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U.S. Border Chief: Migrant Crossings Continue to Decline; Polls Open for Special Election for Congressional Representative in North Carolina; Reporting Indicates Russian Asset for U.S. Extracted from Russia Due to Intelligence Communications Concerns over President Trump's Handling of Intelligence; Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) Interviewed about Gun Control Legislation. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 10, 2019 - 08:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to become even harder to collect human intelligence in Russia. It takes years to recruit and develop a source like this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, September 10th. It's 8:00 in the east. Alisyn is on assignment. Bianna Golodryga here for hour three.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Now I can say two hours down, right.

BERMAN: It's election day. The polls are open. Voters heading to the polls in North Carolina for a special election that could tell us a let about the Trump presidency. This is a do-over of a House election from 2018, the results of which were thrown out because of evidence of election fraud by the Republican candidate's campaign. Now Donald Trump won this longtime Republican district by double digits in 2016. The fact that it's even close spells huge problems for Republicans. And right now the polls do show a dead heat between Republican Dan Bishop and the Democrat Dan McCready. So today's vote is a big test for a president whose approval rating is now down to 38 percent in a new national poll, 38 percent, down six points since July.

GOLODRYGA: That's a significant drop for the president.

Also, we have new details about a CNN exclusive first reported by our colleague Jim Sciutto. The source tells CNN a top spy extracted from Russia had direct access to Vladimir Putin and could even provide images of documents on the Russian leader's desk. The decision to remove the informant was driven, in part, by concerns that President Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence that could have exposed the informant as a spy. The Kremlin this morning is now responding, and we'll have much more on that in just a moment.

BERMAN: We're going to begin, though, in North Carolina where, as we said, the polls are open. CNN's Dianne Gallagher live in Charlotte. And Dianne, the mere fact that both President Trump and Vice President Pence have been campaigning in that district in the last 24 hours shows you how important they see this race.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, I'm going to be honest. I look for any reason at all to come back to Charlotte. But the mere fact that I am here reporting on this for CNN right now shows you what kind of situation we are in. District nine went for President Trump and Mitt Romney by 12 points each. Right now, it is considered a toss-up between Dan McCready, the Democrat, and Dan Bishop, the Republican.

We have started to see pretty light but steady flow of people coming in to these polls for a special election, about what you would expect. Right now, early voting indicates that the Democrats have a slight edge in this. But again, this is something that the Republicans have put a lot of time and money into. The president last night at a rally in Fayetteville with Dan Bishop talking about how important this was. He said that winning this district was the beginning of winning back the House and eventually putting him back in the White House, something that Dan Bishop has campaigned on significantly here, not putting much light between him and the president out on the campaign trail.

Now, look, that's the two-time state senator. He's going up against a former Marine, Dan McCready, who actually ran the original time back in 2018. He lost by 905 votes to the former Republican candidate. But those results were never certified because of allegations of significant election fraud, ballot fraud on behalf of that candidate. People here tell me, John, that right now that that has played a little bit into their vote. They just want a representative, though. They say that they are glad that this is finally here, that they can get themselves a congressperson, someone to represent them, hopefully by the end of the day. It's been almost a year.

BERMAN: It's been almost a year. And, again, this is being seen as an election that will tell us a lot, a lot about the health, the political health of the Trump presidency. So we'll be watching it all day long. Dianne Gallagher in Charlotte, thanks very much.

GOLODRYGA: The president will be watching it all day as well.

BERMAN: No doubt.

BAIER: We are also learning new details this morning about the CIA spy that the U.S. extracted from Russia. CNN's Jim Sciutto broke this story yesterday, and we are now learning that the spy had access to Vladimir Putin and could even photograph government documents on Putin's desk. The Kremlin is dismissing our reporting from this morning. And Jim joins us now. Jim, it has been a busy 24 hours for you. I'm not sure if you saw Congressman Jim Himes was on here earlier, and stunned at the access that you were able to get with this story and the developments. What are you hearing now? JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: So first, let's talk about this source. More details we can report this morning. A Russian asset, a spy, really, who had served as an informant for the CIA for more than a decade had reached the highest levels of Russia's national security infrastructure, and, as you mentioned, had direct access to the Russian president, including the ability, like out of a spy novel, to take photographs of presidential documents.

This individual's intelligence was key to the intel community's assessment that when Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, they did so at the direction of the Russian president. And the intention was not just to disrupt American politics but to advantage Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.


