Return to Transcripts main page


New York Times Probe Reveals Four-Month-Old Separated At Border; CNN Reality Check: U.S.-Funded Online Trolls Go After Journalist; One-On-One With Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired June 17, 2019 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: A "New York Times" investigation was able to track down Constantin Mutu who spent five months, after being separated from his father, in a foster home before finally reuniting with his family. That separation took place months before the Trump administration publicly launched its zero tolerance policy.

Joining us now is the reporter behind this investigation, Caitlin Dickerson, "New York Times" national immigration reporter and a CNN contributor.

I mean, just more remarkable reporting from you Caitlin, but it is all -- it is heartbreaking and maddening all at once. The fact that a 4- month-old child was taken and then everything that ensued, and you had a really difficult time tracking him down.

CAITLIN DICKERSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, NATIONAL IMMIGRATION REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That's right because all of the individual cases of family separations were all sealed under federal court order, which made it really difficult even after I found mention of a 4-month-old baby in court records, to find him because no one was allowed to talk about who he was or where he was. Eventually, I made enough phone calls to enough lawyers and advocates and found out that the family was interested in speaking to us.

And, as you point out, I think the idea of taking a 4-month-old child away -- even the logistics of it are really sort of striking and compelling. What does that actually look like? Contract workers, in this case, taking a 4-month-old baby from Texas and delivering him to Michigan to live with a foster family for five months.

HILL: And it's just -- you mention the logistics of it. There -- I mean, there's a practical reality, too, if you look at a 4-month-old baby and everything that a baby needs at that stage of life.


HILL: Where they're at in feedings, diaper changings. The impact this has on their development, obviously.

The other thing I think that's fascinating for folks is we talk so much about immigration. There seems to be, in many cases, a sense that we are always talking about -- or for the most part, people fleeing Central America. DICKERSON: Yes.

HILL: This is a family that was seeking political asylum, fleeing Romania.

DICKERSON: That's right. The vast majority of people who were affected by family separation and who are coming to the United States now are from Central America.

But in many ways, the Mutus sort of fit the profile of a traditional asylum seeker.

They're Roma. They're part of a persecuted ethnic minority and part of a group that for years has heard and thought that if they came to the United States they might be able to escape the sort of persecution and racism that they face in their home country. And so, they decided to take a risk and to come here.

HILL: Their story, too -- where this entire journey has led them since they decided to seek asylum. The parents are not doing well at all.

In fact, Constantin's mother saying, "I felt numb knowing that someone was raising my kid. As a mother, I'd rather die than have someone else raise my kid." She's dealing with issues.

The father, who is seeking asylum, who ultimately was separated from Constantin -- this child is who is now, what, about 18 months old?

DICKERSON: Yes, 20 months old, and he'd been through two separations if you think about it. So, Constantin was breastfeeding when he was taken away from his parents and went through that sort of trauma. You know, he had stomach issues, he had various health issues acclimating to this new life in Michigan with complete -- surrounded by completely new clothing, food, and people.

And then, he was with that family for five months and went through yet a second separation which, in some ways, was more traumatic because he was older at that point and had become attached to that second family.

His mother, as you mentioned, she was hospitalized multiple times while he was away for severe hypertension brought on by stress. His dad also has flashbacks and nightmares and is dealing with severe psychological issues.

And, Constantin still can't walk or talk and he's almost two.

HILL: You also get into the sort of legal realities here that -- you know, his attorney went in -- his pro bono attorney, I believe, went in and was saying to the judge we need to get this child back with his family. And, in fact, the attorney for the government, as I understand it, said well, you know, he needs to get himself back there. This is a baby.

DICKERSON: They made a sort of logistical argument against -- voluntary departure is what it's called, which in the case of a child means yes, the government should pay for the ticket home. And yes, the judge sort of got upset in that moment and said, "So you really think that this baby should have to make his own way back to Romania?"

And what was also interesting about the government's position in his case was that the judge noted it was contrary to the same position that the government lawyers had been making in that same courtroom for two years prior, so something shifted.

And again, this is right at the sort of height of fury over family separation last summer when government lawyers decided no, we're going to try to stop him from going home or at least stop from paying for it -- right.

HILL: It's amazing. It's amazing how much we still don't know. I think you say part of that is faulty data, perhaps not intentional but just in terms of the recordkeeping and what you have access to.

One of the things that really stood out to me in your story is the impact that this also had on the social worker. She's very young -- she's in her early 20s. And she -- it was after Constantin that she just said I can't do this anymore.


HILL: Talk to me a little bit more. What did she tell you specifically? What in her -- what was it that just made her throw her hands up?

[07:35:00] DICKERSON: Excuse me -- well, you're right. Alma Acevedo, she was 24 years old right out of college and had signed up to be a caseworker for young immigrant children, planning to work with kids who had come to the United States unaccompanied and knew they were going to be coming on their own when all of a sudden, children who had been separated started showing up.

They were younger, they were more traumatized than she was used to, and she had no answers for nearly a year as to how to deal with them.

So, just for example, in Constantin's case, he arrived with one piece of paper -- a birth certificate -- and that was it. It had his name and his parents' name. And it was up to this 24-year-old woman to try to track down his parents.

So, it was incredibly stressful for her. I mean, she basically said they did no work during those months. It was just trying to console kids constantly. And each time a new one arrived it would sort of trigger all the other children and they would all start crying again.

HILL: And all of this -- this one story of the youngest child separated -- a 4-month-old baby. But the ripple effect that this has had in the U.S. and abroad, it's really something.

We appreciate your reporting, as always, Caitlin. Thank you.

DICKERSON: Thank you.

HILL: John --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we're following new developments this morning. A potential big shift from Democrats and how they will investigate the president. We'll tell you what it is.

Plus, a surprising twist on disinformation. Who is the target and who is spreading it? It needs a reality check.


[07:40:32] BERMAN: All right. New this morning, reports that Boeing could begin test flights of the grounded 737 MAX jets as soon as this week.

Time now for "CNN Business." Chief business correspondent Christine Romans here with that and a new apology, Romans, from Boeing.


The Paris Air Show kicks off with Boeing still deep in crisis. "The Wall Street Journal" reports CEO Dennis Muilenburg said he is disappointed with how his company handled the 737 MAX crisis and he promised to be more transparent.

Muilenburg admitted Boeing's communication was not consistent and was unacceptable. He called the company's reaction to those two plane crashes that killed more than 300 people a mistake.

Speaking to reporters this morning in Paris, Boeing executive Kevin McAllister promised the company is going to do better.


KEVIN MCALLISTER, CEO, BOEING: Bottom line, we will employ every resource across Boeing in a comprehensive effort to make sure we get this airplane safely returned to service. And when it does, the MAX will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly.


ROMANS: "The Wall Street Journal" reports the FAA could begin flight trials of a proposed fix for the grounded jet as early as this week.

Three hundred forty-six people died on those two doomed 737 MAX flights. The plane is grounded worldwide.

Boeing has had zero new aircraft orders the past two months, partly due to the fact that it's currently facing a backorder of 5,000 planes. So, customers don't need to place new orders right now.

This air show -- the Paris Air Show typically timed to announce new orders, so we'll see if Boeing's luck turns here -- Erica.

HILL: All right, Christine, thanks.

This next story is -- it's frankly, just a little bizarre.

A U.S. government program designed to fight Russian disinformation, Twitter trolls, and online fake news just morphed into exactly the thing that it was supposed to be against. So, how did that happen?

John Avlon has our reality check. Good morning.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning, guys. It's quite a story.

So, tensions with Iran seem to be escalating fast -- a U.S. carrier dispatched to the region and an apparent Iranian attack on two tankers. Now, there's no question the Islamic Republic of Iran is a bad actor on the world stage with a horrific record on human rights and longtime support for terrorists.

But with little appetite for another Mideast war, a view apparently held by President Trump, you might ask who is cheerleading for conflict? Well, it turns out the chorus includes U.S. taxpayer-funded trolls targeting journalists on social media. Welcome to a new chapter in the disinformation woes.

