CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript: Interview with Rep. Zoe Lofgren


Date: May 4, 2019
Location: Washington, DC


CABRERA: Wow. Bob Baer, thank you for your time tonight. It is a stunning omission, really. An hour plus on the phone with Putin and no warning against election meddling.

Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren is sitting on the House Judiciary Committee, is also a member of the Congressional Task Force on Election Security. Joins us now. Congresswoman, thanks for being here. What do you say to the president's failure to even mention this issue with Putin?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D), CALIFORNIA: It's just stunning. It's unbelievable. We know that the Russians interfered in our election in 2018. They hacked into databases. They may have tried to actually enter the voting systems, themselves. We know from our intelligence folks that they're trying it again. What five or six things would be more important than protecting the American democracy to our president? I just -- I'm stunned by this, really. Unbelievable.

CABRERA: Clearly, the Mueller report emphasized the urgency of fixing election security gaps before 2020. We know that FBI Director Christopher Wray is raising alarms. What should Congress be doing if you're still with us? Oh, unfortunately, we did lose her, it sounds like. We'll come back with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren as soon as we get her back.

Meantime, as the fight between Democrats and the attorney general ratchets up, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee is giving William Barr until Monday morning to comply with their demands. But do House Democrats have legal standing to hold him in contempt? We'll discuss that. Plus, after being tied to policies that result in migrant children being separated from their families, is President Trump's former chief of staff, John Kelly, now in a position to profit from those very policies? We'll have the details and the questions being raised next.

In the meantime, I want to bring back our Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren to continue our conversation. I'm glad we got the technical difficulties worked out. And I want to ask you about the Mueller report and this idea of, --


[20:10:00] CABRERA: -- you know, are we ready for 2020? Will Russia have the same ability to interfere in the election that they had in 2016, or has our country learned from it? Are the right policies being implemented? What is Congress' role? What should Congress or is Congress doing now?

LOFGREN: As part of HR-1, the first bill for the Democratic House, we passed out of the House, and the Senate hasn't done anything with it, a section about election security. So, because Mitch McConnell will not move that bill, next week, we're having a hearing and attempting to move just that title, election security, through the House and over to the Senate. There are a whole wide variety of cybersecurity provisions, including --

CABRERA: Can you tick through just a few of those for us?

LOFGREN: I'm sorry?

CABRERA: Does -- I think, actually, you were going there. I might have stepped on you as you were going to go through it. But what are those specific provisions that you guys are proposing?

LOFGREN: Well, there are specific provisions about making sure that we can't hack in a way that -- and change the votes. Which means you have to have a paper ballot, robust audits so that you can't change the outcome of an election. Certain cybersecurity provisions to make sure that we are protected as well as some other matters.

So, all of that should be adopted. It should not be a partisan issue. I mean we have disagreements between the parties. No one should be disagreeing that we don't want foreign actors to come in and mess with our election or that we don't want every American citizen to have their vote counted as it was cast. Everyone should agree on that.

CABRERA: House Democrats have been digging in their heels on getting Attorney General William Barr to testify their way or your way, threatening to hold him in contempt if he doesn't deliver the unredacted Mueller report. Now, there have been calls for Barr's impeachment, ethics probes. Do you worry you guys are overplaying your hand on this?

LOFGREN: Well, here's the deal. He withheld, I think improperly, and I think the special counsel may agree, provisions of that Mueller report. We're entitled to that report, and we need the underlying evidence as well. We subpoenaed that evidence, and he blew it off.

So, now we have given him another chance. The chairman of the committee just sent a letter, offering to do some accommodations. If they don't want to show the Grand Jury material, perhaps we can work through that. Perhaps the House members can go to the Justice Department rather than have the material sent to the House of Representatives. We want to have an accommodation instead of a confrontation.

But when all is said and done, the Congress of the United States has the right to see this material. And we have to see it and they have to provide it to us. There's no really -- there's no legal question. I mean, 10s of thousands of pages of material was sent for much less important inquiries, when the Republicans were in the majority. There was a lead case when the attorney general under Obama refused to give material that he should have given. And the Congress prevailed legally. He has to give this to us.

CABRERA: OK, there's a new interview out today in "The New York Times" with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And she thinks that the Democratic Party can only win at the ballot box. That impeachment of the president would just be a protracted battle that would turn a lot of voters off. What do you think?

LOFGREN: I think I'm the only member of the House that's worked on both the Clinton and the Nixon impeachment. And I'm thinking back to the Nixon impeachment. That is the guide and, in the end, you should only do impeachment if you have an obligation to do it. If there's really no other choice to protect the fundamentals of democracy. I don't think we're at that point, yet. As much as I think the president has engaged in massive misconduct.

But that's why we need to have this oversight. We can't just outsource the decision-making to the special counsel. We need to look at the evidence, examine it for ourselves, have the public take a look at it. And then, see if we're obliged to do anything else.

It's not something -- you know, you're undoing an election when you do an impeachment. That should only happen under the gravest circumstances, and I don't think we're at that point, yet. Much as I think we have a serious problem.

CABRERA: The speaker also said, referring to how Democrats won in 2018, our passions were for health care, bigger paychecks, cleaner government, a simple message. We did not engage in some of the other exuberances that exist in our party.

[20:15:00] Is that a general swipe at things like Medicare for all or the green new deal?

LOFGREN: You know, I don't think so. You know, we -- on the day we left, I think it was Thursday, we had a big, strong vote to go back into the Paris Accords. You know, we even got a couple of Republicans to vote with us on that. The environment matters. Climate change matters. And while we're, you know, fighting with the attorney general on this, he just filed papers at the Court of Appeals to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. Eliminate health care for millions of Americans who got it for the first time because of the Affordable Care Act.

So, we are fighting on those issues. But we can't neglect our obligation to oversee the Department of Justice, the president to make sure that the president is doing what he promised to do when he took the oath of office to make sure that the laws are faithfully executed.

CABRERA: Right. And I don't want to interrupt you but I do want to make sure I get the answer to the question that I asked, which has to do with what Democrats' --

LOFGREN: Oh, I thought I had.

CABRERA: -- platform is. In the sense that, you know, there's a conversation about how far left is too far, especially when it comes to, perhaps, defeating the president in 2020. And the -- you know, the speaker in this new interview is saying, Democrats got to hold on to the middle. Don't go too far left. That was my takeaway.

LOFGREN: Well, I haven't seen the interview. But what we have emphasized in 2018, and I think we will in 2020 as well, is things that matter to the American people. The cost of health care, a clean environment, education for their children. I, increasingly, hear about the need to provide adequate access to housing that people can afford. That's the things that people are up at night worrying about. And we need to address that. I very much agree with that.

CABRERA: Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, I really appreciate you staying with us. Thank you.

LOFGREN: Thank you.