Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Reversal on Family Separation Policy Leaves Unresolved Problems; Trump Insists at Rally Border Will Remain 'Tough'; Cohen Decision on Cooperating with Investigators Is a 'Moving Target'. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 21, 2018 - 06:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to keep families together, but the border is going to be just as tough.

[05:59:26] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a crisis the president created. And then he said he fixed it. But he didn't really fix it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Agencies have no idea what to do with these plus-2,000 kids that we already have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're working to be always in touch with the parents to ensure placement with relatives or appropriate sponsors.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: We should take a look in the mirror. And are we still the United States of America?


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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Thursday, June 21, 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn is off. Erica Hill joins me now. It's been three weeks with Alisyn. She already needs a break from me.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I didn't want to say anything, but you did give me some pointers ahead of time.

BERMAN: Glad you're here.

All right. This is the starting line.

The president blinked. Really, in a way we have not seen before, he blinked. After first choosing to separate parents from children at the border, the president reversed course, signing an executive order to keep it from happening. So he stepped in to alleviate the situation he created, a situation, by the way, he had claimed for days he could not fix. Clearly, that was not true.

And as you try to wrap your head around that, the most pressing question is what happens to the more than 2,300 children already separated from their parents? One administration officials says pretty much nothing. The government would not work to get them back to their parents. Another now says they will try. Twenty-three hundred children waking up in limbo this morning.

HILL: All of this, of course, as the House is expected to vote on two immigration bills today.

Now he White House launching its most aggressive effort since health care to unite Republicans on Capitol Hill in hopes of securing funding for the president's border wall. So what exactly is in these bills? Is there any solution for those families separated at the border? We'll get into that.

Plus, President Trump didn't have much to say about the immigration crisis at a rally in Minnesota last night, instead praising North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, taking aim again at Senator John McCain. And the president also bragging he's more elite than the elite.

There's a lot to discuss this morning. We begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip, who is live at the White House.

Abby, good morning.


President Trump did in fact, reverse course on the administration's family separation policy. But now this policy is going to face some new implementation challenges and also some potential legal challenges.

The administration is struggling to explain what happens now; how this policy is going to be implemented; and more importantly, what happens to those families who have already been separated at the border.


TRUMP: We're going to keep families together, but the border is going to be just as tough as it's been.

PHILLIP: President Trump defending his decision to reverse his policy separating families at the border, insisting that his executive order solved the issue created by his own administration.

TRUMP: 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.

PHILLIP: But many crucial questions remain, including what will happen to the 2,300 children who have already been separated from their parents? A Health and Human Services spokesman initially telling CNN that the executive order changed nothing for the children already in its care. But the agency later walking that statement back, saying the spokesman misspoke, noting "It is still very early, and we are awaiting further guidance on the matter." The statement leaving open the possibility that the children could be

connected with a relative or appropriate sponsor. But the existing sponsorship program does not include any requirements for officials to proactively reunite children with their parents. Although the head of HHS says they try to keep track of them.

ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: They're working always to be always in touch with the parents to ensure placement with relatives or, if the parents are released, to ensure that they can go to the parents, if the parents are appropriate sponsors.

PHILLIP: Government flyers show that the onus is on the parents to track down their children. And an HHS form obtained by CNN cautions parents, "If you do not provide all the information, it's possible that we will not be able to designate the sponsor of your choice for the care of your child."

This process further complicated by the fact that the children have been sent to facilities across the United States, like this agency in New York City.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: This policy is so fundamentally broken to begin with that kids are being sent thousands of miles away from their parents.

PHILLIP: President Trump's about-face coming after his administration spent days insisting that they could do nothing to stop the family separations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about an executive action?

TRUMP: Now, wait, wait. You can't do it through an executive order.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's Congress's job to change the law.

KIRSTJEN NIELSON, DHS SECRETARY: Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it.

