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Beto O'Rourke Announces Launch of Presidential Campaign in El Paso; President Trump Vows to Close U.S. Border with Mexico if Mexican Government Does Not Stop Illegal Immigration into U.S.; City of Chicago Sends Jussie Smollett Invoice for Close to $130,000 for Costs Related to Investigating Alleged Hate Crime; Department of Housing and Urban Development Charging Facebook with Violating Fair Housing Act; President Trump Nominates Former Economic Adviser Stephen Moore to Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired March 30, 2019 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:17] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again. Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Right now, across the state of Texas, Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke is rolling out his first official day of campaign rallies.


BETO O'ROURKE, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am so glad to be here with you today, in my hometown, in my home state, to announce that I'm running to serve you as the next president of the United States of America.



WHITFIELD: At the heart of his pitch to voters -- immigration, and the crisis unfolding at the border.

Meanwhile, the president is renewing his threat to close down the border next week, as Homeland Security officials say conditions are dire, and resources are strained. CNN Correspondent Leyla Santiago is in El Paso. And so, Leyla, it was a pretty good turnout there in his hometown, and his message was that of inclusion.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. He actually said that he's not going to use what he says President Trump uses, which is the effort to divide the country with rhetoric that he does not believe in. He talked a lot about the need to not let differences define us.

But to your point, he really did focus a bit on immigration as one of his top issues, and that's because again where we are right now, just half a mile from the southern border. U.S. and Mexico, where they meet, talking about what has really become a big headline over the last few days, a lot of families who are now being housed under an international bridge, saying they are humans, too, and we must treat them as human beings.

So immigration certainly a big part of his speech, talking about his hometown, when he was introduced by Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, she called him a son of the border and talked about the importance of coming back to El Paso to officially launch his campaign. But remember, he actually announced his bid for the presidency about two weeks ago, via video on social media, and he went straight to those early voting states, Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, South Carolina. And so what we've heard today was a lot of what we heard over the last few weeks as he was engaging with voters on issues like immigration, on issues like health care, climate change is a big one, criminal justice reform. And he said, as president, he would vote for a new voting rights act. He would put one in place.

So these are issues that he has spoken on before. His critics have said that he doesn't have, they need clarity on his policies. In fact I was thinking back to a gentleman I spoke with in South Carolina, who after Beto O'Rourke spoke, he said, well, I like him. He's identified the problems. Now I need him to identify the solutions.

PAUL: And then, as he canvasses the rest of Texas, or two other big cities in Texas, is he likely to repeat a lot of those messages or perhaps unfold what some of those solutions might be, or how he sees solutions to some of those problems?

SANTIAGO: Right, so after here, after he leaves El Paso, he will go to Houston, and then after Houston, he will go to the state capital of Austin. What he will be saying in those speeches, the campaign has said, will sort of mimic what we've heard him discuss earlier. He's talked about the issues that are very important to him. Let me let you listen to one of the things he said today.


BETO O'ROURKE, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We also know that our children and that your children and the generations that follow them are depending on us now at this moment. This is our moment of truth.

The challenges before us are the greatest of our lifetimes. We must overcome these challenges, but we must first ask ourselves how this, the wealthiest, the most powerful country on the face of the planet, the most powerful country that world history has ever known, has found itself in such a perilous position.


SANTIAGO: That's a statement that got a lot of applause here in this crowd. Another statement that got a lot of applause, when he talked about the woman's right to choose. So he definitely knew his audience, given that he is on his home turf. Now he heads to Houston, and then Austin.

[14:05:00] WHITFIELD: All right, Leyla Santiago, thank you very much from El Paso, Texas.

And this just in to CNN, as the president threatens to shut down the U.S. border with Mexico, next week we are learning that thousands of migrants could be released into the Texas Rio Grande Valley in the coming days. Let's check in with CNN's Natasha Chen at the southern border in front of the Hidalgo Texas point of entry. And what more can you tell us about this?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, we spoke with the Brownsville city manager this morning, who has actually been observing migrants being dropped off for about the last two weeks. The city of Brownsville and nonprofit partners have already been assisting those people in, assisting those people in trying to get them tickets, bus tickets, plane tickets, to their next destination. So this has been a difficult process, and they're trying to be as helpful as possible, and they got notification, the city manager tells me, that they can expect about 5,900 more migrants being dropped off throughout the Valley in the coming days.

