Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Using Immigration Debate to Energize Base?; Russian National Charged With Interfering in U.S. Elections. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired October 19, 2018 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello on this Friday. I'm Ana Cabrera.

And we begin with breaking news.

A Russian national is now charged with conspiring to interfere in the U.S. elections, including the 2018 midterms. U.S. authorities say the person sought to carry out -- quote -- "information warfare against the United States" on a number of topics, from immigration to the NFL national anthem debate.

Laura Jarrett is joining us now with the details.

Laura, what more are you learning?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, this latest case involves a Russian national who served as the chief financial officer of a Russian-backed company called Project Lakhta.

And the basic premise of this was to sow discord, stir up trouble on social media and create an environment of disruption before the 2018 election, even dating back to 2016.

I want to read to you some of the examples from the complaint, including on a wide variety of topics, immigration, gun control, the Second Amendment, the Confederate Flag, race relations, the Women's March, and even the NFL national anthem debate.

Now, we have a variety of images that this group used to actually sort of promote the propaganda that we see online often on social media and on Twitter. And in one, you can see -- I don't know if we have it up for you, Ana -- it says, "Every deported illegal household saves taxpayers $700,000. This is why it's very important to keep families together as they are all being deported."

So, as you can see, using issues of the day to sow discord, but this group used Twitter, used Facebook, other social media to disrupt before the 2018 election, tweeting about people like Senator Ted Cruz facing an election this coming November.

Now, I should mention this does not involve anyone here in the U.S. According to the Justice Department, this only involves this single Russian national who is not here. This is part of it an effort that sort of names and shames people without actually being able to extradite them here to the U.S.

And just moments ago, we also got a joint statement from the DOJ, the FBI and ODNI that talks about the efforts of the Russians and the Chinese to sow discord again ahead of these 2018 elections, the midterms. But it doesn't say that any vote counts or that infrastructure is being affected. I should underscore that. This is not about changing vote tallies. It is really about sowing discord, Ana.

CABRERA: All right, Laura Jarrett, please stay with me.

I want to discuss -- broaden this discussion, these developments with Carrie Cordero, who is a CNN legal analyst

So, Carrie, let me start by just getting your reaction to this Russian national now charged with interfering in the U.S. political system for the midterm election.


So I'm working my way through this complaint, which was interestingly brought in the Eastern District of Virginia by the U.S. attorney's office there and by the National Security Division of the Justice Department. So this is a case that was farmed out and is beyond what the special counsel is investigating.

And I think that's important, because it shows that the United States government investigations into Russian interference or other countries who may be involved in activities online to try to influence U.S. democratic processes and institutions is going to outlive whatever the special counsel's investigation is.

These activities continue to be pervasive by these foreign entities, and the Justice Department is going to continue to investigate them for the -- for a long time, I would expect. So this case, it pertains to one individual who, as Laura just said, was the accountant.

But what it really shows as I'm going through it is, it shows the efforts by this Russian information operation to influence U.S. public opinion, to really -- it's a really a propaganda effect to influence how the United States society thinks about things.

And that's what's so important from a citizenship perspective to understand, is that people need to understand that the activities they're seeing online may not be from who they think they are. They may not be from U.S. activists. They may be part of this foreign influence activity.

CABRERA: Also with us is Michael Zeldin, who is also a CNN legal analyst and a former prosecutor, and Robert Mueller's special assistant formerly at the Justice Department.

Michael, talk to me about the scope of this investigation. This is not related to Mueller's investigation. Who's driving this?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is and it isn't.

It was brought, as Carrie said, by a separate United States attorney's office, the Eastern District of Virginia, that which was the -- who brought the initial charges in Manafort and Gates and Flynn. So they have been very active in this counterterrorism, counterintelligence arena.

It does recite in the indictment here in the information here connections to Concord and others that Mueller did indict. And it charges them in the same way that Mueller charged, which is to say a conspiracy to defraud the United States, a failure to register as a foreign agent, and interfering with the Federal Election Commission.


So you have to look at the social media indictment, the hacking indictment, and now these charges as all part of a broader conspiracy. These are the component parts of it. I expect they're not done looking at this organization and what it's wreaked havoc in the United States for the past couple of years and appears to be trying to do it again going forward.

CABRERA: And, Laura, the role of social media to amplify these messages, how challenging is this for U.S. security?

JARRETT: It's an enormous challenge. We see it every day. It seems like Facebook and Twitter are putting different reports about what they're doing to try to combat this issue, especially leading up to the midterms, given everything that happened in 2016, I should say.

