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THE SITUATION ROOM
White House Blocks McGahn's Testimony; Interview With Rep. Ben Cline (R-VA) On Don McGahn And Justin Amash; Judge Sides With House Dems, Orders Trump Financial Records To Be Turned Over; Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) Doubles Down On His Impeachment Claims; Trump May Have Revealed U.S. Intelligence In T.V. Comments. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired May 20, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: siding with Congress. A federal judge tells President Trump's longtime accounting firm it will need to turn over his records from before his presidency to the House Oversight Committee.
The silence of McGahn: the White House steps in to prevent former counsel Don McGahn from testifying to a House panel, arguing that he has immunity.
Does that mean McGahn's chair will be empty at tomorrow's Judiciary Committee hearing?
Will he be held in contempt?
Impeachment threshold: a Republican lawmaker is the first to say that President Trump's behavior has met the threshold for impeachment. Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan is doubling down tonight, sending out a fresh round of tweets, even though he's already facing a primary challenge for speaking out.
And loose lips?
President Trump may never have heard the phrase, "Loose lips sink ships." Known for his unguarded moments, it seems the president may have again given away some sensitive U.S. intelligence.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news: the White House moves to block congressional testimony by former White House Counsel Don McGahn, claiming that, as a former presidential adviser, McGahn is immune from testifying.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler has made it clear, if McGahn ignores this subpoena and does not show up tomorrow, he's likely to be held in contempt and that could send the issue to the courts, along with other stonewalled House requests for the president's tax returns and banking records.
Also tonight, despite attacks from the president and fellow Republicans and a new primary challenge, GOP Congressman Justin Amash is doubling down on his claim that the president has committed impeachable offenses, now stressing obstruction of justice does not require an underlying crime.
I'll speak with Republican Congressman Ben Cline of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.
But first, there's breaking news. CNN's Kara Scannell is joining us. She has the latest on these late-breaking developments involving an effort by House Democrats to get President Trump's financial records.
What are you learning, Kara?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. So a federal judge has just ruled that Donald Trump's accounting firm Mazars is required to turn over his financial records and documents to the House committee that had sought and subpoenaed for them.
That's a huge win for Congress, which has been seeking access to the president's financial records, both Mazars and also with Deutsche Bank. Now the judge, in a 41-page ruling, said that Congress is well within its rights. So I'm going to read a line from this opinion, where he said that, "History has shown that congressionally exposed criminal conduct by the president or a high-ranking executive branch official can lead to legislation."
He also, in that opinion, cited the Watergate investigation. This is a huge win for the House committees that have been seeking Donald Trump's financial records.
Now the judge also, importantly, said that he would not stay or, that is, delay the accounting firm's adherence with this subpoena, so Donald Trump could appeal. So that's also a very critical thing.
This does not mean that the accounting firm or Donald Trump and the Trump Organization, which has sought to keep these records private, it doesn't mean that they can delay now about complying with the subpoena.
So it is likely that soon we will start to see some of these financial records from this accounting firm end up with Congress and they will begin to have the ability to review these records.
Now this is not exactly a surprise, this decision, because the judge last week in a hearing had a lot of skepticism about Donald Trump's arguments here. You know, he wanted to block this, saying that there was no legislative reason for Congress to have this.
And the judge is saying that Congress is well within its right here and there is history on its side, citing Watergate specifically -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So we just got the 41-page document from the U.S. District Court of Appeals. Excuse me, from the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia. No White House reaction yet but I assume they will go ahead and appeal this to a higher federal court.
SCANNELL: I would expect that they would, even though in last week's hearing, the lawyers for Donald Trump and the Organization, you know, had indicated that the stay here was everything, because if they're not able to stay compliance with the subpoena, that it means that these documents will end up in the hands of Congress and there's nothing that they will be able to do.
As they said, you know, the cat will be out of the bag at that point. But I do think we can expect them to appeal. And this issue is coming to a head; just on Wednesday in New York, where Donald Trump and the Trump Organization have sued Deutsche Bank to try to stop them complying with a different House subpoena. So now here's one decision that is going to be --
SCANNELL: -- at least near-term precedent from that judge in New York.
BLITZER: From the U.S. District Court here in the District of Columbia. Stand by. Manu Raju is our senior congressional correspondent.
Manu, it looks like, at least right now, this is a significant win for the Democrats in the House.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. Democrats have been pursuing all aspects of the Trump presidency, aspects from before he was president, wanting to get everything from his tax returns as well as the financial records, the accounting records as well as bank records from different banks like Deutsche Bank and the like.
