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Democrats Demand Six Years of Trump Tax Returns from IRS; Donald Trump: I Would not Be Inclined to Release Tax Returns; Rep. James Comer (R-KY) Interviewed About President Trump's Tax Returns; NYT: Some on Mueller's Team Say Mueller's Report is More Damaging for Trump Than AG Indicated; House Condemns Trump's Bid to Kill Obamacare in Symbolic Vote; New Report Suggests 737 Max Pilots Followed Boeing Procedures Before Crash; Trump, Chinese Vice Premier Meet Today Amid Trade Talks. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 4, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:08] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday -- Thursday, it's not Friday, is it?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It's not Friday yet.

SCIUTTO: Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

This morning some of the very few people on earth who know exactly what is in the Mueller report are adding to the pressure on the Justice Department to release the entire thing. The "New York Times" and the "Washington Post" this morning both cite what the "Times" calls, quote, "simmering frustrations" among some of the special counsel's investigators and/or lawyers over the four-page recap of their two years of work, written not by them and not by Mueller but by the Attorney General Bill Barr. One source familiar with the full report tells the "Washington Post," and I quote, "It was much more acute than Barr suggested."

SCIUTTO: It is not clear exactly what the Mueller staffers feel that the AG left out or spun in the president's favor or how widespread in the special counsel's team, which is large, how widespread that frustration is. And for his part, Barr and his team are said to be irked themselves on obstruction of justice by the president.

And this is not the only docudrama, that is a drama over documents, concerning D.C. this morning. The most powerful lawmaker you've probably never heard of has now officially asked the IRS to hand over the president's tax returns, both personal and for several of his businesses. Many other Democrats say it is about time, as do many American voters.

We're going to dig into that in a moment but we begin with the very first signs of friction between the special counsel and the Department of Justice.

CNN's Kara Scannell has that. Interesting reporting here. And basically posing the question here as

to whether Barr let everything out that the special counsel wanted to be let out.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, both of these reports in the "New York Times" and "Washington Post" seem to focus on the issue of frustration by some within Mueller's team that their conclusions and their findings were not adequately portrayed in the four-page letter that Barr gave to Congress.

Now the Mueller report is a 400-page report that the "Times" and the "Post" both say that the report itself included summaries about certain sections, the issue of collusion and the question of obstruction of justice, and the reporting in those news reports is that there is some frustration that why wasn't that released and it was written in a format for release.

But, you know, as what happens sometimes, you know, you get this report in, the Justice Department is looking at it, they're doing their quick conclusion, Barr turned it around pretty quickly. He for some reason did not feel that that should be released.

You know, there are questions here, we haven't seen the full report. We don't know exactly what is not being released or if the characterization is unfair, but these reports said that there is some frustration within the team about that, particularly, according to the "Washington Post," on that question of obstruction.

You know, the report says that some of Mueller's investigators say that it was alarming and significant some of the evidence that they found and in Barr's letter he said that the special counsel's team did not make a conclusion on this saying that they did not one way or the other draw conclusions and that there was evidence on both sides, but according to the "Post" the members of the Mueller team said that actually there was a lot more information in there that they had hoped, at least according to the report, to be released.

Now all this comes amid the push by Democrats to release the full report without any redactions. The House Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to authorize a subpoena. We'll see if they use it -- Jim, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Kara Scannell, thank you.

That brings us right to our Manu Raju because, Manu -- on Capitol Hill for us -- as Kara notes, the question now is how long is Nadler going to wait? And you'd think that this "New York Times" and "Washington Post" reporting this morning makes that very short order of when this demand will kick in, the words he used yesterday, even shorter.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Potentially. He said very short order, I tried to push him on that yesterday. I said, does that mean this week? He would not say.

The issue for Democrats right now is that they don't want to appear like they're jamming the Justice Department. The concern is that once the subpoenas are issued and the Democrats try to go to enforce the subpoenas and then the Justice Department resists, then it's going to -- it could potentially end up in court.

They want to make the case to the courts that they were as accommodating as possible to the Justice Department, that they didn't try to force the Justice Department's hand when it wasn't ready and that there was no excuse but to provide this information that they are demanding. So that is the balancing act right now for Justice Department, the calculation that Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary chairman, has to make in the days and weeks ahead.

