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Former FBI Director James Comey Says He Is Confused By The Decision On The Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Report; Warning On North Korea; Prosecutors Say Jussie Smollett Is Not Innocent Even Though They Dropped Charges Against Him; One-On-One Interview With New York Congressman Tom Suozzi; Former Vice President Joe Biden Lamenting On The Quote "White Man's Culture" And His Role In The Anita Hill Hearing; Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired March 27, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[13:00:00] MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we just have to the historians figure that one out.
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PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Got that? It is time continue on space time (INAUDIBLE). These are important points.
Always nice to have a lighter moment. Thanks a lot for joining us on "INSIDE POLITICS." Brianna Keilar starts right now.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
Under way right now. Your daily reminder, we still have not seen the Mueller report. We don't know the details, the complete findings or even the number of pages. And now a top Democrat is doubling down saying there was collusion. Get rid of Obamacare says the Trump administration, OK. So what's the plan to replace it? We don't know says the Trump administration.
Plus quote "he is making a fool out of us all." Why prosecutors say Jussie Smollett is not innocent even though they dropped charges against him.
And the education secretary says she needs to make cuts, but on her list, the Special Olympics. Hear her reason and the backlash.
We start with a warning on North Korea. In a Capitol Hill hearing today the top U.S. general in South Korea said that there's been little or no change in the North's military capabilities and that activity there is quote "inconsistent with denuclearization." But what he said after that may have raised even more eyebrows.
We have our Barbara Starr who is at the Pentagon.
And this was general Robert Abrams. What else did he say, Barbara? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, general Abrams, one
of the most plain spoken you are going to find out there. And that hearing wrapped up just a short time ago. After he said that what is being observed is inconsistent with a denuclearization by the Kim Jong-un regime, general Abrams went on to talk about his concerns that while tensions may be lowered right now, if things were to turn around and if there was to be conflict, what he is most worried about right off the bat. Listen to this.
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GEN. ROBERT ABRAMS, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES SOUTH KOREA: I'm not ringing the five-alarm fire bell right now on ISR. But as we look to the future, as conditions might change. If they change negatively, then it -- our stance and our posture is not adequate to provide us an unblinking eye to give us early warning and indicators.
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STARR: So what he is talking about, ISR, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, the satellite, the aircraft, the radars, and the intelligence gathering assets that the U.S. would need in the event of conflict with North Korea, unblinking eye. What the U.S. needs and what the U.S. military and intelligence community needs is 24/7 coverage of as much of North Korea as they can at the same time. All at the same time because the North Koreans hide their weapons. They move things around. They have things underground. And right now the working assumption is in fact that North Korea is continuing to work on its program hidden away from those U.S. satellites by aircraft. So a lot of concern that if things were to turn around this top general is saying we don't have what we need to spot it right away - Brianna.
KEILAR: Alarming. All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you for that.
And now to a lingering question from that summary of the special counsel Robert Mueller's report. Why did Mueller punt on the issue of whether President Trump obstructed justice?
Former FBI director James Comey says he is confused by the decision. According to NBC, Comey told an audience in Charlotte quote "the part that's confusing is I can't quite understand what's going on with the obstruction stuff, and I have great faith in Bob Mueller, but I just can't tell from the letter why didn't he decide these questions when the entire rationale for a special counsel is to make sure the politicals aren't making the key charging decisions.
We have senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown here with us along with chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
I wonder, did Mueller fail to deliver on this mission, Gloria, of keeping this whole thing out of politics, or was it an impossible mission when they politicized the process?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it may have been an impossible mission. I think all of us covering Russian will really surprise at Mueller because he was kind of a black and white kind of prosecutor. And we all thought that he was going to make a decision on this. And instead he didn't. And when he punted it, the question that I have, and I don't think we know the answer to, is did he intend to punt it to the attorney general to make a discussion whom he knew full well didn't believe in the theory of obstruction because he had written a memo about it or did he really want it to go to Congress and be decided by Congress? I would say he wanted it to be decided by Congress.
[13:05:04] KEILAR: What do you think, Pamela?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's an interesting question. A couple of things here. I was talking to one person close to the process today, it was clear that Mueller wanted to send the signal that, look, Trump is exonerated legally on obstruction. They didn't find enough to show that he committed a crime, but that he has not been exonerated when it comes to his behavior and character.
BROWN: And Bill Barr, the attorney general basically had to include that in his memo to Congress because Bill Barr likely knows one day Mueller's report could be made public and he can't look like he is hiding anything. And so, the question is, did Mueller put that in his confidential report to Bill Barr knowing it would have to be made public by the attorney general sending a signal for this is something that Congress should look at, the behavior, the conduct here. But if it goes to Congress, it would be an equally political decision. That's a whole other animal.
BORGER: Well, but this law was written to take it out of politics. You would appoint a special counsel because you want somebody who is non-partisan to do the investigation. Instead, what occurred, the irony of it is just the opposite because Mueller punted the attorney general ran with the ball -- I know, the football analogy, the attorney general ran with the ball. And he is a political appointee
KEILAR: As is Rod Rosenstein.
BORGER: As is Rod Rosenstein. So this isn't the way --.
KEILAR: Who jointly made the decision with him.
I want to ask you about something Monica Lewinsky is chiming in on this. She retweeted this from a law professor.
Imagine if the Starr report had been provided only to President Clinton's attorney general Janet Reno who then read it privately and published a four-page letter based on her private reading and stating her conclusion the President committed no crime. She added quote "if -- you get the drift something only." Now keep in mind this is a different thing than the independent counsel, but that was so much information.
BROWN: And that's why the special counsel regs were created to avoid another Ken Starr report where everything is put out there about someone even if they are not charged.
What's interesting is I have talked to some folks who say they are surprised that that line is in there for Mueller. That he can't be exonerated because someone said look, that's kind of like what Comey did, one of these public shaming. Normally, what you do traditionally by the book, if you can't reach a consensus to prove someone committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, you decline to prosecute and that's the end of the story.
Mueller definitely sort of bucked what was expected of him in the sense by going to Barr and Rod Rosenstein and saying you make the decision here. I mean, it does raise a question, was there some sort of --
KEILAR: If he testifies before Congress, though, he will be asked, why did you do this? Let's hope, right? And then we should have an idea into his thinking. Do you think we are going to see that?
BORGER: Well, he may not testify before Congress. We have, you know, we have no idea. Personally, I think this is kind of a mike drop for Mueller. I think he thinks this report may be made public at some point, but because of the sentence that we are all talking about is, what we really need to see is the report itself.
KEILAR: That's right.
BORGER: Because clearly, as Pamela is saying, there might have been a disagreement among the attorneys. You know, we just -- he might have thought I needed to subpoena the President. We just don't know.
BROWN: And you know, I was speaking to someone who said the Democrats should be careful what they wish for and calling Mueller to the hill because he is no one's puppet. And he may say things that they don't want to hear.
KEILAR: I want to hear it.
BROWN: I want to hear it, too.
KEILAR: Pamela, the American people, a lot of them want to hear. They may not like what they hear, but they want to hear it.
Thank you guys, so much.
Affordable healthcare will be one of the driving issues in the 2020 elections. Now CNN has learned that there is heated debate inside of the Trump administration over the decision to back a lawsuit which, if successful, would end Obamacare. HHS secretary Alex Azar and new attorney general William Barr did not approve of this move in part because there is no backup plan for the tens of millions who would lose coverage.
Now, last hour we heard this from the President.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I understand health care now especially very well. A lot of people don't understand it. We are going to be the Republicans, the party of great health care. So we are coming up with plans. We have a lawsuit right now going where phase one of the lawsuit terminates Obamacare, essentially terminates Obamacare. You know that. That's the Texas lawsuit. We think it will be upheld and we think it will do very well in the Supreme Court. And if the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we will have a plan that's far better than Obamacare.
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KEILAR: They will. Future tense there.
All right, New York congressman Tom Suozzi is a Democrat on the House ways and means committee.
As you are keeping an eye on this, I mean, what do you think about this move by the Trump administration?
REP. TOM SUOZZI (D), NEW YORK: You know, this administration has talk about how this great plan for the future. The Republicans in Congress have talked about this great plan for the future and they have never actually told us what it is. They just want to repeal and not really replace. And people have spoken very clearly. They want to keep protection for preexisting conditions. They want to keep kids that are 26 years of age or younger on their parents' plans.
