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Sources Tell CNN That Dan Coats, The Director Of National Intelligence Could Be Replaced; Labor Secretary Acosta Resigns Amid Furor Over Epstein Plea Deal; Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) Talks About Trump's Defense Of Pelosi Amidst Democrats' Criticism. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 12, 2019 - 14:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN. I thank you for being with me.

Breaking news on a busy day for this Trump administration. Sources tell CNN that Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence who has been the subject of the President's anger in the past could be replaced. This is something the President has considered before, but it is still unknown if he will make a move at this time.

This is coming on this day as Labor Secretary Alex Acosta is heading for the exits, just two days after defending his role in that 2008 sweetheart deal for a sexual abuse case involving multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, Acosta made the announcement just this morning over at the White House, standing right next to his soon to be former boss.


ALEXANDER ACOSTA, OUTGOING LABOR SECRETARY: I call the president this morning. I told him that I thought the right thing was to step aside. You know, Cabinet positions are temporary truss. 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.


BALDWIN: For his part, President Trump wanted everyone watching to know that Acosta's departure was not his idea.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to let you know, this was him, not me. Because I'm with him. He was a -- he is 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 is saying now, because we're going to miss him.

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 is doing this not for himself, he is 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.


BALDWIN: CNN's Sarah Westwood is live in Milwaukee where later today, the President will tour an aerospace facility and Sarah, Secretary Acosta becomes the 13th -- let me let me say that again, the 13th Cabinet Member to leave this Trump White House.

We just heard the President say he is with Acosta, and that he didn't have to quit. But behind the scenes CNN has learned that Trump was expressing his doubts. You tell me what you know.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Brooke. Sources tell CNN that President Trump was going over Secretary Acosta's performance at that press conference on Wednesday in which Acosta defended his role in that shockingly lenient plea deal that Jeffrey Epstein received in Florida some 10 years ago.

Now, President Trump had gone from publicly praising Acosta and urging him to defend himself. In fact, it was President Trump, who encouraged Acosta to give that press conference in the first place to questioning why it was that victims in that Florida case, we're not notified of the deal that Epstein's defense team ultimately struck with the U.S. Attorney's Office under Acosta's leadership.

Now, President Trump clearly saying today that it was Acosta's decision to resign, that Acosta was the one who said he didn't want to create it any more distractions for this administration.

But inside the White House, there were also concerns among White House officials that the rolling disclosures about Acosta's involvement in this deal which have continued scrutiny on the plea agreement has grown first with that "Miami Herald" article and then with the new charges against Epstein that would only continue to create distractions for this White House.

So, President Trump creating yet another vacancy in his Cabinet by letting Acosta go as Trump himself publicly distanced himself from that social relationship that he reportedly enjoyed with Jeffrey Epstein years ago -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Well, let's back up just while I have you two on Director Coats. Why is he -- why is he coming up again, a potential departure?

WESTWOOD: Well, Brooke, President Trump has been discussing with confidants yet again, his frustration with his Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats. That's not new frustration for months.

On and off, the President has questioned whether he has the right man in that job. Back in January, recall that Coats gave congressional testimony that contradicted what President Trump was saying publicly about Iran, about North Korea.

President Trump was very angry at Coats over that at the time, and he did confide in confidants that he had perhaps considered replacing Coats at ODNI. But now, sources tell CNN that President Trump is again calling up his aides, calling up his advisers and asking them if Coats should perhaps be replaced and one name that he has floated is Fred Fleitz, that's the former Chief of Staff to National Security adviser John Bolton, as a potential replacement for Coats.

Fleitz has had discussions with the White House about potentially taking that job. But Brooke, we know that President Trump, no stranger to creating a vacancy without having a permanent replacement in the pipeline and we just don't know when or if the President will finally make his move on Coats.

[14:05:27] BALDWIN: Yes, you've got that. Sarah Westwood, thank you very much. Let's discuss. Elie Honig is with me, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a former Federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst and Nancy Ancrum is back with us today. She is the editorial page editor for "The Miami Herald," which broke open the Epstein case massively last fall in this investigation series called "Perversion of Justice."

