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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short; President Trump Defends Family Separation Policy; Trump Advisor Admits to Secret Meeting to Discuss Clinton 'Dirt.'; Officials Fear ISIS May Deploy Bomb-Carrying Drones. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 18, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: Migrant camp. President Trump insists the U.S. won't be a holding facility for undocumented immigrants, as administration officials struggle to defend the policy of separating families at the border.
Tonight, the backlash is growing, as some Republicans warn that innocent children are being treated immorally.
Not a witch-hunt. The FBI director flatly rejects the president's attacks on the special counsel. A Senate hearing on the bureau's handling of the Clinton e-mail probe morphing into a partisan sparring match over the Russia investigation.
Roger's recollection. New details tonight on another offer to provide the Trump camp with dirt on Hillary Clinton. Roger Stone now admits he took part in a secret meeting with a Russian back in 2016. Why didn't he tell that to congressional investigators?
And pardon delays. Rudy Giuliani says he is advising the president not to use his pardon power in the Russia probe now, hinting Mr. Trump might grant clemency once the investigation is over.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the exploding outrage over the Trump administration's new zero tolerance immigration policy, as hundreds of children are being separated from their families at the southern border.
Just a little while ago, we heard the homeland security secretary defend the crackdown, denying children are being abused, and attempting to deflect the blame by accusing Democrats of being cowards.
I will get reaction from the White House director of legislative affairs, Marc Short, and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, you were there in the White House Briefing Room. It was delayed for hours. But, finally, the secretary of homeland security came out and spoke.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, she did.
And if there was any question if this administration, if this president was going to back down under this withering criticism really across the political spectrum, that question was indeed answered in the White House Briefing Room by the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, who gave no inch, no quarter on this administration policy.
In fact, she said it wasn't a policy. They were simply enforcing the law. She called on Congress again and again and again to fix it. Wolf, she was asked repeatedly about what she thought of all of the blowback from this, particularly from the first ladies, Laura Bush first and foremost.
She said essentially she can speak her mind and she's glad they are drawing attention to this problem, but Congress needs to fix it. That was the answer again and again, that Congress needs to fix this.
But, Wolf, we also asked the secretary directly whether some of these searing images we are seeing, some of these sounds we are hearing from the those detention centers with the chain-link fences constitute child abuse. This is what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: How is this not child abuse?
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Which -- be more specific, please. Enforcing the law?
QUESTION: The images that Cecilia was talking about and the sounds that we have seen from these big box stores, the Wal-Marts and the other stores, when you see this, how is this not specifically child abuse for these innocent children who are indeed being separated from their parents?
NIELSEN: So, I want to be couple -- clear on a couple other things, that the vast majority, vast, vast majority of children who are in the care of HHS right now, 10,000 of the 12,000, were sent here alone by their parents. That's when they were separated.
So, somehow, we have conflated everything. But there's two separate issues; 10,000 of those currently in custody were sent by their parents with strangers to undertake a completely dangerous and deadly travel alone.
We now care for them. We have high standards. We give them meals. We give them education. We give them medical care. There's videos, there's TVs. I visited the detention centers myself. That would be my answer to that question.
QUESTION: If I could follow up, the hundreds that are not included in there -- you said 10,000, but for the hundreds that we have seen, perhaps up to 2,000, is there -- are there any examples of child abuse, do you believe?
And how could this not be child abuse for the people who are taken from their parents, not the ones who were sent here with their parents' blessing with the smugglers, the people who are taken from their parents?
NIELSEN: Unfortunately, I'm not in any position to deal with hearsay stories.
If someone has a specific allegation, as I always do when I testify, I ask that they provide that information to the Department of Homeland Security. We will look into it. Of course, we do not want any situation where a child is not completely adequately taken care of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So, Secretary Nielsen there clearly saying that she was not going to deal with hearsay stories.
But, Wolf, we're seeing those images. It's one of the reasons that this is now being disgusted so much. And it's drawing so much response across the board.
Wolf, we should point out, in a city like this, where things are dug in, this is a different type of debate. Republicans on Capitol Hill uncomfortable by those images, what they are seeing there. Senator John Cornyn, in fact, the number two Republican in the Senate, from Texas, of course, he says that Congress needs to make a fix of some kind this week.
But, Wolf, this certainly seems to be a bigger moment. But, after that, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, we also had the chance to ask her a question. And a specific one was, would the president sign a fix to this bill without getting his funding for the border wall?
Of course, that is something that has held up immigration reform overall. She said that the president not interested in a Band-Aid- type fix. Wants to do the entire fix.
So, Wolf, this ends this day in as much of a stalemate as it was before. And important to note the historical comparisons being drawn here. Laura Bush talked about the Japanese internment, a painful and wrong chapter in U.S. history. It's also been compared to the Holocaust and other matters here.
So, one thing we didn't hear today, Wolf, from those briefings was any sense of emotion or any sense of how the president reacted to those images. We, of course, know that he watches a lot of television. And, surely, he had a reaction. But this administration is not letting us into the emotional side, the window into that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you, Jeff Zeleny reporting from the White House.
Let's get reaction to what we just heard from the White House and from the secretary of homeland security.
