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How Will Democrats Respond to Mueller Report?; Elizabeth Warren Proposes Elimination of Student Debt; Terror in Sri Lanka. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired April 22, 2019 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And we're just learning the identity of two of them, a fifth-grader from Washington, D.C. His name is Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa. And Dieter Kowalski was on a business trip from Denver. He was an employee of Pearson Textbook Publishing.

And as recovery works to identify the dead, the Sri Lankan government has decided to temporarily block social media sites Facebook, Instagram, even WhatsApp, which they say have been recently used to incite violence.

But the outage has also made it pretty tough for some who are there to make contact with loved ones who are missing.

CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley is live in the capital of Colombo, just one of those cities where those bombs went off.

And, Sam, what more do you know about who was behind the attack and these possible ties to ISIS?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, as you were saying, the U.S. officials are suggesting that this was an ISIS-inspired group, which would indicate strong understanding perhaps that there was prior intelligence.

As the minister told Christiane Amanpour, the -- both the Indians and the United States warned the Sri Lankans that there was a complex attack in the offing. That was backed up by Sri Lankan intelligence. But that intelligence was never fully acted upon by the security services here.

Now, the government has apologized. But this was, above all, a cold and calculated series of attacks, three churches hit almost simultaneously, and then the hotels that. And an explosion earlier on today, I think we which just heard there, of another device near St. Anthony's Church here in Colombo, the capital, that was found mid- morning and detonated by explosives experts.

And just the scale of the calculation, I think here, Brooke, can be revealed by when we look at a CCTV footage that we obtained from St. Sebastian's Church about 45 minutes out of town. In it, you see a young man with a backpack pat a young girl, a toddler

on the head, as he crosses the courtyard on the way into the church. Without really showing any signs of agitation, he walks into the last door that separates the congregation, effectively, from the altar area.

He enters the church. And, at that point, we are cutting the CCTV, because that is all that the church officials would show us. They passed the rest on to the police, because it shows the point of detonation, where this individual looks around and then kills himself. And 122 other people were killed in that blast.

It took the roof off the church. It took the head off an effigy of Christ, and all of this, of course, on the day that the congregation, some 1,500, the local bishop said, had gathered there to celebrate the Easter celebrations on Sunday, the resurrection of Christ in the Christian tradition, and, of course, a devastating blow to the community here.

There are, we understand from the Foreign Ministry, 31 foreigners that have also died in these blasts, and that more than a dozen of unidentified bodies which are likely also to include foreigners -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: There just are no words for this.

Sam Kiley, thank you so much on the reporting side of it.

I should point out, one of the six explosions happened at the Shangri- La Hotel. That's where many, many people were gathered for Easter brunch, and among the victims from that attack, the celebrity chef Shantha Mayadunne. She was popular in India and the U.K.

Her daughter apparently posted this image on Facebook minutes before they were both killed in the explosions. And a father from the U.K., Ben Nicholson, just confirmed that his wife, Anita, 14-year-old son, Alex, and 11-year-old daughter, Annabel, were all killed in one of those blasts.

And he released a statement saying this. And I will read it for you.

He said: "Anita was a wonderful, perfect wife and a brilliant, loving and inspiration mother to our two wonderful children. Alex and Annabel were the most amazing, intelligent, talented and thoughtful children. And Anita and I were immensely proud of them both, and looking forward to seeking them developing into adult -- seeing them develop into adulthood. They shared with their mother the priceless ability to light up any room they entered and bring joy into the lives of all they came into contact with."

CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank is with me now. He's also the co-author of the recent book "Nine Lives: My Time as the West's Top Spy Inside Al-Qaeda."

So, here we are again. Based upon all of your experience, does this look like ISIS to you? PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, it may well be ISIS-

inspired.

Al Qaeda, a month ago, that general command put a message out to their followers around the world to not attack places of worship. And I think that's why U.S. intelligence is focused more on ISIS, more that this could be an ISIS-inspired attack.

Sri Lankan authorities believe that this was possibly a local group acting in concert with a group like ISIS, an international terrorism network. This was a sophisticated, coordinated attack.

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We just haven't seen groups in Sri Lanka have anything like the capacity or capability to put together this sort of attack. So, that points to some overseas planning, perhaps, some overseas linkages in this attack.

BALDWIN: What do you make of the news that we're getting about multiple warnings, this memo being circulated, Sri Lanka somehow in the dark over this, and now apologizing? How is that possible?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, there seems to be a blame game going on. There's a lot of politics, as we know, in Sri Lanka.

The U.S. has not yet confirmed what that Sri Lankan minister claimed about some information being passed on about an imminent attack. Even if some information was passed on, was it of a scale that we saw play out over Easter Sunday?

This really surprised almost every terrorism analyst I know. There's hardly been any jihadi activity in Sri Lanka, compared to a lot of the other countries in the region, in recent years, that they have not had the sort of groups that would have this kind of capability operating there, so a very, very big surprise.

That is very disturbing, in and of itself, nearly 18 years after 9/11, that we could see an attack like this, which has such a large scale, which really caught the counterterrorism community unawares.

BALDWIN: Had a terror expert on last hour, and he says he's been studying this and specifically Sri Lanka for years, and he is just entirely, entirely baffled by it all.

To your point about being ISIS-inspired, let me just point out, for people who maybe don't know Sri Lanka as well, according to census data, 7.4 percent of Sri Lankans are Christian. This happened on Easter Sunday, targeting Christians during the most holy day of the calendar.

Why that target? What would that signal to you?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, ISIS has a track record of targeting churches, Christians or encouraging their followers to do that. We have seen attacks from ISIS of that ilk in Southeast Asia, in Europe, in Egypt, taking the war, in their view, to the crusader West.

And what better target, from their point of view, than churches and hotels where Westerners congregate? There have been a number of Sri Lankans who've gone off and fought with ISIS, several dozen believed to have joined the group in Syria in recent years.

And one line of inquiry will be whether any of these operatives had any kind of role in this attack, either by returning back home to Sri Lanka, taking their terrorist expertise with them back home, all perhaps by coordinating an attack online, through encrypted apps.

And we really saw back in 2016 this attack in Bangladesh...

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

CRUICKSHANK: ... against a bakery there. You will recall we covered that back at the time.

BALDWIN: Yes.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, the more evidence that has come to light, the more we understand now that ISIS had a very strong role in that attack, linking up with a local group there to help plan that attack. Was this what we saw play out in Sri Lanka?

We don't know yet. And ISIS haven't put out any claim of responsibility. And there's in fact been no claim responsibility by any group at all.

BALDWIN: And you mentioned, just briefly, the encrypted app, apps being used and social media being shut down, because so much of these apps have been used to incite violence.

Just quickly, a lot of people, though, are also frustrated because they're not able to be in touch with loved ones because they can't communicate via WhatsApp or Instagram. Do you think that was a good call?

CRUICKSHANK: It's very hard to kind of come up with a judgment call on that. Clearly, there's a concern from the Sri Lankan authorities' point of view that there could be a lot of bad information going out there.

BALDWIN: Sure.

CRUICKSHANK: That could lead to a sort of vicious cycle of violence. It's election season coming up, a very, very tense time in the country.

And they don't want sort of communal violence to sort of flow from this. They're also very worried, one would presume, about follow-on attacks. Have they managed to apprehend the bomb-makers in this plot? We haven't heard that yet.

If they're still at large, we can see more attacks in Sri Lanka.

BALDWIN: Let's hope not.

Paul Cruickshank, you are excellent. Thank you so much for coming on and that analysis.

Let's move. We're going to have more on this in a second, but first to the Trump White House now in open rebellion against a subpoena from House Democrats.

The president, his sons, and the Trump Organization today filed a lawsuit to stop the House Oversight Committee from getting its hands on Trump's financial records. Just last week, that very committee issued a congressional subpoena for those records, but Trump's lawyers call that move purely political.

In the lawsuit, they accuse House Democrats of being -- quote -- "singularly obsessed with finding something they can use to damage the president politically."

And now with me, John Marston is a former federal prosecutor.

And, John, welcome to you.

And when you first heard about this, is there any precedent to this?

JOHN MARSTON, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Thank you very much, Brooke.

Look, any challenge to a congressional subpoena is rare. I have represented clients on a number of responses. We never even considered this type of action.

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But an offensive lawsuit by the president of the United States against a congressman to stop a subpoena issued to a third party, not even to the president himself, I think it's fairly safe to say that is entirely unprecedented.

BALDWIN: OK.

As we all know, Congress' job is oversight. But this is what Trump's lawyers claim. Quoting the suit here: "Chairman Cummings has ignored the constitutional limits on Congress' power to investigate. Accordingly, investigations are legitimate only insofar as they further some legitimate legislative purpose."

John, is that an accurate assessment of congressional investigative powers?

MARSTON: It is an accurate assessment.

The central question in this case is whether there is a legitimate legislative purpose in play. But I would expect it would be fairly easy for the Congress folks to establish that. They have broad authority to investigate. They have broad authority to consider legislation of all kinds. And we have seen subpoenas issued to -- and, remember, this -- a lot

of this subpoena covers President Trump's time as a private citizen. And we have seen subpoenas issued to wealthy private citizens in connection with Internal Revenue law reviews, in connection with banking law and regulation reviews.

And so this is -- this is the kind of thing you see Congress do. It is a broad subpoena that covers a long time period. But you see these with some frequency.

BALDWIN: So what can Democrats do? What's their next step?

MARSTON: Look, I think we can expect them to continue on the path they have been on, which is -- and I would expect a continued court fight. It will be at the district court level. It can go up from there.

And I would expect further subpoenas and a further battle politically, as well as legally. I just don't see anyone backing down from this.

BALDWIN: John Marston, thank you very much. Good to have you on.

Coming up next: Senator Elizabeth Warren rolls out a sweeping plan that would wipe out student debt for millions of Americans. Hear how she would cover the trillion-dollar price tag.

Plus, President Trump pulls his nomination for Herman Cain to join the Federal Reserve, this as CNN uncovers a series of sexist comments made by the other nominee to his Board, Stephen Moore. We have bad for you. You won't believe some of this stuff.

And, later, a comedian who played a president on TV is now the actual president of Ukraine, and he won by a landslide. So let's talk about how that happened.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

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BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

And then there were 19.

Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton just officially jumped into the race today, becoming the latest Democrat to do so. And here is part of his message to voters:

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REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm running because we have to beat Donald Trump. And I want us to beat Donald Trump because I love this country.

We have never been a country that gets everything right. But we're a country that, at our best, thinks that we might. I would be honored if you would join me in this mission.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: The 40-year-old is a Marine corps veteran. And, if elected, he would be the youngest president in U.S. history.

The Democratic field is now the largest ever, and is likely to grow even more, with former Vice President Joe Biden expected to officially enter the race at some point this week. The previous record was 17. And that was during the Republican nomination just in 2016.

2020 contender Senator Elizabeth Warren is out and about with another ambitious policy proposal, eliminating student debt for millions of Americans. It is a massive plan that would forgive billions of dollars in student loans. And it would expand on her promise for free tuition and public colleges.

She sat down with CNN political correspondent M.J. Lee to talk about it.

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SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, there's a real access problem for low-income students, for students of color. And that is -- it's not just paying the tuition. It's how they pay for books. It's how they pay for the expenses of having a baby taken care of, if they already have a child at home, or being able to cover commuting expenses.

Or maybe it's a chance to live in a dorm.

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: And you are already a co-sponsor of Bernie Sanders' free college bill. How is your plan better than that plan?

WARREN: Well, it goes further.

LEE: So, is it fair to say that your bill is more progressive than Bernie Sanders' bill?

WARREN: Well, it's certainly bigger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And M.J. is with me live from Manchester, New Hampshire, the site of tonight's CNN's town halls.

And so, M.J., give me the details. Lay out the plan for us.

LEE: Well, Brooke, you said it. This is a giant proposal, probably one of the most ambitious plans on this topic that we have seen come out of the 2020 field so far.

So let's just walk through it. There are two main portions of this, right? The first one is the student loan forgiveness part of it. She's essentially suggesting $50,000 in student loan debt would be wiped clean for anybody that makes under $100,000 a year. That amount gets smaller as you make more money, and anyone who makes more than $250,000 in income is not eligible for any loan debt forgiveness.

The second part of this is the universal free college portion of it. She's saying that all public colleges, two-year colleges, four-year colleges, will be tuition- and fee-free.

And then there are some other investments that she's proposing to make, including $100 billion in investment into Pell Grants over a period of 10 years, and then separately a $50 billion fund to serve historically black colleges.

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So you can see here that there is a real focus on helping especially lower-income students and students of color. Now, what was interesting from my sit-down with her is that she said -- and she straight up came out and said this when I asked her -- that her plan is bigger and goes further than Bernie Sanders' plan.

When I asked her about Pete Buttigieg, who happens to not be a fan of the idea of free college or tuition-free college, she said that she simply disagrees with him on the philosophy of that, right?

So this is just a great reminder, Brooke, that, with 19 candidates now in the field, we are going to see these candidates fall on different ends of the spectrum, right, whether it's on this issue or another issue. And all of them are going to be topics that these candidates each try to use to try to set themselves apart in this giant field.

BALDWIN: Sure, and you can hear all the ears of young people in this country perking up at the thought of, you know, doing away debt.

But minor question, how does she pay for this?

LEE: Yes, I mean, the fact that this is a giant proposal also means that the price tag is also big, $1.25 trillion over the course of 10 years.

And she says that she is going to pay for this by using the revenue from her wealth tax. This is a plan that she put out earlier this year where you would tax anybody whose wealth is more than $50 million.

But what's interesting is that you might recall this is not the only thing that she said she would pay for with the revenue from her wealth tax. Her universal pre-K plan was also -- universal child care plan, rather, was also going to be paid for by the revenue from this plan.

So you can imagine, even though she says that this is totally viable, any critics are going to latch on to the fact that this has a giant price tag and simply say, this is not realistic, this is not viable -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK, M.J. Lee, thank you very much for that with Senator Warren. Senator Warren, by the way, will be one of five Democratic candidates

participating in tonight's big event this evening, back-to-back town halls, all from the same stage. It starts at 7:00 Eastern with Senator Amy Klobuchar. And then you will hear from Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and finally the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg.

Do not miss the evening here on CNN.

In just a short time from now, House speaker Nancy Pelosi will lead a conference call with Democrats just to figure out how to move forward, as so many in her party are calling for impeachment of President Trump -- details on the letter she just sent to her colleagues.

Plus, CNN uncovers sexist comments made by President Trump's nominee to the Federal Reserve, Stephen Moore, including the opinion that female athletes -- quote -- "don't really want equal pay for equal work. They want equal pay for inferior work."

We're going to go there.

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BALDWIN: Unethical and unscrupulous behavior that does not bring honor to the office he holds -- scathing words from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today, who blasted President Trump in a letter to her Democratic colleagues.

Speaker Pelosi was talking about the findings in the Mueller report. And her letter has just come just hours before the speaker and her caucus hold this conference call on what they should do next. That happens in just a couple hours from now.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is up on the Hill for us.

And so, Manu, Speaker Pelosi, Democrats, they agree they need to find the truth, even if they're maybe not united in how they go about doing that. So what is she saying specifically about the issue of impeachment?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she's making it very clear that she wants to go slow. She does not want to put the pedal on the gas towards impeachment.

She has been very clear about that for several weeks now that that is not her preferred course of action. And she alludes to that in this letter that went out to all members of the House Democratic Caucus, and saying this specifically: "While our views ranged from proceeding to investigate the findings of the Mueller report or proceeding directly to impeachment, we all firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth.

"It is also important to know that the facts regarding holding the president accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings. As we proceed to uncover the truth and present additional needed reforms to protect our democracy, we must show the American people we are proceeding free from passion or prejudice, strictly on the presentation of fact."

And that line, Brooke, about information that can also be gained outside of impeachment hearings is very clear about the path that she and other top Democrats want to go down.

They want the investigation to take place. They want to proceed in the House Judiciary Committee, the way it is right now, a significant, sprawling investigation into potential obstruction of justice, to pursue the revelations that were found in the Mueller report, bring forward key officials, starting with Bill Barr, then the special counsel, Robert Mueller, other people who are named in this report, including five former White House officials who the company has already issued -- authorized subpoenas for, including the former White House counsel Don McGahn, among many others, to bring them forward, have public hearings, continue the investigation.

Not necessarily go down that path of impeachment, where Republicans are showing no willingness to go down. They don't want to go through a fruitless impeachment attempt that could consume all of the oxygen in the room and lead to an unsuccessful attempt to convict him in the Republican-led Senate.

So, Pelosi sending the message to her caucus tonight: Let's investigate.

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