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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Robert Mueller Finally Speaks Out. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 29, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's chat about this.

Seung Min, Nadler is not putting -- taking it off the table, but is he -- he really seems to be walking a tightrope here. I mean, what's going on? Why not have impeachment proceedings or why not just say, we're not going to do it?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Because the leadership from Speaker Pelosi on down are still very treading carefully around this question of impeachment, because they know how politically explosive it can be.

They know it's a divisive question. But there's no doubt that Mueller's public comments today, even though he's, in essence, repeating just what is in his 450-page report, has really sharpened and increased the pressure on the leadership to at least start impeachment proceedings.

I thought it was really interesting how, in the last couple of weeks, House Democrats have started to make a little bit of a distinguishing factor between impeachment and just starting the impeachment inquiry, impeachment proceedings.

So I think you're seeing more and more Democrats align behind that position. And, in turn, that's really increasing the pressure on the Democratic leadership.

TAPPER: Alexandra Rojas, you're the executive director of Justice Democrats, a grassroots progressive group.

I want you to take a listen to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just a few minutes ago talking about what to do next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We are on a path that we would hope that, if it is justified for the impeachment, that it would be clear to the Senate as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: She seems to be saying that they're not going to go forward unless the Senate is there. And the Senate is definitely not there. Is that going to upset grassroots Democrats?

ALEXANDRA ROJAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, JUSTICE DEMOCRATS: Yes, I think instead of worrying about the optics of impeachment or whether or not it's going to poll well or if it's the politically expedient thing to do, I think Congress has to uphold its constitutional responsibility to hold the president accountable.

So I think grassroots activists have been saying for a long time that we need to impeach, just as Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida, Rashida being the one that is leading right now on it.

There is no reason for us not to walk and chew gum at the same time. Right? And I think it's on Democratic leadership to show the country that they aren't going to operate from a place of fear and just be afraid of what Donald Trump and the Republicans are going to say, but are actually going to do what is morally right and what is constitutionally the right thing to do, which is hold the president, the most powerful person in our country, to account, because if we don't do that be, what is to say that this isn't going to happen again?

It's setting a dangerous precedent if they don't do something now.

TAPPER: Kristen Soltis Anderson, you're the pollster at the table. House leadership is not on that page. House leadership is like, we have to build a case, basically, is what they're saying.

Is there real reason to think that, if Democrats proceed with impeachment, that it could hurt Democrats?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, let's look back to the last time impeachment was tried.

You had Republicans in the 1998 midterms sort of suffer, not really make gains, in fact, sort of lose seats. You had Newt Gingrich having to step down because voters said, look, we get that Bill Clinton, he committed perjury, he did a bad thing, but we don't care. We want the economy doing well and we don't like that you as Congress spent so much time on impeachment.

So I think Pelosi sort of is taking the longer view and saying, I would much rather be able to get this president voted out of office over an issue like health care than have an issue like impeachment potentially jeopardize our party's ability to get him out of office.

What's fascinating to me about the politics of today is that Bob Mueller got up and basically said, to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. Go read the report 100 percent, that he was very clear there's nothing different about the substance about of we know today compared to yesterday.

The only thing different is the optics. That's why when you pressed Congressman Swalwell, look, if Mueller comes and testify, he's just going to say, read the report, read the report, read the report. He said, well, but I want it come to out of his mouth. I want it to be on television, because that potentially changes the politics.

TAPPER: Right. He wants it read. Right.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: And that's the one thing. Give it a couple weeks. We will see the Mueller talking on TV today changes the political calculation, if him saying what was already written changes anybody's minds. But I'm skeptical that it will.

And I still think the politics of impeachment are very treacherous for Democrats.

TAPPER: I can never tell, Jeremy. You cover the White House for a living.

I can never tell when they say things like, oh, impeachment will be great for us, they lie so often, I can never tell when they're actually lying or when that's that's true.

Do you think they actually substantively think impeachment will help them?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: I think some of the president's advisers do believe that. I don't think it's a unanimous opinion by any stretch.

But one of the things -- I have been talking to White House officials and sources close to the campaign all day. And one of the key messages that I have taken away is this notion that they believe that what Mueller said today doesn't necessarily change anything, but that it ramps up the pressure on Democrats.

And we're seeing that debate now play out once again, because of what Mueller did today, because of the spotlight that he's shining once again on this question of impeachment, and that is certainly something that the president's allies are welcoming.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Go ahead.

KIM: On the flip side, to Jeremy's point, Democrats are also aware that the president could use impeachment to his political benefit, because, as we have seen, even if that vote is successful in the House, the Republican-led Senate will not vote to convict him.

So Pelosi and the Democratic leadership are concerned that the president could use that and say, complete and total exoneration. And they're very aware of that.