We are going to get reaction from someone who has been unexpectedly very vocal about this border policy, retired General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the NSA, the National Security Agency. He is a CNN national security analyst.
General Hayden, thanks so much for joining us.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: You listened very closely.
BLITZER: We all did to what Secretary Nielsen had to say. What was your reaction?
HAYDEN: Disappointing. Frustrated.
This is a very complicated issue. But one of the things that concerned me over the weekend was evidence that we have lost the ability to even make semi-difficult decisions. We have lost the ability to govern ourselves. I get the border question is complicated.
But it shouldn't be on -- it should not be beyond our capacity to resolve it in a way that's broadly satisfactory for everyone concerned. And there you saw in full display for well over an hour. Imagine what the rest of the world now looks and views and judges what's going on in the world's greatest democracy.
BLITZER: Because a lot of people watching...
BLITZER: ... not only here in the United States, but around the world, are saying, what's going on? Why is the United States taking 3- and 4- and 5-year-old kids away from their moms?
HAYDEN: Yes. And it was very clear. All right? It was very clear that these young people are being used as leverage, used as leverage to deter people from coming across the border, OK, but also used as leverage politically.
They don't want the clean bill, simple solution. The euphemism is comprehensive reform, which means a far broader answer that politically is going to be very hard to get. But they seem insensitive then to what happens to these young folks. BLITZER: You caused quite a stir over the weekend when you posted a
picture -- and I will put it up on the screen -- of the Birkenau death camp at Auschwitz. There it is right there. I visited there. You visited there.
And then you wrote this: "Other governments have separated mothers and children."
Tell us why you decided to make this comparison.
Yes, so I have been to Birkenau, all right? I have walked up and down that railroad sighting. And that's exactly what happened. That's where families were separated. And you know, Wolf. You have been there. You sit there, and it's hard to let the evil enter into you, it's so great.
Now, I am not saying what's going on at our southern border is any way like what happened in Birkenau. Actually, there's a companion tweet to that. What I said to that was, as you walk through that portal, all right, it's impossible to casually assume civilization, civilized life is a given.
So, what I was trying to describe was something broader, even broader than what's going on, on the southern border. It's what's happening to us as a people. I showed the picture of Birkenau in 1944, but my story is Berlin 1933.
You had a new government in power with a cult of personality, a cult of nativism, a cult of untruth, a cult where it was acceptable to punish the marginalized segments of society.
Now, I'm not saying our needle is in the red. I'm not saying we're becoming Nazis. But, Wolf, what I was trying to say was the needle is moving in the wrong direction. I -- the way I described it to myself before I hit send was, the skies are darkening, and I want to send up a flare.
BLITZER: But you understand the controversy...
HAYDEN: Oh, I do.
BLITZER: ... with any comparison to the Holocaust.
BLITZER: Yes, the kids were brought in the trains to Birkenau, which was at Auschwitz.
BLITZER: I speak with some authority on this. My grandparents were murdered at Auschwitz. HAYDEN: I know.
BLITZER: And my dad survived, but two of his brothers and two of his sisters were killed at Auschwitz. They were separated.
They weren't separated to go to some other facility. They were separated to die.
HAYDEN: Oh, I know.
BLITZER: They were killed.
BLITZER: So, when you make the comparison to Auschwitz, that's such a powerful image. And you understand the criticism you are getting for that. As bad as this policy is, it's certainly not Auschwitz.
HAYDEN: I fully understand. And if that offended anyone, they have my deepest and most sincere apologies.
But what I was trying to describe, Wolf -- and, actually, what I tried to work with in the book that I just wrote was that, you know, these things we take for granted shouldn't be taken for granted. The Germans are one of the most civilized people on Earth, and yet they were capable of that because they didn't take great care.
So, again, I knew it would be controversial. But I felt a warning flare was necessary.
BLITZER: Obviously, you are so, so concerned about what's going on.
BLITZER: And all of us are concerned. We see these heartbreaking images. And it's so, so awful to see what's going on.
HAYDEN: But it's beyond the images. And it's beyond this particular problem, Wolf. As bad as this is, this is symptomatic of something more broad in American society, I fear.
BLITZER: Tell us about the fears. When you mention 1933 Germany, what are the fears that you see?
Well, I see a move towards nativism.
BLITZER: Here in this country?
HAYDEN: Here in the United States, yes.
Look, blood and soil. Blood and soil. Sounds familiar. That used to be unacceptable. And for God's sake...
BLITZER: That's what we heard at Charlottesville.
BLITZER: "Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us."
HAYDEN: Right. Right.
And I'm saying the president embraces that or the administration embraces that. But because of some things the president and the administration have done, Wolf, the center line of acceptable American discourse has changed.
And now suddenly that's not so far out there that you never hear it. It's tucked up here against the edge and moving more towards the center. That should be scary.
BLITZER: Your entire career was built in the military and intelligence. And we are grateful for your service.
Why are not more people coming out right now and speaking out against this policy as passionately, as strongly as you are?
HAYDEN: Well, I'm not alone. I mean, there are actually, quite surprisingly, a lot of folks with kind of my background, Jim Clapper, John Brennan, Phil Mudd, John McLaughlin, Mike Morell, who are out there expressing this.
