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Joe Biden Under Fire; Trump Threatens to Shut Border; Did White House Approve 25 Security Clearances Despite Denials?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 1, 2019 - 15:00   ET



LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: And then that was overruled by senior White House officials.

You know, earlier in the day, Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, he lambasted the chairman of this committee, saying, you know, this was supposed to be a bipartisan investigation. Instead, it's not.

And he basically said: "Chairman Cummings' investigation is not about restoring integrity to the security clearance process. It's an excuse to go fishing through the personal files of dedicated public servants."

So, a lot of frustration between Republicans and Democrats on this committee this afternoon -- Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Lauren Fox, thank you so much.

Let's talk further about all of this.

I have with me CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, who's been a senior official for both the FBI and the CIA.

And so, Gloria, the law does allow the president to have a final say when it comes to allowing employees this access to classified material.


BALDWIN: But you tell me how Chairman Cummings is going to basically argue that that doesn't hold here.

BORGER: Well, what the chairman is saying is that there ought to be some basic standards for vetting and for security clearance, no matter who these people are, whether they're the son-in-law or the daughter of the president or anybody else, that there have to be basic standards, and when red flags are raised, they ought to be considered properly.

And, of course, the president has the final say. If he wants somebody to get to get a top clearance, that person can have top clearance. But when you have this large number of people, 25 people that this whistle-blower says did not deserve clearances, I think that does raise a huge red flag about what's going on with the process inside the White House, and are people getting cleared just because they have a close relationship with the president?

BALDWIN: Well, Phil, I wanted to ask you about the number, right? So this isn't just one or two people, 25 individuals who were denied these security clearances and the White House overturned them.

You tell, me is 25 a lot of people?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, it is. I mean, if you look at the kinds of issues you would raise in this circumstance, there would be the kinds of issues that the American public might expect.

For example, does somebody have investments overseas that might be a conflict of interest? I got to tell you, Brooke, in a lot of these cases, and you're hearing this talked about in this situation, the issue isn't related strictly to national security. It can be alcohol abuse, drug abuse.

We have seen situations -- and you're aware of them -- in recent times in the White House about spousal abuse, financial problems. So you can see those occasionally. There is a standard, what's called -- and you have talked about this -- adjudication process, a separate pile of people getting a security clearance where somebody says, do we really want this person on with these kinds of problems?

Twenty-five people in a staff as small as the White House, that is a lot of people to clear going through an adjudication process. That's a surprise.

BALDWIN: You hit on some of the reasons apparently why they were initially denied, drug use, criminal conduct, conflicts of interest, foreign influence, financial problems.

I mean, what kind of drug use or financial problems would disqualify you from getting a security clearance?

MUDD: Let's be careful here. Let's -- that word disqualification is not quite accurate. What happens is, you get put into a pile and questions are raised about whether someone who wants to hire you or not.

So it's not black or white. The kinds of issues that might come up, marijuana use, how recent has it been? How severe has it been.

BALDWIN: Got you.

MUDD: Financial problems. How many credit cards do you have? So I think that the process here is significant.

The numbers are the question.

BALDWIN: Are there -- Gloria or Phil, can either of you think of examples of former presidents overruling on clearances?

BORGER: I don't know. I mean, Phil might know. I don't really know of any.

I think one of the problems inside this White House is that so many of these people have never had any government experience before. So many of these people have never been vetted before by the federal government for any kind of position or job.

And so whether there's a conflict -- and they come, a lot of them, from private business, for example. So whether there's a conflict with foreign investment, for example, or drug use, or whatever it is, these are people who have not been in government before.

So red flags haven't been raised in the past, because they were never cleared before. So you may have more than you would -- than you would normally have. But this notion of this many people with red flags, some of whom were cleared, I think, is really troubling.

BALDWIN: And if I can be specific, Carl Kline, this is the personnel security director for the first two years in the Trump White House.

BORGER: Right.

BALDWIN: He's the one who told this whistle-blower to change the recommendation who they refer to as White House Official 3, right? We don't know who this person is, White House Official 3.

And Newbold wasn't on the fence, Phil. She said, "I would absolutely not."

So it wasn't like these where people -- or at least in this one case, with the White House Official 3, where they were thinking, hmm, pros, cons, maybe this -- she's, like, definitive, I would not green-light this person.


And they were over -- it was overruled.

MUDD: Yes.

And let me make a quick comment about that, to take you inside the room here for a moment.

