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White House Blocks McGahn From Testifying; Interview With Former FBI General Counsel James Baker; Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA); Court Rules Against Trump in Financial Records Fight. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 20, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Blocking McGahn. Mr. Trump is directing his former White House counsel to defy a subpoena to testify before Congress tomorrow. I will get reaction this hour from the top FBI lawyer during the Russia investigation.
Running scared? President Trump is getting ready to hold a rally in must-win Pennsylvania tonight. He's ramping up his 2020 campaign, with new reasons to feel threatened by Joe Biden and the Democrats.
And tornado zone. Right now, millions of Americans are at high risk for catastrophic tornadoes. CNN is on the ground tracking the storms and the danger.
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: Breaking news tonight: A federal judge orders President Trump's longtime accounting firm in New York to give Congress financial records from before he took office.
It's a win for the Democratic-controlled House Oversight Committee, which subpoenaed the information. The president challenged the subpoena in court and is now expected to appeal.
Also breaking, the administration is blocking former White House counsel Don McGahn from appearing before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow morning. The Justice Department claims McGahn has immunity from testifying about his work for the president.
McGahn, a pivotal witness in Robert Mueller's obstruction investigations, could be the next administration insider to face a contempt vote in Congress.
This hour, I will talk to the former top FBI lawyer during the Russia probe, James Baker. And Democratic Congressman John Garamendi is also standing by, along with our correspondents and analysts.
First, let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, and CNN's Kara Scannell.
Kara, this is a significant ruling on the subpoena for the president's financial records. Tell our viewers about that.
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
So, just a short while ago, a federal judge here in Washington, D.C., ordered that Donald Trump's accounting firm Mazars must turn over records that the House Oversight Committee has sought. Those records go back to 2011.
Now, in this 41-page opinion, the judge makes it very clear that he believes Congress as well within its rights to seek this information. Now, Donald Trump and his company had sued the to block this subpoena. Now the judge's ruling very clearly here that he thinks that the Congress should get these documents and that he will not grant Donald Trump's request to have a stay or, that is, to prevent the accounting firm turning over these documents, so he can appeal.
Now, I'm going to read one of the lines from this opinion, where the judge says: "The court is well aware that this case involves records concerning the private and business affairs of the president of the United States. But on the question of whether to grant a stay pending appeal, the president is subject to the same legal standard as any other litigant. That does not prevail."
So, there he's saying very clearly that he does not believe that the that the president can win on the merits of this case. It's interesting. He also cites Watergate and Whitewater, two investigations that Congress did conduct. And he says that the court is not prepared to roll back the tide of history -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And this U.S. district court judge, Amit Mehta, in this 41- page decision, he clearly is backing the potential -- the need for Congress to investigate potential wrongdoing on the part of the president.
SCANNELL: That's right.
I mean, the president's lawyers had argued that this was just Congress' attempt to embarrass him and to go through his financial records. And the judge here is saying that Congress does have a legislative purpose, that they -- it is well within their scope.
He says that history has shown that congressionally exposed criminal conduct by the president or high-ranking executive branch official can lead to legislation. So he's saying it is very clear that this is within Congress' scope.
And the potential impact of this is really quite broad, because Congress is trying to get the president's financial records and those of his company to look into conflicts of interest, to explore whether he had committed any crimes before he was in office or during office.
And the judge is saying very clearly here that this is very well within Congress' mandate. BLITZER: And, Manu, it's clear that this is a considerable, a very
significant win for the House Democrats and potentially could have a spillover effect involving all sorts of other legal battles with the White House.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. And Kara is exactly right.
The ramifications could be very broad because the White House, the Trump Organization have been making this argument in a range of cases as they try to push back on the Democratic requests, saying there's no legitimate reason for needing this, there's no legitimate legislative purpose, saying it's all intended to harass the president.
But one line stuck out from this judge's 41-page opinion just moments ago. He said -- he said, Wolf -- I lost it right here, Wolf.
But he essentially says that the -- that it doesn't make sense for Congress not to be able to get this information because of the fact that this is the job of Congress to investigate.
And even -- they don't need to open up an impeachment inquiry. There's no -- that they may even have to go through the formal process of impeachment. But even if they don't go through the formal process of impeachment, they would still need this information, because Congress does have a role to investigate any potential criminal conduct.
And that is one thing that the Democrats could cite going forward. One of the big questions had been whether or not they needed to actually mount an impeachment investigation in order to get this information.
But the judge is saying very clearly that know that, no, that may not be necessary, that, in fact, that just because -- just by announcing an impeachment inquiry doesn't mean that's the only reason why Congress should get this information. They have the right to this information.
And that could give some breathing room for people like Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, who have not wanted to go down the route of impeachment, but have wanted to pursue the investigative front. So the ramifications significant. It could lead to -- we will see how it ends up affecting those other cases, likely court cases involving the president's tax returns, those financial records from Deutsche Bank, Capital One, other financial institutions, as well as another denial from last week about the House Judiciary Committee's probe into potential obstruction of justice.
