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President Trump Issues Executive Order Ending Policy of Separating Immigrant Children from Parents at U.S. Border; Michael Bloomberg Vows to Spend Tens of Millions of Dollars to Elect Democrats; Immigration Still a Debate. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired June 21, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- as the crisis grew deeper, direct contradiction and things that were not true. At one point Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters the president's policy was not a policy at all.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: This administration did not create a policy of separating families at the border.


BERMAN: They did. White House legislative affairs director Marc Short, though, said the same thing.


MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS DIRECTOR: We don't like the policy here either, Wolf.

This is not a policy that people are excited about.


BERMAN: But it was their choice.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: We have a law in this country, OK. And I've already talked about my capacity --

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It does not mandate separating kids and families.

CONWAY: Hold on. Christopher, nobody said it did.


BERMAN: Yes, somebody did say that, namely the attorney general.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: You are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child may be separated from you as required by law.


BERMAN: So see if you can follow this. The policy, it's not a policy. It's a law, it's not a law. Also it's a deterrent, but it's not a deterrent.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Why would I ever create a policy that purposely does that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perhaps as a deterrent.



BERMAN: She says no, but Jeff Sessions hours later says --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you considering this a deterrent?

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, hopefully people will get the message.


BERMAN: And the whole time the president could stop it. This was the White House choice to do this, to separate children from parents. But the president claimed his hands were tied.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wait, wait. Can't do it through an executive order.


BERMAN: So that was Friday. Friday he said he could not do it through executive order, but by yesterday --


TRUMP: Today, I signed an executive order. We're going to keep families together.


BERMAN: That is a pretty rapid about-face in just days on not just one issue. On like six different finer points here, complete reversals. I suppose the question is why. What forced the president to backtrack here so dramatically?

Joining us now CNN political director David Chalian, CNN political analyst and "New York Times" reporter Alex Burns. David, I do not think we have seen a surrender like this from the president on any issue, so the question is why?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's a stunning moment in the young history of the Trump presidency. You're right, John. I haven't seen the president buckle to public pressure like this. He's run into walls with the judiciary on the travel ban and had to reverse course and try again. He's run into some problems with Congress on health care, not getting certain things he wanted along the way. But he has never just completely done 180-degree turn because of public pressure from something he created, as you just noted.

Why? We know that the president is a very avid consumer of cable news. This has been dominant coverage everywhere. That clearly had some influence. He also referenced his wife and daughter making their case that this needed to end. And quite frankly, John, I also can't think of another policy of this administration that so many Republicans across the swath of the party said that they were opposed to, not even his tariffs, and I understand Republicans are usually free traders and we've heard grumblings of that. But I've not seen Trump policy that got such resounding poor reviews from his own party.

ERIC HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And that is remarkable in and of itself. There's also the issue, though, Alex, as we look at this that this is far from resolved. Despite the president saying here I am, I signed this executive order last night, we still don't know, we've been asking all morning, we don't know what happens to these 2,300 children, whether they get reunited. There's no plan there. And the plan itself is about to face massive legal challenges from what we understand in this executive order.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. So this is really kicking the can for the president, that maybe it resolves some of the immediate pressure in a political crisis. It doesn't resolve this as a policy matter. And the hope in the administration and among some Republicans in Washington that Congress actually would step in and pass some kind of legislation that would bring a more final resolution to this, that hope has evaporated pretty quickly. There is a sense that the hill is just not going to have this act together on this. Nobody has ever lost money about betting against a big Republican immigration bill in the House of Representatives. And that appears to be where we are again.

So what the president and his administration have effectively done is detonate this colossal fight over the border and specifically with the treatment of children on the border with no end in sight four months before an election.

BERMAN: It's interesting to me, the president clearly wants this picture to go away. It's unclear to me whether it does go away. We just talked to Jim Jordan, big supporter of the president from Ohio, and he could not believe that there was not a solution to putting the 2,300 children back together with their parents. He literally did not believe it. I had to read him the executive order and point out to him that the language wasn't there.

[08:05:00] I think that there will be Republicans for whom the president's actions are not satisfying, David.

CHALIAN: I think you're right, John. There's no doubt this reunification issue is going to be the immediate overhang of what did not get resolved in the executive order. Who knows if other images, video, audio emerge from this period of time where children are being separated from their families which will dominate coverage, so it's not as if the president signed this and can just put it to bed.

