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Trump Threatens to Start Deporting "Millions" Ahead of Campaign Relaunch Event in Florida; "Orlando Sentinel" Endorses "Not Donald Trump"; U.S. Sending 1,000 Additional Troops to Mideast Amid Iran Tensions; Trump Calls NYT Story on U.S. Infiltration of Russia Power Grid Fake News. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 18, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:01] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in for Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

Four years after Candidate Donald Trump joined the 2016 presidential race with a controversial statement about immigration, some political deja vu. President Trump has made another eyebrow raising statement as he gets ready to kick off his 2020 reelection campaign.

The president tweeting, in part, last night, "Next week, ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in."

The president offered no other details. And his acting Homeland Security secretary just moments ago declined to comment.

Does this vague threat of mass arrests have any teeth or is it just political rhetoric to help fire up the crowd tonight?

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House.

Abby, what is the White House saying about this pronouncement?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Fred, they're not saying much publicly. Part of that could be -- part of the reason could be one of the reasons they don't talk about things like this is these are ongoing operations. If there's a raid planned for next week, the president spoiled it on his Twitter feed last night.

This is something we have been reporting for several weeks. If the administration was considering plan to deport families and individuals with final deportation orders, that would be more extreme step than they have taken in the past because it would involve deporting entire families, going into community, homes, workplaces and removing them immediately, something that former officials believe was a P.R. disaster.

But one official told CNN this morning, in this statement, that, "There are more than one million undocumented immigrants who is have been issued final deportation orders by federal judges, yet they at large remain in the country. The traditional orders were secured at great time and expense, and yet illegal aliens not only refuse to appear in court, they often obtain fraudulent identities, collect welfare and work illegally in the United States."

So they are clearly -- there's clearly an intent on the part of the administration to start removing these individuals.

But the question is timing. Did President Trump really preempt his on administration by announcing it last night, potentially putting the entire operation in jeopardy?

Secondly, is the timing link to the fact he's relaunching his presidential campaign tonight and seeking to signal to his base he's doing something about one of the most difficult he's faced as president, which is making some progress on the immigration issues -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right. Abby Phillip, thank you so much, from the White House.

Joining me to talk about all of this, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig, and Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press, Julie Pace.

Good to see both of you.

Julie, you first.

The president announcing this major move on the eve of his re-election campaign. Is this just a duplicate the way he launched his last campaign, targeting immigrants, the wall, and now going after undocumented immigrants by possibly rounding them up next week, all of this, instead of boasting the economy?

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You really can never separate Trump's policy pronouncements on immigration from his political prospects. He really rose in politics based on his really hard line on immigration, the rhetoric he used to talk about immigrants themselves.

So I don't think it's coincidental that you're seeing him come out with this on the eve of his big rally in Orlando because Trump really sees immigration as one of the reasons why he's sitting in the Oval Office. He thinks he tapped into a sentiment about immigration and about immigrants that had been bubbling below the surface in this country and he was the one who really captured that.

Democrats, however, would say that they wouldn't mind if Trump continued to talk this way about immigration, continued to push these hardline policies. They think that, ultimately, in 2020 this could backfire against him.

WHITFIELD: Elie, usually an ICE, especially enforcement operation of this magnitude would be kept secret. Did the pronouncement undermine it? ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. It's terrible from

enforcement. I think it's one of several red flags we have here that the president is abusing and misusing the law enforcement power and immigration authority for political purposes. The timing is suspect. And as you say --

WHITFIELD: Because of his relaunch this evening?

HONIG: Of course. And you don't announce when you are going out to make arrests. One of the main advantages that immigration or law enforcement has is the element of surprise. It's not good for the people you're trying to capture or officer's safety if people know federal agents are coming.

WHITFIELD: Might it be just that, to get a rise out of the people, that it isn't the president's intent to put this into play, that there's a real possibility here?

HONIG: It doesn't seem like an extremely well fleshed-out plan. These kinds of law enforcement operations take extensive planning, down to the detail, down to the minute and second, who is going to be where. This seems more like an impulsive tweet that got fired off in advance of the rally.

[11:05:09] WHITFIELD: Julie, realty check, there's no new wall. Mexico is not paying for anything. The humanitarian crisis has escalated. How does this president really escape owning this big problem?

PACE: I think this will be one of the big questions about his re- election campaign is, how do voters, particularly Trump's base view his progress on immigration.

What he will argue is that he needs four more years and he needs a fully Republican-controlled Congress in order to make good on all of these promises.

The counter argument on that would be that he had that during the first two years in office and we don't have a wall. We still have the situation at the border in quite a crisis state right now.

One of the questions is how much Trump is to blame for the uptick that we have seen in border crossings. He argues he would need more time and more Republicans in Congress to follow through.

