Return to Transcripts main page


Trump: National Guard Troops Will Defend U.S. Border Until Wall Built. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 5, 2018 - 07:00   ET


COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS: I just want to go home. How about this moment? Jack Nicklaus letting his 15-year-old grandson, G.T., take his last tee shot. Perhaps the sweetest moment we'll see out of this year's Masters. Grandpa, the six-time Masters champ, who will hit the ceremonial first tee shot later this morning with Gary Player towing his grandson. You're going to hit a hole in one, kid. Look at that. Nicklaus was brought to tears. He called this the most memorable moment ever at the Augusta National. It was his son -- grandson's first ever hole in one.

[07:00:36] All eyes going to be on Tiger Woods this morning. Favorite, Jordan Spieth. What do you think?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: I think he's ready. Let's go.

WIRE: Let's do this.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I love that. Thanks, Coy. You're right. That was a lot of levity, and that was wonderful. Why were they in hazmat suits?

GREGORY: Yes. That's a question. Anyway, we're going to talk about it.

Thanks to our international viewers for watching. "CNN TALK" is next for you. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He needs to gin up the base. There's a huge enthusiasm gap between the Democrats and the Republicans.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Today is the day we want to start this process. The threat is real.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We want to focus on transitioning to local enforcement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are no security forces on the ground. That's why there's a civil war there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump is an ignoramus on national security issues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We pull out of Syria, we're putting our own security interests at risk.

ED HENRY, FOX NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Is draining the swamp renting an apartment from the wife of a Washington lobbyist?

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He should not have been fired for this. This is not acceptable. Pruitt's actually delivered results.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody ultimately concluded he's done anything wrong.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Chris is off. David Gregory joins me. Great to have you.

GREGORY: Good to be here.

CAMEROTA: We have a lot of news, but we're managing to have fun, as well.

GREGORY: I find that's true.



CAMEROTA: Let's do that. OK, President Trump wants National Guard troops at the border with Mexico. And he's one step closer to deploying them. But we don't know much about the plan, like how many troops, where they will go, how long they'll be there, or who will pay for it.

And as for the plan in Syria, CNN has learned that the president got testy with his top military brass and national security team when they advised him against an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. A source tells CNN that the president has given them six months to finish the mission and get out.

GREGORY: Plus, a CNN exclusive this morning. Multiple sources saying that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is questioning wealthy Russian oligarchs who traveled to the U.S. to determine if they illegally channeled crash into the Trump campaign. It comes as the administration is expected to sanction several oligarchs over 2016 election meddling.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip, live at the White House this morning with our top story -- Abby.


President Trump's public pronouncements in the last week about Syria and about the border wall have come as a surprise to his own policy advisers. And now they're scrambling to make what he said publicly a reality in terms of policy.


TRUMP: Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military. That's a big step.

PHILLIP (voice-over): President Trump officially signing a memorandum to deploy the National Guard to the border with Mexico, calling the situation a point of crisis after fuming about immigration for days.

NIELSEN: It will take time to have the details in place, but we are beginning today, and we are moving quickly.

PHILLIP: The memorandum declaring that the security of the United States is imperiled by a drastic surge of illegal activity on the southern border.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why is this such an urgent priority right now for the president to sign?

NIELSEN: I think, you know, what I would say is that the numbers continue to increase. April traditionally is a month in which we see more folks crossing the border without a legal right to do so.

ZELENY: Data from a Department of Homeland Security study last fall indicated that illegal border crossings through 2016 were at their lowest point in nearly five decades. A continuing trend Mr. Trump has repeatedly bragged about.

TRUMP: I'm very proud to say that we're way down in the people coming across the border. We have fewer people trying to come across, because they know it's not going to happen.

PHILLIP: But late Wednesday, new Border Patrol statistics show a 37 percent spike in attempted border crossings in the last month. The secretary of homeland security saying this when pressed about President Trump's suggestion that the military pay for the border wall.

NIELSEN: What he meant was there are some lands that the Department of Defense owns right on the border that are actually areas where we see illicit activity. We're looking into options for the military to build a wall on military installations on the border.

PHILLIP: "The Wall Street Journal" reports that U.S. officials are planning to build a wall along at least part of a bombing range along the Arizona-Mexico border.

But the military installation only covers 31 of the nearly 2,000-mile- long border. This as CNN learns new details about President Trump's tense meeting with his national security team Tuesday. Sources say the president grew irritated with his military brass when they advised him against immediately withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria days after Mr. Trump said this.

