Return to Transcripts main page


Joe Biden Jokes About Physical Contact Controversy; Trump Visits Border; Trump Fighting Release of Tax Returns. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 5, 2019 - 15:00   ET




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I may shut it down at some point, but I would rather do tariffs. So, Mexico, I have to say, has been very, very good, you know that, over the last four days.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is in San Ysidro, California.

And so what exactly is the president doing there today, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president just touched down.

He's going to go tour what the White House is touting as a new section of wall, but, Brooke, what we know is that it's actually a part of fencing that already existed, but it has recently been renovated, and it's about 30 feet higher than it was before.

That's what the president's going to go see. It's got a plaque bearing his name. He's touting it right now as part of essentially what he campaigned on, Brooke, though, when you see the president in front of that wall, it's going to look a lot different than what he promised on the campaign trail, which was this concrete wall made of -- that was steel-reinforced.

It's going to look a lot different than that, but, still, the president is going to be touting that as a success. And as you just played that sound of the president, he is backing off his threat to close the border.

Officials have insisted for days that the president was not bluffing on that threat and that he was going to follow through on it unless something dramatic happened. And instead of something dramatic happening, the White House is saying that Mexico is doing more to apprehend the Central American migrants who are making their way up through Mexico, coming to the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico.

And they say that's why the president is backing off that threat. But, Brooke, we also know that the president has been heeding the warnings of local officials in recent days, telling him what essentially it would do if he did close the border, and that it would devastate the U.S. economy, in the words of not only business officials, but also Republican lawmakers, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

One of those that would be affected is San Ysidro right behind us. This is a port of entry here, one of the busiest in the Western Hemisphere. And if the president had closed the border, it would not only affect billions of dollars in trade, but also, Brooke, the people who cross over this port of entry every single day to go to work, to pick up their children, everything like that.

That's what would be affected by the president. And that's why you're seeing him back off that threat to shut the border down.

BALDWIN: All right, Kaitlan, thank you very much, Kaitlan Collins in California. We will keep our eye out for the president there.

But we want to get to this also breaking this afternoon. A Trump administration official tells CNN that President Trump and his legal team are willing to fight the House Democratic request for his tax returns all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

So, senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown is with me on this development.

And so the fight begins.


I can tell you, administration officials and the president's outside attorneys, Brooke, are girding for this fight, in the wake of the House and Ways Mean -- House and Ways and Means Committee chairman sending this letter to the IRS demanding for the president's tax returns over the last six years to be turned over, using this little known provision in the tax law.

And I'm told by source familiar, Brooke, that the president's outside attorneys have been working on this letter that they plan to send to the IRS' chief counsel's office, laying out why they think that the IRS should not turn over the tax returns.

This source says that the letter will raise a number of statutory and other issues, constitutional issues, trying to make their case. So what will happen from here, Brooke, is the IRS would likely consult with its lawyers and with lawyers potentially from the Office of Legal Counsel, the Department of Justice.

This source I spoke to said -- this person did not believe that the president's tax returns would be turned over anytime soon. And an administration official speaking to my colleague Jim Acosta said, basically, this is a hill they're willing to die on, that the administration is willing to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court. As you know, Republicans on the Hill have come out saying that the tax law is being weaponized, that this is setting a bad precedent. So, as you said, the fight is only beginning -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Pamela Brown, thank you so much on the tax returns fight.

Let's get to this one. The 2020 battle lines are being drawn, President Trump vs. the Democrats' would-be front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden. The issue here, allegations of inappropriate touching and making women feel uncomfortable.

Just earlier today, in Biden's first public speech since those allegations came to light, the former vice president decided to stand up there on stage and joke about them, not just once, but twice.


JOSEPH BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want you to know, I had permission to hug Lonnie.

I don't want you to have to stand all along, but it's up -- by the way, he gave me permission to touch him.


BALDWIN: Biden and President Trump are already going head to head on this issue. This is what the president said this morning when asked about Biden.


QUESTION: What exactly is offensive about Joe Biden's behavior and, are you the right messenger for that?

TRUMP: Yes, I think I'm a very good messenger. And people got a kick out of it. He's going through a situation. Let's see what happens, but people got a kick. We got to sort of smile a little bit, right?


QUESTION: Do you see Joe Biden as a threat?

TRUMP: No, I don't see Joe Biden as a threat,no. I don't see him as a threat. I think he's only a threat to himself.

QUESTION: What's your reaction to President Trump taunting you on Twitter? What do you have to say to him?

