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Interview With Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD); New York Begins Criminal Probe Into Trump Organization; McConnell Rejects Bipartisan Insurrection Commission. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 19, 2021 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:01:08]

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Thanks for staying with us. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

Truth or Trump, that's the choice facing House Republicans as we speak. They are getting ready to vote on a bipartisan deal to create an independent commission to investigate what exactly happened leading up to January 6 and then during the deadly insurrection and why it took so long for backup help to arrive.

The top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy, does not want a commission to look into that. Neither does Senator Mitch McConnell.

BLACKWELL: Now, McConnell opposes the bill now after directly blaming former President Trump for stoking the riots. This was just a few months ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): It's not at all clear what new facts or additional investigation yet another commission could actually lay on top of existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress.

What is clear is that House Democrats have handled this proposal in partisan bad faith. I have been an outspoken critic about all of the episodes of political violence that our nation has seen over the past year. I support the strong existing investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Now, moments ago, the FBI released new video from January 6 that really drives home how violent the attack was.

Agents are still searching for some suspects, although they have already charged more than 400 people.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

You have some new reporting about the larger strategy tied to the midterms. What can you tell us?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the focus that Republicans want is not about January 6.

They actually are concerned that a long investigation could actually undercut their campaign message. That's what Republicans are saying openly and also privately.

One Republican, the number two Republican, John Thune, told me earlier today that there is a concern among Republicans that what could come out of this investigation could be weaponized against Republicans, also concerns that it could undercut what they want to focus on come 2022, which is the economy, which is immigration, which is absolutely not, in his view, relitigating the 2020 elections.

Even though this commission, if it were to pass, would require this investigation be done by the end of this year, there's concerns, according to Senator John Cornyn, that it could spill into next year. If it spills into next year, he told me it would be -- quote -- "Democrats' dream."

Now, this bill will pass the House tonight on a bipartisan vote, but its fate in the Senate is highly uncertain because of the opposition of Republican leaders and the uncertainty of 10 Republicans who will break ranks to essentially overcome any Republican filibuster.

That's the big question. And now a big question, too, is, will the Democrats take action on their own on the House side to establish a select committee, which they can do under the rules of the House, to launch an investigation that is not a bipartisan commission, but it would be a select committee of the House to move forward, and Republican and Democratic members.

And, very importantly, just moments ago, Nancy Pelosi did not rule out going on her own, signaling that's something they could do, although they would prefer to go the bipartisan commission route.

Now, the Democrat who did cut a deal on the bipartisan commission. Bennie Thompson just spoke to reporters also. And he raised concerns about the Republicans' handling of this situation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): It's unfortunate that the minority leader has, at the least moment, raised issues that basically we had gone past and there was no issue on his part.

So -- but I guess that's politics. And so we feel good about the product. We feel good about the process that got us to the product, where we are today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:05:07]

RAJU: Now, if this bill does not pass to create that commission, as I mentioned, Pelosi and the other top Democrats are keeping open the option of going their own route.

This is what she just said. She said: "I certainly could call for hearings in the House, with the majority of the members being Democrats, with full subpoena power, with the agenda being determined by the Democrats, but that's not the path we have chosen."

But she said she would take the other path if necessary. So, guys, expect this investigation to happen, no matter what. The preference of Democrats is that it's an outside commission, 10 members split between both sides, not members of Congress. But it could happen within the House by a select committee. Democrats are signaling that's where they may go if Republicans block this bill in the Senate -- guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, Manu Raju for us there on Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

Joining me is House Majority Leader Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer.

Congressman, thanks for your time.

Let's start here with the biggest development of the day, the opposition now from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He calls House Democrats partisan bad actors, says the commission is slanted and unbalanced, and that the other congressional probes and the DOJ investigations are enough.

What's your response and your reaction to his opposition?

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): I think it's stunning. I think it's unfortunate. I think it is totally inconsistent with his premise that people need to be held responsible, in fact, right after the impeachment vote, implying that the president himself ought to be held accountable.

