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Dems to Hold Barr in Contempt; Mueller to Testify before Congress; Stocks Fall After Threats Against China; Iran Threats Targeted at U.S. Forces; Cohen Reports to Prison. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 6, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Keeping things tight and allowing this new family to get to know each other before the public gets to see them properly.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Come back and see us Wednesday. We'll see those pictures.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today.

Alex Marquardt, in for Brianna Keilar. He starts right now. Have a great day.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Alex Marquardt, in for Brianna Keilar.

Underway right now, a dramatic, new turn in the Trump administration's war with Congress. Democrats set to hold the attorney general in contempt.

Warships, weapons and a falling stock market. The president facing global chaos on multiple fronts, some crises of his own making.

Plus, an extraordinary suggestion. The speaker of the House fears that the president won't give up power if he loses the next election, and the president himself suggesting he's owed more time.

And the man who once said he'd take a bullet for the president prepares to spend his very first night in what's known as one of America's cushiest prisons.

We begin with the nation's top law enforcement officer possibly facing a contempt of Congress charge. Attorney General Bill Barr was under a 9:00 a.m. deadline to comply with a demand by Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler. Nadler, who's the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, issued a subpoena for the un-redacted Mueller report and the underlying evidence of that report, but Barr has refused.

Congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is following those developments on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, this refusal by Barr wasn't entirely unexpected, but what are we expecting now from Nadler?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the chairman of the committee, Alex, really wasting no time at all here. The chairman, Jerry Nadler, he's already scheduled a Wednesday vote to move to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress. That was something that he threatened to do, that he warned he would do and was done very quickly after the attorney general missed that 9:00 a.m. deadline to turn over the un-redacted report, the full Mueller un-redacted report and the underlying evidence. Nadler, in a statement, saying that he felt like he had no choice. He says that the report and the underlying evidence is needed to determine how to best move forward with oversight, legislation and other constitutional responsibilities.

This certainly sets up a very big vote on Wednesday here in Congress. If it passes in judiciary, of course, then it will go to the full House. But certainly ratchets up the tensions significantly up here on Capitol Hill.


MARQUARDT: All right, that vote set for two days from now.

Sunlen Serfaty, we know you'll be watching that. Thank you very much.

Now, we're also watching another deadline in the growing political standoff between President Trump and congressional Democrats to the deadline to hand over six years of the president's tax returns. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has promised a response today. A source tells CNN that Mnuchin is expected to reject that request.

President Trump has, of course, broken a long-standing president -- precedent which dates back to Watergate by refusing to release his tax returns, first as a presidential candidate, and now as president of the United States. Democrats are arguing that they need the president's tax information as part of their oversight role.

Now to a major reversal by President Trump. He is saying that Special Counsel Robert Mueller should not testify before Congress. But this is what the president said just three days ago when he was asked about Mueller testifying.


QUESTION: Mr. President, should Mueller testify? Would you like to see him testify?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know. That's up to our attorney general, who I think has done a fantastic job.


MARQUARDT: So if it's up to the attorney general, Bill Barr, what does he think? Here's what Barr said before the Senate Judiciary Committee just last week.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about Bob Mueller? Should he be allowed to testify before this -- WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I've already said publically, I have

no objection.


MARQUARDT: He has no objection.

So joining me now are Karoun Demirjian, she is a congressional reporter for "The Washington Post," and Carrie Cordero, who is a former counsel to the U.S. assistant attorney general.

Karoun, first to you. We did see that the president tweeted now, after saying that, that Bob Mueller should not testify, no redos, as he called it, for the Dems.

So how do you explain this 180?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that, you know, you've generally seen the president wanting to seem very reasonable and he's like -- like he's letting the process play out and letting the attorney general go ahead. But when Barr did not seem to be blocking for him at all with the Mueller testimony, potential as we were still trying to see if he shows up on Capitol Hill and how that gets set up, the president is worried about this. I think that people -- he is seeing what Mueller might tell the Democrats and the Democrats focus on Mueller, who's potentially problematic, as they continue to investigate especially these allegations of obstruction of justice. And I think he probably would have preferred that Barr prevent that from happening somehow. And it seems like Barr's not going to step in front of this train for him.


And, Carrie, of course, when the Mueller report came out, the president claimed, even bragged, that there was a total and complete exoneration. So what do you think the president's afraid of what Mueller could say?

