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DHS Secretary Nielsen Resigns From Administration; Interview with Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI); CBP Commissioner to Replace Nielsen as DHS Head. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 7, 2019 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Sources telling CNN that a scheduled meeting a short time ago between Nielsen and the President at the White House did not go well. And that while Nielsen had been intending -- not been intending to resign, the President was frustrated. Frustrated with the fact that his administration couldn't just stop asylum seekers from entering the United States contrary to U.S. law.

And then there is this, a senior administration official telling CNN Secretary Nielsen believed the situation was becoming untenable with the President becoming increasingly unhinged about the border crisis and making unreasonable and even impossible requests. Let's get right to CNN's Boris Sanchez at the White House.

Boris, what else are you learning?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Ana. Yes, several sources have painted kind of a picture of what's been happening over the last several months between President Trump and Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen -- I should say former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. She apparently bore the brunt of the President's anger over the issue of immigration. She knew that she was on thin ice, according to several people close to her.

And as you said, she came into this meeting with the President not anticipating that she would resign but knowing that she could potentially be leaving the administration. From what we understand, the meeting with President Trump did not go well. She ended up leaving the White House roughly about an hour ago.

We should point out, one White House official told me it's about time. President Trump was not happy with his Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for quite some time, going back to her first days in the administration. We heard repeatedly from sources that the President would shout at her, clearly unhappy about what he was seeing on the border.

I do want to read to you a portion of Nielsen's resignation letter. She sort of points the finger at Congress and the courts for why more could not be accomplished during her tenure at DHS.

Listen to this, quote, despite our progress in reforming Homeland Security for a new age, I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside. I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America's borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation's discourse.

Our country and the men and women of DHS deserve to have all the tools and resources they need to execute the mission entrusted to them. I can say with confidence, our homeland is safer today than when I joined the administration.

Again, I heard from a source earlier that President Trump was rarely happy with Secretary Nielsen so this move not necessarily unexpected, but it just goes to show just how frustrated, how angry the President is over the current immigration crisis, Ana.

CABRERA: And, Boris, what do we know about the man who will now fill Nielsen's shoes in an acting capacity for the time being?

SANCHEZ: Yes. Well, President Trump tweeted, announcing that Kevin McClelland would fill in as the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He says that he has great confidence that Kevin will do a great job. There you see the tweets.

He was actually sworn in as the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection just about over a year ago, March 20th of 2018. As you can see, he practiced law in California. He said just a few weeks ago that illegal border crossings have reached a breaking point. That's something we've heard repeatedly throughout the administration.

He had previously served as the acting commissioner of CBP and the deputy commissioner of CBP, so he clearly has experience with immigration. It's unclear at this point if President Trump would like to see him become the permanent secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, not just the acting one, Ana.

CABRERA: OK, Boris Sanchez, at the White House continuing to gather more information for us. As soon as you have more, come back to us.

CNN had reported as far as back as November that Trump had been eyeing replacements for Nielsen. He was frustrated at her handling of his signature issue, immigration. And here's an example from last month.

On the very day that Nielsen had thanked officials from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for working on what she hailed as a historic pact to target unauthorized immigration or migration, the President tweeted that those countries were doing nothing. He threatened to cancel aid to them altogether and to close the U.S.-Mexico border entirely.

Now, the President's frustration on immigration evident yesterday as well during this event in Las Vegas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So Congress must end catch and release so that illegal border crossers can be quickly and safely returned to their home. Get out, sorry. Get out, sorry, can't handle it. (APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: And I told my people yesterday, our country's full. We're full. Our system's full, our country's full, you can't come in. Our country is full. What can you do? We can't handle anymore. Our country is full, can't come in. I'm sorry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan.

Congressman, thanks for being us. What is your reaction to this breaking news that Kirstjen Nielsen resigned just a short time ago as Homeland Security Secretary?

[19:05:03] REP. DAN KILDEE (D), MICHIGAN: Well, a couple of things. It's just another example, kind of a look into the Trump administration and the chaos that it has brought to our country. The President's being described again as unhinged, you know.

But my other reaction is that it's difficult for me to accept Kirstjen Nielsen now trying to separate herself from President's Trump -- President Trump's policies when she was the one who engineered his policies to separate children from their parents at the border.

