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INSIDE POLITICS

Feds Charge Jeffrey Epstein; Biden Apologizes for Comments; Biden Repeatedly Namedrops Obama. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 8, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


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[12:00:36] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Joe Biden says he is sorry for taking favorably about his past work with segregationists. The apology comes as Kamala Harris and others in the 2020 field are -- see an opening to make inroads with African- Americans critical in Democratic primaries.

Plus, the president says he wants to open border detention centers for more media visits as the White House and other immigration officials acknowledge, yes, chronic overcrowding, but they deny reports young children in custody are routinely denied showers and other basic hygiene options.

And a billionaire financier with deep political connections indicted for operating a sex trafficking ring allegedly involving dozens of underage girls. Jeffrey Epstein faced similar allegations a decade ago but avoided prosecution in a controversial deal with a federal prosecutor who is now in President Trump's cabinet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEOFFREY BERMAN, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: The alleged behavior shocks the conscience. And while the charged conduct is from a number of years ago, it is still profoundly important to the many alleged victims, now young women. They deserve their day in court, and we are proud to be standing up for them by bringing this indictment.

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KING: And we begin the hour with that very breaking news. Sordid charges leveled last hour against a politically connected billionaire. Federal prosecutors this morning unsealing an indictment against Jeffrey Epstein alleging the finance tycoon operated a sex trafficking ring largely so he could abuse underage girls. Last hour prosecutors detailing Epstein's alleged conduct at a press conference and urging any other victims to come forward. If convicted, the U.S. attorney in New York, Geoffrey Berman, says Epstein would likely spend the rest of his life in jail.

The big threat of jail time, prosecutors say, makes Epstein a flight risk and the feds will ask a judge this afternoon to deny him bail. The FBI at the press conference today calling Epstein's prosecution important for his alleged victims and as a warning to those who see themselves as above the law.

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WILLIAM SWEENEY, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR-IN-CHARGE, NEW YORK OFFICE OF THE FBI: 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 bars where they belong, regardless of the predator's power, wealth, or perceived connections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Shimon Prokupecz was in the room as the charges were unveiled.

Shimon, what's the big takeaway from this big headline-grabbing case?

SIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: I think it's important and I think the prosecutors here and the FBI made it very clear is to focus on the victims and that their whole goal here was not to forget the victims. In that deal that you talked about that Epstein had signed back in 2008 in Florida where he essentially escaped any major prosecution, well, the U.S. attorney here said they were not bound by this agreement. There was a non-prosecution agreement that Epstein and the U.S. attorney and the FBI there in Florida at the time were in. The U.S. attorney here, interesting, we did not know this, that the Southern District of New York was not bound by that agreement and, therefore, that's what allowed them to bring these charges.

As you said, these are from -- started in 2002 to 2005 when he's alleged to have committed these terrible, terrible acts. You think about dozens and dozens of girls, prosecutors say some as young as 14, he would recruit them. He would have employees -- in the indictment they don't identify these employees, but it seems some of them are cooperating with investigators. They helped facilitate some of these meetings with these underage girls. It started out as a massage and then it quickly escalated to sexual acts.

He is due in court this afternoon. Prosecutors here say that they're going to ask that he be detained. They're going to file a detention memo, and we should be getting that shortly. And that's going to contain a lot of new details. So hopefully we'll have that for you.

But, nonetheless, I think the importance of today, as you can see from prosecutors and the FBI was really not to forget the victims here and to make sure that in the end they were -- which -- they were denied by the authorities in Florida is that they, the victims, that they be able to come into court and have day -- have their day in court and talk about what happened to them.

KING: Shimon Prokupecz, on the scene at that press conference. Shimon, come back if any new details do come out in the hour ahead. CNN legal analyst Paul Callan joins us from New York, and here in

Washington with me Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post," Ayesha Rascoe with NPR, Michael Shear with "The New York Times," and Lisa Lerer, also with "The Times."

[12:05:03] Paul, I want to start with you.

Number one, is there any -- if you're Jeffrey Epstein's defense lawyer, you're going to go in and say double jeopardy, this was done. Does he have any way to make that case or is it New York U.S. attorney correct when he says, we're not bound by that, we feel secure here.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, I think the U.S. attorney in New York is correct, these agreements are drafted usually in such a way that they -- only the federal district where the plea is taken is bound by the agreement and by the rules of double jeopardy. So I think they'll have a weak argument on the double jeopardy claim.

