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Trump Tweets about Caravan; Trump Wants Syria Withdrawal; Caravan in Mexico; Aired 8:30-9:00a ET

Aired April 5, 2018 - 08:30   ET

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


[08:30:00] DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: Tweeting about that caravan of more than 1,000 Central Americans seeking refuge in Mexico and the U.S., saying in part this, the caravan is largely broken up thanks to the strong immigration laws in Mexico and their willingness to use them so as not to cause a giant screen at our border.

The caravan is actually disbursing into smaller groups. Some will stay in Mexico. Some will press on to the U.S. border.

Joining me now from southern Mexico is "Buzzfeed's" national security correspondent for immigration, Adolfo Flores (ph). He is traveling with the caravan.

Adolfo, help us understand I think one basic point, which is, what is the point of this caravan? These are activists, aren't they?

ADOLFO FLORES, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT FOR IMMIGRATION, "BUZZFEED": The -- I mean the people themselves are -- they're migrants. They're -- I mean, but the organizers are also activists. So the caravan has two -- serves two purposes.

GREGORY: And their -- and --

FLORES: One is to get people safely --

GREGORY: Yes, go ahead. Go ahead.

FLORES: One is to get people safely through Mexico and, you know, and help them not get caught by immigration, and the other is to highlight, you know, why they are leaving in the first place. It's poverty, violence and political instability.

GREGORY: So what is the truth, as you've seen it, traveling with these migrants about what's happening? Have they dispersed? Would they normally disperse into smaller groups? Is this a result of some kind of crackdown as President Trump says?

FLORES: The -- I mean before the Trump tweets and everything, the plan was to go, you know, all the way to the border area. But people were going to start going to other parts of Mexico as the caravan went up. So, you know, because a lot of the -- several of the group -- a lot of people from the group are going to stay in Mexico. Other ones that are going to go ask for asylum at the border. And then other people, slightly smaller, were going to try to cross. But those numbers right now are very in flux, so I don't know.

But, yes, I mean, to be honest, I don't know how much of -- you know, how many of these people are left at this point before the Trump tweets.

GREGORY: You know, it's very easy when we talk about these matters, we do have laws that have to be enforced. The asylum-seeking process is complicated, resulting in short term, you know, stays on -- in our -- on our border before ultimate adjudication and resolution of these matters. You also have so many people who are coming from really tough circumstances, both economic -- as you say, there's domestic situations that are violent in their -- there may be violence in their communities that they're fleeing. So the plight here is serious.

FLORES: Yes. Yes. I mean you talk to these people and they'll show you scars from bullet holes. They'll tell you stories about having family members being kidnapped, you know, not being able to protest. You know, there's just lots of instances of violence and threats and these people -- you know, especially the ones with kids, they don't want their kids to grow up like that.

GREGORY: There is talk about migrants feeling fearful because of what President Trump is saying, because of what the administration is talking about as new policy. What has the impact been?

FLORES: Of the Trump administration's policies?

GREGORY: From their policies, but also from the president's rhetoric about this going all the way back to the campaign and certainly more recently since he started tweeting about it over the past few days.

FLORES: I mean, these people are -- they're concerned. They know that they're not welcome by the administration. They're, you know, it's not like they -- they often will say, it's not like we want to go, but they don't see another option in their lives. They are very aware of what's coming out of the administration in the U.S. and the, you know, the shift in the policies.

GREGORY: All right, Adolfo Flores, who is in southern Mexico reporting to us on this caravan of migrants moving through the country. The president saying that they are dispersing, being broken up. It's a more muddled picture than that as they make their way, some of them at least, to the border with the United States.

Thanks so much for your reporting and your time this morning.

FLORES: Thank you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And we'll talk to our Leyla Santiago about all of this as well coming up.

Meanwhile, President Trump and his national security advisers are not on the same page when it comes to Syria. The president wants troops out ASAP. Is that a good idea? Our military experts weigh in, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [08:38:53] GREGORY: Well, as we told you all morning, the president's at odds with his military brass, his national security team over Syria. CNN learning the president became irritated with advisers who warned him about the risks of immediately withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria.

Joining us now, brigadier general, best-selling author of "Direct Fire," Tony Tata, and CNN military analyst, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks.

Generals, good morning to both of you.

Spider, let me start with you. You had a president who made a commitment to defeat ISIS at all costs. ISIS has certainly been dialed way back and eroded. He also said that he would never telegraph what his military moves would be, and yet in uncharacteristic fashion is saying, both privately and publicly, these guys have got to get out of there and even suggesting a six-month timeline. Understandable then this would carry tension with the military.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely, David. I would say that what the president is doing right now is he's laying down a marker. And clearly every president has the authority to do that. Maybe his intentions are aspirational. In other words, he's laying out what he thinks should be done and then he wants his Department of Defense and his national security leadership to come back to him. At least that's my view.

