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Will IRS Turn Over Trump Tax Returns?; Did Trump Obstruct Justice?; President Trump Threatens to Escalate China Trade War. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 6, 2019 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor who is now a lecturer at Colombia Law School.

So, Jennifer, why did you sign the letter?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I signed the letter because I want people to know what the Mueller report found.

No one is reading it. All they're hearing is headlines and what Bill Barr says about it. But this obstruction case against the president is an easily chargeable and easily provable case that would have been brought against anyone else.

And that's what I think people should know.

BALDWIN: How did the letter even come to you?

RODGERS: I got it from a former colleague of mine from the Southern District of New York. I think it just kind of started making its way around people who used to work at the Department of Justice.

But now that it's public, I think a lot more people who hadn't had a chance to hear about it before will probably sign on.

BALDWIN: Who is signing the letter? Left, right, center, all of the above?

RODGERS: Everybody, I mean, certainly probably more Democrats than Republicans, I would say, but people who worked across all administrations.

I think I read that it started with Eisenhower, actually, and, you know, all the way up to very recent former federal prosecutors, so certainly some prominent Republican names in there.

BALDWIN: So what do you want out of this?

RODGERS: I just want people to understand what's going on.

You know, 440 some pages, no one is -- well, very few people are going to sit down and absorb all of that. So they should know that the takeaway is contrary to what the attorney general is saying.

This is an obstruction case. Anyone else would have been charged. The president did obstruct justice. It's just that he can't be charged with it now. He could be charged after his term is over. He could be impeached by Congress because of it. But those crimes happens.

BALDWIN: I get you wanting to educate the American public, and it's a lot of pages in a report, a lot of complications that I'm going to guess not everyone has actually read. But do you want more than that?

RODGERS: Well, I want him to be held accountable, to be honest with you.

BALDWIN: What does that mean?

RODGERS: I would like to see -- I would like to see Congress investigate impeachment. They have to do their investigation first. But I think they will find high crimes and misdemeanors there.

And if he leaves office in 2020, I would like to see him charged, actually. This is an easily provable case. Statute of limitations will run if he wins, but, if he doesn't, he can be charged. And I think he should be charged.

BALDWIN: If Mueller testifies, do you think he would hint at this in his testimony?

RODGERS: So hard to say. He's such a cipher in that way.

I think what he will do and why his testimony would be really valuable is, again, people aren't really reading his report and absorbing it, so he can get out there in the public eye in kind of sound bite-y, you know, little snippets of information what his report says, so that people can hear from his own mouth, here's what we found.

We found an obstruction case on this count, on this count, on this count. He won't reach the conclusions, but he will tell us what the conduct was and what it means in terms of legally available charges.


Speaking of Mueller, I want to ask you about the 9:00 a.m. deadline today for Attorney General Bill Barr to turn over redacted parts of the Mueller report. We know that that didn't happen. The House Judiciary Committee has just scheduled a contempt of Congress hearing for Wednesday.

Moments ago, the DOJ said officials are -- quote, unquote -- "disappointed" that the committee is moving in that direction. They have invited members of the committee to a Wednesday meeting.

Do you think this is a sign that Barr does not want to be held in contempt?

RODGERS: Well, I think he certainly doesn't want to be held in contempt. Who wants that on your resume at the end of the day?

But, no, I don't think he's willing to give on this. I think this is another delay tactic. He wants to put out there that they're being reasonable, they're willing to compromise with Congress, kind of kick the can down the road a little bit, because, ultimately, this is all going to end up in court.

And both sides want to seem reasonable about the negotiating that they did before they got there.

BALDWIN: But, I mean, that's what -- at the end of the day, this goes to court, right? Wednesday will happen. What really -- what really comes of that, I guess?

RODGERS: Yes, the problem is, I mean, what will eventually come of it? I think Congress will get what they want.


RODGERS: But it takes too long. I mean, this is really the problem. There's no quick way to get that to happen before -- once you go to court, it takes a long time. It's just the way it works.

BALDWIN: OK. Jennifer Rodgers, thank you so much.

RODGERS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Appreciate it.

There wasn't just one, but two big deadlines today for the Trump administration. As I mentioned earlier, the attorney general did not comply with the House Democrats 9:00 a.m. deadline to turn over Robert Mueller's unredacted report.

Plus, there is also a deadline today for six years' worth of Trump's tax returns. And a source says Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is expected for a third time to refuse to turn them over.

Mark Everson served as IRS commissioner from 2003 to 2007. He is now vice chairman of Alliance Group, a tax consulting service.