And the paper did a deep dive into Alex Acosta's work as the U.S. Attorney for the Seventh District of Florida in a piece called "How a Future Trump Cabinet Member Gave a Serial Sex Abuser the Deal of a Lifetime." So let's dive right into it.

Elie, starting with you, obviously, Acosta did not survive the White House. Legally speaking, what might this mean for him?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So I think Acosta's biggest concern now is the investigation that the Department of Justice is doing internally to look at the process of that plea agreement. And to me, he has got two big problems.

Number one, the bottom line is that plea deal is just beyond anything you could ever explain as a prosecutor -- 13 months -- and just for comparison, I looked at a couple of recent sex trafficking cases out of the Southern District of New York, which is now prosecuting Epstein, my former office, in one of them, the defendant got 30 years. In another of them, two defendants got life sentences. So compare that to 13 months. I don't know if there's any way.

But the bigger shadow that will loom is the secrecy, and we just heard about that. The fact that Acosta did not notify the victims and agreed to not notify the victims violated his right as a prosecutor. And I think that's going to haunt him for the rest of his career.

BALDWIN: I want to come back to you on who else may been in on this. But Nancy, the recurring theme from both Trump and Acosta, one that was repeated today, let's listen.


TRUMP: He made a deal that people were happy with, and then 12 years later, they're not happy with it.

ACOSTA: I have seen coverage of this case that is over 12 years old, that had input and vetting 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.


BALDWIN: Nancy 12 years ago -- 12 years ago, you know, we were talking about this and we were listening to Acosta, you know, in the last day or so, and they seem to sort of brush it off. And I'm curious with Julie Brown, who led your investigation at the paper and other reporters on staff, is this the kind of attitude that your journalists encountered when they were digging into this?

NANCY ANCRUM, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE MIAMI HERALD: Oh, absolutely. I think we have to realize that when it comes to Acosta resigning, it was a matter of when and not if especially after the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein on Saturday.

And yes, you know, I think that the cavalier attitude towards specifically the victims, we are talking about this because of the A- list names who are involved.

But unfortunately, we know that women who alleged sexual assault are ignored. We know that they are silenced. We know that, often their rapists are proclaimed good boys by judges and given a light sentence. Unfortunately, this is nothing new.

BALDWIN: I'm glad you said that. And you're a hundred percent right on that and the women and the victims. To you, Elie, you know, I had actually a whole conversation with a friend of mine over breakfast about the White House vetting process.

When you when you look at what's happened here, and the fact that the plea deal that was arranged some years ago was so well known. Where is the vetting?

HONIG: Yes, it's a systematic failure and I think it's really hampering this White House. When you have so many people being knocked out of office one way or another at the top of these departments, you really compromise the ability to get your agenda done.

And I think it continues to haunt this administration, and to not have dug fully into this on Acosta really jumps out because you don't have to dig deep. It was all out there. It was all public, and yet they still put him through and so look, they bought this mess for themselves.

BALDWIN: I just want to remind everyone, Acosta is the 13th Cabinet Member to depart, the ninth since a month ago and there are some 260 vacancies or acting officials in the Trump administration. Those are the numbers for you. Nancy and Elie, thank you both very much. President Trump is just now

jumping into someone else's battle. The back and forth between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez. What will it take to end this feud? Congresswoman Lois Frankel joins me live next.

And ICE raids already underway all across the country. Frightened immigrants are preparing for the worst, but they are not the only ones worried. I'll talk to ISIS former Acting Director about this weekend and what concerns him.

And the Louisiana Coast is bracing for Barry as the tropical storm only grow stronger. We're live in New Orleans where people are hearing a frightening and familiar phrase "shelter in place." You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We'll be right back.


[14:16:26] BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I am Brooke Baldwin. President Trump in attack mode today. During that impromptu unrestrained press conference announcing the resignation of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, the President taking the opportunity to lash out at his critics and rivals.

But he also issued a surprising defense of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. The President accusing freshman Democrats like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ilhan Omar of being disrespectful, his word to the speaker. This is coming after AOC accused Pelosi of unfairly singling out women of color for criticism.


TRUMP: I deal with that Nancy Pelosi a lot and we go back and forth, that is fine. But I think that a group of people is being very disrespectful to her. I'm looking at this Omar from Minnesota. And if one half of the things they are saying about her are true, she shouldn't even be in office.

But Cortez should treat Nancy Pelosi with respect. She should not be doing what she is doing. And I'll tell you something about Nancy Pelosi that you know better than I do. She is not a racist.


BALDWIN: Let's start there. With me now, Congresswoman Lois Frankel. She is a Democrat from Florida, the chair of the Democratic Women's Working Group and a Member of the House Appropriations Committee. So Congresswoman Frankel, a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining me.

When you are heard the President there actually defending Speaker Pelosi and attacking, you know, your Democratic colleagues specifically saying Ilhan Omar, "she shouldn't even be in office," your response to the President?

REP. LOIS FRANKEL (D-FL): Well, first, thank you for having me. I think I was laughing the whole time he was with those comments. BALDWIN: I thought I saw a smile on your face.

FRANKEL: Well, talking about disrespect, this is a man who disrespects everyone. But as for our caucus, first of all, I just want to say the diversity of our caucus is terrific. But here's what we've been united on. We've passed legislation to reduce gun violence, to lower healthcare costs, to secure our elections.

We've set legislation that both Nancy Pelosi and AOC voted for and the rest of us over to the Senate. And if there's any disrespect, it's coming from Mitch McConnell, who is refusing to take up multiple good bills that we're sending to him.

BALDWIN: But Congresswoman, back to the issue at hand. I mean, you know, you're there on Capitol Hill. Do you think some of these women, do you think these freshmen Congresswomen have stepped over the line?

FRANKEL: Again, I think the diversity is great. You know, I think a lot of this feud is exaggerated. Maybe it's in the Twitter world, because on the ground here, I feel like on the issues that are very important to the American public, Democrats are united.

BALDWIN: But when you see the tweet from Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, you know, referring to the Speaker of the House, that public whatever is called public sentiment wielding the power to shift is how we actually achieve meaningful change in this country. I mean, is Twitter really the right way to air your grievances with the Speaker of the House?

FRANKEL: Well, I guess these younger members have a new way of communicating. Yes, I think it's --

BALDWIN: Is that what we just chalk it up to?

FRANKEL: I think -- I think, yes, I think it's preferable to have face to face communications and I think that's happening now.

BALDWIN: But Speaker Pelosi, I know, is calling for party unity. So how is all of this back and forth over Twitter and seeing now the President defending, you know, the House Speaker? How is that helpful in unifying your party in working against this President?

FRANKEL: Well, first of all, Nancy Pelosi does not need Donald Trump to defend her. And really, Nancy Pelosi is a very strong leader. And as I said before, we've been unified on very, very important legislation. And I think that's what is important.

I personally love the diversity and I don't mind a little mixing up, because in the end, we work together to do the right thing for the American people.

BALDWIN: Congressman Frankel, let me ask you about the big story of the day, the resignation of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who by the way, is the 13th Cabinet Member to depart the Trump White House. You know, we've talked so much about how there are all of these acting officials. What is the real impact of -- I mean, you laugh, but it's an it's true, 13th.

[14:20:08] BALDWIN: What's the impact of these vacancies and acting positions in your opinion?

FRANKEL: Well, I think it's quite evident in the policy of this President, which is basically to say vile things about immigrants, and do horrible things like separating children from their parents at the border, like trying to take away our healthcare by sending lawyers to the courts to try to throw out the Affordable Care Act.

I mean, it's all reflected in his policy, or his promises, infrastructure, lowering healthcare costs. We haven't seen any evidence of that.

BALDWIN: But to have a revolving door with this White House, when people are watching who are counting the numbers of people leaving. Why does that matter?