This has just been very irresponsible on their part. We had a hearing not long ago at ways and means about preexisting conditions and the Republicans said, you know, we get it. We finally get it. Stop bringing this up all of the time. We want to keep preexisting conditions. And now, they are talking about repealing Obamacare again. It doesn't make any sense.
[13:10:36] KEILAR: Let's talk about the green new deal of which you are a supporter, Republican senator Mike Lee, as a lot of Republicans, is not. Here is his plan to end climate change.
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SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: The solution to so many of our problems at all times and in all places is to fall in love, get married and have some kids. American babies in particular are likely going to be wealthier, better educated and more conservation minded than children raised in still industrializing countries. This is the real solution to climate change, babies.
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KEILAR: Everyone loves cute babies, but this debate is becoming a parody. Republicans are arguing that is because of what was proposed by Democrats. Do you want to see a more realistic plan coming from your party than this green, new deal or do you think that this pie in the sky approach, this wish list was important to get -- to getting the conversation going here?
SUOZZI: Let me first say that I know Mike Lee is a wonderful guy and he probably really believes what he is saying, but I don't think that's the solution to the problem of climate change in the world. And there is a real problem that we all know it.
I mean, let's talk in real life, practical terms. We are all worried about the floods. We are worried about the cyclones and the hurricanes and the forest fires and the sea level. I mean, it is real stuff, all real stuff, the droughts. We have to recognize that there is something dramatic where our earth cannot respond as it historically has to all these human impact that is happening. It just can't take it anymore. So we need Democrats and Republicans to actually work together to solve this problem.
Now, the green new deal is a very, very ambitious, over the top idea to try and solve this problem. But we really need something to shock people out of their (INAUDIBLE) to say we have to do something different than what we have been doing. And while some of the ideas are, you know, seem extraordinary, almost fantasy land, we need to have that type of aggressive ambition to really address something that's been ignored for much too long.
I mean, I remember this issue being talked about in the late '80s and early '90s. So we have to finally wake up and face the fact that our air, our land, our water, it is all impacted and we have to do something about it once and for all.
KEILAR: There is a pretty stunning statistic out today. The head of customs and border protection said that the immigration system is at its breaking point. They are seeing the highest number of migrants in years. Over 4,000 in a single day, 100,000 this month. These kind of numbers haven't been seen since 2008. What is responsible for this uptick?
SUOZZI: I think a lot of it has to do with the problems that exist in El Salvador and Honduras and Guatemala where people are just fleeing as awful life conditions there with gangs and poverty and violence as well as all the press that this issue has received by this administration and by the debate that is going on in our country.
And the bottom line is everybody is going to stop with all the hyper rhetoric, and we need Democrats and Republicans to actually work together to find common ground to address a very real problem. We have over 11 million people in this country that are here undocumented, some for 20 years, 30 years. I know lots of kids from my hometown went to school with my kids and they have now graduated. They are in college. They got (INAUDIBLE) master's degree in biomedical engineering. He is getting a doctorate at biomedical engineering. But he came here on TPS from El Salvador when he was five years old. And now they are talking about deporting him. So let's look at the human beings involved and let's secure the border and let's work together and solve the problem.
KEILAR: You do have an immigration bill that you are - you are going to be out with it soon as I understand the timing of this with Republican Congressman Peter King who is your Long Island neighbor. And the goal is a bipartisan approach which I think many people who are looking for a solution to this say that's admirable.
I wonder, though, about this part where Dreamers and others who you just mentioned, those with TPS, Temporary Protected Status, can apply for protection from deportation for $2,000 because as you know, the current fee for DACA is $495. And only about a third of the two million dreamers who are eligible applied under the Obama administration and the number one reason that they didn't according to one study was because it was too expensive. You are quadrupling the application price, putting a lot of that money toward a wall under an administration that cancelled DACA protections. Why will that going to draw applicants?
[13:15:34] SUOZZI: OK. So we are talking about five million people, 1.9 million Dreamers, 400,000 TPS recipients and 2.7 million of their relatives and sponsors and other folks like that. Five million people times $2,000 a piece is $10 billion. $10 billion is going to put --.
KEILAR: Only if they can afford it.
SUOZZI: Only if they can afford it. And we are talking about having scholarship program available.
