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NYC Federal Prison under Scrutiny; Trump Acknowledges Tariffs could affect Consumers; Water Trouble amid Newark's Lead Crisis. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired August 14, 2019 - 06:30   ET



[06:33:28] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has learned the Justice Department has reassigned the warden and suspended two guards at the prison where Jeffrey Epstein died from an apparent suicide. "The New York Times" reports this morning that the two guards who were supposed to be watching Epstein fell asleep and falsified records to cover that up.

Brynn Gingras has the latest from the federal prison in Manhattan.

What do we know, Brynn?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, disturbing news there.

We know that Epstein wasn't monitored for hours. And we also know that there are cameras inside this building but it's unclear if they were working? Did they show anything? And you just mentioned "The New York Times" reporting. Well, we know that of those two guards, one of them wasn't even a fully trained corrections officer.

So a lot of questions still remain here. And a Bureau of Prisons investigative team is going to be on scene here at the prison today. This as we're learning this prison's had some serious issues for a long time.


GINGRAS (voice over): The Metropolitan Correctional Center, a high- rise hell as it's been described. A building that is now getting a closer look in the wake of the apparent suicide of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation.

GINGRAS: Attorney General Barr said he was angered by the lapse in protocol with monitoring Epstein, who wasn't checked on for hours after coming off suicide watch, according to one source briefed on the matter. That at a facility the Justice Department once considered to be one of the best run in the Bureau of Prisons system, partly because of the high profile inmates it has housed, like suspected terrorist Sayfullo Saipov, to financier Bernie Madoff. Former Trump aide Paul Manafort also spent a few days there in June.

[06:35:16] While the DOJ considered it well run, some of the most high profile inmates do not, including the leader of the Mexican drug cartel, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who spent years at MCC and complained about the lack of light and having to use toilet paper as ear plugs to drown out surrounding noise. A court denied Guzman's request to investigate his claims.

Civil rights attorney Andrew Laufer says he's represented people who have been locked up in MCC and is currently suing the Bureau of Prisons after one client was allegedly beaten to death.

ANDREW LAUFER, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: I've heard numerous complaints regarding roaches, rats, you know, feces in the showers. But it's also heating and cooling. In the winter it's freezing. You know, they get sick.

I would refer to it as unacceptable conditions.

GINGRAS: Overcrowding is an issue too. The MCC opened in 1975 and planned to house 474 inmates. It currently holds 763. That means cells originally designed to hold one inmate often have two, a problem that puts serious strain on those who work there.

ELIAS HUSAMUDEEN, NYC CORRECTIONS OFFICERS' BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION: You cannot have someone work two, three, four days in a row, 16 hours each day, and think that you're actually going to have somebody who's going to be at their operating at full capacity.


GINGRAS: And while Attorney General Barr said he was angry about what happened inside the walls behind me, he shouldn't be all that surprised. Congressional members and people who have worked for the Bureau of Prisons had been warning the Justice Department before about the danger in using people who aren't fully trained as corrections officers as guards as was the case here with Epstein. We also know that Attorney General Barr, earlier this year, in -- called this hiring delay of more personnel a snafu caused by bureaucracy.

John, back to you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Brynn, thank you so much. Important context there. And this "New York Times" report, if those guards were really asleep and then tried to falsify their records after the fact, that's something we're pushing on because that would be alarming.

BERMAN: President Trump has delayed new tariffs on China, but his reason contradicts one of his most repeated claims. That's next.


[06:41:25] BERMAN: Happening now, is the president in retreat in his trade war with China? Moreover, is the new rhetoric from President Trump at war with the old rhetoric from President Trump? The president now says he will delay tariffs on some Chinese made consumer goods until December. Why? Basically because consumers would bear the brunt of those costs. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But just in case they might have an impact on people, what we've done is we've delayed it so that they won't be relevant for the Christmas shopping season.


BERMAN: That is a complete reversal of the claims that the president has made for months.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American taxpayer is not paying for it.

It hasn't cost our consumer anything. It costs China.

Remember this, the people aren't paying for it. Everyone says people pay for it.


BERMAN: Joining me now is CNN global affairs analyst Max Boot. He's a columnist for "The Washington Post."

Max, if I can, I want to break this up into two parts. First, this is a retreat. The president has backed off a threat to impose these new tariffs on consumer goods.

How will China view this?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, no question, John, the president has blinked. You know, he's made it -- you know, this really undermines the entire premise of his trade policy with China, which was that trade wars are good and easy to win. It turns out they're not so good and not so easy to win. I mean he keeps ratcheting up these tariffs.

He thought that China would cave in. China has not caved in. And so now he's the one who is caving in and backing off because he understands that if he continues on his path of imposing tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods beyond what he's already done, it's going to have a real impact on the U.S. economy. There's even a threat of a recession on the horizon. And so I think China realizes they are in a stronger position here than -- than Trump is.

BERMAN: Do you think it's more or less likely that China would make a deal?

BOOT: Very hard to say. I mean I -- I've always thought that the only way you really get Trump -- a deal between Trump and China is if Trump thinks that the trade war threatens the economy and therefore threatens his re-election prospects. But if he keeps the tariffs at a relatively lower level, as they are today, that's probably not going to threaten the economy and so it's -- it's actually not going to be a tremendous amount of pressure to make a deal.

BERMAN: The markets seem to think that those tariffs that he backed off on were a real threat to the economy. And you saw it with that immediate boost in the market yesterday when it shot up.

There was a huge, huge sense of relief. And I also think relief that the president was admitting something that's just merely a fact that tariffs hit the American consumer. To hear him talk about Christmas, the Christmas season, that was an economic reality he was admitting, but to me also a political reality. He was admitting that I don't think that this White House could bear the brunt of American consumers being upset during the holiday shopping season.

BOOT: Well, the mystery with Trump and his approach to the trade war, John, has been, is he ignorant or is he mendacious, because he has consistently denied that American consumers pay the cost of these tariffs, which is Economics 101. Tariffs are a tax. It is paid by U.S. consumers. It is not paid by China to the U.S. Treasury, as --

BERMAN: Whether it's worth it or not is a different subject. But that just is.

BOOT: Yes. Yes. Right. That is economic fact. You cannot dispute that. And yet he has disputed it for more than two years. And so the question was, does he simply not understand the basics of economics or is he lying? And now this suggests that maybe he was actually lying. Maybe he does understand that U.S. consumers pay the cost of this and he was simply denying it and now he's implicitly admitting it.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about Russia and this failed missile test that could very well be some kind of nuclear accident/potentially nuclear disaster. The Russians have evacuated one of these towns nearby the launch of this missile, where it all went awry. What does this tell you?


BOOT: You know, it tells me not much has changed since the days of Chernobyl as we would like to think. I mean there was just the Chernobyl mini-series on TV highlighting the lies and the corruption of the Russian government in the 1980s where they tried to cover it up. I think you're seeing something similar happening today. It's very hard to trust anything that the Putin regime says.

But it also suggests that, just like in the 1980s, a lot of Russian strength is actually a facade because, you know, Putin goes on TV and brags about how he has these nuclear missiles and he's going to evade U.S. defenses and he can strike anywhere in the world. And a lot of this seems to be smoke and mirrors. That they're not actually as far advanced as Putin claims to be.

BERMAN: What does that tell you about the president's relationship with Vladimir Putin and the U.S. policy toward Russia?

BOOT: It suggests to me is that the U.S. is in a stronger position vis-a-vis Russia than the way that Donald Trump acts because, you know, Donald Trump kowtows to Putin in a lot of ways. There's some sanctions certainly that the U.S. government has imposed often over Trump's opposition. But Trump himself has a very subservient, supine posture vis-a-vis Putin. He treats Putin as this great strong man. And a lot of that is bluff. What we're seeing now, this is just one indication of many that Putin is not nearly as strong as he lets on. So why is Trump so deferential to him? It's still a mystery to which we don't have a good answer.

BERMAN: Max Boot, great to have you with us this morning.

BOOT: Thank you.

BERMAN: Thank you very much.

BOOT: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, John, there is more frustration this morning in Newark, New Jersey, as people face a water crisis. Now there's a problem with the bottled water.


[06:50:48] CAMEROTA: There is anger in Newark, New Jersey, over the city's water crisis. People are furious after the city stopped handing out bottled water because they had expired months ago.

CNN's Athena Jones is live in Newark with more.

Now what, Athena?


Well, some residents of Newark may have been drinking lead- contaminated tap water for months. Advocates say for years. Samples in 2015 showed high levels of lead at some 10 percent of tested addresses. That's according to the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council. The city tried to patch up their problem by handing out water filters to some residents, but testing in early August showed unacceptably high levels of lead at two residences, suggesting those filters aren't working as they should.

Now the city is handing out bottled water it says out of an abundance of caution. And Newark is far from the only city to face concerns about the safety of its drinking water.


JONES (voice over): Residents in New Jersey's biggest city facing long lines for bottled water after testing in early August showed unacceptably high levels of lead at two residences. Authorities suspended the handouts for several hours Tuesday upon

discovering the water provided had a use by date of May 2019, leaving city residents frustrated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They keep saying come back, we'll give you another date, you know, another time. It's crazy. They're unorganized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your message to the mayor?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get it together. Get it together. For all of us.

JONES: But the state's health department says there is no shelf life for bottled water, as long as it is unopened.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit advocacy group, filed a federal lawsuit against the city over the contamination problems.

ERIK OLSON, NRDC DRINKING WATER EXPERT: Newark is certainly a lesson to us all and an extreme example of the kinds of contamination problems that are very serious there.

JONES: The problem lies not at the source. The city says water leaving its treatment plants is lead-free. But it becomes contaminated when it travels through service pipes.

MARC EDWARDS, VIRGINIA TECH ENGINEERING PROFESSOR: All the lead always comes from the plumbing. But, nonetheless, we have a law to protect people.

JONES: Experts say water filters are supposed to be a short-term fix, but the only long-term solution is replacing the service lines.

GLENN BODY, NEWARK RESIDENT: I have the purified water filter, but I don't use it anymore because they say some of them is not working correctly. So I don't use it anymore.

JONES: There is no safe level of lead in drinking water according to experts. With even low levels of lead linked to serious, irreversible damage to developing brains. Children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable. And Newark's challenges aren't uncommon. While the Environmental Protection Agency says the U.S. has world class drinking water standards, a 2018 report found that nationwide nearly a third of public water systems serving some 90 million Americans had at least one violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The EPA estimates it will cost more than $740 billion to fix America's water system. An investment advocates and experts say is essential.

OLSON: It's time for our politicians, it's time for our government to recognize that everyone has a right to safe drinking water.


JONES: And there could be a development soon on the legal front. The Natural Resources Defense Council, along with a group of Newark teachers, filed suit against the city of Newark in U.S. district court arguing it failed to comply with federal laws, specifically with the Safe Drinking Water Act. A hearing in that case is set for tomorrow here in Newark.


BERMAN: This is a basic human necessity.

Athena, thank you very much for bringing us this story.

So Wing Ding Dinners and corn dogs, a part of life really, but also part of running for president. So, which candidates are getting the blue ribbon from Chris Cillizza at the Iowa State Fair? His "Midweek Grades" coming up.

CAMEROTA: Why aren't you talking about --


[06:58:47] CAMEROTA: Well, the Trump administration's crackdown on immigration apparently was good fodder for late night laughs. Here they are.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Trump wasn't at the White House today. He was at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey. And so instead of the spacious White House lawn, he held the press conference about six inches from the whirling blades. And he had this to yell about his new immigration policy.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think it's fair to have the American taxpayer, you know, it's about America first. I don't think it's fair to have the American taxpayer pay for people to come into the United States.

COLBERT: American taxpayers should only cover the important stuff, like my helicopter rides to and from the golf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly not prepared to take anything down off the Statue of Liberty. We have a long history of being one of the most welcoming nations in the world.

COLBERT: We don't want to take anything away from that poem, which said, you know, ultimately just want to add one word, psych.


CAMEROTA: I mean it's actually a little too close to be funny for me.

BERMAN: Right. Right.

CAMEROTA: I mean --

BERMAN: This is just reality.

CAMEROTA: I don't know if that was humor or just political commentary.

[07:00:04] BERMAN: Thank you.


BERMAN: All right, we have new reporting on gun discussions or discussions to battle gun.