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CNN NEWSROOM

Two Major Earthquakes Hit California Back-to-Back; California City Takes Stock as it Cleans Up After Back-to-Back Earthquakes; President Trump Says He Wants the Press to Visit Detention Centers; Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in Court on Sex Trafficking Charges; Department of Justice Says New Legal Team to Take Over Census Case. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 8, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] CAMEROTA: Reaction that I did when I saw Gritty.

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: At the wedding.

BERMAN: This isn't so much about your demons as it is about young Caden who's now happy.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I'm glad that he's very happy.

BERMAN: This morning. And I'm glad you made it through. You're a --

CAMEROTA: Well, it wasn't easy.

BERMAN: All right. "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow starts right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. Good to be back with you. Jim Sciutto has the day off.

And this morning we are learning new stunning details just hours before billionaire Jeffrey Epstein appears in a federal court in New York. Among the charges that he operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls, and also he's charged with running an enterprise in which he paid hundreds of dollars in cash to each of those girls. We're talking about 14 years old. People that young, paying them cash to have sex with him in his homes in Florida and on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

There is political fallout here as well. Jeffrey Epstein is very politically connected. And this case could tell us a lot about those connections, some of which go all the way to the White House.

We have team coverage of this case this morning. CNN anchor and national correspondent Erica Hill is with me here in New York and our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz is live outside the courthouse.

Shimon, let me begin with you. You have breaking new details on exactly what he is charged with here.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. And there will be two counts, we expect, in this indictment which could be unsealed at any moment now. The indictment has been sealed for some time, certainly since his arrest, which happened on Saturday. We now expect this indictment to be unsealed at any moment. We're going to learn even more details than we have already been reporting.

And as you said, Poppy, these are disturbing details. Certainly show a pattern of predatory behavior that prosecutors intend to lay out dating from 2002 to 2005. And as you said, what prosecutors are going to say is that he essentially ran a trafficking enterprise. He paid hundreds of dollars to girls, some as young as 14, to engage in sex with him. He would come -- they would come to his place here in Manhattan, on the Upper East Side, prosecutors say, in some cases saying it was just going to be a massage, and then things would quickly escalate.

And what's important here is that this is really about the victims, so many of them, as we know, who never thought that they would get their day in court, and now finally perhaps some justice. You know, it was this secret deal which stunned many here certainly back in 2008 when Jeffrey Epstein signed this deal with prosecutors. It was a non- prosecution agreement. Essentially years of work by the FBI, by prosecutors in Florida who are going to indict him.

And then there was this secret deal that was struck and a lot of the victims didn't even know about it. And now finally for many of them, they will be able to get their day in court.

HARLOW: Yes.

PROKUPECZ: What's significant here also, Poppy, quickly, is that what we don't know exactly is, are these new victims. Did new victims come forward to help bring this case? That's going to be interesting to see in the indictment. Obviously other things, the arrest taking place on a Saturday. Why did the FBI, the NYPD and federal prosecutors here decide on Saturday to move in and arrest them? By all accounts this was all supposed to happen this morning. So something perhaps may have happened on Saturday which led prosecutors, gave them some concern, and they went ahead and moved in arresting him, as he arrived here in the New York area from Paris.

HARLOW: Shimon, great reporting. Stay there for us. Thank you so much.

And Erica Hill is with me. I'm so glad that Shimon brought up the victims in this because, look, this agreement that was agreed to with Alexander Acosta, now the Labor secretary, it -- was kept from the victims. They didn't know about it. None of the 36 victims that federal prosecutors had identified back then were allowed in the courtroom for any of this.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Because they didn't even know it was happening. HARLOW: They didn't even know it was happening, they didn't know what

the agreement was. It is -- it is stunning. And the accomplices that were named back then, four of them, received immunity from federal criminal charges. But what now?

HILL: So two -- so two important points I want to pick up there -- on there, what you laid out. The fact that victims didn't know about this. So in February, actually, a federal judge ruled that this deal, essentially a deal, they broke the law with this deal because victims were kept in the dark until after a judge had signed off. So to your point, it wouldn't even in the courtroom when this was happening because no one knew about it. And then when it comes to that immunity as part of this deal, which in many ways as it was laid out, was dictated in fact by Epstein's attorneys, not so much by the U.S. attorney, by Alexander Acosta, who's overseeing it at the time out of Miami but he did in fact grant immunity to potential co-conspirators. So that also raises the question of who might those co-conspirators have been.

HARLOW: Yes.

HILL: What could their roles have been? And if that immunity is then going forward, what happens now, to your point?

[09:05:03] HARLOW: So a few things. We know that Epstein was and is very politically connected, right? This is billionaire hedge fund guy. And the "Miami Herald" who broke this reporting, by the way, and just did a phenomenal job on it, says according to flight records Bill Clinton flew on his jet multiple times. Obviously, the president has talked about Epstein in a social sense back in 2002 New York"" mag, says that President Trump, then citizen Trump called Epstein a terrific guy and said, quote, "He's a lot of fun to be with. It's even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do and many of them are on the younger side." So --

HILL: That certainly takes on new meaning in light of what we heard not only in 2008 but what we're seeing today. And there are those questions about these connections. Epstein, part of the reason that there's so much attention is not only because of the horrific details of what's been alleged and what we're expected to learn more about today in terms of those allegations but it's because of these boldface names that he surrounds himself with.

Former President Clinton, President Trump, as you mentioned, Prince Andrew, also in that circle. Now President Trump was asked about all of this and specifically in February, was about Epstein and Acosta.

HARLOW: OK.

HILL: And he said at the time he doesn't know about the situation, praised Acosta's work, his Labor secretary, at the time. But it does beg the question about what the fallout could be here because of those connections.

HARLOW: Can you explain, Erica, the role that Alexander Acosta had at the time? Right? Now he is the Labor secretary. HILL: Right.

HARLOW: Oh, and by the way, part of his mandate as Labor secretary is to oversee and help prevent human trafficking, which is what Epstein is accused of now.

HILL: Right. A little bit of irony there. So at the time in Miami, he was the U.S. attorney. And so the way that it's described and laid out in this as you pointed out this fantastic investigation that the "Miami Herald" did that was published back in November, was that the attorneys went to him. One of the attorneys said, hey, we want to have this conversation. And we want to talk about this deal that we want to have. And "The Miami Herald" also laid out these e-mail chains not only for the terms of what they wanted to see in this agreement for Epstein but also the lengths at which they wanted to go to, to keep this out of the press so that fewer people would know about it.

Acosta said, even when he was asked about it in Senate confirmation hearings, he described this as a, quote, "good thing," in one of his answers because there was going to be jail time served and because he would have to register among, and I'm quoting here, "other outcomes," that that made it a good thing for federal prosecutors --

HARLOW: This deal.

HILL: -- to in fact go with this deal.

HARLOW: That none of the victims knew about. OK. Erica, thank you very much for the great reporting.

Let's talk about the legal side of all of this, our legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers is here, also a former federal prosecutor, now lecturer at Columbia University Law School.

Look, I mean, this deal smelled back then, and it smells now. And I just wonder if you think this is the turning point. Is this going to be justice for dozens of women who were then children?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it will be justice for the victims, Poppy, because there's now much more serious charges than happened back in '09. The trafficking charges are very serious, each count carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 to 15 years depending how they charge it. So I think they will get their opportunity to say their piece if this goes to trial, or certainly at sentencing.

Jeffrey Epstein will have justice coming to him. And some of the bigger questions, though --

HARLOW: Well, hold on, Jennifer. You say if this goes to trial. You think there's another potential plea here?

RODGERS: Well, you never know. I mean, 90 percent or something like that of all federal cases do end up in a plea deal without trial. So I don't know what will happen here. If you're Jeffrey Epstein and you're facing two counts of 10 to 15-year minimums each and you end up with an offer to just plead guilty to one of those, I think you have to seriously consider that.

HARLOW: I hear you, I just wondered, given the public scrutiny on this here now, right, and given the light that is being shown and the political connections here, would prosecutors even offer up a plea deal at this point in time?

Let me just take you back to the previous charges, right, in this deal. He was charged with two counts of prostitution. He only had to plead guilty to one of them. And it was with a 14-year-old but it was charged as prostitution, not sex trafficking. I mean, isn't the definition of sex trafficking a child like that, a 14-year-old? I mean, how could that be seen back then as prostitution?

RODGERS: Well, trafficking has additional elements that don't apply to prostitution. The trafficking involves moving the child. Right? You have to move someone in a federal case across state lines usually or across international lines. So there are more elements there, but the reporting suggests that there was a serious trafficking case that had been made but then this deal was struck. Right? So I think part of this investigation --

HARLOW: Yes.

RODGERS: And I say this because it's allegedly out of the Public Corruption Unit of the U.S. Attorney's Office, is likely into how that deal was struck and whether a public official, such as Alex Acosta at the time --

HARLOW: OK.

RODGERS: -- was involved in some nefarious activity in that -- in connection with that deal.

[09:10:08] HARLOW: Briefly on Alexander Acosta, the now Labor secretary who oversees many things including, you know, trying to prevent human trafficking, the question is, can he survive this? I mean, what is your number one question for him on all of this?

