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White House Battles Democrats on Mueller Report; Democrats Demand Trump & Trump Organization's Tax Returns; Cohen Says He Has New Evidence in Bid to Stay Out of Prison; Soon Biden Makes 1st Public Appearance Since Complaints of Unwanted Touching; Warren Says Filibuster A Tool to Block Racial Justice; Boeing Makes Admission after 2 Deadly Plane Crashes. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 5, 2019 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:05] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Erica Hill, in for Kate Bolduan.

Right now, President Trump is on his way to visit the U.S. border with Mexico.

Back in Washington, the attorney general and the president's legal team are gearing up for two big fights. On the Mueller report, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler is demanding the Justice Department produce all communications between Bill Barr and the special counsel. Sources tell CNN some members of the Mueller team were unhappy with the attorney general's four-page summary of their nearly 400-page report because it didn't properly convey just how damaging their findings were for President Trump.

And then there's the issue of the president's tax returns. The White House is threatening to block Democrats' demand for six years of filings, as the president himself suggests the Justice Department could get involved.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House.

Right before leaving this morning, the president was asked again, Abby, about his tax returns. What's the latest from the president?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, the president hasn't said a whole lot about this issue, but he has reiterated one thing, which is that he is under audit, and while he's under audit, he does not believe he needs to release his tax returns. He's responding to what is not actually a request to him. It's a request from the House Ways and Means Committee to the IRS directly.

And here's how he responded to another question from reporters this morning about what he thinks about the possibility that his taxes could be released under the law that the Ways and Means Committee is citing in order to make this request.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm under audit. But that's up to whatever it is. From what I understand, the law is 100 percent on my side.


PHILLIP: But, Erica, it's really not clear whether the law is 100 percent on his side.

The Ways and Means Committee is citing a part of the IRS tax code that gives certain congressional committees the right to request an individual's tax returns. Nancy Pelosi said yesterday those kinds of requests have never been denied, but in this case, it would be up to the Trump administration to handle that.

One interesting point is that the "New York Times" is reporting that President Trump weighed in on the nominee for the attorney for the IRS, who would be dealing with these kinds of requests. He asked Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, to speed up this individual's nomination, and it seemed to be an effort for Trump to put someone in that position who might have -- who might see it his way. This is someone who's had some minor dealings with the Trump Organization in his past life before being nominated for this post. And so the implication here is that President Trump has known this is coming down the pike, that Democrats wanted to see his tax returns for a long time, and has been trying to slowly get in position so when there's a legal fight over this, he might be well positioned to win it. We'll see what happens now, but clearly, this is headed toward a big fight and potentially towards the courts.

HILL: Abby Phillip, with the latest from the White House. Abby, thank you.

For a closer look on what Democrats in Congress want, let's go to CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

Manu, let's start first with Chairman Nadler and what he wants from the Department of Justice.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, one thing they want is the release of the full Mueller report and the underlying evidence, as, of course, the Judiciary Committee has authorized a subpoena for all that information. Nadler has not served the Justice Department yet. Nadler told me that he's waiting, trying to show accommodation to the Justice Department before ultimately deciding to serve the Justice Department in case this ends up in court so they can argue they did everything they could to convince the Justice Department to comply.

In the aftermath of these reports showing some tension among some people on Mueller's team with the Justice Department, Nadler is demanding all communications between the Justice Department and Mueller's team over the release of that report. He sent a letter to Bill Barr yesterday demanding this information. That is not a subpoena threat at the moment, but potentially they could turn into one. At the moment, that's where things are. They're trying to pressure the Justice Department to release the full unredacted report. But as we know, Erica, there's no sign yet that the Justice Department is going to listen to that request and there's no sign they won't redact at least some portion of the report. The big question is, how much of the report will be behind those black lines -- Erica?

HILL: Will be interesting to see.

Also, Manu, Michael Cohen writing a new letter to Congress. He wants a little more time. What is he asking for specifically?

RAJU: Yes, he says that he is urging -- his lawyers sent a letter to congressional committees yesterday, Democrats in particular, saying that he needs their help to persuade the Southern District of New York to delay his jail time because, according to this letter from Cohen's attorneys, he has more information that could be helpful to their investigations. Some files that he discovered on a hard drive, apparently, could be helpful to what the Democrats are investigating on the Hill.

