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EARLY START

Washington Prepares for Fourth of July Trump-style; Border Agents' Facebook Posts Under Investigation; At Least 40 Killed in Libyan Migrant Center Strike; Two Women Nominated for Top European Union Jobs. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 4, 2019 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:02:56] MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump's July 4th extravaganza. Washington makes last-minute preparations to show off American military hardware for all the world to see.

Crisis on the southern U.S. border. Pictures drawn by children detained in border depict themselves in cages.

And later outrage and calls for action after a deadly airstrike hits a migrant center in Libya. The U.N. says it could amount to war crime.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Max Foster in London. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

Well, the sun will be rising in just a few hours' time in Washington, and with it comes an Independence Day celebration like the country has never seen before.

This year, Donald Trump will be center stage with his "Salute to America," a markedly military version of Fourth of July featuring tanks, fighter jets and a speech from the U.S. president. IN the backdrop, controversy over Mr. Trump's immigration policies. He now says he wants the 2020 Census to include a question on the people's citizenship.

First, though, the celebration and concerns from critics the president is blurring the line between patriotism and politics.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Armored vehicles rolling into Washington as the city prepares for President Trump's Independence Day extravaganza, which will feature those tanks parked at the Lincoln Memorial, military flyovers and a VIP section for his political allies, but there are concerns about the price tag.

Trump tweeting, "The cost of our great salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door. All we need is the fuel. We own the tanks and all."

But that's not so. The "Washington Post" reports the National Parks Service will divert $2.5 million from entrance and recreation fees to cover a fraction of the cost, money that's typically reserved for park improvement and the administration is refusing to reveal how much this will cost taxpayers overall.

[04:05:09] Trump's claim that the equipment is right next door is also misleading. Sources tell CNN the aircraft he wants must be brought in from California, Kentucky, Missouri and Florida.

Trump is also facing criticism from Democrats who say he's turning the patriotic holiday into a partisan one.

REP. JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Instead of addressing something like veteran homelessness, he's spending it on boosting his ego with a parade that's fundamentally about him and then getting tickets into the hands of wealthy donors for the Republican Party. What a waste of money.

COLLINS: CNN has learned that leaders at the Pentagon are also reluctant to put tanks and other armored vehicles on display.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: The truth is he's politicizing the armed forces when he does it this way. It's not a political event. It's an event that's supposed to bring the people of the country together.

COLLINS: Several top military chiefs won't attend the celebration Thursday and they're sending their deputies instead, though they say that's because they had prior plans. All this as the president is facing other setbacks at home.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: You go through all this detail and you're not allowed to ask whether or not somebody is a citizen?

COLLINS: Trump insisting he's not dropping his effort to add a citizenship question to the Census despite his Commerce Secretary saying he was. The president tweeting, "The new reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the citizenship question on the Census is incorrect or to state it differently, fake."

This after Wilbur Ross announced yesterday that the Census Bureau has started the process of printing the questionnaires without the question.

Meanwhile, Iran's president is now warning that his country will boost its uranium levels beyond what was in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a move that could further ramp up tensions with the United States.

(On camera): Now as we are approaching the final few hours before this event, White House officials are still scrambling behind the scenes to put the last-minute touches on the celebration for tomorrow, including still giving out tickets for some of those VIP members.

Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE) FOSTER: Amy Pope is with us. Associate fellow at Chatham House. What do you think?

AMY POPE, ASSOCIATE FELLOW, CHATHAM HOUSE: Look, this is highly unusual. First, having tanks coming through the streets of Washington. That is going to strike many, many Americans as very inconsistent with past practice. The American population in general is very weary of the military operating on its own shores and the president is just pushing the envelope here by turning the Fourth of July celebration, which is an incredibly popular holiday, hotdogs and fireworks, into what appears to be a celebration of the military.

FOSTER: Why do you think he's doing it?

