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Will Biden Run?; Cheating Scam; Pelosi Comes Out Against Impeachment; Interview With Rep. Brad Sherman. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 12, 2019 - 16:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Lori Loughlin of "Full House" fame? She's about to be arrested? Have mercy.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The biggest signs yet that the most-talked-about Democratic 2020 hopeful is jumping in. What did Joe Biden say today that sent supporters through the roof?

A new book giving us a stunning behind-the-scenes look at life inside the White House and calling Jared and Ivanka President Trump's chief enablers. How are they responding? That's coming up.

Plus, Operation Varsity Blues, dozens of parents, millions in bribes. Some of the rich and famous caught up in what the feds are calling the biggest college admissions fraud scandal in history.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start today with the 2020 lead, because the biggest name in the 2020 Democratic field, former Vice President Joe Biden, seemed to let it slip today that he -- quote -- "can't think of any reason" -- unquote -- why he would not run for president.

Biden has said his family is on board. And this afternoon, Democratic officeholders who have spoken to Biden tell me that his team expects a final decision imminently and an official announcement in the spring, perhaps as soon as next month.

Former Biden aides have been working for months preparing for campaign structure and staff and organization, reaching out to individuals who have expressed interest in working on a potential new campaign, even though the final trigger has yet to be pulled and an official location and date have not yet been signed off on.

The former vice president speaking today in front of a very supportive labor union, the International Association of Firefighters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AUDIENCE: Run, Joe, run! Run, Joe, run! Run, Joe, run!



TAPPER: You can hear them cheering and chanting "Run, Joe, run."

And here's Biden's response.


JOE BIDEN: I appreciate the energy you showed when I got up here. Save it a little longer. I may need it in a few weeks.



TAPPER: A few weeks.

Biden would begin the race as the front-runner in Iowa and nationally. He's right now running a close second in a recent poll in New Hampshire. He would have fund-raising and institutional Democratic Party support. And his fellow Delawarean, Senator Chris Coons, highlighted just yesterday what he said was Biden's national appeal.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I think Joe Biden is exactly the sort of candidate who connects with the average American. He has more experience both in the Senate and as vice president, in the executive and legislative, than any other candidate running, arguably than all other candidates combined.

And we don't need someone who's doing on-the-job training.


TAPPER: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is following the Democratic field for us. And he's watching Biden and another Democratic candidate who also seems on the verge of throwing his hat into the ring.


AUDIENCE: Run, Joe, run! Run, Joe, run!

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joe Biden answering those three words today with a slight smile, not saying yes, but showing no signs of backing away from a third bid for the presidency.

He's making plans to jump into the 2020 race soon, eying a formal announcement in April.

JOE BIDEN: I appreciate the energy you showed when I got up here. Save it a little longer. I may need it in a few weeks.


ZELENY: Speaking to the International Association of Firefighters, who made their views clear, Biden offered a hint at his strategy. Take on President Trump directly, rather than the Democrats he will first be competing against.

JOE BIDEN: In America, everybody gets a shot. That's what the next president of the United States needs to understand. And that's what I don't think this current president understands at all.

ZELENY: The former vice president following his wife, Jill, on stage. She's given her blessing to another presidential run.

JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF JOE BIDEN: So I'm grateful to be here today to say, thank you.

ZELENY: A Biden campaign in waiting is about to come to life, testing whether Democrats will favor experience over new blood.

QUESTION: What is the holdup, sir?

JOE BIDEN: No holdup.

ZELENY: By April, Biden is set to have even more competition, as Beto O'Rourke is on the cusp of also jumping into the race, CNN has learned.

The former Texas congressman is poised to push the button on a presidential announcement in the coming days, in the words of one person familiar with a plan. He launched more than 300 ads on Facebook this week after not running a single one since losing his Senate race to Ted Cruz in November.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: What's up, you and I? That's O'Rourke here in El Paso.

ZELENY: He's also heading to Iowa on Saturday, campaigning in a state Senate race and likely for himself.

