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How Will Democrats Respond to Mueller Report?; Terror in Sri Lanka. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 22, 2019 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: In the meantime, let's go to Washington.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump now going to court to keep you from seeing his finances.

THE LEAD starts right now.

New today, the president of the United States also now tweeting about impeachment, as Democrats are just minutes away from debating the next step after the Mueller probe.

Easter carnage, several Americans killed. Now we know one of them is a fifth-grader from Washington, D.C. And authorities are still detonating bombs after one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the world since 9/11.

Plus, 19 for '20. Another contender jumping into the Democratic battle royal, as some candidates get ready to rumble in one of the biggest CNN town hall events ever.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead, and the most consequential decision Democrats are going to make during the Trump presidency, as House Democrats are right now preparing for a conversation they're going to have at the end of this hour to discuss whether or not the House of Representatives will seek to impeach President Trump.

Many Democrats on the record are saying they believe special counsel Robert Mueller laid out a compelling case that President Trump, indeed, obstructed justice, a matter that Mueller seemed to kick to Congress.

Now, on that other matter, conspiracy with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, Mueller, of course, said his investigation did not find sufficient evidence of that. But President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani is telling me -- quote -- "There's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians." It depends on where it came from, the latest in an evolution or devolution in Trump team claims regarding interactions with the Russians. It started with what we were told in November 2016. You might recall

Hope Hicks telling the public -- quote -- "It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign."

Then there was President Trump in February 2017.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.


TAPPER: "No person."

In July 2017, we, of course, learned about that infamous Trump Tower meeting back in June 2016. Now, initially, Donald Trump Jr. in a misleading statement drafted at least in part by his father publicly claimed that in the meeting -- quote -- "We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children" -- unquote.

We soon learned, of course, that the meeting was set up with the express primary purpose of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton from a Russian government lawyer. We now know, according to Mueller, while there is not sufficient evidence to prove any criminal conspiracy, the Russians did, indeed, work to elect Donald Trump.

They spread information, often false, on social media to help Trump, reaching, according to Mueller, tens of millions of Americans. They illegally obtained Democrats' e-mails and publicly released them. And the special counsel noted that the Trump campaign expected it would benefit electorally from the Russians' help, not a crime, according to Mueller, but not ethical, at least according to Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who said in a statement that he was -- quote -- "appalled" that people on the Trump campaign welcomed that help from Russia.

And that leads us to this latest positioning by team Trump on relations with Russians bearing gifts.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Any candidate in the whole world in America would take information, negative...


TAPPER: From a foreign source, from a hostile foreign source?

GIULIANI: Who says it's even illegal? There's nothing -- there's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.

TAPPER: There's nothing wrong with taking information...

GIULIANI: It depends on where it came from.


TAPPER: From November of 2016 until now, a journey from, we never even communicated with Russians to there's nothing wrong with accepting help from the Russians.

Separate and apart from impeachment, a question for Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, what does this latest declaration mean for American elections now? What signal is the Trump team now sending to Russia and China, Iran, any other country that might want to interfere in the 2020 election?

Today, President Trump is dismissing talk of impeachment and fuming behind the scenes.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins kicks off our coverage.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump was all smiles in front of the cameras during the Easter egg roll today.

TRUMP: This is a beautiful day.

COLLINS: But behind the scenes, sources say he's fuming over the release of the special counsel's report and the portrait it paints of a dishonest president whose staff refused to carry out his most extreme demands.

(on camera): Are you worried that your staff is ignoring your orders, as the Mueller report portrays?

TRUMP: Nobody disobeys my orders.

COLLINS (voice-over): But the Mueller report showed they did, including the White House counsel who refused to fire the special counsel, the attorney general who wouldn't unrecuse himself, the former campaign manager who ignored his command to tell the attorney general to limit the investigation, and the staff secretary who wouldn't gauge the loyalty of DOJ officials.


Sources now the president is seeking assurances from his current staff that they're following his orders, that as the president and his business are suing the House Oversight chairman, Elijah Cummings today, in an attempt to block House Democrats from getting his financial records.

The lawsuit argues Cummings has no legitimate legislative reason to subpoena an accounting company tied to Trump. And the president's outside attorney, Jay Sekulow, told CNN, "We will not allow congressional presidential harassment to go unanswered."

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Good afternoon.

COLLINS: Democrats say they aren't buying it.

REP. MARY GAY SCANLON (D-PA): He's a lot of bluster. A, in the end, do those suits go anywhere? No, he ends up withdrawing, he ends up settling, because there's nothing to them.

