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CNN RIGHT NOW
Democrats Furious After Ex-White House Counsel Fails to Show Up to Testify; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) & Presidential Candidate Discusses Abortion Laws, Protests, Democrat Impeachment Debate; CNN Interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif; DOJ Offers to Show Mueller Materials to House Intel Committee If They Back Off Barr Threat; A.G. Barr Defends Actions: I Felt Rules Being Changed to Hurt Trump; NYT: Kobach Demanded Perks to be Trump's Immigration Czar. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired May 21, 2019 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: The difference between Don McGahn and everybody is that he's already testified for 30 hours to Bob Mueller, so he's trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube. I don't know how successfully he's going to be able to do that. It'll clearly go to court and this will go on a little while.
PHILL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: Brad, I want to ask about the Office of Legal Counsel member and the rationale behind the instructions not to testify. They didn't tell him not to show testify. They just said he didn't need to testify.
Does that -- your read -- and I'm not a lawyer, much to the disappointment of my parents. Your reading of the memo, how much will this stand up, given the fact that this is going multiple steps further?
BRADLEY MOSS, NATIONAL SECURITY ATTORNEY: If it went the distance, I don't think it holds up. A lot of it is reliant on internal DOJ opinions and what immunities various officers have.
The two relevant opinions, one came in 2008, the end of the Bush administration. It was Harriet Miers being forced to come forward and testify. They lost on that. And the other one came at the end of the Obama administration. This was Fast and Furious. They lost on the executive privilege argument.
So if it went to the merits, they would ultimately lose. And some of these people, like Don McGahn, who was a critical fact witness in the obstruction, would have to testify. But the president is the running out clock on purpose, knowing this will take at least until 2021.
MATTINGLY: Key point, until 2021. If something happens a couple of months before 2021 that people are interested in.
Gloria Borger and Bradley Moss, thanks so much for your time, guys.
(CROSSTALK) MATTINGLY: I really appreciate it.
Tough talk. Iran and the U.S. exchanging blunt warnings. We have an exclusive interview with the Iranian foreign minister next as lawmakers get ready to be briefed on Capitol Hill.
Plus, protests erupting across America, including at the Supreme Court, over abortion bans in several states. We'll take you there live.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[13:36:05] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My body, my choice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My body, my choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: Happening right now, abortion rights protests are under way across the country. Rallies began last hour, organized by dozens of different groups, including the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.
These protests were sparked by a wave of strict new abortion laws, including Georgia's Heartbeat Bill and Alabama's new law, which makes abortion illegal in virtually all cases, including for rape and incest victims.
Several 2020 Democrats are attending the protests today, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Senator, thanks so much for joining me.
I guess one of the things I've been struck by over the last couple of weeks, particularly in the wake of some of these state-based laws, it feels like some of the laws have shifted after you had the Virginia law and the dispute over that. The Democrats feel like they are now on offense on this issue. Is that an accurate characterization of your view on things?
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): I think this is something that President Trump has unleashed. He apparently wants to have a war on women in America. And if this is a war that he wants to have, he will have it, and he will lose it, because American women are not going to accept this.
This protest today is being replicated in 50 states right now, a nationwide day of protest by women speaking out for their basic human rights, basic civil rights. The ability to make the most intimate life-and-death decisions and to have bodily autonomy is part of basic human rights for American women. So we're going to fight.
MATTINGLY: Senator, I was interested, you said last week, I believe, that you would have a litmus test for any Supreme Court nominee regarding "Roe v. Wade." You had also a proposal on this issue. What do you feel like is the most important thing right now, policy-wise, as you move forward on the campaign trail and in the Senate?
GILLIBRAND: So on this issue, I'm fighting for four things. I will not appoint a justice or a judge who doesn't believe that "Roe v. Wade" is settled precedent.
I will work to overturn the Hyde Amendment, which makes it impossible for low-income women to get access to reproductive care, including abortion services.