The White House making a similar argument there, there's no legitimate reason for Congress to get those records. But, clearly, they're making the argument here that you can -- the judge says, they should get these records, even if they decide not to mount a formal impeachment proceeding -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes.
And, Manu, I think we got the line you wanted to quote.
Let me put it up on the screen and then we can read it. Here it is from this judge's decision. "It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a president for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct, past or present, even without formally opening an impeachable -- an impeachment inquiry."
That's Judge Amit Mehta, very significant.
Manu, Kara, guys, thanks very much.
There's other breaking news we're following right now. The Trump administration is directing former White House counsel Don McGahn not to testify before Congress tomorrow.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty.
Sunlen, the House Judiciary Committee has said it will hold a hearing with or without McGahn tomorrow morning. So what are Democrats warning will come next?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
And, Wolf, that's something that Chairman Nadler just a few minutes ago reiterated in a statement, saying this committee hearing is going to go on whether Don McGahn ends up showing up or not, and no expectation that he will.
And certainly we could, of course, see a little theatrics at play there, potentially an empty chair, to really signify that he didn't show up, as we saw earlier this month in the hearing when the attorney general, Bill Barr, did not show up.
Now, Nadler tonight's saying in a statement that the attempts to block McGahn from testifying shows that, in his words, President Trump clearly does not want the American people to hear firsthand about his alleged misconduct. And so he has attempted to block Mr. McGahn from speaking in public tomorrow.
And Nadler went on to say that this is just the latest act of obstruction from the White House, part of its blanket refusal, he says, to cooperate with the committee.
Now, in terms of what happens next after tomorrow's hearing, with or without McGahn, well, Chairman Nadler has been very clear, Wolf, that he will very likely move to hold Don McGahn in contempt of Congress, like we saw with the attorney general, that, of course, likely setting up a big battle, a likely court battle to compel his testimony in days ahead.
BLITZER: We may have to interrupt you, Sunlen. The president is leaving the White House. He's on his way to Pennsylvania for a political rally later tonight.
But, as usual, he stopped and spoke with reporters as he was leaving the White House out on the South Lawn of the White House, about to board Marine One.
I think the president is getting ready. We're getting the tape any minute now. And -- well, here he comes. He's walking over to the microphones. This is the president moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, I'm heading to the great state of Pennsylvania, and we're going to have a rally.
A lot of people are outside, as you probably know, many, many people. And it's going to be a packed house, as it always is. I don't know if you've ever seen a vacancy for Trump, but I don't think so. We're going to have a good time. I don't know who's coming, but I hope you come. It'll be a lot of fun.
QUESTION: Why are you asking Don McGahn to defy a congressional subpoena?
TRUMP: Well, as I understand it, they're doing that for the Office of the presidency for future presidents. I think it's a very important precedent. And the attorneys say that they're not doing that for me.
They're doing that for the office of the president. So we're talking about the future.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: What's your feeling on Judge Mehta's ruling about your financial records? And do you plan to appeal?
TRUMP: Well, we disagree with that ruling.
It's crazy, because, you look at it, this never happened to any other president. They're trying to get a redo. They're trying to get what we used to call in school a do-over. And if you look, you know, we had no collusion. We had no obstruction. We had no nothing.
The Democrats were very upset with the Mueller report, as perhaps they should be. But, I mean, the country is very happy about it, because there was never anything like that. And they're trying to get a redo or a do-over, and you can't do that.
As far as the financials are concerned, we think it's the wrong -- it's totally the wrong decision by, obviously, an Obama-appointed judge. He was a recent Obama-appointed judge.
QUESTION: Mr. President, your reaction to Justin Amash, who says you committed impeachable offenses? TRUMP: Well, I've known him, and he's been against Trump from the
beginning. He probably wants to run for some other office. I don't think he'll do very well.
He's been a loser for a long time, rarely votes for Republicans. And, you know, personally, I think he's not much.
QUESTION: What do you have to say to Americans who feel that your administration is stonewalling all these investigations up on Capitol Hill? Why not let Don McGahn testify? Are you afraid of what...
TRUMP: I think we've been the most...
I think we've been the most transparent administration in the history of our country. We just went through two years of Bob Mueller, with 18 people that hated Donald Trump. They were angry Democrats, as I called them. We've been through it for two years, and they spent almost $40 million on it.
We had, I think, 500 people testified. We had 1.4 or 1.5 million documents. At the end of all of that, he said there's no collusion. Now what happens is the Democrats want a redo, and we've had enough, and the country has had enough. There has never been, ever before, an administration that's been so open and transparent.
So, we want to get on. What we want to do is get on with running the country.
QUESTION: Can you clarify your position specifically on the Alabama abortion law? And do you think it goes too far?
