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Trump Orders National Guard to U.S.-Mexico Border; CNN: Mueller Team Talking to Russian Oligarchs about Election Meddling; CNN: Trump Gets Testy as Team Warns of Risks of Syria Withdrawal. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 5, 2018 - 10:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Erica Hill.

President Trump says a 46-year low in illegal crossings at the U.S.- Mexican border is still, in his words, unacceptable. On the wall, National Guard troops are his answer. The president signing an order last night requiring an unspecified number of National Guard troops to carry out unspecified duties for an unspecified length of time. Hours later, the White House putting out figures which show a spike in border apprehensions in the month of March.

CNN's Abby Phillip breaks it all down for us now. Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. That's exactly right. There is an increase in border crossings in the last month, especially as we go into the summer months. But one of the things to understand about that is that in 2016 or 2017, last year, the first year of the Trump administration, there was a really unusual low point of border crossings that has then rebounded to levels that are higher than they have been in the last year. But probably closer to what they have been in the historical several months.

And in fact, President Trump and his tweet this morning acknowledged that the border crossings are at a 46-year low. That's almost five decades worth of border crossings and now we're seeing very low levels of that. And he thanked Mexico in this tweet for breaking up this caravan that he's been talking about for the last several days that has been bringing immigrants from Central America through Mexico to the United States. But on the National Guard, the administration is saying that they have authorized this to happen, but at the same time, the states along the border have to be the ones to ultimately say how many troops, when they're going to be going, and what exactly they're going to be doing.

The Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen just this morning told reporters that those conversations are still ongoing. She's been in touch with the governors from the states along the border. Most of them are on board, the conversations with California, though, are going to be sensitive. That's a state where they have been at odds with the Trump administration over immigration issues, over the issue of the border wall. And those conversations are going to be probably a lot more sensitive as it relates to sending National Guard troops in those parts of California that are along the border.

But big questions remain, including one issue, which is whether or not the National Guard troops are going to be armed. Nielsen also did not want to say anything about that, that's an issue that they are still working out with the states in part because this announcement made very hastily as a result of the president being worked up about this issue and pushing his own administration to act very quickly in the last several days. Erica?

HILL: Abby Phillip at the White House with the very latest, thank you.

Joining me now, Democratic Representative John Garamendi from California, who's a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Sir, good to have you with us.


HILL: We just heard Abby lay it out there. These conversations will be sensitive for the state of California. As I understand, you've been speaking with leadership of the California National Guard and even discussing potentially refusing to cooperate with the president's proclamation here. Are you willing to go toe to toe, battle this with the White House?

GARAMENDI: Well, we're certainly willing to fight with the White House, but I seriously doubt that this will be much of a fight. The reality is that we presently have 55 National Guard, nearly permanently stationed at the southern border with Mexico. But they have been performing duties there for the last several years. Duties such as running the drone aircraft that are observing the border, providing some construction information, and providing general intelligence and other kinds of work. They're not there as law enforcement, but rather to support.

The question from the administration is somebody so well said, an unspecified number from an unspecified amount of time for an unspecified job. Reminds me of the principle of the five P's. Prior, planning, prevents, poor, performance. There has been no planning here. Trump woke up Sunday or Monday morning, looked at the television, oh, my God, there is some sort of caravan coming, 1200 people.

And what is an annual demonstration about access for people that are being persecuted in Central America. It is being broken up. It was in the previous years also. The reality is there is not an invasion. Yes, we do know that there has been an uptick in the month of March because the weather is improving. And there will be a downward trend as the weather gets worse along the border. This is standard. What we need is a comprehensive immigration reform.

HILL: Is there a role that you could see, though? I mean if these wheels are already in motion here, and trips are going to - again, we don't know how many, we don't know for how long.

[10:05:00] We don't know exactly what they'll be doing. We don't know the cost of it, but is there a role you could envision for these National Guard troops that would be helpful along your border in California.

GARAMENDI: Of course. Of course. They're already there. Could they be -

HILL: It is only in doing what they're doing now.

GARAMENDI: Well, they'll be doing more of what they're doing now. Is more needed? Well, that's an open question. We have not yet heard from the administration about exactly what more troops would be doing. But, yes, we have seen more.

