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Ethics Experts Cry Foul over Bill Barr's Planned Party at Trump Hotel; Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) Discusses Bill Barr's Planned Party at a Trump Hotel, Trump Touting His Doral Resort for the Next G-7, Impeachment, Trump Offering Pardons for Those Breaking the Law to Build Wall; 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; Joint Chief's Dunford Won't Make Judgement on Trump; V.A. Hospital in W.V. Under Scrutiny After 11 Deaths & Lawsuit Filed after Medical Examiner Says Patient Death a Homicide. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: Ethics watchdogs are waiving a big red flag over a holiday party that the attorney general, William Barr, is planning to host. The reason is that the party is being held at his boss President Trump's hotel and it's reportedly going to cost more than $30,000.

It's important to note that Barr is paying for the party out of his own pocket. It's his money. He is not using taxpayer dollars.

But this is still being seen as problematic because essentially he is giving his boss tens of thousands of dollars, which could be viewed as an attempt to curry favor or cozy up to the boss, who loves to promote his own properties.

Now, Barr says that the hotel where he usually hosts the holiday party canceled on him and another hotel didn't have the date that he needed. Wasn't available.

And he says that this was all cleared by ethics officials to host this party at Trump's D.C. hotel.

It's also about the location. If you look at the map, Trump's hotel is right next door to the Department of Justice, where Barr's office is located, just a two-minute walk.

Does this move actually make sense?

With us now is Democratic Congressman Madeleine Dean, of Pennsylvania, who serves on the Judiciary Committee and the Financial Services Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining me today.

At first glance, this holiday party would seem to raise ethical questions. Bill Barr hosting a $30,000 party at his boss' hotel. When you hear that those two other hotels were unavailable, that Barr is paying it for it himself, that it's not taxpayer dollars, it's just convenient, does that make is sit better with you?

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): Of course not. Imagine the top law enforcement official decides to throw a party, ingratiating himself and enriching the Trump Organization and the Trump family.

There's a concept at law, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. How it is that this attorney general doesn't try to avoid the appearance of impropriety and waves in front of ethics and the American public that two other hotels in our very large city of Washington, D.C. couldn't accommodate his time or his date.

It's an absurdity. It's a flagrant misuse of resources and of his office.

He is not even bothering to avoid the appearance of impropriety. It's highly unethical.

MARQUARDT: And, Congresswoman, if you look at the past 48 hours, this is the latest on a growing list of questionable ethics moves.

On top of Barr's party later this year, we've learned that the president is directing officials to break the law in order to build that wall on the southern border, then promising pardons if they do.

He is reprogramming, as they say, money from the FEMA budget to put towards immigration.

And then he's planning to hold next year's G-7 summit at one of his own properties, Doral golf course outside of Miami. We hearing the White House hasn't definitively decided that's going to happen.

The big question, Congresswoman is: Where is the congressional oversight for all of this?

DEAN: Fortunately, I'm honored to sit on two committees of congressional oversight, Judiciary and Financial Services. So this wave of unethical, inappropriate behavior is under investigation by our committees and by other committees of jurisdiction.

You saw, for example, the Deutsche Bank revelation. As a result of our oversight and our legal counsel arguing Friday before the courts that we have a right and a need as a result of oversight to take a look and see if Deutsche Bank has the tax returns of Mr. Trump or his family members -- they also asked it of Capital One.

In letters received by the court, we now know that Deutsche Bank, in its unusual lending to Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization, despite the bankruptcies of his past, does have tax returns. So we are doing our oversight.

Remember, we're in the face of extraordinary obstruction by this administration, denying people's rights or obligation to come forward as a result of our subpoenas in the Judiciary Committee, denying us the tax return information from the Financial Services Committee.

But the good news is that we have a third branch of government, co- equal branch, the justice -- the judiciary, which is seeing things our way.

We have a duty, constitutional duty in the face of extraordinary corruption and obstruction by this president.

MARQUARDT: Congresswoman, when it comes to impeachment, if the president is, indeed, ordering aides, telling them to break the law with promises of a later pardon, is that impeachable, in your opinion?

DEAN: Well, of course, I think there's a tremendous number of impeachable offenses that this president is guilty of in plain sight and some behind closed doors.

Take a look of the facts of that reporting today, that the president said, before my election -- not because I really think we need a border wall. For my election, for my personal political gain, build that wall. Paint it black. Disregard people's property rights. Don't worry if you think you might be breaking the law. I will offer you pardons.

[13:35:06] That's just some of the layering of the self-dealing that this president is involved in.

But I want to contrast that. And that is grievous. That's just the grievousness of today, or one of the grievousness of today. I want to contrast that.

I've been home in my district. My constituents care that we do our constitutional duty of oversight. Many have come up to me and said please impeach this man, remove him from office. He is not worthy of the title president nor of that office.

But they care about health care. They care deeply about ending gun violence. They care about protecting our environment. They care about ethical good government.

And look what this president has done, used the resources of his office, the resources of our government for personal, political, financial gain, and cover-up of criminal activity.

I listen to my constituents. We'll do the oversight. But we're also going to work and demand that we protect people from gun violence, that we pass background checks, that we shame this Senate into getting off its hands and passing H.R.-8.

We have so much work to do. And this president is just draining the resources and using, whether it's the Army Corps of Engineers or Homeland Security or FEMA, the resources that we have promised for protection against disasters like the possible coming hurricane.

This president is just daily doing such wrongdoing and the American people will tolerate it not much longer.

MARQUARDT: Congresswoman, we need to leave it there.

Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, of Pennsylvania, thank you so much.

DEAN: Thank you so much.

MARQUARDT: Right now, Tropical Storm Dorian is strengthening as it takes aim at Puerto Rico and Florida. We will take you there.

Plus, a veterans hospital under investigation after nearly a dozen suspicious deaths. That's coming up.


[13:41:35] MARQUARDT: It's a candid recollection of his final days in the White House. Former defense secretary, General James Mattis, is opening up about his experience and why he decided to step down.

In a "Wall Street Journal" essay adapted from Mattis' upcoming book set to be released next week, Mattis writes, quote, "I did as well as I could for as long as I could. When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign."

CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, is here with me.

Admiral, this essay covered a lot of different subjects and it's clearly coming from a man who has had time to ponder his time in the administration in the months since he left. What was your first reaction to the essay?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I thought it was very thoughtful, candid. I felt it was less candid and less pointed than his resignation letter, which was very direct about why he was walking away, particularly this idea that allies are no longer important and you don't need them going forward.

So, it did cover a lot of ground, certainly laid out his thinking. I don't think it was, in fact, more candid than his resignation letter.

MARQUARDT: The president has often railed on the state of the military, that President Obama left it in.

And one of the things that Mattis said in this essay, as he was preparing for his Senate confirmation hearings that he was reading intelligence reports, and that he was struck, and I'm going to quote here, "by the degree to which our competitive military edge was eroding, including our technological advantage. We would have to focus on regaining that edge."

Do you think that Mattis helped regain that edge in his time there?

KIRBY: If he was here, I think he would tell you he certainly didn't get there, but he certainly tried.

If you look at artificial intelligence, unmanned systems, use of lasers, cyber offensive and defensive capabilities and certainly exploring opportunities in space, Jim Mattis certainly helped accelerate the Pentagon's research and development in those areas, no question about it. He presided over one of the largest -- the largest-ever historical

budget that DOD has ever been presented, more than $700 billion.

It's also fair to say that some of that progress had been going on before he got there. There had been a lot of attention over the last 18 years in the war on terrorism, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which took resources and time and talent away from some of the hard-power capabilities that Jim Mattis wanted to get things back to.

So he did reorient the military more toward threats like Russia and China.

MARQUARDT: Rear Admiral John Kirby, thank you for your expertise.

KIRBY: You bet.

MARQUARDT: Tropical Storm Dorian closing in on Puerto Rico as it makes its way toward the United States, the mainland United States. The National Weather Service will release its latest update any moment.

[13:44:20] Plus, in a rare moment today in the United Kingdom, one some are calling outrageous. Why the queen approved the suspension of parliament at the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson's request.


MARQUARDT: The British prime minister's latest move in the Brexit battle is sparking widespread outrage and fury across the pond. Boris Johnson has rattled lawmakers after asking and receiving approval by the queen, Elizabeth II, to suspend parliament next month.

This would shorten the amount of time lawmakers have to block a possible Brexit decision, to leave the union without a deal on October 31st. It also solidifies Johnson's footing by giving him the upper hand with the European Union since the prime minister essentially controls the agenda in parliament and they must deal with him directly.

