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Youngest migrant held in NYC is just 9 months old. TRANSCRIPT: 6/20/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Garance Burke, Jeh Johnson

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: June 20, 2018 Guest: Garance Burke, Jeh Johnson

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated. Thank you. You`re doing great work there.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. We do have a little bit of news to break this hour, this segment, in fact. We`re very happy to have you here tonight.

Tonight, I promise I`ll hold it together better than I did last night, because there is nothing else going on in the world, because the federal government and the Trump administration are just cruising along fine with no problems, they have nothing better to worry about right now, they`ve decided to start something new.

Tonight, the Trump administration announced plans to merge the Department of Education and the Department of Labor. The Department of Education and the Department of Labor have nothing to do with each other. So, this new reported proposal from the Trump administration to combine them could be seen as a nicer way of saying they`re abolishing the Labor Department or it could be seen as a nicer way of saying they`re abolishing the Education Department. But I think a safe bet is that what this means is that they are abolishing both of them.

This plan first reported tonight by "The Wall Street Journal," not yet formally confirmed by the White House. But there`s no reason to think this isn`t something they`d try. No reason to think this isn`t what they`d expect to be their next brilliant move for a federal government that`s really on a roll right now.

Tomorrow morning, mayors from all over the country, big city mayors from places like L.A. and Seattle, small city mayors from places like Findley, Ohio, and Gary, Indiana, mayors from all over are going to converge first thing tomorrow morning on Tornillo, Texas, where the federal government set up that tent encampment to house hundreds of kids without their parents. That will be first thing in the morning, so that should garner a bunch of attention, both in terms of national press tomorrow morning and in terms of the hometown press coverage from the hometowns of all of those mayors who will be coming from every corner of the country to protest what the Trump administration has been doing to kids on the border.

Tornillo, Texas, has become a focal point for these public objections to what the Trump administration has done, because this past week, it really was the first place that was identified as a purpose-built new location that the Trump administration was setting up to incarcerate kids under this new Trump administration policy. Tornillo, Texas, and that tent city were first, but we have since found out about a whole bunch more locations where the Trump administration is stowing these kids that they`re taking.

Last night in the 9:00 hour, the "Associated Press" broke a whole new kind of news in this scandal when they were first to report on locations being set up by the Trump administration, specifically for, quote, tender age kids. So, little kids, toddlers, and babies, relocations, according to the "A.P.", were already up and running to Raymondville, to -- excuse me, to Raymondville, Texas, Combes, Texas, and Brownsville, Texas. They`re setting up these purpose-built locations to incarcerate babies and toddlers.

The "A.P." further reported that another location for babies and toddlers was set to be opened in a Houston warehouse, which "The Washington Post" identified as sitting at 419 Emancipation Avenue in Houston, Texas. They planned to open that warehouse facility for babies and toddlers in coming days. Again, babies and toddlers being held without their parents.

As soon as we got word of that element of the Trump administration`s policy last night, where they were secretly holding little kids who had been seized from their mothers and fathers, last night, we got this smuggled photo published in "The New York Times," showing a toddler who`s about 11 or 12 months old, you can see, she`s in diapers, crawling across a brightly colored mat in a shelter. That is a little kid who has been taken away from her parents and is being held at this facility alone without them.

According to "The Times", the person who took that photo believes that girl has been separated from her relatives for about a month already, by the Trump administration. "The Times" said the person who took the photo, quote, requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release an image.

That is about to become an important part of this story. In New York City, a reporter from local news station New York 1 today thanked, quote, people who were willing to -- excuse me, people who were willing to risk talking confidentially when he tracked down yet another site where the Trump administration has been stowing these kids after taking them away from their parents. New York 1 published these images of these young girls late at night last night, being moved into and out of a facility in East Harlem in New York City.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo later confirmed that the girls, who were spotted at this facility in New York City, these girls are among the kids who the Trump administration has taken from their parents. They took them off the southern border and brought these little girls all the way to New York. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio later confirmed today in a press conference outside the facility that there were, in fact, 239 girls being held inside there, the youngest, 9 months old held alone, away from their parents.

