Return to Transcripts main page


ProPublica: Border Protection Agents Made Vile Jokes, Racist & Sexist Posts in Facebook Group; Democrats Say Migrant Woman Told to Drink Out of Toilet at Border Facility; Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) Discusses Border Protection Agent Facebook Group Posts, Conditions at Border Facility; House Ways and Means Committee Sues IRS, Treasury Department to Get Trump's Tax Returns; Humanitarian Leaders: Idlib "On the Brink" of Nightmare; Vice President Pence Called Back to White House, Cancels New Hampshire Event. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 2, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:57] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Border protection officials say they are now investigating a new report from "ProPublica," which uncovered disturbing social media activity on a private Facebook group for border protection agents. The posts include jokes about migrant deaths, racist and sexist memes, even sexually explicit comments and memes about Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

After leaving the visit to a detention facility yesterday, the congresswoman herself described what she witnessed inside as horrifying.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): There's abuse in these facilities. There's abuse.

This was them on their best behavior and they put them in a room with no running water and these women were being told by CBP officers to drink out of the toilet. They were drinking water out of the toilet. And that was them knowing that a congressional visit was coming. This was CBP on their best behavior, telling people to drink out of the toilet.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Nick Valencia is outside a detention site in El Paso, Texas, for us right now.

Nick, what are you learning about all of this today?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This closed Facebook group, Kate, was first reported by the investigative team at "ProPublica" and they allege that this group is about 9,500 members of former and current Border Patrol agents.

And they claim that they were able to link some of those posts with legitimate Facebook accounts of current Border Patrol agents. CNN, myself, I was also to obtain some screen shots from the Facebook

group and some of the posts, Kates, are just vile. There's no other way to describe them. They make jokes about migrant deaths. You remember the viral photo of Oscar and his daughter, Valeria, the 2- year-old girl, who drowned crossing the Rio Grande? There was an inference saying that maybe that photo was fakes or edited because the bodies looked too clean.

There were also racial derogatory comments towards a Latino lawmaker, like Veronica Escobar, who represents El Paso district, as well as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with a suggestion that demonstrators should throw burritos at them while they visited the facilities here yesterday along the southern border.

Yesterday, President Trump was also asked about the Facebook group and this is what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know what they're saying about members of Congress. I know that the Border Patrol is not happy with the Democrats in Congress. I will say the Republicans do want border security. The Democrats want open borders.

The Border Patrol, they are patriots. They're great people. They love our country.


VALENCIA: We should mention that the National Border Patrol Council, as well as the Border Patrol chief was quick to condemn these comments, saying, quote, "That the social media posts related to members of Congress and those encountered by Border Patrol agents are unprofessional."

Others calling them vile and reprehensible.

This is just another damaging allegation against an agency that is already struggling with public perception -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That's for sure.

Nick, thanks so much.

Joining me right now, Democrat Congresswoman Pete Aguilar, of California. He was part of the congressional group that visited the detention facility just yesterday.

Congressman, thanks for being here.

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Thanks for having me, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We've heard a few accounts of what was seen inside. What did you see in that facility?

AGUILAR: We saw a number of facilities. We saw the Office of Refugee Resettlement where some teenaged young people had been placed. We saw cells where women were placed in prison-like cells where they were sleeping on the floor 12 to 15 in a cell. Those are just disturbing images.

And then we saw unaccompanied minors, a separate facility in Clint where unaccompanied minors, where a young probably 3-year-old tried to pass in a playful way a dry erase board underneath the door. And he was playing with other children under the age of 10 in a closed -- in a closed-door facility.

[11:35:00] BOLDUAN: The deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol said today that he's confident that -- he's confident that the work of the officers -- of the work the officers and agents are doing at these facilities.

And he was asked to answer specifically to what we heard from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others, who say that they were told from women in one of the facilities, they were told, if they were thirsty they should drink out of the toilet.

Here's what he had to say about that. Listen to this, please.


