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Deadly Attack in Sri Lanka Church and Hotel Bombings; Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) is Interviewed About the Lawsuit over Trump's Financial Records and Impeachment; Trump Talks on Mueller Findings. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 22, 2019 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:27] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Live from CNN's Washington headquarters, I'm Dana Bash, in for Brianna Keilar.

Underway right now, they came to worship, to be with their families. Then they became targets of terrorists. The red flags missed and who the U.S. believes is behind the Sri Lanka bombings.

President Trump once called it the red line, and now, after Democrats subpoenaed his company's financial records, he and his sons are suing to keep them secret.

Plus, even though Russia attacked the U.S. election, the president's lawyer says there's nothing wrong with getting information from Russia, the Russians.

And, as the 2020 field becomes the largest ever, Elizabeth Warren unveils a massive proposal that eliminates student debt for millions and makes college free.

We begin this hour with coordinated terror attacks in Sri Lanka. One of the worst atrocities since 9/11. Two hundred and ninety people killed, including at least four Americans, and more than 500 others injured. There are heightened fears of more attacks on this island nation in south Asia, especially after a U.S. official told CNN that an initial intelligence assessment indicates Sunday's attacks were ISIS-inspired. A Sri Lankan military spokesman added that six, that's right, six suicide bombers carried out the coordinated blasts. Twenty- four people are under arrest, and the targets were churches filled with Easter worshippers and upscale hotels.

The explosions struck multiple cities and communities on both sides of the country. And, today, police carried out a controlled explosion on this van, which contained an explosive device. Authorities also found 87 detonators in a private terminal of the main bus station in the capital.

Senior international correspondent Sam Kiley is in Colombo.

And, Sam, the Sri Lankan government has admitted that it failed to respond to multiple warnings about the attacks. How did that happen? SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, it

started, if we take what the government and its ministers have said in public, back the beginning of April when the Sri Lankan intelligence services were told by an unnamed foreign intelligence organization that they had information that would indicate that there was a plan by Islamists to conduct what's known as a complex attack, in other words, an attack in multiple locations.

Then, on April the 11th, the deputy inspector general of police of Sri Lanka said that they had local intelligence that would corroborate this and that they had names, address and even telephone numbers. He fed that into the system, suggested to his colleagues that there should be an increase in security, and there was not. And then we saw the Easter attacks.

And one of the things about these Easter attacks, Dana, that's most striking is how kind of cold and calculated and well organized they were. And we obtained a copy of some CCTV footage from the St. Sebastian Church, which is in a town about 45 minutes outside Colombo, that shows the arrival of what is an alleged to be a suicide bomber. The police now have the CCTV as well. He very coolly walks across the courtyard of the church complex, pats a young female -- a young girl, a toddler on the head, perhaps to try to reassure people that he poses no kind of a threat. Then, without missing a stride, he walks on and the next image we have of him is entering the church, looking around between -- the area between most of the congregation and the altar, and then it goes blank. It goes blank because the church authority do not wish that to be in any kind of circulation. But they say that that is the point of detonation and they've passed that on to the police.

Now the -- the number of people killed in that detonation is 122 at least of the 290 people killed in this very complex attack.


BASH: Sam, thank you so much. I mean what it takes for a human being to pat at child on the head and then go on to -- to carry out that horrific bombing, the assassination of other children the way that he did in a place of worship is just impossible for us to wrap our minds around.

Appreciate that report. We'll, obviously, be getting back to you throughout the day.

[13:05:00] Now, most of the victims of these horrific attacks were Sri Lankan nationals, but dozens were foreigners at well. At first -- the first, I should say, of four U.S. citizens who were killed has been identified now, identified as Dieter Kowalski from Colorado. His employer said in a statement, Dieter had just arrived in his hotel when he was killed.

We have also learned of a fifth grader from the private school, Sidwell Friends, here in Washington who died in the bombings.

Three of four children as well of Denmark's richest man also died in the attack. Danish media reports that he and his family were visiting Sri Lanka over the Easter holiday.

Other victims included a well-known TV chef and -- in Sri Lanka and her daughter. This image you see there, this was posted online of the family having Easter breakfast just before the explosions occurred and they were killed.

Now, the precision and coordination of these attacks take terrorism to a new, horrifying level. Here to discuss this, "Washington Post" foreign affairs reporter Ishaan Tharoor.

Thank you so much for joining me.

Now, a U.S. official tells CNN that the initial intelligence review at least indicates that the group responsible was inspired by ISIS. Now, you and others have reporting that the Sri Lankan government initially called this local. Now, do you think this is a discrepancy that is just understandable in the aftermath of something like this, or is there something more to it?

ISHAAN THAROOR, FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": I don't think there's that much of a discrepancy. What they're saying when they say it's local is that the people who carried out this attack were clearly Sri Lankan nationals, or it seems to be that there were Sri Lankan nationals per their assessments. And -- but at the same time they've also suggested that there had to be some kind of external assistance for this. There's no precedence for this kind of radical mobilization within Sri Lanka in terms of this kind of -- the scale of this coordinated attack. And, yes, I think both the Sri Lankan government and, as you just said, the U.S. intelligence assessments concluded that this -- that this militant outfit clearly either was inspired by ISIS or had some kind of substantive links to ISIS affiliated groups elsewhere.

BASH: Why Sri Lanka? I mean this kind of attack, unfortunately, probably could have happened in any country around the world on a day like Easter Sunday, especially a place that is trying to boost their tourism and packed hotels. Why Sri Lanka?

THAROOR: Yes, there's a hard look right now at the security failures within Sri Lanka. The government has to do its own investigation. There's been some fingers pointed at lapses in the security forces. So it was probably a very potentially -- a potentially vulnerable target, first, of course, because tourists love to go there and it's a big tourist -- western holiday destination, but also because Sri Lanka has a very rich, but also fragile multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society. There are -- there have been various simmering tensions there before. Not interestingly that much between Muslims and Christians. Both Muslims and Christians number among the minorities in the country. And in recent years, as we've been following Sri Lankan politics, the focus really has been on the persecution jointly faced by Muslims and Christians at the hands of the Buddhist majority.

So there are tensions there. There is -- there is a history of communal violence. And it's -- it was clearly a very vulnerable target.

BASH: Ishaan Tharoor, thank you so much for that reporting and your reporting in "The Washington Post" as well. We'll keep looking for it.

And President Trump, his sons and the Trump Organization, they're filing a lawsuit against House Democrats to try to stop the House Oversight Committee from obtaining the president's financial records, which that committee issued a subpoena for just last week.

Well, joining me now is a Democratic member of that House Oversight Committee, Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts.

Congressman, first your response to this move by the president, his sons and obviously the -- the filing that they made today.

REP. STEPHEN LYNCH (D-MA): Well, I'm not surprised. This is the way the Trump companies and the president has worked in his private life by suing people to stop them, you know, from investigating, in this case the president's prior conduct. But I think we're on -- we're on solid ground in terms of Chairman Cummings and members of the committee seeking these -- these documents. During the Cohen hearing, we were given several years of financials that really raised questions about the president's filings since he has become president. And so we think that it requires further investigation.

BASH: So that's -- that's noteworthy because, you know, the accusations that you're hearing from the president and his team, that this is purely political. You're saying that you found something in the financials that Michael Cohen gave you that make you feel the need, as part of your oversight, to look for more. What is that that you saw?

[13:10:04] LYNCH: Well, there are -- there are several things that -- that we're looking at. I mean the president uniquely has refused to put into trust many of his assets. So he's got the hotel, the Trump -- the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. He's got other properties where we think there may be conflicts of interest there. We also think that some of the statements by Mr. Cohen about Trump -- President Trump's past attempts in business, the deal to possibly purchase the Buffalo Bills before he was president, and then up to today, you know, to his current filings, we think -- we think there are inconsistencies in those filings. And so, you know, Congress -- our ability to investigate, pursuant to our legislative powers, is beyond questions. And so we think that there's -- there is a reasonable and legitimate legislative purpose to ask for these documents. And we think the court will eventually agree.

