless of whether the rest of us ever see what it's based on.

HARLOW: I'm interested in both of your take on the White House refusal to give any documents to oversight committees pertaining to the Putin-Trump meetings. Anything at all.

I mean, Jennifer, whose side is the law on here, the White House or, you know, Congress checking and utilizing its oversight responsibility?

RODGERS: Yes. That's a tough one because ultimately I think we're going to be in the same position that we may be in with the Mueller report of Congress, you know, having to issue subpoenas instead of just requests. And then, you know, you get into court. So I think this is going to be a tough one. I mean, the head of state has the right to speak to another head of state in private, right, without the entire world knowing about it. But then you get into question of taking away the translator's notes and Congress obviously has a legitimate oversight responsibility here, too. So I think that's going to be a tough one on --

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Yes. I think actually the president is on strong ground with the interactions with Putin. When you start talking about things like Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump using --

HARLOW: WhatsApp and private e-mails.

TOOBIN: WhatsApp or unsecured modes of communication I think Congress is going to be on much stronger ground in terms of their investigation of that. That is a legitimate area for oversight. But, you know, contacts, head of state to head of state really does seem at the core of presidential power.

HARLOW: I mean, just on that briefly as we wrap up, Jared Kushner's lawyer Abbe Lowell says that Kushner forwarded screenshots of WhatsApp communications with people overseas, et cetera, to his e-mail. Is that good enough?

TOOBIN: I think you'd need to know a lot more. It's a bizarre practice, if that's what he did. But I'm not saying it didn't happen. But I mean, this is why congressional oversight exists. We don't just take people's word for it. We call witnesses, we get documents. You know, there is an investigatory process.

RODGERS: It also only takes care of one of the two potential legal issues here which is the Presidential Records Act. Right?

HARLOW: Right.

RODGERS: There's still the issue of whether any classified information was mishandled. And --

HARLOW: Yes. Or security hacking.

RODGERS: Forwarding to your, you know, other e-mail or screenshots or what have you doesn't take care of that.

TOOBIN: And you're not old enough, but I'm old enough to remember the 2016 election.

HARLOW: I am old enough.

TOOBIN: Remember that? And where Republicans thought it was a really big deal about e-mail security.

HARLOW: But her e-mails, Jeffrey Toobin.

TOOBIN: So apparently -- I'm sure the Republicans will want a big investigation of this because they're so concerned about e-mail security.

HARLOW: It will be the most top of the list.

TOOBIN: Yes. Lock him up, they'll announce.

HARLOW: Thank you, guys, very much. Don't go far because, you know, today could be the day.

Jeffrey Toobin, Jennifer Rodgers, we appreciate it.

Also some very sad news for you this morning. Two U.S. service members were killed this morning while conducting an operation in northern Afghanistan. This is according to the NATO-led military coalition in Kabul. And this marks the third and fourth U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan this year alone.

Let's go to the Pentagon. Our reporter Ryan Browne is there.

You know, I think many people don't remember. We still have 14,000 U.S. troops there. RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, that's right, Poppy. There

are 14,000 U.S. troops there along with other NATO allies. And they primarily serve in training and advising roles, helping the Afghan forces kind of increase their capabilities so that they can take on the Taliban and the local ISIS affiliate.

[09:15:04] But it is still a dangerous mission, and as we see today with the news of two U.S. service members being killed in a firefight with the Taliban in Northern Afghanistan.

Now, Afghan troops were also killed in this incident we're being told. But this all comes amid increased efforts by the Trump administration to conduct peace talks with the Taliban. Now, officials have said that those talks have progressed, that there's been some positive momentum but nothing has been finalized yet.

And you can see that as we see today, violence very much remains high in the country, there's a lot of instability, and even though those talks are making some progress, they've actually opened up a rift between the Trump administration and America's partners in Afghanistan, with some Afghan government officials accusing the U.S. of sidelining the Afghan government during this process.

And again, you know, we're hearing that President Trump has ordered the U.S. military to begin a possible planning for a draw-down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But a lot of questions remain how that's going to go forward with this instability and this violence continuing. Poppy?

POPPY HARLOW, HOST, NEWSROOM: Let us know obviously when you get the names of those service members. We remember them and thank them for their service. Ryan Browne, thank you.

Still to come, President Trump lashing out at the late Senator John McCain. This time, he says he's not the one who keeps bringing it up, but spoiler alert, yes, it is him. And a major foreign policy decision announcement via Twitter. The U.S. will now quote, "fully recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights."

The implications of this are significant and raising many questions about why the president did this right now, three weeks before Netanyahu faces re-election. We will take you live to the Golan Heights. Plus, a multi-billion dollar deal for Boeing cancelled in the wake of those two fatal crashes. We'll explain ahead.

