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Donald Trump Jr. Appears Before Senate Intelligence Panel; White House Asserts Executive Privilege Over Census Documents. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired June 12, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour. It's going to be a busy one. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Poppy Harlow. At any minute now, a second House committee will vote on holding the Attorney General of the United States in contempt of Congress. The Judiciary panel took that step just a month ago.
And today, it is the Oversight Committee and the issue is the administration's refusal to hand over documents related to a citizenship question on the soon coming 2020 census. In addition to Bill Barr, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is due to be cited for contempt.
SCIUTTO: Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, this hour, Donald Trump Jr. behind closed doors again with the Senate Intelligence Committee, run by a republican. I should note, keyword there, Senate Intelligence Committee. They subpoenaed the President's eldest son weeks after the Mueller probe ended. And top republicans, including, of course, President, declared case closed. It doesn't look like the case is closed.
Let's bring in CNN's Lauren Fox. So what's about to happen in the House Oversight Committee, these hearings that are about to begin and what does it mean exactly?
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, they are planning to vote to hold the Attorney General, William Barr, and the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, in contempt of congress, for not turning over documents related to their investigation into why a question about citizenship is to be added to the U.S. census.
Now, Department of Justice threatened last night in a letter that they would ask the Trump administration to exert executive privilege over all of this information. That obviously would be a clear escalation in this fight between House Democrats and the Trump administration for information related to this census investigation.
Now, this is just a marker in a broader fight between the Trump administration and House Democrats for information. Of course, yesterday, the full House voted to allow the House Judiciary Committee to go to court, to enforce a subpoena, to get Don McGahn to testify, the former White House Counsel, and to get grand jury information related to the Mueller investigation.
But this hearing today, of course, we expect could go on for a little bit as members discuss this contempt citation. But, eventually, I was told from the House Chairman, Elijah Cummings, yesterday, he has not decided what they would do after they hold this vote. Democrats hold control of that committee. So we expect it to pass.
But what comes next is still unexpected. He could go to the floor and they could have a fuller house vote or he could go directly to the BLAG, this Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, that basically is just House leadership. They could have a vote and go directly to court. So those are some of the options on the table.
But, obviously this is a big step for the House Oversight Committee in their own investigation into the U.S. census.
SCIUTTO: Lauren Fox on the Hill, thanks very much.
Like much of what happens with the intelligence committees, today's session with Donald Trump Jr. is off limits to cameras and the public.
HARLOW: We know that there is an agreement though to cover as many as half a dozen topics, including the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer back in 2016, also included, attempts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. We don't know why the panel wanted the President's eldest son though back for a second time.
Manu Raju is on it. So, Manu, what can you tell us? What did Don Jr. say as he breezed in last hour?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I asked him directly, are you here to change your testimony? And he said no. And he was later asked by another reporter if there's anything to correct from his testimony and he said nothing to correct. So we do know that one of the things that will likely come up in today's closed-door session are things that he said in the past before a separate committee, Senate Judiciary Committee, which released transcript of his past testimony. Before that committee, we assume he said something similar behind closed doors when he first testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2017.
Now, according to that transcript, what Donald Trump Jr. had said when he talked about the Trump Tower meeting, the run-up to that meeting in which he was promised Russian dirt on the Clinton campaign, he said he really only told Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law, his brother-in-law, as well as Paul Manafort about that meeting ahead of time.
Well, the Mueller report revealed something a bit different. It said that Rick Gates, the deputy campaign chairman, had told the Mueller team that Donald Trump Jr. had said in the run-up to the Trump Tower meeting that he -- to a broader group of individuals, that he had a lead on dirt about the Clinton Foundation.
Also, separately, that issue about the Trump Tower Moscow project, the pursuit of that project, Donald Trump Jr. initially told lawmakers that he was only peripherally aware of that project. But according to the Mueller report, Michael Cohen, the President's former fixer, who is now in jail, had said that he had briefed the President's eldest son more extensively than what Donald Trump Jr. had said in prior testimony.
So those are the things that will be discussed behind closed doors. What he says to reconcile those things, we'll have to see. But his comments today saying he has nothing to change, nothing to correct and he's not there to do anything different, we'll see what that actually means when he's grilled behind closed doors by senate investigators. Guys?
HARLOW: Okay. Manu Raju, thanks for being there and the reporting.
We're joined now by former federal prosecutor and CNN Legal Analyst. Renato Mariotti, and CNN Senior Political Analyst, Mark Preston.
