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Pelosi Resists Impeachment Pressure After Mueller Comments; CNN: White House Asked Navy to keep McCain Warship 'Out of Sight'. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 30, 2019 - 06:00   ET



ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office.

[05:59:36] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the report speaks for itself, why'd you have to do a press conference?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Mueller will testify. He will be compelled to testify. And he will be accountable to the American people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The first things I thought of was war zone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More severe weather from the plains to the East Coast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The river is going to increase over the next few days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Been watching this thing for three or four days. And just every day it gets higher and higher and higher.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Thursday, May 30, 6 a.m. here in New York.

New this morning, Mueller report: the director's cut. Because that's really what we have this morning for the very first time. Robert Mueller finally told us what he thinks is most important from this two-year investigation. And it is wildly different than the version filtered two months ago by Attorney General William Barr.

Mueller all but said it's up to Congress to decide how to handle the facts uncovered. And this morning the key question is what will Congress do?

A growing number of House Democrats are calling for impeachment proceedings. A growing number of presidential candidates, including one who will announce a shift on our show in about an hour -- a growing number of them now calling for impeachment proceedings, as well.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to resist, though she says nothing is off the table.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And the spotlight is also back on the attorney general. Did he mislead lawmakers and the public about the Mueller report?

You'll remember that William Barr tried to spin Mueller's findings before the report was made public, insisting that he had reviewed the evidence, and concluded that the president did not break the law.

Well, yesterday, Robert Mueller had a different conclusion and said that it's Congress's job to hold the president accountable for any wrongdoing.

So we are expecting to see President Trump depart the White House in the next hour. What will he say about all of this? We have been having a very spirited conversation even before the cameras were rolling.

So joining us now are Jennifer Rodgers and Elie Honig, both former federal prosecutors and CNN legal analysts; Joe Lockhart, former Clinton White House press secretary; and John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst. Great to see all of you.

OK, Elie, I'll just start with you. What changed yesterday? What changed by Robert Mueller coming out?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think the main thing that changed is Mueller's report started to come to life. Right? It's one thing to read it on the printed page. It's another thing to see the man behind it get up and talk about it and explain it. And there's such a power to that I think we've been seeing.

The more people understand about the report and the more it really comes to life and gets dimension and detail and nuance, the bigger of an impact it's having.

Look, we saw Robert Mueller for, what, ten minutes yesterday? And see the impact it had. And imagine how much that can be even exponentially greater if and when he does testify.

BERMAN: I think what else changed is that Nancy Pelosi is counting. Nancy Pelosi is counting right now on how many Democrats in her caucus are shifting their position. And a few are. Listen to what she said, even as she continues to resist impeachment proceedings.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I think it's, like, 35 of them out of 238. Or maybe it's 38 of them out of 238 have said that they wanted to be outspoken on impeachment. And many of them are reflecting their views, as well as those of their constituents. Many constituents want to impeach the president. But we want to do what is right and what gets results.


BERMAN: Joe Lockhart. She's talking about 35 to 38. This is a list right now. It doesn't include at least one or two members who have come out since yesterday and said they would now support it. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania is one that I know of, and I assume there are others, as well. The numbers are growing, but not by tons yet.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, the numbers are growing. And I think Nancy Pelosi is being deliberate about this. And the one thing I'll say in her defense of her is if the people who are calling for impeachment now were in charge of the caucus and the campaign in 2018, Democrats wouldn't have taken -- retaken Congress. None of this stuff would be happening. So, you know, full stop there. She's gotten it right up 'til now.

I think what she's trying to do is -- and Mueller put this in her lap. And Justin Amash has said, you know, "It's in your lap. It's in our court." Well, the timing is in Nancy Pelosi's court. She -- She wants her caucus to overwhelmingly be for this, and she wants to bring the public along.

And one -- one other data point. You're -- there's only one Republican now. But there's -- that one Republican coming out, Justin Amash, is putting pressure on others. So time may -- and I emphasize "may" -- move some people where, if she moves -- if and when she moves to impeachment, it is seen as something that the public supports and that is bipartisan on a -- some level.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's the bipartisan point that you can't overestimate. As a practical and political matter, you cannot have impeachment unless the Republicans support it.

