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TSA Employees Still Waiting For Back Pay; Family of Otto Warmbier Rebukes Trump Over Siding With North Korean Dictator; Did Trump Personally Order Jared Kushner's Security Clearance?. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired March 1, 2019 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: A shutdown diverted, an emergency declared. States then sue. Fraud, tears, and a Carolina redo.

More former staffers, more books, more insults. RBG is back in court. El Chapo never actually left it. Amazon drops Gotham. Amazon's boss drops a bombshell. Blackface, alleged assault and Virginia in chaos. A Cabinet member breaks the law. A bullet train, an ISIS bride and a Vatican conviction.

I'm still not done. Congress rebukes Trump again and again and again. A freshman quotes Diddy, then faces mo' problems. America's debt crosses $22 trillion. Presidential calendar leaks. And two stars sparking rumors.


LADY GAGA, MUSICIAN: Yes, people saw love. And guess what? That's what we wanted you to see.


BALDWIN: That was -- Randy (ph) -- February. Did we miss things? You bet we did.

Welcome to March.

Hour two. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We start with Jared Kushner. His job, as one of President Trump's senior advisers, means he is privy to the most sensitive and classified secrets in the U.S., secrets he only knows because of a top-secret security clearance.

Kushner received that clearance despite the concerns of intel officials , and on the orders of his father-in-law. That is according to "The New York Times" today, which reports that President Trump ignored the warnings and demanded the top-secret clearance be given anyway.

The report adds, Trump's former Chief of Staff John Kelly and others were bothered so much by the whole thing that they actually wrote an internal memo about it at the time.

But, in recent weeks, both the president and his daughter Ivanka, who, keep in mind, is Jared's wife, have denied there was any influence from the top.


MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Did you tell General Kelly or anyone else in the White House to overrule security officials, the career veterans?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. I don't think I have the authority to do that. I'm not sure I do. But I wouldn't -- I wouldn't do it.

Jared is a good -- I was -- I was never involved with the security. I know that he -- just from reading, I know that there was issues back and forth about security for -- for numbers numerous people, actually.

But I don't want to get involved in that stuff.

IVANKA TRUMP, ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance.

There are literally close to a million people in the federal government who are in the pipeline to get their permanent clearance and are on temporary status.

QUESTION: So no special treatment?



BALDWIN: And Abbe Lowell, Kushner's attorney, was way ahead of both of them. Here's what he told CNN last year when his client's interim top-secret clearance was downgraded and then restored.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Who made the decision to restore his security clearance? How did that happen?

ABBE LOWELL, ATTORNEY FOR JARED KUSHNER: The intelligence community and the FBI. It happened in the normal course. It happened the way it happens for thousands of people. There was nobody in the political process that had anything to do with it. There was nobody who pressured it.

It was just done the normal, regular way.


BALDWIN: All of it leading House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings to issue a new warning to the White House, after his committee launched an investigation into the administration's security clearance process in January.

So, in a letter Chairman Cummings writes, in part: "I am now writing a final time to request for" -- easy for me to say -- "request" -- your key words here -- "voluntary cooperation with this investigation. I ask that you begin for losing all responsive documents immediately, and I request that you begin scheduling transcribed interviews with each witness identified."

Now, the White House, which has not responded to Chairman Cummings' previous requests,has until Monday to comply.

So let's discuss this with someone who knows how the West Wing operates from the inside.

David Axelrod was a senior adviser to President Obama. He is a CNN senior political commentator and the host of CNN "THE AXE FILES."

So, David Axelrod, welcome, welcome to you, sir.


BALDWIN: It is my understanding that this sort of thing, where a president ignores advice from anyone around him and goes in and grants this security clearance, that this has never happened in the history of at least modern-day presidencies. So says a guy, an expert on security clearances that I talked to last hour.

Is this something that Obama ever contemplated that you know of?

AXELROD: Not that I know of.

Look, if they had come to him, if the intel community, if his White House counsel had come to him and said, there are really serious concerns about this particular person getting a security clearance, I'm quite certain he would have said, well, then they shouldn't.


And I mean, that is -- it's an unusual thing for that to happen. And it is alarming that the president overruled it. But the fact is, you're talking about his son-in-law, you're talking about his daughter. It's a different kind of relationship.

But the thing that we don't know, and maybe we never will, what is it exactly that was in that file? What is it that caused this level of concern? And how much risk is associated with the fact that Jared Kushner has the security clearance now?

BALDWIN: Right. How susceptible would he be to those potential outside foreign influences?

AXELROD: Exactly.

BALDWIN: You mentioned Ivanka. What about the lies? Because it -- listen, it's not -- this isn't news to hear the president lying about something, but to hear Ivanka Trump. And, again, it's "The Washington Post," David, who's reporting that she is actually the one who pressured her father to do this.

AXELROD: Yes, look, lying is a tactic that the president has no problem with. We know that.

In fact, I was thinking yesterday about Otto Warmbier, and the fact that the president was so willing to accept what was obviously a blatant lie on the part of Kim Jong-un, because it suited his purposes. He believes that, if you -- that a lie is a legitimate tactic to use if it suits your purposes.

And maybe that's a principle or an ethic that he passed on. Maybe that's a principle that...


BALDWIN: What about his daughter?

AXELROD: Yes, well, maybe that's a principle that he has passed on, and that is something that governs his children and the way his business runs as well.

But this is the disturbing thing -- and I have said this to you before -- about this president. Regardless of what your point view is on his policies, he does not believe in laws, rules, norms, institutions, and he doesn't believe that it's wrong to lie.

And in this case, he lied to the American people. She lied to the American people. And it is part of a legion of lives that we have seen in the last couple of years. It is disturbing, to say the least.


Stay with me. I want to now switch gears and talk 2020, because another person just jumped into the already crowded field of Democrats hoping to challenge President Trump in 2020.


GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am running for president because, unlike the man in the White House, I believe in all the people who make up America.


INSLEE: ... because I believe in our spirit of innovation and optimism, and because I believe our ability to rise to any challenge.


BALDWIN: That is Washington State Governor Jay Inslee making his official announcement at a Seattle solar panel installer to underscore what he says will be the central issue of his campaign, combating climate change. So, David Axelrod, climate change, right, it's not typically -- it's a bit of a nonstarter, especially for the core of a campaign. We will say that, but we are seeing evidence, millennials, young voters, this is something they're really passionate about.

So my question to you is, would this tactic kind of work, or no?

AXELROD: Well, I mean, look, I think he is filling an important role here, because climate change is an indisputably serious issue, and it's getting more serious all the time. We see it in the wildfires. We see it in the hurricanes.


AXELROD: It's never been an easy political issue. And we confronted that when I worked for President Obama.

The level of public alarm about it was not such that it would be motivating in terms of votes for a lot of voters. But Inslee sees himself as kind of a Paul Revere on this subject, warning the country about it. Maybe he can arouse younger voters around this issue.

But he's an experienced guy. He was in the Congress. He's been governor for a couple of terms. He represented an area that wasn't a typically Democratic area. So he brings a number of qualities to this race.

He's got a rough road to hoe, Brooke, because he's not well-known. He's going to have to raise a great deal of money. He's not a particularly charismatic person. But he's got some credentials and he's got a passion for this issue.

BALDWIN: Sure. No, he clearly does.

On name recognition, though, someone people definitely know, another 2020 contender, is Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders was on "The View" today, where the senator was asked about what he learned from 2016. Here you go.


QUESTION: We're hearing about a lot of Democratic candidates who are meeting with Hillary Clinton for advice, though, some people like Amy Klobuchar.

Do you think you will do the same?


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I suspect not. Hillary has not -- you know, she has not called me.


SANDERS: Look, we have differences. She -- Hillary has played a very important role in modern American public politics. QUESTION: But you're not interested in any advice from her?

SANDERS: I think not. We have -- look, we have...


BALDWIN: You can hear the crowd reaction and the laughter, given the history they had in that race. Your reaction to that exchange?

AXELROD: I don't think that Bernie and Hillary or BFFs. I don't think that...

BALDWIN: They're not on speed dial?

AXELROD: ... they're ever going to be close.

No, no, not at all, because 2016 was a really titanic race. A lot of people in the Clinton camp blame Sanders for damaging her to the point where she became vulnerable. A lot of people in the Sanders camp believe that they kind of rigged the thing in favor of Hillary Clinton, that the party structure rigged it in favor of Hillary Clinton.

And they have big differences in terms of how to approach issues and politics. So I'm not surprised to see that he isn't picking up his phone and asking for counsel. And I don't think she would offer it either.

BALDWIN: Not BFFs, so says David Axelrod.

Before I let you go, I want to ask you about Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren. She's already had her fair share of shall we call it bullying from this president. Let's play some of that.


AXELROD: You said the other day that you didn't -- that Donald Trump might not be a free man by 2020, which seemed like a kind of bracing shot.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, is that any surprise? I mean, look at the number of investigations that are swirling around him. We never had anything like this before in history.

AXELROD: But what is your -- I mean, he is going to be the first president who live-tweets the opposing party's primaries. So he is going to be inserting himself regularly.

You have felt a little of the brunt of that, but I don't think he's going to limit his attention to you. How best to deal with that? Should it -- should you engage? He seems to enjoy that.


So, look, the way I see it is, you got to push back. You never let bullies run over you. But we have got to get out there and talk about what we believe in. That's what I think. That's what I do every chance I get.


BALDWIN: It's such a great question, the notion that this president will live-tweet through his opponents' primary.

Do you think that they should engage or ignore?

AXELROD: Well, look, she's had skirmishes with him, and she hasn't necessarily come out on top in those. He has branded her with Pocahontas, I think unfairly.

But she hasn't been really crisp in her response. And then she came out last fall with this video. I asked her about this during the show. I don't think she did well with that. And it seemed to me during this show this was a particularly sharp exchange about Trump, but in all the other exchanges I had with her, she did not engage him.

And she seems to believe that she wants to stick to her message. It's best for her to stay in her lane. She will respond if she has to. But she doesn't want to be in a constant back and forth with Donald Trump.


We will look for so much more of your interview on "THE AXE FILES" over the weekend.

David Axelrod, thank you very much.

AXELROD: Thanks.

BALDWIN: And just to all of you, the full interview with Senator Elizabeth Warren on "THE AXE FILES" tomorrow night 7:00 right here on CNN.

Coming up next, a powerful rebuke of an evil regime and President Trump's defense of it. How the parents of Otto Warmbier are blasting President Trump for siding with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un when it comes to their child.

Plus, wanted, bin Laden's son. The State Department is now offering $1 million for the location and information of the new criminal mastermind taking over al Qaeda.

And first on CNN, more than a month after the government shutdown, at least 1,000 TSA employees still have not been paid in full. So what's next for these workers and their families?

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[15:18:24] BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

President Trump is facing some intense backlash after siding with North Korea's dictator and not holding Kim Jong-un responsible for the mistreatment of 22-year-old American student Otto Warmbier.

Now Otto's parents are calling out the president in a stinging rebuke. And just remind you, Otto Warmbier was held prisoner in North Korea for more than a year, where his family believes he was tortured into a vegetative state and then returned back home to them in Ohio in 2017, and then died shortly thereafter.

So here's what President Trump said after his meeting with Kim Jong-un this week.


D. TRUMP: I don't believe that he would've allowed that to happen. Just wasn't to his advantage to allow that to happen. He felt very badly. But he knew the case very well, but he knew it later.

He tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word.


BALDWIN: The Warmbiers have now released a statement.

And let me read this whole thing for you. They say: "We have been respectful during the summit process. Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that."

And I spoke with Fred and Cindy Warmbier just months after their son died in 2017. And this is what they told me about Otto's death.


FRED WARMBIER, FATHER OF OTTO WARMBIER: Using the term coma for Otto's condition is completely unfair. Otto had severe brain damage. Otto was systematically tortured and intentionally injured by Kim Jong -- Kim and his regime. And this was no accident.


BALDWIN: How has it been explained to you what North Korea did?

When you say torture, what did they do? Do you know?



F. WARMBIER: North Korea doesn't even acknowledge -- they considered it a humanitarian gesture sending Otto home. His teeth looked like they had been rearranged with a pair of pliers.

You can only look at the evidence. A perfectly healthy young American visiting there, an innocent young American, comes home with severe brain damage.

But it's not like it happened, and they shipped him home immediately. It's a year later. These people are terrorists. Kim and his regime intentionally injured Otto.

CINDY WARMBIER, MOTHER OF OTTO WARMBIER: Nobody should go there, ever. Nobody needs to go there. It was legal. He went with a tour group. Nobody needs to go there.

You know, "The Wall Street Journal" just went there. They show you what they want you to see. So why are we playing into this? Why do we play into this at all anymore? I mean, I don't want to see anyone else hurt or taken.


BALDWIN: CNN correspondent Brian Todd is with me now.

I will never forget speaking with the Warmbiers. And, of course, as this continues to come out, given what the president said, it's just awful for them.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Brooke.

And they -- the Warmbiers clearly feel very passionate about this. It's obvious why. They're very heartbroken still over this. Today's statement by them was really a stinging rebuke of the president.

And when you think about what happened over the past year, I mean, they were guests of the president at the State of the Union address last year. They had met with Mike Pence at the Olympics in South Korea last year.

You fast-forward to now, when President Trump makes that astounding statement yesterday in Hanoi, where he takes Kim's word at this, which analysts say was really the low point of an already dismal news conference there.

And now the Warmbiers, interestingly, they said in their statement they had held back out of respect during the summit and not said anything, but they felt today that they had to speak out. It was really a stinging rebuke of the president. And it appears, from the analysts that I have talked to today, Brooke, that it looks like President Trump might have done that -- again, he tends to believe the word of people who he's speaking to face to face.

He has tended, of course, to take the word of dictators over the word of his own intelligence services. This could be another piece of evidence about that. But also it could be for political expediency. He's trying to strike a deal with Kim Jong-un. He might be giving him the benefit of the doubt over this particular matter. But, again, it's a terrible optic, him trying to do that. BALDWIN: Brian Todd, thank you.

TODD: Sure.

BALDWIN: Just into CNN, Michael Cohen's lawyer responding to Republicans accusing Cohen of perjury by saying he never wanted a job in the White House. Hear the lawyer's explanation.

Plus, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez takes on the president's daughter over a living wage, why she is calling out Ivanka Trump's authenticity and blasting her for being out of touch.



BALDWIN: Just into CNN, Michael Cohen's attorney is responding to Republican criticism that Cohen was denied a job in the White House, which is why he's speaking out against his former longtime friend.

It is a topic that certainly came up in Wednesday's hearing, and Cohen refuted that he desired to work in the White House. And now his attorney, Lanny Davis, just released a statement. Let me read it for you.

He says: "If this is what Mr. Trump and his supporters are focusing on, and not a single rebuttal of any fact asserted by Mr. Cohen in his long day of testimony under oath before the Oversight Committee, that says a lot. This is the classic Trump tactic we have seen for a long time, divert and disparage, rather than confront facts and tell the truth. The fact is, early on, Michael Cohen speculated about a possible position in the White House, but after he consulted with his family and friends, he decided that he would prefer to stay at home in New York City and be personal attorney to the president."

Now, although the historic government shutdown is long over, more than 1,000 TSA employees who worked without pay for weeks have still not gotten their full back pay. And it's still unclear whether the workers will receive what they're owed.

Own CNN aviation and government regulation correspondent Rene Marsh is reporting on this one today.

And, Rene, why the -- why such a delay?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: I mean, Brooke, you know this. You have interviewed many of these TSA employees, many of them living paycheck to paycheck, that worked so long without getting paid during this shutdown.

And now CNN is learning, as you said, more than a month after this shutdown ended, more than 1,000 of them still are owed back pay. The reason for the delay stems in part from this unusual move by the TSA administrator, David Pekoske, during the shutdown to pay a partial paycheck to workers in order to help keep them on the job. You will remember, hundreds of TSA workers called out from work during the shutdown. TSA had a call with its field offices just on Wednesday to discuss this problem with the back pay.

And according to a partial transcript of the call obtained by CNN, the agency said that their partial payment to employees happened to coincide with the end of the shutdown, when funding got restored. They said their timing couldn't have been poorer as far as when they executed that partial pay.

And the result, Brooke? An administrative mess. Now the agency is working to make corrections in its system to reflect that employees had received a partial payment, so that the balance owed to the employees is accurate.