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Nielsen Nudged Out; Growing Trump Vacancies; New Strategy to get Trump's Tax Returns; Mueller Witnesses Worry About Release of Testimony; Tony Blinken is Interviewed on Israel and Iran Named Terror Organization; Trump Removing Secret Service Director. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 8, 2019 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: We don't know. We're going to learn as we go. We don't know.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow.

Brianna Keilar starts "RIGHT NOW." Have a great day.


I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, survivor White House claims yet another name. And Stephen Miller wants to vote even more officials off the island.

Plus, as an administration source says the president is growing more unhinged, we're now learning that he's been pushing to reinstate family separations.

The White House says Democrats will never see the president's tax returns, but I'll speak with one New York lawmaker who says he's figured out a way to get them.

And on the eve of Israel's elections, one 2020 contender calls Benjamin Netanyahu a racist as the prime minister makes a big threat.

And we start with President Trump increasingly upset and his one senior administration official put it, quote, unhinged over the immigration situation. Now that led to the Sunday surprise, the forced resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. She had become the public face of the president's border bashing, but apparently couldn't carry out what a senior administration source calls the president's unreasonable and impossible requests.

She's going to be replaced now by Kevin McAleenan, who was the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. And, remember, he's the one who last month declared that the southern border was at the breaking point. Two days later, the president threatened to close the border. Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

Tell us about these developments. What happened here, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, Secretary Nielsen was not intending on resign when she came to the White House yesterday, but during that face-to-face with President Trump, he was intent on demanding her resignation. And that is why she is now leaving.

Now, this comes as the president has been increasingly frustrated with immigration in recent days, blaming Nielsen for the spike in border crossings and also, as you noted, reviving the idea of reinstating that family separation policy, that policy that the president ended last year with an executive order, and debating bringing that back.

Now, Stephen Miller, a key economic -- or, excuse me, immigration adviser to the president in the West Wing certainly played a critical role in Nielsen's ouster. He wasn't the only person who was against her. So was John Bolton, the national security adviser. And she butted heads with Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff. But he played a critical role in pushing her out. And we're also told by sources that he wants to get rid of several other people that are currently at the Department of Homeland Security.

Right now one big question is, who is going to be leading that department because you noted that President Trump says he wants Kevin McAleenan, the CBP commissioner, to take over for Nielsen when she steps down officially on Wednesday. But there's someone standing in the way of that, Brianna, and that's Claire Grady, who right now is the acting deputy secretary. And, technically, she's in line to take over.

Now, sources I spoke to this morning said she has no intention of resigning in the coming days. So essentially she's going to be forcing the administration to fire her so that Kevin McAleenan can take over on Wednesday.

So, Brianna, that hasn't happened yet, but we are keeping our years to the ground waiting to see what is going to happen next and who it is that's going to be in charge of DHS.

KEILAR: All right, Kaitlan Collins on the North Lawn there. Thank you so much.

Now, this departure of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen highlights the concern about the large number of vacancies that are in the Trump administration. By the end of the week, there's actually going to be seven high-level positions with acting officials in charge. And that includes the Defense Department, the Interior Department, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, White House chief of staff, and now you have the Department of Homeland Security director.

Now, the president considers this -- or I should say the director of Homeland Security. The president considers this a potential benefit actually rather than

a problem.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I sort of like acting. It gives me more flexibility, do you understand that? I like acting.


KEILAR: I like acting.

All right, senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown is with us.

He likes acting.


KEILAR: But there are a lot of people who have concerns about there being so many actings.

BROWN: Exactly. In fact, one source within DHS said that, look, it's exasperating. There are now at least three positions in the Department of Homeland Security now of high-level positions where the officials are in an acting capacity. And what I think that that does is lead to sort of a sense of less stability inside, less stability, not knowing what's next. In fact, even in this situation, as Kaitlan pointed out, you have an acting deputy secretary who is supposed to be next in line but instead the CBP chief is, according to the president, going to be put there as the acting secretary. So there's just a lot of confusion, Brianna.

The president clearly likes it because it gives him flexibility, and as we all know, he likes flexibility. But within these agencies, particularly DHS, which is important to focus on because DHS is, of course, overseeing the president's priority on immigration, there are so many roles within DHS that haven't been filled and now with Kirstjen Nielsen gone, resigning, this just leaves -- this makes the problem even worse, Brianna.

