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Melania Trump Visits Child Detention Facility; Interview With Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke; Interview With New York Congresswoman Kathleen Rice; Trump: May Meet with Russia's Vladimir Putin in July; Trump Stokes Immigration Confusion as First Lady Visits Border. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 21, 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: Mrs. Trump flew to and from the nation's capital wearing a jacket with a stunning phrase on the back declaring -- quote -- "I really don't care. Do you?" Was she sending a message, and, if so, to whom?

And all about him. The president turns a political rally in Minnesota into another venting and self-promotion session, playing to his base and oddly boasting about his posh New York apartment.

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

Tonight, the president's attempts to defuse an immigration crisis of his own making are leading to even more uncertainty and confusion. Mr. Trump suggesting to reporters that his reversal on separating children from parents has limits and more families may ultimately be torn apart.

This as the Pentagon is being told to prepare housing on U.S. military bases for as many as 20,000 unaccompanied children.

This hour, I will talk with the House Homeland Security Committee member Kathleen Rice of New York, and with Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke. He's on the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and analysts, they are all standing by.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, we heard from the president and from the first lady today. Update our viewers.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We certainly did, Wolf.

The White House is struggling to explain tonight what is happening to the children who were separated from their parents at the border. Today, the president said his executive order ending the practice may only be limited, as you said. And the first lady, she tried to show her compassion with a visit to the border, only to step on her own message with a jacket that has to be seen to be believed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It was a tale of two Trumps. While the first lady attempted to show sympathy, visiting the children taken from their migrant parents at the border, the president was creating more confusion, telling his Cabinet that his executive order aimed at ending the family separations is limited.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I signed a very good executive order yesterday. But that is only limited. No matter how you cut it, it leads to separation ultimately.

ACOSTA: The president also tried to downplay the conditions inside the facilities where the children are being held against their will.

D. TRUMP: We have a situation where some of these places, they are really running them well. It's the nicest that people have seen.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump was playing politics, accusing Democrats of seeking to turn the detention spaces into resorts.

D. TRUMP: They want us to take care of bed space and resources and personnel and take everybody, and, you know, like, let's run the most luxurious hotel in the world for everybody. But they don't want to give us the money.

ACOSTA: The president falsely accused Democrats of sparking the crisis his administration started.

D. TRUMP: They have created and they have let it happen a massive child smuggling industry.

ACOSTA: Despite the searing images of suffering children seen around the world, the president sounded detached and bitter.

D. TRUMP: They walk through Mexico like it's walking through Central Park.

ACOSTA: Democrats pushed back on the notion they are to blame.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: It's a lie. So, for the president to constantly say that we're against immigration reform that makes sense, that is humane, it's a lie. And, in fact, he is the one who is creating chaos at every turn.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: Thank you so much. I heard you have like 58 children here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have 65.

M. TRUMP: Sixty-five.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

ACOSTA: Down at the border, the first lady toured one facility for the separated children that looked more like an elementary school, and less like the jail shown in some photos from the region.

Mrs. Trump wanted to know how the children are coping.

M. TRUMP: When the children come here, what kind of stage, physical and mental stage they come here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Usually, when they get here, they are very distraught.

ACOSTA: And she asked how she could lend a hand.

M. TRUMP: And I would also like to ask you how I can help to these children to reunite with their families as quickly as possible.

ACOSTA: But it was a message on her back that created a stir. "I really don't care. Do you?" was the question scrawled across her jacket as she left for Texas and as she returned to Washington.

The first lady's office said in a statement there was no hidden message.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, we want to show you a couple of pictures, Wolf, of the first lady returning back to the White House just a short time ago.

There, she is going back into the Oval Office, walking down the Colonnade, wearing that exact same jacket, Wolf, that says, "I really don't care. Do you?"

We are told after she walked into the Oval Office and met with the president she was joined by some communications officials. And, then, Wolf, came this tweet from the president.

The president trying to get out from under this jacket controversy, you might say, the president tweeting here: "I really don't care, do you, written on the back of the jacket refers to the fake news media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are and she truly no longer cares."

[18:05:01]

A couple of things we should mention about that tweet, Wolf. One is, that directly contradicts what the first lady's office told us earlier this afternoon, when they told us it was just a jacket.

The other thing we would point out, Wolf, is that the media were down in Texas covering the first lady's trip to show compassion with these children who have been separated from their parents on the border.

