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Top Democrats Call on Labor Secretary to Resign for Role in Securing Deal for Sex Offender Jeffrey Epstein; Former Trump Adviser: Next 72 Hours Critical for Alexander Acosta; Former Presidential Candidate Ross Perot Dies at 89; Trump Blasts U.K. Ambassador Following Leaked Cables Criticizing Trump. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 9, 2019 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:23] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

One big question today: Can the labor secretary hold onto his job? That is looming large today over the White House and over Secretary Alexander Acosta as the spotlight is only growing brighter on his role in securing what's been called the deal of a lifetime for convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, back in 2008.

Acosta was then the U.S. attorney who oversaw the case. And now that Epstein is facing new charges over sex trafficking, over really the same allegations, Acosta is facing new scrutiny.

The two top Democrats in Congress are calling on the secretary to resign. Listen.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): I am calling on Secretary Acosta to resign. It is now impossible for anyone to have confidence in Secretary Acosta's ability to lead the Department of Labor. If he refuses to resign, President Trump should fire him.


BOLDUAN: On top to have that, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying this in a tweet, "Secretary Acosta must step down as U.S. attorney. He engaged in an unconscionable agreement with Jeffrey Epstein, kept secret from courageous young victims, preventing them from seeking justice. This was known by the president when he appointed him to the cabinet," Pelosi writes. "Acosta, resign."

So where is this case headed for Epstein? And is the fallout going to reach all the way to the president's cabinet?

CNN's crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is here, along with the CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.

Shimon, let me start with you. Epstein is facing new charges but putting everyone's attention

squarely back on the deal from 2008 that largely got him off. What more are you learning about the deal?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Keep in mind, Kate, we wouldn't be here today if he didn't get this sweetheart deal.

He was facing a 50-something count indictment, a federal indictment, perhaps similar to the charges that we're seeing now in Florida, when he got this sweetheart deal.

And it truly is a remarkable deal. His lawyers fought quite strongly for him, successfully. And when you look at what he received in exchange for this agreement, it was 13 months in a county jail where he was essentially allowed to leave and go to work.

The big thing here is that he avoided these federal charges and that he only had to plead to two state prostitution charges. Quite different than when you're facing a 50-count indictment from federal prosecutors. And then obviously he had to register as a sex offender.

So when you look at the entire deal, you have to wonder, how did this happen. And that is what is under investigation now by the Department of Justice. Their Office of Professional Responsibility is looking into this.

Alexander Acosta has been defending it. Here's how he explained some of it back in 2007.


ALEXANDER ACOSTA, LABOR SECRETARY: Based on the evidence, the professionals within a prosecutor's office decide that a plea that guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally and that guarantees other outcomes, is a good thing.


PROKUPECZ: So that was him there talking back in 2017 and he continues to defend himself against this plea deal.

But no matter how you look at this, you have to -- questions are going to continue to be raised as to how Epstein was able to get this kind of a deal.

So much so that when you look at what the Southern District of New York did here yesterday, it's an entire rebuke of this plea agreement. They went ahead and found a way to bring charges against him for exactly pretty much the same thing, what he was going to initially be charged with in Florida.

Here, they're saying it's really all about the victims. The victims never had an opportunity to be heard, and now what the prosecutors here want is for these victims to be heard.

BOLDUAN: That's for sure.

Shimon, thanks so much.

So, Phil, now this takes us into the political realm. What are you hearing from the Hill on this? Do lawmakers think that the current labor secretary, the prosecutor who oversaw that deal, can survive this?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSONAL CORRESPONDENT: It depends on which lawmakers you talk to and it depends on which staffers to talk to.

It matters when obviously Democratic leaders, particularly the House speaker and the House Democratic majority, as well as the Senate Democratic leader call for a resignation.

However -- and, Kate, you know as well as anybody -- in a Republican administration, particularly this Republican administration, so long as Republicans stay behind the labor secretary or, as I noticed last night, when they came back from a 10-day recess, didn't feel like weighing in, in particular on this specific issue. Alexander Acosta, at least from the congressional perspective is likely OK.

[11:05:12] There's two things I've been hearing. One, you start seeing rank-and-file Republicans in the Senate start to break and also call for resignations or call for a deeper dive into Acosta's role, specifically into that plea deal.

The second, and Shimon hit on this, and this is important, the Office of Professional Responsibility review going on at the Justice Department. The reason that's happening or at least one of the reasons that is because of a Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who is pushing the Justice Department to open an investigation into the plea deal.

When Schumer -- and you played the sound of Chuck Schumer calling for Acosta to resign. He also said, in the part you didn't play, that the OPR overview that comes from DOJ should be made public.

If you want to see what's going to happen next on Capitol Hill, my sense, in talking to sources, is that's the trigger. Whatever comes out of that related to Alexander Acosta and his role in the plea deal will be very important.

The other thing we keep a very close eye on is obviously Democrats control the majority in the House, and when you control the majority in the House, you control the ability to hold hearings. As of now, there's no indication that any of the key committees in the House, led by Democrats, are going to hold hearings. I'm told there are some staff-level discussions. But nothing has actually risen yet.

But when rank-and-file Democrats come back to town tonight, this is getting a lot of attention. People are not just uneasy about Alexander Acosta's role, but obviously the almost gruesome details in the alleged actions of Jeffrey Epstein, and whether or not this draws more attention and eyeballs and pushes them to that point. It's another big question going forward -- Kate? BOLDUAN: It does seem that some answers to some of those questions might be coming quicker than later.

Thanks, Phil. I really appreciate it.

So Phil outlined the state of play. No matter what is happening on Capitol Hill, we do know that the White House is paying very close attention. "Politico" is reporting this morning that one former Trump adviser saying that the next 72 hours are critical for Acosta.

The "Politico" reporter, one of the bylines on that story is Daniel Lippman, who joins me right now. He's also the co-author of the "Politico Playbook."

Great to see you, Daniel.


BOLDUAN: You're reporting the next 72 hours, three days, are really critical for Acosta's future here. Why is that? What are you hearing?

LIPPMAN: So Trump always monitors the news coverage of his cabinet members, and if someone gets a blip of bad news, that's one thing. But if there's sustained media negative attention on Acosta and this sweetheart deal that he seemed to have cut with Epstein, for multiple days in a row, for all this week, then Acosta becomes more trouble than he's worth and Trump might cut him loose.

And so I talked to one person close to Acosta who admitted that the optics of this deal were bad. And so when people around him are saying, yes, it didn't look like he did a great job here, that might indicate that, you know, he should be polishing up his resume.

BOLDUAN: Depending on what the review is of this from the Justice Department, it could be more than the optics of the review that could be bad about this deal that was cut. Let's be honest.

But when this first gained steam earlier this year, the president seemed unconcerned about Acosta's role in the deal and the mishandling of the information with regard to informing the victims in this case, the alleged victims in this case.

Are you getting a sense of what the bar is now, this time, for Acosta to be in real trouble with the president? I don't get that sense quite yet.

LIPPMAN: He's not there yet, because who knows what's going to happen tomorrow. But if the OPR review from DOJ comes back very bad, then Trump might have no choice but to fire him.

And also, Trump has said that he's not following this Epstein matter, but I don't think that is actually true, because Epstein is a person that Trump has known for years. And years before that deal with Acosta, Trump told "New York" magazine, "Oh, yes, Epstein likes beautiful women, he and I share that in common, and Epstein prefers them on the younger side."

So for Trump to say, I don't know him, that kind of reminds me of similar things that he said about Steve Bannon saying that he barely knew him and other people he throws under the bus. And so it's hard to square that circle in terms of this is a person who is in Trump's New York social circle set.

BOLDUAN: Let's see what happens in the next 72 hours.

Daniel, thanks so much for your reporting. I'll see you soon.

LIPPMAN: Thank you.

Also some breaking news coming in. Billionaire businessman and former presidential candidate, Ross Perot, has died at the age of 89. Perot is most well-known for his two third-party bids for the presidency in 1992 and 1996.

Wolf Blitzer takes a look back at Perot's life.


[11:10:07] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): H. Ross Perot was already a mega successful businessman when he leapt into the American consciousness as an Independent presidential candidate in 1992.

His folksy manner --

ROSS PEROT, (I), FORMER BILLIONAIRE BUSINESSMAN & TWO-TIME THIRD-PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was down in Texas taking care of business, tending to my family. This situation got so bad that I decided I need to get into it.

BLITZSER: -- and his laser-like focus on the economy --

PEROT: We have not to stop sending jobs overseas.

BLITZER: -- made Perot one of the most successful third-party presidential candidates in U.S. history. He won almost 19 percent of the vote in 1992.

From the beginning, Perot's campaign struck accord with those seeking a third-party candidate. He threw his hat into the ring on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE."

PEROT: Number one, I will not run as either a Democrat or Republican because I will not sell out to anybody but to the American people. And I will sell out to them.

BLITZER: In a presidential debate, he attacked both Republican President George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger, Bill Clinton, with equal vigor about the nation's debt.

PEROT: It's not the Republicans fault, of course, and it's not the Democrats fault. And what I'm looking for is who did it. BLITZER: Perot also directly challenged both candidates' support of

NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Perot feared it would cause the loss of jobs.

PEROT: There will be giant sucking sound going south.

BLITZER: Perot's campaign against NAFTA continued beyond the presidential race.

The Clinton White House responded with a challenge, a one-on-one debate with Vice President Al Gore live on CNN with Larry King as moderator.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I'm listening. I haven't heard the answer. But go ahead.

