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Dems Divided on Responding to Stonewalling with Impeachment; Judge Orders Trump Accounting Firm to Hand Over Records; Trump Administration to Brief Congress on Iran; Prince Charles to Meet Trump During Controversial State Visit. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired May 21, 2019 - 06:30   ET


[06:30:00] RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Person in the room who got angry and scolded these members saying that it could hurt them politically. And it basically just became a really tensed standoff, and a few hours later, Pelosi knowing that his four members are part of the judiciary panel, called in Chairman Jerry Nadler who leads the House Judiciary Committee to have words with him. And Nadler briefed his members on a private phone call after this meeting, which was happening around 9 or 10:00, and basically told them that he supported them. He tried to make the case for impeachment to Pelosi but was told there's not enough support in the caucus and was pretty much shot down.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Wow. Jerry Nadler there, the chairman of the House Judiciary wants impeachment. There's not much further to go. I mean, Nancy Pelosi seems to be the one standing in the breach right now, which is fascinating to me. And I know Don McGahn may be the straw here, but it's not just the Don McGahn issue I think for many of these House Democrats.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, there is a larger camel as it were.


AVLON: Look, there are six total House investigations, and basically what these folks are saying is, if the White House is going to do a strategy of complete obstruction, and we know that can take years to wind through the courts, then that itself should compel impeachment because we can coordinate our efforts and we could start compelling documents. We have a stronger case to do so on an extradited timeline.

The problem isn't just support in the caucus though. The problem is of course support in the Senate. And so, do you go about this mission solely for procedural reasons and risk political fallout as well as not getting anything done in the Senate? That's a very big hurdle that's a lot bigger -- you know, that has massive political considerations as well as precedent considerations.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: It sounds like what Nancy Pelosi is saying, her argument is, respect the process. And that she feels they haven't hit a dead end yet. And the reason she feels that despite the White House's stonewalling they haven't hit a dead end is because of this decision, this federal court judge's decision about the accounting firm. Mazars I think as pronounce that is -- that the judge says they do have to hand over the president's financial documents.

So she is holding that up as, see, we are making some headways. It's not time to do impeachment yet.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": I think you're right in your assessment. I was surprised by the breadth and the language of the judge's opinion in this case. Because the argument thus far has been we're contemplating the Democratic argument has been. We're contemplating changing the ethics requirement. And in order to understand legislatively how we approach that task, we need to see the president's tax returns.

The White House responds by saying, this is a case of harassment. It's a fishing expedition. And what struck me was the words of the judge speaking of congressional ability to investigate a president. In other words, she took it beyond what the stated purpose had been.

BERMAN: Let me read this, Michael, so you can explain more of what you mean. "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, past or present, even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry."

SMERCONISH: John, this is not supposed to be about an investigation of unlawful conduct. Oh, it is, but theoretically, it's not. Theoretically, it's what should the ethical requirements be for someone running for president? Should we require them -- by the way, I happen to think that if you run for president, you must disclose your tax returns, and it should be required, but it's not. And so the White House does have, I think, a legitimate argument in saying, hey, this is harassment, absence some justification.

BERMAN: Can I just make one point here?


BERMAN: This isn't about the tax returns. This is about the accounting firm Mazars which had to do with loan applications.

SMERCONISH: Right. Same issue as I see it. I think they're all intertwined, and that's why I think that it's an overreach.

AVLON: But if the judge made this decision was blistered, 41-page decision, he's going to indict James Buchanan and Ali's personal favorite case, Teapot Dome among others. And look, I mean, this is a -- this was a total Heisman to the argument that the White House is trying to make.

CAMEROTA: Well, I want to talk about what Don McGahn's argument is, Rachael. Because I think that his is really interesting. So Don McGahn -- you know, there's been all sorts of guessing, whose side is Don McGahn on? Does he want to testify to in front of lawmakers, or does he not want to? And, is he just using the president, saying he cannot testify as cover?

So, it's interesting because his lawyer here's the rationale that Don McGahn is saying. He's basically did -- he's facing contradictory instructions from two co-equal branches of government. So the president is saying you may not do this, Congress is saying you must do this. And so he's going to err on the side of the president's instructions. I just thought that was an interesting insight of what they're using to explain why he's not going to show up today.