[13:50:01] Some opposition members have accused Boris Johnson of a coup, accused him of acting like a dictator. The criticism wasn't just committed to the opposition. Members of his own Conservative Party called it, quote, "an outrageous act."

CNN reporter, Anna Stewart, is live outside the prime minister's residence at 10 Downing Street.

Anna, how is Boris Johnson justifying suspending British parliament?

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in an interview today, Alex, he was asked, about his opponents, and protesters have actually gotten to Downing Street now. He said, this is not driven by Brexit. The reason he is suspending parliament, according to a fresh session, he said, he's a new prime minister, he needs to put out his domestic policy.

It's very usual for a new prime minister to parlay parliament and introduce a new session with the queen's speech.

What is unusual here, it's the context. We are in political crisis over Brexit. He knows full well that opponents from different political parties and representatives from his own party are looking for ways to legislate against him, to force him not to have an ideal Brexit. He doesn't get a deal with E.U. by October 31.

Today, he has frustrated that. And he's caused huge political upset. As he said, people are calling this un-democratic and outraged. They've had enough.

We've seen protesters, I can't tell you how many, from Westminster all the way up to Downing Street.

Yet, this is a day when no one was expecting anything of particular note to happen in Brexit -- Alex?

MARQUARDT: More unexpected drama in the Brexit saga.

Anna Stewart, outside 10 Downing Street, thanks very much.

Just in, in a rare briefing, the Pentagon just said that China and Russia are building up their forces to challenge the U.S. More on that.

Plus, breaking news on the storm heading for Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland. Dorian is now a hurricane after strengthening just moments ago.

Stand by.


[13:56:36] MARQUARDT: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, moments ago, responding to former Defense Secretary James Mattis' recent words about his time in the Trump administration. Take a listen.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Do you agree with Secretary Mattis, who you've known so many years? Do you believe there's tribalism in this country that certainly threatens democracy?

And to ask you to also report as best you can on how you see President Trump changing over the last couple years as -- in his role as commander-in-chief. We well know you do not like to talk about the president, but this may be our last opportunity to ask you, so we want to.

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Barbara, as you know, I've worked very hard to remain apolitical and make political judgments. And your first question is not in my lane.

I worked hard to provide military advice to the secretary, military advice to the president, other members of the National Security Council, and make sure our men and women in uniform have the wherewithal to do their job. I'm going to stay in that lane.

And that gets to the second part of your question, which is I will not now, nor will I when I take off the uniform, make judgments about the president of the United States or the commander-in-chief. I just won't do it.


MARQUARDT: Criticism there of the former secretary of defense, James Mattis. Dunford and the defense secretary, Mark Esper, are holding a rare news conference there at the Pentagon. More on what they're saying up ahead.

Now, switching gears, in West Virginia, there has been a string of 11 suspicious deaths at the same V.A. medical center, and that's under investigation.

The family of an 82-year-old patient, Felix McDermott, filed a wrongful death claim against the V.A. A medical examiner ruled that McDermott's death last year was a homicide.

CNN government regulation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is with us now.

Rene, what made the medical examiner declare McDermott's death a homicide?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: This family went to the extent of having his body exhumed. He died in April of 2019, and the medical examiner was able to determine that he died from low blood pressure, which was, according to the family and their family, a result of getting an insulin injection.

However, this 82-year-old Army veteran did not have diabetes. So they say, in a claim that they filed just like week, I'm quoting now, that he was, "injected with a fatal dose of insulin either negligently or willfully by an unidentified person."

Again, he was a patient at this V.A. medical center in Clarksburg, West Virginia. We're talking about the Louis A. Johnson V.A. Medical Center.

It's not just this one case. There's suspicion in other deaths involving other patients at this V.A. facility, between nine to 10 other individuals.

Now, the V.A. inspector general, as well as federal law enforcement officers, getting involved in this investigation to determine if these other individuals died the same way.

Right now, there's the suspicion that perhaps they, too, received these insulin shots that may very well have killed them.

MARQUARDT: That they did not need?

MARSH: Correct.

MARQUARDT: OK. Rene Marsh, we know you will stay on this suspicious and disturbing story. Thanks very much.

All right. That will do it for me this hour. I'm Alex Marquardt. Thanks so much for watching.

[14:00:00] CNN "NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.