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Billionaire Charged with Abusing Girls; Harris on Biden's Apology; Biden Talks About Obama; Sen. Chris Van Hollen on Iran's Uranium Breach; Epstein Pleads North Guilty to Charges. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 8, 2019 - 13:00   ET

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


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

Underway right now, he's a billionaire with friends in high places. And now Jeffrey Epstein is accused of luring, recruiting and sexually abusing dozens of girls at his mansions. And now the question, who else may have been involved?

Joe Biden just did something he doesn't often do, apologize.

And Iran breaches the nuclear deal that President Trump left. What will the U.S. do now?

Plus, another senior Pentagon official is out after a scandal. Is the country less safe because of turmoil at the DOD?

And the U.S. women's soccer team are World Cup champions again, but will they finally get paid like it, and will they go to the White House?

But first we begin with alarming new allegations against politically connected billionaire and convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein. He is due in court later today after federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against the 66-year-old. And in it, Epstein is accused of seeking out and paying underage girls as young as 14 to have sex with him and then recruit other victims for him to abuse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM SWEENEY, ASST. DIRECTOR-IN-CHARGE, FBI'S NEW YORK OFFICE: We are parents, we are community members, we are human beings. But as an FBI special agent and the head of this office, I have the privilege to represent and stand among many who make it our mission to put predators behind pars where they belong, regardless of the predator's power, wealth and perceived connections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, if you've never heard of Epstein before this, odds are you have heard of his friends and associates, because his social circle includes Hollywood actors and prominent politicians, including two U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, whose relationship with Epstein spans over a decade.

CNN's Erica Hill is in New York.

And, Erica, Epstein got an unusually lenient plea deal in Florida in 2008, serving just over a year in jail with a generous work release. Now he's facing decades in prison and some of his friends and associates should also be worried.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

And let's walk through that first deal that you just mentioned, that plea deal that was referred to as both a sweetheart deal and pretty much the best deal that someone in his case could get.

So this was in 2008. And, keep in mind, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, who was overseeing this deal at the time, who OK-ed it, none other than Alexander Acosta, who is, of course, now the current secretary of labor.

Under that deal, he pleaded guilty to two state charges of prostitution in Florida. There was no prison time, but there was 13 months in a county jail. And that was also part of a work release program. So he was allowed, Brianna, six days a week to leave the county jail for 12 hours at a time so that he could go to his office.

This has been under scrutiny for some time. In February of this year, a federal judge actually ruled that this deal broke the law because victims were not notified at the time. In fact, they weren't notified until after a judge had signed off on it, so they couldn't comment at the time.

And, again, that's bringing Alexander Acosta back under scrutiny. He was questioned about this at his confirmation hearings to become labor secretary at the time. He said the deal that prosecutors came up with was a good thing in his words because Epstein did some jail time and also because he had to register as a sex offender. It's important to point out, the Labor Department oversees human trafficking.

As for that network, when you mentioned, he, Jeffrey Epstein, well, a lot of bold-faced names who are in his circle there, including, as you mentioned, former President Bill Clinton, who, according to extensive investigative reporting that went through court records by "The Miami Herald" reporter Julie Brown showing that on several occasions former President Clinton was on Epstein's private plane, even at his private island. And President Trump also in his orbit, on the plane at least once. Keep in mind, they were neighbors in Palm Beach. At one point Epstein was a member at Mar-a-Lago. He is no longer.

And in 2002, then regular citizen Donald Trump said this to "New York" magazine about Jeffrey Epstein, calling him a terrific guy. He's a lot of fun to be with, he said. It's even said he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. Obviously those words take on new meaning today in 2019. We should point out that neither former President Clinton nor President Trump have been accused of inappropriate activity with underage girls related to Epstein. Among the others in his orbit as well, Prince Andrew and Attorneys Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, who helped get him that deal back in 2008.

Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Erica Hill, thank you so much.

We have former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Laura Coates to help us wade through some of this stuff now.

So this case is being handled by the SDNY, the Southern District of New York, the public corruption unit. But in this press conference we were told by officials they are not to read too much into that.

[13:05:01] What do you think?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard not to. I mean normally the public corruption unit is in charge of handling things that are -- people who are elected officials, people who are in positions of power, not hedge fund leaders and billionaires, unless there's some connection to maybe the orbited people around him. Remember, unlike what happened in Florida, where they gave immunity to people who were acquaintances or associates in some form or fashion, it's a whole different ballgame in New York, different jurisdiction, different prerogative and discretion to be used there. So it could mean they're looking at people who may have been accomplices and perhaps those people fall under the category of public corruption.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about two things that we heard during the press conference that the prosecutor said no comment to. One was has Prince Andrew been contacted to get some information. The other was, is he a billionaire? And simply the prosecutor said no comment.

What do we make of that?

COATES: It's -- it's odd not to comment. Remember, one of the things that's interesting about this case is the connection of wealth and the evasion of justice here. The idea that but for his billions of dollars he would not have been able to successfully evade scrutiny in the way, get this sweetheart deal that Erica laid out so wonderfully about this issue. So perhaps it was a question about whether or not he himself has other charges that might be brought against him, maybe their -- maybe a financial corruption case is in the (INAUDIBLE). I have no idea.

But it's an odd question given the overarching scrutiny to say, look, it was wealth that got him this far and the allegations that went away. And even this ability to be in a private wing of a jail with six -- six days a week having to leave the facility, unlike anyone else? I mean, come on.

KEILAR: Yes, it was -- it's pretty stunning the deal that he got in 2008.

And the other part of it that's stunning is it shielded co- conspirators. This doesn't, right? So tell us what we're looking ahead for. COATES: So although there is a deal in Florida, the states don't have

to abide by each other. The immunity deal that may have gone down for any associate or accomplice, that's for Florida prosecution. New York, separate state, separate prosecution here. So they could actually say, we're going to look at those people, whoever these individuals are, who thought it was appropriate, Brianna, to have people waiting for him, have underage girls waiting for him when he touched down in Palm Beach or at his upper east side home, allegedly, to have them waiting to actually be abuse victims, people who were -- who were above age and be able to become victim refers. These people can now be under the purview of prosecution. That's a very great thing.

And also one of the reasons why it was so important to have victims be aware of the deal beforehand, could they give information about who may be an unknown accomplice or conspirator in a sex trafficking ring? In Florida, they weren't given that chance to even say, there's a plea offer, there's one been made and accepted. Well, in New York, now they'll have their day in court to at least have the ability to have notice and perhaps have a voice.

KEILAR: Up to 45 years in prison. We're going to follow this.

Laura Coates, thank you so much.

To the 2020 presidential race now and an apology from Joe Biden. The former vice president has been under fire over comments he made about working with segregationist senators back in the '70s.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Was I wrong a few weeks ago to somehow give the impression to people that I was praising those men who I successfully opposed time and again? Yes, I was. I regret it. And I'm sorry for any of the pain or misconception they may have caused anybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, one of Biden's biggest critics on those comments has been fellow presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris. And we have CNN's Kyung Lah, who is with the Harris campaign in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, right now.

Kyung, is there any reaction from Senator Harris?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, she's in the middle of her Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, town hall. This is not the format where we've generally seen her talk about this dust-up with the former vice president. She's actually speaking behind me. It's a little hard to hear her because it's so crowded.

Where we have seen her talk about it is when reporters have asked her these questions in the gaggle. I want you to listen to her response when she was asked by a reporter about her response to the former vice president's apology.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, I think that he is -- he is right to recognize the impact of his words. And I applaud him for doing that and having the courage to do it. There is still a point of disagreement between he and I, and that remains, which is that part that is a very significant part, I believe, about that whole era, which is the issue of busing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAH: I followed up with asking why it took him three weeks -- why she thinks it took him three weeks to respond and she said she would like to turn the page, but that she's -- that she felt he simply could not rewrite history.

The campaign, instead, Brianna, would prefer to talk about her momentum. They feel that this room is one example of that. They put out 510 chairs, but clearly they filled up those chairs. There are people standing in the back here because this campaign feels that they have the momentum after the debate.

Brianna.

[13:10:04] KEILAR: All right, Kyung Lah in Myrtle Beach, thank you so much.

And a common theme has emerged in the Biden campaign, which is Barack Obama. Biden often talks about his friendship and close working relationship with the former president. He often goes on to tout his friendship with the former president and then again mentions their close working relationship. You get the point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was vetted -- I was vetted by he and ten serious lawyers he appointed to go back and to look at every single thing in my background, from finances to anything I had done. Everything. And he selected me. I'll take his judgment about my record, my character, my ability to handle the job over anyone else's.

