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Acosta Negotiated Plea Deal with Epstein; Pressure Builds on the White House over Acosta; Clinton Denies Knowing of Epstein's Crimes; Gulf Braces for Tropical System; Questions over Development Deal. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired July 9, 2019 - 06:30   ET



[06:32:47] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now calling on the labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, to resign. Acosta is facing criticism for his role in brokering a secret plea deal for the very politically connected financier Jeffrey Epstein in 2008. Epstein now faces new charges in connections with running an alleged sex trafficking ring in which he allegedly sexually abused dozens of underage girls. Those accusations are very similar to the ones that he faced when Acosta was involved in this case a decade ago.

So joining us now with the political and every other kind of implication, we have Jess McIntosh, former director of communications outreach for Hillary Clinton, the Clinton campaign, Margaret Talev, senior White House correspondent for "Bloomberg News," and John Avlon, CNN's senior political analyst.

OK, while everybody was speaking, let's just bring everybody up to speed on what Nancy Pelosi is now calling for. She tweeted out this. 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 President Trump when he appointed him to the cabinet. Hash tag, Acosta resign.

Jess, the White House has not said anything about this. And the more that comes to light, the more baffling it is what Alexander Acosta did. Why wouldn't he tell the victims that he was making this sweetheart deal with Jeffrey Epstein, by which Jeffrey Epstein, he could have served life in prison. He ended up getting 13 months. But he was able to go to his office and work for six days a week.

JESS MCINTOSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, the -- the go -- the work release program from jail is a new one for me, and I think a new one for most Americans. That's a Jeffrey Epstein special.

What's happening within the Trump administration is that we have an alarmingly large number of men who either have been accused credibly of rape, accused of sexual assault, accused of domestic violence, who have found their way into the White House, into the administration, where they find protection by the president, who has been accused by some 17 women of his own. Just three weeks ago, we had a credible accusation of rape against our president. I think, at this point, we -- we can see the pattern. We understand that these men are not engaged in helping women. They don't even care when it's young girls.

[06:35:04] We saw the Republican Party stand by Roy Moore in Alabama after it came out that he abused many young girls, just as young as Jeffrey Epstein's victim. They decided they wanted him in anyway. I think that told women everything we needed to know about whether Republicans and this administration are ever going to take it seriously.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I just want to be clear, Acosta -- Acosta isn't accused of this, he's accused of handling the case badly.

MCINTOSH: Jeffrey Epstein basically operated in open -- in open sight for a very long time because of men like Acosta who were able to help him cover it.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's hugely important. There's more mystery around why Acosta cut this sweetheart deal with Jeffrey Epstein than there has been about all of these allegations about Jeffrey Epstein's activities over a decade plus. So that's -- I mean, again, this is a -- this is a case about abuse of power, an arrogance of power, as well as this absurd sweetheart deal for a high- priced financier who gets basically, you know, a kind of work release from prison deal that people caught with a dime bag of weed wouldn't get back in the 1980s (ph).

BERMAN: And, again, we're waiting to hear from Secretary Acosta this morning. We are waiting to hear if the White House responds. And one of the issues is that Jeffrey Epstein, in this case, has just tentacles everywhere.

Let me just read "The Washington Post" reporting on what makes the White House nervous about this, this morning, Margaret. Officials at the White House are nervous that Democrats will encourage women allegedly abused by Epstein to testify publically before Congress, drawing attention to Acosta's work on the plea deal, according to current and former administration officials.

How much runway do you think Acosta has at this point here, Margaret, as the secretary of labor?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I do think the next couple of days are probably going to be somewhat decisive, but it should be noted, a couple of things, number one, that the -- not just the Trump administration, but the Obama administration and the Bush administration were aware of this plea deal, and that this is all sort of part of Acosta's history leading up to the confirmation hearings. So all of this was known at the time. What's changed are some of the political circumstances and some of the new details that have emerged.

But, also, "Bloomberg's" reporting shows that Acosta has some completely separate political problems inside the Trump administration, which is that among at least some there is the sense that he's not moved fast enough on deregulation and some business -- pro-business type of issues and that's there's some inside the administration who would like to see his deputy elevated.

