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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Fake Presidential Seal Displayed Behind President Trump; Mueller Testimony Fallout; Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) is Interviewed About Dems' Next Move as Trump Tries to Spin Win; Attorney General Barr Reinstates Federal Death Penalty. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 25, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: As the 2020 Democrats prepare for the next showdown, Joe Biden firing back at the two candidates who will be next to him on stage, including one who called him an architect of mass incarceration.

[16:00:03]

Democrats debating the next move after Mueller, and whether to take their shot at impeachment, even though Mueller's testimony did not exactly cause Democrats to stampede to join the impeachment crowd.

Plus, high-level trolling or someone who doesn't Internet well? How did President Trump end up appearing in front of a fake presidential seal with golf clubs and the Russian coat of arms?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics leads and House Democrats now facing a critical decision, debating whether to move forward with an impeachment inquiry following former special counsel Robert Mueller's testimony on Capitol Hill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today making it clear that she will not discourage Democrats from supporting an impeachment inquiry, though she personally does not support it, at least not yet.

This after a day of testimony that was substantively devastating for President Trump. The former special counsel, in addition to testifying that he did not exonerate Mr. Trump or clear him of obstruction of justice, despite Trump claims, underlined that the Trump team welcomed Russian help, met with many Russians, and lied about it repeatedly to the American people.

Asked about then candidate Trump's exuberant extolling of WikiLeaks' use of e-mails stolen from Americans by Russian hackers, Mueller said the president gave hope or some boost to a crime.

Asked if the president was not truthful in his written answers to the special counsel about contacts with the Russians, Mr. Mueller said, generally, yes, the president was untruthful.

On the substance, it all painted an ugly picture, but Mr. Mueller was a reluctant witness and, on occasion, a shaky one. And the hearings do not seem to be the momentous turning point that many House Democrats were hoping for.

And, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports for us now, President Trump and his allies are trying to claim victory.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With prospects of his impeachment stalled for now, President Trump is brushing off damning assertions by Robert Mueller and touting his testimony as a victory instead.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Phony cloud, that's all it was.

COLLINS: Visiting the new defense secretary at the Pentagon today, as sources say he's declaring vindication behind the scenes.

One day after Robert Mueller's testimony fell short of what Democrats were hoping for and exceeded Republicans expectations, many in Washington are left wondering what's next. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she won't discourage her caucus on impeachment.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Never have done that. I never, never have done that.

COLLINS: But Democrats are now being forced to confront that the only way to beat Trump may be at the ballot box in 2020.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): The clock is ticking.

COLLINS: The White House is working to weaponize the outcome of Mueller's testimony.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The real culprits have not been investigated yet.

COLLINS: Though questions remain about how triumphant the president should be. He has repeatedly claimed the special counsel's report exonerated him.

TRUMP: I have been totally exonerated.

COLLINS: An assertion Mueller flatly rejected.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): That is not what your report said, is it?

ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL: Correct. It is not what the report said.

COLLINS: But it's this question from Wednesday's hearing...

REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): You could charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?

MUELLER: Yes.

COLLINS: ... that sources say is irritating the president.

TRUMP: And let me just tell you, the fact that you even asked that question, you're fake news.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, someone might look at the facts of what happened yesterday and wonder how the White House could view that as a win, with Robert Mueller criticizing the president, directly contradicting him at times.

But people inside the White House believe yesterday that they were able to effectively slow this drumbeat of impeachment. And with Congress going into recess starting later today, they are hoping that that could slow down even further.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all this with my experts.

Kirsten, let me start with you.

House Democrats are now focusing their attention on trying to get the special counsel's grand jury evidence and trying to force some of the key witnesses like Don McGahn and others to testify.

But let's be frank. If Mueller's own testimony and report can't get Democrats, a majority of them, to support impeachment, will anything?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I actually think Don McGahn could be an even more interesting person to have testify, so I think it could be different.

There was this buildup with Mueller , I think, when I think it should have been expected that it wasn't going to be exactly scintillating testimony. But I think, if you look at somebody like a Don McGahn, that would be more akin to what happened with the Nixon impeachment, where things started to move when they started hearing like from John Dean, for example.

That's when people started looking at it and saying, like, oh, there's something going on here, and you started to see people shifting more towards wanting impeachment.

I don't think Mueller was ever going to deliver that. I do think if you did start impeachment hearings, and you were able to get somebody like a Don McGahn under oath talking, it does have the potential to change things.

[16:05:00]

TAPPER: We you mentioned, David Urban, that you're a consultant to the Trump campaign.

Focusing on Pennsylvania or no? DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, I'm just trying to help out wherever I can.

TAPPER: Trying to help. Well, I just want to make sure everybody knows.

URBAN: Sure.

