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Senate Subpoenas Donald Trump Junior; Pelosi and Democrats Declare Constitutional Crisis; Trump Speaks at the White House. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 9, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:16] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Phil Mattingly. John King is off today.

So what exactly counts as a constitutional crisis? Apparently it depends on which member of Congress or legal scholar you actually ask.

President Trump visiting the hurricane-ravaged Florida panhandle, promising federal relief that Congress has yet to deliver months later.

And as some lawmakers question Republican Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr's decision to subpoena Donald Trump Junior, others, well, they'd just rather stay out of it.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): Of course there's -- you would expect them to have this answer. I'm not a member of the committee. It's a very private committee that works itself. And I wouldn't even have the slightest idea what they're up to.

QUESTION: Tariffs? (INAUDIBLE) about tariffs? One question about tariffs?


QUESTION: Tariffs? Tariffs?


MATTINGLY: What was the answer on tariffs? That's the big question.

All right, look, we begin the hour with more defiance from the president and now his family in the ongoing stare-down over congressional subpoenas. The Senate Intelligence Committee demanded Donald Trump Junior, the president's son, come back and testify before its members. The Russian special counsel did not charge Trump Junior with any crimes, but the committee wants clarity on some of Trump Junior's previous answers he gave in September 2017, including on the Trump Tower Moscow project. Now, a source tells CNN that the Republican committee chairman,

Senator Richard Burr, signed off on the subpoena two weeks ago. That decision has provoked public backlash from, get this, other Republicans. The message from the president's orbit, well, that is crystal clear, Burr is disloyal and the subpoena is a betrayal to those who argue the only reason the North Carolina Republican has a job is because he latched on to candidate Trump in 2016.

Now, a source close to Trump Junior telling CNN in a statement, 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.

We're going to get to that in a moment. But first I want to get right to Manu Raju, who's on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, I've been reading your reporting from talking to Republican senators all week, and I've got to say, I'm a little bit taken aback. What are they actually telling you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're actually siding with Donald Trump Junior over their Senate Intelligence Committee that is run by a Republican chairman, Richard Burr. And some pretty interesting developments through the course of the day, making it very clear that they wanted -- they are aligning themselves with the president's message, with Donald Trump Junior's message, that it's time to move on. They should not dig into these matters very -- even further, even though the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into the Russian interference in 2016 is not yet concluded. The Republicans are making it clear that Donald Trump Junior is right, including Senator Lindsey Graham, who's said that if he were Donald Trump Junior's attorney, he would say, don't come to Capitol Hill.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If I were his lawyer, I'd be reluctant to put him back in this circus.

RAJU: I mean Burr, though, issued him a subpoena.

GRAHAM: Yes, I know. I like -- I like Richard Burr. I just don't know -- to me, Mueller is the last word for me. So, I'm over. I'm done.


RAJU: The interesting thing is that this is a subpoena that would compel Donald Trump Junior's appearance. But what we are hearing is that he may actually defy that subpoena. He may actually take the fifth. He may actually come or not even show up at all.

And when I asked Republican senators, what about him not appearing, they seem to be OK with that. Senate Intelligence Committee member John Cornyn told me that, look, he understands the frustration, what Donald Trump Junior is voicing, given that he had previously testified before this committee. He said it's time to wrap up his own committee's investigation. No comment yet from Richard Burr, but Democrats, not surprisingly, feel -- are taking a much different approach.

Richard Blumenthal, just moments ago, said that he -- Donald Trump Junior should be in jail if he defies a subpoena.


MATTINGLY: Manu Raju, partisan warfare breaking out on Capitol Hill. Who'd have thunk it.

Thanks, buddy. We'll be back to you soon.

All right, here with me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Toluse Olorunnipa, from "The Washington Post," CNN's Kara Scannell and Rachael Bade also with "The Washington Post."

So, there's a lot we need to get here -- get to here, particularly noted Republican liberal Richard Burr, I guess. That's a joke. He's not. He's a pretty well-known conservative.

But, Kara, I want to start with you, because you've been actually reporting on this and throughout this. What is the state of play right now in terms of the actual subpoena?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: I mean right now they're at a standoff. The subpoena was issued about two weeks ago seeking Don Junior's testimony. And, you know, they're not -- they're not -- Don Junior's team is not willing to budge. I mean they were willing to say he will submit to written questions and provide written answers. He will, you know, give an off-the-record and non-transcribed interview. But they're not looking to have him come back as some kind of, you know, media circus to face -- you know, to get all photo ops, to get all the attention that, here comes Don Junior marching back on Capitol Hill to sit for hours possibly of questions on, you know, a kind of an unending range of topics. So, at this point there's a standoff.