[07:05:21] TRUMP: We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.

PHILLIP: Senior administration officials said the president complained at length about the amount of money being spent in the region, telling advisers he wants troops out of Syria within the next six months.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders releasing a statement Wednesday night insisting that the administration will not rest until the Syrian regime is held accountable for chemical attacks after saying this about the president's desire to pull troops out of the country.

SANDERS: We want to focus on transitioning to local enforcement, as well as have our allies and partners in the region, who have a lot more at risk to put more skin into into the game.


Reporter: Well, the president is back to taxes today when he's to West Virginia for a roundtable on that issue. The president and Republicans, writ large, are trying to shore up Republican voters ahead of what could be a difficult 2018 midterm election -- Alisyn and David.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby. Thank you very much for all of that.

Joining us to discuss it, we have CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. Both of you in studio.

So David, let's start with the numbers. OK? Let's start with Mexico and what the president is proposing on the border. And if you look at the numbers for the past month in March, there has been a spike in illegal border crossings. It's up 37 percent. And then if you look at the actual raw numbers, look at how much it's up.

So in 2018, there were 50,000 illegal border crossings in March alone. That's much higher than 2017. But that year appears to be something of an anomaly. The other years are more similar to 2018. So does the president have just a justification for this.

DAVID SANGER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: He's maintained from the campaign that this was an emergency situation and that he's got to deal with it as an emergency situation. In fact, what happened when he first came in, is that his rhetoric was so strong that we think it actually did suppress border crossings over time. But that wasn't a permanent solution.

So now he's basically back to the norm. Is putting National Guard on the border new? No. President Bush did it. President Obama did it. I don't think anybody particularly objects to doing that if it's going to work and certainly if it's going to bolster the Border Patrol. Is it the kind of solution and permanent solution that he had in mind?

Does he really want to keep the National Guard built up to do this on a semi-permanent basis? Probably not.

GREGORY: Well, here's the amazing thing. The more permanent solution in his mind is not necessarily to tackle the very difficult issue of asylum seekers from Central America mostly, who go through a very complicated process of sanctuary for temporary time on the way of some adjudication of their claims over the longer period.

But he had an opportunity to get money for a border wall. He passed on that deal.

And so the question is what does this accomplish? You boost National Guard forces at the border? What does he want to do, just suppress the numbers for a short time?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It satiates the base. I mean, this is a political decision, in reaction to his concern that his base is turning on him, on this signature issue. Building the wall. It wasn't in the big, you know, $1.3 trillion budget. No new funding.

And he had passed on on this opportunity for a larger deal, which Democrats were offering, to pay $25 billion for a wall. So this is a move in response to a problem with his base and within conservative media. Because as we know, actual, you know, border crossings are down. You know, you've got to go back to 1971 to find a lower number.

CAMEROTA: Year over year. Not for March. Year over year.

AVLON: Yes. Looking at the year over year. Because the months over months can be distorting. If it were part of a negotiation to get a broader deal done the way that Bush and Obama had done it, this was a stick to show that they could be tough if they got some concessions on, you know, undocumented workers inside the United States. It would be one thing.

And if this is Donald Trump the negotiator, great. If it's simply playing to the base at the, you know, moving National Guard troops, then I think that's just kabuki theater with the real costs.

CAMEROTA: The reason that people think it's just playing to the base is because a couple things happened this weekend. Namely, there was a "FOX and Friends" weekend segment where they talked about an army of illegal immigrants, a caravan coming -- caravans coming, steaming towards the U.S. border.

And then the president, who we know is a fan of the show, then used some of that language in tweets. So it seemed as though that segment got his attention. And then he met with some of the FOX News hosts who have been pushing for immigration. So there's been a confluence of events that then seem to have gotten his attention.

[07:10:08] And yesterday Jeff Zeleny, our Jeff Zeleny, was asking the homeland security director why now? What has happened? Here's her answer. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Why is this such an urgent priority right now for the president to sign?

NIELSEN: I think, you know, what I would say is that the numbers continue to increase. April traditionally is a month in which we see more folks crossing the border without a legal right to do so. We are seeing more and more advertising, very unfortunately, by the traffickers and smugglers to our south, specific to how to get around our system, and enter our country and stay.

So why today, not yesterday, tomorrow? Today is the day.


CAMEROTA: What do you think, David?

