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Did Trump Tell Border Agents to Break Law?; Trump Fires Secret Service Director and Homeland Security Chief; When Will Bernie Sanders Release Tax Returns?; Interview With Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI). Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 8, 2019 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our breaking news, sources telling me that President Trump ordered the port of El Paso, Texas, shut down late last month, although he was eventually talked out of it.

And in a private meeting with Border Patrol agents just on Friday, the president, according to witnesses, told the Border Patrol agents not to let in witnesses seeking asylum, though their leaders later told the agents they did, in fact, have to abide by U.S. law, contrary to what the president told them.

According to sources, the president also wants an expanded family separation policy, because he believes it is an effective deterrent to the illegal immigration and asylum seeker crisis.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono from Hawaii. She serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, always good to see you.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Let me start with the president telling border agents to stop letting asylum seekers into the country. What's your reaction?

HIRONO: That happens to be illegal.

But we have a president who thinks that the law doesn't apply to him and his ideas, so he just tosses out a lot of things, and he either has to be talked off it or it leads to a lawsuit. Basically, one or the other happens.

TAPPER: What about the president ordering, by noon the next day, the shutting down of the port of entry in El Paso, and then other ports will be shut down subsequently?

HIRONO: Yet another ill-conceived idea. So he comes up with a lot of these things.

The bottom line is that he is so against immigrants, migrants, particularly from the southern border, from Central America, that he would just do anything to stop them. So, apparently, in this instance, Kirstjen Nielsen said, well, that's not very practical, we can't just do it in one day, not to mention that it's going to lead to legal challenges, I'm sure.

He didn't like that, so off she goes.

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you about that, because you have repeatedly called for Secretary Nielsen to resign.

Sources telling us that she pushed back on these requests, including his desire for an expanded family separate, pushing back on orders, ideas that the president pushed that she thought were inappropriate or against the law.

Now that she's been forced out, are you concerned about somebody who's going to take her place who you like even less?

HIRONO: Well, of course.

Let's face it, this family separation policy was implemented by Secretary Nielsen, putting families and children into cages. That's under her watch, too. So, thankfully, that she finally got some, how shall I say, some sense of appropriateness, and so there you go.

But I would expect that, as is clear with this president, whoever he picks will understand even more clearly that he better -- he or she better toe the line. Otherwise, they will not last long.

And that is the case with this president's entire administration. That's why it is so chaotic.

TAPPER: Speaking of chaos, the president has fired his Secret Service director. We just learned that James Murray is going to take his place. What do you make of this?

HIRONO: Again, he probably did something that displeased the president, didn't say, yes, sir, enough times or something.

But that is the modus operandi of this president, that you pretty much have to be a yes-person. Otherwise, you do not last long. So, I'm wondering, you know, how long any of the rest of his Cabinet people are going to last. But they either have to get out because they have got ethical issues or they're being investigated or something.

But all of his administration people have been -- just one after another, usually antithetical to the department that they're supposed to be running. They spend a lot of their time challenging the mission of the departments they're supposed to run.


So, that's yet another characteristic. But the major characteristic for the president and his people is, they better say yes to everything he wants. TAPPER: Let me ask you about the crisis at the border, because there

is a humanitarian crisis at the border, all these families coming in, declaring asylum.

There -- according to Customs and Border Patrol, there are not -- there is not the room for all of these families. Jeh Johnson, the former homeland security secretary under President Obama, also says there's a crisis at the border. The U.S. simply cannot sustain this flood of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers coming to the country.

We're seeing four times the apprehensions from when he ran the agency. Take a listen.


JEH JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I know that 1,000 overwhelms the system. I cannot begin to imagine what 4,000 a day looks like. So we are truly in a crisis.


TAPPER: What should the United States do about this crisis? Obviously, there is one. And something needs to be done beyond the status quo.

HIRONO: Well, that something is certainly not cutting aid to the Central American countries because of the horrible environment that is inducing so many people, children and their parents coming across the border.

So, you know, we need to provide a lot more assistance to these countries. And during Jeh Johnson's time, I know that we sent a lot of this kind of support to Colombia, for example, and that really decreased the number of people leaving that country.

So there are things we can do. And, certainly, that is exactly not what the president is doing. And no walls, vanity walls or otherwise, or just telling his agents not to let people through, although that is against the law in our country, is going to stop that.

So we have to have a much more comprehensive look at what we need to be doing. And it's exactly what the president is not doing, because he's much more interested in people just kowtowing to him and just taking the kinds of actions that lead to lawsuits.

TAPPER: What about the laws that allow Central American asylum seekers access into the United States? Does that need to change, so as to dissuade these thousands of individuals from coming into the country?

HIRONO: The thing that will dissuade many more of these people from coming is to enable their countries to provide jobs and safety for their own citizens.

And that is not happening from these Central American countries. And so that's what we ought to be doing more of. And those are the kinds of programs that the president wants to slash or eliminate altogether.

So that's not going to stop the flow of people who want to come to a country that they think is going to provide them more safety, although, with this president, that's not where he wants to be. So this is not the country that so many people thought was going to be a place where they can have a better life.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

HIRONO: Thank you.

TAPPER: So, what does soon mean? Well, it seems, if you're presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, soon means months and months, when it comes to releasing his tax returns at least.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We have some breaking news in our 2020 lead today.

Just moments ago, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota announcing she has raised $5.2 million since entering the presidential race. When you compare that to her Democratic competitors, it is less than the hauls of senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Klobuchar, did, however, raise more than her fellow Senator Cory Booker, who just released his numbers last night.

But as CNN's Jessica Dean reports, there is another money-related debate dominating the Democratic race right now.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Show me the money.

TREVOR NOAH, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH": So, are we going to see your tax returns?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You sure are. Look, April 15 is coming. That will be the 10th year, and we will make them all public.

DEAN: Six weeks after saying he would release his tax returns sooner than later...

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Will you release 10 years of your tax returns, as you know Elizabeth Warren has decided to do that?


DEAN: ... Bernie Sanders still has not released them. Pressure is mounting on the Vermont senator, as his Democratic rivals share their returns, and Democrats continue to push for the release of President Trump's.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm under audit. When you're under audit, you don't do it.

DEAN: When it comes to fund-raising dollars, Senator Cory Booker announced he raised more than $5 million in the first quarter. That number lags behind others, including Sanders, California Senator Kamala Harris, former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor, Pete Buttigieg.

Still, Booker says his campaign is on the right track.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I feel incredible. We set goals for ourselves, and we surpassed our own goals. We're seeing incredible energy and enthusiasm everywhere we go in this campaign.

DEAN: An enthusiastic crowd welcoming Buttigieg this weekend at an LGBT fund-raiser in Washington.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Speaking only for myself, I can tell you that, if me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade.


BUTTIGIEG: And that's the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand, that if you have got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.

DEAN: As the 2020 field takes shape, former President Obama weighed in on the race during a trip to Germany, issuing a warning to his party about ideological purity.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And one of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States -- maybe it's true here as well -- is a certain kind of rigidity, where we say, ah, I'm sorry, this is how it's going to be, and then we start sometimes creating what's called a circular firing squad.


DEAN: As for President Obama's involvement in the 2020 Democratic primary, he's made a point of staying neutral.

[16:45:00] He's privately met with most of the candidates but has no plans to endorse anyone in particular. He really wants to let the process play out. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right Jessica Dean, thanks so much. I love the idea of President Obama thinking he has to explain to Germans what a firing squad is. I think they got it. Let me start -- let me start with you and Bernie Sanders delaying the tax returns. I mean, what's -- what is the deal? Like, I mean, why not just rip off the band-aid. This has been going on for a long time. Presumably, his previous nine years are done and filed already.

JESSICA FUENTES, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ: Well, was it good for the goose, you know --

TAPPER: Because of Trump.

FUENTES: Well, why not, right? Why should he be subject to releasing information that the Commander-in-Chief himself said, oh it will happen and when I'm elected or it will happen as the audit is over, when they -- even the IRS tells you no. There is no such thing. We have an audit that we can release.

So clearly, I would do the same thing that he's doing. Why should he be subject to releasing his taxes when the other one hasn't?

TAPPER: So -- go ahead.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's competing in a Democratic primary and in 2016 this was also an issue with Senator Sanders and he ultimately released I think was one year of his tax returns. And you know, look, there have been all sorts of rumors as to why he might not want to show a full ten years. Some suggest that he and his wife have actually done pretty well and that they don't necessarily -- that doesn't necessarily go with the narrative of a Democratic Socialist. I guess we'll see on -- in April -- on April 15th as he claimed. But I think it also shows that the dynamics have really shifted from when he was running in 2016. You can't be in this big of a field where people are releasing their taxes and be the lone holdout when one of the big issues that Democrats are trying to use against the President is the fact that he won't release his tax.

TAPPER: Also he's the front-runner I mean, of the declared candidates. He's unabashedly the front-runner.

FUENTES: Apparently you can get elected without showing your taxes.

TAPPER: That's apparently true. Lanhee, take a listen to one swing state voter Derek Albert from Michigan explaining why he does want to see Senator Sanders' tax returns.


DEREK ALBERT, VOTER, MICHIGAN: I mean he should definitely release it. Everybody wants to see them. We want to see the President's too you know. And the Senate National Committee that's actually doing the investigating should say hey, Senator Sanders bring yours too. America deserves to know


TAPPER: You went through this when you work for Mitt Romney.

LANHEE CHEN, FORMER PUBLIC POLICY DIRECTOR FOR MITT ROMNEY: Yes. I mean, you know, it was a painful process to have to go through but it's part of the vetting that the American people do in a campaign when they're electing someone for president or at least it probably should be. And so Senator Sanders should put out his tax returns. If he doesn't on the 15th, I think he's going to have a major problem. And now that he's set himself a date and he said he's going to give us ten years, if he doesn't give us ten years on the 15th, he's going to have major problems.

FUENTES: Isn't that what the President did when he was running? Did that hurt him?

CHEN: Well, but for -- but for Senator Sanders, he's speaking to a different constituents. I think the primary constituency in a Democratic Party primary, to make those promises and not follow through I think is a big deal.

TAPPER: But she raises an interesting point, Bill, which is why do we as media folk or as voters have higher expectations for people running for the Democratic nomination than we do for President Trump. President Trump who said he would release his tax returns and never did has claims he's under audit for years although there's no proof of it. We are still you know, playing along with the role that we normally have which is tax to show us everything even when the President has floated all of these traditions.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I assume one of the Democratic talking points and indeed talking points of Republican opponents to Trump if there is one in this coming year.

TAPPER: Oh, dream on, Bill.

KRISTOL: Have no fear. Have no fear. People have such little faith. It's terrible. One of the key points they will make over and over is President Trump has degraded various norms and practices that were used to and that we should be used to, more entitled to being used to as citizens in a representative democracy, and here is me obeying the law or obeying, in this case, a norm or a custom that President Trump didn't.

So I think it is important for Democratic voters to be able to say our nominee is not like President Trump.

FINNEY: Well, but also, more importantly, kept his word, right? If you say you're going to do something and you keep your word. Now --

TAPPER: Well that's another norm that President Trump -- maybe you haven't noticed that. He doesn't -- he doesn't --

FINNEY: No, not so much. But also I think look, with Trump it didn't -- it was not a factor that mattered to the Republican primary electorate. I think that's what you're getting at versus the Democratic Party primary electorate. He kind of got a pass because in part I think he was running against Hillary. I don't think that Bernie Sanders can get away with that again in this cycle. That's what I mean by it's changed. TAPPER: And Lanhee, I want to ask you about -- you heard another 2020

Democrat, South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg taking on Vice President Mike Pence, his former governor, very directly talking about sexuality and faith. On that topic, one voter told USA Today "I'm really very excited about hearing a voice from the Christian left. I think that's a voice not used in the Democratic Party for too long.

He really is talking a lot more about his faith. And I mean Obama did to a degree, Clinton did to a degree, but he's really saying -- he talked about his creator much more than I've heard any Democrat talk.

CHEN: Yes. It's actually refreshing to see that there is you know, there really is diversity in the Evangelical community in the United States and I think he's demonstrating that. Now the vocal evangelical community clearly has allied themselves with President Trump. But the reality is that I think there's an appeal and he's out there trying to express that I think is particularly appealing to younger evangelicals.

I think that's the crowd he's really aiming at. Maybe even younger evangelicals who are swing voters who may have voted for Republicans in the past but would consider voting for somebody whose faith does appear to be sincere and who's trying to demonstrate how that faith influences his life and his rhetoric in his positions.

[16:50:28] TAPPER: I have heard people say though, Conservatives, why does he keep talking about Vice President Pence. Pence isn't talking about him. Why does he keep focusing on Pence? Obviously, they're both Hoosiers. They're both from Indiana. But do you think there's a risk there?

FUENTES: No, I don't think it's a risk. I think Mayor Pete is quite exciting a candidate and I think maybe he's trying to poke the hypocrisy about that Christianity that basically is there room for some people but not for others including immigrants or perhaps gay people.

I think if you watched him this weekend when he did some press, it was pretty exciting to listen the uniformity and the whole class and the thoughtfulness of his comments towards choice, towards a second amendment and gun control. I particularly love what he said that the right to bear arms doesn't mean I'm entitled to have a nuclear weapon. I think the guy is brilliant and I think it's time we had somebody like him in the field.

TAPPER: All right. We'll put you down for two lawn science then. Be sure -- be sure to tune in to CNN tomorrow for a live town hall with Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. It's going to be moderated by my colleague CNN's Erin Burnett 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

It was supposed to be her dream trip. An American tourist abducted at gunpoint making it a nightmare. Now she's been rescued. How it went down next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:55:00] TAPPER: Some breaking news in our "WORLD LEAD" today. Three U.S. service members and a contractor have been killed after an explosion in Afghanistan. Let's bring in CNN's Ryan Browne. He's at the Pentagon. Ryan, what are you learning? How did this happen?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Jake, this happened when the U.S. military personnel were part of a convoy traveling near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Now, this is one of the largest US military facilities in Afghanistan. Three U.S. service members were killed, a contractor was also killed. And we're told three additional U.S. troops were wounded in the suicide car bomb.

Those troops are currently receiving medical treatment were being told. The U.S. maintains some 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. And while U.S. officials have expressed some optimism about ongoing talks with the Taliban, about ending that conflict, the Taliban claimed responsibility for this suicide attack issuing a statement saying that it was targeting foreign troops and that it killed several of them.

So again, despite some progress in these talks, Afghanistan remains a very violent place for both U.S. and Afghan personnel. And of course, the President's envoy for these peace talks Zalmay Khalilzad was just in Afghanistan yesterday where he was trying to build some momentum. But again, a clear sign that the conflict continues to rage there this many years later. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Browne at the Pentagon, thank you so much. Also on our "WORLD LEAD." As a California woman kidnapped in Uganda begins her jury journey home, there are concerns now being raised about the ransom that was according to a source paid to secure to release Kimberly Sue Endicott and a tour guide were taken hostage at gunpoint last Tuesday on Safari.

Her kidnappers used her cell phone to demand $500,000 in exchange for her return. But as CNN's Alex Marquardt now reports, while we're all grateful that she is alive and well and being returned home, there are some national security experts who say, that if a ransom was paid, that could theoretically put a target on other American tourists.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Free at last, Kim Endicott steps out of a white van, barefoot, pants torn, likely shaken, but physically unharmed. Welcome home, she's told, as she arrives back at the camp in Uganda, where she had gone on Safari to see the area's famous gorillas, a lifelong dream.

Endicott, who's from California and her Ugandan guide Jean Paul Mirenge were kidnapped last Tuesday, as they were driving in the Queen Elizabeth National Park. They were taken away by armed men, who later used their prisoner's cell phones to demand a ransom of $500,000.

Ugandan security forces backed by U.S. military support and the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo freed the pair on Sunday. The kidnappers are still on the run.

FRED ENANGA, SPOKESPERSON, UGANDA POLICE: The armed captors knew they were being hotly pursued by the joint team of security agencies.

MARQUARDT: Today, President Trump tweeting, Uganda must bring the kidnappers to justice openly and quickly. Neither the United States nor Uganda pay ransoms. It was the Safari tour company that paid in this case. Though we don't know how much, there are fears it will only encourage more kidnappings in the area.

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: That's the quickest way to get out of a situation like this, get somebody back is pay the ransom. But again, it sets a bad precedent.


MARQUARDT: Ugandan police said the most likely reason for this kidnapping was, in fact, that ransom money. Meaning this looks to be more criminal related than terrorism-related, especially considering how easy the handoff of those kidnapped appears to have been. Security experts will tell you, that's only incentive for more kidnappings. Of course, you can't fault that Safari company or Endicott's loved ones for wanting to do all they could to get her back safely.

TAPPER: No. I'm sure everyone here would do the same thing if they could. Alex Marquardt, thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching.