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Fairfax Denies Claims, Says Polygraphs Show He's Being Truthful; Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) Md.: Whistleblower Says White House Pushed Security Clearances Despite Serious Disqualifying Issues Such As Foreign Influence Fears; Democrats To Authorize Subpoena For Full Mueller Report; Trump Threatens To Close U.S.-Mexico Border; Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) South Bend, In. Says His Team Raised Over $7 Million In First Quarter, Fmr. Senator Joe Biden (D) De. Defends His Interactions With Women After Complaint. Aired 10-10:30 ET

Aired April 1, 2019 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And, again, as you guys noted, we're going to hear from another accuser tomorrow morning. Thank you, Jessica, very much.

All right, good morning, everyone, it is the top of the hour, 10:00 A.M. Eastern, 7:00 A.M. Pacific. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

We are following breaking news this morning. A White House staff member has told house investigators that senior officials have overruled concerns raised about 25 individuals who security clearances were initially denied over a whole range of disqualifying issues, including fears about foreign influence, potential conflicts of interest, warning of the grave implications to national security. This is a big story. CNN is first with it.

Joining us now is CNN's Manu Raju with more. Tell us what you know.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Elijah Cummings, the House Oversight Committee Chairman, sent a letter to the White House detailing what he says is a whistleblower who has come forward to raise significant concerns about the security clearance process in the White House. Now, the whistleblower who is named in here is -- her name is Tricia Newbold. He's the Adjudications Manager in the Personnel Security Office. And she met with republican and democratic staff of this committee raising a number of concerns.

In particular, she informed the committee that during the -- in the Trump White House, she and other career officials adjudicated denials of dozens of applications for security clearances and those were later overturned by White House officials. She specifically says that she started to keep a list in 2018 of the number of denials that were overturned. She said there were 25 denials of individuals who were later overturned despite concerns that these people potentially should not get the security clearances. She said there are two current senior White House officials whose security clearances were instated despite the concerns and denials by the career officials.

Now, what she says is that the individuals whose applications were denied had a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use and criminal conduct.

Now, the letter that Cummings has provided does not name any of the individuals whose security clearances were initially denied, but Elijah Cummings has made clear that he is pursuing this further and is also planning to subpoena the former Head of Personnel Security to come before his committee to ask for questions, that subpoena going to be issued tomorrow, all new information as part of this information by the democratic concerns now this apparent whistleblower's concerns about what was happening in the issuance of security clearances.

SCIUTTO: Manu, I hate to suggest that politics could play a role in reaction to this. I'm just curious. There's 25 people, significant concerns, security clearances, we've had issues before with this White House related to security clearances and overruling the recommendations. Are there any republicans you have spoken with who are taking this seriously?

RAJU: Not yet, but this is still just coming out. We have reached out to the top republican on the House Oversight Committee, Jim Jordan, to see if they share a concern. According to this democratic letter, the republican staff and democratic staff were involved in these questions with this woman, Tricia Newbold.

Now, of course, this has been an issue in the news, as you mentioned, Jim. We have reported that Ivanka Trump's security clearance was an issue for some officials, including the former White House Chief of Staff. But the President came in and overruled those concerns. The New York Times reported about Jared Kushner's security clearance concerns being overridden also by the President. The President has the authority, of course, to do that under the law, but the concerns that are raised in this letter and by this whistleblower is that the process for overruling, the concerns are essentially disregarded, that personal security files have not been closely in check and that interim security clearances also have been given out to people who probably should not have gotten the security clearances at the end of the day, so all those things will be questions for this committee going forward.

HARLOW: Okay. Manu, don't go anywhere, you just broke that news. Also this, more breaking news this morning, the House Judiciary Committee ready to fight to get their hands on the full un-redacted Mueller report, not the four-page summary that we got from Barr, but they have set this deadline of tomorrow to get the full thing in its entirety, hundreds of pages. What can you tell us?

RAJU: Yes. Democrats have been concerned about Bill Barr's letter from Friday saying that he would look into redacting four areas as part of the Mueller report, two in particular caught a lot of democrats -- raised concerns among democrats, namely grand jury information as well as information that Barr believes could impugn the integrity and character of peripheral third parties.

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Now, it's unclear what that means, but Congress -- the democrats say they are entitled to that information. They believe grand jury information in particular should be provided to the committee. They cite past cases like Watergate, the Ken Starr investigation, to say this this should be turned turned over.

So they are planning to authorize the issuance of a subpoena on Wednesday for the full Mueller report, the underlying evidence as well as information from five former White House officials who they say have essentially waived the right to executive privilege because of their cooperation with the Mueller probe.

Now, republicans this morning already pushing back. Doug Collins, a top republican on the committee, says that these arbitrary deadlines that democrats are pursuing, they should not be going this route, but nevertheless, an escalation of this fight for the full Mueller report and potentially of when they could set the stage for a legal battle between the Justice Department and House Democrats. Poppy and Jim?

HARLOW: And shows the power you have when you are in the majority, right? You've got Jerry Nadler now leading this critically important committee. Manu, thanks for the reporting.

With me now is Paul Rosenzweig. He's a former Deputy Assistant at the Department of Homeland Security. Also, he served as a prosecutor on Ken Starr's team that investigated for President Bill Clinton. He is a lifelong republican, self-described conservative whom I should note has been critical of President Trump. So good morning. Important voice, yours is, on all of this this morning, Paul.

Let's just begin with where Manu left off and that is the ranking republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins, not only said the deadline for tomorrow to get the full Mueller report is arbitrary, he went on to say that releasing the full report would, quote, break the law by releasing it without redactions. I remember after the Starr report was done when, you know, boxes and boxes of documents were loaded up and driven over to Congress. Is Representative Collins right that it would be illegal to give Congress an un-redacted report?

PAUL ROSENZWEIG, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR POLICY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I don't think so. I think that there are probably procedural steps that need to be taken in order to secure the approval of the courts to give, for example, grand jury material, but that's precisely the step that Ken Starr took in order to provide material to Congress and that's precisely the step that Leon Jaworski took in order to provide material to Congress.

What's different here is the apparent or seeming decision of the Attorney General not to take the same step that has been taken in the past, namely to make as much of the grand jury information as is possible available to Congress for its consideration of its own oversight responsibilities. HARLOW: So the four reasons that Barr has given for these redactions are grand jury material, sensitive intelligence, information about ongoing investigations and then anything that would sort of sully the reputation of someone who is a peripheral third party. Do you agree with all four of his points there, that those four things should be redacted even in a version that goes to Congress?

ROSENZWEIG: No. I think they should be taken into consideration. Certainly, the grand jury material can be released with an order of the court, and if Barr wishes to, he could seek one and would secure one. With respect to ongoing investigations, it's clearly the case that we could provide information to Congress effectively confidentially or in camera and such that it wasn't going to make it into the public sphere, indeed, that's done quite routinely in the intelligence committees, for example. Likewise, with respect to the information relating to sources and methods of our intelligence investigations, Congress is entitled to know that just in a confidential way.

HARLOW: For anyone that may have missed your quotes in USA Today, which I thought were really interesting about this, this stood out to me, quote, you write, in many ways, I think the important thing is not so much the report as it is the backup material. Tell me why. Make the case.

ROSENZWEIG: Well, yes, the report is going to be between 300 and 400 pages we know, and that's a lot of information, but it, too, is just a recitation and a summary of the evidence that Mr. Mueller has collected and it's looked at in Mr. Mueller's case through the prism of possible criminal investigation. Lying behind that we are told are hundreds and hundreds of interviews, thousands and thousands of subpoenas and probably tens of thousands, if not, hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, all of which are relevant to Congress' inquiry into its oversight responsibilities and the fitness of the president. That's why when Ken Starr, for example, provided the Congress with a couple hundred pages of reports summarizing his investigation, he also provided, as you said in the opening, hundreds of boxes of material that had been collected over the course of the previous year's investigation that were relevant to the inquiry.

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HARLOW: Paul Rosenzweig, it's great to have you this morning. Please come back. Thank you for that perspective.

ROSENZWEIG: It would be my pleasure. Thanks a lot.

HARLOW: All right. Jim?

SCIUTTO: To the White House now where President Trump is turning his attention to a different fight or number of fights. He is vowing now to close large sections of the U.S.-Mexico border anytime now to, he says, try to stop a surge in migrants and asylum seekers. He is also cutting off all U.S. aid to the so-called northern triangle, the countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where many of the migrants are originating. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is following all of this as well as a fresh assault on Obamacare. Kaitlan, I wonder, you know, after the summary of the Mueller report last week, the President talking about exoneration, sense of relief in the white house, are there still concerns regarding that? Are these attempts of distraction?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the President isn't fully putting the Mueller investigation behind him but he is turning his mind and focus to other issues like immigration, which has certainly been front and center over the last few days. And this weekend, the White House spent several days defending and doubling down on his threat to close the southern border with Mexico, saying that they are not doing enough to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants from crossing the border.

Now, the President's Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, said recognize this is a threat that the President has made before and not followed through on. But he said, Jim, that unless something dramatic happens, he does believe that the President is going to close the southern border.

Now, that's going to raise all kinds of questions about how that would actually be carried out, what it would do because, of course, Mexico is America's third largest trading partner. So what it would do to that are still open questions. But Mulvaney also talked about the President's threat to cut off aid to those three Central American countries that you noted. Essentially, their argument as far as that is that those countries are not doing enough to stop their migrants or their citizens from going into Mexico and then traveling further north. So that's why they say they're cutting off aid.

But when Mulvaney was confronted with data from the Trump administration that shows actually giving aid to those countries makes the border safer, he shrugged it off, attributed it to career officials and said, if it is working like that, if it does make those countries and the border safer, then why was there a record number of border crossings in February, 76,000 crossings, an 11-year high, something that has infuriated President Trump. And I'm told by sources contributed to this recent crush of immigration talk that we're seeing coming out of the White House.

SCIUTTO: Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much. And, Poppy, I asked the former Ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, last hour. She served under Trump and Obama. If anybody had suggested this, now, security, border patrol, border governors, mayors, et cetera, her answer was, no, never.

HARLOW: Right, and that says a lot, all right.

So republican strategists and CNN Political Commentator Alice Stewart is with us. Good morning to you, Alice. Let's just dive in here because DHS Secretary Jay Johnson said -- although he did note in recent interviews, look, there is a crisis in his words at the border, that's what he said, which is notable from him, he also talked about what shutting down the border would do in terms of lawful immigration, lawful commerce, which there is a lot of, $611 billion worth across the border -- across the southern border last year, that those would be the main effects. You know, stifling commerce, stifling legal immigration. Is he wrong?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's wrong on some aspects of that and right on others. Look, I think the take away point was hearing from President Obama's own secretary there that there is a crisis at the border. He has said they dealt with about 1,000 migrants coming in across the border on a daily basis, now, we're dealing with 4,000. So those numbers are important to note.

But, yes, he is right on the tremendous economic impact that would result if the President were to shut down the border and that is a concern that we all need to address. But in my view this is a message this president has been quite clear on, his priority on securing the border and making a more streamlined process for immigration. But this is a message --

HARLOW: Let me just jump in, Alice, with a question about a message and an actual action, right? Because, you know, you can't cry wolf all the time and then not do something because people don't take you seriously. And the reason I say that is he's saying, you know, I will do this, and he's visiting the border at the end of this week and over the weekend, he gave a timeline which was this week for when he would do this. So if he doesn't, what does that mean?

STEWART: Well, hopefully, it will mean that we're having talks and conversations with Mexico on what they can do to help enforce their immigration laws and address this crisis at their border before it comes to our borders. He is sending a clear and direct message to Mexico and Mexican officials that they need to work hard to enforce their immigration laws and address the issue on their end before it comes up to America.

And this is not just about illegal immigration. This is about stemming the tide of drugs into this country and addressing the sex trafficking and the human trafficking issues.

[10:15:05]

So there is a broad impact of taking a look at this.

HARLOW: But, Alice, you know -- I mean, you know the stats in terms of just drug flow, one thing you noted that 90 percent of illegal drugs, like heroin and, you know, with the opioid crisis, are coming through the legal ports of entry. And I guess the question is do you really think that it would be worth the economic cost to this country, just the economic cost to this country, to shut down the border, let alone all of the other ramifications?

STEWART: In my view, I do not think that the economic costs would be worth this, but then, again, this is an idea and an opportunity that the President is presenting to Mexico to incentivize them and encourage them to enforce their existing laws that they have on the books. This has been the President's priority since he began running for president and this is high on his list. And what he plans to do is clear, he Tweets about this virtually every day, he did so just yesterday, and, again, urging Mexico to take action on his signature campaign promise and something that really needs to get done.

HARLOW: Alice Stewart, thank you for being here. Appreciate it.

STEWART: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Still to come, making waves, 2020 democratic contender Pete Buttigieg announces a huge fundraising haul, $7 million in the first quarter.

SCIUTTO: Yes, some big numbers there. Plus stunning claims from a long-time investigator for Jeff Bezos, he alleges that Saudi Arabia had access to the Amazon CEO's private information.

