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Source: "Near-Systematic Purge" at Homeland Security; Sources: President Trump Wanted to Expand Family Separation Policy To Include Those Who Enter Illegally; Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) is Interviewed About the Trump Administration's Immigration Policy. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired April 8, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:11] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

It's quite a day when multiple sources say the president of the United States told border agents to break the law. And that's not the biggest story. That's just sort of a dash of color in a much larger story, but that is where we are tonight.

We appear to be in the middle of what one senior official tells CNN is a near systematic purge at the Department of Homeland Security. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is out. Her deputy has been bypassed by the naming of an acting successor.

The director of the Secret Service, which is part of DHS, has also been fired. Two officials telling "The New York Times" the president had been making fun of him lately, calling him Dumbo because of the size of his ears.

Consider that for a second. The president of the United States is reportedly making fun of a man charged with protecting him and his family because of the size of his ears. We are not in kindergarten.

That is also just kind of color. Officials tell us that senior White House advisor Stephen Miller is playing a key role in these firings and wants to see more. Quote, he's executing his plan, unquote, says one official about Miller, saying it amounts to a wholesale decapitation of DHS.

Now, it appears to be driven by President Trump's impatience on border issues and his desire for drastic and possibly unlawful action, including bringing back and expanding the policy of separating migrant children from their parents. Yes, that's back, in play at least, and that reportedly was a breaking point for Kirstjen Nielsen who warned the president that doing so would be legally questionable.

Now, keeping them honest, it's not like Secretary Nielsen couldn't have spoken up sooner. It's not like she didn't help enable the policy, defend the policy publicly and then, in fact, lie about the policy repeatedly, even about its very existence. She did all of that. On April 11th last year, you'll remember, she falsely told a House subcommittee there is no policy that encouraging the separation of parents from their children as a punitive or deterrent measure. That's five days after the attorney general announced a zero tolerance border policy that does just that.

And then in mid-June, with the public outcry at its peak, here's what she tweeted: We do not have a policy of separating families at the border, period. That was the 17th of June and that was untrue. It was untrue on the 17th of June and it was untrue later on as well.

And this is what she said the very next day.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: This administration did not create a policy of separating families at the border.


COOPER: No policy, she says, again. Not true. And she dismissed the notion that children were being harmed.



NIELSEN: Which -- be more specific, please. Enforcing the law?

ZELENY: Images that Cecelia was talking about, and the sounds that we've seen from these big box stores, the Walmarts, the other stores, when you see this, how is this not specifically child abuse for these innocent children who are indeed being separated from their parents. Are there any examples of child abuse and how could this not be child abuse for the people taken from their parents? Not the ones who are sent here with their parents' blessing with a smuggler, the ones taken from their parents.

NIELSEN: Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to deal with, you know, hearsay stories.


COOPER: So, according to her, there was no family separation policy. The harm it was doing is hearsay and for good measure, it's offensive to even ask about the notion that it was being used as a deterrent to keep parents from bringing their children across the border. Take a look.


REPORTER: Are you intending for this to play out as it is playing out? Are you intending for parents to be separated from their children? Are you intending to send a message?

NIELSEN: I find that offensive.


COOPER: She found it offensive. Right. Actually wrong, because keeping them honest, Secretary Nielsen was faking the whole I'm offended thing. We know that because the attorney general had announced the policy more than two months earlier, a deterrent policy, we should add, that was being publicly discussed explicitly for its deterrent value by top administration officials more than a year before it was enacted.

And you know how we know that? Because the guy planning it talked about it on TV, on CNN.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": If you get some young kids who are coming in, manage to sneak into the United States with their parents, are Department of Homeland Security personnel going to separate the children from their moms and dads?

JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We have tremendous experience in dealing with unaccompanied minors. We turn them over to HHS and they do a very, very good job of either putting them in foster care or linking them up with parents or family members in the United States. Yes, I am considering in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network, I am considering exactly that.


COOPER: So in order to deter, that means it's a deterrent policy. The bottom line, this is something administration officials discussed and Secretary Nielsen implemented, defended and lied about. It is a real policy that the president clearly wanted. And as we're learning tonight, that he now wants to reinstate and expand apparently.

[20:05:03] And even today, the White House can't seem to stop lying about it.


HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The separation of families, the president has said before, he does not like that, it's a horrible practice. But Congress has a way to fix that so that it will not be a magnet for people to come here and use children to do it.


COOPER: In fact, as you're about to hear from our Jake Tapper's reporting, the president, whether he likes it or not, has explicitly embraced the notion of family separation. The cruelty is not a bug of the system, it's a feature, which may have been a bridge too far for Secretary Nielsen, but even if it was it comes at the end of a very, very long road which she has been traveling for a very, very long time.