Meanwhile, Pete Buttigieg is trying to seize on momentum from a CNN town hall on Sunday with Jake. Aides say he raised more than $600,000 from 22,000 donors in the first 24 hours, a sign more and more people are getting to know his name.

TAPPER: How do you pronounce your last name?


TAPPER: Buttigieg.

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, say that three times fast, either way, it comes out Buttigieg.

(END VIDEOTAPE) [16:05:00]

ZELENY: So, it's clear that more and more people are learning how to pronounce his name. And he hopes that Democrats are looking to pass the torch on to a new leadership.

That is exactly what Beto O'Rourke is hoping as well. So, Jake, that is the central question here. And one adviser who has spoken with him said he does plan to push the button. Of course, that means he's going to likely announce on social media first before going to Iowa.

But as for Joe Biden, he is hoping that this is a different moment. With President Trump Democrats will be looking for experience. Jake, by April, this race maybe fully formed.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Let's bring in the experts here.

So, Joe Biden today on a rope line kind of let it slip. Somebody said, is there any reason you wouldn't run? And he said, I can't think of a reason.

He can't think of a reason why he wouldn't run, but I have heard from Democrats who can think of reasons why he wouldn't run.

TIFFANY CROSS, THE BEAT D.C.: Yes, absolutely.

Well, the difference is with Joe Biden and a lot of other people, he has a long legislative record to defend. And not everybody else has that. And so when you look at his votes on the crime bill, that's going to be an issue. His work on the Anita Hill hearing, that's going to be an issue.

The comments he made on bussing, bussing black students to schools, all those things are going to be an issue. And when you look at who's voting this time around, there are over three million millennial voters in the midterm elections. That's going to be a lot of people who are not old enough to remember all of these things and are going to have questions about it.

The other challenge, I think, a lot of people are supporting him because they feel like he's this safe white person to vote with. A lot of people say, oh, he can win working-class...


CROSS: Right, but we know that's a euphemism for what that means. And I think we have come to redefine what electability means. Perhaps electability means people who can organize and enthuse voters of color and people who can get young voters out to the polls.

And I'm not sure that Joe Biden's candidacy is reflective of that. I'm not dismissing it. I think he's a force to be reckoned with. But I do think that he's going to have some challenges that some of the other candidates may not have. TAPPER: Go ahead.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I was going to say, look, that's great, right?

But if you want to win the presidency, I think Joe Biden provides the Democrats -- I don't want to give the playbook, away, right, but you got to win -- why is the DNC holding their convention in Milwaukee, right?

You got to win those states, the Rust Belt states. And you're right. The party, your party, the Democratic Party, is energized by millennials, by progressives, and largely abandoned the Paul Begala Democrats, right, that Paul Begala to fame, right, the folks in Pittsburgh, the blue-collar Reagan Democrats.

So the party is going to be torn asunder I believe by this primary.


TAPPER: I just want to bring in. I will come to you.

Biden also addressed today -- you might remember a few weeks ago, as an offhand comment, he said -- he referred to Vice President Pence as a decent guy. Immediately, progressives were on him. I think he tweeted out not an apology, but kind of an explanation and an agreement that Pence isn't decent.

Take a listen to -- he commented on that today.


JOE BIDEN: If you notice, I get criticized for saying anything nice about a Republican. Folks, that is not we are. That's not how we got here.


TAPPER: This is, again, part of the disagreement. It's generational as much as it is in terms of progressive vs. moderate.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, and I think it raises questions about how has the Democratic Party changed over the last four years and was four years ago the better time?

Now, we know that there was a tragedy in the Biden family with the passing of Beau Biden, plenty of reasons why he chose to sit it out last time. But also bear in mind this time around four years ago, Joe Biden was not doing terribly well in Democratic primary polls.

Hillary Clinton was far and away, 50-plus points ahead of everyone else. Nowadays, the field is so split that actually Joe Biden when he's pulling in the 30s, better than it was four years ago and it puts him at the top of the pack.

