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Trump Delivers First Address Before Dem-Controlled House; Trump & Schumer Trade Barbs Ahead Of "Bipartisan" Speech; Top General Says He Wasn't Consulted On Syria Withdrawal; Washington Post: Trump Organization At Least 18 Undocumented Workers. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 5, 2019 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:03] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there I'm Brooke Baldwin. We are live in the Nation's Capital today. And you're watching CNN. Thanks for being with me.

After a very public squabble over when, where and how he would give his second State of the Union address, President Trump will give it right where he was expected to in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's House. The president is expected to make a plea for unity and bipartisanship while staring a divided Congress right in the eye. The White House started its campaign for common ground ahead of his remarks really zeroing in on an issue that affects so many of us, fixing the nation's crumbling bridges and roads.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly I think you can expect that the President will talk about infrastructure. You'll hear the President talk about the opioid crisis in this country. I'll leave some things left for the President to talk about. But there are a number of policies that Democrats and Republicans know need to be addressed, that the infrastructure is one of the easiest ones for us to look at.


BALDWIN: And while Trump's words will certainly be the focus. So will the reaction of those in the room with him? So, for starters as we mentioned, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will once again be center stage sitting right behind the President on that dais and the audience looking back, lawmakers who stand in stark contrast to this White House and its policies and a diverse group of Democratic candidates ready to run against him.

As for tradition, members of Congress will be bringing guests, among them a transgender navy lieutenant commander, a student who survived the Parkland shooting and a mother and daughter who were separated at the border last spring.

So let's start with our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins looking ahead. And so we know that the President won't speak for a number of hours, but the battle is already brewing between the President and Senator Chuck Schumer. So unity shmumty (ph), I suppose.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, White House aids who are being realistic don't really believe that the President's calls for unity during that speak tonight are going to do much to bridge that gap between the Democrats and the President that we've seen over the last several weeks especially with that bitter 35 day shutdown.

And even though they're saying, yes, the President is going to call for unity. Yes, he his going to be optimistic, we can see what's really going to happen in Washington over the next few days just by looking at the President's Twitter feed.

This morning he was already blasting Senator Chuck Schumer even though they've been saying it's going to be a call for unity saying "That I see Schumer is already criticizing my State of the Union speech even though hasn't seen it yet".

The President said, he's just upset, he didn't win the Senate, after spending a fortune and like thought he would. He said too bad we weren't given more credit for the Senate win by the media.

Now Brooke, that tweet came just minutes after Senator Chuck Schumer was making a floor speech today that was airing on C-SPAN and this is what he had to say ahead of the President's State of the Union address tonight.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: The President will say the State of our Union is strong, but the American people know the state of the Trump administration is in chaos.


COLLINS: And later on, Brooke there, Chuck Schumer said the President is essentially going to be a hypocrite if he calls for unity tonight and the White House says the President is going to find -- try to find some common ground as you heard Sarah Sanders saying there, pointing not only to infrastructure in the opioid crisis.

But what we also know that the White House expects the President to lay out his case for a border wall, something our reporting shows beside the scenes, the White House is increasingly preparing themselves for the President to declare a national emergency and bypass Congress to fund that, even though that's not what Democrats want and even some of the president's -- members of the President's own party have been expressing skepticism in recent days about him doing that and the precedent that would set, Brooke.

BALDWIN: More and more Republicans now coming out and they don't like the idea of this declaration either. Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much.

When the President delivers his State of the Union this evening, he will face a vastly different room than the ones he addressed last year. With Democrats now control of the House and the threat of another government shutdown looming.

CNN's Tom Foreman looks at the new dynamics this President faces heading into tonight's speech.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey Brooke, when President Trump comes walking down that aisle, he is going to face a very different audience than he saw last year. Remember back then, his Republicans had firm control of the Senate and the House but in the midterm elections, the Democrats took the majority in the House and they brought in a lot more elected women, too.

He'll be able to see all of that from his speaking position up here and he might feel it over his shoulder as well. Because remember, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is out and in his place is Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who's shown she is willing and able to battle with Trump over the budget and over his messaging and certainly over his plans for a wall on the Mexican border. Watch for her reactions throughout this.

Also watch this area down here. That's where the Supreme Court is seated. Remember President Trump is already appointed two justices, their decisions in the past. Their decisions in the future are of interest to every person in this chamber. Also, watch over here. There's always a tension on the area where the first lady is seated.

[14:05:03] The White House traditionally uses this to bring guest in they want to honor or who somehow illustrate a point the President is going to make.

Now, bear in mind, the Democrats can bring guests too, to draw attention to their concerns and they will on the subject of gun control. You can expect to see a survivor of the Parkland school shooting in the audience out here. On the issue of immigration, you can expect to see a woman who tried to cross the border. She was separated from her child by U.S. agents and on the issue of the government shutdown. Yes, there will be some workers who were furloughed during that time.

In short, when President Trump looks out at this chamber, he is going to see far fewer people than last year who are ready to agree with him and many more who are prepared to challenge his policies. Brooke?

BALDWIN: Tom, thank you for the preview. Just a reminder to all of you, our coverage in the State of the Union starts at 8:00 eastern this evening right here on CNN.

Now to a federal investigation linked to the President that know it is not the Russia probe and not coming from the Special Counsel's office. Federal prosecutors in the southern district of New York have subpoenaed the Trump inaugural committee and CNN has reviewed the document itself, which asks for a lot.

All documents related to virtually every donor, every donation, every attendee at committee event and every piece of paper work related to legalities of an inaugural donation including the possibility of donations made by foreign nationals. Today the White House said it will comply to any request for information but insists the investigation has nothing to do with the President.


SANDERS: Look, I'm reading the same reports you are, this doesn't have anything to do with the White House and I think the biggest focus and the thing that most American care about has nothing to do with the inaugural and it has everything to do with what the path forward looks like.


BALDWIN: CNN's Kara Scannell is with me now. And so you've got all this reporting Myriad crimes potentially here.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That's right. I mean, it kind of covers the gamut, conspiracy against the U.S., looking at mail fraud, wire fraud. But there are a couple that kind of -- you can read a little bit through the subpoena what they're looking at. And that include this issue of straw donors.

Where foreign money coming into the campaign hiding behind individuals and that's something the subpoena touches on. Another area that touches on is, it wants to know kind of these benefits that people had received, photos ops, private meetings, small group meetings to the President. And is that a way there was an effort to kind of curry influences, idea of a conspiracy?

And then also looking at questions about were vendors paid directly by donors. Were any donors asked to bypass the inauguration and pay the vendors and that could be a violation of campaign and finance laws, intellectual law which would required these donations to be counted for and to show up in their filing.

So that kind of gives us the big landscape here and this was $100 million that was raised. It was doubled what Obama had raised. And there's been very little transparency on how the money's been spent.

But now we're really seeing federal prosecutors here dig in and look into how is money coming in, where was it coming in to and do we know even how it was all used and what came in exactly.

BALDWIN: They're looking at all of it. It could take months, possibly years, to massive investigation. Kara, thank you very much. Good to see you.

Let's get some analysis from one of our favorites here, CNN Contributor John Dean who served as White House counsel to Richard Nixon is with me.

And so John, welcome back. As Kara was just reporting, so prosecutors are investigating that these handful of potential crimes, she talk to a donors, false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud to conspiracy against the U.S. But I want to focus in on conspiracy, John. Is that the most potentially damning and if so why?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It could be if there was an effort to somehow collectively use this entity for nefarious purposes of getting money and favors from looks like the Middle East was where the target would be, that was certainly a very prominent contributor to the inauguration and as was just mentioned, over 100 million, 107 million broke all records for inaugural committees.

BALDWIN: As we're talking -- they're looking into the paper work and the paper work with the paper work. How the SDNY is looking for all of this related to, "The possibility" donations by foreign nationals?

So John, it's only a crime if it is done with the knowledge that the foreign contributions were illegal, right? So why is the knowledge piece so significant?

DEAN: I've been thinking about that since this report first popped up and I talked at one time to J. Willard Marriott who ran Richard Nixon's two inauguration.

[14:10:05] I talked to him about the second. They knew every contributor who made even small contributions. They didn't know the anonymous that came in, but it's very likely that people knew exactly -- and that's why people make large contributions to inaugural committees is to curry favor and it depends on how it's done.

And since the Trump organization and the campaign was so disorganized just like the White House would follow it, I wouldn't be surprised if they have violated Myriad laws here because it's very easy to do. I don't recall any counsel being assigned directly to the inaugural committee.