But Presidents running for second terms are judged by their record. It's no longer rhetoric. There's an actual track record for four years that voters will be able to look at and decide if he deserves more time.

WHITFIELD: Which is why you wonder, why doesn't he talk about that one shiny object that bodes well in his favor, the economy, instead all of this other stuff.

PACE: That's what Republicans would prefer him talking about. The economy is in good shape. It's growing. Unemployment is down. It's a pretty positive case he can make for his presidency if he focuses on that front. But he's proven time and time again he would much rather talk about other issues.

WHITFIELD: Elie, a lot of Trump's immigration actions have been challenged in the courts. They haven't gone through the way he's wanted them to. Does he face the same destiny on this one? We're talking about a million undocumented immigrants who have orders to be deported, they haven't been. But does this seem like a misfire on the president's part?

HONIG: The president and the executive branch have a wide latitude discretion to do this kind of thing, to decide who and when to deport people.

But there's a couple of things to keep in mind. First of all, everyone is entitled to due process, citizen or not, here legal or not legally. It's not just as simple as waving a magic wand or sending out a tweet saying, I hereby deport a million people. People are entitled to hearings. They are trial-like proceedings in front of immigration judges.

It sounds like some of those people they are targeting here have already been through those hearings. So they do have the right to arrest those people and deport them. But it's a massive undertaking.

WHITFIELD: Do they have the resources to do it, to execute something like this?

HONIG: Right. The president seems to have this habit of wanting to blame others for his extreme immigration position. Take the separation policy, for example. He blames Democrats for that.

I was a federal prosecutor under Republic and Democratic regimes. We did not criminally prosecute everybody who tried to cross the border for the first time. This administration has started doing that, which has vastly increased the amount of family separations and exacerbated all the problems.

WHITFIELD: The humanitarian crisis has escalated.

HONIG: Right.

WHITFIELD: Julie, the Trump campaign -- all this taking place ahead of his rally tonight, reelection rally tonight. Those chose Florida, the campaign, for a reason.

But I'm sure they didn't expect this welcome mat from the "Orlando Sentinel" editorial board would greet the president today in this manner saying, "There's no point pretending we could ever recommend that readers vote for Trump. After two and a half years, we have seen enough. Enough of the chaos, the division, the schoolyard insults, the self-aggrandizements, the corruption and especially the lies."

The "Orlando Sentinel" endorsed Clinton in 2016 but it endorsed Republicans, Romney, both Bushs and Ronald Reagan.

Julie, the president is a homeowner in Florida. But should this mixed reception matter at all to him?

PACE: When it comes to things like editorial pages, Trump lumps that in with the establishment, dismisses it, says it doesn't matter what a newspaper board is saying.

But he is picking Florida for a reason, the official kick off of his campaign, even though he's been running for re-election since he took office in first place. Florida is still the centerpiece of presidential politics. Trump winning Florida, even though we talk about Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, winning Florida was crucial to his success.

If Democrats can pick off Florida in 2020, Trump's path to the presidency is extremely narrow. He is going to be putting enormous resources into the state.

The fact he's a homeowner and has this private club there makes it all the more personal for him. But this is where you will see his campaign go all in over the next year and a half.

WHITFIELD: A forecast already from Joe Biden, who says he can win Florida. We'll talk about that later, too.

Julie Pace, Elie Honig, good to see you both. Thank you so much.

[11:10:00] Coming up, new fears about a possible conflict in the Middle East. The U.S. now sending 1,000 troops to the region after blaming Iran for attacking several ships.

Plus, a gunman tries to attack at a federal building in Dallas. What police are learning about the 22-year-old suspect and how a journalist captured a dramatic picture of the suspect from point-blank range. We'll show you that image coming up.

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[11:15:15] WHITFIELD: This morning, a new spike in the rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran. President Trump has ordered 1,000 more U.S. troops to the Middle East. Russia, a key Iranian ally, calls the Pentagon's ramp up, quote, "a deliberate course to provoke war."

CNN's Ryan Browne is at the Pentagon. And Fred Pleitgen is in Tehran.

Ryan, let's begin with you.

What are you learning about this news?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Fred, this latest deployment of about 1,000 additional U.S. troops is being described by U.S. officials as being defensive in nature. They are saying these troops are merely there to help protect U.S. forces and other facilities that are already in the region.

Officials telling us the troops will include some surveillance personnel that observe potential threats as well as Forced Protection Units that help provide security to troops on the ground.

The U.S. is saying this is in response to what it sees as a threat emanating from Iran and its proxies, something the acting secretary of defense said was underscored by the recent attacks against shipping tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Again, increased tensions here, as the U.S. will send another contingent of troops to do what he says is provide key security for its forces already on the ground there.