TAPPER: So do you agree with that? Do you agree that Don McGahn might change things around in the House?

URBAN: No, listen, so I think you keep seeing the movement of the goalposts.

Just wait to this Mueller report comes out. It is going to be the bombshell of bombshells and everyone's opinion is going to change. The report comes out, crickets.

Wait until he comes up on the Hill and testifies. And he comes up and testifies, crickets. And, look, I think the speaker's very, very smart. She's a very smart woman. She looks around. She says, I have 30-plus members in seats that were Trump districts. And I will not be speaker if we start impeachment proceedings come two years from now, my thinking on that.

TAPPER: Do you think, if that's what Nancy Pelosi is thinking -- and she certainly is not supporting impeachment. I mean, she's not standing in the way of anybody, but it's a minority. I think the number something is like 93, something like that, but still -- yes, it's still a minority.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I mean, if she wanted impeachment, she'd be pushing people to come out. I'm sure there are people that support it, but don't see an advantage in coming out right now. Why isn't she supporting it?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There is a thinking among the Democrats that impeachment could end up working out in Donald Trump's favor.

I would say that perhaps Democrats have missed their moment. It's gone on too long. They waited too long before really making this case to the public in a very overt way. We didn't necessarily have to wait for the president's sign-off.

Why couldn't they have brought up Corey Lewandowski, who didn't work for the government? There's no reason to not have had Corey Lewandowski in front of one of these committees to tell his story of Donald Trump trying to get him to fire Jeff Sessions, which I think for my money is the best episode of the entire series of the Mueller report, is the Corey Lewandowski episode.

TAPPER: He tells Corey Lewandowski, according to Lewandowski, tell Sessions to restrain what the special counsel is looking into, so it's only future presidents, not me, and then tells Lewandowski and -- tells him if he doesn't meet with you, then I'm going to fire him.

SIMMONS: And dictates -- the president dictates a farcical speech that he wants the attorney general to read, and then Lewandowski takes it home with him or his office, sticks it in a safe, where he keeps it for months.

I mean, the whole story is just -- really is ripe for reenactment.

But, anyway, they should have found a way to do that. I think we may be -- we may have missed that moment. But, in history, I got to tell you, I think Democrats are going to look very bad in history for not have taken the majority that they won off of opposing Donald Trump, and then using that majority to oppose Donald Trump and hold him accountable for what it is he did.

TAPPER: What do you think, Amanda?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The Russia fatigue is real. But Democrats should make a decision that, listen, we're not going to impeach him, we're just going to beat them at the ballot box.

You have plenty of ammunition to use against him. I think there was compelling substance from the Mueller testimony yesterday, but the Democrats have to put it together. It's like they're hoping someone will give us the answers to this test and give us an easy way out of this.

That is not going to happen. So pivot from what you learned from the report and make this a referendum on Donald Trump's character. There are so many examples of the lying, the attempted obstruction of justice, the signal boosting of illegally obtained Russian information.

If you can't make an argument out of that, go home.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: I think that's the problem. I don't think they can.

TAPPER: Because they're bad communicators?

POWERS: I don't know. They have just shown us how they're going to handle it. And they have just mishandled it.

And I think if you even look at the testimony, I heard a lot of people complaining about the Republicans and how aggressive they were with Mueller. That's actually what you're supposed to do, right? I mean, I'm watching them. And I'm like, they're doing what they're supposed to do.

I found it obnoxious, but it was effective, right? They actually were getting him to stumble. They were getting him to -- he was confused. That's what you're supposed to be doing. And the Democrats, instead of coddling him, should have been prosecuting this.

They should have been coming in, instead of with this ridiculous, let's reenact something that was already in the report, and we're going to reread it to everybody, what was the point of that?

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: Yesterday, what we saw, then Mitch McConnell stands in the way of wanting two election security bills come out of the United States.

TAPPER: He said they were partisan, but yes.

SIMMONS: Whatever. Then offer a Republican bill, right, that was for election security.

And why isn't Rick Scott -- Democrats should have Rick Scott on a frying pan every day, because he's in a state where we know the Russians penetrated their election, their election machinery. We know that. And Rick Scott did not vote for this bill and Rick Scott doesn't offer another bill that he ought to put forward to protect elections in the United States.

That to me is malpractice.

TAPPER: Very quickly, David, does President Trump -- does he think that impeachment would work to his benefit, that, if the Democrats did this, it would help him?

URBAN: Look, I don't know what the president thinks one way -- I have not had a discussion with him on it.

But I would say that I know, on the hustings, right, I think people just look back, you press the rewind button and look at the Clinton administration, right? Look at the Clinton years. Look what happened in that situation, right?

[16:10:02]

Bill Clinton was impeached, and it sure didn't work well for...