So, Mr. Commissioner, welcome back.

And, in your opinion, does Secretary Mnuchin have solid ground to refuse handing over Trump's tax returns? And do you think he hands them over today?

MARK EVERSON, FORMER INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE COMMISSIONER: Well, I don't think he's going to turn it over, Brooke.

And I think that there are many legitimate arguments that the administration's made here about privacy and other issues about the real purpose of why Congress wants the returns, to embarrass the president or to -- not to look at things like the IRS audit, which is what the chairman of the Ways and Means said.


However, I do think the law is pretty clear here. It says that if the chairman of Way and Means asked for the returns, they must be produced, they shall be produced. That's the word.

So I think, unlike...

BALDWIN: But -- but...


BALDWIN: ... in this era of stonewalling...

EVERSON: Yes. Yes.

BALDWIN: ... what suggestions -- what suggestions would you have for House Ways and Means if Mnuchin does not produce said tax returns?

EVERSON: Well, I think it's the same thing as your last segment there. This goes to court.

And the question is, will the judges agree with the Trump interpretation? And I would note, I do think there's a difference here, because this is not just a general inquiry, like Judiciary is making an inquiry about certain activities.

It's not pursuant to a specific statute, to my knowledge. But in the case of the Trump tax returns, there's a very clear statute that allows the chairman to ask for the return.

So that's -- there -- it's not entirely parallel here. And I think that the courts may very well be pretty clear on this one, but it'll take a long time to work its way out.

BALDWIN: You were on with me just about a month ago. And you said, if it were you, you would turn those returns over and that the committee -- you -- quote -- "think that the committee is entitled to ask for them."

But you also said you didn't like the way the committee justified it. Where are you now on this?

EVERSON: I haven't changed in that, Brooke.

I think that what -- what they really want returns for -- it's been stated by the speaker and all the leaders -- they want to see what's in there in terms of what kind of income, how much tax did the president pay, and what are the entanglements overseas?

But I think the president's feeling is -- and legitimately so -- is, look, I fill out the 278. That's the form that has all the financial information. That's what I'm required to do. That's there. And now we're talking about the Mueller report. Mueller clearly looked at finances to the degree that they might have had an impact on any of the dealings with Russia. So I think the administration is going to stick to this position that,

look, you have seen what you need to see to understand what the president has done or hasn't done.

BALDWIN: Former IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, thank you, sir, very much.

EVERSON: Thank you.

BALDWIN: As Congress seeks more transparency about what Bob Mueller learned in the course of his two-year investigation, the president and one of his biggest supporters say he wants those two years of his presidency returned to him in the form of a term extension.

And let me answer your question. No, this is not constitutional. And, yes, this came from the president's Twitter page, where he suggests two years of his presidency were -- quote, unquote -- "stolen."

He also retweeted a theory from Jerry Falwell Jr., who says the president is owed -- quote -- "reparations" -- yes, reparations. That's the word he used.

This is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi forecasts an extreme scenario if President Trump loses reelection, Pelosi telling "The New York Times" that she is concerned that the president would not give up power voluntarily, unless Democrats won by a big margin.

So, we go to CNN contributor Michael D'Antonio. He is a Donald Trump biographer and wrote "The Truth About Trump."

And Michael, I had to talk to you about this today, because, listen, Trump has -- he's joked about extending presidential term limits before, but the idea of him circumventing the Constitution, what?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this is typical Trump- speak.

This is a man who says outrageous things. He doesn't really have any sensitivity toward the impact it's going to have on the country or on -- just in the case of China tariffs, on the markets, in the case of the rule of law, his obstructionist behavior regarding the Mueller investigation.

You can find example after example where he says things that he thinks are in his self-interest. He throws them out there. He likes to see what the response will be. The use of the word reparations is very inflammatory.

And then he will wait and see what our reaction is. And if it's something that he thinks worked, he will say it again.

BALDWIN: I want to ask you about Michael Cohen, the president's former attorney, who has just reported to prison today for three years.

He spoke before heading to Otisville. And he actually warned Congress that Trump may not leave office quietly. Here he was.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that, if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.


BALDWIN: So that was when he had testified back in February. And during the election, he had hinted that Trump hinted that he may not accept the election's outcome if he did not win.

And, so, Michael, finish my sentence. If President Trump loses reelection in 2020, he will blank?


D'ANTONIO: He will try to cook up some reason to stay.

I mean, I think he's going to make a very big deal over the outcome, if it's not sweeping. So, if he loses -- in the case of the popular vote in 2016, he lost by three million votes. He then said that three to five million of those votes were illegally cast and cast great doubt on the outcome of that election, even though it wound up with him in the Oval Office.