We are a long way off from there. Justin Amash is a caucus of one, essentially. What we learned yesterday that fundamentally changes the framing and our understanding of the Mueller report is that, possibly from jump, we'll find out more.

Robert Mueller was constrained by the Office of Legal Counsel guidance that presidents -- sitting presidents cannot be indicted. So that was never on the table for him. And therefore, the only remedy to hold a president accountable in office is impeachment. That's effectively what he said yesterday.

CAMEROTA: And it was very interesting, Jennifer. Because Bill Barr had said that that did not play into Robert Mueller's decision-making. And we find out yesterday, really for the first time, that was his guiding principle. It was his guiding principle that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

[06:05:13] JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's really interesting, because they then tried to defend that by saying, "Well, there actually isn't an inconsistency here."

I mean, really, what happened is Mueller said it was never on the table for us. We never used our prosecutorial discretion to make a decision because of the OLC memo.

So in a way, he could have said that he didn't decide but for the OLC memo, you know, he would have indicted, because they never got to that decision point. They never -- you know, they gathered the facts. They analyzed the law, but they never said, "We have a case here." But will we charge it or not? So that's the wiggle room. And it's so small as to be nothing. I mean, really, I mean, in effect, you're right.

BERMAN: Exactly. So small as to be nothing, which gives us a guide to why William Barr did what he did. Because he wanted to present a notion out there and misdirect, I think, the American people before the release of the report.

Another example of this, which brings us back to Congress and what Mueller intended for Congress to do or not do is this. This is P-103 and P-104.

So William Barr, after getting the report in his summary, said, "The special counsel decision described the facts of this obstruction investigation without reaching any legal conclusion leaves it to the attorney general to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime."

Well, Robert Mueller yesterday said very clearly, "Unh-uh." He said, "The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing." That's where Robert Mueller says, "Congress, here, it's in your court." And that's where we are this morning, Elie, with Congress deciding how they will approach this.

I think there's a question about whether or not Congress is even doing it the right way before -- in and apart from impeachment. You know, is Congress focusing on redactions? Does that really matter at this point? They have enough to know. Why do they need the unredacted version? Should they be focusing on getting witnesses, witnesses who won't be able to exert any kind of privilege and will have to show up next week?

HONIG: Congress needs to be strategic if they're going to -- if they're going to take this fight on. I think what they need -- what they need to have what we prosecutors used to call an order of proof. That means when you're getting ready for a trial, you list out from "A" to "Z." Here's who our witnesses are going to be. Here's what evidence we're going to use. Here's what documents we need to get.

And you just write it out like you're planning anything else. I guarantee you it doesn't sound like Congress has an order of proof right now. So they need to be strategic about who they subpoena, and they're going to have to fight for all these, it looks like, in the courts.

BERMAN: But some fights are harder than others. And they picked the hardest fights first. And I'm not sure that's the smart move.

HONIG: Right. I mean, start with the low-hanging fruit, right? Build your case from the ground up.

And again, you don't need to subpoena 81 different people, 81 different entities, as Nadler did in the beginning. Let's -- you know, they need to be strategic and targeted in the way they go about it if they're going to take this fight on.

AVLON: This is where Robert Mueller ran into the rocks of reality. Because the Founding Fathers may have intended impeachment to be the proper way of holding a president to account, at least in Mueller's fairly narrow reading of his constraints.

But that ignores the reality that the founders didn't anticipate, which was that our Congress could be so polarized and so hyperpartisan that they would have effectively no ability to reason together. And that's where we are. So that remedy Mueller is pointing to and saying Congress, the Founding Fathers said it's up to you, that functionally doesn't exist right now because of the rot of hyperpartisanship.

CAMEROTA: By the way, Joe, if Robert Mueller thinks that he's been crystal-clear about all this, the report speaks for itself. No, it doesn't. And by the way, even yesterday, it wasn't crystal clear. This is why lawmakers want to pose direct questions to him. They want to subpoena him or whatever, have him appear, and ask him questions. Because it hasn't been crystal-clear.

And on that note, Attorney General Bill Barr said that he met with Robert Mueller on March 5 and asked him directly, "Would you, if not for the office, you know, guidelines of legal counsel, would you indict or would you see a crime here?" and that Robert Mueller told him no. So there are a lot of questions.

LOCKHART: Yes, I think there are a lot of questions. And I think we should take almost anything Attorney General Barr says with a grain of salt at this point, because he's not proven to be candid with the American public.

I think there's -- there's -- first off, Mueller is going to testify before Congress.

BERMAN: But -- OK. You think that's going to happen.

LOCKHART: Yes. It's going to happen. And he is just not the kind of person who's going to defy a subpoena. He's got no standing to defy a subpoena. And the Democrats, you know, they want to give him his day in the sun and a day of reactions from his day in the sun. But they will have him out there.

I think what's really interesting, though, is the by-play going on between Mueller, the DOJ and the White House.

Mueller went out of his way to say that Barr acted in good faith. Well, why would he do that? I think he did it, because what Mueller wants to do is, in addition to going back to his life, is he wants to protect the men and women who worked for him. These are people who have been under attack that Bill Barr has said potentially spied and participated in some sort of coup. And I think his second to last paragraph in that statement was an

implied threat to the attorney general and the president, saying, "I'm going to go away. I am not going to make your life miserable, but if you continue with this and keep coming after my people and start trying to prosecute the men and women of the highest integrity, then I'm going to change my tune." And I think that is the reason you've got this sort of politeness back and forth between Barr and Mueller.

CAMEROTA: Did you hear differently, John?

AVLON: Look, I did, simply because I think one of the things we've seen is the perils of being the last honest man in Washington. Robert Mueller played it by the book and, as a result, you can make the case he got outplayed by other people, by the blizzard of lies, constrained by Barr and by Barr framing the report before it came out in a fundamentally different way than, clearly, Robert Mueller meant it to be.

BERMAN: All right, friends, stand by.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much. Much more on the Mueller statement and the growing impeachment pressure after the break.

BERMAN: Plus, keeping a warship out of sight. What CNN has learned about a White House request to the U.S. Navy to keep the USS John McCain out of the president's view during a recent trip to Japan.


[06:16:00] CAMEROTA: Well, we heard from the first time from Robert Mueller yesterday. But now the question that Joe Lockhart just answered here on NEW DAY is will we hear from him again in testimony before Congress?

So back with us is that Joe Lockhart and Jennifer Rodgers, Elie Honig and John Avlon.

So Joe, you're quite confident that Robert Mueller will appear before Congress voluntarily? Will he be subpoenaed?


CAMEROTA: What happens next.

LOCKHART: I expect that he will ask to be compelled, basically. He'll need a subpoena, because he does not want to do this. He thinks the report speaks for itself. But I think Democrats want and think the public deserves to hear more.

There are questions. Now, you know, the fact that all of the questions are answered in the report, you know, I will give them that. But you've got to remember that 3 percent of America said they read the report, which means about 1 percent actually did.

BERMAN: So to be clear, Jerry Nadler and Speaker Pelosi, who were the ones who would deal with this, have not said they're willing to subpoena Robert Mueller yet.

LOCKHART: They have not. And some of this is stagecraft. The last thing in the world you want to do on a day where Bob Mueller has knocked the president down is jump in the middle of it. I think they're going to be very careful about this. They're going to meet with the committee. The caucus is going to talk.

But they will -- they will not let -- and it is a risky move to bring a reluctant witness, Bob Mueller, that Republicans will jump all over as in you don't want to be here. Why -- you know, why are they forcing you to be here today? But I think the benefits outweigh the risks and the Democrats will bring him up.

BERMAN: Jennifer, what could you get from a reluctant Robert Mueller, who may just refer back to the report.

CAMEROTA: Which is what he said he's going to do.

AVLON: Right.

BERMAN: Right.

RODGERS: Well, I don't think he's reluctant in the same way that Don McGahn is reluctant. Because we know he's by the book; he's honest. So you know, don't need to worry about, really, him hiding things. I think he will not want to testify beyond the four corners of the document.

They should ask him questions, though, about the process. How did you decide that the OLC memo was so binding? You know, when did you decide that question? What did you say to Bill Barr about that? What were those conversations like?

You know, in other words, how could Bill Barr have possibly, without reviewing any of the underlying evidence, decided that there wasn't a factual basis for this case, those kinds of questions. And he may refuse to answer them, or he may, you know, try to evade them in some fashion.

But at least you're getting the American people thinking about these important questions and, as Elie said earlier, it's so powerful just to hear from his mouth what is in that report in a size that people can understand. Because no one is sitting down with that 400-page report.

CAMEROTA: Elie, why did Bill Barr -- or do you understand Bill Barr's decision to decide it was his duty to synthesize the Mueller report and conclude whether or not a crime was committed? I mean, do you see anything in the law that it was his responsibility? Because it sounds like, as we now have confirmed, that Robert Mueller thought it was Congress's.

HONIG: I think it was a political power play by Bill Barr, and I think it was a sneaky move. Right? We saw the quote earlier. He said -- he said in his four-page letter, he said Mueller -- Mueller's decision here leaves it to the attorney general. Now we can all spot the "fudge" word there. Right? And Mueller made

quite clear, "I never asked him. It's not in the report. I never asked him to do anything." Where did Mueller really intend this to go is up Capitol Hill.

AVLON: Yes. And Barr intercepted the pass.

But again, you know, he said, "We were surprised that he didn't make a determination." Well, if they knew that logic and the thinking going forward, they wouldn't have been surprised at all.

When did Rod Rosenstein, for example, know that Mueller felt constrained by the OLC opinion? Was that communicated to the White House? Don't fire Mueller. It's going to be fine. He believes a sitting president can't be indicted. Did that conversation ever occur? These are really fundamental.

And also, how big is the fundamental difference between the independent counsel and the special counsel here? If Robert Mueller had been independent counsel, would he have felt similarly constrained?


AVLON: That's a big deal for folks watching at home.

BERMAN: But he won't answer hypotheticals. He won't answer that question.

AVLON: Right.

BERMAN: Joe Lockhart, you've been talking a lot about the politics of this.

William Cohen, who was defense secretary and before that a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee during impeachment in '74 and then a Republican senator, he said this in an op-ed in "The Washington Post," which I think encapsulates the situation.

[06:20:02] He says, "Politicians who ignore public opinion do so at their own peril, but peril goes with the territory of holding office. It's also important to remember that public opinion is not anchored and concrete. It shifts according to the information it finds to be persuasive and free of rank partisanship."

LOCKHART: I think he's speaking there both to Democrats and Republicans but probably, primarily first, Republicans. Which his overall point, I think, in the op-ed is you can't just 100 percent sit with the president. This ball is moving. And it's -- you're either going to bet ahead of it or it's going to roll over you.

But I think there's a message there for Democrats, too.

BERMAN: So do I.

LOCKHART: That -- that it can't just be about what the mid -- what the 2020 election is about. It has to be a balance between what's good for the Democratic caucus. Again, we wouldn't be here if they hadn't done it right.

But what's good for the country and what's -- what's good for the country and what's good for the Constitution. And my point, you know, has been now for months that -- that I think Nancy Pelosi has done this up until now in a very deliberate way. And she's moved and she's trying to bring the public with her.

At some point in time she will have to make a decision. She just can't stay out there forever. We may be getting very near it. It -- you know, it all depends on where you started from as far as how close you are to impeachment. But yesterday everybody took a step towards impeachment.

Now, the people who were already calling for it, you know, they're all over it. The people who were a long way from it, they did take a step yesterday.

The question now is how do you sequence these things? How do you build public support for this? How do you try to get more people like Bill Cohen speaking out, Republicans?

AVLON: Well, the other problem is Bill Cohen represents a vanishing breed of Republican. You know, the northeast Republican, the centrist Republican of whom there are -- you know, is basically on the endangered species list. Not entirely extinct.

The key point is thinking about what's best for the country and the Constitution. And it's extraordinary that Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, is actually acting as a break for the president of the United States, given the way Republicans acted under Bill Clinton when the impeachment occurred.

And they cheerleaded it and got ahead of themselves. It's not just smart politics. This is about what's -- this is a bigger question than partisan interests, if we're going to take it to --

LOCKHART: And the ironic thing is under Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, they went in and broke arms to get the votes for impeachment. They told the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, "We'll strip your speakership -- your committee chairmanship away if you don't vote for this." Nancy Pelosi --

AVLON: And they had impeccable personal lives, as well --


AVLON: -- which is really important. Moral factor in their decisions.

LOCKHART: But Nancy Pelosi is doing just the opposite. She's saying slow down. Slow down. And you know, listen, I just think that, as in 1973, '74, if the Democrats in the House had moved forward ahead of the Senate select committee, before those televised hearings in the summer of 1973, I'm not sure it would have turned out the way it did. What they did is they waited for the facts to come out.

And remember, the White House was stonewalling. They were doing all the same things, the Nixon White House, that this White House is doing, but they broke through all that. They got the tapes and then, all of a sudden, the job of the House impeachment Judiciary Committee was much easier.

So these -- there are lessons in the past. And, you know, I think we can't get too wedded to each case.

CAMEROTA: On that note --

BERMAN: There haven't really been televised hearings, though, other than William Barr.

LOCKHART: No, it has -- No.

BERMAN: Because -- because of the way Democrats have gone about this. And they were none scheduled in the next few weeks and maybe even all summer. So it's --

LOCKHART: But remember --

BERMAN: They've got to get people in front of them answering questions.

LOCKHART: It took many months between the break-in and when the Senate select committee -- you know, when they had the information for them to get through the White House stonewalling, to get Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and John Dean up there again.

AVLON: Butterfield.

LOCKHART: And Butterfield, all these people. It wasn't like these guys were volunteering to go up there. But we now live in a time where everything has to happen now. And guess what? It's going -- this is going to take some time.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, guys, for the history lesson and all of the insight. Great to see you.

Also new this morning, the acting defense secretary is responding to reports that low-level staffers at the White House asked the U.S. Navy to keep the USS John McCain, quote, "out of sight" during President Trump's recent visit to Japan. The Navy could not or did not comply.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with more. This is a strange report, Barbara. What do you know?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we do know is that late last night President Trump tweeted that he had no involvement in any of this, saying he was not informed about anything having to do with moving the John McCain warship when he was in Yokosuka, Japan, over the Memorial Day holiday.

Defense -- Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan telling reporters, while he is traveling in Asia today, that he never knew about any of this, and he would not have done any of it. That he honors the memory of the late Senator McCain and would not have disrespected the troops aboard the McCain by telling them to move and get out of sight.

[06:25:05] So what do we think happened here? From sources we've talked to, it appears that some White House staffer, in doing the advance work for the president's trip, said keep the McCain out of sight.

Well, hard to make a warship disappear when it's in port for repairs. So there -- there was a report that a tarp had been placed over the ship to keep the name disguised. The president wouldn't see the name "McCain."

There was a tarp, but it was for maintenance, the Navy says, and it was removed days before the president even got there. There was a small barge, also part of the repair work, not there to obscure the name of the ship, we're told.

And there was also part of this original reporting that the sailors aboard the McCain were told they could not come to the ship where the president was appearing, that they would be barred.

Well, it turned out the crews of two ships -- the McCain and another ship -- they had liberty passes. They were told there would not be room for them, but it was not the McCain in particular. Two ships, two crews having that issue -- John.

BERMAN: Yes. It is interesting, though, Barbara, that the request did, in fact, come from the White House. The question is how high in the White House? Who knew?

The acting defense secretary says there's an investigation ongoing right now. It also speaks volumes that there are people within the White House who thought the president would be so upset by the sight of the USS John McCain that they had to do something.

CAMEROTA: I suppose. Unless they thought that they just didn't want that as a backdrop. Wherever the president was speaking they couldn't have the USS McCain be the backdrop. I mean, who knows?

BERMAN: Why? Why, though? It's because they thought it would upset him.

CAMEROTA: Because -- Maybe.

BERMAN: Or because --

CAMEROTA: Because they don't want it. Like Bill de Blasio had of somebody coming down the escalator with a sign saying "Bad Mayor," that they are so conscious of optics and the president's feelings at all times that nobody has to issue the order. They're just so -- they live and breathe it.

BERMAN: But it says a lot about the president's psyche and their fears of the president's psyche.

Cities in several states preparing for the worst flooding they have ever seen. We are live in one city where a major river is expected to crest today. That's next.