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O'Rourke Pushes Reset Button on Struggling Campaign; Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) Discusses Trump OK with A.G. Investigating Biden, Giuliana Ukraine Trip to Get Dirt on Biden, Graham Tells Don Jr Ignore Subpoena; Iraq War Veteran Lashes Out at Trump over War Criminal Pardon; Trump Expresses Support for Former Navy SEAL Charged with War Crimes. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired May 13, 2019 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Do you think that format is going to be good or bad for him?
A.B. STODDARD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, both. I think Biden is a gaffer and he's going to probably say something that people could jump on. And because he has such a show of force so far in the race in all the polls across the board, everybody is waiting for him to stumble. But I do think he's tremendously good with people and so a town hall setting where he's willing in that super honest way of his to take every last question and share himself is also a good place for him. We all have our strengths or our worst weaknesses and, with Biden, it's that raw honesty that gets him in trouble but also endears him to voters.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: High risk, high reward. We'll have to see which it is.
A.B. Stoddard, thank you.
STODDARD: Thank you.
We're watching the Dow, keeping an eye on it. It's down about, almost 700 points still, since China announced that its own retaliatory tariffs are going into place against U.S. goods. We'll see how the president responds when he speaks soon.
Plus, could the president's lawyer be the newest target of House investigators after announcing and promptly cancelling a trip to Ukraine to get dirt on Trump's 2020 rival, Joe Biden?
[13:35:59] KEILAR: President Trump again pushing the boundaries of his presidency, now saying it would be just fine for him to talk to the attorney general about launching an investigation into one of his political rivals.
This follows Trump Lawyer Rudy Giuliani's planned trip to the Ukraine to try to urge officials there to investigate Biden. Giuliani has since cancelled that trip but he hasn't said he won't back off on efforts to criticize Biden. There's a big difference between the president's personal attorney doing something like that and the chief law enforcement officer of the United States being instructed to do the same thing.
Let's bring in Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly, a Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
And as you look, sir, at what Rudy Giuliani is doing, is this something that you think Congress should investigate him for. Do you plan to?
REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): Yes. I think it needs to be discouraged. It cannot be a new normal that anybody affiliated with the president would be instructed to go to a foreign country to talk to foreign leaders to get opposition research or dirt on your prospective opponent in a presidential election or any other election. That's not proper.
KEILAR: The president talking about this idea of it's perfectly OK for him to direct the attorney general to investigate, you know, Joe Biden, a political rival. Is that legal?
CONNOLLY: Well, it may be technically legal. It is completely inappropriate in a democracy. And it's not something that can be tolerated. And hopefully, although I'm not sure with this attorney general, the attorney general turned him down. That's not the role of the Department of Justice to be investigating your political opponents. That's what Richard Nixon tried to do and he got impeached for it.
KEILAR: So you have some confidence in Bill Barr? I've heard of you be very critical of him. But as you point out, he rebuffed that reportedly.
CONNOLLY: Yes. My hope is that even Bill Barr understands there are boundaries in a democracy and that this is one of them.
KEILAR: Senator Lindsey Graham is telling the president's son, Donald Trump Jr, that he should ignore a subpoena coming from the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. What is your reaction to that?
CONNOLLY: I'm struck by the old expression, if you've going to be a phony, at least be real about it. Your newscast was showing a little earlier some video of that same gentleman when he was a House member managing the impeachment of Bill Clinton in the Senate on the Senate floor, and he sure sounded a very different tone about the issue of compliance with subpoenas. So I -- I mean, you know, Lindsey Graham is a thoughtful and smart guy. It's really tragic how he has kind of sold his soul to Donald Trump and is now reduced to the point of encouraging a member of his family to defy a legally issued subpoena and putting that member of the family in grave legal jeopardy.
KEILAR: You're saying Lindsey Graham is a phony?
CONNOLLY: No. I'm saying one needs to be careful about it. And if you're going to practice that, try to do it sincerely.
KEILAR: You have talked about this idea of invoking what's called inherent contempt. Congress right now using the courts in a very slow fashion to enforce some of the issues that it's having in trying to get information from the administration. You do have at your disposal the sergeant-at-arms. He has power to arrest. And we've heard some of your fellow Democrats talk about using this. And I wonder, where are you on that in terms of it being a very real possibility, because even as we've heard Democrats talk about this, including on this show, it's clear -- it's clear they are not actually prepared to do it.