TRUMP: Well, I put out my position on the -- on abortion. You've known it for a long time. But I put it out the other day. You have it. I feel strongly about it.
And all of that is working its way through court, along with the fact that the Democrats are talking about third term, and they're really talking about beyond third term, and that's a terrible thing.
QUESTION: What's going on with Iran? Are you worried about a war there? Or do you want negotiations or what?
TRUMP: So, with Iran, we'll see what happens. But they've been very hostile. They've truly been the number one provocateur of terror in this country and, you know, representing their country. But, certainly, our country has been very much involved, because we're trying to help a lot of people out. And I don't mind that at all.
We have no indication that anything has happened or will happen. But, if it does, it will be met, obviously, with great force. We'll have no choice.
TRUMP: Say it?
QUESTION: Any negotiations with Iran?
TRUMP: We have not -- we've not talked about it. We'll see what happens. If they called, we would certainly negotiate. But that's going to be up to them. I'd only want them to call if they're ready. If they're not ready, they don't have to bother.
QUESTION: Will you continue to apply economic sanctions to Iran? Or are you going to pause it to try and de-escalate tensions right now?
TRUMP: Well, we'll see what happens. But, right now, we have very strong sanctions. We'll see what happens.
QUESTION: The polls have you losing in Pennsylvania to several Democrats...
TRUMP: I don't know. I think we're doing very well in Pennsylvania. We won it last time. The polls had us losing Pennsylvania last time, and we won. And I expect we'll win it this time, because the coal industry, the steel industry, the car industry, they're all doing incredibly well.
Pennsylvania now has the best employment they've ever had, the best employment record, more people working in Pennsylvania now than ever before, like, in our country. So I think we'll do very well in Pennsylvania.
QUESTION: Will you appeal the judge's ruling on the -- on your financial...
TRUMP: Yeah. They'll appeal it.
QUESTION: You will appeal it? You will...
TRUMP: They'll appeal it. Sure, they'll appeal it.
QUESTION: What about this -- there's another child who has died on the border, another child migrant, now five.
TRUMP: Well, I know this, that, if you look at the border, and if you look at the fact that the Democrats are really making it very, very dangerous for people by not approving simple, quick, 15-minute legislation.
We could have it all worked out. It'd be great for people, great for lives, great for safety. And the border is a dangerous place. It's only made that way because the Democrats will not approve any legislation. I mean, they don't want to approve anything. And it's making the border very dangerous.
QUESTION: What's being done to make sure these kids don't die, though? What's being done to make sure these kids don't die?
TRUMP: Well, we're working very hard. And I will tell you, the Border Patrol people and all of law enforcement is working very hard.
I mean, unfortunately, many of them have become doctors and nurses, and they're taking people that are very, very sick from a long trek up, 2,000 miles, and they're doing an incredible job.
Honestly, what should happen is, the Democrats should sit down and make changes, so that we can protect people on the border.
QUESTION: Do you mean there is no -- you don't see anything going on right now from the Iranian side? Is that what you just said?
TRUMP: Say it again?
QUESTION: Did you mean, right now, what you said that...
TRUMP: There are no talks going on with Iran.
QUESTION: What Iran might or might not be up to -- do you see any threats right now? Do you see any threats?
TRUMP: I think Iran would be making a very big mistake if they did anything. If they do something, it'll be met with great force. But we have no indication that they will.
QUESTION: Are you going to approve additional funding for Puerto Rico, for disaster funding, as part of this package?
TRUMP: So, I've given more money to Puerto Rico than, I believe, any president ever.
They've gotten $91 billion for the hurricane. Not only that, our military, our law enforcement, and FEMA has done a great job for Puerto Rico. And I think the people of Puerto Rico are very thankful.
We'll see you in -- we'll see you in Pennsylvania.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so there you have the president. He's -- he was on the South Lawn, getting ready to board Marine One. He's heading to a political rally in Pennsylvania. But he stopped and answered a whole bunch of questions from reporters on several significant subjects.
Jim Acosta was there.
You asked him about stonewalling by the White House. Let's discuss that first.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. I asked the president, what does he have to say to Americans who think
he's stonewalling and his team is stonewalling members of Congress when it comes to their investigations? And he essentially turned back to his talking points and said that his has been the most transparent administration that we have ever seen.
That is obviously not the case. We have had 70 days in a row now without a White House briefing. It's hardly transparent.
But, Wolf, earlier in those comments to reporters, he did say essentially what his attorneys are saying in terms of why he is instructing the former White House counsel, Don McGahn, to not testify tomorrow. The president's team has been saying, listen, Don McGahn is protected by immunity for former White House officials, White House officials over here at the White House.
And the president said this is not being done for me, this is being done for the presidency.
And so the president is essentially saying what his team is saying, that this is about protecting the interests of the presidency.
But, Wolf, I thought it was also interesting the way he answered my question about whether or not his administration is stonewalling the Congress. At the very end there, I tried to ask a follow-up as to whether or not he's willing and whether his team is willing to battle this out in the courts.
