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Prosecutors Announce Sex Trafficking Charges Against Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein; Trump Wants Press To Go In And See Detention Centers; DOJ Says New Legal Team Will Take Over Census Case; Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Dismisses Far-Left Democrats In New York Times Interview. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired July 8, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: -- see if that means they can maneuver into some sort of talks that would be the best position for them.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Okay. Kimberly Dozier, thank you for the expertise. I appreciate it.
All right, it is the top of the hour. A good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim Sciutto has a well- deserved day off.
And the breaking news we begin with this hour, federal prosecutors have just unsealed an indictment against Jeffrey Epstein. Inside it the alarming details of how the politically connected billionaire allegedly ran a sex trafficking ring. Epstein is accused of seeking out minors, paying cash to girls as young as 14 years old to have sex with him and then paying them to recruit other girls for him to abuse.
Next hour, these charges will be announced in public. A press conference will be held with prosecutors and the FBI. And then later this morning, Epstein will appear in court.
Still unknown what this case could reveal about his political connections, and they include a British royal, a former president and the current one, President Trump, who once called Epstein, quote, a terrific guy.
We have team coverage this morning. Our Anchor and National Correspondent Erica Hill is here with me in New York, and CNN Crime and Justice Reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is live outside of the courthouse.
And, Shimon, you know, you helped break the news this weekend, this arrest happening on Saturday. It was planned for today. They wanted this guy behind bars and now we are seeing all of the charges.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, and they are horrific. When you think about so many of these victims, what's alleged here, you can't imagine what they were going through at the time.
And when you read this indictment, I think one of the things that really stands out to me, you have the charges, you have all of the different elements in terms of what the prosecutors are going to do to prove this case.
The thing is the age of some of these victims, as young as 14, and that Epstein knew, he knew their ages. And the other thing that prosecutors lay out in this indictment is that they describe that these victims were vulnerable to exploitation.
They don't go into details about that t but they say that these were vulnerable girls, as young as 14, that he sought out and essentially abused.
They say this was a sex trafficking conspiracy. That is part of one of the two counts that he is now facing. He's facing up to 45 years in prison.
The other thing significant here is that it appears the prosecutors have cooperators in this case, people who have worked for him, who worked for Epstein during this time. There's at least three employees that they don't name, but they identify as employee one, two and three. They say two of them were assistants to him.
And what's so significant here is that these employees were the ones that were scheduling when he would meet with these girls. They were flying them to Florida, having the meetings in Florida, having meetings, these encounters, I should say, here in New York at his mansion. And then they list how it would start as a massage and then would essentially turn into sexual encounters. Really horrific details.
And for the first time we're seeing in court documents that these were employees, employees that were working for him, that were helping to -- helping him go through this conspiracy.
HARLOW: You know, Shimon, you bring up these victims who weren't allowed to be in court to hear any of these and now we see their day in justice possibly coming. Thank you very much.
Again, Epstein has a criminal past. He's also had several political connections, big ones, including with President Trump, and former President Bill Clinton.
Let's talk about the big picture with Erica Hill, and we'll get to the politics in just a moment. But, I mean, the victims that were brought up, dozens and dozens of alleged victims here by Shimon, talking about how they were in dire straits and needed the money so much.
I looked back at Julie Brown's reporting from Miami Herald months ago who broke this, and there was this one line at the end of the piece, many of the girls were one step away from homelessness. We just wanted money for school clothes, for shoes. Those are the victims.
ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And what's laid out too in this indictment and much of this we did see in Julie Brown's reporting, which you pointed out, that we're seeing it now in this indictment this morning, and Shimon went through some of this, is the way these young underage girls referred to in the indictment were recruited, and then they were sent out to recruit other young girls and bring them back. They were paid in cash for that. And as Shimon pointed out, the way these encounters also escalated.
And some of the girls saying -- in some of Julie Brown's reporting, we should point out, the girls who -- the victims who she spoke with, the alleged victims, talking about how they didn't know it was going to maybe go that way, or they maybe knew it wasn't right, but they just -- again, they were young. They didn't didn't get it. And it also points out in the indictment that they believe, prosecutors believe, he did know their ages and what was going on, because some of these victims who were in here were asked specifically about their age and they said they didn't lie.
HARLOW: Let's talk about the powerful people in politics that were friends, are -- were friends of Jeffrey Epstein, including former President Bill Clinton, who, I think, records show flew on his jet several times. President Trump is quoted with glowing words about him back in 2002.
HILL: And he is. In fact, we have that from 2002. He talked about him to New York Magazine, saying that he's fun guy. I've known Jeff for 15 years, he said in 2002. A terrific guy, 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. No doubt about it, Jeffrey enjoys his social light. Obviously that's seen in a far different light today.
But you're right, there is a connection here. You mentioned former President Clinton flying on his plane multiple times, being on his private island. President Trump reportedly at least once on his plane, the two reportedly dined together at one point. Epstein was actually a member of Mar-a-Lago and had been to Mar-a-Lago, but then was was barred at one point after, according to court records, which Julie Brown also wrote about, he was accused of sexually assaulting an underage girl there.
HARLOW: I would be remiss not to bring up with you the current Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta, who is very tied to this because he was a big part of securing this sweet plea deal for Epstein back in 2008 that got him, you know, very little jail time, charged with prostitution, not sex trafficking, and, by the way, that none of the victims knew about.
HILL: No, they didn't. So a couple of points there. Number one, you're right. So Alexander Acosta at the time was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District. So he had to oversee this deal. He had to basically say, okay with the team of attorneys. And at the time he said, well, you know, they lacked the evidence to prove that he had violated federal law. There's been a lot of pushback on that since, but he essentially had to sign off on it. Well, the DOJ is investigating how the case was handled.
We should also point out that in February, a federal judge said, this deal broke the law because, to your point, the victims didn't know about it. The terms of this deal, which it's been said multiple times were basically dictated by Epstein's attorneys, powerful attorneys, they didn't know about it. The deal was kept quiet, kept apart from the victims until a judge signed off for it. You can't do that. That broke the law.
HARLOW: Erica Hill, thank you, great reporting. Obviously, we'll be on this all day because he's going to be in court later this morning.
Let's talk about legally where this goes. CNN Legal Analyst Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor. You are such a good voice for this because you have actually prosecuted sex trafficking cases before. One thing that Shimon said outside the courthouse moments ago that struck me is that what may be different this time than the plea deal in 2008 if this goes to trial is that they have three cooperators and those are apparently some of the employees that arranged this travel of these underage girls to be with Epstein, et cetera. How significant is that?
RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's important. I mean, frankly, I think the case is going to rise and fall for the Southern District of New York on the testimony of those cooperators. These cases are very difficult to investigate. They're very difficult to prosecute.
Often minors who are abused have difficulty coming forward and testifying. They have difficulty, you know, essentially going through and doing what they would need to do to be a witness in a case. So, really, here, the testimony of those cooperators has to be strong in order for the Southern District to make its case in court.
And what I think this indictment tells us is that the Southern District believes that they have testimony that can back these charges up.
HARLOW: When you look at the deal that was struck, that raised so many questions that the victims didn't know about, what do you think the questions are going to be now, not only for Alexander Acosta, the current Labor Secretary, who was a big part of this, but the judge who signed off on it?
MARIOTTI: Yes. I have to say there are very significant questions about Mr. Acosta's actions there. Really, there has to be something very significant behind the scenes that caused that series of events. There's clearly misconduct by not informing victims. It appears, at some point, there were misrepresentations that were made to the court, very serious misconduct by Justice Department attorneys.
Victims need to know, particularly in cases like this, when I did investigate human trafficking cases and sexual abuse cases of minors, those victims are counting on you as a prosecutor. They have a right to have access to you, they have a right to be heard and they are counting on you to prosecute and act fairly.
HARLOW: And it is interesting that the federal prosecutors working on this that are going to hold this press conference in a little under an hour are from The Southern District of New York's Public Corruption Unit. What does that tell you?
MARIOTTI: It could be a coincidence. It could be they just have time on their plates. But it also could mean that there's some tie to this case, either from the angle you just talked about or another, there's an obstruction, potential obstruction provision.
Perhaps there is a public official that could -- that is at least tangentially involved in this case and could become part of it later on.
HARLOW: Well, all really important questions to be answered. Renato Mariotti, thank you so much.
Also this morning, as more images and reports come out of inhumane conditions at these migrant facilities along the southern border, the President says he now wants the media to go inside and see for themselves.
With me is our Kaitlan Collins, she joins me from the White House, and Natasha Chen in El Paso, Texas. Good morning to you both.
Kaitlan, the President says he wants this, but there is a big difference between saying that and then the facilities actually letting in journalists with cameras unannounced.
KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And so far, they've been hesitant, even not wanting lawmakers to bring their phones into those facilities. Of course, there are children there. So whether or not that invitation is actually going to go forward is still an open question. But so far, the President and his aides have been downplaying the reports about these conditions at the border.
Here's what the President said when he was on his way back to the White House yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: 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 that were complaining about they're crowded.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: So the President there going after not only some of those democratic lawmakers who have been reporting what they saw when they've toured these facilities. But, Poppy, we should note it's not just any one singular report detailing these conditions that they say are widespread at these facilities, conditions like overcrowding, some standing room-only areas, people going without hot meals.
But not only just from democrats. It's coming from a report from the President's own government and a highly detailed and very specific report in The New York Times that came out yesterday and that people should read if they haven't seen it yet.
HARLOW: They absolutely should. And, Natasha, you're there and you spoke to a Texas State rep who says Border Patrol agents have been trying for some time to bring light to the conditions in Clint, which is probably why a number of them were willing to speak to The Times.
NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Poppy. We were talking to Representative Mary E. Gonzalez. She represents the Clint area where that facility is. She says that local leaders like herself and the community did not even know that children, unaccompanied children, were being processed through that facility until news reports came out in the last month or so about the conditions inside.
She said that some of these Border Patrol agents who live in this community who have known her for a long time, they have been telling her about how demoralizing and depressing it is to work right now in those conditions because of what they are seeing day to day with the migrants. They've also told her about how hundreds of children at one point were being processed through that facility in a space that's really not designed for that many kids and being held there for longer than they should be there, with limited shower and -- shower facilities to wash up, limited microwaves to heat food to feed them.
Here's what she had to say about her conversations with these agents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARY E. GONZALEZ (D-TX): A lot of the people I talked to who worked there were saying, we have been telling higher-ups there's a problem. And those -- and basically those pleas have been ignored. A lot of the people who I talked to have been in the Border Patrol for decades, 23 years, 24 years. This is something very new to them. They were never charged with being caretakers of children.
At the end of the day, we have to realize that my community is struggling with an administration-made problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHEN: And Gonzalez did say that she got to visit inside the Clint facility last week when there were far fewer children. So many of them have now been processed out.
We did also hear from the Sector Chief of the El Paso region who said, now, in this region, they have only 26 children in custody. He disputes the reports of the inhumane conditions inside.
But he does acknowledge it's very possible agents have been complaining about conditions and overcrowding in the past. He says they've all been complaining that there are just too many children and not enough resources to process them through. HARLOW: Thank you so much for the reporting, for talking to her, Natasha Chen, we appreciate it, and Kaitlan Collins at the White House.
All right, still to come, the Department of Justice is taking a new strategy as it pushes again to try to get a citizenship question on the upcoming census. We'll talk about that.
Plus, new fighting words within the Democratic Party. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi takes on Congresswoman Alexandria Ocascio-Cortez.
And later the U.S. Women are heading home with another World Cup title and ready to take on a bigger battle, equal pay.
HARLOW: All right, new team, new argument. After the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration's attempt to add a citizenship question on the census, this morning, the Justice Department says a different team of lawyers will now take up this battle.
For more on why, Jessica Schneider, our Justice Correspondent, is here in D.C. So this is even after the Supreme Court ruled against them in this. The administration sees it as that important that they're putting a new team of attorneys on this.
What does it mean and why does it matter?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Poppy. So this will be a new team that will now have to push a completely different set of arguments to try to get the citizenship question on the 2020 census.
And we've learned that the political appointee who have led the initial team of lawyers did in fact think that it made sense to get a new team of lawyers on board, because they're really doing an about- face here, and it's a flip-flop that seems to have been forced by the President. Because, remember, it was less than a week ago that this fight seemed to be over.
Lawyers from the DOJ's federal programs branch told the challengers to the citizenship question that the census was going to print without the controversial question. And then those lawyers told a judge that the decision was final. But then, of course, we saw that flurry of Tweets from the President and he insisted that he would push his administration to find a way to add this question.
Now, DOJ lawyers admitted just last week to a Maryland judge in a hearing on Wednesday that they were really blindsided by the President's Tweets here, especially since the DOJ has been insisting all along that a July 1st deadline to print this census was the absolute drop dead deadline. And now, all indications are that the DOJ is continuing to press forward to find a rationale to add this question.
And, Poppy, it is is possible. I mean, the Supreme Court said when they made the ruling that if the Justice Department and the Census Bureau went back and provided some sort of rationale, possibly, this question could be added.
But, really, it seems the administration is running out of time here. They've already gone past their own July 1st deadline and now they could continue to push it forward. But who knows if they would even have time to add it. Poppy?
HARLOW: And, you know, just to your point, not to mention, you know, if they come up with a completely new rationale and reasoning, what will that mean for Wilbur Ross's -- the Commerce Secretary's testimony, right, when he talked about the rationale, et cetera. I guess. if they win on this, what are they going to put an insert in the census for everyone? I mean, actually, how would this play out?
SCHNEIDER: Right. So, logistically, that's sort of the big question here. The census we know from DOJ officials, it has gone to print without that question. But could the administration somehow add on a citizenship question by maybe adding supplemental pages, supplemental questionnaires? You know, the President has floated the idea even of an executive order to mandate that this question be added.
But all of these options, Poppy, they're sure to face these continued legal fights. We're already seeing it on two front in federal courts in New York and Maryland here. And, of course, we're running out of time because we're less than six months away from 2020 and the census needs to get out. Poppy?
HARLOW: Okay. Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.
Ahead for us new attacks on Nancy Pelosi's leadership style. Will the Speaker win out in this latest new school, old school battle?
HARLOW: All right. This morning, democratic freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocascio-Cortez is hitting back at Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi criticized her and three other far-left democrats for voting against that measure for border funding that eventually passed for those facilities, those detention facilities.
Pelosi told The New York Times in an interview, quote, all of these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world, but they didn't have any following. They're four people and that's how many votes they got.
So Ocascio-Cortez taking to what else, Twitter to fire back, calling Pelosi's decision to, quote, blindly trust the White House, quote, a big mistake.
Molly Ball is with me, a National Political Correspondent for Time, Tiffany Cross, co-Founder and Managing Editor of The Beat D.C. Good morning to you both.
And Tiffany, let me just begin with you. I mean, ideologically, these two -- they're in the same party, but, ideologically, on this, they could not be more divided. I do think it's interesting though that Nancy Pelosi has also said in sort of the midst of all of this criticizing the media, saying, you know, you're focusing too much on division in the party than on the issue at the southern border. We're focusing a lot on the issue at the southern border. But how significant is this divide?
TIFFANY CROSS, CO-FOUNDER AND MANAGING EDITOR, THE BEAT D.C.: Well, I take Pelosi's point that I do think there is this, you know, continual drive that democrats are out of step. But, listen, this is a healthy generational shift happening within the party. And quite frankly, I'm not here to beat up on Nancy Pelosi. I think that she's, you know, achieved some congressional feats in her tenure, of course.
But I do think in this instance that she did look a bit out of step with her party. And if you remember, Poppy, at the time when she was going through campaigning and trying to be House Speaker again, and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, one of the people who didn't vote for the border funding bill, said, I'm going to vote for you but I did not come here ask for your permission to lead.
And this is what she is reckoning with now. These four women are not diversity hall (ph) decoration for Congress, but they are lawmakers intending to legislate, invoke their conscience and reflect -- revoke their conscience rather and reflect the views of their constituency. And this is a major defeat for her because she is used to being able to whip her caucus and keep people in step (ph).
But as this generational shift happens, you're going to see this kind of discord on these occasions, and I don't think that's a bad thing for the party.
HARLOW: So, Molly, it's interesting, the line that really struck us in the Dowd (ph) piece in The Times from Pelosi, quote, if the left doesn't think I'm left enough, so be it. Will that work for her? Is that fine? Will she have to answer more and more calls from the left?
MOLLY BALL, POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we'll see.
I mean, I think that she is going to be increasingly tested by these divisions within the caucus. We're going to see this week as the debate heats up over Pentagon funding, whether she.