SCIUTTO: You're getting the Italian then.
HARLOW: I mean, I'm trying because Sciutto always does it so well, Renato.
SCIUTTO: I've got to advertize my (INAUDIBLE).
HARLOW: Then I'm going to save Sciutto's first question for you and go to my buddy, Mark, whose last name I get perfectly every single time. Mark Preston, to you. What's the deal with that senators hope to get here from Don Junior? Because it's sort of limited in scope, but important issues, half a dozen of them. He's going. I guess he's not afraid of perjury, right? But it's also behind closed doors. What's the get for the Senate here?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, for a couple of things. We should point out that this is one of the few committees that we've actually seen bipartisan cooperation, right, as they look into the Russian matter, you know, not only the interference but perhaps the collusion part of it.
What they're doing right now is they've already heard from other witnesses. They've seen the Mueller report. They've heard his testimony. Bringing him back in now allows them to ask some follow-up questions based upon whatever information they were able to glean from others.
So from Michael Cohen, for instance, follow-up questions that have to do with the Moscow tower, you know. For the meeting that occurred back in June of 2016, you know, in New York with the Russian representatives, perhaps have they learned more that they can now ask him about that and trip him up, quite frankly. SCIUTTO: Renato, this really gets to the core of that first question about at least communications, whether it amounts to conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and Russia during the campaign. I mean, Don Junior has already been caught, and the Trump team, in a lie on that meeting. Of course, they claimed it was about adoptions. It was not. Emails reveal that Donald Trump Jr. knew in advance they were going to bring damaging information on Hillary Clinton. That's why he took the meeting.
Now, the issue now is was it just one communication about that or it seems that Rick Gates and others have testified that there was a fair amount of talk about this, and that more people knew about that and knew exactly what they were doing as they were coming in here. Does that still leave open the issue of just how far, at least, the attempted cooperation, right, between members of the Trump campaign and Russia?
RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, certainly that question is still open. And I think whenever you have a situation where there are discrepancies between witnesses. And on one hand, we have, as you point out, Rick Gates, Michael Cohen, and on the other hand, Donald Trump Jr. You have to if you're conducting an investigation that's at all fulsome and complete, you have to try to explore that, confront Donald Trump Jr. in this case with the other opposing accounts and see what he has to say about it.
And, you know, realistically, he may just dispute what they have to say. And, obviously, Gates and Cohen have their problems because both of them have been convicted of lying to law enforcement. But nonetheless, it's of significant concern.
SCIUTTO: Right. But, listen, I know -- I've heard that before. Yes, they have lied before, but so has members of the Trump's team here, right? And the Special Counsel doesn't put that kind of stuff in a report unless he somehow substantiated the accounts, the conflicting accounts here, right? I mean, is it so easy to eliminate it and just say, well, he said, she said and kind of move on?
MARIOTTI: Well, just to be clear, if prosecutors often put cooperators on the stand who have issues like Cohen and Gates do, and the question is, as you point out, what corroborating evidence there is. But if somebody is willing to listen, sit down for questioning, you always ask him and set up the he said, he said.
HARLOW: So, Mark, to you, the other hearing happening on the Hill today, an important one, is the second hearing led by House Democrats to hold members of the administration in contempt, this one against the Attorney General, again, Bill Barr, and the Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross. This is all about, you know, was there a political motivation to put the citizenship question back in the 2020 census?
But, I guess, my question to you is the Supreme Court is deciding this right now. And if anyone has more power than Congress, it's the Supreme Court. And we may know as soon as Monday what the Supreme Court thinks of this. So is it sort of all moot?
PRESTON: Well, it's not moot but it is interesting. Because our Ariane de Vogue, our colleague, has a great story on cnn.com that spells out the whole Supreme Court backstory and how that's going. So, certainly for this issue, I suggest people read it. But when you look at the --
HARLOW: It's right here.
PRESTON: -- politics, right?
HARLOW: Right here. It's a great report. Yes.
PRESTON: Right. When you look at the politics of it though, I mean, this is greater than this one question right now of the census, okay?
This is about can Congress act as a co-equal branch of government? Can Congress, under the constitution, as the framers wanted to, be the investigative body of the administration in order to keep it in check? Can it be equal to that?
And right now, what we're seeing is an incredible deterioration and erosions of Congress's ability do their job. And it's been for a few years right now. But, I would say, right now, that's why you have Elijah Cummings at this point saying he'll hold this vote in the committee. We'll see what happens on the floor. But once that happens, things have really escalated to the point we haven't seen in a very long time.
SCIUTTO: I mean, erosion of the ability but also seemingly erosion of the desire, you know, to stand up when party is involved.
Renato, I mean, on this issue again on the census question, because it gets to how you count people, which gets to how you allocate districts for House of Representatives to Congress, you know, the democratic argument here is that this is a straight up way with this question to suppress democratic response to the census and therefore reduce representation of democratic-leading voters here.
You have the Department of Justice threatening to claim executive privilege on this. Legally sound?
MARIOTTI: Well, I will say I don't know all the details but it sure looks like, given that we have already seen some evidence that there was a political motivation, there's been quite a bit released on that. It looks like they may be using that to cover up something that might be embarrassing to the administration.
Similarly, I would also just say, we have to look at that in the context of them stonewalling the House Democrats on pretty much everything. And I think that's one danger of the approach that the Trump administration has taken. By stonewalling the House on almost everything, by taking a categorical approach of no on everything, asserting executive privilege so broadly, I think they're going to hurt their credibility with courts.
SCIUTTO: Mark Preston, Renato Mariotti, how did I do? I did okay?
HARLOW: Perfect, as always.
SCIUTTO: Thanks very much.
We're going to continue to watch this hearing. You see that right there, live pictures there. When they gavel in, we're going to bring it to you live.
Still to come, Bernie Sanders makes his case for democratic socialism. Will people buy it?
HARLOW: And the case for impeachment as democrats move closer to possible impeachment inquiry, the President is reportedly growing more, quote, intrigued about it. Could impeachment really help him? A republican lawmaker joins us ahead.
HARLOW: All right. Breaking news just in. The White House has indeed asserted executive privilege. This is over census documents requested by the House Oversight Committee for the hearing they're having right now.
SCIUTTO: Just what we've been talking about, you know, big political implications here. These gets to census questions which influence how American people are counted, which influences how many districts, congressional districts are drawn.
Here is the Chairman of the House Committee of Oversight and Reform, Elijah Cummings, speaking now.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): Pursuant to committee Rule V and Rule XI, House Rule XI, the Chair may postpone further proceedings today on the question of approving any measure or matter or adopting an amendment of which a recorded vote for the yays and nays are ordered.
Now, pursuant to notice, I call up a report containing a contempt resolution.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order.
CUMMINGS: May I finish? May I please finish? Thank you.
Now, pursuant to notice, I call a report containing a contempt resolution related to the 2020 census. Clerk will report the report, which has been distributed in advance.
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order.
CUMMINGS: The gentleman is not recognized. MEADOWS: Well, the point of order actually from a parliamentary standpoint is a privilege motion so I have a point of order, Mr. Chairman.
CUMMINGS: What is your point of order?
MEADOWS: My point of order is is that Rule 2F of the committee rules have been violated. And the Chairman has received a letter, which would outline that that particular rule requires a three-day notice, mr. Chairman. And because the notice was put out on June 10th at 5:48, this committee's rules have been violated.
Now, the Chairman may be able to overrule this point of order but I would like to clarify that if indeed this committee overrules this point of order, then indeed it would be subject to litigation by House Counsel. You will require the Department of Justice to file a brief. It will be litigated because, indeed, this is violating the House rules that everyone here agreed to.
CUMMINGS: Thank you very much. Thank you.
I would like to address the letter the ranking member sent last night, raising a new technical argument about the Committee's rule on circulating the memo for today's business meeting.
Basically, he argues that the memo should have been sent last Friday instead of this past Monday. I sent a letter back to him this morning explaining my position. And I can summarize it here.
In the last Congress, the Committee rules used to require a memo 72 hours before a business meeting. In January, we, on this Committee, unanimously adopted rules that changed that requirement to three days.
As I stated when we made that change, our purpose was to make sure that our committee rules matched the House rules.
The timing of our committee rule was drawn from the House rule on noticing business meetings. That rule provides that a mark-up cannot occur, and I quote, earlier than the third calendar day before it is noticed.
The House parliamentarian has interpreted this rule as including the day the notice was sent and the day the business meeting occurs.
Committee staff confirmed this interpretation with parliamentarian again yesterday. So in other words, we needed to send --
HARLOW: Okay. Let's get some background on what's happening here. Lauren Fox is back on Capitol Hill with more.
