Return to Transcripts main page


Texas Migrant Center Halts Admissions; Support for O'Rourke Tumbles; Federal Court Unseals Cohen's Warrants; John Walker Lindh to be Released from Prison; Pelosi Speaks to Reporters. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 22, 2019 - 09:30   ET



[09:32:41] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening right now, the acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifying on Capitol Hill about his department's budget, but you can expect questions from House Democrats on several issues there maybe, just imagine that, involving the boarder.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, there will be a lot of questions. They're going to grill him for sure.

This, of course, comes as nearly 200 DHS volunteers have been moved to the southern border and the administration has asked for more than $4 billion in emergency funding to deal with a surge of migrants from Central America.

McAleenan is also going to face some really important questions on the recent deaths of five migrant children -- five -- in CBP custody.

SCIUTTO: Well, a processing center for migrants in McAllen, Texas, has now stopped taking any detainees because medical staff say a number of asylum seekers are sick, they can't take care of them.

HARLOW: And a spokesman for the facility says migrants suffering from high fever and flu related symptoms is what the real concern is there.

Let's get to our Nick Valencia. He's following this story.

And that is -- I believe it was Influenza A that this last migrant that was in CBP custody died from.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And I just got off the phone, Poppy, with the CBP official who tells me that this action to stop intake at the processing center in McAllen was taken, quote, out of an abundance of caution. That official I spoke to didn't have exact numbers, saying it was a low percentage. But it's just in the past couple of minutes that CNN has learned about two dozen migrants were exposed and are exhibiting signs of the flu or common cold.

The issue there is that the station is overwhelmed. Fifteen hundred is the official capacity. They're operating at about 2,000 migrants currently. For the sector as a whole, capacity is about 3,300. Last week they were at 5,000. The week before, they were at 8,000.

This move, Poppy and Jim, to shut down the central processing center comes just a day after the death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who was held at this very facility and died after exhibiting signs of the flu.

I talked to a CBP source there on the border and he says, in the last few months, they've seen everything that you could think of imaginable with these migrants coming across into the United States. Things like measles, mumps, the flu, common cold. It is a serious issue. They equate this back to the issue in 2014 when we saw a large influx of undocumented immigrants and unaccompanied children, minors crossing into the United States. They say the issue that they're dealing with now, specifically in McAllen, is worse than 2014. This same official, CBP source, I should say, saying that Congress needs to act. They know that they (ph) they need to do. It's back in 2014 that then Department of Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson made the decision to repatriate migrants. They said it helped back in 2014. And this source with CBP says they hope that that is a decision and action taken by Congress now.

[09:35:22] Jim. Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Big questions there. And if you take them into custody, do you take responsibility then for their health? And it's one of those decisions ((INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: Well, you have to, right?


Nick Valencia, great to have you on the story.


SCIUTTO: Add Beto O'Rourke now to the list of 2020 Democrats calling for President Trump's impeachment. Hear from the former Texas congressman is the latest candidate to join that chorus, next.


[09:40:02] HARLOW: All right, welcome back.

If you didn't see the great CNN town hall last night that Dana Bash moderated with Beto O'Rourke, you should go watch it online. But presidential candidate and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke is now joining those Democrats who are calling for the president to be impeached.

SCIUTTO: He was asked about it last night and he explained why during CNN's town hall.


BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should begin impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. It's an incredibly serious, sober decision that we should make as a country. Really the last resort when every other option has failed us.

If we do nothing because we are afraid of the polls or the politics or the repercussions in the next election, then we will have set a precedent for this country that, in fact, some people, because of the position of power and public trust that they hold are above the law.


SCIUTTO: We're joined now by CNN correspondent Leyla Santiago and CNN political reporter Rebecca Buck.

And, Rebecca, if we could go to you first, I mean this latest Quinnipiac poll here is not positive for Beto O'Rourke. From March to now, just two months, 12 percent to 2 percent. I mean he's sort of in the rounder error territory now.

HARLOW: Wow. Yes.

SCIUTTO: How concerned are -- when you look at that, how concerned are people about that and is that something he can turn around at this point?

