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Democratic Hopefuls Disagree Over Whether Felons Should Vote in Prison; Pete Buttigieg Moves Up in New Polls in New Hampshire with Sanders and Biden; ISIS Claims Responsibility for Deadly Attacks in Sri Lanka; Democrats Divided Over Impeachment of Trump; IRS Faces Another Deadline to Release Trump's Tax Returns; House Judiciary Chair Subpoenas Former White House Counsel Don McGahn; White House Tells Former Official to Ignore Subpoena Over Security Clearances. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired April 23, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:02] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

Investigate now, impeach maybe at some point eventually, but not necessarily. That seems to be the post-Mueller battle plan for Democratic leaders of the House this morning, though it is coming under stress from both sides.

HARLOW: Some House Democrats want to move faster, further and harder against the White House. Determined to resist delay or ignore all of their demands for information. The latest case in point, today is the deadline set by the House Ways and Means Committee for the IRS to turn over several years of the president's personal and business tax returns.

Don't hold your breath, we'll let you know if that happens. Let's go to Lauren Fox, our colleague on Capitol Hill.

Lauren, good morning. We'll get to that in a moment, but let's talk about Speaker Pelosi really pumping the brakes on this Democratic impeachment talk. What's that about? How's it being received?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, last night she held a 90-minute conference call with her caucus, basically laying out the strategy going forward. Her argument is move forward with the investigations that each of the committee chairmen are already under going and then she sort of turned it over to the committee chairmen to make their case for what their next plans were.

And we heard yesterday on that call that Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, basically announced he planned to subpoena Don McGahn. He also wants to hear from Mueller and Barr. You also had people like Richard Neal talking about the fact that he's going to continue fighting for the president's tax returns.

You have the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, arguing that he's going to move forward with his investigations into the census, into the cost of prescription drugs and into security clearances at the White House, how that process is working out.

But you know this is a difficult political calculation for Democrats. And one of the reasons for that is that they have a lot of the freshmen members, not some of the most vocal liberal members we hear from all the time, but many of the freshmen members actually won in districts that the president won in 2016, so it's a question of whether or not you want to satisfy your base or whether you want to actually satisfy those folks who, you know, made up the majority -- Poppy.

HARLOW: It's a good point. A very important question and one they're grappling with now.

Before you go, Lauren, you're the one who Richard Neal, the head of the House Ways and Means Committee, actually talks to because he does not do a lot of interviews, and today is the deadline number two that they have given for the IRS to turn over these six years of the president's tax returns. What are we expecting in terms of -- you know, we know what the White House is going to do but in terms of the Democrat reaction.

FOX: Well, we of course know that Trump's associates have been very clear that Democrats are not going to see these tax returns. The president's personal lawyers have sent two letters to the Department of Treasury basically urging them not to comply with this request, but, you know, Richard Neal has a couple of options ahead of him.

He could just sue, basically argue that the department is not complying with the law, 6103, that statute that gives him the power to ask for the president's tax returns, or he could add a subpoena on top of that. That's a little lengthier of a process and legal experts that I talked essentially have argued that it could potentially undermine the overall 6103 case, others argue that it could bolster it. So it's really a legal sort of strategy question on how they move forward, but we will of course keep you in the loop on the next steps -- Poppy and Jim.

SCIUTTO: Basic question, is the president above that and other laws?

Lauren Fox, thanks very much.

I'm joined now by NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe.

So Ayesha, it strikes me that the Democratic leader -- leadership, and actually many members of the caucus have already made a decision on impeachment, that investigate now, try to pursue another agenda here but they just don't have realistic support to move forward.

Is that accurate in your view?

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: I think so. And I think what they're doing is they're looking at polling. There was a poll that just came out from Morning Consult. And even though the majority of Democrats do support impeachment, even for Democrats it was down 12 points from January. So now -- so you were at around about 59 percent. But as a whole, outside of just Democrats, only a third of Americans want impeachment.