So, basically, this committee has asked for documents related to why that citizenship question is attempting to be put back on the census. And just now, the White House has exerted executive privilege saying, no, you're not going to get any of these documents. Is that right? FOX: That's right, exactly. Just before this hearing was underway, the Department of Justice sent a letter to the committee, basically saying that the President had exerted executive privilege.
And I just want to read you an excerpt from the letter. It said, this letter is to advise you that the President has exerted executive privilege over certain subpoenaed documents identified by the committee. Then it later says, in addition, the President has made a protective Assertion of executive privilege over the remainder of the subpoenaed documents.
So, obviously, that is what the Department of Justice was saying that they would do last night if the committee moved forward with this contempt vote today. They're moving forward. Then this letter came. So that is exactly what Elijah Cummings, the Chairman of the Committee, is addressing at the moment.
SCIUTTO: We're also joined by Renato Mariotti, who we brought back in. Renato, we were talking about this just moments ago, the political importance of this, because there were concerns that by putting the census question in, it will reduce folks who are immigrants, legal ones, mind you, their response and influences how congressional districts are drawn.
But, legally, getting to this broad and even preemptive, really, declaration of executive privilege here from a lawyer's perspective. I mean, they're using this for everything now. Is that legally sound?
MARIOTTI: Well, it's fine if they're doing it while they figure out which documents are actually protected by executive privilege. In other words, you know, let's say that a thousand documents are being subpoenaed, maybe five of them are actually privileged. So I could see a lawyer saying, look, for right now the President is asserting executive privilege over all a thousand while we go through and figure out one by one which ones are actually --
SCIUTTO: That's not what they're doing, right? Because executive privilege, they're bringing it up every other day regarding every subpoena here.
MARIOTTIE: Yes. I think it's slowing things down as a political matter. It could be used as a delay tactic. But in and of itself, a court is not going to have a problem with it. I think the question is going to be, in the end, what are they asserting executive privilege over, and that is really the question. Are they going to continue asserting it overall or are they going to say there's a small subset of documents and have some justification for why those are privileged?
HARLOW: Mark, help us understand. Mark Preston is here too, I think, as well. Mark, help us understand -- like does this matter after the Supreme Court makes its decision? Because the Census Bureau is ready either way, right? They've got two versions the 2020 census that will go out. One may ask, are you a citizen, and one will not ask that.
So when the Supreme Court says, either it's legal or it's not legal to include this question on the census, does any of this matter just in terms of what people will actually have to answer?
PRESTON: Well, certainly, when it comes to this question, it doesn't. But, again, this is more about the grander and greater question about what the administration is willing to do and willing to work with when Congress does its oversight responsibility.
HARLOW: I hear that.
PRESTON: The court is the high -- I mean, that's the end of the road, right?
Once the Supreme Court weighs in, that's it.
So, in some ways, people will say this is a political issue that democrats are trying to stir up. But, again, it's not so much that. I think you have to take yourself away from this issue alone and look at this as two different issues. One issue is this. One issue is whether the administration will comply with any oversight from Congress.
SCIUTTO: Yes. But the court has clearly become a political body on some of these issues. It's so divided down the line on issues, whether it's gun control or a question like this, seemingly on partisan lines.
Renato, you had Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warning over the weekend about how on these key upcoming decisions, the court is so bitterly divided. And I wonder was that signaling, telegraphing here that this is one of them, on the census issue, because, again, it has political implications for both parties?
MARIOTTI: It very well could. I will say, there are potential ways in which the court can resolve this that sidesteps some of the challenging and thorny issues but nonetheless allows the Trump administration to go forward with that question.
And so I guess all I would just say is that if folks are concerned about the political implications one way or the other here, they shouldn't necessarily assume that the courts are going to bail them out. They have to work with their representatives to fight on those issues.
SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, people looking for a lot bailouts left and right. Ultimately, you've got to vote, I guess, right? I mean, the elections have consequences.
Thanks very much, Renato, Mark, Lauren Fox, breaking this news for us.
Of course, as we've been speaking about the House Oversight Committee has been debating whether to hold the Attorney General and Commerce Secretary in contempt over their unwillingness to comply with subpoenas for documents relating to the census question issue. We're monitoring that. And questions continue to swirl around whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will move forward with a larger question of impeachment proceedings against the President. We're going to get a reaction from a republican congressman, and that's next.