[13:05:02] CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that his claim was based on perhaps what people told him, his advisers, but it was also based on the characterization that the attorney general gave of the report. And once the report was actually released, even in its limited redacted form, everybody who could read it could see that it was not a total exoneration.

With respect to obstruction, the report painted a picture of a pattern of obstructive behavior, behavior that is contrary, in my view, to the president's constitutional responsibilities. And it also outlined a long story of the Trump campaign being willing to receive information from Russian government and Russian surrogate activities, even if they weren't part of a criminal conspiracy. So it's not an exoneration.


CORDERO: There's a lot there that is damaging to the president.

MARQUARDT: Not just damaging, but what could it mean for him legally?

CORDERO: Well, the issue with respect to the president alone is not really legal anymore as it relates to the issues that were in the special counsel's report. It's political. And it's whether or not Congress, in its judgment, if it conduct further investigation on its own, coupled with the information in the report, thinks that there are impeachable offenses.


Just switching gears a little bit, back to Nadler.

Karoun, we just heard Sunlen say that this vote was set in the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday because of the failure of Barr to -- to submit the un-redacted report. All this pushing, all this -- what Trump might call aggressive behavior from Hill Democrats, do you think that that could potentially backfire on the Democrats, or are they real -- do they feel like they are simply doing their job, which is oversight?

DEMIRJIAN: I think that a lot of the argument they're making is that we have to do this because we can't just run from the president because we fear there might be a political backlash. But there is the potential for political backlash. This is the needle that they're treading -- trying to thread. How hard do we push on the Trump -- Trump himself and members of the administration and -- and risk that we get defined by the stance that we're taking against the president and his people when we're look at 2020?

And this is where you've seen the tension between a lot of rank and file members who want to go full speed ahead towards impeachment on a swift calendar, and Nancy Pelosi, who's saying, let's not do that, let's talk health care, let's talk, you know, pensions, let's talk things that are bread and butter issues that affect people in their daily lives, not Russia.

You're going to have to see some sort of compromise, though, as they go forward because to just let it go suggests they're scared of what Trump might say, and that's not really a great argument to take to your base when you're trying to rev them up for the general election.

MARQUARDT: The next election.

Carrie, let's game this out. Let's assume that he was actually convicted of contempt before Congress. Now that sounds quite dramatic, but what does it actually mean legally?

CORDERO: It, actually, as a practical matter, might not mean much. The Congress held Eric Holder -- former Attorney General Eric Golder in contempt, and that went on for years and he just remained in that status. So as a practical matter, the holding of the attorney general in contempt probably won't actually result in anything, which makes you wonder, as a political matter, what really is the Democrats' strategy?

From my view, it takes away from the evidence that pertains to the campaign and pertains to the president himself, particularly his obstructive conduct. Instead, they're detracting themselves over to the attorney general, which is going to really look more like political theater than anything else.

MARQUARDT: It looks more -- exactly, like -- it looks like they're playing politics versus actually trying to get something done.

CORDERO: That's right.

MARQUARDT: All right, Carrie Cordero, Karoun Demirjian, thank you so much for joining me.

DEMIRJIAN: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: All right, stocks falling this morning after President Trump continues his tweets about China and trade, warning that billions in new tariffs are coming up as trade talks lag with China. The Dow now down more than 200 points. The president's tweets renewed fears of an all-out trade war between the two major powers. As "The Wall Street Journal" reports, China may cancel a trip that they had planned to Washington later this week.

CNN business anchor Julia Chatterley is with me for the latest.

Now, Julia, it's no secret that trade talks with China have been going slowly, but it did look like the end was in sight and that this meeting this week might have been the last round. But now it looks like they've hit a roadblock. Do we have any sense of what this snag is that they appear to have hit.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN ANCHOR: It's a great question, and you're right, I think investors here have priced in the idea that some kind of trade deal was going to be forthcoming at the end of these talks. Then, of course, investors got blindsided.

To your point about what we're seeing in terms of the markets, I wouldn't make the point that we've halved the losses that we were seeing earlier on this session. So I think at this point investors are simply waiting for more information here.

And to your point, what went wrong? That's a great question. We knew that there was going to be or hopefully going to be some kind of trade deal. The question is what kind of trade deal? Did China come to this meeting this week showing not much progress on some of the thorny issues, like technology theft, or did the president look at equity markets trading at record highs, great GDP data, great jobs data, and go, you know, I'm at the point of maximum leverage here and I'll use it. And those tweets represented it. We don't know at this stage.

