Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview with Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI); Trump: Detained Migrants "Living Far Better Now" Despite New Images Showing Overcrowding and People in Cages; "The Movies" Looks at 1980s Blockbusters; Trump Says Detained Migrants Are "Living Far Better Now"; Interview with Ron Vitiello, Former Acting ICE Director, on Conditions at the U.S.-Mexico Border; Military Chiefs Have Concerns about Politicization of Trump's July Fourth Event. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 3, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: -- the show @TheLeadCNN. Have a wonderful Fourth of July. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news; far better now: after a government watchdog reveals a nightmare situation in border detention centers, President Trump tweets that many detainees are living far better now than in their own home countries.

Completely unacceptable: as Trump praises the Border Patrol for going above and beyond, the acting Homeland Security chief orders an immediate investigation into, quote, "completely unacceptable social media posts" allegedly made by Border Patrol personnel.

I'll talk exclusively with the former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Show of force: President Trump says the July Fourth celebration of himself is worth the cost as he downplays how much money is being spent and the additional military assets being deployed. Tonight, sources tell CNN that military leaders are not happy.

And census contradiction: President Trump says the Commerce Department is not dropping its quest to put a citizenship question on the census form, even though Commerce and the Justice Department have already said that the question is being dropped.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: as concern grows about conditions for migrants detained on the border, President Trump has issued a stunning tweet, saying many detainees are, quote, "living far better now than where they came from."

And he praises the Border Patrol for doing, quote, "a great job above and beyond. "

This comes as the acting Homeland Security chief orders an immediate investigation of offensive social media posts allegedly written by Border Patrol agents and as doctors share disturbing images drawn by migrant children, showing people behind bars.

Also tonight, feverish preparations are underway for the Fourth of July celebration here in Washington on the National Mall. But this year President Trump is taking charge. As the commander in chief deploys tanks and aircraft, a source tells CNN that the military leaders have concerns about the event being politicized.

I'll have an exclusive interview with the former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Ron Vitiello, and I'll speak with Mazie Hirono of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the breaking news. Our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is standing by.

Kaitlan, the truly extraordinary burst of tweets by the president over the past few minutes, what is he saying?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just here in the last hour, the president seems to be responding to the reports of the deteriorating conditions at the border facilities and he said, quote, "Our border people are not hospital workers, doctors or nurses. The Democrats' bad immigration laws, which could be easily fixed, are the problem."

He said, "It is a great job by Border Patrol, above and beyond," and he says, "Many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than where they came from and in far safer conditions."

Then he added another stunning one a few moments later and he said, "If illegal migrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built detention centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved."

Now, Wolf, this comes after a report from the president's own government detailed the conditions of some of the border detention facilities, saying they are overcrowded and that this is a widespread issue and these facilities are dirty.

Some of the people are in standing room only and don't have hot meals and some haven't taken showers in the entire time they've been there. But the president's tweets are coming after you've seen several Democrats visit those facilities in recent days, where they themselves talked about the conditions, including one who said they saw some of them drinking from toilets for water.

So the president is here turning this into less of a statement about how his government is handling these facilities and instead putting the blame onto Democrats.

This all comes as the acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan has said he will investigate the reports about the Facebook group that includes current and former Border Patrol agents, mocking the deaths of migrants and talking about them in a derogatory fashion, something he said is unacceptable.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins at White House, stand by. We'll get back to you.

But I want to go to the southern border where firsthand reports by lawmakers and some shocking images are raising fresh concerns. CNN's Scott McLean is joining us from El Paso, Texas.

Scott, what are you learning?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. New reports from inside some of the Border Patrol holding facilities show it will take a lot of work to address the sometimes appalling conditions and severe overcrowding inside. It seems that neither Democrats --

[17:05:00]

MCLEAN: -- nor Republicans can agree on what the problem is or how to solve it.

But now a clear majority of Americans say there is no disputing this is a crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCLEAN (voice-over): Tonight the border crisis through the eyes of the most vulnerable, drawings depicting children in cages, are from 10- and 11-year-old migrants who were recently held in a Customs and Border Patrol detention center.

