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Mueller's Team Hesitant About Special Counsel Testifying Publicly; Tensions Among Democrats As Some Push Pelosi To Start Impeachment. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 21, 2019 - 13:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: I'm Phil Mattingly in for Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters. And under way right now, it's been a mystery, but CNN is now reporting why Robert Mueller hasn't yet testified before Congress. Stand by for those details.

An inflection point? Tensions flare behind closed doors as Democrats push a hesitant speaker to start impeachment proceedings.

Plus, the risk from Iran is real and remains high, according to the Trump administration. And just moments from now, they will have to prove it to skeptical lawmakers.

And it's one of the most epic cover letters you will ever see. Mark my words on this. The list of demands one candidate gave to be the President's immigration czar.

We begin right now with breaking news. CNN is learning that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is hesitant about him testifying publicly in front of the House Judiciary Committee. That's according to sources familiar with the matter. Now, their concern is that Mueller himself doesn't want to appear political after remaining behind the scenes while conducting his investigation for the last two years.

Laura Jarrett is at the Department of Justice and she joins me right now. And if Mueller is reluctant to testify publicly, I guess one of the big questions now is what are some of the other options open to congress?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, one of the options on the table, Phil, is to have him testify behind closed doors, either in full or in part in some way. But the big question is whether the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee will go for that. They have been eagerly talking about bringing him in. The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, has talked about subpoenaing him if necessary, but we haven't seen that happen.

And if you take a step back, I think what this reporting shows is sort of the delicate dance that is really going on behind the scenes and the Special Counsel's team really trying to protect their boss who has remained silent over the past two years. We haven't heard a peep out of him. And they know that he will be thrust into the midst of this political firestorm if he does testify. And so I think that's part of the reluctance here that we're hearing from sources.

At the same time, at a certain point, Nadler is being challenged about why there is this lack of urgency in getting the dates scheduled. We remember the report came out, the redacted version, I should say, came out in mid-April, April 18th, and yet we still haven't heard anything from Mueller even though he goes into work every day. He is a Justice Department employee. And yet today, Nadler held a hearing with an empty chair for the former White House Counsel, Don McGahn, not for the author of the report, Bob Mueller.

So the negotiations continue, Phil, but that's where it stands right now.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's really -- it's great reporting, but it's also interesting because in my day job covering Capitol Hill, this has been the big question. There's been a lot of speculation. There's been a lot rumor. Now, we have a window into what's going on. I'm going to go to (INAUDIBLE) here and say, Laura, I don't think Democrats are going to be too keen on just doing this behind closed doors, but we'll have to see.

JARRETT: Something tells me you're right.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Thanks again for the great reporting, Laura Jarrett, over at DOJ.

We're going to discuss this more in a moment, but, first, another major issue that's kind of percolating right now. We turn to impeachment impatience. Democratic leaders are stepping up the pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

Tensions flared behind closed doors last night reflecting the growing divide among Democrats. Adding fuel to that fire, the refusal, as Laura mentioned, of former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify today before the House Judiciary Committee. Now, Republicans accused the Democrats of political theater and Chairman Jerry Nadler threatened to hold McGahn in contempt.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): When this committee issues a subpoena, even to a senior presidential adviser, the witness must show up. Our subpoenas are not optional. Mr. McGahn has a legal obligation to be here for this scheduled appearance. If he does not immediately correct his mistake, this committee will have no choice but to enforce this subpoena against him.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): Everything that we're looking at today, even gaveling in today's hearing without a witness is theatrical. The Chairman orchestrated today's confrontation when he could have avoided it because he's more interested in the fight than fact-finding.


MATTINGLY: CNN Political Analyst and "Washington Post" Congressional Reporter, Rachael Bade, is on Capitol Hill.

And, Rachael, you had some great reporting last night, kind of taking everybody behind the scenes on this. And I would note this. You have your finger on the pulse up there probably better than anybody. How much is the ground shifting for House Democrats on the issue of impeachment right now?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I would definitely say there's been a groundswell of support in terms of backing the idea of starting this impeachment inquiry but it's too early to say and, in fact, probably unlikely that that's actually going to happen because Speaker Pelosi is adamantly opposed to that right now.

We reported last night that there's been a group of Judiciary Committee members. This is the panel that obviously has impeachment jurisdiction that has been really frustrated with the White House stonewalling. And McGahn not showing up this morning for his hearing, that was a tipping point for a lot of them.


