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Beto O'Rourke Aims to Recapture Campaign Momentum; Some House Democrats Increasing Calls for Impeachment of President Trump; Don McGahn Refuses to Testify Under Subpoena before House Judiciary Committee; Tornado Strikes Near Tulsa International Airport. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired May 21, 2019 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I'm going to throw it now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Harry.


CAMEROTA: All right, moving on, there's growing pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over impeachment, and we are getting reports of a tornado striking Tulsa, Oklahoma, just moments ago. So NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A former administration official defying a subpoena from House Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.


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

CAMEROTA: And good morning everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, May 21st, 8:00 now in the east. Breaking overnight we have some new details about a growing rebellion among House Democrats over impeachment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is resisting, but a number of Democrats and several members of her leadership team are pushing the Speaker to begin impeachment proceedings. The "Washington Post" reports that last night House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler met with Pelosi to make the case for impeachment, but it appears that for now he may have been swayed by Nancy Pelosi's argument against that move.

BERMAN: Chairman Nadler and his committee are frustrated after former White House Counsel Don McGahn told him he will not testify today as they had requested. McGahn is defying the committee's subpoena as President Trump has pressed him, the White House and the Trump administration have told him not to comply. Chairman Nadler says he will hold McGahn in contempt of Congress.

We do have breaking news, just moments ago learning the National Weather Service has said a tornado struck near Tulsa International Airport in Oklahoma. Chad Myers will bring us the breaking details on that just ahead.

Joining us now, David Gregory, CNN political analyst, Abby Phillip, CNN White House correspondent, and Jeffrey Toobin, former federal prosecutor and CNN chief legal analyst. Jeffrey, I know you watch this show. You heard Rachael Bade from the "Washington Post" tell us about these dramatic meetings overnight in the House where House Judiciary members were pushing Nancy Pelosi, saying now is the time. We need to launch these impeachment proceedings, and these are senior members of the Judiciary Committee, and Jerry Nadler ultimately pushed as well, although apparently he was talked out of it by Nancy Pelosi.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Remember, you are talking about the Judiciary Committee, which is always the place with the most ideologically partisan members of each party. So what Nancy Pelosi is most concerned about are all those Democrats who were elected in the marginal districts, Pennsylvania, in California, and those people are the ones who were worried about seeming too aggressive on impeachment.

There's also this legal issue which I think some of these Democrats are overstating. Democrats are saying, look, we are failing to get access to documents simply in our oversight role. We need to launch an impeachment proceeding because courts will give greater deference to our document and witness subpoenas if it's an actual impeachment proceeding. I'm not sure they're right about that.

BERMAN: But can you explain to me that reasoning? And I know you are on the under on the over/under about whether that's true or not, but there are other lawyers who look at that and say, yes, impeachment does give them enhanced powers.

TOOBIN: Correct. But look at what happened yesterday. Yesterday the judge in the case where the Oversight Committee subpoenaed the accounting firm for Trump's tax returns. And the judge said, look, you don't need an impeachment inquiry to do oversight if you are in Congress. Congress is entitled to these documents, even though it's not an impeachment proceeding. And I think that's the more likely correct view. And the president is going to -- is not going to turn over these documents anyway. CAMEROTA: Doesn't impeachment allow some cracks in the stonewalling?

The White House has been stonewalling in terms of turning over people and documents. Doesn't impeachment give them -- give Congress somehow more teeth?

TOOBIN: Arguably. Arguably it does, but it's still going to mean court fights. Even if it's an impeachment inquiry, it will go to the district court, it will go to the court of appeals. So it's going -- the congressional inquiry, whatever you name it, is going to be tied up in court for months no matter what.

CAMEROTA: I guess, David Gregory, I was hearing a different calculus. As of last night it feels as though there is sort of a different argument being made inside Congress and certainly behind closed doors, as we had from Rachael Bade's reporting, basically that they are not going to try to remove the president from office. That's a nonstarter, everybody accepts that, everybody knows that won't get through the Senate, but investigatively they may want to start impeachment just because they think it gives them more heft.

[08:05:10] DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, but that's really not the point of impeachment. Impeachment is a political process, and if it's wielded as a partisan tool, it can backfire, which is what the experience was when President Clinton was impeached.

And I think in the broader picture, too, both parties should be worried about one party or the other wielding impeachment as a political tool that becomes bigger and more important than our elections in this country. So if there is a view that you're never going to convict, you're never going to actually get impeachment of the president, then what is it that you're really after?

The important point is that Congress has an oversight role independent of these proceedings, always has an oversight role, and specifically with regard to the Mueller report it's quite clear on these questions of obstruction of justice that the Special Counsel wanted Congress to weigh in, to get into this issue, to make a determination. That seems to get lost in the daily machinations here.