And this victory for Democrats, they hope they can turn into victories in other court battles that are looming over all of those issues. The significant thing in this opinion is what the judge said, is what Kara pointed out, that the judge believes that these kinds of investigations could eventually lead to legislation.
And that's because what the White House and the Trump Organization have been arguing, in that there's no legitimate legislative purpose for seeking these records which is why they say these subpoenas are essentially in valid and the court should block these subpoenas.
But here in this case, the judge clearly disagrees and says that Congress has the right to assert itself in these areas.
And this comes at a significant moment, Wolf, because of the number of requests of the White House and the Trump Organization are rejecting on all fronts, as Democrats try to pursue investigations. On this particular one involving Mazars, that came in the aftermath of
Michael Cohen's testimony before the House Oversight Committee, when he alleged that the president, before he was president, inflated his wealth improperly as he tried to purchase the Buffalo Bills football team.
Now the Democrats presumably will get answers to those questions and then they can decide how to proceed from there. So a shot in the arm for the Democratic investigations going forward. But the White House will likely fight this in court. The Trump Organization will likely fight this on appeal.
We'll see if they ultimately win but, for the moment, one victory here for Democrats in the face of an ongoing battle with the White House over all of these record requests that they're just not getting at the moment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And there are so many other battles. I wonder, Manu, if this decision by this one U.S. district court judge will have ramifications on the other legal battles that are underway to get information from the Trump administration.
RAJU: They very well could but we expect each of these battles to play out differently or separately. One by one, they're going to work their way through the court system. We'll see how they ultimately impact one another.
But that's what the Democrats had hoped for. They hoped that they could get an early victory here that could change the complexion of all of these battles that are now looming.
And Wolf, just today, we saw them, the White House again defy another Democratic subpoena to get Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, to testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow. But the White House saying that he is immune from testimony because he's a former White House official.
They say that Justice Department opinions and guidelines and precedent, they argue, is on their side for not allowing congressional officials to not appear before Congress. So they're fighting on that front. They're saying that Don McGahn should not appear.
That fight also likely end to up in court. So the question, Wolf, is whether or not the victory here involving this separate case could have an impact on these other matters, including getting testimony from high-ranking officials like Don McGahn, getting records from people like Don McGahn, getting financial records from things like Capitol One Bank as well as Deutsche Bank and getting those six years of the president's tax returns that are being sought after by the House Ways and Means Committee, that the Treasury Department has said no to.
And that will ultimately end up the court. This could still take some time to play out but, at the moment, at least this victory, Democrats hope, could turn into getting scores of records that so far they haven't been able to get -- Wolf. BLITZER: Let me read to you, Manu, a quote from this U.S. district court judge's decision. And this is a direct quote.
"These are facially valid legislative purposes and it is not for the court to question whether the committee's actions are truly motivated by political considerations."
This is a significant statement. And remind our viewers, Manu, why the House Oversight Committee wants this information from the president's former accounting firm.
What's the purpose of trying to obtain it?
RAJU: Well, they're trying to follow up on all of the allegations that Michael Cohen, the former attorney, laid out in his high-profile hearing before the House Overnight Committee in March. You'll recall that he alleged that the president, before he was president, even while president, engaged in some criminal conduct.
And one of them was how he dealt with trying to purchase the Buffalo Bills football team and whether he improperly inflated his wealth and essentially committed fraud --
RAJU: -- of sorts to try to get this kind of information.
So the Democrats said to this company, Mazars, give us 10 years of the president's financial records, so we can understand whether or not the president, when he was a private citizen, acted improperly in any way.
And that's what the White House, that's what the Trump Organization fought and tried to get this court to side with them, which they, at the moment, appear to have failed to do so. We'll see how they deal with it on appeal.
But that statement you just read, Wolf, very significant because that is the essence of several White House arguments to try to deny these Democratic requests by saying, look, there is absolutely no reason for Congress to seek this information because there's no, quote, "legitimate" reason for getting this. There's no legitimate legislative reason. They argue, this is all politics, intended to harass the president.
They have said that in a number of letters back to Congress, as they tried to deny these demands for a range of records, whether it's about obstruction of justice investigations, whether it's about the tax returns or whether it's about these financial records.
But now when you have a federal judge saying, it's not my decision here to decide whether or not this is acting properly, to get into the motivations of members of Congress, to get into whether political considerations, that's a significant statement, essentially saying, this is Congress' right to oversee the administration.
The administration has to turn this over and politics is not something that this judge can make a decision on.
