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Team Mueller Is Expressing Reticence About His Testifying Before The House Judiciary Committee In Front Of Cameras; A New Danger In The Midwest After Dozens Of Tornadoes Touched Down; Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) Talks About Briefing With Secretary Pompeo Regarding Iran. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 21, 2019 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Massive flooding has submerged parts of Oklahoma. People are trapped in their cars surrounded by running water. Rescue teams are hard at work frantically doing everything they can to save people trying to escape these high waters.

This is happening as dozens of tornadoes that swept across the plains last night and early this morning. Forecasters warn more tornadoes are possible. We will take you to Oklahoma live in a moment, but first to breaking developments on what was expected to be must see-TV from Capitol Hill.

The congressional testimony of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. Remember in the nearly two years he has led the Russia investigation, Mueller has never spoken publicly. And now sources tell CNN his team is expressing reticence about his testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in front of cameras.

So Laura Jarrett is the one with the scoop. She our CNN justice reporter. And so Laura, what is Team Muller saying? What's the holdup?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, the issue really is, Brooke, whether part of the testimony should be behind closed doors or not. We're learning that the Special Counsel's team has been in direct negotiations with Capitol Hill over the last several weeks. And what they're really trying to do is protect the Special Counsel from sort of the political maelstrom that he inevitably will find himself in.

Of course, he's been quiet for the last two years, he hasn't said a word. And so if he does that speak in front of the cameras, they are mindful that it can be perceived as political, no matter any way you cut it.

And so I think that there is a concern there. They've expressed that concern to Capitol Hill. The question is, what are Democrats going to do about that? Because Chairman Nadler has said that he wants Mueller to testify. He said that he is willing to subpoena him if necessary, but he hasn't taken any meaningful steps on that. And we haven't seen any real urgency about bringing him in.

We've seen a lot of urgency about other witnesses, like the former White House counsel, Don McGahn, but we haven't seen that same urgency about the author of this report that we've spent so much time focused on, obviously, for the last several weeks.

So the negotiations are still in process, at least as we understand them. We wait to see what the resolution is and what Democrats are willing to do on this -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: We will come back to Mueller here in just a second. But you're also, Laura Jarrett, breaking some news on the DOJ making this offer to try to get the House Intelligence Committee to back off its threat against Attorney General Bill Barr. Tell me what's happening there.

JARRETT: Yes, this was sort of an interesting last minute development that sort of flown under the radar as the House Intel Chairman, Adam Schiff has been pressing specifically for counterintelligence documents, highly sensitive documents related to Volume 1 of the Mueller report. We spent a lot of time on the obstruction piece of it. But this is on the conspiracy piece of the report.

And he has wanted 12 categories that he thinks the Justice Department should fork over. He wants everything, but specifically identified 12 categories. And initially, the Justice Department said come on over, you can look at it and then we'll talk.

Well, today they're saying, we are actually willing to engage with you on those 12 categories. We've begun the process of actually pulling the documents. Already, the FBI is working on pulling those. But here's the catch. They say you have to take down this unspecified enforcement action that Schiff had threatened to take against the Justice Department tomorrow, there's a business meeting scheduled.

And so Justice is saying if you take down that business meeting where the Attorney General could be held in contempt, then we're willing to go forward with this document trade. Obviously, the larger backdrop here is that Democrats feel like the Justice Department and administration were generally stonewalling them.

And so I think this is an effort by the Justice Department to try to show some accommodation on that issue -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Got it. Laura Jarrett, thank you so much for reporting on both of those stories up on Capitol Hill over at the House Judiciary Committee. History is repeating itself because for the second time now in nearly three weeks, the Trump White House is thumbing its nose at a request for its officials to testify before House Democrats.

And now some of the party wants Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hit back and hit back hard. They want her to start the impeachment proceedings. We'll get back to that in a second. But first, let's just take you inside this hearing room where lawmakers came face to face with an empty chair.

This empty chair instead of seeing former White House Counsel Don McGahn. McGahn declined to appear after the White House, blocked his testimony saying that he is exempt from having to appear because he is a former senior adviser to the President.

But the hearing -- all 20 or so minutes of it went on with the Democratic Chairman, Jerry Nadler and Ranking Member Doug Collins each expressing outrage.


REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): Our subpoenas are not optional. Let me be clear. This committee will hear Mr. McGhan's testimony even if we have to go to court to secure it.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): I cannot emphasize this enough. The track record demonstrate he does not actually want information. He wants to fight, but not the truth. The closer he actually comes to obtaining information the further we run from it.