But I think the politics are what are overwhelming. Where is the momentum building toward beginning an impeachment proceeding? Nancy Pelosi is thinking, as Jeffrey says, about those House districts that are more marginal. She's also thinking about 2020 and seeing how the president can make this a fight about the power of the executive, can make himself a victim, and who can go on and on about the overreach of Democrats who never wanted to see him in the White House in the first place and are just trying to rip him out of office without turning to elections.

I keep saying, where are the presidential candidates on this, but not the huge field. Where is Joe Biden on this? He is not talking about impeaching the president right now. And I think as we -- our election season is well under way, even though we are not in 2020, and I think those are the signals to look at.

BERMAN: I think the reason he's not talking about it is the most interesting thing. It's easy not to for him. He can say this is up to Congress, I'm going to stay out of it. I do want to point out, though, there is a conundrum here, and David pointed out correctly that Robert Mueller said that deciding obstruction is well within the realm of congress. It's Congress' job to do so, not necessarily mine and the Justice Department.

The secondary conundrum, though, which we've been talking about is it may be that impeachment is the only way they can get the powers to do it in the way that they feel fit, in order to get the documents, in order to get the witnesses. So it might be that they need it to do the job that Mueller says only they have the power to do. And Abby Phillip, added to that conundrum is it may be this is what the president and his allies want. They may be trying to force Democrats into this ultimately.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is exactly right. A couple days ago Nancy Pelosi said she believed that President Trump and his allies were trying to goad Democrats into impeachment by stonewalling, trying to make the Democratic Party believe that that is the only means to obtaining, whether it is information, or just the simple oversight powers that Congress has. And I think that she is really concerned about that, and she's right to be, because I think this is a White House who believes that if Democrats go to the impeachment step they will be overstepping -- they will be overstepping their bounds. They will be going further than the American public are, and starting to talk about things that frankly only confuse the public, only cause a sense of exhaustion about this whole thing, and don't talk about some of the bread and butter issues that President Trump wants to be fighting over in Pennsylvania with Joe Biden on some of these bread and butter issues like jobs. And so I think it is a real factor here.

But Nancy Pelosi at the same time also got a real gift in that ruling yesterday on the accounting firm associated with the president. It is really important that that judge said impeachment is not the only way. I think had he not said that it would have been harder for her to make that argument, and I think particularly after Justin Amash created this veneer of bipartisanship around the impeachment question, I think it would have been very difficult for her. But the problem is that Justin Amash is still alone. It's been days. It's been over 24 hours since he made that call. He is still alone. Republicans are not defecting on President Trump. And I think that core political dynamic just hasn't changed.

CAMEROTA: Not only is he alone, he's been marginalized and isolated by the House Freedom Caucus, which is what he helped found. So by his very cohort he is being marginalized, and now he's being primaried. And so we'll see what happens.

But I do want to talk, Jeffrey, about what was supposed to happen this morning in the Judiciary. Don McGahn, White House Counsel, was supposed to be going. They subpoenaed him. And they have more questions about whether or not he was asked to obstruct justice, basically. And he has decided that he will not go.

[08:10:04] And here is his rationale, and I want to hear your thoughts on this. His lawyers say that he is, quote, facing contradictory instructions from two co-equal branches of government, so meaning the president is telling him not to go, Congress is telling him he must go and subpoenaing him. He is deciding to go with the president. Is there any legal path for what was right here?

TOOBIN: Well, I certainly think he's getting good legal advice. I don't think that is an unreasonable position for his lawyers to take. What he's saying is let the courts sort it out, and let -- because what's going to happen here is he's going to be held in contempt, and one side or the other is going to go to court to try to resolve the question. McGahn is in a sort of impossible situation now, and he is going to wait for guidance from the courts. I think -- and that's where a lot of these things are going to wind up. And these could be long legal battles. Even the one that's over, the one with the accounting firm, is just beginning the appellate process.

BERMAN: What have the courts said in the past about the reach of executive privilege here, though? What have they said about people who have worked in the White House, their ability to testify to Congress?

TOOBIN: This is a genuinely unresolved question. There was one district court opinion pen that said Harriet Miers who was the White House Counsel, same job as McGahn, had to testify in a congressional investigation. That was never appealed. The parties reached a settlement on it. So that's one line of -- that's one precedent.

There are many legal opinions within the Justice Department, and that was reflected in the legal opinion that came out yesterday that said there is no obligation on the part of a White House Counsel, someone at that level, to testify about conversations with the president.

The legal issue in the accounting firm is an easy one. Congress is clearly right on that one. The one on Don McGahn is a lot more complicated, and I could definitely see courts going either way on that one.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey, David, Abby, thank you all very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: All right, this is the breaking news. The National Weather Service reports that a tornado struck in the area of Tulsa International Airport in Oklahoma. CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers joins us now with the breaking details on this. Chad, what have you learn?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Just about 20 or 30 minutes ago, in fact, I tweeted it out, that there was a tornado very close to downtown Tulsa, moving to the northeast. And to the northeast of downtown is the airport. We now have five tornado warnings in effect, one to the northeast of Tulsa, that same storm, and then many farther down.