So we'll see how other judges ultimately decide. But that is a real -- really undermines what the White House's pushback has been, as Democrats have sought records on a whole wide range of topics and, at least in this aspect, appear to be successful.
BLITZER: And on another very sensitive matter, you mentioned Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, the House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler, he argued that the president already waived his executive privilege when he let McGahn speak for some 30 hours before Robert Mueller and the Russia investigators.
So why is the Justice Department now saying this is different?
RAJU: They're saying this is different because they're citing a separate aspect. They're saying that a legal opinion from the Justice Department in 2014 says that high-level White House officials, including former officials, are immune from congressional subpoenas.
They do not have to comply with congressional subpoenas, much like, as they argue, the Justice Department argues, the president himself cannot be compelled to come to Capitol Hill and give testimony if he were to be subpoenaed. That is their argument they're citing from the Obama Justice Department.
They say that this goes back a number of years. Now the issue that they're going to face is that in one -- this is similar to a 2007 episode involving the former White House counsel at the time under George W. Bush, Harriet Miers, when the Democrats in Congress wanted to compel her testimony.
The Bush administration in that case lost its effort to fight this Democratic subpoena. Democrats are going to argue that this they should lose in this case, too. So if it goes to court, they will cite that ruling to try to argue that Don McGahn should turn over these records and should also testify before Congress.
But at the moment, Wolf, what we expect this committee to do, the House Judiciary Committee, still have a hearing tomorrow, even though Don McGahn has been instructed by the White House not to show up, we don't expect him to show up.
And then they could move to hold him in contempt and he would be the second official in which the House Judiciary Committee has voted on to hold in contempt, the other being the attorney general, Bill Barr.
And then Democrats in the House would vote on him and a number of other officials to hold in contempt. And they would seek to impose any other fines and punishment.
But one other aspect of this Department of Justice memo, Wolf, that is interesting. They are saying here that Congress has no right to use its so-called inherent contempt powers, which means they do not believe that anybody, the White House, the Democrats in the House, could seek to fine these individuals, including Don McGahn, because they say he's immune from this kind of testimony. So again, another dispute between the two branches of government. It
could end up in courts, for the court to resolve and the Democrats hope they're as successful here as they were in this last lawsuit that we just saw moments ago -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And if McGahn doesn't show up tomorrow morning at 10:00 am, we'll see if Nadler, the chairman, places another empty chair in front of the group of congressmen. Stand by for a moment. Jeffrey Toobin, our chief legal analyst, is with us.
So Jeffrey, on this decision by this federal district court judge, Amit Mehta, you've got a 41-page document. I don't know if you've had a chance to go through it all.
But basically siding with House Democrats, rejecting the argument of the president and his lawyers that the president's former accounting firm has to hand over all of this information to Congress.
How big of a deal is this?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This one's a big deal, because, unlike Don McGahn, unlike the White House itself, the president doesn't control this accounting firm.
TOOBIN: I mean, this accounting firm has the documents itself. And they are going to have to make the decision about whether they are going to comply with this subpoena.
That's a very different scenario than employees or former employees of the White House and whether they comply. So this accounting firm is going to have a tough choice of what to do.
Presumably, the president will go to the court of appeals and try to get a stay but if he doesn't get a stay, I don't know if this accounting firm is willing to go into contempt. That has implications for its business and that, I think, is a very big deal.
And much more perilous for the president than entities under which -- who are under the president's more direct control.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Jeffrey. I want to bring in our chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, first of all, how's the White House responding to this federal judge's ruling on the president's accounting records?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they haven't responded yet. But obviously, this is a loss in court for the president and his team. But you should expect, as Jeffrey was saying just a few moments ago and Manu was saying just a few moments ago, that they're going to want to see this accounting firm fight this out in court.
And perhaps we may see the president try to intervene in all of this to block this from taking place. But the White House, the president, his legal team, they have taken this expansive view that they should not have to comply with these congressional inquiries and this particular one involving this accounting firm is no different.
Now you go back to the situation with Don McGahn, as Manu was just talking about a few moments ago, that has also put this White House on a collision course with House Democrats over the Russia investigation.
Aides to the president, they fired off a letter earlier this afternoon, seeking to block the former White House Counsel Don McGahn, from testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. That move puts McGahn in jeopardy of being held in contempt of Congress.
And in the meantime, the president and his allies in the GOP, they're on the attack tonight against one of their own, against Republican congressman Justin Amash, who dared to suggest that Mr. Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. McGahn, was it a mistake --
ACOSTA (voice-over): In a dramatic attempt to block Democrats from conducting their own Russia investigation, the Trump administration is rejecting the House Judiciary Committee's subpoena for the testimony of former White House counsel Don McGahn on Tuesday.
