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Robert Mueller to Testify Before Congress This Week; Massive Protests Continue to Ask for Resignation of Puerto Rican Governor; Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) is Interviewed about First-Hand Look at Border Facility in Texas. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 22, 2019 - 07:00   ET



REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): The report presents very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. We have to let Mueller present those facts to the American people.

[07:00:08] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mueller has indicated he will let the report speak for itself, but Democrats aren't deterred.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Mueller report has not been questioned from the other side. This is our chance to do that.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): That's a pretty damning set of facts people are not familiar with. The president keeps on trying to deceive them about those facts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Send her back! Send her back!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Send her back! Send her back!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Send her back! Send her back!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president disavowed the chant, made it clear that he wasn't happy with the chant.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): He said, "Oh, I stopped it immediately." Roll the tape. He didn't.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Do you believe President Trump is a racist?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): Yes, no doubt about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This isn't about race. These members of the House of Representatives fundamentally believe in policies that are dangerous for this nation.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. John Berman is off today. David Gregory joins me.

Great to have you.


CAMEROTA: OK. This week could be a defining week for President Trump's presidency. At least that's what congressional Democrats are hoping. They want to prove that he committed impeachable crimes. So all eyes will be on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's testimony on Wednesday. Democrats are hoping that Mueller's words will affect Americans in a way that his 448-page written report did not.

GREGORY: But there is, however, some risk. Right? Mueller's long- awaited testimony could backfire on Democrats. Jerry Nadler insists there is, quote, "very substantial evidence" the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. But Mueller has already said he will not go beyond what he wrote in his final report.

So there's a lot to discuss. Joining us now, Errol louis, CNN political commentator, host of the podcast "You Decide"; Joe Lockhart, Lockhart, CNN political commentator and former Clinton White House press secretary and the host of the podcast "Words Matter"; and CNN contributor Bianna Golodryga, who does not have a podcast.


GREGORY: But I think you should have one --

CAMEROTA: We'll have one soon.

GREGORY: -- in the next 10 to 12 minutes.

GOLODRYGA: Right, right.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Where do you want to start?

GREGORY: Well, I'm going to start with Joe Lockhart.


GREGORY: Joe, set the stage for us here on the stakes. There's opportunity and risk for Democrats, with Mueller finally coming in to testify.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think -- I think the risk for the Democrats are expectations running way out of control. We -- you know, as -- as political watchers, we always want to see if something clears the bar. And I think the -- the side show of last week probably helped on that a little bit. So we really only have two or three days to really, you know, focus in on this.

I think the opportunity is to, in a whatever it is -- two-hour, three- hour session, finally have Mueller use the words to go through the report. And I think what the Democrats will try to do -- and what I hope they'll try to do -- is be very calm and measured, not give speeches, and just ask him to lay out crime after crime after crime. And I think that has the potential and the opportunity for Democrats to -- to move the needle on this.

CAMEROTA: Yes. We just had Donald Ayer. He was a former deputy U.S. -- sorry, attorney general under George H.W. Bush. And he basically said something interesting that I hadn't heard before. He thinks that Bill Barr's statement on May 30, where he said, "I wish that -- I think Robert Mueller should have drawn a conclusion. I wish he had drawn a conclusion." That that, in some ways, gives Bob Mueller permission and changes the equation that we should expect a conclusion from him on Wednesday.

GOLODRYGA: Well, that could very well be the case. The only words I have to go on, though, are Bob Mueller's himself, where he said, "My testimony will be this report."

Remember, he's coming in as nobody's witness or ally. He's coming in to defend this report, begrudgingly. "The New York Times" had a piece that this is his 88th, possibly 89th appearance before Congress. He knows what he's doing.

Democrats are hoping that he will just play-by-play, go through the report by detail, and are betting that by numbers, by viewership, Americans are finally going to wake up to what they see are alarm bells.

Republicans are going to be trying to deflect and focus a lot of attention on what they see are the liberals and the Democrats that were on his team and try to bring down any sort of middle ground that Robert Mueller represents here.

GREGORY: See, this is the problem, Errol, is that I think it is a legitimate question. Why didn't he make a determination? Was he not able to?

But even if he were to answer that question: if he just said, "Look, I didn't think I could make a conclusion as a prosecutor" or "It wasn't within my -- the providence of my mandate," whatever his conclusion doesn't get you very far.

What he will be able to say is, if this was all about looking into whether there was collusion with the Russians, he didn't find any. That's what Republicans are going to be eager to take away.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's right. There's going to be a lot of back and forth. There's going to be Republicans, I think, saying almost anything to just create a headline and just distract from where Robert Mueller is going to come.

Because what he's going to say in response to that question is, I think, what we heard him say from the podium, which is that would not be fair to make insinuations that crimes had been committed if we're not in a forum where the person can defend themselves, can bring in their own witness, can bring in their own information and their own testimony and evidence.

And so to the extent that he's going to remain scrupulously fair, I think it will work against those who want to see him sort of pound the table or, you know, sort of emote that he thinks that there was a crime that was committed. He's made clear in every way possible that he not only isn't clear on it, but that it's not the right forum. It's not fair to go ahead and do that. There will be plenty of Democrats will be doing that for him.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Jerry Nadler for one. Congressman Jerry Nadler, Joe, does not feel burdened by having to somehow -- I don't know -- curtail what he's saying. I mean, he went far this weekend.


CAMEROTA: We've heard him on this show also go far. But he reminded people of what he thinks the president did. And he used really strong language. So let me just recap for anybody who missed his appearance yesterday.


NADLER: I think there is very substantial -- 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 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 -- can be above the law.


CAMEROTA: Joe, how do you think this is going to go? I mean, we've all heard, as Bianna said, that he's a very reluctant witness; he doesn't like this; he doesn't like politics. Bob Mueller doesn't like partisanship. So what are we going to see on Wednesday?

LOCKHART: Well, you know, I think the former deputy attorney general framed it well in the last hour, which is, you know, he does not want to play politics. But he does want to defend the report.

And the report does provide substantial evidence of criminal activity. He doesn't want to make Congress' decision like Jerry Nadler just did, talked about there about high crimes and misdemeanors.

So I think he will be a little bit more animated than he was in that, you know, nine-minute press conference.

The other point is, is you know, we talked about the risk to the Democrats. I really do think there's a risk to the Republicans here, because what I -- what I think I know about Bob Mueller is when they start going after his people personally, like they have, and going after their motives and their families, I think you're going to see a very strong defense of the investigation, how it was conducted.

And it's going to sort of explode a lot of the myths that the Republicans have built up around the deep-state corruption that -- that permeated this investigation.

GREGORY: Joe, can I --

LOCKHART: I think that's a real risk for them. I don't think they want to get him going on that.

GREGORY: Can I just throw something else out here? I'll start with Joe and Bianna.

I still come back to -- to where were in the political calendar. So No. 1, you have not seen the Democratic candidates make much of a stand on this. Because I think they're more in -- in line with Nancy Pelosi on the question of impeachment.

And is it not a factor that, if you look at Watergate, if you looked at the Clinton impeachment, that those were after re-election, as opposed to really being on the doorstep of a presidential election, which seems to have an impact here in lots of different ways that you can slice that up?

Joe? You want to weigh in on that?

LOCKHART: Is that to me, David?


LOCKHART: Yes, yes. No, I think -- I think you make an excellent point there. I think that you're right: it was both of them were not going to face the voters again.

And I think ultimately, you know, if you're trying to square Jerry Nadler's comments with where the House is, it's not that hard. I don't think there's a Democrat in the House that believes that the president hasn't committed high crimes and misdemeanors.

I think the question that they're trying to answer -- and this is a big piece this week in trying to answer that question -- is, you know, what's the point in going through an impeachment process when you know Mitch McConnell in the Senate wo remove the president? When it obscures the things that, I think, Democrats think will actually remove the president from office at -- you know, in 2020, which are bread-and-butter issues like health care and --

GREGORY: And this is where the presidential candidates.

LOCKHART: -- providing for (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

GREGORY: They're not really weighing in. They're not driving this thing through.

GOLODRYGA: They're not, which is why I think -- what I will be following closest on Wednesday will actually be Volume I testimony. The Volume I part of the report that focuses on Russian interference in the U.S. election. Because I don't feel, at this point, we've still heard enough from the Democratic candidates as to why they think this was such an important issue, in fringing on our election system; what they are planning to do to make sure it doesn't happen again.

We clearly have not heard enough from the president and this administration as to what they are going to do to combat it. But the one moment in those nine minutes that we heard from Robert Mueller where he did get a bit animated, and he repeated himself, was a reminder of what Russia did to infiltrate our election system. And this is something that every American should focus on.

[07:10:16] I think that part of his testimony on Wednesday may be his most animated.

CAMEROTA: And yet, Errol, we want to know that Democrat vote -- well voters, all voters, don't list this don't on the top of their list. They want to know about their own health care. They want to know about their own children's education, their jobs. And so Democratic presidential candidates are steering clear of it.

LOUIS: That's right. And for a number of different reasons, that being one of the primary ones.

But everybody does have -- all of the candidates, the major candidates, at least. They do say something about election security. It tends to veer off into things that are don't -- not really on point with what's in the Mueller report around making sure that systems can't be hacked electronically. That's not really what the problem was here.

Those who, I think, are serious about it, though, are going to at least sort of put a marker down and say we know this is serious. We know this is real. What I would really like to hear is more about what they plan to do personally. They as well whatever influence they have within the DNC to make sure that there isn't a repeat of what happened in 2016.

Because that is one of the more frightening parts of the Mueller report and what he has said in testimony, which is -- at his press conference -- which is to say, you know, we're teed up to have this happen all over again.

And we're already -- you know, you're starting to see reports here and there that, you know, the bots are out. The hackers are there. The whole situation could happen again. Each of them needs to talk about that. Not so much to sort of weigh in on where the Mueller report goes or what they might do as president, but how to get through this next election season.

GREGORY: But so Joe, that comes back to the ultimate impact of Mueller. Because it will be compelling to hear him lay out the facts of what happened and how our electoral system was compromised. But if Democrats are more focused on laying a foundation to ultimately

impeach the president, that'll become a lot more divisive just among Democrats to say nothing of Republicans.

LOCKHART: Yes. And that's why I think Mueller's important. But I think we have to look at this in the context of Mueller being on the Hill, the first major chapter. They've got 12 or 13 fact witnesses, the people that Mueller draws his conclusions or at least his evidence from that subpoenas are out to.

You know, the courts will have to -- some of those people will come in and testify because they've got no justification for resisting it. But some of those people will have to be compelled.

If the courts move quickly and compel that testimony, you have a much more dramatic play unfolding where each of these people have to talk about their role, what the president was doing, what the president was saying. Then you get something much more akin to the Watergate hearings in '73.

And again, I think what Speaker Pelosi is looking for here is she just doesn't want to make this a totally partisan exercise where she House votes, the Senate dismisses it. And if Mueller can set off a process where the public gets behind there have been high crimes and misdemeanors, then I think the equation could change.

CAMEROTA: All right. Well, John and I and the whole NEW DAY team will be there on Wednesday following all of it. Thank you, guys, very much for the insights.

We're also following breaking news right now. Because Iran claims that it's detained 17 Iranian citizens who are accused of spying for the CIA.

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry claims it broke up a spy ring and that all suspects have confessed to working for the CIA. Iran says some of those 17 will be executed.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just responded to this report, saying he cannot comment on it specifically but says Iran has a history of lying.

GREGORY: Meantime, to the crisis in Puerto Rico. The embattled governor of Puerto Rico is refusing to resign, but he announced that he will not seek re-election. In about two hours, hundreds of thousands are expected to protest in San Juan. That's where CNN's Leyla Santiago joins us live.

Leyla, what are you seeing so far?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, since the last time we spoke to you, we started to see a few more people starting to gather on the side of the highway. I'll show you so you can kind of get a sense of what it's like before the protesters show up. I mean, it's almost a tailgating atmosphere on the side of this highway.

This highway, by the way, a major artery into Old San Juan and heading south to the southern part of the island.

What's expected to happen here? We expect hundreds of thousands of people to show up, shut this highway down, and call on the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello.

Why? That's the big question. What's behind this? Well, last week a series of chats were leaked. They were published by the Center for Investigative Journalism. Nearly 900 pages in which you can see the exchange between the governor and his inner circle. Very offensive language that was -- was written in those chats; insults to a lot of Puerto Ricans, and many of them are taking that personal. [07:15:15] And that was sort of what you should expect to call the

boiling point, the boiling point, the catalyst that led to this. What it's really about for many people is corruption. Corruption that they saw in those chats. The mismanagement of funds that they believe the chat is sort of emblematic of.

And so days and days of protests after La Fortaleza, the governor's mansion. We're now going to see this all come together, starting on this highway as hundreds of thousands of people say, "You may have stepped down from being the president of the party, but until you step down as governor, it will not be enough."

CAMEROTA: Leyla, we know you'll be covering it all day for us. Thank you very much for the report.

So President Trump says he wants to meet with Chuck Schumer on immigration after the minority leader has gone to the border. We want to know what the situation is at the border. Has anything improved there? What are the conditions this morning?

So we will speak to a senator who went to the border with Chuck Schumer. He took pictures. We'll show you all that next.


[07:20:17] Chuck Schumer went to the U.S. border with Mexico on Friday. He brought along a group of Democrats. And they tried to get a handle on what is happening there. They took some pictures, so we could all see for ourselves the current conditions.

So joining us now is Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley. He was on that trip with Chuck Schumer.

So what did you see, Senator?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): Well, what we see was a continuation of policies that are very, well, punitive against migrants; designed to discourage people from immigrating to the U.S. And this -- this use of this strategy of deliberately inflicting harm on children and adults, this is not what America is about.

So it's very disturbing to talk with the migrants, experience their stories, listen to their stories, and understand that this is not the way we would want any of our family members to be treated, should they arrive on the border.

CAMEROTA: I want to just look at the pictures that you took. These are your own personal pictures. In one of them, the first one, it's through, you know, a wired cage. There's one where I think it's that one. On the left of that -- that picture we were showing a moment ago, I think you see a man with a -- it looks like an infant in his arms, at least the picture that I'm looking at. It looks like he's holding an infant. And he is just sitting on the floor in the crowded conditions. There it is. That one.

MERKLEY: Yes. CAMEROTA: So children are no longer being separated from their parents, I mean, I hope. But I guess are babies getting the care they need there?

MERKLEY: Well, child separation is continuing. The administration, if somebody has anything on their record that they can say that this justifies it: they have a DUI, for example, or a cannabis offense in their background, things that would never separate a family in the United States of America.

One of the things that we have in the border bill that was put in on the Senate side is a provision that requires reporting on separating children.

What you saw there in that picture was that they are holding men with children and mothers with children before they separate them if they are over -- if the children are over the age of 10. And so that is good, that that immediate separation isn't occurring.

But those that are -- have children over the age of 10, they're being separated and told that they'll be reunited within a few hours. But there's enormous anxiety taking place on that. Is that really true? Is that -- is that going to happen? Because in some cases, it's not happening.

CAMEROTA: And that border bill that gave millions and millions of dollars to try to ameliorate the conditions there, has anything changed?

MERKLEY: Well, what is -- the big change has been that we are now in the summer heat, and the surge of migrants who came when the president said he was going to seal the border, they're rushing to get here before that happens, that has subsided now. Both because Mexico has deployed thousands of troops to the border with Guatemala. And because they've made it more difficult for people to catch buses to the northern border, and because of the summer heat.

And so we -- I think we're seeing a big, big drop in just the last few weeks. And we'll see much less of the overcrowding.

But the fundamental notion -- the fundamental notion that the strategy is to inflict trauma to deter people from -- from becoming refugees here in America, no. Treat people with respect and decency as they await their asylum hearing.


MERKLEY: Very few win those asylum hearings. They have a burden of proof. But whether they are deported back or are able to stay because they do meet that burden of proof, treat people with decency and respect.

CAMEROTA: Yes, of course. But Senator, are you saying, or are you willing to acknowledge that some of the overcrowding has gone down because of President Trump's policies? MERKLEY: Certainly, the -- the big surge happened because of his

policies, which was to say, "I'm going to seal the border." That surge now has subsided, both as a result of Mexican action and the summer heat.

CAMEROTA: Because the president pressed Mexico to take action.

MERKLEY: Yes. That's fair to say. Yes. So he has partially corrected a problem he created.

CAMEROTA: He tweeted about your visit. He said, basically, that he looks forward to meeting with Chuck Schumer about this. And he talked about this big rush of undocumented immigrants coming through the border and Border Patrol being injured while you were there and that somehow all of you missed it.

Here's what -- we just got a statement from Customs and Border Protection. Here's what they say about this rushing incident. "Several males in the group disregarded commands to stop and physically pushed through the barriers. When confronted by CBP officers, the combative individuals began assaulting the officers by punching, kicking, and attempting to grab the officers' protective devices."

[07:25:04] Did you know anything about that while you were there?

MERKLEY: No. We hadn't heard anything about that, and we didn't see it in the -- in the press this morning, because we were looking in response to the president's tweet.

There are incidents that occur with people who are angry and tired. Many have been put back into Mexico under this metering program. So they arrive on the border at the points -- ports of entry where the president has said, "Come here."

His team then says, "We're only taking a couple people a day," pushes them back into Mexico in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. There's a lot of desperation in this, because you're there without family, without funds, without friends.

And many of those people are then crossing between the points of entry in desperation. So we do see a lot of anxiety and a lot of desperation. And of course, some people are dying as a result of that metering policy.

CAMEROTA: Very quickly, about the president's racist tweets on some of your colleagues on Congress, here's what -- a fundraising note that you sent out this weekend said, or last week, I should say.

"The president is a racist. We see it in his latest awful tweets over the weekend. We see it in his cruelty to children and families at our border. We see it in so many of his attacks on people of color."

So that was one of the fundraising notes that you sent out. Has that been effective to fundraise on? MERKLEY: Well, I think it's important that -- I don't know the

results of that -- that letter. But I will tell you this. It's important for us, with our audiences, in all ways, to stand up for the principle of equality and opportunity for every American.

The president has gone into a deep and dark space, a space of division, a space of hatred. And we need to respond and say that is not the ideal in America. The vision of America. If you love America, to put it in the president's words. If you love America, you love opportunity and equality for all. Not discrimination.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but I guess my -- Understood. But I guess my question is that people talk about how it's an effective strategy for the president's base. And I'm just wondering if you think, for Democrats capitalizing it -- on it, in some way, is also an effective strategy?

MERKLEY: I think the most effective strategy is for us to acknowledge who and what the president is and then pivot to the fundamentals for families. Health care, housing, education, living-wage jobs, the equality act, taking on the carbon pollution that's affecting our farming and our forestry and our fishing.

In other words, through the fundamentals. Pivot to the fundamentals that are affecting -- because the president is trying to distract. Distract from his own behavior. And he is trying to distract from his failure to address the fundamentals that make life better for all Americans. So I think that's the most effective way to respond.

CAMEROTA: Senator Jeff Merkley, thank you very much for sharing your experience --

MERKLEY: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: -- at the border with us and showing us those pictures. We really appreciate having you on.

MERKLEY: You're welcome.


GREGORY: Alisyn, a lot more attention coming up for the Democrats. The matchups for next week's Democratic debates right here on CNN are either a big opportunity for Joe Biden or a political land mine. Michael Smerconish on the matchups and what to watch, coming up next.