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Trump Defiant as Outrage Grows Over Separating Families. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 19, 2018 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Hopefully people will get the message and not break across the border unlawfully.

[05:59:05] HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We are a better country than one that treats frightened children as a means to a political end.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Congress is asking us to turn our backs on the law. It's not an answer.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: All of us who are seeing these images of children in tears, we're horrified.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States will not be a migrant camp. Not on my watch.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, June 19, 6 a.m. here in New York. A lot to talk about this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The White House having an interesting time getting its story straight.

CAMEROTA: That's right. Its explanation for its policy of what it's doing. So let's dive right in. Here's our starting line.

President Trump and his administration are defiant about their policy of separating their children from the border as the situation spirals into this humanitarian and political crisis. The White House is struggling to stick to one explanation for their new policy.

The nation's homeland security secretary claims they're not doing it as a deterrent. The attorney general says it is meant as a deterrent. The White House falsely claims that only Congress has the power to end these family separations, but the president could end them right now.

President Trump heads to Capitol Hill today to meet with House Republicans about two immigration bills that could address this controversial issue. So we will speak with the lawmaker spearheading that effort.

BERMAN: Yes, these politicians concerned about their political future, but what about the future for these children? These children separated from their parents.

We have heartbreaking audio, first reported by the nonprofit ProPublica, that captures the sounds of children wailing, crying out for their parents after being separated at the border.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

(CHILDREN CRYING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: While facing this domestic crisis, the president is raising the stakes in an escalating trade dispute with China, threatening new tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. China is accusing the U.S. of extortionist behavior and warning it would strike back hard.

Let's begin our coverage with Abby Phillip, live at the White House -- Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John. The White House is really struggling to contain the fallout from this situation at the border, separating families from each other as they cross over.

The president is defiant, but the White House seems to be split. Some advisors wanting to blame Democrats and others defending this practice as a critical process of the president's immigration strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: The United States will not be a migrant camp, and it will not be a refugee holding facility.

PHILLIP (voice-over): The Trump administration digging in and defending its controversial practice of separating children from their families at the border.

NIELSEN: Parents who entered illegally are, by definition, criminals. By entering our country illegally, often in dangerous circumstances, illegal immigrants have put their children at risk.

PHILLIP: Pressure to end the practice intensifying after the release of audio obtained by ProPublica, where children are heard sobbing and begging for their parents.

(CHILDREN CRYING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Daddy! Daddy!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want Mommy!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mommy! UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we have an orchestra here, right?

PHILLIP: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen insisting the children are being taken care of.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: How could this not be child abuse for the people who are taken from their parents? Not the ones who are sent here with their parents' blessing with a smuggler. The people who are taken from their parents.

NIELSEN: Unfortunately, I'm not in any position to deal with, you know, hearsay stories.

PHILLIP: Attorney General Jeff Sessions admitting that the practice is meant to deter other undocumented immigrants.

SESSIONS: Yes, hopefully people will get the message and come through the border at the port of entry and not break -- break across the border unlawfully.

PHILLIP: Hours earlier, Secretary Nielsen balked at the suggestion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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?

PHILLIP: White House officials continuing to falsely insist that family separations are required under the law as President Trump attempts to use the issue to pressure Democrats into backing Republican immigration legislation.

TRUMP: I'd say it's very strongly the Democrats' fault. It can be taken care of quickly, beautifully, and we'll have safety.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: This is not something that just happened to them. This has been a plan. And they're implementing the plan. They're enforcing the plan, and it's wrong.

PHILLIP: On Capitol Hill, a growing number of Republicans are joining Democrats in urging the administration to end family separations.

CRUZ: 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.

PHILLIP: In the Senate, Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Dianne Feinstein announcing bills to keep families together. The House is expected to vote on two immigration bills on Thursday that contain language to address family separations, but the outlook for both bills appears far from certain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: Well, President Trump will meet with House Republicans later today about the issue of immigration, but more and more, even Republican lawmakers are raising the issue of these separations to the White House and not buying the excuse that President Trump cannot do anything about it -- Alisyn and John.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby. Thank you very much for setting all of that up.

Joining us now to talk about it, we have CNN political analyst David Gregory and national reporter at "The Washington Post," Wes Lowery. Great to have both of you.

[06:05:02] OK, so David Gregory, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen finds the idea that it's being used as a deterrent offensive, but that's what the explanation has been from Jeff Sessions, John Kelly and beyond. How -- how is it possible they're not on the same script about this?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's distinctly possible because so controversial within the administration itself.

You have a president who's not trying to win the argument over immigration. He's simply trying to be a strong man and to rile up his base, and he's riling up, you know, different factions within his administration.

For Jeff Sessions, the issue of immigration and doing this to families is his only way to find favor with a president who's so upset with him over the Mueller investigation, he wants him fired.

And for the homeland security secretary, she's barely held onto her job, because she's seen by the president as not tough enough on the border. So everybody wants to look tough and look strong.

The intellectual lapses in this policy are so glaring to anyone who would bother to take a look. Why do you think someone who would risk their family crossing into America is going to somehow be deterred because you say they're going to be arrested? They're, obviously, undergoing plenty of danger to take the journey in the first place. It could be fleeing violence. It could be pursuit of a different life, a better life.

And this effort to dehumanize these individuals is a pretext and a kind of introduction to a truly immoral policy. And there's no way around that. On this issue, whatever you think of illegal immigration, whatever lapses you think there are in American policy, this has united Republicans and Democrats who say, this is absolutely beyond the pale.

BERMAN: The White House has completely lost control of the narrative. It's lost control of the narrative. And it's lost control of a narrative on the backs of kids younger than 11 years old. In some cases, babies.

It's fascinating to see. And David talked about the morality of it. The White House can argue this is necessary, but they cannot argue that kids are not being hurt by this. We have this audio. I just want to play this audio one more time so people get a sense of what is happening to children here. Listen to this. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

(CHILDREN CRYING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Daddy! Daddy!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want Mommy!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mommy!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we have an orchestra here, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, Wes, the White House can't decide whether it's a deterrent, not a deterrent; a policy, not a policy. Meantime, these kids are crying, because they've lost their parents.

WES LOWERY, NATIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Of course. And I think it's important to note that, you know, without ProPublica publishing this, we wouldn't have heard those sounds. These are -- these are detention centers that, while some reporters have been allowed in, there still have not been cameras allowed into most of them. Audio recording hasn't been allowed in most of them. We still haven't seen wherever the infants and the young girls are being held. We're only seen where the young men are being held.

Again, you know, these are government detention facilities where we, the United States government, have pulled children away from their parents, put them in cages, and we're not allowed to hear and see what's going on inside of them. I think reasonable people, no matter your politics on immigration policy, might have some questions about what's going on in these places and why our government won't let us see what's being done in our name.

CAMEROTA: To your point -- yes, go ahead, David.

GREGORY: I was going to say, I think that's right, and I think that, you know, what's so disturbing about this is that it appears, on one level, to be an incredibly cynical ploy to force a tough negotiation, to get this solved as part of a broader immigration reform.

And there's been a lot of failure around immigration reform that both parties bear responsibility for. And, you know, why the president didn't say yes to a broader deal that he had some months ago, is still beyond me.

But the notion that they -- that he wants to force a better deal on immigration by doing it this way is just -- it doesn't make any sense to me.

CAMEROTA: I mean, also, you know, I think that he promised that he would crack down on the border. The border wall hasn't happened. And so he thinks that -- I mean, I think that the president might believe that this could actually be a deterrent. But the numbers don't support that. And the numbers -- you know, Jeff Sessions or John Kelly -- I can't

remember -- announced on, I think, April 6 or 7 that this would be the new policy. This zero-tolerance policy on April 7, and we're 2 1/2 months into it. People are not getting the message. Because just as many people are coming to the border with their children trying to flee whatever their situation is in Honduras or Central America. So it's not working as a deterrent, Wes.

LOWERY: Well, of course. You know, to argue that this type of policy would work as a deterrent, in some ways misunderstands the fundamentals of how the crisis at the border works.

[06:10:08] The people who show up tomorrow did not leave yesterday. These are, in many cases, months' long journey where you're not necessarily tuning into NEW DAY to figure out, well, how are they dealing with the border today? Should we show up or should we not?

These are folks who are fleeing violent regimes and are risking life and limb to get here, very often knowing that, no matter what they encounter, it may be better than what they were dealing with previously.

GREGORY: Right.

LOWERY: So rather than this being a message to the migrants, this is a message to the Trump base. People who said, "We want you to be -- crack down. We want you to be mean." Using a lot of the type of rhetoric, political rhetoric, not policy or human rhetoric. The zero- tolerance type rhetoric or the "We are nations of laws" or "without a border, there's no" -- I mean, this is the type of language that's been used on the far-right websites for years.

And beyond that, you know, the president said something interesting where he talked about, you know, this is not -- the United States won't be a migrant camp. Well other than those of us who were literally dragged here in chains, that our ancestors were, most people who have shown up in this country have shown up as migrants, fleeing some type of prosecution.

We are, if nothing else, a collection of persecuted, migrant people who have shown up here hoping for a better life and, in many cases, in most cases, have found it. And so it is a little historical to suggest that the men and women and children showing up at our border are any different than most of the rest of us whose parents and generations have shown up here previously.

BERMAN: And it is important to note -- and we'll show the graphic a little later in the show. The numbers -- the border crossings are up from last year. They are up. But they're still historically low. They're nothing compared to what they were some 10, 15 years ago. There's not some unprecedented flood of people running over the border right now. It's a little bit up from last year. But, still, honestly, not that big compared to what it was.

And David, you were talking about the political nature of this. We do have some new poll numbers out on this, and it's wildly -- this policy is wildly unpopular with the American people overall. Just 28 percent of people approve of this policy of separating children from their parents. Sixty-seven percent disapprove.

The numbers are a little different, though, when you break it down by party. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans approve, 34 percent disapprove. So a majority of Republicans approve. That's not a huge majority. It's not like 90 percent approval, which the president does get overall from Republicans, David.

GREGORY: This is the point about dehumanizing people who are coming across. You know, this goes back some time. You know, John, you and I covered in the Bush administration his attempt to get comprehensive immigration reform. I think he would have had it if not for 9/11. But of course, 9/11 happened.

And so what created, then, a new political environment where in the late -- by 2005, 2006, 2007 an attempt at comprehensive immigration reform failed among conservatives, and that was the beginning of this latest round of dehumanizing migrants. You know, there was the specter of al Qaeda coming in through the southern border, and that's why we needed more security.

Now it's MS-13. It's all -- so it's gang members and criminals and rapists who are coming in. That's why we need a wall. This is the story that we're being told.

Jonah Goldberg, the commentator, has an excellent new book out called "Suicide of the West," in which he argues that, in our political class, we're done trying to persuade people about the correctness of our argument. It's simply now about riling up the base.

And a base of supporters for President Trump who are being told, in this period of economic dislocation that we're still recovering from, it is the fear of the other. It is the fear of the immigrant from the south that you have to worry about, because they're taking your job or they're preying upon your kids. This is the idea that drives, I think, support for zero-tolerance policy. The idea that we've got a problem with immigration. These are the perpetrators, and so we'll just have to suffer the consequences of some kids being torn away from their parents.

BERMAN: Let me play -- we have, actually, one bit of sound that illustrates exactly what David is talking about right now. Where the administration -- Kellyanne Conway was on with Chris Cuomo last night, our old friend Chris. And she's saying it's not about these parents being separated from these children at the border. It's about the crime that is committed, at times, by undocumented immigrants in the United States. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: The permanent separation --

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Separating families as a funnel of enforcement. CONWAY: -- between Laura Walkerson (ph) and her child, between Jamiel

Shaw Sr. and his son. All these people who have been killed at the hands --

CUOMO: And they all matter, but your solution doesn't address their problem.

CONWAY: Have you had them on TV? Have you gone and listened? Are you playing audiotape of them weeping at night, missing their children? They're permanently separated from their children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So he's [SIC] suggesting, Wes, that these crimes that have been committed by people in the United States by people who are undocumented immigrants, somehow, I guess, the 4-year-olds, the 6- year-olds in custody at the border right now are responsible for them?

LOWERY: The stance of this administration and previously the campaign has been to dehumanize and criminalize one set of immigrants in order to justify being able to treat another set of immigrants however this administration decides it wants to. Right?

These 6-year-olds and, in some cases, 6-months year-olds being pulled from their mother's breasts are not somehow implicated in crime committed, perhaps, by another undocumented immigrant years earlier.

CAMEROTA: No, but it's a deterrence argument. It's that -- it's that, you know, it's much harder to fix the problem in Honduras. OK? It's much harder to fix whatever is going wrong on in Honduras. So if we can do this painful fix here at the border as a deterrent and maybe people from Honduras will just stay put, then it's a win. I mean, that's the logic.

BERMAN: Of course, Kirstjen Nielsen says it's not a deterrent.

CAMEROTA: I know. Well, she says --

BERMAN: Except for the fact -- yes.

CAMEROTA: Talk to Jeff Sessions about this. But that is the thinking.

LOWERY: Sure, I mean, that's what the assumed -- some of the thinking is. As John notes, I mean, some administration officials are actually saying that that is not the argument. They're arguing they're offended you would suggest that is their argument.

But setting that aside, what Kellyanne Conway was doing there, was she was invoking this idea that there's some type of unreasonable amount of crime being committed by undocumented immigrants. And every statistic we have shows that undocumented immigrants commit crime at lower rates than all of us who are here at permanent citizens.

I'm currently working on a project at the "Washington Post" where we're looking at unsolved homicides across the country, 60,000 of them for a decade. A statistically insignificant amount of them committed by undocumented immigrants.

Of course, we can always cherry pick examples. Jamiel Shaw was an example she talked about. I was in the courtroom for "The L.A. Times" when his murderer was sentenced to death. I remember that case well.

But we can always pick a case here or a case there. What we know is the statistics show that undocumented immigrants don't commit crime. They are not the issue when it comes to our crime. And so to suggest that that justifies these policies, the statistics don't back that up.

BERMAN: All right, guys. Much more on this ahead. The question is, what happens next? When you lost Ted Cruz, as the saying goes, we'll see what this means for the president. Stay with us.

CAMEROTA: All right. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:20:40] BERMAN: President Trump and his administration defiant as this outrage grows over children being separated from their parents at the border. This situation has really become a humanitarian and a political crisis. And remember, the White House chose this.

Want to bring back David Gregory and Wes Lowery.

And the White House also chose to make the secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, somehow the face of the White House defense. This inconsistent defense of the White House position here.

And just listen to this exchange just as an example here. She was pressed on how come we've only seen pictures of boys in these detention facilities. Remember, we're only seeing what the government is showing us, and so far we've really only seen male children. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS: Why is the government only releasing images of the boys who are being held? Where are the girls? Where are the young toddlers?

NIELSEN: I don't know. I'm not familiar with those particular images. So I'd have to --

WELKER: Do you know where they are? Do you know where the girls are? Do you know where the toddlers are?

NIELSEN: We have children in DHS care both. But as you know, most of the children, after 72 hours, are transferred to HHS. So I don't know what pictures you're referencing, but I'd have to refer you to HHS.

WELKER: The boys --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: These are some of the images that Kristen Welker was talking about right there. Again, we've really only seen these pictures. And we're only seeing these pictures because the government has released these images or let cameras, in some cases, into specific facilities here. And some people are wondering why we only seem to be seeing boys rather than girls. That is one issue.

The other issue, David, is again, the White House decided to put Kirstjen Nielsen out. They sort of didn't want to justify this by themselves. The want her to be the face of it and somehow handle the heat here. How did she do?

GREGORY: I think she did horribly. And, you know, there are some days when I wish I were back in that White House briefing room. Because that is just ridiculous what this government is doing.

The dysfunction within the administration, that you're going to send the DHS secretary out, and she has no ability to be responsible or accountable for what her policies, for what the government's policy is responsible for, and she's going to refer people. I mean, you talk about a bureaucratic haze. "I'm going to refer you to the Department of, you know, Health and Human Services, because I don't know what's going on."

You better get prepared. You better be prepared for these questions. Anybody who's going to do any media relations on the most rudimentary level would tell you what kind of questions you're going to face, given this kind of ridiculous policy.

And again, this is a policy, as you said, that is within their discretion.

BERMAN: Yes.

GREGORY: They can criticize it. They can say this idea that the Obama administration did about kind of catch and release, it is a difficult situation when you have families coming across; and there could be a permanent fix by Congress, which we're seeing them move, you know, rather quickly now. But it's still within their discretion.

So the notion that this is -- for Jeff Sessions, who is an immigration hardliner, this is, you know, a terrific opportunity for him to be just as draconian as he can be on the border.

CAMEROTA: Wes, they're putting her out, let's be honest, because she's a woman. Right? So that's like, "Oh, if a woman is OK with it, you know, she could be a mom somehow." You know, that's the messaging there.

But it doesn't work that she hasn't seen her own department's video.

GREGORY: Right.

CAMEROTA: So they're putting out the images that we see and even with those images, they're so troubling to everybody. But our cameras aren't allowed to go in and capture that audio. That was leaked audio. We're not allowed to go in and see what's happening, where the girls are, why we're only seeing men in cages. None of that is being explained.

And let's be honest, if they don't like catch and release -- and I understand why they wouldn't. That doesn't seem effective. A catch and release policy. There are other things that, certainly, could be done before separating infants and toddlers and adolescents and teenagers from their parents.

LOWERY: Of course. I mean, a few things. First and foremost being -- and this is not about partisan politics at all. As a journalist, as someone whose job it is to hold the government accountable, the idea that Customs and Border Patrol would put out images of children in cages, and then the head of the Department of Homeland Security, which runs Customs and Border Patrol, would go, "I haven't seen those images" that, ostensibly, she authorized the release of, is unacceptable.

This is not how government accountability works. Right? This is the person who's been put at the podium to explain what is going on. These are materials, again, that have been released by the government. This isn't independent images. We didn't stumble upon these ourselves. This is something that the government has released, and then the person who's ostensibly there to explain what is going on in those images goes, "I haven't even seen them. I don't know what's going on."

[06:25:16] Beyond that, it raises an obvious question: Are you so unconcerned by the children being held in cages that you didn't even look at the photos? I think that's remarkably stunning and comes across as callous; not tone deaf, but disinterested. And really disgusting.

And I think that's something that's frustrating for a lot of people, again, not based on any partisan lens, but just on a humanitarian lens, that anyone in our government would be so disinterested in what's going on that their answer would truly be, "I haven't even seen the photos that I released of these kids in cages."

BERMAN: Look, I want to remind you that Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, also said she has seen no evidence -- she hasn't seen the evidence that the Russians meddled in the election to help Donald Trump.

And she was also in the room when the president made those "blank- hole," "blank-hole" comments about immigrants, and she said she didn't hear them. So it may very well be that she lives in a remarkable bubble. Doesn't hear much or have access to the internet. That may be.

CAMEROTA: I'm sure it's not willful blindness.

BERMAN: That may be how she operates.

GREGORY: Also, it's -- the price of keeping your job in this cabinet is really, really high. And that's what the president demands of people who we read stories about the president excoriating her in meetings over the issues that are happening on the border. We know how he's treated Jeff Sessions. This is what it takes, apparently, to be able to hang in this cabinet.

CAMEROTA: All right. David Gregory, Wes Lowery, thank you both very much for all of the analysis.

BERMAN: Ahead, we're going to speak with Congressman Bob Goodlatte. He is behind one of the immigration bills that the House will vote on this week. Where does he think this is headed? What will he do to help these children who have been separated from their parents?

CAMEROTA: All right. We also need to talk about what will be affecting markets today. That is President Trump's new tariff threat against China. We are waiting and watching to see all of the ripple effect of this.

BERMAN: Markets are way down.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)