RODGERS: Well, I think you need to know why he made this deal that he made in his office, what pressures were put upon him, what deal he struck. It's unlikely that he would be criminally liable. It's pretty hard for a public official to be charged that way unless there was a quid pro quo bribery situation. But if political pressures put upon him at the time caused him to make a really insupportable prosecutorial decision, I think there will be a lot of pressure on him to resign or to be fired for that judgment.

HARLOW: Also there will be questions for the judge that signed off on this deal agreeing to it and allowing it to go forward without the victims seeing it back in 2008.

OK. Jennifer, thank you for all of the expertise, I appreciate it.

The Supreme Court did not buy the Trump administration's argument for adding that citizenship question to the Census. So now a different team of Justice Department lawyers is on this case. They are going to continue to battle it with a new argument.

Our justice coordinator Jessica Schneider live in D.C.

Jess, good morning to you. So they are still trying -- even though the Census is being printed, they are still trying, despite the Supreme Court's decision to get that citizenship question on there.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Poppy. This will be a completely new team that will now have to push a completely different set of arguments to try to get the citizenship question on the Census. And the change-up, it does suggest that the career lawyers who had been on this case up until last night, well, they may have had some legal or ethical objections to this flip-flop that has been forced on them and on this issue really by the president because it was less than a week ago that this fight seemed to be over.

Lawyers from the DOJ's Federal Programs branch told challengers to this question that the Census was going to print without the controversial question. And then those lawyers told the judge that the decision was final. But then, of course, we saw that flurry of the president's tweets where he insisted that he would push his administration to find a way to add this question.

You know, DOJ lawyers last week admitted to a Maryland judge in a hearing that they were really blindsided by the president's tweets, especially since the DOJ has insisted all along that it was a July 1st deadline that was mandatory to print this Census. That was the dropdead deadline. And really all indications are now that the DOJ is going to press hard to find a rational to add this question.

And Poppy, they are doing it now with a whole new set of lawyers and they are going to announce those lawyers in a filing that we're expected today as these legal challenges continue here. And this question, as to whether the question will be included, lingers here -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. And why that question is so important to the administration to do this even after what the Supreme Court said.

Jess, thank you for the great reporting.

A lot ahead for us this hour. Joe Biden apologizes, the former vice president says he's sorry for comments he made about working with those segregationist senators. We'll hear from one of his outspoken rivals on this issue, Senator Kamala Harris, in moments.

And chants of equal pay grow louder after the U.S. women's soccer team brings home another World Cup win. And boy, was it remarkable.

Plus, President Trump wants reporters, he says, to have more access to border facilities that hold migrants. This follows that "New York Times" report detailing disturbing conditions inside. We'll talk to one of the reporters on the story ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] POPPY HARLOW, HOST, NEWSROOM: All right, so this morning, two earthquakes in California reminding residents and really all of us that the big one could hit southern California at any moment. A 7.1 earthquake rocked the state on Friday, that followed a 6.4 quake just the day before.

Our Sara Sidner is in Ridgecrest with the latest. Good morning, Sara. I mean, I remember on Friday, I was walking around reading about this, and everyone was saying oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, can you believe a 7.1 hit California and everyone just wonders, you know, when will that big one come?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and for this area, this was the big one for them.

HARLOW: Right.

SIDNER: Along a very -- right, I mean, along a different -- in a different area. But of course, you've got the big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, at any time, you know, the big one can happen along those areas. But for here in Ridgecrest, this really was for them the biggest one they have ever had in the past several decades.

Even for southern California, and we are still experiencing aftershocks, although fewer and fewer as time goes on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER (voice-over): Surveillance video capturing the moment a 7.1 magnitude earthquake rattled Ridgecrest, California. Intense shaking inside sent anything that wasn't tied down flying. Outside, it tossed around parked cars, sloshed water out of pools, broke apart highway 178, created a huge crack along the desert floor and terrified residents wherever they were, who thought the worst was over after experiencing a 6.4 quake the day before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get under the table, get under the table, oh, my God --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.

SIDNER: In Trona, California, 25 miles away from Ridgecrest, the Byrd family opted to sleep outside in the desert heat instead of under their own roof for a few nights.

KAY BYRD, TRONA, CALIFORNIA RESIDENT: That's what we did. We thought it was safer that way because they said another one was coming. And if it was worse than that one, you definitely didn't want to be in a house.

BROOKE THOMPSON, TRONA, CALIFORNIA RESIDENT: It shook so bad that I had to escape by the window. So, we decided we were going to stay here and spend the night because we were too worried that another one would come in, actually, damage us.

[09:20:00] SIDNER (on camera): So, you got out by the window, what was it like inside?

THOMPSON: It looked like a tornado just came into our house and just had a party.

SIDNER (voice-over): Now, the destructive party is over and clean-up has begun. Everything that was tucked away in cupboards or on shelves ended up on the floor in their home.

(on camera): For most homes near the epicenter of this major earthquake, you can't really tell there's damage until you go inside the homes. But for this particular house, it is very clear on the outside, you see that crack, we're told it goes all the way through the entire home.

(voice-over): Back in Ridgecrest, the largest town near the epicenter, it was fires that caused the most visible damage.

BOB BLOUDEK, RIDGECREST, CALIFORNIA RESIDENT: I looked up and the flames were already shooting out of the windows.

SIDNER: Bob Bloudek watched as his neighbor's home burned down. He says the difference between the 6.4 and 7.1 quakes was night and day. The second quake made him consider moving after more than 30 years in this town.

BLOUDEK: To be honest with you, I didn't know if we were going to get out or not.

SIDNER (on camera): What do you mean by you didn't know if you were going to get out?

BLOUDEK: I didn't know if we were going to make it. I hope to never go through something like that again.

SIDNER (voice-over): But seismologists say after a major quake like this, residents could feel aftershocks for years to come.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: That's right, for years to come, although many of the aftershocks, the thousands that we've had, we cannot feel. There are a few that we can, but this is a big reminder to folks in the larger cities where there could be much more damage that there is still the possibility of a big one in those areas. Poppy.

HARLOW: That is incredible reporting, I mean, hearing from that older man and that young, you know, little girl, so scared --

SIDNER: Yes --

HARLOW: And you're right --

SIDNER: She's cute --

HARLOW: You know, this was the big one for them. I shouldn't have said when will the big one come, this was --

SIDNER: Yes --

HARLOW: The big one or a big one for Ridgecrest. OK, Sara, thank you so much for the reporting. Ahead, President Trump --

SIDNER: Sure, Poppy --

HARLOW: Now says he wants the media to be able to go in for themselves to these migrant detention centers to see what what's going on. Of course, we should be able to bring our cameras in there and show you what's going on. This comes as we're learning just how bad conditions are in some those facilities.

[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: All right, this morning, President Trump is pushing back on outrage over the conditions that were seen by many Democratic lawmakers as they toured migrant detention centers. He's also disputing a "New York Times" report that lays out in gut-wrenching detail what children have endured at the border facility in Clint, Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to start showing some of these detention centers to the press. We're going to have some of the press go in, because they're crowded and we're the ones who were complaining about the crowding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: To paint a clear picture, here is some of what the "New York Times" found, quote, "outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox were spread among the hundreds of children who are being held in cramped cells. The agents said the stench of the children's dirty clothing was so strong that it spread to the agents' own clothing -- people in town would scrunch their noses when the agents left work."

Joining me now is one of the reporters who helped break this story, Homeland security correspondent for the "New York Times", Zolan Kanno- Youngs. Thank you so much for being here and for the intrepid reporting that you and your team did on this.

We heard from acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan yesterday, he was on "ABC" with Martha Raddatz, and he said that the conditions described in your reporting are quote, "unsubstantiated". What's your response? ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES:

Well, my response is that our reporting was based off of, you know, multiple interviews of border patrol agents who are currently working at that facility, former border patrol supervisors who have visited that facility, as well as court documents, official documents submitted by the administration, as well as Inspector General reports that report similar allegations, similar conditions at various facilities in the El Paso sector.

We're confident in our reporting, we've talked to people who have seen these facilities, and what you see in that story is based off of, as I said, numerous interviews that myself and my colleagues conducted.

HARLOW: So, on top of that, you have the president claiming essentially that the conditions for migrants in these facilities are actually better than many of the conditions that they came from. Here is what the president said, listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: In all cases if you look, people that came from unbelievable poverty, that had no water, they had no anything where they came from, those are people that are very happy with what's going on because relatively speaking, they're in much better shape right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: "In much better shape right now". I know that one of the reporters on your team that worked on this story actually went into one of the facilities. I mean, is that what they saw and heard from those detained and the agents much better shape now?

KANNO-YOUNGS: I think it's important to note that the tour that was allowed for reporters was very controlled. Cellphones were not allowed in as well as video cameras. So, it's difficult to determine from that. But what I can say is that in -- based off of the limited tour that we did get access to, as well as border patrol agents themselves, our reporting has found that you have overcrowded cells in this facility, as the president noted, as well as the acting Secretary of Homeland Security.

We have border patrol agents that are describing children crying, we have the administration submitting documents that says that children.

END