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President Trump Gives Attorney General Bill Barr Authority to Declassify Classified Information Related to Russia Investigation; President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Trade Criticisms after Meeting on Infrastructure Breaks Up; Theresa May Resigns as British Prime Minister; Interview With Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA). Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired May 24, 2019 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: When he shared a different one that was manipulated. This follows a heated back-and-forth between the president and the speaker, with both leaders questioning the other's fitness for office.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your comments almost suggest you are concerned about his well-being.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was sad when I watched Nancy all moving, the movement and the hands and the craziness, and I watched -- that's, by the way, a person that's got some problems.


CAMEROTA: All right, joining us now to discuss this and so much more, we have David Gregory, CNN political analyst, Asha Rangappa, former FBI special agent and CNN legal and CNN legal and national security analyst, and Toluse Olorunnipa, White House reporter for the "Washington Post."

Great to see all of you. Asha, let's start with the Bill Barr stuff, because Bill Barr has now gotten the ability to declassify classified information that he may need for yet this new Russia investigation, this one yet another investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation from the department of redundancy department. And does it -- as someone who spent years in law enforcement, are you happy that we are all going to be able to see, hopefully, the classified information and know the truth, or does this concern you?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This concerns me greatly. First of all, declassifying information, particularly when it relates to counterintelligence investigations, requires people who know what the equities involved are. It sounds like he's actually interested in potentially finding out who the CIA's sources are abroad. That could potentially put their lives in danger if he chooses to declassify that.

But beyond that, Alisyn, Attorney General Barr has a history of misleading Congress and the American people about what the actual evidence is. He has prejudged outcomes and then he cherry picks evidence to support the image that he wants to do. He did this not only with the Mueller investigation, but even back in 1989 he selectively wrote this memo saying that the FBI could forcibly abduct people abroad and then refused to show Congress the whole memo. So I have a feeling that this will not only be dangerous to sensitive methods and sources, but he will also do this in such a way that will not be completely truthful in terms of what is there.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, David, says there's some irony here, right, because the administration on the one hand is stonewalling, is keeping all the information from Congress that Congress is asking for, and on the other hand giving William Barr the exclusive power to select what information goes public. "While Trump stonewalls," Schiff wrote, "the public from learning the truth about his obstruction of justice, Trump and Barr conspire to weaponize law enforcement and classified information against their political enemies. The coverup has entered a new and dangerous phase. This is un-American." Note that Adam Schiff there used the word coverup, which set off so much else this week.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm really easy about it, too, because I don't trust the motives. I think the president and I think his attorney general are trying to rebalance the narrative about this investigation into what Russia did in 2016 to try to make the point, as the president does publicly and irresponsibly, that this was a coup against the president within his own government, instead of understanding what a counterintelligence investigation is.

And what the function is and what the danger was, which is so well documented in the Mueller report about what the Russians did to interfere, and what they did that may have had and didn't have anything to do with the Trump campaign, but what they were doing on their own. Setting aside the question of any collusion is dangerous enough. That has to be respected.

I think it is appropriate and I think there are an existing investigation by the inspector general to try to understand what law enforcement did. The leaking of material I think is certainly dangerous as well and would have the president be understandably upset about that when that went on when the dossier was leaked by "Buzzfeed" early on in his administration. But I just think that this is really an attempt to try to completely shift the focus around this idea that there was a coup and he wants to do all of this in the run up to reelection.

CAMEROTA: Toluse, there's already, as David said, the inspector general of the DOJ doing a similar investigation as are U.S. attorneys in Connecticut and Utah. Has Attorney General Barr explained why he wants to spend more taxpayer dollars for yet another investigation?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He has not really fully explained what he is looking into. He has put out these mysterious comments where he says I'm concerned about x, y, z, or I'm looking into the origins of this investigation and not necessarily telling us why and not really going to this extent of showing that there's actually evidence that there was wrongdoing, but putting innuendo out there and causing people to wonder whether or not the president was actually spied upon during his campaign.

[08:05:18] The underlying argument here is that the FBI was so much against president Trump in 2016 that they decided to spy on his campaign and tried to take him down. And we have to remember that the FBI director did, according to the Democrats, influence the election in Trump's favor by coming out right before the election and saying that there was new information and they were reopening the investigation against Hillary Clinton.

