Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Denies Order to Fire Mueller; Trump Fights Subpoenas; Sri Lanka Monitored Some of the Bombers; Illinois Parents Charged with Murder; Putin and Kim Discuss Denuclearization. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired April 25, 2019 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That (INAUDIBLE) a nexus of his anger. So you're seeing that come out on Twitter some this morning.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, McGahn's testimony goes to what is Trump's worst insult, right, to him is that an adviser saying he didn't follow the president's orders there on this.

DAWSEY: Right.

SCIUTTO: But, Paul Callan, is this witness tampering for a president to -- because we have Don McGahn, he's already testified in the special counsel, but he's going to be called before Congress as well. In a normal world, would a president accusing him of being a liar be tampering with a witness?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think that would constitute tampering with a witness. I mean the president can have his opinion on the issue. But clearly the president had the right to assert executive privilege to prevent McGahn from testifying, but he waved it. And once that was waved, McGahn was in a tough spot. He's under oath. If a question is asked, there's no executive privilege assertion. He has to answer the question honestly. And McGahn most certainly will say he did answer the question honestly.

SCIUTTO: OK, another legal issue, because the White House is saying very publically, it's just not going to listen to subpoenas from Congress, from the legislative -- a co-equal branch of government. It's just going to deny them all. Take it to the Supreme Court if necessary. Is that legal?

CALLAN: Well, in some cases, it might be, if there was no legitimate legislative purpose for the subpoena. Now, they may -- the administration will argue that they're just trying to harass the president. They're not really trying to draft legislation. And they would say that it's not a legitimate subpoena.

But assuming it's a legitimate subpoena, that --

SCIUTTO: Well, what makes it legitimate?

CALLAN: Well, if it has a legislative purpose. If Congress really -- it has to look at say his tax returns because they're thinking about changing the tax laws, as opposed to, they just want to develop a political attack on the president.


CALLAN: So that would give it a legislative purpose.


CALLAN: But the question is always under the Constitution, how do they enforce their subpoena?

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.

CALLAN: A famous president, Andrew Jackson, who the president keeps a portrait of in the White House, once said, John Marshal, the chief justice at the time, has made his decision, now let him enforce it. Because, remember, the president controls the military and the enforcement arm of the government.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Especially when the president's been willing to say no before.

CALLAN: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, Josh Dawsey, I mean this is clearly a strategy by the president. Is it a winning strategy in his view just to say, Congress, they're harassing me, I don't have to follow whether it's the law or common practice here because he's not being pushed politically to do so?

DAWSEY: The president's view, he's going to cast the Democrats on Capitol Hill as overreach, as just out to attack him. You keep seeing his line over and over, they're not interested in legislating. All they want to do is go after me.

Whether it works long-term, Jim, it's unclear. I think the president's kind of testing the boundaries here. Most presidents certainly did not like oversight and did not like the cabinet officials and senior aides being summoned to The Hill or having to give over documents, but they essentially did it most of the time, with a few exceptions. Harriet Miers in the Bush administration, Eric Holder in the Obama administration obviously were both found not to have done it. But most of the time they just did it.

Here, the president seems inclined to just push it as far as he can go to attack the Democrats, to make this a political mudslinging fight and to really not play by kind of the traditional rules here, which we've seen time and time again in this presidency. And whether it works or not, it's unclear right now. But the stalling tactic is certainly something I expect to continue.

SCIUTTO: Yes, traditional rules, some of which are sometimes called laws, right, in this world.

Final question, because you and I spoke about this off camera a little bit. You say that Congress can try the president in effect, not impeachment but on the issue of subpoena. In other words, they could hold a sort of court session in Congress?

CALLAN: Well, not -- yes, they wouldn't be trying the president. They'd be trying the witness that the president is refusing to allow to testify.


CALLAN: They have two options. One, they can refer it as a criminal offense to the Justice Department, and the president is supposed to prosecute for contempt of Congress. Now, if the president refuses to do that, that could be an impeachable offense because it would be a refusal of the president to execute the laws required under Article Two of the Constitution.

But they have a second interesting power, the inherent power of Congress. It hasn't been used since 1935. The House of Representatives could convene and try the witness for refusal to comply with the subpoena. And they can order him jailed for contempt of Congress. So that's been used, I think, about 75 times in American history, the last time in 1935.

SCIUTTO: 1935.


SCIUTTO: Well, we'll see if it's dusted off in this -- in this controversy.

Paul Callan, Josh Dawsey, thanks very much.

[09:34:32] Right now, police are ramping up searches cross Sri Lanka. This as we learn new information about who those bombers were and are there other plots out there? We'll be following it.


SCIUTTO: This morning, we have learned that the man who carried out one of the eastern bombings in Sri Lanka was released from police custody just before the attacks. That man detonated a bomb at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel. Officials also revealed that Sri Lankan intelligence had been monitoring some of the attackers before the bombings.

CNN's senior international correspondent Ivan Watson joins me now from the capital Colombo.

