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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Administration Defying Congressional Subpoenas; Dow Plummets Over China Trade War Fears. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 7, 2019 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:00]

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ramped-up concerns about the U.S. and China trade situations, that was actually the main driver for the big losses that we saw today.

And what a day it has been, from the opening bell to the close. The day on Wall Street started bad and just got worse. We have seen losses accelerate in the final hour, as investors position themselves for the possibility of no trade deal, and the realization that President Trump will hike tariffs on Friday.

Until now, investors had been optimistic a trade deal was imminent. They bought into stocks in a big way, even pushing the S&P and the Nasdaq to fresh record highs. In fact, this is only the second worst trading day of the year.

It shows you how good stocks have been so far this year, but now uncertainty is front and center, and investors are readjusting their positions, just in case there's a new landscape when it comes to trade with China -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Alison Kosik at the stock exchange, thanks so much.

Our politics lead now. In the latest escalation of its policy to stonewall congressional' Democrats' attempt at oversight, the White House today instructed its former counsel Don McGahn to defy a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee now run by Democrats.

McGahn, currently a private citizen and perhaps the most important witness in special counsel Robert Mueller's potential obstruction of justice case against President Trump, McGahn declined today, at the instruction of acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, to provide documents subpoenaed by the House, documents that could back up McGahn's version of events as detailed in the Mueller report, including what McGahn perceived to be instructions by President Trump to fire special counsel Robert Mueller himself, a charge President Trump denies.

This move now part of a White House that is refusing, as a strategy, to comply with almost any Democratic investigations of the president, from the Justice Department's refusal to hand over the full unredacted Mueller report and supporting documents, to Attorney General Barr's refusal to testify before the Democratic-led committee because he did not care for the format of the hearing, to President Trump's suing House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings for subpoenas issued related to Trump's finances, to the administration's blocking of all attempts of the House Ways and Means Committee to try to obtain President Trump's tax returns.

CNN's Abby Phillip now takes a look at the stonewall strategy from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, the White House is sticking a thumb in the eye of congressional Democrats, ordering former White House counsel Don McGahn not to turn over documents in response to a House Judiciary Committee subpoena.

White House lawyer Pat Cipollone telling Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler in a letter: "The records belong to the White House and are protected from disclosure to Congress because they implicate significant executive branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege," but the White House not going so far as to assert executive privilege outright.

This coming as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moves to play defense for President Trump, calling on Democrats to drop their efforts to follow up on special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Baseless accusations of perjury, laughable threats of impeachment? Look, we all know what's going on here, this whole angry barrage that Democrats had prepared to unleash on President Trump, except the facts let them down.

PHILLIP: McConnell signaling to Republicans that they should push back on efforts to force Mueller to testify.

MCCONNELL: The special counsel's finding is clear. Case closed. Case closed.

PHILLIP: The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, firing back, not so fast.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The case is not closed.

PHILLIP: As Trump pushes back on probes into his taxes and possible obstruction of justice, Pelosi also accusing the Trump administration of stonewalling Congress to push Democrats toward impeachment.

PELOSI: Trump is goading us to impeach him. That's what he's doing. Every single day, he's just like taunting, taunting, taunting, because he knows that it would be very divisive in the country. We can't impeach him for political reasons, and we can't not impeach him for political reasons. We have to see where the facts take us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: And the White House has now made its position on document production pretty clear when it comes to Don McGahn.

But, remember, Democrats still want to talk to McGahn about potential obstruction of justice. And while President Trump has made it clear that he doesn't think McGahn ought to testify, a source familiar with the matter says that has not officially been conveyed to McGahn, so it remains, as of right now, an open question, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks so much.

Joining me now is Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who was fired by President Trump.

Preet, in your view, is the White House's legal argument here valid, in other words, that McGahn does not have the legal authority, because he's no longer at the White House, to comply with the subpoena?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I don't think their argument in total is valid, because they're arguing based on, I think, executive privilege, although they have not definitively said they're asserting executive privilege and some other confidential privileges that they might have.

[16:05:05]

That's been waived over and over and over again. It's, I think, a stalling tactic. It's, I think, a game of running out the clock. To be sure, to be precise, there's lots of different things that, ultimately, if this gets, you know, worked out in a court of law, that there will be different arguments about and different degrees of, I think, you know, winnability with respect to those arguments.

With respect to McGahn just coming to testify, I think that's a dead- bang loser, because McGahn has already talked to the special counsel. Lots of the things that he said to the special counsel have not only gone to him, but have now been made public in that report that we have been talking about for the last number of weeks.

They might have a slightly better argument with respect to the substantive documents that McGahn has, but with respect to the testimony, I don't see how that wins at all.

