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House Democrats Demand Answers on Lifting Russia Sanctions; Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Briefs House Democrats on Sanctions Relief for Russian Companies Tied to Oligarch; A Source Tells CNN Manafort Wanted 2 Ukrainian Oligarchs to Get Polling Data; Government Shutdown Enters Day 20 with No End in Sight; Dow to Open Lower, Investors Wait for U.S.-China Trade Talk Info; Pompeo Delivers Major Middle East Policy Speech as Questions Swirl Around Syria Withdrawal, Iran Stance, Khashoggi Death. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 10, 2019 - 09:00   ET



[09:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Just minutes from now President Trump is due to set out on a trip that he himself considers pointless to see a, quote, "crisis" that many say does not exist. This after slamming a negotiated session with Democrats, a meeting he set up, as a, quote, "total waste of time."

It is day 20 of the partial government shutdown which yesterday's White House shutdown not only did not solve -- showdown rather, not only did not solve, it may have pushed a compromise even further out of sight.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it doesn't look like a lot of progress coming. And so the president's day trip to the south Texas border town of McAllen, may, repeat may, turn out to be more than the photo-op he reportedly called it this week. That is, if he decides to fund his border barrier by taking the rare step of declaring a national emergency. That's not at all clear, but for what it's worth the White House counsel is due to travel with the president today. That is certainly unusual.

In Congress, meantime, a number of Republican senators aren't yet willing to give up on a deal. That brings us to CNN's Manu Raju.

So, Manu, you've been following this every day and I know you've been talking to a lot of the players here. They want to make a deal. Does a deal have a snowball's chance, I guess, is the question.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a great question and it's one that we just cannot answer at this point. We do know that talks between the leadership and the White House completely collapsed. And that will be very evident in the next hour when Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, goes to the floor of the Senate to demand passage of House-passed bills that would keep individual agencies open.

Yesterday House Democrats pushed through with the support of just eight Republicans in the House, a measure to re-open the Treasury Department and the IRS. That is among the things that Chuck Schumer will demand a vote on in the Senate. That is not going to go anywhere. Senate Republican leaders plan to block that from going forward because the president does not support that. But the House is still going to try to move those individual bills today.

Expect the Transportation bill as well as the Housing and Urban Development and the Agriculture Department bills to open up. Those agencies will come to the floor, pass the House, go nowhere in the Senate.

Now behind the scenes there are some discussions taking place among Republicans at this point to see whether they can cut a big immigration deal to resolve this impasse. Lindsey Graham who's leading this effort met with Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, last night after that meeting at the White House collapsed between the leadership and the president. They discussed what they could do possibly $5.7 billion for the president's wall in addition to other measures including giving legal status for the so- called Dreamers. That's still very much in its early stages.

The question is, can they get any Democrats to go along? Big question, will the White House ultimately endorse something like this? Another big question. So at this point, much more uncertainty for those federal workers who will start to lose their paychecks starting tomorrow -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Yes. That all sound familiar because that was a deal they seemed to agree two months ago.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: But here we are. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right. Joining us now is Dee Margo, the mayor of West Texas, the border -- the West Texas border city of El Paso. He's also as you know a Republican.

Good morning, Mayor. Thanks for being with me.

MAYOR DEE MARGO (R), EL PASO, TEXAS: Thank you. Glad to be here.

HARLOW: So the White House insists that this is a crisis. You would know better than anyone. I mean, just over Christmas weekend ICE dropped off hundreds of migrants in El Paso because nearby detention centers nearby were full. In June, you said, look, using the word crisis is bad information and, quote, "just hyperbole that's misplaced." Is that still your view this morning?

MARGO: Well, it's based on the numbers that are being released now. Yes, we had a glitch in the notification system on I think December 23rd, but I got word yesterday we had a total of two releases totaling 75 migrants. We had 37 in the morning and 38 yesterday afternoon. So it's diminished significantly. We were told we could expect as many as 500 a day. And thank goodness that hadn't occurred.

HARLOW: So, and again, just to reiterate, you are a Republican who is supportive of this administration on a number of counts. But when it comes to the president's consideration of potentially naming this a national emergency and invoking the National, you know, Emergency Act to use federal funds to build part of this border wall, are border crossings now a national emergency in your view?

[09:05:05] MARGO: Well, we need to protect our borders. I'm not sure I would disagree that it's a national emergency at this time. Plus, you know, we have a fence in El Paso that was done under the Bush administration. So yes, we need to protect our borders, but I'm not so sure that the rhetoric is really going to provide a solution long term, short term or otherwise.

