Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Admits to Immigrant Plan; Rosenstein Backs Barr; Cain Joins List of Troubled Picks; Ivanka Trump as Moderating Force; Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) is Interviewed About Ex-Obama Counsel in Federal Court. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 12, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": When he said, sound to me like they've got their own freedom caucus over in -- over on the House Democratic side.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it's a preview of what's to come, both on climate, on health care. There are bigger internal fights to happen. Keep an eye on them.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you both. I know you both will be like a hawk.

Thank you for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

Brianna Keilar starts right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, a revenge plot. President Trump considers funneling people that he's described as drug dealers, criminals and rapists into cities run by Democrats.

Her role inside the White House is still a mystery, but President Trump considered his daughter to run the World Bank because, quote, she's good with numbers.

Plus, the feud between the vice president and Pete Buttigieg sparks a debate on which party is the party of faith.

And he reportedly offered to wear a wear into the White House. Now he's defending Bill Barr's four-page memo on the Mueller report. New comments from Rod Rosenstein raise the question, is he a friend or a foe of the president.

And we start now with President Trump defiantly admitting to a controversial plan on immigration. The plan was to use migrants as a pawn for political revenge, to dump undocumented immigrants apprehended at the border into sanctuary cities in an effort to hurt his political opponents.

This plan was shelved for legal reasons, or so it was reported. The White House issued a statement less than two hours ago saying that the plan was never seriously considered. Cue the president moments ago tweeting, due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we're indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities.

Not only is he admitting the plan exists, not only is he admitting that it's aimed at Democrats, he's also admitting that the plan is not dead and that he's still considering it.

Our Abby Phillip is at the White House.

And the threshold, Abby, for being shocked is high these days, but wow.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. I mean it just goes to show how far the lengths of this administration has been willing to go in order to wrap their hands around what's going on at the border. And in some cases to try to deflect responsibility for who's responsible for it.

It's worth noting that this is a president who's been in office for two years. This has been his signature issue. And he has not been able to get these numbers at the border down. In fact, they are at historic levels. And so now this plan seems to indicate that he wanted to use this crisis as part of an effort of political retribution to pay back Democrats for opposing efforts to change the way that immigration works in this country.

But he faced some roadblocks principally at the Department of Homeland Security where Kirstjen Nielsen, who was then the secretary of that department, pushed back and various aides at that department also pushed back on this idea. One of those was also the general counsel of the Department of Homeland Security, John Mitnick. And we've been hearing from sources that within the Department of Homeland Security, there is a view that this is one of the reasons why one of the president's top aides, Stephen Miller, wanted to get rid of Mitnick because he pushed back on this idea, said it was likely illegal. And now the president is putting it back on the table.

As you pointed out, just a few hours ago, the White House put out this statement calling the story a non-story. They said the simple question that was formally -- informally asked was whether in order to relieve the burden on those receiving communities, illegal aliens already being released on a daily basis could be sent to and cared for by sanctuary jurisdiction whose stated policy is to welcome and embrace illegal aliens. The idea was briefly and informally raised and quickly rejected. No one at ICE was pressured by anyone at any time.

Quickly rejected is how the White House framed this just a few hours ago. And now, according to the president, it's back on the table. It just goes to show, this is something that's coming straight from the top. The president was the one wanting this idea to be put into place. But there's no indication that the -- the legal evaluation of this -- of this policy has changed in any way. It is still, according to the Department of Homeland Security, likely illegal, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you so much for that report.

Now, I want to preface what I'm about to say next with this fact from a 2018 study by the libertarian Kato Institute, that undocumented immigrants actually are less likely to commit crimes than native born Americans. Of course that's not what the president says. He claims migrants coming to the borders in caravans are animals. He claims they are murderers, rapists, violent criminals. Trump says they look like heavyweight champions, UFC fighters, even though two-thirds of them are women and children, according to his own administration's numbers. Yet the president wanted to bus migrant detainees to sanctuary cities across the country, specifically cities run by Democrats.

[13:05:04] So based on his premise that these are criminals, rapist, murders, unfounded as that claim may be, his hope then was what, that one of those migrants would commit a heinous crime, that one of them might murder an American citizen and that would give the president more ammunition in his fight for closing the border and for getting rid of sanctuary cities? And if the White House says that the president was not trying to weaponize undocumented immigrants with the belief that one might commit a violent crime, then the president doesn't actually believe that they're violent criminals.

Either way, he's either lying to the American people about immigrants or he's OK with risking the lives of some Americans if it serves him politically.

And we have John Sandweg now. He's the former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE. He's also the former acting general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security.