I think this is simply stonewalling. I think it's Trump controlling the fact that he does not want a commission. He doesn't want the truth to come out. This is a see no evil, hear no evil response.

And it's a sad day for America. This was a unique, tragic event in the history of our country, unique in that we have never had before anything like this. We had the British storm the Capitol, burn the Capitol, but never have we had people, insurgents who were trying to overtake and stop the democracy action and election of a president of the United States.

That's not happened before. We ought to be looking at this. If George Bush had said, we're not going to have a 9/11 Commission, he would have been roundly criticized. McConnell and McCarthy ought to be roundly criticized for not taking yes for an answer. They asked for an equally divided commission. We gave it to them.

They asked for equal authority to subpoena witnesses in agreement of the two top Republican and Democrat. We gave it to them. What we did not give to them was a commission that was given a mandate to look at every violent act that may have occurred. This was a specific, unique, violent insurrection against the

democracy--

BLACKWELL: Right.

HOYER: -- and against the Capitol of the United States. It is a sad day.

It is clear that bipartisanship, at least from the top, does not exist. However, as your reporter just indicated, this is going to be a bipartisan bill that comes out of the House of Representatives. We're going to get significant numbers of Republicans, not a lot, because they're marching to Trump's orders.

But we--

BLACKWELL: Well, do you think you will get the numbers in the Senate that are necessary?

HOYER: Excuse me?

BLACKWELL: Do you think that you will get the numbers in the Senate that are necessary?

Our reporting is that there will be 30 to 50 GOP members in the House who will likely support this, but, of course, you need -- in the Senate, Leader Schumer needs 10 Republicans to come along. One that they often go to first, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, says that she can't support it without some changes.

Do you think that McConnell's opposition essentially kills this bill?

HOYER: I certainly hope not.

But I don't have confidence in the Republicans, that they will not just toe the Trump line. I don't have confidence that they will want to get to the truth. I don't think they think the truth will set them free. I think they think there's something there that's going to be a real problem.

I think that's what Thune was saying. And I think they may well be right. I don't know that they're right. But this was an honest effort. John Katko, Republican ranking member of the committee, and Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chair of the committee, worked together to come to a bipartisan conclusion.

And you're going to see. If it is 30 to 50 -- I don't know that's the case. But if it's 30 to 50 Republicans, clearly, that is an indication that this was an effort, a successful effort to reach a bipartisan--

BLACKWELL: Yes.

HOYER: Gave to McCarthy and McConnell exactly what they wanted in terms of the makeup of the commission and in terms of the equal authority on subpoena power.

So, it's unfathomable how they, with any integrity, can oppose this proposal.

BLACKWELL: So, let me ask you about the select committee.

The reporting from Manu Raju is that, if this does not go through with this creation of the commission, that the select committee would be the fallback for the House.

[15:10:00]

You said that you would support that as well. But considering what we just watched a few days ago in the Oversight Committee, with the whitewashing and the revisionist history, if the members who are appointed to this select committee are continuing that line, what's your degree of confidence that a select committee would get to the crucial questions, to get those answers the American people want?

Do you think that that is -- that would get what people need to know?

HOYER: I think we can, yes. I absolutely do believe we can get to that.

I agree with the speaker. We would prefer not to go that route. We prefer to have this -- a commission, bipartisan, equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, equal authority in terms of agreeing with one another and having -- or the committee agreeing to subpoena witnesses.

That's what we ought to do. And -- but, if we cannot do that because of Republican obstruction and Republicans not wanting to get to the truth, and Trump telling them, no, we're not for this commission, then, in that event, I think we have no option but to move forward to make sure that the American people have the truth.

BLACKWELL: But he's also going to continue to -- it's not tweet now -- post on this new blog. He's going to be sending those messages to elected members and elected Republicans who are on this select committee.

Wouldn't his influence be greater, considering that the appointees are coming straight from the top, from the minority leader, who doesn't support the commission? I mean, I expect that it would be more difficult to get to those answers with those -- those elected members.

