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AT THIS HOUR

Adam Schiff: Dems to Probe if Trump is Protecting Saudis; Trump Airs Grievances after Politicized Call with Troops; Trump Threatens to Close "Whole Border" over Caravan; Trump Praises Self in Thanksgiving Call to Military; ACLU Responds to Trump's Complaints on Ninth Circuit. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 23, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:08] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Kate Bolduan on this Friday.

This morning, new indications that Democrats will take a much closer look at President Trump's response to the murder of "Washington Post" Journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Congressman Adam Schiff, who will be the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in just a few weeks, tells the "Washington Post" Democrats plan a, quote, "deep dive on Saudi Arabia."

Now, that would include, among other things, finding out what is in the CIA assessment of the murder, whether Trump is misrepresenting the intel, and if he is, why.

The spy agency has said, according to our reporting, that it's highly confident Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered the murder. But President Trump has expressed doubts and defended the Saudis, saying the prince hates the crime.

Joining me now by phone is "Washington Post" opinion writer, Greg Sargent, the one who spoke to Schiff about all of this. And also the author of "An Uncivil War, Taking Back Our Democracy in the Age of Trumpian Disinformation and Thunder Dome Politics."

Thanks for joining the show, Greg.

First off, what exactly will this investigation entail, and who does Schiff want to talk to? What documents does he want to see I see? Tell us about it.

GREG SARGENT, OPINION WRITER, WASHINGTON POST (via telephone): Thanks for having me on. Representative Schiff was appropriately circumspect about the details of what they're planning to look at. But in general terms, he told me that they want to examine, among many other things about the Saudi relationship with the United States, what the Intelligence Community did in fact conclude about the murder. To be clear, he absolutely did not characterize what the intelligence has found. He refrained from doing that. But the reason that I think it's important to look at what the intelligence found, or important for the Democrats to do that, is that we will then be able to better judge Trump's representation of whether this is really as unknowable as he says. BROWN: Right, and as he said yesterday, what the CIA feels.

SARGENT: Right.

BROWN: Just to be clear, you said he wouldn't go into the intelligence. I'm assuming he hasn't seen the full scope of what the CIA has now provided to the president, right? That's something he is seeking to see, correct?

SARGENT: I don't know.

BROWN: OK.

SARGENT: And I don't think he would be in a position to say what specifically he's been privy today. But what he did say is that they want to learn as much as possible about what the intelligence found. And also, crucially, he wants the committee, he said, to be debriefed on what the Intelligence Committee found, what the intelligence found on the murder. The reason that's important is that if members of Congress can be fully armed with really good information about what's known, then they can be in a better position to talk publicly about and to judge the president's own representation of what's known.

BROWN: And it's also important because the president himself said that it could be up to Congress in terms of how it should respond to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. So it is important for them to get down to the bottom of it.

What's clear, too, is that Congressman Schiff told you that they wanted to look at the president's personal business dealings with the Saudis. As we heard him say on Friday, he doesn't have any dealings, but that doesn't mean Congress doesn't want to look at it.

SARGENT: Right, and he was careful to couch that in broader terms as well. What Schiff told me was that it's unclear at this point what committees will do what, how that will be sort of parceled out to various committees because there are a lot of them with a potential interest in this topic. What they want to look at is the question of whether Trump's financial entanglements not just on this particular matter but on many others are shaping U.S. policy.

BROWN: And he also said that they want to look at the -- the committee wants to look at Saudi Arabia in terms of the Yemen war, other issues, the arms deal. Basically, a deep dive on Saudi Arabia, right?

SARGENT: Yes, and I think that would be welcome in many ways. It's good that what they're promising is a broad evaluation of what the intelligence tells us about that relationship.

BROWN: OK. Greg Sargent, thank you so much.

SARGENT: Thank you.

BROWN: And I want to bring in CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd. She was a senior adviser to the national security team during the Obama administration.

Thanks so much for coming on, Sam. Do appreciate it.

First question for you, Adam Schiff saying the House Intelligence Committee will investigate the president's response to the Khashoggi murder. What would you like to see them look at?

[11:04:58] SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Pam, I'm really excited to see the House Intel Committee return to its actual mission, which is oversight of the Intelligence Community, its 17 members and military intelligence. That mission, frankly, has been thrown aside in the past few years as it's turned into a partisan arm under the chairmanship of Devin Nunes.