He laid out a number of things he could be helpful in. And in this letter, it says this, it says, "We hope that this memorandum demonstrates that Mr. Cohen needs to be readily accessible and immediately available to provide ongoing assistance to Congress in order for it to fulfill its executive-branch oversight responsibilities."

[11:05:38] Erica, no word yet from Democrats about whether they will agree to try to persuade federal prosecutors to delay jail time. Republicans pushing back saying this is an effort by Cohen to try to get out of jail. We'll see what information he has to provide and how Democrats ultimately respond -- Erica?

HILL: Manu, thank you.

Joining me now, CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and CNN political commentator, Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary under President Clinton.

I may be a little cynical, which happens sometimes, especially in this business, but this letter from Michael Cohen, this promise of, oh, I've got more, we should just wait, it feels a little 11th-hour desperate.

Joe, how do Democrats handle that?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's a tough one for Democrats because I think there's a little bait here for there may be something very interesting, but I think Democrats have so far been very careful about calibrating their response. This is a little bit of a trap for them, I think. I think if they start weighing in with SDNY and trying to keep Michael Cohen, who was convicted of very serious crimes, out of jail, that opens them up to legitimate criticism. While it may be tempting, if they were listening to me, I would say stay away from this one.

HILL: Interesting to say it could be a trap. As we look at everything that is else happening, that has just been

laid out for us, Gloria, Democrats turning up the pressure when it comes to -- they don't want to just see the president's personal tax returns. They want to know about his businesses, too. We should point that out because that's important.


HILL: There's also new reporting from the "New York Times" about the president wanting to make sure that the chief counsel was installed at the IRS even before Bill Barr as attorney general, that it was so important to get him there. The White House and the president are not backing down in this fight. Where do Democrats take it?

BORGER: Well, first, why am I not surprised that the president wanted to install somebody he knew, who had once worked with the Trump Organization in that position, and that he was eager to do it. If you look at the timing of all this, as the "New York Times" piece points out, it was around the time the Democrats started saying we're going to get your tax returns, we need to get your tax returns. I think that the Democrats found a very narrow way -- they were very careful about this. They found a very narrow way to ask the president for his tax returns, to ask the IRS to release it. They believe they're on solid ground. The president says they are not on solid ground. Obviously, this may end up in court. We just -- you know, we don't know at this point. The danger here for Democrats, to Joe's point, is you can't be seen to be overreaching on everything. And they're investigating on a multitude of fronts right now. Not only in terms of the Mueller report, but now in terms of the president's tax returns. And so they have to be -- they do have to be careful about this and not to appear to be fishing on everything.

HILL: So to that point, we know that, in polling, 67 percent of Americans say the president should release his tax returns.

BORGER: Yes. Sure.

HILL: There's an appetite to see what's in there.

But to Gloria's point, Joe, is this the smartest fight right now for Democrats to be picking?

LOCKHART: Well, I would say, first, the flip side to the Democrats being careful about fishing is the Trump administration can't be stonewalling on everything.


BORGER: Exactly.

LOCKHART: And it really does create this atmosphere that they're hiding on every front.

I think Gloria makes the right point. Democrats were very smart the way they went after this. They didn't say we want every tax return ever, you know, and without reason. They found a section of the IRS tax code that allows them to get this, a very limited amount, and they're doing that. I expect the administration will block this. He has his man there now. And it will go to court. And if you listen to the legal analysts, who have been on the air talking back and forth, it's a pretty easy case, I think, for the Democrats to win. And you know, one of the things about fishing is, you know, it seems legitimate when the other side is pedaling so hard to stop you from catching anything. I think the Democrats are helped immensely by the strategy that the Trump administration has taken, I think, across the board. They ought to just pull the Band-Aid off on some of these things. It's very painful in the short term, but politics is a business where the subject changes very quickly.

[11:10:09] HILL: Especially these days.

LOCKHART: And with the way they're doing it, this is going to hang around until Election Day.


LOCKHART: And that I don't think that's a recipe for success.

BORGER: And on the release of the Mueller report, don't forget, the House voted unanimously -- and they don't vote unanimously on naming what day it is, right -- they voted unanimously to release the Mueller report. And 80 percent of the public wants to see what's in the Mueller report. And so I think the Democrats on that are on terra- firma. The public is with them on that.

HILL: But the way we're seeing Barr dig in, right, the changing of the messaging from the president, that's not a surprise. It should not be a surprise any time the messaging changes --


HILL: -- from the president. But the fact there have been these deadlines thrown out, and there have been demands thrown out, and now the latest letter from Chairman Nadler, and the DOJ responding. The fact is, Barr is not biting. He's not moving.

