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House Speaker Calls for Labor Secretary's Resignation Over Epstein Plea Deal; Presidential Candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren Raises $19.1 Million in 2nd Quarter. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 9, 2019 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The latest fallout from a sex trafficking case with ripple effects all over the government.

[07:00:07] House speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling on Secretary Acosta to step down for brokering a secret plea deal back in 2008 for accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Acosta was a U.S. attorney in Florida at the time. Speaker Pelosi calls that deal unconscionable.

And the controversy is rising again, after federal prosecutors in New York implicitly rebuked Acosta's handling of the case, filing new charges yesterday accusing Epstein of running a sex-trafficking ring. They allege the millionaire financer sexually abused dozens of young girls in his homes between 2002 and 2005.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: They also say they uncovered a trove of lewd photos of young women in Epstein's safe last weekend. He now faces 45 years in prison.

Jeffrey Epstein's social circle involves a wide swath of powerful people, including two U.S. presidents and a Saudi prince.

We are also learning that Attorney General Bill Barr has recused himself from parts of this case because of his professional and family connections to Epstein. At this hour, we are waiting to hear from Secretary Acosta and from the White House.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is here with all of the latest developments, and there are many -- Brynn.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Jeffrey Epstein, an already registered sex offender, meaning this was no secret; but he still had friends in high places. Former President Clinton, President Trump, who in a 2002 interview called Epstein a terrific guy. Both have somewhat tried to distance themselves now while Epstein is behind bars waiting a bail hearing next week.

But it may be harder for others like Acosta to distance himself from his past connections to the multimillionaire.


GINGRAS (voice-over): Growing calls this morning for President Trump's labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, to step down over his handling of sex abuse allegations against multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein when Acosta was the U.S. attorney for Florida's Southern District a decade ago.

A newly unsealed indictment charges the hedge fund manager with operating a sex-trafficking ring where he is accused of sexually abusing dozens of underaged girls in his New York City home. Epstein pleaded not guilty to all charges Monday.

GEOFFREY BERMAN, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: As alleged, Epstein was well aware that many of his victims were minors and, not surprisingly, many of the underaged girls that Epstein allegedly victimized were particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

GINGRAS: According to the New York indictment, Epstein ran a trafficking enterprise between 2002 and 2005. The 66-year-old allegedly paid hundreds of dollars in cash to girls as young as 14 years old to have sex with him at his homes in New York and Palm Beach, Florida.

Prosecutors say a search warrant executed on his Manhattan townhouse uncovered a "vast trove of lewd photographs of young-looking women or girls."

The indictment is a direct rebuke of a secret, non-prosecution agreement Acosta negotiated with Epstein's high-powered attorneys in 2008, which suspended a federal grand jury investigation into the allegations against him. In exchange, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges. "The Miami Herald" called it a deal of a lifetime, considering it was a federal investigation identifying 36 underage victims.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now calling for Acosta's resignation, saying that deal was unconscionable.

Attorney General William Barr recused himself from that investigation, but now the Justice Department is looking at whether he needs to recuse himself from any other investigation into the case.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm recused from that matter, because one of the law -- one of the law firms that represented Epstein long ago was a firm that I subsequently joined for a period of time.

GINGRAS: Prosecutors calling for other women to step forward.

G. BERMAN: The alleged behavior shocks the conscience. They deserve their day in court. We are proud to be standing up for them by bringing this indictment.


GINGRAS: Now, we're still awaiting word from the White House, but a senior administration official told CNN there was an internal review of Acosta's involvement in Epstein's case, but stopped short of commenting on his standing in the administration.

In the meantime, the U.S. attorney's office says it's received calls from more potential victims in this case -- John and Alisyn.

J. BERMAN: All right. Brynn Gingras, thanks very much.

Again, we have yet to hear from Secretary Acosta this morning on these new calls for him to resign. We have yet to really hear from the White House about all of this. There are no public briefings. That does play into it.

Joining us now is Joe Lockhart, former Clinton White House press secretary; David Gregory, CNN political analyst; and Bianna Golodryga, a CNN contributor.

David Gregory, Secretary Acosta, these new calls for him to resign, the White House hasn't said much about this. There's some reporting in "The Washington Post" and "Politico" which say, really, the next 72 hours could be critical.

