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Labor Secretary Acosta Resigns Amid Furor Over Epstein Plea Deal. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 12, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: -- listen carefully to the press conference that he saw I think what I saw initially, which was a poor, poor performance by Acosta.

And I thought it was strange that the White House, of course, they want to sort of stick it to the democrats, right, and they want to fight, fight, fight on everything, but it's always odd, this idea that they were going to hug Acosta, who gave the sweetheart deal to this guy who we're finding out from the SDNY is a real monster. And a lot of this stuff, of course, was out there ten years ago, 30 or so victims you heard from Acosta in that press conference. It was like, oh, we didn't really have enough victims.

But it was clear that he really got rolled over by those attorneys. It made it seem like, you know, oh, well, the feds couldn't really go up against Jeffrey Epstein in a confident way. And then you see now that obviously there's a different story out of New York where they've got him and he's obviously in jail.

So, yes, it's not a surprise that it ended up this way, particularly because you have more victims coming out, right? You know, we're hearing from these folks on the different networks and you imagine that that's going to continue as this case continues.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Absolutely. Okay, everyone stand by. With me on the phone is Julie K. Brown. Without this dogged intrepid journalist, many of us -- all of us wouldn't know about this, these additional charges may never have been brought, Acosta may never have resigned. It is your reporting that has brought so much of this to light. Thank you for all of the digging you have done and continued to do, Julie.

Let me get your reaction to the Labor Secretary resigning this way.

JULIE K. BROWN, JOURNALIST, MIAMI HERALD: Well, I'm only surprised that it hasn't happened sooner, to be honest with you. You know, these questions have been out there now since my series ran in November and he never responded. He never adequately explained a lot of the key questions in this case. And the press conference that he had the other day was abominable. I mean, there were so many untruths there.

You know, I had been preparing a story, a fact-check story where I was going to be able to really show with documents that a lot of what he said was not true. So I just don't think that there was any way at this point he's going to be able to get ahead.

HARLOW: Well, you should still put that out. I think everyone will want to read that and pay perhaps even more attention to it now. What do you make of our Katilan Collins' reporting that the President's turn on Acosta was because of the lack of victim notification? And can you remind our viewers to the extent that Acosta went right alongside Epstein's attorneys to make sure that victims never knew about this deal?

BROWN: Yes. And that is really what is key in this whole mess with Acosta. Not only did he not notify the victims, but they missed -- the prosecutors misled them into thinking they were still working on the case when they had this secretly disposed of it. If this deal was something that was the best you could do and, you know, he was -- you know, forever he's been saying this was done properly, there was nothing wrong in it. If that was true, then why did he seal (ph) it? Why did he make those women, those girls fight for months, almost a year to even get a copy of the agreement? And if you -- you know, that question, he has never answered.

HARLOW: Well, why, Julie? You're the one who did all the reporting on this. You're the one who has pressed and pressed. What is the sense you got as a reporter on the why there?

BROWN: I think that he really didn't think anyone was going to analyze this as closely as it has been in recent months, not only by me and open a new task (ph). You know, a lot of journalists asked that question that's just got a lot of attention right now.

But I think that he never and the prosecutors thought that this was going to be examined the way it has --

HARLOW: Well, did -- do you have any evidence or belief that part of the why in terms of having the secret meeting with Epstein's attorneys, emailing with them and his team of prosecutors, emailing with them about moving and filing the charges in Miami to, quote, hopefully cut the press coverage significantly, that came from one of his lead prosecutors to Epstein's attorneys. Was any of this do you believe that because of how politically connected Jeffrey Epstein was and is to, say, former President Clinton, President Trump called him a terrific guy in 2002, was it at least in part because he was so powerful politically?

BROWN: Well, you know, Florida is kind of a strange state, to say the least. There are a lot of strange political bed fellows.

[10:05:02]

And I think that there was definitely some political strings pulled in this case. How far up the chain they went or who was involved, I don't think we know the answer to it yet. But hopefully we will, especially now since so many reporters are digging into this. I mean, now, you know, there's story after story.

I think -- I said from the beginning, the truth always comes out. It might not come out in my life time or your life time, but the truth always comes out. And I think he will find out sooner or later how -- why and how this played out.

HARLOW: What kind of risk or exposure does Acosta have in the Southern District of New York's new investigation?

BROWN: That's a good question. I'm not sure. I do think that there were some things that happened behind the scenes that need to be looked at. One of them I wrote about in my series involving a name by the name of Bruce Reinhart, who was an assistant prosecutor with Acosta.

Now, he technically was not on the Epstein case, but Epstein was pressuring these prosecutors, and among the other tactics he used was to offer them a job. And Mr. Reinhart, he's now a federal magistrate, he's denied he did anything wrong at all. But it's very suspect that one day he's working for Acosta and the next day he was working for Epstein. He literally left his job at the Prosecutor's Office one day and opened his own firm that happened to be located right next to Jeffrey Epstein's lead attorney, Jack Goldberger's office in Palm Beach.

Now, he claimed he didn't have any confidential information about Epstein's case, but in the court files on this case, one of the prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office admitted that Reinhart did have confidential information about this case.

So you have a prosecutor in Acosta's office who had information, go to work for Epstein representing some of the Epstein co-conspirators or alleged co-conspirators that he represented, you know, Nadia Marcinkova. She was one of his accomplices. He represented the pilot. So that, to me, has always been curious how that could have happened.

HARLOW: Julie, thank you so much for calling in on this breaking news. And just thank you for the reporting you did and never giving up and never stopping on this. It is so important and we heard officials in the Southern District of New York say that, you know, a lot of what they know is because of your reporting. So, Julie, great, important work, thank you very, very much.

BROWN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Okay. I'm going to take a quick break. We're going to hear from the President in a few minutes talking about this side by side with the Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta. Again, the breaking news, the Labor Secretary is out after a huge scandal in a sweetheart plea deal for a sexual predator. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:10:00]

HARLOW: If you are just joining us, breaking news on CNN, another cabinet member is out. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta resigning after the fallout from the sweetheart deal he gave to Jeffrey Epstein as a prosecutor a decade ago. We're going to hear from the President in two minutes on all of this standing next to Acosta on the South Lawn. But let's go to Dana Bash, our Chief Political Correspondent, for more. This is big.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's absolutely big. And, you know, it does fit a pattern if you're talking big picture about the President and about the cabinet members or close advisers that he loses to scandal, whether it's scandal from within the administration during the time or more -- specifically more usually from before. He talks about how badly he feels for them.

And then when he learns more about the situation that has put them in the hot seat, that has put them in this scandal-filled environment, he realized, wait a minute, this is bad. It's what happened with Michael Flynn. It's probably the biggest example.

And, of course, it has happened now, according to Katilan Collins and our other colleagues' great reporting about what has happened in the past 24 to 48 hours as the President watched Acosta's press conference, didn't love it but more importantly learned about the fact that he didn't inform these children, these victims about the fact that he was going to give the sweetheart plea deal to the man who was in charge of effectively making sure that they were raped, calling it prostitution, which it was not.

And that's no small thing. He obviously realized it. And it was time for the Labor Secretary to go, even though the President resisted it at first before he knew the details.

HARLOW: We're going to hear from the President in one minute.

[10:15:00]

I'll jump to that as soon as it comes in. But just, Dana, to follow on that, exposure for many high-up people in D.C., in politics, there are so many questions left here, right? This is the guy the President called -- Jeffrey Epstein, the President called a terrific guy in 2002, friends with former President Bill Clinton, who flew on his jet numerous times.

BASH: Yes. I mean, there is -- we're talking about Acosta and the Labor Secretary who has just resigned. But you're right, that at the heart of this is a man who is a monster, but has been connected to democrats and republicans alike, as you said, all the way up to a former president Bill Clinton. And it is not over now that we know more details about what he did.

HARLOW: Let's listen to the President standing next to the Labor Secretary as he resigns.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: -- Labor Secretary. He's done a fantastic job. He's a friend of everybody in the administration. And I got a call this morning early from Alex and I think he did a very good job yesterday, under a lot of pressure, he did a fantastic job, and he explained it. And he made a deal that people were happy with, and then 12 years later, they're not happy with it. You'll have to figure all of that out. But the fact is he has been a fantastic Secretary of Labor.

And Alex called me this morning and he wanted to see me. And I actually said, well, we have the press right out here, so perhaps you just want to say it to the press. But I just want to let you know, this was him, not me, because I'm with him. He was -- he's a tremendous talent, he's a Hispanic man. He went to Harvard, a great student. And in so many ways I just hate what he's saying now, because we're going to miss him. But please, Alex.

ALEXANDER ACOSTA, U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR: Thank you, Mr. President.