COLLINS: But they're wrestling with another dicey problem, whether the president's behavior justifies impeachment. While some, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have tried to throw cold water on the idea, others aren't ready to walk away yet.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): Even if we did not win, possibly, if there were not impeachment, I think history would smile upon us for standing up for the Constitution.

COLLINS: Trump tweeting today that only high crimes and misdemeanors can lead to impeachment, but later telling reporters he's not worried about it.

QUESTION: Are you worried about impeachment, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Not even a little bit.


TAPPER: And Kaitlan Collins is here with us.

Kaitlan, the president just tweeted: "Isn't it amazing that the people who are closest to me by far and knew the campaign better than anyone were never even called to testify before Mueller? The reason is that the 18 angry Democrats knew that they would all say no collusion and only very good things."

But if you read the Mueller report, Kaitlan, on page 117, it says that Donald Trump Jr. declined to be interviewed by the special counsel. So I don't understand this claim by the president.

COLLINS: Well, and then you have to look at the people that they did interview, the first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, another campaign manager, Paul Manafort, the deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, Steve Bannon, and even the president's son-in-law and senior -- now senior adviser Jared Kushner twice.

So the idea that they didn't speak to anyone who was high-ranking on the campaign or very familiar with the campaign is just simply not true, because they actually had extensive interviews with a lot of these people that worked on the campaign.

TAPPER: So who's he talking about? Kellyanne Conway?

COLLINS: There are a few people who weren't interviewed, but you have got to think about everyone -- there was an extensive amount of interviews that this is based off of.

So if the president is trying to frame it that the people who simply were interviewed are people who don't like him, maybe Don McGahn, because they had a very troubled relationship and complicated when Don McGahn was in the White House, just simply is not the case.

TAPPER: Interesting.

Jen Psaki, let me ask you about Rudy Giuliani's latest thing where he told me yesterday that, you know, it's not wrong to accept information from the Russians, you know, depending on what it is. That strikes me as a jarring comment. What was your reaction?


I mean, if you read the report -- and, you know, I read the report. I'm not sure Donald Trump did, I would bet, from hearing some of the reporting. The list of kind of indiscretions here and events that happened on the campaign is jarring, too.

And what Rudy Giuliani is saying, he's lowering the bar of what is acceptable -- or, you know, raising the bar of what's illegal, lowering the bar of what's acceptable. Now, you can argue -- and some people have -- that whether or not it was a campaign finance violation, but the fact is, I read it.

A lot of Democratic friends, independent friends, Republican friends had a similar reaction, which is, if this is not illegal, it should be. And that's a question I would have if I were giving advice to Democrats. I would say, come up with a way to make that illegal.

So his comment to me was obviously incredibly irresponsible, but it was suggesting that accepting information from a foreign adversary is acceptable, and it shouldn't be. But it's now the bar for the future, and that's incredibly dangerous.

TAPPER: So, we should note, again, he did not find sufficient evidence of criminal conspiracy, so to a degree, the president has been vindicated on that.

But there's a difference between legal, illegal and ethical, unethical. What was your response to what Rudy Giuliani said?

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: I think it's shocking and I think destructive, because it is now going to be the new norm, right?

It now, I gather, as you just said earlier, there's a reason the president himself and the campaign denied having these contacts, because it was once viewed, not so long in American politics, as damaging, illegitimate, wrong to have these kinds of contacts, including secret contacts, with an adversary -- with agents of an adversarial power, including not just providing information, but providing stolen information and being encouraged to get more stolen information, et cetera.


So what Rudy's comment to you shows is what it will -- is why -- what it means for me, and what Trump's tweet, well, they didn't interview, means to me that the House has to go ahead with hearings.

And they have to be serious about those hearings. If Mueller didn't interview everyone, let the House -- if Donald Jr. wants to talk so much and if he is not -- did not talk to special prosecutor, special counsel Mueller, I'm sure the House Judiciary Committee would be happy to have him talk.

And if Rudy Giuliani -- and if the House leaves this alone now, what Rudy said to you will become the new norm.

TAPPER: There is a world of Democrats, I think they're in the minority, but Democratic officials, who say, we need to play the game that Donald Trump is playing.

We need to attack people the way he's attacking and we need to get in the mud and -- I haven't heard them say this, but I would imagine they think if it's OK to do this, to get information from foreign countries, why not? And then we all just start running down this road.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the biggest concern here is that if you start to say conduct of the Trump campaign is acceptable, it paves the way for that to become the new norm.

And with respect to Rudy Giuliani's comments, I think it's notable that while the president has maintained all along that there was no collusion, his attorneys and his supporters, including Giuliani, had gone from initially saying there was no collusion to saying over the course of the past few months, collusion's not a crime.