Front and center is "Washington Post" columnist and CNN contributor Jason Resaian, who you may know best as the journalist held in an Iranian prison for 18 months. Now, he's about the last person you'd expect to be labeled an Iranian mouthpiece, apologist or collaborator, but those were the kinds of slurs directed at him and others by the Iran Disinformation Project on social media.

His sin was apparently not being sufficiently enthusiastic about regime change. To be clear, Jason supports a secular and democratic future for Iran but he's been critical of ramped-up economic sanctions and the threat of military intervention, repeated by Sec. Pompeo again this weekend.

What makes this story more than troll bites man is the Iran Disinformation Project was funded by the U.S. State Department as part of its Global Engagement Center, which is supposed to fight online disinformation and propaganda. But in this case, it appears they did exactly the things they were supposed to fight.

And what's arguably worse is that the Global Engagement Center was supposed to be focused on combatting Russian disinformation campaigns and funded with $80 million to do just that. But, President Obama's former director for Global Engagement, Brett Bruen, told CNN this.


BRETT BRUEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR FOR GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT: The Trump administration didn't really want to spend it because that meant recognizing that what Russia was doing on information warfare was a real threat.

And instead, what they've chosen to do is to spend that money and threaten American activists. Threaten American journalists, like Jason, who don't agree with the Trump administration's stand on Iran. That's rather alarming and it's quite dangerous.


AVLON: Apparently, alarming enough that the State Department decided to suspend their funding of the program after reporters started asking questions. But the online drumbeat echoes on.

In a related story, the anti-regime force knows as the MEK seems to have created a fake online persona named "Heshmat Alavi" to push regime change. But according to "The Intercept," the online propaganda Twitter handle, it emanated from Albania and evolved into actual articles published under the fake name in publications ranging from "Forbes" to "The Daily Caller" to "Voice of America."

And according to the report, the Trump White House even cited the articles by this fictitious figure to justify its own party line about Obama-era nuclear deal and the need for maximum pressure policies. The circularity is enough to make your head spin.

[07:45:10] Disinformation campaigns being used to justify our real- world escalations by the American administration. You've got a feed loop here between hardliners invested in increasing tension.

Now, there's no moral equivalence between Iran and the United States, but that clear line threatens to become a bit blurry when the U.S. funds disinformation campaigns that attack people who don't parrot the party line. That's a tactic of authoritarian regimes, not democracies.

As Jason Rezaian recently wrote, "We need programs that fight the spread of falsehoods and propaganda, but such efforts shouldn't combat lies with other lies, and certainly not with public funding."

And that's your reality check.

BERMAN: I think you just blew a gasket there. Somewhere in there, it's impossible to imagine all of that, John. Thank you very, very much.

All right, we have a CNN exclusive. Who is to blame for the spread of toxic and sometimes, hateful content online? The CEO of Google tells CNN they're trying to stop it, but are they trying hard enough?


SUNDAR PICHAI, CEO, GOOGLE: Just last quarter, we removed over nine million videos. And -- so, it's an ongoing process but there's more we need to do and we acknowledge that.



[07:50:13] HILL: A CNN exclusive this morning. Big tech companies, like Google, are coming under mounting scrutiny over user privacy and also the spread of disinformation and hate speech. Google's CEO, Sundar Pichai, is responding in an exclusive new

interview with CNN's Poppy Harlow. And, Poppy is here with us this morning.

Getting candid.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, "NEWSROOM": Yes. Look, we sat down for an hour and a lot of the conversation was about YouTube. You saw us walking around their data center in Oklahoma now.

We talked a lot about A.I. and what do you do with A.I. replacing all these jobs. They're investing a lot across the Midwest, like in Oklahoma, Michigan, and Texas. We talked about that.

We spent a ton of time talking about YouTube because you have so many situations of hate and disinformation across YouTube. So much, guys, that they had to take down nine million videos last quarter.

I mean, two billion monthly active users. They took down nine million videos. So we talked about that problem.

And the issue of privacy because data is their business, right?

Here it is.


HARLOW (on camera): From anti-Semitism to harassment of LGBTQ individuals, conspiracy theory videos about the Parkland shooting or Sandy Hook -- I mean, fundamentally, Sundar, where do you draw the line with YouTube between hate and free speech?

PICHAI: You know, it's a -- it's a line we work hard to get right and every few years we feel the need to evolve them because we see changes in how the platform is getting used.

Just last week, we had significant revisions to our hate speech policy. We are very focused on removing harmful content and reducing the spread of what we think of as borderline content.

Just last quarter, we removed over nine million videos. And -- so, it's an ongoing process but there's more we need to do and we acknowledge that.

HARLOW (on camera): Because in America, right, you can't yell fire in a crowded theater.


HARLOW (on camera): And, YouTube has really become our theater.

PICHAI: It is. It is the equivalent of fire in the real world -- people getting together and talking. That can happen on YouTube as well.

But it also allows us an opportunity to enforce rules of the road in a way we haven't been able to before as well. So we can use the forces underlying in YouTube and take them in a positive direction as well, which we are committed to doing.

HARLOW (on camera): So, when YouTube announced these new rules that it would take down these videos, that included taking down all of those horrible conspiracy theory videos denying the Sandy Hook massacre.


HARLOW (on camera): But, an attorney representing 10 of the families who have family members who were killed in that said that it's too late to undo the harm and talked about the undue harassment and threats that they had sustained.

I just wonder why it took seven years to realize that those videos shouldn't be up and ads shouldn't be running next to those videos.

PICHAI: You know, I mean, it's heartbreaking for sure and all of us would look back and we wish we had got into the problems sooner than we did. And there's an acknowledgment we didn't get it right.

But, I think we became aware, collectively, of some of the pitfalls here and since then we've been working hard. We have changed our priorities --

HARLOW (on camera): Yes.

PICHAI: -- and we have put in a lot of effort there and we'll continue to do that.

HARLOW (on camera): Tim Cook recently said privacy, in itself, has become a crisis. Do you agree?

PICHAI: I think it's very, very -- given the scale at which information is flowing, I don't think users have a good sense for how their data is being used. And so, I think they put the burden on users to a large extent and I think we need better frameworks that users get the comfort that they -- that they are in control of their data, how it's used, and they feel like they have agency over it.

And so, I think it's an important moment for all of us to do better here.


HARLOW: And, guys, YouTube has taken a lot of heat also for these homophobic videos, specifically ones aimed at this Fox journalist that are still on, even after they put out these new guidelines.

I asked him directly why is that still there -- those videos? Are you going to take them down? And they're in the middle of reviewing their guidelines, again, meeting with outside groups. And they're considering it but they don't at this point.

I mean, if this is fundamental to their business they have to make the decision about where that line is between hate and free speech.

BERMAN: I get it. I get that they say that less than one percent of the videos. Yes, that's still nine million videos --

HILL: Yes.

BERMAN: -- last year.

HARLOW: In a quarter.

BERMAN: Yes, that's amazing -- in a quarter.

HILL: Yes.

BERMAN: All right. Very quickly --


BERMAN: -- does Google want to get back into China?

HARLOW: So, not right now. This is a key question. They pulled out of China in search. They pulled search out of China because the government was censoring it.

[07:55:05] HILL: Right.

HARLOW: There was this big hack -- human rights abuses. They pulled out in 2010.

I asked directly, "Will you go back in." He told me, "We have no plans to relaunch search in China right now. The right conditions would have to exist."

And I said, by conditions, you mean human rights and censorship. And he said, quote, "Without censorship is an important condition."

And that's a question I hadn't heard him directly answer before because he does view Google as a global company, right, not just an American company. He wants to serve the Chinese user but at this point, it's very clear Google thinks with the censorship in China, they couldn't fairly serve the user because people wouldn't be getting accurate results, right?

BERMAN: A lot of news in that interview.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: Thanks so much.

HILL: Great interview, Poppy.

HARLOW: Thanks, guys.

HILL: And you can see Poppy's full exclusive interview with Google's CEO on her "Boss Files" podcast, which you should subscribe to, by the way. HARLOW: Yes.

HILL: If you're not already, make sure you do that today.

HARLOW: Thank you, my friend.

BERMAN: All right. In some other news, an 8-year-old boy has been bitten by a shark off the North Carolina coast. A local official says the shark grabbed him by the leg. Local media reports the boy suffered multiple puncture wounds but is expected to make a full recovery.

This is the third shark attack off North Carolina's coast so far this month.

HILL: A new glimpse of baby Archie. I mean, this is really just in time for John Berman's Father's Day.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's bundle of joy -- this photo released in honor of Father's Day on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's official Instagram account. You see little Archie's hand there clutching his dad's finger.

BERMAN: That's a beautiful picture.

HILL: Isn't it sweet?

BERMAN: He's tiny.

HILL: Yes, he is. I thought the same thing. My children were never that little.

BERMAN: He -- no, I was going to say really tiny.

All right. Exactly 25 years ago today the world was stunned as former football star O.J. Simpson led police on that now-famous low-speed chase in a white Bronco. Simpson was supposed to surrender after being charged for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman.

The chase started in Orange County, California and ended in the driveway of Simpson's Brentwood estate.


REPORTER: And he is pulling into the driveway.


BERMAN: Simpson was ultimately found not guilty of the murders. He has been largely silent since getting out of prison in 2017 for threatening, robbing, and kidnapping a man over memorabilia.

He joined Twitter Friday with this selfie video telling followers he "got a little getting even to do." Ai yai yai yai yai.

HILL: Yes, there's that.

BERMAN: I don't even know where to go with that.

HILL: I don't really have any words for it because the timing is something and I have to -- I have to believe there was something behind it.

BERMAN: Look, it's a double entendre, too cute by half, but there's nothing cute --


BERMAN: -- about joking about anything having to do with the murder of two people, whether he was found not guilty or not.

HILL: No, there is not.

The president's campaign has canned some of its pollsters after the leak of some rather dismal internal numbers.

"NEW DAY" continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Polls have shown the president losing in key states. Now, pollsters for the campaign are being fired.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They were fake polls. We are winning in every single state that we've polled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are the data points that he believes drive his own sense of strength in these states.

HILL: A new report says the U.S. is placing potentially crippling malware deep in Russia's electric grid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It seems to be an effort to signal to the Russians that we have this capability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This appears to be the NSA and Cyber Command evening the playing field.

BERMAN: A gunman opens fire at a graduation party in Philadelphia, killing one and injuring several others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was people outside watching. Many of them are in disbelief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know if the shooter or shooters left on foot or if they left in a car. Hopefully, people will be able to provide more information.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: All right, good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Monday, June 17th. It is 8:00 in the East.

Erica Hill with me at the desk today. We're both trying to get our papers ready for the top of the 8:00 hour --

HILL: We are. I'm searching frantically for my notes.

BERMAN: -- with only moderate levels of success.

So, if you don't like the message, fire the messenger. The Trump campaign, we are learning this morning, has fired several of its own pollsters after internal data leaked showing the president trailing Joe Biden in 11 key states.

Now, the president has lied about these poll numbers being fake. He lied. He said they were fake and didn't exist, proclaiming he is, quote, "winning everywhere." But his campaign confirmed to ABC News the veracity of these polls.

All of this comes just a day before the president officially kicks off his 2020 reelection bid in Orlando.

HILL: And all of this as a new report says Democrats are eyeing a new strategy to counter the Trump administration's stonewall.

"Politico" saying Democrats are now planning to target witnesses like Corey Lewandowski and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who never worked in the White House. Why? Because those witnesses would not be able to exert executive privilege.

All of this as the push within the Democratic Party to begin impeachment proceedings against the president appears to have stalled.

Let's discuss now with Bianna Golodryga, CNN contributor; David Gregory, CNN political analyst; and, John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst.