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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Federal Judge Examines Mississippi Abortion Ban; Interview With Rep. Val Demings (D-FL); Impeachment Calls Grow Louder. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 21, 2019 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:03]

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Miguel Marquez, CNN, Cape Porpoise, Maine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Miguel, thank you.

And thank you for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Another empty chair, as congressional oversight falls not on deaf ears, but on no ears at all.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Making a show over the no-show. Democrats torn after the former White House counsel defies a subpoena and snubs Congress today, as the impeachment debate causes more division than the "Game of Thrones" finale.

Rebooting Beto. The complain trying to put lightning back in the bottle, as he prepares for a CNN town hall tonight in a potential make-or-break event.

Plus, happening right now, thousands of Americans protesting historically restrictive abortion bans passed across the country, as a judge claims one state's new law -- quote -- "smacks of defiance."

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin this Tuesday with the politics lead. The drumbeat for impeachment growing lower inside the Democratic Party, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who does not favor such a move right now, attempts to downplay and dismiss the deep divisions within the Democratic Caucus.

This all comes as former White House counsel Don McGahn defied a congressional subpoena to testify publicly before the House Judiciary Committee today, setting the stage for a potential contempt of Congress vote and a court fight. Democrats on the committee wanted McGahn to testify about the many

instances detailed in the Mueller report when President Trump was potentially obstructing justice by, for example, telling McGahn to fire Mueller.

McGahn says the president told him -- quote -- "Mueller has to go. Call me back when you do it."

For the second time in less than three weeks, the committee's top Democrat, Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York, lectured an empty chair today and slammed the Trump administration for stonewalling Congress and ignoring its role in conducting oversight.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill today with breaking news now.

And, Manu, you're learning now that Nadler has issued some new subpoenas?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

The House Judiciary Committee has just served a subpoena to Hope Hicks, who's the former White House communications director, someone who's been President Trump's closest confidant, one of his closest confidants, for years.

Now, this subpoena demanding her testimony by June 19, demanding documents to be turned over by June 4. At the same time, the committee has also issued a subpoena for Annie Donaldson, who was the chief of staff for Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, served in the White House counsel's office.

Those two individuals have said been witnesses to some of the episodes detailed in the Mueller report. Democrats demanding more information. But the White House has been moving to defy subpoenas, as we saw today, instructing Don McGahn not to show up to the House Judiciary Committee, despite facing a subpoena, and now Democrats are threatening to punish McGahn.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU (voice-over): Former White House counsel Don McGahn will soon be held in contempt of Congress, after President Trump directed him not to comply with a subpoena, demanding he testify about potential obstruction of justice at the White House.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): We will not allow the president to prevent the American people from hearing from this witness. We will not allow the president to stop this investigation.

RAJU: The Justice Department said Congress cannot compel former senior White House officials to testify about their interactions with the president. And Republicans argued it's time to put the Mueller report behind them.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): There was no collusion. There was no obstruction charges. There's nothing here. RAJU: The White House is resisting virtually all Democratic probes

into the president, prompting more Democrats to say their only choice is to launch an impeachment inquiry.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): Of course, nobody runs for Congress with the idea that I want to go there and start impeachment.

RAJU: The pressure building across the Democratic Caucus, from veteran members.

REP. JOHN YARMUTH (D-KY): The impeachment process is going to be inevitable, just a question of when, not if.

RAJU: To freshmen.

(on camera): Do you think it's time to move forward with an impeachment inquiry?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I do. I personally do. We can't be scared of elections. We need to uphold the rule of law.

RAJU (voice-over): And even some skeptics are softening their opposition.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I think that the administration is certainly pushing the Congress in that direction by obstructing everything.

RAJU (on camera): Are you changing your tune on that?

SCHIFF: I think the case gets stronger the more they stonewall the Congress.

RAJU: Are you there yet?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): I'm getting there.

RAJU (voice-over): But the most important person still not convinced.

QUESTION: Madam. Speaker, are you under increased pressure to impeach the president from your caucus?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No.

RAJU: That's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who believes her caucus should methodically pursue their investigations, while focusing on an economic agenda. And in private meetings Monday night, Pelosi argued the strategy is getting results, pointing to a court ruling that could force a Trump accounting firm to turn over financial records to the House Oversight Committee.

Many of her allies agree.

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(on camera): You don't think it makes sense to open an impeachment inquiry right now? REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): The question is, why would we open an

impeachment inquiry if we're winning?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Now, if the White House moves to defy these two new subpoenas, expect those calls to grow.

