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Trump Fires Back at GOP Congressman's Talk of Impeachment; Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris Hold Campaign Rallies; Billionaire Robert F. Smith Announces He's Paying Off $40 Million in Student Debt. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired May 19, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Taken the time and effort to make sure everyone knows that he regards a sitting member of the U.S. Congress as a loser. That's how he's labeling Michigan Congressman Justin Amash, a Republican who this weekend laid out the opinion that the president's conduct during the Mueller investigation amounts to obstruction and that Congress should impeach him.
Until this weekend only Democrats have floated this idea. The president's response? He's go-to insult for people with whom he disagrees, "Never a fan of Justin Amash," he tweeted today. "A total lightweight." And then, "Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents' hands."
CNN's Boris Sanchez is at the White House. Boris, so far no other Republicans, at least publicly, are jumping on Congressman Amash's call for impeachment. Who else is speaking up.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, perhaps the most prominent Republican to speak up so far is Utah Senator Mitt Romney. He spoke with Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION" this morning saying that he respects Justin Amash's point of view but that he disagrees with him over whether President Trump committed impeachable acts.
Now Rhonda McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, she put out a statement last night essentially saying that Amash is sad and that, in her words, he's parroting Democratic talking points. On the other side of the coin, Democrats disagree on the issue of impeachment. You have some like the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff who suggests that the House should pursue impeachment, potentially as a tool to try to get some of the information that they've been subpoenaing from several government agencies, things like the president's tax returns, et cetera.
Listen to more of what he said on one of the Sunday morning talk shows.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Can an impeachment even be potentially successful in the Senate? We see no signs of that yet. And, you know, I respect what Justin Amash is doing and has said. He showed more courage than any other Republican in the House or Senate. But what may be pushing us in the direction of impeachment in any event has less to do with Justin Amash and more to do with the fact that the administration is engaging in a maximum obstructionism campaign against Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You do think there is more of a movement.
SCHIFF: I -- I think that --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Towards impeachment?
SCHIFF: We are seeing more members that recognize that the administration is acting in a lawless fashion. Essentially having obstructed justice is now obstructing Congress and our lawful function.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Now, Ana, the odds of Congress actually pursuing impeachment remain low. After all the most powerful Democrat on Capitol Hill, Nancy Pelosi, says that she doesn't believe it's politically prudent to try to pursue impeachment. She would rather see President Trump voted out of office in November 2020 -- Ana.
CABRERA: All right. Boris Sanchez at the White House tonight, thank you.
Joining us now is President Nixon's former White House counsel John Dean.
John, good to see you. For impeachment we know to be effective, both parties will have to have the will, the proverbial "Dan Broke on Nixon." Are you seeing any parallels right now?
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there is a direct parallel with Justin Amash's move. Larry Hogan, congressman from Maryland, was the first to break rank in the Republicans against Nixon. It was early. He was lonely. He was attacked, but it did start the process. So there is a direct parallel, yes.
CABRERA: CNN asked Senator Mitt Romney, another Trump critic, about Congressman Amash and his call for impeachment. And Romney wasn't ready to go as far. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I respect him. I think it's a courageous statement. But I believe that to make a case for obstruction of justice, you just don't have the elements that are evidenced in this document. And I also believe that an impeachment call is not only something that relates to the law but also considers practicality and politics. And the American people just aren't there. And I think those that are considering impeachment have to look also at the jury, which would be the Senate. The Senate is certainly not there either.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: I know you agree with Amash and that you've noted before that Mueller's report presents clear evidence of obstruction. But if Amash is just one Republican voice, is there enough political and legal momentum for anything to come out of this?
DEAN: Well, there's certainly enough votes in the House, but there are not enough votes in the Senate. And of course, the Senate would try in the Articles of Impeachment sent by the House. So I think it's a nonstarter as far as removal or a guilty and removal judgment at this point.
But, Ana, typically these things take a process that has really not even gotten off the ground in the House yet with Trump stonewalling everything. The public is learning nothing. It's a pretty effective tactic if he gets away with it. But I think that we'll see if he gets away with it. They can start calling witnesses who will come up and start testifying about it because they've got to educate the public. And today very few Americans have read the Mueller report, even know what its contents are. So it's early in the process also.
[20:05:08] CABRERA: In fact, Congressman Amash says he believes most lawmakers haven't read the full Mueller report. What's your reaction to that?
DEAN: I suspect that is the case. I worked on Capitol Hill. I was a staffer there for -- on the Judiciary Committee and know members are awfully busy today even more so than back when I was there. Raising money is their full-time work. So I doubt they have read it, and I think they should. But I'm not hopeful.
CABRERA: If they read it, do you think it would make a difference?
DEAN: Yes, it would make a big difference. It's a very persuasive document. It's not done with any set of flaring rhetoric. It just lays out fact after fact after fact. And it doesn't draw conclusions, really, in either section but it clearly does not exonerate the president with the obstruction issue.
CABRERA: Which Mueller spells out this does not exonerate him.
CABRERA: It seems as though White House or former White House counsel Don McGahn would be witness number one in an obstruction case. Trump denies the special counsel's report that the president ordered McGahn to fire Mueller. Now the White House meantime has told McGahn not to comply with the subpoena. Is it really up to the White House whether or not we hear from McGahn?
DEAN: It is not. They have no control over him. They'd have to go to court and get some sort of injunction against his testifying. Otherwise he could be held in contempt of Congress for not appearing. He -- there's just no reason he could not go. He might take the Fifth. He might say executive privilege, but he certainly has to appear if called.
CABRERA: And we still don't know if Mueller will testify. What do you see as the potential impact of his testimony?
DEAN: Well, both McGahn and Mueller would be big witnesses. And I suspect at some point we'll get both of them.
CABRERA: OK. John Dean, good to have you with us.
That was one opinion. But we want to make sure you always have more than just one. So here with us is White House reporter for the "Washington Post," Toluse Olorunnipa, and former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin.
Michael, I want your opinion on Congressman Amash's argument. He says the evidence is there. The threshold is met and Trump's actions detailed in the Mueller report are impeachable. Do you agree?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'm not sure that they are impeachable. I think that they are worthy perhaps of a preliminary inquiry. I think that for Congress to make a determination about whether something is an impeachable offense, they need to hear from the witnesses themselves. That's what underlies their efforts to get at the underlying witnesses and documents that gave rise to the Mueller report.
So on the Mueller report alone, I'm not there, but if we see the witnesses, we hear what they say, we saw the underlying documents, then maybe.
CABRERA: I asked Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell earlier in the show about Amash's comments. Listen to his reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're on a road to impeachment. It's not a road I think any of us want to go on but now it's a bipartisan road. It looks like.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Toluse, I think we can both agree it's a stretch to say this is now a bipartisan road, but is this how we can expect Democrats to spin Amash's comments? Can they now use this as an excuse to move forward?
TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. You can expect to hear many Democrats say that not only do Democrats want to move forward with impeachment but even there are Republicans that are saying that they need to investigate this president and potentially get on the road to impeachment.
I think Justin Amash's comments and his tweet storm about impeachable offenses by the president does -- it does help several Democratic candidates for president as well as Democrats in the House who have been really itching for a fight and they've seen the fact that the president and the White House have been stonewalling. And that has put more of them in the camp of saying we should just move forward with impeachment since we're not able to get any cooperation from this White House.
The fact that the White House has been so abstinent and so willing to decide to just say a blanket no to any request from the Congress, the fact that now you have one Republican saying, yes, we need to go forward with impeachment and saying that he read the full report and he did see impeachable offenses, it does give cover to a number of Democrats and I think you can expect the drum beat of impeachment to increase and to become much more intense over the next few weeks even though the Mueller report has been out for a month now.
The fact that now we've seen one Republican break ranks is a sign that several more Democrats will call for the full steam ahead with impeachment.
CABRERA: Mueller stopped short of giving a recommendation on obstruction and Attorney General William Barr says he was actually surprised by that. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you surprised that he came back with no recommendation on that obstruction charge? That surprise you?
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, that surprised me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How come?
BARR: The function of a prosecutor is to make a call one way or the other.
[20:10:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ask him why?
BARR: Yes, we discussed it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did he say?
BARR: Well, I -- you know, I already have said we met on March 5th before he delivered the report and he gave an explanation for it and it's pretty much reflected in the report.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Michael, do you think Mueller did a disservice by not including a recommendation on obstruction?
ZELDIN: Well, it depends on a disservice to whom? He did a service to the president by not making a recommendation. He did a service to the president by not saying, but for the OLC. The Office of Legal Counsel opinion, I would have indicted him. So the president is the principal beneficiary of Mueller's refusal to make a decision. But I think that what Mueller did was the right thing. I think that the OLC opinion prevented him from making a charging decision.
I think that fundamental interests of privacy of people who are not able to be charged shouldn't be named as criminals. So I think that Mueller did the right thing, and the president is the beneficiary of it.
CABRERA: What do you make of the way Barr has portrayed the Mueller report?
ZELDIN: I think it was misleading. I think that he in his effort to offer the bottom line conclusions, which is what Barr called them, would have been much better off allowing Mueller to offer those bottom line conclusions in the form of the summaries that he gave to Barr with the expectation that those would be released.
I think if we're going to criticize Barr for his activities since he's arise -- arose at the scene. How do you say that word? Arrived at the scene.
ZELDIN: Since he arrived at the scene.
CABRERA: I'm glad I'm not the only one who sometimes has trouble.
ZELDIN: Oh, my goodness. Arrived at the scene. His March 24th letter issuing those bottom line summaries and his press conference were inappropriate. That he should have left Mueller speak for himself. Let the report be issued without a press conference leading up to it.
CABRERA: Toluse, are we ever going to hear from Mueller himself?
OLORUNNIPA: If you ask the Democrats, they are moving full steam ahead with trying to get Mueller to agree to testify, trying to work it out between the Department of Justice and Mueller who at some point will become a private citizen. He has wanted to let his work speak for him over the course of the past two years. We haven't heard him speak publicly.
But this is something that the public has (INAUDIBLE) for and I think that over the course of the next few weeks if not months, we should expect to see Bob Mueller testify and answer some of those unanswered questions about his report, whether or not he believes that the president did actually commit obstruction of justice and whether or not it was just the Office of Legal Counsel opinion that stopped him from moving forward with an official charge against the president of the United States.
Those are the types of questions that Democrats are itching to get answered and I think that they're going to pull out all the stops. And if the Department of Justice doesn't agree to allow Mueller to testify, you can expect even a subpoena to Robert Mueller. So I would expect and if I were a betting man, I would bet on the fact that at some point we will see Robert Mueller testifying before the cameras for Democrats to get answers to the questions that they're not getting from the White House right now.
CABRERA: And Toluse, coming full circle, back to the Amash statement this weekend. If there's anything that could change minds right now in Congress is it Mueller? OLORUNNIPA: It's hard to see many more Republicans sort of breaking
from this president. They have shown a willingness to kind of stick with him no matter what he does. A lot of the independent voices in the Republican caucus have left over the past year. So I would be surprised, even if Mueller came out in much more strident language said that he believed the president should be impeached.
I don't know that you would see very many more Republicans break ranks. They have been sort of speaking from the same playbook saying it's time to move on. So even testimony from Robert Mueller might not change things for a lot of Republicans. It may change things for the American people as we said earlier. Several of them have not read the report but watching Robert Mueller who is well respected, watching him on TV if he were to say something that broke some news about what he believed or even laid out the pieces of his report that many people in the public do not know about.
I think that could change a lot of the minds of the American public and that could be the first step in what happens in the Congress.
CABRERA: All right. Thank you, Toluse Olorunnipa, Michael Zeldin. Really appreciate you taking the time this weekend, guys.
ZELDIN: Thank you, Ana.
CABRERA: Live to Los Angeles now. Senator Kamala Harris, one of 23 candidates competing for the Democratic nomination, is speaking to reporters after a rally there. How are she and other candidates trying to stand out from the crowd? Just ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[20:18:20] CABRERA: The 2020 race heating up tonight for Democratic hopefuls. Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris each holding campaign rallies this afternoon. Both candidates with a lot to say about women's issues.
Now here's the state of play in the race right now. A new FOX News poll showing Sanders at 17 percent trailing Joe Biden by a significant margin among Democratic primary voters. Senator Elizabeth Warren follows at 9 percent, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 6 percent followed by Kamala Harris at 5 percent.
And CNN's team of political reporters are covering every angle of the 2020 race. Ryan Nobles is with Senator Sanders in Birmingham, Alabama. And Kyung Lah is in Los Angeles where Senator Harris is campaigning today.
Ryan, Senator Sanders, as we just pointed out, he's trailing front runner Joe Biden substantially. The abortion issue right now isn't traditionally a centerpiece of Sanders' campaign but he is turning up the volume on reproductive freedom in the wake of Alabama's new law. He was supposed to participate in this march today. Last we spoke you hadn't seen him in the march. What's the status? RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana, honestly we
don't really know whether or not Bernie Sanders was able to participate in this march here tonight. The march was scheduled to take place right after a rally that he had already scheduled here in downtown Birmingham. A group of reporters were ready to follow Sanders through the march, and he never was able to connect with us.
Now the campaign says that he did end up joining the march but at the very end. But we were unable to see that ourselves. But that issue aside, Ana, you're right. That this has become a big issue for Bernie Sanders and it wasn't necessarily intended to be that way. This is the end of a four-state southern swing for Senator Sanders where he was talking about things like education and water quality.
But this issue here in Alabama with the abortion law bubbled up at the last minute and the Sanders campaign has adapted to that.
[20:20:05] In fact his remarks today, he kind of moved away from his normal stump speech and talked a lot about the issue of abortion. Take a listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT). PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Right now, all across the United States, there is a well-funded attack coordinated by right-wing extremists to deny women the right to control their own bodies and their own futures. Apparently the Alabama legislature and governor actually believe that it is appropriate to force a woman to have the baby of her rapist.
And we will fight them in every way possible. Because if they are implemented, the consequences will be absolutely disastrous and threaten the very lives of women. We're talking about life and death issues here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: And, of course, this is an issue and where Sanders stands on this issue is pretty universal across this big Democratic field. You now have 24 different candidates. So each of these candidates trying to find a way to stand out from the crowd. And essentially the message from the Sanders team is that Bernie was ahead of this issue. One that was not necessarily popular even within Democratic circles to be in favor of abortion rights.
Bernie was in favor of abortion rights, and he was marching along before other politicians were. So that's the message that they're sending to Democrats. You know where Bernie has been on this issue. You know where he will be. And that's why you should support him and the Democratic primary -- Ana.
CABRERA: And speaking of marching, we're now learning nationwide protests are expected on Tuesday for people to turn out to protest against these abortion rights restrictions that are happening, not just in Alabama but in several states all across the country.
Kyung Lah, what did Senator Kamala Harris have to say about Alabama's new law and the abortion rights issue?
KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a crowd. An energetic home state crowd that was primed to hear her talk about this. This is right in the sweet spot of what the Harris campaign has been talking about. It's been talking about justice. It's been talking about making sure that the laws are fair and equal. And also talking about women's rights.
I want you to listen to not just what she said when she brought up Alabama. But the response from this crowd. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CALIFORNIA): And let's also speak truth that this past week made clear, women's access to reproductive health care is under attack, and we will not stand for it. And we will fight with everything we have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAH: She's been putting her efforts where her mouth is over the weekend. The Harris campaign has been fundraising, not for their campaign directly but for abortion rights groups, raising more than 200,000 in an online campaign. And Harris also recorded a video with the other female candidates for president of the United States with Stacey Abrams. urging that there would be more equity. Urging for representation among women in state legislatures.
And all of this adds to the question of why then are they lagging behind Bernie Sanders, why are they lagging behind Joe Biden when there's such enthusiasm and passion behind issues like this, Ana, and what some woman in the crowd told me when I asked her why is Joe Biden leading? Why is she trailing Bernie Sanders. It's because, she says, it's early, and she does not believe the polls that it is time for a woman. And Alabama proves it.
CABRERA: Wow. Interesting. Kyung Lah and Ryan Nobles, thank you both.
A surprising announcement. A really, really good surprise today from a commencement speaker to the graduating class. Imagine getting this little boost before starting your career.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT F. SMITH, VISTA EQUITY PARTNERS CEO: On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we're going to put a little fuel in your bus. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: And just like that, $40 million in student loan debt gone. I'll talk with this Morehouse graduate who got this life-changing gift today, live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[20:28:35] CABRERA: OK. Listen to this one. Nearly 400 college graduates got much more than their diplomas at commencement today. It must have felt completely surreal. During a keynote address at Morehouse College, billionaire Robert F. Smith dropped this bombshell. He will pay off the seniors' student loan debt, all of it, totaling about $40 million. He encouraged those grads to pay it forward. Now this announcement was met with a standing ovation and cheers of MVP. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we're going to put a little fuel in your bus. This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: All right. Let's talk to one of those students in the crowd. Elijah Nesly Dormeus, he is one of the Morehouse College graduates whose debt will be paid off by Robert Smith.
Elijah, I love seeing your great smile tonight. What was your reaction when you first heard this announcement?
ELIJAH NESLY DORMEUS, MOREHOUSE COLLEGE GRADUATE: So initially in the first few seconds of hearing it, I was stuck. Because I'm hearing him talk a lot about, you know, one how his life trajectory deals with how we need to adapt and then then maneuver into how we can be more successful by taking these series of steps.
So, when he says it -- when he spoke about the loan and basically just taking care of it, I was just like, what? I think he's joking.
ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: It didn't sink in initially?
DORMEUS: That's exactly how it felt. I'm like, no, he's joking. Then I'm registering it again. And I'm like, he's like, this is my class, my class, 2019. I'm like, oh, yes, OK, yes, this is it. So, it made me feel good because I just thought about my mother.
I'm one of nine kids. My dad passed away when I was 7 years old. So, it was just my mother raising us. And out of the nine kids, six -- no, five are in college. I'm one of the five. And my littlest brother, Jeremiah Dormeus, he'll be attending college on -- well, next year, technically.
And so once he talked about the loans, I just started thinking about my freshman year when I came in. I was like, wow, $47,000 loan, just full loans.
DORMEUS: And then just piled up each semester. You know, I've gotten scholarships and grants here and there, but it just kept on piling up, 57 -- 47, maybe next year, when I got the scholarship, I got like $35,000, but it kept on adding up.
DORMEUS: You know, loans add up with interests. You know, sub and unsubsidized. So, when I heard the message, it just brings back in my head that first feeling I had, when I was like, wow.
DORMEUS: It's either an investment in my future or no investment at all. So, to hear that it would be taken care of is just like, now I can pay it literally forward. Because Morehouse, you see, the institution's mission is just to develop men with disciplined minds who lead lives of leadership and service.
This is an aspect of service, and Robert Smith, not even coming from Morehouse College, deciding to make this generous donation, this in- kind gift to us actually just shows us that, one, it's possible if you work hard.
DORMEUS: It just puts truth to power, you know. It puts truth to what he's saying.
CABRERA: I love that.
DORMEUS: He's backing what he says. And that, to me, is the ideal thing of a person, of what we should be doing. And that's -- yes.
CABRERA: And when you talk about what your family has been through, I mean, it's really an incredible story, your story, and what you've accomplished already.
CABRERA: To be the first of your nine siblings to now graduate college.
CABRERA: Congratulations. That's huge.
DORMEUS: Thank you.
CABRERA: What does this mean? I mean, it has to be such a relief to know that that debt goes away as you start your career.
DORMEUS: See -- already, I mapped it out in my head. I was like, OK, cool. So, I was blessed to have a job with AT&T in sales, starting soon. And I already met my whole, you know, (INAUDIBLE) because, you know, Sallie Mae, everybody is coming for their loans right after graduation, getting calls already. So, I already planned out paying the loans off within that year.
So now that it's taken care of, I'm just like at a moment where I'm like, wow, I can actually do step two of what I initially planned on doing post my loans, because I was already going to be frugal and keep my money inside, pay off what I have to pay off within that year, then move forward.
But now, I can actually give more and still be frugal but just know the limit of how much I can give, so I can serve others. And the ideal thing I want to do is help my mom out because she's worked tirelessly. Everyone in my life has helped me greatly, but my mother has worked tirelessly to encourage, develop, motivate and just build me in a way no one can break me.
That comes with a series of struggles that comes with the series of understanding that, hey, it may not work out for you right now, but give it time, strength and understanding. You will gain and get to where you need to go.
And so, moving forward, it means that I can help her, and that's the key thing in life, being a servant leader which Morehouse develops. It's being able to help pay it forward. You know, you pay somebody's meal so you go to the gas station. No, better yet, you go to Dunkin Donuts, right?
You in the drive-through in Dunkin Donuts, and I remember (INAUDIBLE) talking -- told a story about it. Someone paid for his, you know, whatever he got. Hey, here's $20.00, just pay for the man behind me.
CABRERA: So, he gets the next guy.
DORMEUS: Exactly. So what he did after that, you're paying it forward or paying it behind. It's just like you're giving it back, so I can't wait to just embark on a new journey in my own life and actually get to live and not struggle, get to breathe and actually give more meaning to what God has designed me to do and give more meaning into my mom's life and making her proud.
Because, I know my dad is somewhere in heaven right now, smiling, and it brought tears to my eyes to just think about that.
CABRERA: Well, you deserve -- you deserve the very best.
DORMEUS: Thank you.
CABRERA: You deserve this opportunity, and sending our best to you and your eight brothers and sisters moving forward.
DORMEUS: Thank you. Love them.
CABRERA: Elijah Nesly Dormeus --
CABRERA: I got a heart for a big family because I have four siblings myself. Congratulations.
DORMEUS: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you, Robert.
CABRERA: And best of luck.
DORMEUS: And thank you, Morehouse.
CABRERA: Absolutely. Thanks so much for being here.
DORMEUS: You're welcome.
[20:35:00] CABRERA: All right. New reports this evening, we're going to completely switch the script here. These new reports are that bank employees flagged suspicious activity in President Trump's and Jared Kushner's accounts. So why did Deutsche Bank executives apparently reject their calls to investigate?
You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
CABRERA: We have this just in from The New York Times, the paper reporting that Deutsche Bank's anti-money laundering specialist once recommended that transactions involving entities controlled by President Trump and his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, be reported to a U.S. agency that investigates financial crimes.
The transactions, in question, were flagged in 2016 and 2017. So, while Trump was running for president and during his first year in office, executives at Deutsche Bank, however, never did anything with them, the Times says. It quotes former and current employees as saying the bank rejected the advice of its specialists and never filed reports with the government.
The Times points out that the transactions being flagged weren't necessarily improper. Still, the story is significant because Deutsche Bank has been one of the very few banks willing to lend money to the Trump organization in recent years.
I want to bring in the man behind this reporting, David Enrich, is the Finance Editor at The New York Times, David, really interesting article. Thank you for sharing your reporting with us. What can you tell us about these transactions? Why did they raise red flags with anti-money laundering specialists?
DAVID ENRICH, FINANCE EDITOR, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, that's a good question. And at the outset, I should say, we don't really know.
[20:40:07] What we do know is that the -- a number of Trump-related entities, including the Trump Foundation and Kushner companies, which is Jared Kushner's big real estate company, both were doing business -- doing transactions outside of the United States that sparked concerns among anti-money laundering experts.
We know that the Kushner transactions involved the Kushner companies sending money to people -- to Russian individuals. And that -- the way the systems work is that the bank is a computer system that automatically screens thousands and thousands of transactions and those transactions go to human beings or further review and investigation. And in all of these cases after being screened by the computer system, the humans who were investigating this and who were experts in looking for problematic transactions all raised serious concerns about the money that was moving between Trump entities and Kushner companies and folks outside of the United States.
CABRERA: Now, you point out in your reporting that not all transactions that are red flagged are necessarily inappropriate, but these employees that you spoke with, say that Deutsche Bank has a generally lax approach to money laundering laws?
ENRICH: Well, that's certainly the view of not only employees, but also of U.S. and European prosecutors and regulators. Deutsche Bank has repeatedly run into trouble all over the world for laundering money, in particular for Russians, I might add, and also for violating U.S. sanctions, evading taxes, manipulating markets, things like that.
And so, Deutsche Bank runs a lot of its anti-money laundering programs out of Jacksonville, Florida, and I went down to Jacksonville a couple weeks ago and started talking with employees there. And one after another, told me, that it was just -- very lackadaisical approach.
And a number of them had experienced looking at Trump and Kushner transactions and said that there was an enormous amount of pressure on them to just essentially move the transactions along, not get in the way of what was a very lucrative business for the bank.
CABRERA: So, these employees, these specialists, they flagged some transactions to the higher ups. Why did executives ultimately decide not to report these transactions to the government?
ENRICH: It depends whom you ask. If you ask people at a senior level in the bank, they say because when they looked further into these transactions, there's nothing there. There was nothing problematic. And they note that it's not that uncommon for managers to overrule their employees and conclude that sometimes their concerns are unfounded.
However, if you talk to the employees, and a lot of the employees at a slightly lower level in the organization, the ones who actually did the investigations into these transactions, they suspect that something else is going on, which is that Deutsche Bank is the only bank that has consistently done business with Donald Trump the past two decades.
It is an enormous amount of loans outstanding to him. It's a very lucrative relationship. And the employees' perception is that the bank did not want to do anything that could possibly jeopardize that relationship or once Trump became president and was running the Treasury Department, which is the agency that investigates these transactions, didn't want to cause a political problem for itself.
And so, there's a real dichotomy between the way the employees on the ground feel and what people a little bit higher up in the bank insists was something pretty innocuous. CABRERA: Now, CNN has obtained a statement from a Deutsche Bank spokeswoman who said, in part, this, at no time was an investigator prevented from escalating activity identified as politically or potentially suspicious. Furthermore, the suggestion that anyone was reassigned or fired in an effort to quash concerns relating to any client is categorically false.
David, Tammy McFadden is a former Deutsche Bank specialist that you spoke to your site in this reporting. She said she was fired last year after she raised concerns about the bank's practices. Do you know if she or others you interviewed have spoken to members of Congress or State authorities looking into the President's finances?
ENRICH: To my knowledge, none of them have spoken as of yet. I wouldn't be surprised if they got some inbound phone calls after this story.
But the interesting thing about Tammy McFadden is that she is actually standing up and doing what a lot of other Deutsche Bank people privately say they want to do but don't have the guts to do it. And so, I have a tremendous amount of respect for her courage in actually putting her name behind this.