And I also think, John, the thing that's so shocking to me about these charges, they all involve the time period of 2002 to 2005. That's exactly the time period that the current secretary of labor, Alex Acosta, was investigating when he was U.S. attorney in Florida, and he negotiated this sweet deal for Epstein to be able to take a plea to some minor state charges. So it's -- he was looking at the same fact pattern essentially and came up with nothing, whereas Southern District prosecutors have come up with this very, very tough indictment.

KING: That's a great point you make because if you were listening to Geoffrey Berman, he was essentially saying the decision made by someone who, years ago, but was in his equal position in a different jurisdiction, he was essentially saying, the guy made a horribly bad call and ignored the rights of the victims here.

I want you to help me because you're a trained lawyer. You sometimes hear things that we don't hear in terms of the language used at the press conference. They said in executing a search warrant, for example, they found pictures, nude pictures, in Jeffrey Epstein's house that they believe to be underage women. So that tells you, you did -- these charges are based on this short period of time, four-year period of time back 15 years ago, 17 years ago, the beginning of that period of time, but it sounded very much to me, tell me if you agree, that they think they have an open case and are develop new evidence?

CALLAN: Well, it could mean that, John. It also could mean that he saved old pictures from that 2002 to 2005 time period.

I think another -- I saw another suggestion there that because they were raiding his mansion on the upper east side of Manhattan, the hint is that maybe many of the crimes occurred in this mansion. Will they be looking to seize the mansion? They often do this with drug dealers where drug crimes have occurred in expensive cars and at expensive locales owned by drug dealers. So it will be interesting to see what assets of Epstein prosecutors seek to seize.

KING: Let's bring the conversation into the room. You have somebody here who is well-known in the world of high finance, who is well-known, well-connected politically, friendly with Bill Clinton, friendly with Donald Trump, two -- an ex-president and the current president of the United States. We need to be careful. You cannot connect dots in such things. But as these people lay out the facts, one of the things Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney said, was don't ask me about anybody else. You're going to get a no comment. You're going to get a no comment if you ask, are you looking at rich and powerful people. What do we make of this in sort of -- in the political environment?

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, look, this looks -- does not look good for anybody I think is what we can take away. Bill Clinton flew on the plane with Jeffrey Epstein, a plane that was nicknamed the Lolita Express. Donald Trump was quoted in a magazine story in 2002 talking about how Epstein liked them, quote, on the younger side.

So we cannot connect those dots. We know that he had some powerful friends. We know that he gave a fair amount of political donations to both parties. So it's sort of a pox on both their houses.

KING: And to that point, the president did say, "New York Magazine," 2002, I've known Jeff for 15 years, 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 life. That's the president of the United States as a businessman a long time ago.

David Axelrod, a CNN contributor, a Democratic strategist, seizing on that. We're going to have a political conversation about this, like it or not. He's a lot of fun to be with, Mr. Trump said at the time. It's even said he likes beautiful women. He quotes the president there and then he connects it to the -- the labor secretary, cut this creep an extraordinary deal. Disgusting.

Fair political commentary?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a -- look, it seems that this was potentially an open secret with many people and this is why this Epstein managed to have such connections. I mean this is the whole swamp thing, whether it's in Miami or it's in New York or connected to people in D.C.

It comes back to roost, though, with Acosta most directly in terms of the political figures that were surrounding him -- you could make a separate argument about people who enabled this activity -- because he was the prosecutor that was actually negotiating with the lawyers and seems like on the books he had an opportunity to come down really, really hard and throw this guy into jail for the rest of his life. And as it turns out, he was in prison for 13 months and spent 12 hours a day, six days a week, going to an office and seemed to get off fairly easy.

That -- in an environment in which everybody kind of wanted to give this guy a pass except for the local police chief who was looking at it, maybe not that surprising. But now this is actually his responsibility, his decision that he has to answer to. And whether or not there's actually some sort of a formal process that would lead to him being culpable, it's just the specter of it all, especially at this time, as to being the position he's in.

KING: Right.

[12:10:12] LERER: And we're also -- we're also in a climate where these kinds of behaviors by powerful men are tolerated far less than they used to be.

DEMIRJIAN: Correct.

LERER: So where open secrets -- we're not in a -- we're not in a place where people tolerate open secrets anymore, particularly in Democratic politics for sure.

KING: And, to that point, Ben Sasse, Republican senator of Nebraska, is among those who months ago was outraged that -- with "The Miami Herald" and blessed (ph) "The Miami Herald" for some incredibly solid, detailed investigative reporting that even the U.S. attorney in New York said helped them start to build their case. These victims will now get their day in court. Ben Sasse saying in a statement, Epstein should spend the rest of his life in prison. This child rapist has wealth, power and connections on his side, but the children he abused have the law on theirs. Epstein should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, power and wealth be damned.

