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GOP-Led Panel Subpoenas Donald Trump Junior Over Russia Probe; Trump Claims Democrats' Investigation Driving Him to Victory in 2020; A Grieving Community in Colorado Honors Teen Who Died Confronting Shooter; U.S.-China Trade Talks Resume Ahead of Tariff Hike; Constitutional Showdown Escalates Between Trump and Democrats. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 9, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:01:11] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


Well, so much for case closed. While the Republican Senate majority leader says it is high time to move past the Mueller probe we now know of a major move in the opposite direction by a Republican senator.

The Senate Judiciary Committee led by Republican Senator Richard Burr has subpoenaed the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to testify for a second time. Trump Jr. talked to three committees you'll remember back in 2017, but refused to talk to the special counsel and sources tell CNN he is now locked in a standoff with Burr.

SCIUTTO: Trump Senior's standoff with House committees grows more constitutionally perilous by the day. He has now tried to cloak the Mueller report and all the underlying evidence in executive privilege while the House Judiciary chairman vows to subpoena Mueller himself if it comes to that.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill this hour.

So, Sunlen, do we know why the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee wants to hear from Trump Jr. again? I mean, the natural question is, do they believe that he lied before them.


SCIUTTO: In his previous testimony.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's a big question certainly Jim. And the committee has started re-interviewing many witnesses as part of their two-yearlong investigation. And certainly we've heard from many on the committee an interest in getting Don Jr. back. We've heard that most vocally from the top Democrat on the committee Mark Warner. Certainly a big area of focus is the conflicting evidence surrounding his knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting, the briefings about Trump Tower Moscow. Of course those tidbits coming out of his previous testimony, as you

said, back in 2017, testified in front of three committees, in front of Judiciary is where there was a testimony, a transcript released of that testimony. Certainly Don Trump Jr.'s team is not pleased with the subpoena. A source close to him says, quote, "No lawyer would ever agree to allow their client to participate in what is an obvious PR stunt from a so-called Republican senator too cowardly to stand up to his boss Mark Warner and the rest of the resistance Democrats on the committee."

So certainly strong words there from a source close to Don Jr. And then the source says that he is considering potentially invoking his Fifth Amendment rights or not showing up at all.

HARLOW: OK. Yes. That's happened before as we saw last week with Barr.

So, Nadler, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, now threatening to subpoena Mueller. I think that it's interesting, Sunlen, because a week ago they were confident Mueller was going to come testify. Yesterday on CNN he said he's not as confident and now a potential subpoena. Why?

SERFATY: Yes, there's so much back and forth over the potential Robert Mueller testimony. Very clear that it's still a work in progress, some active negotiations going on, but there were certainly significant definitive words from the chairman last night saying one way or the other eventually we are going to have Robert Mueller testify. He said we will subpoena him if we have to. He says that they are still of course talking to Robert Mueller.

A huge element of this is the fact that of course you have President Trump saying he is not in support of Robert Mueller testifying in front of the committee. Certainly there have been huge dates circled on the calendar for next week, May 15th. There was all this negotiation around the day, but as of now no confirmation of that day as they are still actively clearly negotiating.

HARLOW: All right. Sunlen, thanks for the reporting on both fronts. We appreciate it.

Let's talk about this with Jennifer Rodgers, former federal prosecutor. Good morning to you.


HARLOW: So what does Trump Jr. do here? He is at a standoff with a Republican senator, Richard Burr, which is interesting in and of itself. Can he plead the Fifth, for example, to something that includes topics he's already discussed with the committee?

RODGERS: He certainly can because one of the areas of criminal jeopardy for him is perjury, right, for his prior testimony. So he certainly has a reasonable basis to plead the Fifth Amendment if he chooses to do that.

[09:05:06] It doesn't look so great, but certainly legally it's justified here.


SCIUTTO: Sounds like that's what he's concerned about, is it not? I mean, Richard Burr -- first of all he's a Republican. He supported the president during 2016 so, although Don Jr. is now saying he's another one of the angry Democrats or sort of a fake Republican here, he clearly is concerned that he didn't tell the truth before his committee.

RODGERS: Well, it could be. I mean, I think people who think that he'll be hauled in and they will lock in testimony that will result in perjury charges may be disappointed here. I think Burr has made it clear that --

SCIUTTO: Why would you subpoena him?