BIDEN: Well, it doesn't surprise me. He doesn't have time to do his job. But, look, it's -- everybody knows who Donald Trump is.

So I don't have to say anything more, I don't think.


BALDWIN: Let me bring in CNN's political director, David Chalian, and White House correspondent for "The Guardian" Sabrina Siddiqui.

Welcome to both of you.

And let me just sneak one more piece of sound in. This is after the former vice president was up on stage. He spoke to reporters afterwards. Take a listen.


BIDEN: It is important that I and everyone else is aware that any woman or man who feels uncomfortable should have the right to just say, hey, I was uncomfortable with that.

Or, hopefully, we will get to the point even before they have say, I'm uncomfortable, no matter what. And I really do understand that.

And so -- but it's -- one of the things that -- like, for example, what made me say it, I wasn't joking. The president of the union put his arms around me. Well, that's how it's always been in -- been coming here a long time. That's how people react.

QUESTION: Do you think you owe these women a direct apology who have come forward so far?

BIDEN: Well, look, I -- the fact of the matter is, I made it clear that, if I made anyone feel comfortable (sic), I feel badly about that. That was never my intention.


BALDWIN: And, David, our Arlette Saenz was there. She followed up asking about why not apologize. And his quote was: "I am not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I have never been disrespectful intentionally to a man or a woman."

How bad is this for him, politically speaking?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's obviously not how he wanted to launch his campaign for president, which he clearly indicated today.

He actually said, we're off to the races, even though he said that he can't quite say that yet legally. So, no bones about that, he's running here. And this is not how anyone wants to launch.

But to answer your question, Brooke, I don't think we know, right? I don't think we know how bad this is politically. What I do think we know is the forces that he is trying to navigate inside the party. Joe Biden clearly believes that he needs to show mindfulness, as he says, about this, but not give an inch on apology and not say that he's going to become a different person who takes what he calls sort of humanity and the tactile sense of politics and everything he has sort of learned out of this.

Well, what that does is, that puts him at crosscurrents generationally, right? He may actually represent a point of view where there may be a whole slew of Democratic voters that agree with Joe Biden that he didn't nothing inappropriate.

But, as Nancy Pelosi explained, it doesn't matter what your intention is. It matters, in these conversations, what somebody experiences. Now, Biden says he gets that. That's where he runs into the crosscurrents of a new generation, a different, energetic Democratic base that he hasn't really experienced before at this level.

And it's that sort of collision, that tension where Joe Biden is trying to navigate, and he doesn't seem yet to be sure-footed with that navigation.

BALDWIN: You mentioned the word intention.

Sabrina, I mean, I noted he said, I didn't intend to make light, I didn't intend to make women feel uncomfortable.

What do you think? Same question to you.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, Brooke, we were just talking two days ago about the video in which Joe Biden acknowledged that social norm is had changed. He explained that...


BALDWIN: Let me play that. Actually, let me play that, in case people haven't seen it. Roll it.


BIDEN: Social norms have begun to change. They have shifted. And the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset. And I get it. I get it. I hear what they're saying. I understand it.

And I will be much more mindful. That's my responsibility, my responsibility. And I will meet it.


BALDWIN: Two days ago. Go ahead, Sabrina.

SIDDIQUI: So, as you heard in that video, Joe Biden explained that he didn't mean any harm in his intentions, but he did vow to change his behavior and to be more mindful of women's personal space.

And so for him to now turn around and joke about the complaints against him does strike a tone that is dismissive of a conversation these women are trying to have, which is not to say that all allegations are equal or that any of these women are accusing the former vice president of sexual assault or harassment. They are not.


They are simply saying that some of the physical interactions that these women have had with Joe Biden have left them feeling uncomfortable. And what that does is, it reinforces that no one statement or no one

video is going to put this issue behind Joe Biden, if he enters the 2028 race, as he is widely expected to do. A lot of this will depend, in terms of whether or not it affects his campaign, on how he continues to address the complaints about his behavior and whether he has a clear and consistent answer.

He cannot be all over the place. And he certainly cannot joke about it.

BALDWIN: David, we were listening to the president this morning when he was asked about Biden. He said that Biden is -- quote -- "the threat" -- he was asked if Biden was a threat to him. He said, no, Biden is a threat to himself.

I was just talking to Gloria about it last hour, and she said, you know what, the president's right. Do you agree? And do you think this is a preview of potentially a Biden v. Trump?

CHALIAN: Well, I do think -- to add to what Sabrina was just saying, I do think that what Joe Biden has experienced in this last week is the real formation of a narrative that he's going -- that he's going to have to contend with throughout the entire duration of his candidacy.

