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Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) Interviewed about Possible Impeachment Proceedings against President Trump; Justice Department Agrees to Provide House Intelligence Committee with Counterintelligence Information from Mueller Report. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 22, 2019 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Growing uncertainty about whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller will in fact testify in public. This as lawmakers, we know, will be getting the change just about an hour from now to grill Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin today about the IRS's refusal to hand over President Trump's tax returns. And this comes as the "Washington Post" has now uncovered a confidential IRS draft memo that directly contradicts the administration's reasons for not complying.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now is the number three House Democrat, the Majority Whip, James Clyburn. Congressman, thank you very much for being with us this morning. As the whip, it is your job to count votes inside the Democratic caucus. I want to know from you, we see two dozen or so House Democrats now publicly calling for impeachment, how many Democrats in your caucus do you think would support the opening of an impeachment inquiry?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN, (D-SC): Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me. The vast majority would, in fact, support impeachment, just not now. The issue now is whether or not that is something that should be done today or tomorrow, or whether or not we go through a process by which we build a foundation upon which to successfully impeach the president. So that's where we are. We are all looking forward to the day when that might be ripened. We have not gotten there yet. That is the difference between the majority of the caucus right now and the very strong minority who would like to see us move forward with impeachment right away.

BERMAN: Are you saying it is inevitable?

CLYBURN: No. I'm saying we will know whether or not it is inevitable if we go through these processes. That's what we're trying to do. We are having hearings. We've got six committees looking into all of this. We have just had what I consider to be three significant victories. We have had a court decision that is very good for us. We've had a break on the other side of the aisle with Amash's statement, that's very good for bipartisanship. And we have had some employees at the Deutsche Bank now saying they saw transactions that needed to be flagged, but were overruled. These are three monumental achievements, and we got there by steady, focused movement in the direction of getting at the facts as to whether or not this president did, in fact, break the law. So why don't we keep doing it? BERMAN: You call them successes. Hakeem Jeffries who is the

Democratic Caucus Chair, said why should we begin an impeachment inquiry when we're winning? But just moments ago we had the Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth on who sees it very differently. Listen to what he said.


REP. JOHN YARMUTH, (D-KY): 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: What would you say to the Budget Committee Chair?

CLYBURN: Well, I would say he continues to be one of the best friends that I have here in this Congress. John is a real good friend. I disagree with him in this instance, but that's not unusual for me to disagree with good friends. That's what good friends are for, to help you grow. So I will take into account everything he has had to say, but in this instance I agree with Hakeem Jeffries.

BERMAN: You say vast majority are for impeachment, just not now.


BERMAN: Are you closer to wanting to begin the impeachment inquiry than you were a few weeks ago?

CLYBURN: Yes, I am, but I'm not where I think we ought to pull the trigger on that. The fact of the matter is all that we've seen in recent days, people refusing to testify, people tending to listen to this White House when they don't have to, all these things bother me tremendously. But I do not want to rush to judgment on anything. I believe in going through the steps. I don't like to use -- I'm sorry?

BERMAN: Go ahead. I'm sorry, you don't like to use?

CLYBURN: I don't like to use sports analogies, but I remember a couple years ago looking in on the Super Bowl, pulling for a team that seemed to be on the way to winning a victory, got the best running back on the sidelines, and decided to throw a pass which got intercepted when they had plenty of time on the clock to run the ball.

[08:05:10] Why don't we keep doing what we've been doing, keep churning it out, and not throw some Hail Mary that may get intercepted in the end zone.

BERMAN: I will note for the record that I am a Patriots fan, so just know that I look at that moment perhaps differently than others do.

CLYBURN: I'm sure you do.

BERMAN: "The New York Times" reported overnight that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is considering, and something she may tell the caucus today in less than an hour, using legislation or policy as a lever to put pressure on the president to get different responses or any responses from some of the inquiries that you're doing right now and the requests that you made. How would that work? How will you pressure the president with other policy to get what you want here?

CLYBURN: Well, I don't know what Nancy has in mind. She has not discussed that with me, but I think that she's a very astute speaker, a very good politician, she knows policy very well. She is the one who makes the decisions as to what gets considered on our side of the aisle, and I will be glad to listen to what her proposals are. That's not anything that she's ever discussed with me.

BERMAN: From a separate, because this would be separate, would you support or do you think it's inevitable that soon you will begin to fine people that you hold in contempt and don't show up for testimony?

CLYBURN: Yes, I do. I really believe so.

BERMAN: Will that vote happen today?

CLYBURN: I'm sorry?

BERMAN: Will you move for that today? Is that something that will come out of this caucus meeting this morning?

CLYBURN: Well, I hope not. I hope that what we will do this morning is take a temperature of the caucus, listen to everybody, and see exactly how they feel. We should proceed, and then go home. We go home tomorrow for the Memorial Day weekend. Let's go home, celebrate with those who have given so much for this country, their families, and then let's come back here in about 10 days after having taken an assessment of what's going on in our congressional districts, listen to what's happening here in Washington, and then let's get together and decide how to move forward.

BERMAN: You're headed to the White House.

CLYBURN: I don't want to see us do anything -- I'm sorry?

BERMAN: You're headed to the White House a little bit later this morning to talk about infrastructure. The president last night called on the House Democratic leadership to pause on infrastructure, where it appeared you had had some agreement with the president to move forward, and he says he wants you to address the USMCA, the NAFTA redo first. Any chance of that happening?

CLYBURN: Well, the president has the cards in his hands. He should be providing leadership. This NAFTA 2.0, as I called it, he's still has to come forward with how he's going to deal with those labor issues, how he's going to deal with the environmental issues. I'm not one who voted for NAFTA, so I'm not all that surprised that we have to revisit it. But that should not be taking the place of infrastructure. We can do two things at the same time. They are different all together.

BERMAN: Very last question. Robert Mueller, we understand there is some reticence for the Special Counsel to testify publicly. Did I read that you might support closed door testimony? Do you think it's essential that the Special Counsel testify in public?

CLYBURN: No, I don't think it's essential that he testify in public. I think what's essential is that he testify, that we have a record. If he helps develop the record, all of us are equipped enough to be able to read the record that he develops. It cannot be a private record. It seems to me testify in private, if he must, make the record available to all of us, and then let's decide what to move on. So if he is comfortable testifying in private, so will it be, but let's have a record that all of us can consult and go forward with.

BERMAN: All right, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, thanks for joining us this morning. Appreciate it. Good luck in this meeting.

CLYBURN: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: Erica?

HILL: Some breaking news on Capitol Hill at this hour. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff is canceling a meeting that would have taken enforcement action against the Justice Department. CNN's Lauren Fox joins us now live from Capitol Hill to explain why. So what changed here?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Good morning, Erica. That's right, a bit of a breakthrough this morning with the Department of Justice according to Adam Schiff, agreeing to hand over some of the counterintelligence information from the Mueller report. That's something that the House Intelligence Committee has been asking for over the last month or so. We expect that there is some breakthrough, and this comes just before Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House is slated to sit with some of her members on the Democratic caucus, they are having a caucus-wide meeting, to discuss the path forward. Many members calling for the president to be impeached. Nancy Pelosi expected to try to encourage them with sticking with their path of sticking with the investigations. And now this breakthrough this morning with the House Intelligence Committee adding a little more fuel to her fire that this strategy is working. Erica?

HILL: So we have that, and then I also know you're keeping a close eye, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin set to testify in the next hour amid a separate congressional fight, this of course is the one dealing with the president's taxes. What are we expecting to hear?

FOX: Well, he will be before the House Financial Services Committee. And we know there has been some fireworks between him and the chairwoman of that committee, Maxine Waters. Here was a clip from just a little over a couple weeks ago.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I've sat here for over three hours and 15 minutes. If you'd wish to keep me here so that I don't of 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'd like to have this relationship.

REP. MAXINE WATERS, (D) CALIFORNIA: You are free to leave anytime you want. You may go anytime you want.

MNUCHIN: Please dismiss everybody. I believe you're supposed to take the gravel and bang it.

WATERS: Please do not instruct me as to how I am to conduct this committee.


FOX: And of course, Mnuchin back before that committee in just a couple of hours. But you know one thing to watch for this morning in the hearing is a lot of members may have questions about why he defied a subpoena from House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal to hand over six years of the president's personal and business tax returns. We expect that that will come up as well as that "Washington Post" report about an internal legal memo basically advising that they could not deny a request from House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal for the president's tax returns. Erica?

HILL: There will be a lot to cover. Lauren, thank you.

BERMAN: President Trump has urged the people in his orbit to resist speaking with Congress, but former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson quietly met with leaders of the House panel for seven hours. What do we know about what they discussed? That's next.


HILL: House Majority Whip, Jim Clyburn, telling us he is growing closer, telling John just moments ago, he is growing closer to supporting impeachment proceedings, but he is not there yet.

There are now more than two dozen House democrats calling for an inquiry to begin. Joining us, Joe Lockhart, former Clinton White House Press Secretary, Bianna Golodryga, CCN contributor, and Errol Louis, CNN political commentator.

So he says he's not there yet. He thinks, he also told you, John, the vast majority he believes would support an impeachment, just not now. Errol, as we look at this, I mean, we're hearing a similar message from various lawmakers. The question is, when does it continue to grow bigger, and what does 24 mean in that equation?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, 24 is a small fraction of the, what, 235 Democrats in the House conference. So they're not going to sway the majority. They've got their own local politics, they got their own beliefs. But it's going to be, I think, a question of looking at polling numbers, looking at where the country really is, not just a handful of extremely progressive and angry democratic members who want to see this move forward. And we have to also keep in mind that we've now got presidential

candidates out there, a couple of dozen of them, and they're going to weigh in. And we're going to see them start to sort of carry the conversation about what democrats are going to do about all of the many questions surrounding the White House.

BERMAN: It's going to be a fascinating meeting that kicks off at about 9 o'clock on Capitol Hill with Nancy Pelosi. The official public number of democrats calling for impeachment is about two dozen. But, John, you're with (ph) the budget committee chair who was on with us last hour says, he thinks that number is actually much higher. Maybe not a majority, but it seems to be growing, Bianna.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the president's narrative in all of this is that he wants to see more division within the Democratic Party. We talk about a bipartisan call for impeachment, well that was one Republican -- an outlier -- who stood out. Nobody else has come out in support of what Representative Amash has said.

With that being said, Nancy Pelosi and house leadership says, we're all on the same page. None of us thinks this president is fit to be president and in office. We just have more time on our side than many of our other constituents believe that we have. The law's in our favor, as Nancy Pelosi has been saying, we already won.

When we heard from one judge this week, we have time to let this play out. The public is not yet there. Let us hear more from other judges when this goes before them, let us hear more from, perhaps, when we will see somebody come and speak before us. But for now, we need to wait this out. We're seeing more growing frustration, though (ph), from other democrats.

HILL: We are, and it's interesting, though, that that is the message we're hearing right from upper leadership. It's not just Speaker Pelosi, we just heard it again from James Clyburn who said, listen, the way that we want to do this is, we're going to have our meeting this morning, but we're not going to come to a decision.

We're going to think about it, we're going to go home for the Memorial Holiday. He said, we'll come back in about 10 days after talking to people, and then we'll move ahead. How much talking do you think there's really going to be, Joe, when these lawmakers go home, so that they can get the pulse of where their constituents stand? Because that is an important part of the equation.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, listen, I think that they're in daily contact with the pulse in their own district, and I think what they know, except in, you know, some of the more progressive districts, that the public -- this isn't the number one issue with democrats back at home. Health care, the economy, the environment, climate change, things like that are what's animating them. I think it was a very revealing interview, though.

BERMAN: Because of the questions, mostly.

LOCKHART: Mostly because of the questions. (LAUGHTER)

LOCKHART: And the Patriots reference, but anyway --


LOCKHART: And I think, how I read what he said was, there isn't a democrat in the caucus who doesn't think the president's committed an impeachable offence. But what there is, is there's two different ideas on strategy -- for political strategy -- of what you do about it.

And, you know, the opposite ends of the poles are, impeach him now or, two, wait until then (ph) and beat him at the ballot box. The answer is in the middle, and I think what Nancy Pelosi is trying to do is bring the public along.

[08:20:00] LOCKHART: And the comparisons to '98 and '74 are good. In '98 the, Republicans did nothing to bring the public along. It backfired on them. Clinton came out better, as far as the public. In '74 remember, we had the Senate Select Committee over that summer that went on -- it was on TV every day -- it gripped the country, and they used courts.

Remember, the reason Nixon resigned was because the audio tapes were released. So I think Nancy is looking at '74 and saying, let's use the courts, let's try to animate the Mueller report, educate the people, bring them along, and, you know, unfortunately, or fortunately, within the debate, there are some people who so anxious to do this. You know, it looks like the party's divided. I think the party's a lot less divided than we're hearing.

GOLODRYGA: And it sound like she's saying, it's not a binary choice at this point, right? She really would like to focus on policy. She wants to meet with the president on infrastructure, right? There are certain things that she says this country is more focused on than impeachment.

And to her credit, impeachment is never good for the country, right? No side really comes out the victor in an impeachment process. So again, aside from having time on her side, see, she says there's real policy that we need to focus on, at the same time continue with this investigation, continue down the legal route.

BERMAN: One of the things is, will Robert Mueller testify, and when and how? And I was surprised, frankly, that the majority whip told me that he's be OK if it's in private, if they release a transcript. I can't imagine that that's going to be popular (INAUDIBLE).


LOUIS: That's not going to work. I don't think that's going to work.


LOUIS: And I understand where Clyburn is coming from. I mean, look, impeachment is a political process. And so, you know, viewers shouldn't be confused about this. Sometimes you hear some of the candidates for president, they talk as if this is like a procedure or a trip to the, you know, the H.R. office. You know, maybe you violated the rules and now you have to be removed.

It's not that, it's all politics. So when Jim Clyburn says, I'd like to hear from him personally, he wants to sort of find out what's going on. That's not going to work. What the restive (ph) of minority of his conference is telling him is that they want this on camera, they want to have a public airing of these different issues.

They want the public to sort of get energized and get focused on some of these issues. Now what their leadership is telling them is, that that's not in the end what brings people to the polls. That's not, in the end, what's going to sort of keep and maybe expand their majority in 2020, which is, of course, what the leadership is focused on.

So they're going to have to have it out. I mean, they're going to, I think we'll see some of it today, but we'll see much more of it on the campaign trail where they're all going to have to sort of try and make their case that impeachment is the most important thing that we should be doing. They're going to lose that fight, I think, both with their constituents and with the general public.

HILL: We're (ph) also trying to get your take, too, on learning that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson -- seven hours, this meeting yesterday, that came as a surprise to folks even who are involved in House foreign affairs -- this meeting had taken place. It's fascinating that this went down, Bianna, just based on the path that we've seen to getting here.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, and it should be no surprise, given its Rex Tillerson, and some of the things he has said in the past. He is obviously a private citizen at this point. There have been previous statements that he's made along the lines of, this president has wanted me to do some things that were illegal and I had to walk him back.

So we know there's no love lost between the president and Rex Tillerson. The question is will others speak out the way he has? I mean, he's sort of been an outlier in this case. But if I could quickly just go back to Bob Mueller, I mean, we'd only be kidding ourselves if we think that after two-and-a-half years of an investigation, a few hours of grilling is going to somehow get him to the point where he says, this president should be impeached.

The optics, however, are what democrats are going after. I (ph) mean, the Mueller itself, the report, is stunning in and of itself. To read it is one thing, most Americans have not. To hear him speak out about some of the conclusions and findings they've made is something entirely different.

LOUIS: If they want (ph) a screen play, sort of adaptation, of the report --

GOLODRYGA: Right. HILL: Right.

LOUIS: -- that nobody has read. Then it will become real, or so they think. You know, again, folks, I think, are exaggerating what this all might mean. And going back to the Tillerson comment, I mean, whatever it is he told them, he gave them some valuable information, or he wouldn't have been there past hour, say, two to three, right?

HILL: Right.

LOUIS: Seven hours means he drew them a road-map, and we'll see what they do with it.

LOCKHART: But I think just to finish on the Tillerson point, what he gave them was a new front, which was, my understanding is he's talked to them about why and how often he was told to put Russia's interest ahead of others, and including America's interest. And if we ever do get to impeachment, that's going to be part of it.

BERMAN: Joe, Bianna, Errol, thank you so much for being with us. Our next guest called President Trump's attacks on US institutions the greatest threat to democracy he's ever seen. We'll speak with Admiral William McRaven, who led the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. He's (ph) out with a new book this morning. That's next.


BERMAN: Admiral William McRaven played a key role in thousands of dangerous missions, including the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. But he warns now that the greatest threat to democracy is not from a rouge regime or a terror group, but instead, President Trump's rhetoric. Joining us now is retired four-star Navy Admiral William McRaven.

His new book, "Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations," is out now. I could not put this book down, to be honest. It is exactly the kind of book I like, and we're going to get to this, substantially, in just a moment. You've been in the news for years, this last year has been interesting for you as someone who was never involved in politics.

All of a sudden people are using things you have said, and it's part of the political debate. And you've chosen to be part of the discussion in this way. One of the things you wrote, and this was last August, and it had to do with the suspension of security clearances for John Brennan and others, and things that the president has said about the press.

I just want to read that right now. "Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all divided us as a nation. If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be."

So you wrote that in August of 2018, and my question is, has he become the leader you prayed he would be?