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Ex-White House Counsel McGahn Defies House Subpoena, Skips Hearing; Mueller Hesitant To Testify Publicly; Trump Appeals Ruling Ordering His Accounting Firm To Turn Over Financial Statements; Trump Calls Out Biden For Leaving Pennsylvania. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 21, 2019 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Another no from the Trump White House. The President blocks his former Counsel from testifying, and more and more democrats say the price of this defiance should be an impeachment inquiry.

Plus, some perspective employees ask for a parking spot. Others may be a chance to telecommute. Just wait until you hear the demands of a Kansas politician who wanted to be the President's new immigration czar.

And the President on the road doubling down as his own producer. He loves the rally stage and the bright lights, just not too bright.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I thought that was the sun in my eyes. It's these stupid lights, these people. I mean, what are we -- what are they doing? Is there any way they can turn those lights down, folks?

A real genius got those lights.


KING: We begin this hour on Capitol Hill with another empty chair. The House Judiciary Committee holding a hearing today with the former White House Counsel Don McGahn who was supposed to testify. The White House directing him last night not to testify. We'll dive more into the White House legal arguments in a few minutes, but let's start with the empty chair.

The top democrat on the committee, the Chairman, Jerry Nadler, saying today, this absence crossed the line.


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 the subpoena against him.

Let me be clear. This committee will hear Mr. McGahn's testimony even if we have to go to court to secure it.


KING: Another no from the Trump White House means more pressure on the Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Her preference is the slow, methodical fact-finding approach. But more and more democrats, young and older, see no choice now but to open impeachment proceedings.

The Speaker though says all is fine.


REPORTER: Madam Speaker, are you under increased pressure to impeach the President in your caucus?



KING: CNN's Manu Raju tracking all of this live on Capitol Hill Manu, even before the no show you were hearing for more and more democrats, and it's interesting, not just the freshmen anti-Trumpers, more seasoned members, even people who are loyal to Pelosi, saying the White House leaving us no choice. How is the mood after the hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. What I'm hearing from a number of members, both veteran members and freshmen members alike, saying at least begin the impeachment inquiry, at least begin the fact-finding to determine whether or not the Congress needs to move forward, the House needs to move forward on voting on articles of impeachment. They want to at least begin that formal process.

But democratic leadership, Nancy Pelosi is trying to make clear that what the process of what they are doing isn't much different than that formal process that they are investigating, that they are issuing subpoenas. Subpoenas are not being complied with, and then there's a process, a process includes going to court, fighting some of these battles in court. And what she has argued behind the scenes, I am told, is that that approach has worked, has gotten results, including yesterday's court ruling that led one federal judge to say the House Oversight Committee must get records from the Trump accounting firm that they had been demanding despite the resistance from the Trump organization.

Now -- but it's clear, John, behind the scenes and publicly, you're hearing people -- veteran members, like the member of the leadership, Dave Cicilline, Joaquin Castro, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and even John Yarmuth, the House Budget Committee Chairman, all telling me this morning it is time to move forward with some sort of impeachment process.

And you're seeing some who have been skeptical about moving forward, like Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, signaling that he was skeptical before, saying now the case is being getting stronger to moving forward with impeachment in light of stonewalling. The question though, John, is how much longer can Pelosi keep her caucus at bay. John?

KING: How much longer can she say no, no pressure, no big deal? Manu Raju on the Hill live, I appreciate.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Olivier Knox with SiriusXM, Paul Kane with The Washington Post and Politico's Laura Barron-Lopez.

Look, the Speaker knows her caucus better than anybody. She knows how to manage this. She's not going to tell us publicly. Yes, there's a bit of a family feud going on. My question is we know there's frustration. We know all these nos from the White House have a lot of other democrats saying, what choice do we have?


Let's do something. Is this just people venting or is the line moving and is she moving closer to where she says, do it?

PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: I'm not sure whether she's moved but the line has moved within her caucus, without question. Manu is right. You just see certain people who are -- the words are, you know, if you're using a one to ten dial, they were at sort of a seven and now they are at the eight-and-a-half, nine. I'm not sure whether it goes to 11, like Spinal Tap, but for some members it probably does.

But a sign of where she is, she just called what basically is an emergency meeting for 9:00 A.M. tomorrow to have her caucus hash this out. That meeting wasn't on the schedule until this morning. They -- they saw what happened.

