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Trump Offering Pardons to Those Who Break the Law to Get Wall Built Quickly; White House Defends Transferring Money from Disaster Relief to Southern Border; James Mattis Speaks Out on Trump's Commander-in-Chief Style. Queen of England Approves P.M. Johnson's Plan to Suspend Parliament Ahead of Brexit; Trump Slams FOX News for "Heavily Promoting Democrats"; Ethics Experts Cry Foul over Bill Barr's Planned Party at Trump Hotel; Trump Touted His Doral Resort for the Next G-7 the U.S. Will Host; Report: Sackler Family Could Give Up Ownership of Purdue Pharma. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Do you buy that his aides, people around him in his orbit are saying he's only joking?

DAVID LAPAN, RETIRED MARINE COLONEL & FORMER SPOKESPERSON, PENTAGON & DHS: No, I don't. And I question why, if somebody, a White House official, who said he was only joking, did so anonymously. If they're going to have that position, why wouldn't they do so on the record?

WHITFIELD: OK. Now let's shift gears because we're talking about this Tropical Storm Dorian that is threatening Puerto Rico. It's right on the doorstep.

Now reportedly, DHS is moving $155 million from FEMA disaster relief to DHS for immigration enforcement. That's a lot of money. You know, what kind of aide, if constitute $155 million?

LAPAN: Well, what they're talking about is the disasters relief fund, known by its shorthand of DRF. It's a pot of money used to assist communities after natural disasters.

WHITFIELD: In what way would they be assisting?

LAPAN: It's rebuilding homes. It's providing funds to homeowners. It's providing repairs. It's oftentimes cleanup of debris and things of that nature. So there are all kinds of ways after a natural disaster hits that FEMA is involved in funding those.


WHITFIELD: Would that be a great deficiency, though? The White House is saying, wait a minute, there's still $447 million left in that fund in order to get the job done.

LAPAN: Well, they are taking some measure of risk. It could be that there's sufficient money.

While we're rightfully focused on Dorian because it's, you know, as you say, on the doorstep of hitting the island of Puerto Rico, we still have months to go in the Atlantic hurricane season. So what about the next storm and the next storm after that and the next storm after that?

So they're taking a chance by predicting that they'll have enough money, not knowing what Mother Nature is going to throw at us until the end of November.

WHITFIELD: And, David, as a retired Marine yourself, reading the excerpt from the book by former defense secretary, Jim Mattis, he writes, you know, about his decision to accept the job and why he resigned.

At first, he says, you know, "My career in the Marines brought me to that moment and prepared me to say yes to a job of that magnitude."

But then later, while he is the defense secretary, he reveals in this excerpt, "When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign."

So talk to me about this great discipline to duty that he exhibited, wrote about, and then all of that, you know, dedication and duty now being overridden by disappointment, almost a realization. Can you identify with what it is that he is maybe talking about?

LAPAN: I certainly can. As you noted, I served in the Trump administration for eight months at the beginning with all the best intentions. When, for me, personally, it became clear that I wasn't in sync and could no longer continue in that role. I decided to leave.

Everybody has that personal decision to make. Secretary Mattis made his. At the point he thought he could no longer continue to serve under those circumstances.

Again, what's forgotten a lot is there are career civil servants throughout the government that do this day in and day out and don't always share a political affiliation with the president of the United States. But they do their duty.

But they have to make a choice: At what point can they no longer serve with a good conscience?

WHITFIELD: Yes, it seems to say more about the leadership that they are observing or have experienced by the commander-in-chief.

David Lapan, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

LAPAN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, the Brexit battle in the U.K. The queen has just approved a controversial order to suspend parliament. It's Boris Johnson's play to keep lawmakers from blocking Brexit. The move is sparking outrage and moving global markets.

[11:34:05] Details straight ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Welcome back.

The queen of England has approved British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's request to suspend parliament. Opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is calling Johnson's move a, quote, "smash and grab on our democracy," end quote. And the speaker of the House says it is a constitutional outrage.

CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is live for us in a rainy London, per usual.

So, Nic, explain to us what this would mean for Brexit.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It makes a no- deal Brexit more likely because that's what Boris Johnson has been threatening to do.

Of course, the opposition parties were meeting yesterday in London to figure out a way to block him. They were trying to consider whether it would be better to have a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson's government and bring down that government and try to put something in its place or to find a legal mechanism to stop the no-deal Brexit.

So what Boris Johnson has done here is effectively take parliamentary time away from the opposition.

But what he's also doing here, while undermining them, he's also making -- giving himself a much stronger hand in Brussels in his negotiation with the European Union because he becomes more convincing in his argument that he's willing to do a no-deal Brexit.

[11:40:05] More convincing because, under Theresa May, you know, the European Union understood that parliament wasn't going to allow her to have a to-deal Brexit.

But now they can see very clearly, Johnson is on the offensive. He's sort of drawn battle lines with the opposition, and that he will be able to go through with the threat of a no deal.

The real question is, will he be able to get a better negotiated solution with the European Union because of this. So far, the answer appears to be no.

But this is the -- I have to say, this is the beginning now of a period of very intense political battles here, the likes of which we haven't seen before -- Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right. Nic Robertson, I feel like those chimes are trying to soothe those ruffled feathers. Something tells me that's not going to be enough. Thank you so much.

All right. Is President Trump changing the channel? Trump slamming FOX News this morning. Details on why he says his favorite network just isn't working for him anymore. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:46:58] WHITFIELD: Did FOX News just lose one of its most faithful viewers? President Trump taking to Twitter to accuse the network of, quoting now, "heavily promoting Democrats."

He said that on Twitter then went on to tweet this: "The new FOX News is letting millions of great people down. We have to start looking for a new news outlet. FOX isn't working for us anymore."

The response came after a FOX News interview with the DNC communications director.

CNN chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter, is here to discuss.

So what is so under his skin?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": It's like he's lending credence to all the critics who say that FOX is state-run TV.




STELTER: He's actually saying he believes that, and he wants the network to get in line and to be even more loyal to him.

This once again shows a lack of appreciation for journalism. Of course, normally, he's attacking this channel or other channels, but increasingly the president is also attacking FOX.

I think with his re-election campaign on his mind, he's thinking about FOX and trying to keep the network in line. He wants to quiet the journalists on the network. He doesn't want to see Democrats interviewed on the network. He doesn't want to see that. He wants to see his friends and his fans, the Jeanine Pirro's of the world, constantly.

He does promote them on a daily basis, but he does also wants to target FOX. This is his most blatant admission yet that he views FOX as an organ of the White House.

WHITFIELD: He doesn't want to see Democratic strategists either.


WHITFIELD: Donna Brazile is a fairly new hire, now on FOX.


WHITFIELD: She had her own explanations as to why she took that job, trying to inform the viewers of her point of view and how instructive that would be. He doesn't like that either. (CROSSTALK)

STELTER: No, and he's complained about Donna Brazile. He' complained about --

WHITFIELD: Juan Williams.

STELTER: -- Juan Williams and Shep Smith today.

Just after the DNC woman was on FOX this morning, a White House spokesman was on FOX. So the idea even of having two different people from two different parties is something that the president doesn't like.

Often times, these are impulsive tweets often. I don't want to read too much into them. But I think he's trying to work them, pressure FOX to only talk about him in favorable ways.

By the way, I did ask FOX for comment on this.


STELTER: Normally, a network, CNN has in the past, or NBC, they come out and defend their hosts, defend their anchors, and say that it's unacceptable for the president to attack news outlets. FOX has declined to comment.

I think that's because they're in this bind where they know their viewers are loyal to Trump --

WHITFIELD: But if --


STELTER: -- and they know their shows are as well, as well as the primetime hosts.

WHITFIELD: But if there's indeed a change of their approach -- yes, what's the credit or blame if there is indeed a change of their approach?

STELTER: I think they're, at FOX, the head of the networks is thinking about trying to cover the democratic primary, trying to cover the Democrat primaries. When the president turns on his favorite channel and sees them talking about his possible rivals, he turns to his Twitter feed.

WHITFIELD: Per usual.


WHITFIELD: Brian Stelter, thank you so much.

STELTER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And congrats on the new baby. STELTER: Thank you.


WHITFIELD: All right. Ethics experts are crying foul over U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr's plans for a big holiday bash in the nation's capital. The problem isn't D.C. The rub is that he's planning to hold that party at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. And it could cost more than $30,000, according to the Washington Post," which first reported on the party details.

U.S. Justice Department official is defending the party, telling CNN that it's not an official Justice Department event, and the U.S. attorney general is paying for the party out of his own pocket.

Well, does that make it better?

Joining me right now, Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

Good to see you.

So public versus private money, that's one issue. If it's not a legal matter, is it at the very least a conflict of interest or a matter of ethics?

ELIZABETH HEMPOWICZ, DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: I think that's a really good way to phrase the question because, even if something is street legal, you know, it may not necessarily be completely ethical or really in compliance with the spirit of the law.

I think you made an excellent point in the lead-in to this that there's a difference because this isn't an official Department of Justice event. That would be a totally different legal story.

But I think this is a story that's resonating with people, and part of the reason why is because there's this growing feeling that there's almost an expectation that senior government officials will spend at Trump Organization properties to curry favor with the president and, rightfully, that doesn't sit well with a lot of people.

[11:50:18] WHITFIELD: So, Barr claims that he consulted career ethics officials at the DOJ, who determined that he is not violating ethics rules at all. How is that possible?

HEMPOWICZ: That's interesting. The Office of Government Ethics, which the different departments legal offices should be working in consultation with, put out an opinion a few years ago that said, even if something is fully compliant with the law, if it would raise the appearance of a conflict of interest or if it would raise questions, legitimate questions about whether it's actually fully ethical, then you just shouldn't do it.

You should be taking every step you can as a government official to avoid those questions. Like I said earlier, this was so easily avoidable. There are so many

hotels in D.C.

And also, the president could have avoided this scrutiny if he had stepped away from his ownership of the Trump Organization when he came in and was sworn in as president.

WHITFIELD: It's understandable why it's so perplexing to so many. You're talking about the attorney general, the chief law enforcer. One would think that he would, at the very least, anticipate that there would be people questioning his motivation for doing so.

And, really, especially that it's private money and why would he show deference to a property owned by the Trump Organization.

HEMPOWICZ: Absolutely. I think, you know, it's things like this that erode public trust in the decision making at the highest levels of our government, and especially at the Department of Justice. And that's not good for anybody. That's not good for the administration and it's certainly not good for the American taxpayer.

WHITFIELD: This, on top of, you know, the president, you know, using her Doral Resort in Florida as the next location of the G-7 summit, the U.S. hosting it. That sparked its own criticism that he's using his presidency to generate revenue for his business. He was at the G- 7 promoting what he thinks is fabulous about his Doral Resort.

In any way, does that violate ethics rules?

HEMPOWICZ: I think that may very well violate the Emoluments Clause. And the Department of Justice is now is party to some of those lawsuits, defending the Trump Organization.

Which already, on its face, raises some questions because the Department of Justice is not there to be the personal attorneys and personal law firm for the president. It's the personal law firm for the American people.

But you're right. That does raise more -- much more serious questions. And I think even though -- you know, these cases are going through the court system right now.

And so just because the Department of Justice says it doesn't raise concerns about the Emoluments Clause, that doesn't mean that the courts will say that. And I think it's really important to keep in mind that those lawsuits are still working their way through the judicial system.

WHITFIELD: Liz Hempowicz, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

HEMPOWICZ: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Could the family who made billions off the sale of opioids forced to pay up? New reports that the owners of Purdue Pharma could settle thousands of lawsuits over the nation's opioid crisis.

Details on that straight ahead.


[11:58:10] WHITFIELD: Welcome back.

New reports this morning that Purdue Pharma, the company blamed for much of the nation's opioid crisis, is negotiating a deal to settle thousands of lawsuits. Under the proposal, the family that owns the company could contribute billions of dollars of their own money toward the settlement.

CNN's Erica Hill is here with details on this.

What are you hearing?

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR & NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we're hearing is CNN has confirmed that the company says it's in talks to settle thousands of lawsuits that accuse Purdue Pharma of creating the country's opioid epidemic.

Keep in mind here, there are hundreds of lawsuits. Some of them have been rolled into this one case in Ohio where the federal judge there has encouraged the parties, wants them to talk to each other to work out a settlement. We are expecting a regularly scheduled update on those talks in that case likely by the end of the week.

In terms of what this particular settlement could mean, NBC News is reporting this could be in the range of $10 to $12 billion for the Sackler family. It could mean they give up their control of the company, declare bankruptcy on that. They would contribute anywhere from $1 to $3 billion as part of that settlement, according to the "New York Times" and the "Washington Post."

We also reached out, just to get comment from the company. They wouldn't confirm a specific monetary amount but did say that the company plans to, in its words, "defend itself vigorously," noting they see little good of coming from years of wasteful litigation and appeals.

We should point out this would not be the first settlement that we've seen. A lot of talk on settlements on the heels of Johnson & Johnson in Oklahoma earlier this week. Purdue Pharma actually settled with the state of Oklahoma in a case there in March for $270 million.

So all eyes watching to see what's next.

WHITFIELD: Erica Hill, appreciate it. Thank you.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash starts right now.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield. See you tomorrow.