PHILLIP: Sources tell CNN that the president was frustrated that even his political allies were questioning his heart and that his abrupt about-face caught even some of his closest aides off-guard.

Under the executive order, immigrants who are suspected of crossing the border illegally will continue to be prosecuted, but families will be housed together where appropriate and consistent with the law and available resources. The order also signals the administration's wish to detain children who come with family indefinitely rather than being released within three weeks, a change that would require approval from an appellate court. Approval that experts say will be an uphill battle.


PHILLIP: So after saying for days that the administration could do nothing about this policy, the president's decision to issue this executive order was made a lot easier by the fact that Congress seems poised to reject two immigration bills that he had been pushing them to pass this week. They are expected to vote on those bills today, John and Erica.

BERMAN: All right. Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks so much.

There are a number of important legal questions here, really unanswered legal questions. Will this executive order hold? Can the government keep these families together in detention indefinitely?

CNN's Laura Jarrett in Washington with the very latest here.

Laura, what have you put together?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, officials in the Trump administration for days have said they're simply enforcing the laws on the books. But the law in this area is actually quite complicated. And to understand why, you have to go all the way back to a settlement agreement from 1997, often references the so-called Flores Agreement, and a series of other court rulings even up to last year, that say children can only be held in detention for 20 days. In fact, this is the whole reason families were separated in the first place.

So now the Justice Department is planning ask a federal judge to modify that rule to allow parents and children to be detained together until the end of their immigration proceedings. But those could easily extend beyond 20 days. And what if the court doesn't agree?

In the meantime, the Trump administration, of course, is hoping Congress will intervene to keep families together more permanently. But the votes on that are anything but certain -- Erica.

HILL: All right. Laura, thank you.

President Trump's executive order doing little to ease the anxiety of parents already separated from their children. Well, this comes, of course, as we're also learning more about the so-called tender-age shelters housing babies and toddlers.

CNN's Nick Valencia is live in Brownsville, Texas, with more.

Nick, good morning.


We still have no clarification as to how these families will go about being reunited. An as we understand it, officials in facilities like the one behind me are scrambling to figure it out, as well. And as you could imagine, there's a large amount of skepticism among those that are detained that it will happen at all.

It was yesterday that Southern Poverty Law Center connected me with a Honduran migrant, a man who's in detention, a man who had his 3-year- old child ripped away from him. That 3-year-old asked to go to the bathroom, was escorted by two immigration officials. And that's the last time he saw his son. He hopes that officials kept records of the two so that one day they could be reunited. But he's doubtful.

He thinks the president's executive order is a good thing, but he says that he believes it -- or he will believe it when he sees it.

Meanwhile, we're getting new images of facilities out of Florida and Virginia, the facilities for some of the younger migrants. It's a P.R. effort by Health and Human Services to show that these children are being held in good conditions. But no matter how good the conditions are, we're waking up this morning with 2,300 child migrants that would much rather be with Mom and Dad -- Erica, John.

BERMAN: All right. Nick Valencia for us in Brownsville.

What happens to those 2,300 children? What happens? How can there not be an answer to that question? Joining us now, CNN political analyst, White House correspondent for "The New York Times," Maggie Haberman.

Maggie, I know you had the lead story in "The Times," and I know you were up late revising this story several times, because that answer about the 2,300 children keeps changing. At first we were flat-out told nothing happens.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. At first we were told nothing happens. Then there was an updated statement that the earlier comments had been a misspeak, that they are looking to try to reunite these families, that that is always the goal.

But again, that's a statement. There is no explanation of how this might happen. There's no look at how long this could take, what the process is. You have parents who have been saying all along they're given no information on how to locate their children. And that does not appear to have changed.

Look, clearly, the president was trying to get the heat off of himself with this executive order. It raised a ton of additional questions, including why say for weeks that you couldn't do it this way when you then did do it this way? Why say this was not your policy, and yet, this clearly is your policy?