It's very interesting, when do -- when does a president send the National Guard to the border. Well, let me see, 2006, midterm election, crisis for the Republican president, yes. 2010, midterm election, crisis for the Democratic President Obama? Yes. Guess what? It is 2018. A midterm election crisis for the Republicans, send troops to the border. There is work to be done. No doubt about it. But keep in mind that the Congress has significantly increased the border patrol, perhaps as many as 500 new agents can be hired right now. The money is there for the -- Department of Homeland Security. And there is also about a billion dollars for improvements of defenses and for drones and for detection devices and keep in mind that most of the drugs that do come across the border come across in trucks. Guess what? We've provided money for detection of what might be in the trucks and trains that cross the border. All of that is in play. I would suggest for the president, send the troops. By the way, who is going to pay for it?

HILL: Let me get you really quickly on DACA because there are senders talking about California obviously has the highest percentage of DACA recipients at 29 percent. Here's what she had to say.


SARA SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have tried and tried, Democrats continued not to want to participate and actually find a solution. They failed to actually show up and do their jobs as they were elected to do.

Frankly, you shouldn't be asking me this question, or the White House this question, you should be asking Senate Democrats and members of the House Democrat party why they aren't willing to actually fix something that they claimed to want to champion day after day.


HILL: This, too, one could argue, has become a political football. We have heard from representatives on both sides of the aisle who said they would like to work on this, we have seen some of that. What is your response to what we heard from Sarah Sanders?

GARAMENDI: Well, anybody that believes Sarah Sanders is really going off the deep end here, she is usually wrong, usually has incorrect information or rather dissembling information. The reality is the Democrats offered a clean DACA deal together with $25 billion over the next several years for border security including fences and walls. That was an offer made by Mr. Schumer.

The president said he wanted a love bill. Well, that's what it was. Unfortunately, the Republicans added on some killer amendments, eliminating certain kinds of immigration programs that have been in place for a long time, such as family reunification. Keep in mind that if that had passed, Mrs. Trump's mother and father could not reunite with their daughter. So, it is just crazy. The reality is we want a comprehensive immigration reform. We want the DACA. And we're willing to offer money, but not willing to destroy families that want to reunify. We're not -

HILL: Congressman.

GARAMENDI: We're not going to destroy the existing system.

HILL: We're going to have to leave it there. Appreciate your time today. Thank you.

GARAMENDI: You got it.

HILL: We are getting some new details this morning about the special counsel's investigation and how it is now intensifying. Robert Mueller's team questioning Russian oligarchs, stopping and interrogating two of them on U.S. soil. Special counsel looking at whether wealthy Russians were illegally funneling money into President Trump's campaign coffers.

CNN's Kara Scannell is following Mueller's aggressive strategy. So, what more do we know about this?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Erica, we've learned that Mueller's team is starting to target these Russian oligarchs and stopped two when they came into the U.S. on their private planes. One of those individuals, we're told by sources, had his electronic device searched. We also know that Mueller's team has asked another Russian oligarch, this one in Russia, if he would be willing to voluntarily comply with document requests and sit for an interview.

Now all of this relates to money flows, campaign finance and Mueller's team is looking into whether Russians illegally funneled money into the campaign. It is illegal for any foreigner to put money into the U.S. campaigns. And so, one way that sources tell us Mueller's team is looking whether this occurred was through straw donors. That is an American citizen that could have donated on behalf of a Russian or if a Russian had invested in corporation. That corporations political action committee had donated to the campaign.

These are aggressive tactics and they show that Mueller's team is really honing in on this notion of follow the money.

[10:10:01] By stopping people at the airport, it enables them -- prosecutors, to catch people off guard and hope to get more honest and candid answers from them. Experts say it also enables Mueller's team to be able to search electronic devices before they can be wiped clean of any potential evidence. Erica?

HILL: That is a big part of it. We're also learning, meantime, about the Trump administration with new targeted sanctions. When it comes s to oligarchs close to Putin, what more do we know about those?

SCANNELL: Well, my colleagues Elise Labott and Jeff Zeleny were told by sources that we could see sanctions against several oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin as soon as this week. So, in the next day or two.

Now this would be the latest tit for tat between the two nations, following the poisoning of that former Russian spy in the UK, with both the U.S. and Russia expelling officials from each other's countries. It also follows remarks by the outgoing National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster who said that he did not -- he said that the U.S. failed to impose sufficient costs on Russia for meddling in the election. So, now we'll wait and see over the next day or two exactly who made the list of oligarchs that are going to be sanctioned, and we should find that out in the next day or two, our sources say.

HILL: And that will tell us a lot. Kara Scannell, appreciate the reporting, thank you.

With us now to dissect a little bit, CNN legal analyst and law professor, former attorney general for the state of New Jersey, Anne Milgram. So, as we look at all of these, following the path of the money. As we know there is nothing that Robert Mueller does here that is without purpose. It is methodical. These are also people who are closely tied to the Kremlin, closely tied to Vladimir Putin. Where is -- what does that say to you in terms of where is this investigation now headed?

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, one of the things I think is really interesting about this is that they had to know that these people were coming into the U.S. through flight manifests, which means that they're specifically targeting at least the two Russians who came in, the two oligarchs. And that means that they already have information potentially about this money coming into Trump's campaign. So, there is some deep investigation that would precede this type of stopping and questioning when someone comes in to the country.

So, it is hard for us to know what it is. But remember that this all goes back to this initial question of did the Russian government or people closely associated, like the oligarchs with Putin, did people from another country influence our election, which, of course, is illegal to make campaign contributions, to hack e-mails and try to help the Republican campaign, for example, that would be unlawful in our country.

HILL: How concerning should this be to the White House at this point, if at all?

MILGRAM: So, I think it should be particularly concerning because keep in mind that there is -- we know that there are a lot of documents that - there are a lot of bank records that have been seized. But Gates is also cooperating. And this, to me, is one of the pieces which is what does Rick Gates know.

Remember, he was with Paul Manafort when he was the campaign chairman. He was also the deputy head of the inauguration. And the Trump campaign raised over $330 million for the campaign, over $100 million for the inauguration. There is no record of where that money came from, or where it went to. Completely. And so, these are some of the questions I think that are being asked. And so, it does definitely feel to me like this could be coming from Gates. Some of the information could be coming from Gates.

HILL: It is fascinating as we watch all this flyout. And of course as we all try to dissect it because so much of it is being held close to that. I want to get your take on this too. On the same day that Roger Stone said -- told Sam Nunberg that he had dinner with Julian Assange, he claims of course that he was joking. He predicted on info wars that "WikiLeaks" would release this devastating disclosure about Hillary Clinton. Take a listen.


ROGER STONE, TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: The Clinton campaign narrative that the Russian favor Donald Trump and the Russians are leaking this information, this is inoculation because, as you said earlier, they know what is coming and it is devastating. Let's remember that their defense in all of the Clinton Foundation scandals has been not, "We didn't do it" - has been, "You have no proof. Yes, but you have no proof." Well, I think Julian Assange has that proof and I think he's going to furnish it to the American people.


HILL: What do you make of that?

MILGRAM: Well, it is certainly sounds to me like he knows something. And, you know, there is no -- he's a very confident speaker obviously. But there's no hesitation in his voice saying, Julian Assange has something and the American people are about to know it. So, I think the Mueller team is probably looking into -- looked into what did he know, when did he know it and what is he talking about? Because it seems to me just completely implausible for him to say, I'm joking, I don't know anything. If you're joking and you don't make such a specific statement, right? Julian Assange has something the American people will soon know, and I think it was just days after that that some of the e-mails were leaked.

HILL: Anne, appreciate it, thank you.

MILGRAM: Thank you.

HILL: Still to come, U.S. troops are staying in Syria for now. The president though is not happy about it. New details from inside that heated meeting with his National Security team.

[10:15:04] Plus, Mark Zuckerberg admits he's made a huge mistake. The number of Facebook user's data which could now be caught in this breach grows by not just a few, by millions. 37 million. The CEO now facing a grilling, of course in front of Congress.

And the whole truth is still out there. The former lawyer who helped a porn star and playmate stay silent about their alleged sexual relationships with Donald Trump is now telling his side of the story to CNN.


HILL: President Trump getting testy during a national security meeting this week when his top military advisers told him that withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria right now is a bad idea.

Sources say, that meeting was tensed. That the president complained the U.S. is spending too much money in the region. And that the president was told that withdrawing now would open the door for an ISIS rebirth. We know the president wants troops to come home, saying now he wants them to finish their mission in six months and warning his security team to just get it done.

[10:20:05] Joining me now, CNN global affairs analyst David Rohde. David, good to have you with us. Just get it done. I'm offering up a six-month timeline. We know that timelines are in general for presidents to lay them out there, President Obama the most recent example, probably not the best idea. Not just domestically but internationally as well.

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes. I mean he's, you know, he criticized Obama for telegraphing U.S. military plans. He's telegraphing to ISIS, wait six months. And look, I want to be respectful of the president. I think his approach to North Korea. The tough talk might actually be working. This approach to Syria makes no sense to me. I don't understand it. It is a gift to Iran. A gift to Russia. And most dangerously a gift to the Islamic State there, still 3,000 Islamic State fighters in Syria, they are not fully defeated. Leaving now will be an enormous mistake.