More now for the president's desire for action on all of this even reportedly from his breaking the law. More as well in the president's impatience on the issue, as we mentioned, "THE LEAD's" Jake Tapper uncovered remarkable details about the president's state of mind lately, as well as the action he wanted to take and what he reportedly was asking others to do, which would have amounted to breaking the law.

So, Jake, can you explain exactly what the president wants to do when it comes to his child separation policy?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER": Well, according to senior administration officials, multiple, the president not only thinks that the original policy started by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and implemented by others in the administration, including Secretary Nielsen, which would take individuals' families that are crossing the border illegally between different legal ports and prosecute them, thus separating the families, he wants to expand it. Not only does he want that policy back, he wants to separate families of asylum seekers who come to the border or a family of undocumented immigrants found and detained in St. Louis, Missouri. He thinks it is an effective deterrent so he wants it brought back but expanded and made far more widespread.

COOPER: I read in your reporting that one senior administration official told you that the president, quote, just wants to separate families.

TAPPER: Yes. This senior administration official says that the president is very fixated on this, very focused on this. Thinks that it was an effective deterrent during the December months, during the winter months, December, et cetera, and doesn't understand why they're not doing it, even though it was his own executive order that stopped the policy.

COOPER: And also, I remember Kirstjen Nielsen saying there is no policy of separating families, when obviously, you know, General Kelly when he was DHS secretary, he talked about, developing that as a policy as did Sessions.

You're also reporting about a meeting that took place in the Oval Office two Thursdays ago. What happened?

TAPPER: This is another example of why Secretary Nielsen and President Trump were clashing as President Trump said he wanted to do things that were contrary to what they thought was good policy. People like Secretary Nielsen and others, and also contrary to what they thought was legal.

In this instance, President Trump, according to one attendee at this meeting was ranting and raving and saying immigration was his issue. He ordered Secretaries Nielsen and Pompeo, the secretary of state, to close the El Paso port of entry by the next day, Friday, at noon. Ultimately, Nielsen said, look, closing the border isn't going to stop illegal immigration. People will just come not at the port of entry, but between the ports of entry. President Trump said, according to attendees, quote, I don't care.

Ultimately, whether it's Jared Kushner and Mick Mulvaney, somebody talked him out of it. But people left that meeting thinking that the president was actually going to order El Paso's port closed by noon the next day.

COOPER: And when the president went to the border in Calexico last week, I understand that he had some interesting instructions for the border agents he talked to?

TAPPER: Yes. And this really gets at the issue that a lot of people are saying that work in the administration, the frustration they feel, that President Trump doesn't understand that they are all required to obey by the law. President Trump that day, you might remember, went before the cameras and said, you know, we're all full. People need to stop coming.

Apparently, according to witnesses, President Trump behind the scenes told border agents stop letting people in. Stop letting individuals in. Just say we're full. We don't have the capacity anymore.

President Trump said, according to these witnesses, if a judge tells you, you have to do it, say I'm sorry, judge, we just don't have the room anymore. When President Trump left the room, the border agents were given orders from their leaders saying do not do what the president just told you to do. You have to abide by the law. If you do what he tells you, you will be personal liability will come your way, so do not do that.

So it's really an extraordinary attitude towards the immigration laws.

COOPER: That's incredible. Basically the takeaway seems like from all of this that at least when it comes to border policy, he doesn't seem to care what's legal and what isn't.

[20:10:02] TAPPER: I don't know if it's he doesn't care or doesn't understand or some sort of combination. But according to the senior administration officials that I talked to, and, you know, these are Republicans who are onboard with the tough immigration policy. But according to them, the president does not seem to understand that they have to abide by the laws, and this is ultimately one of the reasons why Secretary Nielsen is no longer the secretary.

COOPER: Wow, Jake Tapper, fascinating. Thank you so much.

TAPPER: Thank you.

COOPER: Let's get perspective from a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. I spoke with New York Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice just earlier tonight.


COOPER: Congresswoman Rice, I wonder what you make of the president's desire to not only reinstate his child separation policy but also apparently to expand it?

REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D-NY): So, Anderson, I am just appalled by what the president is talking about. I just literally got back this morning after spending the weekend in El Paso and McAllen, Texas. So I was at the Bridge of the Americas where all those people were held under the bridge. I saw the processing of families, of migrants coming here for a safer life. We went to the ICE detention facility where all of the women and children are.

It is horrifying. That's what's still happening at the border. I mean, they still cannot find -- figure out a way to connect parents with the children that they pulled them away from. So, when I hear the president talk about reinstituting this family separation policy, that by the way, let's be clear, is the sole reason there is any chaos at the border right now.

