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First On CNN: Trump Removing Secret Service Director; Prosecutor Says Chinese Mar-A-Lago Trespasser Had Device That Can Detect Hidden Cameras; Border Hardliners Inside White House Nudged Out Nielsen. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 8, 2019 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Erica Hill in for Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thanks for being with us this afternoon. We begin with breaking news in Washington where the Trump administration once again appears to be cleaning House. Multiple officials telling CNN the Secret Service Director is now being removed from his position. Randolph "Tex" Alles reports directly to the Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, who was forced to resign less than 24 hours ago.

Nielsen had become the face of an immigration policy that ripped undocumented families apart and sparked legal and moral backlash for the Trump White House. The President's immigration agenda will now be held by the man in charge of Customs and Border Protection.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I share the President's goal to secure the border. I will continue to support all efforts to address the humanitarian and security crisis on the border. And other than that, I'm on my way to keep doing what I can for the next few days.


HILL: You just heard Nielsen say she still supports President Trump's goal of securing the border. Where she and the President differ is just how to make that happen. Sources tell CNN increasing clashes with the President played a role in Nielsen's forced resignation. At least one official says she viewed the border demands as impossible and believed he was becoming unhinged. She didn't support Trump's recent push to reinstate the family separation policy which Nielsen famously claimed at the time didn't exist.

Our chief Washington correspondent and host of "THE LEAD" Jake Tapper joining me now. With the news about the Director of the Secret Service, what more are you hearing?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT AND HOST: There's a lot of concern within the Trump administration right now about what is perceived to be a wholesale purge of senior national security officials. Just in the last few days the U.S. Secret Service Director was asked to resign. Was fired. The week before last although we're just breaking the news this afternoon, of it happening today, obviously Secretary Nielsen was asked to resign yesterday.

In addition, last week the nominee to be the head of I.C.E. was -- that nomination was pulled. Moreover, there are other senior officials in the Trump administration whose jobs are on the chopping block who Trump administration officials tell me Stephen Miller the White House senior aide wants to get rid of them. Specifically, the General Counsel for the Department of Homeland Security and also the head of USCIS.

That's a lot of individuals whose jobs are either gone or perhaps about to be gone. And there's a lot of concern about why exactly this is happening?

HILL: Is -- are there any answers as to that why?

TAPPER: I think it's clear. President Trump said in terms of the I.C.E. Director, that nomination being pulled President Trump said he wanted to go in a tougher -- that's his words -- tougher direction. And Secretary Nielsen we know from our reporting that one of the ways she was clashing with President Trump was because President Trump was asking her and people in the Department of Homeland Security to carry out actions that are not legal.

I mean, not to put too fine a point on it. He's telling people, he told Customs and Border Patrol agents on Friday when he visited in California to stop letting asylum seekers in. Stop letting people in. Just tell them that there's no room. And whether you like the asylum laws or not, the asylum laws as they're written right now allow individuals from central America to come to the United States and declare asylum.

That's -- again, there's a policy discussion to be had about whether or not that should change, but that is the law on the books, and the idea that the President wants Secretary Nielsen and individuals with the customs and border patrol to stop carrying out what is their legally required to do, is extraordinary, in addition, as you know, the President himself when it comes to the child separation policy is the one that signed the order ending the policy.

Which, by the way, we should note even though Secretary Nielsen from Homeland Security was the face of it, it was a Jeff Session's policy initiated at the Department of Justice at the time. Again, that policy was endorsed by President Trump. Now he wants to put it back. There are a lot of people in the White House and the Department of Homeland Security pushing back and saying that's a bad idea. We're not legally able to do that.

That would be a public relations disaster. When they say they want a tougher direction, that's what we're hearing from people resisting from within the Trump administration.

[14:05:00] HILL: In terms of empowering Stephen Miller, is there the sense he's been given carte blanche? Because we have seen staffing purges before but the pace of this current one feels a little bit different. TAPPER: President Trump loves Stephen Miller. He's liked his hard- line immigration views since Stephen Miller came on board the campaign brought on board by now former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in, I think 2016. Stephen Miller has been a favorite of his all along. At the end of the day, whatever gets blamed on Stephen Miller, people should remember Miller is only as powerful as the man who is empowering him which is President Trump.

And the bottom line is President Trump likes Stephen Miller's views on these issues. Likes Stephen Miller's position and hard line views on these issues. And so, I don't know that he has a carte blanche. I don't think anybody has a carte blanche, not even President Trump, but President Trump is certainly allowing him to steer immigration policy, feeling very much that this is the policy that got him elected in 2016. Feeling very much that his supporters are demanding this.

Are demanding that he be tougher on this issue. And that is why the threats to close the border and so on.

HILL: It's one thing to move people out who don't fit with the direction that Stephen Miller or the President want to take immigration policy. It's another thing to have these vacancies and need to fill them. Is there any concern based on what you're hearing within the White House about how difficult that may be moving forward?

TAPPER: Let me say that administration-wise, so without getting specific as to what building people, I'm talking to are sitting in, administration-wise, there is a concern. Obviously, look, there is a humanitarian crisis at the border, period. Full stop. It's not 100,000 members of MS-13 coming into the country. It's 100,000 individuals fleeing poverty, fleeing gangs, fleeing violence, trying to make a better life.

Whatever the reason, coming to this country through the asylum laws in this country, and most of them are more of them than in the past, are families. And the U.S. simply does not have the capacity right now to deal with that crisis. And so that's a problem. So yes, of course. To have a crisis like this, not to mention terrorism, not to mention cyber terrorism which are also rather important parts of the department of homeland securities bailiwick, have somebody running the agency who is not necessarily up to speed on the full breadth.

No matter how skilled the commissioner of CBP is, he's going to have to be brought up to speed on the issue. And then you have all these vacancies. The Secret Service Director asked to leave. The I.C.E. Director nomination pulled. All the senior leadership I mentioned earlier today. So Yes, of course, not to mention, of course, there are all these individuals who have not been confirmed yet by the Senate such as the Pentagon -- Secretary of Defense and so on.

And so Yes, there is a real crisis in terms of staffing here in the fact that you have all these vacancies and pending vacancies for a job protecting the citizens of the United States that is the most important job for our President of the United States.

HILL: That's so important as you point out. That job in terms of Homeland Security, as you pointed out is not just about immigration and what's happen agent the border but so much broader than that. Jake, good to see you and we'll see you on "The Lead" at 4:00.

TAPPER: Thank you.

Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. What more are you hearing from inside the walls behind you?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There's a lot of surprise about the Secret Service Director. People were not expecting that. The President picked him to lead the agency. There have been so many questions about the performance after the woman carrying the Chinese passports and the flash drive with malware was accused of illegally entering the President's own club in Palm Beach.

There are questions about that. You have to look at the overarching element. The person that Alles reports to, Kirstjen Nielsen, is also on her way out after being forced to resign yesterday after she came face to face with President Trump for what our sources say was about a half hour meeting where she was not intending on resigning but the President was insistent that she do so.

[14:10:00] We're being told we're expecting more resignations in part because of Stephen Miller who is pushing for other officials including the general counsel of the department to leave. Now, the one that could be the most imminent is Claire Grady. She's the Acting Deputy at DHS and technically she's the one who would take over for Nielsen when she resigns officially on Wednesday.

But Trump said in his tweet yesterday he wants Kevin McAleenan the CBP Commissioner to take over as the Acting DHS Secretary. And technically she's the one who would take over for Nielsen when she resigns officially on Wednesday. For him to do that, Grady has to go. Sources are telling us she's going to be forcing the administration to fire her by Wednesday.

Whether that happens today or at the last minute on Wednesday is still an open question. But clearly, we're seeing a President who is very frustrated with immigration right now. He not only at the last minute pulled his nomination to lead ICE.

But now he doesn't have a DHS Secretary. All this is really with the bigger backdrop. The President is becoming more and more frustrated about immigration, but Erica, the question is what is that going to change? McAleenan is not seen as a hard-line immigration guy. People are wondering if he's going to be the person the President is pleased with leading that or if he's any different from Nielsen when she was there.

HILL: There is also the separate issue that Tapper brought up. There's the fact that the laws don't change no matter who is in that role. Kaitlan, thank you.

Also coming into CNN new details about the security breach at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. The woman arrested for lying her way inside was just in court for a detention hearing. Prosecutors claim the woman can't be trusted and is a flight risk. At the time of her arrest, she was allegedly carrying four cell phones, two Chinese passports and a thumb drive containing malware. Our justice reporter is in west palm beach. They found more key evidence when they searched her hotel room? What was that?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. This is what's making this more interesting. This was already interesting given what she had on her, the four cell phones, the malware, but now we're learning the investigators when they went to her hotel room in palm beach, they found a signal detector. This is how prosecutors are describing. It's a signal detector used to detect hidden cameras. They also say they found nine USB drives inside her hotel rooms.

Five SIM cards for cell phones. They found about $7500 in $100 bills in U.S. currency and they also found a Chinese money in her hotel room as well. They found several credit cards. Obviously, all of this begs the question of what was she doing here? What was her purpose in going to Mar-a-Lago? When you think about everything that she had on her, all the items that investigators have found, you have to suspect that she is some kind of spy at this point.

Federal prosecutors are not indicating in any way what she was doing here. They're still investigating. The Secret Service -- there are also FBI agents sitting in the courtroom. They are now investigating this as well for a counterintelligence purposes to see if she was sent here by the Chinese.

But nonetheless, when you go through everything that was found in her hotel room, it certainly is puzzling and something that would be disturbing for investigators trying to figure out if she was sent here to try to spy or do something at Mar-a-Lago. Prosecutors are in court arguing that she should not be released because she is a flight risk. She was here on a visa, a tourist visa, they say. That has been revoked.

Even if she was to be released, she would not be able to leave jail. Just a couple more things about her. I was in court when she walked in. She's wearing a blue jail jump suit. Her arms were handcuffed. They were shackled to her waist. And she is described as someone who while she does not speak English fluently, she does understand English. There's an interpreter in court for her. She has long black hair, and she was sitting there. At times she appeared cold.

She was shivering. She's been sitting in court taking notes and listening to prosecutors lay out some of the evidence.

HILL: Fascinating. As you share more of that with us, thank you. And we'll speak with a former CIA officer coming up.

Plus, just ahead in this hour, a major development in a case closely tied to the Russia probe. The details on what happened in court today with the department who has reportedly been very valuable to the special counsel's investigation.

[14:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HILL: Just in to us, a major development in a case closely tied to the Russia probe. Lobbyist asked a judge for no jail time. He pleaded guilty for Acting as an unregistered foreign agent. He has links to Paul Manafort and worked for the Russian man believed to have ties to Russian intelligence, documents show. He had just had the court papers filed. Give us the details.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That's right. Sam Patten's lawyer filed his court documents today asking for leniency seeking no jail time at all for his crimes that he had pleaded guilty to. His lawyer goes through this filing and there's also a letter from Sam Patten himself.

[14:20:00] He says that some of -- that he committed these crimes not because he was politically motivated or trying to secretly funnel money into the Trump campaign.

In fact, his lawyer says that Patten did not support Donald Trump and voted for his rival. But Patten submits a letter on his own behalf and says he was too eager to please his client, the Ukrainian oligarch. He used an American to buy tickets to the inauguration.

That's illegal. You can't have a foreign money come into the inauguration. Prosecutors also filed their report in which they said that Patten should receive a limited sentence. They said he should receive leniency for substantial cooperation in the investigation and specifically they say Patten has served as a valuable resource for the government in a number of other criminal investigation providing helpful information about entities.

Patten's cooperation began long before he pleaded guilty in august and he met with investigators at least nine times to provide information. Additional details about the extent of the cooperation which is detailed in filings like this won't be made public. Prosecutors say that will be submitted under seal because of the ongoing investigations. This tees up to the sentencing on Friday where he asked for no jail sentence and prosecutors say they will submit this 5K1 letter which is an indication they want leniency citing Patten's substantial assistance.

The U.S. attorney's office said this case was referred to them from the special counsel's office. We don't see then weighing in on this filing but in this whole investigation, the special counsel's office has only submitted a 5K letter for Michael Flynn the former National Security Adviser, so this is a significant development that investigators believe this cooperation has been so substantial he should receive limited to no jail time.

HILL: Wow. Interesting development. Kara with the latest for us. Thank you.

More on our breaking news this hour. The President firing both his Homeland Security Secretary and the Director of the Secret Service. What this could mean for the chaos inside the White House. It's one of the more controversial policies of the Trump presidency. Why would President Trump be pushing to bring back family separations at the border? We'll discuss that ahead. [14:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen forced out of the White House that's taking an increasingly hard line stance on immigration. Stephen Miller is at the center of it all. Miller's influence with Trump is growing. Sources say Trump recently empowered Miller to take control of all things related to immigration and the border. The announcement coming during a recent oval office meeting with other

key aides.

Gabby Orr as a White House reporter for "Politico" who just cowrote an article on Miller and joins us now. Good to see you. As we look at Stephen Miller leading the charge here, it beg the question, and this really came up as I was reading in your piece, you have a quote from someone who is close to Nielsen who said ,"they failed with the courts and with Congress, and now they're eating their own."

What is Miller's end game?

GABBY ORR, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "POLITICO": Miller is pushing for more and more personnel changes. He essentially wants to shape this administration to carry out his ideal immigration agenda. That means he is looking to push out folks who are not only at DHS but potentially at other agencies that play some role in combatting the flow of unauthorized immigration across the border or dealing with aid that is going to some central and Latin American countries.

His end goal essentially is to serve as the immigration czar President Trump has talked about wanting to install in his administration. And he's doing that by quietly talking to officials as we reported yesterday. He's been making phone calls over the past weeks to individuals at DHS but also at the State Department. And elsewhere inside the administration.

Sort of discussing the work performance of some of their colleagues, talking about what more they could do just on their own outside of Congressional action to address the situation at the border. And he's encountering a lot of resistance. We talked to a few immigration groups today who tend to promote less immigration at the border both legal and illegal, and they have said they are not on board with pushing certain people out, one of them being the current head of U.S. citizen and immigration services being targeted by Stephen Miller.

HILL: What's fascinating in all of this is the fact that there's more of this push for the hard-line immigration stance that's being led by Stephen Miller. As we look at the direction, he wants to take Homeland Security in particular, it's a far more broad agency than just dealing with immigration and border. There's cyber terrorism among other issues. Are those issues no longer as important to this administration? Is it simply immigration the way I want it or bust?

[14:30:00] ORR: Well, it's a great point. One of the reasons why Secretary Nielsen was often the subject of criticism from both Stephen Miller and other immigration hawks is because she focused too much on items like cyber security as opposed to closing the flow of immigration across the southern border and ending other problems that are happening down there. If Stephen Miller had his way, immigration would probably be the top priority which it already seems it is under this administration.

And that would come at the expense of some of these other issues that an agency like the homeland security department does handle, and we know from our reporting that Secretary Nielsen because she focused so much on other issues like cyber security, which was a top priority for her actually this year if she had stayed on as Homeland Security Secretary, that was one of the reasons that really led to her departure.

HILL: Gabby, great to have you with us. Thank you.


HILL: We were just talking about President Trump as we talk about all the things happening with immigration, we've learned about the President's desire to actually reinstate that controversial family separation policy.