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President Declares He Won't Work With Congress Until It Stops Investigating Him. Tensions Are Growing Between National Security Adviser John Bolton And Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo. Pelosi: Trump Obstruction, Cover-Up Could Be An Impeachable Offense. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 22, 2019 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: It all kicked off this morning, when Speaker Pelosi said this, just hours before today's scheduled infrastructure meeting.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We do believe that 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 is engaged in a cover-up.


BALDWIN: After that, you might be wondering if the two sides spoke at all? Well, they did for a whopping five minutes. Shortly after, the President appeared in the Rose Garden and he was livid.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Instead of walking in happily into a meeting, I walk into -- look at people that had just said that I was doing a cover-up. I don't do cover-ups. I was just looking at a list of some of the things that we just did. More than 2,500 subpoenas qualified for. I let the White House Counsel speak for 30 hours.

I have 19 Special Counsel lawyers, 40 FBI agents, I said open it all up. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. This whole thing was a takedown attempt at the President of the United States.

I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer, Speaker Pelosi -- I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it. I'd be really good at that. That's what I do. But you know what? You can't do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with.


BALDWIN: Let's start there. CNN's Abby Phillip is live at the White House. And so, Abby, we know sources tell CNN that the President was -- the word, "erupted," that he erupted after hearing Speaker Pelosi speaking out this morning. Let's take some steps back. How did this whole news conference evolve complete with those podium designs and printed handouts? How did it come together?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that was the big question, because when reporters were hastily called into the Rose Garden today, they were greeted by that sign, which basically was the greatest hits of all the things the President has been saying about the Mueller investigation.

But sources say that earlier this morning, after the President heard what Nancy Pelosi had to say about him, he was livid. He was angry about those comments and you heard him bring it up repeatedly in that press conference. So aides, you know, went ahead and started putting together this poster.

They had a printout that was also featuring a number of facts about the Mueller investigation that the President likes to cite. But that pamphlet that they were handing out to reporters was actually taken from another news organization. It was so hastily done.

And ultimately, I think what aides have been saying about all of this is that the President has been angry about this investigation all week. That's been perfectly clear. He said earlier today that last night, when he found out that -- the Democrats had a meeting planned about the "I" word -- the "I" word is impeachment, that he believed that they couldn't move forward.

And then this morning, he was tweeting about the Mueller investigation. But that phrase "cover-up" from Nancy Pelosi really set him off. He kept the meeting on the schedule, allowing the Democrats to come all the way over to the White House.

According to sources, they waited for the President for a while. He walked into the room, and over the course of less than five minutes, basically told them he was not prepared to move forward. The meeting then ended.

He came out to greet reporters in the Rose Garden. And we have this really extraordinary scene here of a President basically telling Congressional Democrats, nothing is going to get done in this town until they stop investigating him. That is an extraordinary statement. But it's one that really sets the tone for what's going to happen for the rest of this year. And I think this is a President who has been pushing back on this investigation all week.

Just yesterday, Democrats subpoenaed one of his closest aides, Hope Hicks. These are all building for him and I think he is ready to say, no more. But Nancy Pelosi is also ready to say, we are not going to give up our responsibility to investigate the President. So, we are in a clear standoff here, Brooke.


PHILLIP: It's clear that one thing is going to happen. Infrastructure is not going to get done but what else is going to happen in Washington? We don't really know.

BALDWIN: Okay, so the President saying, "I'm not working with you, Democrats until you stop investigating me." We're going to continue this. Abby, thank you very much on this whole war of words here.

Let me play this for you. This is what Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer -- this was their response just after the President spoke from the Rose Garden.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We are interested in doing infrastructure. It's clear the President isn't. He is looking for every excuse. There were investigations going on three weeks ago when we met and he still met with us. But now that he was forced to actually say how he paid for it, he had to run away.

[14:05:02] PELOSI: He just took a pass and it just makes me wonder why he did that. In any event, I pray for the President of the United States. And I pray for the United States of America.


BALDWIN: CNN's Phil Mattingly is up on Capitol Hill. And so, Phil, Senator Schumer said, what President Trump did in today's meeting would, quote, "make your jaw drop." What are you hearing about what happened behind closed doors?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brooke. So you remember three weeks ago, I think I was standing in this spot, and you and I were talking about infrastructure and the optimism from the meeting. I said, you know, pump the brakes a little bit.

