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Trump Gives Barr Unique Powers to Investigate Russia Probe; Pelosi Getting Under Trump's Skin?; Trump Claims Pelosi Is Not "The Same As She Was"; Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) is Interviewed About Trump- Pelosi Feud and Trump Sending 1,500 Troops to Middle East Over Iran Threat. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 24, 2019 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The almost-73-year-old president just attacked the 79-year-old House speaker for being too old.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump giving the attorney general sweeping powers to investigate the FBI investigators, but he insists it's not payback, while Democrats and now law enforcement and intelligence officials cry foul.

Less than a day after saying he will send more troops to the Middle East -- quote -- "if we need them," the president decides, hey, we need them, deploying 1, 500 more, but to do what? A member of the House Armed Services Committee will join us to discuss.

Plus, to build his wall, the president is pushing a construction company run by a Republican donor, all but representing the company himself before the Army Corps of Engineers. Did he also tell the Army Corps to forget about that whole drain the swamp thing?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start with the politics lead.

President Trump headed to Japan right now, while his attorney general carries out his instructions to find out more about how and why the probe began into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Russian outreach to the Trump campaign.

Now, the Mueller report, in fact, right on page one, introduction to volume one, explains how this all began pretty clearly -- quote -- "In late July 2016, soon after WikiLeaks' first release of stolen documents, a foreign government contacted the FBI about a May 2016 encounter with Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who had suggested to a representative of that foreign government that the Trump campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton. That information prompted the FBI on July 31, 2016, to open an investigation" -- unquote. But those facts are apparently not the narrative President Trump

desires, so he has dispatched his attorney general to get on the case. Today, he promised, potentially, some major revelations.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They will be able to see how this hoax, how the hoax or witch-hunt started and why it started. It was an attempted coup or an attempted takedown of the president of the United States.

You're going to learn a lot. I hope it's going to be nice, but perhaps it won't be.


TAPPER: Last night, President Trump gave unprecedented powers to Attorney General Bill Barr to retrieve information from U.S. intelligence agencies to find out whatever Barr wants.

Critics call the president's move a conspiracy to weaponize classified information against the president's political enemies.

Let's go right now to CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She's live in Tokyo, ahead of the president's arrival.

And, Kaitlan, this move just set off a new fight, not just with the president and Democrats, but also with the intelligence community.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, because, with this move, the president is ordering the CIA and other intelligence agencies to cooperate with Bill Barr.

And in a sign that this could be a showdown that is looming, today, the national -- the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, issued a statement saying that he is confident -- quote -- "that the attorney general will work with the intelligence community in accordance with the long-established standards to protect highly sensitive classified information that if publicly released would put our national security at risk."

But today, Jake, when the president was defending his latest move, he didn't make any mention of national security implications.


TRUMP: The attorney general is one of the most respected people in this country.

COLLINS (voice-over): Today, President Trump defending his decision to give the attorney general sweeping new powers.

TRUMP: I declassified everything.

COLLINS: After he signed a memo granting Bill Barr free rein to declassify any intelligence related to the beginning of the Russia investigation, including FBI surveillance of his 2016 campaign.

TRUMP: People have been asking me to declassify for a long period of time. I have decided to do it. And you're going to learn a lot.

COLLINS: The move is unprecedented and could lead to a showdown with the secretive intelligence community, who have been ordered to assist Barr in his review.

TRUMP: It's the greatest hoax probably in the history of our country. And somebody has to get to the bottom of it.

COLLINS: Trump signed the directive just hours after he falsely claimed yet again that those who led the investigation committed treason.

TRUMP: That's treason. That's treason. They couldn't win the election and that's what happened.

COLLINS: But, today, he insisted he's not looking for payback.

TRUMP: This is about finding out what happened.

COLLINS: The memo reveals how much Trump trusts his attorney general, who has broken with the head of the FBI and backed up the president's claims.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think that spying did occur.

COLLINS: Sources say Barr is leading the review into the investigation, along with U.S. attorney John Durham. That's in addition to the Justice Department's internal watchdog conducting his own investigation into how the FBI obtained surveillance orders for former campaign aid Carter Page.


His report is due next month. Democrats say the attorney general is doing the president's political bidding.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): It's part of the Trump and Republican plot to dirty up the intelligence community.

COLLINS: The Senate Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, Mark Warner, saying today that: "Selectively declassifying sources and methods in order to serve a political agenda will make it harder for the intelligence community to do their jobs."

Democrats still want to hear from the special counsel, who they say wants to testify behind closed doors.

NADLER: He's willing to make an opening statement, but he wants to testify in private.

