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Biden on Defense Amid First Crisis of Potential Campaign; Democrats Divided Over New Accusations Against Biden; Alex Jones Blames "Psychosis" for Sandy Hook Lies; White House Official Says We Could Be in a Whole World of Hurt if Border Closes; Bezos' Investigator Says Saudis Obtained Amazon CEO's Private Info; Police Union Calls for Chicago Prosecutor's Resignation. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 1, 2019 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] ALEXIS GRENELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: So whereas I don't think Biden actually intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, I think that's true. It's not what actually matters in terms of the consequence.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Here is -- she has since come out saying she did it for political reasons. Role it.


LUCY FLORES (D), FORMER NEVADA LT. GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: I would say politics was definitely the impetus. The reason why we're having these conversations about Vice President Joe Biden is because he's considering running for President. And frankly, the reason why I felt so compelled to finally say something was because over the years as this behavior was documented as it was frankly dismissed by the media and not taken seriously, that conversation was not coming up in the discussions about whether or not he would in a complete analysis of his history, of is record and as we go through the vetting process for all of these candidates, that important aspect was being left out.


BALDWIN: Jeff Zeleny? You have covered Joe Biden for years. He himself has said he has a reputation of being an affectionate kind of guy. A former Biden spokesperson penned a letter defended him and detailing how he treated female staffers. And so I want to read part of that.

She wrote, don't get me wrong, no one is perfect, no legislative record is perfect. Joe Biden thrives on personal connections. He emotes any emphasizes like no other, and when he reaches out to you -- man or woman -- he's reaching out to touch your heart. If that's a feeling, I'll take it.

What do you know about it in your experience?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN NATIONAL WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, this has been something that we have seen, you know, just a string of former Biden advisers and aides and friends coming out in defense of him. Kind of explaining his emotional state. Explaining how he is a hugger. Explaining how he is someone who greets someone with emotion. And look, I have seen him at countless events as Vice President in the Senate. We've all seen the video of him presiding over the swearing ins in the Senate. And just to watch it with the sound down, it does sometimes look a little bit odd. He is someone who hugs people. He is someone who touches people.

But, of course, if you talk to some of these people who are being written about like Ash Carter, the former defense secretary's wife. She actually penned a response to all this. And she said look, some of these pictures have been circulating when the Vice President was sort of touching her shoulder. She said we're friends. I was not offended by that. So there is sort of a sense here of yes, he is from a different generation which does not excuse anything. So it is how this has perceived. I think the bigger point here for the vice President it is just a reminder about how he running in this era is different than any other eras of his time in public life. And he's going to have to reconcile all of them.

BALDWIN: Do you want to respond to that?

GRENELL: Sure. I think there's a key different between Stephanie Carter and Lucy Flores. Stephanie Carter who is a personal friend of Biden, it makes sense. There is a natural intimacy there. And if she's comfortable, that's great. That doesn't conflict with anything Lucy Flores has talked about. Lucy Flores met Biden in a professional capacity. It was the first time they were meeting. She was running for lieutenant governor. That's different than an intimate relationship with somebody you already know where the boundaries are more obvious.

You have to maintain a professional distance, and I think Biden has a certain paternalism which is really what's out of step here. It's somewhat generational, but it's also a very classical kind of benevolent sexism. Which is that women are great, I love women, I want to protect them, pass the violence against women act, all the stuff. But one of the consequences of me-too is this larger realigning of power and expectations in the workplace. And I think women are saying, like well that's nice Uncle Joe, except you're also kind of creepy. And you know what, I don't think I need that as president anymore because we have other candidates. Four of whom are women who wouldn't do anything like that.

BALDWIN: And Jeff, you talked to one of them, Senator Amy Klobuchar. When you asked her about how Biden responded to this, what did she tell you?

ZELENY: I did, Brooke. Obviously, Senator Klobuchar is someone who has known the Vice President for a long time. So I did just ask her just a few moments ago. I was at an event in Washington where a lot of the candidates are speaking. And she did not excuse the behavior at all as just Joe being Joe, if you will. She said, of course, that she like other candidates who have spoken out believes Lucy Flores. She believes her story and said she should be heard. And she did talk specifically about the fact that this is a moment for an awakening, a different moment in the workplace. All kinds of workplaces including the political sphere here.

So she is not excusing the behavior. She said this is something the Vice President is going to have to explain more, explain what's in his heart. And she goes onto say, one way to stop all of this is to elect a woman President. Of course she would say that because she's running.