[13:05:21] KEILAR: And the reason that you have these actings is -- in part because there's so much turnover. How's that affecting things?

BROWN: It's affecting things in a big way. Basically there is this cascade effect because turnover is historically high in the Trump administration. Sort of like a game of "Survivor." I think you pointed it out. I mean you look across the administration. Just the -- the White House communications director, there have been five. And I do think that this gives a sense of chaos within the administration, within these different agencies. But at the same time, that is not something that the president is bothered by, clearly. One after another we're seeing people resigning, being fired, being pushed out, nominations withdrawn as we saw with the ICE director last week.

KEILAR: Right. BROWN: And, you know, I think what we're -- we're going to see moral of the same. Jake Tapper, my colleague, is reporting that Stephen Miller, who is now taking more of a leading role at the White House on immigration, wants even more firings in DHS and on the immigration front. So it looks like there's going to be more to come, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Pamela Brown, we'll talk about it when there is.


KEILAR: Thank you so much for that report.

And the White House is defying Democrats' efforts to see the president's tax returns.

Also, rewriting history. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney says voters knew the president would never release them and he said it will never happen. Listen to this.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Keep in mind, they knew they were -- they are not going to get these -- 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 and not (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.


KEILAR: So actually Trump said repeatedly he would release his taxes. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I decide to run for office, I'll produce my tax returns, absolutely.

I'm release when we're finished with the audit.

I will release my tax returns, against my lawyer's wishes, when she released her 33,000 e-mails.

I'll release them when the audit's completed.

As soon as that's finished, whenever that make, and hopefully it's going to be before the election. I'm fine with it.


KEILAR: Well, my next guest is hoping to have the final say on Trump's taxes, at least his state taxes. We have a New York State Senator Brad Hoylman with us.

Thank you for coming on.

BRAD HOYLMAN (D-NY) STATE SENATOR: Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: So you've introduced a bill that would make the returns, the last five years of all politicians who are running in New York State public. So how would that work with making the president's tax returns public?

HOYLMAN: Well, I've introduced legislation that would require those returns to be released to the public. New York state has that authority to do so.

I've also introduced legislation that would require those returns be released only to the congressional investigating committee making such a request.

KEILAR: OK. But a lot of people would say that it could very easily become public if it goes to a congressional investigating committee. What would you say to that?

HOYLMAN: Well, I think there are certainly protections in place in our U.S. Congress to keep that information private. And what's more important is that we stand by the important principle that Congress is a co-equal branch of government and has that important oversight responsibility. New York state is in a unique position to assist Congress in that regard.

KEILAR: So how does this work then? Does this work retroactively? Would you have to wait until the president files for re-election? How would this work?

HOYLMAN: No. Here's the thing. If we pass this legislation that would enable the State Department of Taxation and Finance to release those taxes to the House Ways and Means Committee, that could happen as soon as the bill was passed. It's so important that Chairman Neal has made that request to federal authorities, but now, as you understand, and as all of the American public knows, they're being rebuffed at every turn by Trump administration officials. We could officially -- effectively, rather, avoid a constitutional showdown by New York providing those returns to the Congressional House and Ways Committee.

KEILAR: Do you worry about the politicization of the tax process here, even at the state level in New York?

[13:10:02] HOYLMAN: Well, let's be clear, the State Department of Taxation and Finance in New York has cooperated with other states, with the federal government and other governmental entities in providing the tax returns of New Yorkers for decades. So this, in one respect, is nothing new.

What is new is that we would be working with congressional investigative committees to provide those tax returns to them.

KEILAR: What -- what are you looking -- what are you looking for, the president's actual net worth, where his money comes from, if he's paid the proper amount of taxes? What would you be interested in?

HOYLMAN: Well, I think, you know, we're all taxpayers, so we all want to know that the man who holds the highest office in the land is not benefiting personally from his business operations, nor is his family. That's an important principle that has been in place for decades, and now this president has essentially thumbed his nose at a long held tradition that so many Americans look to, to make certain that the president is operating within the confines of the law.

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

HOYLMAN: Thanks.

