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Barr Notes Irregularities in Conjunction with Epstein Death; Biden's Weekend Gaffes; Democrats Hit Iowa. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 12, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:18] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS, I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The Trump administration imposing dramatic new limits on legal immigration. The new rules make it easier to reject green card and visa applications from low-income people on grounds they could end up on public assistance.

Plus, a big Iowa weekend for the 2020 Democrats. Joe Biden raising questions with another gaffe. Elizabeth Warren proves her organizing prowess. And Kamala Harris is on a bus tour to make clear she plans to make a play in the state that votes first.

And from friend to foe in a reality TV minute. Former White House insider Anthony Scaramucci says he can no longer support President Trump because of his racially charged rhetoric, and the Mooch says Republicans should make a change for 2020.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It is a responsibility of people in the Republican Party, OK, to say, hey, man, you know, we may need to put a relief pitcher in here. You pitched six strong innings but you're -- you know, you're throwing it up against a backstop now. So -- and I really believe that.

And so let's see what happens. I'm a loyal Republican. And I've tried to be loyal to him. But, let's face it, I mean he's gone off the rails. And so we just have to call it for what it is.


KING: We begin the hour, though, with the attorney general talking for the first time about Jeffrey Epstein's apparent suicide. This morning in New Orleans, William Barr calling Epstein's death a, quote, failure.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I was appalled, and indeed the whole department was, and, frankly, angry, to learn of the MCC's failure to adequately secure this prisoner. We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation.


KING: The MCC is the Manhattan Correctional Center. There, guards discovered Epstein, an accused child sex trafficker, in his cell unresponsive early Saturday morning. The medical examiner has yet to certify a cause of death, but early reporting has exposed missteps by the prison system, mistakes that are especially head scratching after Epstein was found last month with marks around his neck.

Attorney General Barr and prosecutors in New York promise their work on this case is not over.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is with us in New York.

Shimon, the attorney general voicing his outrage today, but what more do we know about what went wrong and what happens next in this case?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, we know a lot, that apparently, based on our reporting, that went wrong in this facility while Jeffrey Epstein was there. And it's very clear that based on what we now know that the guards were not doing what they were supposed to be doing. So let's look at that.

First of all, according to our reporting, the guards were supposed to check on Jeffrey Epstein every 30 minutes. And it appears that that did not take place in this case.

The other thing is that we've learned is that Jeffrey Epstein, because of his previous suicide attempt, he was not supposed to be in the jail cell alone. He was supposed to be there with another inmate. And for whatever reason, the jail had him alone in this cell. So these are two big irregularities, I suppose, concerning the attorney general and concerning what he said this morning.

We don't know of what else perhaps the attorney general knows and what else may -- the jail may not have followed. But these two things certainly stand out to people we've talked to. They say that it appears that the guards were not doing what they were supposed to be doing.

Now, some of the people are saying that the prison, the jail, that is, they don't have enough guards. That some of the guards there, the employees are overworked. We know that at least one of the guards that was overseeing Jeffrey Epstein was on overtime, mandated overtime over several days. So fatigue perhaps could have been a factor here.

So we don't know a lot of what else was going on. We don't know if these guards simply fell asleep, if something else was going on there. But two big glaring issues that I think now that the Department of Justice is going to investigate.

And now the other concern here, obviously, is, why was Jeffrey Epstein taken off suicide watch? Within a week after his attempt the last time the guards decided, the jail decided that they were going to, you know what, take him off suicide watch. They say that they had daily assessed him, they talked to him, he seemed fine, so they took him off suicide watch. We don't know why that is. So that is another big question in all of this, John.

KING: Many, many big questions.

Shimon Prokupecz in New York, appreciate the new reporting.

Epstein's apparent suicide, of course, does deserve serious investigation, but the president never one to wait on the facts. Case in point, the president retweeting a conspiracy theory over the weekend alleging that Epstein's death wasn't a suicide at all but a murder orchestrated by the Clintons.

[12:05:07] Now, there is absolutely no evidence of that, absolutely no evidence of that, and no evidence that implicates the Clintons in any of the heinous crimes attributed to Epstein.