HARLOW: You do. You have this big fence. I have seen it. It's been there between Juarez and El Paso since 2008. Do you need a steel barrier?

MARGO: Well, it is a steel barrier. But, you know, I don't --


HARLOW: Right, but do you need something new, steel slates like the president is talking about?

MARGO: El Paso is the safest city in the United States for populations above 500,000. We're doing fine. We just need to make sure that CBP and staffs our bridges appropriately, et cetera. I mean, we have 23,000 legal pedestrians coming across every day. We have 21 million vehicles coming north every day. We are the tenth largest land port.

HARLOW: Mm-hmm.


HARLOW: Look, the president, it is reported by the "New York Times," said in this meeting with reporters this week at the White House that he didn't even want to make this trip to the border, that it was, quote, "not going to change a damn thing." Does that concern you that this then perhaps is just all about optics for the White House?

MARGO: Well, I've said from day one that the issues related to immigration reform reside in Washington. And has been -- it's owned by both parties. And it should have been dealt with sometime over the last 30 years. Hasn't been dealt with for the last 30 years because of a lack of fortitude. And that needs to change. That's ridiculous.

So I did visit with Secretary Nielsen a couple of weeks ago when she was in El Paso. I thought that was a fruitful visit. I was hoping that the president would come to El Paso and not necessarily McAllen. We are the largest U.S. city on the Mexican border. We're over 800,000 in population in a region of 2.5 million.

HARLOW: And if he came, you would say to him? MARGO: Well, I would say to him that I think we are doing fine here

where we are. These are the issues, you need to reconcile the DACA issues. You need to deal with where we are. We need a rational immigration program once and for all. We're -- the root cause of the problems is Washington, D.C. and the symptoms are being played out on the border.

HARLOW: What a quote. El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: He wants what both sides have wanted and agreed to in the past, right?

HARLOW: That's right.

SCIUTTO: A more comprehensive deal on immigration.


SCIUTTO: We'll see if we get there.

Joining us now is CNN's senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and White House reporter for NPR, Ayesha Rascoe.

Thanks to both of you for joining us this morning.

Ron, I want to start with you because I know the conventional wisdom is that the president has boxed himself in here. But I want to repeat the words a freshman Democrat Abigail Spanburger, she voiced these concerns to her colleagues in a closed door caucus on the Hill yesterday. She said, "If I am getting comments and contact from my constituents expressing concern that the Democrats are not prioritizing security then I think we can do better."

She's former CIA, represents a district won by Trump. I wonder if in your view you're concerned Democrats are overplaying their hand here.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the thin line. Right? Because I mean, I have been writing about public opinion on immigration since the early 1990s, since Prop 187 in California. And there have always been two pillars to that. One is that the public supports a rational, pragmatic and frankly compassionate response to the 11 million people who are here undocumented. There's always been a majority for pathway to citizenship but there's always -- or at least legal status.

But at the same time there's always been support for border security. And that is -- that is real and consistent. The problem the president has is that the country has not seen the border wall, his border wall as essential to border security. I mean, there's never been a majority. Quinnipiac has polled 10 times during his presidency. Never more than 43 percent support for the wall. CNN had 38 percent.

But, yes, I think Democrats have to be cognizant that the public has always -- has never viewed border security as incompatible with a rational and flexible immigration policy even if they do not see the border wall as essential to that security. HARLOW: And I would note on those numbers you put out, Ron, if you

ask in our polling on the wall just from last month that showed that it was just -- it's just 33 percent of Americans in favor of the wall --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, without --


HARLOW: If it's publicly paid for by taxpayers.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Exactly.

HARLOW: Which the White House admitted to Jim yesterday it is.



HARLOW: So just saying it.

Ayesha, to you, look, after the president left the meeting yesterday, our reporting is that the Vice President Mike Pence asked Democrats what they're willing to work on, where they're willing to give so that the White House could have a better idea of moving forward.

[09:10:04] And our reporting is that the Democrats in that meeting didn't offer anything. Again, could this backfire on the Democrats?

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: It could. It could. I think right now both sides are kind of playing this game of chicken. And eventually something will have to give. The Democrats will have to make clear exactly what they want to get the government funded. Again right now what they're saying is, open the government back, we'll kind of negotiate on border security. But no wall, absolutely not. And the administration is saying, we have to have a wall, you've got to give us something.

