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Supreme Court Lets Texas Enforce Controversial Immigration Law; Top Generals Testify About U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan; Ex-Trump White House Aide Navarro Begins Prison Sentence. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 19, 2024 - 14:30   ET



JOHN SANDWEG, FORMER ICE ACTING DIRECTOR UNDER OBAMA: But look, I think the dissenting justices got this one, right? This is to so a lot of chaos at the border, frankly, at a time when we don't need chaos.

How Texas is going to implement this is going to be challenging at best.

How they're going to quickly mesh, you know, their practices in terms of arresting perceived undocumented immigrants with the federal -- the Border Patrol's efforts and overall federal government's efforts will be very difficult to implement.

And I think the final thing here is I'm going to expect some copycat legislation to be popping up in other states very quickly, not necessarily border states. I would expect to see a state like Florida.

Now that the Supreme Court has essentially at least given a greenlight, even if only temporarily, you've got to expect a state like Florida and some other states that have been very vocal on these issues to try to implement their own form of this legislation.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: That's a very interesting point. And you can see how you would expect that to go.

So as this proceeds, at least in the interim of this issue of this law making its way through the court, we have to be very clear about that, right, John, is that this isn't the last word when it comes to this law, that is still something that is proceeding at this point.

What do you think about the court saying, in the interim, we are going to allow this to proceed? What kind of message do you think they're sending by not wanting to interfere, but letting this proceed in what we're going to see is a bit of an experiment in states' rights on this issue?

SANDWEG: Yes, certainly, you would think that the court, by lifting this injunction, that it means there's a greater likelihood that they will -- ultimately will validate that the Texas state law, allow it to go into effect fulltime.

Of course, that could change in the way this is implemented that could also make a big difference. So you know, look, the argument centers around whether or not this conflicts with federal law. And I think what Texas was doing, frankly, exactly what Arizona tried to do, is write this legislation in a way that made it look consistent with existing federal law. I have my doubts about that.

Obviously, the crux of this issue, as we've discussed a million times, there's our asylum laws and then the fact that we give rights to individuals who come into the United States to make an asylum claim.

I'm not sure how this -- this Texas state scheme is going to be reconciled with that aspect of it.

And frankly, I don't know how Texas is going to be actually to be able to deport people to Mexico is they try because, of course, they need the permission of Mexico as a sovereign nation.

Or, and candidly, Brianna, most of these migrants are not from Mexico. The majority are from other countries. I don't know if Texas -- Texas' plan is to start initiating repatriation flights to Honduras or El Salvador, how they would actually coordinate that.

But look, as it relates to the court, I mean, you are right, this is temporary. And things could change depending on how it's implemented.

But certainly, I would think that this is indicative that the Supreme Court is more likely to validate the statutory scheme than they are to invalidate it.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Some significant open questions that you brought up there.

John Sandweg, very much appreciate the perspective.

Our thanks to Joan Biskupic as well.

We're juggling a lot right now, not only this decision by the Supreme Court, but also this ongoing hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

We're monitoring all of this. We're going to stay on top of it and bring you the very latest in just a few minutes when we come back.



KEILAR: We're following a lot of breaking news here this afternoon on CNN NEWS CENTRAL, including the Supreme Court allowing Texas to begin enforcing its controversial immigration law, S.B.-4, as that law winds its way through the system.

Really unexpected. Lots of potential consequences here. We're going to continue to be following that.

SANCHEZ: Yes, we also want to get to our other breaking story. Top job generals in charge of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 are now testifying on Capitol Hill.

We have CNN Pentagon correspondent, Oren Liebermann, who has been following the hearing.

Oren, bring us the latest on what's happening there?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: One of the more interesting points we've learned from this hearing is about the friction between the Defense Department and the State Department.

We knew, as we reported on this as it was unfolding, that there was this tension between DOD and State.

Now we have a clearer look at that as we hear from retired General Mark Milley and retired General Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. general at the time and the commander of U.S. Central Command.

Both Milley and McKenzie said they were waiting for an order from State to conduct what's called a NEO, a noncombatant evacuation order.

Part of the reason that didn't come sooner from State was that they believed that issuing that would have triggered -- triggered widespread panic and chaos in Afghanistan.

And so they delayed that order to conduct a NEO to carry out an emergency evacuation, only coming in the end on August 14th. That is one day before the Afghan government or parts of the Afghan government's leadership fled the country.

And then, of course, we all saw the chaotic scenes at Kabul's International Airport, including what led to, in the closing days of over the withdrawal, a suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. servicemembers.

Both Milley and McKenzie said DOD was planning, as it does, for different possibilities in different ways to carry out an evacuation as they waited not only for the plans, but also waited for the order from state to carry out that evacuation.

Both testified, as they have done in the past, that they recommended keeping a certain level of troops there ,somewhere between 2,500 and 4,500, which would have allowed them to hold critical U.S. assets, including Bagram's International Airport here.


Take a listen to this.


GEN. MARK MILEY, FORMER CHAIRMAN, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We should have held at 2,500. At 2,500 U.S. forces, if you also assume that will allow the Afghans to stay in the fight, you can maintain a viable base at Bagram.

GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE, FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER: But there's little question in my mind that had the United States -- that either president's agreement to withdraw, if we didn't withdraw 100 percent, then we would've been back at war with the Taliban. That's right.


LIEBERMANN: You get a sense between those two clips there of the difficult position the Biden administration was in.

To violate the Doha agreement from the Trump administration would have led to an open war with the Taliban. Once again, you heard that from Mark Milley there.

Whereas, essentially, pulling all the troops out means you lose some of the critical U.S. assets that had been there, like Bagram Airbase.

