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Trump Defends ICE Raids Leaving Children Without Parents as "Deterrent" for Undocumented Immigrants; U.S.'s Top-2 Intelligence Positions Are Now Vacant; Nadler: We Have Launched "Formal Impeachment Proceedings"; Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) Discusses Impeachment Proceedings Against Trump, Trump Campaign Officials Happy Democrats Label Trump White Supremacist, Trump Optimistic on Gun Measures; Mexico Presses U.S. for Info on White Supremacy Threat; Hong Kong Airport Occupied by Thousands of Protesters. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 9, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But I want to get to some new information that we just got a little while ago, Pamela, from an ICE spokesman who tells me that the raids that we saw on Wednesday, those massive raids, were part of a boarder federal investigation.

In fact, we're outside, in front of the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of Mississippi, where we just got out hands on these probable-cause affidavits. Affidavits which show that ICE was looking for falsified documents, visa fraud.

Looking to see if these employers, which for years -- according to locals here, it's the worst-kept secret -- for years, they have employed undocumented labor. These documents were looking to see if the companies followed proper protocol to ensure they weren't hiring undocumented immigrants.

There's a lot of questions about timing here. I mentioned it is the worst-kept secrets in these communities that these facilities that were raided employ undocumented labor. Which begs the question to a lot of local here, why now. Why raid these facilities now just days after there was a racist attack on Latinos in El Paso, at a time when there's heightened fear and anxiety among Latinos in not just communities like this one in Mississippi but across the country?

Yesterday, I spoke to an ICE official who told me the timing of these raids was purely coincidental, that they had been planned for months. They did acknowledge the poor optics of this and didn't want to be callus about it.

They acknowledged how emotional it was. In fact, this ICE official, who I spoke to, was on the scene and mentioned seeing children coming up to the gates of these facilities crying for their parents. It is a terribly sad, emotional situation here, a minor humanitarian crisis, if you will.

Clearly, what we see here in these schools, it's permeated in the school districts. It was just a short time ago that we saw in a local school district they are on a soft lockdown because of suspicious calls that they got just after these ICE raids. We're also told by a local superintendent that there were many Latino

students that did not show up to school because of the fears and anxieties -- Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Did the ICE officials you've been speaking with give any sense of how many kids have been reunited with their parents? I was told by a senior administration official that there was a plan in place to process the parents and get them back to their kids quickly. Are you seeing that play out?

VALENCIA: That's a great question. We were told by ICE that anyone who said they were the soul guardian of a child was returned to their child. In the case of when two parents were detained, one parent would be released while another would be held potentially.

We are hearing stories from locals who say that children, while they are with family members, in one case, for example, there was a child, according to a local resident, 3 to 4 years old, who has still not been reunited with their mother. Their mother, they say, is in Louisiana, has been transferred to an ICE detention facility there.

We are told officially, though, that these children have been reunited with their parents or with family members. The local community here, they're contradicting that, at least in this one example -- Pamela?

BROWN: All right, Nick Valencia, thank you very much.

Well, a shake-up at the top of U.S. intelligence. What that means for the country's security.

Plus, a top Democrat saying an impeachment inquiry into President Trump has been opened.


[13:37:26] BROWN: Right now, the top two positions running America's intelligence are sitting empty. The latest departure, Sue Gordon, the principal deputy director of National Intelligence, an intel veteran for more than 30 years.

White House officials telling CNN, despite normal protocol where Gordon would be promoted to the role of director of National Intelligence, the president preferred to fill the job with a political loyalist.

Trump tweeted, "Sue Gordon is a great professional with a long- distinguished career. I have gotten to know Sue over the past two years and developed great respect for her."

House Intel Chair Adam Schiff characterized Gordon's departure as "a devastating loss to the Intelligence Community and the men and women who serve it."

She also had the support of many Republicans on Capitol Hill as well.

CNN national security analyst, Carrie Cordero, joins me now. We now know that basically the White House released this letter from

Gordon where she said, you should have the team you want but I'm not doing this out of preference. Basically, I don't want to do this. We're putting the letter up on the screen right now.

How dangerous is this to have these positions vacant right now?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it's significant. People in the Intelligence Community would tell you, we have a workforce, we're going to show up to work every day and we're going to do our job.

But these are the two most senior positions at the top of the director of National Intelligence, an agency that was created as the primary recommendation of the 9/11 Commission that was supposed to help coordinate the Intelligence Community to prevent a catastrophic attack and help the community do better.

So the vacancy at these two top positions, it's going to matter. It's going to matter how the agencies work together. It's going to matter --


BROWN: Right?



