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Former President Trump's Legal Team Presents Arguments to Supreme Court on Presidential Immunity Regarding Charges Related to January 6th Riots; Texas Law Criminalizing Illegal Immigration into State Placed on Hold after Initially being Allowed to Take Effect; Former Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Mark Milley Testifies to Congress that State Department Made Decisions on Evacuating Afghanistan of U.S. Personnel Too Late; Interview with Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY); Experts Sound the Alarm on Lax Oversight of Natural Gas Exports. Aired 8-8:30 ET

Aired March 20, 2024 - 08:00   ET




Ready to explode, a dire warning from experts that lax oversight, outdated guidelines over natural gas exports could have catastrophic fallout.

I'm Kate Bolduan with John Berman. Sara is out today. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, how will Jack Smith respond? Donald Trump's legal team has laid out its full argument for absolute immunity in a new filing to the Supreme Court. They claim rejecting his bid would, quote, "incapacitate every future president with the facto blackmail and extortion while in office." The Supreme Court has already given Trump much of what he wants here by effectively delaying the federal election subversion trial against him. The high court plans to hear these arguments on April 25th and decide whether Donald Trump is immune from January 6th related charges.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is in Washington with the latest this morning. Katelyn?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: John, the wording of Donald Trump's team in this brief to the Supreme Court is quite stark. They are warning the justices of a ruinous situation in America if there isn't immunity around the president and that a president could not be charged with a crime. That's what they want. They want the justices to dismiss the case against Donald Trump and say, he is totally immune from prosecution for anything he could have done, even if he broke the law just to stay in power at the end of the presidency. They want that immunity.

And the arguments they're making, the words they're using, they're saying if there isn't an immunity around the presidency, it would hurt the president because the president would do a worse job, quoting Brett Kavanaugh from 15 years ago in a law review article. They're saying that it would cause blackmail and extortion of the president while in office if the president was fearful or could be politically prosecuted after office or prosecuted if they broke the law. They're also saying it would create post-office trauma for people who serve as president, and it would be the end of the presidency as we know it.

Obviously, many of the justices, including Kavanaugh, have some level of sympathy or familiarity with the executive branch. And so they're trying to appeal to that among the Supreme Court justices. All of this taken together is going to be strongly refuted or pushed back against by Jack Smith and the special counsel's office when their arguments come in in a couple of weeks.

We also know that the courts so far have totally shut down this argument that there should be this immunity bubble around the presidency. The D.C. circuit, the last group in the court system to write about this said, actually, laws in this country that apply even to the president or the presidency, that prevents people from breaking the law while they're even serving in that office. So we'll have to see exactly how the Supreme Court responds when they have oral arguments later in April.

BERMAN: We will. And a lot of this, of course, comes down to whether these were official acts or political acts and what legal long line can be drawn there. Katelyn Polantz, thank you very much. Kate?

BOLDUAN: So if you're not exactly sure what is happening in Texas, you are not alone. Overnight, a controversial immigration law was put back on hold. The law would allow state level law enforcement to arrest and deport people suspected of entering the country illegally. Now, this was after the Supreme Court had given the green light yesterday, and that stayed in place for a few hours. The conservative majority deciding that the law would be allowed to take effect while the legal battle over whether it was constitutional continued to play out. But before any real enforcement of it could happen, it was blocked again.

Critics argue that the law, its known as S.B.4, it violates human rights, stokes racial profiling, and overreaches government authority. But supporters of the measure say that the crisis at the border calls for the state to take matters into his own hands. CNN's Rosa Flores is in Arizona for us this morning watching all of this. Rosa, what happens now?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're expecting is for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to have another hearing. And Kate, we could be going in circles in this mano-a-mano between Texas and the Biden administration, because depending on what the Fifth Circuit decides, this law could stay on hold again, or it could go into effect, which means it could also go back right to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But look, we have no knowledge that anyone was arrested under S.B.4 during the few hours that it was actually in effect yesterday. We asked the Texas governor's office about this, if he was going to push for the immediate enforcement of this law, and we didn't get an answer.


