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Puerto Rico Governor Resigns Amid Massive Protests; Democrats Debate Next Steps After Mueller Testimony; Biden Warns He Won't Be "As Polite" in Next Week's Debate. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 25, 2019 - 05:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- announced overnight that he is resigning.

[05:00:04] You can see the reaction. Thousands of protesters celebrating the news on the streets of San Juan. The cheers come after weeks of calling on Ricardo Rossello to step down. The governor says he will leave office next Friday.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This is certainly an historic moment for Puerto Rico but also very uncertain one. Rossello has been under fire for offensive remarks in a leaked group chat and a corruption scandal in his administration. He had resisted calls to resign, but after lawmakers decided to start impeachment proceedings, he caved.

CNN's Rafael Romo live in San Juan.

You've been on the streets all night, Rafael, with this breaking news.

What have you seen?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, when the news was finally learned, the people here in downtown old San Juan erupted into cheers. People were sipping and dancing. They couldn't believe the moment. It was the moment that they had been waiting for for 12 days. That's the time that they last appeared protesting every single day demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello.

And he finally did so. It was a 14-minute statement that he made. It was a pre-recorded statement that his office released via Facebook, and in the statement, he talked about what he perceived to be his accomplishments. But he finally said effective that August 2nd at 5:00 p.m., he will resign as governor of Puerto Rico.

Now, this is not the end of the story, John, because the new governor which will presumably be the secretary of justice, Wanda Vazquez, is going to have to rebuild the government. Governor Rossello had already lost a huge number of cabinet members who have resigned since July 13 when that secret chat was made public by local media here in Puerto Rico.

So, it is going to be a very difficult transitional time for the island, which is still recovering from two hurricanes that hit it very hard back in 2017. Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. The financial crisis here on the island is still a very huge problem. So, the announcement was made, but now, there's a lot that remains to be done, John.

COOPER: Rafael, hundreds of thousands of people have been on the streets for the last week or so, demanding for this to happen, this resignation. So, at that moment when it finally came in, you were on the streets there. What was that like?

ROMO: I have never seen so many people so happy about one thing in one single location. It was just incredible the noise, the cheers were so loud. It was deafening, John.

It was just incredible to see so many people dancing. Some were holding flowers. Many were waiving the flag. There were a lot of people with drums. It was just incredible. They were hugging each other and it lasted not for just a few minutes but for hours people celebrate.

I can tell you the very last few people that left here just a few moments ago, John.

BERMAN: I have to say, amazing pictures from the streets overnight in Puerto Rico and San Juan. Of course, big questions as about what happens now.

Rafael Romo on the streets of San Juan -- thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: OK. John, now turning to our other top story. So what happens next? Now that former special counsel Robert Mueller has testified, will more Democrats in the House fall for an impeachment inquiry as party leaders push forward with oversight investigations and hope that the courts will get some Trump associates to testify?

So, CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill with where we go from here -- Lauren.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, Robert Mueller declined or deferred to answer more than 200 questions yesterday on those high profile hearings on Capitol Hill. But Republicans and Democrats both claiming victory. The president who was very frustrated that Mueller was going to come up in the first place eventually got to the place where he said yesterday was a good day. And he praised his Republican colleagues yesterday on Capitol Hill who went out and supported him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats thought they could win an election like this. I think they hurt themselves very badly for 2020.

FOX (voice-over): Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's six hours of testimony igniting a war of words in Washington.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): To think what this poor president had to go through, if you sat for three years and hear somebody say a lie about you. REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): It's not about not liking the president,

it's about loving democracy.

FOX: With pressure mounting inside a party to get impeachment proceedings to start against President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi standing firm that she's not there yet.

[05:05:01] REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The stronger our case is, the worse the Senate will look for just letting the president off the hook.

FOX: But sources tell CNN that Pelosi did welcome discussing a game plan for impeachment with her House Democratic colleagues in a closed door meeting after Mueller's hearings. Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler earlier outlining his committee's next steps.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): We're going into court to enforce -- to ask for the grand jury material and to enforce a subpoena against Mr. McGahn. And that's particularly important because the excuses, I won't call them reasons, the excuses that the White House gives for McGahn testifying for the nonsense about absolute immunity are the same excuses for all the other fact witnesses and if we break that, we'll break the log jam.

