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Interview With New York Governor Andrew Cuomo; Interview With Rep. Ted Lieu; President Trump Bows to Pressure, Reverses Family Separation Policy; Stunning Salary from Housing Detained Kids; Mattis on Trump's "Space Force": We Aren't Weaponizing Space. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 20, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Creating more chaos. As children wait to be reunited with their parents, the president's plan to detain families together is raising new legal red flags. Will hundreds of kid who have already suffered be caught up in new court battles?

Democratic surge. CNN's exclusive new poll shows the opposition party is improving its chances of retaking the House. Stand by for a new snapshot of Democratic support in races across the country heading into the all-important midterm election.

And failure to launch. Just days after the president unveiled his dream of a U.S. military space force, the defense secretary is bringing the commander in chief's hopes back down to earth.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the president's reversal on family separations at the border with Mexico.

Mr. Trump signing an executive order to keep children with their detained parents, something he could have done with a phone call. The president seeking a way out of a crisis of his own making in the face of widespread outrage about his administration's policy.

Tonight, the problem isn't entirely solved, as urgent new concerns arise about the logistics of keeping the families together and the expected legal challenges.

This hour, I will speak with California Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a key member of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, you're already in Minnesota, where the president is heading right now for a campaign rally later tonight. What's the latest?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening. President Trump landed here in Duluth, Minnesota, just a few moments ago, stepping onto Air Force One just shortly after signing that surprise executive order sitting at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.

Wolf, we have not seen a reversal like this that the president has made since taking office. He was feeling pressure from around the world. But I am told it was that pressure from inside the White House, from Melania Trump, from Ivanka Trump, that urged him to change his mind.

But, Wolf, as we stand here in this rally around Trump supporters, it's also reminded midterm elections five months down the road and Republicans were nervous.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're signing an executive order.

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump doing tonight what he insisted he could not, stopping the policy of separating migrant families at the U.S. border.

TRUMP: Anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it. We don't like to see families separated.

ZELENY: In the Oval Office, the president abruptly changing course, trying to contain an immigration crisis consuming his administration. He signed an executive order to detain parents and children together if they illegally cross the U.S. border.

TRUMP: We're going to have strong, very strong borders, but we're going to keep the families together. I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.

ZELENY: But for days, the president and his administration maintained their hands were tied. They said an act of Congress was needed to change a policy roundly criticized for its cruelness.

TRUMP: I can't do it through an executive order.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Until these loopholes are closed by Congress, it is not possible as a matter of law to detain and remove whole family units who arrive illegally in the United States.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's Congress' job to change the law. We're calling on them to do exactly that.

ZELENY: But the White House caved to worldwide public pressure.

QUESTION: Mr. President, don't you have kids?

ZELENY: Finally swayed by a near revolt inside the Republican Party.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: We should never play with the lives of these children.

ZELENY: Administration officials told CNN these images from the border and the sounds of wailing children became too much to overcome, and leverage to push a broader immigration bill faded in the controversy.

Sitting at the Resolute Desk today, the president even seemed to acknowledge that he was buckling to public pressure.

TRUMP: You are going to have a lot of happy people.

ZELENY: Yet, for much of the day, confusion gripped Washington.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We are going to take action to keep families together while we enforce our immigration laws.

ZELENY: But Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders were caught off-guard by the president's sudden change of heart. By afternoon, they were summoned to the White House.

The president made clear it would not entirely erase the zero tolerance policy of separating children around parents at the border, but rather detain migrant families together.

TRUMP: We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.

ZELENY: His words stood in stark contrast to his fighting mood only hours earlier on Twitter saying, "It's the Democrats' fault. They won't give us the votes needed to pass good immigration legislation."

He added: "But I am working on something. It never ends."

Also not ending was the global outrage over separating migrant families at the border, Pope Francis calling it "immoral and contrary to our Catholic values." British Prime Minister Theresa May also expressing disgust, saying she intends to raise it when Trump visits the U.K. next month.

[18:05:05]

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The pictures of children being held in what appear to be cages are deeply disturbing. This is wrong.

ZELENY: Corporate America also blasting the administration's policy. Apple CEO Tim Cook calling it inhumane. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce saying, "This is not who we are and it must end now."

