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Pelosi: Trump Is "Engaged in a Coverup"; Soon Trump Meets With Pelosi, Schumer Over Infrastructure After Pelosi Accuses Trump of Engage in Coverup; Lawmakers Grill Mnuchin on IRS Memo That Says Tax Returns Must Be Given to Congress; Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) Discusses Democrat Meeting on Trump Impeachment, IRS Memo on Turning Over Trump Tax Returns, Pelosi Accusing Trump of a Coverup. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired May 22, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:20] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me.
Any moments now, top two Democrats in Congress will be walking into the White House with another face-to-face with the president. On the agenda? Infrastructure. Yes, you may insert your favorite infrastructure joke here. But Nancy Pelosi will walk in having just leveled this accusation. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Would you believe it's important to follow the facts? We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States. And we believe that the president of the United States has engaged in a coverup. In a coverup. And that's the nature of the meeting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: This, after the speaker just left another meeting. This one, with her whole team of House Democrats. And a growing number of whom are now telling the speaker that they're ready to move toward impeachment proceedings. She is still now -- she is still saying that now is not the time. So now what?
CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. He's been tracking all of this, speaking to a lot of members who have been going in and out of that meeting.
Manu, what are hearing about this meeting right now? What came out? What happened?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The upshot was that Nancy Pelosi essentially got what she wanted, was to lay out the course of action that committees are taking to investigate this president. They believe they've been successful in the courts, to continue this current line of action. There were not many members who spoke out against her.
There was a call for impeachment from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I'm told, as well as a call to open an impeachment inquiry from David Cicilline and Jared Huffman, two congressmen. But for the most part, people supported her line of action, which would stop just short of impeachment.
I talked to a couple of congressmen afterwards who said going the impeachment route is not the way to go at the moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Congressman, you're not in favor of an impeachment inquiry?
REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA) Oh, well, it depends. I am concerned about setting the precedent that the only way, apparently, a future Congress can investigate an administration is by launching a technical, formal impeachment inquiry. I do not agree with that.
The courts need to uphold the constitutional powers of Congress, as Judge Mehta did this week. We don't need an impeachment inquiry to do an inquiry and to do our investigative jobs.
RAJU: Do you personally believe it's time to open up an impeachment inquiry?
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): No.
RAJU: Why not?
GARAMENDI: It's too early. We need to do the hearings. We need to get the information out to the public to fully explain or hear the full explanation of the Mueller report.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: The person who would be in charge of opening up an impeachment proceeding, Jerry Nadler, has stopped short of calling for one as well, laying out his current course of action. As well as saying, according to attendees, that Bob Mueller should testify in public, as we're hearing that the special counsel has suggested going behind closed doors.
But overall, this meeting essentially accomplished what the speaker has wanted to essentially show, what they're doing, stop short of calls of impeachment. She doesn't want to go that route.
There are those members who called for opening an investigation. Those members decidedly in the minority, and it showed today in this closed-door meeting.
She did warn, Kate, however, not to raise money off of their impeachment stances. I'm told she told members that's not an issue of politics. This would give Republicans an opening if you were to raise money off impeachment. She said don't do that -- Kate?
Great stuff, Manu. Thanks so much.
So what does all of that mean then for the big meeting that's about to go down at the White House?
CNN's Kaitlan Collins is there for us, of course. She joins me now.
Kaitlan, the idea was for this meeting to be about infrastructure and how they can pay for such a big plan that they would like to see come together. But it would seem hard to ignore that the House speaker just accused the president of a cover-up minutes before walking in.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Typically, it doesn't bode well for negotiations when the person you're sitting down with to talk about infrastructure has just accused you of engaging in a cover-up, some of the strongest language that we've seen from Nancy Pelosi.
We've seen that, remember, back during the State of the Union, the president said he would not be able to work with Democrats on legislation if they were investigating him.
Now, in recent weeks, we've seen not only those investigations ramp up, but turn more tense as the White House keeps pushing back on all of their requests for Democrats, not only for testimony but also for document production.
And in recent weeks, in recent days, we saw Democrats get a win when that judge ruled in their favor about obtaining the president's financial records.
And we're told by sources at the White House that's something that has infuriated the president. Even though he plans on fighting it, the idea that Democrats could get ahold of his personal financial information from before he was ever considering running for president is something that has not been sitting well with him. So it doesn't typically mean good things for the backdrop of this meeting today going on, Kate.