BORGER: No. No, but don't forget, on the redactions, he has Mueller sitting on his shoulder.

HILL: Right.

BORGER: We don't know if he's there every minute, but he's working with Mueller. I presume that Mueller and his team want their summaries out of what they did in the report, and they want more rather than less. Mueller wasn't born yesterday. He's been around Washington a long time. I presume they wrote a lot of this report knowing it would be released to the public.

HILL: Right, written in a way that it could be.

BORGER: Yes, exactly. Scrubbed, pre-scrubbed.

HILL: Yes. LOCKHART: Remember, what Congress is asking for now is not to release this to the public.

BORGER: Exactly.

LOCKHART: There's absolutely no precedent to hold back this information from Congress. Congress gets briefed on the most sensitive national security issues on an almost daily basis. And they are coequal branches with the executive, and there's a level of trust. There will be a debate on what goes to the public, but what Bill Barr is saying right now is, I'm not going to let Congress see anything I don't want Congress to see, and that position is not sustainable.

BORGER: There's also a question, how much you can say about the president, whom you cannot indict.

HILL: Right.

BORGER: So remember Jim Comey, who came out there and didn't -- I'm sure you remember --


BORGER: -- he didn't indict, you know, Hillary Clinton but he said she was reckless. So is this equivalent to that?


HILL: Right. That's the question that keeps coming up.


HILL: Just really quickly for both of you because I love to have you both weigh in, who do you think is winning the messaging war here with the American public? Is it Donald Trump and his camp and Republicans, more the president than Republicans, I would say, or is it the Democrats?

BORGER: Most of the public still believes the president is not an honest person. However, I think when Trump came out and said, I was exonerated, it had a lot of impact on people. I think the way it's impacted people is they have turned the page. Maybe they don't believe him, but they have turned the page.

LOCKHART: I think it depends on the messaging. He's won the messaging war. He's always won it with his own base. He's lost it with the Democrats and progressives, which it didn't matter, he was always going to lose it. I think he's lost it with the people in the middle. Let's remember, the day the Mueller -- the Barr letter came out -- let's not call it the Mueller report --

BORGER: Right.

LOCKHART: -- came out, he claimed total exoneration. The next poll that came out, three or four days later, said 29 percent of Americans -- only 29 percent of Americans, his base, believed that he was totally exonerated.

BORGER: Exactly.

LOCKHART: So on his best day --


HILL: And the letter said he was not totally exonerated. Let's not forget that.

LOCKHART: On his best day, he still had less than a third of the public who believed him. I think to -- what you need to get re- elected, the middle, and either the left or the right, he's lost the messaging war.

HILL: Joe, Gloria, appreciate it.


HILL: Thank you.

Coming up, Joe Biden makes his first public appearance since multiple women alleged inappropriate contact by the former vice president. So will he address the issue this morning?

[11:13:54] Plus, a rare admission from Boeing after two deadly plane crashes. All this as regulators order a fix for a second software problem. Could Boeing face criminal charges?


HILL: Minutes from now, Joe Biden will be speaking to the Electrical Workers Union in Washington, his first public appearance since allegations of inappropriate contact with several women surfaced. The big question, of course, today, will the former vice president and possible 2020 candidate address the issue. We'll find out once he takes to the microphone. It will be interesting if he mentions his Twitter tangle with President Trump. The president posted a video mocking Biden over the allegations. Biden tweeting back, "I see you're on the job and presidential as always."

Joining me now to discuss, CNN political analyst and "New York Times" correspondent, Alex Burns, and CNN senior political reporter, Nia Malika Henderson.

Good to see both of you.

Nia Malika, as we look at this, it's not clear that Joe Biden is actually planning to address what the rest of the world has been talking about for the last several days. Doesn't he need to?

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You would think he would need to address this at some point. Of course, he had that video. It came up short for some people because it was a non-apology apology. Sorry not/sorry thing going on there. And I think it just highlights the odd position he's in as candidate in waiting presumably. You look at the sort of top words of his video, essentially says you'll be hearing more from me in the weeks to come. So here he is about to give this speech to these union guys, unlikely he will mention it or make any reference to it. But at some point, he will certainly have to. And you imagine those first interviews that he does once he announces, if he announces, as everything points to he will at some point, this will be something he'll have to address. Listen, it will likely be something that hangs over any campaign he launches, because all eyes will be on him as he's out there, if he runs, on the stump interacting with voters.

