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Trump Changes Focus on Immigration to Crime Victims; Republicans Perplexed over Immigration Policy; Migrant Kids Allege Abuse; Separated Families Desperate to Reconnect; Anti-Trafficking Activists Gang-Raped in India; Italy Forces Rescue Ships to Suspend Operations; Turkey's Erdogan Faces Crucial Election; 2018 World Cup. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired June 23, 2018 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Donald Trump fires back at his critics, saying stories of sadness and great at the U.S. border are "phony."

This weekend, voters in Turkey will decide if President Erdogan will serve another term.

Plus the Super Eagles soar at the World Cup.

Live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier. It's great to have you with us.


VANIER: It's been almost three days since U.S. president Donald Trump signed his executive order, putting an end to family separations and more than two months since the zero tolerance policy actually began.

But still no cohesive plan has been announced on how to reunite the children with their families. In a letter obtained by CNN, Customs and Border Protection officials say 500 families have now been reunited. That means more than 2,000 children remain separated.

Adding to the confusion, soon after they're taking into custody, children are transferred from Customs and Border Protection, CBP, to the Department of Health and Human Services.

You may remember the words Trump spoke about migrants crossing the southern border when he announced his campaign for president, quote, "They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists."

Friday, against the backdrop of his no tolerance policy and family separations, he returned to that theme. Our Boris Sanchez reports.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump met with people who have lost loved ones at the hands of undocumented immigrants, as the White House tries to shift the focus of the immigration debate away from thousands of immigrant children separated from their parents.


TRUMP: These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones. The word permanently being the word that you have to think about, permanently. They not separated for a day or two days. They are permanently separated because they were killed by criminal illegal aliens.


SANCHEZ: Trump used the occasion yet again to blame opponents.

TRUMP: Where is the condemnation of the Democrats' sanctuary cities that release violent criminals into our communities and then protect them?

SANCHEZ: And, building off a familiar refrain dating back to the first day of his campaign, Trump now suggesting immigrants entering the United States are more dangerous than U.S. citizens.

TRUMP: I always hear that, oh, no the population is safer than the people that live in the country. You have heard that, fellows, right? You have heard that. I hear it so much and I say, is that possible? The answer is, it is just not true.

SANCHEZ: Border Patrol Union president Brandon Judd telling CNN the president's broad description does not match reality.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He makes it seem like almost of these people trying to come into the United States are killers or rapists or drug dealers.

BRANDON JUDD, PRESIDENT, BORDER PATROL UNION: No. If he's purposely trying to do that, then that is not true. The vast majority of the individuals that we encounter are very polite, very respectful individuals. It is about 20 percent that we deal with that have criminal records.

SANCHEZ: After a roller-coaster week of mixed messages from the White House, Republicans in Congress are still uncertain as to what is next.

REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: What I would like is for the president to have the same message, the message that he -- when he talked to us, behind closed doors, vs. a message in terms of talking to the American people.

SANCHEZ: After saying there was no way he would sign an executive order ending family separation -- TRUMP: I can't do it through an executive order.

SANCHEZ: -- on Wednesday, he did just that and told Congress to follow suit. TRUMP: We're also wanting to go through Congress. We will be going through Congress. We're working on a much more comprehensive bill.

SANCHEZ: But this morning, Trump appeared to dismiss the idea altogether, tweeting in part -- quote -- "Republicans should stop wasting their time on immigration," leaving some House Republicans who have been working for weeks on a compromise immigration bill deflated.

REP. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Game over. It takes the wind out of the sails in what might have been a fairly productive week even in terms of looking for a compromise. Without the president being out front, without the president having legislators' backs, there is no way they are going to take the risk that would inherent in a major reform bill.

SANCHEZ: President Trump has long bashed Democrats, claiming they are politicizing the issue of immigration. If you look closely at that tweet we mentioned, the second half of it reads as a call to action to his supporters to head to the poll in November and vote for a red wave to head into Congress over the issue of immigration -- Boris Sanchez, CNN, at the White House.


VANIER: Migrant children who have been separated from their parents at the U.S. border are now scattered across the country in a network of detention centers and foster homes. Procedures for reuniting them with their families are hazy at best. CNN's Polo Sandoval has this report.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, confusion and questions about the Trump's administration zero tolerance policy, how and when will children separated at the border be reunited.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today was the first day that we went in and among the people being criminally prosecuted for the misdemeanor of illegal entry, there were no parents.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): The Department of Health and Human Services says there are 2,458 children under 13 in their care with nearly 500 5 years and younger. President Trump signed an executive order allowing families who have crossed the border illegally to be detained together. The zero tolerance policy has been curtailed, at least for the moment.

Based on emails obtained by CNN, Customs and Border Protection has told its field offices to suspend referrals for prosecution for parents who cross the border illegally with their children.

