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House Dems to Focus Questions on Obstruction During Next Week's Mueller Testimony; NYT: Senior Republicans, Ivanka Urged Trump to Disavow Racist Chant; Joe Biden, Kamala Harris To Face Off Again in Debate. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 19, 2019 - 07:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Go back and watch "Top Gun" again. I promise you, it's not as good as you remember. All right? It isn't. It isn't. I don't want to have to break it to you, but it's true. All right?

[07:00:10] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, this one might have a surprise.

BERMAN: All right. CNN has learned the Democrats' plan to make the most of their hearings with Robert Mueller. We've got breaking news. NEW DAY continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. The work speaks for itself.

CAMEROTA: New details on House Democrats' game plan for the Mueller hearing next week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Democrats planning to focus on five areas of alleged obstruction of justice, banking on the fact that this shifts public opinion.

BERMAN: The lineups are set for CNN's Democratic presidential debates.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Buttigieg has the opportunity to shine for voters on the fence about him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Biden and Harris center stage, this is not necessarily the debate stage Biden wanted.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Even if Harris doesn't go after him aggressively, she will be prepared to counterpunch and defend.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

BERMAN: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. We have breaking news this morning. Brand-new CNN reporting about the Democrats' game plan for questioning Robert Mueller when the former special counsel testifies before Congress next Wednesday.

This is what they're going to do. They're going to focus on five areas of the Mueller report that outline what could be obstruction on behalf of the president of the United States, including his efforts to fire Robert Mueller and tamper with witnesses, including former campaign chair Paul Manafort.

CAMEROTA: There is also new reporting about why the president is now attempting to distance himself from the "Send her back" chants at his North Carolina political rally. He claims he tried to stop it, but the video tells the real story; and we will show you that.

And the lineups are now set for CNN's two-night primary debate. It will feature a rematch of former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, who had a memorable clash over race and busing in their first debate.

On the other night, the two top progressives, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, will share the debate stage for the very first time.

Joining us now to talk about it, we have Kaitlan Collins, CNN White House correspondent; Shan Wu, he's a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, and now a CNN legal analyst; and Errol Louis, CNN political commentator. Great to have all of you. Happy Friday.

Errol, let's start with our reporting about what the Mueller hearings are going to look like. Both sides, Democrats and Republicans, have been staging their own mock hearings behind the scenes separately, of course, about how they're going to take on Robert Mueller, who is a tough nut to crack, let's admit, for both sides. OK?

And so here's what we have learned. We will put this up. This is what the House Judiciary -- the Democrats on the House Judiciary plan to do.

They want to tackle five areas: tell -- telling Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller. That would be a good one. What Mueller knows about that. Telling Don McGahn to publicly deny that Trump told him to fire Mueller. Telling Corey Lewandowski to tell Attorney General Sessions to limit investigation. Telling Corey Lewandowski to tell Jeff Sessions he did not meet with Lewandowski, or Trump will fire him. Alleging witness tampering of Manafort, Cohen and others.

How do you think this is going to go?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's going to maybe not work as well as the Democrats might hope. That stuff, while extremely important, runs count to what I think the broader purpose of the hearings are supposed to be.

What the Democratic leadership has said over and over again is that they want to have a 1974 moment, where in Watergate what started out as charges really sort of galvanized the nation and really sort of made clear what was going on and why there was a problem. It provided really critical context.

To do it now, and to say, "Well, the president told him to fire this guy and so forth" without the context, it won't mean anything. Why was he trying to fire Mueller? What was it all about?

Yes, it could be a violation of the law, and it's important to draw that out, but the goal of sort of letting the public know what's at stake here and why it's important, I think kind of gets undermined if you get into this back and forth.

And of course, the Republicans are going to do their best to muddy the waters. And it'll look like one more big partisan fight, the kind that viewers tend to tune out.

BERMAN: Shan, when you look at this, what happens when Robert Mueller is faced with these questions? When Mueller is asked to go into more about these instances of possible obstruction? And when faced with the question that we do understand Democrats want to ask, which is, if a regular citizen engaged in these activities in a way that fits this fact pattern, would an ordinary citizen be indicted? What does Robert Mueller say to that?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the key for the Democrats, really, is how they ask Mueller these questions. He's a former prosecutor as well as FBI director. He's comfortable with direct exam-style questions. That's where they will elicit what they need from him.

They really need like an audio book performance from him. They want to ask what, who, where, and how. If they try and hit him with a lot of direct leading cross-exam type questions, they're going to run into a stone wall with that.

