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Democrats Still Mulling Impeachment?; Interview With Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA); Judiciary Committee Democrats Say, We Are In An Impeachment Investigation; Supreme Court Rules For Trump In Border Wall Fight With Congress; Candidates Prep for CNN Democratic Presidential Debates Tuesday and Wednesday Nights 8PM ET Live from Detroit. Aired on 6-7p ET

Aired July 26, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: After weeks of public sparring between party leaders and more progressive lawmakers, have they healed their rift?

And preparing to brawl. Democratic presidential candidates prepare to face off just days from now in our CNN debates. Tonight, we go behind the scenes to see what it takes to stand out in the crowded field and gain ground in the race for the White House.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee taking a major step toward possibly impeaching President Trump. They're moving in federal court to get secret grand jury material from the special counsel Robert Mueller's report, arguing they need the information to decide whether to impeach President Trump.

And, tonight, the Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, says an impeachment inquiry is effectively already under way.

We will talk about that and more with Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. She's up on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, significant developments tonight on the impeachment front.


This is a big move that Democrats are making tonight, with some Democrats now on the House Judiciary Committee essentially no longer beating around the bush tonight. They are now openly saying that, we are now in an impeachment investigation.


SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are going farther than ever, admitting the investigation they are already conducting into President Trump could lead to recommending articles of impeachment against him, without the full House ever formally voting for an inquiry.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're saying no difference -- you're saying there's no difference between what you're doing now and an impeachment inquiry, correct?

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): In a sense. We are going to see what remedies we could recommend, including the possibility of articles of impeachment.

SERFATY: The committee filing a lawsuit in federal court to get the underlying grand jury material from former special counsel Robert Mueller's report, arguing -- quote -- "The committee is conducting an investigation whose purposes include determining whether to recommend articles of impeachment."

Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler now openly threatening impeachment proceedings.

NADLER: The House must have access to all the relevant facts and consider whether to exercise its full Article 1 powers, including a constitutional duty power of the utmost gravity, recommendation of articles of impeachment.

SERFATY: While also readying a second court case to compel former White House counsel Don McGahn to comply with his subpoena.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): This court filing is the first time that you're seeing us telegraph to the court that one of the remedies we have is impeachment.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): I would say we are in an impeachment investigation.

SERFATY: This comes as 100 Democrats support opening up an impeachment inquiry, and as some are growing impatient with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's strategy, worried the window for starting impeachment proceedings may be closing.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No, I'm not trying to run out the clock. Let's get sophisticated about this, OK? We will proceed when we have what we need to proceed, not one day sooner.

SERFATY: But pressure is growing behind closed doors from top deputies, like Chairman Nadler, who has pleaded with Pelosi privately to allow him to lean into impeachment.

NADLER: We may decide to recommend articles of impeachment at some point. We may not. That remains to be seen. And there's no point speculating on whether the speaker or anybody else will agree with our decision at that point. SERFATY: Meantime, Pelosi today also trying to minimize another party


PELOSI: I don't think there ever was any hatchet.

SERFATY: Meeting one-on-one with progressive freshman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the first time in months.

PELOSI: I have always felt -- again, it's like you're in a family. In a family, you have your differences, but you're still a family.

SERFATY: After the two have been openly feuding in public.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Looking forward to us continuing our work. As always, I think the speaker respects the fact that we're coming together as a party.


SERFATY: And amid this debate over impeachment, the House is heading into a six-week-long recess, where members will be hearing directly from their constituents back home.

This could be a real key moment for the Democrats and could go a long way and help reshape or shape the narrative around impeachment for when they return back here in Washington in September -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly could.

Sunlen Serfaty, thanks for that report.

Let's get reaction now from the White House.

Our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown, is joining us with the latest.

Pamela, the president talked about all of this just a little while ago.


This latest move by the House Judiciary Committee is clearly on the president's mind. And he spoke about it to the press in a last-minute gathering in the Oval Office today.


At the same time, Wolf, a senior White House official telling me the president has been in good spirits today and views this latest move by the Democrats as a sign of desperation.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump's slamming Democrats, after the House Judiciary Committee today said, in effect, it is already conducting an impeachment investigation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The amazing thing about the Democrats, it was all fine, everything was great four, five years ago, before I was president. And now they think we're going to win. So they're doing everything they can, with the impeachment nonsense.

These people are clowns. The Democrats are clowns. They're being laughed at all over the world. And I watched this morning. I watched Nancy Pelosi trying to get through that with the performance that Robert Mueller put on.

BROWN: The president once again going after the former special counsel in the wake of his testimony this week, questioning if he had even read the 448-page report that bears his name.

TRUMP: I don't think he ever read the agreement or the document. And the document said no collusion. They don't even talk about that. So there was no crime.

They said, well, there was no crime, but he obstructed. How do you obstruct if there's no crime?

But actually it was worse than that, because it was a phony crime that they put on. The crime was what they put on.

BROWN: Mueller said his investigation didn't establish evidence to show a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but that he couldn't exonerate President Trump on obstruction of justice.

The president is also frustrated by new poll numbers from FOX News that show him losing the election to Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. In his hastily arranged question-and-answer session tonight, Trump again went off on Joe Biden.

TRUMP: But if I'm Iran, I will probably say, man, if I can hold out, I'm going to wait for a sleepy Joe Biden, instead of Trump, because sleepy Joe, we can make any deal with him. He doesn't know what is happening.