Now also the question is -- more or less the time but how the contacts. Nadler said that yes, of course they want it as soon as possible, but they are more interested in getting the full report. There's no indication yet from the Justice Department that they will limit the number of redactions after Nadler said yesterday very clearly they want the full report. They will not settle for any redactions whatsoever. So the contents really matter, too. So there are a lot of questions still about exactly how the Democrats pursue it,

[09:05:01] But at the moment Jerry Nadler is armed with a subpoena, can serve it at any time, but they want to try to at least appear like they are accommodating before they really push things into full gear here, guys.

HARLOW: All right. Fair enough. Manu Raju, thanks.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now Sabrina Siddiqui, White House correspondent for the "Guardian" newspaper and Elie Honig, he's former federal and state prosecutor, also former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Elie, if I can begin with you, because, you know, the debate to this point has been full report or the summary.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: I mean, what the "Times" and the "Post" reporting indicates is that we didn't even get the full summary of this, right.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: The summary that Bob Mueller intended and already scrubbed presumably of, you know, secret information, confidential information. I mean, does this indicate to you that Barr got the summary wrong?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it does. Look, we were talking for about a week now about Barr's cliffs notes. It turns out it's cliffs notes of cliffs notes.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HONIG: That were sort of two levels removed from the main report. And I think this report is significant on a couple levels. First of all, everyone is trying to sort of surmise what might be in the Mueller report. I think there are some indications here from what the members of Mueller's team are saying that it's bad and it's worse than advertised and that Barr's letter was something of a sanitization of the report. And it's also significant because I think we're seeing the battlefield now switch over to transparency.

Who is going to be fighting to get this report out? It's going to be Democrats, and then you're going to see the Republicans fighting like mad to keep it secret. And that is not going to play well. Remember we had that 420-0 vote a couple of weeks ago. Everyone said release the whole thing. Yesterday every Republican on the committee said no.

SCIUTTO: It's a big difference.

HONIG: So -- playing against transparency is a losing play.

HARLOW: Well, the difference is, right, they voted yes to release it, yesterday was largely about fully released, redactions, et cetera.

HONIG: Yes. And that's going to be where the play is, the grand jury materials, that kind of thing.

HARLOW: Sabrina, again, it was the "New York Times" that deserves credit for breaking this story. The "Washington Post" quickly followed up confirming much of it but went a little bit farther in one part that certainly struck us, and that is that the "Washington Post" is reporting that some of the members of Mueller's team have complained to associates that evidence gathered on the obstruction front was, quote, as Kara said, "alarming and significant" and more acute than Barr suggested.

What does that tell you? Because it is important to note we don't -- this was not everyone on Mueller's team and we don't know the "Times" says how widespread this is vexation is among team members.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN ANALYST: Right. This really underscores the significance of Attorney General William Barr's decision to so quickly make his own determination in that four-page letter as to whether or not the special counsel had found sufficient evidence to bring charges of obstruction against the president. While Barr did specifically note that Mueller did not exonerate the president, he did in that letter essentially pre-judge before the American people were able to see the report or even members of Congress were able to see the report the special counsel's findings.

And so this is precisely why Democrats say that as Attorney General Barr is scrubbing that report of classified information or information that might be damaging to peripheral third parties, grand jury information, they simply don't trust him and believe that he is acting with motivations to protect the president. They do go back to that 2018 memo Barr wrote in which he was critical and dismissive of the entire line of inquiry with respect to obstruction.

And so I really do think that this might really escalate the demands by Democrats to see the full report and also amplify pressure on Chairman Nadler to subpoena the full report so that it can be made public. SCIUTTO: Elie Honig, a line from the "Washington Post" story caught

my attention. It said that some members of the office, this being the special counsel's office, were particularly disappointed that Barr did not release summary information the special counsel team had prepared. That seems to indicate the special counsel had summarized his findings in a way that he intended to, therefore, have it released. In other words, took out some of the information that might prevent that from being the case, whether it's grand jury testimony, et cetera.

If that were the case, did Barr act within his powers as attorney general to in effect overrule what is released?

HONIG: It's such an interesting question. On the one hand he's the attorney general. He's the head of the Department of Justice. Robert Mueller, unlike Ken Starr, is situated within the Department of Justice. Starr was under the courts technically. So the attorney general is the boss, he can do whatever he wants. But I do think that William Barr overstepped. If you look at the regulations and you look at the whole purpose of special counsel, the whole reason we have a special counsel is to take the key decision-makings outside the normal chain of command.

The attorney general is appointed by the president, reports to the president, and I think the whole reason you would ever have a special counsel is to get an outsider to make those decisions and Barr stepped in. The regulations certainly do not say the attorney general should be making thumbs up or thumbs down recommendations so I do think he overstepped.

HARLOW: That is the difference between the independent counsel statute.

HONIG: Yes.

HARLOW: Right? That does not operate under the AG and this, right?

HONIG: Exactly.

HARLOW: Sabrina, on the politics of it, I think it's important for us to get out there what those familiar with the attorney general's thinking are saying this morning and the "Times" says, quote, "According to officials familiar with the AG's thinking he and his aides limited the details they revealed because they were worried about wading into political territory."

[09:10:14] And there's reference to Comey and how he discussed Hillary Clinton's actions without bringing any charges against her. Is that a good point?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I think that that's the argument they're making that they were worried about politicizing this investigation, but the fundamental part of Barr's letter is that in making a determination on his own he immediately politicized the outcome of the investigation.

Look, I think that they are obviously a little bit on the defensive. I think about that second letter that the attorney general put out last week. That was a signal that he did, in fact, hear the criticism of his initial summary and perhaps he was worried that there might be some on the special counsel's team who might soon take their concerns public in some way.

It's true to say that, look, the majority of the American people may have made up their minds about the investigation at least so far, but that could change when they see more information in terms of the report and some of the underlying evidence. There are still a lot of unanswered questions with respect to obstruction since the special counsel did find evidence on both sides of the issue. And you think about just the laundry list of what they're examining from the firing of Comey and the handling of Michael Flynn and, you know, the public shaming of Jeff Sessions and threats behind the scenes to fire Mueller even if the president did not ultimately do so.

And then of course even with respect to the question of collusion. Yes, the special counsel may not have found evidence of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow but there are still so many unanswered questions about those contacts between senior members of the Trump campaign and Moscow and the Russians and what the counterintelligence actually did find.

So I think those are a lot of questions that the attorney general has yet to answer and he may soon find himself testifying on Capitol Hill.

HARLOW: Yes.

SIDDIQUI: And facing questions about his decision-making throughout this process.

HARLOW: Which he said he's willing to do. So we'll watch.

Sabrina and Elie, thanks very much.

Democrats launched another battle in their push to check the president. They are demanding six years of his tax returns. Yes, they have the power to make this demand now, but does that mean the president will ever turn these over?

SCIUTTO: He says he's going to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court.

And a new report says the Ethiopian Airlines pilots went through all the procedures recommended by Boeing to stop the doomed plane from crashing. How is Boeing responding?

Plus a teenage boy found in Kentucky said that he is a boy who went missing nearly eight years ago. The stunning story, really, that's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] SCIUTTO: Just hours after Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee authorized subpoenas for the Mueller report, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee made a long awaited move that could prove even more explosive, possibly more damaging to the president.

As the world learned first on CNN, the Ways and Means chair asked the IRS to produce the president's tax returns. CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill with that. Lauren, I gather the request did not come easily, but this is following the law, right? It is written in law that the Ways and Means Committee has the power to request anybody's tax return, is that right?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, that's right, Jim. You know, the day after the election, I was in Massachusetts and I was meeting with and interviewing Richard Neal. He told me then that he planned to make this move, but of course, it took several months. They were very clearly trying to build a case.

And every time we'd ask, Richard Neal, he said you know, I will request these tax returns as soon as I have an actual case that I feel very comfortable with. That's where he got yesterday when he made that formal request to the IRS. But of course, we know that this is not something that the president of the United States is going to hand over easily.

Here is what the president said just moments after that news broke yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm always under audit it seems, but I've been under audit for many years because the numbers are big and I guess when you have a name, you -- you're audited. But until such time as I'm not under audit, I would not be inclined to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOX: Now, this request, there's only a one week deadline, so that's not a lot of time for the IRS to turn over these documents. We of course expect that this is going to be a protracted fight, and the next steps here could take months or even years.

And this is a chairman I should note, who has wanted to work with the Trump administration on issues like infrastructure. This is not somebody who wanted to make this just another partisan fight, another Democratic investigation. But of course, this comes in a week when there have been multiple votes to authorize subpoenas, both in the Judiciary Committee and in the Oversight Committee.

