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White House Stonewalls House Democrats on Multiple Investigations; Pelosi Tamps Down Threat of Impeachment; Impeachment Divides Democrat Presidential Candidates; ISIS Claims Responsibility for Sri Lanka Bombing Attacks; Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) Discusses White House Stonewalling on Trump's Tax Returns, Mueller Report. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 23, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: In just a few hours, time runs out for the White House to hand over the president's tax returns. And as of now there's no hint the administration is ready to comply. The White House continuing to stonewall Congress in its growing attempts to investigate the administration, the president on a number of fronts, from the way security clearances were approved for at least 25 people, despite red flags in the vetting process, to how the president instructed officials to get in the way of the Russia investigation.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. Abby Phillip is at the White House.

Manu, at this point, where do things stand in this growing battle between Congressional Democrats and the White House.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The White House is taking steps to deny Democrats their requests on multiple fronts. Yesterday, the Trump Organization took legal action in federal court here in Washington to prevent the House Oversight Committee from getting records related to the president's past finances. And in the aftermath of that, the White House instructed a former official, Carl Kline, who now works at the Defense Department, not to comply with the House Oversight subpoena as part of the Democratic-led investigation into the security clearance process. The White House saying that this is not something that should -- information that should be turned over to Congress. Now the Democrats are threatening to hold that individual, Carl Kline, in contempt.

Now, at the same time, there's another key deadline tonight, set by the House Oversight -- House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal for the president's six years of the president's tax returns to be turned over by the Treasury Department. No expectation that that is going to happen. Nevertheless, Democratic investigations are going forward on a number of fronts, including the House Judiciary Committee, which served a former White House counsel, Don McGahn, with a subpoena yesterday demanding his public testimony by May 21st, demanding records by May 7th as part of its investigation into potential obstruction of justice in the White House. No word yet about whether exactly McGahn will comply with that, if he will take aggressive actions to thwart the Democratic investigations. But nevertheless, the fight intensifying on the Hill as Democrats

demanding a lot of information and the White House taking steps to prevent that from happening -- Erica?

HILL: Certainly digging their heels in.

Manu, thank you.

Abby, in terms of the White House, today, how is the White House defending its defiance?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, the answer from the White House is all about stonewalling and stopping Democrats from moving forward with these investigations, which they believe are just an extension of their efforts to undermine President Trump's presidency and potentially lead toward impeachment. We heard this morning from the White House that they don't know why these committee chairmen are seeking all of this information. One White House official who I spoke to a few minutes ago said that he's not sure what Chairman Neal wants, for example, from Don McGahn, that there's nothing, in their view, that Democrats can learn from bringing someone like Don McGahn in to testify before Congress after he's already spoken with the special counsel and his answers are relayed in that report that we all saw last week.

And on the taxes, the White House is digging in its heels on that as well. They're saying this is not even information that Congress needs at all, and furthermore, in their view, the American people have already accepted that President Trump is not releasing his tax returns.

So it's a defiant attitude from this White House. And it comes straight from the top, from President Trump, who is feeling pretty combative after the Mueller report came out. He wants to use the Mueller report as a weapon against Democrats. And he wants to fight back against all of these investigations. We have seen over the last 24 hours, the president being really aggressive on social media, tweeting and retweeting dozens and dozens of tweets on a variety of subjects. And the idea here is that President Trump does not want to cede any ground, whether it is to the media or Democrats at all. This is the attitude I think White House officials believe will continue in the coming weeks and months. They think this is going to be a continuation, not an end, to what we saw in the last two years. President Trump doesn't want to let this go. He simply wants to weaponize it -- Erica?

HILL: Abby Phillip and Manu Raju, thank you both.

Let's take a closer look at the legal battles ahead. Shan Wu is a CNN legal analyst, also a former federal prosecutor.

Shan, as we look at this and what President Trump's legal team is now doing, suing Congress and an accounting firm at the same time, what are the chances that this legal strategy actually pays off?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think really low, Erica. I think if you look up the word "desperation" in the dictionary, you get a picture of Trump's legal team as they find desperately to follow the whims of their boss.

Particularly, I'm really struck by this suit against his own accounting firm. There's no privilege between him and the accounting firm, and they really don't seem to have much of a leg to stand on. They're citing a very old 19th century Supreme Court case, which was overruled.

If you look at the general notion of the right of Congress to look at tax returns, to conduct oversight, they just have a very weak case. They're trying to make it into a political factual argument, but it's really going to be a legal argument. It's a preliminary injunction standard initially. They'll have to demonstrate on the law there's a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, and I think that's going to be a big uphill battle for them.

[11:05:28] HILL: Also a long, lengthy battle, it would seem, which is what we have also become accustomed to in the last couple years. Things drawn out in the courts. Moving forward, you know, look into your crystal ball. How long does this last and what's next as the deadlines come and go?

WU: Well, I think they certainly want to draw it out. They may not be able to draw it out as long as they want because, since it's a strictly legal question, it could move pretty quickly. The preliminary injunction, if it's denied or upheld, can be appealed relatively quickly to the court of appeals. I think you could see an answer in a matter of months as opposed to their strategy of delaying it for years.

HILL: We'll be watching for it.

Shan, good to see you as always. Thank you.

WU: You're welcome.

HILL: As Democrats push forward on the investigations, their leader in the House is tamping down the threat of impeachment.

CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill.

So, Lauren, House Democrats appear to have really tightened their focus when it comes to investigations and are also making a marked shift away from impeachment talk. Tell us more about that strategy.

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Last night, Erica, on a 90-minute conference call, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi basically asked that her chairmen continue their investigations. To focus there, to try to find the facts, try to find the truth, and leave the impeachment talk sort of on the back burner for now.

Then she sort of turned the call over to each of the chairmen to walk through exactly what they're investigating. You heard from Jerry Nadler, who is the House Judiciary Committee chairman, that he wants to hear from Mueller, he wants to hear from Barr. He planned to subpoena Don McGahn, which he did yesterday. You also heard from Maxine Waters, the House Financial Services chairwoman. She personally supports impeachment, but she said she would not make a push for it in the broader Democratic caucus. You had House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Richard Neal, arguing he wants to see the president's tax returns. Elijah Cummings, the House Oversight chairman, talking about his investigation into White House security clearances, the census, and the cost of prescription drugs.

That's where chairmen want to be right now. They don't want to talk about impeachment. Instead, they want to talk about what they're doing. Trying to dig in, find the facts, trying to take things one step at a time. So that's where Democrats are focused at this moment.

Part of that is a political calculation. The fact is that their Democratic majority is made up of members who won in districts that the president won in 2016. You have at least 20 Democratic members who fall into that category. So talk about impeachment, not necessarily helpful for keeping the House again in the 2020 elections -- Erica?

HILL: Lauren Fox, with the latest. Lauren, thank you.

Well, that topic of impeachment is also dividing the Democrats running for president. They laid out their priorities in five back-to-back town halls hosted by CNN.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Washington.

This was not -- I wouldn't call this solidarity in terms of where they each stand on this issue.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Erica, good morning. There's no question we're seeing divisions and dividing lines among these Democratic presidential candidates as we are seeing on Capitol Hill, as Lauren was just reporting. This is something that, of course, is dividing Democratic voters as well.

We're beginning to see sort of people breaking up in different camps. But Elizabeth Warren was leading the charge. Late last week, she said she believes the president should be impeached. Last night, at the CNN town halls, she suddenly has company from Senator Kamala Harris. Let's watch.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The tools we are given for that accountability is the impeachment process. This is not about politics. This is about principle.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe Congress should take the steps towards impeachment.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, (D), SOUTH BEND MAYOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think he's made it pretty clear he deserved impeachment. I'll leave it to the --



BUTTIGIEG: I'm also going to leave it to the House and Senate to figure that out.


ZELENY: So you heard Mayor Buttigieg saying he's going to leave it to the House and Senate. That's one of the luxuries when you're running for president of not serving in the House and Senate, that you don't have to take a vote on this.

It is an open question, if Senator Warren is trying to get attention from the left, the progressives, if you will, or she actually firmly believes that there should be impeachment proceedings.

Because we heard a different argument from Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Amy Klobuchar. Let's listen.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The impeachment proceedings are up to the House. They're going to have to make that decision. I am in the Senate. And I believe that we are the jury.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If for the next year, year and a half, going right into the heart of the election, all that the Congress is talking about is impeaching Trump and Trump, Trump, Trump, and Mueller, Mueller, Mueller, and we're not talking about health care, we're not talking about raising the minimum wage to a living wage, we're not talking about combatting climate change, we're not talking about sexism and racism and homophobia and all of the issues that concern ordinary Americans, what I worry about is that works to Trump's advantage.


[11:10:30] ZELENY: So these are the dividing lines there. And pretty much every Democratic presidential candidate believes that there was obstruction of justice in some form. The question is what to do about it and should there be a focus of it in the presidential race. So it's going to be fascinating, Erica, to watch how voters react as they sort of consume all of this in the coming weeks and months. If this presidential campaign debate also impacts what's happening on the House side. Certainly, Speaker Pelosi does not want to go down the road of impeachment. Most candidates don't. And of course, we'll be looking at the response from one other candidate when Joe Biden jumps in, likely before the end of the week -- Erica?

HILL: Jump in, the water's fine. There we go.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you.

ZELENY: Thank you. HILL: Coming up, Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiling an ambitious plan to cancel most student loan debt. Where do the other 2020 candidates stand?

Plus, ISIS claiming responsibility for the Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 300 people, many of them Christians. Officials say it was revenge for the deadly mosque attacks in New Zealand.

Stay with us.


[11:15:58] HILL: We're are following new developments in Sri Lanka where ISIS is now claiming responsibility for the deadly carnage across the country. Surveillance video showing one of the suspected bombers entering St. Sebastian's Catholic Church. State officials say the bombings on Sunday were carried out by a radical Islam group in retaliation to last month's massacre of Muslims in New Zealand. The blast targeted church Easter celebrations and also hotels, killing more than 300 people. Hundreds more were wounded. Sri Lanka is under a state of emergency. Today is also being recognized as a national day of mourning.

CNN senior international correspondent, Sam Kiley, has more.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New video showing one of the alleged suicide bombers carrying what church officials believe is a bomb in his backpack. Patting a toddler on the head as he crosses the church courtyard. State TV in Sri Lanka identifying him as a suspect in one of the bombings. Without hesitation, he strides on, enters a side door of St. Sebastian's Church close to the alter. The next frame shows him exploding his bomb, killing at least 122 people who were celebrating Easter Mass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It blasted in such a way, there were children, there were women and all close by. And all were blown off almost. So we had more than 100 people who were killed on the spot.

KILEY: The Sri Lankan military says at least six suicide bombers are thought to have attacked two other churches and three five-star hotels within minutes of one another.

Local and U.S. intelligence officials believe that the slickly coordinated plot is the work of an international ISIS-inspired terror group. And it could strike again soon.

A security dragnet was thrown across the entire country with a state of emergency announced as they uncovered more of the murderous plot.


KILEY: In Colombo, a bomb squad performed a controlled explosion of a suspicious van, near St. Andrew's Church.


KILEY: One of the scenes of Sunday's attack.

And six-foot pipe bomb was found close to the airport along with nearly 90 bomb detonators at the city's bus stop.

Sri Lanka's government had warnings from U.S. and India that attacks were imminent and publicly apologized for failing to heed them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very, very sorry.

KILEY: On April 11th, a memo from the deputy inspector general of police advised Sri Lankan officials to raise security due to a potential attack.

The government spokesman can't hide the truth from the families of more than 500 injured and more than 300 dead, four of them Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to say, and we have to apologize to the families and the other institutions. About this incident.

KILEY: After 30 years of civil war, 10 years of peace has meant that most Sri Lankans thought scenes like this were behind them. But clearly the intent of whoever was behind this bombing was to sow seeds of friction between the different religious communities in Sri Lanka and perhaps even cause some to question their faith.

Now the cleanup begins.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the people are weeping, and we can't realize what happened. We can rebuild our church, but we can't build up our lives.

KILEY: That is a sentiment that Sri Lankans will have to overcome together.


KILEY: Now, here in Colombo, just in the last few hours, the Sri Lankan prime minister has said that they fear that there are others on the loose. And the police put out a warning that there was a truck bomb, a suspected truck bomb, and a normal car driving around, both of them loaded with explosives.

As the government continues to suggest that there's a connection between the terror groups here and the so-called Islamic state, at the very least, with the ideology, the extent to direct involvement of international terror groups is still under examination. But it's now looking more and more likely from the international perspective. And there continues to be the state of an emergency here and an overnight curfew. So a strong sense here that this series of terror attacks may not yet quite be at an end.


[11:20:22] HILL: Sam Kiley, with the latest in Colombo. Sam, thank you.

Coming up, the Trump administration has a little more than five hours, at this point, left to respond to that request for the president's tax returns. What will the Democrats do if they don't comply? We're going to ask a member of the key committee requesting those documents, next.


[11:25:26] HILL: Welcome to tax deadline day, 2.0. Today is the second deadline set by the House Ways and Means Committee for the IRS to hand over six years of President Trump's personal and business tax returns. The White House says Congress is overreaching. Lawmakers say they've got the authority to see the documents. And keep in mind, the deadline, 5:00 p.m. today. So do Democrats think they'll get a different result this time around?

With the clock ticking, joining me now, Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle, who is on the House Ways and Means Committee.

It's good to have you with us today.

So we're looking at, what, a little over five and a half hours at this point. No signs you're going to get what you asked for, so what's next?

REP. BRENDAN BOYLE (D-PA): Well, yes. If I were betting, I wouldn't exactly bet on the Trump administration suddenly making a priority of following what is clearly the law. Just to be clear, the IRS commissioner has no discretion in this matter. This law has existed for close to a century now. It clearly gives either the chair of the Ways and Means Committee or his or her Senate counterpart the ability to request the tax returns of any individual U.S. citizen or taxpayer. So it's clear to me that the White House is in violation of the law if they're not complying with the request.

As far as what we do next, I have always believed that ultimately, if the White House continues to stonewall this, we will have to turn to the courts in order to get to a final resolution and force the White House to comply with the law.

But unfortunately, this is just one of many aspects in which this White House and specifically this president really has violated the norms of the presidency.

HILL: When you say you may have to turn to the courts, specifically what are you talking about there and what's your timeline?

BOYLE: Yes, well, I'll leave that to the discretion of the chairman of our committee, who has done a wonderful job in pursuing this. We want to make sure that everything we do -- even if the White House doesn't exactly place a high premium on following the law, we want to make sure that we do so. Because in the end, I do believe this is ultimately going to be a matter for the courts to decide.

HILL: So as we wait, as we watch the clock, and we wait to see what happens, there's also so much talk about impeachment. You were on this call, as I understand it, yesterday afternoon with Speaker Pelosi, with the various chairmen and women of these committees. What did you take away from that?

BOYLE: I'm certainly not going to get into what any individual colleagues of mine said or didn't say. They can speak for themselves. I would just say that I think, at this point, we have to hold hearings. And I believe we're going to do so. I want to hear directly from Attorney General Barr. I want to hear directly, especially, from Robert Mueller. I actually think that's the most important one. For him to lay out what is in the over 400-plus-page report, which is an accumulation of what they found over two years or 22 months of an investigation.

And let's not forget, despite the overdrive spin machine or flat out lies frankly we hear from the White House, the reality is more than 35 entities or individuals were charged with criminal indictments. The news today is about the former chairman of the Trump campaign, during the bulk of 2016,, the number-one person who was in charge right now being moved to a federal prison in my state. So it's quite clear this was one of the most meaningful investigations into both the campaign and a White House that we have ever seen in our history. It's now appropriate to have Robert Mueller, to have Don McGahn, to have Barr in front of the committees and to lay out the evidence for Congress and for the American people.

HILL: Lay out the evidence. I mean, let's get you on the record here, in terms of impeachment, what do you want to see?

BOYLE: So I have an opinion that I don't think has been expressed anywhere. It's either right or radically wrong. I actually think it's somewhat of a moot point. Here's what I mean. Suppose we launch impeachment proceedings today. What that would look like is hearings. You would bring forward witnesses, take testimony, lay out the evidence. What we are now going to be doing, either through the Judiciary Committee or through the Oversight Committee, those that have jurisdiction of the different pieces, is doing exactly that, having hearings so that way we can lay out the evidence for the American people. So to a certain extent, I know impeachment is kind of the big and exciting word, to some degree, it's a bit of a moot point because, either way, we need to have hearings and to show for the American people the evidence that has been found.