So I think they're looking at those numbers, and they're going, is this really in our interest? So you have Nancy Pelosi saying things like we don't want to be -- look like we're being driven by passion or prejudice. We just want to look like we're being driven by the facts. Now the people on the other side say, is there something larger here than just electoral politics? Should we be trying to set a standard?

SCIUTTO: Right. Fulfill their role as oversight of the executive branch. Essentially they see as well that the 2020 candidates are operating with this kind of delicate balance. But it seems, and I've spoken to both Democrats and Republicans on the trail who say they don't often hear in the cafes and the -- you know, the diners and so on from voters saying this is my number one issues.

Now that's should be telling for the Democrats, should nit not?

RASCOE: It should be and it hasn't been the case that Democrats have been really campaigning on impeachment. This is not their top of the line argument but you do have people like Elizabeth Warren coming out swinging saying we should look at impeachment and it doesn't really kind of cost them anything to come out in full support of impeachment.

[09:05:12] They're saying they want to replace him anyway.

SCIUTTO: Right.

RASCOE: So if they come out and say well, we think this should happen, but then Congress doesn't move forward with it, they can say well, I supported impeachment but it just didn't get done.

SCIUTTO: Right. And those candidates have to be conscious on who their slice of the Democratic electorate is, right?

RASCOE: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Warren perhaps to the left and maybe more of her supporters want to pursue that as opposed to, say, Biden or others, assuming he gets in.

On this tax issue, I mean, there's a law that says that the House Ways and Means Committee can ask for any citizen's tax returns, yours and mine. The president is clearly going to fight this in court and in the court of public opinion. Will he ever have to actually deliver these?

RASCOE: The courts will decide. And what I think is interesting is that this is going to drag out. And so you could end up having these decisions come in the heat of a presidential campaign when it may or may not be advantageous to the president. But at some point, I mean, I would think that if the courts say they have to turn over those documents, that they would do it. If they don't, then we have that constitutional crisis.

SCIUTTO: Does it end up in the Supreme Court? I mean, the final decision there, is that the expectation?

RASCOE: I think -- I think that this president is going to fight it and take it as far as it can go.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. That would be in keeping with common practice.

(LAUGHTER)

SCIUTTO: Ayesha Rascoe, thanks very much.

Also this morning, the House Judiciary Committee has served a subpoena to the former White House counsel Don McGahn, part of its continuing obstruction of justice investigation.

HARLOW: In the Mueller report, McGahn is one of the aides who defied the president's orders, multiple times, when asked to essentially undermine the Russian probe.

Manu Raju is with us. What more are you learning about the subpoena?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wants Don McGahn in a public hearing by May 21st. He's also asking for documents to be turned over by May 7th, all part of this investigation into obstruction of justice.

What Democrats want to dive is deeply into all of the facts that were found by Mueller's part of the investigation of incidents that he laid out about the president trying to undermine the Russia investigation, all to look into what they believe are abuses of power at the White House and also to tamp down those calls from the left to pursue impeachment.

They're trying to argue there are other ways to get facts, including having hearings with such a high profile witness like Don McGahn. So we'll see if he ultimately complies. No comment yet from the McGahn camp, but we do expect that -- at least the Democrats do have a very active months of May in the committee. Bill Barr first to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. Bob Mueller will testify too, the Democrats hope, there's no date set yet. And now Don McGahn. So we have three very high profile witnesses as part of this investigation into potential obstruction.

SCIUTTO: So the White House is telling the White House's former head of security not to comply with a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee. Why? What are they trying to block from public view here?

RAJU: Yes. This was a rather dramatic back-and-forth that occurred yesterday between Elijah Cummings, the House Oversight chairman, and the White House over the House Oversight's investigation into the security clearance process.

You'll recall there was an individual that the Democrats called a whistleblower who told the committee that there were at least 25 instances in which the security clearance process, the problems individual security clearances were -- there were problems with them, and the White House essentially overrode those concerns.

