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Sri Lanka Warned Before Attacks; Treasury Decision Coming May 6; Acting DHS Chief on Family Separations; California Drivers Plows into Pedestrians. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired April 24, 2019 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At least killed and so many hundreds more maimed and wounded. That's not even counting the psychological trauma.

I talked to an Australian Sri Lankan father, whose wife and 10-year- old daughter, they were both killed in the church that is in the darkness behind me on Easter Sunday. He said that it took him at least a half hour to find their bodies after the initial blast. And that his daughter was dead. And his wife was still trying to say something before she passed away in his arms. And in a moment, he's lost his entire family.

I talked to the head mistress of a catholic school who said eight of her students had been killed in this blast.

In this community, one household has lost seven people.

These are just a fraction of the hundreds of people whose families have been irreparably changed by these moments of hatred.

The catholic priests that I'm talking to are carefully repeating a message again and again to their congregations, to stay calm, not to engage in reprisals. And that's a real concern because Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian country. There has been interreligious violence in the past in this country, as well as a civil war that went on for decades. So that message of peace very important at a time right now when people are so grief stricken and justifiably angry.

Some of that anger directed at the government for failing to act on the intelligence warnings and for failing to protect churches that the Indian intelligence said were in the crosshairs of these Islamist extremists. A local home-grown group, but, of course, ISIS has also claimed responsibility for these acts of mass murder.

Jim and Poppy.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The scale twice as deadly as the Paris attacks.


SCIUTTO: It's just horrendous.

Ivan Watson on the ground, thanks very much.

And we'll be right back.


[09:36:28] HARLOW: All right, in one day all of the speculation ends. At least about Joe Biden. Sources confirmed to CNN that the former vice president will announce officially that he's running for president tomorrow in a campaign video. Biden will become the 20th Democrat to declare a candidacy. Twenty, wow.

With me, Errol Louis, CNN political commentator, host of the "You Decide" podcast.

Good to have you here, my friend.


HARLOW: So I just wonder if he waited too long, because look at this polling out of New Hampshire, a very important state, the granite state. Has -- Pete Buttigieg, three points just behind Biden. Did he wait too long?

LOUIS: Yes, well --

HARLOW: In terms of the excitement, et cetera?

LOUIS: We'll see. I mean obviously it will make more sense a year from now, or close to a year from now, in January.


LOUIS: When people are actually really sort of making their decisions and after this field has cleared a little bit. I don't think 20 are going to be going into Iowa, you know.

HARLOW: Right.

LOUIS: We're going to have national debates. We're going to have a chance to size up fundraising. People are going to get on the campaign trail, find out whether or not their message is resonating and so forth. I don't -- I don't think there's any scenario under which he wait too late. If anything, he might be a little bit early, to tell you the truth.

HARLOW: Really?

LOUIS: Well, there is going to be a shakeout, you know?


LOUIS: I mean after -- after these commitments have been made and the big donors have decided who they're going to line up with --

HARLOW: Yes. LOUIS: And the talent has all been hired and so forth, there's going to be a shakeout. And he could easily have made a case that he needs to wait and sort of string this along before he pulls the trigger.

HARLOW: That's interesting.

So when you look at Chris Christie, for example, who worked within the Trump administration on the transition, he said something interesting. Quote, if Biden can make it through the primaries, he's the one Democrat who appeals to the white working class voters who handed the election to Trump and could hand 2020 to Biden instead.

LOUIS: You know, it -- that is a -- sort of a standard analysis. I don't know if that's especially cogent.

HARLOW: I just thought it was interesting coming from Christie.

LOUIS: It's interesting coming from Christie, but this is somebody who, you know, sort of had his own very unhappy experience and arguably waited too late to run himself, frankly.

HARLOW: Right.

LOUIS: 2012 might have been the year for Chris Christie. 2016 certainly was not.

But I do think what happens if this -- there's doing to be this obsessive focus on the white working class voters across those three states --


LOUIS: Who seem to have provided the margin.


