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GOP Congressman Backs Impeachment, Counterattacked by Trump Supporters; In a FOX News Town Hall, Buttigieg Slams FOX Hosts; Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) is Interviewed about GOP's Impeachment Revolt and Trump's Threats to Iran. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 20, 2019 - 07:00   ET


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-AZ): Has reached a different conclusion than I have.

[07:00:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One lonely Republican saying the Mueller report is a road map to impeachment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those who know Justin Amash, this is exactly what he wants. He wants to have attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you look at the conduct of this administration, this president, it is legally questionable.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot let Iran have nuclear weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president seems to be sliding towards an ill- conceived conflict with Iran.

ROMNEY: I don't believe for a minute that the president has any interest in going to war.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That's our new home right there. That beautiful building.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Somewhere inside the tallest buildings, on one of the floors --

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CAMEROTA: You're talking about our new lighting. Oh, yes. Just soak it in. This is our new studio. Hope you enjoy it.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY, new studio.

President Trump and his allies are moving fast to squash a Republican lawmaker's impeachment claims. Congressman Justin Amash breaking ranks to be the first GOP lawmaker to say, quote, "The president engaged in impeachable conduct," end quote.

The president slammed Amash on Twitter, and the Republican National Committee quickly condemned him. But Democrats who want a more hardline strategy against the president are seizing on this congressman's comments to pressure their own leaders to take tougher action.

BERMAN: President Trump this morning escalating the rhetoric on Iran, warning Tehran to, quote, "never threaten the United States again" and vowing that a military engagement with the United States would mean, quote, "the official end of Iran."

Moments ago, Iran's foreign minister responded to the president's statements. All of this comes after days of actual de-escalation between the United States and Iran.

CAMEROTA: Joining us now is Jeffrey Toobin, former federal prosecutor and chief -- CNN chief legal analyst; Margaret Talev, senior White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and a CNN political analyst; and Michael Smerconish, host of CNN's "SMERCONISH."

Great to have all of you guys joining us on our first show in our new studio. Congrats.


CAMEROTA: Isn't it beautiful and shiny and new? I know.

TOOBIN: So nice, gosh.

BERMAN: Toobin, like, was sprinting to get to the chair, he was so excited to be here.

TOOBIN: I feel refreshed, being here.

CAMEROTA: Yes. You look refreshed.

TOOBIN: Well, thank you.

CAMEROTA: Well, you did. All right. Meaning -- moving on. Justin Amash, you know, I think that sometimes it is hard, Jeffrey, to see a tipping point in real time. Only sometimes after the fact do you look back at Watergate, say, and go, "Oh, that was the watershed moment."

TOOBIN: Right. CAMEROTA: And so it's hard to know this morning what it means that this Republican has publicly said that, quote, "President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct."

TOOBIN: It certainly is striking, given the Republican unanimity behind Donald Trump.

However, I think -- I would very much doubt this is the beginning of a -- of a flood. The Republican Party is so unified behind Donald Trump.

You know, I always quote John Boehner, the former speaker, who likes to say there is no more Republican Party. There is only a Trump party. And I think that's where we are right now. So it's interesting Justin Amash is in -- has unusual views. He's very much in the libertarian camp. But I don't see much less any -- I don't see anyone, much less a stampede, among Republicans.

BERMAN: So Smerconish, you can't say, "So goes Justin Amash, so goes America," or "so goes the Republican Party," or "so goes anyone"?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, HOST, "SMERCONISH": No, I agree with Jeffrey, but I thought the response was -- was very interesting insofar as the president, the RNC and Kevin McCarthy immediately took him on. Because they could have just ignored this. But I think they wanted to staunch the bleeding while it was still just a cut and not a major wound. And I found that very interesting. Because I think they realized, if it were to gain any heft, especially in the Senate. Right? If there were a Republican senator who would say what Justin Amash is saying, then this would really be significant. But they're treating it's something significant.

CAMEROTA: Here's the closest to what a Republican senator has said, Margaret, and this is Senator Mitt Romney yesterday on "STATE OF THE UNION." Listen to this.


ROMNEY: My own view is that Justin Amash has reached a different conclusion than I have. 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.


CAMEROTA: What are your thoughts, Margaret, on that?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, I think sort of by taking this big step forward which Amash has done, he's going to make himself immediately a target. You're seeing already the likelihood now of a primary challenge, maybe faster and more ferociously than before.

He's an interesting figure, because he rose up sort of in the Tea Party movement of 2010. Right? Which was going to take on the Republican orthodoxy and succeeded. Now the Republican Party definitionally has sort of changed.

[07:05:11] But Democrats will try to use this to make a case that there's some bipartisanship toward impeachment. I think what it may do, though, is create sort of space in the middle in the Republican Party for those Republicans who want to move closer to that Mitt Romney category, who want to criticize the president more openly but say, "Well, we're not calling for impeachment. But -- but we want to be openly critical of him." And that may not be what Amash was intending to do, but it may be what happens.

TOOBIN: I love seeing Mitt Romney talk about Donald Trump, even indirectly. You can just tell how much he loathes him. I mean, that quote. You could just see how, you know, he was barely suppressing his loathing for Donald Trump. I just think it's fascinating.

BERMAN: The word choice there was really fascinating.

TOOBIN: Yes, it was interesting, right?

BERMAN: Michael Smerconish, what do you think of the word choice? Courageous. Courageous to say the president committed impeachable offenses there. I know Romney went on to say that he didn't necessarily see it that way, but I was just struck by that.

SMERCONISH: Right. I guess if Amash were courageous, then Romney was not, insofar as Amash was willing to say that he sees obstruction of justice; and Mitt Romney doesn't. And he wanted to make sure that people knew that he thought that was sort of the preferred path, even if he weren't ready to go there himself.

CAMEROTA: All right. Let's talk about 2020, some of the candidates. Because Pete Buttigieg did something very interesting this weekend. He went on FOX. And as you know, Democrats, the candidates are trying to debate whether or not FOX is the right venue for them.

So Pete Buttigieg went on, and he criticized the FOX hosts particularly the more right-wing --

BERMAN: The opinion hosts.

CAMEROTA: The opinion hosts. OK. You can call them that. The opinion hosts while on FOX. So watch this moment.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tucker Carlson saying that immigrants 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 who tune in to this network who do it in good faith.


CAMEROTA: OK. He threaded that needle really well, talking about how the viewers are looking for information. And they might not necessarily be in lockstep and share the views of some of the hosts.

Here is how one of their biggest, most loving fans, a viewer felt about it. And this is Donald Trump. "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 in covering the Dems. They got dumped from the Democrat's boring debates, and they just want in. They forgot the people who got them there. Chris Wallace said, 'I actually think, whether you like his opinion or not, that Mayor Pete has a lot of substance. Fascinating biography." Gee, he never speaks well of me. I like Mike Wallace better."

And what is so interesting, Jeffrey, is that Donald Trump is just sort of playing his hand here. They forgot the people who got them there. He's saying, "Don't forget that you need me for the big ratings. Don't forget that, people."

TOOBIN: Well, you know, the relationship between Donald Trump and FOX is symbiotic, for the most part. I mean, they -- but FOX also, at least, other than in primetime, wants to try to preserve a modicum of journalistic respectability. So they invite on Democrats occasionally.

But I don't think anybody is under any sort of misimpression about what FOX News is really about. And I do think Buttigieg did a good job of, you know, explaining why he was there but also disassociating himself with the ugly sides of FOX primetime.

BERMAN: And Margaret, that's exactly what Buttigieg, I think, was trying to do. He came, I think, with that as a prepared statement to make, because Elizabeth Warren first and then Kamala Harris, the senator from California, have said no to FOX events. And it has become a thing in the Democratic primary. Are you going to appear on FOX or you're not going to appear?

So Buttigieg really tried to do both at once. Which is to do it, talk to the voters but also stick it to them at the same time.

TALEV: Yes, he did thread that needle. And I think for those Democrats of the class of 23 Democrats and growing, for those Democrats who are more in the center lane, the -- the efforts to pull to the left or to say, you know, you're kind of with us or you're with the Republicans, it's a real challenge to figure out how to answer that while still staying in your lane.

And I think this was his effort to differentiate, in criticizing Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, he also created a path for himself to praise FOX viewers. Those are millions of viewers. I don't know how many of them are going to be interested in crossing the aisle to vote for a Democrat.

But if you were such a Democrat you would want to praise them and ask for them to remain open minded. His approach allowed him to do that while addressing the idea he was trying to curry favor with opinion leaders who are now at the mud (ph) of so much of the base of the Democratic Party.

[17:10:12 It will be really interesting to watch what some of the other Democrats do now in terms of whether he has created space for them to appeal across the aisle also.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Michael.

SMERCONISH: What I want to say is that the president essentially said, "Let's dispense with the pretense. This is my network. Why are you bringing these interlopers on?"


SMERCONISH: Second observation is Elizabeth Warren kind of put Pete Buttigieg in a box that he played very well. She made the observation, you give cover to the advertisers when you go on that program.

So Buttigieg comes on. He takes on the network, but it allows the network to say to advertisers who might be hedging as to whether to write checks, "Hey, we had Pete Buttigieg. We have had Bernie Sanders on. We had Amy Klobuchar. We've invited the others, et cetera, et cetera." And that was really Elizabeth Warren's point. Now you're going to perpetuate the open-door policy by the network and take some of the pressure off that they had been facing.

CAMEROTA: I think that that's really interesting, but I also think that it did reveal the predicament that FOX will be in for the next year and a half. Because they do want to act as though they are a news network. So they, of course, would have to have Democrats on.

But they don't want to alienate the golden goose that they have had for the past three years. President Trump, Donald Trump before when he was a candidate. And he has already been threatening to go to take his business elsewhere, to go to, like, America One. Is that where it's going?

BERMAN: Whatever. Yes. Golden goose. I like the color choice there.

I just want to play a little bit more of Buttigieg if I can, because he was the one at the town hall. And he didn't just thread that needle with FOX but also with taking on the president. Because he was asked directly about the name calling the president has done with him. So let's listen to what Buttigieg said about that.


BUTTIGIEG: The tweets are -- I don't care. CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: But -- and that gets a lot of

applause here, but the fact is, it's a very effective way for him to reach tens of millions of Americans.

BUTTIGIEG: Well, it's a very effective way to command the attention of the media -- and --

WALLACE: Well --

BUTTIGIEG: -- I think that, you know, we need to make sure that we're changing the channel from this show that he's created.


BERMAN: So ignore him, but don't ignore him all at the same time.

TOOBIN: Well, you know, I wonder about the tweets myself. I mean, you know, we just read a long tweet from the president. I mean, we -- you know, when the president speaks, it's news. And that's always been the case in American life.

But, you know, I think Buttigieg makes a point that I've heard a lot of Republicans make that we should concentrate less on the tweets because they are so abusive and they are so childish.

CAMEROTA: We're pretty discriminating. I mean, on this show, we don't just -- there's no knee-jerk reaction that when a tweet comes out, we read it. It's only if it's relevant.

TOOBIN: It is, but I mean, you see -- you know, he tried to start a war with Iran yesterday by tweet. I mean, that, obviously, is of great significance. But you know, we are in this environment where I think everybody is trying to figure out how to deal, journalistically, culturally, with how he expresses himself. And, you know, calling Pete Buttigieg "Alfred E. Newman," is that news?

CAMEROTA: I didn't read that one.

TOOBIN: Oh, you didn't read that?

CAMEROTA: Because I'm really trying to avoid the ad hominum insults. It's hard to work your way around the tweet around them. But you know, we're trying not to telegraph that.

TOOBIN: But you know, on the other hand, it's news when the president says it. How can we ignore it? How is it appropriate to ignore it? I mean, I just don't -- I don't have an answer here. But I think Pete Buttigieg is speaking to what a lot of people believe.

BERMAN: Jeffrey, thank you. Margaret, thank you. Michael, thank you very much. Of course, be sure to watch "SMERCONISH" Saturdays at 9 a.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

CAMEROTA: All right. A Republican in Congress now says President Trump engaged in impeachable conduct. So we'll get reaction from a senator, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:18:03] CAMEROTA: The first Republican lawmaker to break from his party and say that President Trump did engage in impeachable conduct is now facing backlash from fellow Republicans. But some Democrats, of course, are seizing on Congressman Justin Amash's comments.

Joining us now to talk about this and so much more, we have Democratic Senator Chris Coons, who serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Services Committees.

Great to have you here in our new studio.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Great to be with you. Gorgeous new studio.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much. We just cleaned it up for you.

OK, were you surprised to see a Republican, Justin Amash, saying that the -- I mean, saying so overtly that the president did engage in impeachable conduct?

COONS: I was surprised to see a Republican congressman saying publicly what I think many are thinking privately. Which is those who have read the Mueller report cannot avoid the conclusion that the president and some of his absolutely core advisers engaged in profoundly disappointing, reprehensible conduct, conduct that would rise to the level of an obstruction of justice charge if he were anyone other than president of the United States.

CAMEROTA: But you don't think that Republicans are thinking that privately, do you?


CAMEROTA: What makes you say that?

COONS: Conversations.

CAMEROTA: So it's not so private?

COONS: There are very few who would be willing to say publicly that this conduct is reprehensible for a president.

CAMEROTA: But you have spoken to Republicans who have shared with you that they think that it's also impeachable.

COONS: There's a big difference between thinking that the Mueller report reveals conduct that is deeply disappointing, inappropriate, even borderline or actually illegal, and saying they would vote to remove the president.

I have not spoken to a single Republican senator who would vote to remove the president. Many privately expressed concerns about what was revealed in the Mueller report, in part because of the gap between what Attorney General Barr characterized as being in the Mueller report and what was actually in the Mueller report for those who have taken the time to read through it.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, he laid out evidence of behavior that at least our legal analysts say for anyone else, any other American, would be prosecutable.

[07:20:05] COONS: I think that's an unavoidable conclusion, particularly for those -- and there's quite a few in the Senate, who are former prosecutors themselves.

CAMEROTA: Do you agree with Congressman Justin Amash that it rises to impeachable conduct? Because I don't think you have gone that far to say that you think that it is impeachable.

COONS: Well, there's a conclusion I've reached, which is that impeachment is a political process. And that, frankly, the likelihood that the known jury in this case, the Senate of the United States, would actually remove the president is close to zero.

If the Mueller report had produced a bombshell, I think there was a chance that the Republican-majority Senate might have removed the president. In the absence of that, we have a simple choice to make. Which is do we spend the next year and a half trying to legislate and putting forward proposals that would actually solve middle Americans' daily problems; or do we spend the next year and a half fighting with each other over a political process that will not produce removal?

CAMEROTA: And very quickly, before we move on, do you think that Justin Amash's comments change anything?

COONS: I think it's going to raise a question again in the minds of lots of voters, if they're represented by Republican congressperson. Is my congressman, is my congresswoman someone who's, you know, willing to stand up to the president when it really is in the best interests of our country, our system of rule of law? Are they willing to just -- to just level with me and tell me honestly when the president does something that is beyond the pale?

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's talk about what's happening with Iran. The president over the weekend threatened this: "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again." He tweeted that.

A lot of people will hear that as the president being strong. That -- telling Iran, "You can't mess with the United States." How do you hear it?

COONS: I think it was exactly Donald Trump who, when President Obama drew a line in Saudi Arabia, and then didn't act, said repeatedly great powers can't threaten, can't bluff. This is unacceptable. Great powers can't threaten or bluff.

He is doing much, much worse. He is using Twitter to amp up the rhetoric and the potential for conflict with a country, say DPRK and Kim Jong-un, and then doing a 180. Amping it up in Syria. Amping it up in Iran. Amping it up with Russia. And he goes back and forth, back and forth. And as the world has seen, all it takes is a couple flattering comments, and he'll reverse himself again.

I'll remind you, the most respected national security leader in the last decade, probably, the secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, resigned over the way in which President Trump abruptly decided to pull us out of Syria while there were combat operations under way, without consulting our closest allies.

This is a man whose Twitter-led national security leadership has unstabilized our core alliances, has concerned our national security apparatus, and I think, is exactly why we need Joe Biden as our next president. We need someone with some stability, predictability and relationships among our core allies.

CAMEROTA: Last week, when you were on NEW DAY, you said that you, on the Foreign Relations Committee, had not been briefed, had not gotten an intelligence briefing. You'd asked for it.

COONS: Right.

CAMEROTA: But had not received an intelligence briefing. Have you had one?

COONS: I was able to see some printed materials late last week about Iran's aggressive behavior in the -- in the region. I will tell you I, frankly, learned nothing from that material that I didn't learn from the news.

There is going to be a hearing, a classified briefing later today on Afghanistan and an all-senators briefing, I believe, tomorrow on Iran.

We still have not heard any strategy from this administration. The president bluffs about going after Iran. Taking on Iran militarily is a very challenging prospect. We need to have a serious conversation about the costs, the risks and the plan. So far there is no plan that I've seen or heard of.

CAMEROTA: But from what you've seen or what you've heard, do you believe that it was Iran that was being provocative and that provoked the U.S.? Because there's a question about how this escalated so quickly.

Some people have even suggested that maybe there was a misunderstanding or that the U.S. did something to provoke Iran. Which one do you think it is?

COONS: I think that's a legitimate question and exactly the sort of thing that we ought to be discussing in in a classified environment.

Exactly why it's so important for the administration to come forward and to brief a broad group of senators who are able to question them is to force them to focus their strategy, to make key decisions. I think it is an open question whether or not the provocation is going one way or the other. And this is a very small space and a real tinder box.

The Strait of Hormuz and the area between Saudi Arabia, Iran, there are so many other players in this region. The war of Yemen has been so destructive, and is, essentially, a proxy war between Iran and the Saudis already. We are already enmeshed in the conflict in Syria.

I think it is critical that we play our hand here thoroughly, cautiously, carefully and recognizing that we face an enormous challenge from China and a real and sustained challenge from Russia. If we were to get drawn into a war with Iran, the consequences for our global position would be, I think, tragic.

[07:25:06] CAMEROTA: Senator Chris Coons, thanks so much for being here in studio.

COONS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Great to see you -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Alisyn.

Schools in parts of Oklahoma are closed today because of the threat of severe weather after dozens of tornadoes left a path of destruction across the U.S. We'll have the new details next.


BERMAN: Schools in central Oklahoma, including the University of Oklahoma, are closed this morning due to the threat of severe weather. Dozens of tornadoes carved a path of destruction across Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas over the weekend.

Look at that home in Oklahoma City. It was struck by lightning. Two other homes in Comanche County, Oklahoma, flattened by a twister. More than 55 million Americans under a severe weather threat today.