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Detained in Russia; Trump Slams Democrats; Federal Employees Union Sues Government; Dems Plan to Reopen Government. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 1, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": To make it safe for people who are down the chain to move.


DEMIRJIAN: And they're not moving.

MATTINGLY: We're going to see.

We've got to rock and roll. A lot ahead.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Brianna Keilar starts right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, a demand for answers from the family of an American citizen jailed in Moscow. This is Paul Whelan. He is a resident of Michigan. And Russia's federal security service says that Whelan was arrested Friday on suspicion of carrying out an act of espionage.

Since then it has said very little else. Meantime, his brother, David Whelan, told CNN the family only found out about Paul's detention through media reports. And all of this comes as a Russian citizen and alleged spy named Maria Butina sits in an American jail.

So, is there something to the Whelan arrest or is this just payback or both?

Joining me now is CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance. He is in Moscow. And also correspondent Martin Savidge, who is in Whelan's hometown in Novi, Michigan.

Matthew, to you first in Russia. Do we know any more details about why Paul Whelan was arrested?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, no, we don't. I mean the only statement we've had is from the Russian FSB, the counter espionage agency here, the main one, saying that they've arrested that U.S. citizen who was caught spying is what they said. And there was no further detail given. We've not had any further clarification from either the family members or the -- or the U.S. officials that have been speaking about this -- this either. And so we're still pretty much in the dark as to what exactly it was that this Paul Whelan was actually -- he's actually accused of doing specifically when he was detained on the 28th of December here in the Russian capital, Brianna.

KEILAR: And, Martin, what is his brother saying?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, as surprising as it may sound, Brianna, the family of Paul Whelan was actually relieved to hear that he had been detained by Russian authorities because up until that point, once he had disappeared on the 28th, that's the last that anybody had ever heard from him in Russia, they actually feared the worst. They thought that maybe some terrible accident had befallen him and maybe he'd been the victim of crime, maybe even murdered. So to hear that he had been apprehended actually in some ways was a relief, although they know the serious now of what he is facing. They say that he went for a wedding. It was actually the wedding of a former fellow Marine. And he was kind of their helping out.

Here's his twin brother Dave Whelan talking about it.


DAVID WHELAN, BROTHER OF MAN DETAINED IN RUSSIA: He had a request from a friend and he thought he could help out because he had been to Russia and could maybe help -- help other Americans from the family who hadn't been to Russia to, you know, navigate their way around, get on the metro, that sort of thing. But he's a very kind person.

Paul's a very capable person. He's physically a large person. So, I mean, he -- he has a background in law enforcement. He was a Marine. He does corporate security. And he travels regularly. So he's not the sort of person who would stumbles into a strange environment or make poor choices that could cause him risks. But particularly he wouldn't have made choices that would have gotten him sideways of the Russian government and it's Espionage Act.


SAVIDGE: So, as you heard there, he is a former Marine, served in Iraq on a number of tours. He's been to Russia before, both professionally and also for personal visits. And he works for security -- corporate security, global security I think is the title he has for a major parts manufacturer here in the Detroit area, auto parts. But that company has put out a statement, BorgWarner, and they said he was not traveling on behalf of them on this trip. It was strictly personal.

KEILAR: And, Matthew, Vladimir Putin has said he doesn't know anything about someone else. Maria Butina, who is an alleged Russian spy who's cooperating with the feds here in the U.S. That aside, are you seeing a connection here with what seems to be maybe too coincidental of timing between these two people and the developments surrounding them.

CHANCE: Yes, well, there's no -- there's no direct connection, obviously, between these two cases. Maria Butina, a pro-gun lobbyist who's being held in the United States, she's pled guilty a couple of weeks ago of conspiracy after she was accused by U.S. prosecutors of attempting to infiltrate conservative groups like the NRA and the Republican Party to influence Americans. She's going to be sentenced shortly.

The only -- the only connection, I suppose, is the timing of it. As I say, it just took place two weeks ago. President Putin and others in the Russian government have expressed sort of outrageousness that this person they say is innocent, has been -- has been found -- or has pleaded guilty in this way or has been accused of conspiracy in this way, clues (ph) of something amounting to espionage and they want her returned to Russia.

[13:05:02] But Vladimir Putin, just a couple -- a week or so ago, in his annual press conference said, look, he wouldn't be adopting retribution to get her back. He said this, we won't arrest innocent people simply to exchange them for someone else. He actually said that just a week or so before this Paul Whelan figure was detained for alleged espionage.

And so, look, I mean, there's no connection except for the timing. What a lot of people are speculating about right now, though, is that maybe this will lead to some kind of swap of these individuals in the future, but it's perhaps too early to say that yet.

KEILAR: All right, Matthew, Martin, thank you to both of you covering this story very far apart from each other.

And joining me now to discuss this is former senior adviser to the national security adviser under President Obama, Samantha Vinograd.

I wonder, Sam, on the timing of this, is it too coincidental to you that we have learned and, at this point in time, Maria Butina is in a U.S. prison, she is cooperating with the feds here? Is this too coincidental in your judgment?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Putin certainly likes to take what he calls reciprocal measures. And in this case, ostensively, he would want to have some kind of bargaining chip, if he chooses, to try to negotiate for Maria Butina's release. But it would be a very big mistake to consider this any kind of tit for tat gesture or reciprocal move. Maria Butina is in the United States after an independent law enforcement process was undertaken. She'll get a fair trial. She has access to lawyers. And she will not be manipulated by a system that's controlled by an autocratic leader.

Paul Whelan is not going to have the same benefit while he's in Russia. Vladimir Putin controls law enforcement in Russia. He controls the courts. And he controls propaganda. And thereby we have to be very clear here that Paul Whelan may be brought before the courts on trumped up charges with completely fabricated evidence and with the verdict already predetermined. These are not -- this is not an eye for an eye situation. They're very different cases.

KEILAR: Do you think in this case, Sam, we're going to hear any more from the Russian government about what they are alleging this act of espionage to be? It's so foggy at this point.

VINOGRAD: Oh, I'm sure that we will. And the fact that the Russian government put this out and that Mr. Whelan's family had to learn about this from the media just really signals to me that they're trying to control the dialogue. There are specific protocols that go into place when a foreign government arrests someone that they accuse of being a spy and/or just someone that they arrest that's a citizen of a foreign country. The Russian government made this public before the U.S. government had the time to either know or contact Mr. Whelan's family. Which tells me that they really want to manipulate this narrative.

And we know that Vladimir Putin loves propaganda and it is very certain that he will come up with evidence and trumped up charges again to try to paint a picture of Mr. Whelan that could be completely divorced from the truth.

KEILAR: I want to bring in John Kirby, retired rear admiral, here with us now.

You were a spokesperson at the Department of State, also at the Pentagon, John.


KEILAR: So when the State Department is looking at this, what is their response tell you and also what do you expect is going on behind the scenes as they try to maybe secure his release, get more details?

KIRBY: So right now they are trying to get a counselor (ph) visit. And it will be -- looks like a period of about 72 hours. I think that's probably put on them, imposed on them by Moscow. But they'll -- the first step will be to get a counselor officer, a professional foreign service officer, to go in there and interview Mr. Whelan and find out the circumstances of his visit, try to get as much informs as they can so that they can best advise him going forward.

They will also most likely connect him to a lawyer, a local lawyer, a Russian lawyer, with whom they have worked before and they trust to try to help him navigate the legal, you know, foundations there in Moscow, the legal framework. And so I think right now that's the main thing is just look after his health, look after his condition, figure out where -- where things stand with him and how to help him legally maneuver his way through this.

They will also, after that, communicate with the family. And they'll let the family know what they've learned and what they're working on. The State Department counsellors folks are really good at making sure that everybody's informed.

KEILAR: What is your assessment of Russia's objective here?

KIRBY: Well, I agree with Sam, I think this is a bit tit for tat. I think Putin's playing a game here. I mean I don't know Mr. Whelan or his background, but I would have no trouble believing that this is really about Maria Butina and Putin's effort to sort of go back at us where exact -- that exact same thing, and to claim this guy was involved in spying. We'll have to see where it ends up going, but I think this is very much Putin flexing muscles.

KEILAR: Where do you think it will end up? What -- is it -- is it too difficult to say?

KIRBY: Yes, right now it's too early. I'll feel a lot better being able to sort of predict this once we've had this counselor visit and once the State Department has talked to the family and the family's had a chance to digest what's going on and they -- the consular folks, have a chance to advise Mr. Whelan going forward. I think it's just too soon to know where this is going.

[13:10:05] KEILAR: And we need to know what he's really accused of here. It's so essential.

Sam Vinograd, John Kirby, thank you so much.

They're going to be back with me later, a little later on as well.

Day 11 now of the partial government shutdown. Both sides are talking, just not to each other.

Correspondent Jessica Dean joining us now from the White House.

That is pretty dismal to say, but tell us what we're hearing from President Trump about House Democrats and their plan to pass some bills as they try to at least make an effort, if not a successful one, to reopen the government.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think you hit the nail on the head, Brianna, that's exactly right, they're talking, just not to each other. Kind of in just very opposite directions. The Democrats saying that when they take over the House on Thursday, they're going to vote to reopen the government. In that package of bills, there's $1.3 billion for border security, but there is no wall funding there.

And the president has a lot of things to say about that. As you can imagine, not happy about that and still drawing that definitive line in the sand saying that without the wall and without the funding for the wall, he's not going to sign it.

Take a look at what he tweeted earlier. He said, the Democrats, much as I suspected, have allocated no money for a new wall. So imaginative. The problem is, without a wall, there can be no real border security and our country must finally have a strong and secure southern border.

So the president really not budging. And this is the crux of this partial government shutdown is this border wall and the funding for it. The Democrats saying we're not going to fund the wall. The president saying, I'm not signing anything without the funding in the wall.

So, as you can imagine, we're still at this stalemate. Brianna.

KEILAR: And you have to remember here, right, you have hundreds of thousands of people who are not getting paid. They very soon will not be getting paid. And some of them are working while not getting paid. There's a union representing some federal workers that are suing. Tell us about that.

DEAN: Right. So there's 420,000 people right now who are working without getting paid. And this union is suing on their behalf. There are two named plaintiffs in this case. They work for the Bureau of Prisoners. And the president of this labor union in this filing saying it's inhumane to ask these people to work without pay.

As you mentioned, we are now going towards two weeks now that people have been working. And as you can imagine, for a lot of these people, that is a real stretch and a real stressor as we enter this new year. And, again, the president tweeting yesterday, part of his tweet saying calm down and enjoy the ride, it's going to be a new year in 2019. But for people who are working without pay, it's hard to enjoy anything right now.

KEILAR: Yes, that is not a ride you want to be on.

DEAN: Right.

KEILAR: Jessica Dean, at the White House, thank you.

Now, straight ahead, we are going to ask Maryland Congressman Anthony Brown what compromises the Democrats could make to help end the shutdown.

Plus, North Korea's leader has a new year's message for President Trump, stop the, quote, one-sided demands or he'll pursue a, quote, new way.

And, later, a father begs the public to help find the gunman who killed his little girl in a brazen Sunday morning attack in Houston. We'll bring you the details.


[13:17:30] KEILAR: House Democratic leaders are planning a vote to reopen the government just hours after they take control of the House on Thursday. And the plan is back by incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. But it's really a non-starter for Republicans.

And for more on this partial government shutdown, I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Anthony Brown from Maryland.

So the strategy for Democrats trying to put pressure on Republicans, it seems to try to say hey, let's deal with the controversial bit of this, Homeland Security funding. But the expectation is that's not going to be taken up by the Senate. So why do this? REP. ANTHONY BROWN (D), MARYLAND: Well, first of all, I mean our

package has two components. One is just sending back to the Senate what they've already approved, right, bipartisan Republicans and Democrats approved funding --

KEILAR: For a number of agencies -- funding for a number of agencies.

BROWN: Exactly. And then what we're suggesting is, we have a controversial issue around the president's border wall, which we reject. Let's isolate that issue. Let's move it to February 8th, give us some breathing room so we can open up the rest of government. That seems reasonable to do.

And what I'm expecting to see, if and when we talk about a border wall, which I oppose, we need to be talking about border comprehensive immigration reform, pathways to citizenship, dreamers, temporary protected status.

KEILAR: Doesn't that just make it even more difficult when you're adding hot button issues to what's already -- I mean you guys are in a shutdown over just funding. Then you throw in something like dreamers, you throw in other -- other issues of comprehensive immigration reform. Isn't it maybe biting off a little more than you can chew?

BROWN: Well, it makes it more difficult if you try to get it done by January 3rd. It's even more difficult --

KEILAR: You think you can get it done by February?

BROWN: No, you can't get it done by --

KEILAR: By February?

BROWN: February 8th is a tough one as well. Remember, the last time that Congress underwent comprehensive immigration reform was 22 years ago, but that's what's overdue.

KEILAR: Well, that's my point, it's been decades and you think that this is somehow going to be major movement in the course of a month? Is that realistic?

BROWN: Well, we're not going to move on border wall unless it's part of a comprehensive immigration reform. So an alternative would be to fully fund the Department of Homeland Security through the end of this calendar year. At some point, though, if we're talking about border security, you have to talk about pathways to citizenship, reunification, the lottery program. You have to talk about how our immigration system strengthens our workforce. All of these are part of immigration reform. None of them is what the president is talking about. He just wants the wall.

KEILAR: You know, I -- I think, you know, here in Washington, we look at this showdown and we start talking about who's winning, whose losing politically speaking, right? Is it Democrats? Is it the president? How are congressional Republicans faring? But this is about to get real for hundreds of thousands of Americans, right? And not just the ones who are federal employees, but you have people who are contracting who get money who are not going to get back pay. The IRS will soon have to delay filings. The coast guard will curtail some duties like enforcing certain laws. I mean these are serious things.

[13:20:26] At what point do Democrats blink? Do they make a calculation that, OK, if the president is not going to stick up for people who are suffering here, then we're going to do that?

BROWN: Look, Brianna, I've got the fifth largest number of federal government employees in my congressional district. I just spent the last 10 days in barbershop.

KEILAR: What are they -- what are they saying to you?

BROWN: They're saying -- they're saying, we don't want the wall. They want to be back --

KEILAR: They're saying, we're hang out and get unpaid --

BROWN: No, what they're saying is, they want to be on the job, they want to get paid and they don't want the wall and they recognize that --

KEILAR: So which is it? So which is more important to them?

BROWN: Both. They're saying, open up government. It's an unrelated issues. And then go ahead and debate border security in the larger context of comprehensive immigration reform.

KEILAR: So you think they forgive Democrats if they're not on the job but there is no wall?

BROWN: I don't know if it's about forgiving Democrats. I think it's about focusing squarely where the blame resides, and that's President Trump, who 10 days ago took ownership for the shutdown. He said he's be proud to have a shutdown. And voters won't forget that. And certainly the residents of my congressional district, again, the fifth largest number of federal government employees, they want to be on the job. They really do. Many of them are working without pay. It's created a lot of uncertainty, unpredictability and angst during the holidays.

KEILAR: Sure, but he's talking to -- the president is talking to a constituency that it appears is more interested in the wall than it is in keeping the government running.

BROWN: Right.

KEILAR: How do you -- how do you come -- how do you come up against that and win?

BROWN: Look, it's hard. And I'll tell you why. But --

KEILAR: How do you get both thing if you're dealing with someone who one thing over the other is more important to him and his constituents? BROWN: Look, this president has been engaged in divisive politics since day one. He views federal government employees as Democrats. He doesn't hold Democrats in high regard. That's why the president took away their pay rise for 2019. He's made it higher -- easier to fire federal government employees.

My concern is that he may not even support legislation that retroactively pays federal government employees. This is a president who has really beat up on federal government employees and the losers are not just the employees, but Americans who rely on those services and programs.

KEILAR: Do you really think that's going to happen? That if there's bipartisan support in Congress, as there has been in the past, to do back pay for federal employees who have been furloughed or working without pay, you really think that the president would not give them that pay?

BROWN: Well we're certainly going to include it in in our package. And that's what the Senate would -- we'd expect to pass.

KEILAR: I asked because if I'm a federal employee and I hear that, I'm really freaked out.

BROWN: Well, look --

KEILAR: And I wonder if -- is that the point or do you really -- do you have -- do you have substantive reason to believe the president will void that back pay?

BROWN: Well, to use your language, federal government employees are already freaked out with this president. Really. I mean there was an automatic pay raise that was going into effect for 2019. The president used --

KEILAR: He froze it.

BROWN: He froze it, calling it a national emergency.

KEILAR: But do you have reason to believe that he will not honor the back pay? Do you have specific reason, something he has said, something someone has told you that you --

BROWN: No. No, I don't. But what I do his past --

KEILAR: OK, you're just fearful of that? OK.

BROWN: Yes, his past actions, denying the pay raise, making it easier to fire them. He was taken to court, fortunately lost. A federal judge said, no, you know, some of those executive orders that are beating up on federal government employees are unlawful. But this is a president who has beat up on federal government employees. So I think we should always be approaching him with caution when it comes to federal government employees.

KEILAR: Congressman Anthony Brown, thank you so much. BROWN: Thank you.

KEILAR: It's a pleasure to have you in studio.

BROWN: Happy New Year.

KEILAR: And Happy New Year to you.

BROWN: Same to you, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, coming up, there is plenty on the Trump agenda in 2019 as we said, a shutdown, and divided government and the economy. Will it stay strong this year? Some are fearing the "r" word. We're going to have more on that and other hot topics in Washington this new year.


[13:28:35] KEILAR: Well, it is the first day of 2019 and things are about to shake-up on Capitol Hill.

With me now is Lauren Fox, she's a congressional reporter for CNN Politics, and John Bresnahan, he's "Politico's" congressional bureau chief.

So, John, let's talk about the wall, the shutdown. This is the hang-up which has us in our 11th day here of a partial government shutdown. The president wants a big amount of wall money. The Democrats are balking at that. They're offering just a fraction of that. And you have some new reporting actually. Tell us.

JOHN BRESNAHAN, CONGRESSIONAL BUREAU CHIEF, "POLITICO": Well, President Trump has invited the top eight congressional leaders in the House and Senate, Republican and Democrat, to the White House tomorrow. They're still trying to get the details to put the meeting together, but it's the first sign of any face-to-face discussions in a while. It's the first sign of talks between Trump and the Democratic leadership on The Hill. So, you know, hopefully the pace will start picking up on this soon.

KEILAR: And it makes you wonder because the last time we saw a meeting, we saw what was -- I mean it was reality television essentially in the Oval Office with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Hard to imagine they'd want to go for that again, Lauren.

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Absolutely. But there's been this long break. Everyone has been home celebrating the holidays and there hasn't been much movement. And so this is going to speed things up. We're going to start seeing Democrats and Republicans trying to sit down and negotiate an end to this shutdown. What we don't know is tomorrow how much of this is real, how much of this is President Trump trying to make something happen for some kind of action before (ph) Democrats take the House on Thursday and Washington really changes in a real way after eight years.