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Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) is Interviewed about White House Subpoenas, Climate Change and Gun Legislation; Epstein's Accusers Speak at Hearing; Brazil Rejects $20 Million Aid Offer. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 27, 2019 - 09:30   ET



[09:30:48] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This morning Deutsche Bank and Capital One face a deadline that is now just hours away. An appeals court in New York has ordered both banks to tell judges if they have tax returns from President Trump and the Trump Organization. On Friday, lawyers for both banks repeatedly refused to tell the court whether they had the returns, citing contractual obligations.

Also this morning, the House Judiciary Committee is asking a federal judge to speed up a ruling on a panel's lawsuit seeking to force former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify. The committee says the White House is trying to stall its obstruction of justice probe into President Trump by claiming absolute immunity for McGahn.

This comes as the committee subpoenas another former Trump aide, former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter. Porter is among the most cited sources after McGahn in the Mueller report. He sat for two days of interviews with the special counsel.

Joining me now, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida. She sits on the House Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So help our viewers out here who don't follow this every day, who would want to know, OK, what am I going to learn if Rob Porter and Don McGahn come before the committee? What am I going to learn that I didn't already see in the Mueller report?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: So most Americans have not read the full Mueller report. And the Mueller report states ten particular instances where the president committed obstruction of justice. And we need to bring in the most important fact witnesses. Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, is a witness that we had asked to come in front of the committee and the White House ordered him to not present himself, which is why we had to file that subpoena in the courts, which also why we're asking the courts to expedite the order so that we can actually hear from one of the most important witnesses. We also need to have Rob Porter, who actually -- just to back up and

for people to understand, the president asked his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to fire the special counsel Mueller in the investigation. That's obstruction of justice. Then when it was reported in "The Washington Post," he asked Rob Porter, who was working as staff secretary, to tell Don McGahn to produce a false document saying that he never asked him to fire Special Counsel Mueller.


MUCARSEL-POWELL: This is all in the details. But the most important thing is that we need to bring truth.

SCIUTTO: But we know that.

MUCARSEL-POWELL: Yes. Uh-huh. Well, not everyone knows that.

SCIUTTO: And the thing is, we know that. And I don't mean -- well, OK, fair enough. Members of Congress know that. And while I know you and among others support impeachment hearings, the fact is you certainly don't have critical mass in the Senate to pursue this to its fullest.

And I just wonder, I want to quote a piece from the -- from "Politico" today. It notes the following, because I want to get at the political implications here. Democrats won the majority in the House because they flipped dozens of Republican held seats, including all four in Orange County -- of course you're from Florida too -- with candidates who billed themselves as moderates. But many of those same Democrats have come out for impeachment and all of the potentially perilous political consequences that come with it.

I just wonder if you're finding that voters, as we approach 2020, have the patience for this and the support for pursuing this?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: I think the most important thing that we need to do is inform the American public. And we have not been able to do that because the White House and the president have continued to deny the American public from hearing from these witnesses.

Now, I ran to reduce health care costs. I ran to protect our communities from gun violence. We have sent the Senate more than 200 bills that have been sitting there. The Senate majority leader refuses to bring any vote on any of these bills that would help the American people today.

While we have been doing that, it is our duty to investigate this president. We have a report that states that not only did he commit ten different instances of obstruction of justice, but we also know that it has been confirmed that Russia interfered in our elections. Him and his campaign, the president and his campaign, had more than 120 contacts with Russian operatives to help him get elected. These are issues that are very serious and we need to deal with them.

[09:35:07] So we need do both, right?

SCIUTTO: Right. MUCARSEL-POWELL: I mean we can conduct oversight.


MUCARSEL-POWELL: We need to investigate and pass these bills at the same time.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about another issue that I know is close to your heart, and that is the issue of climate change. Even your Republican predecessor in that district also, a rarity in the GOP, stood up and said this is an issue thereat needs to be addressed.

You're aware the president goes to the G-7, does not show up for the climate change session, and also dismisses efforts to reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Tell me your reaction to that, particularly since you represent a district that is on the coastline and that will face very real consequences from rising sea levels.

MUCARSEL-POWELL: When I saw that empty chair, it was very clear to me, which is what we see in the White House, an empty chair, no leadership, no guidance. This president refused to attend a G-7 Summit meeting on a climate crisis while we see the Amazons burning.