But, again, that reporter from that New York 1 story, which is how we learned that 239 of these little girls are being held alone in East Harlem, he thanked his confidential sources for the tip, right, that that`s where the girls were. The tip that led to those images and that footage and that reporting, and now that attention and confirmation from public officials. And then there`s "The New York Times" as well granting anonymity to some unidentified source who nevertheless took steps to get the public one of the first pictures of this kid not yet 1-year-old, who has already been alone for a month, and a month is a long time when your life is 11 months long so far.

But this stuff is going to get out, right? You can`t do this kind of thing quietly. You can`t take, literally, thousands of kids forcibly away from their parents, including babies, and not have the country notice. This is a secret that is too big to be kept. I don`t know who the source was for that picture of that toddler in Brownsville, Texas, that was sent to the "New York Times," but clearly that was somebody who had access to being inside that facility, who nevertheless chose to get that picture out so the press would see it, so the public would see how young these kids are.

And I don`t know how New York 1 found out about those girls being moved in the dead of night in East Harlem, after midnight last night, but somebody knew. And somebody in a position to know told a reporter. And that reporter got a camera crew there and they got it out.

Today, a law firm in Washington state announced a nationwide pro bono legal effort that will provide legal counsel free of charge to immigration officers who refuse to enforce the family separation policy.

Yesterday, in the "Houston Chronicle", a flight attendant published a sort of anguished essay about what he feared might have been his own unwitting role in helping the Trump administration take these kids away from their parents. Quote, several weeks ago, I worked two flights, one to San Antonio, the other to McAllen, that were among the most disturbing flights I`ve ever experienced in my career. Onboard these particular flights were ICE agents and migrant children, approximately 4 to 11 years old, who had been separated from their families.

He said one of the agents admitted to one of his coworkers in the flight crew that these, indeed, were kids who were being relocated to assigned camps. The flight attendant said that he would refuse in the future to work on any flight with children who had been separated from their families. He said, quote, it occurred to me a few weeks later that I might well have been a collaborator in their transport.

Since working those two flights, the images of those helpless children have burned into my psyche. The little children whose faces were full of fear, confusion, sadness, and exhaustion left me somewhat traumatized.

So that was a flight attendant publishing that in the "Houston Chronicle" yesterday. We don`t know what airline that flight attendant works for. But then today, American Airlines became the first U.S. airline to say, we`re not doing this. We are not going to be a part of this policy.

American Airlines announcing, quote, while we have carried refugees for nonprofits and the government, many of whom are being reunited with family or friends, we have no knowledge that the federal government has used American Airlines to transport children who have been separated from their parents due to the recent immigration policy. We would be extremely disappointed to learn that is the case. We have therefore requested the federal government to immediately refrain from using American for the purpose of transporting children who have been separated from their families due to the current immigration policy. We have no desire to be associated with separating families or worse, to profit from it.

That was American Airlines saying, we don`t want to do this. We do not want to profit from it. We don`t think you`ve made us do this already. If it turns out we have, we`re going to be mad and we will not do it in the future.

That was American. Other airlines quickly followed suit.

Frontier Airlines saying, Frontier prides itself on being a family airline. We will not knowingly allow our flights to be used to transport migrant children away from their families.

Next was a statement from the CEO at United. Quote, at United Airlines, we have been concerned about reports that commercial airlines have been used to transport immigrant children separated from their parents by a newly implemented immigration enforcement policy. Based on some research we have done internally and public reports, we haven`t seen evidence these children have been flown on united aircraft. But based on our serious concerns about this policy and how it`s in deep conflict with our company`s values, we have contacted federal officials to inform them that they should not transport immigrant children on United aircraft who have been separated from their parents. This policy and its impact on children, on thousands of children, is in deep conflict with our company`s mission and we want no part of it.