A doctor from the American Academy of Pediatrics tells CBS she received the drawings from a social worker while touring two facilities last week, that doctor now describing what she saw and smelled.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SARA GOZA, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: When I opened the door, the first thing that we -- that we -- that hit us was the smell. It was the smell of sweat, urine and feces. And I heard crinkling to my left and I looked over there and there was a sea of silver. I describe them almost like dog cages with people in each of them. And the silence were just hard to -- hard to see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCLEAN (voice-over): The drawings come in addition to newly-released photos showing extreme overcrowding in facilities in the Rio Grande Valley, during an unannounced June visit by a government watchdog group. A report by the DHS inspector general found multiple violations of U.S. detention policy, including a lack of hot meals and inadequate access to showers.

One Border Patrol agent who agreed to go on camera only if their identity was concealed described the conditions in the El Paso sector to CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cells, they are what I will say, filthy. We have a maintenance and cleaning crew that clean the general area. But I have never seen them cleaning counters or cleaning toilets in the cells or cleaning sinks in the cell. Sometimes you go in a cell and there is trash everywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCLEAN (voice-over): Following the congressional delegation's visit to the border this week, Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is calling on President Trump to immediately establish final plans, standards and protocols to protect the health and safety of individuals in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Also tonight, the acting Homeland Security chief has ordered an immediate investigation into offensive posts and comments allegedly made in a private Facebook group used by current and former Border Patrol personnel.

The post exposed by the investigative group ProPublica included jokes about immigrant deaths and lewd Photoshopped images of Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan tweeting, "Any employee found to have compromised the public's trust in our law enforcement mission will be held accountable. They do not represent the men and women of the Border Patrol or DHS."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCLEAN: Now the number of migrants arrested by Border Patrol in June was about 95,000, that is a 28 percent decrease from May. And it may seem like authorities are getting a handle on the problem but it is still almost three times as many as the same time last year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Scott McLean reporting from El Paso. Thank you.

Joining us now, the former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Ron Vitiello, this is his first exclusive interview since President Trump abruptly pulled his nomination to be the permanent director of ICE, saying he wanted to go in , quote, "tougher direction."

Ron, thanks very much for coming in.

RON VITIELLO, FORMER ACTING ICE DIRECTOR: Appreciate it.

BLITZER: I want to get to all of that but, first of all, tell us why you decided you want to sit down and tell the American public what happened to you and what is going on.

VITIELLO: This is an opportunity for me to talk about what the conditions that these Border Patrol agents and the men and women of ICE are facing in the crisis at the border. The humanitarian crisis and the security crisis that it is causing and you talk about all the conditions that we just saw in the reports, it is terrible.

When you're more than 100 percent over capacity in a holding facility, that is only designed for people to come in and for the booking process, you take their fingerprints and their biographic information and then you move them through the system. The system is overwhelmed at every level.

BLITZER: The president just tweeted moments ago these people are living far better now than where they came from and are in far safer conditions. But when you look at these images, you hear these eyewitness accounts of these kids having to deal with no soap and no showers, no toothbrushes, no toothpaste, it is horrendous.

VITIELLO: We started talking about this while I was still in government last fall and we saw the numbers coming back. We've been asking for relief, both on the humanitarian side and the security side. And we've asked Congress multiple times to change the way that the laws are operationalized that would stop encouraging people to send or bring their children to the border.

When no action is taken as it relates to how these laws are operationalized, we're going to get overwhelmed. They're currently overwhelmed. They have been for many months.

BLITZER: So when the president tweets these --

[17:10:00]

BLITZER: -- words, what he's saying, is he wrong?

VITIELLO: He's saying that this is -- the situation is bad. He's been talking about this crisis for weeks and weeks. For a long time, people ignored it. People who could do something about it have ignored it and they claimed --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, when he said many of the illegal aliens are living far better now than where they came from?

VITIELLO: They're not living in those places. They're only there for a short amount of time so they can get processed and put in the system and moved down the road. Most of -- all of the people that come with their children are being released.

BLITZER: But some of them are being held for pretty long periods of time in these -- under these awful conditions.

VITIELLO: They -- under the law, the children have to be held until they can get into the care of HHS, Health and Human Services. That's by law. There is no options there. The people who come illegally have to be processed. We have to know who they are. We have to give them their opportunity to make an asylum claim and an immigration court appearance. That's -- and they have to be held until those conditions are met.

