Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Caravan of Central American Immigrants Seek Asylum at U.S. Border; Trump Threatens Government Shutdown Over Border Security Funding; Trump Often Announces Picks Before They're Vetted; Trump Pitches Possible Locations for His Meeting with North Korea's Leader, Kim Jong-un; South Korea: Kim Says He Will Close Nuclear Test Site In May. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 30, 2018 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed you are.

HARLOW: And I am here in the flesh.

BERMAN: The long national nightmare is over. Great to have you back. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: Great to be here.

BERMAN: A standoff at the U.S.-Mexico border -- a highly politicized standoff, a standoff designed to get attention perhaps on both sides. And it really is.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: But it's a standoff with dozens of suffering human beings caught in the middle. Dozens of Central American migrants who traveled some 2500 miles are at the U.S. entry point in Tijuana so close yet so far from the moment that all present a chance but only a chance to live in the U.S. legally.

HARLOW: Right. So each of these migrants has traveled here and planned to seek asylum. Despite the president's orders to stop the so-called caravan in its track, each of them will likely be allowed -- will be allowed to make their case to immigration officials eventually. At the moment, though, officials say they just don't have the capacity to process these 150 migrants.

It's important to have perspective. What does that number really mean? Here's what we know. More than 115,000 people -- 115,000 people applied for asylum to this country in 2016. We expect the president to weigh in again this afternoon because he will hold his third joint press conference in less than a week. This time it is with visiting president of Nigeria who is at the White House. We're going to carry that live of course. But first let's go to our Leyla Santiago who's in Tijuana for the latest -- Leyla.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy and John, let me just go ahead and show you because right now some of these migrants are starting to wake up. What you are seeing is what we have seen overnight. We have been here for hours with them in the dark. Now the sun is starting to come up and you're starting to see some of them wake up. They have blankets, they have tarps. Many of these women and children outside. So this is what anyone can see from just the streets in Tijuana as we approach the border.

But inside where I have also been, there are also women and children on the ground, same type of scenario but they have been stopped at the door by U.S. officials with what you just said claiming that they do not have the capacity to process those requests.

I have reached out to Homeland Security to get clarification as to what that number is, how many people are in their facilities, how many or when that will change. I am still waiting for those answers. In the meantime as we have been here, you know, this has been a long journey. We've been with them as they've been on trains, on buses, they slept on the floors of shelters, and so for them this is excitement but also a lot of the mothers very nervous, very nervous about possibly being separated from their children.

That is the number one concern I have heard. I did speak to immigration officials about that. They say they will not be separating families unless the child is believed to be in danger or they don't believe that that adult has proof of being the legal guardian.

The other thing that is sort of a consensus here, you know, when they were stopped at the door as a group they decided we stay. We stay and we wait. We have come this long. This is the last stretch because they do plan to do it the legal way, what U.S. federal law allows to go to a port of entry where we are right now and seek asylum. But even though the government, the United States government including the attorney general has said they are sending extra resources down here, they are waiting and have not been allowed to cross the door where the U.S. officials are.

BERMAN: All right. Leyla Santiago at the border. Leyla, thanks very much.

And obviously the White House wants to put the spotlight on this.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: Vice President Mike Pence will be nearby.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: He is visiting the border today.

HARLOW: Today.

BERMAN: So this is clearly something they want to highlight.

The president has not commented on this this morning, hasn't put out a statement on Twitter. He talked about it a lot over the weekend, though.

HARLOW: He did. Kaitlan Collins is at the White House with more.

Good morning.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Poppy. Yes, the president has been silent on this so far but that's only today. Because he has certainly not been silent overall. He's repeatedly tweeted about this using it as a means to justify his calls for a border wall saying that it goes to prove how lax those U.S. border security truly is. And he was even talking about it just Saturday night during a rally in Washington, Michigan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need security. We need the wall. We are going to have it all. We come up again on September 28th. And if we don't get border security we'll have no choice. We'll close down the country because we need border security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: So that threat there in reference to some spending bills that will come up in September. Whether or not the president uses that to justify getting money for the border wall in there. But so far in the immediate future the president has used this caravan as an excuse to deploy the National Guard to the border, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has so far been on board. You can bet that we'll likely hear from the president on this more today potentially during that press conference with the Nigerian president as these images of these migrants at that border crossing near San Diego continue to play out on cable news -- John and Poppy.

[09:05:03] BERMAN: Meanwhile, Kaitlan, Dr. Ronny Jackson is back working at the White House as a doctor, but apparently not the president's doctor. What is the latest here?

COLLINS: Yes. That's right, John. Of course, when Dr. Ronny Jackson was nominated as the nominee for the Veterans Affairs secretary, he stepped down from his position as the actual White House physician with someone else taking over for him. And since these allegations derailed his nomination he has returned to the White House Medical Unit but he has not returned as the president's personal physician.

Of course the White House is continuing to very ardently defend Jackson against these allegations made against him, numerous allegations using documents that they say exonerate him from those allegations that he wrecked a government vehicle after leaving a Secret Service party and also that he improperly distributed pills. They say both of those things are not true. And the president also going after Democratic Senator Jon Tester saying he needs to resign because of course he released that document with all of these allegations in there that they say were from current and former colleagues of Dr. Jackson's.

But the White House is so far continuing to defend him. But we should note it's unclear if Dr. Jackson is going to retire from his position and it's also unclear who the president is going to nominate next for the Veterans Affairs secretary because of course before Dr. Jackson was nominated they struggled with finding someone who could replace David Shulkin when he was on the out and the president clearly wanted to get rid of him at Veterans Affairs. And it doesn't seem that they've been able to find anyone to take that place just yet -- John and Poppy.

HARLOW: Kaitlan Collins, at the White House, thank you so much.

As she just explained it's a mess overall of this, a lot of fallout, around what led to Dr. Ronny Jackson's nomination in the first place and that is raising big questions over the entire selection process, the vetting or not really vetting of these folks.

BERMAN: Joining us now, Josh Dawsey, White House reporter for "The Washington Post," CNN analyst, and award winning.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: As of Saturday night, reporter.

Thanks so much for being with us, Josh. Your piece that came out overnight says that there is a White House official who told you that the president's nominating process is ready, shoot, aim. What does that mean?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. So what we've been able to discern over the nominating process is that the president often decides he wants someone on a whim and will announce that person and then the vetting process can begin. As we reported on Ronny Jackson, his FBI check was not done when the president announced him. There have been a number of other times, Rex Tillerson, for example, his first secretary of state, where the president had a meeting with him and then decided pretty quickly to announce him as secretary of State.

What the president does often with these senior level hires like he did with Ronny Jackson is he just makes a decision. So with agency employees and other folks across the government there are a lot of vetting on whether they've ever posted anything negatively on Twitter, on social media, about the president. So there's kind of two different standards here. One for top folks where the president just says, OK, you are going to run this and then, you know, a different level for other folks.

HARLOW: Well, and as you note in your piece there are a lot of folks that don't make the cut simply because they have tweeted negatively about the president during the campaign or worked for one of his opponent. But yet people who are not vetted, case in point, right, Dr. Jackson, they make it through. There is an office that is supposed to be at the head of doing all of this and that is the Office of Presidential Personnel. Why is it not working?

DAWSEY: Well, the White House would contend that it isn't working. And our reporting shows that this office often is fixated on folks who's loyal to the president whether an employee. HARLOW: Right.

DAWSEY: Potential employees loyal to the president. But some of the more traditional checks are not always done. Now the White House would say that they often vet on most employees. But sometimes when the president just decides to tweet something or the president decides to announce something the office really doesn't have much of a chance to do anything. For example, last year everyone woke up when the president tweeted who is the new FBI director was and all of the traditional processes that you would go through and, you know, vetting someone, all of these forms, you know, interviews, a lot of different things that happen, sometimes these things takes months and months and months. It's hard to do that when the president just decides to make an announcement and then the (INAUDIBLE) in.

HARLOW: Fair.

BERMAN: There's so many people quoted on your piece.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: Republicans on Capitol Hill, are saying, you know, help us help you, Mr. President.

DAWSEY: Right.

BERMAN: The way he is doing this puts them in a difficult position.

DAWSEY: Right. Well, the president with Ronny Jackson, for example, as VA, now some of the allegations have come into dispute whether he actually wrecked a car or not when he was drunk. The White House is saying no. How many pills he prescribed. But even before all of that a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill were concerned that he didn't have the managerial experience to lead this country's second largest agency and they were caught off guard by the president's pick.

You didn't see support from Johnny Isakson, the Veterans --

HARLOW: Right.

DAWSEY: -- leader on the Senate side. You didn't see quick support from Mitch McConnell. And they're basically saying you have to give us people we can confirm. You think you have a razor thin majority, 50-49 right now, Republicans really have to struggle unless they can get Democratic support for some of these nominees to get people through.

[09:10:03] And when you bring someone who has noticeable issues, noticeable problems to the Hill, it makes it even harder.

HARLOW: Josh Dawsey, important reporting. Congrats on the award. Very well-deserved.

DAWSEY: Thank you.

HARLOW: Thanks so much. BERMAN: First of many.

HARLOW: The first of many. Thank you.

All right. Joining us now CNN Political Analyst and Senior Political Correspondent for "The Hill," Amie Parnes and CNN Contributor, Bianna Golodryga.

Ladies, nice to have you here this Monday morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome back.

HARLOW: Thank you. It's nice to be back. Immigration. I mean, this is clear ahead of the midterms the president is jumping on, tweeting about, talking about the caravan. I'm sure he'll do it in the next few hours, if history tells us anything.

Is this purely to fire up the base, make immigration a galvanizing issue heading into the midterms? Is this him seeing it, Amie, as just a purely strategic political play?

AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Definitely. This is a dream for him. I mean, in comes the caravan. And this is his issue. He spent the entire campaign campaigning on a border wall.

HARLOW: Right.

PARNES: And the crowds loved it. And he is going back to that time and again. You know, earlier this month he did it again. He -- this is what he wants. He wants to kind of raise this. He thinks this is a dog whistle to his base. And they are -- it's a signal that he hasn't forgotten about them and that he's going to continue to talk about it.

BERMAN: You know, it's 150 people, though.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: It's 150 lives and 150 stories of suffering there. But I think there is one border crossing that gets about 50 people a day normally so --

HARLOW: Right. So 350 a week.

BERMAN: It's some mass tidal wave here.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: They have to prove that they're being discriminated against, right? That their lives are in danger. You look at these images and women and children, I'm not sure how you can parlay that necessarily into drug addicts and drug pushers and rapists. Right? So 2this works for the president. I agree with you. This is his sweet spot. However, I'm not sure how it sits with traditional Republicans as they are approaching the midterms right now.

It doesn't seem to be the issue -- the number one pressing issue as far as reaching out to their constituents. So that's where you see the disconnect, something the president definitely puts as issue number one, not necessarily the case for many other Republicans.

HARLOW: So over the weekend when the president did not attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner, you know, went and held this rally in Washington Township, Michigan, and John and I were anchoring when he said this. He outright threatened a sitting U.S. senator, Senator Jon Tester of Montana. Listen to what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I know things about Tester that I could say, too. And if I said them he would never be elected again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. We don't know what those things are, if the president actually knows them, Amie. This is because he is furious with Tester for he sees as the single person who scuttled the nomination of Dr. Jackson to head the VA. Now as John mentioned, there are a lot of Republicans who are supporting Tester on this. So Sarah Sanders, White House press briefing today, does she need to come forward and say here's what the president knows? How is she going to handle this?

PARNES: She -- I think he is just talking the talk there. I think she needs to say -- she is obviously going to be pressed on what he has. I don't know if he has much. I think this is something the president does. It's a tactic he uses.

HARLOW: Yes.

PARNES: Once again also to kind of, you know, rally his base. He knows that Jon Tester is in trouble in Montana and he's going to keep kind of poking at him until that works.

HARLOW: And I was wrong to say briefing today. No briefing today. The president is going to have to answer questions on this likely in the press conference.

(CROSSTALK)

GOLODRYGA: How uncharacteristic this is for a president to be threatening.

HARLOW: Right.

GOLODRYGA: Right? I mean, I would consider that to be a threat, sitting U.S. senator and it's something that we saw him do during the campaign, it's something that he did with James Comey. Remember when he said, I hope there are tapes.

HARLOW: Tapes.

BERMAN: Right.

GOLODRYGA: Right? So this definitely falls into characteristics we've seen the president --

PARNES: (INAUDIBLE).

GOLODRYGA: Right. This is something that he does repeatedly. But I think it's worth noting how uncharacteristic it is for a sitting president to do this.

BERMAN: And on the issue of Ronny Jackson in general which I continue to think is a strange case. And there's a lot we don't know. The president is on the attack, upset that the nomination was pulled. However, you know, Senator Lankford was on TV over the weekend.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: Saying that he has concerns there and standing by Jon Tester.

HARLOW: Absolutely.

BERMAN: And there's the fact that guy, Ronny Jackson, is not going back to being the president's physician.

PARNES: Right.

BERMAN: I mean, something is up here.

GOLODRYGA: And look, you have people behind the scenes, Republicans mainly, who have said that they actually appreciated Tester coming out and being the fall guy here because they agreed with him. They did have concerns and the irony being that the president supported Ronny Jackson to the extent that he went out before any vetting was done, right? And threw him under the bus in a way where had that not been done, had the proper vetting been done behind closed doors perhaps he could still continue to hold the job as the president's physician.

BERMAN: Ready, shoot, aim, as Josh Dawsey just reported.

HARLOW: Right. On another topic, we know now that the president is going to address the NRA this week at the end of the week. This comes, you know, two months after the horrific shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida. In the wake of that the president was supportive at least he spoke about being supportive of stricter gun laws, raising the age minimum, et cetera. He even said, you know, basically more people need to stand up to the NRA. People are too afraid of the NRA.

So, Amie, how does he go before the NRA? What does he say given the movement that has really begun from these Parkland students?

PARNES: Well, I think he was trying to have his cake and eat it too at that time because you will remember that he cozied up to the NRA at the same time. He is doing that again. This is an organization that donated $30 million to his campaign.

He needs to kind of stand behind them and show them his support ahead of the midterms, ahead of 2020. This is something he needs to do. I think he was trying to comment at the time he saw the mood of the country and saw the students coming forward.

No one actually thought that this would happen and that he would take it seriously and push this legislation. So, I think he is going back once again to sort of rally his base and back to where he thinks he belongs.

BERMAN: Percentage chance there's anything of a moment where he goes to the NRA and says hey, you need to change. You need to change anything even in a tiny small thing. Any possibility he will?

GOLODRYGA: I can't imagine him doing it now. It is a tactic that the NRA has definitely used during past mass shootings. That's where you lay low, right, and let time go by. I can't imagine the president now after all these months coming forward and saying here is what you have to do here, an ultimatum.

BERMAN: Bianna Golodryga, Amie Parnes, great to have you here with us. Thank you very, very much.

We are weeks away, maybe a few weeks away from the president's meeting with Kim Jong-un. This morning, the president hinting at where he wants the high stakes meeting to actually happen.

HARLOW: Plus, the fired FBI director has one way to describe the House Intelligence Committee's Russian report calling it a wreck and a fierce debate after a very controversial standup after the White House Correspondents Dinner over the weekend. Will there be lasting fallout, though, next?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:21:01]

BERMAN: All right. Just in from the White House, breaking news really, a non-clarification on the status of Dr. Ronny Jackson, who was the president's personal physician. We just got a statement from Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah, it reads, "Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson is currently on active duty assigned to the White House as deputy assistant to the president.

Despite public supports, there are no personnel announcements at this time. The reports have been that Dr. Jackson is back working at the White House but not as the president's doctor so the statement released by the White House clarifies nothing.

HARLOW: We will have the reporter from "Politico," who broke that news last night on the program in just a little bit. Maybe the White House will clarify a bit more.

Meantime, this morning, the president is pitching possible locations for his meeting with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un. That meeting could happen according to the president in three to four weeks.

BERMAN: This is the statement the president just put out on Twitter. He writes, "Numerous countries are being considered for the meeting, but with peace house freedom house on the border of North and South Korea, be a more representative, important and lasting site than third party country, just asking?"

CNN's Paula Hancocks live in Seoul, watching all of this for us, maybe putting it up to a plebiscite, Paula, asking the American people where they want this meeting.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, it's certainly possible that the meeting would be at the DMZ especially after what you saw last Friday. That picture perfect made for tv moment that was the summit between the North Korean leader and the South Korean president.

So, clearly President Trump has been watching that. We also have more details about that meeting from last Friday. We are hearing from the Blue House that Kim Jong-un said he is going to close down, shut down the North Korean nuclear facility, which is in (inaudible), the testing site where all six tests have been carried out.

And he said he's going to do that in May. Now bearing in mind May starts tomorrow. That could be quite soon. He is going to invite experts and journalists, he says, from the U.S. and South Korea, so that there is complete transparency.

He also rejected reports that that site has become obsolete because it collapsed saying there are actually two tunnels there that nobody knew about and they are in very good condition, but he is still going to shut that down.

Also, according to the Blue House, Kim Jong-un said that he is not the kind of person who would launch a missile, a nuclear missile against the United States. So, we are seeing a very different Kim Jong-un here because clearly that is what North Korea was threatening just a matter of months ago.

HARLOW: Paula, thank you very much reporting for us from Seoul. Let's talk about this big picture. Our Global Affair Analyst, Kimberly Dozier, joins us now. Good to see you, Kim. Look, you have some at least verbal concessions from Kim Jong-un saying they will shut down the nuclear test site in May.

On Friday he said as Paula just reiterated to President Moon, look, I'm not the kind of guy who will shoot a nuclear weapon. He is also not the kind of guy that you just take his word for it. So, at this point before this meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un what guarantees are necessary?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: At this point, there are no guarantees in place. Everyone I have spoken to who has negotiated these types of deals in the past say show me. The good thing is walking into this you do have the president meeting Kim Jong-un if all goes well.

And it really is only at that level that these kinds of decisions can be made on the North Korean side. Whereas, in other arms deals you would have a lot of lower level officials meeting together to decide on the deal before the two leaders meet. So, it actually does make a lot of sense in the North Korean context in terms of who has the right and responsibility to make these kinds of calls. But multiple times in the past in the Bush administration and the Obama administration, it looked like you had a deal and then somebody did something to lose the trust of the other side.

So, this point the questions will be what facilities will international inspectors have access to? Will they have continuing access?

[09:25:09] What has to be destroyed in terms of North Korea's capability before the U.S. and international community accept this as a real deal and step-down sanctions?

BERMAN: So, national security adviser, John Bolton, he has a very interesting model. He says there is historical precedent we can point to, to learn from here. He says it is Libya. Listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We have very much in mind the Libya model from 2003-2004. There are obviously differences. The Libyan program is much smaller, but that was basically the agreement that we made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: If you're Kim Jong-un and the Libyan model is what this is based on, you have to be thinking I'm not sure I want this. Moammar Gadhafi ended up dead.

DOZIER: Exactly. It didn't work out too well for him. So, the difference in this situation is that North Korea also has China as a guarantor. It has warming relations with South Korea. In a sense, what Kim Jong-un is managing to do is get the momentum, get people hopeful for possibilities and almost get them out over their skis so it is hard to stop. So, the ball is almost in the U.S. court, but it is also going to be, could be blamed on Trump if this fails.

HARLOW: That is a great point, Kim. It's what we wanted to ask you next, which is does this peaceful rhetoric, these sort of Kumbaya almost, if you will, these images out of the meeting between President Moon and Kim Jong-un box President Trump in? Meaning after that how can President Trump really go back to fire and fury, little "Rocket Man," my button is bigger than yours?

DOZIER: Exactly. It's almost like one of those little woven finger traps like the more you get in when you try to pull out, the tighter it is going to get. It is going to be tougher for the U.S. to use the threat of military action.

And it is also possible that because of the South Korean party on the ground that is in power and their propensity towards unification with the North that they will be able to be convinced and convince their own people that this is better than always having the threat of multiple artillery shells raining down on us from the North. BERMAN: Kimberly Dozier, great to have you with us. Thank you very much. James Comey with a searing new critique. Why he says the House Intelligence Committee is in shambles.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)