The political crisis finally reaching a tipping point after a series of grimacing moves by the president's allies. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen heckled while having dinner at a Mexican restaurant near the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Shame on Nielsen! Shame on Trump! ZELENY: Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski dismissing

the plight of children and parents being separated in this appearance on FOX News.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read today about a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Wah, wah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read about a -- did you say "Wah, wah" to a 10- year-old with Down syndrome begin taken from her mother? How dare you?

ZELENY: Appearing on television today, he refused to apologize.

LEWANDOWSKI: An apology? When you cross the border illegally, you have committed a crime and there is accountability for committing crimes and there should be.

ZELENY: The president insisting he still plans to push his hard-line immigration proposals, and vowed again to build a border wall, but he acknowledged those close to him demanded that he bring this impasse involving children to an end.

TRUMP: Ivanka feels very strongly. My wife feels very strongly about it. I feel very strongly about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, the topic of the rally here, Wolf, was supposed to be trade and tariffs. The president is trying to make his case, as he campaigned for when he ran for president, that he is going to make China more accountable.

So, we're, of course, in the Iron Range of Minnesota, the northern tip here in Duluth, where, of course, jobs have been affected by the loss of the steel industry. But all of his trade and tariff talk was in fact overshadowed by the immigration talk.

It is one of the reasons that the White House knew they had to do something. Wolf, I am told by a top White House official the president came to this realization after meeting the House Republicans last night. He knew that he would be unable to get beyond those images. And, of course, the family pressure as well from Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump.

But the question now, Wolf, is, what happens next? The president still pushing House Republicans to vote for a bill that includes his border wall. Very unclear if that is going to pass or not. But they at least have this behind them as a new round of potential lawsuits could begin on this new executive order -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure they will. All right, Jeff, Jeff Zeleny in Duluth for us, thank you.

After the president's clear reversal, it's not clear how, when or if families that are currently separated will, in fact, be reunited. That means hundreds of children may remain in holding facilities for some time.

Let's go to CNN's Polo Sandoval. He's at one of the detention centers in Texas for us.

Polo, what can you tell us about conditions where you are?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, it's tough to say since some of the officials here have not allowed our cameras inside facilities similar to this one.

But I will tell you, there are places that you wouldn't expect, including this South Texas neighborhood, a working-class neighborhood. Some of the neighbors tell me they often even kick soccer balls back over the wall here and often hear the sounds of children playing.

Not today, though. Meanwhile, a big question here, what will happen to the roughly 2,300 kids already separated from their parents?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL (voice-over): This is a detention facility for the youngest immigrant children being held against their will in a U.S. city.

It's a nondescript former private home in the tiny Texas town of Combes, 20 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. From outside, these black strollers and a small outdoor playground are the only sign that some 60 children ranging in age from infants to 10 years old housed inside.

Some may have been forcibly separated from their parents after crossing into the country illegally. The U.S. government calls it a tender-age facility, one of at least three in Texas alone.

Today, the CEO of Southwest Key, the company that operates the center and others, offered his own description.

JUAN SANCHEZ, CEO, SOUTHWEST KEY: I want to make it very, very clear that this is not a detention center. We have a license by the state of Texas to run a child care facility. And what we run is a child care facility.

SANDOVAL: CNN and other media outlets have not been allowed to bring cameras inside any of the facilities currently housing minors separated from their families.

The government has only given this handout video and some photos showing families behind chain-link cages resting on green sleeping pads and wrapped in Mylar blankets. None of the government handout materials show girls.

QUESTION: We have only seen the boys.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I will look into that. I'm not aware that there's... SANDOVAL: CNN spoke to Democratic Texas Congressman Filemon Vela, who got a rare glimpse inside one of these centers.

REP. FILEMON VELA (D), TEXAS: The idea that you could walk into a facility like this one and see children at the age of 8 months or one year who have been taken from their parents, and the idea that it's the American government in the year 2018 holding them hostage, for whatever ambitions the president may have, it's just abhorrent.

[18:10:07]

SANDOVAL: Now, as President Trump signs an executive order to keep detained families together, the question is, what is next for those who have already been torn apart?

Texas attorney Thelma Garcia represents parents separated from their children.

THELMA GARCIA, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: All they do is cry, because no one has contact with their children.

SANDOVAL: Heartbroken parents charged under the president's zero tolerance policy are making up more of Garcia's caseload these days.

GARCIA: Before, they would be placed in family facilities, where you would have the mothers or the fathers with the children. Now, as far as I know, those facilities don't exist. So where are you going to reunite them?

It's going to be anywhere from a month to two months, minimum, for them to go through a process.

SANDOVAL (on camera): Before they are able to hold their child again?

GARCIA: Yes, yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL: We could see the creation or at least a setup of more of these family holding units, similar to what we witnessed down here about four years ago, when this mass group of undocumented and unaccompanied minors were coming into the country.

Wolf, as for the roughly 2,300 kids who have already been separated from their parents, today's executive order from President Trump is not addressing family reunification. So, the big question, when will they be by their parents' side again?

BLITZER: Yes, that's an enormous question. What happens to those 2,300 kids who are already separated, not impacted directly from this executive order the president signed today.

Polo Sandoval, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a California Democrat. He serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Let me get your quick reaction. The president announcing that the families will now at least be kept together, but they will be held together in detention while the parents face criminal prosecution. What's your reaction to this solution, this executive order signed by the president today?

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf, for your question.

Today's action shows that Donald Trump and Secretary Nielsen lied to the American people repeatedly. They first said there was no family separation policy. Then they tried to blame it on the Democrats. Then they said only Congress can do it.

And with today's executive order that reverses this policy, we know that it was all lies. That's why Secretary Nielsen needs to resign. Her credibility has been shredded. I and many other members of Congress no longer have faith in her.

And this executive order itself has a number of problems that might not actually solve the ultimate issue.

BLITZER: Let's go through some of those issues.

There's a court order, as you know, that prevents the government from holding children in detention for longer than 20 days. The executive order signed by the president today says he's going to go to court. The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, shall promptly file a request with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California -- you're from California -- to try to modify that.

What's your reaction?

LIEU: There are a number of ways to solve the family separation issue. Donald Trump picked one of the worst ways, which is to try to reverse an actual court settlement.

In this case, what they could do is, after 20 days, let the family go and have them come back for the court hearing. Many times, you have these asylum proceedings, and under the Bush and Obama administrations, they would let the asylum cases go forward before prosecuting them.

That makes the most sense. That's what the Trump administration should do, instead of prosecuting every single person. That's not rational, when many of them have legitimate asylum claims.

BLITZER: They say they're not going to do that because a lot of these families, they say, would simply disappear and not show up for some court proceedings and just wind up illegally in the United States.

Couldn't this decision, this executive order signed by the president today lead to families being detained indefinitely?

LIEU: It could. That's why I think the judge is not going to modify that settlement.

Or, if she does, it's not going to be modified for very long. Again, the easiest way to reverse this policy is to reverse Attorney General Jeff Sessions' policy letter that caused this crisis in the first place.

And this is not the proper way to go about it, to detain whole family units indefinitely.

BLITZER: But, as you said, this executive order signed by the president isn't getting rid of the zero tolerance policy that aims to criminally prosecute 100 percent of the people crossing the border illegally.

Do you think the goal is to prosecute every single person who crosses the border? Is that really practical? Is it necessary for national security?

LIEU: It is not practical at all.

I previously served on active duty. The U.S. faces a lot of serious threats, but we don't have threats from babies and children. And many of these migrants who are coming over are fleeing persecution with legitimate asylum claims.

They are not al Qaeda. They are not terrorists. And we need to follow our own laws, which is to let their asylum claim proceeding go forward. And the Trump administration, in trying to prosecute them for these misdemeanors, has caused this entire crisis in the first place. They could reverse that if they wanted to.

[18:15:05]

BLITZER: But you hear the president often say many of them are drug dealers or they're gang members or they're killers simply seeking to illegally enter the United States.

LIEU: And we certainly ought to prosecute those individuals. That's why you should have prosecutorial discretion.

To say you're going to prosecute 100 percent of the people coming over, even if they're kids or migrants who have no criminal record, makes no sense.

And, again, this entire crisis is something that the Trump administration caused. They could defuse it. And, unfortunately, this executive order does not fully defuse the problem.

BLITZER: What do you need to do? Because does Congress need to act to make sure those 2,300 children who have been already separated from their parents will, in fact, be reunited? Because this executive order doesn't say anything about them.

LIEU: Another reason Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen needs to resign is that, 19 days ago, I led a letter with other members of Congress asking her very basic questions about this family separation policy, such as, how do you know you're not putting a child with a child molester?

How do you make sure we reunite children with their parents? To this day, she still can't answer those very basic questions. I have introduced legislation, along with Ranking Member Nadler and many others, to solve this problem, to reverse this policy, and to really put into law a fix to what the Trump administration has done with their policy.

BLITZER: Congressman Ted Lieu, thanks so much for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up: New York state says it's suing the Trump administration, arguing that the separation of immigrant families violated the constitutional rights of children and their parents.

I'll speak live with the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. There you see him. He's about -- he's in Albany. He will join us live right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:32]

BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump is still facing fallout from the separation of children and parents at the border, even after backing down and ending the policy.

The state of New York announcing just a little while ago that it's planning to file a lawsuit against the Trump administration.

Joining us now, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo.

Governor, thanks so much for joining us.

And quickly explain the basis of your lawsuit against the Trump administration.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: Sure. Thanks for having me, Wolf. And go, Buffalo.

The basis of the lawsuit is very simple. It is a violation of the due process of the parents and of the children. Our federal Constitution provides due process rights to citizens and noncitizens, undocumented people.

One of the fundamental rights is a parent's right to care, custody and control of their child. And that has been violated. Now, this executive order, I don't think, does anything of legal significance. I think it's more of a press release than a legal document.

And if you read it, Wolf, it basically says, unless they go to a court and get the court to change what's called the Flores decision, the Flores Settlement, which has been a 20-year-long court battle, you can't implement this. That's why literally it's just about the press and trying to slow down

the press. They have just come full circle. What happened here was, April 7, they announced the zero tolerance. They arrest the parent. When you arrest the parent, the question became, what do you do with the child, because you cannot, by law, by the Flores decision, put the child in a detention facility?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: For more than 20 days.

But on that specific point, Governor, the executive order does say that the president orders the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to promptly file a request with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify that.

Would that solve this issue of you can only detain the children for 20 days?

CUOMO: Wolf, if you could have modified the decision, you wouldn't have had the problem in the first place. They couldn't put the children in the detention center once they arrested the parents, so they had to fly 2,000 children to parts unknown.

Now they come back in the executive order and say, we will set up a family detention center and put the child in with the parents.

No. You couldn't do that in the first place. That's what created the problem. And that little caveat is, if you go back to court and get a judge to modify the Flores decision, if you could have done that, you would have done it in the first place, and you would have never sent 2,000 children all over the country.

So they just came full circle. This is the problem. When they decided to arrest all the parents and hold the parents in detention, and they couldn't put the children in the detention centers because of the Flores decision, they had to move the children.

It happened overnight. They were not prepared. Now their answer is, we will go back to court and see if the court will allow us to put the children in the detention center. My guess is, they won't, because, when you read the Flores cases, it's clear this is the very activity that the court was trying to prevent.

[18:25:07]

So, I don't believe that the administration is even trying to solve the problem. You know, the title of the executive order is affording Congress an opportunity to settle the issue.

This publicity, I think they're using to put pressure on Congress to do something. I think they're using the 2,000 children as political pawns to put pressure on Congress.

But this executive order is not going to do it. And using 2,000 children, pulling them out of the arms of their parents is as disgusting a process as I have ever seen. And it really says, as a country, we should take a look in the mirror. And are we still the United States of America?

BLITZER: Yes, what's very worrisome is that the executive order -- and you're right -- it's entitled "Affording Congress An Opportunity to Address Family Separation." The executive order doesn't deal directly with the 2,300 kids over the past several weeks who have already been separated from their parents.

It deals with what could happen down the road. And, obviously, there's enormous concern about these children who are being kept away from their parents right now.

Governor Cuomo, thanks so much for joining us.

CUOMO: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, there are so many questions about what happens next, as the Trump administration plans to detain undocumented children and parents together.

Let's bring in Wendy Young. She's president of a group known as KIND, Kids In Need of Defense. She was previously chief counsel on immigration policy for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Wendy, thanks so much for joining us.

WENDY YOUNG, PRESIDENT, KIDS IN NEED OF DEFENSE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Well, let me get your understanding. What happens to the 2,300 kids who already have been separated, assuming this executive order is implemented?

YOUNG: This executive order does not address the situation of those 2,300 children at all. They are still separated from their families. There is still no process in place for the administration to reunify those families.

And we have been working with families who have been subject to the family separation policy, including parents who have already been deported back to their home countries, who are frantic to know where their children are.

BLITZER: So, when the president says he's ordering the attorney general to file suit in California to stop what's called the Flores amendment, the Flores agreement, which mandates that children can only be detained for 20 days, what's going to happen?

YOUNG: The Flores agreement is the heart and soul of how immigrant children are treated in our immigration system.

It applies very basic standards for their care, their custody and their release. What he is attempting to do is gut that Flores decision, so that he can treat children any way he wants, including even if families are held together. They could be held for -- on a prolonged basis in prison facilities. We have all seen the pictures of children being held in cages in

recent days. There's nothing in this new executive order that would prevent that from happening.

BLITZER: But it is important to keep the kids together with their mothers and fathers.

YOUNG: Absolutely.

But what they're doing is substituting one bad policy for another. And I think it's fair to say that what happened here was that the public outrage against the family separation is what we should be giving credit to in terms of turning this policy around.

It's not that this administration has suddenly found compassion for immigrant families.

BLITZER: You have spent a lot of time studying this issue. These 2,300 kids who have already been separated, some very, very young, some teenagers, but all of them without their parents, what is happening to their well-being right now?

YOUNG: Children who are held in detention facilities, who have been separated from their families, these are kids who have already been traumatized by the conditions in their home countries, a very difficult trip to the United States, and now they're being further traumatized by the American government by ripping them out of the hands of their parents, who are the ones who are best able to care for these children while we sort out, do they need protection and should they be allowed to remain in the United States, or can they be returned?

BLITZER: So, bottom line, Wendy -- and you have spent an enormous amount of time studying these issues, legally and socially and morally and everything else -- what needs to be done right now to deal with this crisis?

YOUNG: We need to have a rational approach to addressing the conditions in Central America that are causing families and children to flee to begin with.

There's extreme violence in that region. We need to invest in that region and restore the rule of law. Ultimately, that's the solution. In the meantime, we need to provide people with a full and fair opportunity to present an asylum case in the United States. And then we need to determine, can they go home safely, or should we provide...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But, realistically, Wendy, can the United States really go into El Salvador or Honduras or Guatemala or any of these other countries and restore a normal, quiet, peaceful existence there?

Those countries have to do that themselves.

YOUNG: Admittedly, this will take time. There is no solution that will address the root causes of this migration overnight.

But these are relatively small countries. We do foreign assistance around the world all of the time. We need to invest in the region. These are our neighbors. They're on our backyard.

And until we do that, people will continue to come to the United States.

BLITZER: Yes, the president has made it clear he's not anxious for that kind of foreign aid at all.

YOUNG: Right.

BLITZER: So -- but that's one solution, potentially, but I suspect it's not going to happen.

Wendy, thanks so much.

YOUNG: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks for all the good work your -- your KIND organization does.

YOUNG: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

[18:30:05]

The breaking news is continuing with more on the president's flip on separating families. Will he acknowledge that the crisis was the result of his own policy?

And notable new criticism of President Trump from his longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. Could it be a new indication that Cohen is now turning on Mr. Trump and cooperating with prosecutors?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:35:16] BLITZER: We're getting more reaction to a remarkable reversal by President Trump today after his family separation policy at the border blew up in his face. That's how Senator Lindsey Graham describes what happened.

Tonight, Mr. Trump has signed an executive order to allow parents to remain with their children in detention centers. It was a dramatic and unnecessary formality to change his own administration's policy. He could have done it with a phone call, just a statement.

Let's bring in our analysts to assess. You know, and David Chalian, the president earlier said he couldn't do what he did today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about an executive order? DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wait, wait. You

can't do it through an executive order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was asked on Friday what about executive action, executive order, which he signed today. The president said, "Now, wait, wait, you can't do it through an executive order." But that's exactly what he did today.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. The president said it. His press secretary, the secretary for homeland security, everyone in his administration from the top on down has said this had to be solved by Congress. They could not do something. They were simply following the law. That obviously was proven to be completely false today.

But Wolf, it really was an extraordinary moment. I think in the -- in the short history so far, a year and a half, of the Trump administration, I can't think of a time where President Trump has really buckled to public pressure like this.

There have been times -- the travel ban, the courts have done against him, or maybe Congress has not gotten where he wanted on health care or certain things. He's had moments of setback, but nothing like a complete turn-around, 180-degree reversal due to public pressure and, actually, sort of siding with a majority position rather than making the full base play.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And it may not have only been public pressure. It was pressure from Republicans, who are afraid of losing their congressional seats, particularly those in suburban districts where there are lots of women, in particular, who didn't -- you know, who didn't like --

CHALIAN: I can't think of a policy, Gloria, a policy of Donald Trump's that Republicans have opposed as vocally as this policy.

BORGER: But Trump can still, by the way, say, "Well, I didn't change zero-tolerance."

CHALIAN: Right.

BORGER: "My main policy still remains zero-tolerance. All I've done is kind of temporarily allowed this -- you know, these families to be reunited." But the larger legal issues still have to be taken on.

BLITZER: But David, there's no guarantee this executive order signed by the president today will, in fact, reunite those 2,300 kids who have already been separated from their parents. It simply looks ahead, saying people who will be detained with their children, they'll be detained together. But there's enormous concern right now: what happens to those already separated?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, Wolf. The executive order, and I've just had, briefly, a chance to go through it, defines family units together so that they can then detain families that come across the border together. But it doesn't deal yet -- it orders the attorney general to go back to court and deal with the 1997 Flores vs. Reno decision, which said that the Homeland Security Department can only detain children for 20 days before turning them over to Health and Human Services.

So what do you do then if you have parents still detained with kids after 20 days? This still has to get sorted out. And I think we're looking at this as more of a temporary solution, as David says, to get the president out of a political jam.

BORGER: And also, how are you going to reunite these families? I mean, we don't -- we don't know how that's going to work either. You know, families are saying, parents are saying they have no way of knowing where their children are.

If you're -- if you're working for the government down on the border right now, you have no idea what the next steps are. Because this was a policy that was ad hoc, and it was reversed in an ad hoc way. And that's really no way to run the government.

SWERDLICK: Yes. The bureaucracy is not -- is better at taking the kids away from the parents than bringing everybody back together quickly and efficiently.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And it's so heartbreaking. You see that story in "The Washington Post," David. A man from Honduras, he killed himself after his 3-year-old was taken away from him. He committed suicide.

CHALIAN: Yes, this is -- I mean, that is an extreme, horrific case. But it is because of those stories, the audio of the kids, the images on the television screens that everyone from the pope and foreign leaders, to Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump, to all these Republican members of Congress were saying to the president, "This is not sustainable. You have to do something about this."

So now he does that. As Gloria and David say, it's not entirely clear how that will play out. But politically, if these stories like the ones you just described or the images on the screen change, and you see families together instead of being ripped apart, then I think we may see this fall back into a more partisan fight than the overwhelming pressure on the president across all -- all sectors.

[18:40:00] BLITZER: A lot of people, as you know, Gloria, were pretty surprised that the president flipped, caved as quickly as he did.

BORGER: Right. Well, it's because of this pressure, and it's international pressure. And as we all know, the president watches television. So he is looking at these images on TV.

When he met with Republicans last night, he said, "I know, I know. The pictures look bad." And he understands that. I mean, this is somebody who really understands the media and understands the difficulty it poses for him, not to mention the fact that his wife and his daughter were very much opposed to this policy. But don't forget, you know, he created this. He created the crisis;

and now he wants to take credit for fixing the crisis that he actually created, which is difficult --

CHALIAN: Trumpian.

BORGER: -- which is Trumpian. Which is very Trumpian.

BLITZER: It's interesting, David, because as Governor Cuomo just reminded us, this executive order is entitled Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation. He was the one who separated these families, but now he says it's up to Congress.

SWERDLICK: Right. We were operating under a policy that was in the Bush administration, the Obama administration, the catch and release policy. It's not great. Republicans certainly don't like it, but it was a weighing of "Are we going to be cruel to children" versus the complex realities of the boarder.

When you read the title of that executive order, Wolf, what it makes me think is six months into President Obama's administration, Republicans were howling that he had to stop blaming his predecessors for the economy, for health care, et cetera. President Trump's been president for a year and a half. Even if he inherited a tough situation, it's now on him to solve this, not to kick the can to Congress.

BLITZER: Our new CNN exclusive poll, David, very quickly, among registered voters, "What's your choice for Congress in the midterms?" You see Democrats 50 percent, Republicans 42 percent. In May it was 47-44.

CHALIAN: Right, so you saw that three-point advantage for the Democrats in May now grow to an eight-point advantage. We had seen the Democratic advantage narrowing throughout the winter and the spring. And now it looks like the Democrats are getting back to a more significant lead there.

I will say this, Wolf. That poll was taken Thursday through Sunday. So imagine now, this -- everything that's been playing out to the president's political disadvantage, has been happening on a backdrop of the Democrats increasing in enthusiasm and vote choice. I would say that poll is going to worry some Republicans.

BLITZER: On another -- on another issue, Gloria, all of a sudden Michael Cohen, the president's long-time fixer and lawyer, writes a letter to the Republican National Committee, resigning as a vice chair of the Finance Committee and then explaining, quote, "I cannot personally support a zero-tolerance immigration policy that permits thousands of innocent children being separated from their parents."

BORGER: Yes. The letter he wrote to the -- or the e-mail he wrote to the head of the RNC is so interesting. Because this is somebody who defended Donald Trump on everything, on any issue, no matter what during the campaign and beyond. I would have to say he was the most loyal person I've ever met in my life. The fact that he raised this issue in an e-mail leads you to believe

that he's not very happy with the president, the way the president's been treating him. And you know he's facing all of this -- legal problems with the Southern District of New York and the Mueller investigation. And he's sending a signal here: "You know what? Bye- bye. I'm not -- I'm not going to be who I once was."

BLITZER: And he may be getting closer and closer to flipping, which is -- could be a source of a lot of concern. We'll see if that happens.

Guys, thank you very much.

Just ahead, more on the detention of children at the border with Mexico. One man is earning some pretty big bucks. So why is the CEO of a Texas facility among the highest paid charity bosses in the country? CNN is investigating.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:48:32] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on President Trump backing down on a controversial immigration policy, ending the practice of separating children from parents detained at the border.

Tonight, CNN is investigating one of the organizations housing many of the young people who have been taken away from their families. And we're learning that the CEO of the nonprofit group is profiting big time.

Our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has been digging into all of this for us.

So, what did you found out, Drew?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we found out is that this nonprofit appears to be doing a pretty good job housing 5,000 children separating from their parents. It is also clear the nonprofit's CEO is making a small fortune doing it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): He calls himself El Presidente. His staff once played "Hail to the Chief" and applauded when he arrived at one facility. It may be all tongue in cheek humor, but there's nothing funny about how much Juan Sanchez is being paid to run Southwest Key, a nonprofit housing half of all the migrant children separated from their families.

According to the latest tax filings in 2017, Sanchez's Southwest Key nonprofit paid him $1.7 million doubling the $770,000 he made the year before. Is that a lot, even for a nonprofit of his size? Apparently, yes.

DANIEL BOROCHOFF, CHARITY WATCH: The head of the American Red Cross receives a $600,000 salary. It's a multibillion dollar charity. [18:50:01] They control half of our blood supply, lead disaster

provider. You've got this charity, the budget is like a tenth of its size, not nearly size of the responsibilities. So, it does appear high.

GRIFFIN: CNN analyzed non-profits as large as southwest key and operating under similar classification and found Sanchez paid among the very top. He operates 83 shelters or schools or detention centers across the country. The federal government contracts in the last 10 years add up to $1.5 billion.

By many accounts, Southwest Key does provide safe housing to unaccompanied minor, though they have been cited in the past for some violations. In an interview with Austin's KLRU TV, Sanchez said the new Trump policy left them inundated with children.

JUAN SANCHEZ, SOUTHWEST KEY PROGRAMS: We never imagined we would have these many kids. We'd never imagine that we could see the kinds of policies that we're seeing now.

GRIFFIN: Sanchez's defense of his high salary, the early years were a struggle.

SANCHEZ: When we started, we started with nothing. Very low salaries. No health insurance. No 401(k)s. Nothing.

Over time, our board got to a point where she said we are now in a position where we can pay you a decent salary.

GRIFFIN: That history doesn't quite match with the group's own tax filings. CNN went back to 1997 where Sanchez was paid nearly $130,000. Nearly every year since except for two gap year, showing no income. His salary has increased.

That doesn't even include his wife listed as vice president, who made an additional $262,000.

Marc Owens who for ten years ran the IRS department on nonprofits says compensation should be adequate to what Sanchez could make in the private sector performing similar work. He sees nothing comparable.

MARC OWENS, FORMER DIRECTOR, IRS NON-PROFIT DIVISION: The salary is extraordinarily high for a charity, even a large charity. It's a complex organization with a lot of for profit and tax exempt subsidiaries and the president is making a lot of money.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: Southwest Key told us just this afternoon Juan Sanchez's salary jumps coincide with a jump, a 400 percent increase in the number of clients the non-profit is serving. And as for that high salary, when compared to CEOs of similar sized non-profits, is within a reasonable range.

Wolf, the spread sheet that Southwest Key sent us to prove their point actually proves ours. He is one of the top paid CEOs of a non-profit in the nation.

BLITZER: Good reporting. Excellent reporting as usual.

Drew Griffin, thank you very much for that.

Just ahead, we're going to have much more on the president's flip on family separations and what happens now. And could Mr. Trump's plan for a U.S. military space force actually happen? Tonight, the defense secretary says don't hold your breath.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, the Pentagon chief is throwing a heavy dose of practicality on the president's proposal to add another branch to the military dubbed the "Space Force".

James Mattis laying out hurdles ahead of promising that the administration isn't trying to weaponized the cosmos.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

The defense secretary was asked about the space force today. What did he say?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this is yet another case where the president has an idea and left to the Pentagon and especially to Secretary Mattis to figure out how to carry it out. Do you really want a space force along with the Air Force, the Army, the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Coast Guard?

Well, the president seems to want it, and while some in Congress support it, at the Pentagon, there's a bit of ambivalence about the whole idea, worried that it could add to the federal bureaucracy, the military bureaucracy, and the secretary today when he encountered reporters twice here at the Pentagon, laid as you said, Wolf, a heavy dose of reality into it all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're not weaponizing space. We're dealing with space as it's developing.

It, as you know, is going to require legislation and a lot of detailed planning. And we have not yet began. I mean, we clearly got to start process and that's one of the issues we'll bring up on Friday morning as well with National Security Adviser Bolton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: So what would a space force be all about? And what would it mean to you and me?

We are not talking "Star Trek" spaceships flying through space launching lasers through the cosmos. What we're really talking about is trying to find a way to defend American security because so many countries now have satellites in space, many of them American adversaries potentially, the Russians, Chinese, the Iranians and yes, the North Koreans.

So you have to be able to protect America's satellites to keep communications and military operations as well as, you know, civilian society going. We all depend on satellites. We all depend on space.

And I think it's fair to say that when Secretary Mattis say he's not weaponizing space, what he is talking about is defense. How do you protect America from its adversaries in the cosmos? Wolf?

BLITZER: Instead of Army playing Navy on the football field, maybe Army would be play the space force on the football field one of these days.

All right. Thanks very much, Barbara, for that report.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.