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CNN RIGHT NOW
Alex Acosta Resigns; Vacancies in Trump's Cabinet; Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) is Interviewed About Acosta's Resignation; Trump Considers Replacing Coats; ICE Raid Looms; Advocacy Groups Inform Immigrants Before Raids. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired July 12, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Pop that back up. How did she just give birth? That was amazing. But, most importantly, the baby is gorgeous. Congratulations.
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Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.
Alex Marquardt in for Brianna Keilar, starts "RIGHT NOW."
Have a great day.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Alex Marquardt, in for Brianna Keilar, live from CNNs Washington headquarters.
Underway right now, the labor secretary resigns amid a firestorm involving his past, creating yet another vacancy in the president's cabinet.
The panic and the fear intensifies as the president confirms the raids on undocumented immigrants are coming.
Hear why Congress may suddenly delay Robert Mueller's blockbuster testimony.
Plus, the president calls Paul Ryan a baby after the former Republican speaker of the House questions his competence.
And as we speak, Tropical Storm Barry is strengthening as millions on the Gulf Coast are bracing for impact.
We do begin with our breaking news.
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigning, no longer able to withstand renewed harsh scrutiny for a plea deal that he gave to multimillionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein back when Acosta was the U.S. attorney in Florida. Standing next to President Trump on the South Lawn today, Acosta said that the distraction had become too much.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX ACOSTA, OUTGOING LABOR SECRETARY: I called the president this morning. I told him that I thought the right thing was to step aside.
You know, cabinet positions are temporary trusts. 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.
DONALD TRUMP, 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'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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: A Hispanic man who went to Harvard.
Our Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.
Kaitlan, it was just two days ago that we saw Acosta giving a press conference to defend himself, which was highly criticized afterwards, but it did look like Acosta might have a chance to weather all of this.
What has happened in the past 48 hours?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot. And a lot of that had to do with the president because even though he said right there this is Alex Acosta's decision, not mine, we know that actually behind the scenes the president had had a change of tone when it came to his labor secretary.
Now, Alex Acosta called the president this morning. Then he came over here to the residence to offer his resignation. And, of course, all of this comes after he held that press conference two days ago at the direction of President Trump, who had been praising his work at the Labor Department privately and downplaying the role that he had in Jeffrey Epstein's plea deal.
But then, after Alex Acosta came out, the reaction was essentially mixed. Some people said it wasn't as bad as they thought it was going to be initially, but then the president started hearing criticism from people over how he conducted himself, how he hadn't offered an explicit apology to the victims in that plea deal situation. And then the president essentially started to change his tone on him and started asking people about other potential leaders at the Labor Department and pointing to certain parts of that plea deal that have come under scrutiny, Alex, including the part where the victims were not told about it until it had already been approved by a judge. That is what led to the president essentially losing his confidence.
And because the president had not publicly praised Acosta's performance, a lot of people in the West Wing essentially saw the writing on the wall last night and didn't think that he would be in the cabinet much longer.
MARQUARDT: All right, Kaitlan Collins on the North Lawn of the White House, thanks very much.
Now, of course, Acosta is just the latest top official to leave the Trump administration and really in a more dignified manner than many of his other counterparts. From firings to resignations, turnover among the Trump administration's senior level staff has hit historic highs.
For more let's go to our CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider. She is breaking this all down, who is in, who is out.
Jessica, we now have this vacancy at the Department of Labor, of course. We have a number of acting secretaries in the cabinets. Some of the most senior members of that cabinet. We haven't seen anything like this in recent history.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Really unprecedented in recent administrations, Alex.
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta just the latest to join this very growing list of Trump administration official departures over the past two and a half years. As of the end of June, eight confirmed cabinet officials have left office. And that doesn't include Alex Acosta.
Now, if you compare that to the Obama administration, there was no turnover at all in the cabinet agencies in the first two and a half years of Obama's term. During the Bush administration, one cabinet secretary left office during that same amount of time. It was Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.
