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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Michael Bloomberg Not Running; White House Pushes Back on Investigations. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 5, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If you had bet that the new "Game of Thrones" trailer would drop before the Mueller report, congrats. You're a winner.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Ready for political war. The White House today on the attack, the president furiously tweeting, after Democrats make almost everyone in Trump's universe a potential witness.

Biden his time? A little too much, perhaps. Some Democrats suggesting it may already be too late for the biggest name in the list of 2020 contenders to jump in.

Plus, no fast food for you. Critics say President Trump is snubbing women's sports champions. Why aren't they getting their big moment at the White House?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead.

President Trump and the White House in political war, as the president believes Democrats are out to -- quote -- "take a wrecking ball to his life," according to his friend Senator Lindsey Graham.

Today, the Democratic chair of the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, is accusing the White House of Stonewalling, saying the Trump administration is just refusing to produce documents and witnesses relevant to their probe of security clearances.

This just one of the battles between the White House and Democratic- controlled committees in Congress. Yesterday, the House Oversight Committee cast a stunningly wide net, making a vast document request from 81 people, agencies and entities, going after many of those close to the president in just this first wave of requests.

Multiple White House officials today telling CNN they will try to argue what they're calling President Trump's -- quote -- "right to confidentiality" to restrict what they had ultimately handed over.

President Trump amping up the rhetorical salvos, tweeting -- quote -- "Nadler, Schiff and the Dem heads of the committees have gone stone cold crazy"-- unquote.

A brand-new Quinnipiac poll out late this afternoon is giving us some insight into what the American people think of all this; 64 percent of U.S. voters say they believe that Donald Trump committed crimes before he became president, but Americans are more divided as to whether they think any of these crimes happened once he took office; 45 percent say they think President Trump broke the law while president; 43 percent do not believe that.

And, significantly, a majority in this poll, 59 percent, say Congress should not begin impeachment proceedings against the president.

CNN's Abby Phillip is digging into all of this, as well as the White House strategy to deal with this new era of Democratic oversight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Facing an onslaught of congressional investigations on multiple fronts, the White House is preparing to push back, CNN has learned.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a disgrace to our country. I'm not surprised that it's happening.

PHILLIP: White House aides tell CNN they will look for ways to limit cooperation with a wide-ranging probe by the Judiciary Committee now led by Democrats.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: We have to find that what's been going on and we have to lay out a case to the American people and reveal it.

PHILLIP: The committee sent letters to 81 people and entities tied to Trump, including his two oldest sons, looking into the president's business dealings, and whether he abused power and obstructed justice while in office.

Aides are looking at ways to limit the number of documents provided to lawmakers, including those from his time in office, Trump hinting at that strategy after a bill signing event today.

TRUMP: President Obama from what they tell me was under a similar kind of a thing. Didn't give one letter. They didn't do anything. They didn't give one letter of the request. Many requests were made. They didn't give a letter. It's too bad, because I would rather see them do legislation.

PHILLIP: But that plan may only have limited success.

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: For people who work in a senior capacity at the White House, they cannot use executive privilege to cover up evidence of crimes or other misconduct. If they try to do that, we will negotiate with them. If we still get don't get those documents, then we will look at issuing subpoenas.

PHILLIP: Also today, two Democratic lawmakers now asking Attorney General William Barr to open a criminal investigation into whether Trump's son-in-law and top White House adviser Jared Kushner broke the law by omitting foreign contacts on his security clearance forms.

LIEU: Jared Kushner had to submit two forms, because -- actually, he had to submit three forms. The first two were false and misleading. So he should absolutely be investigated.

PHILLIP: But Trump telling reporters, the investigations are all about politics.

TRUMP: And, basically, they have started the campaign. So the campaign begins, but the campaign is actually -- their campaign has been going on for the last two-and-a-half years. So it's a shame. And the people understand it. When they look at it, they just say presidential harassment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: And on the security clearances front, the deadline was yesterday for the White House to respond to the Oversight Committee's request for information about Jared Kushner's security clearance process.

The White House is saying that they are not going to provide those documents that the committee has requested because the committee hasn't demonstrated a legislative need for that information.