So a very key source at the highest levels who is now lost to the U.S., and that's a significant loss. A little background here. We should be clear the concerns about the safety of this source prior to the extraction developed over months. It was first during the end of the Obama administration when the source was offered extraction. The administration became concerned precisely because intelligence from this source was included in that assessment of Russian interference in the election.

But those concerns grew during the early months of the Trump administration, and I'm told by a former Trump administration official directly involved in the discussions of this extraction that the president's repeated mishandling and his administration's repeated mishandling of classified intelligence contributed to that decision to take this person out.

GOLODRYGA: How does this development impact cultivating and recruiting new spies and assets in Russia for us now?

SCIUTTO: It's only bad, and you can hear that from the public comments, for example, of the Director Jim Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence on CNN last night. This is already a hard thing to do. It's hard to recruit foreign intelligence sources anywhere. It's particularly hard in a country such as Russia which, as you know very well, is a police state. There's enormous amounts of surveillance. It's hard to meet up with these people.

GOLODRYGA: Putin himself a former spy?

SCIUTTO: He knows a thing or two about intelligence and how to get it and how to block it. So it's difficult in what intel calls denied areas. Now that you have someone who the intelligence agencies felt they had to get out for their own safety, that, of course, puts this kind of thing in the public eye where you don't want it discussed, but also will plant fears in the minds of potential recruits.

BERMAN: The administration is responding to your report.

SCIUTTO: The administration is. I'll read directly from the CIA statement. It says that "CNN's narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life or death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false." I would just note in the middle of that, that does not describe our story. It continues, "The misguided speculation that the president's handling of our nation's most sensitive intelligence, which he has access to each and every day, drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate."

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to comment. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said, quote, "CNN's reporting is not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger." I want to be clear here. I worked on this story for a number of weeks. I spoke to a number of officials about this, and tested each contention repeatedly with multiple sources. And on this issue that White House or the CIA claiming that there were no concerns and the intel community about the president's handling of intelligence, that's just not grounded. Multiple officials said this, and you heard Jim Himes who is on the Intelligence Committee say the same thing, concern that this is a president who does not have discipline with America's most closely held secrets.

And I'll just give two examples. One, May, 2017, Oval Office meeting, widely reported, the president sharing intelligence given to the U.S. with the Israeli with the Russian foreign minister and then ambassador to the U.S. It was immediately following that meeting that the decision to extract this Russian spy took place. Two months later, President Trump meets Vladimir Putin at the G20 in Hamburg. Again, in a private meeting after that, the intel community concerned that the president again improperly discussed intelligence. So any contention there is not concern in the intelligence community about how the president handles intelligence is just not backed by loads of folks who serve today in the intel community.

GOLODRYGA: Quite a stunning bombshell. Thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

BERMAN: I want to bring in Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia. He is now on the Senate Armed Services Committee. But Senator, you were, for a time, on the Intelligence Committee. I do want to tell people, you're here to talk about guns, because you're central to the discussions about guns this week and maybe going forward. But I do want to ask you based on your experience, your reaction to Jim's reporting, and whether or not you had any concerns over the last several years about the way that the president has handled classified information.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D-WV): John, first of all, I have the utmost respect for the 17 intelligence agencies that we depend on every day to keep America secured and American citizens safe. And I think we should protect them by all means that we have available to us and all the resources that are needed. It's invaluable what they do to keep this country the strongest in the world and the safest. None of us in public office who take an oath should be talking about this whatsoever because those of us on these committees and intelligence committees, the Intel Committee, I couldn't even talk to the other 85 senators. There's 15 of us that served on that committee. And that's how important we take that position.

This is harmful. It can't be done. And to pull somebody out, you can imagine trying to get somebody back in, John. It's going to be almost impossible in enough time to keep our election safe. When you have the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell protecting, not allowing us to vote on basically voting security, polling security, we know the Russians did what they did. Everybody knows the Russians did what they did.


And there should be no denying by anybody and public official, especially those of White House have had access to all the information and the secretive information and how we obtained it. That's something that I hold very near and dear, and I'm going to protect it with everything I have.

BERMAN: On the subject of things that everybody knows, everybody knows that there's been a horrific plague of gun violence in this country over the last several years, and particularly mass shootings this summer. You've proposed legislation years ago, Manchin-Toomey, Toomey-Manchin, which would expand background checks. You met with the president last week and talked to him about this.


BERMAN: Where does the president stand on your legislation, and where does the president stand on expanding background checks?

MANCHIN: First of all, I'm still very encouraged that the president will do the right thing, and that's basically the common gun sense. The bill I wrote way back in 2013, and Pat joined me and we worked together on this to make something that was responsible and something that would have absolute effect on how we keep our streets and how we keep our neighborhoods and how we keep our towns safe. And it starts first of all by closing the loopholes that we have in the background check bill. We want to make sure that any commercial transaction is recorded and we know about it.

