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White House Waffles Over Explanation for Policy to Separate Families; Trump Convinced Family Separations will Work in His Favor at Polls; Roger Stone Admits Meeting with Russians to Obtain Hillary 'Dirt'. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired June 19, 2018 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome to your NEW DAY. President Trump and his administration are defiant about their policy of separating children from their parents as the situation spirals into a humanitarian and political crisis. The White House is struggling to stick to one explanation for this new policy.

[07:00:17] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: As of this morning, some 2,000 children have been separated from their children at the border. Two thousand separated because, simply, the White House chose this. Yet, there is nothing simple in the White House explanation.


MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: Separating parents from children is not a policy that we want to pursue.


BERMAN: Not wanted? Two thousand children have been separated from their parents, because the White House chose this.




BERMAN: So, 2,000 children have been separated from their parents through what the White House says is a not wanted not policy. A not policy that, by the way, has been under consideration for well over a year.


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. They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents.


BERMAN: Considering separating children from their parents way back in March of 2017. But don't call it a policy. Also, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says don't call it a deterrent.


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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perhaps it's deterrence.



BERMAN: Offensive. How could anyone suggest separating 2,000 children from their parents would be a deterrent? How could anyone ever think that? Unless they listen to the attorney general.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Are you considering this a deterrent?

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I see that the fact that no one was being prosecuted for this as a factor in a five-fold increase in four years in this kind of illegal immigration. So, yes, hopefully people will get the message.


BERMAN: Sounds like the attorney general thinks it's a deterrent.

Also, it seems like the White House chief of staff thinks it might be, too. What gives it away is when he calls it a deterrent.


KELLY: A big name of the game is deterrence. If --

JOHN BURNETT, NPR: Family separation stands as a tough deterrent.

KELLY: Could be a tough deterrent. Would be a tough deterrent.


BERMAN: Two thousand children separated from their parents in what this White House insists is a not policy, not wanted, not deterrent. As if it happened by magic somehow or some higher power.


SESSIONS: I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans XIII to obey the laws of the government, because God ordained the government for his purposes.


BERMAN: The White House chose this. Not the Bible, not the Democrats. They can argue it's the right choice, even a necessary choice. Have at it. Defend it. Call it by its name.

You think the 2,000 kids looking for their parents right now care whether you call it a policy? This claim that it's a not wanted not- policy, not deterrent, and the president can't end it this second well, that's just not believable, not true and not honest. It's a lie.

CAMEROTA: Well, when you put it this way, it really all comes into focus, John Berman.

BERMAN: Look, have the debate. Have the debate about whether it's merited or not. But this bizarre mixed messaging and internal contradiction, it's maddening, and it's maddening on the backs of kids.

CAMEROTA: Well, President Trump thinks it's winning, and that's why we're going to bring in Jonathan Martin right now from "The New York Times," because he has new reporting that the president actually believes this will help turn out his base at the polls in the midterms. Jonathan Martin is one of the reporters behind this story.

J. Mart, great to see you.


CAMEROTA: Here's what this new piece says, "Forget tax cuts. Trump wants to rally GOP base over administration." What are the -- given that there's been this hue and cry from former Republican first ladies, from Republicans in Congress, what are the signs that President Trump is looking at that makes him think that this is a winning issue with the Republican voters?

MARTIN: Because he believes that the broader issue of a tough line on immigration is a political winner. I think the assumption is that he's not going to give in on this in the short term but that this will pass and that he can get back to the broader issue of driving a wedge between, you know, Democrats and the kind of broader electorate on immigration.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but how will this pass? I'm just curious. Like, this is getting worse each day as audio leaks out. How will this pass unless he does something?

MARTIN: Because he will do something. Because the coverage will get to the point where he will make some sort of accommodation to end the coverage or there will be some other larger issue that takes over the coverage. If you look at the last 18 months, that's kind of the rule of President Trump. There's always something bigger that takes over in the news cycle.

CAMEROTA: Some worse news story will happen that will suck the oxygen out of this one. [07:05:04] MARTIN: Correct. And look, I think his bet is that, if

you look at what happened in 2016 and him winning the presidency, he believes that that was, in part, because of his hardline on immigration. And he thinks that, if you paint Democrats as soft on illegal immigration and somehow abetting crime by illegal immigrants, that that's going to make it easier for Republicans to win in the mid- term elections.

The complication, Alisyn, is that this midterm is not that simple. A lot of the Senate races are being fought out in red America, where this immigration issue could play to their benefit.

