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New York Investigators Expand Probe into Trump Organization; Biden Meets with Pelosi And Schumer As COVID Cases Surge; CDC Warns Against Thanksgiving Travel; New York City Shutdown Leaves Thousands of Kids at Risk; in New York City 60,000 Kids Lack Technical Access to Virtual Learning. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired November 20, 2020 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: New developments into the New York investigation into the Trump Organization. Sources tell CNN that officials have now expanded their investigation into the President's private business operations and they're now looking at tax write-offs that involve millions of dollars in consulting fees.

CNN'S Kara Scannell has the reporting, and so, Kara, we know the President's daughter, Ivanka Trump, is involved in these fees. What more do you know?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Brooke, that's right. This is the first time we've heard Ivanka's name surface in any of these investigations. But sources tell me that New York authorities have brought in their investigation into the President and Trump Organization looking now at millions of dollars of tax write-offs that are tied to consulting fees.

Now there are two distinct investigations here, there's the criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office that's looking into a broad range of conduct and possible violations of tax fraud, possibly insurance fraud. There's also a civil investigation by the New York Attorney General's Office, and they are looking to see whether the Trump Organization had improperly inflated the value of its assets, possibly defrauding banks or the tax authorities.

Now these subpoenas that were issued recently all were a result of a "New York Times" investigation that first disclosed that President Trump had taken $26 million in tax write-offs that were tied to fees he paid to consultants. One of those consulting companies belonged to Ivanka Trump. She had received $747,000 to her consulting company while she was an employee. And that's where the questions are beginning to be asked by prosecutors, was that handled properly?

Now, Alan Garton, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, he has said that everything was done strictly according to the law and that all applicable taxes were paid. But we heard from Ivanka Trump last night soon after the "New York Times" first reported about these subpoenas, which was unusual, we don't often hear from her. She tweeted out the story last night and she said --

This is harassment pure and simple. This inquiry by New York City Democrats is 100 percent motivated by politics, publicity and rage. They know very well that there's nothing here and that there was no tax benefit whatsoever. These politicians are simply ruthless.

Now, these investigations have been going on for more than a year, and they'll really key into focus when the President becomes a private citizen in January. He has been in a long protracted fight legal with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office over a subpoena for his tax returns. That issue is in before the Supreme Court for a second time, and, Brooke, we're expecting a decision on that any day.

BALDWIN: Well, I know you're standing by to get that Kara, thank you so much.

I want to get some prosecutor perspective on all of this. With me now, CNN legal analyst Elie Honig, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. And Elie, as a prosecutor, what do you see here? What could be potential crimes here?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Brooke, this is a bright red flag. Any prosecutor or investigator can tell you any time you see a large consulting fee like this, especially if it's paid to an individual, that's a really common way that people try to move money from source A to source B and potentially to avoid taxes.

I used to do mafia cases. This is exactly what they would do. If they wanted to take money out of a company and put it in the pocket of an individual, they would say, we'll just call it a consulting fee. That does not make it OK on its own. The question, and Kara talked about this, is did Ivanka Trump actually give consulting services worth $747,000? I mean think about that.

There is such a thing as real consulting, but did Ivanka Trump actually give three quarter of a million dollars' worth of consulting fees? Above and beyond as Kara said, she was already an employee of the company. So if I'm a prosecutor, that's what I'm thinking into, call me a skeptic, but I've got my doubts.

BALDWIN: You a skeptic? I can't imagine over all of our conversations we've had about so much of this on TV here, and I hear you on -- that'd be a lot of consulting. As Kara also just mentioned, things are about to be a bit different for the Trump family when they leave the White House, and this is a state case, so a pardon will not work here.

HONIG: Yes, Brooke, look, President Trump and his family have really used the Oval Office as a shield for the last almost four years, but their time is just about up in a couple senses.


First of all, if the President issues a pardon to his family members, maybe even to himself, big question about whether that's lawful, it's not going to have any impact on state charges. This case is being investigated by the Manhattan DA. That's a state

level prosecutor. The New York AG, that's a state level prosecutor. The other thing is they've used the fact that the President is in office to delay, delay, fight these subpoenas, delay these lawsuits.

They've lost at every step of the way as Kara said, they're now almost back in front of the Supreme Court, but that protection goes away at noon on January 20th as well. So it's going to be open game really for the Manhattan DA once the new President is inaugurated.

BALDWIN: And back to the three quarters of a million dollars in these consulting fees, you know, if you were assigned to this case, if you were investigating, Elie, how would you follow up on the consulting to see if it was legit?

HONIG: Yes, so look, little free advice here to the Manhattan DA or the New York AG, I would serve a subpoena and say, I want to see the work product.