We spoke to border patrol agents and we said to them, what is the one thing that you need now to do your jobs more than anything? You know what they said? They said, people. We need more border patrol agents.

COOPER: In terms of the president ordering Pompeo and then-Secretary Nielsen to shut the port of El Paso, it's certainly within his legal right to shut down a border crossing if he chooses.

RICE: Yes, he could, but thankfully the saner people, there are still some, I believe, in the administration convinced him that would be an economic disaster. We met with business leaders down at the port where $1.7 billion worth of trade goes over the Mexican/United States border every single day, Anderson.

So, this is going to have an economic impact that was going to hit this country in a very real way. I'm glad that people in his administration actually talked him out of that.

But I've got to say, look, Trump owns his immigration policy. But there are a lot of people talking about how Kirstjen Nielsen was pushed out by Stephen Miller and that Stephen Miller is the true architect of this administration's immigration policy. So I've got a proposal. How about Stephen Miller asks the president to appoint him as the secretary of DHS so he can be up front and he can come to the committees on the Senate and the House side and answer questions about these policies that he is pushing singlehandedly? Let him explain to the American people why he wants to go back to ripping babies out of their mothers' arms.

Own it. He should own the policy that he is pushing, that he's the architect of.

COOPER: You had been calling for Nielsen to resign I think for more than a year now.

RICE: Yes.

COOPER: Now that she has, do you have any concerns that she may have been one of the few left in the administration to at least try and curb some of the president's worst ideas?

RICE: You know, I think in the beginning she tried to, but I think pretty quickly, because she wanted to remain part of the team and she wanted to run the agency, she very quickly did what a lot of other people in the administration do and just adopted, you know, full throttle every position that the president took, no matter how wrong- headed it was.

COOPER: It's kind of nuts when you think that she was down in Central America signing an agreement, I think it was on a Wednesday. They announced it on a Thursday with much fanfare in a press release and the next day the president totally undercuts that, which was a -- you know, just about everybody on the immigration battle who you talk to say, look, more needs to be done on the front lines in Guatemala, in Honduras and El Salvador to stop people before they leave.

RICE: Yes, it's a recurring theme, Anderson, in this president's administration. He says one thing one day and one thing another. I think Nielsen was right to go down to the Northern Triangle countries and work out a deal.

Look, this is what foreign aid is all about. This is why Congress appropriates that money. It's a foreign policy philosophy that says we're going to give you money to allow you to build an infrastructure in your own country that will give your people the ability to live a wonderful life in their own home and not make them feel like they have to flee or cross thousands and thousands of miles so that they can raise their children in safety.

[20:15:12] COOPER: Congressman Rice, appreciate your time. Thank you.

RICE: Thank you, Anderson.


COOPER: So, having heard all that and having heard the president recently characterizing asylum seekers as con artists, we thought it would be good idea to see what it looks like tonight at a shelter on the other side of the border.

Gary Tuchman joins us right now from Tijuana, Mexico.

Gary, explain where you are and what you've been seeing and hearing.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, I'll tell you. First of all, you know, everyone here knows what President Trump said. President Trump says the United States is full and that asylum seekers should turn around. Suffice it to say that in this shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, about a five-minute walk away from the U.S. border fence, people do not want really to follow that particular advice to turn around and go back home.

They also have some dubiousness about whether the United States is full. This shelter has about 115 people right now. These are people mostly from Guatemala, from El Salvador, from Honduras and other parts of Mexico.

There are about 47 tents here, a total of 150 people. You see this little girl next to me? Everyone is grabbing her legs. To be very honest with you, the children here crave affection. They're getting it from their parents, no question about it. But for weeks or months, they have been traveling from their countries

to get here. This place is very stark. It's aluminum walls, and you can see the children right here, they are watching a video right now being entertained. It's a beautiful TV but this is not a beautiful shelter to be very frank with you.

You can see the clear sky. There is open sky, it rains quite a bit. It's very cold here sometimes at night. There are also holes in the roof when it does rain, so this is very stark.

There's also only two bathrooms for each gender and one shower, so there are long lines. The meals are not elaborate. It's a private/public partnership. We were here for breakfast this morning and breakfast was chocolate donuts and chocolate milk. Tonight for dinner, which is about an hour, they're having burritos.

Now, many of the people here believe that President Trump does not like them because they are immigrants. However, most of the people haven't heard the specific comments he most recently made about the United States having no room, about them turning around. We've informed them about that and what they're saying is this: we are not turning around. This is what everyone has said. We are desperate.

They are here basically for two reasons they tell us. Number one is because they're scared to go back home, scared for their children. Number two, there is no work and a lot of people say both. But either way they're not going back. They want to come into the United States legally but there is a long wait to go through the asylum process so people just sit here for weeks at a time. There's not enough people to do the job because so many people are coming over.

What's very different, Anderson, what we saw in past years are mostly men coming over. What we're seeing now are many families. That's why there are so many children and mothers here. President Trump says these people are rough, a lot of the asylum seekers. We don't know how many people are rough, but we can tell you there's rough people in the streets of San Diego, which is only 20 minutes away, and rough people in the streets all over the United States.

We don't know how many people there are that are here. We do know these are very desperate people who will cross illegally many of them say if they have to sit here many more weeks.

COOPER: So, just to be clear, the people in the shelter, they are waiting to enter the country legally and claim asylum. The criteria, though, for asylum has gotten a lot tougher under this administration and there's not enough judges to hear all these cases. And so, it's a very slow process. Any idea how long they're going to be waiting for?

TUCHMAN: The process is excruciatingly slow. And here's what's really interesting. We've talked to three people who were here today who did begin the process. They went to the United States, they began the process, and then they were sent back here to Mexico where they're in the shelter today.

Well, just today a federal judge ruled that you can't do that. People that began the process in the United States, you can't send back to Mexico, so we don't know what's going to happen with those three gentlemen who went to the United States and are now back here in Mexico. People have absolutely no idea how long it will take but it's very important to stress and they're very honest about this. If they have to wait too long, then they will cross illegally.

Crossing illegally comes before going back to their home countries. They have come too far to go back and most of the people, they don't want to argue with President Trump and make him mad. They respectfully say we are not turning around and going back.

COOPER: All right. Gary Tuchman, appreciate it.

I want -- coming up next, how this is playing out at the White House. And late reporting on a new child separation policy the president appears to be considering.

And later, were they tools of the spy trade? What prosecutors say the Chinese woman who got into Mar-a-Lago had on top of the four cell phones and infected thumb drive they revealed.


[20:23:46] COOPER: The breaking news tonight. What's being described as a purge of the Department of Homeland Security, the latest in the string of recent signs the president wants to pursue a harder line on immigration, even for lawful asylum seekers, even if it means shutting down ports of entry, even if it means, according to CNN's Jake Tapper, telling sworn law officers not to uphold the law, to lie to people and defy judges. That's reportedly what President Trump has been asking for and is reportedly what his senior advisor, Stephen Miller, has been carrying out.

And now to Gary Tuchman's reporting from that shelter before the break, we're getting more from Jim Acosta on family separation, one that gives parents what some would say is a nightmarish choice.

Jim, what are you learning?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Anderson. That's right. This would almost be sort of like family separation light in that administration officials have been talking about this for some time, but it's now getting a second look and is now under consideration in this newly purged Department of Homeland Security and it's called a binary choice, essentially families would come across the border and families would be given a choice. You could be detained altogether as one family unit or agree and essentially tell the government that it's OK for your children to be separated from you for however long it takes for that parent to go through the immigration court process.

It essentially gives these parents a Sophie's choice, Anderson.

[20:25:01] They literally would have to tell officials at that point whether or not it's OK and given what we know right now about how this family separation policy has worked in the past, those parents would essentially be facing the option at that point of essentially never seeing their kids again, because as we know, the Trump administration has had enormous difficulty putting their children back with their parents.

COOPER: So, depending on how parents choose, could children be held at detention centers longer than 20 days?

ACOSTA: That's right. The law says right now, they can only be held for 20 years. But if the parents say, OK, we'll be held together as a family unit, yes, those children would theoretically, with the approval of a parent, be held in those detention facilities longer than 20 days.

I'll told by a senior administration official that the incoming acting DHS secretary, Kevin McAleenan also talk about this option, is considering this option, and it sounds like this is something that Stephen Miller has talked about in the past, was talked about last summer and last fall, when the zero tolerance family separation policy blew up in their faces. They were looking for something along the lines of family separation light and this may be that option.

COOPER: I understand you also spoke to someone about the chaos happening been the Department of Homeland Security.

ACOSTA: That's right. I talked to a Trump advisor earlier today who was remarkably candid about this, Anderson, essentially saying, listen, you know, a lot of attention is being paid to Stephen Miller and rightly so. He has been driving a lot of the policy at the Department of Homeland Security.

But this Trump advisor said a lot of this blame for what's happening at the border belongs to the president. That he has essentially been operating with very little knowledge of how administration policy works and how immigration law works. In the words of this advisor, this is not a Kirstjen Nielsen issue, this is not a Jeff Sessions issue, this is a lack of understanding issue.

In the words of this official, who has been with the Trump campaign and advised the president for many, many months now, this border failing that we've seen down at the border belongs to the president more than any other official. As much as people here in Washington try to turn Stephen Miller into the boogie man in all of this, Stephen Miller has been following the marching orders of this president and this advisor was very candid in saying a lot of this responsibility, a lot of this blame lies with the president, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta -- Jim, thanks.

