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Pelosi to Meet Today with House Dems to Discuss Impeachment; Washington Post: IRS Memo Undercuts Mnuchin on Trump's Tax Returns; Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) is Interviewed about Impeachment Possibility; British Prime Minister Under Fire Over New Brexit Plan. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 22, 2019 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a Congress, potentially, be preparing an impeachment proceedings. Public testimony is going to be a necessary component of that.


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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. There are new calls as we wake up this morning from Democrats for official impeachment proceedings to begin.

And there is a crucial meeting in just two hours on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who's been reluctant to move on impeachment, will meet with the entire Democratic Caucus.

Now, some of those now calling for impeachment include powerful committee chairs. How will she convince her members to slow down? We were just told by one of the congressional reporters we talk to all the time that this could be a very tense meeting.

In just a few minutes from now, we're going to be joined by the House majority whip. It's his job to count the votes. How many Democrats do he think -- does he think now want impeachment?

After Nancy Pelosi holds this meeting, she will go to the White House for a meeting on infrastructure, because it is worth noting it is Infrastructure Week somewhere.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: As for Robert Mueller himself, will he testify? CNN has learned the special counsel is hesitant, because he doesn't want to appear political.

Also today, we're keeping a watch on Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. He is sure to be grilled this morning at a House hearing on why the IRS refuses to hand over President Trump's tax returns to Congress. And talk about timing here. "The Washington Post" uncovering a confidential IRS memo that says tax returns must be given to Congress unless the president exerts executive privilege. BERMAN: All right. Joining us now, Catherine Rampell, "Washington

Post" opinion columnist and CNN political commentator; Astead Herndon, national political reporter for "The New York Times" and a CNN political analyst; and Elie Honig, former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst.

But most counts now, there are some two dozen House Democrats calling for impeachment. We can throw this up on the screen here. Two dozen House Democrats. And this includes committee chairs, including Maxine Waters and John Yarmuth, who will join us in a little bit. Committee chairs, of course, are more powerful.

Rachael Bade of "The Washington Post," who's been in contact with House Democrats all night, says she thinks this is a low number, Astead. She thinks it's more than 24.

The question is, has it reached critical mass yet? And how does Nancy Pelosi handle that?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'd agree with Rachael. I think we have seen more internal discussions by Democrats that say they're moving in a direction of being more vocal.

I think a key thing is where those districts come from. You've seen some of the swing state -- swing-district Democrats, especially the ones who helped make that House majority in the last midterm cycle, turn their rhetoric a little bit in the last couple weeks and come out more forcefully, not calling for impeachment just yet but seeming to signal that that's something they're warming to.

I'd say, though, that we still have not reached a number that overwhelms House Democratic leadership. They have been so clear that this is a process that they do not really want to begin unless they see a clear political benefit.

Speaker Pelosi has repeatedly said she likes to take the route of just holding Trump's feet to the fire at the election, on the campaign trail. Why spend a lot of my time? This is still not a topic that comes up all that much.

And so it would surprise me that, even in this kind of Capitol Hill setting, I don't think that's a number that's big enough to overcome where the House establishment, where the House leadership wants to be, which is keep it focused on the issues.

HILL: Right. And that's the main concern. And as we heard earlier, and we've heard from -- from some lawmakers, they did not run or they did not come in, in 2018, obviously, with that majority by running on impeachment. It was, as Joe Lockhart pointed out earlier, things like health care, other issues that are important.

But Catherine, I know you make the point, too, that for Congress this is really reaching a point where Congress needs to decide how much they want to dig in and fight or whether they're going to let the president perhaps lead the narrative on this and let the administration do a little bit more of the fighting. [07:05:00] CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I get

that at some point Trump is basically daring Democrats to do something, to push back. It's like, you know, the -- the guy blowing pot smoke in the cop's face essentially. He's daring them to do something. Maybe he thinks it'll be some political advantage to him.

I think the real questions that Democrats need to face right now are, one, did Trump commit impeachable offenses? Did he commit high crimes and misdemeanors? Would it be advantageous to the country to remove him as soon as possible?

And you know, I think that there's a strong argument for yes, that he is still trying to obstruct justice, for example.

But the second question, of course, is will embarking on impeachment proceedings actually achieve that objective? And right now with the Republican controlled Senate, which would ultimately be casting the deciding vote, the answer looks like no. Right?

I mean, if anything, you could have sort of a kangaroo court Senate proceedings that effectively allow Trump to claim once again he's been totally exonerated. So maybe it just guarantees four more years of Trump. And those are the kinds of questions that Democrats are weighing right now.

BERMAN: Elie, from a legal standpoint -- because this is in the courts already, and it seems to be that every single question will end up being decided there -- does impeachment, would impeachment give House Democrats more power to get what they want from the courts? Could they then compel Don McGahn to testify? Could they compel the submission of some of these documents they want?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST; As a legal and tactical matter, it would help in courts. Because the way it stands right now is, when Congress issues a subpoena, and they're getting, basically, just completely stonewalled, they go into the courts. We saw the first case hit the court last week. Congress prevailed. They have to show some legitimate legislative purpose.

Now if they open an impeachment inquiry, that's a whole separate avenue that Congress can argue to uphold their subpoenas.

And so the question really is -- and I think it's similar to what Catherine and Astead were saying, how much willpower is there really in Congress? How much of a consensus is there really that they want to not just issue these subpoenas but stand up for themselves? Because they are getting completely steam rolled by the executive branch thus far.

BERMAN: I just want to just re-emphasize that point and make you say it again. If the question is, would impeachment make things easier for Democrats to ask these questions and get those answers, the unequivocal answer seems to be yes.

HONIG: Yes. It opens up a whole other avenue through which to get information and to go to the courts and enforce their subpoenas. BERMAN: Whether it's worth it, that's -- that's what Astead and

Catherine are getting to, and that's a whole different issue.

HILL: That it is. I know we also want to touch, too, on what's happening with, or not happening, at this point, with Robert Mueller. As we're waiting, this CNN reporting that he is hesitant, because there is concern about this being political, about his testimony being political.

It would seem, in many ways, whether he wants it be or not, that ship may have sailed when it comes -- if you just poll the average American as to how they feel about it. Is that a good enough reason for Robert Mueller to try to, you know, step back? I know the White House would probably like it if he would not testify.

HERNDON: Exactly. I mean, I think I agree with you that, whether it's through President Trump's Twitter feed or how the American public has come to the issue, the question of whether the special counsel's investigation has been cast as political has already -- that ship has already sailed.

It is interesting that the special counsel is trying to hide behind that veil, as we've seen him do for a couple years now: be very reluctant to come out publicly and try to let those statements stand on its own. But we've already seen the risk of that, you know, with the kind of attorney general's casting of his report and how that kind of backlash played out. That seems to be standing now for Democrats to say, "We need to hear from you directly."

And so that's why they're going to him. Whether he -- whether he acquiesces there, that's a whole separate question.

BERMAN: Catherine, we're going to skip over you, because we're going to come back to you on taxes, which is another big story here.

RAMPELL: My favorite.

BERMAN: I know. Exactly. I knew you'd like that.

But Elie, look, if Congress does want to speak to Robert Mueller, he will talk to them. I mean, is this inevitable?

HONIG: It's inevitable, absolutely. First of all, Congress can subpoena him. And Robert Mueller, of all people, has grown up, as I did to a lesser extent, but as a prosecutor. And so you understand that a subpoena is not optional. It is mandatory. And so he will honor that.

The other thing is there's this tendency, I think, that we have to view Mueller as this sort of mystical sage up on a mountain who shan't come down and grace us with his presence. No, he's a human being. He works for the Department of Justice. He's already testified in Congress over 50 times in his career. So there's nothing sort of magical or mysterious about this.

He is done the most important investigation we've seen in the United States in law enforcement in decades. He needs to come down and answer questions. I don't think there's any question about that.

Maybe they'll negotiate terms, but yes, we will hear from Robert Mueller. We'll see how much resistance is put up. Maybe back channel from the White House. But he will testify.

HILL: We will all be waiting for it.

Taxes, Catherine's favorite subject, as we know.

RAMPELL: It is. It is.

HILL: So there is this reporting out from "The Washington Post" that they've obtained this draft memo that was written in the fall that said, listen, the law is very clear --

BERMAN: From inside the IRS.

HILL: From inside the IRS. Tax returns.

RAMPELL: The law is clear.

[07:10:00] HILL: Tax returns have to be handed over, except maybe in the case of executive privilege. But it then goes on to say it doesn't really seem like executive privilege would apply here, which is also fascinating to me that that's part of the memo.

Where does this take us, Catherine? I mean, does this move the needle?

RAMPELL: I think there are two broad themes of this presidency so far. One is how much of Trump's craziest, most paranoid, most norm and, possibly, law-breaking behaviors are motivated precisely by his desire to keep his tax returns secret?

And two is the lack of desire, the utter -- the utter lack of curiosity of the members of his own party, who are supposedly national security hawks, to find out why he's so intent on keeping that information secret.

And we have a lot of hints about what might be in those returns. We don't know what they -- we don't actually know what's there. But we know from the public record that there are a lot of fishy financial transactions and entanglements that Trump has had. We don't know who has paid him money over the years in this large, you know, multinational organization that he has. We don't know who he still owes money to.

We know that there are a number of transactions that look -- that at least raise red flags for things like money laundering.

So there's a lot of stuff that we know about his track record so far that suggests that he could be vulnerable to not only political risk but legal risk if this information comes out.

And the fact that this memo was drafted in the fall suggests that he is trying to do everything he can to keep that information secret, which is precisely why Congress should be looking into using every avenue they have, arguably, to find out what it is he's so motivated to keep hidden.

BERMAN: And let me just read from this memo. "The disclosure of tax returns to the committee is mandatory, requiring the secretary to disclose returns and return information requested by the tax-writing chairs."

And once again, in the spirit of "Scream," the memo is coming from inside the building. This was the IRS. Their lawyers that wrote this last fall. We're only finding out about it now. There is a question about whether Steve Mnuchin ever saw it, whether other IRS lawyers every saw it.

HILL: Where it's been.

BERMAN: Where it's been since then. Fascinating to think about that.

Astead, Catherine, Elie, thank you very much.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is holding out against impeachment for now. But there is a groundswell. More and more House members now think it is time to begin the proceedings, and we're going to speak to a Democratic committee chair who says if they wait too long, it will be too late.


[07:15:17] BERMAN: One hour and 45 minutes from what could be a really big moment on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meets with the Democratic Caucus as the drumbeat for impeachment proceedings grows louder. More than two dozen Democrats are publicly calling for these impeachment proceedings to begin against the president. And one of the faces that is on that screen joins us now: Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth from Kentucky, who chairs the House Budget Committee.

Congressman, thank you very much for being with us.


BERMAN; You saw those pictures up on the screen, Mr. Chairman. A couple dozen House Democrats. Do you think that is the full limit in your caucus now calling for impeachment, or do you think that number is higher?

YARMUTH: No, I think the number is higher of those who would support impeachment but haven't decided to go public yet.

I think what we have, John, is we have a situation in which I think a growing majority of our caucus believes that impeachment is going to be inevitable, but they also believe that we need to pursue the investigations that are going on to make sure that certain conduct of the administration and the president that needs -- they need to be held accountable for is discovered. And that involves financial ties, overseas connections, a wide variety of things beyond just obstruction of justice.

BERMAN: So Mr. Chairman, you said if you, the Democrats, wait until the fall to begin impeachment proceedings, that will be too late. Why?

YARMUTH: Well, I think because, if we did that -- not impeachment proceedings. If we began -- began our investigations with an impeachment inquiry --


YARMUTH: -- that would be too far, because that would put us well into the election year by any -- by the time anything could actually transpire legally.

So I just think -- and also, I think by that time, the pressure from our supporters around the country would be overwhelming. And, you know, there's a great drumbeat out in the country for us to do something and hold this president accountable. I think we need to do that.

BERMAN: Well, is there, though? Because I want to read to you from one of your colleagues, Elissa Slotkin, the member from Michigan, told "The Washington Post," she said, "I believe in checks and balances and the constitutional visions of power, but I also know that I get stopped in the grocery store constantly and what people are asking about is the price of health care and the price of prescription drugs. I think the perception is that Washington is more focused on the checks and balances than they are on actually helping people's pocketbooks and their kids."

And that's the real problem. She says what she's hearing in the drumbeat is for issues, not for impeachment.

YARMUTH: Well, her district is a lot different than mine, then. Basically, all I hear is people saying to me, "We need to get rid of Donald Trump." And I don't live in an ultraliberal district. I live in a pretty blended district.

You know, we hear what -- what we -- confirms our prejudices. I think we in Congress do that, as well.

And -- but I think there is a great restlessness out in the country, again, to hold this president accountable. We have, in my opinion, an existential threat to our democratic system, and he sits in the White House. And we need to make sure that we lead in this Congress, because Republicans aren't going to. We lead in this Congress, not necessarily to expel the president but to call attention to the threat that he poses to our way of life.

BERMAN: Let me -- let me follow up on that. Because I think that's an important distinction that some are making but not all, which is that you believe you should open an impeachment inquiry; because you believe it will enhance your investigative powers.

You are not saying at this point you want to expel him from office. You Are not saying hold that vote tomorrow. There's a distinction there. What is that distinction?

YARMUTH: Well, the distinction is that we need -- as the sworn upholders, protectors, and defenders of the Constitution, to do everything we can in our power to protect and defend those interests.

And right now, they are under siege by this president in his refusal to cooperate with the co-equal branch of government; his refusal to divest himself from his financial interests. He just reported over $400 million worth of income last year. That warrants an investigation by itself. These are things the American people have to hear about.

And that's why I believe we need to get through every one of these issues in a public forum.

Again, we're not going to be able to expel the president. Absent some true smoking gun, there's no way the Senate is going to vote to expel him. But we need to have a substantial and comprehensive debate for the public over what this president has done.

BERMAN: So there's no smoking gun, as far as you can tell?

[07:20:03] YARMUTH: Depends what you call a smoking gun. I talked to a former federal prosecutor the other day who successfully prosecuted dozens of obstruction cases, and he said he never had, in any of those cases, as much evidence as the Mueller report.

BERMAN: All right. Let me go at it one different way.

Hakeem Jeffries, who chairs the Democratic Caucus, says why should we begin impeachment if we're winning? Do you think the Democrats are winning when it comes to getting the information that you want from the White House?

YARMUTH: I don't think we're winning. Obviously, we won a lower court decision on one subpoena, which is progress, I guess, but we've demanded dozens and dozens of documents and witnesses, none of which the administration has been willing to provide. So I don't think we're winning at all. More importantly, I don't think our democratic system is winning, and that's what I'm most concerned about.

BERMAN: How are you going to convince the House speaker? She is a powerful person in Washington, and she's against impeachment right now. So you need to change her mind. How are you going to do that?

YARMUTH: Well, you know, I don't think we're that far off with the speaker. I kind of agree with her.

What she said to us the other day, and she's been consistent on this. She said two thins important. One is, we -- politics should not be a reason to -- to impeach the president or to avoid impeaching the president.

And secondly, she said we're on a path. And I think what she means is that the steps we're taking now, the investigations are being conducted, will lead us on a path that could very well result in an impeachment process. And I think she fully understands that her caucus understands that impeachment is not a matter of if. It's a matter of when.

BERMAN: I would love to hear from you after this meeting to find out from you how you think your argument is going over.

My friends who are political reporters would chastise me if I didn't ask you one Kentucky politics question, since there was an election there --


BERMAN: -- last night. Andy Beshear got the Democratic nomination for governor, to face off against Matt Bevin, who is not popular right now. Do you think the Democratic nominee has a chance in your state?

YARMUTH: Oh, absolutely. Matt Bevin is as unpopular as it gets.

He had a primary, by the way, yesterday, as well, and only got 51 percent, compared to a challenger who got 39, a first-time state legislator. So he's on very thin ice with his own supporters, not just with the state at large. He's running at 30 percent, 55 percent disapproval. He is the least popular governor in the country right now. And he's earned every bit of that.

BERMAN: All right. John Yarmuth, the chair of the Budget Committee. An hour and 40 minutes from a big meeting on Capitol Hill. Thanks for sharing --

YARMUTH: Absolutely.

BERMAN: -- your views with us as you head into that moment.

YARMUTH: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Erica.

HILL: We have breaking news in the U.K. British Prime Minister Theresa May under fire after presenting her new Brexit deal. Could her tenure be on thin ice?

BERMAN: And Housing Secretary Ben Carson facing questions from lawmakers about housing and foreclosures when this happened.


REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): To explain the disparity in REO rates. Do you know what an REO is?


PORTER: No, not an Oreo. An REO.


BERMAN: The surreal outer space hearing that raised so many questions. That's next.


[07:27:48] BERMAN: All right. We're following breaking news out of London. The British prime minister, Theresa May, is under fire. Members of Parliament, they're just blasting her new Brexit plan. You're watching her right now. Very uncomfortable moments for Theresa May. Can she survive this another day? That's in question.

CNN's Bianca Nobilo live in London with all the breaking details -- Bianca.


Yes, huge question mark now over whether or not this could be the prime minister's last prime minister's questions and even if she'll be the person in No. 10 Downing Street when President Trump visits in under two weeks' time.

And all of this comes back to Brexit and the prime minister's handling, or as many of her own lawmakers would say, mishandling of the negotiations. She's putting forward a new plan to finally try and break the deadlock and come to some kind of an agreement between Britain and the E.U. But it's been panned from all sides.

President Trump's often criticized for his zero-sum thinking. And in actual fact, what the prime minister's done here is completely ignore that. Brexit does work like a zero-sum game here in the U.K. And by trying to compromise, she's lost people on both sides and hasn't made up the numbers elsewhere.

So she is now facing a very fractious House of Commons. Nobody wants to support her last iteration of the deal, which means that time is running out for her. And plots, which have been going on now, John, for almost two years since she botched a general election in the U.K., are now reaching their crescendo. And we're now expecting that within the next couple days or even hours, there will be a renewed push for the prime minister to go.

Back to you, Erica.

HILL: Bianca, thank you. We'll continue to follow that out of London.

Meantime, Housing Secretary Ben Carson certainly feeling the heat after what was a surreal hearing, to put it mildly, on Capitol Hill. Facing questions from House Democrats, Carson became combative and at times seemed downright confused.


PORTER: I'd also like you to get back to me, if you don't mind, to explain the disparity in REO rates. Do you know what an REO is?

CARSON: An Oreo?

PORTER: R -- no, not an Oreo. An REO. REO.

CARSON: Real estate --

PORTER; What's the "o" stand for?

CARSON: The organization.

PORTER: Owned. Real estate owned. That's what happens when a property goes to foreclosure. We call it an REO.