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200+ Dead in Bombings Targeting Churches and Hotels in Sri Lanka; Giuliani: "Nothing Wrong with Taking Information from Russians; Trump Rants about Report Before Attending Easter Sunday Service; Possible Impeachment Efforts Discussed; Militia Member Arrested Near Mexico Border; Pope's Easter Message Detailed. Aired 3-4p ET
Aired April 21, 2019 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again. Thank you so much for joining us this Easter Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. And we're following breaking news out of Sri Lanka where an Easter massacre has killed an injured hundreds, including several Americans, the blast targeting hotels popular with foreigners and Christians attending Easter services. This is dash cam video of the moment one of those bombs exploded at St. Anthony's Catholic Church. Other visible and disturbing signs of horror left in the wake of those attacks including this one, bloodstains on the wall and on the statue of Jesus Christ at St. Sebastian's Church.
President Trump and the Pope both responding to the attacks offering condolences, prayers and assistance, the horrible carnage taking place in Sri Lanka, an island nation off the southern coast of India. Right now, officials say there are at least 207 people dead, another 560 injured after a wave of eight coordinated bombings across the country on Easter Sunday. Three of the explosions targeted Christian churches during Easter services.
There were also bombings at three hotels popular with foreign tourists. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says several U.S. citizens are believed to be among the 30 foreigners killed in the attacks. Sri Lankan officials say there have been seven arrests so far, but no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
CNN's Sam Kylie is in Sri Lanka and joins you us now on the phone. So, Sam, what more are you learning about the horrific attacks?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Fred, this was undoubtedly a coordinated effort hitting seven different locations in the end in the west of the country, and one almost simultaneously on the far side - on the east coast. Most of the attacks have been centered around -- hitting western targets or targets popular with westerners or Christians. So the Shangri-La was hit which was a hotel, Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury, all in the capital city Colombo and then three churches not very far also in the Colombo area, Negombo and Batticaloa.
Now this is a clear target. The principal targets here, Christians and westerners, almost inevitably there could be a sign or at least the Intelligence Community will automatically start looking at a potential act from groups such as the so-called Islamic State which did claim that it would take revenge for the collapse of its so-called caliphate earlier on this year. But, of course, there's no Sri Lankan connection to the caliphate. There has been a civil war here and no shortage of people with the sorts of explosive skills to carry out this attack but the extraordinary thing is that this happened about early on, about 6:00 p.m. local time, and a lot of explosions followed one another very rapidly indeed which authorities will no doubt conclude that this was coordinated. There were worshippers who were blown apart. There were some very graphic descriptions coming even from priests who were eyewitnesses to what they saw inside their churches.
And equally when the hotels were hit, people were dining, and there were explosions, but we don't know yet officially whether these were bombs that had been planted, suicide bombs. And again no indication of who is behind it, but there is a curfew now across Sri Lanka. The police have had to leave or cancel a joint operation between the Sri Lanka Navy and the United States Navy has been stopped to release resources back to the Sri Lankans for the counterterrorism operations.
But that's essentially what people are looking at, at the moment because of the absence of claim and responsibility. The Sri Lankans are exercising extreme caution, not least because at least two policemen were killed in one of the explosions later on in the day at a location where police and special forces raided a building and at least two were actually killed by what is believed to have been an improvised explosive device on the outskirts of Colombo, and that would indicate to authorities that the gang behind this, if that's what they are, they did not all perish in the attack. The seven have been arrested, but there is no indication of any kind of their allegiances. Of course, a lot of people get caught up in a dragnet in the early stages of this sort of atrocity and frequently released, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Sam Kiley, thank you so much. Tell us more as you learn it.
[15:05:00] So the White House released this statement on the bombings. "The United States condemns in the strongest terms the outrageous terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka that have claimed so much precious lives on this Easter Sunday."
"Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families of the more than 200 killed and hundreds of others wounded. We stand with the Sri Lankan government and people as they bring to justice the perpetrators of these despicable and senseless acts."
