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Foster Groups Help Immigrant Children; House Talks Immigration; Strzok Offers to Testify; Melania Trump Speaks Out Regarding Immigrant Children. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired June 18, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: 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?

CHRIS PALUSKY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, BETHANY CHRISTIAN SERVICES: Well, obviously, they're traumatized. They've been through a difficult journey. They've come from a really difficult place. I like to describe it as they came from hell on earth so they're in places in like Honduras, where the gangs are ruling, they had to flee for their lives in many cases, they travelled across Mexico, parts of Latin America, so thousands of miles, and then they come to the border. They're separated from their families. So they've been through trauma, they've had a traumatic journey and now they're facing more trauma.

SCIUTTO: So what do you tell them? I imagine they have a lot of questions. Can you answer their questions? They're going to be asking, when am I going to be able to see my mom and dad? Is that even a question you could answer?

PALUSKY: Yes, that's a great question. We try to work with the children to find the parents immediately. Obviously, we have to call around to different detention centers. We have people that do that. So we work with the children to try to find their parents as soon as possible. And we want them to feel safe. So, above all, we want them to -- to let them know that they're in a safe place, that they're being taken care of. We try to put them with foster families so that they're not in a detention center but they're in a loving family while we look for their family and also really just try to give them some sense of stability when they don't have any stability.

SCIUTTO: But I thought their parents are sent out of the country. I mean how can you find their parents, because their parents aren't being allowed entry into the country, are they?

PALUSKY: Well, many of them are separated at the border. So many of them come across the border and their children are taken from the parents. In many cases, the children don't know what's happening. In many cases the parents don't know what's happening. We've heard stories of people saying, hey, we need your child to bathe them, take care of them, and then that child never comes back. So their parents are in the country. There are many in detention centers and they're separated from their children during this time. SCIUTTO: What is your answer to the justification for this? You've

heard this even as the president has denied it. In fact, his own aides have taken ownership of this policy. Steven Miller, Jeff Sessions, John Kelly, they describe it as a useful deterrent against families coming here.

What's your answer to that justification?

PALUSKY: Well, there's two things. First of all, we don't see it as a deterrence. You have to realize where people are coming from. Like I've described it, they're coming from a desperate situation. So we've heard stories of -- in Honduras, like a father was trying to stop the gangs from getting his kid so that he would be put into the gang. The father was executed in front of his child. We've heard stories of families having to pay money to gangs in order for them to have security. It they don't pay that money, I've heard that they were going to take the daughter in the family and put her into prostitution.

So people are fleeing from a really desperate situation. I mean they're fleeing for their lives. So a deterrence, no, it's just more stress and it's taking the focus off of the issue and also it's traumatizing kids.

So Bethany believes that we should always let the families stay together. We should always have them together.

Second of all, please don't put people in detention centers and also especially kids. That's not the right place for kids ever. And, especially -- especially when they've been through so much trauma. Third, if you have to separate the children, let them be in foster care as they're going through this. We would prefer that they not be with us. We're ramping things up right now. We would prefer not to ramp up. We would prefer them to be with their families.

SCIUTTO: Seems a simple rule.

Chris Palusky, thanks very much for taking the time.

PALUSKY: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: As the president faces backlash over the separation of immigrant families, he will soon meet with Republican lawmakers on The Hill. And some of them are loudly criticizing his policy.

I want to bring in CNN national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, I know you've been up on The Hill. You're there now.

President Trump set to discuss two House GOP bills on immigration tomorrow. What are lawmakers saying ahead of the meeting? And do they express to you hope for a solution that fixes the family separation problem? Because, in fact, even Lindsey Graham has said this, really the president could end that himself without legislation.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, sure. And, Jim, this is a moving target. I mean initially President Trump had asked for a bipartisan bill of love. And that was roundly rejected by the president. And so it really is a big question in terms of whether or not he's going to sign off on either one of these pieces of legislation.

I will tell you that Democrats, they are not necessarily worried that they're going to pay a price for this. I spoke with Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader, just on Friday who said that these bills are un- American and they are essentially trying to shame the president as well as the Republicans. The Republicans see this -- a lot a pressure, especially former First Lady Laura Bush as a game changer coming out with that op-ed criticizing this immigration policy. So they're desperate to get something to resolve the family separation issue.

The conservative bill that's going to come up not going to pass. Very unlikely to do so. That does not create a path for citizenship for DACA recipients. Not even enough Republicans to support that.

[09:35:06] The moderate one, however, the one that we heard from House Speaker Paul Ryan, one that went back and forth in terms of whether or not the president's going to sign off on that has a couple of things that they think that they can grab on to first, providing the $25 billion for border security, including the president's wall, ending the diversity visa lottery program, some cuts to the family based visa issues, as well as creating a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and addressing the family separation piece. But only partly, not fully.

So what are we going to expect in the next 24 to 48 hours? These are the things to watch for. First of all, 3:00 today you've got senators from the appropriations committee meeting behind closed doors with the president to talk about the expense and the cost of the border wall. What will he accept? What can he sign off on.

Secondly, you've got a 3:00 meeting on the border. A round table discussion. This is where you'll see the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi and others, really pushing for visiting a detention center, pushing for the public relations view, the morality view, saying, look, you know, we cannot have this in our country. Look at what this actually is and what it looks like. And then, finally, Tuesday, 5:30, that's when you're going to see the president meeting behind closed doors with those House Republicans, what kind of bill can he sign on to? What does he want? How do they move this forward, Jim? All of that very much influx.

SCIUTTO: But just to be clear, there is no legislative fix necessary for the family separation policy, correct? That can be fixed with a phone call because it's a discretionary policy.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely. And that is something that I -- I do believe that people are making their views known, whether or not it's privately to the president or, as we've heard, Senator Lindsey Graham publically saying, pick up the phone, Mr. President, you can make this call. We don't have to have a legislative fix. We could fix this today.

SCIUTTO: He wants his wall. Suzanne Malveaux on The Hill, thanks very much.

He was removed from the Russia investigation for sending anti-Trump texts. Now, embattled FBI Agent Peter Strzok is willing, he says, to testify before Congress.


[09:42:00] SCIUTTO: FBI Agent Peter Strzok says that he is willing to testify before Congress without a subpoena on his role in the Russia probe. Strzok, you'll remember, was removed from the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller after it was discovered that he had sent some anti-Trump text messages. The president has used those text messages to dismiss the entire investigation, which involves hundreds of FBI agents, has bias against the president. As always he makes it personal. Trump called Strzok a sick loser on Twitter.

Fueling the flames in his new role as sometimes presidential amplifier, the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, says that Strzok should be in jail.

CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett, she joins us now live from the Department of Justice.

Laura, looking at this now, he is making this offer, Peter Strzok. Is this likely to be an offer that is accepted by lawmakers on The Hill?


Peter Strzok certainly has a story to tell. The only question now is when exactly will he get to tell it? Last week the inspector general released the widely anticipated, lengthy report evaluating a series of steps that prosecutors and investigators took leading up to the 2016 election. And the inspector general found that by and large those decisions were grounded in facts and law and they were not motivated by political bias.

However, the inspector general did find and was troubled by a series of text messages exchanged between Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, including one in which Strzok said we'll stop him, suggesting we'll stop President Trump from getting elected. He was also troubled, the inspector general was, by this idea of -- that Strzok was prioritizing the Russia investigation over the Clinton e-mail probe. You have to remember, Strzok occupied a very unique position leading both the Clinton e-mail investigation, as well as the Russia probe in the early days. Now, last week House Republicans appeared ready to subpoena Strzok, but his lawyer says no need, he is willing to come voluntarily, telling me last night in a statement, Jim, Pete is central to the story. We should let the American people see who he really is.

SCIUTTO: Laura Jarrett there at the Department of Justice. Thanks very much.

Let's talk about this now with Harry Litman. He's a former U.S. attorney and former deputy assistant attorney general.

Harry, thanks very much for taking the time this morning.

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: So, first of all, this offer from Peter Strzok, his lawyer saying he's willing to testify without immunity. How significant is that offer?

LITMAN: Well, I think it's a pretty significant tactical move. I think he feels that he's been completely bloodied by the OIG report, doesn't have much to lose in a way. But it's gutsy, right? He's walking right into the lion's den and he'll be encountering people who have been calling for his head. But I think he thinks that his stock really can't fall very much more and he really relishes the opportunity to set things straight both about what he has been accused of doing and also about the broader context of the investigations.

[09:45:06] SCIUTTO: Does he put himself in any legal jeopardy by appearing before Congress? Sworn testimony, of course, he would have to tell the truth under tough questioning. Does it present some legal risk for him?

LITMAN: You know, I think the short answer is no, Jim. I know Giuliani has called for him to be in jail. But, look, the criticism here is that he sent what he would say were sophomoric e-mails to -- that he thought were private to someone he was having a clandestine affair with. That there was no operational act he took in response to it. And I don't see any possible liability, either criminal or regulatory, unless he does, as you say, something else.

On the other hand, I think he will be pointing out, and there's a difficult position for the House committee, what the report has now identified as a, quote, deep and visceral hatred by senior FBI staffers against Hillary Clinton in New York. And here there seems to have been operational moves. Here it seems as if those senior agents actually leaked news to the committee. Representative Nunes confirmed it. So it's going to be a kind of a tricky pushback on his part if he can make it.

SCIUTTO: I mean that's the part of the report, obviously, the president and his allies are not highlighting, you know, this evidence of bias on the other side, folks against Hillary Clinton.

Do you see, based on what you saw in the IG report on that, I mean was there legal significance to that? I mean it sounds like you're saying so because you're saying it influenced the way they proceeded with that investigation.

LITMAN: Yes, I think so. So it wasn't specifically a subject of what Horowitz was addressing. On the other -- so he doesn't go into it at length. I'm not sure why. But I believe that House Chair Nunes has acknowledged, in fact, receiving leaked information in late October of 2016. And whoever would have actually done that, and, in fact, it would have led to the drum beat, which we had then, to reopen the investigation, those people may well have violated FBI regulations. Whereas having a stupid sophomoric exchange that the IG found had no operational significance I think doesn't expose Strzok to any kind of liability.

SCIUTTO: Harry Litman, thanks very much.

LITMAN: Thanks for your time.

SCIUTTO: Well, even the first lady is now joining the outcry over immigrant children being separated from their parents at the border. Hear what she is saying about the Trump administration's own zero tolerance policy.


[09:52:33] SCIUTTO: First Lady Melania Trump is weighing in on the immigration crisis at the border. She released a rare but seemingly critical statement saying that she, quote, hates to see children separated from families and that the U.S. government needs to, quote, govern with heart.

CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett joins me now.

Kate, you read the statement very carefully and I know you've been in communication with the first lady's office about this. You say she's not actually breaking with the president here, though. She's criticizing both sides?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I think as usual with this first lady, she's sort of the more compassionate voice of the administration. She says things with more, I guess, heart or tone that is a little more -- it's a bit softer. But she does say in that statement that she's waiting for, she thinks, both sides of the aisle need to come together and pass immigration reform.

So what she is also saying is this is a political issue. She hates to see it. We need to govern with heart. However, she also sort of echoes the president here in saying that this is a partisan issue.

SCIUTTO: That both sides share the blame?

BENNETT: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Even though this is a policy -- it's a discretionary policy that the president started and could end with a phone call.

BENNETT: Exactly. And I do think that, you know, people are like, well, can't she tell her husband, you know, she needs to, you know, weigh in here with him. And I think she does. My sources tell me certainly that he listens to her. They discuss things like this. But he also has --

SCIUTTO: Well, he listens, but does he --

BENNETT: But he also has --

SCIUTTO: Does he make changes as a result?

BENNETT: Exactly. Well, I don't know. I mean that has yet to be seen, clearly. He also has a base and a cabinet and everyone on Capitol Hill to listen to. And I think his wife does hold some influence on him for sure. But I think that this has become a bigger, broader issue.

But, you know, Melania Trump, Champions of Children. She has said this is her cause, helping children all over the world. It seems to me this is right in her wheelhouse. It was appropriate for her to comment. And I think this is something that she needs to keep an eye on (INAUDIBLE).

SCIUTTO: Do you think that was the driving force. I mean the Be Best Campaign, difficult to sell that when you have these images of these kids in, I mean, what can only be described as cages.

BENNETT: One hundred percent. And she talks a lot about being a mom and how that influences her as first lady and how she chose helping children as her platform because she's so concerned about the well- being of kids. So certainly this was not one where I think she should have been quiet. Certainly Laura Bush, as we saw, came out very forcefully with an opinion far, far different than the first lady's -- current first lady. Certainly I think Melania Trump, she does not tiptoe into policy that often.


BENNETT: This is something that clearly has touched her and I think we might hear from her even more.

[09:55:02] SCIUTTO: Difficult to avoid. Kate Bennett, thanks very much.

Families torn apart, as we were saying, at the U.S. border. Children separated from their moms and dads. It may be one of the only things that both sides of the aisle, and some on both sides of the aisle are upset about. We're going to be following all those developments next hour.


[10:02:00] SCIUTTO: Good morning, this morning. I'm Jim Sciutto.

There's growing outrage, finger pointing, there's blame shifting as well all over the Trump administration's zero tolerance immigration policy. But none of that can change the simple facts.