KING: They just had a meeting. If you have to keep having meetings, you're trying to manage the plot.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: They had multiple meetings last night that they had to call because they realized that this push was happening for -- to start the impeachment inquiry, not necessarily impeachment proceedings. And the argument from those democrats on judiciary is, well, we want to get this information, and this is a way to get it. And then the counterargument from democrats who are still not there yet is, look, we just got a win in the courts when it comes to some of Trump's financial documents, so let's go that route.

KING: Let's go that route. The problem is the administration -- we'll get to the administration's take on this in a few minutes, but the administration appeals. So it goes on for weeks and weeks, if not, months and months. And at some point, the Supreme Court is probably going to get get involved in some of this.

But to that point of the evolution of the democrats, if you will, let's just capture here a little bit of the flavor.


REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): Nobody runs for Congress with the idea that I want to go there and start impeachment, but I think that's what it's come to.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I think the case gets stronger, the more they stonewall the Congress.

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): I'm personally much more open to it now than I was even a few months ago.

REP. KATIE HILL (D-CA): I am not at all ruling out impeachment.

REP. BILL PASCRELL (D-NJ): The judge said yesterday we don't need impeachment procedures to get the materials that we want.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): My position on impeachment is what it has always been, and that is the President of the United States of America needs to be impeached.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I trust the Speaker is taking a measured approach to ensure that we're moving everyone forward.


KING: I'll come back to this in a minute because it's -- this is related, breaking news related to all of this. Another thing Nancy Pelosi has said is everybody calm down until we hear from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Well, some breaking news into CNN now about why the holdup over Robert Mueller going up to Capitol Hill and testify. Sources telling CNN Robert Mueller is hesitant to testify publicly. Let's get into that with CNN's Laura Jarrett. She's live at the Justice Department. Laura, take us inside this debate. Why is the Special Counsel wary?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, we've been wondering for weeks what the holdup was. We all remember the report, the Mueller redacted report actually dropped back in April, and yet for weeks, there has been sort of a stalemate going on. We knew there were direct negotiations eventually now between the Special Counsel's team and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

But you see Chairman Jerry Nadler not pressing to schedule a date, even the ranking republican Doug Collins mentioning that today at that hearing on the former White House Counsel Don McGahn. And sources are now telling us that the Special Counsel's team is expressing some reticence about having the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, appear before the House Judiciary Committee citing the political environment that he would be coming into after being virtually silent for nearly two years, to have to go before the cameras, go before the public, and so one option that's on the table among others is to have him testify behind closed doors.

Now, no word whether the democrats would go for that. Obviously, they have been pressing for him to appear publicly. Chairman Nadler has said that he will subpoena him if necessary, unclear whether he will actually carry through on that. But it just shows you this is part of the reason that we're learning about why this date hasn't been scheduled considering that you would think the author of the report would be the first one to appear on Capitol Hill. John?

KING: And, Laura, as I listen, I just want to see if I can clear this up a little bit, maybe we can't, maybe that's part of the confusion in the reporting, in a sense. Is it Robert Mueller's team that is hesitant or is it Robert Mueller himself or Robert Mueller as part of the team they're doing this collectively?

JARRETT: Well, Robert Mueller isn't the one negotiating directly with Capitol Hill, and so his team is the one that is expressing the reticence. Whether it's the team expressing his own reticence or their reticence on his behalf, I think we'll have to get more reporting on that. But we do know that they are conveying that sentiment to the Hill, John.

KING: Important, I appreciate it. Laura Jarrett live at the Justice Department.

Let's bring that into the room at a time, again, at a time of increased frustration in the democrats that they can't get the answers they want. One of the people they want most is Robert Mueller because they want to, as Chairman Nadler did this morning, read through what Don McGahn told the Special Counsel, read through some of the -- what Robert Mueller himself laid as ten potential counts of obstruction, ten potential examples of obstruction.


How big of a shift would this be if the answer from the Special Counsel is I don't want to or at least I don't want to publicly?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's a big deal because it makes a big difference if he is behind closed doors or if he's in front of the cameras for everyone to be able to hear him talk about what's in this report, because you can read the report. You can see very clearly how Robert Mueller felt about this. But unless he's in front of the cameras, then democrats will be denied having this star eyewitness come out and talk about what he saw firsthand throughout the two years of this investigation.

And that's why we're seeing the frustration over Don McGahn not testifying in front of the cameras being so public, because they want to be able to make the argument that way. So if Robert Mueller is worried about looking political, which, of course, the democrats would try to make this a political situation if they brought him in front of the cameras, you could see why that would frustrate them because they are going to denied their star witness here.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: Just imagine democrats asking questions about, Director Mueller, did the Attorney General misrepresent your report? What is not -- the question about what's not in the report but could have been, questions about other cases that he's spun off to other prosecutors. I mean, this really could be a star turn. I don't think that testifying behind closed doors would take him out of the political equation.