She did $747,000 worth of consulting work, show me her reports, show me the plans, show me the e-mails, because god knows for that much money, there better be an awful lot of work product of documents of actual proof that she gave actual consulting. If it's there, then good for her, and maybe it was a legitimate consulting arrangement. If it's not there, then that tells you a lot of what you need to know.

BALDWIN: Elie Honig, thank you. My favorite skeptic. Thank you.

Coming up next here on CNN, the CDC is now warning college students a Thanksgiving trip home might put your family in danger.



BALDWIN: All right here is some more breaking news this afternoon. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are meeting right now with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Just another example of how Biden and Harris are pushing ahead with their transition to the White House despite the President's attempts to stop them.

This also comes as a source tells CNN that Speaker Pelosi has repeatedly referred to President Trump as a, and I quote, psychopathic nut, in multiple calls this week.

So there's that, also this. The CDC is urging Americans not to travel over Thanksgiving, stressing that the safest way to celebrate is at home with people you live with. And that means college students who have been away should stay away.

The CDC spells it out saying this, quote, people who do not currently live in your housing unit such as college students who are returning home from school for holidays should be considered part of different households. But this guidance came out only yesterday, so how many students will

actually heed this advice? CNN's Bianna Golodryga has more on how some colleges are trying to help.


DONALD BIRX, PRESIDENT, PLYMOUTH STATE UNIVERSITY: Students come all through the day by alphabetical order and get tested.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST (voice-over): Sitting in a campus gym refitted as a COVID-19 testing site, Plymouth State University President Donald Birx has been preparing for a Thanksgiving break like no other.

DONALD BIRX: We've got them tested and going back home safely.

GOLODRYGA: The New Hampshire public university has been testing students and faculty weekly since September. The strategy appears to be working. The school currently has fewer than 20 confirmed active cases, all isolated off campus.

DONALD BIRX: The students have been fantastic through the whole process.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE COORDINATOR: We will have to adapt this Thanksgiving, just like the students have adapted to how they interact with each other.

GOLODRYGA: Plymouth State recently hosted White House Coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx as she toured campuses last month. She also happens to be Donald's sister.

DONALD BIRX: There was a time when I called her up and I said, do you really think we can do this?

GOLODRYGA: She has been focused on speaking directly to students and administrators about the rise in COVID-19 cases as colder weather and the holidays approach.

DEBORAH BIRX: This virus can spread among families and friends. If you take your mask off and if you're primarily indoors.

DONALD BIRX: She spent 45 minutes just talking about all the background, what she'd learned.

GOLODRYGA: College students heading home for Thanksgiving are of special concern for Dr. Birx and other health officials.

A. DAVID PALTIEL, PUBLIC HEALTH PROFESSOR, YALE SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Young asymptomatic individuals, the so called silent spreaders, are fueling the epidemic in this country and so college students have a responsibility to ensure that they don't unwittingly unleash ticking time bombs into the nation's airports, train stations and Thanksgiving dining tables.

GOLODRYGA: Despite that concern, the CDC hadn't published guidelines recommending against Thanksgiving travel until just one week before the holiday. That delay in guidance led to each campus setting their own protocols, some more rigid than others.

PALTIEL: They're all over the map, I think it's a recipe for a very jumbled Thanksgiving dinner.

GOLODRYGA: New York state's university system will require all it's 140,000 students using on-campus facilities to test negative for COVID-19 within ten days before departing campus. Those that test positive must isolate.

JIM MALATRAS, CHANCELLOR, THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK: We want to give our families and our students and their families that they're coming for Thanksgiving and other things, confidence that we are maximizing all our public health protection.

GOLODRYGA: The University of Michigan will also require campus exit tests.

ANDREW MOLLARD, COLLEGE STUDENT: I think it's a good procedure to make sure everybody, you know, stays safe.

GOLODRYGA: The University of Wisconsin's system is mandating three COVID-19 tests, one before and two after Thanksgiving break and even encouraging students not to go home at all.


ANDREW LEAVITT, CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN OSHKOSH: We normally would have maybe 60 or 70 students stay. We certainly would like to have more stay at this time.

GOLODRYGA: Other schools are taking a more lax approach. Both Penn State and Indiana University are not making testing mandatory for students before leaving campus. And despite rising cases on its campus, Arizona State University officials say around half of on- campus students have not complied with random testing.

(on camera): Should mandatory guidelines be instituted in colleges before students decide to leave or break?

PALTIEL: Absolutely, voluntary programs sound wonderful, but they don't work.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Fortunately, many college students are being extra cautious.

ELLIOT BOZ, COLLEGE STUDENT: My family is at home, and, you know, grandparents are back, so I want to make sure that I'm cleared before I come back home.


