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Trump Sets Table for Mueller Report's Thursday Release; Ex- Massachusetts Gov. Weld Challenges Trump on GOP Side; $679 Million Pledged to Help Rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral; 2020 Dems Make Trump Tax Returns A Campaign Issue. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 16, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: To give even a little bit to Democrats on any of these fronts.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Any of those whether it's taxes, whether it's the finances, there'll be other ones as well. Back to the Mueller report in the sense that the president also is trying to convince you, don't bother. Don't bother, there's nothing there for you to see. Well, sorry, Mr. President, we expect quite a bit for us to see and quite a bit from Robert Mueller. The question is how much is redacted?

But, among the big questions what did or didn't the president know, the candidate know, what Trump knows. The extent of Russia's interference tactics, Robert Mueller will lay that out. That's important not only for the 2016 campaign but looking forward. What did investigators discover related to the obstruction question which Mueller essentially punted on? He said he didn't find evidence of a crime but was not exonerating the president. And his own analysis and conclusions of other big questions.

To the first line of that, what did or didn't the candidate, now the president know because it includes a lot of important things about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians who promised dirt. Maybe it wasn't collusion but it's way outside the norms, many people would say unethical and unacceptable. What about Michael Flynn's dealings? Are we going to learn more -- that's -- there's a lot of potentially damaging things to the president here.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: And there are a lot of people around the president who talked to Bob Mueller and how much of their assessments are going to be laid out here. How many of their names are going to be in these reports? I do think one of the things that's really going to be really interesting about this is that, we do know so much already. We really do, and there will be remarkable discussions in this report about things that are already publicly known.

How much is brand new? Are there new episodes that we don't know anything about, particularly on the question of obstruction? Are there things that happened behind the scenes? Mueller talks about or Barr talks about in his summary, obstruction that played out -- possible obstruction that played out in public. But also things that happened behind the scenes that we don't know about. And how many of Trump's own advisers went in there and pointed the finger at the president?

That's certainly what the White House is looking for.

KING: And does Mueller, a man with considerable experience as a federal prosecutor then as the FBI director viewed by most as an adult, does he connect dots that maybe haven't been connected? And does he disconnect dots that some people have tried to connect as we try to piece together things from court filings and the like? It'll be a big day in Washington as you jump into the conversation, I just want to bring this in because it's kind of funny.

Joe Lockhart, the former Clinton press secretary was asked what are you going to do on Mueller report day. He says, "I plan to take my lawn chair and a cooler of beer and read at the end of Ken Starr's driveway." Ken Starr was the special counsel in the Clinton administration, there's not a lot of love lost there. But it's going to be (INAUDIBLE).

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think we're going to learn some new things. I think we do know a lot but I think there's going to be new material and it's going to be presented in a prosecutorial way as to why they didn't reach certain conclusions. Everything we see from the White House suggests that they know there are some things that are going to be really bad for the president but they've done a good job in laying the narrative down.

I do think that we are talking about this briefly, that this idea that they're going to drop it on Easter weekend while Congress is out is going to lower the temperature and the attention to it. I don't think that's going to work. I think that's going to get quite a bit of attention.

ELANA SCHOR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: However, a counterpoint here, you know, when we saw the initial, you know, Barr screened version of this come out, a lot of the Democratic presidential candidates responded by saying, look, when I'm not there campaigning, I don't hear about Russia, I hear about healthcare, I hear about taxes, kitchen table pocketbook issues. So, honestly, I think that's true and I will be looking to see whether it affects the 2020 race at all because how much is America outside of the beltway will really going to tune into the nuance of what we might not know yet?

HULSE: That's true.

KING: It's a great test, it will be a giant Washington drama on Thursday and Friday into the weekend. The question then is, is there a ripple effect in America? That's the big question.

Up next, President Trump gets a Republican challenger for 2020.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:37:55] KING: Topping our political radar today, 2020 hopeful Pete Buttigieg weighing in today on the debate over socialism within the Democratic Party. President Trump as you all know and many Republicans have tried in recent months to paint the entire Democratic Party as radical socialists. Buttigieg offering this take on why some candidates and voters are embracing those socialist policies.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think the reason we're having this argument over socialism and capitalism is that capitalism has let a lot of people down. I guess what I'm out there to say is that it doesn't have to be so. I believe in Democratic capitalism.


