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Robert Mueller to Face Two House Committees on July 17th; Interview With Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) on Mueller's Testimony and the Border Crisis; Image of Drowned Father and Daughter Sparked Highlights Migrants' Peril. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired June 26, 2019 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN TALK" is next. For everyone else, NEW DAY continues right now.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The House Judiciary Committee announced plans to subpoena Mueller, bring him in before a public hearing.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Barr misrepresented the report. Our interest is for the American people to hear it from him.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): Mueller better be prepared. The American people will start to see the flaws in his report.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This father grew tired of the long wait at the processing center. He was taken under by the current.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we would like to do is ask the Democrats to give us help on asylum.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): This is a crisis that was manufactured by Trump. We need to end it.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Madame Speaker, we are better than this. You may be proud of your action, but the question will be, will history be kind to you?

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.


BERMAN: All right, good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. Major breaking news overnight. Robert Mueller will testify. This is something he actively tried to avoid but a subpoena changed the equation for the former special counsel.

Mueller has agreed to appear before two House committees in public on TV to testify about the Russia investigation. I'm talking three weeks from now, July 17th, mark your calendars. Democrats say their questions will go beyond what is in the Mueller report even though Mueller has already said he will only discuss what was already public.

Overnight the president issued a new salvo about this move.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Also developing this morning, the House voting to approve $4.5 billion in aid for the humanitarian crisis at the southern border late last night. And then there's this heart- wrenching photograph that underscores the human toll. A Salvadorian father and his 23-month-old daughter drowned in the Rio Grande while attempting to reach Texas.

Joining us now is Maggie Haberman. She is the White House correspondent for the "New York Times" and a CNN political analyst. We also have Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's chief legal analyst.

Let's just start with the picture of the baby, Maggie. I assume that when we hear from the president he will say something like this is a tragedy but we warned people. This is what happens when you risk taking your 2-year-old to the United States outside of the legal system.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I think you will hear something along those lines. And I think that it is important to bear in mind that what took place as we understand it with this case and the picture is horrific is this was a family that was part of the metering system that the administration is doing in terms of asylum claims, which is trying to deter legal immigration.

We talk a lot about illegal immigration over that border. This is the legal asylum system which the White House is trying to push back on and slow down in terms of claims that people are seeking. This family apparently got frustrated and the father --

CAMEROTA: They had a two-month wait I guess on the other side, is that --

HABERMAN: At least. And the thing with this metering claims is they're not guaranteed a date, they're not necessarily guaranteed when they're going to have any kind of access or meeting or anything. And so it's not as if they were waiting a day. They were waiting as we say for awhile. It was blisteringly hot. They grew frantic, it sounds like, and tried to, you know, get across another way.

I do think you're going to hear the president say essentially this is not his fault. That there has been warning to other people not to do this. He is very triggered by images.

BERMAN: Right.

HABERMAN: And I think that other people will be very triggered by what is an awful, awful, awful picture. So it's possible he will have a different response. But I think what you just described is certainly what his immediate response will be.

BERMAN: He get the power of images. He gets the power of TV. And if you look at the past at what has triggered change or movement in this immigration discussion or debate, it has been things like this. And I do wonder if inside the White House this would be a struggle for them to deal with.

HABERMAN: Look, it's not lost on them that there are these reports about the horrific conditions that children are in in these migrant centers and that they are overcrowded. They are at capacity. And children who were moved out of one center in particular now being moved back in a number of cases. So this is a discussion that they're already aware of. That the conversation is getting away from them and it is threatening to overwhelm them when they are trying to argue that they are making changes for a better system.

Again, I -- it is -- the situation at the border is so -- such a morass right now that there is no easy fix. It's not clear to me where the administration wants to go on this because right now they're just involved in this "Game of Thrones" of changing people at DHS.

COOPER: And yet, Jeffrey, I think that the administration would argue this is not what the asylum system was set up for. This was a Salvadoran family, the mother, the grandmother of the little girl who was killed, the mother of the dad who was killed, said that they were poor. And they were coming for economic opportunity. They were coming for the American dream. She didn't cite violence.

This is not what the asylum system is set up for I think the administration will say and that we cannot open our doors to anyone who is poor and wants the American dream like once my great grandparents did. That times have changed and so I don't think that they will see this as connected to the Trump administration policies.

