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An Independent Report Suggests Saudi Arabia is Responsible for Khashoggi's Deliberate and Premeditated Execution; Rocket Hits Headquarters of ExxonMobil and Other Major Oil Companies in Iraq; President Trump Ramps Up Pressure on Fed Ahead of Interest Rate Decision; Hope Hicks Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee; Trump Kicks Off 2020 Campaign, Rehashes Old Gripes. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 19, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:07] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Just moments ago, former White House communications director Hope Hicks arrived on Capitol Hill. That is her there. She will testify behind closed doors today in front of House Judiciary Committee. Hicks, we should note, is the first member of the president's inner circle to go in front of the panel as part of its probe into possible obstruction of justice by the president.

HARLOW: Yes, that's very significant. So, of course, what will she say? As one of the president's most trusted former advisers she's expected to be questioned about key moments cited in Robert Mueller's report. The White House, though, this morning is pushing back, arguing she's immune from answering questions about anything regarding her time in the administration.

Let's go to Lauren Fox. She joins us on Capitol Hill.

So what is the hope here? What is the committee trying to accomplish by questioning her again because she has come before Congress before?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. They have a few key moments that they plan to ask her about. One of them about the lead-up to the 2016 election, those hush money payments that were made to silence some of those involved in Trump's alleged extramarital affairs. That's going to be of course the questioning this morning, but that's not it.

They also want to know about some of those key moments from the Mueller report. That of course could have a lot to do with the dispute that could unfold behind closed doors today between the White House and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. A couple of those moments I wanted to note for you the firing of James Comey. They want to ask her about efforts to dismiss Mueller and allegations that Trump tried to curtail Mueller's investigation.

Now yesterday, Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, sent a letter to the White House Judiciary Committee arguing that Hope Hicks was immune from answering any questions about her time in the White House. And I want to read you just a part of that letter they sent. It said, quote, "Because of this constitutional immunity and in order to protect the prerogatives of the Office of the President, the president has directed Miss Hicks not to answer questions before the committee relating to the time of her service as a senior adviser to the president."

Now disputes and disagreements about what and what she will not answer behind closed doors of course are going to happen out of our cameras' views, but we do expect that a transcript will be released of this meeting in upcoming days -- Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: OK. Lauren Fox, thanks very much.

SCIUTTO: Joining me now Shan Wu, former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst.

Shan, always good to have you on to walk us through this. So the White House claiming executive privilege here. She has, though, discussed these matters with the special counsel. How can executive privilege apply to her testimony before the Judiciary Committee and not there?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It may not, Jim. There's a strong argument that anyone who has already spoken or been interviewed may have waived the privilege. Now courts are usually a little bit careful about just recognizing a blanket waiver just as they're careful to recognize a blanket assertion. And the Trump administration is treating executive privilege like the new black. They are just asserting it at every possible opportunity.

SCIUTTO: And basically challenging -- this to be challenged in court, right, I mean, which Democrats will likely do if they get satisfaction here. How long does that process play out?

WU: It could play out for a long time. The courts may expedite it a little bit. There are instances where it can drag out for quite some time like in the Holder case, some of it wasn't resolved for years. Other times it can move a little bit more quickly because it's primarily 100 percent legal issue, it's not really factual one so you don't have to spend a lot of time developing a record on it.

SCIUTTO: Mm-hmm. You have said that good questioning by this panel will result in a very damning hearing even with an assertion of executive privilege. Tell us why.

WU: Exactly. It's because it's the same reason why in criminal cases the courts won't allow prosecutor to call a defendant just to put them on the stand, ask them a question like did you commit the murder, and then they say, I invoke the Fifth Amendment. The same kinds of questions repeated over and over again, did President Trump try to fire Robert Mueller to stop the investigation? I refuse to answer on grounds of executive privilege. Over a small amount of time that leads to a body of very incriminating sounding questions and lack of answers. SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. Yes. And the president of course has criticized

people in the past for, in effect, taking the Fifth.

WU: Right.

SCIUTTO: Saying that that would be a sign of guilt. Democrats have a plan for the possibility of on-the-spot negotiation on each of these answers. In other words, if she claims executive privilege, say, OK, well, how about if we ask under these terms, et cetera. I mean, is that -- can that be adjudicated in the moment?

WU: It cannot be adjudicated in the morning -- in the moment much like a deposition, they'll have to reach some agreement. Probably they will agree to disagree. Like we'll pass on that question, wait to go to the court on it.

