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President Trump Bows to Pressure, Reverses Family Separation Policy. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 20, 2018 - 15:00   ET




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are very strong at the border. We're very strong on security. We want security for our company. The Republicans want security and insist on security for our country.

And we will have that at the same time we have compassion. We want to keep families together. It's very important. I will be signing something in a little while that is going to do that.

And the people in this room want to do that. And they're working on various pieces of legislation to get it done. But I will be doing something that is somewhat preemptive, but ultimately will be matched by legislation, I'm sure.

We are having a lot of problems with Democrats. They don't want to vote for anything. They don't want to care about lack of security. They really would like to have open borders, where anybody in the world can just flow in, including from the Middle East, from anybody, anywhere. They can just flow into our country.

Tremendous problems with that, tremendous crime caused by that. We're just not going to do it.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: But let's back it up here. Why now? Why not yesterday? Why not last month? Why not thousands of children ago?

For weeks, the president and his administration insisted his hands were tied, inaccurately blaming Democrats and saying it was up to Congress to end the crisis.


TRUMP: We can't do it through an executive order.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Until these loopholes are closed by Congress, it is not possible as a matter of law to detain and remove whole family units who arrive illegally in the United States. Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can

fix it.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's Congress' job to change the law. We're calling on them to do exactly that.


BALDWIN: So, that was all a lie, because we now know that the president is, in fact, going to act alone, can act alone, sign this executive order without Congress.

Jake Tapper is here, our host of "THE LEAD" and CNN's chief Washington correspondent.

This shift with the administration, he will sign at some point today this executive order. What happened?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the pressure was mounting.

Yesterday afternoon and evening, it really reached an unsupportable category. You had Senate Republicans coming out and saying unanimously they oppose this. Obviously, Republicans are facing headwinds going into the midterms anyway. This isn't helping.

Two-thirds of the American people, according to CNN's polling, oppose this policy. You had, according to our reporting, Melania Trump lobbying against it, the first lady. According to president, you had Ivanka Trump raising objections to it.

So I just think it was unsustainable, not to mention, of course, as you have noted and as we've all been noted, they kept lying about it. First they said it wasn't a new policy. They denied it existed. Then they said it existed, but there's nothing they could do about it because of Democrats, it was Democrat's fault.

Not true. Then they said they were trying to defend it by leaning on Scripture. I mean, there were just so many falsehoods about it.

Now, there is an issue here in terms of how long you can keep these undocumented children detained. According to this consent decree, this order by a judge, you cannot keep them detained for longer than three weeks.

BALDWIN: The Flores Settlement decree.

TAPPER: Right.


TAPPER: So if you are going to detain families together, which is what the president says this executive order will do, the question is, how long can you detain them?

Because according to Flores, you can't detain them for longer than three weeks because have you children there.

BALDWIN: Did you read what the former President Barack Obama posted on Facebook?


BALDWIN: Just today being World Refugee Day and he talked about people coming over this country, crossing the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Rio Grande. What were your thoughts?

TAPPER: Well, you have right that quote.

"Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents' arms, or are we a nation that values families and works to keep them together?"

Says it all in terms of at least one of the things that was motivating President Trump on World Refugee Day. I think that it is very difficult for the Democratic Party right now. They don't have a leader. And there has obviously been a decision made by congressional Democratic leaders to get out of the way and let Republicans do all their work for them.

And so there are a lot of people urging President Obama, we need your voice, we need your voice. And he is very reluctant to do that. That is something, his basically making the argument. You know how he would answer that argument, which is, we are the latter group, we are not the former group.


We will see you at the top of the hour.



But just one note. Think about the fact -- what Laura Bush did is more outspoken than what Barack Obama did. Laura Bush directly addressed this issue.

BALDWIN: And then it was President Obama's wife who, before President Obama, then put this out on Facebook, re-upped and agreed with Laura Bush.

TAPPER: Right.

BALDWIN: Right. And now have you the statement from President Obama.

TAPPER: But his is still cast in terms of theoretical terms.