In four of them in a private meeting last night with Speaker Pelosi actually confronted her and said, look, we think it's time to start an impeachment inquiry. We think it's going to help us get the documents and the testimony that we've been trying to get that the White House has been blocking.

But leadership, you know, they pushed back. They said they should be focused on the agenda. There's been concern that if they do start an impeachment inquiry, it could trip up some of the other committees that are investigating Trump instead of centralizing it into one. And so there's been this pushback.

And right now, you know, Pelosi is trying to sort of temp this down behind the scenes, but people are getting really impatient, and they want to see some sort of action here.

MATTINGLY: So that actually leads -- it's a good point, and it's one I've been trying to kind of figure out all day. As I've seen the comments that you've been reporting, our whole team has been reporting as well, you have McGahn deciding not to show up today, you have other administration officials defying congressional subpoenas. You can pretty much go down the list, and pretty much, everything they have asked for has been blocked.

But you have have a speaker who is kind of considered legendary on Capitol Hill for her ability to keep her members in line. It's why she's in that job. It's why she's succeeded to the degree she has inside that caucus. How long does that hold? Is this going to be one of those things where it's a burst today and tomorrow everyone is back on the party line?

BADE: Very possible. You're right. Pelosi, ever since she took the gavel in January, has really held her party in lines, even on the 35- day shutdown when some Democrats wanted to negotiate on Trump's border wall. She has really shown that she is able to sort of wield power with this caucus, and she still has a lot of influence. So a lot of people, they do listen to her. And that's going to be a problem for people who are impeachment cheerleaders.

I do think that she is going to have to do something. She's going to have to let air out of the balloon in some way, shape or form. I don't know whether it's scheduling a contempt vote. You know they've held obviously held Attorney General Barr in contempt in the Judiciary Committee that has yet to move to the floor.

That's one possibility. Perhaps it's allowing some of these chairmen to issue fines for some of these White House officials who are ignoring these subpoenas. That's another idea that's been floated out there.

I think that the pressure is building such that she's going to have to do something if she doesn't want to start impeachment to sort of take the pressure down a little bit. But you're right. People really are loathe to go against Pelosi.

And I think we saw that last night when Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler actually went and spoke with her and made the case backing his members that he was for starting an impeachment inquiry and that it could help them. But when he left the room, you know, he didn't blast Pelosi for pushing back.

In fact, he didn't even comment on the committee hearing or the meeting with her at all. And, again, that shows sort of a reluctance to want to hit back at her and it just causes this behind-the-scenes awkward situation sometimes.

MATTINGLY: Yes. It's always good remember, there's a reason Speaker Pelosi is Speaker of the House for the second time. And it's also a reason that there's more than just impeachment cheerleaders, as you note. There're also a lot of Democrats that come from Trump one districts that they flipped in 2018 that people are keeping an eye on. Rachael Bade, thanks, as always, for the great reporting and insight.

And I'm going to speak live to a member of the Judiciary Committee who says she will introduce a resolution on impeachment investigations. Stand by for that.

Also, the closed door testimony of the President's former fixer finally revealed. What Michael Cohen told Congress about a lie he says a Trump lawyer concocted and told him to deliver.

Plus, protests erupting across America, including at the Supreme Court, over abortion bans in several states. I'll speak live with 2020 candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who is in the middle of it.

And water rescues are under way right now after tornadoes and storms ripped through the nation's mid-section. We'll take you there.


[13:10:00] MATTINGLY: More now on our breaking news. CNN is learning that Robert Mueller's team is hesitant about him testifying publicly before the House Judiciary Committee. Now, their concern is that Mueller himself does not want to appear political after remaining behind the scenes while conducting his investigation for the last two years.

Joining me now, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a senior Democrat on that committee, and she says she will introduce a resolution of investigation on impeachment within the next 48 hours. She joins me live from Capitol Hill.

And I want to get to the resolution you're working on in a second. But, first, I want to talk about Robert Mueller. You heard what sources have been telling us about his hesitancy regarding testifying. Your reaction to those concerns that he may have right now?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Well, I won't switch my view about Robert Mueller. Robert Mueller is a former FBI Director. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I had Mr. Mueller before my committee and me as a member of that committee many, many times. He's a former marine.

He's a straight arrow. And he did an outstanding job with his team on volume one and volume two. I applauded his report when it was introduced and announced and I applaud it today.

Obviously, Mr. Mueller is a key witness for the House Judiciary Committee. Our lawyers, and it should be made very clear, have been engaging with his lawyers because our intent is to get the facts and the truth.

