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Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci Says He No Longer Supports President Trump's Re-election Bid; Anti- Government Protests Cancel Flights from Hong Kong Airport. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired August 12, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:26] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. It is good to be back with you. Jim Sciutto has a well-deserved week off.

And this morning the autopsy is done but the investigation into Jeffrey Epstein's apparent suicide, that is just beginning. A source now says the accused pedophile was not being regularly monitored, if you can believe that. And even though he was coming off suicide watch, Epstein was left alone in his cell after his cell mate was removed.

The question this morning, the pressing question, is why. Next hour the Attorney General Bill Barr, who is infuriated about all of this, will speak publicly for the first time since the news of Epstein's death. Barr said in a statement he was appalled when he heard about it. He has directed the Department of Justice inspector general to join the FBI to find out what happened.

And while the criminal case against Epstein is now over, the investigation into those around him, that will continue.

Let's go to Polo Sandoval, my colleague. He is live in Lower Manhattan, at the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center.

And what strikes me so much, Polo, is this is a jail, this is a facility that is so used to holding high-profile inmates like Epstein.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So that really does beg the question, Poppy, about how Epstein or why Epstein was provided that opportunity to eventually do what he did and take his own life over the weekend here. Though the results have not been made public yet, we do understand that the autopsy on Epstein's body was performed over the weekend. We also understand that one of Epstein's representatives, who've had an opportunity to actually be present there for that and they are going an extra step also in hiring an independent forensic expert that not only witnessed that autopsy but also is expected to perform an examination of their own as they also try to piece together exactly what went down, of course who would have let this actually take place.

But I should also mention that there are those two investigations that are still ongoing, not only is the FBI responsible for taking a good hard look at what took place inside the building beside or potentially did not take place but also the Department of Justice, mainly the inspector general's office, will also take a good hard look. So you're looking at at least three different probes and inquiries that are continuing to try to get answers not just regarding what happened there but also trying to get some answers for the alleged victims themselves, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Also, Polo, before you go, can you tell us a little bit more about the investigation specifically into, for example, the guards? Right? Because I believe the unit he was being held in, they were supposed to monitor him at least every 30 minutes.

SANDOVAL: And that goes back to not necessarily the actions of prison personnel but potentially the inactions, right. There was one source that has now confirmed for CNN that there are two possible violations here of policy. One of them is that he was not constantly monitored. Current procedures and the policies call for inmates inside that special housing unit to be checked on every 30 minutes, so that certainly will be something that investigators will be looking into.

And then the second potential violation here is that he was left alone in his cell. Those policies and procedures required for inmates fresh off of suicide watch to not be alone in a cell. We understand that he did have a cell mate but for one reason or another that cell mate was not present when he was found as investigators have made clear that he was found by himself.

So those are two potential violations, Poppy. We have reached out to DOJ, mainly the Bureau of Prisons. They are not commenting regarding those recent developments -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. All right, Polo. Thank you so much for the reporting.

Let's talk a lot more about this. Our legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers is with me this morning, along with former federal prosecutor -- who is a former federal prosecutor along with Chris Swecker, a former assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division.

Good morning, you guys. I just have so many --


HARLOW: -- questions for you. My jaw dropped over the weekend, of course, Saturday morning, when I woke up to this news.

Chris, let me just begin with you because you do know that this facility is Lower Manhattan, the MCC, is notoriously overcrowded and understaffed. But it's also so used to holding high-profile inmates like this. Right? So what do you think could have happened?

SWECKER: Yes, and the MCC in the Southern District of New York houses all kinds of high-profile people, all different types of temporary prisoners mostly. So they're very accustomed to dealing with special cases and dealing with suicide watch, and all of that. So the real question here, was this careless. gross negligence or was it deliberate looking the other way. And we're -- I hate to say this about fellow law enforcement but prison guards are underpaid, they're overworked, this facility in particular, and they are relatively easy to compromise, shall we say.


[09:05:05] SWECKER: So the real question I think the FBI and the IG will look at is, were they -- did somebody get to them?

HARLOW: Right. Right. So, Jennifer, in terms of justice for all of these women, who were girls at the time, all of Epstein's accusers, the criminal case is now done for him. But those around him, who may have conspired with him, because there was that conspiracy charge brought up, they are still fair game here, and also the question becomes the estate. Right? The assets of the estate. The millions and millions of dollars. Are those now likely going to go to the alleged victims?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we'll still have to wait and see. It's been made clear by the Geoff Berman, the U.S. attorney in the Southern District, they plan to continue the conspiracy case and investigation. We heard over the weekend also that there were materials released that implicated other people as participating in some of these activities with respect to Epstein. So there might be other defendants who could be added to the case or charged separately. So we'll have to wait and see.