And, Wolf, it just begs the question, if you are trying to troll the news media or go after the news media, why would you do it with a jacket that raises questions about whether or not you care about children who are separated from their parents, which was originally supposed to be the reason why Melania Trump went down to the border to begin with, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, all good questions. Very strange, indeed.

Jim Acosta, thank you.

Let's bring in our White House reporter, Kate Bennett, right now.

Kate traveled with the first lady to Texas. She's back at the White House right now.

So, what are you learning about all of this, Kate?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, clearly, the jacket has become a thing we're all talking about. We watched the first lady, as Jim just said, get off the plane, return to the White House and go right to the Oval Office.

Clearly, this wasn't a jacket she wore on the ground. She wore it on the way to Texas, walking up to the plane. And then we were surprised to see it again on the way back, because, of course, during the flight home was when all the controversy came up about this jacket.

This $39 Zara jacket with this writing on the back, I think if any first lady had worn a jacket with a statement like that, be it Michelle Obama or Laura Bush or anyone, there would be questions. Clearly, it's messaging. This is a first lady who has often, in my opinion, used her fashion sense to reflect purpose, whether that's traveling to another country and sort of mirroring that country's culture, or the white pantsuit and the white hat that many people interpreted as Beyonce or Olivia Pope, if you will.

I mean, certainly, these are sartorial choices the first lady is making, clearly.

I'm going to read the tweet from her communications director about the jacket, Wolf. She tweeted: "Today's visit with the children in Texas impacted FLOTUS greatly. If media would spend their time and energy on her actions and efforts to help kids, rather than speculate and focus on her wardrobe, we would get so much accomplished on behalf of children."

Then she hashtagged "#shecares #itsjustajacket."

We certainly were focusing on her helping children. This was the first lady who, very sneakily, if you will, opted to take this trip to Texas. Her spokeswoman told us she declared almost two days ago to her staff and to the president, "I'm going to Texas."

It wasn't an ask. This was her decision, her determination. This was her team that put together this trip in a very quick amount of time, considering all that's going on down there on the border. Certainly, today, we landed, we went right to this children's facility. She asked a lot of questions at the roundtable, another thing we don't

typically get to see with the first lady when we do travel with her. She asked whether the kids can contact their families via the phone. She asked about how their emotional health was when they checked in, what they go through when they are processed.

And then, Wolf, we couldn't bring cameras in. She spent ample time with these kids in classrooms, as most of them were learning, practicing their English, working on their studies. She spent time asking where they were from and how old they were, nothing so much specifically, how do you feel, how has it been without your family?

She didn't touch on that. But she did, of course, provide a bright light or some caring element that so far, hands on, this administration has not demonstrated and actually physically having someone go down there.

And then, unfortunately, we were supposed to go to another facility, an intake facility where the families are together. But this is where they are processed right away after crossing the border. There was flash flooding, as our viewers down in Texas, probably know in that area. The sweet streets were flooded.

We were not able to reach that second destination and then came back home. And then the jacket -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I just want to point it's, what -- in the mid-80s here in Washington today. I wasn't exactly clear why she was even wearing a jacket, at least here in Washington.

But there seems to be a clear contradiction. Her press secretary says she wasn't trying to send any message with that jacket. But the president tweeted. You saw the tweet. Let me put it up on the screen one more time for our viewers.

"I really don't care, do you, written on the back of Melania's jacket refers to the fake news media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are and she truly no longer cares."

So, what is it? Was she trying to send a message or is the president right? Her press secretary says no, but the president says she was.

BENNETT: So, I think she was. I'm not sure what that message was.

I don't think it was to the media. I don't think it was trolling the media. I don't think it was any of those things. I'm not sure actually what the message was. But, again, I will say, this is a very -- I always say there are no coincidences when it comes to Melania Trump.

I think everything she does is very purposeful and typically very much smart and stoic and sort of this has become her personality not to comment and sort of use nonverbal cues.

I'm not quite sure what to believe here. I think the president is clearly defending his wife. I think that's a natural instinct for any husband and wife.

[18:10:03]

And I can sort of appreciate that aspect of it. But you are right. It completely contradicts what her office is saying, again, taking the focus away from the immigration crisis that, as we saw firsthand today, is truly happening on our borders, under the watch of this administration, and the first lady's visit.