With me now, Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, he's a former State Department spokesperson and Pentagon press secretary. Admiral, good to see you.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Good to see you.
WHITFIELD: All right. So what kind of intelligence resources could the U.S. actually provide to help find these attackers? KIRBY: Well, I think that if the Sri Lankan government wants our help we could easily provide some support in terms of just human assets. Investigators and intelligence experts that we have here in the United States and some overseas that are forward deployed over there to help them in their investigative issues. We've become very adept at learning and in exploiting the characteristics of terrorist groups around the world. So I think we have human resources and great expertise that we can lend. We could also lend support to any efforts that they might be going through to extrapolate from the signal intelligence, the communications that this group might have had with one another. We're very good at that too. So I think it's across the range really of investigative and intelligence support that we can provide.
WHITFIELD: So fewer than 8 percent of the 20 million people in Sri Lanka are Christian. No claim of responsibility thus far. You know formerly with the State Department, what can you tell me about the threats to Christians there and what may have potentially led up to this.
KIRBY: Well, I think, I was going to say we'll have to see what the investigators learn, but clearly Christians have been discriminated against in Sri Lanka now for many years, certainly since the end of the Civil War in 2009. Just last year there were more than 80 acts of discrimination and violence against Christians. This year alone, I think there's been something like 26. Nothing on the scale though that we've seen today and certainly with this level of violence.
The other thing that I want to note about what happened today, and Sam brought this up in his report to you, is that it wasn't just Christian sites. It was sites where westerners and foreigners were more - were seen to gather, hotels - that kind of thing. So there - it's a little unclear whether this was just religiously motivated.
WHITFIELD: But what do you think about the timing, intentional this Easter, when you know, this is the holiest time particularly for Christians?
KIRBY: Absolutely. Yes. I don't think there's any - there's no coincidence here. Clearly this was timed and resourced to take place on Easter Sunday to cause this shock value, to cause mass casualties on a day when they knew that Christians were going to be gathering in certain places, and westerners were going to be gathering in certain places so clearly no coincidence there. I think that's undisputable.
WHITFIELD: And then talk about the scale. You touched on it. But the scale of these explosions near simultaneous or at least, you know, some sort of coordinated effort.
WHITFIELD: And the destruction just looking at the debris field at each of these locations. It's significant.
KIRBY: It is significant, Fred, and it does speak to a level of coordination, resourcing, planning and capabilities that we haven't seen in Sri Lanka to this point. Yes, there's been acts of violence and, yes, there's been discrimination but nothing like this. This had to be carefully planned for months. And in order to do it in so many different locations on both sides of the island, there had to be extensive coordination and communication as well as I would think a sizable number of participants which is in a way good for investigators because it will give them more people to track down. I think we've seen now that they have arrested something like seven individuals. I would not be surprised if that number goes up as they start to get more intelligence about what happened.
WHITFIELD: All right. Rear Admiral John Kirby. Thank you so much for your expertise, appreciate it.
KIRBY: Thank you. You bet.
WHITFIELD: Still ahead, nothing wrong with taking information from the Russians? That's the new word from President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, but Congress may have some other ideas.
[15:13:10] WHITFIELD: President Trump's team has a rebuttal to the Mueller report ready to go, but president's attorney Rudy Giuliani said today on CNN that they won't release it until they have to. Giuliani on the one hand is calling the report an unfair one-sided assessment while also claiming it's a total vindication and exoneration of the president, and today he had this to say about the links between the Trump campaign and Russia detailed in the Mueller report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: There's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JAKE TAPPER": There's nothing wrong with taking information --
GIULIANI: -- where it came from. It depends on where it came from. You're assuming that the giving of information is a campaign contribution. Read the report carefully. The report says we can't conclude that because the law is pretty much against that. People get information from this person, that person.
TAPPER: So you would have accepted information from Russians against -- against a candidate if you were running in a presidential election?