[08:40:10] As a soldier, my view is, I would want the president to say, look, I've got a word picture in my mind. This is what I'm trying to achieve. Why don't you guys come back to me and let's have communication and figure it out. It never comes across like that. It comes across as very provocative, kind of in your face.

But the discussions that take place within DOD and within the national security apparatus, all those players, this is a healthy input, and it's apparent that the case has been made from both the combatant commanders at Central Command, the other dog in the fight, his special operations command, and certainly the national command authority within the JCS and DOD. And they've said, look, Mr. President, let's not be too hasty. We've been down this road before and we've found -- we have seen the consequences of acting a bit (INAUDIBLE).

GREGORY: You know, General Tata, it's very -- it's very confusing on a policy matter when a president says we do everything we can to fight, as he talks about, radical Islam, and that everybody should use that term, he's going to fight ISIS to the death and never stop. And yet then he becomes this isolationist, this nationalist who says we have to retreat from the world.

Isn't it fair to expect, if we've learned anything from 9/11, we cannot allow states to fail and to become a security vacuum. And here the vacuum we know is even worse than ISIS returning, or at least as bad, when Russia fills that vacuum, when Iran fills that vacuum. Doesn't all of that suggest he's got to be more open to the idea of some kind of residual force perhaps longer than he'd like to have them there?

ANTHONY TATA, BRIGADIER GENERAL, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, David, let's think about the discussion that we're having. We're talking about event-driven success based upon the president and the administration loosening the rules of engagement and allowing commanders to do their job on the ground instead of the micromanagement that we had before. And so this is a conversation that really probably couldn't even be envisioned under the previous administration where we are talking about -- we care close to success and the president now understands that we have peer to peer competitors out there, like China and Russia, that we need to be prepared to take on in a variety of different ways. And I don't know that taking them on in Syria with 2,000 troops is the right answer.

The mission was to defeat ISIS. What defeat means, to break the enemy's will to fight. That has pretty much been accomplished there. And I think it is time to start talking about wrapping up that mission and beginning to redeploy those forces. You can't have troops on the ground with one mission in mind and then suddenly say, you know, you know what, we're going to keep you there because Turkey, Iran and Russia are suddenly -- not suddenly, they've been involved in Syria for decades and -- and, you know, it would just not make a lot of sense to me to keep those troops there beyond their very identifiable mission of defeating ISIS, which has largely been accomplished, and now bring in the U.N., get the U.N. and the Arab states to then help with the transition. And this is what Joe Votel was talking about the other day, the commander of CENTCOM, let's start the transition to getting the folks back into their homes and all of that and do a -- and do a handover. And that does -- that does take about six months.

GREGORY: I know, but I just recall all of the criticism of a precipitous withdraw of forces from Iraq because the United States was not appropriately, forcefully involved in a political solution, which you're now saying, and, General Marks, we'll get your comment on this, that we don't have to be a part of anymore because the mission has been accomplished.

MARKS: Well, the mission, I think, has not been accomplished. Clearly we have done an incredibly phenomenal job against ISIS, not without the help of the Kurds. Let's be frank in terms of their contributions, which have really been significant.

My concern is that Syria -- a very doctoral term for what we see in Syria right now, a little tongue-in-cheek, is it's a mess. We are not there to do anything with Assad. Assad is a dictatorial leader. He's been brutal against his own people. We've got that. That we have seen in living color for the past decade.

My concern primarily is Turkey's role, its interventionist role now that exists in that northern border in Syria and the fact that Turkey is a NATO ally and the United States is not a part of the discussions that are taking place.

You saw the front page of "The Wall Street Journal" this morning. You've got Erdogan, Rouhani and Putin standing together all with smirks on their faces. That's fine. Erdogan can meet with whoever he wants. The concern I have is that, if we were to depart precipitously from Syria, we certainly can -- we can change our involvement and what the force posture looks like. But Putin will win tremendously. He has the strategic advantage and we shouldn't cede that at this point.

[08:45:00] GREGORY: All right, gentlemen, we have to leave it there. This debate will continue that the president has started with his national security team.

We appreciate your time this morning.

TATA: Thank you.

MARKS: Thanks, David.

CAMEROTA: OK, David.

President Trump has been tweeting this morning about the so-called caravan of Central Americans coming towards America. He's been tweeting for the past couple of days. But is what he's saying true? We give his statements the "Facts First" treatment, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: OK, now to "Facts First."

President Trump has been sounding the alarm about a surge of migrants heading to the southern border, including a caravan barreling for the U.S., tempted by the promise of DACA supposedly. In a series of tweet President Trump told Congress to do something about our, quote, country being stolen, end quote. He claims he took matters into his own hands by pressuring Mexico to break up the caravan and signed an order sending troops to the southern border to handle the crisis, something he said no president had done before.