Ivan, these are just shocking revelations here. They had these guys on their radar screen, intelligence, and yet they were able to carry out this attack.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Evidently they were following them for hate speech, but clearly caught off guard about the scale of violence with at least 359 people killed on Sunday, more than 500 wounded. Startling revelations from my conversation with the Sri Lankan prime minister. Take a listen.


RANIL WICKREMESINGHE, PRIME MINISTER OF SIR LANKA: They are middle class, upper middle class, well educated, educated abroad. That is surprising because they've been looking at other places for possible ISIS connections. But these people are also know and were being monitored by the intelligence.

[09:40:11] WATSON: They -- they were being monitored?

WICKREMESINGHE: They were being monitored by the intelligence.

WATSON: Some of the suicide bombers?

WICKREMESINGHE: Some -- some of them, yes.

WATSON: And yet they were still able to carry out these deadly attacks.

WICKREMESINGHE: Yes. They said -- they said that they didn't have sufficient evidence to take them in.


WATSON: Jim, among more than 70 people that police have detained since the attacks on Easter Sunday are a wealthy spice merchant from Sri Lanka named Mohamed Ibrahim. His two sons are believed to have been two of the suicide bombers, one of them, Ilham, blew up the Cinnamon Hotel down the road from where I am right now and he was detained, a high level government source says, back in January after police raided an alleged training camp in the north of the country where they found about 100 kilograms of explosives. They had a four month detention order on him and then set him free among some pressure from some high level officials. His dad was very well connected politically. And the prime minister says he may have, in fact, met the spice merchant at previous social functions. It shows you how plugged in some of these suicide bombers and their families were.


SCIUTTO: And did that get them off as a result?

We understand that authorities there, they're receiving a lot of outside help, including from the U.S., to investigate this. What can you tell us about the effort now?

WATSON: Yes, you've got the FBI, Scotland Yard, Australia, New Zealand, Danish, Dutch, Interpol Police all helping out. Of course, you have at least 40 foreigners who were killed among the staggering number of people killed.

The investigation does continue. But the prime minister told me there was an absolute breakdown in the security apparatus here to foresee this threat. I would argue a systemic breakdown because warnings had come from overseas intelligence, Indian intelligence, from Muslim imams here who were warning about the hate speech and the violence that was being preached by some of these people. And clearly there were police who had detained some of them and then, in fact, set them free.

So this was something that caught the Sri Lankan security forces completely off guard. So far, a security -- a state defense minister is the only person who has resigned. I asked the prime minister if he feels that maybe he or the president should resign, and he declined to comment in response to that question.


SCIUTTO: Well, just an enormous failure. Three hundred and fifty-nine dead. The scale is just -- just incredible.

Ivan Watson, thanks very much.

Less than one week after reporting their five-year-old son missing, his two parents are now charged with his murder. We will be live at the courthouse where the couple is facing a judge this morning. Such a sad story. That's coming up.


[09:47:31] SCIUTTO: One day after the body of their son was found in a shallow grave, the parents of AJ Freund are in an Illinois courtroom accused of his murder. The five-year-old boy's body was found Wednesday just about 10 miles from his home in Crystal Lake, Illinois. This horrifying discovery comes just one week after Freund's parent reported him missing. Now police have charged Andrew Freund Senior and JoAnn Cunningham with AJ's murder.

CNN correspondent Ryan Young is live in the northern Chicago suburbs this morning.

Ryan, the couple appearing together at a bond hearing this morning. Any idea what happened in the courtroom? What are they hearing today?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, we just walked out of that courtroom, Jim. And I can tell you, it was some hard things to listen to. When you think about a 5-year-old and the things they should be focused on when it comes to cartoons or maybe having a good time and, you know, they start kind of forming their personalities at that point, some of the details we got in court today are -- really are just hard to even explain.

I'll just tell you this, the state says in court that they believe that little AJ was put in a shower, a cold shower, for an extended period of time. And he was left in that cold shower. And then at some point he was struck with some sort of object. That really just stands out to you when you think about this young man and how his life may come to an end.

There's really been no cause of death clarification just yet because the medical examiner has to go through this. And we know that more than likely his body was badly decomposed after being placed in a plastic bag and then buried in a shallow grave.

They used cellphone technology to sort of go through, pinpointing where the parents had been at certain times of night. But when you hear that detail, you understand why the judge and the defense -- I mean the prosecution asked for a $5 million bond. So that means they would have to come up with $500,000 cash each to get out.

But when you hear that detail and then you see some of this video that we'll show you of the small mattress and a shovel that was pulled out of that house and bags of evidence, you understand that there were so many people in this community who are angry. They are trying to figure out exactly how this young man was left in the care of these parents who he's been removed from this house three times. And then just that standpoint of that he was left in a shower and then hit with an object really stands out.

Listen to the police chief talk about the idea of young AJ not having to suffer any more.


JAMES BLACK, CRYSTAL LAKE POLICE CHIEF: To AJ's family, it is my hope that you may have some solace in knowing that AJ is no longer suffering and his killers have been brought to justice.