BALDWIN: Which is very --

TAPPER: Obama. BALDWIN: President Obama.



Jake, thank you. We will see you at the top of the hour.

TAPPER: Thank you so much.

BALDWIN: And a reminder.

His new -- his "New York Times" bestselling novel, "The Hellfire Club," is out.


TAPPER: Have you read it yet? Have you read it yet?

BALDWIN: I have it in my office. I have it in my office. I just finished "All the Light We Cannot See."

I have been on this World War II kick.

TAPPER: You haven't read it yet?

BALDWIN: I'm moving on. I'm moving on to your book.

TAPPER: Well, the main character in the book is a World War II veteran.

BALDWIN: Well, then you're fitting with the theme of my summer reading.

TAPPER: There you go.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much.


BALDWIN: Jake Tapper. Appreciate it very much.

TAPPER: There you go.


While we wait for the president to sign this executive order on the border, the crisis is worsening. New reports of hundreds of young children, babies, toddlers being separated them their parents, the administration is calling them tender-age shelters, three facilities in Texas housing hundreds of children, babies, toddlers all younger than the age of 13.

Although certainly tender is a tough word to use in the context of small children crying for their parents, listen to how the Texas Congressman and Democrat Filemon Vela described one of these tender- age shelters.


REP. FILEMON VELA (D), TEXAS: There are 80 children is this facility. It's a former hospital. And these children are being well taken care of,.

It's not an ideal situation because they're not with their parents. But in this facility are children under the age of 10, with a few exceptions. Some others who are teenagers who have born children.

But they are -- in one room, there are four infants under the age of 1, two with their teenage parents, and two who are alone, one who was separated from her sister. Their mother had died at some point in the process. And the other whom we were told was separated from her mother.


BALDWIN: While some are being held in shelters like that, others are being transported across the country and turned over to foster care groups like Bethany Christian Services.

And the CEO of that group, Chris Palusky, joins me now.

Chris, thank you so much for being on.

I was reading a bit about what your group was doing just in the last 24 hours. And I just want to start with you. Tell me -- tell me about the children who come to you. How old are they?


So, we have seen kids come to us from 8 months old up until their later teens. The situation has been going on for some time now, since 2014. Historically, the ages were around 12, 13, 14. Right now, the average age that we haven't in care is 7 years old.

BALDWIN: So since 2014, have you noticed, though, an increase in numbers in the last little while?

PALUSKY: Oh, in the past six weeks, I mean, we have seen --


PALUSKY: -- the number increase. We have -- it's outstripped demand.

So what we believe, first of all, is that the families should always stay together. And we want families to be able to stay together. If families are taking apart, we believe that those kids should be in a loving family.


BALDWIN: Sure. But if that's not the case?

PALUSKY: I'm sorry?

BALDWIN: But if that's not the case, right, you -- out of the goodness of your own heart, and your organization have been matching some of these kids with foster families until they hopefully are reunited with their parents.

How do you match them? How far away from home are they going?

PALUSKY: So, obviously, people have crossed from the Mexican border, typically. We do have homes in the state of Michigan and in Maryland, and we have 99 beds. So it's not like we have tens of thousands. But we have got 99 beds, basically families that have stepped up to say, we want to do foster care with the most vulnerable.

And we believe those are the most vulnerable. And people are stepping up to take care of them.

BALDWIN: And as people are stepping up -- just be honest with me -- how tough is this for these kids to be plopped into homes, where perhaps they don't speak the language, or how traumatic is this for some of the little ones?

PALUSKY: So, it's -- to say it's very traumatic is an understatement.

I mean, remember where people are coming from. So, it's like Honduras. They have made the trip from Honduras. They were coming from a terrible six. There are a lot of gangs that rule in Honduras. People are coming from places where they had to pay extortion money or maybe kids were taken into gangs.

So they were fleeing, fleeing for their lives in many cases. Then they went across Latin America, in Mexico, where they had to pay some of the people to smuggle them across the country. We have heard stories about girls being raped.