So I think we have got to be very wary about what's coming. The president is not cracking down on Russian interference, because I think he wants Russian interference in 2020. He's not confident that he can win the game on the level, so he wants the fix to be in.

And if Vladimir -- Vladimir Putin is going to provide that edge for him, he will take it. So, I agree with Michael Cohen. That was the most important thing he testified to.

I think Speaker Pelosi is right to be concerned. I think all of them America should be on the watch for what happens on Election Day and right afterwards.

BALDWIN: And, again, a reminder from last week. Trump's hour-long phone call with Putin, never once did meddling or interference come up.

Quickly, on Michael Cohen, did you be -- he spoke for a half-second, right, to cameras before reporting to Otisville. What were you thinking when you saw this whole scene?

D'ANTONIO: Well, I was thinking about how far he's fallen, the desperate situation that people can find themselves in when they join forces with Donald Trump, and also how he may one day try to rebuild his life.

He has had a unique experience in our political history. This is a guy who served a president for 10 years very closely before he was elected, and then testified against him, but is now in prison.

So, this is a profound moment for him and a profound moment in the history of the United States.

BALDWIN: Three years starting today.

Michael D'Antonio...


BALDWIN: ... thank you.

D'ANTONIO: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, the U.S. sending a bomber task force to the Middle East amid what's being called a troubling warning from Iran. Hear what the secretary of state just had to say about that.

Plus, Boeing reveals that it knew, it knew about problems with its 737 MAX jets months -- MAX 8 jets -- months before the deadly crashes that killed hundreds of people.

And, later, President Trump said to award Tiger Woods the Presidential Medal of Freedom tonight -- details on why the ceremony will be quite unusual.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: New reporting into CNN about why the U.S. suddenly deployed a major aircraft carrier strike group and Air Force bombers in the Middle East.

U.S. officials tell CNN that the U.S. intercepted -- quote -- "specific and credible intelligence that Iranian forces and proxies may threaten U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq and at sea."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talked about this just last hour.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have continued to see activity that leads us to believe that there's escalation that may be taking place.

And so we're taking all the appropriate actions, both from a security perspective, and well as our ability to make sure that the president has a wide range of options in the event that something should actually take place.


BALDWIN: To be clear, there is no indication that any action or attacks from Iran is imminent.

Kylie Atwood is our CNN national security reporter, and retired Rear Admiral John Kirby was a former spokesman for the State and Defense Departments under President Obama. He is a CNN military and diplomatic analyst.

And, so, great to see both of you.

And, Kylie, just first to you.

Can you just put into context for us why U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria in particular would be targeted here?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, they're the ones that are closest to Iran and the IRGC, which the U.S. just designated as a terrorist group last month.

They are the ones that usually carry out such attacks on U.S. forces or the allied forces of the U.S. So, this specific threat, which came to fruition over the weekend, our Barbara Starr has reported, it's intelligence that is credible and specific.

And so it has to do with U.S. forces that are in Iraq and Syria that could have been subject to threats from Iran. And that's why the U.S. is moving pretty quickly here with these assets to the region.

BALDWIN: So, Admiral, you know these assets well. What is the U.S. doing here?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, the carrier strike group has got an air defense cruiser with the aircraft carrier, a full complement of aircraft on board, and three destroyers that will be accompanying the Lincoln.

It is not unusual, Brooke, as you know, for us to move aircraft carrier strike groups in and around the Persian Gulf area. We don't like to move them into the Gulf if we don't have to, but, certainly, they can bring with them a lot of firepower, power projection and deterrence capability.

And I think that's what this is really all about, as well as the bombers that the Air Force is going to be sending into the region too. It's really about sending a message to Iran that, look, we have a sense of what you're planning to do or what you're thinking about doing, and you better not, because we got the capability to defeat any kind of threat that you might pose.

BALDWIN: I remember being on that aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. You and I had talked about this. And they were all eyes and all aware of all things Iran.

KIRBY: Absolutely.


BALDWIN: Admiral, the next one also for you. The announcement here initially came from National Security Adviser John Bolton, rather than the Pentagon.

KIRBY: Right.

BALDWIN: Why is he delivering that message?

KIRBY: I am told that that was a very specific request by the Defense Department, to have the announcement come from the White House.

Typically, a move like this would come from the defense secretary. But officials are telling me that they wanted more heft to it, they wanted more influence in Tehran, and they felt something coming from the White House was more appropriate.

