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Trump Seeks to Undermine Mueller Report; Supreme Court Hears Census Arguments; Sanders Wants Felons to Vote. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 23, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: The Supreme Court hearing arguments today in a big fight over the 2020 census. The Trump administration wants to ask a question about citizenship. Three lower courts have said no.

Plus, call it the Trump Twitter fight club. The president lashes out at the Mueller report, the media, Democrats and then his son-in-law says the special counsel investigation hurt the country more than the Russian election meddling.

And Bernie Sanders tugs the Democrats to the left again. The Vermont senator says felons should be allowed to vote in prison, even rapists, even the Boston Marathon bomber. Is that thinking outside of the box or outside of the mainstream?


REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I prosecuted two people, sent them away for murder for killing teenage African-American boys, one of them right outside the boy's school. That person should never have the right to vote. And for those who are serving now, non-violent, non-sexual, non-serious, we should get them out of prison, get them back into the population, restore their voting rights, but some people are just irredeemable.


KING: Back to that debate in a few moments.

But we begin the hour with the president's peek and a new take from the White House that you might call, like father, like son-in-law. Jared Kushner about an hour ago saying the Russia special counsel investigation was, get this, more damaging to the country than the actual Kremlin-led interference in the 2016 election.


JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: And, quite frankly, the whole thing's just a big distraction for the country. And you look at, you know, what Russia did, you know, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it. And it's a terrible thing. But I think the investigations and all of the speculation that's happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads. And if you look at the magnitude of what they did and what they

accomplished, I think the ensuing investigations have been way more harmful to our country. Well, I mean, in the campaign, we didn't know that Russia was doing what they were doing. The notion of what they were doing didn't even register to us as being impactful.


KING: And the president, just moments ago, you see it right there, leaving absolutely no doubt he approves of his son-in-law's take.

Russia, of course, did a lot more than buy a couple of Facebook ads, but facts are not easy to come by in the White House effort to attack the Mueller report and its damning findings about the president's conduct and about his character.

Fight is the White House mantra of the moment. The media, morning show personalities, tariffs, Twitter, Democrats, the Obama administration, all subjects of presidential Twitter scorn in the last 24 hours.

But the propane propelling his anger, read the tweets, is the Mueller report. Words like "harassment," "coup," "twisted" and "witch hunt" litter the president's Twitter feed. The president now wants you to think Mueller found nothing so that he can make his next argument, that the Democrats are now trying to recycle nothing. Democrats see it differently, of course, and are now pressing through a subpoena for testimony from the former White House Counsel Don McGahn, the witness most cited by the Russia special counsel in his report.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of "The New York Times," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Michael Shear with "The New York Times," and Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post."

Just a couple of Facebook ads. And it's -- look, we're in a political argument, but that's the president's son-in-law, just a couple of Facebook ads. It -- let's set aside collusion and obstruction and all of that. If you read the Mueller report, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, an independent, not sure what you are, it is a damning detail of the sustained Russian interference in the election and every American should be outraged by it. And the president's son-in-law, who works in the White House, says, just a couple of Facebook ads.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And there's no question of Russia's involvement. I mean that is one thing that actually, of all the many things that are perhaps up for dispute, was there obstruction, the -- the Russian involvement is not disputed by intelligence agencies, other matters (ph). So for Jared Kushner to say this, clearly his audience was of one, and clearly that person, the president, responded in kind.

But it's just another example of sort of living in this alternate universe. But all of it is geared towards framing all this entire thing for the re-election campaign. And the president has done a very good job of it. But the question is, why can't he sort of follow one track here and

move on to something else? He is consumed by this more than anyone else. So that is the unknown question here. How much will it consume him, envelope him, or is it just sort of a split screen here, still trying to define this as House Democrats are sort of launching their own inquiries.

