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Oversight Chair: White House Overruled Security Clearance Denials for Dozens; White House Claims Trump Had Nothing to Do with Security Clearance Process of Ivanka & Kushner; House Judiciary Committee to Vote Wednesday to Authorize Subpoenas on Mueller Report; Brownsville Overwhelmed as Immigrations Officials Release Thousands of Immigrants and Trump Threatens to Close Border. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 1, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And he told CNN before the carpet it was a dream. Nipsey Hussle, dead now at 33 years old.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Wow. What a tragedy.

Paul, thank you for bringing us that reporting and let us know when you have more. We appreciate it.

Thank you all for joining us today. We will see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. Nice to have Poppy back after our various vacations. We have the band back together again.

HARLOW: We're back together.

SCIUTTO: "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

We are following breaking news out of Washington right now. The head of the House Oversight Committee says he is planning to subpoena a top -- a former top White House official over security clearances. This all started from a -- when a White House staffer, Tricia Newbold, came forward and has told top House investigators that top White House officials overruled clearance concerns on not one or two people but about 25 people to get security clearances. She claims the concerns that popped up during background checks ranged from fears of foreign influence to possible drug use. So what does this all mean now?

Let's get over to the capital. CNN's Manu Raju is there.

Manu, Chairman Elijah Cummings says subpoenas are coming. What are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings has made this a priority for his committee to investigate the security clearance process at the White House, raising concerns about officials such as Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who apparently had got their security clearance approved, overruled and pushed through by the president, despite concerns within the White House. This whistleblower, who Elijah Cummings called a whistleblower, Tricia Newbold, does not identify anyone by name according to the memo that Cummings put out today, but says there were 25 individuals that she listed since 2018 who were allowed to get their security clearances despite initial denials by career officials who had raised significant concerns about their back grounds.

Now, according to this memo, it says this, "According to Ms. Newbold, these individuals had a wide-range of serious disqualifying issues, involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personnel conduct, financial problems, drug use and criminal conduct." She goes on to tell House Democratic staff and Republican staff on this committee about a range of concerns about the way the security clearance process works at the Trump White House. She said there's not adequate staff to review this. She said there's not enough security to look over the personal security files. She also says there's, quote, "An unusually high number of individuals who get interim security clearances," who she said should not. She said these people who got interim security clearances were later deemed unsuitable for access to classified information.

Now, on top of this, Kate, she claims that the White House retaliated against her, White House officials have. And she said that she was forced to come forward before this committee.

Now, Elijah Cummings says that he does plan to subpoena an individual, Carl Klein, who served as the personal security director at the White House. He plans to do that this week. We have not heard back from Klein or the White House or any of those individuals. But we did hear just back from the top Republican on this committee, Jim Jordan, who calls this a reckless use of whistleblower information, says that Cummings is mischaracterizing Ms. Newbold, what she told the committee, and said these 25 individuals, some of them -- as he said, one was a GSA official who was on the custodial staff. A debate going forward. Clearly, the Democrats are in the majority, they plan to pursue this in the days ahead -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Regardless, I think, especially when you see that dispute between Cummings and Jordan on there, more information coming out would be better to clear up exactly what's going on here.

Great to see you, Manu. Thank you so much. We'll see you in a second.

To be clear, the president has the unique power to override any recommendations when it comes to this and grant security clearances to whomever he wants, really. But remember, everyone, from the president on down, repeatedly claimed that the president at least had nothing to do with the clearance process of his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

As a reminder, here is Ivanka Trump just last month to ABC's Abby Huntsman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance.




BOLDUAN: And that is now all in question yet again. So what is the White House saying about this whistleblower complaint and the Cummings subpoena?

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

Kaitlan, what are you hearing right now?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So far, we've gotten nothing from the White House on this request and what this fight is going to look like. And as Manu just laid out, eventually, what this could end up with, Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, either being forced to accommodate the request from Capitol Hill or this is going to end up in a nasty lengthy court battle. We know, Kate, in the past, that Cipollone, the White House counsel, has argued that he believes the president and the executive branch had the exclusive authority to either grant people security clearances or deny them. He does not think that Congress has the authority to get involved in this process in the way that they are trying. And he has called these requests essentially intrusive in the past. It doesn't shed a lot of light on whether or not he is going to be willing to accommodate with these requests, now that Elijah Cummings is in charge and is demanding these documents.

