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Effort to Reunite Parents and Children; Mother Hears Child Crying Out in Tape; Clinton Calls Kids Pawns; CNN Tours Immigration Facility; Cohen Reviewed Trump Stories. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 22, 2018 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

We start with the chaotic fallout from President Trump's flip-flop on immigration. His executive order was intended to end the bad publicity surrounding the administration's forced separation of parents and children at the border with Mexico. But, today, questions remain -- serious questions about the order and if the administration has any detailed plan to reunite those families, as Mr. Trump and his aides clearly promised.

Meanwhile, the president is keeping up attacks on his favorite scapegoat, the Democrats, tweeting this, quote, Republicans should stop wasting their time on immigration until after we elect more senators and Congress men and women in November. Demes are just playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solve this decades-old problem, closed quote.

He also called the current immigration laws the dumbest in the world.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, what are you hearing, first of all, from -- from over there on efforts to reunite these parents and their children and the administration's controversial so-called zero tolerance policy?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's been a deafening silence over the last 48 hours, ever since the president announced this reversal on the zero tolerance policy that's resulting in the separation of families. We have not heard from administration officials or White House officials as to how they're going to reunite these kids with their parents, how that process is going to work. We have not had a briefing with the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

We have had tweets from the president, as you mentioned, and you showed that tweet just a few moments ago where he said essentially, let's give up on passing immigration reform until after the elections in the fall. Wolf, it's important to note, earlier this week, it was just a few days ago, on Tuesday, when the president tweeted, #changethelaws and saying that this is now the perfect time to pass immigration reform.

We should also point out this other tweet that he had this morning, which really goes to the heart, I think, of the president's mindset in terms of where he is on this issue of immigration. He is accusing Democrats of concocting phony stories. If we have that tweet, we can put that up on screen and show that to you. We must maintain a strong southern border, the president says. We cannot allow our country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief hoping it will help them in the elections. Obama and others had the same pictures and did nothing about it.

Wolf, so the president essentially saying there that much of the heartache, much of the trauma that we've seen unfold in front of the world over the last week or so has been concocted, that these are phony stories, according to the president, in that tweet.

But we should point out, obviously the sights and sounds of what has been happening are very real. There's a protest happening outside the White House right now, we should point out, in the rain here in Washington. It's not very -- it's not very large, but they are playing the audio of some of those children that were caught on video, caught on audio by Propublica (ph). We can play a little bit of that for you.

And there's some of that video there, Wolf. The audio there, you couldn't really hear it as I was talking there, but you do hear the audio of those children crying for their parents.

The other thing we should point out this afternoon, Wolf, the president is going to be holding an event at 2:30 this afternoon with the family members of victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. We saw the president do this throughout the campaign. He tries to change the message on the issue of immigration by trying to paint the picture that undocumented immigrants are somehow more violent than other people in society. Facts and many studies have shown that that is not the case, but the president is going to try to show what he believes is the only side of the story here, and that is that people coming across the border illegally and in an undocumented fashion are somehow a threat to society.

Obviously, there have been crimes committed by people who come across the border illegally, but it's painting with a very broad and ugly brush to say that all undocumented immigrants coming across the border commit more crimes at a higher rate than other people across the country.

The president's going to have that event this afternoon at 2:30.

And, Wolf, we should point out, no briefing on the schedule with the White House press secretary as of yet. We have not been apprised of any kind of White House briefing. Second day in a row where the White House could hold a briefing with the press and explain this policy as to what's happening with these children, and they're simply not doing that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House. Thank you.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says so far about 500 children have been reunited with their parents. One tearful mother and child reunion played out at Baltimore-Washington International Airport earlier today.


[13:05:55] BLITZER: The mother tells CNN it had been more than a month since she had seen her seven-year-old son. She says they were separated days after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. She sued, asking a federal judge to order the release of her son. Their reunion came just as a court hearing on her case was about to begin. The Guatemalan mother says she came to the United States to escape death threats and domestic violence.