[11:05:17] But even if all of this wasn't going on, if there wasn't impeachment talk on Capitol Hill or all these investigations, this meeting still is not looking that promising. Of course, they agreed to this $2 trillion infrastructure package three weeks ago, the president and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Today's meeting is going to be about how to pay for it, something they're also in disagreement about.
Last night, the president sent Democrats a letter saying he wanted to get USMCA, that trade deal he recently negotiated, passed before even going to infrastructure. But that's something that's facing its own hurdles on Capitol Hill. So it's not looking optimistic, even if all of this wasn't going on in the background -- Kate?
BOLDUAN: Yes. Stand by for who knows what coming out of this.
It's good to see you, Kaitlan.
BOLDUAN: Thank you very much.
Joining me now right now for some more on this, Julie Pace, the Washington bureau chief of the Associated Press and a CNN political analyst, and CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.
It's great to see you guys.
So, Phil, let's talk about, first, what happened on Capitol Hill. It was a little over 24 hours ago, the talk was this growing divide among Democrats, as some Democrats, who weren't there before, saw Don McGahn's empty chair and said they've hit their limit with the stonewalling coming from the Trump administration. Of course, you saw the leaders still saying they're not there yet. It seems that's still where they are.
What's the state of play, do you think?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You kind of get the indication, both from talking to Manu and members I was texting with this morning or in the meeting this morning, that Speaker Pelosi knows what she's doing in this job and perhaps is speaker of the House for a reason for a second time.
Look, this was intentional. This meeting was intentional. What Speaker Pelosi had the chairs of her committees as they've laid out what they've done in this investigation, where they believe they've won in their myriad investigations, and where they believe they are, was intentional. And it was intentional to try and at least, if not beat back, at least kind of pause a little bit what some people thought yesterday was a bit of a growing insurrection.
Look, the reality is this. The frustration is real. It's palpable. Democrats feel they've been shut out on everything they've been trying to do.
But what's also real is the fact that everybody, for the most part, is staying behind Speaker Pelosi. What Manu pointed out, I think, was probably the best framing of this that there is right now. There are certainly members, and a growing number of members the last 48 hours, who are heading down the line toward supporting an impeachment inquiry. That number of members is a minority inside that caucus right now.
As long as the majority of the members of caucus, particularly those frontline members who are up for re-election in 2018, in 2020, that have the most potential problems, aren't there yet, then neither will the caucus be there.
BOLDUAN: Where is that level of critical mass? Definitely, not there yet.
Julie, then you have, as we've been talking about, when Nancy Pelosi came out and very -- it sounded like she made a mistake and didn't say something publicly she didn't want to when she accused the president of engaging in a cover-up.
Taking that shot and saying that publicly now, does that help her argument, do you think, that it's still not time to move toward impeachment proceedings? She's now saying that the president has engaged in a coverup?
JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: She's really walking a tightrope on this. I think what she's trying to do here is both show her members that she take this is seriously, that by saying we're not ready for impeachment, it doesn't mean she's brushing off this -- all of these obstacles that the White House, the administration has put in front of these committees. She's trying to make clear that she takes this very seriously.
Yet, she argues that the way to prove that the president is engaged in a coverup or the way to get around said coverup is to go through this relatively methodical and long process.
But she is trying to provide some fire to her members to try to satisfy their urge to take action against the White House, even as she holds them back on impeachment.
BOLDUAN: Phil, what then happens at the White House? Do we want to put money on the line if infrastructure is actually going to be talked about? Would you like to engage in a wager? I'm just kidding. I just want your insight.
MATTINGLY: First, you're not kidding. I know how you roll, throwing big dollar bills around. I learned a long time ago, and think you learned this lesson, too, gambling on anything that the president will say, not say, whether the meeting will be open, what will be covered in that meeting is a terrible, terrible decision.
Here is the reality on this issue. We saw this three weeks ago when they met. Speaker Pelosi and Chuck Schumer told their members that going into that meeting, no talk of investigations, no talk of subpoenas, focus on infrastructure. This was perhaps the one bipartisan issue they could move forward in Congress.
Now Kaitlin's read on this is correct. The idea that they could actually get a $2 trillion or less package through seems unlikely. But I think they want to be able to show that they can walk and chew gum at the same time. That's how Democrats are going into this meeting.
BOLDUAN: So --
MATTINGLY: Whether the president decides that's where he wants to be, I think remains an open question.
BOLDUAN: I 100 percent hear you on the we can try to walk and chew gum at the same time but when one of the walkings or chewings of gum is saying that the president is engaging in a coverup, it seems to change the game here.
[11:10:06] I mean, Julie, is it -- I find it quite hard to believe that the president can set this aside and have a meeting about infrastructure and overlook that Nancy Pelosi -- not like she did it last week, but just minutes before heading over to the White House, that the president has engaged in a cover-up, oh, because he really does want to actually do an infrastructure week for once.
PACE: Yes, he is not great at setting things like this aside. You might have noticed over the last two years or two decades or so. He will go into this meeting with this fresh in his mind.
I do think he has some political incentive to try to show that he is willing to work with Democrats in spite of this. That is some of what he hears from his advisers on something like infrastructure. It's something that is broadly popular across both Republican and Democratic electorates.
That, again, though, is something he's hearing from advisers. It's not necessarily something that he, himself, will go into this meeting ready to negotiate on.
But if both sides could sort of put all of this talk on the back burner, it is possible they could move forward on this issue because it does have bipartisan support. Again, the dynamics though make that incredibly unlikely at this point.
BOLDUAN: But let us all together at least start this mid-morning off thinking of all the possibilities and just leave it there. Just all the possibilities that could come.
Great to see you guys. Thanks very much. Really appreciate it.
PACE: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in the hot seat once again. He's getting grilled about a newly uncovered IRS memo that undercuts his argument pretty much directly for keeping the president's tax returns secret. We'll hear what he has to say about that.
Plus, the nation's top housing official, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, confuses a common real-estate term that housing experts know about with Oreo cookies. I'm not telling a joke. This is also not the first time you've seen Trump appointees, Trump secretaries, cabinet secretaries appearing before Congress and appearing quite unprepared. We'll take a look. That's ahead.
[11:16:57] BOLDUAN: Do you recall this wild moment that happened between Secretary Treasury Steve Mnuchin and the Democratic chair of the House Financial Services Committee not long ago? Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: If you wish to keep me here so that I don't have my important meeting and continue to grill me, then we can do that. I will cancel my meeting and I will not be back here. I will be very clear, if that's the way you want to have this relationship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: That was the threat. But today, the Treasury secretary is back on Capitol Hill, back before that very same committee. Again, facing questions about the president's tax returns and new pushback to his reasoning for not handing them over to Congress.
According to the "Washington Post," there was a confidential legal memo written by someone at the IRS that said Trump's tax returns should be handed over to Congress. The 10-page memo stating that, "The law does not allow the secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met."
The secretary was asked about this just a little bit ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSWOMAN: Did somebody make you aware that the memo states that the law does not require that the Ways and Means finance chair or the JCT staff include a reason or purpose for the request?
MNUCHIN: Again, I haven't -- again, let me just say the legal advice that we've relied upon -- and, again, I understand there's three branches of government, and when it comes to constitutional issues, there can be different interpretations. And that's why there's a third branch of government to interpret --
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSWOMAN: I'm sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSWOMAN: Reclaiming my time.
You are aware -- you are at least aware that the conclusion of that memo directly contradicts the conclusion that you're relying upon?
MNUCHIN: No, I actually don't believe that's the case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: He also said that he hadn't even seen the memo until it came out from the "Washington Post."
What does this memo now do to Mnuchin's defense that he's not legally obligated to hand anything over?
Joining me right now is one of the reporters who broke this story, White House reporter for the "Washington Post," Josh Dawsey. He's also a CNN political analyst.
Great to see you, Josh.
JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hey. Thanks for having me.
BOLDUAN: Really great reporting coming out that you this morning.
This memo, it does contradict that Mnuchin has said was the reason he doesn't have to turn anything over. He says that he hadn't seen it, this memo, until your report. How far did this memo go?
DAWSEY: So Steven Mnuchin has said repeatedly he's not giving the documents over because there's no legitimate legislative purpose. What the memo says -- it came from the chief counsel's office in the IRS, was written late 2018 -- after it concluded Democrats were going to take the House and seek tax returns. It said the committees do not have to have a legitimate legislative purpose.
What the memo says is that they can only not give the tax returns over by citing executive privilege and then it would be unclear if that would actually work or not. But what the memo says is, after studying the law, the IRS attorney decided that the only way to do it was citing executive privilege.
BOLDUAN: You write that this memo was a draft. Do you have a sense of why it was written in the first place and how widely this was debated I guess?
[11:20:03] DAWSEY: So it was written as the Democrats are taking over. Different agencies across the government, different departments, began looking at what potential oversight there would be, what requests they were likely to get, what demands they would probably get for documents, for interviews, who might be subpoenaed. In the IRS chief counsel's office, they began looking at the issue of tax returns.
Now, the Treasury Department says repeatedly to us and now publicly to others, that Steven Mnuchin and top leaders at Treasury never saw this memo. It's unclear if anyone at Treasury did see it. But the IRS obviously would be the agency that keeps the tax returns and that's why they drafted it.
BOLDUAN: It also at least seems clear from his testimony today that, even if he had saw it, it wasn't changing his opinion on where he stood on this at the moment.
You mentioned executive privilege. The memo does discuss, it seems, one way that the administration or the president would have to be -- can resist such a request, executive privilege. But it was complicated. There was more to it. What did you learn more about that?
DAWSEY: Well, executive privilege, defined broadly, is protecting discussions between the president and his top advisers, sensitive internal matters that should not be disclosed to the public. It would be hard to figure out exactly how the president's tax returns
before he came into office as president and even now would be define as executive privilege. I'm not saying that they couldn't, but the memo also shows, in some ways, it's dubious that they could.
BOLDUAN: Yes. Real quick, any sense from the White House and your sources there of how they're reacting? We heard how the secretary reacted. But how they're reacting to this this morning?
DAWSEY: The president has said repeatedly that he's not going to give his tax returns over, that he will fight this all the way to the Supreme Court. That no matter what happens he's not giving these over.
So for the White House, the outcome is already predetermined. Now it's just a matter of, what does a court battle do, if this gets to court?
The White House has made clear, the president's personal attorneys have made clear that they don't care what the statute says, he's not planning to turn over these returns.
DAWSEY: And what a judge will decide is still a ways away, I think.
BOLDUAN: This, certainly, though, is an interesting wrinkle on the path to the courthouse that we'll likely see.
BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Josh.
DAWSEY: Good to see you, too.
BOLDUAN: Thank you.
Coming up, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that Donald Trump is engaged in a coverup. What's the message that members of her caucus took from this important meeting this morning? Democratic member, who was just in that meeting with Nancy Pelosi, joins me next.
[11:27:13] BOLDUAN: "A respectful sharing of ideas on impeachment" -- that is how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put it this morning as she left the meeting with her party.
Respectful maybe, but stakes could not be higher when you are talking about, again, something as historic, divisive and extreme as impeaching the president of the United States.
A growing number of House Democrats -- about two dozen is the count now -- say they are ready to move toward impeachment proceedings. What really happened behind closed doors today? Did Nancy Pelosi hold the team together or are they more divided now than ever? Let's find out. Joining me now is a member of the House leadership,
Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee.
Thanks for coming in, Congressman.
REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): Thank you very much.
BOLDUAN: So coming out of this caucus meeting this morning, what is your sense on where the caucus is right now on impeachment?
KILDEE: I don't think we're divided on Donald Trump. I don't think we're divided or whether or not we may ultimately have to use this tool. I think there are a lot of questions that members have about when that time should really be appropriate.
I will say this. I'm much more open to it now than I was a month or so ago. I think this president is taking us to a place where we may have no choice left but to use the tool after the Constitution. His willingness to --
KILDEE: I'm sorry. Go ahead.
BOLDUAN: I know. I was just going to say, what you're saying right there's quite important. Because for our viewers to be reminded, you have been careful and reluctant on impeachment all along to this point. You've even said some of the early efforts that you thought were premature and counterproductive in terms of moving towards impeachment. But now you're saying you're closer to impeachment than you were months ago. Why is that? What's the difference for you?
KILDEE: It's the fact that the president is using every tool he can to keep from complying with legitimate requests, subpoenas. The fact that he is willing to essentially cover up everything that he does not want anyone to know and will refuse to allow his own members of his administration testify before committees of Congress with legitimate questions, denying subpoenas.
And, you know, as a member of the Ways and Means Committee, I'm concerned about their willful ignorance of Section 6103 of the tax code that says that the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee can order a tax return to be delivered to him to support their deliberations of the committee and they're just simply not doing it.
Now, of course, we've learned that there was a draft memo internal to the IRS that stated very clearly what we've been saying all along. It reinforces our concern. The president seems to be willing to direct agencies to break the law. And when we find that out, I don't know that we will have any other choice.
BOLDUAN: And I do want to ask you specifically about Ways and Means, and your efforts there in a second.
But it appears to me that you agree with the speaker that you think the president is engaged in a coverup? [11:30:08] KILDEE: No question about it. Absolutely.