Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's Ex-Campaign Manager Testifies In Impeachment Hearing; CNN Reports High Probability Oil Attack Originated From Iranian Base. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 17, 2019 - 13:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington Headquarters.

Under way right now, President Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is getting ready to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. This is the committee's first impeachment hearing since formally launching an inquiry into the president.

Most of the questions here are expected to revolve around an incident detailed in the Mueller report, in which Lewandowski recalls a time when Trump instructed him to tell former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to interfere with the Mueller investigation.

The White House has Lewandowski not to answer any questions about any -- or any questions about that exchange. But since Lewandowski never worked for the administration, he can't reasonably claim immunity, although that doesn't mean that he won't try.

Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. Manu, what are you expecting?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We expect a pretty feisty appearance by Corey Lewandowski to push back against the allegations of the president obstructing justice. He's made that very clear in all of his comments in the run-up to this hearing.

Now, in this hearing, the Democrats plan to question him extensively about what was detailed in the Mueller report, and those were the conversations that Lewandowski had with the president and when the president urged Lewandowski to set up a meeting with Jeff Sessions to try urge the then attorney general to unrecuse himself and oversee the Mueller probe and then limit its scope so it would exclude the Trump campaign and instead focus on future presidential campaigns.

That meeting never happened. Lewandowski tried -- he tried to relay a message from the president to the attorney general, even trying to set up another meeting. He set up a meeting through Rick Dearborn, who is a former White House aide. Now, Dearborn was also subpoenaed to testify at this hearing to ask about -- Democrats could ask about that episode, but the White House blocked that testimony from happening. Both he and Rob Porter, a former White House aide, the White House says, are immune from testifying despite being hit with a congressional subpoena. And that's wrapped up in a larger fight that Democrats have right now with the White House about whether former aides, including former counsel, Don McGahn can testify and reveal some of the contents that were detailed in the Mueller report.

But nevertheless, the White House has said that Corey Lewandowski's testimony today will be limited in scope. He can only talk about what is in the Mueller report, even though Lewandowski never served in the White House himself. All those issues and controversies are bound to come out and what is expected to be a very feisty, contentious hearing as Democrats are trying to gear up on their impeachment push and Lewandowski himself gearing up for a potential Senate run in New Hampshire. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Manu Raju, thank you so much.

Let's talk about all of this with our legal analyst, Carrie Cordero and Laura Coates and Dana Bash.

So, Dana, it's important to note what exactly this is all about and what Democrats really want to zero in Corey Lewandowski even though they may not get very far on this topic.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, and that's really the key. First of all, it's a big deal. For the first time, the Democrats have one of the players in the Mueller report from Volume 2 on the notion of obstruction. So far, everybody else has said no.

But I know Corey Lewandowski pretty well from covering him as the Trump campaign manager, and then afterwards, as an adviser. No one speaks Trump as fluently as Corey Lewandowski. That's A. So he knows exactly how to affect and how to speak to the audience. He's under oath so he has got to answer questions, but he understands that.

Number two. it's not just about Trump, it's about him. He wants to win. He hasn't officially put his hat in the ring. But assuming it goes well, he's very seriously flirting with the idea of running for Senate in New Hampshire. He has to win a Republican primary there. And to do that, you have to be on a very, very good terms with Trump voters in New Hampshire. That is a huge part of what we're going to see here.

KEILAR: That is so interesting, just the dynamic that's going to lend to what we see today.

And I wonder, as you are watching this, we should talk about the big picture of what we expect, which is that the Judiciary Committee is trying here to build an impeachment case when it comes to obstruction of justice. Because let's remember, the Mueller report did not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice, it was the attorney general, Bill Barr, Laura, who looked at it and basically said this -- essentially said this exonerates this president. It was actually very clear in the language of the Mueller report that that was not what the investigation did.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And, of course, Mueller then came back as a last witness to appear for a committee to confirm just that very notion, this was not an exoneration. And why it's so important today is Corey Lewandowski is the first fact witness who was able to justify now following Robert Mueller, who everyone thought was going to provide some life and some information and some joie de vivre about the actual book, the 400-page -- I call it a book, the report at this point in time.


