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Tempers Flare over House Subpoena Fight on Security Clearances; House Judiciary Committee to Authorize Subpoenas for Muller Report Tomorrow; Trump Punts on Health Care Unit after 2020 Election; Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D) of New York Discusses Trump's Threat to Close Border, Political Partisanship on Disaster Funding. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 2, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know. I think we would see it if it was tied to the scandal. But not clear yet.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We'll stay on both of those.

GINGRAS: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Thank you, Brynn. We appreciate it.

Thank you all for joining us today. I'm Poppy Harlow.


"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Erica Hill, in for Kate Bolduan.

Tempers flare, sparks fly in a pivotal hearing happening right now on Capitol Hill. House Democrats taking the first steps toward issuing subpoenas for several White House officials over serious allegations involving security clearances. And soon, the House Oversight Committee is expected to hold a vote on whether to authorize those subpoenas after a whistleblower claimed 25 people were granted clearances, despite being denied over a range of disqualifying issues. The division among lawmakers, bitter and split along party lines.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: She came forward because the system at the White House is so dysfunctional that she believes that Congress needs to intervene. In other words, she's crying out. She's begging us to do something.

REP. JIM JORDAN, (R), OHIO: Yesterday, you issued a press release, hand-picked, cherry-picked parts of her testimony, Ms. Newbold's testimony, and you issue a big memo and a big press release after interviewing one witness. That's how we're going to do investigations in the Oversight Committee?

I have been on this committee 10 years. I have never seen anything like this.


JORDON: Never seen anything like this. I haven't!


HILL: CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

That's just a small taste, Manu, of the energy inside those rooms.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, fireworks in this room right behind me. Democrats and Republicans squaring off over one of the key issues that this committee plans to investigate in the weeks ahead, security clearances at the White House. Underlying a lot of this is the concerns among the Democrats that two current White House officials received security clearance and they shouldn't have. There have been reports from CNN and others about Jared Kushner, concerns about his security clearance and the president overriding those concerns. Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and senior adviser, concerns about her security clearance, also overridden by the president. That's part of this investigation. But this whistleblower raising concerns about systemic problems that she believes that occurred in this White House about how the security clearance process works.

Just in a matter of moments, we expect this committee, along party lines, to vote to authorize a subpoena for interview with Carl Klein, who is a former head of personal security at the White House. And the woman, Trisha Newbold, who Cummings called a whistleblower, raised concerns than Mr. Klein overruled her on a number of concerns she raised about individuals, 25 or so, who should not have gotten security clearances in her view. This committee wants to talk to Mr. Klein. Mr. Klein's attorney has sent a letter to this committee saying he would cooperate voluntarily, but Democrats say that's not enough because he's not agreed to answer questions that they want, which is why they've moving forward to authorize this subpoena in just a matter of moments.

So just one of several areas of fighting. And expect in a matter of moments, Erica, subpoenas from the committee demanding records about the citizenship question on the census. That's where they also find issues with the Commerce secretary and others -- Erica?

HILL: You also, Manu, have new information on the growing effort to get to the Mueller report.

RAJU: Yes, that's right. We expect tomorrow at the House Judiciary Committee that they will authorize the subpoenas for the full Mueller report, the underlying evidence, and to five former White House officials about documents they may have received from the White House pertinent to the Mueller investigation. But we do not expect those subpoenas to actually be issued tomorrow. Essentially, the chairman of the committee, Jerry Nadler, will have those subpoenas in his back pocket to issue at any time. They're trying to build a case that they believe the Justice Department has not been compliant to their request.

I had a chance to speak to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff earlier this morning about the president's attacks against Schiff and Nadler. The president saying these two men will stop at nothing, and the president also calling him Shifty Schiff. Schiff responded.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The House voted 420-0 to release the entire Mueller report. I certainly strongly support it. It looks like the president, though, is concerned about that. He ought to live up to what he said earlier. He ought to support the full release. None of that should be redacted. But clearly, he's concerned about that coming out.


RAJU: And I asked him about that nickname the president gave him, Shifty Schiff. He said this is nothing new, we have seen these childish nicknames for a year, but the cardinal rule of childish nicknames is when you choose one, stick with it -- Erica?

HILL: Manu Raju. Manu, thank you.

Joining me now, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honing.

I like the tip of stay with the nickname.

[11:05:06] Let's look at what's happening here on Capitol Hill today. We're seeing something we have been seeing play out for some time. The back and forth of Dems wanting to do oversight, the White House saying this is an overreach.

