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Protests over Border Wall Declaration; Legal Pushback on Emergency Declaration; McCabe Talks about Rosenstein; Klobuchar Town Hall Tonight; Democrats Target Key States. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 18, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": For whatever reason this isn't their moment.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I would just note, any campaign out there, campaign in waiting, just let me know. I am ready to break that news.

All right, thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Erica Hill is in for Brianna Keilar. She starts right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Erica Hill, in for Brianna Keilar, on this special edition of CNN RIGHT NOW.

Right now, protests around the country aimed at President Trump's national emergency over border wall funding which he himself admits he didn't need to do.

Disgraced and deranged. That's how President Trump describes Andrew McCabe, the former acting FBI director, after McCabe makes explosive claims about the president's relationship with Russia.

As presidential contenders campaign like it is already 2020, is too much choice a dangerous place for the Democrats?

Sources close to the case say a grand jury has been hearing testimony in connection with allegation against singer R. Kelly.

And U.K. lawmakers hit the unfriends button, branding FaceBook digital gangsters.

We begin with the legal and political backlash this hour from the president's national emergency declaration to fund his border wall. At this hour, protesters are gathering near the White House saying they want to fight Trump's, quote, dangerous national emergency power grab. Demonstrations are planned around the country today. And they're not the only ones vowing to take on the president.

It's not just the protesters. President Trump also facing pushback from virtually every angle. Legal challenges are mounting. Democrats say the move is unconstitutional. They're threatening action in Congress.

President Trump's senior adviser, however, says the president will defend his declaration on every front.


STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The president is going to protect his national emergency declaration, Chris. And I know that we're out of time, but, again, I want to make this point, there's no threat --

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": So, yes, he will veto?

MILLER: There -- he's going to protect his national emergency declaration guaranteed.


HILL: CNN's Ryan Nobles is with the protesters. He's in Lafayette Park, across from the White House.

So, Ryan, what are you seeing there?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're hearing a lot of anger, Erica, which probably isn't that big of a surprise because the group of people that would come out and protesters on a day like this are some folks that are not necessarily fans of Donald Trump in any way, shape, or form.

But one of the things I found most interesting about the things that they're talking about today is that they're obviously very supportive of the legal maneuvering that's taking place here to challenges this national emergency. But they don't necessarily trust the court system. They're concerned that President Trump has installed many conservative judges across the board and that he might actually be successful in a court challenge. That's why they pointed a lot of their angst and a lot of their energy toward the 2020 election. They're talking about voting President Trump out of office and they also have a lot to say about the members of Congress who they feel have not done enough go challenge President Trump, not just on this particular issue, but on a broad set of policies.

And, of course, Erica, they're very unhappy with the idea of the president using a national emergency to build this wall. But they're also very unhappy with the policy itself. Many of the folks here believe that this isn't the best way to solve the immigration problem. They believe that the president should be using more common sense types of policies that would ultimately solve this problem.

So the big word that I would use to describe this is anger. There is a lot of anger here. And they're hopefully -- at least the protesters here want to channel that anger into something positive down the road.


HILL: Ryan Nobles with the latest for us across from the White House. Ryan, thank you.

President Trump's reasoning for his emergency declaration had his senior adviser Stephen Mill doing a little explaining over the weekend, clarifying what the president meant.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this. But I'd rather do it much faster.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": I didn't need do this. How does that justify a national emergency?

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: What the president was saying is, is that like past presidents, he could choose to ignore this crisis, choose to ignore this emergency, as others have. But that's not what he's going to do.


HILL: Former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Shan Wu joining us now to discuss.

So, Shan, does that explanation fly from Stephen Miller? Well, it's just that he's actually choosing to take action. That's what he really meant.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I actually -- even though Miller's a pretty skilled spin artist, I really think that one kind of falls flat on its face.

Obviously the president's statement that he doesn't need to do it undercuts the normal sense of the world "emergency." And he's basically just walked himself into yet another legal storm. I mean as we see all across the country with the cases being filed, it's, you know, like everybody in the pool all at once.

Originally when we analyzed this, the question was, who has standing to sue? There's some speculation perhaps Congress does because of the legislative power being infringed upon for appropriations. Congress does. It looks like land owners also jumping in who may lose their land for eminent domain. The states are jumping in. Everybody is going to find standing to sue and they're all starting to file. So it's just adding to this -- just a firestorm of legal issues for an already embattled administration.

[13:05:17] HILL: We are seeing those lawsuits begin. We know of at least two that have filed, as you point out. We're expecting to see from the ACLU, California, as we know as well.

Based on what you have seen in terms of both the planning and suits that have already been filed, do any of these make enough of a case?

WU: I think they will. First of all, they won't have much problem, in my opinion, with the standing. They'll be able to bring the suit. And then the question is going to be -- I think we'll early on see a test of legal issues because there will be preliminary injunctions sought. The standard there is, is there a substantial likelihood of success? And I think we'll get an early leaning of that. For Trump's people, their strategy is, keep this legal, not factual.

Keep it fast. So get a ruling that is legal for them to do this. Push it through to the court of appeals if they lose. Push it on to Supreme Court.

They don't want to get mired down in facts. A little bit like the president himself doesn't like the facts because the facts will take a long time and they don't want that to drag on that way.

The other really interesting issue about it is that you know the Trump administration has been very unhappy with these federal district judges having the jurisdiction to impose a nationwide preliminary injunction. So that may spawn yet another round of appeals up to the Supreme Court because they may want to challenge that too.

And then, lastly, the actual constitutional challenge, the statute may occur. I think Renato Mariotti pointed out over the weekend that the way the statute is written, Congress can vote to terminate the emergency. The president can veto it. And then it works like a regular veto. They need a super majority to override it.

So there's also an avenue of constitutional attack saying that particular process is constitutional because it infringes upon Congress' normal majority vote for appropriating funds. So there's a whole myriad of legal challenges ahead.

HILL: Shan, based on everything that you just set up there, it doesn't sound that this is necessarily the quickest route that the president said it might be.

Shan Wu, always good to see you, my friend. Thank you.

WU: Good to see you, Erica.

HILL: From the national emergency to national security. President Trump firing back now at a former top U.S. official with a big accusation, tweeting, wow, so many lies by now disgraced acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. He was fired for lying and now his story gets even more deranged. He went on to say, this was illegal and treasonous insurance policy in full action.

That response coming in response to a "60 Minutes" interview where McCabe claimed the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, brought up the possibility of evoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president and that Rosenstein had once offered to wear a wire to record Mr. Trump.


ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: We talked about why the president had insisted on firing the director and whether or not he was thinking about the Russia investigation and did that impact his decision. And in the context of that conversation, the deputy attorney general offered to wear a wire into the White House. He said, I never get searched when I go into the White House. I could easily wear a recording device. They wouldn't know it was there. Now, he was not yoking. He was absolutely serious. And, in fact, he

brought it up if the next meeting we had. I never actually considered taking him up on the offer. I did discuss it with my general council and my leadership team back at the FBI after he brought it up the first time.


HILL: CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz joining us now.

Shimon, we know the DOJ calls McCabe's claims inaccurate, but what kind of fallout could we see now that we are learning a little bit more about these revelations?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. So, I mean, in the end really this is going to be, I think, is going to have to lie with what Mueller and his team comes up with in their report. We know that this probably would relate -- certainly the wearing of the wire, the firing of McCabe, obviously the firing of Comey, has all been something that the special counsel's been looking at. And, really, the only fallout right now could be members of Congress if they decide to pursue this issue. We know that Senator Graham says that he wants to take a look at this issue. Will there be other members of Congress who ultimately decide to take a look at this.

But, really, the one big investigation that everyone is waiting for is the special counsel's investigation and whether or not -- where does this go in that report and is there any fallout as a result of what the special counsel found. You know, was there obstruction? Did he buy into any of this idea that the fact that these two men, both McCabe and Comey, were fired because of the investigations? That's really where I think ultimately if there's going to be any fallout, that's where it's going to come.

[13:10:01] HILL: That's where we could see it. Shimon, appreciate it, as always. Thank you.


HILL: To discuss further I'm joined by CNN's senior political analyst John Avlon, and CNN national security analyst and former senior adviser to the national security adviser under President Obama, Samantha Vinograd.

So there were a number of explosive moments in that interview, but I do want you to listen specifically to this exchange where McCabe describes this conversation which was relayed to him by an FBI official who McCabe says was there. Take a listen.


ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: Essentially the president said he did not believe that the North Koreans had the capability to hit us here with ballistic missiles in the United States. And he did not believe that because President Putin had told him they did not. Intelligence officials in the briefing responded that that was not

consistent with any of the intelligence our government possess. To which the president replied, I don't care, I believe Putin.


HILL: I don't care, I believe Putin. That's getting a lot of attention.


HILL: And for obvious reasons. But that's not necessarily what stuck out to you the most, Samantha. There's something about that anecdote that you say leaves you wanting to know a little bit more. It doesn't all add up.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It does. Unfortunately, the part where he says he believes Putin adds up. It's a counter-intelligence red flag because he's siding with Putin over his intelligence community, which he did on issues like election interference.

AVLON: Yes. Yes.

VINOGRAD: But I was in a lot of North Korea nuclear briefings with President Obama. There weren't FBI officials in the room. When you're talking about a nuclear program, it's what we call compartmentalized access. You can't just invite whomever you want. It's unclear to me why an FBI official would be in the room and not a senior FBI official wasn't. Andrew McCabe. Someone else was in the room with the president during a North Korean nuclear briefing. That seems odd to me based upon the kinds of people that are typically included in those briefings.

HILL: Which makes you want to know more about what exactly was happening in that meeting.

VINOGRAD: Exactly.

HILL: Obviously, John.

AVLON: Of course. But, again, I think, you know, there's always the danger of normalization in covering this president.

This is stunning by any measure. Again, the just quote, I don't care, I believe Putin. But it's the latest in a long series of choices where we've seen the president publically, and in -- privately, take Vladimir Putin's word over our own intelligence agencies. That cannot be overestimated. What a disturbing, dangerous precedent that is. And if it reflects the president's real instincts, he's either getting rolled by a professional KGB agent, but it's the kind of thing that really should unite Congress and the American people in concern. And to the extent it doesn't, I think it measures the degradation of our political discourse and how hyper partisanship makes people blind and stupid. VINOGRAD: But it's also a reason why this counterintelligence investigation into the president may still be ongoing. We know that it was folded into the special counsel's work. But when the president of the United States says that he believes President Putin, says he doesn't believe his intelligence professionals, undermines Russia- related investigations --

AVLON: Right.

VINOGRAD: Even in the last 24 hours, from a pure counterintelligence perspective, those are red flags. And we don't know if the Department of Justice ever concluded their investigation into the president.

HILL: Right.

VINOGRAD: It may be an ongoing investigation. Every time the president makes the kind of statement about believing Putin or tweets like he did earlier today trying to undermine the special counsel's investigation, that makes me think that this counterintelligence investigation into him may still be ongoing.

HILL: (INAUDIBLE) add that to the long list of things that we will perhaps learn more about --

VINOGRAD: Well, maybe.

HILL: When we actually get --


HILL: When and if we see the final report.

It's interesting, too, in terms of what we're hearing for -- in terms of backlash to this interview. Senator Lindsey graham saying he wants to now investigate, vowing to investigate. Take a listen to his comments over the weekend.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There's an allegation by the acting FBI director at the time that the deputy attorney general was basically trying to do an administrative coup, take the president down through the 25th Amendment process. The deputy attorney general denies it. So I promise your viewers the following, that we will have a hearing about who's telling the truth, what actually happened.


HILL: So, John, Chris Coons of Delaware, a Democrat, saying, look, you know what, I do think that these comments by McCabe, in his words, deserves scrutiny. He didn't agree with the coup language that Senator Graham put up there.

AVLON: Sure.

HILL: How much of what we're seeing in terms of reaction, and that investigation, do you think is political posturing? How much of this is actually setting up a real conversation about the 25th Amendment?

AVLON: I think both things can be true.

This is the kind of thing that's worthy of a Senate -- you know, a Senate hearing by the Judiciary Committee. This is a very serious thing that was contemplated almost out of the gate. And, yes, the deputy attorney general denies that he said those things, or if he said them in jest, but that is about as serious a thing as you can get as a conversation about whether the 25th Amendment should be applied, and -- and that should be looked at. We should have greater transparency into that -- those conversations.

The danger is, is that it all become a political game of kabuki where we're investigating the investigators. We're intentionally using partisan politics -- Senate controlled by Republicans, Democrats have the House -- we will do our own counter-hearings to muddy the waters, as opposed to being what it should be, which is a bipartisan search for the truth. And it's the truth that's been degraded over and over when we get these sort of posturing and people playing out the president's agendas with soundbites and Senate hearings.

[13:15:20] HILL: I know, you know, it really stood out for you, the words that Lindsey Graham chose, talking about this attempted bureaucratic -- or bureaucratic coup. "Coup," to you, Sam, is a really loaded word.

VINOGRAD: We shouldn't throw the word "coup" around carelessly.


VINOGRAD: And the president actually re-tweeted a Fox News contributor calling this a coup as well.

"Coup" is a word that autocrats throw around when they want an excuse to round up opposition, put them in jail without trail and do other very undemocratic things. We should expect lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to look into whether there was any misbehavior at the Department of Justice. That's a role of the Judiciary Committee. But at the same time, throwing the coup around to me makes me think that someone is trying to grease the skids to do something that doesn't really fit with democratic norms.

AVLON: Yes. I think we just need to be careful about this. This is a constitutional amendment that is -- you know, is being discussed. That is not a coup. It is incredibly serious. And if it's being thrown around willy-nilly and behind the scenes at the Justice Department and overreaction, that's worth getting to the bottom, too, as well.

The largest danger is the degradation of our democratic norms. That's why the emergency declaration matters so much. It's not that it's simply a political fig leaf and the president's trying to get a Hail Mary to get his wall built. It's that it's an erosion of democratic norms. This falls into that category as well. These are the things that we need to all pay attention to, not just as journalists, but as citizens, because the larger stakes are so serious. HILL: John Avlon, Samantha Vinograd, always a pleasure.

VINOGRAD: Thank you.

HILL: Thank you, guys.

AVLON: Sure.

HILL: President Trump is in Miami today where he will address the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. Trump will give the speech in Sweetwater. It's an area that is heavily populated by Venezuelans. And in what has become a rare move, the first lady, Melania Trump, will introduce the president. She has not attended any of his rallies in recent months.

Right now American aid is sitting on the Venezuelan border with Colombia after being air lifted there over the weekend. Senator Marco Rubio also visiting the area, vowing the Venezuelans will get American help.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The aid is going to get through. And I think ultimately the question is whether it gets through in a way that he's cooperative with or in a way that he's not.

There are certain lines. And Maduro knows what they are. And if they are crossed, there will -- I am confident, based on everything I've heard from this administration and everything I know about this administration, that the consequences will be severe and they'll be swift.


HILL: In recent weeks, President Nicolas Maduro has blockaded roads into the country to prevent international aid from entering, insisting his citizens are not, quote, beggars.

Democrats hoping to take on President Trump in 2020 out in full force in some key early primary states. As more candidates enter the race, though, is there a danger in having too many choses.

Plus, a grand jury is convened in the case of R&B singer R. Kelly as he faces new allegations. Those details ahead.

And was it all a hoax. Stunning new allegations in the alleged assault of "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett. Police now say they want to talk to him. You'll hear why.


[13:22:41] HILL: On this Presidents Day, Democratic presidential hopefuls are crisscrossing key states in the race for 2020. Many of them have their eyes set on New Hampshire, a key battleground state, of course. Among them, Senator Amy Klobuchar, who steps into the spotlight tonight for a CNN town hall.

Our Mark Preston is in Manchester, New Hampshire, with a preview for us.

Mark, Happy Presidents Day.


You know what you said, Amy Klobuchar is going to be up here in New Hampshire campaigning. She just got into the race. She just formally announced. And if our viewers remember, she did it in that really biting cold, that snowy weather on that Saturday, really trying to show that she has the grit, the determination to plow through anything.

And it's really kind of that grit determination that you find here with the New Hampshire voters as well. It just so happens that as we speak right now we have snow coming down right now as yet another winter storm is coming here into New Hampshire.

HILL: I'm sensing a little bit of a trend there, bringing the snow along with her.

Mark Preston, thank you.

PRESTON: All right. Thanks.

HILL: A reminder to tune in tonight for Senator Amy Klobuchar's live town hall, monitored by Don Lemon. You'll catch it at 10:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

The Democratic field is a busy one as we know. Some of the potentially biggest names, though, have not made an official announcement yet, although there's plenty of speculation. Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders, to name a few.

Is a crowded field good or bad for the party?

Xochitl Hinojosa is with me. She's the communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

Good to have you with us.


HILL: Too many choices can be overwhelming, as we all know. So in all honesty, how many is too many?

HINOJOSA: Well, I think it's overwhelming for the media. I can see why that's the case. But what I'll tell you is that a large Democratic field is only good for the Democratic Party. What you have, dozens of candidates who -- potentially dozens of candidates who will be talking about Democratic values while you have Donald Trump and the Republican Party who are shutting down the government talking about building a wall and they're not talking about kitchen table issues. Right now you have Democrats crisscrossing the country. They're talking about health care. They're talking about how they're going to lift wages. These are the issues that Democratic voter and voters in general want to hear about. And right now you have Donald Trump, whose approval rating is at 39 percent. But yet he decides that he wants to appeal to his base. So if I were the Republican Party, I'd be very concerned about this.

[13:25:14] HILL: Well, as representing the Democrats, you say -- you say it's good for the party to have a number of people out there. In terms of voters, you touched on some of the issues that candidates are talking about at this point. What are you hearing from folks though? What is the main issue that's driving Democrats? Is there one?

HINOJOSA: Well, I think there are several. I think the top two, and one that you saw in the midterm election is health care. Health care continues to be the number one issue that people care about. Lowering the cost of prescription drugs. This is why voters voted for the Democratic Party in the November midterm elections.

The economy is another thing. While our economy is doing well, wages remain flat. And people want to know how they're going to get better wages. And so these are the things that our candidates are talking about.

Another one, and especially as we enter the anniversary of Parkland, is how we're going to tackle the issue of gun violence. We had another shooting just this last weekend in Aurora. That is unacceptable. And the Republican Party does not want to tackle that issue because they're in the pockets of the NRA. And so right now you have Democrats talking about those issues. That's why we want elections in 2017 and 2018. And I only think that if we continue to talk about those issues, we will win again in 2020.

HILL: There has been a lot made of not only how large the Democratic field is potentially, and even at this moment, but also how diverse it is, how many women, obviously different people of color who are a part of that race. It's interesting when you look at that and then you hear what John Delaney, former Maryland congressman, had to say to our own Ana Cabrera this week, in talking about that issue. Take a listen.


JOHN DELANEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't have any advantage running for president as a white man, which I would have across history, right? So the way I look at it right now is I think the Democratic Party voters are going to elect the person who they think is the best leader and they're not going to think about all this other stuff.


HILL: Is that also the conversation within the DNC? Delaney said he believes that the playing field has been leveled at this point.

HINOJOSA: Well, I think that this election is already historic. Not only with the number of candidates and not only talking about the issues, but you do have a record number of women and you do have, just generally, history being made in the Democratic Party.

But what I will say, it will be up to the voters. And at the DNC, our job is to make sure that we have a fair primary process. What we announced this last week is that we will have debates starting in June, two debates that will be two consecutive nights of primetime, weeknight coverage. CNN will be having the second debate.

And this is something that is unprecedented. You will have the most viewers in the country listening to Democratic values. So what we're in charge of is making sure that we have a fair process, an inclusive process, and that everyone can talk about their platform and their issues.

HILL: In terms of the process, an assessment at FiveThirtyEight, that com (ph) last week, interesting noted that the next in line, or what we may see as more of a legacy candidate, the Bidens, the Sanders of the world, that if they had real strong support from party elites, there would not be this many Democrats out there at this point looking to become, in fact, the nominee.

Which raises the question as to whether party elites, especially post November 2018 elections, do they have less say this go around in 2020 and less influence?

HINOJOSA: Well, I think the whole reason why you have a record number of people running for president is because you have a president who is terrible for our country and he has caused our country great harm. And when you have a president, again, that is at 39 percent, we know that he can't get elected. No president in history has gotten elected with an approval rating of under 49 percent. And I think that is why people are running because people are terrified in this country of this president and what he is doing to rip us apart and divide us. And people are angry out there and so you have a record number of people running for that reason and that reason alone.

Xochitl Hinojosa, good to have you with us today. Thank you.

HINOJOSA: Thanks for having me.

HILL: One of the main questions on the Democratic side, of course, is former Vice President Joe Biden going to run in 2020? Turns out it's not just a question here in the U.S. The Armenian president wants to know as well, putting the former VP on the spot in Munich. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Well, hello, Mr. President. Sorry, I walked right by you. I apologize.


BIDEN: No, no, I can't.


BIDEN: Good to see you.

SARKISSIAN: How are you? BIDEN: Good. How are you?

SARKISSIAN: Are you going to run?

BIDEN: Did you have a card?


BIDEN: You can get me through -- I don't have a card.


HILL: Too many microphones around apparently for that answer. He'll have to contact him.

[13:30:04] Still to come, a grand jury convened in the case of R&B singer R. Kelly as he faces new allegations.