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Interview with Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN); Rex Tillerson Meets Secretly with House Foreign Affairs Committee; U.S. May Send Thousands More Troops to Middle East. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 23, 2019 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:30:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: I just wonder, because you are supportive of impeachment proceedings now, if you think it's worth it to do that, push forward ahead on that, if that means zippo gets done in Congress for the American people?

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Well, we're probably not going to get anything done anyway because Mitch McConnell has already announced that the Senate is the graveyard for House legislation.

Trump has no policy issues. He is not a person of ideas. It's about Trump and his ego. So he wasn't going to get much done anyway, and I think Mick Mulvaney told him there was no money so find an excuse for not getting an infrastructure bill done.

HARLOW: Look, he made an infrastructure -- he made a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, sir.

COHEN: Well, but Mick Mulvaney said it wasn't going to happen, immediately after the first meeting with the Democrats. He said there was no money.

Trump doesn't care. He's all about -- it's all reality television. His job is to get things done. He basically said, "If you investigate me, we're not -- I'm not going to do my job."

HARLOW: I mean -- all right. He got --

COHEN: If you investigate him, it shows he feels guilty and there's something --

HARLOW: All right.

COHEN: -- to be found.

HARLOW: He got --

COHEN: He can't be a gangster.

HARLOW: -- tax reform -- he got tax reform done -- which I know you're not supportive of it but it was a major piece of legislation -- through. But I take your point and your view. Here's the thing. I know that you are calling for impeachment

proceedings, an inquiry to start now. You said something that really struck me a few days ago, on another network, Congressman. You said 90 percent of Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are for opening an impeachment inquiry right now.

If that number is accurate, is Nancy Pelosi going too soft on the president right now? Is she not listening to the majority of members of her caucus?

COHEN: Well, it's the majority of the members of the Judiciary Committee. The members --

HARLOW: I know.

COHEN: -- of the Judiciary Committee are much more attuned to this issue, and it's our responsibility to protect the Constitution. That's where impeachment would lie.

The majority of the caucus is not there yet. Nancy has a good perspective on her caucus and she's a good mother hen. I think she's wrong in her strategy. I think by exposing the corruption of this administration, the Emoluments Clause violations, the obstruction of justice, all the things that he's done -- the obstruction of Congress, and having it in the forum of an impeachment inquiry or an impeachment hearing, that the public will watch, as they did during the Watergate Senate hearings, and they will --

HARLOW: OK.

COHEN: -- come to the -- around to see that this man is not capable to be president.

HARLOW: But why -- OK, but you just told me, 90 percent of the Democrats on House Judiciary are supportive of an impeachment inquiry now, but not a majority of Democrats in the entire caucus.

COHEN: Right.

HARLOW: But yet you still don't think Nancy Pelosi's making the right choice by listening to the majority in her caucus?

COHEN: Well, she needs to do, A, what's right. She says that she's doing this because of patriotism, not politics.

HARLOW: All right.

COHEN: And it's hard to see that. I mean, patriotism would say, "Jump into Hell for a heavenly cause." And the fact is, when you have a Constitution and you have a rule of law and it's being destroyed in a reckless gangster manner, you need to act.

I think you -- the only reason not to act is because of politics.

HARLOW: So Speaker Pelosi -- wait, wait, wait --

COHEN: Patriotism says act.

HARLOW: -- I mean, you're saying -- it sounds like you're saying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not being patriotic. Is that right?

COHEN: No, not necessarily. I think, you know, you could be patriotic in different ways. But if you're going to say whether going to impeachment is patriotic or not going for impeachment is patriotic, I think going for impeachment is. When you see it laid out before you, and I see that. There are --

HARLOW: So -- so you're saying, she's putting politics above patriotism in this instance?

COHEN: I don't -- I hate to get into it with Nancy. Nancy and I have got a great relationship and I'm not going to spoil that. But I do think the better strategy --

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: Well, I get that. But you also need to be straight, right? You're being straight with the American people, is that how you see it?

COHEN: I'm straight with the American people. Donald Trump needs to be impeached. I think it'll be the best thing for the country and the best thing for the Democrats, both.

HARLOW: OK. Listen to your Republican colleague in the Senate, John Kennedy. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Is he right?

COHEN: You know, he's -- he always has these cute little colloquialisms. This one, he changed around. John Kennedy is not on the House Judiciary Committee. It's not his responsibility to act.

He's from a state that's very heavily pro-Trump and he has ambitions of running for governor.

HARLOW: But is he right that House leadership should act on this? Make a decision?

COHEN: It's not for him to tell us. I think the House leadership is -- should and will eventually be for impeachment because this man is the most impeachable president ever. He's going to continue to do things that are aberrant behavior for a president.

What he said about Rex Tillerson today was crazy. "He was dumb as a rock." He hired him. He said -- HARLOW: Yes.

COHEN: -- he said he hired the best people.

HARLOW: Yes.

COHEN: He's no geologist. He doesn't know what a rock is.

HARLOW: Rex Tillerson is not dumb. He ran one of the most valuable American companies --

COHEN: Corporations (ph), Exxon --

HARLOW: -- ever --

COHEN: ExxonMobil --

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: -- on the planet, ever.

COHEN: Right.

HARLOW: All right. So, all right. Let me just get you on this, finally. Look, let's talk about the third and final article of impeachment against President Nixon. It was -- and I'm paraphrasing -- that he withheld documents and didn't turn over documents or records to lawmakers. And that's what's happening here.

[10:35:03] So I'm interested in if your game plan, if Democrats' game plan right now is basically: Defy even these court rulings that we're seeing, refuse to hand over documents, et cetera. And then use that as an article of impeachment against the president.

COHEN: I don't think we -- that's not a game plan. That's fact. And that will be -- if there is an article of impeachment that I have anything to do with -- and I've got one I've got drawn, and I have not decided the right time to act on it -- it includes obstructing the Congress, just as Nixon did.

These are acts to try to obstruct the investigation. He knows that there was obstruction of justice. And Mueller basically said there was obstruction of justice. But because he was president, he couldn't bring the charges. He needed a forum where he had an opportunity to defend himself because Mueller's a man of rectitude, which is a word Trump doesn't -- not only appear to be, but he doesn't even know.

HARLOW: All right. The Mueller report didn't exactly do that. It spent about 150 pages laying out 10 areas of potential obstruction, and really left up -- left that decision, it seems, in the hands of you guys. We'll see where this goes.

Representative Steve Cohen, it's very nice to have you today. An important conversation. I do appreciate your time.

COHEN: Thank you very much. It's good to be with you. HARLOW: Thanks.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Great to have him on. Good interview.

President Trump, calling his former secretary of state -- this is quoting the president of the United States -- "dumb as a rock" this morning. Why is he lashing out at the man that he chose as the nation's senior-most diplomat, Rex Tillerson? That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:41:00] HARLOW: President Trump is lashing out at his former secretary of state this morning in a huge way. He tweeted that Rex Tillerson is, quote, "dumb as a rock" and called him ill-prepared and ill-equipped to be the secretary of state.

TEXT: Donald J. Trump: "Rex Tillerson, a man who is 'dumb as a rock' and totally ill prepared and ill equipped to be Secretary of State, made up a story (he got fired) that I was out-prepared by Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany. I don't think Putin would agree. Look how the U.S. is doing!"

SCIUTTO: So why did the president choose him as secretary of state? Remember that? I mean, it was the president's choice.

Regardless, this is in response, apparently, to Tillerson's secret meeting with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a congressional aide telling CNN that Tillerson says Vladimir Putin was far more prepared than President Trump, for their first meeting in Hamburg, Germany. And that that put the U.S. at a diplomatic disadvantage.

CNN's senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski is following the latest.

So, Michelle, that's quite remarkable, for the president's choice and former sitting secretary of state, to go to the Hill to brief members to say that the president of the United States was not prepared to meet with the leader of a foreign country.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SERNIOS DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right. And Trump praised his choice of secretary of state, of course, at the time. But people do have fallings-out. And, boy, have these two ever.

I mean, Tillerson has been subtle. We don't see very much of him since he left office. But virtually every time he's asked questions about his relationship with Trump or what went on behind the scenes, he is none to complimentary.

But this is a serious situation in which lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been trying to get to the bottom of what went on in these either private or semi-private meetings, in particular with Vladimir Putin. Why do they want to know this? Because nobody -- there are very few people on this planet who know the details of those meetings. Rex Tillerson is one of them. And lawmakers are worried about what Trump may have said to Putin,

what he may have promised him. Was he played by Vladimir Putin, as so many had concerns that he might be.

At at least in part, Tillerson was saying that that seems to have happened, that Trump was outflanked by Putin, that Putin took every opportunity to press his points and state what he wanted, and that he outflanked Trump.

And at the time, before this Hamburg meeting, CNN reported that in the briefing book that Trump had before this meeting, that the pages on Putin were very, very few. And the reason for that, the White House gave, was that they wanted to keep the points short and focused so that Trump could be focused in this meeting.

But, you know, Tillerson said that he was unprepared, especially compared to Putin in this -- at this point in time.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I'm sure Putin was prepared. The former KGB agent. Michelle Kosinski, thanks very much.

Pentagon officials could brief senior members of President Trump's national security team as early as today, on a plan that could send thousands more U.S. troops to the Middle East, this as tensions grow with Iran.

HARLOW: This story was first reported by our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She joins us now.

Good morning, Barbara. I think it's really important to clarify for people, what could happen and what will happen, right?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, all of this, really, very much --

HARLOW: Yes.

STARR: -- under discussion at the White House later today, is our understanding. President Trump may even be part of the team that gets briefed later today by Defense -- acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford.

What is on the table is the U.S. Central Command is talking about a need for additional troops in the Middle East region, to deter Iran. They are formulating this very much as a potential deployment of U.S. troops for deterrence.

They say they do not want to get into a war with Iran, they're not going to attack Iran unless the U.S. is attacked. But it's all about deterrence. It's all about putting a bit U.S. military footprint, once again, in the Middle East region to counter Iran, to show them that the U.S. is there and ready if they were to attack.

Now, all of this, of course, because the U.S. says it has intelligence that Iran has been planning for a possible attack against U.S. forces. That intelligence was briefed to Congress. It got a lot of skepticism from Democrats, who said -- some Democrats, who said they didn't see very much new or different there.

[10:45:15] But the intelligence has not yet been shown to the American public. So a lot of skepticism. And if this decision comes that could send ships, aircraft, missiles, weaponry to the region, it will be a very significant step for the U.S. military -- Poppy, Jim.

HARLOW: OK. It will indeed. Barbara Starr, great reporting breaking this story. Thank you very much.

To Washington, where we are waiting -- there's the podium -- for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She'll take it at any minute. What will she today after the big headlines yesterday? This as President Trump refuses to broker deals with Democrats until they stop all their investigations. We'll bring you her comments, live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:50:51] SCIUTTO: President Trump's refusal to work with Democrats, well, that's happening as we wait here for Nancy Pelosi to come speak, perhaps responding to President Trump's refusal. We're going to keep on top of that. We'll bring you her comments the moment she walks up.

HARLOW: In the meantime, how about some levity, shall we?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Comedian Colin Quinn, tackling that disunity in the new CNN original series -- special presentation, "COLIN QUINN RED STATE BLUE STATE." He takes a look at the political rhetoric tearing apart much of this country. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN QUINN, CNN HOST, COLIN QUINN RED STATE BLUE STATE: John Adams said the two-party system is the greatest political evil under our Constitution. George Washington cautioned, in his farewell address, against excessive political party spirit and geographical distinction. Wise words.

They tell us what to do about it? They did not. They just said it, then they died.

(LAUGHTER)

Now they left us to figure it out. Real geniuses.

America, two parties. Still, all these years later, two parties. There's 350 million people and there's two parties. There's 15 genders and there's two parties.

(LAUGHTER)

There's four bathrooms and there's two parties.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: That's great. Colin Quinn joins us now, live.

Congratulations.

QUINN: Thanks, guys.

HARLOW: I'm so glad --

QUINN: I'm excited to be here on "Pelosi Watch." I know I could be cut off at any second. I know.

HARLOW: Yes. Guys, let's pull up the empty podium in the bottom of the screen --

QUINN: Yes.

HARLOW: -- just so he knows how imminent his fate is.

QUINN: Yes, the minute we see --

HARLOW: There you go. All right.

QUINN: -- somebody, we see them looking to the side.

HARLOW: Yes. We will give Nancy Pelosi the mike.

QUINN: Yes.

HARLOW: But she's not there yet. So.

SCIUTTO: Let's --

HARLOW: I love this. I love that you've brought it to CNN.

QUINN: Thanks.

HARLOW: What inspired it?