GOLODRYGA (on camera): So, Brooke, good thing that young gentleman is as responsible as he is, but the real frustration lies with the CDC. Federal guidance being issued just one week before the Thanksgiving holiday. You have families already making plans. How are parents going to be telling their children not to come home this late?

And remember a lot of these schools to mitigate the spread of the virus had already planned that that school's semester would end by Thanksgiving. So the question is where are thousands of students going to be going now given that the CDC said they shouldn't travel?

BALDWIN: I would like to think, I would I have done the right thing back in the day when I was at Chapel Hill. But, man, it's tough for the families, but you do have to put health and safety first. Bianna, thank you very much, Bianna Golodryga.

Coming up next, the unseen victims of the epidemic. As schools shut down, what's being done to help the children of America struggling with hunger and abuse right now?



BALDWIN: Mayor Bill de Blasio infuriated a New York City parents on Wednesday when he abruptly shut down public schools over rising COVID infection rates. If they still have jobs, working parents now have to scramble just to figure out childcare and of course there's the technology for virtual learning.

But there is an estimated 60,000 kids who cannot immediately pick up with online lessons. They are still waiting for devices to be provided to them by the city and for others getting a computer won't help. They don't have access to wi-fi.

Geoffrey Canada is joining me now. He is the founder of Harlem Children's Zone and appeared in the film "Waiting for Superman." And Mr. Jeffrey Canada, it is an honor to And a privilege to have you on. Welcome, sir.

GEOFFREY CANADA, FOUNDER AND FORMER PRESIDENT/CEO, HARLEM CHILDREN'S ZONE: Thank you, Brooke. It's a pleasure for me to be on. And I'm so happy you've decided that you want to talk about this issue.

BALDWIN: Of course I want to talk about this issue. And you are the person I want to talk about the issue with. You know, I know you're calling this an educational disaster, especially for underprivileged kids. What can we do about it?

CANADA: Well this is the issue. We've never had anything like this happen before. You've got young people growing up afraid to be near anybody, afraid they're going to kill their grandparents, no friends, no education. And on top of that, the very same families, they have lost their jobs. They don't know how they are going to get food. They're worried about being evicted from their apartment and this hasn't been going on for a month or two. This has been going on for seven, eight months.

This is the kind of trauma that children in America have never faced before and I feel like I'm the lookout on the Titanic yelling, hey, there's an iceberg and no one's listening. So what do we need to do? I am calling for our teachers to be vaccinated right after we do the health care workers, because we've got to get these schools open. We've got to give our kids the health, the mental health, the support they need and get their education back on track.

But we need more than just to open the schools. We've got to rethink education. We are providing a comprehensive set of supports for these children because we've recognized this is not just one challenge in poor communities. It's challenge after challenge after challenge and schools can't do it by themselves. So we need to rethink how schools operate in terms of the total community.

BALDWIN: Tell me more about that. What do you mean total community?

CANADA: I think there are a bunch of us who believe you've got to do a cradle-to-career strategy. You've got to start with families literally at birth and surround them with the best practice in education. You've got to make sure young people have the best in-school support, after- school support, weekend support, summer support. And they get health services, and they get mental health services, and we give them sports and exercise that's what we do at the Harlem Children's Zone.

There are other places around this country who are doing that kind of a program and it's all centered around helping kids be successful in schools. This is not just dumping this on schools and saying, hey, teachers and principals, you solve 50 years of this disinvestment in this community by having the kid a few hours.

BALDWIN: Quick last question, I want to squeeze this in. You know, parents, I know your mom was integral for you in terms of handing you books at a young age when you grew up with not a whole heck of a lot in the South Bronx. You know, there are parents out there struggling, lot of them, you know, don't have jobs, trying to get a roof over their head, don't have access to wi-fi. What do you tell parents, right now? Thirty seconds.

CANADA: So, here's the message to parents, look, don't give up. We have help coming. There's going to be a vaccination. We're going to get these schools back open. A bunch of us are trying to think about how we can help and support you.


But you have to be honest with your children. They know you're struggling. Don't be afraid to sit and talk to them and explain why it's tough but explain that things are going to get better. We're going to go out and do everything humanly possible to help the poorest families in this country.

BALDWIN: Bless you, Geoffrey Canada. Thank you so much.

CANADA: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

President Trump's unprecedented obstruction, how he is not just hurting the President-elect but the entire country with this transition chaos.

But first, a programming note. She was a born leader, a fearless adviser, a political force. The CNN original series "First Ladies" profiles Hillary Clinton Sunday night at 10:00 Eastern.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with the 2020 LEAD. Two months from today, President- elect Joe Biden will become President Joe Biden.