[11:05:21] Now, we do know that, in this letter, Cummings wants to see information related to the security clearances of not only Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, but also John Bolton, the national security adviser. We have reported that the president got involved in granting Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump security clearances, even though Ivanka Trump in that clip just there said she did not know that her father was involved. When we reported that we had sources telling us that maybe Ivanka did not know that her father played a role in her getting a security clearance.

All of this is coming to a head as White House officials have been pretty uneasy about the topic of security clearances for over a year now, Kate, ever since that Rob Porter scandal happened where there was so much scrutiny on how the White House was granting people security clearances not just security clearances but also those interim clearances. And that's what led to John Kelly, former chief of staff, changing the process. And that's when you saw Jared Kushner go from having that interim clearance to being downgraded until the president did get involved and grant him a permanent security clearance.

So White House officials are not responding to this, but we know they've been uneasy about what information could potentially come out now that there's a microscope on how they're handling these clearances.

BOLDUAN: It also seems a process that doesn't need -- in the past there isn't this kind of on fusion and unease with regard to how it all plays out. What you're pointing out, I think, is one of the most important parts here.



COLLINS: And that's a big part of this. That's a big part of this. There's so much scrutiny on this because they say, yes, the president does have the authority to do this, but because of the situation like with Rob Porter, which has had complete ripple effects on this administration. And that's why with this woman telling Cummings that, yes, the president does have the authority to do this, but the way they did it was irregular, it was often, and there were so many concerns that were never addressed, which is why those career officials had denied these people their clearances in the first place.

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, good to see you. Thank you so much.

For more some perspective on this, joining me is a former senior advisor to the national Security Council during the Obama administration, Samantha Vinograd.

Great to see you, Sam.

So 25 people, the claim from Tricia Newbold, about 25 people, despite concerns and a range of concerns that were flagged with their initial background checks, 25 people overriding that and giving them security clearance. Does that -- can you give me perspective? I mean, 25 or one for someone who doesn't know could be the same thing. Is 25 people a lot for the number?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It could be. It's a bit of Groundhog Day because another day another process foul by the White House. It's important to remind people why this matters.

BOLDUAN: Yes, please.

VINOGRAD: I had a top-secret clearance in the White House, which means I filled out my paperwork, I didn't lie, I disclosed my foreign contacts. That meant that experts thought that I could be trusted with classified information, that I wouldn't inappropriately give it to a foreign government or misuse it. The fact that these individuals got security clearances over experts' objections means that there's a chance that foreign governments are inappropriately accessing the intelligence that these White House officials are seeing because these officials either don't know how to responsibly handle it or there's some other malign intent involved, whereby, they are somehow giving this information over to foreign governments. So the question becomes, why would the White House, these multiple senior officials that are referenced in Manu's reporting, why would they knowingly do something that would open up the risk that foreign governments were inappropriately accessing your information. What is the benefit to doing that, other than perhaps expediency of having more people with clearances in the Situation Room or reviewing information?

BOLDUAN: So can you remind folks the range of possibility -- and I'm sure it's far beyond what we could list out -- but the range of possibility of what would be a red flag in a background check? Look, some of the red flags can be cleared up with a conversation --

VINOGRAD: They can.

BOLDUAN: -- with an honest conversation.

VINOGRAD: There you go.

BOLDUAN: But what are we talking about here?

VINOGRAD: The point of a counter -- an intelligence investigation into an individual seeking a clearance is largely to make sure that they don't have any manipulation points, that there's nothing in their background that a foreign intelligence service could use to manipulate them, knowingly or unknowingly, wittingly or unwittingly. That could be something like a secret, whether it's a gambling debt, affair or past drug use that they haven't been forthcoming about, or it could be to a foreign government they haven't professed. I was a French citizen when I joined the U.S. government. I had to give up my passport because they didn't want there to be any concern that I had allegiances anywhere else. It could be anything like that. The key issue is you can't lie about anything in your past. Secrets are manipulation points, particularly secrets related to a foreign government. Because, again, it begs a request yes would you want a foreign government to know something that the U.S. government doesn't.

[11:09:58] BOLDUAN: When it comes to where it goes from here, I am unclear as to, yes, a subpoena to bring this senior official in to answer questions about -- obviously questions are, why were these things overwritten, who told you to override these concerns, and so forth. What could happen now? Do you see a universe where when Congress gets involved these -- some of these 25 people get their security clearance now revoked? I just don't --


VINOGRAD: It seems unlikely because the White House has doubled down whenever they feel cornered by Congress. It's true, the president could give clearances to whomever he wants. We don't know if the president was involved in these particular decisions.


BOLDUAN: Great point. There are multiple levels of this.

VINOGRAD: Right. Their immediate impact. If I was an intelligence partner of the United States right now, one of the so-called Five Eyes, the country we share most closely with, I would be nervous about sharing intelligence with the White House knowing that U.S. experts didn't think that these individuals could responsibly handle this information. It could degrade our actual intelligence sharing. For people in the White House, who got their clearances because experts thought they should --

BOLDUAN: Didn't have --


VINOGRAD: -- didn't have red flags, I wouldn't feel comfortable sitting in the Situation Room and talking about top-secret compartmentalized information with people that experts didn't think warranted a clearance. That could impact the quality of discussion at the White House right now.

BOLDUAN: Directly to your point, you would think that the president wouldn't want that as well. You want to be surrounded by trustworthy people and that's --


VINOGRAD: -- so that you can have a real conversation without the wrong people listening.

BOLDUAN: Right, and that's why this -- this has popped up before and now we're learning more information about how many people. And now it's going to head towards a subpoena. This is why it is so head scratching. And why, when it came to the president being involved in the security clearance for Ivanka and Jared, it was also so head scratching. If it isn't a big deal and you have the power to do it, why was everyone lying about it leading up to it? It fits to this really confusing -- confusing narrative that we have seen over and over again, this pattern over and over again.

Great to see you, Sam. Thank you so much.

VINOGRAD: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

We were also following another story unfolding this morning on Capitol Hill. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has taken a big step this week toward issuing a subpoena to get his hands on the full unredacted Mueller report. Attorney General Bill Barr has said that he plans to release a redacted version of the report in the next couple of weeks. But top House Democrats are clearly not satisfied and readying for a fight as Barr is surely going to miss the deadline that they, let's be honest, arbitrarily set to see the report because the deadline is tomorrow.

Let me bring back in Manu Raju, who have the details on this.

Let's keep our subpoenas straight, Manu, if we can.

RAJU: Yes.

BOLDUAN: So Barr says the report is coming, so what does Chairman Jerry Nadler do -- what is he doing here with this vote this week, then? RAJU: Well, they're trying to make clear they want the full report

not the redacted report. And they're trying to demand the underlying evidence that underpins all the information, the conclusions within the Mueller report.

According to Bill Barr's letter from Friday, he said he planned to redact four categories of information. And two categories, in particular, caught Democrats by surprise and raised some significant concerns. One was grand jury information. Two was the information regarding to what Bill Barr would consider that would impugn the integrity of peripheral third parties in this investigation. It's unclear what that actually would entail. But nevertheless, Democrats are worried that this would be a significantly redacted report and the American public won't see the full picture. So they are planning on Wednesday to authorize the House Judiciary Committee to issue a subpoena to the Justice Department to get the full report, unredacted report, underlying evidence. And they're also planning to issue subpoenas for five former White House officials who they say are no longer covered by executive privilege because those officials have cooperated with the Mueller investigation. Democrats contend that they have precedent on their side. They point to the Starr investigation, the Watergate investigation, which underlying evidence, grand jury information was provided to Capitol Hill. Republicans say this is arbitrary and they're trying to essentially force the Justice Department to break norms and regulations.

Nevertheless, Kate, this is escalating this fight. Could lead to a court battle between Congress and the administration depending on what Bill Barr ultimately decides to do -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: It honestly seemed more straightforward last week. And now, this week, it is not straightforward for on exactly what's going to happen.