So that's something that we are speaking to Custom and Border Protection about. Now, they also just tweeted, the agency tweeted in the last 10 minutes or so, that at least five U.S. customs and border protection facilities are well over 100 percent capacity. So there is a huge problem here. In a statement, CBP said this is not sustainable.

Meanwhile, as the president threatens to shut down the border, we're talking to people, as you can see behind me, who are crossing into Mexico from Texas here, people going about to dentist appointments to see their families. Here's what a couple of them had to say about a potential border closure.


CARLOS FLORES, VISITS FAMILY ACROSS THE BORDER: Once every time I get a chance, so that I can go see my dad. He lives over there. He just acquired his visa, but he's only been over here for like three or four times. My kids have barely met their granddaddy. I haven't even showed him around. And having this border getting shut down, what am I going to tell my kids? You know what, your granddad can come over here no more.

CHRIS LEACH, LIVES IN MEXICO AND WORKS IN U.S.: Every day on the bridge, sometimes that line for people coming from Mexico to go to the States can be up to two hours long, just to give you an idea of how many people are crossing to go to work.


CHEN: That gentleman you just heard from is from Boston, but he lives in Mexico with his wife and comes into the U.S. daily for work. He told us he is a Trump supporter. He likes the president. But he said if the border is closed, that's going to cause a lot of frustration for his daily life, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Natasha Chen, thanks so much.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump says if Mexico does not stop all illegal immigration, he could close the border or large sections of it next week, and warns he could keep it closed for a long time.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mexico could stop it right at their southern border. It is very easy for them to stop people from coming up, and they don't choose to do it. Well, we're not going to give them hundreds of billions of dollars and tell them that they're not going to use their strong immigration laws to help the United States. So there is a very good likelihood that I will be closing the border next week. And that will be just fine with me.


WHITFIELD: Let's go to White House reporter Sarah Westwood in West Palm Beach, Florida, where the president is spending the weekend. So what more you can tell us about this threat and if the president is serious about following that up?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Fred, President Trump has long demanded more cooperation with Mexico when it comes to stemming the flow of undocumented immigrants over the southern border. But President Trump is for the first time attaching a deadline to that threat. It's not the first time that he has said he would close the southern border and not follow through. For example, he did so in December, called on Congress to change immigration laws, but nothing ended up happening.

And in November, the president did close down one border crossing near San Diego, temporarily, and business owners in the area did report a great economic impact just from that one narrow closing.

Now, we're not sure at this point whether the president is just talking about closing ports of entry or whether he is talking about a broader shutdown of shipments of goods over the U.S./Mexico border. That would obviously have a much greater economic impact. The president has offered few specifics about what he means.

And he is again calling on Congress to change immigration laws, even though obviously we are just a couple of months out of a very contentious shutdown where Democrats and Republicans did talk about immigration reform, did talk about border wall funding, and nothing really got done. The president declared a national emergency and Congress has failed to override that.

And the president's threats to close the southern border come as customs and border patrol are saying that there is an enormous strain on their courses because of the increased flow of undocumented immigrants over the southern border. They say that the detention centers are reaching capacity and that they are struggling to meet the demands that this increased flow has caused.

[14:10:00] Customs and border patrol says that they are on track right now in the months of March to apprehend as many undocumented immigrants for the first time any month since 2008. So they are reaching higher points, and the administration continuing to describe the situation as a crisis, Fred. WHITFIELD: Sarah Westwood, thank you so much, from West Palm.

Straight ahead, what could a potential shutdown of the southern border with Mexico really mean? And could it strain ties with one of our biggest trade partners?


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. As Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke canvasses across Texas and the border today, fighting for migrants' pathway into the country, the president of the United States is digging in. Trump is renewing his threat to shut down the southern border if Mexico does not step up and stop illegal immigration. It's not the first time that the president has issued this kind of threat but has never actually gone through with it. So will this time be different?

[14:15:03] I want to bring in CNN political commentators Ana Navarro and John Thomas. Good to see you both. So Ana, what is your best guess as to why does the president feel like he wants to do this? The whole government shutdown over the wall is still in the rearview mirror. Is this simply to get his base all excited?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Certainly, that's part of it. I also think that he believes that if he plays hardball with Mexico and with the northern triangle countries, they're going to do more to somehow stop the caravan of migrants. I think he believes that maybe these governments are somehow complicit in what is happening organically at these countries.