He just didn't answer that question. He turned -- he turned to the next question at that point.
One thing we should also point out, he was also asked about this judge's ruling earlier this afternoon that said that his longtime accountants had to turn over these financial records to members of Congress.
Wolf, the president there said that -- that he blamed all of this, this ruling, on an Obama-appointed judge. And so that is one of his go-tos when he's confronted with a ruling that goes against him and his interest and his agenda. He typically blames it on an Obama- appointed judge.
So, Wolf, it seems very clear over here at the White House, talking to officials, hearing what the president just said a few moments ago, that all of these investigations are heading to the courts, and it's just going to get battled out in these courtrooms when it comes to these various investigations.
And it's going to be a very important moment, I think, for the country, when these judges ultimately come down and say, OK, where does the congressional oversight power begin and where does it end, Wolf?
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment.
Jeffrey Toobin, our chief legal analyst, is with us as well. Jeffrey, so you heard the president make the legal arguments why he's doing what he's doing. What did you think?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think there are two very separate issues here.
The issue of the accountant, the White House has really bad arguments here. I mean, the idea that this is outside Congress' purview, no court has held an investigation outside Congress' purview in many decades. It's just a losing argument. And why that's especially important in this case is that the accounting firm is not under the White House's control.
The Congress may actually get the tax returns. The president, unless he gets to stay from the court of appeals, which is by no means a sure thing, he is -- the Congress is really likely to get those documents.
The McGahn issue is a very different one. The White House has some good arguments there. That is a very unsettled issue, which is the scope of testimony by top White House advisers.
There was a case that -- involving Harriet Miers, the White House counsel under President George W. Bush. Congress won that case, but it was never appealed. So it's not a clear precedent.
Don McGahn and the White House has some pretty good arguments to keep him off the stand. But the one about the accounting firm, that's one that Congress is very likely to win.
BLITZER: And you heard the president call that decision by this federal judge, Amit Mehta, he said it was crazy. They're going to do a do-over.
Then he went after this federal judge, saying, look, he's a recent Obama-appointed judge. What did you think of that?
TOOBIN: Well, I mean, it's unfortunate that the pedigree of every judge becomes the proxy for the outcome of the decision.
But, on that one, I really don't think there is -- there is much politics involved, because arguing that an investigation is outside the scope of Congress' interest, that's just been a losing argument for a long time, very different from the executive privilege issues raised by the White House counsel Don McGahn's case.
When that goes to court, that is likely to be a much closer question.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks very much. I want you to stand by as well.
Joining us now, Congressman John Garamendi. He is a Democrat, serves on the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Sure.
BLITZER: Let's get to all the breaking news, the president's efforts to block a congressional subpoena for his financial records.
As you now know, it's just been struck down in a federal court here in Washington. How significant is this?
GARAMENDI: Well, he's the loser, a word he likes to use all the time. He's the loser on this one.
Jeffrey said it so very, very well. We have the right in Congress -- and, in fact, we have the obligation to investigate. And the scope of investigation is really unlimited. It can be an individual. It can be the president. It can be the president's -- frankly, the president's ex-chief of staff.
BLITZER: This comes as the president is directing his former White House counsel Don McGahn not to testify tomorrow morning before Congress. You just heard the president say this is an important precedent, he says, for the office of the president, looking down the road to future presidents.
What did you make of his argument?
GARAMENDI: Well, I don't think he knows history.
But he was around, I believe, for the Watergate investigation. If I was remembering, who was the White House counsel during that period of time? Yes. Howard Dean. So...
BLITZER: John Dean.
GARAMENDI: I'm sorry.
GARAMENDI: I blew that one.
GARAMENDI: But, yes, he was -- and he came and testified before Congress.
And I would expect that that would be the case going forward now, that we would see the White House counsel, who does not work for the president, but rather works for the office of the presidency, to come to the Congress and to testify.
It's an important thing. He was a major part of the Mueller report on the obstruction of justice question. And that is surely a legitimate issue for the Congress to investigate.
BLITZER: Should the House of Representatives move forward with a vote to hold both Don McGahn and, for that matter, the attorney general of the United States, Bill Barr, in contempt? GARAMENDI: Well, let's hold Barr for a second.
If McGahn doesn't show up, then the answer would be yes. There is no reason, other than the president doesn't want that information out in public, for McGahn to not testify. And so, yes, he should be held in contempt, if it comes to that. We will see where he is tomorrow morning.
BLITZER: Your Republican colleague in the House, Justin Amash, says President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.
Are you surprised to see a Republican go farther than so many members of your own party?
GARAMENDI: No, not at all.
I have talked to many, many Republicans that are deeply disturbed by what has gone on. They looked at the Mueller report and they go, oh, my, there's something here.
