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Trump's Threats Before Re-Election Launch; Shanahan Out of Confirmation Process; Trump Claims Lead in Swing States; Biden Says He Could Win in the South; Porter Supports Impeachment Inquiry; Harvard Rescinded Parkland Student's Admission Offer. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 18, 2019 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:05] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, the season premiere of the president's re-election launch goes fear factor. Why he's threatening to deport millions of people.

And, he was going to one of America's most notorious jails, but the Trump administration stepped in and now it appears he'll be spared. The inmate, the president's former campaign chairman.

Plus, a debate erupts over Harvard's decision to take away its acceptance of a Parkland shooting survivor for racist remarks he made in the past.

And a man approaches a federal build armed for war, dressed to kill. What we know about his past and what his online profile tells us.

And President Trump is heading to Florida today for what he says will be a wild rally. This is the official kickoff of the 2020 Trump re- election campaign in Orlando, Florida. And it may seem like the president kicked off his campaign a long time ago. He has, after all, held more than 50 political rallies during his two-plus years in office and he actually filed 2020 re-election paperwork on his inauguration day in 2017. But this is the one that he says really gets the ball rolling.

And with more than 20 Democratic contenders vying to take his job and poll numbers showing him behind a number of them, expect the president to come out swinging.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is in Orlando.

And part of the run-up to today's announcement, Kaitlan, was a tweet that the president put out. It said that next week immigration and customs enforcement is going to start removing millions of undocumented immigrants.

Tell us about what he's talking about there, Kaitlan. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was a vague

tweet we got from the president overnight and it seemed to be a nod to the base that he's going to be speaking to here in Orlando tonight, Brianna. But the president was saying that next week -- starting next week that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is going to start deporting millions of undocumented immigrants.

Now, the president didn't offer a lot of details and in the hours since that tweet was fired out from the president's account, we haven't gotten a lot of clarification from the administration either. The White House is referring us to ICE and ICE is referring us back to the White House. And we do know that one ICE official said that they did not know the president was going to make that announcement.

Of course, what we heard from sources that typically an announcement like that, Brianna, wouldn't be telegraphed on the president's Twitter account because they don't want to tip their hand. And, of course, this comes at a time when we know that ICE has been strained by the crush of immigrants trying to cross the border, something that the president and his allies have lamented multiple times. And, of course, if he was going to deport millions of people, that would require a lot of resources from ICE. So we're still waiting to hear more on that.

But, of course, it could be a nod to the president's time here tonight. Of course you can see all of the people waiting to get inside for the president's rally. And, as you noted, he's already held several this year. But this is the one that the campaign is billing as the official launch of his re-election bid.

And, of course, Brianna, you know better than anyone, he won on immigration in 2016. And some Republicans are hoping the president will use that as his platform again in 2020 in addition to the economy instead of focusing on something like health care, which the president said recently his administration plans to roll out a health care plan in the next few months. So, of course, this is going to be a big rally tonight. That's how the campaign is billing it. And the president is likely going to hit his greatest notes that he typically does at these rallies.


KEILAR: And, Kaitlan, stay with me here.

Actually, we've had some breaking news. You haven't seen this yet, but the president's been tweeting as we have been talking and he just said this. Acting secretary of defense -- he said the acting secretary of defense, Patrick Shanahan, who has done a wonderful job, has decided not to go forward with his confirmation process so that he can devote more time to his family. I thank Pat for his outstanding service and will be naming secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, to be the new acting secretary of defense. I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job.

And, Kaitlan, I know that we are just getting wind of this and you're there at this -- what is supposed to be the official kickoff rally for President Trump later today, but just give it -- this, I suspect, does not come as too much of a surprise to you. Tell us a little bit about the context around this, finding out that the secretary of defense, who's been acting, Patrick Shanahan, since Jim Mattis resigned, tell us about this fact that now this is no longer going forward.

COLLINS: Yes, Patrick Shanahan has been the acting defense secretary since James Mattis resigned last fall, left in December. Then Patrick Shanahan took over. He's this former Boeing executive. And for so long he languished in that role as acting defense secretary. And he and the chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, pushed the president to nominate him as the defense secretary because they said it was affecting his abilities to carry out the job to the best of his ability.

So then you saw the president several weeks announce that, yes, he did intend to nominate Patrick Shanahan as the permanent defense secretary. But, Brianna, we raised questions in recent weeks because that nomination never became official. You have to actually sending the paperwork up to Capitol Hill. And there have been questions about whether his background check had been completed, what essentially was tying up his nomination. And there had been speculation that there was a chance it could be withdrawn.

[13:05:16] Now, of course, we should note that the president privately has been talking very highly of Patrick Shanahan, has been praising him lately. So the question now that Patrick Shanahan has told the president he's decided to withdraw is just another name essentially that we've seen on a list of names coming out of this administration of people that the president has wanted to put in positions but then later, because they're not sure about their nomination or confirmation process, have had to withdraw.

Now, Mark Esper, the guy that the president now says he's going to nominate to be the defense secretary, is someone that people -- we've reported the -- have been pushing the president to pick him when he was debating whether or not he should pick Patrick Shanahan. So that will be welcome news to the people who have been pushing him.

But, of course, Brianna, you cannot ignore the very serious backdrop that is happening in all of this, which is, of course, the escalating tensions with Iran that are happening and all of that. And that is why the president and his allies are going to be pushing him to get someone in that position and get them nominated.

KEILAR: Yes, as you're sending more troops to the region for a defensive posture, the idea that there's an acting defense secretary who's now out of the confirmation process of moving forward in that is pretty stunning.

Kaitlin Collins, thank you so much.

I want to bring in Barbara Starr, who is at the Pentagon.

Barbara, what are you hearing about this change? And what all does this mean just in general to the Trump administration at a critical time where this is a critical role?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's step back just a minute. What we have known through most of the day today is that the acting secretary was struggling to make a decision about what he wanted to do. And what -- what was he struggling about?

Patrick Shanahan, this is part of a public record, several years ago, had a very contentious divorce. He has three children. He had a family situation with an ex-wife, his wife at the time, where police had been called to the house. This is a matter of public record, assault and battery. There was information that his wife had engaged in assault and battery, that she had engaged in substance abuse. Patrick Shanahan had told the police he had never laid a hand on his wife. But the police had been called to this residence.

Late yesterday, Shanahan put out a statement, as well as two of his three children, speaking about his wife, them speaking about their mother, and their very difficult family situation. They had not been in touch with their mother for some time, two of his three children being involved in that statement. So, when we came in today, we knew that Shanahan described by one of his closest aides was in a bad space. He did not want to put his children through this public situation where they might have to speak more publicly, where he might have to speak more publicly in a confirmation hearing about something that was intensely personal to his family. By all accounts, he was looking at all of this and deciding throughout today whether he wanted to put his children through that again. That's where we are right now on our understanding of this situation.

But on the broader national security stage, here's the situation. He's the acting secretary of defense. He is scheduled to travel to NATO in the coming days for a defense ministerial. He is scheduled to travel back to Asia, which has been a top priority for him. The Iran situation heats up by the day. Talking to allies about that, trying to get other countries in the Middle East to also engage in deterrent activities against Iran. How long he will stay in this acting position, we don't know. Will he stay until a new secretary is confirmed and how long that may take may put all of this way behind schedule, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Barbara Starr, if you can stand by for me there at the Pentagon, I want to bring in John Kirby, retired rear admiral, former spokesperson in the Obama Pentagon and the Obama State Department.