In addition to threatening to close off the border, he's also announced that he is stopping foreign aid to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, the northern triangle countries, where most of these migrants are originating from. That is just stupid, ham-handed, short-sighted. It is not going to create less immigrants. It is going to cause more immigrants.

We have to understand that these countries are our neighbors. We have a vested interest in making sure that, and helping them get out of their crises. Look, Fred, nobody leaves their country because they want to. People leave their country because they feel they have to. It's either because of fleeing political repression, or political violence, poverty, gang violence, you name it. And so somehow we have to figure out how to be good neighbors and help that region make it a better place for folks to stay there and feel that they can stay there safely.

WHITFIELD: So John, we've got a couple of different things here. You've got desperate measures in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and now you've got the State Department ending aid there. That on top of the president making threats of closing the border. So who is he trying to appeal to at the risk of potentially losing support of more moderate Republicans heading into this election cycle? Why does the president find this is going to be beneficial for him, for his agenda, for this country? JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: I think the president is trying

to appeal to every American. You just spent the last opening ten minutes of this hour talking about the full-on crisis, Fred. You have not just this Homeland Security secretary, but you have even Obama's Homeland Security Jeh Johnson saying that if they saw over 1,000 migrants a day, their facilities would be overwhelmed. He said we're at 4,000, just as of last week, per day. This is a full-blown crisis.

We also know that of these immigrants seeking asylum, about 90 percent of them are coming through ports of entry. So if the president did shut down some of these ports of entry, he could ease the tensions on some of these facilities.

The other thing we know is in places like Arizona, they are so overwhelmed at these facilities that they're releasing migrants into the general population, and we know that the majority of these people, once they've been processed, don't come back to their court hearings. So it is a giant mess. And look, I think it is just like President Trump's applying pressure to China to try to get them to come to the table, I think that's what you have to do to Mexico. You have to get them to apply their immigration laws to help us solve this problem.

WHITFIELD: So Ana, would you agree with John that, his words, it is a giant mess?

NAVARRO: Look, I think it is an issue that needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. And by comprehensive, I think it means border security. That doesn't necessarily mean a wall all across the border, but whatever measures need to be taken to make sure that the border is secure. It also means foreign aid. It means cooperation with these countries so as to make it safe where they are.

It means things like e-verification so that people and organizations, like the Trump Organization, cannot continue to employ undocumented immigrants like they have been doing for decades. It means a whole bunch of things.

But closing the border is a real stupid response to this crisis. First of all, Donald Trump says he wants to build a wall because they're not coming through the ports of entry. But as a punitive measure, he wants to cut off and close the ports of entry. It means devastating economic impact. Tourists, goods, workers that go in and out of these country daily.

THOMAS: But we can't house these people. Our facilities are swamped. We can't house these people. Our facilities are swamped. Fred, the interior secretary of Mexico just said the mother of all caravans is coming up from Honduras. Mexico can stop these people at their southern border, but they have no incentive right now because America hasn't stuck it to them economically.

[14:20:04] NAVARRO: And what are they going to do about the economic goods?

WHITFIELD: And Mexico is responding by saying it doesn't have the capacity to do that. THOMAS: I'm sorry, what?

NAVARRO: We have a free trade agreement with Mexico. What are you going to do about the goods that flow in and out of the border?

WHITFIELD: And $1.9 billion a day.

NAVARRO: And the workers who flow in and out of this border on a daily basis, and the tourists who flow in and out of the border on a daily basis.

THOMAS: Ana, you're assume we're going to cut off all goods. Just shutting down a few ports of entries doesn't actually shut down all goods.

WHITFIELD: Why not? If he says he's shutting down the border, shutting down the ports, how are they going to pick and choose --

NAVARRO: How are they going to do it, come on the backs of dragons?

WHITFIELD: Are you saying the administration might pick and choose about what could cross? When the president says shut it down, the inference is shutting it down closes everybody. Both ways.

THOMAS: We don't know his specific plan. We will probably hear that on Monday or Tuesday. But it might mean select ports where a lot of these migrants are coming through.

What we know is that we don't want kids stuck in cages again. And that happens when facilities are overwhelmed and we can't handle these people. And it's not fair just to release them in the general population. This problem has reached full crisis magnitude, and we got to do something to fix. And I think Mexico has to help. And right now, they're not doing it on their own volition. So if we don't step it up and hurt them economically, I don't know what else to do.