CONNOLLY: I was the first member of Congress to call for invoking and re-establishing inherent contempt on this very network and I'm quite sincere about it. We're facing an unprecedented assault on the legislative branch, unprecedented defiance of legally issued subpoena, blocking our ability to perform our functions as enumerated in Article I of our Constitution. We're the preeminent branch of government. And so if the president decides he has to do that or wants to do that, he needs to be met with real strong force by the legislative branch and, therefore, inherent contempt has to be revived.
[13:40:32] KEILAR: If that was your personal call to make at this moment in time, who would be the first person you would want to use inherit contempt with?
CONNOLLY: I guess maybe I'd start with Mr. McGahn, the former White House council, because he's now back in private practice. And I believe that there's no question executive privilege does not pertain to Mr. McGahn, and I think that's easily dismissed. And I believe we need to compel his testimony.
KEILAR: When it comes to an administration official?
CONNOLLY: Well, there are so many to choose from, Brianna, it's awfully hard for me to give you just one. But I think we need to pick one to make it very clear we're quite serious and that there are real consequences for somebody if they continue to defy a legitimately issued subpoena by the United States Congress.
KEILAR: But I hear you're not picking someone in the administration. You're saying there's so many, but you're not actually picking one.
CONNOLLY: No, I just said --
KEILAR: There's so many.
CONNELLY: -- we need to pick one.
KEILAR: OK. So William Barr?
CONNOLLY: Well, I don't know that I would start with the attorney general. I mean, for example, our committee is looking at Mr. Gore and Mr. Klein, Mr. Klein on security clearances and Mr. Gore on the citizenship question on the census. They would be two candidates, at least for our committee, we might start with. KEILAR: If you do that -- let's talk about Mr. Klein in doing the
security clearances. Have you thought about how the Trump administration responds then? Obviously, they would escalate. I wonder what you think about where you might be then in that situation.
CONNOLLY: Well, awfully difficult to, you know, sort that through. But, I mean, I think the legislative branch has to get really tough in response to Mr. Trump's defiance. And if we're not, we might as well go home because we're not going to do our jobs. I got elected, among other purposes, to provide adult supervision of this president and, by god, I'm going to do it.
KEILAR: Congressman Connolly, thank you so much for coming into the studio. We really appreciate it.
CONNOLLY: Thank you, Brianna. My pleasure.
KEILAR: President Trump's pardon of a U.S. soldier who killed an Iraqi prisoner is not sitting well with at least one combat veteran who penned a provocative op-ed titled, "I Led a Platoon in Iraq. Trump Is Wrong to Pardon War Criminals." He'll joins me next to explain.
And Actress Felicity Huffman arriving in Boston where she will enter her plea for her role in the college admission scandal.
[13:47:54] KEILAR: An Iraq veteran is lashing out at President Trump's decision to grant a full pardon to Michael Behenna, a former Army officer convicted of murdering an Iraqi prisoner in 2009. Behenna was sentenced to 25 years in prison for shooting and killing Ali Mansur, a suspected al Qaeda terrorist who Behenna thought played a role in an IED attack on his unit. Behenna repeatedly violated orders, interrogating Mansur at gunpoint without authorization after stripping him naked in a culvert on the side of a road. Behenna shot Mansur twice and left his body in the culvert without reporting it. Behenna maintained that he acted in self-defense.
Waitman Beorn, an Iraq combat veteran, is here to discuss this with us.
Waitman, thanks for coming on.
WAITMAN BEORN, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Thanks for having me.
KEILAR: You wrote this op-ed in the "Washington Post," called "I Led a Platoon in Iraq. Trump Is Wrong to Pardon War Criminals." Specifically, looking at the Behenna case -- and you do talk about other ones -- tell us why you think so. Why is he wrong for doing this?
BEORN: Well, I think there's a couple of reasons, Brianna. First of all, it's something that I touch about a lot in the piece is the message that it sends to audiences, to our military and to the countries who are partners that we're working with in various conflicts around the world. And secondly, this is not a legal sort of loophole that he's found here. I think the reason he's pardoning Behenna is to cater to his base. And the fact that this man -- I don't see any gray area in what he did. It's disturbing to me both as an historian and veteran that he would do this.