CABRERA: David Enrich, thank you again for being here and sharing that with us.
ENRICH: My pleasure.
CABRERA: CNN also received a statement from a spokesperson for Jared Kushner's companies. "The New York Times tries to create scandalous stories which are totally false when they run out of things to write about." We'll be right back.
[20:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CABRERA: Addiction, crime, violence. It's a vicious cycle that's familiar to too many Americans. For Terria Walters, it resulted in the death of her beloved son, Christopher, who was killed in a drug deal gone bad. Joshua Beebe went to prison for the crime.
And now, Terria's doing all she can to convince him to own what he's done and to break his destructive patterns. This unfolds in the latest episode of "THE REDEMPTION PROJECT" with Van Jones. Watch.
TERRIA WALTERS, MOTHER OF CHRISTOPHER WALTERS: As somebody that's wanted justice, what does justice look like for me? Addiction is progressive. And he's going to get out. And if he doesn't get a hold of it now, what's it going to look like in 23 years?
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What's the worst thing that could happen in this meeting?
WALTERS: That he isn't accountable and continues to deny what he's done.
JOSHUA BEEBE, FORMER HEROINE DEALER: I think that Terria definitely has some anger towards me, I mean, her son is gone, and I'm here. She's probably thinking, why couldn't it have been you and not my son?
Scared to go through that door, but I'm going to do it, and whatever happens, happens.
WALTERS: I have a lot of emotions going through me when I think about this. But I'm fearful of how it's going to play out.
[20:50:15] CABRERA: Don't miss tonight's new episode of "THE REDEMPTION PROJECT," coming up at 9:00 right here on CNN.
CABRERA: The trade war that President Trump picked with China is taking casualties, in the form of economic hardships on both sides. CNN's Miguel Marquez is in Kentucky.
STEVE GATES, AUTO DEALER, KENTUCKY: Maybe I could still you a car.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Steve Gates sells cars, nine dealerships, three states, nearly 700 employees. His family closing deals for three generations.
GATES: I would love to grow. I would love to -- I would love to add rooftops and people. I'm too scared right now.
MARQUEZ: Scared because the President's trade fight with China and the world, taking a bite out of the automotive industry, slowing sales, crimping growth, creating uncertainty.
GATES: It just seems so unfair. I mean, I work so hard, every day, and for the -- for politicians to dictate to me the -- what my future is, it just seems -- it just seems wrong.
[20:55:02] MARQUEZ: Nationwide, a firm that tracks job losses found that this year, nearly 20,000 jobs in the automotive sector, gone, with the threat of an additional 25 percent tariff on finished products hanging out there, many more jobs on the line.
The U.S. auto industry hit by tariffs and price increases for over a year now, first, due to steel and aluminum tariffs in March 2018, then tariffs on Chinese-made car parts in July, and again, in September, last year. Then last week, even higher tariffs imposed, again, on Chinese auto parts, among other materials. Here, in Kentucky, it's not just car production and sales feeling the tariff pinch.
ERIC GREGORY, PRESIDENT, KENTUCKY DISTILLERS' ASSOCIATION: Nobody wins in a trade war. There are only consequences and casualties. And right now, we're collateral damage. MARQUEZ: Since 1999, Kentucky has seen exponential growth in global exports of its most famous beverage, bourbon, not anymore. The E.U. and countries like China, fighting back, aiming their own tariffs directly at the home state of Trump loyalist and Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I am not a fan of tariffs.
GREGORY: We just got numbers today, for the first quarter this year, and they're down 10 percent, American whiskey, and 20 percent to the E.U., just in the first quarter.
MARQUEZ: Twenty percent.
MARQUEZ: That hurts.
GREGORY: That hurts.
MARQUEZ: Miguel Marquez, CNN, Frankfort, Kentucky.
CABRERA: And thank you for being here on this Sunday night. That does it for me. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Up next, after a quick break, it's "THE REDEMPTION PROJECT" with Van Jones. Have a great night.