QUINN: Just because this country -- I feel like this country should break up. It's like a couple that, you know. At a certain point, this kind of fighting, no one's changing their opinion. You know what I mean? Nobody's going to change how they feel about abortion, guns. Nobody's changing it. Religion.

Nobody's changed their opinion. So what do you want to do, you know? Keep the way we're going? It's very unhealthy.

SCIUTTO: Take some time apart, right? Some healthy time --

QUINN: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: -- conscious uncoupling. You say that social media has been a sort of cancerous influence in this division.

QUINN: Sure. I mean, there's no way around it. I mean, every -- even the candidates, every candidate is going to speak out of -- there's a climate of fear, of social media jumping in. Even what I'm saying right now to you.

There'll be plenty of -- you know. A few comments.

SCIUTTO: I'm tweeting about what you're saying right now as you're saying it. "Who is this guy?

QUINN: And if there's no comments --

SCIUTTO: "What is he" -- yes.

QUINN: -- and if there's no comments, you're like, "Hey, what's the matter? What am I, chopped liver? People don't even comment on me?"

SCIUTTO: Yes.

QUINN: But I mean, I do feel like it influences people's behavior and everybody's behavior.

HARLOW: The founding fathers bit is pretty hysterical.

QUINN: Yes.

HARLOW: I mean, you do blame the founding fathers for a lot of this.

QUINN: I blame them for a lot. But I mean, if you're going to be a father, be a father. Don't stumble home, drunk. But also, remember what they did, speaking of social media. They locked out the press for the whole constitutional convention.

And I feel like that's what we -- we should be having these -- these conventions once a year at least, about this country, if we're really serious about trying to keep it together.

HARLOW: But not -- sans locking out the press?

QUINN: Well, you don't want --

HARLOW: Let's not do that.

QUINN: It's not the press. The point is, everybody weighs in. So if anyone says anything that doesn't toe whatever party line or whatever narrative you want, everyone attacks them. So it's -- no one's going to say that.

SCIUTTO: So the country's desperate to just find a -- I mean, you talk to your family, friends. They want a break from it. They want to laugh about it.

QUINN: Sure.

SCIUTTO: How do you help people laugh about it?

QUINN: Well, I mean, hopefully -- I mean, they're laughing during -- in a live audience, hopefully the audience would laugh too because I'm sort of -- you know, I'm always -- I've always been a real centrist type, a real Joe Biden, the new name for centrism.

(LAUGHTER)

And so a real -- a real head-kisser. No. But I mean, but I do -- I do feel like, what are we going to do. Are we going to keep going this way? It's going to lead to a civil war. So we'd better --

HARLOW: You're never --

QUINN: -- start laughing about it.

HARLOW: You're never short of fodder, right?

QUINN: No.

HARLOW: Every day gives you new material.

QUINN: Every -- yes, of course.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, and it's real but -- it seems comic but it's all too real, right?

QUINN: It seems comic but it is. It's sad that this is -- this is how it goes for us, you know?

HARLOW: But you've got to laugh, right? The saying, you've got to laugh or you'd just cry?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

QUINN: Yes. But I mean --

[10:55:00] SCIUTTO: Or drink, right?

QUINN: -- yes, so we'll see.

HARLOW: You can drink --

QUINN: Yes. People are going to laugh or drink.

HARLOW: -- and watch. People could have a drink at home --

QUINN: Yes.

HARLOW: -- over 21. And watch your special on Monday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

QUINN: Hopefully they'll be done drinking by 9:00 p.m. Eastern, Monday night. They'll be -- I think they'll be sitting there like this, they'll probably fall asleep.

SCIUTTO: Well --

HARLOW: All right.

SCIUTTO: -- we're going to be watching. (CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: We all need a reason to laugh.

QUINN: Thanks, guys.

SCIUTTO: He's a funny man. He's a smart man. He knows politics.

Great to have you on.

HARLOW: Thank you.

QUINN: Thanks, you guys.

HARLOW: We appreciate it very much.

SCIUTTO: This special, "COLIN QUINN RED STATE BLUE STATE," this -- on Memorial Day, 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, only here on CNN. And we are waiting now for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She did not interrupt Colin Quinn, thankfully --

QUINN: Yeah!

SCIUTTO: -- but she is about to address reporters on Capitol Hill. We're going to bring you those comments, live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR, AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me --

[11:00:00]