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Battle Brewing over Release of Trump's Tax Returns; NYT: Trump Wanted IRS Counsel Confirmation as Senate Priority; Trump: "I Never Changed My Mind" about Border Closing; Trump Withdraws Nominee for ICE Director; Castro: Illegal Border Crossing Should be Civil, Not Criminal Act; Biden: I'm Not Sorry for My Intentions; Bipartisan Green Alert to Help Troubled Vets. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 5, 2019 - 13:30   ET

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


[13:30:00] MARK EVERSON, FORMER IRS COMMISSIONER: And let me say this. I was on record to saying the president when he was a candidate should have released the returns. I think that's very important. But I don't want the independence of the IRS to be compromised through what is really a political process. It's being justified as necessary to see what the IRS is doing the job, but the IRS routinely audits presidents. I'm not aware that the committee has ever asked for an audit of Barack Obama or George W. Bush. They're drawing the line here and doing something different after everybody has said we need the returns not to see what the IRS is doing but to understand the president's financial dealings with Russia or other players. And that's not the stated purpose of the inquiry. I think they've mixed it up here. Once they have the returns, I would be really concerned if they got broadly released publicly. Although, again, I believe the president should, should release.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: That's an interesting point you make about the politicization of the IRS and the need for it to independent.

I wonder then what you think about this new report, the "New York Times" first reporting that President Trump had pushed for the nomination of the IRS chief counsel even before he was pushing for the process, the confirmation process for his now Attorney General Bill Barr and that this is someone who actually had done work for the Trump Organization before the President Trump became president. What you do think about that and the potential implications of politicizing the process through this move?

EVERSON: I worked with Michael Desmond. He was at the Treasury Department when I was the commissioner. And there's a rivalry, if you will, as a constructed tension between Treasury text policy and the IRS. I have the highest regard for Desmond. I think he was an outstanding nomination by the president. What I've read in the reporting was there was a small matter, a limited amount of work he did. I'm sure if he felt that it was somehow -- would compel him to recuse himself, he would do that. He has the utmost integrity. The fact is this job needed to be filled. The landmark tax legislation, you know it came in at the end of 2017. The chief official is the number-one official charged with writing out all the regs that implement that law. He needed to get in there. He was held up by a single Senator for well over half a year. That's a problem. Now, any call between the president and the leader, I don't know any of that, obviously. But my understanding from the reporting is that Michael was about to say, I've had enough of this, I'm going back to the practice of law. That would have been a real loss for the country.

KEILAR: It's very interesting to hear your perspective. We really appreciate that.

Mark Everson, thank you.

EVERSON: Thank you.

KEILAR: Ahead, more troubles for aircraft maker, Boeing. The company says it has found a second software issue on its troubled 737 MAX aircraft. Boeing insists it already has a solution and calls this second issue relatively minor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:37:40] KEILAR: President Trump is on his way to the southern border right now as he backs off his threat to shut down the border with Mexico. Just listen to what he said as he left the White House this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never changed my mind at all. I may shut it down at some point. But I'd rather do tariffs. Mexico, I have to say, has been very, very good, you know that, over the past four days since talking about shutting down the border. If they continue that, everything will be fine. If they don't, we'll tariff their cars at 25 percent coming into the United States. So every time they make a car, it will be a 25 percent tariff. That worked. If it didn't work, I will close the border. I'm also looking at an economic penalty for all the drugs coming in through the southern border and killing our people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is in California.

Kaitlan, it's sort of like trying to follow a bouncing ball. What is the bottom line on the president's border threat?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You would think so. The president's chief of staff said unless something dramatic happened the president was going to follow through on the threat to close the border. Now we're seeing the president back off of that threat. But, Brianna, that comes after days of not only business officials but Republican lawmakers calling the president and telling him what a bad idea it would be to close the border, to close ports of entry like the one behind me. Even part of that included a phone call from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who said it would be catastrophic economically for the U.S. economy if the president did close the border in the manner he was threatening.

The days that followed the president's threat, once White House officials realized the president was serious, they decided to work on backup plans to where the president could still threaten Mexico, still make the same comments he was making last week but not hurt himself by closing parts of the border, doing things that would be economically devastating to the economy. They came up with other ways, that the president could threaten automotive tariffs, like you saw him do this morning. He could threaten certain parts of trade, certain ports of entry instead of saying he was going to cut down and close down the entire southern border.

KEILAR: Tell us about the president withdrawing his nominee for ICE director. What happened?

[13:40:00] COLLINS: So this happened really suddenly last night and it caught a lot of people off guard. This is somebody who had been leading ICE, Ron Vitiello. He's been through the confirmation process. It went pretty poorly for him at some points where they were looking at his past social media posts. But then, suddenly, the White House announce they were withdrawing his nomination. It caught people so off guard, Brianna, that DHS officials, until this morning, thought it was a clerical error. But now multiple sources are telling CNN that, actually, the president's chief immigration adviser, Stephen Miller, went directly to President Trump and told him he believed he should pull Vitiello's nomination because he wasn't fully in favor of the president closing the southern border. The president took that to heart because he did -- they did end up withdrawing the nomination. It was so sudden and caught so many people off guard, Brianna, that even the DHS secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, who had been down on the border and border cities since Wednesday, was unaware of what was happening until after, Brianna, it had already been pulled.

KEILAR: Wow. That is something.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much for that report.

Democratic president candidate and former Housing and Urban Development secretary, Julian Castro, says illegal entry into the U.S. should be treated as a civil and not a criminal violation.

He's here with us now to discuss a hallmark issue of his campaign.

Secretary, thank you so much for joining us.

JULIAN CASTRO, (D), FORMER HUD SECRETARY & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great to be with you.

KEILAR: So your plan calls for a path to citizenship for DREAMers and other undocumented individuals and families and for an increase in refugee admissions.

First, I want to focus on the real effects of this plan of yours to make illegal entry into the U.S. a civil instead of a criminal violation. How would that -- to play devil's advocate here -- not incentivize people to come and try to enter the U.S. in what is already, as we can see at the border, the system that's not equipped to handle the flow of people and the makeup of people, more women and children that we're seeing coming in? CASTRO: Well, in truth, a lot of the problems that we're having right

now are due to the fact that we have criminalized the actions of these women and children and families that are coming to our southern border and many of them seeking asylum. This family detention problem that we've had, the fact that you have people that are literally fenced in like animals under this overpass in El Paso. If you'll remember, Brianna, and the folks watching will remember, about a year ago, the Trump administration basically told us, as Americans, if we could just be cruel enough to separate little children from their parents, that it would deter more families from coming. And, in fact, the opposite is true. And so instead of choosing cruelty and criminalization, I want to choose compassion and go back to the way these things were actually handled from the late 1920s to about 2004 when they were treated as a civil matter and not a criminal matter. That would actually allow us, I believe, to handle this a lot better, to clear out that backlog, to make sure we can still have a secure border, but without the chaos that exists right now.

KEILAR: So how does that work? Because when you think of people coming in illegally, it would be an illegal border crossing, whereas, a lot of families coming in, women and children coming in, are actually reporting and applying for asylum status. How would that civil versus criminal work? Would it have anything to do with them, or are you talking about people illegally crossing the border?

CASTRO: Well, I don't believe that people seeking asylum should be treated as criminals. And I believe also that somebody here who's undocumented, it should be treated as a civil matter as well. In my People First immigration plan, I put forward ways to make sure people stay in the system, that they report back. We're not saying, for instance, that there are going to be no deportations. We're not saying, as some have suggested, that there would be an open border. You know, we have personnel at our border. We have airplanes. We have helicopters. We have security cameras. We have boats that are patrolling our border. And so we have right now a border that is more secure than it's ever been. The thing is that this president wants us to believe that we have to choose between a secure border and compassion. His cruelty has failed, and I believe we should choose compassion and still have a secure border.

KEILAR: You talk in your media posts about rhetoric and how that has sort of shaped the debate, especially with President Trump. You can't really deny there's a crisis at the border, but there's this great span in how the crisis and solutions to it are being characterized, which is something that you're talking about.

Let's listen to President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[13:45:03] TRUMP: Congress has to act. They have to get rid of Catch-and-Release, chain migration, visa lottery. They have to get rid of the whole asylum system because it doesn't work. And frankly, we should get rid of judges. You can't have a court cases every time somebody steps their foot on our ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: What is your reaction to hearing the president use that kind of language.

CASTRO: I'd just ask Americans to think about what this president is saying. The United States has been a leader for generations as a place that people from around the world see as a beacon of hope. People come here seeking asylum. Refugees who apply in their home countries want to come to the United States. So many families that have helped build up this country were immigrant families. What he does is turns everybody back to immigration and scapegoats immigrants. It's the same play over and over and over again. I'm done with buying the B.S. narrative that young children and women and families present a national security threat to our country. They do not.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about tax returns because the president has refused to release his. You said you're going to release yours. Quickly, when and how many years of returns is that going to be?

CASTRO: I'm going to release 10 years of tax returns with plenty of time for people who are going to go caucus in Iowa and then, of course, everybody who's going to vote after that to digest them. Yes, this president and the other candidates should release their tax returns. I think Americans should have the opportunity to see those tax returns. I also hope that Congress gets ahold of this president's tax returns. What do you think he is hiding? Why do you think that he is so determined to hide what is in his tax returns? You know, if folks still support him, maybe they can come up with a good answer for that. I don't think that somebody tries to hide those tax returns for a good reason. He clearly doesn't want us to see something there. And hopefully, Congress will be able to get ahold of them.

KEILAR: And the Democratic National Committee has set a polling and fundraising threshold for candidates to qualify for the first two debates in June. Have you met those requirements, and how will you make sure you'll be on that stage?

CASTRO: I've met the polling requirement, but I haven't met the requirement of 65,000 donations. So we're out there. Our fundraising has accelerated. I'm not quite there yet, so folks can still contribute. And I'm confident that with the support of a lot of Americans out there, that I will be on the debate stage in late June.

KEILAR: All right. Secretary Castro, thank you so much. We really appreciate you being with us.

CASTRO: Thank you.

KEILAR: Former vice president Joe Biden under fire over allegations of being inappropriate, somewhat touchy feely, and he's now saying today he won't apologize for his intentions. That he's never intended to be disrespectful to any man or woman. Biden was answering questions about this exchange during a union speech in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put your hands together and give a warm IEBW welcome to the forty-seventh vice president of the United States, Joe Biden.

(CHEERING)

(MUSIC)

(APPLAUSE)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want you to know I had permission to hug Lonny (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: Hey, all you kids who want to come up on stage, it's OK. Come on up.

(LAUGHTER)

By the way, he gave me permission to touch him.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Joining me on the phone to talk more about this is Jen Psaki, former White House communications director under President Obama, former spokesman for the State Department. She's also a CNN political commentator.

Jen, you've been watching this. What did you think of Joe Biden's comments today?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR (via telephone): Hi, Brianna. Thanks for having me on over the phone.

Even those of us who have a lot of love for Joe Biden and I'm certainly one of them, I would say humor was a miscalculation at his speech today. What's clear, what we also heard from him is he said, I'm sorry I didn't understand more. I think as he's starting to speak more in public, we seeing he's still learning and that's going to play out. That doesn't change the fact that what we've been talking about over the past couple of days, that what we're talking about here is a misunderstanding of the fact that he needs to be more mindful of personal space and how women expect to be treated. And that's something he's acknowledged he needs to work harder on. That doesn't change his record, which he also talked about, and this does not link this in any way -- which I know you're not saying -- to the #metoo movement or many valid accusations of sexual assault. And I think it's important to differentiate between the two as well.

[13:50:02] KEILAR: Is part of -- when you think of -- he's struggling to navigate this. I wonder if you think it's generational. Also, if it's this fear of being lumped in with a lot of people who have been accused of things in this #metoo movement. There's say lot of people who have been accused of sexual assault, for instance, and then there's this range of actions that maybe fall under an umbrella but these are not apples to apples. What Joe Biden is accused of doing and what others have been accused of when it comes to sexual assault, is that part of the difficulty he's having in negotiating here? What do you think?

PSAKI: I think that is a really important differentiation. I'm glad you made it. And this is important conversation for us to have, women, men or all ages. What we're seeing is not a strategic cunning approach here by Joe Biden. This is him being him. Anyone who spent time with him on the campaign trailer over the year -- and I traveled with him a little bit and was with him in a bunch of meetings -- he's a spoksey guy. He loves people and kids. And I think he's just feeling it out there. But that is going to be a tricky thing to navigate because while it is very different, there are still some people, including many on the right and many who are opponents of his, who are trying to lump them together. And I think there's no way he's not causing some of that and aware of it.

KEILAR: Jen Psaki, thank you very much. And we know the former vice president will get plenty of counsel like yours as he tries to navigate this, really, what was an unforced error today.

And next, Senators Joni Ernst and Maggie Hassan, political opposites but on the same page when it comes to getting American's veterans the help they need and deserve.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:56:14] KEILAR: Today, in my CNN.com column, "Home Front," where we try to bridge the civilian/military divide and bring you stories of military families, we're talking about an effort to save veterans at risk of suicide. You've heard of the Amber Alert emergency broadcast system for missing children. I spoke to one mother who helped implement something similar for veterans, a Green Alert in Wisconsin last year after her son went missing and was found dead.

Now two Senators here in Washington, Iowa Republican and combat veteran, Joni Ernst, and New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan, want to create a nationwide Green Alert system because only three states have created them so far.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JONI ERNST, (R), IOWA: As a combat veteran, this has been an issue that means a lot to me. We have 20 to 22 veterans that take their life every single day, and if we could find a way to prevent that, we need to explore those options.

There are alerts that exist out there, an Amber Alert when a child is missing, a Silver Alert when an elderly person is missing, so Senator Hassan, Maggie, and I are working on a bill together. She brought the bill to me and said, what do you think about a Green Alert, and I said, wow, it sounds like a really great idea. So a Green Alert if we have a veteran that is missing. SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN, (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Our job, as civilians, from

my perspective, is to work every day to make our country worthy of the sacrifices that our servicemen and women have made for us. And so I was approached by a Special Services General Don Boldock (ph), in Stratham, New Hampshire, who identified the issue for me, saying often veterans go missing. And as Joni and I were just talking about, they'll be active on social media and then, all of a sudden, you don't see their presence any more, they are just gone.

And in Wisconsin, the impetuous for Wisconsin's Green Alert system -- they have one up and running -- was a veteran named Cory Adams, who went missing and wasn't found for 18 days and was found deceased. And we want to prevent tragedies like that from happening. And we need to have a system tailored -- the states need to tailor it. But what our bill would do is put together a commission so we can help states get the best practices to do this. We need a system to deploy because we know it is critical to find an at-risk veteran who is gone missing as quickly as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: I also talked with Senators Ernst and Hassan about sexual assault in the military and how pollicization of the military is actually contributing to PTSD of servicemembers. And you can see that and read the column at CNN.com/homefront. And also, please share your stories, your comments, your ideas with me at homefront@CNN.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)