They don't want to step out front. Let's hear it for Amash. He's been willing to step out front and do what is, I think, necessary, and that is to say that there's something here that needs to be thoroughly investigated by Congress. Will it lead to an impeachment? That's possible. Let's get these investigations under way.
Let's hear from McGahn. Let's hear from the others. And we will see at the end or at least during that process if an impeachment is warranted.
BLITZER: I -- and we also learned today, Congressman, that the Southern District of New York now has tens of thousands of documents from the Trump Inaugural Committee.
Have you seen indications that foreign donors may have used the inauguration to try to influence the administration? Because I suspect that's one of the areas they're investigating?
GARAMENDI: Well, foreign donors' involvement in campaigns is illegal. Whether it's illegal in the question of an inaugural committee remains to be seen here.
But the bottom line of it is that there's no doubt that foreign governments, certainly the Russian government, quite possibly others, were trying to -- certainly involved in the election, trying to get Trump elected. Would not surprise me at all that there was foreign money in that for the purposes of swaying the president one way or the other.
Also, there was plenty of private American money that was -- whose purpose was exactly the same, to try to get in tight with Trump, the most expensive inaugural committee ever, big questions about where the money was spent. Who was the beneficiary of all of that money?
[18:25:04] All of that needs to be investigated. Bottom line of it is, you bet a lot of folks were trying to buy access to the president. Nobody -- at least, many people did not expect him to be president. They were buying in late.
BLITZER: Congressman John Garamendi, thanks so much for joining us.
GARAMENDI: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right, we're following a lot of breaking news, including a new setback for the president's efforts to defy Democrats in Congress, a federal judge ordering Mr. Trump's longtime accounting firm in New York to comply with a subpoena and turn over financial records to a House committee, this as the Trump administration is blocking former White House counsel Don McGahn from answering lawmakers' questions tomorrow morning, asserting he has immunity from testifying.
Let's discuss this and more.
Jim Baker is joining us, the former general counsel for the FBI. He was the bureau's top lawyer during the Russia investigation.
Jim, thanks very much for coming in.
JAMES BAKER, FORMER FBI GENERAL COUNSEL: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: So, first of all, what do you make of this federal judge's rejecting the president's efforts to block a subpoena from the accounting firm for the president's financial records before he became president?
BAKER: I think it's a recognition that Congress has a lot of power under the Constitution. That's just the case.
It has a tremendous amount of power. Over the years, it's not exercised that. And it's been inclined in many instances to cede over to the president or presidents a lot of their power. So, this is them taking some of this back by trying to enforce this subpoena.
And so the ruling from the court doesn't surprise me.
BLITZER: On the other issue, the other breaking news, the White House ordering the former White House counsel Don McGahn to defy a congressional subpoena, they released, the White House, a Justice Department argument saying it's well within the right of the White House to insist that Don McGahn not appear.
What do you think?
BAKER: Yes, I haven't read the analysis yet.
But it -- as Jeff Toobin was saying earlier, it does make sense that they have good arguments on their side. I think the biggest problem that they have is that they allowed him to speak to the Mueller team, and then that report was allowed to be made public. And so there's going to be some issues there with respect to waiving
the various rights that I think they're probably trying to assert now.
BLITZER: Waiving executive privilege, for example.
BLITZER: One of their arguments -- and I'm wondering what you think about this -- is that when they waived executive privilege and allowed him to speak to the Mueller team, that was all within the executive branch of the government.
By letting him go to the legislative branch, that's different. That's one of their arguments.
BAKER: Yes, but they allowed the Mueller report to come out in the form that it is.
So I don't see how you can possibly claim -- I don't think you can claim that there's executive privilege with respect to any of the materials that are in the Mueller report, because it's public.
BLITZER: In the aftermath of the Mueller report coming out, the president said his administration -- and I'm quoting him now -- "must investigate the investigators."
That would be including you, potentially.
BAKER: That's me. That includes me.
BLITZER: You're one of the investigators.
BAKER: That includes me.
BLITZER: If the attorney general, Bill Barr, investigates you, is he going to find a lot of -- as the president claims, a lot of crooked stuff that was going on?
BAKER: No, there was no crooked stuff.
I mean, there was no coup attempt. There was no sedition. There was no treason. I would not have allowed that kind of thing to happen, nor would anybody around me, Jim Comey, all the other folks. They wouldn't have allowed something like that to happen. So...
BLITZER: Why have you decided to speak out so forcefully right now on all these sensitive issues?
BAKER: Because I got sick of all this baloney.
And I thought that the American people -- I think that the American people need to have a -- more confidence in their law enforcement and intelligence agencies than they would if they just listened to some of the narrative that's -- that's out there.
So I simply just got sick of it. And I feel as -- it's part of my duty to the country to try to help inform them about what actually happened.
BLITZER: And tell our viewers a little bit about yourself, because they're going after your credibility. They're making all sorts of suggestions.
You worked at the FBI for a while?
