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Trump comments on impending Mueller report, Trump defends Israel's clam to Golan Heights, North Korea pulls out liaison office with South Korea, Two U.S. member killed during an operation in Afghanistan, E.U. spokesman says it does not consider Golan Heights to be part of Israel's territory, White House rejects Dem requests for info on Trump-Putin communications. Aired 10:00-10:30 ET

Aired March 22, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: As for the Attorney General, who has a lot of power, certainly, when he gets this report -- he'll be the first one to get the Mueller report, remember. Then he'll go through it and determine what Congress sees and ultimately what the public sees.

Sarah Westwood is with us. Kara Scannell is with us. Sarah, I believe, yes, you are at the White House. So, look, he took a few questions, not a ton. And I want to get to what he said about democrats and Israel and Jews in a moment because those were pretty shocking remarks. But just on this, what struck you?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, President Trump linking the Democratic House probes to the Mueller investigation, that could be part of his strategy moving forward because Washington is holding its breath for the Special Counsel's investigation to be over. But Democratic House investigations are right now just getting started.

This week alone the White House indicated that it will be resisting Democratic Congressional requests for documents related to President Trump's communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone making the argument that the courts protect presidential communications with foreign leaders.

House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings also said yesterday that his committee, the Oversight Committee, has evidence that several senior administrative officials have been using personal email, private messaging services, to conduct official business. And Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law and senior adviser, has been accused of using WhatsApp to communicate with foreign leaders. So those troubles for the President are going to continue long after the conclusion of the Mueller probe.

The President speaking to reporters just now, as we just saw, downplaying the prospects for impeachment even though democrats right now are controlling these very expansive probes into the President's conduct. Poppy? HARLOW: Kara, looking at the President's remarks there, again, saying, I have no idea about timing on the Mueller report, but, again, just calling it a witch hunt, saying no collusion again when multiple courts, appellate and district courts, have upheld the legality of the probe, right, and the scope of the probe. He did have praise, though, for Bill Barr who has a lot of power here, the Attorney General.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Poppy. I mean, multiple courts, this has been challenged. And they've all come back and said that the Special Counsel is legally appointed in this investigation is legally sound.

Now, Trump did have high praise for Bill Barr there. And, ultimately, this decision comes down to what Bill Barr wants to do. When the Mueller investigation is complete, Mueller will give the report, that's confidential report to William Barr, who is the Attorney General. William Barr will notify Congress, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees that he has the report and he will also have to tell them under the regulations if there were any disagreements or any moments there DOJ overruled what the Special Counsel's Office wanted to do. That could be about a charging decision or a subpoena or something else.

And then this is where it will get interesting. So Barr said during his confirmation hearing that he will then make a summary or create his own report based on the Mueller report and the White House has an expectation that they will get to see that. They will be allowed to exert executive privilege over certain aspects of this. And so the President having a lot of praise for Bill Barr, this is where the decision comes to Bill Barr. He will then submit that report to Congress.

He is not committed at any point during his confirmation hearings that he would make the report public. That is something that lawmakers have expressed interest or the House voted unanimously for the public distribution of the Mueller report. So we're going to get into some legal and political grounds here where there is going to be a lot of battle work here.

What we're going to see -- I mean, the report today, if it happens, will just be the confidential report being delivered. There is a lot of waiting game to find out what's in it. But it would not be surprising if we see the White House come forward and put a positive spin on the report and highlight what they will learn through this process of executive privilege, whatever information they glean from it. Poppy?

HARLOW: And we're looking at the President. These are live pictures at Joint Base Andrews. He just took the Marine One there. And, again, he is headed to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend for a series of meetings.

David Chalian, a few points that I want you to weigh in on. But just first, the President's sort of continued refrain here as Washington is anticipating the Mueller report. DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. It's a really interesting sort of dichotomy that's on display here, Poppy, right, because here is somebody -- the President who has consistently been completely confident in his position, no collusion. He believes whole heartedly that he should be cleared, and yet, he still is, throughout this week, making sure to try and keep the attacks up on Mueller, this guy appointed by a deputy who gets to write a report. I was elected by 63 million.

He is still keeping up the attacks even though he is trying to express complete confidence that he'll be completely cleared. Those two things don't always seem in concert to me.

