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Confusion After Trump Reversal on Separating Families; DOJ Asks Judge to Revoke 20-Day Limit on Detaining Kids; Trump To GOP: Stop Wasting Time On Immigration Until After Midterms; Melania Trump Makes Surprise Visit To Border Facility; CNN Poll: Approval Of Mueller's Handling Of Russia Probe Dropping; GOP's Sanford: Trump's Lies "Corrosive To Our Political System". Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 22, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

Today, chaos, confusion, conflicting messages, nearly two days after President Trump ended the separation of parents and children at the border. Adding to that confusion, a punt (ph) this morning from the president and a big question about priorities. He's now telling Republicans that they should stop trying to pass an immigration fix until after the midterms in November despite the fact that both parties agree a compromise is needed.

Also needed desperately is clarity. Clarity on how thousands of children already separated from their parents at the border will be reunited with them and figuring that out should be a top priority for everyone regardless of party.

Just imagine what one mother from Guatemala was feeling this morning when she was finally reunited with her son. She had to sue the Trump administration after he was taken away from her nearly a month ago when they crossed the border. She said they had planned to seek asylum.

Watch this.

All right. So let's go now to the White House and our Abby Phillip to get some answers.

Abby, do we know from the White House yet what the plan is to reunite families? Families unlike this mother who had to sue to be reunited with her son. What happens to the rest of them?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Poppy. There are so many questions that are unanswered by the administration so far on this very issue. The Trump administration is saying that they are going to be working to reunite these families somehow, but right now there is no indication that that is happening en masse. And in some cases there's no indication the administration has the information they need to make that happen.

Meantime we are learning more about what's happening at the border. There are some indications that the Trump administration, despite saying that the zero tolerance policy is going forward, has essentially suspended the enforcement of it in part because there's no plan in place yet to figure out how they will in fact detain families together as the executive order says that they will.

At the same time, President Trump is talking in a somewhat confusing way about this. He's saying in some ways that the policy of separating families will end but he's also doubling down on the strong rhetoric about immigration enforcement. Take a listen to what he had to say yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to have a very tough policy, otherwise you have millions and millions of people pouring into our country. We can't have that. We have no choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: It's still very unclear what that means and what a lot of all of this means. The president also -- or the Trump administration also indicating that they're seeking to have families detained for longer periods of time because of a court decision only permitting them to hold children for 20 days. All of this still being -- shaking out as we speak here as a result of this really hastily put together executive order on the administration's part -- Poppy.

HARLOW: And then, Abby, a surprise visit to the border yesterday, to these facilities to see these children and talk to them firsthand from the first lady. The visit also being overshadowed a bit this morning because of a message she wore, literally wore down there.

PHILLIP: A really surprising story from this first lady. It was supposed to be a moment where she showed in some ways a little bit of independence. Her staff had said she really wanted to go down to the border to see this for herself. She wanted to hear from the children about how they were being cared for and left that meeting urging lawmakers to act to reunite families. But there was the jacket. And the jacket said "I really don't care, do you," in all capital letters.

What was unusual about it was the decision to wear the jacket boarding Air Force One from Washington to Texas and then she -- after the firestorm she wore it again leaving Air Force One. This is a first lady who never wears anything by mistake and also rarely wears clothing. This is from a discounted clothing outlet Zara. But the White House said we should talk about the children. The president weighed in saying that this was a message to the fake news media -- Poppy.

HARLOW: I do think it's really interesting, her spokesperson made it so clear that she told the president she was going and would give him her feedback. There was no sort of, like, this was a mutual decision, they both thought it was a good idea. They did say, though, he was supportive of her.

We'll talk more about that a little later in the hour. Abby, thank you very much from the White House. And now to the effort being made to keep detained families together

and not separate them from their parents. Right now a federal judge is weighing a request made by the Trump administration.

Laura Jarrett is here to explain. Laura, what exactly is the judge deciding at this point?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Poppy, good morning. The Justice Department is really facing an uphill battle right now trying to convince a federal judge in California to modify a decades-old settlement agreement to allow them to detain children longer than 20 days with their parents.

[09:05:08] But the Obama administration tried this and was slapped down by the same judge, so we wait to see what she will do on that front. In the meantime, an interesting shift in at least the tone from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Take a listen to how he described the situation just yesterday versus several weeks ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It hasn't been good, and the American people don't like the idea that we're separating families. We never really intended to do that.

If you're smuggling a child, then we're going to prosecute you. And that child will be separated from you probably as required by law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: Now the Justice Department said there is no daylight between these two and in fact the attorney general from the very beginning has not wanted to purposefully separate families but he has wanted for enforce zero tolerance against illegal crossings.

HARLOW: So if the administration gets what it wants from this judge, does that mean at least for now those families would be kept together but could be detained indefinitely?

JARRETT: That's exactly what the Justice Department wants, Poppy. They want maximum flexibility. And the reason is this. In a criminal proceeding, that could take just days, but there's also asylum proceedings at play here that could take years and they want to detain families together that entire time.

HARLOW: And the Obama administration actually wanted the exact same thing, to be clear here, for Democrats that are crying out now.

JARRETT: Absolutely.

HARLOW: This is what the Obama Justice Department wanted, too.

JARRETT: Absolutely. And they made a different policy choice. They made a policy choice to do what some have called catch and release. Some find offense at that term, but they decided to put ankle monitors on and send them back, and say you can come back for a later court date. The Trump administration has made a different policy choice.

HARLOW: Right. Right. Because not all of them did come back, right, for those hearings and that's what the Trump administration points to.

All right. Laura Jarrett, important reporting, thank you so, so much.

JARRETT: Thanks.

HARLOW: And here's another heart-wrenching story in this ongoing immigration crisis and one that the administration points to as why they had implemented the zero tolerance policy. Border Patrol agents overnight rescued a 6-year-old boy after he was abandoned by smugglers along the Arizona-Mexico border. The boy was found west of Lukeville, Arizona, just north of Mexico. Temperatures of about 100 degrees there when he was found.

The child told agents he was dropped off by his uncle, that he was on his way to see his mother in the United States. Border Patrol called attention to the danger that these children face when they are brought illegally into the country by traffickers.

All right. Right now there is still confusion on the ground at so many of these facilities holding these children. Despite the president's executive order, staff members at these shelters say they have no clue how their kids will be reunited with their parents.

Our Nick Valencia is outside of a border facility shelter holding these kids once again in Brownsville, Texas. That's the question. I mean, what is the strategy? Is there a federal database that knows where each kid is, where their parent is, when they will be reunited? What are you hearing?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, we'd love to give you answers, but the Trump administration is not giving us any. In the cases that we know where these parents have been reunited with their children, it's taken immigrants rights groups, in some cases it's taken lawyers for that to happen. But you know this. Of the 2300 children that have been separated, not all of them are going to be so lucky to have advocates.

I did recently talk to Congressman Filemon Vela just a short time ago. His office is asking those who are seeking asylum to contact his office in order for him to help out. They want to broker these -- broker and help families get reunited.

We should mention this facility behind me is one of the facilities where the youngest migrants are taken, it's 10 years old and younger. Behind me there's an 8-month-old toddler. An 8-month-old inside that we don't even know if these officials know where the 8-month-old's parents are.

The officials scrambling to figure out what this zero tolerance policy, the executive order ending it, they're trying to figure out what it means for them -- Poppy.

HARLOW: I know that some lawmakers are going to be allowed into that facility specifically today, right, and some of these other facilities. Do we know what they will be able to see, you know, if they will be able to interact with these children?

VALENCIA: Just a short time ago I reached out to Senator Ted Cruz, he's one of the two senators that are expected to be down here touring these detention centers, child shelters as well. We haven't heard back from them, but we expect them to host a roundtable later this afternoon at 1:00 p.m. local. They're going to be in Weslaco touring one of those facilities there. They haven't released much details beyond that but we know that these two senators are among those that have introduced immigration legislation to end the separation of families at the border.

The Trump administration says that that is not happening anymore. We're trying to get clarification as to how they're going to go about reuniting these families. We just don't have it right now -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Nick Valencia, thank you for the important reporting.

It is nearly impossible to forget the cries of immigrant children that everyone heard this week from that audio.

[09:10:02] We heard it taken inside of one of the holding shelters of children separated from their parents. But for one mother, it is painstakingly difficult because one of those voices is her 6-year-old daughter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't cry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to go with my aunt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to get there. Look, she will explain it and help you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to take you to speak to the person from your consulate, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: That child is 6-year-old Alisson Madrid. She was separated from her mother, Cindy, two weeks ago at the border.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please help me reunite with my daughter Alisson. I'm desperate. I want to see her. We've always been very close. We've shared everything together.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: That's the mother talking about her loving, charismatic young little 6-year-old, begging to be reunited with her, and the pain in her voice hearing her child on that tape.

They came to the United States from El Salvador looking to escape the poverty and the violence there and now Cindy has spoken to CNN about her desperate search to find her child.

Here is some more of what she's been going through.

(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

HARLOW: She says it's maddening not knowing if her child is eating enough, how she's being taken care of, what is happening to her every day. And she also said she received little information about how she will be reunited with her daughter or when. Her calls to the shelter she says have gone unanswered.