He frankly got off a bit easy yesterday, because this was something he didn't need an executive order to end. He could have just told the attorney general and DHS, "Stop doing it this way."

It is true that these are the laws of the land, but it is also true that there is no president who has ever enforced them this way, and that is this president's choice.

And then the question is going to be how much media attention, I think, remains on this, now that he has signed the executive order? I think that will go a long way. The -- how much pressure stays on the agencies to try to reunite parents with their kids.

HILL: But there's also the question of, because this all seemed to come about so abruptly. I guess finally, it's all weighing on the president, that he doesn't like what he's seeing and the way all this is being portrayed. How could reunification not even be a part of this? I mean, was that -- is there a sense in your reporting that it didn't even come up?

HABERMAN: My sense in the reporting is that this was done so haphazardly that certainly the question came up, but nobody had an answer. There was just a goal, which was basically get a draft executive order, which the White House counsel, Don McGahn, had serious concerns about, because he knew that this was going to pave the way to a court challenge that he wasn't sure it would sustain. That is clearly part of what the president has decided, which is "We're just going to let the courts figure this out."

Remember, this is a president who spent years condemning President Barack Obama for using executive orders to try to navigate his way out of problems because of a difficult Congress that was not moving.

This president does have a couple of bills in the GOP-held Congress. Again, GOP-held Congress, his own party.

[06:10:06] He went to speak to House members the other day. People left with different impressions as to whether he was endorsing one bill or another or anything at all.

Until he is actually clear on this -- one of the hallmarks of Donald Trump, his campaign and his presidency, has been trying to lead different groups, thinking that he agrees with them. And he tried to split this way too fine on an issue that had a huge, painful humanitarian component. And he has been very adept, overall, at telling people, "Don't believe what you're seeing over there. Just believe me." But he finally met a fact he could not tell people not to believe.

BERMAN: I've got to say, your question is a great question. If it was the picture, if it was this picture that finally cause him to switch here, because he didn't like the P.R., how is it that he could not have considered the fact the picture is not going away if you don't reunite these 2,300 kids?

I talk about the picture, Maggie. You've done such great reporting on this. What's the tick-tock here? I mean, how did he ultimately come to flip on this?

HABERMAN: There's a lot of questions that still remain. It's not clear who told him that this couldn't be -- it could only be done by the courts, which someone did. It's also not clear how he finally realized that wasn't the case.

We know that his wife and daughter had been putting pressure on him. We also know that -- let's be clear here -- House Republicans, again, the House. Less so the Senate. But the House map is daunting for Republicans to keep control of the House. And the one thing this president has been receptive to for a very long time is the idea that, if Democrats take over the House, Mr. President, this will hurt you. And so that was a big part of the case that was made.

I think there was also some sense after the Kirstjen Nielsen briefing at the White House the other day with reporters, that did not go well.

BERMAN: He loved it, though. We were told he loved it.

HABERMAN: He loved it. Others did not. And she ended up then becoming the face of this, which people who support Kirstjen Nielsen, such as John Kelly, the chief of staff in the White House, did not appreciate.

HILL: There's also the issue of -- and again, we know how haphazard this was. As you point out. the tick-tock is not even really clear at this point.

But in the end, with the legal challenges that are now going to be presented, the president could end up, in some ways, being vindicated saying, "See? Look, I told you. This is now going to get thrown to Congress. And Congress, you have to do something. You have to pass a law to fix this, because look, it's a total mess." Who cares that mess was created by the president?

HABERMAN: He's going to say that, and this is where people who complain about the media and how we do our jobs have a point, which is that that is not true. If he just says, "Look, see, I was vindicated.

It is true that the Congress sets the laws of the land. But it is also true that there is a variety of interpretation into how these laws are applied. And he has chosen a very draconian approach. And he has then sought to blame Democrats.

