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Prosecutors are Examining Inaugural Documents; Trump and Allies Unleash on Amash; Buttigieg Calls out Fox News; Iran Increases Uranium Enrichment. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 20, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Very much needs. We'll see how this one plays out. Interesting, if nothing else.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow.

Phil Mattingly is in for Brianna Keilar today and he starts RIGHT NOW.

Have a great afternoon.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Phil Mattingly, in for Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, a crack in the president's impeachment shield from a Republican, but this is the question. Is Justin Amash a man alone, or will others jump on board?

And fire and furry, the sequel. President Trump's new threat that war would be the end of Iran, but does the rhetoric match the reality?

Plus, it's a story that is clearly getting under the president's skin. Deutsche Bank employees who specialize in detecting money laundering reporting flagging suspicious activity by the president and his son- in-law.

And they're American military members either accused or convicted of war crimes. Now the president is reportedly preparing to pardon them.

But we begin right now with breaking news, as we wait to hear testimony from Special Counsel Robert Mueller on his investigation, another investigation seems to be gaining steam in New York, this one centering on the Trump inaugural. Federal prosecutors are going through a large amount of documents they've received related to the inauguration and the record $107 million in donations it received.

Our Kara Scannell is here.

And this is an investigation, Kara, that largely stems from information gathered at least in part in the Michael Cohen raids. Based on your reporting, what does this mean for that investigation?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, so, this investigation began late last year, and there was a subpoena that was sent to the inaugural committee from the prosecutors of the Southern District of New York in February. Now that cache of documents, tens of thousands of documents, have come into that office and for their investigation. And one of the things that they're looking at is, you know, whether any money was misspent, whether anyone improperly benefitted from the donations and the disbursements of those funds and whether any foreign money came into the campaign.

So now that they have this cache of documents, they can start to go through them. They've interviewed, you know, at least some people that we know of. One of the big planners, Stephanie Winston Walcov (ph). She was a friend of Melania Trump. She had -- her company had received $26 million that she was venders and she disbursed that to some of these payments. But now that they have these cash documents, they can refine their search. They can target other people. Because as our sources tell us, they have not yet interviewed anyone in the top of the financial part of the inauguration in that committee and they haven't contacted the Trump organization for documents. So this, you know, shows that the investigation is advancing, you know, and it's just is yet another investigation that's standing out there despite the completion of the Mueller report.

MATTINGLY: A myriad of probes.

And just to be clear here, we don't have a timeline in terms of when this might wrap up. It's just part of the process at this point?

SCANNELL: Yes, I mean, that's right, the way that these investigations go, as you know, is they -- you know, they start with the documents, they start with some witnesses, and then once they cull through this and they learn more information about how the money was spent, internal communications, any conversations that they may have had with vendors or donor. One thing that they're looking at is whether any donors were paid directly kind of bypassing disclosure reporting requirements. You know, so now with all this in hand, you know, we'll see more steps in this investigation play out in the weeks and months to come.

MATTINGLY: Yet another one to keep an eye on. I know you will, as you always do.

All right, Kara Scannell, thank you very much, joining us from Washington.

All right, Republicans taking aim at one of their own after he took a stand against President Trump. GOP Congressman Justin Amash is now under fire over his conclusion that President Trump is, quote, engaged in impeachable conduct. In response, the president, well, you guessed it, tweeted, quote, never a fan of Justin Amash. A total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy. Justin is a looser the president said, who sadly plays right into our opponents hands.

Now, congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is on The Hill for us.

And, Sunlen, I think one of the things that I've been taken aback by is the response from fellow Republicans to Congressman Amash's tweets. What have you seen so far in the last 24 hours?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's been pretty strong, Phil, and we have seen Republicans very quickly distance themselves from Amash and specifically what he said, of course. He's clearly on an island right now alone within the Republican Party with his stance on impeachment. But beyond that, we've seen the president, his allies and Amash's own Republican colleagues up here on Capitol Hill really essentially split the switch and go directly at questioning his conservative credentials. We heard that from are the RNC chair, Ronna McDaniel over the weekend. She said that this is just Amash parroting -- that was her word -- the Democratic talking points over Russia. And we also heard that from the top Republican leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy, who said that all of this questions if Amash is a true conservative.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Those who know Justin Amash, this is exactly what he wants. He wants to have attention.

[13:05:01] Now, you've got to understand Justin Amash. He's been in Congress quite some time. I think he's only ever asked one question in all the committees that he's been in. He votes more with Nancy Pelosi than he ever votes with me. It's a question whether he's even in our Republican conference as a whole. What he wants is attention in this process. He's not a criminal attorney. He's never met Mueller. He's never met Barr. And now he's coming forward with this because this is what he wants.


SERFATY: And Amash is already now facing a primary opponent back home in Michigan. State Representative James Lower announcing just today that he is going to launch a run against him. Lower saying that he made the decision a while ago but that certainly people are angry back in his state about this decision. Certainly it will be interesting up here, Phil, on Capitol Hill this week as Republicans return to the district.

MATTINGLY: Yes, they'll be back in a couple of hours. I'm sure they'll be getting a lot of questions about this from Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen on The Hill, thank you very much.

Now, so far Congressman Justin Amash is standing alone among Republicans, but one of the questions is, will he persuade others to agree with his conclusion that President Trump was involved in impeachable conduct?

CNN political commentator Charlie Dent is a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, was a frequent critic of President Trump. He joins us now from Philadelphia.

And, Congressman, I guess you know this conference better than anyone given the fact you were in it just a short while ago. What's your sense in terms of what this means for the broader conference, the broader Republicans on Capitol Hill right now? CHARLES DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Phil, I'd say this.

Look, this -- this is psychologically -- Amash's comments are psychologically damaging to Republicans and to the president. I don't think this really changes the narrative though that other Republicans are going to jump on board. This is a crack in the windshield, probably not going to spread.

But I have to tell you, Phil, I was chuckling a bit in your lead up here hearing people say that Justin Amash is not a conservative. You know, he's very libertarian. I don't think he did this for political gain. It's not helping him politically in his district.

He's had problems with establishment Republicans, now with Trump Republicans, so he's taking quite a political risk by doing this. And I think that most Republicans, and I suspect the Democrats don't see a lot of advantage in impeachment right now. The Democrats would rather beat Trump at the ballot box, litigate this in the 2020 election, and that impeachment might actually harm their electoral chances politically. So I think that's why everybody's dancing around impeachment.

MATTINGLY: Yes, and that actually brings up a good -- a good point you made about Justin Amash. And a lot of people maybe outside of Washington aren't super familiar with Justin Amash maybe. You can check his FaceBook page. He writes very lengthy kind of recitations as to why he votes how he votes, which often runs counter to where Republican leadership is, to where maybe veteran appropriators, like one Rep. Charlie Dent might be.

DENT: Yes.

MATTINGLY: But can you explain kind of his place in the Republican conference? I think that would be helpful for people to understand where he's coming from here.

DENT: Yes. I always looked at Justin Amash. He was a very sincere and earnest guy. He's very libertarian, similar to what a Ron Paul would have been in the Republican conference. I believe he's still affiliated with the Freedom Caucus. And so when I heard Kevin McCarthy say that he votes with Nancy Pelosi more than he votes with me, well, you could have made that argument about many of the members of the Freedom Caucus over the last few years on a lot of these really important governance issues. So I think that's where Justin Amash is.

But very libertarian. He can be very intellectually honest. He does vote against a lot of bills, even when they were in the majority, he would vote against things the same way that Ron Paul did. So he's a little bit of an outlier within the conference, but, I said, I wouldn't underestimate this. So it does have an impact. He is a Republican from the state of Michigan. You know, again, a very critical swing state for Donald Trump. And, you know, the fact that there's a crack in Grand Rapids, Michigan, probably isn't real pleasing to the White House right now.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And, real quick, while I have you, he made a key point that I thought was interesting where he said, he doesn't know if there's a lot of Republicans who have actually read the full 400-page plus report. You've been in Congress. How many members of Congress do you think have actually sat down and read the Mueller report over the last 50 some odd days?

DENT: Well, I think most members have read through it. Now, have they studied every word? I doubt it. But I think most of them have read through it, at least the most salient part. You know, those two summaries, the summaries were pretty helpful. But I suspect most of them have read through it. I won't say that they've studied it in- depth like a Justin Amash did. I'm sure he went through.

And, by the way, the only thing that surprised me about Justin Amash is the timing of this. I was a little surprised, like, why now? You know, why didn't he do this closer to the time that the report was released? Why did he wait so long? But, again, I don't see any political benefit to him. But members are -- have, I think, have largely read this thing.

MATTINGLY: Benefit of the doubt from the former congressman Charlie Dent.

Really appreciate your time, as always, sir. Thank you very much.

DENT: Yes. Thanks, Phil.

MATTINGLY: All right, not only is Congressman Justin Amash facing backlash from Congress, he's also, as Sunlen noted, facing a primary opponent. Republican State Representative Jim Lower announced this morning he will challenge Amash. He says he's -- or he said he decided to move up his announcement because of that tweet threat. Take a listen.


JIM LOWER (R), MICHIGAN STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, like a lot of people, I was -- I was pretty angered by the tweets, but more immediately right after that I decided that, you know, the campaign that we had been planning to announce in July, that, you know, it would be a good idea to move that up in terms of the announcement and that's what we've done. As I'm sure you know, today we're announcing that I'm going to challenge Congressman Amash in the Republican primary this fall -- or next fall, rather.


[13:10:19] MATTINGLY: CNN political analyst Julie Hirschfeld Davis is here. She's a congressional correspondent for "The New York Times." We also have our great chief political correspondent and analyst Gloria Borger.

So, Gloria, I want to start with that, because Justin Amash has been challenged before from Republican business interests.


MATTINGLY: I believe it was back in 2014, they tried to unseat him, failed fairly miserably.

How vulnerable -- given the current climate, given the Republican Party, how venerable does this make Justin Amash?

BORGER: Well, I was just looking at the numbers. In -- let's see, in 2018, he won with 54.4 percent of the vote, so that's -- that's a pretty good margin. And I think he'd like to replicate that.

What you're going to see, though, no doubt, tell me if I'm wrong, you're going to see Donald Trump target him and go after him, you know, just the way he targeted John Tester in his Senate race in Montana because he didn't like what he did about Dr. Ronny Jackson and on and on.

You know, this is a president who doesn't forget slights, and I think this would be enough for Donald Trump to be visiting his district multiple times in Michigan, and that could hurt him.

MATTINGLY: Boarder line John Tester in Montana, where he just kept going back to Montana because --

BORGER: Exactly. Four times, right.

MATTINGLY: So personal for him.

Julie, I was struck by Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader's remarks. They were rather scalding. He did not take his foot off the gas at all. And the idea that he's not -- that Justin Amash is not a conservative or that he's not a Republican is kind of funny if you look at all the score cards that you have on Capitol Hill. But I guess what do you make of this idea apparently from the Republican leadership that they're just going to try and undermine him bit by bit now that he's done this.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think it's in keeping with what we've seen from the Republican leadership more generally, which is a willingness, even an eagerness, to sort of be in lock step with this president. And, you know, they did -- the establishment Republican Party did try to mount a Republican challenge against Amash in 2014. That was before Trump was president and they failed miserably. The question will be, will they fail again now that the entire Republican establishment has sort of turned the corner and is really, you know, leaning into this fight against him.

It's also fascinating to note that, you know, he came into Congress in 2010 with the Tea Party. These are -- and it sort of speaks to how different the Tea Party is now or the Freedom Caucus is now from what it was then. You see most of those members really standing behind President Trump no matter what. They're not talking so much about the constitutional or congressional prerogatives. They're behind him. And back in 2010 they were really small government conservatives, constitutionalists, like Justin Amash, who would probably have been more likely to have a point of view on this that we've seen from him in the last couple of days, but instead they're 100 percent behind the president. It's just a fascinating shift to so. BORGER: You know, we're not used to Republicans, as you know better

than anyone, rushing to microphones. But here they are rushing to criticize Amash, whereas when the president tweets, you know, this could be the official end of Iran over the weekend, there -- you don't hear from them.


BORGER: They're silent. So suddenly, you know, they want to -- they want to vote Amash off the island, but where have they been on all these other issues that they could be speaking out on? Nowhere.

MATTINGLY: Yes, I think they're going to get questions about many of those issues.

Now, I want to switch gears a bit, but I would note, if you would have asked any of us, who would have been the one Republican that would have probably done this, I think we all probably would have named Justin Amash --


MATTINGLY: Just knowing him and how he's been on this.

All right, I want to shift gears. Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg had some harsh criticism for Fox News, on where, Fox News. Take a listen.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean when you've got Tucker Carlson saying that immigrant make America dirty, when you've got Laura Ingraham comparing detention centers with children in cages to summer camps, summer camps, then there is a reason why -- anybody has to swallow hard and think twice before participating in this media ecosystem. But I also believe that even though some of those hosts are not always there in good faith, I think a lot of people tune into this network who do it in good faith.


MATTINGLY: So, I want to ask about this, because there's -- there was -- there was criticism from -- for Pete Buttigieg for doing the town hall. I think he's kind of trying to split the difference there. But going after Fox anchors on Fox News in a primetime special? Thoughts?

BORGER: I thought it was -- I thought it was smart for him, honestly. I -- you know, I don't know how many committed Democrats are watching Fox News, but there is an echo chambers, and he went into the lion's den and he criticized the president. And he criticized some of the anchors for what he said. And he -- the president tweeted about it and told Fox News, you know, he's the chief programmer I guess at Fox News and he criticized Fox News for putting him on, which is exactly what he wanted.

MATTINGLY: Yes, and that's actually what I want to get to. The president tweeting out, hard to believe that Fox News is wasting air time on Mayor Pete as Chris Wallace likes to call him. Fox is moving more and more to the losing wrong side of covering Dems. He went on to say, Fox forgot the people who got them there.

Is the president jealous right now that Fox is giving time to other individuals?

[13:15:00] DAVIS: I think a little bit. I mean he certainly doesn't seem to appreciate the concept of, you know, equal coverage or, you know, fair and balanced as they used to call it. He clearly feels that, you know, Fox is his network and these are my people and why is he giving time to somebody who's an up-and-comer on the Democratic side.

But I also think that he's been a little bit -- he feels a little targeted by the fact that Pete Buttigieg decided to accept this invitation, that he's willing to go into the lion's den and talk to these people, some of who you heard him say, you know, were not there in good faith. The president doesn't do that very much. He's generally talking to Fox News and that's.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Keep an eye on all of these things. Thank you guys very much for joining me.

DAVIS: Sure.

MATTINGLY: Gloria Borger and Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

Did President Trump just confirm he green lit a cyber attack on Russia? New details, next.

Plus, Iran says, quote, this is a crazy president, after Trump directly warns that any war would mean the end of Iran.

And, in any normal world, this would dominate the conversation. Deutsche Bank employees reportedly flagged suspicious activity by the president and his son-in-law. Those flags never made it anywhere. Hear why.


[13:20:56] MATTINGLY: President Trump appears to have made a stunning admission, that he gave the go-ahead for a U.S. cyber attack against Russia during last year's midterm elections. Here's what he told Fox News when asked if the attack took place.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd rather not say that, but you can believe that the whole thing happened and it happened during my administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But why don't you talk about that?

TRUMP: The other thing -- because they don't like me to talk. Intelligence says, please don't talk. Intelligence -- you know, sometimes intelligence is good and sometimes you look at Comey and you look at Brennan and you look at Clapper, and I'm supposed to believe that intelligence. I never believed that intelligence.


MATTINGLY: Now, President Trump appears to be referencing an operation detailed in a "Washington Post" story last February. Now it said the U.S. military blocked access to a so-called troll farm backed by a Russian oligarch, the same agency blamed for much of the Russian interference during the 2016 election. Offensive capabilities, not something they talk about much on cyber, except for the president apparently.

All right, CNN is learning the original intelligence that sparked concerns over Iran's threats against U.S. forces came partly from, quote, chatter level going up a lot between militias and Tehran. That's according to a non-U.S. source familiar with the intelligence.

And a short time ago, we heard from Senator Lindsey Graham who said he had just received an intelligence briefing from National Security Adviser John Bolton. Graham now saying it is clear Iran has attacked ships and pipelines and threatened American interests in Iraq. Now, this follows a Twitter battle between President Trump and Iranian leaders where the president threatened, quote, the official end of Iran if it picked a fight with the U.S.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Tehran.

And, Fred, you just spoke to a senior Iranian diplomat. What is he telling you?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I certainly did, Phil. And, you know, one of the things that we can see from the Iranians, first of all, are pretty angry at President Trump for that tweet, but at the same time they also do seem to be somewhat unfazed by some of the threats coming out of the White House. In fact, just a couple of minutes ago we've learned that the Iranians are now saying that they've increased their capacity to create low enriched uranium fourfold, that's something that they sort of announced a couple of days ago that they would do. They say it's still within the nuclear agreement, but certainly seems to show that at this point in time at least they don't seem too concerned about some of the threats coming out of the White House.

Now, you're absolutely right, there was also that Twitter standoff between President Trump and Iran's foreign minister, saying that President Trump was issuing, as he put it, threats of genocide against Iran. So you can see some anger going on there.

Then, yes, I did speak to that senior Iranian diplomat who said that Iran is unfazed by the threats and does not want to negotiate with the current Trump administration. Let's listen in.


HOSSEIN AMIRABDOLLAHIAN, DIRECTOR OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS FOR IRANIAN PARLIAMENT (through translator): He's got no idea what the culture and mentality of the Iranian people. Trump wants to control us through tweets and threats. Forty years of Islamic Revolution in Iran have shown that he cannot talk to Iran with threats. If he thinks by bringing in some aircraft carrier and bombers he can take advantage of Iran and to force Iran to negotiate for an unequal position is wrong. But when their ships get close to us, it's a threat to them. We never welcome war, but we stand steadfast.


PLEITGEN: So there we can hear the Iranian senior diplomat there with some pretty clear words aimed at the Trump administration. You know, Phil, the position of the Iranians has been pretty consistent pretty much throughout the week and a half that I've been here. On the one hand they say they don't want an escalation with the Trump administration. At the same time you do have military leaders here who are saying that if there is a military escalation, that it would be painful for the U.S., as they put it, not just in the Persian Gulf, but in the entire greater Middle East. Of course we've been speaking to potential threats in places like Iraq and in places like Syria as well where you do have Iranian and U.S. forces in fairly close proximity, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes, tension showing no sign of subsiding any time soon. Fred Pleitgen live in Tehran, thank you very much.

Well, it's a provocative question, would 2020 candidates considering pardoning President Trump, that's if he's charged after he leaves office. I'll speak live with one Democratic lawmaker.

[13:25:07] Plus, Morehouse graduates getting the surprise of a lifetime after their commencement speaker says he'll pay all of their loan debts. The Morehouse professor joins me live on what that means for their futures.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I've got the alumni over there and this is a challenge to you, alumni. This is my class.


[13:30:05] MATTINGLY: "The New York Times" reports that employees of Deutsche Bank flagged several suspicious.