Over the last week, I've seen a lot of hardships (ph) in the Department of Labor. And what I have now seen is incredible job creation that we've seen in this economy, more than 5 million jobs. I have seen that workplace injuries are down, (INAUDIBLE). Workplace fatalities are down, (INAUDIBLE) that we had the safest year ever in mining, the lowest ever fatalities ever in mining. I have seen coverage of this case that is over 12 years old that has input and betting (ph) at multiple levels of the Department of Justice. And as I look forward, I do not think it is right and fair for this administration's Labor Department to have Epstein as the focus rather than the incredible economy that we have today.

And so I called the President this morning. I told him that I thought the right thing was to step aside. (INAUDIBLE) trust. It would be selfish for me to stay in this position and continue talking about a case that's 12 years old rather than about the amazing economy we have right now. And so I submitted my resignation to the President effective seven days from today, effective one week from today, earlier this morning.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: There is no need at all, as far as I'm concerned. I watched Alex yesterday. I thought Alex did a great job. And, you know, you can always second-guess people and you could say it should have been tougher. They do it with me all the time. I make a great deal with anybody, and then they say, like the democrats, oh, it could have been better.

I've got $1.2 billion settlement fine from a company, from ZTE. And the next day -- and everybody couldn't believe it. The next day, the democrats said, oh, he should have gotten more. So you could always be second-guessed. That's what people do.

I just want to tell you, this is a person that I've gotten to know. There hasn't been an ounce of controversy at the Department of Labor until this came up. And he's doing this not for himself, he's doing this for the administration.

And, Alex, I think you'll agree, I said, you don't have to do this. He doesn't have to do this.

REPORTER: But you accepted the resignation. You accepted the --

TRUMP: We have Pat Pizzella who right now is a deputy, and he'll be acting for a period of time. I think you know Pat. He's a good man, highly recommended by Alex. But Pat is going to be acting and we've already informed him.

REPORTER: Why did you have a falling out Jeffrey Epstein (INAUDIBLE) from Mar-a-Lago?

TRUMP: Yes, and I did have a falling out a long time ago. The reason doesn't make any difference, frankly, but I haven't spoken to him in probably 15 years or more. I wasn't a big fan of Jeffrey Epstein, that I can tell you.

[10;20:00]

And now, if you look, the remnants hurt this man and I hate to see it happen.

I will say this, and I say it again and I say it loud and clear, Alex Acosta was a great Secretary of Labor. What he's done with plans and you see the plans coming one after another, he's just about done with the 401(k) and that happened, things that nobody would even think of.

So it's very sad, but at the same time he wants the focus to be on accomplishments, not on what you're talking about.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: Well, Alex believes that. I'm willing to live with anything, John. I think you know me. I've lived through things that you wouldn't believe. Alex felt that way.

And he also felt we're so good, we're doing so well, the economy, the stock market just hit the highest point yesterday in the history of our country. Our unemployment numbers are the best they've ever been. If you look at specifically certain groups, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, the best unemployment numbers in the history of our country.

You know, there are so many good things and he didn't want to distract from that. And I understand that 100 percent.

REPORTER: Did Paul Ryan present you (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: What?

REPORTER: Did Paul Ryan present you for making (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: So Paul Ryan was not a talent. He wasn't a leader. When the people and freedom and great congressmen wanted to go after the dems for things that they did very badly, he wouldn't give subpoenas, whereas Nancy Pelosi hands them out like they're cookies.

Paul Ryan was a lame duck for a long time as speaker. He was unable to raise money. He lost control of the House. The only success Paul Ryan had was the time that he was with me, because we got taxes cut, I got regulation cuts. I did that mostly without him. But for Paul Ryan to be complaining is pretty amazing. I remember a day in Wisconsin, a state that I won, where I stood up and made a speech and then I introduced him and they booed him off the stage, 10,000 people. So for him to be going out and opening his mouth is pretty incredible. But maybe he gets paid for that. Who knows. Maybe he gets paid for that.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: So people come into our country illegally, we're taking them out legally. It's very simple. It's not something I like doing, but people have come into our country illegally. We're focused on criminals. We're focused on -- if you look at MS-13. But when people come into our country, we take those people out and we take them out very legally. They all have papers and it's a process. I have an obligation to do it. They came in legally, they go out legally.

What the democrats should be doing now is they should be changing the loopholes. They should be changing asylum. I've been talking to you about this for a long time. They should be changing asylum. There're so many things.

Now, let me give you the good news. Mexico has done an outstanding job so far. If you look at the border, it's down now 30 percent, and that's only one week inclusive where they've gotten it together. The June numbers just came out. It's down -- it looks like it's going to end up being a little bit above 30 percent down. It's going to be down more and more. They have 21,000 -- and I say 21,000 Mexican soldiers on the borders, both their southern border and our southern border.

And we really have it in control. The problem is -- we have a big problem. The laws are so bad, the democrats have to help us fix the immigration laws. But even with that, because of the job that Mexico is doing -- and, yes, they maybe did it because of tariffs, but they're doing a great job and I appreciate it.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: No, no. Who said that?

REPORTER: The democrats are saying the fact that (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: Look, anything you do, the democrats will say it's not good. In the meantime, they had a disaster, they have these laws that are so bad, catch and release. And you look at the different laws, the visa lottery. That was a Chuck Schumer law. It's a disaster. A lottery, you pick them out, a lottery.

The democrats have caused tremendous problems. What they've let China get away with for years and years, China has been ripping us off.

[10:25:02]

They're not ripping us off anymore. Right now, companies are fleeing China because of the tariffs. And right now, we're taking in billions of dollars. And, by the way, our people are not paying for it. They're paying for it by depressing their currency and they're putting a lot of money.

Look, nobody has ever done what I've done with China and that's fine. And we'll get along with China. But, you know, when I see a guy like Biden, who is weak and ineffective, and everybody that knows him knows, he's a weak man, he's an ineffective man. President Xi laughs at guys like that.

Now, with that being said, I would say this, President Xi, Putin, all of these guys go to bed at night and they pray that Joe Biden or somebody like him becomes president so they can continue to rip off our country.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: No, I had no idea. I had no idea. I haven't spoken to him in many, many years. But I didn't have now it's like that (ph)

REPORTER: Secretary Acosta, now that you've resigned and (INAUDIBLE)?

ACOSTA: I've already talked about the Epstein matter. I gave a press conference that, according to the media, was longer than any other cabinet official in this administration. You know, I will reiterate what I said previously. My point here today is we have an amazing economy. We have unemployment lower than we have seen literally in my lifetime. And the focus needs to be on this economy and on job creation, on the decreased fatalities in the workplace and in mining. And going forward, that's where this administration needs to focus, not on this matter.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: We are looking into it. The platforms are absolutely, in my opinion, 100 percent crooked. They discriminate against republicans and conservatives. They're 100 percent dishonest. That's my opinion. And something is going to be done.

But I can tell you from personal experience, I see it. I had something happen this morning. I won't tell you about it yet. But these platforms are 100 percent -- they're 100 percent dishonest.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: I was not a fan of Jeffrey Epstein. And you watched people yesterday saying that I threw him out of a club. I didn't want anything to do with him. That was many, many years ago. It shows you one thing, that I have good taste, okay?

Now, other people, they went all over with him, they went to his island, they went all over the place. He was very well known in Palm Beach. His island, whatever this island was, wherever it is, I was never there. Find out the people that went to the island.

But Jeffrey Epstein was not somebody that I respected. I threw him out. In fact, I think the great James Patterson, who is a member of Mar-a-Lago, made a statement yesterday that many years ago, I threw him out. I'm not a fan of Jeffrey Epstein.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: Yes.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: You know what? They came in illegally, they have to go out. We have millions of people standing on line waiting to become citizens of this country. They've taken tests. They've studied. They've learned English. They've done so much. They've been waiting seven, eight, nine years. We have some waiting ten years to come in. It's not fair that somebody walks across the line and now they've become citizens of the --

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) British Ambassador that resigned?

TRUMP: Well, I wish the British Ambassador well. Some people just told me -- too bad, but they said he actually said very good things about me. He was sort of referring to other people. And I guess I quoted Lindsey Graham today. He said some things that were pretty nice from the British Ambassador.

But, look, I wish the British Ambassador well. But they've got to stop their leaking problems there, just like they have to stop them in our country.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: I would not give a warning. No, we're not giving a warning. There's nothing to be secret about -- can I tell you what? There's nothing to be secret about. ICE's law enforcement, they are great patriots. They have a tough job, nothing to be secret about. If the word gets out, it gets out, because hundreds of people know about it as a major operation.

[10:30:02]

So if the word gets out, it gets out. It starts on Sunday. I think it will take people out and they're going to bring them back to their country.

END