BALDWIN: I think I remember what you called it.

MATTINGLY: This is a complicated issue. And I think what you heard both the Speaker and Leader Schumer kind of refer to there as something we've heard over the course of the last 48 hours, and that was, "The White House and Republicans couldn't agree to actually reach the top line number of $2 trillion that they had agreed to three weeks ago.

In other words, infrastructure was essentially falling apart or had fallen apart before this meeting. Now, when I've talked to Democrats over the course and sources over the course of the last hour or so, they made clear, kind of what Abby said, this was a clear setup in the meeting.

When the President walked in, he did not shake anybody's hands. He went through a list of items that he said he would like to work with Democrats about. But said, "What Speaker Pelosi said this morning was terrible," that is a direct quote, and that he would not work with them so long as the investigations are ongoing.

As he walked out, I'm told that Speaker Pelosi looked at the other Democrats and said, "I knew he wasn't serious about infrastructure in the first place."

So that's what happened inside the room. But I do think it's important to note what Senator Schumer and what Speaker Pelosi were saying is reflective of what a lot of Democrats think up here, is that this happened, these theatrics occurred, this meeting occurred, because they could not find a way to get to $2 trillion for that infrastructure package. And therefore, they needed a reason to get out.

Clearly, as our White House reporters said, the President was enraged by what he heard from the Speaker this morning. But there's a lot of different dynamics going on here and I think, Abby hit a really key point.

I've been talking to a lot of congressional aides, including senior Republican aides who had no idea this was coming are now trying to figure out what this actually means. There is a disaster aid bill they're trying to finish up this week. Does that mean that's not happening anymore?

There is the spending deal, budget caps deal, raising the debt ceiling? There's a number of different legislative issues right now that Republicans up here are trying to get in touch with the White House to find out are we pausing all legislation? Or is this just something that's happening for posturing? Is this just related to infrastructure?

So again, it was it was theatrics. I think it surprised a lot of Democrats, it surprised Republicans here on Capitol Hill. It had a lot to do with the President being frustrated about what's going on in the investigative side with House Democrats, but don't undersell the importance of infrastructure just not coming together for Republicans in the White House on this.

BALDWIN: Pump the brakes. I do remember you saying that three weeks ago. Phil Mattingly, you are good. Thank you very much on Capitol Hill.

Let's analyze all of this. April Ryan is the White House correspondent for "American Urban Radio Networks." Jackie Kucinich is the Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast." Both are CNN political analysts.

Ladies, let's roll right into this. Jackie, just starting with you. I mean, to have the President, essentially saying, "I refuse to work with the Democrats until," you know, "they stop investigating me." Is this President Trump triple daring Democrats to impeach him?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it could -- I'm sure there are some Democrats on the Hill that think just that. You know, but this is right out of the art of the deal in some ways. He was known to walk into boardrooms, throw a fit, and walk out. But the difference here is, he can't go to another real estate, you know, person to deal with.

There's only one Congress. He has to deal with them. And you're already seeing his congressional allies starting to appeal to him to maybe rethink this decision. Lindsey Graham tweeted just a couple minutes ago, something to the effect of, "I know they're really mean, but you need to rise above it and be the better person," and to try to coax him back. Because as Phil Mattingly said, there are a whole slew of bipartisan legislative issues that the President is going to need to engage Congress on.

BALDWIN: Like disaster aid, as he mentioned ...

KUCINICH: Exactly.

BALDWIN: ... at the end of this week? April, do you think, on also, Phil's point, do you think that he just needed a way out of that infrastructure deal? You know, they had come to terms on that -- that big dollar figure a couple of weeks ago. We know Mulvaney wanted it dead? Do you think that's really what drove this?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Brooke, let me tell you. Over the weekend, I talked to House Majority Whip, Congressman James Clyburn in South Carolina. And I said, with all the tensions going on, I said, do you really think this is going to happen?

He said that he had heard from two people in the President's inner circle that this was going to happen, that the President really wanted this. Now, this was said to me Saturday.

BALDWIN: What is this what -- what's this? This deal?

RYAN: This -- the infrastructure deal, yes.

BALDWIN: Interesting.

RYAN: He said, the only problem, the only hiccup was, you know, how to pay for it, "the pay for," you know. You had the ways and means person in the meeting, and they didn't even go over the ways or the means of how to pay for it. This, you know -- we understand that there are tensions but this, basically, affects America.

