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Pro-Trump Attorney Turns Witness in Georgia; Attorney General Merrick Garland Pushes Back; Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 20, 2023 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Forceful rebuke, Attorney General Merrick Garland slapping down Republican accusations of political bias in the Justice Department, saying -- quote -- "I am not the president's lawyer."

Today's contentious hearing a potential preview of Republicans' impeachment inquiry.

And: "You don't know about the boxes." That is what Donald Trump reportedly told a close aide to tell investigators asking about documents at Mar-a-Lago. What her stunning testimony could mean for the special counsel's case.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Plus: Hitting pause? Wall Street and Main Street on edge ahead of the Fed's key decision interest rates.

We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

KEILAR: We have been watching Attorney General Merrick Garland sparring with some of his biggest Republican critics on the Hill today at a House Judiciary Committee hearing stacked with some GOP members who would like to see him and President Biden impeached.

It is Garland's first time testifying on the Hill since two federal indictments against former President Trump and one against Hunter Biden. But, so far, he hasn't said much about those ongoing politically sensitive investigations. Instead, he has forcefully pushed back against GOP accusations of political bias within the Justice Department.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Our job is not to do what is politically convenient. Our job is not to take orders from the president, from Congress, or from anyone else about who or what to criminally investigate.

As the president himself has said, and I reaffirm today, I am not the president's lawyer. I will add, I am not Congress' prosecutor.


KEILAR: CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is tracking this for us.

So, Jessica, we have heard a lot of tense exchanges. Have we learned anything new?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, really, Brianna, you saw it in that opening.

We are seeing Merrick Garland a bit more forceful here than he's been in previous hearings. He is really trying to hammer home and insist that neither he nor anyone at the Justice Department has interfered in any of the ongoing special counsel investigations, whether it's those investigations into the former President Donald Trump or, of course, the current president's son Hunter Biden.

And the questions, the accusations, they continue to fly throughout this hearing from Republicans, because, of course, this is the first time that the attorney general has faced Congress since the former president was indicted twice, the first time he's faced Congress since Hunter Biden was indicted last week on gun charges.

So here's just one exchange where Republicans really tried to get information from the attorney general about any communications that he might have had with people involved in Hunter Biden's case, as Republicans continue to insist there was interference, and, of course, Garland insisting there was not. Here's the exchange.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): Has anyone from the White House provided direction at any time to you personally or to any senior officials at the DOJ regarding how the Hunter Biden investigation was to be carried out?


JOHNSON: Have you had personal contact with anyone at FBI headquarters about the Hunter Biden investigation?

GARLAND: I don't recollect the answer to that question, but the FBI works for the Justice Department.


JOHNSON: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You don't recollect -- you don't recollect whether you have talked with anybody at FBI headquarters about an investigation of the president's son?

GARLAND: I don't believe that I did. I promised the Senate when I came before it for confirmation that I would leave Mr. Weiss in place and that I would not interfere with his investigation.

JOHNSON: OK, did you ever...

GARLAND: I have kept that promise.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHNEIDER: So, you see Merrick Garland there really trying to toe the

line, because, of course, he can't disclose anything or talk about any ongoing investigations, which, of course, the special counsel's investigation into the former president is also ongoing, the Hunter Biden case with the special counsel.

So, Brianna, the attorney general trying to forcefully push back, but, also, he can't talk about these ongoing investigations. And, of course, he leads the Justice Department, of which the FBI falls under. So that's why he's really trying to not try to mince words, but he's really trying to toe that line and say there has been no interference, but not being able to talk about specifics -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, thank you so much, Jess, for keeping an eye on this very fiery hearing for us. We appreciate it -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: As we await the resumption of this hearing set to restart at any moment, let's expand the conversation with former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and CNN chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny.


Andy, first to you.

We saw some fireworks early on, but in terms of substance, has anything Garland said stood out to you or is this mostly political theater?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It's very much political theater, I'm afraid.

And I have to say that that's not particularly unique. I can tell you from personal experience, having testified in front of this committee before, the House Judiciary Committee, it's very different than the Senate side. It has a reputation for being kind of freewheeling and aggressive.

It's a lot of members typically in the room at the same time. So you expect a pretty wild, broad range of questions on all kinds of things. That being said, A.G. Garland has a very, very narrow area in which he can move today. He cannot and clearly will not discuss any of the cases that he's getting many questions about, most notably, the Hunter Biden investigation.

Ongoing investigations have always been beyond the scope of anything the department will discuss. I think he's done an admirable job in holding that line, but he's taking a lot of punches along the way.

He has clearly made a decision to be more forceful and speak up in defense of the men and women of the department and the FBI. I think that's a great decision, and I'm sure the work forces appreciate that deeply.

SANCHEZ: Andy, some of the punches that you alluded to came from Republicans making claims about special counsel David Weiss, specifically his autonomy over the Hunter Biden probe.

I'm wondering how those claims and the perception that they're being received with could impact the work of the special counsel?

MCCABE: Yes, so I think, again, he's -- Garland has very little that he can do here.

And, ironically, the things that they would love to criticize him about, those are the sorts of answers they're trying to lure him into. He's been very daft at maintaining that. He has not interfered in the investigation. He has given David Weiss all the resources and authority he needs to make his own decisions.

They don't seem willing to accept that answer, even though they'd be the first people to criticize him for doing or saying anything other than that. I would guess that the folks who are working with and for Mr. Weiss right now on this investigation are pleased by the fact that the attorney general is not only staying out of their work on a day- to-day basis, but maintaining to Congress that he is not interfering with what they do.

Those folks know whether or not their work is being interfered with, whether or not David Weiss, they think he's doing a good job or a bad job or being aggressive or not aggressive enough. That's something that's -- every person that team probably has a personal opinion about that.

But it seems pretty clear that at least the top levels of the Justice Department, the attorney general and his staff, are not interfering in that case. That's what the A.G. has said repeatedly today.


Jeff, on the question of public perception, on the politics of this, recent polls showed that 55 percent of Americans think President Biden acted inappropriately in the investigation into his son Hunter. So far, has this hearing provided anything that might move those numbers?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's hard to imagine that it would. I mean, people's views are baked in depending on how you look at this.

I mean, this has been a very partisan hearing, obviously, no surprise, political theater on both sides, no surprise. But, look, the attorney general has been trying to walk this line, and he is being blasted by Republicans. And also, Democrats aren't thrilled with him, or thrilled with the idea, not necessarily of him, but thrilled with the idea that Hunter Biden, the investigation, goes on.

But, look, there hasn't been anything of substance that he's revealed that would change those numbers, I think, in my view. But this just adds to the discomfort at the White House over this entire situation.


ZELENY: They have tried to not talk about it, had to keep an arm's length from this, but the -- it's going to be a soundtrack of this presidential campaign regardless.

SANCHEZ: On that note, being a soundtrack to the political campaign as we head into 2024, did you see any sort of gotcha moment that you anticipate Republicans might use in a campaign ad?

ZELENY: It's hard to imagine. I mean, they may use some. It's hard to imagine anything that would really move the needle.

I mean, Merrick Garland, I think, has been very practiced. He's testified, obviously, before many congressional hearings.


ZELENY: And he hasn't said very much. And as Andy was saying, he can't say very much.

So I think he has patiently sort of listened and taken his grilling and his beating in some respects.

SANCHEZ: Yes, Jeff Zeleny, Andy McCabe, please stand by, because we're going to continue following this hearing.

We do want to bring you some news just into CNN. Special counsel David Weiss now says that Hunter Biden should be required to attend his first court appearance on gun charges to promote the public's confidence that he's receiving no special treatment.


Let's get the latest now from CNN's Kara Scannell.

So, Kara, what more did special counsel Weiss have to say?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so Weiss' office is saying that Hunter Biden should have to show up in court in Delaware when he has his first appearance on these felony gun charges.

And the reason they're saying he should show the public that he's not getting any special treatment and that this is essentially a matter that he should be treated just like any other defendant.

So, in their filing to the judge, they write: "An in-person hearing is important to promote the public's confidence that the defendant is being treated consistently with other defendants in this district and in other districts. Moreover, the previous arraignment held in connection with this matter was anything but routine, because the defendant and his previous attorney were not prepared to answer the court's questions."

You may remember from that hearing they had to take several recesses, as both Hunter Biden's team and Weiss' team tried to work out some issues relating to his plea deal. And, ultimately, the judge did not approve a plea deal on tax charges or a deal to avoid charges on gun possession, because she wasn't satisfied with it.

Now, Biden's lawyers are saying he could do this in -- he could do this via a video link or remotely because they're saying he's going to enter a plea if not guilty. This shouldn't take up too much time. They're also saying there are some other defendants that have been able to do this by video link and that it's an issue for Secret Service and U.S. Marshals to try to ensure security.

But Weiss' team pushing back on that, saying the defendants who didn't show up in person were either injured or too poor. And they also give a nod to the former President Trump's multiple arraignments, saying that Secret Service has worked with U.S. Marshals in many jurisdictions and that hasn't been a problem.

SANCHEZ: Kara Scannell, thanks so much for the update -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Some new developments in two criminal investigations of former President Trump.

A short time ago in Georgia, district attorney Fani Willis revealing that pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood is now -- quote -- "a witness for the state." This is a remarkable turnaround from one of Trump's most vocal supporters.

And in one of the federal indictments of Trump, there are new reports on his alleged mishandling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. ABC News and "The New York Times" are reporting that Trump's ex-assistant Molly Michael says the former president told her to play dumb about classified material that was stowed away at his Florida estate.

She says that Trump told her -- quote -- "You don't know anything about the boxes."

Joining us now is CNN legal analyst Michael Moore. He's a former U.S. attorney and partner at Moore Hall in Atlanta.

All right, Michael, so big developments here, but let's begin with Lin Wood becoming a state witness. How significant is this in the Georgia case against Trump?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'm glad to be with you.

It could be significant. What we know really is that he's listed as a witness on the state's disclosure, and they're required to do that to give in their discovery paperwork that they have to turn over to each defendant in any case, not just this case, a list of those people that they expect to testify and put up in their case in chief, that is, their case to prove the allegations that they have brought.

So we don't know if Lin has cut a deal. We don't know if he has simply been sort of an integral part of some discussion, or if he's merely just sort of a housekeeping witness where they need to close a gap, and so they intend to put him on the stand and maybe use him and impeach him, if they have to, with other statements that he's made in the past.

But it is significant. It's always significant to see lawyers and former lawyers end up in cases against the interest of potentially former clients. KEILAR: So then how do you think about this in terms of being a state

witness, cooperation, having pertinent information? What is the appropriate language to use about this?

MOORE: Well, I mean, right now he's simply listed as a witness for the state.

And that -- you can have people in housekeeping matters, administrative matters who are also listed as witnesses for the state. We just -- we don't have full disclosure yet of what his role may be. Now, I expect at some point, if, in fact, he's cooperating and there's been some kind of deal reached or he's reached some promise to not be prosecuted in exchange for his testimony, they're going to have to turn that over to the defendants and we're going to learn more about it as we go forward.

Again, it's an interesting fact, and it's something that's certainly significant as we see his name appear on the state's witness list. We just don't know the extent. So, I think the -- probably, the breaking news of the day is, yes, he is there, but I think there's another shoe to drop. And that is, to what extent will he be involved ultimately in the trial of this case?

Remember, they're claiming there's 150 witnesses that they're going to have to put forward. Each one of those witnesses is not going to have necessarily the silver bullet in the trial of these defendants. And we don't know yet if maybe he's holding the silver bullet or if he's just an empty cartridge.

We will find out a little bit deeper as the discovery material is turned over to these defendants in preparation for trial.


KEILAR: Turning back to Molly Michael, the ex-assistant to Trump and her claim that Trump asked her to play dumb to investigators, Trump has already been indicted.

Actually, Michael, if you could just pause with us for just a moment.

MOORE: Sure.

KEILAR: This hearing on Capitol Hill with Merrick Garland on the House Judiciary Committee has started once again. Let's listen in.


REP. ANDY BIGGS (R-AZ): Do you have any prosecutorial quota system in place?

GARLAND: No, no.

BIGGS: None -- none whatsoever.

That -- that would be anathema to your office then, right? I mean, it's not policy. So, would you be... (CROSSTALK)

GARLAND: Correct. We do not have quotas.

BIGGS: Right.

And so would it be consistent with that when you have a prosecutor who said that they're going to -- he wants to prosecute at least 2,000 people who are alleged to have committed a certain type of crime?

GARLAND: So, look, I think you're referring to the January 6 question.

BIGGS: I'm just asking you, would that be consistent with your office's policy if somebody said, we're going to get up to 2,000 people on a particular crime? Is that consistent with your policy?

GARLAND: I think what that U.S. attorney was referring to as a prediction for how many more cases would still be brought, because the court had asked how many more people have...


BIGGS: He filed a letter with the court saying that we're -- we're going to -- we're looking at upwards of 2,000. We've got 1,200 more in the -- that we think we're going to get.

So you don't do that for anything else, right?

GARLAND: We don't do...

BIGGS: So you don't have anything like tax fraud? You're not saying, OK, we're going to have so many people that we want to get for tax fraud, so many people we want to get for lying on a federal firearms applications?

GARLAND: We don't have quotas. If a court asks us what the likely workload will be, based on prosecutions, investigations that are pending, the U.S. attorney is obligated to respond.

BIGGS: Did you guys provide any reference of the number of people you thought you would prosecute who were involved in the 2020 summer riots of the burning of the Portland courthouse while there were still people inside those courthouses? You didn't ever file with the court anything, say, oh, we think we're going to have another 300, 400, whatever it may be?

Because you didn't file those charges, did you?

GARLAND: I'm sorry. I'm not following.

I believe that the...

BIGGS: I'm sure you're not.

GARLAND: The number that you're asking about was... BIGGS: Let me ask you this question.


GARLAND: ... that the court had asked the U.S. attorney to make.

BIGGS: Let's switch topics. Maybe this one would be easier to follow, I suppose.

Is it the policy of the DOJ to provide advanced notice to subjects before conducting a search for evidence?

GARLAND: It totally depends on the circumstance.

BIGGS: If the circumstance were that you had a guest house where the U.S. attorney, deputy U.S. attorney, saying, well, we know that there's -- we suspect there's a lot of evidence there, but we're not going to really follow that up, we're going to -- and calls the attorney from the other side, saying, we were going to do a search warrant, would that be consistent with your policy?

GARLAND: Again, I know this is no hypothetical, and I don't know the facts of this case, and I don't know what happened. And I believe the events you're talking about, as reported in the press, occurred under the previous administration.


BIGGS: No, no, no, no, no, that event didn't happen under the previous administration.

Let's -- let's talk about that. I mean, you keep saying this happened under the previous administration. But let's talk about this for just a moment. You keep saying, I don't know what happened there, but I'm going to opine when it happened.

You see the fallacy of that, the inconsistencies? I don't know when it happened. I don't know what happened because I'm not involved, but it happened under the previous administration. That's so logically fallacious.

GARLAND: I'm sorry. I'm not following what's fallacious about it.

BIGGS: Yes, I know you're not following it.


BIGGS: So -- so, the question is, you -- you have got one of your deputy U.S. attorneys calling the attorney on this side saying, look, there's -- we're going to go to these two places, probably go in the next couple of days.

And, of course, then, ultimately, the search warrant is called off. Is that -- I just want to know, is it consistent to call up people and where that they have got boxes of information or you suspect they have boxes of information? That's why you got the warrant. That's why you're going to go look. And you give them a heads-up, so they can move those boxes of information.

Would that be consistent with DOJ policy?

GARLAND: I'm just going to say again, you're asking me actually to comment about allegations in a particular case about which I do not know the context.

BIGGS: I'm -- no, I'm not. No, I'm not. I'm asking you, is that consistent with your overall policy?

Forget -- forget Delaware and what they did and that they actually did that. Let's just talk about generic policy.

GARLAND: I'm sorry. I thought you were asking about Mar-a-Lago. I may not have understood then. I'm sorry.

BIGGS: Oh, yes, lah-de-dah.

So, when we're talking about this, when we're talking about your general policy, is it your policy, is that acceptable when you suspect that there are movable items, to call up and say, we're going to -- we're going to be there to look?

GARLAND: Yes, there's no policy on this question. The strategy and tactics to be used to preserve evidence are left up to the investigators and offices on the ground. the


Sometimes, it would be a serious mistake to call up. Sometimes, it would not.

BIGGS: And here, once again, you don't know what happened in the Hunter Biden case, because that's -- somebody else is doing it.

But you can be sure of the timing of when all this took place. That is one of the biggest oddities of your testimony today.

I yield back to the gentleman from Colorado.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): The gentleman's time has expired.

The chair now recognizes the general lady from Pennsylvania.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): Thank you, Mr. Attorney General. Thank you for your decades of faithful service to our country, to our Constitution, and to the rule of law. Thank you for putting up with this today.

The American people are watching. They know what's going on here. This is a gross misuse of your time, your team's time, and our time. It is a shameful circus. It has a goal. The goal is to spew lies and disinformation, ultimately to tear away at the confidence of our independent institutions, in your case today, our very important Department of Justice. That's the exact M.O. of a former president. Tear away at the

confidence of our independent institutions, whether it's our electoral system, the Department of Justice, the judiciary, and independent news media.

The American people are watching this sham. But it's not just a circus. It's dangerous. And you know that. And you have mentioned that. I believe that these fictions and fantasies are dangerous, dangerous for you and the 115,000 public servants with whom you work, dangerous for national security, dangerous for communities' security, dangerous for the rule of law and our Constitution, all at the same time of a looming shutdown.

The other side of the aisle cannot govern. And so they have this hearing, which was supposed to be oversight, and use it as a big distraction, because they are failing to govern. Imagine if we go into the shutdown. What does that say to your members of your department?

What does it say to our service members, U.S. troops who would be training, fighting without pay and without confidence in this country's governing ability? It's a great distraction.

So let me pivot to something I care about and I know you and your department cares about. It is Recovery Month. And for families like mine with a member in recovery, every month is Recovery Month. So I thank you for what you are doing on the fentanyl crisis, the overdose crisis that has claimed 110,000 lives in a single 12-month period, 300 souls a day every day, souls who have died while we were in this hearing, every day.

What is the department doing to combat the trafficking, to combat the amount of fentanyl on the ground? As DEA has said, there's enough fentanyl on the ground right now to kill this entire population multiple times over. Tell us about your important work in fentanyl.

GARLAND: Well, Congresswoman, let me begin by saying I share your personal concern and grief over this.

I have met with the families of children, teenagers, of elderly people who have become addicted to fentanyl and who have died from fentanyl. Everything you're saying is correct, and it's a catastrophe for the country.

So, as a consequence, the Justice Department has poured its resources, particularly from DEA, with FBI assistance as well, and with fugitive arrests by the Marshals Service and with gun tracing by the ATF, into the entire process by which fentanyl reaches the United States.

So we have sanctioned the precursor companies in China. We have indicted some of them for their violations. We have arrested some as far off in -- as far as off in Fiji and brought them back to the United States. We have traced this -- these precursors to Mexico, where they are made into the fentanyl pills.

Fentanyl costs about 10 cents to make. It can be sold on the street in the United States between $10 and $30. You can see what the enormous profit motive is here. So, we must stop the cartels themselves. I, as I said, traveled to Mexico twice in order to work with our counterparts in the military and law enforcement there.

DEAN: I thank you for all of that.

I want to just pivot once, and I want to do anything I can to partner with you on this issue...


GARLAND: Appreciate it.

DEAN: ... so that we stop losing people.

I traveled recently with the Foreign Affairs Committee to The Hague, met with the extraordinary folks, the top prosecutor and his able team. They were very complimentary of the Department of Justice and your work.

Can you tell us about your important role or America's important role in war crimes, especially in light of your powerful history, family history?

GARLAND: Yes, I'm happy to.

So, I have traveled to Ukraine twice, and to meet with the prosecutor general there. And I'm going to meet with him again this week here. He has met with me several times here. The Justice Department is pursuing the war crimes from Russia's unlawful and unjust invasion of Ukraine to help to investigate war crimes over which we have jurisdiction, to help the prosecutor general in Ukraine investigate those prosecutions.

I was, I believe, the first Cabinet member ever to visit The Hague, the International Criminal Court of justice, to meet with Karim Khan, who is the chief prosecutor, to talk about our cooperation in respect to the investigations that they are doing.

I have assigned a Justice Department prosecutor to the investigatory body that's been set up in The Hague for the crime of aggression. And she is there now working with the ICC and Europol and Eurojust. And I have assigned a prosecutor to our embassy in Kyiv to work with our ambassador there and to work with the prosecutor general's office there.

DEAN: I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing that answer to go on, because it is critically important. America is indispensable, and your work is indispensable.

Thank you, sir.

JORDAN: The time of the gentlelady has expired.

The gentleman from Wisconsin is recognized.

Mr. Attorney General, do you support this consent decree that I believe was put in place in the city of Minneapolis? GARLAND: I'm sorry. Do I support the...

REP. TOM TIFFANY (R-WI): Do you support the consent decree that was put in place with the Police Department of Minneapolis?

GARLAND: The one that was put in place by the federal government? Yes.



TIFFANY: Do you support fewer cops on the street?

GARLAND: Do I support...

TIFFANY: Fewer cops on the street?

GARLAND: No, I don't support fewer cops on the streets.

TIFFANY: That's what's happening as a result of what's happening.

GARLAND: It's not -- I don't think that's a consequence of the consent decree.

TIFFANY: Do you support...

GARLAND: Minneapolis has been losing police officers for many years.

TIFFANY: Yes, do you support more crime?

GARLAND: Do I support more crime?


GARLAND: No, I don't.

TIFFANY: So, there was just a hearing in Minnetonka, Minnesota, a tony suburb of Minneapolis, just I think this last week where they were just -- they're beside themselves with the amount of crime that continues in Minneapolis since the riots of 2020.

And I would point out to you that I had an officer in my district. I live right across the border in Wisconsin, or that's where my district begins. A police officer was shot to death as a result of a weak-on- crime prosecutor in St. Paul in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Guy served only four years for a violent crime. Do you think that that's a problem?

GARLAND: An officer was shot to death. That is not -- that is certainly not an appropriate sentence. That's outrageous.

Let me be clear. We are doing everything we can to assist Minneapolis. We have a very aggressive U.S. attorney who's brought a number of RICO and VICAR cases, and extraordinarily successful in taking... (CROSSTALK)

TIFFANY: Let me continue. I got a real short period of time here.

GARLAND: I'm sorry.

TIFFANY: In regards to disrupting drug networks, why do you think there's so much fentanyl coming into the country?

GARLAND: Because it costs 10 cents to make, and it can be sold for $30.

TIFFANY: So, Sheriff Mark Dannels from Cochise County, Arizona, sat right where you were at a few months ago. And under oath, he said, the reason there is such a drastic increase in fentanyl coming into the country is because, on January 20 of 2021, open borders policies were announced by President Biden.

Have you expressed concern about those open borders policies that have led to this rapid increase in the amount of fentanyl coming into our country?

GARLAND: I can't associate myself with the conclusion reached by the sheriff, although I can certainly commiserate with the concerns that are...

TIFFANY: So the sheriff is incorrect?

GARLAND: Look, the cartels in Mexico are bringing this -- are causing this drug to be transmitted into the United States. And we are doing everything we can to eliminate that incentive.

TIFFANY: Terrific. Mr. -- yes, you're not going to do it doing that.

Mr. Chairman, just so we're real clear here, this is the same answer we received from Secretary Mayorkas a couple months ago, when he was in denial about a sheriff who lives -- one of the most reputable sheriffs you will find in the United States of America sitting down there on that Southern border.