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, certainly you never want to see, as a candidate for president, your poll numbers go down in the way that Beto O'Rourke's have, and especially your favorability numbers. But I think, you know, at this stage, it is too early for his campaign and for him to be concerned about this. He has a long time to prove himself as a candidate. And as we saw in the town hall last night, Beto was able to come in as a result of these poll numbers with some very low expectations. He came into this race as a superstar and has come down to earth a little bit, and so now he was able to impress people, make a new first impression.

And so ultimately this can be a good thing. It allows him a second chance to introduce himself to voters, but certainly he's going to have to improve those numbers. And so as he has these opportunities like last night with the CNN town hall, he really needs to start hitting the ball out of the park and making that good first -- second impression, really, with these voters.

HARLOW: So, Leyla, I mean, here's the thing, you're on this beat, right? You're covering this guy day and night and he had this sort of Beto 2.0, right, reboot. But I don't see a whole lot different. Did you see a whole lot different last night from Beto O'Rourke 1.0?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, when it comes to content, what he's saying, I do agree with you, a lot of what he said last night, he has said in the more than 150 town halls that he has had in those early voting states. So for us covering him, a lot of that was sort of a repeat.

But I will say that the way he appeared, the campaign staffers tell me they are working to make him appear more presidential, I think you saw that last night. A bit of a polished look. You know, not just a haircut that we all saw on FaceBook live, but the suit as well as --

SCIUTTO: Or dental work.

SANTIAGO: You know, what he was saying. He really had the bullet points down.


SANTIAGO: So I think a lot of it was just being more polished in appearance.

SCIUTTO: OK, big picture. And, Rebecca, and just going back to the numbers here because of course the other headline in this Quinnipiac poll is Joe Biden up. You know, he's at 35 percent as others fall here, including Bernie Sanders, although Elizabeth Warren has ticked up here. I just wonder because one of the troupes leading into this is that Biden has the lead early on or had it early on largely because of name recognition. But he's been in the race now for some weeks and folks have had a chance to listen to and hear from the other candidates here. It looks like he's got some staying power as the front runner.

BUCK: Absolutely. I think the conventional wisdom here in Washington and maybe the (INAUDIBLE) or generally about Joe Biden was wrong, most Democrats do agree with him on the policy issues and many Democrats still feel very fondly about Joe Biden and that's why you see his strong numbers out of the gate. But it is still true, even though he's been in the race for a while now, as have many of these other candidates, that he is much more well-known than most of these new, younger upstarts in the party. And so the debates, I think, are going to be really crucial for Joe Biden and for these other candidates who are hoping to move past him in this race, because they need Joe Biden to falter at some point for them to leap into the lead, to take advantage of any good will they're building in the party. And so the question is, are they going to have that opportunity? Is Joe Biden going to falter so that someone else can jump in, or is he going to remain strong? And that's the key question for these Democrats.



HARLOW: All right, we'll watch. Thank you both, Rebecca Buck, Leyla Santiago. Good to have you.

BUCK: Thanks.

[09:44:50] HARLOW: We do have some breaking news just in, this is about Michael Cohen, the president's former fixer and attorney. As new search warrant documents have been released by a judge, what do they say? We will tell you, next.


HARLOW: All right, breaking news. The special counsel, Robert Mueller's search warrant in the investigation of Michael Cohen have just been made public.

SCIUTTO: And a federal judge has unsealed those warrants this morning following a CNN request here.

Evan Perez, he's been poring through them, joins us now from Washington.

What are we learning about the special counsel's motivation for searching Michael Cohen's e-mail accounts, et cetera?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, these were search warrants for his gmail account. And this is the beginning of the special counsel's investigation into Michael Cohen. And this begins in July of 2017, just a couple months after Robert Mueller has set up shop.

[09:50:04] And what we -- what we see from the description of the -- of the reason for the affidavit, it says that the FBI is investigating Michael Cohen in connection with funds that he received from entities controlled by foreign governments and/or foreign principals. So what it appears is happening here, Jim and Poppy, is that the FBI has begun doing the Russia investigation, and they learn that Michael Cohen essentially has set off some alarms at the banks that he's doing business with, and that's because he has begun using these bank accounts, these shell companies that he had set up. Initially he had set them up to help process these payments for the women that allegedly had affairs with President Trump.