In a statement, Border Patrol says around 500 children have already been reunited with their parents.

Friday morning, an emotional reunion for a mother from Guatemala and her 7-year-old son, who arrived at Baltimore Washington International Airport on a flight from Phoenix, days after she sued the Trump administration for violating her rights when they took Darwin from her at an Arizona immigrant holding facility in mid-May.

Many of the children separated from parents since May are in shelters and foster homes nationwide. This makes the process of reunification chaotic.

EVELYN DIAZ, HEARTLAND ALLIANCE: These children are scared when they arrive at our doors and I can tell you that my staff are doing everything in their power to make a horrible situation less scary.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): An HHS spokesman said the children are sent to locations around the country for a variety of reasons, including space, available shelter accommodations, demographics of the children and proximity to potential sponsors. HHS does not have a publicly acceptable database to track children.


VANIER: Polo Sandoval reporting there.

Meanwhile, President Trump has returned to his familiar themes, like attacking the media and Democrats while talking about immigration. Earlier I spoke to political analyst Michael Genovese about the strategy.


VANIER: Three days ago Mr. Trump thought there was enough sadness, enough grief at the border for him to actually end his practice of separating immigrant families. Now he says those Democrat stories of sadness are grief -- his words -- are "phony."

What's going on?

GENOVESE: I think that's one of the low points for President Trump. How phony are the tears of children, the screams of parents who are separated from their children?

This is a human tragedy and President Bush -- excuse me -- Trump did, in fact, bring in the families whose children were killed by illegal immigrants. We need compassion for those people. That's a serious issue but it's no less serious when you see the children being torn apart from their families, put in what some are calling cages, no due process.

This is one of our worst moments and we need to turn it around and right this wrong.

VANIER: It seems like Donald Trump was trying to do a turnaround but maybe a turnaround of a different kind. All week long he's been on the back foot with this issue. He was the bad guy in this story and there were very few people, for once, in his camp.

And now on Friday, it seems he is sort of trying to switch the narrative 100 percent. GENOVESE: Well, he is sending both mixed and mixed-up messages, especially to his own party, as you referenced in the intro to this segment. On the one hand, he is saying it's an urgent problem. We must deal with it immediately.

And then he says in a tweet, well, let's just forget about it, drop it. We'll put it off until after the midterm elections, which means you're putting it off until 2019. So he is basically torpedoing his own party, saying I need you to get legislation. I need something from you.

And now he says forget it.

So where does that put the Republicans in Congress?

It makes it very unlikely that they will, in this session, pass any meaningful, coherent immigration legislation.


VANIER: So why is he -- why this 180 on the legislation?

GENOVESE: Well, I think it is a function of making policy on impulse, that the president takes -- overpersonalizes everything. And anytime something strikes him, hits him, he wants to hit back in some way. And so today, if hitting back means being Mr. -- kind, compassionate Mr. Rogers, and tomorrow means being The Terminator, he will do those things. He is capable of making those transitions.

And it is all about the news and the treatment of him that particular day.

VANIER: But does he actually have a better chance of passing legislation after the midterms"

He says we need to do when we have more Republicans in Congress, after the red wave.

GENOVESE: The red wave or the blue tsunami, we don't know which it is. Right now, the Democrats, according to recent CNN polling, are favored by about an 8 percent margin over Republicans.

And if past is prelude in midterm elections, presidents lose roughly 25 seats in the House and maybe five in the Senate. That would be average. Who knows if this is going to be an average election.

Certainly it will be a referendum on Donald Trump. He won't be on the ballot but in a very real way, he will be on the ballot in the sense that people will be voting up or down for his party because of him.

VANIER: Listen to another part, which I believe is central to the president's narrative on immigration. Listen to this.


TRUMP: I always hear that, oh, no, the population is safer than the people that live in the country. You've heard that, fellows, right? You've heard that. I hear it so much and I say, is that possible?

The answer is it's not true. You hear it's like they're better people than what we have, than our citizens. It's not true.


VANIER: What exactly is he talking about?

Do you hear people saying that, immigrants are better than Americans?

Is that part of the narrative in the United States?

GENOVESE: You know, I've never heard anything like that. The president says that all of the Democrats want crime to be rampant. I have never heard a Democrat -- I'm not a Democrat but I know many. I've never heard one Democrat say I want more crime.

And so the president is setting up a straw man, a phony man, to try to tear it down. But I think that's a measure of the weakness of his argument and that he thinks on the fly. He just runs with things. What he said that --


VANIER: Well, hold on. You say it's a weak argument.

Could it work, though?

GENOVESE: Well, Ronald Reagan used to say facts are stubborn things. The question is, can we deny facts long enough so that Donald Trump can get what he wants?

