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Over 100 Child Migrants Returned to Overcrowded "Filthy" Texas Facility; Robert Mueller to Testify Before Congress on July 17; Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) Discusses Mueller Testifying, Mueller Report, Emergency Funding Bill; Iranian Foreign Minister Trades Strong Words with Trump; What to Expect in Tonight's First Democrat Primary Debates. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired June 26, 2019 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:00] ELORA MUKHERJEE, DIRECTOR, IMMIGRANTS RIGHTS CLINIC, COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL: 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 of Appeals that the government does not need to provide children in CBP custody with toothbrushes, with toothpaste, with soap, with beds to sleep in.

And for the administration, for the CBP official to turn around one week later and take the exact opposite stance raises real questions about what is going on.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Look, he's also questioning what you saw with your own eyes. What he's saying there -- his point is, he says, you have ulterior motives. He's questioning your honesty. Anything that you have described to me, anything that I've seen that you described in such vivid detail about the stench that you smelled when you were in there, is any of it exaggerated?

MUKHERJEE: No. You know, I have been doing this work since 2007. I have interviewed immigrant children in ICE custody at very controversial facilities, including last July at Casa Padre, in Brownsville, Texas, including this March, in Homestead, Florida, and never before have I gone to the media with my concerns.

I have been very concerned about the safety and well-being of the children in those two facilities. But what I saw last week at Clint, what I smelled, what I heard left me shocked and appalled that this is what our government is doing in our name with our taxpayer dollars.

And these are the most degrading and inhumane conditions that I have ever seen for children in federal immigration custody.

BOLDUAN: Elora, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it. There's much more to discuss because this is not changing, and this is not going away. Thank you for bringing your eyes, your ears, your information to us. We would love, ourselves, to get into those facilities.

Thank you for doing it and for coming here.

MUKHERJEE: Thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up for us, tonight is the night for at least 10 folks. The big first test for the Democratic presidential candidates. A preview of what to expect in the first primary debate. Who has the most to gain, who has the most to lose, who is facing the most pressure? That is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:37:17] BOLDUAN: After over two years of investigation, after more than 440 pages of a report, and a whole lot of debate over it all, the man at the center of it all, the man who has said the least, has finally agreed to answer questions. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is set to testify before two House committees next month. And it will be a key moment for House Democrats who have been torn over the question of impeachment.

Joining me right now is one Democratic lawmaker who will be questioning Mueller come July 17th, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, of Connecticut. He sits on House Intelligence.

Congressman, thank you for being here.

REP. JIM HIMES, (D-CT): Hi, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So Mueller testifying before your committee next month. What is the most important question that you want to ask him, do you think?

HIMES: Well, that's an interesting question, Kate. Here's why I say that. I believe Bob Mueller, having watched him and known him for a long time, when he says that his testimony is his report, you should not expect, and nobody should expect that Bob Mueller is going to make any news in either of the testimonies he gives to the Congress.

Now, you might ask, what's the point? The reality is that very, very few Americans have read the report. Very few Americans are familiar with the conclusions of the report, in particular part two of the report where Bob Mueller elaborates on ten possible examples of obstruction of justice.

I expect that he will be willing to discuss, using the words of the report, those examples. But of course, my colleagues are going to spend a day trying to get him to say things outside of the report. I think he's unlikely to do that.

BOLDUAN: So wait, are you -- you're doing in not expecting to learn anything new?

HIMES: I would not expect to learn a lot new. Again, he's going to abide -- if you know Bob Mueller, you know that

of all the people in Washington, this is a man who means what he says and says what he means. I would be shocked if he goes too far from the language of the report.

That said, he may be able to -- he may be willing to answer factual questions that maybe aren't directly in the report.

What I'll be interested to see -- I mean, here you have a guy -- I've just told you what I think about him -- who is universally respected in Washington and has been for decades.

Of course, the Republicans are going to try to slander him. They're going to try to say you were biased. They're going to come up with notions that he couldn't have been a fair arbiter of this report. It's going to be interesting to see how he parries that.

Bob Mueller is concerned about his legacy. He doesn't want to get drawn into a partisan food fight. But he's going to stand up for his own integrity.

BOLDUAN: That raises an interesting point. If these hearings become about how many members of Bob Mueller's team are Democrats or if this becomes about Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, and why Mueller -- when Mueller pulled Strzok off the case, do you consider that -- would you consider this kind of backfiring on all of you, calling him before you to answer questions?

[11:40:20] HIMES: Well, again, I don't think it's going to so much backfire. If you go into this believing what he has said, which is his report is his testimony, I think the only, you know, risk is that there's going to be a feeling of letdown.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

HIMES: Again, I don't think he's going to make a lot of news.

The Republicans, as you point out, are going to try to slander the guy. They're going to come up with absurd ideas, despite the fact already no facts out there to suggest anybody in this was biased. They're going to say, well, you had a guy on your team who was a registered Democrat.

