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Trump Falsely Claims Border Separations are Dems Fault; Outrage Grows Over U.S. Separating Immigrant Families; Trump Adviser Met With Russian Offering Clinton Dirt for $2 million. Trade War With China Likely to Hit Heartland Hard. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 18, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: -- zero tolerance immigration policy specifically the part that separates children from their parents when they try to enter the United States. This is not about politics or policy or partisanship. This is about human lives. And the following simple facts, the Department of Homeland Security confirms that the government has separated at least 2,000 children from their parents just since mid April. That is more than 300 children a week, nearly 50 children a day.

After separation families are held in detention centers like this one. That is right, cages, chain link fences, mattresses on the floor. Anywhere from a few days to more than a week in a cage like that. And these are the images the government wants you to see. Reporters who toured the building were not allowed to take photos or record video themselves.

President Trump says that we should blame the Democrats, that it is their policies that got us here. But the fact is it's not. His administration is the one enforcing these new rules. The president could stop it any day.

We have crews covering every angle right from the border but we start with CNN's Abby Phillips. She is live at the White House.

Abby, the president's spokesman Hogan Gidley just a short time ago again blamed this on Democrats. He says this is all the Democrats doing. Can the White House, can the president credibly claim that?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Jim. It seems very much that the White House is all over the place on this issue when very few people even Republicans in his own party seem to be buying the explanation that Democrats are the ones responsible for what has been a Trump administration policy of zero tolerance that has resulted in nearly 2,000 children being separated from their families.

Now, while the president has blamed Democrats repeatedly for this, he also seems to be using it as a bargaining chip as recently as just a few minutes ago when he just tweeted that, 'Why don't Democrats give us the votes to fix the world's worst immigration laws? Where is the outcry for the killings and crime being caused by gangs and thugs including MS-13 coming into our country illegally?" And as you just mentioned, the president's spokesman, Hogan Gidley,

just a few minutes ago also doubled down on this policy suggesting that the administration had no choice but to separate families because the alternative, releasing families back into the United States, was unacceptable to them. But the White House has been on the defensive on this issue. That's really been made very clear by the fact that the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last night tried to defend the administration by saying something interesting that a lot of people dispute here.

She claims, "We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period. For those seeking asylum at points of entry we have continued the policy from previous administrations and will only separate them if the child is in danger. There is no custodial relationship between family members or if the adult has broken a law."

What she does not say there is that past administrations have not chosen to do what this administration has done which is charge virtually everyone crossing the border with a crime resulting in all of these separations. Former First Lady Laura Bush and others, Republicans and Democrats, decrying this practice but the administration seems to be doubling down now -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Doubling down even though it contradicts what people can see with their eyes. Hear with their ears.

Abby Phillip, at the White House.

Lawmakers from both parties have visited those detention centers to assess the situation firsthand. And now this morning many are expressing outrage.

CNN's Nick Valencia, he as well is down at one of those centers in Brownsville, Texas, just outside. This one was an old Walmart.

Nick, you know, a lot of competing claims being thrown around here. You're there, you're seeing it firsthand. Tell us what it's like.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is one of the facilities that is the largest facility for child migrants in the United States. It has the capacity of holding about 1500 boys to the age of 10 to 17. And it's very well near capacity. It was just within the last week that our Bob Ortega was able to get inside this facility. He described packed conditions, conditions where these children are only allowed outside for two hours a day.

Yes, they have the ability to contact their family members but in some cases these children don't know the numbers to contact their relatives and aren't able to get in touch with them. This is one of the last stops of the tour of Democratic lawmakers on their Father's Day tour. They called it a mission of mercy to highlight the zero tolerance policy implemented by the Trump administration, one that they call zero humanity, saying that it lacks compassion from the White House and specifically President Trump.

It is an issue that has created bipartisan outrage, outrage that we heard earlier today in our program "NEW DAY" from Senator Merkley who was effectively leading this delegation yesterday as well Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas.


SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: These families are arriving and they're in an impossible situation because to remain on the Mexican side and be subject to gang attacks.

[09:05:03] This is an all-out assault on the concept of those fleeing persecution, getting a fair chance to present their case for asylum here in the United States.

REP. WILLIAM HURD (R) TEXAS: What I've seen is a manifestation of a failed policy. We shouldn't be separating kids from their mothers. I don't think separating a kid from their mommy is going to prevent terrorists or drugs from coming into our country.


VALENCIA: I mentioned, Jim, that this is the largest facility for child migrants. 1500 of them can be held here. The majority of those that are here inside, those boys arrived on the border as unaccompanied minors. They were on the border without parents. They travelled all this way without their parents. But according to officials inside they are seeing a surge in the number of those children that have been separated from their family over the course of last week. So far it's just about 100. But Democratic lawmakers stressed yesterday that that surge is something that's very concerning to the officials inside here and something that they are anticipating -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia there.

And just to highlight the point, you saw Will Hurd there, he's a Republican congressman. His district lies right on the Texas border. You have the White House claiming this is not its policy. There is a Republican congressman there saying families are being separated at the border. Seems to be a simple fact.

Joining me now, Jamie Gangel, she's CNN special correspondent, Patrick Healy, he's a CNN political analyst, and here with me in Washington, Sabrina Saddiqui, she's a politics reporter at "The Guardian."

Sabrina, help me understand here. You can't deny what you see on the ground there. Republican and Democratic lawmakers, they go to visit so they could see firsthand a policy that began in mid April during the Trump administration. You see people, you see kids in cages there, others at Walmart separated from their parents. So that's a fact.

Why is the White House, in an almost Orwellian way, denying that this is their policy?

SABRINA SADDIQUI, POLITICS REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, the president quite simply does not want to own a policy that is wildly seen as inhumane. And you saw a similar tactic with DACA, the protections that he rescinded for Dreamers. The young undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children. He also sought to deflect blame then and say it was Democrats to blame when there was no DACA fix, when in fact he had thwarted a compromise earlier this year.

And similarly, he is trying to use the fate of these children to extract concessions on immigration. And so you see him trying to get funding for his border wall, trying to restrict even legal immigration. That is something that the House will be voting on this week in a pair of separate bills. And the problem is that when it comes to this particular policy he could end it tomorrow. There is no need for a legislative fix.

Certainly previous administrations did not separate families at the border so that undermines the case that they're simply enforcing existing law.

SCIUTTO: Lindsey Graham said on our air this last week that the president could end this policy with a phone call. Lindsey Graham, of course, a Republican, often speaks to the president.

Patrick Healy, explain how the president is using this as a bargaining chip. I mean, after all Republicans control the Senate and the House. Why does the president need to use this as a way to force Democrats to pay for his wall? Why can't Republicans just give him his wall? Why does he need Democratic votes?

Let's set aside for a moment the brutality of using kids as a political bargaining chip, but just on the issue of the immigration bill. Why does he feel the need to force Democrats in this way?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure, Jim. I -- you know, I remember during the campaign President Trump, when he was Candidate Trump, he said to me a couple of times the one thing that I have got to deliver on for Republican voters is the wall. You know, I'm sort of done politically in terms of the future if I can't get the wall done. And the reality is over the last year and a half he's been very preoccupied with the fact that both Republicans and Democrats, not just Democrats, but Republicans have had real concerns about this conception of a giant border wall and how it would be made and how it would paid for and so on.

And this is something that has stayed with President Trump that has really, you know, clearly bothered him that he cannot deliver on this wall. And so he and Jeff Sessions -- and let's remember Jeff Sessions in the Senate, Stephen Miller, the White House aide, you know, when he was on the Hill, too, I mean, these were sort of zero tolerance immigration folks. And so they think that this is useful leverage at least certainly with the base to show that zero tolerance is basically the MO of the Trump administration on undocumented immigrants and that they can sort of whack the Democrats over and over again.

But, I mean, as you pointed out, Jim, the Republicans have the votes. If people believed in President Trump's own party that this either policy made sense or the wall was the better approach, the Republicans could get this done, but they can't. [09:10:02] They are divided. And so he is going to just blame the

Democrats kind of over and over again.

SCIUTTO: And to be clear, you raised the point there, Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions, let's just make it clear. There is no question about whose policy this is because the president's own advisers, John Kelly, the chief of staff, called this a useful deterrent. Stephen Miller justified it, as well, on the air. It's not -- it's really just not a question.

Jamie Gangel, you spent a lot of time with the Bush family here. Laura Bush, the former first lady, wrote an op-ed, came out just last night. And in very damming terms, I'm going to quote from it here, about this policy.

"I live in a border state," she wrote. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries but the zero tolerance policy is cruel, it is immoral and it breaks my heart." Later in the op-ed she compared it to the separation of families -- Japanese families during World War II.

How rare is it for Mrs. Bush to speak up like this in such certain terms here, such stark terms, such stark criticism?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Very rare. I mean, Laura Bush rarely speaks up about policy. So the fact that she is weighing in and the fact that she used those words, Jim. Cruel, immoral, she picks her words very carefully. She picks her moments very carefully. And I think just to go back to what you said in the beginning, this is a huge crisis for the White House.