And it's interesting, the Justice Department actually does thank both Facebook and Twitter for their cooperation in this effort. Clearly, they were in close coordination as so many of these messages were being spread across the social media platforms.

And it's so difficult to both police. Obviously, we see a lot of times that there are so much criticism of these social media platforms for being -- having such a hard time in policing trolls, which essentially is what this is, people creating fake personas, creating fake accounts for posing as U.S. citizens, when they are in fact Russian nationals.

CABRERA: And, Carrie, as Laura pointed out, these are people who are not in the United States. So what are the chances they actually have to pay for these alleged crimes, that they actually will face these charges physically?

CORDERO: Well, that's an important point, because the individual charged in this case is believed to be located in Russia. And so this person is very unlikely to come to the United States.

And so what that -- the question that that begs is, then what's the point of bringing case like this in public? And I think what it is, is the government has obviously decided that, as part of this whole- of-government response to the Russian election interference and the influence campaign, it is going to use criminal prosecution as one tool to be able to address that.

And the way that they do that is they are exposing publicly both for the Russian government and those entities and persons who have been involved in this activity, as well as for other global players who might be thinking about doing the same type of activity, that, number one, we, the United States government, know what you're doing, we know exactly who you are, and we're going to expose your activities to the world and to the American public.


CABRERA: Go ahead.

ZELDIN: So, I was going to say, and to follow up on Carrie's point, they could through Interpol put out what they call a red notice, so that if ever she leaves Russia, she can be picked up outside of Russia, and if there is an extradition opportunity, then be brought back to the United States.

But I think Carrie made another point that's very important, which is that these indictments, these three indictments, the social media, the hacking and now this, indicate an effort to impact voter opinion. So we have heard a lot from political people saying that, well, no vote was changed.

This undermines that argument, because when they impact people's thinking about an election, it could impact the way they vote, and that means a vote could have been changed. So it's not a hack into the voting equipment, where they change Democrat to Republican, Republican to Democrat, but if it impacts their thinking about the election, it's just as invidious, which is why you see this conspiracy to defraud the United States by interfering with the functioning of the Federal Election Commission.

CABRERA: And they are targeting -- you're right -- hot-button issues in America, the specific issues that Laura laid out for us, immigration, gun control, the NFL national anthem debate.

Carrie, how do you counter that?

CORDERO: Well, I think one way that we do it is by exposing it.

And so we really are seeing an increased effort by the Justice Department to expose these types of activities. And the way that they're able to do it is through these legal documents that then are made public that expose the activity.

The other way is that, as a matter of citizenship, people need to be smart consumers of information. Part of the purpose of getting this information out to the public is that so people can be more aware and more discerning when they're viewing things from sources online to be able to understand that this is a potential.

And then there's the role of -- as Michael mentioned, the role of the technology industry and the social media companies in particular, and Congress and the administration and the industry working together to find ways that they can counter this type of activity on their systems as well.

CABRERA: Quickly, I want to ask one question about Paul Manafort, because he was in court just last hour. He showed up in a wheelchair. His attorney says he has health issues related to jail confinement.


This was a hearing that was set to make a sentencing date, schedule that. What do you make of this new development, about his health and him being in a wheelchair, Michael?

ZELDIN: So he's in a wheelchair because he's had some problem with his foot, which is somehow related to his diet and the incarceration in a state facility.

Look, there's no question, but spending time in jail is unhealthy for anybody. And Paul Manafort is showing the consequence of that. Hopefully, they will get him the medical treatment he needs.

But his -- most importantly, his sentencing has been pushed off until February, which means that Mueller and team have said, we still have a lot more from Mueller, from Manafort to debrief, before we're ready to, if you will, have a sentencing.

The judge was very keen to have a sentencing quickly, but he clearly understood the importance of what Mueller was saying about the need for Manafort to continue to cooperate while the sentencing sort of hung over his head.

And so the notion that Mueller's report may be getting ready to be filed in December I think is undermined a bit by this extension of the time for which Manafort will be sentenced.

CABRERA: All right, Michael Zeldin, Carrie Cordero, thank you both.

Our thanks to Laura Jarrett as well.

Up next, we will take you live to the Mexico-Guatemala border, where thousands of migrants are now trying to cross into Mexico.

CNN's Bill Weir is there for us, just as the secretary of state meets with the Mexican president.

Plus, the president's former fixer Michael Cohen speaks exclusively to CNN. Hear why he's urging people to get out and vote for Democrats.

Plus, as President Trump struggles to respond to the Saudi crisis, conservative media is now trying to discredit journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We will separate fact from fiction.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. Don't go away.


CABRERA: We have live images right now of the Mexico-Guatemala border, where you can see thousands of migrants are continuing their days-long journey to the United States.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Mexico City right now to try and stop this caravan as he meets with Mexican President Pena Nieto this hour.

CNN special correspondent Bill Weir is traveling alongside that caravan at Mexico's southern border. He's joining us now.

Bill, last time we talked to you, just a short time ago, you were in distress. Bring us the latest.

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, things have calmed down considerably, Ana.

The mood of this crowd went from exuberant when the bridge was opened and they ran to the gates, and then one of determination as they literally stormed these gates and broke open the padlock, had to be forced back by the hundreds of Mexican Federales on the other side.

They fired one or two tear gas canisters to back people off (AUDIO GAP). Some in the crowd have taken control. And just a moment ago, one of the humanitarian officials, a woman in white on the other side of the Mexican line (AUDIO GAP). Now you can see people are sitting down (AUDIO GAP) Mexican officials told us initially that (AUDIO GAP)

CABRERA: OK, Bill, we're having such a bad time with your signal. It's really hard to hear you. You're cutting in and out.

Obviously, these are live pictures, and technological difficulties sometimes interfere. We will continue to try to check back in with Bill, so we can get another -- another try here.

Oh, Bill, do we have you back?

Let's try again.

WEIR: They say our signal is too dicey. It's cutting in and out.

CABRERA: Bill, we got you now. You're live with us. Continue, please. Your signal is back.

WEIR: I'm here.

CABRERA: OK, we lost bill. We will try again with him.

You can see these are live images, all the people who have lined up there at the border who are trying to pass through the border. They have been greeted, according to Bill, by troops or police in gear. And they were initially pushed back as they initially surged through the gate. Now it's calmed down. You can see, though, how crowded it is, as

these people who Bill's been traveling with who tell them they are fleeing. persecution, violence and starvation in their own country to try to find a better life for themselves and their families.

We will continue to follow the situation there at Mexico's southern border.

In the meantime, I want to bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins, who is covering how the White House has been handling this potential border crossing, because these people in theory are trying to make their way to the United States.

Kaitlan, what do we know about what Secretary Pompeo is hoping to accomplish in his visit to Mexico today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana it's those images right there that we just saw with Bill Weir, those are the ones that are infuriating President Trump, as he watches the coverage of this caravan play out.

And we have seen him kind of follow along with them, threatening to cut off aid from Central American countries as they have made their way up and are headed for the United States' southern border. You can see why these images are so striking and they grab President Trump, and that is why we have seen that frustration reflected in his tweets, where he's threatening to shut down the southern border.

Last night in his rally, saying that he might choose to send the military down there for that. That is what is the frustration here inside the West wing with President Trump.


But, of course, he has sent his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, there to meet with Mexican officials as well.

Now, that trip was scheduled before all of this got started. But Mike Pompeo said that is the biggest issue they have at hand during this visit while he's meeting with these officials since the Mexican trade deal has been worked out.

Now, of course, Mexico called on the United Nations to get involved to help with this. And that is something Mike Pompeo said he's supporting. So we will see what updates he has for the president.

A lot of questions, though, Ana, about what exactly he can even accomplish, what he can do by going there on this trip to stop this from happening.


CABRERA: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thank you. Stay with me.

I want to go back to Bill Weir, who is now joining us on the phone. So, hopefully, our established connection is a little bit stronger. Bill, fill us in again on the latest where you are. What's happening

with these people? What is the plan for them next?

WEIR: So, right now, people, the crowd has largely organized itself, after moments of sheer mayhem and a few tear gas canisters.

Now an official from the Mexican side shouted on a bullhorn through the fence, form lines, women and children first. We will begin processing you in an orderly fashion.

So it looks like Mexico is going to start letting the caravan across. It has been unbelievable watching this crowd, the mood shift from exuberance as they ran up to the gate, to then frustration when they were turned away and then anger for a moment that flared when the tear gas started to fly.

A few people threw rocks back. But the crowd largely policed themselves. They turned on those who were turning violent. And now they're encouraging everybody around them to (INAUDIBLE) and wait.

And at the rate -- the size of the gate that they're about to open, the small sort of one-person passage, it could take hours or days to process this many people.

But this whole thing has been a lesson in crowd mismanagement. The surge of people going across, we will be lucky if everybody got out of this thing intact.

