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Border Patrol Temporarily Turns Away Caravan of Migrants; White House: Ronny Jackson is still on "Active Duty" at White House; South Korean President Moon: Trump Deserves Nobel Peace Prize. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired April 30, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


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[10:01:08]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow.

This morning, dozens of men, women and children from Central America who have spent weeks crossing through Mexico to the U.S. border are literally waking up on the U.S. doorstep. Their next step, though, is largely unknown. These are members of the so-called caravan that President Trump has railed about for weeks now. They attempted to enter U.S. border crossing station yesterday and make their formal request for asylum.

BERMAN: They were told the station is already beyond capacity and newcomers would just have to wait. This morning, immigration officials tell CNN the migrants should not expect, quote, "any special treatment or protections," that quote goes on. "We have an obligation to the American people to secure all of our borders," the official says, "and we will not pull resource and leave our borders purposefully insecure just because there is a caravan." That's the choice of words they chose.

Leyla Santiago in Tijuana, she has been with these people, these migrants trying to come to the U.S. for some time. Leyla, what are you seeing?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, take a look right behind me, show you that you can see that these migrants who arrived yesterday have been on the ground sleeping overnight. We have been here with them in the darkness as they wait. That is what is happening right now. There is this group out here, about 100 of them, I'm told, by organizers.

And then inside, John and Poppy, inside at the door, where U.S. immigration official is standing, there is a smaller group, about 20 to 30 mostly women and children that are much like this group, sleeping on blankets, trying to bundle up together as they wait. They have been told, by immigration officials here, that there is not capacity right now to process asylum requests here at this port of entry. And allow me to remind you, going in through the port of entry to seek asylum that is legal under U.S. federal law. And many of these migrants have told me, that is important to them. They want to do it the legal way.

And when you talk to them, especially the mothers, right now on their mind, while there is still a little bit of excitement because after such a long journey they have finally arrived. They can actually see the American flag on the other side, there is a lot of concern over family separation. I have checked in with U.S. immigration officials, they tell me they will not be separating children unless they believe they're in danger or not with their legal guardian, but for now, they wait with much uncertainty.

BERMAN: They wait. And remember, these are human beings here at the border as you get caught up in this argument about language and what not. Leyla Santiago, thanks very much.

So far this morning, the president has been silent about the migrants. That was not the case over the weekend.

HARLOW: Not at all. Kaitlan Collins joins us at the White House with more. Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: John and Poppy, the president has been silent about it today, but it is hard to see how he stays silent for much longer after seeing images like what Leyla just showed us. The president has repeatedly used this caravan as a means to justify his calls to build a border wall, saying that U.S. border laws are just too lax and he was even speaking about it at that rally in Michigan on Saturday night, saying he might shut down the government in September if he doesn't get enough money for border security, enough money for that border wall that he promised repeatedly throughout the campaign that Mexico would pay for. But he's continued to use this. He's continued to talk about it. It is hard to see how he stays silent much longer and we'll likely hear from him on this caravan during that press conference that he has with the prime minister of -- excuse me, the president of Nigeria here in a few hours.

BERMAN: So, Kaitlan, the White House has just released a statement, a bit of a non-clarification, about the current role of Dr. Ronny Jackson. What did they tell you or not tell you as the case may be?

COLLINS: Well, they released this statement after there are multiple questions about whether or not Dr. Ronny Jackson is going to retire.

[10:05:00] Because as CNN reported on Friday, he returned to the White House medical unit, but is no longer the physician who is attending the president. And the White House just issued a statement saying, "Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson is on active duty, assigned to the White House as deputy assistant to the president." They said, "Despite published reports, there are no personnel announcement at this time."

Now, we have got that statement coming as the White House continued to defend Dr. Jackson, showing documents that they say exonerate him from those - some of those allegations that up ended his nomination including that he wrecked a government vehicle after leaving a Secret Service party while intoxicated and that he distributed pills improperly, something that Jackson has denied, the White House continuing to push back. And even the president going after Democratic Senator Jon Tester for releasing those allegations, saying that he should resign.

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

Joining us now, CNN political analyst, White House correspondent for "Politico," Eliana Johnson, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Alice Stewart, and former manager of Hillary for America, also a CNN political commentator, Robby Mook. Nice to have you all here. As much as I just want to talk about the fake tree planting in the front lawn of the White House for this entire panel, I won't, at least not yet.

Eliana, let me get to you, because you're the one who broke the news about the fact that Dr. Jackson will not return, according to your reporting, to being the president's personal doctor. The White House isn't going that far yet. But this is your reporting. What else can you tell us about that and why the White House seems to be -- with that statement or non-statement of much, dancing around this.

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is noteworthy that the White House is not denying the report that Dr. Jackson is back at the White House, but he has not returned to his position as the president's personal physician. He's back in the White House medical unit, which contains several doctors and nurses. But his replacement, another navy officer by the name of Sean Conley, began as the president's personal physician first in an acting role, the day that Dr. Ronny Jackson was nominated to be the Veterans Affairs secretary. And he's continuing on in that role.

He's Dr. Jackson's replacement and Dr. Jackson had always planned to retire this summer. There were rumors that he was going to move that up. But it is unclear if he's going to leave the job and that's what the White House is denying. They're pushing back on those rumors. But he's not taking his old job back in the wake of these allegations. They are pushing back on some of those and some of them do appear to be false.

And I do think he's been put in a really difficult position where Democratic senator from Montana, Jon Tester, essentially released two pages of anonymous allegations and he hasn't been able to go out and publicly defend himself against him. So really tough spot, but he's not taking back his old job.

BERMAN: Some of the allegations have proven to be false. Others, they are still up on questions about the fact he's not going back as a personal physician, the fact that some Republicans are backing up Jon Tester. That tells you something -

HARLOW: Is it true?

BERMAN: It is just confusing. We just don't know. What we do know is that over the weekend, the president decided to attack the Democratic Senator Jon Tester, the ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, who released a lot of this information, personally and threatened him in a way. Let's listen.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know things about Tester that I could say too.

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And if I said them, he would never be elected again.

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BERMAN: You know, Alice Stewart, to you, you know it is one thing to fight over the merits of what is going on here. But to say I know things about a sitting Democratic senator, is that appropriate?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. That's the president's style is to go tit for tat. I think unfortunately here, the lead is getting buried. What we're hearing and what we've heard for the last several days about Admiral Dr. Jackson is unfounded. And a lot of it is proving to be not true. That I think it is extremely unfortunate that Senator Tester took this opportunity to smear the character and reputation of someone who served this country admirably and let's not forget, President Obama raved about his performance and about his job skills and even signed documents asking for his promotion due to his job performance.

And if according to Senator Tester, if Admiral Jackson was such a pill pushing drunk driving car crashing person, he never would have gotten through the Obama administration, he wouldn't have had the stature that he has now. So, I think it is incredibly unfortunate and inappropriate for Senator Tester to do this. But that being said, this president is not going to let this go unresolved and if he has something on Tester, I would imagine it will come out in full force. And rightfully so, you can't smear the character and reputation of one person and not expect any consequences.

BERMAN: But I think we should let this issue go. We want to move on to other things. But I will say, Alice, even though something of it just prove them, why aren't Republicans in the Senate criticizing Jon Tester? Why are they standing by Jon Tester? Why is Dr. Jackson not getting his job back? We don't know. I mean we just don't know a lot of the details here still.

[10:10:07] HARLOW: Good point. Switching gears, Robby, to immigration. Look, this is 150 migrants that Leyla Santiago has been traveling with for weeks now, right? Through Mexico, they're now at the doorstep of the United States. It is not a wave. I mean we know the numbers. These are asylum seekers, 115,000 plus people were seeking asylum in this country in 2016. This is a small group, the images are powerful and important. The president has sort of made this a wave by tweeting about it, talking about it at rally this weekend over and over again, clearly making immigration a galvanizing issue ahead of the midterms. Smart political strategy for the president and his base or not smart, are we going to have to face these images of these people who will stay exactly where they are until they are processed.

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it is just about the only strategy he has at this point. Because he has struggled to get much done, the tax bill that he and the Republican Congress passed didn't do very much for average people. And that's coming home to roost. And obviously, you know, we're seeing the polling, we're seeing what is happening in the special elections, there is a real backlash, not just against the president, but against his party controlling every part of government. And so, this is going to be the strategy to try to distract voters.

We look at how the Obama administration handled this. They went to the source of the problem, which is there is enormous political unrest in Central America, a lot of these people are indeed fleeing for their lives. They're being attacked for political reasons. Simply because of their gender for a whole number of reasons. So the president can choose to actually try to solve the problem, or he can make it into a political issue. And it is pretty clear which direction he's choosing to go.

BERMAN: It is crystal clear. Mike Pence is going down to the border. We say it is a political issue. I don't know that we can question whether or not the president believes in this, sincerely believes that he's been talking about it for years and years and years. And it's clearly a belief, a belief he wants to highlight right now in a political way.

Eliana, just the fact though, and you brought this up before, we were looking into it, it is about 350 migrants seek asylum at this border site every week. So it is 150 in this group, so that's like three days' worth. It isn't exactly, you know, consummate with the amount of attention it might be getting now. Eliana?

JOHNSON: I think that's exactly why this has turned into a potent political issue. This was a caravan of migrants that intentionally attracted media attention. It was meant to galvanize the left and in doing so it galvanized the right. That's why the president is fixated on it. And I think it is something that is going to be a potent political issue on the left and in turn the president is fixating on it and turning it into something that is going to ignite his base.

HARLOW: Robby, let me ask you. -

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STEWART: To those points, clearly this is something that resonates with the president's base and this is clearly something the president strongly believes in. He campaigned and won on the notion of building a wall in Mexico would pay for it, which I personally never believed they would pay for it, but this is one of his key components of his platform. He strongly believes this. I think it is important for us to note that we are a very welcoming nation, at the same time a nation of laws.

And it is important for these people to come in here, if they want to do so, they should do so legally. And the president made it quite clear that the Homeland Security, we will bring these people in, if they do it legally, but those that have climbed over the wall and done it illegally, they will face the consequences, but we're more than welcome to have people come into this country, but they must follow the laws of this country.

BERMAN: It is a legal process. Robby, 10 seconds. We got to run.

MOOK: I just don't want to create false equivalencies here. Two thirds of the country overwhelmingly support comprehensive immigration reform. All the answers are on the table. President Bush introduced comprehensive immigration reform. The extreme right wing of the Republican Party killed it. A third of the country is holding the rest of the country hostage on this issue. Let's not make this left versus right and everybody is right. Two thirds of the country is in a pretty clear place. We could solve this all tomorrow.

BERMAN: Asylum seeking is a legal process. With this specific -

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MOOK: Exactly. And they're seeking to come here legally.

BERMAN: Eliana, Alice, Robby, great to have you with us, guys. Appreciate it.

MOOK: Thanks.

BERMAN: Still to come, South Korea's leader pushing for a Nobel Peace Prize for President Trump. We're just weeks away from the president's sit down with Kim Jong-un.

HARLOW: Plus, the president is very worried about the midterm election? Maybe. His warning for Republican voters, next.

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[10:18:35] BERMAN: All right. South Korea's president told his cabinet this morning, spoke about the prospects of President Trump winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: Let me read you the exact quote here. "President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize. The only thing we need is peace."

HARLOW: So, this comes as President Trump says that he could sit down with Kim Jong-un for that meeting in three to four weeks. He's suggesting a possible location for the summit.

Our Paula Hancock is live in Seoul, South Korea, with more. The president takes to Twitter this morning and says how about this place?

PAULA HANCOCK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Well, John and Poppy, it looks like the focus is now back on the DMZ because the U.S. president suggesting that it could be a good place to have this rather than a third country. We were looking at potentially Singapore, Mongolia, from what U.S. officials close to this have been telling us. But the U.S. president clearly saw what happened on Friday with that summit between the North and South Korean leaders. It was picture perfect. It was made for TV moment. And he may have liked what he saw, thinking it could be a dramatic backdrop.

Now, we also have some more details about what was talked about on Friday. North Korea has agreed that it will close down its nuclear test site in Punggye-ri in the northeast of the country, in May. Now, that's from any time from tomorrow, really because that is the month of May. He's going to invite experts and journalists apparently, so that it is completely transparent.

Also saying that according to the Blue House, Kim Jong-un said he doesn't need nuclear weapons if there is an end to the Korean War, an official end. If there is no aggression from the United States. And if he is able to talk to the United States and have frequent discussions with them.

[10:20:10] And also, we know from what the United States wants, they want this denuclearization in any shape or form. It has to be the irreversible complete verifiable denuclearization. We're hearing from U.S. officials, actions speak louder than words. Also, there are still three Americans detained in North Korea, so clearly that is going to be a priority to get them back.

HARLOW: Paula Hancock in Seoul for us, thank you very much.

Let's bring in CNN global affairs analyst, Max Boot. You are a skeptic to say the least on this, that what we hear over and over again is irreversible denuclearization. That's mean a different thing that the U.S. as it does to Kim Jong-un, et cetera. But you said that Kim Jong- un getting rid of nukes is like committing suicide. He's never going to do it so don't buy into the hype.

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think it is unlikely. It's not impossible. I mean this is a young leader, you don't quite know what to expect and you do have very unpredictable leaders in both the United States and North Korea. So, who knows. But I would certainly not let the hype get out of control right now. I mean it is kind of silly to be talking about awarding Donald Trump a Nobel Peace Prize when there is no actual peace to celebrate yet. So, let's just you know curb our enthusiasm and see how these events develop.

BERMAN: Is Kim Jong-un -- is this playing out before our very eyes here.

BOOT: It seems unlikely. I mean nothing is impossible. A lot of people are showing a spectacle of Gorbachev. But the big difference is that Gorbachev was relaxing his police state at home. He was liberalizing. He was clearly a different kind of soviet leader.

Now, is Kim Jong-un a different kind of North Korean leader? I have not seen the evidence of that so far, it is possible. I don't want to rule it out. But based on his track record, the oppression is still there. The nuclear program is still there. He hasn't really promised or done anything different than what his father did before him. And we've also talked about complete denuclearization and return for American pledges of nonaggression.

HARLOW: Right. Except it's different now that he has - that he has the capacity that his father didn't have, right?

Over the weekend, past few days, we heard the president use the word honorable to describe Kim Jong-un, the man he called little rocket man. Our Republican James Langford of Oklahoma said I think you should stick to the little rocket man language instead of honorable. But does flattery work with Kim Jong-un like it works with President Trump? It is perhaps a smart strategy for the president to flatter him with words like honorable?

BOOT: It is possible. We haven't seen evidence that it really works. We have seen a lot of evidence that's flattery, definitely works with Donald Trump.

HARLOW: Right.

BOOT: I think Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea is trying to do by dangling this Nobel Peace Prize in front of his eyes. I mean, he knows how to manipulate Trump. Does that kind of manipulation work with Kim Jong-un? I haven't seen evidence of that so far.

BERMAN: There is evidence that Kim Jong-un knows how to manipulate though in general. He has sort of like laid an interesting groundwork here in the negotiations. Has he made it harder for President Trump to be tough, to go back and say little rocket man, to, you know, say we're going to fire our missiles at you on the first strike, we might do it. Has he cornered the president in a way?

BOOT: Absolutely. And Trump has kind of played into that by saying that Kim is going to denuclearize, that, you know, he's honorable, that, you know there is going to be peace in Korea, all that kind of stuff. Makes it harder to revert to that hard-line message, which is kind of what I think North Korea is after all along. I mean, I think it is the case that all of Trump's saber rattling did concern and alarm Kim Jong-un and did want him to lead him to try to take the tack of negotiating. But so far, he's not really conceding anything irreversible or permanent in terms of the actual negotiating process. He's just basically so far I think the advantage is clearly on his side because he's gotten Trump to end his threats, and he hasn't really had to make any major concessions beyond closing a nuclear test site, which is something he could reopen next week.

HARLOW: There have been some analysts who have said this is a president wanting a Nixon and China moment. And he's going to rush to get it. And that he needs to slow down on all of this. Would you agree with them?

BOOT: Absolutely. I mean, I think clearly Trump wants a quote/unquote "win." And I would be concerned that what he's going to concede in order to get that win, for example, possibly pulling U.S. troops out of the South Korean -- out of South Korea, ending the U.S. alliance with South Korea. Now I think there will be an interesting tension in the White House because John Bolton is very much a hard-liner. I mean just a few months ago, that he was saying, let's go attack North Korea. And he's going to be very skeptical of any kind of accord. Whereas I think Trump is going to be if anything somewhat credulous because he wants that Nobel prize. He wants that big win. And so, it's going to be interesting to see the interplay between those two men in the White House.

BERMAN: Max Boot, great to have you with us. Thanks so much. Come back.

All right, at least 29 people including nine journalists are dead after a double bombing during rush hour this morning in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. The first place went off near the U.S. embassy and also, Afghan government buildings. When journalists rushed to the scene.

[10:25:00] A suicide bomber dressed as a TV cameraman detonated a second bomb. This is always such a threat. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

HARLOW: All right. Switching gears in a major way, comedian, Michelle Wolf, if you didn't see it live, you've seen it by now, hosting the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Did she cross the line? Certainly, depends who you ask. We'll debate it ahead.

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