One Democrat who supports an impeachment inquiry, David Cicilline, said that doing so would convey the seriousness of an investigation moving forward.

And I'm told this is one area that Jerry Nadler brought up with Nancy Pelosi in a closed-door meeting on Monday. She said no to that, moving forward in that respect, but this will be a topic of discussion, Jake, at a closed-door meeting tomorrow with the full Democratic Caucus on the agenda, investigations and talk of impeachment -- Jake.

TAPPER: Deep divisions. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman and former chief of police for Orlando, Florida, Val Demings. She serves on the House Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Your committee just issued subpoenas for Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, and for Annie Donaldson, the former chief of staff for White House counsel Don McGahn. What specifically does the committee, do you want to ask them about?

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): Hi, Jake. Well, it's great to be here.

And, right, it's been quite a day. History has dealt us a very unusual, but a critical hand during this period. And in terms of Judiciary and the oversight responsibility that we have, we are proceeding forward. These are people who we, from the very beginning, wanted to get in front of the committee, ask them questions about what they know about the 10 incidences of instruction (sic) that are mentioned in the Mueller report involving the president.

And so we're moving forward. As you have seen, the attorney general did not honor the subpoena, nor did Mr. McGahn today. But we are moving forward. And I think you know and a lot of other people do that, over a month ago, after reading portions of the Mueller report, and now having read the entire report, and what we witnessed with total disregard for the law, I just believe that we are at the point of opening impeachment proceedings.

TAPPER: And, specifically, you want to ask Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson about what they know about the potential obstruction of justice that's detailed in the Mueller report?

DEMINGS: That's absolutely correct. They both, as you know, worked very closely with President Trump. They both testified and have given testimony.

So we just want to dig a little deeper into things that might have been said or actions taken that they are aware of involving the president's intentions to obstruct justice.

TAPPER: Don't people who work directly for President Trump in the White House have a presumption of executive privilege, that their conversations will be covered, so that they can give free advice and speak freely to the president?

Hasn't that historically been how presidents wield executive privilege in keeping people from testifying?

DEMINGS: Yes, Jake, there's no doubt about that.

But, normally, there's no historical precedence where presidents have inserted it after the fact. As you well know, the president appeared to have no issue at all with his administration sitting down with Mueller, although he refused to do so.

But once the report came out and even though the president has yelled from the top of his lungs no collusion, no obstruction, we know that the Mueller report tells a very different story.

And so, to come in after the fact, and then say, oh, no, I don't like what I have read, really, or what is now being said or what the public now knows, I want to insert executive privilege, is totally unprecedented.

TAPPER: So, as you know, Speaker Pelosi is expected to discuss these ongoing probes into the president during a meeting with your caucus tomorrow.

Pelosi and Judiciary Committee Chairman Nadler have thus far rejected calls for impeaching President Trump. You obviously disagree with that. Why do you think that Pelosi and Nadler are wrong, and why do you think they are holding the position that they do?

DEMINGS: Well, let me say this.

There's a reason why Nancy Pelosi is the speaker and Jerry Nadler is the chairman. And they have to provide oversight in those various roles. There's a lot that they have to consider.

But, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, when I look at the responsibility given to us by the Constitution of the United States and Article 1, the oversight responsibility, and if you read the Mueller report, especially volume two, I believe it's pretty clear that the president made numerous attempts to obstruct justice or obstructed justice.

And so I believe, based on that information, as I did a month ago, that we have enough to begin those proceedings. And, remember, it's a process, right?

[16:10:01] And so we're opening an investigation, so we can get the whole story, which it seems like the House Judiciary Committee, at least on the Democratic side, appears to be the only ones on Judiciary who are really interested in getting the whole story and providing the oversight that has been granted to us by the Constitution.

TAPPER: I just want to ask you, before you have to go, the polls indicate that voters want members of Congress like yourself to be talking about immigration, talking about the economy, talking about health care reform.

And the feelings, I believe, that people like Speaker Pelosi and others in Democratic leadership, including Hakeem Jeffries, are saying is they want the American people to see Democratic members of the House working on these issues.

And the -- at least according to polling, the American public does not support impeachment. Do you not hear those concerns of Democratic leaders, that it would be better for Democrats to be doing more on those issues, talking more about those issues, the economy, health care, immigration, et cetera?

And I guess the concern is from Pelosi and others that Democrats, instead, are going to be seen as just trying to get the president.

DEMINGS: You know, Jake, certainly, I represent Florida.

The people in Congressional District 10 sent me here represent their interests. Since I have been here in the 115th Congress, as you know, we came through the door and opened up the session fighting to protect health care, so that 20 million people would not be thrown off the rolls.