BALDWIN: Please do.

MUDD: When I was at the agency and also at the FBI dealing with security clearances, we didn't like the security people, because we didn't feel we have much an option to overrule them.

When they come in and say, we have a problem with this applicant because of financial issues, because of past drug abuse, the chance that you're going to walk in, in one case, and say, because of the value that person brings to the office, we want to get them over the bar, and we're going to ignore your security objections, boy, we didn't -- I don't remember that happening, because the security people, they had -- they had an advisory role.

Their mission wasn't to tell us what to do or not to, but to look at them in the eye and say, we're going to ignore your recommendation 25 times? No way.

BALDWIN: And, again, what kind of information would have been -- or would have been at these people's fingertips?

MUDD: Boy, you name it.

BORGER: Well, it would be meetings.

MUDD: Everything from visa card applications.

I'm sorry. Go ahead.

BORGER: No, go ahead.

It would be meetings they had with foreign -- I mean, don't forget, on Jared Kushner's original form, he didn't fill it out about all the meetings that he had had with foreign officials. And he had to revise it three or four times.

So it would include meetings you had had with foreign officials, past drug use, investments, whether there were any liens against you.

Phil, you can fill in the rest.

MUDD: Yes, there's -- you name it.

Let me list the kinds of things that come up, because, remember, it's not just documents. You're interviewing people's friends and neighbors.

BORGER: Right.

MUDD: And, in my case, you're conducting people under polygraph, the kinds of things people talk about, really mundane, shoplifting.

We eliminated a lot of people, adults, because they were perennial shoplifters.


MUDD: Spousal abuse, kid abuse. Really mundane issues. You don't pay your credit cards and you have a history of credit card nonpayments for years. Your friends say that you get drunk every weekend, and you tell the security investigator that you only drink two glasses of wine a day.

You name it in terms of your personal life. It's not only about whether you talked to a Russian. It's about whether you're responsible and whether you can be trusted. And that's a lot of stuff, if you look at Americans every day.

BALDWIN: Glad I asked. That is fascinating, all of that. (LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Adults -- adults shoplifting, my goodness.

MUDD: Oh, yes.

BALDWIN: Let me move on, because, Gloria, the other piece of news out of D.C., the House judiciary chairman, Jerry Nadler, he says he will authorize this subpoena this week to obtain the full unredacted Mueller report.

My question is just -- we know Mr. Barr said he will -- he will have it out, redacted, yes, by mid-April. Why can't the Democrats wait?

BORGER: Well, I think the Democrats want to put some sort of sense of urgency on this.

Look, the -- Mueller is doing the redactions with Bill Barr. But the question here is whether there should be any at all. There's some precedent for providing Congress with grand jury testimony.

For example, that happened during Watergate. So I think what Nadler is saying, in advance, is, if you try and redact, for example, grand jury testimony, we're going to try and get it from you. We want it all.

And so while Barr is going through this process, he started trying to put this front and center and make it very clear to Barr that he thinks he deserves everything. So, I think it's not so much a battle over the date, as it is so much a battle over the extent...

BALDWIN: Redactions? OK.

BORGER: ... of what the congressional committees are going to get.

BALDWIN: I got you, because my one thought was, well, if Nadler is hitting the gas on this...


BALDWIN: ... would this not risk Barr redacting more? If he's feeling this pressure to get it out, you end up redacting more, and, therefore, less of it is open for everyone to read.

BORGER: You could. You could.


BORGER: But don't forget, Mueller is sitting on his shoulder too, and I bet he wants a lot of it out.


OK, Gloria Borger, Phil Mudd, guys, thank you so much for that. Good to see you today. Also today, the White House is reiterating the president's threat to

close the U.S.-Mexico border. But if he plans to make good on that ultimatum, the Pentagon hasn't been asked about it, at least not yet.


QUESTION: Secretary, has the Pentagon been asked to support the closure of the southern border?

PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: The -- not as of this -- as of this morning. But as you -- you're tracking, it's a very dynamic and fluid situation.

I will be having conversations with the secretary of state today, and most likely Secretary Nielsen.


BALDWIN: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen just announced that she is fast-tracking a plan to send more agents to the U.S. border to address this influx of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Some facilities in Texas have become so overcrowded that Customs and Border Patrol say that they have had to release an estimated 2,000 migrants into Texas since Friday.

And Martin Savidge is at one of those border towns in Brownsville, Texas.

And so, Martin, you tell me, how is that city preparing for the thousands tons of people that have begun arriving?


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They sort of had somewhat of a heads-up.

They have been actually working on this since last Tuesday. That's when they say the first migrants began showing up in their community. And, progressively, the numbers of migrants showing up literally on their doorstep has been increasing, while the communication and the conversations that they have been having with the federal authorities, CBP, ICE, have now become nonexistent.

So it's really been problematic for the city of Brownsville, because busses will show up with these former detainees coming out of federal detention centers. But they had no idea they were coming.

City officials, you may see them in the background here occasionally. They're wearing the yellow safety vests. They're trying to make themselves very obvious to the migrants, so that, when they come in the door, they know exactly who they should be talking to.

Essentially, what this community is trying to do is organize the migrants once they have come out of federal hands and trying to get them, in connection with their families, located somewhere in the United States.

They will give them telephones, and then they will begin booking either bus tickets or flights. So that's why the bus station here has become the obvious place for the processing point.

And this is all taking resources out of the city's coffers, money and, of course, things like police. And the mayor is extremely frustrated at how it's all going down.


TONY MARTINEZ, MAYOR OF BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS: 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: I mean, it's totally outrageous, but I -- like I tell people all the time, as a mayor, we have to walk the streets of our own town, and we got to make sure that they're safe, make sure they're healthy and they -- and they have to deal with anything that comes across our front door, OK?


SAVIDGE: They're doing everything they can to make the migrants feel welcome, to feel like part of their family, but also to help them move on.

The last thing that Brownsville wants is to become another kind of detention facility, and they certainly don't want to be a destination. They want to help the migrants find where they're going in the United States, until somehow it's determined what their fate will eventually be -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Martin, thank you in Brownsville, Texas, at the bus station there.

We have much more for you coming out on President Trump's threat to cut off all U.S. aid to Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador, directly undercutting his own Cabinet, who just signed an agreement with those three countries. We will explain what the money is used for and what would happen without it.

Plus, former Vice President Joe Biden defending himself after a fellow Democrat said he made her feel uncomfortable with a kiss on the back of her head. Details on how the controversy could impact his 2020 plans.

And, later, the infamous conspiracy theorist Alex Jones admits for the first time that the lies he spread about the school shooting in Sandy Hook were indeed lies. And now he claims a form of psychosis was to blame.

We will be right back.



BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The White House says the president is not bluffing when he threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border. And now his administration wants to hold Central America accountable for the influx of undocumented immigrants.

The State Department says it will cut U.S. foreign funding to three countries in particular, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. This funding was intended to mitigate the reasons people leave in the first place, gang violence, poverty, food shortages.

Carrie Kahn is an international correspondent for NPR. She joins me from Mexico City.

So, Carrie, I want to get into these aid programs in just a moment. But, first, tell me, how do you see this playing out if the president actually follows through with his threat to close the border?

CARRIE KAHN, NPR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: To close the border, the southern border with Mexico, it would be disastrous.

There's a -- the amount of travel of passengers, cars that go through commerce. It's $1.7 billion of commerce that passes through every single day across the U.S.-Mexico border. And the cities that are all along the border are bracing for this. And I have heard from several mayors along the southern border with Mexico.

They're just -- it would just be disastrous. You have kids going to schools. You have -- on both sides. You have family relations, and then the commerce that passes through there. It's incredible, the amount of commerce that passes between our two countries.

BALDWIN: So what about the aid? We know we know that three countries the State Department would be cutting from, they were actually -- the aid was reduced significant last year -- significantly last year already.

So what exactly -- let's start with, what does the funding provide these communities?

KAHN: Well, principally, what they seek to do is to, as you said, alleviate poverty and violence prevention and by -- and to cut down on violence.

These countries, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, are countries in our hemisphere and in the world that have the highest homicide rates and also have the highest poverty rates, too. And so this money goes directly to programs to alleviate those problems.

You have things like police security training and reinforcement. You have border security. You also have a lot of transparency programs, rule of law, programs that are trying to shore up the judicial system in these countries, so there isn't as much impunity and violence that is causing people to leave the countries.

So, there -- they fund a lot of -- a lot of programs that are in the middle of funding -- funding parts right now. And so if you cut them off, you just destroy these programs that have already just begun to get started.