People are now raising the flag about registry. We've never had a problem or a concern about gun registry, someone is going to take your guns away. And I told President Trump, I said Mr. President, there's not a person in this country believes that you're going to invade their privacy or come and threaten to take their guns away.

But enough is enough, and gun sense, common gun sense, is needed. There's a lot of good pieces of legislation. He can put in an omnibus bill and we'll call it the Common Gun Sense Bill 2019. It doesn't have to have anybody's name on it, but you're talking about things such as identifying people who could be of harm to themselves and their society as a whole, going and taking actions and mental illness, helping people. And then we're talking about fixing NICS, our national registry to where if someone is basically denied in any part of this country, then we notify the authorities to make sure that that person does not have further intent of doing harm. These are common sense things. As long as there's due process, we can protect people. But we need to protect society.

BERMAN: Did the president commit to supporting your measures?

MANCHIN: There's no commitment, not at all. No commitment at all. There's a commitment to continue to work, and I appreciate that, and I'm working with the president and with his staff. And we have differences. We talk those differences out. We had over a half hour meeting last Thursday. The president was very engaged.

BERMAN: What would the president's support do in terms of helping your proposals get through? How important would his stamp of approval be?

MANCHIN: Let me just tell you, without President Trump's stamp of approval, there will be no common gun sense done whatsoever I don't believe, because I don't believe my Republican colleagues will be able to move without his cover.

And I told him, I said, Mr. President, your base is not going anywhere. You can't blow your base off any way, shape or form. The other thing is, there's a lot of your base, 70, 80 percent of this base, and I'm a proud gun owner, a law-abiding gun owner. I'm not going to sell my gun to a stranger or to someone who is mentally ill or someone who is not responsible. That's how we're taught. Can't we at least close it down to where those we don't know? These types of things we've talked about. Straw purchases. Should a family member, an associate or a significant other be able to go in and buy for someone that we know and they know, they know has been turned down and can't legally buy a gun? That should be illegal. These are Democrat and Republican bipartisan deals, John, that we're working on. I'm hopeful the president will take that serious and work with us. But right now, we'll see what comes out.

BERMAN: We will see. We need to hear from him directly on this. I just want to play one bit of sound from his rally last night where he talked about Democrats and religion. And I want your reaction as someone who is a Democrat of faith. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our evangelicals are here tonight, and they're all over the place.


TRUMP: And what we've done for them and for religion is so important. The other side, I don't think they're big believers. They're not big believers in religion. That I can tell you.


BERMAN: He said Democrats are not big believers in religion. Your response to that?

MANCHIN: Let me just say what I told to President Trump when we spoke one time. I said Mr. Trump, I don't know why you pick, President Trump, why you pick on Democrats. If it wasn't for disgruntled Democrats, you wouldn't be president of the United States. These are people that make decisions. We had a heart and soul. I tell people I'm fiscally responsible and socially conservative.


MANCHIN: I'm a Democrat. But I have a lot of great Republican friends who I admire and work with every day.

I can't understand this division. I wish he wouldn't do it. I've begged him not to do it.

This is not who we are as a country. You can't divide us and then reunite us. It doesn't work that way.

And to think that all Republicans or all Democrats are bad if you're on the other side is un-American. It's not who we are.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Joe Manchin, thanks for coming on this morning.

MANCHIN: Thanks.

BERMAN: Look forward to speaking to you again very soon as these gun discussions continue.

MANCHIN: We'll see what happens this week. We're still waiting.


So dozens of hurricane evacuees from the Bahamas were told to get off a Florida-bound ferry if they did not have U.S. travel visas. We're going to speak to America's border chief about exactly what the rules are and message he wants to send to the Bahamian people in crisis.


BERMAN: A ferry boat operator is apologizing for ordering dozens of Hurricane Dorian evacuees to get off one of its boats leaving the Bahamas for Florida.


This is the announcement those passengers heard.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All passengers that don't have U.S. visa, please proceed to disembark.


BERMAN: One woman told a reporter as many as 130 people left the ferry, including families with children.

Joining us now is the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan.

Commissioner, thank you for being with us.

I'm really glad you're here just to clearly lay out for those people suffering in the Bahamas who may want to come to the United States, what exactly do they need to get here? What are the rules?