SANGER: Well, she's right. Seasonally, there are moments when they come. This is one of those seasonal moments. You get accustomed to it in a normal policy process. You have something set in place so that when these seasonal changes happen, you are ready for going off to do it. You don't do it in response to something you hear on TV or something that you heard anecdotally over dinner.

And that's fundamentally the problem and the issue with this White House, which is they're not terribly data-driven, which then leads you to consistent policy. They're driven by what the president has heard. And then he makes a pronouncement. And then the policy makers scramble to create a policy that gives some rationality to something he's just heard.

AVLON: It is utterly bass akwards [SIC], in terms of the way policy is supposed to work. This is he president of the United States. It doesn't need to be somebody couch surfing, getting an insight -- the appearance of an insight and then governing by impulse. He has access to the world's leading experts and information. But he seems much more interested --

GREGORY: But you also have a president, and this is not unprecedented either, right? I mean, President Obama felt the need to act unilaterally in the absence of a broader deal and in the absence of a legislative deal. He's doing what he can do on his own. Even when it comes to the border wall. The homeland security secretary talked about that yesterday.


NIELSEN: What he meant was there are some lands that the Department of Defense owns right on the border that are actually areas where we see illicit activity as part of what DOD does every day in terms of force protection. We're looking into options for the military to build a wall on military installations on the border.

(END VIDEO CLIP) GREGORY: So this is the potential for a war on a U.S. military installation. That's about 31 miles that they could start to put up a wall.

CAMEROTA: Here's the map.

GREGORY: It's a start.

AVLON: You know, look, it's a way around certain constitutional restrictions, Posse Comitatus Act. Probably not a terrible idea. Although I'd love to see the actual numbers of border crossings on military bases. I can imagine that would not be an attractive area.

CAMEROTA: That leads us, David, to Syria and the president's policy on Syria. He seems to -- he has said he wanted our U.S. troops out immediately. His military leaders then pushed back apparently.

In fact, we have a little bit of this from Elise Labott, our Elise Labott about what they said to him. I'll read that. At one stage General Joseph Dunford asked the president to state explicitly what he wanted to see happen in Syria, according to this administration official. The president responded by saying U.S. troops need to finish their mission against ISIS in Syria within six months, a timeline that military officials including Defense Secretary James Mattis warned would be too short.

SANGER: So a few things to unpack here. First of all, what have we learned this week? The president wants more troops down on our border and fewer troops out abroad. Those are consistent with what he said during the campaign, right?

Because during the campaign, he was portraying American defense as something that we do by building up a mighty military and keeping it within our borders.

The problem is that isn't the way the world is built. That's what forward deployment is all about. You project American power to keep things from coming at you by putting your troops out abroad.

That was the fundamental problem that led to 9/11. We pulled out of Afghanistan. It got taken over. Taliban became a place for al Qaeda to go in, and settle in, and plot the attack. So that's No. 1.

No. 2, the president has said to us, you don't broadcast when you're leaving. So we now know it is six months. We know this from CNN. We know this from many other news organizations. If you are Vladimir Putin, if you are the Iranians and you're sitting back here today, you say, "OK, guys. Summer vacation, let's all reconvene in December, and we'll have Syria to ourselves."

GREGORY: Let's underline that point. The president talking about not broadcasting what you're going to do.


TRUMP: I'm not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don't talk about military response.

I don't want to be one of these guys that say, "Yes, here's what we're going to do." I don't have to do that.

[07:15:05] You know, the late great General McArthur and General Patton are spinning in their grave when they hear what we do, how we announce exactly what we're going to do.

I don't want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is. I'm not going to call you up and say, "Matt, we have a great plan." This is what Obama does.


CAMEROTA: OK. I mean, he was quite clear about it then.

AVLON: That was then. This is now.

Now apparently, the president is making his comments in closed door meeting. But it's still the same problem. You know, it's the Taliban saying, "You have the watches but we have the time."

And so the reality of the responsibility of being president of the United States is very different than armchair quarterbacking. And if your military says almost unanimously, including apparently, Mike Pompeo, that this is a bad idea, despite your campaign promises, the president has got to relent at some point. Because otherwise, you're creating problems for the next person, creating a vacuum for Russia and Iran, which is David's point.

CAMEROTA: Final thought, David?

SANGER: That gets to it. If your strategic objective here is merely ISIS, then I can imagine why we could go leave in six months, except that ISIS will come back and rebuild, as we've learned that they do.

