Return to Transcripts main page


White House Refuses Demands for Records and Testimony; Alabama Passes Abortion Ban; Rep. Seth Moulton (D-CO) is Interviewed on Iran Threat; Pilots Confronted Boeing about Safety. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 15, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow.

Don't go anywhere. A busy news day. Brianna Keilar starts RIGHT NOW.

Have a great day.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, is America closer to Roe v. Wade being overturned? One state's new bill puts a near total ban on abortion.

The threat was so dire, the U.S. deployed bombers and ships to flex its muscle against Iran, but now allies are questioning the intelligence.

Plus, chilling new audiotape of pilots warning Boeing about its 737 Max jet. Now the FAA on the hot seat about who knew what and when.

We start with breaking news.

We are learning details about a letter from the White House's top lawyer sent to the House Judiciary Committee refusing demands for records and testimony from current and former White House staff. It also says Congress has no right to do a, quote, do-over of the special counsel's investigation.

Let's get to CNN's senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, on The Hill for us.

What can you tell us about this letter, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, that White House counsel is essentially rejecting a request for information as part of the House Judiciary Committee's probe into potential obstruction of justice. Back in March, the committee launched a pretty expansive investigation. They asked for documents, testimony from current and former White House officials, a range of other people within President Trump's orbit. And today the White House responded with a 12-page letter telling Jerry Nadler that it will not comply with this request for information. This letter from Pat Cipollone says in part, congressional

investigations are intended to obtain information to aid in evaluating potential legislation, not to harass political opponents or to pursue an unauthorized do-over of exhaustive law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice.

They're saying that the Mueller investigation looked into all of this. There's no legitimate legislative purpose for the House Judiciary Committee to get this information. They also contend that it could violate confidentiality between -- within the White House, discussions within the White House.

And this comes after the White House has refused to turn over a range of document requests to a range of Democratic-led committees, as well as the full, un-redacted Mueller report and the underlying evidence to the House Judiciary Committee, of which the president exerted executive privilege, in which the attorney general was held in contempt for not complying with a subpoena.

This latest escalation here saying, no, they will not comply. They will stand in the way of this, setting the stage for potentially more court action between House Democrats and the administration to get information that the White House is refusing to provide.


KEILAR: All right, Manu Raju, thank you so much.

I want to bring in our legal analyst, Laura Coates, to talk about this.

This letter from the White House counsel is questioning the legitimacy of this investigation. To be clear, the Mueller report did not. The Mueller report made it clear that Congress, congressional inquiries, would be legitimate.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, and so does the Constitution, talk about the co-equal branches of government and the legitimacy of the legislative branch to have a check and balance on other co-equal -- co-equal branches of government.

What this letter essentially is saying is, from now on, Congress is going to have to prove a legislative intent behind any inquiry responding to oversight and accountability. Now, privilege arguments aside, trying to withhold information that would actually further the executive privilege is one thing. There is a foundation for saying, we want people who are in the president's orbit, who are advisers, to be able to have these very forthright, frank conversations. That's a very different scenario than saying, you're going to have to prove a legislative purpose here.

And by the way, this really fundamentally misconstrues that the Mueller probe, because that is over, means that Congress' probe has to be done. These were always intended to be parallel investigations. And the only reason that Congress took a backseat to the Mueller probe, Brianna, was because people weren't willing to testify in front of Congress, knowing that they may have legal peril facing them with the Mueller special counsel probe. They waited for their opportunity to do so. The Mueller report came in. It never changed the congressional oversight responsibility to figure out whether they could close that gap between what's inappropriate behavior and what's unlawful.

KEILAR: Laura Coates, thank you for that.

The fate of the nation's most restrictive abortion bill now sits with the Alabama governor, setting up a major legal battle ahead. This bill essentially bans almost all abortions in the state. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. There is an exception for health risks to the mother. And doctors who perform an abortion could face up to 99 years in prison, which is effectively a life sentence.

But this is more than just a bill impacting Alabama. This is designed to make it to the Supreme Court in an effort to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion.

[13:05:07] The bill has ignited a fiery debate among lawmakers.


SEN. CLYDE CHAMBLISS (D), ALABAMA STATE SENATOR: A life is a life, and even if it is -- its originals are in very difficult situations, that life is still precious.

Life is a gift of our Creator and we must do everything that we can to protect life.

SEN. LINDA COLEMAN-MADISON (D), ALABAMA STATE SENATOR: Republicans, you y'all, you guys used to say, we want the government out of our life. We want them out of our business. We want them out of our bedroom. Yes, you did. You said, we want them out of my bedroom. Now you're in my womb. I want you out. You don't control this. You don't own this.


KEILAR: Now that last speaker is Alabama State Speaker Linda Coleman- Madison. And she's joining us now. She's a Democrat. She voted against the bill.

Tell us what was going through your mind when this passed.

SEN. LINDA COLEMAN-MADISON (D), ALABAMA STATE SENATOR: Brianna, it was unbelievable. It was just like a step back in the past and the burning of the witches to the stake, you know, women's suffrage. A lot of things went through my mind. And looking at where we were going with this bill and we wondered, exactly where are we going as a country. I sat there and I listened to the majority Republican, all men. Most have women, that have wives, that have daughters, that voted against every amendment that we offered, even the one about the exclusion of rape and incest. They say that they are pro-life. It's about the sanctity of life. It's about supporting women. It's about justice for women. Yet when we offer amendments to make this a better bill, to do just that, to address the fact that if the bill were passed and the woman were forced to have this child, what kind of support is there? There is none. It's a slap in the face to all women.

KEILAR: And your governor, what is your message to her as this now lands on her desk? She has several days to decide whether to sign it.

COLEMAN-MADISON: The governor is really in a hot spot. I know that she is party, straight up and down the line. She is a woman. I am hoping that she will look at the women of this state who make up a large portion of the voting population and understand that the ramification of this bill is -- goes beyond just about abortion. We are looking at turning back all -- the hands of time on all the advances and accomplishments that we have made as far as women's rights.

I'm very proud that she is the governor of this state. We have not had that many women. She is the second to hold this position. And she talks proudly of how far she has come in that position, as being a woman. Now's the time for her to stand up for all women. Just like her rights were protected and she had the right to run for that office. One of these days, by this maybe very legislative body, it may be taken away. So she has the choice right now to sign or not sign this bill into law. It would be my plea to her to not sign it.

KEILAR: Even if she doesn't sign it, there's so much support for this in the legislature, which you are aware of. With this very -- it's very likely that it's going to move forward. What -- what does it mean in your state? What happens? What will the effect be?

COLEMAN-MADISON: Well, the effects are going to be catastrophic. Right now, the way this bill is written, it is so ambiguous. First of all, it's conflicting language. You speak of -- when does a woman know that she's pregnant? How do you determine that? In judiciary committee, the house sponsor said that it is her belief that conception -- as a life, as a child, begins at conception. Well, if that is the case, the senate sponsors spoke of when a woman knows. Most women don't know when they become pregnant. A lot of them look at the fact of, well, I missed my cycle. Not all women have the same cycle. So that is ambiguous right there.

You're going to have some issues with doctors. Women go to doctors to be treated. And the penalties for doctors, this can ruin their life. So you're going to have more of them less likely to want to treat women. You're going to have more of the back alley, basement abortions that we used to have, conjuring of these stories that we used to have of the coat hangers.

Again, this is a step back in the past. We have moved light years in the past and certainly it is going to have long-term ramifications for this state.

[13:10:08] KEILAR: State Senator Linda Coleman-Madison, thank you for joining us from Montgomery.

COLEMAN-MADISON: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: And back with me now, we have CNN legal analyst Laura Coates.

When you look at this -- and it's not just what's happening in Alabama, but you have a number of other states that have these so- called fetal heartbeat bills. How likely is it, with the makeup of the Supreme Court being what it is, that this goes to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court decides to take it up and Roe v. Wade is overturned?

COATES: Well, frankly, it's unlikely to overturn in the fashion and the fast track basis everyone's thinking about, and here's why. Roe v. Wade also has a proposition of the trimester framework. The reason why the fetal heartbeat legislation and bills are so problematic to the Constitution is because the Roe v. Wade court and others of its progeny have talked about that trimester framework for when a fetus is viable outside of the womb. It's the old adage of saying, your rights stop where mine begin and the state can intervene when a fetal viability is later down in the trimester framework.

For the courts to look at cases like out of Georgia, or out of Alabama, both under the same circuit court, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, would say we have to upend completely that thought of the trimester framework, number one.

And, number two, they have kind of an out here. The Supreme Court does not have to take every single case that they would -- are ask to take. One thing that they could actually do in this instance is if these cases are implemented or if these laws are implemented and actually will be put into effect in the -- in the respective states, they will be challenged in court immediately. If the overarching circuit court says, no, we're striking it down, it's unconstitutional, the Supreme Court could say, if they're so inclined, well, we need not reconcile this issue.

The bigger issue, Brianna, is if there are different circuits, or different states, that are competing for the same definition of constitutionality, meaning maybe Georgia, who is under that same umbrella, says, ours, with exceptions included, is unconstitutional, but Alabama's is. Well, now the Supreme Court says, we've got a discrepancy here and we have to have the United States of America and legislation.

So they have two courses of action. But it will not be the immediate change of events, primarily because the medical community supports that trimester framework and to suggest otherwise would upend everything.

KEILAR: Laura Coates, thank you for explaining that to us.

And as tensions are rising with Iran, a British general disagrees with the U.S. assessment that the threat is increasing.

Plus, the FAA on the hot seat as the world awaits answers on when Boeing knew about their jets before two deadly crashes. See what happened in a hearing.

And, Mitt Romney breaks with fellow Republicans over one of the president's judicial picks who once called President Obama an un- American imposter.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [13:17:43] KEILAR: A rare disagreement between the U.S. and the U.K. over military intelligence about Iran is playing out in a very public arena. Today, the State Department ordered all non-emergency U.S. government employees to leave Iraq, citing an increased threat from Iran to U.S.-led coalition troops. But the deputy commander of those troops, a British major general, is contradicting that assessment.


MAJ. GEN. CHRISTOPHER GHIKA, DEPUTY COMMANDER, COMBINED JOINT TASK FORCE: There are a range of threats to American and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria. We monitor them all. Iranian-backed forces is clearly one of them. And I'm not going to go into the detail of it, but there are a substantial number of militia groups in Iraq and Syria. And we don't see any increased threat from many of them at this stage.


KEILAR: Joining me now is Democratic presidential candidate and congressman, Seth Moulton.

Congressman, thanks for being with us.


KEILAR: You are a former Marine infantry officer. You were deployed four times to Iraq. You know, certainly, the story of the origins of that war.

The U.S. and the U.K. have this intel sharing agreement. So how do you explain this big difference in opinion and who do you trust?

MOULTON: Well, it's disappointing to not be able to say that I trust the American intelligence and the American administration. But from everything I've seen, both classified and unclassified, I think the British assessment is much more accurate in this case.

And it's just frightening how similar this rollup to war with Iran is to what happened with the rollup to war in Iraq. You have -- back then we had Dick Cheney and John Bolton pushing George W. Bush, a president who had no idea what fighting on the ground, what combat is actually like, into a disastrous war in Iraq. Today, we have John Bolton back in that same role, pushing Donald Trump, a president who dodged the draft, who lied about his feet to get out of serving in combat himself, into a war with an even more dangerous adversary.

We're talking about the same number of troops, the same people in Congress who were saying that this will be easy, this will be quick. And we're even operating under the same authorization for the use of military force that was fashioned back in 9/11 and used to get us into Iraq.

Literally, that authorization from Congress is older than the troops that Trump will be sending to fight and potentially die. [13:20:06] KEILAR: You are on the Armed Services Committee. Have you

been briefed at this point or have your colleagues been briefed on what's going on here, on this reported plan that the Defense Department has given the White House -- that has given the White House a plan about -- that would mobilize 120,000 troops in response to the Iran threat?

MOULTON: We have been briefed on the intelligence, and that's where I say that my assessment of the intelligence so far is much more aligned with the British assessment, which is that this is not that out of the ordinary. American troops in the Middle East have always been under threat of attack from Iran, and that's happened a lot in the last several years, and even more so ten years ago.

In terms of the administration's plans, it's a black box. You know, they won't even acknowledge exactly what they're doing. They clearly have no strategy. And if there's one lesson that we should take out of the war in Iraq, it it's, do not go into a war that risks American lives without a plan, without a tragedy. Don't start a war without a plan to end it. And it's very clear that this administration has no plan.

KEILAR: You're running for president. You've talked a lot during your time in Congress about not ceding the national security sphere to Republicans.

When you're looking at this problem, how would you handle the Iran threat as president?

MOULTON: We have to take the Iran threat seriously. But we should be doing exactly the opposite of what Trump is doing. Iran right now is restarting its nuclear weapons program, because we pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. That was a huge mistake. Many of Trump's own military advisers disagreed with him. We need to clamp down on Iran's nuclear program, not allow it to progress.

We need to make sure that we are willing to meet the Iranian threat, but we should meet it with a response that will de-escalate tensions, that will put them in their place, not start a larger war. If you're just putting 120,000 troops into the -- into the Persian Gulf region, so that it magnifies any conflict that Iran starts, that's going to get us into a war.

I mean that actually reminds me of what happened to get us into Vietnam, where we had this Gulf of Toncan (ph) incident that was a trigger to set off conflict with North Vietnam. It was later discredited. Some people think that the entire interaction was false. But by putting a lot of American forces in the region, it made it easier to start a war. I think that's exactly what we're doing right now.

KEILAR: I do want to ask you, since I have you here, about this big news coming out of Alabama, where a bill effectively would ban all abortions, has been passed by the state legislature.

What's your reaction to that and to other Republican efforts that are designed ultimately to target Roe v. Wade?

MOULTON: I mean, it's absolutely -- it's absolutely disgusting. According to this Alabama law, if someone rapes a woman and she gets pregnant and she goes and gets an abortion, after being raped, she could literally be put in prison for longer than the rapist. That's how backwards this law is. It's unconstitutional. It will be turned down by the Supreme Court.

But we should not even be having this debate about women's rights to their own health care. Women should make their own decisions about their bodies. That was settled 40 years ago. It should still be the case today.

KEILAR: Congressman, thank you so much. Congressman Seth Moulton joining us today.

MOULTON: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: And new audio is showing that pilots raised Boeing safety fears months before the Ethiopian 737 Max 8 crash, but safety officials are on The Hill right now blaming the pilots.

And Senator Kamala Harris taking new shots at Joe Biden and his record on crime.


[13:28:30] KEILAR: Just weeks after a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed in the sea off Indonesia and months before a 737 Max operated by Ethiopian Air crashed in Ethiopia, pilots complained to a Boeing officials about the anti-stall system on the planes. An audio of that exchange has emerged, first airing on CBS News.


PILOT: We flat out deserve to know what is on our airplanes.

BOEING: I don't disagree.

PILOT: These guys didn't even know the damn system was on the airplane, nor did anybody else.

BOEING: I don't know that understanding this system would've changed the outcome on this.


KEILAR: Well, during a hearing, members of the House Transportation Subcommittee grilled officials from the FAA and the NTSB on that very topic.

We have CNN's Tom Foreman here on this story.

What did we learn from this hearing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we learned is that there is still very distinct camps in this. Remember, what we're talking about here is, when Boeing put in this update on this plane, this thing called the MCAS system, on their newest type of plane, a new feature, it was intended to stabilize the plane in flight. But in both of these crashes, people believe that it nosed the plane down in a way that pilots could not recover from.

Boeing's position, and some of the people in this hearing today in Congress, their position was more or less to say, look, we think that the pilots should have been able to handle this. They should have been able to figure it out, follow procedures, everything's fine.

[13:29:56] And then there are others, including pilots like this who are saying, if you don't even know that the system is there and you have very little time to recover, how can you push it off on the pilots right now. This was a design flaw and Boeing has to be held responsible for it. Those camps were very clear.