LOUIS: I think you end up missing a whole lot of what's going on because if Democratic turnout in those states, and maybe a couple of presidential candidate visits from Hillary Clinton had been in place, you might have gotten an entirely different outcome.

So I don't know if -- look, if the Democratic Party decides that that's what it's going to be about, getting the white working class back --

HARLOW: Right.

LOUIS: In Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, they run the risk of losing a whole lot more. There's only one Latino candidate in the race.

HARLOW: I know.

LOUIS: What's going to happen with the Latino vote?

HARLOW: Right. LOUIS: But there -- it's unclear whether or not they're going to try to assemble all or part of the Obama coalition, which was fairly robust.


LOUIS: And is, you know, one piece of that, meaning younger voters, is actually growing in size.

HARLOW: Also it will be interesting to watch former President Obama, once Biden jumps in, what does he do? Does he keep sitting on the sidelines? Does he jump in early? When does he jump in?

LOUIS: Well, for legacy purposes, it's kind of hard to distance yourself from the guy you ran with twice.

HARLOW: Totally.

LOUIS: That's right.

HARLOW: OK, can I make a real world reference here?

LOUIS: Sure.

HARLOW: This is -- you know, they have to beat up one another, I suppose, before they can beat up President Trump in a general, right? They have to beat out at least 19 other competitors here in the primary. And, you know, the question becomes from the real world, when do they stop being polite and start being real? Seriously.

LOUIS: Yes. Well, I would say, if you start the countdown clock for the first nationally televised debate --


LOUIS: I think that might be the time at which all bets are off, frankly, because those who are polling very poorly and maybe struggling in fundraising, they're going to have to make a splash. The easiest way to make a splash is by saying something that's going to be memorable.

[09:40:05] And here's the thing. Even though there's not a whole lot of talk about policy, to the extent that there are sort of policies on the table, they almost agree -- they almost all agree, or 80 percent, 90 percent agreement on most of the general principles. Now, so that -- what does that leave? That leaves, I could do it better.

HARLOW: Right.

LOUIS: That leaves sort of personal differences. I've got more integrity. I'm more authentic. I'm younger. I'm more connected to certain bases.

HARLOW: I'm older.

LOUIS: I'm older, right. And that's when it starts to get personal. HARLOW: Yes.

LOUIS: And that's when it starts to get nasty.

HARLOW: All right. We'll watch.

Thank you, Errol. Good to have you.

LOUIS: Thank you.


SCIUTTO: May 6th, that is the day the Treasury Department says it will make a decision, a final one, about whether to release six years' worth of President Trump's tax returns. You can probably guess what that decision will be. This comes after the department missed a second deadline from House Democrats. Now, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal is deciding what he should do next. But it begs one big question, what does the president have to hide in his tax returns?

Here with me now is the former IRS commissioner, Mark Everson.

Commissioner Everson, thank you for taking the time today.


SCIUTTO: So, the Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, his letter to the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which, by law, has the power to request anyone's tax returns. The letter said in part, I'll quote it to you, due to the serious constitutional questions raised by this request and the serious consequences that a resolution of those questions could have for taxpayer privacy, the department is consulting with the Department of Justice. It goes on a bit.

What are those serious constitutional questions? Presidents have released their tax returns for decades. And, by the way, there was a law that gives the Ways and Means Committee chairman the legal right to view anyone's tax returns. So what are these serious constitutional questions?

EVERSON: Well, first, we do have a very strong component of our system, which is the privacy of the return, Jim. While I have always advocated that the president release his returns and candidates do so, that doesn't mean he need be compelled to do so unless it's in accordance with the law. I think the law is pretty clear here. But I don't like the way that the chairman has crafted the request. And I -- I think that what's happened here, in Secretary Mnuchin's letter, it raises a lot of points. Why are they -- the whole pretext, if you will, or the whole state of reason for the inquiry is to see what job the IRS is doing with the audits. But that's at variance, as the secretary has pointed out, with what all of the Democrats, the speaker and everybody else have said. They want to get at the returns because they want to know about the president's entanglements and --

SCIUTTO: Yes. EVERSON: And his income levels. But that's not what -- that's not what they've said in the request. So I think that's what -- what's happened -- what's happening here is both sides are -- they're lawyering up, Jim, to get ready for the court fight. That's what's really going on here.

SCIUTTO: Is there -- is there any question that the law grants the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee the ability to demand anyone's tax return? Is there any question in that law, interpretation of that law?

EVERSON: I think that law is clear. But I also, in reading the letter that the secretary sent yesterday, I think there are a lot of good points in there because he's saying that's not the justification that's being offered. They're saying they're talking about, is the IRS doing its job correctly when it -- everybody knows, and they've got this five page attachment, that talks about the speaker and everybody else saying, we want the returns because we want to know how much money he makes and whether he's got entanglements with Russia.


EVERSON: So I do think that the -- I think that the letter exposes the Democrats a little bit here to the -- a claim of hypocrisy, if you will.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you -- the president's excuse from going back to the campaign is that he's under audit. The fact is that all sitting presidents are under audit. You're the former IRS commissioner. Is that relevant? Is that a relevant excuse for not releasing those returns?

EVERSON: I really don't think it is. I've got to tell you, I didn't even know that the president was under audit when I ran the service. It was handled by the people who should handle it. They didn't want me anywhere near it.

So what I don't like about all this is that the service, which is -- has to be seen as neutral, is being dragged into really what is largely a political dispute.

SCIUTTO: Final question. If the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee demanded to see your or my tax returns, say we were up for a position in government, would we have to give those returns up?

EVERSON: Well, when you're nominated, what happens is they -- the Senate Finance Committee goes over your return with a fine tooth comb. And it's not a pleasant experience. They ask you everything you've ever done. So I've been through that.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The point is, loads of folks go through this every day in government.

EVERSON: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Anyway, the president considers himself an exception. Mark Everson, thanks very much.


EVERSON: Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: That's really interesting. Really good perspective to have.

[09:44:53] All right, so a White House official says family separation policies at the border are still under consideration, but the acting DHS chief, Kevin McAleenan, says in a new interview it's not on the table and counterproductive. So, what's going on, next.


SCIUTTO: A three-year-old boy abandoned in a Texas cornfield was found by border protection agents on Tuesday with only a name -- his name and a phone number written in his shoes. Agents believe he may have been traveling with a larger group of migrants. The CBP says it is still trying to reach that poor little guy's family.

HARLOW: Geez, just three years old. Wow.

At the same time, two very different messages coming from the Trump administration on the family's separation policy.

[09:50:00] Our Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider is on top of this story.

I mean so you have the guy who's running the show there saying this doesn't work, right, family separation, but then word that the White House says it's still on the table. Is that right?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, exactly, two conflicting versions here. So the new acting DHS secretary, he's speaking out, reflecting on the family separation that really sparked chaos at the border last summer, now saying that it wasn't worth it since it really resulted in the loss of public trust. So this was Kevin McAleenan. And he took his new post at the top of DHS just a few weeks ago. Before that, he was the commissioner for Customs and Border Protection. So, of course, he got an up-close view of those family separations.

But now while McAleenan is saying that family separations in the future are off the table, a senior White House official has told our Jim Acosta that family separations actually remain under discussion at the White House. That official is saying its top adviser, Stephen Miller, who's actually driving these discussions about possibly reinstating the zero tolerance policy, and that the president is receptive to it.

But that's from the White House side of things. And acting DHS Secretary McAleenan, he admitted that while the policy did result in some deterrence last year, even now with some record numbers of families crossing the border, McAleenan's saying now it just really wasn't the right approach. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you have any regrets about the way that was carried out?

KEVIN MCALEENAN, ACTING DHS CHIEF: Yes. I think when you lose the public trust in a law enforcement initiative and you have to recalibrate at the presidential level, that means that wasn't successful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Locking back on it, did it work?

MCALEENAN: So the enforcement of the law against parents who violated our border laws and brought children with them was effective. It reduced the flow. But it didn't work in the sense that we lost the public trust in the implementation of that initiative.


HARLOW: I mean, that is a stark contrast, Jess, to what, you know, is apparently still under consideration at the White House.

SCHNEIDER: That's exactly right.

HARLOW: And now we're also learning about Jared Kushner's role in trying to craft some sort of immigration deal here. He spoke about it a little bit in New York yesterday. What can you tell us?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, he's continued to play a big role here on immigration reform. So we previously reported that Kushner has long been a sounding board really at the White House. He's gathered immigration groups and business groups to discuss all sorts of topics, like DACA and temporary work programs.

But now actually Axios is reporting that Kushner could be close to completing his own sort of immigration plan, his proposal. It would really be neutral, apparently, on immigration numbers, which would keep the numbers flat by increasing the number of skilled workers that were allowed entry, but decreasing the number of immigrants coming to the United States because of family ties. That's an immigration policy currently in effect.

So we know that immigration, Jim and Poppy, has long drawn the ire of the president. He's made it his rallying cry. So no doubt a lot of attention at the White House about what to do next. And it really looks like Jared Kushner is taking the helm here.


HARLOW: I mean but he knows, right, guys, how tough this is going to be, joking yesterday on stage at that event in New York, if I can get this done, it's going to sort of make the Mideast policy, peace policy process, look easy.



HARLOW: So, shows you what kind of work is ahead for him on that.

Thank you, Jess. Great reporting.


SCIUTTO: Yes, trying to unite The Hill on a comprehensive immigration reform. We'll see.

A car slams into eight people standing on a sidewalk outside San Jose, California. Now police say this was not an accident.

HARLOW: Also, see what happens when victims and offenders of violent crimes meet face to face. You don't want to miss CNN's new original series "The Redemption Project" with our very own Van Jones. It premieres Sunday night, 9:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.


[09:58:02] HARLOW: All right, right now, eight people are in the hospital after a man drove his car onto a sidewalk. This happened in northern California. And police, Jim, are calling it an intentional act.

SCIUTTO: Nick Watt has been following the story.

Nick, do we know what the motive was here?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We do not yet know the motive, Jim. I just spoke with officials up there in Sunnyvale, who say that they are exploring all possibilities, and they have called the FBI just out of an abundance of caution. But they, Sunnyvale Public Safety, they remain the lead agency on this.

Now, the reason why they're saying they think this was an intentional act is, witnesses say that they did not see any indication that this driver was trying to brake. And there was also no evidence at the scene that suggested he was trying to brake.

The incident happened around 6:40 p.m. local time. It's a busy intersection there in Sunnyvale, which is a small, sleepy city in Silicon Valley, just southeast of San Francisco. And that intersection, there are restaurants, stores.

It's unclear what the motive was. It's unclear if the driver knew any of the people that he hit. But I have been told by Sunnyvale authorities that they have now identified that driver. They are withholding the name for now. And we do not have a motive.

But, listen, we have, of course, seen in the past incidents like this where it has been a mistake, an accident, someone hitting the accelerator rather than the brake. We've seen it intentionally done. We've also seen this as a terrorist attack, but no indication so far that this is a terrorist act of any description. The investigation is ongoing and we're expecting updates as California wakes up.

Guys, back to you.

HARLOW: OK, Nick Watt, please keep us posted. Thank you very much.

All right, top of the hour, 10:00 a.m. out East, 7:00 a.m. on the West Coast. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

[10:00:00] SCIUTTO: I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington, where President Trump is at the center of new and disturbing reports, not about something he said or did or posted on social media, but something he wants nothing to do.