BADE: Yes, a lot of lawyers have been telling me that it's basically been up to him, which argument does he think is the strongest? And, you know, he's going to weigh his former employer's desires and the White House's claim that this is not something that typically senior White House officials do, versus Congress' subpoena which has the weight of the law.

[06:35:00] And so I think what you're seeing him do is require the Democrats do the same thing that they did with this Mazars case that was decided yesterday, which is, they're going to have to hold him in contempt. And Nadler said last night he's planning to do that. And then they're going to go to civil court and try to get a federal judge to order him to testify and turn over documents.

And at that point, I would expect him to comply. But he's playing hardball to sort of give himself cover and, you know, it just going to take time. And again on this Mazars case, Pelosi talked about this last night to a lot of lawmakers who were pressing for an impeachment inquiry saying, look, the courts are on our side. But this is just one subpoena that a judge backed up. You have to think about the dozens of document requests, the dozens of subpoenas, and requests for witness testimony that the White House has ignored.

Is the House going to go to the courts for all of them? That's going to be an issue for them. They're going to have to prioritize.

And I think that that's why you're seeing a lot of Democrats, even though they had a big victory yesterday in the courts, saying, look, this is not enough. This is not going to stop, you know, the stonewalling we're seeing from the White House. And they're really in a pickle right now. What do they do if they can't do impeachment? What can they actually do about this?

BERMAN: Very quickly, Don McGahn should show up if he wanted to do that. That's cool. He's choosing not to show up. B, he's going to be held in contempt in just a few hours. Watch here on CNN because it'll be fascinating as it happens.

Very quickly, Michael Cohen and Jay Sekulow, this testimony released from behind closed doors to the Senate Intelligence -- House Intelligence Committee, where Cohen says that it was Sekulow who pushed me to give the wrong data, or at least knew that I was giving the wrong data about the end of the discussions about Trump Tower.

AVLON: Yes, it creates a lot of problems potentially for Jay Sekulow. And if Jay Sekulow didn't know he was communicating on behalf of someone else in the Trump orbit that could be an even bigger problem. This is something that it was intimated by Cohen, but now we have it in black and white with the transcripts. He's saying, basically, the president's lawyers encouraged him not to tell the truth about the timing of the Russia deal.

And why that matters is, during the course of much of the campaign to the nomination, the president apparently had an active interest in Russia around the same time he was taking a pretty dovish line with Russia by any past Republican presidential candidate.


SMERCONISH: It's one of many brush fires surrounding the presidency. But I think that the real question continues to be, does Robert Mueller ever testify? And if so, what does he say?

BERMAN: It's a great point.

CAMEROTA: All right, Michael, John, Rachael, thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right, President Trump with a new warning for Iran, as tensions appeared, at one point, to be de-escalating. Now, we've lost track whether they're going up or down. So what do experts make of this talk? Is it effective? That's next.


[06:41:42] BERMAN: In just a few hours, top national security officials will brief Congress on what they see as the rising threat from Iran. This comes as Democrats are charging the Republicans are misrepresenting intelligence to make the danger seem more dire than it actually is.

I want to bring in Richard Haass, he is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, he served as chief Middle East and South Asia adviser on the White House National Security Council under President George H.W. Bush. Ambassador, always a pleasure to have you with us.


BERMAN: Before 2019 even started, you said you thought the most likely place where there would be a war, the most likely war that could happen with the United States would be with Iran in 2019. That was before the year even started. So how does the last two weeks fit into that?

HAASS: Well, I think you can argue a rounder flat on one hand. The United States pushed things very close. We put tremendous pressure on Iran, particularly economically, and the Iranians decided to push back. Military forces started to be moved. Iran threatened to follow suit and get out of the nuclear deal.

So things were moving in that direction. And then you really see both sides pulling back, particularly the president of the United States. It was as if the president didn't realize what the logic of his own policy was, that it was moving us into a confrontation with Iran. And he basically said, whoa, I want no part of that.

BERMAN: How do you make sense of his language the past few days? Let me play one sound bite in particular. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Iran would be making a very big mistake if they did anything. If they do something, it'll be met with great force, but we have no indication that they will.


BERMAN: He's saying on the one hand, on the other hand. The other day, he said if they do this, it'll be the end of Iran.

HAASS: This is part of a pattern. President talks incredibly tough, ambitions and goals laid out are incredibly high, but at the end of the day, the instruments the United States tends to use are economic. Either sanctions or tariffs, and whether it's North Korea, fire and fury, nothing happens, whether it's Venezuela, whether it's China, now Iran. The rhetoric is tough but the policy doesn't, at the end of the day, back it up.

This president doesn't want to have military confrontation. I'm not saying he is wrong. I don't want to have military confrontation if I could avoid it either. But there's a mismatch across the board between the scale of his ambitions and his rhetoric and what the United States is really prepared to do.

BERMAN: Do you think John Bolton, the national security adviser, doesn't want military conflict?

HAASS: Look, I'm not going to speak for John Bolton, but the logic of his policy, if you keep putting pressure on Iran economically, they're going to push back. They can push back getting out of the nuclear deal. They can push back by making the United States and its allies in the region extremely uncomfortable.

We got forces in the region. They can go after the Saudis and others. So there's a logic here. And I think what the United States did is we went on a policy of pressing Iran for either regime change or such fundamental policy change that it is basically the same thing. That's not going to happen.

The real question for Donald Trump is whether he basically says to the Iranians because now we have their attention, their economy is hurting, we're prepared to make a deal. Not the old deal. That wasn't good enough. But we're prepared to enter into a new deal that puts limits on your ballistic missiles, that extends your nuclear abilities for decades to come.

If you're willing to a sign a more ambitious deal than the Obama administration demanded of you, we're prepared to make one. That's where we are right now.

[06:45:02] BERMAN: Well, I'm interested that you brought that up because the president has said, I'm willing to talk. Iran can call me if they want to. And President Rouhani of Iran has said, interest things the last day, we're not going to talk under these circumstances, but not ruling it out completely, I guess. Is there any real hope for a discussion?

HAASS: I think it's a possibility. Several times in its history, including during the Iran/Iraq War in the '80s, the Iranian leadership basically said, we are not going to jeopardize the 1979 Revolution. If we have to compromise, we will compromise.

It's quite possible that with the heat on Iran now economically, the day will come when the Rouhani or more important the supreme leader will say, we have to compromise whether we like it in order to preserve the revolution. I do not rule that out. We're not there yet, I don't think we're likely heading to war, though we could always miscalculate and stumble into a war with all these forces operating in proximity. But it's possible, just possible we're getting to the point where a negotiation could begin.

The question is, again, what will we demand? What are we prepared to give up for it? At what point would we agree to release sanctions? Are the Iranians willing to compromise?

If it sounds a lot like the North Korea talks, guess what, it is. In both cases, we've got to decide, are we prepared to take half a loaf? They've got to decide whether they're prepared to take half a loaf.

BERMAN: And to be clear, what's the outcome of the North Korea talks so far, as far as you're concerned?

HAASS: Zilch because we made it all or nothing. And history suggests that all or nothing diplomacy ends up being nothing. If we're prepared to compromise with the North Koreans, not denuclearize but to put certain limits on their capabilities in exchange for certain release fund sanctions, we can probably get a limited deal. I think the administration has to decide, in both cases, are they willing to sign on to something that doesn't solve the problem but manages the problem? A big issue for Donald Trump.

BERMAN: Ambassador Richard Haass, I have to say, fascinating discussion this morning. I really appreciate it.

HAASS: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: All right, John, Prince Charles agreeing to meet with President Trump during his upcoming state visit to the U.K. The topic that could create some tension, next.


[06:50:54] CAMEROTA: Prince Charles has agreed to meet with President Trump during the president's upcoming state visit to the U.K., but things could get awkward on the topic of climate change.

CNN's Max Foster is live in London with this CNN Exclusive. What have you learned, Max?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is interesting. We've learned that an afternoon tea has been slotted into the state visit which is the beginning of next month, which isn't automatic. In fact, in the past, Prince Charles has opted out of state visits from the Chinese premier, for example. He's very close to the Dalai Lama. And we don't know whether this afternoon tea was set up by Downing Street, or by the White House, or indeed whether or not the palace got involved and wanted it to happen.

