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Trump Declares He Can't Work with Democrats Until Investigations End; More Calls from Democrats for Impeachment; Sources: Pentagon Considering Plan to Send Thousands of Additional Troops to Mideast to Deter Tensions with Iran; N.Y. Lawmakers Pass Bill to Get Trump's State Tax Returns to Congress. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 22, 2019 - 13:30   ET



[13:33:44] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Let's get back to our breaking news, the president's blowup over Speaker Pelosi's comments, or so the White House says, saying that Mr. Trump is involved in a coverup. The speaker says she's referring to the administration's continued stonewalling of congressional Democrats.

I want to bring in Leon Panetta. He served as defense secretary and CIA director under President Obama and chief of staff in the Clinton White House.

Mr. Panetta, always good to see you.

What was your initial reaction to this, both of what Speaker Pelosi said about a coverup and President Trump's response in the Rose Garden?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY & FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, it all strikes me as a lot of political theater right now. The fact is that this president has resisted any effort to cooperate with the Congress. He shouldn't have been surprised by the speaker's comment about a coverup.

My sense is he used that as a way to get out of the infrastructure deal because, one reason or another, he's been convinced not to proceed with infrastructure.

I think Speaker Pelosi is basically doing what a speaker should do. She seems like the only grown-up in the room, frankly. Because she basically defines the Constitution for what it is and recognizes that the Congress has a responsibility to investigate under the Constitution. But, at the same time, the Congress has a responsibility to legislate.

[13:35:12] So I think she's in a strong position. And very frankly, I think the president continues to weaken his position at the White House.

TAPPER: After the Rose Garden speech, President Trump tweeted, quote, "You can't investigate and legislate simultaneously. It just doesn't work that way," unquote.

You were Bill Clinton's chief of staff from, I believe, '94 to '97. As I recall, there were quite a few investigations going on by the Republican-controlled Congress. What is your response to President Trump?

PANETTA: Well, the president is, frankly, taking a position that no other president in history has ever taken, which is that, somehow, if your being investigated by the Congress, you can't do anything else. That is a good prescription for failure in his presidency. Most presidents have to deal with investigations by the Congress but it doesn't stop them from legislating.

Bill Clinton did not always agree with what the Republicans -- Speaker Gingrich and Republicans were doing in the House. And they were investigating all kinds of things in the Clinton administration. But at the same time, he was working with Speaker Gingrich in getting legislation passed, important legislation on the budget and on health care and other areas.

Most presidents understand that while you don't like -- what the other party may be doing on Capitol Hill, it doesn't mean that you stop governing the country.

TAPPER: And, in fact, as I recall, he continued to do that even during the impeachment process, which began after you were no longer chief of staff?

PANETTA: That's right. President continued to stay focused on trying to govern the country, even though the House was moving against him on impeachment.

Presidents have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Politics is politics.

But on the other hand, they are elected to govern the country. And if they allow politics to consume everything they do they will fail at governing the country.

And I'm afraid this president right now has walked away from the responsibility of governing the country.

TAPPER: Former secretary of defense and CIA director and White House chief of staff, Leon Panetta, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it, sir.

PANETTA: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: We'll get more on the breaking news. The president vowing he will not work with Democrats on anything as long as they keep up with the investigations and the subpoenas and the interviews.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [13:42:18] TAPPER: We are following our breaking news. President Trump abruptly ending a meeting with top Democrats after a few minutes before slamming them in a Rose Garden tirade. The president clearly upset that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused him of being engaged in a, quote, "coverup." And now he says he's refusing to work with Democrats until they are finished investigating him.

With me now to discuss, CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

And, Gloria, this was pretty stunning, even for a president who is a disruptor by -- self-described disruptor. And this was something we haven't seen before in American history?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No. It was petulant. It was a temper tantrum. He walks into a meeting and then disrupts his own meeting and walks out.

Now, if you look at the history of Donald Trump as a real estate negotiator, he used to do this all of the time. My reporting is from people in meetings with him that he would walk into a meeting and throw a grenade and break up the meeting and walk out and say, this deal is over.

It is very difficult when your president of the United States, however, to do that with foreign leaders or to do that with congressional leaders who are trying to get some kind of a deal on infrastructure. Because what he's effectively doing is saying, I'm going to be on strike. I'm not going to do my job until you guys stop investigating me. Which, by the way, is their job.

TAPPER: And you just heard Leon Panetta, the former chief of staff for the Bill Clinton White House, saying this president is proposing something that has never -- that no president has ever said before, that Congress could either legislate with him or investigate him but they can't do both, even though oversight of Congress is part of the system.

BORGER: Right. And he mentioned the walk and chew gum. The American public -- the problem for the Democrats is the American public believes they can't walk or chew gum --


TAPPER: They can't do either.

BORGER: -- either. So I think that Nancy Pelosi is trying to strike a balance because you don't want the investigations to drown out the fact that they're sending all this legislation to the Senate where it is languishing. But they have to try and do that.