Maybe it's because, in our intelligence lives, we have seen the face of evil. Maybe in our intelligence lives we have seen societies that should have been healthy turned very unhealthy. Maybe in our intelligence lives we have recognized how fragile these things really are.
Wolf, I hate no one. But I'm scared.
BLITZER: When you say you are scared, is this the most frightening moment in your history right now?
HAYDEN: So, I go around and I give talks to folks. And it's usually, what keeps you awake at night? In other words, they want to know, what do I think are the most serious global problems?
And you know the answer I give them now, Wolf? Us. We are the most destabilizing force in the world. We have lost -- we are a credo nation. We have believed throughout our existence that you get to be an American by believing in certain things. I'm just not sure that's holding.
BLITZER: So, you -- but what I hear you saying, you have not seen anything like this in your career?
HAYDEN: Not in my homeland.
Now, look, I have got some degrees in history. I know about the Know- Nothing Party. I know about the darkness in the '20s and the '30s. I get that.
But, in my personal life, I have not seen this.
BLITZER: So, if the president is watching you right now, what's your message to President Trump?
HAYDEN: Mr. President, do not use division as your tool of governance. Look to bring us together, not divide us. Actually, you are in a unique position. You can pull some people into coalition that no other president has had the ability to do.
BLITZER: General Hayden, thank you so much for joining us.
HAYDEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much, Michael Hayden.
Let's go live to the U.S. border with Mexico right now for the latest on the fate of those children torn from their families.
CNN's Nick Valencia is in Brownsville, Texas.
Nick, what can you tell us about the situation on the border right now, especially those kids?
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight in Brownsville, we're learning about a facility, where children, all under the age of 10 years old, are brought after they are separated from their parents.
We tried earlier today to gain access to that facility. But we were denied access by the security. We did, however, catch up with Congressman Filemon Vela, who was able to get inside. And what he describes is just heartbreaking, 80 children, all under the age of 10, both boys and girls, separated from their families, half of them in there -- he estimates about 40 of them -- had just been recently ripped away from their families.
He described seeing a child as young as 5 years old. And in perhaps the most chilling detail, Wolf, he says he saw a room for toddlers, he says, that shows that these facilities are anticipating children, babies under age of 1 years old, being ripped apart from their families as well.
Now, the White House claims that these centers, at these processing centers, is where the processing and the separation of these children from their parents is happening. But, tonight, we are getting disturbing audio of 10 Central American children who were separated in the field by Border Patrol just last week.
We have to warn some of our viewers, you may find this audio disturbing.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD (through translator): I don't want them to stop my father. I don't want them to deport him.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD (through translator): Daddy!
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD (through translator): Daddy! Daddy!
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD (through translator): Mommy!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Well, we have an orchestra here, right? What we're missing is a conductor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Don't cry.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
VALENCIA: Critics of President Trump's zero tolerance immigration policy say he is turning the American dream into the American nightmare -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's a nightmare.
Nick Valencia, thank you very much.
What audio -- what powerful audio that is.
Let's get some perspective from the Trump administration.
We're joined now by the White House director of legislative affairs, Marc Short.
Marc, thanks very much for joining us.
MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: Thanks for having me
BLITZER: You hear that audio, those kids screaming, "Mommy, daddy." They are being torn apart. What's your reaction to that?
SHORT: Wolf, it's heart-wrenching. It's heart-wrenching for anybody to...
BLITZER: But how you can defend that?
SHORT: Wolf, I'm -- what I'm going to defend is -- what I say is indefensible is what the law is currently.
So, let's through it, because I think there's a lot of misinformation about this so far. In 1997, there was a Flores decision between INS and HHS that says children of immigrants coming here illegally need to be handed over to HHS. In 2008, that was codified into law and signed by President Bush.
The law says that they are to be handed over to HHS within 48 hours. The Ninth Circuit has determined a reasonable amount of time that children can be in detention is up to 20 days. That is it.
BLITZER: But the Bush administration didn't implement that. The Obama administration didn't implement that.
This is a new policy we're seeing now from the Trump administration. And Kirstjen Nielsen, she said, we will no longer have these exemptions.
SHORT: So, once President Bush signed that bill in 2008, we were left with a binary choice.
One is, you can take parents and children and release them into American society with expectation that one day they will show up in court.
BLITZER: But other presidents had that choice. And they decided not to rip these kids away from their parents.
SHORT: And it wasn't until after 2008. And it was the Obama administration today.
BLITZER: That was the Bush administration and the Obama administration. Neither did that.
SHORT: Wolf, even "The New York Times," "The New York Times," not a friend of conservatives, in 2014 said the Obama administration says the law is partly responsible for tying its hands in dealing with the current influx of children. They acknowledged the law.
BLITZER: But those were children who came without their parents.
SHORT: They acknowledged...
BLITZER: What's new this time -- there's a difference between smugglers bringing in these kids or parents bringing in these kids.
BLITZER: And what's new this time is that the parents are being separated from the kids.
SHORT: And the choice is, is binary, to separate the children or instead within 20 days to let the parents and the children go free into society with the expectation they show up for court.
