Return to Transcripts main page


After Mueller Comments, Pelosi Resists Impeachment Pressure; Rain Intensifies Record Flooding in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired May 30, 2019 - 07:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Crime we would have said so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Democrats want to continue down this road. And it doesn't hurt Donald Trump, because he's free and clear.

[07:00:10] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clearly, the White House and the attorney general have stated the facts.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): With respect to impeachment question at this point, all options are on the table.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. This is pure, raw politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seriously looked like something out of a movie.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: More severe weather after two straight weeks of damaging storms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sounded like a freight train going over. I just feel my house coming apart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a flood of historic magnitude. That should be enough to get everybody's attention.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. And it does feel like a new day in some ways in Washington because of everything that happened yesterday.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I think it's a new version of the Mueller report. It really feels like that.

CAMEROTA: OK. So will Special Counsel Robert Mueller's decision to go public yesterday force Nancy Pelosi's hand on impeachment? There are now a growing number of Democrats calling for impeachment.

Mueller broke more than two years of silence on the Russia investigation, saying that his report did not clear President Trump of any wrongdoing or crimes, but charging him was never an option, because of those Justice Department guidelines.

Mueller suggests it is Congress's job to hold the president accountable now for any wrongdoing. So what will Congress do today? Mueller also made it clear he hopes to avoid testifying. He says the 448-page report is his testimony.

BERMAN: His statement is full of giant contradictions with the version of the findings first portrayed by Attorney General William Barr.

Barr said it was up to him to determine whether the president committed wrongdoing. Robert Mueller clearly said no and indicated the Constitution leaves it up to Congress.

So how will the attorney general respond to these contradictions? We're also expecting to see President Trump very shortly. He will depart the White House in just minutes. Will he take questions? He didn't say anything out loud about this yesterday. This morning is his first chance.

Let's bring in David Gregory, CNN political analyst; Abby Phillip, CNN White House correspondent; and Jeffrey Toobin, CNN chief legal analyst. What's different today if we've heard Robert Mueller say it out loud. That's new.

You know, hearing something is always different than reading something. What's also new is that Robert Mueller clearly said, "Congress, here it is. Take it." Which is different than what William Barr said.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He did. And the magnitude of the president's misconduct comes through differently when you hear it directly from Mueller himself, especially since we haven't heard his voice in two years.

I would caution, however, that there are -- what did we say? Thirty- eight Democrats who have now called for impeachment hearings.

CAMEROTA: At Nancy Pelosi's last count.

TOOBIN: Do you know what that means?


TOOBIN: There are 85 percent of the Democrats in the House have not called for these hearings. So the idea that there is this tidal wave of support for impeachment hearings in this -- in the House of Representatives is just not true. And that's why I think Nancy Pelosi's position is not going to change.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, what do you think changed yesterday, if anything?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there was something very powerful. I agree with what's been said all morning. Very powerful about, to me, Mueller saying two things.

That every American ought to pay attention to the fact that Russia tried to interfere, did interfere in our presidential election and tried to hurt one of our candidates, namely Hillary Clinton. And saying that it is his view that he can't clear the president of trying to obstruct an investigation to get to the bottom of that interference. That's incredibly powerful.

And to hear it from Mueller himself has added weight. But I don't think that the ground has fundamentally shifted. I agree with Jeffrey.

I think you have a Democratic leader in the House who is resisting her caucus, because she feels on the eve of an election, it's going to hurt the party to swing and miss on the question of impeachment.

There are certainly questions to ask. I'm not sure that I agree with Joe Lockhart that, ultimately, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, will be compelled to testify.

But I think this will add new fuel to it being part of the campaign. Remember, Berman, in 2000 George W. Bush closed every stump speech by saying, you know, "I'm going to put my hand on the Bible and restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office."

I think Democrats will be renewed in their enthusiasm running for Congress and running for the presidency to make that claim, to try to persuade the American people along those lines.

BERMAN: And what George W. Bush was clearly referring to there was the impeachment that had just happened of Bill Clinton in the previous year.

Abby Phillip, you know, you were at the White House today or you're covering the White House, obviously. We expect to hear from the president shortly as he departs to address the U.S. Air Force Academy, their graduation today.

What will the White House do? What's your sense of how the White House is going to handle this going forward?

[07:05:04] ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we saw yesterday was a little bit unusual for the White House. It was a somewhat coordinated message.

They decided pretty soon after Robert Mueller spoke, that there was nothing there. That they felt like he didn't really break any new ground. And in some ways they're not entirely wrong about that. I think what Mueller did was he really explained what he wrote in his report, and he explained why he didn't want to testify.

