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Trump Asserts Executive Privilege; Debate over the Census Question; Trump Junior on Capitol Hill; Biden Focuses on Trump; Buttigieg Takes Dig at Biden. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 12, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Patrick, thank you. Looking forward to the update from the DR a little later.

Thank you all so much for joining me as well. Hope you have a great day. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump welcomes a friend to the White House. Poland's president is visiting this hour and getting red carpet treatment that includes a rare and expensive fighter jet flyover.

Plus, Joe Biden is in Clinton County, Iowa, this hour. The Democratic frontrunner looking to prove he's the best candidate to win back the places, like Clinton County, that voted twice for Obama/Biden but then flipped to Trump.

And the president's eldest son is behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. Now that they have the Mueller report, the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to put the special counsel's findings side by side with Donald Trump Junior's previous Senate testimony about his contacts with Russians and WikiLeaks in the heat of the 2016 campaign.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you changing your testimony today, sir? Are you changing your testimony?




KING: But, we begin the hour with the president again invoking executive privilege to keep documents secret and to keep Democrats in Congress from getting answers to their questions. In this case, the issue at hand is how a question about citizenship was added to the script for the critical 2020 census. The administration says it was a routine agency decision. Democrats believe it was a White House directed political strategy designed to help Republicans by discouraging Latino participation. The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, today, says the president's decision to invoke privilege tells him the Democrats are right.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): For months the Trump administration has claimed that the decision to add the citizenship question was made at the department level rather than at the White House. But now the president is asserting executive privilege over all of these documents. This begs the question, what is being hidden?


KING: Now, the administration accuses those House Democrats of operating in bad faith and insists they would turn over at least most or some of the requested materials if given more time. The back and forth over the paper trail comes just hours ahead of a scheduled contempt vote for both the attorney general and the commerce secretary.

CNN's Laura Jarrett live at the Justice Department.

Laura, take us inside the spin and what is the facts.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this fight has really crystallized over a specific set of documents that House Democrats believe will shed light on how that question was added to the 2020 census. Of course it's a question that really matters for Democrats because they believe adding it will actually suppress the count for undocumented immigrants because they'll be afraid to respond to it. But the Justice Department says in response, look, we've turned over thousands of pages in response to congressional inquiries on this issue. And, moreover, a federal court has already found that the specific documents that the House chairman wants, which are some drafts exchanged between Commerce and DOJ, are actually privileged on attorney/client privilege grounds. And so the Justice Department thinks it has some stronger footing there.

But, of course, the larger issue is that for House Democrats, they think this is part of a pattern of stonewalling, ignoring congressional subpoenas issued by Democrats. But congressional fights like this aren't new. President Clinton invoked executive privilege dozens of times during his administration. And what makes this fight a little bit different and sort of interesting compared to some other squabbles we've seen between the Justice Department and Capitol Hill is this looming Supreme Court case about the census sort of -- is of the cloud over everything here. And if the administration actually wins that case, the Supreme Court actually heard it back in April, if the administration can manage to put off documents until the Supreme Court rules in that case, their strategy may just work here, John.

KING: Laura Jarrett live at the Justice Department, appreciate that. We'll continue to track this one.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Olivier Knox with Sirius XM, and Jackie Kucinich with "The Daily Beast." Laura mentioned the Supreme Court case at the end. The president -- we're going to show you now -- let's take you live to the White House and look just here. The Polish president arriving at the White House. We're taking in the pictures. This is the south portico of the White House. The president of Poland and his wife arriving. The two leaders will go inside. Important consultations about military cooperation, U.S. troops moving to Poland. We expect to hear from the two leaders in a little bit here.

Let's just watch these pictures for a moment. We'll watch them head in.

President Trump hats tensions with a lot of European leader. President Duda not among them. These two leaders see likewise on questions of U.S. military presence, on questions of nationalism. You see the two presidents, the two first ladies heading into the White House. We'll keep track of this. Again, we expect to hear from them a bit later, perhaps during a photo spray in the Oval Office. There's also a press conference scheduled for later today. So we'll keep on top of that story.

[12:05:09] Let's come back to this census question. As Laura Jarrett laid out, there are two issues. There's the substantive argument, is it right, is it legal to add the question to the census. There's the separate argument, Democrats want to know how did the question get added to the census.

Jim Jordan, the ranking member of the committee, today saying to Democrats, this is all just a stunt to try to essentially put pressure on the court. Not sure I buy that.

Do the Democrats have standing to make the case, you keep telling us this was made in the Commerce Department, we think the president, or somebody in the West Wing, made this decision for political purposes and we want to see?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's certainly what they want to find out because Secretary Wilbur Ross has made what Democrats say are pretty -- some inconsistent remarks about how that question ended up in the census questioning.

But, look, the pattern of what the administration has done in terms of not being responsive to document requests is nothing new. I mean we've documented at "The Washington Post" more than 20 congressional investigations led by House Democrats that the White House is actively obstructing, saying they have no -- for example, Democrats have no right to this information.

But on the census question, it's particularly important for Democrats to find out the questions that you referenced. But also the fact that, you know, redistricting is coming up soon and the time is imperative. Obviously the Supreme Court decision hangs over this and that is why they want to move it along as quickly as possible.

KING: Right.

And we want to take you live to Capitol Hill. We'll see if we can watch these pictures here.

Sorry, it's one of those days in the news business.

Donald Trump Junior, who's been behind closed doors. Let's listen.

DONALD TRUMP JUNIOR, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: Right now for lying to these vary investigative bodies. I'm happy to do that. I don't think I changed anything of what I said because there was nothing to change. I'm glad that this is finally over and we're able to put the final clarity on that and I think the committee understands that.

QUESTION: Have you learned lessons, sir?


QUESTION: Mr. Trump, have you taken any lessons from this about reporting to the FBI?

QUESTION: Sir, are you worried about perjury?

TRUMP: Not at all.

KING: You hear the questions being shouted. Not at all. He was asked, are you worried about perjury.

It's one of those days in cable news. Please, bear with us. The bouncing ball here.

Donald Trump Junior, the president's eldest son, walking out of a meeting with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators. At one point, the majority leader wanted to shut it down. We're done. We're done. We have the Mueller report. Let's go away. The Republican chairman of that committee wanted Donald Trump Junior to come back because they wanted to take the Mueller report, which details a number of conversations, the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, direct messages to WikiLeaks, some other conversations, with Donald -- involving Donald Trump Junior between the Russians and outside actors like WikiLeaks, they wanted to take that and put it side by side with the testimony he gave the Senate Intelligence Committee about those same -- his own conduct during the 2016 campaign and essentially see, does it match up? He says, not worried about perjury. He said ono the way in, he had nothing to change.

Is this the last act of the Senate Intelligence Committee?


One of the questions was -- or there was some -- or there were some questions about why this was happening in a closed hearing. He doesn't have classified information at his disposal. He's not a government employee. He's not working for the administration. So that was one of the oddities here.

So it seems like it might be one of the -- the last acts, but we are, you know, midway through June of 2019. I think we all thought this would be over a long time ago. So it's up to the -- the members, not us.

KING: Right.

And, again, his perspective, he said on the way in, he had nothing to change. On the way out there he said he was happy to cooperate. He was asked at the very end you heard, are you worried about perjury? He said, not at all. We will see if the committee or the committee staff has a different perspective on that. But this took a while to work out and so one of those -- you know, there was some contention about whether it would happen and it did happen. So the process won, I guess, is that the right word for this?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, his lawyers pushed back.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: Initially he wasn't going to testify, which is why Burr had to put the issue and could have gone as far as subpoenaing him. And they decided not to do it and he came. So perhaps this ends the chapter for Donald Trump Junior. But, you know, there's other members -- there's other members of the administration and the president's circle that have been asked to come. We'll see.

KING: Right.