BROWN: Also tonight, the president once again taking direct aim at the Federal Reserve, blaming it for slowed economic growth.

But critics say some of the slowdown is due to Trump's trade wars. Just today, President Trump saying he's considering slapping a tax on French wine.

TRUMP: France put on a tax on our companies. You know that, and wrong -- wrong thing to do. They should not have done it. So I may do that. I may -- I have always liked American wines better than French wines, even though I don't drink wine.

I just like the way they look. We tax our companies. They don't tax our companies.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BROWN: President Trump is responding to Francis new digital tax on U.S. tech companies. Today, Trump said he may even introduce the potential wind tariffs before the G7 in and late August with France.

But he also added he has a great relationship with France's president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Pamela, thank you very much, Pamela Brown at the White House.

Let's get some more on the breaking news right now.

Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania is joining us. She's a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

We saw you at that news conference with the chairman of your committee, Jerry Nadler, who says you're considering articles of impeachment. Two of your colleagues, Congressman Raskin, Swalwell, they call this an impeachment investigation.

How is that different from an impeachment inquiry?

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): There's very little difference.

And I think today was an important, pivotal day. And I think the testimony of Robert Mueller ended the beginning of chapter one, which was the beginning of our oversight in this 116th Congress.

And today marked the beginning of chapter two, a pivot point, where Chairman Nadler laid out part of our legal strategy, seeking the redacted underlying grand jury investigations, as well as seeking to compel Mr. McGahn to come before us, but also saying that we are now in a position to exercise our full Article 1 constitutional powers, which includes an impeachment investigation.

It's where I have thought we needed to go all along. But we certainly needed Mr. Mueller to come before us to help us do that, to bring the case to the American people.

BLITZER: Why not hold a full House vote to formally open an impeachment inquiry?

DEAN: I don't think that -- number one, it's not necessary.

Judiciary has the jurisdiction to do the oversight and the investigation that would include the possibility of bringing forth articles of impeachment. And, at this point, I don't know that that would be successful in the House, because notice what happened here.

The special counsel did two years' worth of work, delivered his confidential report. And then, for a month, the attorney general, Barr, handpicked by this president, did exactly what the president has done, and obstruct the information from the American people , creating public confusion. People actually got news reports that there was no wrongdoing in it,

when there's sweeping wrongdoing by Russia, sweeping wrongdoing by the Trump campaign, who enjoyed the help of a foreign foe, more than 100 contacts with Russians, for their benefit.


Imagine how shocking that is and how detrimental that is to our rule of law, our system of government, our democracy.

And then, of course, volume two, the extraordinary wrongdoing, the crimes of a president. Once he knew he was under investigation, he tried everything he could to get the special counsel fired or limited or have people lie on his behalf, destroy documents or falsify documents.

It's extraordinary wrongdoing. And I'm so glad special counsel Mueller came before the American people this week to reveal those things to us.

BLITZER: This shift today was clearly designed to bolster the filing your Judiciary Committee did, submitted to a federal judge to get Mueller's secret grand jury materials.

Will that be enough to convince a federal judge?

DEAN: I actually think it is sort of the other way around.

We included in that language of that case that, yes, this is the important pivot to opening an investigation. I think the court, having heard the testimony of Mr. Mueller, understands the urgency of it.

So I think the combined strategy of getting facts before the American people and then using the courts to enforce our powers, our oversight authority, as a co-equal branch of government under the Constitution, Article 1 -- we are the Article 1 power.

I think it's an important time. And I'm confident, with the legal strategy, that the court will come forward and recognize we need that information. The American people deserve the information.

BLITZER: What are you hoping, Congresswoman, to learn from that secret grand jury material?

DEAN: Well, I think you have heard Nancy Pelosi, the chairman of these Oversight committees, including Adam Schiff, say that we have to have the full case.

This is something that is extraordinarily serious. We're talking about the possibility of high crimes and misdemeanors by the president of the United States.

And in order to exercise any kind of impeachment authority, which actually Robert Mueller reveals is the only way for us to go at this time, because he was unable to indict as a result of the Justice Department holding that you can't indict a sitting president, we have to have a full, robust case of facts, of evidence, combined with the law.

You don't go into court with a case this serious or any case, frankly, without all of the facts before us. And that's why we need the grand jury material.

BLITZER: Did the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, sign off on this new strategy by your committee?

DEAN: Yes, absolutely.

The language that Jerry Nadler read in the press conference today was absolutely approved by the speaker. She knows that we have work to do. She understands better than all exactly what is pressing upon the American public.

She had understands the lawlessness, the corruption, the cover-up of this president and this administration. It's unprecedented. The indecency and corruption of this president is unprecedented.

And so while some would love to find some gap or some rift, there really isn't one. She's got a much bigger task at hand. She has to -- she has to corral an entire caucus. She has to lead an entire Congress.

And more than that, she feels the gravity of her responsibility to the American people greater than any of us.

BLITZER: So I just want to be precise. You say the speaker signed off, approved of what you -- you and your committee members are doing, the House Judiciary Committee Democrats are doing right now?

That's a significant development, because she was holding back in recent weeks.

DEAN: Well, I don't know that she was holding back.

She and our House counsel have had a very robust program of going to courts in order to get information about the president's wrongdoings.

But I think today is a very important, pivotal point. And Jerry Nadler revealed to us, the committee, her confirmation of the language, specific language, that was used to tell the court the gravity of what we're doing, that this is also including impeachment investigation.

