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Trump Denies Existence of Polls; Iran Breaks Uranium Limit; Dems Avoid Executive Privilege; Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) on Executive Privilege; Buttigieg Cancels Events. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 17, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Of voters. And so that -- you see that reflected in the districts that are supporting him.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: We'll see if it changes.

We're out of time today.

Alex Marquardt in for Brianna Keilar. He starts RIGHT NOW. Have a great day.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Alex Marquardt, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, President Trump says pay no attention to those polls behind the curtain unless, of course, they show me winning. The problem is, they don't, and now heads are rolling.

A nuclear standoff escalates as the U.S. considers sending more forces to the Middle East. Iran making a big announcement about its nuclear ambitions.

Plus a stunning reports. The U.S. intelligence community not telling the president about secret operations because it fears that he may compromise them.

And he enjoys seeing his name on buildings and on books, but now Israel naming a settlement after President Trump in the Golan Heights.

Up first, a shake-up in Trump world as the president gets set to launch his campaign for re-election at a rally in Orlando tomorrow night. Sources say that the campaign has fired three pollsters after internal poll results showed that the president is trailing behind Democrats in key swing states.

Now, CNN and other outlets had first reported these numbers weeks ago, but more detailed figures were leaked last week and they have angered the president.

For more let's get right to White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, who is following this story for us.

Kaitlan, the president is telling his supporters to basically ignore numbers, ignore polling that make him look bad, as these polls do.

What's his argument?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, not only is he saying to ignore these polls, he's now saying that they do not even exist. And, Alex, we should note, that when we first reported on these numbers weeks ago, campaign officials did not deny them or the accuracy of them, they simply downplayed them saying it was too early to tell. But now that these polls have gotten more coverage in recent days, we're told by sources that the president actually erupted at several of these campaign officials wanting to know not only why these unflattering numbers have leaked but also what exactly the numbers were and wanting to know more about them.

That's what resulted in cutting ties with the three pollsters, two of whom we should note actually worked with the Trump campaign back in 2016 and one pollster who now works with the polling company that Kellyanne Conway used to work at. It's called The Polling Company. So now they're cutting ties with these three not because of the accuracy of the polling or any concerns about that, but simply because these numbers have leaked and the president has gotten angry about them.

Now, we should note that in recent days, ever since the coverage of this has ramped up, the president has become more fixated on the polls, asking his campaign about them, demanding to get different and better polls, he says.

And of course, Alex, this comes as the president is getting ready to relaunch his campaign bid in Orlando tomorrow where they're going to have 20,000 people the campaign says and where they're hoping to distract from some of those Democrats that in these internal campaign polls are ahead of the president in key states he'll need in 2020, including Florida.

MARQUARDT: Including Florida.

Kaitlin Collins on the North Lawn of the White House. Thanks very much.

Now, turning overseas, President Trump's national security team is considering sending additional military forces to the Middle East in the wake of last week's attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. has accused Iran of being behind those attacks. Iran is denying any involvement, despite video footage released by the U.S. military that it says proves Iran was indeed responsible.

This tension growing even more now as Tehran announced it is ramping up its low-grade uranium stockpile and will soon exceed the limit that was set under the nuclear deal that the U.S. left last year. Iran will also accelerate uranium enrichment to slightly higher levels.

Now, we should note that the material would have to be enriched at a much higher level to be used in a nuclear weapon, but this does show that Iran is willing to flout that nuclear agreement, which it still maintains with the other countries that struck the deal.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Tehran for us.

Fred, lots going on as this pressure rises between Tehran and Washington. Iran is demanding that U.S. forces leave the Persian Gulf and that vital waterway, the Strait of Hormuz, saying that they, Iran, are in charge of security in the area.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Alex, that's exactly what the Iranians are saying. It's quite interesting to hear because it is pretty bold statements on the part of the Iranians. And on the face of it, if you look at the number of forces and also just the sheer firepower of what the U.S. has in the region and what the Iranians, at least on the face of it, seem to have in the region, then it does seem to be quite a mismatch. I mean just the carrier strike group of the Abraham Lincoln probably has more functioning fighter jets than the entire Iranian air force. However, the Iranians still very, very bold.

There was a statement by the chief of staff of the Iranian military today who said, first of all, once again, that the Iranians were not behind the tanker attacks. But he also said, look, if we wanted to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, we'd be able to do that. And we wouldn't do it secretly, we would do it openly and actually talk about it. So one of the things they're saying is, look, if anybody would have -- caused these attacks, it wouldn't be the Iranians because they would have done something like that a lot more openly.

