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Robert Mueller To Testify Before Congress; CNN Source Says, Puerto Rico Governor Expected To Resign Today; Washington Post Reports, Democrats Frustrated By Trump Administration Oversight. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired July 24, 2019 - 06:00   ET

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


[06:00:00]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: Very pretty sunrise over Washington, D.C., as the country anticipates what's about to happen here. Welcome to our viewers in the United States. This is New Day. It is Wednesday, July 24th, 6:00 here in Washington.

That is the hearing room right there live where in just about two hours, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller will testify in a pair of blockbuster hearings that the country has been waiting, John, you could argue, years for.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Two years.

CAMEROTA: Yes. First will be the House Judiciary Committee. That one will focus on obstruction of justice. The second will be before the House Intel Committee, and that will focus on the Russia's interferences in the 2016 election.

BERMAN: And let's repeat it one more time. After two years of investigation, after all the twists and turns, this is the first time -- the first time we will hear the former Special Counsel answer questions, that in and of itself is a big deal.

Now, Mueller has vowed to keep his answers within the confines of this 448-page report.

CAMEROTA: But there's a lot in there.

BERMAN: This is a big book. There are a lot of possibilities about what he can discuss even if he just reads aloud from descriptions of episodes where the President perhaps obstructed justice. That would also have impact.

There's other breaking news this morning we want to get to. A source tells CNN that Puerto Rico's embattled Governor is expected to resign today. This is taking place after weeks of protests. We're getting a live report from the island just a moment.

First, let's talk about this hearing that is about to begin just hours from now. Joining us, Shan Wu, CNN Legal Analyst, former federal prosecutor, Abby Phillips, CNN White House Correspondent, Joe Lockhart, CNN Political Commentator and former Clinton White House Press Secretary, and Margaret Talev, CNN Political Analyst.

I want to start, Joe, with you with the point that we both may hear, but I think it bears repeating just one more time. This is the first time Robert Mueller is going to answer questions in public about this report. That matters.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It does matter. If you were you remember the last time we had a Special Counsel, Ken Starr held, you know, two or three press conferences in his driveway every week. He kept people informed, for whatever that's worth. So there is a lot of drama surrounding both what's in the report, how he came to it, all of that, and, you know, again, just keeping to the confines of the report, he can talk to them for three, four with five days and then still have stuff to talk about.

CAMEROTA: Well, he's only got three hours. I mean, he's only got three hours with the Judiciary which starts, and then less with Intel, Shan. So they have to really use their time well.

And what will you be looking for and how quickly will we know how annoyed Robert Mueller is to be there?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think we already know how annoyed he is to be there. First of all, it's significant. I think he asked to be subpoenaed. I think it's significant that he invited that letter seeking guidance. He wants some guardrails on it. Also interesting, he added in an aide, the equivalent of legal counsel to have with him. I think we'll quickly see that there will be no surprises. He's going to stay within those boundaries.

But if they question him the right way, and I think it's important they ask him direct exam questions, how, what, when, not attempt to cross examine him, hit him with good questions, because that's going to get them no place, they need to bring out the report from him.

BERMAN: Well, one thing we do know is that they've been practicing, the House Democrats and Republicans. And the House Democrats have sat down and done practice sessions with people playing the role of Robert Mueller, and also Jim Jordan, the republican ranking member, who might try to gum it up. So they're ready.

We also know, Abby, and you cover the White House for us, look, the President -- the White House claims the President doesn't have anxiety about this. But you can see him acting out over the last few days. You can tell that he has circled the date in the calendar.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He's obviously irritated by this. I mean, this feels like for President Trump Groundhog Day, where he just can't seem to shake this investigation. And he's a visual person. He watches a lot of T.V. He understands what having Robert Mueller in that hearing room before Congress can do in the sense of how it changes the way the people interpret what's on the written page. So he knows that that's what's going to happen today. And he's letting the world know how he feels about it.

But the issue for President Trump is that I don't think that he really even has a sense of what there is to be anxious about. I'm not sure that he knows what might stick and what won't stick from what Mueller will or will not say. But that sense of the unknown is what is driving the President lashing out on social media.

[06:05:03]

And it is what is going to -- we're going to see him react some way in some form either today or tomorrow morning as he processes all of this and processes the -- importantly the media reaction to all of this.

CAMEROTA: And some people have suggested that some of the republicans on these panels will be performing -- I mean, democrats will be performing as well, but performing for the President. Because the President has said, as we know, that all this was bogus, that this was all a witch hunt. And so, Margaret, what do we expect the republican's line of questioning to sound?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I do think there's going to be some sort of preemptive blocking and tackling here. Look, it's no surprise, we know all the favorites, Lisa Page and Strzok, you know, the dossier, the inception of the investigation to begin with. These are all republican talking points. Both sides, the democrats and the republicans, have been kind of pre-gaming it, which actually, I think, is kind of depressing because it goes to the whole theater question, you know.

And I think that Mueller's decision to have Mr. Zebley there is actually quite interesting. It seemed to bother the President. He seemed to say like this is so unfair or whatever. But, actually, I think it could do the opposite. I think it is kind of an ability for him to turn to someone else and ask for clarification so that he is not the guy in the spotlight.

But one thing we don't know is what Mueller really wants to get out of this. We know he'd rather not be there. We know that he doesn't want to make splashy news or headlines. We also know he did seem to lay a trail for what was Congress's role and Congress could do. And I think if the people asking the questions, particularly on the democratic side, choose to ask simple yes or no questions that allow him to answer them, they could get a completely different result than if it turns into a three-ring circus.

BERMAN: I will just say it one more time. They've been practicing. There's no excuse this time. Not that there ever is for some of the things we hear in congressional hearings, which are more speeches than actual questions, but this time, they've been prepared.

Joe, you spent your life advising democrats. What do you think they should focus on? What would you tell these members of the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee today?

LOCKHART: I think it's separate in the committees. I think the Judiciary Committee has to bring out in pain staking detail the elements and the incidents of obstruction. And they should divide it up. And I assume that that's what they've done and walk through. I think Don McGahn's name is going to be used over and over again today.

The second, the Intel Committee really has to get into reminding people what happened in the election and what crime or no crime, collusion or no crime, what the President's team and his family's role was in working with the Russians and WikiLeaks and all of that stuff.

But I think, you know, I think the democrats might trip themselves up because there is a tension between I think two parts of the party. There's part of the party that wants this to be the precursor for impeachment and to say -- and to go in for the kill, and to say, now, we have to impeach him. I think the other half of the party is saying, this is the precursor for the 2020 election. Let's have six hours of showing the American public that this guy absolutely is unfit and doesn't deserve to be re-elected. And I think that's what we may see tension in -- on the democratic side.

CAMEROTA: Is the post pivotal part to you, Shan, that they dwell on what the instructions to Don McGahn were? Is that where the heart of the obstruction is?

WU: I think that's an excellent example of it. And what I'm hopeful for, if there's one thing that could be made clear today, it's that Mueller did not think he was able to charge the President. And enough of the spin about that that actually the President was innocent or there wasn't sufficient evidence, so they are good defenses, they did not even think about doing that because they interpreted the Justice Department rule as they can't do it and that should be made very clear.

BERMAN; And you can answer questions on that. I would think he can explain more about that, Shan, yes?

WU: I think he should be able to, right? I think the key is he's going to react really negatively to anything that sounds to him like an attempt to get him to opine or to give a negative opinion. But if you can make him understand that we're just asking you to explain what you actually wrote, we want to make sure everyone understands that, Mr. Mueller, that should work.

BERMAN: I think there's also something very interesting here in terms of the President. I don't think he's actually read the report, first of all. So I think you're right, Abby, that when Robert Mueller, if and when he testifies and tells the stories about the President trying to fire Don McGahn and/or create the cover story for it, that will be interesting.

I also don't think the President has read the Constitution. And I want to play some sound that the President gave yesterday. He was speaking to a student group, you know, kids who presumably want to learn about the Constitution. And this is how he explained presidential powers. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Then I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president, but I don't even talk about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: It's really remarkable to me that on this day when Robert Mueller is testifying about areas where maybe the President broke the law, that the President is very publicly telling the world, as far as it concerns me, there is no law.

[06:10:06]

PHILLIP: Yes. I think this is actually, to me, one of the most important things that Mueller could do today. I'm not actually convinced that he will do this, explaining his view of the law, explaining his view of the constraints of presidential power or lack thereof. Because the President and his attorneys, they basically have argued what President Trump said there, which is that it was not possible for him to obstruct justice in this context because of his Article 2 power to hire and fire whoever he wants.

I think we need Robert Mueller to weigh in on that question. Is that actually his view of the situation? And then related to that, on the aspect of whether he felt like he could charge President Trump or couldn't, what then? If you can't charge the President, what is explicitly -- what is the remedy in Robert Mueller's view? Is it that Congress takes it up or that Bill Barr makes a decision? I just think he hasn't actually answered those questions. I'm not convinced he will because it does sort of get into this territory where he might have to tweak Bill Barr, which he has been studious about not -- trying not to do.

CAMEROTA: For sure. I feel like maybe the President's advisers haven't given him a full picture of Article 2 in the Constitution.

BERMAN: It's not very long. By the way, it's not very long. You can get through it very quickly.

CAMEROTA: Final thoughts, Margaret?

TALEV: I mean, all eyes are going to be on this, but I think you guys are exactly right. Look, there is the question of what this does to the President in terms of the impeachment word and process and what comes next. But for -- when you look at the calendar, this is all about the re-election and it is all about whether anything today changes the trajectory of how anybody is thinking or talking about this.

CAMEROTA: And that we will have to wait for these five hours to see exactly what is said.

All right, friends, standby, we do have other breaking news.

A source tells CNN that Puerto Rico's Governor is expected to resign today. This is going to happen after weeks of these giant protests. CNN's Leyla Santiago has been in the middle of them all. She joins us live now from San Juan.

Leyla, what are you seeing?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, it's a very different morning here in old San Juan. We're not seeing what we typically have seen early in the morning on the streets here. Let me show you right behind me in La Fortaleza. You can see there are still police officers that are barricading the gates of the Governor's mansion, but, really. we're not seeing as many as we typically see and while there still are a few protesters that I've spoken to this morning, we're not seeing the giant crowds we typically see demanding the Governor's resignation. So why is that?

Well, CNN has confirmed through a source close to the governor's office -- or, excuse me, through a source that has knowledge of the situation that the Governor plans to resign today. This comes after local reports, specifically El Nuevo Dia, the biggest newspaper here, reported that the Governor had filmed a video for his departure.

Now, that, they say, will sort of come with the announcement that will be before noon today. I can tell you that some of the protesters we've spoken to this morning have come by asking us, the media, what do we know, when is he going to say something. So there are still a lot of people who are waiting to find out what exactly see what today will bring.

And I've got to tell you, overnight, there have been a lot of back and forth, so things changing by the minute. So we are here. We are waiting to find out what comes out of the Governor's mansion, specifically, what will come from the Governor. But the big question is, while the protesters and the people of Puerto Rico see this as a big win, but there are days of being on the streets in the rain shouting and demanding change, but what will come next? Who will take over in the Governor's mansion?

Next in line is a Secretary of State. He has resigned. And then next in line is the Secretary of Justice, but there's a lot of back and forth between Wanda Vazquez and the party's leadership. So that would be an interesting dynamic. Of course, we'll be here monitoring. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: There are so many questions this morning and how these next hours will unfold. Leyla Santiago, thank you very much.

All right, more on Robert Mueller's testimony next. But, first, the Senate finally approved that bill funding healthcare for 9/11 First Responders for decades to come. That was the moment afterwards. And I sat down with Jon Stewart and John Feal just to get their first emotions on it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, 9/11 FIRST RESPONDER ADVOCATE: He said, you know, we're very busy. And I was sitting next to a man who had decided to spend one of his last days on earth fighting for his brothers and sisters so that they wouldn't have to go through it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: We'll bring you much more of my exclusive sit-down coming up.

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[06:15:00]

BERMAN: Just about two hours from now for the very first time since the whole Russia investigation began, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller will answer questions for about five hours before the House Judiciary Committee and then the House Intelligence Committee.

[06:20:02]

It will be eventful to say the least.

Back with us, Shan Wu, Abby Phillip, Joe Lockhart and Margaret Talev. And, Shan, you think that Robert Mueller has told us what he wants to talk about.

WU: Yes. I think he made a claim very plain in his brief remarks last time that what he cares about with more passion is the Russian interference. So I think there's more hope in that area that he may stray a little bit far from what he actually wrote.

CAMEROTA: That's not what democrats most want to talk about, Abby.

PHILLIP: And I think he has to explain why did he bother to create a volume two of the report. I mean, this is actually something I think republicans --

CAMEROTA: The obstruction part.

PHILLIP: The obstruction part. This is something that I think republicans will be just as interested in because they have been saying, you know, Robert Mueller was out of his lane by putting out all of this information that was derogatory about the President. And then knowing that he could not charge or whatever it was, he could not charge.

CAMEROTA: But what do you think he's tasked with doing?

PHILLIP: So I think Mueller has to even though he clearly cares about the first part, and the first part is extremely important. The second part does exist. He created it and he's going to have to explain why.

BERMAN: He did tell us why. He did tell us why in that eight-minute statement. He explained to us why obstruction of justice, as a concept, is so damaging to the legal system. And he told us out loud in that statement how you can obstruct something even if there is no underlying crime. That is something he's already said out loud. So I am curious to see if he expands on that. PHILLIP: Yes. I think he's going to have to dive a little bit deeper into that and really just explain to the American public that in the context of the President of the United States, what does obstruction of justice mean and what does it look like? Because that's the part that republicans are going to try to poke holes in that whole argument, claiming that it's not right for him to essentially indict the President on paper and not charge him.

CAMEROTA: Joe, if you had one bite at the apple, if you were on that hearing today, the first one on Judiciary, what question would you have for him?

LOCKHART: Well, I think he's got to do a better job of explaining why he didn't reach a conclusion and why he allowed the Attorney General to reach the conclusion for the American public. That's really the disservice in all of this, that Bill Barr went out and misconstrued what Bob Mueller actually reported on and created a public perception that the President was given a clean bill of health.

CAMEROTA: But don't we know the answer to that, that Robert Mueller didn't feel he could indict, therefore, he didn't feel that he could reach a conclusion that would be somehow, I guess, impugn the character of the President?

LOCKHART: Well, I think it's the fact that it is so convoluted based on the question, I think he needs to plainly say in language that people can understand.

I think the other interesting thing, and I as a democrat on the committee would ask, is I'd probe a little bit on, well, who didn't cooperate? He alludes into the report of the limits of the ability to go and find this information. Who are you talking about? I mean, what did the -- why didn't the President's son come in? Why didn't you subpoena the President? These are all questions that we think we know the answer to, where there're a lot of smart people who have looked at this, but we haven't heard from Bob Mueller about it.

And that's why I think -- and the last thing I'd say is expectations are beyond belief. Again, he hasn't spoken in two years. So there's no way it will meet everyone's expectations. So I think, politically, most of the country, this will have no impact on. The democratic base has decided at 8:30, they're going to turn and they're going to be mad about Mueller not doing enough. Republican base is going to be mad that Bob Mueller's doing it at all. There's about 15 percent of the country that matters. They're the people who their mind is open and they're going to be hearing this in a way that will educate them, could move them one way or the other and they're going to decide the next election.

BERMAN: Any time someone works as much as Robert Mueller did on this report, it's important to hear him answer questions. You could make the case. Democrats have made the case to all of us that perhaps we should have heard from him four months ago and not waited more than four months after the report was released to do so.

Still, it's important. Joe brought up the democratic base, maybe even activists being upset here. Rachael Bade in The Washington Post has a terrific article this morning about democratic activists who are angry, I think, with how the democratic leadership and House has handled this. Let me read you something from that.

The entire approach toward the administration from House Democrats has been one of weakness and fecklessness and not the kind of fighters that people were hoping would come out when they were voting for democrats last November. They have made a strategic choice thus far at least to not fight on oversight.

So, Margaret, do you think that democrats have something to prove? And if so, what?

TALEV: I think it depends on who they're trying to prove it to.

[06:25:01]

I'm not sure that that view reflects kind of the majority of mainstream democratic or center-left-leaning voters. And that's challenge, it's always been the challenge for the Democratic Party and for Nancy Pelosi, which is like how do you give voice to the activist part of the party, to the progressive leaning side of the party without destroying your own chances for victory in a general election or to retain power in the House?

The other one thing I'd say is I think that setting the theater aside, there are kind of two levels on which today's hearings are important. Now, one is how they impact President Trump. And the other is how they impact presidents who come after President Trump. And that's why the obstruction question is so important. I know it's not sexy. It's not about an election. But because the President has stress tested every institution in the world, he's creating a lot of running room for everyone who comes next, no matter if they are democrats or republicans.

And the conclusions that are reached as a result of any direction Robert Mueller is able to give to Congress or the American people, any way, this can be settled, I think it does have profound implications on the presidency after President Trump is out of office.

CAMEROTA: And to that criticism, I mean, democrats have launched all sorts of court cases and they've won some. That happens behind the scenes. I mean, this is their moment, they think, to make it play out in public and to get the Americans' attention. But in terms of, you know, they're not exercising their right to oversight, I mean, I think that they would say they're being stonewalled. We heard that from Chairman Jerry Jadler yesterday that that has been their tremendous frustration since the 2018 elections, that they haven't been able to get anything. The White House has done a great job and actually made the blueprint for the future.

If you don't want Congress to know anything, how you could do it.

WU: Right, just refuse, just say no.

BERMAN: But, Shan, to that point, and this gets to the issue both what Alisyn said and Margaret gets to the same that we heard last block from the President saying that Article 2 of the Constitution basically lets me do anything.

WU: Right.

BERMAN: If that precedent is set, that fundamentally changes America.

WU: Oh, absolutely. And that's the danger when they say that bad facts make for bad law. You have in this instance, either way, it could profoundly decrease the power of the presidency if it really gets challenged in court and it could vastly overincrease it. And that's the danger when you try to make a fight on these kinds of points.

But I think this is an opportunity to show the American people that it's not an imperial presidency to put forth the facts that show what this administration did wrong, the fact that they're so open to inviting cooperation with these intelligence sources, why didn't they report that? Why did they keep inviting that? This is an opportunity to show what was wrong and the opportunity to show why it can't be unfettered power.

BERMAN: All right, friends. As we said, two hours from now, it will happen.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, all, for helping us understand what we'll be seeing and what we hope to see.

All right, so there's also a historic transfer of power underway right now in the U.K. So Boris Johnson is about to become the Prime Minister. We have a live report for you next.

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[06:30:00]

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