In a letter to the committee's chairman, Democrat Jerry Nadler, the current White House counsel argues that McGahn is immune from that subpoena, adding, "In order to protect the prerogatives of the Office of the Presidency, the president has directed Mr. McGahn not to appear at the committee's scheduled hearing."
McGahn has already infuriated the president, declining to state publicly that Mr. Trump did not commit obstruction of justice. He's also told federal investigators in the Russia probe that he refused to follow instructions by Mr. Trump to get rid of special counsel Robert Mueller.
It's a charge the president has denied but he hasn't gone as far as to say that McGahn committed perjury.
ACOSTA: Mr. President, is there a situation that you could see where Don McGahn is charged with perjury?
You seem to be contradicting what he is saying.
TRUMP: I don't want to talk about that now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that is better for --
ACOSTA (voice-over): The president has been busy beating back another member of his party, Justin Amash, the first Republican congressman to accuse Mr. Trump of impeachable offenses, who started this tweetstorm over the weekend, first tweeting, "Mueller's report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment."
Then doubling down today, "They say obstruction of justice requires an underlying crime. In fact, obstruction of justice does not require the prosecution of an underlying crime."
The president fired back, tweeting that he was, quote, "never a fan of Justin Amash, a total lightweight. Justin is a loser, who sadly plays right into our opponents' hands."
GOP leaders are backing Mr. Trump.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), CALIFORNIA: Now you've got to understand Justin Amash. He's been in Congress quite some time. I think he's only ever asked one question in all the committees that he's been in. He votes more with Nancy Pelosi than he ever votes with me.
ACOSTA (voice-over): The president is continuing another war of words with Iran, tweeting, "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again."
Mr. Trump turned to FOX to justify the brinkmanship.
TRUMP: I just don't want them to have nuclear weapons. And they can't be threatening us. And you know, with all of everything that's going on -- and I'm not one that believes -- you know, I'm not somebody that wants to go into war, because war hurts economies, war kills people, most importantly, by far, most importantly.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Iran's foreign minister responded to the president that military action against his country would be a mistake, tweeting, "Try respect. It works."
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND, INDIANA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The tweets are -- I don't care.
ACOSTA (voice-over): The president is also mad at FOX News for hosting a town hall with Democrat Pete Buttigieg, tweeting, "FOX is moving more and more to the losing wrong side in covering the Dems," though the president appears to be more concerned with former Vice President Joe Biden, who holds a commanding lead over the Democratic field.
JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Trump inherited an economy --
BIDEN: -- from Obama-Biden administration that was given to him, just like he inherited everything else in his life. And just like -- just like everything else he's been given in his life, he's in the process of squandering that as well.
ACOSTA: The president has more immediate concerns in the 2020 election. House Democrats have threatened to test White House stonewalling in the courts and aides to the president say they are fully prepared to wage that battle.
And former White House Counsel Don McGahn, Wolf, he actually faces a critical choice himself: either defy the White House or defy the Congress. Technically, Wolf, he could show up tomorrow, although that doesn't seem likely.
BLITZER: See what happens 10:00 am tomorrow morning. Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.
Joining us now, Republican Congressman Ben Cline of Virginia. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. BEN CLINE (R), VIRGINIA: Thanks.
BLITZER: You've been following the breaking news as we've been following the breaking news. Let me get your reaction to this decision by this federal judge, ordering the president's former accounting firm in New York to release all of this personal information about his business to the House Oversight Committee.
CLINE: I don't serve on House Oversight, I serve on House Judiciary but it is an interesting decision, I look forward to reading it and we'll see where it takes us.
BLITZER: We'll give you a copy. It's 41 pages. Your committee has done its own subpoena, the House Judiciary Committee. Don McGahn, the former White House counsel is supposed to show up at 10:00 am tomorrow morning.
What's going to happen?
CLINE: Well, I hope there's not just some political theater empty chair scenario. We have more important things to do.
I was elected to address the concerns of my constituents, the skyrocketing cost of health care, infrastructure in this country, maintaining the great economic success that we've got. I want to go to work on those things.
BLITZER: Wouldn't you like to hear from Don McGahn personally?
He did spend 30 hours giving information to the Mueller committee.
CLINE: That would be fine. If Mr. McGahn can work it out with the White House and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee to come in and testify, that would be fine with me. Same thing with Robert Mueller. It would be fine with me.
But we do have more important things. We have a crisis at the border that we need to address in the Judiciary Committee. So taking up valuable time to sit and look at an empty chair is just the height of --
BLITZER: But members of Congress can do more than one thing at a time. You guys can investigate, you can do oversight but you can also pass legislation on critically important issues. There's a lot going on.
Does this ruling by this federal judge and the federal district court here in Washington, does it potentially set an example for other judicial rulings down the road ?
Because there's a lot of these fights going on because of the White House stonewalling.
CLINE: No, what we have here is a case where, again, the different committees are going after the president and his records from years before he was ever even a candidate for office.
What we have in Judiciary is a situation where, as we saw from the acting -- or the assistant attorney general today, in his decision not to allow the testimony tomorrow, that this has happened more than a dozen times in the last 50 years, that you get this clash between the executive branch and the legislative branch over testimony.
BLITZER: But why do you think that the White House didn't have a problem with McGahn testifying before the Mueller investigators but they do have a problem with McGahn now testifying before the House Judiciary Committee?
CLINE: That's a good question for the White House. But I will say that I think that we can come to an agreement. And I think that there were negotiations between the Judiciary Committee and the White House about Mr. Mueller testifying and those broke down, about Mr. Barr testifying and those broke down.
So if those negotiations continue, we may eventually see that testimony.
BLITZER: The committee has also subpoenaed the full Mueller report, all 450 pages or so.
You would like to see the whole thing, right?
CLINE: I think that the portions unrelated to grand jury testimony, you can't release grand jury testimony without a judge's ruling; that would be in violation of federal law. So the rest of it that is redacted, yes, I would like to see that and I hope an agreement can be reached with the Justice Department to release the rest of Judiciary to go and see it.
BLITZER: So where is all of this heading?
CLINE: Well, I think that eventually -- well, I know where the American people, if you look at the polls, the American people are opposed to impeachment, by and large, and they want to move on to the issues that are important for the American people.
We have a crisis at the border. You hear about it every day. And we need legislation to secure our border and to reform our legal immigration process. BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to your Republican colleague, Republican colleague, Justin Amash, who, as you know, over the weekend and today doubling down, basically says that he's read the full Mueller report. He believes the president committed impeachable offenses.
CLINE: Well, Justin Amash is a colleague, a friend and a very accomplished individual. And I agree with him on a lot of his policy positions. We're at different positions, we're at different places --
CLINE: -- in this process right now. He's not on the Judiciary Committee. I am on the Judiciary Committee. And I'm continuing to seek additional information, including the Mueller report minus the grand jury testimony, so that I can continue to monitor the situation.
BLITZER: He's a reliable conservative, member of the Freedom Caucus.
Are you a member of the Freedom Caucus?
CLINE: I am.
BLITZER: So you know him well. He's been active as a Tea Party leader and all of a sudden, he's come to the conclusion that the president of the United States committed impeachable offenses.
CLINE: Well, as I said, he has a different role to play as a member of, I believe he's on the Overnight Committee. I'm a member of the Judiciary Committee and I'm in a different position than he is on those issues.
BLITZER: Are you glad that he's, all of a sudden, because of these tweets over the weekend, he's now facing a Republican primary challenge?
CLINE: I hadn't heard that. I think that, as I said, he is a friend, he's just in a different place with different positions on this issue than I have.
BLITZER: He also said, Amash, in his tweets, in his lengthy statement that the attorney general, William Barr, "It is clear that Barr intended to mislead the public about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's analysis and findings."
That conclusion, he says, seems to be bolstered by the special counsel's own letter to Barr, in which he complained that Barr's initial summary, quote, "did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of his report."
Do you believe Mueller himself finally needs to come before Congress and testify?
CLINE: I think that the attorney general's letter was clear, summarizing the Mueller report. And I think that the Mueller report itself -- I've read both and I don't see inconsistencies. So I'm fine with --
BLITZER: But Justin Amash says most of his Republican colleagues didn't bother to read the entire Mueller report.
Did you read the entire Mueller report?
CLINE: I did. And it is lengthy and, as Senator Romney indicated, it is a lengthy document. It took most of the weekend, back Easter weekend, I got to read it. So I have been through it. The Barr letter syncs up with it fine.
And if Mr. Mueller wants to add to that, he can work out with the White House and with the Judiciary Committee the details of how he would be questioned and when he would come in to testify.
BLITZER: It's nice to have you to come in, Congressman. Thanks so much for joining us and thanks for the patience with all the breaking news, as well.
BLITZER: Ben Cline of Virginia.