Barack, when he got elected president, everything landed on his desk but locusts. No, I'm serious.

Remember how Barack got in trouble with everybody when he said, take your kid out from under the -- away from the television?

QUESTION: You've been using the name Barack Obama an awful lot lately.

BIDEN: Sure have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Sure have.

We have CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, who's here with us. You know, in 2016, Joe Biden, he took it very personally when even

well ahead of Hillary Clinton declaring her candidacy, you saw the Obama world, some of the key figures shift their support behind her instead. He is making sure that it seems like Obama is in his corner even if he hasn't endorsed.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And Obama has not endorsed. We should make that clear. Michelle Obama was given the opportunity and did not. And I think what Biden is doing is what you would expect.

I remember thinking after the first Democratic debate, gee, Barack Obama's name did not come up in that first debate. But the second debate in which Joe Biden participated, Obama was all over there.

And I will tell you one more thing. It's not President Obama, it's Barack. He calls him Barack. You know, he says he's my friend. I call him by my -- by his first name. That's how close we are. We were together for eight years. And if I'm good enough for Barack Obama, or Barack, then take a look at me because I should be good enough for you because I was vetted by Obama himself.

KEILAR: So he has complained -- this is where he wants people to focus, right?

BORGER: Yes.

KEILAR: These eight years. But he's complained on the trail his competitors are not. That he says they just pretend like he took a hiatus from 2008 to 2016.

BORGER: Well, they are.

KEILAR: So they are trying. Why are they trying to ignore his time as vice president?

BORGER: Well, because they don't want to criticize Obama, number one, because everything Obama did, Biden was right there with him. And I think what -- it's more lucrative, quite honestly, for them to go back in time and to look over a political record of 40 years and say, OK, well, what did he do on busing? What did he do with Anita Hill? We haven't heard that lately. I'm sure it will come up again. And he understands -- he understands that that's -- that that's lucrative for them to mine in a Democratic primary.

What he wants to focus on is the work he did with President Obama, who was very popular with the base of the Democratic Party. But if you're an opponent of his, this is all about establishing differences between you and your competitors. And so if you want to say, well, I differ from Joe Biden, what is it going to be on? It's not going to be on how you feel about Barack Obama. It's going to be on, well, maybe we have a degree of difference on medical care. Maybe we have a degree of difference on whether you should have mentioned, you know, those senators in that -- in that speech you gave about how you worked with these segregationists. Yes, we think that's terrible. And what he is saying is, you're taking my record out of context

because that was 30 years ago. But that's what Democrats are doing right now because they need -- each person needs to establish himself and differentiate with Joe Biden, who's the clear frontrunner, at least nationally.

KEILAR: Gloria, thank you so much.

BORGER: Sure.

KEILAR: Iran breaching the nuclear deal that President Trump pulled out of. So what will the U.S. do?

Plus, the president's, quote, inept, incompetent and insecure. That's from the U.K. ambassador to the U.S., as secret cables are exposed.

And just a short time from now, the U.S. women's soccer team returns home after clinching the World Cup yet again. But will they be going to the White House?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:19:11] KEILAR: Iran has announced that it has breached its uranium enrichment limit set in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal which President Trump withdrew the U.S. from last year. Tehran had warned that it would exceed the limits unless sanctions on its banking and oil sectors were eased. And now it's stepping closer to the level of enrichment it would need to produce nuclear weapons, despite this warning from President Trump on Sunday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran better be careful. If you enrich for one reason, and I won't tell you what that reason is, but it's no good. They better be careful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Democratic Senator Chris van Hollen from Maryland is joining us now. He serves on the Appropriations Committee.

Thanks for being with us.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Brianna, good to be with you.

KEILAR: So this Iran deal, is Iran bound to it if the U.S. has pulled out of it, in your view?

[13:20:03] VAN HOLLEN: Well, it's not. And that's why this was all sadly predictable, because when President Trump ripped up the Iran nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions, Iran warned for many, many months that under the terms of the agreement it was no longer bound by its terms.

They've remained compliant until now. I'm hopeful that the Europeans, President Macron and others, will find a way forward. But this administration, the Trump administration, ripped up this agreement knowing that Iran would proceed as it -- as it is and with no real strategy. A very dangerous and reckless position the administration took.

