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2020 Election Campaign Heats Up; Interview with Former ICE Assistant Director Elliot Williams; Newark Finds Elevated Lead in Drinking Water. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 13, 2019 - 10:30   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: What the president says.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes. It's a ridiculous claim. If you condemn Donald Trump for saying that Amazon, "Washington Post," you need to condemn Bernie Sanders for basically saying the exact same thing.

A couple of facts. One, Jeff Bezos owns "The Washington Post." Jeff Bezos also owns Amazon. Amazon does not own "The Washington Post." Just as a sort of a --


CILLIZZA: -- logistical matter.

Secondly, yes, I worked there for six years, seven years under Don Graham and the Graham family when they owned it, and I worked there for another three or four years when Jeff Bezos bought it from the Grahams.

Not once in that time -- literally not one time, and I wrote about politics every single day, the way that I do here -- not one time did I ever get a whiff of Jeff Bezos, in any way, shape or form, trying to or being effective in -- there was no attempt to influence.

And I can tell you, because for a lot of that time, Marty Baron was the editor while I was there, Marty just wouldn't stand for it.


CILLIZZA: It's the kind of thing that's a good applause line, but it doesn't have any bearing in reality and it's dangerous because people who don't know better, believe it.

BASH: Exactly.

HARLOW: Yes, Dana, I was just going to say, it's not just -- they're not just going after "The Washington Post." I mean, Faiz Shakir, his campaign manager, was on with Brian Stelter a few weeks ago and pointed to pharmaceutical commercials that run on TV networks, implying that that impacts our coverage.

BASH: Bernie Sanders did that during our debate.

HARLOW: I remember. Yes.

BASH: Did it during our debate. And again, just to put some facts with this rhetoric, I have -- I don't know about you, I don't have a clue what the commercials are --

HARLOW: You don't see them.

BASH: -- on this. And nor do I hear about it from anybody --


BASH: -- in the network. It's irrelevant to what we cover and how we cover it and what we decide to cover, full stop.

And what is so dangerous, to pick up on that important word that Chris just used, is that there is already an attack on all institutions. There is an attack on the institution of the free press by the president of the United States.

And the fact that Bernie Sanders is doing it to get, frankly, some cheap applause lines, is -- is dangerous and a little bit surprising, that this is the tack that he's using.

HARLOW: I -- I was very --

BASH: Especially since --

HARLOW: -- I'm very surprised by it.

BASH: -- he gets a lot of -- you know, he gets a lot of fair coverage --


BASH: -- on this network and others.

HARLOW: Well, and by the way, guess who also writes critical stories, Cillizza, about Amazon? "The Washington Post."

CILLIZZA: Of course. And I mean, it's surprising -- just to add to Dana's point -- it's surprising. And I'd say it's disappointing. Bernie Sanders knows better, right? In the same way that Donald Trump does. They understand that this -- these are not people who have never dealt with the media, prior to the last six months when they decided to run for president --

BASH: Right.

CILLIZZA: -- in both cases. They have a long record of having to deal with the media. Sanders has been in public life for a long time, Donald Trump has been not in elected office, but in the national spotlight for a long time. They know the deal. They know that the media -- they know that Dana -- you know what I'm doing in the commercials? Trying to make sure that I can hear Poppy, and that my glasses aren't so dirty that I can see the camera.

I mean, the idea that --

BASH: And taking trash talk from me.

CILLIZZA: Right. The --


-- the idea that this -- they know. That's what bothers me. These politicians know better. And unfortunately, many of the people who they are telling these things to, don't. And that's the problem.

HARLOW: Just pretend you're not, like, checking your lighting and your makeup, Cillizza.

Let's move on to another topic. And this is -- Dana, you've got some reporting on this -- really interesting editorial from the "Houston Chronicle," telling Beto O'Rourke to come home --

BASH: Yes.

HARLOW: -- saying, "Texas needs you." What's your reporting?

BASH: To drop out of the presidential race --


BASH: -- and instead, to run for Senate against the incumbent Republican senator, John Cornyn.

HARLOW: John Cornyn.

BASH: And this has been a theme for some time among some Democrats in Texas, many Democrats in Texas, the fact that the "Houston Chronicle" editorial board, a hometown, an important hometown -- home state, I should say -- paper did it, is noteworthy.

I checked in with a senior O'Rourke campaign aide, and the response was that there was another candidate, a Democratic candidate, who announced even yesterday. And more importantly, this source says, "There is no talk about this being considered within the campaign." That's the statement --

HARLOW: Official line.

BASH: -- now, the official line now. You know, it is a question, whether or not the congressman, the former congressman is going to sit down with his wife, Amy, and talk about whether or not -- ultimately, it might be a better decision --

HARLOW: Right.

BASH: -- he doesn't have to make that decision until the end of the year. That's when the filing deadline is.

HARLOW: Right. And his campaign likes the comparisons to, you know, a young Obama. But I think what's interesting is that this article, this editorial from the "Houston Chronicle," pointed out, Cillizza, that his strongest moment, they think, was when he was --


HARLOW: -- off the campaign trail, comforting the people of El Paso --


HARLOW: -- and he's young. If he were to run for Senate, if he were to win -- yes, it's a steep climb -- that could position him better in the future, for a run again.