JULIE HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean this is an attempt to sort of downplay the findings, not just the findings that are sort of indisputably supporting the notion that Russia interfered, and in a very elaborate way, not just as he said a few Facebook ad, but in a very fulsome way, you know, how to plan, executed that plant to try to interfere with American democracy. He does not seem bothered by that. Like is reflected in many parts of the report, he seems to see it as sort of a question of Trump's legitimacy to even look at that question, and feels that that, you know, a worse thing for democracy, as you heard, than, you know, the underlying crime itself of a foreign country trying to have its way in a presidential election.

[12:05:09] KING: Right, his father-in-law is -- his father-in-law's ego and insecurity are more important to him than the sanctuary of actually American democracy. Forget the names involved. What the Russian did was heinous.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": And, look, the political spin and the motivations behind what Kushner and Trump are saying is important, as Jeff and Julie said.

What's also important, though, is the -- is the substantive implications of what hasn't been done as a result of that -- of them taking that viewpoint, right? When you say it's just a couple of Facebook ads, that means that you don't aggressive confront either what happened in the past or what's likely to be happening in the future. And there is deep frustration in the bureaucracy, in the sort of intelligence community bureaucracy, the cyber bureaucracy, that this administration, because of the president's grievances, is unwilling to do what's necessary to prevent this from happening again. And we're coming up to an election fast.

KING: And it fits into this idea that at first the president said he was totally vindicated, totally exonerated, the Mueller report was great. Now the Mueller report is wicked, it was part of a coup and most of what the president says in attacking it has no relations to the facts.

This was one of his tweets last night. Isn't it amazing that the people who were closest to me by far and knew the campaign better than anyone were never called to testify before Mueller. The reason is that 18 angry Democrats knew they would all say no collusion and only very good things.

So let's define close to the president of the United States. As we do so, Jared Kushner, who you just heard say just a couple of Facebook ads, the president's son-in-law, who we define that as close --

SHEAR: Sure.

KING: He testified to the Russian special counsel. He's in the report. Hope Hicks, worked for the Trump Organization, came on as a campaign key spokesman, went on to be White House communications director, she'd be close, right? Spoke to the special counsel.

Michael Cohen, the president's longtime lawyer and fixer. Close to the president, right? Spoke to the special counsel.

Corey Lewandowski, his campaign manager, was round, was pretty close to the campaign, didn't the president say campaign, somebody close to the campaign in this tweet, testified.

Don McGahn, the White House counsel. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, who was at the president's side through a lot of the campaign, Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, at the president's side during a lot of the campaign. Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman. Rick Gates, the campaign deputy chairman. Reince Priebus, the Republican national committee chairman, then the White House chief of staff. Steve Bannon, the top strategist. Rob Porter, the president's aide. Chris Christie, around a lot during the campaign.

Who are we missing?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, clearly what this sort of alternative narrative that the president is trying to create is just not rooted in fact, as you saw from the extensive graphic there, too. And also remember that the Trump legal team from the start had encouraged this method of cooperating with the special counsel, and that's something that immediately after the redacted report was release, that a lot of his surrogates did emphasize.

You know, I remember Kellyanne Conway telling us in the White House driveway that, look at all these witnesses that, you know, that Mueller talked to. We had a strategy of full cooperation and yet this is the result. And Trump does seem to be kind of undermining that a little bit here by insisting falsely that people in his inner circle weren't talked to.

KING: Right.

SHEAR: I was trying to think of who -- who wasn't?

ZELENY: I mean Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump and Barron Trump literally are the only three people in the White House who did not talk to the special counsel.

SHEAR: Are the only three.

DAVIS: Yes, but this is --

KIM: Right.

ZELENY: So he is -- it's interesting. I mean we see the president do this all the time. He does not operate on one path here. KING: It's because -- forgive me for interrupting -- it's because of what they said. Read the report.

ZELENY: For sure.

KING: Even if you're on the president's side, read the report.

ZELENY: Particularly Don McGahn.

KING: These people incredibly close to the president, and Corey Lewandowski --

ZELENY: For sure.

KING: Says, I -- they were told to meddle in the investigation, stymie the investigation, do things to stop the investigation, and they refused to do so.

DAVIS: Right. But you see this time and time again with President Trump, right, you're close to him until you say something that he finds unflattering about him and/or -- and -- and/or he realizes that he can't control you, he can't control what you say. In the case of Don McGahn, and a lot of these other people who talked to the special counsel, you know, they told the truth. They told the narrative the way they saw it --

SHEAR: But it's so -- it's so (INAUDIBLE) --

DAVIS: And that wasn't flattering to him. So now they're no longer close.

SHEAR: But think about the people that are out there who might actually, you know, turn to their neighbor and say, yes, did you know that the special counsel didn't interview anybody who was close to the president's campaign?

KING: Right.

DAVIS: Right.

SHEAR: I mean it --

DAVIS: That's what he's trying to do.

KING: Well, which it's our job -- that's why it's our job to call out the facts, number one. And it's our -- I would urge anybody out there, you can find it, read it yourself. Don't believe anybody else. Read it. The words quoted by the people who were pretty close to the president.

The question -- but what part -- you made the point, the president's political argument is to try to convince everybody there's nothing here so that when the Democrats issue a subpoena, as they did yesterday for Don McGahn, he can say it's overreach. This is over. Why are you trying to recycle this? Nancy Pelosi has a problem on her hands because Democrats read the

reports quite differently. They see Robert Mueller lay out ten counts of obstruction that are pretty compelling. And, again, you have to prove them, you have to take it further than that if you want to impeach. Last night on a call she calmed down the impeachment argument, but she did say on that call, whether it's the articles of impeachment or investigation, it's the same obtaining of facts. We don't have to go to articles of impeachment to obtain the facts, the presentation of facts.

So she's trying to calm the liberal fervor for lets impeach immediately to say, no let's carry this out a while longer, but let's be aggressive.

SHEAR: Exact --

[12:10:00] KIM: And if you're looking at the public sentiment, I mean obtaining that evidence, obtaining the full report is something that is broadly supported by the public and clearly Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership are looking at that, which is why they're still -- which is why they -- or issued the subpoena for the report last week and continuing to pursue that evidence.

But just look at the polling numbers for impeachment alone. I mean you have maybe about six in ten Democrats, according to a recent Washington poll -- "Washington Post" poll saying that Democrats support impeachment. But if you look at the broader voting public, it's only about 41 percent. And that's the divide that the Democratic leaders are looking at right now and try to very carefully navigate.

ZELENY: The poll is a snapchat in time. So we'll have to watch that to see if that changes because with the Mueller report out there now, we know so much more information.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: It could very well change because, of course, as we'll talk about later, there is a conversation obviously in the 2020 campaign as well. But Speaker Pelosi has been very successful so far in sort of calming and guiding and allowing things to fester privately.

Maxine Waters, she was one of the first people to call for impeachment. Is she out there now? No, she is not.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: She's following her speaker. So I wouldn't necessarily rule out Speaker Pelosi sort of leading the way on this, but it's complicated.

KING: It's complicated, but so far -- so far Pelosi is getting her way. We'll see if it continues.

When we come back, a riveting day at the Supreme Court. The Trump administration wants to ask on the 2020 census is that person a citizen of the United States. Several states and cities object. Riveting arguments just ahead.


[12:15:32] KING: Here's the question of the day, is this person a citizen of the United States? The Supreme Court today hearing oral arguments. The Trump administration argues asking that citizen question is a common sense addition to the 2020 census so the government gets the best count of the population. But federal judges in three states have ruled the question cannot be asked and the Supreme Court decided to fast track this case, instead, at first, letting it go through the normal appeals court process.

The stakes are enormous. The 2020 census will be used not only to allocate congressional seat and electoral college votes, but funding allocations for billions in federal aid programs are based on the census count.