And I think they did that because they were effectively trying to frame the narrative for when the Mueller report did become public, and just based on what we had already known through a lot of the reporting, that even if there was not a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow, we have countless examples of the Trump campaign having been willing to concluded.

And that is in fact what the special counsel found, that the Trump campaign was actually receptive to help from the Russians and that they understood that they would benefit electorally from that help. Sometimes, it just didn't pan out in their favor.

They went into that infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York expecting that they would receive incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. Ultimately, it was a meeting about adoption policy and U.S. sanctions, and so they walked away saying it was a waste of time.

But if they had, in fact, gotten what they wanted, it would be an entirely different ball game and perhaps there would be more to the special counsel's report with respect to an actual conspiracy.

And then there's the WikiLeaks information, a lot of which was redacted and that we don't yet know about.

TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, the Democrats are more focused on the obstruction of justice part of this. And one of the keys in the report is how many times the president told people to do something, to get rid of Mueller or get rid of whatever, and they were not listened to.

They ignored what President Trump had to say. You asked the president about this earlier today. Let's run that sound again.


COLLINS: Are you worried that your staff is ignoring your orders, as the Mueller report portrays?

TRUMP: Nobody disobeys my orders.


TAPPER: "Are you worried your staff is disobeying your orders, as the Mueller report portrays?"

Trump says: "Nobody disobeys my orders."

That's not what the Mueller report says.

COLLINS: Not at all, because there are plenty of people in this report that actually didn't take the president's commands, whether it was out of respect or him or trying to protect him, or they didn't want to implicate themselves in some kind of crime, because they believed some of these were on the brink of breaking the law.

So, actually, there are several people in this report, just in and of itself, not just Don McGahn and Jeff Sessions, but Corey Lewandowski and the staff secretary at the time, who did not follow through on what he asked them to do.

But what's interesting about the president saying that no one disobeys his commands is, we have actually had reporting that the president is seeking assurances from people who work for him right now. Because so many people in this report have left the White House, he's seeking assurances from people who are still there that they are following his orders.

TAPPER: People do disobey him, and we have reported a lot on people in the Department of Homeland Security who have disobeyed his commands that they do things that would not comport with the law would be a nice way of putting it.

In just minutes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to try to get Democrats all on the same page when it comes to impeaching President Trump. She's already trying to send a strong message.

Plus, could ignored warnings have prevented one of the deadliest terrorist attacks on churches in Sri Lanka since 9/11?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:18:16] TAPPER: Our politics lead, in just about 40 minutes or so, House Democrats are going to hold a conference call to strategize about how to move forward after the Mueller report.

There is a divide within the House Democratic Caucus on whether impeachment is the way to go or not. With Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi writing an email to our Democratic colleagues, saying they all, quote, firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth. Of course, that's the easy part.

CNN congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is live for us on Capitol Hill.

And, Sunlen, House Speaker Pelosi mentioned impeachment in that email, but she didn't specifically endorse it.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Jake. And the speaker has been very cautious about approaching impeachment in the past. In this letter, she makes it very clear that she's essentially standing by that approach. In this letter, she does acknowledge that there is division within the caucus over the issue of impeachment, something that has become something of a thorny issue for Democrats since they are not always on the same page.

But in this letter, Speaker Pelosi goes on to say, quote, it is also important to know that the facts regarding holding the president accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings. And Pelosi sends this letter at a very important moment for her caucus. They will hop on a conference call in just about an hour to discuss the next step, to plot the next step in this post post-Mueller world. And comes at a time where more voices are being added to the small, but growing group of those calling for impeachment. So, certainly, that will be the message tonight for Democrats.

TAPPER: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

Take a listen to Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton, she represents Washington, D.C., talking about impeachment on CNN earlier today.


DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D-DC): But to assume that impeachment is going to occur when it has almost never occurred in the history of the United States and we have a recent example, where impeachment failed with President Clinton, is to go to a road to nowhere, and we will go to the people with nothing to show for having been in the majority for two years.


[16:20:19] TAPPER: Congresswoman Holmes Norton is not a Trump lover.


TAPPER: But she's saying impeachment is a road to nowhere and then you'll go before the voters in 2020 and you don't have anything to show for it. Do you agree?

PSAKI: Well, this is exactly the political risk. And I think she outlined it pretty clearly.

I mean, I think Democrats are not in disagreement over whether Trump should be impeached. I think the vast majority think he should be impeached, that he's done enough to be impeached, that he shouldn't be out of office.

I think their question, how do you get him out of office? Is it better to wait for the election? Is it riskier and are we hurting ourselves politically if we go through an impeachment process. Have a vote in the House, and it fails in the Senate, does that empower Trump more? That's a part of their political calculation, which I think it's smart for them to think about.

But there's been a lot of kind of, you know, dramatic, there's divisions, there's not actually that much division. The big discussion is about the pace and the approach, right? So, you know, do they do a series of hearings or do they go immediately to it?

I think most Democrats who are in leadership, who are leading committees want to do hearings first, in part because they think the public case needs to be built. A lot of the stuff in the Mueller report wasn't totally shocking, as it's been reported. And they need to have people testify, have dramatic moments, so that the public is behind them a little bit, or they can see that. And I think that's part of the calculation that they're making

TAPPER: Bill, one of the other fears, as you heard Congresswoman Holmes Norton say is that the American people, if there are all of these hearings, in which all of these horrible stories about Donald Trump come out, there aren't the same hearings and attention, at least, on health care, jobs, things that voters out there care about more than they do about impeachment proceedings.

KRISTOL: Yes, I think the Democrats are overthinking this. The Democratic presidential candidate will lay out a program on health care, jobs, and all of that. The House can pass legislation on health care, education and everything else. It's probably not going to make it through the Senate or get signed by the president.

So, fine, they can have a hearing here and go to the floor of the health care bill there. I don't think this is asking too much of them. And I think the dynamic now is going to set in. If you take the report seriously, it's very hard to say there shouldn't at least be hearings to establish what happened, with fact witnesses like Don McGahn.

Once these hearings happen, you can do them faster, you can do them slower. At some point, they're going to have to say, well, OK, we've had the hearings, now what do we do? Maybe you don't go to impeachment, maybe you agree that you would censure the president if you can get some Republicans onboard that.

But the idea that this is just going to fizzle out, I do not buy that. And I don't think the Democrats will pay a price for going in an orderly, very legalistic way almost, towards impeachment, perhaps voting for impeachment, it will fail in the Senate, and we'll have a presidential campaign. I don't think this damages the Democrats in any important way.

TAPPER: I also want to talk about Stephen Moore, the president's pick to serve on the Federal Reserve board.

Sabrina, KFILE, CNN's investigative reporters, found a column that he wrote in which he assailed the idea of women participating as referees in professional sports. He attacked female athletes pushing for equal pay, saying they wanted equal pay for inferior work. He mocked a reader who called his column sexist.

In 2002, Stephen Moore wrote: Here's the rule change I propose, no more women refs, no women announcers, no women beer venders, no women anything. There is, of course, an exception to this rule, women are permitted to participate if and only they look like Bonnie Bernstein. The fact that Bonnie knows nothing about basketball is entirely irrelevant, unquote.

He later wrote that Bernstein, who was a CBS sports journalist at the time, should wear halter stops.

Now, Moore has responded to this CNN story claimed this is a spoof, he's just joking, he has a sense of humor.

What do you make of it?

SIDDIQUI: I think people are struggling to find out what the joke is in the columns that he wrote. It's not some flippant comment he made. He went out of his way to express these views, whether he thought they were funny or not, and to do so in not just one isolated case, but in multiple writings.

And I think this is reflective of, you know, a broader attitude towards women that emanates from the top level of the White House. The president himself has made a lot of derogatory comments when it comes to women. And so, for many people, they might say might say there was a problem here in this vetting this candidate. But I think, quite frankly, this White House has shown time and again when they have these nominees that have come under controversy, the administration has stood by them. And that's because the president himself believes that these are the people he wants for the job.

You know, there are other challenges with Stephen Moore and Republicans have raised concerns over the fact that he is a political operative and so that is at odds with what you traditionally see for nominees, traditionally independent Federal Reserve. And I find it challenging to think that there would be enough support for him in a Republican-led Senate.

TAPPER: And the president announced today that Herman Cain, who was also up for a position on the Federal Reserve, has taken himself out of the running.

[16:25:00] A Republican senator told me, Herman Cain just didn't have the votes.

COLLINS: Herman Cain was never going to make it that far. And Republicans on Capitol Hill knew that and they were making it pretty clear to the White House. People inside the White House got that message. So they thought between the two of these, Stephen Moore was more likely to advance, to actually have an attempt to get on it and go under confirmation. They did not think that Herman Cain was going to make it anyways.

TAPPER: In addition to the questions about his qualifications, questions about whether or not he had sexually harassed women in his previous position, he denies that.

Everyone, stick around. New details on the Americans killed in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks since 9/11. And reports of ignored warning signs by the government of Sri Lanka. Could the Easter Sunday attacks on Christian have been stopped?

Stay with us.