Manu, thanks so much, man.

RAJU: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, the White House doubling down on the president's threat to close the U.S. border with Mexico. We will take you live to one of the Texas border towns to find out what that actually would really mean if the border was completely shut down there.

[11:14:45] Plus, 2020 underdog Mayor Pete Buttigieg is reporting a massive fundraising haul. What that means for him now and also the Democratic primary race. That's ahead.


BOLDUAN: New this morning, the secretary of Homeland Security is now sending more officers to the U.S./Mexico border. The department just announced a few moments ago that it is now going to be speeding up the deployment of some 750 new officers to the border there and there could actually be even more.

That is on top of the message from the White House today, which is something dramatic needs to happen to stop them from taking another very dramatic step, which is shutting down the entire U.S./Mexico border. Listen to this.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: It certainly isn't a bluff. You can take the president seriously.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The president will do everything he can. If closing the ports of entry mean that, that's exactly what he intends to do.


BOLDUAN: All right. So this new threat coming as the crisis continues at the border. Just take the border town of Brownsville, Texas, where authorities there say thousands of undocumented immigrants are about to be released because the city says it simply doesn't have room to hold them anymore.

CNN's Martin Savidge is in Brownsville and has been tracking this.

Martin, what are you learning there?

[11:20:20] MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is essentially a cascading effect that you see down here in Brownsville. You have the federal government that says it no longer has room in all the detention centers for all the migrants it has apprehended. So now it has begun releasing them. There were over 1,000 processed here in Brownsville alone over the weekend. But now Brownsville is also saying, well, we can't hold them here, their job is to try to move them as quickly as possible.

There was a group that just arrived a short time ago. We will show you sort of what happens. When they come in from a bus from the federal side, they're met by Brownsville authorities that then bring them inside the bus terminal here, where there are city officials and county officials who help process them. Make sure they've got the right traveling documents, put them in touch with their loved ones or whoever they may know in the United States. And try to arrange, as quickly as possible, either a bus ticket or airline ticket so that that migrant family can leave here and go somewhere else in the U.S. while they wait out the whole asylum process. Amazingly, much of that gets done in about a day.

Still, it is stressing the city as far as resources and money. And the mayor is frustrated about all of it. Listen.


TONY MARTINEZ, (D), BROWNSVILLE MAYOR: You know, as long as Washington doesn't listen, this is the way we're going to have to handle it.

SAVIDGE: But doesn't that seem outrageous or crazy? MARTINEZ: It's totally outrageous. But like I tell people all the

time, you know, as a mayor, we have to walk the streets of our own town and we've got to make sure they're safe, make sure they're healthy, and they have to deal with anything that comes across our front door. OK?


SAVIDGE: And they have been dealing with what's coming across their front door. In fact, they say they could probably handle up to 1,000 migrants a day. The problem is there's no communication between the feds and the city. So no one knows how many migrants will show up on any given day or even what time buses will arrive. They simply have to deal with what literally is showing up at their doorstep -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Quite literally. That's the most amazing thing, despite even all the coverage of it now, it's quite literally exactly that still at this moment.

Martin, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Joining me is John Sandweg, a former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and he also served as the acting general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security.

John, thank you for coming back in. I appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: When you hear close down the entire border, ports the entry and all, what does it mean? How do you do it?

SANDWEG: Well, the president has emergency authority to close down the ports of entry. But what it means is the miles and miles of long, you know, of trucks waiting to come into the United States, importing produce, manufactured goods, the hundreds of thousands of workers who work for U.S. businesses legally but live in Mexico, all of that's going to be shut down. And $650 billion in trade with Mexico threatened. And it's going to do nothing, absolutely nothing to stop the flow of Central Americans into this country.

BOLDUAN: And why is that?

SANDWEG: Well, the Central Americans, what they're doing is this, they're coming north, making that arduous journey through Mexico, and their goal is to get two feet on American soil. The overwhelming majority of them are crossing the border illegally. They are not going through the ports of entry. Once they get their two feet on American soil, they file their asylum claims. We have a process that has worked for decades to deal with that. We haven't dedicated the resources necessary to process these numbers of people efficiently or quickly, so it's taking years, thus, further incentivizing more to come. What's going on at the ports of entry is lawful trade and travel. And

I don't understand the nexus. I guess, the president is thinking maybe by closing the ports he puts a little bit more pressure on Mexico to close the southern border, but generally speaking only a traction of these people are coming through the lawful ports of entry.

BOLDUAN: Here is one of the reasons at least his acting chief of staff is saying for this move, he says that they need to move people, he actually said this yesterday, they need to move people from the ports to in his words go and patrol in the desert where we don't have a wall. Does that make sense to you?

SANDWEG: Again, it makes no sense. Listen, the wall is not going to be terribly effective at stopping there. There are parts of the border where the wall is directly on the border. But the majority of the people coming across are in the Rio Grande Valley. People will tell you this, because of flood zones and other things in that particular part of the country, the wall is going to be, in many places, up to a mile inland or half a mile. All these Central Americans need is two feet of American soil to get their feet on. This is a different type of situation than we have ever dealt with at the border before. They are not trying to sneak into the United States and evade capture. They want to surrender because they know that DHS is currently overwhelmed. So, no, the wall is not going to do anything about it. And quite candidly, the personnel who staff the ports of entry are different from Border Patrol. And you're still going to need them at the ports of entry. There will be people, like U.S. citizens, for instance, who you just can't say, you are stuck in Mexico because we closed the border. You will have to be able to process those individuals. It doesn't make much sense at all.

[11:25:21] BOLDUAN: This is something -- and you got to it at the top, but this is something that we've talked about before and I think this gets to the whole point here. Short of comprehensive immigration reform you have advocated -- which let's not even pretend it's going to happen -- you've advocated that a solution to the immediate situation at the border, which is this influx and this backlog, is to staff up and speed up the process of processing these asylum claims. Get more immigration judges down there to handle the cases, get them processed faster. That hasn't happened. Do you have any -- could you come up with any good reason why that hasn't happened or why they haven't even tried it?

SANDWEG: No. You know, Kate, honestly I think what's going on here in part is the administration sees an opportunity in this crisis. The immigration folks at the administration have never liked the asylum laws. They don't like the idea that the United States provides a safe haven for people fleeing for political persecution. This is an opportunity to leverage this crisis to cut off those laws, to change those laws and no longer provide access to people claiming asylum. I think if you were to accelerate and provide immigration judges and process the cases quickly, a couple of things would happen. One is the American people's concern about the situation would diminish because we would be getting these people out quickly. But secondly, when you get the people out quickly, it's going to -- the smugglers will no longer be effective at recruiting new people in Central America because they will see the neighbors, their friends who went north coming right back. Unless and until that happens and, frankly, things stabilize a bit in Central America, I worry this crisis is going to continue. So, I mean, could be some political opportunism to see, with this crisis, might be an opportunity to leverage and achieve a long term goal which is to modify the immigration laws. But, look, let's be realists, this Congress is not going to change the asylum laws anytime soon. There's not going to be comprehensive immigration reform anytime soon. In the interim, we have a legitimate crisis and we are doing little meaningful steps to address it.

BOLDUAN: Real quick. I'm out of time. You're advocating putting more judges, like a surge of judges down there in order to process claims --


BOLDUAN: -- faster. The secretary of Homeland Security is putting a surge of officers, they just announced this morning, 750 officers to the southwest border. Does that have any of the same effect?

SANDWEG: It does. I mean, honestly, they do need to process these individuals. And the numbers they have right now, they are not kidding. They are overwhelmed. These are stunning numbers.


SANDWEG: But they need to process them. It doesn't matter if you process them quickly if there isn't a hearing where you can process the asylum claim and get them out. So you need to do both.

BOLDUAN: Fix the place where there's actually the backlog --


BOLDUAN: -- the long lead time.

John, thank you for coming in.


BOLDUAN: I appreciate it.

SANDWEG: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, small-city mayor, big-time fundraising haul. Pete Buttigieg pulls in millions for his campaign. How is it going to stack up to the rest of the pack right now? That's next.