[07:05:08] So to get those answers, they need to refer him back to what he's already written in his report; have him draw those points out.

The Republicans are going to have to hit him with cross-exam questions, because they want to score points. That's going to be a very tough road for them to go.

CAMEROTA: Kaitlan, we had Andrew McCabe, deputy -- former deputy director and acting director of the FBI on, who has briefed Robert Mueller in the past for hearings just like this. And he said that no one is better prepared. The briefing books that Robert Mueller can consume and digest are legendary.

So he will know his own report, word for word and, you know, Andrew McCabe's feeling is he won't really deviate from that.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it's something he spent two years of his life working on. So of course, he knows this report backwards and forwards. And that's what's going to be the test for these lawmakers, some of them who have not even read it. And that's why it's kind of hard to overstate just how much they're

trying to prepare for this by not only rereading the report, going through it, holding these mock hearings where their aides are playing Robert Mueller, so they can try to sharpen those questions.

But also they're going back and watching Robert Mueller's past testimony, any time he's made public remarks. Because they want to see how he operates.

And essentially, what they've been saying is that he can talk about something and not -- essentially filibuster. And that is something that they're concerned about. Because of course, they're going to be constrained for time. That is something that, essentially, they're both looking at, where Democrats know this is their only chance to try to bring this report to life, make it a movie instead of a book for people who haven't read it. And Republicans know this is their only chance to try to discredit the man who's been investigating the president, who's from their party.

BERMAN: There is another legal issue this morning, and it has to do with Michael Cohen. It has to do with the search warrants and the information that came out yesterday from the SDNY about their case against him. And the fact that they will likely not pursue charges against anyone else having to do with the hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

You are fascinated by one exchange. We have evidence here of communication between Michael Cohen and Hope Hicks, right?

CAMEROTA: We have actual words. I think this is helpful. I mean, I think -- Shan, listen to this. I mean, this is from the federal search warrant. OK? And you hear there were multiple exchanges between Michael Cohen and Hope Hicks, who was, you know, one of the president's top confidants during this time.

This is three days before the election. We now know how hard they were trying to keep this information about the hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, away from voters. Because they knew that this would affect how voters felt about Donald Trump.

Here is one example: "The next morning, on November 5, 2016, at approximately 7:35 a.m., Michael Cohen texted Hope Hicks: 'So far I see only six stories. Getting little to no traction.'"

Hicks responded, "Same. Keep praying! It's working!!"

And so Shan, they knew that voters would be interested in this information. Why doesn't this run afoul of the federal election campaign law?

WU: I think it does. I think, while we may hear the president's team, if they address it, say this is a big vindication. There are no further charges of anyone in his organization.

I think at the end of the day, the criminal culpability rests squarely where it started, where Michael Cohen placed it, on Trump's shoulders. I think the nexus of the timing of these calls and texts make it

crystal-clear who's directing it. I think it calls into legitimate question whether Hicks is really being truthful or not.

But that defense is tried and true. "I don't recall," "a little bit confused on the dates." So probably not enough to charge her but, certainly, causing the question of whether she was testifying truthfully about not recollecting certain details.

BERMAN: And the House Judiciary Committee wants her back. They want her to answer new questions about her testimony to them. We'll find out if she's telling the truth.

And again, there are phone calls between President Trump and Michael Cohen; then-candidate Trump and Michael Cohen. All kinds of phone calls around the time that this deal was made that just go to the idea, or the proof, that the president was lying when he told America, as president, by the way, that he had nothing to do or no knowledge of these payments. Let's just play that one more time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did did Michael -- why did Michael Cohen make this if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my -- an attorney, and you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don't know. No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: He did know, Errol. All the evidence is he knew. There's all these phone calls. There are the checks. There's Michael Cohen's testimony. The evidence says the president was lying to the American people.

LOUIS: That's right. I mean, look. Frankly, you can see it in his demeanor, right, in the clip that you just showed. You know, you look at it, and you say that guy's not telling the truth.

So right. The president has lied to the American people. That, by the way, is an impeachable offense. I mean, you look at the list of particulars in past impeachments, it includes misleading the public in this way.

[07:10:10] So we now have somebody who's sitting in prison who has said over and over again and who, in fact, has recordings to back him up, Michael Cohen, sort of saying this was all done on -- at the behest of, in collaboration with, and for the benefit of Donald Trump.

It's one more additional piece of information that people now have about something that, you know, I think we all recognize now, which is that there was a lot of untruths told about everything related to the Stormy Daniels case.

CAMEROTA: Kaitlan, very quickly, we have to end on what a crazy and historic week it has been, starting with the racist tweet from President Trump, working itself up to a crescendo of anti-American chants at his political rally from the crowd of "Send her back" about four Americans, obviously, congresswomen of color.

And I guess that the most interesting part of all of this is just how many Republicans behind the scenes, we now know, from Vice President Mike Pence, allegedly, to Ivanka Trump, to members of Congress, were quite uncomfortable. And somehow got President Trump to attempt to backtrack or claim that he's disavowing this.

COLLINS: Yes. Because they realize the controversy that was coming out of seeing that chant, where the president did not encourage the chant to stop happening, as he claimed later in the Oval Office. And so, of course, Mike Pence was hearing an earful from Republicans. The president's allies were calling his daughter and people in the White House, urging him to back off that chant. And that's why you saw the president try to make that comment.

But of course, the video shows that the president's actions were actually not what he said they were. And it really goes back to even watching that Michael Cohen video, where the president is saying he didn't know about those payments. And then later, of course, it shows that he did.

BERMAN: I appreciate you saying, by the way, "attempt to distance himself" or "attempt to distance." Because it's not. I mean --

CAMEROTA: We have the video. I mean, the video tells the story. Everybody can see it with their own eyes.

BERMAN: It is what it is. Errol Louis, Shan Wu, Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: OK. The lineups are set for the upcoming CNN Democratic debates. So what will the matchups here mean for the 2020 race? Paul Begala knows a thing or two about debates. He's here to break it down for us.

BERMAN: That's outstanding.

CAMEROTA: Yes. We got Paul Begala.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: OK. We now know which candidates will face off against each other at the upcoming CNN Democratic debates.

On night one, the two leading Democratic voices, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, will be at the center of the stage, surrounded by more moderate people. And on night two, it will feature a rematch between former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris.

Here to break down all of the matchups is veteran Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator Paul Begala.

So great to have you. You know your way around a debate stage.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Love debates.

CAMEROTA: So let's look at night No. 1. OK? Night No. 1 is where Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have their first public sort of go at this. What do you see here?

BEGALA: I really don't -- First off, rarely among politicians, they're actual friends in their real lives. They like each other. That shouldn't get in the way of a good fight. But I don't know that it's really in either of their interests to do that.

I suspect -- I think Bernie Sanders is just champing at the bit to go after Joe Biden, even though Joe won't be there. So I don't think it will be quite as effective. But he's, on the trail, more and more picking on Joe.

The one I'm really looking for in that first one is Mayor Pete. He's kind of stalled. He started out great; he's raised a pile of money. But I think in the last debate he was a little flat. And he's -- he's had to go home for an officer-involved shooting. He's had real controversies in the city of South Bend. So he's going to have to really step up on night one.

BERMAN: He has an opportunity to differentiate himself from the left side of the party, if he wants to.

BEGALA: Right.

BERMAN: If he wants to create space there between Sanders and Warren, he could.

BEGALA: And he has two needs. To create some space and to get in the game with people of color. OK? I don't have a preference in this race, but I know this: the winner in my party is going to be the one who can appeal to people of color. And so far, Mayor Pete has not been able to do that.

He can use the debate to do that, because interestingly, lots and lots and lots of those people of color are moderates. They're left out by -- from the white liberals very often, and sometimes ignored by them. So I think there's an opening for Pete to do both of the two strategic things he needs.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's look at night No. 2. So there's -- people are talking about a possible rematch between Joe Biden --

BERMAN: It is, in fact, a rematch. CAMEROTA: It is, if they take the bait. I mean, if they're planning for -- to just go after each other and if they are practicing right now for this rematch, which I guess you will say they are.

BEGALA: Oh, absolutely. First off, it's like when you have a fight with your spouse. Like, I have the best lines like a week later after she's left me. But -- but no. We all do this. And they're doing this now. But they're doing it with professional advisers.

My guess is it's -- you know, it's round two. This time it's personal.

In other words, I think what Joe has said in his interviews, that he was kind of hesitant, because he was really shocked, that Kamala had been a friend of his late son, Beau. They were both attorneys general at the same time. But I think, actually, Joe's best response is to be personal, to say, "Gee, you know, you weren't saying that when you were asking me to come campaign for you. You knew that record. You were doing this because of politics. But guess what? Personal matters more. You were a friend of my son's. I loved you before this and will love you after this. If you win, I'll campaign for you."

In other words, make it personal. Contextualize it as a political attack. They're all political attacks. I'm not dinging Senator Harris for that. But I think that's probably the better way for Joe to handle this.