So, again, there is a second stage of trauma. And then they reached the U.S. border. They were split from their family. So you have got these kids who have been split from their family, not understanding what is going on. And they have been put into a family, which we believe is much better than a shelter.

We really believe that they should not be put into these camps. But we have found loving families that we have actually trained, worked with, helped with psychosocial care. We also provide psychosocial care for the kids.

And so it's not easy for the kids. Again, this is like the worst case imaginable. I have a hard time with seeing the difference between where they're coming from in South Sudan, where militias rule the lands, and a place like Honduras, where gangs rule the lands.

So, they come from very similar situations. They are all facing trauma. And the people who are stepping up to take care of these kids are saints, in my mind.

[15:10:03] BALDWIN: And just quickly, what do you think of the news from the president, that he is now saying, OK, let's just at least detain -- I will no longer -- I will sign this executive order, I'm not separating the kids from their parents, but detaining them altogether?

You have thoughts on that?

PALUSKY: So, we would love to see families stay together.

We want to see families stay together. I would love to see what the president is going to sign. I think we are still trying to figure out what that is going to look like.

But it's not OK for families that are seeking asylum to, first of all, be separated. But if they're allowed to stay together, there is a more humane process than sticking people in camps.

So what we hope to see is that there is a more humane process. We have actually managed programs with people seeking asylum that were not in camps that had come to the U.S. that were very successful.

I mean, people went through the process. They showed up. They didn't just -- quote -- "disappear," which we keep on hearing. They actually showed up and they went through this process.

So there's a much more humane way of dealing with it. And we hope whatever the president's signing will take that approach.

BALDWIN: Humane, that's the word I keep hearing from you.

Chris Palusky, CEO of Bethany Christian Services, Chris, thank you.

PALUSKY: Thank you.

BALDWIN: How long can the president's discourse go? The president's former campaign manager mocks the story of a disabled girl separated from her parents. And now Corey Lewandowski is defending it.

Plus, President Trump's former personal attorney says he may be willing to give up information about the president, this as Michael Cohen faces potential criminal charges in New York. We will discuss his legal strategy.

You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.




TRUMP: Thank you very much.

We're signing an executive order. I consider it to be a very important executive order. It's about keeping families together, while, at the same time, being sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border. And border security will be equal, if not greater than previously.

So we're going to have strong, very strong borders, but we're going to keep the families together.

I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated. This is a problem that's gone on for many years, as you know, through many administrations. And we're working very hoard on immigration.

It's been just left out in the cold. People haven't dealt with it. And we are dealing with it. So, step by step, just like we dealt with North Korea, we dealt with Iran, we dealt with an economy that was heading in the wrong direction, we dealt with a lot of different problems, this is one that has been gone on more many decades.

So we're keeping families together. And this will solve that problem. At the same, we are keeping a very powerful border. And it continues to be a zero tolerance.

We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.

With that, I would ask Mike Pence, vice president, if he'd like to say anything.


And I think what the president has made clear is, we believe it's a false choice between whether we are a country of law and order, a country with borders, and a country that demonstrates the compassion and the heart of the American people and respect for families.

By taking this action, the president will make it possible for us to continue to engage in enforcing the law against individuals who violate our law, come into our country illegally. But now we will be able in that prosecution in the immediate days forward to keep families together as that goes forward.

But we are calling on Congress to change the laws in this regard and in a broad range of areas that will secure our borders and give us strength and confidence that we are once again going to take the steps necessary to end the crisis of illegal immigration in America.

TRUMP: I think the word compassion comes into it. But it's still equally as tough, if not tougher.

Secretary Nielsen, would you like to say something?

NIELSEN: I just thank you for your leadership, sir. We look forward and expect the House to act this week. We ask them to do their job.

The laws need to be changed. This is a problem that president after president has dealt with for decades. This one is willing to stand up and fix it. We ask Congress to do their part.

Thank you, sir, for your leadership.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Great job.

OK. You are going to have a lot of happy people.


TRUMP: This has been going on for 60 years, 60 years. Nobody's taken care of it. Nobody's had the political courage to take care of it. But we're going to take care of it. It's been going on -- it's been going on for a long time.

QUESTION: Do you think you're backing down? Critics have --


TRUMP: No, no, the border is just as tough. But we do want to keep the families together. This is a problem.

If you look at some of those horrible scenes from a few years ago, to me, they were horrible scenes. They were just terrible. And that was during the Obama administration. Other administrations have had the same thing.

We're keeping the family together. And so this is it.

And, also, there may be litigation. We're also wanting to go through Congress. We will be going through Congress. We are working on a much more comprehensive bill.

A lot of good things are happening toward immigration and proper immigration. But we have to have strong borders. And, ultimately, we want to see it done right. And it will be done right.

But what we have done today is, we are keeping families together. The borders are just as tough, just as strong. They can come in through ports of entry, if they want. That's a whole different story. And that's coming in through a process. And the process is what we want.


So, I want to thank you all very much. I think this is something that --


TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. We will get the wall. We will get the wall done. We will get the wall.


QUESTION: Did Ivanka Trump show you photos of the children being separated from their --


TRUMP: No, Ivanka feels very strongly. My wife feels very strongly about it. I feel very strongly about it. I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it. We

don't like to see families separated. At the same time, we don't want people coming into our country illegally. This takes care of the problem.

Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.


TRUMP: Thank you very much.

Thank you very much, Kaitlan (ph).


TRUMP: You are doing a great job.



TRUMP: Thank you.




So, there you have it, the president there sitting in the Oval. He has officially signed this executive order keeping families together.

But let me just be totally transparent with you and say we really didn't get a heads-up on what would be in the substance of this executive order. What exactly does this mean? Does this affect the zero tolerance policy? What exactly happens to all these families and children?

So, we don't entirely know yet.

So, just that said, let's work with what we do know.

Carrie Cordero is with me, our CNN legal analyst, and Gloria Borger is back, our chief political analyst.

Just -- just being real with everyone. We don't know a ton.


BALDWIN: But Carrie, to you, we don't know what's in this. When we were talking, when we were watching the tape, you were saying he didn't actually need to sign an executive order.

What do you mean by that?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's exactly right. So, first of all, we haven't read the order yet. But the president did not need to sign any executive order in order to end the crisis that's taking place right now, which is children being separated from their families, young children being separated from their families.

He didn't need to do that.


BALDWIN: He could have just said --

CORDERO: The reason that that situation has emerged over the last couple months and came to a crisis situation is because the attorney general directed that 100 percent of misdemeanor illegal entry cases be prosecuted.

The result of that was that, because those parents were then put into criminal prosecution realm, the children were separated as a practical matter.

I think that this entire thing happened because there was no actual policy for how the Border Patrol was supposed to handle the families, for whether or not it was even legal to take children from their parents.

And so now what the president has done is, he's signed an order. And we will see what's in it. It may allow the children to stay with the parents for some period of time. But there also are other restrictions on how long families are allowed to be detained.

BALDWIN: There are restrictions that we're all starting to talk about.

And I know a lot of lawyers know a lot about this Flores Settlement decree. But I understand there is sort of this 20-day cutoff. And at what point -- this could be challenged?

BORGER: Sure. It could be challenged in court. I'm not a lawyer. You are.

CORDERO: And so what I think -- part of the difficulty, I think, of the last -- of the recent scenario was that because there was no written policy, and particularly because the secretary of homeland secretary stood up and said there was new policy -- no policy and played the semantic game, as if there wasn't some kind of policy --

BORGER: Right.

CORDERO: -- that actually made a legal challenge difficult, because there was no document to challenge.

So, if you take, for example, the travel ban --


CORDERO: -- there was a sloppily drafted executive order that then lawyers and advocates could say, here's all the things that are wrong with it.

Now that's what advocates are going to be able to do with whatever document was drafted in a day.

BORGER: But let's be clear about this.


BORGER: This was a crisis of their own making.


BORGER: This was adhocism at its very worst.

They did not --

BALDWIN: Didn't anticipate this national outcry.

BORGER: And it's sort of zero tolerance policy, we're going to be tough, we're going to be strong, we're going to use it to negotiate with Congress, so we can get our wall and we can get everything we want.

BALDWIN: As leverage.

BORGER: And it backfired on them in a huge, public, disgraceful way. Disgraceful.

BALDWIN: So why is Kirstjen Nielsen standing there, the homeland security secretary, and saying, ask Congress to do their jobs?

This -- again, first of all, it's a Republican majority in Congress, A, but, B, it's not about Congress doing their jobs? Is it not about -- like, back to your original point, the president could end this today.

CORDERO: She's still playing this semantic game.



CORDERO: This is because they have a legislative agenda. And it is absolutely an abomination to use children to achieve a legislative agenda.

And that's what she's doing. And she did it the other day when she stood at the White House podium. And she is obviously continuing to take that tack.

The attorney general -- the reason this happened is, the attorney general issued a memorandum to the U.S. attorneys, who are the ones who actually prosecute these cases. I was a special assistant in Dallas many, many, many years ago.

These kinds of cases in the Southwest were not prosecuted, because the U.S. attorneys were focused on real criminals.



CORDERO: They have limited resources. They don't really want to prosecute first-time illegal entry cases, if there is no other criminal aspect of the individual.

And so to separate the children and then create this crisis situation, this all happened because the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department did not actually do their work in advance, as a policy matter, and put in place how they were actually going to implement this new policy.

BORGER: Well, because this was all about showing muscle. This was all about, we're going to be tough, and we're going to be so tough, tougher than anybody else has ever been. And we're going to use this as a negotiating ploy, as a way to get Congress to also be tough.

But thinking through this policy and to how it would affect these children and how they would house these children and where they would house these children and how they would be separated from their parents, and what the public outcry would be --

BALDWIN: They did not anticipate.

BORGER: They did not anticipate.

They were just looking at what they thought would be leverage for them. And, in fact, it wasn't. Turned out to be the opposite.

CORDERO: And they didn't do any of the work.

You know, governing is hard. I worked for administrations of both parties. Implementing new initiatives, serious executive orders, this is hard work. It's usually something that takes months of interagency work and White House lawyering and all the agencies involved. And it takes a lot of work.

And they just think that they can throw something out there and give a direction, and that it's actually going to work. But it affects people.

BALDWIN: But, just so I'm clear, to your point -- and it was under -- back in the day for you in Dallas, but it was under Bush, and it was also under Obama, where if you were a first-time legal crosser, right, you were -- you were not prosecuted and put in these detention centers, such as we're seeing?

And that's why we're seeing the numbers that we are. But when we're talking about this, when you talk with the A.G. and the zero tolerance policy that went into effect April-May, where every single person crossing, is that still in effect? They're going to stop everyone still? It's just a matter of putting the parents with the kids this time? CORDERO: Well, we will see what this order says.


BALDWIN: That's what we don't know.

CORDERO: But that's one of the big questions --


BORGER: But Trump will say -- he will then be able say, I have not changed my policy.

But what he will say is, but I also didn't want to wait for Congress to act, because you know how slow those people are.


BORGER: So what I'm doing is this temporarily, until we see Congress do the right thing.

But, this way, the president in a way believes he can have his cake and eat it too, because he doesn't have to say, well, I reversed myself, I made a mistake, zero tolerance was a problem.

BALDWIN: Got it. Welcome to Washington, ladies.


BALDWIN: Carrie and Gloria, thank you.

BORGER: No, you welcome to Washington.

BALDWIN: I know. Here I am, and this is how they roll.

We will wait to get more reporting on exactly what -- the substance in that executive order. But, for now, ladies, thank you so much for going through that with me.


BALDWIN: Coming up next, we will talk about how low the discourse has become over this issue, everything from mocking a disabled child to a Republican candidate comparing the cries of those children along the border to the cries at day care.

Stand by.