Just back from the court is our Supreme Court and legal analyst Joan Biskupic.

You loved it. You're excited. Why? Why?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: The best 80 minutes I will have all week. Yes. They -- OK, they had an unusual amount of time, 80 minutes, heard from four different lawyers, three on the side of the challengers and then Noel Francisco representing the government. He was along, but he got most of the attention from this conservative dominated court. He explained that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had reasonable grounds to add this census question.

You know, the challengers are saying, this is going lower the count. This is going to make it harder for Hispanics and non-citizens to be counted in the 2020 census, which will mean so much for money and for political power. But S.G. Francisco said he had reasonable grounds to do it. It wasn't arbitrary the way those lower court judges had ruled.

And the questions from Chief Justice Roberts and the other conservative justices suggested that they were willing to find in the evidence that the government was putting forward reasonable grounds. They also talked about the history. Even though this question has not been asked since the 1950 census, it was asked prior to that.

And newest Justice Brett Kavanaugh mentioned that. So did Neal Gorsuch. They talked about, you know, not just the history but the practice and the idea that maybe this is important for voting rights information, which is the government's asserted reason.

And Justice Elena Kagan, on the left, said, this sounds like post hoc rationalization. This wasn't in the original record. It's what you've come to deliver us now.

KING: And so let's listen. This is one of the plaintiffs, the New York state attorney general, outside of the court. Again, to Joan's point, New York saying, look, federal aid programs, a lot of money here. This would be a huge undercount is their argument. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: States all across this country will lose resources, federal recourses, as a result of an undercount. In addition to that, we will lose representation here in Washington, D.C.

And it appears that the issue of determining one's citizenship took priority over a constitutional obligation to get this count correct. And it's really critically important that we not do anything, add any question that will undermine that -- undermine that count.


KING: It's a giant legal question at the moment, but when you hear the arguments play out, we were just talking about it in the context of the Mueller report, but you hear the president's re-election campaign playing out as well saying, the Democrats want to count people who are illegally here to get them benefits.

SHEAR: Right. And it -- and so it has two things that are in common. It is part of the administration's political strategy that he's used throughout, from his 2016 campaign, in the midterms and then now to demonize immigrants as a way of riling up his base.

It's also fundamentally like the substantive question is -- and to this point about, well, it was done -- the question was asked before 1950. You know, 1950 is an interesting place where the immigration system in this country changed pretty dramatically, and the large bulk of Hispanic immigration to this country happened after that. And the question of, does a question like this put on the -- on the census, you know, essentially drive a lot of Hispanic immigrants into the shadows because they're afraid of the kind of deportation -- aggressive deportations that the Trump administration is doing. That's really a substantive question that makes it different potentially.

KING: And is the substance the issue before the court, or is it -- at least one of the challenges, was it not, was that they didn't follow the normal process to add the question, therefore the court could throw it out on a technical grounds and not answer the, is this right or wrong question?

BISKUPIC: Well, it was interesting, you -- there were so many evidentiary questions today. You usually don't have that at the Supreme Court. But the reason we did is because the administration was able to leapfrog over the appeals court level. So the justices themselves were asking about, what evidence is in the record that might have led Secretary Wilbur Ross to make this decision, and what evidence is in the record that led the census bureau officials to say, do not ask this question because it will drive people away from filling out forms.

[12:20:17] And the House of Representatives was represented today before the justice and Douglas Letter argued for them and he said, all these demographic issues that are on, you know, with the citizenship questions and other questions about, you know, money, household issues, those are all secondary to what the census is trying to achieve, an accurate count. And if you do anything that diminishes the chance to get an accurate count, you're undermining the Constitution -- constitutional responsibility of this census every ten years.

KING: Right.

KIM: And there's an interesting analysis that was being promoted by the -- some of the immigrant rights groups, and they look at data from the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute, and they showed that of the top ten states with the largest -- increases in immigrant populations, eight actually vote for President Trump. So a lot of this population growth is growing in these red states. And if those -- if that population is undercounted, it could actually hurt his voters.

KING: Well, that's an interesting point. We'll continue to watch the case going forward. Thanks for hustling over from the court for us here. Always like to have an excited guest on the panel. It helps.

Up next, Bernie Sanders unwittingly sends a gift basket to the Republican Party, enraging both sides of the aisle.


[12:26:06] KING: Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders dropping a new wedge into the 2020 Democratic field today. Senator Sanders says he's ready to let convicted felons back into the voting booth. At a CNN town hall last night, he was asked if he thought felons, like the Boston Marathon bomber, should be allowed to vote even while they're still incarcerated. Here's what he said.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If somebody commits a serious crime, sexual assault, murder, they're going to be punished. They may be in jail for ten years, 20 years, 50 years, their whole lives. It's what happens when you commit a serious crime. But I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy. Yes, even for terrible people.


KING: The reaction from the right tells you conservatives see this as a political gift. This from the official Republican Party Twitter account. This is beyond extreme and the rest of the 2020 Democratic field should be asked to condemn this insanity. That's Ronna McDaniel tweeting. If you had any doubt about the radical Democratic Party -- how radical the Democratic Party has become, their 2020 frontrunner wants to let terrorists convicted of murdering American citizens vote from prison. And this from Congresswoman Liz Cheney, coming soon, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders launch their absentee ballots for al Qaeda program.

Maybe a bit of a stretch there and harsh there at the end, but -- but when you say I would let the Boston bomber or a rapist or a murder vote while in prison, you ask for that, do you not? KIM: Exactly. And I think that's why there is -- even -- even though

Senator Sanders remains at the top of the polls for now, there is that trepidation from Democrats that if he is the nominee, these are the kinds of positions that the Democratic Party will have to embrace, which is why you saw the splits last night. Obviously not everyone in the town halls last night got on board with what Senator Sanders was espousing in terms of voting for people in prison.

But in terms of another Republican criticizing, Senator Lindsey Graham, I mean, he hails from South Carolina. He tweeted just before this show saying, I would love to see how that plays if Dylann Roof, referring to the Charleston shooter in 2015, how that -- how voters would react to Senator Sanders allowing him to vote.

KING: Right, it's a different conversation if somebody -- especially for non-violent offenders. But even if you want to have the conversation for violent offenders, once they've done their time and they're back in society, should there be a process by which they reapply for the right to vote. That's a different conversation than should somebody who's been just sent to prison or serving a life term for something heinous, like the Boston Marathon bombing, it's a different conversation. But Senator Sanders pushes the envelope in these conversations.

You mentioned last night. We had five town halls here on CNN last night. Sanders was third. So only two candidates came after him. Those two candidates were asked what they thought.


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 (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Part of punishment, when you were -- 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.


KING: So Buttigieg says, sorry, disagree, Bernie. Senator Harris, this is -- I can never figure this out about politics -- we should have that conversation. We should have that conversation.

Let me add, before we talk, this is Elizabeth Warren, who, again, was not on after Senator Sanders last night, but here's Elizabeth Warren just moments ago in South Carolina asked the same question, do you agree with Bernie?




KING: I'm not there yet she says at the end. She says she's willing to -- again, she says that she's willing to have the conversation.

Is willing to have the conversation a polite way of saying, you have an idea that I think is way outside the mainstream, but I don't want to offend you by telling you I think that, so we'll have the conversation, or is it a, oh, my God, I hope you don't ask me about that again, please.

[12:29:50] DAVIS: I mean I think it's both. I think it's also a careful way of saying, I don't have an answer for this right now. I haven't thought about this and I don't want to step in it and go somewhere that, you know, either the party's not going to follow or, more generally, could be a problem for me down the line. I mean this is sort of one of the dangers, you know, the blessing and the curse of having a big, diverse Democratic primary.