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White House Blocks Don McGahn's Congressional Testimony; Judge Orders Trump Accounting Firm to Hand Over Records; Trump Knocks Biden as He Ramps up Reelection Bid; Tornadoes & Flash Floods Slam Millions Across Central U.S.; CNN Hosts Town Hall with Beto O'Rourke Tonight; Fifth Migrant Child Dies in U.S. Custody at the Border; Dems Divided on Responding to Stonewalling with Impeachment. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired May 21, 2019 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A former administration official defying a subpoena from House Democrats.
[00:59:29] REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): You're dealing with a lawless president.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've been the most transparent administration in the history of our country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Don McGahn doesn't testify, it is time to open an impeachment inquiry.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The judge is saying Trump's accounting firm must turn over his financial records.
TRUMP: As far as the financials are concerned, it's totally the wrong decision by an Obama judge.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president is going to fight like hell to make sure that these taxes will not be revealed.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, the sunrise is stunning here over Hudson Yards. I just watched it from one of the green rooms. I mean, it is spectacular.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's hypnotic. So hypnotic, I almost didn't make it on the set.
CAMEROTA: That's a problem.
BERMAN: You're just glued to watching it.
CAMEROTA: That is a problem. We will come and fetch you tomorrow, make sure you're here. Meanwhile, welcome to viewers in the United States and all around the
world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, May 21, 6 a.m. here in New York.
This morning, the House Judiciary Committee was hoping to get answers from Don McGahn, but the former White House counsel and vital witness is refusing to testify and defying a subpoena.
Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler now threatening to do whatever necessary to get McGahn to appear. Nadler tells CNN the first thing he'll do is hold McGahn in contempt of Congress.
BERMAN: So there's new reporting overnight that more and more Democrats, including some in the leadership team, are calling for formal impeachment proceedings, in open rebellion against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is still against the move.
This as a federal judge sided with Congress in a big way in its battle to get documents and testimony about the president, including financial records.
Also new overnight, the House Intelligence Committee released transcripts of Michael Cohen's closed-door testimony. Cohen claims the president's attorney, Jay Sekulow, asked him to falsely testify to Congress about the Trump Tower project in Moscow. Sekulow denies the allegation.
So much news. So many developments. Let's begin with CNN's Lauren Fox live on Capitol Hill -- Lauren.
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, in a couple of hours, an empty chair before the House Judiciary Committee, as this fight between Congress and the executive branch over documents and witnesses heats up.
FOX (voice-over): The White House blocking former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying in front of the House Judiciary Committee today, the latest effort to stonewall congressional investigations into the Trump administration.
McGahn's lawyer telling Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, "Mr. McGahn finds himself facing contradictory instructions from two co-equal branches of government." Nadler threatening to use, quote, "all enforcement mechanisms at the committee's disposal," including holding him in contempt.
NADLER: You're dealing with a lawless president who is willing to go to any lengths to prevent testimony that might implicate him.
FOX: White House claiming McGahn is immune from being compelled to testify. Press secretary Sarah Sanders adding, "This action has been taken in order to ensure that future presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the office of the presidency."
Nadler claiming it's the president who is undermining checks and balances.
NADLER: He cannot seek to be a dictator and to destroy the separation of powers and to be above the law. That's what he's trying to do.
FOX: Meanwhile, the D.C. District Court dealing a significant blow to the White House, rejecting another administration attempt to block a House committee's subpoena.
The district judge ordering an accounting firm to turn over years of Trump's financial records to House Oversight, writing, quote, "It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a president for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct."
TRUMP: It's totally the wrong decision by, obviously, an Obama- appointed judge.
FOX: All of this as the House Intelligence Committee releases testimony from earlier this year from Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal attorney and fixer.
Cohen telling the committee Trump's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, knew Cohen lied when claiming the Trump Tower Moscow project ended in 2016. Cohen also telling lawmakers that Sekulow told him pardons were being considered, as an incentive to keep him in line.