PEROT: That's because you haven't quit talking.

GORE: Well


GORE: How do you stop it without NAFTA?

PEROT: Are you going to listen? Work on it.

BLITZER: It was watched by millions of viewers.

Just over a week later, NAFTA passed both the House and Senate. It took effect on January 1st, 1994.

Ross Perot was born in 1930 in Texarkana, Texas, where his father ran a cotton mill. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1953 and spent four years at sea.

He started Electronic Data Systems in the early 1960s. It later became one of the world's largest technology services companies, processing data.

Perot became a billionaire in 1984 when he sold a controlling interest of EDS to General Motors for $2.5 billion.

A couple of years later, he started a second data processing company, Perot Systems Corporation. It sold to Dell in 2009 for almost $4 billion.

In 1969, President Richard Nixon asked Perot to seek better treatment for U.S. prisoners of war in North Vietnam. He traveled to Laos where he met with ambassadors from Russia and North Vietnam.

Perot made headlines again in 1979. When two EDS employees were taken hostage during the revolution in Iran, he organized and paid for a successful private mission to rescue the men and bring them home.

Perot ran for president again in 1996, but this time, he was barred from the debates. So he bought network airtime and broadcast a series of informercials to explain his personal vision for America. Perot won only 8 percent of the vote in '96.

Wolf Blitzer, CNN, Washington.


BOLDUAN: Wolf, thank you so much for that.

Joining me right now by phone is CNN presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley.

Doug, can you hear me?


BOLDUAN: Thanks so much for jumping on the phone. I really appreciate it.

I mean, Wolf laid it out, laid out Ross Perot's life so well. We all know him most probably from the 1992 run for president. What is Ross Perot's political legacy, do you think, as we look back on it now?

BRINKLEY: In the American history textbook, it's going to be about 1992 and the fact that you could get 19 percent of the vote.

I got to know Mr. Perot pretty well. I live in Austin and I would see him in Dallas. And there was a ground rule to have dinner with him. He didn't want to talk about 1992, because that's all anybody wanted to talk to him about.

What he was, was an Independent maverick populist. He didn't really care for Republicans or Democrats. His hero was Theodore Roosevelt. And he could go on at great lengths about how we needed a T.R. kind of president today, somebody that could split the difference of our partisan divide.

He cared deeply about our POWs and MIAs, people that we've left behind in wars. I would call him the patron saint of that effort.

And most interestingly, he adopted the U.S. SEALs as almost a pet cause. If you served in the SEALs, you could get a job with Perot industries. And they rewarded him by sending back the walking stick of Osama bin Baden. After Operation Neptune Spear and after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Perot was gifted the walking cane because he had done so much to help our SEALs over the years.

[11:15:13] He was a true American patriot.

BOLDUAN: That's fascinating. Fascinating look at Ross Perot's life.

Doug, thanks so much for being here. Really appreciate it. Really appreciate that perspective, Doug.

Also joining me right now is the former Ohio governor, former Republican presidential candidate, and now CNN senior political commentator, John Kasich. Governor, thanks for being here.

You knew him. You knew Ross Perot. What are you thinking on this day?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the first time I ever met Ross Perot, I was a budget hawk myself and spent most of my career fighting to get us to a balanced budget, which we ultimately achieved.

But I remember him showing up in my office one day and he just walked in. He was not a tall guy. He was kind of a short little guy. But he carried himself in a big way. And I remember he said, as my assistant said, hi, I'm Ross Perot, I'm here to see John Kasich. Where is he? So she opened the door and there was Perot standing with me. No security, no entourage. All he wanted to do was come by and talk about his great concern.

He was fixated like a laser beam on the nation's debt. And it was interesting -- first of all, Wolf's review was fantastic, because you didn't realize all the things that Ross Perot did.

BOLDUAN: I agree. I agree.

KASICH: He certainly was a little bigger -- lived a life bigger than himself, whether it was the POW issue or the issue of trade.

But debt was the thing he focused on and he captured people's attention.

The other thing he did -- Kate, you're too young to remember this -- but he used to use charts. And I learned that from him and I used charts all the time trying to explain things.

He was a very successful businessman. EDS, enormously successful company. His son also learned a lot from his dad. Also enormously successful.

Really, I just think he's an icon. I'll tell you what he says. He gives us a glimpse that, with an Independent candidacy, talked the right way, connected the right way, can have a huge impact. And maybe it is a foreshadowing of what an Independent success will look like at the presidential level. That's my take-away from Ross. He was great.

BOLDUAN: That's a really interesting take. I always appreciate your commentary.

Thanks for coming on and sharing that.

KASICH: I liked him. Kate, I like him.

You know, he was very, very personable and tough as nails. Tough as nails. A

And I remember talking to him. I called him one time and I wanted him to help me do something politically, and he's like I'm done with that. I'm not doing a good Ross Perot imitation. But he didn't want to get involved anymore.