[16:35:02]

DIAMOND: And the president loves to have a foil. Any time the president can have a foil on the campaign trail, that's where he's at his best, where he can punch against something.

And impeachment certainly could be that foil heading into 2020. And it certainly would motivate Trump voters. The question is, would that ultimately make a difference in 2020?

(CROSSTALK)

ROJAS: But I want to reiterate, which is what I think Robert Mueller tried to reiterate, I think -- two things.

I think, one, that this is putting politics aside. It's about the fact that a foreign adversary attacked our elections and is continuing to undermine the integrity of our democratic institutions. And we can't lose sight of that.

I think point number two is that he did not exonerate the president of the United States. And every single day that the president sits in that office, he is obstructing justice, right?

And we have an obligation, I think, as a Democratic Party, to uphold democratic values. And if we are going to ask what the political calculation is here, I think we're repeating the same mistakes that we have in our past, and we have to do what is right for millions of Americans, especially when the president is literally having kids die under his watch.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You're talking about the crisis at the border.

Everyone, stick around.

Going further than they have ever done before -- how Mueller's remarks are driving candidates on the 2020 campaign trail.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:40:33]

TAPPER: Our 2020 lead now.

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey for the first time are calling for impeachment proceedings against President Trump to begin.

It's an issue most Democratic candidates are have tried to avoid focusing on so far on the campaign trail, but now there's a growing field saying it is time to take more aggressive action over the Mueller report.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is in Dallas with the party's front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, to see where he stands on this issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): Wasting no time, many of the Democratic 2020 primary field reacting to Robert Mueller's statements and rallying around the start of impeachment proceedings. SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's a

fair inference from what we heard in that press conference that Bob Mueller was essentially referring impeachment to the United States Congress.

SAENZ: Other 2020 candidates quickly chiming in on Twitter. Cory Booker going one step further than he's gone before, tweeting: "Robert Mueller's statement makes it clear Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately."

Elizabeth Warren has been one of the 2020 Democrats leading the charge on the impeachment front.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If any other human being in this country had done what's documented in the Mueller report, they would be arrested and put in jail.

SAENZ: Today, the Massachusetts senator doubling down, tweeting: "Mueller's statement makes clear what those who have read his report know. It is an impeachment referral and it's up to Congress to act. They should."

One person not calling for impeachment proceedings? The front-runner, Joe Biden, whose campaign tells CNN: "Congress must do everything in its power to hold this administration to account. That is what Congress is doing and should do, continue to investigate."

And Bernie Sanders also stopping short of pushing for impeachment proceedings to start now, tweeting: "If the House Judiciary Committee deems it necessary, I will support their decision to open an impeachment inquiry."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is just responding now to those 2020 candidates who are calling for impeachment proceedings to begin. She said -- quote -- "We won't be swayed by a few people who think one way or another who are running for president. As much as I respect all of them and they have the freedom to be for impeachment, we have the responsibility to get a result for the American people and that's where we're going."

She noted that many of these candidates don't have a vote in the House of Representatives -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right.

Arlette Saenz, thank you so much.

Earlier today, I sat down with Democratic presidential candidate Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. In the past, he has said he supports impeaching President Trump.

Today, he took it a step farther.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's all the more reason why we should be starting impeachment hearings tomorrow, why we need to have this debate before Congress and the American people.

I don't think there's ever been a clearer example of where there are so many questions out there about whether the president of the United States, the top official in the land, has committed crimes.

TAPPER: What crimes are you talking about?

MOULTON: Well, look, it's very clear that Mueller said, if it was -- if, after all of this investigation, he didn't a commit a crime, then he would have told the American people. But that's not the case. Now it's time for us in Congress to do our job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: You can watch my full interview with Congressman Seth Moulton this Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION" at 9:00 a.m. and noon eastern. It's a TV exclusive. We're going to discuss his time in Iraq as a Marine and his struggle with post-traumatic stress.

One member of Congress is not chiming in on Mueller yet, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but his new position on one of his most controversial decisions ever has some Democrats calling him a hypocrite.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our "POLITICS LEAD" today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky making it crystal clear that he would treat a supreme court nominee from a fellow Republican president differently than how he treated President Obama's 2016 pic Judge Merrick Garland for who McConnell refused even a hearing. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty now reports from Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mitch McConnell doing an abrupt about-face about a potential vacancy on the Supreme Court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If a Supreme Court Justice was to die next year, what would you do?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I would fill it.

SERFATY: Speaking at an event in his home state, the Senate majority leader saying Republicans now would fill a vacancy on the court even in the middle of a presidential election year.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning.

SERFATY: A striking difference from 2016 when he blocked former President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland after the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

MCCONNELL: It is a president's constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice and it is the Senate's constitutional right to act as a check on a president and withhold its consent.

SERFATY: McConnell's argument then that a nomination should not be considered in a presidential election year.

MCCONNELL: Our view is this. Give the people a voice in filling this vacancy.

SERFATY: McConnell aides telling CNN there's a distinct difference between now and then. In 2016, the White House had a Democratic president and a Republican-controlled Senate. Now Republicans are in charge of both pointing to this statement in 2017.

[16:50:10] MCCONNELL: They'd have to go back to the Grover Cleveland administration in 1888 to find the last time a Supreme Court vacancy in the middle of a presidential election year was confirmed by the Senate of an opposite party.

SERFATY: Lots of spin and parsing in that remark, a 2016 vacancy happened with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, not the middle of any year. And while the vacancy, Justice Anthony Kennedy filled was created in 1987, he was confirmed in 1988 a presidential election year, the White House in Republican hands, the Senate in Democratic once.

Democrats on the campaign trail immediately crying foul. Senator Bernie Sanders tweeting "What a hypocrite. Make no mistake about it McConnell's goal has always been the same, lifetime appointments for extreme right-wing judges by any means." While Senator Kamala Harris mocking McConnell for his reversal.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well he also said he will fill it but that actually is the job of the President of the United States, not Mitch McConnell so we also have to do a little history about the division of responsibilities between the United States Congress and the executive branch.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: There's, of course, no indication yet that there will be or potentially could be an opening on the Supreme Court next year. But if Trump was to get another justice, it would give conservatives now potentially a 6-3 majority in the court. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, thanks so much. Let's dive into this again with my experts Kristin Soltis Anderson, I want you to take a listen to Senator Lindsey Graham last October before he was made chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee speculating as to what might happen if there were to be a vacancy in 2020 during the Trump presidency. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump's term and the primary process has started, we'll wait to the next election. And I've got a pretty good chance of being the Judiciary --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're on the record.

GRAHAM: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.

GRAHAM: Hold the tape.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So there were people who thought that Mitch McConnell principle was actually a principle. I wonder what Senator Graham was going to do now.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I imagine he would walk that back in the event that there was an actual vacancy. Because I mean, look, setting aside to like the splitting hairs of McConnell's statement in 2016 being about divided government, setting all that aside, I remember being concerned as a Republican strategist that when Republicans in the Senate were going to not have even hearings for Merrick Garland, who is that -- how's that going to play in the suburbs, those sorts of things.

And Mitch McConnell correctly gambled that this was not a thing that was going to politically hurt Republicans and in fact would help Republicans. So from a political perspective, the idea that Republicans would pay some kind of price for a position changing and the Senate confirming a Justice put forward by a Republican president. It strikes me as unlikely that this would hurt Republicans in any way.

If anything, I thought it was going to hurt them potentially in 2016 and it didn't. I certainly think it wouldn't hurt them in 2020.

TAPPER: Go ahead.

ALEXANDRA ROJAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree -- I agree that it was -- it was a victory on their part to do that and it's completely unsurprising I think right now. This has been a coordinated strategy led by Mitch McConnell and the GOP to obstruct since Obama was in office. This goes well beyond the Supreme Court. And I think right now we're seeing what they're doing and what was different from last time which is using their power to secure more of it and to make sure that they stay there.

And so Democratic leaders I think talking about working across the aisle or doing bipartisan I think sounds really, really nice and rhetoric, but what we're seeing is -- but I think the reality is that we have a Republican Party that is in no interest actually compromising or working with us in good faith.

And so to hear Democrats like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi continue to say we're going to be able to get things done when we haven't for the past eight years, we've had a standstill Congress largely because the Republican Party is in opposition to even moving forward on a number of these issues that I think people call bluff on that and it's obviously not working. And when are we going to stop you know, moving from a place of fear and going on the offensive as Democrats?

TAPPER: And Seung Min, I mean, the point Alexandra is making there is one that I hear from a lot of Democrats especially on the Progressive wing which is Democrats need to be as ruthless as Republicans.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Exactly. And that's why going back to Kristen's point that what McConnell did as audacious as it seemed at the time, it really work. I remember Chuck Schumer out there every day hammering home the point that Democratic or Republican Senate candidates would be hurt badly by Mitch McConnell's obstruction and that just simply was not the case.

If you look politically, Democrats have just fundamentally not cared about the courts as much as Republicans which is why the Supreme Court and having that vacancy open in 2016 just drove conservative voters much more than it did Democratic voters. And I'm wondering if it'd be different this time.

We've seen definitely much more of a concerted effort on the part of Democrats to make their voters care about the courts whether it's a new groups on the left or just having more Democratic candidates talk about it. Whether that makes a difference in 2020 has got to be seen.

[16:55:16] TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We'll be right back with more reaction to Mueller from a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: If you so desire, you can follow me on Facebook or on Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. We actually read them. Our coverage on CNN on this big news day continues right now. Thanks for watching.