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Democrats Debate Next Steps after Mueller Testimony; Mueller: Russia Attacks Most Serious Challenge to Democracy; Documents Reveal Hundreds of Red Flags Internally on How Trump Administration Was Separating Families at Border; Joe Biden Fighting Back Against Opponents; Poll Shows Biden Beating Trump in Ohio Matchup. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired July 25, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans and President Trump are declaring victory and calling on Congress to move on.

But House Democrats are trying to figure out where to go from here.

CNN has learned that some are pressing the party's leadership on impeachment because they fear time is running out. But Speaker Pelosi is giving no indication she's in any rush for that.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what are you hearing from Speaker Pelosi and lawmakers this morning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats are making it very clear that a number of them say that yesterday's testimony in their view bolsters their calls for an impeachment inquiry.

While there are still a minority of Democrats who have publicly called for an impeachment probe, there would be a lot more if Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, were to get behind an impeachment push. At the moment, she is not. She still believes the current course of action is the right one to go through the courts.

Although she is signaling behind closed doors and publicly a message that may be a bit different than before, saying that they want to try to get the information out of the court to see whether or not any impeachment probe is warranted. She seems to be going away from her previous concerns that Republicans who control the Senate will ultimately kill any impeachment push of impeachment and there's no reason to move forward.

Now at a meeting this morning, Nancy Pelosi told her members that if they needed to support impeachment inquiry they could. She told me the same thing on her way into the meeting. But a number of members made clear that time is running out.


RAJU: Is the speaker wrong in her approach here? REP. LLOYD DOGGETT, D-TX): Well, I want to encourage her to expedite

this matter more than has been done in the past.

RAJU: What's the risk of not moving forward now?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): The risk is that we have abandoned our responsibility. The risk is ours.

RAJU: You have not supported an impeachment inquiry before, right? Did yesterday change you in any way?

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): No. I think it was an important step forward but it didn't change me. My basic point is that we have multiple committees doing various aspects of oversight and investigation and I think that we need to get further down the line. And I also think that all of our leaders need to be on the same page.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): This is all an agenda that has to happen in 2019 if it's going to happen. So the clock is ticking.


RAJU: Yesterday, at a Democratic caucus meeting, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler floated the idea of having the six committees that are investigating the president to essentially draft articles of impeachment. This is something he just floated, I'm told, at this caucus meeting. But that's not the route the speaker wants to go down yet.

He also was asked about whether or not they could move forward with an impeachment probe without a vote from the House and his belief was that they certainly could.

So there's a lot of discussion behind the scenes. But at the moment, the focus for the leadership is on fighting this out in courts, enforcing their subpoenas, and then deciding to do what's next -- Pamela?

BROWN: All right, Manu, thank you very much for that.

Joining me now to discuss all of this CNN political analyst and White House reporter for "Politico," Eliana Johnson, Kim Wehle, a former federal prosecutor and former associate independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation. She's also the author of "How to Read the Constitution and Why." Also with us, CNN political correspondent, Sara Murray.

Ladies, great to see you.

So on the heels of this testimony yesterday, Eliana, from Robert Mueller, it is clear that that did not galvanize the Democrats on impeachment. So where do Democrats go from here? As Manu laid out, there are several different options it seems like they're looking at.

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I don't think yesterday will fundamentally change the debate in any way. Democrats really need an explosive new piece of information to move members who have been resisting impeachment over to their side. The Democrats who favored impeachment. And they didn't get that from Robert Mueller. So I think we're going to see more of the same. An internal Democratic debate about how to handle this.

But as Manu suggested in his reporting, this debate will play out as we move closer and closer to the 2020 election. Already we're just over a year away. And I think there will be increasing concern, particularly for leadership, about the optics of increasing pressure on an impeachment inquiry as we approach the time when voters have an opportunity to cast ballots in November 2020.

BROWN: Eliana, yesterday's hearing raises the question of whether having Mueller testified was a tactical error. He was not the star witness I think Democrats had hoped he would be. Some Democrats. Was it an error? Do you think there's any regret today that they had him?

JOHNSON: I do think there's probably some regret among Democrats in that Mueller was the presence who cast a long shadow over the Trump presidency up until now. In his press conference in late May he made a statement nudging the House toward an impeachment inquiry.

I would say yesterday he took a few steps back from that and Mueller and Democrats would have been wise to let that may statement be his last word. I would guess a majority of Democrats today agree with that view.

[11:05:12] BROWN: What do you think, Kim, in terms of Pelosi's strategy to let this play out in the courts? That could be a while, right?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR & FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL, WHITEWATER INVESTIGATION & AUTHOR: It's a non-strategy, frankly. If it were to play out in the courts, we would have seen an indictment from Mr. Mueller. But because of the internal DOJ guidelines banning that, that's why it's gone to the political process.

And she certainly could be calling other witnesses. She could be doing other things regardless of those particular subpoenas to keep this moving forward.

And the information has been out. The report has been out. We've heard from Michael Cohen. I think actually Mr. Mueller confirmed some things, some misleading statements that have come out of not only Mr. Trump's mouth but the Justice Department with respect to collusion and obstruction. He was very clear that was not the case. There was evidence of conspiracy, et cetera, from a legal standpoint.

But at this point, I think it's going to have to play out in 2020 at the polls. Because as he indicated, if he does not get a second material then he could be indicted as a private citizen. There's a five-year general statute of limitations. If he does get a second term, this man and the office of the presidency becomes above the law.

BROWN: And there's a strategy now to file lawsuits for Don McGahn to testify, because as we know he's been resisting that. So was that a smart move in your view, to start with him? Because I would imagine there are easier witnesses to win a court battle over than Don McGahn, the former White House counsel.

WEHLE: As I indicated, it seems that it would make sense to move on multiple front. McGahn is a star witness. And when it comes to obstruction of justice, he was the person that was supposed to fire Robert Mueller at Mr. Trump's direction so that's a critical question.

And unlike yesterday, when we heard from someone summarizing the report, this would be direct testimony based on his own experience.

But that's not a reason not to call other witnesses. Some of them are going to comply and aren't going to fight this way. And it's unfortunate that we're seeing it sort of lob along this way.

BROWN: Sara, as we look ahead, one of the biggest headlines that came out of the hearing yesterday was Mueller's warning about Russia's interference in the next election. Saying it's happening as we speak. Here's one exchange from yesterday.


REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): Do you find evidence to suggest they'll try to do this thing?

ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: It wasn't one single attempt. They're doing it as we sit here and they expect to do it during the next campaign.


BROWN: So what did you make of that?

SARA MURRAY, CNN PPOLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think this is one of the areas where Mueller was most forceful and felt most confident ringing the alarm bell. It's very clear he came away from this investigation believing that there will be hostile foreign powers that try to interfere with our elections and campaigns.

And essentially campaigns did not get the message from this investigation that they should report those interactions to authorities.

And it's all the more telling that we have not seen a response on Capitol Hill to these kinds of calls. We've seen some bills but they haven't really gone anywhere.

And the Republican Party historically has been the party of national security and they have not lived up to that historical presence and responsibility --


BROWN: Yesterday they blocked election security bills. MURRAY: Yes. It's really remarkable. What we learned is there's

more we can do to make sure that hostile foreign powers are interfering in our elections and, so far, we have not taken the steps we need to take.


WEHLE: -- an issue, right? I mean, Representative Hurd brought it up.

BROWN: Right.

WEHLE: And this is separate from the president. This is not about Donald Trump himself. It's about the integrity of our democracy. I talk about this in the book. The idea being, if we allow the structure to fall apart, regardless of who is in the White House, for our children and grandchildren, that could actually be corrupted. The concept of democracy is at stake right now, not just the fate of this particular man.

BROWN: Mueller said outright that it's the biggest challenge, one of the biggest challenges to democracy he's ever seen.

We cover the White House. You're not hearing through that sense of urgency from the president. If anything, he calls the whole Russia probe a hoax. When really the foundation of it was to look into this matter.

MURRAY: That's right. First, I think Robert Mueller was so comfortable talking about this because it is a bipartisan issue. He has really resisted being cast as a partisan actor in any way. But election security is not a partisan issue.

It's one of the major failings of the Trump presidency that they haven't pressed harder to pass laws to address or to remedy what happened in 2016.

But it does show you how complete Trump's control of the Republican Party is that you haven't seen calls for this because they know that they will anger the president who sees any attempt to address Russian meddling as Republicans attacking the legitimacy of his presidency.

[11:10:06] BROWN: That is the heart of it. It's a personal thing for Trump because it all goes to the legitimacy of his win.


WEHLE: Also he stands to benefit from ongoing assistance from the Russians.


BROWN: And Mueller said that the Russians were trying to help him win.

WEHLE: Right. And that's what he wants. BROWN: There's a lot more to discuss on that front.

Thank you so much, ladies, for coming on. Appreciate it.

This just in, documents exclusively seen by CNN show that runs of red flags were raised internally about how the Trump administration was separating families at the U.S./Mexico border. According to those documents, some red flags were raised months before the administration announced its zero-tolerance policy.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher joins us now.

What are the details, Dianne?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, Pamala, these were government officials raising those red flags about the family separations to other departments, talking about the fact that they were seeing this uptick. They were filing these referrals at the time about these family separations, dating back long before the policy was announced in April of 2018.

They referred these to the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office. And in some of these cases, the people who worked for the Office of Refugee Resettlement were filing abuse referrals because that is what the training indicated that they needed to do.

Some of the details in these documents -- it's excellent reporting by my colleague, Priscilla Alvarez -- talk about allegations of children saying they were blindsided once they were in custody.

A 14-year-old boy saying that he was taken out for a meal, and when he returned, an officer told him that his father was just going to be deported. An 11-year-old who said that he was called aside by an officer and then just never saw his father again.

Now, look, it's important to note that these referrals don't talk about how any of this or whether any of these situations were resolved.

But what this does give us, Pamela, is this rare glimpse in how one arm of the government, the HHSORR, was trying to communicate with another, the Department of Homeland Security, at a time that this confusing separation was going on.

And of course, there was thousands of children who were separated from their families at the southern bordered during this period of time. We're looking at, at least, 850 referrals that were sent to the office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties just between June of 2018 and June of 2018 -- Pamela?

BROWN: Dianne Gallagher, with those exclusive documents. Thank you so much.

And coming up, former Vice President Joe Biden changing up his strategy from nice guy to tough guy. Why Biden says he won't be so nice when responding to his Democratic opponents. Plus, Jeffrey Epstein injured in his jell cell. We are getting some

information about what might have happened. A live report, up next.


[11:17:54] BROWN: Pomp and circumstance getting under way soon at the Pentagon. Live pictures from the event about to start any minutes now. The Defense Department hosting an armed-forces welcoming ceremony and full honors review for the new secretary of defense, Mark Esper. Today, is his first full day on the job. President Trump and Vice President Pence will be there and they're set to deliver remarks. The ceremony will also include a 21-gun salute.

Meantime, let's turn to the race of 2020. The gloves are off. Former Vice President Joe Biden coming out with new attack lines against Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, the two Democratic rivals who will stand next to him during next week's anticipated debate showdown here on CNN.

Listen to Booker and Biden slamming each other's criminal justice records.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): And now he's unrolled -- unveiled his crime bill. For a guy who helped to be an architect of mass incarceration, this is an inadequate solution to what is a raging crisis in our country.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you look at the mayor's record in Newark, one of the provisions I put in the crime bill, his police department was stopping and frisking people, mostly African-American men. The Justice Department took action against them and held the police department accountable.


BROWN: This morning, the two Democratic rivals are among other 2020 candidates at the National Urban League conference in Indianapolis.

CNN political reporter, Arlette Saenz, joins us now from Indianapolis. Also joining us, Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and host of the podcast "You Decide."

Arlette, let's start with you.

You're hearing from Biden's campaign officials. What are they telling you?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Pam, Joe Biden's advisers are telling me that this more assertive approach is being driven by the candidate himself, that he does not want to take a tax on his record sitting down and that he's going to be pushing back going forward.

And over the past few weeks, you've really seen Biden sharpen his attacks on Kamala Harris when it comes to health care and over the past two days on Cory Booker when it comes to his record in Newark.

[11:20:12] And I want you to take a listen to something that Biden had to say yesterday. He didn't name Kamala Harris by name, but he addressed the fact of candidates who say that they will not raise taxes under Medicare-for-All.

Take a listen to what he had to say yesterday.


BIDEN: You've got to find $30 to $40 trillion somewhere. And how are you going to do it? I find people talk about Medicare-for-All but they're not going to tax the middle class. Come on, what is this? Is this a fantasy world here?


SAENZ: Health care is one of those issues where Biden has been trying to draw contrast between himself and other candidates.

One adviser I spoke with said that Biden does feel that maybe he was a little too polite in the last debate. They noted he followed the ground rules that were set while other candidates did not.

And last night, at a fundraiser, Biden was urged by an attendee to be tougher in this upcoming debate and he said he's not going to be as polite this time around -- Pam?

BROWN: We'll have to see at the next debate.

Errol, here's what Biden told reporters yesterday.


BIDEN: If he wants to go back and talk about records, I'm happy to do that. But I would rather talk about the future.


BROWN: So what do you think, Errol? Is being a counter puncher a winning strategy for Joe Biden?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's a way to avoid having a losing strategy. The reality is he's well within his rights to point out that he and former mayor Booker were on the opposite sides of a very contentious period when it came to policing in Newark.

Before that consent decree was signed with the Obama administration, they found that 75 percent of the stops by Newark police were not justified. And that happened on the watch of Mayor Cory Booker. So he's got some explaining to do. These are issue debates and discussions of the records of the various candidates that the voters need to hear.

And so Joe Biden owes that to the public. It's not simply a matter of advancing his own political goals. BROWN: Let's talk about the brand-new pole from Quinnipiac. It shows

that Biden is the only Democratic candidate beating Trump in a hypothetical Ohio general election matchup. The other candidates are in a dead heat with the president.

So, Arlette, Team Biden see these numbers and what do they say?

SAENZ: They point to Biden's main argument that he can defeat President Trump. Seeing these numbers in these head-to-head matchups where Biden is leading is something that they like to see out there. Especially right now as you have other candidates who are trying to challenge that electability argument.

Cory Booker was here at the National Urban League just a few hours ago and he was challenging the notion of electability, saying that too often the conversation leaves out black voters, which are a critical party of the Democratic Party's base. But then the Biden campaign pushed back a little bit on that, too, saying that they agree and then pointing to polling numbers where Biden is leading among African- American voters.

So right, now the Biden camp is real trying to highlight those numbers where he is leading President Trump, especially in a battleground state like Ohio.

But of course, he still has to get through the Democratic primary before he can face off against the president.


LOUIS: One big caveat that I would add is, if you look at polling numbers, that also asks, how solid are you with your preferred candidate, whether it's Harris or Biden or anybody else. It's really very a fluid race. Something like 62 percent of Democratic voters are telling pollsters they're ready to consider somebody else.

So Joe Biden can point to that number, but I don't know if he can sleep well at night just yet.

BROWN: And that's the question. These numbers are favorable to Joe Biden, but we're still a ways out from the 2020 election. I mean, the question is, how long can the Biden camp keep up this momentum and keep up these numbers, right?

LOUIS: That's right. And, look, there's the affiliated question of whether or not Ohio is essential. The number of swing states, it kind of changes from cycle to cycle. Missouri was once considered a swing state and not so much anymore. Florida is always a swing state.

But think about Colorado. Think about even you see numbers in Arizona and Georgia that give some hope and some reason to think by candidates of both parties that they might be able to maybe get away from Ohio as an essential part of their winning strategy.

BROWN: All right, Errol Louis, Arlette Saenz, thank you so much.

LOUIS: Thank you.

BROWN: And don't miss two big nights of Democratic debates next Tuesday and Wednesday live from Detroit only on CNN.

[11:24:51] And coming up next, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes joining me live. We're going to find out what he thinks about Mueller's warning of Russian interference in the 2020 election and whether he thinks having Mueller testify was a good thing or bad thing for Democrats.



REP. PETER WELCH (D-VT): Any one of us running for the U.S. House, any candidate for the U.S. Senate, any candidate for the presidency of the United States, aware that a hostile foreign was trying to influence an election, has no duty to report it to the authorities?


MUELLER: I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is.