[14:05:07] BALDWIN: You heard Chairman Nadler saying that he is ready to go to court to get Don McGahn in front of his committee. But for some Democrats, the courts aren't enough. They say the only remedy for the administration stonewalling is impeachment, putting Speaker Pelosi's go slow approach under serious scrutiny.

Now, CNN's senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill with more on this and so Manu, what next?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Democrats are starting to talk more openly about the prospects of an impeachment inquiry. Now what that means, essentially, is to start a formal investigation into impeachment. Before there are any votes on an Articles of Impeachment, of course, the House would have to approve that and the Senate, two thirds of the Republican-led Senate would have to vote to convict the President or to remove him from office.

We're ways away from that, but at least we're hearing more members who talk about beginning that impeachment inquiry, which is something that the Speaker Nancy Pelosi is resisting. It's something that the House Judiciary Chairman, Jerry Nadler is not supporting yet.

But at the moment, even some members -- veteran members and people who have resisted this idea in the past are starting to show more openness.


RAJU: Do you believe that an impeachment inquiry is warranted now, given the stonewalling from this administration?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): You know, I think that the administration is certainly pushing the Congress in that direction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's time.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): Yes, I think it is. I was hoping that we would from McGahn and Mueller, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen.


RAJU: Now, while Pelosi has been saying behind the scenes that there is a methodical approach that they are taking. They are issuing subpoenas, they're defying those subpoenas and then court action will ensue.

She pointed to the Monday victory in court that could compel the Trump accounting firm, Mazars to turn over records -- financial records from individual private citizen, Donald Trump as part of the House oversight's committee probe saying, "Look, we are getting results in this approach. As we go ahead." The question is, how much longer can she keep her colleagues at bay?

Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Chairman had a meeting with her last night. He ultimately is agreed with our approach. Just moments ago, I had a chance to ask Nadler, why not move forward on this Impeachment Inquiry even as some House Democrats on your very committee are supporting that? He declined to comment -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: So, there is this divide. Manu Raju, thank you so much. Let's just analyze all of what Manu is reporting out. Julian Epstein was chief counsel for the House Judiciary Democrats during the Clinton impeachment and Caroline Polisi is a Federal and white collar criminal defense attorney. She was hired to represent George Papadopoulos in a DNC lawsuit just for full transparency.

So, great to have both of you here. I want to start on Mueller and his reticence, Caroline, to testify. And according to our reporting, much of it is -- his team has expressed that he doesn't want to appear political, right?

He never spoke over the two years, he doesn't want to appear political. My question now would be, with his testimony -- would he have a point that his testimony would diminish the Mueller report and potentially his own credibility?

CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL AND WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Right. Well, if there's one thing we know about Bob Mueller, Brooke, is that he does not like the limelight.

I mean, his track record of the past two years has shown that he does not like to be political and to a fault, really, I mean, some people would blame him for the fact that we're in this sort of conundrum on the obstruction of justice issue.

But, you know, I think what most people have said about him is if you know him, we weren't going to get outside of the four corners of this document to begin with, in his testimony.

Likely, he would not feel comfortable testifying about things that he didn't put in the report. So I think what you're seeing now is sort of a back and forth on what can be done in sort of a compromise?

BALDWIN: On the compromise, Julian, here's my question for you. Why not compromise? Why not have Mueller testify to certain members of Congress behind closed doors?

JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC CHIEF COUNSEL AT THE HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, that is one of the compromise they're considering. You know, in 1998, during the Clinton impeachment, Ken Starr came and testified for a number of hours before the House Judiciary Committee.

Bob Mueller has a much narrower view of what a Special Counsel ought to be doing. He certainly does not want to step into the Klieg lights of the Judiciary Committee for fear that his statements might be interpreted politically, or that they may be interpreted as a legal conclusion.

You know, Mueller has this notion that the Special Counsel shouldn't be accusing the President of violating the law because the President doesn't have a due process opportunity to defend himself while he's still in office. I think that's a very, very narrow view. I disagree with it.

I think if the system is going to work, you do need to have a public airing. Particularly when you have a report like the Mueller report, which suggests in at least four instances, the President did commit obstruction of justice. I think the only way for the public to understand that, for the broader Congress, all the membership to understand it, is if you have a public airing of that.

[14:10:08] EPSTEIN: Mueller has a different view. He has a kind of a Sergeant Joe Friday, just the facts. I'm going to do the investigatory side of this thing, but I'm not going to come to the conclusions, because that's not my role.