The majority of parents, about 85 percent, are still waiting to be reunited with their children. Among them, the mother who heard her daughter's voice on that haunting audio recorded inside a detention center. The girl begs to be taken to her aunt's house.


CHILD: At least can I go with my aunt? I want her to come.

CHILD: I want my aunt to come so she can take me to her house.

BORDER PATROL AGENT: She'll help you call you aunt, if you have the number, so that you can talk to your aunt.

CHILD: I have her number.

BORDER PATROL AGENT: OK, so she'll help you right now so you can talk to her.


BLITZER: Our correspondent, Rosa Flores, is joining us now from McAllen, Texas.

Rosa, I understand you had a chance to speak with the girl's mother. What's she saying about the efforts to reconnect her with her daughter?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Cindy Madrid (ph) says that officials told her to be patient, that there was going to be a process for the reunification with her daughter, but there were no details about that process.

Now, here's the background on Cindy Madrid. She left El Salvador fleeing poverty and violence. She made it to the border on May 25th. She says that that Pro Publica (ph) audio was recorded on the day that she arrived, because that's when she was separated from her daughter. Ever since she's tried, asking officials to see if she can reunify, to see if she could call her daughter.

About a week ago they gave her a phone number that they said that she could use to call her daughter, to connect with her. She has called multiple times. She says she has lost the number of times that she has dialed.

While we were interviewing her, we tried dialing that number and it went to a voice message.

Now, while we were interviewing her as well, that's when the news broke that First Lady Melania Trump was here in Texas at a separate facility visiting with officials and with children. And so we asked Cindy Madrid about the first lady's visit and here is the plea that she made.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I would hope that she would help me. I think she understands (INAUDIBLE) a mom. Perhaps she'll (INAUDIBLE) from her children; (INAUDIBLE) one would give everything (INAUDIBLE).


FLORES: Now, the facility that Cindy is in is the one that you see behind me. It is the Port Isabel Detention Center. Now, this detention center will be the one that will be used to reunify families. It's unclear again, Wolf, how exactly that reunification process will work. But, as you can see, I'm standing pretty far from this facility, and that's just the gate. We're not allowed to get any closer, we're not allowed to get even on the road that you see behind me to ask more questions or even to figure out if we could talk to some of these women that are in this facility.

Now, this is a massive facility. Wolf, I can tell you that from aerial footage, there are multiple buildings. It's surrounded by barbed wire. And everything that I see around me are sorghum fields and mesquites.


BLITZER: All right, Rosa, thank you. Rosa Flores on the scene for us.

We are at a global tipping point, so says Hillary Clinton, speaking at a university in Ireland. She also spoke about the issue of forced family separations at the U.S. southern border with Mexico and the part people are playing in forcing President Trump's hand.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Americans from every political background, ideology and walk of life watched heartbroken and outraged as immigrant families were ripped apart and children were treated cruelly as political pawns.

[13:10:05] Yet even in this dark hour, we are witnessing an outpouring of moral conviction, civic engagement and lasting commitment to stand up for the most vulnerable among us. In fact, it was because of the outcry from every corner of our country, and indeed from around the world, that the Trump administration was finally forced to take at least a step toward ending family separation.


BLITZER: Joining us now from Capitol Hill is New York Congressman Gregory Meeks. He's a Democrat. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Let me quickly get your reaction to what we just heard from Hillary Clinton.

Do you believe that children are being used as pawns by the Trump administration?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: Well, it's clear. They've told us that from the beginning. You heard the Attorney General Sessions says that what he basically wanted to do was utilize these children as deterrents of people coming. It is clear that the president and his administration are using children by separating them from their parents and putting them in the most inhumane treatment that one could imagine. I mean this is just shows an individual with absolutely no values. (INAUDIBLE) --

BLITZER: But it's supposed to change -- it's supposed to change. The other day the president signed this executive order saying they weren't going to be separating these kids from their mothers and fathers any longer. Do you accept that?

