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THE SITUATION ROOM
'The National Enquirer' Working With Trump?; President Trump's Incoherent Immigration Stance?; Interview With Congressman David Cicilline; CNN Poll: Approval of Mueller Investigation at New Low; Agencies Met At White House to Try to Interpret Trump's Executive Order on Family Separations. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 22, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Forget about it. The president tells Republicans they shouldn't bother passing the immigration legislation he had been demanding, changing his position again and undermining the work of his party. Will GOP leaders seek a vote anyway?
Heading to trial. A federal judge issues a new ruling against Paul Manafort, as prosecutors try to prevent the former Trump campaign chairman from playing politics in the courtroom. There are new developments tonight in the Russia investigation.
And inquiring minds. "The National Enquirer" reportedly let longtime fixer Michael Cohen review stories involving Mr. Trump in advance. We're getting a new window into the rather cozy relationship between the tabloid and the president.
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, President Trump is capping a confounding and disturbing week on the issue of immigration by dismissing stories of separated families as phony and by pulling the rug out from under fellow Republicans.
He's now telling Republican leaders to stop wasting their time on passing immigration reform until after the midterm election. Mr. Trump attempting to change the subject, as huge questions and concerns persist about his order to reunite children taken from their detained parents.
This hour, I will talk with House Foreign Relations Committee David Cicilline.
And our correspondents and analysts are also all standing by.
First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, the president talked about immigration today, but his focus was not on those separated families.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump is downplaying the separation of children from their
parents, pointing instead to families grieving relatives who were allegedly killed by undocumented immigrants. He tried to change the subject today, but it did not go away.
The White House has yet to explain what is happening to these children who are taking from their families, raising the question, where is the plan? But so far, the silence from the administration is deafening.
ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump appeared to make light of children separated from their parents at the border, turning his attention to families who say their relatives were killed by undocumented immigrants, calling them permanently separated.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones. The word permanently being the word that you have to think about, permanently.
ACOSTA: The president then took a swipe at undocumented immigrants, suggesting they commit more crime than native-born Americans, despite studies that show that is not true.
TRUMP: The answer is just not true. You hear it's like they're better people than what we have, than our own citizens. It's not true.
ACOSTA: The mayor of El Paso, a border city, begs to differ.
DEE MARGO, MAYOR OF EL PASO, TEXAS: El Paso is the safest city in the United States. We have no issues on the criminal side.
ACOSTA: Two days after the president seemed to reverse course and announce he was holding the practice of separating migrant children from their parents.
TRUMP: You're going to have a lot of happy people.
ACOSTA: The White House Briefing Room sat empty. For the second straight day, there were no officials to explain how the children will be reunited with their families.
But there were plenty of reminders the issue isn't going away. Protesters played audio of separated children outside the home of the homeland security secretary.
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: And 2,300 babies, kids. I think the American people need to hear this.
ACOSTA: As did Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu up on Capitol Hill.
As some of the children were returned to their mothers, lawmakers who had visited the detention facilities talked about the kids who are still locked up in cages the administration is hiding from the public. REP. PETER WELCH (D), VERMONT: What we saw was a lot of kids in
cages. We were not allowed to talk to them. But the real issue here is these kids are removed from their parents. So there they are bewildered and they're scared.
ACOSTA: Attorney General Jeff Sessions even tries to cover up his own comments, telling Christian Broadcasting that the administration didn't intend to split up migrant families.
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, 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.
ACOSTA: Even though he warned of that last month.
SESSIONS: If you're smuggling a child, then we are going to prosecute you. And that child will be separated from you probably, as required by law.
ACOSTA: Over on FOX News, one host said the kids coming over the border just aren't American enough.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like it or not, these are not our kids. Show them compassion. But it's not like he's doing this to the people of Idaho or -- or -- or Texas.
ACOSTA: No surprise the president is now abandoning efforts to pass immigration reform, tweeting: "Republicans should stop wasting their time on immigration until after the November elections."
That's after he tweeted earlier this week: "Change the laws. Get it done."
TRUMP: We're also wanting to go through Congress. We will be going through Congress. We're working on a much more comprehensive bill.
ACOSTA: Still, the question remains whether the administration really has a plan.
After the president's executive order was signed a couple of days ago, CNN is now learning that administration officials across various agencies have been debating inside the White House, inside the administration just how the president's plan to stop the separations of children from their parents should be implemented.