In fact, last July, I visited one of those locations, one of those facilities that were taking care of some of those very young children that had been separated by this administration. And I talked to some of the staff at one of those locations who was calling every detention facility that they could get a phone number for to try to find the parents of the children that they were taking care of.

That was the Department of Homeland Security under Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. It was the Trump policy, the immoral Trump policy, but she either should have fought against that policy then or has to take responsibility for it now.

It's been a chaotic period during her leadership at Homeland Security. I'm glad she's gone, but I -- I can't say that I have a lot of hope for whomever President Trump puts in her place.

CABRERA: So you actually agree with the President's move to remove her?

KILDEE: Well, here's the problem, he -- she was executing the President's policies. She has to either take responsibility for the fact that she agreed with them, or she should have been fighting against them in the first place. So it's hard for me to find alignment with the President when it was his policy that she was executing.

So I really can't be -- you know, I can't separate him from her. These were his policies. He is the one who wanted to take children away from their parents as a way to try to punish people who were seeking asylum here, but she can't somehow now claim separation from that because she was the one who executed it and not very competently and then lied to Congress about it as well.

CABRERA: The new Acting DHS Secretary, Kevin McAleenan, he is the Commissioner of CBP currently. Do you have confidence in him?

KILDEE: You know, I'm not familiar with him.

CABRERA: OK.

KILDEE: I guess the question with any of these people, no matter what position they hold within the Trump administration, is whether they have sufficient steel in their spine to stand up against a president who, clearly, is unhinged and is completely incapable of doing the job that he was elected to do. And it's hard to come to that conclusion.

But at this point in time, we need civil servants, public servants who are willing to stand up against this president even if they are working in his administration. We'll see if he's willing to do that.

CABRERA: A senior administration official tells CNN that President Trump told border agents in California to stop letting people cross the border despite the fact that the Central Americans are seeking asylum. Are you concerned that the President is breaking U.S. laws?

KILDEE: Well, it certainly would appear so, and I'm very concerned about this for two reasons.

One, the law says that people have the ability to come to this country and present themselves and claim asylum. But it's not just about the law. These people often have their lives endangered when they're turned away. They are fleeing, very often, very dangerous circumstances, often fleeing violence.

We have been, for as long as this country has been a country, a place to provide shelter for people who are fleeing danger. And the idea that the President, in this almost inexplicable comment, would say no more because the country's full, what's he talking about? He's unhinged.

CABRERA: Let me read you a part of Nielsen's resignation letter. I quote, I believe the situation was becoming untenable -- sorry, that's not the right quote. She wrote, I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America's borders.

Congressman, what do you think needs to happen?

KILDEE: Well, I think the same thing I thought when I arrived here in January of 2013, we need comprehensive immigration reform. We know that there are aspects of our immigration policy that need to be fixed. And we also know that there are ways that we can secure our border without defaulting to a seventh-century solution, which is what the President seems to be so madly in love with.

So, yes, I agree we need to do something, but the idea that Congress would simply support them misses the point. This is a government with three co-equal branches. It is not our job just to be cheerleaders for the President.

[19:09:57] We were elected, too. We have thoughts about how we ought to proceed as well, and they have to work with us. They can't just expect us to fall in line the way so many of these sycophants fall in line behind Donald Trump when they go to work for him.

CABRERA: And as you mentioned, a senior administration official also tells CNN that Secretary Nielsen, quote, believed the situation was becoming untenable with the President becoming increasingly unhinged about the border crisis and making unreasonable and even impossible requests.

We just learned over the weekend that the administration may need up to two years to find, maybe, thousands of separated families that are unaccounted for. What does more unreasonable or unhinged look like?

KILDEE: There's nothing worse than the thought of a child being taken from his or her parent in the first place. But then when this government does that and can't even find the parent to relocate the child with, that is not this country. That is not America.

If President Trump continues down this path, we are losing our soul. People have to stand up to him. That's why I'm so frustrated with Secretary Nielsen and so many others. They did not stand up to him. They did not walk into that Oval Office and say, no, Mr. President, I won't do this. I won't do it.

She didn't say that. She went right along with everything he said. She tore -- she may as well have taken those children right out of the arms of their parents. She defended it as if it was a policy that made sense and then denied that they did it in the first place. And now, they can't even find the parents to reunite with these children. It's quite pathetic.

CABRERA: Congressman Dan Kildee, thank you.

KILDEE: Thank you.

CABRERA: We're staying on top of this breaking news, the resignation of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen after a meeting with the President, we're told, did not go well. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:15:57] CABRERA: Our breaking news, a major resignation from President Trump's cabinet. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stepping down today after a tense meeting with the President at the White House. And I want you to hear what Nielsen had to say just three days ago when she talked with CNN's Chris Cuomo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So when I went down there and all the reporting suggests the same thing, that the men and women trying to keep us safe on the border say they have never seen anything like the flow they are encountering right now, is that your understanding as well?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Absolutely, I've been down here about just over two dozen times since I've been secretary. But, yes, the men and women have never seen -- and as you saw when you were down here, Chris, it's the type of flow that we're seeing. So it's mostly families and children, and that's what's so concerning from a humanitarian perspective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Joining us now, CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd and Matt Lewis, senior columnist at the "The Daily Beast."

Sam, we know there's a situation happening at the border. So what happens now? What's the impact on the people who are still working on immigration?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I'm sorry, I just have to say this. I have a hard time with Secretary Nielsen playing the humanitarian card in her interview with Chris Cuomo from a few days ago when she's been the brand ambassador for the family separation policies that ended up putting children in cages, so I just want to be on record on that.

The impact on actual immigration policy really remains to be seen. In one respect, we don't know who the next secretary of Homeland Security is. Any responsible president, upon the resignation of a cabinet member and based upon the fact that illegal immigration flows have not gone down despite his efforts and threats to close the border, would take a step back and say, what kind of policy changes do I need?

And that would probably be part of the job interview with any prospective nominee for the Secretary of Homeland Security job. What I imagine will happen is that Donald Trump will look for somebody more radical, more hardline, and more willing to echo his talking points on the border when he is looking for Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's replacement.

CABRERA: Is McAleenan that guy?

VINOGRAD: I don't think so. I don't know him personally. I know that he served under President Obama and then President Trump which, as our colleague, Juliette Kayyem, mentioned earlier, is not unusual. I served under two presidents.

But he is in an acting capacity, and he has not, as far as we know, really echoed these hardline policies that President Trump has been propagating. What the question now, Ana, is, who is willing to go in?

Who actually agrees with what the President is doing in the first instance, who can pass a vetting process which other nominees have fallen down on like Heather Nauert, and who is really willing to be the public whipping boy or whipping girl for the President on border security issues, on disaster management, and other controversial topics when he gets in a bad mood because things aren't going his way? That is not really a very appealing job announcement. CABRERA: Matt, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

weighed in on Nielsen's departure just moments ago. Schumer is saying this, when even the most radical voices in the administration aren't radical enough for President Trump, you know he has completely lost touch with the American people. I want your reaction, Matt, to that statement.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, I want to say, I think -- you're talking about the -- all these acting. Right now, we're going to have an Acting Interior Secretary, an Acting Defense Secretary, an Acting DHS Secretary, an Acting Chief of Staff. I think we're down to three women in cabinet positions now with Linda McMahon gone as well.

So that's the state of where things are right now. The only thing I would --

CABRERA: It's a quarter of the President -- I had to check this, Matt. It's a quarter of the President's cabinet currently filled by acting department heads.

LEWIS: Yes. That's right, and I think that's telling in and of itself. And maybe that's the way that Trump likes it. Maybe he wants to govern that way. I think the only area where I might differ a little bit is my take on former Secretary Nielsen. It's not that she is the architect of this inhumane family separation policy.

[19:20:04] I think that there's a scenario where she could have been serving in a Jeb Bush administration or in a Marco Rubio administration talking about the right to rise and having a humane immigration system.

I think this is -- that doesn't absolve her at all. In fact, I think it's an indictment of her that she retrofitted the things that she believes and was more than willing to adjust that in order to serve this president and to try to keep her job. I don't think it's in any way an ennobling thing, but I think that that's part of the problem, that somebody like Trump corrupts the people around him. And even people who might have otherwise had a good legacy, they are seduced and corrupted by it.

CABRERA: But going back to Schumer's statement, Matt, when he writes, you know he's completely lost touch with the American people, has the President lost touch with the American people?

LEWIS: I think this is -- you know, I'd like -- I would kind of like to believe that that's true, but I think this is really a tale of two Americas. I think that there are a lot of Americans out -- a lot of Americans out there who are very worried about the border, and they believe Donald Trump when he talks about an invasion. They think that the people coming here are not fleeing for their lives, but they're coming here to basically take over.

And so I think Chuck Schumer can talk about Donald Trump being out of touch. I think what Trump is advocating is bad policy. In many cases, it's illegal, and it's inhumane and uncompassionate. Is it out of touch with Americans? I think it depends who you ask. I don't think it's that out of touch with a lot of Americans.

CABRERA: Everyone, stand by. Coming up, we have CNN's Jim Acosta joining us with new insight on what the future holds for the new head of the Department of Homeland Security and who is really in charge.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:26:23] CABRERA: Back with our breaking news. Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security Secretary, is out, tweeting this just a short time ago, this afternoon -- I submitted my resignation to the President and thanked him for the opportunity to serve in his administration.

On the phone with us now, chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, what more are you learning about why she resigned?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, you know, the President has not been happy with her performance over at DHS for some time.

I mean, we do know that when John Kelly was the Chief of Staff that he would often intervene and cool the President down when he would kind of explode in anger at the DHS Secretary over what was happening down at the border. This -- I guess this unhappiness has continued right on through to this resignation from Kirstjen Nielsen today.

We should point out, you know, she did sort of find herself in the good graces of the President during the government shutdown, but that was really short lived. And we are learning some new things about this new incoming acting secretary, Kevin McAleenan.

As you know he's been at Customs and Border Protection, Ana. But one thing that we should point out -- I just talked to a White House official who was already saying that the Acting Secretary's only expected to run the department in the short term and that they expect to bring in a replacement fairly soon.

No timetable for that, and one reason why, according to a separate -- senior official over at the Department of Homeland Security who told me this evening that McAleenan is just not seen as an ideologue or a fire breather -- those are the words from this official -- like Stephen Miller, the domestic policy adviser and an immigration hardliner inside the White House, or President Trump. And that the President is going to want somebody who is much more like-minded over there at the Department of Homeland Security.

Interestingly, Ana, as you know, John Kelly, before he became the Chief of Staff, was that person over at DHS. He was very in line with the President's thinking on the issue of immigration, but the President never felt really that way about Kirstjen Nielsen.

And so it is going to be an interesting test for this incoming Acting Secretary, McAleenan, who's been, you know, in the government for a very -- you know, many, many years. He also served under Barack Obama -- don't tell the President that one. As soon as he hears that, that's probably not going to be, you know, information he's going to want to hear.

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA (via telephone): But, you know, it does sound as though, from talking to officials already this evening, that this incoming acting secretary will not be there very long mainly because, ideologically, he just doesn't fit in with this crowd.

CABRERA: A senior administration official, Jim, is also telling CNN that Secretary Nielsen, quote, believed the situation was becoming untenable with the President becoming increasingly unhinged about the border crisis and making unreasonable and even impossible requests.

ACOSTA (via telephone): Yes.

CABRERA: Jim, you follow this White House like no one else. Is this in line with what you're hearing about the President in other areas?

ACOSTA (via telephone): Absolutely. And remember, on Friday, he suddenly withdrew or late Thursday night suddenly withdrew the -- or late Thursday night, withdrew the nomination of his ICE Director, Ron Vitiello. And you know, that was because, as the President told reporters as he was heading out down to the border on Friday, he wanted somebody tougher in that position.

And that Stephen Miller was instrumental, we heard, in making sure Ron Vitiello did not get that job. My understanding is that Miller has political allies in the Department of Homeland Security who are sort of over there to kind of follow his lead on immigration policy.

[19:29:54] And I was talking to a senior DHS official earlier this evening who described Stephen Miller as sort of the ringleader of a lot of these hardline immigration policies. And that if people aren't following, you know, those marching orders inside the department, then, you know, the President is going to hear about -

HERE

[19:30:00] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): -- a lot of these hardline immigration policies. And that if people aren't following, you know, those marching (ph) orders inside the department then, you know, the President is going to hear about it. And the President is not going to be happy.

But you can just - you can see in what he has been saying, Ana, over recent days. And I mean, my goodness, for a long time now about the issue of immigration that he wants people in that department implementing a hardline position on this very critical issue. That, of course, manifested itself in the zero-tolerance policy which blew up in the administration's face. And the family separation policy down on the border.

The question is, you know, when this new acting secretary comes in and takes over, he may not take over right away, Kirstjen Nielsen might be presiding a little bit an interim period from what we are hearing. But you know, when he takes over, what kind of pressure is he going to be able to take to implement what they obviously want to see over at the White House in terms of what the President wants to see and what Stephen Miller wants to see?