BASH: We have to take a quick break, but before we do, do you have any -- do you have any expectations -- or let me ask you a different way, how convinced are you that this is just going to end up going to the Supreme Court, this legal battle with the president?

LYNCH: Well, we're going to go to the district court first.

BASH: Right.

LYNCH: And then -- you know, and if it's favorable there, I don't know if the Supreme Court would choose to take it up. You know, there would have to be a decision on their part and a petition to go to the Supreme Court. So we'll take one fight at a time.

BASH: OK. Speaking of fights, we're going to have more to talk to you about in a short while. Don't go away, Congressman.

Tonight, you and your fellow Democrats will be holding a conference call on how to move forward with Robert Mueller's findings, and there's a big divide inside the Democratic caucus.

Plus, Rudy Giuliani says there's nothing wrong with getting information from the Russians, but is that legal?

And Elizabeth Warren unveils another major proposal, this one eliminating student debt and making public college free.

Stay with us.


[13:16:32] BASH: President Trump, last hour, tweeted that Herman Cain has asked him to withdraw his name from consideration to fill a seat on the Federal Reserve board and saying he will respect those wishes. This came after some Republicans said they would not support Cain's nomination. Talk of his nomination is long -- along with, rather, that of former Trump campaign adviser Stephen Moore has sparked concerns of the president politicizing the Fed.

And President Trump is fighting back against one key conclusion from the Mueller report, that people close to him ignored his orders potentially saving the president from himself, saving him from obstruction.

Our Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, you heard, you reported over the weekend things I've heard as well, which is that people who know the president very well thought that this would be the -- the thing that made him the most mad, seeing in black and white that people under oath, who are close to him, just nodded and said, OK, but never carried out some pretty important things to the president.

You asked him about that earlier today. What happened?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're right, Dana, the president spent the weekend fuming about this aspect of the report. It was really one of the main takeaways on Thursday, not coming into -- regards to collusion and obstruction, but also this portrait of a dishonest president who is regularly ignored by his own staff. So we asked the president about it today. He had been all smiles earlier at the Easter egg roll. But then when we brought up this portrayal of staff ignoring what he had demanded from them, this is what he told us.


QUESTION: Are you worried that your staff is ignoring your orders as the Mueller report portrays? DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody disobeys my


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

TRUMP: Not even a little bit.


COLLINS: So you see, Dana, he turned back there to say he's not even worried about impeachment a little bit. But when he was talking about his staff, he said no one disobeys his orders.

But, Dana, that's just not the story that the Mueller report tells when, in fact, it's got aides who testified talking to federal investigators saying that actually the White House counsel refused the president's demand to fire the special counsel, the attorney general refused to unrecuse himself, even though the president demand that he do so, and even that story of the president's former campaign manager, who refused to give a message to the attorney general telling him to limit the scope of that investigation. So that is certainly what the president says there, no one ignores his orders, it doesn't line up with what's in the Mueller report and it also doesn't line up with what sources tell us now, that it's not always just Mueller-related where they either ignore or slow walk the president's demands. It can be policy relating, staffing related, so many aspects inside this West Wing. But that's overall the picture the president doesn't like, that there's chaos happening inside the walls of the White House.

BASH: Chaos that stems from the president himself, as you said, according to the Mueller report, which is the basis of -- of countless hours of under oath testimony from his current and some former aides saying, like we said, that they were trying to save him from himself on a host of issues.

Kaitlan, thank you so much. Great job trying to get the president on that.

And as for Democrats on the issue of impeachment, they will gather for a caucus conference call this evening to set their post-Mueller strategy, which may or may not include impeachment.

I want to bring back Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch. Thanks for sticking around.