[13:05:01] Now, not only have there been a number of top officials departing the White House, but the number of vacancies within several departments is very high. All told, there are 260 of 713 vacant key leadership positions. That includes 61 vacancies at the State Department, 12 within the Defense Department and 15 at the Justice Department. Never mind the fact that key posts are still being filled only in the acting capacity. That includes a number of them, including the Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper, acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and the list goes on here.
President Trump, of course, has said that having his officials in the acting capacity gives him much more what he calls flexibility. It makes it a lot easier to do things. But, of course, acting officials may have a lot less authority within their agency, among the people they lead, and also a harder time enacting policies. So, Alex, we'll see who's next in line to become what would be acting
labor secretary after Alex Acosta's official departure, but just one of a growing number of officials who have left.
MARQUARDT: Yes, the numbers tell us a huge part of the story about this Trump administration.
Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.
For more we are joined now by Congresswoman Katherine Clark, a Democrat from Massachusetts, the vice chairwoman of the Democratic Caucus and a member of the Labor Subcommittee on the House Appropriations Committee.
Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us. Are you there? Yes, you are.
REP. KATHERINE CLARK (D-MA): Yes, thank you, Alex.
MARQUARDT: All right. Now we see you.
I just want to remind people of your interaction with Secretary Acosta at a hearing back in early April. Let's take a quick listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KATHERINE CLARK (D-MA): The hideous truth has come out. You chose wealthy and well-connected people, child rapists, over the victims in this case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: Congresswoman, we did see Alex Acosta on the South Lawn of the White House with the president today explaining why he is resigning. The president saying it was absolutely Acosta's choice, he is not being fired.
What's your reaction to the announcement?
CLARK: Today is victory for people over power. And finally we are seeing justice beginning to take place in this case. For too long this administration and Secretary Acosta have been the ones who are oppressing child victims, trying to make secret, sweetheart deals with those who are accused of sexually assaulting children. It is a pattern of chaos and misogyny of this administration, and today is a very positive step, saying that these women, these children, have voices and they matter.
MARQUARDT: Congresswoman, this was a rather wide-ranging bit of -- or interaction that the president and Acosta had with the press as the president was leaving today. I want to take another quick listen to what Secretary Alex Acosta, the outgoing secretary of labor, said about his record at the department and this case. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX ACOSTA, OUTGOING LABOR SECRETARY: 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 rather than the incredible economy that we have today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: Congresswoman, he points out there that the case was 12 years old and the point there that he seems to be making is that he was adequately vetted, that the length of time that has passed since this case happened, since this plea deal was struck makes it far less relevant.
What do you make of that defense?
CLARK: Well, I think it surprises no one that this administration allowed someone with this on their record to become secretary of the Department of Labor. And how this first came to my attention was when as secretary of labor he proposed an 80 percent cut to the division of the Department of Labor that is in charge of child exploitation, that is in charge of combatting human trafficking. The very priorities that we saw in this case 12 years ago in Florida were very much playing out in his tenure as secretary of labor.
MARQUARDT: And now, of course, we are seeing the president distancing himself from Jeffrey Epstein, someone that he has known in the past. When we heard from the president earlier today, he said that Epstein had been thrown out of his club near Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago. This is what he said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jeffrey Epstein was not somebody that I respected. I threw him out. In fact, I think the great James Patterson, who's 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:10:11] MARQUARDT: But we also know, Congresswoman, that back in 2002, President Trump was quoted calling Epstein a terrific guy. So what do you now make of the president adamantly saying that he's not a fan?
CLARK: Yes, this is the pattern of this president. When someone either criticizes him or falls under public criticism and scrutiny, as Jeffrey Epstein has in this case, being refiled by the Southern District of New York, he says he never knew them, wasn't my friend. Whether that's Steve Bannon, who was in his own White House, or Ann Coulter.
This is what he does. He tries to bring people into his circle. We have him on tape. We know where he stands with Jeffrey Epstein. And, you know, now he says he doesn't know him.
But just a few days ago he was saying, you know who I really feel sorry for in this case? Secretary Acosta. It is never with women. It is never with victims. It is never with the people of this country. It is always with the connected and the powerful. And he has very selective amnesia when those people in his circle, you know, fall into trouble and criticism. This is his pattern and this is what he's done his entire life.