And as for the assets, of course there may be more civil suits filed in relation to this. And if there are criminal convictions here, then there might be assets seized to give restitution and perhaps forfeiture. So all of that is down the road but the U.S. attorney made clear for these victims that they are not done and that the case will continue as far as they can take it.

HARLOW: He certainly has. I mean, that was a pretty strong statement from the U.S. attorney here in Manhattan over the weekend. But I do wonder, Jennifer, after Enron and Ken Lake died, right, they couldn't go after his estate anymore. So is it possible -- go ahead.

RODGERS: That's true. That's true. I mean, they can't go after his estate, except civilly, of course. And --


RODGERS: You know, I do think that a criminal conviction against someone else involved in the plot will help them in a civil case against Epstein's estate. But that's right. The criminal case with respect to Epstein is done. They'll have to file --


RODGERS: File what's called a (INAUDIBLE) and it will not continue any further.

HARLOW: Chris, the Department of Justice Inspector General now has got to be all over this. You hear how upset Bill Barr is about this. You see senators like Republican Senator Ben Sasse saying heads must roll, that this was a major dropping of the ball, if you will. Working with the FBI, what is the inspector general going to do now?

SWECKER: Yes. This is -- it's pretty outrageous. Nobody is going to lose any sleep, I hate to say, over Epstein, but it is potentially egregious conduct on the part of Bureau of Prisons. They are going to look at everything, of course the autopsy, the guards, anyone who attended to him or anyone that's in the hierarchy of the chain of command that had to do with decision making regarding how he was treated during his stay there. Social media, video --

HARLOW: Right.

SWECKER: You know, evidence of texting and any communications he may have had with people who had a motivation or might have had a motivation to get him out of the picture. You know, they're going to really take a broad look at this, I think. And I think this is just going to intensify both the FBI and the IG investigation.

HARLOW: And to both of you, quickly, 30 seconds each, I'll start with you, Chris. How likely is it do you believe that the guards here are charged?

SWECKER: I think you're going to find gross negligence. That's hard to charge criminally with gross negligence. I think it's going to be a stretch.

HARLOW: OK. Jennifer, stretch?

RODGERS: I agree. I think it's more likely that they'll be disciplined by the Department of Justice internally, maybe fired, maybe docked vacation days, something like that.

HARLOW: OK. Thank you both very much, Jennifer Rodgers, Chris Swecker, I appreciate this morning.

All right. We have breaking news this morning. The Trump administration has just made it easier to limit the number of legal -- legal immigrants coming into the United States.

Let's go to my colleague, our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider, who can explain more.

Is this a rule from the Trump administration?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It is, Poppy. It's just been released in the federal register. It will take effect in 60 days. And this is a rule that clearly shows the Trump administration is now cracking down on both illegal and now legal immigration with the publishing of this new rule. So the Trump administration just releasing this regulation that will really reshape how the government defines immigrants who are likely to become dependent on government assistance.

And that in turn will likely restrict legal immigration by admitting only those who can support themselves financially. So what this means is that many green card and visa applicants, they could be turned down if they have low incomes or little education, because the government could then deem them to be more likely to need that government assistance like Medicaid or food stamps.

So this is a whole public charge rule. It's been around for years. But really the Trump administration is now broadening the definition of public assistance. It was previously those who needed cash assistance from the government, and now it will be more those who need a broad array of government assistance which includes Medicaid.

[09:10:10] So, Poppy, you can imagine that immigrant rights advocates have pushed back against this rule.

HARLOW: Right.

SCHNEIDER: Saying that it really goes beyond what Congress intended when the current regulations were put into place in 1996, and they are warning it will discriminate against those immigrants from poor countries, it will keep families apart and it could prompt even they say legal residents who are here on those visas or green cards actually forego the public aid that they need because they could believe that they'd be discriminated against.

HARLOW: So, Jess, then, just quickly before you go, you're a lawyer. What is the legal resource here I suppose for those who oppose this? Is this something that will just go through the court, potentially up to the high court then?

SCHNEIDER: Well, this has been a rule that --

HARLOW: Right.

