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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview with Jeh Johnson; First Lady Makes Unannounced Trips to Texas; Court Docs: Immigrant Kids Were Abused In Detention; Trump Says He's Considering Meeting Putin Next Month. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 21, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY UNDER PRES. OBAMA: And so, I encouraged Tom Homan and Kevin McAleenan them to bring us the various options.

[16:30:04] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And one idea was separate -- prosecute everyone, separate kids from their parents and you didn't do it. Why?

JOHNSON: First of all, I didn't believe it was right. I spent enough time on the border myself talking to parents, kids and it's not something that I could envision ever doing, pulling a child away from its mother. When you get to the border, you literally see mothers clinging to their children who have carried them all the way from Central America.

So, it's not something I could do. It's not something I could ask a border patrol agent or an immigration enforcement person to do, and it's not something I could float as a deterrent.

TAPPER: So, now, Secretary Nielsen has to, or the secretary of the health and human services, whoever, somebody has to bring these kids back to their parents. That's what the administration says it's going to do. It's what Ivanka Trump is tweeting should happen, Melania Trump is saying.

How do you do that? I mean, do they --

JOHNSON: That's a good question.

TAPPER: Do they have a record of this kid is there and this kid is there and their parents are here and here? Do they know where everybody is?

JOHNSON: I don't know the answer to that question, Jake, because this policy was put in place in such a hurry, it's already apparent that not all of the angles and implications were thought through before the attorney general announced this zero tolerance policy. I agree that the government here has some obligation to try to reunite the children from their parents. How they're going to do that I couldn't really tell you because it's not something we had to deal with in the prior administration.

TAPPER: And what you had to deal with was a huge humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children, tens of thousands, crossing the border.

JOHNSON: And families.

TAPPER: And families and, of course, the continued undocumented immigration, illegal immigration crisis.

JOHNSON: Yes.

TAPPER: I want to ask you, because there was a Senate report in January 2016 and also an ACLU report in May of this year saying that a number of these children unaccompanied children were either released into the hands of human traffickers because of incompetence by the Obama administration or abused by Custom and Border Patrol agents.

Did you know about reports like that when you were secretary?

JOHNSON: I am aware of the recent ACLU report. There was similar set of allegations while I was in office. I directed our inspector general to investigate them and I recall that most of the allegations came back unsubstantiated if not all of them, but clearly, these are very serious allegations and they deserve to be treated seriously.

And I hope that the current DHS is taking another look at investigating these allegations to see whether there's any type of pattern of abuse that needs to be addressed current day, certainly.

TAPPER: Well, I appreciate your coming here because we can't get the current secretary of Department of Homeland Security here and I appreciate the predecessor coming in and answering some of these tough questions. Secretary Jeh Johnson, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: Thanks.

TAPPER: First Lady Melania Trump going to Texas to visit children in shelters. So, why is everybody talking about what she wore on the way there?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:05] TAPPER: During an unannounced visit to a detention facility for migrant children in McAllen, Texas, today, First Lady Melania Trump thanked volunteers, talked to children through a translator, shook hands with some of them, told them to be nice to each other. She also asked doctors and facility owners about the physical and mental states of the children.

The first lady's office is pushing back against reporters who asked about the first lady's jacket of choice as she boarded Air Force One headed for Texas today. The jacket said on the back: I really don't care. Do you?

The first lady's communications director told CNN, quote: It's a jacket. There was no hidden message. After today's important visit to Texas, I hope the media isn't going to choose to focus on her wardrobe, unquote.

To which the ACLU responded, quote, OK, we'll focus on how the administration has no plan to reunite the thousands of children it separated instead, unquote.

My panel is here with me.

Nia?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes.

TAPPER: The jacket, thoughts?

HENDERSON: You know, why? You know why does she wear this jacket? It doesn't -- I mean, it was raining today. You imagine she could have used an umbrella.

Here's a trip they designed to in part be about the projection of compassion, right? It was about the cameras being there. They had a press pool with them. They knew the cameras would be there. So, the idea that what she is wearing and this sort of image she's projecting with her clothes doesn't matter, I just don't think it really passes the smell test here.

I'm sure she has lots of jackets. It's $39 jacket from Zara from 2016. It's like an old, old jacket. So --

TAPPER: 2016 is old, old?

HENDERSON: In terms of -- for Melania Trump, $1,000 jacket.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER COLUMNIST: Stylish lady and the course of being first lady, I believe she has worn dozens of different coats. And many of them are beautiful.

HENDERSON: This one is not.

ANDERSON: This one is not. I just -- this White House has an incredible ability to take something good that has happened and convert it into something that is a bad story for them. Whether it's last week, a really good news cycle for them coming out of the summit in North Korea, the president's numbers looking good, economy is looking good, and suddenly, you decide to implement this policy that's going to take children away from their parents and create a nightmare.

Similarly, at a smaller scale, you have a great story today of the first lady going down, showing compassion for these children and yet you have this jacket. Why did no one say, maybe pick one of your other beautiful coats, Melania? I just don't understand.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Maybe it's a moment of true candor of her. The administration doesn't care about the kids or --

TAPPER: Do you think Melania Trump really doesn't care about these kids? Melania Trump, who went down there today, you think --

TANDEN: I'm not saying she doesn't. Maybe she's just telegraphing for the world the reality of what's going on because she's living with Donald Trump, who as she's going to the border is attacking Democrats and still talking about immigrants as if they're all gang members.

[16:40:00] So, at the end of the day, the reality is this White House has not seen these children as human beings and that is why we have the policy we have and I'm glad there's an uproar in America but the only reason why Melania went down there or Ivanka is tweeting is because there is a public backlash. Not because they cared about these kids a week ago, two weeks ago or a month ago.

TAPPER: Or when the policy was implemented in April. We keep talking about the Ivanka tweet. Let me put it up there.

Ivanka Trump, adviser to the president, also his daughter, of course, wrote: Now that an executive order has been signed ending family separation at the border, it is time to focus on swiftly and safely reuniting the families that have been separated.

HENDERSON: Yes, is that a message to Ivanka Trump, herself? I mean, someone who works in the White House and can do something, right? I mean, I don't know why she is tweeting about --

TAPPER: Theoretically, she could say -- I'm going to supervise this and make sure --

HENDERSON: I can the head in the face of this. I'm going to coordinate the calling of, you know, DHS and getting everybody together in terms of making this happen. I mean, this happened six weeks ago. I think this might be her first or second tweet on it. I mean, she hasn't been out front on this in any way, shape or form, and she works at the White House.

TANDEN: I mean, just to be completely cynical about this, it's like she tweets just as they think that there's a slight shift in policy. Trump said something. Donald Trump said something.

We still have no idea. They have no idea how to unite these parents. This is -- but these tweets are really just a PR stunt for how the country will see her as the softer side of this horrendous policy. It's a sign that the policy is so overwhelmingly unpopular that she's willing to tweet about it now.

But the most important question is, where was she a week ago or two weeks ago or a month ago?

TAPPER: So, here's the thing. Let's put up the tweet again if we can. I just want to show people this. So, now that the executive order has been signed blah blah blah, it is time to focus on reuniting the families. It is not we are going to now.

There is a weird detachment as if she is not one of the most powerful people in this administration. ANDERSON: Well, I think Ivanka Trump would like to be a very

important figure in American politics and life for a very long time. I think she's seeing all the same polls that we are seeing which is that this is a policy that was deeply unpopular outside of her father's very ardent base.

And I think she understands whether it's this policy or other policies in the past, where stories have leaked to the media, Ivanka and Jared are very troubled by the president's policy on transgender kids and bathrooms, Ivanka and Jared are very concerned about the president's decision on climate change.

I think she sees where younger Americans are at on a lot of issues and wants to try to preserve her brand so that a few decades from now, she can continue to be a prominent figure in American politics.

TANDEN: I mean, I'm sorry. This is just gross. Can I just say it's gross?

TAPPER: You just did.

TANDEN: Like we're talking about it being like a PR message and her brand and all this stuff.

I mean, at the end of the day, this is a woman that talked about caring about children, during the campaign, after the campaign, she said she was a champion of women and kids, day after day, week after week, month after month. She is part of a White House that has designed a policy to rip children from their parents. And she's tweeting about it now when it's PR disaster.

TAPPER: Says it's time to focus on reuniting them.

HENDERSON: Yes.

TANDEN: It's outrageous. And she should -- we should all reject it as disgusting.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about. Some shocking allegations of what some of these children are facing, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] TAPPER: Heartbreaking pictures and audio of children ripped from their families at the southern border have drawn outrage across the nation, but for years including under President Obama and continuing under President Trump kids who cross the border illegally have been held in government facilities. And now CNN Drew Griffin is learning about some shocking new allegations about the way kids in some of those facilities have been treated from forced drug injections to physical abuse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Outlined in court filings, inspection reports, and witness statements, the allegations range from unsanitary conditions to unairconditioned rooms in hot Texas summers and dosing children with mood changing drugs allegedly disguised as vitamins at the nonprofit Shiloh Treatment Center in Manvel, Texas, legal filings "immigrant children being held down for injections, given multiple psychotropic medications against their will, some not even approved for use in children. In one case a boy was simultaneously placed on six psychotropic drugs and an independent psychologist found the boy had been misdiagnosed with psychotic disorder though he didn't have any symptoms.

Another child 13 from El Salvador said in a witness statement, I did not want the injection. Two staff grabbed me and the doctor gave me the injection despite my objection and left me there on the bed. In other cases it's alleged children were forced to take pills that staffers called vitamins, given to them without their or their parents' consent. An 11-year-old girl said she was forced to take ten pills a day saying I would rather go back to Honduras and live on the streets than be at Shiloh. Shiloh would not comment. 2014 Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee called for the state to order the closure of the Shiloh Treatment Center but it's still open and migrant children are still being sent there.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: If we have children endangered in the federal government custody, it is our responsibility to immediately begin investigations.

[16:50:06] GRIFFIN: At the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Virginia which holds teens accused of being violent. One child wrote of physically being restrained and physically abused by staffers. They handcuffed me and put a white bag on to my head. They took off all my clothes and put me into a restraint chair. They left me naked and attached to that chair for two and a half days. This punishment chair was described in at least five other declarations from children. Shenandoah would not comment to CNN but in court documents denied any assault of residence but did acknowledge staffers use an emergency restraint chair as the last step of progressive response to aggressive behavior. Some of the complaints and allegations stem from a long- running lawsuit challenging the legality of the U.S. locking up or detaining any underaged undocumented minors.

NEHA DESAI, SENIOR ATTORNEY, NATIONAL CENTER FOR YOUTH LAW: The care they receive is shocking. What we have witnessed shocked my conscience and I have to repeatedly remind myself that this is actually happening in our country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: Jake, Virginia's governor just weighed in on this. Shenandoah is in his state, of course, he is ordering Commonwealth Officials to investigate these claims. And we should point out, Jake, that while most of the problems cited at Shenandoah and other facilities took place before the Trump Administration's zero-tolerance policy, these activist lawyers say that policy is putting an extra strain on an already flawed system. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Drew Griffin, thank you so much. It may be one of those controversial and highly anticipated meetings of the Trump presidency. The world leader with whom President Trump may be getting ready to meet. Who is it? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: One of the most talked-about meetings with a Russian maybe in the works today. Today President Trump says he's considering meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month, a meeting that could happen when he travels to Vienna for the upcoming NATO Summit. Let's bring back the panel. Kristen, let me start with you. What do you make of this, optimistic, you're excited about this?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I don't feel like there's anything good that can come out of it for the United States. There's very little that Russia has to offer that the United States wants besides stop misbehaving horribly in Europe, stop trying to separate us from our allies, stop creating mischief. So besides going in with a tough stance and telling Vladimir Putin, he needs to knock it off in a more forceful way. Perhaps even then-President Obama when he supposedly said to knock it off with the interference in the American election, I don't think that Donald Trump is looking to go talk to Vladimir Putin and tell him to knock it off on much of anything. He views Vladimir Putin as in some ways a kindred spirit with a similar view of how to run a country and inspire your people and to be tough on the international stage, and that kind of thing absolutely terrifies me.

TAPPER: Why even meet with Putin? I mean, he's still attempting to interfere in the elections according to Trump Administration officials.

HENDERSON: You know, well, Trump -- you know, he's talked with Putin before and you know, talked about the whole idea of meddling and at some point I guess Putin said, no I didn't do it and Donald Trump essentially said you know, he believes him. I mean, he sort of walks that back. I mean, Trump has long harbored you know, kind of fascination for Donald Trump -- for Putin even going back to before he was president, he talked about maybe being best friends with Putin. And if you look at polls, Americans think that Putin is the leader that this president is closest to, something like you know, a quarter of Americans out of it. You know, a list Putin comes up first, not May, not Trudeau, not Macon, so it's not surprising. We'll see what comes out of this meeting. You've seen sort of the elevation of figures like Putin and figures like KJU you know, over the last five years.

TANDEN: I mean this is just a week after Donald Trump had a disastrous meeting with the G7 in which he attacked our allies, he attacked Germany earlier this week. He's planning to do this around the NATO summit. It's really a slap in the face to NATO which is designed to defend against Russia. You know, I think we could have a positive spin on this or say you know he just really likes them but at the end of the day, Russia -- Mueller has already found that Russia -- Russian actors had a campaign to help Donald Trump get elected, our I.C. Intelligence Community said the same thing. You know, I think you could be like maybe this is the thank you tour. TAPPER: When it comes to how the public views President Trump on his

handling of foreign policy, a new CNN poll shows that 53 percent of the public disapproves with how the President is handling foreign affairs, 39 percent approve. He obviously sparks division here at home with a lot of the issues he talks about also on the global stage.

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, he's trying to sell success. I mean you heard him today talking about the results of his meeting with Kim Jong-un essentially sort of lying about the success and basically saying they're on the path of denuclearization.

TAPPER: I don't think he said path, I think what he said was it's done.

HENDERSON: Yes, and so we all know that that's not true so he's in the kind of selling mode. And if you're selling, I don't know necessarily if you're convincing Americans of this -- as this poll shows.

TAPPER: Unfortunately that's all the time we have. Thanks one and all for being here. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD today. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, chaos ensues.