CORDERO: Now there's a vacancy at the National Counterterrorism Center because he's going to elevate the director of that center to be the acting DNI. And they still need an acting principal deputy.

This is a common theme throughout this administration. When the president doesn't like one of his Senate-confirmed national or Homeland Security officials does, if they exercise independence or for whatever reason, he removes them from their position and he appoints them with people who he thinks will be more malleable, more subject to political influence.

The difference with the Intelligence Community is there's very few political appointees so it's not supposed to be influenced by politics. It's specifically supposed to be apolitical.

BROWN: And it's interesting, you raise the point of how the president tweets head of agencies. I want to talk about the acting DHS secretary. Because we have a report that, back in June, he was prepared to resign because people beneath him at the agency were going around him, talking to the president. This was around the time when the president was talking about the ICE raids, that he delayed. McAleenan thought it was half baked and wanted it to be postponed.

[13:40:13] What does this tell you about how the president tweets people that he puts in positions to run agencies? CORDERO: Well, McAleenan is an acting, which means, at any moment,

the president can remove him and can put someone else in that position. What that means is he's not really empowered, he's not Senate confirmed to lead the Department of Homeland Security. He's not really empowered to lead his agency.

So beneath him, in all those layers beneath him, Customs and Border Control, ICE, they are all acting heads as well. What we're seeing is they're all vying for favor with the president and with the White House to try to increase their authority and their influence in the administration.

I think maybe the impetus for McAleenan wanting to step down has cooled off for now. But it's only a matter of time before he's not willing to be subverted by those beneath him. He's not going to be willing to go along with the most draconian measures that the president and the White House want to do on immigration enforcement. And at some point, he'll have to step aside and the president will replace him with another acting director.

BROWN: Yes, because the president likes his officials to be acting.

That is one of the big questions, why is he staying there. I'm told by people close to him that he really feels he can make a difference, that he can help find solutions. He was a career official before this.


BROWN: But it's certainly a very difficult environment to operate in and to run an agency when people below you are going around you, having the president's ear.

Thank you so much, Carrie. I do appreciate it.

Walmart announcing action it's taking after the mass shooting in El Paso, but it doesn't involve the guns itself.

Plus, why the president's campaign is happy that he's being labeled a white supremacist.


[13:46:51] BROWN: A stunning revelation coming from one of the top Democrats in Washington. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler confirming that his committee has launched "formal impeachment proceedings against President Trump," in his words. Nadler joins an estimated 120 other House Dems who support the move.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): This is formal impeachment proceedings. We are investigating all the evidence, we are gathering the evidence, and we will, at the conclusion of this, hopefully, by the end of the year, vote to -- vote articles of impeachment to the House floor or we won't. That's a decision we'll have to make. But that's exactly the process we're in right now.


BROWN: So my next guest is echoing Chairman Nadler in terms of impeachment. Yesterday, he became the 119th Democrat to call for an impeachment inquiry. Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly, who sits on the House Oversight Committee, joins us now.

Congressman, thanks for coming on.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): My pleasure.

BROWN: What drove you to this decision now?

CONNOLLY: You know, I was waiting to hear and see the Mueller testimony before the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. And if you put aside style, which got a lot of attention, and pay attention to substance, what he said, it confirmed everything in the report and then some.

It is a deeply troubling documentation of presidential misdemeanors and, in the case of obstruction, crimes.

So the more I contemplated that testimony, the more I thought I have a constitutional obligation in defending and protecting the Constitution to ask for a formal inquiry.

BROWN: So it was his testimony that put you over the edge --


BROWN: -- more so than just the Mueller report?

CONNOLLY: Well, that alone would have put me over the edge but I wanted to wait --


CONNOLLY: -- to hear and hear what he said. Yes.


We just heard Jerry Nadler calling this a formal impeachment proceeding. Is that true?

CONNOLLY: I'm not quite sure what Chairman Nadler meant, because we have not launched a formal impeachment inquiry in the United States Congress. That, in my view, requires a vote of the House.

He may consider what he's doing in his committee, de facto, to be all but an impeachment inquiry that could lead to articles of impeachment, and that's true. But as to a formal impeachment proceeding, we have not undertaken a formal proceeding.

BROWN: OK. Axios is reporting that the president's campaign officials are happy

that he is being labeled a white supremacist, arguing it makes the party, the Democrats, your party, look extremist. The president, as we know, disagreed with that sentiment today as he left the White House.

But do you agree with that, that using the word "white supremacy," calling the president that, could actually help the president and backfire on Democrats?

CONNOLLY: No. And only this White House could see some advantage to being labeled white supremacist.

BROWN: But again, the president said it's not good. His campaign, though, according to Axios, saying --

CONNOLLY: No. That could be a good-cop/bad-cop routine.