[13:05:06] So some pretty strong words coming from the Iranians, while at the same time they're also pushing back on the claims from the Trump administration that they were behind the tanker attacks. The Iranians, just on the weekend, blaming the U.S. for allegedly being behind the attacks saying, saying the U.S. might have done it because the sanctions against Iran aren't working. They didn't provide any evidence to back that up.

But you're absolutely right, the rhetoric certainly is getting ratcheted up. And now with that nuclear agreement very much on the ropes, it certainly does look as though things are becoming a lot more dicey here in the Middle East. As you mentioned, the Iranians saying they're drastically going to ramp up their production of low-grade enriched uranium. Again, they say they don't want the nuclear treaty, the nuclear agreement to go away, but they also acknowledge the nuclear agreement is on the ropes.

And one of the things that the Iranians see very much, Alex, is that there is a clear rift between the United States and America's European allies on this issue. The European allies agreeing with the Iranians that the nuclear agreement needs to stay in place. Of course we know that the Trump administration has already exited the nuclear agreement very much so, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Saying that they need to strike a new deal with Iran, but that they are not ready to do that, nor is Tehran.

Fred Pleitgen, in the Iranian capital, thanks very much.

Back here in Washington, President Trump has one major card to play when he tries to block congressional oversight and inquiries relating to the Mueller probe. That is executive privilege.

Now, he has shown that he's not afraid to use executive privilege, invoking it to protect former White House Counsel Don McGahn, as well as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and the Attorney General William Barr.

Now, "Politico" is reporting that Democrats are working on a new strategy to get around it, focusing on possible witnesses who never worked inside the White House but who were still in Trump's orbit.

Joining me now to discuss all this more is Darren Samuelsohn, a senior White House reporter for "Politico," who helped break this story.

Darren, thanks so much for joining me.

Now, you're writing about these Democrats who are looking to get information from Republicans, people in Trump's orbit, who are not staffers technically at the White House. What do these Democrats think that they can get?

DARREN SAMUELSOHN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "POLITICO": That's right. So the White House has been very effective at blocking Don McGahn, the White House -- former White House counsel, from testifying. And he is clearly the star of the Mueller report section on obstruction of justice.

But the Democrats recognize that there are a lot of other star players in that report who never worked in the administration, either current or former. We're talking about people like Corey Lewandowski, who was the campaign manager in 2016, and then later on Donald Trump reached out to him and tried to get him to play a role in changing the focus of the Robert Mueller investigation. One of the key parts of the obstruction section.

Also talking about former Governor Chris Christie, who sat down with Donald Trump and had a discussion about the firing of Michael Flynn and what role that would play in ending the Russia investigation.

Also talking about people like Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, people who are a part of the Mueller investigation, who pled guilty, who are not former White House officials who also can't rely on and can't lean on that executive privilege claim.

So Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are certainly considering whether these people are more likely to talk and sit down, answer questions, turn over documents in a way that the White House officials or former White House officials won't.

MARQUARDT: But, Darren, Lewandowski, Gates, sorry, Manafort, Christie, what if they just say no?

SAMUELSOHN: Well, they can't just say no. It's not -- it doesn't work so simply like that. If they're compelled to testify, if they get a subpoena, they would have to answer to that subpoena. They would have to sit down and talk or they could be held in contempt of Congress. That is something that Jerrold Nadler last week was given the full authority to do in the House, to go ahead and take these people to court.

Some of them might be willing to go and sit down and talk. Obviously, Corey Lewandowski did meet previously with congressional committees. It's very possible these could be meetings that happen in private first, as Democrats try and size up what they have to share. Maybe there are questions that end up getting asked in public, which is clearly what the Judiciary Committee, Democrats who are pro- impeachment want to see happen. They want live, televised hearings the same way that Richard Nixon faced back during Watergate.

So they're looking for people who could potentially testify. There also are advocates out there, former investigators, who are urging them to just start making the rounds and knocking on people's doors and seeing who might have founding, you know, religion and are willing to talk and show things to these investigators that maybe they're not quite willing to do, you know, in public.

MARQUARDT: How much do you think this is about Democrats actually getting critical information versus political theater and scoring points?

SAMUELSOHN: Well, I think that they certainly would like anyone to put the Robert Mueller report into words on television. And if they can find Governor Christie or anyone else who can tell the story of what those incidences were like that were obstruction of justice related and learn, you know, anything more as well in the process, I think that Democrats would welcome that with open arms, as they've been really struggling, you know, to make much out of the investigation, out of the Mueller report, trying to get hearings, obviously. They've got another one coming up this week. The one last week with John Dean clearly didn't do what I think the Democrats would like to do.


