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Trump Fires Secret Service Director as Woman Accused in Mar-a- Lago Breach Appears in Court; Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Discusses Trump Firing Secret Service Director, DHS Secretary's Forced Resignation, Family Separations at Border; Trump Fires Secret Service Director Hours after DHS Secretary's Forced Resignation. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 8, 2019 - 13:30   ET



[13:34:30] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Back to our breaking news. President Trump has ordered the dismissal of the Secret Service director.

This, as the woman accused in that breach at Mar-a-Lago just appeared in court.

I want to bring in CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, and CNN political director, David Chalian (sic).

Shimon, first to you. Tell us what you know.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: She is appearing right now. You'll remember she was arrested, brought here to court last week after the Secret Service found her. She was on the property at Mar-a-Lago, and when they interviewed her they say she lied, so she's been charged with lying to the Secret Service.

[13:35:07] We're learning a lot more information today about her from the prosecutor who was just talking in court. He describes her as being essentially a liar, that at every point during this investigation when she's been questioned, she's lied,.

And here's what they found in her hotel room. She was staying at the Colony Hotel here in Palm Beach. They say they found over $7,500 in $100 bills in U.S. currency. They then say they found nine USB drives, five SIM cards. They also say that they found a signal detector in her hotel room, which the prosecutor said is used to detect hidden cameras. Unclear, obviously, why she would need any of this. But this is all getting even more bizarre and more puzzling as prosecutors and the phone now also involved in this case are trying to figure out exactly what she was doing here, what she went to Mar-a- Lago for. Remember, they also found on her a USB drive that prosecutors say had malware on it. They found four cell phones, a laptop. But then when they started doing search warrants, when they went to her hotel room, they found even more stuff. So obviously, this is still ongoing. And the purpose of today's hearing is that prosecutors want her detained. They say she had a visa, a tourist visa to come to the U.S. from China. She flew through Newark. She flew into Newark Airport and then she came to Florida. That visa, they say, the State Department has revoked that visa. So there's an immigration detainer on her, so even if she was to be let out today she would not be released.

However, there's still a lot more going on in this investigation, and we could see new charges against her before the end of the week, prosecutors say.

Right now, on the stand is a Secret Service agent who spoke to her, who saw her at Mar-a-Lago. He's being questioned by defense attorneys about their interaction, exactly what she said to them.

But essentially, what we have here at this point is that prosecutors say she has lied about everything. She's lied as to why she's here. She has lied to investigators. And in really, it's all about now trying to figure out exactly why she was here. And certainly, when you hear about all the different items that she had, these computers, SIM cards, credit cards, all the cash that she had with her, a signal detector to determine hidden cameras, this becomes a lot more puzzling and, certainly, certainly, interesting as we move forward here and really for the FBI who now are also involved in this investigation -- Brianna?

KEILAR: So it begs the question, is she a foreign operative. Is she a Chinese spy? And where is the answer to that question at this point?

PROKUPECZ: Right. At this point, we don't have an answer. But you're right, Brianna. It does paint a picture of someone who would be here for suspicious reason, right? It could be that she came here as a spy. Prosecutors are not saying that. They will not go into specific details about her ties to China. They say she has absolutely no connection to the United States. She does not have any family here. She has no friends here. She's here on her own. She was staying in Palm Beach at the Colony Hotel.

And certainly, very suspicious, because what they are saying is they found even more items that would indicate that perhaps she was on some kind of a spy mission. When you think about a signal detector, they say, to detect hidden cameras, nine USB drives that they found in her hotel room, five SIM cards for phones. She already had four cell phones on her so these are additional SIM cards that could be used in this phone. The fact that she flew here from China and went to Newark Airport. She did get a tourist visa, so that's going to be certainly questions that are going to be asked of the State Department as to, how did they issue this visa to her.

But all the items, when you think about everything that they have found in her hotel room, what they found on her, and how she has, what they say, prosecutors say, has lied to investigators time and time again when they have questioned her, certainly begs the question, is she a spy and was she sent her by someone to perhaps -- I mean, the concern has been this malware that they found on her when they intercepted her at the hotel. What was she going to do with that malware? Was it to be delivered into the system of the hotel, into their wi-fi system, into their computer system? It's very unclear. But when you think about everything, it certainly does beg the question, was she a spy.

KEILAR: Sure does.

Shimon Prokupecz, thanks so much for bringing us those very new important details.

Let's talk to New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee.

I want to talk to you first about the Secret Service director who reports to the Homeland Security secretary who is now out. What's your reaction of the president getting rid of the Secret Service director?

[13:40:03] SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN, (D-NH): Well, hi, Brianna. It's good to be with you.

Look, as your reporting just made clear, we face serious national security threats, and it is very concerning now with this reporting that the director of Secret Service is leaving. It indicates even more turnover and turmoil at an agency that absolutely needs to be running at full speed as we deal with threats, from international and domestic terrorism to cybersecurity to drug trafficking. And so I'm very concerned about this news.

