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Trump Fights All Subpoenas from Democrats; Mulvaney Waves off Russia Attacks; Cohen Walks Back Plea. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 24, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Who's following this thing right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: It's a great piece, what did you say,


KING: That's new.

MARTIN: From the granite state. Nashua. Is that pronounced right? Nashua.

KING: Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

You were close.

Brianna Keilar starts right now.

Have a great day.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, shhh, don't tell the man in charge of preserving, protecting and defending America that the Russians will attack the 2020 elections. He apparently doesn't want to hear it.

The assault on accountability intensifies. Why the president thinks the subpoena storm against him is a good thing.

Plus, the president's Fed pick made sexist remarks over and over and over. Now Stephen Moore says he is being Kavanaughed.

And a driver speeds into a crowd of people and officials say he did it on purpose.

We start with a defiant president throwing down the gauntlet declaring that the White House will fight all subpoenas issued by House Democrats looking into him and his administration.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, the subpoena is ridiculous. We have been -- I have been the most transparent president and administration in the history of our country by far. We just went through the Mueller witch hunt, where you had really 18 angry Democrats that hate President Trump.

I thought after two years we'd be finished with it. No, now the House goes and starts subpoenaing. They want to know every deal I've ever done.

Now, Mueller I assume, for $35 million, checked my taxes, checked my financials, which are great, by the way. You know they're great.

But we're fighting all the subpoenas. Look, these aren't like impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020. They're not going to win with the people that I see. And they're not going to win against me. The only way they can maybe luck out -- and I don't think that's going to happen, it might make it even the opposite, that's what a lot of people are saying -- the only way they can luck out is by constantly going after me on nonsense.


KEILAR: This comes on the heels of a "Washington Post" interview where the president said he's opposed to any current or former White House aides providing testimony. That would likely include former White House Counsel Don McGahn. The House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed him. But the White House could try and block him from appearing. Trump is blaming partisanship for his refusal to cooperate with any further investigations.

"The Washington Post's" Rosalind Helderman is joining us now.

Thank you for being with us and talking about this scoop that you and your colleagues have out today where you're explaining how Trump is opposing current and former aides testifying before Congress.

As you reported this out, how unusual is this?

ROSALIND HELDERMAN, INVESTIGATIVE POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, we have seen some instances in the past of similar sort of confrontation between Congress and White Houses. There was an instance a few years ago where the House wanted to hear from former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to President Bush and the White House objected. That went into court. It ultimately settled. There was at least one judge's ruling that went against the White House. But it sort of never fully settled out with higher court rulings. And so, you know, I would expect this will land in court and be a really protracted court battle.

KEILAR: And what about Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, as he's facing this subpoena? How is he navigating -- he's really stuck between a rock and a hard place, this demand from Congress and then this opposing demand from the White House.

HELDERMAN: Yes, someone close to him told us, you know, he does not want to be in contempt of Congress, but he also does not want to be in contempt of his ethical and legal obligations as a former White House official. And so it seems like he and his team are essentially sort of letting the process ride out. He's got the subpoena. It compels his testimony. They're going to hear from the White House and then try to figure out what to do. He doesn't necessarily have to listen to the White House, but he may consider himself bound by it as a former White House official.

KEILAR: The president said in this "Post" interview, quote, I'll -- that he allowed his lawyers and all the people to go and testify to Mueller and, quote, also they have all of that information that's been given.

Does he understand that traditionally -- I mean you bring up the issue of Harriet Miers, where they didn't side with the White House. Does the president understand traditionally courts tend to rule that it's not a president's determination to make?

HELDERMAN: Yes, I'm not sure how up he is on the legal argument. You know, it is fairly untested in the court, so we don't quite know where this is going to go. But, you know, he talked about allowing his people to talk to Mueller. A lot of lawyers would tell you that the White House has really weakened its position because they're essentially waved this privilege, this executive privilege twice now, once when they let their people go and be interviewed and again just within recent weeks when there was this conversation about whether to allow the report to be published. And the White House apparently said that they would not assert their executive privilege and they would allow that piece of the report to be -- to be let out to the public.

[13:05:13] KEILAR: Yes, it's a really interesting point that you make in this story.

Rosalind Helderman, thank you so much for joining us.

