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President Trump Escalates Attacks On "The Squad"; President Trump Steps Up For A$AP Rocky's Release; Presidential Candidate Marianne Williamson Is Asked About Trump Being A Racist and Using Jews For Racist Attacks; Tension Between The U.K. And Iran Off The Strait Of Hormuz; Elie Honig Answers Legal Questions; NRA's Infighting Now Embroiled In Legal Troubles. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 21, 2019 - 17:00   ET



MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN HOST: I'm Martin Savidge. "CNN's NEWSROOM" with Ana Cabrera starts right now, Ana.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Anticipation on Capitol Hill, Robert Mueller has a date with two congressional committees this week. What will he say?

Plus, round two of the Democratic presidential debates, 2020 candidate Marianne Williamson will take the stage on night one. She says she wants to heal the soul of America, and she'll join us live to talk about her strategy to stay in the race.

But first, he's walked back the walk back. Now, President Trump is stripling, no, quadrupling down on his attacks on four ethnic minority congresswomen insisting without evidence that they're not capable of loving our country. Will they take the bait?

Sarah Westwood is traveling with the president in New Jersey this week, and Sarah, the president's latest tweets says he doesn't believe these four congresswomen are, "capable of loving our country."

He says they should apologize to America and Israel and he claims they are destroying the Democratic Party. Today he is getting back up now from other members of his administration, right?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Ana. Two top members of his administration, one of them Stephen miller, a very influential senior advisor where immigration is the top item in his portfolio. And the other one, Vice President Mike Pence coming out and highlighting the fact that President Trump has disavowed that racist chant of "send her back" that broke out at his rally Wednesday night in North Carolina.

Stephen Miller arguing on "Fox News Sunday" as well that the president's attacks at their heart are not racist because he's really just criticizing the ideology of these four Democratic House freshmen known as the squad. Take a listen to the lines of defense from the president's top aides.


MAJOR GARRETT, CBS NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You have a chance to say right now. Don't do it again. Is that your message?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Major, the president was very clear.

GARRETT: Was he?

PENCE: That he wasn't happy about it and if it happened again he might -- he'd make an effort to speak out about it.

STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR POLICY ADVISER: All the people in that audience and millions of patriotic Americans across this country are tired of being beat up, condescended to, looked down upon, talked down to by members of Congress on the left.


WESTWOOD: Stephen Miller in that same interview argued that Democrats throw around the word racist too much to try and silence their critics. Sources tell CNN that President Trump faced pressure from aides and allies and lawmakers to distance himself from those racist chants amid a growing backlash among Democrats and as many Republicans also found it difficult to defend the seeming in indulgence of those chants.

President Trump is arriving back to Washington after spending the weekend here in New Jersey at his Bedminster resort. He continued to double down on those attacks.

Sources also tell CNN that President Trump views attacking those four freshman Democrats as a successful political strategy to try to make the squad, the face of the Democratic Party and to project their most extreme progressive ideas onto even the most moderate of Democratic members. Ana, he views that as a successful tactic heading into the 2020 race.

CABRERA: OK, Sarah Westwood, thank you. More now on the political calculus of President Trump's attack on these four congresswomen of color. CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein is here. He's a senior editor at "The Atlantic" and CNN political analyst Toluse Olorunnipa who is also a White House reporter for "The Washington Post."

Ron, I want to start with some comments from Democrats who are calling the president out for his racist remarks comparing him to the late segregationist politician George Wallace. Listen to this.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reality is this is a guy who is worse than a racist. He's actually using racist tropes and racial language to put political gains, trying to use this as a weapon to divide our nation against itself. And this is somebody who is very similar to George Wallace, to racists who used -- he's using the exact same language.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The racist basic taunts and then when the crowd started yelling send them back, send them back, send them back, when has that ever happened other than the last time you remember a name by George Wallace? No, I'm serious. When has anything like that happened with the president of the United States saying of doing something like that?


CABRERA: Ron, do you think the president is actually wanting responses like this? Is he just trying to get under the skin of these four congresswomen and other Democrats?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. We know that the president's inclination is to divide the electorate along the lines of race, and more broadly, along the lines of acceptance or resistance to all of the big changes we're making because it's not just race and demographics change, its changing gender roles as you saw on the Kavanaugh fight and it's even the economy.

[17:05:00] He wants his coalition of restoration to align against the forces that support what America is becoming. But I am not in the camp of many analysts who see this as some great Jedi mind trick that is forcing the Democrats into a corner in a couple of different senses.

First, just think about what's that is saying, Ana. The idea is that open racism that is more like Wallace than any national figure in 50 years is a majority proposition in the America of 2019. But I would say that even if you believe that, even if you believe you had a chance at that, the fact is that Trump is doing all this while unemployment is under four percent and the Dow is over 27,000.

And the reason he cannot run on that is because the racist division and other kinds of division that he has employed already, has alienated too many voters who are otherwise satisfied with the economy.

If you look at the national polling, a variety of polls, roughly one fifth of the voters who say they approve of his handling of the economy say they disapprove of him overall and/or are going to vote for Joe Biden in 2020 in one measure.

So, I would say that while this is something he wants to do to a greater extent that either the White House or most Republicans will acknowledge, it's something he has to do. The road he's already traveled has made it very hard for him to run on what many Republicans would like to hear, are you better off than where you four years ago?

CABRERA: OK, so we talked Trump's strategy, some Republican strategy there. Let's talk Democratic strategy. Right now we know there's a meeting this coming week between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. What do you expect from that meeting? TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they're trying to

bury the hatchet. They want to at least be able to talk about how if they have disagreements and they are very wide disagreements, not only on demographics of 50 years that separates these two women, but they want to be able to show that even though they have disagreements on policy, on strategy, that they can do their discussions and their planning behind closed doors.

If they're going to fight it out, they want it to happen behind closed doors, not on twitter, not in the public, not in interviews with "The New York Times." That's what they want to get out of this meeting so that at least the Democrats are putting forward a positive face to the public even if they're having fights behind the scenes because they realize that it only benefits the president, it only benefits the Republicans if the Democrats are seen as fighting and are seen as not being able to put their agenda forward.

They want to be able to show that they can at least discuss things behind closed doors, at least have an open line of communication. You have to remember that they haven't really had a one-on-one discussion since February. So they want to be able to show that they can at least have discussions and not look messy the way that they looked a couple of weeks ago before the president interjected and intervened --

CABRERA: Right. It was the president effectively uniting the Democratic Party that was a little bit split, splintered perhaps. Ron, you've done some research that shows Republicans and their strategy on racial issues is somewhat puzzling when you consider first the percentage of the population that is Black or Hispanic is rising across the country especially in a lot of the states that Trump won in 2016.


CABRERA: And second, Trump's approval among non-white Americans is extremely low. Only 26 percent say they approve of his performance, 68 percent of that group say they disapprove. That's in a recent CNN poll. So why would he continue to stoke racial anger?

BROWNSTEIN: It is a very clear strategy. I mean, the Trump strategy and one that the Republican Party has essentially accepted with very little protest is to try to squeeze growing margins, increasing margins out of groups that are themselves shrinking in society.

Essentially as I said, what Trump is doing is centering the Republican coalition ever more on the groups and the places in America that are the least touched by immigration, the least touched by demographic change and generally the least hostile -- the most hostile to them.

Over 80 percent of the seats in the House where there is more diversity, where there are more minorities than the national average are now held by Democrats. Almost 90 percent of the seats in the House where there are more immigrants than the national average are now held by Democrats.

What Trump is doing is exiling the Republican Party -- accelerating and exile the Republican Party from the diverse metro areas that are defining the new economy and trying to overcome that by amassing even bigger margins in non-metro areas among blue collar and Evangelical Christian whites.