No, I worked at the FBI for four years. I loved it there. I was in the Justice Department for -- I can't remember -- over 20 years or so. They are great institutions.
The judicial system of the United States, the law enforcement system of the United States are some of our crown jewels. They historically have been the envy of the world.
And so I want to try to speak out on their behalf and reassure people that these are -- these are people who are able actually to put aside their political views, they are apolitical, and move forward, and with the administration of justice.
BLITZER: Because, clearly, they're smearing people like you, saying there's a deep state, and they have to be investigated.
Let me read a quote from the attorney general, Bill Barr, just published in "The Wall Street Journal."
Barr says this: "I felt the rules were being changed to hurt Trump. And I thought it was damaging for the presidency over the long haul."
And then he added this: "If you destroy the presidency, and make it an errand boy for Congress, we're going to be a much weaker and more divided nation."
You know Bill Barr. You say you respect him, but do you agree with that assessment?
BAKER: Well, you need a strong executive, but you need a strong Congress also.
And, as I said earlier, what has happened, I think, over the decades, many decades, Congress has ceded a lot of its authority under the Constitution to the president.
And I think what you're seeing now is an effort by Congress to reclaim some of that.
BLITZER: The Attorney General also says in this new interview with the Wall Street Journal that his investigation into the start of the Russia probe could lead, in his words, changes and how future counterintelligence investigations are conducted. Do you think he found evidence of impropriety on the part of the FBI during your time at the FBI? You were the lead FBI Counsel during all of this period. BAKER: Right. So I don't -- I read what the Attorney General says very carefully and he's very precise with his words. And so, look, as I said earlier, I don't think there was anything illegal, immoral, improper, unethical that went on. But if things can be improved, an Attorney General is totally entitled to try to do that. The FBI needs good oversight by the department and other elements of the government, so I welcome that.
BLITZER: And as you know, there is also a bipartisan effort in the House Intelligence Committee to get information on what's being described as the counterintelligence portion of the Mueller probe which wasn't included in the final Mueller report, the 450 pages. Is that something members of Congress should be privy to?
BAKER: Well, it's a difficult analysis that you have to go through in terms of what you discussed with Congress. But, historically, we at the bureau, we in the Justice Department have apprised the intelligence committees and sometimes other leaders of Congress about sensitive intelligence matters. So I think the answer is yes. That's why those committees were created in the first place in the '70s.
BLITZER: And you've urged the country to come together because this threat from Russia potentially is still out there going into the 2020 elections. Is that right?
BAKER: It's huge, yes. I think we need to come together as a country, stop all this rancor and make sure that we're protecting and honoring our country and those who went before us to give us the freedoms that we have.
BLITZER: Are you concerned that the Russians will try to hack individual counties? Because we now know that two counties in Florida were hacked and the FBI is asking authorities, the Governor and others in Florida not to release officially the names of those counties.
BAKER: I'm quite worried about that. The Russians are sophisticated, they are motivated and they have the capability to do that kind of thing, if they set their minds to it given the posture of -- given the variety and a number of election systems that there are out there in the country, something like 8,800.
BLITZER: And as I've said many times in the past, if their goal was to sow dissent and undermine America's democracy, mission accomplished --
BAKER: They hit the jackpot, yes.
BLITZER: -- yes, on the part of the Russians.
Thanks so much, Jim Baker, for coming in. Thanks for your service as well.
BAKER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Appreciate it. All right, still ahead, we're going to break down the impact of a federal judge's new ruling, siding with House Democrats on a subpoena for the President's financial records. And how will democrats respond to the new defiance by the White House that's now blocking testimony from the former Counsel, Don McGahn?
Also this, a very different story, there are tornado warnings out through a huge part of the United States. We're going to update our viewers on the latest on that. The threat is very, very real.
BLITZER: We are following two major breaking stories, a federal judge is ordering the President's longtime accounting firm in New York to turn over all the financial records that have been subpoenaed to turn it over to Congress, ruling against Mr. Trump in his legal battle over a subpoena from House Democrats. This as the White House is defying another congressional subpoena directing the former White House Counsel Don McGahn not to testify on Capitol Hill tomorrow morning.
Let's bring in our analysts on this ruling saying the accounting firm, David Swerdlick, has to turn over all these documents involving the President's accounting, going back to before he became president. How significant of a decision is this?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's significant and it's a win for democrats for a couple of reasons, one, just because it is a win. It's a situation where after weeks of being stonewalled by the Justice Department and the White House, democrats at least have some news that sort of turn things in their favor in the big narrative of their tug-of-war with the White House.
It also is a win in for them in a sense that they get one piece or at least they hope they're getting a piece of a puzzle that they're trying to put together about a picture of the President's business dealings and interests that extend beyond the White House.
I do think this is not stayed by a higher court, that they are actually going to get these documents because, as I heard Jeffrey say earlier in your show, this is a situation where the accounting firm involved is not part of the government and the President can't order them to do something because they're not part of his administration.