HILL: Your point about now we look at this, you know, from the Islamic State standpoint, from ISIS standpoint. We look at to say, well, just wait six months, troops could obviously be there for longer than six months, even if the president wants them out in that time frame. So then does it just become we can wait out as long as we want?

ROHDE: We -- this is a long-term struggle against Islamic radicalism. We have a tremendous victory against Islamic State. Iraqis fought house to house in Mosul and some of the worst fighting since World War II. Kurds and other Arab and Muslim allies of the U.S. fought in Syria and have defeated the Islamic State, leaving some special operations forces in Syria is a smart long-term strategy. We finally sort of figured this out. You know the Americans aren't leading the fight in Afghanistan in Iraq and Syria, local forces are. We have allies. So, let's stick with this winning strategy.

HILL: In terms of allies, we know the president wants to see more from the allies. Partially financially. But wants to see more in general from people in the region, who in his estimation have more to gain here and potentially more to lose. Is there enough contribution coming from those -- could they step it up more?

ROHDE: We could get more money, I think, out of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, but President Trump just praising Saudi Arabia for buying all of our weapons systems. We just - you know he just got a massive increase in defense spending for the American military. We have the best military and special forces in the world. They're succeeding. All of the president's military advisers are unanimously saying stay in Syria. So this just makes sense, you know. Accept the win.

HILL: There is a greater diplomatic concern as we know. And this has been a focus this week as well, as we initially heard conflicting reports from what the president wanted and what the department of defense was preparing for and now this messaging that we're seeing on Syria after that meeting. How damaging could this be diplomatically in terms of the message it projects about the commitment that the United States has to its allies and the ongoing struggles?

ROHDE: So, European countries have put up millions of dollars in reconstruction funds to help stabilize the areas we forced ISIS out. If the U.S. pulls this funding, they don't know what to do. My colleague at the New Yorker, Robin Wright, just you know, writing about this, it creates huge confusion.

Lastly, Israel, you know, a country more important, I think, to President Trump than any country in the Middle East doesn't want us to do this. It creates, you know, insecurity for Israel. They don't know what's happening. We're not being a predictable ally and we need to be.

HILL: David Rohde, appreciate your insight. Thank you.

ROHDE: Thank you.

HILL: The head of the EPA struggling to explain his latest controversy. So, will Scott Pruitt survive the scandals? We'll discuss that next.


[10:27:51] HILL: Could Scott Pruitt's time as head of the EPA be nearing an end? The White House making it clear, President Trump is not OK with Pruitt's deal to rent a condo owned by an energy lobbyist. The embattled EPA chief breaking his silence.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: President Trump said he would drain the swamp. Is draining the swamp renting an apartment from the wife of a Washington lobbyist?

SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: I don't think that that's even remotely fair to ask that question.


HILL: We're also learning one of Pruitt's closest aides has now submitted her resignation, the reasons unknown.

Here to discuss, CNN's political commentators, Jack Kingston and Maria Cardona. As we hear from Pruitt there saying I don't think it is even remotely fair to ask that question, the White House seems to think it is fair to ask that question. The White House is looking into a number of issues here, ethical questions, Jack, should he respond to that question?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he should respond to it. And I think Sarah Sanders made it clear yesterday that they do want to review all of this and that it does bring up some questions.

As I understand it, Mr. Pruitt did get approval from the Ethics Office of the EPA, which tends to be bipartisan and nonpolitical. And he described this to be an Airbnb type arrangement. And I think if that's the case, he's going to be fine. I would say if you're in the position that EPA, you are living in a glasshouse and you need to be very careful.

I think personally he's done an outstanding job. He's done a lot of very good things to push back some of the overreach of the EPA, so he's going to have his critics. And I don't know how much of this is politically motivated, versus how much of it is truly substantive.

HILL: Maria, what is your sense? How much of this is politically motivated? How much of it is the reality of being in a very public position?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think a lot of it is the reality of it, especially stemming from the administration and Donald Trump who famously said on a campaign trail. Two things. Which he has done, definitely not kept his promise about. Number one, was draining the swamp. Number two, he was going to surround himself with the best people. Well, if this is the best you can find, somebody who can't even understand that renting a condo or an apartment from a lobbyist that deals with your issues is the definition of filling the swamp, then I think the administration is in a lot of trouble and you know in Facebook.