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Interview with Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY); Bernie Sanders to Explain Democratic Socialism Tonight; House Oversight Committee to Postpone Contempt of Congress Vote. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 12, 2019 - 10:30   ET



[10:31:42] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: We're following breaking news this hour. The White House is now exerting executive privilege over all documents related to the 2020 Census. This comes as the House Oversight Committee votes on whether to hold the attorney general, William Barr, and the commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, who were both involved in the census issue, in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas for those documents.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump Jr., he is back before the Senate Intelligence Committee, run by Republicans, behind closed doors. Joining me now, Republican Congressman Tom Reed.

Congressman Reed, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.

REP. TOM REED (R-NY): It's great to be with you, Jim, as always.

SCIUTTO: So we had this news just in the last few moments. I want to quote to you from the letter from the assistant attorney general, written to the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings. And it says, quote, "The president has made a protective assertion of executive privilege over the remainder of the subpoenaed documents."

Should the American people be comfortable with a president making a broad protective assertion of executive privilege over all documents related to a question -- requested by a sitting committee of their representatives in Congress?

REED: Well, I know there's been a lot of exchange of information and documents to date. And then the issue of executive privilege is something that's been longstanding between Congress and the White House. And so obviously, this is probably going to end up in litigation. It's going to bog us down, here on Capitol Hill.

And the people that lose in this are the American people. We're not legislating to solve their problems. What we're doing is getting bogged down in these investigations.

SCIUTTO: But you've read the Constitution. The Congress has an oversight responsibility -- this is the Oversight Committee -- over the executive branch. And as you know, while executive privilege has been around a long time, no previous administration has used it to expansively as this one in response to a whole host of subpoenas.

And I just wonder -- I know you're a Republican --

REED: Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- should -- would -- should your constituents be comfortable with a White House of any party refusing to comply with Congress?

REED: Well, obviously, I disagree with the assumption of your question, saying that this Congress -- this White House is doing something that's unprecedented. That's just not the case.

Executive privilege has been around --


SCIUTTO: They're using executive privilege for every subpoena that Congress is coming out --

REED: That's not true. That's just not true.

SCIUTTO: -- in the last couple of weeks.

REED: Yes, that's just not true.

SCIUTTO: Last several weeks.

REED: What -- that's just not true. There's a tremendous amount of information being exchanged --

SCIUTTO: Well give me an example of a prior president who has used it so expansively.

REED: -- between the White House. Obama has used executive privilege. You got the Clintons, the Bushes that have used it --

SCIUTTO: On every congressional subpoena?

REED: Not on every -- well, and that's just not the case here. I mean --

SCIUTTO: That's the difference.

REED: -- you're not representing the facts accurately. And the bottom line is, we're going to have this dispute between Congress and the White House. It's a longstanding dispute.

But at the end of the day, the people that lose are the American people because now we're focused on investigation. I guess that's the -- and if that's the mission of this new majority in the House of Representatives to complete, I guess that's what they're going to do. But I want to respond to things that are impacting people on a day-to- day basis.

SCIUTTO: Well, couldn't the White House solve the problem by answering the subpoenas rather than refusing to answer them?

REED: And they've turned over thousands and thousands of documents and information and this is the issue that --

SCIUTTO: But not to the --


REED: -- we're going to --

SCIUTTO: I know that's a talking point.

REED: I guess to your (ph) -- if the question is, do you agree that the president should have no executive privilege and just turn over everything that Congress demands, that's not going to be a realistic situation.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's actually not the --

REED: The problem (ph) is --

SCIUTTO: -- question. The question is --

REED: -- we're going to have a conflict (ph).

SCIUTTO: -- the question is actually, not does the president not have any executive privilege. The question is, does Congress not have any power, via the Constitution, to subpoena the executive branch? That's the question.

[10:35:03] REED: And of course, Congress does. And Congress has been exercising its oversight responsibilities. Thousands of hours, thousands of legislative time has been devoted to this issue now. And the problem is, who loses in that situation are the problems that are impacting people on a day-to-day basis go unattended to.

We need to address that voice in America. We need to solve those problems. And rather than get into this tit-for-tat investigative environment of Washington, we need to make sure that we're getting things done. And we're just not.

And I -- I grow with the growing frustration of the American people, that, you know what, Congress, start legislating and leading and get to the table and come to common ground.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you about what's happening on the other side of the Hill, there. The Senate Intelligence Committee, you have the president's son, Don Jr., back. He says as he entered those closed meetings, that he has nothing to correct.

But if you read the Mueller report -- and I assume you have --

REED: I have.

SCIUTTO: -- in there, you have witnesses, including Rick Gates, the president's former deputy campaign chairman, appearing to contradict his testimony regarding communications about Russian offers of dirt on Hillary Clinton. I'm just wondering, do you believe that he had hard questions to answer on whether his prior testimony was accurate?