But let me take you to -- and we will get a little geeky here, we will analyze this storm, the one that actually moved through Tulsa. There's Tulsa itself, there's the zoo and there's the airport. We had this inflow and a circulation there. We know there was circulation because of the doppler effect. We see the circulation right there. Here is downtown Tulsa. There is the airport right there and there is the zoo.

And how do we know it was on the ground? Because of this blue dot right here. That is debris in the air. Leaves, twigs, maybe some insulation, some shingles, whatever it may be, that debris was on the ground very close and moving towards the Tulsa International Airport. So doppler radar, what a tool we have. We didn't have this years and years and years ago, but this dual pol doppler radar is an incredible tool to find tornadoes that people can't even see. There is no tornado spotter out there today, the doppler can see it, that's why the warning was put out there today.

There you go. More tornadoes likely -- I think today could be as big of a day as yesterday. We had about 19 tornadoes, already two on the ground today. But this is going to be farther to the east. In the sunshine, in the sunshine because that's going to warm the atmosphere. We didn't have that yesterday. Oklahoma was pretty cool yesterday, about 78, that's not really that hot when you talk about tornadoes. But for today, Springfield, Ft. Smith, Little Rock, here we go, this is 11:00. All of a sudden by 5:00 or 6:00 the heat is on, and St. Louis, you are in it to win it here. We will watch Little Rock, we will watch Memphis. And by morning we will even watch Nashville.

This is a storm that's going to gust out, even make some severe weather across the northeast for tomorrow, but redevelop for Thursday, another round of severe weather likely. And what we talked about all night long last night was about how much rain fell in Oklahoma, more rain falling today, flash flood warnings, flash flood emergencies all over the place. Do not drive around those barriers. They are there for a reason, guys, because there's water in front of those barriers. You don't know how deep it really is.

CAMEROTA: So it all looks alarming what you've just told us, Chad. So are people in that region there -- today you're saying there is still a threat for tornadoes.

MYERS: Absolutely a threat for tornadoes, and eight inches of rain in eight hours. It doesn't matter where in the world you are, that type of rainfall, that deep, will cause flash flooding and put people in danger that don't even think they're in danger because it's just raining.

[08:15:01] Tomorrow, it moves to the Northeast. More coming into the west for Thursday and this is just a day after day event.

We are in spring. This is May. This is what we expect, but right now it's just all kind of congregated in one spot.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Chad. Obviously, we're going to watch this throughout the day. Thanks so much for bringing us the word of that tornado that did touchdown near the Tulsa International Airport. Thank you, sir.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Since kicking off his hotly anticipated campaign, Beto O'Rourke has failed to pick up steam.

So, we'll discuss how the candidate is trying to reignite the buzz around his candidacy and what he plans for tonight, next.


BERMAN: Hours from now, former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke will take the stage in his first national CNN town hall since declaring his candidacy. This is part of the launch of a sort of O'Rourke 2.0 as the candidate aims to regain his footing.

[08:20:05] Here now to discuss, Jess McIntosh, CNN political commentator. She was the director of communications outreach for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. And Kirsten Powers, CNN political analyst and columnist for "USA Today".

I wanted you both on, A, because you are terrific political analysts, but, B, because you are quoted inside Peter Hamby's terrific "Vanity Fair" piece about Beto O'Rourke which I want to quote from now at length.

Peter wrote: The press commentary swirling around O'Rourke has been like this for months, mockery first, retweet second, sober analysis third. It's a media mess of O'Rourke's own doing, not just because he entered the campaign without a clear reason why, but also because he assumed that his seat-of-the-pants, do-it-yourself-style campaigning in Texas would translate neatly into the hot house of a national campaign against a different set of opponents and an always open, always on press corps that's as responsive to the demands of progressives on Twitter as they are to voters in Nashua and Council Bluffs.

That's an encapsulation, I think, of what the last two months have been like for the former congressman, Kirsten. So what does he need to do tonight?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that he needs to -- first of all, it's great that he's doing the town hall because I think a forum that he does well in. And so, I think for him to be engaging a little more on the national media scene will be helpful to him because you can only get -- you don't get as much bang for your buck when you are just going out and campaigning, which is what he's been doing. Obviously, that's really important and he needs to be going out and spending time with voters in the early states.

But if he wants to reach a broader audience, which is what he needs to do at this point to kind of break out of the pack, then deciding to be kind of above cable TV and above the national media, I just don't think strategically was a great decision for him.

