Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Biden Says Don't Come to Immigrants; Russia Interfered in 2020 Election; Judge Questions Jurors in Chauvin Trial. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired March 17, 2021 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:31:16]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is on Capitol Hill. He is going to face some very serious questions over the influx of migrants at the southern border, particularly unaccompanied children. The administration is struggling to find housing for the growing number of them that are crossing the U.S./Mexico border. Listen to this from President Biden on the surge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS CHIEF ANCHOR: Was it a mistake not to anticipate this surge?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, first of all, there was a surge the last two years, in '19 and '20 there was a surge as well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This one might be worse.

BIDEN: No -- well, it could be. But here's the deal. We're sending back people to -- first of all the idea that Joe Biden said come because I heard the other day that they're -- they're coming because they know I'm a nice guy and I won't do what Trump did.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They're saying this.

BIDEN: Yes. Well, here's the deal, they're not.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have to say quite clearly, don't come?

BIDEN: Yes. I can say quite clearly, don't come. We're in the process of getting set up. Don't leave your town or city or community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: I'm joined now by Krish O'Mara Vignaraiah. She is the president and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. She also was a senior advisor to the State Department during the Obama administration and a policy director for former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Good morning. Thanks for being here.

KRISH O'MARA VIGNARAJAH, PRESIDENT AND CEO, LUTHERAN IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE SERVICE : Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: You heard what Biden just said. And this comes on the heels of the president of Mexico saying just a few weeks ago about Biden, they see him as the migrant president and so many feel that they're going to reach the United States.

Do you believe this is a crisis, and do you believe it is one that was underestimated by the Biden administration?

VIGNARAJAH: Yes, I mean I think depending on what term you want to use, I think there's going to be lots of different variances. I think it's an emergency situation. I think that's why FEMA is going to be involved. I do think that what President Biden said was accurate. This has been a seasonal and cyclical spikes that we've seen. We saw it in 2014, 2016, 2019, 2020 and again today.

HARLOW: Well, I don't know, because Secretary Mayorkas said yesterday that we are on pace to see the biggest surge in 20 years.

VIGNARAJAH: Yes. We are. And part of that is some of the push factors. The fact that we have increasing violence in Mexico, narco traffickers, gang violence, the economic and political instability, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and, candidly, the climate crisis. The fact that the region has been hit by two devastating hurricanes is all contributing to the surge that we're seeing.

HARLOW: I -- you know, think of back in the Obama term, you worked in the Obama administration, when -- I think it was 2015, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson flew down to the northern triangle countries. He went to El Salvador and Honduras. And he very clearly said, do not come, et cetera. He sent a very clear message and he went there.

Is that a trip that you think the new DHS secretary, Mayorkas, needs to make?

VIGNARAJAH: I think that the administration, whether it's the president, as you just heard, or Secretary Mayorkas saying do not come, we don't have the capacity, is important. I think that message is being conveyed.

But I also think it's important to acknowledge what is causing the migration. When your house is on fire, you don't ask for permission, right, you get out.

HARLOW: Yes.

VIGNARAJAH: And so I think that the real focus needs to be, how do we build the capacity to, in a humanitarian way, meet our -- not just moral but legal obligations.

HARLOW: Yes. Let's talk about that, because that's a lot of where your focus and your work and your everyday effort is right now.

You've got 628 families that are still separated from each other given what the Trump administration did.

[09:35:02]

And you tweeted this week, the challenges that unaccompanied migrant children face do not disappear when they are released to sponsors.

You think that we, as a country, this administration, really needs a more varied approach in terms of handling these children once they're out of the custody of Border Patrol or HHS?

VIGNARAJAH: Yes. That's exactly right. I mean I think this is where it's really important to be clear on what we're seeing and what we're not seeing. We are not seeing kids in cages. We are not seeing family separation used as a deterrence policy. But what we are seeing is thousands of kids in border -- in CBP facilities, in facilities that are not meant for children. And what we are seeing is a growing need to quickly respond in a humanitarian way.

So many of these kids experience trauma in their home countries. They experience trauma on their journey here. And so it's incredibly important that we get them out of these concrete facilities that are not intended for children, that we have a trauma informed approach that child welfare experts are involved and that it really be a model of community-based care by, you know, faith-based organizations like LIRS or other nonprofits.

HARLOW: So what specifically could be done in terms of a policy change? Would it be expanding the list of families that can take in these children, for example, kind of like the foster approach that we currently have in the United States?

VIGNARAJAH: Yes. I mean that's part of it. So LIRS runs a transitional foster care program. And the idea is that we can provide a safe, small, family centric home for many of these kids. Otherwise, we can offer group homes. Basically, you know, large family homes rather than an influx facility or, you know, something that is more like detention.

So I think there's a couple things that we can do. First, in the most immediate term, it is making the best of a bad situation. These children should not be in CBP custody. They, frankly, shouldn't be in influx facilities. And so anything we can do when we create a facility like Cariso Springs (ph) a Midland (ph), we need to be very clear on an expiration date. We need to make sure that they are subject to state laws. Some of these facilities are on federal land but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't abide to the -- by the protections that we afford to children.

Second, we need to build the capacity so that they're -- you know, there's a network of providers like mine all across the country that, frankly, in the last four years, we weren't given the opportunity to grow. And so some of it is going to be about meeting that need. And then, finally, 90 percent of these kids, they do have a parent,

guardian, someone here in the country. So we need to efficiently and safely reunite them with their families.

HARLOW: Krish, thank you for being with us. I know your team is doing a whole lot of work on this front. Thanks for your time this morning.

VIGNARAJAH: Thank you.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, President Biden is warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin will pay a price after a U.S. intelligence report found Russia tried once again to undermine the U.S. election in 2020. We're going to discuss that with the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:42:35]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He will pay a price. I -- we had a long talk, he and I. We've -- I know him relatively well. And I -- the conversation started off, I said, I know you and you know me. If I establish this occurred, then be prepared.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: President Biden delivering a stark warning there to Vladimir Putin and Russia. This following an intelligence community report which established that once again, like in 2016, Russia interfered in the U.S. lection to help Donald Trump and hurt his Democratic opponent, Biden.

But it also made clear that the Trump administration, in the run-up to the election, was wrong about who, which country was the biggest threat. Trump officials repeatedly said it was not Russia but China.

Here is then-Attorney General Bill Barr to Wolf Blitzer two months before the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The intelligence community has pointed to Russia, China and Iran. Which is the most assertive, the most aggressive in this area?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I believe it's China.

BLITZER: Which one?

BARR: China.

BLITZER: China more than Russia right now?

BARR: Yes. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: At other times the director of national intelligence under Trump, John Ratcliffe, and the national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, echoed this talking point, which, not coincidentally, echoed President Trump's own view.

In fact, the intelligence indicated the opposite.

Here's what the intelligence community concluded about China and the election. Quote, China sought stability in its relationship with the United States, did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk getting caught meddling.

This leaves two possibilities, these officials either missed a severe threat to the election and to the country, or they deliberately misled the American people.

Joining us now to discuss this and other issues, former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

Director, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Thanks, Jim, for having me.

SCIUTTO: So you were involved, in fact you led the intelligence community at the time of the intelligence assessment in 2016 regarding Russian interference. So here you have in the months leading up to the election, when there was already a lot of intelligence out there about Russian attempts to interfere, and a chorus of Trump administration officials, Radcliffe, O'Brien, some GOP lawmakers at times, too, saying, no, China was the bigger threat.

But by saying that, either deliberately or not, did they make the U.S. more vulnerable to a threat to the election from Russia?

[09:45:05]

CLAPPER: Well, they do, and, in the first instance, I found it strange they would say that in light of whatever else you say about the Russians. One thing they are is consistent. So with the denials or, I guess, more accurately, the avoidance of mentioning Russia, I found that -- I'll say fishy at best.

And, yes, it does leave us vulnerable because one of the important things here, which the DNI has just done, is the -- is to educate the American public and to portray to the American public accurately what the real threats are to us, in this case, to our election process.

So, yes, it does leave us, I think, because of downplaying the Russian threat, which was the real threat, it leaves us vulnerable.

SCIUTTO: One thing that was different from 2020 to 2016 was outright public, unapologetic help from Americans, including people close to the president in spreading Russian disinformation. The report refers to specifically Andre Derkich (ph), a Ukrainian politician but a known Russian intelligence agent who we know, though he's not named in the book, Rudy Giuliani met with. There are photographs of this. And he took information from him that he believed was damaging to Joe Biden, even though it was coming from a Russian intel source.

How damaging was that? How much easier did it make it for Russia to interfere to have help, in effect, from inside the U.S.?

CLAPPER: Well, it -- it obfuscates the truth, obviously, since Derkach, among others in the Ukraine, was a known Russian proxy.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

CLAPPER: So this is a distraction from what the real, genuine threat is. And so this is misleading the American public and it does leave us less aware and less vigilant, I think, about what the real threat is.

SCIUTTO: So the question becomes then, what do you do now that works? Because even under Trump, and, frankly, under pressure from Congress, because he delayed some of these sanctions, but sanctions were imposed under the Trump administration on Russia following 2016 interference. But Russia interfered again. So the sanctions didn't work. I mean even offensive cyber weapons planted in Russian systems, which there's been some reporting about, that did not deter.

So if that doesn't work, what does?

CLAPPER: Well, it's a great question. You know, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on the Russians on the heels of their interference in 2016, specifically announced on the 29th of December of 2016. And it didn't seem to have much of a deterrent effect. So I think there's two concerns here. One is, you know, how many more times can we go to the sanctions well, so to speak.

And with respect to cyber, you know, the thing you have to consider there is what might the counterretaliation be which certainly tempered our decision-making in the Obama administration.

So it will be interesting what the administration does. Apparently President Biden has told President Putin the Russians will pay. So it will be interesting to see what they do beyond sanctioning named individuals, and there may have been some beyond what was released in the unclassified report that they get sanctioned individually.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Well, we'll be watching closely. We'll see if they have a different approach.

Jim Clapper, thanks so much for joining me.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: Soon, a judge will re-question jurors in Minneapolis already picked for the Derek Chauvin trial about what they know, if anything, about the $27 million settlement that just came between the city of Minneapolis and George Floyd's family in that civil case. We're live there, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:53:48]

SCIUTTO: At this hour the judge in a trial of former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin charged in the killing of George Floyd is questioning some of the selected jurors. He is asking what they know about the $27 million civil settlement reached between the city and Floyd's family.

HARLOW: The mayor Minneapolis announced the settlement just days after jury selection had already started.

Our colleague, Omar Jimenez, is in Minneapolis with the very latest again this morning.

Omar, I mean I know there was this push by the defense team to say, well, this disqualifies the whole city from being able to hold this trial. I believe that got dismissed. But what is this questioning of the jurors now?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, his questioning of the jurors is essentially trying to get at whether they can still remain fair and impartial and whether the news of this civil settlement throws off any opinions they may have had about the case prior to their questioning since these seven were selected prior to or right as this civil settlement news was coming out on Friday.

And so that questioning has now begun. Judge Peter Cahill, we were just listening a few moments ago, he's brought them back in over Zoom. So the first juror he questioned, he asked, what have you heard about this case, how much in specifics did you hear about this settlement?

[09:55:04]

And the first person said, well, he heard a little from his fiance but did not know any specifics. He's been staying away from the news as he's been asked to. The second juror, as we were just listening a few moments ago, said that he did hear news of it and what he knew about it was that it was an incredibly large amount of money. And so the judge continued to ask questions trying to get to that core question of, again, whether that juror's mindset was different from last week to this week.

Now, the seven -- there are nine total, and they are going to be questioning more prospective jurors as we move forward in this. The demographics that we know, as of right now, there are three white men in their 20s and 30s, two white women in their 50s, two black men in their 30s, a biracial woman in her 20s, and a Hispanic man in his 20s. We suspect that this issue and certain over the timing of the civil settlement news will continue to be something to watch for as we continue to move forward in the selection process.

SCIUTTO: Yes, nine so far. I guess that means five to go with alternates.

Omar Jimenez, thanks very much.

Atlanta police are set to give an update in just minutes after at least eight people were shot and killed at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area. We're going to bring you that press conference and the latest, live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)