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Inside Politics

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge To Resign; Netanyahu Vows To Press On With Rafah Operation; Menendez Pleads Not Guilty To New Bribery, Obstruction Charges; Sen. Britt Facing Backlash After Controversial Speech; Trafficking Survivor To CNN: Britt Telling Her Story "Not Fair". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 11, 2024 - 12:30   ET



PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Now, in USA Today, she provided an exclusive interview where she told the newspaper that it's, quote, "time to go home." And she said that she believes that she has done everything she can for the department and is expected to resign this month.

Now, the deputy secretary, according to the president's statement, will take the post as acting secretary. But Manu, this does come as a surprise. Only days ago, the White House chief of staff told reporters that the cabinet was going to remain in place over the duration of the year.

But this is not the case today. We are now learning that the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development will leave the post this month.

MANU RAJU, CNN HOST: Oh, interesting. Surprise to the White House. And which not to have many cabinet secretary resigns. We're seeing one today, Marcia Fudge.

Thanks, Priscilla Alvarez for bringing us that news.

All right. Divisions between President Biden and Israel -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu burst into the open just this past weekend. In an interview with MSNBC, Biden said Netanyahu's policies are, quote, "hurting Israel more than helping Israel."

And he had this to say about the IDF going into the city of Rafah, where an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's a red line, but I'm never going to leave Israel. The defense of Israel is still critical. So there's no red line. I'm going to cut off all weapons so they don't have the Iron Dome to protect them. They don't have -- but there's red lines that if it crosses and they cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Now, Netanyahu responded this morning and made clear Israel would move forward with its military plans, regardless of any pressure from the United States.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: The president and I have agreed that we have to destroy Hamas. We can't leave a quarter of the Hamas terror army in place. They're there in Rafah. If the president means by that, that we should first enable the safe departure of the civilian population from Rafah before we go in, we agree with that. We don't need any prompting.


RAJU: And I want to welcome CNN's Political and Global Affairs Analyst, Barak Ravid. Barak, thanks for joining us. We heard Biden stake out an Israeli invasion of Rafah as red line, but he also said he is never going to take away military funding from Israel. So what does a red line actually mean and how is that impacting the Israeli strategy?

BARAK RAVID, CNN POLITICAL & GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: So, first, I think that if we listen closely to what Biden said, on the one hand, he said Rafah rough operation is red line, meaning he's not going to allow it. On the other hand, he said that he's not going to stop completely weapon supplies to Israel, and he mentioned specifically the Iron Dome system, this missile defense system.

He did not mention, however, things like munitions for fighter planes. He did not mention artillery shells or shells for armored tanks. So I think it's -- it was not by mistake that he mentioned the Iron Dome, and he did not mention other kinds of weapons.

RAJU: So how would you characterize Netanyahu's relationship with Biden right now, and just how strained is it?

RAVID: I think it's very strained. I think it's -- what Biden is trying to do over the last few days, I think, since the State of the Union speech where he didn't even mention Netanyahu by name. He spoke about the Israeli leadership as if, you know, it's some sort of an entity and not a person.

And I think he's trying to break away from Benjamin Netanyahu while still sticking with Israel and its fight against Hamas and especially the whole issue of releasing the hostages.

RAJU: Yes.

RAVID: And it's a very tricky maneuver because at the end of the day, Benjamin Netanyahu is the Prime Minister of Israel. So anything you say about him reflects about what, you know, what you think about the country as a whole.

RAJU: Now, Netanyahu says Israelis support his plan to invade Rafah. Is he right? RAVID: Well, you know, he also said that when Biden disagrees with him, he disagrees with the majority of Israelis. And I'm not sure that's accurate because while the majority of Israelis do support the war, the same number between 70 percent to 80 percent say they want Netanyahu to resign, either now immediately or right after the war.

So I think that, you know, I'm not sure Netanyahu is accurate when he says that Biden and the majority of the Israeli public disagree. Maybe on some stuff they disagree, but maybe on other stuff they agree quite much.

RAJU: Now, many in Biden's party are arguing that Israel's slow walking of humanitarian aid is violating U.S. and international law, and that the U.S. should pull military aid. Bernie Sanders, for one, the progressive independent who caucuses with Democrats, made that argument just yesterday. Listen.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Right now, you have a right wing extremist government under Netanyahu. There are plans to provide him with another $10 billion in unfettered military aid. What you can say to Netanyahu, stop the slaughter. Allow the massive amounts of humanitarian aid that we need to come in to feed the children.

Please, please, please. Oh, but by the way, if you don't do it, here's another $10 billion to continue the war.


RAJU: So Barak, how much is the pressure from the left impacting Biden's policy towards Israel?

RAVID: I think it does. I don't know if it's, you know, if it's, you know, 100 percent influences, it's his -- Biden's decisions, but definitely it has influence. And, you know, Biden had to release a few weeks ago at the beginning of February, a new national security memorandum that deals with rules, new rules for countries that use U.S. weapons in conflict areas.

And it wasn't specifically about Israel. But, you know, at the current moment, Israel is the main country who gets U.S. weapons and is fighting in a conflict area. And Israel needs to provide by, I think, by mid-March like something until the end of this week, it needs to provide the U.S. with a written letter of assurances about the use of U.S. weapons in Gaza and about a commitment to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, any humanitarian aid that is supported by the U.S. government.

And the Israelis, I think, are going to sign it by the end of the week. But after they do, after they do, I think any time that they will do anything directly or indirectly to stop aid from going into Gaza, they are under threat of U.S. suspending military military assistance. RAJU: All right, Barak Ravid, thank you so much for your expertise and your reporting. Really appreciate it.

RAVID: Thank you, Manu.

RAJU: All right. Embattled New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez and his wife just left court. They're facing even more charges of extortion, bribery, and obstruction of justice. We're live at the courthouse next.



RAJU: Embattled New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez has pleaded not guilty for a third time in an alleged bribery scheme. He and his wife just left a New York courtroom after being arraigned on a dozen new felony charges. They include new charges of bribery, extortion, and obstruction.

And as he faces accusations he corruptly worked with the governments of Egypt and Qatar, the Democrat and one-time powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, continues to maintain his innocence, calling the charges, quote, "a flagrant abuse of power."

CNN's Jason Carroll is live outside the courthouse. Jason, what's the latest?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you know, Manu, this is a man, this is a senator who has said all along, this is just the government's efforts to try to get at him, to go after him. He said nothing outside court when he was entering, when he was leaving.

Once he was inside court when he was asked to enter a plea, he told the judge once again, not guilty, Your Honor. He is now facing and his wife now facing 18 counts, including conspiracy, acting as a foreign agent, bribery, extortion and wire fraud.

As you know, he was already facing bribery charges. These new charges prosecutors are alleging that the bribery allegations that we've all been hearing about that in terms of when they said that they were receiving money, for example, for a mortgage on a new home, money for a brand new Mercedes, once they found out, prosecutors say, that they were under investigation.

They tried to make it out that that money wasn't a bribe. They said it was a loan. Not true, according to prosecutors. They're also alleging in this superseding indictment that Senator Menendez and his wife made false statements to their attorneys, and then their attorneys in turn made misleading statements to U.S. attorneys when they had interviews with them last year.

The senator, for his part, Manu, saying the following. "It says that the prosecutors are afraid of the facts, scared to subject their charges to the fair-minded scrutiny of a jury. It says once and for all, that they will stop at nothing in their zeal to get at me." So for right now, new charges. The trial is scheduled to happen May 6th as scheduled.

RAJU: Yes, May 6th.


RAJU: It's been defined all along. We'll see what happens when it goes to trial in just a matter of weeks.

All right, Jason Carroll, thanks for that report.

My great panel is back. Now, look, all this is happening. He's still a member of the Democratic Caucus, he still gets classified briefings. I've kind of talked -- I've asked him about that multiple times, he said it is his right as a senator to do so, and he's faced resignation calls from most of the Democratic Caucus, including one of the most outspoken members of the Democratic Caucus, John Fetterman, who I caught up with last week about Menendez.


SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN (D), PENNSYLVANIA: And it's been clear that my colleagues want to keep him around. And now we have his trial in less than two months and that's going to handle it.

RAJU: I mean, what does it say about this institution that he's still serving in here?

FETTERMAN: I don't know what it says, other than that they guess they're just OK with having a sleazeball in the Senate.



RAJU: Now, Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, we've asked him repeatedly, including last week, why not -- why is this OK with you? All he would say is, I'm deeply disappointed in his conduct and nothing else. Why hasn't Schumer gone as far as the rest of his colleagues have in trying to, at least calling on him to resign?

JOHN BRESNAHAN, CO-FOUNDER, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: Well, traditionally, members who are indicted criminal charges, they, in the House, particularly lose committee assignments. He hasn't lost this here, but they can remain members. And, of course, Menendez went through this before. And he ended up being quitted, he got his job back, he got his post back on foreign relations.

RAJU: Much different case begets.

BRESNAHAN: Much different case, but he rolled right, allegedly, if you're the government, if Justice Party, he rolled right from that into this current corruption scheme.

Now, like, Schumer got beat up over this last week, reporters were pressing him. He's not only on foreign relations, he's on a national security, like, task force, which is kind of, you know, why is he doing this?

Look --

RAJU: Chuck Schumer.

BRESNAHAN: Schumer got beaten. He --



RAJU: Yes.

BRESNAHAN: So, I mean, look, he has the right to go in front of a jury and present his case. You know, but there is pressure to have firm resign, but leadership is never going to do -- they're never going to do it. Schumer's never going to do it.

RAJU: Meantime, obviously, Menendez has issues back home and how voters view his legal troubles. Just from the differences Brez (ph) was mentioning about the 2015 indictment and 2023 indictment back then 47 percent of New Jersey voters thought he was probably guilty.

Now 75 percent in this current one and majority 63 percent say he should resign versus back then 28 percent. And this, of course, comes as he has not said if he's going to run for re-election. The speculation is that he will -- expectations that he will not run for re-election. But even if he were, he is -- his poll numbers are anemic right now back home in the race to succeed him.

Congressman Kim, who's running in that race and Tammy Murphy, who's the first lady of New Jersey, both running well ahead of him. How do you see this -- obviously, this is not going well for him back home.


RAJU: But he's saying he's not going to resign. Running for reelection that's a different story.

KIM: Right. And he has, I believe, two weeks from today to figure out whether he is going to run for reelection or not. And there's those poll numbers are so fascinating because we, remember, we all covered the political issues surrounding his first indictment. And what was fascinating at the time is that you had so many of his local politicians standing by him through these through these charges, which is one of the reasons why he was able to emerge from it politically fairly successfully.

I mean, I remember Cory Booker stood by his side.

RAJU: Yes.

KIM: He is not so doing so in this case. And in this time, perhaps because of the severity of the charges -- RAJU: Yes.

KIM: -- he has lost almost all political support from New Jersey and in Washington.

RAJU: Yes.

KIM: And I think it will be difficult for him to run for reelection, but we'll see in a couple weeks.

RAJU: Yes. We'll see in a couple weeks.

All right, thank you, guys.

All right, more follow for Senator Katie Britt. The woman at the center of the Alabama senator's graphic sex trafficking story just spoke out to CNN and says Britt left out some very important details.



RAJU: Senator Katie Britt of Alabama is facing new criticism about misleading viewers during the GOP response to President Biden's State of the Union Address when she detailed a harrowing story about sex trafficking and suggested it was the result of Biden's border policies. Though it turns out it had nothing to do with Biden or his policies. Britt is now responding.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To be clear, the story that you relate is not something that's happened under the Biden administration. That particular person.

SEN. KATIE BRITT (R), ALABAMA: I'm -- well, I very clearly said I spoke to a woman who told me about when she was trafficked when she was 12. So I didn't say a teenager. I didn't say a young woman, a grown woman, a woman when she was trafficked when she was 12.


RAJU: Now in Britt's speech, she had mentioned a woman who was trafficked by drug cartels when she was very young and implied it happened during the Biden administration in the United States. Here's what she did not say. This happened before Biden took office and occurred in Mexico, not the U.S.

CNN's Rafael Romo joins us. Rafael, you spoke exclusively to the sex trafficking survivor at the center of Britt's story. What is she saying?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Manu, she's puzzled about why anybody would use her story for political purposes, especially without permission. She's upset, she's concerned, and also worried about a possible negative follow up. This is someone I have known since 2014. CNN profiled the story of Karla Jacinto as part of CNN's Freedom Project, which seeks to raise awareness about modern day slavery. And Manu, Jacinto says, she's very careful about who she gives her testimony to and how and when she does it. So she was very surprised.

She told me when she found out Saturday that she was involuntarily put in the middle of a social media storm, this storm, as you know, was prompted by what appears to be the use of her story during the Republican response to the State of the Union address by Alabama Senator Katie Britt.

Years ago, Karla Jacinto told me that when she first went public with her story, Mexican politicians took advantage of her for political purposes. I asked her if she feels it has happened again, but now here in the United States, and this is what she told me when I reached her in Mexico City.



KARLA JACINTO, SEX TRAFFICKING SURVIVOR (through translator): Yes. In fact, I hardly ever cooperate with politicians because it seems to me that they only want an image. They only want a photo. And that to me is not fair.

I work as a spokesperson for many victims who have no voice, and I really would like them to be empathetic. And I think she should first take into account what really happens before telling a story of that magnitude.


ROMO: And Manu, Karla Jacinto also told me that Senator Britt got many of the facts of her story wrong. We were talking about this at the beginning. First of all, Jacinto says that one, she was not trafficked by Mexican drug cartels, but by a pimp that operated as part of a family that entrapped vulnerable girls in order to force them into prostitution.

Two, she also said that she was never trafficked here in the United States, as Senator Britt appeared to suggest. Three, she was kept in captivity from 2004 to 2008 when President George W. Bush, a Republican, was in office as opposed to the current administration, as the senator implied. And four, she met the senator at an event at the border with other government officials and anti-human traffic activists instead of a one on one.


RAJU: Rafael Romo, thank you for that interview and bringing that to us.

And thank you all for joining Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts after a quick break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)