Well, the individual who was in charge of that process, his name is Carl Kline, he's a former White House official who now works at the Pentagon, the Democrats have issued a subpoena asking for him to appear this hour this morning. Well, he's not going to appear because the White House has told him not to. The White House has said that he should not be forced to answer questions about confidential matters, including the security clearance process, and Democrats said that he absolutely should.

So as a result, Elijah Cummings in a strongly worded letter to the White House yesterday said that he could hold Carl Kline in contempt. Nevertheless the White House is unmoved about it, told Carl Kline not to appear, and Poppy, Carl Kline listening to his employer, his attorney said.

HARLOW: Yes.

RAJU: Because he works for the Defense Department now, says he will not appear. Just raising the stakes in this fight between the White House and House Democrats over what the Democrats are saying requests have one unfulfilled -- Poppy.

HARLOW: I did find, Manu, his lawyer's statement really interesting on that, that he has two masters and he's going to listen to the one that employs him right now.

Manu, thanks for the reporting.

And Jennifer Rodgers is with me, former federal prosecutor.

So let's talk about that. Robert Driscoll, who represents Carl Kline, said, and I quote, "With two masters from equal branches of government, we will follow the instructions of the one that employs him." Because he moved from the White House to DOD. There's that, and then there's Elijah Cummings saying, you know, we may hold you in contempt. So then what? If Cummings holds him in contempt, where does it go?

[09:10:02] JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So they could try for contempt. They could also just file a civil suit because there's a question about whether the process by which they would go for the contempt which is to use the U.S. attorney in D.C. is going to raise a problem because that person is part of the executive branch. So either way I think he gets into court here.

HARLOW: OK.

RODGERS: And then the issue becomes, is there an executive privilege that can be asserted here? So this now we're back to executive privilege like we were talking about before the Mueller report came out. Did President Trump in his consultations with aides about whether these security clearances should be granted over the objections being raised by the career folks.

HARLOW: Right. RODGERS: You know, were there confidential discussions there that are

worthy of executive privilege.

HARLOW: Except then that would be a concession essentially that the president knew about these and helped override the concerns about the security clearances.

RODGERS: Well, that's true, but to the extent that Congress is investigating this, and that's what they need to get into.

HARLOW: OK.

RODGERS: Right? And if they can assert those privileges that will partially at least thwart their investigation.

HARLOW: You know, so the White House has responded and said that they would like to have a White House attorney alongside Carl Kline, if he were to go and testify. Elijah Cummings said no to that. Is that an objectionable request from the White House, to have an attorney there with him?

RODGERS: So that's the interesting question. That's what they're going to have to sort out in the litigation because what the White House is saying is there might be privileges here.

HARLOW: Right.

RODGERS: How can we protect our privilege if we're not allowed to be there? What the Dems are saying is, you guys are going to sit there and tell him not to answer all the questions that we want answers to. In other words, you're going to undermine the point of the hearing by telling him not to answer. So that's the push and pull here. And I think ultimately a judge is likely to find that there some potential privileges here. They're going to have to sort that out.

HARLOW: Right.

RODGERS: And allow him to assert those while still answering most of the questions.

HARLOW: All right. Let's talk about Don McGahn, and look, the Judiciary wants him to come testify on May 21st. They want a bunch of docs on a host of topics by May 7th. We'll see what happens. The ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins, says this, quote, "Instead of looking at material that Attorney General Barr had already made available, Democrats prefer to demand additional materials they know are subject to constitutional and common law privileges and cannot be produced. Does he have a point?

RODGERS: No.

HARLOW: OK.

RODGERS: So the Dems have the better of this argument.

HARLOW: OK. RODGERS: Because they have the right to investigate this, to start

impeachment proceedings. To do that, they need the evidence. They don't just need Mueller's report. And I'm sure they've gotten some of the underlying material. But they actually need witnesses, they need testimony, they need documents and they're entitled to all of that.