But I also talked to a lot of voters of different ages. And there is a generation divide in some respect. This was at a first event where several Democratic presidential candidates were meeting and a bunch of activists were there. And some excuse the behavior. Some do not.

[11:05:00] But most to a person -- after talking to dozen people or so -- said that they also want to defeat President Trump and said this isn't the main issue. So it may be today but overall, somewhere actually offended I was asking the question here. So certainly a complex conversation.

BALDWIN: 20 seconds quickly. I hear your sigh.

GRENELL: I think the idea that we can't have a higher standard of conduct and also beat Trump and that person may be could be a woman, these are ideas that can exist together. Joe Biden is not our last great savior. We can beat Trump and it can be a woman who does that. The End.

BALDWIN: Alex Grenell, Jeff Zeleny, guys, thank you both so much. Thank you.

After years of spreading the disgusting conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook School shooting was staged. InfoWars founder, Alex Jones announces all the lies were a form of psychosis. You will hear his testimony and a legal deposition next.


BALDWIN: You may never have turned into an InfoWars web show, but you may know its founder and host, Alex Jones. He's become pretty famous, notorious even, for his wild conspiracy theories and ridiculous rants. One of the conspiracies Jones is known for, repeatedly peddling is that the 2012 massacred a Sandy Hook Elementary School was a giant hoax. The 20 children and six adults who lost their lives were actually, according to Jones, crisis actors. Jones is now being sue by a group of Sandy Hook families for these lies. And in his deposition that has now been made public, Jones says Sandy Hook is real but listen to his excuse.


ALEX JONES, FOUNDER OF INFOWARS: And I, myself, have almost had like a form of psychosis back in the past where I basically thought everything was staged, even though I'm now learning a lot of times things aren't staged. So I think as a pundit, someone giving an opinion, that, you know, my opinions have been wrong but they were never wrong consciously to hurt people.


BALDWIN: Former prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Paul Callan is with me. And I know there are many words one could use to describe this man. You had some --

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I was going to explain why pond scum was an accurate why to describe him. Now, he on the other hand has said that he was suffering from some psychosis.

BALDWIN: Does that even fly, legally speaking?

CALLAN: Personally I think it's an insult to psychotics if he describes himself as suffering from psychosis. It's a cheap excuse. It's a cheap attempt to use legitimate mental illness as an explanation for his utterly indefensible conduct. I mean, people have to understand that what he said was that those 20 first graders who were gunned down at Sandy Hook were part of a massive conspiracy and fraud and that their parents when they were expressing grief were as you quoted earlier, crisis actors. That was his phraseology

BALDWIN: So if he's saying it is his whole psychosis argument, you know, it's one thing to admit that in a deposition, but is any part of a settlement, could he be required to retract these videos? A full throated public mea culpa. What could he be required to do?

CALLAN: Well, this is a civil case. So unlike a criminal case where you're sort of confined to the penalties prescribed by law, in a civil case you can work a settlement that has money damages but also an apology, a retraction. There are all kinds of things that can be built in.

BALDWIN: But they could get creative on that.

CALLAN: They could get creative on it, and I certainly would expect if they settled this case that he would issue a public apology retracting his mindless idiotic theories about how the shooting went down.

BALDWIN: Do you think it's unusual that a lawyer released the deposition before the case was over?

CALLAN: It's highly unusual. These things are usually kept secret until the time of trial. However, unless there was a court order banning the release, it's not illegal. But usually these things are not released in civil litigation.

BALDWIN: Still back on your line, it's offensive to psychotics to be using psychosis as his argument. Paul Callan, thank you.

CALLAN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, an investigator hired by Amazon chief, Jeff Bezos, says it was actually the Saudi government who hacked his phone and leaked private information about his affair. We have details on what the motive might have been and how the "National Enquirer" is responding. [11:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: We are getting new details right now on whether President Trump will follow through on his threat to close the U.S./Mexico border. CNN senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown, is with me now. And so, Pamela, what are you hearing? What's the conversation behind the scenes?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well I've spoken to several officials, Brooke. And basically right now officials are saying look, it is anyone's guess about these border closures. Yes, the President has made these threats in the past of closing parts of the border with Mexico and hasn't followed through. But I spoke to one administration official who said this time feels more real than the past times, because of just the amount of attention the President has devoted to this in the past few days. Three consecutive days tweeting about it, talking about it. You heard his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, talking about it on the Sunday shows.

But at the same time officials I've been speaking with say while it's anyone's guess, the President, you know, as you'll recall, Brooke, on the emergency declaration for the wall, that also was a similar situation where White House officials thought maybe he wouldn't do it in the end he did. So this could happen in this case. But they said they cast doubt on how realistic it is to close down parts of the border.

One administration official I spoke with said it would be catastrophic economically and ticked through all the different areas of why it is important to the border open for trade. Pharmaceuticals, produce, Apple phone products, kids going to school across the border, all these different areas that would be impacted if it was closed.

I spoke to another official, though, who said, look, we view this as a helpful threat to get Mexico to come and help stem the flow of migrants. But the bottom line here, Brooke, is that officials all over the administration are just kind of waiting to see what happens.

[11:20:00] We know that the Secretary of Defense hasn't been given any specific orders to support border closures. We don't believe DHS either, at this hour. But we'll have to keep an eye on it and see what happens -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Pamela, thank you.

Meantime, in an effort to find out who leaked private text messages to the "National Enquirer" that eventually exposed a secret extramarital affair, Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, hired a high-end security consultant to investigate. That consultant was a man by the name of Gavin de Becker and in this opinion piece he wrote over the weekend for the Daily Beast, de Becker said all of this information has been handed over to the feds. But the one piece he did mention was that it was Saudi Arabia.

He writes, our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos' phone and gained private information. As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.

Firing back, the "National Enquirer's" parent company, AMI, issued this statement.

Quote, despite the false and unsubstantiated claims of Mr. de Becker, American Media has and continues to refute the unsubstantiated claims that the materials for our report were acquired with the help of anyone other than the single source who first brought them to us.

And Mark Mazzetti is a Washington investigative correspondent for "The New York Times" and a CNN national security analyst, has written a lot about the power that is the Saudi kingdom. And so, just starting with the fact that de Becker revealed this, pointing the finger at Saudi Arabia, your response to that?

MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, he kind of doubled down on Jeff Bezos' original claim, of some months ago, that Saudi Arabia was behind this whole operation. And in essence, what they're saying is that this isn't just a tabloid matter, it's not just a steamy affair. This is something much bigger. These are powerful forces at work, that are trying to silence Jeff Bezos, and also, by extension, "The Washington Post," because of their coverage, the death of Jamal Khashoggi. So what Bezos and de Becker are saying is that all of these powerful forces are actually trying to bring down Bezos and expose this aspect of his life, in effect extortion and blackmail. But we should say that neither Bezos or de Becker have yet shown any real detailed evidence to back up their claims.

BALDWIN: I was re-reading some of your reporting with "The Times" last fall just on how the Saudis had the power to orchestrate a social media attack, right. Like the ones that they would constantly carry out against Jamal Khashoggi. But per de Becker, he alleges the Saudis gained access to Bezos' phone, and so have you ever heard of the Saudis actually doing something like that -- Mark?

MAZZETTI: Well, yes. And this sort of fits into this whole other line of reporting that we've been exploring, which is this boom of this new age of hacking technology where a country like Saudi Arabia can go to a company in Israel or elsewhere and acquire the technology to go after enemies. There are cases of this. We wrote about Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and so there's a whole market now where you can even hack very powerful people and expose some of their detailed information.

Now, immediately, when he raised this, suspicion went to a company called NSO Group, which is an Israeli company we wrote about a couple of weeks ago, because they've been selling their products around the world to Mexico, to the UAE, et cetera. Now, de Becker didn't actually blame NSO, but NSO put out a statement saying, they had no part of this, they can't even hack American phones. So there's a lot more to go on this story.

BALDWIN: Keep digging. Mark Mazzetti with "The Times," thank you very much, Mark.

Coming up next, a former White House staffer tells Democrats the Trump administration pushed through 25 security clearances for officials who had been denied from everything from financial conflicts to drug use.

Plus, dueling protests today in Chicago as protesters come face-to- face over the Jussie Smollett case.


BALDWIN: Chicago's Police Union protesting today, asking for the city's top prosecutor, Kim Foxx to resign over the Jussie Smollett case. Critics of the police department, meantime, held their own rally today. Foxx's office dropped all charges against Smollett. He was accused of staging a racist and homophobic attack. Critics blasted the decision, calling the process abnormal and suggesting it, quote/unquote misled the public.


KEVIN GRAHAM, PRESIDENT, FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE LODGE NO. 7: We can't have people who have been arrested, their victims are not being accounted for. We really need to have people in the prosecutor's office following through with charges that our detectives and our police officers worked hard to bring to a court case.


BALDWIN: Chicago's outgoing mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has given Smollett until Thursday to pay the city $130,000 for the cost of the investigation.

BALDWIN: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me on a Monday afternoon. Let's send things to Washington. The "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.