At the same time, Wolf, I should mention I talked to a top GOP congressional aide earlier today who was asked so what the plan is for the administration. This aide said to me -- quote -- "I'm not sure what the plan is."
And as for the White House press secretary, we should note Sarah Sanders has had only one briefing this week. We can show you a picture of the Briefing Room. It is sitting up virtually empty this evening. The only one she's had this week was the one that she had with the homeland security secretary earlier this week.
But, again, look at how it is this evening, just a few reporters in the Briefing Room waiting for answers that are not coming. Wolf, we are simply not getting any answers from this administration as to what this plan is to return these children to their parents.
We have not heard from the White House press secretary on this front since Monday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It seems like internally they're still deciding. They're still debating what the answers those critically important questions are.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, for that report.
Also tonight, we have seen some very emotional reunions of separated kids and their moms and dads, but hundreds upon hundreds of families still are torn apart, and their desperation is growing as the days drag on.
Let's go to CNN's Nick Valencia. He in Texas near the border for us.
Nick, I understand some parents are pleading, pleading to see their kids.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And I'm out inside outside one of those facilities, the Port Isabel Detention Center, where two immigration attorneys who were just in there earlier this morning tell me that there are 1,700 detainees in all, a mixture of both men and women.
And, believe it or not, they're not being told that this zero tolerance policy has ended or that families are being reunited.
VALENCIA (voice-over): This 7-year-old boy from Guatemala reunited with his mother. They were separated from each other in May after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
This week, the Guatemalan mother sued several government agencies and top Trump administration officials, asking a federal judge to order authorities to release her son.
BEATA MARIANA DE JESUS MEJIA-MEJIA, MOTHER (through translator): This is the only son I have. And I'm never going to be separated from him again.
VALENCIA: U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it has unified approximately 500 children, over 15 percent, with their parents who had been referred for prosecution for illegal entry. That means more than 3,300 immigrant children have been separated in the U.S., and a vast majority of them are still wondering when they will see their loved ones again.
Cindy Madrid and her 6-year-old daughter Alison are part of that group.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD (through translator): I want to go with my aunt.
VALENCIA: Alison's is one of the tiny voices recorded by ProPublica on the audiotape that sparked national outrage this week. CNN spoke with her mother, who is currently being held at this detention facility in Port Isabel, Texas.
Alison is reported to be more than 1,200 miles away at a children's center in Phoenix, Arizona.
CINDY MADRID, Mother (through translator): (INAUDIBLE) Help me reunite with my daughter. (INAUDIBLE) I'm desperate. I want to see her. (INAUDIBLE)
VALENCIA: During a report by ProPublica, Alison phoned her aunt, who did not want to be seen on camera.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Have they said anything about your mom to you there?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
VALENCIA: In a new suit filed in a Washington, D.C., court, three undocumented immigrants are demanding immediate access to basic information about their children's whereabouts and well-being. According to the document, one mother who was separated from her son last month has only been able to speak with them for a total of 15 minutes.
"I try to tell him everything will be OK and that I will see him soon, but the truth is, I don't know what will happen with us," she says."
An immigration attorney I spoke with today says those detained have little information about their fate.
EILEEN BLESSINGER, VOLUNTEER ATTORNEY: What I was told was, it might take about a month just for that reunification to happen. The people inside the jail actually had no idea that was even a possibility. They were -- what -- they are getting information from the news.
VALENCIA: For now, the Trump administration has few concrete answers.
VALENCIA: And you heard that attorney there, about a month, and that's at best here.
We're also told that these detainees are being given the option of being deported with their children. But there is a plea here, as this painstaking process moves forward, for more bilingual immigration attorneys to help out the detainees reunite with their children -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Nick, thank you, Nick Valencia on the scene for us.
Joining us now, Congressman David Cicilline. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
And, quickly, what information do you have on this process of trying to reunite these kids with their parents?
REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, Wolf, I went on Sunday, on Father's day, to Brownsville, Texas, and McAllen.
So, we went to the port of entry. We went to the Border Patrol processing center. We went to the detention center, where -- in Port Isabel, where the parents are. And we went to Casa Padre, where some of the older children are being held.
It is very clear that there is no process in place. We spoke to 10 mothers who couldn't even get through the story about what had happened to their children. They were crying so hard and their bodies were shaking.
Many of them did not know where their children were. They had no contact with their children. They were uncertain. They were just taken from them. No one explains to them why that was and when they would ever see them again.
We saw children in cages, on the floor, awaiting some final determination as to where they would be placed. It's a really horrible situation, barbaric, that we would separate children.
And the president now has signed this executive order, which essentially says, we're going to detain families together indefinitely. Of course, that's a violation of law, according to the Flores decision. So that can't actually happen.
So it's very unclear what the administration is doing. This effort to try to reunite parents seems to be sort of very ad hoc. We have demanded a number of different ways to hear from the administration, what are -- what are you doing? What are your plans to reunite these families?
But we're not getting a lot of information from the administration.
BLITZER: In that executive order that the president signed, he said he wants to reunite these children with their parents.
It's now a couple days later. So much has not happened. What's taking so long?
CICILLINE: Well, I think they have -- there are over 2,000 children that have been separated from their parents. These children were put in placements in Miami and Chicago in Arizona. And it's not clear that they have been very careful about tracking who's going where, at least sharing that information with parents.
When I spoke to the mothers, many of them had no idea where their children were. They had had no contact with their children. One woman explained that she asked the officials at the detention facility, where is my daughter? And no one answered her.
It was never explained to most of these mothers where their children would be taken. They just took him away from them.
So I think they're -- I don't think there was any planning. I think this is a policy the president put in place, zero tolerance, along with the advice of Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller, to separate families from -- children from their parents.
And I don't think they actually mapped out, how do you do that, how do you keep track of these kids, how do you make sure they can be reunited, in part because this should never have happened. This is a monstrous policy.
We've always been an example to the world. America spends billions of dollars around the world promoting human rights. And we have always been a beacon for human rights. And now we -- our own government is engaged in monstrous behavior, ripping young babies from their mothers, and now having some difficulty reconnecting them.
And we need to hear from the administration. We need to hear from the secretary about the plan to make this happen, and happen now.
BLITZER: Is the president's executive order legal?
CICILLINE: No. The president executive order says, OK, you don't want family -- kids being separated from their mothers? Well, we will solve that. We will say that families can be detained together indefinitely.
The court in Flores already decided children cannot be held indefinitely. Our Constitution prohibits it. So the president makes an executive order which is unconstitutional. And in the order, he says go to court and try to get them to change the Flores decision.
So, this executive order is not well-written, not well-thought-out. What we need to do is have the president end family separation, period. He started it. He can end it. Make it clear that it cannot happen again in this country.
And, again, to remind folks, these women and men are fleeing unspeakable violence, gang violence, domestic abuse, persecution. They're coming here seeking asylum, which they're entitled to under our law.
And when they show up, and you have to be physically present in the U.S. to petition for asylum -- and when they show up to do that, they're being arrested, criminally charged, and their kids being taken away, in an effort to really extinguish the right to have an asylum claim heard.
This is a national disgrace. And the president's executive order doesn't stop it. What we have to do now is make sure that the department is bringing these families together. The harm that is being caused to these children, to be separated from their mothers and fathers at such a tender age, is devastating and sometimes can have an impact for a lifetime.
BLITZER: Does Congress need to play a role in making sure all these kinds of -- all these young children find their parents right away?
We have legislation that that has been introduced that will end the practice. We have legislation that's been drafted that will require the government to come forward with a specific plan. We all need to continue to raise our voices. We have written a number of letters to the appropriate agencies demanding information.
Where are the children? Where are the young children? Where are the girls? What's your plan for reunification? It's been very difficult to get information from the administration on their plan. But all of us are going to continue to press hard.
And I really encourage the American people to stay with us in this important moment, because we don't want the president and his administration to kind of move on to another issue, while thousands of children are crying for their parents.
BLITZER: There's some confusion as to the zero tolerance policy, as it's called.
Is it still in place, as far as you know, Congressman, is in place for parents who cross the border illegally with their children, didn't go to an official port of entry, seeking asylum here in the United States, which the administrations says they must do?
If they cross the border outside one of those official ports of entry, they are breaking the law.
CICILLINE: Yes, I think the administration has not departed from that position.
They intend to charge everyone who comes into United States. The problem is, they have made it very difficult at the ports of entry. I was in Hidalgo, the Hidalgo Bridge, which is one port of entry. People are waiting on that bridge sometimes for two weeks trying to get in to make their application for asylum in 110-degree heat, no bathroom, no water, no food.