(CROSSTALK)

HOYER: -- nor McCarthy want to get to the truth, and that McCarthy will not, in effect, take yes for an answer in terms of what he thought the commission ought to look like.

It looks like what he said he wanted. I don't know why, other than Trump doesn't want the commission--

BLACKWELL: Yes.

HOYER: -- which is I presume why he doesn't want the commission. But the fact of the matter is, a significant number of Republicans of

good faith and who believe we ought to move forward on a bipartisan basis and honor the truth, honor the truth--

BLACKWELL: Yes.

HOYER: The removal of the -- Liz Cheney was because she told the truth, and then she continued. As the president continued to lie, President Trump continued to lie, she kept telling the truth.

And that's really was what her mistake was or what her sin was, from their perspective. And that's why they removed her.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

HOYER: They do not (AUDIO GAP) truth told.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about another topic here, this growing number of members of your caucus who don't believe the president is going far enough, even rhetorically, to try to end the conflict, the airstrikes and the rockets that we're seeing between Israel and Gaza.

Many of them are calling for a cease-fire. Speaker Pelosi is calling for a cease-fire. Are you calling for a cease-fire? And should the president be calling for a cease-fire publicly?

HOYER: I think, clearly, we want the fighting to stop. Clearly, we want innocent civilians to be safe.

But the fact of the matter is, Hamas does not respond to requests. And they initiated rockets. They have been doing rockets on a regular basis. And it would be irrational not to think that the Israelis are not going to respond to protect themselves and their people.

However, the president wants -- and I think he's talked to Netanyahu -- wants the fighting to come to a close and try to see if we can negotiate.

But, frankly, terrorists are very difficult to negotiate with. And a terrorist organization like Hamas that does not want Israel to exist has no reason to negotiate.

BLACKWELL: I understand that, Congressman.

(CROSSTALK)

HOYER: (AUDIO GAP) They don't have a reason to negotiate.

BLACKWELL: I get that, Congressman. And I'm sure Speaker Pelosi understood that and the growing number of congressmen and members who are in your caucus know all of that.

But they have said that there needs to be a cease-fire. You have not gone as far as the speaker or the other members of your caucus.

I ask again why. HOYER: I have not gone that far because I'm not sure how you get a terrorist organization to honor or to pursue a cease-fire.

I think there ought to be a cease-fire. I think that Hamas ought to stop. And if Hamas stops, the Israelis will stop. But the Israelis are confronted with a no-win situation. They're getting hammered by rockets, thousands of rockets from Hamas, from civilian areas of Gaza.

And the world expects them, I suppose, in some instances, simply to not respond. That's not a tenable alternative.

BLACKWELL: All right.

HOYER: And, certainly, it's not an (AUDIO GAP) the United States would follow if rockets were coming out of Canada or from Mexico on people.

Now, they don't.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

HOYER: And I don't expect them to. I don't mean that.

But the fact of the matter is, we would not tolerate that. And the Israelis have a -- not only a right to defend themselves. They have a moral duty to protect their citizens.

[15:15:07]

BLACKWELL: Understood.

All right, Congressman Hoyer, House Majority Leader, Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer, thank you so much for being with us.

HOYER: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK.

Up next: The Trump Organization is now facing a new criminal investigation. And, of course, the former president is firing back.

Plus: The governor of Texas is banning mask mandates in his state, including in public schools. We're going to speak to the head of the state teachers union about how teachers feel about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:20:14]

CAMEROTA: Donald Trump is using one of his favorite catchphrases against a new criminal investigation into his business dealings.

He's trying to claim it's a witch-hunt. The New York attorney general, Letitia James, says she is adding to her civil probe of the Trump Organization with this criminal probe, and she's working in tandem with the Manhattan district attorney. Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance has already obtained millions of pages, we're

told, of Donald Trump's tax records.

BLACKWELL: Now, Attorney General James has been looking into whether some Trump assets have been inflated in value to get better loans or better insurance.

In a lengthy, meandering response, the president said, the former president said this in part: "There is nothing more corrupt than an investigation that is in desperate search of a crime. But make no mistake that this is exactly what is happening here."

Elie Honig, CNN senior legal analyst and a former state and federal prosecutor, what does this say about the evidence that the A.G. has likely, that she has seen something here that is clear that creates this new criminal capacity?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Victor, this is an expansion and an escalation of what the state attorney general was doing before.

They were content at the A.G.'s office up until now to stay in the civil lane, where all you can get is monetary penalties or a suspension of a license or that kind of thing. Now they have made a decision, we're going to expand, we're going to cross over, and we're going to join the criminal side.

In my experience, that means they have to have seen something in the evidence, something that leads them to believe, we have the ability to build and make and potentially bring a criminal case here that there was intentional inflation or deflation of assets, as you just laid out, and that somebody, some person knew this was happening and authorized it.

That's essentially what you need to make a criminal charge here. So, they have seen something to make them believe they can get there.

CAMEROTA: And the fact that the DA and the A.G. are now working in tandem, is that unusual?

HONIG: No, you see that.

Good law enforcement will coordinate. And the question is, are they truly coordinating, or are they going to be working at odds with one another? The indications we have are that they're both on board, and they're going to combine resources.

And I should say one thing that's significant here, the New York state attorney general's office has enormous resources. They have over 700 attorneys, not that they will all be working on this case, but it's a massive office.

And so the amount of resources that can be dedicated to this case has just gone up significantly.

BLACKWELL: Elie, there are so many cases, civil and criminal now. You have got the criminal probe in Georgia that's related to potential election interference. You have got the civil cases from E. Jean Carroll. There are the cases from -- look at this list -- from members of Congress that are suing the former president and Rudy Giuliani.

Where does this rank as a threat to the president?

HONIG: This has got to be up towards the top, Victor, just when you look at the nature of the crimes here.

There's not going to be any defense of presidential powers, right? Some of these things, he will be able to defend himself and say, well, I was exercising a constitutional power of my office, or I didn't really mean the things that I said.

But we're talking about sort of straightforward, black-and-white financial issues here. And if they have the proof in this case -- and there's still a question about whether they do -- but if they have the proof, it will be there in the bank records, in the tax records.

And we know that these offices have fought for and won the right to access Donald Trump's tax returns. That will be the most straightforward case, I think, of all of these, if the proof is there.

CAMEROTA: And that's where Allen Weisselberg comes in. We have spoken about him before, Elie.

He was the moneyman for decades for the Trump Organization. And so there's always been a question about whether or not he will flip on Donald Trump, meaning tell them where the bodies are buried, financially speaking, because he knows all of that.

But that would mean they have to have something on Allen Weisselberg, right, in order to get him to do that.

HONIG: Exactly, Alisyn.

When you're prosecuting an organization like this, you want to ask yourself, who is the best person to try to flip here? Who could we flip? Who would have incentive to flip? And who do we have leverage on? Who do we have the ability to potentially bring a charge on?

They have been targeting Allen Weisselberg. He seems like the exact right person to target. This is a financial case. He was the financial gatekeeper.

That said, there's no indication as of this moment that he has flipped. So, they're going to need to find a way to sort of bring him to daylight. Otherwise, they're not going to have him as a witness. He could be decisive here.

CAMEROTA: Elie Honig, thank you for all the information. We appreciate it.

HONIG: Thank you. CAMEROTA: OK, so next: The head of the Texas state teachers union

responds after the governor announced public schools will no longer be able to require masks, and they will face a fine if they do.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:29:42]

CAMEROTA: Texas Governor Greg Abbott just signed an executive order Tuesday getting rid of mask mandates even in schools.

As of June 5, no public school in Texas can require that masks be worn. And a local government or school that ignores the ban could face a fine of up to $1,000.

The head of the Texas State Teachers Association calls Abbott's move premature and ill-advised.

And Ovidia Molina joins us live now from Austin.