That can work in the Electoral College in 2020 absolutely because those key Midwestern states are less affected particularly Wisconsin above all, Michigan and Pennsylvania to a lesser extent, they are less affected by diversity than the country overall.

But there is no question that this is the trade he is imposing on the party. Bigger margins out of shrinking groups and it is one that many Republicans question whether it's a long-term proposition in a moment when, Ana, in the next year or so, a majority of everyone under 18 in the country will be nonwhite.

CABRERA: Could be a short-term strategy and long-term could be trouble. Toluse, I want us all to listen to some remarks from Congressman Elijah Cummings this morning.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): What I'm hearing over and over again from my constituents is please save our democracy, please save our country. And you know something else they say, George?

[17:10:00] They say I'm scared. And I have not -- I have never in my total of 37 years in public service ever heard a constituent say that they were scared of their leader.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: Scared of their leader, scared of the president of the United States?

CUMMINGS: The president of the United States, that's exactly right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: DO you believe President Trump is racist?

CUMMINGS: And I've been in politics 37 years. Go ahead, what did you say?

STEPHANOPOULO: Do you believe President Trump is a racist?

CUMMINGS: I believe he is -- yes, no doubt about it.


CABRERA: So, why would the GOP continue to I guess defend these racist remarks from the president?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, Republicans have figured out that if you go against the president, if you stand up against him, then you are going to be in for a twitter war which you will not likely have the weapons to defend yourself against.

The president has shown no hesitation to go after people within his own party, people on his own team when they speak out against him. And a number of those former Republican members have become former members because they decided to speak out against the president and they had to retire. So, there is a sort of loyalty test that this president poses towards his members within his party.

And if you're not willing to stand with that loyalty test and stand up for the president even in situations where you're uncomfortable with what he said or you think what he said might have been racist or overly offensive, you still have to decide to defend him otherwise, you're going to find yourself on the outside looking in.

And Republicans have sort of circled the wagon and shown that they're going to support this president no matter what he says in part out of self-preservation because they realized that if a president goes against you, that means you're going to get a primary and you're not going to be able to survive politically.

There are a few things in Washington that motivates lawmakers more than self-preservation, and I think that's part of it reason why they're willing to defend him no matter what.

CABRERA: Toluse, thank you. Ron Brownstein, thank you as well.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: Got to leave it there, guys. Do Democrats have a plan to counter President Trump's culture war strategy? I'll go one-on-one with a Democratic candidate taking the debate stage in less than two weeks. Marianne Williamson is here.

Plus, Sweden's prime minister is warning President Trump about pushing for the release of American rapper A$AP Rocky. Where does this case go from here? You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


CABRERA: President Trump is urging Sweden to release detained American rapper A$AP Rocky, even saying he will personally vouch for his bail. But the president's efforts don't appear to be making much of a dent. Sweden's prime minister says he won't intervene as the Swedish court says A$AP Rocky must remain in custody until July 25th.

He's being held in jail in Stockholm accused of serious assault. CNN's Melissa Bell is in Stockholm, and Melissa, you asked Swedish authorities about the impact of President Trump's push to help A$AP Rocky. What did they tell you?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they maintain first of all that no political pressure will be brought to bear. And according to the spokesman for the Swedish government, that is precisely what the Swedish prime minister told Donald Trump himself in that 20 minute phone call on Saturday.

Also, there is no possibility of bail of course for the rapper who will spend another night inside this (inaudible) prison tonight. And I think that is so part of what has caused so much controversy, the fact that he would have spent nearly three weeks in custody even though charges have yet to be brought. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BELL (voice-over): Free A$AP Rocky ASAP (ph). The sign just outside the Stockholm (inaudible) prison, the only indication of the controversy of the American rapper currently being held inside. The American president weighed in.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESDIENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I personally don't know A$AP Rocky, but I can tell you that he has tremendous support from the African-American community.