Being a representative from Florida, I clearly understand immigration and that we need to establish a comprehensive immigration plan that includes TPS.

I also understand that people who are working hard every day, worried about keeping a roof over their head and food on the table, how they're going to send their children to college, if that's what they want to do, those are primary issues.

And, as you know, we have not stopped talking about those things or working on those things. You're aware of legislation that we have passed.

But I also believe that the American people expect us to make the tough decisions and provide the oversight, too, that they sent us here to do. And we're going to continue to do that.

When we protect our democracy, we protect health care, we protect immigration, we protect persons covered by TPS. And we protect those things that are important to the American people.

TAPPER: Former Orlando police chief and Congresswoman from Florida, Val Demings, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it. DEMINGS: Thank you.

TAPPER: Brand-new CNN reporting about a possible deal that could disclose more of the Mueller probe than we ever thought we would see. What is it? We will have that story for you next.

And the president nudges the attorney general to investigate the FBI for treason. There is no reason there that we know of, but the president is saying it, of course, your daily reminder that we are not in normal times.

Stay with us.

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[16:17:06] TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead now.

And a very rare offer from Attorney General Bill Barr to House Democrats that seems to be coming in response to the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, saying he would hold a meeting tomorrow to take some sort of unspecified action against the attorney general for not providing his committee the underlying intelligence related to the Mueller report. Now, Barr is saying, not so fast. Maybe we can talk. Maybe we can work something out.

CNN's Laura Jarrett broke the story.

And, Laura, what is Barr specifically offering to Democrats?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the Justice Department is essentially saying, look, we're willing to work with you on this, but there's going to be a hitch. And here's the issue. The House intel chair, Adam Schiff, wants a whole slew of documents related to the counterintelligence aspect of the special counsel Mueller's report. It's a redacted report, obviously, and he wants some very sensitive documents.

So, the Justice Department is saying, we'll start pulling those categories of documents, but you have to withdraw this unspecified enforcement action that you are going to take against the Attorney General Bill Barr tomorrow. Schiff hasn't said whether it was going to be contempt or some other sort of civil fines or something else like that, but they're saying, if you take down that threat, we're willing to work with you on the documents. No word on what Schiff is going to do with that, though, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Laura, there's also been this question about whether or not Mueller is going to testify publicly. You've just learned some of what's behind the delay. What is it?

JARRETT: That's right. And what we're sort of learning here is that at last delicate dance going on between the special counsel's office and Capitol Hill, who have been behind the scenes negotiating for several weeks now. And the special counsel team is expressing some hesitation and reluctance about having the special counsel Robert Mueller testify publicly. It's unclear whether he could do it sort of behind closed doors in pieces or in full.

Chairman Nadler, the top Democrat on the committee won't talk about the negotiations, but rank-and-file Democrats tell my colleague, Manu Raju today that that is not an option that they think is viable. They think the American public should see him testify publicly, and that they deserve to know the full story here, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let's chew over all of this with our expert.

Karen Finney, let me start with you. Mueller, it seems like he's willing to testify in private. Do you think the Democrats are saying that's not good enough or right? Is that the right approach? I mean, they can have him appear.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, certainly, I think it's the right approach until they are satisfied that should he appear and should they get all of the underlying evidence that they want to make sure that they see as part of that, I think that has got to be part of the bargaining, the back and forth that they're going through.

And, obviously, Mueller is, you know, right to have some concerns about he thus far has done very well in staying above the fray. And so, I think his testimony is incredibly valuable. But, again, I think there's a bit of a bargaining going on here.

TAPPER: Kaitlan, do you think that Barr and House Democrats actually might be able to come to any sort of agreement here with all the tension and competing interests?

[16:20:05] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the question here. And it's going to come down to those competing interests. And if the Justice Department can find it in their favor for him to testify or meet some of the accommodations that Democrats are making, they could be open to it, because, so far, Bill Barr has said publicly, let bob Mueller testify. So that's the question here.

But so far, they've been pretty hesitant about this. And the key factor in all of this is that Robert Mueller is still a Justice Department employee and has still been going to work ever since the release of the report, although Chairman Nadler said last night on television, that he wasn't sure exactly what it was that the special counsel was doing.

TAPPER: And in the meantime, calls for impeachment among Democrats are ramping up. You heard Congresswoman Val Demings just a few moments ago. Obviously, not everyone is onboard. Today, minutes apart, two California Democrats gave CNN two very different answers on impeachment. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): The president of the United States of America needs to be impeached.

REP. KATIE HILL (D-CA): You don't need impeachment at all in order to be able to move forward with the investigations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And just a few seconds after that, a third California Democrat, the house speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: How do you address the division?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We don't have division.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: How do you address the division? We don't have division, Pelosi said.

Maeve, obviously there's division.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, come on.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that's called cognitive dissidence.

TAPPER: Yes.

RESTON: Yes. Obviously, there's division there. And, you know, I mean, just looking at Katie Hill, for example, who was one of those voices there, saying we don't need to go to impeachment right now, I mean, she's in a very divided district in California where there would not be a lot of support for impeachment going forward, whereas a lot of these other people like AOC are not facing that same problem at home.

And it so just shows you, you know, how fractious this debate is. And Pelosi's obviously thinking about how she holds on to that majority in the House and is trying to look out for the best interests of those members like Katie Hill.

URBAN: Yes, Jake, you heard Manu's questioning of AOC, and she said, we shouldn't be scared of elections. Who's afraid of elections?

I mean, it's pretty easy for her to say, in like a plus 90-D district, right?

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: But I can tell you who's afraid of elections. Nancy Pelosi is afraid of elections. Because she's scuttled into the caucus there saying, oh, we don't have any divisions. Division, what are you talking about? So, there's lots of Democrats who are afraid of elections, including Conor Lamb, including, you know, I could name about six or seven other Democrats in Pennsylvania. FINNEY: You know, I think the one person we should not discount in

all of this is Nancy Pelosi. She's done such a phenomenal job both handling the president and his foolishness as well as keeping this caucus together. And I think part of what you saw, Jake, even in the lead up to our segment here is, I mean, we've heard members, different members of Congress also saying, look, the more the White House is stonewalling, that starts to raise the specter of, maybe we have to go to impeachment to get these documents.

Even the question about whether or not Mueller should testify. Now that we have a decision that they have to turn over, you know, a judge has ruled they have to turn over these financial documents. So I think part of what they're actually stepping on their own feet at the White House, because the more they obstruct, the more Americans are going to be asking, well, what are you hiding? The more people are going to say, well, gee, if that's the only way that Congress can get the information they need, then, IOK, then maybe there should be that investigation.

URBAN: But, Karen, you know, here's what undercuts that argument, right?

FINNEY: Please tell me.

URBAN: I watched this morning -- I watched this spectacle this afternoon with Doug Collins following Nadler. And Doug Collins makes a good point. He says, you know, look, chairman, you've had a good opportunity to go read the full, un-redacted Mueller report, you haven't even done that yet. None of your colleagues haven't done that yet.

TAPPER: I think I believe -- well, some of them have. I believe Nadler's hasn't read it because he's protesting the fact that it's not fully unredacted report.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: I don't believe -- David, I don't believe you're correct that it's the full, unredacted report. I don't believe that that's what's on the table.

So let's be -- let's do facts.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: You're correct. It's blacked out for national security, grand jury, correct. But he hasn't taken him up on going over and seeing it as expansive a copy as he can see. So I think the American people say, look, what's going on with the 81 document requests you sent out before? I mean, you just keep throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks. I think that's what Americans are seeing happen in the Judiciary Committee.

TAPPER: So, Kaitlan, take a listen to Manu Raju talking to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who supports impeachment. I want to play that sound. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you concerned with Pelosi's approach to this?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): You know, I trust the speaker is taking a measured approach to ensure that we're moving everyone forward. I know that, you know, being a speaker is hard. Holding this party together is a difficult task, but I think we know what we need to do. I personally believe that I think we have to move forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, Kaitlan, Nancy Pelosi is not the only one walking a tight rope.

[16:25:02] There's AOC praising Pelosi while also saying that she disagrees with her on this.

COLLINS: Yes, and that's a big thing. You're seeing the White House trying to capitalize on this division among Democrats over whether or not to move forward with impeachment. But also, we're seeing that kind of surface a little bit in the Republican Party with Justin Amash saying yesterday that -- or saying what the president's actions do warrant impeachment, and that's something that you saw Republicans quickly come back and reprimand him and say that that's not true, that's not how they feel.

But you're seeing what -- behind the scenes, the White House and the Trump campaign are waiting to see what other Republicans have to say about that and if anyone else breaks ranks to agree with him.

URBAN: But Justin Amash has disliked the president while he was still a candidate. This is nothing new. Justin Amash has been saying -- he would impeach Trump before he was president. So --

TAPPER: So, everyone stick around.

President Trump now accusing one of the nation's law enforcement agencies of committing a crime that is punishable by death.

Stay with us.

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