MARQUARDT: All right, Congresswoman Katherine Clark, thanks so much for joining me.
CLARK: Thank you, Alex.
MARQUARDT: All right, we're going to take a quick break and we will have more breaking news right after this.
[13:16:31] MARQUARDT: We have some breaking news.
There is yet another major staff change that could be coming to the Trump administration. This time the president is considering replacing his director of national intelligence, Dan Coats.
CNN's Sarah Westwood, our White House reporter, has the details from Milwaukee, where the president will be traveling to.
Sarah, what are you hearing about this?
SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Alex, we're hearing that President Trump is renewing discussions with aides and advisers about possibly removing his director of national intelligence, Dan Coats. That's someone with whom he's been frustrated in the past for months on and off. He's been venting about Coats' performance, particularly in January when Coats offered congressional testimony that contradicted the president's world view of Iran and North Korea. And even though Coats apologized at the time and suggested that perhaps he was misquoted, President Trump was very frustrated with that. And that's the first time that he started really talking about removing Coats.
Now, a senior White House official tells CNN that Trump has never really warmed to Coats. That their relationship has never really been all that friendly, but that the discussions about removing Coats has continued long after that January dust-up. He's now even more recently, within the past several days, been contacting confidants to ask them their opinion on removing Coats. The Office of Director of National Intelligence referred CNN to a statement that Coats released in March saying that it was frustrating to continually be asked about whether he is going to be removed from the job and that right now he is focused on doing it.
Now, it's unclear when or if the president will make a move. Keep in mind, he's often using his confidants, using his aides as sounding boards about how this aide or that aide is performing. It's not necessarily indicative of a coming staff change. But in this case, Coats is someone who has drawn the president's ire for a number of months.
There are some names under consideration. One of them is Fred Flights (ph), former chief of staff to National Security Advisor John Bolton. But because the president and Bolton have had some bumps in their relationship over how to approach Iran with Bolton pushing for a more aggressive stance than Trump is really comfortable with, it's not clear if Bolton has the clout to get Flights into that position.
But President Trump, Alex, again, considering another staff shakeup that could create yet another vacancy in this cabinet, and that's director of national intelligence, Dan Coats.
MARQUARDT: Yes, Dan Coats, who, of course, has been adamant about Russia's role in meddling in the 2016 election, something that the president has disagreed with.
Sarah Westwood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, thanks very much, on yet another possible departure.
We will have much more on that story coming up.
But first, there are nine major U.S. cities that are bracing themselves, not for dangerous weather, but rather an operation being launched by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to round up migrant families who have been ordered to leave by U.S. courts. President Trump talked about the raids this morning before he left to Wisconsin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It starts on Sunday. And they're going to take people out. And they're going to bring them back to their countries.
So people come into our country illegally, we're taking them out legally. It's very simple. It's not something I like doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: All right, Ed Lavandera joins me now from El Paso, Texas.
Ed, the mayor of Miami has told CNN that he is in the dark about these raids. Miami being one of those nine cities. I can't imagine what that then means for those who are being targeted. You've spoken with a number of undocumented migrants all across the country. How worried are they about these raids?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is something that they constantly live in fear of, especially because it just comes with so much uncertainty. From what we've heard from immigration officials, this is targeting some 2,000 people in those cities, major cities across the country. But what many of these undocumented immigrants will tell you is that they're worried about the collateral fallout that could come with all of this. [13:20:20] And all of this ties in very well with a special project
that we've been working on here at CNN for the last seven months, a documentary called "The Hidden Workforce," exploring the lives of undocumented immigrants here in the United States. And that really took us to places where I think most people might be shocked to see just how deeply embedded undocumented immigrants have become into the fabric of American society.
I want to show you a little bit of a clip from tonight's show. This is in Minnesota.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: You've made St. Mary's a sanctuary church.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a week after the election of President Trump. You could feel the fear within the community.