Sasse going on to thank the current attorney general, Bill Barr, who came into this midstream, and also the U.S. attorney, Geoff Berman. It is a statement to -- they're essentially repudiating a member of the president's cabinet saying, pal, whatever you saw on paper, you cut a really bad deal.

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: And that is the question right now is, what happens with Acosta? Can he survive as more details come out -- survive in the cabinet as more details come out?

These were heinous crimes. These were horrible things that happened to dozens of girls. And to have this -- to have this sweetheart deal where the man is still able to go to work and -- you know, at his high-powered job while he's supposed to be serving time, there are real questions about how do you agree to that? How do you kind of let this slide?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": And can I -- if I can just bring it back to what you said at the -- asked at the beginning about sort of what are the possible sort of political implications for this, we've seen, in the Michael Cohen case not that long ago, similar, you know, kind of context, the, you know, same -- same U.S. attorney, how when you give -- when you start an investigation that has subpoena power, that actually can start to dig into -- into a situation in ways that journalists can't, that you do uncover things and if -- you know, who knows what's there. But politicians, whoever they are, on whatever -- in whatever political party, should be quaking in their boots a little bit. If there are things there, this investigation may well turn it up.

KING: And we'll watch it play out. And, again, a court hearing this afternoon. We may learn more.

Appreciate it. We'll follow the case.

Up next for us, the 2020 Democrats try to woo voters in South Carolina, even the ones not yet old enough to vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Actually my first favorite team is the Warriors, because I'm from Oakland. Yes, oh, don't shake -- don't hate. Don't hate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not a Lakers fan, he's a LeBron fan.

HARRIS: Oh, oh, that's what that's about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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[12:17:39] KING: Welcome back.

The Democratic frontrunner, the former vice president, Joe Biden, offering a rare apology to voters this weekend regarding his comments about his ability to work with segregationist senators back in the 1970s. Biden had previously said he had nothing to apologize for, but those comments were widely seen in communities of color especially as praising those senators, even though Biden insists that was never his intent. Now, he's sorry.

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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? Well, yes, I was. I regret it. And I'm sorry for any of the pain or misconception that I may have caused anybody.

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KING: That's notable. The former vice president making that apology from a stage in South Carolina, where African-American voters make up a giant influential voting bloc in Democratic primaries. Biden says the location, chosen on purpose.

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JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the first opportunity I had to do it in a fulsome way. I'm proud of my past. Have I made mistakes? Yes. Do we grow? Yes. But the fact of the matter is, that's why I chose here in South Carolina and chose an audience that, in fact, is -- would be the most likely to have been offended by anything that was said. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Jeff Zeleny live now in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Jeff, you're down there talking to voters in South Carolina. What are you hearing?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there's no question that Joe Biden, this weekend, was trying to clean up a lot of things. You heard him there, you know, saying he regretted, you know, expressing friendship with the segregationists. He's not quite right, though, when he said this is the first chance for him to apologize. Of course he gave a speech at Jim Clyburn's fish fry a couple of weeks ago. He spoke to the South Carolina Democratic Convention here. The thing that's change, of course, is the fact that he had a rocky debate performance and the polls are showing that Kamala Harris is rising.

I am here at an event for Senator Harris talking with voters here and with the former vice president yesterday. There is a very mixed bag. You know, this -- you know, almost no voter I've talked to said that this race is going to turn on busing. It's not about that necessarily. It's about Joe Biden, does he represent the past or the future. So some of his supporters were happy to see him simply move on, but others are saying that they do not want this to divide this Democratic contest.

So, Senator Harris is also aware of some potential blowback for her role in sparking all of this as well, John.

[12:20:01] But one thing I'm also learning today is that the former president, Barack Obama, whose name has been invoked again and again by Joe Biden as he wraps him, you know, embraces him, the two men have not spoken since that debate a couple of weeks ago. But the Obama advisers are well aware that Joe Biden plans to use his entire record from his time in the administration and they say it's fair game for him to use that.

But Obama advisers also point out and say that he is not going to weigh in at all and he still has not endorsed anyone in this race. But voters, John, when you talk to them, they may get the impression that Barack Obama is on Joe Biden's side because he mentions his name so often. But the Obama folks saying, not so fast, he has no plans at this point any time soon to offer an endorsement or to weigh in on any of this back and forth.

John.

KING: Jeff Zeleny live on the ground in South Carolina. It is an early moment, but an interesting moment in this Democratic primary.

Let's bring it in the room.

So the debate brings the frontrunner back to earth. That happens. Frontrunners gets challenged. Every candidate stumbles, whether you're Joe Biden, whether you're a lesser known candidate, every candidate stumbles. The question is, can you recover? Is saying sorry a couple weeks later enough?