[12:05:21] Now, Don Junior's team has provided some documents to the -- to the committee. You know, they are posturing that they want to cooperate. But it looks like they're really drawing the line here on having Don Junior show up anywhere near Capitol Hill and anywhere in front of the cameras.


And, Kaitlan, you've been talking to Trump world. You've got some reporting in terms of what their thinking is right now. What are you hearing?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're frustrated because they think that Burr just handed Democrats a talking point here because Republicans were finally getting behind Mitch McConnell's whole case closed thing and now Democrats can say, hey, look, even members of your own party think that this -- all of these inquiries into the Russian investigation are not done yet. So they're frustrated by that.

But you see John Cornyn there, it's no secret why he's doing this. He's up for re-election. He knows he's going to needs people's help, like Donald Trump Junior, so he doesn't want to get on their bad side when he's up for a pretty tough re-election fight. So I think that has a lot to do with what he just said there because you've got to look at the role that Donald Trump Junior played in the midterms last year and he actually had a pretty big role and a lot of Republicans wanting him to endorse them. So I don't think it's a surprise to see them coming out against Burr for that reason.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And this actually brings up -- I want to pull up a tweet from Senator Tom Tillis, who is a Republican from North Carolina, where Senator Richard Burr is also from, Richard Burr is also a Republican. Tom Tillis up for re-election tweeting out, I agree with Leader McConnell. The case is closed. The Mueller report cleared Donald Trump Junior and he's already spent 27 hours testifying before Congress. Dems have made it clear this is all about politics. It's time to move on and start focusing on the issues that matter to Americans. This is the same Tom Tillis that also at one time was completely opposed to the emergency declaration on the wall and then flipped on that as well. He might want to talk to the senior senator for his state.

But, guys, I want to get to you in a second but I also want to go through kind of the issues that the committee might be actually looking at. I'm going to pull out our secret magic wall -- mini magic wall device here. And you kind of go through things and you get a sense from past testimony about what Donald Trump Junior might be called back to talk about. One of them is the 2016 -- June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. And one thing specifically people have kind of keyed on is Trump's testimony in September of 2017. He was asked who all knew about the meeting as it was happening? He said, I believe only Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort and I made them aware of it.

Now, go down to the Mueller report. This is where people are trying to connect some dots here. When asked about that same thing, Rick Gates, who testified or was brought in to talk to the Mueller investigation, said that Gates recalled the meeting was attended -- or at least a meeting where Trump Junior announced these issues, announced that he might have had dirt on Hillary Clinton, was attended by Trump Junior, Eric Trump, Paul Manafort, Hope Hicks, and joining late, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

And that's not the only issue. You go to another issue, Trump Tower Moscow. Kara, you've reported on this extensively. He was asked, do you have any involvement in this potential deal in Moscow? Trump Junior says, like I said, I was peripherally aware of it.

Now, let's go to the Mueller report. What did he actually say? Michael Cohen testified that he had discussed the Trump Moscow project with Ivanka Trump, as to design elements, such as architects, and also Donald Trump Junior.

Now, that's not exactly it. There's also a third issue that could be looked into, and that is, prior testimony on offers of foreign assistance. The question, was he ever -- did he ever tell anybody the Trump campaign would be receptive to offers of assistance from foreign governments? He was pretty blunt on this one, no. Well, they've seen -- we've seen -- we've seen for a long time the e-mails related to this issue where it was made very clear that they were being offered dirt from Russian government-connected officials saying, if it's what you say, I love it.

So there appear to be legitimate reasons to look back into it. Is that the case in your view right now?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, lawmakers want to find out if he lied to Congress, period, end of story. But, of course, the interesting thing here is, usually you hear that from Democrats. Democrats have been talking about this since the Mueller report came out privately. It's just interesting to see a Republican, a conservative Republican, lead the charge.

And part of that, you have to wonder, you know, Richard Burr, he's sort in legacy mode, right? He's retiring. And over the past two years, he's tried to -- tried to separate himself from what we saw in the House where the Republican investigation of Russia became very partisan. He tried to work across the aisle and tried to make himself seem like he wasn't allowing politics to influence anything.

But when the Mueller report came out, there was actually an instance where Richard Burr was sort of in the doghouse because he apparently gave sensitive information he got from the intelligence community to the White House on the Russia investigation, and that has like put him in a corner. And you have to wonder if he's trying to sort of clear his name right now to make it look like, oh, politics is not influencing my role as the chairman of Intel. So he also is potentially in legacy mode and politics could be influencing him as well.

MATTINGLY: Yes, there's a lot of different threads here. And it's worth noting, Burr hasn't commented publically. As Manu said, he doesn't actually talk to us much when we ask him about these things.

[12:10:00] But, Toluse, what's your read. This was the one bipartisan investigation, right? And Senator Burr and Senator Mark Warner, the vice chairman, have stayed together throughout. I think members on the committee have stayed relatively unified. Are there grounds to keep going, as they have been, over the course of now I think it's two plus years?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, there are definitely grounds for bipartisanship, but those grounds are becoming much more narrow than they were in the past because the White House has said they're not going to cooperate with any more investigations. They're telling the House to basically go on a hike. Not -- they're not going to respond to any subpoenas.

And the president is getting a lot of support from Republicans who are sort of rushing into his camp saying, OK, Mueller has already put out his report and it's over, it's time to move on. Let's even investigate the investigators. So it's really a time for choose, and it seems like Richard Burr wants to choose the path of bipartisanship where this is becoming a much more partisan issue when you have people like Senator Lindsey Graham who once was very much in a bipartisan mode saying Mueller should complete his report, now being one of the president's most staunch supporters saying, it's time to finish this investigation and look at the investigators.

So Burr is not having a lot of support within his party right now and trying to be bipartisan on the Mueller report.

MATTINGLY: Kara, we've got about 30 seconds left. I want to close with you. What happens next? I know you have a crystal ball and you know all the things, but what's kind of your sense about where this -- how this ends up giving where we stand right now?

SCANNELL: I mean I think there is still a desire by Donald Trump Junior's camp to provide some answers to whatever remaining questions they have. But there's a real clear, you know, distinction here that they don't want to open up this can of worms again. You know, they want to say, OK, we'll be cooperative. They want the veneer of being cooperative, saying we'll give you documents, we'll provide some information. But I don't think we're going to see Donald Trump Junior in front of that committee, you know, any time soon.

MATTINGLY: Yes, certainly doesn't seem that way. We'll see. Anything can happen.

All right, next, Democrats deploying a new talking point they hope will stick. Before we go to break, one Senate Democrats say, if the president's son does ignore that subpoena, he shouldn't pass go.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): If he fails to answer, he ought to be put in jail. If he fails to comply with a lawful subpoena, he has no privilege. Prison is the only answer.


[12:16:46] MATTINGLY: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS.

Two words taking over Democratic talking points today. Just take a listen to a handful of Democrats this week, as well as critics of the president.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm telling you we have a constitutional crisis.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This precipitates a constitutional crisis.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): We've talked for a long time about approaching a constitutional crisis. We are now in it. We are now in a constitutional crisis.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): We keep coming up against constitutional crises here over the last two years.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE": I think it's a constitutional confrontation. I don't think it's yet a crisis.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): Whether it is a constitutional crisis or constitutional confrontation, I'll let you guys be the -- the choose. Maybe I'll stick with confrontation this week.


MATTINGLY: This week, apparently. A constitutional crisis. Look, it depends apparently a lot on who you ask. It's black and white for some Democrats. It's highly debatable in the minds of others.

So when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took sides this morning, you can bet a lot of her members in the caucus took notice.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Yes, I do agree with Chairman Nadler.

(INAUDIBLE) impeach or nothing. No, it's not that. It's a path that is producing results and gathering information. And some of that information is that this administration wants to have a constitutional crisis because they do not respect the oath of office that they take to protect and defend the Constitution -- to support the Constitution of the United States.


MATTINGLY: Lisa Lerer with "The New York Times" joins our discussion.

And, look, this has actually been kind of knowing at me all week because this is a confrontation, this is clearly a fight, this is a battle, this is extraordinary in just the extent to which the Trump administration has just stonewalled everything, but it's like a constitutional crisis, like, they're still going to go to court and that's where this will be remedied. There's always battles back and forth between the executive branch and the legislative branch. It seems maybe a tad hyperbolic here. I understand everybody's angry. But what's your -- what's your read on this?

BADE: I mean, crisis, yes, is an inflated word, but I don't think there's any question that what we're seeing right now really undercuts the power of Congress and could have lasting implications. I mean there's always tension between the executive branch and the legislative branch.