But he says that the biggest problem in the Middle East is Iran. And we all know that it's also allowing the Russians a full run. So one of the first questions to ask is have we set our strategic objectives for Syria correctly? If it's pushback on Iran, picking up and leaving doesn't quite send the message I think he wants to send.

CAMEROTA: The strategy is unclear, to say the least.

David Sanger, thank you very much.

John Avlon, thank you.

So the head of the EPA is struggling to explain his latest controversies. Will Scott Pruitt survive these scandals? We'll debate it next.


[07:20:48] CAMEROTA: The White House says President Trump is not OK with the deal that EPA chief Scott Pruitt received to rent a room in Washington from the family of an energy lobbyist. Pruitt struggled to defend himself in an interview yesterday on FOX.


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

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


CAMEROTA: All right. Let's bring in CNN senior political commentators Jennifer Granholm and Rick Santorum. Great to see both of you.

Rick, are you comfortable with how EPA director -- administrator Scott Pruitt has been conducting himself and his spending?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm comfortable with the job that he's doing. I think he's doing a great job as EPA administrator. He's basically stopped all of the tremendous overreach that the Obama administration put in place.

CAMEROTA: Are you willing to overlook the things that -- the financial scandals or questions that he's having because of those policies?

SANTORUM: Yes. Let's look at them. I mean, the $50 a night rental of the apartment was approved by the ethics -- by his ethics staff -- I mean, at the EPA. So you can say, well, you know, they should change the S.A. (ph) standard. And I think my understanding is they're going through the process of doing that right now. But at the time he -- he brought it before the ethics -- his ethics panel. They said it was OK.

CAMEROTA: Are you OK with all the first-class travel that he says he needs?

SANTORUM: You know, look, Jennifer's sense of this, too, certainly it's an elected official. You're very cautious. I certainly never bought first-class travel. But, you know, Scott Pruitt has been under enormous threats. I mean, he's been under more threats than any other person in the administration other than the president himself. I mean, death threats. I mean, there are security concerns. He says he was harassed a lot when he was flying in coach.

So I mean, is it the best thing? It's probably not. But it is a reaction to the fact that this man is doing a job that's controversial, but he's doing a great job, and he's getting a lot of flak for it?

CAMEROTA: Is there a force field in first class where nobody can get to?


SANTORUM: There's less people.

CAMEROTA: There are fewer people, sure. But they can get to you.

GRANHOLM: This guy has got more ethics problems than all of these others.

CAMEROTA: I want people to know what we're talking about. Here's a list. This is what critics say. He rented this condo from the wife of a D.C. lobbyist. That alone might raise some eyebrows. He has it for what appears to be under market at $50 a night.

He has spent -- he's given raises to two of the people who he's known for a long time. Some people call them friends. And they're substantial raises. And we'll get into that in a moment. That now work with him at the EPA.

He spent tens of thousands of dollars on luxury travel, including lots of first-class tickets.

And then, in terms of policy, the water preservation process, some critics don't like how he's handled that. But that's different.

GRANHOLM: OK. So here's the deal. The worst stuff is this swampy corruption stuff. Meaning that he is -- he rented this place from the wife of a lobbyist at the time when the EPA is approving pipelines for liquefied natural gas. This particular lobbying firm represented those clients. He got this way sweetheart deal way below market rates. That's all one thing.

But here's what I think is the biggest problem for perhaps the Trump administration, is that Scott Pruitt wants to be president. And this issue of his -- I mean, all the president's friends love him. His ego has grown very large. And so he thinks he is bigger or better than the White House. He ends up approving raises for people that the White House said no to.

Is Donald Trump going to sit by? Is he going to get his picture on the cover of "TIME" magazine? And then threaten the president in this way for at least, from a Steve Bannon-like perspective? Is he getting a little too big for his britches?

CAMEROTA: Scott Pruitt addressed all of this, because the -- he did go last month to the White House to ask for raises for these two folks, and the White House did say no. And so he addressed this yesterday on FOX. Listen.


PRUITT: I did not know that they got the pay raises until yesterday.

HENRY: OK. One of them got a pay raise of, let's see, $28,000. The other was $56,000. Do you know what the median income in this country is? PRUITT: No.

HENRY: Fifty-seven thousand a year.


HENRY: So one of your friends from Oklahoma got a pay raise that's the median income.

PRUITT: They did not get a pay raise. They did not get a pay raise.