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Robert Mueller to Testify Before Congress on July 17; Father & Daughter Die Trying to Cross Rio Grande to U.S.; House Approves $4.5 Billion For Humanitarian Aide at Border; Over 100 Child Migrants Returned to Overcrowded "Filthy" Texas Facility. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 26, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund just doesn't have enough money to pay fully for those current claims. The first responders that met with McConnell yesterday say he told them that they can expect a vote that will bring it to the floor in August.

All right. Thank you so much for joining us today. I'm Poppy Harlow. See you back here tomorrow.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

The date is set, friends. Three weeks from now, July 17th, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will testify before two separate House committees in public hearings.

House Democrats had issued a subpoena for the former special counsel to testify, though Mueller had made it abundantly clear he had no desire to make any further comments about the Russia investigation beyond what he wrote in those some 450 pages. His words exactly last month were, "The report is my testimony."

But Democrats say that is not enough.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Will he be able to tell you anything different beyond what's in the report?

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): I think just the fact -- just if he says what was in the report and says it to the American people so they hear it, that will be very, very important because they've been subjected to months of deception as to what was in the report by the attorney general and by the president. That will be important itself. Whether he goes farther than that, we'll see.


BOLDUAN: And that is the chairman of one of the committees he will be testifying before. CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill following all of this.

Manu, what else are you hearing about how this is going to go, what lawmakers are hoping to get out of it?

RAJU: This is going to be a long day on July 17th. Back-to-back hearings, the House Judiciary Committee expected to go first followed by the House Intelligence Committee, then a closed session with the House Intelligence Committee and staff for Robert Mueller. So there will be a lot of questions asked. The question is how much will the special counsel ultimately be able to answer?

Nevertheless, I've talked to a number of members on both sides this morning. Democrats have very high expectations, with many saying that perhaps this could change the dynamics and also strengthen the calls for an impeachment inquiry, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Congresswoman from New York, who I just caught up with, who said pressure will go every day for impeachment and will grow even more after Robert Mueller makes his public comments.

When Jerry Nadler came out and talked to reporters, I asked him directly that question. He would be in charge of launching an impeachment inquiry. Privately, he's made the case. I asked him, will that change the dynamics for an impeachment inquiry?


RAJU: Some of your colleagues on your committee this morning believed that his testimony could change the dynamics for an impeachment inquiry. Do you think this would have such a profound impact that it could strengthen calls for an impeachment inquiry?

NADLER: I don't know. It might. But I think it will have a profound impact because, you know, the Russians attacked our democracy. The Trump campaign certainly welcomed that assistance.

So I think it's very important that the American people hear from Mr. Mueller as to what he did find, what the results of that two-year investigation were. And not have to rely on the misinformation spread by the attorney general.


RAJU: So not every Democrat has the same view. Adam Schiff, the Intelligence Committee chairman, who will administer that second hearing on that same day, told me that Democrats should have, quote, "realistic expectations" about what to expect from the Mueller report.

I asked him whether or not do you think it will change how people will view an impeachment inquiry proceeding. Schiff made it clear to have realistic expectations.

Kate, on the other side, Republicans are planning to ask aggressive questions to Mueller about how the investigation was started. They believe it was not carried out properly. They side with the president's criticisms. So expect that to be echoed in that testimony. Doug Collins, a top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, essentially made that case to me moments ago.

So a lot of expectation for this highly anticipated testimony in just a matter of weeks. The question, of course, what will the special counsel say and how much will be revealed that we don't already know -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That, no matter what you want and how good of reporting we'll doing, and you are doing, Manu, we'll have to wait and see.

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

Joining me now, CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig.

Elie, you say this is going to be a pivotal moment. If Bob Mueller sits before these committees and repeats what he wrote in the report, why is this so pivotal?

[11:05:09] ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Because the American people need to hear the truth, unvarnished, and Robert Mueller is the person best able to deliver it.

The vast majority of the American public and seemingly some members of Congress still do not fully understand what Robert Mueller found in his investigation and what's in the report. And just seeing a person live on TV behind the microphone answering questions live will hit so much harder than it ever could just in the written black and white.

BOLDUAN: And you look at one passage and there have been, when you look at politicians, multiple interpretations of what he was actually meaning. What did he mean when he said X, Y, and Z? And that leads me to what do you think is the most important question he can be asked?

HONIG: The biggest question, really straight forward is, do you believe the president committed a crime. He will try to tap dance around that. He did this a little in the report by saying, well, we have this policy at DOJ that we don't indict a sitting president. But I'd like to see a little pushback from Congress. You have this policy.

But do you find probable cause that the president committed obstruction or any other crime? I don't know how he can dodge that. Probable cause is what you need in order to indict a case.

BOLDUAN: Also, can't you just simply ask, what did you mean when you said this?


BOLDUAN: Read him each line. If we thought we could clear him, we would have. What did you mean by that?

HONIG: I would like to see a little more straightforward, plain English from Robert Mueller.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Yes, that's exactly what I'm trying to say.

HONIG: He's a bit of a cipher in the report. It sounds like he may just say, I stand by my report.

A couple of things. First of all, that's not really technically OK to do. You don't have the option as someone who's been subpoenaed to say, I'll answer this but not that. A subpoena is mandatory. You have to answer. This is not optional. He still may resist.

But there are questions, specific questions he can be answered, even within his report. One example, Mueller concludes in his report that the Trump campaign expected to benefit from Russian interference. Now, I would follow up on that. Who in the Trump campaign? How did they expect to benefit?

There are things, even within the four corners of his report, that he can explain further.

BOLDUAN: So beyond the four corners, when Intel Chairman Adam Schiff said last night that there are many questions to ask beyond the four corners of the report, what does he mean?

HONIG: I think he means let's get real here, to some extent, rather than all this legalese. I'll give you another example. We know that Robert Mueller put in a letter to Bill Barr that Bill Barr had misrepresented the nature, context, and substance of the report.

BOLDUAN: Right. And Bill Barr tried to explain this away.

HONIG: Yes, so I would ask Mueller in what specific ways? We've been subjected to two months of spin from Trump, from William Barr, and Mueller, whatever anyone may think of him, is nonpartisan and will give us the straight truth.

BOLDUAN: With that, does it have an impact or does it diminish the impact the fact that he's testifying after, you know, relatively so long in this world that we live in today?

HONIG: I do think it diminishes the impact. First impressions are so powerful. We know that. We've been here for two months. There's a narrative out there. The no obstruction, no collusion, total exoneration.

I think Mueller's testimony is going to go a long way toward correcting that misimpression. No collusion, not exactly what Mueller found. No obstruction, not remotely what Mueller found. And total exoneration, not remotely what Mueller found.

But, yes, there's this initial impression. There's been a long process of educating the public. As we see members of Congress slowly, one by one, come over towards the position that there needs to be an impeachment inquiry.

BOLDUAN: Can the White House restrict his testimony in any way? He's a private citizen. He's no longer the special counsel. He's no longer with the Justice Department. What can the White House do to restrict what he says?

HONIG: So the lawyer in me wants to say nothing because they have no legitimate legal basis to object. Executive privilege absolute immunity. These road blocks.

BOLDUAN: Is there something other than a lawyer in you?

HONIG: Yes, there's a realist in me, which says, of course, they'll try. It wouldn't surprise me if they start lobbing letters the night before. They'll come up with something.

But all these objections that they put out there to block Hope Hicks and Don McGahn simply do not apply to Robert Mueller. There's no privilege. He's never been an adviser to the president. He doesn't even work for DOJ anymore. But they may try.

BOLDUAN: They may try. We'll soon find out.

Good to see you. Thank you, Elie. I have a million more questions and a few more days to ask you them.

HONIG: I'll be here.

BOLDUAN: So this morning, the immigration crisis is no closer to being solved. Let's be obvious and honest about that. But there's something new. A disturbing and tragic symbol of the desperation and danger that is at the center of the immigration debate.

This image that we'll show you, a father, Oscar Martinez, his 23-year- old (sic) daughter, dead on the banks of the Rio Grande River, died trying to make it to the United States. Maybe you have seen it. Maybe you have not. Regardless, whenever it comes up on your screen, I know it is hard to look at. But please, do not look away. Please look at this.

[11:10:23] Let me go to Ed Lavandera. He's in Texas for us, covering all this.

Ed, what more are you learning about this image and the story behind it?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're trying to get the details of just why this family chose to cross in that particular area in the river, in such a dangerous area. The reports are that the family had been trying to seek asylum, perhaps been turned away at the border entry.

Remember, critics have been saying for months, along the U.S. southern border, that the Trump administration's crackdown on controlling the number of people who can seek asylum at legal ports of entry every day and essentially forcing these migrants to wait in Mexico for their turn essentially to be able to request asylum.

That the desperation in that, the dangerous situations on the Mexican side of the border was forcing people to take more treacherous, more dangerous options, like crossing the river. So we're seeing this now play out in a deadly way as people try to figure out the more specific details of why this family was brought to this particular area.

Regardless, it is a very dangerous situation. That river might look peaceful at times and kind of slow moving, but the currents are unpredictable and very swift. Obviously, you can see just how dangerous it can be for a father and his young daughter.