But you know, even when Obama was in the White House and Republicans in the House were doing their own investigations of the IRS scandal, the Benghazi attacks, the White House hated those investigations, but they let people set for depositions. They gave them material. And this whole stonewall everything, give them nothing, don't allow anyone to do anything, think about it, a future Democratic president could do the same thing to a Republican Congress. So I -- I feel like what Trump is doing is he's setting a new precedent that if you don't like the investigations, just stonewall. It will go to the courts. It will take years to be resolved. And you have what you want, which is, these things are delayed, and that's a problem.

MATTINGLY: Yes. I -- look, I don't doubt it's extraordinary and it's different and it's new and it has a wide range of repercussions for future administrations, mostly because we're going to see a lot of court fights that might make clear what the powers actually are between the two.

But I'm interested -- the important point, pushing it -- pushing it off, getting it past 2020, taking years, is that -- that seems to be the clearer strategy here, yes?

[12:20:05] LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that's part of the strategy. I also think there's an effort by the White House to kind of goad Democrats into the big "I," impeachment, right, either moving in that direction or moving fully towards impeachment because they look at the polling and they see what we all see, which is that majority of independents don't think they should move forward with impeachment. A third -- even a third of Democrats are not super -- in most of the polling are not super supportive of impeachment. So I think Republicans see impeachment as a political loser for Democrats.

But it's true that Democrats are under a lot of pressure. I can see when you're out with these Democratic 2020 candidates, the lines that get the biggest applause are the ones attacking the president, are the ones where, you know, they sort of move in that direction, even if they don't necessarily utter the word "impeachment." But where they talk about checks and balances and providing a check on this administration.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And I want to -- you talk about the goading. It seems the president is in on this game as well.


MATTING: Take a listen -- take a listen to what he said last night at his rally in Florida.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, if we want to drive them crazy, I'll say, in ten years they'll go crazy. See he is a despot. He is a despot. Well, 10 or 14, let's see, whatever we like, right? What, it will be headlines tomorrow. Donald Trump wants to break constitutional --


MATTINGLY: He knows what he's doing there.

COLLINS: Yes, he does. He obviously knows that that's going to get under their skin. You often see him make jokes like that. But, also, that comes from the president who not that long ago, just a few days ago, was saying that the first two years of his presidency were stolen because of the Russia investigation looming over it. Even though the White House has had this talking point, look what we all got done, even though the investigation was going on. Now the president is saying he couldn't get so much done because of the investigation.

But I think what you're hearing from the president's allies is, if we are in this constitutional crisis that Democrats keep talking about and that even Nancy Pelosi said today, then why aren't you introducing these impeachment proceedings? If it's as bad as you say it is, why aren't you doing this?

I think Democrats on the other hand would say, we're essentially laying out the case because voters don't support it right now and with Nixon it took a little while for it to gain some traction. It wasn't just an immediate thing. But the president's allies are asking, if this is what you want, why aren't you doing it right now?

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's a complicating messaging balance. If you're in a crisis, why wouldn't you impeach. If you impeach, you have more mechanisms to get the depositions, to get the documents that you need. If you're talking about what you can do constitutionally, that expands kind of your range in terms of what you can get. So why -- what's your read right now, Toluse, on why they're holding off?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, the president wants to play the victim. He feels that he's in a stronger position when he has a foil. And if the House Democrats decide to move forward on impeachment, he will go into full sort of victimhood mode and really try to play the American people against the Democrats as being too extreme, too far left and he could use that as a political prop against them and that's why you see Speaker Pelosi saying let's take our time, let's do this methodically, let's look at the information and make sure we get as much information out there as possible to make a case to the public because the polling shows that the public is not fully on board with full impeachment hearings, even if they want to hear more about what happened, they want to hear more about the underlying investigation.

So, President Trump is just saying, you know, we're shutting down everything. We're not going to provide any information and trying to goad the Democrats into moving forward really quickly on impeachment so that he can play the victim and he can have someone to act as a foil before the 2020 field comes into shape because right now there's so many different Democrats running for president, there's not really one that is sort of his foil. But if the House Democrats go for impeachment, they could be the punching bag that he needs to focus on.

MATTINGLY: All right, I just want to note, Donald Trump talking about North Korea right now at the White House. Take a listen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Much like China. The vice premier is coming here today. We were getting very close to a deal, then they started to renegotiate the deal. We can't have that. We can't have that. So our country can take in $120 billion a year in tariffs, paid for mostly by China, by the way, not by us. A lot of people try and steer it in a different direction. It's really paid -- ultimately it's paid for by -- largely by China. And businesses will pour back into our country. So instead of making the product -- it will be the old-fashioned way, the way we used to do it. We made our own product.

And I think things are going along pretty well there, but a large group -- delegation headed by one of the most respected men and highest officials of China will be coming in today. They start at 5 o'clock. And they'll see what they can do.

But our alternative is -- is an excellent one. It's an alternative I've spoken about for years. We'll take in well over $100 billion a year. We never took in 10 cents from China, not 10 cents. And it'll be a -- I think it'll be a very strong day, frankly. But we'll see. We'll see.

It was their idea to come back.

QUESTION: Do you plan to talk to President Xi, or no, not yet?

TRUMP: Well, he just wrote me a beautiful letter. I just received it. And I'll probably speak to him by phone.

But look, we have two great alternatives. Our country is doing fantastically well. Our number's at 3.2. Don't forget 3.2 -- the first quarter is always by far the worst quarter, or at least almost always. You look back over the years, first quarter is always weaken, and we had 3.2 GDP.

Our unemployment numbers are the best in the history of our country. And we're doing well. And our companies are really doing well. Even in Ohio -- the great state of Ohio yesterday, General Motors, at my very strong urging -- to put it mildly very strong urging; I wasn't even nice about it but I appreciate what they did. They sold the -- the beautiful plant, Lordstown -- they sold that beautiful plan to a very, very good company that's going to make electric trucks.

And that worked, because that was the only thing they could say about our whole economy: Lordstown. They kept saying "Lordstown, Lordstown." And when you had all of these great companies spending billions and billions of dollars coming in to our country, they couldn't talk about it. They'd only mentioned the one plant that was a GM plant from a very long time ago.

And now we have a great company going in, going to make electric trucks. Very appropriate. Interesting idea, actually, electric trucks.

Yes, please?

QUESTION: Would you allow Robert Mueller to testify in Congress?

TRUMP: Well, I'm going to leave that up to a very great attorney general and he'll make a decision on that.

But I will say this: Look, the Mueller report came out. It was done at -- I guess I'm hearing numbers now close to $40 million, with 17 or 18 very angry Democrats who hated Donald Trump. And also everything that they could possibly have at their disposal. There was nobody that was, in the history of our country, more transparent than me. I said, "Give them every document, give them every person, let the White House Counsel testify."

I think he testified for 30 hours. I guess they must have asked him the same question, because there wasn't very much to testify about. But I said, "Let him testify and let him -- keep him as long as you want."

Actually when I heard 30 hours, I said, "That's a long time."


But I let him testify. I didn't have to; I have presidential privilege. I could have stopped everything. I didn't have to give them a document. I gave them 1.5 million documents. I gave them White House counsel. I have them other -- anybody you want, you can talk to.

At the end of the testimony: No collusion and essentially no obstruction.

Of course a lot of people say, "How you obstruct when there was no crime? When there was no collusion, how can you possibly?" I'll tell you what is worse than that, it's not only was there no crime, but the crime was committed on the other side. So we're protecting against the crime committed on the other side.

So after spending all of that money, all of that time -- two years -- they come up with a report. And Bob Mueller's no friend of mine, I had conflicts with him. We had a business dispute, we had somebody that is in love with James Comey. We (ph) liked James Comey, they were very good friends, supposedly best friends -- maybe not, but supposedly best friends. You look at the picture file and you see hundreds of pictures of him and Comey.

And with all of that -- and other things. He wanted the FBI job. I don't know if anybody knows that, but as you know he was considered for the FBI job, wanted it and the day after he didn't get it he became the special counsel. That's a conflict.

And we had other things -- but those are tremendous conflicts.

Listen to this, your judge -- call him a judge -- is -- has a business dispute with me. Your judge has a fantastic relationship with James Comey; well, he's a part of this. He lied to Congress, he leaked -- he's a liar, a leaker. And your judge has a situation where he wanted to become the FBI director. We chose Director Wray instead and told him, "I'm sorry."

Those are tremendous conflicts. Those are tremendous conflicts.

And then he puts on his staff almost all Democrats, many of whom contributed to Hillary Clinton, None of them contributed to me, that I can tell you. And it started out at 13 and went to 18. And these were angry Democrats. These were people that went to her -- in one case went to her -- was supposed to be a party, it turned out to be a funeral, on election evening. And was going wild, he was so angry. And this man now is judging me.

You had other people made big contributions to Hillary Clinton's campaign. There were angry Democrats in, I think, almost all cases.

One of the people worked on the Clinton Foundation as just about the top person at the Clinton Foundation.

[12:29:56] With all of this they came back, no collusion. There's nobody in this room.