And I think what is important is to make Mr. Mueller comfortable in the opening setting. Obviously, there should be many options. There may be an option of doing both an open setting and a closed setting. We want not Mr. Mueller's very attractive presence.


But we want the truth and the facts and the basis of volume two, which is that he left many of these issues of obstruction of justice to the Congress. That means we have to do our job. And to do our job, it's important to have him as a witness.

MATTINGLY: And to be clear you mentioned, you mentioned both open and closed. Is it your view that there does need to be an open setting testimony regardless of kind of how he ends up coming to Capitol Hill.

JACKSON LEE: Well, I think there may be issues, Phil, that all of us would agree would be appropriate in a closed or classified setting. Obviously, Chairman Nadler and the committee staff who have never shunned away from engaging in an open manner with Mr. Mueller's lawyers will be the ones that will be able to design how that will be activated.

I, for one, as a lawyer and as someone who recognizes there are matters that are classified would be open to making sure that this former marine, this straight arrow is comfortable so that he can come before us and tell us the truth and nothing but the truth.

MATTINGLY: On a separate issue, you spoke to my colleague, Manu Raju, earlier and said you're working on a resolution calling for investigation whether there're sufficient grounds to move forward with impeachment. I just wanted to get kind of your sense on what specifically you're working on and how far along that process is right now.

JACKSON LEE: Well, many of us who have gotten into the weeds of the Nixon impeachment, I think many who were not present know the history and that is the Saturday Night Massacre and the smoking gun tapes. We know that there are moments in that history that moved the American people forward on finding out the truth of the situation with Mr. Nixon.

I believe that we have a process through our House rules, the manual practice, section 6 and 7, and I won't bore with that, that allows a resolution investigation to be introduced and to be voted on by the House of Representatives, and it's a bifurcated process. And what I've said is that this is not the only tool in our toolbox, but it is a tool of the article I constitutional rights of the Congress to investigate, and people are investigating now, so it doesn't preclude other committees. But it specifically instructs the Judiciary Committee and it has a House vote.

That's a strong statement both to the American people and both to members of Congress for the Judiciary Committee, which is doing its work now to investigate. But the language says to investigate and then to determine to exercise its power under article I, determining or proceeding on the process for assessing the misconduct of the President of the United States. And so it then leads you into that impeachment process.

I know all over the country, there are advocacies and groups and people who believe move now, move now. That is absolutely their prerogative and right, and I feel and understand what they are saying and have voted for it in past congresses. But what I do know as well that we know that all of the people coming together make a better statement for moving on this procedure.

And we note in the Nixon impeachment a year before he was impeached, the American people were at 19 percent. But as a smoking gun became obvious, they moved to 57 percent. That's an important statement on behalf of the American people. We represent the people.

We're for the people. So this resolution and investigation is a resolution with teeth. It is a statement of the Congress, particularly the House, to say that we are -- we mean business, we want our subpoenas to be adhered to, we want you to appear before our committee, the Judiciary Committee, in the instance of this constitutional authority that we have.

And it is invested in the Judiciary Committee, any proceedings dealing with impeachment, and so it would be important for the Judiciary Committee to determine whether it is exercising that authority. I think it's a very important step forward, and it's not mutually exclusive to other proposals that have been moving or been proposed previously.

MATTINGLY: One thing I want to ask real quick, because I know you're very busy, but the idea of the -- the word impeachment kind of sends off sirens and one of the concerns of some of your colleagues, including the Speaker of Ways, is that it -- just having it out there, it becomes all consuming. No one will care about healthcare or about climate change or about prescription drug costs. It will be all impeachment all the time. Do you feel like you're at the point that they are just wrong if that's your position?

JACKSON LEE: No, I don't feel that they are wrong, and that's why the resolution of investigation is something that all members can vote on, and they can go to their district and say they voted to investigate. We will then subsequently look and determine to exercise that ultimate authority. That's the positive aspects of this resolution.


It has teeth in it and it allows members from all perspectives to go to their districts whether for or against and be able to say, you would not want the Congress not to strongly investigate and we in the House determine that we should strongly investigate and the Judiciary Committee should strongly investigate and then ultimately decide whether we should exercise that ultimate authority.

It's a bifurcated process. I think it draws more people together than it stretches people out from each other and it provides a unifying factor because it does not make a statement of ending anything. It opens the door. It opens the door to Mr. Mueller to come before in committee, Mr. McGahn to come before the committee, General Barr to come back before the committee and other witnesses.

Investigate intensely is what this resolution is framed to bring about. It gives a litany of things that should be investigated, all within the context of the Judiciary Committee. Again, not precluding any other committee from doing its work.

And you're right, Phil. We are dealing with saving the protection of pre-existing conditions, gun safety legislation, climate change, criminal justice reform, the Violence against Women Act. It's amazing what we have done. And the American people know that as we further engage with our districts. We talk about it every time that we're home.

Before I left my home, I was talking about social security and securing it for our seniors. But we do have a right and a duty and the principal stand to investigate the facts of what is going on and has gone on with respect to the Article II body and the Mueller report.

MATTINGLY: It's certainly something to keep an eye on. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

JACKSON LEE: Thank you for having me. MATTINGLY: All right. Up ahead, warnings of complete destruction after 21 tornadoes touched down in four Midwest states over the course of just one day, where severe flooding and damaging winds are headed next.

Plus, his critics say he's the Attorney General for Donald Trump, not the United States. Bill Barr is fighting back with some new comments, why he says the President won't be an errand boy for Congress.



MATTINGLY: There's still no agreement for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify about his conclusions, and now, sources tell CNN that Mueller is hesitant to testify at all, that he doesn't want to come across as being political after being tight-lipped throughout his two-year investigation.

Here with me right now, National Security Attorney Bradley Moss, CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

And, Gloria, like myself, you have watched a fair number of congressional hearings in your day. Is there merit to the concern, right? Like it's going to be political no matter what.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's going to be political and they are clearly going to ask him some questions he doesn't want to answer, such as what if there were no Office of Legal Counsel opinion saying, you can't indict a president? Who you have indicted Donald Trump for obstruction?

That's kind of a likely question out of the box. How does he dance around that? What do you think of the President's behavior that you described in this -- in this report? If there wasn't any collusion, can you tell us more about why 16 members of the Trump campaign seemed to be meeting with Russians?

Do you believe the President knew about the Trump Tower meeting that Donald Jr. Held and on and on? And I think he just doesn't want to go there.

MATTINGLY: I feel like you've been storing up questions.

BORGER: I have like for two years.

MATTINGLY: 59 days.

BORGER: No, for two years.

MATTINGLY: Brad, one of the questions I had is you heard Chairman Nadler this morning at the McGahn no-show hearing, if you will, talk about, look, if we have to subpoena Bob Mueller, we will subpoena Bob Mueller. What does it mean if they have to subpoena the Special Counsel for whom the -- whose report they wanted for so long and now have? BRADLEY MOSS, NATIONAL SECURITY ATTORNEY: Well, it shows you how much this process has completely broken down on all sides. I mean, Don McGahn didn't show up because of the White House instructions, because of the DOJ opinion. Bob Mueller, I think, he is stuck in a bit of, you know, between a rock and a hard place. He's built this reputation as being apolitical.

He ran this, you know, behind the scenes, he didn't make media press conferences, he didn't run it like Ken Starr, it was very non- political. If he goes before Congress in that very politicized media circus hearing, he knows he's going to go through what Jim Comey went through. Every single legal mouse (ph) is going to get picked apart.

Gloria would have all kinds of questions for him. They'll ask about Don Jr. She'll have afterwards. I mean, she'll have -- you know, there will be all kinds of questions why they didn't charge Don Jr., you know, the issue of the meeting at Trump Tower and this announces (ph) over intent. He is trying to avoid that, saying look, I gave you an extensive report. My work speaks for itself.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Brad, I want to get to you on the legal analysis on Don McGahn not showing up in a sec. But, Gloria, I guess, obviously, the committee really hoped to hear from him today. He was another one of their golden top tier witnesses. He didn't show up. The White House told him just to skip it. He listened to the White House. What was your kind of response to that situation?

BORGER: Well, my feeling is that he could have shown up and then declined to testify to show a certain amount of respect for the committee. As his attorney said, he is caught between the White House and the Congress. It seems to me is that reading between the lines, Don McGahn doesn't really want to testify, number one, and the White House is giving him a good reason not to, as is the Justice Department saying that he doesn't have to.

The difference between Don McGahn and everybody else is that he's already testified for 30 hours to Bob Mueller, so he's trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube, and I don't know how successfully he's going to be able to do that. It will clearly go to court, and this will go on a little while.


MATTINGLY: Brad, I want to ask about the OLC, the Legal Counsel memo and the rationale behind the instructions not to testify.