But I can't imagine a worse epithet for a president or his administration. It appeals to the worst elements in our society. And I think it needs to be condemned. It is one of the reasons I've called for an impeachment inquiry.

[13:50:13] BROWN: OK.

Let's talk about background checks, guns. The president seemed very optimistic today when he was leaving the White House saying that there's tremendous support across the aisle, saying that Mitch McConnell is on board with this, even though we've heard from Mitch McConnell's side that he hasn't actually endorsed specific legislation.

Do you think that anything is actually going to be done this time around? Do you believe the president, that really there could be movement on background checks and getting legislation passed?

CONNOLLY: I think there's a slim chance. The problem is that there's enough time between these tragedies and when Congress reconvenes that, once again, it gets on to the back burner.

I find that ironic that the president seems to be so hopeful about Mitch McConnell. Remember, the House passed pretty robust background check legislation in February.

BROWN: Yes. That the White House threatened to veto.

CONNOLLY: Correct. And that legislation has been sat on by Mitch McConnell in the ensuing six months. So it's a wonderful thing if he's now ready to look at background check legislation.

BROWN: I've been asking the White House about this. Now the president is saying he supports background checks, does that mean that he doesn't want to veto the House bill? The White House really isn't giving an answer on that. They're pointing to the Toomey/Manchin background check legislation that the president seems to have warmed up to. So we'll have to see how this plays out and whether anything will actually be done.

CONNOLLY: And it's important to remember background check legislation used to be supported by the NRA itself.

BROWN: And now the NRA has very outwardly spoken about not supporting that.


BROWN: All right, Congressman. Thank you very much.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure, Pamela. Thank you.

BROWN: After a series of mass shootings, Walmart has announced it's removing advertising for violent video games. So why not their guns?

Plus, an NRA member, who says she's had enough, joins us live.


[13:51:42] BROWN: "An act of terrorism" -- that is how Mexico views the El Paso shooting after eight of its citizens died in the tragedy. And now the country's foreign ministry is pressing the U.S. for information on the case.

CNN correspondent, Patrick Oppmann, is there.

Patrick, what kind of specifics are they looking for?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, the Mexican government has asked the United States for any information the U.S. may have on why supremacist plots and threats to the Mexican population.

This comes after the deadly El Paso Walmart shooting that cost the lives of at least eight Mexican citizens and has struck a chilling effect for many Mexicans living just across the border.

Every day, Mexicans travel for work or to go shopping into El Paso communities across the border and they are increasingly worried there could be other plots in the work.

Mexico as well is asking for the extradition of the shooting suspect to face trial here in Mexico, but many legal experts say this simply is a symbolic move and he is unlikely to be sent here to face justice -- Pamela?

BROWN: Patrick Oppmann, in Mexico, thank you so much.

Well, the president's got mail as he was leaving for the Hamptons today. Mr. Trump gushed over a hand-delivered note from North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: He really wrote a beautiful three-page, right from top to bottom, a really beautiful letter.

Yes, he gave me a great letter. I would love to give you, but I don't think it would be appropriate. But it was a very personal letter. It was a great letter. He talked about what he's doing.

He's not happy with the testing. It's a very small testing that he did, but he wasn't happy with the testing. He put that in the letter. But he also sees a great future for North Korea.


BROWN: Well, those tests are apparently a reference to the joint U.S./South Korean military exercise. Kim has violated U.N. resolutions in recent weeks with a series of short-range missile tests meant as a warning that the regime could still strike U.S. allies. Today, the president was asked about that and did not specify whether it was in a letter.

The president and Kim have had three meetings but have yet to come to a solid agreement on denuclearization plans for North Korea.

Meantime, thousands of pro-democracy protesters are staging a sit-in in Hong Kong's international airport.




BROWN: It's part of an ongoing two-month-long battle over a bill that has been suspended that purports that that mainland Communist China could extradite people from Hong Kong. The protests have expanded to include other democratic demands.

Senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is there to describe the scene for us.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, we're at Hong Kong International Airport, the eighth busiest airport in the world, which is very busy today with this massive protest.

There are thousands of people here in the departure lounge calling for democracy and freedom in Hong Kong. They're using signs. They're using all sort of things. They're even passing out boarding passes that say, "Flight H.K. 809 from Hong Kong to freedom," and in Chinese below it, it says, "The gates of freedom will be closed when you give up."

So these protesters are now in their tenth consecutive week. It is two months exactly today since these protests began. From the look of it here at the airport and from what we're hearing,

it's going to be happening over the weekend. These protests are not about to end -- Pamela?