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EARLY START

White House Struggles to Limit Fallout From Border Policy; Trump Escalates Trade Battle with China; Kim Jong-un Travels to China; FBI Director Christopher Wray Backs Mueller Probe. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired June 19, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:00:13] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you intending to send a message?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I find that offensive.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We're doing the right thing. We're taking care of these children.

MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: Letting children and parents come across the border unbounded illegally is not a policy either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House defiant but struggling to quiet the outcry over children separated from parents at the border. Top officials seemed mixed on whether zero tolerance is meant as a deterrent.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: If $50 billion was not enough, how about tariffs on $200 billion with goods from China? The president's team showing no signs of backing down amid escalating trade dispute.

ROMANS: And breaking overnight. Kim Jong-un with another round of diplomacy in China. Was on President Xi's agenda after the Singapore summit work largely in his favor?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Tuesday, June 19th. 4:00 a.m. in the East. It is 4:00 p.m. in Beijing. We will check in there live shortly where Kim Jong-un will spend a couple of days.

Well, we start off with President Trump on this immigration issue and he has some explaining to do when he meets with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill today to talk about immigration. His zero tolerance policy at the southern border has already separated thousands of children from their parents. Just about 2,000 in last six weeks.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders delaying her Monday briefing for nearly four hours so Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen could fly from New Orleans to face reporters.

ROMANS: Once she arrived, things quickly deteriorated. Nielsen claiming there is little the president can do about the situation at the border. She insisted only Congress can stop the breakup of migrant families.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIELSEN: Rather than fixing the law, Congress is asking those of us to enforce the law to turn our backs on the law and not enforce the law. That's not an answer. The answer is to fix the laws.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you intending for this to play out as it is playing out? Are you intending for parents to be separated from their children? Are you intending to send a message?

NIELSEN: I find that offensive. No. Because why would I ever create a policy that purposely does that?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Perhaps it's a deterrence?

NIELSEN: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Nielsen claims it's not a deterrent separating children from their parents at the border. Just last year her mentor and ex-boss, former DHS secretary John Kelly, now the chief of staff, told CNN that was precisely the plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: If you get some young kids who are coming in -- managed to sneak into the United States with their parents, are Department of Homeland Security personnel going to separate children from their moms and dad?

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Yes, I am considering in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network. I am considering exactly that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Now despite Secretary Nielsen's denial, Attorney General Jeff Sessions says deterrent is a central component of the practice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Are you trying to deter people from bringing children or minors across the dangerous journey? Is that part of what the separation is about?

SESSIONS: Yes. Hopefully people will get the message and come through the border at the port of entry and not right across the border.

INGRAHAM: Yes .

SESSIONS: Unlawfully.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The zero tolerance border policy has not deterred immigrants from trying to enter the country illegally, but internal DHS documents obtained by CNN show Homeland Security officials were confident it would.

ROMANS: The president appears determined to stand his ground. He and his allies spent most of Monday defending the zero tolerance policy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility. Won't be.

SHORT: We have a crisis at the border. These are difficult choices. We don't like the binary choice, Wolf. We want Congress to help us fix this problem.

INGRAHAM: Since more illegal immigrants are rushing the border, more kids are being separated from their parents and temporarily housed in what are essentially summer camps.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Essentially summer camps. Swimming in the lake and everything. Apparently we missed that part of the separation.

Some prominent Republican lawmakers are speaking out against the zero tolerance immigration policy. Arizona Senator John McCain tweeting, "The administration's current family separation policy is an affront to the decency of the American people. And contrary to the principles and values upon which our nation was founded. The administration has the power to rescind this policy. It should do so now."

Even Texas Senator Ted Cruz introducing legislation to keep immigrant families together after they cross the border. He says kids should not be victims of a broken immigration system.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:05:04] SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: All of us who are seeing these images of children being pulled away from moms and dads in tears, we're horrified. This has to stop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Also speaking out against the practice, every living first lady. Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton and Rosalyn Carter joining Melania Trump in condemning the separation of children and parents. Mrs. Bush's op-ed calling the separation cruel and immoral. It was retweeted by Michelle Obama who added, "Sometimes truth transcends party."

Again, this could be fixed with a phone call from the president. Stop the practice now while Congress figures out how to fix the underlying the law. It has been the law for a couple of presidencies now and those presidents chose to enforce it the way this administration is.

President Trump escalating trade tensions with China. And Beijing warns it will strike back. The White House is threatening tariffs now on $200 billion in Chinese goods. That's after the $50 billion they announced last week. Punishment for China stealing U.S. tech and trade secrets.

BRIGGS: Beijing immediately retaliated, outlining its own tariffs on U.S. exports but the president promises to impose these additional tariffs if they follow through, writing that, quote, "Further action must be taken to encourage China to change its unfair practices." China once again promised to strike back, accusing the U.S. of extreme pressure and extortionist behavior.

Tit-for-tat tariffs are shaking global markets. Asian stocks hit a four-month low. Dow futures down 400 points. Investors worry the U.S. and China are inching closer to an all-out trade war. Trump's announcement came just hours after the Senate offered a rebuke of his trade policies, voting to reinstate a ban on Chinese state-controlled ZTE and that sent ZTE shares plummeting 25 percent.

In April the Commerce Department banned ZTE from buying crucial U.S. parts, punishment for violating U.S. sanctions but then the president offered ZTE a lifeline, lifting the ban in exchange for a fine and U.S. oversight. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticized the deal citing national security concerns.

Some breaking news overnight. Kim Jong-un visiting China today and tomorrow. The North Korean leader expected to brief President Xi about his summit with President Trump just last week.

Let's go live to Beijing and bring in CNN's Matt Rivers just past 4:00 p.m. there.

Matt, was this expected and what is the agenda?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It wasn't a huge surprise that these two leaders are meeting, Dave. We were expecting these two leaders to meet after that summit happened. There was lot of speculation that it was going to be Xi Jinping actually going to Pyongyang this time. And yet this morning we got news from state media here in China that Kim Jong-un would be coming here both today and tomorrow.

As is the case usually with these visits, not a ton of details released. We have no official agenda. We haven't even seen a picture of Kim Jong-un here with Xi Jinping. But we're presuming he's going to meet with Xi Jinping, other high level cabinet officials. And they're going to talk about that Singapore summit. What was said between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un? What didn't make it into that declaration? What is the definition of denuclearization in the eyes of the North Koreans? And China for its part is going to make sure that its strategic interests are being represented at the future negotiations between the United States and North Korea.

And this all comes, don't forget, as President Trump on Friday saying he would talk to Kim Jong-un over the weekend. That didn't end up happening. But it is just remarkable. It was less than three months ago that Kim Jong-un, as the leader of North Korea, had never left the country. He came here to Beijing for his first foreign meeting. And yet three months later here we are where apparently Kim Jong-un doing the rounds, flying all over the place. It's normal.

BRIGGS: Normalize the murderous dictator. And now the third visit together in the short period of time. President Xi control over all of this.

Matt Rivers live for us in Beijing. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. It's about eight minutes past the hour. President has a lofty goal for the Pentagon. A space force. More on the president's plans, the hurdles and the bizarre self-inflicted wound from his announcement.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:13:13] CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Senator, as I've said to you last month and as I've said before, I do not believe Special Counsel Mueller is on a witch hunt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: FBI director Christopher Wray again backing the Mueller probe despite constant attacks from the president and the president's allies. Wray telling a congressional hearing the FBI is determined not to repeat any mistakes revealed in a watch dog report on the handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. Ad he repeatedly tried to distance himself from his predecessor James Comey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRAY: Well, I don't know that I can speculate about what I would have done at the time. What I can tell you is that I cannot imagine the situation in which I would unilaterally assume for myself as the FBI director a charging decision and then announce it in a news conference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Wray went on to tell lawmakers changes are already on the way at the FBI including how it handles sensitive investigations. But Comey remains a focus of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

And here's Manu Raju with more from Capitol Hill.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. Now the FBI came under harsh criticism from senators from both party in the aftermath of that inspector general report, more than 500 pages of detailing what happened with the Clinton e-mail investigation and detailed significant missteps that occurred along the way. Most notably James Comey.

Then the FBI director singled out for criticism by the inspector general and by members on both sides of the aisle because of the way that he publicly announced the findings of the investigation back in 2016.

The hearing yesterday, Republicans and Democrats raised concerns about Comey's conduct.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Both investigations were ongoing during the presidential election, but only the Clinton investigation was discussed publicly.

[04:15:04] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think there was a lot of bias that did affect an investigation that is to me almost impossible to explain using any standard that I grew up with as a prosecutor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now in addition to that the inspector general has said that there is no bias that ultimately impacted the final decisions that were made not to charge Hillary Clinton with the crime, not to prosecute her. But they did raise concerns about the political bias of some people within the investigation even if it did not ultimately impact the outcome of the investigation. In particular, they've singled out Peter Strzok, a top FBI official who was involved in the Clinton e-mail investigation and also involved with the Russia investigation.

Strzok had traded texts with Lisa Page, a former FBI lawyer, with whom he was having an extramarital affair. They traded thousands of text messages including very critical messages of President Trump. The exact words, they wanted to, quote, "stop" Trump from becoming president.

The questions that lawmakers have still and the inspector general himself will be back on Capitol Hill today answering questions from House members in just a matter of hours -- Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: OK, Manu, from Capitol Hill. Thank you, Manu.

President Trump is ordering the Pentagon to create a new space force. He wants it to be a sixth branch of the Armed Forces separate but equal to the Air Force.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The Pentagon says it will begin working on the president's request and is seeking input from multiple stake holders.

Now keep in mind, it takes an act of Congress to establish a new branch of the military. And the concept of a space force, while drawing some support on Capitol Hill, is being met with skepticism in Defense circles.

BRIGGS: Yes, great strides have been made in international diplomacy to avoid the militarization of space. Critics of the president angry about his choice of words, though, when describing its vision for this Space Force.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force. Separate, but equal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Separate, but equal became a legal precedent used in the 20th century to justify racially separated facilities. It's later deemed unconstitutional through a series of Supreme Court rulings.

ROMANS: All right. The Supreme Court sidestepping two major cases that challenged partisan gerrymandering. The justices dodging the question of whether controversial voting maps in Wisconsin and Maryland are legal. It means they will remain in place for the midterm elections.

The unanimous ruling in the Wisconsin case is a blow to Democrats who argued the Republican drawn maps prevented fair and effective representation. The second case was out of Maryland where Republicans challenged a district map drawn by Democrats. The justices said a lower court did not act improperly in leaving that map in place.

BRIGGS: OK. Ahead, disaster declarations in two Michigan counties ravaged by floods that left sinkholes and widespread damage. Look at these pictures. More next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:22:44] BRIGGS: Rapper XXX Tentacion gunned during an apparent robbery in Florida. Police say the 20-year-old rapper whose real name was Jahseh Onfroy was leaving a motor sports store around 4:00 p.m. Monday when two men in a dark colored SUV shot him. Authorities in Broward County are asking witnesses to come forward. XXX Tentacion rocketed to fame after his song "Look at Me" went viral on social media. His later album premiered at number one when it was released in March.

ROMANS: A Florida mother arrested after leaving her 3-year-old daughter in a hot car overnight. 33-year-old Casey Keller is charged with child neglect. The police say she took her three kids with her to a local liquor store in Sanford, Florida, Saturday night. When she returned home, she either forgot or just chose not to take her youngest child out of the car. Sunday morning, deputies discovered the 3-year-old overheated and in and out of consciousness and rushed the baby to the hospital. She is expected to make a full recovery. The high temperature in Sanford Saturday was 92 degrees. The mother was released after posting a $15,000 bond.

BRIGGS: Michigan's governor issuing a disaster declaration in two counties after a devastating weekend floods in the upper peninsula. The National Weather Service says some areas were hit with six to eight inches of rain. The heavy downpours creating dozens of sinkholes and washouts leaving water and sewer lines exposed. In neighboring Wisconsin one death being attributed to extreme weather after a pickup was found in a ditch. Governor Scott Walker declaring a state of emergency in five counties. Severe thunderstorms, damaging winds and large hail causing downed trees and power lines, mudslides and flash flooding.

ROMANS: A Walmart shopper arrested for allegedly making $1.3 million worth of fraudulent returns at 1,000 stores across the country. Officials say 23-year-old Thomas Frudaker raised suspicions when he tried to return a computer at a Walmart in Yuma, Arizona. The store reported it appeared Frudaker had taken parts out of the machine before making the return. He faces six felony chargers. Bond was set at $40,000.

$1.3 million worth of returns at 1,000 stores. That's a lot of work.

BRIGGS: I was just going to say, it's almost a part-time job. But if you're good with computers, you can probably make some actual real money.

ROMANS: I know. To channel all that --

BRIGGS: Rather than stealing it.

ROMANS: All that ambition into something else.

BRIGGS: Yes.

[04:25:01] All right. Ahead, is separating kids from parents at the border a deterrent or not?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIELSEN: Why would I ever create a policy that purposely does that?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Perhaps it's a deterrence?

NIELSEN: No.

INGRAHAM: Are you trying to deter people from bringing children or minors?

SESSIONS: Yes, hopefully people will get the message. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: One administration. Two very different pages. Struggling to contain the fallout from a zero tolerance policy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you intending to send a message?

NIELSEN: I find that offensive.

SESSIONS: We're doing the right thing. We're taking care of these children.

SHORT: Letting children and parents come across the border unbounded illegally is not a policy either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The White House defiant but struggling to quiet the outcry over kids separated from their parents at the border.