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President Trump's Two-Week Deadline Includes One Week of Recess; Democrats May Subpoena Robert Mueller This Week; Trump Spent Weekend at Camp David Without Top Policy Officials or His Family. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 24, 2019 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So expect that issue not to get resolved. So what will the president do if Congress adjourns for the week, not dealing with the asylum law issue but passing a funding package instead? That is a question for the president to answer, and still remains to be seen here whether or not there will be a deal cut between the two sides on that funding package.

And, Jim, we expect to hear from Nancy Pelosi in just a matter of minutes, so we'll see if she sheds any light on (ph) that phone call from Friday night or what she plans to do in days ahead -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yes, listen, easy to spend money. Far harder to come to an agreement among Democrats and Republicans on the asylum law. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

Joining me now, Jeff Mason, he's White House correspondent for Reuters and former president of the White House Correspondents' Association. And Lisa Lerer. She's a CNN political analyst and national political reporter for "The New York Times."

Help, Jeff Mason, game this out for us. Nancy Pelosi makes a call. President, in effect, listens but gives two weeks, one of which, the House will be in recess. I mean, give us some realistic handicapping on whether they can get to agreement on the asylum law issue, not just money for the humanitarian crisis at the border.

JEFF MASON, REUTERS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start, Jim, a little bit, by talking about deadlines. The president often will throw out a deadline. He'll say, "We're going to do this in two weeks," or "We're going to have an announcement in two weeks," "We're going to have an agreement in two weeks." And they slip and they don't always stay very strong. So I think that's at least context to keep in mind.

In terms of handicapping this particular issue, look, I mean, Manu set it up really well. It seems very unlikely that in just the one week that Congress is here in town, that the White House and the Democrats are going to find common ground on an issue that they just haven't had so far. So I think in terms of handicapping, it seems very unlikely.

But I think it's also important to realize, this is -- this is something that the president cares about, in terms of invigorating his base. This comes just a week after he launched his re-election campaign. It's -- he's going to keep pushing on it, whether or not it gets done in the next two weeks or not.

SCIUTTO: Yes. No question.

Lisa, you have had, from this president, some notable reversals on a number of issues, and reversals noticed by his supports. You have the Iran military strike pulled back minutes before it was to take place, you had this ICE deportations, at least delayed for a couple of weeks. You had the Mexican tariff pullback here.

Is the president entering dangerous territory politically here, to be reversing himself last-minute on some of these key issues?

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president is in dangerous territory. He is, at least right now. Of course numbers can change. But he's entering this race in a fairly weak position.

One measure that we like to look at is the number of people who say they definitely will not vote for the president. And that number is at a historic high. It's actually a slight majority of voters.

The question is whether it impacts the president with his base. And I think some of this -- some of his base sees this as a negotiating tactic. They like that he kind of throws out the norms of Washington and he's cutting deals. But winning elections, you know, you do have to bring some people over. And he does have to rebuild the coalition that he had last time around.

And what Democrats are looking at is the suburban voters who swung to them in the midterms. And what we know about those voters is this is exactly what they don't like. They don't like the president's tone, they don't like the sense of chaos in Washington. So, yes, I do think this kind of reversal is a bit dangerous for him.

SCIUTTO: Jeff Mason, we had an eyewitness on this broadcast last hour, a lawyer who went down to the border to witness the conditions that migrants' children, migrant children are being held in. I just want to read it because it was quite a shocking eyewitness account.

"They were the worst conditions that I've ever seen in the United States of America." She says they're -- "children are being warehoused" -- her words -- "in a 'Lord of the Flies' scenario."

I mean, you remember the political upheaval that there was over the president's family separation policy, which he reversed on. But in effect, we're seeing family separation in practice here, maybe not in name but in practice on the border.

Is this an issue that is politically dangerous for him as well? Because the family separation one was even an issue that was -- that went too far for many Republicans.

MASON: Absolutely. The family situation issue drew criticism from Republicans and Democrats, including Republican and Democratic former first ladies. So, yes, I think this issue absolutely will. I think Democrats will jump on it.

And I think that honestly -- I mean, I listened to that segment and it was so heartbreaking. It's something that I would think Republicans and Democrats would be outrages by.

So the question is, how do Democrats, I guess, use that politically to their advantage. And does President Trump, does his administration get on it and do something on it very quickly to mitigate it politically, but more importantly, of course, to handle the humanitarian issues that were raised in that. It's just brutal.

