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Alabama Passes Bill Effectively Banning Abortion; House Panel Asks Trump Lawyers About Cohen's False Testimony; Donald Trump Jr. Strikes Deal To Testify Before Senate Panel; U.S. Cites Increasing Threats From Iran, allies are skeptical. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired May 15, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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REP. TERRI COLLINS (R-AL): Know in the House and that finally we saw in the Senate understood exactly what the purpose of this bill was.
We will never get Heartbeat Bill to be constitutional until Roe versus Wade is decided in reverse.
SEN. LINDA COLEMAN-MADISON (D-AL): Republicans, you guys used to say, we want the government out of our life. Now, you're in my room. I want you out.
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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Now, the Governor has six days to sign the measure. CNN's Victor Blackwell has more details. So, Victor, tell us about the specific restrictions in this bill and, really, just how broad it is, right, because it doesn't even allow for exceptions in the case of rape or incest.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very broad with -- very strict penalties for any doctor who performs an abortion if it becomes to law. And this came to a head during the fiery, four-plus hour debate, which one Democratic Senator said the bill is so extreme maybe they should suggest a bill on castration next. And republicans say, the rigidity of the bill is the point. They expect and really want this to be snarled in the courts, go up to the Supreme Court and then challenge Roe v. Wade.
Now, here's what's in the bill. It makes abortion a felony and any doctor who performs it could face up to 99 years in prison. Now, there are exceptions to avoid a serious health risk to the mother, for an ectopic pregnancy, that's when the egg attaches outside of the uterus, and if the unborn has some lethal anomaly.
Now, There are no exceptions for rape or incest. The democratic amendment to add those exceptions failed. And actually, let me read this to you from the head of the Alabama pro-life coalition who actually drafted the initial bill. He said while that exception was sympathetic and deals with, quote, very difficult issues, he says that it would jeopardize the legal standing on the bill. Again, that failed.
Republican State Senator who ushered this through said that if a young, pregnant victim of incest or rape finds that she is going to have a baby, that she should talk to her parents and try to get justice. Listen to a Democratic Alabama State Senator this morning on New Day.
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SEN. BOBBY SINGLETON (D-AL): I think this is a horrible bill still. I think that we raped women last night, we made women of Alabama the model of the new Roe versus Wade. I think that this is just a horrible bill. And hopefully that if it gets to that level to the Supreme Court, the supreme court would not select this as a test case.
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BLACKWELL: Well, this bill passed 25 to 6 in the overwhelmingly in the Alabama State Senate last night. Those 25 votes all republican and all male. This is obviously the beginning of this fight, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Just the beginning. Victor Blackwell, thanks very much.
Democrats vying for 2020, blasting a law as an attack on women, and one of those candidates joins me now. She is Presidential Candidate and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is now planning on holding an abortion rights rally tomorrow in Atlanta, and she joins us. Thanks very much for taking the time this morning.
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: So let me ask you, just in general terms, your reaction to the passage of this bill. I'll tell you that one of the most striking moments for me was listening to a republican lawmaker describe rape as, quote, unquote, difficult circumstances for the birth of a child, and yet then went on justify even eliminating that exception for this.
GILLIBRAND: This Alabama effort and the effort across this country now in 29 states is an all-out attack on women's reproductive freedom and our basic civil rights. This is a plan by the Republican Party, make no mistake, to overturn Roe V. Wade and turn back the clock on women's reproductive civil and human rights.
SCIUTTO: So even as legislators in Alabama admitted as this happened, they said they know this is going to get challenged and they want to take it. They want this to kind of be a way to get this before the Supreme Court. You heard, as Supreme Court nominees said in their confirmation hearings, including the President's two nominees, that they respect precedent. They were asked about this. Do you believe those -- I don't know if you call them promises, but do you believe those statements and do you believe that this is a Supreme Court that might overturn Roe V. Wade?
GILLIBRAND: Certainly the intention of President Trump and the Republican Party to overturn Roe V. Wade, to overturn precedent, I do not believe the justices, when they told us in hearings, that they respected precedent. It's why, as President of the United States, I will not appoint a justice or a judge who will not actually uphold the precedent of Roe V. Wade.
SCIUTTO: In past years, I think you could say, and my colleague, Dana Bash, who I know you know well, made this point in the early hour of this broadcast. To this point, republicans were better about rallying their base on this issue in support of abortion restrictions. You hear language like the President uses, describing infanticide, et cetera.