BLITZER: I'm glad you traveled down to Texas with her today. Kate, thank you very much.

And we have also gotten only limited glimpses inside those facilities where the separated children are being housed.

Journalists, even members of Congress often have been turned away.

Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, got some access, though, to a facility outside New York City. He is joining us now.

Jason, what were the conditions like at where -- at the place you got some access to?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the facility that we got access to in Westchester, just north of New York City, is nothing like those terrible images that we have seen at the facilities on the border.

We were given access to a place called The Children's Village. It's typically a foster care facility where children can live on site. The head of that facility says that in the last few days, they have received about 20 children between the ages of 9 and 17, children who were separated from their parents at the border.

The children there at that facility, they have access to medical care. They are often housed in individual rooms like the one that you see there. They have access to recreation.

Jeremy Kohomban, he is the man who runs the facility, he is a longtime advocate for keeping families together. He says that, while he cannot comment specifically on some of the children in his care due to the contract that they have with the federal government, he says the current immigration policy simply must be changed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEREMY KOHOMBAN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, THE CHILDREN'S VILLAGE: It's frustrating and heartbreaking, because I know we can do it better.

And I know that there's absolutely no reason for us to take these steps. This kind of forced separation has permanent damage.

(CROSSTALK)

CARROLL: Psychological damage is what you're talking about. KOHOMBAN: Psychological. The fear, the anxiety, the fear of the unknown, right? If this could happen to me, what else could happen to me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Now, what you saw there, Wolf, was Kohomban walking me around the facility. He took us into the medical facility, took us into a room there as well.

He also gave us a sense, a real keen sense of what these children have been saying to them, saying to the workers who are caring for them. And he talked about the anxiety that these children have been feeling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KOHOMBAN: The biggest concern that our children have had recently is about for their parents. It's not even about themselves. They're like, is my mom OK? Is my dad going to be OK? Where are they? What's happening? That's the anxiety.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Again, this tour, Wolf, completed just a short while ago.

One of the key points that they also wanted to get across is, this is a facility that's really made it a concerted effort to get some of these children in contact with their parents.

And the way they have been able to do that is over the phone with some of these children. Obviously, these phone calls, they describe them as being very, very emotional. And they said they really see this as being the first step in building trust between some of these children and their caregivers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jason Carroll, for that report.

Joining us now, Representative Kathleen Rice of New York. She's a Democrat, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's get to some of these sensitive issues. I know you have strong views. About 700 children separated from their parents are now in your home state, my home state of New York, according to an estimate by the governor, Governor Cuomo.

What do you know about their exact status?

REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D), NEW YORK: Well, it's very hard to get any information, Wolf.

What we do know is that there was a tendency to send the youngest of the children to New York, because we have laws that protect children in custody. So, in that respect, it's a good thing. But I'm going to -- once I leave here and get back home, we're going

to try to visit as many of these facilities as possible to see exactly how the children are being treated and what attempts they are making to reunify them with their guardians and their parents.

BLITZER: Well, do you know if they will be reunited with their parents?

RICE: I got to tell you, I don't see how it could possibly happen.

And, to be frank, the administration has basically admitted that, that there is no way that they can reunify these children with their parents. They didn't take any information at the time that they took them from them. A lot of these kids barely know even their own names, don't speak English.

So, this reunification process is going to be next to impossible, it seems to me, which -- I hope people really understand that. There are 2,300 children who may never see their parents again, ever. And that's on us, this country, the United States of America.

BLITZER: It's so heartbreaking to even think along those lines.

RICE: Terrible.

BLITZER: You serve on the House Homeland Security Committee.

[18:15:00]

Have you received clear guidance on what the president's executive order that he signed yesterday really means for these families?

RICE: The executive order means nothing, Wolf. This is my opinion. OK?

The only thing that the executive order establishes is that this policy that was put in place clearly came from this president and this administration. So, for all of those days and weeks where his administration officials and the president himself were saying this is all Congress' problem, they're the only ones that can fix it, sitting in that -- in the Oval Office with that dramatic fashion and signing that executive order just proved that lie.

All of those statements from Kirstjen Nielsen, the chief of staff, John Kelly, Jeff Sessions, they were all lying to protect the original lie from our chief executive.

