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Report: White House Wanted "USS McCain" Out of Trump's Sight; Trump Falsely Claims He Did Not Give Putin a Pass on Russian Election Meddling, Says Obama "Did Nothing"; Trump Says Going Back to "Old- Fashioned Paper" as Backup System Is the Best Election System; Trump Says Article 2 Gives Me "Powers That You Wouldn't Believe"; Rep Brendan Boyle (D-PA) Discusses; Impeaching Trump; Robert Mueller Statement; Mueller Report, Obstruction. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 30, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] BOLDUAN: Joining me now for this one, Pentagon reporter, Ryan Browne, and retired Marine Corps colonel and former Pentagon spokesman, David Lapan.

Ryan, first to you.

What is the Pentagon actually saying about this?

RYANE BROWN, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Kate, the Pentagon is refusing to say on the record whether or not the Navy was directed to either hide or obstruct the view of the "John S. McCain."

Now the Acting Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, said he was not aware of any directive. He had no knowledge of it, he did not approve it. He said he would not approve anything to diminish the legacy of what he called an American patriot, referring to John McCain, or the men and women who serve aboard the "John S. McCain" as part of its crew.

Not commenting whether or not there was this directive but it did not reach the highest levels of the Pentagon.

However, officials tell us there was, indeed, a directive from the White House to lower-level Navy officials and when senior Navy leadership found out about it, they stopped this effort in its tracks. But those conversations were being told by officials did, in fact, happen.

BOLDUAN: David, what do you think happened here? Donald Trump said that he didn't direct anybody to do it, but the person who did it was well meaning. What do you think happened?

COL. DAVID LAPAN, RETIRED, MARINE CORPS & FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: One, I wouldn't agree with the characterization of it being well meaning. Whoever made this decision, whoever communicated this, did the wrong thing.

I think the Navy very quickly needs to get a handle on exactly what happened, how it happened, why it happened. And they need to provide those answers to questions to the public and to the press very quickly. There's a lot of speculation out there.

It's a very sad and embarrassing episode for the Navy. Sad, particularly, for the sailors of the "USS McCain," who suffered the loss of 10 of their shipmates in a collision and are now being seen through this lens.


David, how high do you think this would have gone? From your experience at the Pentagon and your experience in the military, could, I don't know, some low-level White House aide make this request to the Navy?

LAPAN: I think -- well, it's very difficult when people use terms like low-level, because it's very hard for me to believe that somebody at a very junior level would make this kind of a decision or a request.

The other part, too, is even if it was done, communicated at a fairly low level, if the White House military office is reaching directly into a Navy command, the word about that is going to go up the chain of command.

I don't know how high it went, but again, these aren't the kind of decisions and the kind of actions that are taken at a low level.

And, again, I think it's incumbent upon the Navy to find out how high this went, who knew about it, who authorized it, and why it was done.

BOLDUAN: And, Ryan, I mean, to David's point, the president today also said, he said that we will probably be able to find out who did this, even though he said that person was well meaning in what they were doing. Is there an investigation? Is there an investigation into this?

BROWNE: Well, Kate, Acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan, while traveling in Asia, actually did say he had tasked his chief of staff with getting to the bottom of what happened here.

Now, whether or not it's a formal investigation, that doesn't appear to be the case. But he does seem to have directed his senior chief of staff to look into it. We'll see what comes from that.

BOLDUAN: We sure will and we'll follow up.

Ryan, thank you.

David, thank you again. It's good to see you. I appreciate it.

LAPAN: Thanks. Thanks, Kate.

Coming up for us, we have much more ahead, as we continue to roll on with the fact-check of the president and the fact-check just from today. Donald Trump says that he didn't give Putin a pass for Russian interference in the election. Let us size that up and see how that squares with the truth once again. Stay with us.


[11:38:29] BOLDUAN: All right. Welcome back.

And let's call this now fact-check part four of the president, and that's just this show, and that's just from this morning.

That is because this morning, the president walked out of the White House and unleashed 17-plus minutes of anger and half-truths and some straight up lies. To help determine which is which, we're replaying some of the most important moments.

Here now is the president batting away any notion he has given Russia a pass for its interference in the 2016 election.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think I have been much tougher on elections than President Obama. President Obama was told in 2016, just before the election in September, that Russia may try to interfere with the election. He did enough. And the reason he did enough is he thought Hillary was going to win.

We are doing a lot. And we're trying to do paper ballots as a back-up system as much as possible. Because going to good old-fashioned paper in this modern age is the best way to do it.


BOLDUAN: CNN political director, David Chalian, is here now. And back with us is former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig.

David, let's tackle this one. He says this all the time, about Obama and the election, that Obama did nothing about Russian interference in the 2016 election. He's not correct, but it is complicated.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It is complicated. There's some fair criticism. Of everything you're going through today, this is probably the most serious part of what the president is saying. This is the national security threat to the United States, to our fundamental democracy. This is the ongoing piece of this, not just looking back to 2016.

BOLDUAN: What about Mueller began and ended talking about.

[11:40:10] CHALIAN: Exactly. That's how important is was. That's how he bookended his remarks yesterday.

The president, there was an internal debate inside the Obama administration in the late summer of 2016, how much to go public or not. The president, of course, lets Mitch McConnell off the hook because he was briefed on this and he said to the Democrats, if we go public with that, I will consider that partisan politics.


CHALIAN: So there is some blame to go all the way around. President Obama, in a one-on-one conversation with Vladimir Putin, said, hey, knock it off. The really aggressive action from the Obama administration did not happen until after the election --

BOLDUAN: After, right.

CHALIAN: -- when sanctions were put in place.

So there's a fair critique that perhaps there was more the Obama administration could have done, but to say he did nothing is not true. And it totally belies the fact that Donald Trump undermines any efforts to protect the elections with his daily rhetoric and untruths about what actually happened in 2016.

BOLDUAN: And also, no one can ever forget that in the middle of the election, Donald Trump, he may not have been part of government, but he was asking for a foreign adversary to get involved in the election.

I will never forget --

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Russia, if you're listening.

BOLDUAN: -- Russia, if you're listening, and there's something to be said about that. Russia clearly was listening.


BOLDUAN: And they just killed the lights on us. But they're starting back up and we'll continue. I love live television.


We look so much better in the dark anyway.

I want to continue, though. Here's another fact, David. When he says we're going to go back to paper ballots as a backup system, as much as possible because the "good old-fashioned paper in this modern age is the best way to go." It continues with a theme of he is anti-new technology. We hear him say this often. Is there something new to this?

CHALIAN: There's not something new to it. There's been a debate ever since electronic voting machines have entered into the discussion about having a paper verification system to back up the electronic vote.

It seems to me he's talking about marking an X on a piece of paper and putting it in a ballot box. That he thinks --


BOLDUAN: You know, we have the most dissipated election system there could be. It's not centralized. It's one of the things many election officials believe protects the vote from being actually wrecked with by a foreign adversary.

BOLDUAN: You're absolutely right.

Here's the next part. Making an argument he didn't commit any crime when it came to the entirety of the Mueller investigation, the president pointed today to the powers afforded to him or a president under Article II of the Constitution as the reason why.

Let me play this.


TRUMP: Someday, you ought to read a thing called Article II. Read Article II. Which gives the president powers that you wouldn't believe. But I don't even have to rely on Article II. There was no crime. There was no obstruction. There was no collusion. There was no nothing.

And this is from a group of people that hate me. If they only found anything, they would have had it. He knows that better than anybody.

There was no crime, there was no charge because he had no information.


BOLDUAN: Elie, is he right about Article II?

HONIG: I don't think so, no. So Article I is Congress and Article II is the president and the executive branch, and Article II is the courts.

What the president, I think, is trying to do there is give us a primitive version of what legal scholars call the Unitary Executive Theory. I call it the president is king theory.

And two notable believers in that theory are Bill Barr and Justice Kavanaugh. Both of them wrote treatises before President Trump nominated them basically espousing this idea that, under Article II, the president has almost unlimited powers and almost is and really is above the law.

The way that we see it playing out, some of the president's defenders say, because he runs the executive branch, under Article II, he's free to fire anyone he wants for any reason he wants, even if it's to protect himself. Bill Barr said that in his famous memo to DOJ before he became attorney general.

I don't think that's correct. We've never had that exact issue put in front of the courts. But the fundamental basic theory of our entire system is nobody can be completely unaccountable, nobody can be completely above the law.

BOLDUAN: One other thing the president says -- and this gets to where the conversation has been the last 24 hours -- is when he said, if they found obstruction, they would have charged. That's basically what he said. Let's all be very honest. We all know at this point, from what Bob Mueller made more clear than it was clear in the report, he made very clear yesterday is that he could not. That is not the case. It wasn't that they didn't find anything. It was because --

CHALIAN: Because of that OLC guideline.

BOLDUAN: Because of the guidelines from the Justice Department from the beginning.

Let me ask this. After all this time, we have spent all these minutes in this show fact-checking, going through things he has said before in the past, mistruths, half-truths, and lies. What should people take away from this, David? What we saw this morning?

CHALIAN: I think they should take away that this is behavior we should never get used to from a president of the United States, not being truthful to the American people, despite how common it has become with President Trump.

[11:45:06] I think we should also take away that Robert Mueller, before television cameras yesterday, clearly got under the president's skin. He is acting more angry about Mueller and the probe than we have seen him in some time. Really going on the attack in a more forceful way. He's clearly exasperated, angry, and desperate to try to move beyond this.

But there are ongoing investigation. There are ongoing lawsuits. Mueller, I'm sure, is getting a call to testify.

This is not going away. And Donald Trump is going to have to find a way to live with it because doing this every day, I think, is going to be not great for him going forward.

BOLDUAN: And we'll continue to do this again at 11:00.


BOLDUAN: Thank you, guys. Really appreciate it.

HONIG: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, Mueller's statement reignites and has reignited calls for impeachment President Trump, pushing more Democrats over the line. We'll talk to one of them, next.


[11:50:54] BOLDUAN: Bob Mueller made clear yesterday that he was done, closing up shop and going back into private life. But he also made very clear that the next steps, if any, are up to Congress. Listen.


ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.


BOLDUAN: While there have been calls from Democrats for a long time from some to move towards impeachment, Mueller's public appearance seems to have been the final straw for even more.

One of those Democratic lawmakers joins us now, Congressman Brendan Boyle, of Pennsylvania.

Congressman, thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: So Bob Mueller, he didn't say anything, he would argue, that wasn't already in his report. Why do you now support impeachment? What pushed you over the edge, Congressman?

BOYLE: Well, just to be clear, this is something I've been wrestling with for a long time. I think that a lot of my colleagues are in the same boat as I've been attempting to figure out what is the right next step.

For me, what pushed me over the edge and what I do think is actually new or at least clarified from his statement yesterday is the ultimate question as to whether or not the special counsel would have brought indictments on the obstruction charges if not for that OLC finding, essentially that guideline that says you cannot bring criminal charges against a sitting president.

It was in my view, and I think others, suggested, but still unclear in his written statements. And then the Attorney General Barr went about with that four-page letter, which frankly misrepresented the Mueller report, something we would find out a few weeks later.

Yesterday, it was clarified and I think made crystal clear from Mueller's statements and certainly the tone of his voice that if not for that OLC guideline we would have had Donald Trump charged with counts of obstruction of justice. So given that, given that the special counsel is now officially concluded and is now resigning, I believe that the ball is clearly in our court.

The next step, and just to be clear, I've called not for a rush to vote on impeachment, but the official beginning of impeachment hearings, so that way we can go through what's in the report. We can further investigate where the report didn't go.

And I know I'm going on here, but this is an important point. In the Watergate case, in '73-'74, the congressional investigations found things that the special counsel did not. For example, the bugging system in the White House, the tapes.

BOLDUAN: But, Congressman --


BOYLE: That came through congressional hearings, not the special counsel.


BOYLE: So now it is on our shoulders to pick up this important work.

BOLDUAN: I hear you you're not ready to rush to a vote, you want to start the proceedings. I just think -- I find it very hard to believe that in reality that if you begin proceedings that you wouldn't move to eventually vote on impeachment. I feel like it's almost a distinction without a difference.

BOYLE: No. So -- I think you would ultimately have a vote. What I'm saying -- what I think would be inappropriate is if we suddenly had a vote without having the hearings. You can't exactly go to the jury because you've actually weighed the evidence.

To further the analogy, what we essentially have now is the -- the charging document, the indictment. That's the special counsel's report. Now it's up to us to actually have the trial, to wade through that, to weigh it --


BOYLE: -- to see the extent to which it might be true or not true.

But also to go a step further. Remember, we now know something we didn't know at the beginning of this. Robert Mueller really didn't look too much into the collusion aspect because he said that that was not strictly a criminal conspiracy matter.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this.

BOYLE: That's significant, and that's something I wish he had gone into.

[11:55:08] BOLDUAN: Let me ask you though. Nothing is going to go anywhere without the speaker on board.

BOYE: Right.

BOLDUAN: And Nancy Pelosi made the case yesterday there are folks calling for impeachment but, in her view, she said this, quote, "We have the responsibility to get a result for the American people and that's where we're going."

If a "result," I say in air quotes, if a "result" is eventually removing Trump from office, if that is the result, you're not going to get there. So with that, do you accept that she's saying that you're not going to go there, you're not going to go there, you're not going to impeachment, the process isn't going to begin?

BOYLE: What I would like to see now is hearings on the report, period, full stop. I think that it's appropriate to officially label them as an impeachment inquiry. Even if you don't do that, as long as you have the hearings, that, to me, is the bottom line. I mentioned about the White House bugging system in 1973. That was

discovered during the Watergate hearings. Those Watergate hearings actually weren't an impeachment process. That inquiry didn't start until February of '74.

So the main point for me is to launch these hearings based on the report, to call in those witnesses, to go even a step further where the special counsel didn't go in terms of his investigation. That is, I believe, our constitutional responsibility at this point.

BOLDUAN: I'm interested to see exactly what those next steps are and which witnesses do end up appearing.

Congressman, we'll talk much more about this in the future. Thank you for coming in.

We'll have much more on this after a quick break.