I disagree. I think Special Counsels have a broader role. But the Judiciary Committee is chaired by Jerry Nadler. He's got a tip-top staff. I think they're going to continue to work and try to find some kind of accommodation. I do think Mueller should testify publicly, though.

BALDWIN: Okay, so that's Mueller. Julian, let me just stay with you because the only -- the other big, you know, story in the last 24 hours with regard to showing or not showing Don McGahn, right?

So you see, you saw the empty chair in front of House Judiciary today. The White House says Congress cannot compel him to testify. You know, do you think that they would have a case? Might the court side with the White House?

EPSTEIN: Not a chance? I mean, this has been litigated.

BALDWIN: Not a chance.

EPSTEIN: This was litigated in the Karl Rove and the Harriet Miers case back in 2007. And the court said, then, as it will surely say, now that a White House staff person has to show up. They can show up, they can invoke executive privilege, if they think that there is an executive privilege to be invoked. Of course, that actually has to be done by the President. But they have to show up. They have to show up and testify if they want to invoke certain parts of the testimony as executive privilege.

They can do it if the President has invoked it, but the President hasn't invoked it. In this case, executive privilege has probably been waived in at least two instances, because McGahn testified before the independent counsel and then the report was released publicly. And certainly, executive privilege can never be invoked if there is a potential criminal cover up.

I think this is the Baghdad Bob legal team at the White House. This was probably the worst legal document, the Cipollone letter that was sent to the Judiciary Committee, was one of the worst, most -- almost borderline malpractice legal documents I have ever seen on this question of subpoenas and enforcement.

I think the courts would look at it. They would laugh it out of court. They wouldn't take it seriously. I don't think the White House takes it seriously. This is just part of a stonewall strategy that I think is actually, in the long run, going to be very counterproductive for them, because I think it's going to unify Democrats to a much more hardline position. And I think it's going to show manifestly in the courts that this is a bad faith effort on the part of the White House. And the courts always want good faith accommodation on both sides.

BALDWIN: You mentioned the stonewalling, we've been covering all of that. What about intimidation? Chairman Adler claims, Caroline that that President Trump has been intimidating witnesses, much of which one can point out? Has that been done been in broad daylight, in public, on Twitter, is he right?

POLISI: Right. Well, this is also one of the things, you know, that we've seen as a pattern or practice that was actually documented in the Mueller report, right? And that was one of the arguments that was being made by the White House, "Hey, if it were obstruction of justice, he wouldn't have done it in broad daylight."

Well, you know, newsflash, there's no requirement in the statute of obstruction of justice that says it has to be covert. Typically, when people obstruct us, yes, it is covert, but we've seen this President do a lot of things that aren't typical.

So yes, I think there are arguments to be made that there are some potential intimidation factors being made, or overtures, if you will by the President here, yes.

BALDWIN: Caroline and Julian, thank you so much. We'll stay on those stories. Of course, right now, as we mentioned at the top of the show, a new danger in the Midwest after dozens of tornadoes touched down.

Now, there are massive floods. We will talk to the Fire Chief about one dramatic rescue involving a family of six and their pets. Plus, President Trump's team briefs House members on Iran. We'll talk to Congressman John Garamendi about what he just heard and the next steps for the United States. And President Trump finds a new way to slam Joe Biden. Why he is trying to call him out for something he did when he was 11 years old. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



[14:18:33] ANDY LITTLE, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, TULSA FIRE DEPARTMENT: Just be very careful around your home or outside. There are still dangers even when we don't think they're around. And I don't think we're out of the woods yet as far as the weather goes. So, just be very careful.


BALDWIN: A message not to ignore. I mean, you see these pictures -- this is a mess left behind at a Missouri Motor Speedway by the same storm that ripped through Oklahoma.

It destroyed several grandstands and buildings and scattered debris all throughout the campground area. But it's the water rescues really that continue to be the priority across the state of Oklahoma.

And I have with me Chief Mike Clark. He is with the Richmond, Oklahoma, Fire Department. He and his team have been out and about rescuing dozens and dozens of people. So Chief, thank you so much for sparing a few minutes on a very busy day. I appreciate it.


BALDWIN: So, it's my understanding, you successfully saved a family of six today. Can you tell me what happened?

CLARK: Yes, ma'am. So we were called in to assist Yukon Fire on a water rescue. We had a house reported to be six individuals inside with water about two feet and rising. When we arrived on scene, Yukon Fire had dispatched a team of three. They were going to have to walk in. It's probably about a three and a half to four mile walk.