But here's the thing. There is no one more worried about this law actually going into effect than local and county governments. And here's why. This new crime is a misdemeanor, which means that in the state of Texas, it would mostly be adjudicated in county courts. And there is huge concern about this. The Texas Conference of Urban Counties has been sounding the alarm about this. They represent Democratic and Republican counties across the state. They represent 78 percent of the population of the state of Texas, and they are calling this an unfunded mandate that will clog jails, that will clog courts. And that the state of Texas, that the legislature didn't appropriate funds for any of it, and that it would cost millions upon millions of dollars for these local communities, and that they don't want to raise taxpayer -- taxpayers -- have taxpayers foot the bill in their counties.

I talked to one El Paso County commissioner who says that he's in conversations with the D.A. and law enforcement in his county to make sure that this law is narrowly enforced just to make sure that their county resources aren't completely depleted if and when this measure goes into effect.

But about what this law actually says, this law says that it is a crime to cross into the -- into the state of Texas illegally, and that the illegal presence of a person is also a crime, which is why there are so many civil rights and human rights organizations who are concerned about racial profiling. And it also says that this gives judges the power to deport people back to Mexico. And here's the detail about that. It would require our cooperation from Mexico, and Mexico has already denounced this law. They said that they do not plan to cooperate, Kate. And so that's going to be a huge difficulty in all of this. If this actually goes into effect, the fact that Mexico was saying that it has a bilateral relationship with the United States and it plans to maintain that bilateral relationship with the White House, not with the state of Texas. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Saying it will not allow in anyone being deported by the state of Texas, saying that very clearly in a statement from the foreign ministry. Let's see what happens today. It's good to see you, Rosa. Thank you so much. John?

BERMAN: So Donald Trump does not have anyone running against him anymore. So why does he keep shedding a notable number of votes in these presidential primaries? We've got new results in this morning.

And an alarming new report that Chinese hackers have infiltrated U.S. water facilities.

Stunning new allegations against a staffer at the London hospital where Princess Kate was treated in January. Were her private medical records breached? We've got new details on the investigation.



BOLDUAN: The top U.S. generals who oversaw the exit from Afghanistan, they say the failures that everyone saw play out, the failures lie with the Biden administration and the State Department and say that their decisions directly led to the chaotic withdrawal.

Now, this marked the first time that the two retired generals publicly testified on Capitol Hill since leaving their posts. Former Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley blaming the State Department for delaying the emergency evacuation.


GEN. MARK MILLEY (RET), FORMER JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: On 14 August, the noncombatant evacuation operation decision was made by the Department of State, and the U.S. military alerted, marshaled, mobilized, and rapidly deployed faster than any military in the world could ever do. It is my assessment that that decision came too late.


BOLDUAN: Joining us right now for more on this is Democratic Congressman Greg Meeks of New York. He is the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

It's good to see you, Congressman. Thank you so much.

Coming out of the hearing, you said that there was -- there was nothing new that was learned. You have all been briefed and there has been an investigation into the withdrawal for quite some time. But still, Mark Milley saying that the Biden administration failed as they called for the evacuation of U.S. personnel too late.

Let me read this: The fundamental mistake, the fundamental flaw was the timing of the State Department that was too slow and too late.

General McKenzie reiterated that point as well and backed him up.

Do you believe them?

MEEKS: Yeah, what he said was, if you listen to the testimony in its entirety, he started out -- he said the fundamental problem was not just those three or four days of which the Republicans want to focus on. The fundamental problem started with the Doha agreement that was done by the Trump administration and everything flowed from there because then you look at the date, and then what was inherited by President Biden.

So, don't -- you know, because I -- listening to some of the reports and I'm trying to -- I was at the hearing from beginning to end and I listened very intently, and he talked about the dates and what was left for President Biden to deal with.

So the deal had to been cut already that all the American troops had to be the out by May 21st. That was the deal. And the deal was done in a bilateral way. He said that, between the Trump administration and the Taliban. The Afghan Army wasn't even involved in that.

And he talked about but how as a result, the Afghan army was attacked by the Taliban, which would not have violated the Doha agreement. So the fundamentals of it was devastating.


And that's why my position has always been that we have a responsibility as members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to do a 20-year review because all 2,461 families of Gold -- who are Gold Star families, needs to know and evaluate and to hear what took place for the entire 20 years. And the generals affirmed that.

And so I would hope that we would listen to the generals in its entirety, not pull out certain things that was gruesome, some things that work. Now, look, 124,000 people were rescued and gotten out there in the shortest period of time, the greatest inspection --


BOLDUAN: No question.

MEEKS: -- I think ever.

BOLDUAN: No question about that, though.

MEEKS: But no one wants to talk about that in evacuating.

BOLDUAN: But, Congressman, the -- General McKenzie said the direct -- the chaos was the direct result of delaying initiation of the evacuation for several months. They're not pointing to the Doha agreement, which may have kicked this off -- and it may have kicked this off during the Trump administration.

But how the final leg was handled for months, they said, several months that a delay in initiation, that is where the chaos came from.

So while there may, there is -- there is blame to the Trump administration. There may be, these generals do seem to be pointing to blame on the Biden administration.

MEEKS: I beg to differ with you. If you listen to the testimony in its entirety, listen to their opening remarks, why -- how he started out, where he clearly states. It's not being reported. I hope that those that watched it, he clearly stated that the foundation of what to do as far as getting out was set by the Trump administration.


BOLDUAN: Could both things be true? Do you think both of these things could be true? Trump could be wrong and Biden could be wrong as well, and how he pulled it off?

MEEKS: In every war -- tell me any war where it is not difficult to get out. And what I look at is in this scenario, so, the choices -- and this is what the general said also, because I heard some of the Republicans arguing, why did we leave on August 31? Why did we know that? It was like that was too early, when we had a situation right here, I remember very clearly when President Ghani came here, he was here at the Capitol and said he would stay and fight.

The next week, he ran. That changed the situation and the administration had a choice, and people can make the determination, whether or not we did wrap up and bring more troops in because the generals also said that they're 100 percent sure we would have been back at war with the Taliban, or withdraw the troops and get out.

And the general also said it was a successful evacuation and that 124 got out, but are hearts are hurting for those 13 soldiers that lost their lives.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you about that.


MEEKS: With all the days and what was taking place there. Yes?

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you about the families of the 13 service members killed by that suicide bomber during the withdrawal, they are still looking for answers. And some of them very clearly are furious with President Biden and the Biden administration about it, and they don't think that they have received the answers -- enough answers or the answers that they are -- answers to the questions that they have about what happened and why.

I heard you say yesterday that you want them to have the answers they're seeking, but the only way to do that is in a bipartisan way. And I asked this very seriously, how do you -- will you make that happen for them on a bipartisan basis?

MEEKS: I'm working very hard to do that. And that's why I want the entire 20 years to be -- have oversight of the entire 20 years, and not just trying to pick something out because we're into a presidential election because that's what was taking place. This is presidential politics that we've taken place, not trying to resolve the issues for those families.

Fact of the matter is I felt even sorry for some of the families to be quite honest with you, Kate, because sometimes I believe that they're used as props, as opposed for us focusing and oversight -- doing our oversight duties, being serious.

The generals said a lot of this is an extra classified material. We -- and the generals who wanted to testify in a classified session, but my Republican colleagues demanded and initially, they were threatened by a subpoena, but was demanded to do so in public, not being serious about getting a bipartisan -- if you listen to the questions that the Democrats were asking the generals, they were asking probing questions, trying to get those answers. Fact of the matter is if you listen to some of the questions, some of my Republican colleagues start attacking the generals, just as the former president has talked about Milley and all the service that they have had.


They went after both generals.

So to me, that's clearly -- when you're going up the distinguished generals, none of us would -- thank the generals for their service. None of us went after the generals or any of the servicemembers.

But unfortunately, my Republican colleagues, that's exactly what they did because it's a political stunt, as happening with government oversight, as happening with Judiciary Committee. They have done nothing other than have political stunts, playing politics -- and that's the wrong thing that we should be doing. We should be working in a bipartisan way, getting the answers for all 2,000 -- 2,000 -- 2,461 -- 2,461 individuals who lost their lives during the 20 years of war of Afghanistan.

BOLDUAN: Congressman Gregg Meeks, always appreciate you coming on and taking the questions. Thank you.

MEEKS: Thank you.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A national ban on abortion after 15 weeks, Donald Trump teases, that is a policy he will get behind.

A fiery explosion so forceful, two beach lifeguard were blown off their chairs. Was it avoidable?



BERMAN: So this morning, a dire warning about the natural gas industry. Experts are sounding the alarm about lax oversight and outdated guidelines. They say it could lead to potentially catastrophic consequences like that explosion you're seeing right there that took place in Venezuela.

CNN's chief climate correspondent Bill Weir is here with the details.


Yes, this industry is exploding metaphorically and it has tripled since 2018, the liquefied natural gas industry. It could triple again in coming year up to 48 billion cubic feet a day, produced mostly in the Gulf, shipped out of the Gulf states there.

But what worries regulators is that none of the regulations have been updated since the 80s. And there is lax oversight and what liquefied natural gas really is, is methane, which is a huge planet cooking pollution, much more powerful than CO2.

And what they do is they get it very cold, down to negative 260 degrees. They use other chemicals, hydrocarbons to condense it. So what's in a beach ball goes down into a ping-pong ball, but those chemicals can leak and create a vapor cloud and what could be ignited by any sort of spark.

We saw the explosion you showed a little bit in Venezuela 2012. It killed dozens of people. The biggest fire in England's history after World War II came as a result of one of these explosions in a place called Buncefield back in 2005 and huge fires as a result of that.

But now there are calls for, hey, let's take a little pause here. The Biden administration has done that for new liquefied natural gas terminals going forward. But the ones that are already permitted, as I said, just massive in size and will just get bigger and bigger.

BERMAN: You see the shorthand is LNG.

WEIR: Exactly.

BERMAN: Is what we are talking about, and preferable in some areas to coal, for instance, in terms of energy, but with its own problems?

WEIR: Yes.

BERMAN: Any issues specific to the United States?

WEIR: Well, the most recent one was in Freeport, Texas. Freeport LNG is a facility, had that explosion as you teased, knocked two lifeguards off their stands a few miles away at Quintana Beach. It only lasts for a second as you can see the vapor sort of explode right away.

There was a fire for about 45 minutes afterwards. A report that looks into this, it was sort of lax oversight. They were understaffed. The company has redacted a lot of their internal investigation as to what happens there.

But this is just one of those points that folks are pointing to. This is Freeport, Texas, Port Arthur -- so much of this taking place in these neighborhoods of color and places that have disproportionate cancer deaths and clusters in these places.

So another concern on top of those concerns, and then there is the climate change aspect. This fuel that was sold to us as better than coal, but that's only if it never, ever the leaks and it leaks everywhere all the time to sometimes tragic, immediate consequences.

BERMAN: All right, Bill Weir, bears watching to be sure. Thank you so much.

WEIR: My pleasure -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: More than a hundred thousand people voted against Donald Trump in the Ohio primary last night, even though Nikki Haley is long gone from the primary. Is the protest vote alive and well among Republicans still? And does it spell trouble for Donald Trump?

Officials in the UK are now trying to determine if someone breached Kate Middleton's private medical records while she was in the hospital.

We'll be right back.