But I just really liked him. And then I had the pleasure to meet his son and his grandson. And I mean, it's all good.


KARICH: I'll remember him forever. He was terrific.

BOLDUAN: Tough as nails but an American patriot. That's how I think a lot of people describe you as well.

Governor, thank you for being here and sharing that. I appreciate it.

KASICH: You're welcome. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Ross Perot passing away at 89 years old. We will remember him.

Coming up still for us, he called President Trump insecure and incompetent and now President Trump is declaring "we will not deal" -- his words -- with the ambassador from one of the United States' closest allies. What does that mean for the special relationship between the U.K. and the U.S. at this very moment? Details on that ahead.

Plus, a new test for the Affordable Care Act. It's a very big one. A federal appeals court today taking up the case that could strike down Obamacare altogether. What is at stake and what is the question here? You'll want to hear this.

Stay with us.


[11:23:38] BOLDUAN: In case you were wondering, President Trump is still not happy with Britain's ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch. And it doesn't look like Trump is going to get off this any time soon.

This morning, in a tweet, calling the ambassador the following, "wacky" and "a very stupid guy." Also adding, "He is a pompous fool."

Not to put too fine a point on it, friends, he is saying that about the top diplomat to America's closest ally.

The president is lashing out after a series of leaks revealed that the ambassador had called the administration, quote, "clumsy and inept" in confidential diplomatic cables back home.

Yesterday, President Trump said that the White House would, quote, "No longer deal with him," and disinvited the ambassador from a planned White House dinner.

Other than the name calling, how far is this fallout going to reach? Does this present more than a personal beef? Here with me is Samantha Vinograd, CNN national security analyst,

former senior advisor to the national security adviser under President Obama. And CNN correspondent, Erin McLaughlin, is live in London.

Great to see you guys.

Sam, the president when he says -- name calling is name calling. Fine. I'll just move past that at this moment. But when the president says that he will no longer deal with the ambassador after this, if he actually means that, if this is more than just words, what is the real impact of that?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This is another example of Trump's insecurities trumping our national security. We have a lot of work to do with the United Kingdom right now - Iran, North Korea, Russia. I could continue. And the president --


BOLDUAN: On any given day. On any given day.

[11:25:06] VINOGRAD: If Trump has issued an edict that Ambassador Kim Darroch personally is a persona non grata in Washington and that his primary counterparts at the State Department can't deal with him, we're not going to have the same kind of conversations with the British that we need to be having right now on key national security issues. That's point number one.

Second, President Trump is signaling that he wants to stack his diplomatic corps with sycophants, just like he's done with his cabinet. If there's a new British prime minister in a few days, a new ambassadors name, Kim Darroch is out, is President Trump only going to accept an ambassador that has said nice things about him? That means there's going to be this compliment echo chamber in Washington with the foreign diplomatic corps, just like he has with his cabinet.

And if anybody should be able to give the U.S. president constructive criticism, in person, for example, it should be our closest ally. We have a special relationship. President Trump is killing the messenger instead of taking a step back and really thinking about how to have an honest conversation with diplomats in Washington.

BOLDUAN: Just get - just get past it and move --


VINOGRAD: Or don't tweet about it. Kim Darroch was polite enough to put this in private cables. And it unfortunately leaked. President Trump is calling Kim Darroch names on Twitter. Not very diplomatic in my opinion.

BOLDUAN: But par for the course.

Erin, so far, the U.K. government is backing up the ambassador, standing by him. But if the president has deemed him, as we're discussing here, persona non grata, can Darroch continue to be the U.K.'s top diplomat here?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, Theresa May is in a real catch-22 situation here. Should she --


BOLDUAN: You could say that about Theresa May's entire tenure recently. Keep going, please.


MCLAUGHLIN: Very true.

But she finds herself in yet another one. Should she remove Kim Darroch from his post, that will be seen here in London as a capitulation, and also seen as compromising the diplomatic services of the United Kingdom around the world.

I can tell you that, because of this leak, already ambassadors, top diplomats in other countries are thinking twice before sending confidential cables to London.

Should she remove Darroch? That process, that problem will only deepen going forward. So it seems at this point that Prime Minister May is going to be standing by Darroch.

But remember, she is out in a couple of weeks. Her likely successor is Boris Johnson. It seems like he is going to be in prime position to take her spot in this leadership contest that's currently under way. President Trump has spoken very favorably about him in the past. We have yet to hear his thoughts on the situation.

But there's a debate tonight and perhaps we'll hear from him then.

BOLDUAN: That might be a great debate question.

Great to see you, Erin. Thanks so much.

Sam, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, critics of Obamacare get another day in court. A federal appeals court today hearing arguments on whether or not the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is unconstitutional. What today means for health care coverage for millions of Americans, that's next.