So I think if the -- if President Trump were to move against Acosta, there is an entirely parallel background that has nothing to do with this and everything to do with the business climate that is at work here. Whether these two converge, whether pressure from the Democrats and some pressure from business lobbyists converge, I think remains to be seen. But I don't think that President Trump is going to respond to Nancy Pelosi alone.

CAMEROTA: Yes. But, I mean, what you're saying, the latter of what you've just described is what gets President Trump's attention generally when one of his cabinet stops working out for him. So maybe Acosta's days are numbered.

But, Jess, Democrats should not be so sanguine about all of this coming to light and about women testifying about what happened because so many people are implicated --


CAMEROTA: Including Bill Clinton, who spent time with Jeffrey Epstein and has put out a statement that is questionable. So last night his spokesperson felt compelled to say this, President Clinton knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago or those with which he has recently been charged in new York. In 2002, and 2003, President Clinton took a total of four trips on Jeffrey Epstein's airplane, one to Europe, one to Asia, two to Africa, which included stops in connection with the work of the Clinton Foundation.

Now, the problem is, is that there are lots of other reports in different outlets that suggest that Bill Clinton took many, many more flights with Jeffrey Epstein and spent more time with him than this statement suggests.

MCINTOSH: To the extent that any person in power in either party was involved in not just protecting Jeffrey Epstein, but legitimizing him, we knew that these reports were out there. Jeffrey Epstein's behavior was sort of a New York tabloid fodder in the '90s and early 2000s. It's not credible that somebody would simply be completely unaware that there were these rumors around this man. It's not credible for the current president or a former president. So I think at this point it's -- it's just -- it's way past time to have the reckoning about what these guys are allowed to get away with because of the virtue of the money and power that they -- that they -- that they enjoy.

AVLON: And let the chips fall where they may beyond partisanship.


BERMAN: And, again, the idea of every -- this was out there. You know, who talked about this in 2002, Donald Trump, right? He told --

CAMEROTA: Oh, yes.

MCINTOSH: Oh, he did. CAMEROTA: Glowingly. Glowingly.


BERMAN: He told -- he told (INAUDIBLE) magazine, 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.

CAMEROTA: No doubt about it.

[06:40: 08] BERMAN: Jeffrey enjoys his social life.

So it was out there.

All right, I want to cover a few other subjects here quickly.

Elizabeth Warren raised a lot of money.


BERMAN: You know, $19 million and this is after she said she would stop doing closed door fundraisers with big donors, smaller donations. $19 million is a lot. It's also more than Bernie Sanders. And I know a lot of people compare that.

AVLON: Yes, look, this is a big deal because she had taken herself out of the big money, closed door game. And they'd been lowering expectations. They'd lost a fundraisers at one point. So for her to come forward with this kind of a haul, from small dollar donors, shows there really is grassroots energy around her campaign, and it contrasts with Bernie Sanders, who's, I think, having a hard time recreating some of that magic and grassroots enthusiasm from '16.

CAMEROTA: We only have a few seconds. Margaret, why? Why has Bernie Sanders lost some luster for fundraising -- or for -- from people with money, and Elizabeth Warren has gained?

TALEV: Well, to a large extent they're sharing the same lane. And she had, you know, not the world's greatest launch, but in the second quarter we really saw her stock pick up and I think, you know, among that part of the Democratic voting base, and with that, the fundraising and the ability to compete to get close to Joe Biden's numbers without the private fundraisers, really does show the contours of that sort of a contest lining up. It makes it difficult, not just for Sanders, but shows for Harris some of the charges, I think, in continuing to move forward.

BERMAN: Makes the debate in less than three weeks all --

CAMEROTA: Even more interesting.

BERMAN: Exactly. Right here on CNN.

All right, Jess, Margaret, John, thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, the Gulf states facing their first tropical threat of the season. Chad Myers has our forecast, next.


[06:45:51] CAMEROTA: Forecasters are keeping a close eye on the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical system could strengthen into a major storm.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has our forecast.

It feels early for this, but it's not.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It does. It isn't because the water is warm. It always depends on the temperature of the body of water that the tropical system gets into, and the Gulf of Mexico is hot out there. Above 83 degrees.

The storm still is over Georgia, though. So that's going to be the rub. It gets into the Gulf of Mexico and it's going to take some time to develop.

This weather is brought to you by Xyzal, all night, all day allergy relief.

Does it get there? Yes. The hot air is there. To the northeast today, it's going to be a dry day. But to the southeast, you can see the air. It's muggy. It's hot. It's humid. And the computer models taking this into the Gulf of Mexico. The European model taking it very close to Lafayette, Louisiana, where the GFS, the American model, is close to Houston, Texas.

A lot of rainfall with this. Whether it develops into a category one, two or anything at all, it's going to be a rainfall event. Much of this rainfall could be in the 10 to 20 inch rainfall range. The American model says somewhere in New Orleans, close to 10, but the European model, with this white right there, John, over Lafayette, over new Iberia, that's 20 inches of rain or more. I know they get that down there, but in 24 or 48 hours, that's still a flood event.

We'll be watching.

BERMAN: Some's getting very wet.


BERMAN: We're going to keep an eye on this, Chad. Thank you very much.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: A major Trump donor able to bypass environmental hurdles after a secret meeting with a member of the administration. What a CNN investigation has uncovered, next.


[06:51:18] BERMAN: New this morning, a CNN investigation, a huge housing development planned for the Arizona desert was put on hold because of environmental concerns. Then came a secret meeting between the developer and the man Donald Trump would appoint to run the Department of Interior, and suddenly the project was back on track. It has been halted again by a lawsuit, but the chairman on the House Committee on Natural Resources is opening an investigation into all of this. And critics say it is just the latest example of how industry leaders with connections to Trump, the Trump administration, are able to get their projects pushed through.

CNN's senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has been digging on all of this. He joins us now.

Drew, lay it out for us.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: John, this is another example of why elections matter and how those political access points in Washington, D.C., can even help in the middle of an Arizona desert.


GRIFFIN (voice over): The Villages at Vigneto was a massive housing development being planned in this Arizona desert east of Tucson, but like all development in Arizona, water is an issue, especially for wildlife. And U.S. Fish and Wildlife Supervisor Steve Spangle thought before putting in all those homes, golf courses and potentially 70,000 people, government scientists should look carefully at how the project would impact the nearby San Pedro River.

STEVE SPANGLE, FORMER FIELD SUPERVISOR, U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE: We wanted them to assess how much water was going to be withdrawn from the aquifer.

GRIFFIN: The EPA had said years earlier that developing a site represented a substantial and unacceptable impact, though the Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit for an earlier project on the site. Spangle decided, before the new Villages at Vigneto could move forward, a full scale biological assessment was needed. That was October 2016. Then this happened.

What followed was a series of events pieced together by CNN that shows a developer with connections to the Trump administration was able to push his project forward despite environmental concerns. It was just seven months into the new administration, Steve Spangle received an unusual phone call.

SPANGLE: It was one of our solicitors, one of our attorneys from Washington, and she told me that she had gotten a call from a high level political appointee within the Department of the Interior who informed her that our position out here in Arizona was not the position of the administration.

GRIFFIN: Spangle says the lawyer from the Interior Department told him he needed to reverse his earlier decision on that environmental assessment for the project.

SPANGLE: But I felt I had a duty. I worked for the administration, I have to -- to do what I'm told. And so I did. I felt pressured to reverse my decision. In its simplest terms, I was rolled.

GRIFFIN: Spangle followed orders, reversed his decision, and four months later, retired. Environmentalists are livid.

TRICIA GERRODETTE, TUCSON AUDUBON SOCIETY: We're supposed to work under the laws and science, and science was overridden here.

GRIFFIN: This is the developer. Mike Ingram is part owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He donated more than $50,000 to Donald Trump's political committees, co-chaired a cancelled inauguration fundraiser that promised half million dollar donors a hunting trip with Donald Trump Junior and Eric Trump, and a private reception with the president. He's connected to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt too. Ingram is a director of the Safari Club International Foundation, a group Bernhardt once represented. And since Donald Trump became president, Ingram has enjoyed easy access to Trump administration decision makers who oversee his interests.

[06:55:00] Schedules obtained by CNN show at least eleven meetings, phone calls or e-mails with top Trump administration officials, including then EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, and Ryan Zinke, who was secretary of the interior. And CNN has learned that in August of 2017, Mike Ingram met up with his old lobbyist friend and then Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the first of at least five meetings with him.

This secret meeting, not on any public calendar, was a private breakfast held at Mike Ingram's hunting lodge in Montana. Just two weeks later, Fish and Wildlife Supervisor Steve Spangle got that unusual call from Washington and the Villages at Vigneto was on track again.

A lawsuit by environmentalists filed earlier this year now has the project on hold.

Ingram will not talk to CNN. He has hired one of Washington's most powerful lawyers to speak on his behalf, Lanny Davis, a Democrat.

LANNY DAVIS, ATTORNEY, EL DORADO HOLDINGS: The innuendo is, well, he's close to Trump, there must have been political influence. That's just innuendo. I can't see any evidence that there was any influence whatsoever politically. Not even --

GRIFFIN (on camera): That this guy has unprecedented access to David Bernhardt on August 18, 2017, he invites him for breakfast. Isn't that right?

DAVIS: So, yes, that's right.

GRIFFIN: At his hunting lodge?

DAVIS: At his hunting lodge.

GRIFFIN: And it's shortly after that, that the phone call is made to Mr. Spangle telling him, we want you to change your decision.

DAVIS: And you've now done an incomplete narrative of the facts. So let's do the rest of the facts.

GRIFFIN: Please.

GRIFFIN (voice over): He explains the Army Corps of Engineers asked about Spangle's complaint. Fish and Wildlife Service looked into it and found no evidence Spangle's reversal was unjustified. And it's all in a new, official letter, handed to CNN by Lanny Davis, just days after CNN first reached out to Ingram for comment on this story.

GRIFFIN (on camera): CNN calls and suddenly there's a brand new letter that comes out and reaffirms that everything is OK. And, by the way, in that letter, nobody from Washington had anything to do with this. I mean, Mr. Davis, with all due respect, that sounds like a pretty slick move.

DAVIS: So if you're discussing innuendo and fog, I completely agree. If you're focused on facts, the facts are that the Army Corps of Engineers made a decision on the facts under the law.

GRIFFIN: Did you have anything to do with that letter?


GRIFFIN: Did Mr. Ingram have anything to do with that letter?

DAVIS: No. I would say on camera that sometimes bad luck happens to me when I'm working for a client. In this case, it was just pure luck that I read this letter just before the CNN interview, and I said, there is a God in heaven.


BERMAN: So, Drew, at a basic level, is this a case of favors being granted by the Interior Department to Secretary Bernhardt's industry friends?

GRIFFIN: You know, John, we've asked, of course, the Interior Department for answers on this, and Bernhardt himself. He's blown us off before.

We just got a one sentence response saying, Fish and Wildlife looked at this. Everything is OK. Nothing to see here.

They can get away with that -- telling us that, but, as you mentioned, Congress is now very much interested in this. The House Natural Resources Committee is opening an investigation, looking at all these ties between Ingram, the development and how this all took place. So I think there is going to be some investigation to find out if indeed this is another favor being granted.

John. Alisyn.

BERMAN: I've got to say, Drew, it's the case of your digging making a difference here. You can see it while you watch Lanny Davis squirm there a little bit. Thanks so much for being with us, Drew. CAMEROTA: All right, there's mounting pressure on the Trump White House over one of their cabinet members' ties to Jeffrey Epstein. What's going to happen today? NEW DAY continues right now.


JILL BIDEN, JOE BIDEN'S WIFE: The biggest surprise is the debate. Kamala was a bit of a surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden thinks out loud. Some of those thoughts, you want to say, keep them to yourself.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Elizabeth Warren, can she raise the money? Yes, $19.1 million.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You really can build a grassroots movement.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Trump's still pushing his administration to force a citizenship question on to the 2020 census.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it does provide a pathway for getting the question on the census.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This is about make America white again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We announce the unsealing of sex trafficking charges against Jeffrey Epstein.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They found a vast trove of lewd photos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A serious offense and a serious unit to prosecute this.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY.

[06:59:52] And breaking overnight, new, high level calls for the resignation of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. This is just the latest fallout from a sex trafficking case with ripple effects all over the government. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling on Secretary Acosta to step down for.