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Coast Guard Officer Accused of Terror Plot to be Freed; Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) Discusses Trump's Denial of Telling McGahn to Fire Mueller, Non-compliance on Democrats' Subpoenas, Information Demands & Rod Rosenstein; Trump Backs Off Anti-Vaccine Claims as Hundreds Quarantined for Measles; Russian National Maria Butina Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison; Sri Lankan Police Find Explosives, ISIS Flags, Uniforms in Raid. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 26, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So without any overt act, as in this case, prosecutors really have their hands tied. So instead, the judge said he is inclined to release Hasson under some very strict conditions, putting it this way, saying, "He's got to have a whole of supervision, somebody who's got eyes and ears on him like nobody's business."

But Hasson's public defender stressed repeatedly that these charges are overblown. She said that Hasson's list of targets wasn't a so- called hit list but looked like something the president would compile after watching FOX News, given the president's rhetoric in person and on Twitter. The public defender also said the racial slurs that Hasson wrote out are part of what she called the, quote, "national vocabulary that Donald Trump uses, similar epithets in his everyday language and tweets."

Prosecutors, on the other hand, say that Hasson is a real threat. Saying, "This is combat gear. There's no reason to have this. The defendant intended to take his weapons and go."

Even this morning, the FBI director seemed to express some doubt about the judge's inclination to release Hasson with conditions, after a later hearing. The FBI director, Brianna, said he hopes the judge does the right thing here.

So there's a lot of pressure on this judge. But as this judge said in court yesterday, because the charges are only weapons and drug-related charges, he can't continue to hold him.

So they will have an upcoming hearing. It will be discussed what strict conditions will be placed on Hasson when he's eventually released. But this is a tough one for prosecutors since there's no domestic terrorism law, per se.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Very interesting.

Jessica Schneider, thank you so much for the report.

President Trump calls Robert Mueller a Trump hater and denies he ever asked for him to be fired. Plus, the president's message to anti-vacceers after hundreds are quarantined by a measles outbreak in California.


[13:36:15] KEILAR: More defiance and denials from President Trump today. He once again denied telling the former White House counsel to fire Robert Mueller, a fact detailed in the Mueller report, drawing from McGahn's interview. And Trump bragged about the transparency of his administration. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never told Don McGahn to fire Mueller. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I would have done it myself. It's very simple. I had the right to.

I let White House Counsel McGahn testify. I let everybody testify. I think McGahn --


TRUMP: Excuse me. I think McGahn was in there for 30 hours. Whoever heard of such a thing?

So we have no collusion, no obstruction. We had total transparency. We gave 1.4 million documents, if you can believe such a ridiculous thing, 500 people testified. We had 18 people that were Trump haters. That includes Mr. Mueller. He was a Trump hater.


KEILAR: And as Democrats demand information and issue subpoenas, the president is not cooperating.

We have Democratic Congressman Gerald Connolly to talk about this.

You are on the House Oversight Committee. When you hear the president saying that this morning, how do you react to that?

REP. GERALD CONNOLLY (D-VA): It's completely a distortion of the truth. We know from the Mueller report that he repeatedly tried to obstruct the criminal investigation undertaken by Mueller. He continues to try to characterize it as a Democrat-led investigation. I beg to differ. The attorney general was a Republican and appointed by Trump. Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, is a Republican appointed by Trump. Mueller is a Republican appointed by the Republican Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. And so the idea that this was somehow a Democratic enterprise is simply false. But the obstruction of justice documented in the Mueller report is very real.

KEILAR: Do you think he is currently obstructing justice when it, for instance, comes to ongoing cases or pressuring witnesses when he says things about Don McGahn so publicly and repeatedly? CONNOLLY: I believe it is a continuation of a pattern this president

engaged in. And now he's coming up against, frankly, a constitutional clash, because he is essentially directing his own administration to not cooperate across the board with legitimate congressional investigations. He may not like it but that's the process in our constitutional framework. And we are a separate but co-equal branch of government and we'll insist on the right to investigate and provide oversight, which is the mandate we got, frankly, last November.

KEILAR: As you insist on that, you threatened to impose fines or even jail time for White House officials who are refusing to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with committee investigations, provide documents, for instance. Do you foresee jail time? At what point does it come to that? And how do you do that when, normally, when someone is held in contempt of Congress, the backstop is the Department of Justice, which you just pointed out is led by Attorney General Bill Barr, who you would not expect to be in your corner on this.

CONNOLLY: That's correct. I don't expect him to play fair or be a neutral arbiter. I don't threaten anybody. I am simply pointing out Congress has immense powers. And if you want to go to war with Congress, do you so at your own peril.

KEILAR: How do you do it?


KEILAR: Without the DOJ?

CONNOLLY; First of all, there's the issue of subpoenas. Then there's contempt of Congress citations. Then there's going to court to insist on the enforcement of the subpoenas. By the way, if you violate a court order, you're in criminal contempt of court and you can go to jail for that. That's what I was talking about. Incarceration can be in your future, either through the court system or in the extraordinary and not used for a while power of Congress. Congress has the power and the Supreme Court rulings in the past have upheld that power to actually arrest and incarcerate individuals who don't cooperate with lawful subpoenas issued by the Congress.

[13:40:14] KEILAR: Listen to Rod Rosenstein. He defended his handling of the Mueller report when he was at an awards dinner last night. And he also took aim at the Obama administration.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The previous administration chose not to publicize the full story about Russian computer hackers and social media trolls, and how they relate to Russia's broader strategies to undermine America. The FBI disclosed classified information about that investigation to selected lawmakers and their staffers. Someone selectively leaked information to the news media.


KEILAR: What's your reaction to that?

CONNOLLY: I don't know what he's talking about. But that's Rod Rosenstein, described as one of the 18 crazy Democrats as part of the investigation of the Trump administration and its alleged cooperation with the Russians to interfere with our election.

KEILAR: Yet, you said he's a Republican.

CONNOLLY: Sure sounds like one.

KEILAR: To that point, then, what do you think about -- you're sort of, not really engaging on what he said there.

CONNOLLY: Well, I don't know what he's talking about, so it's a little hard to be engaged.

KEILAR: Do you think -- is he defending himself? Why do you think he's doing that? You're obviously critical of his role here.

CONNOLLY: Well, he's not really defending himself, is he? He's deflecting by attacking the previous administration. He's not defending his own actions or those of the Trump administration. I find that curious. If you have nothing to hide, and if you're pretty proud of your work, why not defend it as opposed to attacking somebody else.

KEILAR: Congressman Gerald Connolly, thank you very much.

CONNOLLY: My great pleasure.

KEILAR: Thank you for the interview.

CONNOLLY: Yes, any time.

KEILAR: A measles outbreak quarantined nearly 300 at two universities in California, causing President Trump to weigh in on anti-vaccers.

And breaking today, the Russian woman who tried to infiltrate conservative circles in the U.S. learns her fate. Hear what Maria Butina said in court.


[13:46:34] KEILAR: In his first comments about the growing measles outbreak in 22 states, President Trump is urging parents to get their children vaccinated.


TRUMP: They have to get the shots. The vaccinations are so important. This is really going around now. They have to get their shots.


KEILAR: Hundreds of students, faculty and staff at Cal State Los Angeles and UCLA are under quarantine after a measles outbreak.

CNN correspondent, Nick Watt, is at UCLA for us.

And tell us what these two universities are having people do.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, right now, we have 235 students, faculty and staff under quarantine, and that is because county officials have identified students here at UCLA and at Cal State Los Angeles who had measles.

Here at UCLA, they worked out this student back earlier in April came to class this year and so they identified more than 500 people who may have come into contact with that student. And they put a bunch under quarantine. The only way to get off the quarantine list is to prove you have been vaccinated. If you're still on that list, you have to stay home. They say do not go to class, do not come out of your accommodation, do not go on public transport, stay home.

It's because schools and colleges are perfect, I suppose, breeding grounds for this disease. It is highly contagious. On a campus like this, a lot of prolonged contact between students and faculty. Also a lot of prolonged contact. If you were sitting in a class next to somebody with measles for an hour, and you are not vaccinated, there's an extremely high chance you will get to the disease. Also, if you walk into a room where somebody with measles was in there a couple hours before, you can still get measles.

So the message is stay home. And the message from public health officials in general is the same as that message from the president, is the only way to keep you and your family safe is to be vaccinated.

Back to you.

KEILAR: And do you know, do they know how long this quarantine will last?

WATT: For right now, at UCLA, they'll lift the quarantine on Tuesday if there are no new cases detected. Over at Cal State Los Angeles, it will be the beginning of May because there's a 21-day window between you being in contact with an infected person. Within those 21 days, any time you can display symptoms and you are infectious. After 21 days, they say you're pretty much in the clear. So that is what drives these days and dates for these quarantine periods. They are trying to get on top of it here. They are trying to contain it -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Very serious.

Nick Watt, thank you so much, from UCLA for us.

Former Vice President Joe Biden struggling with apologies in his first television interview of his 2020 campaign. Will his past continue to overshadow his bid for president?

[13:49:32] Plus, President Trump once again defends his controversial remarks in Charlottesville, saying that Confederate General Robert E. Lee was, quote, "one of the greats."