And so it's not clear where those two sides meet at this point. They seem to be really at odds. And how do you bridge that gap? So I think that both sides right now are kind of banking on the fact that their base and that the people that are for them will continue to back them in these kind of hard-lined positions. And that they won't be forced to compromise. And I think that's why you have the White House now saying that they are still open to this idea of a national emergency.

SCIUTTO: Yes. So, Ron, tell us how that would play out. The president is going to the border with his lawyer, interesting.


SCIUTTO: Maybe he announces it there. We don't know. If he does, what happens?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, the benefit of a national emergency for the president is that it's a retreat that looks like an advance because it basically allows him a way to get out of the shutdown stalemate which I think has -- one of the things that's most clear, Jim, is how little leverage he has over the Democrats in this. Much less than -- the last time the Democrats had the House majority 10 years ago they still had a large number of blue dog members, rural and southern districts who would have been concerned as Abigail Spanburger was about the president trying to portray them as soft on border security.

This time I think there are virtually no Democrats who feel compelled in any way to support the wall which as you point out, Alisyn, down to 33 -- I'm sorry, Poppy, down at 33 percent with Mexico not paying for it. Colin Allred, who's a freshman Democrat from suburban Dallas, in a seat that was long Republican, came out against the president's speech on Tuesday night.

So I think that Republicans realize they can't win this fight, you know, intimidate the Democrats into doing this. An emergency allows him to kind of climb down off the ledge and leave it to the courts where it would immediately be tied up.

HARLOW: But here's the thing. If it is -- if he does declare a national emergency, Ayesha, he's going to use, you know, military funds, right, DOD funds, to build, you know, part of this. And Max Thornberry, Republican, head of the House Armed Services Committee, said don't do that. I mean, you know, I don't have his exact quote in front of me, but he said, you know, we have to address this, but this is not a Department of Defense thing. So there is some Republican resistance to that.

RASCOE: There is a lot of Republican resistance to this idea of the president using emergency powers. Remember, it was Republicans who were arguing that the president -- that former president Obama went too far in using his executive powers to deal with immigration. And so now you have basically President Trump saying that he's going to go ahead and kind of not go -- and go around Congress to do what he wants to do.

So there are some fundamental issues when it comes to this and whether this power that the president has should be curtailed by Congress. The question is, will Republicans really stand up and say this isn't the right thing to do.

HARLOW: Right.


RASCOE: If they believe that.

SCIUTTO: The small issue of the Constitution. The president is supposed to go through Congress to get funding for --

HARLOW: There you go. Right?

SCIUTTO: For priorities. But we'll see. I mean, a lot of those norms have been disposed of.

HARLOW: Break down.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Will it happen again?

HARLOW: Thank you both --


BROWNSTEIN: It does get them out of this corner, though.

HARLOW: Ron Brownstein -- yes, your point, like it looks like an advance but it's a retreat. Interesting.



HARLOW: Thanks very much, guys.

A classified briefing on Capitol Hill today between key House Democrats and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Democrats want to know why the administration plans to lift sanctions on three companies linked to a Russian oligarch. Also hours before he delivers a major Mideast policy speech, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defends the administration's Syria strategy saying there is, quote, "no contradiction whatsoever."

Really? We're watching that speech.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I don't know how many people believe that. And the president pushing for a wall at the border of course, but what do the people who actually live at the border have to say about it? The answer might surprise you.


[09:15:00] HARLOW: House Democrats are demanding answers on the Trump administration's plan to lift really severe sanctions on Russian companies that are linked to the billionaire, Russian oligarch and ally of Vladimir Putin Oleg Deripaska today.

They might get some of those answers as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is headed to the Hill for a classified briefing.

SCIUTTO: Actually, what's this about? Why do we care about it? The focus is Oleg Deripaska; he's the head of the world's second largest aluminum producer, but also he and three companies he's linked to were sanctioned last April as punishment for their involvement in Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The administration has now decided to lift sanctions on those three companies, that's a big deal. Let's bring in Mark Mazzetti; he's the Washington Investigative correspondent for the "New York Times". So Mark, this is a concession to Russia, is it not? With no contingent change in Russian behavior, whether it's on election interference or occupation of Ukraine. Significant, is it not? MARK MAZZETTI, WASHINGTON INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES:

Right, and what is interesting about today's event is that it shows the new muscle that the House Democrats have in getting the Treasury Secretary up to explain the decision. And that --

HARLOW: Yes --

MAZZETTI: The key thing they're going to want to know is, you know, was the Treasury Department leaned on by the White House, by the president to make this decision about Deripaska? That's really the kind of the key issue here. Is what explains the decision?

