Return to Transcripts main page


Robert Mueller to Testify Before Congress on July 17th; House Approves $4.5 Billion for Humanitarian Aid at the Border; South Korea Says U.S. and North Korea in Talks for Third Summit; Image of Drowned Father and Daughter Underscores Migrants' Peril. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 26, 2019 - 06:00   ET


[06:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- from our viewers in the United States and around the world, this is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, June 26th, 6:00 here in New York.

We begin with two big breaking stories. First, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will testify in public before two House committees. This is after Democrats subpoenaed him. Mueller will appear in back-to-back blockbuster hearings on July 17th. Democrats say that their questions will go beyond what was in his report. But remember, Mueller said he will only discuss what was in his 448-page report.

So with the prospect of an impeachment inquiry and his reelection on the line, President Trump tweeted just two words in response. Quote, "Presidential harassment."

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The other major news we're following overnight, the House voted to approve $4.5 billion to deal with the humanitarian crisis at the southern border to get the money and resources to care for the children there. The stakes all too clear for the world to see this morning.

This photo of a Salvadoran father and daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande while trying to reach Texas, they have names. Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, his daughter's name was Valeria. She was 23 months old. She died feet away from the U.S. border.

We'll have much more on this and its impact throughout the morning. But first, our man, Shimon Prokupecz, with the news that Robert Mueller will testify.

Shimon, he sure didn't want to, so what forced the issue here?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. It's not entirely clear, John, what exactly forced the issue. But it is a subpoena. The members of Congress have been in communications with him. They've been negotiating to bring him in to have him testify. And then really late last night we get word that they have come to an agreement. And he's going to appear before two committees, the first of which is the Judiciary Committee which really is where the -- if there are any impeachment hearings, if there are any impeachment issue, that is where that is going to come up. And of course the second committee he's going to appear before is the

Schiff committee. This is the House Intelligence Committee which has been looking at a lot of the Russia collusion aspects of this investigation.

Last night Jerry Nadler reacting to this agreement between Robert Mueller and his team. And here's what Nadler had to say.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Mueller is an honest, upstanding citizen and he will testify in response to the subpoena that we issued. He's not going to let the White House or anybody else tell him to defy a lawful congressional subpoena.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Bob Barr has felt more than free as the attorney general to speak well beyond the Mueller report. And if he is able to speak beyond the four corners of the Mueller report then so to should Bob Mueller feel free to do so.


PROKUPECZ: And that is the big question. How much more will Mueller go into? Will he go into any of the behind-the-scenes activity that was going on during the investigation between the Special Counsel's Office, between the Department of Justice? And the big question, will he answer, would the president have been indicted if he wasn't the president and the Department of Justice allowed -- if policy allow for a sitting president to be indicted, would Mueller have gone ahead and done that?

BERMAN: Shimon Prokupecz, thank you very much for that. Those indeed are the big questions.

Joining us now Joe Lockhart, former Clinton White House press secretary, Carrie Cordero, a CNN legal analyst, and John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst.

And Robert Mueller has given us a preview of what he will say or I should think more specifically what he won't say before Congress. Listen to what Mueller told us he would speak to.


ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.


BERMAN: So, Carrie Cordero, what do you think that practically means for July 17th? What will we see?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: As a matter of practice, I think the big challenge is going to be for the members of Congress to keep their questions narrow and give him time to answer because the big challenge is not having the members take up usually what is their each five minutes of time and actually get him to be able to describe the major findings of his report.

If the members grand stand, if they suck up the five minutes, that hearing between one committee and then later in the day, the second, that time can get eaten up very quickly.

CAMEROTA: Joe, I just don't see how it's going to work. I mean, I -- he is a reluctant witness as he has told everyone. He said the report should speak for itself. Well, this is a reticent report. I mean, there are lots of -- there are a lots of holes in this report.

BERMAN: It speaks for itself but very, very quietly.


CAMEROTA: Very, very briefly.


CAMEROTA: I mean -- and is it going to be, not a hostile situation, but a tense situation where even Democrats are asking him questions and he just keeps saying refer to my report, I'd like to refer to my report?

[06:05:09] JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think both sides, Democrats and Republicans, are going to express some frustration. But ultimately Bob Mueller is up there before Congress, a co-equal branch of the executive and the Justice where he worked. And he's going to have to answer their questions. He can't use -- there's -- you know, there's no immunity, there's no privilege that he can say because I was the special counsel.

Now he won't answer them to the full satisfaction of Democrats, I would expect. And, you know, he'll probably be annoyed at some of the questions he gets from Republicans who will attack his people, his methods, his motives, his so-called conflicts. But ultimately I think you'll find him going beyond what he said at the Department of Justice and even beyond what's in the report. Because, you know, this is a legitimate forum for Congress to gather information. And it'd be very difficult for him to not answer the questions that go beyond, as Adam Schiff said, the four corners of the report.