BLITZER: The inspector general, you saw his report -- her report -- from the Department of Homeland Security, describing horrendous, horrendous conditions, which are shocking not only people here in the United States but people all over the world.

VITIELLO: When you are more than over 100 percent over capacity you'll have conditions that none of us will be proud of. Those are highly regulated facilities but those facilities were designed to handle people in the book-in procedures and nothing more.

BLITZER: Have you gone through this inspector general report?

You agree with the conclusion?

VITIELLO: I've not seen the conclusions of the report, I've only seen the headlines.

BLITZER: But would you agree with the headlines?

VITIELLO: I agree that there is a crisis down there and the OIG seems to have stated the obvious, that they are overwhelmed and they need more resources.

BLITZER: So what needs to be done to alleviate this crisis?

VITIELLO: Well, the supplemental founding that the president waited 60 days for Congress to act on will add capacity in the HHS continuum so they'll get more capacity to get children out of CBP custody faster.

CPB will also get additional resources for contract medical staff and for additional facilities, soft-sided structures, so they have a more adequate place to process the people that they take into custody because there are thousands of people coming to the border every week.

BLITZER: This potentially is a very dangerous situation, not only for these migrants but for Border Patrol agents who have to deal with them.

VITIELLO: That is absolutely true. They didn't sign up for this kind of work. They are in the same conditions that these people are at. They fortunately get to go home at the end of the night but they are subject to the same maladies that occur in these facilities when you have overcrowding and they're overcapacity.

BLITZER: But this notion, a lot of people simply can't understand why kids can't take a shower, can't brush their teeth, can't wash themselves.

VITIELLO: The facility is overwhelmed. The conditions are overwhelming. There is only so much floor space. There is only so much room in these locations for people to be processed. I can assure you they are working as fast as they can to do this and adjusting facilities as this money comes online.

BLITZER: The acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, he's now ordered an investigation into this report that we've all seen by now, quoting, "Very disturbing, inexcusable social media activity allegedly involving current Border Patrol agents," on this private Facebook page, with thousands of people participating.

You saw the report from ProPublica, mocking immigrants and members of Congress.

First of all, were you aware of this Facebook post?

VITIELLO: Not until the headlines came out.

BLITZER: You didn't know that all these people were involved in this?

VITIELLO: I did not.

BLITZER: You were not a member of this?

VITIELLO: I was not.

BLITZER: Would you have allowed it, had you still been on the job?

VITIELLO: Agents hold the public trust, they deserve the public trust and they work hard to maintain it. If people went on Facebook and conducted misconduct and activities that were against the ethical conduct that we expect of Border Patrol agents, the secretary's call for an investigation will uncover that and they'll be held to account for what they did.

BLITZER: Let's get your nomination to be the ICE director. In April, you were supposed to travel with the president to the southern border but instead he announced he was pulling your nomination.

First of all, how did you find out about that?

VITIELLO: There were -- my staff had heard rumors of -- we had gotten contacted from Congress about the nomination.

BLITZER: Did you have any direct interactions with the president?

VITIELLO: I did not.

BLITZER: Did you ever meet with the president?

VITIELLO: I met with the president when I agreed to take the job, yes.

BLITZER: And what did he say to you?

VITIELLO: When I met with him?

BLITZER: Yes. VITIELLO: He wanted to assure me that he was going to submit my nomination and we talked about how difficult the work would be.

BLITZER: But in explaining why he was pulling your nomination, he said he wanted to go in a, quote, "tougher direction."

How did he explain that to you?

VITIELLO: Well, he also said on camera that I was a good guy so I choose to focus on the glass half-full.

BLITZER: But what did he mean when he -- when it was your understanding, when he said he wanted to go in a tougher direction?

VITIELLO: I have no idea. I don't know what he knows. I don't know what he was told about my conduct. I was trying to do two things simultaneously. I was trying to operate and run the agency while seeking and getting confirmation for the nomination.

BLITZER: HAs he chosen, as far as you know, and you spent a long time in this position, has he chosen someone with tougher immigration positions?

VITIELLO: I have no idea.

BLITZER: And he has never called you to explain why he was pulling your nomination?

VITIELLO: I don't know what --

[17:15:00]

VITIELLO: -- the president knows.

BLITZER: Because you dedicated your career to this entire process and so how do you feel right now, seeing, first of all, what has happened to you but also to the entire border protection personnel?

VITIELLO: Me, personally, I had a good run. I did everything I could to help protect this country and maintain the oath that I took in 1985. I'm disappointed that all of the urgings of the department, when I was at ICE and when I was at CBP for us to have them act to fix the situation on the border, the tools are in their hands.

This administration has done more to address this problem than any administration I've seen in my 34-year career.

BLITZER: So what would you be doing differently right now if you were the ICE director?

VITIELLO: Differently?

Not much.

BLITZER: You would not?

How would you deal with this crisis?

There is a crisis underway.

VITIELLO: Well, we would continue to take the supplemental funding and add capacity in the enforcement continuum, making sure that there was enough space for the adult -- the single adults that re coming to the border and then putting more contract money on transportation to move people out of CBP custody quicker.

BLITZER: Would you be doing raids on individuals who are already here and getting them expelled?

VITIELLO: ICE doesn't conduct raids but interior enforcement is an important calculus for this problem.

BLITZER: So what would you be doing in that regard?

VITIELLO: As it relates to...?

BLITZER: Removing individuals, removing migrants who cross the border, let's say illegally?

VITIELLO: So when they're ordered by a judge after their due process opportunity, it is the job of ICE and the deportation enforcement rule (ph) operations to find those folks and get them removed.

BLITZER: But Border Patrol, how would you deal with Border Patrol with these individuals?

VITIELLO: Border Patrol, the supplemental funding, that will address the facilities as they can, working closer with Mexico, as the president has leveraged them to do more than they've ever done before. Good levels of communication there at the border so that we can implement further the migrant protection program.

BLITZER: You were the former deputy chief of the U.S. Border Patrol. To the average American --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- and you were chief, too.

So what do they need to understand about what this job is all about?

VITIELLO: It is a difficult job. It requires dedicated men and women that work hard each and every day to protect and serve this country.

BLITZER: What are you hearing from your former colleagues?

And I suspect morale is pretty low right now.

VITIELLO: They're overwhelmed. They're in a situation that they didn't not choose to be in. It is a situation that they can't get themselves out of. There is one tool here that needs to be put into place and that is new legislation that addresses the floor settlement and that looks at the way (INAUDIBLE) treats unaccompanied children. We have to dissuade people from sending or bringing their children to

the border; otherwise this misery is going to continue. It's going to continue in those countries, it's going to continue in Mexico and at our own border.

BLITZER: How much of the blame do you put on the president right now for taking this decision to detain individuals that previous administrations weren't detaining?

VITIELLO: That's got nothing to do with what is happening at the border now. What is happening at the border now is there is no consequence if you bring or send your child. In my career, when we have been able to hold people during the pendency of the immigration hearing and remove them --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- a lot more people now than you used to.

VITIELLO: Because there is more traffic at the border than there's ever been.

BLITZER: So who is to blame for that?

VITIELLO: The law, the way it is operationalized. Congress has failed to act to close these loopholes.

BLITZER: But what about the funding for all of this?

VITIELLO: Well, they waited 60 days to give the president a supplemental request that addresses the exact humanitarian concerns that are raised in the OIG report.

BLITZER: You spent a whole career and, as you know, the president has cut aid to what is called the Northern Triangle, these countries, El Salvador and Honduras and Guatemala and as a result the situation there has deteriorated, in effect, causing a lot more people to try to flee to the United States.

VITIELLO: So it is important for us to continue a dialogue with those countries and help them do law enforcement and governance in those countries and I think if those programs were effective, I'm sure that the funding will --

BLITZER: Was it a mistake to stop the funding?

VITIELLO: No, I don't believe so.

BLITZER: You would have stopped the funding as well?

VITIELLO: Well, there has to be some leverage applied to these locations. It worked on the tariff threat with Mexico. Let's see what happens in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They're very concerned in those countries. The leadership there wants their youth to stay in those countries. BLITZER: Final question, what do you say to the families of these individuals who are suffering along the border right now, here in the United States of America?

VITIELLO: I would tell them to not send their children or bring their children to the border.

