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William Barr Likely to be Confirmed by Senate Judiciary Committee; Members of Congress Likely to Reach Border Funding Agreement; Top Virginia State Democrats Accused in Scandals; Democratic Lawmakers Unveil Green New Deal; White House Due to Release Jamal Khashoggi Report Tomorrow. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 7, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:31:06] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN, the most trusted name in news.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote soon on the president's pick for attorney general, William Barr. This is a crucial vote as Barr could be the man to oversee the entire Mueller probe.

Let's discuss now with CNN analyst Kirsten Powers and CNN political commentator Mary Katharine Ham.

Thanks to both of you. It looks like Barr's going to get through. He'll get through committee on party lines, and then likely through the Senate as well.

I'd just like both your views on what Barr means for the Russia probe. Because he's not going to end it, he's not going to fire Mueller. He's expressed his admiration for him.

But he has also expressed his support for limitations. For instance, defining what obstruction of justice a president could commit.

Kirsten, you first. Did -- are you concerned about what restrictions he might put around the probe?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN ANALYST: Yes. I mean, I'm concerned that, you know, he has said that he sent this memo. It was a 19-page memo that was expressing a lot of skepticism about the investigation.

He's also said publicly in interviews to "The New York Times," he said there was more evidence to be investigating the Uranium One deal with Hillary Clinton than there was for, I think he said the "supposed" collusion between Trump and Russia, which is indicating, obviously, that he has a clear opinion on it.

Now, he was very different in his hearings. And I think he gave a lot of assurances to people. He's obviously a very qualified person. There's no question about his legal credentials. He seems to have a good temperament. And he made a lot of promises.

There's still, I think, concern, though, that you know, which do you -- which do you believe, first of all. I mean, you're going to say certain things when you're up for --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

POWERS: -- confirmation. And -- and are you -- are we ever going to actually see the report? I think that that's another concern because it doesn't seem like, at least based on what he said, that he would feel any real obligation to release the actual report.

SCIUTTO: Mary Katharine, is he a threat to the investigation or at least the -- at least the scope of it?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, I think his -- his strong suit is that he's basically a conventional political figure, right? He's served in a DOJ under H.W. Bush. He has a record of having done so in a nonpolitical manner.

And then he answered questions about this memo. And whether he did it to everyone's satisfaction or not, we shall see. I think he gave, actually, some fairly concrete assurances, which is better than just saying, like, "Sure, sure. I'll play along with this."

He's also worked with Mueller in the past when he was at DOJ in the past, and has openly said he respects him.

Look, I think it's a -- probably a step up for most people's concerns about the acting, to have Barr in that place. I think he'll get through.

And, look, is less libertarian on things that I am concerned with, like he favors mandatory minimums and is a little bit stricter on criminal justice and more in the model of a Sessions than I am? Yes. But the beauty of Congress doing its job and passing things like the First Step Act is that he's asked about that, and he has to follow the law in those areas.

So that's one of those areas where Trump being somewhat of an unconventional Republican political actor, can bring this guy more to that side. Which is an interesting sort of result of the Trump presidency.

SCIUTTO: Yes, for sure.

Another topic. Shutdowns. So I spoke to a Republican member of this group of 17 working out a deal here, and it does appear by all accounts -- and God knows this could blow up in the final stretch.

But it feels like, appears like Democrats are going to give a bit more than $1.3 billion that they'd previously agreed to, and it sounds like Republicans are willing to come down from that president's demand of $5.7 billion. Who knows what the final figure is, but somewhere between -- between those two, not a lot of room there.

It just raises the question, Kirsten, why did we shut the government down, again?

POWERS: Yes. SCIUTTO: And I know -- I know that the president dug his heels in.

But to be fair, Democrats also dug their heels in at the time. Nancy Pelosi said not a dollar for funding. So if we're going to end up between $2, $3 billion, what did we go through this whole thing for?

[10:35:00] POWERS: Well, I think that they -- I mean, we went through -- if we go back and remember what actually happened, the president actually had decided that he wasn't going -- you know, he wasn't -- he wasn't going to get the funding that he wanted for the wall, at least the $5 billion that he wanted. And he wasn't willing to shut the government down.

And then, you know, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and a lot of people on the right got very upset, and so then that's how we ended up with tithe government shutdown.

And, you know, I think he just had a lot of pressure coming from his right flank. And, you know, I think that, you know, giving him a little more money, I think is a reasonable thing for the Democrats to do at this point because we don't want to have to go back to watching all these people suffering --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

POWER: -- not being able, you know to pay their bills. So I think that that's reasonable. I just think the Democrats are more focused on where they really see the threats at the border, which really are the ports of entry. And so that's where they're more interested in giving more funding, to deal with that.