So, it`s a big operation to take away thousands of kids forcibly from their families, and then to hide them around the country, right? And the bigger the operation, the harder it is to keep under wraps. So, now, we`re at the point where we`ve got thousands of kids who have been taken by the government and we`re starting to see people who are either just eyewitnesses or who are somehow, maybe even just peripherally involved in this now-growing system.

We`re seeing people who have knowledge of what`s going on starting to leak to the press, starting to make sure that pictures and footage and audiotapes get out. We have seen governors across the country, Republicans and Democrats say they`re not going to allow any resources from any of their states to be used to further this policy. We`ve got commercial airlines, including the biggest ones in the country saying, you will not use us for this either.

Everybody who can opt out of this thing is trying to. Everybody who thinks they might potentially be used to effectuate this policy or further it somehow is trying to draw a line and say, no, don`t put this on us. Even if you`re a federal immigration officer who wants to opt out of implementing this policy, apparently there`s a law firm in Washington state that will represent you for free.

I mean, somebody has got to do it, as long as this is still the policy. And it is still the policy, despite what you might have heard from the president today. We`ll have more on that in just a moment.

But, I first -- in terms of who was carrying out this policy, who is making this possible, we have to break a little bit of news on that subject here right now. We`ve got this story exclusively. It came to our attention today that the U.S. military has been asked by the Justice Department to please send them lawyers -- specifically, to send them lawyers at the border.

Lawyers in the military are called JAGs, judge advocate generals. My dad was an Air Force JAG. We can report tonight that the U.S. Justice Department has requested that the Pentagon send active duty JAGs, active duty U.S. military lawyers to Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, to work as prosecutors for the Justice Department, special unprecedented six-month shifts as, quote, special assistant U.S. attorneys.

The Justice Department has asked the Pentagon to ship active duty military lawyers to the border to prosecute people picked up at the border, including parents who were having their kids taken away from them. We have never heard of anything like this before. But we can report tonight that the Defense Department has agreed to this, we think, unprecedented request from the Department of Justice. The Defense Department confirmed that after we inquired with them about e-mails that we have obtained that apparently have been sent out to active duty JAGs.

Quoting from these e-mails that we`ve obtained, quote, an urgent request, DOD has directed the armed services to support the Department of Justice by providing 21 attorneys to prosecute immigration crimes in U.S. district courts -- that means federal courts -- for six months in the following six cities. Yuma, Arizona, Los Cruces, New Mexico, El Paso, Texas, Del Rio, Texas, Laredo, Texas, and McAllen, Texas.

The Justice Department has apparently told the Pentagon, quote, we are looking for litigators with general courtroom experience and we`ll provide basic training at the U.S. attorney`s offices on immigration, crime, and federal criminal procedure. Again, remember, these are military lawyers who are being asked to do this. Military lawyers don`t necessarily practice in federal court at all, let alone on immigration law, but apparently don`t worry, they`re going to get a little bit of basic training and then they`ll get right in the courtroom.

Quote, the duration of the details, meaning the detail in the military sense, we`re detailing you to the specific place, the duration of the details will be six months, assisting Department of Justice while we staff up with permanent assistant U.S. attorneys. The focus of this work will be violations of eight U.S. Code Sections 1325 and 1326, which is the statutes for crossing the border illegally.

So, again, we obtained these e-mails today, which is the first indication we had seen anywhere that this was happening. Active duty military lawyers being put on this? What?

It`s the first time we`ve ever heard of the Pentagon directing active duty military lawyers to instead go work for the Justice Department prosecuting normal domestic immigration cases. After we questioned the Pentagon about these e-mails, which appeared to indicate this directive, the Pentagon, in fact, confirmed to us tonight that this is happening. Telling us, quote, the secretary of defense has approved a Justice Department request to detail 21 attorneys with criminal trial experience to the Department of Justice for a period of 179 days.

The DOD attorneys will be appointed a special assistant U.S. attorneys and will work full time assisting and prosecuting reactive border immigration cases, that they will focus on misdemeanor improper entry and felony illegal reentry cases.

