Return to Transcripts main page


Homeland Security Immigration Briefing; Donald Trump to Announce Supreme Court Nominee Tonight. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 31, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: INSIDE POLITICS with John King starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing some time with us. A very busy action-packed hour ahead. We'll show you some live pictures. As we speak, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill about to vote on the controversial nomination of Jeff Sessions, the senator from Alabama, to be the next attorney general of the United States. The senators - Democrats taking some final shots today, although we do expect Senator Sessions to get out of committee.

Across town, at the Department of Homeland Security, the new secretary of Homeland Security, General John Kelly, about to brief reporters. It is his job now, despite his differences with the White House, his job now to implement the controversial travel ban President Trump implemented the other day. We'll take you there live as soon as that happens.

In the meantime, let's set the table a little bit. Taking charge, taking names, call it what you will, President Trump swiftly fires the acting attorney general for what he calls betrayal. That decision, her refusal to enforce his new immigration ban because she believed it was unconstitutional. Trump supporters, just the defiant Washington shake-up they demanded. Democrats, though, see it very differently. Borrowing an old Watergate reference to call it the "Monday night massacre," and a threat, they say, to the independence of the Justice Department.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: When he did fire her, he vilified her. And this is a patter that we've seen, saying that a woman who has served our country in nonpartisan roles under Republican and Democratic presidents has betrayed the Justice Department.


KING: The Democratic anger spilled over today to the Senate Committee vote. We just mentioned to you, his choice to lead the Justice Department, Senator Jeff Sessions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If confirmed, what will this nominee do? Will he support and defend these broad and destructive executive orders? Will he carry out and enforce the president's actions that may very well violate the Constitution? If past is prologue -


KING: Let's get straight to the Department of Homeland Security. Secretary John Kelly briefing reporters on the president's immigration order.

[12:02:03] JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I can verify that the most recent executive order does - what it does and does not mean. This is not a travel ban. This is a temporary pause that allows us to better review the existing refugee and visa vetting system. Over the next 30 days, we will analyze and assess the strengths and the weaknesses of our current immigration system, which is the most generous in the world. We will then provide our foreign partners with 60 days to cooperate with our national security requirements. This way we can insure the system is doing what it is designed to do, which is protect the American people.

This analysis is long overdue and strongly supported by the department's career intelligence officials. Acting Under Secretary for DHS Intelligence and Analysis, David Glawe will speak to that in more detail shortly.

Furthermore, this is not -- I repeat -- not a ban on Muslims. The Homeland Security mission is to safeguard the American people, our homeland, our values and religious liberty is one of our most fundamental and treasured values. It is important to understand that there are terrorists and other bad actors who are seeking to infiltrate our homeland every single day. The seven countries named in the executive order are those designated by Congress and the Obama administration as requiring additional security when making decisions about who comes into our homeland.

As my predecessor Secretary Johnson liked to say, it is easier to play defense on the 50 yard line than it is on the one yard line. By preventing terrorists from entering our country, we can stop terror attacks from striking the homeland. We cannot gamble with American lives. I will not gamble with American lives. These orders are a matter of national security. It is my sworn responsibility as the secretary of Homeland Security to protect and defend the American people.

I have directed departmental leadership to implement the president's executive orders professionally, humanely and in accordance with the law. Since the court orders related to the executive order were issued over the weekend, CBP immediately began taking steps -- that's Customs and Border Protection -- immediately began taking steps to be in compliance. We are and will remain in compliance with judicial orders.

We have also been working with our partners at the Departments of Defense, Justice and State. We are committed to ensuring that all individuals affected by the E.O.s, including those affected by the court orders, are being provided all rights afforded under our laws. We are and will continue to enforce President Trump's executive orders humanely and with professionalism.

Our job is to protect the homeland. These executive orders help do that. I'm happy to have my colleagues answer any questions, clarify any positions that may be confusing. We have with us today acting commissioner of CBP, acting commissioner of ICE and my intelligence -- the department's intelligence chief.

So with that...

MCALEENAN: Good afternoon. Kevin McAleenan, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

I'm here to talk about the implementation of the executive order. Upon receipt of the executive order, CBP took immediate actions to implement the key provisions, calling for suspending entry for 90 days to nonimmigrant visa holders and immigrant visa holders from the seven affected countries.

We routinely make changes in our systems and our policies for immigration entry at our border, and we acted quickly on Friday evening to make the changes with this executive order.

First, we made changes in our system to identify those passport holders and visa holders from the affected countries. We had a call with our field leadership, our directors of field operations to inform them of the executive order and the actions they needed to take. We issued written guidance to our field and we had calls with stakeholders. These are air carriers and airports, starting just a few hours after receiving the order, so that they would understand how to operate.