GIULIANI: I probably wouldn't. I wasn't asked. I would have advised out of excess of caution don't do it. I'll give you another thing though.
TAPPER: But you're saying there's nothing wrong with doing that.
GIULIANI: There's no crime.
TAPPER: You just said you wouldn't accept help from the Russians -- GIULIANI: I don't know if I would or I wouldn't. The legal advice I would give is out of an excess of caution don't do that but maybe that's informed by what's going on right now and what we've learned since then. The reality is you're picking on a minor point when the major point is he was pursued for years for a false charge, two FBI investigations -- one with four affidavits for electronic surveillance that turned out to be fraudulent. That's a big crime. Now it turns out he didn't do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Let's check in with CNN's White House correspondent Boris Sanchez. He's live in West Palm Beach, Florida, near Mar-a-Lago where the president is spending Easter weekend. So, Boris, the president spent this morning you know slamming the report on Twitter and then he was at Easter service, so what about this additional messaging coming from his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
[15:15:15] BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Rudy Giuliani echoing a lot of what we heard from other Trump supporters, Fred, essentially touting the results of the Mueller report, accepting the results of the Mueller report but then refuting the portions of it that they don't like. Giuliani here, making a curious argument. He's essentially saying that no one on the Trump campaign did anything illegal. The president didn't know about anything unethical that may have happened though he acknowledges that certain actions were taken that may be deemed unethical, yet he says that he believes that unethical things happen in all political campaigns.
On top of that, Giuliani went after the former White House Counsel Don McGahn. You'll recall, Fred, in a portion of the Mueller report, McGahn told investigators that President Trump effectively told him to get rid of Robert Mueller as special counsel, the president citing certain conflicts of interest that the Department of Justice did not take seriously. McGahn at that point threatened to resign.
In this interview, Giuliani effectively says that McGahn's recollection is wrong. He cites different recollection that McGahn had. To be clear, McGahn spoke about those accusations this weekend. He cleared it up saying that he stands by that recollection that he basically threatened to quit if he wanted -- if President Trump wanted him to carry out that order to fire Robert Mueller. We should also point out that's one instance of an attempt at an obstruction of justice. There are at least 10 in this report, Fred.
WHITFIELD: So, tell us more about, you know, what's unfolding behind the scenes in terms of the president checking on who is loyal, who is with him, et cetera.
SANCHEZ: Right, yes, that's one of the key takeaways from the report. We've learned from sources that President Trump was fuming when he saw depictions coming from former White House officials of an unhinged president, someone who is paranoid and angry and that people weren't following his orders. They were either ignoring them or refusing them all together like we were just discussing with McGahn. So what we've heard is that since the release of the report President Trump has been seeking assurances that people are actually following his commands and doing what he asked to be done as president. Really an interesting dynamic to come from that report, Fred, that so many people basically told the president that they weren't going to do what he was asking because of the danger that it could pose for them.
WHITFIELD: Boris Sanchez, thank you so much.
All right, let's talk further. Joining me right now to discuss, CNN's Marshall Cohen who has been closely following the Mueller probe for the past two years, former Obama Homeland Security official and CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem and former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Shan Wu. Good to see all of you.
All right, so Julie, you first, you know your reaction to Giuliani saying it's OK you know for a campaign to get information from Russia.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean, it's so shocking at this stage, but I think it's worth saying that it is shocking, and I think it shows the struggle that the Trump White House is going to have, and for that matter all Republicans in defending volume one. I've been making it clear that there's volume one to me is the heart of the matter. It is about the Russia attempts or not even attempts but success during the election, and shows even if it's not -- conspiracy does show activities between the Trump campaign and even Trump to try to work with and at least grease the runway for the Russians to engage themselves in our campaign.
So, remember where we started. There was no contact with Russia. We then move to the contacts they were with the coffee boy, remember that defense. Then contacts didn't matter, right, because they had no influence to now the only defense they have left which Giuliani was clearly put out to say which is the contacts themselves with Russia are OK. Every Republican is going to have to either agree or disagree with that at this stage because that's their only defense to the volume one accusations as compared to the obstruction of justice accusations or list from volume two.