KEILAR: A Russian national sentenced a short time ago. Maria Butina getting 18 months from a federal judge. Butina pleaded guilty on a conspiracy charge for trying to infiltrate Republican political circles.

And Kara Scannel is here.

There were some who thought she should be allowed to go back to Russia right away. That is not happening?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, it is not. The judge sentenced her to 18 months in prison. She was already in prison since arrested last year and that is just over nine months. Now her lawyer said she served this time to just send her back home. But the prosecutors made a strong argument saying her conduct was dangerous. And the judge agreed, saying the work she was doing was serious national security concerns, not some college student trying to warm relations between the two countries, which is what her lawyers were saying. So at this point, the judge is giving her credit for the nine months that she served but she's going to have another nine months in prison for this conduct.

[13:55:16] KEILAR: Remind us what she was convicted of.

SCANNELL: She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to not registering, essentially, as an agent of a foreign official. And what she did when she was here was from 2015 to 2017, so during the election, that she was over here working with a former Russian Senator, Alexander Torshin, and making contact, trying to infiltrate and penetrate conservative political circles in the NRA. And she did. She got members of the NRA to come to Russia. She was at one of Trump's campaign event where she asked him a question. And she arranged friendly dinners between Russians and some politicians. This was all part of a scheme that the government said was this effort to try to just identify even individuals who might be vulnerable, who Russia might want to watch and find out who those would be in power an influence.

KEILAR: And how is this seen as of the Russian influence scheme into effecting American politics?

SCANNELL: It is so interesting. I think you hear from her lawyers that she kind of got caught and swept up in this broader issue that the government was investigating and Russia and the hack and the Russian social media campaign. I think even the prosecutors acknowledged that she wasn't a trained intelligence agent. She wasn't someone who was actively working for the FSB. But she's another example of how the Russians were trying to get contact with U.S. officials to influence thoughts and patterns and to get that kind of insight into what Americans were thinking. Because you have the troll farm, you have the social media pitch, you have the hack. And then, even if she was not kind of a puppet of the Kremlin, information that she is sending back to this former Senator, he's close to the Kremlin. He's in that orbit. So all of the information, the government is saying, was just ways to bring information back to Russia about the U.S. and to push Russian lines and desires in these very small but powerful political circles.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about something we heard yet again from the president today. He denied he ordered the firing of Robert Mueller. Let's listen.

Oh, we don't actually have sound of that.

But he did say it. And this is -- so he tweeted this as well. And when you look at the Mueller report, it lays out very clearly in the conversations the special counsel had with Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, that this is something that happened. What do you make of the president repeating this over and over when there it is in black and white?

SCANNELL: It is fascinating. He's speaking to an audience, a particular audience. He's dismissing most of what the report's findings are. But this is another instance where his White House counsel is under oath for the penalty of perjury. How many people have been prosecuted for lying? And McGahn is explaining in great detail how he was asked to go to the Justice Department and Rod Rosenstein and say, you should get rid of Robert Mueller? And he didn't do it. And if it was a direct order or an indirect order --

KEILAR: And he's saying -- and in the tweet, I could have done it myself. But actually he couldn't have.


KEILAR: He could not have just done it himself, walked up to Robert Mueller and said, you're fired, right?

SCANNELL: Right. He couldn't do it himself. There was a process. Rod Rosenstein, who Donald Trump put in position as the deputy attorney general, was the one that appointed Mueller, is the one that would have had to fire Mueller, and that message was never delivered to him.

KEILAR: And Trump was following the process but his counsel got in the way of that.

Kara Scannell, thanks so much. Great reporting today.

We have some breaking news. A major search operation is under way in Sri Lanka. Security are attempting to root out any sleeper cells connected to the Easter Sunday bombings. And in the midst of one of the house raids, a gun battle broke out. When police finally entered the home, they uncovered a stash of weapons, 100,000 ball bearings, a drone camera, 150 sticks of dynamite. There were also ISIS flags and uniforms.

International correspondent, Will Ripley, is in Colombo.

Will, what else can you tell us about the raid and what appears to be a lot of bomb-making equipment as they search for these suspects?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, authorities said what they're looking for is a large number of ISIS militants, up to 130 in this country, which led them to these locations on the eastern side of Sri Lanka. And there was a gun battle broke out. Several expositions reported as well. We don't know if they were the detonation of suicide bombers, which was initially expected, or if this had to do with the explosives that were located at various houses that officers were raiding and investigating.

But, yes, to see the images and the extent of the supplies they had, truly chilling in terms of the bombs, the ball bearings, and all of the things they would need to carry out a second wave of attacks, which they may still be being plotted right now.