BALDWIN: What about this lead prosecutor on this subpoena, Tom McKay? He was also one of the leads in the Michael Cohen case, so even if and we don't know what's going on behind closed doors with the Mueller investigation, but if it is winding down, what does this signal to you about the scrutiny that they will be facing from federal investigators in New York?

DEAN: It's certainly not over in New York. And there's a reason they call it the sovereign district of New York because they march to their own drummer. I, for example, can recall a conversation from the U.S. attorney from the southern district when I was White House counsel, Whitney Seymour north who said, we disagree with the Department of Justice and we want the White House to understand why this over the pentagon papers while they were going to dance to a different tune than the justice department.

So, this is a long tradition that preceded Nixon. It has followed Nixon. So Trump is going to have a lot of trouble with this district up here. His business is up here, so they have also immunized one of his key finance people, Mr. Weisselberg in unite for the Cohen case and may be more.

BALDWIN: Keeper of the keys of the kingdom perhaps. Mr. Dean, thank you. DEAN: Thank you, Brooke.

Coming up next, the head of U.S. Central Command says he was not consulted about the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria before the president made that announcement. We're asking today how the heck is that even possible.

Also happening right now, Eastern Virginia medical school is holding a news conference of its investigation into the racist yearbook photos, what the embattled Virginia governor is planning to do next.

And did the godfather of soul really die of natural causes? Questions now being raised after this massive CNN investigation two years in the making into the death of James Brown. You're watching CNN special coverage here on the day of the State of the Union. We're live in Washington.

We'll be right back.


[14:17:12] BALDWIN: You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. The top U.S. general who oversees military operations in the Middle East is revealing that he was not consulted on President Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria. Testifying before the Senate armed services committee, the head of the U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel said he was as surprised as anyone else by the President's decision.


SEN, ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: General, were you aware of the President's intention to order the withdraw of our troops from Syria before that was publicly announced?

ARMY GENERAL JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I was not aware of the specific announcement. Certainly we are aware that he expressed a desire and intent in the past to depart Iraq -- Syria.

KING: So you weren't consulted before that decision was announced?

VOTEL: We were not. I was not consulted.


BALDWIN: President Trump has received a lot of pushback from lawmakers including Republicans about his plans to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. A new Pentagon report states that ISIS will likely move to regain territory if the U.S. withdraws. The general also testifying today that the fight against ISIS is not over. Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, former spokesman for the Pentagon in the State Department, a CNN Military and Diplomatic Analyst is with me. Good to see you sir.


BALDWIN: How alarming is that?

KIRBY: Very, on the couple of fronts. Brooke, one, it means that the decision was completely uninformed by any military advice and counsel. It was just put out there without any strategic thought.

Now look, commander-in-chief doesn't have to always have to listen to his generals and the generals are sometimes wrong, but at least you want that decision informed by military opinion and this wasn't.

Number two, it put those troops at an disadvantage and actually in more danger. This isn't a policy decision that he announced on Twitter like the transgender ban. This is an operational decision. He had troops in the field fulfilling a mission at high risk to themselves and to their partners and to pull the plug on that just inject the confusion and uncertainty on the ground that was inappropriate.

BALDWIN: How about, though, in addition to all of your points how flippantly the President said within the last couple of days of, OK, we'll pull them out.

KIRBY: Right.

BALDWIN: And if ISIS worsens which is exactly what his Intel leaders have been telling him then we'll just put them back in.

KIRBY: Right.

BALDWIN: But I mean I've talked to you enough to know that the military doesn't switch off and on quite like that.

KIRBY: We were very responsive military.

BALDWIN: Of course, you were.

KIRBY: Certainly they can amp up operations quickly if they need to but you shouldn't put them in that position. I mean, we kind of take it for granted particularly with special operations. We see the end result, which is always dramatic and always very, very positive.

But we don't realize the scope of the planning and the resourcing and the effort that goes on behind the scenes to get them to that point to the tip of the spear and so when he just very cavalierly says we'll just pull our troops out and we'll just -- we have very fast cargo planes, that's not the point.


KIRBY: You want to be able to keep the pressure on the enemy to the point where they cannot recover, you can effect a sustainable defeat and a sustainable defeat is only possible with time and resources and planning in depth not in just spurious back and forth movement.

[14:20:12] BALDWIN: And isn't hearing all of this, wouldn't perhaps this explain a unilateral decision like this why General Mattis would resign? KIRBY: Well, he put it in his letter that it was a big reason why he

decided to resign. I think there were other things building to it, but I think that the Syria decision was sort of the straw that broke the camel's back.

Luckily, we've got -- folks like General Votel who are still in the fight and still were trying to find to make this work. He said something very interesting today.


KIRBY: Yes, the Votel, that the decision was not time or conditions based. In other words, he hasn't been given any direct orders about when or under what circumstances to remove those troops. So it sounds like the Pentagon has sort of been able to convince the President, let's not do this in a too rapid fashion or precipitous way. Let's keep the pressure on is. We'll see where it goes.

BALDWIN: OK, that's significant that you heard that as well. Admiral, thank you very much.

KIRBY: You bet. Glad to be you.

BALDWIN: Good to be here. Now to this as the President gets ready to focus in on immigration in his State of the Union address this evening. The Trump organization firing more and more undocumented workers and that includes one woman who is planning to be there in person this evening.

Also actor Liam Neeson under serious fire for telling the story about how he wants contemplated racist revenge. Have you heard about this? See what happens when he was confronted about it on live morning TV. We'll be right back.


[14:26:03] We certainly expect the President will devote much of tonight's State of the Union to illegal immigration but a new report is underscoring what some call major hypocrisy when it comes to how the Trump family runs its business.

The Trump organization has fired at least 18 undocumented workers over the past two months, that's according to "The Washington Post." these firings from at least five golf courses come after several outlets reported that some Trump properties were employing undocumented immigrants.

Victorina Morales an immigrant from Guatemala says she was trusted with cleaning Trump's private residence in bedminster for five years.


VICTORINA MORALES, FORMER TRUMP GOLF CLUB WORKER ATTENDING SATE OF THE UNION (through translator): I had access to enter his house, to clean it, but he wasn't president yet. I entered, left and the boss gave me the keys. I entered to clean everything when they arrived in the summer. They were there a lot.

They promised me that when he became president, you would be able to enter, but when he became president, they took away my access to enter his home. I was inside and they kicked me out saying I could no longer enter here. I asked for an explanation and they never gave it to me.


BALDWIN: Eric Trump who is along with his brother don junior running the organization, said this as the report initially broke quoting them, "We have tens of thousands of employees across our properties and have very strict hiring practices. If any, employee submitted false documentation in an attempt to circumvent the law they will be terminated immediately. We take this issue very seriously. This is one of the reasons my father is fighting so hard for immigration reform and the system is broken".

But the firings now have the attention of Congress. Democratic Senator Bob Menendez is called on federal authorities to investigate after meeting with workers like Morales last week.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: The President who rails against immigrants but then uses their labor to enrich himself and does so in a way and in an environment from what I understand listening to them that was hostile to them and that was threatening to them because, in fact, they held their very immigration status against them.

And I believe that any attempt to try to affect their status during this period of time could considered to be obstruction of justice at the end of the day.


BALDWIN: Morales back in Washington today. This evening she's attended her former boss's State of the Union. Democratic Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman invited her.

So with me now is Victorina Morales, his Attorney Anibal Romero. He is also representing another undocumented worker fired from the Trump National Golf Club.

So Anibal, welcome to you.


BALDWIN: So you'll be going with her tonight to the House to hear the speech. Can you just begin with what has Victorina alleged how she was treated?


BALDWIN: In specifics. ROMERO: So she was there for about five years and what she is saying is that her supervisor physically assaulted her, threatened her constantly with deportation. She complained to management at the highest level, the general manager of the golf club, nothing was done and something that's very important, apparently the picture for her green card was taken inside of the club and then one of the drivers drove her to a nearby town to pick up these fake documents, documents that we have handed over to state authorities and this is the environment until she said enough is enough.

BALDWIN: Well, I mean, what you're alleging that second piece of that, that would be a federal crime if true and I want to tell you what obviously the Trump organization is saying, but does she have proof? What you're alleging is that the Trump organization knew she had no papers and that they helped fake them for her?

ROMERO: Yes. So we have met with state investigators. I have sat down with the FBI. She is willing to continue to cooperate with authorities.

BALDWIN: Does she have proof?

ROMERO: She has proof. She has the documents. She has her testimony and this is what's important here. Victorina Morales is not the only person who says that this is happened. We have Sandra Diaz.