[16:05:00]

But Cummings, the chairman of that committee, says that national security is the issue here and they do have oversight over that. All of this, Jake, seems to be leading up to one big subpoena fight.

TAPPER: All right, Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this with the experts.

So, Jackie, Senator Lindsey Graham met with the president today at the White House and Graham said the president feels as if Democrats are "taking a wrecking ball to his life."

And we hear from the posture of the president he's going to -- he calls this presidential harassment.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's a simple way of -- that's the way he can describe it, without going into any details, which is what the president likes to do. It rallies his supporters, and it prevents him from actually having to tell people what is being looked into.

But it's true. Every aspect of his life right now is being looked into, his business, his presidency, his campaign, his inaugural. It really is. It runs the table. His children could end up in front of a congressional committee.

TAPPER: The adult children. KUCINICH: The adult children, yes.

TAPPER: The ones who run the company.

KUCINICH: The adult children who run the company and who are in the government could end up in front of Congress.

So, yes, pretty much every aspect of his life is being looked into right now, because -- in part because the Democrats took over Congress.

TAPPER: And, Kaitlan Collins, your sources in the White House tell you that they think Democrats have made a mistake, a strategic mistake by casting to wide a net.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they think went too broad and instead of taking targeted lines of inquiry, which they think could have been successful in Democrats' eyes and damaging to the president, that instead you saw over 80 people and entities.

They think they went to wide, that it will get lost in the noise, that the people who thought the president was a criminal before won't have their minds changed, and the people who supported the president and don't care what have their minds changed by that either.

So they do see a streak of success at being able to spin it that way. And they were prepared for an onslaught of investigations, but they didn't realize it was going to be as big as that document request was yesterday and now that they have seen that, they're essentially bracing for more to come.

TAPPER: And, David, the White House last night released a blistering statement about these investigations -- quote -- "Chairman Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and his fellow Democrats have embarked on this fishing expedition because they are terrified that their two-year false narrative of Russia collusion is crumbling. The Democrats are not after the truth. They're after the president."

You think that's going to be an effective message?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

So, listen, there is a role for the Congress here and legitimate oversight, right? Everybody acknowledges that. But what this 81- person omnibus document request illustrates is this isn't about oversight. It's about -- it's overkill, right?

As Kaitlan points out, it plays into the meme, the narrative that the president and others want to say this is a witch-hunt, fishing expedition. It's hard to see how it isn't when you're going to get tens of thousands of documents back from 81 different entities and individuals over a period of months and months and months, right?

If you did discrete, serial requests that were very serious, I think the American public and even journalists in the Twitterverse is all kind of running to the president's defense in this, which is very rare.

TAPPER: And, Bakari, the president also on a Twitter tear, tweeting -- quote -- "The greatest overreach in the history of our country. The Dems are obstructing justice and will not get anything done. A big fat fishing expedition desperately in search of a crime, when in fact the real crime is what the Dems are doing and have done."

Do you have any concerns, as a Democrat, as somebody who wants President Trump out of office? Do you have any concerns that the Democrats have made a strategic mistake here?

BAKARI SELLERS (D), FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, let's just -- first of all, I want to be clear. I don't necessarily want President Trump out of office. I actually want him beat in 2020.

TAPPER: That's what I meant. I'm sorry.

SELLERS: Yes. And I think those things are different.

Now, I don't have any concerns with the approach the Democrats are taken. In fact, all of these heeing and hawing and people up in arms, they forget the fact that the Whitewater House investigation had over 2,000 subpoenas, and we're talking about tens of -- maybe a couple hundred subpoenas yesterday.

So we're not talking about that many in the large scheme of things. However, you -- that goes to the fact that this president has a lot of various ethical issues, illegalities that they're dealing in. We're talking about a president who has -- President Carter had to sell his peanut for him when he became president.

TAPPER: He put it in a trust. Yes.

SELLERS: This president has a vast economic empire that we have to delve into, because we know there are irregularities and legalities there.

He has family that are part of his inner sanctum and his business. And you have to delve there. So I'm not concerned about the vastness of it. I think it echoes the vastness of this president's unethical nature.

TAPPER: And we do have some breaking news just in on the 2020 beat.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced that he will not run for president in 2020, he will not. It doesn't mean he's going to be staying out of the race completely, of course.

CNN's Cristina Alesci, who has been covering Bloomberg, joins me now.

Cristina, what are you learning about Bloomberg's plans? Why did he make this decision?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's been stoking speculation for sure that he might throw his hat in the ring. But, ultimately, he came to the conclusion that it was just not a clear path to victory. And he does not want to stay silent, though. He really feels passionately that he can make a difference in this particular race.

And he's going to do that I'm hearing from sources by putting together essentially an operation to help the eventual Democrat candidate and really push for the issues that he's been backing financially and on -- essentially on his stump for a while now, which is more gun safety regulation, fighting climate change, and issues like that.

[16:10:12]

Look, this is a man who spent over $130 million during the midterm elections. So you can bet that he has plenty of money. He's worth about $46 billion -- to put behind such an operation.

And he's really passionate about doing it. He's not going away. He wants to make a difference. And this is the way that he's chosen to do it. Again, the hurdles for him were quite high. Yes, he has an extensive track record running a very large city. Yes, he won reelection in New York three times.

But he also was a centrist, a self-described centrist in a field of left-of-center Democrats who were really vocal about positions like Medicare for all, wealth taxes, something that he kind of had already decided. So there were questions about that too, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Cristina Alesci on the Bloomberg beat for us.

Let's discuss this. And, Bakari, I hope you won't be mad at me for betraying the fact that when I announced that Bloomberg is not running for president, you did one of these.

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: Yes.

TAPPER: You want the Democrats to recapture the White House in 2020.

Why are you excited about this?

SELLERS: There comes a certain point in time when people who have no ability to win, no pathway to the presidency should take a step back and not do this as a vanity project.

If you're going to enhance the policy or enhance the dialogue, so be it. I mean, that is kind of counterintuitive, when somebody ran for president as a vanity project in 2016 and became president of the United States.

However, I just feel as if they're people who are adding substance to that -- to that discussion. I don't think Mayor Bloomberg was one.

TAPPER: What do you think of this all?

URBAN: Look, I think it's illustrative of where the party has gone, the Democratic Party's going, right? You heard reporting right there. It says he saw that the party is lurching to the left and he's a centrist and there's no room for him in the party. So I think that's pretty telling, right? If Michael Bloomberg, if Howard Schultz is getting heckled for saying things like, hey, I don't think Medicare for all may be viable, the Green New Deal may not be the best deal at all, and they're getting booed and shouted down, shows you whatever the Democrat is going to run, it's going to be far left of center.

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: Howard Schultz is running as an independent.

URBAN: No, but I'm saying he's still getting booed by the Democrats, though.

TAPPER: I have to say, Jackie, I don't know how much of a centrist he is. He's very progressive on a bunch of social issues, guns, climate change.

And he's more conservative on economic issues and foreign policy issues. But I don't know that that's a centrist. You know what I mean?

KUCINICH: I mean, in this field, it might be.

TAPPER: OK.

KUCINICH: His lane -- we keep on talking about lanes -- it wasn't clear where he fit in.

And also it was hard to think of another white guy being the most viable person, who's an establishment figure, being the most viable person in this current very diverse field of candidates.

But I will say, I don't think this means Bloomberg is going to throw in with Trump.

TAPPER: Oh, no.

(CROSSTALK)

KUCINICH: Well, you said that he doesn't fit into the Democratic Party.

I think he's going to put his money into this race.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: He's not going to get elected as Democrat.

KUCINICH: No, but I do think that he's going to be putting his money into Democratic races, not only on the presidential level, but around the country, as he's done particularly on issues of...

(CROSSTALK) URBAN: He's been doing that for a while.

TAPPER: Yes, on guns, on climate change.

Kaitlan, take a listen to this excerpt from his piece explaining his decision -- quote -- "I believe I would defeat Donald Trump in a general election. But I am clear-eyed about the difficulty of winning the Democratic nomination in such a crowded field."

And that's really -- I mean, that's that's the oldest story in the book.

COLLINS: Yes, that's pretty much what everyone has been saying.

It's interesting that he doesn't think that he could beat out those other Democrats to beat Trump. If you think you could beat Trump, you think that everyone would want you to run as a Democrat and take that nomination.

I think the president will take this as welcome news. He's been asking people in recent weeks if they thought Bloomberg was going to run and now he will be able to focus all of his time on whether the other B. is going to run, Biden.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Bloomberg also describes what kind of candidate he thinks could win -- quote -- "I have run for office three times and won each time in no small part because I have never stuck my finger in the wind to decide what I should believe. It's not who I am. Nor do I think it's what voters want from a leader. They want someone who levels with them, even when they disagree, and who is capable of offering practical, sensible and ambitious ideas, and of solving problems and delivering results."

Does that describe anybody to you, Bakari? Do you hear any Democrats that you think are being candid with voters?

SELLERS: Well, I think that people are now understanding that Donald Trump has ushered in this new wave of being unashamed of who you are, being unabashed, taking away all the political norms and just saying, be as honest with the voters as you possibly can be.

I think you see, for example, there was an recent article about Kamala Harris on the campaign trail. I believe it was in Politico. And one of the things it described was how she was so warm with individuals and how she was endearing and kind of sharing personal stories.

I think that that is something that you can be proud of. Even Bernie Sanders, who I'm very critical of, no one can say around this table or anywhere else that the Bernie Sanders you see on the campaign trail is not Bernie Sanders.

TAPPER: No, he's very authentic.

SELLERS: He is a very authentic person. I think that's what draws a lot of young people to him.

So, I think that you see that. And then you have uncle Joe, who, whether or not you like his policies or hate his policies, he's this endearing political figure.

[16:15:05] And so, you have those three individuals I think at the end of the day will probably be those three individuals, plus Beto O'Rourke, work who are showing that type of a sentiment.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We're going to talk about a lot more.

Speaking of the 2020 race, a panel of Democratic voters shocked many 2020 observers with one of their answers about Uncle Joe, Joe Biden, and that it might impact the decision of the biggest name around.

Then, the president's former fixer is returning to the Hill. This time, he might face questions about whether or not he ever ought a pardon.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: And we have some news just in to CNN, another inquiry just opened into Trump world. CNN now confirms New York state sent a subpoena to the Trump Organization's insurance broker, according to a person familiar with the matter.

[16:20:00] This comes days after Michael Cohen, the president's former fixer, said in his congressional testimony that the Trump Organization inflated the value of its assets to insurance companies.

And tomorrow, Michael Cohen will be back behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee. Cohen will assuredly face questions about "The Wall Street Journal" report that Cohen's lawyers talked to team Trump about a potential pardon. This as the former FBI Director James Comey is publicly calling for the Justice Department to make as much of the pending Mueller report public as possible.

As CNN's Jessica Schneider now reports, whether the public will see any of the Mueller report remains a topic of fierce debate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the Mueller report released looms, Attorney General William Barr deciding he will not step aside from overseeing what remains at the special counsel's probe, which launched just days after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

Comey now going public with what he thinks should happen to Mueller's final report advocating for releasing it to the public in a Washington Post op-ed today, writing: In critical matters of national importance, a straightforward report of what facts have been learned and how judgment has been exercised may be the only way to advance the public interest.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Good morning.

SCHNEIDER: Comey was widely criticized for unilaterally announcing no charges would be brought against Hillary Clinton in July 2016. The Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who oversaw the special counsel until Barr was confirmed has urged caution.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Just because the government collects information doesn't mean that information is accurate and it can be really misleading if you're overly transparent about information that the government collects so I think we do need to be really cautious about that.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The witch-hunt as I call it should never have taken place.

SCHNEIDER: While the president has persistently attacked the Mueller probe, former Trump White House attorney Ty Cobb is now reiterating he is a big fan of Robert Mueller.

TY COBB, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: I think Bob Mueller is an American hero.

SCHNEIDER: And Cobb reveals he tried to keep the president from attacking the special counsel and defended Mueller.

COBB: In my first nine and a half months out of ten and a half that I was able to prevent the president from going on the attack against Mueller. He, you know, wants this over, but it's never going to be over. I mean this is going to go for -- this will go through 2020, and if the president is reelected, it'll go beyond that.

SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile, "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting Michael Cohen's attorney raised the possibility of a presidential pardon with Trump's lawyers after Cohen's home and office were raided last April. The president's team which included Jay Sekulow, Rudy Giuliani and Johanna Hendon reportedly dismissed the idea of a pardon with Rudy Giuliani left open to the possibility the president could grant Cohen a pardon in the future.

