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House Voting to Enforce Subpoenas in Court; Trump Receives Letter From Kim Jong-un; Biden and Trump Trade Jabs. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 11, 2019 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Joe Biden living in President Trump's head, as the president attacks Joe Biden's brain.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: House Democrats right now trying to gain another weapon in their efforts to investigate President Trump and chip away at that White House stonewall.

Collision course, Trump, Biden, one stage, bad blood. And we're seeing a preview perhaps of the ugly clash to come.

Plus, did Kim Jong-un whack his half-brother for being a spy? A stunning new report about how close the CIA may have gotten to the most isolated man in the world. And you might be surprised at what President Trump just said about protecting Kim Jong-un from the CIA.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with some breaking news.

Right this minute, the House of Representatives is voting on whether to grant themselves a new legal tool to try to force the Trump administration to cooperate with their investigations and oversight of the executive branch.

Given the White House's policy to stonewall requests for testimony and documents, the House is expected to pass, likely along a party-line vote, a resolution giving the House Judiciary Committee the ability to enforce its subpoenas in the courts.

Today's measure focuses on subpoenas for testimony and documents from Attorney General Bill Barr and from former White House counsel Don McGahn, two major figures involved in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, though it would also allow committees to go to court to enforce any future subpoenas.

CNN's Manu Raju is live for us on Capitol Hill. And CNN's Laura Jarrett is at the Justice Department.

Manu, let me start with you.

What exactly would this resolution actually do?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the resolution would authorize the House Judiciary Committee to move forward with its efforts to try to enforce its subpoenas for Don McGahn, the former White House counsel to President Trump, who has declined to appear before this committee, despite facing a subpoena, saying that he would not provide documents, as part of its investigation into potential obstruction of justice.

He did that under the direction of the White House. Now, also, they're going to have a subpoena, they're going to have it in their back pocket here, the authority to go to court to try to enforce the Justice Department to turn over records related to the Mueller report.

This despite an agreement the Democrats reached with the Justice Department yesterday to turn over Mueller-related documents. If ultimately that deal is not reached in a way that satisfies Democrats, Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the committee, could go to court to try to compel action from the Justice Department.

But very significantly, Jake, it does allow every House committee to essentially bypass the House floor and try to intensify court fights by going directly to court and not get a full House vote in order to force people to comply to their subpoena demands. That could lead to a significant escalation.

And we're seeing the legal fights between the Trump administration and House Democrats, not just about issues related to Mueller, but also including things like the census, where the fight over getting information about how the citizenship question was added to the 2020 census is coming to a head before the House Oversight Committee. That could also end up in court.

So, we're seeing an escalation of sorts in this vote that's happening right now -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department, how is the Justice Department viewing this?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: DOJ really sees this as more procedural than substantive.

And the reason is because, as Manu pointed out, this is not a contempt vote. This is a resolution that helps lawmakers go to court more quickly. It's really just a vote to do only that. And remember the whole ball game for the Justice Department was try to get contempt of Congress taken off the table for Attorney General Bill Barr.

They wanted to avoid that at all costs. And at least so far they have been able to do that because of the deal that was struck yesterday with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler over documents.

So as long as contempt is off the table, DOJ does not have an issue with today's vote, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Manu, you have also just learned that on the Senate side, Donald Trump Jr. is going to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow. Of course, he was subpoenaed.

RAJU: Yes, he is. And he's still under subpoena and required to come in and answer questions after he testified for the first time before this committee in 2017.

Of course, he fought that subpoena. They eventually cut a deal and he agreed to come back in, this after questions have emerged about his past testimony before Capitol Hill, namely about who he told with that now-infamous Trump Tower meeting that he had Russians in which he was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign.

Initially, he testified he just told a couple of individuals about it. But after the Mueller report came out, Rick Gates, then the deputy campaign chairman, told the special counsel's team that Donald Trump Jr. told a larger group of individuals that he was -- had a lead on negative information about the Clinton Foundation.


Also, Donald Trump Jr. had previously testified to Capitol Hill that he was only peripherally aware of the efforts to get that Trump Tower Moscow project in the run-up to the 2016 elections.

The Mueller report cited Michael Cohen, the former Trump fixer, who is now in jail, who said that he had briefed Donald Trump Jr. more extensively than that. So those are the questions they plan to ask behind closed doors.

Senators will attend. Staff members will lead the questioning, but this is all part of that effort to try to finish up that Senate Intelligence Committee investigation after Donald Trump Jr. fought the efforts to get him to come back, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Laura, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee struck a deal with the Justice Department in order for them to be able to review some of the special counsel materials.

But now you're learning that the White House might be getting involved in this?

JARRETT: That's right. It's not so cut and dry, as most things are.