[13:10:11] The big question, and you indicated it, was whether or not China come this week to the United States with a big trade delegation and look willing to negotiate further. So Wednesday's going to be really critical for that.

MARQUARDT: All right, Julia Chatterley, on that uncertainty at the New York Stock Exchange, thanks very much. Now the trade talks are not the only global threat now facing the president. We know why the U.S. is sending bombers and a warship towards Iran.

Plus, Michael Cohen, the president's longtime former fixer, reporting to prison. Hear what he had to say just before he walked in.

And, tonight, Tiger Woods gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We'll look at their longtime and interesting relationship.


[13:15:43] MARQUARDT: This week, President Trump is facing a number of foreign policy challenges. As we mentioned, China's trade talks could be in jeopardy this week after the president threatened to increase tariffs, causing stocks to plummet today.

North Korea is testing President Trump's resolve after it launched what is believed to be a short range missile. These are satellite images obtained exclusively by CNN that show the smoke trail from the launch, which is the first by North Korea since 2017. The president played down the threat, tweeting about Kim Jong-un. He also knows that I am with him and does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen.

There's also the escalating crisis in Venezuela and the question over any U.S. military intervention there. The president insists that President Putin told him that Russia is not looking to get involved, yet Russia's foreign minister said that any U.S. interference in Venezuela would be met with grave consequences.

And, meanwhile, the U.S. is keeping a close eye on a fragile cease- fire between Israel and militant factions in Gaza after a weekend of violent fighting.

Now the tension in the Middle East is compounded by what two U.S. officials say are specific threats from Iran. They tell CNN that Iran and its proxies were targeting U.S. forces in Syria, Iraq and at sea. In response, the military has deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, as well as a bomber task force to the Middle East.

So to break this all down, we have Kirk Lippold, a former commander of the USS Cole, to help explain all this.

Commander, thanks so much for joining me.


MARQUARDT: Now, when we hear the White House talk about specific threats from Iran, what more do we know, what can we glean from this message that, frankly, didn't have too many details?

LIPPOLD: Right now very little is coming out from the Pentagon. Clearly we are getting the indications and warning that Iran is probably moving forces or working through their proxy terrorist organizations that are going to threaten the United States across a number of fronts, most likely in Iraq, possibly in Afghanistan, but more importantly probably in Syria, where they know they have the backing of the Russians right now, as well as the Bashar al Assad regime.

MARQUARDT: There's a certain -- there's a real sense of urgency when you see such a dramatic escalation of forces. And it feels like that this is a response to perhaps some new intelligence. But, at the same time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that this is -- that they have been working on this for a little while. So how do we reconcile those two time frames?

LIPPOLD: I think what you're seeing is a buildup of the indications that are out there. What you're seeing is a deployment where now it's been shifted. I mean this president has been very specific, that he does not like to discuss the operational deployment of any of our forces so that people don't know where and when we're going to show up.

When you're sending a signal by saying that we are sending an aircraft carrier or strike group, when we are going to deploy a bomber group into the region, specifically to address the threats from the nation, that's more of a signal than it is an actual military move, but it is saying that we are not going to be threatened. Clearly you've had a number of indicators in the past, you know, from the JCPOA, but most recently the declaration of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. Iran has responded and declared all central command or Middle East forces that the U.S. has there to also be terrorists.

But, in reality, ours declaring them is much more because there are sanctioned tied to it. It has economic impact. That is something the Iranians are very concerned with because their economy is still now beginning to struggle. While they've got the initial infusion of cash right after the JCPOA signing from the Obama administration, these days the tightening of the sanctions, the tightening of the oil sanctions especially when we just said that all those countries we had granted six-month waivers to, including China, that stops.


The way that this message came out was a little surprising. It came from the White House, but it didn't come from the president. It came from John Bolton. You might expect in this situation that the Pentagon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to put out a statement on these assets that are moving, but it came from the National Security Council. Should we read something into that?

LIPPOLD: I don't think you really need to. When you look at, the Pentagon would be involved. If there are actual operations that the military is getting prepared or does conduct. When you're looking at it right now, this is clearly a strategic decision based in the National Security Council with Ambassador Bolton, who is making the decision and worked with the Pentagon, obviously, to change the nature of the deployment of the Abraham Lincoln strike group and get them there. [13:20:15] MARQUARDT: Right. They'd already been out in the Adriatic.

LIPPOLD: Absolutely.