[10:35:01] CILLIZZA: Yes. Look, the problem with -- I'm sure they like the comparison to a young Obama, but you've got to perform like a young Obama --


CILLIZZA: -- on the campaign trail, right?


CILLIZZA: Lots of politicians like the comparison to a young Obama. The guy got elected president.

For O'Rourke, the thing I was most struck by was he does have this moment -- right, Poppy? -- in the wake of the El Paso shootings, this -- where he's, you know, "Yes, the president is a -- why are we even talking about whether the president is a racist."

He gets all this positive attention. And all that positive attention leads to buzz about him, what, moving up in the presidential race? No, coming back to Texas to run for Senate, which I think --


CILLIZZA: -- speaks to kind of where he is in the presidential race.

I'm -- Dana is always right on this stuff as it relates to the reporting, that they're not thinking about it. That makes sense. They shouldn't. But there will come a time, if his numbers don't move in the presidential, where they will look at this. Remember, he does not -- he is not currently in office. He would not be giving anything up, to switch from the presidential to the Senate race.

And I believe, if my FEC nerddom is right --

HARLOW: He can take the money.

CILLIZZA: -- he could use the money he has left --

BASH: He can.

CILLIZZA: -- in a federal account for president, and switch it over to Senate. So he would start with a significant nest egg. BASH: There's also some frustration that I'm hearing from the

O'Rourke camp, that Julian Castro, also from Texas, is not being called upon --


BASH: -- by the "Houston Chronicle" to run for Senate.

HARLOW: That's a good point.

OK, guys. It's a pleasure. Thank you both.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, Poppy.

BASH: Thank you.

HARLOW: And, Dana, I haven't seen you since the debate. Amazing job. Congrats.

CILLIZZA: Good job, Dana.

BASH: Do you know, our team is the best. Our team is the best.

HARLOW: That's true, they are.

BASH: Hands-down.

HARLOW: All right. So on this immigration front, "Give me your tired, your poor." Of course, those famous words, etched on the Statue of Liberty. But a Trump administration official now suggests the poem may be changed?


[10:41:23] HARLOW: All right. This just in to CNN, there are reports that people that are living near the site of a nuclear missile explosion in Russia are being told to leave their homes this morning. Five people were killed last week in the explosion.

So far, the Russian government has been silent about the nature of the blast. Russian media outlets are reporting, the military is claiming this morning's evacuation is not connected to the explosion there, just last week. Of course it's serious and we're going to continue to follow the developments as we get them.

In the meantime, you know these words, "Huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Famous line in the poem written by Emma Lazarus to raise money for the Statue of Liberty."

TEXT: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

HARLOW: Well, the acting director of U.S. citizenship and immigration services, tells NPR he has his own version.

TEXT: "give me your tired, your poor, who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge"

HARLOW: He was asked about what he thinks of those famous words that are now etched into the Statue of Liberty. And he responded with his interpretation. Quote, "Give me your tired and your poor, who can stand on their own two feet and not become a public charge."

That comes as the Trump administration announces a regulation that makes it easier to reject green card and visa applicants if they have low incomes or little education. Let's talk about this and more with Elliot Williams, former assistant director for ICE under the Obama administration.

Thank you very much, Elliot, for being with me. You know, it is very clear that there are consistent efforts to diminish legal immigration in this country. Yesterday's rule is one of them. How likely is it, that it is enacted?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: Well, it's certainly not going to be enacted right away, and it's certainly going to be challenged in court. The big basis for it is that the administration has substituted its interpretation of the law for Congress'.

Congress chose, at some point, not to write things like Medicaid and SNAP assistance -- you know, food stamps -- into the law because they presumably chose not to deprive people of the ability to seek Green Cards on that basis.


WILLIAMS: But what the administration has done is stepped in there.

HARLOW: So one of the things we saw with the Mississippi raid of about 700 people last week, is that 300 or so of the people have been released, but at least, so far, we haven't heard anything about prosecution of the employers, right? Those that knew that these immigrants didn't have the documentation, and put them to work anyways.

There's a fascinating study out of Syracuse. And it says that in the last year, April 2018 to March of this year, only 11 individuals and no companies -- no companies under the Trump administration have been prosecuted for employing undocumented immigrants.

I ask you this because you worked in immigration in the Obama administration, where, as we understand it, there were 88 such cases against companies for immigration violations between 2009 and 2016. Very different from now. Did that prove more effective --


HARLOW: -- during that time, to go after the companies?

WILLIAMS: So the question is, what are you trying to do? Are you trying to frighten people and disrupt communities, and not target the drivers of illegal immigration? Or are you trying to actually target the drivers, right? And what the Obama administration did, was stop doing these types of enforcement actions, and go after the employers through audits and so on.

But what -- the -- again, this gets back to how the president announced as a candidate, going back to the rhetoric from 2015, demonizing individual low-skilled, often brown immigrants. That -- so this is just a continuation of that trend. But this type of enforcement action is not particularly efficient.

