Return to Transcripts main page


Congress Grills Homeland Security Secretary Over Child Separations; North Korea Rebuilding Missile Site?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 6, 2019 - 16:30   ET




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to solve a problem. We have a very nasty problem there. We have to solve a problem.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump just moments ago responding for the first time to questions about brand-new satellite images showing that North Korea seems to be working on a satellite launch site that can be used for missiles.

The rebuilding of the site started just before, even during the big summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un in Vietnam.

CNN's Barbara Starr now shows us the images and has new details about what went wrong at the failed summit.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time in months, new satellite images show North Korea working at a launch site, rebuilding a portion of a key facility once used to test missile engines.

The Punggye-ri satellite launch facility has been dormant since August. But images indicate restoration work at an engine test stand and a launch pad.

President Trump warning Kim not to break a promise by rebuilding the site.

TRUMP: I would be very disappointed if that were happening. It's a very early report. We're the ones that put it out. But I would be very, very disappointed in Chairman Kim.

JENNY TOWN, MANAGING EDITOR/PRODUCER, 38 NORTH: There's nothing here that indicates a launch is being prepared.

STARR: This may all be Kim's answer to last week's summit failure. SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: They clearly understand that we

can see what they're doing. So it may be as much a part of messaging as it is anything else.

STARR: Or Kim may simply be running out of patience with the U.S.

TOWN: I think it's more of a political signal, a frustration, a reversal of decision on these unilateral confidence-building measures.

STARR: CNN has learned just how much both sides miscalculated each other over the summit. Before President Trump landed in Hanoi, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was there hoping to meet with North Korea's chief negotiator, Kim Yong-chol, a critical player that President Trump has twice welcomed to the Oval Office.

But Kim Yong-chol refused to meet, an early sign the North Koreans were not prepared to agree to full denuclearization.

Then, as President Trump prepared to leave Hanoi, a last-minute North Korean proposal for the U.S. to loosen sanctions in return for North Korea dismantling the crucial Yongbyon nuclear complex. The U.S. declined and the president left Vietnam.

Now National Security Adviser John Bolton says President Trump might decide to increase sanctions on the regime if Kim doesn't give up his nuclear weapons.

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: If they're not willing to do it, then I think President Trump has been very clear they're not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them. And we will look at ramping those sanctions up, in fact.


STARR: Right now, there is no indication that North Korea is getting ready for another missile launch. But if they were, that could be a real game-changer between Trump and Kim -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks so much.

And let's take a moment just to remember how President Trump had depicted this relationship. He obviously had very high hopes.


TRUMP: I like him. He likes me. And then we fell in love. OK? No, really, he wrote me beautiful letters, and they're great letters. We fell in love.


TAPPER: I guess the question is, did Kim Jong-un play President Trump?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We don't know, because the time frame for this by the experts is right before or right around the summit. So it's entirely possible that they were rebuilding this facility in advance of the summit.

It seems less likely it was in reaction to. There are also reports that came out from the summit that there are additional facilities, which we fully suspected for a long time, covert facilities. So this is all a lesson here that, yes, the agreements and the verbal agreements and the photo is a first step, but the verification, verification, verification is the most important part of this.

That's going to take months, but we should all root for the success, root for this to continue, and root for this to get back off the ground. There are some very smart people at the State Department, Defense Department, intelligence agencies who are working on this, and it's not insurmountable.

There were many ups and downs in the Iran negotiations in that effort. It's just whether it can get back on track and whether Trump can honestly give it the room and the privacy and sometimes even the secrecy to kind of move forward and negotiate these issues.

TIFFANY CROSS, THE BEAT D.C.: But, Jennifer, you're saying that there are smart people to negotiate that. The problem is, he's not listening to those smart people.

And I don't know that this is a -- we're obviously all rooting for the success. But the problem is, this isn't really anything new. I remember last year, when Donald Trump said, oh, you guys don't worry about it. That whole North Korea thing, there's no more nuclear threat. I took care of it.

Even then, there was satellite imagery to counter what he was saying. And the problem is, it's the same thing that he sold the American people, when he said, I and I alone can handle all the world's problems. So just trust me and put it to me.

The challenge is, because he's not listening to those people, it's hubris, and so he's been to Asia twice now to meet with Kim Jong-un. And the only thing he's accomplished is falling in love.


So, I wouldn't hold his breath for that Nobel Peace Prize, right?


DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So I would say, to push back on that, right, there hasn't been a test or a launch in over 400 days, right?

That's a pretty big success.

CROSS: That's a pretty low bar.