And 80 percent of those who are coming here illegally never show up for court and are never deported. We have a crisis at the border. These are difficult choices. We don't like the binary choice, Wolf. We want Congress to help us fix this problem.
We have offered in multiple pieces of legislation solutions to the Flores Settlement. We offered it last fall.
BLITZER: ... not have a pause on this and -- because, as you know, the House is working on two pieces of legislation right now. Maybe one of them will pass. Maybe another won't. It could go to the Senate. They will make some changes.
It will eventually go to the president. In the interim, why not just let the status quo continue, so these little boys and girls are not ripped away from their moms and dads?
SHORT: The law requires us to hand them over to HHS.
You could, as you say, do what the Obama administration did, that 80 percent of them never show up in court and are never deported.
The reality is that the first break in the law comes when they are coming across the border illegally. They can go to ports of entry, Wolf, and apply for asylum, in which case they will not be separated.
If they're trying to come to our country, claim asylum, they will not be separated unless there's a problem with the parents. If they're coming in illegally across the border, that's where they're getting separated, when the parent is making a choice to break the law coming into our country.
BLITZER: But this is a policy. It's not a law.
And I will tell you why it's a policy, because, in April, the memo announcing this new strategy of taking kids away from their moms and dads was called zero tolerance policy.
You are the White House legislative director. Have you told the president that it's not the law that he is implementing, but he's implementing a policy which can easily be changed?
SHORT: Wolf, we have had zero cooperation from Democrats to fix this.
BLITZER: But, in the interim, don't...
SHORT: We have -- the law does say -- and the Ninth Circuit determined you have 20 days to keep children in detention. And then they have to be released.
You can choose to do what Obama did, which is release parents and children into our society, when they're breaking they law. And what it created is, you're right. The initial law was created well- intentioned to say, from a (INAUDIBLE) perspective, there are children being brought across the border for sexual trafficking.
So, let's hand them to HHS. But what has happened is, the smugglers now know that. So, they are intentionally putting children with adults, forcing them to come across the border because they know within 20 days they will be turned free into our society.
BLITZER: The whole purpose of this new change in taking kids away from their moms and dads is to put pressure on the Democrats, to change -- to go ahead and accept what the president wants on comprehensive immigration.
SHORT: I don't accept that.
BLITZER: I will tell you why other -- some of your colleagues have made that specific point.
More than a year ago, I interviewed the then secretary of homeland security, John Kelly. He is now the White House chief of staff.
BLITZER: And he specifically said, he is considering this dramatic change in order as a deterrent to illegal immigration.
And I will play the clip for you. He was sitting where you are sitting right there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: If you get some young kids who are coming in, who manage to sneak into the United States with their parents, our department of homeland security personnel can separate the children from their moms and dads.
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We have tremendous experience in dealing with unaccompanied minors.
We turn them over to HHS, and they do a very, very good job of either putting them in kind of foster care or linking them up with parents or family members in the United States.
Yes, I am considering -- in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network, I am considering exactly that. They will be well-cared-for as we deal with their parents.
BLITZER: But you understand how that looks to the average person, who is...
KELLY: It's more important to me, Wolf, to try to keep people off of this awful network. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's the White House chief of staff right now.
This was March of 2017, more than a year ago. He said he was going to recommend that this change of policy go forward in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network.
So, he's not implementing -- you are not implementing the law. You are changing the policy, which you didn't have to do.
SHORT: I'm telling you again, Wolf, there's two choices.
It requires us within 20 days to let the children go. And so, therefore, you can let them go into society with the parents. When we say let them go, we first try to match them up with relatives here in the United States or with foster care.
But your choices are to let families go into the United States, which then creates an incentive for people to match up children with adults and say, get across the border that way.
BLITZER: This must be so heartbreaking for you.
SHORT: It is, Wolf. I just said that.
BLITZER: You are a father. You have kids. Right?
SHORT: I just said that when I started it's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking for all of us.
BLITZER: It's so heartbreaking.
And one doctor was on CNN earlier in the day and said separating kids from their moms and dads is nothing less than government-sanctioned child abuse.
SHORT: Wolf, separating parents from the children is not a policy that we want to pursue.
At the same time, letting children and parents come across the border unbounded, illegally, is not a policy either. We want a solution. We have offered different legislation to try to fix this multiple times.
And each time, Democrats have told us they're not interested in addressing...
BLITZER: Have you spoken to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas about it? Because he is about to introduce legislation focused strictly on this.
SHORT: I have spoken with Senator Cotton.
BLITZER: Stop separating kids from their parents.
SHORT: I have spoken with several senators about...
BLITZER: Why not just go -- comprehensive immigration reform, as you know, the U.S. has been trying to do that for years and years. Very hard.
SHORT: It is.
BLITZER: Why not in the interim do what Senator Cruz is now recommending, pass a small piece of legislation saying, you know what, we're not going to rip moms and kids apart?
SHORT: Yes. We're not even looking to try...
BLITZER: Would you support that?
SHORT: We're not even looking to try to do comprehensive immigration reform, Wolf. We have passed up trying to do guest-work programs, E- Verify.
We're trying for a more narrow approach. We asked for a solution on Flores. We asked multiple times. We've not had...
BLITZER: If you have lost Ted Cruz on this, Laura Bush, the former first lady, "This is zero tolerance is cruel, it is immoral and it breaks my heart," if you are losing support like that, why not simply do the right thing and go ahead and accept a change, walk away and say, you know what, we're not going to do it, but we're going to work for reform, for border security, as well as a pathway to citizenship for the dreamers?
SHORT: I appreciate the chance to be on your show and to help, I think, clarify some of this information. I appreciate you're editorializing about what is the right thing to do or not.
But we don't think the right thing is really there's many good choices here. Again, what we have had is 80 percent of people who have come through with children come back into our country and then they never show up for a court date.
The president has promised the American people that he is going to secure our border. We don't like the policy here either, Wolf. We want more tools. And Congress is not giving us additional resources to adjudicate these cases more rapidly. So, within 20 days, it does say -- the Ninth Circuit says you must release. BLITZER: Everybody hates the -- the president says he hates the separation.
SHORT: Of course.
BLITZER: You say you hate the separation.
SHORT: Of course.
BLITZER: Ted Cruz, Laura Bush.
I'm not editorializing. I'm reflecting the views of an overwhelming majority of the American public.
SHORT: And I fully -- I can see that point, Wolf.
What I'm saying is, The alternative is the way the courts have ruled is to say then you have 20 days to then release them with parents. That's the choice. Parents are bringing children in illegally. There's an incentive for them to pair up with children, come across our border.
They could get full asylum and stay with their children if they come in through ports of entry. But they are breaking the law coming in where they are. And then we're forced into a binary choice.
BLITZER: You are a father. You have got kids. How do you explain this to your kids, that they're not longer -- these kids who are being separated from their parents are being ripped apart?
What are you going to say to your kids?
SHORT: The way I explain it, the same way I just did here on your show, Wolf, is that it's a terrible choice.
BLITZER: What is more moral? Maybe some of these kids and their parents will disappear, or they won't show up in court, but they will be together as a family.
SHORT: Maybe some.
BLITZER: What do you say to religious leaders of the Catholic Church, the evangelicals? All of them, most of them are saying, this is a bad, bad policy.
SHORT: It's to say we need help from Congress to help provide the tools necessary so we can handle this better, that, right now, you are faced with a binary choice. Neither one is great.
BLITZER: I know you're getting ready to leave. And I want to just wrap it up. You have been a friend of this show.
So, tell us why you made this decision that it's time for you to move on.
SHORT: Well, thanks, Wolf. I have been honored to be a part of the president's team for over a couple of years now.
But those conversations about when and exactly what are between me and the president. And I have nothing further to add to what has been reported so far.
BLITZER: Well, I want to thank you for joining us. You have been a frequent guest on our program. We always appreciate you joining us.
Whatever you wind up doing, staying, leaving, whatever you do, we wish you only the best.
SHORT: Thanks, Wolf. appreciate it.
BLITZER: Thank you very much.
SHORT: Thank you.
BLITZER: We have got much more breaking news we're following. We take a quick break. We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the Trump administration's defense of its immigration crackdown that's left nearly 2,000 children separated from their families. We'll have more on that just ahead.
[18:33:39] Right now, let's turn quickly to the Russia investigation. Trump adviser Roger Stone is now admitting a secret meeting with a Russian man in 2016 that he failed to reveal to congressional investigators. He says he was offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton in exchange for $2 million.
Let's go to our political correspondent, Sara Murray. Sara, this previously undisclosed meeting is on Robert Mueller's radar. Right?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. A colleague of Roger Stone's was actually questioned about this when he went in for his interview with Robert Mueller.
But what we're seeing now is yet another pattern, another sort of notch in this pattern of Trump associates, advisors, even family members, having to come forward and explain a meeting with a Russian that they previously failed to disclose.
MURRAY (voice-over): Another longtime Trump adviser and another previously undisclosed meeting with a Russian promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. Roger Stone now admitting in May 2016 he met with a Russian who offered non-specific damaging Clinton information in exchange for $2 million from Donald Trump, according to a letter to Congress from Stone's lawyer.
Stone says he declined the offer, and President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, says he doesn't think Trump knew about the meeting.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Was President Trump aware of this meeting?
RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I doubt it. I certainly didn't know about it. It's news to me.
MURRAY: After the 2016 encounter, Stone texted with his colleague Michael Caputo, who worked as an advisor on the Trump campaign and helped arrange the meeting.
"How crazy is the Russian?" Caputo asks, according to "The Washington Post," which revealed the text messages and first broke the news of the meeting.
[18:35:07] Stone replies, "Wants big money for the info. Waste of time."
"The Russian way," Caputo responds. "Anything at all interesting?"
"No," Stone replies.
Stone has repeatedly insisted he did not collude with the Russians during the campaign.
ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: Where my testimony is both complete and entirely truthful. I'm not involved in any collusion, coordination or conspiracy with the Russians or anyone else. And there's no evidence to the contrary.
MURRAY: But both Stone and Caputo failed to acknowledge the interaction with the Russian when they testified before congressional investigators.
The public is now learning about more meetings members of the Trump team had with Russians after months of denials and omissions from the White House and those around Trump, including Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.