So if you remember where we were back in 2016, it would be hard to fast forward to 2019 and believe that the attorney general is pushing this conspiracy theory that the FBI was firing and conspiring against a presidential campaign, trying to take President Trump down during his candidacy. But that is where we are and that's what the attorney general is doing. And now he has unfettered power, with the intelligence community having to agree to declassify anything that he calls for. We are in really uncharted territory, and it appears that Attorney General Barr is going to press forward with trying to get new information out there.

BERMAN: If I can, I want to shift gears to this moment in the White House. I covered the White House for a time, I was there when David was there, and I've watched TV for far longer than that, and I have never seen a moment like this. I haven't even seen this on "The West Wing" or a made-up presidential TV show.

CAMEROTA: Not even "Veep."

BERMAN: I think it's too outrageous even for "Veep" now that I think about it, which is the president in this news conference yesterday, he was trying to move that he didn't lose his temper when he walked out of a meeting with Democrats on infrastructure, and he turned to his aides, all of them, and sort of demanded that they deliver public testimonials to just how calm he was. Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Kellyanne, what was my temperament yesterday in the room?


TRUMP: What was my attitude yesterday at the meeting?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kellyanne is right, you were very calm.

TRUMP: What was my attitude when I walked in? Did I ever scream?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, you were very calm and you were very direct.


BERMAN: Am I forgetting something, David, maybe some episode of "Star Trek"? Has this ever happened?

GREGORY: I found it so bizarre. Even by Trump's standards of busting all norms, I found it so sad and bizarre that the president was doing that. And yet by Trump's standards this accomplishes something, which is to -- I don't know, to point out the ridiculousness of the public theater of Washington and leaders going back and forth at each other like that. But the notion that you're going to get some sort of real exchange there is silly. The president was trying to make a point.

And just as Kellyanne Conway was, with no cameras there, challenging Nancy Pelosi during that meeting that led to the tantrum and the breakup of that meeting, they're using the theater of the White House and the bully pulpit to try to talk about what's absurd about Washington in a way that resonates with their supporters.

CAMEROTA: Asha, one more thing that people have been really looking forward to, and that is whether or not Robert Mueller is going to testify publicly so that people can get real answers, because the Mueller report left a lot of questions. And so now what we hear from Jerry Nadler is that he's interested in testifying only in private because what he really doesn't want is to become -- this to become a political spectacle, and he doesn't want to be a pawn in a political spectacle, which, of course, is understood, but so many people are still hungry to hear information from him in a way that won't be as satisfying as just reading words on a page. Your thoughts?

RANGAPPA: Yes, I agree with you. I think that it is understandable that Robert Mueller, who has really handled this investigation apolitically and with, I think, respect from most people, from both parties, does not want to enter into a political theater where there's a lot of performance art that's being done and not really an interest at getting to the substance.

Having said that, I do think that there is something very powerful about the American people hearing his words in response to some of the questions that have been raised, and that he has actually stated out quite clearly in his report but I think is hard to translate. For example, why he chose not to come to a conclusion on obstruction, but nevertheless provided all the evidence, substantial evidence, for many of the 10 counts that he laid out.

You're right, it would not -- people have not read the Mueller report. This is the point. They're probably not going to read the transcript. And I think what we do need is to hear something in public, and maybe they can preapprove certain questions so it doesn't turn into theater and keeps it sober and on the facts.

[08:10:00] BERMAN: Toluse, if I can, I want to get one 2020 question in here. Mayor Pete Buttigieg from South Bend, Indiana, was in one of the forums that he does very well, which is with media figures or a one on one interview, and in it he discussed the president's lack of military service. Listen to this.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG, (D-IN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I have pretty dim view of his decision to use his privileged status to fake a disability in order to avoid serving in Vietnam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You believe he faked a disability?

BUTTIGIEG: Do you believe he has a disability?


BUTTIGIEG: At least not that one.


BUTTIGIEG: No, I don't mean -- no, I don't -- this is actually very important, because I don't mean to trivialize disability, but I think that's exactly what he did.


BERMAN: It's interesting hearing the mayor go after the president on the military.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, we have not really seen any politician sort of press this case as successfully against the president. The fact that many people believe, and there have been some credible reporting, that the president used his wealth and his privilege to get out of serving during Vietnam, saying he had bone spurs and getting a doctor to sign off on that diagnosis. And now Mayor Pete Buttigieg being able to press this case in part because he sort of has a way with words with the way he sort of succinctly puts it in saying the president was privileged and he faked a disability, but also because he has served and he did answer the call to service during the war that's still ongoing right now in Afghanistan.

And it's clear that he's able to speak with some authority on this issue, and even when President Trump was going after John McCain, a war hero from that era, we did not see many politicians call out the president for not serving. Now we're seeing that being used as a political weapon against the president. He hasn't responded yet, but it would be interesting to see if that theme continues in 2020, Mayor Pete being able to push forward that argument in a way that other politicians haven't so far.

GREGORY: Can I just add, I think it's very interesting that the more a lot of people hear of Mayor Pete, the more they like him. So he has been quite formidable in having his own track in this huge field of someone who is young, who is the next generation, and who is a veteran who is the Democrat. And what we're also seeing, he's taking on Donald Trump who didn't serve in the Vietnam war but who is of an age to be in that era, that era is now gone, and you have younger leaders, Adam Kinzinger comes to mind from Illinois who has been on this program, Republican, who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. You have now a generation of young politicians who have served in those conflicts who will now be a big part of defining national security in public life for a younger generation. It's a striking moment.

BERMAN: Asha, David, Toluse, thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: We have some major breaking news in the U.K. British Prime Minister Theresa May announcing her resignation amid all of the backlash over Brexit. CNN's Max Foster has been live at 10 Downing Street all morning for us with the details. What's happening, Max?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, ironically this was probably Theresa May's best speech ever, and there's a lot of sympathy for her in Westminster today, but ultimately it was her who attached her entire career really to the fate of this deal. She negotiated with the European Union to bring Britain out of the block. It's pretty clear this week that that deal was dead. She couldn't get it through her own party, let alone Parliament. And with the death of that deal was also the death of her prime ministerial career.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit. It will be for my successor to seek a way forward that honors the result of the referendum. To succeed, he or she will have to find consensus in Parliament where I have not.


FOSTER: Now, it was nearly three years ago that Brits voted to leave the European Union. Theresa May came into power shortly after that. We're meant to be leaving the end of October, but now we are pretty much back to square one. And there won't be a replacement for Theresa May until probably the middle of July, so you can see the mess here. The frontrunner appears to be Boris Johnson. He famously led the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. He has been endorsed in the past by President Trump, and we're wondering, John, whether President Trump will do the same again when he visits next month.

BERMAN: This will be an extraordinary week for the president to be in Britain. Max Foster, we'll be watching that very, very closely. Thanks so much, Max.

So will Special Counsel Robert Mueller testify in public? We're going to speak to a member of the committee that's trying to negotiate his testimony. That's next.


[08:18:59] BERMAN: So, developing overnight, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, revealed that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is resisting testimony in public. Listen to this.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): He's willing to make an opening statement but he wants to testify in private and we're saying he ought to -- we think it's important for the American people to hear from him and to hear his answers to questions about the report.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Does he want to testify in private and have it be a closed session where we the people would not even get to see a transcript of it?

NADLER: No, no, no. We'd see a transcript.


BERMAN: All right. That was news.

Joining me now is the vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Mary Gay Scanlon.

Thank you so much for being with us, Congresswoman.

Can you give us a status of these negotiations, the special counsel doesn't want to testify in public?

REP. MARY GAY SCANLON (D-PA): Well, I think Chairman Nadler gave you the most recent status. Of course, we would prefer to have him testify completely in public, but one way or the other, his testimony will become public.

BERMAN: You say one way or the other and you want him to testify in public.

[08:20:01] Would you acquiesce ultimately to closed-door testimony?

SCANLON: You know, obviously, we'd prefer that not be the case. We think the American public should hear directly from Robert Mueller. Mr. McMahon, the White House counsel whose testimony was blocked -- I'm sorry, earlier this week was blocked, any number of witnesses who have direct knowledge of the president's cover-up.

BERMAN: What's the difference do you think for the American people and for your committee to hear from him in public versus behind closed doors?

SCANLON: Well, it's sort of the difference between seeing a redacted version of the Mueller report and actually seeing the underlying evidence. The more separation you get from the actual evidence or the actual witnesses or the actual speakers, the more difficult it is to cut through the noise that we see coming out of the White House every day. They're very on message, it may be a fake message, but we like the people to see the actual truth, hear from the actual participants.