BERMAN: What did you mean is a great question for Robert Mueller.


BERMAN: What did you mean when you said I'll leave it up to another branch of government? What did mean when you said Justice Department guidelines keep me from either prosecuting or declining to prosecute here?

AVLON: That's one of the very big ones because it was what Barr sort of dismissed out of hand. And then when we read the full report a different story seemed to emerge. There's plenty of room for additional clarification from Bob Mueller. Expect hostile interrogations from Republicans. Mark Meadows already has teased that. And I think folks watching who are expecting that this is going to be the big reveal Mueller time better tamper their expectations. But it is absolutely legitimate after these long negotiations for Mueller to answer the open questions of which there are many.

The report doesn't only speak softly and carry a, you know, big stick as T.R. might say, but there is a lot of open questions because this did not change the game in the way he perhaps expected it.

CAMEROTA: Well, I know there's a lot of open questions. I just don't know what he's going to say because he thus far has not been that forthcoming with more than was in the -- but here's what I think the crux of the matter is, Carrie, and it's what he said in the report. "If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so."

So certainly there will be a lot of questions around what he meant by that one.

CORDERO: Absolutely. So that comes from Volume Two, the section of the report that describes the pattern of obstruction that the investigators found the president engaged in. And the question from -- particularly in the House Judiciary Committee hearing is going to be at what stage did he determine and his team determine that they weren't going to make a prosecutorial recommendation and how did they weigh the evidence.

They outlined about 10 different episodes of potential obstructive behavior. But then when he did the analysis maybe three, four, up to possibly six of those would have potentially been prosecutive cases. And I would expect Judiciary Committee to want to really drill down on those four to six cases because that's what's relevant to them if they want to push the bar further in potentially opening an impeachment inquiry.

BERMAN: Right. And they're also very simple questions. Yes or no, based on your long experience in legal profession, can a president obstruct justice? Because if the answer is yes, Democrats have an argument there and Republicans might argue Bill Barr basically has argued it's very difficult for a president to obstruct justice.

Joe Lockhart, it's a hypothetical here, but this testimony is happening. He's being forced to do it. July 17th. In the interest of transparency, I think people agreed on both sides of the aisle it's a good thing. The president might now. But hypothetically how would have thing been different if this testimony happened in April? This is 17 weeks I think at least after the Mueller report or Bill Barr's summary of it was first released. So much time has passed. And Robert Mueller really lost the chance to define what the report was about.

LOCKHART: Well, he lost the chance to define it because Barr stepped in and defined it for him. So there's no doubt that the time lapse has made bringing this report to life for the American public more difficult. But again, you know, there is some drama built around the reluctant witness and the subpoena and all of that. And I think just Robert Mueller repeating and going into greater detail and spending an entire day before Congress, you know, on live television talking about what's in the report. Talking about what he found is going to educate the American public.

And I think that's a critical part of it. But I think for the Democrats, they have to make sure. They've got between now and July 17th to make sure that the Mueller testimony is the beginning of this public process, not the end. They've got to go to court. Find a way to bring in people like Don McGahn and his deputy, get Hope Hicks in front of the cameras, all the other fact witnesses, Corey Lewandowski, et cetera.

[06:10:13] So they've got to make sure that July 17th starts this public process and moves through the fall in a very methodical way telling this story. First in Bob Mueller's voice, but then in many other voices too.

AVLON: Again, they need to get out additional information. This is not simply about reframing or reheating the Mueller report. The sad fact is that the "Last Boy Scout" got a bit outplayed in here. Mueller was trying to play it incredibly straight in this report. If this report spoke for itself ultimately he wouldn't have needed to come in front of cameras as he did several weeks later. And that gave I think people a whole another chance to absorb the key findings of the report.

Members of Congress are going to need, as Carrie said, to avoid the impulse to grand stand. The only thing that matters is getting out additional information.

CAMEROTA: It will be fascinating. John, Joe, Carrie, thank you all very much.

All right. Now breaking news late last night. The House approved more than $4 billion in humanitarian aid for the growing crisis at the southern border. But some Democrats still remain divided over the provisions in the bill and the White House is threatening to veto it.

So CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill with more. Give us the latest here -- Lauren.

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, it was actually a pretty impressive vote last night given where Democratic leaders started in the morning. Essentially they had a progressive rebellion on their hands that they had to quell. They traded back and forth multiple proposals. They got to a point where only four Democrats voted against their proposal. They got three Republicans on board.

But just a reminder, this is just the beginning of the process. The Senate has their own separate bill. They have not voted yet on the floor of representative -- on the floor of the Senate. And it is not unclear exactly when they're going to bring that bill to the floor. It's bipartisan. It passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee 30-1 but there are big differences between the Senate bill and the House bill. So even if the Senate passes their own version of the bill, it's unclear how the two bill will be reconciled in time by the end of the week in time for this Fourth of July recess.

