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Former V.P. Joe Biden Announces Run For President, Becomes 20th Dec To Join Race; Biden: Eight Years Of Trump Will Alter This Nation And "I Cannot Stand By And Watch That Happen"; Trump Denies Telling Former White House Counsel McGahn To Fire Robert Mueller Despite Report's Findings; Police: More Than 70 Suspects Arrested Since Bombings; Pentagon I.G. Clears Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan Of Favoring Boeing; President Trump: We're Fighting All The Subpoenas; White House Says Stephen Miller Won't Testify On Immigration. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 25, 2019 - 10:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: In a lot of places. Susan Glasser, thanks very much.


SCIUTTO: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. In New York, the newest name in the 2020 presidential race is, well, not really a new name at all, Joe Biden, former Vice President jumped into the already jam packed Democratic field this morning. And while he is not the oldest name either, that would be Bernie Sanders, Biden's seven terms in the senate, two terms as Vice President make him by far the most experienced and at the very start a front runner in every national poll.

Biden's announcement video touched on none of that though, not on his resume, not on his policy positions but on something much deeper what he called a fight for the soul of this nation.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT: The core values of this nation are standing in the world are very democracy. everything that has made America - America - is at stake. That's why today I'm announcing my candidacy for President of the United States.


SCIUTTO: CNN's Arlette Saenz is covering the Biden run from Wilmington, Delaware today. So this is a bold decision, taking the fight directly at Trump, mentioning his name, going after Charlottesville is a kind of visceral moment in this fight for the soul of the nation. Was that the Vice President's decision himself?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Joe Biden has talked about Charlottesville and this moment - most of his events I've been covering him extensively for the past few months and repeatedly for the last year. He's been pointing back to these clashes at Charlottesville as a real focal point for this country. And today in that video, he wanted to highlight those clashes and

specifically President Trump's response to them as not being adequate enough. And he's framing this as a battle for the soul of the country and warning that if President Trump is reelecting the nation's character is at stake and that he could not stand aside and let that happen. So that was critical in his decision to run for president in 2020.

This is just going to be one of the pillars of Biden's campaign. That message of restoring the soul of the nation. We also expect he's going to be talking about restoring the middle class and uniting America, of course, before he gets to a general election matchup against President Trump he has to win that Democratic primary with a historically diverse crowded field of candidates, Jim.

SCIUTTO: OK. So his announcement is out by video. Tell us about these next couple of days. I mean obviously a very well-orchestrated rollout TV appearances. The states that he's picking. What's on the docket in the next coming days?

SAENZ: Well, tonight Joe Biden will be heading to Philadelphia for his first private fundraiser. This shows just how much of an emphasis they're going to be putting on raising money in these first few weeks. He has a lot of space that he has to catch up with, with the other democratic contenders in the field. Tomorrow, he'll be doing a TV appearance on The View.

And then on Monday he'll be taking his message directly to voters with his first campaign events in Pittsburgh. That's going to be a union and middle class working class themed events. Shortly after that, he's going to start barnstorming the country heading out to all of those early voting states, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, even a west coast swing out to California and Nevada.

He'll finish up the launch of his campaign on May 18th in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The campaign pointing out that that is the birthplace of democracy, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And also a key battleground, God knows, in 2020. Arlette Saenz, thanks very much. I'm joined now by Zach Friend. He's a Democratic strategist, also former Spokesman for Obama for America, I believe worked with Biden as well.

Zach, thanks for joining us this morning.


SCIUTTO: So it's 2020, we have a very big Democratic field, a very diverse one, women, people of color. Joe Biden, is he the candidate for the Democratic Party in this cycle?

FRIEND: I actually think that Vice President Biden has a remarkable opportunity here to not just win the primary but to win the presidency. A, because half of all primary voters in the Democratic primary self identifies either conservative or moderate and he has this lane almost exclusively to himself within this primary. The fact that nearly 30 people when all said and done will be running also means that he really just needs to get between 25 and 30 percent of the vote to actually get to the convention.