I will also work hard to codify "Roe v. Wade" so it's the law of the land.
And I will make sure, no matter what state you live in, that you have an opportunity to get full reproductive care.
MATTINGLY: Senator, do you have any concern -- when you look at the numbers where you're talking about a "Roe v. Wade," the majority of Americans are with you. When you're talking about access to abortion, particularly in the early stages, the numbers are with you.
But that later on in -- in the pregnancy process, Americans are at least, polling-wise, getting a little uneasy about the fact that Democrats might be willing to leave it entirely up to people and put no restrictions on whatsoever. Do you -- do you have any concern about that at all?
GILLIBRAND: I think the American people agree, 70 percent agree that "Roe v. Wade" is settled law and that the fundamental decision of when a woman needs to make a decision about when she's having children, how many children she's having, under what circumstances she is having them, that those are fundamentally her decisions.
President Trump tries to create red-herring arguments that don't exist, and he's lying to the American people. This is about basic human and civil rights that women, as settled law, have a constitutional right to decide.
MATTINGLY: Before I let you go, I know this is an important day, particularly on this issue and with the rally and the marches that you're at today. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing pressure from within her party to take a more aggressive strategy towards impeachment based on what they have seen from the White House and the defiance on subpoenas. Where do you stand on whether or not the House should move forward on that issue?
GILLIBRAND: I think it's really important that we have a process. What Speaker Pelosi has tried to do is have the six committees of jurisdiction have hearings and ask for testimony. The fact that she's had to start contempt proceedings against Barr because he won't testify, the fact McGahn is being urged not to testify by the administration, those are creating an issue that she has to overcome because she is entitled to the testimony.
[13:40:11] We, as the American people, are entitled to the Mueller reform in unredacted form. We have the right to know the facts of what this special counsel's report found. And from what I've read, there are many, many examples of obstruction of justice in there on which she could decide to use and to start impeachment proceedings.
She wants to have a process. I agree a process is necessary. And she will have to, you know, file lawsuits to get the testimony and the unredacted version of the Mueller report as her first step.
But everything is going to stay on the table because, if the president keeps fighting against it, she might have to try alternative means.
MATTINGLY: We'll keep an eye on that.
Former member of the House Democratic caucus herself, now a Senator and presidential candidate, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, thanks so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
GILLIBRAND: Thank you.
MATTINGLY: All right. The secretary of state, the acting secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, they are now all on Capitol Hill to brief House members about the heated standoff between Iran and the United States.
In an exclusive interview with CNN, Iran's foreign minister talks about what he calls the dangerous game the U.S. is playing.
Senior international correspondent, Frederik Pleitgen, spoke to Mohammad Javad Zarif. He joins us live now from Tehran.
Fred, what kind of terms did the foreign minister lay out for any kinds of negotiations, the kind of negotiations that President Trump has been calling for?
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. That's one of the things I talked to Javad Zarif about, Phil, was about that mixed messaging he seems to be getting from the White House. On the one hand President Trump saying a couple of days ago saying it would be the end of Iran if there was a fight now calling for the negotiations.
The foreign minister said, under the current circumstances, negotiations are absolutely not possible unless the U.S. goes back to the nuclear agreement. Here's what he had to say.
MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We are not willing to talk to people who have broken their promises. Because we talk to people. We did not believe that our nuclear program, our nuclear energy program required us to provide any concessions or any confidence-building measures. But we engaged. We acted in good faith. We negotiated. We reached a deal.
What the United States is saying is, if we make a deal, whatever we can get you in the negotiations through the deal is fine. Whatever we cannot get you, we'll come back to try to get you. This is not the way serious countries deal with each other. The United States may be used to doing that with clients, but they cannot do that with Iraq. PLEITGEN: How dangerous do you think the situation is currently in
the Persian Gulf with the U.S. aircraft carrier on its way, B-52 bombers. At the same time, from your side, saying, look, we don't want an escalation, but it will be painful if there's one.
ZARIF: There will be painful consequences for everybody if there's an escalation against Iran. That's for sure.
The United States is engaging in an economic warfare against Iran. It has to stop. Economic war means targeting Iranian people. That has to stop. The United States does not have the legal position, does not have the moral position, does not have the political position, does not have the international position, to impose economic war on Iran.
Iran is not interested in escalation. We have said very clearly that we will not be the party to begin escalation, but we will defend ourselves.
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.
PLEITGEN: Dangerous game, he's saying there, Phil.
And with these briefings going on right now, I also asked Zarif, what about the recent attack on tankers that apparently took place in the Persian Gulf and a pipeline attack in Saudi Arabia. He said the Iranians absolutely had nothing to do with it. But as you heard there, he's also saying that he believes the situation between the U.S. and Iran in the Persian Gulf still extremely dangerous -- Phil?
MATTINGLY: Fred Pleitgen, in Tehran, doing very important work on a very important story. Thank you very much for your time.
Right now, I want to move over to Laura Jarrett, who has more breaking news.
Laura, what are you hearing right now?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Phil, we're learning the Justice Department is trying to make a last-ditch effort to try to make sure that Attorney General Bill Barr is not held in contempt. And it's basically a fight over these documents related to the counterintelligence section of the redacted Mueller report, Volume One, as we like to call it.
And the House Intel chairman, Adam Schiff, had been pressing for documents. As we know, over the last couple of weeks, there have been active negotiations between the Justice Department and committee staff over these documents. The Justice Department had said, come over here, look at them in a secure setting. Schiff had said, no, we want the documents. He had outlined categories of specific documents that Schiff wanted. [13:45:07] And now the Justice Department is saying, you can have those documents, we're actually already starting to pull them, but it comes with a condition, and the condition is that you take off that unspecified enforcement action that had been on the table against the attorney general.
Now, we weren't sure what the enforcement action would be, whether some sort of contempt or some sort of civil fines. That remains to be seen. But now the Justice Department is saying, if you pull down that business meeting and you don't hold the attorney general in contempt, we will give you the documents.
Now, we've reached out to Schiff's committee to see if he has any response to this last-minute offer from the Justice Department. No word quite yet, Phil, but we just got this news so it remains to be seen.
MATTINGLY: You might forget that there are a myriad of subpoenas going around right now. But this is -- Laura's makes a key point. This was actually one of the bipartisan ones. Both Republicans and Democrats both want this information. Now Laura Jarrett pushing ahead with her reporting as to where things stand right now. We'll keep a very close eye on this. We have more on this breaking news coming up next.
Laura Jarrett, from the Justice Department, thank you very much.
Plus, who can solve the immigration crisis at the border? The president has one man in mind. And among his job requirements, access to a private jet, weekends off, and 24/7 access to the Oval Office.
MATTINGLY: Critics of Attorney General William Barr say he acts more like the president's lawyer than the country's top law enforcement official. But Barr tells the "Wall Street Journal" his goal is to protect the office of the presidency and not President Trump.
He said in the piece, quote, "I felt the rules were being changed to hurt Trump and I thought it was damaging for the presidency over the long haul. If you destroy the presidency and make it an errand boy for Congress, we're going to be a much weaker and more divided nation.
[13:50:11] "Wall Street Journal" reporter, Sadie Gurman, is here with me now on this interview.
And it's basically been rippling through Washington the last couple of days. And one of the big questions I had is, you were sitting down with him, which not many people, if anyone, has done, what is your big takeaway in the conversation?
SADIE GURMAN, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, it is interesting because Barr has come across as one of the president's strongest defenders but he doesn't see it that way. He sees it as he's working to protect the presidency and presidential power, which is something he's been a defender of for decades. So he doesn't see this as unusual.
He claims to be surprised by the criticism. But really he's taken a lot of actions that appear to be in a way that favors the president. Namely, he's launched this review of the origins of the Russia investigation, using some of the language that the president himself has used, such as "spying," which is sort of incendiary language. And the way he unrolled Mueller's findings was very favorable to Trump as well. But he doesn't see it this way.
MATTINGLY: One of the things I was struck by that was so fascinating was his piece on history on executive power issues. And he's not by himself in the Republican Party. There are lawyers that share his mindset on this.
Does he have any concern right now that this kind of across-the-board defiance from the Trump administration, including the Justice Department on subpoenas, will at some point curtail the executive power if they lose these issues in court?
GURMAN: Yes. That is one of the reasons why he wanted to take this job. He reluctantly took the job as attorney general because he was becoming frustrated by what he saw as efforts to "trash the system," in his words, to hurt Trump.
And I think that the administration's battle with Congress is part of that that frustrates him. And he's worried that if Congress gets its way, if the presidency becomes an "errand boy," in his words, for Congress, that will lead us to have a weaker presidency. And he really sees that this office needs to be protected from those types of threats.
MATTINGLY: It is a great piece. It is a great interview.
Thanks so much for joining us.
GURMAN: Thank you.
MATTINGLY: "Errand boy." The attorney general knows how to give a good quote.
All right, Sadie Gurman, thank you very much for your time.
GURMAN: Thank you.
MATTINGLY: New today, Ken Cuccinelli, former Virginia attorney general, is expected to take a top job at the Department of Homeland Security. But so far, it is not clear what the title will be, but sources say it likely won't be Trump's immigration czar.
Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was considered the leading candidate for the role but, according to the "New York Times," his standings sank after he sent the White House a list of demands.
CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza, joins me now. Chris, this is the craziest story I've read this week. Walk us
through some of these demands and which ones still out to you and which one's you're going to take into your next contract negotiations.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I was going to say, this is like when we were in that band together, this like a rider, a back-stage rider, only green M&M's.
CILLIZZA: Let's go through it, because there's a lot and we don't have much time.
There's 10 things he wanted guaranteed. Pick what you want. This stood out, 24/7 access to a government jet, 24/7. So any time he wanted to fly anywhere, he wanted access to a government jet.
I also like this one. I'll take this immigration czar job but you have to guarantee me that I'm the Department of Homeland Security secretary by November. OK.
Let's go. There's more. Just wait. Because again, he wants to have weekends off in his Kansas home. Who doesn't want to have weekends off at their house? That's a good setup for me.
Unlimited access to the Oval Office. This one, remember, when John Kelly was chief of staff, one of the things he tried to do is limit access to Trump. Most people had a walk-in policy. So this is one that most of the senior officials are going to want.
Again, whoever leaked this clearly didn't want Kris Kobach to get anything because highest pay level for White House senior staff, he wanted a security detail.
And he wanted essentially to have oversight over any department secretary whose purview crossed into immigration. He wanted to have that, and that Trump would litigate those disputes.
There's a lot in here. Kris Kobach, just as a reminder, this guy lost a governor's race in 2018 in one of the most Republican states in the country, Kansas, to a Democrat, who has lost a House race before, and whose big claim to fame was that he headed up an Election Fraud Commission established by President Trump that lasted less than six total months.
Would that we all have that kind of confidence, Phil.
Back to you.
MATTINGLY: Yes, that's a lot.
I'm also intrigued about who dropped the dime on him at the White House?
CILLIZZA: Yes. Somebody --
MATTINGLY: There's a reason this got out.
Chris Cillizza, thank you so much for --
CILLIZZA: Thank you.
MATTINGLY: -- breaking that down for us.
[13:55:44] More on our breaking news. CNN has learned why Special Counsel Robert Mueller hasn't yet testified before Congress. And it includes the potential political circus surrounding these hearings. Stand by.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. And you're watching CNN on Tuesday. Thanks for being here.
[13:59:50] First up, we're following the aftermath of severe weather in the parts of the central plains of the United States. Look at these pictures. 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 the high waters.