BERMAN: What O'Rourke supporters will say is, what do you mean this is his first town hall? He does town halls all the time, this is just the first one that you all are caring -- we're doing more than caring, we're hosting it, Jess. But he has a point in the sense that he does do town halls, that is how he interacts with voters, but for some reason, he has been reluctant to do it on a bigger is that I think. JESS MCINTOSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it has to be

both. You have to be able to do -- just like Kirsten is saying, the early state, meet the voters, intimate town halls. If you're really crushing it in those settings, do it on the national stage, too. We are still in the stage where only the most die-hard political followers, watchers are actually tuned into the 2020 election, but they're not necessarily in Iowa and the media is not necessary in Iowa.

So, when you have potential voters who are watching the national media to see what candidates are doing not appearing in the national media cuts all of them off. I mean, one of the only thing I think is good about how long this process is going to be is that it gives candidates -- it gives us time to course correct and I think that that's what he needs to do tonight. He seems to understand that that's something that has to happen.

So I'm excited to hear a little bit of a rationale for his candidacy. Why he's running. A little bit -- a little bit less of that seat-of- your-pants, I'm-born-to-do-this that we saw in his initial "Vanity Fair" rollout.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting, Kirsten, that Jess said course correct. My question would be correct what?

And you're quoted in Hamby's piece as saying you had dinner with the candidate and his wife some time ago and were left with the impression this is someone who should run for president, but then once he launched, you had questions.

Where did those questions come from, Kirsten?

POWERS: Well, I mean, I just was surprised because the person that a lot of person have mocked is not the person that I had dinner with. So, you know, I thought he was extremely grounded, extremely thoughtful, very impressive.

And, you know, for those -- his wife was there, for those who have criticized that relationship, I really -- I didn't see -- you know, they obviously have a great marriage and it's very respectful and, you know, I think that people have kind of taken that campaign announcement video out of context in a way that's honestly pretty disrespectful to his wife.

But then, what we saw sort of in his -- after losing his Senate race, he didn't seem very grounded, frankly. I think that he seemed like somebody who was sort of wallowing at a time that he actually -- yes, it's disappointing to lose a Senate race, but you're now this hugely famous Democrat that a lot of people love, including Barack Obama by all accounts, you know, you should be happy. You shouldn't be sort of wallowing in the way that he was.

So, that kind of made me wonder, is he up to the task? Now, I wasn't writing him off, I wasn't saying let's forget about him, I just was surprised because it didn't just really seem like the person that I had had dinner with him -- dinner with and I thought that he, yes, it's disappointing but let's move on and move on to the next thing.

BERMAN: You know, Jess, also pointed out in this piece, you know, Beto O'Rourke is not a woman, he is not a racial minority, he is not gay, and those groups are all represented within the Democratic primary field.

[08:25:00] Is that a challenge for him in this? And what do you think is his platform for success tonight in going forward?

MCINTOSH: So I think he has to be able to talk to every faction of the Democratic base and, of course, that includes all of those groups that you just mentioned. I think what happened when he announced on the national stage was that a lot of women took -- especially -- not just women but especially took a look at the field and said there are women running for president who have never lost a campaign and could never say that they were born to do it, joke about raising their kids, all of that kind of thing.

So I think there was a resistance to his candidacy at that point on behalf of a lot of women, myself included, who had been huge fans of watching his Senate run. So, what I want to see him do tonight is be a little bit humble in coming into the race and tell us -- tell us why you think that we ought to vote for you to represent our interests, really make the case. It can't be about destiny, it can't be about introspection, it has to be about what you can do for the American people if you're going to compete with the really well-thought out policy proposals of some of the women who are already running.

The only thing that concerns me is that this 2.0 relaunch is going to take another week or two of the media cycle away from Kamala Harris' plan for equal pay or Elizabeth Warren's rising support with black women. We saw a lot of media saturation when he first got in and I'm worried that we might be getting to do it again -- although I'm absolutely watching tonight and very excited to see it.

BERMAN: In five seconds or less, Kirsten, he has a path you think?

POWERS: He has a what? A path? Oh, absolutely. Yes. No, no, I mean, the idea to write anybody off at this stage of the campaign is crazy. It's not -- this is going to cycle through and I don't think until we actually have debates we're really going to be able to see who is going to sort of rise to the top and become the real top tier candidates.

BERMAN: And he will be on that I think is that. In fact, yesterday he made it known of the fact he's been doing debate prep.

Jess McIntosh, Kirsten Powers, thank you so much for coming on and, you know, putting to life the Peter Hamby piece that I thought was so interesting.

All right. Beto O'Rourke joins Dana Bash for a live town hall from Des Moines to talk with Iowa voters about his run for the 2020 nomination. That's tonight at 10:00 Eastern, only on CNN.

CAMEROTA: All right. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing a growing push within her caucus to allow impeachment proceedings against the president to begin. We will get Congresswoman Jackie Speier's take on all of this, next.