[07:05:02] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the other thing that is likely particularly from the president in response to this is simply to lie, is simply to say that the situation was the Democrats' fault in its entirely. The situation was worse under President Obama. All of which he has said and all of which is false. But, you know, this is the president's reaction to particularly any problem on his watch is never to take any sort of personal responsibility and to push it off on Democrats, on previous Democratic presidents. And I think that is going to be a central part of the response as well.

BERMAN: Let us put the picture back on the screens because I want people to know their names. It's Oscar Martinez and Valeria Martinez. She's 23 months old, or was 23 months old. You can see the father who tried to put the T-shirt over his daughter to protect her. Her arm is around his neck and they're dead this morning. And whatever the policy discussion is, they were trying to get into the United States. They died a few feet from the border.

And the question for everyone this morning, policy makers and citizens, is how to keep this from happening. How do you protect 23- month-old children who are feet away from the United States? We're going to talk much more about this also as the morning continues.

Meanwhile, the breaking news. Robert Mueller's going to testify. Robert Mueller will talk before Congress on July 17th. It took a subpoena to get him there, Jeffrey. But he's coming. Now I want to remind you what Robert Mueller told us he will not say before Congress. Listen.


ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER 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, Jeffrey, what will we see July 17th from Robert Mueller?

TOOBIN: Well, there are a lot of questions for him to answer. And a lot, I think, that he can answer that relate to policy issues as well as specific evidentiary findings. You know, why didn't he subpoena the president? You know, why didn't he make specific recommendations about whether the president actually committed a crime? I mean, he dealt with those issues in the report, but, you know, it takes some elaboration.

And I think frankly it was rather presumptuous of Director Mueller to simply say read my report, it has all the answers. It doesn't have all the answers. And it -- you know, like any other citizen, he is subject to a congressional subpoena and oversight. And I think this is very appropriate. I doubt it's going to have an earthquake effect on political opinion in this country because nothing has changed in two and a half years in terms of people's opinions. But this is an important moment and I think Director Mueller was right to finally agree to testify.

CAMEROTA: I mean, as John Avlon said in our last hour, if something new is revealed, if Robert Mueller says something that's not in the report. If somehow the lawmakers are able to crack his intractable facade and get him to --

BERMAN: But I don't know --

COOPER: -- say some of the thinking behind this and some of the evidence in all of that stuff.

BERMAN: I don't know why that's the standard, though. I mean, given that so few Americans have actually read the report, we talk about animating the report. What's more animating than the guy behind there sitting in public before Congress?

CAMEROTA: Well, a Hollywood live action show where they tried to animate it yesterday and also didn't move the needle. But, Maggie, I assume that the White House has been expecting this, right? They anticipated that at some point Congress would subpoena Robert Mueller.

HABERMAN: They did. And listen, I mean, the White House was not happy about this certainly when it was signed on. They were -- by Mueller agreeing to respond to the subpoena which we should note is very different than how the White House has responded to these congressional subpoenas which is basically to act as if they don't exist or as if they have no legal authority.

I am with Jeffrey that I don't think that Mueller has answered all questions. And certainly the big one is why they didn't subpoena the president. We've all been wondering that, those of us who have covered this for the last two and a half years, two years. But I don't know that it's going to be what -- certainly what the Democrats are hoping it's going to be.

What it is is it is a witness for them to put in a chair. I mean, basically they need -- they are holding these sort of pieces of open show to your point about a performance. The White House has been very effective and it's not praising them but it's just acknowledging what it is, denying them these witnesses. And so Mueller is the first one who really is coming in.

Hope Hicks was closed door testimony and very limited. They released the transcript later. It's not clear what's going to happen with Don McGahn, it's not clear what's going to happen with a number of other White House officials. And so Mueller is the first sort of animated face that you can see about this.

The president's lawyers have said for awhile that they're not convinced that Mueller is actually going to do as well under questioning from Republicans as the Democrats think he will.

[07:10:04] I don't know whether that's true or not. But it is something to consider.

BERMAN: I will say, Jay Sekulow, the president's personal lawyer, his statement in response to this last night made sure to point out that Mueller will face tough questions from the Republicans on the genesis of the investigation.

HABERMAN: Well, he will. I mean, look at Michael Cohen. Look at when he testified in a public setting. Look at the questions that he faced from Democrats versus the questions that he faced from Republicans. I expect that you're going to see something similar about Mueller just given how partisan the lines have been drawn on this.

CAMEROTA: And Jeffrey, what happens when that moment happens? When they go outside of the report and they ask him about the text messages between Strzok and Page? And when they ask him about things -- I mean, when Republicans challenge him, what does Mueller do at that point?

TOOBIN: Well, I think he's going to have to answer those questions. He will point out, for example, that when the Peter Strzok text messages came out, he took Peter Strzok, the FBI agent, off the investigation. I mean, he took action. That is something that he will be asked to discuss and it's appropriate for Republicans to ask about that.

They will ask about the campaign contributions of the various lawyers who were on the investigation. He will have to answer about that. He will say I am sure that it is both inappropriate and even illegal to look into the campaign contributions of people when you were considering them for a job with the federal government. I mean, he will have answers about these subjects. But the Republicans I think quite appropriately will have tough questions for him. I mean, this is -- he's a very important person. He should testify before Congress. These are questions that, you know, legitimately need answering on both sides and this is why congressional testimony exists.

BERMAN: Very simple questions that aren't long, by the way. And I hope members of Congress get this point. You could say what did you mean, Mr. Mueller, when you said X? You know, in this case, what did you mean when you said that, you know, it's left to another part of the government to look into this? What did you mean when you said that Justice Department guidelines prevent X, Y, Z? What are your views on whether or not a president can obstruct justice?

All of these questions, you would think, because it's not spelled out, you know, in great detail in the report, he could answer.

TOOBIN: Well, and just -- to elaborate on that point, you know, as Maggie said, you know, the Democrats have been trying to get Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, to testify. They can ask Mueller about Don McGahn's testimony. They can say, do you think Don McGahn was credible? What did Don McGahn say? It's a very different thing to have a witness say something on, you know, television and video and the internet than to have it buried in a 450-page report.

These are the questions that are appropriate. They are politically important. They are legally important. And that's why he should be a witness.

CAMEROTA: All right. Jeffrey, Maggie, thank you both very much.

BERMAN: So for Democrats, what is the one thing you would want to know from Robert Mueller? What's that one question they would like to ask? We're going get fresh reaction to the breaking news, that's next.


[07:17:03] BERMAN: So the breaking news this morning, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will testify. Back-to-back hearings on July 17th in public on TV.

So what did Democrats hope to get from him? Joining me now is Democratic Senator Chris Coons. He's a member of the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Coons, thank you so much for being with us. You don't get to ask the questions on July 17th. But if you did, what is the one thing you would want to know from Robert Mueller?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): John, I'd want to know from Robert Mueller his view on whether or not the president obstructed justice and whether or not in his opinion the president could and should be prosecuted after he leaves office.

BERMAN: And when he says to you, I'm not going to tell you that. That I'm only going to go within the words that were in the Mueller report, how would you follow up?

COONS: Frankly I'd ask a lot of questions that led to his reviewing what's already in that report. One of the challenges here, John, is that I think Robert Mueller counted on the American people to read at least the summaries of his report. I think when you read them, it is striking. It's fairly alarming that the president and his inner circle clearly in at least a half dozen occasions engaged in all the elements of an obstruction of justice action.

And in the first volume of his report, he lays out in great detail the searching way in which Russia interfered in our last election. The lack of concrete action here in the Congress to ensure that we've secured our next election, ways in which the majority leader has blocked bipartisan bills that would strengthen our election machinery and strengthen the ability of our intelligence community to communicate and coordinate with local elections officials, I think would be concerning and alarming.

And my hope is that many more people would focus, would tune into that hearing than frankly have so far read the Mueller report.

BERMAN: Senator, if you will, I'd like to talk about some of the other breaking news this morning. There is this image which I think should weigh on the conscience of all of us. All Americans. It shows a father, Oscar Ramirez, and his daughter Valeria. She's 23 months old. And they died within feet of the U.S. border, crossing the Rio Grande, trying to get to the United States to seek asylum.

You know, you are a father. I've heard you talk about your kids. You're also a man of deep faith. Are we doing enough? Is Washington doing enough to protect and care for the people trying to get into this country?

COONS: No, we're not, John. And any parent who sees that image has got to be profoundly disturbed. After the Second World War, the United States reflected on the ways in which we refused to accept refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. An entire ship full of Jewish citizens of Germany who were fleeing Nazi persecution were denied the opportunity to enter the United States. They floated off the East Coast for months and months. And then ultimately were forced to return to Germany where many were killed.

[07:20:04] It's because of that incident that we changed our laws to make it possible for people fleeing violence and persecution to come here and seek asylum. We should reflect on that history again today. There are thousands of people fleeing the violence and chaos of three countries in Central America. President Trump's budget and his administrative actions freezes and cuts the assistance to those three countries to help them stabilize, to help them combat drug trafficking.

When I've met with leaders from those countries, they remind me that it is our insatiable appetite for drugs that is largely driving the violence and chaos in their countries. They welcome our assistance. And I think we should be both providing humanitarian assistance at the border for those who are fleeing that condition and seeking refuge here and we should be working together to try and stabilize those three countries so that fewer parents take this desperately dangerous journey and risk their lives and their children's lives in trying to reach America.

BERMAN: The president of the United States right now engaged in a very intense back and forth, rhetorical back and forth with Iran. The president suggested yesterday that Iran could face obliteration is the word he used. And then he was asked about perhaps a longer term strategy if there is conflict. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have an exit strategy for Iran if war does break out?

TRUMP: You're not going to need an exit strategy. I don't need exit strategies.


BERMAN: Does the United States need exit strategies, Senator?

COONS: Of course we do, John. And for anyone who knows the history of the conflict in Iraq, that is a chilling statement of either indifference or callousness to the very real risk that a war with Iran would end up being a long, expensive, and painful quagmire. We charged into Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein without a real plan for what would happen if several months later the Iraqi people did not rise up as one, embrace us as liberators and then become a model democracy. And in fact, it became a long and grinding and brutal conflict. And we did not have an exit strategy for that war. And it concerns me gravely that our president doesn't even think he needs an exit strategy for a war that he is flirting with, starting with Iran.

BERMAN: He also doesn't think he needs your approval to begin a military conflict. Does the Senate need to weigh in here?

COONS: We do. We are having a vigorous debate today about whether or not we're going to proceed to an important annual bill called the National Defense Authorization Act and whether or not we're going to get a vote on an amendment that would require the president to seek congressional approval before starting a war with Iran. Of course the president can act to defend American troop if attacked, but I think it's important that we get every senator on record on whether or not they're satisfied that President Trump has a clear strategy, has a compelling national interest and has an exit strategy for a potential conflict with Iran.

BERMAN: First Democratic presidential debates start tonight. You're sort of patient zero when it comes to support for Joe Biden. One of his original and strongest supporters. What do you think that the former vice president needs to get out of these debates? COONS: Well, that's a good thing for him. He doesn't need to

introduce himself to the American people. The American people know Joe's heart. They know his record. They know his leadership abilities and they know that he would move our country forward in a positive way. There are many candidates across these two nights who still need to introduce themselves to the American people.

It is a wonderfully vibrant and diverse pool of 20 candidates who will be debating over two nights. My hope is that they will focus on our overall goal. Every minute they spend attacking each other, tearing each other down, seeming to be a better bully than Donald Trump is a good minute for Donald Trump's reelection. And every minute that a Democrat stands on that debate stage in Miami and lays out a clear and hopeful and positive future for the American people and explains why the American people should trust a Democrat to be the next president is a good minute for those of us who hope Donald Trump is a one-term president.

BERMAN: Senator Chris Coons from Delaware, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

COONS: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: John, she is the law professor who sounded the alarm about the conditions in migrant camps. And she tells us what's going inside these -- on inside these detention centers today in light of this horrible photograph.


[07:28:55] CAMEROTA: This heart-wrenching photo captures the damage that Central Americans face as they flee violence and poverty in hopes of getting to the United States. Oscar Ramirez and his 2-year-old daughter Valeria drowned in the Rio Grande. Martinez first crossed the river successfully with his daughter then he left her on the banks of the Rio Grande to go back and help his wife. That's when the daughter jumped back into the water after him. He grabbed her before the currents swept them both away.

And this grim photo comes of course amid the reports of the overcrowding and filthy conditions facing migrants who make it, the children who make it to the U.S. border in detention centers,

Professor Warren Binford is part of the team that sounded the alarm about those conditions. She is a law professor at Willamette University and she joins us now.

Professor, thank you very much for being here on this really heartbreaking morning as we all try to just make sense of this photo that we're seeing. What was your reaction when you saw this father and daughter who were killed?

PROF. WARREN BINFORD, LAW PROFESSOR WILLAMETTE UNIVERSITY: Well, I immediately thought to some of the children and their families that we've interviewed recently as part of these site visits. There was another mother last year who described her 2-year-old falling out of an overcrowded raft coming across the Rio Grande River.