So, when is this going to stop? What's going to happen is, they may stop at the port of capturing these people and taking them into their custody. They might not separate the children from their parents at that time.

But the law here is very clear that, within 20 days, those children can no longer be held in custody. I know the Trump administration is seeking an extension of that time period. But it's not likely that the court is going to give them that. And then we're going to have another huge problem on our hands.

BLITZER: Do you know if the families -- if families are still being separated as we speak?

RICE: Well, apparently, that has stopped.

But it's only a matter of time before they will eventually be separated, because of the Flores decision that says that you cannot hold children for longer than 20 days. So, I don't know what -- and, by the way, this is on Trump. And this is on this administration.

And this is such a vile, un-American, just pure out-and-out mean policy. And if you heard the words of Jeff Sessions when he had the audacity to quote the Bible and talk about God's laws, and, as a Catholic, as a Christian, that's just so deeply offensive to me.

And, as an American, I think he should be ashamed of himself for saying those things, as should the president.

BLITZER: The Trump administration says, Congresswoman, that the zero tolerance policy, as they call it, is still in place. Do you have a clear answer from the administration on whether parents will still be criminally prosecuted?

RICE: Oh, yes, they clearly will.

And they are, in fact, actually bringing active military members down to the border to act as lawyers. They don't know anything about immigration law. They don't know anything about federal procedure.

Because they want to try to speed this up, because they have no intention of going back and handling this in immigration courts as civil matters. They want to continue handling these as criminal matters. That's a policy decision that's squarely on the shoulders of this president and this Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions.

Congress can do nothing about that. This is solely within their discretion.

BLITZER: I know you speak also as a former prosecutor.

RICE: Yes.

BLITZER: As you also know, the Justice Department is trying to modify what's called the Flores agreement that prevents kids from being held in detention longer than 20 days.

Are there powers that allow them to try to change that court order?

RICE: They have to go to a court. And that's what they're doing.

And I think the likely outcome is that the court is going to say, no, too bad. This is the way it is. And you are going to have to figure out what you're going to do. We're not going to allow children, infants in some cases, to be imprisoned in this country for what could turn out to be years, given the lack of resources we have to actually process these amnesty claims, to say nothing of the criminal prosecutions that they seem to be going full steam ahead with.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Kathleen Rice of New York, thanks so much for joining us.

RICE: Thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, more on the big questions hanging over the president's policy on detained families and the fate of children separated from their parents.

And we will take you like to a Virginia facility where young immigrant children, allegedly,have been handcuffed, abused and beaten.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:37]

BLITZER: Tonight, there's a glaring new spotlight on the treatment of immigrant children who have been detained, as the president struggles to explain the policy he reversed a day ago.

CNN is now looking into truly shocking allegations of young people being beaten and abused over the years.

CNN's Brian Todd is at a facility in Virginia that's been targeted in a major lawsuit.

Brian, what are you learning about the conditions there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one former detainee, a young immigrant who spent about a year at this facility, describes getting a bag placed over his head and thinking -- quote -- "They're going to suffocate me. They're going to kill me."

Tonight, we have new information from court filings detailing horrific allegations of abuse and assault at the hands of staff members here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A lawsuit filed in federal court claims that immigrant children as young as 15 housed in this rural Virginia facility were abused, beaten and handcuffed.

The lawsuit describes prison-like conditions. Multiple children say they were handcuffed, strapped to chairs and restrained with hoods over their faces. One child said he was left strapped to a chair naked for more than two days. Others describe being stabbed and poked with pens.

We asked to speak on camera to administrators at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center, and we asked to interview detainees being held there. The facility declined our request.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this time, it's no comment.

TODD: But they later issued a statement saying the allegations in the complaint are without merit and that the facility -- quote -- "looks forward to the opportunity to present evidence that will allow a jury to reach the same conclusion."

[18:25:10]

In court documents, the administrators at Shenandoah acknowledge the use of a restraining chair as a last resort for aggressive behavior -- quote -- "When the emergency chair is utilized, residents are restrained by their arms, legs and torso. And a spit mask is placed on the resident to prevent staff from being spit upon or bitten."

The government says these kinds of facilities are a last resort, intended to meet the specialized needs of the children, many of whom have behavioral problems.

KELSEY WONG, SHENANDOAH VALLEY JUVENILE CENTER: Thank you for your invitation.