TAPPER: What do you think? PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's going to have a really interesting time handling these issues that Tiffany raises.

And I'm uncommitted. I do not have a preference. I have talked to any number, not more than 30 or 40 of these candidates. But I haven't talked to Joe. And, Joe, call me.

Here's why. Here's the answer. He could do what he's going to do, which is drill deep, take you back 35 years and defend every vote and quote of his long Senate career. Therein lies defeat, because you get wrapped around the -- Tiffany's exactly right. The people you need to motivate are not going to like his explanations.

The better answer is, yes, I have a long record, Jake, and I'm glad your opposition researchers have reviewed it. You know who reviewed it more carefully? Barack Obama. And he asked me to step in if God forbid anything happened to the president of the United States. That's the record I'm proud of. That's the record Barack Obama -- in other words, you have got a shield, Joe.

And it's called Barack. Don't go into the depths of the stuff you voted on 30 years ago.

CROSS: I hear you.

But I wonder, though, if this new voting electorate -- and I think that's a fair point that you raise, because there are some people who are nostalgic for the Obama era.

Is this new voting era more woke than they are nostalgic? And when they look at that record, are they going to be willing to say, well, we do miss Obama -- the Obama era, are we willing to take that instead?

TAPPER: There's another potential 2020 Democrat, Beto O'Rourke, former Texas congressman. He heads to Iowa this weekend to participate in a get-out-the-vote event for a statewide election.

He's teasing his 2020 decision with this ad on Instagram, saying -- quote -- "I'm ready to share my plans."


Ooh, he's ready to share his plans.


TAPPER: It is his first trip to Iowa as a potential candidate.

Obviously, he's testing the waters here.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: Sure. And why not?

Look, if you have the apparatus, the name I.D. within the most active part of the Democratic Party, the ability to fund-raise like he has, if everyone else is jumping in the pool, why not jump too? What do think of Beto?

URBAN: Look, I think more the merrier, right, from my perspective, right?


TAPPER: Because you want him to lose.


URBAN: Listen, I think he's a formidable candidate in Texas.

And not so sure outside of Texas, right? He can raise a lot of money, got incredible appeal, he is a good-looking guy, charismatic. He's a great messenger. He does great retail. He's a politician. He scores top marks.


SOLTIS ANDERSON: Now, you say outside of Texas. You drive around Northern Virginia, you're going to see a lot Beto bumper stickers. Whether that is good or bad is a different question.

URBAN: Right.

But does it translate, again, into those states that I think, to put an Electoral College win together? It's really just pretty basic. You got to get 270. How do you get to 270? That's what I look at. How does Beto O'Rourke do in kind of the Rust Belt, right?

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

We're going to talk much more about politics.

Breaking today, the E.U., the European Union, now also grounding a jet after two horrific crashes in six months. Why is the United States still allowing this type of plane to fly?

Then, some Democrats now pushing back on House Speaker Pelosi after she said, forget about impeaching President Trump. Is saying no to impeachment more divisive then going after the president?

Stay with us.


[16:15:42] TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

Democrats are divided and the White House is trying to drive the wedge further. This afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has lost control of her party. The accusation comes after Speaker Pelosi tried to shut down the possibility of impeaching President Trump in an interview with "The Washington Post", saying it would divide the country and President Trump is, quote, just not worth it. But as CNN's Manu Raju reports, not all congressional Democrats agree with the speaker and they're worried Pelosi the person who controls whether this would go forward in the House might be closing off the possibility of impeachment criminally.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You will continue to push for impeachment, right?

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D), MICHIGAN: I am beginning the investigation.

RAJU (voice-over): A split today among House Democrats on whether to pursue a presidential impeachment.

REP. KATHERINE CLARK (D), VICE CHAIR, HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: I think we have to be cleared that that is not the end goal of this caucus.

RAJU: Michigan freshman Rashida Tlaib who made waves on her first day in Congress by saying --

TLAIB: We're going to go in there and we're going to impeach the mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

RAJU: Now, she and several other rank-and-file Democrats pushing to move ahead with impeachment, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi said impeaching Trump just isn't worth it.