[10:35:03] SCIUTTO: Lisa, what is your assessment of the Trump administration's goal with Iran now? Because you had military strike nearly happen, then pulled back. The president tell Chuck Todd yesterday, "Well, if we do -- I don't want war but if we do, it'll be total obliteration."

Similar rhetoric to what he used with Kim Jong Un, right? Fire and fury before then sitting down at the table and beginning a loving relationship, as he's described it, with the North Korean dictator here. I mean, is the president looking to have a similar turn with Iran and do you see him making a similar turn with Iran, saying, "OK, we're going to talk. No preconditions."

LERER: Well, it's really hard, as we've learned in Washington, across the country, to predict what the president wants and what the president is going to do. And I think that's part of the problem with how he's handled this Iran situation.

It's not only about what it means for his re-election chances and his political position, but internationally, I think it has the effect of making some allies nervous about, "Well, if you join a coalition with the U.S. to, say, push back on China, is the U.S. a reliable ally? Is this president" -- they know this president is unpredictable. "Will he stay with you," will he, you know, stick with his allies. And I think the answer that most of our allies have is, "No."

SCIUTTO: Lisa Lerer, Jeff Mason, good to have you on this morning.

MASON: Good to be with you --


SCIUTTO: Democrats are set to make a decision this week on Robert Mueller. Will they subpoena the special counsel to testify? We could know the answer to that question very soon.


[10:41:10] SCIUTTO: Will Robert Mueller get his day on the Hill? Democrats could decide as soon as this week, whether to subpoena the special counsel to testify in public about his Russia investigation. House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff, telling CNN that his committee has been in private discussions with the special counsel's office. He wants to hear from Mueller before the August recess.

CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin joins me now to discuss.

This would be quite a moment. You would have, for the first time, the special counsel pressed on issues that either his report or his public statement did not address here. Can he avoid this subpoena? Can he avoid -- well, they could send a subpoena. But can he avoid testifying?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think so. I think he is a private citizen who is obliged to answer a subpoena like anyone else. I am astonished that it has taken this long for the Democrats to get their act together to issue a subpoena. I -- you know, this is a significant event in American history. Robert Mueller has issued a very impressive and lengthy report, but it certainly doesn't answer every question about his investigation and I just don't understand what the Democrats have been waiting for.

SCIUTTO: In your view, has the special counsel failed so far to answer key questions about his judgments in his report?

TOOBIN: Well, I don't know if "failure" is the right word. But, I mean, there are just open questions about, you know, what he did and why. Also very importantly, there are questions about his relationship with the Department of Justice under Attorney General Barr.

Did Attorney General Barr mischaracterize the Mueller report? Why did Attorney General -- why did Mueller not recommend explicitly an indictment of the president? And why didn't he say explicitly why -- whether the president had committed crimes?

I mean, you know, he addressed those questions in part in his report, but they certainly call for follow-ups --


TOOBIN: -- and, you know, the idea that a public official can say, "Read my report and I'm not answering any more questions," I mean, just -- that's just not how the government works.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It is not a privilege granted to other Americans --


SCIUTTO: -- frankly. The other issue Democrats pursuing, among many, is Kellyanne Conway for alleged violations of the Hatch Act. Just for folks at home, explain what the Hatch Act is and why it matters.

TOOBIN: Well, it's a very old law that says that government officials in the executive branch can't campaign, essentially, for or against Democratic and Republican candidates. They can't take explicit political positions.

Now, you know, there are -- there is considerable play in the joints. You know, what counts as explicit political statements. You know, "The president is doing a great job," I don't think anyone is -- would be prosecuted for violating the Hatch Act for that. But, you know, the -- more explicit involvement in partisan politics

is forbidden. The Hatch Act, it's not a criminal offense, it is not something where Kellyanne Conway or anyone else can be prosecuted. But this Office of Special Counsel, which is different from Robert Mueller's Office of Special Counsel, can recommend that someone be fired. That's what's been done. And the president has said, "No way, I'm not firing her." And --


TOOBIN: -- and Congress wants to investigate that, which is sort of a normal thing that Congress investigates.


Final question. We have the G20 coming up later this week. I'll be going out there. The president, talking about another meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Democrats, with that in mind, want to know about what the plans are, given past evidence that the president took extraordinary steps to destroy notes of private one-on-one meetings with Putin. Do Democrats have the power to do this effectively?

[10:45:17] TOOBIN: You know, I think this is one area where the Democratic effort is weakest. I mean, the president's ability to conduct foreign policy independent of congressional oversight of the interactions he has with foreign leaders, I think that's an area where very few courts would force the disclosure of notes or, you know, details about communications between foreign leaders.

However, I mean, it's important to remember that the White House has greeted all congressional oversight, since the Democrats retook the House, with a complete stonewall.

That even in areas where the Democrats have very good claims -- like the president's tax returns, like, you know, Don McGahn's testimony, the former White House counsel -- those are areas where the Democrats, I think, legally are in a very strong position but the congressional -- but the foreign policy area, I think they'd have a very tough time persuading a court --


TOOBIN: -- to disclose that.

SCIUTTO: Jeffrey Toobin, good to have you on.

TOOBIN: Brother Sciutto, as always.

SCIUTTO: Up next, brand-new reporting about Trump's trip to Camp David this weekend. And it is who did not join him on that trip that's surprising. Stay with us, you're going to want to hear this story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:51:30] SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN, we are learning more about President Trump's trip to Camp David over the weekend. But what's interesting here is who was not with him. Kaitlan Collins joins me now.

Kaitlan, the story before he went was, he was going to have all these big meetings on Iran at Camp David. So who was with him?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it also came after days of the president disregarding the advice of his national security advisors, who were advocating a strike on Iran, some kind of response. And the president, after disregarding that advice, essentially went on his own way to Camp David as well.

We are being told that the president, at the retreat right outside of Washington, was not joined by any senior policy aides, any cabinet members or even his chief of staff.

Now, when he was leaving here at the White House on Saturday, he told reporters he was going to Camp David where he was going to have a series of meetings and calls focused on Iran and what's going to come next.

Now, Jim, of course wherever the president goes, there is a state-of- the-art communications system that goes with him. And of course, he can teleconference in to whoever he'd like, essentially. But when we asked the White House for a readout of the president's activities over the weekend, they declined to give us one because no communications staffer was with the president at Camp David either.

Now, of course, the focus is to several notable people who were not there. That is, John Bolton, the president's national security advisor, who was on a flight to Jerusalem, and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was preparing for a trip to Brussels and also was not there.

This weekend also came amid that transfer of power that you saw at the Defense Department, where Patrick Shanahan was essentially handing over the reins to Mark Esper at Sunday night -- at midnight on Sunday night.

Now, of course, presidents typically can go to Camp David. They've used it in the past as a retreat to get away from the troubles of Washington. But we are also told that the president's family did not join him at Camp David either.

So essentially, it was a weekend where the president was there, surrounded by a slew of junior aides. The most senior was Dan Scavino, the social media director, who of course as we've reported on at length, is more of a friend to the president than some kind of policy advisor.

So it just raises interesting questions of, after days of the president not heeding the advice or calls of his national security team or immigration hawks, the president essentially went on his own to Camp David as well, Jim. SCIUTTO: Yes. So you asked if these meetings that the president

tweeted about, these important meetings and discussions he was going to have on Iran, if the president had those meetings. And the White House says, "We can't answer" because there was no press person with him.

COLLINS: Yes. They didn't give any kind of detailed what went on in those meetings. Of course if they were Iran-related, they would potentially be classified. They're national security-related.

But when we asked the White House if the president had any calls that they wanted to read out or meetings they wanted to disclose, they did not give any details on what exactly it was the president did.

And I should note that several people we spoke with said that they did not see any real purpose to this retreat. This, the president going to Camp David, beyond just a much-needed break from the White House.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And such secret meetings that the president tweeted about them in advance, if they did indeed happen. Kaitlan Collins, great reporting, as always.

[10:54:28] Another death of an American tourist in the Dominican Republic bring the total now to 10. Are these deaths connected? We're going to have that story next.


SCIUTTO: A New York man is now the 10th American tourist to die while vacationing in the Dominican Republic. Police in the Dominican Republic have confirmed that 56-year-old Vittorio Caruso died earlier this month. His family tells CNN affiliate News 12 Long Island that he died after suffering respiratory distress and possibly a heart attack. The results of an autopsy are pending.

The prosecution in the murder trial of a decorated Navy SEAL is working to regain momentum after its case hit a snag. Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher is accused of stabbing a captured ISIS fighter in the neck, and then posing for pictures with the corpse while deployed in Iraq in 2017.

But last week, a witness for the prosecution testified that he allegedly delivered the fatal blow to the prisoner, not Gallagher. Last week, a different witness testified that he saw Gallagher plunge the knife into that prisoner's neck.

A conviction on murder or even attempted murder charges carries a penalty of life in prison. Prosecutors could wrap up their case within the next day or two. We're going to be watching it.

[11:00:04] Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto. "AT THIS HOUR" starts right now.