Remember, some of this accelerated just because of seasonally, there are border crossings at this time of year. But some of this accelerated because the president blew up at Kirstjen Nielsen in a cabinet meeting in very loud fashion a couple of weeks ago, angered, I think, and humiliated her over the fact that he didn't feel enough was being done to deter at the border. And that is where this comes from. If the president wants to someone, it is pretty clear who he can blame, but he never blames himself, as he admitted recently.

BERMAN: I like the fact you sued the word "choice there." We're trying to do that it was a choice. It was a choice. Own it. Defend it. But it was a choice. Just make it clear.

HABERMAN: Well, that's right. That's right. If this is going to be your policy, then this is your policy. And you can then defend it on the merits or not.

But he's not doing that at all. This is his policy. He is saying, "It really isn't my policy. Whatever you're seeing here, that isn't really what you're seeing."

And that has been his practice this whole time. Anybody looking at the images of these children or hearing the audio of these children crying, how you can listen to that and not realize how disastrous this is, is shocking, in that it took this many days is very surprising.

BERMAN: CAMEROTA: Is the Ivanka thing real? I mean, I can't count how many times -- HABERMAN: No, it is real. It is real.

And this -- and you are correct that we have seen a repeated practice of more often when things didn't happen of them putting out, "Well, she really tried."

She was certainly not the only voice who was talking to him about this. But she was one of them. And I think that it took a cacophony of noise to get him to move.

HILL: Do we know how long, though? Because to both of your points, as soon as you see those pictures, as soon as you hear that audio --


HILL: You would think it would start emotion. And yet --

HABERMAN: I think it's been over the last couple of weeks.

Remember, I'm not really sure if Jeff Merkley, the senator from Oregon, had not tried to go into one of these detention centers and not been admitted, I'm not sure how much attention this would be getting. That helped galvanize a lot of the images around.

BERMAN: I think the obfuscation did. I also think the lies did, the fact that they were lying --

HABERMAN: That is correct.

BERMAN: -- about the fact that they didn't choose this.

HABERMAN: Yes, but it was already in motion at that point. And I think at that point, you were already seeing pictures of children and hearing these stories of children who are being taken from their families. I think that it helped keep the attention on.

I just think it's worth remembering we're talking about a pretty narrow window of time. We're talking about two weeks or so. I think that it has become politically unsustainable. To your point, the fact that nobody could get on the same page about what this policy even was. Kirstjen Nielsen saying it's not a policy. John Kelly having said this was something he was considering as a deterrent, using that word a year and a half ago.

[06:15:00] They've created enormous problems for themselves. But it's important not to just make this all sound like, "Oh, and this is just a political problem."

There are 2,300 kids who are not with their families who are going to have, most likely, just based on history, terrible psychic scars from all of this. And it is under -- there are people on different sides of the immigration debate who are going to say, you know, some people who feel very strongly that there needs to be stricter enforcement at the border. That is -- these are understandable positions. But processing it this way and doing it this way is unimaginable. BERMAN: If you're trying to prove you have a heart here, and the

president has tried to make that statement over the last 12 hours or so, I do not understand how you can't, then, have a plan for the 2,300 children.

HABERMAN: Well, I just also don't understand how you're the president, you can say, "I didn't like the sight and feel of this." I mean, what did you think was going to happen when you were saying, "Cause these separations"? It was not going to be pretty.

HILL: Which also brings up a further point of how much did the president understand before he moved forward with this?

HABERMAN: Right. And we're not -- and we're never going to know the answer. We know that there are some people in the White House that have a clear ideological position on this. He mostly wants to do these things but not be held accountable for them.

BERMAN: All right. Maggie, stick around. Because we have you for a whole other segment. It's interesting. Jeff Zeleny, who was at the rally in Duluth last night in Minnesota, where the president spoke, noted that the president barely brought up immigration. Immigration is one of the things he typically talks about most in a rally. So why was that? What is the president most upset about here? Is it possible that the immigration debate is detracting -- distracting from what he really wants to focus on?


[06:20:22] HILL: President Trump only briefly addressing his executive order to end family separations at a rally in Minnesota last night. Though in that moment stressing he remains tough on the border.


TRUMP: So we're keeping families together, and this will solve that problem. At the same time, 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.


HILL: So the president there, of course, yesterday afternoon, actually, before he made his way to Minnesota. But while he was there, trust us, there was not a lot said about immigration.

Back with us, Maggie Haberman.

How surprising is it that the president did not, Maggie, use this opportunity with a very friendly crowd, where we know he likes to talk immigration and he likes to talk about how tough he is, to play up what he had just done, that he felt so good about?

HABERMAN: Well, because he didn't feel that good about it. Because as we know, this is a president who says different things to different groups of people in the hopes of letting each one hear what they want to hear.

And that crowd does not want to hear he did something that was a compromise, that was, in his mind, as he put it earlier in the day, in that same briefing with reporters that you just showed. You know, you don't want to be, quote unquote, "pathetically weak," is what he said at one point. And I don't think that he is feeling very good about what he did. I think he doesn't want to remind this crowd of what he did. Instead, he focused on "We're being really tough. We're going to stay tough at the border." And that was essentially what he touched on.

You're not going to hear him talk about this -- this great act of saving that he did. This is a crisis that he created, and then he came in as the mop-up crew. But this is not -- this is not a clean moment for him. And he is clearly aware of that.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting. Donald Trump Jr. had a tweet earlier in the week. Or it might have just been yesterday. All the days run together.

HABERMAN: This morning, even.

BERMAN: Right now. "I can't believe we're not talking about North Korea. It was only a week ago." And you get the sense the president would love still to be talking about Kim Jong-un. In fact, he gushed about Kim Jong-un at this rally in Duluth, and then he talked about denuclearization a little bit. Listen to this.


TRUMP: They stopped shooting missiles over Japan. They stopped all nuclear testing. They stopped nuclear research. They stopped rocketry. They stopped everything that you'd want them to stop. And they blew up sites where they test and do the testing.


BERMAN: All of those things did. in fact, happen largely before his summit. He also said in this rally, "We have denuclearization," which isn't the case.

HABERMAN: No, that is not true. And he keeps trying to wish that into existence. Remember, when he came home from the summit, he tweeted something to the effect of "There's no more threat. You can all sleep safely." That is just not true. And it's not responsible to say something like that.

But it is true that that is what he would rather talk about.


HABERMAN: He is highly focused on trying to achieve something durable and sustainable with North Korea. And if he did do that, that would be an enormous accomplishment. And there are people who do feel that, even having this summit, it certainly has had its critics, but he is attempting to broker peace. He got his -- some praise from South Korea for doing so. But we are a long way from a final product here.

But again, yes, the president would rather be talking about that. We are talking about a policy that he created, that he could have done something about it many days earlier, as is often the case with this president. He is his own worst enemy. And this is yet another example.

HILL: And also in terms of things that he would rather be talking about.


HILL: The I.G. report. And wanting to talk about --


HILL: -- how he believes that -- which had nothing to do, of course, with collusion, but it did all of these wonderful things for the president himself. And yet it keeps going back to immigration, which is fascinating that the tweet from his son, too. Because again, this again is caused by the president himself.

HABERMAN: Right. Right. And look, A, No. 1 focused attention is not really this president's calling card. So he tends to be all over the place anyway and is unable to sustain focus on something. So that, in and of itself, is not a surprise.

Immigration is one of these issues where people on both sides of the issue have very strong feelings about it. It is a complicated issue. It is not one that is a magic wand issue, which is how he has tried to make it sound. And so if you do something like what he did with these border separations, there are unintended and even some intended consequences, and you are going to have to answer for them.

So this is -- some of this is -- some of this is deeply problematic execution. Some of this is what what a wide swath of critics would call a really heartless and inhumane policy.

But some of this is also just being completely unfamiliar with government and -- like, this is how this works.

HILL: And shrinking staff, too. Let's not forget, there are fewer and fewer people that are in the West Wing.

HABERMAN: Right, but he likes it like that, because then he can rely on --

HILL: Yes, then he can --

HABERMAN: He can advise himself.

BERMAN: So there was a moment, and I swear when I heard this, I thought immediately of you. Because every once in a while at a rally, the president tells us exactly what he thinks. HABERMAN: Oh, yes.

BERMAN: And means it 100 percent. And there was this notion -- he was talking about criticism that he gets from the so-called elites.

[06:25:04] HABERMAN: I knew you were going to say that. That was an amazing quote, yes.

BERMAN: So let's play it.


BERMAN: Because he -- it was fascinating.


TRUMP: The elite, the elite. Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I'm smarter than they are. I'm richer than they are. I became president, and they didn't.


BERMAN: This is exactly what he thinks.

HABERMAN: Yes. Last I checked, none of us ran for president. But -- but it's not that this is just exactly what he thinks, because it is. And it is something that he knows will excite his supporters. But it is also what he thinks in that this is about an insecurity of position. Right? Isn't just, you know, "Ha, ha, I beat you." It's "And you still don't accept me." That's the second half of that sentence.

For somebody who spends a lot of time bashing the elites, he is, at the end of the day, you know, the Queens developer who wanted to be taken seriously in Manhattan. Felt like he was snubbed over and over again. People didn't take him seriously. He now has, in his mind, the most expensive, important piece of property in the country, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And he's still not taken seriously by the people who he wants to have treat him seriously. That's what that quote is about.

HILL: It's frustrating to him.

We want to pivot quickly, just talk about Michael Cohen, as well. More reporting out about Michael Cohen, about where he stands, also frustration over his mounting legal bills. Lack of attention and help from the president. And the concern, obviously, I would imagine, the White House, about what all of this could amount to in terms of where Michael Cohen decides to go and what he says.

HABERMAN: Right. I mean, I think that these are all factors of the same issue, which is that you have Michael Cohen, who has not been charged, to have this raid, I think it was about ten weeks ago on his various -- you know, hotel room, apartment, office. We're still not sure what exactly the feds are planning for him. My understanding is that they have not reached out to his lawyer about some kind of cooperation. And by cooperation, I mean providing information to them about other cases, possibly the president.

But, look, this is a lingering concern for the president and for his attorneys. It is one that, I think, scares them more, frankly, than the Mueller probe does, because they believe the Mueller probe is unlikely to directly touch the president in a way that could be damaging.

People are not really sure exactly what Michael Cohen knows, including the president's lawyers. There is this dispute over legal fees, which, you know, on the one hand, you have the Trump family feeling like they're getting, you know, essentially held up at gunpoint for money. On the other hand, if you don't do this, you have somebody who could be very problematic for you.

BERMAN: And it was -- it was fascinating. Cohen quit yesterday as vice chair of the RNC Finance Committee. There are two parts of that were fascinating. The fact that he was still the vice chair is crazy.


BERMAN: The second thing is, in his resignation letter, he made a point of criticizing --


BERMAN: -- the president's immigration policy, which felt to me like a bit of a message here, which is "I'm not afraid to split from you on something."

HABERMAN: I mean, no question about that. I also think that, for people who are close to Cohen tell me that he has gotten the -- the descriptions of him in the press, I think, have taken a toll on him. And I think that there is a degree to which he wants to make people not think that he is a monster. And a pretty clean way to do that is to make clear that you do not agree with this policy. So I think -- I think it might have been a message, as well. But it was as much about how Michael Cohen is perceived as anything else.

BERMAN: Maggie Haberman, great to have you here with us.

HABERMAN: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: All right. No one has a monopoly on offensive statements. What Peter Fonda said about the president's family and what he's saying about it now.