Up next, breaking news, a federal judge orders President Trump's longtime accounting firm to hand over records to a House committee, saying Congress is well within its authority to investigate the president.
And the White House moves to block former Counsel Don McGahn from testifying tomorrow before the House Judiciary Committee.
Will McGahn now be held in contempt?
[17:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour. A federal judge siding with House Democrats and ordering President Trump's longtime accounting firm in New York to turn over financial records to the House Oversight Committee. Let's bring in our experts and our analysts.
Gloria, how significant is this victory for House Democrats?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's very significant for them because they have been making the case -- they made this with the President's tax returns and, again, with his accountants -- that these are documents we need to see. And this judge has said that there is a legitimate legislative purpose for Congress to see these documents.
And in looking over the key lines of this decision, it says that it's simply not fathomable that a constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a president would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct, past or present, even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry. That's music to the Democrats' ears. And they are clearly going to
use this document as a reason in the future to try and get more information.
BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point --
BLITZER: -- Chris, because the stonewalling from the White House now, with this decision by this federal judge, beginning to show some significant cracks.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes. And Gloria, that last point, I think, is the essential point, which is this is not just about Donald Trump's accounting records before he was in office.
Yes, that is what this specific ruling is about, but this is more broadly about the coming -- well, we're sort of already there, but the, you know, early stages of what we knew was going to be a legal fight over what is Congress entitled to and what does the White House have to provide.
This is a win for Congress in that regard. And I say Congress more broadly because it's, again, tax returns. Who's testifying and who's not?
There's a huge number of fights going on right now, oversight, judiciary, intelligence. So this give says, wait a minute, well, Congress is a co-equal branch in the constitution, so you can't just not do anything.
Now, obviously, there'll be other steps in this case and others, but this is a win for Congress.
BLITZER: Is it a sign, Jeffrey, of things to come?
TOOBIN: Well, what makes this case so important is that this accounting firm is not part of the government.
[17:34:59] TOOBIN: Donald Trump can't order them not to cooperate. He can appeal and ask for a stay, but he might not get the stay from the Court of Appeals. And at that point, you know, this is a private company that does not want to be held in contempt.
That's a very different scenario from most of the other fights which involve getting documents from people under Donald Trump's control, either the White House itself or Don McGahn, who is a -- who recently departed from the White House. This accounting firm is an independent actor.
And what makes this case so important is that they -- the Congress might actually get the documents, not just a long, drawn-out fight.
BLITZER: Yes, it could be significant. How do you see it, Sabrina? SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, the Trump
Organization and the President are likely going to try and fight this and appeal it. But if it is upheld, the decision, it would be the first opportunity for Congress to actually investigate the President's finances.
And the President's legal team, the essence of their argument in trying to prevent Congress from obtaining these records was that there was no legitimate legislative purpose.
SIDDIQUI: And as Gloria just pointed out, we rejected that premise. So there are a couple of ways in which this could unfold. One is looking at the allegations that were made by the President's former attorney, Michael Cohen, under oath.
Now, as much as he has credibility problems, in his high-profile testimony on Capitol Hill just a couple of months ago, he alleged that the President committed bank fraud, insurance fraud, tax fraud. And so that is one opportunity for Congress to look into those claims.
Separately, there is also a -- the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who has blocked a request by the House Ways and Means Committee to see six years of the President's tax returns. That could prompt a separate lawsuit and, you know, this could be a guiding principle for Democrats in making their case that they should also have access to those returns.
BLITZER: On the other battle right now involving the former White House Counsel, Don McGahn, Gloria, Jerry Nadler, the committee -- the Judiciary Committee Chairman just issued a statement saying, the committee will convene as planned tomorrow morning, and Mr. McGahn is expected to appear as legally required.
BORGER: I don't think so.
BLITZER: Most people don't expect him, that he will be there at 10:00 a.m.
BORGER: I mean, the White House has said no. Clearly, the committee could hold Don McGahn in contempt. But the White House and the Department of Justice has said that you don't think that's going to happen. The White House has said that you can't compel McGahn to testify about his conversations with the President.
Look, there are lots of people who believe you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube after he testified before Bob Mueller for 30 hours. But McGahn's not going to show up tomorrow. Jerry Nadler knows it, and maybe they're just going to have another show hearing.
BLITZER: Is there any chance McGahn defies the White House and does show up? He's a private citizen.
CILLIZZA: Not tomorrow. I don't know the answer, though I would lean no, Wolf, because the White -- whether or not McGahn thinks this is the right move, this, the White House doing what they're doing, provides him cover to not have to go under oath and do -- and testify.