TAPPER: Is it -- is invoking executive privilege like invoking the Fifth Amendment when you testify or invoking a spousal privilege when you testify, once you waive it, that's it, even if it was waived for Mueller and we're talking about a different form here, the House Judiciary Committee?

BHARARA: Yes, I mean, generally speaking, it can be.

There was an argument that the lawyers put forward, which was not a terrible argument, I think, in depending what the terms were with Bob Mueller, that with respect to the testimony of Don McGahn and others, with going before the special counsel, if they explicitly reserved their rights and the special counsel agreed to take the testimony and the information, acknowledging and respecting that there was not a waiver of those privileges going forward, then I suppose there is some argument that that's not waived.

But then they went the next step further, and all that stuff came out in a report. So you can't have waiver after waiver after waiver and then say, well, with respect to this particular thing that's going to be a little bit ugly for us because it will be a spectacle in Congress, we want to assert the privilege. It doesn't work that way.

TAPPER: Cipollone, the White House counsel, invoked the notion of executive privilege in his letter, writing -- quote -- "The White House records remain legally protected from disclosure under longstanding constitutional principles, because they implicate significant executive branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege."

Would that also potentially include notes that McGahn made to himself, notes that he shared with his chief of staff, notes that he shared with a personal attorney?

BHARARA: I think they're going to take the position that's as broad as possible, because they don't want this to go on any further.

They -- in echoing the words of Mitch McConnell that you played a few minutes ago, case closed. I think there are less -- there are fewer arguments with respect to notes that constitute the conversations that he had with the president, because, with respect to those conversations, he's already given testimony, and a lot of that is known to the public because of the report.

The further away you get, presumably, from, you know, the core of what the testimony was and the core of what's in the report, I suppose you could have slightly better arguments with respect to executive privilege.

It certainly is not the case that everything that Don McGahn ever talked about or wrote about can be subject to the subpoena without an argument of executive privilege, but that's where the arguments are going to fall. And that's where you're going to have a lot of delay, because they will have to hash this all out in court.

TAPPER: And then, of course, there's the argument that I'm sure those who want McGahn to testify will make, which is President Trump has basically been out there publicly on Twitter and elsewhere saying that Don McGahn's version of events, as detailed in the Mueller report, is a lie, that it's not true.

Does that change anything in terms of whether or not the public has a more compelling reason to hear from him?

BHARARA: Yes, I think there's a commonsense argument there.

We sometimes say in the law in motions that lawyers bring, you can't use a privilege as both as a sword and a shield. So, on the one hand, you're saying, you know, you can't hear this information. On the other hand, you're saying, and, by the way, the information is completely false. And I think you have stated it actually very well. And depending on what the arguments are that are made in court -- and

again, the hope is that they get to resolve this otherwise. Don McGahn and his lawyer -- and his lawyer is a very good attorney and is a longtime friend of mine and an alum of the Southern District of New York, Bill Burck.

He's sitting this one out. And ordinarily what happens is one side or the other reaches an accommodation, so that, you know, there's partial satisfaction of what the requests are by Congress. We saw that with Bill Clinton when he decided to testify after the independent counsel, Ken Starr, withdrew the subpoena.

I'm getting the sense here that with an election coming up in a year- and-a-half, nobody is going to be so interested in settling. They just want to run out the clock.

TAPPER: Yes, it doesn't sound like there's an accommodation coming.

BHARARA: No.

TAPPER: So where does this end up? Does this go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, potentially?

BHARARA: I think ultimately, yes.

But if you're talking about it going all the way up and if the president's team is going to be really intransigent and say, we're fighting all of this -- and you outlined at the beginning of the segment in an excellent fashion how many different places there are where there's an impasse.

And I think we're going to see a lot more impasses going forward. And if they have a full-court strategy of opposing everything, it's going to take a long period of time. And if they are going to fight all the way to the Supreme Court, I can't predict with certainty, but that is going to take us very close to the election, if not past it.

TAPPER: All right, Preet Bharara, thank you so much. Appreciate your insights.

BHARARA: Sure.

[16:10:00]

TAPPER: What one of President Trump's BFFs in the Senate wishes the president had said to Vladimir Putin.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: Trump is goading us to impeach him. That's what he's doing. Every single day, he's just like taunting, taunting, taunting, because he knows that it would be very divisive in the country, but he doesn't really care. Just wants to solidify his base.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today saying that President Trump obstructs justice every day by stonewalling House Democrats, and, in doing so, he's trying to push Democrats towards impeachment.

Angela, do you agree?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree that he's trying to get impeached. I believe that it absolutely would solidify his base.

I still don't agree with Speaker Pelosi's -- just her approach to this. I wish that she were a little firmer. Again, I think that is why...

TAPPER: You want her to try to impeach him?