So, there was no advanced notice that the military was doing this before they put this into effect. Only after we asked about it tonight did they confirm that it is happening.

Now, I should tell you what this means from a -- from like a civilian perspective, a citizenship perspective. What this means, among other things, is that the military budget, the defense budget, which pays for, you know, bombs and guns and ammo and all that stuff and the salaries of active duty military personnel, the military budget is, by this program, effectively being repurposed and diverted into Jeff Session` Department of Justice to help him handle this new huge backlog of immigration prosecutions that they`ve just created because of the Trump administration policy, for which they apparently made no plans in terms of how they were actually going to implement it.

They didn`t bother to staff up more prosecutors to do this kind of prosecuting work. They just decided that they`d start prosecuting everybody, wholesale, with no plan for who would actually do the work. So, now, the military is helping them out? Active duty?

I mean, to be clear, these military lawyers are not being assigned to represent parents who had their kids taken away or kids who had their parents taken away. These military lawyers are being assigned to the Justice Department to prosecute those families. Legal representation for the families themselves, for the parents and for the kids, that`s not something where the U.S. military is being asked to take up the slack. No, that`s more of a GoFundMe situation.

A few days ago, a California couple with a 2-year-old daughter, they were moved for obvious reasons by this now-infamous photo of a 2-year-old girl screaming and crying for her mother and emphatically not being held by her mother as her mother interacts with immigration authorities. Those parents in California decided to start a fund-raiser on Facebook to try to help little girls like that in a very specific way. The reason this crisis has happened on the border in a technical sense is because President Trump has decreed that all these people crossing the border should be prosecuted. And that is their justification for taking away their kids.

But if you`re being prosecuted in federal court in the United States, even if it`s for some new harebrained, half-thought-through policy, you get due process. American courts give you due process. And part of getting due process is that the court can decide that while you are facing prosecution, you can get bail at the court`s discretion. You can pay a specific amount of money set by the court, and if you post that bail, you can effectively be set free on your own recognizance with the promise that you`ll only get that bail money back if you show up for your court hearings. That`s how it works in American courts. Thank you, Constitution.

Well, the fund-raiser that this California couple started was based on the simple idea that somebody should pay the bail money for these parents who have had their kids taken away, because they`ve been arrested and are now being prosecuted for having crossed the border. While they are awaiting trial on those charges, conceivably, if somebody could pay the bail for the parents, those parents could get out ahead of their court date with a promise to return, but while they are out, they could then go get their kid.

California couple decided to try to raise $1,500, thinking that might be a reasonable bail amount, maybe, to expect for a single parent who came up in court after being charged, because of this new Trump administration policy. They set their initial goal at raising $1,500. As of tonight, they have raised almost $15 million. Look. More than 350,000 people have donated.

The couple who started the fund-raiser say that they had sustained periods today of people giving more than $10,000 a minute. That money will go to the refugee and immigrant center for education and legal services. A lawyer from that nonprofit is somebody who Chris Hayes just spoke to at the end of his show last hour.

It`s a local nonprofit in Texas that provides free or low-cost lawyers to immigrants and refugees in Texas. This is a very bare bones operation. This is their organization. They have lawyers who work with immigrants who need legal representation and they`ve got one other person who works at the agency who`s in charge of raising funds, their development director.

Well, thanks to this Facebook fund-raiser in four days, that development director now has a new $15 million to contend with. The nonprofit says that with this influx of support, they are pursuing a simple plan. They`re going to work with other groups who do the same kind of legal representation they do and their plan, their goal is to locate every single family, every single kid the Trump administration has done this to.

They want to locate every single one of these separated families and their kids and they want to get every one of those families, every one of those kids a lawyer and then they want to get them released. This is the plan. For that, you need bail money, for that, you need organization. For that, you need people who know the lay of the land. People who can work the system. It`s -- that`s what they`re going to try to do.

If you are wondering whether or not having a lawyer is an important factor here, "The Washington Post" also reports tonight that as the Trump administration was ramping up this new policy to start taking all these kids away from their parents, last month, late last month, they quietly killed a federal grant program that used to pay for legal representation for kids held alone in government custody. There used to be a federal grant program, so kids held alone could get lawyers. The Trump administration quietly killed it last month, as they were ramping up this policy to start taking thousands of kids away, so they could incarcerate them alone.

And so now, Americans are trying to piece it together themselves. That refugee and immigrant center in Texas, the one that`s the beneficiary of that fund-raising effort, they say they have been also, in addition to the fund-raising, they have been overwhelmed by the number of people calling them to volunteer.

Quote, it is not just the funding. We are getting literally thousands of people contacting us, wanting to volunteer. Many are like, I`ll come to Texas, which is great. But if you are looking for the kids who have already been taken away from their parents, yes, some of them are in Texas, but they are also now all over the country. You don`t have to go to Texas. They might be in your town.

The day after Trump was inaugurated, there was the Women`s March, probably the largest protest in U.S. history, in D.C. and New York and Chicago, but also all over the country. You might also remember that exactly one week after that, there were big protests at airports and also at courthouses all over the country, when Trump issued his first attempt at a Muslim ban executive order. He also revoked 100,000 visas for people who had already been legally admitted to the country. That night, people started getting held at airports after their planes had landed, even though they were legally allowed to be here.

When the Michael Wolff book "Fire and Fury" came out, Steve Bannon was reported as saying how much he loved those airport protests. How those protests were by his design, because the Muslim ban executive order was deliberately designed and timed to provoke people, to make people protest, because he thought it made the protesters look terrible and it made Trump lack great, because he was so sure that Americans hate immigrants that much. The snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot. That`s why we did it.

He may have loved it. But among the people who flooded those airports on that first weekend after Trump was inaugurated, among the people who showed up at those airports were tons of lawyers with their laptops and their hand-written signs, we will represent you. And however delighted Steve Bannon might have been with the timing and the deliberate offensiveness of that executive order and how much it upset people, you know what, those people protesting and those lawyers won. They got a restraining order against that policy that very first weekend that the Trump administration tried to put it in effect, and every subsequent iteration of that policy has been stopped in the courts thus far. It`s not done, but they`ve stopped it this long.

And this is last remembered at a national scale, but I also want to tell you, that ten days after those airport protests, this was Phoenix, Arizona. A mom with American kids who had been here in this country for decades deported. One of the first people believed to be deported under the newly aggressive anti-immigrant Trump deportation policy. People in Phoenix that night staking out the local border patrol facility, ultimate chaining themselves together, laying down in front of the van that was going to take that woman away from her family and her friends here. They`re trying to physically block that deportation.

The president today declared that the family separation policy won`t go on any longer, but his administration soon clarified explicitly that they`re still keeping the kids. The thousands of kids who have already been taken from their kids thus far are not going to be grandfathered in and released back to their families now that he`s canceled the policy going forward. So, there`s still no plan to reunite the kids they`ve already taken with their moms and dads. The government is taking no responsibility for doing that.

And that means, what is ultimately going to end what Trump has done with these thousands of kids, who are spread out all over the country right now, tonight without their moms and dads. What`s ultimately going to end it, is going to be local activism and local advocates, putting these families back together. And, yes, a lot of this is happening on the border in Texas and Arizona and New Mexico. But they have spread these kids quietly out all over the country, which means there is a locust for activism and mobilization and getting resources though these kids and their parents in states all over the country, in a secret shelter that`s probably not too far from where you live.

And which is probably soon to be leaked to your local paper. There are dissenters and anonymous sources and people who do not want to be collaborators in this everywhere. And this is their time.


MADDOW: I don`t know what caused the president today to come out and say that families wouldn`t be separated at the border anymore. I don`t know why he signed that order at the White House, today of all days. I don`t know what finally caused him to reverse this policy, to cave on this.

But one of the things that did happen last night was this groundbreaking reporting by the associated press that the Trump administration was converting at least three shelters in Southern Texas, specifically for the new purpose of keeping babies and other young children, who have been forcibly taken from their parents. And that concept itself is enough to lay anyone low, trust me, I know.

