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Interview With Stacey Abrams; Trump Denies Renewal of Family Separation Policy; Israel Votes. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 9, 2019 - 15:00   ET



BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Felicity Huffman had a very lengthy statement about it. And they were going to face the consequences -- consequences when they go before a judge.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Brynn Gingras, thank you for the update.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me. We're live here in Washington, D.C. today.

And we begin, though, with this critical vote, polls right now closing in Israel. Voters there are essentially deciding whether to keep Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch ally of President Trump, in power for a record fifth term, or perhaps turn to one of his rivals, most notably an ex-general who co-founded the main opposition party -- that's the Blue and White Party -- just two months ago with one overriding purpose, to defeat the man many supporters refer to as King Bibi.

So let's begin with CNN's Oren Liebermann. He' in Tel Aviv at Netanyahu's headquarters.

And, Oren, what is the mood there? And what happens if this is, indeed, a close race?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, there are very much some nervous jitters here in Likud headquarters, the headquarters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party.

They don't know yet whether the event scheduled for tonight will be a celebration party, Netanyahu giving a victory speech in just a few hours, or whether this will be a concession speech. This has been a very close race throughout, and the last round of election polls showing that Netanyahu was behind a few seats. He has played that up as the underdog card, telling his voters they need to come out and vote, that his right-wing government is in danger of losing this, if they don't come out and vote.

And that, voter turnout, will be one of the key questions here, as well as how successful Netanyahu's effort to get that vote out has been. We have seen him post videos to Twitter, to Facebook in the last couple of hours, especially in this final weekend of campaigning, to try to make sure that vote has come out.

We are minutes away here perhaps from seeing those exit polls as they come in. And that will be our first indication of how this has gone and what the results are. And I have these now handed to me from Channel 12.

And this is a stunning result. It looks like, according to Channel 12, which is Israel's main newscaster, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suffered quite a defeat here, four seats behind his rival, his former chief of staff, Benny Gantz, the Blue and White Party, 37 to 33.

That is a major defeat to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he seeks a fifth term in office, as he seeks to become Israel's longest serving prime minister. If these exit polls are accurate -- and they are, I should point out, notoriously inaccurate historically -- we will certainly wait to see concrete results as they come in.

But if these exit polls are accurate, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suffered a major defeat here, 37 seats to his rival party, 33 seats for his. It does mean that Netanyahu was able to raise his number of seats from 30 to 33 with a furious get-out-the- vote campaign. But it doesn't seem to have made a difference.

If these numbers hold, his rival, his former chief of staff, Benny Gantz, has come out with 37 seats, a number Netanyahu has never had in his 13-year political career. Now, it's easy to look at these results and say, how did Netanyahu pull such a big number, despite the corruption investigations he's facing, despite the fact that his wife has already been indicted in a separate corrupt investigation?

But don't forget the added context here. For Netanyahu, this has been a golden age, with President Donald Trump basically openly campaigning for him and giving him political gifts in the weeks leading up to this election.

Two weeks ago, it was U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights. Right around then, it was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visiting the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem with Netanyahu, which was unprecedented.

And then, just over this past weekend, it was the U.S. designating Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror organization, Netanyahu even taking some credit for that. So it has come across as President Donald Trump openly campaigning for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to win.

But if the election polls hold at this point, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suffered a major defeat here to his rival, his former chief of staff, Benny Gantz.

I'm about to get a second exit poll here. It's being handed to me by my producer. And this shows a dead heat between the blocs, because, remember, it's not just a matter who has the biggest party here. It is a function of who can put together a governing coalition.

And according to the numbers as they stand now from Channel 12, who again has one of the most respected pollsters in the country, Netanyahu's right-wing bloc at 60, Gantz's center-left bloc also at 60, which means it will be a dramatic night of vote-counting, even if it's Gantz that's come out ahead.

Brooke, it's a long night ahead here, but Netanyahu suffered what appears to be a very big defeat, if the numbers hold.

BALDWIN: Got it. So, the latest numbers, 60 and 60. You have got a long night that ahead of you.

Oren Liebermann, we will stay in close contact. You're there at Netanyahu H.Q. in Tel Aviv.

Let's go to the opponent, to the chief opponent here, Benny Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White Party. He is the former chief of staff of Israel's military. He has used that to brand himself as the anti-Netanyahu, the anti-establishment political outsider.

So, for that, let's go to CNN's Michael Holmes. He's at the Blue and White's election night headquarters there in Tel Aviv.

And so, Michael, you tell me if those exit polls are trickling down to where you are and what the mood is.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, when that exit poll -- and it is only one exit poll -- let's be certain about that.