LAVANDERA: Absolutely. And the reports that we're seeing, of course, we're working to get more details on it. The reports are that the wife, the mother of 23-year-old (sic) Angie Valeriya was, watched while this played out because that's what her husband was trying to do, get back across to help her come across the river when the 23- year-old daughter went into the water and reached out to her father.

Ed, thank you so much.

Now, this isn't about right and left. This is about humanity. You look at that image one more time and you know this is hard breaking. Just think of what this family went through, what was going through their minds when they tried to cross the Rio Grande. And this baby did what any sweet baby does, running after, reaching after their parent when we put them down for even a second. It happens all the time. I put my daughter down even to cross the room, and she reaches out and comes after me.

This image, this story, this should weigh on the president. This should weigh on the Congress. This should weigh on everyone. Because there has to be a solution that can both keep the border secure and allow for a reasonable process when families present at the border looking for a better life.

It's time for people to open their eyes, move past the stale and tired talking points, and actually do their jobs.

Maybe, maybe one sign of hope today, I'm almost afraid to say it, but I will. Republican Senator Ron Johnson, visibly moved by this image, but the image of Oscar Martinez and Angie Valeriya and their tragedy, their tragic story, moved by this today. Watch this.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): I didn't have time to have a picture blown up, but we've all seen it, of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeriya. I don't want to see another picture like that on the U.S. border. I hope that picture alone will catalyze this Congress, this Senate, this committee to do something.


BOLDUAN: Oscar Martinez, his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeriya.

So what are they going to do about it to try to answer the question that Ron Johnson is presenting? Well, the House passed emergency funding for the border last night. The Senate is looking at a different version. The White House is threatening a veto.

Let me bring in CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. She's got much more on this.

So, Dana, this isn't coming from Congress at this moment. This isn't immigration reform. This is nowhere close to it. This is not a solution. But what is going to happen now that the House passed a bill last night, the Senate is looking at a different bill?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are working, and they're up against the clock. They're up against a clock that the Congress, as they so often do, created themselves, which is to get out of town for July 4th recess.

And when I say working, what the House and the Senate have to do is reconcile different bills that passed each chamber, which is the way Congress works. It's the way it's supposed to work. They pass different bills, and they come together as well for what's known as a conference committee.

[11:15:18] The issue right now is that tensions are so high, emotions are so raw that coming together to do that when the differences are such that you have the Democrats, as we reported all day yesterday, changed their bill to make it more palatable to progressives who say they wanted to put more strings on the money to make sure that more care was given to these children and that more -- the administration would be able to spend the money in very specific ways, not more freely.

The Senate has more of a focus on some border protection issues. So they have to reconcile that, and they want to do it very soon.

But Kate, I can tell you that I've been talking to people on Capitol Hill this morning who are acknowledging the reality, which is they're trying to get home for July 4th recess, to walk in parades, celebrating the freedom and independence of this country.

And even they, who are in the middle of this political, you know, dynamic that they're used to every day, understand the ridiculousness that that would be, to go and march in those parades and leave without passing this bill.

Having said that, there's a lot of partisanship going on and a lot of emotions. You mentioned the Republican Ron Johnson, who's been working on this for quite some time.

Chuck Schumer, the Democrat leader, went to the Senate floor also talking about that picture.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): President Trump, I want you to look at this photo. These are not drug dealers or vagrants or criminals. They are people simply fleeing a horrible situation in their home country for a better life.

How could President Trump look at this picture and not understand that these are human beings fleeing violence and persecution, willing to risk a perilous, sometimes failed journey in search of a better life. They're not coming -- these people are not coming here to sell drugs

or commit crimes. They're coming here to escape brutality, starvation, threats of rape and murder in their home countries.

Any normal person would flee. And the sad fact of the matter is we can do something about this. If the president would stop playing all the political game of blame, blame, blame.


BASH: Now Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, he also went on the Senate floor today saying they are intending to get this done. They'll figure out a way to reconcile their two bills.

And of course, he said it was the Democrats who were dragging their heels. There's blame to go around on all sides on this. There are differences. Again, because of the politics, because of the emotions, it's been very difficult.

But you do have people -- I went down to the border in April. You've had people screaming from the rooftops saying, Congress, we need more money, we need to fix some of the issues making it difficult to deal with this humanitarian crisis, never mind, as you said at the beginning, immigration reform, which is so far down the road right now.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. The simple fact, there's bipartisan support. Just ask Ted Cruz.

One fix I've heard from multiple people, paying money to put more immigration judges at the border in order to have these asylum claims moved through the process and not clog up the system.