WHITFIELD: And many Democrats are calling for impeachment proceedings to begin. Here's House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler's take.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, "MEET THE PRESS DAILY": Do you think this is impeachable?
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Yes, I do. I do think that this -- if proven -- if proven which hasn't been proven yet. Some of this -- if proven, some of this would be impeachable, yes.
TODD: All right.
NADLER: Obstruction of justice if proven would be impeachable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So, Shan, you're among those who say you know obstruction was a slam dunk legally. So what would stand in the way of impeachment proceedings to get underway?
[15:20:01] SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Nothing except the law stands in the way which is whether there is the political will to do it, and I think that Speaker Pelosi and the more senior folks are very well aware of the fact that their jury pool, which is the Senate right now, they don't have the votes on their jury. So I think that's the concern that they have. But legally as a former prosecutor, I certainly think that if you have sufficient evidence that you could have charged criminally, which I believe there was, I think the only reason they didn't charge is because of the Justice Department opinion in existence from the Nixon era, from the Office of Legal Counsel, that says don't charge sitting presidents. But if there's sufficient evidence to charge criminally there would be enough evidence to go forth with the impeachment. I'm not exactly sure what Nadler means says if proven because there's not going to be a proven case in court criminally so I'm not sure what that level would be though.
WHITFIELD: And Congressman Elijah Cummings who is chairman of the House Oversight Committee says this report was a real road map. At the same time he says Congress does not need more information about the president's conduct in other matters. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I'm not there yet, but I -- I -- I can foresee that possibly coming, but, again, the fact is that I think we have to do -- be very careful here. The American people, a lot of them, clearly still don't believe that President Trump is doing things to destroy our Democracy and has done a lot of things very poorly. And so I think that we need to make sure the Congress has all the information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So, Marshall, you know Congress does have this duty of oversight, and we know that Nadler has, you know, put in a subpoena. He has subpoenaed for the unredacted report. Will that help fill in any blanks to allow them to know how to move forward?
MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: Yes. As a journalist I would love to see every single word that's in that report. I'm sure everyone else agrees with that. Whether or not Democrats are going to be successful with this effort will be determined far down the line, and probably if I'm guessing by a federal judge. Some of this stuff in there that was redacted has to be redacted by law, like the grand jury stuff. That didn't really come into play in the obstruction portion, but the first volume on collusion, potential collusion, did have stuff redacted on the grand jury. A federal judge could lift those redactions, but it's going to take time, and whether or not they get it, you know, that's -- that's not a sure thing.
WHITFIELD: Yes, in terms of the next year and a half. COHEN: Right.
WHITFIELD: You're talking.
OK. So, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, he's had a lot of thoughts this morning. He also said today, you know, he plans to call former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify before the committee. Meanwhile the president's attorney, Giuliani, says the former White House Counsel McGahn has other questions he needs to answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Are you suggesting that McGahn is lying?
GIULIANI: No. I'm telling you he's confused. He gave three different version and the special prosecutors (CROSSTALK) comes to the conclusion he's definitively telling the truth and his lawyer is saying that -- his lawyer should tell us which of those three versions is true and how does he know which one is true now when he couldn't figure it out then?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So, Shan, what does Congress want to know from McGahn?
WU: I think they want to, first, try to ask him some clear questions to go over what's already in the Mueller report and then, second of all, I think they want to have him expand on the context of what was his impression of what the president was asking him to do, why did he refuse to do it, and I think that's going to shed a lot of light, not very favorable light, upon the president's actions. And --
WHITFIELD: I mean, he would have to further explain what's already in the report which is, you know, he didn't feel that that was the right thing to do, wasn't the legal thing to do. He would need to elaborate on that impulse.