KING: Yes. But can you -- let me just -- this may be a foolish question because this town is so broken and because the trust deficit on both sides or all sides, I couldn't say say both anymore, is so deep. But after the taxpayers spent all of this money, whether you agree or disagree that there should have been a Mueller investigation at home, that the man who conducted the investigation, who filed this report, who left open questions and people are debating whether or not that was wise or not never has to answer to the American people?

BARRON-LOPEZ: I mean, democrats are going to -- they are not going to take no for an answer. Like -- so there may be hesitations right now, but I think they are going to do everything they can to get to a yes. Maybe it starts behind closed doors and then goes in front of the public. But every democrat I have spoken to, even ones that are in vulnerable districts, say that they want to hear from Mueller.

KING: And to Olivier's point, some of this politics pre-dates actually filing the report, meaning the Congress was divided. And republicans had decided even on Bob Mueller's day one, it didn't matter what they found, they were going to be with the president, democrats have decided there was collusion and everything else and then the Mueller report comes in and everybody has to actually deal with the facts before them.

And then there's his friend, at least longtime friend, Bill Barr, writes a letter that, I'm sorry, if you read the Barr letter and you read the Mueller report, they are apples and oranges from parallel universes, choose your term for it there. That's not my fault, it's not the American's people fault that Bob Mueller might be put in an awkward situation. Shouldn't there be transparency?

KANE: Yes. And this is a very experienced person. He took the Head of the FBI as 9/11 happened and testified multiple times a year before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees for 11 years. And more often than not whenever Congress would ask him questions, they would look foolish because he would look smarter. I don't think this is -- this is going to hold up.

COLLINS: But the key flaw in all of this is he's still a Justice Department employee. He's still been going to work every day since the end of the investigation, since the report has been turned over and made public. And Chairman Nadler said last night on CNN, he didn't know what it is that Robert Mueller is doing every day at work, but he is still technically under their purview. It's a little bit different if he becomes a private citizen once he leaves the Justice Department, but he's still there right now.

KING: It's an interesting question now. Maybe they are just negotiating. Sometimes negotiations happen over the ground rules, how long, how many committees, how many times does he have to come up. Maybe that's what it is. But transparency would be nice, I think, after all of this.

Up next, why the White House says it can defy Congress and not face any consequences.



KING: Today, the Trump administration challenging a legal ruling that strikes at the heart of its just say no strategy, a court yesterday ordering the President's accounting firm to turn over all financial documents subpoenaed by Congress. The ruling is a loss for the President's stonewall strategy, and a loss that could wind up before the Supreme Court.

The administration's appeal just part of its ongoing legal war with the Congress. You saw the drama minutes ago, we were talking about, Don McGahn no-showing today at the House Judiciary Committee, defying a subpoena for his testimony. He did that at the instruction of the White House.

The Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department wrote an opinion justifying the White House order, saying McGahn is shielded by immunity. That too could be tested in court soon.

CNN Legal Analyst Shan Wu joins our conversation. How significant is it? It's one judge, it's at the district court level. The White House is saying, aha, it's an Obama appointee. But when you have so many of these fights brewing in the courts, if you're Congress, is it significant that you at least won the first one at the first level?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, very much so. And it's -- really, it's a beautifully written opinion actually. Not to sound too nerdy about it, but it reads like the opening of a novel. I mean, he looks back at President James Buchanan, and he also lays a really solid legal foundation giving numerous areas where it does comport with legislative reasons.

KING: And that's what makes it important as it goes up through the courts. Did the judge properly justify -- did this judge properly justify as we go up, the Office of Legal Counsel, which is an arm of the Justice Department, the policy arm, if you will, of the Justice Department, wrote an opinion that essentially said recognizing congressional authority to compel the President's immediate advisors to appear and testify at the times and place of their choosing would interfere directly with the President's ability to faithfully discharge his responsibility. It goes on to say it would allow the Congress to harass those advisers in an effort to influence their conduct, retaliate for actions the committee disliked or embarrass and weaken the President for partisan gain.


Again, the Office of Legal Counsel is the more political part, if you will, of the Justice Department. The question is can this stand? COLLINS: Well, that's the big question the White House is banking on, that and the timeline because this is going to be a real lengthy process. You saw that with the appeal of this, and that's essentially what the White House is counting on. This is going to be dragged out.