BLITZER: But if they feel threatened or if they're in danger where they are right now and there is gangs, they got to do something to save their kids.

VITIELLO: Yes I think that is the -- that they need to address that at home. I feel for these people. You cannot be a --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Isn't this --

VITIELLO: -- without showing a significant level of compassion --

BLITZER: Isn't this a country that has always welcomed people who are so endangered?

VITIELLO: And we still do.

BLITZER: We don't -- right now it doesn't seem like we're welcoming them.

VITIELLO: The law is -- they're all coming in and they're only in custody as long as they're -- they can be processed to be released. And many of them have not shown up for their subsequent hearings.

BLITZER: So -- look, we're all grateful to you for speaking out. This is an extremely important issue right now and it's affecting so much of public attitude about what is going on. And I'm glad you came here to tell our viewers how you feel because this is so significant.

VITIELLO: I believe Congress --

[17:20:00]

VITIELLO: -- has to act. We need to put ourselves in the situation where people can have their due process while they're in custody so that they can be removed.

BLITZER: Congress has to act but the president has to act as well.

VITIELLO: The president's done everything he's got -- he's used all the tools he's had at his --

BLITZER: There is nothing else he can do.

VITIELLO: I don't believe so.

BLITZER: All right. We'll leave it on that note. Ron Vitiello, good luck to you. Thank you very much for coming in. We appreciate it. VITIELLO: Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Coming up, as President Trump deploys tanks and aircraft for his July Fourth extravaganza here in Washington, CNN learned that military chiefs are not happy. I'll talk to Senator Mazie Hirono of the Armed Services Committee. We'll be right back.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:25:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BLITZER: Frantic preparations are now underway for the national Fourth of July celebration here in Washington. But this year President Trump is taking command and some military leaders are concerned. Let's go back to our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins. She's got more on the late-breaking developments.

What are you hearing, Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Well, Wolf, tonight, White House officials are scrambling to put the final touches on the president's celebration as he is defending this show of firepower while also facing questions about whether or not he's politicizing the military and also how much all of this is going to cost.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): Armored vehicles rolling into Washington tonight 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 and 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 Park Service will divert $2.5 million from entrance and recreation fees to cover a fraction of the cost, money that is typically reserved for park improvement.

And the administration is refusing to reveal how much this will cost taxpayers overall. 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You go through all this detail, you're not allowed to ask whether or not somebody is a citizen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS (voice-over): Trump insisting today 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Wolf, we brought you some breaking news yesterday about how the administration was suddenly dropping its effort to add that citizenship question to the census. And now we have got some more breaking news, Wolf, that they are reversing course on that move because a DOJ lawyer told a federal judge in Maryland today that now they have been instructed to try to move forward to find a way to add that citizenship question to the census if it can be in compliance with the Supreme Court's recent decision, which essentially shot down the administration's reasoning for why they needed to add that citizenship question to the census.

Now, Wolf, this comes after a tweet from the president this morning, where he said that the reports that they were going to drop that effort to put that question on the census were fake even though his own Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, put out a statement, saying that they were not going to be trying to do so anymore, even though they disagreed with the Supreme Court and that they were going to start printing the 2020 census without that question on it.

Now there seems to be some confusion going on because another Justice Department attorney told that same judge today that they have been instructed to continue with the printing without that question on it for the 2020 census. But they did tell the judge, Wolf, that the situation is fluid.

So essentially we went from yesterday, they said they were going to drop the effort to put this question on there; now they're saying they're going to try to put the question back on the census even though it doesn't seem clear that they have a path forward to do so -- Wolf.

[17:30:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, what a complete flip by the Department of Justice presumably ordered by the President of the United States.

COLLINS: All at 24 hours.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much for that report.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. She's a member of both the Judiciary and the Armed Services Committees. Thanks so much, Senator, for joining us.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Sure.

BLITZER: Let me get your immediate reaction to this breaking news on the citizenship question. The Justice Department now says it has been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward consistent with the Supreme Court's decision that would allow us, this statement says, to include a citizenship question on the census. What's your reaction to this complete 180-degree flip by the Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce?

HIRONO: Chaos and confusion continue to reign, emanated from this President. And he continues to think that he can do whatever he wants and force his various departments, including the Commerce Department and the Department of Justice, to bend to his will regardless of the Supreme Court's decision on the census case. So once again, we see the spectacle of the President acting like he's the dictator of our country. And you know, you had your previous guest talking about how he

acknowledges that there is a humanitarian crisis at the border, but they are doing everything they can to change that. At the same time, you have the President saying that these people are living in better conditions than they've ever had in the countries that they live in. So where is the incentive for improving the situation at the border?

You have a president who runs amok -- and also, I have to say, the picture of all of these people, children, locked up behind the cages and the tanks rolling in for the Trump show for the Fourth of July, is that our country?

BLITZER: Yes.

HIRONO: That's not the country that I think is a great country that people want to come to.

BLITZER: It's a huge, huge embarrassment for the United States of America. And the President claimed in that tweet just in the past hour or so that these migrants and border patrol custody are actually, in his words, living far -- in far safer conditions than where they came from.

HIRONO: Yes.

BLITZER: What do you make of the President's claim?

HIRONO: And what is that -- and what is that, Wolf, but a signal that why change anything? Why improve their conditions? Why pay any attention to the number of Democratic bills that would improve the -- what's going on in the border, including a bill that I introduced that would provide a level of humanitarian assistance to the children in these facilities?

So, you know, this is what Trump always does. He really reveals the dark underbelly of our country. And the cruelty that his language and what he says, which in my view -- you know, if you're a border patrol person who participated, one of 7,000 or so in this secret Facebook that makes fun of the migrants and their hardships and their deaths, you know what, what kind of message is that? I think that these people who participated are totally on the same page with the President of the United States.

BLITZER: Let me get your reaction also to the President's decision to change the Fourth of July celebration here in Washington. You're a member of the Armed Services Committee. What message does it send to have the President speak tomorrow flanked by tanks and military leaders?

HIRONO: The message is that the President is so enamored with the military and the fact that, you know, he closes up certainly to all of the totalian (ph) type of leaders -- the most recent being Kim Jong-un and Putin -- that a show of military force is what he thinks is going to make him look strong.

Quite the opposite. It makes him look, in my view, pretty pathetic and someone who has totally wrong priorities. The Fourth of July is supposed to be a national holiday. He's making it not only political, but he's making it all about himself. It's the Trump show, folks.

BLITZER: Senator Hirono, thanks so much for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Still ahead, we'd get more reaction to President Trump's latest series of tweets insisting the overcrowded, unsanitary conditions at U.S. detention facilities are better than where migrants are actually from.

Plus, I'll be speaking with Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser who isn't happy about the cost or the politics of the President's July Fourth event on the National Mall.

[17:34:36] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now. The Justice Department here in Washington just revealed it is now considering whether a citizenship question can, after all, be added to the census. This comes just after a new series of tweets from the President insisting migrants in overcrowded detention centers actually are living in better conditions than in the countries where they came from. Let's get some insight from our political and legal experts.

And, Laura Jarrett, you cover the Justice Department for us. Yesterday, there was an official statement from the Justice Department, an official public statement from the Commerce Department, saying they were moving on, would not do the census citizenship question because there was a deadline. They were moving on.

The President, this morning, tweets -- the news 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. We are absolutely moving forward as we must because of the importance of the answer to this question.

[17:40:10] It wasn't fake. These were official statements from the Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce. The President tweets this, and now the Department of Justice says, you know what, we're going to go back to where we were before.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's astounding. There is no other way -- word to put it. You know, lawyers have to go into court and make tough arguments. A lot of times, the Justice Department had to go into court today because a federal judge saw the President's tweet and said, this directly contradicted what you told me in court yesterday when you said the decision was final, and you weren't going to put it on the questionnaire.

That's an incredible moment that we cannot trust two federal agencies that told the American people one thing and then were completely undercut by nothing more than a tweet. And at this point, the Justice Department is in court saying the situation isn't -- is fluid. The situation isn't fluid. It's a mess because of a tweet. RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BLITZER: Yes. And, Ron Brownstein --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BLITZER: -- the President, basically, was accusing the Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce and the leadership there of issuing what he called a fake statement.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, right. Well, first of all, you know, in the administration's own legal filings throughout the entire year in which they were trying to defend the question, they said this issue had to be decided by July 1st because that was the deadline for printing the new census documents. And in fact, I believe that even today, despite all of the President's fulminations and this reversal, that the career attorneys have indicated that the printing is ongoing.

JARRETT: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, that they are already moving forward by printing this without the citizenship question. And look, for the President, this has both practical and symbolic importance.

Practically, obviously, it is a way to shift power away -- electoral power away from more diverse places to less diverse places. But symbolically, if you look at the President's core message from the beginning, it has been one of restoration, make America great again, going back to an early kind of time in our history.

And what way is more powerful to say that than to literally wipe out of existence millions of primarily Hispanic Americans by not counting them in the census? He has a lot invested in this, but it's not clear that even he can reverse the tracks at this point.

RYAN LIZZA, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, ESQUIRE: And this entire thing is nuts on so many levels. I mean, first of all, we talked about the different statements put out by the Justice Department and --

JARRETT: Commerce.

LIZZA: -- and Commerce. There is a statement put out by the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

LIZZA: This was a ruling that said you can't do this. So what is the President saying here? Is he saying that he's defying a Supreme Court ruling? I mean, if that's what's going on, this is much, much bigger than a technical issue over the census.

And then the other issue, of course, is just how dysfunctional the Trump administration is. I mean, the census is something that happens every 10 years and they can't get this right. And the fact that he -- that the White House and the President were not on the same page as the Commerce Department or Justice Department is just nuts.

And -- but the biggest issue here to me is this is a Supreme Court decision that --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

LIZZA: -- right now, it looks like, on its face, the President is just saying we're not going to comply.

BROWNSTEIN: Well -- no, right. I mean, it may be, though, Ryan, what he's saying is --

LIZZA: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: -- they want to continue to appeal because -- I mean, because John Roberts did leave them the option --

LIZZA: Option, yes.

BROWNSTEIN: -- of going back through the court system again and bringing it all the way back to the Supreme Court. So the President may be suggesting that. But even that may be obsolete at this point if they're already printing the documents.

BLITZER: All right. You know, I want to get also to the other series of tweets the President just posted, including this one. And I'll read it, Nia, and then we'll discuss.

Our border patrol people are not hospital workers, doctors, or nurses. The Democrats' bad immigration laws, which could easily be -- could be easily fixed are the problem. Great job by border patrol above and beyond. Many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than where they came from and in far safer conditions. No matter how good things actually look, even if perfect, the Democrat visitors will act shocked and aghast at how terrible things are.

I want your reaction because the President is basically saying this is the Democrats' fault, what's going on his watch. He's been president for 2-1/2 years, and we see how these kids and these adults are being treated.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And he's ignoring, really, what is the reality of the ground in those situations. We've seen the pictures out of those facilities, the stories out of those facilities, of those kids and older folks in cages, not being able to shower, not having their diapers changed. So these real squalid conditions that these kids are living in and no telling what sort of long-term psychological damage might occur because of these.

In listening to the acting DHS person -- the ICE person you had on --

BLITZER: The former. HENDERSON: -- the former you had on earlier, I mean, he talked about

this situation, how overwhelmed these officials are. It's at 100 percent over capacity. He also said that the misery is going to continue.

[17:44:58] There's obviously this funding that's going to this situation. Unlikely that it changes anything rapidly because this is just a systemic problem, not only in those countries but in the immigration and asylum system here with those backlog of case. Almost, I think, a million cases or something like that with very few judges able to handle them quickly.

So this -- you know, I mean, obviously, Democrats want to shine a light on this problem. Americans, obviously -- a lot of the polling shows that Americans aren't pleased with the way this President is handling immigration. And there's no sense that there's going to be anything that happens quickly to change these very terrible conditions that these folks are going through.

BLITZER: And the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, Ryan, painted this awful picture of what's going on, a bitter indictment of the administration's policies.

LIZZA: Right. So on -- so despite what that tweet says, it's not just Democrats going down there and, for political purposes, trying to say things are worse than they are. Inspector Generals across the government are known for being nonpartisan, excellent investigators, and this report paints a picture that, in some ways, is even worse than what some of the members tweeted and wrote about after they visited.

I mean, look, Trump is Trump. This situation needs a legislative fix. I mean, I thought that was very interesting about what Vitiello said. He didn't actually go after the President, but he did point to a lot of problems that Congress needs to fix.

The White House is not going to fix it. Trump's not going to fix it. I think Democrats have to figure out a way to see if they can get some legislation through the -- this very dysfunctional system to address it because, otherwise, it's going to continue the way it is.

BLITZER: Yes. The notion of comprehensive immigration reform, that seems so quaint, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, well --

LIZZA: But even something narrower.

BLITZER: Yes.

LIZZA: Yes. Look, Democrats -- you know, look, the ideas are beginning to develop among Democrats. The Center for American Progress has put out a pretty comprehensive plan.

I mean, the question -- the real question I was left with after the Vitiello interview was, you know, he was basically saying this is -- the squalor and the conditions were essentially a byproduct of the sheer volume. But the question is whether the cruelty is the point, as my colleague Adam Serwer said. Whether the President, as his tweet suggests, is trying to dissuade people from coming by making it absolutely horrible when they do.

BLITZER: Yes, that's an awful situation.

LIZZA: Yes, it could be both.

BLITZER: Yes.

LIZZA: That the overwhelming is making the conditions worse --

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around.

LIZZA: -- and Trump doesn't want to fix it.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BLITZER: A quick programming note for our viewers, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will be sitting down for an exclusive interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo. Be sure to tune in Friday morning at both 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. Eastern.

Also coming up, from tanks and fireworks to the invited guests and anticipated protests, we're going to more on the preparations for President Trump's July Fourth celebration here in Washington on the National Mall.

The mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, she will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM in just a few minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:52:31] BLITZER: It doesn't matter whether you saw them in theaters, on T.V., or streamed them on your phone. You're about to see some of the most amazing stories behind Hollywood's most iconic films. CNN's original series "THE MOVIES" premieres Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, with a behind the scenes look at the blockbuster hits of the 1980s. Here's our Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Call it the age of big budgets, big adventures --

(SCREAMING)

FOREMAN (voice-over): -- and big audiences.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're looking good.

FOREMAN (voice-over): In the 1980s, the box office blockbuster took off.

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS HOST: Four of the biggest money-making films of recent times have come from two young gifted filmmakers.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Pushed by the grand visions of a new generation of filmmakers including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, even already huge franchises exploded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the "Star Wars" movie that took the whole thing to a whole another level. "Star Wars" was huge, but "Empire Strikes Back" was phenomenal.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Perhaps the nation was just ready for it after a couple of decades of turmoil.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'm not a crook.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The rise of President Ronald Reagan, a former movie star, heralded in a new optimism for many voters. A time of ascendant national power and improving economy and conservative values. Still, not all filmmakers were sold on that vision.

NEAL GABLER, SENIOR FELLOW AT THE ANNENBERG NORMAN LEAR CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The idea was that after all sorts of traumas, particularly Watergate and Vietnam, we healed. But as the public pronouncement is "we're good again," our movies are telling us, "no, we're not. No, we are not."

FOREMAN (voice-over): So even as flag-wavers like "Top Gun" roared, Hollywood also rolled out deeply moving pictures about families, relationships, love, loss, and the clash between what America was and what it was becoming.

KEVIN KLINE, ACTOR: "The Big Chill" is about these kids who were in college together in the late '60s and are now no longer anti- establishment but also actually are part of the establishment.

FOREMAN (voice-over): In some ways, it all opened the door for new kinds of movies about women's rights, social justice, race relations. About comedy.

(SCREAMING)

MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: Are you telling me that you built a time machine out of Delorian?

FOREMAN (voice-over): About romance.

MEG RYAN, ACTRESS: Oh. Oh, God.

FOREMAN (voice-over): And after the '80s, our love affair with the movies would never be the same.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll have what she's having.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Tom Foreman, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE) [17:55:03] BLITZER: And tune in Sunday night 9:00 p.m. Eastern for

the premiere of CNN's original series "THE MOVIES."

Coming up, in a stunning shift following a presidential tweet, the Justice Department now tells a federal judge it's been instructed to examine if there's a way to include a controversial citizenship question in the census.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:00:02] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Acting shocked. President Trump accuses Democrats of overreacting to conditions at the border.

END