And I'm glad we're at that point. The American people deserve it. If you heard Mr. Cummings, Chairman Cummings, this week, he pleaded with the American people, pay attention. What's at stake is so grave, that our democracy is at stake.

And you heard Robert Mueller himself. He said he fears this is the new normal, that a presidential campaign would accept the help of a foreign foe, and never call upon law enforcement and say, there's something seriously wrong. We would never want to benefit from a foreign foe's interference in our precious electoral process.

This is an extraordinary time in American history. I'm proud to be a part of a committee and a caucus and a Congress that will hold this president accountable.

BLITZER: If you and your Democratic colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, including Chairman Nadler, were to go ahead and approve articles of impeachment, filing articles of impeachment against the president of the United States, would Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, have to sign off on that as well?


DEAN: I don't know the answer to that question.

We're doing the investigation. She will be a part of it the whole way along. She will be very well aware of what we're doing, and, more importantly, what we're finding.

And so -- and then -- and that would lead to the possibility of drafting articles of impeachment that could emanate from our committee and move to the floor.

BLITZER: Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who's for impeachment, says, if Democrats don't take action impeachment by September, you should, in her words, just shut it down.

Do you agree that there's a limited window right now to move forward with impeachment?

DEAN: I believe there's an urgency. I believe there's an absolute urgency.

I feel it in every conversation I have with people on the street or in a taxi ride that I take. The American people feel an urgency. I don't know about September as the deadline. I think that's a very important time that we make sure we dig in.

I know the members of our committee on Judiciary, we are not going to be taking a six-week break or in-district period. We will continue our work.

But I think there is an absolute urgency that we move forward and make sure we uncover all of the facts.

Keep in mind what's going on here. We have an attorney general who has done the exact same thing that this president has done in plain sight and also behind doors, obstruct from the American people the truth of the report.

And know that what our investigation will include will be beyond the four corners of that document. What we will be -- we will also be looking at and other committees will be looking at ongoing violations of the Emoluments Clause, ongoing and previous violations of campaign finance, paying off mistresses days before the election to bury stories. This is extraordinary wrongdoing.

And when I go back to Mr. Mueller, I just want to say something. What an extraordinary American hero, 50 years of service, a biography that is unmatched by anybody. And one of the things that he said that I think was particularly haunting is what he said, if this were not a sitting president, would you have indicted? Yes.

BLITZER: Next week, your committee will move to enforce a subpoena of the former White House counsel Don McGahn.

What's the timeline for getting him to testify? Because, as you yourself just pointed out, the House of Representatives is taking a six week recess right now.

DEAN: Right. And -- but we will not. I assure you of that.

In talking to Chairman Nadler today, they are still in conversations with Don McGahn's folks, trying to come up with any accommodation possible to make sure he obliges and complies with our subpoena.

But I do know -- and Nadler said it today at the press conference -- that, if they cannot come to that accommodation -- and we have tried many, many ways to accommodate Mr. McGahn -- then we will go to court Monday or Tuesday early next week to file a lawsuit to enforce that subpoena.

And what the language that we reviewed today that, as we said, was confirmed and reviewed with the speaker, talking about the possibility of these impeachment investigations, that gives a heightened sense of urgency to the courts.

We will ask for expedited disposition of that case. So I don't know the time frame. The court will set its schedule, but we certainly have added increased urgency to it by the way of our filing.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, thanks so much for joining us.

DEAN: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: All right, let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts right now.

And, Gloria Borger, I want you to watch, I want everybody to watch what the chairman, Jerry Nadler, said at his news conference earlier today.


NADLER: We are considering the malfeasances of the president. We are considering what remedies we can do, including the possibility of articles of impeachment.


BLITZER: How significant is that? GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is significant,

but that's their legal argument, Wolf.

I mean, I think it adds a whole other political overtones to this, which is the Democrats are moving one step closer. But this is the argument they're making in court, which is, we need this information from the grand jury, and we deserve to get it because we are considering impeaching the president, and therefore they believe it helps them make their legal case.

They may be right. You're a lawyer. I don't -- I'm not. They may be wrong. But I think he was doing this to kind of be more robust about his court case. And then he sidestepped the question when he was asked about whether this could lead to impeachment.

He kind of said, well, it might. But he wasn't definitive at all.

BLITZER: Another member of the Judiciary Committee, Susan, Eric Swalwell, he explained why the committee is now going to court to get the secret grand jury material. Listen to this.


SWALWELL: This court filing is the first time that you're seeing us telegraph to the court that one of the remedies we have is impeachment and to consider whether that should be used. So that opens up and should activate that grand jury material.



BLITZER: Does this strengthen their case with this federal judge?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: A little bit, but not as much as they're sort of representing that it does.

So, because of a recent D.C. circuit opinion, the ability to get grand jury material is really quite limited. And if the House of Representatives wants to access that grand jury material, they are far better off going in and arguing that a judicial proceeding -- that they actually have impeachment proceedings.

And so the idea of sort of taking the step of maybe we're headed in the direction of impeachment proceedings is going to be enough to sway the judge, maybe, maybe not. But I actually think it underscores the importance of just sort of formally going forward with it.

The other question is why they're focused on grand jury materials. This feels like a little bit of sort of a distraction to me. There's very little in the Mueller report that is actually redacted for grand jury reasons. Most of it is redacted because of harm to an ongoing matter, namely Roger Stone.