I want to come back to where we started. Again, my apologies to the viewers. You get a little whiplash on days like this. The Polish president arrives. The president's eldest son comes out of a meeting. We're trying to have a conversation about a very critical issue, the census question, whether it's appropriate to ask a question about citizenship on the census. It was done back in the '50s. It's not a brand new thing, but it's being added again by this administration, or at least they want to. The Supreme Court will decide the merits. Democrats want to know how it happened. And you mentioned, this is part of one of a number of fights where the administration has just essentially deciding a blanket no, that whatever the question, the president's taxes, the Mueller report, we want witnesses on this, no is the answer.

Just in the Oversight Committee, there are 10 or 15 House Committees looking at different issues. Just in the Oversight Committee, Chairman Cummings tweeting out this morning, the Trump administration is engaged in one of the most unprecedented cover-ups since Watergate. And it is not just about Russia. The cover-up spans across numerous investigations.

Tweet number two, this year, the White House has not produced one document to the Oversight Committee. Not one document in response to our requests on the hurricanes in Puerto Rico, security clearance abuses, efforts to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, and hush money payments, they mean there the Stormy Daniels, based on Michael Cohen's testimony.

[12:10:05] This -- we have the specific issues, all of which are considerable issues of public policy and public interest. And then we have the broader fight. And the White House has decided, if we just keep saying no, this becomes a Democrats arguing with a Republican White House and that most people out in America hear Democrats/Republicans and just turn it off. They think it's just typical sniping.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: The president preluded -- gave us a prelude to the strategy right after the elections when he said, Democrats, you can choose between two paths. One is, we can work on legislation together or you can go the investigative route, in which case I'll denounce that as presidential harassment and stonewall.

I think it is a bit of a -- a bit of a gamble but he now has an attorney general who has a very expansive view of executive power. So he's -- he's being abetted, his natural instinct to fight is being abetted by very senior people right around him.

KING: And the question is, these things, the Democratic House counsel briefing senior members today on the idea that, let's fight these things out, let's push in court. But, guess what, it will take months, if not longer. So a lot of these questions could spill into the 2020 campaign season or potentially past it.

ZELENY: And that is the whole point I think to all of this, just to, you know, to slow walk this, delay this. He likes to fight. The president loves an opponent -- and he doesn't quite have one in the 2020 sphere, although it seems like that sometimes, but he loves to fight with Capitol Hill on this, so this is just -- just one more example.

KING: And history tells you, and Laura made a good point, President Clinton fought some of these things, President Bush fought some things. His vice president, Dick Cheney, had a very expansive view of executive power. President Obama fought some of these things.

We have just a -- the scope of this under the Trump administration all happening at once is pretty stunning. And the question is, yes, a president has the right to advice. That if you're dealing with a very sensitive question, everybody at the table, everybody in the meeting in the West Wing should be able to say what they want without fear it's going to be -- become part of the public record so that the president gets competing views.

But on the basic question, who decided, you can redact things in memos if it's -- if it's actually privileged information. Where was this decision made to put the 2020 census question, the citizenship question, on the census? Is that not -- don't the American people deserve to know who made decisions, even if you have to sometimes black out how they were made?

KNOX: Well, you'd think so, and that's part of the problem here, which is that, at the outset they said, oh, Justice Department, just routine thing. And then documents -- the documents -- some of the documents Democrats got showed, no, in fact, Wilbur Ross played an important role here.

KUCINICH: Was pressing for it for quite some time. KNOX: Right. And so -- and so, you know, the Democrats are basically

following this trail of, well, why do they keep misleading us on this stuff. And they think they've got a -- they think they've got a legitimate ground here to keep investigating.

KING: And --

KIM: And while so many of the investigations do focus on what the president does personally with his personal finances and whatnot and the president is ferociously battling those, a lot of the oversight requests from Democrats are legitimate policy issues that I think the American people have a right to know about. And some of the examples that Congressman -- Chairman Cummings pointed out earlier, some of them have been bipartisan asks. I mean there have been Republicans who have wanted to know more about the immigration policy. And their requests for information about the handling of Hurricane Maria, that was also a bipartisan request that stemmed all the way back in late 2017.


