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States Sue to Stop National Emergency Declaration; Ballot Fraud in North Carolina; Maduro Blames Trump for Crisis; Ginsburg Returns to Court. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 19, 2019 - 09:30   ET



[09:32:15] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Right now 16 states are suing the Trump administration over the president's decision to declare a national emergency to fund his desired border wall. The states argue the president does not have the authority to reallocate congressionally approved funds.

Here is Connecticut's attorney general.


WILLIAM TONG (D), CONNECTICUT ATTORNEY GENERAL: The president's breaking the law and he's shredding the Constitution. He's declared a national emergency where there is none.

It's pretty clear that he's perverting the National Emergencies Act to do something that Congress explicitly forbid him from doing, which is building a wall.


SCIUTTO: We'll be speaking to the Colorado attorney general joining the suit in the next hour.

Jeffrey Toobin is back with us, and Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," Susan Page.

Jeffrey, I want to begin on the legal issue here because California's attorney general says, quote, that probably the best evidence is the president's own words. And we'll remember in that ceremony on Friday the president said, oh, well, I could do it. I didn't have to do it. I just want to do it faster. Of course he waited many -- many weeks and months to do this as through the government shutdown. From a legal perspective, do those public comments, as well as his actions, undermine his case legally for an emergency declaration?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they certainly hurt the case, but I wouldn't necessarily think it's a fatal blow. You know, if you look at the national emergencies that have been declared, several of them don't have a lot of urgency about them. There's a national emergency about prohibiting importing diamonds from Sierra Leone, which is not something that I think most people think of as an emergency.

The real issue here is, I think, that the Congress explicitly did not authorize the expenditure of this money. And the president's trying to go around it with the National Emergencies Act. That's never been done before. I don't --

SCIUTTO: That's the key thing because this goes back to the Truman -- and people always talk about the Truman case nationalizing industries during the Korean War. But it's when Congress -- what is it three -- if Congress has been silent on it, it's one thing. If Congress has been somewhat supportive it's another. But in this case Congress explicitly had multiple chances to allocate funding for this wall and did not do so. So, to be clear, you're saying that's what -- that may very well matter to a court.

TOOBIN: That's right. The steel seizure case from 1952, which you're referring to, you know, speaks of those three categories. What the president has going for him though is that there is this law, the National Emergencies Act, which does give him power to declare an emergency. That wasn't true in 1952. It's never been defined just how emergency -- what an emergency is and that's what this case is really going to be about.

[09:35:00] SCIUTTO: Right. OK.

You know, I'd be remiss in not noting the politics here, Susan Page, because politics are certainly part of this. We know that the president's own pollsters believe that this -- regardless of the national polling, that this works for him in swing districts. And I will note that a majority of Republicans, 64 percent, say they do want the wall. And we've said many times, the president, you know, acts to kind of keep that base together.

Does it matter to President Trump if this drags out and he doesn't get what he wants, right? In effect, can he still use it as a sledgehammer as you lead up to 2020?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Yes, I think he has ever expectation this is going to get dragged out. You heard in in his news conference last week where he went through that kind of sing-song how a bill becomes a law recitation that ends up with him winning in the Supreme Court.

I think any time the president finds a whole -- the national community talking about his wall and immigration, the White House counts that as a win for them. That's an issue that is fundamental to his appeal from the beginning of his campaign and today.

SCIUTTO: But is it really? Because he hammered this point home in the midterms, right? And, I mean, the analysis from Republicans post midterms is that this lost him a lot of swing districts, at least in the House.

PAGE: But if you look at -- there's a Marist poll out this morning that shows that Americans -- 60 percent of Americans think this is a bad idea declaring this national emergency. SCIUTTO: Yes.

PAGE: But among Republicans, almost all republicans say, yes, we support the idea of declaring a national emergency here. So on this, as on many of the things that President Trump does, it reinforces his base. It does virtually nothing to reach out to people who don't already support him.

SCIUTTO: Jeffrey Toobin, so let's get to the timing here. You've got these 16 states. They go to the Ninth Circuit where there's been, you know, friendlier atmosphere for these kind of challenges. If you look back, for instance, to the Muslim ban. Your best guess as to how long this is wrapped up in courts and, crucially, is it likely that a stay will be imposed? In other words, that no action can proceed while the cases are being decided?

TOOBIN: Well, that's really the big question is whether a district court judge will issue an injunction and say, no -- no expenditures of funds while this case is being adjudicated. That could happen in a matter of weeks. I mean I -- and remember, there is also going to be more than one lawsuit here where it's more than one judge may actually have the opportunity to issue that injunction.

There's the -- there's the case in California, which is the 16 states, but also in Washington, D.C., there's another very similar case being filed. And I expect there will be more. Each one of those judges will have the opportunity to issue an injunction and then those cases will be appealed to the circuit courts of appeals and probably the Supreme Court.

So it's likely that there will be some judicial action on this -- on these -- on this issue in one court or another within a couple of weeks. I mean this could go pretty quickly.

SCIUTTO: Jeffrey Toobin, Susan Page, thanks very much. We're going to follow that story however quickly it goes.

It's been more than a hundred days since the election and still there is no winner in one North Carolina congressional race. Now the board looking to allegations of ballot fraud says that it will not talk to the man at the center of it all. There is news here. Stay with us.


[09:42:39] SCIUTTO: This is an important update on a story of election fraud -- alleged election fraud in a U.S. congressional race in North Carolina. The North Carolina Board of Elections says it will not force a man accused of tampering with absentee ballots there to testify in a hearing about the alleged fraud in the congressional ninth district race. This comes after the former step-daughter of GOP operative Leslie McCrae Dowless testified yesterday. She says that Dowless paid her to collect and then falsify absentee ballots last year. This is the only race from the 2018 midterms that is still undecided. The question, of course, here is whether those absentee ballots helped turn the race in the favor of the Republican candidate in that race.

CNN correspondent Dianne Gallagher, she's been following all the developments in Raleigh.

Dianne, this is truly remarkable because as the evidence mounts here, it appears that something extremely fishy happened. What are the next steps?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, that might be an understatement. The executive director of the state board of elections actually opened up by calling it, quote, coordinated, unlawful and substantially resource absentee ballot scheme.

And that woman you were referring to, Lisa Britt, the worker, that's basically what she detailed here. She talked about being paid about $150 or so for every 50 absentee ballots that she collected. Now that in itself is illegal in North Carolina. But she went on to sort of go through exactly how her former step-father, McCrae Dowless, coached them through this and what she was supposed to do. She talked about signing onto absentee ballots that she did not actually witness, as a witness, forging her own mother's signature as a witness on those absentee ballots, filling in blank races that were left on unsealed ballots. And she said that Dowless had told his team of workers that nobody has anything on you. Don't tell anyone anything. Just act like you don't know what's going on. She says that he also told her to go ahead and plead the fifth yesterday. Now, we know for a fact that's not what she did. Dowless opted not to testify.

Today, we're not really sure what to expect. We were not expecting those bombshell -- that bombshell testimony yesterday because that isn't what we've been getting leading up to this. Britt herself had said conflicting information before this hearing.

[09:45:02] Right now, on the stand, they're talking to a poll worker. Things just got going on day two here about ten minutes ago in Raleigh. We don't have a list of the witnesses. We know that in total there's about 80 of them. We're unsure how many of them we'll actually get to.

I did speak to the candidate, Mark Harris', people today. They said that he's prepared to be called. If he is, they don't know. But if he's called today, that he plans to go ahead and testify.

We also may hear from some of the people who work at the consulting firm that employed McCrea Dowless. But, really, Jim, the question here is whether or not this board is going to vote to have a whole new election or go ahead and certify Mark Harris as the winner.

SCIUTTO: Well, Dianne, and you're right to highlight that description there, coordinated unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme. That's a remarkable thing for this investigation to find there.


SCIUTTO: Dianne Gallagher, we know you're going to stay on this story. We're going to stay on that story.

In other news this hour, the embattled Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, essentially telling President Trump to mind his own business and accusing Trump of making up a crisis abroad as a distraction.


[09:50:33] SCIUTTO: Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, is firing back at President Trump this morning accusing the president of manufacturing a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela to distract from issues here in the U.S. However, video like this shows that the crisis on the ground there is very real. Desperate Venezuelans, many of them young children, forced to find much-needed medical treatment in hospitals in neighboring Colombia.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, he joins us live on the border between Colombia and Venezuela.

Nick, what's been the response to this latest exchange between Maduro and Trump? I'm just curious if the people that you're seeing there who are suffering the real effects of this, are they welcoming President Trump's entrance into this?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, any change, frankly, for these people here, you're seeing the massive traffic of thousands heading into Colombia to get daily food stops, and the trickle back when people have got their purchase. Any change for them is utterly vital.

What Donald Trump has done, though, President Trump's speech yesterday in Miami to a large number of Venezuelan ex-pats, who will be key, frankly, in his hopes in 2020's electoral races there, his speech was about -- the substance of it, appealing to the Venezuelan military who guard the border behind me there to basically change sides.

We were walking up slowly and increasingly volatilly (ph) towards a key deadline this weekend, Jim. That's when the opposition have said they will get humanitarian aid into the country. Tons have been flown in by charities and by USAID into Colombia near from where I am here. They want to get that across. We're hearing that many Venezuelans on the other side are getting together potentially to come and try and get it as well, and there are even dueling rock concerts on both sides of the border the day beforehand to kind of escalate that sense of a critical mass here.

But Donald Trump's appeal was to the military. That's being echoed by the interim president, self-declared opposition leader Juan Guaido, calling out by name, for example, the man who runs the border guards here and the national guard on the other side of the border here, specifically calling on them to choose the people this coming weekend for that deadline.

Donald Trump's rhetoric muddied, frankly, the urgent appeal for humanitarian aid here, talking about the need to defeat socialism in the region and the potential for the first atmosphere of freedom in human history. The real urgency and the potential for violence is unfortunately this weekend. That deadline, everybody here wants aid. The opposition guaranteeing it will get across. The question is, will the military let it and could there be some kind of confrontation?


SCIUTTO: It's a remarkable thing for people to have to leave their own country to get the most basic supplies.

Nick Paton Walsh, he's right there. Thanks very much.

She's back. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returning to the bench for the first time since her cancer surgery. We're going to have a live report coming up.


[09:57:33] SCIUTTO: Right now, in Washington, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is back on the bench. Her return coming as justices issue important orders this morning. This marks the first time that we've seen Ginsburg on the bench since she had cancer surgery this past December.

CNN correspondent Jessica Schneider joins me now.

Jessica, so we've -- have we heard from Justice Ginsburg since her return to the bench?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We should hear from her any moment now, Jim. That's because oral arguments begin at 10:00 this morning.

But Justice Ginsburg back on the bench for the first time since early December. She actually missed oral arguments for the first time in her career here at the Supreme Court for the course of about two weeks in December and January and a bit of February. And that, of course, is because of her cancer surgery that she underwent on December 21st.

Now, Justice Ginsberg was actually back here at the Supreme Court on Friday. That was for the court's regular closed door conference with all of the justices where they determine which cases they'll take up next term. But this will be the first time Justice Ginsburg is hearing those oral arguments since December 6th.

Now, we know that Justice Ginsburg, while she's been out, while she's been recuperating, she has been keeping up with the cases. She's been reading the transcripts from the arguments that she's missed, as well as the briefs. But, Jim, we know that Justice Ginsburg is typically very vocal up on the bench here. So we'll get to see in just a few minutes just how vocal she is on her first return to the bench since early December.


SCIUTTO: Now, this is a busy docket for this Supreme Court. Which of those many cases -- which important case did the courts decide to take up or decline today because that's, of course, one of the key decisions they make?

SCHNEIDER: Right. Several orders coming out today about cases that they will and won't take. But most notable perhaps relates to the Robert Mueller grand jury proceedings. It's been this case that's been shrouded in mystery and the Supreme Court today granting a motion from the government that means we could get more of a glimpse into this mystery grand jury subpoena. It's of this unnamed foreign owned corporation that has been fighting this grand jury subpoena. It is still fighting it. But the Supreme Court telling the government today you can redact some of the sealed documents and perhaps that will get out to the public and we'll get a bit more information in this case that's been shrouded in mystery.


SCIUTTO: Yes, big questions what that foreign country is.

Jessica Schneider at the court, thanks very much.

[09:59:52] This news today. The iconic fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has died. The German designer was at the forefront of fashion as the creative director for luxury brands such as Chanel and Fendi. His dark glasses, silver ponytail, fingerless gloves made him one of the most