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Robert Mueller Making An 11th Hour Appeal To The House Judiciary Committee; Joe Biden, Rolling Out His Plan For Criminal Justice Reform Today Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 23, 2019 - 14:00   ET


ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Erica Hill, in for Brooke Baldwin. As members of Congress prepare for one of the highest stakes hearings of their career, CNN is learning new details about what Robert Mueller is requesting before he testifies. The former Special Counsel making an 11th hour appeal to the House Judiciary Committee. We want to get straight to CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

So Manu, what is Mueller asking now ahead of tomorrow's hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a last ditch request that was made by the Special Counsel and that really caused a number of Republicans to raise alarms. What he is asking for is that his deputy Aaron Zebley, to be sworn in tomorrow to answer any questions that may come up that perhaps the Special Counsel cannot fully answer, and instead have Zebley answer those questions, instead.

Republicans are saying this is not -- should not be agreed to. They're saying this is quote "unprecedented." The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee said it would undercut the integrity of the committee.

Now, Democrats have not agreed to this yet. But I am told from a source familiar with the matter, who just messaged me just moments ago, that Zebley will be there as a counsel to Mueller for the hearing tomorrow.

We will sit next to him during the hearing. It's not clear if he will be sworn in. That is the actual -- what the Republicans have been concerned about. But it shows how sensitive these negotiations have been in how it's high stakes this hearing is tomorrow.

Already, Democrats have been preparing behind the scenes, mock hearings, Republicans have as well and some Democrats including Joaquin Castro, who is on the House Intelligence Committee believes that tomorrow's hearing could change the dial and raise the prospects of impeachment proceedings in the House.


RAJU: Do you think that it could change the dial on impeachment?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): I think it certainly could. I think, for example, when people hear that Robert Mueller listed out 10 instances where the President may have obstructed justice and the fact that, I think a big part of the reason that he's not being indicted is because he's the sitting President. Yes, I think that's really important to people. Yes, I think that it's going to open a lot of Americans eyes to what exactly the President has done and what his circle did in the 2016 election.


RAJU: So Democrats in the House -- Judiciary Committee this afternoon plan to have a mock hearing to lay out their areas of questioning. They point unlimited to a certain number of areas about obstruction of justice. They want their questions to focus in roughly five areas, they believe will really resonate with the American public.

Republicans, on the other hand, want to focus about what they believe are bias on the Mueller team, the origins of the investigation, and their belief that the probe should not have been launched to begin with. Expect Mueller to deal with that.

But this last minute request by the Special Counsel to have his deputy come in, to answer -- to be sworn in, to answer questions -- call it throwing a wrench and of sorts, and this is showing how reluctant Mueller has been as a witness for months as these negotiations have been going on. We still expect that hearing to happen tomorrow. And we do -- are now hearing that he's going to be this deputy will be a counsel sitting alongside with him at the hearing.

We will see how Republicans react to this as this moves ahead -- Erica.

HILL: Absolutely. Manu Raju with the latest for us there. Manu, thank you.

For his part, the President is also gearing up for tomorrow's hearing, launching a preemptive strike today attempting to discredit anything Mueller could reveal. His audience for that, a student summit in Washington.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House. Abby, the President saying yesterday, maybe a little, might watch a little of the Special Counsel's testimony tomorrow. Is that still the plan?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, Erica, he said he wasn't going to watch it and then maybe he will catch a little bit of it. I think most people in this building believe the President will be watching at least some of it as most of the TVs in the White House are trained to the news at all times.

He'll also be heading to an event in West Virginia where he'll be on Air Force One, also full of televisions -- are trained to his favorite stations. So I think we can expect that he'll be monitoring it. And his tweets and comments in the last several days really indicate how irritated he is that this is all coming back.

The President and his allies calling it an attempt by Democrats to have a do over of the Mueller investigation. He emphasized repeatedly in this lengthy speech this morning, that the Mueller investigation found no collusion. And he noted that his Attorney General Bill Barr found that there was no obstruction of justice.

So the President is going back to his old talking points on all of this, but trying to make the case that he thinks this is going to be a political loser for the Democrats, saying that he thinks it will all backfire on them. What he would like to talk about instead are these four Democratic Congresswoman, the squad that he has been attacking for many days now and the President continue those attacks this morning, singling out a different Congresswoman.

[14:05:00] HILL: He has usually talked about Ilhan Omar, now, he's talking about Rashida Tlaib and criticizing her at length in the speech. Listen.



CROWD: (Booing)

TRUMP: I believe Honestly, I believe they hate our country, okay. I believe they hate our country. Cortez, you know I said I'm not going through them -- to these four people, the squad --

CROWD: (Booing)

TRUMP: No, by calling them out because we don't like when they talk about evil Jews.


PHILLIP: So if anybody thought this was going away, they would be very wrong. This has become something of a staple of the President's public appearances in the last several days. And he did not give any indication that he planned to slow down. Those attacks keep coming day after day -- Erica.

HILL: Clearly the President seems to think they are working. Abby Phillip, appreciate it. Abby, thank you,

Democrats who will be questioning the former Special Counsel are holding mock hearings today as Manu pointed out, and they've got plenty of history to guide them. Robert Mueller took over as FBI Director one week before the 911 attacks, answering of course, plenty of lawmakers' questions during his nomination hearings.

In fact, over the past 12 years, he's testified before Congress roughly 50 times. My next guest watched more than 20 hours of Mueller's past testimony. Darren Samuelsohn is senior White House reporter for POLITICO. Darren, great to have you with us. You learn a lot in watching 20 hours of Robert Mueller testifying and I know, you said too in your piece.

One of the most important things is that we watch it, that we all see if it would the sound up because so much of what we seen of Robert Mueller has been video, but we're not listening to him. So I want to get to some of the examples that I know you found the most significant, including pointing out how he's talked about asserting his independence from the DOJ, let's play this.


ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE'S SPECIAL COUNSEL: I'm not precluding the possibility that given the necessary independence of the Bureau in investigation that there might not come a time where one seeks and alternative, where one believes that a political pressure is being brought to bear on the investigative process.

That may be somewhere else in the executive, beyond the attorney general, it may be Congress, but I would look and explore it every option if I believe that the FBI was being pressured for political reasons. And if that were the situation as described here, I would explore other alternatives or a variety of alternatives in order to make certain that justice was done.


HILL: What do you think that response tells us about how he could handle similar lines of questioning?

DARREN SAMUELSOHN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER FOR POLITICO: Sure, that was back in 2001, as he was preparing to be the FBI director in the context of the Bush administration, where he'd be serving and looking back on the Clinton administration.

Clearly, in the course of this investigation, there had been a lot of questions of whether there was any coming from the White House or coming from his Justice Department supervisors. We saw most recently as the report was submitted to the Justice Department, that letter that Robert Mueller sent to Bill Barr indicating that he was not satisfied. He didn't like the way Bill Barr presented the findings in that early conclusion that went out and changed or really directed the narrative of the public disclosure of the of the Mueller report.

It gives us a sense, you know, tomorrow as we watch Robert Mueller, and we're watching really closely for any daylight with Bill Barr. Does Robert Miller actually throw, you know, his colleague, his former -- his longtime friend under the bus and largely some of the ways that Bill Barr did to Robert Miller when he testified up in the senate a couple months ago as well.

HILL: It's so interesting to see. We also have this clip from -- and this is from 2013. So this is Mueller being asked about the Boston Marathon bombings and specifically why the FBI didn't check out a tip that the Tsarnaev brothers had frequented a local mosque, here's that moment.


REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX): Why did no one go to the mosque and say, "Who are these guys? They attend -- may attend here. Why was that not done since such a thorough job was done?"

MUELLER: Your facts are not all together well ...

GOHMERT: Well, I point out specifically...

MUELLER: May I finish my ...

GOHMERT: ... point out specifically. Sir, if you're going to call me a liar, you need to point out specifically where any facts are wrong.

MUELLER: We went to the mosque prior to Boston.

GOHMERT: Prior to Boston.

MUELLER: Prior to Boston happening. We were in that mosque talking to imam several months beforehand as part of our outreach efforts.

GOHMERT: So were you aware that that was a mosque were started by Al Amoudi?

MUELLER: I have answered the question, sir.


HILL: Direct -- talking about the importance of facts, how much of that you think we'll see tomorrow?

SAMUELSOHN: That's a classic example. I love that clip. As Louie Gohmert, the Texas Republican who is on the Judiciary Committee and will be one of the members that will be questioning Robert Mueller tomorrow. Likely to come at Robert Mueller are some high and tight fastballs I can imagine. And Robert Mueller, if the facts are not there in the question whether they come from Louie Gohmert or any other member of Congress. I think he's going to fact check him. I think he's going to push back.

[14:10:04] SAMUELSOHN: If anything comes at him with respect to the integrity of his staff, the people that he hired, obviously, this has been a long time talking point of the President, talking about the quote-unquote, "Angry Democrats." I think Robert Mueller is going to push back pretty hard and an exchange like that with a Congressman -- it's not going to be the kind of thing where Robert Mueller, you know, sits back and just takes it. So I think that's maybe the best thing you take away from a clip like that.

HILL: We'll have a lot to watch tomorrow. Thanks for doing some of the early watching for us, Darren Samuelsohn, appreciate it. Thank you.

And be sure to tune in tomorrow. Live right here on CNN. You can see us former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies before Congress. Our special cover begins at 8:00 a.m. Eastern.

President Trump spending the day on the attack. You just heard what he had to say to a group of young conservatives earlier. The women who call themselves the squad though not backing down in the face of those continued attacks.

Plus, Cory Booker ripping Joe Biden's new criminal justice plan released today. The Senator says, the former VP had 40 years to get this right. Biden campaign responds live.

And new fears that a serial killer is targeting victims in Canada. Among those victims and American woman found shot to death along with her boyfriend.


[14:16:08] HILL: Democratic frontrunner, Joe Biden, rolling out his plan for criminal justice reform today. That planning, to reduce the number of incarcerations and then racial gender income based disparities in the judicial system.

It also lands, of course, one week ahead of the second Democratic Presidential debate, where he will stand between senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. Both have criticized Biden's role in the 1994 crime bill which is widely blamed for contributing to mass incarceration.

Moments after Biden released his plan. Booker responded, tweeting, "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."

Congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana is the National co-chair of Biden's Presidential campaign. Congressman, good to have you with us today. You're in New Orleans today campaigning with the former Vice President. We should point out that Senator Booker also released a full statement a short time ago, which begins a quote, "Joe Biden had more than 40 years to get this right. The proud architect of a failed system is not the right person to fix it." What's your response to that criticism?

REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D-LA): Well, look, I think that the former Vice President, because he's in the lead is going to increasingly get shots taken at him by other candidates. But it's just interesting to me how candidates want to focus on the Clinton crime bill, but they don't want to talk about the Obama years.

So Vice President Biden in 2007 authored legislation to actually bring the crack to powder cocaine disparity to 1:1. While in the White House for eight years, the Attorney General Eric Holder, the Obama administration released their smart on crime initiative. They released a number of people out for non-violent crimes.

So it was a very progressive eight years, they also pushed for criminal justice reform. So the other part about it is that the Vice President uses the safe Justice Act, which was written by Congressman Bobby Scott as the baseline of where he starts in his criminal justice reform.

Well, the safe Justice Act was always put out there as the gold standard in criminal justice reform. I supported it. Senator Booker supported it, everyone supported it. So he starts with the safe Justice Act, and then he moves very far, because there were some lessons learned from the Clinton crime bill that we need to fix.

HILL: And it is important to learn lessons, but if I'm if I'm understanding what you're saying correctly, it sounds like you're saying that Senator Booker seems to be cherry picking what he wants to look at, in your view. But isn't the 1994 crime bill relevant? Isn't it still fair game?

RICHMOND: Well, look, I think a lot of it is fair game. Let me just give you one part about it. People hold up today drug courts as the model for where we should go and criminal justice reform. Drug courts were in the 1994 crime bill. People talk about diversion as a place we should go. That was in the 94 crime bill.

The safety valve, which would allow you to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences was in the crime bill. What wasn't in the crime bill with any mandatory minimum sentences? Now, what did we learn from that? The fact that prosecutors far and wide would give Billy diversion or drug court or safety valve but they would not give it to Tyrone.

So if you were poor, if you were a minority, if you were a black male, those prosecutors did not take a chance and using those progressive avenues to help you. So if you were fluent, if you were white, prosecutors would give you the benefit of doubt and take a chance on you. And that's where a lot of that disparity came in, into the criminal justice system.

[14:19:58] RICHMOND: So if you look at Vice President Biden's plan now, he extends the Justice Department's ability to actually look at prosecutor's offices collect data and to make sure that we don't have that same disparity, that unfair treatment from prosecutor's offices going forward. And as a defense attorney, I know it far too well, the power of prosecutors.

HILL: As you know, you're going to continue to face these questions. The former Vice President going to continue to face these questions. Of course, he will be on that stage with Cory Booker, with Kamala Harris, who have criticized him over the last several weeks. How much is this -- is crime? The Vice President's record on criminal justice as well, how much of that is a focus in your debate prep for next week?

RICHMOND: Well, look, I haven't done any debate prep with the Vice President yet. I will talk to him that day and I'm sure we're going to talk a lot more on criminal justice reform.

HILL: How much are you anticipating though, this could be it -- this could be a target -- that this will be targeted for him? I mean, will that be a part of your conversation today?

RICHMOND: Look, it's very clear that the two candidates are going to target this. It's very clear that the stakes for the next debate, in order to make the next base stage go up. It's also very clear that all of the candidates had not made the requisite number and hit the requisite percentage points to make the next debate. So I think this is going to be a very sharp debate.

I think everybody's going to come out all guns blazing. But remember, Vice President Biden said that he wanted to direct his fire at the President, who is a clear and present danger to our future, and that he was not going to use his time to beat up other Democrats because what we have at stake is just far too much. And the differences between the Democratic candidates, some of which are real, but it's nothing in comparison to what would happen to this country if this President had a chance to appoint another Supreme Court Justice, and have four years of stacking the bench and enacting policies that favor the top 1%.

HILL: I want to ask you specifically about something else in this proposal that was released today. So the part that deals with marijuana is similar to actually what we heard from Kamala Harris today. Joe Biden wants it decriminalized. He wants it legalized for medical use. He stopped short though of saying it should be legal full stop, why?

RICHMOND: That's not his position. But what he also said, and I think he's the only candidate that said this, is that he wants to automatically expunge those records of people who were convicted solely for marijuana convictions.

And I think that there are some people who want to go as far as legalizing marijuana. There's some who think it should be legal for medical purposes, they think it should be decriminalized, but they have not taken the step to go as far as to say it should be legal. And I think that the Vice President's plan speaks directly to that. I think that at the debate, someone may bring it up. But you believe what you believe. And I think that he articulated his beliefs.

HILL: You of course also sit on House Judiciary, a little bit of activity going to be happening, as you know, tomorrow, there's been a lot of preparation, as we know from our reporting. What is the plan? Can you take us inside a little bit -- the preparation that's happening here? We know that there are five essential avenues, from what I understand. Are those questions that are going to be divided among law makers? Have you agreed on one list? How are people weighing in?

RICHMOND: Well, I can tell you, for the Judiciary Committee, we all will get a chance to ask questions. And we're trying to do it in a very methodical way. Because we all know that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Well, now we get video and we need -- we get to bring the Mueller report to life. And there are certain things in the Mueller report that I believe the American people have not paid a lot of attention to.

So, tomorrow the goal is to highlight those sections, to highlight those instances where we believe all three elements of the crime of obstruction of justice were met. To bring out the Russian influence, to bring out all of those things that we believe the American people need to hear, not from Democrats, not from Republicans, but a neutral arbitrator, of the facts, who is above reproach, and who spent a lot of time gathering the facts.

So I think it's very important, and I think it's our job to make sure that we bring those facts out.

HILL: You mentioned those things you think that or -- that you know, you want the American public to hear. Is this as simple as saying, because we know that Robert Mueller has said he's going to stick to the report. He will not deviate and really won't expound upon it. Is it as simple as saying to him -- this was in your report, I want you to read that out loud?

RICHMOND: Well, it's not that simple. And the one thing we do know about Robert Mueller is that he is a patriot. He is a man of principle. He's a man of his word. And I believe that if we ask questions confined to his report, I think he will answer. I think he is a reluctant witness. But I do think his patriotism will take over and he will answer questions that are asked of him, and it's up to us to lay out the elements of obstruction.

[14:25:07] RICHMOND: It's up to us to lay out the fact that they welcomed, they were overjoyed at Russian assistance in a U.S. Presidential election. So it's up to us to, to bring that out.

HILL: Really quickly before I let you go, a new reporting that at the 11th hour, Robert Mueller has asked now to have his deputy sworn in, in case he is needed to answer a question. Will Democrats grant that request?

RICHMOND: I'm not sure. I saw that as I was preparing to come on your show. I think that is a Chairman Nadler question. And I think that he'll make the appropriate decision. But I will tell you, in my opinion, that I think that Robert Mueller has been very, very consistent. I think he's been very patriotic, I think he's been very straightforward. I personally don't necessarily have a problem with any of the requests that he made.

My biggest problem and worry is that we're being told to stick to the report. And the truth of the matter is, I think the question that all of the American people have is that, if all three elements of the crime of obstruction were met on several occasions, why isn't this President indicted and why isn't other people indicted? It's clear --

HILL: It sounds like that may be one of your questions tomorrow?

RICHMOND: The problem is, it's clear so far that he will not just say that it was the memo and guidance of DOJ that did that. But that is a very, very important question. Once you realize that all of those elements of obstruction were met on several occasions.

HILL: Congressman Cedric Richmond, appreciate your time and we will certainly be watching tomorrow. Thank you.

RICHMOND: Thank you.

HILL: President Trump's suggestion that he could wipe Afghanistan off the face of the earth. It's not the first time he has spoken casually about destroying another country. First, though, breaking news on those mysterious murders in Canada. Why two missing teens are now considered suspects.