RASCOE: I think we'll have to see if it's enough. But you point out, it's a couple of weeks later. I think the reason why he had to apologize is that, in this political environment, in this news environment, this issue was still coming up where things usually just kind of fade away. And so he had to address this.

I understand why he continues to really tie himself so closely to Obama. This has been helpful to him. I do wonder how far that will take him. He's the frontrunner right now and it's still very early, but is it going to be enough to say, I was with Obama. I -- that -- you know, Obama's my best friend and so vote for me. Like, will that be enough to carry him?

DEMIRJIAN: I think --

KING: To that point -- to that point, just to that point, look, he served as a loyal vice president for eight years to a Democratic president who is still very popular, especially popular among African- American voters because he made history, of course. And so Joe Biden name drops a lot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Barack, when he got elected president, everything landed on his desk but locusts. No, I'm serious.

Pennsylvania and Michigan, and Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and Ohio, and places Barack and I won.

As a United States senator and then as Barack's vice president, he gave me significant assignments in the area of foreign policy.

I would immediately reinstate the limitations that Barack and I -- or Barack put in -- the president put in place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: They know he was Barack Obama's vice president, right?

LERER: Right.

KING: You know, does he need to keep doing that? Is there -- I guess is there a risk in overdoing it? People think, why do you need to -- why do you need the cloak of Barack Obama? Why can't you be your own man?

LERER: Well, so far his support among black voters has been fairly durable, despite these sort of little things that we've been covering, these gaffes at least. I think you have this very risk-averse Democratic electorate. They want to beat Trump. That is first and foremost in their mind. And they want the least risky person to do it. And the problem for Joe Biden is, if he starts looking riskier, if he keeps making these mistakes, if he has trouble managing them, if he looks, you know, like he's maybe lost his step or whatever, then he becomes not the least risky candidate. He becomes a far riskier candidate. And, at the same time, if other, newer figures, like a Kamala Harris, can prove that they can do it and reassure some of these concerns that you hear a lot when you're out there talking to voters.

KING: And so to that point, the next set of debates, and we'll get to them in a minute, are three weeks away. And so if you're another Democrat, well, you say, whoa, Biden did stumble a little bit. He was a little shaky. Kamala Harris did have a moment. You're all thinking, what's mine? How do I get it? And the question is, if there's an opportunity, can she seize on it. She says, good apology, Mr. Vice President, but.

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SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, he says he's sorry. I'm going to take him at his word. But, again, that doesn't address the issue of busing in America and the fact that he still -- you know, we have to -- we cannot rewrite history.

I mean I think that -- that he's -- 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 plenty of disagreement between he and I and that remains.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So she wants to keep this conversation going. In some ways it's about busing. It's about Biden sounding -- seeming to talk favorably about working with segregationists. But to you point, isn't this really about, is Biden as strong as a debater as we thought? Is he tough enough to go against Trump? Are there holes in his record? And is Harris or somebody else going to grow to the point where Democrats say, no, wait a minute.

SHEAR: Right. And, look, so put aside the issue of race and busing. That's an issue that the party and the country will talk about. But to Lisa's point on vis-a-vis Trump, people in these primaries close their eyes and imagine the -- you know, somebody like Biden and they imagine him going up against Trump. And those kinds of situations where Trump says something, if Biden were to be the nominee and attacks Biden, people imagine, how would he respond? And what they saw play out over the last three weeks is an example of how he might respond. In a stumbling way, not apologizing right away, not cleaning up right away, letting multiple opportunities go by without really sort of seeming like he kind of knew what to do or what to say. And people imagined that that would be what it was like if he were to face Trump. And that's damaging.

[12:25:30] KING: And so we will see. And you mentioned, does he recover? Every candidate, no matter how good you are, makes mistakes. The question is, do you learn and recover.

To that point, this programing note. The next Democratic presidential debates will take place right here on CNN in three weeks, on July 30th and 31st, live from Detroit, right here on CNN, watched in the United States and around the world. The debates will be moderated by our Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Don Lemon. Twenty candidates, as you know, vying for the White House will participate in those debates, ten taking the stage each night to face off against each other and answer questions from the moderators.

Before that, this is interesting, CNN will conduct a draw to determine which night each candidate will appear. The draw to determine the participants for each debate night will air live on July 18th in the 8:00 p.m. hour Eastern Time right here on CNN. We are doing that draw live on the air for full transparency so everyone will get to see it for themselves, who ended up on what nights and how that was done. It will be a great process.

We'll be right back.

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