Elie, when we look at the subpoena issue, can the White House fight that?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. Ultimately, we're seeing a fundamental battle between separate branches of government. This is the fundamental questions about to what extent can the legislative branch, the Congress force information from the executive branch. One of these issues and it might be the background check, it might be the Mueller report, is going to land both branches in the third branch, which is the court, which is going to have to decide. The way I think the courts will decide it, these are core congressional legislative functions, oversight functions. If it's too far afield, too overbroad, the subpoena request, then I think a court may say, no good, but generally speaking, as long as Congress stays in its lane and provides core oversight, I think they'll support Congress.

HILL: It's fascinating, Dana, the fact Jared Kushner gave an interview last night. He doesn't speak out often. He sat down with FOX. He didn't answer all of the questions fully. But the fact the White House is putting him out there, letting him do an interview, does that tell us they're taking these accusations more seriously?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST; Yes, I think so. Also, seriously, and it shows their posture, their strategic posture, which is, you know, we have nothing to hide here. And more importantly, what they have seen from the past two years in the administration and then before that in the campaign, that there's not a lot of consequences for them doing things that other administrations, both Democrat and Republican, would never do. And on this issue, Jared Kushner, we're talking about the question of his security clearance. And you know, what is remarkable is the fight that you just saw play out, that you just showed with Manu, this should be bipartisan. It should be a bipartisan question, whether or not people in any administration, Republican or Democrat, are getting access to the nation's most-classified information, the top, top, top-secret information, when they necessarily shouldn't be. Or whether it's questionable. Whether it's Jared Kushner or anybody else. And the fact that there's such a partisan fight about it, instead of -- what we actually did used to see not that long ago, now it seems like, you know --


BASH: -- ancient history, a coming together of that oversight responsibility, constitutional responsibility that Congress has over something as fundamental as that, that really shouldn't be political, but it's political as everything else is now.

HILL: I was going to say, everything is these days, no matter what, unfortunately.

Elie, you touched on it, and this is the White House playbook, this back and forth and what we know the White House response will be. But the fact things get pushed into the courts to play out there, and I would argue, too, to drag out there, to let this drag out as long as possible. What are we looking at then potentially?

HONIG: This could be a political play. I think part of what the administration may want is the fight itself, just to say, we stood our ground, we went to the courts. If they lose, they say there you go, they're liberal activist judges. And we know judges are a popular talking point for this administration. Dana is right, this is high- stakes stuff, this background-check stuff. It's not a throw-away thing. I went through at the lowest level when I was a rookie federal prosecutor, and they check on your finances, your family, any drug or alcohol history. They talked to my college roommates, my parents, neighbors, and I was at the lowest level of law enforcement. Compare that to the highest levels of the White House. That's how important it is that these be done and done correctly. This is really high stakes here.

HILL: Stay with us because we want your take on the next story as well.

The president punting just one week after saying the GOP would become the party of health care. President Trump clarifying that will happen after the next presidential election. The president in a tweet claiming, a vote on the mystery GOP plan to replace Obamacare will, quote, "be taken right after the election when Republicans hold the Senate and win back the House."

Now, of course, there's no guarantee that any of those things will happen. And this new claim comes after Republicans in Congress signaled they didn't want anything to do with a new effort to take on the Affordable Care Act.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House.

Abby, where do we stand on all this?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, it's really not clear what the political strategy is behind these tweets from the president. But it does seem that President Trump is now acknowledging that it's not likely that there will be any kind of vote in a divided Congress on a Republican health care plan. This is after two of his top aides came out in recent days saying that, by the end of this year, there might be a plan. Our reporting found that there was no plan. The White House aides acknowledging privately that they didn't have anything ready to go on health care. And in fact, members of Congress on the Hill, Republicans, were saying that they had no plans to go forward with anything related to health care this year, and they didn't believe it was good politics for them to get into this issue ahead of the 2020 election.

[11:10:19] Now, the question becomes now, will there ever be a plan before voters go to the polls in 2020? The president is saying the vote will happen after the election, but will there be something presented to voters before then? White House aides this morning won't say. They won't say whether or not anyone will have anything to look at before they go to the polls in November 2020. And I think that will now become the question for Republicans. Will they have a plan to put up against what Democrats are putting out there? I think the messaging you're hearing from the White House this morning has a lot to do with being against Medicare-for-All. But you're not hearing much in the way of specifics of what President Trump is proposing to solve the issue of health care, especially if Obamacare is ruled unconstitutional -- Erica?