I think so much of the Biden candidacy is now going to be viewed through the prism -- and it would have been before this incident to some degree as well -- of whether or not he is in touch with this moment in time, with this modern-day Democratic nominating electorate, where the energy is in the party. Is he fully attuned to that?

I think that question is going to be hanging over his candidacy for its duration. To answer your question about the president, Brooke, I don't believe the president thinks he's not a threat to him. I think that that is language he is using, because the president has engaged now this week with Joe Biden on several occasions.

You don't do that with someone that you have no concern about. You do that with a potential opponent that you do have some concern about. And his aides have been clear in talking to reporters that they do see Joe Biden as a potential real formidable opponent, should he get the Democratic nomination.

BALDWIN: It's -- to your point, it certainly sounds like he is about to be full steam ahead.

So, Sabrina, last question. What does the former vice president need to do to fully address this so he can move on?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I think he just needs to first show that he is willing to change his behavior, that he is taking these complaints seriously.

The tone he struck in that video, many people thought, was at least a start. And that's why him joking about it today was sort of taking a step back, after -- after at least indicating that he was listening to what these women had to say.

He does have a strong record when it comes to women's rights. He does talk about leading the Obama administration's charge against campus sexual assault. He was, of course, the original sponsor and author of the Violence Against Women Act.

So I think if he stays focused on the issues, and, at the same time, acknowledges how the social norms have, in fact, changed in the MeToo era, then perhaps he will be able to tackle this issue head on. But, certainly, it's going to continue to come up. And he's going to have to have one clear answer when he -- whenever this question is asked of him.

And if there are more women who come forward, he's going to again have to acknowledge that he is willing to change his behavior and not just go back to the idea that his intentions and his intentions that he meant well. That will not be enough.

BALDWIN: Sabrina and David, thank you both.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

CHALIAN: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, we will take you back live to the U.S.- Mexico border. President Trump there in California just about to hold a roundtable with immigration officials. Live pictures there.

All this comes as the president of abruptly withdrew his nominee for ICE today, the ICE director post. And we're learning who within the White House convinced him to change his mind.

Plus, Boeing admits there is a now second software problem with its MAX 8 jets. What is being done -- what's being done fix it?

And, later, the city of Chicago is planning to file a civil suit after actor Jussie Smollett ignored the mayor's deadline to reimburse the city some $130,000 in police investigation costs, his lawyer saying he will not be intimidated.



BALDWIN: All right, back to this breaking story this afternoon.

The president and his attorneys are fighting back against Democrats' efforts to get their hands on his tax returns, so much so that these lawyers now say they're not afraid to take this all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A source tells CNN that the president's private outside lawyers are about to insist the IRS reject a lawmaker's request to hand over six years of financial documents. It's all coming from the committee House Ways and Means.

Just this morning, the president says he thinks the law is on his side.


TRUMP: I'm under audit. But that's up to whoever it is. I -- from what I understand, the law is 100 percent on my side.


BALDWIN: With me now, two former federal prosecutors.

Elie Honig is a CNN legal analyst. And Elliot Williams is former counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And, so, great to have both of you guys together. I'm just sad it's not together in person. I know, empty chairs, empty chairs.


BALDWIN: Listen, this is serious, what's happening with this volley back from the president's outside counsel.

And so my question to you first is, clearly, the president and his attorneys are willing to take this all the way to the tip-top court in the land. What does that signal to you?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It signals they're dug in, and inexplicably so.

They said, this is a hill we're willing to die on. I mean, that is a dumb hill to die on.

BALDWIN: That's what an administration source told us.

HONIG: Yes, legally and politically.

So, legally, first of all, there is this obscure provision of the IRS law that says that, upon request from the Ways and Means Committee, the IRS shall furnish. Shall furnish, you don't need a law degree. Shall mean shall. It doesn't mean may. It doesn't mean in your discretion. It means must furnish.


Now, the response from the administration from the people around the president and the president has been, this is unprecedented that the House would seek to get the returns.

But why is it unprecedented? It's because every other president dating back to Richard Nixon has voluntarily turned them over. So why would there be any precedent?

So, legally, I don't know where they're going. Politically, it's -- I -- we used to say in trial practice, if you have bad news, just rip off the Band-Aid, get it over with, it'll be over, in the past. But they're dragging this out even farther. And I don't know what the endgame is. BALDWIN: Isn't it, Elliot, I mean, the age-old, if you have nothing to hide, why not put it out there?


Look, every president since Richard Nixon has released their tax returns. It's -- to some extent, you have heard people call it the Richard Nixon standard, which...

BALDWIN: Who was under audit, reminding everyone.

WILLIAMS: Who was under audit.

Now, look, Congress here is seeking to enforce a norm. And the basic norm is, presidents release their tax returns. And the other thing, getting back to whether this law is legitimate or whether they want to go to the Supreme Court, the statute is clear that they ought to -- when some -- when Congress requests these tax returns, that you ought to turn them over. They shall turn them over.

So the president, again, it is a silly hill to die on, because they will lose. This law has been used not just on presidents of the United States, but private citizens as well. And it's a bigger question. It's -- the sort of bigger sort of civics question is, what do we expect of political leaders?

And the norm is, we want to know if someone who's running for president or running the country has anything in their financial background that might indicate bias or conflict or, frankly, law- breaking, based on the investigations that are going on.

And so this is a very odd position for the president to take, given how clear that statute is.

BALDWIN: OK. That's what I wanted to make sure, because you're hearing from Republicans saying the Democrats are weaponizing the IRS.

But its Chairman Neal on House Ways and Means, and I'm hearing you say absolutely has a legal standing to take this little known IRS provision and use it to procure these tax returns.

WILLIAMS: And it's also not just presidents of the United States, again, private citizens.

And in the Lois Lerner case that you knew about a couple years ago, this statute was used to request records from them. And so the president is not above the law and outside of what the law would otherwise require.


I want to move on to the Mueller report. The House Judiciary chairman, Jerry Nadler, is demanding that the Justice Department hand over all communications between the attorney general and the special counsel.

And so when -- Elie, when Chairman Nadler says all communications, what does that mean? What are they looking for?

HONIG: It could take a couple forms. There could be written communications. We don't know if they e-mailed or texted back and forth. It's certainly possible.

And it could mean recounting conversations that were not written down, which would be through testimony. But Jerry Nadler has made very clear he is drawing a line in the sand here. He wants everything all the time.

And the pressure, I think, is mounting now on William Barr, on the attorney general's office. They have now -- it's been two full weeks since they received Mueller's report. And time sort of is -- has become a strange thing, but two full weeks.

Now Nadler has armed himself with a subpoena. Now you have sort of the political winds changing a little bit. And now we see the first cracks from Mueller's team. And we had the recording yesterday that people on Mueller's team are upset and feel like William Barr misrepresented or misstated what they did.

BALDWIN: Right. They're frustrated.

HONIG: So the pressure is mounting.

And, again, hide and seek never works well for the hider.


BALDWIN: That's one for all of us to take note of.

Elliot Williams, one last one just on -- Michael Cohen is back in the news today. We learned that he has written this letter to Democrats essentially saying that he has discovered a substantial number of files on a hard drive that might be helpful to investigators.

So is this his way of saying, hey, I have got more -- I have got more goods for you guys, in exchange for less prison time?

WILLIAMS: Yes, he very well might just be trying to get himself out of prison.

Now, look, it's an entirely legitimate basis to ask for. In the law, it's called a Rule 35 motion, where if you're continuing to provide evidence to the government, they can -- you can lower your sentence after sentencing essentially, right?



WILLIAMS: And he's probably got more.

And he's -- it just highlights how much of a threat everything that's happening in New York City is to the president of the United States, because, on this hard drive, yes, there's probably more data, and Cohen might have access to it.

But, I mean, again, he might just be trying to get himself out of prison. And it's inevitable to some extent. Perhaps one day, he just needs to accept his fate and serve his sentence.

BALDWIN: Rule 35, we talked about that months ago.

HONIG: We were on that months ago. We knew it was coming.



BALDWIN: You. Well done.

Elie and Elliot.

WILLIAMS: Elie is a smart lawyer. He knows what...


BALDWIN: He's good. He's good. You guys are good. Thank you so much. Good to have both of you all on.


BALDWIN: Any moment now, President Trump is expected to speak with border officials there in California, live pictures in the room from Calexico. We will take you there.

Also, later, the Harvard head fencing -- fencing coach -- easy for me to say -- is under investigation for selling his home for $300,000 more than what it was worth to the parent of one of the studio athletes. Hear how this may be sticky for the university and how this coach is now responding.



BALDWIN: President Trump is in California. These are live pictures, as we wait for him to walk into this room and speak with border and immigration officials there.

Meantime, 20 states are now suing to stop him from using federal funding outlined in his national emergency declaration to complete the border wall. They have filed a motion accusing President Trump and a number of administration officials of violating the separation of powers principle.