Return to Transcripts main page


DHS Secretary Under Fire as Outcry Grows over Breakup of Migrant Families; Trump Escalates Trade Battle with China; Kim Jong-un Travels to China; FBI Director Christopher Wray Backs Mueller Probe; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 19, 2018 - 04:30   ET



[04:30:01] MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: Letting children and parents come across the border unbounded illegally is not a policy either.


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

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

BRIGGS: 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? This the third meeting between these two in less than three months.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 30 minutes past the hour this Tuesday morning. And the president 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 at least 2,000 children from their parents.

The White House now desperately trying to contain the fallout. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders delaying her Monday briefing for nearly four hours so Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen could fly in from New Orleans to face reporters.

BRIGGS: When she arrived, things quickly deteriorated. Nielsen claiming there is little the president can do about the situation at the border. Repeatedly insisting only Congress can stop the breakup of migrant families.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: 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. It'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?



BRIGGS: While Nielsen claims it's not a deterrent, just last year, her mentor and ex-boss, former DHS secretary John Kelly, now the White House chief of staff, told CNN that was precisely the plan.


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.


ROMANS: Despite Secretary Nielsen's denial, Attorney General Jeff Sessions says deterrence is a central component of the practice.


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.


SESSIONS: Unlawfully.


ROMANS: The zero tolerance border policy has not deterred immigrants from trying to enter the country illegally outside of those border crossings, but internal DHS documents obtained by CNN show Homeland Security officials were confident it would. That it would be a deterrence. BRIGGS: The president appears determined to stand his ground. He and

his allies spent most of Monday defending the zero tolerance policy.


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.


ROMANS: Some prominent Republican lawmakers are speaking out against this 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."

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


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.


BRIGGS: 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."

Despite presenting a mostly united front, the "Washington Post" reports there is deep disagreement in the Trump administration over the merit and morality of the zero tolerance policy. Images of caged children and new audio of kids being torn from their parents' arms making it hard to convince the public to get behind the program.

Nick Valencia with more from Brownsville, Texas.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, we're learning about a facility here in Brownsville, Texas, where children under the age of 10 years old are taken after they're separated from their families. We tried to gain access into that facility, but we're denied entry.

Now the White House says that the separation of these families is happening at processing centers but we're getting new audio from ProPublica, which purports to show an incident last week involving 10 Central American children who were separated from their families in the field by Border Patrol. We have to warn you some of the viewers may find this audio disturbing.






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we have an orchestra here. Right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're missing is a conductor.


VALENCIA: Critics to President Trump's zero tolerance policy are calling it un-American. In fact one Texas congressman said that the president is turning the American dream into the American nightmare -- Dave, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Nick Valencia, thank you for that. That audio really hard to listen to.

Microsoft urging the Trump administration to change its policy separating families at the border. Will other companies do the same? Microsoft speaking out after its working relationship with ICE was revealed. ICE uses Microsoft software to help with facial recognition and identification.

Now ICE isn't a new Microsoft client but a blog post about their relationship resurfaced Monday. Sweeping Microsoft into the firestorm over the Trump administration's zero tolerance immigration policy. In a statement Microsoft denounced that policy calling on Congress to pass legislation ensuring children are no longer separated from their families.

The past few years have seen the rise of so-called conscience capitalism with companied wading into political debate, putting their support behind social issues like gay marriage, climate change, and gun control and immigration. Potentially this could be a new front in that corporate activism.

BRIGGS: 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. This follows the $50 billion it had announced last week. Punishment for China stealing U.S. tech and trade secrets.

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, "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.

ROMANS: Wow. All right. Breaking news overnight, Kim Jong-un visiting China today and tomorrow. The North Korean leader expected to brief President Xi Jinping about his summit with President Trump just last week.

Let's go live to Beijing. Want to bring in CNN's Matt Rivers.

Remarkable diplomacy for the North Korean leader. What are we expecting? What do we know?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we don't know a whole lot yet which is pretty standard for when North Korean leaders visit here to China. Usually we're not even told or confirmed that the North Korean was here in Beijing until after he left. That's what happened the first time Kim Jong-un came here to Beijing back in March. This time, though, we did get a quick readout from state media, from Chinese state media basically only confirming that Kim Jong-un would be here in Beijing today and tomorrow before heading back to Pyongyang.

So no official readout. We haven't even seen a picture of the North Korean leader in Beijing yet but you can expect these two men to talk about that summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. What was said? What was the private conversations like? Was there discussions about what denuclearization actually means? And you can bet that the Chinese are going to continue to push their own strategic interests which sometimes don't line up with America's interests.

So that's what's going on here, the kind of continued diplomacy from the North Korean leader. And we should note, it is remarkable, it was less than three months ago that Kim Jong-un had never left North Korea as a foreign leader. His first trip of course was here to Beijing and this is the third time he will be here since then.

ROMANS: And certainly the president of the United States saying that he was going to end, quote-unquote, war games is also a win clearly for China which is ramping up its military presence in the region just as it would like to see the United States dial down.

All right. Matt Rivers, it's nice to see you. Thanks.

BRIGGS: All right. Coming up, the president has a lofty goal for the Pentagon. A space force. More on the president's plan and why this already may be covered by the existing branches of the military.




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.


BRIGGS: FBI director Christopher Wray standing by the Mueller probe despite constant attacks from the president and his allies. Wray telling a congressional hearing the FBI is determined not to repeat any mistakes revealed in a watchdog report on the handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. And he repeatedly tried to distance himself from his predecessor James Comey.


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.


ROMANS: Wray went on to tell lawmakers changes are already on the way at the FBI including how it handles sensitive investigations.

[04:45:03] But Comey remains a focus of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

CNN's Manu Raju has 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.


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


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.

BRIGGS: All right, Manu, thanks.

President Trump ordering the Pentagon to create a new space force. He wants it to be the sixth branch of the Armed Forces.


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.


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

ROMANS: But it takes an act of Congress to establish a new branch of the military. Great strides have been made in international diplomacy to avoid the militarization of space. Also the U.S. already has a space force of sorts in the form of U.S. Air Force Space Command.

BRIGGS: 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.

ROMANS: All right. When calling 911, minutes can make a difference between life and death. So Apple wants to help first responders find you faster. "CNN Money" is next.


[04:53:20] BRIGGS: 4:53 Eastern Time. The separation of children from their parents at the southern border is no laughing matter, but late night comics tackling the topic with some comedy and a bit of commentary.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": Some people said they could not believe Trump would do something like that. Then African-Americans, Muslims, DACA recipients, transgender troops and special Olympians were like, we can. That's right. The Trump administration is separating immigrant kids from their parents at the border. But experts say there is an easy fix to the problem. The midterms.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Some people are comparing the situation to the movie "Sophie's Choice." And that -- I don't know that that's fair. In "Sophie's Choice," the Nazis only made Meryl Streep give up one of her kids. Thank you.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Not everyone in the administration blames this policy on the Democrats. Some say the policy doesn't even exist. Like Secretary of Homeland Security and definitely not the descendant of immigrants, Kirstjen Nielsen, who tweeted yesterday, "We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period." Then why are you locking up kids in an abandoned Walmart? Question mark, exclamation point, colon, with your head up it?


BRIGGS: Wow. Struggling to get their message together, the White House.

Meanwhile, a Florida mother arrested after leaving her 3-year-old daughter in a hot car overnight. 33-year-old Casey Keller charged with child neglect. The police say she took her three children 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.

[04:55:01] Sunday morning, deputies discovered the 3-year-old overheated and in and out of consciousness and rushed her 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.

ROMANS: 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. Next door in Wisconsin one death being attributed to extreme weather after this 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.

BRIGGS: Concerns about flooding over the next few days in parts of Texas as tropical rain move into the region.

Ivan Cabrera here with the forecast.

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Christine, Dave, good morning.

Heavy rain in Texas will continue for the next couple of days. We have a disturbance in the Gulf. In fact the National Hurricane Center had been looking at that for the potential of tropical development. That won't happen but the heavy rain will and it continues here for the next few days. Several inches of additional accumulation. It's been raining there for the last couple of days.

Look at this, next three days one of our computer model forecast indicating potential for half a foot of rainfall and is likely going to be causing some flooding there. We'll keep you posted. Severe weather potential from eastern Colorado and Nebraska into parts of Kansas. Area of low pressure there. Frontal boundary extends out of it and across, well, the Appalachians and into the mid-Atlantic. A potential for damaging, winds, hail and even some isolated tornadoes.

Cooling off. We like the relief right across portions of the northeast. Some area not so much but I'll tell you what, upper 80s feels better than 90s. And look at the difference in Chicago and Detroit. Obviously the front has moved through there. We continue, though, in the Deep South where you would have expected heat indices once again with the humidity later this afternoon will be in the low 100s once again -- guys.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you for that. That's your weather. Here's your money this Tuesday morning.

A big selloff in stocks around the world tonight as the U.S. and China inch closer to an all-out trade war. Four months low for Asian stocks. Dow futures right down 400 points. Could be a really ugly opening bell.

President Trump now threatening tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods. That's $200 billion. Remember we'd already told you about the $50 billion announced last week. You know, Beijing has promised to retaliate. No question there. Outlining its own tariffs on U.S. exports. But the president promises to impose these new tariffs if Beijing follows through with its retaliation.

Trade fears sent Wall Street lower. The Dow is now down five trading days in a row, nearly wiping out all the gains for the year. The biggest losers are U.S. companies with big business in China, Intel, Boeing, Caterpillar and 3M. Again it could be kind of an ugly opening bell.

Amazon shareholders are concerned about government surveillance. So they're asking CEO Jeff Bezos to help stop it. Nearly 20 investor groups are demanding Amazon stop selling facial recognition tech called Recognition to the police. The concern mass surveillance could violate civil rights. The shareholders join groups like the ACLU who wants to stop Amazon from selling this technology. Customers include law enforcement in Florida and Oregon.

All right. When you're calling 911, minutes can make the difference between life and death so Apple wants to help first responders find you faster. Apple will introduce a feature to help 911 operators locate cell phone users. You know, the majority of 911 calls are made on cell phones. But unlike a landline, the location is hard for 911 to pinpoint so Apple's new software will send emergency responders instant, precise location information. Apple plans to push the update out later this year.


BRIGGS: Tremendous fix there.

ROMANS: Such an interesting technology and privacy thing.


ROMANS: On the one hand, we don't want facial recognition software to help law enforcement to spy on you.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: But we do want --

BRIGGS: But when they can help --

ROMANS: We do want them to be able to find you if something bad happens to you.

BRIGGS: We hope you do.

All right. EARLY START continues right now with the escalating feud over separation of children at the border.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you intending to send a message?


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.


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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: If $50 billion weren't not enough, how about tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods from China? The escalating trade dispute sending Dow futures down 400 points right now.

BRIGGS: Breaking overnight Kim Jong-un with another round of diplomacy in China. What's on President Xi's agenda after the Singapore summit worked largely in his favor? That is now three visits in less than three months between these two.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, it is June 19th, 5:00 a.m. exactly in the East. Get up. There's lots to do today. We'll get your morning started --