KEILAR: You've said that the way this administration has handled Iran is comparable to the lead-up to the Iraq War. Do you think the U.S. is going to go to war with Iran?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I very much worry that what this administration is doing will result in unpredictable actions that could trigger a war. We saw just a few weeks ago how things could get very close to a trigger point, and that would be devastating for the region and for the United States. We should not be in another unnecessary war in the Middle East. Iraq was one such unnecessary war. We should not make it two. And that's why it's really important that everybody demonstrate some restraint here and hopefully the Europeans will fill what has now become a vacuum in an American leadership, an unnecessary vacuum created by this administration, which as you know has many members in it, including John Bolton, the national security advisor, who have been rattling the war drums for some time and have wanted to invade and go to war with Iran.

KEILAR: The U.K. ambassador was revealed on these leaked cables to have called President Trump and his administration, quote, inept, insecure and incompetent.

Do you agree with that?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I agree with their assessment. And, of course, this was not intend to become public. This was intended to be a confidential evaluation of the administration. So there was no effort to try to embarrass the administration. It was intended to try to give the British government the embassy's sort of unvarnished view. And I think anybody here in Washington, D.C., looking at this administration would have reached similar conclusions about the conduct of the president and his administration.

KEILAR: Now that it's out, though, as it wasn't supposed to be, do you have concerns about how this affects the U.K./U.S. relationship?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, this clearly was an effort by someone in London to undermine the British ambassador to the United States. So Britain will have to decide how to proceed at this point. But, again, as to the assessment, you know, the very fact that it was intended to be confidential reinforces the fact that this was his honest assessment. And it's one that I think most people share.

There's probably other cables going from other embassies back to their capitals reflect similar things. And, you know, it's a -- it's a sign of the times when you have a Trump administration that is so unpredictable, has tried to undermine our allies, strengthen our adversaries in many cases. It's just a bizarre world these ambassadors to the United States are having to deal with.

KEILAR: You -- you just took a very important trip. And along with you was Senator Lindsey Graham. You went to the Middle East and you actually sort -- this all culminated with you spending The Fourth with service men and women aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

What did you learn during these stops? What are you bringing back from this trip?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Brianna, we had a number of stops. In Istanbul, we made it clear to the Turkish government that if they proceed to purchase the Russian S-400 defense system, they will not get the advanced F-35 aircraft and they will be subject to sanctions.

In Israel, on a bipartisan basis, we said that if you really want to move forward to resolve the conflict and provide economic opportunity to Palestinians, you need a have a two-state solution, one where you address Israel's legitimate security concerns, but also address the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.

We talked a lot about Iran. Some of the issues we talked about.

And on the USS Abraham Lincoln, we had a chance to thank our service men and women for their incredible sacrifice for our country and make clear that we, on a bipartisan basis, stand ready to make sure that we provide them with all they need to be successful in their missions. It's up to the political leadership to make the right decisions and keep the United States out of unnecessary conflicts.

KEILAR: Senator, thank you so much for being with us today.

[13:25:00] VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. Good to be with you.

KEILAR: Senator Chris Van Hollen.

We have breaking news now out of New York.

We are learning that convicted sex offender and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein has just arrived to federal court. This is his first court appearance since federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment which accuses Epstein of sexually abusing underage girls as young as 14 in an alleged sex trafficking ring.

We have CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, who is there now.

Shimon, what are you learning?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Epstein appearing in court, still underway. Just moments ago he pleaded not guilty to the charges. He walked into the courtroom. We're told by our reporter inside that he's wearing navy prison garb, his hair is rumpled and he wasn't wearing handcuffs. And he stood before the court. This is an initial -- his initial appearance here today where he pleaded not guilty.

We're told that the courtroom is packed. It's at capacity. It's unclear obviously if any victims are inside the courtroom.

What we do know is that an attorney, David Boyce (ph), a well-renowned attorney who's representing some of the victims in this case, he's inside that courtroom. So we're going to wait and see once this wraps up if he's going to come out and speak to the cameras.

But the news here right now is that Epstein making his first appearance on these charges pleading not guilty.

KEILAR: All right, Shimon, thank you so much for that update.

Also breaking new, we're getting word of the first Democratic candidate to drop out of the 2020 race. Why Eric Swalwell is expected to call it quits.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)