Caputo's lawyer says his client was reminded about the meeting in his interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team last month. In separate letters to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, lawyers for both Stone and Caputo insist their clients testified truthfully.
Now Caputo is claiming the meeting with the Russian was part of a law enforcement effort to frame Trump campaign operatives and cited records suggesting the man Stone met with is a Russian national who has claimed to be an FBI informant.
The Russian man, who has used the name Henry Greenberg and Henry Oknyansky, denied he was working for the FBI when he met with Stone, according to "The Washington Post." Greenberg said in a court filing his work with the FBI stopped sometime after 2013.
(END VIDEOTAPE) MURRAY: Now Adam Schiff, who is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee that Stone testified before, put out a statement saying Roger Stone's testimony appears inaccurate or deliberately misleading. He is once again calling on the committee to turn over all of their transcripts to Special Counsel Robert Mueller to determine if any of these witnesses perjured themselves in front of the committee -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Sara Murray, thank you very much.
Joining us now, the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper. He's a CNN national security analyst. He's the author of the brand-new book, a "New York Times" best-seller, entitled "Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence."
General, thank you so much for joining us.
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: So what stands out to you from this latest revelation about Stone and Caputo having this meeting? Apparently didn't go anywhere. Meeting with a Russian who wanted $2 million in exchange for, quote, "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.
CLAPPER: Well, what strikes me about this and all these other meetings is why so many meetings with the Russians? The Russians are our adversaries. And I just don't understand, you know, why any of them took place.
And of course, this took place in May of 2016, which was a month before the famous Trump Tower meeting in June in which, in one way or the other, the Russians are trying to gain access, leverage to the campaign and presumably, exert influence.
BLITZER: But does this incident that we're now learning about over last day or so, does it -- it's obviously the offer of damaging information involving Hillary Clinton. Does it fit into how Russians operate?
CLAPPER: Absolutely. And this, as we recounted in our intelligence community assessment that we rendered on the 6th of January, a major objective of the Russians was to disparage Hillary Clinton and her campaign. So this comports exactly with yet another way the Russians can do that.
BLITZER: What about this man's claim of having been an FBI informant?
CLAPPER: Well, I don't know about that. I didn't know the identity of any FBI informant, nor should I have. So I can't comment one way or the other whether he was or wasn't.
BLITZER: When you hear about all these contacts that were made during the campaign between campaign associates, advisers, officials and Russian operatives, and I think there have been about 11 of them, do you believe -- and we put them up there. There may be even more. But do you believe when they say that -- when the president suggests he was never told about any of this?
CLAPPER: Well, with each subsequent revelation of yet another meeting between someone from the Trump camp and Russians, it gets harder and harder to believe that he didn't know about at least some of them. I mean, just statistically, it's illogical.
So just understanding somewhat of the details that President Trump can get into, it's difficult for me to believe he didn't know about some of these meetings.
BLITZER: What's your reaction to the inspector general of the Justice Department's report on the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal, whatever you want to call it, and the testimony of the inspector general -- the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, today before Congress?
CLAPPER: Well, two comments. First, something in it for everybody. Depending on your point of view. But I think the major finding from the DOJ I.G. report was the fact that they could not, really, after all this exhaustive study, could not find any evidence of real -- the effects of any political bias on any decisions that were made. Well, that to me is pretty significant.
[18:40:13] BLITZER: The whole Russia investigation is seen as a cloud hanging over this administration right now. Certainly the way the president sees it. He keeps calling it a witch hunt, a hoax and everything else. What do you believe is a realistic time frame for Robert Mueller to wrap up this investigation?
CLAPPER: I really don't know. And of course, that is very much a function of what he's found and what leads he's pursuing. I do think, though, there is -- and I'm sure he realizes this, particularly given recent history. That he's going to have to decide whether to come out with something before the election, and the clock is ticking, or wait until after the election, to try to avoid impacting the election itself.
BLITZER: Your new book, "Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence," I said a major best-seller, that's developed over the past several weeks. It covers a lot of issues. What's the most important -- the important conclusion you hope Americans will learn from "Facts and Fears"?
CLAPPER: Well, the major catalyst for my writing the book was to try to do my part to educate the public about the threats to our institutions from internal source and external source, particularly with respect to the Russians. With all the divisiveness and polarization in this country, and the Russians have capitalized on that, have exploited it and will continue to do so. And that to me is the major message.
BLITZER: We're grateful to you for all your service, General; grateful to you for writing this book. Thanks so much for joining us.
CLAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: The title once again, "Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence." Appreciate it very much.
Earlier we played a very, very disturbing recording of crying undocumented children who had been separated from their parents. We want to credit ProPublica for that audio. Thanks. It was a heartbreaking audio excerpt that we heard.
Just ahead, we're going to bet more reaction to the Trump administration's attempts to defend an immigration policy that even some Republicans now are calling indefensible. We'll be back in a moment.
[18:46:51] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, the secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, is accusing Democrats of being cowards, as she doubles down on the Trump administration's attempts to deflect blame for the separation of immigrant families at the border.
Let's bring in our analysts and our experts.
And, Susan Hennessey, help us understand the law and it stands right now, because she says they are simply trying to enforce the law which earlier administrations didn't do.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, the law absolutely does not require this. This is a policy decision and I think it tells us everything we need to know that the entire administration is trying to blame someone else, is refusing to own this. Yet, to some extent, they're focused here on the question of legality, whether or not the parents have violated the law or not, is sort of besides the point.
We know that this policy is designed to be a deterrent. We know because John Kelly sat in this very chair and told it to you personally. We know it's because it's been in hundreds of Trump administration documents. That this is a policy designed to deter.
A policy designed to harm children as a means to deter their parents from legal or illegal conduct is immoral. Beyond that, it doesn't even work. We have lots and lots of evidence in Europe and the United States. The bi these aren't going to accomplish the ends they are intended to. So, really, it is. It's just cruelty that is not required by the law for cruelty's sake.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Can I just add to that? Because I agree with everything you said is that this notion of blaming Democrats -- has anybody told the Republican Party that they actually control the Congress? I mean, they sound like, oh, we're blaming the Democrats, the Democrats are charge.
The Democrats are not in charge. The Republicans are in charge. And this president himself last Friday, if I recall -- I'm sure all of you do -- didn't know what immigration bill he was supporting.
So, you had mixed signals. You have these lies about whether or not the president could just call and end this, which, of course, he can. But they are using it as a negotiating tactic, because they want to get everything. And she did not answer the question of, well, what if you got a lot of what you wanted but you didn't get the wall?
Would you then sign on to that and end this kind of deterrent? And there was no answer.
BLITZER: Right. And you got a whole bunch of Republicans now, Ben Sasse, Ted Cruz, a lot of Republicans, former First Lady Laura Bush, they are all coming out and quickly saying to the White House, you are wrong, stop this.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, because people see that there's a moral imperative behind this that should go beyond party lines and to add to Gloria's point, the tell for the administration that they are essentially taking a legislative hostage with these children that they don't have to do was toward the end of the briefing today when Francesca Chambers from "The Daily Mail" asked the press secretary, if you really want to change this policy, why not just support a bill that just changes this policy, and she could not answer that because it's clear they want to use this in negotiation.
BLITZER: Clearly, they want to tie this to the president getting $25 billion to build the wall with Mexico.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, sure, because it's clearly not tied to the law. When I moved in government and when I transitioned over in 2005 to the FBI, the director of the FBI says we have priorities. We're going to spend a lot of money on counterterrorism and counterintelligence, and less money on other stuff.
[18:50:05] It's like the president when he walked in within 48 hours says, we're prioritizing limited immigration from these countries, remember that, the Muslim ban? We're doing that by executive order. Now, he's saying, I cannot establish priorities and executive order to limit this separation of children from family.
Let me tell you something, Wolf, this isn't about lawyers. Lawyers are -- lawyers do, as I learned in government, what you tell them to do. When I was at the CIA after 9/11, lawyers said it's OK to bring detainees to black sites, CIA secret facilities and subject them to harsh interrogation methods.
You know what the Obama lawyers said? The president says that's not OK, so we decided it's not OK. This is not about lawyers. This is about the president saying this is OK, and I'm going to hide behind lawyers.
HENNESSEY: The thing I think is important to note is the law doesn't compel this. There's enforcement discretion here. And so, ultimately, this might be consistent with the law. But whenever they say it is required by law, that is false, that is a lie.
BORGER: Well, that is about zero tolerance policy, if you'll recall, which was justified by the attorney general using the bible, OK? So we either use the bible or you're blaming Democrats or saying it's not a policy. It's confusing at the very least. And I think they want to keep it confusing, because the truth of the
matter is, the president could stop this immediately if he wanted to do so.
BLITZER: With one quick phone call.
Take a look at the poll that we released here at CNN earlier in the day. A change in policy toward immigrant families at U.S. border, 28 percent approve of what the president is doing, 67 percent disapprove. But look at this. When you focus in on strictly Republicans, 58 percent approve of what the president is doing, 34 percent disapprove.
SWERDLICK: Right, two-thirds of all Americans disapprove, but almost 6 out of 10 Republicans approve, and I suspect, Wolf, that if you drill down to the president's strongest supporters, more of them approve of the policy and the president and the White House know this.
This is, though, a tension between two things that the president likes to be. He likes to be a strong man, but he also like to be the benevolent, who's your daddy, you know, Trump loves the kids guy, and they can't reconcile this. In this case, you have to be one or the other.
BLITZER: You know, Phil, let me play some audio, I played it earlier, but it's worth playing again. This is courtesy of "ProPublica", CNN has not independently verified. It's just audio of kids being separated from their moms and dads at the border and listen to how they're reacting. They're crying.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I don't want them to stop my father. I don't want them to deport him.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Daddy!
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Daddy! Daddy!
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Mommy!
BORDER PATROL AGENT: Well, we have an orchestra here, right?
BORDER PATROL AGENT: What we're missing is a conductor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't cry!
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: Mommy, daddy, you hear that, it's heartbreaking.
MUDD: It is. And the fact that we're hiding behind the law. The law has told us things. The history of the American republic, they told us things like an American woman can't vote. That was the law.
It told us things like the Japanese can go into an interment camp. That's the law.