The Oversight Committee issuing those subpoenas, both on an investigation into how a question about citizenship ended up on the census as well as an investigation into security clearances at the White House. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes, we should note that Michael Cohen in his testimony on the Hill raised questions about whether the president is actually under audit. Lauren Fox, thanks for following this story.

FOX: That's right -- HARLOW: All right, joining us now is Republican Congressman James

Comer of Kentucky, he serves on the Oversight Committee. Good morning to you, sir, and thank you for being with me.

I'd like to get your reaction, first, to that reporting that our colleague Lauren Fox broke. We know from the latest polling, 64 percent of Americans think the president should release his tax returns. He's been in office now for two years. Do you think that you and the American people have the right to see his tax returns?

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Well, I think that every high level politician should disclose their tax returns. I'm one of eight members of the House of Representatives that have disclosed my tax returns. It's ironic that so many in the House of Representatives on the Democrat side are calling for the president to disclose their tax -- his taxes when they don't, in fact, disclose theirs.

[09:20:00] I've been here two full years and I have done that both years and will continue to do it. But it's not the law. If it were the law, I am confident that President Trump would do that. So President Trump is not breaking the law, the Democrats are still reeling over the disappointment from the Mueller report and now they've turned their attention to his business in the past.

HARLOW: So -- well, that's newsy by the way because I think you voted for -- with the president 94 percent of the time at last checked. So you're saying you want to see his tax returns and everyone should.

COMER: Well, no, I'm not --

HARLOW: But hold on --

COMER: What I'm saying is I think he -- I think every high level --

HARLOW: What do you think --

COMER: Politician should disclose their taxes --

HARLOW: OK, all right, fair enough. He is a pretty high level --

COMER: All right --

HARLOW: Politician. Two questions for you on that front --

COMER: That's right --

HARLOW: One, isn't he breaking his promises, the ones he made repeatedly on the campaign trail? And, two, it is part of IRS code that the Ways and Means Committee which is now chaired by Democrat Neal, Representative Neal, does have the right to make this request.

Yes, they have to go through Treasury, so Mnuchin would have to turn them over, but it is part of the IRS code, sir.

COMER: It apparently is part of the IRS code, but we're setting a dangerous precedent when we use the IRS to weaponize a potential political foe, and that's exactly what the Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee are trying to do. I think that --

HARLOW: Why is it weaponizing, sir, if there's nothing nefarious in there?

COMER: Well, I don't think -- you know, we all have our sense of privacy. I don't think that we need to set a precedent to go back 15 or six years or whatever the Democrats are trying to propose to see the president's taxes. I mean, it's not the law.

I think presidents and governors and members of Congress should disclose their taxes while they're in office, but what the Democrats are trying to do is they're continuing to dig, they're continuing this witch-hunt. The president had a great week two weeks ago with the release of the Mueller report. Now, they're desperately trying to find something on the president and his family, and it's very discouraging, I don't think the American people support it.

I think the American people want to see Congress govern and not continue to do witch hunts up there.

HARLOW: All right, congressman, I want to move on to other very important topics to get to. But again, 64 percent of the American people told Quinnipiac in a recent poll that they do want to see them. Let's move on to the Mueller report, the Barr --

COMER: Right --

HARLOW: Summary of it, sir, you've recently called a quote, "big win" for the president, but I'm sure you've seen the "New York Times" reporting this morning that says some of Mueller's own investigators, quote -- say that this summary, Barr's summary, quote, "failed" to adequately portray their findings and they were -- that those findings were, quote, "more troubling for the president than Barr indicated", close quote.

Do you still maintain that this was a, quote, "big win" for the president or would you like to now reserve a little bit of judgment on that?

COMER: Yes, I still think it's a big win for the president. It's no secret that there were many working with Mueller that did not like the president, and I'm sure they're disappointed with the press coverage, but I have confidence in Attorney General Barr, he has a record of achievement, and I think that he's abiding by the law.

And I think we're all going to be able to see the Mueller report very soon. I voted to make the Mueller report public, as did every Republican in the House of Representatives.

HARLOW: Right.

COMER: But it's -- you know, there are certain things in there we have to make sure don't compromise our national security.

HARLOW: Right, but then as you know, yesterday, we saw a number of those Republicans on the Judiciary Committee vote against a fully unredacted report being released at least to Congress. Let me get you on Obamacare because just yesterday --

COMER: Right --

HARLOW: This didn't get as many headlines, but it's an important vote. Just yesterday, you voted not to condemn the Trump administration's joining of that lawsuit from attorneys general around the country to throw out Obamacare. They're joining with that ruling of the Texas judge that if it gets rid of the ACA completely, would wipe out protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

Explain to me why you're comfortable with that.

COMER: Well, you know, the Obamacare has been devastating to the majority of Americans in healthcare, especially in Kentucky. There were winners and losers with Obamacare. If you're on Medicaid, you're a winner, because that's free healthcare.

Some people get mad when I say that, but it doesn't cost anything, when providers cover someone with Medicaid rather, not Medicare, Medicaid. When someone covers a Medicaid recipient, they lose money on it, they have to make their money on people they actually pay for their healthcare, working Americans.

So it's increased the cost for working Americans. Now, we passed the healthcare bill last year that did provide protection for pre-existing conditions, and I think that what needs to happen is we need to completely start all over with the healthcare in America. I think we passed the good bill --

HARLOW: So I understand that, congressman, but I guess --

COMER: Right --

HARLOW: My specific question to you was, by being supportive of the Trump administration joining in this AG push and joining in this Texas judge's ruling, agreeing with it, that would eliminate the ACA completely which would do away with protections for those with pre- existing conditions. And I'm interested in why you are comfortable with that because I get a lot of your constituents want to know.

[09:25:00] COMER: If anything happened to people with pre-existing conditions, I can assure you, President Trump and Republicans in Congress would be here 24 hours a day, seven days a week until we got a compromise to fix people with pre-existing conditions.

HARLOW: Yes, except they're pushing --

COMER: That's a priority for --

HARLOW: They're pushing for an elimination of the ACA without presenting a plan that would protect pre-existing conditions. It doesn't just --

COMER: And that would --

HARLOW: Appear. COMER: That would probably -- that would probably move Washington to

come up with a plan because there's no question, there's overwhelming support to protect people with pre-existing conditions. The problem we had when we voted on this bill before was there were a couple of Republican senators that said, well, our bill which scrapped the Obamacare, but it protected people with pre-existing conditions, they called that Obamacare Light.

And what --

HARLOW: Right --

COMER: The president needs to continue to do is say, we're going to scrap Obamacare, but we're going to protect people with pre-existing --

HARLOW: Right --

COMER: Conditions. That's what the people --

HARLOW: So --

COMER: In America support and I support that as well.

HARLOW: All right, so, congressman, final question because you brought up --

COMER: Right --

HARLOW: Medicaid expansion. And --

COMER: Right --

HARLOW: We have seen in your state alone, we have seen 480,000 --

COMER: Right --

HARLOW: People in Kentucky alone get --

COMER: Right --

HARLOW: Health insurance because of Medicaid expansion solely --

COMER: Right --

HARLOW: Under Obamacare. And you --

COMER: Right --

HARLOW: Know how critical that expansion has been to fighting the opioid epidemic in terms of funding facilities to help addicts of the opioid crisis. CDC says Kentucky is number five for overdose deaths and opioids leads that. Are you comfortable, then, with that Medicaid expansion being wiped out for all of those folks?

COMER: Here is the problem with the Medicaid expansion. It was a great deal for people that got on Medicaid, because they don't pay anything for healthcare. They have little to no deductibles or copays, but it came at the expense of working Kentuckians whose healthcare premiums continue to skyrocket by double digits every year.

You cannot have a healthcare system in America with winners and losers, and the losers are the small business owners and the people that actually work and pay for healthcare. So I'm sympathetic to the people that need healthcare. I wish everybody had healthcare.

You know, it's great what Bernie Sanders said, let's just give everybody free healthcare, but at the end of the day, somebody has to pay for that healthcare. And the problem with Obamacare is the people that are paying for healthcare are the people that are working and the people that are taking risks out here with small businesses. We cannot continue to have a healthcare system with winners and losers.

HARLOW: Let's hope a solution comes because a lot of people will need that if this is wiped out --

COMER: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Congressman James Comer, come back to the show, we appreciate your time this morning.

COMER: Thank you, Poppy, for having me.

SCIUTTO: There are new concerns this morning for Boeing. A new report says the pilots on the doomed Ethiopian Airlines plane followed Beijing's procedures but they could still not control the 737 Max 8 before it went down, killing all those people on board.

And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Investors will be watching a big meeting between President Trump and the Vice Premier of China this afternoon at the White House as trade talks between the two countries continue. Can they reach agreement? Not clear yet, we'll see.

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