KEILAR: So now to the waiting game over the Mueller report. Attorney General Bill Barr tells Congress he is well along in making redactions to the report before releasing it the middle of the month, if not sooner was what he said. Democrats are demanding a full, un-redacted version.

And in the meantime, current and former Trump administration officials who cooperated with the special counsel are increasingly anxious about what will be revealed.

We have chief national correspondent John King with us. He is, of course, the anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS."

What are these Mueller witnesses worried about?

KING: Well, first, they're waiting to see exactly what happens. Will the whole Mueller report go to Congress? What will be redacted? And, will the Democrats get what they're demanding, the working papers. It's that that their current and former officials are more worried about the working papers.

Remember, have you high-profile people like Reince Priebus, like Don McGahn, the former White House council, Reince Priebus is a former chief of staff, John Kelly, former chief of staff. You also have a lot of past and present officials whose names the American people don't know who cooperated with the special counsel. They were told to tell the true.

A lot of them who say they fiercely defended the president, did talk about his work habits, did talk about his foul language, did talk about the way he said, let's get rid of Comey, let's get rid of Sessions, let's get rid of Rod Rosenstein, why can't we fire Bob Mueller. And they're worried that if the interview transcripts make their way up to Capitol Hill, or if they're cited in the Mueller report, that the president will either read that, even if they said good things about the president, he's going to read the bad things or the things he thinks are bad --

KEILAR: Right.

KING: And that he's going to, in the words of one official I talked -- one person I talked to who's talked to a number of these people, I talked to a couple over the weekend, a person I talked to has talked to a bunch more, says there are worries he's going to go bonkers because, a, it's just going to remind him that some of his staff members spent hours with the special council, the guy he says is a witch hunt.

KEILAR: And with the -- with the questions they were asked, they might not have a choice of -- if they're answering honestly, then they have -- they don't choose the questions, right?

KING: They don't choose the questions and they say, among the things they were asked about, is, you know, what was the president's intention? And, again, a lot of them say he was blowing off steam. A lot of them say maybe he didn't get the rules. But a lot of them also concede that he used foul language and he said very derogatory things about people involved in this investigation, whether it's Comey or Rosenstein or Mueller himself.

KEILAR: So the attorney general, Bill Barr, is going to be testifying this week, which is, of course, going to be very interesting. This is a House panel on Tuesday. Senate committee on Wednesday. And the focus is really supposed be to the budget needs of the Justice Department, which --

KING: Good luck.

KEILAR: I just don't know if that's what it's going to be.

KING: No, look, there are legitimate questions about a lot of things.


KING: And Democrats want to talk about voting rights. Republicans wants to talk about enforcement of a whole lot of things. But, guess what, he's going to get pressed and pushed, where are you on this process? Where are you? You've been reading the entire Mueller report. You've been working with the special council. You're trying to agree on -- agree on redactions. You're trying to agree on a public product. Then there's still the Democrats have the continue to push on their questions. They say they haven't gotten the right answers or good answers or even answers that they understand on the full work product.

So, sure, he's going to be sitting there to testify about the budget. It's going to wander away from that. It won't just be Democrats. Some Republicans as well. But the Democrats are going to push hard on the transparency question. And there's at least one Democratic 2020 hopeful on one of the committees, Tim Ryan is on the House Appropriations Committee, watch him. He's been trying to have a breakthrough moment. He just got into the race. So, guess what, there will be gambling in the casino in politics in the testimony.

KEILAR: Wow, yes, and these -- I mean these hearings have been, for those breakthrough moments as we've seen. So we'll keep an eye on that.

KING: Haven't seen much of him on Capitol Hill. So it will be interesting to see if he took the job. KEILAR: A very good point.

John King, thank you so much.

And we'll have more on the forced resignation of the Homeland Security secretary as we learn the president recently pushed to reinstate family separations.

Also, Beto O'Rourke calls Benjamin Netanyahu a racist, as Israel's prime minister makes a controversial promise on the eve of the Israeli elections.

[13:15:07] And breaking today, the Trump administration just escalated the standoff with Iran as it names the elite military force a terror organization.


KEILAR: Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke is calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu racist for promising to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if he is re- elected. This is a pledge that Netanyahu is making on the eve of a national election in Israel. And this was O'Rourke's response.