When that dropped and went up on that screen behind me, this place erupted, as you might imagine. People are chanting things like, who is the next prime minister, and they believe it is their guy.

There could be different results from different polls, exit polls. Let's be very clear about one thing. These exit polls are often unreliable. They our first pointer as to how this election might have gone.

Go back to 2015. They were wrong. So, with that caveat, this is still a stunning indication or pointer of how this election has gone. One other thing that is worth pointing out here is the two of the right-wing parties failed to meet the threshold.

You have got to get 3.25 percent of the vote to qualify for seats in the Knesset. Two of the right-wing parties that would have been Benjamin Netanyahu's allies in a coalition did not make that threshold.

All of the major left-wing parties, the ones that would support Benny Gantz and his Blue and White Party, they did make the threshold. That is going to be key as the counting goes on. Benjamin Netanyahu in recent days has tried to court votes away from right-wing parties, so that he would get a better head-to-head result with Benny Gantz.

We always said that could backfire. He could get a couple of seats from those parties, and push them along below the threshold. That seems to have happened. He got a short-term gain perhaps, but shot himself in the foot when it comes to the overall coalition building; 60-60 is a stunning result, if that holds firm, in terms of the coalition building.

It's a dead hate in the head to head. If that holds, a stunning victory for Benny Gantz and his supporters.

I keep coming back to this, though. These polls have in the past been inaccurate, and the hours ahead will tell us exactly what the more accurate toll is. But as I stand, it's our first pointer. There are different polls coming out as well.

Behind me, they are shouting the next P.M. is Benny Gantz. So, they're pretty confident themselves -- back to you.

BALDWIN: You can feel the excitement in the room. But you're right to caveat all those polls.

Michael Holmes, thank you very much, also in Tel Aviv.

Let's get some analysis.

CNN global affairs analyst Aaron David Miller is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

And so, all right, the night is young. These are just the first numbers coming in. What say you?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I mean, in November of 2016, I made a vow. I'm going to stop predicting the outcomes of elections.

And I think both Michael and Oren made the right point, that these exit polls have been notoriously wrong. In '09, they missed by six seats with the two largest parties, which initially gave Kadima Party, Netanyahu's opponent, the lead, and yet it turned out that he was able to put together a government.

But the signs are pretty bad for the prime minister. Number one, most analysts indicated, if it was a four- or five-point spread either way...


MILLER: ... that would mean that Gantz would have the first opportunity to be given the nod from the president of Israel to form a government.

And, second, the other bad indicator is the fact that a couple of these right-wing parties that Netanyahu needs to form a coalition apparently didn't make the 3.25 threshold. So both of those are indications that this is going to be extremely close. Not a done deal for Gantz yet.

I mean, remember, this is a guy who's never held elected office, not a politician, not a member of Knesset, not a government minister. He's inexperienced as a politician. But this -- if these polls hold, it's going to suggest that the indictment, the exhaustion factor, the fatigue factor with Netanyahu finally went out, and that four consecutive terms may be one too many.

BALDWIN: What about to Oren's point, though? And we have seen all the great big pictures on the sides of buildings in Israel with Donald Trump shaking Prime Minister Netanyahu's hand and openly basically campaigning for him.

Did that -- do you think that will help or hurt?

MILLER: Out of the three times the United States has tried to intercede in Israeli elections -- and I was around for two of those -- once under a Democratic president and once under a Republican president, we failed twice.

BALDWIN: Failed twice.

MILLER: And I think this basically shows that Tip O'Neill was absolutely right. All politics are inherently local.

This was a critical decision for the people of Israel to make, the parliamentary structure to make. And, apparently, they have created not only a bad headline for Mr. Netanyahu, but maybe a bad trend line too.

BALDWIN: Aaron David Miller, we appreciate you. Thank you very much for all of that.

MILLER: Thanks, Border Patrol

BALDWIN: And, of course, stand by. We will have much more on those results as they begin to trickle in.

Back here at home, a top Democrat says they will issue a subpoena for the full Mueller report, as the attorney general comes face to face with lawmakers since his controversial four-page summary.

Plus, President Trump insists he has no plans to restart the policy that led to mass separations of migrant families, despite reporting that suggests otherwise. We will take you live to the border.


And lawmakers grilling the treasury secretary about the request to release President Trump's tax returns. And Steve Mnuchin says he's not worried about getting fired if the request is granted.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


BALDWIN: Today saw the first face-off between Democratic lawmakers and Attorney General Bill Barr regarding the Mueller report.

And now a key lawmaker says a subpoena is indeed coming. We will get to that in just a second, but first to what we learned from the A.G., as House Democrats grilled him during an Appropriations Committee hearing.

Barr revealed that he -- his redacted version of the Mueller report will be ready for release -- quote, unquote -- "within a week," that special counsel Robert Mueller declined to review Barr's four-page summary of the Mueller report. Had the option. He declined.


And, then, when Barr releases this Mueller report, the redactions will be color-coded to explain why. But Barr also did some dodging.


REP. NITA LOWEY (D-NY): Did the White House see the report before you released your summarizing letter? Has the White House seen it since then? Have they been briefed on the contents beyond what was in your summarizing letter to the Judiciary Committee?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have said what I'm going to say about the report today.


BALDWIN: Moments ago, reacting to Barr's latest testimony, the Democrat in charge of the House Judiciary Committee saying that he will issue a subpoena to get that full unredacted Mueller report.


REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): Congress has need of the entire report, including the grand jury material, including all the -- any -- including everything.

And I presume we're going to get the redacted report within a week. When we do so, if we don't get everything, we will issue the subpoena and go to court.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He said there's nothing in the law that allows for Congress to get the grand jury information. He said, show me the provision in the law that shows...


NADLER: ... specific provision in the law. The courts have repeatedly, in analogous situations, given the Congress grand jury information.


BALDWIN: So let's start there.

With me now, CNN's Kara Scannell -- Kara Scannell -- and former federal prosecutor Joseph Moreno.

And so, Joe, let me start with you, because, on the Chairman Nadler point, obviously they want to get their eyes on every single word of this.

You say his -- his subpoena will not at all be a slam dunk. Why?

JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It's going to be an uphill battle.

Now, it's hard to say what's going to happen at the end here. We're seeing the limitations of where Congress could have owned this investigation, right? Congress could have done the investigation and owned the information that they gathered during the process.

Instead, this was an executive branch investigation, effectively a Department of Justice investigation. Congress is now saying they're going to reach into the executive branch and pluck out that information. Executive branch is saying, wait a minute, not so fast.


MORENO: We are co-equal branches. We have our own prerogatives. And we're not just going to give you this information, as if you just deserve it. You're not entitled to it.

And so the third branch of government, the courts, will be decider on what actually happens here.

BALDWIN: Do -- in listening to Barr today, did you get any sense of how he would respond to a subpoena?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I think his whole posture today was saying, I'm not going to beyond what I'm required to do under the rules and regulations and the policies of the Justice Department.

And he said he's -- even though Congress wants the full report, he says, I'm not going to give you the full report. I'm redacting it in these four ways. He also was asked, well, couldn't you go to the courts and ask them to sign off on you releasing grand jury material?

And he said no. If the House judiciary or the Senate Judiciary chairman want to do that, that's their prerogative. But he drew the line thing he's not going beyond what he is -- what the rules and the regulations are.

BALDWIN: He drew a lot of lines. He was quite transparent, but where he was tap-dancey was when he was asked specifically, have you shown, would you show this entire report to the White House? And he couldn't give a straight answer. Why do you think that is?

MORENO: I mean, he said, like, that's all I'm going to say about the matter. And that's it.

I mean, yes, that's not a straight answer. BALDWIN: What does that signal to you?

MORENO: It signals to me that he's in a really difficult position. I mean, he -- Barr is a by-the-book kind of guy. He's not going to stick his neck out for the White House or for Congress. He's not going to bend the rules. He's also not going to lie, though.

So rather than lie and say, yes, I have done something that may look prejudicial, he's going to say, you know what, I'm just not going to talk about that.

BALDWIN: OK. All right, guys, thank you very much. Good to see both of you.

Coming up next, we are live on the border, as President Trump insists he has no plans to restart the policy that led to those family separations. Hear how people working with migrants are reacting to that today.

And Stacey Abrams joins me live. We will talk to the former Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia to weigh in on immigration, the 2020 race, her own political ambitions.

We will be right back.



BALDWIN: The president is trying to rewrite recent history at the border today after what one White House official calls -- quote -- "a near systematic purge" at the Department of Homeland Security.

A senior administration official tells CNN that the president has now empowered immigration hard-liner Stephen Miller to take the lead on securing the border. And CNN has new reporting that President Trump is now looking to reinstate the controversial family separation policy.

But, today, he contradicted that claim.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Obama had child separation. Take a look. The press knows it. You know it. We all know it.

I didn't have -- I'm the one that stopped it. President Obama had child separation. Now, I will tell you something. Once you don't have it, that's why you see many more people coming. They're coming like it's a picnic, because let's go to Disneyland.

QUESTION: You're not going to bring it back?

TRUMP: We're not looking to do that.

Thank you very much.

But it does make -- it brings a lot more people to the border. When you don't do it, it brings a lot more people to the border.


