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DOJ Rejects McCabe Appeal To Avoid Prosecution; Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) Reacts To Democrats Voting To Ramp Up Trump Impeachment Inquiry; NTSB Has Just Issued A Preliminary Report On The South California Dive Boat Fire. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 12, 2019 - 14:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right, here we go. The Breaking News this afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN. Here's what we've got.

The Justice Department has just rejected an appeal from former FBI Deputy Director, Andrew McCabe who is now a CNN contributor. This is all about the recommendation to indict him after it was alleged that he made false statements to investigators. This all took place days before the 2016 presidential election.

So with me, Shimon Prokupecz, our CNN Crime and Justice Reporter to put this all in perspective, and CNN Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. So, first of all, what is this about?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: So it's really about whether or not Andrew McCabe was truthful with the Inspector General which was investigating leaks, contact that the FBI was having with reporters. And this all stems right before the election.

Andrew McCabe spoke to a "Wall Street Journal" reporter at the time, it was a "Wall Street Journal" reporter about a story they were writing that Andrew McCabe basically told the FBI and FBI agents who were investigating the Clinton Foundation to stand down, stop investigating the Clinton Foundation.

Obviously Andrew McCabe, he says he felt that the time that it was important to make sure that the right information got out there, that there was accurate information, and that he did nothing wrong. And so that contact with this reporter from "The Wall Street Journal" became the subject of the Inspector General's investigation.

And when they confronted him about his contact with the reporter, they say -- the Inspector General quote, "that he lacked candor," essentially, that's their way of saying he wasn't truthful to the Inspector General about those contacts, about his conversations with the reporter.

Andrew McCabe says, "I was confused about some of the questions, the way they asked the questions." And so they investigated, the Inspector General investigated and they recommended charges. In the end, they recommended charges to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C. And now it appears that that is what's happening.

So as a last ditch effort, McCabe's lawyers, his team, they went into the Department of Justice. They made an appeal. They said, "We do not believe you should charge Andrew McCabe and here is why." We are now being told the Department of Justice has rejected that last ditch effort -- that last appeal.

And now we all expect that he will be charged for making false statements essentially to Federal investigators, the Inspector General has considered federal investigators. So that's what he's going to be charged, with making false statements. At least that's what it appears to be at this point.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Let me just emphasize a point you started with. Andy McCabe is a CNN contributor. He is a colleague and a friend to many of us who work here. He is here recently, but I mean, people need to, you know, factor that into what they're hearing.

This is an extremely unusual prosecution. Andy McCabe had the right to speak to reporters. That is beyond dispute. As Deputy Director of the FBI he had the right to speak to reporters. He also has an impeccable record as one of the most honored and successful FBI agents of his generation.

Shimon did a very admirable job of explaining what went on. It's complicated.

BALDWIN: It is complicated.

TOOBIN: I mean, it is really difficult to understand even what the lie is here -- the alleged lie. The alleged lie is, well, you have the right to speak to the reporters, and you spoke to the reporters. Months later, describe what was in the conversation that you already -- that you had every right to have, at a time when he is being interviewed about a different subject.

You never have the right to lie to an Inspector General. If he lied, it's a crime. But lying to an Inspector General is very rarely prosecuted. Lying in these very esoteric circumstances where, you know, it's about this conversation and that conversation is rare.

You know, it looks like he's going to be indicted. But, you know, good luck to the government proving this case.

PROKUPECZ: I mean, this is an issue for McCabe. He was the Deputy Director of the FBI This is the number two guy at the FBI at the time, and I think in his mind, he could argue, "If I want to talk to reporters, I, as the Deputy Director should be able to do so."

BALDWIN: Should be able to do that.


PROKUPECZ: The issue I think also for the Inspector General and just in generally for the Department of Justice, and we've seen this with the Comey situations when you start talking about investigations, it's against regulation. It's not necessarily against the law, but it's against the guidelines of the Department of Justice to start confirming or not confirming investigations that are ongoing. And that's what we saw also in some of this, that they took issue with how he handled that.

TOOBIN: There's another important point to that -- to this context.