KEILAR: I think it is also a book.

COATES: It is a book. I own it. It's a copy.

The issue here, however, is, generally, the agenda he has. More importantly, he is so central to this case in the sense that his name appears multiple times. Why? Because it shows the state of mind of the president of the United States hopefully to show people what he was thinking when he wanted the Special Counsel to look the other direction, to not pursue this case.

What was his beef with Jeff Sessions? Was it more than the issue of not recusing or was there something more to it? One person has that and directives (ph) from the president of the United States. That was Corey Lewandowski. He didn't follow the direction. So why didn't he do so? What was the reason for that? Why did that language -- did he know that it was illegal in some way, and the president of the United States is now claiming, I had no idea? We'll see.

KEILAR: So he never worked for the Trump administration, right? So assuming, as the White House is asking that he not ask question or not answer questions about during the time, during that time period of Trump being in the White House, does he really have a leg to stand on with that legally?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is a very aggressive and unusual and novel interpretation of executive privilege to say two things as it relates to Corey Lewandowski. One, that it applies to communications with individuals who are not White House employees. So he was not a White House aide. Usually, executive privilege is asserted when it pertains to advice that people in the White House are giving the president. And, two, they are asserting that communications he had with the president, even on other issues, even before he became president during the transition could potentially fall under executive privilege. That is a really extreme interpretation.

And so the questions that Laura raises are all the questions that we would want to know from Corey Lewandowski, and the big question going to the hearing today is, is he going to answer any of them? And if he follows to the letter the instructions that have been given to him by the White House Counsel, he is not going to answer some of these most important questions about what the president told him to do.

KEILAR: All right, everyone stand by. We're going to continue this conversation.

Right now, we're looking at live pictures from Capitol Hill. You can see Corey Lewandowski there in the Judiciary Committee room ahead of this hearing set to get underway. We are expecting opening remarks here any moment.

Also developing, a CNN source says there is a high possibility that the brazen attacks Saudi Arabia oil facilities originated from an Iranian base.

Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta joins me.



KEILAR: We are watching Capitol Hill right now. That is Corey Lewandowski, President Trump's former campaign manager, who is going to be testifying before the Judiciary Committee. We are going to watch this live as we are expecting opening remarks to begin any moment.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have determined with high probability that the strikes on two Saudi oil facilities came from inside Iran. A source tells CNN the attack over the weekend involved low altitude cruise missiles assisted by drones. The trajectory seems to indicate the missiles were launched from an Iranian base near the Iraqi border and not from Yemen, which is significant, because Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack.

Let's talk now to former Secretary of Defense, CIA Director, White House Chief of Staff and Congressman Leon Panetta. Sir, thank you so much for joining us.

And just give us a sense of how significant it is if this strike originated physically from within Iran.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, there's no question that if it's proven that Iran was involved here, and obviously this was a very complex and precise strike involving cruise missiles and drones. And Iran is probably the only country that has that kind of sophisticated weaponry.

But if it's proven that that's the case, then I think the United States has to determine whether or not this is an opportunity to kind of rebuild the coalition that was dealing with Iran. If he uses it as an opportunity to rebuild that coalition in dealing with Iran, then I think it can be a very effective device in terms of trying to figure out what pressure we put on Iran as a consequence.

KEILAR: There's been a big focus on military action, if that's a possibility or if it's not. And the president has really dialed back his talk about it. But over the weekend, he had said the U.S. was locked and loaded. How prepared is Iran versus the U.S. for a military conflict in the Middle East?

PANETTA: Well, as secretary, we were always concerned about the possibility of going in and conducting an attack in Iran. It's not the same as conducting an attack on Syria. Iran has the capability to use missiles to strike back at our forces, strike back at our bases, and really make it an escalated war very rapidly.


So I think the United States has to be careful in deciding whether or not it's going to use military action here. This is not a strike on our military forces. So I think the United States has to be careful that it doesn't just get dragged into a war by Saudi Arabia. We have to make a decision based on our national security interests, what is the right step to take here, not based on what others may tell us to do or not do.