[09:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: All right, this morning, President Trump continues his tirade against the late Senator John McCain. This time telling "Fox Business'" Maria Bartiromo that McCain gave the Russian Steele dossier to the FBI for, quote, "evil purposes". Listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: About three days ago, it came out that his main person gave to the FBI the fake news dossier. It was a fake. It was a fraud. It was paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. They gave it to John McCain who gave it to the FBI for very evil purposes. That's not good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right, meantime, Senator McCain's youngest daughter is now firing back at the president, calling him a child who lacks decency and compassion. Joining me to discuss, congressional correspondent for the "New York Times" and CNN political analyst Julie Hirschfeld Davis and congressional reporter for the "Washington Post" and our political analyst Rachael Bade.

Good morning to you both. Julie, to you first, I mean -- I just -- what on earth does the president have to gain politically here from the continuing feud with a dead senator and war hero.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I don't really think this is about what he has to gain politically for him. I think that President Trump clearly feels like he wants to lash out at John McCain. I think these newly unsealed revelations about his potential role in dealing with the dossier is just the freshest kind of reminder to him of how much he dislikes John McCain.

And frankly, I don't think he thinks there's much of a political price to be paid. And I think what we're seeing is, this is kind of an encapsulation of how the president views his role. It's not -- we're used to as Americans, our president is thinking about, you know, their official role as somebody who wants to set an example for the level of rhetoric and the level of discourse and respect for war heroes and deceased, you know, veteran senators.

But the president sees this as a personal thing. He sees this as John McCain wronged him personally and he has a vendetta against John McCain personally and he's not going to pull his punches on this and I think it's less a question of --

HARLOW: You know --

DAVIS: Political upside, than he believes there's no political downside for him in doing this.

HARLOW: I think that's a great point. Let's listen to Senator Lindsey Graham; John McCain's best friend, but also a very tight ally of the president. Here's what he said just yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think the president's comments about Senator McCain hurt him more than they hurt the legacy of Senator McCain. I've got to know the president, we have a good working relationship. I like him. I don't like it when he says things about my friend John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: That was very measured, and we know how fired up, Rachel,

Lindsey Graham can get when he doesn't like something. Remember, the Judiciary Committee hearings with Kavanaugh?

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, very.

HARLOW: So I just -- wide -- and he I think echoes a lot of what we're seeing in the party in Congress, the Republican Party in Congress. Why are more -- either they're not saying anything, more Republicans are sounding like Lindsey Graham there than Senator Johnny Isakson who just blasted this.

BADE: Yes, privately, these senators are pulling their hair out and totally aghast and really frustrated that the president is attacking one of their long-time friends and somebody they've admired and worked with for years. But the reality is that the president is more popular in their districts and their states than they are.

And they're not going to push back against him on something like this. They may not like it, but they don't see any reason to stick their necks out. And that's why you saw Lindsey Graham have such a ho-hum response, even though he was one of John McCain's best friends.

Around the country, Senate Republicans, a lot of them did not weigh in to defend their long-time friend John McCain. And those that did often sort of couched their comments like Majority leader Mitch McConnell, praising McCain, but not blasting the president.

[09:25:00] And then the few who actually did criticize Trump, I'm picking Johnny Isakson; the Republican from Georgia who called the president's comments about McCain deplorable, and said you need to stop doing this. He even, you know, couched that with praise of the president by saying, Trump might, you know, own all the real estate in New York and might be building the greatest immigration system in the world, but you know, he should stop talking about McCain.

But again, this just shows that this is Trump's party, and again highlights how scared Republicans are to go against him, particularly on an issue like this where they don't think they can gain anything with their own voters.

HARLOW: What do you think that tells us, Julie, just about what we're going to see over the next, you know, year and a half leading up to the 2020 election from the president. I mean, if he's not held accountable by his own party for these words, and that seems like anything goes.

DAVIS: Well, I think that's right. I mean, I think that, you know, not only is -- as Rachael said President Trump more popular than some of these Republicans in their own states and districts. But you know, he's very popular and really playing to this very narrow sliver of the Republican base that is needed to win primaries.

And so what I think we're going to continue to see and probably be intensifying over the next several months is that he's going to double-down on rhetoric like this. And the other aspect here is that, you know, this is a pattern with the president of he will say something outrageous and people will have, you know, a dramatic response and then he'll keep doing it and doing it, and eventually, people get used to it.

And when you talk to Trump supporters at his rallies, a lot of them will say, yes, we don't love the tweets, we don't love the stuff that he says about McCain, we don't love this, we don't love that, but it's like, well, that's just Trump being Trump.

And I think as he starts to really gear up his 2020 campaign and as these Republicans try to, you know, go out and get re-elected, we're going to see a lot of that attitude of like, well, that -- this is just where we are, this is where the party is. And the best political move for a lot of these people is to just double-down on the situation and sort of, if not defend the president, not actively take him on.

HARLOW: Not say anything, right? All right, thank you very much, Julie and Rachael, we appreciate it, have a good weekend. Fifty two years of foreign policy overturned in a single tweet from the president announcing the U.S. will recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights region. How that may benefit Israel's embattled Prime Minister just weeks before his election, next.

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