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Children Still Separated From Parents; Trump to Discuss Meddling; Shine Joins White House; Mueller Adds Prosecutors. Aired 1:00-1:30p ET

Aired July 5, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow.

Jim Sciutto's in for Wolf. He starts right now. Have a great day.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Wolf Blitzer. It is 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks so much for joining us today.

Where are the children? With hours to go until a deadline, pressure is mounting on the Trump administration to reunite immigrant children and their parents as they resort to DNA tests to identify who belongs to whom.

Down to the wire. As the president narrows his list of Supreme Court favorites, a new push by conservatives against some of those on his short list.

And, he may have been just thinking out loud, but President Trump's question about invading Venezuela is sparking a forceful response and even put an army on high alert.

But we begin with the breaking news.

With deadlines on family reunification looming, the Trump administration is now saying that still as many as 3,000 immigrant children remain separated from their parents, but they do say they are working hard to comply with court orders to reunite those families and that they plan to meet those deadlines as much as they can. HHS Secretary Alex Azar says that even under these circumstances, the administration wants to treat people as humanly as possible.

The president tweeted, law enforcement at the border is doing a great job, but the laws they are forced to work with are insane. When people with or without children enter our country, they must be told to leave without our country being forced to endure a long and costly trial. Tell the people out and they must leave, just as they would if they were standing on your front lawn.

CNN's senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is at the White House.

So, Jeff, looking at these numbers here, it looks like the administration has made no progress. In fact, there might be some back slipping here on how many children are still being held away from their parents.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, that certainly has been the question all week long. What are the numbers here? How many people is this administration talking about? Those numbers have been impossible to find because they, quite frankly, have not been answering the questions.

Now, just a short time ago, there was a press briefing on this. And there were the numbers that you just said. Three thousand is the estimate here. The number of children -- the number of children under the age of five is around 100 or so. But that is no movement. And the fact is the deadline is coming up for reunifying the families and children under the age of five, the -- by the 26th of July. But no sense of how this is going to happen, when this is happening. Talk of DNA being used to link parents and children.

And so, Jim, I'm not sure that this cleared anything up here. It certainly did not show that there's been progress in terms of reunifying these children and their parents.

Now, we are, you know, weeks after -- several weeks after the president signed that executive order, Jim.

SCIUTTO: That's right. The last number that HHS gave was 2,047. Now HHS says possibly 3,000 or around 3,000.

ZELENY: About 3,000. Yes, it's an approximate number.


ZELENY: So it could be more than that. We simply do not know. That was just a ballpark figure. And you would think there would be a precise head count here. These are people we're talking about, after all.

SCIUTTO: And some of them kids. Apparently 100 HHS says children under the age of five.

ZELENY: Indeed.

SCIUTTO: The other big step looming for this White House, the agenda for President Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tell us what you're hearing there.

ZELENY: Well, this certainly is going to be something that is on, you know, a -- the president's schedule coming up. And we heard from a couple senior administration officials just a short time ago as well this morning on some of the agenda items for that meeting that is going to be in Helsinki a week from Monday, on the 17th of this month. And they are going to be talking about arms control. They are going to be talking about Syria.

The question always, Jim, as you well know, is Russian meddling going to be a central part of the conversation of the dialogue between the U.S. president and the Russian president? Up until now, the U.S. president, President Trump, has rarely, if ever, acknowledged the extent of meddling in the election that all U.S. intelligence agencies agree upon. But senior administration officials were telling reporters a short time ago that Russian meddling will be one topic of discussion.

But, Jim, time and time again, whether it was at their first meeting at the G-20 summit in Germany last summer, or last fall in Vietnam when President Putin and President Trump met briefly on the sidelines of the APEC summit, they have never fully addressed, in a fulsome way, Russian meddling in the elections. So I think there is very little believe -- reason to believe that they will again. The president simply wants to overlook that fact. But administration officials say it will be at least one of the topics, but certainly not the topic. Syria, arms control at the top of the list.


[13:05:06] SCIUTTO: Yes, what kind of topic will it be if just last week the president expressed doubt as to whether Russia was behind the interference. Just incredible.

Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.


SCIUTTO: The first of three court ordered deadlines on those separated children at the border, that is tomorrow. By then, parents should have at least spoken to their children by phone. And the youngest of the children must, by those orders, be reunited with their parents by next Tuesday.

Joining me now is CNN's senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson, as well as CNN political analyst Eliana Johnson and Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

Looking at these numbers here, listen, I mean it's in the numbers. And 2,047 was the number HHS gave last week. Now they say 3,000 still. Looks like there are more children in custody today than there were before these court orders were issued.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it certainly sounds like they're headed in the wrong direction. It's hard to know because they won't give and they haven't been giving consistent numbers. We don't know how accurate the counts that they have are, the counts that they're giving to the public are.