He started using these same bank accounts, the same shell companies to do business, essentially, including with a company that is tied to a Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, and that's what gets the FBI and the special counsel particularly interested in Michael Cohen. There's a lot of suspicion as to exactly what was happening with this money. Was this money that was being moved through here? Again, his association with the president, the Russia investigation that's ongoing. You can see why the FBI was suspicious and wanted to get to learn more. They do an entire forensic look at Michael Cohen's financial history, and so that's where this investigation began.

You know, you really have to underscore here how Michael Cohen screwed up, right? These shell companies are cheap. You can go online and set one up in Delaware. And what you usually do is you set up one for each purpose, and that way you don't attract the attention of the FBI. In this case, he started mixing this money, and that's where he causes all of his problems. And now, of course, we know Michael Cohen is in prison for lying to Congress, for fraud, and for campaign finance violations, guys.


SCIUTTO: Also set up a company there to launder the payments to Stormy Daniels and others.

PEREZ: Right.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: So it was a --

HARLOW: Essential Consultants, right? SCIUTTO: Yes.

PEREZ: Exactly. Exactly.

HARLOW: I remember the first time we read about that in "The Wall Street Journal" when they broke that story.

PEREZ: Right.

HARLOW: All right.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Evan Perez, great story. We know you're going to keep digging through those documents.

PEREZ: Thanks. Sure.

SCIUTTO: After nearly two decades in prison, the man known as the American Taliban, he's about to be released. Should he be?

HARLOW: Also, join CNN Monday night as CNN presents a comedy special that is bigger than both sides. Colin Quinn hosts "Red State Blue State." That is Memorial Day, 9:00 Eastern, only right here on CNN.


[09:57:13] SCIUTTO: This morning, there's bipartisan pushback to tomorrow's expected release of the man known as the American Taliban. You may remember this. John Walker Lindh. He was captured in 2001 during the very early days of the Afghanistan War. He was then sentenced to 20 years in prison for supporting the Taliban. That's a picture of him more recently. At a sentencing, he condemned terrorism and said that he made a mistake by joining the terror group. But according to reporting by "The New York Times," Lindh is just as radicalized now as he was back years ago when he went to prison.

HARLOW: And, frankly, that's what has some top lawmakers really worried, including Senators Richard Shelby and Maggie Hasan, a Republican and a Democrat respectively, who just wrote a letter to the Bureau of Prison's director asking what training parole officers received to recognize signs of radicalization and about the threat that convicted terrorists pose to the public after they're released.


HARLOW: Let's go to the Pentagon. Barbara Starr joins us now.

This is a really big deal. And three years early for this release.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is. Good morning. And it is a case that is well remembered inside the U.S. military and especially inside the U.S. intelligence community because a CIA officer, Mike Spann, was killed in this place in northern Afghanistan where Lindh had just been questioned by him, interrogated by him, and then this riot broke out amongst prisoners. Spann was killed. And the feeling was at the time that John Walker Lindh knew this uprising was coming and did nothing to warn Spann that it was coming and that he was in such danger. So this is a case that has long memories up and down CIA hallways.

But nonetheless, John Walker Lindh has been granted this early release due to his good behavior. He is expected to walk out of Terre Haute Federal Prison in Indiana tomorrow at some point. There will be restrictions on him. There are definitely concerns. A couple of days ago, we talked to Spann's father, who has also written to the federal court petitioning them to find out once and for all if John Walker Lindh really does continue to hold radical beliefs and if these beliefs may pose a threat. It's a question with a lot of reports out there about all this, but perhaps not really clear answers.

Nonetheless, when he leaves prison tomorrow, he will be under parole restrictions. A lot of people still questioning, and no good answers, will that be enough.

SCIUTTO: Barbara Starr, I'm sorry to interrupt you, an important story. We're going to stay on top of it.

HARLOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: But Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, is speaking right now.

[09:59:44] REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Decision -- case which is in the court today in New York, 10:30. That case will come up. Mr. Schiff of the Intelligence Committee talked about the documents that now the Justice Department is willing to convey or to present to the Intelligence Committee. So there were three current within the last 72 hours examples of .