I saw one man in distress laying on the ground. They just put out a call. There's a 3-year-old girl missing somewhere in this crowd. And I keep asking people, why are you doing this?

And I'm told again and again: I don't have any other choice.

Most of the people from Honduras telling me there's no work for them. Everyone I have talked to is mostly seeking just a way to feed their children. I haven't heard anybody running from the cartels or the gangs. I'm sure that exists here. We've heard that again and again.

But it's just a sea of humanity. And from what we're hearing, this is the first of two caravans. There could be another thousand people coming behind this crowd -- Ana.

CABRERA: Bill, when you're talking about these people and you talk about their desire to find work, to feed their children, are these mostly families who are part of this particular caravan?

WEIR: Mostly Hondurans, a few people from Guatemala and El Salvador.

A lot of people told me they just hope to find work in Mexico. They don't want to come all the way north. The new Mexican -- the incoming Mexican president has taken a softer stance on Central American immigrants, even saying that we want to help them, want to help them find work.

I asked a few people if they were, you know, perhaps turned away by Donald Trump's policies in the last few months that they fear they might be separated, the families, those who have children with them. They said that that's the easier of two choices for them.

One father, probably 21-year-old father told me that there's nothing back home and they have to find a better life for themselves and their children.

But, obviously, these images will be used on both sides of this immigration debate as we head into the midterms. It is a stunning show of just sort of human desperation and determination on a bridge on the Guatemala-Mexican border.

CABRERA: All right, Bill, we are reporting for us again live from the Mexico-Guatemala border. Thank you. And please do keep us updated.

I want to bring in now Maria Santana. She is a correspondent for CNN en Espanol.

And, Maria, when you look at those images, I'm curious what your thoughts are, hearing Bill say a lot of these people were trying to get to Mexico and they have been stopped.


So, what is happening is President Trump has put Mexico in a very difficult position through these threats, threatening to scrap the newly signed trade deal, threatening to close the border. That has major economic implications for Mexico.

And what's happening is, Mexico has had to change the way that it deals with these migrants. Whereas before, the migrants that showed up at their border were given temporary humanitarian or travel visas, they were given the option to continue their journey to the United States if what they really wanted was to ask for asylum in the United States.


Well, now they are being stopped. They are going to be held for 45 days in a migration center in Mexico if they want to seek asylum in Mexico.

If anyone is caught entering Mexico illegally and doesn't go through this process, they are subject to deportation. The Mexican government announced more federal police -- we saw them in these images -- that are being sent to maintain order, as the government says.

And this is all happening in the midst of a transition of power in Mexico. While the current president, Enrique Pena Nieto, has said, we will work with the United States on these immigration issues, the new president, the incoming president, Manuel Lopez Obrador, has said, we are not going to do the dirty work of the United States. We are not going to stop people and we are actually going to offer them work visas in Mexico if they want to stay in Mexico.

But as Bill was saying, these are images that play very well for Trump, a rushing mob trying to cross the border illegally, trying to get to the united as they're being tear gassed by police. These images gin up his base.

Voters, he wants them to recall this as they go to the voting booth. But it's also useful to understand that these are not new caravans. These happen quite often. They have been happening for years. And we have never seen a situation where anyone has tried to rush the border.

CABRERA: I did think it was interesting, though, to hear Bill say that a lot of these people that he's talking to at least weren't even trying to get to the United States.

That was the impression that the president here gave us, was that he believed these people were trying to cross into the U.S. But according to Bill, maybe they aren't. Maybe they're just trying to get to Mexico, where, as you point out, they see a potential future for themselves there.

SANTANA: Right. Right.

A lot of these migrants are women and children. This is not an illegal immigration crisis. This is a refugee crisis. These people are trying to flee extreme violence and poverty in their own country. They want opportunity. A lot of them say, if I go back to my country, I'm going to be murdered.

There's a lot of gang activity who threaten a lot of people in Central America, and they just need to survive. So they need to be treated, from what we hear from experts, from the U.N. Human Rights Commission, is that they need to be treated as refugees, not as illegal immigrants.

So being giving opportunities of work in Mexico might stop them from coming to the U.S.

CABRERA: I appreciate your reporting. Thank you so much, Maria Santana.

And on that note, I do just want to kind of put a button on it. The government of Mexico has called upon the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to try to intervene in handling the Honduran migrants at the southern border there.

So we will continue to stay on top of this story. If those gates open where Bill Weir is recording, we will bring that to you live here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Quick break. Back in just a moment.