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North Korea Summit Still Happening?; President Trump Stirs Controversy With Memorial Day Tweet; Trump Administration Loses Track of 1,500 Immigrant Children. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 28, 2018 - 16:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: With one tweet, President Trump puts the "me" in Memorial Day.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Game on? A U.S. team in North Korea trying to save a historic summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. So, could we still see these two leaders shake hands?

Alberto alert, the first storm of the hurricane season about to crash into the Gulf Coast and kick off the summer with two feet of rain.

Plus, politics and finger-pointing, with kids caught in the middle. Why the Trump administration is not taking responsibility for losing track of 1,500 migrant children.

Welcome to THE LEAD on this Monday. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Jake.

And we begin with our politics lead.

President Trump marking this Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery after touting on Twitter that -- quote -- "Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today," followed by a list of what he claims are some of his achievements, and finishing with -- quote -- "Nice."

Meantime today, a high-level team of U.S. envoys is in North Korea, with a second team in Singapore, preparing for Trump's potential summit with Kim Jong-un, the same summit that was canceled by President Trump, of course, just last week.

Well, now it appears that meeting could, maybe, be back on, and for the originally planned date of June 12, which is, of course, just over two weeks from today.

CNN's Boris Sanchez starts our coverage off today from the White House.


Trump marking Memorial Day by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, sending a message to the families of fallen service members.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To every parent who weeps for a child, to every child who mourns for a parent, and to every husband or wife whose heart has been torn in two, today, we ask God to comfort your pain, to ease your sorrow, and to wipe away your tears.

SANCHEZ: Earlier, Trump took to Twitter to thank the troops, but also to promote his agenda, writing -- quote -- "Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades. Lowest unemployment numbers for blacks and Hispanics ever and women in 18 years, rebuilding our military and so much more. Nice."

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: The FBI's efforts to spy on the Trump campaign.

SANCHEZ: And again on Twitter Trump propagating a conspiracy theory, quoting a discussion on FOX News about a deep state spy embedded in his presidential campaign to help Hillary Clinton, while still providing no evidence.

Meantime, the White House is eying developments out of North Korea, where an American delegation, including two former ambassadors and a nuclear negotiator, arrived on Sunday. The group expected to lay the groundwork for a proposed summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un set to take place in just over two weeks.

The White House striking a hopeful tone over the weekend, just days after President Trump withdrew from the summit.

TRUMP: A lot of people are working on it. It's moving along very nicely, so we're looking at June 12 in Singapore. It hasn't changed, and it's moving along pretty well. So, we will see what happens. OK?

SANCHEZ: Following a surprise reunion over the weekend between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump added that other secret meetings were taking place not far from the nation's capital and that talks were going well.

And while the president appears optimistic on denuclearization, many even within his own party remain skeptical.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I think that the North Koreans realize that total denuclearization on their part is not in their national interest. That's how they see it. I don't think the rest of us see it that way, but that's how they see it.


SANCHEZ: And, Erica, we just got confirmation from the White House a short time ago of a phone call between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Trump.

Both leaders agreeing to hold a summit before this planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un. No date has been announced, but we should point out that both leaders are expected to attends the G7 summit in Canada just a few days before this planned summit in Singapore -- Erica.

HILL: Boris Sanchez with the latest from the White House this afternoon, thank you.

My political panel joins me now, Symone Sanders, former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, Scott Jennings, former special assistant to President George W. Bush, and Josh Campbell, former FBI supervisory special agent.

Good to have all of you with us.

"Washington Post" columnist Anne Applebaum writing over the weekend about President Trump's cancellation of the summit. And she laid out a number of things, including what she sees as a loss of credibility and long-term consequences of the president's actions, writing: "The United States has proven itself to be an inconsistent player. The president cannot be trusted to follow any course for a long time. He might abandon or reverse policy on the Korean Peninsula at any moment."


Scott, is this just the art of the deal, as viewed by President Trump, and, if so, could that be costing the United States?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what Anne Applebaum says is changing direction at any moment, the rest of the world and a lot of the American people would say is trying to do something different, other than bang your head against the wall.

We have been at it for, you know, several decades with these people, trying to get them to the table and denuclearize or at least stop pursuing nuclear weapons, and everyone has failed.

And so Trump seems to have moved us closer to a possible solution. Now, I do agree it's highly unlikely these people are ever going to easily and really willingly give up nuclear weapons, but it's clear the sanctions are working.

It's also clear that the North Koreans believe that we are serious about a military option, which I don't think they believed over the last eight years during President Obama's administration.

So you can call it changing on a dime or whatever Anne called it, but I would say that, and according to CNN's polling, this is true, the American people want something different here because what we were doing was simply not working.

HILL: And you see this as something different as working. The president also tweeting last night's about North Korea's -- quote

-- "brilliant potential," which builds on some of the flattery that we saw, of course, in his cancellation letter, Josh.

What is the purpose of that praise? Is that helpful on the global stage?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, you hope it's part of some coordinated strategy.

And I agree with Scott that all Americans should be getting behind this, when we think about finally bringing some sense of peace to the region, bringing these parties together. That is a goal that we should all be supporting.

The problem is, is that it has to be done in the right way. Otherwise, you know, the entire thing might fall apart.

I know, having work in embassies overseas and bringing together parties that might not necessarily agree, sometimes even putting together a coffee can take weeks to talk about all the parameters and what's going to actually be part of the dialogue and the discussion.

So, you know, think about something as Herculean as this, where you're talking denuclearization. This is a task that's monumental. So, it has to be done correctly. So, I think, at the end of the day, the credibility of the United States is on the line. We can't be so interested in, you know, getting that Nobel Peace Prize going in that we will then accept anything or then walk away.

So, it has to be strategic. It's not a choose your own adventure. There has to be a strategy.


Where is the strategy? We have seen the president change his mind time and time again. And I think that's why you saw that piece in "The Washington Post."

The fact of the matter is that the goal is, in fact, and I think has always been denuclearization, but North Korea knows the only reason they have the opportunity to have the summit and this face-time with the American president is because of their nuclear weapons.

They have made no real concessions to come to this table. And it's still far off. The table might not even been set on the 12th, the way things have been going.

So, I'm just confused about what the White House's strategy is. I think the world is confused. And I would also venture to say that perhaps the North Koreans are confused, because there's so much inconsistency from this White House.

HILL: Dana Bash asking former Director of National Intelligence James clapper over the weekend if it's better, though, to simply go forward at this point, even if no agreement comes out of it. Here's more of what he had to say.


JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: There is value. Having gone this far, there is value in meeting and greeting, gripping and grinning, and just establishing a rapport. I think -- yes, I think it would be important to have the summit.


HILL: Symone, is there a chance that that is the strategy, simply put?

SANDERS: Perhaps since we know the president watches television, so perhaps he gleaned that strategy from that interview on Sunday.

We -- it's just not clear. Again, it's not clear what the strategy is. I'm hopeful that perhaps there's some master plan that the White House is keeping close to their chest, but knowing who currently sits in the White House and knowing the way things have gone before, I'm skeptical that that's in fact the case.

CAMPBELL: And you have to remember also that we don't have the home court advantage here. So, lot of people have been talking about, for example, the Dayton Accords, right, in 1995, where you had Richard Holbrooke, who was kind of orchestrating this masterful discussion to get to some agreement, down to even walking away from the deal and calling the bluffs of some of the parties that were there.

But that was all done here. This is something that's going to be done elsewhere. Obviously, there are different parties, more parties involved here than in past discussions. So, again, there has to be some strategy going in.

I would hate to see us have a discussion for the sake of discussion and then people walk away even more ramped up and maybe disliking each other more than they went in, if both sides had so much on the line and then walked away empty-handed.

HILL: We know the president also pointing to what he's seen as progress thus far, which, of course, is the release of those three Americans.

We know that's viewed differently by different sides, but I think everybody can come around to the fact that they are happy that they were sent home.

That being said, Scott, as we look at what could be on the table, as Josh pointed out, just getting to the point of a coffee can be difficult. And it takes a lot of strategizing. It takes a lot of planning.

As we know, there was a date before there was ever really a plan for the meeting. How damaging is that?

JENNINGS: I don't think this is damaging at all.

I think the president is trying to blow up, so to speak, what we have been doing that has not been working and try something different. Here's what we know. These people are desperate for sanctions relief. The maximum pressure campaign has to continue.


It will continue if they don't deal with us. And we also know that they believe, more than they've believed in the past, that a real military option is on the table.

So, all of that is very, very good progress for the United States. The real wild card here, though, is China. It's clear to me that the North Korean rhetoric changed over the last few weeks because China yanked their chain. China said, hey, stop being so forward-leaning with the U.S., we will put oil in the pipeline, we will give you more stuff if that's what you need.

It strikes me that while we're trying to deal with the North Koreans here, the real game is to keep the Chinese from meddling in the sanctions that are clearly working. It would be a violation of U.N. protocols for the Chinese to do that, but I think that's exactly what they are doing.

So Donald Trump's got to deal with two problems, keeping the North Koreans engaged and keeping the Chinese from interrupting our maximum pressure campaign.

SANDERS: And if he was a great negotiator, Erica, I'm sure that would be, in fact, the case. He would be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, but what we have seen is, as the president leans in, if you will, on North Korea, it seems as though he, himself -- now I'm sure that the career professionals in the State Department have a plan they would like to help the president execute in terms of dealing with the Chinese.

But I think the president does not have that plan himself, and so he can't walk and chew gum at the same time, so he is leaning in with the North Koreans and just not out there having a strategy with the Chinese.

So, maybe this summit with Prime Minister Abe will be helpful, but not if they are just playing golf at Mar-a-Lago. I'm not convinced.

HILL: Josh, I just want to get your take just to wrap things up here.

As we look at this, based on your experience, how quickly do you think we could actually see something that this is agreed upon? Because to your point, that potential meeting is only days before June 12.

CAMPBELL: Well, it's a good question.

I think about the some things that we have done overseas when we're talking with our own allies that, again, as I mentioned, can take weeks and months to come to some type of agreement, much less when you're dealing with parties that have been at war for, you know, this armistice, for decades.

So it's going to take time. And my only problem is with this deadline is that I agree we should all be focused on getting behind this and supporting and finally getting to peace, but we can't be so focused on a deadline that is printed on some coin that we're then going to rush this project through and set it up for failure before it's even out of the gate.

So, again, I agree with Scott and Symone that it is something that has to be done, but it has to be done strategically. And again there's too much on the line as far as our credibility for this thing not to go right.

HILL: All right, everyone, stick with me here.

If the Trump administration cannot keep track of some 1,500 immigrant children who arrived at the border alone, what could happen, then, to the children who are separated from their parents at the border under the administration's new policy?


[16:16:37] HILL: An update now on those 1,500 unaccompanied immigrant children. They crossed the border alone and were placed with sponsors in the U.S. Yet, now, it's not clear where they are. This as lawmakers raised concerns about a change to a different immigration policy what would separate more children coming into the U.S. from their families.

CNN's Rosa Flores is live in San Antonio.

So, Rosa, first, is there an effort right now to find these 1,500 kids who aren't accounted for?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The answer is no. There is no effort to try to find and track down these children. And federal officials say that, legally, they don't have to track them.


FLORES (voice-over): Nearly 1,500 children falling through the cracks of a broken immigration system, raising questions about Attorney General Jeff Session's new zero tolerance policy that leads to separating more children from their parents and placing them in the custody of the United States' government.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child may be separated from you as required by law.

FLORES: The Department of Health and Human Services publicly admitting last month that it had checked on 7,600 kids placed in sponsor homes and couldn't account for about 1,500.

SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP (D), NORTH DAKOTA: We are failing, I don't think there's any doubt about it. You are the worst foster parents in the world. You don't even know where they are.

FLORES: And the agency acknowledging it's not even trying to find where the kids are.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), FLORIDA: We now have a child somewhere in the country that did appear in a court record that is not in the spot that we thought they were. Is there a pursuit to try to figure out where they are or what happens next?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is not a pursuit.

FLORES: Rick Santorum counterpointing the concern for the children expressed by senators on both sides of the aisle and suggested that sponsors failing to follow-up with HHS does not mean the children are in danger.

FORMER SENATOR RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The idea that they are, quote, loss, is I think an overestimate -- is hyperbole to try -- to try to create an issue that I don't really think there is one.

FLORES: The findings from a 2016 Senate subcommittee report shows the problem isn't partisan, that even during the Obama administration, more oversight was needed. The report saying HHS's policies and procedures are inadequate to protect the children in agency's care, so much so the report found that the children were placed in the hands of human traffickers. Like this case from 2014 in which a number of immigrants were forced to work an at egg farm in Ohio for up to 12 hours a day, six to seven days a week, and in inhumane conditions, and without pay.


FLORES: And even though federal officials say that they do not have a legal responsibility to track these children down, to make sure that they are not in dangerous conditions, Erica, senators on both sides of the aisle question, does the United States have a moral responsibility to make sure that the children are not in danger? Erica?

HILL: Rosa Flores with the latest from San Antonio -- Rosa, thank you.

And let's keep in mind, there are two different issues at play here. One is the acknowledgement by the Trump administration that they've lost track of nearly 1,500 kids showed up at the border unaccompanied. The other is this change to a different immigration policy that says the U.S. is going to be separating more children from their families if they cross the border illegally.

[16:20:03] My panel back with us to break it all down.

Symone, I want to start with you. When we talk about these new policies, the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was asked by NPR earlier this month if the policy was, quote, cruel and a heartless.

He said, I wouldn't put it that way, going, the children are taken care of -- put into foster care, or whatever. The big point is they elected to come into the U.S. illegally. And this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.

The administration is defending this policy. They say it's going to help deter more undocumented immigration. Are they right, Symone? Could they have a point? Could it work as a deterrent?

SANDERS: I don't think it could work as a deterrent. But what it's doing is demonstrating that the America who we say we want to be is not in fact America that we actually are.

Look, Senator Kamala Harris, when the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Nielsen, was in fact before the judiciary committee a couple weeks ago asked her about this particular policy, and specifically asked about the individuals who were charged with separating these young people from their parents, how are they being trained, and were they, in fact, being trained?

And what we've seen in transcripts from mothers and family members who have lost -- who have had their children ripped out of their arms at the border, it seems as though training is not taking place. And so, I hope Senator Kamala Harris gets answers to her questions, but this is a cruel and unusual policy, and this is a policy that harkens back to what America did during the times of slavery, when they took children and they separated families from their mothers and fathers from folks who are being sold into slavery.

So, if we really want to be better, we better start walking the walk.

HILL: Scott, to be better, it seems the president wants Democrats to take the lead here, tweeting over the weekend, put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from their parents once they cross the border into the U.S. Of course, it's not a law. It's a policy that was announced by the Trump administration.

So how, Scott, is that the fault of Democrats here?

JENNINGS: Well, I think what the president is trying to say is that the Democrats have been preventing a grand compromise, in his view, on overall immigration reform, including border security, including reforms of policies like this, including DACA.

I think what the president ultimately wanted was some grand bargain, where he got everything, really some of what he wanted, and Democrats get some of what they wanted. We, of course, know that that all fell apart.

The fact is, we've been failing at taking care of these immigrant children for many, many years. I remember back in 2014, seeing pictures in the newspaper of these children being kept in cages in Arizona, a detention facility, and I was outraged by it then. We're not doing a better job today.

I would say that we better look upon these children with compassionate hearts. How we treat these kids today is going to have a dramatic effect on how they view the United States in the future. There's a butterfly effect here I think that could -- you know, we can't predict what the consequences are going to be, but it won't be good if this is how we're going to choose to treat people.

I really hope that the congressmen and the senators come back in and find an overall solution to this. As the economy gets better, as this nation gets prosperous as it is right now, more people are going to want to come here legally and illegally. We know it's coming. It would really be a good idea to finally fix this, the failures cannot go on.

SANDERS: But, Scott, this particular -- I just want to know one thing, this particular policy, the president can do something about. He can say, look, we need to stop this policy of ripping children away from their parents. He -- the Trump administration can do this on their own without anyone else because they did it. They insisted on the policy. Why wait on Congress to do something?

CAMPBELL: Well, I think if this whole issue, if you look at the kind of 30,000-foot level, I mean, it's illustrative of just how polarized we've become, where we can't even agree on what to do with children at the border.

Now, you know, there's a tenet in law enforcement that says just because you can do something, that doesn't mean you should do something. So, you know, as we look at our immigration policies, obviously we want strong borders, we want strong immigration laws, we want to be followed, I think we need to as a country, determine, you know, where do our values lie here.

You know, you mentioned, Scott, the -- you know, how the children are going to look at the United States, but also, I think, we step back broader, how does the rest of the world are going to be looking at the United States as far as the leader, a moral leader? So, it's something that we should be coming together and focusing on.

And the second thing, which, you know, lost in the argument, is what message are we sending to law enforcement officers at the border? Because they don't know where our priorities are. We're telling them, you know, on one instance that you need to focus on human trafficking and drugs and, you know, the illicit products that are crossing the borders. And now, we're saying, no, we want you to then go and separate families from children.

And, you know, we need to have a cohesive policy, if there's something we can all get together around, it's got to be these kids.

HILL: Josh, appreciate you answering the question that I was going to ask before I asked it. Thank you.

I just want to get quickly to this second story, which we are giving a lot of coverage.

Symone, you know, you tweeted this threat that has gotten a lot of attention online, which made the case, that I'm really simplifying here, but basically that there maybe a reason that these 1,500 children can't be found right now. They may not want to be found. Their sponsors may be concerned about being found, which also sort of brings up these whole point of the legal responsibility versus moral responsibility here.

[16:25:03] Is the outrage concerning these 1,500 children, is it misplaced?

SANDERS: I don't -- so, no, I don't think the outrage is misplaced. I think folks are, in fact, concerned about young people that the United States government just simply cannot find. But I also think that it's important to take a step back and look. We have a current administration who has a policy that has been very hostile towards undocumented individuals.

And so, it is not out of the realm of possibility to think that folks who are -- that may, in fact, be undocumented, who have some of the children in their care, do not want the United States government to find out where they are, and if anyone looks at the threat, the Twitter threat, you should note that the Office of Refugee Resettlement, when they called to verify where these young people were, that's all they did was call. They didn't do school checks. They did not knock on doors. All they did was placed a phone call.

So, if someone moved, if anything happened where they couldn't answer the phone, you won't be able to find them. So, I think folks need to understand the facts around these 1,500 missing children, that I believe, Erica, that the government still has a responsibility to make sure these kids are safe. But unfortunately, we have a government that has been hostile towards these undocumented young people.

So, what, in fact, do you do?

HILL: We're going to have to leave it there. But don't go anywhere. Stick with us, everyone.

Why does President Trump's own attorney keeps bringing up impeachment? That's next.