[13:10:00] SAMUELSOHN: So that's -- that's clearly the focus here is to find star witnesses who would draw a lot of attention to -- back to this investigation.

MARQUARDT: To, as you say, bring that Mueller report alive and have them read aloud from it rather than just having people read the more than 400 pages of a very dense report.

Darren Samuelsohn of "Politico," thanks very much.

SAMUELSOHN: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: So for more on this let's discuss with Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly, Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.

Congressman, good to speak with you today.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): Good to be with you.

MARQUARDT: Now, your committee has tried this already. You wanted to interview Trump ally, former secretary of state from Kansas, Chris Kobach, about the citizenship question that was added to the census. Kobach, as we know, headed up the president's voter fraud commission, which is now defunct. The White House, in that case, cited executive privilege, even though Kobach was never officially a part of the administration. So how do you break through if people who were not officially staffers in this White House still listen to that White House when they're told not to talk?

CONNOLLY: You know, I think the White House has gone executive privilege crazy and it doesn't pass the giggle test. Executive privilege was kind of invented around 1973 during the Nixon White House to basically shield the president and his associates from scrutiny. It didn't work then and it's not going to work now.

It's -- they're invoking an extraordinarily overbroad privilege that does not exist in law or in the Constitution, and it is clearly designed to shield people from accountability, including the president's closest advisers. And so it certainly does not extend to people who have never served in government or who are now outside of government. And I believe that's going to have to be tested in court. I believe it's not going to get much time of day when a court rules in our favor.

MARQUARDT: Yes, it sounds like it will get tested in court.

I want to switch gears to impeachment. Your fellow Democrat, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, says that pressure is growing for impeaching the president. A few weeks ago you said that you weren't quite there on an impeachment inquiry. Has your view changed?

CONNOLLY: No, not yet. I think we are getting there, drip by drip. My specific concern about an inquiry was that if the rationale was that it elevates our case before courts, I oppose that. I do not believe we should concede for a minute that only when we are impeaching a president should a court enforce a legislative subpoena. That's a terrible road to go down, that's a bad precedent and I would not support an impeachment inquiry for that reason.

There may be other reasons for supporting an impeachment inquiry and I think we're getting awfully close, but not that one.

MARQUARDT: That's what a lot of your fellow Democrats are saying is that we are getting awfully close, but we're not quite there yet.

Now, there was a key point in the Mueller report, that -- and it was the belief that Mueller believed that he did not have the authority to indict the president because of a long-standing Department of Justice rule against indicting a sitting president.

Now, you want to bring legislation forward that would eliminate that rule. Where does that legislation stand?

CONNOLLY: Yes, that was a rule, again, invented during the Nixon years to try to protect the president. It's made up out of whole cloth by lawyers at the Department of Justice. It's not in the Constitution. And, in fact, it kind of flies in the face of the constitutional writers who clearly were suspicious of an overly powerful chief executive. They wanted checks and balances on that chief executive. And so the idea that a sitting president could not be impeached -- I

mean not be indicted, well, what if he did commit murder on Fifth Avenue, would we say that he was immune from prosecution while in office after having committed murder? So what other crimes is he immune from while he's in office in the presidency?

So I think we need to revisit that issue. And I would favor legislation clarifying that, you know, based on criminal behavior, clearly any president can be indicted. No one's above the law.

MARQUARDT: Congressman, you are also on the Foreign Affairs Committee, specifically the subcommittee on the Middle East. We were just speaking with our correspondent in Tehran about the rising tension there.

When you look at the situation between the U.S. and Iran, do you believe the Trump administration's claim and specifically the video evidence that they put out showing allegedly an Iranian boat removing a mine that was unexploded from a tanker? Do you believe that that video and everything else they've said proves that Iran was behind these attacks in the Gulf of Oman?

CONNOLLY: No, I don't think it proves that. It's a grainy video, very hard-to-see footage. We have that as the sole piece of public evidence that the Iranians were somehow involved in this. Maybe they were. I'm certainly open to hearing that. But they haven't made their case yet.

[13:15:02] And what's really interesting, Alex, is that the administration has destroyed its own credibility by walking away from the Iran nuclear agreement with our allies and our adversaries in terms of our credibility. And after the Iraq War, where we had conclusive proof of weapons of mass destruction, that proved to be, in fact, not conclusive at all, American credibility is on the line. And even our own allies are saying, you're going to have to produce much more proof if you want us to accept your version of what happened in the Persian Gulf.