With me today to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace with "The Associated Press," CNN's Evan Perez, Shawna Thomas with "Vice News," and Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post."

I want to come back to the president in a minute and his behavior, I'll leave it at that for now.

With you at the table, though, I want to get -- and let's listen first to the attorney general. He says we'll get to the bottom of this and someone's going pay.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We will get to the bottom of what happened, and there will be accountability. But let me assure you that this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein. Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice and they will get it.


KING: What do we know about that, in the sense that Epstein's victims very much wanted this trial --


KING: For closure. And to have him held accountable for his heinous, reprehensible crimes. That doesn't happen. He obviously can't cooperate now and name names. So what happens?

PEREZ: Right. Exactly. I mean he -- he is -- obviously was a very valuable witness in this case. And, you know, it is the nightmarish scenario for prosecutors because at the very least, you know, they were hoping that perhaps over time working with his lawyers they could perhaps reach an arrangement whereby he could plead and then name names about everybody else. And one of the first things people at the Justice Department thought of when we learned about this over the weekend was, you know, this is going to make that a lot much -- a lot harder.

And, you know, the idea that you have co-conspirator who might be breathing easier because of this is outrageous to the -- to the prosecutors here. So I think they're going to try their best, but, you know, make no mistake, this is going to be a devastating -- this is a devastating blow to this case.

KING: And for the attorney general, that investigation -- you know, there are a lot of conspiracy theories out there included some retweeted by the president. We'll get to those in a second. But is this simply a case of incompetence at this correctional center or is it worse?

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we don't know yet, but at the very least it's embarrassing. I mean this is an incredibly high- profile man who is in jail, who we know attempted suicide at least once before. So this is not a situation that people were not aware of. It's not a situation that you shouldn't have had really intense attention on and made sure that you were following protocol, you know, to the letter. And regardless of what we eventually find out, it's clear that didn't happen.

PEREZ: He was getting daily psychological evaluations after the first alleged attempt, right? So, I mean, there's multiple failures of the system here. And this, the MCC, as it's called, is supposed to be the gem of the system because, you know, the most high-profile terrorists, you know, El Chapo's there, there's a lot of high-profile prisoners who are brought there, and they're brought there for a reason because of the tight security and because of the conditions. It is viewed as a very secure, very safe facility. And so for this to happen is the worst.

SHAWNA THOMAS, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "VICE NEWS": It seems in some ways insane. I mean Epstein is the reason a cabinet secretary had to step down. So there has been all of this attention on him. And, I mean, you said we're going to get to the president later. There are things the president could have called other attention to. Like, is there a problem with staffing in prisons in the federal prison -- in the Bureau of Prisons? There is a problem with staffing. We know that. There are so many other things we could be tackling with this, but apparently we're going to tackle the Clintons.

KING: Right. Right. And he's been -- he's been president for more than two years now so he is accountable for that. A lot of these conditions predate him.


KING: You know, there's no question about that. But that he is accountable. He's the president of the United States. The attorney --

THOMAS: I'm just saying, he could have shined a light on some of it.

KING: Yes, the attorney general, short on the job, he is accountable for this, even though he's only been at the Justice Department a couple of months. You make a great point. Instead, though, the president retweets a whack job conspiracy theory. And it's not the first time. We all know the history, President Obama was not a citizen. President Obama wiretapped the Trump Tower. Hillary Clinton had all these illegal immigrants come out and vote for her. The list goes on. We could spend the hour on it.

I ask this question yet again knowing that there's not a good answer, why?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's too easy not to when it's staring you in the face on Twitter and the president tends to like to gravitate towards anything that looks bad for who he considers his long-term political opponents. I mean this is not a -- it's a shocking thing, but it's maybe not that surprising of a thing if you consider the fact that the president had "lock her up" cheers being changed --

KING: Is that -- is that our fault? I don't mean to interrupt, but is that our fault that because it happens so often we just say, oh, there you go --


KING: There he goes again. Imagine Barack Obama doing this. Imagine Hillary Clinton doing this repeatedly. Imagine George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, any American president doing this.