KING: We will keep to top of them and we will try to -- sometimes it gets hard in the cloud to explain. It does. It gets hard -- this is -- it's part of the strategy, create this cloud, make it about D's versus R's and nobody cares about it, as opposed to, whatever your political view, you should kind of know about the inner workings of your government. It might help.

Up next for us, can Joe Biden remain the frontrunner by acting like he's already the Democratic nominee.


[12:17:57] KING: It's a big day for some of the Democratic presidential candidates not named Joe Biden. Bernie Sanders, for example, giving a big speech today, defining what he means by Democratic socialism and rebutting those who say it is too far to the left. Beto O'Rourke outlining how he would protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination. And Pete Buttigieg rallies with faith leaders here in Washington. The hope is to break through at a time a ton of media attention is focused on a war of words between the Republican incumbent and the Democratic frontrunner you just saw on your screen. Joe Biden wants the very early 2020 Democratic primary to look and feel like a general election campaign. And President Trump is helping, if that's the right word.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He mentions my name 74 times in one speech. I don't know. That reminds me of crooked Hillary. She did the same thing. And then, when it came time to vote, they all said, you know, she doesn't like Trump very much, but what else does she stand for? Same thing's happening with sleepy Joe.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Now, Biden, as you saw, he's still in Iowa today. President Trump is back from Iowa. He's at the White House. The question for Biden is, will we hear more of this?


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that the president is literally an existential threat to America.

Four years of Donald Trump will be viewed as an aberration in American history.

There are thugs all over the world using the same kinds of language he's using now.

He says, let's make America great again. Let's make America America again.


KING: Mr. Zeleny is just back from Iowa. Thanks for your travels. I'm surprised you came back.

It's interesting to watch. He is the frontrunner. In the national polls, a relatively strong frontrunner. In the Iowa poll, relatively weak frontrunner. There's some fragility to this.

How do voters -- how do Iowa voters, do they buy his argument, buy his strategy that the other people are nice people, I don't want to talk about them much, I want to focus all my attention on Donald Trump?

[12:20:00] ZELENY: It's a mix, but the voters I talked to yesterday who were watching the former vice president were happy to hear him sort of, you know, go after the president. One voter I talked to who lives there in Ottumwa, he said that he believes that voters and Americans are getting, you know, so used to what the president says, you know, it's just sort of become ordinary. He said he does not think it should be ordinary. He appreciated the moral position that the vice president was coming from.

But, look, I think one thing that they hope it will do is to sort of increase the excitement level around Joe Biden. Yes, he is leading in Iowa. Although it's narrow, as you said. But the enthusiasm, the enthusiasm, the passion is not quite there for him. But he wants to kind of refocus this debate once again that this is what the presidential election is about.

But, boy, a lot of progressives who are watching this are saying, why this? What about new policies, new ideas? So it's a challenge for Biden. He did change the conversation away from his wobbly last week over the Hyde Amendment to going directly after the president.

KING: And, in part, the president helped him. Again, I'm not sure if that --

ZELENY: For sure. KING: I'm not sure if that's the right word, in the sense that if you're Donald Trump and you genuinely believe Joe Biden, at least at the moment, would be your toughest general election opponent, why are you helping him make the case in the Democratic primary that the Republican incumbent is worried about me and I have his attention.

KNOX: Yes, Biden versus Trump is much better for Biden than Biden versus the progressive base, right? I mean the -- you know, the Hyde Amendment thing really reinforced that, no, he can't run as sort of the presumptive general election nominee. He can't. He has to pay attention to what that activist base, the people who actually vote in these Democratic primaries are doing. I thought that was a huge warning for the -- for the -- for the Biden campaign.

