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Robert Mueller May Be Unwilling to Testify Publicly; Federal Court Unseals Cohen Warrants; Secretary Steven Mnuchin Testifies Before House Today. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 22, 2019 - 10:30   ET



[10:32:48] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. So CNN has some important new reporting this morning, that Robert Mueller's team may not want him to testify publicly before Congress.

The Judiciary chairman, Jerry Nadler, says this morning, the House Democratic Caucus meeting -- he said there -- that he wants that testimony to be public.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: CNN's sources saying that the special counsel's team is hesitant about the idea because Mueller does not want to come off as political.

Garrett Graff, author of "The Threat Matrix," joins me now.

I mean, forgive me here. He's been in government for decades. The Mueller report is public. Why can't the special counsel be expected to answer public questioning on a question of public interest, now, before Congress?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the short answer to your question is that he absolutely will at some point. But I think Mueller has made clear throughout this investigation -- and, really, throughout his career -- that he prefers to let his work speak for himself. Or speak for itself. And wants to void the limelight, almost at all costs.

I mean, if (ph) you remember with --


SCIUTTO: Yes, but his work left, like (ph) --

GRAFF: -- throughout this --

SCIUTTO: -- giant question. Elephant-sized questions --


SCIUTTO: -- you know, like, why for instance he didn't make a call on obstruction --

HARLOW: On obstruction.

SCIUTTO: -- of justice. It just -- you know, it'd be nice to let your, you know, written statements speak for itself. I'm just -- you know, I don't know. Answer some questions so people have a clear understanding of --

HARLOW: Of course.

SCIUTTO: -- where you came down here.

HARLOW: But -- and Garrett, you -- I mean, you've covered this guy like almost no one else, right? For the past few years. And you're not surprised about this development, right? That he may be shying away from public testimony because, frankly, he could have come forward and spoken on the record at any time during the investigation.

GRAFF: Yes. And if you remember, the three times that someone actually did speak publicly on behalf of the special counsel's office, it was never Mueller. During the IRA and GRU indictment press conferences, it was both times Rod Rosenstein. And then the announcement of the report itself actually came from Attorney General Barr. And so Mueller has clearly decided that he doesn't want the spotlight in this.

With that said, to Jim's point, I absolutely agree with Jim that I think the challenge here is that there is not a partisan dispute here. There's actually a basic question about the underlying facts that we are left with. A divide between what Mueller's report says and what Attorney General Barr has told us it says.

[10:35:18] And that that's something that needs to be cleared up and it needs to be cleared up in public. And I think that that's where we're stuck, is that, you know, Mueller doesn't want to appear, doesn't want to be speaking. But will, I think in the end, probably comply with a lawful order to do so.

SCIUTTO: That's the thing. Because you now have the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, as well as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, both saying that they're going to insist on public testimony.

So what -- you know, I suppose Mueller could refuse and then be subpoenaed. I don't know that he wants to get in a court fight. But, I mean, whose ultimate decision is it? Is it Mueller's, is it the attorney general's, is it the president's?

GRAFF: All right. Well, remember, there are going to be a couple different iterations of this as it unfolds. Mueller is now still an employee of the Justice Department, probably a lot of his time is actually going into thinking about this and winding down the operations of his special counsel's office.

But at some point soon, he will resign and he will go back to being a private citizen, and he will then be more easy to be able to be subpoenaed. HARLOW: Well, and Nadler, I thought it was interesting, said on

Cuomo's show, I think it was Monday night. I don't -- like, why is he still at the Justice Department? You know, I don't even know what he's doing there anymore. So there is that question. I don't...


SCIUTTO: Filling out expense reports. I mean, you know, all those things you've got to do before you leave.

HARLOW: OK. All right. Garrett, good to have your expertise. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Thanks very -- we're going to stay on top of this story.

Breaking news. A federal court in Washington has unsealed five search warrants that Special Counsel Robert Mueller -- just been taking about him -- obtained while investigating the president's longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen.

HARLOW: Evan Perez is with us in Washington.

