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Lawmakers Set to Challenge Robert Mueller this Week; Retired Justice Stevens to Lie in Repose at the U.S. Supreme Court; Massive Protests in Puerto Rico After Governor Refuses to Resign; Iran Detains 17 Citizens Accused of Spying for CIA. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 22, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:24] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour, I'm Poppy Harlow.


The governor is not quitting. And neither, however, are the protesters. Thousands set to fill the streets of San Juan after Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello refused to resign amid allegations of widespread corruption. Rossello has stopped short of protesters' demands, though, only saying that he will not seek another term.

HARLOW: The island has seen unrest for days as we've been reporting. But today's demonstration right now -- you're looking at live pictures out of San Juan -- could be the largest so far. It all stems from a leak of private messages between the governor and his inner circle. Those messages filled with vulgar and homophobic language.

Let's go to our colleague Leyla Santiago. She's on the streets of San Juan.

You've been walking with the protesters, Leyla. What are we seeing?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm actually standing on the highway right now. This is a major artery where they have cut off any sort of access into San Juan and anything south.

Let me show you kind of what it looks on both sides. You can see people standing here and cheering on as people are being redirected off the highway. Beyond that a lot of the truckers are coming by and honking. When they do that, people are waving those flags and cheering on the calls as they demand the resignation of the governor Ricardo Rossello. They say this is not just about some leaked chats, in which people were insulted in the conversation he had with his inner circle, but this is also about getting rid of corruption.

That is what I have heard in the many days that we have been here covering this unrest. But let me let you listen to the people themselves.

OK, what is your name?


SANTIAGO: Her name is Laura. Laura, where are you from?

LAURA: Well, originally Venezuela.


LAURA: But I've lived here for more than 25 years.

SANTIAGO: OK. So she's been here for 25 years. Why are you here today?

LAURA: Well, we're here and in general I am here because we're organizing, not only for protests against Ricardo Rossello is out, but also to organize and make for the primaries new candidates, people that are new. People that deserve and understand our needs. That's why we're here.

SANTIAGO: I see you're getting a little bit emotional. It sounds like you're holding back tears. What is it that personally upsets you?

LAURA: Personally it's the idea that only -- the government only listens to a few people, the people that have the control and the power, monetary power. And right now we're here to say that the many of us, the ones that work for this country deserve to be represented for real.

SANTIAGO: But, Laura, this unrest has been going for days including just outside the governor's mansion. Why is this today different from what we've seen this week?

LAURA: Because it's not a matter about color or who you are or your background, it's a matter about uniting everyone, all sectors all at once, saying for once and for all this needs to change and will change.

SANTIAGO: Laura, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with me.

That right there is what I have heard echoed throughout this entire week. The protesters here are saying that the governor's announcement yesterday that he will step down as president of his party, that he will not run for re-election is not enough to get rid of corruption, which is their goal here in San Juan on the island and beyond.

HARLOW: Leyla Santiago, thank you so much.

Wow, I mean, she's moved to tears by this. You can certainly feel the angst there. We'll get back to you in a minute -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The emotion there, it's certainly been lasting.

Joining us now to discuss, Angel Rosa. He's a professor of political science at the University of Puerto Rico. He's also a former state senator. Angel, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: Our colleague Leyla Santiago, she spoke to a Puerto Rico senator who made the point that this is not just about today's move but it's about whether the governor can effectively govern through October of next year when there will be a new election in light of the breadth of the protest against him right now. And I wonder if you agree with that.

ROSA: Exactly. That's a real problem here because at this point the governor has no leverage, no political will in his body. He has no support in his political party, not even in the legislature.

[09:05:03] And we wonder, you know, whether in this year and a half that coming from his term there has to be (INAUDIBLE) capacity for exercising his duty.

HARLOW: So, Professor, can you talk about what would happen going forward if he is ousted, if there is an impeachment proceeding. We'll see -- I know the House of Representatives there is waiting for advice from three legal scholars on their, you know, what they can actually do here. But you're talking about the fact that they have been in crisis financially. They have been in recession for over a decade. There is this devastating debt crisis.

And if he is ousted through impeachment, that would just create more uncertainty among bond holders, right? And I just wonder about the economic impact for all of these people.

ROSA: Well, really, there's no uncertainty if he is ousted because the constitution has a process for him to be substituted and you only have to follow it. But also, I have to point out, this comes on top -- this comes on top of a lot of corruption by the several agencies the last week or the week -- the previous week, the revelations from that chat the governor was participating. So there's a real problem here. It's not only affecting governing but, you know, honest governing.

There's a lot of corruption going around. And federal law agencies have been detaining people for that. And that's really -- that is very, very serious. And that, of course, makes a lot of damage not only for the government, but economically speaking for Puerto Rico.

HARLOW: Sure. Sure.

SCIUTTO: To be fair, though, some of these problems have long existed in Puerto Rico. And I'm wondering why not go through the normal political process, wait for the election next year? I mean, you often see these popular demonstrations outside of the political cycle here. Why not wait for the elections next year to replace him?

ROSA: Because the governor's expressions in that chat offended almost every group on the island. You have that on top of corruption, on top of economic uncertainty, on top of financial stress here from the part of government, and, you know , people are having -- are feeling the effects of that financial problems from government, you have a perfect recipe for a turmoil. And that's what we're having right now.

So the governor's expressions in that chat have, in my view, put a question on his character and his capacity to honestly govern in Puerto Rico.

HARLOW: Professor, is today different? I mean, you have said that Monday, today, this morning, these protests that -- to officially begin just now, is this different than what we saw on the streets of San Juan, you know , nights in a row last week? Is today a turning point?

ROSA: Well, I think that what we are going to see today is a massive protest. And not only that, we're having also like a general strike on the whole island. So this also the 12th day of protest in a row. And, you know, this never happens in Puerto Rico before. And you know, if the government, the governor is not listening to what the people are exclaiming for, I fear that something is going to happen in the next few days here in an island which is known for being a peaceful paradise.

HARLOW: Certainly. OK, Professor Rosa, we so appreciate you being here in the midst of everything that is going on.

ROSA: Thank you.

HARLOW: Thank you very much.

ROSA: It's a pleasure.

HARLOW: All right. Well, this morning Iran claims it has broken up a CIA spy ring. Iran's Intelligence Ministry says 17 Iranian citizens have confessed to acting as spies for the U.S. -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Now Iran says they were tempted by the U.S. by offers of immigration, jobs here in this country. And some of the 17 alleged spies will be executed. Iran executes a lot of prisoners.

Joining me now with details CNN international correspondent Matthew Chance.

Now, Matthew, this is a familiar narrative in Iran, CIA spies everywhere. We've heard these charges before. I mean, is there reason to believe that these charges are credible?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I think there's a reason to believe that the CIA probably has activities inside Iran, they certainly have in the past. And, you know, it's resonant for virtually every Iranian, they know that the United States has conducted intelligence operations and does actively conduct them in Iran.

This is just tapping into that knowledge. And it's sort of bolstering this Iranian claim domestically. That even though they are being accused by the United States and others of being the malign actors in the region at the moment, the Iranians are saying to their own people is that, look, you know , we know, don't we, that the United States is provocative as well and is doing these kinds of things.

Now in terms of whether it's true or not in this particular instance, that's an altogether different question.

[09:10:03] What we do know is the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been pouring cold water on this story. Take a listen.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I would urge everyone who is reading that story waking up to understand that the Iranian regime has a long history of lying. They lied about where they shut down the American UAV. They've now lied in the last few days about where they took down this tanker. It's part of the nature of the Ayatollah to lie to the world. I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions that they've taken.


CHANCE: OK, so it's just another -- you know , it's just another sort of episode, though, another iteration of this increasingly growing tension in this entire Persian Gulf region, tensions particularly with the United States and Iran but also moving other countries like Britain as well, Jim.

SCIUTTO: OK. So the other source of tension at this point, of course, is that Iran is holding a British flag tanker, this resulting in warnings from the British government. And after a series of other provocations, including the shootdown of course of a major U.S. drone, where does -- where does that crew remain? Where does Iran stand now on this? Is there resolution in sight?

CHANCE: Well, actually within the past few hours, there's been the first images of the crew being broadcast on Iranian-state television. 23 individuals from Russia, from India is the majority, but also from the Philippines and Latvia as well. They look well. They look like they are going about their business on board the ship. But that ship, remember, that British flag oil tanker that was seized on Friday, just a few miles away from where I'm standing and speaking to you from now actually in a port called Bandar Abbas in southern Iran.

It's under close guard by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and there's an Iranian flag flying over it and no sign at this stage of how this vessel or its crew is going to be released -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Matthew Chance there, right on the Persian Gulf, thanks very much.

Back here in Washington, it is almost Mueller time. A high-stakes hearing for Democrats as they gear up to question the former special counsel in the Russian investigation. Could Wednesday's testimony change minds on impeachment? Plus, John Paul Stephens returns to the Supreme Court for the final

time. The late justice's casket arriving there just moments from now. His former clerks, more than 100 of them, set to serve as honorary pallbearers, also attend the ceremony today. We are going to be there live.

HARLOW: And we're also staying on top of the huge protests in Puerto Rico and a defiant governor.


[09:15:00] POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right, welcome back as Democrats face a make or break week preparing to question Robert Mueller, President Trump seems to be saying Mueller should not be testifying, Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: That's right, the president tweeting this morning, "highly conflicted Robert Mueller should not be given another bite at the apple." Then he repeats familiar criticisms, calling the probe a witch-hunt, they found no collusion, of course, the president had praised Mueller and the Mueller report after --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: It was released when he claimed that it exonerated him, not so today. CNN congressional reporter Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill. Tell us about preparations, but also expectations particularly from Democrats as we get ready for Wednesday's testimony.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, that's right, Jim. You know, this hearing has been months in the making, and Democrats have a lot riding on it when it comes to the public opinion of what exactly is in this Mueller report. You know, top Democratic Committee Chairman has a lot to work against part of the reality, is that most Americans haven't actually read the Mueller report. Here is what the top chairman had to say about that.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): 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 those facts to the American people and then see where we go from there because the administration must be held accountable and no president can be above the law.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, since most Americans, you know, in their busy lives haven't had the opportunity to read that report, and it's a pretty dry, prosecutorial work product, we want Bob Mueller to bring it to life, to talk about what's in that report?


FOX: And of course, last week Democrats overwhelmingly voted against a resolution that would have advanced impeachment in the House of Representatives. The big question, does that change? Do the political dynamics change after Wednesday's hearing when you hear directly from Robert Mueller?

Now, meanwhile Republicans are also doing their own preparations. They want to zero in on the fact that there was no collusion according to many Republicans. That's what they want to focus on, they want to get Robert Mueller to basically talk about that section of the report.

So, Republicans and Democrats behind the scene doing a lot of preparations for what is going to be a very high-stakes hearing Wednesday. Poppy and Jim?

HARLOW: All right, Lauren. great reporting, thank you so much. Let's talk about this more. Our legal analyst Anne Milgram is here; she's also the former New Jersey Attorney General and now professor at NYU law and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein; editor at "The Atlantic".

Ron, one thing that's striking to me is just how reluctant of a witness Mueller is --


HARLOW: Great "Washington Post" reporting over the weekend, talking about the 88 times that he has testified --


HARLOW: Before Congress over years, leading the FBI, et cetera, really soured exchanges he's had with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress over those many hours of testimony. Lisa Monaco; his former Chief of Staff at the FBI, says he goes there with quote, "a kind of dread." So, knowing that, what should we expect?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I think we should expect that he's going to control, kind of modulate where he goes much more than the committee. I suspect this could be a very frustrating afternoon and morning for both sides. On the one hand, I think Republicans are going to face a witness who is going to show how absurd it is to define him as some kind of partisan warrior --

HARLOW: Right --

BROWNSTEIN: Against, you know -- against the president. I mean, just the absurdity of that I think is going to be exposed from beginning to end. And the sheer magnitude of what the Mueller report found, particularly on obstruction of justice is going to have some resonance.

[09:20:00] Just him talking about it as Adam Schiff said as opposed to this almost unreadable report is going to have some resonance. On the other hand, you know, based on that history, it is highly unlikely -- I mean, he is going to do triple back-flips to avoid giving Democrats, I think the sound bite that they want.

You know, essentially saying I would have prosecuted the president if he was anybody else. So, I think both sides may come out of this, you know, more frustrated than satisfied, and I'm guessing he is the one who is going to be in control of exactly where the knob turns.

HARLOW: Ron, I can't get Mueller triple back-flip image now out of my head. I'm picturing that --

SCIUTTO: That will be a meme, no question --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, exactly --

SCIUTTO: And you've been a close observer of the special counsel for some time. The "New York Times" had a story this weekend saying that the Democrats hope the following. They hope to use Mueller to re- fashion his legalistic 448-page report into a vivid compelling narrative of Russia's attempts to undermine American democracy.

The Trump campaign's willingness to accept Kremlin's assistance, and the president's repeated and legally dubious efforts to thwart investigators. I just wonder knowing what a G-man as it were that Mueller has been and how conservative he is in his public pronouncements. Are those hopes too high from Democrats?

ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think they probably are. I think Mueller will be straight down the middle of the road. I don't think he's going to be political. And remember, he can always say, I'm going to refer you to page 200 of the report. And so it's possible that this gets a little technocratic and --

HARLOW: Yes --

MILGRAM: You know, sort of legalistic seeming. But if they ask the right questions, I think that there's a huge amount that they can cover on Russian interference in the election on obstruction of justice with the president. And I think really I would sort of say it's up to Congress to ask the right questions of Mueller to get the information --

HARLOW: Right --

MILGRAM: They want. They're not just going to be able to say tell us what you found and have him --

HARLOW: Yes --

MILGRAM: Give a 20-minute speech --

HARLOW: Well --



HARLOW: Don't show though, right? And to Jim's point about the "Times" article, right? It also talked about how Democrats either roll as coaxing Mueller through basically reading, Ron, some of the most --


HARLOW: Damaging parts of the report. Just read. Just -- or if you say, OK --


HARLOW: This is -- you know, volume 2, page whatever -- just -- OK, could you read us that paragraph, sir, right? But they are also faced with the stark reality of the sentiment of the American people. Look at this --


HARLOW: This is "Wall Street Journal"-"NBC" polling from this month, only 21 percent of Americans believe that Congress should begin hearings on impeachment. I mean, you really --


HARLOW: Need to change that number if you're a Democrat --


HARLOW: Who wants to move forward with this.

BROWNSTEIN: Right, look, public opinion is not static. We all know that, and the hope is that the -- if there was, you know, the advocates of impeachment believe a process that brought the facts forward would move those numbers. But that is a big hill and you know, it reflects the reality.

What are we, 15 months from election day? You know, so there is a -- you know, there's a kind of a practicality, I think, partially embedded in those numbers. I mean, it's not that only 21 percent of the country thinks that Donald Trump did something wrong, those numbers are much higher.

But I think the enormity of impeachment, especially with the knowledge going in, that there's essentially -- especially after the last week, the --

HARLOW: Yes --

BROWNSTEIN: Silence of the Republicans -- there's no chance they're going to act. You know, Kind of makes people see a practical problem in addition to any kind of whether he's crossed the sufficient standard of improper behavior.

SCIUTTO: And just quickly, there are substantive questions to ask him directly, one being, was it the policy, Justice Department policy that kept him from indicting the president or was it the evidence? I mean, that strikes me as really one of the clearest questions Democrats can ask.

MILGRAM: I agree, I think that's a great question. And I would also follow up by asking if that was the policy that you followed, do you agree with it? Do you agree that, that is the --

HARLOW: Right --

MILGRAM: Law, that the Office of Legal Counsel --


MILGRAM: Is following the existing law.

SCIUTTO: And will he choose to answer that question in clear terms?


BROWNSTEIN: Can I buy everybody lunch if he answers that question?

SCIUTTO: I'll take it, really --


HARLOW: Yes --

BROWNSTEIN: I will buy everybody lunch if he answers that question, and whether he would flat out. Would I have indicted him if he was anybody else?

SCIUTTO: Right --

BROWNSTEIN: He's going to say I never got to it because of the guidance.

HARLOW: Exactly --

SCIUTTO: Well, it's a fair --

BROWNSTEIN: Oh, yes --

SCIUTTO: Question though, it's a very fair question --


SCIUTTO: And we'll see where it goes. I'll take that bet, Ron Brownstein, Anne Milgram --


SCIUTTO: Ron, thanks very much. Our special coverage of the Mueller hearings will begin on Wednesday morning, starting at 8:00 Eastern Time only here on CNN. Moments from now, retired Justice John Paul Stevens, his final trip to the Supreme Court, his casket of the late Justice arriving any moment now. We're there as people from all across the country pay their respects.


HARLOW: All right, well, right now, retired Justice -- retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is arriving there at the high court. He served on the Supreme Court for nearly 35 years and he died last week at the age of 99.

SCIUTTO: Deeply respected by both conservative and liberal justices. Lining the steps of the Supreme Court today are dozens of his former clerks. He had more than a 100 of them during his service --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Stevens will lie in repose in the great hall today, and a private funeral will be held tomorrow at Arlington National Cemetery. Joining us now Ariane de Vogue who has covered the Supreme Court for us for some time. So, he'll be accompanied by clerics, several of whom will serve as his pallbearers. And now, I find this interesting, he's going to rest on a platform used by Lincoln.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, he's returning here for the final time today. He will lie in repose -