So it's a grave time --


CONNOLLY: But I think we're seeing the consequences of Trump's foreign policy in our credibility right now.

MARQUARDT: I want to look at Russia while I have you. "The New York Times" is reporting that the U.S. is stepping up its cyber-attacks, specifically against Russia's power grid. Essentially saying, we're here and we can wreak havoc if push comes to shove.

Now, in this "Times" report, there's also a key line where officials say that they are purposefully keeping the president out of the loop of some details of that operation because they fear that he could divulge that intelligence and the ins and outs of that operation to foreign officials.

Do you think this president, the commander in chief, should be left out of some intelligence matters?

CONNOLLY: I think it's a very bad practice, but I think it does underscore the fact that our own intelligence community has reason to believe that this president cannot be entirely trusted when it comes to protecting national security vis-a-vis the Russians and Vladimir Putin. That's a terrible statement. And especially after the president said there was no collusion with the Russians. Well, his own intelligence community believes otherwise, obviously, and has reason to fear that he would leak this information.

Having said that, I'm glad that the United States is taking countermeasures to make sure Russia understands there will be consequences for their cyber activities, especially in our electoral process.

MARQUARDT: But in your role as a member of the foreign affairs committee, have you been briefed on this? Have you been told that the intelligence community is sometimes withholding intelligence from the president?

CONNOLLY: I have never been briefed on that. And the first I learned of it was in "The New York Times" report that you cited, Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right, Congressman Gerry Connolly on a whole range of issues. Thank you for your time.

CONNOLLY: My great pleasure. Any time. Thank you.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, right now the paths of Democratic candidates are colliding at an event, but Mayor Pete Buttigieg won't be joining them. You'll hear why.

Plus, the president kicked an aide out of the room during the interview and why he whipped out a picture of Air Force One.

And, over at the Supreme Court, they are handing the Democrats a victory in a case involving race and elections.


[13:22:44] MARQUARDT: Mayor Pete Buttigieg is stepping off of the presidential campaign trail today. The Democratic contender has cancelled several of his campaign events so that he can be in his hometown of South Bend, Indiana, following a deadly officer-involved shooting there over the weekend.

CNN national correspondent Ryan Young is in South Bend, where the mayor is expected to meet with community members today.

Ryan, we do know that Buttigieg faced criticism for his response early in his tenure to officer-involved shootings. How is he handling this situation differently?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far it seems like the response is being welcomed by members of the community. People that we've talked to so far say they are glad the mayor got out in front of this.

Now, we're in the area where this shooting happened. Apparently officers were called to the area right behind me around 3:30 in the morning. And an officer says that when he arrived he saw a man sort of rumbling through a car and that's what the initial call was, about a suspicious person. When the officer says he approached the man, apparently the man pulled a knife and the officer said he felt forced to fire his weapon.

The man was transported from here in critical condition. He later died.

Now, there's been a conversation about this throughout the community after that. The mayor came back to the city, suspended some of his campaign events and wanted to make sure he got out in front of this, even though information so far is not widely available. Take a listen.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've had prior cases of use of force incidents and officer-involved shootings where I hesitated, frankly, to get in front of cameras because we didn't know very much and it was out of our hands. But what I learned -- what I was told by people in the community is that it is important to open channels of communication, to try to be clear on where the city is, even if we don't find ourselves in the position to be able to say or do much right away.


YOUNG: Look, there's a lot of conversation about what happens next. Was there a body camera the officer was wearing? We're not 100 percent sure about that just yet. Was there any sort of audio recordings of what exactly happened? We do know the man's family has come forward and started talking about the fact that they want to know more about the situation and they're, of course, calling for an independent investigation.

Now, we do know the family plans to have a candlelight vigil here around 8:00. Now, if you look at this neighborhood, we've been talking to people as they've been walking through and it's sort of disjointed because there's businesses and there's residents, so there's really no one here to say they knew the man or anything moving forward.

[13:25:03] So, look, there's going to be more conversation about this, but so far people seem to be pleased by the way the mayor has handled it since he came back early to have some sort of conversation with them about this thing as it's ongoing.

MARQUARDT: All right, Ryan Young, South Bend, Indiana, thanks very much.

Now as millions take to the streets to protest in Hong Kong, the pressure clearly rising on Chinese President Xi Jinping as he faces off with President Trump in a trade war.

Plus, the Supreme Court handing Democrats a major win today. What that means for the 2020 election.

Also, why the president kicked his chief of staff out of the office during a TV interview.