KEILAR: And to that point, the president had tweeted that the U.S. is, quote, waiting to hear from the kingdom, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as to who they believe was the cause of this attack and under what terms we would proceed. What is the effect? Because it's so clear from this tweet that there is this sort of submission to Saudi Arabia. What's the effect of the U.S. being so submissive to Saudi Arabia?

PANETTA: Well, the president of the United States has to represent the national security interests of the United States and not be bragged into another Middle Eastern war based on what others may want. Saudi Arabia has a reputation for wanting the United States to do its work and then holding our coat while we do it. That's a dangerous precedent and a dangerous tweet by the president. I think it's very important for the United States to make decisions based on our interests, not on what Saudi Arabia wants.

Now, we can consult with Saudi Arabia, we can consult with other countries. That's fair. But when it comes to a decision about military action, that's a decision the United States has to make by itself and for itself.

KEILAR: Secretary Panetta, thank you so much.

PANETTA: Thank you.

KEILAR: And let's go to Capitol Hill for the Corey Lewandowski hearing.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-CA): -- three witnesses to this hearing - Rick Dearborn, Rob Porter, and Corey Lewandowski. Unfortunately, we learned last night that the White House is blocking the first two from even showing up and tightly limiting the third. The White House has no authority, legal or otherwise, to give these orders.

We had wanted these three individuals to testify before the Committee and the American people because they are critical witnesses to the incidents of obstruction of justice laid out in the Mueller Report. In at least five of those episodes, evidence laid out in the special counsel's report established that all the elements of obstruction of justice were met.

Today, despite the road blocks the White House has thrown up, we will focus on one of the most concerning of those five episodes. It is the president ordering the attorney general through Mr. Lewandowski to stop the special counsel's investigation into the president and his campaign. As the report detailed, Mr. Dearborn was enlisted as part of that effort as well. Mr. Porter has other critical evidence regarding obstruction.

As our hearings with the special counsel and other outside experts established, anyone else involved in these episodes of obstruction would have been charged with a crime, anyone else. Let that sink in.

The president knows this, and the White House is intent on preventing the American people from hearing the details, so there's no surprise that the White House blocked two of our witnesses - Mr. Porter and Mr. Dearborn - from showing up at all today.

On behalf of the president, the White House and the Department of Justice are advocating or advancing the same spurious legal doctrine they did when this Committee called on the most important obstruction witness to testify, former White House Counsel Don McGahn. They claimed Porter and Dearborn, like McGahn, are absolutely immune from testifying before Congress.

There is no such thing. The only court ever to consider this reported absolute immunity doctrine totally rejected it. That is why we have gone to court in the McGahn case to set it aside.

What is happening today is more troubling than McGahn's failure to appear because even if we applied DOJ's own made up rules of absolutely immunity, I question how Mr. Dearborn fits under those rules.

According to DOJ opinions, absolutely immunity applies to, quote, "the president's immediate advisers who serve as the president's alter ego," close quote. To extent this already dubious doctrine to someone like Mr. Dearborn, who is far more removed from the president than McGahn, is a dangerous, new stretch.

I think we should call this what it is - an absolutely cover up by the White House. Mr. Lewandowski is here and has vital information about presidential obstruction of justice, but the White House wants to limit our and your ability to hear it all.

Mr. Lewandowski was called alone, one-on-one into the Oval Office on June 19, 2017 and again on July 19, 2017, and the president did something I find startling. He dictated a speech to Mr. Lewandowski. A speech not for Mr. Lewandowski, but for Attorney General Sessions to deliver -- that Attorney General Sessions.

[13:20:00] He secretly told Mr. Lewandowski to put the following words in the A.G.'s mouth, quote, "I am going to meet with the special prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the special prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections." That quote is from volume two, page 91 of the Mueller Report. As the Mueller Report found limited the investigation to future elections would have cut off the investigation of any past conduct and struck at the heart of the special counsel's mandate. It would have ended the investigation of the president's conduct.