I would note I think that is an unfortunate thing for the public for this reason. Yes, he did testify for 30 hours. We know that. One of the things he testified to is that Donald Trump ordered him to fire Bob Mueller in June of 2017. He didn't follow that.
When "The New York Times" reported on that, Donald Trump called him into his office and said, I need you to deny that this happened. He again demurred.
Donald Trump, as recently as May 11th -- I just looked, on April 26th, I think -- has tweeted saying that's not true, I never said this. Well, if McGahn testified, he might be able to shed a little bit more light on his take on that.
It's a fundamental piece of this entire conversation. Did the President or did the President not ask that the Special Counsel be fired?
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we need to cover.
Coming up, by the way, tomorrow night, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke joins Dana Bash for a live CNN town hall from Des Moines to talk about Iowa -- to talk with Iowa voters about the run -- his run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination tomorrow night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only on here on CNN.
There's more breaking news we're following. We'll have more on the Republican Congressman doubling down and detailing his case for impeaching President Trump.
[17:39:17] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. Republican Congressman Justin Amash doubling down on his claim that the President has committed impeachable offenses. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, is joining us once again.
Manu, Congressman Amash just let loose with a new tweetstorm making his case for impeachment, firing directly back at the President. Update our viewers.
RAJU: Yes, defending his remarks, pushing back against Republicans, saying there were, quote, many crimes that were revealed by the Mueller probe and in some ways, going further than some Democrats when it comes to impeachment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir -- but, sir, this is --
RAJU (voice-over): The Republican blowback facing GOP Congressman Justin Amash has been swift and intense.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: He votes more with Nancy Pelosi than he ever votes with me.
RAJU (voice-over): With GOP leaders sending a message to Amash that they cannot tolerate one of their own suggesting that President Trump should be impeached.
MCCARTHY: Those who know Justin Amash, this is exactly what he wants. He wants to have attention.
RAJU (voice-over): The chairwoman of the Republican National Committee tweeting that it's sad to see Congressman Amash parroting the Democrats' talking points on Russia.
[17:45:05] Even some Trump critics in the Republican Party choosing to keep their distance.
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH: Justin Amash has reached a different conclusion than I have. I respect him. I think it's a courageous statement.
RAJU (voice-over): It's not the first time the 39-year-old from Grand Rapids has been at odds with his party. He was elected to Congress in 2010 during the tea party wave and now chairs the House Liberty Caucus. His views on federal spending, government surveillance, and foreign policy often contradict the GOP establishment.
While he does more often than not vote with Republicans, he has broken with Trump on multiple occasions, including as a lone House Republican to oppose Trump's use of emergency powers to build his border wall without the consent of Congress.
REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R), MICHIGAN: The President doesn't get to decide that he can override Congress simply because Congress doesn't do what he wants.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Cohen, will you make a statement?
RAJU (voice-over): At the high-profile hearing with former Trump fixer, Michael Cohen, Amash was a rare Republican seeking to reveal more details about allegations of Trump's unsavory behavior.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO DONALD TRUMP: He speaks in a code, and I understand the code because I've been around him for a decade.
AMASH: And it's your impression that others who work for him understand the code as well?
COHEN: Most people, yes.
RAJU (voice-over): Amash used to pride himself in never missing a roll call vote until 2017 when he accidentally missed his first vote because he was talking with reporters about ObamaCare. The Congressman cried and then tweeted, I'm sorry.
He didn't endorse Trump in 2016 and has not ruled out running for president. JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Would you be willing to run for the White
House as the Libertarian nominee in 2020?
AMASH: Well, I'd never rule anything out. That's not on my radar right now.
RAJU: And just this morning, a Michigan state lawmaker announced that he would mount a primary challenge against Justin Amash. And it's unclear how many Republicans will ultimately support Amash over this Republican challenger.
I just talked to Mark Meadows, the House Freedom Caucus chairman who's a member of the same group as Justin Amash, and I said, will you get behind Justin Amash supporter's re-election?
And he said, anytime you go against the President of your own party, it makes it very difficult to support a primary challenge -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Manu, thanks very much. Manu Raju once again up on Capitol Hill.
Coming up, did President Trump give away sensitive U.S. intelligence in a T.V. interview? We have details of what he appeared to reveal.
Plus, breaking news. Millions of Americans now being warned of potential violent long-track tornadoes. The threat level, a five out of five.
[17:47:49] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, a federal judge ordering President Trump's longtime accounting firm to turn over financial records to the House Oversight Committee. We'll have much more on that in just a moment.
First, the President is known for his unguarded moments. And now it seems he may have, once more, spilled some sensitive U.S. secrets. Brian Todd has been looking into it for us.
Brian, an earlier generation knew the term, "loose lips sink ships." The President apparently not so much.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not so much, Wolf. President Trump seemingly cannot resist sharing some sensitive intelligence he's got in public. He just did it twice in the course of a few minutes in a recent T.V. interview.
And tonight, former spies are, again, warning us that the President is in danger of losing the trust of his top intelligence officials.
TODD (voice-over): As President, Donald Trump has access to America's most sensitive secret intelligence. And while he may not always believe all the intelligence he is given, he is not afraid to talk about getting it.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, sometimes intelligence is good. And sometimes you look at Comey and you look at Brennan and you look at Clapper, and I'm supposed to believe that intelligence? I never believe that intelligence.
TODD (voice-over): But analysts say in an interview on Sunday, the President may have done more than just talk about receiving U.S. intelligence. He may have revealed it.
Asked about a report that he personally authorized a U.S. cyber attack on Russian entities around the time of the 2018 midterm elections, Trump appeared to confirm the story.
TRUMP: I'd rather not say that, but you can believe that the whole thing happened and it happened during my administration. But the other thing --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But why don't you talk about that publicly?
TRUMP: Because they don't like me to talk. Intelligence says please don't talk, intelligence.
TODD (voice-over): But that wasn't the only piece of intelligence President Trump might have revealed during that interview.
While bragging about his negotiating skills, the President also appeared to give up sensitive details about why he didn't strike a nuclear weapons deal with Kim Jong-un at their February summit in Hanoi.
TRUMP: I said, look, you're not ready for a deal. Because he wanted to get rid of one or two sites but he has five sites. I said what about the other three sites? That's no good.
TODD (voice-over): Does Kim Jong-un have five major sites that produce nuclear weapons or the components for them? U.S. intelligence isn't saying tonight.
We asked experts who track North Korea's nuclear weapons program. They say they had never heard the regime has five nuclear sites.
JOSHUA POLLACK, SENIOR RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, MIDDLEBURY INSURANCE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AT MONTEREY: I could not tell you what those five would be. I don't know what President Trump had in mind there exactly.
TODD (voice-over): Whether Kim actually has five nuclear sites isn't clear. The President could have been referring to something else. But one former CIA analyst says tipping off a dictator then a T.V. audience about anything the U.S. knows could be harmful.
AKI PERITZ, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: If you show a country, we have all your satellite photos as you're building these facilities, they'll say, thanks for that information. We're going to try a little bit harder, make it a little tougher to -- for you to figure that out again the next time.
[17:55:06] TODD (voice-over): Trump has talked about sensitive intelligence before at inopportune moments.
In May of 2017, the President was criticized for inviting top Russian officials into the Oval Office and then allegedly telling them about intelligence the U.S. got from another country about ISIS plots.
Trump defended his comments but gave away even more information with his answer.
TRUMP: Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel.
TODD (voice-over): But just weeks before that incident, in a phone call with the President of the Philippines, Trump divulged that two U.S. nuclear submarines were near the Korean Peninsula according to a Philippines government transcript of the conversation leaked to the Intercept.
Former spies say the President's tendency to brag about his intelligence could make U.S. officials, as well as overseas partners, reluctant to share important secrets with him.
PERITZ: If the next time you have something you'd like to keep secret, you may want to obfuscate that information. Another problem is other intelligence agencies, other countries will not be as interested or willing to provide this information the next time.
TODD: Tonight, neither U.S. intelligence agencies nor the White House are commenting on the President's remarks on intelligence or on the fallout that that could bring.
Former spies say that fallout could go all sorts of different ways, including if intelligence officials do not trust the President to keep sensitive secrets and if they keep details from him.
That could lead to catastrophic results when he goes into negotiations with someone like Kim Jong-un. President Trump might not have the information or the leverage that he would need -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very significant development. Brian Todd, thank you very much.
Coming up, the breaking news, a federal judge orders President Trump's longtime accounting firm to hand over records to a House committee, saying Congress is well within its authority to investigate the President.
And the White House blocks former White House Counsel Don McGahn from testifying before a House panel, arguing that he has immunity. How will House Democrats respond?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, subpoena ruling. A judge just
ruled against the President in a court battle over Mr. Trump's financial records. The President's longtime accounting firm now under orders to turn over his private information to Congress.
[17:59:59] Blocking McGahn. Mr. Trump is directing his former White House Counsel to defy a subpoena to testify before Congress tomorrow.