SCIUTTO: But -- but, M.K. (ph), Democrats giving more money than (ph) it sounds like -- and, again, let's wait until we see it but it sounds like giving more, and less than the president demanded here. Is that, in your view, the right solution?

HAM: Yes. Look, it sounds like a move in the right direction. First of all, are they called a gang? Because I'm not sure you can do anything on comprehensive immigration or anything immigration-related --

SCIUTTO: I know, I know. It's 17 --

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: -- let's just call it a gang. Yes. But --

SCIUTTO: The 17.

HAM: -- look, I think the fact that this is fairly quiet bodes well. I think the fact that they've emerged from meetings and planned nonpolitical meetings with nonpolitical border experts, and that they've emerged from meetings not digging in, is a good sign.

But they're on a really short time, here. I do think there's a reasonable compromise to be made, and it does get vexing that we are not able to make those. But I think having the shutdown and then agreeing to come back for a couple weeks, predicated on the negotiation, could help them get there.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And then of course there is a wild card because is the president satisfied with it? That's a whole other category. We will see.

HAM: I think if there's anything physical barrier in there, I think he signs it.

SCIUTTO: And he claims victory. Fair enough. Which is the kind of solution that both sides have been talking about for a while, right?

Kirsten Powers, Mary Katharine Ham, thanks very much.

HAM: Thank you.

POWERS: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: The top three Democrats in Virginia are all fighting to keep their jobs this morning, after being hit with political scandals that have rocked the commonwealth. A live update, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:41:48] SCIUTTO: The future of Democratic leadership in Virginia, in question this morning as the top three state officials engulfed in scandals.

Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, receiving backlash for admitting to wearing blackface as costumes in the '80s. And Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax facing allegations of sexual assault.

CNN national correspondent Jason Carroll is in Richmond, Virginia with more.

Jason, a lot to go through here. Let's begin with those allegations against the lieutenant governor. His accuser, now coming out publicly.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And that -- his accuser, Vanessa Tyson, she is a professor out there at Scripps College in California. Coming out yesterday, saying she wanted to set the record straight, that she did not want to get into the whole political turmoil, but felt compelled to tell her side of the story.

And she released a statement, talking about what happened to her, she alleges, back in 2004 in Boston. She said that Justin Fairfax sexually assaulted her there at the Democratic National Convention, in a hotel room.

TEXT: "Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and forcefully pushed my head towards his crotch... To be very clear, I did not want to engage in oral sex with Mr. Fairfax and I never gave any form of consent."

CARROLL: She released a statement saying, "What began as consensual kissing turned into a sexual assault. I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual."

For his part, Justin Fairfax released a statement of his own, saying that much of this is politically timed and was questioning why all this was happening now. He vehemently denies this, saying, in part, quote, "Dr. Tyson should be treated with respect. But I cannot agree to a description of events that simply is not true."

So as you've already seen, there have been all calls for some of these leaders to step down. Fairfax, for his part, showing no sign of that. He's hired a prominent law firm out of D.C. to try to weather this political storm. The question is, can he or the other two do it at this point, going forward -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: So that's one of the three controversies. Let's speak about the state's attorney general, who would be third in line under the remarkable circumstances, if both the governor and the lieutenant governor have to step down. What do we know?

CARROLL: Right. And that's the whole blackface controversy. Mark Herring, the state attorney general, saying back in 1980, he dressed up like the rapper Kurtis Blow. He, showing no signs of stepping down at this point but releasing a statement of his own which said, in part, that the shame of that moment has haunted him for decades.

Well, it may have haunted him for decades but it certainly didn't stop him from criticizing the governor for wearing blackface, and calling for the governor to step down for doing that.

But right now, Jim, right now at this hour, there's no signs that any of these men are going to step down.

But the way that this story has been developing, each day with some sort of new development, who knows what tomorrow will bring - Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jason Carroll on the story. Thanks very much.

[10:44:41] Democrats now unveiling new legislation aimed at slowing down climate change. An alarming new report shows that the time to act is now, before it's too late for Planet Earth. This is science. This is data. It's not conjecture. That's all coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Democratic lawmakers are unveiling new details for a new plan to protect the environment. It is called the Green New Deal, and focuses on creating jobs, forming greener infrastructure and reducing emissions.

This comes as new reports reveal that the last five years are the five warmest in the modern record. CNN's Bill Weir, who's been covering this a long time, reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BILL WEIR, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The problem is so big, it's hard to imagine. But America and the world's top scientists widely agree that we are running out of time. That mankind has as little as a dozen years to stop burning so much carbon and save life on earth as we know it.

[10:50:07] But you'd never know it, listening to the State of the Union.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world.

STACEY ABRAMS, FORMER GEORGIA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: We can do so much more. Take action on climate change...

WEIR (voice-over): And while Stacey Abrams' rebuttal only mentioned the end of the world in passing --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Green New Deal!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Green New Deal!

WEIR (voice-over): -- a new generation of activists are now forcing the issue in the halls of Congress.

VARSHINI PRAKASH, CO-FOUNDER, SUNRISE MOVEMENT: We brought 200 young people to tell Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership, "We need you to step up. We need you to back something like a green new deal" --

WEIR (voice-over): They call themselves the Sunrise Movement. And after dozens were arrested for occupying the offices of top Democrats, dozens of top Democrats are now singing their song.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: I support a Green New Deal...

WEIR (voice-over): And when one of the Sunrise founders came back to Capitol Hill, instead of calling police, Senator Ed Markey gave her a ticket to the State of the Union.

And he is drafting a Green New Deal resolution with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

WEIR: And how specific are we getting? Is there a moratorium on oil and gas? Is there a conservation corps that you're going to pay to plant trees? What are we talking about?

SEN ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We haven't announced the specifics of it yet, but it does set a high goal for a hundred percent deployment of non-greenhouse gas emitting sources into our atmosphere --

WEIR: By 2030?

MARKEY: Again, we're going to announce at the right time --

WEIR: OK.

MARKEY: -- what it is.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This nation is asking for action, and action now.

WEIR (voice-over): The original New Deal helped pull America out of the Great Depression, with massive public works projects: dams and grids and a civilian conservation corps over two million strong.

But it also set up the modern welfare state. And so the Sunrisers are demanding not just clean power, but Medicare for all, resettlement funds, and climate-related jobs for the neediest population.

PRAKASH: And so more than anything, I'm actually feeling heartened in this moment.

WEIR: Yes. You do?

PRAKASH: Yes.

WEIR: You're going to look out on that floor of lawmakers and think, "Oh, no, if we have to wait for them to agree on something, we're doomed"?

PRAKASH: Probably, but we're not waiting on them. And we are actually building a movement that is going to be powerful enough to make something like a Green New Deal a political inevitability in this country.

(APPLAUSE)

WEIR (voice-over): But in an age of bitter division, they are calling for trillions in new spending. And the kind of national unity not seen since the Apollo project. Ironic since Cape Canaveral's moonshot launchpads are currently being fortified against sea level rise caused by climate change.

Bill Weir, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Well, it's been more than four months since the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered. Now, a group of journalists demanding answers and justice for him, one day before the Trump administration faces a deadline set by Congress to deliver a report about his brutal murder.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:57:32] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN, the most trusted name in news.

SCIUTTO: This morning, a group of journalists and human rights advocates are demanding answers, four months after the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Trump administration facing a Friday deadline to deliver a report

to the Senate about the murder. That report, expected to include information on the potential involvement of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter is following this.

So, Brian, do we expect anything definitive here? The administration definitively blaming the crown prince or definitively taking action? And I'm going to guess your answer is no, but tell me.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The expectation on Capitol Hill, and here at this press conference that just wrapped up, is that the White House will blow past this Friday deadline.

Go back 120 days, Jim. This is when then-Senator Corker and Senator Menendez triggered the Magnitsky Act, which gives the Trump administration 120 days to make a determination about whether the Saudi crown prince was responsible -- culpable -- for Jamal Khashoggi's death.

It's been 119 days, so the deadline is tomorrow. That's why this press conference here was just wrapped up. It included representatives from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and other groups. They were all coming together to pressure the Trump administration to actually follow through on the deadline.

But in reality, Jim, when you ask folks here and you ask senators on Capitol Hill, they'll say they expect the Trump administration to blow past the deadline, to ignore the requirement and to not say anything about the Saudi crown prince's culpability.

So it continues to be an open question, an open source of controversy between the White House and the Hill. And by the way, Senator Menendez now planning on reintroducing his bill that would hold Saudi Arabia accountable, suspend weapons sales, et cetera.

Remember, that bill received bipartisan support in the last Congress. It's expected to receive bipartisan support again with the new Congress.

SCIUTTO: If the administration blows past this, is it violating the law? I mean, after all, Congress passed that measure demanding a report by this deadline.

STELTER: Yes. It's violating the Magnitsky Act, which, of course, is a bill that is used to enforce human rights around the world. It's a bill challenging human rights violators around the world.

So this will cause a standoff between Capitol Hill and the White House if, in fact, that deadline is ignored tomorrow.

SCIUTTO: I mean, do laws matter, right? I mean, it's as simple as that on this issue.

Brian Stelter -- STELTER: You said it.

SCIUTTO: -- thank you so much for following this story.

Thanks so much for joining me today. to all of you, I'm Jim Sciutto here in Washington. "AT THIS HOUR" with my colleague, Kate Bolduan, starts right now.