Sekulow's attorney denying the allegations, writing in a statement, quote, "That this or any committee would rely on the word of Michael Cohen for any purpose defies logic, well-established law, and common sense."
FOX: And Sekulow referring there to the three-year prison sentence that Michael Cohen is serving right now, including for crimes including lying to Congress.
And behind closed doors, Democrats deeply divided over this impeachment question, with Nancy Pelosi trying to encourage her caucus to stick together on this. But members of some -- some of the members of the House Judiciary Committee saying it's time to move forward -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Yes. Therein lies the rub. Lauren, thank you very much.
So President Trump will formally kick off his re-election campaign next month, but it seemed like it was already in full swing last night during a rally in Pennsylvania. The push comes as a GOP congressman doubles down on his claim that the president engaged in impeachable conduct.
And CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House for us with more.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.
The president has got a lot of friction here in Washington politically, with the criticism from Congressman Justin Amash and all that represents.
There's also the issue of the president's re-election, of course. The president erasing all doubts about how worried he is regarding the candidacy of Joe Biden. And it's not just because Biden gets under his skin. It's also because Biden was born in the state of Pennsylvania, which Mr. Trump won in 2016 and is critical to his campaign in 2020.
[06:05:22] TRUMP: I'll be seeing a lot of you over the next year. I'll be here a lot. Got to win this state.
JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump making the first of likely many visits to Pennsylvania this year, holding a rally for a Republican in a congressional special election. But also, looking ahead to 2020.
Mr. Trump using many of his regular talking points, emphasizing a strong economy and contrasting himself to one of his potential Democratic competitors.
TRUMP: Sleepy Joe said that he's running to, quote, "save the world." Well, he was. He's going to save every country but ours.
JOHNS: Former Vice President Joe Biden, who held a rally in Philadelphia just two days earlier, emphasizing a strong anti-Trump message.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The single most important thing we have to accomplish is defeat Donald Trump.
JOHNS: President Trump also increasingly frustrated by Democratic primary candidates getting TV air time, a source saying the Trump campaign is working on ways to counter-program the upcoming Democratic debates.
TRUMP: What's going on with FOX, by the way? What's going on there? They're putting more Democrats on than you have Republicans. It's something is strange going on at FOX, folks. Something very strange.
JOHNS: Also on the president's mind, Republican Congressman Justin Amash, the Michigan lawmaker further explaining his belief that President Trump engaged in impeachable conduct. In another tweet storm, arguing, "Those who say there was no underlying crimes and the president cannot be impeached are resting their argument on falsehoods."
Trump saying he's not concerned.
TRUMP: He's been against Trump from the beginning. He's been a loser for a long time.
JOHNS: And neither is Amash.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, what about President Trump calling you a loser?
REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R-MI): OK.
JOHNS: But on Capitol Hill, GOP leadership separating themselves from their colleague. The House Freedom Caucus voting to strongly disagree with Congressman Amash, yet not voting on whether he should be kicked out. A Freedom Caucus leader suggesting Amash might not be back next Congress, regardless.
SEN. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): Any time that you come out against the president of your own party, it makes it very difficult to support in any primary challenge.
JOHNS: A little bit more about Justin Amash. He is a long-time critic of the president, but he's got a conservative record based on libertarian principles. And by the way, he comes from the state of Michigan, which Mr. Trump narrowly won in 2016 -- John.
BERMAN: All right. Joe Johns for us at the White House. Joe, thank you.
Breaking overnight, at least 19 tornadoes have touched down in central Oklahoma, in western Texas. We're getting reports of more tornadoes this morning and intense flooding. It's leading to rescues, forcing evacuations and closing schools.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in Oklahoma City with the breaking details.
Ed, what are you seeing?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
Well, a tornado warning issued in some small communities just southeast of Oklahoma City. That is one of the urgent concerns here this morning.