That 2,047 that they -- that they put out last week, that represented six children having been reunited with their families since the president had signed his executive order. So this is, obviously, a much slower process than anyone wants to see. And certainly now that they're facing a court deadline next week for these youngest of children to be reunited. It's hard to imagine how they get from a half dozen to a hundred in the space of a few days.

And the fact that they're now looking at DNA really does tell you THAT they were not prepared to have to do this. They, obviously, don't have another way of tracking who these children are related to and how to get them back with their families. And so they're really having to play catch up. And, obviously, as you said, the numbers speak for themselves. They're not able to do it.

SCIUTTO: You know, it's interesting. Often the president will tweet out alternate explanations for things as information becomes inconvenient. In that tweet I just read just a couple of moments ago, Eliana, where the president is trying to turn the focus back on the families, don't come to the border with your children. He compares it to someone standing on your front lawn, that kind of thing.

Politically, this issue had somewhat turned, you know, through the president's efforts, you know, and Democrats' efforts, you might say, to this idea of abolishing ICE, et cetera. That was the -- the number one immigration topic.

Does this turn the focus back to the situation with those kids at the border?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we have to see it certainly as we approach this July 26th deadline. I think more and more focus is going to come to, what are the numbers.

But I think the president was put on the defensive when he signed that executive order because his base didn't want him to do it and yet there was enormous political and media pressure on him to do that. And so you saw sort of increasingly aggressive tweets from him about how strong he is on border policy. So the administration was sending out inconsistent messages.

But what I think we've seen since the signing of that order is sort of a return to the strategic and policy ambiguity from the administration and lack of transparency in terms of numbers and in terms of what exactly is happening on the border.

SCIUTTO: Right. And Nia-Malika, I mean, it seems to expose here, despite whatever PR efforts the administration is attempting, that there was no hard plan for reunification when the president issued that order.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. I mean the plan was for this separation, right? Because we heard from Sessions and we heard from Kelly that this was what was going to happen, that kids might end up in foster care, as has happened. But there was no database set up. There was no tracking system for it. There was no estimation as to how many children they might expect to come across the border with their parents.

So now we have a real patchwork of systems in place here, right? I mean some kids might be in New York. Their parents might be in another state. Some kids are in foster care. Some kids are in shelters. And now you have sort of faith organizations and nonprofits stepping in to really try to figure out how to reunite these kids. And it really shows incompetence by this White House and by this administration. There's no (INAUDIBLE) as we know. JOHNSON: If I could just add really quickly. The fact that there's no plan for reunification means there was no plan for the implementation of the zero tolerance policy, which I think is even more shocking since the administration was in full force behind that.

SCIUTTO: Well, it also shows, does it not, Julie, that -- that it really wasn't a priority to reunite these families. You know, this is a policy instituted intentionally by this administration. Presumably, if you cared about reuniting those families, you would have had some sort of process in place.

DAVIS: Right. I mean they talk about, you know, the power of deterrence and how people have to know that they're going to face consequences if they enter the country illegally. And that was the whole point of having the zero tolerance policy in effect and the whole point of telling people, if you bring your children, you could get separated from your children. But you would have thought that if that were the objective, that they would have had a plan in place to say, OK, well, if you're willing to go home, if you're willing to abide by the laws, you're going to be reunited with your family.

Now, to Eliana's point, they're sort of in the worst of both worlds because he -- not only did his base not want him to sign that order, the president himself was very reluctant to sign that order. And what the -- this process is showing now is that it actually hasn't had any effect. So he's had to walk back the policy, and he hasn't been able to reverse the negative effects.


JOHNSON: The criticism, right.

DAVIS: So it's a tough spot.

[13:10:09] SCIUTTO: This is, is this not, the way things play out under Trump, right? I mean, as I hear you talking about that, it -- I was covering North Korea. It reminds me -- you know, you sort of have a thing thrown out there and then, you know, get the summit together, but there were no specifics about what was actually going to be agreed to. And now you're kind of trying to clean that up. I mean you see this kind of pattern with a whole host of issues, foreign and domestic, with this administration.

JOHNSON: I think it's particularly acute in the immigration policymaking process. At "Politico," we wrote a piece about presidential adviser Stephen Miller. And he has hosted sort of secretive immigration policy making process. And so when the policies are announced, the government agencies are caught unawares. And I think that injects sort of chaotic and confusing aspects, particularly into the realm of immigration.

SCIUTTO: And tough on kids.


SCIUTTO: I mean the thing -- I mean it's 3,000 kids for crying out loud. And I know that the president calculates there's a political advantage here, but the HHS said today, a hundred of those kids are under five years old. I mean imagine -- so they're sitting there in some random kind of border post or somewhere else around the country and they still haven't been able to talk to their parents.

