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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA); Corey Lewandowski Appears Before Congress. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 17, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:07]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Sean Spicer was the best salsa dancer with the biggest audience ever in TV history, period.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Happening right now: the president's former campaign manager testifying in the House's first impeachment inquiry and not giving an inch in defense of his old boss.

Cruise missiles allegedly launched in a way meant to mask where they came from. A source telling CNN there is high probability the attack on Saudi oil originated in Iran. Will that move President Trump and the U.S. closer to war?

Plus: She's got a crowd for that. Senator Warren speaking to her biggest in-person audience yet in the shadow of Wall Street, but will that energy translate to the votes she needs to beat Joe Biden and ultimately President Trump?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news.

House Democrats right now holding their first impeachment inquiry, and it has gotten ugly fast. Testifying today is former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who, at the direction of the White House, is refusing to answer most questions.

Lewandowski never worked in the White House, which makes the White House's claim of executive privilege quite questionable, according to legal scholars. Democrats want Lewandowski to talk about meetings with the president described in the Mueller report, including one in which the president told Lewandowski to order the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to say publicly that the special counsel's investigation was not fair and to announce that Sessions would be instructing Mueller to refocus the investigation to look at future elections.

Lewandowski today is doing seemingly everything he can to frustrate the Democrats seeking his testimony.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what has Lewandowski been willing say about these meetings he had with President Trump?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, defending the meetings, saying that there was nothing illegal that the president wanted done.

He said he didn't have any concerns with the president's private comments to him about limiting the scope of the Mueller probe. Now, he did confirm the elements that were in the Mueller report, namely, that those meetings that occurred in 2017, the president directing Lewandowski to deliver a message to Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself, to limit the investigation going forward, instead focus on future campaigns.

He said those are accurate descriptions in the Mueller report. But, Jake, it took him some time to get there. Initially, he would not -- he said he didn't -- wasn't aware of some of the things that were in the Mueller report. He said he needed his memory refreshed. He had to read from the report.

Democrats said that this was simply a stall tactic and that back and forth between Democrats and Republicans over the rules and we have seen a lot of theatrics play out.

But the overall theme is this, Lewandowski confirming those elements of the report and also pushing back and attacking Democrats, even at one point, Jake, saying that Democrats appear to hate the president more than they love this country.

TAPPER: And, Manu, repeatedly, Lewandowski has cited the White House counsel, even though he's never been an employee of the White House.

RAJU: Yes, and that has absolutely frustrated Democrats throughout this hearing.

They said he has not been an employee, that the White House has no right to say that he cannot talk about his conversations with the president. But Lewandowski is not giving an inch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Congressman, the White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any discussions with the president or his advisers to protect executive branch confidentiality.

The White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any discussions.

The White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any discussions with the president.

The White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any discussions with the president or his advisers to protect executive branch confidentiality.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Now at the hearing today, Jake, Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter, two former White House aides, were subpoenaed and expected to testify today, but they have not shown up because the White House took steps to block their testimony as well, saying they have absolute immunity as senior level presidential advisers.

They said they are not -- they don't have to testify before Congress. And, of course, Democrats are objecting to that as well and fighting a separate matter, Don McGahn's testimony to come to Capitol Hill, because the White House has cited a similar matter, saying he's immune from testifying as well.

That will play out in the coming weeks and months in court, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California. She's on both the House Intelligence and the House Oversight committees.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us, as always.

Take a listen to the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Republican Congressman Doug Collins, in his opening statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): It has become, let's read the Mueller report for audiobook. That is what we have become.

We had Mr. Mueller here. Had a long day of it. Judging by all accounts, it didn't go real well.

[16:05:01]

You like having the press here. You like the cameras, because it makes it appear like something is happening that is not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Congresswoman, what is your response?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Well, it was a fair amount of theatrics being played out by both Mr. Collins and by Mr. Lewandowski.

I think you have to look at Mr. Lewandowski as an adverse witness. He had no interest in complying with this actual subpoena, outside of showing up. He intended to obstruct justice once again, frankly, by not being willing to give answers to questions by the Democrats.

I think if I were Mr. Nadler right now, I would be slapping Mr. Lewandowski with an inherent contempt order and calling him in front of the House of Representatives and fining him, because he is a key witness, because in the Mueller report there were 10 incidents where Mr. Mueller said, but for the Department of Justice decision, the guidance that they would not file an action against a seated president, that there would not be an indictment made, this is one of the key elements that shows the president was attempting to obstruct justice by giving Corey Lewandowski a script that he was supposed to turn over to then Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, to stop the Mueller investigation.

TAPPER: So, Congresswoman, that kind of feeds into the next question I have, which is I have seen a lot of critics saying that House Democrats are too timid when it comes to dealing with the Trump administration, that you're never going to get them to cooperate until you start treating them with the same hardball tactics that they treat you.

You are saying that you think Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, should cite Lewandowski, issue a citation, so he is in contempt of Congress. That is what you are saying?

SPEIER: That is correct. That is really where I stand on it.

I certainly would not try to suggest what Mr. Nadler should be doing. But if I were in his shoes, that is what I would be doing, because it is very clear what they want to do. They want to prevent us from doing a fulsome investigation of impeachment.

And they will prevent people from coming to testify. We will then go to court under a civil contempt proceedings, where then that will wind its way through court over a long period of time, and we will get that result two or three years down the road.

This is a president that does not respect the rule of law. How many more examples do we need to put before the American people to establish that?

TAPPER: You were among those on the House Intelligence Committee that got to question Lewandowski back in April of 2018.

Sources told CNN that he repeatedly cursed at lawmakers to make the point that he would not talk about issues he didn't find relevant. So I can't imagine you're surprised by his stonewalling today. What is the point of having a hearing with a hostile witness?

SPEIER: Well, you could have a hearing with a hostile witness if you can extract from that individual important information.

He is refusing to answer. And so, when you refuse to answer, I think you have but one course of action. And that is by ensuing what would be calling inherit contempt and then start fining him.

And the only thing that talks around this administration is money. So if you start fining him, let's say, $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 a day, at some point, you are going to get him to comply.

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you one other question, because I asked you a question about critics who think you guys aren't being -- that House Democrats aren't being tough enough. What about those on the right or the middle of the country who say, I don't understand what you are even doing, the Mueller report didn't find any evidence of conspiracy, why are you even having this hearing, as opposed to doing the work of the American people?

What would you say to them?

SPEIER: Well, what I would say to them that we can, in fact, walk and chew gum at the same time.

There have been over 100 bills passed by the House that are sitting over on the Senate side that are not being taken up, one of which is just closing loopholes on the background checks law that has been in existence since the 1990s, before there was an Internet, before there were gun shows.

And yet Mr. Majority Leader over there, Mr. Grim Reaper, does not want to take it up. So I say we have a very clear responsibility to pursue impeachment.

I'm one of those from the very beginning that believed that if you have over 250 contacts with Russians, as the Trump campaign did, if you have 32 in-person meetings, as the Trump campaign did, with Russian operatives, yes, I do think there was Russian engagement welcomed by the Trump campaign.

And then you have over 10 obstruction of justice incidents in which the Mueller report established that, but for the fact that you can't indict a sitting president based on DOJ guidelines, that doesn't mean the Congress doesn't have the right to impeach.

[16:10:03]

In fact, that is exactly where it should be taking place.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thanks so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

SPEIER: Thank you, Jake.

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

Amanda, let me start with you.

So, one of the questions here is about the meeting that President Trump had with Lewandowski when he told him to tell Jeff Sessions, then attorney general, that -- to instruct Sessions to tell the public that Mueller's investigation is unfair, and that he's going to tell Mueller to stop looking at things that happened in the past and instead look at the future.

Lewandowski said he didn't think the message was illegal but he didn't deliver the message. He just didn't deliver it because he was on vacation.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Somehow, it just got lost in the mail.

Listen, it is clear from the Mueller report he was a willing agent of obstruction, attempted obstruction, because they didn't actually obstruct justice.

But we're all thinking, what was the point of this hearing today? Republicans, a lot of Trump people talk about owning the libs. Corey Lewandowski owned the Judiciary Committee today. Jerry Nadler played a stupid game and they won a stupid prize, because Corey Lewandowski just made a sham of that.

Republicans on the committee with their mockery of the process, this system is broken. If the Democrats wanted to go impeach the president, they should have started that process a long time ago. I don't know what they were looking to get from Corey Lewandowski that they couldn't already get from the Mueller report.

They need to drop this. You can't do impeachment in an election year. It is going to look terrible. So they need to figure out a game plan, because it is clear they have no idea how to handle this administration.

TAPPER: I want to bring in Laura Coates, legal expert.

And, Laura, what do you make of Congresswoman Jackie Speier saying that Lewandowski is not answering the questions and therefore Chairman Nadler should hold him in contempt of Congress?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, she's accurate. He has been stonewalling.

And as Amanda alluded to, he believes he's been successful in trying to make a mockery of this entire hearing and transform it into a circus.

But they do have other issues and they ought to have other means at their disposal. Number one, there is contempt. They can either have the sergeant at arms detain and arrest him. And is not going to happen.

They can ask the U.S. attorney in D.C. to file a criminal prosecution against him. Unlikely, because if he is in contempt he is still somebody who has an association with Donald Trump, head of the executive branch.