So after the release of the redacted Mueller report, you said it's up to Congress to do their job. In your mind, does that include beginning impeachment proceedings?

[13:20:08] LYNCH: Well, first of all, we would like all of the -- all of the report to be disclosed to us. I know that Chairman Nadler, Chairman Cummings, also Speaker Pelosi are unified in our effort to try to get more information. About 10 percent of the report was redacted, so we would like an opportunity to review that unredacted version. That's the first step.

BASH: OK. OK. And then?

LYNCH: We also believe -- I also believe that there were -- there were -- there what conduct by the president that amounted to obstruction. There seems to be a different interpretation on the part of the attorney general. He thinks that Attorney General Barr believes that there must be some underlying crime for the president to be held guilty of obstruction of justice. But I believe that Special Counsel Mueller believes that if the true finding function of this proceeding was -- was interfered with by the president, even for the purpose of saving the president embarrassment or -- or reputation, that that interference itself constitutes obstruction of justice. And I believe that based on the --

BASH: OK. And the question --

LYNCH: Based on the statute, that -- that is the correct interpretation.

BASH: OK. And the question now is, what do people like you believe, people who are in the majority, in the House of Representatives, where impeachment constitutionally begins. Do you believe that the obstruction that you just described constitutes the basis for impeachment and should you go forward with that?

LYNCH: We want to see the full report first. We're going to end up in court, Dana, before a federal judge over this effort to get more information from the Mueller report disclosed to us. Get it unredacted. So if we went forward with -- with impeachment proceedings now without that information, I -- I think a judge would fairly say that it's tough to argue that we need more information if we've already just decided to go forward with impeachment.

So it undermines our own case if we go forward now with an impeachment proceeding before we have all of the evidence. So I think -- I think Speaker Pelosi is correct, we need to get the information first. Then we need to make a full decision based on all the evidence whether to go forward with impeachment proceedings. That's where we are right now.

BASH: And Steny Hoyer, your leader, the House majority leader, told me just hours after the report was released on Thursday, impeachment is not worthwhile at this point. He was making more of a political argument, that even if you could take the votes in the House and get it through, the votes aren't there in the Senate and then, of course, there's an election in 2020.

That's not what you're saying.

LYNCH: Right.

BASH: You're talking about more of a process, let's wait to see what the courts decide.

LYNCH: Right. That's -- that's a great distinction, Dana.

So, politically, what happened with Clinton was that -- with President Clinton, excuse me, the impeachment proceedings became a proxy for the election. You know, he was -- he was battered during that whole impeachment process. He came out. They refused to impeach in the Senate after the trial. And his -- his -- his popularity went up. Some of it was sympathy. Some of it was the facts that people saw that impeachment proceeding as a proxy for his worthiness for being elected. And I think politically for the Democrats, we face that same danger here.

If -- if the next two years becomes about impeachment instead of about judging the president on his first term, and also blocking out the Democratic candidates because they won't be part of that -- that process, I -- I think it may play into President Trump's hands for re- election if -- if the election -- excuse me, if the impeachment becomes a proxy for the election season.

BASH: Congressman Stephen Lynch, thank you so much for breaking that down. Appreciate it.

LYNCH: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: And another day, another Democrat is joining the race for president. What Congressman Seth Moulton says will be his big issue.

[13:24:24] Plus, Senator Elizabeth Warren has a new plan to wipe out college debt using a tax on the wealthy. This as a new report says billionaires, billionaires with a "b," are worried about the future of U.S. capitalism. We'll discuss that, next.


BASH: Former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to enter the presidential race any day now, but he's actually been beaten to the punch, for this week anyway, by another Democratic hopeful. Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton has officially thrown his hat into the ring, becoming the 19th candidate. Here is a part of his message for voters.


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


BASH: Joining me now is CNN political director David Chalian from Manchester, New Hampshire, where CNN will be holding a series of town halls tonight.

[13:30:05] We're going to talk about that in a minute, David.

But what do you think about Moulton?