WHITFIELD: Fred, what more is Iran saying about the U.S. announcements?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka. The Iranians have had a lot of reactions to those announcements. On the one hand, they are continuing to say they are not behind the tanker attacks and don't see the move of the U.S. sending the 1,000 troops as being defensive. They see it as being a threat to their borders.

On the other hand, you have a senior general of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps come out and say that he believes additional U.S. forces in the region are not a threat to his forces because he thinks the Iranian military is so strong and in such a state of alertness they could deal with anything that the U.S. would do.

But there was a second Iranian general who came and, and he said something very interesting, Fredricka. He said, on the one hand, the Iranians right now monitoring very closely what the U.S. is doing in the region. He said, if the U.S. makes any sort of moves, the Iranians will respond. And he said the Iranians would respond in a very wide area.

That's taken to mean, if there's a real confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, if shots get traded, the Iranians say they will not only respond with their own forces but also with a lot of the proxy militias that they control in the entire Middle Eastern region itself, that the Iranians have been warning about for a long time.

There are also, Fredricka, some more moderate things coming out of Iran today. The country's president, Hassan Rouhani, he came out and he said that Iran unequivocally does not want a confrontation or any sort of war with any other nation. That including the United States as well -- Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: But at the same time, Fred, Iran's president did take a swipe another the Trump administration.

PLEITGEN: He did. It was at that same event he went to earlier today. And what he said is he said that while Iran doesn't want a confrontation that Iranians need to understand that right now Tehran is dealing with what he calls very inexperienced people in Washington, D.C.

That sort of underscores some of the feelings that the Iranians have that there's a bit of chaos in the Trump administration, where they believe, on the one hand, Trump does not want this to escalate further. President Trump does not war a war with the Iranians. But they do feel there are some in the administration that might be more so inclined, like, for instance, national security advisor, John Bolton.

Right now, I have to say, I think that the Iranians in the standoff feel as though they are in the driver's seat. They feel like they have a coherent strategy. They told the Trump administration they will not negotiate with the Trump administration. They feel like they're the ones with a coherent strategy, while they feel the Trump administration is somewhat stumbling -- Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: We'll talk more about that.

Thank you so much, Fred Pleitgen, Ryan Browne, for now. Appreciate it.

To help continue this discussion, I'm joined now by David Sanger, a national security correspondent for the "New York Times" and a CNN political and national security analyst, and CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. He's a former spokesperson for the U.S. State Department and Defense Departments under the Obama administration.

Good to see both you have.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: John, you first.

Sending U.S. military, is the message that is being sent that the U.S. is seeking conflict?

KIRBY: I think the message they're trying to send is this is about deterrence. They're trying to deter Iran from further activity.

These thousands of troops, Fred, that's largely missile defense folks and enablers as well as some reconnaissance aircraft, so it's way of force protection for our troops and provide some sort of better eyes on than what the Iranian Iranians are doing.

[11:20:07] I think this thousands troop s not offensive in any mathematical way. I can understand why the Iranians would want to spin it that way.

What's more concerning, I think, is the dysfunction inside the Trump administration. You have the president saying he wants to get the Iranians back to the table to negotiate a better nuclear deal and you have Pompeo and Bolton - Pompeo, by the way, visiting Central Command headquarters today. You have those guys talking about regime change and amping up the military bellicosity.

I think that's what is causing greater concern in the region, not just in Tehran but the region about what exactly is the Trump administration driving to here, what's the goal, what's the strategy. It's just not clear. WHITFIELD: So, John, you see that Pompeo meeting at CENTCOM as rather

unusual?

KIRBY: Extremely unusual. It's not the job of the secretary of state to sit down and confer with military officers and leaders, particularly of Central Command and Special Operations Command, where he's also going to go there.

I was with John Kerry for two years. The only military facility we went to was the naval base at Norfolk, was to look at the effects of climate change. And he gave a speech on climate change down there. It's not his job.

And it's a particularly sensitive time for him to be going down there. And oh, by the way, he's going down there without the acting defense secretary, which says a lot about the dysfunction in this administration. Frankly, I think it sends a message about Mr. Shanahan's leadership at the Pentagon.

WHITFIELD: David, you heard Fred Pleitgen report that Iran feels like it has leverage right now and, at the same time, Iran is raising or promising to raise its limits on how many nuclear fuel stockpiles, perhaps sending a message it's moving on after a year of restraint. What is Iran capable of doing now within potentially the next year?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Fred, before I get to that, one comment on something that John said. It would be hard to imagine under the previous defense secretary, Jim Mattis, a secretary of state going down without the secretary of defense and having this kind of conversation. I think there would have been a pretty clear outburst from that.

(CROSSTALK)

KIRBY: I would add having worked for Chuck Hagel, David, that would never happen when he was defense secretary.

SANGER: Yes.

KIRBY: It's really unusual.

(CROSSTALK)

KIRBY: Sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: Right.

Before we get to the other question, David, what would be the objective in your view for Pompeo to do this? This kind of meeting to take place.

SANGER: It's an interesting question because Pompeo has been saying, saying quite consistently, the answers here are diplomatic, and yet the message he's sending by going down to Central Command is, I want to see what all the military options look like.

Which takes me to your question, Fredricka, what is it that the U.S. and the Iranians can do. The Iranians feel as if they have bit of the upper hand in their ability to peel the Europeans away from the United States.

The Europeans did not favor the president leaving the Iran deal in 2015.

WHITFIELD: The Iran deal.

SANGER: The Iran deal. They are unlikely, in the Iranian view, to step in and reimpose sanctions if the Iranians go and break out of the deal themselves and continue to enrich at larger levels and at higher purity levels that would take them something closer to bomb capabilities.

Their bet is that if the United States moves ahead with the sanction, the Europeans will not go with them. I don't know if that's a good bet or a bad bet. I think it depends on whether the Iranians overplay their hand.

In the gulf, I think the Iranians have already overplayed their hand. I think it's possible the Chinese and others will see this, as it continues to go on, as a threat to their own shipments in through the gulf.

WHITFIELD: Then, John, how much blame can be placed on this administration for really removing the incentive of Iran by walking away from the nuclear deal and essentially setting the stage for what is now right before us?

KIRBY: I think you can draw a direct line between what we're seeing now with the attacks on the tankers and the desires David outlined to start enriching at a lower-grade uranium levels. Direct line between that and Trump's designating the IRGC as a terrorist group, which neither Bush nor Obama would do, but also pulling out of the Iran deal and upping the sanctions pressure not only on Iran but through our European allies. I think there's a direct line there, Fred.

But I don't want to be an apologist for Iran. Iran has been a bad actor for years. They've killed more than 600 soldiers in Iraq. They're a state sponsor terrorism.

There's a lot the United States should do with the international community to constrain them and try to resist their efforts in the region.

[11:25:12] But in my mind, the Trump administration has exacerbated that tension and has created this current crisis that we're in. And it's made it very hard, as David points out, for the European allies to figure out how they will go forward here.

I think there's a limit to the Europeans tolerance of Iran. I don't know -- David would know better than me -- whether this decision they will now start low-grade enrichment will be the tipping point for the Europeans but I think the Iranians have to be careful that they don't, as David said, overplay that hand and force the Europeans to pull out of the deal.

WHITFIELD: Then, David, before we go, I do want to ask you about your reporting that the Trump administration has infiltrated Russia power grids and that officials did not brief the president about it out of concerns for what he might do with that kind of information.

The president, as you know, he has been tweeting and tweeted again today saying, "The story in the 'New York Times' is fake news and the failing 'New York Times' knows it. They should release their sources, which if they exist at all, which I doubt, are phony. 'Times' must be held fully accountable."

I want to give you an opportunity to respond to what the president has said.

SANGER: Sure. We're fully confident in our story. We spent many months reporting on this. It's completely consistent with what you heard the president's own national security advisers say last week when he said that they spent last year pushing back on electoral interference and they are now spreading this deterrence into other areas. We were describing what those other areas are.

The president hasn't been specific, nor has anyone else in the administration about what he believes in the story was wrong.

Certainly, from our sources, it's not the part about the U.S. putting implants in the system. We didn't say they have brought the power down in Russia, as the Russians have not brought power down in the U.S., but they established a capability to go do that.

The president might have been reacting to the part that you highlighted, which was --

WHITFIELD: He didn't know.

SANGER: -- what he was told. And we're not entirely sure at this point what he was reacting to.

But he has given Cyber Command the authorities to go do this without coming back to tell him. That's clear in the law and in his executive orders and we know they are very hesitant to talk about any operations involving Russia. "

WHITFIELD: Quickly on the issue of responsibility, the challenge that the "New York Times," that they have this kind of information should not have made it public. Your response, "The Times'" response to that?

SANGER: We did with this story what we do with all sensitive national security stories. We went to the administration. We told them what we were going to report. We said, if they had national security concerns, the moment to go raise them was then.

John is familiar with this process when he was on the other side of it at the State Department.

They came back and they said we have no national security objections to this story. They wouldn't comment yes or no on the substance, but they said they had no objections on the national security scale. And you haven't heard other members of the administration issue any, including when Secretary Pompeo was asked about it over the weekend.

WHITFIELD: All right. I understand all that clarification.

Thank you so much, David Sanger, John Kirby. I appreciate it.

KIRBY: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Still to come, a heavily armed former Army private opens fire on a federal courthouse. A journalist armed with nothing but a camera escapes injury while capturing a dramatic picture of the suspect. That image and what the photographer is saying today, next.

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