KUCINICH: Well, and you already saw -- you saw in the speech yesterday him trying to clean up the China comments from a week or two ago when he said China wasn't a threat, I'm paraphrasing there. And so yesterday, in that speech, there was this whole section about how China actually is a threat and how the president is handling it wrong.

But I do question whether, you know, these two men, both going in different places, saying the other is so obsessed with them, how that is -- like, why is he so obsessed with me? I don't know how that plays long term with voters who are kind of sick of this --

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: This sniping back and forth and name calling.

KING: Or how it plays with somebody who's worried about the future of the economy in their town --


KING: Or how much is the green new deal going to cost? And should it be Medicare for all or fix Obamacare, if you're a Democrat?

And what -- but what it did do, the split screen yesterday, of Biden/Trump, is it does -- it blow out the other candidates. They're not happy about this. The other Democrats are trying to find some way to get attention. On another day, we might have paid attention to the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, gave a very long, very thoughtful, you read it, you can agree with it or disagree with it, but a thoughtful speech on his view of the world. And an -- in it there's in part here what you could call an implicit criticism of Joe Biden and not necessarily his age, but the generation for which he -- from which he comes.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Faced with this moment of enormous challenge and great possibility, it is not enough just to say that we won't conduct foreign policy by tweet, nor would it be honest to promise that we can restore an old order that cannot in any case meet the realities of a new moment. Democrats can no more turn the clock back to the 1990s than Republicans can return us to the 1950s. And we should not try.


KING: What does he mean there? 1990s is one thing. Early 2000s would be Joe Biden's vote for the Iraq War, which Pete Buttigieg says was a mistake.

ZELENY: He means all of the above there, I think. But I think one thing that was unusual, it was a policy speech. What's that? I mean we have not seen nearly as many formal speeches like that. So he was trying to, again, fill out his suit a little bit there.

But he is making it clear, he says that virtually everywhere he goes, talking about the '90s and warning against going backwards.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: He is leaning into his age, not necessarily going after younger voter, going after older Democratic voters who want a new generation there.

KIM: But that's also what's prompting a lot of criticisms from inside the Democratic Party about Biden's world view. I think one thing that gets constantly criticized by his fellow Democrats is Biden's view that he can work with Republicans.


KIM: That once Trump is out of office, I believe what he says is, the fever will break. And Democrats I talked to constantly say, have you met Mitch McConnell? The fever is not breaking any time soon. This was a problem before President Trump went into office and it will be a problem after he leaves.

KNOX: What's interesting with that, about the fever will break concept, that was -- that was one of the things that Obama talked about in 2012. He said, maybe if I -- if I win re-election, maybe the fever -- I mean, obviously, when you're describing your opponents as a fever, that's not exactly a bipartisan olive branch offering. I think at one point he said it would pop the blister of the --

KING: Yes.

KNOX: So, I mean, that's not exactly appealing.

But I was thrown by that because I thought to myself, wait, I thought that was the whole point of 2012 and forward from there. I thought that we already had the experiment where you guys said, well, maybe we'll be able to work together, et cetera.

KUCINICH: Yes. And "The Daily Beast" had a story yesterday actually quoting a lot of these former Obama officials saying exactly what you're saying, saying, oh, yes, then -- when Joe Biden comes, it's going to be utopia and everyone's going to get along. That's just not -- I don't -- I don't know many Democrats who think that's true. And it also -- it -- taking -- there -- there is this strain that wants to take the fight to Republicans and working with them right now. Is it something some of the progressive base wants to hear?

[12:25:01] KING: That's -- that's the balancing act. Sure, I think there are a lot of Americans who wish their government would work better. Are -- is that -- can you sell that at a Democratic primary where -- whether it's the issue of the Hyde Amendment or the green new deal or just Trump where the energy is not -- not so conciliatory, shall we say.

Up next, President Trump and the Polish president meeting right now inside the Oval Office and promising a significant announcement when they come out to speak.


[12:30:04] KING: President Trump hosting the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, at the White House right now. We expect to see the two leaders