BLITZER: And if the House Democrats get these documents and decide to make them public, the President is not going to be happy, I'm sure, about that.
Bianna Golodryga is here. Welcome to Washington, Bianna, good to have you here. The administration is fighting hard on a lot of fronts, stonewalling a lot of these efforts by these House Democrats. But this federal judge, Amit Mehta here in Washington, rejects the argument that the administration is putting forward, the argument saying that they don't have a legislative goal. Here is what the federal judge says. History has shown that congressionally exposed criminal conduct by the President or a high ranking executive branch official can lead to legislation. Could that spell trouble for the President down the road?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it could very well spell trouble, which is why you heard the President just moments ago say that this was an Obama-appointed judge, right? So for him, everything seems to be political.
This had never been a real debate as to whether democrats would have the law on their side.
The question is how long republicans and specifically the President can stonewall, can kick the can down the road. Obviously, they're going to appeal this order right now. And it does, however, embolden democrats because we had that ruling from the judge last week about Michael Flynn.
When it comes to subpoenas now, you're going to see more democrats calling to hear, not only Don McGahn, obviously, we have news about him tomorrow and that he won't testify, but Michael Flynn and to get these tax returns from the accounting firm which are not a part of the U.S. government documents.
BLITZER: The House Judiciary Committee, Rebecca Buck, wants want Don McGahn to appear 10:00 A.M. tomorrow morning before the committee and the White House says he's not going to show up. He's a private citizen now. Technically, if he wants to show up, he can show up. But are we going to see another empty chair tomorrow morning?
REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: We very well could, Wolf. And you just have to think about the power of that visual and what this could mean for republicans, for the President, from a political perspective. Of course, republicans, this administration, they're saying the democrats are playing political games essentially but they're not taking this seriously. But the longer this goes on, the longer the President tries to obstruct their investigations and obstruct this process, you wonder when the political tide will start to turn or could start to turn in favor of democrats. Voters, you would expect at some point, would say, you know, what are they trying to hide.
BLITZER: You know, Ron Brownstein is with us as well. Just moments ago, you heard the President make the case, you know, he's not doing this for himself, preventing Don McGahn from appearing. He says this is for the office of future presidents. I'm doing it for the future.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, I mean, he is extending -- certainly, there have been skirmishes before congresses and administrations about what information Congress would have access to. But the President has taken this to an entirely new level of systematic stonewalling and really rejecting the underlying right of Congress to perform any kind of oversight over the executive branch.
And one of the things that was striking in this decision today, I haven't read the whole thing, but in the portion I read, you know, the judge talks about the clear line and the previous decisions on these questions is for the judiciary to be deferential to Congress in its definition of what information it needs to pursue legislation.
And that standard of deference to Congress, not second-guessing their political motives, the judge talks specifically about that, that is a really important argument, as we're suggesting not only in this case but in the many others that are advancing as President Trump tries to roll back this historic opportunity and authority for Congress to conduct oversight.
BLITZER: You know, David, Don McGahn, as we noted, he's a private citizen right now. He's gone back to his law practice. Is there any realistic chance he defies the order from the President and shows up tomorrow morning?
SWERDLICK: I don't see him defying the President's order tomorrow or showing up tomorrow. I do think down the road though, there is a chance that you will see McGahn testify. I can imagine his lawyers perhaps telling him, look, let's wait this out until there's absolutely no choice until a federal court orders you to appear and then he will have that as something to lean on and simply say, I had no choice, a court rule that the White House doesn't control this. I have to testify before Congress and maybe that's what will happen in weeks or months down the road.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. I wouldn't expect to hear from Don McGahn any time soon. Remember, he had the opportunity to resign. We know from reporting that he threatened to resign, he ultimately did not. He is a private citizen. He works for a law firm that's closely aligned to the Republican Party. You could very well see a situation where he would be shut out by many of the President's advocates and aides if he does speak out, even when it's not in support of the President or what have you, he doesn't have to have an opinion, just stating the facts and how he saw things or interpreted things playing out, seeing that on live television would be very troublesome for the President.
BLITZER: Rebecca, could we see the full House vote to hold not only Don McGahn, potentially, but the Attorney General, Bill Barr, in contempt?
BUCK: Absolutely. That is a possibility. Of course, democrats control the House and they want to send a message, not just, you know, take this vote for the sake of taking the vote but they want to send a message to the administration and any other witnesses who would try to obstruct their investigation. But they're taking this very seriously and they want to get to the bottom of this.