And --

THOMAS: But we are still covering it. I mean in there -- and therein lies the rub in this. Like, should we be covering it because are we helping spread the conspiracy theory, but also our president is putting this out there. So I do -- I have some like ideological issues in my brain right now about what is the right way to talk about this.

[12:10:08] KING: Right. Are we supposed to just ignore it because it's crazy --

THOMAS: Right.

KING: Or because he's the president of the United States and that's an official government statement when he uses Twitter.


PEREZ: Right, but I mean the American -- the American voters knew that this was a reality TV show star, right, that we put in the White House. So I think, again, you know, I don't watch a lot of reality, but I'm told that it's -- it's a thing you do. You stir stuff. I'm not going to use the word. But, you know, that's what you do to get more attention.

KING: The crazier the better.

PEREZ: The crazier the better, the more it works.

KING: The crazier the better.

Let's just -- to the point -- he's the president of the United States. An employee of his, a senior official at HUD, the Housing and Urban Development Department, Lynn Patton, tweeted Hillary hash tag Vince Foster part two. Again, most days I wouldn't even mention that. I wouldn't even mention that to give it any public credit. But this is a person who gets paid by the taxpayers. Paid by you at home. If anyone at this table did this, we would be fired like that.

PACE: You know, to Evan's point, one of the complications in all of this is that this is a -- this is something that the president and people around him have been doing for years, before he came into public office. People are aware of this. Do they care? I mean that -- I think that is a very real question. Do people care that the president of the United States traffics frequently in conspiracy theories?

You know, the results of the 2016 election show that enough people didn't care. And he is going to do this going forward in 2020 probably to an even greater level. It's not just conspiracy theories, it's general misinformation. I do think we certainly have a responsibility to call that out. But to Shawna's point, I think there is an inherent tension in this --

KING: Right.


PACE: On how much calling this out spreads some of this even further.

PEREZ: I mean, you know, look -- look, this case does present like some very unusual circumstances. Jim Comey's daughter is a prosecutor who is on this case, so it just adds to the -- just, you know, all of the circumstances for conspiracy theories to just launch. And the president is just going along for the ride.

THOMAS: But unlike the time when the original Vince Foster conspiracy theory came out, one that makes it easier to spread this one. But, two, social media is so big and it spreads so fast.

KING: Right.

THOMAS: And there is a valid conversation about social media's role in this. What is the responsibility of these companies to stop this kind of stuff? That is a larger conversation happening with Congress right now. But it -- there -- there are -- at some point we will turn to, wait, what is -- what is their responsibility?

KING: Right. I just -- it would be nice if -- I can't even speak the words, if the president would decide that he should lead the effort not contribute to the mess.

Up next for us, as the 2020 Democrats descend on Iowa, questions reemerge about Joe Biden and his gaffes.

And if you're watching today and you have a question for any of these great reporters at the table, tweet us using the Inside Politics hash tag. We might answer your question -- we might answer your question at the end of the show.

We'll be right back.


[12:17:17] KING: Welcome back.

It was to say the least an eventful weekend in Iowa for the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls. Stops at the state fair, a forum on gun violence and the Wing Ding, that's a big annual Democratic fundraising event.

California Senator Kamala Harris is still there today finishing up a bus tour meant to show she plans to make a strong play in the kickoff caucus state.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This five-day bus tour has been about just, you know, five continuous days of being able to, frankly, go to places where, you know, there may not be an airport but there are people who deserve to be heard and seen. And I'm really enjoying it.


KING: One big takeaway from the busy weekend are new questions for Joe Biden. He made several verbal gaffes during his Iowa visit and the debate is whether it's just Joe being Joe or whether it could undermine his standing atop the field.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny joining us now from Des Moines.

Jeff, what is the take out there in Iowa? Is it just Biden being Biden, which we've seen for years, or are there serious questions about his viability?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there's no question that every Democratic voter we talked to, and we've talked to a lot of them out here for the last several days, they all admire Joe Biden. They talk in very positive and glowing terms about Joe Biden. But there is a divide about whether he is the strongest nominee for the party to take on the president.

I mean he is supported by about 30 percent of voters here, according to the latest Monmouth University poll here in Iowa. That, of course, is the front of the pack. But that also means that seven in 10 voters choose somewhere else.

So I think the assessment here, John, when you do talk to voters, they do not mention the gaffes nearly as much as the party officials, as the chattering class, if you will. The people who like Joe Biden really like him and are committed to him. There are others, frankly, who are looking for younger candidates, a new generation, new ideas, a woman. Many Democratic voters say now is the time for that. And, of course, there are many options.

So I think people who like Biden are not bothered by these gaffes at all. Others are concerned about, is he going to be the strongest candidate to take on the president.

But, John, when you do talk to voters who have seen Joe Biden, they are not nearly as focused on these individual word things. They all bring up, what about the president? What about President Trump and what he says? But there's no question if the Biden campaign has to continually apologize every time he has a whirlwind trip out here, that's going to occupy a lot of space.

But for now, John, I think it's more of a chattering class story. Voters, the ones who like him, they really like him.


KING: Six months till the first votes. We shall see how it plays out.

Jeff Zeleny, appreciate the live reporting.

ZELENY: Thanks, John.

KING: Zealous you get to still hang in Iowa, still hang in Iowa. Are you ever coming back? We'll see.

ZELENY: We'll see.

KING: We'll see is right.

Josh Jamerson with "The Wall Street Journal" joins our conversations, a first-time guest.

[12:20:00] Welcome to the program.


KING: Let's listen to a little bit of this because it is the conversation. You know, people say, well, he's 76. Is he just slipping up a little bit? Or is it a guy who, when he ran for president back in the late '80s, a long time ago, was doing things like this.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You had people like Margaret Thatcher -- excuse me, you had people like the former chairman and leader of the party in the -- in Germany, you had Angela Merkel stand up and say how terrible it was.

We had this notion that somehow if you're poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids -- wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids. No, I really mean it.

I watched what happened when those kids from Parkland came up to see me when I was vice president. They went into the -- and some -- some of you covered it. And you watch what happened when they -- when they went up in the halls of Congress.


KING: He was gone from office when Parkland happened. He did meet with some of the victims, the survivors of Parkland, but it was after he was out of office.

What do we make of this or do we not know?

JAMERSON: Yes, I don't think we know. But I think, like Jeff was saying, we talk to voters all the time, they do kind of want to get past some of the -- they don't bring up the gaffes. When we bring it up to them, they have responses just like Jeff said.

But what I think was kind of interesting is you noticed that there were people clapping in that room when he mentioned the poor kids are just as good as white kids line. It reminded me of in Chicago, right after the debate, the first debate, when he said something about kids in hoodies could be Nobel laureates. There was applause in that room too. I think the people that really like him are willing to look past some of these statements.

KING: That's an interesting point. It -- we mentioned the chattering class is often wrong. Good reporters at the table. 2016 Trump can't win the nomination, Trump won't run, Trump can't be president, because that's what's before you. It is what's before you at the time.

David Axelrod, who, of course, knows Joe Biden very well, the strategist who helped Barack Obama get elected, part of the process that led Joe Biden to be on the ticket as vice president. He put it this way, Julie, in a piece you wrote. He's always been prone to gaffes. That was true when he was in his 40s, 50s and 60s. The difference is because people are looking for signs of potential deterioration. Gaffes that could be written off -- would be written off as Joe being Joe can become much more damaging to him.

That's -- is that an age issue there or is it more, to me, to Jeff's point and Josh's point about voters don't process the individual gaffes, you're thinking, you're closing -- is this the guy I want on a debate stage with Trump?

PACE: Right. I think that's the thing that voters are focused on. We all hear this when we go out and talk to voters, they care much more about any -- about who can beat Trump, who will be best on the debate stage than any one policy or any one real moment.