The fact of the matter is -- and everyone reports it, you've reported on it -- immigrants, legal and illegal, commit fewer crimes and fewer serious crimes and fewer murders than people who are native Americans. That's the fact.

But we're not governed by fact. We're governed by a sense of perception. And if you can create the percept that we're under attack, that we're being invaded, that you've got people who are a different color, he'll sort of stir up and stoke the anger and fears of nationalism and sometimes of racism. It's about emotion. It's about perception. It's not about fact.

VANIER: Yes. And I was just reading, studies show that there is actually that widely held perception in the U.S., that people believe there is just more crime within the immigrant population than there is within the native America, U.S. citizen population.

All right, Michael Genovese, thank you very much for joining us on the show. Always a pleasure.

GENOVESE: Thank you.


VANIER: She's fighting to become Turkey's next president. After the break, we hit the campaign train with the woman nicknamed "She-Wolf."


VANIER (voice-over): Plus Nigeria's Ahmed Musa dominates at the World Cup. (INAUDIBLE).





VANIER: In India, police say a group of men disrupted a street play about anti-trafficking and then gang-raped five of the women who were in the performance. It's the latest in a series of brutal --


VANIER: -- rape cases that have shocked India to its core. Our Nikhil Kumar reports.


NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: It's another horrific case of sexual violence from India. Police in the Eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, a poor, remote and largely rural part of this country, say five women working for an NGO called Asha Kiran, were allegedly brutally gang-raped there Tuesday.

The NGO does anti-trafficking work and authorities say the women were performing a street play in a village to raise awareness about human trafficking, a problem in the area. That's when they are alleged to have been attacked by a group of men.

Two the attackers the police say were carrying small guns. No arrests have been made so far but according to what the police have gathered, the men allegedly took the women to a nearby forest area, where they were raped.

Three men who were with the women were also beaten up by the attackers. Now police say the attackers were from a local tribal community that's hostile to outsiders. A local police official told CNN the women were, quote, "attacked because they were outsiders," end quote.

The investigation is still unfolding. Nine people have been brought in for questioning so far. As we wait for more details, we reached out to the NGO to find out more. News has once again highlighted the larger issue of sexual violence in India.

It was in this same state of Jharkhand that two women, both of them minors, were allegedly raped and then set on fire by their attackers in May. One died when she was attacked; the other sadly passed away later in hospital. And back in April, reports of continued sexual violence against women brought thousands of Indians onto the streets in protest. They demanded action to end these attacks. And yet, sadly, here we are again, talking about another brutal example, a horrific tale, only the latest of so many -- Nikhil Kumar, CNN, New Delhi.


VANIER: Floodwaters have begun to recede in some parts of northeastern India. This after torrential rains devastated the area in the last few days. Nearly 2 dozen deaths are being blamed on the floods and more than 1,500 villages were swamped. Flooding is an annual problem during monsoon season in South Asia.

Meanwhile, landslides and flooding are also hitting Southwest China.


VANIER: A German aid ship has rescued more than 200 migrants who were in danger of drowning off the coast of Libya. But Italy has a warning: if the ship docks in that country, the vessel may be impounded and the crew could be charged with human trafficking. CNN's Atika Shubert has the details.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's about a dozen or so of these rescue aid ships --


SHUBERT: -- operating in the Mediterranean right now. The smaller Seefuchs and the much larger search and rescue vessel, the Lifeline. Both of them are run by German aid organizations, both are also Dutch flagged vessels.

The Seefuchs does not have any asylum seekers on board. But the Lifeline did rescue more than 200 asylum seekers. Now it's not clearly exactly what happened. But the Lifeline says that it received a distress signal, immediately went to the location.

Italy says that the Lifeline was instructed not to rescue the asylum seekers, to allow the Libyan coast guard to take care of it. The Lifeline did not do that. It picked up the asylum seekers, believing it to be the safest and quickest option.

And that's when an international game of hot potato ensued. Italy says it didn't want to open its ports, insisting that the Lifeline go to Malta. Following that, it said it was actually a Dutch problem because the vessels were Dutch flagged. The Netherlands, on the other hand, said it wasn't its responsibility because the ships had been improperly registered, that they were not registered as commercial vessels.

What now appears that Italy's transport minister has said, that the Lifeline will be allowed to dock in Italy and that the asylum seekers can come ashore. However, the ship itself will be impounded and the crew will be detained for human trafficking.

The Seefuchs, on the other hand, has decided to dock in Malta as a precaution. It did not want to see its crew detained and it has suspended its operations temporarily. As for the Lifeline, it remains at sea. It's not clear at this point what will happen to its crew. and the asylum seekers on board -- Atika Shubert, CNN, Berlin.


VANIER: Turkish presidential elections are just a day away. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hoping to secure another victory and get sweeping new executive powers. Polls show he's leading the race but our Jomana Karadsheh meets one opponent, who is hot on his trail.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Almost everyone in this small Turkish town is out on the streets to greet the woman they call Asena. That's a she-wolf in Turkey mythology.

At times, Meral Aksener nearly disappears in the crowd. It's almost impossible for us to keep up as people rush to meet her.

At her campaign rally, supporters chant, "President Meral Aksener." She says she want people to see her as a mother figure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): For the future for our children, for our country, for many reasons I would vote for Meral Aksener. A woman's touch makes everything better. I want a mommy to rule our country.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): The 61-year-old, who once headed the all- powerful interior ministry, broke away from her party over its alliance with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In October, she founded her Iyi, or the Good Party, leading it to the first national polls this month, hoping to unseat Turkey's strongman.

The June 24th snap election is the country's first after last year's constitutional referendum that gave Turkey's next president new sweeping powers.

KARADSHEH: Like any politician running for office, Meral Aksener is making a lot of promises. But perhaps the one that is resonating the most with people here is the promise of change, changing the direction their country has taken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If her party does not win, we'll lose the republic and we will switch to one man's dictatorship, like Bashar al-Assad, like Hafiz al-Assad, like Gadhafi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I will use my very first vote for her because I think she has very good projects for the youth. I want unemployment to change. I'm studying to be a teacher.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): While Erdogan remains the country's most popular figure, Aksener's candidacy could cost the president votes. Like him, he's a center right nationalist and a conservative, making her an alternative for his base.

Aksener says President Erdogan should be worried.

"I think I'm a strong opponent. Both polls and the field shows the same."

Its time, she says, for a woman to be president.

MERAL AKSENER, TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): Turkey has been ruled by a very harsh man for a very long time. I'm one of the most experienced politicians in Turkey, probably the most experienced female politician. I've been struggling with Erdogan and his extrajudicial behavior for the last 2.5-3 years. All this showed me, it was time to take responsibility for my country.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): Aksener is not Erdogan's only serious rival at the polls but Turkey's iron lady remains a wild card in what could be one of the most --


KARADSHEH (voice-over): -- decisive votes in the country's history -- Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Adena, Turkey.



VANIER: The World Cup has been a wild, unpredictable tournament so far in Russia. But Friday was almost exceptional for a lack of upsets. These Brazilian fans took to the streets of Moscow to celebrate their team's Dominant win over Costa Rica. So bye-bye, Costa Rica, they're out of the tournament.

Brazil's arch rival, Argentina, meanwhile is barely hanging on as Lionel Messi continues to struggle in this competition. Let's take a look at Friday's games with CNN's Don Riddell.


DON RIDDELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The World Cup is beautiful but it can also be miserable. And in between, it is stressful and it is emotional.


RIDDELL (voice-over): If you are a Brazilian fan on Friday, it was all of the above. But in the end, it was worth it. It looked as though Brazil and Costa Rica were going to end as a goal of draw (ph) but Philippe Coutinho saved the day with a goal and injury time for one of the tournament favorites. And it seemed to liberate Neymar. He's the world's most expensive players and he made sure of the win with his first goal of the tournament in the 97th minute. And he could hardly contain his emotions after the victory.

Elsewhere in group E, Switzerland became the first team in this tournament to come from behind to win a game, beating Serbia 2-1 in Kaliningrad. The Swiss fell behind early in the game but in the second half they leveled the score with that sensational strike from Granit Xhaka. It was absolutely brilliant, wasn't it, and it set the stage for a grandstand finish, Xherdan Shaqiri breaking free here to score in the 90th minute to complete the comeback. Both teams are still in a good place going into the final group games.

Group E is intriguing. Just look at the state of it after these two matches, Switzerland and Brazil lead the way with 4 points each. Serbia have 3, Costa Rica are out. But for everyone else, there is still everything to play for.

In group D, Nigeria took on Iceland in Volgograd. Early in the second half, Nigeria's Ahmed Musa took this goal brilliantly. And he then doubled their advantage with a very calmly taken strike 15 minutes from time. And Nigeria won it by 2-0.

So Croatia are definitely through and Nigeria have their fate in their own hands. Their last game is against Argentina. A win or a draw will suffice for the Super Eagles but if Argentina win, they have a shot. They would have 4 points, which might be enough.

Let's look at what we can look forward to on Saturday. Can the defending champions Germany recover from their defeat last Saturday? They go against Sweden and having already stunned the Germans, Mexico can consolidate their position with a win against South Korea.

And in group G, it's Belgium against Tunisia. A lot of people fancy the Belgians in this tournament. We'll see how they go -- Don Riddell, CNN.


VANIER: That's it from us for now. Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I've got the headlines for you in just a moment.