Now there's another sort of thing looming over this entire process, which is, what will the president sign? You already said the House bill is not going to be signed by the president of the United States. But it's unclear if the Senate bill would get signed by the president either. I asked Dick Shelby who is the Senate Appropriations chairman. He told me yesterday that essentially he has not gotten any assurances from the president that he will actually sign the Senate bill even if it got pushed through the House. So a lot of moving parts this morning -- John and Alisyn.

BERMAN: Indeed. And there might be some new wiggle room in the president's own statements overnight particularly with some of the images and stories coming from the border.

Lauren Fox, on Capitol Hill, we'll let you work your sources. Get back to us with any information.

We have more breaking news this morning. Secret negotiations for a new summit. This would be the third between President Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. This is according to South Korea's president.

CNN's Paula Hancocks live in Seoul. What is the South Korean president revealing here?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this is in a written interview with a number of news agencies that President Moon Jae-in says behind the scenes, there have been negotiations between behind the U.S. and North Korea to set up that third summit. He also said this on the backdrop of what he called mutual understanding of each other's position following the Hanoi summit.

This is a summit that ended without agreement and President Moon really trying to put a positive spin on it saying that now both sides understand each other a little better. Also suggesting Yeonpyeong nuclear facility could be given up by North Korea in turn for sanctions relief. But remember, that is what North Korea effectively said they would do in Hanoi and Washington and President Trump said they wanted the undisclosed sites as well.

Of course the timing is key. Today President Trump leaves for the G- 20 meeting in Japan. He'll be here in the region. He's coming to Seoul after that. And we understand from a presidential Blue House official that he is considering going to the DMZ as well, the Demilitarized Zone, between North and South Korea. So the timing of all of this is very interesting.

Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: Paula Hancocks, thank you very much for that report.

So some of you will be waking up to this devastating picture. It captures the danger facing Central Americans trying to get to the United States. We have the heartbreaking details behind this picture of this father and daughter's attempt. Next.


[06:19:15] BERMAN: This morning, testing the conscience of every American. A photo taken by a Mexican journalist shows the desperation for so many of the migrants trying to reach the United States. It shows Salvadoran father Oscar Martinez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, they're dead, lying face down at the Mexican side of the Rio Grande after drowning in the current. The child you can see tucked inside her father's shirt. Her arm around his neck. The girl's mother tells a Mexican newspaper that she watched her husband and little girl get swept away.

It is a searing image I think that everyone needs to see.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in Texas near the border with much more on this story in this stunning image.

[06:20:07] ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, critics of the Trump administration's asylum crackdown have been saying for months that the limits on people seeking asylum at legal ports of entry is actually forcing migrants to make much dangerous decisions and try to attempt crossing illegally in much more treacherous areas. And now we've seen that play out in a deadly way.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): This is the heart-wrenching reality of a humanitarian crisis facing Central Americans who are desperately fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries. A migrant father and his nearly 2-year-old daughter found laying face down in the Rio Grande attempting to cross into the United States. Her arm around his neck, her little face tucked inside of his T-shirt.

The image captures the dangerous perils facing many family who are trying to cross into the U.S. illegally. With the Trump administration policies limiting the number of people allowed to seek asylum at ports of entry.

This morning President Trump is under fire following reports of migrants including children being housed in horrible conditions inside overcrowded U.S. border facilities like this one in Clint, Texas. Despite public outcry, more than a hundred children who were moved out of that facility were returned on Tuesday. Advocates who went inside said they saw some of Border Patrol's youngest detainees living in atrocious circumstances. Lacking access to basic hygiene products and sleeping on the floor.

Customs and Border Protection says they are not equipped to handle children within their facilities and their resources are stretched thin. One official says, "We do not want them in our custody. Our facilities are not built for that." The president is deflecting any blame. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I am. I'm very

concerned. And they're much better than they were under President Obama by far.

LAVANDERA: With national outrage growing, another major shakeup within the department that handles maintaining border facilities and immigration. Acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection John Sanders abruptly resigned from his post. President Trump is downplaying the latest departure.

TRUMP: I don't think I've ever spoken to him, actually. No, we have some very good people running it.


LAVANDERA: And John and Alisyn, what we saw play out here in the last few days with this horrible image of this father and daughter drowning in the Rio Grande, this is actually something that we've seen play out several times over the last few months where we've seen images of Border Patrol agents jumping into the river to rescue people who were nearly drowning. So this has been a treacherous situation and ongoing for quite some time -- John and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Ed, thank you very much for that reporting.