[08:50:03] But much of that is incorrect. It is true that apprehensions at the southern border went up from February to March. Here's March 2018. But look at March 2016, March 2014. Here is March 2013. Remarkably similar numbers. March 2017 was lower, but that appears to be an outlier. The truth is, illegal crossing attempts appear to be at historic lows.

Consider this. In 2000, 1.6 million people were apprehended trying to enter the country illegally. Compare that to 2017, when just 310,000 tried to do so. But Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen focused on the supposed uptick from the White House podium Wednesday, even though her own department last fall said the southern border was the most secure and impervious to crossings it has ever been.

And what about that caravan of immigrants that one Fox News host called an army coming to infiltrate our country? It is roughly a thousand people taking part in an annual process designed to call out Central American humanitarian rights abuses. Mexico never broke it up, as they confirmed on Tuesday. The caravan split up into smaller groups once it reached Mexico, as it does every year.

What about President Trump saying the caravan was lured here by the promise of DACA? Well, DACA does not apply here. It's only for children already living here in 2007.

Finally, President Trump said no president had deployed the military to the border. That's not true. President Obama sent 1,200 National Guardsmen to the border. George W. Bush sent 6,000. Both were heavily criticized for it.

All of this has many questioning whether President Trump's so-called immigration crisis is really an attempt to fire up the base and/or cover for the fact that his so-called big, beautiful wall exists only in sound bites.

Those are the facts.

Now, just this morning, President Trump tweeted about that caravan again, saying in part, the caravan is largely broken up thanks to the strong immigration laws of Mexico and their willingness to use them so as not to cause a giant scene at the border.

But what is really happening with that caravan?

CNN's Leyla Santiago met up with some of them. She is live in Puebla, that is south of Mexico City, at a church where some of these Central Americans are gathering this morning.

Leyla, what is the situation on the ground?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right. So, Alisyn, we've already seen part of the group starting to make its way north. Just last night, when I was here at this very church, we talked to about 20 Central Americans arriving at this church. They were once with the caravan. But, yes, they did break off and get a head start.

So, in terms of this group is breaking up, some people have broken up and gone on their own. And, by the way, all -- well, all but two of the folks we talked to in here said that they have absolutely every intent to get to that U.S.-Mexico border whether there is National Guard there or whether President Trump likes it or not.

So what's the plan for the big chunk of the caravan that is right now on its way from Juahaca (ph), about six to eight hours south of where we are right now, to come here? The priest -- I just spoke with the priest at this church and he tells me that today he expects 20 buses of people, women, children, family, men, to arrive as part of that caravan.

When we spoke to the organizers of that caravan, they tell me they're still 1,000 strong, that this caravan still very much the heart of it is intact, will continue. They will get to Mexico City and then many of them will break off on their own hoping to get to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: So is that the goal, Leyla? So are all of the -- first of all, how many are there, do you think, and are they all going to attempt to seek asylum in the U.S.?

SANTIAGO: How many there are, that depends on who you talk to. A bit of conflicting reports there. But according to the organizers that are with a big chunk of the group, they are saying that they have about 1,000 people. We will see. Today we will find out here in Puebla. According to the priest of this church, he tells me that at this church right now they have a small group of about 30. Some of the -- some of the women and other groups are being housed in other churches around here. So in terms of how many there are, I think we'll get a better grasp of that today.

How many plan to continue to the U.S.-Mexico border, again, of those we spoke to here, all but two of the 30. But many of them have been granted permission by the Mexico government to stay here in Mexico. So that is what some folks are doing, they are staying in Mexico given that they have permission.

I spoke with one man from Guatemala yesterday who he said, look, I don't like the situation in the U.S. I don't want to go there. I'm just going to stay in Mexico. And he is afraid of what President Trump said.

But the overwhelming majority, Alisyn, they're saying, uh-uh, can't stop us. That's the goal. That's where we're going, U.S.

[08:55:07] CAMEROTA: So interesting, Leyla. And have they heard about President Trump's plans to send National Guard troops to the border?

SANTIAGO: Well, every single one of them that I spoke to said they knew of President Trump's tweets in terms of his comments, that he's not happy this caravan exists and it's heading north. Some of them knew about the troops. Those who didn't, when I mentioned them, they said that can't stop us. If there are troops on the border, we'll wait it out or we'll find another way.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Leyla Santiago, it's so helpful to have you with them on the ground so that we know what's really happening. Thank you very much for all of that reporting.

OK, how about some "Good Stuff?" That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: OK, time now for "The Good Stuff."

Officers jump in to help a woman in labor on Easter. This happened in New York City. The father-to-be flagged down the officers. He and his wife were on their way to the hospital, but the baby could not wait. It took all of five minutes for Baby Claire (ph) -- five minutes of labor for the baby to enter the world. Her name is Claire. Her mom and dad are grateful for the officer's help.

[09:00:06] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't normally, you know, handle these kind of situations and it feels great to help directly bring a new life into this world.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CAMEROTA: That is wonderful.

OK, thanks