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Trump Misleads by Saying He's "Exonerated" on Obstruction; Trump Threatens to Close Southern Border Next Week; Linda McMahon Plans to Resign as Small Business Administrator; WSJ: Anti-Stall System Activated before Plane Crashed. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 29, 2019 - 13:00   ET



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

It is Friday, it is nearly April, and the Mueller report is still a secret. But President Trump giving us a preview of the post-Mueller fighting mood that he'll bring to the 2020 campaign with an aggressive and even profane attack on Democrats still fighting to see Robert Mueller's full report, not just that four-page summary with very small quotes from the attorney general.

Our Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. What are we hearing from the president, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, it was the president's first rally since that 22-month investigation and then he came to Grand Rapids wanting to take a victory lap and that's what he did. But Brianna, he didn't just frame it as a vindication for himself in the Russia investigation. He also said essentially that it was one for his supporters as well, and framed the people who are investigating the president in his campaign as people who were trying to tear apart the country.

Now, the president didn't save his toughest language for them but also for Democrats as well who the president seemed to delight in taking a victory lap around them.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead.

Total exoneration, complete vindication.

The Democrats have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous (INAUDIBLE).

Robert Mueller was a God to the Democrats.

They don't like him so much right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: Now, he didn't just reference Democrats generally. He went after the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff specifically, several times mocking him throughout the night. And you heard the president there even using some foul language at some points, and it really illuminated the anger he felt there in the first 20 minutes, half hour or so of that speech. But then, Brianna, the president went on. He continued speaking, and it started to sound a lot like his past rallies and made some people and including some people inside the White House that I spoke to wonder if the president is going to miss having this fight of the Russia investigation.

KEILAR: We'll see. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much at the White House for us.

President Trump is railing right now on immigration, threatening to shut down the southern border. In a series of tweets, the president says, "If Mexico doesn't immediately stop all illegal immigration coming into the United States through our southern border, I will be closing the border or large sections of the border, next week."

Our Ed Lavandera is joining me now on the phone from Brownsville, Texas where he is at the border. So, Ed, this is a pretty dire threat from the president. Tell us what closing the border would mean where you are.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, I think it would depend on -- is he talking about essentially closing down every bridge, every port of entry, not allowing any kind of comers and trucks to come back and forth through the border, not to mention the millions of people who cross the border every day just as part of everyday life here along the U.S. southern border. So, exactly the details of how this would play out would I think dictate a lot of how this would look.

But overall, the idea of closing down the border, I can't overstate just how shocking that would be to the tens -- hundreds of thousands of people who live in the border region in the southern United States, and what that would mean economically, not just for the southern border regions, but for the rest of the country. It's hard to overstate, again, just what kind of impact that would have on the U.S. economy when you think of the tens of thousands of trucks that move goods and services back and forth across the border from Brownsville, Texas all the way to San Diego, California. That would be a shocking and stunning development to happen along the U.S. southern border.

KEILAR: Indeed. Ed Lavandera thank you so much for that, talking to us from Brownsville, Texas. And President Donald Trump has said that he put together a group of four or five Senate Republicans to come up with another big issue. He's dealing with a viable alternative to Obamacare.

We have White House reporter Jeremy Diamond who is joining us with details. Is this the case, Jeremy?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it certainly doesn't appear to be at this point, Brianna. We know that the president talked yesterday about four or five Republican senators he was putting together to try and advance this issue, to try and get some kind of replacement for Obamacare if indeed this ruling striking down the entirety of the health care law is indeed upheld.

[13:05:02] But we spoke with several sources on Capitol Hill and at the White House, and it does not appear that such a working group exist in any form or fashion. Several of the Republican senators who the president name who is being behind this, their offices said that you know they didn't mention the existence of any kind of working group. What they said were those senators, Bill Cassidy, Rick Scott, for example, John Barrasso. They are indeed continuing to have conversations about health care with the president and with their colleagues.

One Republican senator told me specifically that it appears that the president was simply talking about individuals he has talked to about health care. But as far as the existence of an actual working group to come up with a replacement, it doesn't appear that that is the case. And that is where we find this administration, pushing this position to fully invalidate Obamacare through the courts without actually having any kind of a replacement ready to go. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Jeremy Diamond, thank you for that fact check there.

President Trump is now taking credit for saving the Special Olympics from a crisis that was created by his own administration. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been squaring off against Congress all week defending her department's budget plan that calls for cutting funding for the Special Olympics.

We're talking about around $18 million a year here. And here she is ignoring a reporter's question about the decision.


QUESTION: Are you concerned about the supporters of the Special Olympics that are upset with the decision to remove the funding?


KEILAR: That is one of the more odd moments I have seen. But as the pressure mounted against DeVos, the president stepped in.


TRUMP: I have been to the Special Olympics. I think it's incredible. And I just authorized a funding. I heard about it this morning. I have overridden my people. We are funding the Special Olympics.


KEILAR: A.B. Stoddard is with me to talk about this. OK. We have to point out a couple of things just to be clear on this statement. First of he's saying he just heard about it Thursday. This has been a water cooler kind of thing in D.C. here all week. We should point that out. He also says he thinks the Special Olympics are incredible. He doesn't have the best track record when he's been talking especially about the Paralympics. He said they were tough to watch. So at the same time, he sort of like - he clearly likes coming in and being the savior while simultaneously throwing Betsy DeVos under the bus or allowing her to somehow change her mind on this. What's going on?

A.B. STODDARD, COLUMNIST AND ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": Well, we should also point out, Brianna, that he didn't authorize any funding yesterday for the Special Olympics. The Congress authorizes funding. In the president's budget, they proposed making some cuts to this program. The Congress would have to agree to that and ride it into spending/funding bill which they didn't. So the idea that he's telling people that he overrode his people and authorized the funding is also factually incorrect.

But he - as we know, right? Rex Tillerson, his former Secretary of State, had to be called out on Twitter for all the world to see over North Korea policy, the president has stepped on his own a vice president - Pence's experiences, his own people time and time again making it clear that he is the final decider, really the only decider and it's not a team effort over there.

But Betsy DeVos, it was painful to see her response following the president's announcement that he overrode this because she was trying to indicate that she had been for full funding of this all along. But this is the cost of working in the Trump administration, no question, and I was fascinated to see that the small business administration secretary is planning to step down and go back to the private sector. People know that this is a short-term and frustrating experience and that's why there is so much turnovers in this White House.

KEILAR: Are we - just a moment A.B. we're going back to Jeremy Diamond at the White House. OK. Let's bring in Jeremy Diamond at the White House. Jeremy, you have some news. Tell us.

DIAMOND: That's right Brianna. We can now confirm with - according to a source familiar with her plans that Linda McMahon, the head of the small business administration, does indeed plan to leave her position. She does plan to resign. We're told that that resignation, that announcement, could come as early as today. That is just coming through right now, Brianna. As you know, she is one of the few women in the president's cabinet. She's also one of the wealthiest members of the president's cabinet. She was a former WWE executive, as you may remember. And we had been told previously that she was one of those individuals gunning for potentially a more senior cabinet role, and that would had been Commerce secretary. But it appears as of now that she's running the administration, but it's not clear yet why exactly that is or what is pushing this decision. But that is what we're learning at this hour, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Thanks Jeremy.

And A.B. we were just discussing this. What does that mean for the administration, that Linda McMahon is leaving?

[13:10:00] STODDARD: Well, it's very interesting that she might have been interested in becoming Commerce secretary because Wilbur Ross the current Commerce secretary has faced some scrutiny about his past stock trades and lots of things that he's been questioned by the Congress about. And so, there was a time when people thought that maybe he was also going to sort of be his stock trades and numerous things, so there his stock trades and numerous things, so there was a time when people thought he was also maybe going to be summarily shootout or Dan Dorff forced to resign.

So it's interesting that McMahon was interested potentially in that position. I think she's seen that she leaves and decided that it was time to go. I don't know if there is a backstory to this or how much frustration she has faced in her position. He certainly hasn't been respectful to her in public the way he has to James Mattis and Rex Tillerson and H.R. McMaster and a lot of other people.

But as I said, this is a volatile place to work. And people -- we see turnover like we have never seen in an executive branch like the Trump administration before.

KEILAR: All right. A.B. Stoddard, thank you so much.

STODDARD: Thank you.

KEILAR: President Trump mocking asylum seekers, claiming many aren't telling the truth at the border. Plus protests right now erupting in London after Theresa May's Brexit deal fails for a third time and the UK falls further into crisis. And new answers in the mystery of two deadly crashes, the early findings from flight reporters in the crash of the second Boeing jet.


[13:15:35] KEILAR: So as we reported earlier, President Trump is threatening to shut down the southern border. Here's the tweet. "If Mexico doesn't immediately stop all illegal immigration coming into the United States through our southern border, I will be closing the border or large sections of the border, next week." These are comments that come after the president openly mocked asylum seekers at his rally in Michigan last night.


TRUMP: You have people coming up. You know they're all met by the lawyers. The lawyers off -

And they come out, they're all met by the lawyers, and they say, say the following phrase, I am very afraid for my life. I am afraid for my life. OK. And then I look at the guy, he looks like he just got out of the ring. He's a heavyweight champion of the world. It's a big fat con job, folks.


KEILAR: A lot of people actually are families. That's really the trend that we're seeing. We have Robert Perez, the deputy commissioner for customs in border protection to talk to us about the state of things on the border.

Let's talk first about there is this threat to shut down parts of the border. What would that mean for the customs and border patrol, but also the president is clearly trying to pressure Mexico. What is the CBP looking for support from the other side of the border?

ROBERT PEREZ, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: Well, thanks for having me, Brianna, a pleasure to be with you.

So, look, we are beyond the breaking point. We have reached an unprecedented level with respect to this crisis situation, the amount of undocumented migrants that are arriving along our southern border. We hit an historic high last month with over 67,000. We're projecting that we're going to encounter over 100,000 this month right now. And the system, not just us at Customs and Border Protection and the border patrol on the front line, but the entire immigration system is absolutely overwhelmed. It was never designed to deal with these types of numbers, and the demographics, which is really, really important to understand, if I could share with you, the majority of people that are coming are family units. More than half are family units and what that has systemically done --

KEILAR: 65 percent, right?

PEREZ: 65 percent, exactly, Brianna. So what that has systemically done is clogged the entirety of the system, overwhelmed it. And we're at a point where we are - look, our front line men and women are doing an exceptional job over and above the call of duty in dealing with this unprecedented crisis, but our facilities, our legal framework, our resourcing, our infrastructure, technology, capacity was never designed or built for this. So, yes, look, we need to work with our Mexican counterparts. This is a regional issue and we all need to make sure that we're doing everything we possibly can to deal with this crisis.

KEILAR: What does that mean if parts of the border are totally shut down? What does that look like?

PEREZ: Well, what that looks like is a pretty severe consequence with respect to not only the economic flows. We welcome its customs and border protection at our points of entry, nearly 400 million travelers a year, $2.3 trillion worth of trade, nearly 30 million trucks, real cars and cargo containers every year. And so, there is a severe impact, and this is important to understand because pardon me, what's important to understand is that the crisis is so severe right now. We are literally trying to save lives. We are focused on saving the lives of children in particular who are being trafficked, who are being taken advantage of by criminal human smuggling organizations and given promises along with these very vulnerable populations and being brought into conditions that are frankly just totally, totally inadequate.

KEILAR: Your commissioner Kevin McAleenan, he gave a big speech in El Paso this week, and he says that only about 10 or 15 percent of the asylum claims are credible. The asylum grant rate is 20 percent, and experts say that even that doesn't necessarily reflect the credibility rate. That's a legal threshold. There's a bunch of questions about what kind of representation people seeking asylum would get and what - how would that affect the rate. Either way, they were talking about thousands, right, tens of thousands of people who meet this legal requirement. So what is Customs and Border Protection doing to protect those people?

PEREZ: So, that's a great question. We are just - again that front end part of that process. And what - again, these human smuggling and criminal organizations have done, by virtue of taking advantage of these vulnerable populations and saturating the entirety of the system well beyond Customs and Border Protection with folks who - when they finally get in front of a judge will have their claims not found to be credible is make those legitimate asylum seeks now be lost If you will and behind so many of these other claims that are being made.

[13:20:27] And so, what we're trying to do is to prioritize those legitimate asylum seekers --

KEILAR: But there are legitimate asylum seekers who are not represented in that 20 percent number. I know McAleenan said 10 to 15. You look at the stats, say 20. There are legitimate asylum seekers not represented in that. I mean there is a question right now about they're maybe legitimate asylum seekers, there may be not enough capacity -- and we're seeing that. We're seeing people who may have a legitimate claim but they're being denied.

PEREZ: Well, I would respectfully suggest they are not being denied. What is happening is that, again, the system is absolutely saturated with many more folks who, in the end of their asylum process, would be found not to have a valid claim, and we're doing our best to get those people at the front of the line and give them an opportunity to actually make their legitimate claims. But nevertheless, again what we want to --

KEILAR: So what do you need, then? What is Customs -- long term, short term?


PEREZ: So it is -

KEILAR: Because I mean you have people in El Paso in an underpass fenced in -

PEREZ: Right.

KEILAR: -- with barbed wire. And I'm wondering if you're able, CBP, to provide what is under the law to be provided for them. What do you need in the short term and then also what do you need in the long term because this problem isn't going away and it's being fueled by violence in Central America.

PEREZ: So what we need is a comprehensive and really a full-blown package of resourcing by way of infrastructure, physical infrastructure, technology, personnel along the border to be able to deal with the criminal flows, the drug flows, the national security concerns, and on the humanitarian side as well, we need the legal framework to be fixed. We need Congress to act. I myself have testified up on Capitol Hill. We've been ringing this bell for months, if not years, now about Congress' need to fix the legal framework, to keep families together through the entirety of their asylum claims and also be able to return, unaccompanied minors. These are the vulnerable groups and populations, Brianna, that are being taken advantage of and they're being brought up and smuggled by these criminal organizations. So under right there listed activity and being put into a system that is again absolutely overwhelmed. So it's a resourcing issue, and it's also a legal framework that we need Congress to fix for all of us.

KEILAR: Can you say that CBP can provide what is needed for those folks as migrants who are underneath a bridge in El Paso? Because they're supposed to have shelter, food and water, adequate medical care? Can you commit that your organization is providing that?

PEREZ: I could not only commit but I could also assure you that, as a parent myself, and our agents and officers who are many of them parents themselves, are doing everything they absolutely can to save children's lives and save the lives and protect the well-being of all these incredibly vulnerable populations that we're encountering. Well, over and above the call of duty for this largest law enforcement agency in the federal government.

KEILAR: All right, there have been some challenges. We have to wrap it up there. We'll say there have been some challenges as you know with that and that may be an understatement. But Bob Perez, thank you so much for coming to the studio to talk to us.

PEREZ: Appreciate it.

KEILAR: And coming up, we have some compelling new clues in that Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people, the new report about a feature on the plane that activated right before it nosedived. Also, if the president pushes to make the GOP the party of health care, a federal judge hits back in his attempt to undermine Obamacare.


[13:28:56] KEILAR: Today a major new clue in the Ethiopian Airlines flight that killed 157 people when it crashed. The "Wall Street Journal" is reporting that investigators have reached the preliminary conclusion that a stall prevention system on that Boeing 737 Max 8 activated automatically before the plane nosedived. These findings suggest it's likely the same issue that took down a Lion Air flight last October, 189 people dying in that crash. Boeing 737 Max planes are currently grounded worldwide.

We have CNN correspondent Tom Foreman here with me. And this is what people feared and this is pretty significant. What else are they finding, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, this also fits in to what we've been reporting and what we've been suspecting, that this crash over here had the same hallmarks as that crash five months ago in Indonesia. What are talking when we talk about this automatic system - it's called MCAS. Let's bring in the model here and take a look. Basically what MCAS does, it's an onboard computer, a piece of software that essentially says if this plane starts nosing up, as these planes are a little prone to do, it will automatically push them back down on level.