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Not True: Trump's claims about Mueller Interviews & "Disobeying"; Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) Discusses Democrat Candidate Divisions over Impeachment, the Mueller Report, Freshman Democrats; McConnell to Block "Socialist" Legislation of Freshman Democrats; Father Shares Story of Losing 2 Children in Sri Lanka Attacks; U.S. Navy Confronts Russian Threat in Mediterranean. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 23, 2019 - 13:30   ET



[13:30:54] BRIANNE KEILAR, CNN HOST: It's been five days since the Department of Justice released a redacted copy of the special counsel report and President Trump is still tweeting about it. On Monday, he wrote, quote, "Isn't that amazing that the people who were closest to me, by far, and knew the campaign better than anyone, were never even called to testify before Mueller."

Well, that's not true. The special counsel interviewed Jared Kushner, Hope Hicks, Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Steve Bannon, who is close to the president and knows his campaign if not the people who managed his campaign at the highest levels. Not to mention the dozens of other close associates that Mueller's team spoke with listed here.

And in some cases, it was those same people that arguably saved the president, saved the Trump presidency, from President Trump himself. The Mueller report reads, quote, "The president's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his request."

So when President Trump said yesterday during a walk-about on the South Lawn that, "Nobody disobeys my orders," it flew in the face of facts. And he's lucky they did disobey his orders over and over again. Because we now know this. Don McGahn refused to fire Robert Mueller when he was told to. Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to un-recuse himself in the Russia investigation when Trump told him to. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus refused to find a way to fire Sessions when Trump told him to. And Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager, refused to tell Sessions to tell Mueller to limit the scope of his inquiry when Trump told him to. Just to name a few of Trump's orders that aides disobeyed.

If they had been carried out, perhaps Mueller would have made the call on whether the president obstructed justice instead of punting that decision to Attorney General Bill Barr and then we might be talking about a very different forecast for the president's future right now.

To impeach or not to impeach. This is the dilemma that's facing divided Democrats. In a letter to her caucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to tamp down the impeachment talk but some 2020 candidates say the House should go ahead.


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

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): There's no political inconvenience exception to the United States Constitution.

If any other human being in this country had done what is documented in the Mueller report, they would be arrested and put in jail.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): The impeachment proceedings are up to the House. They are going to have to make that decision.

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

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

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): I think there has to be a thorough investigation and I think the House Democrats will do it.


KEILAR: Democratic Congresswoman Lois Frankel, of Florida, is co- chair of the Democratic Women's Working Group and is with us from West Palm Beach.

Thanks so much for being with us, Congresswoman.

REP. LOIS FRANKEL (D-FL): Great to be with you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Where are you on the issue of impeachment right now?

FRANKEL: Well, I think I'd probably -- I'm where most of the Democrats are in our caucus. We had a long conference call yesterday. And here's my feeling. Number one, I am very alarmed with what I read about Russia's interference in our elections. They tried to sabotage our democracy. They are still trying to do it. I'm concerned that the president won't even acknowledge it and is doing nothing about it. And number two, it seems to me from what -- from what I have read and what I've heard, the president has engaged in substantial obstruction of justice, and I think it is appropriate that our investigatory committees proceed to try to get to the truth. Subpoena the witnesses and take testimony and get the documents that they need, and they should move forward.

In the meantime, what I want people to know is that, for most Democrats, including myself, we are not focused on the Mueller investigation of the report. I mean, we acknowledge it's important, but we're dealing with everyday bread-and-butter issues, our for the people agenda, trying to lower the cost health care and making sure that people when they go to work they can earn a decent wage. And those are the kinds of things that most of us are focused on every single day.

[13:35:14] KEILAR: So I hear the "but" there. But we would rather be focused on other things, focused on the agenda, focus on the Democratic agenda and have a message for voters. But what do you say to, for instance, Senator Warren -- who is saying she's really taking the strongest position here? Quote, "There's no political inconvenience except to the United States Constitution." What do you say to that?

FRANKEL: Well, here's what I say. I'm saying that we are going to do our constitutional duty. We're going to take the responsibility. And the I know the leaders in our Judiciary and Oversight Committees are taking the steps to issue the subpoenas and call the witnesses so we can get to the truth. Ad I think most us Democrats have the patience to let that play out.