[10:45:00] HARLOW: I should note that ICE says that the Trump administration has prosecuted five companies for immigration violations in the administration. But according to this study, none in the last year, when they have ramped up these other efforts.

I guess before you go, I'm interested in your lessons learned, working under the Obama administration. Because you know the criticism that that administration received --

WILLIAMS: Oh, yes.

HARLOW: -- 3 million undocumented immigrants deported during Obama's tenure as president, even immigration rights groups labeled him "deporter-in-chief." Are there lessons learned then about what actually works as a deterrent and what doesn't, that you would like to see applied now?

WILLIAMS: Right. But at least putting on some guardrails on the administration's discretion. The whole point of -- if you've heard the acronym DACA, which was, you know, an attempt to legalize individuals who had come here as children, that frankly have been challenged in court by the Trump administration, discretion guidelines, at least saying that the highest-priority people should be aliens with criminal convictions in their past, people who came recently. All of those things, these guardrails that were put in place by Obama, they got taken away by Trump.

Now, anyone who is present unlawfully in the country, no matter who they are, what they're contributing to the country, if they have U.S. citizen children, is subject to fear and being targeted.

So being efficient and being smart. And I'm not talking about open borders here, which is that term that they like to use. We were just talking about being smart and being efficient and being targeted in how we enforce the law, and that's just not what the administration is doing here, and has done in these last two steps over the last week.

HARLOW: All right. We'll see if the enforcement against the companies actually happens. Elliot Williams, I really appreciate your time, your perspective, your experience. Thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. There's a lot going on today. Here's "What to Watch."

TEXT: What to Watch... 11:00 a.m. Eastern, Acting DHS Chief McAleenan at Homeland Security Forum; 11:30 a.m. Eastern, House Democrats press for background checks on guns; 2:00 p.m. Easter, President Trump speaks at Pennsylvania plant


HARLOW: All right. Ahead for us, right now, cases of water are being passed out in Newark, New Jersey because high levels of lead are keeping thousands of people from using water in their own homes, next.


[10:52:14] HARLOW: "Don't drink the water." That is the message to thousands of residents in Newark, New Jersey today, who may have been drinking contaminated water for months or possibly years.

High levels of lead were discovered recently during random testing of a newly installed water filter there. In fact, recent New Jersey Department of Health reports say Newark surpasses every other large state municipality in the number of children there younger than six with elevated blood lead levels. A nonprofit report found the city's lead levels among the highest in the country. Miguel Marquez is in there.

And, Miguel, I mean, the first thing that I thought about when I read this was Flint, Michigan. Is this the same? Is it different? How concerned are people?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. It's the same as Flint in that the lead levels are about twice the national standard of what EPA suggests they should be. It is different than Flint, that this is not the entire water system that's affected here, the input of water into that system. This was one water treatment plant that was leaching water into a system.

The problem is, is the city for years, said there was no problem. Then after a lawsuit, they discovered it was leaching, possibly, contaminants into the water. The city then said, "Well, it's lead pipes from the street to the houses." They gave many of these residents water filters, those Pura water filters, that was supposed to take care of it.

They've tested three of them. This is a very small sample. Two of them failed, so now the concern is that more of those filters may have failed. That's why they're now going to giving water to individuals here in town. This is John Duncan.

You are from this street. We're at Boylan Street Recreation Center, you're from near here. Tell me your situation. You've come to get water, why, today?

JOHN DUNCAN, NEWARK RESIDENT: Because I was told there's too much lead in the water.

MARQUEZ: You have a grandchild at home, that's always at your home?

DUNCAN: Boy is home (ph). Boy is home (ph). MARQUEZ: So that's, I take it, your main concern?

DUNCAN: Exactly.

MARQUEZ: You also had a filter on your sink or on your tap water --

DUNCAN: Right.

MARQUEZ: How did the filter work?

DUNCAN: Well, you got the green light, then you got the yellow light. Once you see the yellow, you put the new cartridge in. The problem is, getting the cartridges.


DUNCAN: Can't find them.

MARQUEZ: Yeah. So that is the biggest news. And how difficult is it? You get two cases of water today, how difficult is it to come down here, schlep water back home?

DUNCAN: Well, I don't care. You know, I'll do what I have to do to have clean drinking water.

MARQUEZ: Right. And this is the biggest problem. The filter that he was given, it is not clear, even when that light was green and working, whether it was getting rid of all the lead contaminants that was in that water --


MARQUEZ: -- that's what city officials are trying to figure out now -- Poppy.

HARLOW: He never should have to be dealing with that or even have that question. And to that end, Miguel, the Natural Resources Defense Council says that two years ago, they learned about these elevated lead levels in Newark (ph). They are saying that the city officials knew and didn't act on it. Is the city saying anything?

[10:55:10] MARQUEZ: I didn't quite hear all of your question. But the city is now grappling for information, basically. They need data on how big this problem is. They need to test more filters, they need to test more broadly to figure out whether or not they will actually -- they actually have a much wider problem, or if it was just a small number of filters that were affected -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Miguel, I'm so glad you're there. Please keep us posted, thank you very, very much.


HARLOW: And thank all of you for joining me. I'm Poppy Harlow. I'll see you back here tomorrow morning. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" starts next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)