When you live in Florida, you have no other option than to pay attention to the issues affecting our community as it relates to climate change. We see sea level rise, we see storms getting stronger and stronger. You see that now we have a storm that may be hitting the coast of Florida. This president has shown no leadership. If anything, he continues to strip away any environmental protection that we have put in place. The quality of our water here in Florida continues to worsen. So it's very telling to me that what we see is absolutely no leadership from this president. And I think that it's going to hurt him here in the state of Florida.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. When you hear reporting from "Axios," which it has stood by, that the president suggested more than once the idea of using nuclear weapons to avert hurricanes, presenting that as a serious option, what's your reaction?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: I don't pay attention to those ridiculous remarks that the president continues to make. I mean we -- we are busy right now getting ready for a potential storm that's going to hit this -- the coast of Florida. So I can't be paying attention to every tweet, every comment that comes out from this president.

What I'm looking for is leadership. And if he is not going to take leadership on this issue, I know that I will and a lot of my colleagues as well. I've been having meetings all over my community talking about the impacts of our -- on our environment. We are seeing the coral reefs, a degradation that we haven't seen in decades. And so we need to deal with it. Whether with or without this president, we're going to have to deal with the consequences of sea level rise and the issues of climate change and a climate crisis that we're seeing, not just here in Florida, but all over the world. SCIUTTO: Final question if I can, and you brought up guns. I was in El

Paso and Dayton and I spoke to people in those communities who were shell-shocked, as they always are. They asked the question, we asked the question, will this time be different? After an initial -- I don't know if Russia is the right word, but at least discussion of gun control measures, including from a Republican or two, Mike Turner, who represents the district of Dayton where this happened. In fact, his daughter was on the street when it happened. But today as recess is preparing to end, it looks like that has dissipated.

I wonder, will there be anything that comes out of this, this time, in your view?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: Well, you know, what we -- what I know what we're going to be doing, we're going back early in the Judiciary Committee to markup three other gun reform bills. We -- for us this has been a priority in the Democratic caucus. We passed a universal background check bill back in February that we sent to the Senate. And this was a common sense, bipartisan bill. This was not anything radical that we were sending the Senate.

More than 90 percent of Americans are with us on this issue. And we are putting the pressure on the Senate majority leader. He has to take action. We have not seen any piece of gun reform legislation been passed over the past 45 years. The time is now. And what I don't want to see is another shooting because this government refuses to take action on one of the most pressing issues affecting our communities.

In my community, we see gun violence every week. We just lost a couple of teenage boys last week on a shooting that we had right here in Florida's 26th District. So I urge Senate majority leader, I urge the Senate --


MUCARSEL-POWELL: Other Senate members to bring that vote for a floor -- that bill for a vote.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching.

Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, we appreciate you coming on the program.


SCIUTTO: Although Jeffrey Epstein took his own life before he could face a trial for his alleged crimes, today dozens of his accusers, they're going to get their day in court.


[09:44:08] SCIUTTO: In less than an hour at least a dozen women who say they were assaulted by convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein will get their moment in court. They're going to speak at a hearing.

Epstein was accused of sexually assaulting dozens of girls, some as young as 14 years old, at his homes in New York and Florida. But he was found dead from an apparent suicide in his cell earlier this month before he could be tried on sex trafficking charge. The criminal case is expected to be dropped now because of his death. But before that happens, a judge is giving some of Epstein's accusers their chance to speak in court.

Joining me now is CNN's senior reporter Vicky Ward.

So why is the judge allowing them this right? I mean, of course, the defendant is dead, so the charges will be dropped. This is a moment to give them a sense of justice?

VICKY WARD, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Yes, a very controversial move by this judge. I mean senior lawyers around the country have been phoning each other, not always agreeing about what's going on here because it's -- what Judge Berman is doing is basically very publicly saying, these victims need to be heard. From the moment of Jeffrey Epstein's arraignment, he basically said the victims are welcome in my courtroom.

[09:45:22] And so -- and interestingly, I just got off the phone from Alan Dershowitz, who, as you know, Jim, used to represent Jeffrey Epstein, and actually was pivotal in getting him the non-prosecution agreement back in, you know, 2008 that stopped these victims from being heard.


WARD: And he said he agrees with Judge Berman's position today.


WARD: He says victims have a right to be heard.

So I think, you know, this is going to be an extraordinary moment. My source is telling me, as you said, at least a dozen victims coming forward --

SCIUTTO: Very powerful.

WARD: Yes.

SCIUTTO: I mean they were so young at the time.