WHITFIELD: Ana, last word. Is that the only recourse? The only recourse is that people will continue to be, barring jobs, or in cages --

NAVARRO: Only somebody that perhaps has never seen the flow between the borders would be able to sustain and defend a position like that. I've been to El Paso. I've been to the border. It's not just migrants. It's an entire economic ecosystem that survives on border crossings daily. If Donald Trump wants to go ahead and shut off the border, maybe, I don't know, maybe the goods will come on the backs of flying dragons like on "Game of Thrones." I have no idea what he's got in mind. But if he wants to do this, I think the effects and the impact on the lives of people on the border, and on all Americans, wait until you can't get your avocados for your Cinco de Mayo guacamole, folks. Wait until that, and let's see what the effects are going to be.

THOMAS: We have got bigger problems than Cinco de Mayo guacamole on our hands, Ana. That's the problem here.

WHITFIELD: We're going to leave it there for now. Ana Navarro, John Thomas, thank you so much. Appreciate both of you.

Coming up, charges dropped against actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago. And the prosecutor in the case is now defending her decision.


[14:27:07] WHITFIELD: A no-show for actor Jussie Smollett at the NAACP Image Award dinner last night. He did not win the supporting acting category in which he was a nominee. Will he show up for the televised live event tonight?

Meantime, days after Chicago prosecutors dropped the charges against "Empire," the "Empire" actor, now the prosecutors defending a decision. Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx is defending her decision to drop the charges. In an op-ed in "The Chicago Tribune," she also says she welcomes an independent, nonpolitical review of the case, and suggests prosecutors might not have won the case in court if they were to proceed.

She writes, quote, "In determining whether or not to pursue charges, prosecutors are required to balance the severity of the crime against the likelihood of securing a conviction. For a variety of reasons, including public statements made about the evidence in the case, my office believed the likelihood of securing a conviction was not certain," end quote.

Former president of the NAACP, and civil rights attorney, Cornell Brooks joining me now from New Haven, Connecticut.


WHITFIELD: So Kim Foxx's op-ed appears to really contradict her earlier statements about whether or not her office would have won a conviction. What do you suppose is really behind why they dropped it, all the charges?

BROOKS: Well, I think they were probably grappling with the fact that you have a very popular actor whose career was imperiled, and as a consequence, already suffering some professional punishment. And so they might be a real question as to whether or not they could secure a conviction. And that may have played into her decision. She wouldn't be the first prosecutor to think about those kinds of things. And, as she notes, this is a relatively low level felony, so it is not unheard of for a defendant to engage in community service, and unusual to essentially forfeit a bond payment.

WHITFIELD: And in part, she wrote about that, that the other key factor was that this was a class four felony, and usually in cases like this, there might be, especially when you have a client, or a defendant who has no prior criminal record, that there may be community service, or there may be some monetary penalties. But then the city, the city's mayor said, OK, cough up $125,000, the amount of money that went into, in part, the amount of money into the resources dedicated to this case. Why wouldn't there have been that kind of deal, or condition dropping all of these charges and throwing in that $125,000, as opposed to just the $10,000 bail, money returned? [14:30:07] BROOKS: That's right. That would not, that would not have

been an unreasonable request by a prosecutor. But the challenge here is with the charges were dropped, he forfeits the initial payment, that would look like an admission of guilt. I can imagine a defense attorney not wanting to do that.

But listen to this. In terms of position of the police department and the mayor, there needs to be some more proportionality and avoidance of hypocrisy here. So where, yes, the city is out over $100,000 in terms of the cost of this investigation, but it has paid the better part of a billion in terms of police misconduct settlements. And so the city does not need to essentially strain at the neck and swallow a camel here. The reality is, this is a city that has a long, ugly history in terms of police misconduct. This is not a great development, but the mayor really needs to focus on who perpetrated a crime against Laquan McDonald and those who caused him to lose his life and the lives of so many others.

WHITFIELD: So let me ask you this. While the prosecutor say he has not been exonerated, he has not been found innocent, overall in a case like this and these charges, 16 charges being dropped, what does this do, how does this impact other race-related, hate-related allegations, criminal conduct? Do you see that this case has long-lasting effects, impacted other cases that are like this?

