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Dems Increase Pressure on Barr Over Mueller Report; Trump Asked for Senate to Accelerate Confirmation of IRS Counsel; Trump Retreats on Threat to Close U.S.-Mexico Border; Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) is Interviewed about Realities of Trump's Border Crisis; Trump's Problem with the Truth Spans Decades. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 05, 2019 - 07:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- straight shooter. He's going to release as much of the report as he possibly can.

[07:00:06] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's inevitable that Mueller's going to testify.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last eight presidents have released their tax forms. We've prepared for the long game here.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're not interested in political games. The president's focused on actually solving real problems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has to be transparent. It's a necessary part of the process.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think we'll ever have to close the border.

The penalty of tariffs will be massive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president is playing games with peoples' lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was making it clear he was willing to entertain all options.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Happy Friday. It's been quite a week. President Trump capping off this week --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You mean all -- it's been quite a week in the last ten minutes, basically?

CAMEROTA: That's right. That's exactly right. Things happened on Monday that I truly thought were a month ago. And we'll get to those, because there's been another about-face. The president is heading to the U.S./Mexico border today, the same

border that he threatened to shut down -- I think it was just days ago.


CAMEROTA: All right. The president is now backtracking on that threat. Listen to the president last week, and then listen to him yesterday.


TRUMP: I'm telling you right now, we will close the damn border.

There's a very good likelihood that I'll be closing the border next week.

We're going to give them a one-year warning and, if the drugs don't stop or largely stop, we're going to put tariffs on Mexico. And if that doesn't stop the drugs, we close the border.

I don't think we'll ever have to close the border.


CAMEROTA: All right. Well, this comes just days after the president retreated on health care, electing to punt the issue until after the 2020 election.

BERMAN: He still has not retreated on the fact that his father was not born in Germany, however.

As the president reverses course again, House Democrats are trying to advance on two fronts. They want to still see the still-secret Mueller report and the president's still-secret tax returns.

The House judiciary chair, Jerry Nadler, is demanding the Justice Department produce all communications between the attorney general and the special counsel. This comes after reports that some members of the Mueller team told associates that the attorney general's summary of their work did not convey how damaging the findings were for the president.

House Democrats have also demanded six years of the president's tax returns. "The New York Times" reports the president asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to prioritize a confirmation vote for his nominee to be the head lawyer at the IRS, and that request is raising questions about the timing and motivation. Did he do it because he wanted his guy there in case Democrats went after his taxes?

All right. Let's bring in Jeffrey Toobin, former federal prosecutor and CNN chief legal analyst; Michael Smerconish, CNN political commentator and host of CNN's "SMERCONISH"; and Susan Glasser, CNN global affairs analyst and staff writer for "The New Yorker." You can read her new piece, titled "The Witch-Hunt Lives." CAMEROTA: Lives. Lives.

BERMAN: I should say "lives."

CAMEROTA: It's not an F-word so you don't know how to pronounce it.

BERMAN: So read that after you watch this.

Jeffrey Toobin, I want to start with you. As we were coming on air here, I was asking you, what do you think the biggest deal is this morning, given everything that's going on? And with all the smoke, with all the flip-flops, with all the fighting, you still say it's the Mueller report.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I do. Because you know, this is 300 pages of material about one of the most significant scandals in American history. I mean, you know, we -- so much noise happens in this presidency every day. It is worth remembering just the magnitude of that issue, you know.

Russia made this concerted effort to interfere with our election. The Trump campaign did not, according to Mueller, illegally assist that effort, but there was evidence of obstruction of justice by the president.

We need to know what was -- what Mueller learned. And this report exists in the world, but the question is, who's going to get to see it?

CAMEROTA: Well, it sounds like somebody who is going to get to see it by mid- -- mid-March, sorry.

BERMAN: April.

CAMEROTA: Mid-April. Jeez. What month is it, Michael Smerconish?

So, look, Jerry Nadler is inpatient, because of some of these press reports that say that some on Mueller's team believe that the attorney general has mischaracterized them. So of course, he's chomping at the bit to get his hands on it. But it sounds like we're going to be able to see some form of it next week.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't know that there's a surprise in this tension that has become evident through the reporting that some members of the investigation, the Mueller group, now are concerned about Bill Barr.

But Barr kind of told us, Alisyn, where he was headed. In his confirmation process, without dropping Comey's name as I recall, he was very clear that he didn't think it proper that Jim Comey had taken Hillary Clinton to the woodshed relative to the emails without their being an indictment.

So now, in view of that, where there's not a recommendation in the report, we're told, for any indictment, nor could there be, of a sitting president. But I think all of a sudden now, you're seeing his predisposition to not allow a repeat of what we saw in the summer of 2016.

BERMAN: Susan, you look at this, and you say all of these developments leading up to this morning tell you that the president's best news cycle on the Mueller report has already happened; and from here, you think it's all downhill.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, look, I mean, they've spent the last two weeks -- I can't believe it, but it's already been two weeks since the Mueller report was delivered to the Justice Department -- essentially claiming not only victory but complete and total exoneration, even though the four-page, not a summary from Attorney General Barr specifically said that it was not exoneration, according to Mueller, on the question of obstruction of justice.

It is increasingly clear, it seems to me, both to the president and to his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who are reverting to their previous form of attacking the Mueller prosecutors and the Mueller investigation as illegitimate.

I mean, the -- if you looked at the strongly-worded comments from Giuliani over the last couple days, you got a feeling that they believed that this report is potentially very damaging to the president of the United States. And I feel like that sunk in; and that, at least in part, explains the dizzying series of presidential diversions, distractions and otherwise that we've seen over especially the last week.

He seems quite frenetic, confused at times, saying even by President Trump's standards, wild and outrageous things. I mean, for goodness sakes, the national media spent the last two days arguing over whether wind turbines cause cancer --

BERMAN: They don't.

GLASSER: -- because the president was ranting about it.

So I agree with Jeff that this is all connected, in some ways, to the Mueller report and that, while it may be predictable, that there would be this period of wrangling over the report. We're still in the middle of it. And will we look back and remember that there was a couple week gap between when the Mueller report was delivered and when it was seen by the public? I think that very much depends on what Attorney General Barr decides to do or not. Is it going to be a real report or a redacted one?

TOOBIN: And let me just respond to something Michael said. Because I think he may be right that Barr will take out the material that is incriminating to the president, because he was in charge.

But think about the legal position the president is in. He can't be charged under Justice Department policy, so that's off the table. But if you believe that there should be no disclosures of information about people who are not charged, then that's removed from the report. So he wins both ways, if that's the case.

CAMEROTA: Yes, Teflon. It's set up perfectly for him.

TOOBIN: Heads I win, tails you lose. You can't indict me, and you can't talk about me, because I'm not indicted.

CAMEROTA: Well, that brings us to another thing that could be damaging for the president, and we just don't know, because he's never released his taxes, Michael. And now the Ways and Means Committee wants to see his taxes; and they have every legal right to see his taxes. And there's "New York Times" reporting that President Trump was very interested in putting someone -- his hand-picked person into the chief counsel's office of the IRS.

Let me just read a portion of you. "President Trump earlier this year asked Senator Mitch McConnell to prioritize a confirmation vote for his nominee to be chief counsel of the IRS, indicating it was a higher priority than voting on the nomination of William Barr as attorney general. White House aides insisted for months that the confirmation of the nominee, named Matt Desmond, tax lawyer from Santa Barbara, was a top priority after the passage of the Tax Bill in 2017."

Of course, this raises the question, if this was more important to him than the attorney general for the United States, who would oversee the Mueller report, of course, it makes you think that he wants a stooge at the IRS before his taxes could be released to anyone.

SMERCONISH: I'm sure he wanted to have his back protected.

Look, we have a tradition in this country of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns, but we don't have a requirement. And so in this case, I can't help but wonder if House Ways and Means is overstepping its bounds, because they're seeking to impose a requirement.

And I read the law. I don't completely understand it. I know that it dates back to the Teapot Dome Scandal, but why ask for six years of tax returns if your stated basis is to study the applicability of the IRS code to sitting presidents, because he hasn't been in office for six years?

So I think that they run a risk here of being perceived as going after the president, even though many of us believe that he absolutely should have handed over his tax returns a long time ago.

BERMAN: When you say many of us, 67 percent of the American people, according to the CNN poll, which really hasn't changed.


BERMAN: That number is very consistent.


BERMAN: It's the vast majority. The six years was chosen, the length of time, because that's what the IRS says. It says you should save six years of taxes, and that might be what the normal person would have readily available. That's what they say is the reason they chose that number right there.

Susan, I do want to get your take on one other piece of news that we learned overnight; and that's Michael Cohen and his team are apparently asking for more time. Don't send him to jail next month, because he's finding more information on his own as he gets access to his hard drives and his information.

Let me read you this: "Mr. Cohen was only recently able to access a hard drive with important documents." That's what his lawyers say. "Said drive contains over 14 million files which consist of all emails, voice recordings, images and attachments from Mr. Cohen's computers and phones."

A legitimate request at this point? Do you think Michael Cohen has found out more in this last few weeks than, say, the FBI or the Southern District found when they had all kinds of search warrants and were digging through his stuff?

GLASSER: Well, that's right. Certainly, it raises the question of, you know, when they had the investigation in the search into his office and his various homes, why did they not find this?

Clearly, the statement tantalizes us with the promise of voice recordings, which from the beginning, has been something that Cohen's and his attorneys have dangled out there, that somehow there's him talking to President Trump.

But you know, both the IRS story and Michael Cohen story, I'm struck by the extent to which it's just a reminder of how much, you know, Donald Trump is encircled at this point in time, you know. The consequence of having the Democratic House of Representatives, of having these metastasizing investigations in New York City by the Southern District prosecutors, it suggests that, you know, one way or the other, there will be investigations that hang over him.

Cohen is a significant cooperating witness, given that he was so close to the president. But you now have these whistle-blowers coming forward, not just the one whistle-blower who became public this week, talking about potentially improper granting of security clearances inside the White House, but the House Oversight Committee says there are dozens of people who have come forward volunteering information. The president is definitely under attack right now.

BERMAN: Right. Susan, Michael, Jeffrey, thank you all very much.

You, of course, can watch "SMERCONISH" every Saturday at 9 a.m. right here on CNN.

CAMEROTA: All right. President Trump heads to the border today after doing an about-face on his threat to close it. So we will talk to a senator who has been to the border recently, as well. What did he see there?


[07:16:46] BERMAN: President Trump heads to the U.S./Mexico border today after retreating on his threat to close the border.

Our Nick Watt is live in Calexico, California, near the border.

Good morning, Nick.


Well, the president this morning will tour a little section of fence that was unveiled with a little bit of fanfare last October and a plaque that reads, in part, "to commemorate the completion of the first section of President Trump's border wall."

Not quite. It's more replacement fence that was earmarked for replacement back in 2009, but it was funded under President Trump.

Now, the fear down here was that the president was going to announce that closure of the border; but as you say, he has pivoted on that during the past week under some pressure. Take a listen.


TRUMP: I'm telling you right now, we will close the damn border.

There's a very good likelihood that I'll be closing the border next week.

We're going to give them a one-year warning, and if the drugs don't stop or largely stop, we're going to put tariffs on Mexico. And if that doesn't stop the drugs, we close the border.

I don't think we'll ever have to close the border.


WATT: Now, there are protests planned down here for today. Organizers have called for those protests to be peaceful but loud; and one of the groups involved is bringing that big inflatable baby Trump wearing a diaper. They want the president to see that.

Back to you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right. Nick Watt, thank you very much for previewing that for us.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley. He serves on the Appropriations, Foreign Relations and Budget Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for being here on NEW DAY with us. You have made several trips to the border. And I just want you to give us a status report. Because it's hard for us to know what is happening at the border.

So is it a crisis, as we hear so many experts say? What's your take from what you've seen?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): I'll tell you, what you see if you see it from the Mexican side, is that families are coming from Central America. They're fleeing horrendous violence in those three states of the Northern Triangle. They're coming to the border, and they're being told, "You cannot present yourself for an asylum." And therefore, they're being left across the border under very terrible circumstances.

I visited a whole bunch of shelters that were just jammed with people, not allowed, as they should be under international law, to present themselves for asylum.

CAMEROTA: Well, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says it's all your faults in Congress that this is happening. So let me play for you what she said yesterday.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I don't know how many more children need to be exploited or how many more families need to be put in harm's way by a trafficker before Congress will act.

But as you saw, we have tried everything we can at DHS. We are absolutely out of the ability to manage this flow. And they need help.

So we've got to work with Congress. This cannot be partisan. We really do have common cause on this. So I beseech folks to work with me. I'm willing to talk to anyone in Congress who will work with me on this.


CAMEROTA: You heard her. She says that at DHS, they cannot manage this.

MERKLEY: Well, let's understand why there is such a big surge. If you asked the folks throughout Central America, "Why are a significant number more coming now than came a few months ago?"

And the answer is, President Trump's threats to use national security emergency to seal the border. So every time he talks about sealing the border, it produces a surge.

CAMEROTA: Well, let's talk about that. Because you're saying the news trickles to them, which is not hard, obviously, in this global age of information. And then they -- they speed it up? The people who are desperate then make a run for the border because they hear this?

MERKLEY: Yes. That's exactly right. So picture in Central America that you have drug gangs that have been empowered by the money that we send, because we buy drugs in America. They use those dollars to buy guns. Then there are deported gang members who strengthen the gang infrastructure. And so at the street level, everything faces extortion. Every family faces extortion. Every business faces extortion. And so the result is that it's just -- when a gang says, "You pay us

today," it's not that "If you don't pay us, we'll break your window." It's like "If you don't pay us today, we may kill you tomorrow, or we may rape your daughter tomorrow. Or this weekend, we may kill your family." It's that level of violence that is, in fact, entrenched because of the relationship with the United States.

CAMEROTA: And so, look, President Trump is cutting the aid. I mean, that was his threat: to cut the aid to, as you know, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. And then what happens?

MERKLEY: Well, the aid is a little bit of effort to strengthen some of the institutions that are being overwhelmed by the guns from the United States.

The best thing you could do is say, "I'm going to do significant effort to strengthen those institutions, so the drug gangs don't control Central America," and cut off the flow of guns from the United States. He wants the drugs to stop from Mexico to the U.S., he should stop the -- or the drugs to stop, he should stop the guns from going south.

CAMEROTA: I mean, you're basically suggesting that President Trump is creating a self-fulfilling crisis?

MERKLEY: Well, absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. Yes.

And the thing about this situation with the secretary, she was deeply, deeply imbedded in this child separation policy. And the whole strategy was to say, "We're going to injure children to deter people from coming." But it doesn't work. First of all, it's evil. Second of all, it doesn't work, because the circumstances they're fleeing from are so horrific, when they're going to die or be brutalized, you're going to take the risk of traveling. And when you say, "This is your last chance," they're going to say, "I've got to go now."

CAMEROTA: And what's it like? I mean, I just want to ask you, because you've been in there. Particularly, say, the Homestead facility that you've visited in Florida, what's happening inside there?

MERKLEY: Well, it's certainly -- there's no issue in terms of the food or the health care. That's pretty straightforward. But it's such a strange setting, where children are marched around in single file with guards in front and guards in back. They're told that, if they misbehave, that they will never be able to leave the facility, that they'll never be able to get a placement with a family. So it's -- and they don't know what's happened to their parents. The connection has been severed. So they're adrift in this Kafkaesque situation.

And all the experts say this sort of trauma that's introduced by the child separation and the uncertainty of being in a new land under the control of this very powerful force, the U.S. government, no knowledge of what will happen to you, is deeply, deeply damaging.

CAMEROTA: And so --

MERKLEY: That's why we have to shut it down. We shut down Tornedo. We have to shut down Homestead.

CAMEROTA: And so what are you calling on the president to do today about all of this?

MERKLEY: Shut it down. Shut this down.

CAMEROTA: And then what?

MERKLEY: Have these -- these children need to be with families, in schools as they await their asylum hearing. They belong in schools and parks and homes, not behind barbed wire.

CAMEROTA: Senator Jeff Merkley, we appreciate you coming in and sharing the perspective that you've gotten from all of your trips to the border with us. Thank you.

MERKLEY: It's a pleasure to be here.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much.

MERKLEY: Thank you.


BERMAN: All right. President Trump said this week that his father was born in Germany. He was not. He was born in the Bronx. More on the president's long and troubled history with the truth, next.


[07:27:58] CAMEROTA: In just one day this week, President Trump said at least three lies, but his problem with telling the truth is not something new, of course. It spans decades. And CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, joins us now with more. You've looked into this. You must have been busy.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I was very busy, you know, because those troubles with the truth run the gamut, from his father's birthplace to his slot machines in Atlantic City. And it is a very bad habit that he takes with him wherever he goes.


BORGER (voice-over): One day, three whoppers. Even for Donald Trump, impressive.

TRUMP: My father is German, right? Was German and born in a -- a very wonderful place in Germany.

BORGER: Fred Trump was born in New York City.

And there's his latest suggestion of election fraud, all but saying the 2018 midterms were rigged by the Democrats. TRUMP: There were a lot of close elections that were -- they seemed

every single one of them went Democrat. If it was close, they say the Democrat -- there's something going on. Hey, but we have to be a little bit careful, because I don't like the way the votes are being tallied. I don't like it.

BORGER: He doesn't like wind turbines either.

TRUMP: And they say the noise causes cancer. You told me that one, OK?

BORGER: Even his staff couldn't figure that one out.

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: I don't have an answer on that. I don't -- I don't have an answer to that one.

BORGER: All just the latest additions to more than 9,000 false or misleading claims made by this president, according to "The Washington Post" fact checkers. As Donald Trump himself said last year --

TRUMP: What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.

BORGER: Donald Trump has had a fraught relationship with the truth, one that goes back decades, to the building and selling of Trump Tower, where Barbara Res managed the construction.

BARBARA RES, MANAGED CONSTRUCTION OF TRUMP TOWER: He planted that Princess Di was looking for an apartment in Trump Tower.

BORGER: And that didn't happen?