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Democrats Blame White House For "Absurd And Ridiculous Appearance by Hope Hicks"; President Trump Launches Reelection Campaign Still Bashing Hillary Clinton From 2016; Interview With John Delaney (D) Presidential Candidate. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 19, 2019 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters. Under way right now, obstructing the testimony about obstruction. Democrats blaming the White House for the, quote, "absurd and ridiculous appearance by Hope Hicks." And no one goes to the concert to hear the new songs, so President Trump launches his 2020 campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Plus, among the 15 false claims Trump made in his 76-minute speech, the claim America's air and water is the cleanest it has ever been, it's actually gotten worse. And as Congress holds a hearing on slavery reparations, the Republican leader of the Senate says America doesn't need them because Barack Obama was elected.

But first, Elizabeth Warren is on the rise. We are looking at new Monmouth University polls just in to CNN, and while it shows presidential candidate Joe Biden leading the pack among democratic voters nationwide, with more than double the support, it's the battle, really, for the number two spot that's turning heads here.

Elizabeth Warren has surged 5 percent from last month, and she is now neck-in-neck with Bernie Sanders, virtually tied for second place. Joining me now is Patrick Murray. He is the director of the Monmouth University Institute, a polling institute. So this is quite the move that we're seeing here by Elizabeth Warren. Do you know why we're seeing this?

PATRICK MURRAY, DIRECTOR, MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY POLLING INSTITUTE: Yes. She's solidifying her support among liberals -- liberal voters right now, and I think that's the key. And it's been a slow, steady progress over the past two months for her, unlike some other candidates in the past who jumped up in the polls, Harris, Buttigieg, O'Rourke, when they first announced.

Hers has been a very steady and solid climb. And what it is, is these are establishment liberals. These are the new deal liberals who have an affection for the Democratic Party, whereas Bernie Sanders' supporters are liberals who are really disaffected from the party, don't like the party leadership but like his policies.

And I think that's one of the reasons why Bernie Sanders is actually calling on the memory of FDR because I think he realized that this is a group that Elizabeth Warren can win over with her policy proposals, and that's exactly what the polling looks like is happening right now.

KEILAR: Yes, that's a really interesting point about the message we're seeing from Bernie Sanders. Hearing from sources in the Biden campaign, they're telling CNN they aren't exactly worried about Warren getting traction because she's eating into Bernie Sanders' support and splitting the progressive vote.

MURRAY: Right.

KEILAR: Do they have a point when you look at this?

MURRAY: Yes, that's what we see. I mean among moderate voters right now, she still has only has 6 percent support versus 25 percent support in the liberal wing of the party. So that's where her support is coming from, so she is -- so nobody really is really undermining Biden in that area. It's just Warren and sanders are basically divvying up the liberal wing based on whether they really have a strong attachment to the Democratic Party or not.

KEILAR: So when it comes to electability, tell us which democratic candidates are standing the best chance against President Trump? Because it seems like Sanders at this point still holds a small edge over Warren in that regard but really not too much.

MURRAY: Yes. Yes - no (ph), I think they're basically tied. What we did was we asked democratic voters, because they have been telling us all along that, at the end of the day, electability's going to be their number one issue, who can beat Donald Trump. So we asked them on a scale of zero to 10, rate the candidates.

So Joe Biden comes up on top but at an average of 7.7, but Sanders and Warren are right there with each other. And what's interesting is that right now we're in a stage where everybody who supports a candidate basically says their candidate is electable. And I think next week's debates are going to really change that up a little bit.

People are going to see them side by side. They're going to see them. They can compare, contrast, ad these are the numbers I think that we could start to see shift. And as they shift, I think Warren is in a pretty good spot right now, of coalescing the liberal wing as somebody who is electable, as we go forward and she becomes better known.

KEILAR: Yes, we cannot wait for that. Patrick Murray, thank you so much. And meanwhile over on Capitol Hill, Democrats say that we're witnessing obstruction of justice happening in real-time. They're talking about former Trump aide Hope Hicks who testified before the House Judiciary Committee for much of the morning, but Democrats say she refused to answer any questions about her time in the White House, including but not limited to where her office was located in the west wing. Really?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So they're preventing her from talking about anything?

REP. TED LIEU, (D-CA) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Anything related to her tenure in the White House, absolutely. Even something as simple as where was your office located, objection. It is ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the office question, was that a real question that was asked that they objected to?

LIEU: That was a real question that was asked.


I want to bring in Congressional reporter for "The Washington Post", Rachael Bade with us. So tell us, why won't she talk about something as seemingly harmless as where her office was located?


RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": So the White House has come in with Hope Hicks today and her testimony, and they're basically blocking her from answering any questions about her time at the White House, claiming that she is immune from speaking about these incidents.

Obviously, Hope Hicks left the White House quite a long time ago, so she is no longer there. Democrats are saying that this is a bogus claim of immunity, and they are trying to get her to answer these questions but being rebuffed left and right. Why does this matter? Hicks is one of the closest aides to President Trump, or she was when she was there. She worked for him before he ran for the White House; she worked for him through the campaign, and then again at the White House.

Now, she has been central to witnessing potential obstruction of justice, according to special counsel Robert Mueller. He mentioned her 180 times in the Mueller report, and so, Democrats were hoping to ask her about some of these instances, but they're just getting blocked left and right, which is really frustrating a lot of the Democrats.

KEILAR: And, you know, considering how close an aide Hicks was, it's intriguing, according to our reporting here at CNN, Hicks and Trump rarely speak, Rachael. We're actually told that she's ignored several of his phone calls. She's still, though, clearly following the White House's order to not cooperate here. How do you square those two things?

BADE: Well, clearly she's looking out for her own, you know, future, and coordination of any kind, you know, Democrats could say they're sort of aligning their answers and accuse them of, once again, trying to obstruct justice or something like that. So perhaps she's looking out for her own legal standing.

It is going to be interesting to see whether they take her to court because a lot of Democrats are leaving the room, openly talking about how they need to get her to testify. They're going to have to go to a court to have a judge potentially force her to answer these questions. And keep in mind that this is just one of many witnesses that

Democrats were really hoping to talk to, to sort of go through the Mueller report and learn more about it. So we're looking at multiple potential court cases that could drag out for a long time. For now. they're just sort of left frustrated.

KEILAR: Indeed. All right, Rachael Bade, thank you so much. And Democrats say the White House lawyers are claiming absolute immunity to have Hicks avoid answering these questions. But according to Judiciary Committee member, David Cicilline, absolute immunity isn't a real thing. This is what he told us in a crowded Capitol Hill hallway.


REP. DAVID CICILLINE, (D-RI) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: There's no such thing as absolute immunity that prevents someone from answering questions about any subject related to their work in an administration. It just doesn't exist.


KEILAR: I want to bring in Julian Epstein, the chief counsel for the House Judiciary Democrats during President Clinton's impeachment. All right, Julian, explain to us, what does this mean, "absolute immunity" and how is this playing out in this instance?

JULIAN EPSTEIN, CHIEF COUNSEL FOR HOUSE JUDICIARY DEMS DURING CLINTON IMPEACHMENT: Well, absolute immunity would be a claim by the White House that none of the staff or the president need to be -- answer any questions in a Congressional proceeding or in a legal proceeding. You don't have to take David Cicilline's word for this.

The Supreme Court has spoken on this. They spoke in 1974 when Nixon tried to stop a subpoena from being compelled to get the tapes. The Supreme Court said there's no such thing as absolute immunity. What there is is there is executive privilege, but executive privilege is very, very narrow. Executive privilege has to first be invoked by the president.

It was not invoked by the president in this instance, with Hope Hicks testifying. It is very narrow relating to kind of deliberative decisions. So the information that senior advisors give to the president so the president can figure out how to discharge his duties as president, it does not relate to things like Hope Hicks' role during the campaign, for example. There could not be a conceivable claim of privilege that the White House could invoke with what Hope Hicks heard or saw or did during the campaign.

It cannot relate to whether she was involved in trying to constrain the Mueller testimony, by telling attorney general sessions to limit the scope of it, so it was just forward-looking rather than backward- looking. And that is one of the allegations in the Mueller report. It cannot relate to whether she was involved in trying to get Michael Flynn to not testify in the Mueller proceeding, which is another allegation in the Mueller report. So what the White House is doing is invoking a blanket privilege that

the courts have said does not exist. They know it doesn't exist. It's kind of putting lipstick on a pig of an argument that they just don't have. It's not a serious legal argument. Nobody that has practiced in this area would regard it as a serious legal argument. It goes back to what we spoke about before.

KEILAR: It's a delay tactic.

EPSTEIN: It's a delay tactic. This is politics. They want to kick it into the courts. I think it's bad politics for them because I think it's just going to keep the issue alive for a long time --

KEILAR: Unless he --

EPSTEIN: -- rather than trying to find accommodation.

KEILAR: Unless he wants to keep it alive, is also the question. So Hope Hicks, she was mentioned so many times.

EPSTEIN: One-hundred and eighty-four was my count.

KEILAR: Yes, in the investigation, in the report from Robert Mueller, she spoke at least three times.


She spoke at length to his team. So in that regard, does it mean that executive privilege was already waived?

EPSTEIN: Likely, it does. I mean it's another gray area of law. If you -- if a White House staff speaks to a law enforcement official for a law enforcement matter, does it mean that executive privilege is waived for other things, for a Congressional investigation? Not a clear answer to that issue. The answer probably is likely, particularly once that portion of the Mueller report, the stuff that she testified to is made public.

If the White House wanted to invoke executive privilege on her part of the testimony to Mueller, they should have never allowed that part of the report to be made public. They should have claimed executive privilege on that. So the answer's probably yes, but secondly, you know, to this point about whether there is a legitimate legal claim, even if there was a legitimate legal claim on executive privilege, it does not extend to obstruction of justice or her role in potential illegal behavior.

And the two incidents that I cited in the Mueller report, her role in constraining the Mueller investigation, trying to cut back the Mueller investigation, her role in trying to get Flynn possibly to not testify, those are clear obstruction of justice questions. It would be unlikely I think that any court would give her protection on executive privilege.

She may want to invoke the 5th Amendment because I think that she actually has some legal exposure going forward. So I could -- I see her invoking a privilege on self-incrimination, but executive privilege is not a serious claim. It's kicking the can down the road. It's a political maneuver by the White House, which we can talk about another time.

KEILAR: We will -- and we will talk about it at another time.

EPSTEIN: I think it's -- I think it's dumb politics for this White House.

KEILAR: Julian Epstein, thank you so much for explaining that to us.

EPSTEIN: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: The president playing the old hits to convince people to reelect him, but many of his hits are outright lies, so we'll fact check those. Plus, under President Trump, U.S. air quality worsens for first time in decades, just as the Trump administration announces another move today that threatens to make it even worse. And as Congress discusses slavery reparations, Mitch McConnell says America does not need them because, among other things, Barack Obama was elected.



KEILAR: President Trump's campaign for re-election is officially underway after his kickoff rally in Florida. He treated the crowd to some of his greatest hits from the 2016 campaign which included bashing Hillary Clinton, invoking fear over immigration and accusing Democrats of destroying the country. He also made more than 15 false claims during his 76-minute speech. So we have CNN reporter Daniel Dale here with us to separate the fact from the fiction to separate the president as claim about the environment. Let's listen.


TRUMP: Our air and water are the cleanest they've ever been by far.


KEILAR: Alright. Not true, Daniel. Tell us about this?

DANIEL DALE, CANADIAN JOURNALIST: It's not true. So we're in the middle of a long-term improvement in American air quality. Many scientists attribute it to the clean air act in 1970, but in the past couple years, it seems to have gotten worse, at least for the short term. We don't know if it is a long-term trend but it has gotten worse. The American lung association does an annual report and they found that 2015 to 2017 period was actually worse than the 2014 to 2016 period. This almost never happens.

The number of hazardous air quality days in cities increased. It usually decreases. This has happened for two years. The number of people living in cities with hazardous levels of ozone or short-term particle pollution increased by 7.2 million, it went up. And so scientists caution, we don't know if it is a lasting trend, but it is happening. So this is not the best we've ever been.

KEILAR: Not the time to make that claim, for sure. OK, so then there's the subject of the investigation into Russian interference in the election and the president said this.


TRUMP: We did in the middle of the great and illegal witch hunt things that nobody had been able to accomplish, not even close. And they spent $40 million on this witch hunt, $40 million.


KEILAR: all right. What's the real story?

DALE: so trump's been using this $40 million figure, Rudy Giuliani has used this figure. We don't know where they're getting it. Robert Mueller has filed expense reports. You can see them online. He's reported that his office spent $12 million from the time of his appointment in 2017 to September 2018. There was also 13 million in associated expenses from the department of justice that adds up to 25 million. That only takes us to September 2018; his office was open for eight more months after that. So it is possible, even likely that the expenses will end up somewhere in the 30-plus million range. Where he got 40 we're not sure. We don't know if he's wrong, but we don't know where he got it.

KEILAR: That's interesting. And then there's the promise, right, to build the wall along the border with Mexico. The president claims the Democrats were for it before they were against it. Let's listen.


TRUMP: And you know we couldn't get the wall approved by the Democrats, even though they voted for it four years ago and six years ago and didn't get built, but they voted for it. All of a sudden trump is president, we don't want a wall.



KEILAR: Alright. Break that down.

DALE: Well, that's not exactly what happened. Many Democrats, not all, such as not Nancy Pelosi, many of them voted in 2006 under George w. Bush for something called the secure fence act. As the name suggests it was for fencing, 700 miles of fencing. Trump then came along, proposing a giant 30 or 50 or 70-foot, giant concrete barrier. And so, whether you think Democrats are hypocrites or not I think depends on whether you see an equivalence between the secure fence act and the giant monstrosity of a wall. Many Democrats would say they're very different. There was one other time Democrats voted for fencing, and that was during the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform debate. And in that case, they voted for fencing because it was part of a package that included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. And so they were trading it off, not expressing their support for it -- in it of itself.

KEILAR: Alright, Daniel Dale, thank you so much.

DALE: Thank you.

KEILAR: So much smarter for having you on. Really appreciate it.

DALE: Thank you.

KEILAR: Alright, so we just talked about the environment. Well, today the president just rolled back another Obama-era rule despite a serious warning. I will be speaking live with the 2020 candidate. Also, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez under fire for comparing immigration detention centers to concentration camps. Why she's not backing down.



KEILAR: 1,400 Americans could die sooner than they should have over the next decade according to the EPA. That is just one side effect of a new move by the Trump administration to roll back an Obama-era plan to limit coal-fired power plant emissions. Instead, the EPA says that they can -- states can set their own carbon emission standards, and in comparison, President Obama's plan was estimated to prevent 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks and 90,000 asthma attacks. Trump's EPA argues that it also would have jacked up energy costs, hurting low and middle income Americans the most.

Let's bring in Democratic Presidential Candidate John Delaney, who is here in the studio with us. You are a proud moderate. You also have sounded the alarm on environmental and climate change issues. How would you balance these competing interests, the issue of cost, which is passed on to the consumer, and climate?

JOHN DELANEY, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you have to be smart about it. That's why I believe my plan to deal with climate change is by far the best plan because (ph) it will get us to net zero by 2050, but it's also pro-growth. It is a big investment innovation, battery and storage technologies that we need. It will create a whole new industry called direct air capture, which is like carbon vacuums, machines that actually take co2 out of the atmosphere. But it is fundamentally based on something I worked on in the Congress on a bipartisan basis, which is a carbon fee and dividend.

So, we put a price on carbon, which does raise the cost of energy. Fossil fuel energy makes them less attractive. But you take all of the money and you give it right back to the American people. So, it kind of goes out one pocket, in another, and it will cut emissions by 90%. The president is a climate denier. Anything he says about climate change is wrong because he doesn't believe it's happening, which is one of the many tragedies of his presidency. My plan is the best way forward, I can get it done and it will actually grow the economy and deal with this incredibly big issue that were, in my judgment, immorally leaving our children. KEILAR: I want to play for you a claim that the president made last

night. This is what he said about the environment.


TRUMP: Our air and water are the cleanest they have ever been by far.


KEILAR: Now, air quality we have just seen, and I should say, we just had our Daniel dale on it, just fact checking this...

DELANEY: --And I heard it, yes...

KEILAR: --and saying, look, they have to see if it was a trend or a blip. But for the first time in decades we have seen air quality get worse. What is your reaction to the president saying this?

DELANEY: Well listen, the president lies, thousands of lies he's said since he has been president. I didn't watch his thing last night. I'm sure it was filled with a lot of misstatements or dishonest statements.

KEILAR: 15 of them.

DALE: Yeah, and counting. But, look, the reason air and water quality has improved over the last several decades is because we passed landmark bipartisan legislation like the clean air act, right, which has been materially kind of effective in terms of making air quality cleaner in this country across the last several decades. The same thing with water, those were big initiatives, those were laws that we passed where we came together as a country to protect our environment. That's exactly what we have to do with climate change, Right? We have to pass laws that actually put this country in a position where we can get to net zero and lead the world, Right? It is not that complicated, right? We have environmental issues. We have air quality issues, we have water quality issues and we have climate change issues. We need to work together, find solutions and get them done.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about something that we're keeping our eye on, on the hill today...

DELANEY: --Yes...

KEILAR: --which is Hope Hicks. She's been testifying before the house judiciary committee. Democrats say that she is refusing to answer questions about her time in the White House. They feel clearly she is very much stonewalling. She won't even say where her desk was located in the west wing. So, I want to turn this on you. You are running for president. How would you handle a Congressional investigation? Would you promise, can you promise that you would not invoke executive privilege or refuse or to have staffers comply with requests for testimony or even subpoenas and direct them to do that? Can you promise that?

DELANEY: I can never really promise.