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New Details on House Democratic Strategy to Press Mueller; Debate Matchups Pit Harris against Biden & Sanders against Warren; Key Matchups to Watch in Upcoming CNN Debates; Trump Trying to Rewrite History Insisting He Tried to Stop "Send Her Back" Chant When He Didn't. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 19, 2019 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:23] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

There have been more than a few blockbuster hearings on Capitol Hill that have deserved to be called blockbuster, historic, and the most highly anticipated of all time.

And next week, another hearing joins those ranks. Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, who spent more than two years investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and the president and his campaign, he is finally testifying before Congress. Democrats and Republicans alike finally able to press him on his 448-page report and statements like this.


ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: The order appointing me special counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation.

If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.


BOLDUAN: How important is this moment for the country? We will see. How important is this for the committees? Look no further than CNN's report this morning about the intense preparation that is underway.

CNN's Manu Raju has a preview. He's on Capitol Hill and joins us now.

Manu, lay it out for us. What are you hearing and seeing about how they're preparing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There have been intense preparations behind-the-scenes, including mock hearings that have occurred with the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. They had a top aide playing Robert Mueller. Similarly, the House Democrats and Intelligence Committee had a top aide playing Robert Mueller as well. That usually does not happen unless a hearing is so significant, like

the one that we're expected to see on Wednesday, when millions of people will be tuning in. Probably one of the most watched events in Congressional hearings in decades.

We're learning new details about exactly how that's going to play out. There will be back-to-back hearings. First, the House Judiciary. And the Democrats plan to focus on obstruction of justice, particularly five episodes laid out in the Mueller report, including the president allegedly telling his former White House counsel, Don McGahn, to fire Robert Mueller. Telling McGahn to later deny reports that he did indeed try to fire Robert Mueller.

And also directing Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager, to tell the attorney general at the time, Jeff Sessions, to limit the investigation. And directing Corey Lewandowski to tell Sessions, if he doesn't meet with Lewandowski that Trump would fire the attorney general.

And also alleged witness tampering. The president allegedly trying to convince people not to flip like Paul Manafort as well as Michael Cohen and others, dangling pardons and the like.

Those will be five areas the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee plan to focus on.

Then the House Intelligence Committee will focus on the Russian interference aspect of the report. Including Democrats want to talk about contacts that occurred with Russians and the WikiLeaks, Trump's knowledge of the WikiLeaks email dump ahead of time and Trump's touting on stolen emails more than 100 times on the campaign trail.

Republicans have their own plans, Kate, including trying to poke holes into the team, what they believe is a bias team of investigators. They want to focus on the anti-Trump text from those FBI officials, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. That will be a constant theme throughout.

And they want to talk about how the surveillance warrant was obtained on the former Trump adviser, Carter Page.

All these will play out on two sides and paint starkly different narratives about what occurred. And the question is, will Robert Mueller reveal anything new. Will he go anything beyond the four corners of the report?

But, Kate, at the moment, Democrats say as long as he reiterates what's in the report, that would be good enough for them.

And the big question, too, will be, will the Democratic and Republican members stick to the script or will any freelance -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That might be the biggest question or surprise, maybe, if they actually stick to the script and the plan.


BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Manu. Thank you so much.

Manu has a lot of really interesting details. It just shows how important both sides are holding up this hearing will see next week.

Joining me right now, CNN political analyst, White House reporter for the "Washington Post, Seung Min Kim, and CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan.

Thanks, guys, for being here.

Paul, let's start with the Judiciary Committee, as Manu was laying out. If the Judiciary is focused on obstruction, Volume II, on five episodes, at least Democrats, what do you think then -- for you, what is a key question on that?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think we could play off actually how we open the show today, and that is my first question to Mueller would be, you said if you had -- you were clear that the president did not commit a crime, you would have said so. Please explain that.

And then, in other words, flip it around. Because what he's really saying is there's evidence of a crime here.


CALLAN: I would force him to expound on that.

[11:05:09] BOLDUAN: I absolutely agree, Paul, because when he says I'm not going to go beyond the four corners of the report, there's more explaining that can be done on that.