REED: Yes. And that's why this is the oversight role. This is exactly -- the Senate, bringing Don Jr. back up, I mean, that's where the process has gone. And Don Jr.'s going up to speak to the Senate Intel Committee. You know, that is where that -- that back-and-forth needs to occur and it's occurring. So that's a good thing.


REED: The American people should recognize that. We should move forward.

SCIUTTO: Fair enough. OK.

I want to ask you on a national security issue, it's something I cover very closely. And there were comments by the president yesterday that surprised a lot of people.

This regards news reports that the brother of President -- the dictator, I should call him -- Kim Jong Un of North Korea, had been spoken to by the CIA. They discussed, you know, trying to get intelligence from him.

The president said yesterday that under his leadership, that would not happen. And I just wonder, as a sitting representative of the American people, if you're comfortable with that, with the president saying, "No, our intelligence agencies should not gather intelligence on a hostile foreign leader who threatens the U.S. with nuclear weapons."

REED: Well, you know, I don't know the exact exchange that occurred here, if any. But the bottom line is, is Kim Jong Un, as you point out, is a threat to America. I do wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. And we need to use all the tools in our toolboxes to make sure that threat is measured, and that we are in a position to defend any action by Kim Jong Un that's going to threaten American security.

SCIUTTO: Fair enough. I appreciate the straight answer on that.

Final question, if I can. I mean, you mentioned that the American people want work on something other than just investigations, and we talk about that on this program all the time. It's in the polling, right? I mean, people list their issues. They want progress on a whole host of things.

I just wonder as a practical matter, where do you see that cooperation across the aisle? Because the fact is, you got the Senate controlled by Republicans, House controlled by Democrats, and a Republican president. It was going to be infrastructure, but that seems to have blown up. Where's the common ground?

REED: Well, the effort we're leading on the Republican side in the House is the Problem Solvers Caucus. And what we talk about is, is there a sweet spot when it -- and that's the group of bipartisan members, get together to have conversations about issues impacting people.

Drug pricing is a possibility. Mexico-Canada trade deal, there is a possibility. I think if that was on the floor today, we would pass that and get this to the president's desk through the Senate. So Mexico, Canada and drug pricing, to me, are kind of where this is focusing upon over the next 90 days.

SCIUTTO: OK. Let's hope you find the sweet spot there. I think --

REED: We'll keep working at it.

SCIUTTO: Congress Tom Reed, thanks very much.

REED: Thanks, Jim.

[10:38:38] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. So up next, 2020 contender Bernie Sanders makes his case for democratic socialism. Can he convince the American people?


HARLOW: All right. So Democratic contender Bernie Sanders is giving a really interesting speech today, making the case for democratic socialism.

SCIUTTO: He will argue that Democrats must embrace his political vision if they want to win the White House next year. In effect, saying not only is it right in his view ,but also the winning strategy. CNN correspondent Ryan Nobles is in Washington with more details.

Tell us what his message is here. Because, you know, democratic socialism has become something of a poisonous word, I mean, certainly from the president's mouth, Republicans and even some Democratic candidates, uncomfortable with that line.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There's no doubt about that, Jim. And the Sanders campaign knows that this is a gamble for Bernie Sanders. But one thing that's not going to happen today is that Sanders is not going to shy away from the label of "democratic socialist."

In fact, he's going to say that the views of democratic socialism actually align with most Democratic primary voters. And by extension, he believes most Americans as well. And he's also going to make the point that even Republicans support some form of socialism. But it's a kind of socialism that he argues actually doesn't help the American people, and he's going to label Donald Trump a "corporate socialist."

Let me read just a bit of what he's going to say in his speech today. He's going to say, "They may hate democratic socialism because it benefits working people. But they absolutely love corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires."

And what Sanders is going to do is point back to the big bailouts of the major financial companies during the financial crisis and say, you know, when it supports their needs, they have no problem with socialism. But socialism that helps a broader group of American people, they seem to eschew.

[10:44:57] This isn't easy, though, Jim and Poppy. Only about half of Americans say that they could support a president who describes himself or herself as a socialist. And this is not necessarily an easy thing to explain in a sound bite or even a big speech. But that's what Bernie hopes to do today.


SCIUTTO: Dangerous one politically. No question. Ryan Nobles, thanks very much.

HARLOW: But this is a Democratic primary. And we know from Gallup polling --


HARLOW: -- more Democrats see socialism favorably than capitalism now. So maybe it works in the primary.

Let's talk about it with "USA Today" columnist and political analyst, Kirsten Powers.

Good morning to you.


HARLOW: So our Dana Bash, as she always does, asked the key question of Bernie Sanders on this, just a minute ago. Let's listen.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator, you have announced a big speech coming up this coming week, about democratic socialism. I remember you gave a similar speech back in 2015. Do you think, though, now the country is more ready for a democratic socialist president like you than it was four years ago?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think the answer is yes but I think it's important for the American people to understand what my definition is of democratic socialism. It's certainly not how Donald Trump defines it.


HARLOW: Can he, Kirsten, be successful in redefining -- really, redefining socialism as we understand it, as I think most Americans understand it, for voters?

POWERS: Well, he has very much, as Dana pointed out, I think, already changed that conversation since his first presidential run.

I think one thing that's important to say is he's not really redefining it. He's just defining it. It's been badly defined, frankly. It's been conflated with communism, which is --


POWERS: -- simply not what socialism is. I mean, most of Europe is socialist.

When he's talking about democratic socialism, he's talking more about, like, a Denmark or a Norway. He's not talking about the former USSR, you know, or the former -- you know, Soviet Union or is he talking about Venezuela, what -- people try to conflate those two things and that's just -- that's just not accurate. It's not what he's ever been talking about.

And --

SCIUTTO: True. But, Kirsten, I mean, is it smart politics here, to sort of double, triple down? I mean, why not break it down to the component parts, right? And say, "Hey" -- because some folks will make an argument that, I don't know, Social Security's kind of socialist, right? I mean, you have government support for people as they retire.

Why not go after the individual policies and say, "I'm in favor of this and that," rather than kind of wrapping yourself in the socialist flag?

POWERS: Because he is -- he is a democratic socialist. So it's not something that he can really run from --

SCIUTTO: There you go.

POWERS: -- it's something that he has to -- it's something that he has to address. And I think it's a heavy lift. I think people have really, this ingrained view about socialism. And so it's always hard, when you have to, in a campaign, educate people. That's already -- you're already in kind of a bad position if you're having to educate them about your fundamental beliefs.

But I think that he doesn't really have any choice. And so he has to start this conversation about the fact that we actually have a lot of socialist policies in our country that people love. Medicare, for example, which of course --


POWERS: -- Ronald Reagan had railed against and called it, you know, socialism. And -- and it's -- nobody would ever want to get rid of their Medicare.

So you know, really showing people that we have a lot of things in our country that are socialist that people really like.

HARLOW: All right. We'll see how successful it is after that speech today. Sorry to cut it a little short. We've got --

POWERS: No, it's OK. HARLOW: -- two hearings on Capitol Hill, trying to juggle it all. Kirsten, thanks so much.

As I said, big day on Capitol Hill. Right now, the House Oversight Committee has just postponed its vote on holding the attorney general of the U.S. in contempt of Congress. Stay with us for the breaking details.


[10:53:25] HARLOW: All right. So breaking news, the House Oversight Committee has just postponed its vote. This was a vote to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress.

SCIUTTO: Now, they're postponing it because they got new information. That is, a letter from the Department of Justice asserting a protective right of executive privilege over, really, all the remainder of the subpoenaed documents that they're being asked for here.

And the chairman of that committee, Elijah Cummings, asking the question, in effect, "What do they have to hide?" Here's his comments just a short time ago.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): But now the president is asserting executive privilege over all of these documents. This begs the question, what is being hidden?


SCIUTTO: Renato Mariotti, fair question from Elijah Cummings there?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No -- absolutely. No question. I mean, if, really, the census shouldn't be a political endeavor. So if there's really nothing to hide here, if all they're doing is trying to do the best job possible to count everyone in the United States, then why the need to have a big fight over this?

The Mueller report, it's understandable there'd be a fight over that because that involves wrongdoing by the president. Here, this is just what should be fairly routine oversight by the House.

So it certainly raises a lot of questions. And I think the committee's being smart by taking some time to evaluate what they're going to do in response to this letter because this is going to end up in court and they want to appear as reasonable as possible and position this the right way for the litigation to follow.

[10:55:04] HARLOW: So just talk about this in the broader context here. Because very -- well, we've got about 30 seconds so we've got to leave it there.

MARIOTTI: Sure, sure.

HARLOW: Renato Mariotti, we appreciate it.

But, Jim, as you and I were talking about, it's important because it's more stonewalling. But it's also the Supreme Court's sort of final arbiter on this, soon. Maybe even on Monday.

SCIUTTO: Listen, I know Congressman Reed said earlier that all presidents have asserted executive privilege. That's true. But not in response to --

HARLOW: To this extent.

SCIUTTO: -- a series of subpoenas on a whole host of things. Not just the Mueller report. This is about the U.S. Census, coming out with --

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- big political consequences. We're going to stay on this story. We're continuing to follow all of these developments on Capitol Hill. Please stay with CNN.