Thanks for being with us.


KEILAR: What's your reaction to this report?

SANDWEG: I mean, it's an insane idea, right. Here you are, you have ICE under tremendous pressure because of the volume of people coming across the border making asylum claims and the president wants to divert scare resources, scare officer time to transport individuals to sanctuary cities as political punishment. I mean it kind of just shows you the level to which they don't -- the White House doesn't understand the operational realities that ICE is facing and, quite candidly, the laws by which they have to abide.

KEILAR: And so the White House says that migrants are being released all the time anyway. This plan would have just targeted those releases. Explain why DHS lawyers, like yourself formerly, would have said, this is problematic legally.

SANDWEG: Well, I think the number one consideration would have been just the appropriations. Congress appropriates money to ICE to enforce the laws and to enforce border security, not to make political statements. It would have cost millions of dollars to transport individuals to be released in sanctuary cities. More importantly, those are -- those are assets that could be utilized to process the individuals coming in and repatriate back to Central America those who are found not to have an asylum claim. So it clearly violates the appropriations law but it also just violates, I mean, it's just so insane that it stuns me that this would even be seriously considered.

And, Brianna, very quickly, I have to give a credit to the ICE officials who rejected this to be fair to them. They saw this for what it was and pushed back pretty quickly.

KEILAR: So the current acting director of ICE says he wasn't pressured by the president to do this. The White House says they didn't pressure ICE. According to "The Washington Post" and to our reporting, ICE was pressured. The Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, was pressured.

So what do you make of this argument that ICE wasn't pressured when they were?

SANDWEG: Well, listen, I've been the -- I've been at ICE. I've been at the department. When the White House calls, you feel some pressure, just quite candidly, no matter how they do it. You feel a sense of urgency because it's potentially coming from the president.

I think what's alarming here is that none of those individuals are still employed by the Department of Homeland Security. And it's, you know, by multiple reports, because of them standing up and providing the realities of the law, the realities of the operations to the White House and that cost them their jobs, despite the fact that they support a very aggressive and, you know, unwise policies like family separation.

I think that's what frightens me going forward is that the White House is looking for yes men in these positions when a lot of ideas are similar to this one that are -- that are not only unlawful but operationally, you know, just silly.

KEILAR: All right, John Sandweg, thank you for being with us.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is sticking up for his boss, even as Rosenstein heads for the exit. In a rare interview he tells "The Wall Street Journal" that the public should have, quote, tremendous confidence in Attorney General Bill Barr and his handling of the Mueller report. Rosenstein says, quote, he's being as forthcoming as he can, and so this notion that he's trying to mislead people I think is just completely bizarre.

We have Ross Garber and Gloria Borger with us here to discuss the Rosenstein roller coaster and his, at times, shifting positions and loyalties.

What do -- what do you make of this? Is he just an independent broker, because at times the president has really not liked him, but for some of these reasons he should be happy that Rod Rosenstein is saying what he's saying?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think Rod Rosenstein has some skin in this game. Don't forget he was sitting with the attorney general when they decided that there should be no obstruction charge, number one. So he's going to defend the attorney general. He's leaving. The attorney general is his boss.

What he would not comment on is just as interesting to me because he wouldn't comment on Barr talking about spying going on because, don't forget, Rosenstein was the one who said OK to the application for a FISA request on Carter Page that was going to go to the FISA court. So he was the one who did that. He's the one who approved it.

KEILAR: The genesis of the investigation --

BORGER: Exactly.

KEILAR: That Barr is now investigating.

BORGER: Right.

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it's really amazing. I mean I think -- I think Rod Rosenstein is one of the most fascinating players in all of this.


GARBER: I mean I -- this is a guy who would survive a political nuclear war. He was a political appointee under Bush. He was a political appointee under Obama. He was a political appointee now under Trump. And his fingers touched so many pieces of this.

BORGER: Right.

[13:10:07] GARBER: And he supervised the investigation. And he worked with Barr to decide that there was no criminal obstruction. And now he's -- there have been reports that he's there as sort of a heat shield for Barr on some of those issues.

KEILAR: You do tend to agree with Barr, with the Rosenstein defense of Barr, right?

GARBER: In terms of the reasonableness of how quickly this report is coming out, yes, look -- look, we all want to seat report. We do. I mean it -- it's like, you know, we're waiting for it. We've been waiting for it for a long time. We want to see the report.

But, let's keep in mind, it's 400 pages. Reportedly every page is stamped that it might contain grand jury materials. And so what Barr is doing is he's going through the report. He's working with the intel community to vet it for classified info. He's working with Mueller and DOJ officials to vet it for grand jury material.

KEILAR: But it's the summary -- the summary is the issue, Ross. The four-page summary with only 101 words quoted.

GARBER: Well, what's -- so here's what he says. And I guy it. What he says is, I didn't intend to do a summary. What I intended to do is once word got out that Mueller had issued a report, we were all saying, all right, so what does it say? Is the president a criminal? Did he commit crimes? And so what Barr wanted to do was come out and tell people whether the president committed crimes. And if he just said that, if he said no, no, then we would have been saying, well, wait a minute. So I think what he tried to do was put a little bit of meat on the bones. And, again, no matter what, I think he would have been criticized.

BORGER: Well, but he also made the decision on obstruction, which --


BORGER: Which -- he and --

KEILAR: Rosenstein and Barr.

BORGER: Along with Rod Rosenstein --

KEILAR: That's right.

BORGER: And the question is, well, should that have been left up to Congress or should the attorney general and his deputy have made that decision so quickly. And, you know, he said in his testimony, Barr said, well, Mueller didn't give me -- didn't ask me and he didn't tell me he wanted Congress to do it either.

GARBER: Right.

BORGER: So Mueller kind of stayed back from that and Barr decided, you know what, I'm going to decide right now. And that's --

GARBER: Well, that's sort of -- that's his -- look, somebody, you know --

BORGER: He says that's his job.

GARBER: Yes, somebody at the Department of Justice has to decide whether to prosecute the president, whether the president committed a crime. That is the attorney general's job.

BORGER: Or maybe it's a political decision.

GARBER: Well, they -- Congress can't decide to prosecute.


GARBER: They can decide whether to impeach him or not.

BORGER: Impeach, right.

GARBER: So somebody had to decide the prosecution issue. Apparently that was left to Barr.

KEILAR: It's like a hot potato.


KEILAR: All right Ross Garber, Gloria Borger, thank you guys.

So it's not look good for another Trump nominee and Republicans are starting to get sick of some White House picks.

Plus, the president says he considered his daughter for a spot at the U.N., or maybe the World Bank, specifically because she's, quote, good with numbers.

And a feud over religion involving a rising star in the 2020 race and Vice President Mike Pence.


[13:17:14] KEILAR: President Trump floated two controversial names that he was considering for posts on the Federal Reserve, Herman Cain and Stephen Moore. And now we are learning that Cain's nomination may be dead in the water. That's because there are at least four Republican senators who right now would be no votes.

April Ryan is here with us. She covers the White House for American Urban Radio Networks. And our White House reporter Kate Bennett is joining us as well.

So Cain would not be the first of the president's nominees really to fall by the wayside, right? Let's look at this partial list. Tom Marino for the post commonly known as drug czar. You'll remember maybe -- maybe you won't -- Labor secretary nominee Andy Puzder, the guy from Hardee's, who, like Cain, had problems with his treatment of women. Then, of course, Sam Clovis for Agriculture, David Clark for Homeland Security. There was Dr. Ronny Jackson for the VA. This is a pattern, nominating someone who certainly, according to the court of public opinion, and this coming from The Hill, coming from Capitol Hill, is not wholly qualified for the job.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: At this moment in time it's significant. This president is looking for victories. He just came out of what he considers a victory with this Mueller report issue where he says he's vindicated, but he's not fully vindicated.

For Republicans to say they're not going to go for Herman Cain, as he has accusations or allegations from women saying that he did some things sexually to them that were not appropriate. This is not the time for that, particularly as women are the biggest voting bloc in this nation, for the president to put someone like that on the Fed.

And not only that, you know, sources who are directly talking to people in the White House are saying if they put Herman Cain up as someone that was the worst so they could bring Moore in so it would look more favorable for Moore versus Herman Cain.

KEILAR: OK, well, let's remember Herman Cain, shall we.

RYAN: Do we have to?

KEILAR: Flash back Friday to his 999 tax plan. Just to -- just to reminisce here. RYAN: OK.


HERMAN CAIN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nine, nine, nine captures revenue to equal existing tax revenue from five sources.

Bottom line, folks, 999 means jobs, jobs, jobs.


KEILAR: It was catchy. You'll have to give him that.

So "The Post" is reporting, April, that the president brought Herman Cain into this situation room for a meeting with military leaders and Trump, I think, joked or said to his military leaders that they needed a 999 plan for the border. Is that appropriate?

RYAN: No, it's not. Herman Cain is not someone who is in the intelligence community, number one. You know, the border is a serious issue. There is a crisis at the border. I just received a photo from one of the border crossings in Texas where the lines, just the car line is just -- just horrific.