But in the overnight hours, really, it is the flooding and the heavy rains that have continued to fall for hours and hours that is of concern. It will continue to be concern as these flash flood warnings continue to pop up across the state. And that will be a concern here for the coming hours, as this massive storm system continues to move through Oklahoma.
And this system stretches from Kansas all the way down to San Antonio, Texas. And John, as you mentioned yesterday, there was high-risk warnings for much of the state from the National Weather Service, as a fear of tornadoes was really imminent throughout much of the day.
And this coming on the six-year an anniversary of the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado that killed 24 people. So even though many tornadoes did not materialize, the weather system, kind of everything kind of came together to minimize, really, the large number of tornadoes that many forecasters had been fearing, but the skies looked ominous throughout much of the day.
Now, this storm system continues to move into the east. And the concern is in Missouri and Oklahoma later -- I mean, in Arkansas later today -- John.
CAMEROTA: I'll take it, Ed. And we are going to find out right now where those storms are headed next. Thank you very much.
Let's bring in CNN meteorologist Chad Myers. He's keeping an eye on all of it for us -- Chad.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: (AUDIO GAP) -- tornadoes. That doesn't seem like the 60 or 70 that were possible.
A big cold air mass rolled out of northern Oklahoma, kind of cutting off the moisture. But 19 tornadoes. If one of those is at your house, it's still a big day.
So for right now, we talked about that tornado warning, Eddie did, just not that far from Meeker, Oklahoma, just east of Oklahoma City. There's a box right there, right under the "C" in Oklahoma City.
[06:10:04] Now, for the rest of the day, this moves up into Missouri and Arkansas, St. Louis, all the way down to Little Rock. That's where the big weather will be, and yes, there's even a potential for more tornadoes today.
The line by 6 p.m., Fort Smith, Kansas City, rolling toward St. Louis later on this afternoon, all the way down to Little Rock, as well. But by tomorrow morning, Indianapolis, Memphis, Nashville, you're all into the same storm system.
And flooding, as Eddie talked about, was the big story yesterday. Some spots around Oklahoma and northern Oklahoma, just north of Oklahoma City in Tulsa, 8 inches of rain in about four hours. More rainfall today, most of it across Kansas and into parts of Missouri. Tomorrow, though, another big day for severe weather. Then a bigger day on Thursday. The flash flood threat today, Kansas City all the way down to Little Rock.
Guys, back to you.
BERMAN: All right. Chad Myers for us on the weather. Chad, you're going to have your day cut out for you. A lot of work, to be sure.
MYERS: Another one.
BERMAN: Beto O'Rourke introducing himself to America again. How his CNN town hall tonight could turn into a big moment in the race for president. That's next.
[06:15:52] BERMAN: A big moment in the Democratic race for president. Former Congressman Beto O'Rourke in a CNN town hall, his first national event like this. It comes at a crucial moment for his campaign. After a strong fundraising launch, O'Rourke has slipped in the polls and is now working to reset his efforts.
CNN's Leyla Santiago is live in Des Moines, Iowa, where this town hall will take place. And Leyla, it really is a very important moment for the former congressman.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, John. And I'm willing to bet that tonight, as he sort of takes this stage, he'll probably talk about something we've heard a lot from him this week: the number of town halls he's been to, the number of questions he's answered, even the number of states he's visited over the last two months.
And he told us that he sees this as an extension of that. You know, we are back in Iowa, where he held his first 2020 presidential campaign events, but we've certainly seen some changes since then.
BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would love to be able to take some questions.
SANTIAGO (voice-over): Standing on a countertop, sleeves rolled up, that was Beto O'Rourke, the week he announced his run for the White House. Now --
O'ROURKE: Thank you for being here.
SANTIAGO: -- a sports coat, a different platform, and at times, a different approach on how to reach voters.
O'ROURKE: Meeting you eyeball to eyeball, to me is so much more satisfying than being on cable TV. At some point, I may have to give in.
I can do a better job, also, of talking to a national audience.
SANTIAGO: And how to change perception.
JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": Would you say those are mistakes, being on the cover of "Vanity Fair"?
O'ROURKE: Yes. So make it --
BEHAR: It looks elitist? What?
O'ROURKE: Yes, yes. I think it reinforces that perception of privilege.
SANTIAGO: More than two months into his presidential bid, O'Rourke is in a new phase of his campaign.
(on camera): How do you feel you've changed and evolved in this process?
O'ROURKE: I don't know. You've been here for a lot of it, so you might be the one to ask.
SANTIAGO: How do you feel?
O'ROURKE: I feel good. This race began with a level of scrutiny and intensity that was unlike anything that I'd experienced.
SANTIAGO (voice-over): Call it Beto 2.0. According to a source close to the campaign, staffers are working to make O'Rourke appear more presidential, and that includes tackling what many have criticized.
JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS HOST: Beto O'Rourke facing new criticism for his lack of policy specifics.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When are we going to get an actual policy from you, instead of just, like, platitudes?
SANTIAGO: So this month, the former Texas congressman unveiled a proposal for climate change that includes a $5 trillion investment. He wrote an op-ed, laying out how he wants to end gun violence, and tweeting steps he would take for criminal justice reform. He admits he's been studying quite a bit.
(on camera): Are you in official debate prep?
O'ROURKE: Yes. I want to make sure that I perform well at those debates.
SANTIAGO (voice-over): One staffer told me O'Rourke learns more from personal interactions than policy meetings, and is developing his positions based on what he hears from voters.
CAROLINE O'SULLIVAN-JENN, DEMOCRATIC VOTER: It's been a little bit of a disconnect between the energy that was coming out of that Texas situation into what we're doing now. And I'm hoping he can pick it up, because I think he's really great.
SANTIAGO: The latest CNN national poll shows O'Rourke losing steam, dropping from 13 percent to 6 percent in one month. But O'Rourke says he will not be distracted.
O'ROURKE: Some days are going to be tougher than others. But the fundamentals remain the same. It's connecting with people.
SANTIAGO: So, yes, he's going to be going from stepping on a countertop to stepping onto this national stage for the CNN town hall.
And he's really going to have to find a way to balance his own style, which we saw this week included bringing followers along to meet his barber on Facebook live. And he continues to drive to his own campaign events. So balancing that with what the staffers are telling me are looking the part, becoming a more presidential candidate -- John.
BERMAN: I think it's a very important moment for him and his campaign. I'm very interested to see it all play out. Leyla Santiago for us in Des Moines.
Dana Bash moderates CNN's town hall with the former congressman, Beto O'Rourke, tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.
CAMEROTA: Now to this. A teenager from Guatemala has died in U.S. custody. He is the fifth child to die after arriving at the border since December. CNN's Dianne Gallagher joins us now with more.
Do we know what happened, Dianne?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We know what Customs and Border Protection tells us has happened. There are still some spots to fill in here.
But look, Alisyn, 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez died on Monday morning. He'd only been in the United States for a week, and he'd spent all of that time in U.S. custody.
They apprehended him in Hidalgo, Texas. He had some initial health screenings, they said, and then they processed him in McAllen.
On Sunday morning, they say that he complained that he wasn't feeling well. A nurse-practitioner diagnosed him with the flu. They gave him some Tamiflu, and then he was transferred to Welasco. Well, 24 hours later, they found him unresponsive, and the 16-year-old had died.
Alisyn, again, like you said, this is the fifth child from Guatemala to die after being in U.S. custody in just the past six months.
Of course, everyone remembers that 7-year-old girl, that 8-year-old boy, both who died of complications of sepsis back in December. They spurred congressional hearings.
But last month, a 16-year-old died in the hospital after arriving in an ORR facility. Last week, a 2-year-old child died in El Paso hospital of pneumonia, just after being in U.S. custody.