ROBERT PEREZ: DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: If they raised to us concerns with respect to the manner in which they're being treated, the access, again, of the fresh water that we have on hand everywhere, of the consumables, the foods, the snacks, the medicines. Now we have a medical capability at an unprecedented level. Over 140 medical teams littered throughout the entirety of our southern border.

If there are allegations made of misconduct, we take those incredibly seriously --


PEREZ: -- and investigate those and get to the bottom of it.

I am very confident in what it is that we are doing by the way of caring for these individuals, these incredibly vulnerable populations in our custody, again, in absolutely overly saturated conditions.


BOLDUAN: He said it was the first time he's hearing of this allegation of someone being told to drink water from a toilet. What do you say to him?

AGUILAR: Well, what I say is go visit the facility. There was a lack of running water in that facility. There was a sink that did not have running water. So these are pretty easy to verify and to check.

So I think it's deeply frustrating for us. As you mentioned, the gulf of distrust is pretty evident, given the Facebook posts that these individuals have. Some of these women said that they were moved to the cell in the last

24 hours. For those of us who have been there multiple times, they were given mylar blankets in April and now they have blankets, which we were asking for, for months.

So these humanitarian conditions need to improve. And just because they're meeting standards doesn't mean that the standards are exactly what they should be. They should be better standards. This is a humanitarian crisis and we need to treat these people with respect.

BOLDUAN: I heard -- we've heard from some of the lawmakers who were in the group with you say that they did not feel safe during your visit. Did you feel the same way?

AGUILAR: I heard other members ask about their safety. And I think that is a valid concern, given that we are in these facilities, we are surrounded by Border Patrol, 15 to 20, shadowing our movements, giving us instructions, trying to limit us from taking our phones. This is all behavior that hadn't been done in prior visits for a lot of us who have been to these facilities.

So I think that was what was frustrating, especially given that we were there hours after the "ProPublica" article and public reporting indicating that some of these individuals harbor some very deep-seated racist and vile views towards migrants, but also towards members of Congress.

BOLDUAN: Did you see border agents taking selfies with you in the background as we've heard other lawmakers say?

AGUILAR: I did. And that was frustrating. But that happened. Someone on staff tried to take -- did take a selfie. We were in a closed facility, getting a briefing. And down from what they would call the floor of this prison-like facility, an individual, a staff member took a selfie with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the background, and we called them out on it.

And I think it shocked the senior brass of the Border Patrol who clearly understand the lack of goodwill that exists between some of us, as members of Congress --

BOLDUAN: Yes, I mean --

AGUILAR: -- who have been there multiple times.

BOLDUAN: Yes. First off, I wonder -- of course, we want to know why. And second, if they're snapping photos with their phones, why weren't you able to take your phones in either?

AGUILAR: That was the question we were asking. I'm used to classified facilities where everyone leaves their phones and locks them up.


AGUILAR: That's not what was asked this time. They told us to leave our phones in a room that they controlled, leave them with our staff.

So some of us did leave our phones with someone else outside of the room for the first visit. But in the second visit, I turned my phone off and took my phone. If they can have their phones, I can have mine.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you for going to the facility. They could clear a lot of this up if they would just let reporters in with cameras, I will continue to say, as we ask over and over again.

But thank you so much for coming in and giving us your account.

AGUILAR: Thanks for having me. We'll continue to do our oversight.

[11:39:57] BOLDUAN: Thank you very much.

We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: This just into CNN. The House Ways and Means Committee, the committee in charge of tax laws in this country, is now taking the IRS and the Treasury Department to court, suing them in the ongoing fight to gain access to President Trump's tax returns. This is a very big step in this ongoing battle.

CNN's Lauren Fox has the breaking details. She's joining me right now.

Lauren, what are you hearing?

[11:44:57] LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This has been months in the making. Richard Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, initially asked for the president's tax returns, six years of personal business returns in April. Then, of course, he had a subpoena in May. And just now, the House Ways and Means Committee will sue the IRS, the Treasury Department, and their respective leaders, Steve Mnuchin and Charles Rettig, for the information.

But of course, we expect this to be a prolonged court battle. This has been months in the making.

