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Pressure Mounts on Trump; Trump Blames Democrats; More Meetings with Russians and Trump Campaign. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired June 18, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:12] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
We start with outrage here in the United States over immigration. The outcry over the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border and the finger pointing right here in Washington. Only moments ago, we heard this from President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I say it's very strongly the Democrats' fault. They're obstruction -- they're really obstructionists. And they are obstructing. The United States will not be a migrant camp, and it will not be a refugee holding facility. It won't be.
You look at what's happening in Europe. You look at what's happening in other places. We can't allow that to happen in the United States. Not on my watch.
We have the worst immigration laws in the entire world. Nobody has such sad, such bad -- and actually, in many cases, such horrible and tough. You see about child separation. You see what's going on there. But just remember, a country without borders is not a country at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Clearly the president putting the blame on the Democrats, not taking any responsibility for the practice being carried out right now by the U.S. Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
A day ago, the secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, tweeted this, quote, we do not have a policy of separating families at the border, period, closed quote.
But today she defended that practice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: To a select few in the media, Congress, and the advocacy community, I'd like to start with a message for you. This department will no longer stand by and watch you attack law enforcement for enforcing the laws passed by Congress. We will not apologize.
For those who have complained about this administration's vigorous enforcement of the law and the results of that enforcement, this is your opportunity to work with us to fix the incentives and encourage and even reward people who violate our laws, and even worse, put themselves and their families at risk of harm.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is the one who actually announced this new no tolerance policy last month, and that has led to family separations, little kids being taken away from their mothers and fathers.
Today, Sessions defended his and the president's reasoning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: When we ignore our laws at the border, we obviously encourage hundreds of thousands of people a year to likewise ignore our laws and illegally enter our country, creating an enormous burden on our law enforcement, on our schools, our hospitals and our social programs. President Trump has said this lawlessness cannot continue. We do not want to separate parents from their children, you can be sure of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And then there's President Trump's senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, who told "The New York Times," and I'm quoting now, it was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law, closed quote.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, who is joining us right now.
So, Jeff, what more are you hearing from officials today on this decision to go ahead and separate children from their parents?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is no question, even though Stephen Miller there, a senior adviser to the president, called it a simple decision, it is being viewed as anything but a simple decision, largely because of the images that are coming in from the border, those images of the children, the images of the parents and families.
The reality here is, Wolf, the White House realizes it has not done a good job explaining this policy. The White House realizes it has not done a good job of communicating this policy. And they really are hearing, you know, a variety of criticism across the board, from Republican on Capitol Hill, from evangelical groups and Democrats as well, of course. But also such voices as former First Lady Laura Bush. So the White House is trying to not necessarily back down or
apologize. That's something we do not see this administration doing very often, if at all. But they are trying to explain it and call it more of a law enforcement issue. But the reality here, Wolf, this that this is at the heart of the broader immigration issue. And there's no end in sight to that necessarily.
This was being viewed as a bit of a bargaining chip, if you will. The president and other administration officials here hoped it would bring Democrats to the table here to get more wall funding, to do stronger immigration proposals. But that isn't necessarily happening. Now there is a full-blown crisis on their hand here at the White House, but also, most particularly, those images, Wolf.
[13:05:10] So the White House was scheduled to have a briefing in this hour. It's actually been pushed back a couple hours. A sign they are still trying to find some of the answers here, Wolf, to these questions.
Of course, the president is on Capitol Hill tomorrow trying to convince some Republicans on the House side a way forward on immigration. But this is not ending any time soon. And, again, it's those images that the president watching doesn't like them but not backing away from any of this, still blaming Democrats.
BLITZER: And he could clearly end it. I understand comprehensive immigration reform, that's a major ordeal legislatively. You've got to get the president to sign legislation. But to simply stop removing kids from their parents, he could pick up the phone and say, don't do it anymore, right?
ZELENY: He could, indeed. He could make that directive right now that could stop immediately. That's what previous administrations have done. But you can see just the push and the pull, and, in fact, the disagreements inside this administration, inside this West Wing, despite the variety of on the record comments we saw, most particularly from Stephen Miller, the top senior policy adviser on immigration. They, you know, said it was a simple matter. The attorney general also made this policy decision weeks and months ago. The president could overturn that. The White House is saying it's a law. That's not true. It's administration policy he could overturn. But at this point he's showing no signs he'll do it immediately. It certainly has now become embroiled into -- rolled into, if you will, the broader immigration debate.
BLITZER: It certainly has. All right, Jeff Zeleny, we'll stand by later this afternoon for that White House briefing.
Cruel, inhumane, atrocious and heartbreaking, those are just some of the words being used to describe this immigration practice now of separating children from their parents. Adding to the outrage, picture from inside a detention center showing some of those children housed in chain-like cages.
Our correspondent Polo Sandoval is joining us from outside a facility in Brownsville, Texas, for us.
Polo, so what can you tell us about what's going on inside in that huge structure behind you?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's an old Walmart that's been repurposed. Answering that question, it really is quite difficult, too, Wolf. We have to rely heavily on the accounts from a handful of lawmakers who have had the opportunity to tour that facility and also a small handful of reporters who have had the opportunity to document what's happening inside.
We have seen very similar scenes play out in detention centers throughout the country. Twenty-four hours ago I was standing outside one in New Jersey. And today here we are in Texas. And you see some of the pictures that have been released by the Department of Homeland Security in the last 24 hours that are leading to that outrage.
And also, of course, many questions about the Trumps' current implementation of its policies here and its practices. We have heard just recently here, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, trying to clarify -- or offer some kind of clarity, saying that this idea that all families are being criminally prosecuted and all of their children are being separated is, quote, misinformation. But, at the same time, there is a lack of explanation from the administration as to who exactly is subject to this kind of practice here.
We have seen some families get taken into custody here in south Texas and then later released with a court date. And then we have also seen several of the others who have been subjectively to these promises from the administration that they will criminally be prosecuted and then, of course, separated from their parents -- at least the children separated from their parents while those moms and dads go through the judicial process.
So that's what we're seeing right now on the ground here, Wolf. Certainly outrage leading to questions, while the Trump administration trying to offer some form of clarity to what's happening throughout the country right now.
BLITZER: All right, Polo, thank you.
Polo Sandoval in Brownsville, Texas.
President Trump falsely blames Democrats for the children being separated from their parents. John Sandweg was acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Obama. He's joining us now live from New York.
John, thank you very much for joining us.
So what's your response to the president blaming the Democrats?
JOHN SANDWEG, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT (ICE): I'm just confused, Wolf. I don't know where that's coming from.
BLITZER: Well, he says the Democrats could change it by going along with what he wants, comprehensive immigration reform. And then you could end this policy. But that's a complicated, long ordeal. Who knows how long that's going to take, if it's ever going to take. They've been trying for comprehensive immigration reform for years and years, as you well know.
But he says right now the Democrats are to blame for this current situation in which these kids are being taken away from their moms and dads.
SANDWEG: Wolf, there is no law on the books at all that requires the administration to separate parents from children. This is 100 percent a policy solution. No legislation is required to end this practice. As you indicated earlier, the president could just pick up the phone and end this.
Unfortunately, I think as you're right as well, Congress has proven incapable. I mean as badly as we need immigration reform, of passing a comprehensive immigration reform. So I'm concerned if the president says that the continuation of this policy hinges upon action by Congress.
[13:10:09] BLITZER: When you served as the head of ICE during the Obama administration, what was the policy when, let's say, a mother came into the United States with a young kid or a few kids and sought asylum? Were they separated?
SANDWEG: No. No, Wolf. Family unity was the overwhelming policy in the Obama administration.
Listen, the federal government is not equipped to be the caretaker. You saw those images. Border patrol is not equipped to be the caretaker for thousands of children. In my experience, they don't want to be the caretaker. They want to do their job, which is patrolling the border, catching bad guys who are trying to enter the United States.
Our -- you know, we would -- we would enforce the law against those individuals. We had a zero tolerance policy at the border in the sense that we would enforce the law against everybody who entered unlawfully unless they had a valid claim. But we did it in a way that kept families together.
I think the -- one other point, Wolf, very quickly, that scares me, though, is when you separate families, not only do you end up with images like the ones we saw of kids in cages, but years from now you run a great likelihood that these kids will never be reunited with their parents. The parents cases move very quickly and they end up back in Central America deported, while the kids' cases move very slowly here in the United States.
We already heard about HHS losing track of 1,500 kids. Now we've increased the problem dramatically. And I -- you know, by my own experience, I will tell you, it's very difficult for the government to keep, reunite those families once the children are separated.
BLITZER: Yes, I had a chance to interview in March of last year, in 2017, more than a year ago, John Kelly, who was then the secretary of Homeland Security, he's now the White House chief of staff, and he told me then -- and I'm going to play the clip for you -- he told me then that this was what the administration wanted to do, a new policy of separating kids from their parents.
Listen to this exchange I had with him March 2017.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Are you, the department of Homeland Security, considering a new initiative that would separate children from their parents if they tried to enter the United States illegally?
JOHN KELLY, THEN- HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Let me start by saying I would do almost anything to deter the people from Central America to getting on this very, very dangerous network that brings them up through Mexico into the United States.
BLITZER: Let me just be precise.
BLITZER: If you get some young kids who are coming in -- manage to sneak into the United States with their parents, are Department of Homeland Security personnel going to separate the children from their moms and dads?
KELLY: We have tremendous experience in dealing with unaccompanied minors. We turn them over to HHS and they do a very, very good job of either putting them in kind of foster care or linking them up with parents or family members in the United States.
Yes, I am considering in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network. I am considering exactly that. They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents.
BLITZER: But you understand how that looks to the average person who is --
KELLY: It's more important to me, Wolf, to try to keep people off of this awful network.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So you can see there, John, he was thinking about it, separating kids from their moms and dads, in March of last year. And now the last few weeks, this policy has actually been implemented.
I want to get your reaction to that.
SANDWEG: Well, I heard -- you heard the then-secretary talk about deterrence. I think what concerns me is that all -- you know, far too often I think we over estimate our ability to deter people who are fleeing the horrific violence and poverty from trying to find a better life for their families. In my experience, Wolf, working on border issues at DHS and at ICE, I will tell you that I found there's very little we can do that is worse than what the people are going through.
We've got to remember, they pay everything they have to smugglers. They take a very dangerous route up through Mexico to the United States border. But the desire and the desperation are so great that I found there's very little that we can do on this side that will actually stop them from making that journey.
BLITZER: John Sandweg, thanks so much for joining us.
Just a short time from now, later this afternoon, the White House will be holding a briefing. Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, likely be grilled over these separations, children being taken away from their parents as they try to enter the United States. We'll, of course, have liver coverage later this afternoon.
Plus, yet another meeting between the Trump campaign and a Russian. This time Trump associate Roger Stone now admitting he actually met with a Russian who was offering, quote, dirt on Hillary Clinton for $2 million. We have new details. That's next.
[13:18:43] BLITZER: Roger Stone, the long-time adviser -- unofficial adviser, I should say, to President Trump met with a Russian who offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton in exchange for a $2 million payment. That according to Stone and former Trump campaign communications official Michael Caputo. A letter to the House Intelligence Committee, obtained by CNN, says Caputo was the one who actually arranged the meeting between Stone and the Russian, who called himself Henry Greenberg (ph). Neither Caputo nor Stone disclosed the meeting to congressional investigators when they were questioned months ago and they say they believe the meeting was part of a larger effort to try to set up the Trump campaign.
President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, also wondered about any role the FBI may have had in setting up that meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: The most extraordinary thing is, on some document he described himself as an informant. Every informant I ever had tried to keep that secret. I mean you don't -- you don't, like, say, oh, I'm an informant, I can come to the United States. So it sounds like a very strange guy.
Was he an FBI informant or not? Well, we know from the probe by the inspector general, the FBI, at the highest levels here, were doing very, very unorthodox things, if not out and out illegal and unethical.
[13:20:03] So, would they be using a guy like this? I doubt it because you don't just say you're an informant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I want to bring in our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz, who's been reporting on these developments.
So Roger Stone and Michael Caputo, Shimon, they both are saying they just forgot about this meeting when they were questioned by members of this congressional committee, and that's why they didn't tell the investigators about this meeting when they were questioned.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's exactly right, Wolf. You know, a meeting where Roger Stone, as you pointed out, was offered dirt on Hillary Clinton for exchange of $2 million.
Now, as you said, all of this comes to light after the questioning by the special counsel of Michael Caputo. It was during the questioning that this Russian came up. Michael Caputo was asked about the Russian, about his contacts with this Russian, and it was at that point that Michael Caputo says he became surprised at all of the information that the special counsel had about this Russian.
That information eventually wound up -- he wound up -- Michael Caputo wound up relaying that information to Roger Stone, and now the lawyers for both Roger Stone and Michael Caputo sent these letters to Congress saying quite simply that the men had forgotten and that they had recalled that this meeting had occurred after the special counsel brought it up.
But it's really something that's hard to believe, obviously, Wolf, that they would forget a meeting where so much money, where someone was asking for so much money.
And also, Wolf, important to keep in mind, this is the third instance that we at least know of where a Russian had some kind of contact with people associated with the Trump campaign offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. It was obviously the Don Junior meeting at Trump Tower. That was one of the big ones where a Russian lawyer had offered dirt on Hillary Clinton. And then there was the George Papadopoulos campaign adviser turned FBI informant who was also offered dirt on Hillary Clinton. Obviously all of this still under investigation by the special counsel, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Shimon, thank you. Very intriguing, indeed.
I want to bring in our panel for a little bit more on this.
Gloria Borger is our chief political analyst. Ross Garber is a CNN legal analyst, an attorney whose past clients include Governors Robert Bentley (ph) of Alabama, Mark Sanford of South Carolina.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
So, what's your reaction, Gloria, that a meeting like this with a Russian in which $2 million was asked for dirt about Hillary Clinton, but they forgot about it because they didn't follow up on it.
GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. BLITZER: They suggested that, you know, Trump was never going to pay $2 million.
BORGER: So this is a Russia investigation, Wolf, and it would -- it would seem to me that when you're being asked questions in the intelligence committees about contacts with Russians, that if someone offers you $2 million for dirt and says and I'll give it to -- you know, you pay me $2 million, I'll give you dirt on Hillary Clinton, that you just might remember that.
I mean clearly what occurred was that the special counsel was interviewing Mr. Caputo on May 2nd and reminded him of these texts that he and Roger Stone sent back and forth, and then they had to correct the record.
I think the reason they're coming out with it now, of course, is to make the case that this was yet another spy that was trying to trap them for the special counsel's investigation or whatever else. And they -- I think they want to get ahead of the story. And so that's what they're doing.
BLITZER: How do you see it, Ross?
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Wolf, I think what you're going to hear from the Trump folks is, number one, this never went anywhere. Nothing ever happened as a result -- happened as a result of this meeting. No money ever got paid. No money ever got taken, number one.
Number two is, there's no indication that this information ever got communicated to senior officials in the Trump campaign. I think you'll hear that, too.
But as Gloria points out, this is problematic. It's problematic because of the testimony. It's also problematic for another reason we haven't discussed. What defense lawyers will normally tell people who have been interviewed by prosecutors is, do not talk about this with others who might be involved in the investigation. The fact that Roger Stone and Caputo are now talking about this after Caputo has been interviewed, I think, may be troubling to the special counsel. It may be troubling to all the lawyers involved.
BLITZER: Because in a statement, Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat -- the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, both of them testified before this committee. Among other things, Schiff says, in multiple respects now, the testimony of Roger Stone appears inaccurate or deliberately misleading. Similarly, Michael Caputo's testimony mention of this interaction with a Russian offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, something which could not plausibly have escaped his recollection.
BORGER: Yes, I think Schiff is saying they lied to us and they lied to us intentionally. Now, they're going to be probably called back. The attorney sent a clarifying letter.
[13:25:02] BLITZER: Both -- attorneys for both -- lawyers for both of these witnesses sent letters clarifying that. BORGER: Right. And the question is whether they'll be called before
Mueller to discuss this and to discuss the question about whether they were improperly talking with each other about arranging their explanations for all of this.
So, you know, I do think that if you're -- I mean you're a lawyer, right? So if you're their lawyers, are you or aren't you concerned that they look like they are not necessarily colluding with the Russians but colluding with each other over this?
GARBER: I would be very concerned about it. And it's another -- it's another area where in this investigation it's spin and communications may interfere with legal strategy.
BLITZER: Well, is there an issue of perjury there. They testified under oath before this committee. Is it possible they could be charged with perjury?
GARBER: Look, it is possible, but it's very difficult to prove that someone actually didn't remember when they say they didn't remember. And Congress has limited tools to actually enforce perjury issues. So, you know, that -- that is an issue. But if it were me, the bigger issue would be what Mueller does with this information.
BORGER: But we don't know what Mueller has.
GARBER: That's right.
BORGER: You know, he may have --
BLITZER: But he had -- he had information on this.
BORGER: He had information on this. And he may have other information about what occurred before anybody went to see them about talking about this interaction. And now, you know, I think, look, you heard Rudy Giuliani there. He said, well, he called himself an informant so maybe he's not an informant. But I think the narratives that we are seeing from the Trump side here is that they've effectively been set up by a lot of people and that this was just another setup.
GARBER: And it does seem as if this guy may have actually at one point been an FBI informant of some kind.
GARBER: What's unclear is whether he was working for the FBI in this regard.
BLITZER: And what's clear is they didn't follow up because there was no way Donald Trump was going to spend $2 million for, quote, dirt on Hillary Clinton. They made that clear to Mr. Greenberg or whatever his name is.
GARBER: Yes. That's right. BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, guys. Gloria, don't go too far
A former first lady and the current first lady both weighing in on the administration's practice of separating children from their parents on the U.S.-Mexico border. But the responses are getting very different reactions.