That's material Congress already has access to. Yes, there's some limited stuff related to grand jury material, sort of conversations the president had that there are redacted in portions, whether or not Don Jr. formally sort of evoked the Fifth Amendment in declining to testify.

But these are not game-changing pieces of information. And so why you would sort of say, OK, we're going to pick this court case, which, by the way, is a difficult one for us to win, it's going to take a long time, and it's not going to produce that much relevant information.

BLITZER: Well, what could produce some relevant information is, they're going to court Monday or Tuesday, according Chairman Nadler, to get Don McGahn, the White House counsel, to come before Congress and testify.

HENNESSEY: So, again, Don McGahn's testimony could certainly be incredibly significant, actually could have sort of that game-changing quality of having him be forced to talk about the obstructive episodes that he himself participated in, including the president of the United States directing him to have Robert Mueller fired, including directing McGahn to essentially create a false record.

Now, Robert Mueller in his testimony confirmed that he believes McGahn's story is credible. And so that, again, is really significant. But, once again, Don McGahn is not the only relevant witness here. And he's not the easiest witness for the House to pull in.

And so it's little bit of a question of why they're focusing on McGahn first, and not, say, people like Corey Lewandowski or Don Jr. that don't have that ability to assert privileges that might actually keep them out of testifying publicly.

BLITZER: Because they never worked in the White House.

BORGER: Why this didn't happen sooner, by the way. I mean, why not call Corey Lewandowski months ago?

HENNESSEY: But, look, at the end of the day, the notion that they just don't have enough information for impeachment, that they need stronger evidence, what is lacking here is political courage, not information.


PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think this is pretty straightforward. I'm with Susan. They keep hitting the pinata, and no candy falls out.

So they're sitting here saying why don't we try another route, find grand jury information, which, as Susan indicates, I don't think is going to move that ball that far forward, because they can't sit back and accept the point that the special counsel spoke and everybody said, well, that was three yards and a pile of dust. Not that much happened.

No pinata is there and there's no candy. BLITZER: Because, clearly, the speaker is still trying to protect some of the more moderate Democrats who are not necessarily convinced that impeachment proceedings right now are the best way to go.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And, frankly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi herself has made that case to her caucus, that the majority of the American public has yet to embrace impeachment, although her message at the same time has been to do whatever they think is best for their district.

So if it's for the more moderate members, they don't have to come around and endorse impeachment, and some of those more progressive Democrats who want to see a formal inquiry, she's kind of given them a license to keep calling for an impeachment inquiry in public.

But I think, to Phil's point, to Susan's point, what Democrats trying to argue now is that they are effectively pursuing an impeachment inquiry without taking a vote, without doing it formally. And if the 10 episodes outlined in the Mueller report and Mueller himself coming to Capitol Hill and confirming the contents of his report does not move the needle, then it's unclear how looking for some of this grand jury information will.

McGahn's testimony is probably what could be most compelling, and if they tried to haul some of the other central witnesses in the investigation. But if they don't move forward on impeachment, and they're unable to access that information that they're after now, what they're effectively doing is normalizing the behavior that's outlined in the report and, actually, in many ways, making the case that that behavior within and of itself is not enough to launch an impeachment inquiry.

BORGER: Yes, going to court takes a long time. It doesn't move quickly.

And so they can say, well, we're going to subpoena. We want to get Don McGahn to testify. We're going to go to court on the grand jury information. I mean, this isn't going to happen in a week. And I think that's part of their problem too.

Nancy Pelosi keeps saying, let's win in the courts. Let's build the case. We will do it that way. But it doesn't happen. Today is Monday. Well, the court case will be decided Wednesday. Doesn't work that way.

BLITZER: Because then you go to the district court, then an appeals court. Could wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

HENNESSEY: It could. It could take months and months.

And I think Sabrina's point is so incredibly important, that every day they say that we don't the strongest possible case, we don't have enough evidence, that's another way of saying that the evidence we have isn't enough to have impeach the president, that it is somehow acceptable or tolerable.


And so the notion that there's more runway here, that they can kick the can down the road just a little bit longer, they're going to have to make a decision whether or not they have the -- frankly, the political courage and sort of moral fortitude to go into impeachment proceedings or to say, we're not going to impeach him.

We're sorry to the American people who might be angry about that. And we will see how you respond in the 2020 election.

BLITZER: The president responded to all of this today by saying the House Democrats have nothing. Mueller had nothing. The House Democrats have nothing. This was the president.

He clearly thinks the case is closed

MUDD: Well, I would dispute that.

If you stepped back two-and-a-half years, and you saw that phone book that Mueller laid out, and you said, this is going to drop on us two- and-a-half years later, you would say, I have got it, you got to be kidding. It's more likely the Dolphins will win the Super Bowl.

I mean, it's just -- when you read that report, we have been so normalized, as you said, by this, you don't realize how stunning it is. I think the point is, even with the nature of that report, you still have a political conversation that says, I'm not sure we can move.

That's the stunning part of this. The report, I mean, incredible. Two-and-a-half years ago, you would have said, no way, that's a cartoon.

BORGER: Well, and I think that what Nancy Pelosi is trying to do is to save her majority in the House.

And the question is -- and we talk about political courage and all the and all the rest -- is it more valuable to the Democrats to remain in control or should they really risk that, given that there are lots of Democrats who'd be in real trouble if there were an impeachment inquiry, and the public is not interested in going through that?