But they truly do feel that this is the best argument here, making this immunity argument going forward that these people can't come and testify. But the question with this judge making this ruling is what is the effect this is going to have on all of these other instances where the White House is fighting congressional subpoenas? Because is it going to be able provide for fodder for them to also make similar actually? The, actually, yes, there is a legislative purpose here and that's the question going forward.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And the big question for democrats is how soon they will get the information at the heart of this and if the appeals process will drag that out. And I think it also speaks to whether or not -- if they don't get that information very quickly, then they may, again, bring up impeachment inquiry in order to compel the administration.

KING: To say that they have -- that that's a higher level. It's not a committee asking for something. It's essentially a trial in the Congress where you have more luck in the courts fighting for it.

Stephen Ladek (ph), a constitutional law professor and CNN Contributor, said this on Twitter. He said, the OLC's legal opinion says the White House can direct McGahn not to testify. But it identifies, he said, cites zero legal basis through which the President could stop McGahn.

So the President says, don't go. You're the former White House Counsel. The President claims -- the White House claims that it owns the documents, if you will, because he was a White House employee at that time. Is there anything, A, in the opinion or, B, in the law that stops Don McGahn from just showing up?

WU: I think McGahn would be more concerned with his ethical obligations under this assertion of executive privilege. He'd be worried about waiving his client's protections there. However, what really makes no sense to me is, one, I'm still so curious why he has the documents, secondly, why doesn't he just show up and then make his legal arguments. Why disrespect Congress by simply, completely not even showing your face? That seems odd to me.

KING: So you think he should have shown up this morning and said, I'm sorry, I can't answer. Because -- you know, work it out with the President, if you want, but I can't answer.

WU: Exactly.

KING: We'll see this one play out.

Trump has given him a name already. Joe Biden gets a condescending shout out at the President's big Pennsylvania rally.



KING: The President asked Pennsylvania for a second chance last night, second term is the better way to put it, and in doing so gave extra attention to the democrat he sees as his greatest threat.


TRUMP: Every democrat running for President wants to reopen the economic assault on Pennsylvania by crippling the coal and shale industries and by crippling your now once again great steel industry. Your steel industry is great.

And don't forget, Biden deserted you. He's not from Pennsylvania. I guess he was born here, but he left you, folks. He left you for another state. He left you for another state, and he didn't take care of you because he didn't take care of your jobs.


KING: For the record, Joe Biden, son of Scranton, did leave Pennsylvania at the age of 10 or 11 when his father got a new job in neighboring Delaware. That president Trump sees Biden as his top rival is noteworthy, that is one big takeaway from the rally last night.

Another takeaway, he's mad at his best friend.


TRUMP: What's going on with Fox, by the way? What's going on there? They are putting more democrats on than you have republicans. Something strange is going on at Fox, folks, something very strange. And somebody is going to have to explain the whole Fox deal to me.


KING: He's not happy. Let's step back from that, unless you want to jump in on the Fox point, which I find kind of interesting that he's so disappointed with his friend, or maybe he'll unfriend them, I don't know.

He gives a speech. You reported part of the reporting yesterday that he wants to do more of these. He wants to get out there. He wants to be active. He's tired of turning on the television and seeing the democratic candidates, so he wants to get into the mix. He did stay focused on the economy, but it was also crystal clear he does a sweeping of all of the democrats, but Biden is the one, especially in Pennsylvania, in his mind.

COLLINS: Yes. And he's making it seem like Biden is going to be the nominee when actually that's what Biden is trying going to do, only place himself against the President.

So, of course, the President was in Pennsylvania where Biden was just two days before, even though the President was saying -- trying to frame it as Biden deserting the state because he's worried about Joe Biden. And where he was in Pennsylvania is a very deep red area that he won easily. So it's interesting because some of the President's advisers say, maybe he should go to somewhere like Philadelphia, somewhere where he needs to actually win over some of those voters who could vote for Joe Biden.

But what we've seen with the President complaining about Fox News there is when he turns on his television and sees democrats all over the TV all day long because there are so many of them running for president, it annoys him. It irks him. And he doesn't like seeing that because he feels like they are better coverage than he ever got when he was running for president and that is something the President doesn't like.

Now, his advisers are worried about this going forward because they know that the more and more as the summer advances, and we get closer to 2020, the more the democrats will be on TV, so they want to try to counterprogram when you see people like Joe Biden give rallies.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And the more he talks about Biden, I mean, the better for Biden, right? The fact that Biden is able to get under his skin, whether it was also when he launched and was able to get the President to talk about Charlottesville, that helps Biden with democratic voters.


Because, again, there is that debate going on amongst them of whether or not they really --