There's a waiting room with 100 seats that is air-conditioned. They used to allow people to wait in there. They don't do that anymore. So they're making it almost impossible for people to come lawfully through the port of entry. And so people are desperate, trying to flee violence and gangs. And they're coming in other ways. We have to make sure those ports of entry remain accessible.
But I even spoke to a mother at Port Isabel who came through the port of entry. She came through the right way. She said, I'm here to seek asylum. They arrested her, took her daughter. She's in detention and she does know where her daughter is.
This is monstrous.
BLITZER: These are heartbreaking stories.
CICILLINE: But I think that zero tolerance policy, which is still in place, which shows zero judgment and makes zero sense.
BLITZER: Congressman Cicilline, thanks so much for joining us.
CICILLINE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead: a new legal setback for Paul Manafort, as he remains behind bars awaiting his criminal trial.
And we're also learning more about how Michael Cohen worked as Donald Trump's fixer, by reportedly having approval power over "National Enquirer" stories about the future president.
BLITZER: In the Russia investigation tonight, a new ruling against Paul Manafort, this as the special counsel's team tries to prevent the former Trump campaign chairman from injecting politics into his legal.
CNN's Kara Scannell is joining us right now.
Kara, tell us first about this new request by Mueller's team as it prepares for Manafort's actual criminal trial.
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, special counsel Mueller's team today submitted the paperwork in the court, saying that they didn't want Manafort to argue that this was a selective prosecution, that he -- mentioning that he's part of the Trump campaign, and making it about the politics of it.
They also said that they said they don't want Manafort to argue that these charges fall outside the scope of the mandate of the special counsel or that DOJ was investigating Manafort, stopped that investigation, and only restarted it when the special counsel began.
Prosecutors say that simply is not true. And they want to prevent Manafort from saying that. Now, what is interesting, Manafort also filed documents today saying he doesn't want the special counsel to bring up his role as Trump's campaign chairman. He is concerned that there could be an anti-Trump bias among the selected jurors. And they don't want to inject that into the case. And Manafort's team is also saying they want to keep out any talk of collusion.
So, interestingly, both sides want to kind of narrow this and keep it tight to the allegations at hand, which really involve foreign lobbying, money laundering and bank fraud.
BLITZER: Another loss, though, for Manafort today. The federal judge in the case upholding, upholding the prosecutor's ability to charge Manafort with conspiracy to launder money.
What does that mean for this case?
SCANNELL: So, this is the fourth time that Manafort has attempted to whittle down the charges that he is facing.
And the judge has rejected that each of those times. So, what this means is that, as of right now, Manafort is expected -- he's going to go on trial on everything he has been charged with, which is a big conspiracy, foreign lobbying, not reporting money, money laundering, tax and bank fraud.
And so, as of right now, he is going to face all those charges. He has not been able to get any of them thrown out to date so far, Wolf.
BLITZER: In another investigation, "The Washington Post" now reporting that "The National Enquirer," their parent company, sent Trump-related stories to Michael Cohen, the president's longtime lawyer, fixer, before publication. What can you tell us about that?
So, the "Washington Post" story is saying, they cited at least three sources who know that "The National Enquirer" had given Michael Cohen advanced unpublished copies of stories they were working on, as well as the covers that they were intending to use, and going that to them during the campaign.
So, the question now is, is this a campaign finance violation? Was it a gift in kind to the campaign? Now, American Media, the parent company of "The National Enquirer," has given us a statement.
And I can read from that, where they say: "It's unfortunate and disconcerting that disgruntled and terminated ex-employees had no access to how editorial decisions are made and without any access to the company's top executives have been given a platform hiding behind the protection of being an anonymous source to grind their axe on the back of their former employer."
Now, interestingly, AMI did not in that statement deny that this practice took place, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. And if it's an in-kind campaign contribution, it has to be, under the law, publicly acknowledged before the FEC, the Federal Election Commission. And if you don't do that, you are breaking the law.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Kara Scannell, for that.
We are joined by now by our senior legal analyst, the former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.
Preet, thanks so much for joining us.
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Sure.
BLITZER: Amidst all of this, as you know, Paul Manafort, he's now in jail. He's awaiting trial.
Do you think Mueller is hoping all of this will lead Manafort eventually to flip?