And we now want to give you a first person account about that heartbreaking photo. It has emerged from the photographer who witnessed what happened and took that picture. That journalist is named Julia Le Duc. She reports that the father, Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, had successfully crossed the river once with his daughter Valeria. He then turned to go back for his wife Tanya, leaving the 2-year-old to wait on the shores. But his daughter followed him and she jumped in after him. And the dad, Ramirez, he managed to grab the girl and hold onto her but they were both swept away in the strong current and drowned.

And according to the mom, Tanya, the family had been waiting in a migrant camp for two months hoping to be granted political asylum from the Trump administration. They were waiting in 113-degree heat. The family decided to cross the river out of desperation. But of course they never made it.

So let's bring back Joe Lockhart and John Avlon. They're back with us. Also joining us is Maria Cardona, CNN political commentator.

So this is a hard conversation, Maria. It's very, very hard obviously to look at that photo. It's very hard to hear the story behind it. But politically that's not what the asylum system is built for. These are people who wanted the American dream. These are people according to the mom of the dad who died who were poor and who wanted a better life for their daughter.


CAMEROTA: And as you know, Republicans say that that's a category of people that we actually don't want in the country right now. And our asylum system is not built for those people. And I just -- I don't know where that leaves us.

CARDONA: That leaves us with, I think, unfortunately more tragic pictures like the one that we're all seeing today and I'm hoping, Alisyn, that this will actually be an inflection point for us because if not this, then what?

I am an immigrant from Colombia. I was the same age as little Valeria when my parents came over to this country seeking a better life, which is why everyone comes here, Alisyn. All of us. Unless you're Native American, we all have the background of immigrants who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families in this country.

[06:25:08] And while people say that our asylum system was not built for this, that's actually not true. Our asylum system was built exactly for the kind of people that are fleeing their home country because if they don't, then their child, their son will be murdered, their daughter will be raped. And can you imagine the desperation that you have to feel as a mother and a father to do what Oscar did and risk his family and risk his little daughter Valeria's life to get to this country?

Because this country's shores beckons them with the American dream like no other country in the world does? And this is what we are doing to these people? This is how we are treating the children who actually do make it here? The horrors of what we have heard in terms of the detention centers, Alisyn?

When you have hostages and prisoners that have tweeted out that when they have been held by the Taliban or Iranians or Somali pirates, that they have been treated better than our government is treating these babies, toddlers, and children. That is a day of reckoning, Alisyn. And I'm talking about everybody here. Democrats are trying to do the right thing. I think there are some Republicans who want to do the right thing. But when you have a president who uses immigration as a clarion call for his base, that is a day we should all recoil in disgust.

BERMAN: Maria -- and if we can put the photo back up. When you see this photo and you look at the news in the last 24 hours with acting heads of agencies being pushed out, being replaced by deputy acting heads of agencies, you see the chaos in the people who are supposed to manage this crisis. And then you see the human impact of it.


BERMAN: How does that make you feel?

CARDONA: It makes me want to cry out, John. And I am doing everything that I can to keep it together here because every time I look at that picture, I see my daughter. I see my son. I see so many people that I have known that have come over to this country and that have made it safely, whether documented or not. But there for the grace of God go all of us, John, as a nation that was built by immigrants.

This is our collective story. And if we don't do anything about this, this is going to be and should be our collective shame. If we don't understand that this is a point of inflection for all of us, this is a point of reckoning for all of us in terms of how we treat those that are the least among us.

You know, you have Christians who are supporting this president who supposedly have to follow Jesus' teachings. What does Jesus say? How you treat the least among us is how you are going to be judged. My goodness, this is how we are going to be judged collectively by the -- not just by the country, not just by the voters, but by the world. The world's eyes are upon us. This is a moment where we all have to come together and understand what this country means for the rest of the world. And we have to bide and put up legislation that actually follows our American values.

I know that's what Democrats want to do. I know that there are some good Republicans that want to do this, too.


CARDONA: Mr. President, this is upon you now. You can't continue to use this issue as a call to your base. You can't continue to not care about what this issue does to all of us and to those who are looking to this country for a safe harbor.


AVLON: But that's precisely why we need to look at this photo. We need to say their names. Oscar and Valeria. Because we have been dragged into a place in our politics where we have made abstractions of human beings and have disconnected policies and political debates from the people being affected. And that's exactly what we can't do.

The administration will talk about coyotes a lot. They will talk about the border crossings in a way that try to dehumanize the people and undercut their idealism of wanting to come here. But this was a family fleeing violence, trying to apply for asylum, and died crossing a river. And it is the most human thing in the world for us to look at that and we should have the moral imagination to see ourselves and our own children. And that should inspire us as a people. And if it doesn't, that says something about the state of our nation in our debates.

CAMEROTA: But on the flipside, on the flipside Joe, and I know that this is a hard morning to talk about politics, but I think we have to because that's what might fix this, policy, and it's -- their mother, the mother of Oscar who died said that they were not fleeing violence. She said that they were fleeing poverty. They were poor and they wanted the American dream.