This is perhaps not completely unforeseen at this point in time. We had wondered what was going to happen with Patrick Shanahan and if this process of him going from acting secretary of defense to a confirmation process was going to go forward. But what is your reaction to this?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, certainly on the face of it sounds like he did the right thing for his family. And I think I would suspect that his concern over his former wife also probably weighed into this. There was, in the statements of the children, mentioned that she might suffer some mental issues. And so maybe he was also trying to look after her too. So it sounds like he's done the right thing for the family.

But, remember, Brianna, there -- he never had really been nominated. It was an intent to nominate.

KEILAR: IT was an intent to nominate.

KIRBY: And that was six or seven weeks ago. And we had stories yesterday about FBI checks not being complete. So it almost -- I don't want to sound conspiratorial, but it sounds like maybe there was more to it than just him looking after the family. So we'll have to see where this --

[13:10:10] KEILAR: That signaled to you that there was something awry?

KIRBY: If -- he's been -- he was the deputy secretary of defense and then acting for a long time, since Mattis resigned, and yet he's still -- these FBI checks weren't complete. That is not normal. There's probably just something there. And maybe that also helped lead him to this decision. Maybe he just determined it was going to be too hard to get through a confirmation battle.

KEILAR: Anyone in government will tell you, you need to have a secretary of defense. The acting thing is a problem for the Trump administration. The acting thing is especially a problem when it comes to the defense secretary.

So let's talk about who's now going to be the next acting and then we'll talk about moving forward from there.

Tell us about Mark Esper. He's the secretary of the Army. What is he going to bring to this?

KIRBY: I don't really know the man well, but from people I've talked to in the Pentagon, he's well regarded, well respected. He's done an able job as secretary of the Army, which is, of course, the largest service. And so we'll have to see. We'll just have to see what -- what his priorities are. But even he will be acting for a while. And you're right about it being problematic when you're in the midst of these huge tensions with Iran, Russia and China, all over the world. And the allies and partners need to know that they're talking to somebody who's Senate confirmed, who has the voice and the ear of the president of the United States. And, frankly, Mr. Shanahan suffered from that a little bit.

KEILAR: All right, John Kirby, stay with me as we continue this breaking news.

Guys, where did you want to go next?

All right, let's change -- let's change our direction here.

President Trump has been making some unsubstantiated claims about the state of the 2020 race for the White House. He says that he's leading in all of the battleground states and he says that he is, quote, winning everywhere. But the polls paint a much different picture.

Let's go to senior political analyst Ron Brownstein to join us. He is giving us a fact check here.

And, first, let's talk, Ron, about the president's claim that he is ahead in the 17 battleground states.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, you know, first of all, Brianna, 17 battleground states is kind of like the spring training moment in baseball when the grass is green and every team can imagine that it's a competitor. Seventeen is probably the broadest possible definition of states that we'll be looking at next year. It could be much smaller by the fall of 2020.

But essentially you have ten states that Donald Trump won that Democrats are targeting to one degree or another. And you have six or seven or eight states that Hillary Clinton won that Donald Trump is targeting. If you look at the states that Clinton won, she won 20 states, probably the ones that professionals in both parties give Trump the best chance at are Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire. And after that, the pickings get significantly slimmer. I mean he talks about New Mexico, he talks about Oregon. There's Colorado and Virginia, and probably they would add Maine in there. Right now you would not say Donald Trump is the favorite in any of those states. So the idea that he's ahead in all 17 seems a bit of a stretch.

KEILAR: And let's talk about Joe Biden. The former vice president, he just said that he would do well in the south. Let's listen.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I plan on campaigning in the south. I plan, and if I'm your nominee, winning Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, believe it or not, and I believe we can win Texas and Florida, if you look at the polling data now.


KEILAR: Tell us, is that really possible, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, here's the thing. Even if Texas and Georgia are competitive, they are never going to be in the first 270 Electoral College votes that a Democrat wins. By the time they win Texas or Georgia or probably even North Carolina at this point, they almost certainly would have won the states that are closer to that 270 tipping point, which are Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the three states in the so-called blue wall that Donald Trump won in 2016.

So those are always going to be the top priority for the Democrats. If -- there are -- there is polling that shows Democrats might be competitive in Texas, but the amount of money and time that would be required to convert that into an actual bid for Texas is so overwhelming that it's hard to imagine a Democrat truly putting in the dollars and the time to do that.

Beyond the big three in the rust belt, the next ones most likely are, in fact, Arizona, Florida and North Carolina. That's probably the inner circle. Georgia, Texas are the kind of -- much like South Carolina, are the kind of states Democrats are going to win if they've already won, in effect, if it is a landslide victory in 2020.

KEILAR: That's -- Georgia, wow, wow, right? BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

KEILAR: That would be pretty -- that would be something.

All right, Ron, thank you so much for breaking that down for us.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Orange County, California, has historically been so synonymous with the GOP that Ronald Reagan used to quip that it was where good Republicans go to die. Well, fast forward now to 2019. A Democrat has flipped the district and she's now calling for impeachment hearings.

Congresswoman Katie Porter is the 64th Democratic lawmaker to come out in support of an impeachment inquiry. And in a video message to her constituents, she says it's not a decision that she takes lightly.


REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): After weeks of study, deliberation and conversations with Orange County families, I've decided to support an impeachment investigation of the president. I have not come to this easily. I come to this decision after much deliberation and I know deeply what this means for our democracy.


[13:15:18] KEILAR: Andrew Gillum is a CNN political commentator, he's the former mayor of Tallahassee, and he was the Democratic candidate for Florida governor last year.

Do you, mayor, look at this and say that support from someone like Katie Porter, for starting an impeachment inquiry, may put more pressure on Speaker Pelosi to finally pull the parking brake on moving forward with this or not? What do you think?

ANDREW GILLUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I tell you, adding Congresswoman Porter to the list -- the growing list, I should say, of Democrats who are working to hold this president accountable for his more than ten occasions of obstruction of justice is a big blow to those who are trying to keep the conversation around an impeachment inquiry from moving forward.

This is a congresswoman who won a district that was solidly Republican. Many folks would have doubted her ability to transform that seat. Prior to this point, most of the calls, say but one, have come from congressional members who are from safe Democratic areas. Well, this is not one of those safe Democratic areas. And I want to applaud the congresswoman for, quite frankly, yielding and bending to her constitutional responsibility to hold this president accountable. It's quite clear that the Mueller report set up the opportunity for Democrats to really weigh into this conversation and hold this president accountable. And I'm hoping that that list will continue to grow.

KEILAR: So if you were watching this, does this to you say that at some point Speaker Pelosi is going to have to change her mind? At some point soon, I would say --

GILLUM: Well, I --

KEILAR: To you, is the writing on the wall here that she'll have to bend to this pressure, or do you think, knowing her, that maybe -- maybe that's not the case?

GILLUM: Well, I think the dam is beginning to break a bit. That now you've got members from pretty contested areas of our country now saying that the president ought to be held accountable for his actions. And at some point, I believe the speaker is going to have to bend to the will where the majority of that caucus is. And I honestly believe that this is just the beginning of those calls that we're going to see coming from, increasingly from Democrats from various districts. Democrat, Republican, blue, purple areas of this country saying that it's time to act and to hold this president finally accountable for his actions.

KEILAR: Keeping an eye on the president, he's having his first official re-election rally tonight in Orlando. He won Florida in the last election. The Democratic establishment, they really thought that you were going to win your race for governor last year, and you did not.

GILLUM: I did too.

KEILAR: You did as well. Do you see, though, do you see anything changing in the next year that could secure Florida for a Democratic presidential candidate? What is it?

GILLUM: Yes, so, for sure. And, yes, I agree, I thought we'd secure the governor's race. But I will tell you, we had three statewide offices go into a recount process, elected our first Democrat statewide in a statewide office in 12 years with Nikki Fried. And, obviously, in my race, and in Senator Nelson's race, came down to fewer than 0.4 percent for me and fewer than 10,000 votes for him.

Donald Trump is going to face a more difficult Florida than he faced in 2016. He knows that Florida is the one state that can deny him re- election. And that's why he's here kicking off what is sure to be a rally full of insults and name calling and you know what else. But Democrats are organizing on the ground. We got closer in the race for governor than we had for 24 years in the state of Florida. We're going to continue to build off that momentum. That's why I've announced and launched an effort to register a million new Democrats in the state Florida. And I, frankly, believe that we're better positioned now than we were in 2016 to turn this state blue.

KEILAR: All right, Andrew Gillum, thank you so much, mayor, we appreciate you being with us.

GILLUM: Thank you.

KEILAR: As Iran says that it's heading toward a confrontation with the U.S., Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insists the U.S. does not want war. I'll speak with a 2020 candidate about that next. Plus, just in, another American tourist has died in the Dominican Republic. What is behind the series of deaths there?

[13:19:38] And should Harvard have reignited the admission of a Parkland shooting survivor for making racist remarks online when he was 16 years old? The debate over this is raging.


KEILAR: Like any student, Parkland shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv says he was excited when he was admitted to Harvard University in the class of 2023. But this week he tweeted out that Harvard had rescinded his acceptance over what he admits were, quote, abhorrent racial slurs that he made two years ago. Comments that he says he owned up to and apologized for.

Now, this is stirring up a hornet's nest on social media with some suggesting a conspiracy and accusing Harvard of rescinding the acceptance because Kashuv is conservative and a Second Amendment activist.

[13:25:09] Let's bring in Taylor Lorenz. She has written about similar stories in the past for "The Atlantic."

So, I'm so glad to have you on, Taylor, to lend context to this and really get us to the truth on this.

Is this unusual for Harvard to rescind an acceptance of a student when comments like this come out?

TAYLOR LORENZ, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": I almost have to laugh because it's not unusual at all. I mean just like a little bit over two years ago, actually ten students in a single class had their, you know, offers rescinded after making racist jokes very similar to what Kyle said in a FaceBook group chat. So, I mean, this is something that they do constantly.

KEILAR: And when this -- there's this theory, right, that we're seeing floated about that it's because he's conservative. Fact check that for us.

LORENZ: No, it's absolutely not because he's conservative. I mean all of these children are held to the same standard. I mean you cannot make racist comments. And if Harvard finds out about that, you know, they do have a character clause. Just the way that every high school sports team does. I mean this is very common.

So, yes, I mean those ten students who had their offers rescinded just ten years ago from Harvard, in which Harvard made a very public showing of it saying this stuff is not OK for saying the "n" word, you know, they ranged from, you know, probably very conservative to very liberal. They had a range of political views. And, you know, this has just -- this comes down to, you know, display of character. And, of course, he made a mistake, but you have to be held accountable at some point. KEILAR: He is arguing that he should be allowed to show he's grown as

a person, that he has apologized for what he said. What do you think about that?


KEILAR: It sounds like other students haven't been given that opportunity. But what do you think about him making that argument?

LORENZ: I mean, look, exactly what you just said, all of these other students -- and, by the way, I just want to reiterate, this is not an uncommon thing, have not been given that opportunity. I think that's unfair.

Also, the way that you grow and learn is by suffering consequences for your actions. And so, you know, to kind of skirt consequences and say, oh, I growed -- you know, I grew, I learned, well then, you know, own up and suffer the consequences.

KEILAR: Well, he certainly is in this case very publicly as well.

Taylor Lorenz, thank you so much for coming on.

LORENZ: Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort may no longer be heading to New York's notorious Rikers Island prison after the DOJ intervenes. We have details on his unusual request ahead.

Plus, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is getting flak after she compares the Trump administration's border detention facilities to concentration camps. Hear how she is trying to clarify herself, next.