KEILAR: You see him as catering to his base. There are people who support this pardon. They will see that the victim was a suspected militant who may have been involved in an IED on Behenna's unit. Part of that argument ignores what it is to be in the military and the protocol and the chain of command. What do you say to those people?
[13:50:04] BEORN: I certainly see, in certain situations in a combat environment, things are fluid, things are difficult to interpret. But in this case, none of those things are at play. Essentially, based on the information that I have found that's readily available, he killed someone in cold blood in apparent revenge for attacks on his soldiers that happened earlier. And that, to me, is a pretty open-and-shut case. For the president to declare an improper prosecution, I think it sends a dangerous message. And that message is essentially that bad things happen in war and that anyone who is prosecuted for a war crime is a hero who is essentially the target of some political- correct lobby. I think that's incorrect. I think many people would agree with that.
KEILAR: The president, as you note in your op-ed, has also expressed support for former Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher. Gallagher was turned in by fellow SEALs. They repeatedly brought his behavior to the attention of superiors. They allege he would, among other things, pick off civilians with a sniper rifle, including an elderly man and a young girl who was just walking with her friends on a riverbank. He allegedly stabbed and killed a 15-year-old prisoner of war. The president has tweeted that Gallagher should be held in better conditions since he's in solitary confinement. What message does that send to members of the military? Especially in this case where, unlike in the case of Behenna, where he had fellow soldiers who were covering for him, he's been turned in, Gallagher, by other SEALs.
BEORN: Yes, this is pivotal. In a community that is as close knit as the Navy SEALS, for them to take the hero efforts they took to bring his case to light really shows the kind of a dangerous person that Gallagher is. And for Trump to push this counternarrative that he's a hero -- Trump said something to the effect of in light of his honorable service, which I don't think is -- there's nothing honorable about it. It sends a message that Trump sides with those, A, who tried to silence those reporting Gallagher. And also that this kind of behavior, this kind of no holds barred, no surrender, no prisoners taken is acceptable. That's not the way that our military operates or should operate, and it's not consistent with our values as a country and as a military.
KEILAR: Waitman Beorn, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
BEORN: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
KEILAR: And today, in my column, "Home Front," where we try to bridge the civilian military divide and bring you stories of military families, I interviewed second lady, Karen Pence. We're talking about her campaign to elevate and encourage military spouses by addressing one of their biggest concerns, jobs. She's raising awareness about the high military spouse unemployment rate, which is 24 percent. It's six times the overall rate of unemployment in the U.S. And she's supporting bipartisan legislation that's supposed to help spouses maintain their careers as they move, on average, every two to three years. Mrs. Pence is also one of the most high-profile military family members in the country. Her son, Michael, is a Marine aviator whose love of flying comes straight from his mom. Little known fact, the second lady has her pilot's license. We discussed the surprising thing that Mrs. Pence has learned from her daughter-in-law, Sara, who has embraced her role as a supportive but very independent military spouse. You can find that and other "Home Front" columns at CNN.com/homefront. Please share your stories, comments or your ideas with me at homefront@CNN.com.
Just in, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who just left the job days ago, is giving a commencement speech right now. Live pictures coming to us in which he invokes Robert Mueller.
[13:54:15] Plus, Actress Alyssa Milano calling for a sex strike in protest of certain laws.
KEILAR: Actress Felicity Huffman arriving to federal court just moments ago. She's expected to plead guilty for the role she took in the massive college admissions scandal. Huffman admits she paid $15,000 to have someone correct her daughter's SAT answers. Federal prosecutors are expected to recommend a lighter sentence in exchange for her plea. That would be four to 10 months in jail, along with a $20,000 fine and 12 months of parole. In a recent statement, Huffman apologized and expressed regret for her actions saying that she accepts full responsibility.
That is it for me.
NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Brianna, thank you.
Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you for being with me.
[13:59:52] A check on the market. The Dow is plunging in response to the escalating stakes in the U.S. trade war with China. Just about the time President Trump tweeted, quote, "China should not retaliate," guess what, the Chinese government did precisely that. Today, it announced a raise in tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods.