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Tariffs on Canada and Mexico; Flynn's Testimony to the Mueller Team; Mnuchin Likely to Defy Deadline for Taxes; Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) is Interviewed about the Flynn Revelations; Congress Fuming over Iran Intelligence. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 17, 2019 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:25] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, a new twist, Michael Flynn told Robert Mueller that people tied to President Trump or to Congress contacted him potentially trying to obstruct the investigation. But who and why weren't they charged?

The attorney general once again fueling the spygate conspiracies and he does it on the president's favorite network.

Plus, as everyone talks about a potential war with Iran, what happened with Venezuela? The U.S. seemed on the brink of action and then crickets.

And, surprise, the Trump administration will send 1,000 migrants a month to counties in Florida, counties repped (ph) by Democrats.

And we begin with breaking news.

The U.S. is expected to announce soon that it's lifting steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico. This is according to an official familiar with these plans.

Business anchor Julia Chatterley is joining us from New York.

Tell us what you have learned here and what this means for the U.S., Julia?

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: Well, what we're hearing now is that we could see the White House remove the tariffs that have been applied on countries like Canada and Mexico, almost a year ago if you remember, citing national security concerns. So we're talking about 25 percent tariffs on steel, 10 percent tariffs on incoming aluminum. It's been a huge bone of contention between the three nations, between Canada, Mexico and the United States.

In exchange for removing those tariffs, of course, the United States wants to retain the powers to hit them with tariffs again if any of these nations are importing aluminum and steel from other countries. So it's about protecting each other in this arrangement and the hope is that what will happen then is that Canada and Mexico will remove the tariffs they then slapped on things like farming produce, imports coming from the United States, so everyone will have better relations and it could facilitate the signing, finally, of the rewrite of the NAFTA trade agreement, of course, between the three nations, but it's still been sitting, waiting in Congress and nobody willing to sign off on it.

KEILAR: All right, we will see if that happens. Julia, thank you so much. Julia Chatterley for us.

And now to revelations from Michael Flynn about possible obstruction of justice. In newly released court documents we're learning that Flynn told investigators that he was approached by people connected to the Trump administration or Congress who potentially attempted to obstruct justice as Flynn was cooperating with the government or as he considered doing so. Newly unsealed court records revealed that Flynn, quote, the defendant informed the government of multiple instances, both before and after his guilty plea, where either he or his attorneys received communications from persons connected to the administration or Congress that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation.

Now, this is coming just as a federal judge is ordering that redacted portions of the Mueller report regarding Flynn have to be made public. The judge is also ordering the release of transcripts with Flynn's conversations with Russian officials during the transition.

Sara Murray has been following this story and it raises more questions than it answers, Sarah.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It really does. I mean, like, why did Robert Mueller decide that none of this amounted to obstruction? You know, if not on the president's side, we want to know what the president knew about these conversations with Michael Flynn to potentially influence his testimony. But also why did Bob Mueller decide that nobody else deserved to face obstruction charges for their role in trying to influence Flynn's testimony?

Now, we do have a little bit of a sense of what was included in at least one of these voicemails, and it comes from the Mueller report. And this was a member of the president's legal team who was reaching out to Michael Flynn's counsel and left a voicemail, and this is one of the voicemails Flynn's team turned over and said, you know, this is, again, one of the president's lawyers talking to Flynn's counsel. It wouldn't surprise me if you'd gone on to make a deal with the government. If there's information that implicates the president, well, we've got a national security issue. So, you know, we need some kind of a heads up.

So this sort of shows you how the president's team was trying to get insight on what Flynn was sharing with the special counsel. And, in turn, Flynn and his team turned this information over to the special counsel. So I think it will be interesting to see, Brianna, what we -- what more we can get out of this judge who is going to be the one who's ultimately deciding Flynn's fate and deciding Flynn's sentence. We're going to see the sort of fuller transcript of this voicemail. You see there were a lot of ellipsis there, so I think we want to know what was left out of this.

And then if we get any more details from now until when Flynn is sentenced about who else Flynn may have been in contact with or may have been reaching out to Flynn to try to impact his testimony. And, of course, Brianna, the big question is whether we're going to see calls from Congress for either Flynn to testify or to hand over some of these documents and voicemails?

[13:05:05] KEILAR: All right, Sara Murray, thank you so much for that.

I'm going to be speaking live with a member of the House Judiciary Committee about this very thing in just a moment.

Another day, another deadline in the battle between House Democrats and President Trump over his financial records. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin faces a deadline just hours from now to turn over six years of the president's tax returns. Mnuchin is not expected to comply with the subpoena. In fact, he all but said so earlier this week.


STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: We will comply with the timing of it and I think you can pretty much guess how we're going to, but I haven't made a decision.


KEILAR: Manu Raju is with us on this.

Manu, this fight over the president's tax records is just one of the legal and political showdowns between the president and congressional Democrats. Walk us through the latest developments.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and almost in every single showdown, it's followed a similar pattern that the White House says, no, Democrats say that we're going to fight this, we're going to take this to court and it's going to end up -- it could take months and months, maybe even years to resolve. But, nevertheless, that is the pattern of this administration as Democrats look at -- to take things to court, as well as to hold some senior officials in contempt.

Now, on one aspect that we're not expecting a compliance with today's deadline to turn over tax returns. The Treasury -- as you noted, the Treasury secretary signaled as much in comments this week. And that is going to go to court. Almost certainly Richard Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, made that very clear, that that is going to be his next step in pursuing this, not necessarily holding Steve Mnuchin in contempt, but that's hardly the only thing that the White House and the administration are resisting.

Also, Don McGahn, he has a testimony, he's scheduled for next week before the House Judiciary Committee. And the White House has instructed McGahn not to turn over records to the House Judiciary Committee. The question is, will he appear under subpoena from that very committee next week. Right now the -- Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary chairman, told us this morning that he would not comment on the latest where that stands, but he plans to move forward with that hearing, even if Don McGahn does not comply.

And there's also no word yet on whether Bob Mueller will come before the House Judiciary Committee. I am told that is unlikely going to happen this month despite the requests by the House Democrats and they're blaming the Justice Department for dragging its feet. And the question is when that will happen. But it probably will not happen until June now at the earliest.

But there are a whole wide range of other aspects, including the House Intelligence Committee's subpoena to turn over counterintelligence information related to the Mueller probe. The chairman of that committee, Adam Schiff, says that he plans to take, quote, enforcement action against the Justice Department, potentially holding -- also voting to hold Bill Barr in contempt or other officials for not complying with that subpoena. So all of these issues starting to just end up in a pile of sorts, Brianna, as Democrats look to wrap all of this up and hold a number of officials in contempt, carry on with lawsuits.

But the administration, in some way, believes that this is the way to fight this in court and let the courts sort this out and hopefully they can win and not turn over these records, as Democrats are demanding.


KEILAR: Manu, thank you for walking us through that.

We have Pennsylvania Congresswoman Madeleine Dean here with me now. She is a Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

And so as we're hearing this report, do you happen to know, do you have a suspicion of who this person or people connected to the Trump administration or to Congress, who would have been talking to Michael Flynn and perhaps potentially obstructing justice as he was considering cooperating with the government or cooperating with the government, do you have any idea who they are, a suspicion of who they are?

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): No, I have no idea. And, in fact, you saw in your reporting repeats reporting I read earlier today that it is either somebody connected with the Trump administration or Congress. So, with that kind of vagary, I don't know.

What I did do was dig back into the report and take a look at a partial transcript of a voicemail that was left by Trump's attorney to Flynn's attorney. A voicemail that was transcribed in the report.

So what it says to me, this reporting today, is just another reminder of how grave the situation is, how important it is that we have the entire Mueller report, that we have Mr. McGahn come before us on Tuesday and produce the documents that we had already previously subpoenaed because this is the most deceitful, corrupt administration that we've seen in my lifetime. It adheres nothing to the truth, cares nothing for our system of government. And just spent, if you read the report, there are 200 pages of descriptions of the president of the United States obstructing justice.

KEILAR: Would you like to know why this person or people were not charged and how do you see Congress' role in getting some of this information to know if Congress should pursue this lead?

DEAN: Well, this is our role. And you see that on my committee, the Judiciary Committee, that I'm privileged to sit with, with Chairman Nadler and many other talented people who care desperately about the rule of law. There are five other committees of jurisdiction. So, absolutely, we want to find out who these players are and what they did and will they be charged? Are they already charged? You know, there's an awful lot of redactions in here, matters under investigation. But Mr. Flynn and Manafort and Papadopoulos, the report reads to damning of the behaviors of the people that this president surrounded himself with.

[13:10:29] KEILAR: The attorney general, Bill Barr, says he wants to make sure that the FBI didn't have it, quote, thumb on the scale when it was looking for reasons to investigate the president. Here's what he told Fox News.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I thought when I came in from the outside that all the questions that I had and many other people had that would be readily answered once I got in. But I haven't found that to be the case.

I've been trying to get answers to questions and I found that a lot of the answers have been inadequate.


KEILAR: What is your reaction to that?

DEAN: It's stunning. This is the top law enforcement officer of our country, of our nation, sounding more like the president in his obfuscating than a law enforcement, an impartial law enforcement officer. Why isn't it that he wants -- why isn't it that he is not offended and feel a sense of urgency about that which was found in the report. How about volume one with more than 180 contacts by the Trump folks during the campaign with Russia. They welcomed their interference. President Trump, as candidate, calling for Russia's interference. Where is the urgency around that for this attorney general?

KEILAR: He said in this interview with Fox News that he would be comfortable -- comfortable was his word -- using words like witch hunt if he, quote, had been falsely accused. Is that appropriate?

DEAN: Inappropriate. It's unforgivable. But you saw that Mr. Barr won't come before our committee because he is absolutely carrying the water of a president that is the most deceitful president of our lifetime.

KEILAR: Robert Mueller may come before your committee. He -- there's no date set for him to testify, though, at this point in time. What's the hold up?

DEAN: There -- I know that there are conversations from Judiciary staff directly with Mr. Mueller's staff.

KEILAR: Is it just logistics? What is your -- what's your impression? What are you being told about what the -- what the hang up is?

DEAN: We know one of the big hang ups is the fact that the president, I guess a week ago now, claimed a blanket privilege. As we sat in committee, we got a letter stating, one, that Barr had asked the president to claim privilege and a second letter simultaneously with that identifying to our committee, the president has claimed privilege.

KEILAR: But the administration says they're OK with him testifying.

DEAN: That -- that's a change. You change -- it's a daily change with this administration.

Remember, the president wanted full transparency of the Mueller report because it exonerated him. Well, obviously, it doesn't exonerate him. It is actually quite -- it reveals criminal behavior by a lot of people surrounding him and obstruction by him. It's changeable every minute with this president. There's deflection. There's look over in this shiny object. But we won't be thrown off. We -- we'll uphold our constitutional duty because this president and this administration is the greatest threat to our rule of law.

KEILAR: Now that the administration has signed off on Mueller coming to testify, that previous claim of privilege, we'll have the report, certainly. Do you see that that is going to affect Mueller's testimony or what he can talk about with your committee at all, or are you expecting him to be as -- be able to be as forthcoming as he could be without any claim of privilege from the White House?

DEAN: My only judgment of Mr. Mueller and how he will speak is that he will speak credibly. He's shown himself to be a very credible public servant who for 22 months with a team of 19 others did a very difficult, tricky, complicated investigation of criminal activity and inappropriate activity. And he did it with such credibility. So, I just expect him to be forthcoming and credible.

KEILAR: Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, his testimony has been set for next Tuesday. Are you expecting that he's going to appear?

DEAN: We're preparing. I'm preparing. The entire team and the entire committee are preparing. We certainly hope he does. He has an important set of stories to tell, as the report reveals.

KEILAR: What's the word from his camp? What's the interaction? DEAN: I don't have the latest from my committee except I know that my

whole team has been working with the committee to prepare. So we hope he's coming in.

KEILAR: Do you expect that there's a willing -- so you expect there's a willingness on his part?

DEAN: I would think so, yes, because the report reveals his honesty and his candor about what the president tried to have him do. Tried to have him fire Mueller twice. And then, when the news broke of that, the president went to Don McGahn and said, would you please tell the press that that's not the truth. He asked him to fire, and obviously obstruct that means, fire Special Counsel Mueller or have someone else fire him. And then, when that broke, the president tried to obstruct the truth, obstruct justice, asking his counsel to lie for him. It's stunning information. The American people needs to see the full account.

[13:15:07] KEILAR: Congresswoman Dean, thank you so much for coming in.

DEAN: My pleasure.

KEILAR: We really appreciate it.

DEAN: My pleasure.

KEILAR: And from China to Iran, North Korea to Venezuela, President Trump being tested by the world in several different ways.

Plus, the president says he's fine with Pete Buttigieg's marriage, which puts him at odds with many conservatives, including his own vice president.

And it was a proposal that got some backlash, but now it's becoming a reality. Why the Trump administration is sending 1,000 migrants a month to Democratic counties in Florida.


[13:20:26] KEILAR: President Trump is a self-described dealmaker, but apparently those alleged skills are not transferable to foreign policy. The latest hot spot is the heightened tensions with Iran. A new "Wall Street Journal" report is shedding light on what set off this military escalation between the U.S. and Iran. And the report is sighting U.S. intelligence that shows Tehran believed the U.S. was going to attack and so it took action to prepare for a possible counterstrike. That, in turn, prompted the U.S. military to build up its military presence in the Persian Gulf.

And according to "The New York Times," President Trump does not want to go to war. That is what he told his acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan.

In the meantime, the White House is trying to calm some furious members of Congress, who say that they've been kept in the dark about the exact nature of these apparent threats from Iran.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I'm sure there's a good reason to do what they did. I have confidence in Secretary Pompeo and the national security team. But I'm in charge of the State Department's funding. And I'd like to know why we took the action we did. And think there are a lot of senators feel like they're in the dark and they dropped the ball on this.


KEILAR: Retired U.S. Air Force colonel and CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton is joining us now.

What's your reaction to this report from "The Journal" that actually it was Iran worried the U.S. was going to take action and the U.S. is worried Iran is going to take action. It's this sort of back and forth potentially with some misunderstanding in there.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Oh, absolutely. And, Brianna, you know, the key issue here is this miss -- issue of misunderstandings. The fact that the Iranians may have misunderstood U.S. intentions or the administration's intentions, that is a very risky thing. Sometimes you need to be very clear about your intentions and I know, you know, when the president ran for office back in 2016, he often said, I want to kind of obfuscate things, I want to make --

KEILAR: I don't want to telegraph what I'm doing.

LEIGHTON: Exactly. Exactly. I don't want to telegraph what I'm doing. But sometimes you have to telegraph exactly what you want to do or what you want the other side to do because it -- misunderstanding, especially in a place like the Persian Gulf, they are so difficult to overcome. You have a situation -- I've been watching this area for over 30 years and every time there is a misunderstanding between the various parties, you have a tendency where you can actually go in and create a shooting war when you didn't mean to do that. And it becomes really hard to unravel if there is -- is something like that.

KEILAR: In general, the president doesn't want to increase the U.S. footprint in the area. He wants to draw it down. So he's made it clear to the acting defense secretary he doesn't want a war in this situation. But on the other hand, he's got a very different national security adviser when it comes to philosophies. John Bolton, he has asked the Pentagon -- he had the Pentagon draw up a plan to send 120,000 troops -- so we're talking Iraq War level number of troops here -- to the Middle East. How do you square those polar opposites?

LEIGHTON: In many ways you can't. And that's going to be -- you know, if the president wants to have desperate views like this, it's certainly his right. But the problem is, you've got to speak with one voice once it becomes public, and we don't see that happening. We don't have a real manager of foreign policy, except for maybe the president in the president's messaging. So you have to really find out exactly, not only what we're intending to do, but also what our goals are. We have to have, in essence, a strategy.

And I think we're lacking that strategy because, you know, on the one hand you have the national security adviser, John Bolton, who, you know, has been known for many years to be very antagonistic towards Iran. On the other hand, you have a more nuanced view perhaps even from the president himself and the president, you know, should be very forceful in calling the shots at this point in time because if we let a war party take over at this -- at this juncture, we're going to have a real serious issue, not only with Iran, but potentially with our allies, as well.

KEILAR: There are a number of spots in foreign policy where the administration has been struggling or things have not turned out as they had hoped or as they were trying to orchestrate. You have Venezuela, North Korea, the Chinese are retaliating against the tariffs, there's a trade war going on.

When you look at this and what we're seeing with Iran, overall, how would you grade the president's foreign policy?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think, you know, if you gave him a letter grade right now, the overall grade would be somewhere around a C minus at this point. Now, there are potentials for A's in this. I -- for example, his issue with China and the fact that he's called out Huawei, the Chinese telecom's equipment manufacturer, that is a huge and a good deal. That -- the fact that he has done that is actually very positive from a national security standpoint.

However, then you turn to Venezuela and you see that in essence it looks like the administration was going for a coup d'etat of some type in Venezuela, preferably done by people in Venezuela or by Juan Guaido, the opposition leader. That did not materialize. And they should have known that the fruit was not ripe at this point in Venezuela. It was not going to fall off the tree. Things had to be, in essence, cooked a bit more before it became a possibility that the Maduro regime would leave.

[13:25:27] You look at situations with Russia. That -- you know, the idea that Trump lets himself, in essence, be guided by Putin, or at least that's what it seems like, that is a really, really dangerous thing. And, you know, in essence, the fact that we haven't responded to the cyberattack would be akin to not responding to Pearl Harbor. It was that serious, and perhaps even more serious because it affected the direct foundation of our democracy. And the fact that there is no leadership in terms of the executive branch that actually responds to that and has responded to the 2016 issue, that is a very big weak point in my opinion when it comes to U.S. foreign policy management.

KEILAR: I see what you're doing with the C minus. It's about as low as you can go without failing, right?

LEIGHTON: That's right. That's right. Absolutely.

KEILAR: Colonel, thank you so much. Maybe it can be turned around, I think is your point.

LEIGHTON: That's right.

KEILAR: I really appreciate you being with us.

LEIGHTON: You bet.

KEILAR: Just ahead, Vice President Pence and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg sparked weeks of debate over same-sex marriage and Christianity, but President Trump may shock his conservative base with what he just said about the 2020 contender.

Plus, on the move. The Trump administration is planning to send thousands of detained migrants to two Florida counties. We're going to talk to a mayor in one of those counties.