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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Acting U.S. Citizenship And Immigration Services Director, Ken Cuccinelli; Trump Administration Changes Citizenship Rules; Biden Appears To Conflate Details In Afghan War Hero Story; Trump Cancels Trip To Poland Because Of Hurricane Threat. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired August 29, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I whacked that bear as hard as I could, both hands. You would have thought I was a Louisville Slugger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Wow.

When asked what may have attracted the bears, Johnson says he made shrimp burgers and zucchini for dinner.

That does it for me. "THE LEAD" starts right now.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Has President Trump just given some parents in the military a new reason to worry?

THE LEAD starts right now.

One Navy officer says military spouses are freaking out over a new rule that could make it more difficult for children of service members living abroad to become U.S. citizens. Trump administration official Ken Cuccinelli will join me live.

He said it was the God's truth, but a new report says Joe Biden mixed up almost every detail of a moving anecdote he often tells on the campaign trail.

Plus, President Trump reportedly considering a new plan that would get him and put in Putin's good graces that might make even his supporters mad.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Dana Bash, in for Jake Tapper.

We start with the national lead, and the Trump administration changing the rules again, creating a new obstacle for some members of the military who risk their lives to serve the United States.

Now it may be harder for some of their children to become U.S. citizens. It's part of a pattern by this administration to crack down on legal immigrants, never mind illegal immigration.

Just yesterday, two officials confirmed to CNN President Trump said he was willing to pardon any aides who might break the law trying to finish construction of his border wall. He ordered the raids on nearly 700 undocumented workers in Mississippi. The roundups left children crying, wondering what happened to their parents.

CNN's Alex Marquardt breaks down the latest rule on legal immigrants serving America overseas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The new policy is being met with confusion, fear and anger, as it takes aim at new and non-U.S. citizens who are serving the United States overseas.

WILL GOODWIN, VOTEVETS: So we have service members at work today who didn't sleep well last night because they're worried about their families. They're worried about the citizenship of their own kids, as they're supposed to be doing their jobs to protect the rest of us.

MARQUARDT: The policy is complicated. At its core, it takes away a residency exception made for some people serving the U.S. only because they're overseas.

The kids of natural-born citizens or those who have spent longer than five years in the U.S. won't be affected. Those who are impacted fall into three main groups. The children born to American parents serving overseas who have lived in the U.S. under five years will now need to apply for citizenship. The new children of parents serving the United States who only become citizens after the child is born, they too have to apply.

And if U.S. citizen parents serving overseas adopt a foreign child while serving, that child also has to apply.

MARTIN LESTER, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: This has nothing to do with people coming across the border without authorization. This has nothing to do with people who are threats to the United States. This is a specific policy to keep certain children of active-duty military members from being U.S. citizens.

MARQUARDT: The Pentagon says this will impact around 100 people per year. The Department of Homeland Security argues that it's far lower, around 25.

Thousands of immigrants serve in the U.S. military, risking their lives. Troops and their families don't have much of a say over where they're deployed. So the new policy is, in essence, a punishment.

GOODWIN: Having served alongside immigrants who felt that patriotic call to serve, it's a total insult to their service.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MARQUARDT: And, Dana, we have to note that this new policy is not making anyone ineligible for citizenship. And the Department of Homeland Security says it's just aligning itself with current State Department policy.

But what this does, it does create a headache, a lengthy process of applying for citizenship for these kids, with lots of paperwork for their parents, who have asked to serve the United States, and then are apparently being penalized for doing so -- Dana.

BASH: Alex, thank you so much for that report.

Joining me now is acting director of U.S. citizenship and immigration services, Ken Cuccinelli

So, these are Americans working for the U.S. government being sent overseas by the U.S. government to serve the U.S. government. So why are they targeted with this policy?

KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES: Well, you used the word targeted, Dana, and I take real offense to that.

We have brought ourselves in compliance with the law. And as was noted at the very end of that report, we have made ourselves consistent with the Department of State.

So what was going on before was that the USCIS is approach to working these children up to be citizens was not consistent with the State Department's or the law.

[16:05:06]

So we were acting illegally. We have brought ourselves into compliance with the law. And so what was happening and what's happening now is, you get your documentation from USCIS, and you can go to the State Department, bring that child, and they wouldn't give them a passport as a U.S. citizen, because they weren't legally qualified as a U.S. citizen.

Now all of that will mesh together correctly. This only applies to about 20 to 25 people a year. And no one should for a moment think this incredibly pro-military president would ever do anything like I just listened to minutes of attacking, oh, this is another attack. It's another attack.

This is complying with the law in a way that actually, where there was still paperwork required before, there's paperwork required after. And now it will work better.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: OK, so you're saying it's complying with the law. I'm going to ask you about that in a second.

But this is what you all released, a half-a-page which did link to a longer policy manual, but on it, this is what created the concern and the chaos among military...

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI: I fully -- well, no, what created it was the firestorm.

No military members went reading the policy...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: The firestorm was created by the confusion in what you all were doing. Fair?

CUCCINELLI: No. The firestorm was created...

BASH: So, you think it was clear?

CUCCINELLI: No, I don't think it was clear. I just said it was a policy manual. This is like a reference manual for the career professionals who process this paperwork.

And they had paperwork to do before this change takes effect. And they have paperwork to do after that. Again, the last comment wasn't accurate. Again, these are people who have just changed the process. No one is denied citizenship who has access to it before. It doesn't apply to anyone born in this country. It doesn't apply to people born to American citizens overseas.

And you all have zeroed in on the military, but it doesn't just fit for military members. It applies to civilians and others as well, including expatriates.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Fair.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: OK. But it is members, people who are serving the U.S. military asked to go overseas by the U.S. government in service of America.

CUCCINELLI: And those folks actually have a statutory provision just for them that all that time overseas under orders counts as if they were in the United States for purposes of their children's citizenship.

BASH: So, if that's the case, then why the change?

Again, this is chaotic. I mean, this is not the first time we have seen this kind of chaos.

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI: I freely concede -- oh, and you -- as I heard the lead- in, that's all President Trump's fault. This is a complicated area of law. Paperwork is required to comply

with the law. It only applies to children born in another country who were not born U.S. citizens. So it doesn't affect birthright citizenship. It doesn't affect anybody born in the United States, legal or illegal parents, doesn't matter. Doesn't affect any of them.

These are children born who, when they were born, were not U.S. citizens, who are trying to be made U.S. citizens by their parents. And it's the paperwork they have to file. That's it.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: But it does delay the eligibility.

CUCCINELLI: No, it changes what they have to do.

They have to have -- OK. So there's a -- what this was about legally was the definition of in residence. So you're not residing in the United States if you're on a military base.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Right. So, if they're sent by the U.S...

CUCCINELLI: Can I finish, please?

BASH: Sure.

CUCCINELLI: If they're -- if you're in another country, you -- on a military base, that is not in residence under the statute.

Congress set these rules. We didn't set these rules. We have been breaking the rules for the -- to make it easier for people. And then they couldn't get passports. So now we're -- we're meshing all of that together, so when they get their documentation through USCIS, they will smoothly be able to operate with the State Department, and those children will more easily travel back to the United States.

BASH: OK.

So now I will finish my question, which was, is it a fact that the people who are going abroad and in service of the United States, asked by the U.S. to do that, are -- because of that, being -- their children's residency or citizenship is being delayed because they are not in the U.S., because the government asked them to do that?

CUCCINELLI: Well, first of all, there's two categories, military and civilian.

BASH: OK.

CUCCINELLI: And I mentioned the military. They have their own special statute.

For civilians, it would only be if the parents weren't U.S. citizens. And you still have to get -- even if you're a U.S. citizen, you have to get -- you have to get proof of the birth. You still have to do paperwork.

Nobody escapes paperwork, even U.S. citizens whose children are U.S. citizens.

BASH: So let me just ask you.

CUCCINELLI: It's when they're not a U.S. citizen born in another country.

BASH: Part of the reason why the freak-out, frankly, is because this isn't happening in a vacuum.

This is a change that came after another change in legal immigration that you put in place since you came into the administration a few weeks ago, making it harder to get into the country, visa and green card, if it means getting federal assistance.

[16:10:05]

And you said after that, now famously: "The Statue of Liberty should say, give me your tired, your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."

CUCCINELLI: Of course, I didn't say that.

BASH: So...

CUCCINELLI: I answered a reporter's question.

You -- read the first few words of what you just read. I didn't say that's what it should say. I deal with the law, not poetry.

BASH: OK. Fair. You're not a poet.

But the point is, is that the law, which you deal with, changed. And, again, it's on the heels of that...

CUCCINELLI: No, the law did not change. The regulation implemented a law passed on a bipartisan basis in 1996.

We're using 140-year...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: The rule to implement the law changed.

CUCCINELLI: That's true.

BASH: And so that is part of a pattern. That's why people are -- think, when they saw the change, and it wasn't clear, they said, oh, this might be part of the pattern that started earlier this week -- this month.

CUCCINELLI: The headlines didn't say, this might be.

The headlines were declaring all over that deny -- we were not deny -- and you know this -- you saw it yourself, I'm sure -- citizenship will be denied to the children of military members. I mean, those are headlines all over the place. And that was never true anywhere.

BASH: Citizenship delayed is the...

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI: That is not what headlines were saying yesterday.

BASH: But is that the right way to say it?

CUCCINELLI: No, it isn't.

No. Paperwork changed to get citizenship. But as your own reporter said, the one thing he did get right is that no one who before this paperwork change went into place could get citizenship can no longer get citizenship.

BASH: OK, you might be talking about headlines. We have very good immigration reporters.

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI: I listened to the report as I sat here. About a quarter of it was correct.

BASH: They understood it.

One last question before I go. One last one last thing before I go.

You said in a tweet this is not about birthright citizenship. And it's not.

CUCCINELLI: Right.

BASH: The president, though, separately has hinted in recent weeks more about changing birthright citizenship.

Are you on a path to doing that in the Trump administration?

CUCCINELLI: Nothing we're doing in my agency, USCIS, is related to that or is pursuing that, nothing we're doing right now.

BASH: And do you have any information about it being done more broadly?

CUCCINELLI: I run my agency, and I have no other information, other than what you have seen publicly.

BASH: Ken Cuccinelli, thank you for coming in. Thank you for explaining it. Appreciate it.

CUCCINELLI: Dana, good to be with you.

BASH: The former vice president has a war story he likes to tell on the campaign trail, closing with -- quote -- "my word as a Biden," but a new report says the specifics of his story are mostly wrong.

Plus, with a hurricane on the way, President Trump's message for Florida is very different than his message for Puerto Rico.

That's ahead.

[04:15:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: It's a powerful story Former Vice President Joe Biden tells on the campaign trail, including just six days ago, but according to "The Washington Post" it's a story that's made up of three different events that Biden has conflated into a single incident. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq over 30 times, pin medals on silver stars on soldiers up in the upper Kunar Valley in the middle of the firestorm the poor guys have gone through, young navy captain, navy, navy, up in the mountains in the Kunar Valley in Afghanistan.

One of his buddies got shot fell down a have a ravine about 60 feet, Four-Star General asked me would I go up into the fog. Now everybody got concerned of a Vice President going up into the middle of this, but we can lose a Vice President. We can't lose many more of these kids. Not a joke.

This guy climbed down a ravine, carried this guy up on his back under fire, and the General wanted me to pin the Silver Star on him. I got up there, and stand as a God's truth to my word as a Biden, he stood at his attention. I went to pin him, he said I don't want the damn thing. Do not pin it on me sir, please sir, do not do that. He died. He died.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: "The Washington Post" found that Biden was a Senator, not the Vice President when he visited Kunar Province Afghanistan in 2008. The service member honored in that instance was an army specialist, not a navy captain, and Biden did not pin the medal on him.

Biden did award the bronze star to then Staff Sergeant Chad Workman in 2011, for his heroic actions in Afghanistan. Biden responded to the Charleston Posting Career last this afternoon saying "I don't understand what they're talking about, but the central point is it was absolutely accurate what I said. The story was that he refused the medal, because the fellow tried to save and risked his life saving died. That's the beginning, middle and end, the rest of you guys can take it and do what you want with it".

We are back with our panel. Begala, I'm going to start with you because when I ask you, if you were inside the Biden campaign right now, what would you do? PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRAGETIST: I would play a movie called -- I looked it up "A Wing and A Prayer" and in that movie there's a scene where a B-17 bomber is going down, the plane is going down and there's a wounded crewmate, the crewmate can't escape. And so the pilot reaches over and takes his hand, so it's never mind, son, we'll ride this down together.

That pilot won a Congressional Medal of Honor. That's baloney, that's a movie. Ronald Reagan told that story word for word to a roomful of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, and we loved it. He was asked about it later, so I did see the movie, I might have seen it in the reader's digest, and then he said or maybe I've seen too many war movies the heroics of which sometimes I confused with real life.

So maybe Joe Biden has seen too much real life heroics and he is conflated and confused it. I'm not for Biden or against him. I don't have a candidate in this, but I think Joe should embrace this. He has been to Afghanistan more times than almost anybody I know who's not in the service. He got to embrace it.

BASH: So not a big deal?

BEGALA: This is like Reagan, not like Trump. Trump says he's the chosen one. Apparently he's Jesus now and we're supposed to think that's amusing.