[14:20:02] CLARK: So we used our vehicle to go ahead and pick them up, make our way to the house. Were able to safely get them extricated out of the house, onto our vehicle, and get them over to dry land, where they could get looked at by first responders.

BALDWIN: Now, Chief Clark, I know it's your job to be cool as a cucumber. But can you just be real with me? I mean, when this was happening, was it frightening? I mean, I know that you never know how many people or ages or anything that you're going into rescue. So how was that?

CLARK: Well, obviously, you know, we're always thinking about the patients and the victims. So we did know that we had one elderly female and one child. So obviously, our biggest concern were on those. Going to the scene, we did have to stop in several different places. Get some folks out in front of our truck and stay on the road, make sure that it was still stable and hadn't washed away. There's quite a few little bridges there with their creeks that had run outside the banks.

BALDWIN: And how does this compare -- you've lived in this area -- what, for nearly 20 years, how does the water -- does the storm compared to years past?

CLARK: I'd say, probably only seen it like this, maybe once or twice in the 16 plus years I've lived here.


CLARK: So, we've just gotten a lot of rain this spring. And we got a lot last night, and we got some more coming.

BALDWIN: What are you most concerned about with the water level, as it already is and with these high water rescues going into tonight? Tomorrow, are you expecting more?

CLARK: Yes, we are and really what we're worried about is, you know, right now we have clear skies. It's really sunny and the wind is blowing. People are going to think that it's going to be drying out quite a bit. We do have areas where the water has receded quite a bit. But we also have areas where the water has come up. We've got a lot of rain to the northwest of us last night and the previous day as well. And that's all that's coming our way.

We just want to remind people that -- do not drive through moving water. It's a lot faster than you think. Even in our truck, which weighs about 33,000 pounds, you know, we were having issues with it not moving on the road as well.

BALDWIN: I mean, a lesson to everyone, if a 33,000-pound truck has a hard time through water, don't do it. Chief Clark, thank you for all that you do, appreciate it.

CLARK: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you. Right now, all across the country, you see these signs, "Stop the bans," protests are happening on abortion rights. They are attracting some big names from the 2020 Presidential campaign. We've got that for you.

Also ahead. Congressman John Garamendi joins me fresh off a briefing about Iran from Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. I'll ask him what he learned as lawmakers are skeptical of some of the intelligence. We'll be right back.


[14:27:22] BALDWIN: Congress's ongoing battle to get information from the Trump administration saw some success today and it is in regards to Iran. Lawmakers finally got briefed after weeks of calling for details on why the United States sent the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf along with some B-52 bombers.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is briefing lawmakers along with Defense Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This has been happening on the Hills of CNN's exclusive interview with Iran's Foreign Minister.

He says Iran refuses Trump's offer to talk unless the U.S. shows Tehran, his word, "respect" by honoring its commitments in the nuclear deal which the U.S. withdrew from a year ago. And he says the U.S. is playing a quote-unquote "dangerous game."


MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We are not willing to talk to people who have broken their promises. Now, having all these military assets in a small waterway is in and of itself prone to accident, particularly when you have people who are interested in accidents.

So, extreme prudence is required and we believe that the United States is playing a very, very dangerous game.


BALDWIN: Democratic Congressman, John Garamendi is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and attended the briefing with Secretary Pompeo. Congressman, welcome back.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Good to be with you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So you and I chatted last Wednesday. And that's when you told me you couldn't fully understand, you know, what would justify such a U.S. military presence in the region. And my question to you today is -- did you hear anything, just now, that would change your mind?

GARAMENDI: Well, there are two pieces to this. One is the intelligent issues, which I won't get into. But I said last Wednesday, what I'll say today, there really has been no significant change over the last year. It is a dangerous place, it was before, it will be in the future. And the Iranian Foreign Minister is quite correct. It is a dangerous place, things can happen.

With regard to why we are there, it is now becoming clear why we are there. Why these increased military --


GARAMENDI: It is part of the maximum pressure campaign of this administration. When Trump pulled out of the JCPOA, the nuclear deal, he then put in motion a maximum pressure. It's very significant increases in the sanctions, those were not working, although they were clearly hurting the Iranian economy and the Iranian people.

They weren't working. They did not bring Iran to the table to deal with what he says need to be done. And therefore they ramped up, in my opinion, they've ramped up this military action to provide even more pressure on Iran. The problem is --

BALDWIN: So, do you think it's justified?

GARAMENDI: No, I don't. I think it is extremely dangerous. Things happen. We could wind up with a talk and go ...