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President Trump's DOJ Demand Threatens To Become A Constitutional Crisis; Former Rep. Charlie Dent On The Failure Of The Farm Bill; Georgia Candidate Could Make History As First Black Female Governor; More Explosive Eruptions At Kilauea's Summit; Sen. John McCain Releases New Memoir After Cancer Diagnosis. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired May 22, 2018 - 07:30   ET


[07:31:21] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right.

Look, it doesn't matter what your political strife is, the truth is clear. The president is taking the fight to the Justice Department. He is going to go after the people who he believes are going after him. And it's raising questions about if he's crossing the line, will his own people speak up?

Joining us now is CNN's newest political commentator, former congressman from Pennsylvania, Charlie Dent.

It's good to see you, sir. Thank you for your service to the country.


CUOMO: Welcome here.

Forgive me if this seems cynical -- call it out if so -- but I think that's a rhetorical question -- will Republicans stand up against the president. The answer is no, they are assisting him.

Devin Nunes -- other members of this kind of formative cabal of people who want to prove that the administration of justice is dirty in this country. No Ryan, no McConnell -- silence this morning.

Your party is going to let him do what he wants to do here -- yes or no?

DENT: Well, for the moment, I think that's true, but the midterms will be a seminal test. I mean, this could be a very difficult midterm election and I suspect after that election some views might change.

I think we have to conduct much more rigorous oversight and I'm -- I have been concerned about this. I thought the Intelligence Committee in the House right now certainly is not functioning like it should.

When Mike Rogers was there, I mean, it got a lot of respect and it functioned very effectively with Dutch Ruppersberger. But today, it's a bit of a morass. CUOMO: Rogers says -- Mike Rogers says that he does not see the cause for concern here that this was spying. He says this was more proforma and the concern is what did the FBI have that made them feel that they needed to use a confidential source to start making points of contact to coordinate information.

But he says the answer is easy, an inspector general, Horowitz. The guy who just threw McCabe under the bus and gave a criminal reference. Let him look at it. Don't have politicians do it.

Your say?

DENT: Well, sure, of course. An inspector general makes sense.

You know, I served overseeing the V.A. and we had a very aggressive inspector general there and issued a very harsh report on the secretary at the time, Dave Shulkin. So I've seen inspector generals do a good job. That's the process.

If you're concerned about the conduct in a particular department, empower the inspector general to do an investigation. That's the right way to proceed, absolutely.

CUOMO: Where do you think this goes?

DENT: Well, right now, my view is I've been saying all along that the president has simply got to let Mueller do his job and stop interfering.

As Trey Gowdy has often said, if you're innocent, act like it.

And I think these interventions -- I think just cause more questions and more problems for the president than anything else. I think he should just leave it alone.

CUOMO: The president has cover though because he has Devin Nunes and other Republicans who are saying no, we're concerned too. Deep state, dirty justice -- we have to get after it.

DENT: Well, I think at the end of the day -- at the end of the day, Chris, what they have done very effectively -- the administration -- is they've tainted the investigation politically so that whenever there's a finding some will be able to say oh, it's all -- it's all fake. It was a witch hunt.

But that doesn't protect people legally. I mean, people have already been indicted and pled.

So maybe on the politics, they've scored some points but legally, now that's a different matter. People still have to sweat.

CUOMO: However, we're probably looking at a situation -- I could be completely wrong but we're probably looking at a situation where the special counsel's going to issue his report to the deputy A.G. Rosenstein. Parts of it or all of it will be then released publicly. And it won't be about criminal implication, it will be about political implication.

And if you don't have any basis of mutual recognition of truth what good is that report?

[07:35:00] DENT: Well, that will be up to the American people. They're going to look at that report and they're going to expect their members of Congress to deal with it.

I don't know what -- I have no idea what Mueller is going to find but if it's very serious this is going -- this is going to be a decision then for those members of the House to determine what action they want to take if any.

And again, I don't know if this report is going to occur before the midterm. I suspect not. It will probably be after the midterm and then you could have a different balance of power in Congress after this midterm.

So I think ultimately, the House of Representatives and the Senate will be -- are going to be the ones who are going to have make a hard decision.

CUOMO: As a Republican, do you want to see President Trump sit down with Mueller?

DENT: Well, again, if I -- if I were his lawyer I would certainly advise against it. As a political matter, it's probably better for the president to sit down. Again, if he has nothing to hide what's he afraid of?

So politically, probably better to sit down. But legally, I think it would be a very dangerous strategy.

CUOMO: Now, people hear that and they think well, that's because as a lawyer you would know that Mueller's out to trap him and get him and that this is a sneaky process and the president should be above this.

Is that why you would advise him against it?

DENT: Well, I think because from time to time I think it's fair to say the president can misrepresent facts. I mean, let's face it, he does that fairly regularly.

And when you're sitting down with this type of investigation and this type of pressure you have to be very precise in your language and very careful about everything you say and make sure your facts are right. And let's face it, our president hasn't always been very accurate with the facts.

CUOMO: So, let me get your insight into something while I have you.

A bill comes up called the "Farm Bill" so people will think it's about farms. But then, there was all of this political machination going on within this bill about the poor and different types of funding and different perspectives. And finally, it got voted down.

But it seemed like it was a real window into a state of dysfunction in the government. You were part of that process.

What was that bill about, why did it go down, and what does it mean?

DENT: Well, because a decision was made to run a Republican-only -- a partisan farm bill. Typically, it's done on a bipartisan basis.

So when you run a bill like this on a partisan basis that empowers the hard-right and so 25 of those members can take the bill down.

So what happened is some on the hard-right voted against the bill over immigration. You had some from the Senate who voted against it because of the changing the edibility for food stamps or SNAP as they call it now.

So you had this combination of people. I was one of the guys who was concerned about the bill, too. I said we're going to do welfare reform for lower-income people but we're not going to do welfare reform for sugar growers? And so I was one of the guys causing some problems.

But the bottom line is, if you run a partisan only bill you empower those on the -- on the hard-right and they were able to take down the bill.

And this bill, by the way, on a partisan basis, it was going nowhere in the Senate. They're running a bipartisan bill over there. Senators Roberts and Stabenow are running a bipartisan bill and so they're going to have all the leverage.

So I didn't understand the point of the exercise. It makes the House look weaker and puts the Senate in the driver's seat.

CUOMO: Where was the farm part in this farm bill?

DENT: Well, 80 percent of the farm bill really deals with nutrition and the supplemental -- the food stamp benefits, largely. That's where most of it is.

The farm -- I mean, we have all sorts of supports for crop insurance to the growers and particularly for the commodity growers.

And I have been -- when I represent Pennsylvania -- I represented Pennsylvania and we are a big confectionary state, so I was one of the guys who wanted to get rid of the price supports for sugar growers and be pro-consumer, and -- but we could never get any reforms there.

So there are a lot -- there's a lot of fighting over just how much support we should give the growers and how much support, of course, we should give the people who are low-income.

CUOMO: It's just so interesting for people to get a window into the process where something's called a farm bill but it's largely about food stamps or SNAP. And then, there are all these immigration things that people are trying to sneak through under the guise of something that's supposed to be about something else. DENT: And that's all -- believe me, and that's the other thing, too, on immigration. One of the challenges of immigration right now is the agricultural piece. If we go to a mandatory E-verification system and we're without any type of agricultural visa reform, our farmers are going to rebel.

CUOMO: Yes. The big weakness to those who say they are hardline on immigration is why do you never go after the people who hired the people illegally. That part's never in it. We'll see if it is this time.

DENT: Yes, thank you.

CUOMO: Mr. Dent, it is good to have you. Welcome to the show.

DENT: Great to be with you. Thank you.

CUOMO: All right -- Alisyn.


She would make history with a win, so how does an African-American woman running as a Democrat in Trump country plan to win the governor's seat in Georgia? That's next.


[07:43:37] CAMEROTA: Voters in four states are casting their ballots today as the 2018 midterms continue to take shape.

Among the most-watched races, the one for Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia. One candidate wants to become the nation's first black female governor, and CNN's Kyung Lah has more.


STACEY ABRAMS, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR OF GEORGIA: And I'm running for office not for me but for the young people who deserve better from their elected officials.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She's the Democratic candidate for governor. But in the heart of rural Georgia, a Republican stronghold, watch Stacey Abrams --


ABRAMS: Thank you.

LAH: -- pose for photos, receive hugs, even tears. And if you haven't noticed yet, every supporter here is white.

LAH (on camera): We're in Trump country. Do you think that you can win here?

ABRAMS: So here's the thing. I've got to win Georgia. That means I've got to turn out more Democrats everywhere. LAH: We're in Trump country.

ABRAMS: But here's the thing. They're driving around, we're doing something.

LAH (voice-over): Abrams determined to pull off something no black woman has ever managed to do in Georgia or the entire country.

LAH (on camera): A she has never been governor in this state.

ABRAMS: No, no she has ever been governor but I intend to change that this year.

LAH (voice-over): Trying to crack the ceiling in a place that once shut her out.

In 1991, as her high school's valedictorian, Abrams was invited to the governor's mansion.

[07:45:04] LAH (on camera): What happened on that trip?

ABRAMS: The security guard refused to allow us inside. He said that it was a private event. This man who has this power in front of the most powerful place in Georgia telling me I don't belong there and that's resonated for me for the last 20 years.

Help me become the next governor of the great state of Georgia.

LAH (on camera): Abrams plans to do that by taking the blue wave on overdrive, doubling down on the Democratic base, women, and minorities -- from black voters to Latinos and white progressives, with an emphasis on direct grassroots and volunteer contact in every corner of Georgia.

ABRAMS: You cannot ignore those who already agree with you but feel like you don't respond or reflect their values. We cannot win by pretending to be something we're not.

STACEY EVANS, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR OF GEORIGA: Don't tell me we can't spread progressive messages.

LAH (voice-over): The other Stacey in the Democratic race disagrees.

EVANS: My opponent, on the other hand, thinks you just focus on Democrats and if we just get all Democrats out we'll win, and in a state like Georgia I don't think that's enough. I don't think the math adds up. And I also just don't think it's healthy for democracy.

LAH: Stacey Evans is also vying for the Democratic nomination and would also make history as Georgia's first woman governor. But, Evans believes she needs to expand the base in a year of Republican souring on Trump --

EVANS: I'm Stacey Evans, and as governor --

LAH: -- investing in T.V. early and heavily. EVANS: I think we should take our progressive message to persuade those that are living in suburban communities that maybe have tended to vote Republican that there is something for them on the Democratic side that's going to make their lives better.

LAH: Two Stacey's forging two different paths across this southern state, both driven by the same vision -- a woman in Georgia finally leading the way.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Atlanta.


CUOMO: All right. Our thanks to Kyung Lah on that report there.

Now, we're going to tell you about this. Another explosive eruption reported at Kilauea's summit. Look at the pictures. I know they're getting familiar but imagine if you were living there.

And now, you have this dangerous ash plume over surrounding areas. The lava flow is so intense that it has now reached a geothermal plant as it pours into the ocean along the coastline.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers joins us live with the latest.

What does that mean that it's now reached geothermal levels?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, if the -- if the lava goes to the left or uphill then we get into the geothermal plant itself, or if the fissure breaks in a little farther uphill spot, then we get lava into the plant and it will be destroyed.

The plant is shut down. Twelve out of the 13 -- or 11 out of the 12 wells are in good shape. They are quenched -- they're done.

But what you see behind me, Chris, these are lives pictures, and I've been watching this. I've been mesmerized by this since 4:00 this morning. Live pictures from a guy's house about 1,000 yards.

And if you listen to it on the Internet you can actually hear birds chirping and you can hear the explosions from this.

But we talked about this now for just a second. Let's get to the graphics because it is the ash cloud that everyone can see, and you can't fly planes through it, you don't want to breathe this stuff in.

This is the main threat for the area but there are other threats that are slightly more hidden -- this laze we talked about yesterday. It's hydrochloric steam, it's ash, it's glass in the air that you cannot breathe. It is absolutely deadly to you.

And then, of course, the sulfur dioxide. I've heard some reports that some of this acid rain is a pH of 1.5. Now, that's just -- that's a number you can't even get your head around unless you think about battery acid, and that's what's falling on some of these showers in places around the volcano. CAMEROTA: OK, Chad. That's gives us a lot of understanding about why it's so dangerous there. We have a geophysicist coming up to tell us more from Hawaii.

Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain has a new book out. It's already making waves.

Our Dana Bash talked to the co-author. Their message for Americans, coming up.


[07:53:23] CUOMO: Senator John McCain releasing his new memoir, "The Restless Wave." It comes out today.

The Arizona senator, as we all know, is fighting a very aggressive form of brain cancer and he has been very reflective of late on his 60 years of public service.

CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash joins us now. She sat down with McCain's co-author, a longtime aide, and speechwriter.

What did you learn, my friend?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, it is well-known worldwide that John McCain is a war hero. It's known that he was a presidential candidate, a scrappy fighter in the U.S. Senate.

But what's less known is McCain's love of literature. He's a voracious reader and that's fiction and also history. So it's no surprise that he has one more thing to add from his own life for the history book.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: They are more partisan, more tribal --

BASH (voice-over): John McCain wanted to give this speech about Senate dysfunction before his brain cancer diagnosis last summer. Then, longtime aide, speechwriter, and friend Mark Salter got a call from McCain with a sudden urgency.

MARK SALTER, LONGTIME MCCAIN COLLABORATOR, CO-AUTHOR, "THE RESTLESS WAVE": And are you coming out here? What's the story? And I said, yes.

Well, here's what I want to say in the speech. And I said, have you gotten the results back? What is it? He goes, it's not good.

BASH: Salter rushed to Arizona. They finished the speech on the flight back to D.C.

MCCAIN: What have we to lose by trying to work together?

SALTER: They all stayed in their chairs for his speech. That had never happened in his career and it meant a great deal to him.

BASH: McCain and Salter were already working on their seventh book together, which instantly took a reflective turn.

[07:55:01] SALTER: He wanted to be more personal and to convey just how fortunate he believed he was for being able to serve his country for 60 years.

BASH: The result, "The Restless Wave."

MCCAIN: I want to talk to my fellow Americans a little more if I may. My fellow Americans, no association ever mattered more to me.

BASH: This book allows McCain to tie up some loose ends, publicly admitting for the first time that during this 2008 presidential run, Joe Lieberman was his first choice for his running mate.

BASH (on camera): We all knew it covering him, but him saying it, it's a whole different thing.

SALTER: His aides, among them myself, had persuaded him that it wouldn't be possible.

BASH (voice-over): They told McCain putting a Democratic-turned- Independent on a Republican presidential ticket would spark a convention revolt.

SALTER: He wanted to pick Joe Lieberman but he has never expressed any regret, not privately nor certainly publicly, about picking Gov. Palin.

BASH: McCain also explains being approached in 2016 with the now- famous dossier about Donald Trump.

SALTER: He went over to see the FBI director at his earliest convenience and delivered it to him and said, I assume you will vet this.

BASH: "I discharged that obligation and I would do it again. Anyone who doesn't like it can go to hell."

SALTER: I wrote that but he said it just that way.

BASH: During his nearly four decades in Congress, McCain sparred with presidents in both parties, but makes clear his concerns about Donald Trump are fundamental, writing, "The world is learning to live without our active leadership. That's not good for the world and it won't be good for us."

A Vietnam prisoner of war for five and a half years, brutally tortured for most of it, McCain wants this book to be a guide standing up for oppressed people around the globe as he's done for decades.

SALTER: He goes to Burma and he meets with three guys who had been political prisoners for 20 years that had just been released from prison. And when he started to speak one of them just started to cry because they had heard his voice on Radio Free Asia so many times, defending them by name.

BASH: For over 30 years, Salter has helped McCain convey his essence.

BASH (on camera): You've written a lot of words for and with John McCain. What do you think the most important are?

SALTER: We were born to love and we were born to have the courage for it. So be brave. The rest is easy.

I thought that was the most McCain-esque thing he ever said.

BASH (voice-over): That or maybe this in the final chapter.

MCCAIN: We need each other. We need friends in the world and they need us. The bell tolls for us, my friends.


BASH: That, of course, is a reference to "For Whom the Bell Tolls" by Ernest Hemingway, McCain's favorite book of all time.

The fictional protagonist Robert Jordan is a larger-than-life romantic war hero who's been a North Star for McCain his entire life.

And in the last full page of his book, Chris, after talking about how lucky he has been to have lived a long, great life of passions, fought in war, helped make peace, McCain says goodbye with the quote we see on the screen from Hemingway's Robert Jordan.

"The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it."

CUOMO: Oh, that's going to mean so much, especially right now in the context of everything the senator is battling.

You and I both know people who are close to him. People have been going out there to visit. They've been having some remarkable experiences with their old friend and many are seeing a side of him that they never saw before.

BASH: That's right because, I mean, the title "Restless Wave" is actually a quote in the naval hymn, but also describes John McCain. He is the most restless person anybody has ever met.

But that is not possible with this kind of brain cancer he has so he has been spending his days, as you said, greeting visitors and longtime friends who come out there. He's got good days and bad.

One of the things that his family has done is given him a schedule. As you know, somebody who is in public office, especially if they have a schedule that they keep in their pocket down to the minute. He's got that as well.

But you know, Chris, what's he's doing right now is he is sitting by the creek in the home that he loves -- the only home he's known -- watching the hawks and trying to find as much peace as he can. CUOMO: Well, we wish him and the family well --

BASH: Yes, we do.

CUOMO: -- and I'm sure this book is going to be well-received.

And he loved the main character and he loved the guide, Anselmo. Anselmo is Robert Jordan's guide in "Whom the Bell Tolls."

Dana, thank you so much.

BASH: Thank you.

CUOMO: Be well.

My friends, we're following a lot of news. What do you say? Let's get after it.


CUOMO: The Justice Department agreeing to meet with lawmakers to review information related to the Russia probe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's wrong for confidential information about an ongoing criminal investigation to be shared.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's insincere, I believe, to say well, we can't share that when I think the primary reason is because it embarrasses them.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: The president is obviously trying to interfere with an investigation that happens to be an investigation of him.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll find out what happened and the American people and all of us will have the facts.