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[10:20:55] SCIUTTO: Now, to some big, some surprising momentum for potential 2020 candidate Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana Mayor announcing his team has raised now more than $7 million since launching his exploratory committee in January. That's no small figure. Meanwhile, Buttigieg is facing backlash from Hillary Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill.

Merrill recently slammed Buttigieg over this comment that he made in January to The Washington Post Magazine. He said, Donald Trump got elected because in his twisted way he pointed out the huge troubles in our economy and our democracy. At least he didn't go around saying that America was already great, like Hillary Clinton did.

Joining me now is Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager, Robby Mook. Robby, good to have you on this morning.

ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER, HILLARY CLINTON: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: So, to be fair, Buttigieg -- I don't know if you would say walked back the comments, but he did make a statement in the last 24 hours saying how much respect he had for Hillary Clinton, for Nick Merrill. But just on that statement, what's wrong with that criticism that he made there?

MOOK: Yes. Look, I actually think this is a great example of the kind of challenges that candidates are going to face this cycle. I actually think what's made Buttigieg stand out as a candidate, I think what's going to continue to make him effective as a candidate has been his future focus. He looks like the future, he sounds like the future, he talks about the future. I don't think he wants his campaign to be about litigating 2016 and the challenges when a comment like this comes out, it's what everybody is going to fixate on, it's what we're talking about right now.

And, you know, we can litigate, you know, whether he's right or wrong, a lot of people said America is already great, but I think for him -- you know, if I were sitting in his campaign office today, he has a great team around him, I'm sure they're saying, okay, let's pivot back to talking about the future, and that's hard for every candidate.

SCIUTTO: Does $7 million in the first quarter for someone who initially the conventional wisdom was was not a major candidate, does that put him in a different category now?

MOOK: Absolutely. I think you've really seen him surge in the last few weeks and, again, I think that's because he's had such a clear message. This contest is all about breaking out, right? It's all about distinguishing yourself from what is a really big field of candidates. And I think he, because of his background, because of what he has been talking about has been able to do that. I think that's why you're seeing the kind of financial haul that he's gotten.

Obviously, with that is going to come scrutiny, like we're experiencing today. But, you know, this is a long road ahead, I'm sure he will pivot back and, you know, we will see. There is a long road to go.

SCIUTTO: Yes, no question. Let's talk for a moment about Joe Biden responding to this allegation from Assemblywoman Lucy Flores. Biden gave a statement saying, quote, not once, never, did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully, but it was never my intention.

This is a difficult moment, particularly at a time when his announcement is expected by many. How well is Joe Biden responding to this allegation?

MOOK: Well, yes, and this shows the challenge that he is going to have as a candidate, the kind of things that he is going to have to respond to. Look, it's a very good thing that women feel more comfortable coming forward when they've been made to feel uncomfortable by men. It may very well be true that Joe Biden didn't think this was a problem and she did.

I think the second statement was better, but the fact is going to remain if he does decide to run, he himself in his words on television with print reporters is going to have to respond to this. And his challenge is going to be to keep the coverage around his race focused on the things that he wants to talk about, people's economic lives, their economic futures.

So I don't think this is going to be the end of this.

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But I do hope that he does have the opportunity to talk about the things he wants to talk about and doesn't get totally bogged down by democrats or anybody else on other matters.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Let me ask you that question here because republicans are already jumping on this, for the man seen at least in current polling is the front runner for the democratic nomination to challenge trump. You've had several 2020 candidates weighing in over the weekend. Do you expect democrats in this large field to make this a voting issue on Joe Biden, to attack him with this in the primaries? MOOK: They might. They might. I would say, again, writ large as a party, our challenge is going to be to break through and explain to voters what we're going to do for them. This was our problem in 2016. The campaign became about a whole bunch of things. And what didn't break through was what Hillary was going to do for them. She was talking about it, it just didn't break through. And I don't want that to happen again.

Now, if there are serious allegations against someone, that's part of the vetting process and every candidate has to face scrutiny. The success of a presidential campaign often boils down to how successful you are at facing scrutiny. But I do think every candidate deserves the opportunity to talk about their agenda, what they're going to do to help people with their lives.

SCIUTTO: Robby Mook, thanks very much.

MOOK: Thank you.

HARLOW: really interesting, all right.

So as you know by now, the White House is gearing up for a fight to try to strike down Obamacare, but where is the plan? Ask the White House, they don't have one, and ask any republican member of Congress and they don't know yet.

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