And "Politico" has a quote here: "The way to stay in this administration is to stay under the radar, out of the news and be quiet." The president won't like it if all of these questions about Acosta and his connections to the Epstein case, if they linger.

[07:05:13] How do you see this playing out, David?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that's the biggest factor. That's where we've seen the president move, is if there's a distraction that's sizable enough that overshadows him or is just shiny enough that he doesn't like it.

On the other hand, Acosta could be defiant, could defend the deal as a legal matter based on facts he knew at the time, or based on other circumstances. And that might please the president, as well. I think it's kind of hard to call that one.

The obvious point to make, I think, is that this is such bad publicity, such a distraction that the president wouldn't like it.

CAMEROTA: Joe, do you think that Acosta should have been questioned in a more robust way during his confirmation process? Senator Tim Kaine did ask him about this plea deal. But that was basically it. So should this have all come out before?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, obviously now, with hindsight, it should have. I think, you know, Senator Kaine did raise it. This story has been around for -- for a long time. I don't think we knew all of the details.

Remember, it's not the Justice Department that moved this story forward. It was investigative journalism. "The Miami Herald" did amazing work on this by finding women, talking to them, and reporting it. And I think that gave the nudge to DOJ and SDNY to actually do this work.

But yes, this -- this should have been fully vetted by the Senate when he was nominated.

J. BERMAN: Listen to what then-secretary nominee Acosta said about this when pressed by Tim Kaine.


ALEXANDER ACOSTA, U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: Based on the evidence, 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.


J. BERMAN: Again, he was in a Palm Beach County lock-up, released.

CAMEROTA: He had work release --

J. BERMAN: Released.

CAMEROTA: -- for six days a week to go to his office. And he said, "and other things." And that was hardly a robust defense of what he had done there.

J. BERMAN: And again, Bianna, when you see this today, it's so many different levels. Because there are the legal questions about what happened ten years ago. There's the question about why the case is being reopened or re-prosecuted now, to an extent.

And then there are the connections that Epstein seems to have with everybody, right? With Bill Clinton. There's this new statement from Bill Clinton out overnight. Let me read that.

"President Clinton knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently 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."

The fact that he felt the need to make a statement interesting in and of itself, because he knows the connections may not look good.

No. 2, the wording of the statement also in question. He took four trips, but people say there were many more flights involved within those trips. And this is just the tip of it in terms of who Epstein was running around with.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. I think the core of this is that he ran in circles of powerful people regardless of their party affiliation.

I thought it was interesting to see the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York really take a swipe at Secretary Acosta and how Florida handled the case years ago, as well.

Secretary Acosta thus far has been very defensive with regards to how he handled the case then, said that he dealt with it, in this view, appropriately.

But it is interesting to see the connections not only to Bill Clinton, but obviously, to President Trump, as well. And the quotes that we've seen President Trump give about Jeffrey Epstein, supporting him, and being a friend and saying that he is attracted to women, too. Beautiful women.

CAMEROTA: I think it's important to read it. This is from 2002. This was an interview that Donald Trump, obviously, before he was president, gave to "New York" magazine.

He says, "I've known Jeff for 15 years, terrific guy. He has a lot of -- he's a lot of fun to be with. It's even said 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."

GOLODRYGA: I mean, who says that? I'm just thinking back to a quote that the president gave alongside his daughter Ivanka, where she jokingly said, "The one rule I had with my father is that he couldn't date women and my friends that were, you know, younger than me."

And not wanting to compare any of the president's girlfriends with what Jeffrey Epstein is being accused of. But just to even say comments like that, it just shows that there's a huge cultural shift between what was acceptable even a few years ago to where we are now in the post #MeToo movement.

J. BERMAN: And again, David Gregory, you know, William Barr has had to recuse himself from this because of Kirkland-Ellis ties to the defense of Jeffrey Epstein. William Barr's --

[07:10:07] CAMEROTA: A law firm that --

J. BERMAN: -- law firm.

CAMEROTA: -- they both worked at.


CAMEROTA: But not at the same time.

J. BERMAN: Not at the same time.

William Barr's father was the headmaster of the school which hired Jeffrey Epstein in the 1970s. No connection, necessarily, but just the tentacles of this case, in this administration and past administrations, seem to be everywhere.

GREGORY: Yes, I mean, I think, you know, the tie to the law firm, the fact that a big law firm, a big litigation firm would cause a recusal is not something that should raise eyebrows.

