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Homeland Security Secretary Forced to Resign; Trump Advisor Stephen Miller Argues for More Firings; Trump Pushing to Reinstate Family Separations at Border; Mulvaney Says Democrats Will Never See Trump's Tax Returns; A.G. Barr to Face Lawmakers Amid Mueller Report Fight; NY Lawmakers to Introduce Bill to Get Trump's Tax Returns. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 8, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:31] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks for joining me.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the public face of President Trump's hardline immigration policies, but apparently not hardline enough. The secretary abruptly resigning. But make no mistake, she was pushed out. A person close to Nielsen said she was forced out after losing key allies in the West Wing and watching her relationship with the president crumble.

A senior administration official telling CNN that Nielsen, quote, "Believed the situation was becoming untenable, with Trump becoming increasingly unhinged about the border crisis and making unreasonable and even impossible requests."

This might not be the end of it. The president's top adviser on immigration, Stephen Miller, he apparently wants to push even more officials out now.

CNN's Jessica Schneider and Abby Phillip are tracking all of this for us.

Abby, first to you.

Nielsen is out. Miller wants more to go. What's happening?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What we're seeing here, Kate, is the rise of one of the president's top advisers on immigration, Stephen Miller, and how he's using his influence within the West Wing to make some key personnel changes. Now, Nielsen was not a -- sorry, Miller was not a fan of Nielsen. Also not a fan of a lot of other people in the West Wing, according to our sources. That he's eyeing the director of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services as well as the general counsel over at DHS for departures in the coming weeks. This is reflective of the fact that Miller, in recent weeks, has been given a broader portfolio over immigration and border issues. A source telling be that the president has empowered Miller to deal with those issues. What that's meant is he's throwing his weight around on key personnel decisions and also pushing the president even further toward some more hardline positions on the border, causing the president to sour even more on Secretary Nielsen.

One of those key policy disputes, we're learning, is over this issue of family separation. A source telling our Evan Perez that the president has in recent weeks been trying to get officials to reinstate the family separation policy. Now, this is a policy that has been held up in courts. The Department of Homeland Security already telling the courts it would take them years to reunite the families that have already been separated. It's a deeply unpopular policy. It has caused a lot of political consternation for the president and Republicans and for Nielsen. But President Trump is convinced this is something that is necessary to stop the flow of immigrants coming up from Central America.

The White House, for their part, is continuing to insist this is not a family separation policy. They want the laws to change to allow them to detain more people. But the laws, as they exist right now, if they continue to detain people, as they come into the country, they're going to have to separate families and children. That's something Nielsen pushed back on. It's one of the reasons President Trump moved to push her out over the weekend -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right.

So, Jessica, let me bring you in on this.

It's been well known the tumultuous relationship the president has had with Nielsen, but what was the last straw here?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I'd say, over the past week, their relationship really started to unravel for really the final time, prompting that resignation yesterday.

Kate, I'll take you back to last Sunday. That was right around the time, of course, that the president first threatened to shut down the border with Mexico. He obviously withdrew that threat later in the week. But last Sunday, is when Kirstjen Nielsen left Washington for what was supposed to be this week-long trip to Europe, all to discuss terror threats with European officials. It turns out, she only lasted in Europe about a day or two before realizing that she really needed to come back to Washington to put her focus on border and the increasing issues there. So of course, we saw on Friday, just a few days ago, she appeared with the president at the border. But we've learned from a source that the president on that trip was really making unreasonable and unlawful requests. We learned that the president told border agents he wanted to stop them or have them stop people from crossing the border, despite the fact, of course, it is U.S. law to allow Central American asylum seekers.

Because that clash with the president had really reached a crescendo by the end of last week, we know that, by early yesterday, Nielsen knew how the day would likely unfold and that she would ultimately be forced to resign. But a source is telling our Evan Perez that Kirstjen Nielsen really considered this as somewhat of a relief, this resignation. She's been in this pressure cooker for the past week in particular, Kate, running up against those hardline immigration advisers like, of course, Stephen Miller at the White House that Abby talked about. So Nielsen, she's been trying to get a handle on the situation for the past week. Sort of feeling like it's been slipping out of her control.

[11:05:19] One interesting anecdote. She led a conference call last week where she announced her team would be handling the increasing border crisis response, like what she called a category-5 hurricane response. You would think that would be good news for the president and his advisers, but we're told Stephen Miller didn't like that tactic. He actually felt sort of out of the loop on what Nielsen was doing. So that ultimately led to Nielsen's swift undoing, forcing her to submit a resignation late yesterday. Looks like Stephen Miller's handprints are all over this -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: There's a lot of important news coming from your reporting, Abby's reporting on this.

I want to discuss this a little bit more.

Jessica, I really appreciate it. Thanks, Abby.

Joining me now is Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney suing the Trump administration over family separations on the border, at the border, for the ACLU. Max Boot is also here, a CNN global affairs analyst, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

A lot of questions for you guys.

First, Max, with Nielsen being out, part of the reporting, as they were just talking about, is that Trump and those around him did not think she was going far enough, pushing far enough. One of the reasons is that the law wouldn't allow it. We have seen that. What does a change in secretary mean then, here?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's a question of whether he can appoint somebody who will actually break the law on his behalf, which is what he seems to be expecting. It's almost comical. You almost have to feel sorry for Nielsen -- I don't feel sorry for her, but almost -- because she's willing to violate the dictates of humanity, morality, and ethics, but not willing to break the law. And Trump expects somebody to break the law, in particular, by simply denying asylum seekers an opportunity to get asylum in the United States, even though the law actually says they should have that opportunity. He doesn't want to let that happen. And clearly, he's looking for somebody to do that at DHS in spite of the law, which Nielsen would not do.


Lee, as I mentioned, you're the lead attorney on trying to get families reunited --


BOLDUAN: -- after they have been separated at the border. I have much more to discuss on that in a second. But just the news we have this morning that President Trump has been

talking about and pushing for DHS to reinstate the policy that led to that in the past few weeks.

GELERNT: Yes. Remarkable. I think remarkable on a lot of levels. First of all, it's illegal. We have a ruling saying it's unconstitutional. Second of all, politically, it wasn't just Democrats and liberals who pushed back. It was virtually everyone in the country. I mean, Laura Bush's op-ed, conservative reverends, it was everyone pushing back because everyone said, look, we can have disagreements about macro immigration policy, but we can't take 2- and 3-year-olds away from their mothers, they're screaming and ripping them apart. No one wants to see that. I don't think that's a partisan issue, actually.

BOLDUAN: Lee, one person who didn't seem want to see it anymore was President Trump himself. I know, add this to exhibit we have lost count on him speaking, you know, speaking on both sides of an issue. But on the day he signed the executive order ending family separations, he said this: "We're going to have strong, very strong borders, but we're going to keep the families together. I don't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated."

That's from the president himself, Max. And now he's pushing for that to go back into place.

BOOT: Right. I think what this points to, Kate, is the fact that the problem here is not the personnel. The problem is the policy, which was not set by Secretary Nielsen. It was dictated from the White House by Trump and by Stephen Miller. And they're unhappy with the policy implementation because the policy makes no sense. They had this cruel and barbarous policy of separating children from their parents, but they're upset it creates bad news coverage. What a surprise. Now they're back to apparently, if the reporting can be believed, back to considering that separation policy.

BOLDUAN: I also remember -- as you said Stephen Miller's name, I also remember, I believe, when you were very publicly making a split from the conservatives, the Republican Party, you had mentioned Stephen Miller as one of the reasons why. With how this is all going right now, and how this is all progressing right now, I mean, I don't know, if Stephen Miller is effectively the acting DHS secretary at this point as he's pushing policy, what does that mean?

BOOT: I think it's a sign of just how nativist and xenophobic this administration is that this 33-year-old nativist fanatic is the person dictating immigration policy for the United States. Remember, he has a long and odious agenda, which includes repealing birthright citizenship, includes cutting levels of legal immigration, not just illegal. He wants to deport DREAMers. He has a monstrous agenda.

The only thing I would say to the administration is, if they're serious about this, nominate Stephen Miller to be the next DHS secretary. Take the puppet master from behind the curtain.

[11:10:16] BOLDUAN: Seriously? BOOT: Absolutely. He ought to take responsibility and ownership of

this policy instead of manipulating things from behind the White House. Put him out there and have him speak and see if he can get confirmed. I don't know that he can get confirmed, even by a Republican Senate, but if he can't, that tells you something about how awful this policy is.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about another big thing that just came out, Lee.


BOLDUAN: The government now says it could take up to two years to identify the children that have -- all of the children who have been separated from their families as part of this policy. That could be thousands more.

You have been in court. This is coming out from the court battle that you have had with the government over this.


BOLDUAN: I just want to be clear, that's thousands more on top of the 2800 children --

GELERNT: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: -- who have so far been reunited, that you guys have been working to get reunited. Why is it two years? Why could it be two years?

GELERNT: Well, we don't believe it should be two years. That's a proposal by the government Friday night. It's shocking. We're going to push back. There's no way they would need two years to identify the families. I mean --


BOLDUAN: Is it just because they -- I'm going out there right now, but because they literally took no information on these children when they were releasing them to sponsors or other people?

GELERNT: Well, they're admitting that and saying they need two years to find the families. We agree that they took no information, but even so, they could do it in months, not years. We'll be pushing back. What ultimately this shows is that they're still not prioritizing this issue. At least the reunification. They --


BOLDUAN: But a judge told them they had to.

GELERNT: Right. So that's why we'll be pushing back. At the end of the day, the United States government can get tasks like this done if they treat it with urgency. They're basically saying these 2- and 3- year-olds, if it takes two years to get them back to their parents, so be it. BOLDUAN: Honestly, here's your cat-5 hurricane, Kirstjen Nielsen.


BOLDUAN: Here's your cat-5 hurricane. Get them back together. Work on immigration policy with Congress if you want it changed, for sure. Get the kids back together with their parents, if, as a judge has decided, they were split apart from their parents under questionable circumstances at best.

GELERNT: Right. And as Max said, you know, this is not just a cruel policy. It's gratuitous. When I talk to the families after they're reunited, I always ask them, would you have come anyway if you had known this was going to happen, and they shrug and say, what choice did I have, if my child was going to be killed there, this is the lesser of the evil. We're really not accomplishing anything by taking them away. It's as cruel as anything I have seen in 26 years doing this work.

BOLDUAN: I have so many more things to say.

Thank you both for being here. Really appreciate it.

GELERNT: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, never -- that's when the White House chief of staff says the Democrats are going to see President Trump's tax returns. Is that just bluster or does the White House have a case when it comes to Trump and his taxes?

Plus, Attorney General Bill Barr is preparing to face lawmakers on Capitol Hill amid calls for the full release of the Mueller report. We'll have a preview of what is sure to be an explosive hearing as Bill Barr faces lawmakers.


[11:17:50] BOLDUAN: When will Democrats see President Trump's tax returns? The answer, at least according to his acting chief of staff, is never. Mick Mulvaney dismissing the new request from congressional Democrats for Trump's returns as, quote, "a political stunt."


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF: Keep in mind, they knew they're not going to get these taxes. They know what the law is. They know that one of the fundamental principles of the IRS is to protect the confidentiality of you and me and everybody else who files taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED FOX NEWS SUNDAY HOST: To be clear, you believe Democrats will never see the president's tax returns?

MULVANEY: Oh, no, never. Nor should they. That is not going to happen, and they know it. This is a political stunt.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: Let's go to CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for much more on this.

So, Manu, what now?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Democrats are bracing for what could be a prolonged legal fight. They believe that the law is on their side, as the Republicans say this is just an effort to weaponize the IRS to go after the president. They say there's a clear legislative purpose to seeking the tax returns. And they cite a 1924 law saying that the Ways and Means Committee chairman can request anyone's tax returns, including the president of the United States. But that statute is largely untested in court. This is something that's going to play out over time.

Yesterday, Democrats on the Sunday shows also pushed back on what Mick Mulvaney said, including Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, who said the law is on their side.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA): There's no legal ground for them here. The statute says the IRS "shall provide" these returns to the Congress upon request. When the Republicans asked similarly for returns when they were running that committee, including the returns of the Obama for America Organization, he gave no explanation for why he sought those returns or how many returns he was seeking or what organizations. He just asked and the IRS says, you can have them because we shall provide them. I think that's how it's going to end up here, too.


RAJU: Now, the Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, who has requested the tax returns, has set a Wednesday deadline to get a response from the Treasury Department, but we're not expecting that to be fulfilled. So the question is, what next? Expect more letters, expect potential legal action. This is going to take some time to play out. No one, of course, knows how this ends -- Kate?

[11:20:11] BOLDUAN: No kidding. Especially on this one, Manu.

But there's also an important scheduling update for everyone. The attorney general, Bill Barr, he's scheduled to testify before Congress tomorrow. At the very same time, he's still deciding on working through what parts and how much of the Mueller report Congress is going to see.

RAJU: Yes, Tuesday and Wednesday will be big days to understand what is happening with the Mueller report because Bill Barr is coming before the House Appropriations Committee, then the Senate Appropriations Committee. He's going to be testifying about the budget request for the Justice Department. But Democrats and Republicans will have a lot of questions about the status of the Mueller report, how he's dealing with the redactions, the demands of Democrats not to redact anything, and the decision he made not to charge the president with obstruction of justice. We'll see if he shines any light on all of that. But first time he's answering questions since putting out that four-pay letter -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That's going to be not to miss.

Great to see you, Manu. Thank you so much.

Joining me right now, "New York Times" national security correspondent Matt Rosenberg, and CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig.

Good to see you guys.

Matt, first, let's talk about Barr. What is Barr going to face tomorrow, do you think?

MATT ROSENBERG, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: He's going to get questions. He's up there on Capitol Hill to testify about the Justice Department's budget, but they're going to ask him --


BOLDUAN: Sure he is.


BOLDUAN: Let's see how many questions he gets about the budget.

ROSENBERG: I imagine he's going to say I'm still working on it and you'll get it when you get it.

Look, there are a number of outstanding questions about secret grand jury testimony, will that be redacted. Classified information, other kind of privileged information. How aggressive, how expansive will he be in redacting. Then the question of President Trump's written answers to the special counsel's questions. Is that something the public is going to see? That remains an outstanding question. We'll find out sooner or later, in probably the next week or two.

BOLDUAN: Those are important questions. It's almost like, at this point, a lot of people forget about the written answers the president sent in to the special counsel. It could be the most illuminating if those would be released.

Elie, what questions, if you're up there or have the ear of the lawmakers, what questions do you want answered from Barr tomorrow?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I got lots. I'll limit it.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. By the way, he's got a yellow legal pad.


HONIG: First of all, I focus on Mueller's summaries. We know Robert Mueller did his own summary. I would ask, why didn't you produce those and will you produce them now? I focus on the obstruction, as Matt said. You look, you made a call on obstruction? Did Robert Mueller ask you to make your call or do you think he intended that for Congress? Also, I think Bill Barr has been prejudiced about this case from the start. I mean this in the literal sense that he prejudged it. Before he became attorney general, he referred to, quote, "so- called collusion," sarcastically, and he called Mueller's obstruction theory asinine. I would ask him, you said those things. Didn't you in effect prejudge this case before you ever came into office? And I have many more, but let's leave it with those.

BOLDUAN: Those are the top lines.

Matt, what does -- I don't know, what does the transparency debate do? What does it mean for all of the Trump White House officials who faced some of these extensive interviews with the special counsel? John King had some great reporting that there are a lot of people who face the special counsel who are very nervous, not about what they said, really, about Russia or anything like that, but of the stories they told about the president. So transparency, what could it mean for them?

ROSENBERG: I mean, look, I imagine there are some people who went in there and said things that are not -- at least the president himself is not going to take as complementary and may differ from things they said in public. That's not a good thing in the public eye. Totally unsurprising this has become a huge partisan issue. We have heard reports now that people on Mueller's team aren't happy with Barr's summary. Democrats have seized on those. Republicans are saying there's nothing to look at here. I suspect there's something in the middle, and there are going to be people in the White House, in the administration, maybe outside, who said things they don't necessarily want to see public.

BOLDUAN: Yes. It's all -- it might not change anyone's view of it since it's so partisan and so divided, but it's more information, none the less. And the more information the better.

There's the other issue Manu was getting to, Elie, about the president's tax returns. You have what's happening in Congress. They're looking for his federal tax returns. Then his acting chief of staff saying Democrats are never going to see the tax returns despite their efforts. In addition to that, now you have New York State is making a related but different play when it comes to Trump's tax returns, introducing a bill today in the state legislature that would allow essentially New York tax officials to hand over state tax returns, basically anybody's, to leaders of these key congressional committees. Where are you on this? Is any of this going to work?

[11:25:14] HONIG: Now there's two avenues for Democrats to get Trump's tax returns. There's the existing federal avenue. And now if this New York statute passes, it will be a second way around it. I think the federal law is good enough. I think it's pretty straightforward. I think Mick Mulvaney is straight-up wrong when he says the law is against the House Ways and Means Committee. Whenever you're doing a legal analysis, you have to start with the words of the law itself, the statute itself. This statute says "shall furnish" to Ways and Means. "Shall furnish" is not negotiable. It's not discretionary. It means shall. I think the Democrats have the better of the argument there.

What we heard from the Republicans in the administration is, well, it's unprecedented. Sure, because every president back to Nixon has turned over their taxes so there's never been any occasion.

The other response is, it's political in motivation. No doubt it is. But the law doesn't really care. If the law says, "shall furnish," the law doesn't say shall furnish but only if we think the reasons are good or bad.

I think it's a strong argument under the federal law. Now the state law in New York State would give a second bite at the same apple, basically.

BOLDUAN: Regardless, still a long road to get there.

HONIG: Yes, it is.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you guys. Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

We also have a quick reminder for you. You can catch Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in a live CNN presidential town hall, moderated by Erin Burnett, tomorrow night, 10:00 eastern, right here on CNN.

Still ahead for us, Presidential candidate, Cory Booker, is now the latest 2020 Democrat to reveal his fundraising haul in the first quarter. Where does he stack up against the other candidates? Should his rivals be worried?

We'll be right back.