CALLAN: That is a stated conclusion. "I cannot confidently state that he did not commit a crime." Explain the basis of that finding. Now he's got to go and say, well, there was some evidence of a crime. Really? What was the evidence of a crime?

And then I would go through the elements of obstruction of justice. He's an attorney. And I would say, you're well aware there are three elements to the crime. And then you go through each element.

And you say it was a judicial proceeding, wasn't it? Yes. Was there any attempt to obstruct your investigation? Yes, there was. What were those efforts? Comey was fired. By the way, the president tried to fire you, didn't he? Did you deserve to be fired? Did you act in an incompetent way? Would firing you obstruct your investigation? How is he going to respond to those questions?


BOLDUAN: You're making me more excited in how this is going to play out.

CALLAN: See the problem is, most of these congressmen have minimal experience in cross-examination. And -- (CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: They have very intelligent staffers. And that's the one thing.


CALLAN: I wish the staff were asking the questions because you have to be able to corner a witness slowly and then go for the big question.

BOLDUAN: And do it in five minutes.


BOLDUAN: Seung, Democrats and Republicans have been holding these mock hearings to refine their approaches. Manu put it in a really interesting way. "Committee staff are working to divide up the questions for lawmakers in a way that will be logical to millions of television viewers."

I haven't heard of this before in terms of a hearing that we're going to be watching play out. Have you?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not really. It really is remarkable. But it's clear why House Democrats are employing that strategy to kind of translate this very dense 448-page report to a television audience.

Because we saw at the special counsel's surprise. a DOJ press statement a little over a month ago, just the power of a visual. He did not really repeat anything beyond what was in the Mueller report. But you saw just the immediate impact that him just going up there and saying the conclusions of the report and saying what he said had.

I mean, for example, there are two Democratic presidential candidates, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, who have kind of danced around the impeachment question, but they saw the Mueller statement and they said, after what he said today, we need to have these proceedings. We need to have the inquiry proceed.

And I think that's what House Democrats are hoping for. They are hoping that that visual of Mueller being in front -- being sworn into Congress, being in front of lawmakers and have his testimony airing live really changes the public perception, even if he doesn't go beyond what his -- or what his report said.

BOLDUAN: And the Intel Committee then, Paul, is focused on Volume I, the Russia connection. The report said, "It did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russia government in its election activities."

If that's the case, what question, if you have one for Mueller on this? This one seems more clear-cut.

CALLAN: Yes. It does seem clear-cut. But there are dangerous areas for the president.

And most specifically, if you go to specific actions, for instance, Paul Manafort, who is campaign chairman, releasing polling information to this Russian, that's what I would focus on with Mueller.

I would say, why would the Trump campaign, in your opinion, release polling information to a Russian operative? Doesn't that suggest to you, Mr. Mueller, that they were trying to cooperate with the Russians in moving the election one way or another? That's a hard question to dodge if that question is posed carefully.

But in order to do this, what the congressional -- what the congressmen have to do is they have to have synchronized approach to questioning.


CALLAN: OK? And --


BOLDUAN: And they've been practicing that. They've been rehearsing that.

Seung knows this better than anybody.

If they can stick to their strategy, it may be the first time in congressional hearing history that members of Congress do not speechify. Am I right, Seung?

KIM: Exactly. But it's hard to control that from happening. When you have a national audience tuning into your every word -- you and I know, Kate, that members of Congress like to grandstand, especially when they have their five minutes. No, not at all.

Instead of asking really precise, short, probing questions, a lot of these members will use their five minutes to make a grand speech that they will clip on YouTube and spread out on their Twitter account and spread for their constituents.

But you know that Democrats are working hard behind the scenes to make sure you can extract some sort of answers from Mueller and not make this into a show.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. I think one quote I saw from a staffer is, "If they didn't read the book, they'll watch the movie."

But it always depends on what happens in those hours of what movie we're going to be watching and what the fallout on.

[11:10:05] Seung, great to see you.

Paul, thank you so much.

Really appreciate it.

KIM: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Do not miss the Mueller hearing next week. The former special counsel's testimony before Congress will be live. CNN's special coverage begins Wednesday morning at 8:00 Eastern.