[09:05:03] I would note that question by question is the court sanctioned method to proceed. In previous cases the courts have said you need to go question by question, document by document on these assertions as opposed to what the White House counsel is trying to do which is just to blanketly assert it before they ever get there.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And it's a big issue. Right? I mean, can the executive assert executive privilege of a whole host of things when Congress is constitutionally empowered to hold the executive branch in check.

Shan Wu --

WU: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Great to have you on and explaining things to us.

WU: Good to see you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Meanwhile, President Trump officially kicking off his 2020 re-election campaign. Sure felt a lot like 2016. Sure felt like the last several months when the president had lot of very similar rallies.

HARLOW: Joe Johns is in Miami where the president is today. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Yes, the president is here at his Doral resort. He's expected to have a fundraiser around midday. Then he's going to fly back to Washington, D.C. and give the Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer.

Last night up in Orlando, the president really hit some of his old themes, as you said. This was supposed to be a reset moment for the administration, a reset moment for the campaign, but he's really been campaigning ever since he won in 2016, and we heard a lot of the same themes, from Hillary Clinton to Robert Mueller. We heard about immigration, of course, border security, fake news. This was really the same old story, same old song and dance. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No collusion, no obstruction. Many times I said we would drain the swamp. We are building the wall. Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage. We'll tell Sleepy Joe that we found the magic wand. The sleepy guy.



JOHNS: The president did apparently come up with a new campaign slogan, "Keep America Great Again." And he also touched on many of his successes over the last years including talking about the economy through and the exaggeration there that he's used before, that this may be one of the best economies in the history of the United States. As we all know, it's not all that, although it was a very good first quarter. Back to you.

SCIUTTO: He's also claiming to have accomplished more in two years than any president in history. Also questionable.

Joe Johns, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Let's talk about this with Marc Lotter, director of Strategic Communications for Trump's 2020 campaign.

Good morning, Marc. Thanks for joining us.


HARLOW: Quite a crowd last night and we heard the president touting some of his accomplishments. We did. But the strategy was really clear, and here it is.


TRUMP: Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage. They want to destroy you, and they want to destroy our country as we know it.


HARLOW: Why does the president feel that sowing more division amongst the American people is the best strategy to win in 2020?

LOTTER: I'm not sure it's considered being sowing division. I think it's pointing out that many of the policies that are being endorsed by some of the leading candidates are going to destroy the fabric of America as we know it, whether it's taking away people's private health insurance --

HARLOW: Except, Marc, they are personal attacks.

LOTTER: -- eliminating Medicare advantage.

HARLOW: So -- we'll get to insurance, we'll get to all of that, but on the attack last night it was the president with personal attacks about Democrats, calling out hatred and prejudice and rage with that example. So clearly that's his strategy here. It got, you know, 20,000 people cheering. But I'm just wondering why your campaign or is your campaign betting that that's the best way to win in 2020?

LOTTER: Well, I think we're highlighting what the president has been saying from day one in a case that many Democrats and opponents of the president are filled with what have called Trump derangement syndrome. They haven't been able to even accept some of the successes that have gone on in this country. It's driven them whether it's through their '18 campaign, what we're seeing so far in 2020, their actions in Congress and the president is calling much of that out while he's talking about the need to fight back against some of the policies that would --


LOTTER: That would undo basic foundational principles of our country.

HARLOW: So we heard the president say when he won the 2016 election. That he would unite the president. That he wanted to be the president of all Americans. Will that no longer be the case in 2020?

LOTTER: Absolutely it's the case. And it continues to be the case as how he governs as president. You know, when you see the economic gains that are cutting across all racial breakdowns, all genders, even age brackets and people without college degrees, he's showing he can lead this country regardless of any of those divisions.

[09:10:09] HARLOW: So --

LOTTER: But what we have also seen is a resistance movement.

HARLOW: I hear you that the economy is great.

LOTTER: Led by Democrats against everything he's done.

HARLOW: I hear -- Marc, I hear you that the economy is great. The economy is great. I'm not questioning that, and I'm so glad that it's great for a lot of people. Not everyone, but for a lot of people. But that's not what he's talking about. That's not the rhetoric. And I just wonder if you think it might hurt in a state like Florida. Let me tell you why.

Quinnipiac Poll came out yesterday. Let's pull it up. Here's what it showed. It showed a whole lot of Democratic candidates beating the president in head-to-head matchups, from Senator Kamala Harris to Bernie Sanders, to Elizabeth Warren to Beto O'Rourke, to Joe Biden to South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. All ahead of the president. Are you concerned about that? Should the rhetoric change as you look at those numbers?

LOTTER: Absolutely not. Quinnipiac, you know, has no record of success here. In 2018 --

HARLOW: Marc, Marc.

LOTTER: The day before the election, they predicted that --

HARLOW: Come on, Quinnipiac is one of the most --

LOTTER: -- Senator Scott and Governor DeSantis were going to lose by seven. They didn't.

HARLOW: All right. Marc, Quinnipiac is one of the most reliable polling sources there is. I don't want to go down this rabbit hole on questioning the voracity or the legitimacy of polls. I get it, the polls aren't predictive always. But I'm just asking you what you think when you see those numbers.

LOTTER: I think right now any kind of a poll at any level predicting what's going to happen 18 months from now is meaningless. What we are seeing from the 120,000 people that registered for tickets last night, the capacity crowd, the overflow crowd, even the fact that just in 24 hours yesterday President Trump's campaign and the party raised a record $25 million. That's more than a million dollars an hour all supporting this president.


LOTTER: So I think as we try to look ahead, polls really don't say much right now.

HARLOW: OK, you raised a lot of money. We saw that number. It's big for sure. On the promises that the president made and what he talked about last night, you brought up health insurance. So let's listen to the president talking about Americans with pre-existing conditions and protecting those people. Here he was.


TRUMP: We will always protect patients with preexisting conditions. Always, always.


HARLOW: So then why is he pushing ahead in court to completely undo Obamacare without laying out any plan that would protect those with preexisting conditions? If you wipe out Obamacare, those protections go away.

LOTTER: Well, I think that's a flawed argument to think that Obamacare is the only way to protect people with preexisting conditions. The president has talked about in recent days that he plans to come out with a health care plan in the next month or two is what he recently said, which will protect people.

HARLOW: Yes, but if he --

LOTTER: But it will also restore the fundamental principles -- HARLOW: OK. But just to --

LOTTER: -- of free market competition.

HARLOW: OK. Just to put a button on it with the facts here. If they prevail in court and wipe out Obamacare, preexisting condition protection goes away right away. And we have heard no plan of how those people will be protected.

LOTTER: And that is something -- and that is something that the administration can work to navigate through to make sure that people are protected while a new system is put in place. The key is we need to overhaul the health care system.

HARLOW: Yes, but --

LOTTER: We know for a fact that Obamacare has failed even by the fact that every Democrat out there is campaigning --

HARLOW: You -- OK.

LOTTER: -- for undoing it with Medicare for All and those kinds of things.

HARLOW: Marc, we've got to go, but, you know, you leave a lot of people hanging in the balance with that strategy and a lot of people who need those protections. There's a lot more to talk about so come back soon.

Thank you, Marc.

LOTTER: Absolutely. Thanks, Poppy.


SCIUTTO: Great interview. Tough questions.

HARLOW: Thank you. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Breaking news this morning an independent report says that Saudi Arabia is behind the brutal premeditated murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, calling it deliberate, premeditated execution. What the report says about the Saudi crown prince's possible role. That's just ahead.

HARLOW: And both sides backlash? The president disputing the facts on the Central Park Five case. What he's saying about the wrongfully convicted group now.

Plus he's known for the miracle on the Hudson but hero pilot Sully Sullenberger is taking another major airline safety concern today on. He's talking about the Boeing 737 MAX.


[09:15:00] POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: A new independent investigation is blaming Saudi Arabia for the deliberate pre-meditated execution of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: Khashoggi, a "Washington Post" columnist, was murdered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. His fiancee was waiting outside. The report does not go so far as to implicate the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

It does call for further investigations specifically of his role, does not leave any question about the Saudi government's role in this murder. CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward joins us now from London. So, it's an interesting -- I don't want to say if this is fence that they aligned -- that they walked here, no question according to the UN that -- I guess you're an investigator, that Saudi Arabia, the country is responsible.

They do not establish guilt for the Crown Prince, but do say -- it struck me as interesting that he almost has to provide -- prove the negative, provide evidence that he was not involved, is that right?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the actual words that this UN investigator uses is that there's credible evidence of high level Saudi authority liability including the Crown Prince. So, she appears to be very skeptical of the idea that it would be possible for a killing to be orchestrated like this without the knowledge of the Crown Prince.

[09:20:00] But you're right, she holds back from saying it declaratively. She just says there's credible evidence that warrants further investigation. But listen, Jim, she's not pulling any punches in this report. She says that targeted sanctions would be an appropriate response.

She wants to see the U.S., the FBI open an investigation into and potentially go ahead with criminal prosecution. She wants to see Turkey reframe its investigation. She wants to see Saudi Arabia suspend the trial, which she says does not meet any credible international standards.

But what she really hits home with, that's so shocking when you're reading this is the undoubted proof that this was premeditated. And you may remember that the Saudis were trying to float this theory that this was a rendition gone wrong. Well, she punches a hole right through that story because she says the forensic expert, doctor who was brought as part of the team of 15 Saudis is talking about dissecting a body 13 minutes before Jamal Khashoggi even enters the consulate.

And he's talking about how it should be done, and he's concerned about doing it on the floor because he hasn't done it on the floor before. And then someone else in the group says, has the sacrificial animal arrived? Referring to Khashoggi. This is a very grim, very lurid report, and undoubtedly will put more pressure on other nations to try to force Saudi Arabia's hands here in terms of making sure someone is held accountable.

SCIUTTO: Just disgusting, disturbing and right down to the sedative and then the plastic bag over the head. I mean, none of that supports the idea that this was a sort of spur-the-moment --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Decision. Clarissa Ward, thanks for staying on top of the story. It's one that we have promised on this broadcast --

HARLOW: Say a lot about --

SCIUTTO: To keep on top of.


SCIUTTO: Also this morning, the Iraqi military is vowing to go after those responsible following multiple rocket attacks across the country just over the past 24 hours.

HARLOW: One of those rockets hitting the Iraqi headquarters of several major oil companies including the biggest U.S. oil company ExxonMobil. Our senior international correspondent Sam Kiley joins us now. Sam, what can you tell us?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, this has been something of a pattern, but the first time that the Iraqi authorities in a very public way at any rate has said that they would go after the culprits behind these attacks with what they call an iron fist.

Now, you'll recall that fairly soon after there were four ships damaged by limpet mines in the sea. It's not far from where I'm standing here in Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. It was followed after that with a rocket attack that landed quite close to an American compound in Baghdad.

We've seen a similar rocket attack landing close to American facility in Mosul. And now, we've had this rocket attack on ExxonMobil and others in this location in Basrah. Now, from the U.S. perspective, this is all part clearly of an effort made by Iranian proxies to maintain pressure on the Americans.

A sign that the Iranians are belligerent and fomenting instability across the region. From the Iranian side of course, they've denied all responsibility and simply said that the bomb attacks here in the Gulf of Oman and these rocket attacks need investigation are highly suspicious. All part of that growing sense of tension and unease here in the Middle East. Poppy, Jim?

HARLOW: Yes, such a critical time. And now the acting Defense Secretary is out, and this is a time when we really need --


HARLOW: Stability --

SCIUTTO: And another --

HARLOW: Yes -- SCIUTTO: Acting one in, yes --

HARLOW: It's actually -- OK, Sam, thank you. Under fire, the president's own hand-picked head of the Federal Reserve now once again feeling the heat. The president suggesting the wrong decision from Jerome Powell on interest rates or one that the president doesn't like could cost him his job. Seriously, that's happening, we'll talk about it.


SCIUTTO: So, what's the story? It's the politics that are important, the economics of it, it's truly remarkable. Critical meeting for the Federal Reserve, more than just your money at stake. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's job also may apparently be on the line. Listen to why?

HARLOW: In just a few hours, the Fed will announce around 2:00 today what it's going to do with interest rates. And that affects your mortgage rates, it affects everything for you. It comes as the president wraps up his -- ramps up his pressure on Powell, suggesting that he may potentially demote him if the Fed does not lower interest rates.

Cristina Alesci is with us -- wow, the Fed is supposed to be always politically independent, apolitical, and yet the president is trying to have his way to boost economic numbers as he kicks off his campaign by telling the Fed what to do.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN BUSINESS & POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is really remarkable action, and again it's taking a shot at the Fed's independence. To your point, the Fed is supposed to be 100 percent focused on making sure the economy is doing well, and it's supposed to be totally independent of the political cycle and there's a reason for that because the American people come first when it comes to Fed, not whether somebody is going to get re-elected, and the president clearly trying to pressure the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates which will boost the economy and help him into this 2020 re-election cycle.

So, clearly a lot of pressure on the Federal Reserve today. But it is not the only place that Jerome Powell is feeling the pressure from. He's also feeling it from the markets. Investors want to see an interest rate cut. They want to keep the party going on Wall Street.

SCIUTTO: But that's not what he's supposed to make the judgment based on.