BROOKS: It shouldn't. Unless we are making up our minds as a country to bury our heads in the sand, the fact of the matter is we have seen hate crime rise, each over the last three years, 17 percent most recently. And we've seen hate crime rise across all categories.

We need not engage in denial as a country because of one case where we have an allegation of a hate crime hoax. This is aberrational. It's exceptional. It does nothing, nothing, to prove that these kinds of crimes don't happen on a regular basis. In other words, where we have people being assassinated in synagogues, where we have people being beaten up on the street, one actor engaged in foolish conduct does not in any way distract from a real problem in this country that's attested to by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ADL, the NAACP, and a whole host of civil rights and human rights organizations. So hate crime is a problem, not hate crime hoaxes.

WHITFIELD: Cornell Brooks, always a pleasure to have you. Thank you so much.

Still ahead, President Trump is nominating his former economic adviser Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. We'll talk to Stephen Moore, next.


[14:37:32] WHITFIELD: The Department of Housing and Urban Development is charging Facebook with violating the Fair Housing Act. HUD claims the social media giant is violating the federal act by encouraging, enabling, and causing housing discrimination through its advertising platform. Here's CNN's Cristina Alesci. CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT:

Fredricka, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is accusing Facebook of enabling housing discrimination. The government claims that advertisers can dictate which users see housing related ads based on race, religion, sex, and disability.

To be clear, this is not a new accusation against Facebook. Just last week, it settled a lawsuit that made similar allegations. The company said it was taking steps to address the concerns. For example, Facebook announced it would separate housing, employment, and credit card ads on a separate portal, and that portal would limit advertisers' ability to target people based on those discriminatory factors.

The government also wants answers from other tech companies, specifically Twitter and Google, about their advertising tools. Though, to be clear, the Department of Housing and Development is not investigating those companies.

As for Facebook, it claims it was caught off guard by the HUD charges because it has been working with HUD to address its concern. Here is the problem for Facebook. This is yet another story about users or advertisers potentially misusing the platform. Remember, the company has been criticized for a host of issues, including enabling the spread of terrorist propaganda. Now, consumers and regulators are now left to wonder whether Facebook is actually doing enough to police its own platform. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right, Cristina, thank you so much.

Let's talk about this with our brilliant legal guys. Thank you so much for sticking around. I know we have had you all over the map on these hours today, so sorry about that.




WHITFIELD: So here we go. Avery Friedman, civil rights attorney and law professor, and Richard Herman, criminal defense attorney and law professor. So Avery, let me begin with you. So does it appear that HUD has a very strong legal case that Facebook is intentionally engaging in housing discrimination by targeting or limiting who sees what housing ads?

FRIEDMAN: Fredricka, this will be the largest HUD prosecuted fair housing case in American history. Interestingly enough, the heavy lifting was done by the private fair housing organizations, and very capable lawyers representing them, which settled in federal district court New York last week.

[14:40:07] HUD brought suit, and Facebook is saying what are you suing us now for? Well, the answer is HUD can exact what are called civil penalties, at $15,000 dollars a violation, times hundreds of thousands of ads, times each day, that could be billions of dollars. So this is a major league, full frontal attack on HUD for housing discrimination, and you know what? I think they've got a shot.

WHITFIELD: Really? So Richard, something tells me you do not, because I saw your head drop with nope, I don't buy it.

FRIEDMAN: His head always drops.

HERMAN: It's reflex, when Avery talks. It is just a reflex. It goes down.



FRIEDMAN: Pay attention. Pay attention.

WHITFIELD: How do you see this?

HERMAN: Listen, this is civil, it's not criminal, so let's understand that. And Facebook has been working with HUD the last two years to remedy this, and they are making changes. And they basically acknowledged there were problems in mining certain personal data from their subscribers. And when you put that newsfeed on, when it comes on in Facebook, the information you see not everybody sees. So those are the allegations, that Facebook mined this data and sold it to advertisers who then used it to target certain individuals, and thereby it excluded people based on race. So that's the main claim here.

FRIEDMAN: For sure. That's right.

HERMAN: And Facebook is looking to change their system, overhaul it, make sure that doesn't happen again, ensure it doesn't happen again. It goes through an administrative law judge who has to make a determination, Fred, whether or not there was actual discrimination, and then if there was, what parties were injured? What was the injury per person?