HARLOW: Yes, I don't think they are in concert, David Chalian. I don't want this to go unnoticed what the President said. I'm going to quote him here about Israel and the democrats, of course, this on the heels of with a one Tweet of the sweeping change of U.S. foreign policy for more than 50 years, naming Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

[10:05:09]

It doesn't change anything but it's a very significant statement. He said, quote, the democrats have very much proven to be anti-Israel. I don't know what has happened to them, but they are totally anti- Israel. Frankly, I think, they are anti-Jewish.

CHALIAN: I mean, that is an absurd statement on its face. But I do think what the President is doing here is exploiting what we saw to be a real divide. Remember just a couple weeks ago, we saw this inside the democratic caucus, inside the Democratic Party. They are not lock step on how they deal with the politics of Israel, the U.S. Domestic Politics of Israel. And there is a divide in the party.

And so what I think you see the President doing there is trying to exploit that divide in the party between those who are just sort of lock step pro-Israel no matter what and those in the party who express real reservations about that being the United States' position, and in the case of Ilhan Omar, obviously, using language that she has had to apologize for, that her colleagues in the House Democratic Caucus have sort of rebuked her for. So he is playing into that divide that we have seen on display.

But to call the Democratic Party anti-Jewish as a flat out statement, again, to me, seems just absurd on its face.

HARLOW: Yes, it is. Thank you very much, David Chalian, Kara Scannell, Sarah Westwood, we appreciate it.

Joining me now is James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence. Director Clapper, I really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

JAMES CLAPPER, FRM. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Let's talk about the Mueller report. You just heard the president discount it, but again, it's been upheld and the legality of it and the scope of it by multiple judges, multiple courts. You said when it is finished, whether that's today or a month or two from now, it may be anti-climatic. Why?

CLAPPER: Well, I was reflecting back on when this all started. And I remember saying on this network that it was my great hope that the Mueller report would ultimately remove the cloud over the country and remove the cloud over the Presidency. I don't think it is going to do that. That was probably naive on my part. I think it is not going to be satisfactory probably to either proponents or opponents of President Trump and will be the end of that phase of all of this, the Mueller investigation itself, but this is -- it will continue either in the Congress or I think perhaps more honestly for the President in other courts, notably the Southern District of New York and the State of New York.

HARLOW: So, Director Clapper, we did hear one shred of praise. The President ripped democrats and he ripped the Mueller report. But he did praise at the end of that few minutes of remarks Bill Barr, his pick for Attorney General as highly respected. And he has a lot of power once he is handed the Mueller report. What do you think is the most appropriate way for Barr to handle it when it comes to what he gives to Congress and what the public sees?

CLAPPER: Well, that's a great question, Poppy. And I think we're, to some extent, in unchartered territory, at least for me. I'm not sure the Watergate is necessarily an obstructive [ph] precedent for what Barr might do. And I think probably he'll do what he said he would do during his confirmation hearing. I think he will consider it. He'll decide how much of it that will be

afforded to the Congress. And, of course, we already know what the congressional sentiment is and witness the unanimous vote in the House, and then how much of it will be made public.

And I don't know what the calculus there will be. It would be my hope that it would be as transparent as possible particularly with what is released to the public. I mean, the public has paid for this investigation, and I think they are entitled to know. And he has certain rules and regulations, as he mentioned in his confirmation hearing, that he has to abide by.

So I'm no more [INAUDIBLE] equivalent than anybody else on this. I don't exactly know what he'll do.

HARLOW: So on that point of transparency, let's stick on that for a moment, because Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, who we do know is hanging around for a little bit longer even though the man was going to get a well-deserved vacation and step down from that role at the Justice Department in mid-March. We know he's staying a bit longer. Here is what he said on February 25th. He was giving a speech. And I should note, this is not about any particular case but it does deal with the issue of transparency. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's a knee jerk reaction to suggest that we should be transparent about what we do in government.

[10:10:03]

But there are a lot of reasons not to be transparent. Just because the government collects information doesn't mean the information is accurate. And it can be misleading if you are overly transparent about information that the government collects. So I think we do need to be really cautious about that.

If we aren't prepared to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt in court then we have no business making allegations against American citizens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: What do you make of that?

CLAPPER: Well, I think he's sounding a cautionary note here and perhaps an attempt to lower expectations about what might be publicized. I do think it's a good thing that he is staying around for exactly the reason he cited perhaps to be a heat shield or take the hits.

And I think as a general rule, what he said is correct with that. But this is a different situation. And we're talking about the President of the United States. And I think that the government needs to err on the side of transparency as much as possible in this unique circumstance.

HARLOW: Director Clapper, while I have you, just given your global expertise, the news this morning on North Korea withdrawing from a joint liaison office near the DMZ with South Korea, this is after the U.S. placed sanctions on two big Chinese firms. Why, because they were doing business with North Korea. What is your read on the significance of that and what it tells you this morning about where the U.S.-North Korea discussion or even relationship stands at this point?

CLAPPER: Well, Poppy, it was actually my hope that somehow the relationship between the North and the South could be separated from the deterioration in the dialogue at least currently between North Korea and the United States. And, apparently, that's not the case. So I think it's unfortunate. I think there was, as there always is, a symbolic overtone whenever the North Koreans want to attract attention or convey a message. It's not the end of the world. The facility is still there. North Koreans said the South was welcome to stay. So it could easily be the North Korean presence in this liaison office could easily be reestablished.

So I think it is regrettable, but it's not really surprising. And this is the kind of typical of North Korean behavior.

HARLOW: James Clapper, Director Clapper, thank you for your time, your expertise this morning. We always appreciate it.

CLAPPER: Thanks for having me, Poppy. HARLOW: Of course.

Still to come, sending U.S. troops to the border and aiding in hurricane relief. The top U.S. Marine says this is jeopardizing our national security. Why? That's next.

And a reversal of decades of American foreign policy in the Middle East, why the President's call to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights is drawing some criticism, also why democrats want to see the President Trump's communication with President Putin. What does the White House say about that? No way. Where does the law fall on this hat [ph]?

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[10:17:40] HARLOW: All right, some very sad news to share with you this morning. Two U.S. service members were killed this morning while conducting an operation in Afghanistan. It happened in Kunduz Province. That's in Northern Afghanistan, and it was a result of enemy action. This is according to the NATO-led military coalition in Kabul. And it marks the third and fourth U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan this year alone. It also comes as the Trump administration has sought to negotiate with the Taliban to try to help bring an end to the conflict. Currently, the U.S. has about 14,000 troops in that country. We'll keep you posted on that as we learn more.

Also, the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps says some of President Trump's actions at the southern border have caused an unacceptable risk to Marine Corps and combat readiness. Those are his words. And he says some factors that force the marines to cancel, it will reduce their training exercises.

Let's go to the Pentagon. Our reporter, Ryan Brown, is there. I mean, this is quite a statement coming from high up.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN REPORTER: Well, that's right, Poppy. And these statements were part of a memo that General Robert Neller, Marine Corps Commandant, wrote to acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan. And they paint a pretty stark picture.

Now, he is talking about a lot of these unbudgeted items that have emerged in the last year. And some of them involve the border deployments, other deployments that were unexpected, the cost of those. But one of the big issues here is hurricane damage. Camp Lejeune, a large Marine Corps in North Carolina, was battered by a major hurricane, caused billions of dollars of damage, that normally the military, each service has money that it can move around to respond to these kind of contingencies.

But what's happened here and what General Neller talks about in his memorandum is that their ability to move some of that the money around has been put on hold because President Trump has directed the Pentagon to take some of that money that had been set in reserve and move it to possible border barrier, some $2.5 billion worth. So that's kind of reduced their flexibility to meet some of these emerging demands, including this hurricane relief damage but also this deployment to the border and some other deployments to Europe.

So General Neller is saying that this poses real risks. He has asked for hundreds of millions of additional dollars. But he is not optimistic that he is going to get those in this memorandum that has been obtained by CNN.

And, again, the border deployment was unexpected.

[10:20:02]

They didn't plan for that. So this is something that they have to deal with. And he said he has to cancel several military exercises with key allies in Europe but also that he is going to have to cancel additional training activities and other exercises if additional resources do not come in.

So a very stark warning from the Commandant of the Marine Corps talking about all the financial pressures that have been put on the service by all these new requirements, including President Trump's border deployment and his decision to take Pentagon dollars and repurpose that towards a border wall. Poppy?

HARLOW: Ryan Browne, thank you for that reporting. I appreciate it.

Also this morning, international reaction is pouring in after President Trump decided to overturn longstanding U.S. foreign policy by announcing the U.S. will, quote, fully recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The President made this announcement in Tweet on Thursday. Then he spoke a little bit more about it in this interview with Fox.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: This is sovereignty, this is security. This is about regional security.

REPORTER: It's not about Netanyahu's reelection?

TRUMP: No. I wouldn't even know about that. I wouldn't even know about that. I have no idea. He was doing okay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. So how does the international community feel about it? The European Union condemns it. Turkey calls it the brink of a new crisis. Russia says the move, quote, has the potential to destabilize the region.

Let's go to my colleague, Oren Liebermann. He's live in the Golan Heights this morning. Talk about the ramifications for this across the region, et cetera, because although a Tweet does not change what happens, the U.S. position on this has been established for decades. OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And I wouldn't expect anybody to follow the U.S.'s lead. The E.U. has already made that clear as has Russia, the other big player when it comes to the region. So I don't think any countries are going to follow the U.S. lead.

In terms of what changes on the ground, the answer is very little, if anything. Essentially, the world has grown used to Israel controlling, administering the Golan Heights. And it wasn't frankly a big issue even if it was routinely condemned by other countries and especially other partners in the region.

We have seen condemnation from where we expect to see, Turkey, Syria. I suspect we'll see condemnation from Iraq and Iran. We haven't seen condemnation from some of the Sunni Arab States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, as well as Bahrain. They have grown used to Israel controlling this.

And for them, it's not a big deal, even if at some point, they'll put out a symbolic condemnation of it. It's more important for them to be in the Trump administration's corner than it is to start complaining about Israeli control of the Golan Heights.

If there is a geopolitical sort of ramification here, what this does is it kind of pokes Iran in the eye from the Trump administration. Iran has forces in Syria. They have clashed in the past with Israeli forces. And even if this doesn't start something right now, a reason [ph] about to be fighting, it risks the possibility down the road that there will be fighting and that fighting will escalate quite quickly as we've seen it do in the past.

HARLOW: What does it mean for the prospects of a mid east peace deal? And I know the prospects were not great but just looking at the response this morning from leaders within the Palestinian authority.

LIEBERMANN: Well, look, it certainly doesn't help. As you point out, the possibility of that getting traction either the Israeli or the Palestinian side was already low and this certainly doesn't raise it. And, again, we'll come back to the Sunni Arab states. For it to gain any traction, for it to get some momentum, it needed the backing of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and a few other countries. This makes it more difficult for them to support the peace plan. They will have to come out and in some format condemn the United States, this shouldn't have recognized Israeli sovereignty here and it gives them less wiggle room, less room to maneuver when it comes to trying to throw weight behind the peace plan.

So, again, it simply doesn't help the prospects of that plan, which the administration is expected to put forward sometime after the April 9th elections.

HARLOW: Oren Liebermann, thank you, reporting for us live from the Golan Heights, always appreciated.

Ahead, the battle between the White House and top democrats in Congress. Could the White House's refusal to hand over documents take this one all the way up to the Supreme Court? This is about the President's meetings with Vladimir Putin. More ahead.

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[10:28:52] HARLOW: So the White House this morning is refusing to release documents related to President Trump's talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This comes as House Democrats say they are looking into those conversations. They are demanding transparency here. Meantime, House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings says several senior White House officials used personal email and messaging accounts, like WhatsApp to conduct government business.

Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill with the latest. Good morning. What can you tell me?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, democrats are weighing their next steps on exactly how to pursue what they see as White House in [INAUDIBLE], the refusal by the White House to provide information, including on the Trump-Putin communications. Several democratic chairman have demanded this information, say, they are consulting now next steps about whether to try to force the White House to comply, whether that could lead to a prolonged legal fight over that matter and other matters, as well.

Now, the President just moments ago discussed some of this. He was asked directly whether or not he has directed his staff not to comply with these requests. And he said that this is just a continuation of the same witch hunt. He did not actually directly answer that question. He also was asked about what Elijah Cummings, as Oversight Chairman, revealed yesterday that he said that Jared Kushner's attorney told him in a prvate meeting.