When we look at what the House Intel Committee could be doing starting in January, when Adam Schiff is chairperson, we have to look at the run-up to Jamal Khashoggi's murder, and we also have to look at what's happened afterwards. Remember, with its oversight function, the House Intel Committee can look at whether the CIA or the DNI more broadly had any information that Khashoggi was under threat before he went to Turkey, for example. And after they conclude that analysis by speaking with members of the Intelligence Community, they can look at what happened in the aftermath of the murder, what the president knew, what the executive branch knew right after the murder, and over the two months or so since the assassination occurred, what information we got when.

I want to stress here, there's precedent. I was in the West Wing when Benghazi happened and saw what happened when various congressional committees and finally a special committee really looked into the intelligence, called members of the executive branch to come and testify, and developed reports.

BROWN: Well, on that note, you know, you hear what the president says, right? And then there's the reporting that the CIA assessed with high confidence that the crown prince directed the murder of Khashoggi, but could the CIA's report be made public, should it be made public? Could some be declassified. How might that work?

VINOGRAD: It certainly could. I sincerely hope there's some unclassified version of the CIA high confidence assessment that comes out at some period of time. The entire report, Pam, I sincerely hope that does not become public because it would likely publicly expose what we call sources and methods, the places this information for the report was gathered from. But we just have to look at what happened after the 2016 election. The director of National Intelligence issued in January 2017 a declassified version of a highly, highly classified intelligence assessment that provided some really important conclusions about what Russia did. We could see the DNI issue some version of this high confidence report in the coming weeks.

BROWN: All right, I want to close by asking you about what the Turkish F.M. said, responding to the president this morning, saying he has his, quote, "head in the sand" when it comes to Khashoggi's murder. What is the significance of that? VINOGRAD: Well, the president has chosen to side with one ally after

Khashoggi's murder. That's the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And not to side with so many of our other allies like Turkey or like the Europeans that are choosing to take action, I hope, against Jamal Khashoggi. What this signals to me is that it's really us versus them. And the us at this point, at least from the president's perspective, is the United States and Saudi Arabia against any other coalition of countries that may choose to hold Khashoggi's murders responsible. Now, Turkey is obviously in a strange position when it comes to decrying human rights. They're quite guilty of violating them themselves, but they could see Turkey working with the Danes, the Germans, the French, and others to hold Khashoggi's murders responsible, while President Trump has made very clear that he himself will not take action.

BROWN: Really quickly, 30 seconds, what do you say to the administration that would come back to you and say, look, we sanctioned 17 of the Saudis implicated in the murder?

VINOGRAD: I would say we sanctioned scores of GRU agents to try to punish Vladimir Putin for what he's done against our country. We know that his election interference hasn't stopped. Sanctioning 17 of Mohammad bin Salman's henchmen is not going to deter him from further crimes. He feels emboldened by the president's actions. He does not feel deterred.

BROWN: Sam Vinograd, thanks very much.

VINOGRAD: Thanks, Pam.

BROWN: As we know, it's the day after Thanksgiving. You know what that means. Black Friday. It appears to have descended on the winter White House in Florida. For the second straight day, a stewing President Trump appears to have shifted the holiday to Festivus, complete with the airing of grievances. Today, he's lamenting the lack of bipartisan cooperation in Congress, a call for unity, in his stark contrast to his day-long railing and savage attacks against the court that ruled against his latest immigration policy.

The president's tweet, "Our highly trained security professionals are not allowed to do their job on the border because of the judicial activism and interference by the Ninth Circuit. Nevertheless, they're working hard to make America a safer place, though hard to do when anybody filing a lawsuit wins."

I want to continue this discussion with our panel, Matt Lewis, CNN political commentator and senior columnist at the "Daily Beast," and Joe Lockhart, CNN political commentator and former White House press secretary for president Clinton.

Thank you gentlemen for coming on the show.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thank you.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thank you. [11:10:05] BROWN: So I want to ask you -- Joe, first to you -- is

now the time for a grand bipartisan bargain on immigration and border security? We hear all this talk about it. Is now the time for action?

LOCKHART: Well, right now is as good a time as any. We have been working at this since the George W. Bush administration. And frankly, I think the votes are there, but the minority of very conservative Republicans have stopped it. So if President Trump wants some flexibility on immigration policy, he's going to have to show some flexibility. The ingredients are there. It just takes some political will.