BELL (voice-over): A$AP's more than 10 million followers haven't heard from the man himself in nearly three weeks ever since he was jailed in Sweden on suspicion of assault in connection with a brawl on June 30th. These were the images posted by TMZ that appeared to show A$AP Rocky caught up in a street fight. Other videos posted by the rapper on his Instagram paint a different picture, one of harassment.

A$AP ROCKY, RAPPER: Look, just for the cameras, we don't want no problems with these boys. They keep following us.

BELL (voice-over): Both sides are now being investigated although the Swedish man allegedly involved remains free since the judiciary does not consider him a flight risk. A$AP Rocky on the other hand learned on Friday that he would remain in custody whilst the prosecutor continues to investigate claiming that he does present a flight risk.

Afterwards, the rapper's lawyer told journalists that the prosecutor's decision was unfair but expected and that his client is innocent adding that he believed he was assaulted and acted in self-defense. A$AP Rocky's lawyer and his media representatives have not responded to CNN for comment.

On Saturday the American president tweeted that he had been in touch with the Swedish prime minister saying that A$AP was not a flight risk and offering to personally vouch for his bail. But that is not how things work in Sweden.

DENNIS MARINSSON, SENIOR LAW LECTURER, STOCKHOLM UNIVERSITY: If you know Swedish legal system you know there's no bail system. But then he also said something like the Swedish prime minister will get involved in the case. Actually, the Swedish constitution forbids any minister even the prime minister to get involved or even say anything about an individual case.

BELL (voice-over): Indeed, the Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, said that he neither could nor would try to influence the judicial process. Celebrities have also weighed in -- Justin Bieber thanking Donald Trump for helping his friend but asking whether he could also let the kids out of cages, referencing the migrant crisis on the U.S.- Mexico border.

The former Swedish prime minister, Carl Bildt, also tweeted that Donald Trump needs to understand that Sweden has an independent judiciary with any political meddling distinctly off-limits. That independent judiciary gives the prosecutor until Thursday to rule whether A$AP Rocky and two members of his entourage should be charged, released or held here a little longer.


BELL (on camera): A short while ago, Ana, we spoke to the prosecuting authority who said the prosecutor would not be swayed by any of this controversy nor by any of the pressure that politicians, foreign or otherwise, have sought to bear.

CABRERA: Melissa Bell reporting. Thank you. Still ahead, all eyes will be on Robert Mueller's testimony on Capitol Hill. The top questions you told us you want answered, we'll break them down. You're live in the "CNN Newsroom."


CABRERA: Welcome back. The White House insists President Trump disavowed the racist "send her back" chants uttered by supporters at his most recent rally.

But as far as the president's tweets that led to those chants, the ones in which the president told four sitting U.S. congresswomen to go back and try to help fix the broken and crime infested places which they came, well, the White House says that wasn't racist and that the term racist is actually overused.

Here's how White House Advisor, Stephen Miller, often referred to as the architect behind Trump's immigration policies, responded to a question about this.


MILLER: I think the term racist, Chris, has become a label that is too often deployed by the left Democrats in this country simply to try to silence and punish and suppress people they disagree with, speech that they don't want to hear.


CABRERA: We're joined now by presidential candidate Marianne Williamson.

Marianne, I know you have said the president's tweets weren't just racist but border on rants of a fascist dictator. How do you respond to Stephen Miller?

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON (D), PRESDIENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's been ironic to hear Stephen Miller say that we're overusing the word racist when he himself is the architect of the very racist policies at the southern border. So to hear him put down the term is pretty rude. It's not just tweets that are a problem. It's not just his words that are problem.

[17:24:59] It is the entire tenor of his administration and too many of the policies that we have seen, and they are very disturbing. They are very disturbing for the very reason that I said this is what fascist dictators do. This is what fascist dictators say. You know, we are living through a time of identity crisis in the

United States. We're having to ask ourselves and our generation how much do we mean this declaration of independence stuff? How much are we going to commit in our generation to the principles on which we put forth to stand?

All are created equal. Do we or do we not mean that? God gave inalienable rights to everyone, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Do we or do we not mean that? We're to be a nation of unity and diversity, all cultures, all religions, all ethnicities unified by common principles. Do we or do we not mean that?

I think, you know, our second president, John Adams, said that he hoped that on every July 4th, that this country and this country's citizens would use the holiday to revisit our first principles because whether you're a nation or an individual, sometimes you have to ask yourself, what do I stand for? What are my values? What are my principles?

And I think in this generation we need a deeper level of emotional and psychological rebonding with our own principles. Otherwise, they're in marble inscribe on walls somewhere or they are written on parchment somewhere. But if we are not holding them in our hearts, they loser their moral force. Principles are dead if they're not alive --

CABRERA: You know, the president has continued to justify his tweets and his ongoing attacks in the name of fighting back against what he considers anti-Semitism that he has said he hears from these women. Listen to him here and then I'll let you respond.


TRUMP: What they've said about Israel are just terrible. And you look at the kind of statements they've made about Israel. It's a disgrace to say that about Israel. It's horrible what they've said about Israel. They say things about Israel that is so bad -- s anti-Semetic and anti-Israel.


WILLIAMSON: I'm a Jew. I don't -- so I have definite feelings about that. First of all, there's no they there. It is one congresswoman from what I know, Congresswoman Omar. She said things about Israel I don't agree with. And there are some serious issues there, but she is still a sitting congresswoman of the United States. He doesn't -- you know, she was elected by the people of her district.

She gets to have the opinions that she has. And even though I might very much disagree with her about specific policies, he doesn't get to pull that out. So, I'm a Jew. No. Sorry, President Trump, you don't get to pull that out as your defense at this point.

CABRERA: let me ask you about a prayer you began leaning as far back as 2016. I know you're starting to get attention with this. During that prayer, you have white Americans apologize to African-Americans for slavery, lynching, white supremacy, denial of voting rights, denial of civil rights among other things. Would you lead white Americans in a similar prayer and apology towards African-Americans as a presidential candidate?

WILLIAMSON: No, no. That was in a completely different context of a spiritual support group, spiritual act of racial reconciliation. I think as a presidential candidate, I'm interested in a program of reparations. I'm interested in a program of amends.

You know, it is a spiritual theme whether it has to do with Catholics going to confession or whether it has to do with Jews on the day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. That was within a spiritual context. The idea of the purification of our hearts through an apology or atonement is a very important spiritual principle and it does apply to groups of people as well as it applies to individuals.

CABRERA: I know you've lived in Detroit. That's where the next Democratic debates are here on CNN. You'll be debating on that first night --


CABRERA: -- July 30th. Having had experience living in Detroit, what do you think the people there want to hear?

WILLIAMSON: You know, Detroit is a wonderful city. I raised my daughter there. My daughter says, mommy, I had a happy childhood there which as you know, is the most important thing a mother can hear.

But I feel in terms of what they want to hear in Detroit, my experience whether it's in Detroit or Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina or California or New York or Nevada or anyplace else, Americans -- I'm having an American conversation.

And I don't care whether you're in this group or that group, this religion or that religion, this color or that color, this sexuality or this geographical region. I'm interested in a deeper conversation about where America is, where the United States is now in terms of where we have been, what we owe to our great grandchildren, our unborn great grandchildren.

And so to me, what I have found in Detroit as in every other place in this country, is people are ready for a deeper conversation about this country that goes way beyond than just our own individual concerns.

CABRERA: Marianne Williamson, great to have you with us. Thank you.

WILLIAMSON: Thank you.

CABRERA: Good luck on the campaign trail, and don't miss the two big nights of the Democratic presidential debates live from Detroit, July 30th and 31st only on CNN. We'll be right back.


CABRERA: Just in to CNN, the British government will hold an urgent meeting of emergency response teams in just a few hours led by outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May. Now, they'll be talking about shipping security in the Persian Gulf at the same time they're demanding the release of a U.K. flagged oil tanker seized by Iran on Friday.

These are Islamic Revolutionary Guard troops boarding the tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz and detaining the 23 crew members. British officials repeating a warning to Iran to either let the ship continue on and set the crew free or face what it calls robust action. Listen to this, it's just into CNN, radio chatter between the Royal Navy and the Iranian vessel ordering the tanker to stop.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you obey, you will be safe. If you obey, you will be safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I reiterate that as you are conducting transit passage in a recognized international strait under international law, law your passage must not be impaired.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No challenge is intended. No challenge is intended. I want to inspect the ship for security reasons, over.


CABRERA: Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is not far from where that happened. He's in the United Arab Emirates. And Matthew, when the British foreign secretary threatens robust action, is he talking about diplomacy or something beyond words?

[17:35:07] MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the British are saying they want this to be a diplomatic solution, to resolve this crisis through diplomatic means. They say they're not even look at military plans at the moment.

They're talking to allies they say, about a whole range of issues in order to try and get this British-flagged oil tanker released from the Iranian custody and that could involve sanctions the British government certainly not ruling out. We're waiting to hear what British officials have to say tomorrow. The British foreign minister will be addressing parliament we're told on the matter tomorrow. And so we're going to get some more clarity in terms of that.

When you set this whole crisis against the backdrop of the escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf region particularly the tensions that have been mounting over recent months between the United States and Iran, you can see that an incident like this could very easily spiral into something much more dangerous and something much more violent.

And the British by the way have said they're sending an additional warship to the region to make sure that this kind of Iranian action does not happen against other British flagships plying their trade in the Persian Gulf, Ana.

CABRERA: OK, Matthew Chance reporting. Thank you for that update. Also overseas, a fighter jet from Venezuela made what's being called an unsafe approach to a U.S. Navy aircraft flying in international airspace.

This is an Su-30 Flanker from the Venezuelan Air Force shadowing a U.S. navy reconnaissance plane over the Caribbean Sea. It happened Friday. The Navy says the Venezuelan pilot was flying at an unsafe distance for a prolonged period of time and put the American crew in potential danger. Venezuelan officials accused the U.S. aircraft of violating its airspace and the two planes eventually went their separate ways.

A pageant queen is stripped of her title over her politics. The social media posts one contestant is defending despite the post being called racist and offensive. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


CABRERA: It's a big week. Finally Robert Mueller testifies. And on Wednesday, the shroud of secrecy that has continued to surround the former special counsel will be broken. Mueller will testify in front of both the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees about his two- yearlong investigation into President Trump and his campaign. And this morning, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee reiterated the importance of the blockbuster hearings.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We think it's very important for the American people to hear directly what the facts are because this is a president who has violated the laws six ways from Sunday.

If anyone else had been accused of what the report finds the president had done, they would have been indicted. It's important that we not have a lawless administration and a lawless president.


CABRERA: And this brings us to a special edition of our weekly segment "Cross-Exam" with Elie Honig. Elie is a former federal and state prosecutor and now a CNN legal analyst. And this week you did something a little different. You asked viewers what would you ask Robert Mueller as he's testifying. So our first viewer question for Mueller is, did the president obstruct justice and would you have indicted if he weren't president? Where do you think Mueller will go with this?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So Ana, we got so many smart and tough questions from our viewers and this was the most commonly asked one. So, in the report, Robert Mueller tells us that because of the DOJ policy against indicting a sitting president, he did not a traditional prosecutorial judgment and instead he gives us this really pretty, ambiguous, frustrating, mysterious language about I do not exonerate him.

So, what does this mean? And he needs to be asked directly, would you have indicted? Ideally, he will drop the double speak, drop the riddling and give us a straight answer. The time is now. Now, I do think he will try to dodge. I do think he will say something like because of the policy I never really considered that question.

But here's the thing. There is a way to use Robert Mueller's own language in the report to still get to a very important answer because what Mueller does in the report is he lays out all these different obstructive acts. And for at least four of them, he finds substantial evidence of all the legal elements of obstruction of justice.