BETO O'ROURKE (D), 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The U.S.-Israel relationship is one of the most important relationships that we have on the planet.

[13:20:02] And it must be able to transcend a prime minister who is racist as he warns about Arabs coming to the polls, who wants to defy any prospect for peace as he threatens to annex the West Bank, and who has sided with a far right racist party in order to maintain his hold on power.


KEILAR: We have Tony Blinken with us. He was the deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration. And when you -- when you hear Beto O'Rourke speaking like that, it's -- it's not what someone say is a nuanced approach to this. What was -- what was your reaction?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: There's a very big lane between on the one hand opposing the policies that Prime Minister Netanyahu adheres to and going for divestment, sanctions, name- calling. I think what Prime Minister Netanyahu is, is really an opportunist, because this is the eve of an election and this is a desperate play to shore up his base. It's --

KEILAR: It's a hail Mary to you.

BLINKEN: He might use that term, the hail Mary, exactly, to get his base behind him, to get enough votes so that Likud finishes number one and he has the right to try to form the next government. He's done this before, these 11th hour, 12th hour efforts to try to swing an election.

KEILAR: When you look at how Democrats are talking about these issues on the campaign trail, using strong language like Beto O'Rourke used, do you worry that that plays into Republicans who are trying to tag Democrats even with -- because there is some criticism of Israel to be sure within the party, but Republicans are trying to tag them as anti- Semitic, trying to conflate some of the criticism of Israel and some would argue they're effectively doing this with, for instance, Ilhan Omar, the congresswoman, who had tweets that trafficked in anti- Semitic tropes. And they're trying to conflate these things. When you see someone like Beto O'Rourke talking in this way, does it play into that?

BLINKEN: Look, until recently, Israel has never been a partisan issue. It's always been a bipartisan issue. And I think what we've seen, unfortunately, is Republicans trying to turn it into a partisan issue.

The other night President Trump played into this dual allegiance idea by talking to an American idea of American Jews about your prime minister, Prime Minister Netanyahu. That's the same thing. Where's the criticism of him?

What this need to focus on is policy. And I think what you're seeing in Israel right now with this attempt by Prime Minister Netanyahu to try to pull the election out of a hat, talking about the annexation of the West Bank, that's what we should be focused on, what's the substantial of that policy. And the substance is not good. There's a lot of wiggle room in his language. And if he's re-elected, he may pull back from it.

But his own partners probably have him over a barrel because if he's re-elected, he wants legislation in the Knesset that would prohibit prosecuting a sitting prime minister. He's under three indictments. Now, his partners may say, OK, we'll back that bill, but in return you have to go forward with this idea of annexation of the West Bank. That's a very bad place to be.

KEILAR: The White House is officially announcing that the U.S. is going to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization. This is the first time that the United States has ever named -- it's part of another government, to be clear, that they've ever named part of another government as a foreign terrorist organization.

What does this do to the relationship with Iran and is this very problematic or not?

BLINKEN: You know, Brianna, successive administrations before this one have designated Iran a state sponsor of terrorism, they've sanctioned individual members of the IRGC. They've gone after companies that the IRGC has been affiliated with. But they've stopped short of actually sanctioning the IRGC itself, which as you rightly say, is part of the Iranian government. And there's a reason for that. Most previous administrations, including military and intelligence officials, concluded that the gain was not worth what we would risk if we went forward and did that. KEILAR: What's the risk?

BLINKEN: The risk is this, the Iranians have the ability to retaliate against our forces in Iraq and in Syria. They have militia in both countries. They could do that. They could take accepts in the Straits of Hormuz. Twenty-five percent of the world's oil flows through every single day.

And when folks looked at the designation of the IRGC itself, it's basically adding a label. It's not actually adding new sanctions. So it doesn't get you much. But what it does get you potentially is provoking a retaliation from the Iranians. And we concluded -- previous administrations concluded it just wasn't worth it.

What's really going on here is this. I think the administration's trying to provoke the Iranians to renege on their commitments to the nuclear agreement, which they've adhered to. And that's really what this is about, pressuring them, provoking them to get out of the deal. If that happens, though we're in a pretty terrible place because then we're faced with this really bad choice between allowing Iran to get the bomb or actually taking action against them and maybe starting a war.

KEILAR: That is a terrible choice.

BLINKEN: Not a good place to be.

KEILAR: Tony Blinken, thank you so much.

We do have some breaking news. President Trump is looking to force another vacancy. And this time he wants the director of the Secret Service out.

We have our Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Let's go back to her. She's there on the North Lawn.

[13:25:04] This breaking just now. Tell us about -- about this, that the Secret Service director is going to be -- is being removed from his position according to multiple sources.

COLLINS: That's right, Brianna. One day after the Homeland Security secretary was forced to resign from her position, we are now learning that the Secret Service director, Randolph "Tex" Alles, is also being removed from his position.

Now, President Trump has instructed his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to fire Alles, but he still remains in this position, but we're told that while he's still there, though, he is being -- he is on the way out, Brianna, and they have asked him to leave the Secret Service.

Now, an official told CNN, quote, there is as near systematic purge happening at the nation's second largest national security agency because, of course, you can't ignore that this is coming -- the news of this is coming just one day after Kirstjen Nielsen walked into the White House yesterday, sat down with President Trump for about half an hour and he demanded her resignation as he's grown with immigration numbers in recent days.

This also comes, as we've being told by several other sources, that Stephen Miller, who is chief and critical in pushing out Nielsen, also wants several other DHS officials to leave DHS as well.

Of course, Brianna, you know, Secret Service falls under DHS, so this is, of course, under Nielsen's purview as she's still there leading the agency until Wednesday. But we are being told that now the Secret Service director is going to be removed from his position.

KEILAR: And we don't know at this point exactly what has prompted this firing, Kaitlan, but if your -- if you can check in with your sources, I want to bring in right now for analysis CNN law enforcement analyst and former Secret Service agent Jonathan Wackrow. He's joining me by phone.

What do you make of this, that this is someone who has does report to the ousted Homeland Security secretary, but what does this mean to you that the director of the Secret Service is being kicked out?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, what this is, it's actually, you know, following a pattern here. I mean everyone who was associated with, you know, the then chief the staff, General Kelly, including the outgoing DHS secretary, and now Director Alles, I mean there seems to be just a pattern here of cleaning house, anyone that was associated with General Kelly at that point in time.

In terms of, you know, the strategy for the Secret Service, if -- for this to happen now is probably the -- in terms of timing, the best that it could possibly happen wherein -- we're just prior to kicking off the 2020 campaign, presidential campaign, so having a new, fresh look at, you know, leading the Secret Service in terms of timing, this is probably the best timing, you know, possible. The director is then in position for just about two years. But, actually, he's failed to move the needle in terms of a lot of the reputational issues that the service had had in the past, a lot of managerial issues, so this is -- this is, I think, an appropriate call by the president to make at this time.

KEILAR: And there was also this issue of someone illegally entering Mar-a-Lago, right? They didn't get through obviously sort of to the inner ring of security, but this was a woman who was carrying Chinese passports, phones. She had a flash drive that contained malware. Do you see that playing into any of this or no?

WACKROW: You know, I think it's -- it's tangential to the overall issue that's plagued the Secret Service for a long time, which is, you know, the appropriate level of governance and oversight that came from the senior leadership that's pushed down into, you know, the operational execution for the service.

Again, listen, the Secret Service has some long-standing problems around people, process and technology. They have failed to, you know, have a solid strategy on how to address the very dynamic threat environment that the president faces by executing and encouraging, you know, the budget, the expansion, the expansion of technology. How do they keep pace with these growing, you know, global threats.

So I think that, you know, the director was the first outside leadership choice for the service in its, you know, well over 150-year legacy and there was a lot of hope that was built around that a new, fresh set of thinking would be brought in and management for the Secret Service. And, obviously, you know, we haven't seen the needle move at all during his tenure, and I think that this was an appropriate time as the direction is changing at DHS, you know, changing the direction of some of the components, you know, just falls in line with that.

KEILAR: All right, Jonathan Wackrow, former Secret Service agent, thank you so much.

And speaking of security concerns, we are just getting news on that Mar-a-Lago breach as the suspect appears in court right now. Stand by.