KEILAR: They can't -- there is already scholarships and you have the number one reason for the people not paying a quarter of what you are proposing for $495 versus 2,000 saying it was too expensive. They could not afford it.
SUOZZI: I have talked to so many DACA recipients and so many TPS recipients who say they are spending thousands of dollars on legal fees to try and get them protection, tens of thousands of dollars even in some cases. And I have talked to people that if they can't have the peace of mind to have a path to citizenship in this country if you are a DACA recipients or TPS, that they would be happy to pay $2,000. And we need to recognize a fact that we have to find a way to find compromise in this country, to protect these human beings while at the same time securing our border and working together to find a common ground solution.
KEILAR: I hear you are talking to people who are telling you that. But the numbers are showing that they can't afford it.
SUOZZI: Well, I would have to look at the report that you are referring to specifically. But most of the people that I know that are DACA recipients or TPS recipients, are going to work six days a week and they are going to church on Sunday. And they are hardworking people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. And many of them didn't come here yesterday. They have been here for a decade or 20 years or even 30 years in America trying to live a better life.
KEILAR: All right, sir. We will talk to you again soon, Congressman Suozzi. Thank you for being with us.
SUOZZI: Thank you, Brianna.
KEILAR: So Jussie Smollett says that he is innocent. Prosecutors say no, he is not. So why did they drop charges against him?
Plus, once again, the President takes a new swipe at Puerto Rico and the amount of aid going to the island since it was hit by a hurricane.
And why is the Trump administration looking to cut funds for the Special Olympics. The education secretary just responded moments ago.
[13:22:01] KEILAR: The Chicago police department has released its police reports in the Jussie Smollett case in response to a freedom of information act from media outlets. But the documents still don't answer the question about why charges were dropped against Smollett. It is also not enough for the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel.
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MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL (D), CHICAGO: He is saying his innocent and his words are true. They better get their story straight because this is actually making a fool of all of us. I would love to have everything that the Chicago police department collected and gathered to actually come to the conclusion, make all of that available. I would love for that to happen.
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KEILAR: We have CNN national reporter Ryan Young who has followed every single step of this for us in Chicago. Tell us what there is to learn from these newly released reports.
RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you get, Brianna, you get some new details from a basically about the how the detectives sort of moved through their day, some of the evidence they were gathered. Nothing really blockbuster on the inside of this.
I want to tell people, this is not like the reports that you would see with some of the case files that we were being told that were available. Like we are not seeing the text messages on the insides, more like where they discovered a bottle where they found some video.
From moving from there, though, it's that case file that's been sealed that everybody wants to get their hands on. Maybe the text messages and exchanges between the Ossendairo (ph) brothers who, of course, accused Jussie Smollett of setting this up or maybe even some of the video evidence that we don't know that police have at this point.
We are told only a little bit of the evidence that police gathered over these few months. It has been released so far to the public. But you remember that day when we were there outside the court when the prosecution step forward and they gave all these charge, all this information about this case against Jussie Smollett. And then all of the sudden, you have that emergency hearing yesterday and all of the charges were dropped.
Look. When we talk to veteran folks who worked in the office for years who have left, they told us they never thought Jussie Smollett would go to jail especially with someone with his background. But they didn't also expect that it would be a plea deal and that he would go to a miv and basically say I was always innocent.
The person left basically holding the bag at this point was the police department because now you have the people pointing the finger back toward them saying you accused Jussie Smollett to doing x, y, z and you can think all they did was investigate this for so many days with 12 detectives trying to figure out exactly how the story got to where we are, which is, look, the big question here is what actually happened? Was this a hoax? Did the two men turn against Jussie? What happened?
We will probably never know at this point unless those Ossendairo (ph) brothers kind of come out and talk to us and give us some of the information. Brianna, so many twists with this one. Every single day it seems like we get a little more, but a little less at the same time.
KEILAR: Twists we don't each know about, Ryan Young. Thank you so much, live from Chicago for us.
Just in, the education secretary Betsy Devos is firing back at those critical of the administration's decision to cut funding for the Special Olympics.
And former vice President Joe Biden lamenting on the quote "white man's culture" and his role in the Anita Hill hearing.
[13:29:57] KEILAR: Former vice President Joe Biden says Anita Hill paid a terrible price when she testified in 1991 that she had been sexually harassed by now Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. Biden was the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman at that time.