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Violent Tornado Slams Missouri's Capital; Floodwaters Sweep Away Homes in Oklahoma; Trump Refuses to Work with Democrats Until Investigations End; Judge Upholds Subpoenas for Trump's Financial Records; American Taliban Fighter Released from Prison After 17 Years; U.S. to Announce $16 Billion Aid Package for Farmers. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 23, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:22] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Thursday morning to you, I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We do begin this morning in the heartland of this country in Jefferson City, Missouri. Now looking at months if not years of recovery from what transpired in just minutes overnight. A tornado described as wider than it was high, just picture that, made a direct hit on Missouri's capital, splintering buildings, knocking out power and for a time trapping people inside of their homes. Missouri's governor says 20 people are hurt, but no one is still believed to be trapped or missing and remarkably no one was killed in Jefferson City.

SCIUTTO: Well, sadly elsewhere in Missouri, a separate storm killed three people yesterday and listen to this, it was eight years to the day after that monster tornado killed more than 160 people in Joplin. I still remember those images these years later.

We're joined now on the phone by Bret Powell Jr. He just lived through what must have been a very long harrowing night on the outskirts of Jefferson City there. And I just want to show you now some video he shot in the midst of it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa. That's the power lines, right?



SCIUTTO: Joined now by Bret Powell.

Brett, so you live in the town of Eldon close to Jefferson City. You heard those sirens, we heard them there on the video you shot. Tell us what the first sign of trouble was and did you have enough time to get to safety?

BRET POWELL JR., SURVIVED TORNADO NEAR JEFFERSON CITY, MISSOURI: Good morning. Well, we were aware that the storms were coming through, and I had been tuned into what was going on in Joplin and Carl's Junction, and so we were tracking that specific cell. And our home doesn't have a basement, we don't have a storm shelter so we go a couple blocks over to our church. They have a nice basement and we usually go there if there's any problems.

And we went right before that cell arrived and that actually wasn't the one that was -- ended up causing the tornado. There was one that was beside it that ended up spawning a tornado. We were -- we were staying outside kind of just gauging because inside the basement it's hard to know what's going on and the sirens were going off. We listened to the -- listened to the wind and it got to a point where I knew it was -- it just gets different and we -- we kind of all huddled down into the shelter there and flipped some couches over and made sure everybody was safe and then I proceeded to walk outside and then I caught the tornado leaving with my camera.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Goodness.

HARLOW: How quickly, Bret, did this all begin?

POWELL: Well, since we were tracking that other cell and then it kind of -- it started to diverge to the south, this other one kind of was a surprise, but we had -- the sirens had been going off for plenty of time and we had lots of warning, so we were able to transfer the family up to the church safely and without any problems and just get them comfortable. And so, you know, all the weather -- all the weather alarms and everything was in place and I think that was probably -- I was really grateful just to hear it because we have a hard time getting service from news here, but I was grateful to hear that there were no casualties.

SCIUTTO: We've been showing pictures, Bret, of just some of the devastation around there including some families coming back to their homes in tears.


SCIUTTO: Just to see all that they've lost. And first of all, of course, you're safe, your family is safe, that's the most important thing. But do you have any idea the condition of your house, your neighbors' houses today?

POWELL: Yes. I'm in my house right now, we've had no problems here. The tornado was probably four blocks over from where we were, six blocks over probably from our house, but we did have trees down just one block over. So, I mean, the damage was pretty extensive and it cut right through the middle of our town. It destroyed -- and it destroyed some grocery stores and some eating places and a lot of our parks.

A lot of the things that the community has actually made to be pretty nice these last 10 years or so, they are just destroyed. So our ball fields.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, I can hear it in your voice, Bret, and I know, you've got -- you know, the storm is gone but you have the aftermath here. We wish you the best of luck. We know you're going to rebuild and we'll keep in touch with you as you do.

POWELL: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. Our thoughts with him and so many there.

[09:05:03] You know, this same band of violent spring storms is causing devastating flooding in Oklahoma and threatening more.

Let's go to our colleague Omar Jimenez. He joins us in the town of Guthrie.

So what are you seeing on the ground?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, right now we have seen the floodwaters ebb and flow over the course of this morning, but let's remember here in Oklahoma they were facing a twofold threat, one of course from the tornadoes that swept through this part of the country and then came the rain, some places saw more than three inches fall over the course of 24 hours. After the rain then came the flooding. Many of these rivers overflowing and overtaking roads and neighborhoods over the course of really hours.

At one point the Cimarron River which is the river we are standing along here got -- started flooding so intensely it took entire homes with it. Breaking past its foundations and dragging, again, the entire home into these rivers, it forced rescuers to plunge basically head first to help people who were trapped in some places as, again, this water flowed very quickly.

We know at least one person here in the state died drowning as they tried to drive around a barricade into a road that ended up being flooded out. And moving forward even though, again, as I mentioned some of these floodwaters have started to recede officials are warning that the risk isn't necessarily over, especially because we have more rain in the forecast and as they said to get an idea of what's ahead you have to look back.

This is a region of the country that has been pounded by heavy storms and flooding going all the way back to March, where if you remember some of the flooding in Iowa there.


JIMENEZ: Then over the course of the next few months we saw flooding in Texas just a few weeks ago and now we are here in Oklahoma dealing with the exact same thing and that's important because it makes these regions that much more vulnerable to any threats coming in the near future.

HARLOW: Absolutely.

JIMENEZ: Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: I mean, they need a break and yet they have more rain in the forecast.

Omar, appreciate you being there and reporting for us in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Thank you very much.

All right. To Washington, the major question this morning on Capitol Hill, after storming out of his own infrastructure meeting with Democratic leadership, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as Senator Chuck Schumer, and vowing not to work with Democrats at all until all of their investigations are over, does President Trump mean all legislation is actually off the table right now? We are going to hear more from the house speaker later this hour.

SCIUTTO: Yes. A risk for both parties politically if that's the case.

Meanwhile, another defeat in court for the president in the fight over his financial records. A federal judge refusing to block subpoenas by congressional Democrats, the second such ruling in just three days.

Let's speak to CNN's Lauren Fox. She's live on Capitol Hill.

So how are lawmakers responding to President Trump's threat of, well, just putting the whole legislative agenda aside as long as there are any investigations under way?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, you know, it's hard enough up here on Capitol Hill to get Republicans and Democrats to work together, not to mention now entering the president being a wild card here with the fact that he walked out of that infrastructure meeting yesterday. You know, Democrats are furious, they're very concerned about what the future of legislating looks like, and Republicans say, you know, they're sympathetic to the fact that the president is frustrated.

The Mueller report is over, the president expected to move on, yet Democrats are trying to re-litigate some of those investigations. I talked to Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina yesterday, he told me, look, I understand what the president is going through, but I need him to rise above and try to get some things done because there is a long list of items ahead. They have to try to work out a disaster relief bill, they're trying to do that before they go home for the one-week recess next week.

They also have to come up with some kind of major spending plan by the fall. And we know that that's something that has been very hard for Republicans and Democrats to negotiate, and that the president has in the past torpedoed at the last minutes So if this infrastructure meeting is any indication of where things are headed over the next few months, it's already hard to get things done up here and it's very unclear that -- if Republicans are going to be able to have permission from the president to actually work with Democrats to get some of these key priorities wrapped up and finished in time -- John and -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Good goodness. Well, good luck.

HARLOW: Good goodness. That's a good phrase.

SCIUTTO: Good goodness. People love gridlock, right? Lauren Fox, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Oh gosh.

SCIUTTO: More on that second big win for Democrats as they fight for these investigations in court. A federal judge ruled that President Trump could not blockhouse subpoenas seeking his financial records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One to banks willing to lend him money when others were not.

HARLOW: Meanwhile, Democrats in New York state and the state assembly passed a pair of bills that would allow Congress to obtain the president's state tax returns. This is fascinating.

Kara Scannell, our brilliant colleague, is here with us to break it down.

Both really interesting. What do you think is more threatening to the president right now, the fact what the New York state assembly passed or what these two federal judges have ruled in the last three days?

[09:10:04] KARA SCANNELL, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think it's a double whammy here.


SCANNELL: You know, you really are going to get a lot of financial information about the president, his company and what this one subpoena that were -- that the ruling focused on yesterday that involves Jared Kushner, it involves Ivanka Trump, it involves his kids, his companies.

HARLOW: But, Kara, sorry to interrupt. But you say you're going to get, meaning you don't think the Trump administration's appeals to these are going to hold?

SCANNELL: I don't think so. I mean, based on the -- I was in court for both of these rulings.


SCANNELL: And the judges were so definitive that the Supreme Court has made very clear that Congress' ability is broad. Their power is broad. The judge yesterday was saying that to investigate is inherent to legislate. That they need -- they have a valid reason to investigate this and that there's cases that back this up. I mean, in the hearing in the Mazars, that accounting suit, the judge there said that there hasn't been a ruling that found that Congress has overly broaden a subpoena since 1880. And there's been so many Supreme Court cases since then.

SCIUTTO: Wow. Interesting.

SCANNELL: Now it does have to go through these hoops, but the case law, the Supreme Court precedent is pretty strong in the favor of Congress. SCIUTTO: OK. There is actually some negotiation going on in one of

the many other investigations under way, so Democrats and attorneys for the president have actually reached agreement, this involving a subpoena involving an accounting firm for the president. Tell us what we learned.

SCANNELL: Right. So that accounting firm was the subject of the ruling on Monday where Congress had subpoenaed the accounting firm for information and then the president's team had said they were going to appeal the decision which said they had to turn it over. Now this deal that was struck between the House and between the Trump Organization and the president says that they will agree to expedite the appeal.


SCANNELL: And they will postpone enforcing the subpoena to allow the process of the appeal to go through, but they're only agreeing to that because it will be an expedited basis.

SCIUTTO: So the president's lawyers are still appealing and hoping it doesn't come out. But do these rulings -- just big picture for folks watching at home and probably confused by all the legal steps here, make it more likely than not it seems you're saying that we the public will see more of the president's financial records in due course?

SCANNELL: I think that's right. I mean, the purpose of doing this fast track appeal means that this will be over possibly, you know, within three or four months.


SCANNELL: Versus being two years where they could really run out the clock.

SCIUTTO: The key part of that is before 2020.


HARLOW: Yes. The time thing, right?


HARLOW: OK. Thank you, Kara.

SCIUTTO: Thanks, Kara.

HARLOW: Appreciate it.

Still to come, the Pentagon is set to brief White House officials on a plan that could send thousands of U.S. troops to the Middle East. What exactly would that mission be if it happens?

SCIUTTO: Yes, by the way, didn't this president want to pull back?

HARLOW: Right. SCIUTTO: Rex Tillerson says that Russian President Vladimir Putin was

more prepared than President Trump for their meeting in Germany, much more prepared, and this morning the president is firing back personally. That's ahead.

Plus, a sixth migrant child died in the custody of federal authorities last year, just the other day we were saying five, now we know six.

HARLOW: Yes. Five, now six.

SCIUTTO: Why are we only learning now about the death of this 10- year-old?


[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: Pressure is mounting for President Trump after a string of court rulings against him.

POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: Let's just take a step back and look at some of what has developed just this week as we mentioned earlier, a second judge upheld congressional subpoenas for the president's bank records. This is in addition to a different federal judge ordering the president's accounts -- accountants to turn over years of financial records from before he was president.

Not to mention the president's former aide and confidant Hope Hicks, she was subpoenaed this week, on top of that, additional documents related to the Mueller investigation have been handed over unsealed or released, that includes warrants, search warrants in the investigation into Michael Cohen; the president's long-time fixer, and more transcripts of his congressional testimony.

SCIUTTO: Let's discuss now with Errol Louis; CNN political analyst and Elie Honig; former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Errol, there are political risks here for both parties, are there not if we truly enter a space where there's just no legislation, right?

I mean, because Democrats were elected in 2018, picked up a lot of seats based on an agenda, a lot of moderate voters, the president seems to calculate that, you know, stonewalling works for him politically, but folks are going to lose patience there, too. Who has a greater risk?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think by far, the executive has the greater risk. The term stonewalling in political use dates back to Watergate. I remember as a kid hearing them, you know, stonewalling, meaning staving off what in the end is somewhat inevitable.

The tax returns, the financial information is going to be disclosed. I mean, I've certainly read enough --

SCIUTTO: Are you sure?

(CROSSTALK) Prior to 2020 even with all the court fights and --

LOUIS: At some point, we are going to find out. I don't think that's ever really been in doubt. And frankly, the system is working as intended. I think what you're seeing from the president is some of the frustration, the Congress tries to do its oversight, the executive resists, the third branch, the courts act as a referee.

But in the end, you know, again, going back to Watergate, it was a court ordering the release of those audiotapes that led Nixon to sort of toss in the cards and just say, OK, game over. I think we're going town a similar path here. The president is trying to play for time, hoping that this could all get sort of washed into the 2020 elections, but the courts are on to that.

You know --


LOUIS: They're going to sort of try and expedite all of this stuff, and I think we're going to know before the primary season is under way, a lot of the information that Congress is looking for.

HARLOW: I mean, Elie, if you are team Trump, and you are reading the decision last night from federal Judge Edgardo Ramos and you read, quote, "any delay may hurt the committees in terms of turning over these financial records." He also said "the committees have presented a need for subpoenaing documents to further their investigation."

And then he ended his -- reading his opinion, saying, the subpoenas do not constitute impermissible law enforcement activities. It's -- the language in this opinion and the opinion on Monday is so definitive.

[09:20:00] ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Yes, this is checks and balances in action. This is our balance of power sort of balancing itself out as Errol was saying. You have one branch that overstep the executive branch into the territory of the legislative branch, and now the judicial branch has come in twice now in the last week, once out of D.C. yesterday, out of New York, saying you've gone too far.

Congress -- and I think what these cases will stand for and establish moving forward because we're going to have more over the tax returns, over some -- over potentially Barr, McGahn, Mueller --

HARLOW: Right --

HONIG: Is that Congress has very broad authority under the constitution to conduct oversight and to legislate.

SCIUTTO: Right --

HONIG: And one thing that's consistent in both of these rulings is, it's not up to the courts, it's not up to the White House to say we don't like your legislative purpose, we don't agree with your legislative purpose. The only question is, is there some broad legitimate -- legislative purpose --

HARLOW: Yes --

HONIG: And if there is, Congress can go there.


SCIUTTO: I get the law, but on the politics, Errol, I'm just going to play the devil's advocate.

LOUIS: Sure --

SCIUTTO: Yes, the president stands to lose something, but there's a reason Nancy Pelosi is pushing back on aggressively going after impeachment. She reads the polls, we put the polls on the air all the time, how low on that list impeachment is.

Folks want something to do with healthcare, they want better tax policy, farmers, we talk about this every day, they want the trade war settled so they could sell soy beans --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: To China, right, are you convinced that Democrats don't have real political risks here?

LOUIS: If government grinds to a halt, something similar --


LOUIS: To the shutdown or no important legislation gets passed.

SCIUTTO: Aren't we there?

LOUIS: They will play a blame game --


LOUIS: And they will say it's their fault, it's his fault --


LOUIS: And so forth, and we'll see how all of that plays out. But in the end, it's really not equal. I mean, risking the loss of the majority in the House for Democrats is not nearly equivalent to, you know, indictments, possible impeachment.

We should keep in mind also, Jim, that impeachment is a political process. It's just --

SCIUTTO: Right --

LOUIS: A couple of lines in the constitution, and then the rest of it is just politics. You know --

SCIUTTO: Right -- LOUIS: You're having the Congress kind of hold hearings and vote or

not vote, and that's the usual log-rolling kind of a process. And then you send it to the Senate and you get the same thing all over again.

So it's a political process, the Democrats, I think, are very properly looking at just what you suggested and saying, we've got to legislate first and foremost, you know, impeachment, yes, we'll do the investigations, we'll get the information that we're supposed to get, but we really can't make that front and center.


LOUIS: I think the president frankly is taking a huge risk if this is indeed his strategy to try and force an impeachment. That is a very --


LOUIS: Risky strategy.

HARLOW: It's not -- it's not a binary choice. I mean, Berman pointed out this morning, and it's such an important point, even as Nixon was going through all of this, they got a ton of legislation passed, guys.

LOUIS: A major species act, I mean --

HARLOW: Huge things --

LOUIS: You know, major, major blockbuster legislation.

HARLOW: All right, can we just take a moment and listen to Republican Senator John Kennedy with the quote of the day here.

SCIUTTO: Oh, I get --

HARLOW: Let's roll it.



SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): Leadership needs to urinate or get off the pot.


HARLOW: We did the rest for you there --

SCIUTTO: Sorry parents and children at home.

HARLOW: Sorry --


HARLOW: I should have done -- urinate is all right at 9:00 a.m. Quote, "if they're going to -- he went on to say, if they're going to want to impeach the president, go ahead and impeach him. Saddle up and ride, grow some guts, but stop the petty harassment." Elie Honig.

HONIG: I agree with the grow some guts part, right, and I think what sort of held Congress back thus far is a lot of the gimmickry and the ceremonial stuff we've seen. The eating chicken on the floor of the house. The even --

HARLOW: We have that congressman --


HARLOW: On the program this morning.

HONIG: Good, well, you can ask him about that --

HARLOW: He might bring some chicken.

HONIG: Gosh, it's too early for that --

HARLOW: We'll see, we'll see.

HONIG: But even the contempt votes are pretty meaningless at this point. And I think what Congress needs to do, why not get these to the courts, they're 2-0 already, there's more coming. And the other thing, and Poppy, I think you mentioned this earlier is expedite.

It's so important that judges expedite these rulings, hurry them up, because otherwise we're not going to have a real ruling, the clock is just going to run out. Congress needs to -- you can't tell a judge what to do --


HONIG: But needs to request that they expedite and both judges -- judges control their own dockets, they can move a case right up to the top, it's good that the two judges have done it so far --

HARLOW: Yes, they do --

HONIG: And needs to continue to happen.

SCIUTTO: All right, meanwhile people at home will be watching and see how it affects their lives every day. All right, there's that question there. Errol Louis, Elie Honig, thanks very much. The man known as the American Taliban, he's now free. John Walker Lindh, he was released from prison overnight after serving 17 years of a 20-year sentence.

But some are already calling for an investigation into his time in prison. Two government reports say that he recently made pro-ISIS and other extremist statements. According to his attorneys, however, Lindh will live in Virginia under close supervision by his probation officer. Will that be enough?

President Trump is lashing out at his former Secretary of State, this after Rex Tillerson said the president put the U.S. at a diplomatic disadvantage by not doing his homework with Russia.

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. The White House big headline this morning as futures are down a little bit. They're set to announce a $16 billion aid package for farmers which it wrongly claims China will pay for through the tariffs. It's not how it works.

This as investors are growing more and more worried about this protracted trade war between the two most powerful economies in the world.


HARLOW: All right, almost the bottom of the hour, there is the opening bell on Wall Street. We're waiting to see how the market reacts to some pretty significant news out of the Trump administration, the White House just announced this morning it will provide $16 billion in aid for --