SCHNEIDER: There's been public comment allowed, and now it's been published. It's set to take effect within 60 days. There could be some challenges here because, of course, Congress has this broad statute in effect. And it's all how it's interpreted now by the Trump administration. So there could be legal challenges as to the interpretation of the statute going too far when they're kind of broadening the basis of this public charge statute. So there definitely could be challenges here but we've already undergone that long period of public comment. So it's unclear how successful those legal challenges could be.

HARLOW: OK. It's important. Jessica Schneider, thank you for the breaking news.

Coming up, a Trump loyalist now says the president's rhetoric has given license to people to hate in this country. The former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci also told our John Berman it is time that the Republican Party consider a Republican challenger to the president in 2020.

Plus, chaos at one of the world's busiest airports. Hong Kong International, look at that this morning. This as 11 weeks of protests show no sign of slowing down. We will take you there and dive into the root cause of what you are seeing playing out right now. And very sad news this morning, a daycare center fire leaves five

children dead, four of them siblings in Eerie, Pennsylvania. All of that is ahead.


[09:15:00] HARLOW: All right, this morning, a pretty dramatic change of heart from one of the president's, I guess, formerly strongest allies Anthony Scaramucci; the former White House Communications Director for a whole 11 days, but a long-time defender of his former boss and his boss' behavior tells CNN he no longer necessarily backs the president's re-election.

He also has a message for fellow Republicans, you may want to consider a new Republican candidate in 2020. He just spoke to our John Berman. Listen.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think you have to consider a change at the top of the ticket when someone is acting like this, when someone is that -- lacks intellectual curiosity to take ideas from friends. So, I think the policies are very good for the American people.

But the rhetoric is so charged and so divisive that we have to all just take a step back now and say what are we doing actually? So, one thing that I find reprehensible and the president continues to do this, and I think what will end up happening is, sound and reasonably- minded men and women in the Republican Party will say, wait a moment, we can't do this.

He is giving people a license to hate, to provide a source of anger to go after each other, and he does it on his Twitter account.


HARLOW: That was just part of Berman's interview with Anthony Scaramucci, he joins me now along with Molly Ball; national political correspondent for "Time". It was -- you're like five words that elicited --


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This is exactly, it was a great interview, wasn't it?

HARLOW: It was a great interview, but it really was, everyone should watch all 17 minutes of it. But it was when you just said basically, you know, have you changed from last week? Do you still support the president for re-election? It seems like something pushed him over the edge.

BERMAN: He says he no longer supports the president's bid for re- election. And that is a major shift from him because I talked to him last week -- HARLOW: I know --

BERMAN: And he was critical of some aspects of what the president said, but even then he was saying I am still supporting him for re- election. What changed? Well, specifically, they went to battle over Twitter -- on Twitter over the weekend.

HARLOW: So, you think his feelings are hurt like the White House says?

BERMAN: The White House suggests his feelings are hurt, Anthony Scaramucci says, no, my feelings don't get hurt. But what he says it told him is that even his allies when they try to give him reasoned advice, the president won't listen.


BERMAN: And if the president is not going to listen, Anthony says to his advice and other people's advice, and if he continues with what Anthony considers to be racist rhetoric, in some cases, divisive rhetoric in some places, that's where Scaramucci says it's too far and he can't support him any longer.

HARLOW: OK, so Molly Ball, he does this in the place of a Republican Party where over 90 percent -- I think 91 percent in the most recent polling, 91 percent of Republican voters support the president. So, I guess the question becomes to what end? Like does this change anything?

MOLLY BALL, CNN ANALYST: Well, we'll see, right, it's possible that a few years from now, we will look back at Anthony Scaramucci's turn as the tipping point that really put everything on a down-ward course for the president, that's probably not true, he's just one person.

But I do think he represents a political danger for this president. And that is that with every time he issues, you know, an incendiary tweet or a racist remark, something, he loses -- he just loses more people, he's not doing anything to build up the support of people who either are skeptical about him or even support his policies.

And with every iteration of this pattern of divisiveness, there's one more person who says, OK, this is where I get off the train, I can't take it anymore. And if that's true, you do see a gradual erosion with no sort of countervailing force. You know, I mean, the president and his allies love to say that like, you know, every time people go after us, every time he does something that people attack him for, he only gets stronger because his supporters rally to his side.

[09:20:00] But this is a case where it went the opposite direction.

HARLOW: Yes, OK, so, Berman, he also said something that really struck me, and I'm sure a lot of people -- that he's not alone. He's not on an island. That there are others who shall remain nameless, I suppose for now within the White House who feel like he does.