Donald Trump is in trouble when former First Lady Laura Bush, when his own wife, Melania Trump, who doesn't weigh in about policy very often says something. Franklin Graham, who has been a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, earlier this morning on the air at CNN, his friend Anthony Scaramucci said the president should pick up the phone. Forget about tomorrow, he said. He should pick up the phone today and end this policy.

So -- and there are going to be Republicans coming to the White House to meet with the president tomorrow. This is a building crisis for them. And Donald Trump knows about the power of images. Remember, we saw him react to the children being gassed in Syria. He understands the impact that those cages, that those images are having. So I think you're just going to see a tidal wave of pressure from -- in the next couple of days.

SCIUTTO: Sabrina, though, we also know that the president does not like to back down. And if he does, if he were on this issue, he's certainly at least based on past practice not going to take responsibility for it. It will create a new reality or blame someone else.

You spent a lot of time covering this administration. Do you see any sense of backing off on this? Or is the president digging in? I mean, certainly his public comments, his latest tweet seems to show that he is digging in.

SADDIQUI: I think what you might see is the president trying to suggest that one of the compromised bills that the House is poised to vote on this year would resolve this issue when in fact there is no bill that is going to bar the administration from separating families at the border. One of those pieces of legislation instead suggests that children can be detained alongside their parents and effectively leaves a great deal of discretion to the Homeland Security secretary but if they were able to secure enough votes, it would give the president the opportunity to say that Republicans in Congress have come together and fixed this issue.


SADDIQUI: When as if we've said time and again he could make that phone call if he so chooses to tomorrow. And it is the midterm election year and immigration is an issue he has used to mobilize his base. A new poll out just this morning has shown that a polarity of Republican voters support this policy of family separation because I think by and large we've seen that on the issue of immigration increasingly the Republican electorate is a lot more on the lines of Trump than they are even on Republicans in Congress.

SCIUTTO: A lot of Americans supported family separation during World War II. That didn't necessarily make it right, sadly.

Jamie, if I could ask you, Melania Trump, the president's wife, of course, she has made a rare public statement on this, tweeting over the weekend a statement from her spokesperson, very sharply worded, "Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together. She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws but also a country that governs with heart."

If the president won't listen to Laura Bush or the Republicans in Congress, who criticize this, will he listen to his wife on this policy?

GANGEL: We will see. But that word hates to see -- you know, in some ways the first lady's statement reflects the Trump policy. But just again the fact like Laura Bush that she came out to say something publicly is so rare that, you know, we'll see if that has an impact.

I just want to go back to one other thing. We have to note over and over again this is a discretionary policy. Yes, it could have been used before, but it hasn't been.

And the number of children - I think we are now over 2,000 - that we are going to see day in and day out is just going to ratchet up the pressure on the White House.

SCIUTTO: Jamie, Sabrina, Patrick, thanks very much for discussing this. It's a difficult issue. Two thousand children, as we said, taken from their parents, some sent thousands of miles away to live with foster families.

I'm going to talk with one man leading a group that is helping these kids survive without their parents.

And digging for dirt. The meeting we are just learning about between a Trump associate and a Russian offering information on Hillary Clinton for a whole lot of money.

Plus, FBI agent Peter Strzok wants to set the record straight. He says that he will talk to Congress without subpoena about those anti- Trump text messages. All they have to do is ask him.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Roger Stone, a Trump campaign operative and longtime Trump confidante is now admitting to meeting with a Russian national before the election and crucially to failing to disclose that meeting in sworn congressional testimony.

CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz joins me now. So, Shimon, Stone says that he met in May 2016 with a Russian. He was offering dirt on Hillary Clinton - sounds familiar - for $2 million. How much jeopardy is he in here for failing to disclose this?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, potentially, could be in a lot of jeopardy. But more importantly, we now know that this is something that the special counsel and Robert Mueller has been investigating, asking questions of.

So, how all of this came about is important to know. Michael Caputo apparently says he set this up. This is a former communications adviser to the Trump campaign.

When he went before Robert Mueller, he was asked questions about this and that's where all of this came up. And this is essentially how we are learning about this because in letters that were sent to members on the Hill to congressional staffers on the Hill, they say both Roger Stone and Michael Caputo's lawyers are trying to claim that this was some kind of a set up by the FBI perhaps that this man, this Russian, that Roger Stone met with may have been an FBI plant.

[09:20:00] However, this meeting that took place in May 2016 is two months before the FBI even started investigating the Trump campaign for potential Russian collusion. So, that's sort of questionable. Certainly not telling members of the Hill, misleading them could potentially cause jeopardy for both of them.

SCIUTTO: Well, the other big issue here is that - first of all, it's yet another Russia meeting, right? When this all started, there was denial there were any meetings. And, of course, many of these meetings were disclosed.

And this is one where it was a Trump confidante who was willing to deal with a foreign national, right, to get information on a presidential opponent.

PROKUPECZ: That's right. And it's significant because we've heard of this before, right? We've heard of this through George Papadopoulos. We've heard of this - that Trump Tower meeting that Donald, Jr. - Trump Tower meeting, there was a Russian there.

SCIUTTO: Also that they lied about, right? Failed to disclose.

PROKUPECZ: So, there is a lot of questions. This idea that yet another one is pretty significant. Why are we just learning about this in two years after the fact is certainly questions that need to be answered.

And we'll see. We'll see what happens with Roger Stone. Interestingly enough, Michael Caputo has been before the special counsel. Roger Stone has not heard anything from the special counsel or from the FBI, none of the investigators.

SCIUTTO: He might be waiting for his time, Robert Mueller. Well, it was a pattern of meeting with the Russians and pattern of lying about it

President Trump's growing trade war with China will likely hit the US heartland in a new way. A new report in the "Des Moines Register" says that Chinese tariffs on soybeans grown in Iowa could cost farmers there some $624 million.

Joining me now, "CNNMoney" chief business correspondent and proud Iowan. I didn't know that, Christine Romans.

So, when you look at this significant hit for farmers there. Of course, Iowa is a key state, a caucus state in the next presidential election. As a result of this, are folks there talking about opposition to the president's policies.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, "CNNMONEY" CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Look, planting season is always sort of fraught with peril. And they've wrapped up planting season and they're really worried about what they are calling tariff season.

And it's dangerous what's happening, how concerned some of these farmers are. Look, you mentioned that statistic that's from an Iowa state university, Chad Hart, an economist there, $624 million. There's $14 billion in soybeans exported every year or so to China. It's a huge market and it will continue to be a huge market, right?

But you've seen soybean prices fall about 12 percent since this tariff tiff began. And that's just bad news. That's just bad news for farmers.

You are absolutely right. Iowa broke to Trump by some 10 points or something. And this was a state that had really put Barack Obama on the map, remember? Eight years ago. So, it really was a very different political climate that I think many Iowa farmers had thought they'd be in.

And I've talked to some farmers who say they worry that agriculture because it's big and strong is being - soybean farmers are being sacrificed for steel workers, right, which may mean some support, but the president has made a political calculation there. It's not just farmers, corn farmers and soybean farmers. Mexico and China have also said they are putting tariffs on pork. So, pork producers are concerned as well. You've got autos, crude oil, a whole host of categories.

The president on Friday, Jim, said that the United States didn't start a trade war. The trade war was started by the Chinese a long time ago and no one ever fought back and that he is going to fix what are just inequities in the global trading system.

But farmers are quite concerned, no question. That's one of the reasons you've got the market probably going to open a little bit lower this morning. Futures are down. There were some big multinational companies that closed lower on Friday because of worries about sales down and barriers and higher prices overall because of the China tariffs. So, we'll see.

You still have the S&P 500 up 2 percent since the president started these trade actions. So, the economy here is very, very good.

Jim, that's something the White House keeps pointing out. The economy is very, very good here. They think this is the time to make these trade moves because the economy would stand it.

SCIUTTO: Christine Romans in New York, thanks very much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SCIUTTO: What happens to those thousands of children separated from their parents at the border? Some are sent across the country. One of the men helping care for them joins me after this.


[09:29:14] SCIUTTO: welcome back. This morning, we know that nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their parents so far at the border just in the last several weeks. But what happens to those children after the separation from their mothers and fathers?

Some are kept in Texas in places like you are seeing right there. But others are transported across the country and turned over to foster care groups, groups like Bethany Christian Services. The president describes it like this.

These kids have been really through hell on Earth. They are confused, they're scared and they want to be with their family.

Joining me now is the man behind those words. He's Chris Palusky. He's the president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services. Chris, thanks very much for taking the time.


SCIUTTO: So, first of all, as you look at these children here, as you receive them into your care, I could just imagine my own children separated from me under those circumstances. How are they doing?

PALUSKY: Obviously, they're traumatized.