So a challenging position. Once again, we hear Milley and McKenzie going through their perspective on how the chaotic withdrawal all played out there.

SANCHEZ: Yes, significant testimony from the two generals.

Oren Liebermann, thank you so much.

Stay with CNN. We're back in just moments.



KEILAR: Getting back to our breaking news, the Supreme Court allowing Texas to begin enforcing its controversial immigration law.

SANCHEZ: Yes, officials in Texas are celebrating this decision.

Let's get the reaction from the White House now with CNN's Arlette Saenz.

Arlette, what is the White House saying about this?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Boris, officials at the White House are still pouring through this recent decision by the Supreme Court, but it certainly will be a disappointment for the Biden administration.

The Justice Department had long argued that this law down in Texas is conflicting with the federal and constitutional standards, noting that enforcement of immigration has been left to the federal governments in the past.

Now President Biden, right now, is in Reno, Nevada, a bit north of where we are in Las Vegas. He just wrapped an event and we will see whether he might speak to reporters about this decision from the Supreme Court.

But it does come at a tense moment in the 2024 campaign when border security issues have really risen to the top of many voters' concerns. We know that this is an issue that has proven to be a liability for

President Biden. The Republicans have tried to weaponize the issue of the border against the president.

But the president has tried to push for that bipartisan border policy, a lot that -- that was negotiated in the Senate but ultimately, was scuttled by Republicans at the urging of former President Donald Trump.

This also comes as we have seen these tensions between the federal government and the state of Texas over how to enforce immigration policy.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott doing things like bussing migrants up from the U.S. southern border up towards northern states.

You've also seen the Justice Department waged in this fight with Texas over that concertina wire along the border down there.

So this is just another episode in this one long-standing dispute with the state of Texas over how to address the issue of border security. So we will wait to see what the White House has to say a little bit later today.

Just yesterday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had been asked what the administration would do if this law were allowed to go into effect. She would not get into the details of that.

But it certainly will be a blow to the Biden administration as they had really tried to stop the -- to prevent the enforcement of this law, which the Supreme Court has now said the state of Texas can do.

Of course, there are still legal challenges playing out in the federal appeals court on this level as well.

SANCHEZ: Arlette Saenz.

We should point out Arlette is in Nevada because President Biden is in the middle of a -- or at the start of a swing out west. He will be stopping in Arizona later today to try to a court Latino voter there. Arizona, obviously, a state that's been impacted by the issue of immigration.

Arlette, thanks so much for the update.

Stay with NEWS CENTRAL. We're back in just a few minutes.



KEILAR: Once a White House staffer, now a federal inmate. Today, former Trump trade adviser, Peter Navarro, reported for his four-month sentence at a minimum-security federal prison in Miami.

Navarro is not the first ex-White House official to don a prison jumpsuit, but he is the first to suffer that fate on a contempt of Congress conviction.

Before reporting to prison today, Navarro was defiant.


PETER NAVARRO, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: When I walk in that prison today, the justice system, such as is it, will have done a crippling blow for the constitutional separation of powers and executive privilege.

Every person who has taken me on this road to that prison is a brilliant Democrat and at Trump hater.


KEILAR: Let's talk now with former Nixon White House counsel, John Dean.

John, he repeated his argument that he should be covered by executive privilege. And I'm very curious to get your insight on that.

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: It's not even a close question.

First of all, he never got a permission from the former president when he was president. And certainly, Donald Trump said nothing as an ex- president because he had no authority to have sort of executive privilege conversations.

This is just the total red herring. And what Peter Navarro did was he just totally blew off this committee. Didn't respond at all.

There are others who have done contempt but have not been prosecuted. But it was so egregious in this situation, the Justice Department really had no issue with preceding the prosecution. They had to.

KEILAR: Yes. He's referring here to an alleged crime. It is a real crime, to be clear. He argued that, for hundreds of years, contempt of Congress was not a crime. That's not true.

And if anyone knows it, it would be you. I think of G. Gordon Liddy.

DEAN: G. Gordon Liddy, yes. Gordon Liddy was defiant, refused to even appear before a committee. I think they took him up and he wouldn't talk.


He was polite but he was -- he actually did more than Peter Navarro and he got a contempt citation. As a result of that, the Justice Department added to his already lengthy Watergate list of criminal activity. So, yes, it has been in effect.

I think Peter is going to try to wear this as a badge of honor, and it's not.

KEILAR: Yet, no, he's clearly doing that. And we saw that. He spoke for about a half-hour before going into the prison today.

We've seen congressional subpoenas, John, be pretty toothless. I think we've seen that, especially of late. Do you think Navarro going to jail puts any bite in them?

DEAN: I think it helps. There have been a number of requests by members of Congress to do something about the weakness of their subpoena power because they have been blown off by a number of presidencies and treated very lightly by the White House on the so- called executive privilege claim.

This -- this is -- this was an extreme case, factual-wise, but it also does show the Congress can get it -- it's subpoenas enforced.

Congress can be very loose and careless and absurd often in trying to use the subpoena, as they tried to put the attorney general, Eric Holder, in contempt of Congress.

But it -- this does start to get back to normal. And I think Congress should -- should really get its own inherent power back. And there have been a number of bills have just been ignored to do that.

Because they do have this power, but they've deferred to the Department of Justice to enforce their contempt citations.

KEILAR: John, it's always great to get your expertise. We appreciate you being with us. John Dean.

DEAN: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: We're following a lot of breaking news this afternoon. The Supreme Court allowing Texas to begin enforcing its controversial immigration law. We'll have more on that when we come back.