The interesting question will be, will Bob Mueller give the obvious response, which is, hey, everybody is registered in a party. That doesn't mean they can't do their job with objectivity. The cop that pulls you over for speeding is registered in a party. Are we going to say that you only pull someone over in your own party? I mean, that line of argument is absurd.

And I'll be sort of interested to see if Mueller points out that absurdity.

BOLDUAN: I find your position on this fascinating because what we heard from Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, we heard from him today, is he said if Mueller would just sit there basically and read from his report, that is worthwhile. Do you think that's the case?

HIMES: Well, I think we're saying the same thing, right? What I've said twice now

BOLDUAN: Yes.

HIMES: -- is that his testimony will be his report. Jerry Nadler --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: No, here's what I can't get. Jerry Nadler thinks that's worthwhile. I'm having a hard time understanding if you think this is worthwhile at all.

HIMES: I absolutely think it's worthwhile. I know from my own constituents that a small minority of people out there have actually read an almost 500-page report. I don't blame them for that. I read it. But an awful lot of people obviously watch live testimony when it's heavily covered in the media.

Again, I don't think the content is going to be any different than what was in the report, but the media, by which it gets presented to the American people, is going to be very, very different. I think very impactful.

BOLDUAN: Do you think -- you are now into a place of supporting launching an impeachment inquiry into the president, but your reasons go beyond the Russia investigation.

Talk about fascinating, I thought it was fascinating, you had a very long list outside the Russia investigation why you think you're to a place of wanting to support an impeachment inquiry.

With that said, with that in mind, after you hear from Mueller, the definitive voice on this investigation, if you don't see a flood of Democrats moving towards the position of saying now it's time to launch an impeachment inquiry, is it fair to think the House is never going to get there?

HIMES: Well, I keep trying to sort of say this, but because the media is sort of fascinated with the notion of the number of Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry. Speaker Pelosi is going to listen to her caucus. Most of us acknowledge she's been doing this a lot longer and a lot better than most of us representing our individual constituency.

I said in my statement supporting an inquiry, look, all I can do is tell you what my constituents want in southwestern Connecticut.

BOLDUAN: Right.

HIMES: Speaker Pelosi, of course, is thinking about the whole country, thinking about her legacy, thinking about the divisiveness of an impeachment. So she's factoring in a lot of things that some of us whose job it is to represent our constituent perhaps don't see. So again, I think, you know -- I don't know where Speaker Pelosi is

going to wind up on this. She's very, very attuned to popular will and to where we go in the coming months.

BOLDUAN: So I was just handed this, Congressman. Sorry. I'm looking down reading it. This came through from Ted Barrett and Lauren Fox, our amazing reporters on the Hill, that you voted for the House version of the border emergency funding bill last night.

We just learned that Senate Republican leaders are saying they have decided they will not negotiate over differences between the bill in the House and what they're looking at in the Senate, which now will force Pelosi's hand and all of a your hands, if you will, to take it or leave it because the president has indicated he's supportive of the Senate bill.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Just go through all of that parliamentary whatever.

(CROSSTALK)

HIMES: I'm not surprised by that. That's typical inside-the-capitol grandstanding.

But it is kind of interesting, because, if I heard you right, and I've not seen that right, you said the Republican leader of the Senate doesn't want to negotiate with the Democratic House.

The president's story, remember, including tweeting today, was that it is the Democrats that are obstructing action objecting the border. We passed a bill yesterday, and it's apparently Republican Leader McConnell and the president who are unwilling to negotiate.

Look, I think what you're seeing is grandstanding. My guess is everybody around here understands that we need more resources on the border to take care of what is a moral abomination. Whatever you think about the wall, whatever you think about the future of our immigration system, children do not sleep on cold cement floors in the United States of America. I think people of both parties want to solve that.

If the president says, it's my way or the highway, he'll own that, as he does, but he'll continue to own that, as he does. But he will continue to own that. I think that's a pretty difficult position to be in.

[11:45:15] BOLDUAN: Let's see what the next 24, 48 hours brings with this crisis we're looking at, at the border, and what Congress can do.

Congressman, thank you for coming in.

HIMES: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

All right, guys. Breaking news coming up. We're going to put it together. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:50:05] BOLDUAN: This just into CNN. Amid, escalating tension between the Trump administration and Iran, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is speaking exclusively now with CNN senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen.

Fred is joining me from the Iranian capital.

Fred, what did the foreign minister tell you?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. I caught up with Javad Zarif at the sidelines of an event here in Tehran. The first thing I asked him is what he makes of the current threats from President Trump and others in the administration. Here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: What do you make of President Trump's threats of obliteration and that a war with the United States won't last very wrong?

JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: He's certainly wrong. But that statement indicates that the United States' intentions are certainly illegal. The United States is not in a situation to obliterate Iran. They don't have the capability other than using prohibitive methods to do this.

The Iranian people are prepared to resist any aggression, but we're not seeking war. We don't seek war. We do not seek a confrontation.

The actions by the United States over the past few weeks have been confrontational, provocative. Particularly, the imposition of sanctions on Iranian leadership has been an additional insult by the United States against the entire Iranian nation.

