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Democrat Infighting over Rep. Omar Ilhan and Anti-Semitism; Cohen Under Fire for Comments on Possible Pardon; Speaker Pelosi (D) Speaks as House Prepares to Vote on Anti-Hate Resolution Today; Trump Administration Still Doesn't Know How Many Migrant Kids in Their Custody. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 7, 2019 - 11:00   ET




SCUITTO: Oliver, great to have you. Thank you.

HARLOW: Thank you..

Thanks for being with us today. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

There's a big fight brewing on Capitol Hill. That's not like breaking news anymore, but here's the thing about it. It's House Democrats fighting with House Democrats all over comments made by a House Democrat about an issue where there shouldn't be much debate, anti- Semitism. It has gotten quite complicated. The number-two Democrat in the House announcing they will be voting today on a resolution condemning all forms of hate in the House. This started with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's remarks slamming pro-Israel groups and politicians, labelling them as, quote, "pushing for allegiance to a foreign country." Following that came plans for a House resolution condemning anti-Semitism. Then came internal back lash from big-name Democrats that Omar was the one being attacked.

In the middle of all of this, is Speaker Nancy Pelosi who will be speaking any moment now with reporters. We will bring that to you live when she addresses this. So what now? We will have to wait to hear from the speaker herself.

Let's go to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty, on Capitol Hill covering this twist and turns on this issue right now.

Sunlen, where do thinks stand?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So many twists and turns, Kate. As of now, Democratic aides believe there will be a vote at some point today on this final resolution, the anti-Semitic resolution. The final text of that resolution has not been released yet amid consternation that they have not been able to read what exactly is in that resolution. As we have been reporting over the last 48 hours, that's the important part. There has been a lot of concern over what the resolution says. At first there was a draft of the resolution, anti-Semitism resolution. A lot of members up here, even though the resolution did not name Ilhan Omar by name, they felt she was unfairly singled out by the direction and the tone of the resolution. A lot of members pushing for it to be more expansive and include anti-Muslim language and some other language. We don't know exactly what is going to be in the resolution. I'm sure we will hear more from Nancy Pelosi coming up in a few minutes. But we did hear from the majority whip, Steny Hoyer. He says that the resolution will not name Ilhan Omar by name. It will condemn all forms of hate. He says the message will be we are against bigotry, against prejudice and against hate. Again, no final form of that resolution. They are barreling towards a vote later today. Kate, the thing to watch will be how did this go over within the Democratic caucus. There's been many different messages coming from different folks.

BOLDUAN: Sunlen, there has been pushback even from Nancy Pelosi on how big of a squabble conflict, debate, fight this has been internally and spilled out publicly.

SERFATY: That's right. She has attempted to downplay the internal tension within her caucus. From sources I've talked to and members themselves, it seemed this was a flash point yesterday. Democrats huddled on this. This was a major point of contention. Sources described it to me as a messy debate going on. A lot of concern coming from Democratic colleagues. Some allies of Ilhan Omar and others wanting to push for a more forceful resolution. This is a messy debate. I think Nancy Pelosi wants to put this behind her. That's why they are pushing to have this vote late today without members having the actual resolution.

BOLDUAN: I will say, it's important what the speaker of the House has to say. But what she says in this news conference with reporters will be very important for everyone to hear, including members of her own party and what the next steps are. We will bring that to you when she addresses this.

Sunlen, great to see you. Thank you.

So this morning there are also new questions over Michael Cohen's testimony to Congress and whether he lied again. Here is the latest version according to Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis: "At one point, early last year, Michael Cohen did direct his attorney to discuss a possible pardon with President Trump's legal team. But Lanny Davis also says that does not contradict his testimony to Congress last week when he said this.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I have never asked for nor would I accept a pardon from President Trump.


BOLDUAN: Can both be true?

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill following this.

Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lanny Davis is trying to make the argument about the timing of that statement. He is saying it is accurate because he is referring to a period after Michael Cohen's attorneys left what is known as a joint defense agreement, an agreement between Trump's attorneys and Michael Cohen's attorneys. After he left, he didn't seek a pardon. Before, when he was a part of that agreement, he certainly did direct his attorney to discuss the topic of a pardon. That's what Lanny Davis is acknowledging. He said this in a statement, Lanny Davis did. "During that time period, he directed his attorney to explore possibilities of a pardon at one point with Trump lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as well as other lawyers advising President Trump. But after July 2, 2018, Mr. Cohen authorized me, as a new lawyer, to say publicly Mr. Cohen would never accept a pardon from President Trump even if offered. That continues to be the case."