But the president and the White House are going to try to make this as politically difficult for Nancy Pelosi as possible. Trying to make it seem that there is no alternative other than -- than to impeach him, which they think is something that they can use to their political advantage by basically claiming that Mueller has closed the door. He's closed the book, and that it's time to move on. And Democrats refuse to do that.

So that -- you know, that's the strategy. But then there's also President Trump. I mean, I think most people noted that he tweeted. It was kind of mild shortly after Mueller spoke. And then nine hours passed. And then he was back to "it's a witch hunt" again.

And I think that you're going to see the president going back to his -- his more comfortable place, which is to say that this whole thing was a scam and that the investigators need to be investigated.

And I think that's where the White House's plan might start to fall apart when the president starts to go on the offensive against the investigation that he's saying is clearing him. I think it's going to muddy their message a little bit as they go forward.

CAMEROTA: Well, it's interesting, Abby. Already there was a shift from the White House. Their message did shift a little bit yesterday. And it is subtle, but it is significant. Because as you know, there has always been their mantra of no collusion, no obstruction. No collusion, no obstruction. Well, yesterday White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said something different. Listen to this.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The bottom line is there was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no collusion. There was no conspiracy. And we consider this case closed.


CAMEROTA: So that was not what they always used to say. No -- no, as you heard, collusion, no obstruction. That was the new one. No they're saying no collusion, no conspiracy. That is -- Do you think that that's because of what Robert Mueller came out and said?

TOOBIN: Probably. It's probably related. It's -- it may be a little subtle for most people to -- to pay attention to.

CAMEROTA: I guess, except that if they're giving up on the "no obstruction" line, I mean, it won't last long. President Trump will obviously come out today and say something different.

BERMAN: He'll say no obstruction. He'll say, "William Barr cleared me."

CAMEROTA: But I just am curious of why Sarah Sanders said it differently yesterday.

TOOBIN: I mean, I think if you listen to Mueller, obviously, believes that the issue of obstruction of justice is something that merits the attention of Congress.

Whether they -- he didn't come out all the way for impeachment, but he clearly regards what went on here as a serious obstruction of -- of his own investigation. And, you know, one of the reasons why I think Nancy Pelosi's position

is perfectly defensible is that she's not saying, "Let's throw in the towel on everything."

She's saying, "Let's call in witnesses, if we can. Let's get documents. Let's call -- let's have hearings."

It's just that we're not going to call them impeachment hearings yet. And if there is new evidence that's developed maybe we'll do impeachment. But she's not just saying -- throwing up her hands and saying, "We give up."

BERMAN: Two things. One, No. 1, Nancy Pelosi count is to 38. There have been a couple more who have come out since yesterday. It's up over 40.

Now, I know that, still, 84 percent who haven't said yes. The number has grown a little bit, including a presidential candidate who we'll speak to in a little bit who has shifted his position. You'll find out who that is.

David Gregory, even without impeachment, though, this -- there are questions about whether the Democrats have handled this as well as they could if they want to push this forward.

Fighting over the unredacted Mueller report. Is that even worth it, when they have as much -- they have a lot of it, enough to clearly make an opinion. Fighting over Don McGahn when McGahn's going to exert executive privilege. Is that worth it, as compared to, say, calling Corey Lewandowski, who's got no privilege claim and would have to show up to testify? And he was involved in one of the instances that Robert Mueller points out of possible obstruction.

GREGORY: Well, I think you have to do both. I mean, I think Don McGahn is important because of his testimony to the special counsel. But remember what this is about. This is a political exercise.

And in this case, it's an order to change minds, to change public opinion from where public opinion is now by providing more information.

The challenge is how they get at more information to advance the case for obstruction beyond what it is. Because what I heard Mueller saying yesterday is you can't fairly charge the president based on what we found in the investigation. Congress would have to do that. But there will be a defense. There will be answers to why the president took the actions that he took. He was not put under oath to answer questions. He does have executive power to fire Mueller. He could have done that all along.

[07:10:05] So there will be a defense to the obstruction Congress faces, the difficult task of advancing that case and opening eyes and changing minds. And I will tell you, you know, think about the Watergate example that we've been discussing this morning.

I wonder how much more difficult it might have been if the crescendo of that investigation was happening in late 1971, moving into the election year of 1972 as opposed to when it was happening in 1974. And that's the difficulty for Democrats now. Because they're vulnerable to the attack that this is pure politics which, of course, that's what impeachment is.

And voters do have a release valve here, which is that Democrats can campaign against President Trump on all of these issues on was -- what the special counsel found to make an argument that this is someone who's unfit for office.

CAMEROTA: All right.

BERMAN: Just very quickly, Robert Mueller --

TOOBIN: Yes, sire.

