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Immigration Raids to Arrest Thousands in the U.S. Set to Begin Sunday; Former Acting CBP Commissioner Explains Why He Left After Two and a Half Months on the Job; Buttigieg, Inslee Join Democrats Calling for Acosta's Resignation. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 11, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:47] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim Sciutto as the day off.

And two weeks after the Supreme Court blocks a controversial census question from -- citizenship question from the census the president is expected today to announce that he is taking executive action to add it on.

Now keep in mind the census is already, as we speak, being printed. Still the president says he will hold a press conference in the Rose Garden today. And this move comes just days after federal judges rejected the Justice Department's own request to change the lawyers on the census case and is set to draw another round of legal challenges.

Critics say this question about citizenship could result -- will result in minorities being undercounted.

Let's get to Jessica Schneider with more.

I just find it so fascinating that -- you know, that they've been trying to switch legal teams on this one, switch legal arguments after the Supreme Court didn't rule in their favor. Now the president sees this question as so important to being on the census that he is willing to, it appears, announce the use of executive action on this.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they've been trying every legal avenue here, Poppy. In the courts and now of course we're expecting the president to announce this executive action in some form on the census.

You know, this is something we've been anticipating all week after the attorney general referenced it Monday saying that the administration, in his words, he said, had a path forward to add that citizenship question to the 2020 census. But really the question here is how will the administration tackle the logistics here. We know that the census has already gone to print without this citizenship question.

So the question is, would the Census Bureau have to reprint those forms instituting substantial costs if they did that or maybe just print a supplementing page? And then of course there are these legal challenges that will no doubt abound. We've already got challenges in New York, in Maryland, in California on the underlying question including that citizenship question and the judges in those cases have so far, in large part, ruled against the administration, but a fight against executive action, that would open up a whole new legal challenge -- set of challenges.

And, you know, interestingly, one thing a source has told our Pamela Brown, Poppy, is that the administration is considering as part of their legal argument justifying the need for a citizenship question based off of Democrats' plans to provide health insurance to undocumented immigrants. So essentially arguing that they need an accurate count of citizens and non-citizens based on Democrats' proposals.

That's of course a novel legal theory. We'd see how that plays out in court but regardless the president's announcement this afternoon will likely just mark perhaps the beginning of yet another legal fight. They are fighting on all fronts all across the country -- Poppy.

HARLOW: That is fascinating if they flip the script on Democrats that way and if it works.

All right. Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.

Jackie Kucinich is with me this morning from the Washington bureau.

Good morning, my friend. I haven't seen you in a while. Thank you for coming in.


HARLOW: So let's just start there, Pamela Brown's reporting that the Trump administration may use as one of its legal arguments here, well, if Democrats want to provide health insurance, health coverage for undocumented migrants, then we need to know the number here and that's why we need a citizenship question on the census. Really?

KUCINICH: Well, let's -- well, this does seem to be a hail Mary from the White House because that's assuming what you're saying right there that undocumented immigrants will fill out the census, which census experts -- there is a study just a little bit ago saying that this actually would depress people filling out the census, that millions of people would essentially just disappear.

HARLOW: Right.

KUCINICH: I think this -- and the president himself, they've changed the rationale, why this question needs to be added three times at least that I can think of. What you just said going backwards the president himself has said this has to do with congressional redistricting and how many people are out there, because if some of these undocumented immigrants fall off you're going to have smaller congressional districts probably for Democrats because they tend to be in urban areas, and then going back further what the Supreme Court rejected was that they said this had to do with properly enforcing the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court didn't buy and they told them to try again and come back to them. [09:05:03] So this changing rationale I think just boils down to

politics, Poppy.

HARLOW: Right.

KUCINICH: The president thinks this is a fight worth having. Polling shows that most Americans support adding a census question, and -- and particularly in the president's base and in the voters that he needs to appeal to.

HARLOW: All right. So we're going to have a Republican senator on in just a few minutes and I'll ask him about this.


HARLOW: If 'he's comfortable, you know, with the president essentially assuming this power that, you know, Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman points out in Politico this morning is a power by the Constitution vested in the Congress. Right?