I wonder, as you speak to constituents, particularly women voters, how are they reacting in this moment to what's become, as you say, a national effort to, at a minimum, restrict the right to choose?
GILLIBRAND: First of all, the President is lying. And second of all, I have heard from women across this country that they are deeply concerned about this all-out attack on women by the Republican Party to truly roll back the clock on women's reproductive freedom and overturn Roe V. Wade, and so they are concerned. And I believe that the 2018 elections were about is women using their voices and fighting hard for candidates that share their values, overturning and winning in red places and purple places that had not been won before.
And the reason why I am running for president is I'm going to guarantee that women have a voice in this country, that we value women, that we respect women and that we make sure we have judges and justices who uphold the precedent of Roe V. Wade.
SCIUTTO: The President has had enormous success, as you know, nominating judges. I mean, the math here, be on the two of the Supreme Courts, 39 on circuit courts, just one notch below, 64 on district courts. That's 105, I mean, just outpacing many presidents at this point with the intention of passing a conservative agenda, including on issues such as abortion. Are you concerned that the courts under that influence and that change might, if not, overturn Roe V. Wade, at least okay, severe restrictions on access to abortion?
GILLIBRAND: I think believe they fully intend to do that, and that's why these elections are so important. We have to elect candidates that value women that will allow these life and death issues of women who have to decide about whether and when they want to have children. These are intimate decisions that women have a right to make. And rolling back the clock on basic women's human rights and civil rights, I think, has to be fought with every tooth and nail. I think this is going to be a fight that women cannot lose and they need to know that their voice at the ballot box is more powerful if they vote and support candidates that share their values and their rights.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you a final question, if I can, on another topic. Because just a few minutes ago at a republican lawmaker, and I asked him, we made a pledge on this broadcast to ask every democrat or republican lawmaker about what they're going to do about gun violence in this country, particularly with the spade of shootings we've had just in the last couple of weeks here. And he made an argument, which I know you've heard before, that, listen, the best way to respond is to arm teachers. He said that his daughter is a teacher and she supports this. I've got three kids and I said very openly that I'm not particularly comfortable with teachers walking around with loaded weapons. I wonder what your response is to that.
GILLIBRAND: I think it's a dumb idea and I think it is something being pitched by the NRA because all they care about is gun sales. They are absolutely corrupted. They are focused on greed and they want to sell guns to people on the terror watch list, to people with grave mental illness with violent backgrounds or people with criminal convictions for violent crimes, which is why they're against the Universal Background Check Bill that people support across this country.
And it's also why they oppose the Violence Against Women's Act. It's about greed and corruption. It's about making sure they have gun sales in all cases. So I disagree with that legislator and I think, again, we should lift up the voices of the young people of this country who have been marching against gun violence, marching out of their schools and marching on Washington.
SCIUTTO: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, we appreciate you coming on and we look forward to speaking to you again.
GILLIBRAND: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Well, on Capitol Hill this morning, another batch of subpoenas could be coming this time for lawyers representing the President, the President's daughter, Ivanka, and the President's son, Donald Trump Jr., as well as the Trump organization. The House Intelligence Committee wants to know whether and how those lawyers encouraged or even dictated lies that Michael Cohen told Congress in 2017, this about attempts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, those discussions going on during the 2016 campaign.
CNN's Manu Raju joins me now. So the Special Counsel did not pursue this particular issue. Why is Adam Schiff doing so?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is concerned that there may have been an effort among these Trump attorneys to help Michael Cohen with his testimony that was later turned out to be false, and Michael Cohen later pleaded guilty to lying to the House and Senate Intelligence Committee about the pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project by the Trump organization back in 2016 in the run-up to the elections.
Now, after the democrats took control of the House, Adam Schiff brought Michael Cohen back to Capitol Hill. He provided documents that showed edits to the testimony. And the question that Schiff has is whether or not these attorneys coached him in any way to make those false those statements.
[10:10:00] They've essentially denied that but they have also resisted his efforts to get more information. Now, Schiff is threatening a subpoena.
Now, when I asked Adam Schiff last night whether or not this is an effort to breach attorney/client privilege as the Trump attorneys are suggesting, he pushed back.
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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): If there were others that were participating in that act of obstruction of justice, if there were others that were knowing of that have false statement, participated in the drafting of that false statement, we need to know about it, we need to expose it. And we need deter other people from coming before our committee and lying.
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RAJU: Now, Schiff also has a deadline for this afternoon at 3:00 P.M. Eastern for the Justice Department to turnover counterintelligence information related to the Mueller probe. He has a subpoena demanding this information to be turned over. Just moments ago, I asked him if any progress had been made. He said that it's still too early to tell whether or not they will get compliance. But the threat of holding Bill Barr in contempt by his committee as well if he does not get compliance. Jim?
SCIUTTO: Manu Raju on the Hill, as always, thanks very much.
The Senate has reached a deal for the President's son to testify but it comes with a few strings, Kara Scannell following that for us. So, Kara, Don Junior agreed to testify after hammering out a deal, some very open question as to whether he would. How did they reach an agreement and what exactly is the committee want to question him about here?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Jim, that's right. They were at a complete standoff. But yesterday, as the deadline for the subpoena was nearing, they were able to hammer out this 11th hour deal. And under the terms of the agreement, Donald Trump Jr. will appear in private before the Senate Intelligence Committee in mid-June. He will sit for two to four hours of testimony and answer questions on five to six different topics. Now, this is because the Senate Intelligence Committee wants him to come in and address some discrepancies in his testimony and that of other witnesses and the findings of the Mueller report.
Now, the two topics that have been the source of a lot of tension during these negotiations are the 2016 meeting in June at Trump Tower with the Russian lawyer and the talks to develop a Trump Tower project in Moscow. Now, a source close to Donald Trump Jr. says he will answer limited follow-up questions on these two topics, but if the committee wants him to answer the same questions he has already responded to, he will refer them to his prior testimony. There is a great concern that this is also potential a desire for a perjury trap to catch Donald Trump Jr. in a lie or misstatement.
Now, a source close to the committee says that Donald Trump Jr. will have to answer questions about these discrepancies as part of their bipartisan investigation. So these deals -- this deal was hammered out just yesterday at the 11th hour, Jim. And so Donald Trump Jr. will be back on the Hill in private in mid-June.
SCIUTTO: Well, the way to avoid a perjury trap is just to tell the truth, plain and simple. Kara Scannell, thank, very much.
Still to come, two very different messages about what is happening right now with respect to Iran. U.S. bulking of security across the Middle East while a top British general close to U.S. allies says there is no increased threat. So what's the truth? What's going on here? We're going to look into it.
SCIUTTO: Now, imagine this, a Senate Committee headed by a highly respected republican voting to hold the President's son in contempt. Now, to be clear, it did not happen, it will not happen. But because of a last-second deal, Donald Trump Jr. agreeing to testify a second and final time, he says, before the Senate Intelligence Committee. This will take place sometime next month. So far, that is the only Congressional subpoena standoff to end amicably. Several more are almost surely headed to court instead.
Joining me now with their thoughts, Molly Ball, National Political Correspondent for Time Magazine, and Jessica Roth, former federal prosecutor and current Professor at Cardozo School of Law.
Molly, if I could begin with you. So he's made a deal here but with a key restriction that if he's asked about his past statements on these questions of Trump Tower Moscow, for instance, he's just going to refer to his previous testimony. Of course, the problem with that is it appears one of the interests here is whether that previous testimony is accurate. How can this work?
MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a good question and we're not, of course, going to be in the room since they've agreed that this will be behind closed doors. And, you know, we're not entirely clear on exactly which areas that the committee wants to explore with the President's son.
But as you noted, this is sort of the first of these confrontations to reach a head. The more confrontational encounters, I guess, between the White House and the Congress are going to be with the House of Representatives, because the White House has vowed to block so many of those or refused to cooperate with so many of those efforts to compel them and because they have denied witnesses and so on, and the Attorney General.
So we're sort of waiting for a lot of these confrontations to come to the point where somebody decides them, as you said, probably ultimately the courts and we will see what happens because, you know, there's only so long that the White House can drag this out before it gets before a decision point.
SCIUTTO: It appears they're comfortable with dragging it out to the courts.
Jessica, let's get to law here. So it's CNN's reporting that one of the reasons the committee pursued this is because they're not certain that his prior testimony was truthful. So you're trying to pursue that. You're a lawyer there. And you're saying, you said this then, well, I refer to my previous answer. What happens when members ask follow-up questions and perhaps present evidence that those previous answers were not accurate, does he just take the fifth? I mean, what do you do?
JESSICA ROTH, PROFESSOR OF LAW, CARDOZO SCHOOL OF LAW: I think we're heading into a very interesting potential confrontation in the room perhaps followed by litigation.
SCIUTTO: Imagine that in this environment, yes.
ROTH: So it could be that we've reached a resolution for now that will still wind up in court at some point, certainly by agreeing to limit the amount of time he will be before the committee. He has limited the opportunity for follow-up questions for himself to make a mistake. If I were his lawyer, I would be very concerned about what he'll say in that room and be preparing him very carefully in the lead-up to this. He has a couple of more weeks to prepare for his testimony.
SCIUTTO: Understood, okay. So, Molly, it wasn't long ago, just a few days ago, when we were talking about the possibility that Bob Mueller testifying on the Hill today, that was the initial date floated by democratic lawmakers, but it appears now, at least certainly that date is off the table. The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said that he might go so far as subpoenaing Mueller if he doesn't say, yes. Do we know what Mueller's answer is to that question? Has he said no? Is he seeking permission from the Justice Department?
BALL: We don't know at this point. We have not been given a clear answer either from the democrats or certainly Mueller himself what stage those potential negotiations are at. It does appear that there is communication between the Judiciary Committee and Special Prosecutor Mueller. But it's not clear whether they're trying to set conditions, whether he's resistant to testifying. And there's been mixed signals from the administration as well. You have the President taking sort of both sides of this and the Attorney General initially saying that he would be open to it. So I think we just don't know where this stands.
And, as you know, originally, they had hinted that it could be today. So, obviously, something came up that that wasn't possible. But I think we're sort of in a holding pattern on that, waiting to see where it goes. SCIUTTO: Jessica, Bob Mueller is going to be -- soon to be a former federal employee whenever he chooses to leave. But still, at that point, he needs to get permission to testify, does he not, from the sitting Attorney General to testify. Is that correct? Or can he just say, you know what, I'm going to do it?
ROTH: No. He has the ability to decide on his own that he's willing to testify. I think that the concern will be is he willing to do it really in open defiance of the White House and Attorney General Barr? I think he, like Don McGahn, would prefer not to have to take that position, to work out some compromise where they testify, because they have the authority to decide to do so on their own but not in outright defiance of the White House.
SCIUTTO: So that's what's happening, I imagine, as the question of under what circumstances that is. But you're saying, legally, he -- let's say the White House says, no, it isn't going to happen, and he says, you know what, you know, I consider it my duty, that's still something he could do?
ROTH: He can as a private citizen. They can't direct him not to testify when he's a private citizen the way they can when he's still a member of the Department of Justice. Now, whether they could assert any privileges and go to court to try to enjoin him from testifying about certain subject areas over which they're intending to assert privilege, that would be a different question. But unless they go to court and get an order to enjoin him, he can show up and testify.
SCIUTTO: Well, it would be the 9 millionth time that we're in court to settle some of these questions, it seems. Molly Ball, Jessica Roth, thanks very much.
A key ally is casting down now on a U.S. claim that there is a growing threat from Iran in the Mideast? Who is right, the U.S. or the U.K.?
SCIUTTO: New this morning, the British Ministry of Defense is standing by a top British General who said there is no increased threat from Iran to U.S.-led coalition troops, of course, which includes British troops, a direct contradiction to a warning from the Trump administration. That British Major General is the Deputy Commander of the U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS in Iraq. He says the threat level remains steady. U.S. Central Command is pushing back on that.
Meanwhile, as tensions between the Trump administration and Iran continue to grow, the U.S. State Department is now ordering non- emergency U.S. government employees to leave the country due to worries that they could be targeted. U.S. citizens are also being warned not travel to Iraq.
Joining me now is CNN's Barbara Starr. She's live at the Pentagon. So this is quite a disagreement and a public one between two close allies, who, I should remind folks, share intelligence under what's known as the Five Eyes Program here. So how can one say there's increased threat, the U.S., and the other say not true?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Jim, now you're seeing both defense departments essentially try and walk that fine line. But make no mistake, there is a disagreement. This British General, very competent, very experienced, told reporters yesterday here at the Pentagon in a video press conference after being repeatedly asked, he just said he saw no difference, that Iran always does pose a threat in the region but he didn't see anything out of the ordinary of the consistent ongoing Iranian threat.
That is very different, of course, than what the Pentagon says. So the Pentagon pushed back in a very public way yesterday.