FOX: In the dual hearings, Mueller sticking to the text of his 448- page report.

NADLER: So the report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice, is that correct?


NADLER: And what about total exoneration, did you actually totally exonerate the president?


NADLER: Mueller also rejecting this claim repeated by the president even after the testimony.

TRUMP: There was no defense to this ridiculous hoax, this witch hunt.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Your investigation is not a witch hunt, is it?

MUELLER: It is not a witch hunt.

FOX: Republicans falling in line with the president, telling Democrats it's time to close the door on investigating Trump.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): This hearing is long overdue. We have had truth for months. No American conspired to throw our election.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): It's time to close the curtain on the Russian hoax. The conspiracy theory is dead.

FOX: On Russian interference, Mueller warning that a foreign power could continue to attack U.S. elections.

REP. PETER WELCH (D-VT): My concern is have we established a new normal from this past campaign that is going to apply to future campaigns?

MUELLER: My hope is that it's not the new normal but I fear it is.

FOX: And the former special counsel slamming then candidate Trump's praise of WikiLeaks after it released stolen DNC emails in 2016.

MUELLER: Problematic is an understatement in terms of giving some, I don't know, hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity.

FOX: Mueller defending his team after being accused his aides were politically biased against Trump.

MUELLER: I've been in this business in 25 years. In 25 years I have not had occasion once to ask somebody about their political affiliation. It is not done. What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job quickly and seriously and with integrity.


FOX: And Nancy Pelosi behind closed doors in that caucus meeting yesterday telling her members that they need to focus on their legislative agenda but also emphasizing that if members need to go home and talk about opening an impeachment inquiry, if that helps their reelections, they should feel free to do that. The biggest question now, of course, whether public support changes in weeks and months ahead after this testimony yesterday, and whether or not Democrats can keep the ball rolling those who want to support impeachment over a six-week recess expected to beginning next week -- John and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Lauren, thank you very much for setting us up with all of that.

Joining us now to discuss, we have Elie Honig, CNN legal analyst, Abby Phillip, CNN White House correspondent, John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst, and Toluse Olorunnipa, White House correspondent for "The Washington Post".

Great to have you all here on this special edition of NEW DAY.

So, let's just look at what we learned from Robert Mueller. Let's look at the top line conclusions we learned from Robert Mueller.

Number one, President Trump welcomed Russian interference and lied about it. Two, generally, Mr. Trump's written answers were untruthful. Number three, Mr. Trump encouraged WikiLeaks and that was problematic. Number four, Mr. Trump was not exonerated of obstruction of justice. Number five, fears of accepting foreign help is now the new normal in our country, and that Mueller was not seeking the job as the FBI director as Trump has falsely claimed. So, John Avlon, that leaves a lot of unfinished business --


CAMEROTA: -- in the country.

And where do we go with these facts?

AVLON: Look, I think it's up to the Democrats to decide whether they're going to pursue impeachment. I do think you're going to see some movement in that direction among the Democratic Congress. National numbers may not move. I don't think any Republicans were clearly seeing it from their own script entirely, a world of alternative facts.

I think the problem and the frustration that folks felt is that the last boy scout, Robert Mueller, is not the last action hero. This is somebody who didn't clarify strongly the points, even the key points of his own report. That threatens to obscure the fact that the key findings of the report, and some new information we learned yesterday are significant. Are significant to the republic and were reinforced yesterday in a way that matters to our civic.

[05:10:02] BERMAN: It's really interesting, when you read them out loud like that all at once as opposed to a five or six-hour period, it's pretty damming. And it's even more interesting, perhaps damning, that the White House is celebrating this. The White House is celebrating that on TV for the world to see, that it was said that the president welcomed Russian interference and lied about it. They're celebrating that --

CAMEROTA: Well, they're not celebrating that part of it. They're celebrating that they don't think that Robert Mueller sort of closed the deal.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And they also are celebrating that they believe this was all about the visuals. Honestly, I think even if you asked Democrats in Congress, the point of this was that everything Robert Mueller said was in the report. They wanted to make it come alive in a hearing setting, and the White House is looking at what they saw yesterday and they're saying, it didn't come alive.

And for them, that is a huge, huge victory, because I think they feel like they've come over the hump of what's in the report already. People know what it is. They actually successfully in their view framed the debate over the report in those first few days, first with the Barr letter, and then later in the interim period between the Barr letter and the full report coming out.

So there are small victories but I think it matters for them that the sort of visual moment that Democrats had been hoping would come out of this wasn't that. And in some ways, it was a little bit of a setback because if the point here is to change public opinion, yesterday's hearing probably did not do that.

BERMAN: We'll wait and see. You may very well be right. Obviously, there are no polls yet.

The only opinion we see so far is within the house Democratic Caucus has changed to being pro impeachment.

In terms of the legal case going forward, Elie, what happens next? What does Congress do next? We know they're going to push the Don McGahn case into court to try to force him to testify.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so, that's the next big set. Now, we go to court and McGahn is going to be huge. McGahn is really sort of a bottleneck, because if Congress wins on that, if the courts say, yes, Congress, you have the right to force them, that opens the flood gates. Then we're going to hear from McGahn, we're going to hear from Hope Hicks, and Annie Donaldson, and Corey Lewandowski, and on down the line.

One of the big questions I think about Mueller's testimony, how much of an impact could it make? As much as he's the all knowing guy at the center of this whole investigation, he's not a firsthand witness. He's not able to say at any point, I was in the room when this happened. The president turned to me did this.

And that tends to hit much harder hit. So, if they get there, if the courts allow Congress to get there, I think we're going to see a trial like proceeding. Now, it's going to take a while. I think we're looking into the winter and spring, because the courts, even when they move quickly, we've got to go district court level, it will go to court of appeals and that will take months.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: And that's the challenge. The momentum may be sort of coming out of the -- the air may be coming out of the balloon on this. They may be losing momentum. We're about to go into a six-week August recess. People may end up sort of forgetting about the big moments of this report, which came out in March, and, you know, we're several months down the road, and we have not seen these explosive Nixon-type hearings in Congress in part because, you know, the White House has stalled and said, we're not going to provide any witnesses.

Robert Mueller ended up coming to the Hill but was not the explosive witness you saw from John Dean back in the '70s. So, that not having that explosive hearing several months several months after the report came out makes it much more difficult to make the report come to life because it's been in the public domain for several months now and we have not see any action, and people may just grow weary with the process and think this is just congressional gridlock that we've seen for several years and not see anything different.

CAMEROTA: Well, definitely that's happened. They've certainly lost the PR momentum. But the courts don't care about that. The courts don't function on PR momentum and Democrats have had court victories.

So, all of that can happen sort of behind the scenes silently, as I think that's what Democrats plan to do next.

AVLON: Will Richie Neal be more aggressive in terms of requesting Donald Trump's taxes? Are new information going to come out from these investigations? It was clear, not only was Mueller trying to stay within the lanes of his report, but there's a lot of additional information out there that still needs to be gotten and really can only be gotten through House investigation. That part of the question will be, does an impeachment investigation proceeding accelerate those efforts or will simply an investigative report about it?

PHILLIP: This is going to go to the courts and Democrats might notch some victories, but we should also be mindful that the people we're talking about, Don McGahn, Hope Hicks, Annie Donaldson, these are not people who are eager to spill the beans on their former boss. These are not people who are a John Dean --

AVLON: Right.

PHILLIP: -- because they are still loyal to President Trump.

It would be a mistake for Democrats to think that if they suddenly got Don McGahn in front of them, that suddenly that he's going to say all kinds of incriminating things about President Trump. He is a reluctant witness and some cases, just like Robert Mueller was.

[05:15:00] And so, we might end up with a very similar outcome where you have people coming before the Congress testifying but saying as little as they possibly can.

HONIG: In a way, though, it can hit harder when someone who's perceived as being pro-Trump or a Trump ally gets in front of the cameras and say something damaging, right? Now, I think the facts are the facts. We already know the gist of the McGahn story, right, that the Democrats walked through it sort of methodically yesterday. So, again, there's a question of how much do we feel the need for something new?

There's not going to be something new. It's not like Mueller missed something. So, the question is, how much is it going to matter to hear from McGahn. There's also a little bit sort of legally, a chicken and eggs problem, and I think John alluded to this, which is the Democrats' hand in court is much stronger if they have an impeachment inquiry opened, because when the courts says, why do you need this? The answer right now is general oversight, which is fairly compelling. But not as compelling as general oversight, oh, and we have an impeachment inquiry. So, we'll what drives what.

BERMAN: All right. Friends, thank you very much.

Significant new developments in the Democratic race for president. Former Vice President Joe Biden says he is ready for next week's debate. And this time, he says he won't be so nice. What exactly does he mean by that?

That's next.


[05:20:47] BERMAN: A new reality in the Democratic race for president this morning. Former Vice President Joe Biden says he's not going to be as polite in next week's debate right here on CNN and he gave us a taste of what that might mean.

Back with us, John Avlon, Abby Phillip and Toluse Olorunnipa.

I want to play for you some sound that the former vice president had about Kamala Harris. He's talking about Medicare for all, which is an issue that has become a dividing issue inside the Democratic primary. And he drew a line between himself and really a number of the other Democratic candidates. Listen to this.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you've got to find $30 trillion to $40 trillion somewhere and how are you going to do it? Well, I find people will say they're Medicare for all, but they're not going to tax the middle class because you don't need to do that. Come on. Is this a fantasy world here?


BERMAN: Is this a fantasy world here? The Joe Biden that we're seeing now, the question, John, is it the Joe Biden we will see next week?

AVLON: I think it's clearly trying out the tougher Joe persona because he did get beaten up in the last debate. This debate is the highest stakes by far for Joe Biden, because if the negative perception of the first debate solidify in the second, he's in trouble.

He has to show vigorous. He's got to show an ability to punch back and challenge the other Democrats and say, Medicare for all sounds good but how do you pay for it. Because the reality is his proposal, which is the public option is actually vastly more popular than the Bernie Sanders put private insurance out of business plan.

But he's got to be more pugnacious. He's got to show he's sharp, crisp, and with it. Big debate for Joe Biden.

CAMEROTA: Well, that is a difference on policy right there, but also is eluding to the politics of personal. I mean, he's eluding that he's going to personally go after Kamala Harris as he felt personally affronted the first time. Let's play P202.

BERMAN: I think that's a full screen. You want me to do a dramatic reading?

CAMEROTA: Yes, I would.

BERMAN: OK, I'm going to pretend as if I'm Joe Biden for a moment.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead.

BERMAN: I'm not going to be as polite this time. Come on, man. This is the same person who asked me to nominate her in her convention. If they want to argue about the past, I can do that. I got a past I'm

proud of. They got a past that's not quite so good.


CAMEROTA: Well done.

But that -- they got a past that's not quite so good. What's he going to bring up?

PHILLIP: By they he means she.

CAMEROTA: I think so.

PHILLIP: Yes, he's talking about Kamala Harris. It's obvious what he's talking about, her criminal justice record.

You know, it's interesting that Joe Biden still feels so personally offended by that interaction at the debate. He cited her friendship with his late son, Beau Biden. It really hurt him.

I think he's going to come back by saying -- maybe not going after her personally but just trying not to have as much of kid gloves. I think everybody in the Democratic field is starting to realize that it's game time.

Even Cory Booker and his sort of almost peace and love message is shifting into something a lot more aggressive as we go into this next debate because people know they've got to stand out. Joe Biden, it will probably be smart to actually make these contrasts with Kamala Harris because progressives are concerned and there is a lot there and if he is able to draw that out, it would be, I think, very significant.

BERMAN: And he's drawing a line with Kamala Harris and also Cory Booker who you brought up there. Listen to what he says about Senator Booker and when he was mayor of Newark and New Jersey.


BIDEN: Look at the mayor's record in Newark. One of the provisions I wrote in the crime bill is the practice of misbehavior. His police department was stopping and frisking people, mostly African-American men. We took action against them. The Justice Department took action against them, held the police department accountable.


BERMAN: I understand pugnacious, Tolu, but is there some risk in the vice president taking on two African-American senators on issues of race?

OLORUNNIPA: There is definitely a risk of this becoming a bloodbath in Detroit with all of the Democrats going after each other.

[05:25:09] When they said that they did not want this to be sort of negative race. They wanted to focus their energy on President Trump. It seems like they're going to spend much less time talking about President Trump but trying to show that as Democrats, they can stand up on the debate stage with President Trump by trying each other out and seeing how much they can spar with one another.

But there are some of the risks. There's going to be a lot of diversity on the stage. There's going to be sort of different ages, different races, genders, and that could end up becoming personal.

And you could have, you know, the former vice president who is, you know, 70-plus-years old talking to younger African-American senators who have had different experiences and who have already sparred with him over the issues of race. You can have him making missteps and attacking him on issues like criminal justice reform and going after Senator Kamala Harris for her role as a prosecutor. There could be some challenges that he faces there, but I think overall, it's going to be sort of the negativity of the debate could end up becoming the story. That would not be good for Democrats.

CAMEROTA: John, you know how former VP Biden released his new crime bill plan.


CAMEROTA: Possibly to stave off some of this criticism at the debate or at least to redirect it. And so, Senator Cory Booker was saying that that's not going to work basically.

So, listen to Cory Booker here.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, he's unrolled his -- 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.


CAMEROTA: Architect of mass incarceration?

AVLON: Yes. I think if you look at the actual crime bill as it was passed in the 1990s, it actually did not -- is not a primary driver of that, but there clearly were excesses of the bill that was championed by Biden and Bill Clinton at the time. That now need to be reformed, and that's why Biden rolled out this pretty comprehensive criminal justice reform plan the other day, trying to inoculate himself against those kinds of those attacks from Cory Booker, of course, former mayor of Newark.

That said, it's a good example but I think difficult for Democrats they're going to run into here. Cory Booker -- they're all trying to distinguish themselves right now, because as Abby said, it's game time. If folks don't fall out of the pack soon, they're going to fall out of the race. Cory Booker's natural mood is as a unifier. If he plays attack dog

against Joe Biden to try to survive, that could blow up in his face in a way because he's a good retail politician. He's having a hard time standing out from the pack, but he's fundamentally a unifier, player a role of a divider might not be such a good role (ph).

BERMAN: So, yesterday, in the midst of the Mueller testimony, something happened which is the president vetoed a measure passed by both houses of Congress that would prohibit arms sales to Saudi Arabia basically, and this has to do with the war in Yemen, it has to do with their human rights record.

And, Abby, this is something that Lindsey Graham, by the way, the president's I guess now current friend --


BERMAN: -- was pushing and the president vetoed it.

So, he chose Saudi Arabia, in a way, over Lindsey Graham.

PHILLIP: Yes. Saudi Arabia has become the linchpin of this administration's policy in the Middle East. They have been willing to overlook a lot of things starting -- not starting with, but including and notably the Khashoggi murder.

And Jared Kushner remains very close to the crown prince. This is an administration actually really from top to bottom including Mike Pompeo, who firmly believe that this alliance is worth rebuffing Congress over this, worth rebuffing certainly Lindsey Graham over this because they think that in that region, Saudi Arabia remains an important ally, the president is obsessed with arm sales to Saudi Arabia, he's obsessed with selling U.S. goods to Saudi Arabia, and that alone I think for President Trump is enough for him to veto this bill, not including the other parts of it, which are the regional considerations.

CAMEROTA: It will be very interesting to hear from Senator Graham how he feels now that the president has vetoed this.

AVLON: You know, Harry Truman used to say, in Washington, you want a friend, get a dog, Lindsey.

CAMEROTA: Wow. Thank you all very much.

BERMAN: All right. Two big nights, ten candidates each night. Watch the CNN Democratic presidential debates live from Detroit on Tuesday and Wednesday night, 8:00 Eastern, only on CNN. We're essentially moving to Detroit in a few days.

CAMEROTA: Yes, we are.

BERMAN: We will be camped out there. This will be huge.

CAMEROTA: All right. Meanwhile, North Korea launches two more missiles, of course, getting the attention of South Korea. What they're doing is next.