So the situation here is that the Justice Department is following through with the deal. They are making documents available, as Manu reported last night. They came over to the Justice Department. They have seen at least one document.

The tricky part is going to be the fact that Nadler has requested a whole bunch of notes that former White House officials have taken and also FBI interview notes, known as 302s, with some of the witnesses in the Mueller investigation related to the obstruction issue. And so the White House may have a chance to look at those documents

before any lawmakers get a chance to. And if that happens, they could exert executive privilege over the documents and try to block members of Congress from seeing that.

Obviously, if that happens, Democrats are not going to be pleased and will end up back in court, which is exactly what predicated today's issue, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Laura, we're also expecting a press conference from top Democrats after this vote is finished.

Manu, this is all happening as Democrats continue to be divided on whether or not to proceed with impeachment. You spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier today. She said it's not off the table?

RAJU: She said it's not off the table. She also made it very clear that is not her preferred course of action.

Democrats have been pushing for at least opening up an impeachment inquiry. She believes the current strategy is working in order to investigate and also fight these battles out one by one in court.

But, Jake, this is the first time we had a chance to ask her a question about these reported comments from last week, in which we went behind closed doors, and she said that she would rather see the president in jail than impeached. And when I asked her about it, she did not confirm the comments, but she also did not deny them.


RAJU: Did you actually say that the president, you would rather see him in prison than impeached?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): When we have conversations in our caucus, they stay in our caucus.

Do people think that there are some impeachable offenses that the president committed? Yes. How serious are they? Are they criminal? Many people think they are.

RAJU: Jerry Nadler said that impeachment inquiry, it may come to that. You have said in the past you're not on a path to impeachment.

Are you still -- how do you reconcile those two things?

PELOSI: But it's not off the table. My obligation is to do whatever we do in the most effective way possible.


RAJU: So I tried to press her, Jake, about what exactly could get her to force her hand on an impeachment inquiry. Namely, if a majority of her caucus on the Democratic side, if they came out in support of an impeachment inquiry, would she get to that? She did not want to broach that. She said, why even speculate about

that? The current course is working. She is trying to fend off that question and try to downplay that as a minority of the caucus that is supporting moving forward.

So she believes she's on the right course of action, even as she's said some tough words about the president behind closed doors, some publicly, but trying to avoid going further than what she said privately -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju, thank you so much.

Split-screen attacks, President Trump and Joe Biden both in Iowa right now, both holding events around the same time, both lobbying verbal bombs across the cornfield.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our 2020 lead now, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden unleashed.

Trump today calling Biden a -- quote -- "dummy" and not so subtly suggesting that there might be something wrong with Biden's health. Biden calling Trump an existential threat to the United States.

All of it painting a picture of how brutal this general election will certainly be, whether or not Biden is the Democratic nominee. In just minutes, Trump and Biden will host dueling events in the crucial early state of Iowa.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is traveling with President Trump.

But we're going to start with CNN's Arlette Saenz, who has an inside look at the former president's laser-like focus on the man he hopes to replace.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): It's an Iowa- style face-off for Joe Biden and President Trump.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Trump is in Iowa today. And I hope his presence here will be a clarifying event.

SAENZ: After weeks of taking shots at each other from afar, the two men descending on the Hawkeye State, putting their matchup on display in the early caucus state.

BIDEN: I believe that the president is literally an existential threat to America.

SAENZ: The Democratic front-runner sharpening his attacks on the president, taking aim over trade.

BIDEN: He thinks that being tough is great. Well, it's really easy to be tough when someone else absorbs the pain.

SAENZ: Biden planning to say in a speech later today: "Trump doesn't get the basics. He thinks his tariffs are being paid by China. Any beginning econ student at Iowa or Iowa State could tell you that the American people are paying his tariffs," adding: "The cashiers at Target see what's going on. They know more about economics than Trump."

Before heading to Iowa, Trump with a preemptive strike.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When a man has to mention my name 76 times in his speech, that means he's in trouble.

SAENZ: Biden's two-day swing in the state takes him through Eastern Iowa to three counties Trump won in 2016, two of which voted for the Obama-Biden ticket in 2012. He's also making a stop in Scott County, which Hillary Clinton narrowly won in 2016.

BIDEN: This is a critical state.

SAENZ: This marks Biden's second trip to the state since announcing his 2020 run in April, and comes two days after nearly the entire Democratic field gathered in Iowa, an event Biden missed due to a family obligation.

[16:15:11] But Biden still at the top of the polls, both here in Iowa and nationally. And a up in Quinnipiac poll finds Biden leading Trump 53 percent to 40 percent in a potential matchup nationwide. As he prepares to fend off his 22 Democratic rivals, Biden for now keeping up a general election strategy, training his focus on Trump.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But at the end of the day, if you can't cross the line in Iowa, you don't win the marathon.