WU: If I were the one doing the questioning, absolutely. I would want him to elaborate on that and to fully explain, what are your concerns? You know, what's not legal about that. It's one thing to conclude that what looked like the Saturday Night massacre. It's another thing to explain what's in his mind because I think what was in his mind was that's committing obstruction of justice, and for him to say that that's going to be very, very negative for the president.
WHITFIELD: And, Juliette, Giuliani says the rebuttal to this Mueller report you know if it's going to be released. And if there really is one, he does say that it's ready to go but they are waiting for the right timing. What would that be timing -- isn't this right now on display sort of a rebuttal and the president's tweets and all that?
KAYYEM: Absolutely. And -- and, you know, this is -- this is the scorched earth rebuttal. It's Trump saying some things, Giuliani saying another. [15:25:02] We love Mueller. We hate Mueller, but it's to obfuscate or to sort of confuse viewer who is not watching it or reading it as much as we are that the facts are unclear. So let's just make it clear here. In volume one and volume two the facts are not in dispute. What is in dispute is the legal conclusions from those facts, whether there was collusion with the Russian or whether there was in fact obstruction of justice or because he was the president based on the OLC memo that they could not prosecute him.
So I think that their strategy has got to be done to confuse people about the facts and just going back to my first point which I made - you know just volume one issue, the Russia issue. There's no defense to it because the White House doesn't seem -- is able to sort of ignore the facts in volume one which is they just did have all of these contacts with the Russians that they lied about over years. And so I think that's going to be -- they are just going to go after the facts and then, of course, the witnesses because reality is just not on their side at this stage.
WHITFIELD: Except the White House likes that you know there's no collusion is what the White House wants to stick with, you know, on the Russia involvement, and doesn't seem to be very distracted, nor concerned about all the evidence of possible obstruction.
WU: I think it's really important that distinction that was just made about the legal versus the factual. They are trying hard to blur up the facts, and they are worried about that, but it's real important to remember that this was an exercise of prosecutorial judgement, discretion. A different prosecutor, different department might have come out differently on this. Because it was a big legal decision for Mueller to decide not to charge on the -- first of all, not to charge because he could have said I would charge but for the OLC opinion. And then second of all for him to decide not to reach a conclusion on obstruction.
Those are exercises of discretion. He was off the beaten path. No one had told him exactly how to do that, so that's a real problem in terms of us understanding what happened, and what the Trump folks want to do, of course, is spin that as a factual fait accompli and the reason that didn't happen is because the facts don't support it. And that's simply wrong.
WHITFIELD: Yes. And Marshall, what's at stake particularly for members of Congress? While there's going to be a conference call tomorrow involving you know Democrats, how to proceed, et cetera. What is at stake for Congress if it doesn't pick up the ball, so to speak, from this Mueller report and do what it is constitutionally, you know, permitted and obligated to do in terms of having all of these facts and then following through with it? If it does nothing, what's at stake for Congress?
COHEN: Well, as Shan pointed out, impeachment is a calculation. It's a political calculation, right? If the Democratic leadership, if Nancy Pelosi and the others thought that impeaching Trump would help them next year in 2020, help them maybe recapture the Senate, they would be rushing to do it right now. You would have heard everyone this morning on all the shows saying I'm for it. Let's do it. We're starting tomorrow.
Clearly, impeachment is political. It's not a criminal trial. It's a political endeavor. The political calculation appears to have been made, although there are some cracks, Elizabeth Warren right out there on the trail saying that she's for it. Maybe there will be more splintering, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Right. We shall see. Go ahead, Julie, real quick.
KAYYEM: I just wanted to add to Marshall's. I think one of the things that's changed for a lot of national security folks, I've changed my mind about impeachment over the last 72 hours has certainly been that it's also a security decision given what Giuliani said today. We just have the no assurances that this group won't do it again or other -- other people won't do it again. The Russians are empowered by what Giuliani said today, what Trump is saying on Twitter, and that to me makes it not just political but also just thinking about the security aspects and why more cautious people seem to be like myself for honestly a little bit, you know, much more accepting of the impeachment process than I was even last Wednesday.
WHITFIELD: All right, Shan Wu, Juliette Kayyem, Marshall Cohen, good to see all of you. Thank you.
WU: Good to see you, Fred.
KAYYEM: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, ACHOR, CNN NEWS: Welcome back. House Democrats plan to huddle tomorrow to figure out next steps after the Mueller report. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the report's findings a grave matter, but she has publicly backed away from talks of impeaching President Trump.
Democrats including the 2020 presidential candidates are split over to how to move forward. Senator Elizabeth Warren has called for the House to begin impeachment proceedings and Julian Castro says it would be, I'm quoting now, "perfectly reasonable to do so."
The rest of the candidates, well they're not going there just yet. I'm joined now by Republican strategist and former communications director for the Republican National Committee Doug Heye and Molly Mitchell, the former media affairs director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Good to see both of you, happy Easter, happy Passover.
DOUGLAS HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Thank you, happy Easter.
MOLLY MITCHELL, FORMER MEDIA AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE: Happy Easter.
HEYE: And Passover, absolutely.
WHITFIELD: That's right, so there's an impeachment resolution introduced by Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and others have signed on since the Mueller report was made public.
So I want you, however to listen to presidential candidate, Congressman Tim Ryan, when asked if he supports his colleagues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TIM RYAN (D), O.H.: Well as is said, you can read this document and really see that I personally think that there's a lot of obstruction here, so I understand their move that - to try to impeach.
I would just rather us take this next step, educate the American people, really get these details out, let the Judiciary Committee do its work. We - this getting back to regular order and letting the country start functioning normally through these processes that we've established and then we'll go from there.
But everyone's welcome to do what they want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Cory Booker among those saying he's not ready to begin impeachment and then some of the other candidates are not talking about it all. Of course they will be talking about it as soon as a voter asks about it.
So Molly, there is this wait and see kind of attitude on the campaign trail, how long can that last?
MITCHELL: I think it can last for a while and if I'm a candidate, there's very little upside to calling for impeachment right now. And I think they'd actually do well to take a page from Nancy Pelosi.
I think it's really smart to wait and see until we see the full unredacted report and also have Mueller testify before going right to impeachment.
WHITFIELD: Bill Weld, he's the only Republican running against Trump thus far, he said he was horrified by Mueller's report and the he added this, take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think impeachment should still be on the table?
BILL WELD (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I really don't think so, and I'll tell you why, it's not for legal reasons it's for political reasons because the House could easily - there's more than enough evidence, much more than there was against President Nixon and I worked on that case for obstruction.
But, you know, the Republicans control the Senate, so it's very unlikely that he would ever be convicted in the Senate where you need a two thirds vote. So the upside of, you know, 15 months of impeachment proceedings might be that the House looks like overzealous prosecutors and the president comes out smelling like a rose.
So I can understand why Steny Hoyer said impeachment's not a good idea, for political reasons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
So Doug, is that the obstacle for political reasons there is this residence, you know, for fear of being picked apart?
HEYE: Yes, yes, I worked in the House of Representatives when the Starr report came out and impeachment proceedings were going on for - for a Republican office. And, you know, what we did is we went a full court press, full sprint, did everything we could to move - move it as fast as we could going after President Clinton.
And what happened? Well it backfired on us. And I thin Democrats are smart to take a page from this, but as they do this, not just learn what Republicans did wrong, but look at what Democrats did wrong over the last two years.
You know, for two years we heard the word collusion and Russia in every sentence of basically every interview that - that Democrats would do on television. And so it raised the bar for all collusion all the time, and so -
WHITFIELD: (Inaudible) you sure did hear it a lot from the president and Kellyanne Conway a lot.
HEYE: Well sure, but what you would hear is no collusion, they were denying the accusation, which the report bares out. And so for the public, after two years of hearing it for there to be no collusion really is why this has been a big political benefit for Donald Trump regardless of the other things that are in there that are quite troubling to a lot of people, including some Republicans like myself.