HELDERMAN: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: Now to the Trump administration seemingly sticking their collective heads in the sand when it comes to Russia's ongoing efforts to mess with future elections. "The New York Times" is reporting that before resigning, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tried to get the White House on board with a strategy to protect the 2020 elections, but she was waved off by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney because he said the president didn't want to hear it, that it wasn't a good subject to bring up to the president, that Russian interference was a sore spot, that it brought back insecurities over the 2016 election win.

We know that the entire intelligence community is in full agreement that Russia interfered in 2016 in a systemic way and that they wanted to help Trump. The Mueller report also said it, quote, the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systemic fashion.

We also know the Justice Department and the Pentagon found Russia tried to influence the 2018 midterms recently. A government official telling CNN that officials have been trying to sound the alarm on Russia for months and months but that it's been like pulling teeth to get the White House to focus on the issue.

And here's the intelligence agency's new worldwide threat assessment, which says, quote, Moscow may employ additional influence tool kits, such as spreading disinformation, conducting hack and leak operations, or manipulating data in a more targeted fashion to influence U.S. policy, actions and elections.

Our Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, Mick Mulvaney is now responding to this report that he waved the now departed Homeland Security secretary off of even broaching this subject with the president. What's he saying?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, he's not denying it, he's just saying in a new statement to CNN that he doesn't recall anything along those lines happening. And now I'm quoting him, he says, the Trump administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections. And he says, we've already taken many steps to prevent it in the future.

But, Brianna, if you talk to anyone inside this West Wing, they will say they go out of their way to not bring up Russia to President Trump because they say he cannot distance and separate the two from themselves. That any talk about Russian interference in the election automatically makes the president think that this is an attempt to have an attack on his legitimacy as -- the fact that he's a legitimate president essentially. Those are -- that's what the president talks about. And he grows incredibly frustrated with it.

But, Brianna, this story is coming as in recent days we've seen not only the president's outside attorney, but also his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, downplay the effects of Russian interference in the election with Kushner saying yesterday that essentially what the Russians did was just a couple of FaceBook ads, even though, as you noted, Robert Mueller addressed this in his report and said it happened in a sweeping fashion.

Now, the other thing the president has tried to do in recent days is shift the blame to Democrats, saying that it's the Democrats who should be investigated here, that they're the ones who are guilty, even though, of course, if you read the Mueller report it says pretty clearly that the Russians were the ones who were hacking into Democratic e-mails and publishing those in an attempt to hurt Hillary Clinton.

Now, the White House is pushing back on the idea that they're not doing anything to push back on Russian interference in the election or any kind of foreign interference in the election, saying that they're taking the matter very seriously. But, Brianna, we should note, the last publically disclosed meeting of cabinet level officials on election interference was July 24th, almost a year ago last summer.

KEILAR: Yes, that's a very good point.

Kaitlan Collins on the North Lawn there. Thank you so much. And Mick Mulvaney is saying that the Trump administration has taken

these many steps to prevent future election interference by Russia. However, as you just heard Kaitlan explain, that is not true.

And we have Evan McMullen with us to discuss this.

You're a former CIA officer, former presidential candidate.

There's been one -- you heard that the last meeting was July, right, so almost a year ago. Maybe two principled meetings on this issue. One White House press briefing where you had top national security officials who highlighted this topic, but they really only spoke in platitudes about what they were doing to combat it. What should the Trump administration be doing to combat this?

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Well, the Trump administration should be organizing a whole of government response that should include not only defensive measures but also offense measures. And we learned from "The New York Times" piece that actually the administration, the federal government, did conduct some offensive action against the Internet research agency, which is, of course, the Russian entity that attacked our elections in 2016. That's good news.

But the biggest thing that needs to happen, the two biggest things are, we need to deter future attacks. And the way we do that is through threatening harsh, I think sanctions are appropriate, against the Putin regime if they continue to attack, or against other regimes, whoever it will be, because there are others we know, not only the Russians.

[13:10:06] KEILAR: And the president, not only has he been easy on Vladimir Putin --


KEILAR: He's sided with him over the intel agencies.


KEILAR: And what he likes to do, and what the administration likes to do, is they look back at the Obama administration and they say, look, this happened on their watch and they didn't elevate this appropriately. Now, that may be some fair criticism, but it doesn't absolve him of this ongoing problem that he's really doing not much about. And as you look at that, do you think he's shirking his constitutional duty?

MCMULLIN: He's shirking his responsibility to protect the country, certainly.