MARK MORGAN, ACTING COMMISSIONER, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: John, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity sincerely. Look, the requirements remain the same for anyone trying to come to the United States. And the requirements are, specifically for the individuals impacted by the Bahamas, they need travel documents, including the visa. That's the basic requirement and that remains.

Now what happened there is that that captain of that vessel, he knows that, and he knew that if he came to the United States with individuals without travel documents, it would have taken a long time because we're going to do what we always do and that's properly vet everybody. And if they don't have those travel documents, it's going to slow the process down.

What he wanted to do was keep going back and forth and make as many trips. So that captain made the decision.

And keep in mind both in Freeport and Nassau, which was largely unaffected, we have the Department of State there and that's where individuals who don't have travel documents can get the travel documents and then come to the United States.

BERMAN: But if they get here and they don't have their documents, you also want people to know that there is a process to get them in, yes?

MORGAN: Absolutely, John. You're spot on. That's important. We're trying to strike that balance. We don't want this mass exodus from the Bahamas. That's not what the government wants and that's not really in their best interest.

But those individuals who do make it to the United States that don't have travel documents, of course, you're spot on. We're going to apply discretion on a case-by-case basis. We're not going to deny somebody solely because they don't have travel documents.

But keep in mind the president and I both said this yesterday. One of the challenges the American people need to understand, and we've seen this in the past when there's natural disasters. Unfortunately, bad people use a crisis like this to try to gain entry into the United States illegally. And that's why we need this requirement and we're going to do extreme vetting like we always do to prevent that.

BERMAN: And I understand that. Have you seen any evidence that this wave of bad people that the president seemed to be addressing yesterday is trying to get here?

Our Patrick Oppmann who has been on the island for days just sees a lot of suffering and people in need. MORGAN: So, first of all, probably a little bit objection to

categorizing it as a wave. Nobody has said that. I have not said that and I'm not going to say that.

What I will say is history has shown us that there are bad people that do take advantage of that. Have we seen any of that right now? No. In fact, the majority of people have actually had some form of travel document.


MORGAN: A few haven't had visas but again we've applied that discretion and we've allowed them in.

BERMAN: All right. I want to move on to some other big news which you announced yesterday which is that border apprehensions fell substantially in August down to 64,000. That's apprehensions and people deemed inadmissible. We can put up this chart.

Well, that's -- that's the chart for the year. But 64,000 was the chart for August, down from July. What do you attribute this to? And it's more, just to be clear, this is more than just any seasonal adjustments. Statistically speaking, they fell much larger than that, correct?

MORGAN: John, you're absolutely right. Usually in this month, like last year, the numbers actually went up 16 percent this time last year during the same time period. 22 percent drop. In the last 90 days, we've had a 57 percent drop.

And let me make -- this needs to be clear. This is being driven, absolutely, from this president and this administration's initiatives. There's a whole network of policies and unilateral negotiations with the government of Mexico and our partners in the Northern Triangle countries that have got them to step up, join us as true partners, see this as a regional crisis and really put forth an unprecedented effort that's directly led to the reduction of these numbers.

BERMAN: Now, it dropped to 64,000 from 82,000 in July. Just so people know, last year, that number in August went up. So this is statistically speaking a different trend we're seeing.

Something else interesting that happened that you reported yesterday, which is that 42,000 people have been removed from the United States to Mexico to await the asylum process there.

I guess my question to you is, do you think they are -- where are they safer? Where are these people safer? In the United States or Mexico as they await this process?

MORGAN: So, we have been negotiating with Mexico for quite awhile on this. And Mexico, they have committed to accepting these individuals and providing them the appropriate level of humanitarian care and protection.

[08:25:02] They've committed to that. And I -- look, every country has challenges. We had challenges with overcrowdedness. We're trying to assist Mexico every single day we can to improve their conditions just like we're trying to improve conditions on our side every single day as well.

BERMAN: All right. Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, we appreciate the conversation and you coming on. We look forward to speaking to you again as this process continues.

MORGAN: You bet. Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Bianna?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it is hard to believe but tomorrow will be 18 years since the 9/11 attacks. We're hearing new firsthand accounts from those on the front lines that day.

We're going to be sharing some of their personal stories coming up next.


BERMAN: Eighteen years ago tomorrow, America lost nearly 3,000 people in the September 11th attacks. A new book tells the stories of the people on the front lines that fateful day, and it does so in their own words. It includes the first ever interview with the commander who asked Vice President Dick Cheney for clearance to shoot down hijacked planes.

Joining me now is CNN contributor Garrett Graff. He's the author of "The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11".

And, Garrett, I have to say, this book is gripping. And it is a triumph.