Joining us now is former Trump campaign strategist David Urban and former South Carolina Democratic State Representative Bakari Sellers, both CNN political commentators.

David, do you think it's a good idea for the president to double down on this child separation policy by not only reinstating it but expanding it, or there's this separation light policy as well? DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Yes. So, Anderson,

this is a situation where there is an incredible crisis on the southern border. Whether you're a Republican or Democrat, I think everybody agrees this is unprecedented. You had Jeh Johnson, you've had "The New York Times," everybody -- folks from this network have been down there and chronicled how bad it is.

And so, the issue is, what do you do to try to stem that crisis? What do you do to try to keep people from crossing?

You heard some of the verbatims from the early reporting here where folks said, look, we're coming. We don't care. We're coming across. We're leaving our country because there's no work there. There's no -- they're fearful.

So I think the president is frustrated that they can't stop the stem, they can't stem the flow of folks crossing legally and illegally. And he's trying to come up with a plan that may discourage some folks to cross. I think the solution quite frankly is to spend more money, not cut aid, but double down on aid on those three countries --

COOPER: Right.

URBAN: -- to try to keep people from wanting to leave in the first place.

COOPER: But as you know, that is exactly what the president has stopped doing and what Kirstjen Nielsen was down there to do.

URBAN: Right. Look, I think that you can't do both things. You can't cut aid and make people wanting to leave and then you can't slam the border shut. I believe in having a secure border on our southern border. I believe what the president is doing there is appropriate.

I disagree, however, in terms of cutting the funding. I would pull together the Inter-America Development Bank, the Organization of American States, two organizations which do lots of work with Central and South America and establish a task force.

Look, America did this very well in Colombia. Colombia was a really tough spot many years ago, had plan in Colombia, turned the economy around. Colombia is now doing very well, exporting, the U.S. is exporting tons there. It's a stable state.

We can do this. We know how to do it. And I think we should turn our efforts to focus in that regard rather than cutting the funding there.


Bakari, according to Jake's reporting, cooler heads prevailed on the president about shutting the border down. I suppose they could prevail on not reinstating the separation policy. What do you -- how do you see what's going on here?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, unfortunately, this is not just haphazard, but it's callous as well. And I actually do agree with David. One of the faux pass that was made in this immigration policy or lack thereof was cutting the funding to those three countries.


But, look, I mean the President himself and Stephen Miller even more importantly have stated that they're trying to curb legal immigration.

I mean, think we can go back and look at the policies put forth from his ill-fated Muslim ban all the way to now where he has a separation policy which is fundamentally problematic. And everything you see in his immigration policy has been the antithesis to what this country stands for.

But let me take away one talking point from the right, right now. I want everyone to understand that Democrats in no means are in favor of open borders. In fact, we want to have a strong border security system.

We want to make sure that we have a streamlined efficient way by which we let immigrants into this country and asylum seekers who are fleeing danger. We want to make sure that there are enough resources there so that they can actually have an efficient judicial system and our border patrol agents have enough money.

What the President of the United States is -- what the President of the United States is doing and Secretary Nielsen is beyond speakable. Imagine you give them credit for having a separation policy. The big problem that I even have is not even having the wherewithal to have a policy to reunite these families. I mean, that is as callous as you can come.

Secretary Nielsen today briefly stated that she was going resign so that she could spend more time with her family. Oh, the irony. Because every time she's seen now, she's going to be the woman who separated families.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But Anderson, Bakari, look, let's not fool ourselves here. Separation was also the same policy under the Obama administration for quite some time as well.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It actually wasn't done in the same way. It wasn't a mandatory --


URBAN: Well, listen, the crisis wasn't as bad. It was done exactly the same under President Obama.

SELLERS: You mean -- I think that --

URBAN: Go back and look at the news articles at "The New York Times," this network and others taking him to task.

COOPER: David, does it bother you that --

SELLERS: Well, I mean, I think --

COOPER: -- doesn't bother you, David, at all that the President was telling Secretary Nielsen to do things apparently that were illegal? And it's not just her former Secretary of State Tillerson said he had to repeatedly tell the President that what he wanted to do was against the law?

URBAN: Listen, I -- you know, I wasn't there, I don't know. If the President was saying that, somebody should have stood up right then and said, "Mr. President, we can't do it." Clearly, that's the job of the Secretary of Homeland Security. She should turn around right then and said, "Mr. President, what you're suggesting, we can't do it."

COOPER: But, I mean, they were either fired or they left. I mean --

URBAN: Well, but that's your job, right? You're in those -- it's a tough job. That's your job is to look at the President and say, "We can't do it. That's maybe what you want to do, Mr. President, but we can't do that unfortunately." Somebody just needs to tell him that.

COOPER: Well, does it bother you that he doesn't know that?

URBAN: He's not suggesting that somebody breaks the law. Somebody needs to explain it to him.

SELLERS: I mean --

COOPER: But he did suggest that -- OK, Bakari, then we've got to go.

SELLERS: Yes, just briefly. I mean, one, this President has 30 percent to 40 percent of his cabinet agency heads that have not been filled. I mean, this government is anything but the epitome of efficiency.

The problem that I have now is not the fact that this -- the problem that I have is not the fact that this government doesn't seem capable of rising to the challenge, but we're talking about it being callous now. We're talking about children that are literally being put in cages on their watch and no one seems to care.

URBAN: Anderson, real quickly, those vacancies are due to large part that Senator Schumer and Senate Democrats allowing 300 nominees.

SELLERS: It's not you stopping you from running judges. It's not allowed -- it's not stopping you from running judges down.


COOPER: Bakari Sellers, David Urban, thank you very much.

URBAN: These are lots and lots of folks waiting to fill job in this administration.

COOPER: Still ahead, new details about the woman arrested at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort and the suspicious items investigator say they found in her hotel room, including device to detect hidden cameras. It's like something out of a spy novel. The question is, was she a spy? We'll talk to a former CIA officer next.


[20:37:09] COOPER: The Chinese n woman arrested after she allegedly gained unauthorized access to President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort was in court today and we heard what investigators uncovered inside her hotel room.

According to them, they found multiple electronic devices, including a signal detector that can find hidden cameras, nine USB drives and five sim cards. Also found inside the room, thousands of dollars in cash, several credit cards in addition to four cell phones, hard drive and thumb drive infected with malware.

Prosecutors say she had with her at the President's private club the malware. Needless to say, not exactly the things people typically bring on vacation to go swimming, but does it mean she's a spy

Joining us now is former CIA officer and CNN Intelligence and Security Analyst Bob Baer, and Laurence Leamer, author of "Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gate of Power at Donald Trump's Presidential Palace."

Bob, someone who's sort of certainly worked overseas a lot in covert activity, does this woman raise red flags to you?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: I vote she's a spy, Chinese spy, because of this survey equipment she had on or the detect cameras in the wall are very, very rare, they're very expensive, and it's not something you just walk into the local, you know, hardware store and buy.

So, you know, bringing all that stuff to Mar-a-Lago, to her hotel, sounds like preparation. She had a lousy cover story. That happens a lot. The thing fell apart. Somebody is going to be punished in Beijing. But she does not look like a private citizen at this point.

COOPER: What's so interesting, Bob, is you know, there's been so much focus on Russia, you know, hacking and involvement in the election. Chinese spying in the United States for industrial purposes, for all sorts of purposes is a huge, huge issue. I talked to -- I just did a piece on this for "60 Minutes," not only recruiting former CIA officers, but just trying to get trade secrets for the China 2025 program.

BAER: As an FBI agent told me, current FBI agent, they're robbing us blind. And so for them to go into Mar-a-Lago doesn't surprise me at all. And by the way, Anderson, if she'd taken that malware and put it on the T.V., it would have infected the whole system, phones, every T.V., every room, cameras, mics, everything. I mean, that is a bold operation, never seen anything like it.

COOPER: Lawrence, I mean based on your knowledge of Mar-a-Lago, would it -- is it surprising that this woman was able to gain access in the way that she did? I mean, she was caught.

LAURENCE LEAMER, AUTHOR, "MAR-A-LAGO": Anderson, it was a disaster waiting to happen. There are over 10,000 people who come floating in and out of this place during the winter season. The Secret Service is doing the best job that they can do, but you can't have a president in such a situation.

Basically they should close the club if Trump wants to come down there, but he likes the money and needs to have people sucking up to him all day long. But it's the weakest entry point into this administration for spies and for people who want to do physical harm to the president. It should not go on. But knowing President Trump, it will.

[20:40:06] COOPER: To that point, Laurence, I mean, what are the President's movements might like at Mar-a-Lago? I've only been there once when I was there to interview him during the campaign and I was surprise. I mean, he was just kind of wandering around talking to people. It wasn't like he was off in some secluded area. He was kind of basically just schmoozing.

LEAMER: No, he's like the maitre d' wandering around there. You wouldn't think he's the President of the United States. The family quarter is just off one of the hallways. It's just insane.

I live there in the winter. I like to walk on the beach. And when you get in to Mar-a-Lago, you could walk into the pool. You can't get farther than that because there's Secret Service in this tunnel underneath, but the security isn't what it should be. And we should be happy in a way that this happened now, but it has to change.

And the answer is not to get rid of the Secret Service head who's doing a fine job, but Trump can't take responsibility. He is the one that has created this situation, nobody but the President.

COOPER: Bob, in the wake of a security breach like this -- I mean, first of all, Bob, do you consider it a big security breach, because I mean this person was stopped. But if it is a security breach, does it seem like maybe now isn't the best time to fire the director of the Secret Service or that will not have an impact?

BAER: It won't have an impact because the Secret Service can't do anything about it. They don't control, really control the perimeter. It's the local staffs who have the guest list. Anybody comes and goes. The Secret Service can protect the White House and Camp David, but they can't protect Mar-a-Lago. It's impossible. It's just simply impossible.

So blaming the Secret Service is the wrong way to go on this. I mean, unfortunately for the President, you have to go in the White House and stay there and you just become isolated, as all presidents do.

COOPER: Yes. Bob Baer, Laurence Leamer, appreciate it.

LEAMER: And beyond that, the President is not there most of the time. When he's not there, there's no metal detector. People can come in and out. That's the point where you could come in and set situations up. I mean, it's just an impossible situation.

COOPER: Yes. Laurence Leamer, thank you very much, Bob as well.

Attorney General Barr heads to Capitol Hill in the morning. The Mueller report is not on the official agenda. He's certainly going to be asked about it. Just ahead, we'll have a preview of tomorrow.


[20:45:55] COOPER: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler says he wants Attorney General Barr to testify about the Mueller investigation in early May, and Nadler says testify by Mueller himself is "inevitable."

The attorney general is schedule to appear tomorrow before Congress to discuss the propose budget for the Justice Department. And while the 22-month long Mueller investigation is not officially on the agenda, he certainly could be questioned about it.

Joining me is now is CNN Contributor Garrett Graff, author of the book "Mueller's War," as well as CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero.

So, Carrie, what questions do you think Barr is going to be asked tomorrow and how many of them do you think he's actually going to answer, because until the report comes out, it would be strange for him to kind of be talking about it.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It would. I think he's going to try to avoid at all costs talking about anything that is the substance of the report, certainly anything that goes beyond what he put in his summary letter.

But I think it is fair game for him to be asked about it and he certainly should expect to be asked about timing, when he expects to deliver the report, and the process that he's going through.

You know, why has it taken the time that it has, whether or not he is far along in the process of the review, the review for classified information, the review for grand jury information, and I think those are fair questions and it would be odd if the hearing took place tomorrow without them being asked.

COOPER: Garrett, I mean, the report obviously hasn't been released. Why would Barr want to certainly get ahead -- I mean, he wouldn't want to get ahead of it, especially if the vetting process isn't fully complete.

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Exactly. And I think that's why we're unlikely to see him speak of any substance of the report. But as Carrie said, I think its well within the rights of Democrats in Congress and the, you know, congressional oversight questions overall about the process that he's going through.

I mean, I think sort of one of the big questions that I hope Capitol Hill pushes him on tomorrow is in previous special counsel and independent counsel investigations like this, the Justice Department has gone to the courts to get permission to include and publicize that so-called 6(e) grand jury testimony and that does not seem like that's a process that has taken place thus far.

And I think it's a fair question to ask if that's what happened in Whitewater, if that's what happened in Watergate, why isn't that happening with the Mueller report and why is that information going to be shielded from us if indeed that permission is not sought.

COOPER: So, Carrie, in terms of Mueller testifying in front of the judiciary, I mean hard to imagine, especially given how long he's worked in Washington, that he didn't expect that to happen at some point.

CORDERO: I think that's right. I mean, look, this is -- this report and the conclusion of his investigation is a matter of intense public interest. I think it's -- the investigation that he conducted is the most important national security investigation in a generation.

So, I think once his report is delivered, perhaps the attorney general will testify first, but then I think it will -- is to be expected that Mueller will be called to testify and that he will explain his investigation and answer questions about the substance of the report in particular on the conclusions that were or were not drawn in his report.

COOPER: Garrett, do you agree with some that Barr's likely not to -- that the White House is likely not to seek anything on -- for executive privilege in redacting the Barr report?

GRAFF: Yes. I mean that's certainly consistent with what Barr himself is saying, is that he is not planning to show the report to the White House in advance and is not planning to execute any executive privilege redactions or to ask permission for those as part of this.

I mean he's been very clear that the only four categories he's looking to do, grand jury testimony, intelligence sources and methods, ongoing criminal investigations, and then that sort of complicated amorphous fourth category that is information that would not unduly impugn so- called peripheral third parties. Unduly, of course, being a word that carries a lot of weight in that sentence.

[20:50:00] COOPER: Also, Carrie, how do you interpret that fourth idea? Is the President -- would he be included in the peripheral third parties?

