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Justice Department Warns Mueller To Stay In Boundaries Of Report; Biden Unveils Criminal Justice Reform Plan Ahead Of Debate; Trump, Congressional Leaders Reach $1.3 Trillion Bipartisan Budget Deal. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 23, 2019 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: All right, top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Jim Sciutto. We're joining you from Washington, D.C., where this time tomorrow morning, Robert Mueller will be exactly where he does not want to be, that is in the crossfire between two political parties.

In a memo to her fellow democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is laying the party's game plan for the Mueller hearings, expose the President's alleged crimes, corruption and cover-up. Remember that word cover-up that Pelosi said just a couple of weeks ago?

HARLOW: There it is in the headline. That certainly irked the President, right? He didn't -- he disinvited them at the White House on that one.

All right, and the Justice Department, it's telling the former Special Counsel to stick to the words in his report, at least one democrat, no surprise here, says Mueller should ignore that guidance. Our Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is live for us in Washington.

And, Jess, as you actually point out, this guidance didn't come out in the blue.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, it didn't. This was something that Robert Mueller actually requested, and this is somewhat of a stern page-an-a-half letter from the DOJ. It does lay out for Robert Mueller what he can and can't testify. And, again, it comes after Mueller asked for this guidance.

Now, the Justice Department warning Mueller that any of his testimony must stay within the boundaries of his report and, really, those were the parameters that Mueller was planning to stick with anyway. But they're also reminding him that he cannot testify about any redacted material from the report, that includes grand jury material, information about ongoing investigations. And he also can't talk about the conduct of any uncharged third parties. And that is a crucial directive, because that could really thwart democrats' plan to repeatedly question Mueller on this issue of if Donald Trump wasn't president, would he have been charged with obstruction of justice.

Now, under these guidelines, Mueller will likely have to stay away from any comments on the President here. And all of these restrictions that the DOJ has laid out, they really aren't sitting well with democrats, including the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): He does not have to comply with that letter. He doesn't work for them. And that letter asks things that are beyond the power of the agency to ask, even if he still worked for them.


SCHNEIDER: Now, Nadler says that, but the DOJ does point to established precedent for testimony from prosecutors and the fact that Mueller himself has said he will not testify beyond the report.

But, you know, there is at least one thing that will stand to wraps, Jim and Poppy, and won't be shared beforehand with the Attorney General. That is Mueller's opening statement. A spokesman for Mueller tells me the DOJ will not see the former Special Counsel's opening remarks prior to its delivery. And, really, guys, it's something that Robert Mueller has been working diligently on. I'm told that he's been prepping with members of his team. It's a small group from the Special Counsel's Office that he's worked with closely for the past two years. So we know that Mueller is always diligently prepared and we shouldn't expect anything less tomorrow. Guys?

HARLOW: Yes, no question. Okay. Jessica, thank you for the great reporting.

Let's talk about this with Jack Quinn, Former White House Count under the Clinton Administration. Good morning to you.


HARLOW: What is the most single most effective question not necessarily that could be asked of Bob Mueller? I know they're going to ask questions that he's not going to answer. What is the most important question to get an answer to that you think he may actually answer?

QUINN: Well, it relates to what you were just talking about in terms of speaking about people who have not been indicted.


QUINN: One of whom is the President. SCIUTTO: Yes.

QUINN: I think you can be -- adhere to the letter that Mueller got from the Justice Department and at the same time have him make abundantly clear that the conclusion of the report was that the President's conduct satisfied the legal elements for a charge of obstruction of justice, and that he was not charged for one reason and one reason only, and that is because he is the sitting President of the United States.

There is no point I think more important than making clear that this is a case where somebody essentially got away with a major crime because of the privilege of having been elected to the presidency. And I think that needs to come through here loud and clear and repeatedly.

So -- and I don't think his affirming that part of the report would violate the instruction from the Department of Justice.

SCIUTTO: It's at a minimum a fair question. Whether or not he lays it out, Mueller, the G Man, the conservative government official for decades, whether or not he gives that clear an answer, the question is warranted, is it not? Because the report does not make clear if it was the policy or the evidence that held him back from the indictment. Regardless of the DOJ guidance, isn't that at least a reasonable question to press him on?


QUINN: It's more than reasonable. I mean, look, the public -- how many times have we heard people say the public has a right to be informed? There's no issue about which the public should be informed that's more important than this one. The President's conduct satisfied the elements of obstruction of justice.

Now, the second part of this is that he was not charged, he was not charged because he is the President, and the report further says that related to that is that there is a separate process that is necessary and appropriate for the President of the United States. It would not violate any DOJ rule for anyone on the committee to hammer home what process is that? What process did the founders have in mind when they said that a sitting president -- or intimated through the way they constructed the constitution, something -- and I don't agree with this interpretation anyway, but that's for a different day. But what process does the constitution point us to in the absence of indictment? Impeachment.

And so establishing that the elements of impeachment were laid out and established in the report, and secondly, that the report makes clear that in a situation like this, the thing that the other branch of the federal government needs to do is not charge an indictment and fight that issue in court, but rather undertake an impeachment inquiry.

HARLOW: Okay. Thanks, Jack Quinn.

SCIUTTO: It's going to be quite a day. HARLOW: 8:30 A.M., I know where we're all be. And hopefully your eyes will be here watching this because that will be the first time that we hear the opening statement.

Meantime, House Judiciary democrats will begin today this two-hour mock hearing. This is part of their prep for tomorrow.

SCIUTTO: And they also have some reading to do. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sending out a six-page memo with guidance for House Democrats, a chock-full of talking points to keep everyone on the same page. You often see these things from the parties before big events like this.

Joining us now, Mike Rogers, he's a republican former House Intelligence Chairman, Former FBI Agent. It's a long resume. It's a long illustrious resume.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: My dad used to say I could never keep a job. That's why I --

SCIUTTO: So we have this moment tomorrow. Tell us about the preparations and tell us what's at stake for both parties from your view in these hearings tomorrow.

ROGERS: Yes. I think a lot of this is like why some people watch car racing when they want to see the car wreck. The race in and of itself is not the most interesting thing. So I've never quite seen anything like this where you have full-on dress rehearsals for these things. That's a little bit out of the purview. Normally, you could sit down and have staff go over certain issues, a line of questioning, things that could be interesting to pull out. That would be done more on an informal basis.

I've never seen full-on dress rehearsals, you know, with lights and Cameras and microphones just to make sure that members are on the same page. What that tells me -- and, by the way, both teams are doing this, republicans and democrats. It tells me they all believe that, if not done correctly, they're going to careen off into the ditch.

And so I think they're going to be really concerned about getting it right. I think to Jack's point, the democrats want to prove, hey, that there was enough elements of obstruction to charge, but for the Justice rules. And I think the republicans are going to come at this as, hey, it wasn't -- you didn't find it, you didn't charge it, and, oh, by the way, wasn't there some other things you might may have missed along the way that would look bad for the democrats.

HARLOW: Must we forget about volume one and the Intel Committees main focus here in the questioning tomorrow, and that's about Russian interference in our democracy. John Podesta, of course, Hillary Clinton's Campaign Manager in 2016, whose emails were stolen and distributed by the Russians writes in The Washington Post this morning. That is why Mueller's testimony is so vital. He can provide guidance on how Russia operates, how to prevent further attacks. But Americans must face the truth. Trump in broad daylight has encouraged the destruction of the nation's fundamental institutions. He continues to do so. I'm really interested in the first part of that and if you're worried that members of Congress will not spend enough time focusing on questions about Russia.

ROGERS: Completely. It gets lost in this whole thing.

HARLOW: Because this is the only time we're going to hear from him.

ROGERS: Exactly. And I hope that they give him an opportunity, and maybe that's what he'll focus on in his opening statement. And I do believe his opening statement will be really indicative of where he's going to go throughout the day.

SCIUTTO: And remember his last public appearance, which was his first public appearance about this, he said all Americans should be concerned about Russian interference. I want to ask you a question about that, because Robert Mueller did not charge for -- despite the Trump campaign showing interest at least in receiving Russian campaign assistance.


And since then, since the report came out, President Trump himself has said, well, listen, if a foreign country offers me help, I may at least take a look at it. And other sitting lawmakers have said that would be fine.

It's pretty remarkable --

ROGERS: It's not fine. As a former FBI guy, I can tell you, and a member of Congress, it's not fine. The first call you need to make is not your campaign manager. It's to the FBI. And they have a serious concerted effort, they being the Russians and Russian intelligence services, to create chaos in American society around elections.

They've been doing it for 70 years. They really have. But now, they've gotten to the point where they can talk to you on your laptop and your iPhones. And that changes the game. So what we've been able to do, we saw in 2016, is pit black activists groups against white supremacist groups and try to get them to show up. They wanted that chaos. So they take a kernel of truth and they try to spin it up.

In addition to that, they did try to break into election systems to change votes. Now, weren't successful at that but it doesn't mean they're going to go away. It doesn't mean they're going to stop. And we know that they have continued to do this. And what my fear is that we -- one team decides we can't acknowledge the Russians are trying to influence U.S. elections and the other team saying it was only to defeat my candidate. Both of those assumptions are wrong.

HARLOW: You had the gig. Now, Adam Schiff has the gig as the Chair of the House Intel Committee. Let's see what questions he and all of them ask on the Russians. Thank you, sir.

ROGERS: Yes, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Mike Rogers, thanks so much.

Our special coverage of the Mueller hearings begins tomorrow morning, 8:00 Eastern Time right here on CNN.

HARLOW: So still to come, former Vice President Joe Biden this morning just released a new criminal justice plan. This is a week ahead of our CNN democratic debate. The timing is no coincidence. We'll get into that.

Plus it is something you don't hear every day, a bipartisan deal. Part of it hashed out on a delta plane. Nancy Pelosi sitting there, working out the final kinks, the White House and Congressional leaders reach an agreement on the budget. Are the votes there to pass it?

SCIUTTO: Not hard when everybody gets to spend whatever they want.

One of America's closest allies names its new leader. Boris Johnson will become the U.K.'s Prime Minister. Does that mean they're out of the E.U.?



SCIUTTO: This morning, 2020 democratic frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, rules out his plan for criminal justice reform. The plan aims to reduce the number of incarcerations and racial, gender and income-based disparities in the judicial system. This comes one week ahead of the second democratic presidential debate.

HARLOW: Yes. He'll be on stage between Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both who have criticized his involvement for being an author of the '94 crime bill, which is widely blamed for contributing to mass incarceration in this country.

With us, our Political Reporter, Arlette Saenz, follows all things Biden, and Tiffany Cross, co-Founder and Managing Editor of The Beat D.C. Good morning to you both.

So lay out this plan here.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, this is a pretty comprehensive plan. And as you mentioned, Biden has faced a lot of criticism when it comes to issues relating to crime over this year. This kind of puts him on the board when it comes to criminal justice reform.

So just to tick through a few of these items, there is a $20 billion competitive grant program for states to move from incarceration to prevention. This would require the states to end mandatory minimums and establish credit programs for inmates as well. It also provides $1 billion per year for juvenile justice reform and it also tries to address systemic police misconduct by returning to an Obama era use of pattern-or-practice investigations.

And so top of this, there are also some elements of the proposal that address issues with legislation that Biden had supported when he was a senator. So he's calling right now to end mandatory minimums. He's also calling to retroactively eliminate sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine. Those are two issues that his opponents have brought up. And also notably, he's also calling for the end of the federal death penalty. That's something that Biden had supported for a long time as he was a senator.

So you're seeing these shifts in policy as Biden is trying to portray himself as the candidate who can move things forward.

SCIUTTO: Right. On the crime issue, the '94 crime bill has been an issue of vulnerability for Biden among progressive voters because that helped lead to mass incarceration. When you look at this plan, in your view, Tiffany, does this address those concerns?

TIFFANY CROSS, CO-FOUNDER AND MANAGING EDITOR, THE BEAT D.C.: Look, 1994 Joe Biden, this is the opposite. This is Joe Biden in a bizarre world. This plan definitely revokes a lot of the things that was in that crime bill. Another thing that's in his new bill is he has allocated a special commission in the DOJ to specifically to look at prosecutorial, which is a big a deal, which another thing that he didn't do in '94.

When you look at what happened in '94, his challenge is going to be explaining this story to voters. For those of us who grew up at that time, who were around, this is where you guys are supposed to gasp, no way you're alive at that time, but I was. And, yes, he -- I mean, there was a lot happening and he has to remind voters what that was.


And it remind people how the crime was impacting communities, because there were a lot of black and brown people who were needlessly ensnared in the criminal justice system as a result of what he put out.

SCIUTTO: But what's going to come up, especially if Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker go after him on this, which, by the way, Arlette, the Biden campaign is assuming, because they said this morning, you know, we know a number of people are going to try to weaponize his service in Congress.

You've got the fact that Kamala Harris has a record as a prosecutor, right? So that then is going to be examined and fair game for Biden to push back on. And for Cory Booker in Newark, and his time as Mayor of Newark, that also could be a vulnerability for him there, right?

SAENZ: That could be. And you saw Joe Biden in the last debate, he had that line noting that he was a public defender. That was a little bit of not so veiled (ph) swipe at Kamala Harris. But you are going to see him standing on the debate stage with both Kamala Harris and Cory Booker surrounding him.

And you already have Cory Booker responding to this plan today. He Tweeted out, it's not enough to tell us what you're going to do for our communities. Show us what you've done for the last 40 years. You created this system. We'll dismantle it.

Now, Booker didn't name Biden but his campaign has told us that Biden is the intended recipient of that Tweet. It's not something that we can see --

CROSS: And let me just say that there are going to be a lot of younger voters in this cycle. We saw that in 2018, a lot of younger voters who don't remember what was happening. And so when you look at those people today, all they see are white, gentrifying millennials smoking weed without cops harassing in the streets, I would say, with no problem and then there are still people who are still incarcerated, and so Biden is going to have to tell that narrative, his reversal, how he came to this position, which is going to be really challenging.

On Kamala Harris, she definitely have prosecutorial record is a vulnerability. If I were here, I would be talking to Meek Mill, maybe Van Jones, some of those people right now to have --

HARLOW: She went on the Breakfast Club and talked a lot about this.

CROSS: Yes, with Charlamagne. But she also came out with a legislation today. Her marijuana bill, that's a reversal, of course, for her, because when she was San Francisco D.A., she did not support the federal legalization of marijuana. Today, she's out with new legislations saying that. So there's vulnerability for her as well.

SCIUTTO: So, Arlette, the Biden defense here is, okay, yes, we've had a long -- we've had a long history in government, but positions change overtime. And by the way, I worked with President Obama. Remember him? I mean, that's their argument, is it not?

SAENZ: Yes. I mean, essentially, they -- Biden is mentioning it every possibility that he can that he was President Obama's choice to be his number two. And if it was good enough for President Obama, it should be good enough for the rest of the country.

And you're really seeing them try to focus on his time in the White House compared to his long extensive Senate record, which he has also said that he is willing to defend and that there are areas where he acknowledges he can grow from.

You know, I was at a speech in Sumter, South Carolina a few weeks ago, where he said, I take responsibility for what went right with the crime bill but also what went wrong. And he's just going to have to go forward and defend that.

HARLOW: He's not the only one. Bernie Sanders also voted for it.

Okay. Thanks, guys, very much. Arlette and Tiffany, we appreciate it.

The lineups are set for our democratic debate, two big nights, ten candidates each night, July 30th and 31st live from Detroit only on CNN.

SCIUTTO: And still at this hour, leaders on the Hill looking to rally votes following a rare bipartisan agreement on the budget. But could criticism, particularly the trillions of dollars it's adding to the debt, derail it?



HARLOW: All right. Lawmakers reached a bipartisan deal on the budget. It's over a trillion dollars. And it avoids plunging the government into fiscal crisis any time soon. But I guess this is what happens when you can just spend whatever you want.

SCIUTTO: Yes, they're adding a lot of money to the deficit and that's money you and I are responsible for. This still has to pass the House and the Senate, then it has to be signed in law.

Joining me now, Congressional Correspondent Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill, as well as Jackie Kucinich here, CNN Political Analyst.

Phil, I remember when republicans define themselves by budget cuts. This is going to be a trillion dollar year debt for the next ten years. Is that right?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. It pretty much locks in trillion dollar deficits annually over the course of the next decade. Obviously, the current debt is over $22 trillion.

And I think the reality here is the prevailing theme was trying to get rid of immediate crisis and you have to spend a lot of money to actually do that, that's what they're going to do. And that's also why you're not going to see everybody vote for this agreement.

But rationale is basically this. This is a $1.37 trillion budget deal. It goes over the course of two years. It will suspend the debt ceiling for two years, taking the idea of catastrophic default off the table. That's obviously very important. There is about a 4 percent increase in spending over the course of the next two years on both defense and non-defense.

And beneath that, what that actually ends up replacing would have been a $10 percent cut due to this (INAUDIBLE). But, guys, I think the big picture here is this replaces what was put in place back in 2011 when fiscal restraint was kind of the big buzz word at the time. The budget caps are gone. Sequestration is now dead. Spending is in and spending appears to be the only to take off those potential crises from the plate of Congress.

HARLOW: Phil, if you're Mick Mulvaney right now, are you just like screaming inside?

MATTINGLY: You want me to actually answer that?

HARLOW: Yes. I mean, the President's acting Chief of Staff was one of the biggest, you know, hawks on this, on keeping spending down, and this is the deal he gets. MATTINGLY: Yes. So the behind the scenes here is both acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and acting OMB Director Russell Vought were very, very sharply critical of this deal throughout the course of the last couple of months. They were pushing hard for significant cuts to domestic spending. They wanted to --