[04:20:00]

BASH: It's not the 1980s anymore, and this is a big problem I think. The fact that it's not the 1980s anymore it's going to be a problem for the Biden campaign. We now live in an era where would Hillary Clinton said, Oh I ran across a tarmac under sniper fire, that got proven to not to be too and it was problem for her. When Brian Williams at NBC he sort of mixed up the details pertaining to - being overseas incumbent zones that was a problem for him. You can't do this anymore it's not the 1980s.

BEGALA: That was about their heroism. Joe is talking about soldiers' heroism. It's a huge difference. Everything Trump lies about is about himself and self for brandishing. Joe Biden got facts conflated and confused about service member's heroism. That's fine with me.

BASH: But I think the problem he could run into is, you know, Trump obviously has a -- doesn't have much relationship with the truth in a lot of ways, and it's going to be hard for Democrats to have a candidate that has some similar issues, maybe not to the same scale, but it provides a contrast point. That could be problematic when you have other candidates that haven't done this, that haven't conflated anything, that haven't maybe pushed the truth a little bit too much.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: I think that -- it's not the 1980s. It's also a different time than just two cycles ago. So the fact that a lot of Democratic strategists are trying to figure out if they're operating in a post-gaffe world in the political realm because of the fact that Trump has made some 12,000 or more false or misleading statements, and continues to do so. So whether or not it actually will hurt their candidate that much if they embellish here or there. And Biden has, yes, gotten locations wrong, but he claims that the essence of the story the one about Workman is accurate, and it appears to be, but he has repeatedly -- there has been a pattern of him getting locations wrong, getting certain names wrong, and whether or not that actually even impacts him with the Democratic base.

BASH: It is true; it's not a singular incident. It's a question about a pattern, and just on the raw politics of this, how does that play?

BEAGLA: If I'm Joe I will lean into it. I say, yeah, maybe I got one heroism confused with another heroism. You know what I won't do? I won't confuse Neo-Nazis with very fine people. I won't confuse honorable immigrants with rapists and murders that's what Donald Trump.

In other words, he's got to lean into this. If he plays not to win, if he becomes too risk-averse, he's going to make gaffes, he's Joe Biden, but if he gets too risk-averse that's when he is going to screw up and lose. I think he should lean in and embrace it.

BASH: I want to ask you just real quick. You mention the question about post-gaffe world. You as pollster to focus groups you talk to voters a lot. Is that a thing? Or is this the ability to survive gaffes a Trump phenomenon?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & POLLSTER: For Donald Trump it's definitely -- you see a turbulent news cycle, he says things that are way outside the norm of what we expect what Presidents will do and his numbers don't move. I don't know if that's transferrable to everyone else in American politics.

We're going to learn this cycle is Donald Trump an aberration in the way he defies some of the laws of traditional political gravy or are we now -- has that just changed in the environment? I don't know, even if environment has changed, I'm still not sure that for Joe Biden.

Yes, his gaffes are in some way sort of priced into where stands in the polls now. But can he expand beyond that about 30 percent of Democratic that support him? If they worry about, can he actually take on Donald Trump head to head in the general?

BASH: Okay, everybody stand by the newest proposal from President Trump, that at least one Republicans is calling unacceptable and wrong, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:25:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: All resources of the Federal Government are focused on the arriving storm. I have decided to send our Vice President Mike Pence to Poland this weekend in my place. It's something very important for me to be here this storm.

(END VIDEO CLUP)

BASH: That was President Trump just moments ago, announcing he is going to skip a planned trip to Poland because of Hurricane Dorian. And the President today is striking a radically different tone, as Dorian strengthens and targets Florida.

This afternoon the President is facing backlash not just from Democrats, also Republicans for considering a move sure to make Vladimir Putin happy as CNN's Pamela Brown reports from the White House.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two hurricane targets, two very different responses from the President. Today Trump telling people in Florida, their State's Republican Govern Ron Desantis has it until control.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They're going to be totally ready and we have a great Governor there, he's doing an incredible job. Very popular, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: A stark contrast to his reaction Wednesday as Hurricane Dorian barreled towards storm watch (ph) Puerto Rico. Tweeting their leaders are either incompetent or corrupt, adding he was the best thing that's ever happened to Puerto Rico of reference to his two-year feud with Puerto Rico over the federal disaster response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Hurricane Dorian is now expected to strengthen to a category 4, and is on track to hit South Florida, where there are 11 Trump Organization- owned properties, including Trump's winter home Mar-a-Lago which last closed in 2017 during Hurricane Irma.