BROWN: So show some flexibility. What do you mean by that.

LOCKHART: Well, I think in return for border security, he's going to have to show some flexibility on DREAMers and allowing the process of people who are here to get a pathway towards citizenship. That's always been the deal. We have gotten very close. But again, it's not going to be President Trump dictating and President Trump tweeting. If he wants a deal, the ingredients are there. I think the votes are there. But he's going to have to lead here.

BROWN: All right, Matt, as we all know, the "build the wall" was a rallying cry and one of the fundamental promises of the Trump campaign. Does his base expect that, especially as the president looks ahead to the next election?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, this is, you know, he's setting himself up now for a big missed opportunity and unable to accomplish kind of his signature campaign promise. So I think Joe is right. Go for it. Right now. This is an opportunity for the president to do something that he really hasn't done, which is to champion a legislative achievement. Look, I don't think he's going to get, you know, any sort of amnesty or whatever we want to call that, but the DREAMers, in exchange for a wall and other things, that's totally doable. The problem is, Donald Trump can't agree to it, you know, and then change his mind 24 hours later. He has to be consistent and rally around something.

BROWN: And he's asking for $5 billion.

Joe, do you think he could get that with this flexibility? If he so chooses?

LOCKHART: Again, I think the wall is a myth in some ways because you're never going to build a wall, but they can put up something that he calls a wall, and everyone, you know, can go home happy.

But I think Matt brings up an important point. He's going to -- if he wants this big deal, he's going to have some Republicans take a political risk and walk the plank with him. And his history is he lets the Republicans walk out and then he cuts the plank out from underneath them. I don't know there's a lot of trust on the Hill among Republicans for him sticking with this. And without that trust, he can be as flexible as he wants and I don't see a lot of Republicans lining up with him.

BROWN: Matt, I want to go to this sound from the president yesterday, making this big threat when it comes to the southern border. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We find that it gets to a level where we are going to lose control, where people are going to start getting hurt, we will close entry to the country for a period of time until we can get it under control.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The entire border?

TRUMP: The whole border. I mean the whole border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: The president's closing argument for the midterm elections was to stoke fears about the caravan. Republicans lost almost 40 seats in the House. What's the strategy here?

LEWIS: You know, I think that he obviously did have a strategy for the midterms and that was to fire up the base. I don't think this is necessarily a political strategy. I think this is just Donald Trump frankly just talking right now. Maybe it's part of a larger strategy of the legislative strategy of trying to fund the border wall. But more than anything else, I think this is just Donald Trump saying stuff and tweeting stuff when things slow down during the holiday season.

BROWN: Let's talk about what the president said he was thankful for on Thanksgiving yesterday. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What are your thankful for, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Well, a great family. And for having made a tremendous difference in this country. I have made a tremendous difference in the country. This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office that you wouldn't believe it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: All right, Joe, as a former White House press secretary, you hear that and think what?

LOCKHART: You know, I think that there isn't a norm he's not willing to break. People hear that and his base hears that and they agree with him. They think he's the best thing that happened to this country, but his base represents about 30 percent to 35 percent of the country. The rest of the country hears that and says, please stop, we're tired of hearing you congratulate yourself. When you go to norms, most presidents, by this time in their term have on Thanksgiving Day and on holidays, have done some sort of service event. They have gone and seen the troops. The president has been in Florida playing golf. That's his right --

(CROSSTALK)

[11:15:13] BROWN: He did go see the Coast Guard and had the teleconference with the troops that we talked about. But go ahead.

LOCKHART: Right, and he lectured the troops on the Ninth Circuit.

BROWN: That is true.

LOCKHART: Again, he does things his own way. His base likes it. As we look forward to 2020, though, it's very hard to see him putting a coalition together, looking at the midterm elections, that isn't at a minimum infused with distaste, and for a lot of people, just with repulsion.

BROWN: Matt Lewis, Joe Lockhart, thank you so much.

LEWIS: Thank you.

LOCKHART: Thank you.

BROWN: Still ahead, President Trump rips the Ninth Circuit for their ruling against the proposed changes on asylum in the U.S. The ACLU responds up next.

Plus, Black Friday shoppers out in full force. We go inside the crowds.

We'll be back.

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[11:20:27] BROWN: As many of us fought through the stupor of eating too much Turkey, President Trump maintained a day-long attack on the Ninth Circuit Court, which ruled against his latest immigration policy for the U.S./Mexico border, denying asylum claims for anyone who crosses the border illegally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The border is coming along very well. It's become very strong. We're getting some terrible decisions from the Ninth Circuit, as usual. I don't know if we have ever had a victory in the Ninth Circuit. We have to appeal it, appeal it. A vast number of their decisions get overturned. Generally speaking. And it's a shame. It's a shame. It's a disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: All right. Joining me now to discuss this, the lead attorney challenging President Trump's asylum ban, the deputy director of the Immigrant Rights Project for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Lee, thank you for coming on. I want you to respond to what we heard from the president. Did you

bring this case to the Ninth Circuit because you thought that court was biased in your favor?

LEE GELERNT, ATTORNEY & DEPUTY DIRECTOR, IMMIGRANT RIGHTS PROJECT, ACLU: No, we bring cases all over the country. In fact, on the same day that we had the asylum ban hearing in San Francisco, we had another big immigration case on the east coast. We bring cases all over.

You know, I don't think it's for us to defend the judiciary. There's nobody better than Chief Justice Roberts to do that. He's done that. I'm not sure there's much more to say other than I would say personally that I have lost my share of cases before Republican judges, before Democratic judges. I won my share of cases before Democratic and Republican judges. You know, we bring the cases based on a variety of strategic reasons. And the plaintiffs in this case were out on the west coast. But again, I think Chief Justice Roberts has said all there's to say about this issue.

The real issue is what the president is doing, I think, with asylum. His fight is not really with the courts. It's with Congress. And that's what the judge pointed out. The federal law that Congress enacted more than 40 years ago, and has reaffirmed over and over, says explicitly, you cannot deny asylum to people based on where they enter the country. And so that's really the president's dispute, is with that federal law.

BROWN: I want to go back to just what we heard from the president where he says there's a high number of cases overturned from the Ninth Circuit. By our count, there are more -- three other courts that have cases overturned more frequently, so it would have the fourth most overturned cases. But are you concerned that might happen, the administration now saying it will appeal.

GELERNT: I think, you know, we're always concerned about losing. We think we have very strong arguments. But I don't think where the case was brought or the Ninth Circuit is going to matter. I think it's going to turn on the strength of our arguments. The Supreme Court, if it ever gets to the Supreme Court -- and we're a long way from there, where right now we're in the district court, everyone is talking about the Ninth Circuit, the Ninth Circuit is an appellate court. We're in the district court. We're a long way from getting to the Supreme Court, but ultimately, if it got to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court will look at the merits of the arguments and not which circuit it came from.

BROWN: I want to ask you, given your position about this "Washington Post" reporting about the Trump administration preparing to implement a plan where asylum seekers would have to wait in Mexico while their requests were being processed, what's your response to that?

GELERNT: I'm glad you brought that up. We're very concerned and hope that doesn't happen. Right now, there are asylum seekers waiting in Mexico for weeks and weeks. It is very dangerous. There are families with small children waiting outside, waiting in very dangerous shelters, being preyed upon. There's no reason that needs to happen. We put in evidence in this case showing that there's no crisis at the border. That the numbers have been far higher, triple the numbers, in prior years. And right now, CBP has far more resources than they've ever had. There's no reason people can't be processed. We should not be leaving people lingering in Mexico. This country --

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Let me just ask you, Lee, just to represent the other side who would push back and say, well, this leads to asylum seekers coming into the United States and then they don't show up for their court date and then they're in the United States and kind of can't be found after that. What would you say to them in response?

[11:24:57] GELERNT: Yes, I think first of all it's factually not true. We have put in evidence to show that asylum seekers do show up for their hearings. And the other thing is just the legal response is that Congress has decided in our nation's highest ideals that we need to create a process for people to seek asylum. We can't turn our back on people fleeing danger. We learned that after World War II. We have enacted these laws, they have worked well. It's just simply factually not true that people are not showing up for their asylum hearings. People can look at the evidence we have put in our case if they're interested.

BROWN: OK, Lee, thank you so much for coming on the show.

GELERNT: Thank you for having me.

BROWN: This is supposed to be the biggest shopping day of the year. Coming up, we brave the Black Friday crowds to see for ourselves.

We'll be back.

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