[13:20:06] Herman Cain was not a president. Herman Cain may be a businessman, but what does he have to do with military issues? What does he have to do with the border? He can advise. But -- and 999 for the border, I mean, it's not a joke. This is a real issue affecting Americans, affecting people in Mexico, affecting people who are even coming from other countries going through the Mexican border trying to get here. This is a real issue and it's not a joke.

KEILAR: Kate Bennett, there's this read, it's very interesting, in "The Atlantic" today on Ivanka Trump, first daughter and special adviser. And this is what it says, quote, the founding myth of Ivanka Trump is that she is a moderating force.

So react to that. This is the idea. They're saying actually this is a myth. Describe her role at the White House and also maybe how it's changed.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think when she first got to the White House she thought she was going to do big things, and people sort of put that label on her that she would be a moderating force. But what we've learned and what the story points out is there's no real evidence of that. There was sort of a discussion about the Paris Climate Accord that she helped with. There's discussion that she might help with women and family issues, perhaps abortion rights. None of those things have played out, none of them have panned out.

What she has found is a lot of pushback and a lot of infighting within the White House. People like John Kelly, former chief of staff, not particularly being a fan. In this story a source tells the write that Kelly said that she and Jared Kushner were playing government.

So certainly she's tried to morph into a more stabilized portfolio, women's economic issues, global empowerment, global growth for women, STEM issues back home, job, family, child care, tax plan, things that she can control and be in her wheelhouse, but certainly still a very polarizing figure.

KEILAR: It's interesting the president, he sat for an interview. Ivanka did not, but he did and he said this about Ivanka. She would have been great at the United Nations. I even thought of Ivanka for the World Bank. She would have been great that the because she's very good with numbers.

React to that and also in the end she did not have one of those very formal roles that he's talking about there.

BENNETT: And he said it's because people will cry nepotism, but I think they'd cry a lot of other things, too, qualification being one of them.

You know, the president, in this interview, also said that Ivanka would make a president -- a good president. She'd be tough to beat. Clearly fathers and daughters, there's a personal relationship going on there. The article also said he tends to call her "baby" sometimes in meetings, which must be uncomfortable for everybody in the room. So certainly there is that weird, unprecedented --

RYAN: It is weird.

BENNETT: Crossover between White House adviser to the president and daughter. And we've seen that since the very beginning, since she first entered. It has perhaps hurt her brand, which she's very careful about. It has perhaps made her more polarizing. Certainly it's a challenging role the things that she has accomplished. You know people sort of beat her up for it. The things she hasn't accomplished, people sort of beat her up for it. It's kind of a lose-lose. So this -- this story was really interesting to see what -- what she's evolved into in Washington.

RYAN: And, Kate, she is -- she is an accomplished woman. Let's -- let's give her that. You know, I talked with her. And it was interesting, at the Gridiron (ph) dinner, my first time talking with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner together, just having a conversation and talking about life, not all the other things about politics, talking about her clothes and is she wearing her brand, you know, and her shoes --


RYAN: She is an accomplished woman. She's an accomplished woman through the Trump brand and through her own right. But the question is, is she qualified to deal with world issues at this level?



KEILAR: It's a very, very good point.

April Ryan, Kate Bennett, thank you guys so much.

And any moment a member of President Obama's White House counsel is facing a federal judge a day after being indicted on charges stemming from the Mueller probe. So doesn't this undermine President Trump's, quote, 13 angry Democrats argument about that probe?

And a home state feud escalates. Why Mayor Pete Buttigieg says his issue with Vice President Pence is over bad policies not religion.


[13:28:42] KEILAR: A high-profile Democrat has been indicted in a case connected to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Greg Craig is due in federal court in Washington any time now to enter a plea. He served as White House counsel during the Obama administration and Craig is accused of lying and concealing information about work that he performed in Ukraine.

Illinois Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi is joining us now from Chicago.

Sir, thanks for being with us.


KEILAR: What's your reaction to this prominent former Obama White House official facing charges?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, as you know, it was connected to work that was done with Paul Manafort and in connection with promoting the interests of pro-Russian Ukrainian forces. And it had nothing to do with his time in the White House.

However, he was not candid, and, in fact, he lied to investigators about the extent of his promotion of their interests. And as we've learned from the Paul Manafort case and others, if you lie to federal investigators, you basically jeopardize going to prison.

[13:29:53] KEILAR: What do you think this does to the president's argument that this is a political -- basically that it's all sort of Democrats on Republicans. He tries to say that it -- the Mueller team is all Democrats. They are not. And that this is sort of a political witch hunt.