RYE: I want her to at least be open to how -- how -- she can't on one hand say, the House oversight efforts are important and we need to see them through, and then, on the other hand say, there's no grounds for impeachment.

[16:15:08] At that point, you're wasting resources on trying to determine what actually went wrong. Because the purpose of those investigations is to determine wrongdoing, right? So you can't have one without the other.

Just stop saying -- you can say we don't know yet. You shouldn't say we shouldn't impeach.

TAPPER: It's interesting, Jackie, because, you know, there have been in some polls an indication that the Democratic base is getting less and less enthusiastic about the election. We have a member of the Democratic base right here. And you see one of the reasons, and you seem a little less than enthusiastic because of Nancy Pelosi damping this down.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But she's also looking at independent polling, who are not as geared up for impeachment. So going beyond a primary, she's looking at her majority. She's looking at, you know, the folks in her caucus that don't want to impeach Trump.

So, she's really being pulled by both sides. You know, you do have Trump who does seem to be attempting the fate and really challenging the Congress and its oversight role, you know, writ large, right? And she has her base, that really wants to see, as Angela said, not necessarily going in kind of a crazy impeachment kamikaze situation, but being open to the idea, as a part of their congressional duties.

TAPPER: And speaking of Democrats trying to conduct oversight, this just in: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler is currently meeting with Democrats on his committee right now to discuss next steps, regarding Attorney General Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn, that's according to aides. And there really is a showdown right here.

Do you think that the public just cease all of this and thinks, it's all just partisan politics, or how do you think -- how do you see it playing out?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think everybody is rushing towards impeachment. And I do think there's arguments for it. But everyone in Washington is really focused on the second volume of this report, the obstruction volume, when really there needs to be more explanation of the first volume. How Russia tried to interfere in the election. And the Trump campaign needs to be held to account, for all of these contacts that they did lie about.

I still have outstanding questions about why Donald Trump acted like he wasn't aware of Moscow/Trump Tower. There are real questions as to how this campaign was conducted. There should be hearings on that, because you can only understand the obstruction part of the Mueller report if you understand the attempts at collusion that the Trump campaign wanted to cover up.

TAPPER: And there certainly were a lot of lies. There was one person talking about the Mueller report today, but not in the way that Amanda's talking about. That is the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that really it's time to just stop all of this.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Election interference was just one part in Russia's strategy to undercut the United States. And this administration has taken the problem head on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And he went on to say, but when it comes to the Mueller part of this, case closed, it's over.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: And it was so interesting to hear him focus on really the first part of the report, despite what you're saying, he essentially said, let's look at this Russia narrative. It's good news that there was no collusion, that that was, you know, ultimately the bottom line conclusion there.

But, at the same time, he's not addressing obstruction at all. He's hinting at these Democratic investigations that are ongoing, almost trying to conflate, publicly, the more decisive conclusion of the first part of the report with the second part, which he's really trying to ignore, it seems. But at the same time, he's trying to trumpet the Trump administration's efforts on combating Russian interference and talking about what Russia did in 2016 and 2018. That's something that you haven't heard the president talk about at all, right?

KUCINICH: Yes, and who had a conversation with Vladimir Putin last week? RYE: Right, right.

KUCINICH: And apparently didn't raise -- and joked about it. So, Mitch McConnell and President Trump need to get on the phone here.

DIAMOND: McConnell is --

CARPENTER: You know what's funny? If you read the report, which I understand most people haven't, that first volume is just littered with examples of Russians trying to make a Trump/Putin meeting happen.

TAPPER: Yes.

That's all they were focused on. It was like, oh, we just kind of glossed over that and now it's happening in real-time, all the time.

RYE: But it was glossed over, because it has been reported and reported and reported again, and I think people's consciences have been seared with a hot iron, to use a biblical term, because at this point, it's almost been normalized we've talked about it so much. We've been screaming, Amanda. But some people are just --

TAPPER: And take a listen to this, because while Mitch McConnell was saying this today, Democrats, especially in the Obama administration say that he was a wet blanket when it came to trying to warn the nation in 2016 about what was going on with the Russians. Joe Biden has said that he refused to be part of a bipartisan statement that sounded the alarm.

Take a listen. Here's Biden talking about this last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Why don't we put out a bipartisan warning to Russia? Hands off, plan, or there's going to be a problem?

[16:20:02] Mitch McConnell, who I get on with well and is a smart guy, Mitch McConnell wanted no part of having a bipartisan commitment that we would say, essentially, Russia's doing this, stop. Bipartisan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So Democrats have been talking a lot today about why is Mitch McConnell doing this now, when he was no help to them, at least according to Joe Biden and Barack Obama.