And who is the next homeland security secretary going to be? I think that's going to speak volumes about where this administration is headed on this issue and particularly where this administration, where the President wants to go with this issue heading into the 2020 campaign.

He obviously does not want to be at the center or middle on the issue. He wants to keep pushing things farther and farther to the right. The question is can a person like that can confirmed up on Capitol Hill, get confirmed in the Senate, confirm a secretary somebody who has these sorts of beliefs, or can he try to, you know, have this new acting secretary sort of bend to their role as they were trying to do for many, many months with Kirstjen Nielsen until it apparently got to be too much for her and she decided she had to go in and resign this afternoon.

So you know, I think the next few weeks here when it comes to this department and this acting secretary, it's really going to tell us a lot as to where the President is headed.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: And Jim, I'm reminded that it was McAleenan who said a few weeks ago they had reached a breaking point. The system had reached a breaking point. That was his word when he gave that press conference. It was him who said they were on pace in the month of March to reach some 100,000 apprehensions at the border which would be the most in more than a decade in one single month.

He is on the front lines. Is the President listening to the people on the front lines, who know who is happening on the ground when it comes to migration, border security, and what is needed?

ACOSTA: Well, I definitely think you have, you know, I was talking with a senior DHS official this evening who was saying, listen, you know, the numbers don't lie. They obviously are seeing a massive influx at the border. It is a big humanitarian challenge. And you heard Kirstjen Nielsen saying things like this the other day.

The question is, you know, what is the prescription for dealing with that problem? What is the best tool for dealing with that problem? This DHS official said, you know, for every, you know, every problem they want to tackle over there, they want to bring a hammer to it. And that may not be the best instrument in every situation.

And so yes, the President certainly -- if you look at the way he is casting the issue and he did this on Friday with some very harsh rhetoric saying our country is full, you know, saying things we don't typically hear from a President of the United States, it is so contrary to, you know, the beliefs that most Americans grew up with in this country and their -- and their school history classes, you know, learning about the statue of liberty.

And so, the President says things like our country is full, he is certainly telling you where he's coming from on this issue. The question is, you know, can this new acting secretary, you know, carry that weight, carry that burden of a President who only sees this as something that requires draconian and very, very harsh measures in terms of trying to act as a deterrent for people coming across that border.

Not everybody has that same, you know, idea from a policy standpoint. And it sounds as though from what you are saying, you know, that the incoming acting secretary is saying earlier this week, he is certainly recognizing the problem, recognizing the volume of people coming across, but not everybody agrees with how to address it.

And the President earlier, you know, this past week was saying we need to shut down the border, and he was threatening to shut down the border. Of course he backed away from that very possibility late in the week. So he has -- from time to time, he will get out on a limb and then dial it back in.

But I think the question is moving forward here, you know, is just how well -- how far is he willing to go to crack down on this border, and will he have administration officials implementing that policy. It does sound as though Kirstjen Nielsen was tearing her hair out by the end of this process and essentially had enough when she submitted that resignation letter. And it sounds like the feelings were mutual. Sounds like the President had had enough of her, as well. But how can he get anybody in there short of Stephen Miller who is going to make him happy on this issue is anybody's guess.

[19:35:09] CABRERA: We will see. Jim Accost, our chief White House correspondent on the phone with us. Thank you.

Coming up, we are also getting reaction not just from politicians but those who were for Nielsen. Our breaking news continues after a short break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:39:27] CABRERA: Breaking news this hour, a major resignation from President Trump's cabinet. And now reaction is pouring in. Homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stepping down after a tense meeting a couple of hours ago with President Trump at the White House.

I want to bring in CNN's Polo Sandoval.

Polo, you have spent a lot of time at the border with Mexico talking to federal officials there. What are you hearing from those officials about Nielsen's sudden departure?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: News of the resignation, Ana, it is spreading extremely quickly. It is certainly also prompting a mix of reaction. For example, I have been in close contact with various border patrol officials, basically these are the men and women on the front lines who have worked with and stood alongside Secretary Nielsen in the past. And I can tell you along with that mix, there's also a bit of disappointment, for example.