The third way is to look to the courts and say, listen, what we saw here is somebody who was acting as if he was trying to in some way channel Robert Mueller, asking for continual references to the text as a way of drawing out the clock, running out the play clock in this in this case.

Now, he changed tactics later on, Jake, so it may be that they will have a harder time proving he was truly obstructive in and of itself. But I want to remind people about one thing. Remember, the third article of impeachment against Richard Nixon was actually obstruction of Congress. And so it may well be that one of -- and I'm just guessing here -- one of the tactics that the Democrats are using here is to say, look, it was the White House counsel who was behind Corey Lewandowski. It is them who was instructing him to obstruct Congress in some meaningful way.

Maybe they're trying to add another hash mark in that particular corner of obstruction and using it in this means. Whether it is during an election year it will prove fruitful is a very different story.

TAPPER: Kirsten, take a listen to one scrap on the committee early on between the ranking Republican, Doug Collins, and the chairman, Jerry Nadler.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Mr. Chairman, I have a motion. Mr. Chairman, I have a motion.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): You will wait for your motion until I finish this.

COLLINS: Point of order then.

NADLER: Not only will I...

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: Point of order has got to be recognized.

NADLER: Not in the middle of...

COLLINS: Yes, it does.

The motion is to -- since the chairman is not following the House rules, I will move to adjourn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Brooke Baldwin saw some of this, the anchor before us, and said something like, this is really what the House of Representatives is working on?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes. Yes.

It is it is utter dysfunction, as you pointed out. I think the least surprising thing is that Corey Lewandowski would show up on the Hill and chaos and dysfunction would reign.

That is about what you could expect from him. So I don't know what they thought they were going to get by having him come, basically stonewalling in the beginning and then finally trying to answer questions, but in a pretty dishonest way.

He didn't not deliver it because he went on vacation. That kind of fails the smell test.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You think he didn't deliver because he thought it was illegal or potential obstruction?

POWERS: I can't prove that. But I do -- it is a very unlikely that somebody that works at his level in Washington, is that close to the president makes his decisions around vacations.

That is just not really the way things work here. Maybe Corey is really into #selfcare. I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

POWERS: But I think that it's more likely that he recognizes something was wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Do you think that the Democrats are handling the hearing today well? Is this the right thing for them to be doing?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I wish I could say I thought it was a good decision, but I just can't.

I completely agree with Amanda. And, frankly, I don't understand why they didn't just stop it halfway through, right?

[16:15:01]

It was so clear and completely agree with Kirsten, obvious that this was how this was going to play out. They know this is how Lewandowski is.

Rather than let him sit there and be disrespectful and say to Eric Swalwell (ph), President Swalwell, and, you know, all this different and just make a mockery of the whole thing, I would have just stopped it and said, you know, if you're not going to take this seriously, then contempt of Congress, whatever it is, but don't give him the air time to continue to make a mockery of this whole thing.

TAPPER: What do you think?

BILL KRISTOL, CONSERVATIVE WRITER: Lewandowski didn't answer questions at the request -- they say it's the order, but really just a request of the White House counsel. The House of Representatives argument is with the White House. The only way to resolve an argument with the White House is to impeach the president of the United States. This idea that you're going to go to have -- let's have a contempt citation of Lewandowski, and that all go through court, frankly, that all strikes me as ridiculous.

And they should have -- if they think the president obstructed justice and they -- why were they having Lewandowski, to confirm what the Mueller report says? No one has challenged a single, factual account in the Mueller report, right? They could have done that in five minutes. Mr. Lewandowski, do you have any problems with the Mueller report? No, it's factual as far as it goes. Fine, thank you. They should impeach him or not impeach him.

COATES: And, you know, if I can say, by the way, we should all be pointing out the fact that Corey Lewandowski is trying to say that he's covered somehow under the executive privilege. He did not ever have a job at the White House. He was not a part of the executive branch. He was not a part of the administration and it's really being used perspectively and the courts have never looked at the idea of saying, look, just because you may one day end up being the president of the United States, you're covered.

Imagine if any one of -- say Kamala Harris's staff right now said, whatever Congress we have right now, if you become president will be covered. You would laugh at that notion. Here he's using this to play Congress.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks one and all. Everyone, stick around.

We have breaking news in the world lead. Polls have now closed in Israel on a major test for Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and his close relationship with President Trump, the his first hint at Netanyahu's chances of surviving re-election. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:21:34]

TAPPER: Breaking news: we have our first exit polls from the Israeli election and right now the results are too close to call. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trying for a fifth term after a second election was called -- called off -- called, rather, because of his failure to secure enough support in parliament to form a government just a few months ago.