BLITZER: You know, let me get your thoughts, Ron, on this Republican Congressman, Justin Amash, now saying in a series of Tweets over the weekend doubling down today in a whole bunch of Tweets saying that the President, in his words, has engaged in impeachable conduct. It's pretty extraordinary to hear a republican lawmaker say this. BROWNSTEIN: It is. You know, if we go back to Watergate, it wouldn't be. But certainly today, this kind of tribal circling of the wagons has eclipsed any sense of obligation to kind of the national interest. I don't know how many other republicans are going to be moved by this, but I think it does kind of advance the dialogue and really raises the same question, as we're asking about Don McGahn, who, as we're noting, as a private citizen, could testify. He's been willing to talk to Mueller. He has gone so far as to not ex post facto say he's willing to exonerate the president. But where does he see his obligation? Is it to the public to give them a full understanding of the actions and incidents in which he was involved?
It's kind of the same question that everyone is facing after this report? Where do they place their highest obligation? And is it ultimately to the Republican Party or to the country overall?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And remember, Don McGahn, though, initially did not want to work alongside, with and cooperate with the Mueller investigation as we've heard from reporting, it was ultimately because he thought that he was going to be thrown under the bus by this administration that he finally relented and agreed to speak with Mueller.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And we just got word from Don McGahn's lawyer that he will not be testifying tomorrow morning before the House Judiciary Committee.
Everybody, stick around.
An important programming note to our viewers. Stay with CNN to learn more about the 2020 presidential candidates. Dana Bash is hosting a town hall with former Congressman Beto O'Rourke live from Iowa. That's tomorrow night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
Just ahead, the most dire warning in years about the risk of catastrophic tornadoes threatening millions of Americans right now. We're going to tell you what's happening on the ground.
And the gift of a lifetime as graduates walk away from their commencement with a stunning promise that all their student loan debts will be paid off.
[18:51:08] BLITZER: Right now, we're following a very, very dangerous situation with 2 million Americans potentially in the path of very intense tornados.
Our meteorologist Tom Sater is in the CNN severe weather center for us.
Tom, parts of Oklahoma and Texas, they are at risk.
What's the latest you're hearing?
TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, we haven't seen a day unfold like this for the entire year or even the spring season. Let me set the stage. The Storm Prediction Center which typically gives us a bullseye of activity for the severity has gone to the highest level today. We went to a level 5 out of a possible 5.
We didn't have one last year. We didn't have one the year before. We talk about marginal, slight, enhanced. You know, the hail, the damaging winds, and tornado. But when you get to level five, but you might have one per year.
Like I mentioned, we haven't had the last two year. That means violent, large and long track tornados are possible like the one six years ago today, the EF-5 that moved into -- I'm sorry just south of Oklahoma City and more. It took 24 lives, 212 injuries, and this is an outlook where we may see the greatest activity.
This takes us 10:00 at night. That's when it gets a little frightening. When you lose the light and you're in the darkness.
And then again, besides the opportunity of tornados, we've already seen damage from hail from Lubbock, Texas, outside of Joplin, in Crawford County, that's in Kansas, we've had damage reports. Over seven tornados being reported throughout the afternoon, but we're looking for the possibility of more to develop.
The enhancement of rainfall is a big concern. They are completely saturated. We could see in Oklahoma City water rescues that occur by tomorrow morning if they pick up five to six inches of rainfall. Notice in red the tornado watches from areas of Lubbock and Midland, Texas, over toward Joplin and Springfield, Missouri.
These are not just tornado watches that extend through the evening. These are what we call particularly dangerous situations, or PDS. Those times that they are issued, that's only the second, enhance the warnings. So, not only all the elements coming together for severe weather, but all the elements, Wolf, are enhanced or elevated, and makes this a day we haven't seen this spring season.
We were below average with tornadoes. And now, we're above. We've had 660 of them so far this year. But we haven't had a day setting up with the ingredients needed. Still weather north of there, two tornado warnings near Joplin. This is the second tornado warning that they've had so far today. Then, a streaming of rainfall, a big concern.
Baseball size hail has already been reported. But overnight, Wolf, we're going to see more of these tornados. If there's any good news here that I can find, we've had cloud cover, and that's going to keep them at bay hopefully. If they get a couple of breaks in that cloud cover, they're going to erupt in the next few hours.
BLITZER: Very dangerous situation. Tom Sater, we'll stay in close touch with you.
Just ahead, a very different story. A commencement speaker makes a $40 million promise to graduates.
[18:58:49] BLITZER: Tonight, the commencement speech that graduates of Morehouse College in Atlanta will never, ever forget. Billionaire investor and philanthropist Robert Smith offered much more than the typical words of wisdom. He promised, get this, every member of the class of 2019 at the historically black college that he would pay off their student loan debt. That amounts to about $40 million to cover the loans of nearly 400 graduates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT SMITH, CHAIRMAN, VISTA EQUITY PARTNERS: This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What a great, great man indeed.
The students were surprised and stunned, so happy.
Congratulations to all the students at Morehouse. Congratulations indeed to all the graduates all across the United States.
And I want to give a special shout outright now to the graduates at Hofstra University out at Long Island in New York where I was honored to be a commencement speaker yesterday. It was a terrific, terrific experience. Congratulations to all the grads, and their families, their professors, everyone else.
Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.