BERMAN: They will rename -- remain nameless at least from Anthony Scaramucci. I asked him directly who is --

HARLOW: Right --

BERMAN: Who has been calling you? He claims people have been calling him since yesterday in support of his split from the president. He also tells me that he's spoken to current and former White House staffers, current and former cabinet secretaries who are close, he says to splitting.

HARLOW: Like out the door.

BERMAN: Like -- well, like splitting with the president thematically. I think --


BERMAN: There's specifically more for the former cabinet members.

HARLOW: Yes --

BERMAN: But look, if that's the case, if more people come out and say publicly what Anthony Scaramucci is saying, that could be a bigger deal. He knows -- I mean, he knows he doesn't represent millions of voters out there, but he does represent -- and you talk to people like this all the time.

A specific Wall Street for instance --

HARLOW: He does --

BERMAN: Sector of the president's support who like some of the economic moves and business moves he has made, but have been uncomfortable with other things. He says he's been overwhelmed now by the other things.

HARLOW: And if that happens, Molly, if he is one of what becomes many like Berman said, big powerful Wall Street CEOs who may support the president. If you know -- if they turn on him, how much would it take to actually get a formidable Republican, you know, challenger to the president in 2020, especially if the economy doesn't turn south.

BALL: Yes, that may be --

HARLOW: Right, other than well --

BALL: Yes --

HARLOW: Of course.

BALL: Yes, that may be the key question is, if there is this group of financial elites who no longer want to support the president, are they going to back a challenger? Are they going to back some kind of movement in the Republican Party or are they as we saw in 2016, there were a lot of financial elites who were nervous about Trump, but they largely sat on their hands and decided that it would all work itself out, and this is the result. So, you know, it potentially does strengthen the president if he can

point to all these Wall Street fat cats saying that they don't like him, this is very much the kind of counter-elite type of symbolism that he has used in his campaigns, right? To say, oh, yes, these big shot financiers don't like me, but that's because I'm a man of the people.

HARLOW: That's true.

BALL: Again, the question is going to be where do voters see themselves in that paradigm? Do they look at this and see that this is a president for whom loyalty has always been a one-way street and many people have seen that loyalty tested and decided they no longer support it.

Or again, is this more of a one-off, of someone who, you know, the White House will tell you, this is someone who wants attention, likes to be on television, found that he was no longer relevant for other reasons and had to do something to get himself into the news cycle.

And I think that's yet to be seen which -- what this means in that regard.

HARLOW: But Anthony Scaramucci shies away from the spotlight, you guys. I mean, it's very hard to get him on television. John Berman, great interview --

BERMAN: Thank you --

HARLOW: Molly Ball, thank you so much.

BALL: Thank you, Harlow.

HARLOW: All right, to a very serious developing story right now in Hong Kong, travel completely disrupted, halted at one of the world's busiest airports. No flights in or out of Hong Kong, thousands of protesters have filled the main terminal, look at that, we'll take you there, next.


HARLOW: All right, welcome back. Look at that, those are images right now out of Hong Kong International Airport where all flights are canceled. This is after at least 5,000 people swarmed the main terminal of the world's eighth busiest airport today.

They packed it to protest what they say is increasing police brutality against peaceful demonstrators. Hong Kong's main airline Cathay Pacific is also telling staff they could be fired for supporting what they are calling illegal protests. For 11 straight weekends, city- wide protests have taken place over plans that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China to stand trial.

Major concerns over their civil rights in that. Many of the protesters are now demanding greater Democratic reforms, they are also calling for Hong Kong's leader to step down. Let's go to my colleague, our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman, he's in Hong Kong. And Ben, today, the Chinese government said the protesters are showing, quote, "signs of terrorism".

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, because even though this is at the moment a protest against the Hong Kong government and its chief executive and the Extradition Bill, fundamentally, this is a protest against the growing influence of mainland China in Hong Kong.

Keeping in mind that agreement worked out between the British and Beijing in 1997, for 50 years, Hong Kong was supposed to be a part of China, but separate in terms of its legal system. The worry is that, that legal system, that legal firewall is starting to erode. And the Chinese government in Beijing is very concerned about what this could possibly mean for this agreement, the so-called one country, two- system agreement.

And they've made it clear that if the Hong Kong government -- and this is the law. If the Hong Kong government requests from Beijing whether for a natural disaster or public disorder, it can request the.