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CNN NEWSROOM

Democrats Plot New Plan To Press Mueller On Trump's Alleged Crimes; Trump Escalates Attacks On Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) Minnesota; Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) Interviewed; Iran Denies U.S. Warship Shot Down One Of Its Drones; Trump Poised To Veto Congress' Vote To Block Saudi Arms Sales; NATO Chief Says Turkey's Purchase Of Russian Missiles Not Good. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 19, 2019 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: -- at 4:02 P.M. Eastern Time, the exact time of the landing. NASA T.V. will replay it, a live broad cast of the monumental event. Then at 10:38 P.M., it will show the moment Neil Armstrong took what has become famously known as one small step man, one giant leap for mankind.

I re-watched it this weekend with my three-year-old and it was thrilling. You can see it all here in CNN's film, Apollo 11, which takes an incredible behind the scenes look at the footage. Watch that tomorrow night at 9:00 P.M. Eastern right here.

All right, good morning, everyone. Top of the hour, 10 A.M. Eastern, 7:00 A.M. Pacific. Jim Sciutto will join us in just a moment. He is on assignment at the Aspen's National Security Forum.

But first, we're now just days away from Robert Mueller's high stakes testimony before Congress and democrats are using every hour between now and then to get ready for it. This is their game plan as we have learned this morning, first, focus on the report's details of the President's alleged attempts to obstruct justice. Second, zero in on the campaign's contacts with Russia and WikiLeaks and push back on the President's claim of no collusion.

Joining me from Capitol Hill, our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, what was striking to me in the reporting from you and the team this morning is that some democrats are saying they are preparing more for this hearing than they have ever before for other hearings.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This has been intense preparations behind the scenes. There have been mock hearings at the House Judiciary Committee. Republicans have had and democrats in the House Intelligence Committee have had wherein top aides have actually played Robert Mueller in these mock hearings. That typically does not happen in congressional hearings, but the stakes are enormous because this could be one of the most watched congressional hearings in decades. And we're learning new details about the strategy that both sides plan to employ during this very high-stakes hearing.

Now, on the democratic side, the House Judiciary Committee will go first and they're going to focus on potential obstruction of justice. What we're learning about five episodes that they plan to hone in on. They want to talk about -- ask about the President allegedly telling his former White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire the Special Counsel. They want to talk to -- ask him about ask him about McGahn -- telling Don McGahn to publicly deny reports that Trump told him to fire Robert Mueller, also to tell him to talk about how Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager of the Trump campaign, told the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, allegedly to limit the investigation first because on future campaigns and exclude the President from being part of that investigation.

But in addition, two other areas, telling Lewandowski to tell Sessions if he doesn't meet with Lewandowski, that Trump would actually fire Jeff Sessions, and this alleged witness tampering that apparently occurred, according to the Mueller report, dealing with Paul Manafort, as well as Michael Cohen and others, to talk about dangling pardons and the like. Those are areas that democrats in the House Judiciary Committee want to ask.

And then when we get to the Intelligence Committee part of the hearing, which will be after the Judiciary Committee probe, they're going to ask him about contacts with Russians and WikiLeaks as part of the broader investigation into Russian interference. That's how that is going to breakdown.

On the republican side, different. They're going to be talking about the origins of the investigation. They want Bob Mueller to talk about how the team was formulated. They believe there was bias in that Mueller team. So their focus is going to be much different. But expect these two sides to be primed to present different visions about exactly what happened, and democrats hoping that they can illuminate the contents of the Mueller report. We'll see what the Special Counsel ultimately reveals. Poppy?

HARLOW: We'll all be watching, starting Wednesday at 8:00 A.M. Manu, thank you very much.

Let's talk about this. Elie Honig, our Legal Analyst and former federal and state prosecutor is here and Political Analyst, Karoun Demirjian, Congressional Reporter for The Washington Post.

So, Karoun, let me begin with you. Has the ship sailed? I mean, are democrats likely to be able to, in a meaningful way, shift public opinion here once people actually hear from Bob Mueller?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you can shift public opinion through one specific, like very, very powerful appearance. However, I think the democrats are hedging their bets as to whether Mueller will actually provide that. He's not wanting to go off the script of what the report says. We've seen him speak once in the last few months and he's not a terribly dynamic speaker. So I think the democrats are banking on having it in Mueller's words what he discovered in this investigation, him actually saying it in sound bites, will get their message across and actually communicate what's in this report to the American people in a way that it hasn't been before.

But whether it's going to be a breakout moment, I think that most democrats are saying, well, you know, this isn't just about one person. This is a much broader investigation we're doing, which suggests that they're hedging their bets as to whether it's really going to shake things up or change anybody's opinion, given how long we've been talking about this really before this point.