It is mind boggling why that is not part of the conversation, even an emergency measure to get it through, get it done, and get things moving if they really want to get something done.

As you said, let's see what happens with this step and if the White House accepts it.

BASH: It's hard to imagine -- I might have egg on my face for saying this, but it's hard to imagine the president not signing whatever bill he gets. The question is what and when will that be look like and when will it get there.

BOLDUAN: I agree with you. I'm just questioning my own judgment on this one. We've gotten to the point of if this image doesn't stir people, and maybe it doesn't, that's the sad state of affairs.

Dana, thanks so much.

BASH: Yes, thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, hundreds of migrant children, they were moved out of a detention facility on Monday amid reports of horrific conditions. So why were more than 100 of them just moved back in? Details ahead. [11:19:42] Plus, the Democratic presidential hopefuls are getting

their first big chance tonight, face to face, on the debate stage. What to watch for, that's next.


BOLDUAN: You heard it here first yesterday, 100-plus children who had been moved out of a Clint, Texas, government detention facility, well, they were moved back in yesterday.

This is a facility that a team of lawyers went in last week to observe the conditions and came out describing horrific circumstances. One quote, "There's a stench," one person said. She also described the conditions as the worst she had seen in any facility in the 12 years she had been monitoring migrant children detained in government custody.

[11:25:15] The attorney who said that is Elora Mukherjee, the director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School and joins me now.

Elora, thank you so much for being here.


BOLDUAN: There's actually a lot that's been happening this morning that I want to ask you about.

You were there last week. You say after you left that you observed the worst conditions you've seen in your 12-year career in going into these facilities. Then you hear 100-plus of these children are then moved back into this facility. And you think what?

MUKHERJEE: I think that choice is inexplicable. I do not understand why this administration is moving children back into Clint given what we uncovered last week.

It is also my understanding that today a number of select journalists may have the opportunity to take a tour of Clint. I'm very interested to see what they learn.

It is -- it is -- it has been a whirlwind of a few days. The media coverage has sparked an outrage in the American public and internationally about the conditions that we observed last week and that we learned about from the children.

We saw children who were dirty, who smelled because they hadn't had an opportunity to bathe, shower, or change their clothes since crossing the border. We saw children who were sick. We saw children who were scared, too scared to ask even for more food when they were hungry.

And perhaps the children are being brought back in for this media tour. It's hard to know what's going on.

BOLDUAN: I did want to ask you, do you think they could have corrected the problems you saw in basically one day? You were there last week but it would be basically in one day since they were moved out Monday and then back in yesterday.

MUKHERJEE: Well, when we arrived last Monday, there were more than 350 children detained in a facility that was designed for just over 100. I do not think it's possible to change all of the problems that we saw in just one day.

One of the most serious problems that we observed was that very young children, ages 1-year-old, 2-year-old, 3-year-old, were being cared for by children just slightly older than them, ages 7, 8, 9 years old. The guards would bring in the very young babies and toddlers and say to the older children, you must take care of this child.

I don't know how, within one day, that scope of problem can be changed at Clint.

BOLDUAN: So one important point here is, at least to this point, journalists are not allowed into these places. You and a team of lawyers, you're allowed in to inspect these facilities only because of a court settlement from years ago. So you're really the only eyes and ears in there.

I say that because now Customs and Border Protection, they're disputing what you saw.

Let me play for you what just happened, actually, in a Senate hearing with a customs and border protection official being questioned by a Democratic Senator. Watch this.


SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN (D-NH): Does CBP have an obligation to provide toothpaste and soap to children in your custody, yes or no?

BRIAN HASTINGS, CHIEF, U.S.BORDER PATROL: We're providing that in El Paso, in Clint station.

HASSAN: Do you have an obligation to feed, clothe, and clean the children in your custody?

HASTINGS: We provide three meals, hot meals a day, and snacks are unlimited to those in our care.

HASSAN: You do understand that is in direct contradiction with the news reports that we have been reading and from what lawyers who have been visiting these children and interviewing them are telling us?

HASTINGS: And I would ask that you understand that those are the plaintiff's attorneys who have a case against the government.

HASSAN: And you should understand that I'm a member of the bar of Massachusetts in New Hampshire, and I hold attorneys to very high standards. And I doubt very strongly that any attorney would be fabricating this information.

HASTINGS: I understand, ma'am.


BOLDUAN: Elora, what do you say to that?

MUKHERJEE: I say that it is shocking to me that CBP officials are testifying before Congress that they are providing basic hygiene products and safe and sanitary conditions at Clint.

Last week, just last Tuesday, a DOJ lawyer, a Department of Justice lawyer named Sara Fabian argued before the Ninth Circuit Court after appeals.