Now, the attorney general, William Barr, he's promised to bring anyone who helped Epstein run his trafficking ring, they will be pursued. Do you expect charges? And who would be the likely targets of that?

WARD: Well, look, we -- the -- we know, right, and I know from my reporting in the period that the government was looking at, the 2003 to 2005, that Ghislaine Maxwell has been named by some of the victims as somebody who went out and alleged procured young women for Jeffrey Epstein. There are -- there were four other names named in the non- prosecution agreement. Whether or not those names come up today will be interesting to see.

My sources tell --

SCIUTTO: Come up today from the testimony of these victims?

WARD: In the -- yes.


WARD: It will be interesting to see. My sources sort of have indicated that this is going to be very much about what the victims have to say about Jeffrey Epstein, but let's see.


Final question. There's -- of course the criminal path is closed because the defendant is dead. The financial path. Do his victims have the potential to get financial recompense for this, especially given this new will that he signed just two days before he apparently committed suicide?

WARD: Right. So you put it in trust, you -- yes, make it -- make it harder, right?


WARD: I think these are all the questions that are going to be answered. I mean --

SCIUTTO: So we don't know. We don't know.

WARD: Jeffrey Epstein died in a way, unfortunately, almost as untouchable as he lived.

SCIUTTO: Jesus. That is just remarkable.

Vicky Ward, thanks so much for following this story.

WARD: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Certainly a story we're going to stay on as these women testify.

SCIUTTO: Hundreds of miles of rainforest in jeopardy now as flames spread across the Amazon, but Brazil is turning down millions of dollars in aid. Why?


[09:52:22] SCIUTTO: As massive wildfires rage across the Amazon, Brazil is rejecting millions of dollars in foreign aid. Officials tell CNN, the South American nation will turn down $20 million from the G-7 to help fight those fires. Why?

CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh, he is live in Brazil this morning.

Why won't the Brazilian government accept money to help fight devastating fires in its own country?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's startling, Jim. This really seems to come down to President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro's personal feelings about it. Now, his officials have said they don't want the $20 million offered by the world's seven richest nations. Amazing that that is all they could put together to deal with this urgent environmental crisis.

But Jair Bolsonaro has said, now, hang on a minute, I didn't actually say I didn't want the money, and seems to be saying that the French president, Emmanuel Macron, should apologize for calling him a liar and then he'll consider whether or not he'll take the money.

Now the two, the French and the Brazilian presidents, have been engaged in a spat because initially Brazil's policy towards the Amazon was distinctly against that of France. They're much less into ecology here under this government. But at the same time, too, Jair Bolsonaro commented on an offensive meme on the Internet towards Bridgitte Macron, the French president's wife, and that then prompted the French president to say he hoped one day Brazil would get a president that was up to the job.

This interpersonal bickering is just quite staggering, Jim, frankly, because it distracts from the urgency of the issue and problem. Now also too staggering, frankly, is the $20 million sum. That is simply nothing.

You can hear over me hear just coming in one of the number of Brazilian military cargo planes that we see in the air here. They're trying to get involved in the fire fight. They're sending 43,000 troops here. But simply the scale of the challenge is enormous that you do think possibly an international effort could really help Brazil here. But this is personal bickering that's getting in the way, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So, I'm curious, you're there on the ground there. You're in a state that is affected brutally by these fires. And I'm sure you're breathing in the smoke in the air as you stand there.

How are Brazilians reacting to political bickering over a crisis unfolding on their doorstep?

WALSH: Yes, I mean, it's an extraordinary, I think, litmus test for many Brazilians to some degree. Bolsonaro's polling, according to one poll, has slipped in the last week or so, partially because of his handling of the Amazon, the environment, health care, a number of issues too causing it to slide a little. Is that permanent? We don't know. But he's playing to a base, very much like President Trump, a base who think the Amazon is a potential source of their enrichment, a place where lots of resources, farmers moving in to clear the forest, burning it off and deliberately some of these fires are deliberate so they can get involved in agriculture, graze cattle, make beef, beef that (INAUDIBLE) the U.S. market and increasingly the Chinese market because of tariffs imposed by the United States against China.

[09:55:13] So there's an awful lot in the balance here in terms of internal Brazilian politics. Many Brazilians, though, like you and me, just staggered that this amazing source of natural beauty, I say it on Twitter all the time, is being damaged so fast with so little response.


SCIUTTO: Nick Paton Walsh on the ground there. Thanks very much.

Puerto Rico residents are bracing now for the worst as the island prepares for a tropical storm moving right now across the Caribbean.