It's why in the Trump White House, they feel after two years of Adam Schiff being a real bete noir for them that Adam Schiff has been an all star for Donald Trump, he has raised the bar so much by going after Trump all day every day on collusion that it's really caused this political vindication for Donald Trump which really is not something that you would have thought a year ago.
WHITFIELD: So Molly, a number of candidates, you know, do happen to work in Congress, you know, and they'll be on that conference call tomorrow with Pelosi. Will they be taking their cues from that call to help dictate how they handle all of this on the campaign trail?
MITCHELL: I think overwhelmingly most of them will, yes. I mean it's a very small percentage of progressive members of Congress that have called for impeachment. And also if we look to the midterms, we took back the House with an overwhelmingly moderate class of representatives and we did that by relentlessly focusing on healthcare.
And I agree that we need to keep focusing on that, focusing on the tax bill and running on impeachment is not a great way to take back the White House or win reelection in Congress, quite frankly.
WHITFIELD: And so Doug, how does the president, the White House, kind of move it forward when you have Giuliani who's going on the airwaves, his personal attorney who really wants to re-litigate (ph), you know, rehash, reinterpret what the report says.
HEYE: Yes, I think the reality is unfortunately for this White House is that they don't. One of the things that's been so troubling threat to so many Republicans on Capital Hill is just take the first Friday of every month when the jobs numbers come out.
Every first Friday of the month of Donald Trump's presidency, save one maybe two, the numbers have been overwhelmingly positive. But we know at 8:30 on that first Friday that we're not going to talk about the great economic news that this White House could and should be trumpeting because we're talking about witch hunts or not witch hunts or name calling or whatever the president tweeted this day.
And so, you know, we hear so often that Donald Trump's a counter puncher, the reality is he's somebody who always takes the bait as well and that gets in the way of what could be really strong economic messaging for this White House.
WHITFIELD: All right, Doug Heye, Molly Mitchell, we'll leave it there for now. Thanks so much.
HEYE: Thank you.
MITCHELL: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right, and you don't want to miss a CNN town hall event, the largest of the 2020 campaign cycle so far. It all starts at 7:00 Eastern tomorrow night, only on CNN.
All right, a follow up to a story we told you yesterday, the FBI has now arrested a member of an armed militia group that had detained hundreds of migrants at the border last week, that's according to the New Mexico attorney general.
Larry Mitchell Hopkins, who was also known as Johnny Horton Junior is facing felony charges of possessing fire arms and ammunition. He was arrested near the southern border with Mexico. CNN's Nick Valencia has more on who exactly this group is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICK VALENCIA, CORRESPONDENT, CNN NEWS: The group calls itself United Constitutional Patriots, and they are a self described militia group, a group of concerned citizens they say that are helping to secure the border.
And they claim that what they are doing is lawful, comparing it to making a citizens arrest. But in videos that we're about to show you, one of their members not only falsely identifies himself as a U.S. Border Patrol agent, he also starts to act like one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) U.S. Border Patrol, what are you guys doing?
VALENCIA: The man speaking in the video is not a Border Patrol agent, but he appears to be acting like one. Here he gives commands to the migrant group, some of them children, which he has just intercepted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Walk, walk, yes, there you go.
VALENCIA: The clips were posted to the Facebook page of Jim Benvie, a member of the Untied Constitutional Patriots, a militia group based along the New Mexico border.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, we don't work well with Border Patrol by the way, just so you guys know that, that's the media.
VALENCIA: They describe themselves as concerned citizens helping to keep America safe, plugging the holes they say for the U.S. border patrol.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That border patrol is tied up, so if we weren't here right now, they could be bringing in bus loads, dropping them over here and running up the hill.
VALENCIA: The group's actions have drawn swift condemnation from the American Civil Liberties Union and others who have equated the group's actions to kidnapping.
PETER SIMONSON, DIRECTOR, NEW MEXICO ACLU: This is exactly why we don't let private citizens enforce the laws of our country. This is an act of vigilantism and we need federal, local and state authorities stepping in as quickly as possible.
VALENCIA: They've asked federal, state and local law enforcement to investigate. In a statement to CNN, the spokesman for the New Mexico Governor's Office said this about the militia group, they have absolutely not been authorized by our office or any other.
We are actively working with the Attorney General's Office, state police and local police to determine what has gone on and what can and will be done, that migrate families might be menaced or threatened in any way, shape or form is completely unacceptable. CNN has been unable to independently verify when and where the clips
were shot. We made several attempts to reach the United Constitutional Patriots and Jim Benvie. They did not reply.
A spokesman for the group defended their actions to the New York Times, saying what they do is legal. But in one of the nighttime videos posted by the group, a man can be heard alluding to another tactic he wishes the militia could use.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only problem is if we shoot on the hill it'll be an international crisis, we're too close to the border. It would save some time though, wouldn't it?
VALENCIA: We reached out to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, they declined to comment specifically about this group or about the social media posts that were made this week.
But they did send this statement to CNN, interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved. Border security operations are complex and require highly trained professionals with adequate resources to protect the country.
Multiple law enforcement agencies are now investigating.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, thank you, CNN's Nick Valencia. Up next, the world is reacting on this holiest of Christian holidays to the deadly attacks in Sri Lanka, what Pope Francis is saying about them next.
Millions across the globe are celebrating Easter this Sunday, but for the first time in years there was no holiday service at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Today was remembered as an Easter amid the ashes.
Last night, people gathered for a benefit concert to help rebuild the cathedral after last week's massive fire. Earlier today, the Pope delivered his Easter Sunday mass at the Vatican and offered his condolences to victims of the Sri Lanka bombings.
CNN Senior Vatican Analyst John Allen is in Rome with the latest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ALLEN, SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST, CNN NEWS: In his customary greetings on Easter Sunday to roughly 70,000 people in St. Peter Square today, Pope Francis expressed his spiritual closeness to the victims of today's violence in Sri Lanka.
He talked about the sorrow and the pain this violence has caused, denouncing it as cruel violence. The attacks on the churches and high end hotels in Sri Lanka is part of a pattern of attacks on Christian targets on Easter Sunday, the holiest day on the Christian calendar.
In 2015, there was an attack on Christian students at a university in Kenya, 2016 bombings at a park in Lahore, Pakistan where Christians were celebrating Easter, 2018 a spade of attacks on Christians across India and of course today's violence in Sri Lanka.
In his traditional Urbi et Orbi address, that's an address to the city, meaning Rome and to the world on Easter Sunday, Pope Francis also sent out his concern and his - expressed his commitment for other troubled spots in today's world from Africa to the Middle East and from South America to Ukraine.
The Pope called for an end to violence and bloodshed, he once again as he often has in the past condemned the arms trade. He expressed in a very characteristic note his concern for the poor and for migrants and refugees.
That concludes what has been a very busy holy week period for Pope Francis that included the traditional way of the cross celebration at Rome's coliseum on Friday and the Easter vigil mass late last night here in Rome.
Reporting from Rome, this is John Allen for CNN.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
President Trump and his family spent Easter Sunday at a church in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump was joined by First Lady Melania, daughter Tiffany and her boyfriend earlier this morning. Trump stopped by to wish everyone a happy Easter and said, quote, "a lot of great things happening for our country" end quote.
The president and first lady will host the White House Easter Egg Roll tomorrow on the south lawn. All right, still ahead, more on the devastating attacks in Sri Lanka, the very latest as investigators try to track down the people responsible right after this.
Hello again and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We continue to follow this breaking news out of Sri Lanka where an Easter massacre has killed and injured hundreds, including several Americans, the blasts targeting hotels popular with foreigners and Christians attending Easter services.