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Macron Plans to Rebuild Notre Dame Within 5 Years; Barr Decrees Some Asylum Seekers Could Be Held Indefinitely; Rep. Jamie Raskin (D- MD) Discusses Barr's Crackdown on Asylum Seekers, House Investigations into Trump; New Drug Route to U.S. Thrives as Venezuela Starves; Texts Reveal Prosecutor Discussed Smollett Case after Public Recusal. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired April 17, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was talking to a preservation architect yesterday who said it could work them five years to work out how to do it because there will be a lot of disagreements on whether they try to make it authentic, using wooden beams again, for example, or whether to update it. The French president also announcing a high-powered committee -- they call it a mini ministry -- has been set up as of today that will focus solely on the reconstruction. They're taking it very seriously. Nearly a billion dollars raised so far. It will probably take a lot more than that, though -- Ana?

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: No doubt about it.

Michael Holmes, in Paris, thank you.

Coming up, Attorney General Bill Barr's major immigration reversal. How his decision could impact thousands of migrants seeking asylum in the United States, next.


[11:35:05] CABRERA: Attorney General William Barr is now making his mark on this issue of immigration with a new crackdown on migrants coming across the southern border. Barr has ordered immigration judges to stop allowing some asylum seekers the option to post bail if they were caught sneaking into the U.S. Instead, they are to remain in detention indefinitely while they wait for their cases to be heard.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin, of Maryland. He's a member of both the Judiciary and Oversight Committees.

Congressman, what do you see as the impact of this decision from Attorney General Barr?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): It's further constricting of the rights of people who are trying to seek asylum in our country. People who have been deemed to have a credible fear of persecution, were they to be returned to their home countries on grounds of religion, race, politics or ethnicity, have been able to ask for a bond hearing within seven days so they could be released on bail while they await a final determination on whether or not they're granted asylum. And the attorney general has basically used his administrative power over administrative law judges with the Department of Justice, the immigration law judges, to say, no, you can't even seek that hearing so a judge could determine whether or not you can be released on bail. Everybody will be held in jail who is picked up under those circumstances.

CABRERA: So if you disagree with this move, what can Congress do, or is fighting it in the courts the only option?

RASKIN: Well, Congress could decide that people who have been deemed to have a credible fear of persecution if they are returned to their home countries, have the opportunity to seek a judge's ruling about whether or not they should be granted a bond and bail, the opportunity to post bail while they're in the country. And that's what the law has been. So the attorney general has reversed the law. But because the immigration law judges are administrative law judges reporting to the attorney general, he is using his power over them to reverse the law and say this is going to be new DOJ policy. So it's clearly something we're going to want to look at. It is a further constriction of the rights of people seeking asylum to get into our country fleeing all of the authoritarian regimes around the world that are discriminating against people based on their religion, race, ethnicity, political party, and so on.

CABRERA: Congress wants to get involved here. I don't need to tell you how much this White House has been stonewalling Congress, Democrats, on everything from security clearances to the president's tax returns. On this particular issue, how hard are you willing to fight?

RASKIN: We're willing to fight on this like with every other issue. It's as if a curtain has come down over the government in terms of producing information. And they also want to essentially build a wall and lift up the ladders so people can't get into the country, even when they are fleeing political or religious persecution from another country. It's a complete defeat of the idea of America. Tom Paine said America would be an asylum to humanity. Not an insane asylum, mind you, but an asylum for humanity for people fleeing religious and political repression from other places. That's what's made up America, other than the slaves, descendants of slaves and Indians and their descendants. Everyone who has arrived at America has arrived as an immigrant and, often time, fleeing religious and political persecution. We know that the administration is trying to choke that off so that people can't come into the country even when they have completely legitimate grounds for trying to get away from repression in a foreign country. The irony, of course, is that President Trump, who wants to build a wall and pull up the ladder so nobody can get into the country, is friends with all the autocrats, and dictators and despots and kleptocrats who are driving people out of their countries. So that's - Putin in Russia, of course --


RASKIN: -- the Philippines and on and on. CABRERA: I hear the point you're making on this issue. But I go back to how many other investigations there are currently by House Democrats across many different committees, a couple of which you are serving on yourself. I wonder, at what point do Democrats have to start prioritizing these investigations.

RASKIN: Well, obviously, right now, our priority is to get the complete uncensored, unedited, unredacted Mueller report. We also have sought, through the House, Ways and Means Committee chairman's request, the president's taxes. And we believe that the administration has a constitutional and legal obligation to turn over all of this material. This is in pursuit of Congress's legislative oversight and legislative functions. In order to function and in order to pass legislation, we need to get information from the government. And so we don't think the administration has the right to be keeping any of this information from us.