BHARARA: Look, speaking as a former prosecutor myself, if you think that there are crimes that can be prosecuted or proven through cooperation against someone else, someone up higher up in the food chain, the change, then, yes, you're hoping for people to cooperate.
And everything that they have been doing in bringing the case in two different districts, prevailing on all the motions, as Kara described, indicates that they're ready to go and try the case well with a bunch of I think very serious charges that are going to be very hard to defend against.
And assuming that Paul Manafort has information about other people, yes, the hope of every prosecutor is that the person will cooperate.
BLITZER: What about Michael Cohen, the president's longtime lawyer, his fixer, worked with the president for a dozen years? How much pressure in this criminal investigation that he's facing right now is he under to cooperate?
BHARARA: So, same as Manafort, he's under a lot of pressure to cooperate.
The difference in the Cohen case, of course, is we don't know exactly what he will be facing. You will remember that in the weeks leading up to Michael Flynn's prosecution and arrest, there was a lot of speculation about how many charges he would be facing, how much pressure there would be on him.
And it ended up being something fairly mild. With respect to Michael Cohen, if there are a raft of charges that can be brought that the Southern District may bring that will result in a substantial amount of prison sentence and prison time, then the pressure obviously is higher.
So it remains to be seen how much they have on Michael Cohen. But there are indications that Michael Cohen is under a lot of pressure too.
BLITZER: It remains to be seen what he actually has to offer.
Let me put some numbers up on the screen, Preet. These are numbers from new CNN polling. And it shows that just 41 percent right now approve of how Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is handling this entire Russia investigation.
That's a lot lower than it's been in recent months. Are the president's smears against Robert Mueller having an effect/
BHARARA: Of course they are having an effect.
When the president of the United States, who has the greatest and largest and most vociferous bullhorn in the world, uses it to attack the people who are investigating legitimate things that happened with the election and legitimate potential obstruction that was approved by people who the president himself appointed who are in fact Republicans, that can take a toll.
I think ultimately the question will be, what does Bob Mueller do? And if he drafts a report or brings charges of a certain kind, and there are successes in the court with respect to Paul Manafort and the others, then there will be a body of work that you can judge.
And hopefully, in the same way the I.G. report has been received, I think, fairly well, when there was a lot of reason to think that a lot of people might have criticized it much more significantly than they did, the proof remains to be seen.
So if Bob Mueller has work product that ends up being sober, justified, supported in a way that it's hard to argue against, then I think the approval of his contact and his actions will increase.
BLITZER: Let's turn to immigration and what's going on right now.
As a prosecutor, you had discretion on who you charged. What do you make of the Trump administration's so called zero tolerance policy and the president's executive order that he signed a couple days ago?
BHARARA: Well, I think everything relating to this policy has been a debacle, from the lack of thinking about in the first place, from the lack of thinking about the consequences of it, from the lack of having a justification for it, from the lack of having a consistent justification for it, from an absence of being able to explain the justification of it, on the one hand saying it was required by law, on the other hand saying that it was not a policy.
Everything about it is been haphazard, like the travel ban. Prosecutors are supposed to do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons. That's what Chris Wray said on Capitol Hill last week. That's what I said in my office as often as I could. It's what my predecessor said.
And it may be true that you have the authority to do something, but if every prosecutor took his oath or her oath to mean that you prosecute everyone to the absolute fullest extent that the breadth of congressional statutes permit you to do, we'd be living in a hellscape.
And that's a little bit what they've created for these people on the border. Discretion is an important part of how prosecutors do their job. And taking it away completely, by the way, is an exercise of discretion. You're exercising your discretion not to let people exercise their discretion, which sounds a little bit meta.
But it's a mistake, and it's been seen to be a mistake I think over the last several weeks.
BLITZER: What obligation, Preet, do you think prosecutors have to make sure children are reunited with their parents? Is it their problem or someone else's problem?
BHARARA: Prosecutors are supposed to do the right thing, if you work in the Justice Department or any other prosecutor's office.
And you don't only follow the technical obligations that you have. And if you decide to have a policy whereby you prosecute every single person who presents himself or herself somewhere along the border for consideration for amnesty, and you charge all of them, which is just a misdemeanor, you have to take care that you're not harming them in some completely disproportionate way.
As one of the judges said on the border, I think, in the last couple of days, it's been reported, incredulous that there was no way for the prosecutor to answer the question what happened to this particular person's child. When you arrest somebody, and you take material from them or documents from them or a telephone from them or some other property, they inventory it and you keep track of it and you get a receipt.
How can it be -- I agree with the judge, how can it be that you take someone's child away and you have nothing in return? You don't have a slip of paper. I know a lot of people make a big deal out of things and I understand the President has a particular policy and he is trying to engage in the deterrent effect although he disclaims he is engaging in a deterrent effect. It's a misdemeanor. Congress said this is a misdemeanor.
The punishment for a misdemeanor shouldn't be the potential separation from your child forever. We don't do that with people's property; we shouldn't do that with people's children and I think everyone should be taken care of, prosecutors included, DHS, the people in Washington, private groups, Congress, should be doing everything in their power to make sure every single one of these people who was separated from a parent on a misdemeanor charge, when discretion was taken away from the prosecutors to bring their cases like has been done for generations in this country, everybody get together and make sure that problem is solved.
BLITZER: And think about it, almost 500 of these children who have been separated from their mothers and fathers are 5 years old or younger and apparently, they are having trouble figuring out where their parents are right now. That's why they are still separated. Preet, this is an awful situation; hopefully, it will be resolved soon. I appreciate it very much.
BHARARA: Thanks Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, the legal challenges to the President's so- called Zero Tolerance Policy and what it all could mean for the hundreds of children separated from their parents. And we'll talk more about our new polling on the Russia investigation and whether the President's attacks on Robert Mueller are actually working.
BLITZER: Tonight we're getting little if any additional clarity about the Trump Administration's plan for reuniting those children and parents. President Trump is stoking more confusion as he reverses course once again telling House Republicans to stop wasting their time on immigration legislation. Let's bring in our analysts. Rebecca Berg, lots of questions about how these children, if these children will be reunited with their parents. What's the latest? What are you hearing?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, so Wolf, a lot of questions remaining and that just really just reflects how messy this process has been, how haphazard the executive order process was by the Administration. What we know is that there isn't an organized effort to reunite the outstanding families or expedite that process, rather because they will be reunited after their hearing, after their court process, as has been the process to date.
There isn't really an organized effort to expedite that process to get these families back together. So it could be a few days, a few weeks until that concludes. But I think the important thing to note here is that the Administration didn't go into this with a plan. They didn't direct the agencies to take certain steps. That's led to a lot of confusion here in the day after this executive order.
BLITZER: You know, Laura Jarrett, you are at the Justice Department for us watching what's going on. The Justice Department says the zero tolerance policy will remain in effect but the government, if it wants to reunite those families, the kids with the parents, there's a possibility that they want to prosecute the parents at the same time and you can only keep the kids for 20 days.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. You have hit on the crux here. And what the Justice Department is trying to do is get this decades old settlement agreement modified so that they can hold the kids beyond 20 days because potentially, they need to hold the parents longer than 20 days as they go through their immigration proceedings. But there's no indication that this will actually work.
This bid was tried under the Obama Administration and they lost. And so the question is, what happens if that federal judge does not agree with them and says no, you can't detain these children longer than 20 days. At that point, the Trump Administration will have choices to make and they could end up separating the children again, which will just result in the outcry that we have seen in the past few weeks.
They could decide to do what's known as catch and release, which was tried under the Obama Administration where you essentially give people a court date to show up in the future and use some sort of electronic monitoring. Or most radically Wolf, they could ignore the court's order and that would be a bold move and likely result in a contempt charge, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility at this point.
BLITZER: very interesting. Susan Hennessey, what are some of the outstanding legal issues right now, questions you see as far as the President's executive order?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I think one of the biggest questions is, what is the Administration's policy and who are we supposed to believe when they make those representations? I think Laura is absolutely right. The most important question is whether or not they're going to be able to attain the modification of the so called Flores Order.
What happens if they don't -- what happens 18 days from now when they hit the deadline? At the end of the day, the issue is here about the problem is not a legal questions; this is a matter of policy. This is a matter of what the President will choose to do, what he will choose to prioritize and how he intends to handle the individuals who were apprehended crossing the border.
BLITZER: We know there's a significant debate within the Administration itself. That's why there's been this awful delay. Let me read to you, Phil, what the President tweeted earlier in the day. Quote, "We must maintain a strong Southern border. We cannot allow our country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief hoping it will help them in the elections. Obama and others have the same pictures and did nothing about it." The phrase phony stories of sadness, what does it tell you about the President?
PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Why don't we take the gloves off and get serious in this conversation? Let me go back a year and a half. The President within seven days of taking office, after he was inaugurated figured out what an executive order was because he said people coming from these Muslim countries, what we call the Muslim Ban can't come into this country. Why did he do that? Was it because he was concerned about people from these countries or let's be blunt, did he want to tell a bunch of followers as a rich, privileged white dude from New York, we don't want brown and black people from these countries.
We fast forward a year and a half and we have him vilifying people from places like Mexico and Latin America saying they are rapists and murders. These happen to be once again brown people and all of a sudden he decides, I don't know how to use an executive order until I'm almost embarrassed into doing this. This is not about policy. This is not about violence. This, in my judgment, is about bigotry from a privileged white guy from Manhattan who knows exactly what chords he is playing on among his followers. He knows what he is doing.
BLITZER: So what's going to happen?
MUDD: I think the Congress has to step up and say eventually, look, if we have people who are separated from families in a way that violates American values -- I saw something today that was despicable form Congress. They're afraid of him. We have to say, we will not be afraid. We're going to send him a bill and hold his feet to the fire. Man up, Congress and instead they say, sorry, he tweeted so we can't do anything about it. A bunch of sissies down there. Do something.
BLITZER: I don't think anything is happening at least not anytime soon. All right guys, stick around. There's a lot more news we're following. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with our analysts, as our new CNN poll shows that support for Robert Mueller's investigation, the Russia investigation, has fallen to a new low.
Susan Hennessey, let me put the numbers on the screen. Do you approve of how Mueller is handling the Russia investigation? Forty-one percent say they approve. In May, 44 percent. In March, 48 percent.
Clearly, it's going down.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: Yes, so I do think that the president's persistent attacks, not only the president but members of Congress and sort of the Trump inner circle, attacks on Robert Mueller have been working. They are attacks on the system of justice.
You know, what we have seen here is the president has a pretty clear strategy and that's to preemptively attempt to discredit this investigation such that it doesn't matter what is contained in that final report by Robert Mueller. His base isn't going to believe it. Individuals in Congress aren't going to take action against him.
Now, we don't know whether or not that's going to be a strategy that works. But I think what is obvious is this is not the way you act if you do not have anything to hide. This is how you act when you are profoundly concerned about what an investigation is going to uncover.
BLITZER: We have a chart, Phil, that shows how many times the president has tweeted about this being a witch hunt. You can see those numbers right over there. It's going up with every month.
What's your reaction?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, one of the witches went down today. If there's a witch hunt, there's a lot of witches out there. I think there's two takeaways here, one small, one big. The small
takeaway is, I would bet if you correlated these numbers to when the Mueller team puts out indictments -- people don't hear from Mueller. So, when they see indictments, this guy must be up to something. When they don't see indictments -- we haven't seen any in a while. We don't know what he is up to.
I think the significant story, though, is really straightforward. If the president sees these and he is concerned about, for example, a family member facing an indictment down the road, he might look at these numbers and say, well, the chance that I can get away with getting one of my family members off the hook in the face of an indictment if that ever happens is not that bad.
BLITZER: You know, Laura, you are over at the Justice Department. What if these numbers, the job approval numbers for the Russia investigation for Mueller continue to go down, what happens?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: You know, Wolf, I think justice officials are keenly aware of the public perception of this case. But the person where these numbers really put the pressure on, and where really the rubber meets the road is for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He is the one leading this probe. He is the one who is facing a daily onslaught of criticism from members of Congress.
And ultimately, he's the one who is going to decide whether the American people get to see this report. And he is going to want to see and show that this was all worth it. This was all not a witch hunt. This was not a hoax.
And, you know, we just learned for the first time yesterday that two of his top deputies had actually been meeting with the special counsel's probe every other week. So, this idea somehow that they are run amok and they are unsupervised is just not supported.
BLITZER: That's a good point.
You know, Rebecca, here is a number that should worry the president of the United States, 42 percent. Take a look at this in our poll. Do you feel -- should Trump be impeached and removed from office? Forty- two percent of the American people, according to this poll, say yes, 51 percent say no. But four out of ten Americans think he should be impeached and removed from office.
[18:50:02] REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Right, that's a remarkable number, Wolf.
To put it in context a little bit, it is on par with the share of Americans who in March of 1974 thought that Richard Nixon should be impeached. So, this is a meaningful poll right here and it should give us a picture of what Democrats will be dealing with if they win back the House. That represents the political pressure Democrats will be facing to open impeachment proceedings into President Trump if they have the majority in the House of Representatives.
But they've recognized among Democrats that it also comes with a share of political peril as well. They don't want to overstuff. They don't want to lean in too much. And that's why interestingly we're not hearing much about impeachment, we're not hearing that I-word on the campaign trail this year because Democratic leaders are worried about leaning in too much about it here.
BLITZER: Quickly, the Michael Cohen, the report in "The Washington Post" that he would get access to articles that were about to appear on "National Enquirer" before they were published have a chance to review them, see how they were. The suggestion is perhaps this was some sort of in-kind campaign contribution, which would normally have to be legally -- have to be reported to the FEC.
HENNESSEY: Right. So, certainly, we don't know why federal prosecutors might be looking into this, but one of the most interesting things about Donald Trump's relationship with the "National Enquirer", the late story reporting regarding these so- called catch and kill deals by which the "National Enquirer" allegedly purchased exclusives about the president and then chose not to run them.
The president's mistress, Karen McDougal, somebody he had a relationship with during his marriage to the first lady, she has said that this is what occurred to her. And so, I think one of the most important things here is, what are the stories that the "National Enquirer" didn't run, what do they say about the president. You know, it might sound frivolous or salacious, but these are the kinds of things that can open up a president to an undue influence, to blackmail. So, it's really important the American people get answers.
BLITZER: Mueller and his team of prosecutors, they're looking into all of this, and the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York is as well.
Guys, thank you very much.
Just ahead, after a week of reversal and revisionist history, will the president's newest immigration crisis end anytime soon? Chris Cuomo, he's standing by live.
[18:56:55] CUOMO: Tonight, the Trump administration is scrambling to try to interpret the president's new executive order on immigration and how it squares with his so-called zero tolerance policy.
Let's bring in CNN's Chris Cuomo. He's the anchor of "CUOMO PRIME TIME".
Chris, what is the future of the president's executive order?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: I would argue same as the past, which is it's irrelevant. This is an illegal situation. There's no executive order needed.
Not to bring levity to the situation, but this executive order is neither action by an executive nor an order of any type of official designation. So, it really was a stunt, something to show that the president was taking action.
We know that that was deceptive. There was no action taken. We don't know that this practice was stopped, let alone remedied.
We do know that what you just said is true. The agencies are scrambling. They don't know which way to go because this wasn't thought out. This was more politics than it was policy and practicality.
Let's be strong. Let's push harshness as a testament to our strength. We enforce the law.
How we do that is going to prove who we are. But they didn't plan for their own success, Wolf. They didn't put the procedures in place to process this growing volume of families they were going to bring in. They didn't have the accommodations for them, so they got stuck in a crisis of their own making.
BLITZER: You think they're going to be punished for this, the administration?
CUOMO: Look, I don't know. Messing with kids is a problem. Nobody is so partisan that they're OK with bad things happening to children no matter where they're from.
Now, I might be wrong about that because we have heard a different echo of Trump's arguments from state TV over at Fox where they're saying, hey, these aren't our kids. You know, kids matter, but they're not American kids. They're not Idaho. They're not Texas, wolf. So you know, check yourself a little bit and how you feel.
I think that is ugly talk and I think it's very dangerous. But we've seen in the past that appealing to people's negative feelings, appealing to fear of others has worked for Donald Trump and he's trying to do it today, putting out those families who have suffered horrible tragedies at the hands of undocumented immigrants.
BLITZER: Yes. Give us a quick preview, Chris, of tonight's show?
CUOMO: We're going to take this issue on. We're going to bring on lawmakers who are trying to figure out what to do here. We're going to take you through the facts of how we got to this place. And what is motivating it.
We're going to debate where it goes from here. We're also going to take on trade. I have two hours tonight, because Don Lemon got a day off so I'm doing his show as well.
And we will take on immigration. We'll take on trade. We'll take on news of the day and hashtag #letsgetafterit will be in full effect for two hours, Captain, while you are resting with an adult beverage.
BLITZER: Don Lemon deserves a night off. He's a hard working young guy.
All right. Thanks very much, Chris. We'll be watching. "CUOMO PRIME TIME", 9:00 p.m. Eastern, going all the way to 11:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.