He speaks to the middle class. Right now I think that there's still a large need to have that economic populism message. Without the industrial Midwest, President Trump has absolutely no path to reelection and really the industrial Midwest is Vice President Biden's bread and butter. So I do think that he has a remarkable opportunity here. I think this is the best chance he's ever actually had to become president and I think he'll be very formidable in this race.

[10:04:57] SCIUTTO: So he goes right at Trump in his opening message there. Trump the person but also Trump the movement to some degree, referencing Charlottesville. When you look and you talk to Democratic voters out there, particularly in those key States, is beating Trump their number one issue?

FRIEND: That's actually a great question, Jim. There's a debate within the Democratic Party right now how much you take on Trump. He obviously unifies the Democratic base, meaning that one thing that all Democrats agree on is they don't want a second term of President Trump. But there's also a large number of voters specifically, again, within those industrial Midwestern states that say, "Who's talking about me?" As opposed to just talking about the president.

And in my opinion, actually, Joe Biden is uniquely qualified to actually have a conversation about both. He has a significant amount of credibility with both the base, including the union base, but also I think that people want somebody who's going to stand up to the President. A lot of these - a lot of people that are running have been very strong with the President. I think there's absolutely no question that Vice President Biden is a fighter and I think that he can do that, but also have the same credibility on the economic side to make sure people feel heard.

SCIUTTO: You made the point, I think it's a smart one, that Joe Biden is sort of a creature of the old style campaigning. Get the unions out and so on. We're in a different cycle. Social media plays a very big role. Is he the candidate and does he have the team to win in that environment?

FRIEND: I actually think that this is probably going to be the biggest challenge for Vice President Biden is whether or not he and his team were able to adapt to the new rules of campaigning which I don't even know what those rules are. I mean there really aren't any rules anymore of engagement. The fact that everything has to be responded to immediately.

Before it was much more of the - you really activated very specific base, voters within the Democratic side or the Republican side. Now, there's actually multi front in order to win the campaign, social media being really one of them. So it'd be interesting to see when he makes announcements of who his team is, how much investment they put into digital, into social media and into this kind of rapid response because we're in this world now where entire narratives can take hold before you can respond and we'll see how they do with that. SCIUTTO: Zach Friend, thanks very much.

FRIEND: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Joining me now, former Presidential Adviser to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, David Gergen and CNN Senior Political Reporter Nia-Malika Henderson.

Thanks to both of you. David Gergen, you've advised a handful of presidents. Would you have advised Joe Biden to go after Trump as sort of the defining issue as he launches his campaign?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think that you have to put first things first and Democrats first have to went back to the White House before they can go after all of these ambitious agenda that the candidates have been laying out. And I think he elevated the issue properly coming out of Charlottesville.

Charlottesville is a good place to start. It wasn't a shameful moment for the Trump presidency. But he made this larger issue of a battle for the soul of America. It was almost like Teddy Roosevelt back in 1912 when he said there's a word Armageddon and we have to fight for America. And I think that was the right - that's the one place as you pointed out where all Democrats agree.

Having said all of that, I don't think this is a lay down to get to Democratic nomination. He does start out ahead. He starts out some eight points ahead and Bernie Sanders or six points ahead of Bernie Sanders according to the latest polls. Well ahead to the rest of the pack. But these town halls in New Hampshire earlier this week with CNN really showed that that rest of the pack is pretty feisty and it's a stronger team, the second tier with Kamala Harris, and Buttigieg, and Elizabeth Warren, and O'Rourke and maybe Cory Booker.

They're going to be out there fighting too and so I think he's got his work cut out to raise money and to get a clear message about the future.

SCIUTTO: Yes, they got a following, a lot of those candidates you picked off.

GERGEN: Right.

SCIUTTO: Nia-Malika, if we can let's talk weaknesses here. You have charges from some women that they made him feel uncomfortable in personal situations. You also have history going back to the Anita Hill hearings. The way he responded to those allegations then certainly - particularly in the Me Too movement, a danger for him. How damaging is that for him with the Democratic base?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think we don't know yet. We don't know how Joe Biden's record, which is about 40 years, how that plays into how Democrats are thinking. Joe Biden very much a moderate Democrat. He served at a different time at the Democratic Party when it was much more conservative racially, much more conservative on all of these issues that now have sort of moved to the left in many ways where there's issues on race, on immigration, on gender as well.

So he certainly is going to have to contend with that. Anita Hill, as you said, the crime bill which he, of course, was a sponsor of and very proud of. And at this point hasn't necessarily said that he's sorry for any of that. So it's certainly going to come up. You even heard Elizabeth Warren in our town hall talk about the bankruptcy bill, and how democrats stood on the side of corporations and credit cards in that bankruptcy bill.

Joe Biden was part of that and standing on the side of what many thought of the wrong side of the issue. So, yes, I mean you've got a Democratic field that is much more progressive. The sort of folks that David Gergen is talking about there, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, fresher faces and people like Kamala Harris, more diverse face as well.

[10:10:44] SCIUTTO: Yes.

HENDERSON: But if you're Joe Biden, you are looking at moderate Democrats, older Democrats, African-American Democrats, which is certainly a part of the Democratic Party too and that's why you see him at that 30 percent and with everybody else kind of scrapping for the kind of activist crowd as well with Bernie Sanders probably leading that pack.

SCIUTTO: David Gergen in that field but also particularly at this time for the Democratic Party is a 76-year-old white man who's been in Washington since the early '70s. Is that the candidate not just to win the nomination, but to win the White House?

GERGEN: It's a darn good question. I think it's going to hang over this campaign for several weeks to come. What it appeared to me in the town hall with Bernie Sanders this last week, Bernie Sanders has enormous support around Democratic Party.

He is the number two candidate right now. But it was interesting, the generational gap between the way Bernie Sanders talks about today versus the way the younger candidates talk, is they're looking at it through two different prisms.

What Bernie has to say sort of remind you what we used to talk about in the '70s and '80s and what Kamala Harris reminds you of is how we talk today. And I think that there's a mindset I think he's going to be challenging him, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Nia-Malika, the President has weighed in already. He said, "Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe." The term he's used before. I'm sure we're going to be seeing a lot more of that. "I only hope you have the intelligence long in doubt," a bit of a snipe there, "to wage a successful primary campaign. It will be nasty.

You will be dealing with people who truly have some very sick and demented ideas. But if you make it, I will see you at the Starting Gate." I mean a lot to wrap up there. What can you read from the President's strategy in taking on a Joe Biden and is he nervous about a Joe Biden as a moderate, well-liked Democrat potential opponent for the President?

HENDERSON: By all accounts they are. By all accounts, he's the candidate that they fear most because of his strength in places like Pennsylvania, which of course he's going to go to, places like Pittsburgh or places like Philadelphia. That was the key to Donald Trump's success. And by all accounts, Joe Biden does have a connection with white voters in the Midwest.

Listen, this is why he was picked to be the number two because Obama knew that he could have that special appeal to those Scranton type of Democrats. So, yes, you see Donald Trump, they're relying on the nickname Sleepy Joe. I guess it's kind of a take on low energy jab, kind of a poke at who knows what, and then talking about his intelligence and then turning to this field of Democrats that he's going to deal with.

I think the thing about Joe Biden is that he I think isn't necessarily going to be pulled into where the Democratic Party is. The sort of AOC wing. He can I think probably stand apart from them in some ways. He's going to in some ways I think give a nod to them but he doesn't have to necessarily grab on to the green new deal in the way that some others have had to rally that progressive base, so I think that's a strength for him in you're going to see Donald Trump obviously trying to tie him to that more progressive what they would say socialist wing of the Democratic Party.

SCIUTTO: Right. David Gergen, Nia-Malika, thanks very much.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

GERGEN: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Still to come, the President disputes a key event from the Mueller report, claiming that he never told White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire the Special Counsel. Of course, McGahn testify to that under oath. What's going on here?

SCIUTTO: Plus, police raiding homes and making dozens of arrests following the horrible, horrible attacks in Sri Lanka. This as another major intelligence failure is revealed. Also ...



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me your arm.


SCIUTTO: A woman left bleeding after her arrest now an Alabama police chief says that he's disgusted by the actions of the officers in this video. We'll have new details coming up.


[10:19:19] SCIUTTO: This news just in to CNN. The Pentagon Inspector General has now cleared the sitting, the Acting Defense Secretary of actions related to Boeing favoring Boeing is a former Boeing executive, Department of Defense's Office of Inspector General announced Thursday it has completed its investigation into whether or not he violated any ethics rules regarding Boeing taking any actions to disparage Boeing's competitors, in particular they investigated this, they found no wrongdoing by the sitting, the Acting Defense Secretary, whether he becomes the full Defense Secretary, we will find.

A statement from the Pentagon says, "In this investigation which was initiated on March 15th, the DOD interviewed more than 30 witnesses before coming to this conclusion." It's a story we're going to stay on top of. Meanwhile, in other news this morning, President Trump is once again going after former White House Counsel Don McGahn. The President claiming that McGahn's testimony to the Special Counsel is wrong. President saying he never told McGahn to fire Robert Mueller although McGahn testified that under oath.

Meantime, the White House also digging in on its strategy to stonewall the plethora of investigations by House Democrats. This time refusing request for Trump Senior Adviser Stephen Miller to testify. Miller seen as the driving force behind the administration's controversial immigration policies, including the family separation policy. Joining me now is CNN's Manu Raju.

So Manu, this is quite a strategy by the White House here saying they're going to refuse all subpoenas from the House now run by Democrats raising a whole host of legal and constitutional questions. How are Democrats going to respond?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I expect a lot of court fights over the subpoenas. Now, in the case of Stephen Miller, that was a voluntary ask for this committee to say that Cummings, Chairman Cummings, to say, "Look, come and testify about the immigration policy since you are central to the key policies of this administration." But the administration in the letter to this committee said, "No, thanks." They said that. Instead they'll put Cabinet Secretaries available, not Stephen Miller.

But in the cases of subpoenas, that's a completely different question. Those are intended to compel these witnesses to come forward and at least two occasions this week the administration has moved forward to instruct people not to attend and comply with the subpoenas, including just moments ago behind me, in the room behind me, John Gore, who's a senior Justice Department official who has issued a subpoena to testify at a sworn deposition about his role in this, about what he knows about the census, the citizenship question that was put on the census.

He did not intend under the instructions of Attorney General Bill Barr because they wanted the department attorney to attend with him. Elijah Cummings said, "No, because the committee rules don't allow that." So as a result, they decided not to comply with the subpoena. Elijah Cummings not happy saying this the statement both President Trump and Attorney General Barr are now openly ordering federal employees to ignore congressional subpoenas and simply not show up without any assertion of a valid legal privilege.

These employees and their personal attorneys should think very carefully about their own legal interest, rather than being swept up in the obstruction schemes of the Trump administration. Now, it's not entirely clear what they're going to do in their next steps in this regard, but at least in one other they plan to hold that individual, Carl Klein, in contempt for not appearing for a subpoena request and part of the security clearance process.

That's mostly a symbolic gesture, expect though court action when other subpoenas also are not complied with. So this fight here on Capitol Hill only just beginning, guys.

SCIUTTO: That gets to central role of checks and balances between the branches of government. Manu Raju, thanks very much. Joining me now to discuss is Eliana Johnson, she's White House Reporter for Politico and William Jeffress, he's the Defense Attorney who represented President Nixon after he left the White House.

Mr. Jeffers, if I could start with you here.

The White House in effect, saying, "We're not going to obey any of these subpoenas," would seem to have the backing of the Constitution, if not law. Is that a legal strategy by this White House? Can it just say, "We're going to ignore the legislative branch"?

WILLIAM JEFFRESS, ATTORNEY WHO REPRESENTED PRESIDENT NIXON AFTER HE LEFT THE WHITE HOUSE: Well, of course, they can't say that. The White House has certain defenses that they can raise. One is executive privilege. They've never actually asserted executive privilege. But that would be a possible ground that they might try to use.

I don't think that would be applicable to former officials. I don't think that would be applicable where the substance of the testimony is already public, but it is one ground that they could use. They could also claim that there's no legislative purpose for the subpoena, but the courts have a very low bar for a proper legislative purpose, and I think they would be highly unlikely to succeed.

So these efforts could well delay everything. Enforcing congressional subpoenas is not an easy task. It's time consuming. But ultimately probably not successful.

SCIUTTO: Eliana Johnson, clearly the White House isn't concerned about a fight here. It seems like they're sort of itching for a fight. Does the President, does his team see that as an effective political strategy?

ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: It's a great question, Jim. I think the White House views this as a sort of theatrical - that there's a theatrical aspect to this as with many things. And so they're drawing this out and turning it into a back and forth between the White House and Congress.

And you see in the President's tweets, his new line is that Democrats are obsessed with investigating the president and that they should move on and focus on legislation. And that is very much a political line from the President. And I think you're going to hear him begin to use it on the campaign trail.

He thinks it is a knock against Democrats, that they can't move on from the Mueller investigation and focus on legislation like infrastructure.

[10:25:22] SCIUTTO: So William Jeffress, of course, the other attack that the President is continuing is, well, on the parts of the Mueller report he doesn't like. He's praising some parts of it, the parts that he says exonerate him.

But on Don McGahn's crucial testimony, the President ordered him to fire the Special Counsel, an order that Don McGahn testified under oath that he disobeyed. The President is now calling him a liar here, a sitting President certainly not the first time he's done it but calling a witness a liar, is that witness tampering?

JEFFRESS: Well, simply calling a witness a liar would not be witness tampering. Donald Trump is not saying that under circumstances where he could be punished for a false statement. He's not saying it under oath. Don McGahn did give his testimony under circumstances where he could be punished for falsity. So all we have is Mr. Trump's tweets and those probably would not be punishable.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's a good point because who do you believe in, a tweet from the President with no consequences if it turns out to be false as many of his tweets have versus Don McGahn sitting in front of Special Counsel under oath, under penalty of going to jail if he doesn't tell the truth.

Eliana, let me ask you this though, from a perspective of his base, because so much of this is the President's base strategy here. Do they make this distinction that we're making? Well, you like this part of the report, the Mueller report because it exonerates you or you say it does, you don't like this one because it makes you look bad, who buys that distinction?

JOHNSON: I don't think his base does view it that way. And they allow the President to alternate between a claiming victory in the report and being a victim of the report. The president, of course, continues to claim total exoneration by the report but also I think on the campaign trail and in his tweets you seeing him cast himself as a constant victim. And he did this during the 2016 election, claiming that the system was rigged against him, and he prevailed nonetheless.

I think in 2019 and 2020, you're going to hear him say that he was a victim of the Mueller investigation and of continuing Democratic investigations in him, but he is nonetheless prevailing over this and his base, I think, really is responsive to that sort of messaging.

SCIUTTO: Eliana Johnson, William Jeffress, thanks to both of you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

JEFFRESS: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Raids and dozens of arrest are taking place now in Sri Lanka. This as we learned that one of the bombers had been in police custody just before the attacks.