It's more complicated in the House, though, because you've got a lot of districts that are either heavily suburban and affluent that don't like the kind of divisive demagoguing on immigration. And some of them are heavily Hispanic, where, for obvious reasons, that doesn't play as well, either.

CAMEROTA: Well, listen, there's also some other interesting data points that I want you to help us understand. So this new CNN poll shows that 58 percent of Republicans --

MARTIN: Right.

CAMEROTA: Agree with this change in policy that allows separating children from their parents.

MARTIN: Yes. Right.

CAMEROTA: Now, mind you, I mean, the way that it was phrased, the question was phrased, it was about, you know, if they're being criminally charged and sent to jail --

MARTIN: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- even if their children are with them. Do you agree with that?


CAMEROTA: So, I think that Republicans are saying, yes, they do agree with these parents being criminally charged.


CAMEROTA: But does that -- so, if you're banking on 58 percent of Republicans, does that win at the midterms or do you need to do others?

MARTIN: No, no, no, no. The short-term issue of the kids at the border, I think even the sort of most cynical people around don't think that that's a political winner for them.

The argument is that the bigger issue of immigration and a hardline and, frankly, a racially-divisive approach on immigration is more politically helpful. And that -- I think that they believe that the kid thing is not going to be a sort of long-term issue. There's no question that in the short-term, this is a problem for them.

But what is striking, and you mention that poll there, that even though the optics are terrible and even though independents overwhelmingly opposed the policy, you just showed it. A majority of Republicans still support the policy.

And that, I think, creates the challenge for President Trump. Is that, given these optics, given these images, given that recording yesterday that came out, I think that part of President Trump would be inclined today to change the policy. Perhaps he will. You never know.

But, if you look at that polling, and he has hardline folks telling this in his ear, a lot of people in the party like the policy. Don't bend. Don't give in yet, because a lot of folks like this policy.

If you look at FOX News, Rush Limbaugh yesterday, they are saying don't give in. This is a sort of Democratic/media concoction here.


MARTIN: And so I think that's part of the challenge.

CAMEROTA: It just turns everything on its head. You know, the old adage, as you know, James Carville used to be, "It's the economy, stupid." And so the idea that this incendiary moment of immigration would be more winning than tax cuts is just mind-blowing.

MARTIN: Well, that's where we are right now, because the assumption is that Democrats have an intensity advantage. And the polling does bear that out right now. And so the Republicans have to somehow match the intensity advantage.

And the challenge is that the tax-cut bill, while popular on the right, is not enough of a turnout lever. The base of the party needs something to come out, needs some kind of motivational force and that fear can be a powerful force. And so, that's why they think that the immigration issue could offer some kind of motivation to get the base of the party out.

CAMEROTA: That is really helpful. That is really helpful perspective. John Martin, thank you for sharing your reporting with us.

MARTIN: Thank you, guys. Appreciate it.


BERMAN: I'm so glad we had him on. I'm so glad we got a sense of that reporting, is to show what the president might be thinking. Why he thinks he has a winning fight here.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN political analyst David Gregory and CNN political commentator, former Republican congressman, Charlie Dent.

And Congressman, I want to start with you, because you were right in the middle of this. You've seen things like this play out. Will the president win here? Do you think he buckles?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't think the president is winning on this issue. I have to be completely candid about it.

Look, separating children from their families is not a political winner. And just to hear what Jonathan Martin had to say. You know, the politics of this -- I mean, simply driving the base out is not a solution. People want solutions on this issue.

And if you're a Republican member in a suburban district that's reasonably affluent -- in New Jersey, or Minnesota or even Texas -- this is not a winning issue for you. If you're a Republican member in a district with a large Hispanic population. And we have, you know, excellent members like Will Hurd and Carlos Curbelo and Jeff Denham leading the charge on the DACA issue. This can't help in their districts.

[07:10:03] So I don't get this calculation. Sure, in ruby-red districts in the Deep South, maybe this plays just fine, politically. But I'll tell you, where the rest of us live, where we have to actually persuade people, crossover voters, this is a disaster as a policy. Not to mention the morality of it, but the politics of this, I think, is just terrible.

They're going to be voting on two immigration bills today, neither of which will actually bring about a real solution. So, I mean, we're just talking about base politics here.

BERMAN: Can I say just one thing? It's admittedly a little unseemly to be talking about who wins and loses politically when you have children crying in cages?

CAMEROTA: Yes, except that that's what the calculus is.

BERMAN: Just so we put it in perspective and know what they're calculating in all this. Let's just play the sound of these children. This is ProPublica that recorded this. This was children at a detention center.






CAMEROTA: Hey, David Gregory, I mean, I think that John just sort of proved Jonathan Martin's point, which is this is an intense issue and to turn people out, you play the intensity card. I mean, I think that that's what Jonathan Martin was saying what the calculation is here.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'll go one further, and I think Jonathan Martin is absolutely right in a couple of respects. One, the intensity issue. Two, the calculation that this will pass.

I mean, we live in a media environment where the intensity of this coverage is white hot, as it's been for the past few days, likely will continue but will be displaced by something else. And this is a media-savvy president who will count on that.

The other piece is he wants to paint in broad brushstrokes, which is the more, you know, of an outcry that there is in the media, even on the Hill. He thinks, you know, all the better. Because this is kind of the elites and the establishment and the whiners complaining about a policy that they didn't fix, so they kicked the can down the road. And there's grains of truth in these broad brushstrokes about how ineffective Congress has been for way too long dealing with this fundamental problem. But, of course, it's just so cynical, on top of being immoral.

And the issue is, what Congressman Dent is getting at, I hope is the case. I hope there is a line that you cannot cross politically and survive. That the president has and his party now have so much baggage over immigration that it becomes too difficult. I'm just not persuaded that he's right on that.

You look at the polling among Demo -- I mean, among Republicans who are still 58 percent supportive of this policy, because the more you dehumanize immigrants, the more that we treat strangers as "the other" instead of saying that they are our neighbors and that we should love them, the easier it is for people to marginalize them as human beings and look at the issue and say, "Well, you know, you can't just allow lawlessness" when it doesn't make any sense that this is a deterrent.

Obviously, if someone is undertaking this perilous voyage with a child, knowing they could get caught or killed along the way, they've gone past the point of deterrence. They're doing it because they're fleeing violence in their family or in their community, or they want a better life in America. And there's a lot of incentive to pursue that.

BERMAN: Another thing. Just keep this in mind when we're talking about this passing as a political issue. We're going to speak to some child psychologists a little bit later. This will never pass for these children. This time of being separated, this moment of trauma that they have right now will affect them --

CAMEROTA: That sticks with them.

BERMAN: -- for the rest of their lives. So whatever the political calculation here, there are thousands of children who will have permanent impact.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, I wanted to ask you, because what would have happened -- when you were in Congress just a few weeks ago, if the president said, "Hey, this is Congress's fault. Not me. This new policy, only Congress can fix this. I can't pick up the phone."

All of these things are not true. This is his policy. His administration came up with this zero-tolerance policy of separating kids. What happens in Congress behind the scenes when the president starts saying things like that and casting blame on Congress?

DENT: Well, I think a lot of the members recognize that's just a bunch of bull. Let's face it. We know that. Separating the children from the parents is not something Congress has ordered. This is what the administration has ordered.

I think what -- where maybe the president does have a point is that Congress has not dealt with immigration effectively. And I think we've gotten to the point now in this country where we are just so -- we've become so tribal, so playing to the base that we know what the solutions are here on DACA. We have reasonable plans on DACA and border security. We know that we need to help stabilize Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, where the source of the problem of all these migrants is.

That's where we need to get together and come together as Republicans and Democrats, help try to solve the problem instead of just going to our bases.

[07:15:06] And look at this DACA issue that's happening right now. We -- there are going to be two bills that will be voted on, neither of which has a chance of becoming law. One is better than the other. But the point is, it's just about the messaging. Sending bills. There's no longer a sense of urgency to actually get a bill across the line to the president's desk to try to solve a problem.

If we're just going to be tribal, you know, this is only going to get worse. We're going to become more fractured, more polarized and, you know, we're going to continue to see these horrible images of children being separated.

BERMAN: Congressman, one last -- just -- I'm dying to know, the president is heading up to Capitol Hill today to meet with House Republicans behind closed doors. What's going to happen? Is anyone going to stand up to him in that room and say, "This has to stop"?

DENT: Oh, I am certain that there are going to be some members like the Will Hurds and the Jeff Denhams of the world, are going to stand up and say something about this. They -- they can't accept this. They believe strongly in these issues and getting to a solution.

And I know that the politics of this is just terrible in many of their districts. And I suspect many of the members in the suburban districts are going to stand up and say, you know, many women in our district, not just women, but women are particularly offended by what they're -- what they're witnessing in these affluent, suburban districts. I me something immoral about the whole thing that will force some members and compel them to speak up.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, David.

GREGORY: You talk about political tribalism. I mean, Congressman Dent understands there's no place of more tribalism than the U.S. House of Representatives. And that meeting will show that today.

And I do think there's an obligation, because, you know, that caucus is not necessarily going to come together unless Paul Ryan can show some leadership that he has not shown before that also eluded his predecessor, John Boehner, on important issues, to try to bring this caucus together.

What members do have to do is try to be an example by really being truth tellers. About what is truth and what is fearmongering in a way to dehumanize and scare people and the way Republicans did when president Bush tried this the second time talking about al Qaeda streaming across the southern border in the age of terror fears.

That's what's being done now instead of focusing on where Republicans and Democrats have gotten this wrong and where it can be fixed.

BERMAN: I will say the last time the president went up, the Republican senators were all upset about statements made about John McCain, none of them raised anything to the president then. So we'll see. We'll see if they take this up. We'll see if they confront them there.

Congressman Dent, David Gregory, great to have you with us.

Other big news happening overnight. It turns out that an adviser to the Trump campaign had a meeting with a Russian and then didn't answer questions about it in sworn testimony to the House. What happened there? The man in the middle of this all joins us next.


[07:21:57] BERMAN: Trump associate and adviser Roger Stone now admits he met a Russian who offered dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for $2 million. Stone and the Russian national, who goes by the name Henry Greenberg, were connected by Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign communications official. This meeting contradicts sworn testify before the House Intelligence Committee by both Stone and Caputo. Both men now claim it was all a set-up.

Joining us now is Michael Caputo, very much the man in the middle of it all.

Michael, always great to have you with us. Thanks so much for being here.

I want to take you back to the summer of 2017. This is after James Comey has been fired. This is in the middle of the Russia investigation frenzy. Everyone's talking about whether or not the Trump campaign had any contacts with Russia. It's on everyone's mind.

You go into the House Intelligence Committee. They ask you if you had any contacts with any Russians during the campaign. Your answer was no. That wasn't true. How did it slip your mind?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS OFFICIAL: First of all, my answer wasn't no. My answer, I went through a whole litany of contacts that I've had with Russians. My daughter is Russian. Many people in my family are Russian. People I work with in my business are Russian. I'm mostly in the entertainment business, but you know, when it comes down to it, the question that they asked me was, "Did any Russian offer you information about Hillary Clinton?" It was on that line of a question. My answer is, I don't recall, because --

BERMAN: That even seems more so. That even seems more likely, given where we were last summer, given the intense interest in Russian, given how everyone wanted to know if any Trump campaign official had contact with Russia, a Russian who offered dirt on Hillary Clinton. It slipped your mind?

CAPUTO: Absolutely. The FBI informant contacted me. I was on the phone with him for less than a minute. The whole conversation between me and Stone and him took about two minutes of my life in a very busy time.

So, I didn't recall it. I've updated my testimony with the House permanent select committee on intelligence. I fulfilled my obligation to the House of Representatives, and I face absolutely zero legal consequences for this.

I didn't recall it. Not remembering happens quite a lot. I'm sure that people want to talk about whether or not I remembered that day more than they want to talk about the fact that the man who came to me was a 17-year FBI informant.

BERMAN: We'll talk more about that in a little bit, just to be clear. The FBI, according to the "Washington Post," says there's no evidence -- or there is no evidence found that he worked as informant post-2013 or so. But again, we will come back to that, because I do want to give you a chance to address that.

CAPUTO: Right, I get that. I get that. But you know, at the same time, John, whether he took time off from a two-decade career as a life-long FBI informant to have lunch with someone on their own time. If you want to believe that, you can go ahead.

BERMAN: Look, again, we'll come back to this. You said you did not recall that you spoke to a Russian who offered dirt on Hillary Clinton. Yet, you followed up on that conversation. We have this text message exchange. You asked, "How crazy is the Russian?" to Roger Stone.

[06:25:04] Roger Stone says, "Wants big money for the info. Waste of time."

You say, "The Russian way. Anything at all interesting?"

Stone says no.

Again, so you had at least two back-and-forths, two interactions with Stone on this.

CAPUTO: Correct. Right. And I didn't recall them.

BERMAN: OK. CAPUTO: At least I didn't for the House of representatives. And when I was preparing for my testimony for the Senate and the Mueller team in early May, May 1 and 2, I was preparing in the late -- latter part of April.

During the rigorous process of preparing that, my attorney, you know, jogged my memory. As anything -- tiniest thing that ever happened. So I prepared, I changed my testimony book. The Senate didn't ask me a question where that would have been responsive. But the Mueller team did and I responded completely about this, which seemed to really disappoint them, because they knew far more about it than I did.

BERMAN: You were receptive when this Russian, when Henry Greenberg called you, receptive to the notion of receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton from this Russian?

CAPUTO: We were receptive in May of 2016. Nobody was talking about Russia. Nobody was alleging there were ties between the campaign and Russia. Our antenna didn't go up, because whether it was a French Canadian or a -- you know, a Hawaiian, we would have taken that call to see if it seemed to be credible.

BERMAN: OK. So nothing wrong --

CAPUTO: We found out very quickly that it wasn't.

BERMAN: Nothing wrong, in your mind, with having a meeting with a Russian promising dirt on Hillary Clinton?

CAPUTO: There's nothing wrong with having a meeting with -- with someone who's not representing a foreign government for dirt on Hillary Clinton.

BERMAN: It does seem as if, all these months later, a lot of people connected with the Trump campaign did have contacts with Russians, and a lot of them have forgotten about it. You forgot about this contact. Jeff Sessions, of course, forgot about all his conversations with George Papadopoulos and others, Kislyak the ambassador, on the issues of Russians.

And all of this follows this claim from President Trump, in that first news conference in the White House, that no one in his campaign, no one he knows had any contacts with Russians. Let's listen to what the president said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you bring any Russians to the campaign?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.


BERMAN: So you do acknowledge at this point that that statement by the president was not true?

CAPUTO: In my case, it wasn't. Because I -- you know, I'm in the business of working with Russians. I lived in Russia for many years. I have Russian family. But I don't think the president was referring to that. I think the president was referring in that statement to the Russian -- whether or not he was working with Russians in his business. But we can --

BERMAN: No, the context of that was campaign. Was the campaign. Did anyone in your campaign, anyone you know -- and that would definitely include Roger Stone -- have contacts with the Russians?

And the answer is, yes, they did. It turns out that Roger Stone did, you did, Donald Trump Jr. did, Paul Manafort did, Jared Kushner did. J.D. Gordon did. George Papadopoulos did. You go down this list, there were a lot of contacts with the Russians. At that point, that's just the fact, correct?

CAPUTO: It's also a fact that the Russian who called me was working for the FBI. So I don't know why we're concentrating just on whether I recalled something.

BERMAN: The Russian -- the Russian who called you had, according to the "Washington Post," had had a relationship with the FBI.

CAPUTO: Seventeen years.

BERMAN: Yes. In the "Washington Post" story -- in the "Washington Post" story --

CAPUTO: John, if you don't --

BERMAN: -- which I commend everyone to read and you acknowledge is a terrific, well-reported story, it does say this person did have contacts with the FBI. However, there is no proof that that relationship lasted past 2013. Even if it did --

CAPUTO: That's true.

BERMAN: Even if it did, you didn't know this person was an informant. You had a Russian calling you offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. Correct?

CAPUTO: Indeed. But at the same time, listen, you're talking about an event that -- a brief interaction that, where nothing illegal took place and nothing was exchanged and had absolutely zero impact on the House investigation. Zero.

But at the same time, you don't want to talk about the fact that we were approached by an FBI informant. And we know that FBI informants were trying to get at the campaign at that time.

BERMAN: We did. We just did talk about it. We just did talk about it. We are talking about it. You're talking about it right now.

CAPUTO: Let me tell you, John, give me a second here to tell you why -- we don't have any proof that the Russian was working for the FBI that day. We also don't have any proof that he wasn't.

We do have proof that he worked for the FBI for 17 years, John. We also have proof that the FBI deported him in 2000 and then welcomed him back in the country after committing violent crimes and being arrested and tried and found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon in Los Angeles.

BERMAN: This is all in the article.

CAPUTO: I'm almost done, John.

BERMAN: Go ahead.

CAPUTO: I'm almost done, John.

At the end of the day, why is this violent criminal Russian FBI agent still in the country today if he was only in the country at the behest of the FBI? I think it defies credulity, and I think we need to find out, true or false, whether he was working for the FBI that day, like he was for 17 years.

BERMAN: There is -- there is no evidence that he worked for the FBI past 2013, just to be clear. No evidence he --