[11:20:15] HILL: The president having a field day with this, which is not surprising. The irony, however, appears to be lost on the president in the way he's weighing in.

But he also had this to say when he was asked this morning about Joe Biden. Take a listen.


TRUMP: I don't see him as a threat. I think he's only a threat to himself.


HILL: Alex, does the president have a point there? Is Joe Biden right now the biggest threat to Joe Biden?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The president has a point about that. The president is not being on the level when he says he's not concerned about Joe Biden. We know from our reporter and from CNN's reporting that the president is very concerned about Joe Biden. His advisers see Biden as the kind of candidate who would perform well in the areas the president demolished the blue wall of the Midwest in 2016. Absolutely, the biggest unresolved question about Joe Biden's potential campaign, other than whether he will launch it, is just how he will perform on the campaign trail. We haven't seen Joe Biden in the kind of freeform gaggles with reporters that we have seen folks like Beto O'Rourke and Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. When you're suddenly surrounded by TV cameras or talking directly to voters and someone is throwing the Clarence Thomas hearings at you or your record on school busing or abortion or all the stuff over the last week, we have no sense of how prepared Biden is for that moment.

HILL: We should point out, this is something that has been discussed not just over the last few weeks but really for months as people have been gaming whether over not Joe Biden is going to get in. There's been talk about how extensive his record is, which he likes to play on, but is also a lot of fodder for people to dig through. And even the most recent issues. Maybe you couldn't predict Lucy Flores, but there was cringe-worthy video way back before #metoo that everyone knew was going to be brought up.

BURNS: It's one of the most frustrating parts of this Joe Biden not- quite campaign for people who are supportive of him. The sense he's taking his time to decide whether to run. He's had a long runway to figure out how to deal with the kinds of things you're talking and really hasn't clearly made the best use of it.

HILL: Nia Malika, we're waiting to hear from Elizabeth Warren, who is going to call for an end to the filibuster this morning. She wants Democrats to get on board. How do you think that's going to play out?

HENDERSON: You know, we'll see. As she's linking to this historic fact that the filibuster has been used, she'll say in this speech, basically to block advances in terms of civil rights. I think she's going to specifically refer to some lynching legislation. You know, she is the policy leader in this campaign so far. Policy after policy, whether it's this idea of ending the filibuster, something that the president himself actually agrees upon, other Democrats say, be careful what you wish for, Elizabeth Warren. Because, obviously, if it's Republicans in office, they can use it in the same way that Democrats could use in office as well. So we'll see how she is received at this event. Obviously, this is a cattle call for a number of candidates to try to connect with African-American voters. She's had little success so far in terms of polling. She's down in the low single digits. We'll see what her fundraising is so far. But she's intent on being a policy leader, and really bold policies, changing the Electoral College, this one here about ending the filibuster, breaking up big tech companies. We'll see how she wears with voters going forward, particularly how today she's received with African- American voters. Hasn't had much success so far and much sort of engagement with African-American voters, particularly in Massachusetts, but this, I think, will be a big test for her. We'll see how she handles it.

HILL: We'll be watching it all.

Nia Malika Henderson, Alex Burns, good to see you both. Thank you.

[11:23:57] Coming up, backlash for Boeing as federal regulators order a fix for a second software problem. Were pilots undertrained? And could Boeing face criminal charges?


HILL: Boeing now acknowledging to the "Washington Post" that regulators have ordered the fix of a second flaw in the flight control system of its 737 MAX planes. The planes have been grounded after two fatal crashes less than five months apart.

Boeing's CEO has made a statement that is actually raising more than a few eyebrows.

CNN's Drew Griffin has more.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The CEO of Boeing making a rare admission, accepting blame for two of its airliners that crashed.

DENNIS MUILENBURG, CEO, BOEING: It's apparent that in both flights, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, activated in response to erroneous angle-of-attack information. It's our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it. And we know how to do it.

GRIFFIN: The video message from Boeing comes after a devastating preliminary report laying out that a software issue apparently caused the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight last month. The report also suggesting the same issue may have caused a Lion Air flight to go down last year. The preliminary report finds the pilots did everything required to try to bring the plane back safely, but ultimately couldn't control it.

Former Boeing operations analyst, Rick Ludtke, says during development of the 737 MAX, Boeing had a mandate, make sure any changes to the plane would not require additional pilot training in a simulator.