URBAN: No, during the Obama administration, they were launching about every 24 days. They were testing nuclear weapons. If you live in South Korea, if you live anywhere in the planet, you should be saying, wow, that is an accomplishment, right? This is a guy who when the president got in there was talk there was going to be a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula. And they're talking about peace now at some point.

You have to take the long view here. As Jen said, this isn't something that is going to happen in a week or two weeks. And the president doesn't need to give it some room, right? It need to breath. They need to work through this.

Steve Biegun at the State Department, Mike Pompeo, there are people who have been doing this for a very long time who are very smart. And I think they're going to get there. It's going to take a lot longer than people expected.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

But, Amanda, this must be disappointing to President Trump, because last July he made a point of talking about the fact that the same site, the same satellite or rocket launch site that North Korea is now rebuilding, that they were dismantling it. Take a listen.


TRUMP: New images just today show that North Korea has begun the process of dismantling a key missile site. And we appreciate that. We had a fantastic meeting with Chairman Kim. And it seems to be going very well.


TAPPER: So for Kim to do this really is not particularly kind to President Trump, because he's singled this site out.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, President Trump exaggerates. He didn't get what he wanted.

But here is why I am somewhat hopeful that these talks will continue. I know there's a big rush to declare this a failure. But I think the conversation is still going to go on because at the end of this, the North Korean side was rushing to say don't leave now. Now we want to talk about shutting down one aspect for sanctions relief.

And they said, no, that's not enough. But that is an invitation to come to the table again. And Donald Trump is talking to them. And I assume that when those talks occur, we're getting lots of intel, lots of other information. And so I am praying for the best.

TAPPER: One reason why past presidents didn't meet with Kim Jong-un is because of the idea that it would give him credibility on the world stage. Usually, the lower-ranking officials negotiate the deal, and only when something has been achieved do they let Kim Jong-un on and whatever president come in.

Do you think that should be the template for President Trump going forward?

PSAKI: Yes, because I think that these negotiations need to happen behind closed doors, where issues can be aired and difficult technical issues can be discussed.

And really it should be 99 percent there. When even Secretary Pompeo gets into it, it now needs to be handed off to the technical experts, so they can work through the issues.

TAPPER: Very quickly.

URBAN: But here's the problem.

The two deciders in chief need to be at the table, right?


URBAN: So, you have Kim Jong-un.

CROSS: Without a clear road map?

URBAN: Listen, as you see with these negotiations on the Hill, the president needs to be in the room.

PSAKI: But he needs to pass it off.


TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

In our national lead, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen being grilled on Capitol Hill today, forced to defend the president's family separation policy and his national emergency declaration. This comes, of course, as the head of Customs and Border Protection announced a surge of migrant families crossing the border, and is warning that the system is at a breaking point.

CNN's Jessica Schneider picks up our coverage now from Capitol Hill.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen facing off for the first time today against House Democrats in power, feeling the heat as members grilled her on the controversial zero tolerance policy which resulted in separating children from their parents after they cross the border illegally.

Nielsen admitting she had discussed the policy with then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but didn't realize he was ready to announce it.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: At some time before the announcement, we had the conversation. I did not know he was making that announcement that day.

SCHNEIDER: That resulted in weeks of confusion, until Nielsen issued guidelines for border agents to implement the policy. REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D), NEW YORK: Why did you wait until May 4 to

issue implementation guidelines?

NIELSEN: Because we wanted to work within the department to ensure we could do it in an appropriately safe way with compassion.

REP. NANETTE DIAZ BARRAGAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Do you know how outrageous that sounds? You wanted to separate children and families and you want it to do it with compassion? So, in the meantime, you didn't do anything at all. And you let kids be separated without tracking them.

SCHNEIDER: Nielsen also defended the president's decision to issue an emergency declaration last month to build his border wall and tried to avoid addressing this seemingly false statement he made about arrests at the southern border.

TRUMP: Never so many apprehensions ever in our history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that accurate? Was the president accurate?

NIELSEN: It -- again, it depends on the context we use. It depends on the type of migrants, sir.

SCHNEIDER: While Nielsen says border protection is on track this year to apprehend 900,000 immigrants crossing illegally or arriving at ports of entry without proper documents, if current numbers continue, history has shown higher numbers.

In 2006, arrests were just more than one million. And during the Clinton administration in 2000, 1.64 million arrests were made.


Republican seized on the latest figures that 76,000 immigrants were caught crossing illegally last month, making it the highest total for any February in the past 12 years.

REP. CLAY HIGGINS (R), LOUISIANA: Let me just put this in context for the American people. Perhaps the most famous invasion in the history of the world, D-Day, 73,000 American troops landed in the D-Day invasion. We have 76,103, according to my numbers, apprehensions along our southern border last month. We have D-Day every month on our southern border.


SCHNEIDER: And Secretary Nielsen warned that the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border in the coming months could increase.

Nielsen was also criticized for some numbers she didn't have at the hearing. In fact, when Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee asked Secretary Nielsen how many unaccompanied children were still in custody, Nielsen said she did not have those numbers offhand, Jake, but she did promise to submit them a little bit later -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Coming up: He's a Democrat who won deep in Trump country, and many Democrats may not want to hear his thoughts about what it might take to win in 2020. That's next.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our "2020 LEAD" today, the struggle between progressives and moderates in the Democratic Party continues to shape the 2020 presidential field. The big question right now remaining, will former Vice President Joe Biden throw his hat into the ring? Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned Democrats that they need to nominate a moderate, writing "we cannot allow the primary process to drag the party to an extreme that would diminish our chances in the general election and translate into four more years.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama. He's out with a brand-new book. It's called "Bending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing that Changed the Course of Civil Rights. It's a great book. Senator Jones, thanks so much for being here.

SEN. DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA: Hey, my pleasure, Jake. Thank you.

TAPPER: I want to talk about this in one second but before I do, I do want to get some of your thoughts on 2020, a big presidential year, also the year you'll be running for re-election. You do seem to share some of the concerns about the direction that the Democratic presidential candidates are going as Michael Bloomberg when it comes to whether or not it's going too far to the left.

You write, "it's not a matter of moving left or right, it's a matter of moving toward the people repopulating and re-energizing the center, the radical middle." What are the issues that you hear Democratic candidates talking about that might concern you and are there any declared candidates who have messages who might appeal to the radical middle?

JONES: I think there's -- I think any of the candidates can appeal to that radical middle. I think that what we need to be looking at is the same thing I kind of ran on in 2017, and that is the kitchen table issues. It's -- it is about healthcare. And you can debate Medicare for all, you can debate tweaking the Affordable Care Act, you can talk about public options.

But the debate -- I mean the discussion about healthcare is I think a driving issue for our all Americans. And that's where -- I think that's going to be a really big issue and I see a lot of that coming up. I think the wages, we need to get wages up whether that means increasing the minimum wage or just simply working to make sure that people and these manufacturers and these businesses do that on their own. However it comes, I think there's a lot of ways that we can work.

TAPPER: We've heard criticism of some of the candidates embracing the Bernie Sanders bill, the Medicare for all which would essentially get rid of private insurance for essential health care services. Do you disagree with that? Would you support that?

JONES: You know, look, I've got a concern about a Medicare-for-all plan. I think as I said a minute ago though, you know, health care is such a concern and it should be a right for all folks. We got to do what we can for affordable health care. I think what that debate is doing though is fostering other debates and other options, other possibilities that will come from that.

You're going to have people who are completely on the other side of that issue that say no, this needs to be nothing but private industry completely. So somewhere in the middle of that is going to be where I think the country lands on a healthcare system that needs fixing.

TAPPER: Your book mentions one potential 2020 candidate quite a bit. Vice President Biden is mentioned. Is he somebody that you think would be an effective messenger for the Democratic Party in 2020?

JONES: Yes. I think Joe would be very effective. I've always believed that since I first met him 40 something years ago. I think he does appeal to a law cross-section of America, not just the Democratic Party, but for America. I think he -- minorities across gender lines, you name it. I think Joe has that message. And he's got the experience to kind of pull people together.

Everyone knows my history with Joe so I'm not telling them anything that they don't know. But I just think that his history has been to get things done and to pull people together from you know, you name it. From wherever they live in this country, whatever zip code they live in, I think he's got that opportunity.

TAPPER: Let's turn to the book. In the book, you write about your experiences as a prosecutor bringing to justice the individuals responsible for that horrific church bombing. You talk about helping Alabama embrace civil rights and you say you want to remind people how relevant those cases are to our present-day challenges. Do you think President Trump is racist?

JONES: I'm not -- I'm not going to call the president a racist. Unfortunately, some of the things he says you know, garners a lot of criticism because it could have that rightful overtone to it. I'm not going to make those -- I'm not going to call him that name. I'm not going to call others that name unless they're real haters and I certainly don't think Donald Trump is a -- is a hater.

What I try to say in this book is that we made a lot of -- we went down a path in the in the 40s, 50s, and 60s before that, but especially in Birmingham in the 60s, words do matter. And I'm hoping that whether it's President Trump or Democrats or whoever can take the lessons that we've learned and understand that in today's world, especially in a social media world that we've got, that people can fill them empower to do things that they would and otherwise do if they feel like that they have the backing of a public official.

Now that doesn't have to be the president. It could be anybody. It can be a senator or a congressperson or a mayor or in the case of Birmingham, a governor or a county commissioner. [16:50:38] TAPPER: We know you're headed back to Alabama and

obviously it's a time of tragedy for many in your community back home with those deadly tornadoes. The New York Times is reporting that the sirens and cellphones alerted people only 12 minutes before the storm hit. 23 people were killed. Is there anything more that can be done to reduce the risk of this happening?

JONES: You know, Jake, it's a great question because -- and I was just literally before I came up to the studio today having a meeting with some emergency management folks in the state of Alabama, and we're doing all we can. You can do things I think -- I think one of the things that we've got to do is education. And people get conditions sometimes. This is -- you know, this is not like a hurricane.

A hurricane you've got days and weeks and you can plan you can see that thing moving in a visual fashion. That's not what happens with a tornado. Everybody knew these storms were coming but a tornado can touch down so quickly there's very little -- I wish had better warning systems. I wish everybody had a radio. Nothing is (INAUDIBLE) but what people have to do though is we have to condition people to pay more attention and to try to find more shelters and get folks in place.

When you've got a rural area like Alabama where you have a lot of small structures and you have a lot of mobile homes, it's very difficult for people to protect themselves regardless of the warnings.

TAPPER: Yes. We're thinking about the community that was hit by that.

JONES: Thank you.

TAPPER: Senator Doug Jones. The book again is Bending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing That Changed the Course of Civil Rights. Good luck with the book. Thank you so much for being here.

JONES: Hey, thank you, Jake. Any time.

TAPPER: A new senator and an Air Force Veteran getting personal today in a way very few people expected. That story next.



[16:55:00] TAPPER: Our "NATIONAL LEAD" now. We expected to hear from survivors at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on sexual assault today but what no one expected was an incredibly emotional moment from Senator Martha McSally where the Arizona Republican revealed that she was raped while serving in the United States Air Force by a superior officer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN.MARTHA MACSALLY (R), ARIZONA: I am also a military sexual assault survivor but unlike so many brave survivors, I didn't report being sexually assaulted. Like so many women and men, I didn't trust the system at the time. I blame myself. I was ashamed and confused, and I thought I was strong but felt powerless.

The perpetrators abused their position of power in profound ways and in one case I was preyed upon and then raped by a superior officer. I stayed silent for many years but later in my career as a military grapple with scandals and their wholly inadequate responses, I felt the need to let some people know, I too was a survivor.

I was horrified at how my attempt to shared generally my experiences were handled. I almost separated from the Air Force at 18 years over my despair. Like many victims, I felt this system was raping me all over again.


TAPPER: Wow. I mean, it's hard to gather yourself for a reaction but I mean, obviously, very brave of Senator McSally to do that not unlike Senator Ernst in January did a similar thing talked about how she's been raped. What's your reaction upon watching that?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's especially important that she said that in her capacity as a female U.S. senator. Because as the discussion has increased about rapes and how they're reported, a lot of people questioned the validity of those reports because they've increased dramatically in recent years on campus, in the military, in corporate America. And she is there saying I didn't report it because I feared retribution.

And so I think those people who want to make that argument will have a hard time sitting next to a woman of her bravery, courage, and accomplishment and trying to question the validity and ask why shouldn't you report sooner.

TIFFANY CROSS, CO-FOUNDER AND MANAGING EDITOR, THE BEAT, DC: And it's very timely considering this morning that we saw the outburst from Singer R Kelly trying to defend himself against these accusations with his interview with Gayle King. Look, I think this is not a partisan issue. You know, the safety of women should matter to all people but it does beg the question how some Republicans stand by this president who himself is accused of sexually assaulting over 20 women.

So again, it shouldn't be bipartisan but you do -- you know, it forces the question to be answered honestly.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, I think just by speaking her mind, she is using her platform for good and we should -- that should be applauded. I think what is hard to grapple with is the fact that she supported Brett Kavanaugh.

CROSS: Right.

PSAKI: I hope that she moves from here and works with people like Kirsten Gillibrand and others on the other side of the aisle to address some of these issues that she's experienced.

TAPPER: All right, well thank you so much one and all. That's emotional to watch that footage. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching. I appreciate it.