LAVANDERA: And that hasn't changed?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
We have mental health issues. People are suffering from depression. We have a rise in alcoholism, drug addiction, abuse and domestic violence. And it's all as a result of what's taking place within our country.
LAVANDERA: What do you say to those people who say, you know what, all these undocumented immigrants in places like Worthington, they need to round them up and get them out of here. What would that do to a place like Worthington?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If all the immigrants were leave tomorrow, this town would die.
LAVANDERA: What percentage of these farms and these agricultural businesses around here, what percentage of undocumented workforce do they depend on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say probably 90 percent.
LAVANDERA: That's an astounding number.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: And so, Alex, you know, one of the points of tonight's special report is to really kind of go beyond the political rhetoric, as you well know and people who have watched immigration debated get -- kind of debated throughout the country. This is a toxic issue for many people, extremely polarizing. We're hoping to kind of go beyond that and take a much more thoughtful and deeper look at what this community means to the United States and paint a much more realistic picture of what it's like out there, not just for the undocumented immigrants, but the communities that they live in as well. MARQUARDT: All right, Ed Lavandera in El Paso, Texas. We are really
looking forward to your documentary. Thank you very much.
You can see that documentary called "The Hidden Workforce: Undocumented in America," that's tonight on CNN at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Now, this morning on Capitol Hill, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus expressed their outrage over these coming ICE raids this weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BEN RAY LUJAN (D-NM): The president constantly goes to this place when he wants us to turn away. And he's doing it by instilling fear in the American people. This is tragic.
REP. DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL, (D-FL): He is using ICE deportation powers not to keep us safe but to keep immigrants in the shadows.
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): We're here to let everybody know that they should take extra time to know their rights if they are approached by ICE or by federal agent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: And all across the country many advocacy groups are doing just that, by circulating flyers and posting on social media, organizations are working to tell undocumented migrants what their rights exactly are.
So for more let me bring in Armando Carmona. He works in collaboration with several advocacy groups.
Armando, thanks so much for joining me.
First off, how are you helping these migrants who might be targeted this weekend prepare for these ICE raids?
ARMANDO CARMONA, IMMIGRATION ACTIVIST: Well, I'd like to start by saying that this is some of the most painful work that one can do, informing someone of their rights, knowing that they will -- they might be the ones that will face the ICE agent at the door. They might be the ones that get taken and ripped apart from their families.
And what we're -- one of the most important things that we're reminding, not just immigrants, but everyone, is that everybody in this country, every single person, has rights, regardless of your citizenship and regardless of your status.
And one of the things -- I mean we're teaching -- we're helping them and making sure that they know that if they don't feel safe in their homes, if someone approaches their door, if an ICE agent comes knocking at the door, that they don't have to open the door. They have the right to not open the door. They have the right to not sign any documentation without an attorney present. And then they have a right to seek legal counsel for their case.
MARQUARDT: We have heard, Armando, President Trump criticize mayors, like New York's Bill de Blasio, who has criticized him very harshly and criticized ICE very harshly. We have heard President Trump criticize de Blasio for not cooperating with these ICE raids.
Do you think that the mayors are doing enough?
[13:25:00] CARMONA: I think there's -- I think now is the time that all elected officials and all officials in this country that have said that they support immigrants and they want to work to advance the rights of immigrants, to speak out and do everything possible to ensure that these ICE raids are the least effective and are stopped.
The reality is that this doesn't just affect undocumented immigrants. This affects entire communities. Families with -- mixed status families, Latinos all across the country. This is -- this is an effort to terrorize and to instill panic and fear into these communities and to promote an anti-immigrant -- a racist agenda by the Trump administration.
Unfortunately, immigrant communities have faced these types of raids, these types of enforcement sweeps before in other administrations. However, now Trump has weaponized them, to use them to attack these immigrant communities.
MARQUARDT: Armando Carmona, we have to leave it there. Thanks so much for joining me.
CARMONA: Thank you.
MARQUARDT: All right, well, coming up, it is one of the most anticipated congressional hearings ever. But now Robert Mueller's testimony may be getting delayed.
Plus, the president attacks former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, but defends one of his biggest Democratic critics.
Stay with us.