This is not about Congress. This is not about the President. This is about jobs for people who are underemployed or still unemployed.

[14:10:07] RYAN: Even though the President says this is a great economy, there are still people who need work.

So, this is a lot of smoke and mirrors, instead of getting down to brass tacks and trying to figure this out.

And not only that, Brooke, when he walked into that meeting, when he spoke for three minutes from those who were in the meeting. They told me, they said that the President not only said infrastructure, he mentioned the trade agreement and he also mentioned the farm bill.

So, farmers are very upset right now. We've got trade wars with China. If he doesn't want to work on issues that are imperative for this country. Something -- people might vote him out come 2020. This is not about a temper tantrum. This is about the American public, the American taxpayer, the American people.

BALDWIN: It will be interesting to Jackie's point to see with Senator Graham call, you know, how quickly one side says, "Well, okay, we're really upset but let's work. We have got to work on some of this together to make sure the government is working."

Jackie, on the point of listening to Nancy Pelosi this morning, right? If they follow through on impeachment proceedings, you know, a majority of Americans, they're not in favor of that, at least right now. So my question is, would this just fire up conservatives, and even more moderates to side with President Trump just in time for 2020?

KUCINICH: Are you saying -- you are asking if impeachment would fire them up?


KUCINICH: Yes, and I think, not only that. Yes, that is definitely a concern, and not only that, Nancy Pelosi is looking at her majority. And there are some very loud voices that are calling for impeachment. But they're not necessarily those that have tough elections ahead of them and the reason they have their majority. And you've heard leadership speak to this as well.

They all can count. They all know why they're in the majority and if they lose that, well, then it can't get anything done. That would be on the Democratic agenda. So, not only by rallying up the base and getting conservatives out there, but they also imperil these moderate Democrats that were elected to deal with healthcare, and they're doing stuff on healthcare. But this is bloodying up the sun right now.

BALDWIN: You know, every time, April, Chuck and Nancy -- I say "Chuck and Nancy" in air quotes, because that's how the President -- except for this morning, if you noticed. That's how he normally refers to them. They go to the White House, there's some kind of incident, right, something good or not so good. What is it about these three personalities together in a room?

RYAN: They're calling the President on his stuff. They're trying to work for the American public. And the President, you know, some of the President's inner circle, as I said, James Clayborne said, they were all for this. And now this high drama.

You know, and I think back to when I was covering Bill Clinton, when he was President of the United States and Tom DeLay was his biggest antagonist. That President was trying to work.

Let me tell you what he worked on. He worked on the budget. They had a budget surplus at that time. Let me tell you what else they worked on. They worked on S-CHIP. They worked on the earned income tax credit. They worked on several items, even in the midst of impeachment.

So there is a precedent of a President --

BALDWIN: Getting work done.

RYAN: Yes, getting done even in the midst of the worst time of his presidency. So again, it's about the American people. It's not about a temper tantrum. It's not about Congress. It's not about the President. It's about working for the American people. Power means service -- serving people, not sitting back, and having a tantrum.

So at issue, if he doesn't get things done, the American people will speak. It's just like, almost when we had this government shutdown, it took those who were at the airports to say, "We're not having this for things to change."

BALDWIN: Enough is enough.

RYAN: Right. Enough is enough.

BALDWIN: April Ryan, Jackie Kucinich -- ladies, thank you so much. Good to see both of you.

KUCINICH: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We've got more news just in New York. Lawmakers, passing a bill that makes it easier for Congress to get the President's state tax returns. Plus, news CNN reporting just in on tensions rising between Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and National Security adviser, John Bolton, this is all happening in the middle of this rhetoric war with Iran. Stay right here. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:19:15] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Just into CNN, while this public sparring goes on between the President and Democrats, we are learning about some internal conflict within the Trump administration behind the scenes.

Sources tell CNN that tensions are growing between National Security adviser, John Bolton and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. So, our CNN senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown and CNN national security reporter, Kylie Atwood, have this new reporting. And so, Pamela, you first. What have you learned about their relationship?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, our team has learned that the rising tensions between John Bolton, the National Security adviser and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo stem from clashes over personal operating style, more so, than any policy differences. Both view themselves as policy hawks.

So, what we have learned, Brooke, is that as the two men are jockeying for influence, amid a variety of pressing international issues -- you have Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela.