I think the challenge that Biden faces is right now, if you look at polling, he is shown to be the person that most Democrats think can beat Trump. Do these -- do these moments chip away at that over time? Is there going to be a tipping point for him on this? And I do think that the age question, again, when you do talk to voters, there is some concern about age.

You know, he is 76 years old. Do they think that at some point, you know, on a debate stage with Trump, in a rally that he says something that gives Trump that opening, and they are so desperate -- Democrats are so desperate to put the best candidate up and they are really weighing all of these factors.

KING: And if you look at the polling right now, he is atop the field, but that Monmouth poll that Jeff mentioned has Biden at 28, Elizabeth Warren, a huge jump, up to 19 percent. Harris at 11 percent. Sanders at 9 percent. Buttigieg at 8 percent.

If you look at the history of -- Iowa is a -- is quicksand for frontrunners a lot of times. You could ask Hillary Clinton that question. You could ask other Democratic frontrunners. If you're Biden, that's a good number now, but you've got to grow, or at least hold. And if you're having these conversations about, oh, did I mess this up or if you're saying, I'm sorry, that doesn't help.

THOMAS: And I think one of the things that's hard for Joe Biden is that a lot of the country has decided how they feel about Joe Biden, which is part of why we're not seeing his numbers move that much. But if they are going to move, it's hard to believe they won't move down because someone has decided, oh, I'm more interested in Elizabeth Warren's message or I haven't really considered Bernie Sanders or something like that. So he has to be careful of that.

The gaffes play into the, you know, the narrative that President Trump wants to tell about Joe Biden. And that's something that one of our reporters for, like he heard a Democratic operative in Iowa sort of say that to him.

The question and what I'm looking for is, do the other candidates on the Democratic side start to hit Joe Biden over this or is that a step too far for them? If that starts to happen, then he really does have to deal with it because you can sort of push off Trump for a little while and say, you also said Toledo last week. I mean --

PACE: And one of the things that makes this hard for the Democratic candidates is that, you know, Joe Biden does have a reservoir of good will. You have to walk a really fine line if you're a fellow Democrat.


PACE: He's an elder statesman, a beloved figure in this party who people have watched go through enormous tragedy in this life. You know, he has -- he has a -- some built in good feeling. So for other Democrats to take him on is really tricky.

KING: That's a -- to illustrate that point, Kyung Lah asked Senator Harris about it in the interview. We played a clip of it at the top of the show. And she said ask Joe Biden about that. She didn't -- she didn't want to leap there (ph).

PACE: Yes.

KING: I think the other candidates are just hoping that gravity takes hold.

[12:25:00] And you saw Harris out there on a five-day bus tour. Senator Warren going like this. I think if you're Harris or anybody else, you're watching Warren do this and you're thinking, whoa, she's well organized in Iowa. If she can somehow win or be in the top one or two in Iowa, move on to home territory, New Hampshire next to Massachusetts, that's, I think, is the most interesting dynamic in the Democratic race right now.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes. I mean everybody who -- it's very interesting that we started off this race saying, oh, you know, Warren might be too polarizing for the general election but Biden's definitely the best person. That was based on assumptions and conjecture of what we know about them from the past and where their basic bases lie.

It's in the interim, we've seen the shift happen in those polls since they've actually been speaking on those debate stages, since they've actually been challenging each other, and Warren has had better debate appearances, frankly, than Joe Biden has. I think that's just objectively -- she's gotten a rise out of that, whereas Biden is not the master debater I think people were hoping he would be, picturing him on the stage against Trump. And you've seen that reflected somewhat now. I mean not everybody in the country is watching poll numbers. But if you have both a ground game and a personal appeal that happens to match up with that debate presence and that continues for the next four months into Iowa, then, yes, we could see things shift dramatically and those presumptions at the beginning of the race be challenged.

KING: The continues part is the hard part.


KING: It's hard for any candidate, any candidate to sustain momentum for four or five months into Iowa. It will be snowing before we can answer -- before we can answer any of these questions.

Up next, the Trump administration targets legal immigration in a new move that could drastically impact green cards and visas.