FRANKEL: Well, it matters because these agency heads or Cabinet officials are supposed to lead their agencies and what we can see is, whatever is being done to me, it's been very, very destructive.

But I do want to say this, I am glad that Alex Acosta resigned and it didn't happen soon enough. He is a person that shouldn't have been appointed in the first place like several other of the Cabinet appointments.

BALDWIN: OK, Congresswoman Frankel, thank you very much.

FRANKEL: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Right now across the country, millions -- I just mentioned immigration, millions of undocumented immigrants are watching and waiting. ICE raids are set to begin and some activists are trying to help frightened families escape. Alaska former top ICE official, what he is thinking about.


[14:26:07] BALDWIN: Today, the President confirmed the crackdown sending many migrant families into fear and panic. President Trump backed up reports that ICE will execute raids starting in two days in these major cities and immigration official says agents will target undocumented immigrants with deportation orders. And the President said that in that group, criminals will be the focus.


TRUMP: Nothing to be secret about. If the word gets out, it gets out. It starts on Sunday and they're going to take people out. And they're going to bring them back to their countries or they're going to take criminals out, put them in prison or put them in prison in the countries they came from. We're focused on criminals as much as we can --

QUESTION: How many -- TRUMP: Before we do anything else. So we are really specifically

looking for bad players. But we're also looking for people that came into our country not through a process. They just walked over a line. They have to leave.


BALDWIN: Democrats and migrant advocates are putting all undocumented people on alert about their rights and city officials have sounded the alarm about the distress gripping many in their community. This is the Houston Police Chief.


ART ACEVEDO, CHIEF, HOUSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT: There's a lot of fear across our immigrant community. We're one of the most diverse, we are the most diversity in the nation. And so there's great fear amongst our immigrant community as to what's going to happen.

I've had children come up to me at forum saying what -- I'm afraid to go to school, afraid to leave the house, I'm afraid to come home and find that my parents are gone. And these are American children, U.S.- born children. So it's creating havoc in our community.


BALDWIN: With me now, Ron Vitiello, former acting ICE Director and Chief of Border Patrol. So Ron, thank you so much for being here, sir.


BALDWIN: Tell me what concerns you most about this weekend's raids or enforcement, you know, now that the word is out?

VITIELLO: Well, we have to concern ourselves with the officers that will conduct this operation. We shouldn't call them raids because these are targeted events.

The President did mention that it's going to be broader than just the family docket, which was sort of the original announcement before. But these are people who have gone through a due process, they came across the border, they were released at the border or later by ICE, they were noticed by the court to go through a due process asylum claim or immigration claim and they refused to do that.

They were subsequently noticed by the government again, ICE itself to come in and report and get on an order of supervision. So we would know who they were and they get them through the process. So they've had a couple of bites at the apple. They've been noticed to come into immigration court, and many of them refused to do that.

And so now it's time for the loop to be closed. We talk often about immigration loopholes and how people are getting over on the system. This is a way for ICE, the administration and the American public to know that we believe in the rule of law, these people had their chance. They didn't take it. And now there's going to be a consequence.

BALDWIN: So the ACLU obviously sees it differently. They say that many of these people who were served removal orders were given to them unfairly. Many were not told when their hearings were or given the wrong time or date. What's your response to that?

VITIELLO: Well, they were noticed twice. So they were told at the border, they had specific instructions to report. They were to report to the court so they have a valid address for them. Notices were given by the court itself. The judge made a decision after that decision was rendered. ICE made a subsequent notice.

And so here we are, they've been ordered through the process to be removed. And it's ICE's role to do that. Hopefully, they do it safely and for everyone involved. But this is how you enforce the rule of law.

If we're going to have a border, if we're going to have an immigration system with integrity, these operations need to occur.

BALDWIN: How about the agents themselves? You know, I was talking to a reporter from "The New York Times" yesterday and in her reporting, she was talking to some of these agents and they were telling her that they are apprehensive about you know, when they go to these homes and they find children and babies and I'm just wondering what is your -- what are your thoughts on that? What's your advice to the agents who will be the ones carrying this out?