POPE: I think he loves the generals. He loves the pomp and circumstance. It feeds into his concept of what it means to be the commander-in-chief. What's interesting, though, is that it's really at odds with what the Constitution says he should be doing. Right? The Constitution explicitly has a civilian as the head of the government. It has a civilian as the head of the secretary of Defense. It gives Congress the right to appropriate for the military and decide when to raise the military. And the president is really upending all of these because I think it feeds into his ideas of what it means to be great.

FOSTER: But the military has always been involved in these events so is he really doing anything that radical?

POPE: It's really the tanks, frankly. I mean, the military will often have parades. It is a celebration of America's independence, of America's power, its global leadership. All of that is important, but there are two things that are happening. One, it's the tanks rolling through the streets of Washington. Two, it's the fact that the president is really blurring the lines between the campaign for 2020 and what it means to be American. He's giving some of the best tickets to the event to his political donors. Right there that draws into question what his motivation is.

FOSTER: Do you think some of the military leaders showing a lack of strength, dare I say, because there's obviously some major reservations leaking out from the military side on this but they're not saying anything publicly? Perhaps because this is something relatively new. There is an opportunity for them to step back and assert their independence.

POPE: Well, there is a line here, right. The president is the commander-in-chief of the military.

FOSTER: So, they have to do what he says?

POPE: Right. So they -- they are -- it would be traditional for them to express their reservations behind closed doors and not do so publicly, but at the same time you don't have a secretary of Defense, right? You don't have someone who's in that position of authority and power to push back against the president and I think that is one of the weaknesses of where we are at this moment in time. FOSTER: How might it affects the, you know, operational status,

though, to really get involved in this? Aren't they making a big fuss about something?

POPE: Well, I think they're trying not to make a big fuss about it. They're going along with it it's -- as the tone is set by the White House, but you're not seeing any press releases coming out of the Pentagon, for example.

[04:10:10] The fact that many of the military generals are sending their deputies is a clear sign of discomfort and the fact that you have retired military generals, many of whom are nonpartisan, incredibly well respected publicly saying that they're uncomfortable with this, that's pretty much as far as we'd expect the military to go.

FOSTER: What about the argument that some of his supporters might get that you see these big celebrations, much bigger ones in places like North Korea, in France, or in other countries whereas the country with the biggest, the strongest military in the world doesn't have an opportunity to show itself off in that way and perhaps it is time that America had a similar event?

POPE: Well, I think the United States just has a long history here that can't just be erased. The birth of the country, the common law coming from the -- from England, actually, was quite suspicious of putting military at the front of the government. And that's continued and I think only exacerbated by the history of the United States. When you look even at the Declaration of Independence it was very clear that one of the major issues was the fact that the military was -- basically seemed to be taking over cities, being quartered in people's houses, not being held accountable for their wrongdoing.

And so the country, the structure of the country was really designed to keep the military in a particular box and to keep its focus overseas and not in the country except for in extraordinary circumstances.

FOSTER: If you put yourself in the shoes of a Trump supporter, though, in a crucial state, how do you think they're going to view this?

POPE: You know, frankly I think that they're not going to be too bothered by it. I mean, first of all, they don't seem to be bothered by much of anything he does. And it's hard to understand what might trigger a reaction. And at the same time, I do think there is going to be some portion of the population that revels in the sort of manifestation of power.

FOSTER: Yes.

POPE: Right? Showing how strong the United States is and won't necessarily be alive to what the more significant implications might be.

FOSTER: And what do you think he'll say in the speech then? How will he use this opportunity to further his cause?

POPE: If he is smart he will focus on his recent engagement with North Korea and China and show that he is strong and that he is demonstrating American power abroad, it's very likely that he'll turn this into another partisan mudslinging exercise. I think that would actually be very detrimental to him. He needs to show that he is the commander-in-chief. He needs to show that he can rise above petty partisan politics especially at this point in time and frankly to avoid a lawsuit that this is actually a campaign event for which he is spending lots and lots and lots of public money. He needs to really walk this line. Whether he can do that is a question.

FOSTER: Amy, we'll see. Thank you very much for joining us today.

President Trump defending how migrants are being treated meanwhile at U.S. border detention centers. A government watchdog sounded an urgent alarm on overcrowding on Tuesday. The inspector general published of photos of migrants crammed into cells, some of them standing room only. The report back to what Democrats who toured the facilities described on Twitter Mr. Trump said, "Our Border Patrol people are not hospital workers, doctors or nurses. The Democrats' bad immigration laws which could be easily are the problem. Great job by Border Patrol above and beyond. Many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than they were -- than where they came from and in far safer conditions as well."

But the complaints about the detention centers are growing and they come as some border agents are under investigation for racist and sexist posts in a Facebook group.

Nick Valencia has details on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were a lot of negative comments back and forth, agents bickering at each other.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, a veteran Border Patrol agent now speaking exclusively to CNN about the newly exposed secret Customs and Border Protection Facebook group calling itself "I'm 10- 15," where current and former Border Patrol agents reportedly made jokes about dead migrants, derogatory comments about Latina lawmakers, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and posted offensive memes.

In a tweet today, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan says he's ordering an immediate investigation into the offensive posts. And it comes as we learn about similar attitudes and comments being made by ICE agents, this time in thousands of documents obtained by two advocacy groups.

CNN reviewed some of the more than 5,000 documents released by the organization Mijente. In internal ICE e-mails from 2017, ICE was planning raids dubbed Operation Mega. One e-mail by an unidentified individual concludes with "Happy hunting" and "Target Building."

But in response to these new documents, ICE says it does not condone the use of offensive or politically charged language in reference to agency enforcement operations.

[04:15:02] Today, we're also hearing new details about what's going on inside those detention facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border. Dr. Sara Goza, the president-elect to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toured two of these facilities last week, describing the horror she witnessed firsthand.

DR. SARA GOZA, PRESIDENT-ELECT, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: When they opened the door, the first thing that we -- that hit us was a smell. And it was a smell of sweat, urine and feces. And there were young children, boys in there, unaccompanied boys in there, and they had no expressions on their faces. There was no laughing, no joking, no talking. I describe them almost like dog cages with people in each of them. And the silence were just hard to watch, hard to see.

VALENCIA: New pictures from inside a facility in McAllen, Texas, depict a similar scene. These were drawn by migrant children 10 and 11 years old, all held there, all three pictures drawn in marker with stark similarities, people behind bars held in cages.

These pictures revealed just one day after a DHS inspector general report released these images from inside Border Patrol stations in Texas, the report quoting a Border Patrol official who described the situation as a ticking time bomb.

On Monday, Texas Democrat Congressman Joaquin Castro visited the Clint border facility, capturing this picture of migrant women sharing a cramped cell.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): The system is completely broken. People's human rights are being abused. And it's not just about money. It's also about the standards of care.

VALENCIA: Nick Valencia, CNN, El Paso, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: In Arizona a truck driver has been arrested and charged with human smuggling. A Border Patrol agent pulled over his semi and found inside the trailer 33 people from Mexico and El Salvador. This included 12 children and a pregnant woman. Customs and Border Protection said the trailer had refrigeration but it wasn't running and temperatures inside the truck were close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or about 38 degrees Celsius.

And across an ocean, another tragic migrant story as dozens are killed in an airstrike on a detention center in Libya. An incident U.N. officials claimed could amount to a war crime. The details on that for you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:21:01] FOSTER: U.N. officials say the deadly attack on a migrant detention center in Libya amount to a war crime. At least 40 people were killed in the airstrike, dozens are wounded. Libya's internationally recognized government is being enforced its law to renegade General Khalifa Haftar who launched an offensive months ago to take over the capital Tripoli. But Haftar accuses militias tied to the government of orchestrating the airstrike. The migrant center is next to a military camp which has been a target of airstrikes for weeks now.

Becky Anderson has more on the attack and the dangers African migrants are facing in Libya which is a major hub for those trying to cross over to Italy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over): An attack on innocent civilians in the dead of the night. Emergency workers struggling to identify victims and body parts in the rubble of an airstrike. Parts of the Tajoura migrant detention center were brought to the ground. Many inside had no chance. Those who did survive rushed to recover their few possessions.

The center held at least 600 men, women and children from other countries. Refugees and migrants who'd fled other horrors, violence, persecution and economic repression in the search for a better life.

OTHMAN MUSA, NIGERIAN MIGRANT: All what we know is what we want U.N. to help people out of this place before this place is dangerous. There are some people that are stranded here, they don't know what to do. They don't know where to go.

ANDERSON: The U.N. says there needs be more than just condemnation. A full independent investigation to determine how and why this happened. To bring those responsible to account. No one has yet claimed responsibility. But the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli is blaming Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general whose forces have been fighting for control of the capital for more than a year.

EUGENIO AMBROSI, INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION: It's simply not acceptable that civilians are targeted, that the target of military action are area of the town where it's known that civilians are present and living and, therefore, knowing very well that the likelihood of high civilian casualties is very high.

ANDERSON: But the victims here had no part to play in the battle. And yet they paid the ultimate price.

Becky Anderson, CNN, Abu Dhabi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: Two women are being selected for top jobs in the European Union. Christine Lagarde, currently head of the International Monetary Fund, was nominated to lead the European Central Bank and German Defense Minister von der Leyen was tapped to run the European Commission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

URSULA VON DER LEYEN, GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): A lot rests on this. It is about the future of our Europe. We have a long and difficult election process behind us but now it is absolutely vital to show unity, absolutely vital that we form our combined passion for our Europe that is so important in this world and that needs to be heard and seen. These are our goals for the next 14 days. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: The European parliament still has to confirm the nominees. As CNN's Anna Stewart explains, they weren't the likely choices either.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, these nominations come after a marathon set of talks in Brussels which expose deep division in the block. Neither Ursula von der Leyen or Christine Lagarde were frontrunners for these jobs. Both are considered to be compromised candidates.

So let's look at the top job for E.U. Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. She is Germany's Defense minister, a hawkish conservative and that's considered to have placated Hungary's hardline leader Viktor Orban. Also, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to be pleased that her own party is nominated for this job. However, the ruling coalition party in German fiercely opposed it. And as a result, public Merkel has actually abstained from voting for her.

Now von der Leyen is generally considered to be divisive politician in Germany and she could face lots of opposition when it comes to European parliament.

[04:25:02] They have to approve her nomination by an absolute majority in less than two weeks' time. Now if she fails to win their approval, it's back to the drawing board for the 28 E.U. leaders.

With a German taking the top job, it should come as little surprise that the nominated candidate for ECB president is French, balancing the most powerful and most influential of the E.U. members. Now Christine Lagarde is considered to be something of a financial rock star. Former French Finance minister, current head of the IMF and a well-respected leader on the international stage. However, there are critics and they have said she is not qualified for this job. She lacks an economics degrow. She lacks experience in monetary policy. She's never worked for instance at a central bank.

However, European markets are cheered by the news. Equity markets generally traded higher. Bond deals pushed down even lower. German, French, Belgian tenured bond yields all in negative territory. And you know what, it shows investors think Lagarde is cut from the same economic cloth as the current ECB president Mario Draghi. Rates expected to stay lower for longer and more fiscal stimulus potentially in the wings.

What is undeniably positive about all of this is the fact that all four European leaders to be nominated, two are women. It shows that the E.U. is finally delivering on years of lip service for a better gender balance at the top.

I'm Anna Stewart in London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: And you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Still to come, on again, off again, on again. Confusion abounds over a controversial question President Trump wants to include in next year's U.S. Census despite a Supreme Court ruling against it. We'll discuss that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: Welcome back. I'm Max Foster in London. We're going to update you on the top stories this hour which is hours away from Independence Day celebrations in the U.S. capitol and this year's festivities will bear the military mark of Donald --

[04:30:00]