KEILAR: The president just forced Nielsen out the door, as I mentioned. So as he did that, a source is telling CNN that the president wanted to reinstate the controversial family separation program, which was something that Nielsen had pushed back on. What's your reaction to the president wanting to reinstate this separation of families at the border that's been so controversial?

HASSAN: Well, first of all, let's be clear that Kirstjen Nielsen will be remembered now as the person who implemented this outrageous and inhumane policy of separating children from their families at our border. We do have serious challenges at the border to be sure. But we also have broader challenges on the Homeland Security front, ones that I mentioned just a minute ago, international and domestic terrorism, cybersecurity, drug trafficking. And we're seeing an increasing need for FEMA to respond to more severe and larger natural disasters. So at a time when we need to be focusing on those challenges, again, we see turnover at the top, and we see the president reportedly reconsidering doing something that is totally inhumane and really undermines American values, separating children from their families at the border. I've been to the border. I was just there last year talking with our frontline personnel. What they tell us they need is more personnel, more immigration judges, more roads, enhanced fencing and technology in certain places. Those are the things that we should be focusing on. And we need a new secretary of Homeland Security who will stand up to the president when necessary to uphold the rule of law and the American values that have made us so strong

KEILAR: You mentioned all of the priorities besides border security that fall under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security.

HASSAN: Right.

KEILAR: But it's the Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who is the new acting Homeland Security secretary.

HASSAN: Right.

KEILAR: So moving someone with such an emphasis in border security into that role, what are your concerns when it comes to cybersecurity and that list of other priorities that you mentioned?

HASSAN: Well, I'm most concerned there continues to be turnover and turmoil at the agency. In the first 15 years of the agency's existence, under Presidents Bush and Obama, there were only four permanent secretaries of Homeland Security. And in two years of the Trump administration, we've seen two permanent secretaries depart and we're on our second acting secretary. That's not good for the hardworking men and women at the front lines at the Department of Homeland Security, whether at the border or at our airports, whether it's in so many of the other areas where we need to be using smart and effective tools to keep our country safe. And so I just -- I'm looking forward to and expecting to meet with and question the president's eventual nominee to be secretary of Homeland Security. And I want to hear from them how they will address these priorities, if they have the experience and the character not only to address these priorities but, again, to stand up to this president and some of his advisers who seem so focused on programs and policies that really undermine who we are as Americans. I come back to the separation of children from their families. We can keep our country strong. We can address our Homeland Security challenges without hurting children.

KEILAR: Senator, when you look -- the families separation policy has been so extensive in its execution because the people at the border largely are families with children. And as you know, everyone knows, it used to trend more towards single adult males. That's what the detention centers there are really geared towards, not geared towards family.

But listening to how the president is characterizing the problem and how his Customs and Border Protection deputy director is characterizing the problem.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of the roughest people you've ever seen, people that look like they should be fighting for the UFC.

ROBERT PEREZ, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, U.S. CUSTOMS & BORDER PROTECTION: The majority of the them coming are family units. More than half are family units, and what that has systemically done --

KEILAR: Sixty five percent, right?

ROBERT PEREZ: Sixty five percent, Brianna, exactly.


KEILAR: What's the effect of the president misrepresenting what's going on at the border, the crisis at the border?

[13:44:57] HASSAN: Well, it's very concerning to me that the president seems to be so focused on mischaracterizing. We just had a hearing in the committee on Homeland Security in the Senate just last week. And we heard from a number of experts who were very careful to say that there are - certainly, there are families coming with children, but there are other people who do, in fact, have legitimate claims, as some of these families do for asylum. And it really gets to a couple of things. First of all, it's important for your viewers to know that, even today, after the administration supposedly ended the policy of separating children, there are potentially thousands of children who haven't been reunited with their families. And the administration has said it could take years to reunite them, which is totally unacceptable. Secondly, it's real important to understand that we have to get to the root causes. Why are people fleeing the Central American countries like El Salvador and Honduras and Guatemala that they are coming from? And one of the things that we heard from experts last week was that some of the president's rhetoric and policies are actually exacerbating the problem because people from those countries aren't sure whether the border is going to remain open for asylum claims so they are accelerating their plans to make these difficult journeys. So I would hope that the administration returns to fact-based decision-making, listens to the people on the front lines, makes sure that we have policies that will keep us and honor our American values. But more than anything, also, continue to provide the kind of aid to those countries that helps them build strong economic infrastructure, strong law enforcement, really gets at the root causes that are causing people to flee those countries. We have to do that as well as secure our borders. I'm very concerned that the president and his advisers aren't focusing on those things and that they seem to be very focused on campaign promises rather than policies that will actually work.

KEILAR: Senator, thank you for being with us.

HASSAN: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: Senator Maggie Hassan, from New Hampshire.

We do have more on our breaking news. The president removing the head of the Secret Service, firing him. This is yet another ouster inside the administration.


[13:51:57] KEILAR: We have more now on our breaking news. First on CNN, President Trump has essentially fired the Secret Service director. This is coming hours after the forced resignation of the Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who the Secret Service director reports to.

Listen to what the president said about the Secret Service director just last week.


TRUMP: Secret Service is fantastic. These are fantastic people. I would say I could not be happier with Secret Service. Secret Service has done a fantastic job from day one. Very happy with them.


KEILAR: I want to bring in CNN justice reporter, Evan Perez, CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and CNN political director, David Chalian.

This is part of a larger thing going on with these ousters and potentially other ones that are coming. What do you make of this?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I think that around these immigration and security issues, the president is clearly indicating to us this is what he sees as his path to reelection in 2020, Brianna. That's what we're seeing. Stephen Miller, you have Evan and teams reporting this is all part of this near systemic purge in the Department of Homeland Security. There's reporting that Stephen Miller has more things he'd like to accomplish as the chief domestic policy adviser and this is the area of his focus. I read clearly Donald Trump thinks it's these issues that delivered him to the White House and he plans on utilizing these issues and setting up a team that he thinks is not soft on these issues going forward to try to get reelected.

KEILAR: Kirstjen Nielsen executed the family separation plan and having troops on the southern border. How is this someone who is soft on this issue for the president? Because that is how she is going to be remembered for her time as the DHS secretary.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And it was Jeff Sessions' policy, don't forget, that started all of this.

And I think it's your reporting, Evan, that he was being asked to do things that she thought was illegal, and that she couldn't do them. And there were constitutional issues.

And the president -- Evan can talk more about that -- but the president doesn't like to be told no. I mean, I just want to share with you some statistics I was looking at. Roughly, two out of three of the 18 senior-level advisers in this administration are gone. Now, this is over two years, a little more. And as for cabinet-level jobs, 11 departures. This is not the way governing is really done at the White House.

KEILAR: She -- Kirstjen Nielsen went before Congress and defended the policy as the -- this is just the administration following the letter of the law. This is just the way it's been done, which she was misrepresenting? EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: She was but --

KEILAR: But she was this loyal soldier --


[13:54:55] PEREZ: She was trying to be a good soldier, right. She was trying to be a good soldier for the president, trying as best she could to sing from the same song sheet. The problem was, increasingly, there were clashes and, increasingly, she was pushing back at the president and, in some cases, visibly in front of other people. One of the clashes I was told about recently had to do with the president pushing for Homeland Security Department to reinstate the child separation policy. That's the policy you were talking about. Kirstjen Nielsen wasn't really behind it. It was the brain child of Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions but she had to endorse it and put it into place. This was one of those examples where she finally said, look, we can't do that. First, there are courts looking at this. There a lot of political damage from it. The president rescinded the policy, don't forget. I think that's what is going on behind the scenes. I was told that -- by one official -- that the president just fundamentally does not understand the limitations, constitutionally, under the law, that not just him but every president has on the border and immigration.

CHALIAN: Politically, I can't stress enough about this policy. You remember last June when this was front pages everywhere, the images were across. I could not find a Republican operative working on 2018 races that didn't say to me, of all the noise, of all the stuff that the press covers about Donald Trump, this is the thing that bottomed us out. More so than the Helsinki press conference with Putin or the comparison to John McCain and his death. This policy was something that totally resonated with the American public in a way that led to 41 seats being flipped to Democrats and the Democrats winning control. When you say there are political cross currents, it's so much that his own daughter, Ivanka Trump, was critical about getting him to sign the rescinding of it. And now he's looking to implement something that every Republican thought was touching just a toxic thing in American politics.

KEILAR: Add to that his health care position, which he has since changed, but Republicans freaked out about the idea that, hey, we're going to get rid of Obamacare through the courts and come up with another plan. Those things together, which seem to have a blind spot to which Republicans need electorally, aside from maybe President Trump, what does that tell you?

BORGER: It tells you, number one, that he's thinking about himself and not the Republican Party. But I just got off the phone with somebody who has known Trump for decades. What this source said to me is all of this, and it's sort of interesting, given what we're talking about now, has to do with his level of entertainment of himself. That means he's doing the opposite of what everyone suggests, and then showing, I was right. So this is -- the source says -- and who has known Trump for some time -- says this is what's going on through his own mind. You tell him he can't do something and he'll say to you, oh, yes, I can, and don't worry about the legality of it, don't worry about the norms, don't worry about the Republican Party, I'm telling you, this is going to work.

CHALIAN: I will say our last poll, last month, had the president's approval rating on immigration at 39 percent. One of the lower issues that we tested for him. But among Republicans, again, like we see with the overall approval rating, 87 percent support among Republicans for his immigration policies.

KEILAR: That's huge.

You, guys, stand by for me. We'll have more on this.

Plus, new details on the breach at Mar-a-Lago.