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Hundred-Plus Children Returned to Overcrowded Texas Border Facility; Democrats Face Off in First Primary Debate; Trump and Kim Talk Behind the Scenes for a Possible Third Summit. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 26, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:25] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


For the first time we have learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will answer questions in public. He is going to testify about his probe into Russian interference in the election and President Trump. The reluctant Mueller agreed to testify before two House panels. This is all going to take place before your eyes live in public on July 17th. This is after House Democrats issued a subpoena for his appearance.

Just last month you will remember when he gave those rare public remarks on camera, he said his testimony if he did testify would not go beyond what was written in the 448-page report.

SCIUTTO: Well, Adam Schiff and others say that's not going to happen. They've got a lot of questions for him beyond the report. They say this was not a friendly subpoena.

This highly anticipated hearing is a major moment for a party that's been publicly wrestling with the larger question of impeachment. The president's first reaction to the news, just two words, ones he's repeated, presidential harassment.

Let's bring in CNN's Shimon Prokupecz.

So the special counsel did not want to be here. I mean, Adam Schiff made that clear yesterday. This is not a friendly subpoena, but he also made it clear that the questions will go beyond the four corners of the special counsel's report.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. And they may go beyond that, but Mueller doesn't necessarily, right, as we've seen in these hearings. It doesn't mean that Mueller is going to necessarily answer these questions.

SCIUTTO: Would he just take the Fifth and just --

PROKUPECZ: Just that he -- he could say that. And we've seen this happen where he can say, you know, I'm not going to address that or I'll do this in a closed door meeting, which he's also supposed to have with the House Intelligence Committee. So it's going to be two committees. You have the Judiciary Committee which is obviously where if any impeachment proceedings were to take place that's where that would take place. And it's obvious that that's what they're looking for Mueller for that kind of information.

Then you have House Intel which is Schiff and obviously that more in the Russia and the collusion and the interference in the election.


PROKUPECZ: There's a lot of questions obviously that Mueller is going to have to somehow answer or figure out to answer. You know, really one of the big ones is whether or not they didn't indict the president because of this DOJ policy that you can't indict a sitting president.


PROKUPECZ: What role did that play? It seems --

SCIUTTO: Yes. Was it the evidence or was it the policy?

PROKUPECZ: Right, or was it the policy? And that is going to be one of the key questions. I think obviously there's a lot of other questions. And so we will see. It's going to be a tremendous day for this investigation, for Robert Mueller, his legacy. Of course a public servant, you know, for most of his life. So that's going to have to play into his mind as well. How does he lead this? This could be the last time -- and we keep saying every time we hear from him, this is the one and only time. Could this be the last time we ever hear from Mueller?

SCIUTTO: Yes. And you have bring up legacy, because he has to think about, you know, his place in history.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Here as well.

Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Yes. All right. Let's talk more about this with Shan Wu, defense attorney, former federal prosecutor.

OK, so, Shan, Democrats and Republicans get to ask Robert Mueller questions in public. Everyone will see it. What is the most important question they should ask him?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to choose among the top three, but I'd say the most important question as Shimon alluded to would be if Donald Trump was not the sitting president of the United States, would you have charged him with obstruction of justice? And probably would lead with that one and basically riff off of that answer.

HARLOW: But he didn't say, you know, he didn't go that far in the report. Let me read you from the report. He said, quote, "If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so." He has said publicly in that on-camera statement a few weeks ago that he will not go beyond what's in the report in his testimony, so how do you expect then he would answer that question?

WU: Well, that requires a good follow-up question, and I think you're right. He's going to try to avoid answering that question, and then the follow-up has to be explain the quote that you just read. Why can't you exonerate him and explain to us what the evidence is in your report as to why you can't exonerate him. And having him, even if it's simply regurgitating the evidence in his report, having him there in front of the American people talking about evidence, talking about why he can't exonerate the president, that will be very valuable.

HARLOW: Listen to House Intel chairman Adam Schiff who is leading one of the committees that will be -- that will be questioning Robert Mueller. Here's what he said about Bill Barr's willingness to speak.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Bill Barr has felt more than free as the attorney general to speak well beyond the Mueller report and if he is able to speak beyond the four corners of the Mueller report then so too should Mueller feel free to do so.


HARLOW: Do you think, Shan, knowing Mueller as well as, you know, we do and don't at this point, that he will weigh that Bill Barr has spoken publicly and Bill Barr did give that interview recently in terms of what Mueller is willing to say in testimony?

[09:05:08] WU: Absolutely not. I think you're going to see from Bob Mueller the kind of testimony that the attorney general of the United States should have given, meaning it's going to be factual, it's going to be concise. He is not going to characterize or spin. He's going to stick to the facts.

Now he may -- again follow-up questions are important, the precision of the questions are important. He can be asked, here's a quote from Attorney General Barr, agree, disagree, explain it. And by going that route he will be able to add in details that probably go beyond the report. But if you directly ask him to characterize something, he's not going there.

HARLOW: By the way, wouldn't you expect that he will be asked things outside of the report, namely from Republicans who will likely ask him about those text messages, about Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, for example? I mean, what happens then because that's not really within the scope of the report?

WU: Oh, absolutely, he'll be asked questions outside the scope of the report, and, you know, that's a double-edged sword for both sides. He's not going to want to answer those. I actually think, obviously he's very experienced at testifying before Congress. I actually think those sorts of questions, questioning the integrity of his team, of biases and such, I think those you're probably going to more likely see him more easily go outside the boundaries of his report. He might try and still say look, that's the report. We're not talking about that. But if anybody questions the integrity of his team, I think we got a little bit of a hint of that in that brief statement he gave previously.

HARLOW: Right.

WU: He's going to be defending that team.

HARLOW: OK. Shan Wu, appreciate the expertise. We'll see what happens, 21 days to go. Thank you so much.

WU: Good to be here, Poppy.

SCIUTTO: That's going to be quite a moment on the Hill for the American public. No question.

HARLOW: Quite a morning and afternoon. Two hearings.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

Get ready for the next showdown over border funding. A win for Speaker Pelosi. The House voted Tuesday to move forward with its $4.5 billion package in addressing just the horrific conditions for migrants including children along the border. The approval comes despite President Trump's threat to veto it sets up a clash with the GOP-controlled Senate.

HARLOW: But time is running out. Congress is not in session next week, of course it's the Fourth of July holiday. They have just days to come up with a plan because the main office in charge of this, the OR, runs out of money in nine days and yet these two plans, the House and the Senate are very far apart. The House wants development aid for Central American countries which of course the Trump administration pulled. They also want certain requirements for reporting migrant deaths.

The Senate bill covers ICE pay shortfalls as well as money for the Department of Defense. President Trump has said if there's no deal by the end of the week he will move forward with those huge ICE raids that he threatened in major cities.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Can they reach agreement in that short time frame?

This image, stand by, is just heartbreaking. It's shedding devastating light on the reality of the dangers facing migrants who seek asylum in America. This is a child and an adult face down in a river there where they drowned attempting to cross the Rio Grande into the U.S. The young girl's body clinging to her father's back.

HARLOW: She was 23-months old. It's yet another tragic testimony to migrants' desperation and suffering. This as we learn over 100 migrant children are now being moved back to what had been found to be really deplorable conditions at a filthy facility in Texas.

Our colleague Ed Lavandera is live outside of that facility this morning.

You know what, a picture that speaks a thousand words, and that's what this one does.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For a full image and, Jim and Poppy, remember that critics of the Trump administration have been saying for months that because of the Trump administration's crackdown on asylum seekers at legal ports of entry, critics have been saying for months that this would force migrants into making much more treacherous and dangerous decisions crossing illegally between the ports of entry, and that's what we've seen play out here perhaps in a deadly way.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): This is the heart-wrenching reality of the humanitarian crisis facing Central Americans who are desperately fleeing violence and poverty in their countries. A migrant father and his nearly 2-year-old daughter found laying face down in the Rio Grande attempting to cross into the United States. Her arm around his neck, her little face tucked inside of his T-shirt.

The image captures the dangerous perils facing many family trying to cross into the U.S. illegally with the Trump administration policy of limiting the number of people allowed to seek asylum at ports of entry.

This morning President Trump is under fire following reports of migrants including children being housed in horrible conditions inside overcrowded U.S. border facilities like this one in Clint, Texas.

[09:10:07] Despite public outcry, more than a hundred children who were moved out of that facility were returned Tuesday. Advocates who went inside say they saw some of Border Patrol's youngest detainees living in atrocious circumstances. Lacking access to basic hygiene products and sleeping on the floor.

Customs and Border Protection says they are not equipped to handle children within their facilities and their resources are stretched thin. One official says, "We do not want them in our custody. Our facilities are not built for that."

The president is deflecting any blame.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I am. I'm very concerned. And they're much better than they were under President Obama by far.

LAVANDERA: With national outrage growing, another major shakeup within the department that handles maintaining border facilities and immigration. Acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection John Sanders abruptly resigned from his post. President Trump is also downplaying that latest departure.

TRUMP: I don't think I've ever spoken to him, actually. No, we have some very good people running it.


LAVANDERA: And a high number of water rescues there in the Rio Grande. There have been images of Border Patrol agents jumping into the river to rescue people who have nearly drowned -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Ed Lavandera there, thanks very much.

For more, let's bring in John Sandweg. He's a former acting ICE director under President Obama.

John, we have you on this broadcast frequently. It's good to have you back here. I do want you to react to this photo and tell us what that tells us about the crisis on the border and the steps, the dangers, the risks that people will take to cross the border.

JOHN SANDWEG, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT UNDER OBAMA: Jim, it's devastating. You know, it's funny when -- you know, when you're working in D.C. and you're working on these issues it's easy to make everything look like numbers. But when you see a photo like that it drives home that these are people. And it really does hit home to me and hopefully it hits home with the administration as well.

My concern here is that as we continue to kind of adopt this security based posture and push people to wait in Mexico and push people to prevent them from coming to the United States, their desperation remains the same. What ends up happening is they take more extreme measures to get to the country, start trying to evade capture and you might see more images like this as people try to cross through the deserts, the places where, you know, they have a greater chance of getting into the United States. But that's much more dangerous. Crossing the tough parts of the river, making those long treks like the Arizona desert.

SCIUTTO: So you're saying that the hard line policy can drive riskier behavior because people are drawn to the parts along the border that may have less surveillance but are riskier.

SANDWEG: Yes, in a way we've been very fortunate with this crisis. What we've been seeing is large numbers of people who walk across the border and immediately surrender to the Border Patrol. But as we start pushing things like, you know, remain in Mexico and as we start looking towards other ways of driving, you know, people back into Mexico, I think what concerns me is we're going to see the pattern we've seen at the border for over 50 years, and that is people trying to going through the most difficult stretches of the border to evade capture.

Now from a security perspective it's actually worse than we're facing now because we don't know who those individuals are if they successfully make it into the country. And it's more easy for, you know, dangerous individuals to get in. But from a humanitarian perspective as well it's going to really increase, you know, these vulnerable children, putting them in difficult position because again the places where the broad (INAUDIBLE) are generally the places that are well defended by the terrain, so that is the rough parts of the Rio Grande River or the broad swaths of deserts, you know, in central -- you know, in central and eastern Arizona. That's the concern here as we crack down on this we're going to see a deviation from the pattern we've been seeing.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this because of course you have the risk in border crossings but you also now have these detentions and hundreds of children held in U.S. custody. We've seen how horrible those conditions are, potentially dangerous. There have been a number of deaths in U.S. custody understand the Trump administration. Who bears responsibility for the health and welfare of children when they're taken into U.S. custody?

SANDWEG: Well, so here's the problem, first of all these kids should never be held in border patrol lockup facilities. Those facilities are designed for very short-term detention of adult males. I have to say this, I don't think we blame the Border Patrol agents, and we certainly don't blame the ICE officers either. Those folks -- you know, I've worked with those folks for a long time, they care. They're dealt an unwinnable hand here. But really, honestly, it's the administration's overall approach to this problem that bears a lot of the responsibility.

We've taken a security based approach to what's really a humanitarian crisis. And I think it's well past the time we should have been looking at, you know, expanding programs like there existing under the Obama administration cancelled by Trump which is providing opportunities for people to apply for asylum in Central America so they don't make this trip to begin with.

Working with the international community. The United States shouldn't bear the burden of this refugee crisis alone. But looking for things like a refugee resettlement program where we enlist the support of countries in the region but also around the world to take some of the -- agree to take some of these people and provide them an opportunity to go to a safe country, but not necessarily the United States.

These -- you know, the kind of solutions you would apply to a mass refugee crisis like we're seeing rather than applying the kind of historic security-based solutions that we've been applying which result in children being held in lock-up facilities --


SANDWEG: Where they, you know, they can't even get -- ultimately, can't get a toothbrush or soap.

SCIUTTO: Yes, well, I mean, we're seeing the results of that right now. John Sandweg --


SCIUTTO: Good to draw on your experience, thanks very much.

SANDWEG: Yes, thank you.

HARLOW: All right, round three, even as tensions flare this morning, we are learning that North Korea and the United States are holding behind-the-scenes talks about a third potential summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. If it happened, what would actually be different this time?

SCIUTTO: Yes, no results from the prior summits. Plus, the first Democratic debate is just hours away, but Senator Elizabeth Warren is not studying behind closed doors as many candidates often do. Next hour, she is heading to a migrant detention facility, we're going to be there live.


SCIUTTO: Moments ago, President Trump taking a very personal shot at Iranian leaders. You might even say the adolescent ones, saying, quote, "I don't think their leadership is smart."


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via telephone): If something should happen, we're in a very strong position, it wouldn't last very long, I can tell you that, it would not last very long. And I'm not talking boots on the ground, I'm not talking we're going to send a million soldiers. I'm just saying if something would happen, it wouldn't last very long.


HARLOW: All right, the president went on to say a lot more. Let's go to Joe Johns, he joins us at the White House this morning. So many headlines out of that interview the president just gave, what rises to the top?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's for sure. And I think just because the president is headed out to the group of 20 Summit in Asia later today, I think one of the big headlines, Poppy, is what the president had to say about China. He's expected to meet Chinese President Xi.

And one of the things that is on the plate at this moment is whether or not the United States is going to suspend the next round of tariffs aimed at the China, and that continuing trade war. There have been some reports around town that the president might do that. However, in his interview this morning, the president indicating it's possible but he's not promising. Take a listen.


TRUMP: Look, they know what we have to have, and if we don't have intellectual property theft protections, if we don't have the opening of China -- you know, China is not open. We're open, but China is not open. So, if we don't have the opening of China, if we don't have the things that we negotiated and maybe even more than that.


JOHNS: So, still very open-ended there. The president was also asked about the EU because he will be there with so many leaders, and he really sort of harked back to a lot of his 2016 campaign themes. He was critical of NATO, he suggested that there are a lot of countries around the world that take advantage of the United States, and he did single out Japan just for a little bit when that part of the conversation was going on.

Suggesting that if Japan were attacked, the United States would fight World War III, but if the United States were attacked, the president went on to say, Japan could watch it on a Sony television. Back to you.

SCIUTTO: The president also repeated a falsehood that he and his advisors often do, which is to say that tariffs on China will bring in billions and billions of dollars to the -- to the U.S., of course, there's no factual base. In fact, U.S. importers and consumers paid for that. Well, was he pressed on that issue at all?

JOHNS: He wasn't pressed on that the way he might have been pressed on it, had he been asked about it on CNN, because the president essentially said that he has a very different view of the way tariffs work. And that view, of course, has been disputed again and again by top economists and others who say that, it's the United States, people in the United States who pay in --

HARLOW: Yes --

JOHNS: The event those tariffs placed.


HARLOW: Joe Johns, before you go, we also heard the president say, quote, "we should be suing Google and Facebook --

JOHNS: Right --

HARLOW: And perhaps we will. We know that it's looking very likely that the Department of Justice is going to launch this anti-trust probe into those companies. Is the president foreshadowing that?

JOHNS: Well, he certainly was foreshadowing, he didn't say for certain. He said -- he suggested that, that's being looked at. As you know, it continues to be an issue here in Washington with all of the attendant's questions about the president of the United States using the power of his office or at least his lieutenants to put pressure on media organizations they have a problem with. Of course, that came up during the "Time Warner" merger with AT&T.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Of which we're a part.

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: Good point -- HARLOW: Thanks --

SCIUTTO: Joe, a lot of evidence to that, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Today, North Korea is publicly accusing the White House of slandering the country all while secretly, potentially talking about a third summit between the president and Kim Jong-un.

SCIUTTO: This despite the fact that North Korea has taken no steps to denuclearize, which is the standard that this administration set for the success of these talks. Paula Hancocks joins us now live from South Korea. What would the circumstances of this third summit be exactly?

[09:25:00] PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Richard and Poppy, what we're hearing is from the top here in South Korea is President Moon Jae-in in a written interview he did today with news agencies who are saying that he knows that behind the scenes there are these ongoing discussions between the U.S. and North Korea to set up this third summit. No indication of when it would be or what sort of conditions if any would be put on that.

President Moon though, did say that it was on the back-drop of mutual understanding of each other's position following the Hanoi Summit, which really is putting a positive spin on the fact that the two leaders walked away with that agreement back in February suggesting that they have more understanding of each other.

But as you say, is at the same time as North Korean state-run media "KC" in quoting the foreign ministry is slamming some of Trump's advisors and slamming reports, saying that it's one of the worst human rights abusers in the world, calling these reports full of hostility and vicious slander.

So, on the one side, you do have potentially these negotiations looking closer than they have done before especially after a letter -- letters between the president and Kim Jong-un have been appreciated by both leaders. And on the other hand, you have North Korean media continuing to slam those around Trump. Although, they're being very careful not to slam Trump himself.

HARLOW: Paula Hancocks, thank you very much in Seoul for us.

SCIUTTO: Democratic candidates back here in the U.S. face-off tonight in the first debate of the 2020 election. Where one candidate is headed just hours before they take the stage.