WHITFIELD: That was going to be my question. HUD now has to establish how this depravity, if that's indeed the case, how this really injures, harms, all of these Facebook users. And can they do that?

HERMAN: That's why you're brilliant, Fred. You just hit it on the head.

WHITFIELD: I'm learning from you guys.

FRIEDMAN: But you're right.

WHITFIELD: But yes, how will they do that? How will HUD try to establish that, Richard?

HERMAN: I'm going to hear Avery, because he's got this, this is the biggest case in the history of the world here. (LAUGHTER)

FRIEDMAN: I'm waiting, buddy. I'm waiting to go --

HERMAN: So go ahead my friend. What is the measure of damages?

WHITFIELD: So Avery, how are they going to do that?

FRIEDMAN: All right, here's the truth. The difficulty is they have to identify the individuals who have been affected by discrimination, which means they've got to go through literally millions of advertisings, they have to find out who was using the service. But again, remember, the big money here isn't going to be damages, Fredricka. It is going to be the so-called civil fine of $15,000 per violation. That's why this case is so huge. The private fair housing organizations won their case by settlement, by consent order, and things are changing. Fair housing lawyers are now working over at Facebook, helping them to make the changes.

But in terms of the costs, this is a test of HUD. The civil rights community has never trusted HUD. This is the big one here. Civil fines of at least $1 billion. Let's see if they can put their money where their mouth is.

HERMAN: Fred, Facebook was working, Facebook has been working with HUD to remedy this for two years. All of a sudden, last week, HUD says give us all your subscribers and all their information.

WHITFIELD: You're reading my mind because that was going to be my follow-up question. Wait a minute, if they have been working together, then why are you now being hit with --

FRIEDMAN: They haven't been working together. They have been working with the private fair housing groups. No, they haven't.

HERMAN: It broke, Fred, because they asked for all of the info data on all of the subscribers and Facebook said we're not going to give you that. So therefore, they filed this litigation here. And for years, Fred, the tech companies --

WHITFIELD: If you're not going to willingly give it to us, then we're going to sue for it.


FRIEDMAN: And the administrative law judge will resolve that dispute.


HERMAN: For years, tech companies have him immunity. The interesting thing here is that the DOJ is saying no, now the Fair Housing Act control, supersedes, and that's why they're going to -- Facebook is having a problem right now. This will be resolved, Fred. There will be ultimately, there will be a settlement here, I believe.

WHITFIELD: Wow, it is fascinating. It's very complicated, but it is fascinating, and made that much more fascinating because of you.

FRIEDMAN: Love the case.



WHITFIELD: I appreciate it. Thank you so much.

FRIEDMAN: See you soon.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.


[14:49:17] WHITFIELD: President Trump is nominating his former economic adviser, Stephen Moore, to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Moore helped draft Trump's tax proposals in the 2016 election campaign and has written a book on the president's economic agenda. And Moore has backed Trump's open criticism of the president's own appointee to the Fed for raising interest rates.

The nomination is already facing criticism, however, including from a former head of the Council of Economic Advisers who wrote an open letter to U.S. senators urging them to reject the nomination and questioning if Moore is qualified.

Stephen Moore, who is also a former CNN economic analyst, so a very familiar face around here, joining me right now.

[14:50:01] So Stephen, congratulations on the nomination, but at the same time, this must feel very awkward, because you are also receiving this criticism from some in the economic arena. So how do you respond to the critics who say your background doesn't qualify you to be on the Board of Governors, to have this job?

STEPHEN MOORE, NOMINEE, FEDERAL RESERVE BOARD OF GOVERNORS: By the way, it is great to be with you, Fredricka. Thanks for having me on.

It was quite an honor to be asked by the president a week-and-a-half ago to serve on the federal reserve board. It really is amazing. I still have goosebumps from that call. It is true, I'm not a Ph.D. economist, but I have 35 years of policy experience in the economics arena. I've been the chief economist at the Heritage Foundation, the most important think tank in the world. I was the senior economic editor at "The Wall Street Journal," and have done many things. And by the way, as you said, I helped write the tax plan that President Trump put forward last year, we're very proud of that.

It is true, I'm not a Ph.D. economist. And my point would be maybe we don't need so many Ph.D. economists over there at the Fed. I think it would be a good thing not just to have other people besides economists, businessmen, people who know things about the real world. And so I don't think being a Ph.D. economist should be necessarily a qualification for serving on the Fed. WHITFIELD: So some of those critics are worried about your loyalties,

whether you are going to be driven by your loyalty to the president of the United States, or if your loyalty is to the U.S. economy. How do you answer that?

MOORE: That's an easy one. Look, I love Donald Trump, and I've worked with him because I believe in most of what he is doing. I've had some run-ins with Donald Trump over the last couple of years. I think he's done a phenomenal job on the economy. I'm with the 71 percent of Americans according to that CNN poll that think that the economy is really headed in a very positive direction.

But look, my objective, when I get over to the Fed, is to help chairman Powell pursue the policies that will grow this economy, provide high wages, a lot of jobs, and stable prices. And I don't think that's too controversial. There will obviously be disagreements among economists, as there are all the time, about the best way to achieve that. I happen to be a person who really believes we should try to keep prices stable, because that will maximize economic growth, and raise wages for the American worker.

WHITFIELD: So you were pretty critical, right, of the Fed during the Obama administration --

MOORE: I was.

WHITFIELD: -- for keeping interest rates low, warning it could cause runaway inflation. But now you are supporting the president's call for lower interest rates. I know you just now said stabilizing, but the president calling for lower interest rates. So how do you square that? What's changed?

MOORE: First of all, look, I think I have been, most people would say I have been pretty right about the last four months. My criticism of the Fed, I think Chairman Powell is doing a very good job, but I think that the last two actions were questionable. You go back to last summer, Fredricka, we had achieved near four percent economic growth, which is a great, great prosperous level of growth. We had full employment in the economy, and we have zero inflation. And what's wrong with that picture? Nothing. It is a beautiful picture.

And then the Fed started raising rates and taking, sucking some of the oxygen out of that economy. And I was critical of that, especially in December, remember a week before Christmas, the Fed raised interest rates again. The Dow Jones plummeted, the stock market went through a violent contraction. And I spoke out very angrily about that. And by the way, I think I was proven right, because unfortunately, two or three days after Christmas, the Fed actually had to pull back its action because it had such a negative effect. So I wish they had listened to me in the first place on that one.

WHITFIELD: How do you prepare yourself for the potential grilling?

MOORE: Right. It looks like given what I've been through over the last week or two, look, I just want --

WHITFIELD: This may have been a prelude.

MOORE: Right, exactly. So my only thing is, I love conversations like this where we're talking about the economy, what we do, and obviously, there are going to be disagreements. I have been on CNN for the last two years, so I know about those. But let's keep it on the economy. I think a lost the personal insults are counterproductive and hurtful, and I don't think they lead to any positive results about how we get this economy to continue to be prosperous, which I think we all want.

WHITFIELD: A lot of folks are hoping that perhaps you give the president some advice on that, because he does go there. He may not go there with you because you're his nominee, but you see he does go there with other people.


MOORE: Fredricka, I've been on this show, I've been on this show with you many times. And look, I'd say 75 percent of the time I agree with Donald Trump, I give him really high marks for his handling of the economy, but there are many times I disagree with him. I'm pro-trade, I'm more pro free trade than he is. I'm probably a little bit more pro-immigration than he. So I will be an independent mind for growth and the American worker. How's that?

[14:55:03] WHITFIELD: Stephen Moore, that's a pretty good answer. Stephen Moore, congratulations, and good luck. And thanks for being with us.

MOORE: Thank you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So just when you think you have seen it all in politics, two swamp creatures show up in a Senate confirmation hearing, no joke. Take a look as Interior Secretary Nominee David Bernhardt answers questions during his confirmation hearing, and then a woman seen sitting behind him in view of the cameras actually ducks down, she reemerges, wearing, yes, a green swamp monster mask. It turns out it was a coordinated demonstration by environmental groups to protest his nomination. The protesters were not escorted out until nearly two hours into the meeting. Now you've seen it all.

Tomorrow night, find out the answer to the question, who is Tricky Dick? The four-part CNN original series explores Richard Nixon's rise, fall, incredible comeback, and political destruction, featuring never before seen footage. Tricky Dick continues tomorrow night, 9:00 eastern, only on CNN.

And thank you so much for being with me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. See you back here tomorrow. We have so much more straight ahead in the Newsroom with Ana Cabrera right after this.