TODD: Kelsey Wong is a program director at the Shenandoah facility. In recent congressional testimony, she said some of the children brought to the facility may have been incorrectly classified as gang members.

WONG: And then, when they came into our care, and they were assessed by our clinical and case management staff, they didn't necessarily meet those -- they weren't necessarily identified as gang-involved individuals.

TODD: The facility faces charges, including verbal and physical abuse, substandard care, excessive use of solitary confinement, conditions that result in suffering.

The juvenile residents here are among thousands of undocumented minors trapped in a secretive web of shelters, treatment centers and detention facilities, some of whom entered when Barack Obama was president.

It's unlikely that any entered since President Trump instituted a zero tolerance policy. Many of them are unaccompanied, but others were taken from their parents while crossing the border or later.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, a psychologist who has examined the accounts of several minors held at this facility says it's likely that many of them will never fully recover from the traumatic experiences that they had while being detained here.

Again, this facility is denying the allegations of abuse and assault. But, tonight, Wolf, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is ordering a state investigation into the allegations here.

BLITZER: As he should.

Brian, I understand you also had a chance to speak with a guard who used to work there. What did he tell you? TODD: That's right, Wolf. This guard did not want to give us his

name. He did not want to go on camera.

He says he worked here for about two years, up until 2016. He said he did not witness the physical abuse detailed in these allegations. He did hear a complaint from one child of a racial insult. What he did tell us, Wolf, is that, while he was here, this place was vastly understaffed and the employees, including the guards, were simply overwhelmed.

BLITZER: Brian Todd on the scene for us, Brian, thank you very much.

And joining us now, Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke. He's a Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D), TEXAS: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: I know you have visited some of these locations in Texas, your home state.

The Department of Health and Services -- the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of Refugee Resettlement -- I want to be precise -- responsible for the children who have been separated from their parents, what concerns you about how they are operating? Twenty three hundred kids are still separated from their parents.

O'ROURKE: When I was in McAllen last week, and went to the busiest Border Patrol station on the U.S.-Mexico border, saw those parents who just survived that 2,000-mile trip with their kids, then saw the kids after they had been taken from their parents, and asked Customs and Border Protection officials, the director of consequence delivery, if you can believe the name of that department, whether they could track those kids once they went into custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the answer was, "We don't know."

So, Representative Rice, whom you interviewed earlier, just said, we don't know when or if those kids are going to be reunited with the parents who risked everything to bring them from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, to flee violence and death. We don't know if they are ever going to see each other again.

That deeply concerns me. I'm going to go back to Tornillo, the new tent city that's been constructed just outside of El Paso to house these kids, to actually be able to see them and ask those who are operating these detention centers what we are doing to reunite mother and child, father and child.

BLITZER: I know your district, your congressional district, includes parts of El Paso over there.

There seems to be a lot of confusion since the president signed this executive order yesterday about what's happening right now. Are children still being separated from their parents?

Are you confused? What -- do you know what's on going on?

O'ROURKE: My understanding is that children are no longer being taken from their parents, but that 100 percent of those families that are trying to ask for asylum in between the ports of entry, because they may not know where to cross -- it may be that the cartels control the crossing points -- are being arrested, are going to be prosecuted, that they are inquiring with the Department of Defense how they can house up to 20,000 additional children right now.

There's an alternative to this. There's the Family Case Management Program, which, when implemented under the Obama administration, led to a 99 percent show rate for immigration court proceedings for those families.

This is also a crisis wholly created by this president. Family unit apprehensions, FY17, compared to fiscal year 2018, are actually down 3 percent. There is no crisis in arrivals. There's only a crisis in what this president has done by treating these families

O'ROURKE: -- family unit apprehensions, FY17 compared to fiscal year 2018, are actually down 3 percent. There is no crisis in arrivals. There's only a crisis in what this president has done by treating these families so inhumanely, by torturing these kids, lifelong trauma of which they'll never be rid and staining the conscience of this country.

[18:30:21] It is up to us now to decide whether or not this is American. This is being done in our name. Those who marched on (UNINTELLIGIBLE) last weekend, those who brought the public pressure to bear on this administration so that he would issue this executive order, need to keep up the fight to ensure that we reunite these families, that we end indefinite family detention, and that we act in the most humane way, consistent with our asylum laws, which I believe the president is breaking right now.

BLITZER: Are you satisfied with the information that the federal government is providing to you about these cases?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are not answering any of our questions. We were asking, for example, where are the girls? When I go to these detention centers and these processing centers, I see a lot of young boys. I don't see the girls. They won't tell us where they are. They are not allowing members of Congress to actually talk to the children once they're in --

BLITZER: What is their excuse? Why aren't they?

O'ROURKE: "Give us two weeks, and then you can come in."

BLITZER: Why do they need two weeks?

O'ROURKE: We asked the same question. Congressman Joaquin Castro and I are both going to Torneil (ph) on Saturday, where HHS has finally relented and said, "You can come in and finally see these kids."

I don't know why it's taken them two weeks to allow us to do that, but we're going to make the most of that opportunity and check on the welfare of those children and try to help reunite them with the parents from whom they've been separated.

BLITZER: Because what I don't understand, if there's nothing to hide, what's the big deal about not just letting you but journalists and camera crews go in, as well?

O'ROURKE: I'll tell you why. Because this policy of zero-tolerance, of separating 100 percent of the kids from the parents who've crossed 2,000 miles to get them here, put this administration and this country in a place that it was not prepared for. This institutional scale of family separation did not have an institutional response in terms -- or an industrial scale, did not have an industrial (ph) response in terms of capacity, in terms of caregivers, in terms of those who are able to take care of the mental and physical well-being of those children.

We should never have done this. And now we must finish the job of ensuring that those kids are reunited before we inflict any more trauma on them.

BLITZER: Under the current law, the so-called Flores Settlement, they can only -- can only hold the children for 20 days. After 20 days, they have to be released. The federal government, the Trump administration went to court today to try to change that. What's your analysis? Will they succeed?

O'ROURKE: This shows you how malicious this president's intent is. Because what they promised is that, if they are unsuccessful in this challenge to Flores, then they're going to go back to separating families. This is only a temporary reprieve by this president.

And Wolf, let's remember, this is a president who's called those asylum seekers, some of those asylum seekers "animals." He's talked about this as an infestation. He's described immigrants from Mexico as rapists and criminals. Last night he said, "They are not our best," or they're not the best from those countries who are sending them here. There's a strong racist element to this policy. And it should not surprise us when people under this administration are inflicting this kind of harm on those children.

BLITZER: Very quickly, I know you're challenging Ted Cruz for the Senate seat from Texas. He wants to change things, as well. Is there any daylight between you and him on this specific issue of making sure kids aren't separated from their parents?

O'ROURKE: Unclear to me, because he said when Democrats -- when the media tell you that they're concerned about those kids, they're just really trying to justify criminals and criminal behavior.

This is a guy who wants to build a $30 billion wall. This is a guy who wants to deport DREAMers. I don't think he cares about keeping those families together. If he did, he'd stand up to this president.

BLITZER: Congressman O'Rourke, thanks so much for joining us.

O'ROURKE: Thank you for having me on.

BLITZER: Of course, we invite Senator Cruz to join us, as well.

Just ahead, can President Trump's executive order on separating families withstand legal challenges?

Plus, the president tweets on the controversy over the first lady's jacket and explains whom the cryptic message was for.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:38:42] BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump is weighing in on the message his wife was sending by wearing a jacket that said on the back, quote, "I really don't care. Do U?"

He says the first lady was expressing her feelings about the news media as she traveled to and from the Texas border today. The president directly contradicting, though, a statement by Mrs. Trump's office that said there was no message. It was just a jacket.

Let's bring in our analysts. And Gloria, what do you think? What are you hearing about all of this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, our colleague Jeff Zeleny is reporting from the White House that people inside White House were very proud of themselves for coming up with this explanation, Wolf.

This is clearly a fix. It's revisionist history, as Jeff points out. I mean, the spokeswoman said, "Oh, it was just a jacket" earlier in the day. "Stop paying attention to this."

Then they -- there was a meeting in the Oval Office, we know, with communications people. Presumably the president was there with Melania Trump. And they had to figure out what to say about this jacket, because, of course, people were speculating that perhaps she was sending a message to her husband. And then we saw Donald Trump's tweet.

We may never know the real answer. Maybe she was just foolish enough to put on a jacket with this message, and nobody could tell her, "You know what? I think you better change."