And you can see that her language, which was so personal about Trump, is what really upset him. This notion of a coverup and him coming out and saying that is it, I don't engage in coverup. And then, my first thought was, have you met Stormy Daniels.

TAPPER: Right. BORGER: Because one might argue that was a coverup since you signed the checks.

TAPPER: And the argument from members of Congress is, if he's not engaged in a coverup, why is he refusing to comply with any of the subpoenas, why is he refusing to let anybody testify before Congress.

I want to ask you, because we're talking about this impeachment part of this. And Nancy Pelosi under pressure from the Democratic caucus.


TAPPER: And you heard Congressman Dean Phillips, a freshman Democrat, who is with Pelosi. He's not there yet.

[13:45:02] BORGER: Right, right.

TAPPER: But he agreed with the notion that President Trump is basically daring the House Democrats --


TAPPER: -- to impeach him and that this performance today might have been part of that.

BORGER: Yes, I think -- I think he makes a good case. That what the president is doing is pushing and goading and pushing because he wants the Democrats to be seen as the radical left and being governed not by Nancy Pelosi but the new members of Congress. And so there's a lot of pressure on her now, on Pelosi, from those members and others who will say, OK, this is it.

But I've spoken with a bunch this week who --


TAPPER: Democratic members of Congress.

BORGER: Democratic House members. And I asked the question, where is the red line. We always talk about red lines. And one said to me, and I thought it was very interesting, the red line is if the president defies the courts. And if the court orders the president and the White House to do something and they say no, then you were in a real constitutional crisis and then you impeach. But this was kind of the red line for this member who is a moderate. And it makes a lot of sense to me.

TAPPER: They are not there yet, obviously.


TAPPER: A lot of the showdowns are going to court right now. And we'll see what happens.

BORGER: And we'll see.

TAPPER: Gloria Borger, thanks so much.

More is coming in. We're getting some new reporting about a plan that could send thousands of additional U.S. servicemembers to the Middle East.

Back in a moment.


[13:51:19] TAPPER: Just into CNN, the Defense Department is planning to brief top national security officials about a plan that could send thousands of additional U.S. servicemembers to the Middle East. Sources say this would be an attempt to deter rising tensions with Iran.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has the new reporting.

Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it is important to say no decision has been made yet. And if there were to be a major significant deployment President Trump would have to approve it.

What officials are telling us is there is a plan, a discussion on the table for sending additional troops to the Middle East. It could be thousands. It could come in two phases. You might send some right away for deterring Iranian aggression and hold some in reserve if there were to be some kind of Iranian move toward an attack.

What they want to do is have the units, the troops pinpointed and authorized and ready to go if and when they are needed in the various phases.

What are we talking about? Further ballistic missile defenses and cruise missiles on submarines and surface ships, possible air defense, all of the things to counter Iranian military capabilities.

Now, the Pentagon and State Department briefed Congress yesterday on this Iranian threat. They got a lot of pushback from Democrats who were very skeptical, in some cases, about whether the threat is really new.

What U.S. officials are telling me today is they do see now additional chatter, if you will, intercepted conversations from Iranian officials that the threat is still very much there. And they do see a buildup of Iranian military readiness along the Iran gulf coast. And that is something that concerns them a great deal. U.S. military commanders say they must be positioned to deal with this if this threat continues to grow -- Jake?

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

And this just into CNN. The state of New York has just passed a bill that would require the state's tax commissioner to provide President Trump's tax returns to Congress if they request them. CNN's Cristina Alesci is following this developing story.

And, Cristina, that bill is now headed to the desk of Governor Andrew Cuomo and he has said he supports it.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS & BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The governor said he supported it, so it looks like this is very close to actually becoming law.

And to be clear, what this would require is the state's tax commissioner to go ahead and send Congress the president's state tax returns. It would be striped of any federal information and the request would have to come from one of three specific committees, one from the House, or the Senate or a joint committee but from those three committees. And it would be devoid of any federal information.

But remember, the president does have substantial business in New York. So we could get a very clear picture of his -- of his business in New York. He has buildings in New York, residential buildings. He also has a few hotels -- one hotel that he collects management fees from.

So we could see probably the most information, specific information. If Congress goes ahead and makes the request, the state tax commissioner would have to hand it over.

TAPPER: Cristina Alesci, thank you so much.

And coming up, more on our breaking news, this extraordinary standoff between President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. What role impeachment might play in this decision-making that's coming forward for both sides.

[13:54:40] Stay with us.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You are watching CNN on this Wednesday. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.

Let me jog your memory. About a month ago, Speaker Pelosi and Chuck Schumer walked out of an infrastructure meeting with President Trump praising the positive vibes and they were excited to move forward.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): It was a very constructive meeting. It is clear that both the White House and all of us want to get something done on infrastructure in a big and bold way. And there was goodwill in this meeting.


[13:59:59] BALDWIN: Well, today, you can toss all of that goodwill right out the nearest White House window.

It all kicked off this morning when Speaker Pelosi said this just hours before today's scheduled infrastructure meeting.