We know from the last election that these early exit polls are hardly definitive but they are still closely watched. Netanyahu is also facing corruption charges.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is live for us in Netanyahu's headquarters in Tel Aviv.

And, Oren, what are the latest exit polls suggesting?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you said, all three exit polls from the main Israeli TV stations all project or suggest that this race remains too close to call. One has them tied at 32 seats apiece, one gives Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rival, former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz one seat lead and the other gives Gantz a two- seat lead. But that's within a margin of error.

Moreover, there's actually a bit of a celebratory feeling here at the Likud headquarters as it begins to fill up as the hours pass on. Why is that with an election that's too close to call? Well, many here believe that exit polls are wrong as they have been in the past and moreover, that exit polls underestimate the performance of Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party. So, they are waiting for actual results which should start coming in the next hour or so, to see if those exit polls are adjusted and if Netanyahu outperformed the exit polls and the projections they made.

Crucially, though, that's only half of the political calculus here. Netanyahu or Gantz also has to put together a governing coalition, which Netanyahu failed to do following April's election. And there, all three exit polls suggest that neither Netanyahu nor Gantz has a easy or clear path towards apparently putting together a government and that means perhaps one of the only things you could say with any level of center at this point, Jake, is that Israel may well be in store for even more political uncertainty in the weeks and months ahead.

Crucially, neither of these leaders, Gantz or Netanyahu, appears ready to make any kind of speech, whether it is a concession or a victory speech. Everyone wants to see the actual results because both of these leaders made premature victory speeches last April.

TAPPER: That's right. Votes always preferable to exit polls.

Oren, we know from the last election in April that these polling projections are not always accurate.

When can we expect the actual firm final results, when will we know?

LIEBERMANN: The results aren't official until Friday. That's when they are certified as final results. But by 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, something like 80 percent, 90 percent are count and that gives you a far clearer idea if these exit polls were worth anything to begin with.

Right now, they are just that, a projection.

TAPPER: All right. Oren Liebermann in Tel Aviv, thanks so much.

Joining me now is Natan Sachs. He's the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Natan, thanks so much for being here. What do you make of it? What's your response?

NATAN SACHS, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY AT THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, too close to call is exactly the right call on it. Of course, Netanyahu was very unhappy at the moment. For him, he needed 61 seats out of 120. If these polls hold and that's a huge if, he doesn't have them. That means that --

TAPPER: That's with the coalition, though. Not just his party, yes.

SACHS: Exactly. So, his party might have 32 or 33, but he needs a coalition of over half of the Knesset. If he doesn't get it, then actually the most interesting man is neither Netanyahu nor opposition leader Gantz but someone named Avigdor Liberman who is n Netanyahu's old aide from the 1990s, and then he was foreign minister, and then he was defense minister. He's the man who forced Netanyahu to these new elections and he's the one who will become king-maker if this result, where neither man having 61 for coalition.

[16:25:01]

Liberman enjoys tormenting Netanyahu. That's part of Netanyahu's problem. Liberman has nerve of steel, and he may try to force a national unity government, perhaps even without Netanyahu.

I'll just caveat this, Israelis, especially on the right wing, actually tend to lie to pollsters because they see pollsters as part of the liberal evil elite. Of course, we know nothing about that in the United States.

And that means that the polls are sometimes biased towards the left. Now, pollsters know this. They try to correct, but we don't know if they have corrected enough. That's what we have to wait three or four hours to get a little bit of a taste of the real results. And as Oren said, later in the morning, we'll know much more.

TAPPER: Because "thou shalt not bear false witness" doesn't mean much when it comes to exit pollsters.

SACHS: (INAUDIBLE)

TAPPER: So, Liberman had five votes in the April election and he was trying to get Netanyahu to agree to some things, including forcing the ultra orthodox to serve in the military and Netanyahu won't go along with it because the ultra orthodox are part of his base.

Is he going to have five votes this time around too, Liberman?

SACHS: Liberman actually made this huge gambit --

TAPPER: Five seats I should say. Yes.

SACHS: Exactly. He had a huge gambit and he seems to have gained in power. Some of -- one of the polls has him at seven, one of them at eight, perhaps even more. So, he probably gained from this gambit which is a huge political coup for him, and if he succeeds, what this means is that he'll be able to force his agenda.

Now, I want to be clear, conscription of the ultra orthodox, that was political theater. Liberman sat in governments that didn't do it and even the bill he supported wouldn't really have done it, but this allowed him to capture the niche of secular right wing. That's something that he saw political opportunity in and if these poll results are true, a big "if", he was right.

TAPPER: All right. Fascinating stuff. Thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

SACHS: Pleasure.

TAPPER: Next, the trail of evidence raising new questions about who really attacks Saudi Arabia's oil facilities as President Trump points the finger at Iran.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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