[18:40:06] BLITZER: Very hot day in Washington. We saw her walking down the Colonnade outside the Rose Garden toward the Oval Office, Sabrina, wearing that jacket. You see it right there. She clearly wanted to wear that jacket. What do you think? Why?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, if we're being charitable and going with her office's explanation that it was unintentional, then it just seems like incompetence to think that it's appropriate for the first lady to be wearing this jacket when she is visiting with children who have been separated from their parents at the border.

If you go with the president's explanation that it was, in fact, intentional, then it's inappropriate to be choosing this time to be sending a message to the media.

But I frankly think this is a fight that the White House wants to pick. Because they want to be able to deflect from the real issue, which is the president's policy of having separated roughly 2,300 children from their parents and to not actually talk about the substance, which is that they have no clear plan to reunify these families. And frankly, that was ultimately the purpose of her visit to see these children. And they didn't come away with any better answers than they had yesterday.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a very good point. And she makes a good point, Jeffrey Toobin. Much more important right now, what this executive order that the president signed yesterday really means, especially for those 2,300 kids who are still -- still -- separated from their moms and dads.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, one of the things about this executive order is that, as a day has passed, it has become more mysterious in its meaning than -- than even the moment it was signed.

As you point out, the order says absolutely nothing about what's going to happen to these 2,300 young people. They remain incarcerated. Their parents remain somewhere, perhaps thousands of miles away, perhaps unaware of where their children are. That's one big mystery.

Another big mystery is, what happened after 20 days? There is this Flores case, where the government is subject to a binding order that says children and their parents, when they're together, cannot be held longer than 20 days. The order says the Justice Department should challenge that.

But what happens if the government loses, as it very well might? Do they release the parents and children? Do they defy the court? Do they release just the children? And then separate them from their parents again? All of those questions remain unanswered, like the meaning of Melania's jacket.

BLITZER: You know, we heard from the president of the Border Patrol union in the last hour, Susan, that if they -- if this legal challenge put forward by the administration fails, they're going to have to go back to what used to be called catch and release.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, so one of the issues is that we've seen lots of different messages from lots of different departments. The Justice Department, Border Patrol, DHS. So it's really hard to even understand what the administration's policy is.

The one sort of most -- the one document we can look at is this DOJ filing from today, which I think makes it relatively clear that what the Trump administration is trying to do is set up a false choice. They're saying, "We have to detain adults indefinitely. Therefore, we can either separate children from their parents, or can detain children indefinitely." And so they're seeking for a modification of that order. What they're doing is pretending as though there's not a reasonable third choice, which is release families together and re-implement prior policies that have existed to ensure that those individuals show up at court appearances.

Look, I think Jeff's right. The question here is what happens 19 days from now? But the fact will be true, as it is now, 19 days from now that this is not compelled by the law. It's not Congress's fault. It's not a judge's fault. It is a Trump administration policy, a Trump administration choice. Therefore, it is their responsibility.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, what does it say to you about the Trump administration that they've created this fiasco?

BORGER: Well, it's an ad hoc policy in the first place. And it was an ad hoc solution in the second place. And nothing has been thought through. I mean, I was here working last night when we were all wondering what was going to happen to these 2,300 children. And HHS has said, "Well, they're not grandfathered into this policy."

Then at about 10 p.m. at night last night, HHS releases a statement saying, "Well, maybe that's not true. We're awaiting further guidance."

So it's not as if the people in governmental agencies know any more about this than we seem to. And it seems to be shifting every minute, because these are unintended consequences when you haven't thought through your policy.

And you're dealing with children here. You know, it's -- it's astonishing to me that this policy was so short-sighted that you wouldn't be able to figure out how to reunite these families and would say, "OK, it's up to the mother," whose child may have been sent somewhere in New York, and the mother is in Texas. And how is the mother going to do that?

BLITZER: We've just learned, by the way, that this House compromise, so-called compromise Republican bill on immigration reform that was supposed to happen today, then postponed until tomorrow, won't happen tomorrow either. So they're --

BORGER: So Trump can blame somebody else.

BLITZER: They've got some big problems over there.

Just ahead, we're getting more reaction to all the confusion surrounding the president's reversal on family separations. And President Trump may soon be face to face with Vladimir Putin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:00]

BLITZER: New tonight, President Trump says he's considering a one-on- one meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin in a matter of weeks.

Our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski is working the story for us.

[18:50:02] Michelle, what can you tell us about a possible meeting between these two men?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, this has been a poorly kept secret. And the White House has really wanted to be quiet about it.

But in the diplomatic community, this has been talked about being very much in the planning stage for the last couple of weeks. So, now we know they are planning for mid-July. That would be after President Trump is at the NATO summit in Brussels, after he makes a visit to the U.K., the World Cup will be over in Russia.

So, right around July 15th would be perfect. We don't know the exact dates yet. But we also think from our sources that it's very, very likely to be in Vienna.

We know that Russia has talked to the Austrian government about that location. We know that, in fact, the Russians wanted that location. We know the White House would have preferred Washington. The Russians pushed for Vienna because it would be a more neutral location, and like I said, it looks like that is the likely spot, Wolf.

BLITZER: How significant would such a meeting be?

KOSINSKI: Well, there's always going to be controversy when it's Putin and Trump together in the same room. I mean, remember when he had a meeting in the Oval Office with the Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the outgoing Russian ambassador. All kinds of things happened that generated headlines, the things that he said about James Comey. He talked about intelligence regarding Syria that caused a stir.

When he stat down with Putin, the last time they met was in November. Remember, there were questions over how much time he really spent on election meddling, was Trump saying that he believed Putin? So, there are always going to be eyes on this.

We know that the White House thinks there's progress to be made on Syria, on cooperating on arms control. We know that the two get along together. But then you have all the scrutiny over how -- you know, this is the person who the intelligence community believes ordered the meddling in the U.S. election. This is who the intelligence committee believes ordered the attempted assassination of a former Russia spy in the U.K. just in the last couple of months.

So, there are many eyes looking askance and with worry at this meeting, but, you know, this is what leaders of nations do, and the president feels that getting along is better than not getting along, Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski, thanks very much.

There's more news we're following. We'll have more on the president's immigration confusion, and the rather bizarre distraction created by the first lady's jacket.

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[18:56:54] BLITZER: We've been getting all sorts of confusing and conflicting messages from the Trump administration today about the president's revised policy of separating immigrant families.

Let's bring in CNN's Chris Cuomo. He's the anchor of "CUOMO PRIME TIME."

Chris, the president signed his executive order yesterday but it doesn't reunite those families that are already separated and no one seems to know yet what it means going forward.

How do you decipher all of this?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "CUOMO PRIME TIME": Well, I think it's pretty obvious, Wolf, that the executive order was a stunt. It's not legally operative or necessary because this was a policy choice. He could have changed it by tweet or a phone call.

This has always been about the illusion of legalities, that the Democrats put laws in place that tied his hands. Untrue.

That he need to change it only through a legal mechanism. Untrue.

Now, the biggest problem is that there is this perception that things have changed. Now, we don't know that on the most fundamental level, which is, will they no longer separate families? We don't know that they're not separating families anymore, we just know what Trump has said. And we don't know how they will reunite.

We do know, Wolf, that the Trump administration went to a court today to ask a judge for more time to hold kids in detention. That would be an end run around the Flores agreement people are talking about, the settlement of a case that was done in 1997. That's exactly what we don't want is kids held longer, because of the potential for abuse and damage to them.

So, we are not done in this situation. In fact, the worst could still be ahead.

BLITZER: I know the president's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, a man you know, he shocked so many of us by apparently mocking a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was separated from her parent. I understand he's going to be your guest one on one later tonight.

What can you tell us?

CUOMO: Well, Corey Lewandowski has a situation that he has to explain and/or own. And I think we have to get into why it was seen as so repugnant in the first place. It wasn't just what Corey said. It's what it reflected to so many about what this administration believes about the people who are coming across the border. So he knows the policy, he knows where the president's head is. We're going to get after it with him tonight.

BLITZER: We will watch later tonight, Chris. Thank you very much.

"CUOMO PRIME TIME", 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Finally, a very, very sad note. We lost a towering figure in journalism today. Charles Krauthammer, the conservative commentator, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, has died. His words and opinions helped shape American politics for decades.

Just two weeks ago, he revealed that his very difficult fight against cancer was over and that he had just a few weeks left to live. I knew Charles well. He was a good friend. We went to many baseball games together.

He was only 68 years old. My deepest, deepest condolences to his wonderful family. May he rest in peace.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.