MARQUARDT: All right, well, let's just switch gears for a second to North Korea. As we mentioned, CNN got some pictures exclusively of what we believe to be the first missile launch by North Korea since 2017. Experts who look at these -- at the satellite imagery say that it looks like a short term -- short range missile, rather. What can we read into this given where we are in the talks with North Korea?

LIPPOLD: Well, I know the president wants to downplay it a little bit because he wants to keep the negotiation ability open for him. But I think it is a significant step.

This is something North Korea does every time they don't get their way. They're kind of childish in that respect. They try to do something provocative. First it was projectiles last week or the week before. Today it's this short range missile. Clearly it's violating a U.N. sanction. If it was a ballistic missile, I think the intelligence has continued to look at that and determine how did it fly, how long did it fly and what went on. So, at the end of the day, what you're going to see is an analysis being done.

At the end of the day, North Korea's fundamentally different than other countries. They threaten the United States with the offensive use of nuclear weapons. You don't bluster and bluff when you have those weapons because of the enormous magnitude. So, consequently, they must be made to denuclearize. Whether we do it at the negotiating table, which would obviously be the preferred method, yes, but let's not forget there's an 800-pound gorilla in the room that goes undiscussed. China has not been involved with that. North Korea's not going to denuclearize without China in one way or another giving their tacit approval for doing it.

MARQUARDT: And yet now we have the president saying that Kim Jong-un is with him.

LIPPOLD: He may say that I think because he's trying to give him a graceful out to come back to the table and negotiate. Whether that happens or not, we'll see. But, obviously, after a discussion with the prime minister in Japan, Shinzo Abe, they are lock step with each other when it comes to the region and how to address the threat from North Korea.

MARQUARDT: All right, Commander Kirk Lippold, thanks so much for your expertise.

LIPPOLD: Absolutely, Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right, well, he used to be the president's fixer, but as of today he's an inmate. Hear Michael Cohen's parting shot at the president before he left.

Plus, the royal baby is here. Meghan Markle and Prince Harry welcome a baby boy. Hear what Harry said after the birth. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:27:12] MARQUARDT: He's gone from being the trusted lawyer and fixer for the president and senior member of the Republican National Committee, to an inmate in federal prison. A little while ago, Michael Cohen arrived at prison to begin a three-year sentence for, among other things, making false statements to Congress and campaign financing violations tied to hush money payments he made or orchestrated on behalf of President Trump.

As Cohen left his home in New York City this morning to head to Otisville Prison, he appeared to take a jab at the man he once said he'd take a bullet for.


MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: I hope that when I rejoin my family and friends that the country will be in a place without xenophobia, injustice and lies at the helm of our country. There still remains much to be told and I look forward to the day that I can share the truth.


MARQUARDT: Now, Cohen will be serving his time at the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York, about 70 miles or two hours outside of New York City.

And that is where we find our Brynn Gingras.

Brynn, we know that Cohen requested to go to Otisville. It has a reputation of being somewhat nicer than many of the other options out there. But, at the end of the day, it's still prison. So do we have any sense of what Michael Cohen's life will be like on the inside?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a little bit. But first I wanted to point out, Alex, that he officially now has an inmate number. It's 86067-054. And a spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons said this, quote, he is now the responsibility of the Otisville facility. So he is officially checked in.

We know from there he's actually going to go through a screening process with several different units of this prison, including case management, including medical and mental health officials. And then he's going to go through an orientation, which sort of learns the ropes of the prison system.

A typical day for Michael Cohen, lights on at 6:00 a.m. He'll have work duties. He'll have meals. He'll have some leisure activity in between some of those times. And then lights out at 11:30. So that's a typical day for a prisoner.

As far as leisure activities, though, that could vary depending on where Michael Cohen is housed. That's something we're still trying to learn from the Bureau of Prisons. This particularly facility in Otisville, as you said, dubbed club fed because of sort of its lax atmosphere in some cases. It has two different facilities. One's a medium security, one's a minimum security. About 100 or so people, inmates rather, are housed in the minimum, and then the rest in the medium. And the minimum, I know, has bocce ball as a leisure activity. It has horse shoes. The entire facility has a kosher menu because it's so close to New York City and it's Jewish population.

So there's a lot of interesting little tidbits about this prison that possibly we could hear more from Michael Cohen while he's behind these doors. For now, though, he's officially an inmate of Otisville.


[13:30:07] MARQUARDT: All right, bocce ball. Brynn Gingras.