TOOBIN: The President of the United States has been on a crusade to disparage and insult Andrew McCabe for literally his entire presidency. He has been saying that McCabe was corrupt. McCabe's wife ran for the State Senate in Virginia, as a Democrat before all of this happened.

He has claimed -- the President has claimed some sort of bias. You'll recall that there was an Inspector General's investigation and McCabe was fired on the last possible day when he could be denied part of his pension.

I mean, there is every bit of a sign of a vindictive crusade against McCabe and McCabe has sued in a civil lawsuit to try to get to say that his firing was unjustified. That case is pending. He may also be fighting a criminal case.

BALDWIN: Okay. I think we've got it. Jeff Toobin, Shimon Prokupecz, it is complicated, but I appreciate both of you. The best folks to explain all of that to us. Thank you very much.

Let's move to this -- to Washington today. The House Judiciary Committee under the leadership of Chairman Jerry Nadler voted to move forward on the impeachment process for President Trump.


REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): This investigation will allow us to determine whether to recommend Articles of Impeachment with respect to President Trump. Some call this process an Impeachment Inquiry, some call it an Impeachment Investigation. There's no legal difference between these terms. We no longer can't argue about nomenclature.

With these new procedures, we will begin next week an aggressive series of hearings, investigating allegations of corruption, obstruction and abuse of power against the President.

The investigation will go well beyond the four corners of the Mueller report.


BALDWIN: Now, not surprisingly, the final vote 24-17 went along party lines. The Ranking Republican on the committee called the whole thing, "a snooze fest."


REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): It doesn't go outside the Committee, this does not go to the House floor. So they're covering for their moderates who don't want to vote for impeachment, a vast majority of those who don't want anything to do with this.


BALDWIN: And then there's this, the latest polling from Monmouth University shows that just 35 percent of voters think impeachment should be a priority right now. Even Democratic lawmakers are so divided over what the actual focus should be.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I would like to have a chance to weigh the consequences of this. I have no illusions about what will happen in the Senate. But I want to make sure that we can make the case to the country that that this President's conduct is so incompatible with office that we had to take this step.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I think that it is beyond time, and we have to end this lawlessness and corruption coming out of the White House.


BALDWIN: California Congresswoman Katie Hill is with me now. Congresswoman, a pleasure to have you back.

REP. KATIE HILL (D-CA): Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: In the recent past, I know you wouldn't quite say that you outright support impeachment. Did today's vote moves the needle at all for you?

HILL: No, today's vote is part of a series of steps that have been taken as part of this investigation that we know we have to have. We know that democracy is under attack from both our adversaries, but also from actions that have been taken within the administration.

I'm one of -- I'm on Oversight. I'm the Vice Chair on Oversight. So I'm one of the investigating committees. And I'm glad -- I hope that today clarifies that there is not an additional inquiry vote that needs to happen or an investigation vote that needs to happen. It is happening in judiciary, it's happening in these other committees. Ultimately, judiciary is going to decide whether or not to introduce Articles of Impeachment. I think that will happen probably by the end of the year.

BALDWIN: And where are you want all of this, Congresswoman? Where are you -- are you in favor of or not quite there yet?

HILL: Well, I'm definitely in favor of these investigations, and I'm in favor of the process -- the way that the process is playing out. I also think more importantly, though, when Articles are introduced, each and every one of us is going to have to weigh them and make the hardest decision that we will probably ever have to make in our political careers.

It's not an easy thing to decide whether to impeach the President and it shouldn't be and if anyone acts like it is, then I don't think that they're doing a service to their constituents and to our country as a whole.

So each one needs to be carefully considered. It could be one Article of Impeachment, it could be dozens. We don't know yet. And that's part of why this is so important. And there probably going to be many of us who might vote yes on one or several and no on others, but the number that people need to be thinking about is 218.


HILL: This will not come to the floor if 218 people are not going to vote on them. And that's just how it is.

BALDWIN: Someone who has been very cautious in all of this is the Speaker Nancy Pelosi. This is what she said today.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I support what is happening in the Judiciary Committee because that enables them to do their process of interrogation in their investigations.

QUESTION: Is the specific language not important? I mean, how should the American people understand the work of this Committee when the members are speaking very differently about it?

PELOSI: The American people will understand -- it's not -- you're the only ones who are so in this. They understand that impeachment is a very divisive measure. But if we have to go there, we will have to go there. But we can't go there unless we have the facts.


BALDWIN: But, you know, Congresswoman Hill, the reporter's point and the question, you know, what does it say that even after today's vote, Speaker Pelosi wouldn't even go there and use the "I" word and saying Impeachment Inquiry is underway? Isn't that confusing to the average American?

HILL: I don't think that -- I think we've seen so many people confused or unclear as to the definition or distinction between inquiry and investigation or procedure, because there's really not a technical distinction between them.

And so we've been using them fairly interchangeably, and that's our own fault, you know, as Members of Congress to not be more clear about it. I think it shows you that there's no boss that we're reporting to, except for our own voters and our own constituents.

And that it can cause a fair amount of I think, confusion, just generally speaking on language. And that's why it needs to be clear that we are in investigations that will result in a decision by the Judiciary Committee to recommend Articles to the House floor or not.

You know, personally, I think that those will be -- those Articles will be recommended. And I think that we're in a threat to our democracy to the point that that recommendation has to be seriously considered by each and every one of us, and the ultimate decision is going to be -- that's going to be the legacy that we leave.

BALDWIN: OK. Let me ask you about this letter that 145 CEOs from across the country, they've sent this letter to the Senate demanding action on gun violence. And we know that all these companies are stepping, as certain members of Congress are not.

You know, Walmart, other stores are banning open carry. Do you think we're witnessing a watershed moment here in this debate? And might these, you know, leaders in the business community actually gets certain politicians to act?

HILL: Well, unfortunately, I think that we have seen for many, many years that corporations tend to have a bigger say with some politicians than individuals do. So, you know, the activism that has happened by Moms Demand Action, and other groups that are organizing around this issue of gun safety.

If you're Members of Congress, or your Senators aren't listening, then let's put the pressure on the public companies that have to make a profit or not, and if they're losing business because of decisions that are related to gun safety, then they might have a better chance of influencing the elected officials that have been stonewalling this issue. And I hope so. And I don't see any issue with that.

I think that we need to be using every tool in our toolbox to mobilize, to organize, to ensure that the message is loud and clear that the American people are not okay with the current trajectory that we're on with respect to gun violence, and we have to do something.

BALDWIN: Congresswoman Katie Hill. Thank you very much.

HILL: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Breaking News now on that dive boat tragedy in Southern California, the NTSB has just issued a preliminary report and a major revelation about the crew. We will have that for you coming up next.

Also ahead, Israel, denying that it planted spying devices near the White House, and was Justify juiced? A new report finds the 2018 Triple Crown winner never should have been in that race.

You're watching CNN, I'm Brooke Baldwin, we'll be right back.



BALDWIN: Breaking News from the California coast where the National Transportation Safety Board has just released its preliminary report on the Labor Day boat fire that killed those 34 people. The report found that the Conception dive boat did not have a crew member on roving overnight watch, which is required by its certificate.

Meanwhile, you are looking at live pictures of the Coast Guard actually preparing to finally lift this boat out of the water. The last missing victim was located and recovered from the wreckage just yesterday. CNN Correspondent Stephanie Elam is live in Los Angeles. Also with us Josh Campbell, he is a CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and former FBI Supervisory Special Agent, so great on the investigation. But Stephanie, just first to you here. What did they find?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the big takeaway from this is just this preliminary report from the NTSB is they're not going to lay out findings, we are not going to tell you much of anything that's hard here yet, but what they do, do is give you an idea of what they have identified so far.


ELAM: And the big takeaway so far from this report is the fact that all five crew members who were up top were asleep. That's something we've been trying to narrow down because we know the U.S. Coast Guard has said that part of their Certificate of Inspection, which was up- to-date they said was that there should be a roving nights watch person to rove around the boat and make sure that everything is okay.

We also know a sixth crew member is also supposed to be down in the bunk room, and we do know that that person was there and she lost her life in the fire. We learned that both of the exits from the bunk room were engulfed in flames when that one crew member woke up and tried to get to them.

The other thing that we've learned here that was interesting, as well is that when they did dive off of the boat, the crew members, when they dove into the water, a couple of them went around to the back, got back on the boat to try to look into the engine room to see if there was something they could do. There was no fire there. That's another interesting thing that we've learned about this boat so far.

What this doesn't help us to do, while it does raise I question, "Could somebody have gotten there earlier if they'd seen this spark and had been able to rescue these 34 people?" It doesn't answer and it doesn't give us any more clue as to what could have started this fire in the first place. That part is still not there.

And this image that you're seeing here, they are working so slowly to bring this wreckage up because they don't want to lose any information, any evidence that may be there on the bottom of the ocean floor. So they're taking their time to slowly bring up what's left of Conception, get the water out of it, and then take it to an undisclosed location where they can then work on figuring out what may have caused this fire -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Okay, as we look at these pictures, Josh, to Stephanie's point I'm reading part of this letter here from the NTSB, "Crew members did attempt to access the salon and passengers below, unable to use the aft ladder which was on fire." It sounds like they tried to then swim around to the stern, get back on the boat, opening the hatch to the engine room, saw no fire, you know, we know that there were attempts --

As they lift this boat, of all of the things they're going to be looking at, what are the key pieces for investigators?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So I think the easiest way to look at this is at the outset to understand that there are two investigations that are essentially underway at the same time. You have the NTSB, which is looking at this from a safety perspective. If you get to the cause of this fire, and that includes interviewing the crew members, which we know as Stephanie was mentioning, some of the information being gleaned there.

But there's still information that we don't yet have and we won't have until that vessel is actually surfaced which is underway right now. So NTSB, well, you know, I've worked with them in the past as an FBI agent, they're very methodical. They don't rule things in, they rule things out. They'll go through this boat, you know bow to stern once it's actually surfaced and try to get to that root cause of the fire.

Now the second aspect of the investigation that's going on right now, we've been reporting and talking to our sources that the Federal government, Federal officials are currently conducting an investigation, including the Coast Guard, the FBI and the A.T.F., they've done a number of searches looking at the operation of this company to look at whether this company was actually in compliance.

Now, the NTSB is a lead right now, but if it turns out that there was neglect here, some kind of negligence on the part of the vessel or those who are on board, you could see some additional, you know, possible criminal charges possibly down the road. It is too early for that yet. We still have to get that vessel up and figure out what was actually the cause.

BALDWIN: Just how absolutely awful for these 34 families for this tight-knit dive community in Southern California. You know, we will totally stay on this. Stephanie and Josh, thank you guys, both of you very much on this NTSB report.

Coming up next, a strong denial from Benjamin Netanyahu saying Israel did not plant listening devices near the White House. And it may be round three, but tonight Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are debating together for the very first time. What to watch. Next.



BALDWIN: We are hours from the most streamlined Democratic primary debate so far for the 2020 race for President. Of the 20 plus candidates who were at the starting line, just 10 made the cut to reach the stage at Texas Southern University in Houston tonight and for the first time, the face off among these front runners -- Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders -- taking center stage.

You see the podium lineup here on your screen. Biden is sandwiched between Warren and Sanders. Never before have all three been together on a single debate stage.

And check this out. This new CNN poll shows why Biden continues to get a star spot. Once again, he is in first place among potential Democratic voters, with Warren and Sanders vying for second place. So how will those taking up the flank ala Julian Castro, Amy Klobuchar turn heads their way this evening? Let's turn to an expert for some insight.

Mark Alexander was on the team who prepared then Senator Obama for the 2008 presidential debates. He is now Dean at Villanova University Law School. So Mark, great to have you back and we tasked you to think of you know, the top three things you'll be watching for tonight. So let's begin with your point about just the intensity really being dialed up.

MARK ALEXANDER, HELPED PREPARE OBAMA FOR 2008 DEBATES: All right. Thanks for having me on again, Brooke. I think the intensity will be much higher tonight. As you mentioned, you've got Sanders, Warren, Biden on the same stage plus Klobuchar, Booker, and Buttigieg, all of those folks.

So we've got top tier candidates all in the same stage together. So it would much more intense. I think the focus on the top candidates will make it a more intense event.

BALDWIN: What else?