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Republican Congressman Justin Amash Supports Impeachment of President Trump; Presidential Candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg Participates in FOX News Town Hall. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 20, 2019 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Amash Already facing a coordinated attack by the president and his allies. He seemed to anticipate this. He did accuse the attorney general of intentionally misleading the public on the Mueller report, and he said some of his Republican colleagues have not actually read it.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, President Trump turning up the rhetoric on Iran. He warned in a tweet that if Iran wants to fight, quote, "that will be the official end of Iran." Iran's foreign minister firing back, insisting that, quote, "genocidal taunts" will not end Iran. So this war of words comes after days of de-escalation between the U.S. and Iran, so we'll find out where we are today.

Joining us now, we have Jeffrey Toobin, former federal prosecutor and CNN's chief legal analyst, Bianna Golodyrga, CNN contributor, and Joe Lockhart, former Clinton White House press secretary and a CNN political commentator. Great to have all of you in our shiny new studio. Thank you guys for being here.

So what we were talking about with Jeffrey last hour was that some people who are saying this is a tipping point, to hear a Republican, a conservative Republican, or a libertarian Republican, come out and say that what he sees in the Mueller report is an impeachable offense, I think it's hard to spot a tipping point in real time while you're living it, sometimes only in retrospect. So what do you think the significance of this is?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't anticipate this is a tipping point. If you look at the response that immediately came from the president, he's making it clear from other Republicans that he will damage them politically if he's taken on by them. And he has got a track record. There are people who were in Congress who are no longer in Congress because the tweet done was pointed at them. So I don't expect there to be an outbreak of courage or moral character from Republicans that's been missing for the last two years.

But it is a messaging problem for the president. He can no longer say this is just about Democrats and a witch hunt. You now have a Republican who's read it. And I think he highlights another important issue, which is he's right when he says his colleagues haven't read the report. And that's the reason why we need to continue to stay after this. Three percent of Americans, according to Gallup, have read the report. The president is one of the 97 percent who hasn't read the report. So we need to amplify this more.

There may be, once we do that -- in Nixon with the select committee on Watergate in the Senate, that's what moved Republicans in the House. Well, the tapes moved that. But I don't view this as a moment where we'll look back and say that's where the dam broke.

BERMAN: I'm not sure it's a tipping point but it is a talking point, Bianna, and I think it's a talking point in particular for Democrats because now the first sentence out of their mouths will be bipartisan call. It may be one, the bi may be one, but it is now a bipartisan call.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You got a Republican now calling for impeachment. But I tend to agree with Joe here. I think this very well may be just an outlier, at least at this point. And here's why. Another one of the president's staunch critics, Mitt Romney, over this weekend had the opportunity to back up Amash and say I also call for impeachment. He's tended to tone down his rhetoric against the president, said he was disappointed by what he saw. But because so many Republicans can hide behind Mueller's ultimate conclusion that there was not enough evidence for impeachment, then I think they can now say we were disappointed in this report, maybe it's unpresidential, but at this point it's too early to call for impeachment.

CAMEROTA: I don't know about impeachment, but in terms of prosecution, Jeffrey, you've told us it's demonstrably that Mueller laid out episode after episode of things that would have for any other American, were they not president, to be prosecuted. So Congressman Amash is saying that he has seen the evidence and that that to him, if it's a prosecutable crime and there's evidence of it, it leads to impeachment.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: But this also demonstrates the power of how the pushback against the Mueller report was so strong and successful. You had Attorney General Barr coming out and saying, the first thing we heard about the Mueller report was that there was no proof of obstruction of justice according to him. It took several weeks later for us to see the report itself where Mueller very much did lay out a case.

But there are many levels of defense available to Republicans here who want to oppose impeachment. They want to say there was no -- there was no collusion, no conspiracy, no obstruction of justice according to the attorney general. All of those are talking points available to the Republicans. There are responses the Democrats can offer, but there's a lot of material to work with for the president and his allies.

BERMAN: Let's just play, if we have it, Mitt Romney on "State of the Union" with Jake yesterday, what Bianna was talking about right there, because the way he answered the question was interesting. He didn't agree with Justin Amash but went out of his way to praise him. So listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [08:05:04] SEN. MITT ROMNEY, (R-UT): My own view is that Justin Amash has reached a different conclusion than I have. I respect him. I think it's a courageous statement, but I believe that to make a case for obstruction of justice, you just don't have the elements that are evidence to this document. And I also believe that an impeachment call is not only something that relates to the law but also considers practicality and politics. And the American people just don't --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Jeffrey, you didn't see a lot of love there?

TOOBIN: I always enjoy seeing Mitt Romney talk about Donald Trump because you could just see the loathing in his head, the just absolute disdain, but because he's a Republican and because Donald Trump's the president, he has to express himself under certain levels of propriety. But, God, you can just see it.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey has x-ray vision I'm not sure everybody else has. I never see Mitt Romney as seething.

TOOBIN: Really?

CAMEROTA: I never see him as seething.

GOLODRYGA: But he must be relieved that he is not secretary of state. Remember once upon a time he was up for that position as well. I think many Republicans who disagree with some of this president's policies and his rhetoric have the strategy of saying, as Mitt said over the weekend, that I will agree with him on issues, I will be vocal about issues that I agree with him on on policies, and then I will speak out on policies that I disagree with him.

TOOBIN: But I think that's the exception. I think by and large Republicans are behind the president 100 percent.

LOCKHART: His argument that the elements of obstruction are not there is on its face ridiculous. There are 1,000 prosecutors, Democrats, Republicans, career people, nonpolitical people who have signed a letter saying that all of the elements of obstruction are there. The second part of his argument is valid, which is maybe the public doesn't want this, this is very political. But for Mitt Romney to sit there and say the elements of obstruction aren't there is on its face absolutely ridiculous.

GOLODRYGA: But going back to the Mueller report as well, Mitt Romney encouraged everyone to read it but went out of his way to say it took him two and a half days to read it. So how many Americans are going to spend two and a half days to read a report, which goes back to your point about what Bill Barr did with that initial four-page memo. He set the tone for the nation and I think for the president obviously by saying no collusion, no obstruction, here's my four pages of my summary, and that's it.

BERMAN: If I can, I want to move on to a different conversation right now, because overnight Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, went on FOX TV, and he did something I think that was planned, but the question is, was it effective. Elizabeth Warren had said no to appearing on FOX. Pete Buttigieg said yes, but when he was there he was critical of the network. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG, (D-IN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tucker Carlson saying that immigrants make America dirty. When you've got Laura Ingraham comparing detention centers with children in cages to summer camps? Summer camps? Then there is a reason why anybody has to swallow hard and think twice before participating in this media ecosystem. But I also believe that even though some of those hosts are not always there in good faith, I think a lot of people tune into this network who do it in good faith.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Joe Lockhart, right decision to go on, right decision to say that?

LOCKHART: I think once he made the decision to go on, that was right. I'm with Elizabeth Warren on this, though. I think that FOX News is a corrupt enterprise. I think it is not a journalism company. It is a company that was built by Roger Ailes in order to promote conservative Republican political ideas. And in primetime they spread the kind of disinformation that actually worked with the Russians to sow dissent in this country. So I'm with her. I think the Democrats should avoid going on because -- like they should avoid being involved with any other corrupt enterprise.

CAMEROTA: The flipside of that, Bianna, is that he is from Indiana, and a lot of his constituents watch FOX News, and a lot of people in this country watch FOX, and he wants to have them hear him. And some of them watch FOX exclusively. As we all know, there's an eco- chamber, and some people never deviate from that. So he just made a little bit of an inroad, I think is his thinking, to appealing to some of those voters.

GOLODRYGA: And appealing to swing voters and appealing to voters who voted for Obama but voted for President Trump in 2016 who are now on the fence about the president.

I think at the end of the day it doesn't do much harm for Democrats to go on FOX News. FOX News has many reputable journalists, including Chris Wallace and Bret Baier. You saw the reaction for Bernie Sanders in the audience. I thought it was interesting to see the audience reaction, giving him a standing ovation for Pete Buttigieg yesterday as well. So I think ultimately it doesn't do Democrats much harm. I think they're fine if they want to say that I'm not going to go on the network, but I don't think it hurts them at the end of the day, those who decide to go on.

[08:10:01] CAMEROTA: Tiebreaker.

TOOBIN: It's a tough call because the point you made earlier about how FOX can use these debates as a vehicle to go to advertisers and say, look, we are not just the racists and bigots in primetime. We are a real news organization. And I'm not sure Democrats want to give them that cover. I think that, if you're going to not go on, that's the best argument.

BERMAN: I will point out I think it was you who made that point.

CAMEROTA: I think it was Smerconish.

BERMAN: But I appreciate you confusing the two of us.

TOOBIN: You're not the bald guy, right.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Not after 5:59 a.m. thanks to the makeup room.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: All right, Jeffrey Toobin, Bianna, Joe Lockhart, thank you very much.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke joins Dana Bash for a live CNN town hall from Des Moines, Iowa tomorrow night at 10:00 p.m. eastern only on CNN. That will be fascinating. This is something that has taken a long time for O'Rourke to do, so I'll be very interested to see how he handles this moment.

CAMEROTA: Can't wait to see it.

Meanwhile, what would you do if suddenly all of your student loan debt was forgiven? We will talk with one of the lucky graduates from Morehouse College about the incredible surprise gift they received this weekend.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Graduates at Atlanta's Morehouse College got an unexpected surprise yesterday when billionaire investor, Robert F Smith announced during his commencement speech that he would pay off all of the student loan debt for the graduating class.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT F. THOMAS, CEO, VISTA EQUITY PARTNERS: On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we're going to put a little fuel in your bus and my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.

(Cheering and Applause)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: All right, joining us now is Morehouse graduate, Charles Releford III, who $70,000.00 in student debt is now being paid by Mr. Smith, as well as Charles' mother Tonga. And the President of Morehouse College, David Thomas. It's great to see all of you here with us this morning.

What a weekend you've had. Charles, let me start with you. Just tell me about what was happening inside your brain as the wheels were starting to process what you just heard Robert Smith say about picking up the tab on everybody's debt?

CHARLES RELEFORD III, MOREHOUSE GRADUATE: Good Morning. Well, for me, I was thinking, I was looking around at everyone and a lot of people were kind of moping down and kind of asleep because you know, the sun, we were really hot.

And then when I heard what he said, I looked around I'm like, "Did he say that?" And I looked up there on the stage. And I could see all the people just going, "Wow." Also, all the students going "wow." So after that, and we heard that it was pretty crazy.

CAMEROTA: I do think it took a while frankly for it sink in because he didn't announce it, Tonga, the way like Oprah would have say, where like, "And you get a car, and you get a car." And he didn't do that. He was sort of understated. He just said it. And you could see the kind of buzz then picking up in the crowd when people -- after the kids processed what it meant.

So tell me what you thought when you heard that and how this will change your son's life, do you think?

TONGA RELEFORD, PARENT: Well, as a parent, we were all overwhelmed and all looking at each other going, "Is it real? Did he just say what we thought he said?"

It took us again a moment to process the fact that the student loans would be completely paid off for this Class of 2019.

For me, the parent of four, it opened up so many opportunities for the younger siblings of the Releford family. As a Spelhouse family, we know that all of our kids plan to and have attended that Spelman- Morehouse family and will continue to do so. So I am elated.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, what a gift. President Thomas, did you know that Mr. Smith was going to do that?

DAVID A. THOMAS, PRESIDENT, MOREHOUSE COLLEGE: I had no idea.

CAMEROTA: Wow. And so what happened in your head when he made that announcement?

THOMAS: I was taken aback. The first thing that came to my mind was just a sense of amazement and then gratitude, and joy, because I know from personal experience that these young men who have yet to start paying any loans, can't imagine what this will actually mean for their future on any number of levels.

Some will decide to follow their passions because they don't have to worry about paying off student loans. Others will get to graduate school more quickly. So this is really a gift that liberates them to follow their passions. CAMEROTA: It really is liberating. And so President Thomas, how much

-- have you had done the math yet? Have you done sort of the back of the envelope calculation yet of how much this will cost the Smith family?

THOMAS: So because we learned -- we literally learned up the gift less than 24 hours ago, as soon as I get off camera, I'm going over to my Business and Finance Office to actually see if we've got the calculation yet.

So folks have been working through the night trying to figure out what that number looks like. But we don't have the exact number yet.

CAMEROTA: Well, let us know when you have the exact number because the rough estimate is tens of millions. I mean, the rough estimate is that it could be as high as that. Which obviously you know, is just a staggering and impressive gift.

Charles, what do you think this will do to your life? How do you think that your life changes today as a result of what happened this weekend?

C. RELEFORD: It definitely improves it like tenfold because it's such a blessing. And I'm really excited to see where my life can go now because all different avenues are open now.

[08:20:10] C. RELEFORD: So like, I'm not held down. There is no burden student loan. I am debt free. So I really want to thank Robert Smith. I really do.

T. RELEFORD: That's right.

CAMEROTA: I mean, were you already calculating what it would mean to pay back that debt? Were you already making life choices in terms of what career path you wanted to follow? Maybe choosing something more practical than you were passionate about? Things like that? Because you knew you had this albatross?

C. RELEFORD: Definitely. There's a process on the way out, and it's called counseling for loans and it basically will calculate how much debt you owe. And I was already looking at that, like, well, I mean, I had to go ahead and start planning now even though I don't have a job yet, I have to still go ahead and plan for the future. So now that that's out of the way, I can focus on my passion and move on.

T. RELEFORD: That's right.

CAMEROTA: And Mrs. Releford, what do you want to say to Robert Smith?

T. RELEFORD: I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you. It felt again, like Mother's Day all over again. Christmas and everything else so he can come and speak at Morehouse College anytime he wants to.

CAMEROTA: It will be hard to outdo that one?

T. RELEFORD: Yes. Most definitely. But we are truly grateful and thankful for all of his gifts and what he is doing for our students.

CAMEROTA: Charles, before we let you go, what do you want to do with your future? What career path are you considering?

C. RELEFORD: So I majored in Art and I definitely want to be an illustrator. So wherever that takes me.

CAMEROTA: Well, this will be a huge step forward in that path. So Charles, best of luck to you. Mrs. Releford, thank you very much for coming on.

T. RELEFORD: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: And President Thomas, please do let us know once you figure out what the tab is going to be for Robert Smith with this extraordinary gift.

THOMAS: All right, we will certainly do that.

CAMEROTA: Thank you all very much.

T. RELEFORD: Thank you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I can't wait for Charles to just crush it as an illustrator. What a burden lifted.

CAMEROTA: I know, for all of them. I mean, for every single one of those students. It's hard to find a student nowadays that doesn't have some sort of student loan or college debt.

And I mean, it was so interesting to hear his parents say that now what it opens -- it opens up doors even for the siblings. You know, it has that big of a ripple effect.

BERMAN: Yes. It will change lives. He can go about his life differently than before and to hear his mother say, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." I think that about sums it up.

All right, one of the most popular shows ever is now part of television history. So did the "Game of Thrones" finale deliver for fans? We will grade this epic moment of television, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:25:47] CAMEROTA: After eight seasons and 73 episodes, the epic fantasy series, "Game of Thrones" has come to an end. So what's next for the Stark children, the "Thrones" legacy and HBO? If you have not seen the finale by now, we need to warn you that you are about to hear some spoilers. So we will give you a moment to turn down the volume or hide your head under a pillow.

BERMAN: Just watch us without volume because that'll be fun.

CAMEROTA: Oh, yes, don't turn the channel. Just turn down the volume because everybody in the makeup room is freaking out because they don't even want us to tell. Some of the people DVR'd it, they just are going to watch it at some point this week, you know.

BERMAN: Yes, 15 million people or so watched it last night. You know, this will be one of the most watched shows in years.

CAMEROTA: This is for you, 15 million. We want to bring in Christopher John Farley. He is the executive editor at Amazon's Audible and the author of "Around Harvard Square." And Bill Carter, former "New York Times" media reporter and a CNN media analyst. Great to have you guys. Okay.

CHRISTOPHER JOHN FARLEY, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, AMAZON'S AUDIBLE: Thanks for having us.

CAMEROTA: Okay, Christopher, what grade do you give the finale?

FARLEY: Well, look, people have been saying that for the last couple seasons, "Game of Thrones" has sort of fallen off. But you know, LeBron James hasn't won a championship in several seasons either. He is still a great player.

So I think the same way about "Game of Thrones." Yes. I had some problems with it. Yes. I think the Daenerys' turn was problematic. We can get into that, but it's still a great series.

BERMAN: Bill, to me. We're doing what everybody --

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: He didn't give a grade.

BERMAN: Okay, give a grade, give a grade.

FARLEY: A. I would give an A.

CARTER: Okay, so last night, I thought it was kind of a B minus. But as it's played in my head, I've upgraded more it to B plus, because I think it worked. It worked for what they wanted to do.

BERMAN: Well, why the disappointment? What didn't it do that you were hoping it, would you? And by the way, this is the conversation, the only conversation being held in America all day long. And we're talking with TV experts here about it?

CARTER: Well, I think many of the episodes of the series were A episodes. That was not an A episode only because it had to do so much. It had to tie up things that had -- it had to do some linear steps. It had to go from A to B to C.

Where the show really worked was great, it was like, it was sprawling. It was all over the place. You didn't know what was going to happen. It was unpredictable.

Last night was kind of predictable in certain ways, and so it couldn't be completely satisfying, I don't think.

CAMEROTA: I mean, could they have done anything differently? They had to tie up things, right? I mean -- FARLEY: Well, part of the problem, even though it's a terrific

series, around Season 6, they lost George R.R. Martin's vision, because they ran out of books. They had to make stuff up based on the plot points he shared with them. And you could feel it. You could feel the loss of novelistic detail. And now we're left to guess, is this what George R.R. Martin would have wanted? Or is this with the show runners would have wanted?

And one of the biggest points was Danny's turn. I mean, she was this big, heroic figure. People are naming their daughters after Khaleesi, and then she turns out to be the biggest villain in the whole show.

And to me, I think making a woman a villain in the show took away this really heroic character that could have been a symbol of something cool and fantasy in literature. This cool, heroic women that we don't really see in fantasy.

And by actually making her turn, making her evil, it had the show a lot -- a little bit of steam. Still a great show, still comparing it to LeBron James, but it would have been so much cooler had they made her a true hero.

CAMEROTA: I'm interested in that because you have said that the female characters are -- have been spectacular.

BERMAN: Until last night. I think, Chris is right. I think last night was a real miss on that front and put your earmuffs on for this one in particular because I'm the big spoiler here, like Bran gets the Iron Throne.

CARTER: Yes, right.

[08:30:09]