HENDERSON: And some of them probably can't talk to their parents, right, because they're two years old or they're nine months old. And so they're having to result to these DNA testing to figure out who these kids are, who their parents are. It really is a nightmare scenario for this White House. And Republicans certainly are feeling that. They're likely -- a lot of those folks are back home in their states, hearing from constituents about this. And polls are showing that most Americans think this is an inhumane process that's going on. And it is a humanitarian crisis of this administration's own making. And there's no amount of spin, right, that can get out of this. There's -- he sort of can't declare victory at this point because there are humans involved in various places not matched with their parents.

SCIUTTO: Little humans, right?


SCIUTTO: I want to get your reaction because we just have some news in from the White House.

The White House officially announcing now that it has hired the former Fox News executive, Bill Shine, as assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for communications.

We should remind people, he was ousted from Fox for his handling of the network's sexual harassment scandals, a series of them. And he himself a protege of the late Roger Ailes, who was also pushed out for his handling and then also his own involvement in the sexual harassment scandals, that is Ailes not Shine there.

Reaction? Evidence, Julie, of the increased symbiotic relationship between Fox News and this administration?

DAVIS: Well, yes, that, but also I mean I think that we've come to see that, you know, the president really wants people around him who he knows and feels like get him and he gets them. And this is clearly an example of that. There's obviously been quite a bit of flux with the communications staff. There's been displeasure between the president and John Kelly, his chief of staff. And I think there's a real sense that they need someone in there who can talk directly to the president, or at least the president feels that way. And it seems like Bill Shine is going to be that person. It remains to be seen, I think, how that's going to affect the rest of the communications structure, which has been a bit dysfunctional but --

SCIUTTO: Because you still -- there's still been no Hope Hicks replacement. There is no White House --

DAVIS: Right, and Bill Shine --

SCIUTTO: It sounds like Bill Shine has a communications role, but he's not the communications director.

DAVIS: Right.

SCIUTTO: That remains -- well, I suppose you could say the president is the communications director, right?

HENDERSON: I think that's -- that's the thing. And there have been talk about whether or not somebody like Mercedes Schlapp, who's in the communications shop, whether or not she would eventually take that post.

But, as you said, this is Donald Trump. He's his own communications adviser now. He's got someone there in Bill Shine who's only going to amplify a lot of those instincts that he already displays all over Twitter all the time.

JOHNSON: He's got experience producing programing and images that ignites the president's base. I think that's something that's very appealing to the president.

The other thing I would say is, this really underscores the power, I think, of Sean Hannity. Bill Shine was Hannity's first producer.


JOHNSON: They are the best of friends. And I do think this will only strengthen, really, the links between the White House and Fox News, something that's really unprecedented, I think, in modern history.

SCIUTTO: And Sean Hannity, we know, and the president speak frequently.

Thanks to all of you.

We've got a lot more news coming up.

He may not have been thinking out loud, but President Trump's question about, yes, invading Venezuela, a country, puts an army there on high alert.

Plus, an alarming development in the U.K. We are told that a couple that has been poisoned by the very same Russian nerve agent used in the previous attack on a former Russian spy inside the U.K., now we are learning whether they knew each other and what it is that might have exposed them to this substance.


[13:18:43] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

Some news now on the special counsel's investigation. Robert Mueller is said to be hiring more prosecutors to look into possible collusion and obstruction of justice by President Trump and his associates during the presidential campaign and the transition. According to "Bloomberg," Mueller has started tapping additional Justice Department resources, including career prosecutors and FBI agents. "Bloomberg" says the new hires could be a sign that Mueller plans to eventually hand off some of his investigations as the overall probe expands.

I want to get more insight on all this from someone who's been part of an investigation like this before. He is CNN legal analyst Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate special prosecutor.

So, Richard, you look at this. You've got a special council. He's already got a lot of investigative threads to look at regarding the president and Manafort, et cetera, now hiring more prosecutors. What does that say to you?

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is a target-rich environment for any prosecutor. And he has dealt out to the southern district of New York and other places from time to time pieces of the investigation.

He has only, I think, 17 full-time lawyers on his staff, which is very thin for the amount of work that he's got in front of him. And so having assigned and delegated individuals who are at Justice, who can be useful to him in pursuing leads is a logical consequence of all he's got on his table.

[13:20:20] SCIUTTO: So with the Southern District in New York in Michael Cohen's case, it looks like he farmed out there. You've got Michael Cohen. You've got some criminal activity -- possible criminal activity related to taxi licenses, et cetera. Things that wouldn't naturally be his focus under the Russia investigation.

With these hires, does that look like to you stuff that he wants to -- that he sees as under his umbrella or stuff that he might want to say, hey, you guys take a look at this. It's not really relevant to the central focus of this investigation.

BEN-VENISTE: Well, on the one hand, he's got two trials coming up this summer for Manafort. One in Virginia, in Alexandria, and the other in the District of Columbia. So while his resources are drained to take care of those two trials, he still has ongoing investigative needs. And so it is entirely logical that he would seek to supplement what resources he has with available people from the Department of Justice or the U.S. attorney's office.

What -- he's drawn upon the Southern District, the Eastern District, and experienced prosecutors from the Department of Justice in staffing his needs. And what he's wound up with is a meritocracy of highly experienced, capable, non-partisan individuals who have demonstrated their ability time after time over decades.

SCIUTTO: Well, here's the thing. The president, of course, has called Mueller and his whole team a bunch of closet Democrats here. But here you have the special counsel drawing -- going into the Department of Justice, right --


SCIUTTO: Career prosecutors, to, in effect, tap these folks. To -- certainly he seems to undermine the president's argument here. BEN-VENISTE: Yes. Of course it does. And it's right out of the same Nixon playbook. He did the same thing with the Watergate staff, with no evidence of any political bias. And it's just one of the things they do.

Another thing they will do is squawk about the amount of money that has been expended in connection with the investigation. It's just par for the course.

SCIUTTO: Right. Final -- just quick question and quick answer. As you see Mueller hire more prosecutors in this parlor game of when will he finish, wrap this up, is this an indication to you that it's close to ending or that there's a long way to go?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, I think there are steps that need to be taken. You have to see who's going to cooperate and what additional information any such cooperation brings to the table.

SCIUTTO: But any sense that this is going to wrap up tomorrow?

BEN-VENISTE: I have -- I have a sense that by the end of the summer we will see a report and we'll see some additional indictments.

SCIUTTO: OK. Well, we will certainly be watching. Richard Ben-Veniste knows a thing or two about this. Thanks very much.

BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, reports that President Trump once floated the idea of invading Venezuela has now reached that country's president. What he's telling his army to do in response.

And, as a soccer team trapped inside a cave gets a crash course in scuba diving, hear why some of the boys there are really just not close to being able to get out.


[13:27:39] SCIUTTO: Venezuela's president is lashing out at President Trump. Nicolas Maduro warned his armed forces not to lower their guard following reports that Mr. Trump raised the possibility of the U.S. leading a military invasion of Venezuela just last year.

To discuss this, I want to bring in Eric Famsworth. He is the vice president of the America Society and the Council of the Americas.

So, you know, one issue here is that this is kind of doing a favor for the Venezuelan leader, right, to create this idea of a foreign menace who's ready to kind of storm the gates.

ERIC FAMSWORTH, VICE PRESIDENT, AMERICAS SOCIETY AND COUNCIL OF THE AMERICAS: That's certainly one way to look at it. And the regime has certainly taken advantage of that as well. Every time the United States says or does something that's perceived to be against the regime in power in Caracas, they use that for propaganda purposes to say the gringos are coming, the imperialists are coming, they're trying to take us over, we need to rally against that threat. And it's a way to rally the base. So, yes, it has played in, in that way.

SCIUTTO: So beyond raising this with his senior aides, and apparently surprising them, H.R. McMaster at the time saying, listen, no, we really can't do this. The president also called up some foreign leaders, Latin American leaders, and spoke about this idea. I mean when they hear that from the U.S. president, do they take it seriously?

FAMSWORTH: Well, they have to take it seriously because it's the U.S. president. And the United States exercises a very large voice in Latin America, even to this day. He raised it with some leaders at the United Nations General Assembly last September where he met with a number of them from Latin America.

But the news there was not that necessarily that the president raised it, it was that the leaders, one by one, knocked it down and said, now's not the time to be thinking about that. That's not the right approach. We've got a regional approach to this issue. It is a crisis. We understand that. But we've got to work together and the military action would be counterproductive under the current circumstances.

SCIUTTO: Well, maybe the president listened to them then.

The situation on the ground in Venezuela --


SCIUTTO: Still very messy. What positive role could the U.S. have there?

FAMSWORTH: It's a terrible situation. Venezuela used to be the wealthiest country in Latin America. Today, some of its citizens are literally starving. There's hyperinflation. The health care system is in a state of collapse. The private sector, it was run out long ago. And it's not going to get better with the current regime in place. So that's the dilemma.

In terms of a positive, what can the United States and others do, well, there's a huge humanitarian crisis that has developed thanks to the regime in Venezuela, it must be said. The regime will not allow humanitarian assistance to come into Venezuela. That's a shame and it needs to be reversed. And many people have called for that.

[13:30:08] But in the meantime, many Venezuelans are actually leaving Venezuela. They're going into Columbia. They're going into Brazil.