BERMAN: -- should he testify?

TOOBIN: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Should he be subpoenaed?

TOOBIN: Absolutely.

BERMAN: And if he is subpoenaed, will he go and testify?

TOOBIN: Probably. I think he will. Reluctantly, and -- and he will keep his testimony fairly closely tethered to his report, but it's just -- he has relevant evidence for Congress. He doesn't want to testify? Too bad. A lot of people don't want to testify in front of Congress, and they have to testify anyway. I mean, it just would be inconceivable to me that he wouldn't testify.

CAMEROTA: He seemed to be making that entreaty yesterday. I really hope we're done with this.

GREGORY: Can I also -- but can Barr bar him? Can Barr bar him?

TOOBIN: Now that he -- He will be a private citizen as of today, I think. And I don't see how Barr would have any jurisdiction to bar him. Forbid him.

CAMEROTA: All right. Jeffrey, David, Abby, thank you very much.

Now to this. Because thousands of people who live near the Arkansas/Oklahoma border are under water this morning. They're preparing for the record flooding to get even worse.

CNN's Rosa Flores is live in Fort Smith, Arkansas, with more. What's the situation?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, this is a mission against Mother Nature.

All of this water that you see behind me, there was no big rain event here in Arkansas. It's all coming from Oklahoma. And if you take a look behind me, you'll see a boat not too far from

here. People are trying to check on their homes. So a lot of the times they'll walk until they can on high ground, jump on a boat so they can check on their homes, sometimes pumping water out of the homes.

And then you can see that these homes are several feet under water. Here in Fort Smith, there are about 90,000 people. Well, about 1,000 homes, businesses, industrial areas are under water. Twenty-six miles of streets and roads are also under water.

The levee system a huge concern here in Arkansas, impacting about 14 counties because all the water that's coming from Oklahoma is draining through the Arkansas river. All the tributaries and bayous are swollen. And all of those trickle into these neighborhoods. That's why you see these neighborhoods like the ones that you see behind me filled with water, a huge concern.

It has already turned deadly here in the state of Arkansas. One person has died. The governor and senators are expected to tour the area today. And of course they're going to report back to the people of Arkansas, because what they're trying to do is make sure that, first and foremost, that people stay safe -- John, Alisyn.

BERMAN: Rosa Flores for us, by that swollen river in Arkansas, thanks so much.

So even after Robert Mueller's remarkable public statement, there is still just one Republican member of Congress saying that President Trump committed impeachable offenses. We will speak to the former aide to Congressman Justin Amash and a Republican who once served with him in Congress, next.


[07:17:52] BERMAN: Special Counsel Robert Mueller says it is up to Congress to hold President Trump accountable for any wrongdoing. But so far just one Republican member of Congress, Justin Amash, has said the president committed impeachable offenses.

This is what he wrote yesterday after listening to Robert Mueller. "The ball is in our court, Congress."

For more, I'm joined now by Corie Whalen, a former communications director for Justin Amash and former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, Charlie Dent.

It's notable Justin Amash won't do interviews. He won't talk to the press directly about this.

So Corie, it's great to hear from you, who knows the congressman so well. One of the things he said is that he's heard from other Republicans who share similar views. They're just scared to come forward.

Have you heard from other Republicans who share the view that the president committed impeachable offenses?

CORIE WHALEN, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR JUSTIN AMASH: Thanks for having me. And yes. Congressman Amash has said that. And it is true. Having spent two years working for Congressman Amash, I have certainly seen certain Republicans say one thing in private and say another thing publicly, usually due to being concerned about political consequences and, certainly, Congressman Amash is a unique and principled member of Congress, in the sense that he is doing a pure legal analysis of the Mueller report in line with the Constitution without even considering what the political ramifications of that may be.

BERMAN: Congressman Dent, have you heard from any other Republican member of Congress, past or present, who has said they believe the president committed impeachable offenses?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I've heard from Republican members who are simply appalled by the president's conduct in office. You know, I don't know that they've gone as far as to call them impeachable offenses. But they are clearly alarmed and troubled by it. And so that's been my observation.

But I'll also let you know. One other thing, John, a lot of Democrats in swing and marginal districts are not talking about impeachment for obvious reasons. It's not in their political interests to do so. So we should keep that in mind, as well.

BERMAN: And I do want to get to that, because I think that is part of the same question here, which is politics. But first, Charlie, let me get you on why, if there are Republicans who are appalled by him and maybe think that it's possible he committed impeachable offenses, why hasn't anyone else come forward?

[07:20:04] DENT: Simply because they're worried about, as Corie said, political consequences. They're worried about primaries. I mean, that's the bottom line. They're absolutely alarmed by primaries. And they're afraid they'll be defeated. It's that simple.

BERMAN: And then on the Democratic side, Congressman Dent, because this is interesting, because you represented a district which is now more or less held. The districts have held but more or less held by a Democrat. There's a Democrat who's in a district that, you know, has a lot of Republican voters.

What is keeping more Democrats, these 40 moderate Democrats who really gave the speakership to Nancy Pelosi? What's keeping them from coming forward and supporting impeaching publicly?

DENT: I believe many of these Democrats realize that impeachment may not be a winning political issue for them if they're in a swing or a marginal district.

I mean, you're not hearing from the Spanbergers (ph) of the world or the Democrats who won those seats for Republicans in New Jersey or even some in Pennsylvania. Not all, but some in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. It's clearly, they're doing their own calculations. They fear that

impeachment will motivate the Republican base to impeach a president, you know, without the underlying crime being committed. That is conspiracy, criminal conspiracy with the Russians. I think it's a pretty hard case to make.

And I think they also believe that they should litigate this matter in the 2020 election. Defeat -- they think they should defeat Donald Trump. That's a -- that's a more -- more powerful way to send the message then through impeachment.

BERMAN: Corie, I want to read you something that William Cohen, who was former defense secretary under Bill Clinton, but he was a Republican member of Congress on the House Judiciary Committee, which voted on articles of impeachment in 1974 and then a Republican senator.

Cohen wrote in "The Washington Post," "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 in concrete. It shifts according to the information it finds to be persuasive and free of rank partisanship."

Do you think William Cohen is right there? And to an extent your former boss is right that, "Politics be damned, I'm going to stand up for what I believe in"?

WHALEN: Absolutely. I think that that statement absolutely echoes exactly what Justin Amash is talking about. And he talks a lot about persuasion. He's focused on telling the truth and saying to people, "We need to persuade others instead of being partisan, instead of being tribal."

So everything that former Congressman Dent is talking about, yes, there are political consequences. But public opinion can shift. And it's actually very fascinating to see that what Justin Amash has done has made a difference.

If you look at the town hall he had this week in his district at Grand Rapids, Michigan, he got a standing ovation from his constituents. People really do appreciate his courage and his analysis, I do think is shifting the winds. And we'll see if anything comes of that, but I appreciate that there's at least one member of Congress willing to be honest. And it is something that makes Justin Amash especially unique.

BERMAN: But Corie, if I had to ask you, if you had to bet your life whether or not a second Republican member of Congress will come forward in the next month in favor of impeachment would you take that bet?

WHALEN: Some of the things that Amash has talked about, about people who have spoken to him privately, I do know that there are people who have concerns. But I have a feeling that the political concerns will override the legal concerns. So no. I wouldn't bet my life that another will come out. BERMAN: And that's interesting. And Congressman Dent, let me ask you

just point blank here. As someone -- you voted against the president in the two years that you overlapped with him in office. And you've spoken out against him. If you were in Congress right now, would you support impeachment proceedings?

DENT: You know, my thinking on that, John, is I was very critical of the president when I was in office and critical since he's been out. I still think that impeachment is -- is not a great issue.

BERMAN: No. So that's a no?

DENT: I would be hesitant to call for impeachment.

BERMAN: No right now.

DENT: At this moment, but look, I think Congress has to do its due diligence. They have to call witnesses. They have to hear from Mueller directly. I mean, this business about Mueller is done, he's walking away, he's got to come in and answer some questions, explain his thinking, his rationale. He has to do more.

And then let's see where the chips may fall. You know, again, as Corie said, you know, the political winds can shift. I mean, we might -- Maybe something is discovered that we hadn't learned up to this point. But let's at least go through a process before, you know, ruling impeachment in or out.

BERMAN: Do you think that Robert Mueller should be subpoenaed to testify?

DENT: I believe Robert Mueller should -- should testify. And I was one of the guys who introduced the bill to protect Mueller, by the way. So he should absolutely testify, and hopefully, he'll come in voluntarily. But if not, I suspect he'll be subpoenaed, and I would expect him to comply with that subpoena.

BERMAN: Former Congressman Charlie Dent, Corie Whalen, thank you very much for being with us this morning. Really appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting. All right. So at last count, eight of the 2020 presidential candidates want Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump. Coming up, we have a candidate here who has just changed his position.


[07:29:31] CAMEROTA: OK. At last count, eight of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates said they want to start impeachment proceedings against President Trump. Here are just a few of them.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that expungement proceedings will strengthen Congress's hand in getting the information and the responses that they need to come to a conclusion about ultimate impeachment.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These are impeachable offenses. It is our constitutional responsibility as members of Congress to bring a judgment of impeachment against this president.

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.