BERMAN: Bigger picture, doesn't he need to prove himself here? It's surprising, given how long he's been in this game, and he was vice president for eight years, but he's got a lot to prove.

BEGALA: He does. And it's because he's been too focused -- I have a friend who taught me this phrase -- on the RVM, rearview mirror. I thought it was the '80s band from Athens, Georgia. She said, "No, no, RVM means rearview mirror. Stop looking in the past."

CAMEROTA: That's REM.

BEGALA: REM. She's like, "Stop looking in the past." He needs to rip out the rearview mirror.

He wants to defend that 40-year record in the Senate and in the White House. He needs to stop. He needs to look forward. And he's got to -- his whole key is "I can beat Trump." And that's who the Democrats are going to nominate, whoever they believe can beat Trump. So he's got to bring it back to Trump, back to Trump, back to Trump.

[07:20:11] BERMAN: I actually think that he's been given an opportunity by the events of this week. I don't know if that will last to two weeks from now, if we'll still be talking about the president's, you know, racist tweet and the "Send her back" comments, but it does provide the contrast that Joe Biden wants.

BEGALA: His announcement was so moving, because you talked about Charlottesville, which is the worst moment of this presidency. And -- and this is a close second, I think, attacking Congresswoman Omar in such a racist way. That does allow Joe to get back at it.

But there are two dark horses, I think, we've got to watch. Two governors. On night one, it's Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana, who has not been in a debate yet. He's been busy being governor. And on night two, Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington.

Both of them are polling at zero, but each of them has two advantages. They're governors, which we like more in America than senators, frankly. And second, they each have an issue, a signature issue that they're experts on that Democrats care about.

For Bullock, it's campaign reform. He can say, "Look, I'm glad you're for health care or for prescription drugs. We can't get it done until we can fix campaign reform, until we fix money in politics." He's an expert in that.

Jay Inslee is an expert on climate change, an issue Democrats care a lot about, and a lot of Democrats feel like doesn't get enough discussion.

So some -- some governor ought to be climbing into this race at some point, because usually, they make stronger candidates.

CAMEROTA: You know what I'm struck by? Is that the people who did not fare well who you think were a little bit lackluster in the first debates -- Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg -- you know, debating ten people on a stage is not everyone's format.

BEGALA: Right.

CAMEROTA: And by the way, I'm not sure it's applicable to being president of the United States. You won't do that often as president. And so not everybody is built for every format.

So I think that Pete Buttigieg, where you said he was a little bit flat, it's because his style is much more sort of one-on-one and being thoughtful and having positions. And Joe Biden was a little bit deferential, as we saw there.

And so I'm not sure how they change their kind of being to really excel in this format.

BEGALA: You can't change who you are. But if you're not naturally aggressive -- Kamala Harris is a prosecutor. She was by far the best debater.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. That is her format.

BEGALA: That is her format. But so if you're not Kamala, if you don't have her gifts, hopefully, they have a sense of humor. You know, that wins people over, too. You don't always have to be attacking. You can be endearing. And I think Pete has that capacity. Joe certainly does, too.

BERMAN: Beto O'Rourke.

BEGALA: This has never worked for Berman, but see, there's an attack. I'm a cheap-shot guy.

BERMAN: Does Senator Harris need a second act? Or what does she need to do?

BEGALA: She does. And again, she -- I think she needs to now punch up above Biden. I'm obsessed with this. The Democrats are -- they're talking about the perfection of their theoretical health plans, which they'll never be able to pass, instead of attacking Donald Trump, the current president, who's in court right now, trying to take away people's protections on pre-existing conditions, and who's proposed the biggest cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. She's ought to be going after Trump on health care, rather than, I think, trying to pass some purity test from the most ideological people in her party.

CAMEROTA: Paul Begala, great to get your expertise on all of this. It is really fun.

BEGALA: This is fun. This is the earliest I've been up.

CAMEROTA: And you did well. Coffee.

BERMAN: And Begala is against -- against the "Top Gun" sequel. I don't want to put words in his mouth.

BEGALA: I am.

CAMEROTA: You're also against it?

BEGALA: I am anti-"Top Gun" sequel.

CAMEROTA: Et tu, Brute?

BEGALA: Well, think of all the carbon that he's burning in that fighter jet.

CAMEROTA: All right. Fair enough.

BERMAN: President Trump now trying to distance himself from the racist "Send her back" chant that were directed at Somali-born Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. What do Republicans now think of this moment and what do they want going forward? We ask two former lawmakers next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END