Now, look, authorities have ordered additional health screenings. They have said that they are looking into this more. But John, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus says that they are going to be addressing this this afternoon, not just the death of Carlos but those four others and the conditions they feel like they are being kept in.
BERMAN: Dianne Gallagher, thanks very much. Look at those faces. Our hearts go out to their families.
We learned overnight that another horse has died at the Santa Anita racetrack, the second in a matter of days, and the 25th horse fatality on the track since December. The latest was a 3-year-old named Spectacular Music, who suffered a rare pelvic injury while running his first career race on Sunday. The horse was euthanized on Monday.
CAMEROTA: Two people have been killed in the second sight-seeing plane crash in Alaska in the past week. The pilot and passenger were killed when their plane went down in Metlakatla Harbor. Local officials have not explained what went wrong there. This latest crash happening a week after six people died when two
float planes collided head on near Ketchikan. Passengers on both of those planes were guests on a Princess Cruise ship. The NTSB is investigating this latest crash.
BERMAN: New this morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell formally introduced legislation to raise the age to purchase tobacco to 21. Now, this is an effort to reduce youth vaping, which he calls a public health crisis. There's been a surge in teen vaping following the rollout of these e-cigarettes.
CAMEROTA: "The New York Times" reports that former Kansas secretary of state has given the White House a list of demands for perks if he accepts the role of immigration czar. This is Kris Kobach here. You'll remember his name from various claims of voting fraud, etc.
BERMAN: Disproven claims.
CAMEROTA: Disproven claims, over and over. His demands include a promise for President Trump to nominate him to be head of the Department of Homeland Security by November, provided that he does not want to stay on as immigration czar.
"The Times" also reports that Kobach also wants round-the-clock access to a government jet, the ability to take all weekends off and go home to Kansas, a staff of seven people, a title that includes the highest level of pay, and the ability to walk into the Oval Office at will.
All right. We'll see how the president reacts to those -- that list of demands.
BERMAN: I'm surprised the list did not include a pony, although he might have thought about a pony.
CAMEROTA: And a rainbow.
BERMAN: And a rainbow. And does he think he's Aerosmith and all the green M&Ms taken out of the bowl?
CAMEROTA: There's a big rider, much like Aerosmith. But anyway, we'll see. I mean, we'll see how badly President Trump wants him in this role. And if he acquiesces to those demands.
BERMAN: It also seems to me that someone leaked this list from inside the building. And so you wonder if there are people trying to block his -- his being named.
CAMEROTA: All right. We'll keep you posted.
Meanwhile Democrats talking impeachment behind closed doors. The new push to take action, and why Speaker Pelosi wants everyone to slow down, next.
[06:28:46] CAMEROTA: CNN has learned that House Democrats spent time last night behind closed doors debating whether to begin impeachment against the president to fight the White House's stonewalling. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi is still preaching patience.
Joining us to discuss are Michael Smerconish, host of CNN's "SMERCONISH"; John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst; and Rachael Bade, congressional reporter for "The Washington Post," who has the inside details of what happened behind those closed congressional doors.
So Rachael, let's start with you. Give us the color of what these -- this debate was like, who was on which side, and where they are with impeachment.
RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So yesterday was kind of a tipping point for a lot of House Judiciary Committee members. And remember, that's the panel that has impeachment jurisdiction.
Don McGahn was supposed to appear this morning, and the White House told him no, and so he's not going to show up.
And so a group of about four House Judiciary Committee members who are also members of Pelosi's leadership team, confronted her in their typical Monday night leadership meeting and said it is time to start an impeachment inquiry.
Leadership, including Pelosi, pushed back and said, "We need to focus on the agenda." Pelosi argued that, if they begin an impeachment inquiry, it could undercut some of these other House investigations we see going on.
There were other members in the room who got angry and scolded these members, saying that it could hurt them politically. And it basically just became a really tense standoff.