But it is interesting. I think what you got here is Prince Charles stepping up into a more statesmanlike role as we head to, what they call here, reign change. But it could be very sticky, as you say. They are diametrically opposed on the issue of climate change.

Just earlier this year, I was with Prince Charles in the Caribbean. He talked about potentially catastrophic global warming. We demand the world's decision makers take responsibility and solve this crisis. Whilst President Trump, in this country in many ways has been a pin-up to climate change denials because of course, the U.S. pulled out of the Paris climate accord.

So, will President Trump bring up climate change? Will Prince Charles bring up climate change? It'd be fascinating to be a fly on the wall, Alisyn and John.

CAMEROTA: Yes, it will. I doubt that President Trump will bring it up, but we'll see if Prince Charles brings it up. And then things could get awkward.

BERMAN: It is said to be his prime issue. You would think?

CAMEROTA: There you go. Max, thank you very much.

BERMAN: James Holzhauer back on "Jeopardy". How long will his epic winning streak last? That's next.


[06:56:44] BERMAN: More history overnight on "Jeopardy." A two-week hiatus did nothing to slow juggernaut James Holzhauer.


ALEX TREBEK, HOST, "JEOPARDY": His response was correct, and his wager was substantial, I bet. He has $40,000, $89,229. And now, a new total for 23 days of $1,780,237.


BERMAN: As you heard Alex say 23 days, 23 consecutive wins. Holzhauer's streak and total winnings are second only to Ken Jennings who won more than $2.5 million during his record 74-game "Jeopardy" run in 2004.

CAMEROTA: I feel like he just took those two weeks to cram for the exam more and study more.

BERMAN: Yes, I can tell. He got even smarter.

CAMEROTA: He got smarter somehow. You know, as we heard from one of his opponents yesterday in the great interview that you did, he treats it like a job. This is his job so --

BERMAN: He's a professional gambler.

CAMEROTA: -- eight hours a day. Yes.

BERMAN: He's a professional gambler. He's good at it.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's what we all should be, I guess.

Meanwhile, "Game of Thrones" is over, but comics are still having fun with the finale. Here are your late night laughs.


JAMES CORDEN, HOST, "THE LATE NIGHT SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN": It is kind of sad the "Game of Thrones" is over. People everywhere are just now realizing that most of their friendships were built entirely on sharing a single HBO password. So now, if you want to watch dozens of odd characters scheme for power, you'll need to start following the 2020 Democratic race.

SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders are both polling at 24 percent among Iowa caucus voters. Wow, they haven't been this close since they shared that balcony.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE NIGHT SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Mayor Pete sat down with Chris Wallace. And Wallace pressed him on how Buttigieg is going to respond to Trump's attacks.


COLBERT: I'm so happy for you, Mayor Pete that you don't have to care about Trump's tweets. Unlike you, some of us need to read them out loud every night just to feed our families.


BERMAN: Biden and Bernie Sanders as Statler and Waldorf.

CAMEROTA: The cranky critics of the "Muppets". That was so funny.

BERMAN: I can't believe no one thought of that before.

CAMEROTA: Me either. We -- you and I audibly chortled at that moment. BERMAN: Yes. There was a (INAUDIBLE).

CAMEROTA: There was a (INAUDIBLE) in here.

BERMAN: It was somewhere between a (INAUDIBLE) chortle.

CAMEROTA: You're right.

BERMAN: A (INAUDIBLE). Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN TALK is next. Well, it was better than a gordel (ph).

For our U.S. viewers, growing pressure on the House speaker on impeachment. NEW DAY continues right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump blocking the testimony of former White House counsel Don McGahn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First thing we're going to do is to hold McGahn in contempt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is trying to obstruct this testimony just as he's trying to obstruct the presentation of financial records.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think anything going on in the House is a political circus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Cohen says he gave false testimony, and the president's lawyer knew about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Cohen does not make a good witness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is no question that Sekulow was framing the testimony.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These aren't even strong and definitive statements on Michael Cohen's part.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: All right, good morning, and welcome to your NEW DAY.

Breaking overnight, what could be the beginnings of an impeachment rebellion? New reporting overnight goes into details of a heated discussion among Democratic leadership, with some pushing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to allow the impeachment proceedings to begin.