So, Congress should isolate those four instances and say with respect to, for example, the president's efforts to fire you, Robert Mueller, the special counsel, did you find substantial evidence of all the legal elements of obstruction of justice? I think based on his own report, Robert Mueller has to answer that question yes.

And if you string together those four yeses, I think it will become very clear Robert Mueller would have indicted if he could have.

CABRERA: Let's move onto our next viewer question for the former special counsel. Was your report intended to be an impeachment referral to Congress? What's your take on this?

HONIG: So, a little historical background. In 1998, Ken Starr made it an explicit referral to Congress to impeach. He used the "I" word and he gave 11 different grounds for impeachment. Mueller, true to form again, was more ambiguous, and he said things like Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president. You know

Well, someone needs to ask Robert Mueller did you mean impeachment. And Mueller also said, well, there's a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president. And again, ask him straight up. That process you were talking about, were you talking about impeachment?

It's a little bit symbolic, but it's important that Robert Mueller acknowledge what he's talking about. And if the word impeachment crosses Robert Mueller's lips, I think that's going to be a big moment.

CABRERA: Our next viewer question for Mueller, why didn't you subpoena President Trump to testify?

HONIG: Yes, so, another source of mystification. So, in the report Mueller said that he had the legal authority and justification to subpoena Donald Trump, a controversial legal question, but he said I could have if I wanted to. But he said I didn't for two reasons.

First of all, it would have caused substantial delay. Really that's on Robert Mueller because Mueller says in the report we negotiated for a full year. Mueller should have just cut that off after two months and say, OK, you're not here to play ball, here's your subpoena. We're going to courts.

But here's the really interest part, Mueller said in the report the other reason I didn't need to follow through with the subpoena is we had sufficient evidence to make assessments without talking to Donald Trump specifically -- specific evidence. [17:45:01] So what was that specific evidence and what assessments did you make about Trump's conduct and intent? It sounds like what he's trying to say there is we had enough to know that he had the requisite criminal intent, the corrupt intent to obstruct, so let's hear it directly from Mueller. Hopefully he will give a direct answer. He left that one wide open in his report so, let's flush that out.

CABRERA: One more viewer question for Mueller. Have your finings been publicly mischaracterized by President Trump and Attorney General William Barr?

HONIG: So that's a big loaded question, but again, I think Robert Mueller's own words compel a yes answer and this could be the big moment of all of his testimony, right, because we know that Mueller wrote a letter to Barr saying that Barr misstated the context, nature, and substance of his findings.

So Congress needs to ask Mueller specifically how, how did Barr misstate your findings? We also know of course that both the president and William Barr have repeated this no collusion refrain. That's not what Robert Mueller found. And so he should be asked, did you in fact find no collusion?

I think what he'll say is, I didn't find anything about collusion. I found there is not enough to charge a criminal conspiracy, but no, I did not find no collusion. And then the big one is this, no obstruction, total exoneration.

So, we've heard that from Donald Trump over and over again. Ask Robert Mueller straight up, did you in fact find no obstruction? Did you in fact find total exoneration? He has to say no. And I think that's a very big moment if you have Robert Mueller saying directly the president and the attorney general have misstated my findings.

CABRERA: Elie Honig, always a pleasure. I know you are getting ready to head to D.C. for our special coverage of Robert Mueller's testimony before Congress that happens Wednesday. Our coverage begins at 8:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

Turmoil within the ranks of the National Rifle Association -- new details on everything from allegation of financial misconduct to a staged coup among leaders, next.


CABRERA: The National Rifle Association is not having a good month or a good year, frankly. The challenges are stacking up for the gun rights advocacy group that helped send President Trump to the White House. Legal troubles, accusations and a big financial mess, and now they are having a problem keeping people in leadership positions. CNN's Sara Murray has more.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The gun rights group that helped propel Donald Trump to the White House -- TRUMP: So, to get the endorsement, believe me, is a fantastic honor.

MURRAY (voice-over): -- now engulfed in turmoil. In April, the NRA sued its longtime ad agency, Ackerman McQueen, the same agency that created this iconic Second Amendment message featuring Charlton Heston.

CHARLTON HESTON, ACTOR: From my cold, dead hands.

MURRAY (voice-over): The bitter split was broiling the NRA behind the scenes at their annual meeting weeks later in Indianapolis.

TRUMP: You are great American patriots. Chris Cox, Wayne LaPierre, Oliver North. Three extraordinary champions for the Second Amendment.

MURRAY (voice-over): But North, then the NRA president, was on his way out. A day earlier, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre told the Board of Directors, North was trying to extort him. LaPierre claims North told him to step down as CEO or face a smear campaign. North was effectively ousted.

OLIVER NORTH, FORMER NRA PRESIDENT: We defend our flag, our national anthem and the heroes they represent.

MURRAY (voice-over): It turns out North was one of the faces of the NRA that was actually financed through Ackerman McQueen.

DANA LOESCH, FORMER NRA SPOKESPERSON: It's so good to see all of you here.

MURRAY (voice-over): The ad agency also paid spokeswoman Dana Loesch's salary. It crafted NRA marketing, placed ads during election cycles and produced NRA TV. The embarrassing allegations North warned about emerged online posted anonymously and verified by CNN.

They painted a picture of financial mismanagement at the NRA, with LaPierre at the helm and North sounding the alarm. LaPierre makes $1.4 million from the NRA. On top of that, Ackerman picked up the tab for $275,000 for LaPierre's high end Italian clothing, $240,000 for his travel to destinations including the Bahamas and Italy and $14,000 for an apartment for a summer intern.

The NRA said they were all legitimate business expenses. A letter from North to NRA board members questioned the NRA spending habits and the $24 million in legal fees the NRA shelled out over 13 months. The NRA disputes that sum. All of this dysfunction delighting the NRA's critics.

JOHN FEINBLATT, PRESIDENT, EVERYTOWN FOR GUN SAFETY: It's like watching a five alarm fire but what's amazing about this is that the NRA itself lit the match. I think that they are going to hobbled and I think that this is just going to play out day by day, week by week, month by month leading up to 2020 and it will keep them on the sidelines.

MURRAY (voice-over): The NRA and Ackerman officially severed ties shutting down NRA TV as a result, bringing an end to controversial broadcasts like this one, mocking diversity in the "Thomas and Friends" children's show by putting KKK hoods on the trains.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, was it because -- I see it. It was the white hoods and the burning train tracks. OK, fine, fair point. I get it.

MURRAY (voice-over): Then the NRA dropped another bombshell, accusing chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, of working alongside Oliver North to overthrow Wayne LaPierre.

[17:55:00] Cox denied the allegation to the "New York Times" but soon resigned. The departure, unsettling for GOP donors and lawmakers Cox built close ties with. Cox had a warm relationship with Trump too and he was the chief strategist behind the NRA's election efforts. He agitated for more spending on digital, less on the red meat being served up on NRA TV sources told CNN. While the NRA scrambles for stability --

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA CHIEF EXECUTIVE: I don't have to fire you up. You already have that fire in your belly.

MURRAY (voice-over): Democrats are readying for a fight.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm the only guy ever nationally who beat the NRA.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have a D minus voting record from the NRA.


MURRAY (voice-over): The NRA says it's happy to be underestimated. "We are very focused on 2020," an NRA spokesperson tells CNN. "Our members know what's at stake from draconian gun control schemes, from gun confiscation to registration. So they will be out in force. And the NRA will make sure of it." Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.


CABRERA: Still ahead, a new outrage from Democrats as President Trump ramps up his attacks on the squad. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


CABRERA: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Our breaking news right now, after eight days of protests, the governor of Puerto Rico just announced he will not run for re-election next year.