Ahead for us, the first lady proving once again she is very much her own woman, a solo trip to the border just did that. But it is the buzz about this jacket. Is it overshadowing her message and her goal?

And the president's so-called fixer, Michael Cohen, got a first look at Trump's stories. Reports about the president when he was citizen Trump before they were published. That's very odd. Why did that happen? More on that ahead.

Also protests in East Pittsburgh. Hundreds take to the streets after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00]

HARLOW: Welcome back. Melania Trump makes quite a statement with a surprise trip to the border. This as the president tweets this morning that Republicans should stop wasting their time on immigration.

He says at least until after the midterms. Of course, he hopes more Republicans will be elected then. The president punts on immigration reform. Now what happens?

Joining me is CNN's Mark Preston, our senior political analyst; Errol Louis, CNN political commentator; and Molly Ball, our political analyst as well. Nice to have you here.

Mark Preston, in the flesh, here in New York. Good to have you. If you're Paul Ryan this morning and you see the president this morning saying, don't waste your time, don't do this. This thing you promised a vote on this week, now it's next week, what are you thinking?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think if you're Paul Ryan, you're saying to yourself, wow, I'm really glad I decided to retire, that I am going to leave at the end of the year. Look, politically, the House can't give up any effort, like they're

giving up any effort at this point. We're heading into a midterm election where the wind is very much in their face. Democrats have a chance of taking back the House of Representatives.

If Republicans just say we're going to punt until November, what does that say to all the people -

HARLOW: What's the message?

PRESTON: What is the message you're sending to voters at that point?

HARLOW: Yes. Molly, let's talk about Melania Trump, making this surprise visit down to the border, sitting with these children, talking to them.

I thought the messaging from the East Wing, from Stephanie Grisham, her spokeswoman, was so telling, saying that Melania said, "I'm headed down to Texas" and the president was supportive of that and that it was "100 percent her idea."

Right. This wasn't like a joint, the president and Melania, thought it would be a good idea for her to go down there, et cetera, et cetera. What does it tell us?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think Melania has made it clear over the course of this whole immigration crisis that she is very much her own woman in a way that we have not really seen her before as first lady.

It's very interesting. It may have to do with the fact that she's an immigrant herself, that she's a mom. We really don't know, though, because she doesn't do a lot of public speaking.

And I think that that's also in line with sort of what we've seen from her as she prefers to let her actions speak for her. And perhaps her wardrobe. And that's something that we're also still trying to get our head around. But it does seem like she has taken it upon herself to step out on this issue in a way that we've really rarely seen before.

HARLOW: And so people know what you're talking about, we'll pull up the picture of this jacket. This jacket that is now getting a lot of attention because on the back of it, it says "I really don't care. Do U?"

And, Errol, I have to be honest, I was very torn about talking about this jacket because I don't care about what a woman wears. And her team said I hope the media isn't going to choose to focus on her wardrobe.

But then the president tweeted about it. And the president made it an issue as well and said, "well, actually, she's talking to the fake news media."

So, then, I was like, OK, you know - so, what do you make of this message?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First of all, it's OK to talk about it because she's a public figure, in public, doing public stuff, and that invites public discussion. In fact, that's the whole purpose.

HARLOW: Should be very conscious of the choices of the what she wears for the time.

LOUIS: Right. We're used to seeing her in $10,000 outfits. That jacket, $39. She's got shoe laces that cost more than $39. So, she's making a lot of different statements here.

Personally, I looked at it because the - her spokesperson said there's no hidden message. You just have to take the words as they are. It looks to me like a message to her husband. It looked like, frankly, the public continuation of what might have been a private conversation.

But other than that, it certainly is not messaging for the media or anything else, as the president later tried to clean up. So, whatever is going on between them, hopefully, they'll finish it out.

HARLOW: Yes. By the way, the East Wing says there's no hidden message here and the president says there is a hidden message. And by the way, it's to you guys.

LOUIS: And we're perfectly in sync. Right, of course.

PRESTON: And it is worth saying too that she was trying to send a message. She derailed what she was trying to do yesterday, which apparently trying to do - to show some compassion certainly on behalf of the administration and on behalf of herself. She chose to derail the conversation last night.

[09:20:00] HARLOW: The conversation changed because of it. She still did what she did and she was with these kids and that's a good thing.

To you, Mark Preston, new important CNN polling out on the Russia probe. It is very telling in some of these numbers. Let's pull up this first set of findings. And this is the approval rating, how Americans feel about the Mueller investigation overall. And he's losing confidence among all parties, among Republicans, independents and Democrats.

PRESTON: And there's really two reasons for this. And, really, the first reason is, really the primary reason, Robert Mueller has not gone out and spoke and defended himself at all. He has kept it rather quiet, he has kept a very tight ship.