BALDWIN: You also, Carrie, have new reporting about how long it takes for this type of aid to reach actual citizens deep in these communities that have been hurting. Why does it take so long?

KAHN: That's a great question.

There's a lot of bureaucracy that happens. There's a lot of checks and balances that need to be put in place. And this money isn't going directly to the government. What it does, it goes through a lot of different hands.

It goes through a nonprofits here in the United -- in the United States. And then they get distributed to nonprofits and nongovernmental agencies too and programs within the countries that they're intended to target.

So there's a lot of checks and balances that need to be taken into account. And it takes a long time. If you remember, Congress began funding or increased significantly funding to Central America after the 2014-2015 crisis that we had, unaccompanied minors along the border.

And so Congress substantially raised the amount of money that they were giving in financial foreign aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. So that money that was allocated in 2015, by 2017, had just hit the ground.

So these programs that are they -- have put in place have just begun funding cycles. And this money that the president says he's going to cut off would just end those programs abruptly.

And these types of democracy-building, transparency, judicial system reforms and poverty alleviation don't just happen overnight. These are long-term development projects that need time for them to actually work.

BALDWIN: That's what I wonder. I think you just answered my question. If it takes so long for the aid to the communities, would the reverse be true? Would it take a long time to actually completely cut it off? But it sounds like that would be like a faucet and, bang, they just wouldn't get what they need.

Carrie Kahn, thank you so much in Mexico City.

KAHN: I think...

BALDWIN: No, go ahead. Quickly, you want to close it out?

KAHN: No, I just think there's a lot of questions too that need to be answered.

We don't really know how and if the president can cut that funding. Congress has oversight on a lot of that funding too. And a lot of it doesn't just come from the State Department. There are channels that come from different government agencies. So there's a lot of questions about how quickly it will be cut off and what damage it will do.

BALDWIN: We are listening and reading all of your reporting out of Mexico City.

Carrie Kahn, thank you with NPR. Good to have you on.

KAHN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next: Former Vice President Joe Biden says he never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable after a former Nevada lawmaker says he did precisely that when he kissed her on the back of her head some years ago.

And now several of his potential opponents in 2020 are asking him to say more. We will discuss that controversy that is now dividing the Democratic Party.



BALDWIN: Joe Biden's not-yet-announced candidacy is already in crisis mode.

The former vice president is defending himself against allegations from former Nevada lawmaker Lucy Flores that he made her feel uneasy -- her word -- when he kissed her at a 2014 campaign rally.


LUCY FLORES (D), FORMER NEVADA STATE ASSEMBLYWOMAN: Very unexpectedly and out of nowhere, I feel Joe Biden put his hands on my shoulders, get up very close to me from behind, lean in, smell my hair, and then plant a slow kiss on the top of my head.

It was shocking because you don't expect that kind of intimate behavior, you don't expect that kind of intimacy from someone so powerful and someone who you just have no relationship whatsoever, to touch you and to feel you, and to be so close you in that way.


BALDWIN: The former vice president has responded, saying: "In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort, and 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." Jeff Zeleny is CNN's senior Washington correspondent and has covered the former vice president for years. Alexis Grenell is with me, a Democratic strategist.

And, Alexis, let me just start with you.

Your response to how Biden just framed that in his statement, his response?

ALEXIS GRENELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: So it's not really about intention, right?

So, even if you have the best intentions, if the effect of your actions is to make somebody else uncomfortable, that's really what matters. So I think Lucy Flores' point is to sort of raise his consciousness and, I think more broadly, an awareness about what is appropriate workplace behavior and the way...

BALDWIN: What did you think about?

GRENELL: I would feel really weird if that happened to me.

And I would say, it's fairly common in politics, frankly, for men to greet women like myself with a handshake and then a kiss on the cheek, even men you're meeting for the first time. I find that strange. And I have developed over the years tactics to try to avoid it by leaning.

BALDWIN: You do the..


GRENELL: Yes, that one, leaning out, right, but some people...

BALDWIN: You think part of it is generational, though?

GRENELL: A little bit, but I do think that there's this sort of mixed message a lot of -- culturally, we have about women in the workplace vs. women who you know.

So you're used to seeing -- having a certain standard with women you might know, which is a hug and a kiss on the cheek. And then you see a woman the workplace, which is still a relatively new concept in the history of the world, and it's this strange mixup.

So, whereas I don't think Biden actually intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable -- I think that's true.