We also overnight on Friday and Saturday worked through a process to be able to waive travelers that were in transit or had sensitive cases that should be considered for a waiver in the national interest, as the executive order calls for. To put this in context, in the first 72 hours of the order, 1 million travelers came through our borders via air. Out of those travelers, 500,000 of them were foreign nationals.

The people affected by this order, we denied boarding to 721 travelers that had visas from the affected countries, but we actually processed for waivers 1,060 lawful permanent residents of the United States, as well as an additional 75 waivers granted to immigrant visa and nonimmigrant visa holders.

To make sure everyone understands how the process is working today, lawful permanent residents and special immigrant visa holders are allowed to board their flights (inaudible) and will be processed for a waiver upon arrival. Again, we've done that over 1,000 times so far in this three days of the implementation.

Secondly, immigrant visa holders and nonimmigrant visa holders that are covered, they'll be denied boarding before they board their aircraft, and they'll be referred to the Department of State for further process.

Another question that has come up is whether dual-nationals are treated differently. Travelers will be assessed at our border based on the passport they present, not any dual-national status. So if you're a citizen of the United Kingdom, you present your United Kingdom passport and the executive order does not apply to you upon arrival.

I also want to talk a little bit about refugees. The executive order calls for refugees that were ready to travel where it could cause undue hardship, that they should be considered for waivers. We have done that, in concert with our Department of State colleagues -- 872 refugees will be arriving this week and we'll be processing them for waivers through the end of the week. And that's fully coordinated.

As Secretary Kelly noted, we are responding immediately to any court orders. We did so quickly on Friday night with the Eastern District of New York order. And those parties that were affected by that order were processed for a waiver and admitted into the United States.

Lastly, I just want to tell you that to increase communications and provide additional information to travelers, we are updating on our website. It will be there as you log in at, a statement about the implementation, FAQs giving information to travelers, the public and other stakeholders, as well as a link for specific questions affecting individual travelers and a phone number to call. All that will be on our website.

Thank you.

HOMAN: Good morning. I'm Thomas Homan. I'm the acting director for ICE.

I can tell you, it was a great honor to be contacted the last couple of days and asked to step up in this capacity as an acting director. My plans to retire were put on hold, and I did so because I chose to serve my country once again.

For those who don't know me, I've been in the immigration enforcement business for 33 years. I started on the front lines in the U.S. Border Patrol and I was with the Office of Investigation, Homeland Security investigations, for over 20 years and climbed the ranks there.

Now, I'm on enforcement (inaudible) operations on the back end -- arresting, detaining and removing aliens. So I certainly know the immigration life cycle and how to enforce immigration laws. I chose to come back and act in this capacity because of my concern for the communities and the safety of (inaudible) communities. You know, folks, there are jurisdictions across the country where aliens are arrested, criminal aliens convicted of serious crimes (inaudible) walk out of these jurisdictions without any cooperation with ICE. They're back in the communities, back in our communities. And that causes my officers to once again go out in the community, knock on the door to arrest someone they should have arrested in the county jail.

HOMAN: So I'm here to execute a mission within a framework provided me. That framework has changed on the executive orders of President Trump, and the men and women of ICE will execute them perfectly and we're here to serve as an organization.

Thank you very much.

GLAWE: Thank you. I'm Dave Glawe, I'm the acting undersecretary for intelligence.

I just want to echo Secretary Kelly's remarks that national security in the United States is of utmost priority. This is the fundamental responsibility of our government to protect the national homeland from nefarious actors trying to come inbound in the United States. What this is is an action for us to take a temporary pause and take a look at how we collect intelligence and how we run that against databases to identify those nefarious actors.

I'm taking a look how law enforcement, the intelligence community, the Department of Defense, our federal, state, local law enforcement organizations share information and how we run those (inaudible) not just against refugee populations, but anyone trying to come inbound into the United States to identify these sophisticated networks that are -- that are -- that are trying -- potentially trying to come inbound.

We're trying to break down those barriers to share information, continue our automated screening processes and vetting process, to make sure that we -- once again to identify those nefarious actors, nefarious network that are outside of the United States that may be potentially trying to threaten the United States.

So again, this is a pause to take a look at how we collect data and how we exploit it against national security threats. Thank you.

KELLY: Come on up. Probably best to be in front of the microphone. Who's first?

QUESTION: Thanks (inaudible) Reuters.

Two quick questions. First to the acting ICE director. Is ICE planning on growing detention (inaudible) for people (inaudible) and extending the time in which they are held?