[11:05:31] I can tell you this explanation has not satisfied Republicans, including the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, who met with Michael Cohen during his testimony last week. They did discuss the issue of pardons. Burr would not tell me what Michael Cohen said in the private testimony. He said it appears his public statements are contradictory. He said this, Richard Burr did, "Lanny and Michael Cohen have a history of not making factual statements. They have to clear that up. This is a guy who has already lied to Congress with every interview he does. He is susceptible to forgetting what he said in the past. Not a good situation, not a situation a good lawyer should put him in."

He said that Michael Cohen if he did lie should suffer the consequences. So clearly the Republicans going after Michael Cohen's credibility still in light of the statements. Democrats yet to react. We'll see what they have to say. Nevertheless, some clarification that Cohen's team has to-do after the categorical statement that Michael Cohen made in that public setting last week -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Such a strange issue to be splitting hairs on. You would think this is not where they want to be offering clarifications on this one.

Manu, let's see what comes. I am interested to see what Democrats have to say.

Appreciate it.

Joining me now is CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, for much more on this.

Dana, you talked to the president's attorney last night. What does Rudy Giuliani say about this pardon issue with Michael Cohen? DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He insists that he

never offered anybody on behalf of the president or never left open the possibility of immediately promising a pardon to anybody. He said that that is true for Michael Cohen, for Paul Manafort, for George Papadopoulos and others, who are in a position where they are either potentially or are going to jail and could use a presidential pardon. He did leave out the notion that people have come to him to talk to him and other members of the president's legal team about pardons. So it's murky. Giuliani says he would love to tell the specifics about what happened, but he says Michael Cohen has not released them -- he has not waived the attorney/client privilege. He is bound by that still. He can't speak about it.

But more broadly, Kate, I think what you just got from Manu is really, really important, and that is that this is a witness in Michael Cohen who already had credibility issues since he is going to jail in part for lying to Congress in the first place. Despite the fact that his now lawyer, Lanny Davis, is trying very hard to clean up this issue about pardoning, as you played at the beginning of the segment, Cohen said very explicitly, "I have never asked for nor would I accept a pardon for President Trump." Never is never. Never is not before or after a joint defense agreement that he had with the president.

BOLDUAN: That's the thing, Dana. While legally accurate, maybe, it's telling the whole truth when it comes to common sense that this gets to.

Dana, we have to jump in. I've got to jump over to House back to Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is speaking right now. Let's listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: People don't believe it was intended in an anti-Semitic way. But the fact is that's how it was interpreted. We have to remove all doubt as we have done over and over again. We're working on a resolution. We'll see when we bring it to the floor that we'll again speak out against anti-Semitism and anti-Islamophobia, anti-white supremacy and all the forms that it takes. Our country has no place for this.

On anti-Semitism, we voted a resolution on that recently. A couple of weeks, we can have the votes. In the Munich conference and then in Brussels for the NATO meetings, at every meeting, at every level, at the highest levels, our delegation impressed upon our European allies the importance of fighting anti-Semitism in our countries. This is well before the Ilhan statement that emerged this weekend. But when it did, it was important for me to speak to member first before we would proceed. She was in Africa.

[11:10:09] After I spoke to her, members had different tracts they wanted to take. Some were individual statements, some thinking we should have a resolution. I thought the resolution should be, in large, the issue to anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, et cetera, anti-white supremacist. And it should not mention her name. That's what we are working on, something that is one resolution addressing these forms of hatred not mentioning her name. It's not about her. It's about these forms of hatred.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: She hasn't apologized. Does she need to apologize?

PELOSI: It's up to her to explain that she did not -- it's up to her to explain. I do not believe that she understood the full weight of her words. When you are a Congressman, you are advocate out there, as I was, so I appreciate all the enthusiasm that comes to our colleagues. I've told you that before. That was me pushing the stroller and carrying the signs. I understand how advocates come in with their enthusiasms. But when you cross that threshold into Congress your words weigh much more than when you are shouting it at somebody outside. I feel confident that her words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitude, but she didn't have a full appreciation of how they landed on other people where these words have a history and a cultural impact that may have been unknown to her.


PELOSI: Did I call on him? Did you hear me call on him?



PELOSI: Does that count?

Go ahead. Go ahead.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. There was concern about motions to recommit.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) That could be the motion to recommit and try to undercut what happened with the firearms bill. Is that part of the decision to go ahead at this point?

PELOSI: No. No. No, no. The Republicans will never fail to have their xenophobia motions to recommit as they did last week. That doesn't matter whether we have a resolution or not. This has nothing to do with that. This has to do with -- I see everything as an opportunity. This is an opportunity once again to declare strong as possible opposition to anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim statements, anti- white supremacist attitude attitudes. We don't share that view. So it hasn't nothing to do with that. However, I do grant you that the Republicans will try to put these kinds of statements in their motions to recommit. That is housekeeping. That's not policy making.


PELOSI: Yes, ma'am?

Yes, sir? UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Obviously, on H.R.-1, it was said I believe we can win elections against people who vote for this. Do you think H.R.-1 fits the pressure (INAUDIBLE)?

PELOSI: No. No. Many members in the purple districts are the strongest proponents for H.R.-1. I appreciate your question. H.R. -- who is -- what the Senator is saying, and with all the respect in the world for his leadership role, he has also said the problem is not that there's too much money in politics, Mitch McConnell said, he said there's not enough money in politics. We vehemently, completely, thoroughly disagree. It is about money in politics and how that destroyed the confidence people have in the political process, but also it's about voter suppression. So whatever they say, what they are voting when they say they are against H.R.-1, they are against removing obstacles of participation to voting in our country. How do you explain that to our founders? I did everything in my power - founders -- to make sure that people did not have access to the polling place. Those who are eligible to vote and to be sure that they could vote and that their vote would be counted as cast. I don't know if you were here when I announced my Too Hot to Handle call. I think it was last week. We just have to make some of these issues too hot to handle in the public. The shutdown of the government was too hot to handle. When we passed the Violence Against Women's Act, we made it too hot to handle, because Republicans would not bring it up in the House. Along the way, the public weighing in on this. Overwhelmingly, the public supports removing voter suppression, lowering the role of big, dark, special-interest money in politics and, again, respecting the rights of those who are eligible to vote and have it be counted as cast.

Thank you.


[11:15:27] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The House investigations on Trump, what kind of evidence does the House right now have on Trump to launch all these investigations on him? And could this possibly be an overreach? And --


PELOSI: No. This is our constitutional responsibility to have oversight over the executive branch. And the evidence they will have is what they will gather doing the oversight, bringing truth to the American people. I salute the committee for the action they have taken. If we were not to exercise oversight over the executive branch, we would be delinquent in our duties.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We have reached the deadline for the set limit, what is the current plan to either raise or extend the debt limit?

PELOSI: We have days for that. Isn't it in April?


PELOSI: Well, according to secretary of the Treasury, those extraordinary measures will go until September or October. Let us hope that long before that, we will have lifted --



PELOSI: It doesn't mean it isn't urgent. It just means that we have to address it. Everything is urgent here. This is urgent. But everything is also an opportunity, an opportunity to have a giant civics lesson for America as to what the role is of government, of each of the branches of government, and the extraordinary nature of the president usurping the constitutional powers of the legislative branch, Article 1, immediately following the Preamble. And that's why we were so pleased that we were able to succeed in passing that legislation -- oh, did I mention that -- under the leadership of Joaquin Castro. And now it's in the Senate where the Senators are asking the president to withdraw his extraordinary usurpation of the Constitution of the United States.


PELOSI: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Listening to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the top, in detail, addressing the issue of anti-Semitism remarks made by another Democratic member of Congress, Ilhan Omar, and the resolution being voted on in the House.

Let me bring in Dana Bash.

Nancy Pelosi fleshing out what is going to happen somewhat, Dana, which is it is going to be a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, anti-Islamophobia and white supremacy as well. Where does that leave us?

BASH: It leaves the Democratic leadership in a safer position than when they were headed towards before what our team on the Hill, Sunlen Serfaty and others, reported was a really tense meeting, internal Democratic meeting yesterday about this very issue. Because the intention initially was to condemn anti-Semitism. You heard Nancy Pelosi talk about the fact that this is a growing problem again in Europe. She heard it in Europe and, of course, in this country, as well. And so that was the initial intention. And it did, not by coincidence -- let's just call it what it is. It is not a coincidence. It came up after this whole controversy with Congresswoman Omar, sending out tweets and making other statements that were perceived as anti-Semitism.

First, just on her, I thought it was noteworthy that Nancy Pelosi gave her a little bit of a pass but also made clear that she needs to understand that she is a member of Congress now, relating Omar's experience as an activist, but when you come into Congress, you have to be careful with your words. Also the fact that there has been a lot of backlash within her now expanded caucus from people who are new, from people who are not just of color, but people who are worried about condemning Omar versus some of the others, some people who are Jewish, some people who are just offended by Omar's comments, who say no she should be more directly condemned. She is trying to make this resolution written in a way that is kind of an overreaching umbrella to make everybody in her very wide, very diverse caucus happy.

BOLDUAN: And will they be happy? That Nancy Pelosi definitely can't answer.


BOLDUAN: That is a hard thing to do. And what the impact of the resolution is, is an interesting question.

[11:20:10] BASH: Can I throw one other quick thing in there?


BASH: The other part of the politics of this is the Democrats are rushing to try to get this done today because Republicans smell blood in the water. They were coming up with their own resolution to try to --

BOLDUAN: They can make procedures in the House.

BASH: -- to put them in a bind -


BASH: Put them in a bind.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Politics at play, at least in part.

Thanks, Dana. Good to see you.

BASH: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, as Democrats are preparing to vote on this resolution condemning hate speech, is that going to be enough for the head of the Anti-Defamation League? He's not mincing words this morning. He will be joining us next.

Plus, it is one of the central questions of President Trump's immigration policy. Why doesn't the secretary of Homeland Security know how many migrant children are in government custody. How many have been separated from their families?

Stay with us.


[11:25:23] BOLDUAN: When the secretary of Homeland Security testified before Congress yesterday, she said this about a central question of how many migrant children have been separated from their families at the border. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. SHEILA JACKSON-LEE, (D), TEXAS: Do you have a census of all of the children that are being detained in the various facilities, both the ones at the border and others that are in partnership with HHS? Do you know how many young people are detained?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Yes, ma'am. I don't have that number in front of me. We have all of the numbers.

JACKSON-LEE: Would you provide that for me?



BOLDUAN: She doesn't have all of the numbers before her. She doesn't know offhand. It's not at her fingertips. Remember, this all started back in April of 2018, and the summer of 2018, a federal judge ordered that the administration reunite all of these children with their families. Yet, in March of 2019, the secretary of Homeland Security cannot say, won't say how many children we are talking about right now. Everyone more or less matters. That goes without saying because every single one is a child.

But we do have one number this morning. Court documents show that 471 parents were deported from the U.S. without their children. Were they all given the option to bring their children with them? That seems to be up for debate.

Here is what the Homeland Security secretary says about that.


NIELSEN: There's no parent who has been deported to my knowledge without multiple opportunities to take their children with them.


BOLDUAN: What is the truth right now? What are the numbers?

Joining us now is the lead attorney for the lawsuit, where much of the information is coming to light. Lee Gelernt is deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project.

Lee, when you hear -- I'm going to start with the number that she could not offer. The secretary did not offer in the hearing. It gets to the central question is, do we know how many children have been held? Does it surprise you when asked currently in custody, currently being held, she didn't have it?

LEE GELERNT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, ACLU'S IMMIGRANTS' RIGHTS PROJECT: Nothing anymore surprises me about this case. We do not know how many children were separated any longer. I naively thought we were getting to a point where we knew the population of children separated. It was roughly 2,800 because that is what the government was telling us, the court. It turns out, through a watchdog report, that there may be thousands of additional families separated. We don't know where they are. The government says we can't track them because we don't have a database to track them. It would be too burdensome to go through the files. We are now back in court.


BOLDUAN: How is it a burden?

GELERNT: The government says it would be a burden to go through the individual files to try to put the parents and children back together. What we have said is no burden is too great if there are little children permanently offered. We're waiting for a ruling from the judge. Hopefully, the judge will say you need to account for these children. I thought we were coming to the end. I have been back with you. I said I'm hopeful --.


BOLDUAN: Every time I ask you if you are hopeful.

GELERNT: Right. I think I was naive about it.

BOLDUAN: At its core, you have said you believe that the government attorneys you have been across the aisle from, that they have been working in good faith. In all of your good-faith communications in court, do you know -- do they say why there's no accounting? Why they don't know? It was pulling teeth to get the 3,000 children accounted for. What happened? How broken was the system? Is the system?

GELERNT: The system is broken. Putting aside the government attorneys, who may or may not have known everything from the agency, the agency had to know there were all these families. They are taking a position in court. These families were separated and the children released before the court order so, so be it. But the point is that there are children who may not be with their parents. The government's artificial legal arguments --


BOLDUAN: Arguing it is too much to handle is --

GELERNT: Right. They do not want to go through the files. First, they shouldn't be making that argument because they should have had a tracking system. Why are they now saying, look, it is too much burden? They created the burden by taking the children away and not having a tracking system. Now they are saying it is too much burden on us.

BOLDUAN: The 471 parents --


BOLDUAN: -- being reported without their children, the secretary says that in every case they are given multiple opportunities to take their children with them given the option. GELERNT: Not true.

BOLDUAN: How is that not true?

GELERNT: The families were deported. They had no idea of what they were signing.