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Puerto Rico Governor Resigns Amid Massive Protests; Democrats Debate Next Steps After Mueller Testimony. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired July 25, 2019 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is New Day. It's Thursday, July 25th. It is 6:00 here in Washington, the morning after Robert Mueller's testimony on Capitol Hill. But we do have breaking news.
Overnight celebrations on the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico's embattled Governor, Ricardo Rossello, announced he is resigning. These were the pictures from the moment that announcement was made. It came in a video which was played on overhead speakers for te entire country to hear. The governor says he will step down next Friday after these weeks of huge protests.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: And those protests were touched off by a corruption scandal in his administration and those leaked communications between the Governor and his deputies. Rossello had refused to step down until lawmakers started impeachment proceedings to force him out.
So CNN's Rafael Romo has more from San Juan.
RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A crowd of thousands of people erupted into tears when they heard the news. They had been protesting here in Old San Juan for 12 days before they finally heard that Governor Ricardo Rossello was resigning his position. The Governor in a 14-minute message said that effective August 2nd, he is going to step down, which is what they had been demanding for nearly two weeks here in San Juan and around the island.
Now, it's going to be a difficult transition for Puerto Rico because many of the Governor's aides and members of his cabinets had already resigned. So whoever is next and apparently is going to be Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez, she is going to have to rebuild the government to be able to govern the island. But in any case, the people who were here were elated to hear the news.
There was a lot of anger in Puerto Rico, especially after they heard some of the content that was contained in those private chats that were leaked to the local press here in Puerto Rico. Many people were in indignant, especially after learning that some of those comments had to do with the victims -- the fatal victims of Hurricane Maria that hit the island in 2017.
Many people were waving flags. They were extremely happy. Some had drums. Some were shouting and dancing. And it was just a celebration that is probably going to continue for the next few days.
There was a national strike called for Thursday, for today, that is now going to become a celebration. One local rapper said that instead of protesting, this is going to be a party for all the people that were going to be involved in this march here in San Juan.
BERMAN: All right. Rafael Romo for us on the streets of San Juan. Our thanks to Rafael for that report. We'll get back to that breaking story in a moment.
The other top story this morning, democrats this morning are plotting their next step this after Robert Mueller's testimony here in Washington. CNN has learned that in a closed door meeting last night, House Democrats pressed the party's leadership on impeachment and the legal battles ahead.
Joining us now, Joe Lockhart, former Clinton White House Press Secretary and CNN Political Commentator, Kaitlan Collins, CNN White House Correspondent, and former federal prosecutor and CNN Legal Analyst, Elie Honig, and Laura Coates.
Joe, I want to start with the politics and I want to start with the now. So my question to you is after what we saw yesterday, what now?
JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think Nancy Pelosi took a baby step towards impeachment yesterday in her press conference with her Chairman saying that they're going to continue to use the courts to try to compel further fact-based witnesses.
But she made the point that I think, you know, was a gift to the pro- impeachment people in saying that if we continue to be stonewalled, we will go forward if we have to. She's not going to be rushed into this. The point I think she was trying to make is we get one bite at this. And we're going to go in with the strongest possible case.
So she didn't take it off the table. I don't think it moved significantly forward yesterday in impeachment. But, you know, she's listening to her caucus. And, you know, it is moving ever so slowly.
CAMEROTA: Laura, here are the things we learned yesterday from Robert Mueller's testimony, well, I mean, learned definitively. Obviously, it had been in the report.
But here's what we heard.
President Trump welcomed Russian interference and lied about it. Generally, Mr. Trump's written answers, okay, to the Special Counsel were untruthful. Trump encouraged WikiLeaks, and that was problematic. Trump was not exonerated of obstruction of justice. Robert Mueller fears that accepting foreign help in political campaigns is our new normal. And he himself was not seeking the job as the FBI Director as President Trump has falsely claimed.
And so, obviously, those are unacceptable for presidents or for anyone. You can't lie to prosecutors. Your whole team of associates, not whole but many people around you can't lie to associates. And so what now does happen in the court system?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, the idea of having a president who is generally truthful should be problematic to all Americans, frankly, that notion of it, but also when he's saying to everyone, remember, he was in front of lawmakers and their role was to figure out how to close that gap, Alisyn, between what we believe should be unlawful behavior, taking foreign help, trying to get dirt for a political opponent, having the idea of welcoming in further elections and also what actually is indeed lawful. And lawmakers need to close that particular gap.
And so in the courts, it's really reliant on what the laws existing are. And right now, there is that gap that's there. They need to close it. And until they do, they may actually have the reasonable apprehension this will continue in the future. As he said, Russia could be doing this right now as we sit here today. Until they actually make strides to change it, it won't change.
One caveat though. He mentioned the idea and one congressman said, have you, by not prosecuting the President or any member of his team for the notions of obstruction or trying to get help, have you essentially decriminalized that aspect of it? He has not done that. But that's a trend that they should be careful about.
BERMAN: You know, it's interesting, because when Alisyn reads aloud what the key findings were that the President welcomed Russian interference and lied about it, that generally his written answers were untruthful, Kaitlan, you might think that those are bad headlines for the White House. Yet they are trying to portray the notion that they are gleeful this morning. So my question to you is what will they do with this going forward? How much will we hear the President talk about Robert Mueller's performance? Is this going to be part of his new daily life?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, it looks like they want to weaponize it. I mean, they were getting started yesterday by the time Robert Mueller had just finished his second hearing, holding call with surrogates, saying, these are the talking points we want to send out in light of this. Because, you're right, none of the facts change yesterday.
This report is still as damning as it was when it first came out. It still paints this portrait of a team that welcomed Russian help, that covered it up and so forth, but they felt like they won the optics game yesterday, because Robert Mueller didn't come out and have this strong performance that the president feared.
It's hard to overstate just how much his attitude changed yesterday. From about 24 hours ago, when he was getting up, calling people, so agitated that Robert Mueller was going to be on Capitol Hill. And after watching these two hearings, seeing that it wasn't going to be what he feared it was going to be, the White House was not only breathing a sigh of relief for those aides who were worried about the President's anger, but the President himself is basically gleeful about this.
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And it's so interesting because it's something you see -- I think, yesterday, you see in real trials, which is the difference between sort of appearance and reality.
I've had that experience of putting a witness on and I had a flashback yesterday of watching Robert Mueller and thinking, oh, this is not going well. He is not presenting well. He is not sharp. People are not responding to him.
Then the dust settles. The next day, you get the transcript and you go through it and you go, oh, well, this is important, this is important. And we just started the show with the lineup of really damaging things that were said.
And so what's going to prevail? The gut feeling that Mueller sort of was a dud in real-time or the lasting substance that came out?
CAMEROTA: Well, what does prevail with the jury, I mean, when you've had this experience?
HONIG: Well, you want to say people are rational but they're not. Jurors (ph) are human beings and a lot of -- you have to win the brain, you have to win the heart too.
LAURA: By the way, if the role of the prosecutor, in this case, it will be Congress essentially tied all together, putting the bow on it, it was not his job to do all of the heavy lifting. They wanted a televised show. The movie would be better than the book. It was not his job to actually do that. It was a job to present testimony.
Now, that he's done that, what you saw when the democrats were asking questions was the narrative that they were trying to weave and make sure the American people heard the story through their eyes through their own voices. Because at the end of the day, they are the ones who have to present to the American people and do the heavy lifting.
CAMEROTA: If that was a movie, it was a silent movie, I felt.
LOCKHART: Well, the movie turned out to be a boring documentary. And I think what Mueller was determined yesterday was to not do was become the narrator of the story. And he was determined to make the democrats tell the story --
BERMAN: Literally, he did. Literally, he refused to read the report out loud.
LOCKHART: And it was less dramatic. But I do think, as the dust settles -- I mean, I had this feeling last night. You know, you watch a lot and a lot of my democratic friends were in despair that there wasn't some knockout moment.
But exactly what Alisyn just read as the headlines is what, when the dust settled last night, hit me. And there was some news in there yesterday.
The idea that his written answers were not truthful is news. And having lived through the Clinton period where, you know, very much most of what they focused on was the fact that in a deposition, he wasn't completely honest, and that was enough to impeach him.
I think there's going to be, as the dust settles, the people who matter, as we talked about yesterday. Partisans have made up their mind. It's the people in the middle. This was news to them yesterday. And as it sinks in, I think the Trump people will be a little more sanguine. I don't think the President will be. But this was not a win yesterday for Trump.
COLLINS: And one interesting aspect of yesterday was as you saw what the President was so pleased with is how these democrats tried to turn the tables on Robert Mueller, talk about what they believe this alleged bias at the FBI and the DOJ. Very few republicans, those up there who were some of the President's closest allies defended his behavior in the report and how his campaign acted, how they covered things up.
You did not see hardly any of that or the way he spoke to his White House Counsel, Don McGahn, tried to pressure him to fire the Special Counsel, how he treated the Attorney General, none of that was defensible, essentially, for these republicans yesterday. So that's an interesting dynamic going forward as you watch Congress try to navigate --
LOCKHART: One other point is, except for Congressman Will Hurd, not a single republican over seven hours raised any concern about the Russians attacked our election, not one. And that is amazing.
BERMAN: What's going to happen? We have six weeks.
First of all, congratulations, to Congress for figuring out a way to get a six-week recess. I need your agent.
My question, Joe, is what will democrats hear?
LOCKHART: Berman for Congress.
BERMAN: What will democrats hear when they go home on Friday over the next six weeks? Because they won't be fully off, they'll have town meetings, they'll be meeting with their constituents. What will the democratic voters say?
LOCKHART: You know, I think they'll hear from a lot of activists which is who they hear from when they go home that, you know, it's time to impeach. And the numbers will grow within the caucus. But they're not going to get it to a majority in their caucus. I don't think there is and I don't think the conversation back at home will be dominated by Mueller and Russia.
And I think Nancy Pelosi is willing to let this play out in the courts. And I think only until the decision point she is going to have is if the courts indicate that without an impeachment inquiry, we're not going to give you swift justice here, then she's going to have to decide. And I can't predict which way she'll go.
CAMEROTA: Kaitlan, President Trump said yesterday after it was all over, democrats have hurt themselves very badly for 2020. Of course, unknowable at this point, but do you sense that democrats stop talking about this, if they even were talking about this on the campaign trail, that it goes away?
COLLINS: I think there weren't a ton who are talking about it. Because when some of these people go home to their districts, a lot of these people that Nancy Pelosi has been protecting are people who flipped these districts and voted for the President in the prior election. So they are trying to make sure that they don't cross that line with those voters who do not care about impeachment, who care more about healthcare plans.
So that's going to be interesting going forward if the White House does move on from this fight over impeachment that they've been dealing with, something they viewed at times as a winning strategy and on to something like healthcare, where they do not have a plan for healthcare. Where do they go with that/
BERMAN: I think we'll see a lot on the stages next week in Detroit, the democratic debates. When I say, we'll see a lot, we'll learn a lot from how much the democratic candidates want to focus on this and talk about it.
To our lawyers over here, I want to know what happens in court now. Does yesterday play into it, Laura, at all? Democrats, they want Don McGahn to come testify is the likelihood of them winning in court any time soon higher than it was?
COATES: You know, I don't think it is. I think the needle has not been moved and here's why, because the courts are reluctant (ph) to engage in political fights. They do not want to be a court that you go to first to resolve as opposed to maybe the last recourse of a political issue.
And so you have the notion of whether or not you're actually going to use them as a last resort or say, here we are. We want to begin a process. We've been stone walled. They ignore our subpoenas. We are a co-equal branch of our government. It's our right to immediately go to you right now and seek recourse or it will be used against them.
And their arguments would be, well, you haven't until now. And suddenly your discussion and strategy (ph) about somebody named Robert Mueller failed, and now, you'd like the courts to intervene. That may be problematic.
But at end of the day, nothing the courts can do will change the optics problem that they actually have. However, it could strengthen the argument that says, look, the judiciary is going to stand true and stand with Congress and say, we are all co-equal branches of government. It's our job and incumbent upon us to check and balance like (ph) a branch of government. If that's your motivation, it's not purely political, we have your back. HONIG: I agree with Laura. I think this is going to be a really close call in the courts, whether the court says you can have McGahn as a witness or not. And what the leaders of the Judiciary Committee have been saying is, we're building our case and they try to -- and I agree with Laura.
If the needle moved at all yesterday, it's incrementally.
The one thing I think that did help is there is a square conflict set up between Donald Trump and Don McGahn, right? Donald Trump has now said he's lied, and Robert Mueller confirmed yesterday, I credited McGahn. So if you can go to court and say, we have a direct conflict here, I think it helps your case a little bit.
But at a certain point to the House, like enough with the performance art. Enough with having Hope Hicks go behind closed doors and give you nothing. And they say, good, we're going to use that as an exhibit. They keep shutting us down.
Okay. You've been shut down. Now, get to court, make your case. But if the court says, no, you don't get McGahn, they're done. They're not going to get Hicks, Donaldson, the rest. And that's why Joe, I think, made an interesting point that Pelosi gave herself an out, which is if we continue to get shut down, we may impeach based on obstruction of Congress. It's kind of a heads I win, tails you lose scenario.
LOCKHART: And the question is, ultimately, will Nancy Pelosi decide that she wants to inflict pain on Donald Trump in Congress or at the ballot box? And if I had to guess, her inclination is the ballot box. But she left open yesterday the possibility that if the courts don't help, they'll move forward.
CAMEROTA: Guys, thank you very much for all of the analysis of what we saw.
Meanwhile, a former New York City lawmaker was one of the targets of those leaked chats that led to Puerto Rico's Governor resigning last night. How is she feeling this morning? We talk to her next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: Today, I announce that I will be resigning from the position of governor effective Friday, August 2nd.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: All right. That was the moment that led to what you're seeing on your screen, thousands erupting in celebration outside of the Governor's mansion. Puerto Rico's embattled Governor, Ricardo Rossello, will step down next Friday. A corruption scandal and damning leaked communications attacking some of his critics led to that downfall.
So joining me now from San Juan is the former Speaker of the New York City Counsel, Melissa Mark-Viverito. She was one of the targets of Rossello's attacks.
Melissa, great to see you this morning. Tell us what happened last night. Tell us about the moment that it became clear he announced he was going to step down.
MELLISA MARK-VIVERITO, FORMER SPEAKER, NEW YORK CITY COUNSEL: I mean, look, there was a lot of anxiety leading up to it. There originally had been messages sent out, there was going to be communication at 5:00 in the afternoon and we understand what was happening. A lot of visuals of police being brought in the La Fortaleza, being brought in to the area where all the protesters were, so there were concerns that potentially maybe he wasn't resigning.
And there unfortunately has been a history of oppressive measures, utilization of tear gas against protesters here every night to try to disperse the crowds. And so it was getting very tense. And it took almost until midnight for the Governor finally to send out that message that he had -- that he was resigning as of next week.
So, obviously, jubilation, exhilaration, this is a revolution. This is people that have been almost two weeks out on the streets in massive numbers, historic by any means, not only in Puerto Rico but probably in the United States as well. This is really massive.
And so this is about the people reclaiming government and turning the page. And this is about people wanting to have a say in their destiny. And that over -- historically, over time, the government has not made them a priority, that decisions are being made in a vacuum and behind closed doors.
And so this is very much a warning and a message that's being sent to those in power and those who have been elected to supposedly lead, right? So this is a really unbelievably important moment in Puerto Rico's history.
CAMEROTA: And because he seemed so dug in for those two weeks of those massive protests, and even yesterday, as you said, it was all over the map whether he was going to stay, whether he was going to go. What was the tipping point?
MARK-VIVERITO: Listen, it was unsustainable. I mean, the fact that it took him this long to basically respect the democratic process, right? People taking to the streets in those numbers was definitely democracy in action. And he was being anti-democratic and not responding to the will of the people.
So it took almost two weeks, as I indicated, and people just had had enough. And I think the chats is not just about Rossello. I think this is also a pushback, in general, to generations, right, about administrations in government that has not been responsive to the needs and prioritizing the needs of Puerto Rico and the people.
And so the culmination of that chat just really put and laid bare everything that people knew, right, not only in terms of the sexist, homophobic language but also the corruption and utilizing of public resources to go after opponents and to go after the press. It was just enough and it is enough. And now, obviously, the investigations that are going to ensue regarding the content of the chat, the investigations that are ensuing with regards to other aspects of the administration and the way it was operating.
So, for us, me, myself, those of us in the diasporas, our work before Congress obviously has become more challenging. But we're committed. The people of Puerto Rico should not be bearing the consequences of this corrupt administration. The moneys that have been designated to Puerto Rico need to flow.
That needs to come directly to the people. And the issue of the Fiscal Control Board, which is very oppressive, an unelected board that probably will try to step in and assume power, definitely another rebuke, right? The people have been that they want the Fiscal Control Board to be gone. That's a conversation before Congress right now. And that's part of the work that we're engaged in.
CAMEROTA: Well, that's my question. Is that -- does the problem end with Rossello gone or is the corruption systemic?
MARK-VIVERITO: Look, this is the beginning, right? It's about a new chapter for Puerto Rico. And it's about people saying, you know what, we have to reform and change the way government has worked or the way government functions. And there has been conversations about, you know, reforms, laws that have to be implemented that will make changes happen.
And so, yes, I mean, none of us condone corruption, right? That is stealing and that is an affront to the people. So none of us are condoning that. We have to make sure though that the people on the ground are not the ones that are suffering because of the irresponsible and immoral actions of those that were placed there to lead.
And so that is part of the work, is that accountability and transparency, and that those legislators in the Senate and in the assembly, they need to heed the warning. Because now the line has been drawn in the sand that people are saying, we are not going to go back to politics as usual and that what we have been able to do with Rossello, we'll be able to do to all of you.
So I think this is a real warning about how we have to turn a page and start a new chapter. And I'm very hopeful, I'm very excited, because people are definitely saying that the party -- the messaging, the people that came together, regardless of party affiliation, regardless of other agendas, right, it was very focused on one message and one action, and that was to get rid of Rossello, and that has happened. So I think this is a real rallying cry. CAMEROTA: Melissa Mark-Viverito, thank you very much for giving us your feelings on this morning. You called for a new day in Puerto Rico and that is today. Thank you very much. John?
BERMAN: Right. New developments in the race for president, what Joe Biden just said that shows he could be a much different candidate on the debate stage next week, that's coming up.