HARLOW: (INAUDIBLE) in one of the Constitution. And they don't like it when the president does that. Even if they align with the president on a lot of us stuff, a lot of Republican lawmakers don't like it when he circumvents their power, but that's not an argument we've heard from Republican lawmakers yet. Do you expect it will be?

KUCINICH: I think maybe certain Republican lawmakers, but as we've seen there haven't been a lot that really want to rest the power back from the president probably because they think this could end well for them politically if perhaps some of these people are no longer counted. So you haven't seen -- when Republicans seem to stand up to the president it doesn't usually end well for them and particularly on things like immigration that the president feels very strongly about.

HARLOW: Good point. Jackie Kucinich, thanks so much. See you soon.

KUCINICH: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Right now millions from Louisiana to Florida are bracing for a possible direct hit from what could turn into a category 1 hurricane. It's not even a tropical storm yet but officials are warning people not to let their guard down. Louisiana governor -- Louisiana's governor has already declared a state of emergency there.

Take a look at this video out of Texas. People there already feeling the effects of powerful winds -- wow -- and heavy rain.

Let's get to my colleague Natasha Chen. She joins us in New Orleans this morning.

Natasha, what are -- I mean, it looks calm behind you, but I supposed I should ask not what are you seeing but what are people preparing for. NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. Well, Poppy, it is very

sunny and it's a bit muggy right now. A stark difference from yesterday at this time when people in their morning commutes were dealing with intense amounts of rain causing a flash flood emergency in addition to a tornado watch. So it dried out by yesterday evening into this morning, but we're expecting more of that rainfall to come later today and the worst of it of course hitting on Saturday.

So in preparation for that, a lot of floodgates are being closed, dozens of them including the one here at the port of New Orleans. By 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time today this one will be closed so no vehicle traffic coming through here. They've also been closing pedestrian gates over by the Spanish Plaza, the River Walk, the Hilton Hotel. These are areas frequented by tourists and we saw a lot of people who came in yesterday actually for a sorority convention.

Some of those ladies tell us that they are just going to hunker down and have a good time indoors no matter what happens. But we did see some of them actually leave for the airport this morning, basically turning right around not wanting to deal with any of this weather.

Now we are hearing that in certain parts of another parish there are mandatory evacuations today, and out in the Gulf there is -- there have been evacuations of oil rigs and platforms because of storm activity there. So we are looking at, tracking some very severe weather coming into Saturday.

Again, Poppy, watching out for storm surge and the rise of the Mississippi River here.

HARLOW: Sure. OK. Thank you so much, Natasha. I'm glad we have you there.

Let's go to our meteorologist Chad Myers for a little bit more.

Slow-moving storm. I mean, what are you seeing a few days out, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: What we see today, Poppy, is a north wind or a northern sheer that's taking all of the rain that could be on land and pushing it into the Gulf of Mexico. Let it rain. I know the cruise ships aren't happy out there, but that's just the way it goes. But the rain that was in New Orleans isn't there today because of that northerly sheer. That northerly sheer goes way later tonight and the storm does turn to the north and heads toward Louisiana, the southern coast.

But where does it go after it makes landfall. That's the big key. We've had a number of new models this morning that are significantly farther to the right than where most of the models were yesterday. So here's New Orleans right in the middle of the new model runs. So we always think that the newest model should be the best because it's the longest or the shortest distance between the area where they are now and where it will be.

Fifty percent of the U.S. offshore platforms are in the cone right now. That's where Natasha was just talking about there. So here's the radar for the day. This is what it should look like. The rain mainly offshore, but there will be storms that pop up in the heat of the day everywhere across the southeast. Now by tomorrow morning this thing gets its act together. It doesn't even have a real center yet. That's probably why it's not named yet. That's why it's not Barry. But when this thing gets its name together and gets its act together, that's when the rainfall is going to come off the Gulf Coast. And there will be areas in the 10 or 20-inch range.

[09:10:03] And there's New Orleans right there. Remember we talked about the models being slightly farther to the right than they were overnight? Those models could change that and put that 20 inches right over New Orleans. So there will be storm surge. We expect water to go back up the Mississippi River the wrong way, and that surge could take the Mississippi River right to 20 feet, that is a major flood there. And some of those levies don't go all the way to 20 especially to the southeast of New Orleans. Water may be going over the top. Let's hope not, but this storm is just getting its act together -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Such a vulnerable area, Chad.