KING: The Interior Department inspector general opening a new investigation today into that department's current secretary, David Bernhardt. The Senate only confirmed Bernhardt, a former fossil fuel lobbyist by a vote of 56-41 just last week. CNN investigations found Bernhardt made at least 15 policy decisions favorable toward his former clients since joining the department as a deputy secretary back in 2017. And remember, Bernhardt's predecessor Ryan Zinke also still under investigation.

We now know the president will have at least one challenger for the Republican nomination in 2020. The former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld officially in the race. He made that announcement right here on CNN on THE LEAD yesterday. Laid out his strategy, he says can defeat the president.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You want to spend a lot of time in New Hampshire, and that's the -- New Hampshire is a state where there -- independents can vote in either primary.

BILL WELD (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, it's a crossover primary. New Hampshire, really all six New England states, the Mid-Atlantic States, California, Oregon, Washington, very receptive territory. The president is not well-liked in California.


KING: Help me. Help me. I've done a couple of these. He's trying to beat a Republican incumbent, and he's talking about doing it in the New England states, the Mid-Atlantic States, Washington, Oregon, and California. Blue states. I'm not saying you can't land some bruises in a primary.

HULSE: He's running in the old Republican Party that doesn't exist anymore.

PACE: Which exactly the problem with this situation. Trump is the leader of the new Republican Party, overwhelmingly so. KING: Let me be contrarian though, you know, Pat Buchanan bruised George H.W. Bush, Ted Kennedy bruised Jimmy Carter.

[12:40:01] Well, we have had one-term presidents in recent history, they have faced their primary challenge, there hasn't succeeded but that those campaigns would argue left some bruises. Can Bill Weld make the case in some of the states to soft Trump voters, more moderate Republicans hit him hard enough that those people don't stick with the president? Is that -- can he beat Trump? I mean.

PHILLIP: Probably not because the RNC is not even going to let him. They've been clear, they're not even going to let a primary happen in this case and that Trump is going to run unopposed. This is not going to be a case where they're going to be opportunities for them to even get up against each other on the same stage. So, it might be hard for him to even get traction to land some blows on Trump. There's a lot of action happening on the Democratic side, and the RNC has made it clear they're going to shut down anything on the Republican side.

KING: I volunteer to go to Oregon and Washington and California and test this at the grassroots level.

Up next, reflections from every corner of the earth pouring in after the Notre Dame fire including from the House speaker, a Roman Catholic.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): What a tragedy and just such a historic place, of course, a place of religion, a place of culture, place of history. I remember going there with my family when I was a girl and taking my own children there, my grandchildren going. Just sort of a central place of faith.



KING: You're looking at live pictures there of Westminster Abbey in London. And it's 24 hours now since the devastating fire started at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The bell is tolling at Westminster Abbey in solidarity. Again, that blaze began 24 hours ago at 12:43 here in the East Coast of the United States, 06:43 p.m. in Paris, 05:43 in London. Westminster Abbey, a symbolic tribute there.

We're learning more now about the fate of many of the precious centuries-old artifacts threatened by that devastating fire at Notre Dame in Paris. Restoration teams continue to work to assess the damage and critically to salvage as much as possible.

Joining me from Rome to provide some important insight and context here to the vast collection is art historian Elizabeth Lev. Elizabeth, thank you for your time today. Just a -- to begin with sort of a threshold impression from you from what you have heard when they say they believed most of the precious artifacts have been restored. [12:45:01] A, what have you heard that leaves you relieved? And do you have any open questions about artifacts, pieces of art that you haven't heard anything about yet?

ELIZABETH LEV, ART HISTORIAN: Well, first and foremost, I think being the cathedral of Paris and its oldest and most important artifact if you will in that church is the crown of thorns, something purchased by the King of France, St. Louis back in the 13th century. He built the Saint-Chapelle for it. It's something that has drawn Parisians and foreigners alike. So to hear that that was brought to safety was I think the first great sense of relief.

After that, there are these -- obviously the news of the rose windows, actually the rose windows that are in these sort of four major entryways into the church. Those windows were the very few windows that still had intact glass, glass that was from the actual time of their construction in the 13th century, and those appear to be mildly damaged but still salvageable. There's a magnificent statue by Nicolas Coustou, and I think the world has actually seen that illuminated cross which is part of that sculpture group, this big golden cross and at the foot of it, this stunning (INAUDIBLE) from 1720.

So these are the things that I'm happy to hear that are apparently still in good shape. But to get to the other part of your question, the church contains a great many more works of art. It has a choir stall from the 14th century which surrounded the space where the kings of France would gather, where the royal family would be for the royal weddings. It had carvings of the stories of Christ, really beautiful carvings from about 1350. And also that church had a series of paintings that were given to it from 1630. The people of Paris had a custom of every year during the month of May which is the month of Mary, our lady for whom the church is named, they would donate paintings, and there were 13 paintings that were still inside the church and with the dust and with the heat and with the fire, these oils on canvas as I have to admit I'm wondering in what state they're in.

KING: All right. And we wait desperately for more information on all of that. The world was watching in horror, among the things we saw is the spire fall. Put that into context.

LEV: Well, the spire -- so this -- the spire which was one of the pride and joy of the reconstruction of this basilica or this cathedral in 1860 was that reconstruction of the spire. The church had been left in terrible neglect in the early 1800s. This tremendous campaign on the part of artists and writers to get the state to get it rebuilt, and finally, they get Viollet-le-Duc to rebuild the church, and he crowns it with this 300-foot spire with the apostles looking out towards the city. And to watch that crash, that last time that the church had resurged from neglect and from damage and to watch that crash was a very, very brutal thing. But, of course, as we know, the statues providentially had already been brought to safety, so it's a devastating thing to see but at least we know that those apostles are still safe. KING: A blessing within the tragedy, if you will. Elizabeth Lev, really grateful for your insights and your help today. We'll keep in touch as we learn more about what is recovered and salvaged from inside and we'll stay hopeful about that. Appreciate your time today.

Up next, first, Democrats want the president to release his taxes but how much do you? How much do voters care?



[12:53:01] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now that your tax returns have been released and you've been identified as a millionaire and in the top one percent, will you pay your fair share?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This came from a book that -- I wrote a pretty good book, you might want to read it. It was a best-seller, sold all over the world and we made money. So if anyone thinks that I should apologize for writing a best-selling book, I'm sorry, I'm not going to do it.


KING: That was presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. You saw him right there talking about his now released tax returns which, yes, show he's a millionaire because he sold that book. So let's talk -- let's take a look at what we know from the Democratic candidates so far who've released their taxes. There are other ones -- there still candidates saying they're coming in the next few days, we'll look for them. But these candidates have released their taxes and here's what we learned.

If you look at Kamala Harris, she's on the high end, joined income that includes her husband's legal work. High end there. Governor of Washington Jay Inslee on the lower end here, you see these numbers from the candidates. Go to if you want to look at more of the details. How much did they give to charity? Where all of this money coming from?

This has become a big transparency test in Democratic politics. You have to release your taxes. Many candidates say they'll release 10 or 12 years or 15 years, one candidate who has not released his taxes in this campaign one the last one is the president of the United States.

Consistently you, the American people, think this is a big deal. February 2017, 68 percent saying in a Quinnipiac University poll the president should release his taxes. Where are we now, 64 percent. So that number pretty static, more than six in 10 Americans say the president should release his taxes. Guess who else says that, the Democrats who want to run against him.


SANDERS: Why don't you get Donald Trump up here and ask him how much he pays in taxes. SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I think the American people have a right to know, particularly people who are running for president and our president today who has not disclosed his tax returns have a right to know.

BETO O'ROURKE, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president who should have released his taxes by now, and if he must be compelled through a subpoena to do so, so be it.


KING: Joining me now, the co-hosts of "The Pollsters" podcast, Democratic Pollster Margie Omero, Republican Pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson, excuse me for that.

[12:55:06] OK, the poll shows more than six in 10 Americans say release them, Mr. President. But that doesn't mean people are going to say I'm not going to vote you unless you release them. How much power does it have as a investigate issue, not just, yes, I think the president should be a transparent issue?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND POLLSTER: I think it's somewhat further down the list than things like the economy, healthcare, et cetera. I think it's the sort of thing that the reason why we have such a long trend line we can look at where it shows six in 10 Americans saying over and over saying yes, we want to see his tax returns is, this is an issue that's been in the mix for a long time. It came up before the 2016 election so my assumption is that Trump and the White House have said, look, this is something he's already been pressured on. The cost is worst -- the cost is higher for what he might get attacked on for what's in it than just simply not releasing it at all.

KING: And so how do they -- you're a Democrat, how should the Democrats come out. You heard Beto O'Rourke there saying we'll have a subpoena. Is it an issue, a tax issue? Would you advise a candidate to hit him hard on he won't release his taxes or is it part of a bigger question about the president do you think actually does have, am I going to vote for this guy salience?

MARGIE OMERO, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: So it's clearly important. When you talk to voters about it and focus groups, people say, well, what's he hiding? You know, why he isn't done, what's he's hiding. And when you illustrate how long, not just presidents but candidates for president have been releasing their tax returns and the fact that Trump is the first one since Nixon to not to do so, that really has a lot of resonance with folks.

On top that, you have that all the other things that we think we know about the president, the investigations from a variety of different entities, the fact that had a majority of Americans feel that the president is not honest and trustworthy just generally. And so you add to that, and then the tax piece is important, and I'm not surprised that there are Democratic candidates just like there are voters across the country are like, well, why doesn't he release his taxes. KING: Motivating for Democratic voters, or are there swing voters, independent voters, it's a relatively small universe out there where this issue could actually be used to hurt the president.

OMERO: It's part of a package that clearly demonstrates that the president is trying to hide things from people. He has a lack of transparency. He is -- you know, people don't think that he's honest and this is just yet another example of that.

KING: Because here's what he would say and I'm going to put some Gallup numbers up on the screen here if I can get to the graphic here. The president could look at this and say here's a Gallup poll that shows my approval rating is about as high as it has ever been in Gallup polling. I ran an election last time where everybody screamed, release your taxes, I didn't, and I won. Why should I do it this time?

ANDERSON: I think that's exactly what he's thinking. And I think with this president, I mean, his job approval in that Gallup poll being at 45 percent, that's still low by historical standards, but this has been an incredibly stable job approval number for the president. It has hovered in the low 40s for almost or perhaps over a year now. There is -- despite the fact that the news can feel very chaotic and it feels like his tweets may always be upending the news cycle, he's had an incredibly stable job approval and I think it's issues like this where he figures better not rock the boat.

KING: And so the Democrats say if you won't release them, Mr. President, we will demand them in Congress. So, should Congress investigate Trump's taxes? Among registered voters, if you go back to November 2018, 51 percent, fast forward, a few more months, 57 percent.

So Democrats are talking about this, insisting that they'll subpoena them if necessary. We're in a fight about that. That number is going up. Does that tell you the Democrats are potentially on to something?

OMERO: Yes. And look, you have similar numbers say, I think this was Quinnipiac say he should release them and also the Congress should be able to get his tax returns. That is allowed by law, and even a sizable number of Republicans and independents feel this way. So, it's -- I think we're going to see -- you know, people say, well, the president is not above the law, you know, no president should be above the law. This isn't about what -- how you feel about his policies.

By the way, people don't like the Republican tax plan. We can talk about that, but it's not about Trump's policies and no president should be above the law.

KING: And so let's talk about the Republican tax plan. The president was on the road yesterday ostensibly to sell it. He talked about a lot of other things too as he often does. But if you look at all Americans, that's the green line in the middle of this graphic here. Let me try to highlight it for you.

Among all Americans, 40 percent support want the Republicans said is the greatest tonic for the economy in history. They passed this giant tax cut, they say it's the reason unemployment is down, deregulation too. Forty percent of all Americans but, eight in 10 Republicans think it's a great idea. Look at these numbers among Democrats and independents, I'm going to blank out other ones so you could see them. Among Democrats and independents, not so much.

Where have the Republicans failed to sell what they say is the great tonic for the economy?

ANDERSON: Well, there's the huge disconnect because the president's job approval numbers on the economy are consistently higher than his job approval numbers overall, hovering usually above 50 percent and yet, it's not the tax law that's necessarily being credited for it. And I think part of that is because a lot of folks may not necessarily feel that they have personally gotten any change. What was odd as well is that the president's job approval went up after the tax law was passed despite it never really having great poll numbers.

KING: Right.

ANDERSON: So it's the sort of thing where people like what Trump has done on the economy but not necessarily this.

KING: Tax season doesn't make anybody happy, does it? Appreciate both of you coming in today.