When I talked to Richard Neal back in November, after the election in November, he said this is exactly where we would be, that this would be headed to court. He never expected the Treasury Department to turn over the president's tax information.

But I just want to read from the court filing just one brief quote. It says, "The defendants have mounted an extraordinary attack on the authority of Congress to obtain info needed to conduct oversight."

And of course, this fits into a broader narrative that we're trying with House Democrats trying to get information from the Trump administration and trying to dig into the president's own finances. We've already seen cases where Democrats have tried to get financial

information from accounting firms and banks that the president has used and those cases have already gone to court.

So a broader spectrum here with Democrats trying to get more information about the president's finances. But, of course, a big step in this case for the president's tax returns -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Lauren. A very big step in this ongoing battle. Now it heads to the federal courts.

Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

We're going to keep our eye on that breaking news.

But there's other breaking news that cannot be ignored that we will turn our attention to overseas. The death toll in Syria is rising as the leaders of 11 humanitarian organizations are now issuing an urgent warning. They say the northwestern province of Idlib is, quote, "on the brink of a humanitarian nightmare, unlike anything we have seen this century."

Just let that sink in. I know this war has been going on for years, but listen to what they are saying, "It is on the brink of a humanitarian nightmare, unlike anything we have seen this century." You cannot turn away from this.

CNN senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is joining us now from a makeshift camp in northern Syria where families have fled.

Arwa, what are you seeing and hearing there?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, let me just try and describe why it is that organizations are describing it like that.

The families you see around us, these are the families who have just arrived in the last few months. They have been living like this for months. There are, according to the estimates of some NGOs, one in three women are either pregnant or breast-feeding and are unable to properly nurture their children.

The reason why this is a dire humanitarian crisis is one of the many reasons why people are having to live like this.

And two months, remember, these are sheets strung around an olive tree. This is what they're having to use as a tent because the main camps here are completely full. And they stretch for miles, these main camps. They've become permanent structures. They just don't have tents. They can't absorb a larger population.

And what's happening, especially on the southern part of the province, you have this very intense bombing campaign. Look, we were down there. It's terrifying. There are fighter jets in the skies at almost all times. Hospitals are being bombed. People's livelihood -- most of these people are farmers. There's a baby over here who is just a few months old I want to show

you as I'm talking about all of this.

But people's farms, their agricultural lands are being bombed. And the thing is, they have nowhere else to go. They're right up against the border with Turkey. That border is shut.

And so as they're being push, this population is literally being crushed with no one to be able to protect it or save it.

Newborn baby over there, Kate.

And so many people here are telling us, why is it that eight years on, the world is still watching? Why is it that we are being continuously used as political pawns and why nobody is showing us a shred of compassion or understanding or trying to do anything to bring this kind of suffering to an end?

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for shining a spotlight on it, Arwa. You being there is everything. Thank you so much.

[11:49:21] We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: This just in from the White House. Vice President Mike Pence suddenly cancelling a planned trip today.

Let's get back over to the White House to figure out what's going on here. Sara Westwood is joining me once again.

Sarah, what are you hearing? Is everything OK?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we're still getting more information about why Vice President Mike Pence is not going to make it to that opioid event in Manchester, New Hampshire, that was scheduled this early afternoon.

But a source close to the vice president tells CNN that Vice President Pence was called back to the White House today but says that it's no cause for alarm. The vice president's office says this event in New Hampshire will be rescheduled.

Again, we do not have a lot of information about why it is that Vice President Pence is not going to make it to that event, but his office is saying he was called back to the White House to handle something.

And so we will bring you more information when we get it. But that event, that opioid event in New Hampshire, will not go forward today -- Kate?

[11:54:09] BOLDUAN: All right. Well, according to the White House, so far, no cause for alarm on this very last-minute change in plans and schedule. Let's see what comes from it.

Sarah, thanks so much. Appreciate it. Coming up, new fundraising numbers are out for Senator Bernie Sanders.

An impressive haul. But also impressive, the number that President Trump and the RNC just posted. More on the battle for dollars in the 2020 race after this.