But, look, we are in a new era of information warfare. Warfare evolves over time. When 9/11 happened, that marked a new era of asymmetric terrorist warfare, of terrorist warfare. We -- we're moving on, although that continues, to something else, which is this systemic, vast, broad information warfare in which countries can be defeated without a shot ever having been fired. You know, we just learned from the Mueller report that the president was aware that we were undergoing as a country an information warfare attack during 2016, but he sought to benefit from it. And he and his campaign actually had a plan, according to the Mueller report, to benefit, to capitalize on that for their political benefit, and for Trump personally for his financial benefit too. We know he was pursuing a business deal in Moscow which required Putin's help at the time. So that's what we have here.

And I don't think -- you know, a lot of times we say, look, the president's ego is wounded when we talk about how the Russians attacked us and may have helped him get elected. But I actually think that we're a little naive to buy into that narrative. I think that's a fig leaf for the president. How can we ignore that this president barely won the Electoral College, barely won enough votes to win the Electoral College. It was 70,000 votes. In that kind of close election, presidential election, everything matters.

And he's now deeply unpopular in the country. His popularity ratings are going even down further than they were. And so we can't ignore that this is a president who benefitted from the Russians' information warfare attack on our country and may need that attack again to win. And so it's not just about his ego, it's deeper than that.

KEILAR: You think he's doing it to try to gain an advantage?

MCMULLIN: I think we're incredibly naive to ignore that likely reality. Yes, it's the -- the Russians conducted a sweeping and systematic attack on our country according to the Mueller report and our intelligence agencies and --

KEILAR: And you're saying he's -- you're essentially -- he's using that as a tool, in your estimation?

MCMULLIN: I think so. Look, in a race that's that close, everything matters. And he knew it was happening according to the Mueller report and sought to capitalize on it. So even by that -- that fact tells us that he was aware that it was happening and it was -- he was aware that it could help him and he hoped it would help him.

And how we -- how can we divorce that from what's happening now, which is his dereliction of duty. But even that I think is generous. What's happening here is we have a president who came to power with the help of a foreign adversary and he's going to potentially need that help again if his numbers stay the way they are. And, lo and behold, he continues to do very little himself or nothing personally to defend us. He's leaving our back door wide open in the middle of the night for intruders to come in and attack us. That's what he's doing and that's why we've got to hold him accountable for what happened in 2016 and send a message to all our leaders that accepting foreign interference, accepting foreign help to usurp the sovereign power of the American people, to determine who will lead us, who will be accountable to us in that -- in leadership forms -- or in leadership roles, you know, we have to hold people accountable for that.

KEILAR: Evan McMullin, thank you so much for coming in. MCMULLIN: Thank you.

KEILAR: We really appreciate it.

MCMULLIN: Yes, my pleasure.

KEILAR: I'm going to speak live with a Watergate prosecutor who says, too late, the president cannot assert executive privilege on these subpoenas. Hear why.

Plus, the president's Fed pick says he's being Kavanaughed after his sexist comments from the past are exposed.

And a driver rams into a crowd of pedestrians and police say that it was intentional. What we know about the motive.


[13:18:48] KEILAR: We are getting news just in to CNN about President Trump's former fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen. During a phone call secretly recorded by actor and comedian Tom Arnold, a strange twist there, Cohen revealing that he believes parts of his guilty plea are a lie. This is according to a new report by "The Wall Street Journal."

Let's check in now with CNN's Kara Scannell.

What can you tell us about this call?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Brianna, these are strange bedfellows.

So, according to "The Journal," this call took place on March 25th between Michael Cohen and Tom Arnold. And in the call Michael Cohen is disavowing the crimes that he pleaded guilty to. Now, remember, he pleaded guilty to two hush money payments involving -- two campaign finance violations involving those hush money payments he made on behalf of the president, but he also pleaded guilty to five tax fraud counts, one count of lying to a bank and another count of lying to Congress. But as you'll hear in this -- in this sound bite, Michael Cohen is now saying that he didn't commit any of those crimes.

Let's listen.


MICHAEL COHEN: I lost my business. I lost -- you know, everything, my insurance, my bank accounts all for what? All for what? Because Trump, you know, had an affair with a porn star? That's really what this is about.


[13:20:05] COHEN: There is no tax evasion. And the HELOC? I have an 18 percent loan to value on my home.

ARNOLD: Right. COHEN: How could there be a HELOC issue? How?

ARNOLD: That's right. That's right.

COHEN: Right?

ARNOLD: That's absolutely right.

COHEN: It's a -- it's a lie.


SCANNELL: So now Michael Cohen here also goes on during this conversation, which seemed to last for quite some time, where he also talks about the president and saying that, you know, this was really just the acts of the president and he's very critical of him here.

Let's listen.


COHEN: It's maddening.




COHEN: And you take -- you take it, but I had a mission that I needed to fulfill. And I needed to get the truth out there. And -- and very hard when, you know, you spent ten years taking care of somebody and their family. And, look, I always knew, you know, who he was and what he was and so on, but it didn't really matter because it's -- he's a small microcosm of New York real estate. It's very different when you start looking to seeing what's happening now in the country --

ARNOLD: Right.

COHEN: In the world.


SCANNELL: So, Michael Cohen here is also -- you know, seems to be lamenting that he's the only one being held accountable for these crimes, the only person going to jail.

During the course of the interview he says he's a man all alone and no one is stepping up to defend him and to point out that he's the only one paying for these crimes.

This all has a very real sense of urgency to Cohen now. He's reporting to prison on May 6th, that's less than two weeks from now, and then his life will change very dramatically.

Brianna. KEILAR: Yes, he clearly needs a friend. That is what I'm picking up from that phone call.

Kara Scannell, thank you so much.

I want to bring in Richard Ben-Veniste, former Watergate special prosecutor, to talk about this.

Aside from this being such a bizarre twist here talking to Tom Arnold and these -- and he's sort of walking back what he pled guilty to, what's -- what's your takeaway?


KEILAR: Who knows? Anything, right?

BEN-VENISTE: Yes. Right. So --

KEILAR: Does I matter? Does this matter?

BEN-VENISTE: He's going to jail. Not happy. And he's the only one, he thinks, but there are others, who are in trouble because of their devotion previously to Mr. Trump and their willingness to violate the law. So he pleaded guilty and he's got to face the consequences.

KEILAR: We wanted to talk to you today because we were reading your quote in this "Washington Post" scoop out today where it says President Trump opposes his current and his former aides testifying before Congress. And you made the point -- a very good point that we just heard from "The Post" reporter, that he's waived executive privilege before letting these aides -- giving them the go ahead to talk to the special counsel. So the cat's already out of the bag basically.

BEN-VENISTE: Or the toothpaste out of the tube, as H.R. Haldeman said in Watergate. So the courts, particularly in the District of Columbia, are very well tuned in on waiver. And once you give up a privilege, let's assume executive privilege would obtain in this case, and we're talking about Mr. McGahn here, the fact that the president gave him the OK to go and talk to Mueller, spent a lot of time with Mueller, testified no doubt on the grand jury, maybe repeatedly, that's waiving a privilege. You cannot un-waive the privilege. Once you do so, you get the benefit, such as it was, of saying I'm cooperating by waiving the privilege and allowing my White House council to go in and give testimony. You can't say later, there is executive privilege and I'm going to assert it.

KEILAR: And to that point, it's interesting we learn in "The Washington Post" article that Don McGahn is preparing to testify, even as he is considering what his ethical obligations are to the White House, he's preparing. So that may say something about where he thinks this is going to go.

But I wonder, when you look at Don McGahn, former White House counsel, and you expect that he's going to testify before Congress, do you think that is akin to John Dean testifying in 1973 when it -- with -- over Watergate, or having had this report come out, all of these details come out for so long, do you think that there's really not much McGahn is going to add that will surprise us?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, I don't know what he can add. But what he said was extraordinarily surprising and disturbing, and that was --

KEILAR: In your report to the Mueller team?

BEN-VENISTE: Oh, yes. He said that the president had told him to lie, had told him that he ought to first help get Mr. Mueller fired. And then he told him to lie about that order.

[13:25:07] KEILAR: Hearing him say -- if he is -- if he testifies and we hear him say that as opposed to just read it --


KEILAR: Is that a game changer to you?

BEN-VENISTE: I think it's a very significant episode as part of a litany of different things that have been laid out in the Mueller report that suggest the president's intent was to obstruct the investigation.

KEILAR: Richard Ben-Veniste, thank you so much for coming in and giving us your insight. We appreciate it.

BEN-VENISTE: My pleasure, Brianna.

KEILAR: She spells out her policies like a professor. Will that help Senator Elizabeth Warren as she takes on the Democratic field?

And if she's the professor, who is the student without his or her homework?

Also, President Trump's Federal Reserve pick under fire for sexist comments. His response, they're pulling a Kavanaugh against me.