[09:50:10] YOUNG: So sometimes you do these news conferences and we showed up yesterday, there was a lot of people who showed up. There was more than 50 people who showed up to the news conference yesterday to hear this for themselves. And no one was talking in that room. And when they announced that AJ was dead, there were people who started crying.

There was a man who came up to me with his hand -- fist clenched and his hand was shaking and his whole idea is, how could this happen to a young boy? Let's not forget that AJ's mom is pregnant with another child, and there is a middle child that has been put in protective custody. But now the big question is, how was this child left in these people's care for quite some time?

So there's so many more questions. I'm sure we'll learn more about this investigation, Jim. But there are people who are grappling in this community now with not only what happened to AJ recently, but the extended period of time. Remember, 15 agencies were looking for him. And you could hear the passion from the FBI office yesterday as well, just really feeling bad about what happened.

If we learn any more information today, or about bond or anything else, we'll pass it along.


SCIUTTO: Did the authorities fail this young boy by not getting him into protection sooner?

Ryan Young, thanks very much. Vladimir Putin is suddenly emerging as a key player in nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the U.S. after his historic summit with Kim Jong-un. Is Russia attempting to get in the way here?

And join W. Kamau Bell for the fourth season of "United Shades of America." It's a great series. Kamau shines a light on the people creating change, fighting for justice, and making a difference. It starts Sunday night at 10:00 Eastern Time only here on CNN.


[09:55:55] SCIUTTO: Well, it looks like Kim Jong-un has found a new friend in Vladimir Putin. The two wrapping up an historic summit this morning discussing denuclearization on the Korean peninsula. Sound familiar?

The Russian president says that he is pleased with their talks. The three and a half hour meeting comes amid an impasse in nuclear negotiations between the North Korean regime and the Trump administration. Putin says that he will discuss the details of their summit with the U.S., adding that Kim himself asked the Russian leader to relay his position.

Susan Glasser is here with me now. She is a CNN global affairs analyst, who has extensively covered the Kremlin.

Susan, good to have you on here.

Of course, President Trump has spoken often of his close relationship with Kim Jong-un, his love affair with Kim Jong-un. What is Vladimir Putin's game here? Is he trying to play spoiler?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, look, first of all, Vladimir Putin, as you know, loves to insert himself in the middle of big running stories. Think about how he just sent troops and assistance to Venezuela here in the western hemisphere. Think about the pretty audacious move to send Russian troops right into the middle of the Syrian war in a way that was a game changer. So it's not a surprise that Russia, which does, after all, have a border with North Korea, would want to be in the middle of the conversation. It's been one of the sort of ways in which Russia has leveraged itself and played an outsized role in the world relative to its position.

Also, there's historic ties. Kim has not met with Putin, but his father and grandfather, when they ruled North Korea, had extremely close connections with Russia and the Soviet Union before that.

But it's somewhat of an embarrassment to Trump. And I think it's meant that way. It's meant to remind Trump on the part of Kim that they have somewhere else to go.

SCIUTTO: Yes, no question.

Now, it's the U.S. position that Russia has helped North Korea evade international sanctions here. What is our understanding of Russia's goal? Does Russia -- is Russia happy to live with a nuclear North Korea or do they want an agreement? What are they aiming for other than spoiling?

GLASSER: Well, I would say this. You know, Putin reemphasized today in his public remarks that in fact he does support denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. However, it seems to me that what Putin is after is a resurrection of a formal role for Russia and other powers in the talks with North Korea. In the past, they were called the six-party talks. Instead, under the Trump administration, basically, China, Russia, have pulled back and allowed it to be a one-on-one conversation between the United States and North Korea.

With that not succeeding, even if it hasn't yet dramatically failed, I think what you're seeing is Russia coming out and saying, there ought to be a role for China, for Russia, in these conversations about the North Korean nuclear program. It's something that Trump will not want. In fact, he's come out and said in very scathing terms that previous American presidents failed in their negotiations with North Korea because it was in the rubric of the six-party talks. So, in a way, it's a reflection of President Trump's failure so far to secure any meaningful progress with North Korea.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Final question here. North Korea, of course, wants sanctions eased. Do we expect any immediate follow-through on these talks that Russia might announce, OK, we're going to -- we're going to cut you a little slack here in terms of economic sanctions?

GLASSER: Well, I don't think Russia has the power to unilaterally do that. And that's what's interesting about this conversation. It's not clear what it is exactly that Russia can offer North Korea except a little bit more leverage, perhaps, with the United States. A way of saying and communicating to President Trump that Kim isn't so desperate for a deal that he has other people to talk to.

I should note, though, that there's a suggestion that Russia is trying not to be totally the spoiler here. There were U.S. officials in Moscow last week meeting with the Russians in advance of this summit between North Korea and Russia. And, you know, so we'll -- we'll see what happens. But I think Russia wants to just be in the middle of the story.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yep. They like that -- they like that a lot -- in a lot of places.

[10:00:01] Susan Glasser, thanks very much.

GLASSER: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: A very good.