MEEKS: No. Listen, number one, you know, the president is the one that started the fire and then allegedly he's going to sign an executive order. So he started the fire and now he's going to try to claim that he's going to put out the fire when, number one, there's big questions about that executive order. In fact, in my estimation, he did not even need an executive order. All he had to do was tell his administration, the people within it, to stop this inhumane treatment of human beings. Didn't need it. That would stop it. It didn't happen before he authorized them to come with this policy. So he didn't need it at all.

And so we are in a scenario where the president and his administration should stop this horrible, this treatment of human beings and kids separating them from their families. The world is looking at us and we are completely losing our leadership in the free world based upon the actions and the policies of this president.

How can we tell anyone else to do certain things that are of a humane nature when we won't do it ourselves? In fact, we're doing just the opposite.

BLITZER: As you know, your governor, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, says as many as 700 of these children pulled from their parents were sent to various facilities in New York state. Do you know if any are in your district, congressman, and what are you prepared to do to help try to reunite these kids with their moms and dads?

MEEKS: Well, over this weekend, you know, I'm putting aside a lot of things that I was planning because we've got to find out where they are. As the governor has indicated, he has reached out to Health and Human Services to ask them where they are. They won't tell him. They won't tell any member of Congress. As we find out where these facilities are, you know, just as your cameras, Wolf, are not allowed in. They're blocking people from going in to see for themselves.

So, apparently, with the policy that the president is putting forward, they're also trying to block transparency. Because if there was nothing to hide, then they would allow me, as a member of Congress, and you, as the media, and your cameras in to see exactly where these children are and how they're being treated and how they're being housed and come up with a specific program to tell us how these children are going to be reunited with their parents.

I heard they talked about 500, but we know we're talking about another 1,800. Some, like in New York, thousands of miles from where they were taken away from their parents. How are you going to reunite them? And I might add, Wolf, you've got some as young as a year, two years, three years old, they can't communicate. They can't tell where their parents are or how to hook them up. How is the government going to do that? I think that the president needs to tell the American people that because I think whether you're a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, if you are a human being, you know that this policy is inhumane.

BLITZER: Yes, let me just read one tweet from the president and I'll get your reaction to this, what he tweeted today. We cannot allow our country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief, hoping it will help them in the elections. Obama and others had the same pictures and did nothing about it.

He's suggesting that the stories are phony. Go ahead and respond.

MEEKS: Well, Wolf, we all know by now that the president, I would say, exaggerates, but the president lies. And that's what he's doing here again. Everybody is, who do you believe, me or your lying eyes? Our eyes have seen some of the reports, even those that have been returned, how the mothers have embraced their kids who they hadn't seen for 30 days or so.

[13:15:16] So there is no question that it is the president's policies that has separated these families. They have said it. They said it in the beginning. The president has said it and the attorney general has said it. They didn't deny it. They're only now trying to go back. And when they see that all of the American people, you know, the majority of the American people do not want this inhumane treatment to continue.

The least they could do is to open up the doors there and let us see. Let members of Congress, let the media, let the American people see what has taken place. They surely don't want that to happen. And the president is now backtracking. I'm sure they're having some questions in the White House right now, what to do and how to do it. And all I say to the president, it's easy, just rescind that inhumane act of no tolerance and separating families. You do that and then we can -- and then tell us how you're going to put them back together since you separated them in the beginning.

BLITZER: Yes, just to remind our viewers, in April, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced the so-called zero tolerance policy, and in May he said that included separating children from their parents, if the parents crossed the border illegally. And, of course, we know the executive order signed by the president this week supposedly is going to reverse that separation policy.

Congressman Gregory Meeks, thanks so much for joining us.

MEEKS: Thank you, Wolf. Good being with you.

BLITZER: All right, CNN going inside another facility housing some of these separated children several states away. You're going to see what we found.

Plus, new today, "The National Enquirer" reportedly sent the president's long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, various Trump stories to review and sign off before publication. We have new details.


[13:21:03] BLITZER: The United States could send up to 20,000 undocumented immigrant children to U.S. military bases around the country. The Department of Health and Human Services is now evaluating three bases in Texas, one in Arkansas. They say they could be used to house children if the current pace of border crossings continues.

So how would that work? Our correspondent, Dianne Gallagher, is at a shelter that houses unaccompanied minors. It's adjacent to the U.S. Air Reserve Base in Homestead, Florida.

Dianne, what can you tell us about this facility?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, the facility, which you can see behind me here, is a former job corps campus, if you will. It kind of almost looks like a rundown community college with dormitories and classrooms.

We got a chance to go on this very controlled and guided tour. It was about an hour. It's a large campus. They were very brisk. They moved us along. Did not allow us to speak to any of the children, although several of them did wave to us and smile to us. But they were being moved in lines wearing blue or pink shirts depending on their gender, going from dining halls into dorms, into classrooms.

This facility is for kids who are aged 13 to 17, both genders. It's about a two to one ratio boys to girls here. And we asked, because they're all called unaccompanied alien children, but only about 70 of them here, according to the director, are children who were separated from their parents after processing because of the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy. Now, this is very different from some of the other centers that you've

seen. This is run sort of like a regimented school. They have a schedule. And I know you can't really see it here, but 6:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., they go to classes. They have counseling almost every single day. And they speak to -- they basically speak to these sponsors and they speak to caseworkers, Wolf. They say the goal is reunification here. But, again, they can't leave and they're stuck here until they find someone to go home to.

BLITZER: The pictures we're seeing are government-released pictures. They wouldn't let you take a camera crew inside, no electronic equipment, just a pad and a pencil.

GALLAGHER: That's right, sir. And I tell you, Wolf, that I had a similar experience. On Sunday I went into the centralized processing center in McAllen, Texas. That's the step these kids went through right before they came here. And that's essentially after that is when they're separated from their families. That's where you see those images of kids in essentially kennels and cages with their parents and adults in there.

They come here. This is a much different structure. Dorms with about 12 kids per dorm. There's one person who's sort of handling each dormitory of kids. And like tonight they had a projector set up. They're going to get to watch some taped World Cup games. They have chores.

But, again, they can't leave here and the facilitators, the people who are here, realize the fact that most of them are scared, they are away from their home in a foreign land, they don't speak the language and they don't know what's next. And so they do have those counseling services. But the workers are not allowed to touch them or hold them or hug them, Wolf. They said the kids can do it themselves. All they can offer at this point is counseling for them.

BLITZER: Yes, they want to be reunited with their parents and their families.

All right, Dianne, thank you very much. Dianne Gallagher reporting.

So did President Trump's long-time lawyer and fixer get "National Enquirer" stories to review ahead of publication? There are new revelations today about their controversial relationship.

Plus, as he faces legal jeopardy, Michael Cohen is also being interviewed by Tom Arnold, who's doing a show called "The Hunt for the Trump Tapes." So, what's behind this?


[13:29:04] BLITZER: Personal lawyer, mediator, troubleshooter, fixer, Michael Cohen wore a number of hats while he worked for the Trump Organization for a dozen years. But he was probably best known as the fixer. Today, "The Washington Post" is reporting that his job included reviewing stories about President Trump before they were published.

I'm joined now by the reporter who broke that story, Sarah Ellison, who's joining us from New York.

Sarah, explain to us how all of this unfolded.

SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, so, Michael Cohen had a relationship with "The National Enquirer" for years. And the question that is raised in this story is, was he sort of just the PR person for Donald Trump that "The National Enquirer" reporters could call for a comment, or was the relationship deeper than that? And my reporting indicates that it was indeed deeper. You know, as you know, as a journalist, reviewing -- sending a story for review is not common practice.

[13:29:59] What elevates this story from something other than a media story is that the idea that Michael Cohen might have had some kind of control over the content in "The National Enquirer," or that Donald Trump could have somehow, during the campaign, been dictating coverage