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Soon Actress Felicity Huffman to Enter Guilty Plea in Court; Pompeo Cancels Moscow Trip to Meet with European Allies on Iran; Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) Discusses Pompeo Meeting European Allies on Iran, Graham Telling Don Jr to Ignore Subpoena; Trump Meets with Controversial Hungarian Prime Minister. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 13, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:23] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Actress Felicity Huffman is expected back in federal court today in Boston to formally enter a guilty plea in the college admissions scam. Huffman is charged with conspiracy to commit fraud. She's agreed to plead guilty to paying $15,000 to a fake charity associated with the man at the center of this massive case and scandal, Rick Singer. The scam for Huffman was paying for someone to cheat on her daughter's SAT exam, something Huffman says her daughter knew nothing about. The charges could land her in prison for up to 20 years. But with the plea, federal prosecutors are expected to ask for much less. But what is really going to happen today?

Joining me for more is CNN national correspondent, Brynn Gingras, in Boston. She's been following all this.

Brynn, what are you hearing? What's going to happen in court today?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate. Right now, we're actually keeping our eyes peeled because the last time Huffman came to court for her initial court appearance where she was formally read the charges against her, she was three hours early. It was about this time, because court is at 2:30. So we're trying to see if she's going to arrive early. Last like, it was with her brother. We're wondering if her husband will be here as well because this is a big day in court for her. This is when she's going to formally plead guilty to that single charge you laid out for your viewers.

And like you said, she has admitted guilt. She's actually admitted shame. She released a statement last month really apologizing. And I'm going to read part of it. She said, "I am ashamed of the pain I caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues, and the education community. I want to apologize to them. And especially, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly."

It was quite a statement that she released last month. And it's unclear if she'll make any more statements in court today. What we know, she'll appear in court before the judge. The government

is going to outline the details of her plea agreement. We're hearing from a source that they're going to recommend anywhere from four months to 10 months. And remember, like you said, she was facing 20 years. Quite an agreement. But it will be up to a judge to make the final determination about her sentencing. It could be no time at all. That's going to happen at a later date. We have to stay tuned for that -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. It will be fascinating to hear, especially after that statement that you read that she put out a month ago.


BOLDUAN: It will be really interesting what she had to say in court if she speaks today. We'll keep close.

Great to see you, Brynn. Thank you so much.

Coming up for us, tough talk and another canceled visit. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo postponing a trip to Russia as tensions rise, yet again, with Iran. The U.S. is now deploying missiles to the region. What does this move now mean?

We'll be right back.


[11:37:36] BOLDUAN: An abrupt change of plans for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this morning, and it comes as tensions rise even further between the United States and Iran. The State Department announcing Pompeo would skip his planned visit to Moscow today, instead meeting with European allies in Brussels to discuss Iran. Last week, the U.S. announced it was deploying a strike group, B-52 bombers and additional Patriot missiles to the region. The Pentagon says intelligence suggests Iran may be planning to threaten U.S. forces over interests abroad. One defense official even saying late Friday, here's a quote for you, "The threat is still real and credible and we're taking it seriously."

Joining me right now to talk about how serious it is right now, Democratic Congressman John Garamendi, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thank you for being here.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): It's good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

This is the second time the secretary of state has canceled or postponed these visits at the last minute over concerns with Iran. The administration keeps moving more and more assets to the region. How serious are you taking the threat from Iran? How real do you think the possibility -- I guess my question now is, how real do you think the possibility is of military action? GARAMENDI: I really do not see military action against, directly

against Iran. That would be an extraordinary and a very, very bad situation. There's, however, in the area, continuing hostilities. Certainly Syria is undertaking a major attack in northern Syria up against the Turkish border. Russia is in that area. We have allies that are also operating there. The Persian Gulf has always been a risky place. And so it is difficult. Keep in mind that the European allies are not in lockstep with us with regard to Iran. When the president pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, the Europeans didn't like that. And have remained somewhat apart from the United States with regard to Iran, so that's probably why Pompeo is heading off to our would-be allies.

BOLDUAN: Do you doubt at all the intelligence that the Pentagon and the White House are citing for making these moves?

GARAMENDI: We have not been briefed. To my knowledge, there's not been a significant or serious briefing by the Pentagon or by the intelligence agencies. Now, we're in the midst of marking up the National Defense Authorization Act this week.


[11:40:02] GARAMENDI: As chairman of the Readiness Committee, that has a third of that total budget, including all of the activities, the forces, the equipment, the personnel, I have certainly not been briefed about any of this. Which is, I think, a major problem that the administration continually engages in, and that is to leave Congress in the dark and just expect us to go along.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, have you asked for a briefing? Is there a reason that you haven't -- that nothing has happened? You guys need this information in order to make your decisions.

GARAMENDI: Well, we certainly do need the information. Perhaps we'll get the briefing. It was over the weekend, so most people were gone. I'm hopeful that early this week, maybe even today, we will get a briefing on what is happening.

Bottom line of all this is an extremely dangerous situation in the Middle East, has been for decades, and we need to understand what it is that this administration intends to do. They really did kick over the apple cart here by pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. And also, when the president said he was going to pull out of Syria, prematurely, that led to Mattis retiring or resigning.


GARAMENDI: And so all of these things create a situation where we have significant chaos. By the way, ISIS didn't disappear. It just was defeated on the ground war. But it's very, very much alive in Syria, in Iraq, and throughout the region.

BOLDUAN: The Pentagon has said the threat from Iran is very serious and very real. They're taking it very seriously and they say it's very real. Yet, you have not yet been briefed. At this moment, do you support the moves they have made, moving assets to the region as they have?

GARAMENDI: Well, it's always good to be prepared. Now, I don't know prepared for what specific new threat exists. And therefore, nonetheless, be prepared. That's fine. We often move our aircraft carriers and other equipment around as a show of force. And so we also have a situation where four tankers were somehow sabotaged in some way by someone, unknown who it is. I do not want to have a Tonkin Gulf situation here that could set off a conflict, so let's be very sure that we understand all of the elements, take our time, get the intelligence, and then make a rational, careful decision. And you better involve Congress in that decision.

BOLDUAN: One thing that we know definitely today, "Washington Post" has a new analysis that there are more than 20 congressional investigations that the White House has been stonewalling on.

I want to play something from Lindsey Graham, because this is a suggestion coming now from Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senator, on how he is suggesting that President Trump's son, Don Jr., handle a subpoena from the Senate Intel Committee. Listen to this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): As I understand it, this subpoena relates to what Michael Cohen said about some meetings and about the Trump Tower in Russia. If I were Donald Trump Jr's lawyer, I would tell him, you don't need to go back into this environment anymore. You have been there for hours and hours and hours. And nothing being alleged here changes the outcome of the Mueller investigation. I would call it a day.


BOLDUAN: Senator Graham is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He seems to be suggesting right there and saying that he should ignore a legally binding request from the Senate. What do you say to that?

GARAMENDI: Outrageous. Absolutely outrageous that this Senator, who just during the Clinton impeachment hearings was all too happy to have Clinton and everybody else in the world come in with or without a subpoena, and here he is on the other side of the coin. Lindsey Graham is just outrageous in this situation. He, as chairman of that committee or as a Senator, took an oath to uphold the Constitution, and a good piece of that Constitution is the division of power and the oversight of Congress. There are critical issues. I'm not a member of the Senate. I don't know all of the background that was involved and why the Republican Senate chairperson of the Intelligence Committee authorized that subpoena. It must have been a very good reason for it. Similarly, we have a problem on the House side that goes far more in number. But this is a pattern that this president is engaged in. And it is extra constitutional. You consider just rebuffing everything that Congress wants to do in its oversight role, and in its appropriate review of what this administration is doing, those 20 different investigations. And similarly, with regard to the border wall in which the president has assumed using the emergency appropriations -- excuse me -- the emergency powers, has assumed the appropriation power of Congress, which is explicit in the Constitution that only Congress can appropriate money. Congress decided to not appropriate money. And now the president is using an obscure emergency power, in fact, appropriating money. We have a pattern here of the president acting way beyond the constitutional limits of his Article II powers and ignoring the Article I powers of the Congress. A very serious constitutional question, the outcome of which will decide the very nature of our democracy in the decades ahead.

[11:45:37] BOLDUAN: Yes, and you have a very important role when it comes to the border wall and funding in that regard --


BOLDUAN: -- and whether they'll be taking the money. I want to continue that conversation. We'll hold that for next time.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate your time. Thank you, Congressman.

GARAMENDI: Certainly. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, he's so controversial that even some Republican Senators have big concerns about his visit to the White House and he's visiting today. Why is Hungary's far-right leader meeting with President Trump? The prime minister of Hungary, why is he meeting with the president a few hours from now? That's next.


[11:51:01] BOLDUAN: Today, the president is welcoming a world leader to the White House, one who hasn't met formally with a U.S. president in more than 20 years, and his visit is already drawing sharp criticism from both sides of the aisle in Congress. President Trump is hosting hardline Prime Minister Viktor Orban today. And last week, a bipartisan group of Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee sent a letter to the president saying that they are concerned by what they call Hungary's "downward democratic trajectory" under Orban.

Here's one reason that they could be so concerned. Just last year, Orban was talking about his anti-immigration policies and is quoted as saying this: "We must defend Hungary as it is now. We must state that we do not want to be diverse. We do not want our own color, traditions and natural culture to be mixed with those of others."

But for President Trump, this follows a trend of inviting a slew of controversial world leaders, including the presidents of Brazil and Egypt.

With me right now is a staff writer for "The Atlantic," Franklin Foer. He traveled recently to Hungary to report on Orban.

Great to see you, Franklin. Thanks for being here. FRANKLIN FOER, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Pleased to be here.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

So from your reporting, can you explain why this bipartisan group of Senators and many others are concerned about Orban? And for some, they're alarm that the president of the United States is giving him the White House treatment here.

FOER: Right. So for as you point out, for several generations now, American presidents have shunned Viktor Orban because he represents the spirit of this movement of autocratic illiberal populism and he's led the backlash against migration in Europe. He's waged campaigns against George Soros, the Budapest-born American financier, that have been anti-Semitic, pretty clearly anti-Semitic. And he has gone about shattering civil society and democratic institutions in his own country. Hungary used to be a country that had a very robust oppositional raucous press, but it doesn't exist anymore. They used to have a robust system of higher education, and it's been brought steadily under the control of the state. If you want to talk about all of these things that we worry about, what might happen here, what might happen in the rest of the world as this autocratic illiberalism takes hold, we only need to look at Hungary as ground zero for it.

BOLDUAN: And with that this is why this one quote -- your piece is great, but one quote has really stuck out in this profile and deserves attention.

FOER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: The current U.S. ambassador to Hungary, David Cornstein, told us the following. Let me read it for our viewers. "I can tell you, knowing the president" -- he's talking about Donald Trump -- "that a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orban has, but he doesn't."

What is he telling you there?

FOER: So, my -- my jaw hit the floor when I heard him tell that to me because when -- during the Obama administration, one of the reasons that Obama didn't want to meet with this guy is because he considered the way that he ran his society to be beyond the pale, and he was worthy of the reprimand of the United States because they were violating freedom and they were limiting human rights. And so, you know, people talk about what Donald Trump wants to become, and he's compared to all these leaders from around the world. He's compared to somebody like Viktor Orban. But it was just shocking to hear an appointee of Donald Trump, somebody who has known the guy for as long as he's known him, come straight out and say explicitly Donald Trump wishes he had the powers of a leader who is recognized around the world as an authoritarian.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Steve Bannon even called Orban, in the past, Trump before Trump. This is all getting full circle here.

FOER: Yes. BOLDUAN: People call him far right. People call him a strong man.

He's an authoritarian leader. After your time profiling him, are people calling him a white nationalist? People who call him a white nationalist, are they right? Is it fair?

[11:55:13] FOER: So he's a nationalist. I mean, he's unabashed about that. And he's unabashed in describing himself as a proponent of illiberal democracy. He positions himself as an enemy of multiculturalism, as an enemy of liberalizing forces of the European Union. So this came to a head a couple years ago when you had this tide of migrants coming in from North Africa, crossing Hungary on the way largely to Germany and points north, and he decided that he was going to demagogue this. And he demagogued it not just as an invasion of people with -- with brown skin. He said that it was an invasion that was orchestrated by George Soros. And so he evoked this ancient --

BOLDUAN: This is all coming full circle then, right?

FOER: -- anti-Semitic trope.


FOER: Exactly. Exactly.

BOLDUAN: It's really -- Franklin, thank you so much for your perspective.

The president meeting with Orban today.

FOER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Let's see what he has to say in that meeting.

Thank you so much.

Coming up still, China hits back. U.S. markets plunge as China retaliates against the U.S. with new tariffs. How hard is the U.S. consumer going to get hit here?

We'll be right back.