Now, why they decided on Bolton, and not the president, I don't know. I don't think a statement of this kind needed to come from President Trump directly. So I guess it would fall on Bolton.

But I don't think that -- from what I'm hearing, that this was a political move by the White House to try to own this in some sort of inappropriate way.


And, then, Kylie Atwood, let me ask you quickly about North Korea, actually both of you, Kylie first and then the admiral.

The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was asked about some stunning reporting coming out of, you know, Korea, that after the Hanoi summit, several of the nuclear negotiators -- these are North Koreans who Secretary Pompeo himself was negotiating with -- may have been executed by Kim Jong-un.

Here's a clip.


QUESTION: Do we believe those reports are accurate?

POMPEO: Jonathan, I don't have anything to add to that for you this morning.

QUESTION: But there seems to have been some kind of a shakeup of his team over there?

POMPEO: It does appear that the next time we have serious conversations that my counterpart will be someone else. But we don't know that for sure.

Just as -- just as President Trump gets to decide who his negotiators will be, Chairman Kim will get to make his own decisions about who he asks to have these conversations.


BALDWIN: Executions, Kylie? What do you know about this?

ATWOOD: Well, I have been told by sources in the region that there is some question about where these officials have gone.

They haven't been seen in the public light, and Kim Jong-un is known to reshuffle those who are working for him if negotiations don't go well. Obviously, Hanoi did not go well in the eyes of the North Korean leader. He did not walk away with any victories.

But another important thing to note here is that North Korea is also drawing attention to itself just over the weekend, launching a short- range missile for the first time since 2017.

And Secretary Pompeo said that it didn't threaten the U.S., South Korea or Japan. But it is still an escalation here, and North Korea is trying to get attention once again.

But the U.S. is still not cutting off its potential future negotiations with North Korea, though, at this point, it seems they have pretty much stalled.

BALDWIN: Admiral, what did you think of his response?

KIRBY: It really bothered me, Brooke.

It's, to me, stunningly cavalier for him to just sort of cast off the notion that his interlocutor may have actually been executed. I mean, what a signal that sends about the human rights situation and the brutal regime of Kim Jong-un.


And it was an opportunity for the secretary of state to say that, to say, look, we want to move negotiations forward, we want to denuclearize the peninsula, but this is exactly the kind of behavior that makes negotiations with this regime more difficult, and try to send a strong message to Kim Jong-un, rather than sort of peddling this very soft stance that they have since those short-range ballistic missile launches that, hey, look, we're just going to look the other way, we're still going to work this out.

It was stunningly cavalier and I think a little too sycophantic for my tastes.


Admiral Kirby, Kylie Atwood, guys, thank you both so much.

KIRBY: Thank you.

BALDWIN: All eyes on Wall Street today, the Dow down slightly now, minutes before the closing bell. Traders have been nervous, as President Trump renews his threat to do -- to more than double tariffs against China.

And shakeup at CBS News, Norah O'Donnell set to become only the third woman ever to anchor a major nightly newscast, and some other women making big moves too.



BALDWIN: World markets feeling rattled today, as President Trump threatens to escalate a trade war with China.

Right now, the Dow is down 45 points here, about half-an-hour to go of the trading day. That's after opening down more than 450 points this morning. The market dip is a response to President Trump's over the -- Trump's tweets -- easy for me to say -- over the weekend threatening to hike a 10 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods all the way up to 25 percent.

And the president doubling down today, tweeting: "The United States has been losing for many years. Sorry. We're not going to be doing that anymore."

The president's threats -- comes a U.S. and Chinese new haters are preparing to resume critical trade talks this week. And if the two sides cannot reach an agreement by this Thursday, President Trump is threatening to impose the new tariffs on Friday.

Megan Greene is a global economist and the managing director for Manulife Asset Management.

So, Megan, good to have you on.

What would have pushed Trump, do you think, to do this, this late in the game?

MEGAN GREENE, MANULIFE ASSET MANAGEMENT: So it seems like the thing that really pushed Trump's button was that the Chinese were backing away from changing legislation with the trade deal.

They have decided they're not going to change legislation, and it seems most likely that legislation was related to forced technology transfers. So, the U.S. is upset with U.S. firms going over and having to hand over all their intellectual property to the Chinese firms they partner with.

It seemed like they were going to have an agreement on how to deal with that, and the Chinese are sort of stepping back from the table on that. And so I think that's why Trump has -- has taken this hard-line position.

BALDWIN: Do you think this is going to make China flinch?

GREENE: So, it may do -- it could just be kind of art of the deal negotiating, so that the Chinese come on Wednesday.