CORDERO: It's hard to say. I mean, I think that gets to derogatory information that doesn't rise to the level of chargeable conduct. I think it more likely applies to individuals in the President's orbit.

When it comes to, let's just be clear about it, obstruction, because that is so central to the President himself, and because that was a major part of the investigation, and because the report purportedly does not draw a conclusion about it that the attorney general did, I think it would be very hard for the attorney general to say that any information regarding obstruction would fall into that prohibited derogatory category.

COOPER: Interesting. Carrie Cordero, appreciate it. Garrett Graff, always, thank you.

I want to check in with Chris to see what he's working on. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So, Thursday, we had then Secretary of DHS Kirstjen Nielsen on the show. And I was surprised at her candor. She wasn't pushing the brown menace. She was like, "No, no, you're right about the numbers, obviously its kids and families."

And she was like, "Yes, you know, the emergency declaration could be used to help us with resources down there. Maybe we'll look at that." 72 hours later, she was gone and now we're hearing that what I perceived as her being more candid may have been her not being seen by this President as lining up with his aims.

As you know and you have reported tonight, we'll get deeper into the reporting about exactly why she is gone, exactly why there's this purge, and what it means about what he wants to happen on the border, some scary realities.

COOPER: Yes. All right, Chris, I'll look forward to that. That's about eight minutes from now.

We'll return to the breaking news next, the DHS purge namely more on White House aide Stephen Miller who is reportedly behind it.


[20:55:59] COOPER: Whatever you want to call what's happening at the Department of Homeland Security, it's apparently part of a shift in policy on immigration to be even more hard lined than it already is.

The President, according to our reporting, wants action and is said to be fixated on using family separation perhaps to send that message. More now on the man who said to be the center of it. According to "The Washington Post," President Trump has told his aide, Stephen Miller, that he will be in charge of immigration and border policy from now on.

As you heard earlier, Congresswoman Kathleen Rice is wondering why the President doesn't just make it official and give him the title and the job of Secretary of Homeland Security. Whatever you think of that idea, it raises the question, just who is Stephen Miller? Here's our Randi Kaye.


STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR: Can you name one foreign threat in the world today outside this country's borders that currently kills more Americans than the threats crossing our southern border?

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: You know, the joy of this is I get to ask you questions.

MILLER: And the answer is no, the answer is no. RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At 33, he is President Donald Trump's youngest policy advisor, the man at the center of the immigration battle who seems like he's always ready for a fight.

MILLER: Jeff, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish things you've ever said.

KAYE: Stephen Miller embraced his anti-immigrant views early on. After the 9/11 attacks when he was 16, he penned an editorial for the "Santa Monica Lookout," arguing his high school wasn't patriotic enough. "Osama bin Laden would feel very welcome at Santa Monica High School," he wrote.

In the same article, Miller complained about rampant political correctness and his classmates who lacked basic English skills. At one point, he tried to stop Spanish language announcements.

MILLER: I will say and I will do things that no one else in their right mind would say or do.

KAYE: All of this it seems just a dress rehearsal for his next stop, Duke University. Writing for the "Duke Chronicle," Miller sounded the alarm about immigration making a name for himself in the national media. "We oppose common-sense security measures. We give driver's licenses to illegal aliens."

(on camera) After graduating, he moved to Washington, eventually landing a job as an aide to then Senator Jeff Sessions. Miller helped Sessions derail a bipartisan immigration deal in 2013 by distributing a handbook full of talking points. In Washington, Miller also connected with Steve Bannon who gave him entry into Trump's orbit and campaign 2016.

(voice-over) Miller now on the world stage crafted Trump's inaugural speech.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential, this American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

KAYE: Miller has a reputation as Trump's enforcer on immigration. He co-author the President's travel ban, later suggesting the federal judge who struck it down had no right to question the President's authority.

MILLER: Our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions that the powers of the President to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.

KAYE: Miller often in the President's ear also reportedly helped derail negotiations for the border wall and government shutdown.

MILLER: This is a very fundamental issue. At stake is the question of whether or not the United States remains a sovereign country. KAYE: For his part, the President seems to like what Stephen Miller represents, not only his conservatism but his combativeness too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But, my question --

MILLER: You know, Jim, you can be -- no, no. You can be condescending.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not being condescending. I'm trying to get to the point that Steve Bannon --

MILLER: No, no, you can be.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: More to come on that story in the coming days, no doubt. Meantime, a reminder, don't miss "Full Circle," our daily interactive newscast on Facebook. You get to vote on some of the stories we cover, all the details. You can watch it weeknights at 6:25 p.m. Eastern at

News continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CUOMO: Thank you, Anderson.