[09:20:00] HARLOW: We know that Deripaska is like a big team of lobbyists and PR folks leaned on the White House a lot against these sanctions, and they took a while to implement. The -- it seems like the give, Mark, that's happening here is that these three companies that he runs especially big aluminum(ph), plus, is going to -- you know, he's going to reduce his controlling stake from 70 percent to 45 percent. But is that just an optics change? Like does that really change anything for him?

MAZZETTI: I mean, not in terms of, you know, the power he's going to exercise. And it is -- and that is significant or certainly his fortune. So it may just be just a cosmetic change meant for optics, as you said. And I think stepping back, we have to look at, you know, this whole issue of sanctions.

Sanctions that were imposed throughout the Obama administration are kind of the background music to this whole Russia investigation ongoing, right? Why did the Russians repeatedly want to make contact with the Trump administration?

Well, one of the big reasons, right, was they wanted the sanctions rolled back because they were having a real power, they were causing economic pain. Specifically economic pain to the very rich and powerful people around Putin.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, listen --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: That goes to -- it's a great point because go to the Trump Tower meeting, right? What do the Russians come into that meeting wanting? You know, this thing about adoptions. It was about lifting sanctions that were punishing that regime and the expectation, the hope that Trump would deal with them --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: Would cut them some slack. And this is cutting of slack here. The other big story is what we learned about Paul Manafort providing this internal campaign polling to Russian intelligence during the campaign. We now know that the intended recipients of that were Ukrainians actually that Manafort had done a lot of business with.

Does that help us understand why he shared this data?

MAZZETTI: In the short and unsatisfying answer is no. It's a -- it doesn't -- it gets us -- it's another really interesting point in this where, you know, we know that Manafort has now shared this polling data with this guy, this guy Konstantin Kilimnik; who is a former, as you said, Russian intelligence officer.

Why he did that, it may have been for some reasons having to do with the campaign in Russia. Maybe it was for purely for Manafort's business. He is trying to get out of debt at that time. And he is both owed money and owes money to Ukrainians and Russians.

So he was using his new job on the campaign as a way to sort of show off his new power, and it's possible that's why he --

HARLOW: Yes --

MAZZETTI: Shared this data. But it's just yet another really tantalizing piece of evidence that Mueller is looking at, that we still don't quite know where it fits into the puzzle.

HARLOW: And again, Mark, just getting back to the power that the Democrats have here in all of this and holding Russia to account and these sanctions against the sanctions being lifted, Chuck Schumer filed this congressional resolution last week, right, to stop Treasury from lifting the sanctions on these Russian companies.

But in that -- for that to actually take effect, you need Senate Republicans to get on board with it. And I just wonder how likely you think that is.

MAZZETTI: Well, that's -- you know, probably not particularly likely in terms of getting the Republicans to fully support it. What they will start doing though, is you will see the increased pressure of these various democratic investigative committees holding hearings, issuing subpoenas.

And that's going to then put further pressure on the Senate Republicans to act, to do something, to look like they are investigating in some fashion. So I think the new dynamic is going to maybe not right now, but down the road add to the pressure to the Republicans in the Senate.

HARLOW: All right, reporting, Mark Mazzetti, thanks very much.

MAZZETTI: Thank you.

HARLOW: Twenty days, we are 20 days into this government shutdown. And Congress' newest members starting to feel the pressure back at home. That's some of the reporting we have. We're going to ask one of them.

SCIUTTO: We're also just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stocks may take a breather from the recent strong run. The Dow expected to open a little bit lower as investors wait for details about trade talks between U.S. and China. [09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: All right, so as we speak, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is speaking. A major Middle East policy address ripping into Obama-era policies on the region. This is a speech that he's given in Cairo. He's confirming the United States commitment to the region after President Trump's abrupt decision to pull troops from Syria.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and I remember being at Obama's speech in Cairo --

HARLOW: Right, that first --

SCIUTTO: In 2009.

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Unclenched fist to Iran, all these things, a different approach. This --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Of course is different. We should note this. It's a hundred days today since the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a day marked by his own newspaper "The Washington Post" there --

HARLOW: Look at that --

SCIUTTO: With a picture of the Saudi Crown Prince who is believed to have been behind or at least connected to the murder there. Quite a statement today. Will Pompeo address that? Will he call into question Saudi Arabia's human rights records?

I want to bring in Cnn International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson, he's been following this story. Nic, what are you learning about the Secretary's comments and the reception?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, we know that when Secretary Pompeo visited Saudi Arabia in those few days and the weeks right after Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered.