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Kushner's Security Clearance; Interview with Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL); Inslee Joins 2020 Election; Backlash for Biden's Comment; Beto O'Rourke's Decision. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 1, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Have more voices. It's like Thanksgiving. It's interesting.

Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here Sunday morning as well. We'll be here at 8:00 a.m. Eastern if you can get up early.

Don't go anywhere. A busy news day. Brianna Keilar starts right now.

Have a great Friday.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, the president reportedly ordered officials to approve son-in-law Jared Kushner's security clearance despite concerns from intel officials, then lied about it. Why?

And why one of the president's closest allies say New York prosecutors may be building a case to indict President Trump once he leaves office.

Plus, another day, another presidential candidate. The one thing that the governor of Washington is doing differently than the rest of his competitors.

And, stinging rebuke. After the president defends a brutal dictator over the death of an American, Otto Warmbier's family responds.

And we start with President Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner and national security. "The New York Times" reporting that the president stepped in personally to get Kushner top secret security clearance even after intelligence officials waved red flags repeatedly. Then Chief of Staff John Kelly carrying out the order, but also providing a paper trail.

Sarah Westwood is at the White House.

Sarah, what more have we learned about how this happened and what is the White House saying about it now?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. Well, Brianna, obviously these reports are raising new questions about how Jared Kushner was able to get that security clearance, and whether top officials, up to and including President Trump himself, deliberately lied about this process.

Now, just to give you a little bit of context here, Kushner had his interim security clearance downgraded early last year, which meant he no longer had access to top secret information. And that was a significant setback for him because he has such a broad portfolio. He's involved in everything from legislative strategy to Middle East peace negotiations. So, according to these reports in May, President Trump did direct then Chief of Staff John Kelly to fix the problem, to get Kushner that top-secret access restored.

Kelly, as you mentioned, made a contemporaneous memo, and so did then White House Counsel Don McGahn, outlining the objections that intelligence officials had to Kushner getting that clearance.

And, since then, President Trump and Ivanka Trump have denied that the president playing any role in securing that clearance. The White House is largely avoiding wading into the situation, saying they don't comment on clearance issues. But Kellyanne Conway, earlier this morning, told Fox News that Ivanka Trump chose to comment on the issue to ABC earlier this year because perhaps she has inside information about the situation.

But, of course, Brianna, the controversy here is not so much on whether President Trump had the legal authority to intervene. Experts agree that he did. But why White House officials misrepresent and perhaps deliberately lied about it at the time? Why the need for secrets, Brianna.

KEILAR: It's a very good question. Sarah Westwood at the White House. Thank you.

And the chairman of both the House Oversight and the House Intelligence Committees are saying that they want to know more about this and about the White House security clearance process.

Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi is a Democrat on both of those committees.

Sir, what do you think of this revelation from "The Times" that the president himself intervened, and also, if that is true, that he lied about not intervening?

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D), ILLINOIS: Well, thanks for having me on, Brianna.

I had three reactions. First, I'm very concerned about the president concealing his potential involvement in ordering Jared Kushner to get top-secret clearance. Secondly, it's clear that career law enforcement officials did not want him to have top secret clearance. And then, three, he has tremendous financial venerabilities. He had a hundred errors of admissions on his initial security clearance form where he did not disclose foreign contacts and so he should not have access to top security clearance. I mean the man apparently has a portfolio that includes trying to see Middle East peace, but a lot of people are concerned about wonder he's just trying to get a piece of the action. KEILAR: As you prioritize who you want to hear from, what you want to

investigate, is this something that you would want to -- does this hit the level that you'd want to hold some hearings on this, that you might consider issuing subpoenas, that you'd want to hear from Jared Kushner and John Kelly on this?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Possibly. And, actually, Chairman Cummings, of the Oversight Committee, initially requested documents and materials regarding not only Mr. Kushner but the entire security clearance process. Those documents have not been forthcoming voluntarily from the White House. Today he issued another letter asking for compliance by March 4th. If those documents are not produced, I think that he should subpoena documents and witnesses, potentially, because this issue is not about partisanship, it's about our national security, Brianna.

[13:05:10] KEILAR: Would you bring -- would you want to see Jared Kushner come for a hearing, or do you think that there are other things to focus on as opposed to having such a high profile hearing with the president's son-in-law over this issue?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I can't think of issues greater than our national security. And I think that this particular issue of Jared Kushner's security clearance might warrant a hearing. You know, you don't have to look too far to see what's happened here.

KEILAR: I guess I'm talking -- I think -- I hear what you're saying, national security, but the Russia investigation. You know, we've seen a Michael Cohen hearing. Obviously that rose to the level. This is -- this is something that you think rise -- this -- so you're saying this definitely rises to the level that you would want to see a hearing with Jared Kushner?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Possibly. I'd want to see what Chairman Cummings thinks in terms of leading us down this particular path.

But, you know, just two weeks ago we launched a huge investigation with Chairman Cummings' leadership to basically unravel this nuclear secret scandal with Saudi Arabia. There, as you might recall, Jared Kushner tried to rush secret -- nuclear -- secrets of America to Saudi Arabia in return for billions of dollars in contracts that would have gone to companies that are connected to Jared Kushner. So that's kind of why it's so important for us to get to the bottom of this security clearance process, especially with regard to Jared Kushner.

KEILAR: You -- we saw a lot of -- everyone saw a lot of Michael Cohen this week. On Wednesday he testified publicly. You had multiple occasions to see him, including privately in one of his testimonies. So I was wondering, when you were able to see him testifying behind closed doors, and I know you can't say what he said, it's an intel hearing, but was it dramatically different or more expansive what you saw him say in private versus public?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I can't get into the details of that particular testimony, but what I can say is this, and Chairman Schiff pointed out these things as well. First, he was very cooperative. And then, secondly, he gave so much testimony on so many subjects that he's going to have to come back again, or he's agreed to voluntarily come back again next week. And that was not expected at the outset. So I did not see big inconsistencies between the appearances.

KEILAR: Did you learn more in private?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think it's fair to say yes because of the nature of that hearing.

One other thing I just want to point out, Brianna, there were no cameras there. As you know, it was a private hearing. And I think that in some ways led to a little bit more subdued questioning by the Republicans. I think in the -- in the oversight hearing, I really felt that they were playing to the cameras a lot of the time, especially at the outset when they tried to, you know, close down the hearing like not more than three minutes into the hearing. It looked like they were almost playing to Donald Trump, who apparently was watching live from Vietnam at that time.

KEILAR: Playing to the cameras is sort of -- it's a bipartisan tradition, I will add that, when it comes to hearings that are televised.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Possible. Possible.

KEILAR: Your questions at that hearing really did reveal a lot, though. Cohen revealed that there are more investigations being carried out by the Southern District of New York.

Did that catch you by surprise and have you spoken with those prosecutors?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Honestly, it did catch me by surprise. I have not spoken to any prosecutors in the Southern District about it.

I would just point you to the question before that as well, which was kind of related. I had asked, what was his last communication with Donald Trump or his advisers. And very interestingly he said that the White House had communicated -- or Donald Trump or the White House had communicated with them two months after the raid on his home. That's very unusual timing. I asked him what was the substance of the conversation, and again he said, I'm not allowed to say because that is under investigation by the Southern District of New York.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, thank you for being with us.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: So let's get back now to our top story, "The New York Times" reporting that President Trump personally demanded that his son-in-law get top-secret security clearance over the concerns of intelligence officials. That puts these comments by Kushner's attorneys, Abbe Lowell, in a new light. Let's listen.

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

ABBE LOWELL, JARED KUSHNER'S ATTORNEY: The intelligence community and the FBI. It happened in the normal course. It happened the way it happens for thousands of people. It goes to initially the bureau, who does a background investigation. It takes a lot of time. It then gets processed (ph) through various agencies. It gets to the White House. There's a special office that does security measures. They're all career 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.


[13:10:18] KEILAR: We have Samantha Vinograd, former senior adviser to Tom Donilon, President Obama's national security adviser.

So it's interesting to hear Abbe Lowell say that, that this was nothing out of the ordinary.

When you -- when you hear -- it seems unusual that an attorney would lie knowingly, right? That's the expectation. So when you see Abbe Lowell say that, what do you think?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think either he's lying and shares the same Pinocchio problem that his employer seems to adopt at every twist and turn, or he was left in the dark.

But the real point, Brianna, is, we have to keep in mind, there are two men roaming the halls of the West Wing right now that experts determine to be potential counter-intelligence risks. President Trump was under counter-intelligence investigation by the Department of Justice and seasoned experts deemed that Jared Kushner was not responsible enough to access top secret level information because potentially he was under undue influences of foreign governments, business interests or any other number of forces that were not the U.S. government.

KEILAR: Tell us tangibly how the intelligence community sees these risks. What are they worried about when they don't want to grant Jared Kushner security clearance?

VINOGRAD: Well, typically foreign intelligence services look at a certain range of priority targets. Government officials fall within that bucket, especially senior ones. Someone like Jared Kushner has access, influence and a mixture of either inexperience, hubris or malign intent that really makes him susceptible to not sharing stuff with investigators. We know that he did not disclose various meetings that he had, financial dealings and that sort of thing.

What that means is foreign governments may have manipulation points on Jared Kushner. If they know something that the U.S. government doesn't, that opens Kushner up to bribery. We also know there was reporting that the Saudi government, Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman, are the best of friends these days. The Saudi government called him the clown prince, because they thought he was so susceptible to manipulation.

So at this point --

KEILAR: The clown prince?

VINOGRAD: The clown prince. At this point Jared Kushner's not only accessing sensitive intelligence when the intelligence community thought that he may be easily manipulated, he's also going out and representing United States interests supposedly with the very people that may be manipulating him. That should worry everyone, Republican, Democrat and everywhere in the middle, as we think about the kind of people we want representing the American people.

KEILAR: Let's listen to what Ivanka Trump said about this.


IVANKA TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So no special treatment?



KEILAR: February 8th.

VINOGRAD: It is amazing to me how easily people lie. But let me just correct something that Ivanka said. That's a bit of misinformation. There are a lot of people in the security clearance queue. But someone like Jared Kushner, his security clearance is prioritized because of the kind of role that the president wanted him to play. His clearance would have been at the top of the heap. The fact of the matter is, investigators did not think he deserved a clearance. He was in clearance purgatory, this interim clearance for so long. And then the president personally intervened because, for some reason, he wanted Jared Kushner to have access to this information.

KEILAR: So when you see her saying that, you see malign intent in that?

VINOGRAD: It had to be a lie. She had to know that it is unusual for a senior staff member in the -- in the West Wing to have an interim security clearance for such an attenuated period of time, and it is no secret that Chief of Staff John Kelly did a security clearance review, and then miraculously Jared Kushner got his clearance, despite all these counterintelligence red flags. Lying about the process is certainly terrible, but then again let's think about the actual impact this has on U.S. national security. And the fact that Jared Kushner was not trusted by anyone but Donald Trump and foreign governments to responsibly handle classified information. KEILAR: Samantha Vinograd, thank you so much for your insight.

VINOGRAD: Thank you.

KEILAR: Now, the president defended Kim Jong-un over the death of an American college student, and now Otto Warmbier's parents are firing back with a blistering response.

Plus, another day, another Democrat and another entry to the 2020 race. Hear why Jay Inslee may be different than the rest.

[13:14:49] And Osama bin Laden's son taking over al Qaeda and the U.S. raises the stakes to hunt him down.


KEILAR: The crowded field of Democrats running for president gets bigger and bigger. And this is the latest entry right here. These are live pictures of Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, who is joining the race today. He is the 11th Democratic candidate to announce a presidential run. Two other Democrats have formed exploratory committees and more than a dozen others are considering jumping into the fray.

Now, for his part, Inslee is running on one central issue, and that is climate change.


GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we're the last that can do something about it.

I'm Jay Inslee, and I'm running for president because I'm the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation's number one priority. We can do this. Join our movement. This is our moment.


[13:20:08] KEILAR: Let's take a closer look now at how the 2020 Democratic field is shaping up.

We have A.B. Stoddard, associate editor and columnist for RealClearPolitics, and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger with us.

So he's -- this is his signature issue, climate change. What do you think of that approach?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's a way to distinguish yourself in a -- in a field that is, as you point out, is crowded and going to get more crowded by the minute. It's an issue that's very popular with Democrats. It's not the top issue, though. You know, 67 percent of Democrats say it should be a priority, but they have five other issues that they consider to be more important. And he'll put other Democrats kind of on the ropes saying, OK, are you for the green new deal, are you for the green new deal? So it starts a debate within the party and it's just one way for him to say, hey, here I am, I'm a little different.

KEILAR: Is it a -- is it a play for a certain part of the Democratic Party out of the gate? Obviously all these candidates are going to have to deal with multiple issues, right?


KEILAR: So they'll -- he'll add to his repertoire. But what does that tell you?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, I think that when old white men get in, they should go for the kids' vote. And that's definitely a big, compelling issue to start out with.

KEILAR: That's what I was getting at.

STODDARD: Look, he's a governor, and that's no small potatoes. I mean that's very good executive experience. Nobody knows who Inslee is. The three of us do at this table. But he -- he can pull a lot of strings because he's been head of the Democratic Governor Association, so he actually has a lot of contacts within the party.

I think climate -- he's actually felt the sting of some failures on that issue, but he has been a pioneer in terms of a Democratic legislator not shying from the issue. And I think it's a good start.

I'm with Gloria, I don't know how long he stays on it because no one really is on a plan yet. But I think it's a good way to capture the attention of young people.

KEILAR: Let's -- let's get to know him a little better, shall we. Let's listen in.


GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The science on this is abundantly clear. We have a very short period of time to act. And whether we shrink from this challenge or rise to it is the vital question of our time. And we know it is the 11th hour. But as we have shown time and time again throughout our nation's history, this is our nation's hour to shine. And I believe we will because of the urgency of the moment, the scope of the challenge. Because the economic growth opportunities inherent in clean energy are clear. And because no other issue touches so much of what we as a nation care most deeply about. And I am confident that we can do it.

Climate change -- climate change is no longer just a chart or a graph. It is right now, not in some distant future. I stood in the middle of Paradise, California, a few months ago, a town of about 25,000 people, and we drove for over an hour in the dark. And you could hardly find a house standing after those devastating fires. Because of the massive fires here last summer, our kids were told they had to stay indoors because the air was so unhealthy. Think about this, the air quality in Washington state was the worst in the world last year. Not Beijing, not New Delhi, but here in Washington state.

We have one chance.


KEILAR: All right, that's his signature issue, Governor Jay Inslee, on climate change there as he gets into the race today.

He also appears to be setting himself apart, A.B., from Democrats in another way, which is that he's going to accept money from super PACs. What do you make of that?

STODDARD: Well, we know that Democrats are trying to also make this an issue. Elizabeth Warren is trying to be the most pure on this issue. And I do think a lot of Democratic primary voters, real purists, care about this type of thing. It is not going to be a general election issue where people say, well, they're not, you know, they're not bought and paid for, so -- and this candidate is. It's really going to be a subset of the Democratic electorate in the primary race only that is paying attention to whether or not Jay Inslee is more pure or less than Senator Warren.

I think, in the end, it might be a hindrance for them. But if they think they can galvanize more voters that way, good for them. I just don't think it's a winning issue.

KEILAR: Does it hurt him with progressives, Gloria, or not?

BORGER: Ah, it might. I mean inside the party. Again, it's kind of an issue that matters -- it matters to purists, as A.B. was pointing out, but I don't think it's a large general election issue. And, by the way, he has to figure out a way to raise money because he's not a well-known candidate.

KEILAR: So the one we're waiting -- what are we going to find -- when are we going find out when Joe Biden is in or out, right? But he -- he hasn't said, and he was quick, though, to respond to the backlash over a comment that he made about Vice President Mike Pence.

[13:25:09] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: The guy is a decent guy. Our vice president, who stood before this group of allies and leaders and said, I'm here on behalf of President Trump. And there was dead silence.


KEILAR: All right, so Cynthia Nixon, the actress and activist, then tweeted, Joe Biden, you've just called America's most anti-LGBT elected leader a decent guy. Please consider how this falls on the ears of our community.

And Biden quickly responded, he said to Nixon that she was right. He said, quote, there is nothing decent about being anti-LGBTQ rights.

What did you -- what did you think about this, Gloria?

BORGER: He's running, number one. And, number two --

KEILAR: Thanks -- thanks for the tip of the hand.

BORGER: Yes. And number two, he's -- this is Joe Biden. He's kind of an aniconism. He's known for reaching across the aisle saying so-and- so is such a great guy, a decent guy. And that's who he -- that's who he is, and it tells you a little bit about the party, too, or a lot about the party, which is, you can't say anything nice about anybody we don't -- we don't like. And so I think that, you know, Biden is saying, OK, I get it, I get it, and he may be a little out of touch with where the center of the party is right now, but he did have an apology like within a nanosecond, which tells you something.

KEILAR: Can -- let me ask you about Beto O'Rourke, because it's interesting what he said, A.B., that he's made a decision about running. There was a question, is he going to take on John Cornyn in the Senate race? Is he -- is he going to go for the presidential race? It seems like he's not going for the Senate race, right, and that would be a really tough battle for him, not that the presidency is easy, but just to be clear about that.

What is that -- why -- why would you do that? Why would you say, I've made a decision and I'll tell you in a little bit.

STODDARD: Because they're still planning their like epic kickoff. I mean it's clear he's running. He said that his wife and him have come to a decision. They're very excited to share it with everyone. They want to share it with everyone at the same time. And it's very clear what he's up to. We just have to find out when and where.

KEILAR: So it's just like -- it's a plan -- it's a logistics issue?

STODDARD: Well, I mean, there's a reason that people choose to either do it on a video or have a big splash or be out in the snow. I don't know, what -- it's an individual choice. But he's made it clear that that's what he's going to -- he's not going to go to a huge stadium and announce that he's not running.

KEILAR: What will -- what will Beto do.

All right, Gloria Borger, A.B. Stoddard, thank you so much.

Now, in a stunning rebuke, the parents of American student Otto Warmbier are calling out President Trump for citing with North Korea and their son's death.

Plus, why at least one of Michael Cohen's revelations about the president's finances may put President Trump in legal jeopardy.