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Senate Starts Debate on Fate of DREAMers; CNN Goes Inside Syria after Deadly Airstrikes; Israeli Media: Enough Evidence to Indict Netanyahu for Corruption. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:31:52] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening right now, the Senate behind closed doors taking up an open-ended debate on the fate of the DREAMers. This is an unusual move, by the way, by the U.S. Senate because there is no actual bill on the floor right now, just the debate. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, says he wants it all wrapped up by Thursday and that's a much shorter timeline than Republicans have earlier indicated. McConnell saying anyone who comes up with a deal with 60 votes, quote, "wins."

Sources are telling CNN, by the way, that President Trump has also been making calls to some of his conservative allies in the Senate just ahead of this full-scale debate.

Let's bring in Senator Bob Menendez. He's a Democrat from New Jersey. He's the ranking Democrat on the Senator Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill.

Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, (D), NEW JERSEY: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Before we get to a discussion, I want to get your thoughts on the breaking news, the scandal developing in the White House right now over Rob Porter. The FBI apparently advised the White House last year about the accusations against Porter. Despite all of that, he was not only able to stay on the job and review classified information, he was actually under consideration for a promotion at the White House, the deputy chief of staff. Does the president need to speak out about this and explain to the American public what's going on and to condemn publicly domestic violence?

MENENDEZ: I think he has a moral obligation to do so, and as a leader of our country, needs to speak out strongly against domestic violence. At the State of the Union, my guest was a leader in our state in work against domestic violence and sexual abuse. It's pretty outrageous we keep getting different stories about what really happened here in the White House. And today's statement by the FBI director that, in fact, they had the information and gave it to the White House speaks volumes about the president's lack of concern on this issue. So he needs to speak up. He's past the time he should have spoken up, and he needs to do it vigorously. BLITZER: Despite the fact the White House was presenting information

about the failure to give a permanent security clearance back in March, later in November and then January. Now we're told just before the scandal erupted he was about to be promoted, potentially. That's pretty shocking.

Anthony Scaramucci, who was, for a few days, the White House communications director, just tweeted this: "Based on FBI testimony, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly almost certainly knew about credible allegations of domestic abuse against Rob Porter at least six months ago, then recently forced others to lie about that timeline. Inexcusable. Kelly must resign."

Do you agree?

MENENDEZ: If that is all the case, then I don't see how the chief of staff can actually continue to serve in a position in which he stonewalled the information, allegedly got others to lie at the end of the day on such an incredibly important issue. To the White House as well as to the nation on domestic violence. I don't know how you survive that.

[13:35:07] BLITZER: At least 30, maybe 40 White House officers still operating with interim security clearance. Is it time to tighten the rules who can operate within the administration without those types of clearances?

MENENDEZ: I believe it is. There is a reason that people who have sensitive positions within the administration must go through a security clearance. It is to understand that those who will have access to the highest office in the land, those who will have access to information that is critical to both the national interests and the national security are people who passed the highest standards. So the reality is that if we don't have individuals who have passed those standards, then you have to constrain who is able to have access to this information, so you don't end up in situations like you have in this one.

BLITZER: Let's get to the immigration debate in the Senate that's unfolding this week. The Republicans have introduced an amendment that closely resembles President Trump's immigration framework. Is there a unified plan for the Democrats right now?

MENENDEZ: Well, what Democrats have been doing is building upon the Gang of Six of which I'm a member, proposition 6 with Democrats and Republicans. We are working with moderate Republicans particularly who are looking for a pathway to find an opportunity for the DREAMers to realize their dream, which is really what this debate is supposed to be all about. The reason we got this commitment, the reason we are having the debate in Congress is not about broad policy, it's about the DREAMers and how we find a path for them and what's necessary to get 60 votes. We are on a fervid search with our colleagues to find out what's important to get to that 60-vote threshold, so we can have something positive to move from the Senate to the House and get those 60 votes in order to achieve that. What we can have 't have are the Republican voices speaking into the public's ear. I don't want to talk about the 800,000, I want to talk about the 11 million. That's not what we're here for. We have to remember that narrow gets it done.

BLITZER: Can you get it done by Thursday? Mitch McConnell says he wants it done by Thursday. Can you get 60 votes in favor of a compromised immigration bill passed in the Senate by Thursday?

MENENDEZ: Well, that's a new obstacle that I was unaware of until today. Never did we say that this was going to be a two-day or three- day debate on one of the most significant issues, contentious issues, that we have before us. So it is our hope to try to achieve that, but I don't think an arbitrary deadline should ultimately snuff out the dreams of these young people. These are young people who 91 percent of them are employed, gainfully employed, paying taxes. Even the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, talks about the economic consequence of these DREAMers not having a pathway to the nation. So I believe that young people who came to this country through no choice of their own, whose only flag that they pledge allegiance to is that of the United States, whose only national anthem they know how to sing is "the star spangled banner" who the only country they know is America needs to have faith they put in the federal government when they gave all their information and those of their parents to the federal government in trust that they would ultimately have a safety net in this country, that we need to keep our word to them as a government.

BLITZER: The president says he's ready to give 1.8 million DREAMers a pathway to citizenship eventually if the Democrats agree to fund a border security, build the wall, end what he calls the chain migration, the lottery system. Are you willing to compromise with him on that in order to allow 1.8 million DREAMers to stay in the United States legally and eventually have a pathway to citizenship?

MENENDEZ: Well, first of all, Wolf, the Gang of Six, three Republicans, three Democrats, largely responded to what the president wants. I find it obscene the phrase "chain migration." it is incredibly cruel to those whose ancestors were brought to this country in chains in slavery. It is a dehumanizing element of what is, in essence, family reunification, which has been the core of American immigration principal for over a century, the belief that when we have families together, ultimately, they strengthen not only themselves and help each other but they help build communities and help build our nation. So we gave on some of those elements. We gave very significant amount of moneys to the border wall. We gave on changing the nature of the diversity lottery, which is not, as the president says, you put your hand in arbitrarily and you pick out the worst of the worst. These people have to go through every background check and every criteria, that anyone emigrating to the United States has to meet. Nevertheless, in order to find a pathway, but we cannot be talking about a dramatic change in immigration policy when we're talking even about 1.8 million when you want to change the whole nature of even legal immigration to this country. That's a much broader debate. What we should be doing is narrowing in on the focus of how to get 800,000 or even 1.8 million, as the president has defined, and what limits are necessary to achieve that. You want to have a boarder immigration debate, I'm ready for that. But that's not about these young people.

[13:41:01] BLITZER: Very quickly, a final question before I let you go, Senator, and put on your hat as the top Democrat of the Foreign Relations Committee. The sanctions against Russia bill, it passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, I think 98-2 in the House. That was back in August. But surprisingly, maybe not surprisingly, the president didn't oppose it. He signed it into law because he knew he couldn't override a veto. The president is going to decline any penalty. As you heard today, all of his intelligence chiefs are fir they believe the Russians did it and are still trying to do it. What can you do to accomplish your goals as far as the resolution to impose new sanctions against Russia is concerned?

MENENDEZ: Well, we are pushing strong oversight. I started that in a classified briefing just yesterday. I don't understand how it is that six months after the law was passed with nearly unanimous votes in the Senate and the House of Representatives not one sanction under the legislation we're talking about has actually been levied. Even though, for example, Section 224 of the law requires -- requires, mandates, imposes sanctions -- on Russia if they got caught undermining the cyber security of any individual or any institution globally or in the United States. We heard his own intelligence people, CIA director, National Intelligence director, both appointed by him, say that Russia interfered in our election, that they will continue to do so. We know through Europe they have done it, particularly in France. It is obscene the president won't levy one sanction under the law passed unanimously by both houses of Congress against Russia. It's like telling Russia you were welcomed in 2016 to interfere in our election and we look forward to your intervention in 2018. That cannot stand. And we'll pressure anywhere we can, either through the appropriations process, looking at nominations, and maybe holding some of that, and doing what is necessary to get these sanctions in force, because it is about changing behavior, in this case Russia's behavior, and we need to do it before these 2018 elections take place.

BLITZER: Senator Menendez, thanks so much for joining us.

MENENDEZ: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We have more breaking news. Israeli media now reporting police in Jerusalem believe they have enough evidence to indict the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges. What they're saying. We'll go live to Jerusalem right after this.


[13:48:01] BLITZER: In Syria, seven days of horrific bloodshed in a civil war that has now lasted some seven years and has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people dead. Pro-government forces aided by Russian airstrikes are trying to drive opposition and terror groups from their largest remaining holdout in Idlib Province. It's home to thousands have fled the fighting and the siege of Aleppo.

CNN's Arwa Damon and her team are the first international journalists to go into Idlib since the bombing. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE). He was born during a week that even by Syria's ungodly standards, was especially punishing. His mother Anan's (ph) body still trembles.


DAMON: And that's not because he was born prematurely. It's because the hospital he was at was bombed.


DAMON: The footage from that night is a glimpse into the magnitude of the horror, the fear.


DAMON: There were around 300 people, staff, patients in intensive care, and the most precious and vulnerable.


DAMON: In the span of just five days, six medical facilities in the province were targeted in airstrikes.

(on camera): This is the lower level, underground, and this is where they used to do all of the main emergency surgeries. And it's also where right now they are storing whatever equipment they've managed to salvage.

(voice-over): Days before we arrived, as doctors were treating the wounded from an airstrike in a market, the facility was hit again. The dead from the market were outside, not buried, not in graves, but somewhere in the crater left behind.


[13:50:09] DAMON: This is a population that feels like it's on borrowed time.

Syad Kapta (ph) works in a makeshift bunker with neighbors when an alleged chlorine strike took place. He vomited, couldn't breathe and thought, "That's it. My number is up."



DAMON: Luckily, many of the women and children here had fled just days before.

The two toxic shells impacted an empty field.

(on camera): There's still a bit of a stench. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON: Yes, it's been six days.

(voice-over): Two members of the civil defense team were also affected.



DAMON: The war here has long been a sign of methodical cruelty as the world looks on and Syria endures one of the bloodiest weeks of this conflict.


DAMON: Anan watches her baby fight in one of the last remaining facilities where he even stands a chance. But what kind of a world are these babies fighting to live in?



BLITZER: Arwa joins us now live.

Arwa, those were heartbreaking images. Where do those people go now?

DAMON: You know, Wolf, the areas they can actually go to are rapidly shrinking. You have these sprawling, in some sense, makeshift refugee camps that are already overcrowded. Even there, families don't feel safe. All that footage you saw there was shot inside Idlib Province that was meant to be part of these so-called de-escalation zones. Well, you see the reality there for yourself. I was talking to a doctor at one of the medical facilities who didn't want to go on camera out of security concerns. By he asked, point blank, how are you going to put this into words. You actually even have the language to describe what it is that is happening because, by all accounts, he said, it defies logic -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Heartbreaking story, indeed. Arwa Damon, unfortunately, it continues with no end in sight.

Thanks so much for that report.

Any moment now, here in Washington, the White House will respond to the controversy engulfing the West Wing. You're looking at live pictures of the briefing room. Why was the president's aide, Rob Porter, being considered for a promotion despite serious abuse allegations? And why don't timelines of his resignation match up with those of the FBI? We'll go there live.


[13:57:25] BLITZER: Breaking news out of Israel. Police are due to hand over their findings in the corruption investigation into the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Local media, by the way, reporting already that there is enough evidence to bring an indictment against Netanyahu. The prime minister is speaking right now about those charges over at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem.

Let's go quickly to our international correspondent, Oren Liebermann, joining us live from Jerusalem.

Oren, tell our viewers what we're expecting.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the police statement should arrive any moment right now. But Netanyahu has already started responding to that police statement. A line we're heard from him very often, saying there will be nothing because there is nothing. Meanwhile, Israeli media is reporting that police will say there is enough evidence to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery in two separate cases, known locally as case 1,000 and case 2,000. In case 1,000, police say Netanyahu is suspected of receiving gift from foreign businessmen totally a large number of Shekels, the local currency. And in case 2000, Netanyahu is a suspect in a case where police say he negotiated with the publisher of a local newspaper for more favorable coverage.

What happens now, Wolf? Well, the investigation, the evidence from the police is handed over to the attorney general. It is up to the attorney general on whether to indict Netanyahu on these charges.

BLITZER: And Netanyahu is speaking right now. He's denying those charges. Right?

LIEBERMANN: He has, from the very beginning here, saying that you don't take down a government simply on a police recommendation. That's been one of his defenses here. Legally, he's right. In that sense, he doesn't have to step down until he is convicted, and that conviction is up held through the entire appeals process, a process that theoretically could take years. But in the end, it will be a question of public pressure and political pressure. His coalition partners in his government now have said they'll stand by him. But if that police statement is damning, if it is so negative that they feel they can't, this could mark the beginning of the end of Netanyahu.

Again, though, I want to say that Netanyahu -- or rather, right now, the investigation is handed over to the attorney general. It is the attorney general who has suddenly become the most important person in the country right now.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Oren, the attorney general usually accepts the recommendations from the police?

LIEBERMANN: That's inaccurate. In fact, Netanyahu has pointed this out. In many case, roughly half of cases, police recommend an indictment and the attorney general decides not to indict. That actually happened with Netanyahu. In his first term, between '96 and '99, there were two separate probes. Police recommended indicting in both. The attorney general said there wasn't enough evidence.

BLITZER: We'll see what the attorney general does this time.

Oren, we'll get back to you. Thank you very much for that report.

That's it for me.

The news continues right now here on CNN.

[14:00:12] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go. Breaking news. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being --