HARLOW: So legally there's no issue here?

RODGERS: Right.

HARLOW: OK. The question I guess becomes is, you know, what are they going to be able to get from McGahn that 30 hours of talking to Mueller and his prosecutors aren't going to get them. We'll see.

RODGERS: Yes. They may not.

HARLOW: Yes. We'll see. Thank you very much, Jennifer. We appreciate it very much. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Senator Bernie Sanders says, quote, "Even terrible people like the Boston marathon bomber should maintain the right to vote." More from CNN's 2020 town hall marathon just ahead.

Plus, a motive. Sri Lanka says that initial investigations show that deadly bomb attacks on Easter Sunday were in retaliation for the attacks on mosques last month in New Zealand. We will have the latest on that investigation.

HARLOW: All right. And while police continue to search for that missing little 5-year-old boy in Illinois that we told you about yesterday, his mother is fighting to regain custody of her other child. More on this fast-moving story and mystery ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] HARLOW: All right, were you up late watching them? Big night of town halls on CNN last night, five 2020 Democratic contenders back-to-back and moderator Chris Cuomo warned Senator Bernie Sanders he might be cutting his own attack ad, but when asked if everyone should be allowed to vote even felons on death row like the Boston Marathon bombers, here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is what I believe. Do you believe in democracy? Do you believe that every single American, 18 years of age or old who is an American citizen has the right to vote?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: His fellow 2020 hopefuls, they responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I agree that the

right to vote is one of the very important components of citizenship. I think we should have that conversation.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG, SOUTH BEND, INDIANA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Part of the punishment when you're convicted of a crime and you're incarcerated is you lose certain rights. You lose your freedom. And I think during that period, it does not make sense to have an exception for the right to vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Joining us now, CNN political correspondent MJ Lee, she's in Manchester, New Hampshire, a bit of a key state and Jackie Alemany; author of the "Washington Post" "Power Up Newsletter". MG -- MJ, I'm curious here because as we know in the last election, Florida had a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to former felons after they serve their time.

This would be a significant step forward, in other words, folks currently serving time for felonies. Is there a political push for this? Is there a constituency for this that Bernie Sanders was speaking to here.

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this discussion was so interesting because we first had Bernie Sanders going out there and saying, yes, even terrible people who are in prison right now I believe have a fundamental right to vote. And then we sort of saw the other candidates responding to the same question and giving different answers.

And when Pete Buttigieg answered that question and he said, look, I just believe that this is a form of punishment that when you are in prison and you have committed a horrific crime, you are essentially being punished and I am OK with the idea of those people not having the right to vote while they are in prison.

So clearly offering a different answer. And I think a part of the audience's reaction -- we obviously don't know exactly why they were applauding, but you have to imagine a part of the reaction, the positive reaction that we heard in the room was how quickly and sort of confidently he answered that question, right?

[09:20:00] Especially following on Bernie Sanders and the answer that he gave that was different. Because the dynamic that we are going to continue to see in this race is certain candidates in the race, and namely Bernie Sanders and also in some ways Elizabeth Warren, and this was a practice that started -- a development that started years ago, starting with the last campaign.

These candidates pushing the conversation and the party more to the left and more towards embracing these progressive -- more progressive ideals. So I think the differences that we are going to start to see between these candidates is, are you going to fall in the camp of also embracing those progressive ideals or are you going to stand your ground? And there's obviously a primary electability and general election electability question that is different when these candidates are deciding whether they want to take certain stances, right --

SCIUTTO: That's a good point.

HARLOW: Jackie, I'm fascinated by this new polling out of New Hampshire. Take a look at these numbers, leading the pack here, not a big surprise, you got Bernie Sander at 30 percent, but trailed by former Vice President Joe Biden at 18 percent. And right behind him on his heels, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 15 percent. I mean, in late February, Buttigieg was polling at 1 percent, now, he is rivaling Biden who yes, is not in yet, but about to jump in officially to this.

What do you make of that, and is that an indication that he's a real threat to Biden?

JACKIE ALEMANY, NEWSLETTER ANCHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I don't want to be the dead horse here because I know we've heard this over and over again. But polls this early out really need to be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, you know, Pete Buttigieg has made huge leaps and bounds, and I think that actually should give the Biden camp a lot of cause for concern as he is weighing, well, I guess he's decided according to some reporting from "Axios" this morning that he's going to jump into the race.

And especially when you compare that to someone like Beto O'Rourke who has really fallen behind in nearly off the map. Just how fickle voters are here. But I also want to point out that at this point in the race last year, especially in New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders who is now the frontrunner was nearly 50 points behind Hillary Clinton.

So again, this is very early, but I think it is safe to say here that, you know, it's not just Mayor Pete having his moment --

HARLOW: Right --

ALEMANY: We think we've moved beyond that, but he is establishing himself as a viable opponent to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden if he does decide ultimately to jump in the race.

HARLOW: Here's what I'm interested in, though -- sorry, go ahead, Jim.

SCIUTTO: No, I was just going to say he's clearly in the national conversation here in a way because he's popping up in the national polls in a way he did not, but also in these key early state polls.

HARLOW: Totally, I'm just interested in -- so when Joe Biden gets in, he's got, Jackie, this really long record to run on, which can help him and can hurt him, right? He's taken a ton of votes in the Senate. Pete Buttigieg has not, right? He's mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

And then Anderson rightly pressed him last night on why he has really not put forth many specific policy proposals, and there's literally none listed on his website. Here's how the mayor answered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUTTIGIEG: We'll continue to roll out specific policy proposals too,

but I also think it's important that we not drown people in minutiae before we've vindicated the values that animate our policies. Because as Democrats, that this is a habit that we have. We go right to the policy proposals and we expect people to be able to figure out what our values must be from that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: It's really opposite, Jackie, to what Elizabeth Warren is doing.

ALEMANY: Yes, it's also a little difficult to believe that this Harvard-educated Mackenzie consultant is not, you know, steeped in policy minutiae, which you know, might give us a little bit of a window perhaps into he might be avoiding taking harder positions on policy because he realizes that his more potentially centrist positions aren't as popular as people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

I think, you know, as it relates to Joe Biden and his track record, perhaps, what we're seeing is Mayor Pete potentially occupy the lame that Biden would consider himself to occupy.

Although, I do think in this case, with the track record as it relates to Anita Hill, supporting the, you know, the crime -- the '94 crime bill, and potentially maybe being considered as an architect of the cycle of mass incarceration might hurt Biden, especially against someone like Mayor Pete who is a young, fresh face millennial who doesn't have as long a vote track record to account for.

That being said, he is a mayor, there is still baggage that's yet to be uncovered, and there hasn't been a lot of scrutiny yet, that's something that comes with rising in the polls, but I do think as name recognition continues for the mayor, we're going to only see these polls go up.

HARLOW: OK, ladies, thank you very much, MJ Lee, Jackie Alemany, we appreciate it. A Sri Lankan official says the Easter Sunday bombings were an act of revenge, now ISIS is claiming responsibility, we'll bring you the latest.

[09:25:00] SCIUTTO: And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street, where all eyes are on rising oil prices, up more than 50 percent rather since Christmas, right now oil is trading at more than $65 a barrel. We'll be watching the markets.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: All right, welcome back. So new this morning, ISIS is now claiming responsibility for that series of Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka that have killed 321 people. Take a look at this, it is surveillance video that shows an alleged suspect walking around Saint Sebastian's Catholic Church just before an explosion there.

SCIUTTO: Yes, just right before all that bloodshed. Meanwhile, a top government official claims the attacks were in retaliation for last month's New Zealand shootings.

[09:30:00]