SAENZ: Now, President Trump earlier today flashed a piece of paper that he says holds an additional deal with Mexico. Biden is now tweeting about that today, saying President Trump is bringing his secret one page agreement with Mexico to Iowa. The Iowans being crushed by his tariffs would like to see it -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Arlette Saenz with the Biden campaign in Davenport, Iowa.

Let's chew over all of this.

Keith, let me start with you. This is the most aggressive we've seen President Trump be attacked by Joe Biden. I mean, Trump goes after Biden all the time. But for Biden to call the president an existential threat to the United States, do you think it's effective?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's drawing attention to Biden, by the president, it's drawing attention to his campaign for the Democratic Party. I don't really see any downside in the Democratic primary for a candidate to go after Donald Trump. And Trump is at the same time accusing Biden of being obsessed about him, because allegedly he mentioned him 76 times in his speech.

But Trump can't keep Biden's name out of his mouth. Every day he's talking about him. So the inconsistency and hypocrisy is stunning there.

TAPPER: And Trump claimed that he has a great relationship with farmers. That's exactly where Biden's going try to target him tonight with an attack line he just previewed for voters. Take a listen.


BIDEN: He thinks being tough is great. Well, it's really easy to be tough when someone else absorbs the pain -- farmers, manufacturers, automobile industry.


TAPPER: What do you think?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Better -- and I'm not stealing from John Avlon, my friend down here, better if he weren't reading it off the table. I think our memory of Joe Biden is authentic Joe speaking off the cuff, being really good at connecting with voters both retail politics and in these speeches. It's an effective line. I wish his head weren't down for all of it.

Look, there is a dividing line between Joe Biden and the rest of the field for the most part. Joe Biden wants to have a polite, you know, race, where he talks about Trump in very nice four-syllable words, existential threats, and the rest, who want to find targets, people to punish. Elizabeth Warren is a perfect example of the opposite of Joe Biden.

We need to punish Fox News. We need to punish banks, CEOs. We need to punish Joe Biden for not being progressive enough.

I'm not sure Joe Biden cuts it in this primary. I know he wants to be running in the general. He's not there.

TAPPER: And you have a friend who's a farmer. You know somebody who's a farmer in Iowa.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There are a couple of farmers in Iowa.

TAPPER: Because Iowa is a state that Obama/Biden won twice and it wasn't even close in 2016, Donald Trump walked away with it.

HOOVER: Not only did Donald Trump walk away with it, those farmers are getting hit right now because of the tariffs and trade policy and they're still with him.


HOOVER: OK? I happened to talk to one who's going to see -- he said, Uncle Joe's in town, so we're going to Des Moines to see the president.

TAPPER: Interesting.

HOOVER: So, you know, here's the thing, we actually haven't seen Biden campaign successfully, go toe to toe with president Trump. And President Trump is back in campaign mode and he's not taking it for granted. He's not letting Uncle Joe run around Iowa and all these Democrats run around Iowa. He's there tonight.

And I think we're going to start to see a real shift between not just Democrats as they talk about policies, but the president as a campaigner and how effective of a campaigner he is. Beware of those big lead numbers that Joe Biden has. Those can whittle away very, very quickly.

TAPPER: And, John, Biden is also going to try to undermine the president not just on some of these issues like farm tariffs, agriculture tariffs, but by getting under his skin. He's going to say tonight according to an early copy of the remarks, quote, there's a lot of ways Trump fails the basic standard to be president, but one of them is this, Donald, it's not about you, it's about America.

So he's trying to get under the president's skin. It's working but it's also his purpose.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, the president seems to be obsessed with Joe Biden. "The New York Times" had a fascinating article by Maggie Haberman in which the president does seem to be a bit panic, saying, you know, let's go out there and I want to be campaigning more, but trying to hide polls, early internal polls that show him down to Joe Biden. Basically telling his staff, pretend they don't exist.

That's not someone particularly comfortable with where they are. Biden's speech that they released this morning is a very well-written speech. He goes after Trump. He's playing a populist card from the left. It's middle class Joe. Everything you need to do.

But the delivery and energy are going to be the key. Trump has zeroed in on what he thinks is Biden's weakness, which is that at 77 years old, he seems relatively low energy.

[16:20:02] Donald Trump is 73, very high energy.

So, Biden is going to really bring it. But the speech they debuted, at least the text of it, very strong.

TAPPER: What do you make of that? Trump definitely went after Biden. This is not the Biden you know. He's off his game. He's slower.

HOOVER: Look, if Donald Trump is good at anything, it's identifying somebody's weakness and turning it into a catchphrase. And you know what? This actually may be Joe Biden's Achilles heel. It may be that he's so popular because everybody thinks of him positively from the Obama years.

But does he have the energy, truly, to be there? He's already flopped and had some miserable missteps early in his campaign already. Can he sustain these leads for 18 more months?

TAPPER: With Biden now going after President Trump, the president is, of course, escalating his attacks against the former VP today. President Trump's side of this fight, next.


[16:25:30] TAPPER: And we're back with more in the 2020 lead. Of all the Democratic candidates, two dozens or so, that also take jabs at President Trump, only one of them is singled out consistently, consistently counterpunched by President Trump -- Joe Biden.

The president today personally attacking the former VP, slamming the former vice president's health.

CNN's Arlette Saenz gave us Biden's line of attack. Let's go to CNN's Kaitlan Collins who's covering President Trump, whose advisers are frustrated that the president keeps talks about Biden, possibly helping the Democratic front-runner.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I love Iowa. I've gotten along great. I won Iowa by a lot.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump in Iowa today for the first time this year.

BIDEN: Hello, Ottumwa!

COLLINS: But he doesn't have the state to himself.

TRUMP: Joe Biden is a dummy.

COLLINS: The potentially 2020 rival who has consumed him the most is also in town.

TRUMP: When a man has to mention my name 76 times in his speech, that means he's in trouble.

COLLINS: But the two men who have traded jabs for a week won't come face to face or even within a hundred miles of each other. Trump will stay on the western side of Iowa, before heading to Des Moines for a fund-raiser while Biden campaigns towards the east.

Though they may not be in the same air space, sources say Biden is definitely occupying Trump's head space, which he made obvious today as he lashed out at the former vice president.

TRUMP: I think he's the weakest mentally. Obama took him off the trash heap. He's even slower that he used to be. He's a loser.

COLLINS: The president has continued phoning aides and allies early in the morning, with one key question. Is Biden a threat to his presidency?

Sources say the president was frustrated after internal campaign polling showed him lagging behind Biden in states that will be critical to a 2020 win. And at one point, even doubting if his own campaign's numbers are real, though he claimed otherwise today.

TRUMP: My poll numbers are great.

COLLINS: Trump's concern --

BIDEN: Look, folks --

COLLINS: -- is that Biden will threaten the blue collar appeal that won him the 2016 election.

TRUMP: The best thing that ever happened to the farmers is me.

COLLINS: While some advisers have told Trump to back off singling out Biden by name, those close to him say he enjoys having a foil, no matter how far away the election is. Publicly, Trump says he's ready for the fight.

TRUMP: I would rather run against, I think, Biden than anybody.

COLLINS: And as Democrats flood key states in hopes of becoming the nominee, Trump's campaign is planning some counterprogramming of their own, in order to take back the airwaves and distract from presidential hopefuls.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, make no mistake about it. These two men have been attacking each other for weeks. But now that they're in the same state, those attacks have turned sharply more personal. Of course, this is a president who brides himself on being a counterpuncher. So, sources say you can expect the president to continue to escalate those attacks as long as he's here in this critical primary state -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins traveling with the president in Iowa, thanks so much.

Keith, let me start with you. I'm just thinking back to 2012 and when Obama would make fun of Romney, he would talk about how Romney had Romnesia, he didn't remember something that he said, and that was considered slightly edgy at the time.

Here we have the president calling Joe Biden a loser, a dummy, saying he's mentally the weakest, that Obama took him off the trash heap. He's not even the nominee yet. I mean, like, this is really going to get nasty.

BOYKIN: Did we not know it was going to get nasty? TAPPER: No, I guess we did.

BOYKIN: We saw this in 2016, where he's comparing hand size with Marco Rubio, he's accusing Ted Cruz's dad of being involved in the assassination of JFK. Trump has no boundaries. And unfortunately, this is what the party, the Republican Party has allowed to happen right now because there's no one keeping him in check.

And I think he's got to be scared. If you look at the numbers, if you look at the numbers of how Trump won, he won by 77,000 votes in three states, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. He's down in all three of those states in the polls right now, and he knows if he doesn't win those states, he won't be re-elected.

TAPPER: And how big a lie is it when Trump says he would rather run against Joe Biden of all two dozen Democrats if that's his first choice, when it's fairly obvious to anyone with even an understanding of basic psychology, that clearly he is worried about Joe Biden?

CUPP: Well, it's not a lie if you believe it, A. But, no, it's 1,000 percent a lie, right? He would not want to -- who would want to go up against the front-runner? Who would want to go up against the guy that is going to beat you, according to polls by the most points? You go up against someone who is the weakest, someone like Elizabeth Warren.