KEILAR: So Congresswomen Tlaib, Omar and Ocasio-Cortez, rather outspoken members of the freshman class, have signed on for an impeachment inquiry. Speaker Pelosi is saying, as you appear to be saying, hold off at this point. I know you've been known counsel the freshman members. Because the caption today in the "USA Today" profile said, basically, even when they don't want you to. So you tell them what you think. What would you tell them in this instance where you are seeing -- you're not seeing eye to eye with, for instance, Congresswomen Tlaib, Omar and Ocasio-Cortez?

FRANKEL: I haven't seen them recently because we've been on our district recess period.


KEILAR: But what would you say to them?

FRANKEL: Here's what I often say -- try to say to them. I have many conversations with AOC, who is very delightful and very forward thinking. And here's what I remind them, is that, listen, it's OK to have your individual advocacy and opinion but remember you are on a team and everything that you say is coming back to all of us. And that's usually what my advice is when they seem to be a little bit on their own.

KEILAR: And in this case, so you would like them to not be so far out in front of their skis on impeachment? That makes it hard for you?

FRANKEL: Well, you know what I -- in this case, I think they are free to give their opinion on this. I don't think it's going affect necessarily the process that our Judiciary and Oversight Committees go on, but I think we're going to be on a steady course to get to the truth. I think it's OK for different members of the Congress to have different opinions. They are not the only ones who are talking about impeachment. But I think most of us, we want to get to the truth. We are very alarmed by what we have read in the report so far, and we're willing to let the process play out.

KEILAR: So I want to speak -- speaking of freshmen Democrats, Leader Mitch McConnell is setting his sights on blocking some of their plans. For instance, the Green New Deal. He is calling this Socialist. He says he's going to be the grim reaper for legislation like the Green New Deal. Do you worry? Because I know you've said that some of these members, or at least one of these freshmen members has caused you anxiety. Do you worry about your caucus? As you say to them, your team being defined by just one or two players who are trending very much to the left?

FRANKEL: Well, let me just say, I think AOC has a lot better ideas than Mitch McConnell. That's for sure. My pushback was obviously on that anti-Semitism situation. But, listen. It's no surprise --


KEILAR: With Congresswoman Omar. I just want to be clear.


KEILAR: It was Congresswoman Omar, not AOC.

FRANKEL: Yes, yes. Thank you for that. It's no surprise. Mitch McConnell, talking about obstruction, he obstructed our -- President Obama for four years there. He didn't compromise on anything. He even held up a Supreme Court nomination for a year. So I think with mitch McConnell, we are sending him lots of really good legislation. We have on gun safety and on equal pay for woman, on cleaner -- on cleaner government. So let's see him try to take up some of these issues. On -- on climate change, I expect we're going to send him some more good legislation. Let's, for example, get back into the Paris Accord. So Mitch McConnell is going to have plenty of time to even take up mainstream legislation.

KEILAR: But that's not -- he's trying to define you not by the mainstream legislation. Do you have concerns about that?

FRANKEL: I think we should base every idea on its own. And we're going to give him a lot of opportunity to either say yes or no, to making it safer for our kids to go to school every day and not get shot by some maniac, by having more transparency in our -- in our campaigns, by making sure that when men and women go to work they get paid same. We're sending him that kind of legislation. And I expect we'll send him legislation on lowering the cost of medicine and building our infrastructure. Let's see what he has to say to that.

[13:40:16] KEILAR: All right. Congresswoman Lois Frankel, thanks for joining us from Florida.

FRANKEL: Always a pleasure.

KEILAR: Sri Lanka says that there are suspects with explosives right now, that they are still on the run this hour. This, as we're hearing the heartbreaking story of one father who lost two of his children in the bombings. You're going to hear his exclusive interview, next.


[13:45:11] KEILAR: Today, Sri Lanka's prime minister made a chilling statement about the investigation of Sunday's deadly terror attacks: There are still people on the run with explosives. This, after ISIS claimed responsibility for the massacre that killed 321 people and wounded hundreds of others.

Also today, Sri Lanka's state defense minister said that initial investigations show a local extremist group carried out the massacre in retaliation for last month's shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

While details of the investigation are important, we don't want to lose sight of the victims of this tragedy and their loved ones.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, joins us now.

You just interviewed a father who lost two of his kids in this attack. Tell us more about this.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's an absolutely horrifying story. Obviously, more than 300 dead but two of the American passport holders, actually U.S./U.K. dual nationals, Amelie and Daniel Linsey. They were on holiday with their father, Matthew Linsey, an American investment banker based here in London. And he describes his obvious desperate attempts to try and save his two children and sadly how he lost them both.


MATTHEW LINSEY, LOST TWO CHILDREN IN SRI LANKA BOMBINGS: And when the bomb went off in, you know, there's -- it's hard to describe. It's like a wave coming through the pressure. My children actually went down to the buffet before me and got the food for me and filled up my plate, and then I wanted a little bit more to drink. I was going to get it. My daughter said, no, I'll get it, and the bomb went off and they were both running towards me. And I'm not sure whether that's what killed them or not, but we started -- I knew there would be another bomb because there always are with this thing.

PATON WALSH: So your instinct was to get out.

LINSEY: Yes, as soon as possible.

PATON WALSH: To move them with you.

LINSEY: Maybe I should have just stayed and covered them with my body.

PATON WALSH: And it was a second blast near the elevator.

LINSEY: They were both unconscious. My daughter seemed to be moving. My son wasn't. The woman offered to take my daughter downstairs to the ambulance. I needed help moving my son. Someone helped me move him down the stairs, and they both ended up in the same hospital.

PATON WALSH: And you traveled with them to the hospital.

LINSEY: I traveled with my son, because my daughter got brought down before and I traveled with my son to the hospital.

PATON WALSH: Do you recall in the hospital finding your daughter?

LINSEY: I mean, this is the worst part because I -- I got -- I yelled for help. That's why I lost my voice for my son and trying to massage his heart. And the people were very helpful, you know. The rudimentary facilities there, they did their best. I mean, a doctor there has been kindly took me to the U.S. embassies. And I was there eight hours. They got me out of country. And -- and they were very, very efficient and very kind. I want that to be noted, that's really important. And if anyone important at the State Department is watching, whatever, please, the job done by your U.S. embassy in Sri Lanka was fantastic.


KEILAR: Recalled the horrifying moments, of course, in the hospital where he found his daughter, Danielle. And had to say, you know, still touched by the kindness he says he received from American officials at embassy, recalling one of the names of one of the Marines, Wolf, and how he showed him extraordinary sympathy. But obviously a man there dealing with the extraordinary horrifying unfathomable loss of two of his teenage children -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Unfathomable. And so many families are dealing with that as well.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for that report.

Newly unsealed court documents show that the man behind the militia for that detained hundreds of migrants at the border claim he plotted to assassinate Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama.

[13:49:01] Plus, as the president's lawyer says it's OK to get information from the Russians, the U.S. Navy is confronting the Russian threat overseas. CNN's new reporting, next.



RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: There's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: There's nothing wrong with taking --


GIULIANI: It depends on where it came from. It depends on where it came from.


KEILAR: As the president's lawyer defended the use of Russian information in the 2016 election, the U.S. Navy is sending a strong message to Moscow. Two aircraft carriers arrived this week to run drills with regional partners in the Mediterranean Sea. This comes as Russia has ramped up its military naval activity in the region.

And in a CNN exclusive, senior international correspondent, Frederik Pleitgen, is at the headquarters of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in Naples, Italy.

And, Fred, you were on the "Abraham Lincoln" today. How exactly is the U.S. flexing its muscle from there?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, as those two carriers in the region right now, Brianna, and showing Russia and everybody else in the region that America definitely means business out there in the Mediterranean. They have about 120 planes that will take part of the exercises with those two carrier strike groups with the "John C. Stennis" and the "Abraham Lincoln." So a lot of military muscle. But all of that sends a strong diplomatic message to the Russians as well.

One of the interesting things was that the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Jon Huntsman, he was also there on the ship today. And he said, for him, it was absolutely important to be there. He said, on the one hand, it is important to see the Mediterranean region for himself, to see all of the things that the Russians have been doing there because it is something that he deals with on a day to day basis. But the other thing he told me, which I thought was interesting, was when he said, look, when he sits down with the Russians, they have to know that he's got that military power behind him, that he means business, and that he has that strength on his side -- Brianna?

[13:55:20] KEILAR: Frederik Pleitgen, thank you so much for that.

And just as 2020 candidates begin to show their differences at CNN's town halls, sources close to Joe Biden say he is ready to join the race.