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Border Battle - WH Moves Forward With Wall Funding Despite Lawsuits; Russia Investigation - McCabe: It's Possible" Trump Is A Russian Asset; Exclusive - Taiwan's President: Military Threat Posed By China Growing Daily; Exclusive - Taiwan's President: Our Govt. Restricting Use Of Huawei Equipment; Teachers' Strike - Nearly Every School In West Virginia Closed As Teachers Protest; New This Morning - Oregon Considers Lowering Voting Age To 16. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 20, 2019 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This morning, the White House is moving forward with plans to shift federal funds to pay for the president's desired border wall.

Despite mounting lawsuits against it, the president is moving some funds through executive action. But to get more money, he declared a national emergency, the legality of that certainly in question.

My next guest called the president's declaration, in his words, "Bogus". Joining me now, Democratic Senator, Dick Durbin, of Illinois. Of course, Illinois, one of the 16 states now challenging the president's emergency declaration here.

But the president is finding at least one pot of money that he could go to even without the emergency declaration. Is there anything that the Congress can do about that? Or does it go forward?

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D)-ILLINOIS: Well, there is some flexibility in one of the sources, that's for sure. But if he's going all the way, the six billion plus that he wants to put into this, then it's really going to trigger, as it has, this lawsuit and a constitutional question.

And it's an important question, whomever the president may be. We're told, at least in the Constitution, the power of the purse rests with Congress. The American people, through Congress, and now the president is defying that.

There are times, in the past, where we have given a nod, an agreement for emergency spending, like after 9/11. But this, if it becomes routine, is an erosion of power within the Constitution.

SCIUTTO: Now you'll hear the president's defenders say, yes. But in 1976, Congress passed this National Emergencies Act granting power. Give me your argument as to why that would not apply here? DURBIN: Because it's not an emergency, number one. If there's a crisis on the border, a humanitarian crisis, the president created it, taking thousands of children, forcibly removing them from their parents, then losing them in the federal computer system.

This notion that to make people wait for days, even weeks, even months before they can go through the interview, which under American law is allowed for some seeking asylum.

These are crises, humanitarian crises of the president's own creation. In terms of a security crisis, it is a complete fabrication, it is not a crisis from a security point of view.

SCIUTTO: Let's talk about the president's reported, attempted interference in the Russia investigation. You're aware the "New York Times" reporting that the president requested his Acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker, tried to get an attorney for the Southern District here in New York.

Used to be Rudy Giuliani's partner, someone who'd supported the president in the past, to oversee the investigation into Michael Cohen. If that's true, and even though it was unsuccessful, would that be attempted obstruction of justice?

DURBIN: Well, of course, there's another element in the crime, corruptive intent, I believe, isn't necessary in this. And that would have to be proven, otherwise, there is no possibility of a crime.

But make no mistake, when someone in elective office reaches out to a prosecutor to try to influence their decision-making, or even remove them, I think there's a presumption you're stepping over the line. And in this case with the president, there have been so many instances, in the last two years plus, it's no surprise.

SCIUTTO: I don't want to make you a prosecutor here, and you're right, corrupt intent is the standard. When you look at the whole pattern of behavior by this president, firing James Comey, and saying out loud, it was his handling of the Russia probe. Repeatedly attacking Jeff Sessions, his appointed Attorney General, for not hemming in the Russia probe. Putting in Matthew Whitaker, who he saw as more friendly.

He criticized the Russia probe, and then requesting that he interfere as well. Does that pattern of behavior, to you, create at least the impression of corrupt intent? I mean, again, you might have to vote on this, if there were ever articles of impeachment.

DURBIN: I, of course, don't want to get to that point where I prejudge a situation. As you described it, a credible, troublesome pattern by this president, who believed -- he said as much to Lester Holt on NBC after he fired Comey.

You know, I'm trying to get this Russian investigation under control from his point of view. That to me, oversteps what a president is allowed to do. SCIUTTO: Matthew Whitaker, of course, testified before the House Judiciary Committee. Remember the Senate Judiciary Committee denied any such activity, or discussions like this. In your view, could he approach it himself, and is this something that Senate Judiciary should investigate?

DURBIN: Well, they had a failing memory when it came to most things, and refused to answer conversations about conversations involving the president. So I'd have to look at his direct testimony.

But, you know, Lindsey Graham, now chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he wants to open up some of these questions. We're long overdue. The Senate Judiciary Committee has historically been the centerpiece of most major investigations.

We've been AWOL for the last two years. I hope that Graham keeps to his word. Let's bring in Andrew McCabe, let's bring in Mr. Whittaker. Let's ask some of these questions under oath for direct answer.


SCIUTTO: Andrew McCabe, you mentioned here, and as he's been doing multiple interviews, he was asked by our Anderson Cooper yesterday, whether he thinks it's possible President Trump is a Russian asset, a remarkable question to be asked.

And his answer was, yes, it's possible, and that's the reason they opened the investigation. Does not make a conclusion, but he says it's possible.

This morning, you called that a legitimate line of inquiry. Why?

DURBIN: Well, I think it's legitimate for several reasons. How, and is sadly, it is a plausible explanation for inexplicable conduct by this president.

Why would he invite the Ambassador from the Soviet, from Russia, into the White House Oval Office, along with the Foreign Minister, and then ask note takers, and observers, and witnesses to leave the room?

I mean, that I don't think it's ever happened in American history, in modern history. Why would he at so many different times rely on Putin's version of events over and above his own intelligence agencies?

What is going on here? That is a legitimate line of inquiry.

SCIUTTO: Of course, that was another revelation from McCabe's book. Is that, when confronted with US intelligence that North Korea had launched an intercontinental ballistic missile, the president said, forget that, Putin told me otherwise, and I believe Putin.

I wonder, do your Republican colleagues, in private conversations at least, say to you they're concerned about these public expressions of support for a Russian president, and adversary, over US intelligence agencies. DURBIN: A few, if you do, and some who are retiring, usually do.

SCIUTTO: Why is it only the retiring ones?

DURBIN: Well, because the number 85, 85 percent of Republicans believe this president, no matter what he says or does, and they're scared to death. Many incumbent Republicans, those 85 percent Republicans, will turn on them in a primary, and the president will go after them in a primary.

And so, they're backing off time-and-time again from obvious, and reasonable, and linear conclusions, from facts to theory. They just hold back for fear of what might happen at home.

SCIUTTO: So you're saying, they're more scared of the potential of being primaried than they are scared of the prospect that the president is undermining US national security.

DURBIN: In many instances, I'm sorry, but that's the case.

SCIUTTO: That's a remarkable thing for an American lawmaker to believe and fear.

DURBIN: It is, and I think it may change after the Mueller inquiry is released. That's why I think that is really the critical document, the critical piece of the process here.

It may finally bring some of these Republican leaders, with whom I work with every single day, and otherwise respect, terrifically. It may bring them to the point where they have to step up, and do what's been done a few times in our history, when members of the president's own party spoke out in a way that was very clear.

SCIUTTO: We'll see, we're waiting.

DURBIN: I hope so.

SCIUTTO: Senator Durbin, thanks very much for taking the time.

Coming up, Taiwan's president warning that the military threat from China is growing everyday. She sits down for an exclusive one-on-one with CNN.




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: High level trade talks between the US and China are set to resume tomorrow, but one small island off China's coast says it's already fighting Beijing on the front lines.

SCIUTTO: In an exclusive interview with CNN, Taiwan President, Tsai Ing-wen, issued a stark warning for the rest of Asia, claiming that China's military threat is growing by the day. CNN's Matt Rivers, he stayed up late to join us live from Taiwan. Matt, you got a chance to sit down with the Taiwan president, And I'm curious, did she express to you genuine concern about military action by China?

MATT RIVERS, CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it was really enlightening, Jim and Poppy, to hear her talk in such stark terms about what she views as an existential threat from China.

Not only in a singular way, just talking about the relationship between China and Taiwan. But also, how she says what's happening right now, what China is doing to Taiwan in her words, could be a glimpse into the future, of sorts, to what could happen to other countries in this region around the world, including the United States.


RIVERS (voice-over): As the U.S. grapples with a more combative China, economically, politically, militarily, one small island says it's already fighting those battles on the frontline. Taiwan, about a hundred miles off China's coast.

RIVERS (on camera): Madam President, could you.

RIVERS (voice-over): Taiwan's President, Tsai Ing-wen, sat down with CNN for an exclusive interview. The threat from China was top of mind.

TSAI ING-WEN, PRESIDENT OF TAIWAN: (SPEAKING CENTRAL THAI) (through interpreter): China's ambitions and aggression are not just targeting Taiwan, but also other countries in the region, or even worldwide.

RIVERS (voice-over): Taiwan is a vibrant democracy of 23 million people, and a close U.S. ally, self-governed for seven decades. But Beijing still considers it a part of its territory to be retaken by force, if necessary. And since he took office, analysts say Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has increased military drills near the island.

ING-WEN (through interpreter): The military threats China poses on Taiwan grow every day.

RIVERS (voice-over): The threats faced here could increasingly reflect what the U.S. might see from Beijing. Thai's government says China might have meddled in Taiwan's elections last year. Not unlike what American officials say, Russia did to the U.S. in 2016. Beijing denies that.

The Trump administration believes China could do the same thing to the U.S. in 2020. And then there's Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, critics allege has close links to the government. Huawei denies that. The U.S. now says the company is a national security threat. Thai says Taiwan has already done something about it.


[10:45:00] (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ING-WEN (through interpreter): We have placed restrictions on the use of Huawei equipment in government agencies and other highly sensitive institutions.

RIVERS (voice-over): But Taiwan is most concerned about China's powerful army, a nationalistic drumbeat from Beijing means speculation about China invading Taiwan went from a far-off notion to a scenario real enough, that we're talking logistics.

ING-WEN (through interpreter): After withstanding the first wave of Chinese attacks ourselves, the rest of the world would stand up to exert strong pressure on China.

RIVERS (voice-over): Despite having no formal diplomatic ties since 1979, the US has sold billions of dollars worth of weapons to Taiwan. In a recent op-ed Senator Marco Rubio said China is the, "Geopolitical challenge of this century for the U.S.

For Taiwan, the future the senator talks about is right now, and Taipei's message is clear, what happens here, what happens to this democracy, could happen to others.

ING-WEN (through interpreter): If it's Taiwan today, people should ask, who's next. Any country in the region. If it no longer wants to submit to the will of China, they will face similar military threats.


RIVERS (on camera): And we know that some US lawmakers want to hear from Tsai Ing-wen in person. In Washington, a group of Republican senators led by Cory Gardner of Colorado, Marco Rubio of Florida, and others have actually formally asked Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to formally invite Tsai Ing-wen to go to Washington to address a joint session of Congress.

Pelosi has not issued that invitation yet. Tsai wouldn't say whether she would accept or not. But we do know, Jim and Poppy, that Beijing would not be pleased with that invitation.


HARLOW: Yes. It's an extraordinary piece Matt, and such important access to her. Thank you for that.

Ahead, teachers in West Virginia are on strike for a second day, even after the House of Delegates shelved the bill that prompted them to walk off their job. So why are they still on strike? We'll take you there.



(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SCIUTTO: We've seen this scene in a few states now. In West Virginia, day two, nearly every single public school in West Virginia closed, as teachers there remain on strike.

This moment -- just moments ago, teachers at the State Capitol protesting a Bill that would bring charter schools to the state, and also fund private school tuition with state funds.

HARLOW: To be clear, this Bill has been killed. It was killed as of yesterday. But these teachers, as you see them here today, they are still on strike.

Polo Sandoval is there in West Virginia covering it. So, I mean, that's the key question. The Bill is killed, but they're still there. Why?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So poppy, basically what they did, they came - they descended on the Capitol yesterday, calling on lawmakers, and House delegates, and also the Senate to basically kill this thing.

They got what they wanted, but they came back today to make sure that that Bill stays dead. Here's the thing. Lawmakers in the House of Delegates here in West Virginia still have today to bring this back to life essentially.

So you have hundreds of teachers who have descended on the Capitol to make sure that doesn't happen, including Amanda Vaughan who's been teaching in West Virginia for five years, you were telling me.

It's important that our viewers understand the difference. You were part of this -- of the protests, and the walkout last year.


SANDOVAL: You're part of it again today. What's changed, what hasn't changed, what's different?

VAUGHAN: Well, last year we were focusing more on getting the funding for a PDI for insurance. This year, we're focusing more on trying to get rid of this Education Bill that we feel would hurt education more than trying to actually elevate it, and make it better for our students.

SANDOVAL: Last year was about funding audience your Insurance Program. Now it's about not funding charter schools. And that's really the crux of this issue here for you and so many other teachers. Why would charter schools in West Virginia be a bad thing?

VAUGHAN: Well, part of the problem is with the charter schools. They were wanting to make them public. So students went to the charter schools. They would be fully funded from our public education to have help pay for those schools.

And, as we lose funding in our public schools, you know, you'll have less students. So we'd have to lower the amount of teachers, and things like that. And the question then becomes, you know, we still have classes that are too large.

You know, we still don't have enough Special Ed counselors, things like that. And the Bill did have some money put aside for, like the Special Ed counselors and stuff. But it just wasn't enough to counteract the ESAs, and the charter schools, and the money we would be losing.

SANDOVAL: Amanda Vaughan, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

VAUGHAN: Thank you.

SANDOVAL: And again you hear, from both sides of this issue here. You heard from one. But you hear from Mitch Carmichael, that the leader of the state senate here, who said the charter schools would allow parents more options, more opportunities for their children.

So it certainly is an issue that's being debated here. But the main question here, will teachers go back to school tomorrow when they have assurances that the Bill is dead for good?

HARLOW: Yes. And both things can be true at the same time, more options, but that would mean less per pupil funding, right? For the public schools. It's sort of this fundamental debate.

HARLOW: And so much of it happens in the state capitals. Polo Sandoval, it's great to have you there.

Still to come, sweet 16? Oregon could be lowering its voting age. Young folks listening out there, listen out for this story. It's coming up at last.




HARLOW: Get this. Lawmakers in Oregon, we didn't even know this could happen, but it might, are considering a proposal to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. They wanted to apply not just to local and state elections, but also federal elections.

One of the Bill's sponsor says it's time to give young people a chance to participate in decisions that affect their lives. If this passes, voters will cast their ballot on the proposal in the 2020 election.

SCIUTTO: Young people like me could finally get --

HARLOW: Just like you. Yes.

This is a serious story. The FDA could be looking to change vaccination laws amid the largest measles outbreak in decades, here in the US. Its commissioner says if states do not change their laws, the federal government might need to step in. Right now, 47 states allow parents to opt out of childhood vaccines for religious reasons. Seventeeen states allow parents to opt out, because of personal, or philosophical beliefs.

The CDC says there have been more than 127 confirmed measles cases in the US just this year.

HARLOW: Wow. An incredible sight. Look at this. From Yosemite National Park. This is a phenomenon called a firefall. When the setting sun hits a waterfall at just the right angle, it creates the illusion of lava falling off a cliff there.