And to Alex's point about being just four months away from an election, why the immediate acute political problem, if indeed the images stop occurring because children are no longer being separated from their families, that may be alleviated by the stroke of the president's pen. But this moment, that "Time" magazine cover that you just showed, Erica, this moment is a definitional moment of the Trump presidency right now, and that doesn't go away in voter's minds come this November.

HILL: And we are so close when we look at November, Alex. It doesn't go away, but on both sides of the aisle, lawmakers have to be very careful about how they bring this up.

BURNS: That's absolutely true. And talking to Democrats yesterday, they're not necessarily delighted to have a big fight over immigration policy broadly. They recognize that they're competing in a lot of parts of the country where immigration is not popular, where there is sense of alarm about the border, and where the fairly drags tick things the president says about drug smuggling, MS-13, where those kinds of arguments resonate.

What concerns Republicans the most right now, once we get past, if we get past this immediate moment of these awful images coming out of the family separation policy, is whether they have essentially thrown away the potential high ground in some places of the country on the issue of immigration. Does it make it harder for Republican candidates to go out and make the case for a tough policy on the border that doesn't include family separation if it's now seen as tainted by what the administration is doing.

BERMAN: Scoop machine Alex Burns, while we have you here, one question will be, what will Democrats spend on? Will they fight on this issue? You are reporting that Michael Bloomberg, former Republican, former independent, current who knows what the hell he is, is going to spend $80 million to help flip Congress, help elect Democrats.

BURNS: This is a really big deal in the battle for control of the House. The Republicans have had a big spending advantage in a lot of the special elections we've seen so far. They've been counting on that money to save them just enough seats to keep control of the House, and now here comes Michael Bloomberg like a bulldozer or some other large machinery.

BERMAN: It's a bobcat. To be fair, it's a very small --

(LAUGHTER) BURNS: Tens of millions of dollars. This is a guy who is aligned

totally with the Democratic Party or at least the moderate wing of the Democratic Party on issues like immigration. And talking to his advisers over the last few days, they said he was incensed about the border. The plan was coming together before the family separate policy went into place. But the sense that the Republican Congress and the administration have been irresponsible on immigration was foundational to his approach to the election.

HILL: That's a lot of money. The issue, though, is, David Chalian, finding a message for Democrats I would imagine because that still seems to be a major challenge for this party even a few months out from November.

CHALIAN: There's no doubt about that. They'll certainly run on health care, they'll run on concern over Social Security and Medicare being raided to pay for high end tax cuts, traditional Democratic messaging. But there is still a debate very much raging inside the party about how much anti-Trump do you have to be, how much does it have to be focused on other things.

And on this issue, as Alex is noting, if you take a look across the country in these campaigns, it's not like all of a sudden every Democratic candidate was jumping on the airways to use this issue and make it the thing that they're talking about in their campaigns. It's not, because they are concerned about that broader, trickier for them, immigration issue. But I do think with suburban women, independent voters in a lot of these key districts all across the country where the battle for the House is really happening, this moment of what looked to be a non-compassionate moment from the Trump administration in very stark relief, that is the kind of imagery that really can sear inside the voter's minds.

BERMAN: And it's not clear it's over yet, and we'll come back to that in just a second. But Alex, just on this $80 million one more time, is it just me or does it seem like Democrats have yet to figure out how to do independent expenditures in a productive way? Republicans sort of have, but the Democratic model is Tom Steyer, and that has been mixed results.

BURNS: Certainly at the the billionaire political sugar daddy level they have not been as successful as Republicans by any means at getting a $30 million check from Sheldon Adelson into a well-organized party group that is going to drive the message that candidates want. They have more participants like Tom Steyer, this hedge fund billionaire who's been funding ads about impeachment that many Democrats feel are not helpful to their candidate.

[08:10:05] So what the Bloomberg model is doing, he has relationships with the current members of the House leadership team, with traditional Democrats groups like Emily's List and the League of Conservation Voters, at least the hope among Democrats is that this is a guy who will color inside the lines.

HILL: And there's a little fear too which I know you have in your reporting about where he can be most effective, which he recognizes too, where he should probably make sure he is not part of the conversation.

BURNS: This is a guy who's views on guns and views on immigration and views on coal are not going to play super well in, say, Joe Manchin's state.

BERMAN: David Chalian, we have new polling of the Congressional generic ballot test right now, and it shows that Democrats, they're advantage spreading out a little bit. It was three points in May which is actually very small, now back up to eight, which is an advantage. It's not the huge 16-point advantage we saw back in February, though.