BERMAN: You told us what you would like to see. I'm just curious, as we head to Memorial Day weekend, as the clock keeps ticking here, do you think that it's likely that we will hear the public testimony of Robert Mueller or at this point is it seeming less likely to you? SCANLON: I think we will hear publicly from him, yes.

BERMAN: OK, we will wait and see what the resolution is there.

You have come out publicly for opening an impeachment inquiry into the president. What I'm curious about, is this an impeachment inquiry for the purposes of getting information or is this an inquiry, an impeachment inquiry for the purpose of ultimately removing the president from office?

SCANLON: Well, the process of impeachment requires you to have evidence. An impeachment inquiry is the first step in determining whether or not there is evidence that the American people think warrants impeachment. That's what's going to be the ultimate determinative.

I mean, we saw with the Watergate hearings, at the start, there was no guarantee there was going to be an impeachment. It was only after the American people and members of Congress heard extensive evidence that there became a consensus that impeachment was the right choice.

BERMAN: Correct, although there are legal experts, some, who will tell you that an impeachment inquiry as an investigative tool divorced from, saying, we are doing this because we think the president should be removed, there are those who will tell you that's relatively unprecedented.

SCANLON: I haven't heard that opinion. I've heard other contrasting opinions.

I think it's our job to get to the bottom of this. The White House is engaging in an unprecedented cover up, it started with obstruction of the Mueller report or the Mueller investigation and it's continuing now.

And it's not just with respect to what happened with Russian interference in our elections, it's about things such as what are they doing to undermine enforcement of student -- predatory student lending problems? What are they doing with respect to the Affordable Care Act? What are they doing with respect to the president's tax returns?

I mean, we have cover-ups going on in multiple, multiple fronts now.

BERMAN: I want to ask -- obviously this is a big week on the impeachment issue for the Democrats. I want to listen to what the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said about the subject.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Ignoring subpoenas, obstruction of justice, yes, these could be impeachable offenses. Impeachment is a very divisive place to go in our country. The House Democratic Caucus is not on a path to impeachment.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: I do want to note you are about to appear with the house speaker at an education town hall where you're standing, I believe, right now in your district in Pennsylvania. But do you agree with the house speaker that last part of the statement, she says the caucus is not on the path to impeachment? At the end of this week, when there was all this discussion, where is the caucus headed?

SCANLON: I think the caucus is still trying to figure out whether this administration is going to obstruct everything and not just, you know, the Mueller investigation. You mentioned that the speaker is coming here to do an education town hall. We are continuing -- the Congress is continuing to do the work of the people. We're passing legislation but it's getting stalled at the Senate, and now as of this week the president says he is not going to work on any legislation for the people.

BERMAN: Do you think the speaker has successfully --

SCANLON: So, we're going to continue doing our jobs.

BERMAN: Do you think the speaker has successfully for the moment quelled what appeared to be a growing chorus of people inside the caucus calling for the inquiry to begin right now?

SCANLON: I think that we are all on similar paths, which is to act as a check and balance on a rogue administration. We may, you know, be coming to consensus on what exactly that path should be, but I think we're very unified that this is an out of control administration and it's our job to uphold the Constitution.

BERMAN: You are standing obviously in a crowded room, I think, filled with voters right now.

[08:25:01] SCANLON: Yes.

BERMAN: There, I think for this education town hall.

What are you hearing from the voters in your district?

SCANLON: We're hearing the same things that we heard, you know, during the lead up to last fall's election, that they are very concerned about things like student loan debt, it's acting as a drag on our economy. They're very concerned about making sure they continue to have access to affordable healthcare and that we expand universal healthcare.

We're hearing that they're very concerned about gun violence. We're hearing that our veterans are concerned, our seniors are concerned about getting adequate support so they have the basics in life. So, people are concerned about kitchen table issues and we're concerned that the legislation the House has passed is not being taken up by the Senate, by Mitch McConnell or by this president.

BERMAN: And we know you will be talking about some of that today as part of this education town hall.


BERMAN: The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be there with you a little bit later. Representative Mary Gay Scanlon, thank you for being with us this morning. Please come back.

SCANLON: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Well, if you ever fill your prescription with a generic drug you need to hear our next segment. We will talk to an investigative reporter who is sounding the alarm about the generic drug industry.