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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Congress Prepares for Mueller Testimony; Trump Continues Attacks on Congresswomen; Unrest in Puerto Rico. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired July 22, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: That's going to do it for us today. I'm Erica Hill, in for Brooke Baldwin.
"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: President Trump says he will probably dip into the Mueller testimony, you know, if there's nothing else good on.
THE LEAD starts right now.
President Trump today trashing former special counsel Robert Mueller ahead of Wednesday's testimony that could change the course of his presidency, as a top Democrat says the hearing could kick off impeachment proceedings.
And right now CNN live on the ground during what could be the biggest protest in Puerto Rico yet, hundreds of thousands stopping traffic in an attempt to drive their governor out of office.
And breaking today, Iran says it's executing American spies. President Trump says they don't even exist. I will ask a former defense secretary how close we could be to war.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Jake Tapper.
And we begin today with the politics lead.
It may be must-see TV, but President Trump says he's not sure he will watch special counsel Robert Mueller's testimony before Congress Wednesday. The president going after Mueller's credibility today, tweeting -- quote -- "Highly conflicted Robert Mueller should not be given another bite at the apple. In the end, it will be bad for him and the phony Democrats in Congress."
As CNN's Abby Phillip reports, the president also stepped up his attacks on four Democratic congresswomen of color.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Washington and the White House prepare for special counsel Robert Mueller's big day on Capitol Hill this week, President Donald Trump tamping down expectations. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not going to be
watching Mueller, because you can't take all those bites out of the apple.
PHILLIP: The president winding up familiar attacks against Mueller and his credibility.
TRUMP: Robert Mueller, I know he's conflicted. There's a lot of conflicts that he's got, including the fact that his best friend is Comey. But he's got conflicts with me, too. He's got big conflicts with me. As you know, he wanted the job of the FBI director. He didn't get it.
PHILLIP: But Mueller never sought the FBI director job under Trump, and former FBI Director James Comey has denied that he and Mueller are personal friends.
On Twitter, Trump adding his prediction: "In the end, it will be bad for him and the phony Democrats in Congress, who have done nothing but waste time on this ridiculous witch-hunt."
And, days after claiming he won't watch Mueller, Trump now admitting he might.
TRUMP: I'm not going to be watching, probably. Maybe I will see a little bit of it.
PHILLIP: But Mueller wasn't the only thing on the president's mind. He also took aim at one of his favorite targets, the so-called Squad, made up of four Democratic female congresswomen of color.
TRUMP: Very bad for our country.
PHILLIP: On his way to pay respects to former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, Trump turning the accusations of racism on the four minority lawmakers, tweeting: "The Squad is a very racist group of troublemakers who are young, inexperienced, and not very smart. They are pulling the once great Democratic Party far left," and pointing to the economy as proof that he doesn't have a problem with race.
TRUMP: There's no racial tension. It's because of the economy and what I have done for the African-American.
PHILLIP: And one of the president's lawyers insisted that there is no organized effort to rebut Mueller's testimony this week, despite the president's tweets.
Jay Sekulow said there is no war room planned at the moment. But at the same time, Sekulow said he expects Democrats to ask Mueller to literally read from the Mueller report in order to get sound bites that they believe can be used against the president over and over again -- Brianna.
KEILAR: All right. Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you so much.
Let's open up this conversation.
So David Urban -- and we should note you are a 2020 Trump campaign adviser. If the president truly believes this report, as he says, exonerates him on the issue of obstruction, then why doesn't he welcome Mueller testimony?
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, here's what I think.
At the end of the day, this is just some more theater, right? This is a political question. Impeachment is always a political question. And that's the only way to remove the president. And so the members of Congress, the House particularly, the Democrats here particularly, are going to make a decision.
They're either going to impeach the president or they're going to move on. And they have heard from their constituents. They have heard from people at town hall meetings from across America. It's time to move on. This isn't about the law. This isn't about...
URBAN: No, it isn't more complicated.
KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it is.
URBAN: Listen, the majority leader, very smart woman, I might add, right?
FINNEY: You mean the speaker?
URBAN: The speaker, excuse me. I'm sorry. The speaker, the speaker.
KEILAR: You're getting ahead of yourself.
URBAN: The speaker. That will be in two years. The speaker, right, very smart, she's wisely decided to put it behind herself. Steny Hoyer, you go down the list, Clyburn, all the folks who are smart, seasoned politicians, yet...
MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's not off the table, though.
FINNEY: It's not off the table.
URBAN: Great. Have an impeachment. We will reelect the president. (CROSSTALK)
FINNEY: There was a vote last week that failed. But, again, there are a number...
URBAN: Wait. Wait. Say that part again, Karen?
FINNEY: I said it.
But, more importantly, there are a number of other investigations, some that have to do, frankly, with national security, that aren't -- weren't under the purview of what Mueller was actually investigating, where there are relevant questions and things that are still being investigated.