RODGERS: Well, I think Burr has made it clear what he's trying to do is finish the investigation into Russian interference. You know, as an investigation goes on you gather more and more information from different sources, it makes sense to go back and talk to some witnesses again when you learn more from other places. I don't expect it to be from the Republican side a hard hitting you lied to us before sort of thing.


RODGERS: But he still has that potential jeopardy out there which is why he could take the Fifth.


HARLOW: I think it's pretty interesting one of the responses that CNN got in our reporting on this overnight is that a source close to Don Jr. said that the agreement when he testified in front of those congressional committees in 2017 was that he would not have to do it again. The source says, quote, "The agreement was that he would only have to come and testify a single time as long as he was willing to stay for as long as they would like, which Don did."

I've never heard of an agreement like that before. Do those happen?

RODGERS: It's not a legal agreement. I mean, you could call it a gentleman's agreement or a handshake agreement or something, you know, because in part, you know, the Senate has changed. We don't have necessarily the same people on the committee. There is no legally binding agreement. He's just saying hey, you told me one thing and now you want more information, which as a prosecutor or a member of Congress I would say --

HARLOW: Yes. Life happens.

RODGERS: Sorry, life happens.


RODGERS: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Just a question for folks at home. If you or I or Poppy were subpoenaed by a Senate committee to come testify we'd be required by law to come testify, would we not?

RODGERS: Well, we're all required by law, but, you know, you can plead the Fifth within the law. If you don't go and you haven't pleaded the Fifth adequately you could be held in contempt.


HARLOW: But I think to Jim's point like if we just didn't show up like Barr didn't show up or if Don Jr. shouldn't show up, is it more likely one of us would be compelled to go there, whereas they are not going to send the sergeant in arms after Barr?

RODGERS: I mean, look, saying they are probably getting special treatment, especially from a Republican-led Senate, yes, I'm sure that they are and they will especially because of the political fireworks that would erupt if they went after them.

SCIUTTO: But also --

RODGERS: You know.

SCIUTTO: They are expecting special treatment. I mean, they are refusing to do what average citizens are required to do. People have gone to jail for being held in contempt of Congress.

RODGERS: Certainly and contempt of court.


RODGERS: You know, happens almost every day. So yes, they are expecting special treatment and, you know, not without decent reason because for the most part they've gotten it.

HARLOW: All right.

SCIUTTO: Jennifer Rodgers.

HARLOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: President Trump saying that he thinks his administration's many showdowns with Congress are good for his party.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Instead of wasting time, energy, taxpayer dollars on partisan stunts and hoaxes and witch hunts, Democrats should be focused on building up our country.

The Democrat Party is trying to return us to the failures of yesterday. I think they're making us look better, personally. I really do. They want to do investigations instead of investments. I think it drives us right on to victory in 2020 because people get it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Joining us now Kirsten Powers. She's a CNN political analyst, also columnist for "USA Today."

Great to have you on, Kirsten, as always. I wonder if you think the president is right.


SCIUTTO: His approval rating is up, 46 percent, put it up on screen, but even among Democrats from a low base granted but doubling from 6 percent to 12 percent among Democrats, where he's been sort of close to zero for so long. We can show that number on the screen. You also in other polls show that folks are not that desperate -- even Democrats are desperate for further investigation. Is the president right reading the politics there?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think there's two layers of this. There's the substance of it and there's the politics of it. And so I think on the political side I think that is right. I think that this is really Trump's turf and this is where he's going to thrive, where he, you know, can portray the Democrats as just being, like he said, not interested in governing. They are just interested in investigating.

I think if you look at the substantive side the Democrats have a very strong case to make that they are being -- their role as Congress that's supposed to have oversight and accountability is being severely undermined by this administration. And so I think that there's a real tension there because they're correct in believing, I think, that they should be investigating these things. If you look at what's going on with Don Jr. being called, for example, this is really an investigation not into criminal behavior, but into really trying to understand what Russia did in terms of interfering with our election and gathering as much information as possible.

[09:10:08] That's definitely a role for Congress, but I do agree that, you know, if you look at the polls, anecdotally if you talk to a lot of people this just isn't what they're interested in.

HARLOW: So, Kirsten, a source close to Don Jr. told CNN overnight that this is a, quote, "PR stunt from a so-called Republican senator."


HARLOW: This is Senator Richard Burr, you know. This isn't like a former senator Jeff Flake, of course I'm not calling them so-called Republicans, I'm just saying people who've had a big public beef with the president or Corker.

POWERS: Right.


HARLOW: This is Burr. How significant is that? POWERS: Right. Well, I think what -- in the Trump era what being a

Republican means is being somebody who cow tails to Trump.


POWERS: Right?

HARLOW: Right.


POWERS: In their world you're not a real Republican if you're not sucking up to Trump and compromising every single value you have in furtherance of Donald Trump. And so, you know, I think that's what that's about. There aren't very many people who have followed, you know, the senator and would think that he's anything other than a rocked rib Republican.


POWERS: And so it is noteworthy that we aren't seeing a lot of Republicans actually interested in holding the Trump administration accountable, but he seems to be.

SCIUTTO: You're right. The new definition is fealty. Right?

POWERS: Yes. Exactly.

SCIUTTO: If you raise a question, you're somehow not Republican.

Just very quickly before we go, are we in a constitutional crisis?

POWERS: I don't think so at this point, but I do think that the Trump administration is behaving in a way that is unprecedented. It's absolutely true that all administrations will drag their feet and, you know, push back and not want to provide documents or not want to testify, but ultimately they usually comply. Even with Eric Holder who was ultimately held in contempt.

You know, he had been up there, you know, I don't know, like a dozen times probably to testify. They had provided thousands of, you know, pages of documents and so it wasn't that there wasn't any, you know, cooperation. It was that ultimately they just didn't give one thing that the Congress wanted.

So I think this is unprecedented in the sense that the Trump administration basically is just saying we just don't have to give you anything.


POWERS: We don't have to respond to anything you ask for. And that's highly problematic.

SCIUTTO: To say the least.

HARLOW: Yes. This is just -- right.


HARLOW: This is just the beginning, folks.


HARLOW: Thanks, Kirsten.

POWERS: All right. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Kirsten Powers, thanks very much.

Up next, we are now learning that five months before Tuesday's deadly school shooting in Colorado a district official urged the school to investigate concerns that one parent feared could lead to, quote, "a repeat of Columbine." Imagine that five months before. We'll have the latest.

HARLOW: And today just hours before a tariff hike on Chinese goods is set to kick in, the U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators are scrambling to come up with a deal. What is at stake?

Plus a second launch in just days, South Korea suspects that North Korea just launched two short-range missiles. What this means as tensions with the U.S. grow.


[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: Folks, listen up for this because there's such a powerful story here. A grieving community is honoring the life of a young man who sacrificed himself to save his classmates during the school shooting outside Denver, just a teenager.

Family and friends paid tribute to Kendrick Castillo during a vigil last night. Look at all those lights. The 18-year-old was killed when two gunmen, two, opened fire at a STEM School Highlands Ranch on Tuesday. Witnesses say that Castillo charged at one of the shooters, giving other students time to run and hide. He saved lives. His father says that's just the kind of man that his son was.


JOHN CASTILLO, FATHER OF SCHOOL-SHOOTING VICTIM: Because of what he did, others are alive and I thank God for that. But I love him and he is a hero, he always will be. But there's another part of you that wishes he would have just turn and ran, retreated, hid, you know, did something to put himself out of harm's way if that was possible.

But we know Kendrick, Maria will tell you that it's no surprise that if danger was facing him, he would approach it, you know, and take it on.


POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: Several other young men are being praised for their heroic actions including an aspiring Marine who helped tackle one of the suspects.


BRENDAN BIALY, HELPED RESTRAIN SHOOTER: Someone entered the building with incredibly malicious intent, using their cowardice surprise and superior weapons and they lost. They completely and utterly lost to good people and that is plain and simple.


HARLOW: Our colleague Scott McLean is live in Highlands Ranch this morning. These are the stories of true American heroes, no question about it, and we're hearing more and more stories, Scott, about survivors and about Castillo's actions.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Poppy, and I should also mention Brendan Bialy that you heard from, right there, one of the students to help tackle one of the shooters, that aspiring Marine. Well, the Marines actually put out a statement yesterday commenting on that, calling his actions inspiring and admirable.

He'll be reporting for recruit training this Summer. Now, the third person who helped tackle that shooter, his name is Joshua Jones, he was actually shot twice during that encounter. His parents put out their own statement saying that thankfully he is OK, and he's been released from hospital.

And this morning, we heard from one other student who was in a different part of the school, texting with his dad, he said that his dad really helped him to calm him down in those frantic moments.

[09:20:00] But the main message that he wanted to get across was just how thankful he was to Kendrick Castillo, that 18-year-old who was killed on Tuesday. Here is the message that he had for his parents. Listen.


CHRIS ELLEDGE, STUDENT, STEM HIGHLANDS RANCH: I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry that we live in a society where you guys had to lose someone so important to this community and so amazing to our school. I'm sure that you guys did your best raising him. You guys did an unbelievable job raising him.

He is an amazing person and you guys are parent role models as well. You guys should be very proud.


MCLEAN: And I spent some time with those parents yesterday, and I honestly can say, you know, this could not have happened to a nicer pair of people. You can really tell from spending time with them that they tried to instill some values in their son, and clearly that paid off for this entire school district that is reaping the rewards of what he did in that moment.

They only have one child, and so they said that now all they really have to carry forward is his legacy --

HARLOW: Oh, my God --

MCLEAN: Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Oh, my God.

SCIUTTO: How many more photos of kids like that do you want to see on television and the news? That's a question for the country. How many more?

HARLOW: Their only child.

SCIUTTO: Scott, one of the more shocking things about this story is that there were concerns in this community prior to this allegations of violence, sexual assault and anonymous parents feared there could be another columbine. What do we know about those warnings and were any of those warnings connected to these particular suspected shooters?

MCLEAN: Yes, it is unclear at this point. So these warnings came about five months ago. And what we know is that there was a letter written from the school district or from a representative or a director with the school district named Daniel Windsor(ph) who wrote to the school administration saying that he had gotten a call from a woman who chose to remain anonymous, but she said that she was a parent at the school and she made some pretty shocking allegations including accusing the school of allowing rampant drug use, of violence, harassment.

She even had said that she feared that this school could be the next columbine. Of course, referring to the deadly mass shooting not far from here back in 1999 that killed 13 people. The school ended up disputing most of those findings and writing back, in fact, they were so offended that they launched a lawsuit against this anonymous woman.

Neither the school district director nor the school administration so far have been able to be reached for comment. Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Well, a parent was concerned and those fears turned out to be real. Scott McLean, thanks very much. Top Democrats now agree America is in a constitutional crisis they say. Why Democratic leadership still says, though, it is not yet time to impeach. That's coming up.

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Investors of course on edge again this morning because of those trade negotiations between the U.S. and China, they're getting under way today. Will they reach a deal before frankly, tomorrow, when the president is set to hike tariffs on a lot of Chinese goods up to 25 percent?


HARLOW: All right, minutes from now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is set to hold her weekly presser and face reporters. This as the bitter legal battle over Attorney General Bill Barr and the contempt citation he now faces certainly heats up.

SCIUTTO: With us now is Democratic Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia of Texas. She serves on the Judiciary Committee, she voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress yesterday. Congresswoman, pleasure to have you on our show.

REP. SYLVIA GARCIA (D-TX): Well, thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: Let me start here, you are a former judge, so you know a thing or two about how these things work in courts. It appears that this is going to be settled in the courts. The Barr issue, a whole host of issues here because the Trump administration is basically saying no to everything.

What happens there? And how long does it take, when will there be resolution to these questions?

GARCIA: Well, you know, that's the real big question this morning. And obviously for me, the big question has always been, well, what is it that they're really trying to hide, and that's where the Judiciary Committee has been about.

About, you know, going after the facts and see where they lead us. But when you've got someone who is the highest law enforcement official in this country, the Attorney General of the United States, you expect that person to follow a lawful subpoena.

So as a lawyer, as a former judge, as an American, I am just completely appalled that he would disrespect the committee, he would disrespect Congress, and more importantly, the people that we represent, this is a total disrespect for the process and for the American people.

HARLOW: So, Congresswoman, here is the response from the Department of Justice, their spokeswoman says that essentially Chairman Nadler short-circuited these conversations, that this was a politically motivated and unnecessary vote to hold him in contempt.

And she said that Nadler, quote, "refused to postpone to allow additional time to explore discussion and compromise." Was the Department of Justice trying to.