The evidence found by the special counsel met all the elements of obstruction of justice. Mr. Lewandowski was nervous about this demand from his former boss, as he should have been. It raised serious questions about criminal conduct. (Inaudible) recused, forbidden from doing anything regarding the Mueller investigation. He was certainly not allowed to curtail it.

So Mr. Lewandowski tried to surreptitiously meet with the AG, when that failed he tried to pass the buck to Mr. Dearborn. Mr. Lewandowski gave Mr. Dearborn the script that had been dictated by the president, all while telling the president that he would follow through on the president's orders.

So that is what we want to learn -- try to learn more about today. As we learned with Special Counsel Mueller, witness testimony is critical to any investigation. But the White House does not want us, or the American people to hear the story in full.

Late yesterday the White House sent us a letter claiming that Mr. Lewandowski's conversations with the president, quote, "are protected from disclosure by Executive Branch confidentiality interests," closed quote. They say he may testify about presidential communications that are already disclosed in the Mueller Report, but no more.

They make that claim despite the fact that Mr. Lewandowski was at all times a private, political operative, apparently was not offering advice of any kind; the usual prerequisite for executive privilege, it was enlisted for apparent wrongdoing.

No court has ever said that the president is entitled to confidentiality under these circumstances. Indeed the Department of Justice has said executive privilege should not be invoked to conceal evidence of wrongdoing on the part of executive officers.

The White House is advancing a new and dangerous theory, the crony privilege. It makes absolute immunity look good by comparison. Where are the limits? This is a cover-up plain and simple. If it were to prevail, especially while the Judiciary Committee's considering whether to recommend articles of impeachment, it would upend the separation of powers as envisioned by our Founders.

And today's cover is part of a pattern of the White House blocking Congress. The White House announced his desire to quote, "fight all the subpoenas." The White House's obstruction of Congress ranges across nearly every committee, and virtually every investigation of the administration -- whether related to children in cages, botched security clearances, or their failure to defend the country from ongoing attacks by a foreign adversary.

Well, Mr. Lewandowski, you are here under subpoena. That means you are required to answer our questions -- all our questions, completely and truthfully. Our investigation also extends beyond the four corners of the Mueller Report.

We are looking at corruption and abuse of power more broadly, so we will inquire about other subjects as well. We will not be daunted by the cover-up. We intend to secure accountability for any wrong-doing, because no one is above the law, not even the President of the United States.

I now recognize the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, the gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Collins for his opening statement.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for introducing this hearing, which is now,as you said, under the new rules. You know, sort of the old school, the old rules are the new rules; the new rules are the old rules. These were new -- these rules were here all along. And yet, here we go again. We're going to say that they're new because we like the packaging. I've never seen a majority so amazed with packaging in all my life. You know why, because they can't sell what's inside.

They can't sell the product. So they just keep packaging it differently. You know I think we should call it -- I agree with my Chairman. I think we should call this for what it is. It's just another simple oversight hearing. In fact, no, I think it's actually become this -- it has become let's read the Mueller report for audio book. That's what we've become.

We had Mr. Mueller here. Had a long day of it. Judging by all accounts it didn't go real well. For the purpose of what you've proclaimed for over nine months and almost two years that there's impeachable offenses, as my chairman has said, clearly in the Mueller Report.

But here's the problem, 17 of the members of the Judiciary Committee have said that they think the president ought to be impeached. So why are we still investigating it. Seventeen, you get some more.

[13:25:00] The problem is you don't have the votes. You don't have the number that -- even if you got it out of this committee, you don't have it on the floor. That's your problem. So the thing that we're going to do is we're going to drag this committee through oversight hearings, talking about things that have been talked about ad nauseam, ad nauseam, ad nauseam. We're going to talk about it. We're going to put filters up. We're going to say what it really is and really is not. While on all the things we're going to try to imply that this president shouldn't be president.

You know, and it's really interesting to me that we just said -- just heard just a moment ago that it was said that these made up rules at DOJ -- what's interesting that now they're made up rules. They wasn't made up rules when Obama administration used them. Were they made up rules then? Just asking, for a friend.

You know, this is amazing, as we come into this situation -- the chairman also said, that while we're doing this and -- and stopping committees from searching into products like the immigration issue and foreign influence, I just want to remind everybody here watching and everybody here to -- to see the show today, and also to remind the majority that they have complete jurisdiction over immigration.

We have complete and total jurisdiction over immigration, for the most part. All we have to do is if you want to fix the border, put a bill up. You don't want to do that. You like this. You like having the press here. You like the cameras, because it makes it appear like something's happened that's not.

But the real -- real thing, and it's coming out starting -- the American people are starting to get it. They're starting to get that if you're just howling at the wind you're not doing anything. You're making them think you are but you're not.

So don't tell me -- don't bring to me immigration anymore that you want to deal with it. You just want to bring administrative officials in here and yell at them with what you don't like is happening.

And I agree, we need to fix it. Bring us a bill, bring my bill, bring your bill, but do something about it. Quit talking about it. Foreign influence. The only real thing we all agree on in the Mueller Report was foreign influence from Russia, but yet, where's the bill? Where's the bill? Where's Waldo? Where's the bill? We don't do anything about it; we like to talk about it, because we think it makes the president look bad, because that's the implication we've been given for two years.

Unfortunately, we also don't really want information in this committee either. If we did, we'd work like the Intel Committee had done. You know we've been -- had that issue before. They actually worked with witnesses to get them to come in.

Mr. Lewandowski, I believe said he would come without a subpoena, but yet we subpoenaed him anyway, because it looks -- oh, as I was told earlier this year, from the chairman's perspective, a subpoena is a start of the dialogue.

Not according to Black's Law Dictionary but who cares, we're just the Judiciary Committee. This is the problem we're having.

This committee does not want to interview Don McGahn behind closed doors. They want him in front of everybody. They want to do this out front. They don't try to actually get information. That's what real oversight is. Real oversight is trying to get information. But we don't do that.

I understand its tough, making a promise and not keeping it. I understand. All of this in this room can relate to a time when we made a promise and we couldn't keep it. The (ph) majority made a promise; we'll impeach him, we'll investigate him. For most of them it happened in November 2016, because they couldn't believe that Donald Trump won. And they still can't get over it today.

So what do we do? We have public hearings, lots of flash bulbs, embarrassing the president, not gathering facts, not investigating, not doing oversight. This is certainly not being fair, but we like to issue subpoenas. We're setting a world record at that -- 40 times faster than the previous chairman.

But we don't want any answers because we're not willing to engage in dialogue to get information from folks. And you know how I really don't -- I believe that this is more just wanting to get it here, is because it's not like Mr. Lewandowski has had silence on this issue.

He's testified before Senate Select Committee Intelligence. He's testified before House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. And now he's also voluntarily testified before the special counsel, by way of Mr. Mueller.

And we've had access to all of his summaries of his -- of his testimony. This is not new, but yet it is new because it's another time to rehash an old story.

You know this is the fall. This is when the ABC and NBC and all the -- all the broadcast folks, they bring out their new shows. This isn't the summer rerun season. We should get into something new.

But I just want to show you one last thing before I turn it back over and, you know, we'll get the popcorn and the show going. The Judiciary Committee is the Judiciary Committee for a reason. It's because we oversee the court system. And for any person who has actually been here, and actually -- an attorney in this room has actually appeared for a judge, a judge is pretty stickler for rules.

And I just want to point out something. It may be true but -- and I know some will laugh and some won't care, but for some of us it does matter. The subpoena today for Mr. Lewandowski and the others said 10 a.m. this morning. This just shows you how impulsive and poorly designed this entire sort of faux impeachment charade we're doing.

The subpoena is not even properly. The subpoenas were here for all three to compel them at 10 o'clock this morning. But today's hearing's at 1, not 10. The witnesses lack appropriate notice for the hearing today.

That's a simple basic subpoena issue. But we're the Judiciary Committee. I can understand this.