There are very real questions that folks want to ask Mueller. Like, was it your intention to have Congress decide on obstruction of justice when you listed 11 different incidents?
So point being, what Pelosi has said is, let's let the facts take us where they will. Let's keep doing our job and doing our work in the meantime, but let's let the facts take us where they will. If we're not afraid of what the facts are...
URBAN: I'm not afraid.
FINNEY: ... then let's him.
URBAN: Listen, I'm not afraid at all.
CARDONA: And the thing that David said about how all of the Democratic constituents want this gone, that's not true.
URBAN: No, not all. Not all. I didn't say all.
CARDONA: If that were the case, they would not have given Democrats control of Congress in 2018.
Let's remember that part of what Democrats ran on was to hold the president accountable, because Republicans were completely looking the other way. They were lemmings. They are lemmings, frankly. They have become the party of cowardice and complicity.
So, therefore, it is part of Congress' job to go through the process of holding this president accountable. Having Mueller come and testify about all of the damning things that were in this report, I think, is going to be a critical part of the process that Nancy Pelosi has put forward in terms of getting the country to a place where, is -- are we going to impeach the president?
Maybe. She hasn't taken it off the table. But let's see where the facts follow. (CROSSTALK)
LANHEE CHEN, FORMER POLICY DIRECTOR, MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: It's precisely because there's a division within the Democratic Caucus that this is a problem for the Democrats.
CHEN: If they were unified, if they really all believed in impeachment, that would be one thing.
But Nancy Pelosi's got a really difficult task. And she's got to figure out how to manage the different parts of her caucus, because there are some who see these hearings as an opportunity to advance the argument for impeachment against the president.
There are others who I think rightly argue, look, we use this to gather information, to gather things that could be harmful in the campaign going forward.
CARDONA: But those two things aren't mutually exclusive. It's part of the process.
CHEN: I agree, but the problem that I think there's only enough air for one of those.
URBAN: And there are 40 Democrats who just got elected, right? A lot of modern Democrats, Conor Lamb in Western Pennsylvania, a lot of other Democrats who are going to be hiding, hiding, I promise you.
KEILAR: The president again, he talked today about these four congresswomen of color, if we can turn it back to this. It's been a week, but it continues on. He was asked why he's attacking them. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And they're pulling the Democrats way left. Nobody knows how to handle them. I feel they're easy to handle. To me, they're easy to handle because they're just out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARDONA: He's such a liar.
CARDONA: It's so insulting that he even talks about these four young women of color as people who need to be handled. They are elected members of Congress. They deserve respect.
What I think really drives this president crazy is that they are young, and that they are women of color, and that they are doing things that really take him off of his message. And they are also exposing what many of us have already known, that he is a racist, that he has taken a playbook out of the handbook of white supremacists, telling them to send her back, and then using that at his rallies, and then saying he doesn't agree with it.
KEILAR: But what do you think, David, about the word choice, the idea of handling, handling these women?
URBAN: Yes, it terrible.
I have said many times I don't necessarily agree. I advise the president to tweet on substance. Look, why attack these people personally? Let's attack their ideas. Their ideas stink. We can win on ideas. Let's keep winning on ideas. Right?
That's what we should do. When you take an ad hominem, you take it down. You get last in the bushes. Nobody pays attention to their ideas.
And, Maria, just because everybody who doesn't agree with your idea is not a racist, OK, just not..
KEILAR: The initial attack was racist.
URBAN: Well, listen, again, I would advise bad tweet, OK. Come out...
CARDONA: He doesn't listen to you.
URBAN: And argue ideas, argue ideas.
I think it's particularly ripe that, you know, talk about racism, 400 years, Jamestown coming up here pretty shortly. And the Democratic governor is still sitting in Virginia. Why aren't we hoisting him on his own petard? Where is he?
CARDONA: See, the fact that you have to bring him up I think speaks volumes.
CHEN: The reason why the president keeps coming back to him is because he feels it works to his advantage in some way.
CARDONA: Yes, no question, right.
CHEN: He wouldn't do it if he didn't, right? And so the advantage here, I do think, to David's point, is, to the extent that you highlight these four people as the Democratic Party and as spokespeople for the Democratic Party, I think it's a problem for the Democrats.
We're talking about these four people, and not the 23 who are running -- 22 who are running for president. I think that's the issue.
FINNEY: But, to be clear, Donald Trump doesn't get to decide who speaks for the party.
CARDONA: That's right.
FINNEY: I would argue that it would be a Nancy Pelosi, it would be a John Lewis.
CHEN: I think he's got a lot more say than you might like it admit.
FINNEY: The media has also been obsessed with talking about these four as the spokespeople for the party.
They are four of the spokesperson for this party. But here's the thing.
The president doesn't want to talk about substance. He wants to keep us divided, because while we're divided and fighting each other, we're not paying attention to...
URBAN: The great employment numbers?
KEILAR: We are going to talk about substance ahead in just a moment.
KEILAR: As Democrats and Republicans are preparing to question Robert Mueller, a look at the risks that both sides are taking next.
Also, hundreds of thousands of people protesting a politician who refuses to step down -- why this mass demonstration feels different on the ground in Puerto Rico.
KEILAR: Welcome back.
A tale two of approaches, Democrats and Republicans gearing up for special counsel Robert Mueller's testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Republicans are expected to question the ex-FBI director about the origins of his investigation and the makeup of his staff, while Democrats are hoping Mueller's testimony will bring the president's controversial, what some consider obstructive actions to life.
[16:15:02] CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill.
And, Sunlen, how is each side getting ready for these questions?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, the potential magnitude of this moment not lost on anyone up here on Capitol Hill. Certainly both sides have been busy preparing for this moment.
Democrats, they are hoping to really have a game-changing moment at Wednesday's hearing. They have been, many of them, re-reading the entire copy of the Mueller report, staging mock hearings, practicing their line of questioning for the former special prosecutor. Democrats say that they know many Americans, of course, have not read the entire Mueller report themselves. So, they do want to breathe life into the report by hearing from him up here on Wednesday. And they will certainly focus in on the areas of the report they say that they believe the president obstructed justice.
Here's a chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Well, the report presents very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. And we have to present or let Mueller present the facts to the American people and see where we go from there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: And Republicans up here on the Hill, too, will similarly be looking for their own moment when they're questioning Robert Mueller. They will be trying to essentially undercut his credibility, questioning the origins, the start of the investigation, and certainly how it was conducted over the nearly two-year-long investigation.
Two hearings on Wednesday, Brianna, lasting potentially about five hours long, certainly a potential for very dramatic moments -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Are you hearing anything about Robert Mueller's testimony?
SERFATY: Yes, new detail just coming out from my colleague, Jessica Schneider. She just spoke to Robert Mueller's spokesman who says that, yes, indeed, Mueller has prepared an opening statement to deliver up here on the Hill on Wednesday. And that opening statement has not been seen yet by the Department of Justice, nor did it need to be cleared ahead of time. Mueller has been preparing with a small group of his colleagues who helped over the course of his investigation. And this spokesman saying that Mueller's testimony will be in line
with that statement he delivered in late May and expected to really stick to what's actually in the report. But importantly, Brianna, this spokesman also emphasizing that Mueller is someone who comes to the table fully prepared. He will be ready on Wednesday.
KEILAR: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, on the Hill, thank you so much.
All right. So, Maria, Mueller's made it clear his testimony is the report.
KEILAR: Right? He has no intention of going beyond it. Sunlen's reinforcing that with the reporting and Jessica's reporting.
KEILAR: Listen as he's coming before Congress, let to what Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat, said to our Dana Bash about what she hopes Mueller does.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): To tell an indicting story that can be projected by the voice and the words of Director Mueller. The picture that will be gleaned from the testimony, both in front of the Judiciary Committee and in front of the Intelligence Committee will be stark and real.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: But, Maria, do Democrats run the risk of looking foolish if Robert Mueller resists their attempts at theater?
CARDONA: I do think that that is certainly a challenge. But I think what the congresswoman was getting at is that the report in and of itself is damning. That if we can get Mueller to actually just read what is in the report, those 11 instances when he clearly delineated when this president obstructed justice, that that will be damning enough and can be followed up by questions and commentary by the Democrats to really spell out the picture to Americans who have not yet read the report, that this report engaged --
KEILAR: Or may never.
CARDONA: Or may never. Exactly. I think that's why it's hugely important for us to hear from Mueller.
And even if he does just describe like he said exactly what is in the report and then follow-up questions, and even if the follow-up questions just get him to report what's in the report, another key question is whether he decided not to indict the president simply because there is that Department of Justice guidance. If that guidance wasn't there, would he have gone further? These are key questions, Brianna, that I think will paint a very damning picture. KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But here's the other thing
to remember. From the beginning, Barr is the one, the administration, they are the ones who set the narrative in the frame from the very beginning. What did we first get? A four-page sort of summary, not actually Mueller's summary, but a summary written by the attorney general. So it was his version of events --
CARDONA: That we know Mueller didn't agree with. Right.
FINNEY: I was going to say that. We know Mueller actually didn't necessarily agree with. That would be a question I would want to ask.
KEILAR: Or he felt was incomplete.
FINNEY: Either way, a great question to ask. Point being, from the beginning -- and Democrats recognize, I've talked to folks, they recognize it's playing kind of catch up a little on the narrative about this. Again, remember when Barr did the press conference, right, before leasing the redacted report when no reporters actually had a copy.
So again, they've been able to shape the narrative around this from the beginning into like Maria said, just reading the actual facts can be very damning.
KEILAR: Lanhee, the president has a beef with Mueller, he has these conflicts that are ridiculous. They're not real. Even his own advisers have said these are not real. So, Republicans are going to question the origins of this report. The president clearly would like for them to question Robert Mueller himself.
KEILAR: But how tricky is that for Republicans going after someone who's -- who -- his backgrounds is pretty unimpeachable.
CHEN: I think both sides this is tricky. The issue for Republicans is going to be, you know, Bob Mueller does have an extremely credible record of service. And to try and somehow impeach the credibility of Bob Mueller I think would be a mistake.
I think the question is, can they begin to raise questions about the motivation for what the Department of Justice did. Can they raise questions that then they can follow up on in the future? I think that should be the goal for Republicans. And not trying to go after Bob Mueller, because I think Bob Mueller's going to be a very by the book kind of guy.
I think Democrats expect he's going to say something or answer questions and speculate on things will be disappointed. I believe Republicans who think he'll speculate will also be disappointed.
KEILAR: Is there a risk in going after the origins with Bob Mueller there to explain it?
URBAN: I think everyone's expecting this great TV. It's going to be boring TV. I think Mueller, as you saw, he's going to come out, he's going to stick to the script, he's going to read exactly, he's not going to opine and guess or speculate.
Bob Mueller's a by-the-book guy. He's going to go by-the-book here. I would not expect anything different. Look at his testimony, all the previous times on the Hill. He colors inside the lines. This is not going to be anything, you know, any bombshells.
And look, for Democrats, they're expecting this, they're hanging their hat on the wrong hook. I think that, again, there is a political decision. They don't need to be told by Robert Mueller what's a high crime and misdemeanor. It's up to them to decide. It's up to the House members.
CARDONA: Do you know what's interesting, for people who have studied Mueller's congressional testimonies before, they do say that if you push him, if Democrats push him, he can answer the questions.
KEILAR: All right. Anger boiling over. Puerto Rico shuts down, and thousands are filling the streets. Protests that you'll have to see to believe here as President Trump weighs in, next.
[16:26:56] KEILAR: We're back now with breaking news in our national lead.
President Trump slamming the leaders of Puerto Rico today calling them corrupt and incompetent, while saying he is the best thing to happen to the island. This as hundreds of thousands of protesters shut down streets there and demand their governor's resignation. Years of Puerto Ricans' frustrations about corruption in government boiling over after offensive private chat messages between the governor and his inner circle were leaked.
Let's go to CNN's Leyla Santiago reporting from San Juan.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hundreds of thousands bearing the elements rain or shine filling the streets of San Juan, demanding Governor Ricardo Rossello step aside or be impeached after hundreds of his private messages were published, some suggesting systemic corruption and abuses of power.
Protesters say Rossello is out of touch with the people of Puerto Rico, and the leaked chats were merely the tipping point.
MARISTELLA GROSS, PROTESTER: I am fed up with the thieving government. I am fed up with corruption. I am fed up with lack of integrity.
SANTIAGO: Rossello announced Sunday that he would not seek re- election and would step down as president of the New Progressive Party on the island. But he would not resign. GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: My contention is that I need to
work beyond politics so that we can address some of the longstanding problems of corruption here in Puerto Rico and fix that problem.
SANTIAGO: That's not enough, says his opponents that are now calling for him to leave office now.
CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO MAYOR: The crimes committed by the governor are so horrendous that it cannot wait.
SANTIAGO: Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 pages of private chats showing offensive and misogynistic messages between the governor and his inner circle. That includes using homophobic slurs and suggesting violence against political opponents.
The people of Puerto Rico are now eagerly waiting to see if the governor's exit will follow. And they're looking to the legislature of Puerto Rico to see if they'll take up impeachment.
MELISSA MARK-VIVERITO, LATINO VICTORY PROJECT INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT: This is an attack and basically an attack on the people of Puerto Rico in general. The chats revealed it was basically the breaking point.
SANTIAGO: Even President Donald Trump is calling for the governor's resignation saying Rossello mishandled the recovery from Hurricane Maria.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a terrible governor. I'm the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico.
SANTIAGO: The streets of Puerto Rico have seen demonstrations since last week, some peaceful, some turning violent, but many protesters say today feels like a new day.
(on camera): Why is this, today, different from what we've seen there week?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because it's not a matter about color or who you are or your background, it's matter about uniting everyone, all sectors, all at once saying for once and for all this needs to change, and we'll change.
KEILAR: Leyla Santiago reporting there.
And just moments ago, Puerto Rico's governor after minutes of being pressed by Fox News' Shepard Smith, he finally resistantly apologized.