These are really interesting, what we know just from the warrants.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. You can see what the government -- and certainly what the FBI and the special counsel were really concerned about. They noticed these suspicious money flows. They believed they were suspicious money flows -- that were coming from people and companies connected to the Russians.

Again, this was at a time when the Russia investigation was still ramping up with the special counsel's office. And so they noticed that not only was Michael Cohen getting these -- these funds from a company linked to a Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, but he was also -- there was all these phone calls that he suddenly started getting, over a thousand phone calls that began on Election Day and thereafter.

Again, this is the kind of thing that really got the alarm bells ringing over at the FBI and the special counsel. What we also can see from these documents, there's still a lot of redacted materials. I'll show you one page here, completely blacked out. And it has to do, it appears with the -- the slush fund money, the payments that were made to these women who alleged affairs with President Trump.

We know that the Southern District of New York is still investigating that part of the story. This is something that, certainly from talking to Trump lawyers, they believe this is something that's going to keep going and certainly hound the president through the end of his presidency.

So a lot here of new information about exactly how the FBI was -- got so interested in what Michael Cohen was doing. But a lot still going on, clearly, behind the scenes at the Southern District of New York into -- you know, again, an investigation that began with Michael Cohen that is still ongoing, into affairs dealing with the president.

SCIUTTO: Wait, to be clear. A thousand -- he made a received a thousand phone calls and texts with this one Russian company, head of this Russian company, starting on Election Day?

PEREZ: Right. Right, exactly. And according to the FBI and according to the affidavit here, they had not been in contact at all before this. So that is how this begins. And that's, again, why the FBI became so alarmed.


SCIUTTO: Goodness. That's a lot of back-and-forth.


SCIUTTO: Evan Perez, thanks very much.

[10:39:07] HARLOW: All right. So significant -- potentially significant development on the trade front here. There are new signs that the tension between the U.S. and China on trying to get to a trade deal, not only not lifting. It could be deadlocked and moving in the wrong direction. We'll have more reporting on that, next.


HARLOW: All right. So a really important development -- or stalling this morning on U.S.-China trade talks. Looks like they're at a standstill. There are indications they could be heading in the wrong direction. And now American officials are saying they take this as a sign that those trade talks won't resume again any time soon.

SCIUTTO: With big consequences for both economies. This is president -- the president of the largest hardwood producers in the U.S. warns of irreparable damage to the lumber industry because of those escalating trade tensions. A lot of folks with a lot of stakes in this. CNN business and politics reporter, Vanessa Yurkevich, joins us now from Oswego (sic), New York.

Vanessa, tell us about the reaction. Because we talk about the trade talks sort of up here at 30,000 feet. You're on the ground there, accompanying an industry that's experiencing enormous effects from this.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS REPORTERS: Yes. Good morning, Jim and Poppy. That is not welcomed news for Baillie Lumber here in Owego, New York. You know, the lumber industry is down 40 percent in just the last year because of tariffs. And they're bracing for that big impact of 25 percent tariffs, slated to go in effect June 1st.

[10:45:06] Now, today, we are at Baillie Lumber, at one of their saw mills. And I spoke to the president of the company, Jeff Meyer, who told me that his Chinese exports of lumber to China is also down 40 percent. He says he hasn't had to lay anyone off yet, but it's something he's starting to have to think about. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF MEYER, PRESIDENT, BAILLIE LUMBER: I don't think tariffs were the right way to approach this from the very beginning. I think there's other ways that we could have done it. Tariffs are -- have a blanket approach, they have unintended consequences. And industries like ours are the ones that really suffer from it.

I think the longer it goes on, the more permanent and the more irreparable it is. If this goes on for 30 days or 45 days, you know, we'll recover. But if this stays on for six months, nine months, 12 months, beyond, there's parts of the industry that I think will never recover.


YURKEVICH: Many of these saw mills around the country are in smaller more rural communities. And when you lose a mill or you lose a job in a community like this one, it is dramatically felt because those jobs are really hard to replace. And, Jim and Poppy, the people ultimately affected by these tariffs are people who live in counties just like this one, which overwhelmingly supported and voted for the president -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Well, that's a great point, too. Vanessa, thank you. I'm so glad we have you going in the field, showing us --


HARLOW: -- what --

SCIUTTO: Seeing it firsthand.