SIDDIQUI: One of the counters, though, that some of these Democrats are making who are calling for a formal impeachment inquiry is that part of how Democrats were able to retake the majority in 2018 was by campaigning on restoring checks and balances and congressional oversight of the executive branch.

And so there is a question as to whether they might suppress turnout from within their base if they are unwilling to go down the path of impeachment, when it is certainly, according to Democratic voters, even if not the majority of American public, there is substantial evidence to at least launch an inquiry. HENNESSEY: Look, at the end of the day, it's not clear at all that there's any evidence behind this proposition that it's going to be politically damaging.

There's a lot of evidence in the opposite direction, namely the Clinton impeachment, after which the Republicans gained the House, the Senate and the presidency. So talk about overlearning the wrong lessons in the past.

Again, I think the answer is nobody knows politically how this is going to play out. It's anyone's best guess. And whenever you don't know how it's going to work out, you might as well do this thing that the United States Constitution tells your branch you have a solemn oath to do, because sort of political prognosticating, there's just not evidence...


BLITZER: Well, let me get Phil to weigh in, because you and I are old enough to remember that Bill Clinton was impeached in the House of Representatives.

But then the trial came up in the Senate.

MUDD: Yes.

BLITZER: He was acquitted. He was not removed from office. That clearly could happen this time. Potentially, President Trump could be impeached in the House. You need 67 senators to get him convicted and removed from office in the Senate.

That's unlikely.

MUDD: Yes, it didn't work out that well for the Republicans.

I would say, to support the point -- and Gloria was getting there earlier -- there's a risk that to this as well for the Democrats. I think the risk is huge. You go through two-and-a-half years of an investigation by a nonpartisan leader -- that's Robert Mueller with more investigators and specialists than the House will have, more access to data, including grand jury information that the House will have, and we think a partisan entity, without those resources and without that time, is going to get to a better place?

That's a big risk.


SIDDIQUI: But then they're also allowing the president to actually define the debate over impeachment, because the more they kind of move the goalposts, the more the president's able to say, well, first they said they were going to go down this path when the Mueller report was released.

Then they said that they were waiting for Mueller to testify. Now they're saying they're waiting for what could be a protracted legal fight. And so, going back to Gloria's earlier Point, this actually could have happened a lot sooner.

They could have gone to court months ago. They have chosen to do it now because the Mueller testimony did not necessarily bring what they were hoping it would, even though, again, the substance of what he said in those hearings was damning within and of itself.

HENNESSEY: And the one thing that came crystal clear through Mueller's testimony was whenever they tried to get him to say the president committed the X-obstructive crime or that he did Y- obstructive crime, Robert Mueller was saying, my job was to find the facts. I have laid it in this report. It is this body's job to render judgment.

And so, to Phil's point, I don't think this is a question of, can Congress do more than Robert Mueller? Robert Mueller has given them the evidence. Congress' job is to decide whether or not it's impeachable.

BORGER: But Congress won't. I mean, all of Congress won't.

They couldn't even pass election security bills in the Senate the other day, not really controversial, OK?

MUDD: Yes. Yes.

BORGER: They couldn't even pass that bill. They couldn't even get it up on the floor, much less pass it.


So what can Congress do? You know, if the democrats bang their heads against the wall and say, okay, we're going to go for impeachment then it goes nowhere in the Senate, are they going to feel better?

BLITZER: Well, Gloria, what's the political fallout of that? If he's impeached in the House -- we don't know if he will be -- let's say he is impeached in the House, he's acquitted in the Senate, and then we go into the re-election --

BORGER: Well, I agree with Susan. I don't think we know. I really -- I don't think we know definitively. This is a presidential year. And in terms of depressing the base, everybody -- this is -- I'm going to be bold and make a prediction that this is going to be a big turnout election, okay? So if you want to talk about depressing the democratic base, I think Donald trump will do a lot of things to energize the democratic base. So you can argue that round or flat.

So I don't really know how this would play. I do know what Nancy Pelosi is worried about is the House more than what's going to happen in the Senate, because she knows exactly what's going to happen in the Senate, which is nothing.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Look, but at the end of the day, the idea that an impeachment, in which the Senate fails to convict is a failed impeachment is just wrong. The impeachment is a process that the House has an obligation whether or not they think it's impeachable, the Senate can make a separate judgment.

And the importance separation of powers, the constraints, the importance for the long-term health of the American presidency, the long-term health of our structural constitutional democracy, we are getting to a critical point here, and the idea that they're sitting there sort of looking at polls and counting votes rather than asking what is our job, what is the role of our branch here. That is pretty astonishing.

BLITZER: Because a bunch of democrats who favor impeachment, another hundred democrats in the House of Representatives before the Mueller testimony, there are, what, 92 or 93. Now, there're a hundred democrats who favor formal impeachment proceedings against the President.

One of their arguments is, yes, it's unlikely right now that the Senate would go ahead and convict and remove Donald Trump from office. But you never know what kind of new evidence might emerge in the course of the House investigation.

PHILLIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I suppose. I suppose Don McGahn could be saying all along, look, I have some stuff to say as soon as we get through the legal process. I'm going to drop a bombshell. I think there's a --

BLITZER: Sort of like John Dean did during --

MUDD: That's correct. I think there is a different, really basic question. I disagree with the Congresswoman, Congresswoman Dean who was on before, who said how many people are coming up to her universally, saying, proceed. At least half the people in formal poll who approach me is saying, I don't like the President, I've had it.

I think the bigger question is if you go down this path, and we look back on this in July of 2020, would we say the country is in a better place? I'm not sure we would.

BLITZER: What do you think?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think that certainly it's the case that democrats are pursuing some more of these opportunities for high profile testimony. And that's why the McGahn factor is one that could potentially move the needle somewhat, especially because it's very different to have the former White House Counsel sitting before cameras outlining those alleged attempts by the President to obstruct justice in detail.

They also want to hear from McGahn's former deputy, Annie Donaldson. They've authorized subpoenas in the House Judiciary Committee against a number of potential witnesses, Michael Flynn, Hope Hicks. Whether or not they're going to be able to hear from all these people remains to be seen. And whether they're going to bring new information also, of course, is an open-ended question.

But it could certainly have a very different effect to have a number of witnesses who are sort of outlined or identified throughout the Mueller report testifying about what they saw behind closed doors.

BLITZER: You heard Congresswoman Madeleine Dean say that the Speaker did sign off on this new initiative today by the House Judiciary Committee led by the Chairman, Jerry Nadler. Nadler, behind the scenes, has been at odds with Nancy Pelosi. He's been much more assertive behind the scenes in wanting to begin a formal impeachment procedure.

BORGER: But this is kind of Nancy Pelosi's playbook in an odd way, because it's let's go to the courts, let's take this to the courts. So what are they doing? They're taking it to the court without a vote, without a vote on the House floor.

I mean, these people don't want to have a vote, as you were saying. They don't want to have a vote on the House floor. They don't want to lose members over this. And you may believe this is not profiles (ph) and courage, which I think it's hard to see it any other way, but she's practical. She doesn't want to lose her House. And she thinks she could lose her House over this.

So what Nadler is doing is saying, okay, we're going to pursue impeachment. We're not going to really vote on it. We're not going to say we're pursuing impeachment, but we're going to take this to the courts. And that can take a long time. And then let this play out a little bit. But they don't have a lot of time for this.

SIDDIQUI: And just to your earlier point, you know, I had one democrat on the House Judiciary Committee tell me that voting on impeachment, having a full House floor vote is akin to holding a war vote. That's how intense the mood is within the democratic caucus and how high they feel the stakes are.


And for Nancy Pelosi, she's looking at poll after poll after poll that only shows not only that a majority of Americans not supportive of impeachment but also that their top priority going into the election is the economy, healthcare and jobs. And that's what she wants the message to be focused on going into 2020, not this more politically divisive debate over how best to hold the President accountable.

BLITZER: Well, she clearly wants to remain Speaker of the House, not minority leader in the House of Representatives, which potentially could happen.

There's some major breaking news that we're just getting in from the United States Supreme Courts, Susan. You're our legal analyst.

The Supreme Court has handed President Trump a major victory right now by letting his administration redirect $2.5 billion in money approved by Congress for the Pentagon to help build his promised wall along the southern border with Mexico. It was a conservative majority in favor, five against four who disagreed with this final decision by the Supreme Court. This represents a pretty important win for the President. HENNESSEY: I think it is potentially a significant win for the President. Obviously, it's breaking while we're sitting here on air so we don't have time to actually dig into sort of the legal rationale. But this really is a sign that the courts are not going to constrain this President.

What we've seen Donald Trump do is seize on provisions, sort of emergency exceptions, provisions of the law that allow the President some authority and basically flagrantly abusing them, saying, well, you know, I'm saying it's a national security emergency. But, you know, everybody knows it's not but I'm going to invoke this provision and I dare you to stop me.

I think that this is the Supreme Court, once again, showing that despite the fact that Congress has not appropriated funds. This is the first branch of Congress who are saying, we have not -- we are not paying for this wall. The power of the purse, checks and balances, kind of a big thing. You know, this is the Supreme Court essentially saying, look, you gave the President a workaround here and he used it and we're going to let him do it.

Once again, it goes to how important it is for Congress to really stand up and assert its legislative prerogatives.

BLITZER: Because the Supreme Court overruled this federal judge in California who earlier had said you can't spend this money because Congress didn't specifically authorize and appropriate $2.5 billion for a wall. They appropriated it for other purposes.

BORGER: Right. And this is a major victory for Donald Trump because, you know, the question is what will this lead to. If you can take this money and say, well, I'm robbing Peter to pay Paul effectively, I'm going to take money from here and I'm going to use it for something else, well, does this give the President the authority to do that in other instances? I mean, the Congress would argue no, of course, that this is an abuse of executive power but the court did not see it that way.

HENNESSEY: But, look, at the end of the day, the United States Supreme Court did not rule that Mexico is paying for the wall. The Supreme Court ruled that the American taxpayer is paying for that wall. And that money that is being re-appropriated, that's not money that wasn't going to anything. It was going to military repairs, to dry dock repairs, to things that the Pentagon desperately needed. And instead of doing --

BORGER: And still needs.

HENNESSEY: -- all of those really, really important things, money doesn't grow on trees. Instead it's going to build a border wall that bipartisan security experts have said again and again will not even serve the security purposes that it's designed.

BLITZER: The five conservative justices voting with the President, the four liberal justices voting against the President underscoring once again how critically important the United States Supreme Court is.

Everybody stand by, much more on all the breaking news right after this.



BLITZER: All right. We're following the breaking news. Our experts and analysts here.

Gloria, a big win for the President right now. The U.S. Supreme Court in five-four decision along conservative-liberal justices alliance has agreed that the Trump administration can redirect $2.5 billion in previously approved Pentagon money to help build the wall along the border with Mexico, and as we all knew the President would do immediately and he did. He's already Tweeted in this reaction, wow, exclamation point. big victory, all caps, on the wall. The United States Supreme Court overturns lower court injunction, allows southern border wall to proceed. Big win, all caps, for border security and the rule of law. He's obviously very happy.

BORGER: He's very happy. And you remember in May, he said he was going to spend about $8 billion, I think it was, on building this wall. And Congress had only appropriated, you know, $1.4 for it, and then he declared a state of emergency in order to get the rest of the funds. And so this is a victory.

HENNESSEY: Look, I think it's a morally intimidated (ph) victory, so, you know, just the early indications from the court is actually that it's on a full victory. It's sort of -- it's -- he's allowed to spend to partially appropriate the funds.

You know, it is interesting that he says, you know, this is a win for the rule of law. This is, once again, Donald Trump seizing on a legal technicality, the ability to declare a national emergency.

Now, the reason why Congress has those national emergency exceptions is because they don't want the President's hands to be constrained in an actual emergency. Congress passes appropriations an authorizations bill once a year. If a genuine emergency comes up, they don't want the President to say, well, I can't respond because I don't have any money for it.

So one of the problems whenever you see a president invoking a national emergency, I don't think there's anybody, you know, a legal scholar otherwise who believes that the situation at the border is an emergency under any genuine legal definition of that term, however, the President is within the president's discretion. He's allowed to make that judgment.


And so whenever he renders that judgment, you know, I think one thing that will be interesting is whether or not Congress decides to claw it back, to actually -- that he will leave the office of the presidency less empowered as he leaves because now Congress is going to have to seriously rethink, you know, do we really want all these sort of carve-outs for the president? And runs around the basic --

BLITZER: The House of Representatives might do that, but the Senate is not going to do that. Won't even come up for a vote.

As you know, Phil, $2.5 billion can build a lot of wall.

PHILLIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I agree. I think this is a huge victory, because regardless of what the law says and what decided, nobody will read the decision. This is like the Mueller report. There's a headline. He said build that wall which was a chant in every arena across Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio. And now, he's going to go in saying built that wall.

Every single time, regardless --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Not with Mexico's money. Be u with your taxpayer money.

MUDD: That's correct. But he'll make a claim about tariffs or something, let us to get money from -- I think he's going to go into every rally and say I delivered once again. Look at all the check marks.


BLITZER: Phil, let me ask you this though. That $2.5 billion was appropriated for the United States military.

MUDD: Yes.

BLITZER: To use for national security. To use for defense. To pay the troops a little bit more. To make sure they have the benefits they need.

MUDD: Yes.

BLITZER: $2.5 billion is now going to be removed from those Defense Department requirements and sent to build the wall.

MUDD: I agree. I'm not saying this is a good thing. I look at this and say, man, I wish we could move the money around this easily when I was at the FBI or CIA.

What I'm saying is, if you're looking a it in terms of a balance and you're looking at it as the president does, I can't see how this does anything else than let him go into every arena across America and say I did what I told you I'd do.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Think about where this all began as a candidate one of his central promises was to build a wall and to have Mexico pay for it. And he obviously was unable to achieve that. Coming in, he had a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate for two years. He still couldn't secure funding for his wall. When Democrats took control of the House in the midterms, he kicked

off the new session by shutting down the government overfunding for the wall, the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Still couldn't get Congress to appropriate that money. He had to go to the courts and ultimately was only able to win because the highest court in the land, he has two of his own appointees sitting on that bench.

What this also does is it reinforces the importance of the judiciary and perhaps his most lasting impact as president has been reshaping America's courts. And it's going to be incumbent on Democrats to look at decisions like these and make the case to their own voters that they need to also take into account the balance of the courts.

BLITZER: These justices of course have lifetime appointments.

BORGER: Of course. And the big picture here, the really big picture here is the redefinition of executive authority in this country.

You know, we look at this president and he's used a lot of executive actions, executive orders. We hear Democratic candidates now talking about, what would they do in their first hundred days? I would have an executive order on this. And I would do an executive action on that.

And he's redefined executive authority. He's got an attorney general who believes in a strong executive. He's clearly got a Supreme Court now that says, well, if the president says it's an emergency, I guess it's an emergency.

HENNESSEY: Look, at the end of the day to Phil's point, I'm sure president Trump will say I built that wall. He says a lot of things that aren't true, because the fact of the matter is, not one mile of that border wall has been constructed. Not one new mile of wall or fencing.

So even though this is certainly a legal victory for the president, there is still a very long way between having access to this appropriated funding or unappropriated funding as the case may be and actual construction of the wall.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's a lot more to report on the breaking news and we will right after this.


[18:53:34] BLITZER: We're just four nights away from the first of two CNN Democratic presidential debates. And the candidates will no doubt spend time this weekend practicing for what could be a make-or-break showdown for at least some of them.

Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger shows us when it comes time for the debates, preparation is everything.


BORGER (voice-over): At his kickoff rally, California Congressman Eric Swalwell was center stage. But at the first primary debate, he was nearly off the stage.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Walking out is -- that is really intimidating. You're just pointing at point, I don't know if I know you or not. But I'm pointing, I'm waving. You feel like you are completely vulnerable and just -- everyone is looking at you.

BORGER: That debate would be his last.

SWALWELL: Today ends our presidential campaign.

Our polling just stayed flat. It didn't go anywhere.

BORGER: Remaining at less than 1 percent. And as the field lines up for the CNN debates, the pressure is really on, because in the fall securing spots on the stage will be twice as hard. So Detroit could be the end of the trail.

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Maybe 12, 13 of these candidates, there's not (AUDIO GAP) not qualifying for the next debate is a death sentence.

STUART STEVENS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There is a lot of ways to screw up the debate. What's essential to about what can I do so that there won't be a total disaster here.

[18:55:03] BORGER (on camera): McCain attack phrases. Bradley attack phrases.

(voice-over): Stuart Stevens has prepped Republican candidates from George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to Mitt Romney.

STEVENS: Now, ideally, before the debate, you look at your polling and you'd say, who do I need to talk to? You would never make an ad that just says, well, I don't know. I'm not sure who it's gong to apply to. It'd be like shooting a shotgun in the air and hope the ducks fly by.

MOOK: What really drives coverage in these debates is friction. It has taken someone on.

BORGER: As Kamala Harris did, attacking Joe Biden's record on busing.

HARRIS: There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools. And she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.

STEVENS: She's won when she says that, because she's defined herself, and she got her by her end. You like that persona and you are pulling for that person.

BORGER (on camera): So, it didn't seem contrived even though --

STEVENS: There's a difference between prepared and contrived. I think prepared is you thought about it. She is comfortable talking about race and it shows.

BORGER (voice-over): Biden was uncomfortable being challenged in that way and that showed, too.

STEVENS: I mean, you are president of the United States or you're vice president. You walk in the room and people usually applaud. And you are not used to having somebody in your face.

BORGER (on camera): If you were advising Joe Biden right now, what would you tell him to do?

MOOK: Be on offense.

BORGER: Offense?

MOOK: Be on offense.

You are there to win votes. You are not there to defend your lead.

BORGER (voice-over): That's fine if you are Biden, or if you are Elizabeth Warren on Bernie Sanders fighting over many of the same voters. But if you are not a name brand candidate, breaking out can be hard to do.

STEVENS: These other alternatives up there that are acceptable, there is always this question like, why are you on the shelf? I mean, do we really need like eight variations of barbecue potato chips?

SWALWELL: When you are speaking you feel the glare of the moderators looking at you like not a top tier person. Stop speaking --

BORGER (on camera): What are you doing here?

SWALWELL: Yes, you just can feel that.

BORGER: So you had like five minutes.

SWALWELL: Four minutes, 45 seconds.

BORGER: But who is counting?


BORGER: What can you do really in that amount of time?

SWALWELL: Have a moment that gets replayed.

If we're going to solve the issues of climate chaos, pass a torch. If we're going to solve the issue of student loan debt, pass the torch. If we're going to end gun violence for families who are fearful of sending their kids to school, pass the torch.

BORGER: Do you think you got a little too torchy?

SWALWELL: Again, you know, I thought all of these issues as one worked on gun violence and student debt that many of them are generational.

BORGER: Did it look a little contrived, though? Too many torches. SWALWELL: Maybe I could have done one fewer torch.

BORGER (voice-over): In these debates, preparation can be everything.

MOOK: You can't do it for five minutes here or there. They get no life line. It's them, it's the camera, the audience.

BORGER (on camera): No phone a friend.

MOOK: There's no phone a friend. And they are going to sink or swim. And that's where, you know, this is an important test in the process.

BORGER (voice-over): And after all the studying and all those rehearsals, how does it feel back stage when your candidate goes off script?

MOOK: It's a very special feeling when you are standing -- you are standing there watching the television and you are thinking, what are they doing? That is not what we said, right?

On the other hand, I will say, as a campaign manager, there is no way for you to know what it is like.

BORGER: Public failure is never easy. But with 20 candidates, it's more than likely.

STEVENS: You have to be willing first of all to admit that you are probably going to lose and be willing to lose and stand for something. You can try too hard running for president. And it will always come back and bite you.


BLITZER: And Gloria is with us still.

Gloria, excellent, excellent report.

BORGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: But don't we already see Joe Biden changing his strategy, looking ahead to the next CNN debates.

BORGER: Yes, he's got to earn his lead as Robbie Mook was saying in the piece. And Biden is sort of preparing his attacks publicly, maybe it's his way of internalizing them. But we see him taking on Senator Harris, saying, you know, I was good enough for her when she asked me to nominate her at the station convention when she was running for Senate from California. So, what's wrong, right?

And then on Cory Booker, he started challenging him and Booker has gone after Biden. And he said to Booker about Booker, you know, I -- his police department was stopping and frisking people in Newark. That was a real problem.

And don't forget, Biden is going to be on that stage. And Kamala Harris is going to be on one side of them and Cory Booker is going to be on the other side of him. I think what we are seeing now is the preparation for a different kind of Joe Biden, no more Mr. Nice Guy.

BLITZER: He is going to come out swinging this time.


BLITZER: Otherwise, he could be in trouble. He is the front runner right now.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: So, he's got a tough assignment.

BORGER: He won't be off the stage. Some of the others will. He will be there but he doesn't want to lose his lead.

BLITZER: And to all of our viewers next Tuesday and Wednesday night, the CNN Democratic presidential debates, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.