But there's no question that there were -- this was a guy who was incredibly wealthy; who had connections to power; who used those connections; who's certainly going to use them in the course of his defense, as well; who's hired a very prominent defense lawyer now in Reid Weingarten, who's defended prominent -- among many other people, prominent Clinton administration folks.

So you know, I mean, again, this is a guy who traveled in very powerful circles. It's not surprising that the tentacles would reach this far.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Joe, in -- about the Bill Clinton stuff, I do want to ask you, because sources in the current White House say -- have shared why this is all so uncomfortable.

Here's what "The Washington Post" reports today. "Officials at the White House are nervous that Democrats will encourage women allegedly abused by Epstein to testify publicly before Congress, drawing attention to Acosta's work on the plea deal, according to current and former administration officials."

And what our point was last hour was that Democrats can't be sanguine about this either because of the Bill Clinton friendship with Jeffrey Epstein and who knows who else? So this is why all of this really ugly stuff people, many people, we would imagine, are biting their nails this morning.

LOCKHART: Well, listen, all of this stuff should come out.

You know, on the Clinton matter, you know, I stay in touch with the Foundation. And I know, you know, to clear up the -- you know, the trips versus the flights, I think the number was 26 or 27.

Each of these trips -- and I've been on many of these trips where you go to Asia or you go to Africa, and each flight is counted. So each trip will be six or seven different flights.

I -- I know most of the Clinton circle. Jeffrey Epstein's not part of it. I've never met the guy. I've met most of the president's friends.

But all of this should come out. You know, the New York D.A., Cy Vance, he should answer questions about why he wasn't registered as what they call a Level 3 sexual offender.

The really striking thing for me, though, with -- with this administration is there's no discussion at all about the underlying behavior. There's no -- no one questions Alex Acosta's judgment in letting this guy go through. It's all about, well, will this look bad on the president?

And I don't think someone like Acosta would ever have been nominated by another president, if they'd done vetting, but certainly wouldn't have lasted this long. I mean, the "Miami Herald" story has been out for months and months, and it hasn't bothered them. So that says something about their character.

J. BERMAN: "Miami Herald," by the way, has called on Acosta to resign this morning in an editorial overnight.

Some other big news, campaign news, Bianna. Elizabeth Warren raised $19 million in the second fundraising quarter of the year, which is a lot of money. It's more than many candidates, including Bernie Sanders. And she did it even though she wouldn't do closed-door fundraisers with big donors. What does this show you?

GOLODRYGA: She did this very strategically. You know, early on, people were complimenting her ability to come up with finite details, right, specific plans, and yet you didn't see her numbers rising, wondering why -- why is that?

Well, now we're seeing the real effect, the net effect of her strategic plan of going forward, not taking money from corporate donors, going for individual donors, and specifying that "I'm going to enter this race with policies, with plans, with ideas," and that's clearly eclipsing Bernie Sanders.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, what do you see in her numbers and the lane that she and Bernie Sanders share that's getting crowded?

GREGORY: Yes. I mean, I just see energy, you know. I think that right now, the Democratic electorate is shopping around and looking. I think there's a definite, you know, wing of that electorate that wants to take it to Trump, wants to see somebody who can beat Trump. But they also want to refashion the party and find a way to move to

the future and be a little bit more pure about redefining what the party is. That can be difficult for a party as it's trying to seek the White House.

But I think in that progressive lane, she's shown a lot, and she's distinguished herself, and distinguished herself even from Bernie Sanders. And I think every time, too, that Biden comes out and looks a little bit weaker, it gives more energy to others, including Elizabeth Warren.

[07:15:00] J. BERMAN: On the subject of Joe Biden, there is this CNN exclusive interview that Chris Cuomo did with the former vice president and his wife, Jill Biden. And we have some new sound from overnight from that interview, Joe, where Jill Biden talks about what happened at the debate with Senator Kamala Harris. Listen to this.


JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF JOE BIDEN: The biggest surprise, I think, was the debate. I think, you know, I think probably Kamala was a little bit of a surprise.

He got into politics because of his commitment to civil rights; and then to be elected with Barack Obama. And then someone is saying, you know, "You're a racist." As soon as I heard those words --

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: No, they say you're not a racist, but this all stinks.

JILL BIDEN: I knew, but as soon as I heard those words, I thought, "Uh-oh, what's coming next?" And I think the American people know Joe Biden. They know his values. They know what he stands for, and they didn't buy it.


J. BERMAN: Joe, have the Bidens successfully turned the page with this interview strategy before the next debate, which is on CNN in three weeks?

LOCKHART: Well, I mean, I think the fact that they've done these interviews shows that they are concerned.

But I think, you know, the -- Joe Biden's secret weapon is Dr. Jill Biden. She can talk about him in a way that he can't.

And you know, I think there's some validity to the, you know, when you start a sentence with "I don't think you're a racist but." And I think, you know, she -- she did a good job there.

I think, you know, it's interesting. You know, she says in there that the American public knows who Joe Biden is. That's not necessarily true.

And I think the value of these interviews is they get a much better sense, particularly when the two of them are talking. And when you look at his life story, it's, you know, it's a story of being tested and personal strength, going through personal tragedy.

So I think coming out of, you know, a bad debate, they've done a pretty good job of trying to right the ship by going to their -- their strength, which is his experience and his character.

GOLODRYGA: But you'd think that somebody entering a --


GOLODRYGA: -- presidential race would not be so shocked --


GOLODRYGA: -- by incoming fire from, you know, another Democrat. And both he and Jill Biden said that they were surprised by Kamala Harris coming after him. They should have been better prepared for that' and that's something that he's going to have to clearly anticipate going forward throughout this primary.

I know he wants to focus on taking on President Trump, but this primary race is going to be a tough one for him, as well.

J. BERMAN: David.

GREGORY: I just -- I think that's absolutely right. And I think that -- and Joe makes a good point, as well, which is of course people know Biden; but they don't know him as a potential No. 1. They know him more as a kind of, you know, part of the -- political firmament in Washington, being a supporter and a supportive player as vice president to President Obama.

But to know him as a frontrunner, to know him as a potential commander in chief, you know, that is knowing a president differently. It clarifies the mind a little bit.

And again, not being prepared to defend the record was something that I think was just a real gap.

CAMEROTA: All right. David, Joe, Bianna, thank you all very much.

Jeffrey Epstein now faces charges in New York, but after his plea deal a decade ago, is there a threat of double jeopardy? How do prosecutors avoid that? We discuss the legal implications, next.


[07:22:20] CAMEROTA: Multimillionaire and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein is facing new sex charges.

Federal prosecutors in New York have just indicted Epstein on sex trafficking, alleging that he exploited dozens of girls, some as young as 14, at his homes in New York and Florida from the years 2002 through 2005.

Now, Epstein had already pleaded guilty to similar allegations a decade ago in this very controversial secret plea deal. So how do these new charges avoid double jeopardy?

Joining us now are Laura Coates and Jennifer Rodgers. Both are former federal prosecutors and CNN legal analysts. Great to have both of you.

So Laura, let me start with you with that question. He -- he's -- these charges have already come up a decade ago. You know, prosecutors have already alleged all of this against him. So how is this not double jeopardy?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, in order to have double jeopardy, you have to a complete overlap of the different crimes that are being alleged. Here, you don't have a complete overlap.

You have information, perhaps, about new crimes since that other case was actually brought forward. There may have been information about having brought women -- young girls, excuse me, across state lines from, say, Florida to New York. There's information that he may have been engaged in more recent activity. If all of that is true, it's not double jeopardy.

And of course, Alisyn, you're talking about New York versus Florida. New York is not beholden to what happens in Florida.

CAMEROTA: Jen, you worked -- you worked at the SDNY. That's who's bringing these new charges. So as Laura says, there must be new victims who have come forward, because otherwise, if it were exactly the same thing that Florida knew, then would the SDNY be able to charge him?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They would be able to charge, because double jeopardy only applies if it's federal. In federal, you can't charge another federal case. This was a state case, actually. The federal deal was a non-prosecution agreement. So it was never charged in the first place.

And we don't know whether new victims are coming forward, but they did make a call for new victims yesterday at the press conference. So it will be interesting to see if they get new conduct.

But remember, what the non-prosecution agreement in Florida was about was just Florida-based conduct. So what the new charges are is a conspiracy that encompasses both things that happened in New York and things that happened in Florida. So substantively, it's different conduct, as well.

CAMEROTA: OK. Very helpful. And because you worked at the SDNY, I just want to ask you, why now? Why do you think prosecutors now opened this when, as everyone has talked about this morning, it was an open secret what he has been doing with underaged girls for years? Donald Trump talked about it openly in a "New York" magazine article in 2002; that Jeffrey liked young girls, "ha-ha, wink-wink." So why now?

RODGERS: Yes. I mean, we're speculating, of course, but I think what happened is people knew about the conduct vaguely. They knew about, of course, the prostitution charges that he ended up pleading guilty to.

[07:25:03] The new information in the last year or so is this secret non-prosecution agreement, which looks a little fishy, right? Everyone is questioning why he got that great break.

So my guess is that prosecutors in New York said, "Hey, wait a minute. He has a home here. He may have been done the same thing here. We can look into that. And it sounds like he got a deal that he shouldn't have gotten down there, so maybe we can wrap this all up into a case here."

CAMEROTA: Laura, explain to us how it is possible that Alexander Acosta, who was the prosecutor in that case 10 years ago, who's now a labor secretary, would have agreed to what is being called a sweetheart deal like this; where he was facing, I think, 45 years in prison or life in prison, and he ended up getting 13 months in a county jail with six days a week work release?

COATES: Which doesn't happen for sex offenders in Florida, by the way, to go to a cushy office 12 hours a day, six hours -- six days a week, by the way.

And also, I can't explain, Alisyn, why this sweetheart deal went down. I have never heard of the idea of immunizing unnamed people who may have been enabling or acting as madams to help a pedophile be able to have people at their disposal to sexually abuse them. It's unheard of to have that sort of leniency, to hand over the reins to even the legal defense team for that person and have them exercise any form of control over how the plea deal is structured.

What also is unheard of here is the notion that the victims themselves were not given the opportunity to voice their concerns, to testify or even comport with the Victims' Rights Act that say, look, they have a right to actually know that a plea offer has been made, let alone accepted.

All of this is a complete and total joke in terms of somebody comporting with what is supposed to be reasonable prosecution, which in many respects, is why everyone is so confused.

Because Acosta, remember, Alisyn, Jennifer, he is overseeing and monitoring human trafficking as the labor secretary. If there was this lapse in judgment in leniency with respect to somebody who was a child molester and a pedophile -- you can use whatever term you'd like to talk about underage girls. That's what you're doing. You're a child molester and pedophile. Your lapse of judgment did not end that year.

CAMEROTA: That is such an important reminder.

Jen, what about the notion, I think, of regular people that rich and powerful men do not face the same justice system as the rest of us? You look at Harvey Weinstein. There are so many alleged victims there. Nothing has happened with him yet.

And then you look at Jeffrey Weinstein. So many stories over the decades. So I mean, are they paying off prosecutors? Why are they allowed these sweetheart deals when the rest of us aren't?

RODGERS: Yes, well, it's rich and powerful people, I think, Alisyn. I mean, more defendants in the criminal system are men than women. But rich and powerful people do get a different deal, you know, in large part due to the defense lawyers they can hire. But you know --

CAMEROTA: Is that it? Just because of the -- Not because of the connections that they have to other rich and powerful politicians? It's just that they hire better lawyers?

RODGERS: Well, it's hard to say. I mean, listen, we have the inspector general at the Department of Justice looking into the deal. If there's really any, like, actual bribery or something like that, you know, hopefully, that will be uncovered.

But, you know, hopefully, there's also a reckoning going on. We have Harvey Weinstein facing criminal charges, as well. Jeffrey Epstein, I've got to tell you, these are very strong charges. I don't think he's getting out of this one.

So hopefully now, things are turning after the #MeToo movement, and we'll see some headway in that direction.

CAMEROTA: It does really feel like things have changed in the past few years. We'll see with Harvey Weinstein. We'll see with Jeffrey Epstein. But just the conversations that we're having, where people used to be able to say in "New York" magazine articles, "Ha-ha, isn't this funny?" And now they go, "Oh, no, that's illegal, actually."

Laura, Jennifer, thank you very much -- John.

J. BERMAN: I've got to say, it's such a good point. There was a time when Donald Trump felt like it was OK to joke about Jeffrey Epstein's younger girlfriends.

CAMEROTA: That's right. I mean, and in a time -- in the recent past.

J. BERMAN: Not so long ago.

All right. Even by President Trump's standards it was a bold move, a speech celebrating his record on the environment. This was crying out for a "Reality Check." We have it next.