[11:40:17] CABRERA: What are you planning to do when this report drops tomorrow? What will be the first thing you're looking at?

RASKIN: Well, I hope everyone takes an hour or so to read the report. We want to see --


CABRERA: If you could read 400 pages in one hour, I'm pretty impressed.

RASKIN: You get pretty good at that in Congress. Hopefully, I'll give it a closer read than -- normally, we have time to. Maybe it will take 60 or 90 minutes. At that point, we'll have to determine whether or not there's been an effort to censor out substantive material information that Congress needs to know about. It's not a good sign that Attorney Barr said he is using a color-coded system in order to implement the different categories of redaction which he has developed for this purpose. And some of those have no grounding in legal precedent at all. For instance, when he said that he would get rid of information that might affect the reputational interests of third party --

CABRERA: But there's legal precedent for that, right? You don't necessarily damage somebody's reputation when they don't end up being charged.

RASKIN: Well, I suppose so. No other independent or special counsel has referenced that as a specific category of redaction, along with classified information, along with grand jury testimony. Not just anything that affects a grand jury but specific grand jury testimony. We're just troubled by the way that the attorney general has formulated these categories of redaction or censorship so broadly that the exceptions could swallow the rule. We want to be able to read what's in them. Remember, in every other case -- for example, in Watergate, the Jaworski report or the Ken Starr report, in all these other cases, Congress has done the redactions. We've gotten the complete material and then we decide what the public can see. The attorney general seems to want to usurp the congressional function and saying, oh, I'll take care of that for you guys. So I think it's likely that we'll be fighting for the uncensored report.

CABRERA: Yes. Sounds like a fight will be game on after this is released.

Congressman Jamie Raskin, looking forward to talking to you on the other side when this Mueller report drops.

Thanks for joining --

RASKIN: Thanks for having me.

CABRERA: -- us today.

RASKIN: You bet.

CABRERA: Coming up, as the Venezuelan people starve, a new cocaine super highway to the United States is thriving. It's so profitable, narcos are ditching planes after a single trip. CNN's exclusive inside look, next.


[11:46:50] CABRERA: Now a CNN exclusive. It's being called a cocaine super highway to the United States, made possible by the economic collapse and political corruption in Venezuela. As people there struggle to find basics, like food, water and medicine, some people in the highest levels of the government and military are making billions from drug trafficking. A months-long CNN investigation has discovered how Venezuela is fast becoming the cocaine courier to the U.S.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Below is a cocaine super highway enriching Venezuela's corrupt elite, bringing coke to American streets. These lines are secret pathways, from Columbia's cocaine farming heartlands below across into neighboring Venezuela. From there, billions of dollars of the drug are smuggled north in tiny planes, U.S. and regional officials told CNN, aided by Venezuela's army and elite.

The Columbian military we're with don't get any lower to stay out of the range of machine guns and talk to locals mostly through the leaflets they drop.

"We stopped drugs out of Columbia," he tells me, "but not from places we don't control."

He means Venezuela, just five miles away.

Below, they think they spotted a cocaine laboratory, one of many fueling Venezuela's wealth as a cocaine courier, which a CNN investigation has learned is booming just as the country collapses. And 240 tons went from Columbia to Venezuela in 2018, up a third in one year, a U.S. official told us, which could fetch $40 billion on U.S. streets.

(on camera): That traffic happening down below, one possible reason, it's alleged, so many in the Venezuelan government are unwilling to give up on Nicolas Maduro. They're simply making too much money.

(voice-over): The trade remains mostly secret inside Venezuela on the other side of the border here. But we were able to learn more about these illegal routes in from recent defectors from the Venezuelan army border patrol, and how their officers ordered them to let cross specific trucks carrying cocaine.

For five years, this sergeant got those orders often three times a week.

UNIDENTIFIED VENEZUELAN DEFECTOR: The cars that cross with weapons and drugs for pickups and we would be told the color and make of the truck and when, usually after dawn or dusk. Everything was coordinated by the brigade commander. He would send a lieutenant to tell you what needed to cross. And this was arranged high up above. Those who didn't agree were swapped out automatically.

PATON WALSH: He fled to here, Columbia when the pressure to comply got too much and his unit found themselves confined to the base.

UNIDENTIFIED VENEZUELAN DEFECTOR: We were locked on the base. The general would say, everyone must be with us. Leave or speak against the government, you'll get arrested. They had us brainwashed with food handouts. One night, I couldn't take it anymore. I went home and told my wife, we leave for Columbia. My son started crying and said, Dad, what are we going to do. But I knew if they stayed without me, they would be captured or interrogated.


PATON WALSH: Venezuelan state TV occasionally shows how their armed forces crack down on trade. Here, Mexican pilots that have previously rejected allegations they're actually running the drugs and did not respond to several requests for comment.


PATON WALSH: A U.S. official has told CNN these flights are surging. They usually take off from remote hidden runways in the southern Venezuelan jungle. But in the last few years, moved north, the official told CNN, to reduce flying time. They used to be three a week, but last year, they were almost daily. This year, they have seen as many as eight in a single day, a regional official said, using 50 hidden runways.

CNN has seen a confidential U.S. radar map here that shows the sharp turn left the planes from Venezuela take before landing on the remote Central American coastline off of Honduras before the cocaine travels north through Mexico and into the United States.

Honduras is where we pick up the trail of this booming trafficking game where the coastline below turns into a surreal graveyard of narco planes.

Cocaine cargo they carry is worth so many millions, the plane itself is just a fraction in a billion-dollar deal. So many are discarded all over the jungle. Or cramped here into one river bend.

The troops we are with don't want to be on camera for their safety.

(on camera): Some of these have their markings torn off to make the job of working out exactly where they came from even harder.

(voice-over): America's drug habit is where the money, the rot, all begins. That same open market also supplies a key part of the logistics here.

(on camera): Not much of this plane has distinctive characteristics but you can still see "N4," "N" meaning this plane originated in the United States.

(voice-over): U.S. officials tell me dozens of old plans are auctioned in the United States and hide their ownership in shell companies and send them south to start the cocaine journey north from Venezuela.

(on camera): Again, another "N," which means another plane that started its days in the United States.

(voice-over): It's not just traffickers in Venezuela and the U.S. making billions. The entire region is in on it.

This is surely Honduras' biggest industry, the billions at stake everywhere. From this jungle road, which is actually a hidden runway, up to the Honduran president's brother, indicted last year on trafficking charges, which he denies.

You can't stop the planes being sold or taking off, one officer tells me, so they, instead, just have to try to make landing harder by blowing holes in the runways.


PATON WALSH (on camera): Just in slowing down this multibillion- dollar trade requires so many more holes to be blown in this vast expanse of jungle.

(voice-over): The amount of money cocaine brings here literally dwarves any effort to fight it. Insane amounts of cash. And some villages along this coastline has none. In fact, the Honduran army tells us traffickers flying towards these villages often kick their cargo overboard when they think they are about to be intercepted. Each 30-kilogram bungle of cocaine is attached to floats and then drifts ashore. They then pay these communities of fishermen $150,000 for each recovered bundle.

It's a calculus for corruption that most officials I spoke to admit, that it's their belief that no police or military operation can really hope to challenge, one that sees the collapsing Maduro government, the alleged couriers, cashing in fast in a region of desperate delivery men.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, in Columbia and Honduras.


[11:54:04] CABRERA: Coming up, the text message shining a new light on the controversial move to drop charges against Actor Jussie Smollett, next.


[11:58:22] CABRERA: New details this morning on how things went down behind the scenes leading up to the dismissal of the case against Actor Jussie Smollett. CNN obtained text messages that raise more questions about the prosecutor's involvement in the case after she publicly recused herself.

CNN's Nick Watt is in Los Angeles with the latest.

Nick, what did you find?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, first of all, these messages make it pretty clear that Kim Foxx's office was not prepared for the level of public scrutiny, public interest in this case. The day that those 16 charges were dropped, one assistant in Kim Foxx's office wrote, "Just wish I could have anticipated the magnitude of this response and planned a bit better."

You mentioned Kim Fox had recused, but these messages do show that she was still getting involved. She says it was regarding kind of office policies on prosecutions in general.

Now, she called Jussie Smollett a washed-up celeb. That is the headline here. That's what people are grabbing onto here. Is that an inappropriate characterization of a person that they are involved in investigating?

But it also gives us some idea of why those charges were dropped. Kim Foxx clearly thought that those 16 felony counts were excessive. She wrote in one message, "So I'm recused but when people accuse us of overcharging cases, 16 counts on a class four becomes Exhibit A." She goes on to say, "A pedophile with four victims, 10 counts, a washed-up celeb who lied to cops, 16. Just because we can charge something doesn't mean we should."

Her office is under investigation. She welcomes that. We'll see what happens -- Ana?

CABRERA: All right, Nick Watt, in Los Angeles, thank you.

And thank you at home for joining me.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash starts right now.