CHALIAN: It's not, but they're back in a direction that I think most Democrats would probably be pleased to see. It's also hovering around that mark that a lot of analysts look at and say, if that's where the national vote is come November that may be a big enough margin to win the 23 seats that they need to win in order to flip control of the House. We'll see. This will obviously fluctuate.

And just remember, John, that poll was taken Thursday through Sunday, so the intensity of all of this coverage that we've seen around the family separation issue was not fully baked in to those numbers yet. So if the Democrats are on the rise, perhaps that number will even get a little more pause to Republicans after the week of coverage that the president has had.

BERMAN: All right, Alex Burns, David Chalian, thanks so much for being with us.

We talked about the challenge the Democrats are under. This isn't just on the president. What will Democrats do? What will they support going forward? We're going to ask that question to a key member of the party next.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: The fate of more than 2,300 children taken away from their parents it remains unclear, this after President Trump reversed his policy by executive order. An order does not address when and how these families will be reunified.

Joining me now is Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He's the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee. Thank you so much for being with us. The concern over these 2,300 children still separated from their parents, still no answer on how they will be reunited.

REP ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA: Well unfortunately that's exactly right and I think our priority right now, second to none in terms of immigration, ought to be making sure that these kids are reunited with their parents. There ought to be nothing else of importance right now compared with that and we don't see the kind of urgency to this task that we really ought to by the Administration. Sadly that's not a surprise. The Administration was perfectly comfortable with separating parents from their kids as long as it put pressure on the Congress to build the President's wall, so it's not surprising but nonetheless here in Congress, we need to insist on better of our country and of our President. We need to make sure these families are reunited.

BERMAN: And - and we're pressing for answers. We want to know what they will do to get these families back together, but there are different questions than that. The President reversed his decision which led to the separation of the children and the parents in a way which would insist that the parents be held alongside the children in detention. I don't think you support that either, do you?

SCHIFF: No, I don't and this is not the choice. It's not just a choice between do we separate kids from their parents or do we lock up entire families. We had a process that worked well before the Administration changed that policy and that is, families were allowed essentially to be on probation where they were monitored intensely and required to show up for their court dates and that program was very successful, particularly with the asylum seekers. So like many things the President has done, he has created a crisis where there really wasn't one. We saw this months ago --

BERMAN: Congressman, there's no question that the policy of separating parents from their children is a situation that he created. That did not exist before; that was something new, but there is a legitimate question about what to do with these parents who do cross the borders with their children. Do you treat them differently than other people crossing the border illegally? If I'm reading you correctly, you are saying the White House wants to charge each person who crosses the border illegally with criminal charges. You're saying, no. Don't do that. We're not going to detain you if you have kids we're just not going to detain you period. That's your answer.

SCHIFF: Well my answer is that we don't have to criminalize everyone that's coming here seeking asylum that we had a process that I think was effective when people came to the border seeking asylum with their families, with their kids, when they were worried for the life of their children. We didn't treat them as criminals for seeking a way out of the violence. We put them through the asylum process where they would get adjudicated whether they had a valid asylum case in which case they could stay or they didn't have a valid asylum case in which case they were deported but we did it in a humane way. And we did that, yes in part because these are children and whether their parents have a good case or a bad case for asylum, we weren't about to punish the children. But this President has shown a willingness to punish the children.

BERMAN: If -- if someone crosses the border without children, do you feel it's okay to detain them?

SCHIFF: I think it is appropriate to detain them under certain circumstances, yes --

BERMAN: So then, but then what the problem becomes is, doesn't that incentivize you to bring your child across the border, or if you're saying, if you come without a child, you get detained, you come with a child you don't get detained? SCHIFF: Well, it's not a simple question as whether somebody has a

child or not. As I was saying, inappropriate circumstances where somebody has a credible claim of asylum, I don't think it's appropriate to treat them as a criminal whether they have their kids with them or not. I think you do need a mechanism to make sure they show up in court and we have a mechanism to do that, that was working fine but could always be improved. But yes, we do treat the situation differently when there are children involved and I think that's the humane thing to do.

But again, not every case is going to be the same either with kids or without. You've got people who are simply crossing the border, adults unaccompanied by any minors who are illegal immigrants; they're not seeking asylum, then you have people who are seeking asylum, and then you have others who are seeking asylum with children and you don't necessarily treat all those categories of people the same way.

BERMAN: It's a very complicated situation.


There's simply no question about that and sometimes when you try to find a simple answer, it leads to unintended consequences. I don't know whether this was an unintended consequence, separating the children from their parents or whether it was intended based on the messages that the White House and the Administration sent over time; it does seem they wanted it to be a deterrent.

But just last question on this and I will move to other grounds here, you know you read "The New York Times" and other stories about people moving toward the border and you do hear accounts where people will tell you, these immigrants or migrants when they're there, we've been told if we bring a child we have a greater chance of getting and staying in the United States. Is that a problem?

SCHIFF: You know, it's certainly an issue and we don't want kids to be used this way to try to improve the chances of being able to immigrate to the country improperly. But at the same time you can't view everyone coming to this country for asylum as somehow a threat to the country or somehow illegitimate or criminal. That's just the tradition of this country and I would hate to see us lose the American value that we do allow refuge for people seeking asylum and seeking a way out of violence.

BERMAN: You are the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee which is why we see you so often I think talking about the various investigations. I understand you now want Peter Strzok who was the FBI agent who was actually marched out of the FBI and is clearly under investigation, the FBI agent who sent text message that's we now know say that he would keep Donald Trump from getting elected. You want him to come testify before your committee. Why?

SCHIFF: Well, I think we -- there's a lot that he could offer and he's expressed a willingness to come to Congress and testify before the relevant committees, so there's information and light he could shed on the Russia investigation and what we've been able to learn about Russian plans and intentions in our last election, Russian coordination with the Trump campaign, the initiation of that investigation. I think he could shed a lot of important light on that. He's also an important witness in terms of the interactions that James Comey had with the President and the issue of obstruction of justice. He may also have information about the allegations that we have seen that there were leaks coming out of the FBI office in New York, a strong anti-Clinton bias in the FBI office in New York and that whether those leaks went to Rudy Giuliani or went to members of Congress with an intent to be influential in the election.

BERMAN: And I would hope also there are legitimate questions about what he meant when he said he would not let Donald Trump be elected, of course the Inspector General said he could not rule out that bias did have some impact in the decision that Peter Strzok made in the fall. I guess my question, my final question on this is, I think you want to have him testify behind closed doors. Why not have it out in the open? He's such a controversy figure now. Both sides trying to use him to their own devices, how about let the American people hear from him, hear him tell his story and explain what happened.

SCHIFF: Well first of all John, you're absolutely right. We're interested in any biased that was reflected on those working on the investigation. We learned a lot about the anti-Trump bias in the IG report but we haven't learned much about the anti-Clinton bias in the New York office. In terms of whether that testimony would be in the open or in closed session, we contemplate that there would be a classified session as well as an unclassified session. Now whether that will be open or closed, the unclassified session, is something we will have to negotiate with Mr. Strzok.

But one of the reasons that we agreed as a committee that when the interviews were concluded we would make all the transcripts public is so that this could be shown to the American people, the Republicans committed to doing that, but john, they have since refused to follow through on that commitment and one of the reasons is that when you read these transcripts of our interviews, you see how often the majority members were acting like defense lawyers for the President rather than true investigators.

BERMAN: Well, I don't know whether that's the case or not. I do know if you have it in open session, the American people can see it as it happens and they can make the judgment for themselves. I think that would be great to hear from Peter Strzok in open session. Congressman Adam Shiff, always a pleasure to have you with us. Thank you.

SCHIFF: Thanks John.

BERMAN: Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: President Trump just tweeting, weighing in this morning for the first time his thoughts on immigration and those seeking asylum. We're joined by Congressman Elijah Cummings with his thoughts and more next.


HILL: House Democrats looking for solutions to reunite immigrant children with their parents separated at the border. Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings calling on his Republican colleagues to act.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D) MARYLAND: We all should be able to agree that in the United States of America we will not intentionally separate children from their parents. We will not do that. We are better than that. We are so much better. We should be able to agree that we will not keep kids in child internment camps indefinitely and hidden away from public view. What country is that?


HILL: Congressman Cummings joins us now. A lot of developments obviously in the last little bit; we saw the Executive Order from the President which did not address, as we know, the reunification for these 2,300 children who've already been separated from their parents. You called on the House Oversight Committee to find out where they are, to find out where everything stands. Are you confident that the recordkeeping is there, that this reunification can happen for these 2,300 children and their families?

CUMMINGS: No, I am not confident, and that saddens me tremendously. Erica, we have been lied to over and over and over again and the author, Covey, has a book called "The Speed of Trust," when you saw it and he talked about how when you stopped trusting in a relationship, it's almost impossible to get anything done. The Trump Administration has told us all kinds of