HARLOW: Elie, you know, as an attorney, you have dealt with reluctant witnesses before, and I think it's fair to say Bob Mueller is a reluctant witness, to say the least.

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How do you most effectively, in essence, depose them?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think the democrats' strategy that's emerging now is actually, exactly the the right strategy. Should they ask the grand slam question of would you have found obstruction if not for the Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president, of course, they have to ask that. He almost certainly will say, well, I never reached that.

But then what you do is you go to the specific acts of obstruction that were laid out, those five that Manu just gave us. And in the report, Mueller finds, quote, substantial evidence of all three elements for each of those. That's why they picked those. And so you can go through them and say, Mr. Mueller, Director Mueller, did you find substantial evidence for all three elements of obstruction of justice for this act? You do that five times in a row, and that's just almost about as good as getting him to say, yes, I would have indicted.

HARLOW: So looking at the republicans here and how that will be different, Karoun, we should expect, shouldn't we, that a number of the questions from some of these republican lawmakers are not going to be about the Mueller report. They're going to be about the makeup of the team and the origins of the investigation.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. And republicans have been pursuing this line of inquiry for a while, that Mueller's team was biased, that Mueller's team had people on it that were clearly were anti-Trump for a while, that Mueller -- the whole squad was the theme of the angry democrats line that they've been saying before. So we can assume that they're going to use their time not to try to bolster the findings in the report but more to try to undermine the origins of the report itself.

That's going to create a split on both of the panels that you see. You'll see, you know, oftentimes in these situations, the members end up sparring with each other as much as questioning the witness. I think that there's going to be a lot of focus on Mueller, but you might see very dramatic expressions from people on the GOP side if they don't get Mueller to actually dish anything that seems like it could feed that narrative of the entire thing being poisoned from the very beginning.

But, again, for the GOP, the latest potential chapter in that story, they've been trying to tell for quite a while.

HARLOW: Well, I mean, what's the biggest mistake that you think both democrats and republicans on the panels on the two committees could make? Because, I mean, I find, as journalists, we do this sometimes, we talk more than we let our guests, our esteemed guests? I mean -- and lawmakers upon pontificate up there.

HONIG: Yes, I think that's exactly -- understand how short a time each side has Mueller. If each hearing is two-and-a-Half hours, and then you split that in half, each side gets about an hour and 15 minutes. That is no time. I mean, having done trials, you have witnesses on the stand for days sometimes. So they need to be focused and concise. For every five-minute stretch that either side gets, republicans and democrats, Mueller should be speaking for four of those five minutes.

So the politicians have to sort of put aside their politician hats if they can for a moment and approaches like prosecutors. I know some of the staff attorneys that Manu referenced. They are former prosecutors, the people who reportedly are playing Robert Mueller right now. Let me write the script, follow what they know. They're prosecutors. They know how to do this.

HARLOW: Karoun, quickly on hope hicks, is she in a world of trouble or not here? Because Jerry Nadler says they want to have her back given what the prosecutors have released in terms of the text messages between her and Michael Cohen about, you know, the Stormy Daniels and hush money payments.

Nadler says, this evidence, quote, raises substantial questions accuracy about the accuracy of several statements she made in these two appearances she made before the House.

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, Hope Hicks has been fairly compliant about coming back and doing interviews when she's asked to, even if it's not immediate. So if she does come back, I'm sure that it's going to be yet another grilling. There will be people who, because they don't believe that she was completely truthful the first time will not believe what she says the second time.

But it just shows that this is going to continue to follow many of the central players in this story and they can't really just put the whole thing behind them by talking to a panel once, especially as evidence is always trickling in as well to these panels. They don't have everything they want to work with. So, you know, if you're part of the investigation, you're going to stay part of the investigation until it's closed.

HARLOW: Okay. Karoun Demirjian, Elie Honig, thank you very much. Have a good weekend.

The President says he is disavowing send her back chants, but this morning he is not backing off fresh attacks against Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Kaitlan Collins joins me this morning.

So the President is not walking away from this, not moving on. He is Tweeting about it again this morning.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is Tweeting a lot about it this morning. And I want to notice the tone in these Tweets and how it's different from what the President was saying in the Oval Office yesterday when he was trying to distance himself from this chant. Now, the President, in a series of Tweets, is lashing out at the media, saying, it's amazing how the fake news media has become crazed over the chant send her back by a packed arena in the State of North Carolina. Then he's saying -- he claims that the media is totally calm and accepting of the statements made by these women.

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And he goes on to seem annoyed by the fact that there was a crowd waiting for one of the women the President targeted, Ilhan Omar, when she returned to her home State of Minnesota yesterday.

But that's different than what the President was saying when he was in front of reporters yesterday as he was distancing himself from these chants, saying it was not something he liked, telling reporters to go ask the people of North Carolina why they were chanting that thing instead of talking about the fact that it stemmed from those Tweets on Sunday.

Another interesting thing about these Tweets, the president only references three congresswomen here, even though, of course, as you watched in that rally on Wednesday, he named four of them specifically going on at length about each one of them. And we've asked the White House who has the President removed from his list. But so far, Poppy, they have not gotten back to us about who it is.

HARLOW: Okay. I'm very interested also, Kaitlan, in the Vice President and the President's daughter, Ivanka Trump, also an adviser to him, weighing in on this reportedly, maybe changing the way he was at least addressing this yesterday in the Oval Office?

COLLINS: Yes. It's kind of a running joke in Washington that when something controversial happens in the White House, there are always these stories that people behind the scenes who were urging the President to say something differently or to back off a statement that he's made.

And now, we have reporting that Ivanka Trump was one of those people who went to the President, talked about this statement and how politically divisive it was, but also the Vice President, Mike Pence, who we're told essentially got an earful from republicans who were talking about how the reaction to this statement was playing out.

And we're told that played a factor in the President trying to distance himself from this statement yesterday, saying that he tried to stop the chant and moved on quickly, even though if you watch the video from that rally, it completely contradicts what the President is saying. But what's interesting about these Tweets this morning is it could signal that the President is actually not going to back off this chant after all. And there have been people close to him say they wouldn't be surprised if it became a staple of his rallies like the chant about Hillary Clinton, lock her up, did as well.

HARLOW: We'll see. All right, Kaitlan, thanks so much for the reporting. Have a great weekend.

A lot ahead for us this hour.

Still to come, a new escalation in the standoff between Iran and the U.S., Iran denying the Trump administration's announcement that a navy ship took down an Iranian drone.

Plus, the stage is set for the next democratic primary debate. Get ready for another Biden/Harris rematch.

And a closer look at the real life impact of the crisis for families at the southern border. A father finally reunited with his migrant daughter, but under tragic circumstances.

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HARLOW: This morning Iran is denying President Trump's claim that a U.S. Navy ship downed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz. The President claims the drone flew too close to the U.S. ship and Iran refused repeated calls to turn it around.

But Iran calls that account, quote, delusional. And it insists all of the drones are accounted for. One official even suggested the U.S. may have downed its own drone.

Jim Sciutto live in Colorado, again, he is at the Aspen Security Forum. I mean, that's quite an accusation to say not only did you take down our drone but you may have shot down one of your own.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Yes, perhaps an element of propaganda there as well. But Iran is certainly a topic at the annual forum, where you have officials, military leaders, lots of journalists here, although, interestingly, fewer Trump administration officials than in years past.

We are happy to be joined though by Senator Christopher Murphy of Connecticut, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and certainly a topic that you're very interested in is Iran.

You've been concerned about this administration setting the country on a path to war with Iran. You, of course, had Iran shoot down a U.S. drone some weeks ago. Now, you have Trump claiming to have shot down an Iranian drone, as well as 500 U.S. Forces going to Saudi Arabia. Are you concerned that the administration is sending U.S. on a path to war? SEN. CHRISTOPHER MURPHY (D-CT): I am. I think this has been a policy. I won't call it a strategy, a policy of blind escalation without any endgame. It started with the withdrawal from the Iranian agreement. It then went forward to these unilateral sanctions, their naming of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. And, ultimately, the miscalculation comes when the Iranians think that we are taking offensive actions when they're defensive, or we think they are taking offensive actions when they're actually taking defensive actions.

My big worry is that the Iranians are never going to be serious about getting back into negotiations because they simply don't trust this administration.

SCIUTTO: You do have at least offers being floated at this point, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif met with a number of reporters in New York yesterday, and presented the outlines of returning to talks, direct negotiations with the Trump administration. The Trump administration said they're open to it without preconditions. Do you at least see the possibility there of negotiation? After all, this is a president who went from fire and fury with North Korea, to meeting with Chairman Kim now three times?

MURPHY: So I would be thrilled if we got back into negotiations. The question is whether Zarif can convince the ayatollah and the hard liners to actually give him the ability to get back to the table. And, essentially, the hard liners have won the argument. They said don't enter into an agreement with President Obama because it won't last, the Americans won't stick to it.

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And Zarif may be throwing out some offers of negotiation. But, ultimately, he can't get to the table unless he has the support of the Supreme Leader. And I don't know that he has it right now.

Second, this administration just doesn't have the ability to negotiate an agreement like that. We've seen this throughout the North Korea negotiations. So even if they were to get to the table, the table might fall apart very quickly given their inability to do this kind of high level diplomacy.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Okay. Another topic, certainly, in the news but also in discussions here in Aspen is Saudi Arabia. So the Senate has now joined the House in voting to stop U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but the margin in the Senate is certainly not large enough to override a presidential veto. The President is promising to veto it. Has the Senate -- has Congress lost this battle with the Trump administration over Saudi Arabia?

MURPHY: We haven't lost the battle. We're going to take another shot next week. The Foreign Relations Committee is going to take up a separate piece of legislation to try to reset some aspects of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. One element of it will be a prohibition on the travel of Saudi royal family members to the United States. That alone might be a serious signal to the Saudi government. But, yes, it's hard right now because we have a bipartisan majority to stop arms sales to send a clear message about ending the war in Yemen, but it isn't enough to override a presidential veto and signal what we're sending to the world, in which we have essentially made ourselves the inferior partner to the Saudis that they can murder and dismember an American resident and then get rewarded by it from the U.S. government is, I think, a very, very chilling message. And I'm hoping that we will build republican support so we get to a number where we can override a presidential veto.

SCIUTTO: As you know, the Trump administration has blown by a legally mandated deadline to determine responsibility for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That was back in February. It's under the Magnitsky Act. What is Congress going to do to hold Saudi Arabia, specifically the leader, the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, responsible for that killing?

MURPHY: So the Magnitsky Act says that the President has to make a finding on human rights violations and then sanction those individuals. The President has ignored that requirement under the law. But there's nothing that says the Congress can't undertake our own sanctions.

And so what I would like to see the Congress do is name the individuals responsible for Khashoggi's murder, but also for the detainment of U.S. citizens who are right now in Saudi custody who have reportedly been electrocuted and starved in Saudi prisons.

So congress could do that but republicans in the Senate right now are more interested in giving the President cover on bizarre dangerous foreign policy than resetting it.

SCIUTTO: Another topic, very central, is Turkey and NATO. So Turkey has gone ahead with buying Russia surface-to-air missiles in violation of the NATO treaty. NATO's posture on this is interesting because, obviously, they want to register their discontent with this but not move towards kicking Turkey out. In your view in light of this, does Turkey still belong in NATO?

MURPHY: So I don't want to kick Turkey out of NATO: I think that they are a very important part, and I think it's important for NATO to have an extension into the Muslim world, into Middle East.

At the same time, I don't think that you can allow a NATO partner to do this kind of high level business with Russia without some consequences.

And so I would hope that the actions we are going to take -- suspending some of our serious weapons sales to Turkey doesn't permanently disrupt our alliance with them but sends a message that may get them back closer to the United States and our European partners.

SCIUTTO: Final question, if I can. As you know, Vice President -- former Vice President Joe Biden made a disturbing prediction and this was on CNN, that if President Trump is re-elected, there will be no NATO in four to five years.

I had the opportunity to speak to the NATO Secretary General a couple of days ago, Jens Stoltenberg, I asked him that question. He said, no. Listen, the President's rhetoric aside, the U.S. is still taking steps to shore up NATO, deployment of additional forces in Europe, et cetera. Do you share the former Vice President's concerns that Trump's commitment to NATO is uncertain and the alliance is in danger?

MURPHY: I do. I believe that this president simply does not believe in the wisdom of big bilateral defense and economic associations. He sees the European Union as a threat to the United States, not as a partner, like we should see it. And he ultimately has already undermined NATO by suggesting we might not come to the defense of some of the smaller countries inside that alliance.

And so given a second term, I can absolutely see this president doing enough damage to NATO that it either seriously weakens to the point that it is no longer a workable defense alliance or it falls apart. I think that is absolutely serious risk.

SCIUTTO: And Russia listens to those words, you know. If they hear an opening, they might take advantage of an opening. Senator Chris Murphy, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.

MURPHY: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And, Poppy, you hear that. I mean, genuine concerns not confined to this side of the Atlantic about the future of the NATO alliance.

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We're going to keep you on top of all we hear out here at Aspen.

HARLOW: Good. I also think it's interesting, Jim, that he's talking about Congress, you know, making its own list of sanctions against the Saudis and its own list of identifying people responsible, even if the administration won't comply with the Magnitsky Act. That's interesting.

SCIUTTO: That's right. But can they get to 67, right? You know, you need to get to 67 to override the vote.

HARLOW: Yes, you're right. Okay. We'll get back to you soon, Jim. Thanks so much.

A migrant father has been allowed into the United States, but only to say goodbye to his dying daughter. Coming up, how their fight to be together came to this tragic end.

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