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Soon: Robert Mueller to Testify Before Congress; CNN Source: Puerto Rico Governor Expected to Resign Today. Aired 5-5:30a ET
Aired July 24, 2019 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It's finally here, Robert Mueller testifies today.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): The president and the attorney general would systematically lie to the American people about what was in that report.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This whole collusion narrative that was out there that Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler keep talking about was really not there.
JON STEWART, 9/11 VICTIM FUND ADVOCATE: They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. Eighteen years later, do yours.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The bill has passed.
JOHN FEAL, 9/11 VICTIM FUND ADVOCATE: John said I moved mountains. I just help.
STEWART: I think you rolled some boulders up some hills, my brother.
FEAL: What he did he didn't have to do.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You talked to Jon Stewart and John Feal yesterday right in front of the Capitol.
[05:00:02] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I did, it was first sit-down wide-ranging interview. They were sort of processing what had happened at the end of their 18-year fight to get this funding. So, you'll see they go through the range of emotions. I mean, there was gratitude, there was still sort of residual anger, and they really shared it with us.
BERMAN: What an accomplishment that they did. Not just for themselves either.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, July 24th, 5:00 here in Washington. And this is a day that people have been waiting for for months if not
years. Robert Mueller testifies in pair of hearings beginning in three hours. And after years, again, years of twists and turns in his investigation into President Trump and Russia, this is the first time that Robert Mueller will answer questions in public. He goes first before the House Judiciary Committee where Democrats will focus on obstruction. And later, the House Intelligence Committee where they will hone in on election interference.
CAMEROTA: So, Mueller has said he will not go beyond his 448-page report. But lawmakers will try to find inroads into new areas. Democratic leaders are hoping the hearing will bring the facts of this report to life for Americans who did not read it. Republicans plan to confront Mueller on the legitimacy of the entire probe.
We also have breaking news right now because a source tells that Puerto Rico's embattled Governor Ricardo Rossello is expected to resign today, this after weeks of protests. We will get to that in a moment.
Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Lauren Fox. She is live on Capitol Hill outside the room where it will happen.
What are you expecting, Lauren?
LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Alisyn, people already lined up down the hall, and we are hours away from this highly anticipated hearing where Robert Mueller will speak for the first time to Congress since releasing this report months ago. Democrats are hoping it shifts public opinion while Republicans are hoping they can get the former special counsel to double down on what they believe the conclusion was, that it vindicates the president.
FOX (voice-over): In just hours, former special counsel Robert Mueller will take center stage, giving lawmakers and the nation the chance to hear from the man whose investigation has shadowed Donald Trump's presidency.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): For many Americans, just learning what's in the report will be a revelation.
FOX: Mueller making a last-minute request to allow his former deputy, Aaron Zebley, to be sworn in, too, as a witness. A source tells CNN House Judiciary Committee Democrats will permit Zebley to sit beside Mueller to provide advice while a House Intelligence aide says he'll be sworn in for the hearing despite president Trump's public efforts to downplay Mueller's testimony.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I saw Mueller is testifying tomorrow again. How many times -- 2-1/2 years. And actually it started practically from the time I came down on the escalator.
FOX: Behind closed doors, CNN has learned he's becoming increasingly irritated with the focus on Mueller's hearings. Trump allies echoing the same feeling.
SEN. MITCH MCCONELL (R-KY): We've already heard from him. I don't know how many times we want to see this movie again. But I think the American people have moved on past this.
FOX: As tension grows between House Democrats and the Justice Department after it issued a warning for Mueller to, quote, remain within the boundaries of his public report.
But Attorney General William Barr says the guidance came at Mueller's request.
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: They asked us for guidance in writing to explain or to tell them what our position was. So, we responded in writing.
REPORTER: What do you think of Congressman Nadler lashing out saying this was arrogant to send this letter?
BARR: He was misinformed as to the facts.
FOX: House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff writing Mueller a letter, calling the DOJ guidance, quote, another attempt by the Trump administration to obstruct the authorized oversight activity and legitimate investigations of the committee.
Republicans insist the Mueller report already vindicates the president.
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): We're finding each and every day that this whole collusion narrative that was out there that Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler keep talking about was really not there.
FOX: Democrats hope Mueller's televised testimony will educate the public on what is in the report.
REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): We don't need Robert Mueller to say anything breathtaking. We need him to highlight the main parts of the Mueller report because it is so devastating.
FOX: And preparations have been going on for weeks with mock hearings, scripted questions. The biggest question today, of course, does anything change in terms of public opinion. Of course, we won't know that until the following days after Mueller's testimony today -- John and Alisyn.
BERMAN: All right. Lauren Fox, 5:04 in the morning, and the hallway is full behind Lauren which gives a sense of anticipation I think for this today.
[05:05:07] Joining us now, Elie Honig, CNN legal analyst, Sabrina Siddiqui, she's White House correspondent for "The Guardian," U.S., John Avalon, CNN senior political analyst, and Jackie Kucinich, she's the Washington bureau chief of "The Daily Beast" and CNN political analyst.
I just want to state again that after two years, this is the first time that Robert Mueller will answer questions in public. So, will this change America forever? I don't know. But it's something that a lot of people have been waiting for for a very, very long time, John.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And in many ways it's overdue. This was the essence of a public good. This is the investigator going forward to answer questions directly from the people's representatives.
The big question, of course, is whether he's going to answer the questions directly or whether he's going to do a totally by the book DOJ-prescribed narrow non-answers to anything that falls even a fraction of a second outside the report itself. That would be a terrible thing for the full disclosure of the information because there's so many open questions. This report unfortunately does not speak for itself. So, hopefully, he'll be forthcoming, and we'll get more information.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, but I think that there's a lot to indicate that that's exactly what he's going to do. While this is the first time him testify being his report, it's not -- testifying about his report, it's not his first rodeo. He's a veteran of testifying --
CAMEROTA: Eighty-eight times I think in the past.
KUCINICH: Yes, exactly. So, he's testified before Congress before, which is why you've had Democrats drilling all week, doing mock hearings, crafting the questions as to solicit answers and not to get blocked by, you know, the traditional DOJ.
AVLON: Grandstand less.
KUCINICH: He is no drama. Yes.
BERMAN: You covered the hill for a long time. I have never heard of members of Congress rehearsing a hearing before.
KUCINICH: No. They're trying to stay on message so it doesn't devolve into the circus that we've all come to know and love. Now, whether it will --
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Also the test for Democrats, because I've spoken to members of the House Judiciary Committee, and they have a number of process-related questions. Why, for example, did Mueller not compel the president to testify, he accepted written answers. We know also why did he choose not to indict the president. He's relied on the Justice Department guidance. Some felt he should have made a determination one way or another.
What did he make of Attorney General William Barr's handling of the report? Did he think that there was an effort by this administration to engage in some kind of cover-up? But the challenge there is that most of the American public is interested in the substance of the report and not some of these matters of process.
I think the best bet for Democrats is to focus on the ten episodes of potential obstruction of justice that were outlined by a special counsel and his team. And to ask if this were anyone other than the president of the United States, would you have indicted.
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There is gold to be mined even within the four walls of the report itself. For example, the obstruction act. Go through them, did you find substantial evidence of these acts, Director Mueller? He has to say yes, he used that term, substantial evidence.
I'll give you another example. In the report when Mueller's talk about why he did not subpoena Trump, controversial decision, he says we already had sufficient evidence to make certain assessments about the president's intent. So, you say, what was that evidence, and what assessment did you make about his intent.
It sounds to me like he's saying we already had enough to know that he had the corrupt criminal intent. But he needs to say that. That is within the report itself. I think that should be fair game.
CAMEROTA: That's really an interesting one.
AVLON: Not only that, there are open questions in the report that are so key. For example, why could they not come to a determination about what Kilimnik did with the polling data that Manafort handed them over? Was that a technological limitation, an investigatory limitation?
What about Cambridge Analytica? We know they did interviews with Cambridge Analytica, and yet it's not mentioned in the reports. There are a lot of open questions that really need to be answered. And right now, only Mueller can answer them.
BERMAN: Guys, when we talk about staying within the four walls of the report here. I have a printed edition of it.
CAMEROTA: And it's like a brick.
BERMAN: And it's a like a brick. The four walls are big. I understand we talk about the four walls of the report being limiting, but there's a lot in here.
CAMEROTA: In those walls.
BERMAN: He can talk a lot of stuff. There's a lot of words on this baby.
KUCINICH: Democrats are going to wants him to talk about what's in the report, because they know that the vast majority of Americans have not read the report. Part of it is bringing it alive and talking about -- you know, asking him about Don McGahn and whether -- kind of repeating whether he was asked to fire Mueller, fire himself. Having him illustrate that and having him respond is something we haven't seen before. A lot of people probably haven't heard.
SIDDIQUI: And you have to keep in mind that the majority of the American public has not read the 430-page report --
CAMEROTA: Why not?
SIDDIQUI: Frankly, most members of Congress have not actually read the report. And so, yes, there's a lot of polling to suggest that the public perception is already baked in. But this really is, to Jackie's point, the first time that the American public is hearing directly from the man who oversaw the investigation over the course of two years.
[05:10:07] And it's also important for Democrats because the last time, the one and only time Mueller faced cameras and gave a brief statement reiterating the principal findings of the report, that's when you saw a flurry of activity in terms of Democrats coming out in favor of a formal impeachment inquiry. It's different to actually have him reiterate in his own words exactly what he and his team found in terms of possible misconduct by the president.
AVLON: Yes. And you know, what's so outrageous is that members of Congress haven't read it. Yesterday the FBI Director Chris Wray said he hadn't read every line of the report.
So, this idea that Mueller can stand on what's been published is unfortunately wrong. What we've seen up to this point is that Mueller's approached things as the last Boy Scout. He has played by the rules. He's been played by the system, by the Trump DOJ and the White House in effect out of the game. They controlled the narrative.
This is a chance to set the record straight, perhaps the last chance for him to really set the record straight.
CAMEROTA: We've heard a lot about what Democrats plan to do and hope to get out of it at some point coming up. We'll talk about what Republicans hope to get out of today, because if they want to paint the whole thing as bogus, they have a whole different set of questions. So, we'll get to that surely.
BERMAN: All right, friends. Stand by. We do have breaking news. A source tells CNN that Puerto Rico's embattled governor, Ricardo Rossello, is expected to resign today.
This is a culmination of protests the likes we really have never seen in Puerto Rico.
CNN's Leyla Santiago joins us now by phone from San Juan.
Leyla, why don't you give us the very latest on what you've learned?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hey there, John. CNN has confirmed that the governor, Ricardo Rossello, is expected to resign today, and that is according to a source familiar with that situation. You know, there were still a lot of questions as to what will happen if he does that. Next in the line of succession would be the secretary of justice, her name is Wanda Vazquez.
But, listen, it is still very early, 5:11 in the morning, and anything could change. Now, a lot of this comes after local news reports, reporting last night that he was expected to resign in a matter of hours. That he has recorded a video for his departure.
That part we have been able to confirm. In fact, the governor's office specifically told us that he had not recorded a video. So, still a lot of questions as to sort of how this will go down.
But I can tell you even at this hour, right now, there are a lot of people still in front of that mansion, and this no longer really a matter of calling for his resignation, but almost a tone of celebration.
Remember, this has been more than a week of Puerto Ricans saying enough is enough. They are tired of the economic crisis. They are tired of the mismanagement of funds after Hurricane Maria. They are tired of corruption.
And they certainly saw the chats that were leaked, nearly 900 pages of them which included the governor and his inner circle exchanging insults that really hit home for the people of Puerto Rico. They saw that as the boiling point. After days of protests, most people, some escalated into violence and teargas being dispersed.
And then we saw a huge protest, more than a million people who blocked off one of the major highways and made that statement as they headed to the -- to old San Juan to continue their calls for resignation. So, the governor yesterday was his last statement that he released said that he was listening, that he was in a moment of reflection. But then the last line of that statement was key because he said any statements that I release from here on out will be regarding official government business.
So it kind of sounded he was saying he wasn't resigning just yet. But then last night all of that changed. You could hear people. Even in restaurants, talking to people on the phone, what do you know, here's what I've heard. A lot of people celebrating early, but still, because Puerto Ricans are really not trusting of the government right now, a lot of speculation.
So I think it's important to note for the opening statement that's led to this moment, the days and days of protests, especially among the younger generation, protesting in front of La Fortaleza, the governor's mansion. The clashes, the calls for his resignation and the resignation of those around him. I was in old San Juan yesterday when it was announced that his chief of staff resigned, and much like every time we've seen a resignation, there were loud cheers saying, Ricky, you're next.
[05:15:06] One more note that I want to clarify. In the order of succession here is the governor, the secretary of state, and then the secretary of justice. The secretary of state was involved in those chats. That is why he resigned and that is why it falls on the secretary of justice. There have been some very public sort of heated discussions between
the secretary of justice and the party leadership. So, that's going to be an interesting dynamic there. So far it seems like people aren't focused on what is next, more so seeing this as an achievement of the people of Puerto Rico standing their ground and saying enough.
CAMEROTA: Well, Leyla, it is very hard to see how the governor stays after we look at all of this video and all of your reporting. But we made it to hear from him this morning. So, obviously, we know you will stay on it and bring us all the breaking news as soon as you have it. Thank you very much.
We have much more to talk about with the hearing today and Mueller after this very quick break.
[05:20:50] CAMEROTA: OK, here are our first live pictures. This is inside the room where in just hours, a few hours, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will testify before Congress. This, of course, comes more than four months after he delivered his Russia investigation report to the Justice Department.
So back with us are Elie Honig, Sabrina Siddiqui, John Avlon, and Jackie Kucinich.
And yesterday, John, we had on Jerry Nadler, the chairman who will be presiding over this, the Judiciary. And he talked about how frustrated basically he has been in having to wait and negotiate and why it took since -- the redacted report was delivered on April 18th, OK? And we have had to wait this long for Robert Mueller to be interviewed because of all, he says, of the impediments and roadblocks the White House has put up and because of how much they had to negotiate with what this is going to look like today.
BERMAN: And also, because they want to talk. I mean, he is a reluctant witness. And I want to state all we've heard from Robert Mueller is the eight eight-minute statement he made to cameras before. One of the things he said was remarkable. It was this --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commitment a crime, we would have said so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That's one of the only things you've heard from the guy. That if --
CAMEROTA: Gets your attention.
BERMAN: It gets your attention. If we had confidence the president did not commit a crime, we would have said so, Elie. That's a big deal. So, with five more hours to discuss it, again, what are the questions
that you would hone in on?
HONIG: Sure. I would start with obstruction, and they are starting with obstruction. It may be strategic. But I think that's the strongest evidence that this president committed a string of crimes while in office.
I think if they can get that out from him in not just a clinical way, but in a way that has a little bit of pop, they have to take some home run swings here. They have to create a few moments. Then I think that's going to change the calculus of where we're at. And I think the way you do that is you focus on the biggest, most offensive, most problematic pieces of conduct.
Don McGahn, trying to get Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller and then lie about it after that, create a false document. I think you put that in front of Mueller, have him describe it in his own words, because as we've seen, when Robert Mueller talks, people listen. It makes an impact.
And then finish it off by saying, did you find substantial evidence that that was obstruction of justice? I think, again, I think he has to answer yes, and I think that can be a big moment.
CAMEROTA: Neal Katyal wrote an op-ed about the three questions that I think he would lead. With of course, he was the former deputy solicitor general.
He said, the president says you found no collusion. Is that true? The president says you found no obstruction. Is that true? The president says your report totally exonerated him, is that true?
That would get it off to the races. I think that would start things off with a bang.
SIDDIQUI: Well, absolutely, because what the president and his supporters have done is they've taken the inability of the special counsel to establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow and tried to spin that into saying, well, there's no collusion what so ever in this report when, in fact, there's still a pattern of contacts between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. Their open-ended questions about what John alluded to earlier with Paul Manafort and sharing of internal polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, that infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting that involved Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, which was set up on the premise of the campaign receiving damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Of course, the negotiations over the Trump Tower project in Moscow, so the story has changed many times. And I think that's why you'll definitely on the intelligence committee side of it will hear a lot about why they may have not been able to establish a conspiracy in the Trump campaign in Moscow, but what they made of those contacts between the campaign and the Russians. BERMAN: You know, it's interesting. Inside these rehearsals, not
only did they have someone playing Robert Mueller, Norm Eisen, former ambassador. They had someone playing Jim Jordan, ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee. I know you're fascinated by what the Republicans may do today, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Yes, because, I mean, if you want to paint this as all having been bogus, which is basically what the president has said all along, what questions do you ask to elicit that outcome?
[05:25:08] AVLON: Matt Gaetz already said the goal for the hearings is not to seek the truth but to get the president re-elected. I mean, that's what they're focused on. So, they're going at Mueller and will work on the narrative which has been percolating in the conservative media which is investigate the investigators.
Not actually trying to get to the facts of what happened, get more information, express appropriate concern for national security that this report found and says even though it was not said by Bill Barr who first unveiled its top-line conclusions that the campaign expected to benefit from Russian influences in the election.
But they will be going at offense against Mueller and trying to make the president's case --
KUCINICH: Talking about the Steele dossier and the origins of it, and going after whether he's conflicted or not, whether the investigators are conflicted or not. I mean, you just have to look at the president's Twitter feed, it's going to come alive today, with some of the Republican members of the committee. And they're also going to try to have moments. Just like the Democrats.
HONIG: If I was advising the Republicans, my advice would be to tread carefully when you get into that stuff. Two reasons. First of all, the very last thing Robert Mueller said when he addressed us a month or so ago, those nine minutes, was he defended his team, right? He said something to the effect of my team is impartial and they worked hard and did the right thing.
Second of all, having worked in DOJ for over eight years, there's a culture in DOJ of you can attack our work, you can say maybe we got the facts wrong, but you cannot attack our integrity and our impartiality. If you do, that we're going to back each other.
AVLON: Too late.
HONIG: But they could walk into a moment with Robert Mueller if they push too hard.
KUCINICH: And he -- and that's how he could get under his skin.
KUCINICH: People who I have spoken to him have said, yes, he is stoic until you start talking about his team. And that could be, as you said, they could be walking into a buzzsaw. AVLON: The president's been talking about his team from jump, and
members of Congress have dutifully followed suit because that's what they do.
CAMEROTA: How long do we think it will take to determine what kind of witness Robert Mueller will be? One minute, five seconds? I mean, will he be cooperative, or the sort of inscrutable reticent person people have come to know?
SIDDIQUI: Well, look, I think he's very much expected to stay within the confines of the report. You'll remember he infamously said in that brief statement we keep referring back to, my report is my testimony.
Now, that's obviously not enough --
SIDDIQUI: -- for members of Congress or for the American public. He's going to be expected to parse not just the episodes of potential obstruction but also those contacts between the Trump campaign, Moscow, in a lot greater detail, but I think he's going to very much rely on the guidance that they followed, the process, and the methodology of the investigation.
And so, I wouldn't expect him to be like a James Comey in terms of having a personality, having that pizzazz. He's going to be very straight, because that's the reputation that he's cultivated, and that's why, frankly, he'll also if you talk about integrity, he's someone who did come in with the reputation of being well-respected by both sides of the aisle. That's why Republicans really should tread carefully.
BERMAN: I think we'll know so much so quickly between his opening statement and between Jerry Nadler's opening statement, then the very first questions that the House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler asks and the first response will set the entire tone.
CAMEROTA: Thank you all so much for helping us understand what we'll see.
BERMAN: All right. Boris Johnson set to meet with the queen soon. He will become the next prime minister of the United Kingdom, but what happens after that? What does he do with the job? That's next.