Meanwhile, President Trump has continued to hammer him and his investigatory force that are looking into this at this point. So, that's one thing. The constant hammering, and that is hurting.

And there's also a little bit of exhaustion right now. You have an American public right now that is very exhausted. We're heading into a summer. There doesn't seem to be any resolution right now and they're hearing conflicting messages.

Donald Trump says no collusion, this investigation is over. There is no sign this investigation is over.

HARLOW: Right. Let me ask you, Molly, about the second set of findings that I thought was so interesting out of this poll. It asked about favorability ratings among some of the key players here in the Russia probe.

Take a look at these. Donald Trump is on top, 40 percent favorability compared to 32 percent for Bob Mueller, 31 for the president's attorney Rudy Giuliani. James Comey, all the way down there, at 28 percent. Of course, the president has labeled him Lyin' James Comey.

So, what do you make of those numbers?

BALL: I think that's actually pretty misleading because if you don't see the disapproval side of those numbers, what you're seeing is a lot of people who actually people don't have much of an opinion about.

Donald Trump has a higher disapproval number, 55 percent, than any of those figures. So, it's not the case that they are somehow less - on balance, people have a more negative opinion than positive.

I think it's just the fact that Trump is much more well-known and everybody has an opinion about him and, of course, he has the Republican Party behind him and his approval rating has been very stable for quite a while. Maybe it's ticked down a little bit, but people's opinions of him are pretty much baked in.

Yes, Comey is under water. Clearly, the Trump and Republican campaign to discredit him, just like they have done with the Russia investigation, has been quite successful.

HARLOW: And the IG report, right?

BALL: Yes, absolutely. But a lot of these other figures, I think, people are just somewhat ambivalent about and don't necessarily have an opinion, positive or negative.

HARLOW: That's a good point. Errol, there's another interesting number out of our economy poll. And what it shows is that 6 in 10 Americans at this point would rather the United States maintain a good relationship with our allies, 63 percent, than the 25 percent that care about us imposing these tariffs that the US has slapped on not only China, but our allies, Mexico and Canada.

LOUIS: That's right. The world is a little bit smaller. The days when America could just say, well, who cares, we're past that. More people than ever travel. People I think are starting to understand that the supply lines, their gadgets, their phones depends on international relations, so it does start to matter.

It's got to be a little bit source of consternation in the White House that Justin Trudeau has a higher approval rating in the United States. HARLOW: We have that. Let's pull that up. I was surprised by that. I think we have it. It's 49 percent favorable of Justin Trudeau. Is that typical because people don't - Americans won't - have been affected at all by the policies of Justin Trudeau as they are of their own president or is this surprising -

LOUIS: We're somewhat affected by. I mean, they're our biggest trading partner.

HARLOW: Sure. In that way.

LOUIS: It matters, yes.

HARLOW: No, and that's a good point.

PRESTON: But look at the picture of the side-by-side comparison. You have a very young handsome -

HARLOW: Oh, come on, Mark. It's not about their looks.

PRESTON: Unfortunately, it really is in many cases. And we pretend it isn't. Plus, they don't know Justin Trudeau. He hasn't really said a whole lot that people here in the United States would think negatively of him.

HARLOW: Mark Sanford, the outgoing Republican who lost the primary in South Carolina who the president hit in that meeting earlier this week on immigration and then he called Mark Sanford a nasty guy because Sanford has been outspoken against the president, our Manu Raju caught up with him as he catches up with every lawmaker in the news. And listen to what Mark Sanford said about the president lying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think it's a real problem in the way that we will simply give him a pass on something that, ultimately, is corrosive to our political system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[09:25:00] HARLOW: Molly, final thought on that. I mean, yes, he's outgoing. Yes, he can say whatever he wants. But he's a small part of a party now that 87 percent is still supportive of the president, right?

BALL: Well, yes. And that's why Mark Sanford is on the way out and Trump in characteristic style did not restrain himself from gloating and mocking Sanford in front of his colleagues in that closed door Republican meeting the other night.

It was interesting to see a couple of House Republicans publicly rebuke the president for his false tweet that they had applauded what he said about Sanford.

And so, Sanford is someone who has spoken out against the president consistently, even when he wasn't on his way out, and now he's on his way out because the Republicans prefer Trump to someone who is going to get in his way.

And this is something we've seen with the Republican base since the beginning of Trump's presidency. It doesn't matter how long you've been a Republican or a conservative in good standing. They like Trump better.

HARLOW: Molly Ball, Errol Louis, Mark Preston, thank you very, very much.

Ahead for us, he didn't just fix things for the president. Now a report that Michael Cohen was shown tabloid stories about Donald Trump before they were ever published. That is more than rare. It's concerning. More ahead.

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