HILL: Abby Phillip with the latest from the White House.

Dana, as we dive back in on this and looking at what the president is putting out there, this is a strategy that worked for him in 2016. Trust me, I don't need to give you specifics, but I'm going to make it work. It could feel like a nightmare for Republicans. Democrats may be looking at this as a gift. But maybe this actually does work for the president, that whole "trust me" line from 2016.

BASH: It could. The difference between 2016 and now is 2018 happened. And although it was the whole concept of health care was probably negligible in these big Senate races where a lot of Democrats in red states lost, it certainly wasn't with regard to the House. I mean, Republicans, who were upset, as Abby was talking about, late last week as they watched the president bring their national nightmare back in their laps, was that they saw so many of their colleagues lose because the Democrats just whacked them over the head, rhetorically, with the notion of pre-existing conditions. And Republicans had nothing to fall back on. They didn't have a specific plan. And that's, you know, that was kind of the story line of the first two years, certainly, the first year and a half, of the Trump presidency. And it did hurt him. So what happened, I'm told, according to a source in the administration, is that they kind of got caught up in what happened in your wheelhouse, which is the courts. And they felt, politically, last week when it came up, whether or not the Justice Department was going to fight against Obamacare in the courts, they felt they had to do that because they had no choice, because they had been running against Obamacare for so long. And the president took that and, you know, in a private meeting and then publicly elsewhere, made it more of a political issue than any Republican on the Hill and a lot of Republicans in his own administration were comfortable with. And the thing we're still reporting out right now is who got to him last night that made him send the tweets to make clear we're not doing this right now.

HILL: Which is what we would all like to know.


BASH: We're working on it.


HONIG: You'll get it. You'll get it.

BASH: We'll get it.

HILL: I see you keep checking your phone.

Legally, when we look at this, there's also the potential, so if this does get struck down and, all of a sudden, you're left with millions of Americans who don't know what they're doing, the president can claim in a tweet that pre-existing conditions are protected but that's not going to happen if everything is thrown out. It throws everything up in the air. That is a legal and it is also a personal and health care nightmare for millions of Americans.

HONIG: Yes. The existence of the legal fight really complicates this even further. The administration has now taken a very extreme position that the entire Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. That's a change from even this own administration's prior position under A.G. Sessions. Now that William Barr is there, the position is the entire thing needs to go, but the problem is there's no plan in place if they win. What's going to happen? What's going to replace this complex system that's been in place? If I'm arguing this case as a lawyer at in the court, I'll make sure the judge knows that. Legally, it's probably not all that relevant, but judges are human beings, and judges are thinking about, how is this going to play practically. If they struck down Obamacare, the ACA, back years ago when it came up, OK, you're not deeply invested in this system. If you strike it down now, we'll have complete chaos. I would try to use this as an argumentative point. But this will be a really close call in the court. The district court, the trial-level judge said the whole thing has to go. That's on hold pending the appeal. It's going to the Fifth Circuit, which is famously conservative, ideologically, then it will end up in the Supreme Court. Last time, it was 5-4. Chief Roberts was the swing vote. The thing he rested on was the individual mandate, which is now out. There's real jeopardy in the courts.

BASH: And now you have someone named Brett Kavanaugh in the court --

HONIG: And Gorsuch, yes.

BASH: -- and you have Gorsuch, so it's a much more conservative court.


HILL: Dana and Elie, thank you both.

BASH: Thank you.

HONIG: Thank you.

HILL: Just ahead, new reporting that the president is still deciding whether to shut down the southern border, as officials warn that move would be catastrophic. So will the president carry out his threat?

[11:15:08] Plus, Senator Bernie Sanders just releasing his new fundraising numbers for the 2020 race, and they're big. How his campaign bank account compares to the competition, and why that matters, ahead.


HILL: As of this morning, the border with Mexico is still open despite President Trump's threat to close it. So will he make good on that threat? At this point, kind of anybody's guess. A senior Trump adviser, Stephen Miller, said the border status depends on just how much help the U.S. gets from Central and South America to prevent an onslaught of what he called "meritless asylum claims," while other White House officials say closing the southern border would be catastrophic.

[11:20:08] Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Adriano Espaillat, of New York, who recently travelled to Columbia, El Salvador and Mexico as part of a congressional congregation there.

Sir, good to have you with us.

These are conflicting messages we're betting from the White House, but Stephen Miller, CNN can report, telling supporters the president may not, in fact, close the border. What's your reaction to that?

REP. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT, (D) NEW YORK: Well, that's a wise decision. I think closing the border would not only hurt but perhaps help cripple the economy in some of our border states. Yesterday, Erica, I met with President Lopez Obrador, and he's very enthusiastic about creating what he called curtains of economic development. Reforestation for the Chiapas State in the southern border of Mexico, a rail line in the Maya coast, and infrastructure at the northern border, all of which will create jobs in Mexico and reduce immigration. In fact, immigration, going back -- the folks going back to Mexico are less than 12 percent Mexicans. The real issue of immigration is not even any longer in El Salvador, who has seen a 50 percent drop in homicides. It's really about Honduras and Guatemala. We should do in Honduras and Guatemala what we have done in El Salvador where we have seen a young president, Bukele, implement and run on ending corruption and ending violence and we see some major progress there. And that's what we should be focusing on, the root cause of these immigration patterns.

HILL: Is that the message you're bringing back and a message you're going to share with the White House?

ESPAILLAT: That's the message I'm bringing back. To cut funding for the triangular countries would be devastating. I met with FBI agents and law enforcement agents on the ground in El Salvador who will be compromised. In fact, we may put their lives in danger if we cut the funding. I met with young men that were in programs to deter them from joining gangs. I have seen people looking forward to getting jobs in El Salvador. These are the kinds of things we should do in Guatemala and Honduras. These are the efforts that have reduced migration in El Salvador. They should also work in Guatemala and Honduras. And of course, shutting border will create chaos not only in the U.S. but also in Mexico.

By the way, the new El Salvadorian president is looking to review their recent agreement with China. If we leave a vacuum, believe me, China will step in and take full control of the vacuum of leadership.

HILL: There's talk about the economic impacts. Bringing China into the mix raises ears and makes people perk up.

You talk about some of efforts in Mexico, in Central America. What about the efforts in the U.S.? You were candid last night with my colleague, Chris Cuomo, in talking about the need for hearings to deal with this. There aren't any. The need for comprehensive immigration reform. You told Chris it's not a winning poll issue. Is that how things are being -- is that how lawmakers are governing these days, based on what will and will not win at the polls?

ESPAILLAT: I'm glad to see that hearings will be called next week on the issue of shutting down the border and cutting help to the triangle countries. I think this is a smart hearing. It will get to the root of the problem, as I said. Nobody likes to leave their homeland unless they're fleeing violence, unless they don't have a job. Of course, poverty and unemployment are deeply connected to violence. No one likes to leave their home country, their families behind, and come to a new adventure, if you may, unless they're facing violence or unemployment, unless they have been hurt by a natural disaster. Having hearings on these issues, which are the root causes of migration, is smart. Acting on polls, I have been against it. I think this is a humanitarian crisis. If someone is not motivated to do the right thing when they see a mom and her 3-year-old baby sleeping on a cold floor of a cell, looking like packed like sardines, like the bottom deck of a slave ship, I don't know what will motivate you.

HILL: We'll look for more of that.

I want to get your take, too. There's been a lot of back and forth, specifically this week, even yesterday, Democrats in voting about this bill, not happy about the amount of money being allocated for food stamps in Puerto Rico, Republicans not happy about a lack for flooding for Midwestern funding. When we look at disaster relief efforts, when we look at funding, it has become such a partisan political issue. This can't be winning for any politician. How do you get beyond that? When does it stop?

[11:24:49] ESPAILLAT: Well, I don't think it should be a partisan issue. I think that Puerto Rico needs funding, of course. If you look at the patterns of funding, in fact, if you look at the personnel, the emergency personnel that got to Puerto Rico versus Florida, versus Texas, you'll see a disparity there. I have a piece of legislation that will do away with all the bureaucratic tie-up that often makes it impossible for someone to get, let's say, funding or a grant to fix their roof. This would apply not only to Puerto Rico, it would apply to any area hit by a natural disaster. These are the kinds of issues we should be working on.

HILL: Congressman, we appreciate you joining us today. Thank you.

ESPAILLAT: Thank you so much.

HILL: Stay with us. The fireworks continue to fly with the House Oversight Committee talking now about security clearances and the White House. We have the latest, next.