Cohen told the house oversight committee last week he played no part in the discussions.

MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FOREMER ATTORNEY: I have never asked for it, nor would I accept a pardon from President Trump.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Congressional investigators are now digging into those reported pardoned discussions between attorneys for Michael Cohen and attorneys for the president. The House Judiciary Committee has issued document requests to dozens of Trump associates.

And, Jake, Cohen will likely submit more documents when he goes before House intelligence tomorrow. TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

As we wait for the Mueller report, former FBI Director James Comey argued in "The Washington Post" that it's possible for the Justice Department to make it public. Comey wrote in his op-ed, quote: Republicans are wrong now when they claim Justice Department rules forbid transparency.

He goes on to write, quote: It is difficult to imagine a case of greater public interest than one focused on the efforts of a foreign adversary to damage our democracy and in which the president of the United States is a subject.

David Urban, do you agree?

URBAN: Look, I do agree that there are -- Americans deserve to see what's in this, right? But to the extent that it protects people who have not been accused of any wrongdoing, they're going to be a whole lot of folks --

TAPPER: But none of them what so-called declination, decline to prosecute.

URBAN: Right. Sources and methods, there are going to be a lot of things that can't be disclosed and should not be, but otherwise, I think Americans are going to want to hear, good or bad, they're going to want to hear what's in this report.

TAPPER: And see, the area of -- I hate to use word declinations because it's like this -- it's not like an English word, but where they decide to not prosecute even if stuff looks fishy that's going to be a big area of fighting between Democrats and Republicans because Democrats are going to want to know who those people are and blare them to -- names to the world.

SELLERS: I agree because there are certain things that can be considered an abuse of power per se, or --

TAPPER: But not illegal.

SELLERS: But not illegal. I mean, we see that. I get on my Democratic colleagues all the time because apparently Jack gives out law degrees on Twitter.

And everybody wants to talk about the fact that Donald Trump somehow committed a crime by giving Jared Kushner a security clearance. Well, that's not illegal, that's within his purview. However, it is an abuse of power and there are things like that that need to be flushed out or fleshed out, and there are things like that that you just can't put a blanket denial or a blanket cover on that because they get a declination letter.

TAPPER: You know, one of the things that's interesting is Comey and his argument talks about all the different previous cases where there was this public right to know and the Justice Department bent over backwards. [16:25:05] The Jose Padilla terrorism case is one. Michael Brown in Ferguson is another. And that he brings up the Hillary Clinton email case where a lot of people --

KUCINICH: Yes.

TAPPER: -- including Republicans, including Rod Rosenstein, think he shared too much.

KUCINICH: Right. When I was reading the op-ed, I was like, well, look at that. He said he was right again, who knew?

But Comey's op-ed aside, there is this question of what's in the public interest to be out there and so the country can start to heal from all of this. It's extremely divided and I think there's a lot of bipartisan agreement that as much as this should be out there as possible, that isn't classified. And I mean, that -- you know, we'll see who wins out.

TAPPER: What did you make of Ty Cobb today telling ABC News in their podcast that the fights going to go through 2020, and if the president's re-elected beyond that?

COLLINS: Yes, I thought that was interesting I thought a lot of what he said and that was interesting because you have to think about when he came. He came on right after Robert Mueller had been appointed and he left about a year ago. It was in May.

So, give or take some change he said. OK, we're talking about whether or not this entire reports coming out. He said -- he thinks it's going to be shorter rather than longer. It's not going to be this silver bullet that brings down the Trump presidency and he said he doesn't really think you're going to learn anything new. There's not going to be any damning revelation in there. He said that he believes Mueller is kind of laid all that out with the indictments in this statement that they have put out so far.

TAPPER: Yes, "The Intercept" printed what they called the Mueller report already, which is basically all the documents that Mueller has --

URBAN: A lot of folks have said that, that he's speaking through this indictment.

TAPPER: Yes, absolutely.

Everyone, stick around.

You just heard about Michael Bloomberg. He's not running for president. There's another billionaire businessman who's a Washington outsider, and he is thinking about running for president. Who is it?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)