SIMMONS: It's a totally different situation. It's so different.

URBAN: No, no, it really isn't, because the politics -- the politics of it remain the same.

SIMMONS: They don't.

URBAN: Listen, the base of this party and the base of the Democratic Party both...

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: But it's different.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: The politics don't work because the Democrats have never explained the why for impeachment.

Every time we have a scenario here, it goes, what does this do for impeachment? We never discuss the why. And that is the problem.

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: OK, just remember this. Bill Clinton went on television in August and accepted responsibility for what he did wrong. Donald Trump has never accepted responsibility.

TAPPER: OK, we have to move on.

I'm going to ask a key lawmaker who questioned Robert Mueller and wants impeachment what the next move should be. Maybe I will even ask her your question, why, Amanda. That's coming up next.

And President Trump appears in front of a Photoshopped presidential seal seeming to mock him as a puppet of Russia. How in the world did this happen?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: And sticking with our politics lead, right now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivering a direct message to House Democrats on impeachment: Each member should do what he or she needs to do.

[16:15:06] But at this point, she herself is not ready to pull the trigger on an official impeachment inquiry.

Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier. She serves on the House Intelligence Committee. She serves on the House Intelligence Committee. She questioned Robert Mueller yesterday.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us as always.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: First of all, you're in favor of an impeachment inquiry. Why? What did the president do that you think deserves an impeachment inquiry?

SPEIER: The president has obstructed justice on 12 different occasions. Even if you were to be of the opinion that he actually didn't get to go all the way through with it, because Don McGahn did not follow through, the intent to obstruct justice is a crime as well.

Beyond that, you had his campaign chair and his campaign deputy meet with a Russian operative associated with the GRU to hand over all kinds of polling data, not just once or twice, but over the course of the summer of 2016, to assist them in promoting the Internet Research Agency's efforts with Facebook and Twitter. This was an effort to coordinate with the Russians to intervene in the election. I think they are very compelling, and we should be required at this point in time to take action.

Now, if we don't take action come September 1st, then we should you shut it down because we're not going to be able to do anything at all. I feel strongly that we should, but I think we're running out of time.

TAPPER: It is true that Paul Manafort handed over polling information to Konstantin Kilimnik who said to have ties to the GRU. I don't know that it's definitive as to the reason as to why he did it. I don't think Mueller was ever able to make a connection between handing over that polling data and the IRA as you just said, but I want to move on because, politically, in terms of impeachment, the majority of House Democrats disagree with you, and only a handful have come out in favor of impeachment proceedings. In the last two days, I don't -- I think maybe one has come out since the Mueller testimony ended.

If your colleagues are not in favor of impeaching him now, what makes you think any are going to change their minds in the future? I mean, we've had Mueller testifying. We've had the Mueller report. What more could change any minds?

SPEIER: So, there are 94 members that have come out publicly. I would say there's easily another 20 to 30 that would, given the opportunity to do so. They're holding back, in part out of the respect to the speaker.

But I would say that after going home and spending five weeks in their constituencies, if that doesn't motivate them to do it, then I think we need to shut it down, because frankly none of the other work we're doing is getting any traction whatsoever. We have passed over 100 bills that have been taken over to the Senate where they're lying dormant, one of which is on security of election systems. And I think -- I'm beginning to think there is an interest by some within the administration starting at the very top to allow the Russians to continue to intervene, because it worked out well for them in 2016.

TAPPER: Why do you think that? Why do you think there's an interest in the Trump administration allowing the Russians to intervene? What evidence do you have for that charge?

SPEIER: I'm basing it just on the fact that they have not indicated any interest in really delving down into this election security issue. There are many hackers that have -- that able to hack into election machines across this country, at Defcon, which takes place in Vegas every year.

The president has never uttered a word. He still says it's a Russian hoax, even when Director Mueller made it clear there was nothing like a hoax. In fact, it's a red flag that is going up, trying to alert us that we have a huge problem on our hands.

So, I'm of the opinion now, either we move forward and move forward directly, or we shut it down, because this is not productive.

TAPPER: Take a listen to the chairman of the committee you sit on the House Intelligence Committee, Democrat Adam Schiff of California, speaking on CNN this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Does the country benefit through an impeachment if it would be unsuccessful? We know in the Senate it wouldn't be successful. So I'm not there yet, but I'm keeping an open mind and I may get there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Republicans control the Senate. They're going to control the Senate through the next election. Why impeach the president if it's going to fail in the Senate?

SPEIER: Because we have an obligation under the Constitution of the United States to operate independently of one branch or another, or one house or another. I think the American people have a right to know, and the only way they're going to find out truly is that if the Don McGahns of the world are forced to come before the committee and testify. And outside of that, I think that we are -- we're losing that fight.

TAPPER: All right. Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thank you so much for your time.

[16:20:00] We appreciate it as always.

SPEIER: Thank you.

TAPPER: The Trump Justice Department making a surprising move that puts the U.S. on a list along with China, Iran, Saudi Arabia. What am I talking about?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our politics lead, a surprising reversal in the U.S. Justice Department. Despite the trend of various countries and states banning the death penalty, amid story after story of DNA evidence clearing prisoners falsely accused of heinous crimes, today, the Trump administration today moved in the opposite direction.

[16:25:08] For the first time in 16 years, the federal government of the United States has ordered the execution of five inmates, all of them convicted of gruesome homicides.

CNN's Evan Perez joins me now.

And, Evan, this had been a policy the Trump administration had wanted to bring back for a while now.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. It was Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general who had ordered the Bureau of Prisons to study how to re-instate and how to carry out executions.

As you noted, the federal government hasn't executed anyone since 2003, and now, the Bureau of Prisons has come up with a protocol that Bill Barr, the new attorney general, says can be used to put to death the first five federal prisoners that have been identified. Now, these five prisoners, the first ones would be put to death in December, some of them put to death in January.

Now, there's a lot that will happen between now and then. We expect that opponents of the death penalty will file lawsuits about these protocols. The federal government is essentially adopting the drugs and protocols that states have been using in recent years, in Georgia, in Texas, in others states, that have been blessed, including by the Supreme Court, Jake, to carry out the death penalty on a state level.

So, we'll see whether those planned executions in December happen as planned.

TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez, thanks so much.

PEREZ: Thanks.

TAPPER: Let's chew over all this with our experts.

Is this moving the country forward, Amanda?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I just question the timing of why now? And what's the justification for moving on this?

And the only thing I can think of is maybe Trump wants to pick a fight about the death penalty for 2020, given the firm opposition by so many presidential candidates. If that's the reason for moving on this -- I mean, that's really, really unsettling. We should always be leery.

I support the death penalty in some cases, but it should only be used in the most rare and severe circumstances. And moving in this rushed way like this really gives me pause.

TAPPER: What do you think, Jamal?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: So, I was on a phone with -- I got a message from a friend who is into death penalty policy. One of the questions they raised to me is there's no independence judicial review that's going to occur. The real questions about prosecutions when it comes to the death penalty, right now on death row -- federal death row, 34 out of 61 of the people on death row are people of color, 25 of them are black men.

So the prosecutions and the procedures about how those people are executed with real concerns of the efficacy of the drugs and where these drugs even come from, because American drug companies are leery of having their drugs being used in executions.

TAPPER: We should note that the United States is not alone in using the death penalty, but the list is kind of questionable. There are countries like Japan and Taiwan, but most of them are along the lines of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, Somalia.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's barbaric. And that's why most industrialized countries don't do it. And I think it's barbaric regardless of how bad the person is. Now, I know that's not the majority position in the United States, but

the problem with this is, people say, well, look at the people they're going to put to death, they're such bad people. It's like, right, but we're not giving them the power to just put these really bad people to death. We're giving them the power to put anybody that they decide -- you know, that's been found guilty of a crime to death.

And I think that as conservatives, maybe you should be concerned about the idea of giving the government so much power. I mean, you don't trust them to run the DMV, but you trust them to take away somebody's life? And so, I think this is definitely moving them in the right direction.

And I think Amanda, you're probably right. I think this is about trying to make 2020 more about criminal justice because of the position the Democratic Party is taking, that I think are probably correct, but probably out of the mainstream.

CARPENTER: But one quick note on that, I don't know how this jibes with his criminal justice reform policy and things like First Step. Any allies that he gained with passing First Step in the criminal justice community will probably be a set back by this.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I disagree. I think it's two separate, death penalty cases are distinctly different. If you read the specific instances -- I'm not saying it's justified or not, but the specific instances of these five individuals, these are incredibly heinous.

TAPPER: Horrible.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: So, it's only these five people, and it will never happen again?

URBAN: No, I'm not saying that. Look, I think death penalty has been proven time and time again, it doesn't do anything -- it doesn't drive down crime.

TAPPER: It doesn't deter.

URBAN: It doesn't deter anybody.

POWERS: Expensive.

URBAN: It's expensive. You know, if you put one innocent person to death, it's unconscionable. Until we get DNA testing, everyone gets -- and even then, you know, there's a lot of questions whether you should have -- life without parole I think is a lot more -- put somebody in super max for their life is probably more of a deterrent than the death penalty and a lot less expensive.

TAPPER: It's just also interesting coming at a time when I feel like every few days on CNN.com, there's a story about somebody falsely accused and convicted that is leaving prison after -- [16:30:00]