RYE: Right. And of course, McConnell has said they did sign on to a letter, but the letter didn't reference anything about Russia. Can I just say, because I've been really hard on Joe Biden, this is Joe Biden's element where he flourishes. He's making foreign policy very clear, very attainable, very touchable to the layman.

And I think it's super important -- or layperson. And it's super important for us to understand how tragic this was. If, in fact, the Obama administration, as has been reported now for I think at least two years, tried to have a bipartisan agreement that all of congressional leaders should come together and say, this is a serious flag and we need to pay attention to this.

And if McConnell was, I'm not going to do this, that goes far beyond him wanting Obama to be a one-term president, that goes on to wanting to sabotage everything that goes forward, and McConnell at that point is implicated just like the Trump administration.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around because we're going to talk more about Biden and other 2020er. 2020 candidate Pete Buttigieg has publicly embraced his faith, but some are wondering now did he just cross a line that might cost him crucial independent and moderate voters.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:26:06] TAPPER: In our 2020 lead today, Joe Biden taking on Trump in his first trip to Nevada as a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. Just moments ago, the former VP insisted he will not, quote, stoop down to President Trump's level.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny picks up our coverage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE BIDEN: Hey, everybody! How are you doing?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Joe Biden in Nevada today, visiting another early voting state on week two of his 2020 announcement tour.

JOE BIDEN: The fact is that we -- we cannot let this administration win again in 2020.

ZELENY: In a union hall outside Las Vegas, Biden taking his pitch to the middle class out west, and blasting the Trump administration's immigration policy.

JOE BIDEN: It's all about -- it's all about dividing us. And, you know, we can solve a problem on the border.

ZELENY: With the former vice president on the campaign trail, his wife, Jill Biden, telling CNN's Dana Bash why she knew her husband had to run for president again.

DR. JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF JOE BIDEN: Everywhere I've traveled across this country, people are coming up to me saying, he's got to run, he's got to run, Joe has to run. And I really have taken it to heart and thought about it, and Joe is such a unifier. He brings people together.

ZELENY: While President Trump and her husband of more than 40 years have already engaged in a spirited back and forth, she had this to say about future attacks from Trump.

JILL BIDEN: I mean, we're not going to take his bait. ZELENY: Meanwhile, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg urging Democrats

to embrace religion, saying Republicans do not have a lock on faith.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's also important that we stop seeing religion used as a kind of cudgel, as if God belonged to a political party. And if he did, I can't imagine it would be the one that sent the current president into the White House.

ZELENY: Buttigieg, a practicing Episcopalian, said many Democratic policies are more in line with the social justice teachings of the church.

BUTTIEGIEG: The idea that that is the property of the Republican Party, especially this Republican Party and some of the choices that they've made in recent years, it just doesn't add up to me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, Buttigieg has used the line, god does not have a political party frequently during his presidential run, but the idea that god would not be a Republican is a new phrase, Jake. He is one of the few Democratic candidates talking often about faith on the campaign trail. Now, of course, you have to add Joe Biden to the list, as well, often referring to himself as a Catholic -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Amanda Carpenter, let me start with you. Buttigieg saying, it's important to stop seeing religion used as a cudgel, as if god belonged to a political party, but if he did, I can't imagine it would be the same one that sent the current president to the White House. Does that bother you at all as a Republican of faith?

CARPENTER: I think Pete Buttigieg is very strong when he talks about values. Once he veers into picking fights about who's a good Christian and who's a bad Christian and why Mike Pence is bad and, you know, that kind of judgment I think is the wrong direction.

I mean, for the record, I hope God isn't a Republican or a Democrat, because somebody needs to be above all of this. And let it be God.

TAPPER: Dr. Jill Biden, the former vice president's wife, sat down with CNN's Dana Bash and detailed how she hopes her family will handle any potential attacks from president Trump as the campaign unfolds. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JILL BIDEN: I don't think we're going to address -- I mean, we're not going to take his bait.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's going to be hard.

JILL BIDEN: Yes.

BASH: A lot of people have said that before.

JILL BIDEN: I know. I know.

BASH: They haven't been able to resist.

JILL BIDEN: It is going to be hard. You know, but our family, we've talked about it, our family is resilient.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What do you think? Is she going to be able to keep that up? Is Joe Biden going to be able to keep that up?

KUCINICH: That's the question.

RYE: I think that, I think that Dr. Jill Biden will be fine. I think that Joe Biden is going to have it pretty tough. He's already commenting on Donald Trump's attacks just on Twitter. So I think that he's going to have it tough.

I don't think that he's going to go into the bullying kind of methods that Trump engages in, but he definitely is going to say something?

TAPPER: Is there a way to fight back against Trump's attacks in a way that works? We've seen different people do different things, Marco Rubio tried to ignore it.

[16:30:00]