COLLINS: Trump has insisted Robert Mueller's appearance is up to the attorney general, but today he questioned why he should even testify at all. TRUMP: He just gave that report. Why does he have to testify?


COLLINS: Now, Jake, as you mentioned, the president is on his way to Tokyo right now. He's going to be the first foreign leader to visit after the crowning of the new emperor.

And while he's here, he's going to go golfing, he's going to go to a sumo wrestling match and, of course, meet with the new emperor. And though there are plenty of things for him to talk about with the Japanese prime minister, including North Korea and a potential trade deal, right now, we're being told by the White House that this visit is going to be more about ceremony than it is about substance -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, traveling with the president in Tokyo, Japan, thank you so much.

Let's chew over all of that.

Why is he doing this? Why is President Trump giving Barr these powers to investigate how this all happened?

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is a fascinating thing, right?

It was so striking to me when he came out and spoke this afternoon how much of the conversation was focused on 2016. In case your viewers forgot, which feels like they may have, given how much time we spend discussing that election, that was three years ago. And we're still discussing it.

So you have to wonder why. This is a president who is running for reelection. He has a booming economy that would be the envy of most presidents. He has campaign promises to keep, some of which involve trade, which involves working with the Democratic Congress, because this is a White House that sees rallying their base as their path to the presidency.

So, keeping this issue going and keeping it moving and investigating it again and investigating what happened in '16 keeps his base motivated and they think that's the way to win and to keep Democrats talking about this, which, you know, Trump -- some people close to Trump believes keeps them from talking about actual agenda items, like health care.

TAPPER: So, as a journalist, I'm in favor of all information coming out at all points. I don't -- that's fine. Release the stuff.

But it's interesting, because at the same time the White House is pushing for more information about the origins of this, Attorney General Barr is blocking information, and Robert Mueller, although it doesn't appear to be Robert Mueller's -- that he's doing the bidding of Attorney General Barr -- and the president saying that he doesn't even think Mueller should testify.

There does seem to be like different standards, not like it's the first time that's ever happened.


Look, you made the point I was going to make. As a journalist, I'm all for declassifying the origins of this investigation. More information about this is better for the public.

But we have to be on guard for whether it's being politicized, right? But, at the end of the day, if they declassify this information and we find out that the origins of this investigation are other than what we all believe them to be...

TAPPER: And what Mueller said they were.

LIZZA: What Mueller said they were, what has been widely reported, well, that's -- then we have a real news story on our hands.

I think Trump has been convinced by people in the conservative pundit class on FOX News and Republicans on the Hill that there is a real scandal at the -- you know, in the origin story of this, and, you know, let's all find out. But your point is right. They're not doing this in a consistent way.


And what do you make of it all?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's doing this because he's ticked off. He's ticked off about this story. He's ticked off that it's ongoing. I think he's a bit...


LIZZA: He's making it ongoing.


HAM: I know.

But he's also a bit legitimately upset, and I think legitimately upset that a lot of the story has been used to delegitimize his win. And that is what is at the root of every reaction he has to these things.


KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He has fed this. He has fed his own delegitimization by the way he's handled this, actually.

HAM: Yes.

And I would also say there's -- I sort of wonder why now, because there's this I.G. report that does seem to be coming to a close. And that seems like a nice way to find out what the origin was.

TAPPER: Right.

HAM: Which also signals that there is something to look at here.

But I would like to see that first. And I'm -- again, I agree with you guys, echo that I'm fine with them declassifying things, as long as they do it in a safe way.


TAPPER: And a consistent way, right, release everything.


FINNEY: But I think given the way -- and this is obviously the concern that Democrats have. And I hope they think through a strategy to get ahead of this time.

Given the way Barr handled the release of the Mueller report, we know that it is very likely he will cherry-pick the information to suit a particular agenda or narrative.


It will be hard to know if we're getting the whole story, because, I mean, think -- again, he -- there was a summary of the conclusions. Then there was a press conference, where nobody else had the actual information.

HAM: And then there was a 500-page report.


TAPPER: That's the thing in Barr's favor is that he did release, you know, most of the report, most of it unredacted.

FINNEY: But he was able to control the narrative the first 24, 48 hours, first couple of weeks, in the way we were talking about it. And I feel like...


HAM: Which is only two years fewer than everyone else.


FINNEY: OK. Let's do seven years of Whitewater, and then you can talk. Just saying.


HAM: I can talk actually the whole show if I would like to.


FINNEY: The president is actually doing this I think in large measure because he wants to undermine Mueller, undermine this report.

TAPPER: Right. FINNEY: And, again, I would say, he, himself, if he had been quiet

about this and let this investigation happen, he could have been touting the economy and his own agenda, rather than -- he's the one who has brought this up over and over and over again and delegitimizing himself.


TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

If you're going to attack the speaker of the House using a doctored video or an edited video, then maybe delete the fake footage? It's probably best to use actual words in your explanation.

President Trump's personal attorney on quite a roll today.

Stay with us.


[16:15:18] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our politics lead, the feud between President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is getting even more personal and nasty today, with the president reacting to Pelosi's suggestion that his family needs to stage an intervention by attacking her, seemingly for slipping as she gets older.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She said terrible things, so I just responded in kind. Look, you think Nancy's the same as she was? She's not. Maybe we can all say that.


TAPPER: The president also sharing on Twitter a heavily edited video of Speaker Pelosi stuttering, a video that appeared on Fox Business Channel that is put together in such a way to make it appear the speaker couldn't get a sentence out, which is not the case.

The president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, went one step further, tweeting out a doctored video which was slowed down in order to make Pelosi sound even intoxicated. Giuliani later deleted the video and tweeted, by explanation, I thus apology for a video, which is allegedly is a caricature of an otherwise halting speech pattern she should first stop and apologize for, saying the president needs an intervention. Are.

Certainly an interesting way to explain an attempt to suggest an opponent's age is affecting her communication skills.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty now reports on how ugly this back and forth is becoming.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The nasty personal spat between the president and House speaker intensifying.

TRUMP: Did you hear what she said about me long before I went after her? Did you hear? She made horrible statements.

SERFATY: Trump taking aim at Pelosi again today, questioning her mental fitness.

TRUMP: Look, you think Nancy's the same as she was? She's not.

SERFATY: As Pelosi in Pennsylvania today tried to tune out the feud growing louder by the day.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The most important thing that the American people can do as families for our children or for our country as a nation is to invest in the education of our children.

SERFATY: Their already contentious relationship now reaching a new low with this doctored video of Pelosi to make it appear like she's slurring her words. (VIDEO GAP) fake one.

PELOSI: And then he had a press conference in the Rose Garden with all of this sort of visuals.

And then he had a press conference in the Rose Garden with all this sort of visuals.

SERFATY: The video was spread over social media by Trump allies and watched by more than 2.5 million people on Facebook and has since been removed by YouTube.

And a second manipulated video of Pelosi aired by Fox Business and retweeted by the president.

PELOSI: He started making -- sending signals -- some people call it after NAFTA, some call it NAFTA 2.0. There are three things.

SERFATY: The two have been trading insults.

TRUMP: She's a mess. Look, let's face it. She doesn't understand it. And they sort of feel she's disintegrating before their eyes. She does not understand it.

SERFATY: Back and forth from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other.

PELOSI: I pray for the president of the United States. I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.

SERFATY: The feud boiling over and playing out publicly in the last 24 hours, as White House sources admit to CNN that Pelosi hasn't gotten under his skin, but just got his attention.


SERFATY: And Speaker Pelosi is out of Washington for the week-long recess and President Trump is en route to Tokyo right now for the weekend, putting some physical distance between the two of them. Potentially, Jake, giving them an opportunity to lower tensions a bit in this very heated moment.

TAPPER: All right. Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss is Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He's in both the House Oversight Committee and the House Armed Services Committee.

Thanks for being here.

Now, the White House will say that Nancy Pelosi started this when she went after the president for a, quote/unquote, cover-up. And obviously, the back and forth has been going on all week. Isn't it important that both of them, not just President Trump, like, stop this and get to work?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Well, she has been civil. She has been using the same language for the past few weeks. The president has launched a personal attack on her and is amplifying doctored video.

I will say this as a Silicon Valley congressperson, Facebook needs to remove that doctored video immediately. They haven't done that. I mean, imagine if CNN were saying, we're going to limit distribution, but still showing the video. It's absurd. They need to remove it.

TAPPER: What --how do you think that Nancy Pelosi is saying that President Trump needs an intervention? How was that civil?

KHANNA: Well, what she's saying is, she actually wants the president to succeed, because he's the president of the United States. What she's saying is, someone should tell the president that he should work with House Democrats.

[16:20:01] We want to pass an infrastructure bill and get things done. And he should be able to put aside the differences.

Look, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich did that in 1998 when impeachment was taking place. Richard Nixon at the height of impeachment passed the Endangered Species Act and the Highway Fund Advanced Act. So there's no reason the president can't do both. And I think that's what she's saying.

TAPPER: The president said today that he's sending an extra 1,500 American troops to the Middle East. This in response to what the White House calls increased threats from Iran.

You're on the House Armed Services Committee. Have you been briefed on this? Do you support this? Do you oppose it?

KHANNA: I oppose it, as do most of my colleagues.

TAPPER: Democratic colleagues.

KHANNA: Most of my Democratic colleagues and some of the Republican colleagues.

Look, it makes no sense for two reasons. First, we have been briefed that without going into anything classified, just publicly, that there's increased threat to troops there. Well, if that's the case, why would you send more troops and 1,500 more troops isn't going to have any deterrent effect. It's just going to be perceived by Iran as escalation.

Second, Jake, this is important. The president's own national security strategy says China is our biggest competition. There are 15 percent of world GDP, we're 24 percent of world GDP. Do you think we need to be at war with a country that's 0.55 percent of world GDP? It makes no sense under the president's own strategy.

TAPPER: You've -- I want to ask about Iran, another question. Is the Trump administration notified Congress, is going to around Congress, going to around lawmakers and invoke their powers to expedite arm sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are on the other side of this war which is going on in Yemen, on the other side of Iran, and obviously there is a power struggle going on between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

What's your reaction, what is Congress going to do about it, if anything?

KHANNA: Well, first of all, Congress has spoken. We've passed a war powers resolution in the House and the Senate to say that we shouldn't be supporting the Saudi bombing of Yemen, which is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, 14 million Yemenis face famine. So, it is utterly offensive so this president to supply bombs and missiles to the Saudis that could be used to kill women and children in Yemen.

We're considering taking it to the Supreme Court to make it clear that Congress has the power of war and peace, and it's important, Jake, to know that there were many Republicans, Republican allies like Matt Gaetz and Mark Meadows who supported the war powers resolution and are concerned about the Saudi relationship.

TAPPER: Now, you've said that you support Speaker Pelosi's stance on impeachment, that you'd rather focus on the investigations of President Trump or rather focus on other issues. But at least 35 of your House colleagues are calling for impeachment proceedings to begin. And in fact, Bernie Sanders, who I know you're a big fan of, said that it may be time to begin impeachment proceedings.

They're all wrong?

KHANNA: They have their perspective, and you're right, there are about 35 folks in our caucus who believe, are so offended by this administration stonewalling that they want to take more dramatic action. I --

TAPPER: To be fair, a couple of them are calling for impeachment if the first month of his presidency. I mean --

KHANNA: Some, but there is a growing discontent and frustration, understandably, as the president continues to stonewall.

But I believe the speaker's approach is working, which is to have aggressive committees investigating him. She's obviously gotten under the president's skin. He's reacting. We are winning in court. And as she said, we have to build public opinion. You can't do something momentous without public opinion on your side, and that's an approach that I support.

TAPPER: You have said that special counsel Robert Mueller has to testify before Congress publicly. The House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said Mueller is willing to make an opening statement, but he wants to testify privately. And then I suppose the transcript would be released.

Would you be willing to support that? Could you get behind that?

KHANNA: I think it would be more effective for him to testify publicly, so that the American people can make a judgment. He can help bring closure to this. He can help educate folks from this.

Obviously, I will take a principled compromise that we need to hear from him, but I really hope he considers for the sake of the country making a statement publicly and taking questions publicly.

TAPPER: Lastly, Congressman, I've been asking a lot of members of Congress, especially veterans, who they're going to be thinking about this weekend, Memorial Day weekend. You didn't serve, neither did I. But I know that there is somebody special that you're going to be thinking about this weekend?

KHANNA: Matthew Axelson was born in Cupertino in my district, he served in Afghanistan. He led counterterrorism operations. He was a Navy SEAL. Unfortunately, he lost his life at 29. I had reached out to his parents this morning.

The entire district is thinking of him, our country is thinking of him, and I salute his sacrifices and the sacrifice of so many others. Thank you for bringing that up.

TAPPER: Well, thank you for sharing that. And, obviously, the name might be familiar to people who have read the book "Lone Survivor" or seen the movie, "Lone Survivor."

Thank you for being here, Congressman.

KHANNA: Thank you.

TAPPER: We appreciate it. We hope you have a meaningful weekend.

KHANNA: Thank you.

TAPPER: Senator Bernie Sanders is asking for help for raising money by attacking his opponent. No, not President Trump.

Stay with us.


[16:29:40] TAPPER: We have some breaking news in our national lead.

A federal judge has just blocked Mississippi's restrictive and brand- new abortion law, which would ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before some women are even aware they're pregnant, and has no exception for victims of rape or incest.

I want to bring in CNN's Ariane de Vogue who's been covering this for us.

Ariane, what did the judge have to say?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right. This federal judge, he has blocked for now Mississippi's law that bans abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, that's as early as six weeks, as times. This is Judge Carlton Reeves.

He wrote in his opinion that this law threatens immediate harm to women's rights --