So we have got the lineup and it includes a major rematch. What will happen when Kamala Harris and Joe Biden take stage together again for round two of CNN's debate? That's next.

Plus, President Trump says a U.S. warship brought down an Iranian drone, but Iran insists all of its drones are present and accounted for. What really happened?


[11:15:25] Everyone loves a rematch and that is exactly what you're going to get. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are going head to head once again on the second night of the upcoming CNN Democratic debates.

The lineups announced just last night and there's a top-tier matchup on the first night of the debate as well. The two leading progressives in the race, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will be standing side by side for the first time in this race.

But those are just four of the 20 candidates that will be taking the stage, which means we've got a lot more to watch for.

CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza, is kind enough to be here with me.

Chris, take us through this.


BOLDUAN: What are the stages going to look like? How different is it going to look this time than last?

CILLIZZA: Quite different, I think. We'll have the four front runner, two each night. That's important.

Here we go. You mentioned this, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Warren is taking liberal voters from Bernie Sanders. They're both going after the same pot of voters. Bernie Sanders may need to hit back.

Here's another one, Beto buzz stolen by Buttigieg. So remember, Beto O'Rourke was the buzz candidate in this campaign in early 2019. Something Pete Buttigieg has taken all of that momentum and O'Rourke really struggling.

Last one to watch., Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Senator, hanging in the back of the pack. Here's her problem. The qualifications for the debate after this one, the ones in September, go way up. She would almost certainly miss the debate in September if she doesn't have a moment in this debate.

Let's go to the next one. So she's got to make something happen.

Obviously, this is a big fight. Biden/Harris. Harris clubbed Biden over busing earlier in the first debate.

Also keep a watch here. Biden is sandwiched between two of his biggest critics, both people of color, and both have criticized his record on race.

I know it's way out here but Michael Bennet, I thought he made a good argument against Biden. Saying, yes, you cut a lot of deals with Republicans and it all benefitted Republicans. I think he has a case to make.

And then the other one that I want to look at. This. This is probably the best draw Andrew Yang could hope for.


BOLDUAN: He is businessman, technocrat, and he's next to Kamala Harris right there in the center, even though he's polling at 1.4 percent.

Like I said, I could do more, but how was that?

BOLDUAN: That's pretty good.


CILLIZZA: It's Friday.

BOLDUAN: Mission accomplished, Chris.

Great to see you. Thank you so much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Joining me right now, political reporter for "Bloomberg," Sahil Kapur.

Sahil, it's great to see you.


BOLDUAN: Chris laid this up perfectly so let us discuss. The first night is going to be a clash of the progressive warriors in Sanders versus Warren. But they are also surrounded, when you see -- when you see all of them up there, they're surrounded by moderates. What are the flash points going to be?

KAPUR: This could go one of two ways. This could be a love fest of sorts between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders because they pretty much agree on the issues.

But as Chris pointed out, they are aiming for a similar type of voter, the progressive economic revolutionaries and there are differences in their profiles, but they're absolutely trying to claim the progressive lane.

So I suspect we may see some subtle attempts to distinguish themselves from each other. Bernie Sanders love to point out that he has been here forever. He's been saying the message about raising the minimum wage and economic change for decades. I think he'll want to point that out.

As for the second night, I'm really struck by the demographic contrast. Joe Biden, the front-runner, is up against three women, five non-white candidates. All nine of the others are younger than him. This is a fascinating split screen between what the Democratic Party used to look like and what it increasingly is looking like heading into the future.

BOLDUAN: And we're going to see it playing out in the questions and topics, and just as you're looking at the stage.

As you mentioned, on the second night, you've got the Harris/Biden rematch. Is that a rematch Biden and his team were looking for?

KAPUR: I doubt it, but I suspect they will be much better prepared for it this time.

His mistake last time was he didn't expect the personal nature of the attack coming from Kamala Harris. That little girl was me line, he didn't quite empathize with that. I think it hurt him. This time I doubt he'll be in a position to make that mistake.

It's also unclear that Kamala Harris will want to after him again in round two. I'm not sure how that would play if she attempts it a second time.

But, Kate, on the first night as well, it's interesting that there are those two progressives who are trying to compete for that and the other moderates.

[11:20:04] One of the moderates there, Steve Bullock, is the one new candidate in this debate, basically swapped for Eric Swalwell who dropped out. And I'm told he plans to highlight the fact that he's the only candidate in this massive field who has won in a state that President Trump won and one pretty handily.


KAPUR: That's Montana. So that could be a distinguishing factor.

And his team also views the contrast between him, who is going to focus on pragmatism here-and-now policies, versus the idealism of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

BOLDUAN: I am really interested to hear the Steve Bullock addition to the debate stage, means -- because he has a very interesting and unique take, not only as one of the governors in the race, but also one who won in a state that Trump won.

On the second night, when you look at the field, you have Harris and Biden -- have qualified for the next round of debates in the fall, of course. But nobody else on -- as of now, nobody else in the second night, other than those two, have. Does that mean then that this is do or die for everyone else on the stage?

KAPUR: Probably. It mean, if it's not do or die now, it's getting very close to that. And it's --


KAPUR: It's going to be tough. Kate, it's going to be tough for the candidates to distinguish themselves and get a meaningful bump.

We saw a number of candidates have interesting moments. Have some powerful moments in the first debate like Julian Castro, for instance. Kirsten Gillibrand had a lot to say. She was not shy about jumping in and speaking her mind when she felt like it. But neither of them got a pump in the polls. So we may be at a point where Democratic voters are already winnowing the field themselves.

There are four clear front runners and there's maybe one, two, three others who are kind of hanging. Is anyone else going to make an impact no matter how well they do in the debate? I'm not sure the answer is yes.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Again, it's like two things that you have to like square at the same time. It is still very early, but you are running out of time to make it on the next debate stage, which is when it is do or die. You're on the debate stage or you have no shot is really what it comes down to.

It's great to see you, Sahil.

KAPUR: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Ahead for us, President Trump stirs up a crowd and then denies the take. It's a pattern that we've seen repeated time and time again. But does rewriting history actually work?


[11:27:03] BOLDUAN: Today, the president is once again trying to rewrite history. Insisting that he tried to stop a crowd in North Carolina that broke out into a chant of "send her back" as he continued his attacks on four Democratic Congresswomen of color. Now the president says he disagreed with it, didn't like it, and tried to shut the crowd down.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When your supporters last night were chanting "send her back," why didn't you stop them, why didn't you ask them to stop saying that?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, number one, I think I did. I started speaking very quickly. It really was -- I disagree with it, by the way. But it was quite a chant. And I felt a little bit badly about it. But I will say this, I did -- and I started speaking very quickly.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You'll stop them if they try to do it again?

TRUMP: Well, I didn't like that they did it and I started speaking very quickly. I started very quickly.


BOLDUAN: Very quickly. That, of course, is not accurate. Not accurate according to reporters in the stadium at the time and not accurate according to the tape.


TRUMP: Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds.


TRUMP: She talked about the evil Israel and it's all about the Benjamins. Not a good thing to say.


BOLDUAN: We see that. We know that.

What is now most interesting about this revisionist history is this isn't the first time Donald Trump has tried this. It is similar to another Trump-inspired chant, "lock her up," which you heard over and over in the 2016 campaign about Hillary Clinton.

Then, in July of 2016, Trump said he didn't like that, either.


TRUMP: When I started talking about Hillary Clinton, the veterans, who saw her 24 hours before, started screaming "lock her up, lock her up, lock her up."

And I said don't do that. I didn't do that for any reason. I didn't like it. And they stopped.


BOLDUAN: But they really didn't stop. That chant is still happening and did as recently as last month.




BOLDUAN: And do you notice there that Donald Trump is also not trying to stop the crowd there either?

Wait, there's more. Do you remember this classic?


TRUMP: But if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously.


TRUMP: Just knock the hell -- I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise.


BOLDUAN: So of course, when a Trump supporter actually did sucker punch a protester at the rally a month later, the campaign distanced immediately from the violence saying -- let me get their words right -- "obviously, they discourage this kind of behavior."

Sensing a pattern?

Let's get to the White House. Kaitlan Collins is there for us.

[11:30:08] Kaitlan, this isn't about the president.