HARLOW: Thank you so much.

MYERS: You're welcome.

HARLOW: Still to come, really alarming. Armed Iranian boats tried to seize a British tanker in the Persian Gulf. Was it an act of attempted retaliation? I will talk to a Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and get his reaction to this.

And major ICE raids set to begin this weekend. Potentially targeting thousands of undocumented migrants. We'll have new details ahead.

Plus a deepening Democratic divide. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez firing back at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. What does this mean for the caucuses' ability to work together going forward?


[09:15:00] HARLOW: All right, well, do you remember those ICE raids that were promised by the administration just a few weeks ago and then delayed? Well, apparently now, they are going to happen. They will target thousands of members of undocumented families and it will begin this Sunday.

This is new reporting into CNN. Let's go to my colleague Nick Valencia, he's on the southern border in El Paso, Texas. Look, it's a big move, moves like this typically are not announced publicly. What more do we know about what's --


HARLOW: Coming? VALENCIA: Well, you wonder how effective they're going to be if this

announcement is already out, how much preparation the target of their enforcement, how much planning they had in advance to get out the addresses that may be targeted.

But we're being told by an ICE official that these ICE raids, sure, were initially announced in June and then later called off in an unprecedented announcement by President Trump, will begin on Sunday and last multiple days.

The target of their enforcement will be 2,000 undocumented immigrants that recently crossed into the United States that have removal orders currently. And of course we're also hearing that there could be collateral arrests, meaning that even if an undocumented immigrant is not the target of the raid, if they're there on the scene, they too may be arrested by ICE agents.

The timing of this is being reported now to us by an ICE official, but the planning of it is still in the preliminary stages. However, acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli spoke about it recently.

HARLOW: Nick, before you go, we also have the former acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection John Sanders who left after just two and a half months, and left a lot of people wondering why? Talking exclusively to CNN. What is he saying?

VALENCIA: This is a fascinating report that gets you inside of the mind of John Sanders, and exactly what reasons led to his resignation which caught a lot of people off-guard. A fascinating reporting done by my colleagues Priscilla Alvarez as well as Geneva Sands, and in it, we get more from Sanders and the red lines he says he was unwilling to budge on.

According to Sanders in this interview, it was rhetoric surrounding interior enforcement that he took issue with and was part of the reason why he resigned. We also learned that he was very deeply affected emotionally by the death of a teenage migrant soon after he took the helm as the acting CBP Commissioner.

And this is what he tells Priscilla Alvarez and Geneva Sands. "It hit me hard, he says, that he was in the cell sleeping, talking about the teenage migrant who died, helping the kids that has forever changed me, and I think a lot more needs to be done for them, he added."

Sanders is known to target and using humanitarian efforts as his -- as his main goal. The man that takes over his position, Mark Morgan is known more for his enforcement and of course, Poppy, he's been a very vocal proponent of ICE raids like the ones we expect to see happen on Sunday. Poppy?

HARLOW: OK, Nick Valencia, so glad you're there. And I also hope you get inside more of these facilities with cameras because before the president --

VALENCIA: Yes -- HARLOW: Called for that, and we just heard Kevin McAleenan with Chris

Cuomo this week call for that. So, I know you're pressing, let us know what you get, thank you.

Still ahead, tensions spiking in Iran, five armed Iranian gun boats unsuccessfully tried to seize a British oil tanker. That is incredibly significant, we'll talk to our Republican senator on the Foreign Relations Committee next about that.

We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. U.S. futures pointing higher ahead of more testimony today before the Senate from Fed Chair Jerome Powell. On Wednesday before the house, he hinted at an interest rate-cut likely later this month. The testimony sent stocks to record highs. We'll keep an eye on this of course.


HARLOW: All right, welcome back. The number of Democrats calling for the resignation of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is growing today after he defended his involvement in the Jeffrey Epstein plea deal for sex crimes a decade ago.

Presidential candidates Jay Inslee and Pete Buttigieg, the latest to call for Acosta to step down, they join a growing chorus of lawmakers. It includes 68 house members who sent a letter to the White House. Meantime yesterday, you saw Acosta tried to explain his actions in this press conference.

After that, White House officials said that the read from the White House is that Acosta handled himself well and retained the president's support. But there's a lot more here. Let's talk more about what's going on with law professor and former federal prosecutor Jessica Roth. Good to have you, professor.

Let me read you from the "Washington Post" editorial board this morning, quote, "Mr. Acosta insisted on Wednesday that at the time, quote, 'based on the evidence there was a value to getting a guilty plea from Epstein as opposed to rolling the dice on a trial.'"

This is because yesterday in a press conference, Acosta said, look, I was tough, I wanted this guy to serve some time, this is the best outcome or the best option I had for justice for these victims. It was rolling the dice to go to trial. What's your read on that?

[09:25:00] JESSICA ROTH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The truth is it's always rolling the dice to go to trial, and that's always a consideration that prosecutors have to take into account, and it's often one that they would discuss with victims, you know, do the victims understand that there's a risk that the defendant would walk if they go to trial. Here, what he didn't get into more though, was why he thought this particular plea resolution which for his office was a non-prosecution agreement was the best they could get under the circumstances.

HARLOW: Acosta says that he did what he could, right, to get Epstein into prison. But he puts the blame or a lot of the blame on state prosecutors for the terms of Epstein's deal. Former Palm Beach State attorney, of course blasted him for that and talked about the violation of the Crime Victims Rights Act, which means that they should always -- victims should always be notified of a plea deal before one is agreed to.

And he says, look, Acosta should not be able to rewrite history. What do you make of the attempt of Acosta that his opposition would say to do that yesterday?

ROTH: So, Acosta did seem to be spreading some blame around and suggesting that the state prosecutors were not tough enough initially, and that's why his office had to step in to make sure that there would be a felony conviction. But there are still things that are unexplained including for example why unindicted co-conspirators were immunized as part of a non-prosecution --

HARLOW: Four of them --

ROTH: Four who were named, but then the agreement --

HARLOW: Right --

ROTH: Also said essentially others who were not named here, and that ruled out the possibility of cooperating -- some other people against Epstein in order to get a stiffer penalty against that too --

HARLOW: And let's take Acosta at his word for a moment, and his argument that, look, I got the toughest deal against Epstein that I could possibly get, as much justice for the victims as possible because that's really the line he's towing here. If he was pressed for time to identify all the victims to get them to trust them to testify against Epstein, et cetera, why not just take more time to get there?

Do you see what I am saying? Why rush to a deal? I mean, is this an artificial sort of time limit on it? Why not take the time to get enough of those victims on board with being willing and comfortable to come forward?

ROTH: I have not yet heard a satisfactory answer for why the time pressure was there. One always wants to resolve a case as quickly as possible in part to bring resolution to victims --

HARLOW: Sure --

ROTH: But in this case, I haven't yet understood why they couldn't have continued to investigate, to look for more victims to corroborate the victims who had come forward, to look for corroborating evidence.

HARLOW: And by the way, even if the victims were not notified before the plea deal, and a federal judge has said that, that violated the Crime Victims Rights Act, they could have been notified after the deal, right?

ROTH: Yes -- HARLOW: I mean, never were until Julie Brown's reporting in November

in the Hill.

ROTH: Well, as I read Judge Mara's(ph) order in the Crime Victims Rights Act --

HARLOW: Right --

ROTH: Suit that was brought in Florida, I believe the prosecutors in Acosta's office did notify the victims after the state plea had been entered about the existence of the non-prosecution agreement and the content of some of its terms including provisions for compensation to the victims.


ROTH: But they didn't disclose the actual non-prosecution --

HARLOW: Right --

ROTH: Agreement --

HARLOW: All of the details.

ROTH: Correct. And that again -- I'm not -- I don't understand yet why they --


ROTH: Didn't just provide the non-prosecution agreement at that point if --

HARLOW: Yes --

ROTH: Not earlier.

HARLOW: OK, so Epstein will be in court on Monday, we'll keep --

ROTH: Correct --

HARLOW: Talking about this --

ROTH: Yes --

HARLOW: Thank you very much.

ROTH: Thank you --

HARLOW: We appreciate it, Jessica. All right, still to come, tensions building with Iran armed boats trying to seize that British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. I'll speak with a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about his reaction to all of that, next.