There's one senior-level official who actually had positive things to say about the secretary, describing her as a professional. In this official's own words, saying I for one will miss her guidance. I think what this does, it speaks to a section of support that the secretary had despite obviously being the subject of a lot of criticism as she was someone who essentially executed the President's policies that certainly were not well received by many in border communities. Many of those regions that obviously would criticize the secretary's move. But when you hear from some of those men and women in uniform, particularly on border patrol, in border procedural, there is a certain level of disappointment.

That is because as you just heard a short while ago coming directly from Nielsen, she maintained that presence on the border, visiting border regions at least two dozen times. And so what I'm doing right now is essentially reaching out to some of those lawmakers now, particularly some of the Democratic members of Congress who have expressed criticism.

One in particular, Representative Vicente Gonzalez, Democratic lawmaker, who represents an area that stretches from the Texas Hill country down to the border region, has previously called on not just President Trump but also on Kirstjen Nielsen to basically take responsibility for a sense of economic turmoil that we have seen recently along the border. We have all discussed and my colleagues have covered well the situation on the ground, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley. That is the epicenter of the immigration debate.

[19:41:47] CABRERA: I'm curious, Polo, how do these officials feel about Kirstjen's replacement?

SANDOVAL: We do know that he has maintained a heavy presence on the border, as well. Obviously, he is somebody that comes from -- with an operational background, so certainly somebody who would not necessarily bring to the table at least based on what we know -- reflect the ideology of President Trump. Instead focus more on the operational standard that's required for this kind of positional albeit a temporary one.

But I will tell you this. When you speak to some of the people that are on the front lines, not only will they expect the replacement, whether it's a temporary one or permanent one, to have that operational background. But there's a sense of diplomacy that comes with the job.

I mean, Kirstjen Nielsen traveled to Miami late last month to meet with Mexican officials, for example, and then also politicians and officials from Central America and signed what was described by the Trump administration as this pact which was basically this agreement that the countries would work together to try to curb the flow of migrants coming from Central America, traveling through Mexico and into the United States.

So though this is, again, a heavy operational cabinet position, there's diplomacy involved because this person does have to maintain a relationship with these countries while President Trump, however, is saying what he often says, that is certainly not well received by many of these countries, including those in the northern triangle and our neighbors south of the border in Mexico.

CABRERA: OK. Polo Sandoval, thank you for that reporting.

We are joined by CNN national security analyst and former assistant secretary at the department of homeland security, Juliette Kayyem.

Juliette, let me read you a part of Kirstjen Nielsen's resignation letter.

She writes, our country and the men and women of DHS serve to have all the tools and resources they need to execute the mission entrusted to them. I can say with confidence our homemade is safer today than when I joined the administration. We have taken unprecedented action to protect Americans. What's your assessment?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I just want to first talk about today. Normally, when a secretary resigns, the deputy secretary, in this case an acting deputy secretary, would be the next in line. So I think this chronology is something worth looking into.

Secretary Nielsen clearly had a letter ready, but Trump clearly had a new nominee ready who was not the head of the line. Kevin, the head of the CBP falls somewhere down. So I think that is worth examining whether both were sort of trying to figure out, you know, who was going to jump first. So that's the first thing.

The second is, you have to remember the department of homeland security while created after 9/11 really began to take on what we call an all-hazards approach -- cybersecurity, climate disasters, immigration, of course, terrorism, always and pandemics and public health issues.

Secretary Nielsen turned it into a border enforcement agency. You can't say much about what's going on in the rest of the department even though it has a vital function. And I think that the -- it's just wrong to say that things are safer now.

You look at the numbers, the numbers were steadily decreasing before the President went to this sort of crisis mode. And now as we see, they are increasing, whether Democrat or Republican. I look at the numbers, and they are increasing. That says to me that the policies that Trump initiated including the cruelty of family separation which they said would serve as a deterrent all failed. They all failed.

And so, you know, I don't know -- I know people try to think that, you know, she was better than this and she tried to placate Trump. Just looking at the tenure as just as a policy sort of effectiveness manner, everything from Puerto Rico to the immigration issue, it was not a successful run. And so just solely judging her on that and not on the moral issues involved with family separation, you know, that's her legacy.

[19:46:00] CABRERA: And again, I come back to what we are learning also from our Jake Tapper, the reporting that when he was in California on Friday, we know Kirstjen Nielsen was there with him, as well. He was urging border agents to stop people from crossing the border. Even those people who are seeking asylum which, of course, is U.S. law.

KAYYEM: That's exactly right. So listen. The President, you know, remember, just a week ago or two weeks ago, I guess threatened to close the border. So the President does not understand - I will give him the benefit of the doubt - the nature of borders in the United States.

They have to permit flow. We have too many people going back and forth lawfully. Too many people in the air right now who are going to land here and have legitimate reasons. Most of them are U.S. citizens. So the President's reaction when he panics or creates a crisis is, OK, let me close everything down.

When he realized that that was not a solution and was getting pushback, of course, from the business community, as well as Republicans, then his solution is to fire someone. That's the nature of someone who doesn't understand the nature of what immigration is, what border enforcement is, and that we have always had a border enforcement challenge at the U.S.-Mexico border.

It was going steadily down over the last two decades for a variety of reasons that have almost nothing to do with our enforcement policies. And then when President Trump becomes President, despite his -- his cruelty, despite the language, despite the zero tolerance, it shot up. So you ask me - I mean, look at those numbers just as someone who teaches in homeland security, something is off.

CABRERA: Yes, why do you think it's going up? Why do you think it's going the reverse direction in what this administration is desiring? And even like you said, the tough rhetoric that there continuing to put out there is certainly not becoming a deterrent.

KAYYEM: No, it's not. And the family separation is a perfect example in that regard. So I'm going to quote John Kelly, the former secretary of homeland security who served as the chief of staff to Donald Trump. Even he knew because he had been head of southern command when he was at the Pentagon, the problem of the U.S. border begins 2,000 to 3,000 miles south. That is why people were shocked when the President said that he was going to end funding to a variety of countries south of our border. It begins south because people leave their country not necessarily because they think that we are nice or we have open borders, but because it's intolerable for them to stay in their country.

Some of them are going to be asylum seekers, some of them are going to be unlawful. Even as a, you know, Democrats believe -- you know, recognize unlawful migration. At that stage, that is when the apparatus of customs and border protection and ICE come into play to enforce our border rules, right. So the problem here is that the President has focused on a wall and in harming southern countries. That combination means that it's been a failed policy.

CABRERA: Juliette Kayyem, stand by. Thank you for being here.

We are going to stay on top of this breaking news. The resignation of DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Coming up, we will go live back to the White House with how officials in the Trump administration are reacting. Don't go anywhere.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

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[19:53:40] CABRERA: We are staying on top of breaking news. The resignation of Kirstjen Nielsen as the department of homeland security secretary.

Let's get back to CNN's Boris Sanchez at the White House.

Boris, you have new information, new reaction from officials inside the White House?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Ana. I spoke to a source here at the White House some time ago. And their response to secretary -- the former secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen leaving the administration as saying quote 'it's about time." The source made clear she was essentially hired because of a strong recommendation from the former chief of staff John Kelly. And there were questions once the chief of staff left in December as to whether or not she would stay.

Remember that the chief of staff left and then we had a government shutdown. A record-breaking government shutdown. We are told that during that time President Trump warmed up to her because of the way she performed in negotiating sessions with Democrats. And the President liked that she was defensive over his policy proposals, over his vision for immigration. But over time, that support sort of waned and that ultimately led to what we saw today.

I also wanted to point to some reporting that we just got from my colleague Jeff Zeleny. He is telling us that a source says, that Kirstjen Nielsen did not resign willingly but was under pressure to do so from President Trump. That's according to a person close to Nielsen. We are told that she did not fight or grovel to keep the job.

She was clearly aware that the President was unhappy with her. She was prepared to resign, but this confirms what we are hearing, that this meeting did not go well and she ultimately had to resign because the President forced her to, Ana.

[19:55:15] CABRERA: So here's what I'm wondering, Boris. Did she and the President see eye to eye as far as views on immigration? Or if they didn't, why did see continue to stay on? Why wouldn't she want to resign?

SANCHEZ: Right. That's a really good question. A source that I spoke to previously told me essentially that part of the reason that Nielsen lasted so long is because John Kelly was able to divert some of the anger that President Trump had toward her to other people like the former attorney general Jeff Sessions and others. So, obviously, there may have been some space between what the President did and what she did, Ana.

CABRERA: OK. Boris Sanchez at the White House, thank you for continuing to bring us this new information.

Quick break. We are back in just a moment with much more on the resignation of Kirstjen Nielsen as the head of DHS.

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