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Whistleblower on White House Clearances; Democrats Subpoena for Full Mueller Report; Trump Not Bluffing About Shutting Down the Border; Buttigieg Raises $7 Million; Democrats Divided over Biden Accusations; Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D) Illinois is Interviewed on Biden Accusations. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 01, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Coverage right now.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, everyone, I'm Dana Bash, in for Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, are officials inside the White House qualified to hear America's secrets? A whistleblower says more than two dozen Trump officials were given clearance after they were initially denied.

Speaking of secrets, Robert Mueller's report is still not public, and soon Democrats say subpoenas are coming.

Plus, he's not bluffing. The White House says the president is serious about shutting down the southern bothered, as the administration makes a big move.

And I'll talk to one sheriff who says he'd rather go to jail than enforce a proposed new law that takes guns away from people who may pose a risk.

Up first, a matter of national security and questions about who is allowed access to the country's most important secrets. According to the chairman of the House Oversight Commit, a White House staffer says about two dozen individuals were given security clearances despite initially being denied. Democratic Congressman Elijah Congressman says the clearances were turned down due to a range of issues from fears about foreign influence to potential conflicts of interest.

Let's get straight to congressional reporter Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill.

Lauren, what more can you tell us about this?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Dana, what we know is that Trisha Newbold appeared before the House Oversight Committee in a closed door interview with the committee members. And what she told them was she was deeply concerned about how the security clearance process was working at the White House. Basically she would express that she didn't think someone would have a security clearance and then that decision would be overturned by senior White House officials. Now, you know, her concerns with coming forward at great risk to her

job she said were just because she was concerned about national security. She told the committee, quote, I would not be doing a service to myself, my country or my children if I sat back knowing that the issues that we have could impact national security.

Now, Cummings also said that he will subpoena Carl Kline, who served as the personnel security officer at the White House for the two -- first two years of the Trump administration, that he has questions he wants answered from Carl Kline.

Now, Jim Jordan, who is the leading Republican on this committee, he said simply that this is a fishing expedition, that he does not think that Elijah Cummings has the best intentions here when he's trying to get answers on these security clearances. Instead, he said, quote, it is extremely unfortunate and disappointing that Chairman Cummings is now using this sensitive topic as a pretense for a partisan attack on the White House.


BASH: Shocker. There's partisan politics being accused and going on, on Capitol Hill, even on important issues of oversight.

Lauren, stand by, because with me here in the studio I have Chris Lu, who was the White House cabinet secretary and transition director for President Obama.

Thank you so much for coming in --


BASH: Because I want you to put this in context, because this is the kind of thing that you did, security clearances.

LU: Yes.

BASH: You oversaw this in the Obama administration. So explain how the process works in so much as how unusual what this alleged whistleblower is saying is.

LU: Yes. You know, it's sometimes hard given the daily barrage of news to separate what's important and what's not important. This is important. Twenty-five individuals, White House officials, were granted clearances despite career officials raising objections. Those objections ranged from foreign influence, possible blackmail, possible corrupt activity, questionable activity, financial problems.

Those decisions are made by career officials for a reason. Political appointees should certainly not have anything to do with this and certainly the president should not have anything to do with this. This is supposed to be based on the best interests of the U.S. government and national security interests.

BASH: And that's how it worked in the Obama administration? LU: Absolutely.

BASH: You were a political appointee?

LU: Absolutely. I -- I was cleared three times during different times when I worked for Barack Obama. I've known Barack Obama since law school. I suspect if I could not have gotten a clearance, I know for a fact he would not have overruled career officials. That's not the way we conducted business.

BASH: I want to read something that this -- this woman, Ms. Newbold, who is the whistleblower, said to Congress according to Elijah Cummings' statement. The White House had not stopped doing credit history checks during the review of -- during the review process, rather, lacked security for personnel files and adequate staff during the review process and allowed for an unusually high number of interim security clearances, including some individuals who were later deemed unsuitable for access to classified information, that is according to the memo.

Does that concern you?

LU: Oh, absolutely. The interim clearances -- we've talked about this over the last year. I mean so during the period of time when they had an interim clearance they were granted access to classified information. It was later turned out that several of these individuals were not granted the permanent clearance. You can't un-ring that bell. They've now had access to all this information.

[13:05:11] On top of that, the White House wasn't doing basic credit checks to find out if people had financial problems. They were subject to potential blackmail. And so this is concerning.

And this should be bipartisan, and -- and I think of all the investigations, this is potentially the one that should concern Republicans most of all.

BASH: Well, and you've started to ask that question, before I get to Lauren to switch gears here, on why it matters.

LU: Oh --

BASH: You mentioned blackmail. But -- but big picture, people watching this and saying, OK, so they got security clearances. Maybe there were some red flags. But, you know, how really -- how dangerous is it really?

LU: When you get a top secret clearance, you have access to the most sensitive information in the U.S. government. It's not only the information, but it's how that information was collected. That would be incredibly valuable to any foreign power, and you want to make sure that every box has been checked, every hurdle has been cleared before those are given out.

BASH: OK, stand by, I want to get back to Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill because she's also following a new development in the battle over the Mueller report.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler plans to authorize a subpoena this week calling for Congress to get access to the full, un-redacted report.

Lauren, tell us about the congressman's plans on this.

FOX: Well, certainly this is just escalating the fight with the White House and the executive branch over getting the full Mueller report. Of course, you know, the concern here has been that they want just -- not just a summary of this report, not just a redacted version of this report, as has been promised to them, but they want to see the underlying evidence of how decisions were made when it came to the final conclusions of this report, Dana. So on Wednesday the committee will meet. They will vote to authorize these subpoenas. But, again, it's a preemptive measure. It's unclear when the chairman would actually force a subpoena and actually move forward with that.

BASH: OK, Lauren, thank you.

And, Chris, what is your view on what you just heard Lauren report, especially given the context here, which is that the attorney general says that he is going to hand over the Mueller report with redactions, he says, for security reasons and some executive privilege reasons. Should -- should the Democrats be pushing this as quickly as they are?

LU: Well, look, I think this is a protective measure that Chairman Nadler is taking to make sure that no stone is left unturned, that at the end of the day the American people get to see all this information. It is possible that the attorney general handles these redactions in a reasonable way. Obviously safeguarding national security, grand jury material. But I think there's a broader concern based on the attorney general's previous writings about an expansive executive power that much of this stuff might be held back for improper reasons. So I think this is an appropriate, preemptive, protective measure.

BASH: Chris Lu, thank you so much.

LU: Thank you.

BASH: It's great having you here giving us your insight.

LU: Always.

BASH: And Lauren Fox as well on Capitol Hill, thank you.

And, meanwhile, at the White House, President Trump is -- at least people around him saying that he's not bluffing on his threat to close the U.S. border with Mexico. He says he could close parts or all of it as soon as this week.

And we are just learning the Trump administration will speed up its plan to send more officers to the border and might even add an additional 2,000 officers as well as officials say they are reaching a breaking point. President Trump is also directing the State Department to cut off aid

to three Central American countries, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

CNN's White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is with me.

And, Kaitlan, what are you hearing from our sources about the possibility that the president is actually going to follow through on this threat?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, some people are skeptical because this is a threat that President Trump has made before and never followed through on. But his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said that unless something drastic happens, he does expect the president to follow through with this threat to close the southern border. Now there are going to be questions about how they're going to do that and what all it's going to affect. Not only trade, potentially even air travel, those are questions that the White House is not answering right now, the logistics part of this and how that would go on and what the repercussions of closing the southern border would be.

Now, the acting defense secretary, Pat Shanahan, said he has not been given any directions at the Pentagon so far to carry out this, to close the southern border, to send anyone down to the southern border. So clearly this is still very much a fluid plan and they don't have any kind of strategy in place so far judging by what our sources have told us.

Now, you also noted it's not just this threat to close the southern border. It's also the threat to cut off that aid, that directive that the president said he's issued to cut off the aid from those three Central American countries. Now, Mulvaney, yesterday, during an interview with Jake Tapper, was asked about the data that shows actually giving aid to countries like that helps stop the surge of migrants and actually makes the border safer. He said that was just career officials saying that and he said it's clear it's not working because if you look at the numbers, including that record-breaking number, the 11-year high last month that had 76,000 people trying to cross the border, he said it's proof that they do need to follow through on this threat and that there is a crisis at the border, in Mick Mulvane's words.

[13:10:12] BASH: Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much for that report.

And here with me at the table is CNN political director David Chalian.

So good to talk to you. I can't wait for this download because we have so much to discuss.

Let's just begin with what Kaitlan was talking about. Obviously there are incredible politics at play in anything that any president does with regard to immigration, but particularly Donald Trump.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, I was just thinking, Dana, listening to Kaitlan, you realize we are two months away from the four-year anniversary of Donald Trump coming down the escalator and launching his campaign for president and putting immigration front and center as the issue. And it has been four years of consistency of staying on this as what he sees as the sort of lifeline and his support to his base. This clearly is part of that.

We have seen Donald Trump have the ability of raising immigration in the consciousness of Americans as an important issue. When he talks about it all the time, it does become a more important Americans tell us in polling and yet it doesn't always necessarily play only to his positive. Obviously it also riles up a key part of the Democratic base.

BASH: Right, it does. And then we're also as the point where he's got his base, and he has had his base, and we're get to the point where he needs to expand beyond that.

CHALIAN: Yes. I --

BASH: Does that help or hurt or we don't know the answer yet.

CHALIAN: I look for that every day because that's the equation, you need your base plus to win, right?

BASH: Right.

CHALIAN: He had that plus with independents in 2016. And I don't see anything he's doing right now that actually, even on this issue, that really expands the universe beyond his -- his already existing supporters, having them enthusiastic, committed, constantly riled up is a key part of his success equation.

BASH: OK, let's talk about the Democratic side and fundraising numbers. The first quarter ended last night. It's April 1st. It's not just April Fool's Day, but it's a time when we all look to see --

CHALIAN: These numbers are real.

BASH: They all look to see how much they raised because that has a big impact, particularly on these -- these new -- newer known candidates.

One of them is Pete Buttigieg. He announced that he raised $7 million since he launched -- launched his exploratory committee. That's pretty impressive for somebody who is the mayor of South Bend and didn't have a national profile.

CHALIAN: Exactly. And it's even a little more impressive than you might think because, yes, he opened his account in January, but nobody really even knew who Pete Buttigieg was basically until the CNN town hall really put him on the national stage. That's just three weeks ago. So the bulk of that $7 million is in the last three weeks.

It is impressive and yet we already know O'Rourke and Sanders have said they raised nearly that much in their first 24 hours.

BASH: But we don't have their numbers yet.

CHALIAN: We don't have their numbers yet, but I'm just saying, they've told us --

BASH: Yes.

CHALIAN: In their first 24 hours they raised near that (ph). So there are going to be bigger numbers. Pete Buttigieg's shows that he's going to have some staying power here. This isn't just a fleeting moment. But there are going to be folks well ahead of him in the money race.

BASH: What do you make of Elizabeth Warren's finance director leaving this weekend?

CHALIAN: Well, this was a big battle inside the campaign, Dana, because Elizabeth Warren, by necessity more so than probably a planned-out strategy, decided to say, hey, I'm not doing big dollar fundraisers, I'm not doing the hotel ballroom. I'm going to spend my time on the trail and raising grassroot donations. So the whole reason that person had the job was to do the big dollar fundraisers. There really wasn't a purpose there.

But it also shows there was a strategic split inside the campaign in these early stages. And they're adjusting to that.

BASH: Yes, which is -- which is not necessarily a positive thing when you're someone like her and money is key at the beginning.


BASH: Before I let you go, we're going to talk about Joe Biden later in the show, but I just -- I'm dying to get your take on this because we know that the former Democratic lieutenant governor candidate in Nevada, Lucy Flores, she came on CNN yesterday. She described in detail how she felt uncomfortable when they were at a campaign event together. She said that he -- the vice president leaned behind her, smelled her hair, planted a slow kiss on her head.

In anticipation of that, Joe Biden released the following statement. I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort, and not once, never, did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did, so I will listen respectfully, but it was never my intention.

So what do you make of this in the big picture here of Joe Biden generationally and in terms of having his footing firm, ready to go as a candidate in the 2019-2020 era?

CHALIAN: Well, you raised the right question. This, to me, besides the specifics of the story, which Joe Biden addressed and doesn't remember the event this way, but fully supports Lucy Flores' desire to talk and said he's willing to listen.

But -- but what I think is so important here politically for Joe Biden is, he is aware now -- this is the frame through which his candidacy is going to be viewed time and time again. Is he out of step with where the modern day Democratic Party is in the post-Me Too era, in this moment of time, in a media environment? Is Joe Biden fully geared up for that? It is a very different world obviously from his first run in '88, but even from his run in 2008. And I would argue, even when he was on the ticket in 2012 last, we're in an entirely new environment. And I think one of the big tests for Joe Biden is, how does he show that he can navigate that new environment?

[13:15:17] BASH: It's so true. And, look, he's a tactile person is probably the best way to put it. And we all know, and maybe have seen him approach people in that way. He's a touchy-feely guy, and in this post-Me Too era, or in this current Me Too era, it is -- it is a very, very different situation.

David, so good to see you, as always.

CHALIAN: You too.

BASH: And the White House and Republicans are making promise after promise about the president's replacement plan for Obamacare. The problem is that plan doesn't exist.

Plus, a rapper and entrepreneur shot to death just before he was to meet with the LAPD over gang violence.

And, dueling protests underway in Chicago, as protesters come face to face over Jussie Smollett and his case.


[13:20:33] BASH: Former Vice President Joe Biden isn't even in the 2020 race yet, and he's already doing campaign damage control. Now Biden is defending himself against allegations from former Nevada politician Lucy Flores that he made her feel, quote, uneasy, gross and confused back in 2014 at a rally when she was running for Nevada lieutenant governor. She says he kissed her on the back and on the head.

I want to go straight to former Democratic senator from Illinois, Carol Moseley Braun.

Thank you so much, senator, for joining me.


BASH: Before we start, I just want you to listen to Lucy Flores on CNN with Jake Tapper yesterday, how she described that moment.


LUCY FLORES (D), FORMER NEVADA LT. GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Very unexpectedly and out of nowhere I feel Joe Biden put his hands on my shoulders, get up very close to me from behind, lean in, smell my hair and then plant a slow kiss on the top of my head.

You don't expect that kind of intimacy from someone so powerful and someone who you just have no relationship whatsoever to touch you and to feel you.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: Senator, what's your reaction when you hear that?

BRAUN: Well, you know, I know a lot of people, and of all the people I know, Joe Biden is without doubt one of the most thoughtful and respectful of others I've ever known, I've ever met. And I worked with him for six years, as you may know, in the Senate, and I've had contact with him since then. And so I can tell you that while I've -- obviously you have to believe Ms. Flores because she described her own life experience. But the point is that to make a big kerfuffle out of this with a man who's done nothing but spend his life in the service of others I think is just wrong.

And so, you know, I just hope we can go back. You know, she talked about -- in her article about how she felt powerless. Well, she did have power. She could have just turned around and said, don't do that, don't touch me. She could have just spoken to him on the spot, in the moment, and expressed her point of view or her feelings about it.

BASH: Well --

BRAUN: If she was creeped out, then say as much.

BASH: Well, you know -- you know, woman to woman, sometimes if you're in a situation, particularly she was about to go on stage with the vice president or former vice president of the United States, as a candidate, you don't necessarily say what you want to say in that moment. So do you -- do you blame her for not doing that at that time?

BRAUN: No. I'm just saying to you that, you know, the context of this situation as a man, like I said, who spent his life being nice to people and trying to help people and serving the public and serving individuals, I mean, he was there doing a nice favor for her, campaigning for her in a race that she ultimately lost, as you know. But the fact is, I don't -- I don't mean to castigate her at all. And I think, if anything, if -- she may have been doing Joe Biden a favor because quite frankly if this kind of alerts him to some of the landmines that are out there, this -- this is a new political environment, as you well know. And so, as you have these culture shifts, which frankly this is one that I appreciate and I applaud. I'm a lifelong feminist. I worked -- I mean I was involved with trying to pass the Equal Rights Amendment here in Illinois back in the day. So -- so I've been involved with these issues for a long time. And I -- and I know what it's like to try to combat the patriarchy. But I don't think that's Joe Biden at all. I think that you've got the wrong person here to throw -- make that kind of allegation about, and because he's -- he is such a good guy and he has been so respectful of people over the years.

BASH: So I want to read part of what Joe Biden said in his statement to Lucy Flores or about Lucy Flores. In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I've offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort, and not once, never, did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully but it was never my intention.

Given what you just so described aptly, senator, the cultural shift, the difference, maybe generational shift, is this statement enough?

BRAUN: I think so. I think so. What else are you supposed to do? You know, Lucy, I'm sorry, I, you know, got too close to you? I mean, seriously, what else is he supposed to do? He's apologized to her and said he will listen to her. He hears her. He has taken notice of the situation and what -- and, again, of this particular set of landmines, and they are landmines for people who are not accustomed to navigating things being taken out of context.

[13:25:09] But I swear to you, I think that's what has happened here. It's been taken out of context. He's such a good guy. And he never -- he has never done anything inappropriate along those lines in my experience. And I've been --

BASH: Is he --

BRAUN: I've worked very closely with him.

BASH: You have. And, you know, just even as reporters and other people around the vice president, he is -- I guess the best way to describe him is that he's a tactile guy. And it's his way of showing that he's interested, that he has empathy, just having a conversation, men and women. I mean we've both seen it.

Have you, in your experience, particularly when you were serving with him, now looking back through the 2019 lens, did you see him do anything that you would think, again, thinking about somebody who's going to run for president in 2020, you can't act like that anymore, Joe?

BRAUN: Well, he -- because -- because he is -- he is such a good guy and he's done such a good job reaching out to people, when he got me to serve of on the Judiciary Committee when I first got to the Senate, he came by -- I was just moving into a house. He came by and sat on a box and ate cherry pie that I cooked. So if -- you know, I mean I don't know, in this environment, can you do that, go to somebody's house and eat cherry pie while you're having a discussion about serving on the Senate Finance Committee, on the Senate Judiciary Committee? I don't know.

But, again, a lot of these rules you have to make up as you go. But you can't -- you won't find a better person to be involved with the conversation than Joe Biden. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

BASH: Senator Carol Moseley Braun, former senator from Illinois, thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate it.

BRAUN: Thank you. My pleasure.

BASH: And just before he was set to meet with police on gang violence, a Grammy-nominated rapper is shot to death outside his own store. Hear about the manhunt underway.

Plus, as the White House says the president isn't bluffing on his threat to shut down the bothered, officials who are facing overflowing facilities now planning to release thousands of immigrants and migrants as well. We get reaction from a key lawmaker, next.