BALDWIN: So, it is a direct lie when the president blames the Obama administration on separation.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is near that U.S.-Mexico border and McAllen, Texas.

And, Ed, can you just lay out the facts for me.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, when President Trump talks about him stopping the family separation act, that might have been -- he might have stopped it for the time being, but that was after his administration had started it.

This all dates back to about a year ago, this zero tolerance policy that, in effect, criminalized the misdemeanor act of crossing the border illegally. And that forced those mass separations.

It had happened in some cases in previous administrations, but by no means did it happen on the scale that it happened under the Trump administration.

And this renewed rhetoric and this increased rhetoric and this hard- line approach that the Trump administration is taking really has people on edge down here in places like McAllen, Texas, which has been at the epicenter of the family separation issue since last summer.

We are at the bus terminal. And this is an area where you see migrants that have been picked up by Border Patrol agents, have spent several days in custody. They come here after they have been released by Customs and Border Protection. They have been taken to a shelter nearby. And volunteers are helping these folks get on buses as they await their court date.

So this is what you're seeing play out here. And, Brooke, the activists that we have spoken to here over the course of the last few days say they're extremely worried about the rhetoric that they're hearing from the Trump administration.


EFREN OLIVARES, TEXAS CIVIL RIGHTS PROJECT: I'm concerned about disregard for the institutions. So there are federal courts that now have enjoined the family separation practice.

As of yesterday, they have enjoined the remain in Mexico program. I'm concerned about this administration simply flouting those orders and disregarding those injunctions. We will see what happens, but it wouldn't be the first time that this government is simply not following federal court orders. LAVANDERA: What do you say to the president when he when he says that

lawyers are just telling these people the story to make up and request asylum, that it's all a -- it's all a big scam and a big -- a big sham that that's being perpetrated against the United States?

What do you say to the president and anyone who might believe that?

OLIVARES: I invite him to talk to the mother who says that she had to leave Guatemala after her 6-year-old daughter and her were raped.

I invite him to see the back of the teenage boy from Honduras that has machete scars on his back, or to the 2-year-old that has a bullet wound through his throat. If he thinks we, the lawyers, are making that up, he should come and talk to them directly and see it with his own eyes. I wish we were making it up.


LAVANDERA: So, Brooke, here, you really kind of see the dynamic nature of this debate and just how far apart all of these sides are and how this issue is being discussed and debated, as many people down here on the border -- and all of this comes as many federal officials who work in law enforcement here along the U.S. southern border as well have been sounding the alarms about the numbers of apprehensions that are -- that are taking place.

So it's a real struggle in this issue, as you -- as you hear from all the sides in the debate.

BALDWIN: Sure. Ed Lavandera, thank you so much for being there for us.

And I want to talk much more about this with Stacey Abrams. She is the former Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia. She has since founded Fair Fight Action in a quest to make every vote count. And she has released a new version of her book. It's called "Lead From the Outside," which is now a "New York Times" bestseller.



BALDWIN: Nice to see you.

ABRAMS: You as well.

BALDWIN: Let's just begin with the news of the day.

So, the president and his attorney general saying today that they will not be restarting this family separation policy, which, by the way, in the same breath today, he said, well, it works.

Do you believe him?

ABRAMS: I believe that he intends to restart a program that is vicious, that is ineffective, and that is long-term harmful, not only to the children and families that he separates, but to the core of who we are as Americans.

I believe that he is misleading the American public, as he often does, in part because he has no real plan, other than to push forward his, I think, very strong xenophobia that is, unfortunately, directed largely at South America, but -- and Central America, but I think writ large is directed at people of color.

BALDWIN: What about the man who's also really leading this for the White House, Stephen Miller? He is spearheading the immigration agenda.

And Congresswoman Ilhan Omar actually referred to him as a white nationalist. Do you agree with her?

ABRAMS: I believe that what we have seen from Stephen Miller is vestiges of white nationalism.

The problem is, we have never been able to fully investigate who he is and where he stands because he holds a position that is not subject to public vetting. And that's one of the deepest concerns that I have, that this is a person who's directing the Department of Homeland Security, the third largest agency in this -- in this nation, that's responsible for protecting us.

But the person who is pulling the strings does not seem to care about protecting many Americans.

BALDWIN: Moving off of immigration to 2020, you are considering a presidential run.

Chuck Schumer would like you to run for the U.S. Senate.

ABRAMS: He has mentioned it, yes.

BALDWIN: Would you like to make any news right now, Stacey Abrams, live on CNN?

ABRAMS: I appreciate the offer, but no, thank you.

BALDWIN: So, are you running out of time to make a decision? Because, if you were to declare today, there would be all these other candidates.