Asked if she agreed with Pelosi, freshman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said --

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: I know a lot of members in the caucus have different opinion, but that's why we caucus.

RAJU (on camera): You have a different opinion?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I happen to, yes.

RAJU (voice-over): The House Judiciary chairman does agree with Pelosi, who told CNN that impeachment is not completely off the table.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), JUDICIARY CHARIMAN: Certainly, I'm not shutting the door. We have to know all the facts. We don't know all the facts. Once we know all the facts, then we'll have to make judgments.

RAJU: Today, other Democrats said they sided with Pelosi yet they believe Trump has committed impeachable offenses.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: My personal position is that he is a blight on the American society, the American government, the American nation and humanity.

RAJU (on camera): He should be impeached?

COHEN: Well, I think he's done things that are certainly worthy of looking into impeachment.

RAJU (voice-over): Pelosi and other top Democrats are concerned that impeaching the president will be a time-consuming and politically dangerous exercise and potentially unsuccessful since the Republican- controlled Senate is unlikely to convict the president.

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA), CHAIR, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: Talking about it now is a major distraction, but I don't believe this should completely close the door.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: If the evidence isn't sufficient to win bipartisan support for this, putting the country through a failed impeachment is not a good idea.

RAJU: Asked on Tuesday why she did not wait until the report from a special counsel Robert Mueller was released, Pelosi told CNN, I've said from day one that I think impeachment is divisive.

The top House Republican offering rare praise for Pelosi.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I think Nancy Pelosi is smart to say that there shouldn't be an impeachment.

RAJU: But others are skeptical.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think Nancy Pelosi is clearly already starting to lose control of her party. I think we're seeing that on a lot of the things that have taken place over the last couple of weeks.

RAJU: But even so, the investigation continues in the House. The House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler told me of the 81 people and entities they reached out to last week as part of their investigation into the White House and what they believe has been abuse of power, roughly a third have indicated they do plan to release documents to the committee by next week's deadline.


RAJU: And, Jake, tomorrow, that same committee the leaders their plan to interview the former Acting Attorney General Matt Whittaker over concerns that he did not tell the committee the full truth in his public testimony last month -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Thank you, Manu Raju.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman of California. He introduced the articles of impeachment against President Trump back in 2017.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

Speaker Pelosi is arguing, quote, impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path, unquote.

You disagree. Why?

REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, first, he met the legal standard. He's committed several felonies including --

TAPPER: What --

SHERMAN: -- including violation of 1512B3 of the Criminal Code, obstruction of justice on at least two occasions, probably three. And that's just in his first six months.

TAPPER: All right. Well, that's your opinion, but no legal source, no legal entity has said that he is guilty of obstruction of justice.

SHERMAN: No legal entity has said to the contrary. In fact, there are numerous scholarly articles that take a look at what he did on the record, compare it to the code and say this is a violation of code.

[16:20:10] But the question isn't just whether he violated the legal standard. The question is, do we have the political support?

Now, I was part of starting the ball rolling in terms of talking about impeachment and if we hadn't talked about impeachment, imagine what this president would have done if he thought he was immune. He certainly would have fired Mueller. He certainly would have done, god knows what, right crossed his mind.

TAPPER: Right --

SHERMAN: So, we need to go down the road part of the way and talk about impeachment. But we're not going to remove him from office until we get more public support. And that -- that probably isn't going to happen until we develop more facts. That's one of the reasons we need to investigate.

TAPPER: But you've called for -- you called for impeaching him in 2017. So, you're way ahead of the idea that you need to have more facts, right?

SHERMAN: The -- you don't have to wait to you know every felony the president is committed.

TAPPER: Again, sir, with all due respect, you keep saying that he's committed felonies. There's not one legal entity that has said he committed felonies and saying there's --

SHERMAN: There's not one legal entity that said that his firing of Comey was not a violation of 1512B3.

TAPPER: That's not how this all works. Well, it doesn't work like, well, there's -- I say there needs to be a legal finding and you say, well, there isn't a legal finding that he didn't do the crime.

SHERMAN: There's no body other than the House of Representatives that can make that. You can't say, well, the courts determined that he didn't, you can't say that the courts determined he did. The courts will not have jurisdiction. Only the House of Representatives has jurisdiction. And the last Congress wouldn't give it serious consideration and wouldn't even develop the facts.

Now, we're doing the investigation. That may deliver enough facts not only to show that he's violated the law but to generate the public support for going forward with removal.

TAPPER: Right --

SHERMAN: Until we have much more public support, we're not going to be able to remove him from office.

TAPPER: Well, that's certainly true because there is public support for investigating the president, but there is not public support at all, even close to impeaching him or removing him from office.

SHERMAN: We're at 15 percent in some of the polls for removing him from office, but it's going to take two-thirds of the United States Senate, which means it would take at least two-thirds of the American people to get Republican senators on board in large numbers.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about that because: do you support the idea of going forward with impeachment even while Republicans control the Senate?

SHERMAN: We went forward with impeachment when we needed Republican votes to impeach Richard Nixon. It's when you can generate the public support, you can go forward and remove a president who's guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.

TAPPER: Needing Republican votes is not the same thing as a Republican Senate. I mean, there was, as you know -- that was during the Nixon impeachment, that was a Democratic Senate. Yes, you needed Republican votes. This is a Republican Senate.

Wouldn't it be a loser because it's this is what this is what Nancy Pelosi seems to be saying in a lot of your colleagues, that even if you impeach the president in the House, it's not going anywhere in the Senate, and so, it would cause a whole bunch of further divisive action. This is according to Speaker Pelosi, and you wouldn't even get the result you want.

SHERMAN: Well, first of all, I think Richard Nixon would had been impeached even if there were five, 10, 15 more Republican senators. Second, I do not think the trunk would be removed from office by this United States Senate until we get public opinion on our side and that is probably going to require more facts whether they come from Mueller, whether they come from House investigations we need to give the American people more information and if we do and we generate the level of support for impeachment that we saw in 1974, we will be able to remove this president.

But even if we don't remove the president, at least letting him know as Senator Graham did back in 2017, that if he crosses certain lines, he is indeed subject to impeachment, will act as a way to confine the harm he does to our country.

TAPPER: Last question, sir, don't you think that by filing articles of impeachment in the House in 2017, coming out and talking about it strongly now today, even before the Mueller report has dropped, even before the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee's reports have come out, don't you think you're undermining the case that you're trying to make to the American people in that you're already getting out there and saying, I want him impeached now even before the facts come in, making it look very political?

SHERMAN: Well, it's hard for an elected official in Washington, D.C. not to be called political, but the fact is you do not have to wait to you can identify all the felonies a president has committed in order to impeach for the felonies that are already on the record.

[16:25:08] And he on the record threatened Mueller, if Mueller look at his finances. We see the testimony of Comey, I was there at for every minute of it, where he testified under oath to the United States Senate about how he was threatened in order to prevent him for going forward with the investigation of Flynn. So, the felonies are there.

Whether they -- whether we have public opinion on our side, I don't think we're there yet. But we reached the legal standard long ago.

TAPPER: OK, just as a point of fact and I appreciate your coming here, you keep asserting that the president has committed felonies, and I will just keep saying that's your opinion but zero legal entities have found the president guilty of felonies.

SHERMAN: Zero legal entities have considered the issue. That's why you have to -- why on scholarship and legal analysis, which I've published, which others have published, to reach that conclusion. There is no higher authority available to us than the legal analysis that's been published. No court has considered the matter, nor can they, and the House has not considered the matter either.

TAPPER: All right . Congressman Brad Sherman of California, thank you so much. Appreciate your time, sir.

SHERMAN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, two actresses caught up in a massive college admissions cheating scandal, the alleged million-dollar bribes, photoshopped pictures, and prestigious schools named in the federal indictment, next.