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CUOMO PRIME TIME

Democrats, GOP Prepare To Grill Robert Mueller; Zebley Will Be Sworn In Before House Intelligence Hearing; Ahead Of Mueller Testimony, Trump Claims Constitution Gives Him "The Right To Do Whatever" He Wants. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired July 23, 2019 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST, CUOMO PRIME TIME: I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME from Washington D.C.

The waiting is over. Robert Mueller will tell you what he found and why. Politicians on the Right and Left will try to find advantage. Will his answers have people yelling for impeachment or just yawning?

One of the leading progressives who's going to question the former Special Counsel is here.

And second, only to your interest in hearing from Mueller what matters most about our government and democracy, the Democrats really do have the most on the line. What are the best and worst case scenarios for them tomorrow? And what will decide the outcome of this entire situation?

And can this President keep his taxes quiet as an exercise of his First Amendment rights? Congresswoman and law professor Katie Porter is here to test that notion.

What do you say? We're on the eve of a big day. Let's get after it.

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CUOMO: All right, we're just hours away from an historic hearing here in Washington D.C.

The stakes are so high they were actually practicing for this, both sides, mock hearings, using stand-ins for Mueller and GOPers like Jim Jordan from Ohio, Democrats worry maybe he'll interrupt the hearing, try to hijack it, so they're getting ready. They want to present you with the best set of information. That's our hope.

Now, Mr. Mueller didn't want to be there, all right? He also wanted to bring a deputy to answer certain questions. He lost on both.

He's going to be there and he will have a deputy by his side, but only Mr. Mueller will be the one answering questions. This day has been a long time coming, and it is good that it will happen.

One Democrat you're going to see facing Mueller tomorrow is David Cicilline. Congressman, welcome back.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): Thanks.

CUOMO: Good to have you.

CICILLINE: Great to be here.

CUOMO: What's your big question? If you only got one, what would it be?

CICILLINE: Well fortunately, I only -- don't only have one.

But I think I'm very interested to hear the Special Counsel discuss Corey Lewandowski and the directive that the President gave. Now, think about this. This is an outside person, not a member of the administration.

The President directed Corey Lewandowski to tell the Attorney General of the United States to direct the Special Counsel to limit his investigation to future Presidential elections, not the investigation of the 2016 election, so effectively not investigate what the Special Counsel was directed to investigate.

And then, when he had some difficulty meeting with Mr. Sessions, he told Corey Lewandowski "Tell the Attorney General, if he doesn't meet with you, he's fired."

So, this is a clear obstruction of justice, the President attempting to interfere with the ongoing investigation. That's one of 10 specific instances of the President attempting to impede or interfere or undermine the investigation. I'm especially interested in that area.

CUOMO: How do you think -- I'm like -- I'm losing my breath listening to you, sorry Cicilline. Tell me this. When you're looking at tomorrow, what is the most important thing you think Mueller has to speak to outside of the discrete issue about Lewandowski?

CICILLINE: I think the -- the -- the Special Counsel has to make clear, first of all, the -- the investigation did not exonerate the President of the United States.

CUOMO: Right.

CICILLINE: That in fact there are 10 specific instances of obstruction of justice. And obstruction of justice is a serious offense that goes to the heart of our criminal justice system.

CUOMO: Do you think he says "No collusion, no obstruction," and then answers the opposite of that?

CICILLINE: I think he's going to make it clear the -- the -- the -- his report says in fact there is not sufficient evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians. CUOMO: Right.

CICILLINE: That is different than saying no collusion. There's a lot of evidence that the Trump campaign welcomed that assistance from the Russians, benefited from that assistance, so I think he'll walk through that.

I think he will also say that it -- with respect to obstruction of justice that he made no finding, in large part because he was following the LO -- OLC memorandum that says a sitting President cannot be tried.

CUOMO: You think he will? Hold on, let me have some more liquid truth here. Liquid truth. All right, that's an important point. I -- I have -- I have two big ones for tomorrow.

And I think it's really interesting that you're taking a discreet angle on -- on Lewandowski. Does that mean that the Committee divided things up?

CICILLINE: You will see the Committee walk through the Mueller report.

CUOMO: But does each have a role like "Cicilline, you'll deal with Lewandowski?"

CICILLINE: Yes. Everyone on the Committee has a set of questions that they are prepared to ask that will allow us to walk through all of the major findings.

CUOMO: Different areas, all right.

CICILLINE: Correct.

CUOMO: Good. That's good for people to know also. It won't be random, all right.

Now, no collusion, no obstruction, that's going to be the mantra. So, the obverse of that to ask because I know that Mr. Mueller wants to stick to the report, but the idea of no collusion, no obstruction, flies in the face of the report.

So early on, how important is that to establish what the President is selling is not what the reports tell?

CICILLINE: I think it's important to establish that early on that the report does not, in fact, say no collusion, no obstruction. I think, you know, the President with the assistance of the Attorney General has mischaracterized the findings of the report.

And don't forget, for most Americans, this will be the first time they will have an opportunity to hear about the contents of this -- the report, the results of this investigation.

It's over 400-page document. I've read it. Most of my colleagues have on the Committee or I assume all of them have, but most Americans haven't read it. So, this is their first--

CUOMO: Yes. They say like 3 percent.

CICILLINE: Right, right.

CUOMO: And we can't blame them because--

CICILLINE: No, of course not. It's 400 and some odd pages.

CUOMO: It's 448 pages.

CICILLINE: This is our job.

CUOMO: And look, let's be honest, everybody was looking for the headline. Is there going to be a next step to this or not? They didn't get it from the Mueller report. I don't mean that as a criticism.

However, tomorrow, I saw -- I could feel you making faces when I was reading the introduction tonight, Cicilline, when I was saying this is a big day for the Democrats. Here's why I say it.

CICILLINE: It's a big day for the country.

CUOMO: No question! It is good for people to hear from Mr. Mueller.

I've argued on this show since the beginning, he had to be out there. I wanted him out there when the report came out and do this one and done hearing to the American people from a voice that they trust.

[21:05:00] However, the reason I put it in the context of the Democrats more than the President, as you know, his base isn't moving anywhere. Your party and the people who voted in the midterms did so with a set of expectations about checking power, and yes, there were policy issues, healthcare mattered.

But I believe more than ever, this election is going to be a mandate on who we are, what we accept, and what we reject.

After tomorrow, does your party quickly have to decide, "All right, look, we need to take the next step and own this and do our Constitutional duty this way or we need to go a very different way, and move down a different path?"

CICILLINE: Well I mean I hope that, you know, and this may be fantasy. But I really hope that this hearing by both Democrats and Republicans that they will approach it with the seriousness it deserves.

We should never forget, this investigation began, because the Russians in a systematic and sweeping way attacked our democracy. That ought to be concern to everyone, Republican and Democrat alike, Independent.

And so, I hope this hearing will give the American people an understanding of the seriousness of this attack, and then the serious effort the President made to stop the investigation.

CUOMO: They'll get it, but that's going to create reaction formation, because people are going to say, "Well I kind of knew this was already big. Now I know even more. But where the hell am I -- Republicans and Democrats doing anything about it?"

CICILLINE: No, I think--

CUOMO: I mean that's one of the things that it hurts the own interest. I hear from Republicans and Democrats the same thing.

CICILLINE: Yes.

CUOMO: Interference mattered. Yes, except you haven't done anything about it.

CICILLINE: Well we've passed legislation in H.R. 1 to respond to this, to prevent it from happening in the future--

CUOMO: In the House but they're no walls--

CICILLINE: We didn't get any help from the Republicans--

CUOMO: Right.

CICILLINE: --on that bill. But we have to, of course, do everything we can.

We just passed additional legislation last week to secure our elections. That's has to be our first priority, to make sure that the American people decide who will be our President without any interference from any foreign adversary.

We have to do that first and foremost. And we've done that in the House. The Senate needs to take it up. But I also think we have to hold the President accountable. Nobody is above the law in this country.

CUOMO: When's the drop-dead date on that? Let's say it happens tomorrow, and the polls stay net-neutral. You got, you know, let's say, at best it's 60-40, which is not as good as it is--

CICILLINE: Look--

CUOMO: --now, right now. 60 percent, yes, this is impeachable, 40, it isn't--

CICILLINE: I don't, you know--

CUOMO: --what do you do?

CICILLINE: --I don't think decisions such as the impeachment of the President or whether or not we should begin an impeachment inquiry should be governed by public opinion.

CUOMO: I agree.

CICILLINE: You don't put your finger to the wind, and say, "Is this good for us politically or not?" CUOMO: I agree.

CICILLINE: You have to do what's right for the country, to uphold--

CUOMO: I agree.

CICILLINE: --the rule of law, to honor our Constitution, to not only hold this President accountable but to make it clear to future presidents that this kind of conduct will not be tolerated.

CUOMO: I agree.

CICILLINE: So, we need to make judgments based on what the evidence requires, and we need to tell the American people this is our Constitutional duty, and if the evidence supports the opening of an impeachment inquiry, as I believe it does, we must move forward.

CUOMO: But everybody says that -- not everybody. 92 out of whatever your full number is says what you just said. But you're not going to learn anything tomorrow that you don't know already. The Democrats aren't going to--

CICILLINE: No. But our responsibility is--

CUOMO: --if -- if they've done their homework.

CICILLINE: --also to be sure that the American people understand.

CUOMO: Under -- I get it.

CICILLINE: This is their democracy that was attacked. They have a right to know this. This investigation was conducted on their behalf.

It's important that the person who led the investigation report to the American people about his findings, about the evidence that he uncovered, and then it will be incumbent on Congress to hold him accountable.

In fact, Mr. Mueller in the very final paragraphs of the report says this is Congress' responsibility to demonstrate that no one is above the law, including--

CUOMO: Understood.

CICILLINE: --the President of the United States.

CUOMO: I look forward to seeing how you guys decide to do that ultimately. Congressman Cicilline--

CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: --always a pleasure. Tomorrow is a big day. Thank you--

CICILLINE: My pleasure.

CUOMO: --for previewing it with us. I'm sorry about my voice. I get checked -- choked up about these matters, all right.

CICILLINE: I understand.

CUOMO: As long as Mr. Mueller gets to explain what was found, and why, I really do believe it's a win for the American people. Information is power. And we paid for the findings.

But after us, the Democrats have to have the most at stake. This matters to them because they're in the position of checking power. So, let's do this. Let's map out the best and worst case scenarios.

I got a -- a team formed just for this, the best of law, intelligence, and political prowess on tap, next.

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CUOMO: All right, it is almost Mueller time. Most of you, let's be honest, you didn't read the report, and I'm not judging that.

It's really dense. And this is supposed to be something that government was supposed to look out for. But tomorrow, you'll almost certainly hear things differently, if not things that are different altogether than you have before.

For Democrats, this has to be make-or-break. They've been talking the talk for too long about how to hold power to account. So, what are they going to do if they all think that the President abused his power and obstructed justice? When will they act on that, and how?

So, tomorrow has a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario. I got a team of all-stars for you, and we're going to look at the best case first, all right?

Let me bring in the team, all right? This is going to be great. We have Wajahat Ali, we have Mike Rogers, we have Laura Coates, and we have Michael Isikoff, OK? You know these faces. But this is as good a team as we could get tonight for this because there's so many dimensions.

Best case, best case first, OK? Laura, and I'm saying for the Democrats only because they have this standard of what are they going to do to account. If everything goes as well as it could tomorrow, what does that look like, what does it mean? LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: If everything goes the way they want it to, you're going to have a vivacious Mueller bringing to life the actual book. Now, that's not going to happen.

CUOMO: No.

COATES: What could happen instead is he answers the question, which is but for that Office of Legal Counsel opinion, would you have indicted the ordinary person? That pushes away--

CUOMO: Now, hold on. They may ask that. If Laura Coates is sitting next to Bob Mueller as the -- as the trusted deputy, you don't immediately go "We don't have to talk about that. We don't have to talk about that here now."

COATES: If it's the Godfather, I do, but it's not the Godfather. I would look at him and say, "This is the chance to answer that question." And here's why you answer that question.

You say to him, "Look, here's what they want to know." Not -- it doesn't tell you whether or not you think that you had some right outside the OLC opinion, you didn't -- doesn't change the calculus to say that this President will, in fact, be a sitting President who's indicted.

It simply says, "Look, if it was the average Joe, here's my consideration, here's my conclusion (ph), and here's why it's important." This concept of a high crime and misdemeanor is very nebulous to people. What does it mean? It's never actually been defined in the Constitution or otherwise.

So, if you're telling me that a high crime, misdemeanor is nebulous, we know it's not, if somebody who's former FBI Director says, "Yes, I would have indicted the average person for criminal charges."

[21:15:00] CUOMO: All right, so that's -- that's needle-pinning the -- boy, we didn't expect to hear that. Mike, in terms of the realities of what could happen, what would be a satisfying day in terms of disclosure?

MIKE ROGERS, FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well I'm not sure you're going to get a satisfying day of disclosure. What I thought was very interesting that Mueller asked to be subpoenaed as the former Special Counsel, I think he puts -- that puts limits on why he's there.

He's not there as a private citizen. He was subpoenaed as the Special Counsel in that role. I think there's a reason he did that. And I also think there's a reason he wanted his Chief of Staff to be able to testify, not because he was playing games, he wants to be as accurate as he can.

CUOMO: Yes. This is really dense stuff.

ROGERS: I -- it's huge. CUOMO: It took a long time. He didn't do most of the work. He was overseeing it.

Waj, to pick up on that point, I think to the extent that we get the emotion that Laura is referring to, and the satisfaction that Mike thinks is unlikely, it's going to become, when someone says "Your team was dirty, wasn't it?"

WAJAHAT ALI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, CONTRIBUTING OP-ED WRITER, The NEW YORK TIMES: There you go.

CUOMO: "You know, you guys were compromised, all right? You put a lot of Clinton people on the team. What was that about?"

I think that that is something where now it's not about the four corners of the report anymore, it's about going after the one thing that Mr. Mueller has to care about, which is his legacy and his reputation.

ALI: And the Republicans are going to do that. They're going to go after his integrity, I think, and say there was a conflict of interest. They're going to talk about the Deep State conspiracy theory. They're going to talk about Peter Strzok.

They're going to talk about how all these Republican FBI agents, right, appointed by Republicans, somehow are part of this conspiracy to derail Donald Trump. That's a given. They're playing to Trump. They're playing to the base.

However, Democrats always bring a butter knife to a gun fight. And this time, they have a BFG, a big gun.

The Mueller report is devastating to Donald Trump. It has 10 instances, right, of obstruction of justice, over 800 prosecutors, both Republican and Democrats have said that if he was a private citizen, based on the report, they would have indicted him.

And also, people always forget this. That report shows that Russia interfered in our elections in a systemic way, sweeping away, breaking U.S. laws.

Donald Trump has said what? "I don't believe my own intelligence. I don't believe the Mueller report. I don't even believe Barr's cliff- note summary of the Mueller report, saying that Russia interfered. I actually believe Vladimir Putin."

So, it's a great way to go after Trump. And the more you get Mueller, literally, I said this in the backstage, he's not going to be effusive, he's not going to improv, he's not going to riff.

If you literally have him saying the most damning aspects of the report on tape, play that on replay again and again and again, watch those numbers for impeachment go up.

CUOMO: Now, look, Mike, the reason I bring up a character-impugning as a good best say so -- because I think it needs to come out. MICHAEL ISIKOFF, YAHOO! NEWS CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, "RUSSIAN ROULETTE" CO-AUTHOR: Yes.

CUOMO: Because I think a lot of people, as we've discussed many times, are looking through the lens of "I don't know if I can believe this team. I think they will get out to -- out to get the President. It was a witch-hunt." What is satisfying tomorrow?

ISIKOFF: Well, first of all, I think you're right.

The one way to get Mueller energized is to attack -- attack his integrity and the integrity of the investigation. That's something he will resist. That's where he'll, you know, push back, and that's probably the, you know, the most electric moment we'll find in the hearing.

As for the report itself, it is going to be -- look, he is the last guy in the world who can give life to this report because he's, you know, he's Bob Mueller. He's stilted. He's -- he's legalistic. He's not a -- a electric speaker at all.

So, you know, the -- the -- I think the Democrats made a big mistake putting all their eggs in the Mueller testimony basket because it's unlikely to produce the kind of, you know, moments for TV that you're looking for that you can play tomorrow night.

I think the one area where I think the Democrats might be able to get -- make a little headway is when they ask Mueller about his comments about, you know, "We didn't make a decision about charging the President for obstruction, there are other mechanisms, Constitutional processes, what Constitutional process did you have in mind, Mr. Mueller," and there's only one, and that's the word impeachment.

CUOMO: All right.

ISIKOFF: So, if they can get Trump -- Mueller to say impeachment, they'll have a sound bite that you can play tomorrow night.

CUOMO: All right, let's leave the best part there. I actually agree with that final assessment because my test is pretty simple for you, which is if I had a hard time figuring out what they were saying in this report, it needs to be clarified.

That is the most important point in the entire report in terms of what's supposed to happen next. It came at the end of the report, the discussion about Congress having a role, and I don't really understand what they were saying. So, that would be the best case if he clarifies that.

What would be the worst case? Let's keep the team around because I believe there is something tomorrow that could happen that would be unforgivable, it'd be a true worst-case scenario. We'll get that next.

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CUOMO: All right, this is the upside of a live show. We just got new information and an understanding of it.

So, Zebley -- Aaron Zebley is going to be there tomorrow. He is the deputy to Mueller. This was a little bit of a controversy. He will be sworn in.

However, remember, there are two hearings tomorrow, Judiciary and then the Intel Committee. He will not be sworn in in the Judiciary Committee. He will be sworn in in the Intel Committee.

What's the difference? Well that means he can sit next to Mr. Mueller in the first hearing and talk to him, but he can't answer questions. He can in the second one.

And Mike Rogers, I got the Super Team here, Mike Rogers just made a great point that I wouldn't have known, if you're not here, thank you very much, brother--

ROGERS: All right.

CUOMO: --which is, in the Intel Committee, you can talk about obstruction all you want, if the Chairman is OK with it.

That Chair is Andrew -- Adam Schiff. Understandably, he'd probably be OK with it. So, he could answer questions that he's not allowed to answer in the first hearing, in the second one.

ROGERS: Well the -- any Member of the Intelligence Committee can ask any question they want when it comes up. If the Chairman has already got an agreement from both sides that they'll only talk Intelligence issues, and Russian interference, then they wouldn't be able to do that, which is--

CUOMO: They wouldn't. But he could.

ROGERS: He could absolutely. There's nothing stopping them from doing it--

CUOMO: Yes.

ROGERS: --other than the decorum of the Chairman deciding that they could -- could or could not do it. And my guess would be that there is some deal only because they're allowing the Chief of Staff to testify at the second hearing. [21:25:00] And remember, again, Mueller is doing that because there's no way he's going to remember every fact. And he -- he wants to be exactly right. So, he will be very measured. Matter of fact, I would look at both opening statements--

ALI: Right.

ROGERS: --will tell you exactly how the rest of the day is going to go.

CUOMO: What is likely to happen tomorrow that if it were this disappointing to you, I get that Mike Rogers' text of "Oh, this is exactly what I was hoping wouldn't happen," what's worst-case scenario?

ROGERS: That Congress looks like, you know, they're -- they're attacking people's integrity, they're attacking the FBI's integrity, they're attacking the investigative integrity.

And, by the way, that's where Mueller will stand up. It's not the Department of Justice. I do believe he'll draw a circle around the FBI. He will be protective of the agency, of which he passionately believes in.

And I do think if they start going making these personal -- and, by the way, he fired the guy, and he'll probably have that explanation, this Strzok who was involved in the affair, once he found out about the text, he released them off of the investigation, which is what he should have done

CUOMO: They're going to hit him Waj with--

ALI: Yes.

CUOMO: --why did you delete all those texts, why'd you delete all those texts between--

ALI: Yes.

CUOMO: --those two that we wanted? What is the head-slapper for you tomorrow if it goes a certain way, and you're like, "I can't believe this happened as well?"

ALI: Well sorry to disappoint Mike, but that's what's going to happen tomorrow. It's going to be WWF.

The Republicans are going to do what the Republicans are going to do, and they're going to play to the audience of Trump, and attack the integrity of our Intelligence agencies, the FBI.

ROGERS: Only the Republicans?

ALI: Well, maybe the Democrats might, all right, and Mueller. But I think if the--

ROGERS: To be fair. ALI: --if Democrats, if Nadler really believes, according to the report, if Mueller has shown that Donald Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, right, with those 10 instances of obstruction of justice, then you go on the offensive tomorrow.

You get him on the record and say, "Do you agree with Donald Trump that he's totally exonerated by your report? Do you agree with Donald Trump that there's no obstruction of justice? Do you agree with Donald Trump there's no collusion?"

Get him on the impeachment question, impugn Barr's report, right, because three days after that report came out, the summary of the report, apparently there was a private letter by Mueller saying, "You mischaracterized my conclusions."

How did he mischaracterize those conclusions? And if you miss--

CUOMO: So then the worst case for you, Waj--

ALI: --if you miss that -- if you miss this offensive moment--

CUOMO: Then that's the worst.

ALI: --that's the worst.

CUOMO: All right, so well but, you know, that's -- that's putting a high bar for the Democrats. But you know what? It's a fair bar. And that's one of the reasons I love having Waj on.

You know, the people who voted in the midterms, the people on the progressive side of the party had a set of expectations, Laura, for what they expected to see from Congress.

They have not seen it yet because this whack-a-mole with the different hearings and stuff, that's not what they thought they were signing up from. What would be for -- what would be the worst-case scenario tomorrow?

COATES: Well, again, if they grandstand as opposed to interview Mueller and--

CUOMO: You got to expect some of that.

COATES: That -- there will be some of showboating.

CUOMO: Yes.

COATES: But if you waste the time spinning your wheels so that everyone can hear from you as opposed to Mueller--

ALI: Right.

COATES: --and you waste all the hours, what was the point of the delay from a week later in -- in the first place?

And number two, if you mistake his ability to only speak about what's in the report for his inability, talk about his rationale and logic about it. To talk about the actual report, he can talk about a whole lot of expansive issues.

He can talk about his rationale, his decisions, and his declamations, remember, about who he interviewed who he did not interview, who he pursued, whether he pursued subpoenas on some people, whether Donald Jr. information he -- he had about him, whether it was from his actual testimony, did he testify, that's all in the confines.

What they say, "Well we're only limited to what you can talk about the report," that still means it's fair game to say your rationale, your logic, your reasoning, why you did and did not act.

CUOMO: Strong.

COATES: That's important.

ISIKOFF: Yes.

CUOMO: Mike?

ISIKOFF: I agree. There -- there are some tough questions that Mueller should be asked, and has to answer. The whole, you know, his refusal to make a decision about whether or not the President's conduct amounted to a -- a criminal conduct or not, you know, why didn't he make a decision?

He was a prosecutor. A prosecutor is a -- makes a binary choice, either you indict or you don't. That's the only thing a prosecutor is appointed to do. Mueller punted.

He's given an explanation for why. He said, you know, he says the OLC opinions, but not just the OLC opinions. He says in very key -- in his conclusion on the whole obstruction, he says these are difficult issues that -- that are both the facts and the law.

So, if the facts were muddy, he had to make a call, and he didn't. Why didn't he subpoena the President?

ALI: Right.

ISIKOFF: Why did he just accept the written answers? Why didn't he subpoena Donald Jr., and require him to testify? He would have taken The Fifth, granted. But still, you know, that was the process that Mueller had available to him.

So, there are a lot of tough questions that Mueller should be asked. Whether the Democrats who would want to build up Mueller will go that route, that's going to be--

CUOMO: Well we'll see.

ISIKOFF: --something interesting to see.

CUOMO: Let me go. I'm out of time on this. This is a really good taste of how it can go right, and how it can go wrong. We'll all see it in real time. History will be made tomorrow on our watch.

Thank you very much to the team. I couldn't ask for better. Thank you very much, all right?

Now, for some, Democrats calling for impeachment is a serious political risk. Why? Well what if you're in a purple state? What if you're in a seat that's vulnerable?

[21:30:00] Katie Porter, new Congresswoman from California, we're going to talk to her about what she's hearing back home. But also, I want to ask her about the President's theory that he can withhold his taxes as a First Amendment right. What does the law professor think of that? Next.

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CUOMO: Listen to a world leader say he can do whatever he wants.

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DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Then I have an Article Two, where I have the right to do whatever I want as President. But I don't even talk about that.

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CUOMO: Just did. Now, that was the language of a dictator, and that's why he shouldn't even talk like that. But it's not a fact.

The United States Constitution does not grant the power to the President to do whatever he wants. That's why we have a system of checks and balances. President Trump's comments come on the cusp of a make-it-or-break-it moment for House Democrats, in my opinion.

I believe that Mr. Mueller being on the stand is something that should have happened a long time ago. It's good for all of us. But it will be a big moment for the Democrats.

California Congresswoman Katie Porter is here to talk strategy, law and more. Good to have you. Good to have you in person.

REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): Thank you so much.

CUOMO: First of all, am I wrong, Professor that tomorrow matters for the Democrats? You can't keep saying what we think he did all of these things wrong and abused his power, but we're not going to do what the Constitution tells us to do. We're going to do it this other way.

PORTER: I would say that -- I would reframe it and say that tomorrow really matters for Americans. I think if we start framing this in terms of party ideology, we're really missing the issue of what we're grappling with here.

[21:35:00] What we're talking about is what are the structures, the rules that our Founders of our country put in place to ensure that we stayed a vibrant democracy, and we never became a dictatorship.

So, this is not a -- just a big day for Democrats. This is a big day for Republicans. It's a big day for Independents. It's a big day for our country--

CUOMO: No question.

PORTER: --to understand what's going on.

CUOMO: No question. And most people didn't read it, and I totally get why. Not only is it dense.

PORTER: Well it was not. It was boring.

CUOMO: Well, look, a lot of it's boring. I -- I found -- I -- I found it pretty fascinating, but this is what we do, especially the first part, second part was obstruction.

PORTER: Yes.

CUOMO: First part was--

PORTER: Volume two was better.

CUOMO: Right. But, you know, I get why they didn't read it. For Mr. Mueller to give them the information, people are going to hear things. They didn't read the book. But they're going to get to see the movie.

But for you guys, just like you did in your own personal case, you weren't sure, you wanted to talk to the people at home, you wanted to examine the evidence as a lawyer, and as a professor, but then you made a call.

The party has to do the same thing because there are too many Democrats who say, "I think the President abused his power. I think he objected -- obstructed justice. I think he committed impeachable offenses." Then do what the Constitution tells you to do or don't, but make a decision.

PORTER: Yes. No look, I think that's an important point.

And, you know, my own thinking was once I had studied the issue, once I had -- had a chance to read the Mueller report, once I realized that very clearly Mr. Mueller states there is substantial evidence of at least four counts of obstruction of justice, and he lays out what those four counts are.

And tomorrow, I hope America tunes in and understands that obstruction of justice, there is substantial evidence there, and that is a federal crime, each one of those four counts is a federal crime.

And the Mueller report further says there is some -- some evidence of an additional 10 counts of obstruction of -- obstruction of justice. What I wanted to say is in response to your earlier comment about the President saying that, you know, he has unlimited power.

CUOMO: He doesn't?

PORTER: He does not. And I say this to you, as someone who has created a lot of law students in my life, that is an F answer, like an absolute F. In fact, I teach the Constitution to Boy Scouts. I'm a Merit Badge Counselor too for the Citizenship in the Nation Merit Badge.

And one of the things that I drive home to the Scouts, and these are 12, and 13, and 14 year old boys, who understand this concept that the President doesn't, is that the power, the largest sets of powers in our Constitution reside with the legislature. They reside with Congress.

Why? Because Congress is the closest to the people, right? And so, this idea that Article Two is somehow some un -- limitless residual pot of power is simply a fiction, and it's something that he's simply saying, and trying to make it true by repeating it.

CUOMO: And that often works very well for him with a certain portion of the country. If you were there tomorrow asking questions, what do you think is absolutely vital that needs to come from Mr. Mueller?

PORTER: Yes. No, I think I would ask whether he -- whether after his doing his report, and spending the time, and using the resources he did, whether he can exonerate the President, yes or no.

CUOMO: What do you think he says?

PORTER: He's going to have to say no, he cannot exonerate the President, because that is what the report says. So, he said he's going to stick to his report that his report is his testimony. And the report says very clearly, this is a verbatim essentially, he -- it says, "If we could clearly state--

CUOMO: We would.

PORTER: --that we would."

CUOMO: Right.

PORTER: And we cannot so state.

CUOMO: There's a lot of doublespeak in there though.

PORTER: Correct. CUOMO: There's doublespeak about why he thought he couldn't indict.

PORTER: So, I would ask you in an yes-or-no format. I would simply say--

CUOMO: That's the key.

PORTER: --can you exonerate, after having done your report, are you able to exonerate the President? And he's going to have to say no, if he's consistent to his report.

CUOMO: So, you have to go yes or no answers because if you ask for an opinion on something or a rationale that goes to an opinion, I think you're going to wind up having a short date.

PORTER: Right. And then I think you just ask, "Did you find evidence of obstruction of justice, acts of obstruction of justice, yes or no?"

CUOMO: The other side's going to say, "But enough to be a crime?"

PORTER: Well, but listen, obstruction of justice is a crime. Let's be clear. It's not a -- there's no -- this is not a sliding scale. You -- you know, there's not like kind of half-murdered, all right? You either obstructed justice or you did not obstruct justice.

CUOMO: You could have been -- you could have been endeavoring to obstruct. But wouldn't the other side push on the point of "But was it enough to charge?"

PORTER: Well--

CUOMO: You know, was it a little bit of proof or was it--

PORTER: So, this is a great point, I think.

CUOMO: --a lot of the proof.

PORTER: This is something I kind of reinforce to people when I'm talking to them in my district is, what is the role of the House of Representatives versus the role of the Senate?

And this was really carefully thought about by our Founders. The role of the House is to conclude is there enough evidence that there needs to be an evidentiary trial held by the Senate.

It's not our job in the House of Representatives to ultimately remove the President from Office. It's our job to make a decision about whether or not there's enough evidence to impeach. Impeach does not mean to remove from Office.

CUOMO: A 100 percent. That's why I don't get--

PORTER: Impeach means send it to the Senate.

CUOMO: Now, you and I had this discussion once before, when you were figuring out what -- what to do, and I had a lot of respect for your deliberative process on it. You were like, "I got to -- I got to make a decision on this."

If that is the role, and that is the role, it's in the Constitution.

PORTER: Yes.

CUOMO: That's what an impeachment inquiry is, not these -- this scramble of oversight hearings that are going in eight different directions at once.

PORTER: Yes.

CUOMO: It doesn't mean that you're impeaching the President. It means that you're doing the fact-finding mission the way the Constitution tells you. All right, one other thing.

[21:40:00] "I'm not giving you my taxes because it's a violation of my First Amendment right."

PORTER: No, not correct. I mean--

CUOMO: But I was a private citizen when I was paying those taxes. And--

PORTER: Too bad. You chose to run for President. When you ran for President, there was an existing law on the books, a law that dates back, by the way, to 1924 that said that the -- that the Ways and Means Committee could request the taxes of the President, and they would have to be provided.

So, President Trump knew this law existed when he ran. He said--

CUOMO: Hold on a second. You think the President knew that that -- that law existed--

PORTER: Well it's--

CUOMO: --when he ran?

PORTER: Ignorance is no defense. So--

CUOMO: The man who just said Article Two lets me do whatever I want to do--

PORTER: Let me rephrase.

CUOMO: --under the Constitution.

PORTER: Ignorance of the law is no defense.

CUOMO: OK. That's different.

PORTER: So, he probably -- maybe, I would not want to speculate as to what the President does and does not understand about the rule of law because I -- I think that would be hard to know where to stop--

CUOMO: But there is no law-- PORTER: --speculating.

CUOMO: --that says as President, I must give over my taxes. It's a custom. I gave you way more--

PORTER: No, no, incorrect.

CUOMO: --than the FEC wants.

PORTER: Incorrect. There is a law that says upon request from the Chairperson of the Ways and Means Committee the IRS shall furnish the President's taxes. And this is a law enacted in 1924. It's an old law.

It was enacted in the wake of the Teapot Dome scandal, and it was enacted to make sure that Congress had the ability to do oversight, because at the time, and still today, the President has the ability to get any of our taxes. He controls the IRS.

CUOMO: So, you say that case goes nowhere?

PORTER: No, this -- he's going to lose this case and -- on the federal tax returns, absolutely.

CUOMO: Professor--

PORTER: Thank you so much.

CUOMO: --thank you very much. Appreciate you being with us Congresswoman. We look forward to see what happens tomorrow, have you back on the show, figure out what it means.

PORTER: Thank you so much.

CUOMO: All right, so, big topic change but an important one. Being a police officer is a very hard job, we all know that. Imagine trying to do your job and dealing with this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(FROM TWITTER/@HARLEM4REAL - VIDEO OF NYPD OFFICERS ATTACKED WITH BUCKETS OF WATER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: They're not in the middle of some like water balloon fight. They're getting, you know, just pounded with water and buckets while they're trying to do their job.

Now, what happened to these people who were doing this in this picture? Has any been charged? What about the outcry about this situation and why this is happening? This is a big deal. It should not be ignored.

Let's bring in D. Lemon and get after it, next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TEXT: CUOMO PRIME TIME.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[21:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: LET'S GET AFTER IT.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: All right, the New York Police Department has one person in custody tonight. Why? Because of this. Take a look at this video. These are these guys dumping water on officers. As far as we know, it was all guys.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(FROM TWITTER/@HARLEM4REAL - VIDEO OF NYPD OFFICERS ATTACKED WITH BUCKETS OF WATER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: They're making a legit arrest on somebody who had an outstanding warrant. They start getting sprayed with water, a bucket is going to fly in, and hit this cop in the back of the head, and the officers do nothing, OK?

I cannot believe the restraint that they had. I know that's the job. I know they're supposed to be the better -- the better -- you know, better than the rest of us. But amazing.

But then it got worse, in my opinion. A top-ranking member of the NYPD says the officers should be reprimanded for their inaction. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERENCE MONAHAN, CHIEF OF DEPARTMENT, NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT: Any cop who thinks that that's all right, that they can walk away from something like that, maybe should reconsider whether or not this is the profession for them. We don't take that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: I don't know what to do with that statement. And that's why I want to bring in D. Lemon. I mean when I saw this, you're appalled by the obvious, right?

I can't believe people are doing that to police officers, just not like the police were in the act of doing something horrible that everybody would be outraged at, so this is what they did, even though it was wrong in context, it's different.

And then, well what were they supposed to do? DON LEMON, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON: Well I--

(DON LEMON CLAPPING HANDS)

CUOMO: Give them that right?

LEMON: For the cops.

CUOMO: A 100 percent.

LEMON: For the cops.

CUOMO: 100 percent.

LEMON: Because they're better men than I am.

CUOMO: Right?

LEMON: You and I.

CUOMO: Right.

LEMON: Because you know--

CUOMO: And they're supposed to be though.

LEMON: They're supposed to be. But still, in that situation, here -- this is what I had to say. You know, I was talk -- I talked to people about this all day. And, by the way, this is close to where I live, the 28, I live really close to the 28.

And so, and I know the officers up there. They're really good police officers, very nice, very friendly. They do a great job. And they face some tough circumstances. So, I have nothing but respect for those officers.

I think, as I talked to people today, you know what they said to me? They said, I'm just -- I'll be honest. "The officers, White officers?" I said, "Yes." "Black guys?" I said, "Yes." "Damn, makes us look bad." And I agree with them 100 percent.

CUOMO: I think one of the officers was Asian. And it's--

LEMON: Well it does. But you know what I mean. It makes us look bad because there are issues when it comes to African-Americans and police, and we know -- and policing, and we know that.

CUOMO: Right.

LEMON: You don't need to add to that by acting ignorant and doing something like that because--

CUOMO: You don't need to be what you oppose either, you know, you don't want bad behavior--

LEMON: But you know-- CUOMO: --don't be--

LEMON: Right.

CUOMO: --behavior.

LEMON: But think about it this way. You walking down the street, someone throws a bucket of liquid or water or whatever it is--

CUOMO: Right.

LEMON: --on you or your mom or your girlfriend, or your sister, your niece or your nephew, who are you going to call?

CUOMO: The police. After I beat that guy's ass, and what--

LEMON: After you -- yes.

CUOMO: --that's what I'm so impressed about. I may lose, but I'm going to try.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: I think it showed tremendous restraint.

LEMON: Restraint.

CUOMO: Because as we argue all the time, behind the uniform is a human being.

LEMON: And they deescalated.

CUOMO: The -- they did--

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: --they did everything right.

LEMON: --supposed to be? Go up against all those people?

CUOMO: But then I don't get this next part is the cop say -- the -- the Police Chief says that's -- "We don't walk away from that. We don't take that."

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: Well what were they supposed to do? I mean, if they had done the kinds of things that he's suggesting, who knows what it turns into?

LEMON: Then they end up on video.

CUOMO: That's right.

LEMON: And they end up in trouble. Then someone may end up getting hurt, someone may end up getting shot, who knows? They -- they, instead of escalating the situation, they took it down.

I don't like what happened to them. I don't like that someone threw water -- threw water on them or any kind of liquid or threw anything at a police officer. I think police officers should be respected. I think authorities should be respected.

Yes, you can question police officer. "Why are you pulling me over? Can you tell me?"

CUOMO: A 100 percent.

LEMON: You -- you have the right to do that. But you don't have the right to throw something on a police--

CUOMO: No.

LEMON: --officer.

CUOMO: And I -- I know that one's in custody. I hope we find out that they figure out--

LEMON: They're all -- they're all right my -- you know, my -- my fiance called and said, the cops are all like--

CUOMO: Good and I hope that--

LEMON: --around their house and the police--

CUOMO: --people in the community say, "I know who one of those kids are on the video--

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: --or one of the men on video."

LEMON: They're going to get them. It's on video.

CUOMO: They should because--

LEMON: It's on video.

CUOMO: --the same way we want the police held to account when they do something wrong--

LEMON: Right.

[21:50:00] CUOMO: --people do something wrong to them, same thing should happen. Anyway--

LEMON: I agree with you. Ted Lieu is on tonight. He's going to question Mueller tomorrow, also James Clapper, the former DNI--

CUOMO: Huge day. Huge day.

LEMON: --Director of National Intelligence.

CUOMO: I'll do the Closing. I'll come right back up to you, but let's switch seats.

LEMON: I may have to do that.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: All right, we're going to have an argument for you coming up here. Look, this election, I've been arguing to you, is going to be a battle of definitions. Who are we? Us versus Them. What are the Left and Right about? Which is closer to reality?

We saw a massive shift here in D.C. that defies a lot of political promises. I'm going to expose it to you and make a case that you should remember what you're about to learn, next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: CUOMO PRIME TIME.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: CLOSING ARGUMENT.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: As we get ready for what I hope will be a fact feast with Mr. Mueller, let's not overlook that our government cut a deal on spending to avoid another shutdown. That's a good thing.

[21:55:00] Can you criticize the deal? Of course. But it is better that both sides made a deal on something that matters to the rest of us.

Now, the deal is really porky, $320 billion, and you will hear that this was about Pelosi, and wielding her power, and threatening to shut down the government, making a deal with Mnuchin to shut that -- you know, to avoid a shutdown, fine.

But the real tell is how much quiet there is on this deal from the Right. For a generation, the call to arms against Democrats was "Stop the spending."

Republicans were ready to die on the Hill of fiscal austerity. Less government, pay down the debt, reduce the deficit, they shut down the government, and punished people for far less than what is in this balloon of a bill.

So, what happened? Well as is the case with many norms in the age of Trump, the conservative mantra has been mangled. Why? The answer, I argue, political expedience, and securing a seat on the Trump Train.

Plenty of proof for the shift. During the Obama administration, here was the Righteous Right. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): At some point here, this President needs to become the adult because the Speaker and I have been the adults in the room, arguing that we ought to do something about the nation's most serious long-term problem.

JOHN BOEHNER, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: We're broke. We're broke. America's broke. All year long, our friends across the aisle bet on this massive spending spree that our nation can't afford.

PAUL RYAN, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: If we don't fix this debt crisis and get ahead of it, Wolf, we will shred the social safety net that people have counted on.

And I'd like to get to an adult-level conversation, but, apparently, we're not having that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Yes. He wasn't having it as Speaker either, when he was for the tax cut, OK?

Now, even then, private citizen Donald Trump, who was not exactly a whiz at managing his own debt, sounded the deficit alarm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I mean we owe $15 trillion in a very short period of time, $15 trillion. Nobody ever heard of the word trillion three years ago. Now we owe $15 trillion going to $22 trillion, and they didn't cut enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: You know when they hit 22? Under his watch, up from $19 trillion. Now we have to wonder, were these Republicans against the policy or just the party?

Eight years later, now President Trump has endorsed a massive budget deal that will raise spending limits by $320 billion, while suspending the debt ceiling until after the 2020 election.

What does that mean? Well it means the profligate spending is protected. How convenient! Federal discretionary spending is now growing faster than it was under the Obama administration.

When you combine huge spending and reduced tax revenue, thanks to the Trump tax cut, what do you get? A fat deficit, approaching $1 trillion, up from $779 billion last year. The national debt, to Mr. Trump's, then citizen Trump's point, $22 trillion earlier this year, up from $19 trillion when he took Office.

"The tax cut will spark business. And if you just give it time, those numbers will come back down," that's what they told you. That was fiction. Here are the facts. For fiscal year 2018-2019, individual tax revenues fell 2 percent, corporations, down 22 percent. The corporate shortfall is more money than all taxes collected from the rest of us. So no, the tax cut did not raise revenues, and no, companies are not raising wages or lowering prices in a way that balances out the gift to them.

So, "I know. This is how it works," you roll your eyes, no, don't do that, because for all the talk about plans and policy debates by the Democrats, that's not what this election is going to be about.

It's going to be an identity battle. Who are we? Who do we want to be? Who is us? Who is them? So, see what the power did when it was in power. That's the Right, right now, not what it says it would do.

You know Democrats want the spending. You know they didn't want the corporate tax cut. We know that. Weigh it in.

But now, all the definitions are up for definition. I don't even refer to the parties much these days, just the Left and the Right, because the old party definitions are out the window.

Democrats used to be for the working-class, Republicans with the cigar-chomping fat cats. Now the Right cultivates the outrage of the outsider, and the Left is trying to reclaim them.

Well here's a new wrinkle to consider. The Right cannot claim to be about safeguarding spending, not after this administration and a tax cut that wasn't paid for, and all this spending put on top.

I know this isn't getting wattage because of Mueller, and that's OK. But this deal and this shift matters. It matters more than all the angry talk about which side is worse. People are going to be selling you on what they're about. Remember what they actually did.

And also remember, CNN's live coverage of Mr. Mueller begins tomorrow morning at 8:00 Eastern. Thank you for watching. CNN Tonight with D. Lemon is sitting right next to me.

LEMON: Oh, spending, spending, spending.

END