And then also, on CBP, you mentioned that you spoke to people about the order within 72 hours. Would it have been easier if you had any guidance before this order came out? Could confusion have been avoided?

HOMAN: On the first question, yes. We've got to secure our borders. Those (inaudible) arrested entering the United States, we need to detain those people. So we're in the process of identifying additional detention capacity.

As far as increasing our length of stay, we look to do just the opposite. We'd like to keep them in custody as little as possible and make sure they get their due process, and once they get that order from a judge, execute that order.

KELLY: Before you step up, let me kind of frame it a little bit. We did know the E.O. was coming. We had people involved in the general drafting of it. You know, clearly it was -- this whole approach was part of what then candidate Trump talked about for a year or two, so we knew all that was coming. As I said, we had high level government lawyers from across the interagency, to include Homeland Security, that were involved in the drafting of it, so we knew it was coming. It wasn't a surprise it was coming. Then we implemented it.

So go ahead, Kevin.

MCALEENAN: Right. Our job at the operational level is to take guidance, whether it's statute, whether it's executive order or direction from the secretary or in some cases emerging threat and respond as quickly and effectively as possible. So we go through that process, the system changes we need, the communication to the field, the communication with stake holders.

In this case, we had court orders come in right when we were implementing the operational plans, so we had to adjust our efforts a little bit, but we worked quickly to implement and I think the process has really smoothed out. And just to clarify, the initial comms weren't within 72 hours, they were within two hours of the executive order being received.

QUESTION: Reporter with Congressional Quarterly (inaudible).

Two questions, whoever wants to take this. There are several lawmakers and advocacy groups that are saying that some border patrol agents ignored court orders and handcuffed passengers and tried to deport some of them. Are you looking into these reports? And can you reassure people that, in fact, agents are following the orders?

The second question -- the president has called the executive order extreme vetting. Can you explain what exactly is involved in extreme vetting, which is over and beyond what has already happened?

KELLY: The first thing I'd say, without question, no member of the Homeland Security team ignored a court order nor would they ignore a court order. I've heard these reports. I've asked people to include members of Congress who call me about them and ask them if they could run down some information for me, and of course, we don't have any information, but we would not ignore a court order.

OK. The second -- and I'll let you come up, Kevin...

QUESTION: (inaudible) what exactly is involved (inaudible)?

KELLY: Yes, extreme vetting, we're looking at various options right now. We -- the interagency, led by, of course, Homeland Security. The countries -- there are many countries, seven that we're dealing with right now, that we are -- have, in our view, in my view, have -- don't have the kind of law enforcement, records-keeping, that kind of thing that can convince us that one of their citizens is indeed who that citizen says they are, and what they're background might be.

So there's other -- there's various additional things we're considering. On the other end, when someone comes in and asks for consideration to get a visa, it might be certainly an accounting of what websites they visit. It might be telephone contact information so that we can see who they're talking to.

But again, all of this is -- is under development. But those -- those are the kind of things we're looking at -- social media. We have to be convinced that people that come here, there's a reasonable expectation that we don't know who they are and what they're coming here for and what their backgrounds are. And right now, there are a number of countries on the planet that don't have that kind of records-keeping, police work -- that kind of thing. And the seven in question right now, for the most part, fall under that category.

So we'll be -- we are developing what additional vetting, extreme vetting might look like and we will certainly work with countries on this.

Kevin, do you want to...

MCALEENAN: I'll just add to the secretary's comments. Specifically, we had a legal team as part of our operational action team in place Friday night. As soon as the court order was received and they advised us on the implications, we put a complete hold on anyone being removed in connection with the executive order.

We then processed those folks for waivers and released them into the United States.

QUESTION: (inaudible) question. The first one just to clarify what you said, that you knew the executive order was coming. Is that what you said? You knew it was going to be signed on Friday? Because there have been some reports that the first time you found out about it was when you were on a plane and you were upset about it. But you knew it was coming?

KELLY: As I said, we knew it was coming from, like two years ago, when Mr. Trump first started to run for president. Certainly didn't learn about it on an airplane. I mean, again, knew it was coming; knew it was signed Friday morning. I took a trip down to Miami for a couple of different reasons, one of which was to visit the people on the front lines of this whole effort, that is the folks at the Miami Airport TSA, Border Patrol, those kind of people.

Had some time -- you know, as you probably all know, I came from -- before I retired, 39 months in Southern Command; went there and talked to Admiral Kurt Tidd, engaged with him about the partnership that, frankly, is very strong between Homeland Security and SOUTHCOM. In fact, I'm very proud to say that that developed very closely between myself when I was in command, and my very, very good friend Jeh Johnson.

And we want to continue that. But no, I didn't learn about it on an airplane.

QUESTION: How much guidance were you able to (inaudible), specifically when it comes to green cardholders or people who had visas as a result of their work with the U.S. military? Because it seems like a lot of the problems that were encountered could have been easily foreseeable.

KELLY: The -- I think the -- from our perspective, again, people like me are expected, and not just because of my military background, we are the department, so are the implementers of the policy, obviously developed, you know, by the White House, approved by the president, in collaboration, and then sent down to the departments for execution, in this case Homeland Security.

The E.O. to me, and again this was more or less a collaborative process, the E.O. (inaudible) was fairly clear. Again, when that came down, I think I was in my sixth day on the job, but I relied on people, like the ones that are standing up here and the hundreds back at the headquarters, to say, OK, we've got it boss; we know what -- you know, this looks good to us, and we're off to the races.

And really, the -- I mean, I kept being asked about chaos at the ports of entry. And as I said to many, many members of Congress in individual phone calls, the -- you know, our officers who are at the counters, so to speak, the only chaos they saw was what was taking place in other parts of the airport. They knew what they were doing as immigrants -- not immigrants, but foreign nationals presented themselves. They knew what to do with it.

And as I say, the only -- the only, I guess -- we had to step back and re-cock (ph) a little bit. Kevin can address that. He already has. We had to step back and re-cock (ph) just a little bit based on the court order that we immediately implemented.

KELLY: So, no, I knew this was under development and I think we were in pretty good shape in how it was implemented by the workforce.

QUESTION: (inaudible) Huffington Post.

The White House has said repeatedly that 109 people were inconvenienced by this. The number that you gave for getting waivers, like ten times that. Can you explain the discrepancy there between 109 and then the number of people that you just gave who were not let on planes, eventually given waivers?

KELLY: I think the 109 certainly was -- I'm recollecting a phone call. The 109 I think was very early on, right? I mean, it was the first day of the thing that evening. Of course, over time, that number would increase.

But go ahead, Kevin, if you have anything else.

QUESTION: To follow up, though, can you explain why the White House didn't have a current number? They were saying 109 yesterday.

KELLY: As Kevin will probably outline to you, the records keeping we do is always -- is not always -- it's based on yesterday, so Kevin, acting commissioner, can give you some very good numbers yesterday. But in order to get the numbers today, we have to wait until tomorrow. It's just the way they collect the information.

Actually, you know, obviously it's an ongoing period, though, of comings and goings. That's why they do it that way.

Kevin, I don't know if you have...I don't know if you have...

MCALEENAN: The secretary is absolutely correct. I understand the White House was referring to the initial hours and the folks that were in transit to the U.S. when the executive order came about. That was a much smaller number that were affected who had landed in the U.S. and were being addressed and some of them were subject to that court order.

So I think that's the difference in the numbers. We're going to keep updating the numbers on our website so you have the accurate current information as of a validated number from roughly about 20 hours before every time we post.

QUESTION: Secretary Kelly, Pierre Thomas, ABC News. Did Homeland Security (inaudible) specific operational plan in place prior to the executive order being signed? Secondarily (ph), when did you learn specifically that President Trump was signing the order?

KELLY: Well, I guess I'd go back to I knew he was going to sign an order about a year and a half or two years before he became the president-elect.

I -- the -- you know, from day one in terms of inauguration, finishing touches, I'd have to put it that way, were being put on the executive order. As they (ph) say, the high level folks in the government, attorneys as well, were -- were part of that. People on my staff were generally involved. I guess probably Wednesday I think we -- we learned -- Tuesday, Wednesday that it would probably be during the week, that it would be signed out.

As you could imagine, copies go back and forth and they're tweaked right up to the last minute or, you know, adjusted right up to the last minute. I think probably Thursday we found out it was going to be signed the next day. Certainly, if you really, you know -- if you really want to know what was in the executive order, just read the newspaper the day before and you'd find out.

But -- so it was done in that way. And of course, Kevin and his team, the whole team, knows it's coming, knows what certainly the president- elect and knows what direction the E.O. is -- the draft E.O. was outlining. So people like Kevin -- you know, I don't know nearly as much about this as he does in terms of how you actually execute right down at the counter (ph) level at the airports. But he was leaning forward on that. So when it was signed, we executed it.

And the only -- as Kevin, I think, would -- I think you'd agree, the only adjustment that had to be made is when the court order came out, and of course, we reacted to that as fast as we could.

QUESTION: Yeah, would you explain a little bit about the impression of confusion? We heard from some of the airlines that they felt they were getting contradictory guidance, especially with regard to whether or not people -- the legal permanent residents were allowed to even board aircraft and where they would get this secondary screening that people started talking about.

Perhaps you could explain a little bit about that level of confusion and why that developed?

MCALEENAN: So under the executive order, Section Three, there's a provision for granting of waivers when it's in the national interest. So lawful permanent residents are technically covered in the executive order as immigrant visa holders.

We worked quickly with counsel to devise a waiver process. The secretary has given guidance that a returning resident, their status as an LPR in the U.S., is dispositive (ph) that it's in the national interest to welcome them home. So once we got that guidance, we were able to delegate the authority to grant a waiver out to the field and were able to clarify with the carriers that these folks were allowed to board.

QUESTION: That didn't happen immediately, right? That happened by Sunday?

MCALEENAN: It unfolded over a matter of hours Friday night into Saturday afternoon. That's correct.


QUESTION: Secretary Kelly and I guess Kevin, I'm a little bit confused, and I don't want to beat a dead horse, but you talked about a year and a half, two years ago you -- we published -- the A.P. published it several days in advance with details of the draft. That doesn't preclude you not knowing what was in it.

Did you know the details of what was in the order outside of open sourced media? Who exactly in the Department of Homeland Security was involved? If you can't provide names, (inaudible) a landing team from the transition, from the Trump administration prior to its arrival or was it career staff involved from the Department of Homeland Security prior to this announcement?

KELLY: I did know it was under development. I had an opportunity to look at at least two, as I recollect, drafts as it got closer to Friday. Again, don't exactly know other than some of the -- my legal shop representatives were involved. I would imagine some on the landing team, I would imagine some of them.

But the point is it came to the department. It was, you know, on a close-hold (ph) basis, meaning we didn't distribute it to everyone in the department, only those that need it, myself included, my chief and the lawyers. So it was a back and forth process. I did talk to a representative in the White House probably -- certainly early in the week about where it was going, how it was being developed. I commented that I had seen some of the initial drafts.

Pretty busy week. I didn't get involved in correcting grammar or reformatting the thing. So, I don't know if that answers it.

QUESTION: Were drafts that you saw from the White House (ph), were they from the media, from Associated Press or...

KELLY: No, they weren't from the media. They were -- although I give you credit, you had it. But no, they were just the drafts that were coming back and forth within the interagency.

QUESTION: (inaudible) clarification, please (inaudible).

You had no personal input or any sort of advance (ph) working with making these drafts? In other words, the draft was made, it was presented to you and then you (ph) signed? KELLY: Well, presented to me -- I mean, this -- this is a staff -- primary a staff process, right? So the policy gurus in the White House are working with the interagency people, not a large number, I wouldn't expect, of interagency people. I saw the -- the draft because it's still in staffing, and the people that worked in and around me were saying, "We've got it, boss; you know, this is -- this is kind of what we expected it to be."

I did not look at it from the perspective of, as I say, correcting the grammar or saying, you know, we need to change these words or do this thing. People that know the immigration process infinitely better than I do right now were people -- and that includes people around the interagency -- were the ones that did the staff work. And ultimately, the president signed it.

Then, as you know, in our government, then that is now passed down to the relevant agency, in this case Homeland Security. And we execute it. And as Kevin has indicated, and I certainly would endorse, the people on the front lines, Border Protection in this particular case, CBP, did an absolutely outstanding job. And I think, again, more credit is due because they (inaudible) very quickly when the court order came out.

And throughout all of this, the people that were -- were inconvenienced for some period of time as they were entering our country, were treated in the way they're always treated, with you know, dignity and respect. So...


STAFF: Two more questions, related -- content related to the executive order itself --

KING: We're going to drop out of this briefing - that's the secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly - for other important breaking news. President Trump, tonight, will make a dramatic Supreme Court pick. He will announce at 8:00 p.m. at the White House in primetime. And our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, has some breaking news.

A little drama, Pam, in the hours before we get this pick.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) analysts for President Trump, Supreme Court nominee, Judges Thomas Hardiman and Neil Gorsuch, we're being told are be brought to Washington ahead of tonight's primetime announcement at 8:00 p.m. We're told through our sources, my colleague Ariane de Vogue and I, that the increasing indications are that Neil Gorsuch will be President Trump's pick, but every source we've spoken to warned that it is possible that President Trump could change his mind ahead of this announcement tonight.

We are told through our sources that Judge Gorsuch is already in Washington, D.C., ahead of the big announcement. We are told that Judge Hardiman left his Pittsburgh home early this morning and, as we speak, is en route to Washington, D.C.

[12:30:05] So this is all an extraordinary measure we're told through officials to keep the selection private ahead of tonight's announcement and also to build the suspense.