Iran has been implementing its rights under the nuclear deal. And under Security Council Resolution 2231, the United States is in flagrant violation.

And I think that President Trump should remember that we don't live in the 18th century. There's a United Nations charter and threat of force is illegal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: There you have Javad Zarif speaking to us earlier at an event today. One of the things he kept reiterating, he's saying that the Iranians, of course, don't want war with the United States. But at the same time, like many others in the leadership, saying, if it does come to a war, it will be painful for the U.S. -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Rhetoric not ratcheting down at this point. Zarif is one of the folks that Donald Trump said he would add sanctions to. This is also personal for the foreign minister.

PLEITGEN: Right.

BOLDUAN: Fred, thank you so much. Great job.

PLEITGEN: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, tonight is the first big test for the Democratic presidential candidates. What to expect in the first night of the first primary debate. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:55:46] BOLDUAN: If you can even believe it, my friends, it is debate day once again. Twenty candidates facing off over two nights in Miami. Will this be the moment one candidate launches to the front of the pack? Will a misstep be the last step for anyone who takes the stage?

Joining me right now, someone who knows a thing or two about how to run a presidential Democratic debate, former chairman of the DNC, former governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, now a CNN political commentator.

Great to see you, Governor.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Great to see you, Kate.

Actually, when I was the DNC chair, I started these debates. So --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: So you're to blame for all of this?

MCAULIFFE: Yes, yes.

BOLDUAN: I'm kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

So, what are you watching in tonight's debate?

MCAULIFFE: Well, listen, we're about nine hours away. Having done many debates in my life, you've read the briefing books, done the mock debates, you're ready to get at it. This will be like a heavyweight match.

For the top-tier candidates there's less pressure on them. For those polling at 1 percent or zero percent, this is their moment. They've got to break through, put a message out there. They've got to be authentic. They ought to have fun doing the debate tonight.

What they have to do is connect with the American people when they're watching to say, you know what, he or she gets my problems. He or she is going to fight for me when they're president of the United States. You're only going to have about eight minutes total. BOLDUAN: Right.

MCAULIFFE: So you really have to get out there and lay that marker down.

BOLDUAN: And not stutter one second.

MCAULIFFE: Right.

BOLDUAN: Each candidate gets 60 seconds to answer a question, 30 seconds for rebuttal. Ten candidates in over two hours. It is a matter of minutes for each person to talk. What is your suggestion on strategy to be successful tonight?

MCAULIFFE: Someone said to me last night, maybe someone ought to just streak across the stage to get attention. I said I don't think that's a good idea, but whatever.

BOLDUAN: Good for ratings, bad for your career.

MCAULIFFE: Yes, not good, not a good idea. You have to break through. First of all, they have to see you as being able to stand up to Donald Trump. Donald Trump is a brawler. He loves these debates. He loves to go after folks.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

MCAULIFFE: You've got to see you are strong, tough. You can stand up to this guy and give it back twice as hard as he gives it to you.

BOLDUAN: It's a balance between how much you talk about Donald Trump and how much you talk your ideas in the four seconds you get to talk.

MCAULIFFE: Kate, you're right. My advice would be, spend very little time on Donald Trump. Everybody gets it. Everybody understands the issues as it relates to Donald Trump.

Every second you spend about Trump is not talking about lowering prescription drug costs, dealing with the immigration issue. All these issues are in front of the American people today. You talk about Trump, you're wasting your time.

Lay out a positive agenda of where you want to take this nation. Have fun doing it. Be authentic. And look at that camera and explain to the American public who you are and where you want to take this nation.

And, as I say, for many of these candidates, come September, you have to double your numbers.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

MCAULIFFE: So you have to get 130,000 donors. You have to be 2 percent.

You're not getting an opportunity -- you're going to have 10 million people watching tonight. You're not going to have another opportunity like this. July, the debate, the CNN debate in are Detroit and that's it.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

MCAULIFFE: Then it will start whittling that field down. You have to get at it, you've got to differentiate yourself.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: And differentiating, differentiating sometimes is what's the class between candidates? How do they take each other on?

I'm skeptical with so many people on the stage, so much to say, so little time to say it that there's going to be the fireworks between candidates. Do you think the same or do you think that's what they need to do to have a breakout moment?

MCAULIFFE: I would be careful of fireworks and going after fellow Democrats. It may help you in the short term. It will hurt you in the long term. You know, attacking -- people want to know -- people are tired of the negative energy.

Drawing contrast, I can tell you, for the governors that are there, I can tell you, having almost run for president myself, the governors are going to say, you all talk about it in the Senate, in the House. We actually do it as a governor. I can tell you right now that's what the governors -- the Senators will come out and say my plan is better than your plan.

There's not a lot of difference between the candidates as it relates to the policy issues.

But I'm telling you, Kate, every single person has rehearsed one or two zingers that they're going to use, get in. They've got to get in some line in that people are going to remember them. Every one of them has memorized a couple of lines and zingers for tonight that people can take away from tonight and remember, well, that person said that.

BOLDUAN: Is their timing right with that line? That's everything.

[12:00:00]