It told us that at the beginning of this Constitution in this country that a black man was less than a white man. It told us that the white man could own a black man and we hid behind the law and again we're saying the president can issue an executive order saying that this is wrong, and instead we say the law holds us back.
Well, it held us back before and we paid. Kirsten Powers and the president will pay.
BLITZER: Kirstjen Nielsen.
MUDD: That's right, I'm sorry.
BLITZER: The Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
How much longer can the White House hold out and continue this policy?
BORGER: Look, this is a policy driven from the top, the very top. I mean, you've got the president, clearly, it's out there on the record. He feels like he can blame other people, which is his M.O., he always blames other people.
I have no idea how long they can go on. But once you get more pictures and once you get more audio, I mean, it's -- you know, it's a crisis for them to tell you the truth, and they're going to have to figure out a way out of it.
BLITZER: And those images of those little kids, so heartbreaking, as they're ripped apart from their moms and dads.
[18:55:00] Also new tonight, a very different story we're following. Authorities fear ISIS may have assigned one of its top bomb makers to a deadly new mission, arming unmanned drones with miniaturized bombs, possibly with an eye towards civilian targets.
Brian Todd has details on this emerging threat.
Brian, tell our viewers what you're learning.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've been speaking to a Western intelligence operative who spent several years working under cover posing as a terrorist. He, in fact, once was a terrorist himself.
He's got new information on an ISIS bomb maker named Hamayun Tariq, who he says might have figured out a way to evade security forces and attack large crowds at major events.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Tonight, a new book suggests the terror group ISIS, crippled and now on the run, may be trying to develop drones like these, unmanned vehicles packed with explosive, capable of attacking crowded targets in the U.S. and Europe. The Russian defense ministry says 13 drones, including these, which appear to have small bombs on them, attacked two of their bases in Syria earlier this year.
AIMEN DEAN, FORMER AL QAEDA BOMBMAKER: They are developing the capability of having drones that explode on impact. The discussion within the ranks is that they are going to use these in Western context against aircraft, whether landing or parking or, you know, taking off, against sporting venues, against VIP motorcades.
TODD: How does this man know? Aimen Dean once swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden, and was at one time one of al Qaeda's most accomplished bomb makers.
He says the horrific 1998 bombing attacks against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania turned him against the terror group, even though he hadn't made the bombs for those.
DEAN: The death toll was just too much to stomach. And so, therefore, I decided that this is not for me.
TODD: Dean then spent nearly eight years working as a spy against al Qaeda, undercover, deep inside the group, on behalf of British intelligence. In fact, Dean isn't even his real name. It's a cover to protect his identity.
His life as a spy inside the terror group is the subject of a new book, "Nine Lives", by CNN terrorism analyst Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Aimen Dean was arguably the most important ever Western spy inside al Qaeda. His intelligence was priceless. His identity, one of the most closely guarded secrets in the history of British espionage.
TODD: One of the book's key revelations is about the attempt by ISIS to turn drones into bombs, the handiwork Dean says of an ISIS bombmaker named Hamayun Tariq. Dean says he and Tariq crossed paths in 2004 while Dean was working under cover against al Qaeda. He calls Tariq a psychopath and says Tariq, who is from Britain, evaded British authorities twice.
Tariq, according to the new book, is believed to have helped ISIS create laptop computer bombs, which could be disguised as batteries and taken on commercial planes. Those bombs were the basis for the temporary ban last year on laptops being carried into airplane cabins.
DEAN: So, this man --
TODD: Tonight, Aimen Dean tells CNN sources he still has in Syria believe Hamayun Tariq, if he is still alive, is running a drone bomb operation designed to avoid coalition air strikes. AIMEN: Instead of having fixed explosive laboratory, he is actually
running a mobile laboratory, for refrigerated vans, where, you know, you can use them for groceries, whatever. But basically, they are using them as mobile bomb-making labs.
TODD: It's this kind of information, Cruickshank says, which has made Aimen Dean so crucial to Western intelligence.
CRUICKSHANK: He risked his life for nearly a decade. And he saved countless lives, including many Americans.
TODD: The U.S. intelligence officials we contacted are not commenting tonight on Aimen Dean's information, but Dean is sharing other information details with us tonight. He says al Qaeda is making a major comeback thanks to an influx of new fighters and cash from the Syrian civil war. And he says, al Qaeda is grooming Hamza bin Laden, Osama bin Laden's son, to be its new leader.
Dean says the group is counting on a major attack on a Western target to propel Hamza bin Laden onto the world stage -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And, Brian, I understand there was one particular plot on the U.S. homeland, which this former al Qaeda operative helped to stop, right?
TODD: That is right, Wolf. According to Aimen Dean, in early 2003, al Qaeda was developing a plan to attack the New York subway system using chemical weapons. He says he was part of al Qaeda's chemical and biological weapons program at that time and he reported the plot to Western intelligence. That plot was foiled, but it was a close call.
BLITZER: Amazing information, indeed. Brian Todd, thanks very much for that report.
Here's an important programming note to all of our viewers, please be sure to tune in later tonight, CUOMO PRIME TIME. It airs at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. Among Chris's guests, the White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. Nine p.m. Eastern, you'll want to see that.
Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.