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President Trump Is At The Center Of New And Disturbing Reports; Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) Interviewed Regarding Mulvaney Saying Reports On Russia Hacking Should Be Kept Below President Trump's Level. Aired: 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 24, 2019 - 10:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Jim Sciutto in Washington where President Trump is at the center of new and disturbing reports, not about something he said or did or posted on social media, but something he wants nothing to do with or to do anything about.

"The New York Times" is reporting that the recently-forced out Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, tried to engage the President in an all-out defense against a repeat of Russian election interference in 2020, but "The Times" says that the President's Acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, told her not to bring it up with the Commander-in-Chief. It was not a great subject.

Mulvaney reportedly advised, it should be kept below the President's level. Why is that? "The New York Times" reports Mulvaney said the President still sees any talk of Russian meddling as somehow undermining him and his win in 2016.

CNN's Abby Phillip joins us now. We call this a profile in lack of courage here from the President senior staff. They don't want to upset him here. Two years later, is the President going to do anything about the threat of 2020 election interference?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this has been a feature of President Trump's administration for almost the very beginning where aides knew that this topic of Russian interference made him upset. It made him believe that even just the mention of it was undermining the legitimacy of his election.

But what's stunning about this report is that two years later in the lead-up to another presidential election, as Kirstjen Nielsen tried to draw attention to this issue, she was rebuffed by the President's Chief of Staff and essentially told to keep it to lower level of officials.

Nielsen had been trying to organize a Cabinet-level meeting at the White House with all of the various agency and Cabinet-level officials who would need to be a part of an all-government approach to dealing with this problem, and she failed.

She was not able to do that so much so that she took it upon herself to try to organize her own meetings with some of these Cabinet-level officials separately outside of the leadership of the President in response to the resistance to talk about this topic. Now, this is coming at a time when, in the wake of the Mueller report,

the Mueller findings were very clear on Russian interference. Mueller said that Russia did interfere and it was widespread, and that was an unequivocal conclusion of that report.

But President Trump still hasn't talked about it to this day. I think a lot of people had wondered why, but this report seems to give some insight into what is going on inside the White House where this is still a taboo subject for President Trump.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Abby Phillip at the White House. Thanks so much.

SCIUTTO: Here to discuss this, Jackie Kucinich, Washington Bureau Chief for "The Daily Beast." Jackie, Washington is full of stories of sycophantic advisers who don't want to come to their boss with inconvenient information, but this is beyond the pale.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": We just read the Mueller report, and it's filled with information about advisors trying to keep the government functioning relatively without chaos and ignoring the President.

We see this again right here, both Mick Mulvaney basically telling Trump to put on earmuffs and telling Kirstjen Nielsen to keep it below his level. She tried, as Abby said, to do so, but if the President isn't engaging in this, that's disturbing.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Everybody says -- everybody at the national security field, Republican or Democrat, says you need a whole of government response. You need the Commander-in-Chief involved. You can't do this as a rear-guard action to actually prevent future election interference.

I mean, as you say, this is a feature; it's not a bug in the way this administration operates. Does that work, though, in your experience for the lower-level folks to kind of push things forward without the President knowing or being involved?

KUCINICH: They're trying to make this work. There was evidence of Russians trying to interfere in the 2018 election. They tried to hack Claire McCaskill's campaign, for example, and there is work going on.

Just because the President doesn't want to talk about, there is work going on in DHS. You had Matt Masterson yesterday at the Atlantic Council talk about how they're offering services to the Democratic field to help secure their campaigns, so offering the same services that they offered a lot of the local and state Election Boards the last cycle, so there are things in motion.

That said, if the President isn't involved, really it creates -- there's a disconnect there, but this isn't going to change. The President isn't going to, all of a sudden, come out and say, "You know what? You guys were all right. All the Intelligence Services are right. The Mueller report is right when it comes to election interference." That's not going to happen. SCIUTTO: It's not going to happen. He takes it as affecting himself.

Let me ask you this: We talk a lot about how there's not great political appetite right now for further Russian investigations. It's not a top-voting issue as you go into 2020.

On the issue, though, of the threat to the election itself, is that something that voters care about? Do they consider it a real threat?

[10:05:05] KUCINICH: They should, and lawmakers certainly have raised it. Mark Warner, for example, has asked The Pentagon to look into deep-fake. This will be the first deep-fake election, which is videos that look really convincing but are not. There is an awareness, but there is the concern that they're fighting the last war, that they're trying to secure for 2016 and not 2020 where you do have these emerging technologies like I just mentioned.

SCIUTTO: And they move so quickly.

KUCINICH: They do.

SCIUTTO: They're constantly adapting in the cyber-environment. Jackie Kucinich, thanks so much. Another thing to be concerned about, Poppy, as we get into the 2020 election cycle?

HARLOW: Just another thing. All right. Thank you, guys. If there are some things the President doesn't want to hear, there are also things -- many things -- that he doesn't want staff members to say especially to House Committees chaired by Democrats.

The President tells "The Washington Post" he's not allowing current or former aides or staff, including former White House counsel, Don McGahn, to cooperate with Democratic requests or subpoenas for information.

SCIUTTO: Just moments ago: the President tweeting, "I allowed everyone to testify, including White House counsel. I didn't have to do this, but now they want more." CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill, with that of course, it wasn't just the President allowing, I imagine the law was involved there as well, but clearly the tactic has changed now to sort of stonewall all these requests.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, all-out resistance at this point. Democratic Chairmen have sent letters to the White House and the Trump administration have ignored.

Now, subpoenas are not being complied with, and this could all end up in court on various fronts, and now a new effort -- we're told -- to potentially deny Don McGahn the opportunity to answer questions before the House Judiciary Committee that that is after the committee issued a subpoena for his testimony by May 21st.

Now, we're told that the White House may assert executive privilege to prevent his answering of certain questions. Democrats say that is not possible. They essentially waived executive privilege. By the way, McGahn had already cooperated with the Special Counsel so that could also be tied up in court, but the President made his preference very clear when he told "The Washington Post" that "There's no reason to go any further, and especially in Congress where it's very partisan -- obviously very partisan." So now, the question is, "How will this get resolved potentially in court?" Guys.

HARLOW: Yes, so also something not resolved and the President and the White House are blocking at this point is releasing the tax returns that the President as candidate said he'd be happy to release. What's going on?

RAJU: Yes, that's right. The second time that the Treasury Department has blown past a Democratic deadline to turn over those tax returns, the deadline of last night. The Treasury Department came back and said they need more time. They said that they need to discuss with the Justice Department about what they consider to be a rather extraordinary request for the President's tax returns. Richard Neal, the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee is citing a provision of the Tax Code says that the Treasury Department shall furnish these tax returns to Capitol Hill.

But, nevertheless, the Democrats are weighing their next steps. Another fight that could take some time to sort out, but no one is really expecting the Trump administration to turn around and give these tax returns over. They're planning to fight this like they are with so many other requests here on Capitol Hill.

SCIUTTO: It's fought up for three years. I imagine they're going to keep it up. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right, let's talk about this with Jessica Roth, former Federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York. Good to have you. Thank you for coming in.


HARLOW: It's simply put, but is it just right to say you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube? The White House let McGahn and a host of other folks sit down with Mueller and his team of prosecutors. McGahn, for 30 hours, didn't cite executive privilege then. Can they now?

ROTH: The ship has sailed on the President's ability to assure executive --

HARLOW: No legal question about that.

ROTH: As a legal matter, it's quite clear. He waived the privilege when he agreed to let his aides, including Don McGahn, sit down with the Special Counsel for the interviews on those subject matters. Then, he effectively waived it again or confirmed his waiver when he allowed the report that he knew in advance contained those conversations go to Congress and to the public.

HARLOW: But here's sort of the pickle that McGahn is in. This is according to the reporting from "The Washington Post," someone close to McGahn, quote, "He doesn't want to be in contempt of Congress nor does he want to be in contempt of his ethical obligations and legal obligations as a former White House official." If you were his lawyer, how would you advise him to thread that needle?

ROTH: He is being put in a very difficult position, and we know that he cares about his legal obligations. As the report recounts, he said, "I'm a real lawyer and I take notes," so there's some time -- there's some weeks, I think, before he's scheduled to appear.

HARLOW: Yes, May 21st.

ROTH: One hopes that his lawyers will be able to work out some kind of compromise with the White House.

[10:10:10] HARLOW: But what would a compromise be? You can't say this? You can't say this? I mean --

ROTH: Well, I mean, as to anything that's actually in the Mueller report, it's clear as a legal matter that the privilege is waived as to those matters. I think if I were McGahn's lawyer, I might also try to impress upon the White House lawyers that this could wind up bad for the President in the following sense: that if it went to court, a court could find that not only is the privilege waived, but that's something called the crime-fraud exception applies to some of the conversations where the court could find that, actually, these communications constituted the President's obstruction of justice or attempt to obstruct justice. On that basis, they're not covered by the privilege.

HARLOW: Can I ask you about something else that the President tweeted? He'd been tweeting a lot this morning, and we know that these are official White House statements. He tweeted this morning -- and I'm paraphrasing -- about impeachment and said, if the Democrats tried to do that, I'd take it up to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has nothing to do with impeachment. It's a political process, or am I missing something?

ROTH: I don't know how impeachment gets before the United States Supreme Court. It is a political process between the executive and the legislature here. Maybe, what he's suggesting is that if some of the subpoenas keep coming for a matter that he deems subject to executive privilege, that he would take it to court and appeal it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, whether there were legitimate subpoenas.

HARLOW: The documents for people, et cetera.

ROTH: For documents and testimony, whether or not there were part of a legitimate exercise of the legislative power of Congress. Maybe, that is what he was alluding to.

HARLOW: Okay. We'll watch. Thank you, Jessica Roth. It's so nice to have you.

ROTH: My pleasure.

HARLOW: Jim? SCIUTTO: Fascinating stuff. Early warnings: mist in the lead-up to

the deadly bombings in Sri Lanka. Now, the country's President is calling for resignations among his Security Services.

HARLOW: And South Bend Mayor, Pete Buttigieg rising in the polls, but will a controversy from his past have an impact on his 2020 bid? We'll explain that. Also, the President's Fed pick, Steve Moore, now says his critics are "pulling a Kavanaugh" against him. What does he mean?


[10:16:35] HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. "The New York Times" is reporting this morning that months before Former DHS Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign, Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, reportedly told her not to bring up Russian attempts at meddling in the 2020 election with the President. Why? Reportedly, according to "The Times," Mulvaney said it was an issue that should be kept below the President's level.

Joining me now to talk about this and a lot more is Democratic Congressman, Andre Carson of Indiana. He serves in the House Intelligence Committee. Given your position, sir, in Congress, what's your reaction to that reporting?

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D-IN): I think it's unfortunate. I think whenever you're dealing with an official, a Cabinet leader like the DHS Secretary, you want that information directly. I think it's because of our President's impulsivity and hypersensitivity that he had to be blocked from communicating with the DHS Secretary directly, and I think that's unfortunate. I think it speaks to, perhaps, the lack of leadership and the fact that he has become so insulated partly because of his own doing that his own Cabinet Secretaries are distrustful of his decision-making abilities.

HARLOW: All right, let's talk about impeachment. You have had a week. Everyone's had a week now to digest the Mueller report. I understand you've read what's out there. You have not been to the skiff yet to read the one with fewer redactions, but you plan to do that soon. From what you've read, are you ready now, sir, to support Articles of Impeachment against the President?

CARSON: I think it's important that we still bring in witnesses, we issue additional subpoenas, we take a measured approach as it relates to this, but we still have work to do as a Democratically-controlled House of Representatives. Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer are meeting with the President next week to talk about the Democrats' infrastructure proposal. We're talking about a trillion. Chairman DeFazio is talking about maybe $2 trillion. We need to talk about the investments that need to be made to our crumbling infrastructure. About 40 percent of America's infrastructure needs to be repaired.

HARLOW: Yes. Your point is not yet on Articles of Impeachment. You say, "Take a measured approach." I ask because in August of last year -- this is before the midterms -- you were asked in a local interview, "Should Articles of Impeachment be brought if Dems retake the house?" Your words, quote, "Having a sitting U.S. President listed as an

unindicted co-conspirator to me meets the test, meets the standard," so I'm wondering if it met the standard to you back then. What has changed? Why does it not now? Has the Mueller report reflected better on the President than you expected it would?

CARSON: I won't say better. I think Director Mueller kind of laid the impeachment question at the feet of Congress and so I think we should take a measured approach. I think it has to be balanced. On one end, there are a lot of folks, my constituents included, who feel as if the Mueller report did not directly indict the President as it were and so they feel like we should move forward. There are others who feel like Congress now has the opportunity to offer impeachment or to take the impeachment route.

But at the end of the day, people want to see us work in a bipartisan fashion. I mentioned infrastructure. We have to talk about education. We have to talk about growing small businesses. I think we can still deal with the impeachment question, but we still have to do the work that we were sent to Congress to do.

[10:20:00 ] HARLOW: There's this really interesting quote this week, Monday, in "The Times" by Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, Democrat of Missouri, and he said, basically and I don't know if you read this, but it struck me. I circled it and I thought, "Wow, that's an interesting point," because he said if you move forward to impeach the President, that's going to help him, and here's why: because he says he would never be convicted in the Senate. How are you going to get two-thirds of this Senate? And he said, quote, "He would be able to campaign all around the country saying, 'I have been acquitted.'" Is he right?

CARSON: He's a dear friend and he's one of my biggest mentors. He's a fellow Midwesterner, and I think he understands the balance of the country. That's why folks come to the Midwest when they're running for President, because we kind of reflect the pulse of our country. And so in a very real sense, he's very right. He's absolutely right.

We can't let him off the hook, but the President has a background in development. He should be taking the lead in wanting to work with Democrats on an infrastructure proposal. We're talking about smart vehicles every day. Let's talk about smart roads and incorporating that strategy into our infrastructure proposal. Democrats have a plan. If the President wants to improve his legacy to some degree, he should work with us.

HARLOW: All right. Let me ask you a few more things. Indiana -- you're a proud son of Indiana so is Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. You know him well. You've campaigned with him. You've seen his rise over the years.

We had him on last week, and one of the things we talked about with him was the lack of diversity at many of his events, and it's clearly concerning to him. He told me last week, "We've got our work cut out for us. We need to invite more and more people into the process and the team that we're building." Are you at all concerned about the lack of diversity that you have seen at his events, et cetera?

CARSON: I'm always concerned about the lack of diversity in any space. I think Mayor Pete is very brilliant. He's certainly formidable. He's a friend of mine. I've known him even when he was an intern for Senator Joe Donnelly when he ran state-wide in Indiana. He's a brilliant man as you've seen. He's impressive. He's deeply concerned about the needs of Hoosiers and Americans, and he's very compelling. He has a phenomenal story. I mean, he is picture perfect.

But I think for him to kind of be at least objective to know as a leader, he needs more diversity that includes his team, that includes folks who work for him, that includes the contracts in which he issues, and so we're willing to help and there are folks who are willing to help him with his diversity issues. We just have to have a sit-down about it, but I'm so proud of Pete. Whenever I see him, I beam with joy because he represents Hoosiers quite well.

HARLOW: All right. Before we go, the question of socialism, you know, you take a very measured approach when it comes to your constituents, of course, not all being very liberal and so I'm interested in your read on this because new polling out in the last few months shows that more Democrats have a favorable view of socialism than capitalism. So building on that, we heard Larry Kudlow say just yesterday, the Director of the National Economic Council, this:


LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I will say this: Socialism is a loser. Socialism is a loser. We are at the beginning of a new prosperity wave in this country. We are the hottest economy in the world. Confidence is building as I've said before. Why would we want to pursue policies that could, I think, in total, slice 15 percent of GDP right out within 10 years?


HARLOW: That's a pretty stark warning. Are you concerned about Democrats in your party embracing socialism?

CARSON: No, I'm not. I appreciate my very liberal and far left friends. They enlighten me each and every day. I'm a progressive. I'm also a member of the New Democratic Caucus. I think, to some degree, when you look historically, America is the wealthiest nation in recorded history. Our citizens should have some kind of healthcare system that is comprehensive and inclusive. America, being the wealthiest nation and country, should have other things that other countries have done phenomenally well that must be tempered with.

Competition, in many ways, is good. Competition encourages innovation. It encourages entrepreneurialism, and so I'd take a balanced approach. But knowing that our government still has a responsibility to take care of its citizens in a real way, I think healthcare is the beginning of that. But, at the same time, if we talk about free pizza and free things for

everyone, somebody has to pay for it. But as taxpayers, our taxpayer dollars have to be put to good use. That means education. That means economic opportunities. That means leveling the playing field for women of color, for people of color. This is the greatest country in recorded history. We should do so, but we can't stifle innovation in the process.

HARLOW: Congressman Carson, I appreciate you coming on all those fronts. Thanks for the time this morning.

CARSON: Thank you.

HARLOW: You've got it.

CARSON: What a pleasure.


SCIUTTO: Interesting balancing act there he's striking. Great interview, Poppy.

[10:25:10] SCIUTTO: More on Mayor Pete Buttigieg: a relative unknown a few months ago now rising fast in the polls both nationally into those key early states, but with his newfound popularity, there's also more scrutiny on his past. That's natural, and that's coming up.


HARLOW: Mayor Pete Buttigieg is seeing a surge in popularity since announcing his bid for the presidency, but along with that ...