HARLOW: -- yes, what these businesses are going through.

SCIUTTO: I called it Oswego. There is an Oswego, New York. That's Owego, New York. No insult to the great people --

HARLOW: There you go. That's all right.

SCIUTTO: -- of Owego, New York.

We have some new sound into CNN here. Just moments ago, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, grilling the Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, over the White House's continued refusal to release the president's tax returns. Have a listen.


REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): There was information released last evening -- I think in "The Washington Post" -- and the memo states, "The secretary's obligation to disclose, return and return information would not be affected by the failure of a tax writing committee to state a reason for the request. "And the only basis the agency's refusal to comply with the

committee's subpoena would be the invocation of the doctrine of executive privilege." Is that correct?

STEVE MNUCHIN, SECRETARY OF TREASURY: Let me just comment. I have no idea. I just saw that memo this morning. I've never seen that before. I don't know who wrote that memo. We will try to get to the bottom of it.

As I've commented before, we will read the memo and if it has any new information -- but I can't comment on the memo. I just saw it today. I don't even know if it's genuine or someone made it up.

WATERS: OK. Yes. Let me just -- if -- since you did not see it, let me ask a few other questions. Did you discuss the memo with the president of the United States?

MNUCHIN: I've had no discussions with the president or anybody in the White House about releasing the president's (ph) --


WATERS: Did you have a discussion with anybody outside of the White House about this?

MNUCHIN: The Department of Justice, who is our lawyer in potential litigation and we rely upon for interpretations of constitutional law.

WATERS: I guess I want to make clear that you never discussed this memorandum with anybody inside or outside of the White House. Is that correct?

MNUCHIN: I have not heard of or seen that memo, OK?

WATERS: My question is "discuss." Did you discuss the memorandum with anybody inside the White House, outside the White House? I'm referring to legal counsel, I'm referring to lawyers --


WATERS: -- I'm referring to advisors.

MNUCHIN: Let me be clear. The only person I've discussed that memo with is my general counsel on the car ride over here, who's sitting behind me. I have not --


MNUCHIN: -- discussed that memo --


SCIUTTO: That was the treasury secretary there, not exactly answering what he knows about this memo.

To be clear, came from the IRS. The IRS, questioning whether the president has any cause to not release his tax returns as demanded by the House Ways and Means Committee --

HARLOW: Just last year, right? Just -- this was just written last year.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. Under the Trump administration.


[10:49:28] SCIUTTO: We're going to stay on this story. We'll be right back.


HARLOW: All right. On Capitol Hill right now, the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, has just finished his testimony before lawmakers, a lot of it about the president's refusal to turn over his tax returns. The hearing ended moments ago. Mnuchin just spoke to reporters.

SCIUTTO: Lauren Fox, good answers to why the White House isn't listening to the IRS on this?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, actually, that memo, published in "The Washington Post." A lot of questions about whether Steve Mnuchin has talked to the White House or the president about what he needed to do in releasing the president's tax returns.

I asked him just moments ago. Here's what he told me.


FOX (?) (voice-over): -- plans to eliminate the carried interest rule?

[10:55:02] MNUCHIN: We're not doing anything. I know that's something, the president is interested. That would require legislation. We'll see, maybe during a technical corrections bill, if we ever get something through congress we can contemplate --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Do you worry at all -- do you worry about Congress holding you in contempt?


FOX: Obviously, there, that was a question about carried interest. But he told me that he has not talked to anyone at the White House or the president himself. He said, "I could not be any clearer about that fact. I have not consulted with anyone." He said he'd never seen this memo until it was published in "The Washington Post." He's trying to get to the bottom of it. That's it -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Lauren Fox, thank you very much. An important exchange there.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. HARLOW: All right. In minutes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going

to meet with the president about infrastructure, after she accused him of engaging in a cover-up. Her words.

SCIUTTO: We'll see how it goes.

HARLOW: How's that going to go? Stay with us.