[14:20:01] BROWN: And multiple sources tell CNN that Bolton's more calculating methods and use of Twitter and other methods to be vocal, have rubbed Pompeo the wrong way and fueled a sense among administration officials, as one source put it, that Bolton is trying to play Secretary of State -- trying to take on that role.

Now, officials say Bolton has taken a more aggressive approach compared to past National Security advisers. He has been front and center as we have seen on international conflicts in ways that has typically left up to the top foreign policy official, the Secretary of State.

You have Pompeo, who is more methodical, careful with his statements, wants to cast a wide net of opinions. Bolton prefers to use backdoor approaches to limit information, and sharing, and keep decision making in small groups.

Now, we should note an administration official pushed back on the conflict saying that there are different operating styles. That is normal in any administration. The NSC spokesperson, Garrett Marquis says, quote, "This is another tall tale using gossip as sourcing." Ambassador Bolton is pursuing the President's National Security agenda and has a strong working relationship with Secretary Pompeo. The State Department spokesperson says quote, "The administration is united on policy."

But again, Brooke, our reporting is that the two men are aligned for the most part on policy. It's the operating style that's causing the rift.

BALDWIN: So on the operating style, Kylie, can you give me some examples of this rift?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, we can. So what we have found is that National Security adviser, John Bolton is someone who uses two different areas to push forward his agenda specifically. So, he will do things like go to the Hill, and he will meet with Members of Congress to try and speak with them about issues that he's working on with the President to try and, you know, get their ear before they potentially talk to the President about a National Security issue.

He's much more involved with the Hill and Members of Congress than Secretary Pompeo, who is traditionally the one who is before the hearings, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and such, but he's not running up in between the State Department and the Hill, like we've seen John Bolton do.

Another area where Bolton has used these kind of calculating and wily tactics is calling over the CIA and requesting information and not planning to share that information with Secretary Pompeo.

Pompeo was not included on some of the requests, the questions that John Bolton sent over to the CIA regarding North Korea. And that's particularly a sensitive issue because Pompeo is the real leading diplomat on that issue. And so, it really frustrated him to know that Bolton was trying to collect information that he didn't know.

Now, the CIA, in turn started sharing the information with both of these National Security principals. But there is growing tension between the two, especially just because as, you know, Pam has been saying, they operate very differently.

BALDWIN: Yes, clearly the tension is there according to you two -- Kylie and Pamela. Ladies, thank you very much.

Coming up here on CNN, as New York lawmakers make it easier for Congress to see the President's state tax returns, his Treasury Secretary in the hot seat claiming, he is not breaking the law by keeping them hidden.

Plus, more on the extraordinary moments out of the White House this morning as the President declares he won't work with Congress until it stops investigating him.


[14:27:47] BALDWIN: All eyes are on the next move by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. What will she and her caucus do now that the President says he can't work with Democrats until all their investigations into him are over. Earlier today at a Center for American Progress event in Washington, Speaker Pelosi elaborated on her meeting with the President this morning -- and what may have set him off.


PELOSI: This is why I think the President was so steamy off this morning because, the fact is, in plain sight, in the public domain, this President is obstructing justice and is engaged in a cover-up and that could be an impeachable offense.

Ignoring this -- ignoring the subpoenas of Congress, with Article III of the Nixon impeachment. Article III, he did not honor the subpoenas of Congress. So it's not just the substance that we're after and we want to have, to give the truth to the American people. But in striving to get that the intervention that the obstruction that the administration is engaged in, in some -- as they say, the cover-up is frequently worse than the crime.


BALDWIN: Nadeam Elshami, once served as chief of staff to Speaker Pelosi. So, Nadeam, welcome back to you.


BALDWIN: And, you know -- you know Speaker Pelosi better than most. When you heard her late this morning there, just now saying, you know, "could be an impeachable offense." Do you think today's episode over at the White House is going to get her there, when it comes to impeachment proceedings?

ELSHAMI: I'm sorry. Say that again.

BALDWIN: Nadeam, can you hear me?

ELSHAMI: Yes, now I could hear you. Sorry.

BALDWIN: So let me try it again. So when you heard her speaking this morning, Speaker Pelosi saying that this could be an impeachable offense. Do you think this is what may actually get her to impeachment?

ELSHAMI: No, no one really knows. See, that's the beauty of the Speaker and of the Democrats. You have to take a step back and remember that as Speaker she is unflappable.