But beyond the top line basics of that reporting, new internment facilities for babies being held alone. There was one line in that piece that I think helped really drill down into our skulls what this means. It was a quote from a woman named Michelle Berne, who works with the Women`s Refugee Commission, who has been on the ground in southern Texas, trying to help these families who have been taken apart by the U.S. government.

And Berne gave the "A.P." essentially a warning about these facilities that the Trump administration is trying to reconfigure to house babies and toddlers that the government has seized. She told the "A.P.", quote, the facilities that they have for the most part are not licensed for tender age children. There`s no model for how you house tons of little children in cots, institutionally, in our country. We don`t do orphanages. Our child welfare has recognized that it is an inappropriate setting for little children.

We don`t do orphanages. We haven`t done those in a long time. And yet -- and yet.

Joining us now is Garance Burke, who`s a national investigative reporter for "The Associated Press" who broke the news last night that babies and young kids forcibly separated from their parents at the Texas border are being sent to these tender age shelters. This is the story that broke me on TV last night.

Ms. Burke, thank you for doing this. I`m sorry I didn`t do it justice as it was breaking last night.


MADDOW: Let me ask how secret this information has been. You don`t want to tell me anything you don`t want to tell me about your reporting process, but I`m struck by this dynamic that we`re in now that people are starting to realize that these kids have been farmed out around the country and that kids who are separate from their parents have to be put somewhere and there`s this detective work happening to try to figure out where they`re going.

How hard was this to uncover as a secret?

BURKE: You know, this did take some real shoe leather reporting. What we concentrated on was talking to the providers who were given access to these facilities, where young children are being detained, as well as the lawyers who have been able to enter inside. And we`re able to piece together not only where these shelters are located in south Texas, but also get a sense of just the anguish that these young children are experiencing, being away from their parents.

MADDOW: Are there accepted best practices? Is there training? Is there licensing for how to hold toddlers en masse? Babies. Toddlers, little kids? I can`t even -- I don`t even know where you would start to look to figure out what the sort of shelter, licensing, and best practices are for how you`d do that.

BURKE: Well, there are a number of regulations and they vary from state to state. Some of these don`t, however, apply on federal property. But I think the major point is, this is a real departure from child welfare policy that`s been pretty established in our country since the `60s. We`ve increasingly found, you know, both through science as well as just common sense that kids are meant to be with their parents.

So, our whole model is set up to have children be in foster homes, children be with extended family, children be in the community. So this really is a sharp break from that established model, to put hundreds of kids in crisis together in an institutional setting. Now, how exactly this staffing ratios work out, if you have preschoolers as opposed to teens, there may be some, you know, differences from state to state there.

But there are some regulations of how exactly all of those are being followed right now is a bit tough to track.

MADDOW: Last question for you. With the policy change announced today by the president, they are no longer going to -- according to the president, they`re no longer going to separate kids from their families from here on out.

But, the administration is also saying that kids who have already been separated, and we think it`s thousands of kids, aren`t going to be grandfathered into that policy change. They`re still going to be separated from their parents. What`s so striking about that, with your reporting, is that we may be talking about babies, little kids, kids who are months old, being held for quite some -- for quite some time in these circumstances that you say are a radical departure from what we understand about child welfare in this country.

Do you have a sense, just from talking to your sources, from reporting this out, how fragile this status quo is? Whether there`s a chance that this idea of holding these babies and toddlers is going to collapse under its own weight, just simply because they can`t do it?

BURKE: Well, we`re still in very early days. The executive order was just signed today, so I think it`s difficult to know exactly what this will mean for families who continue to come across the border. And you know, maybe now detained together, parents and children, in a different type of facility.

But for those 2,300 kids who are already in a separate pipeline, to either be placed in foster care or institutionalized, that is underway. And we spoke today with the head of the largest foster agency who deals with migrant children. He said one of the children in their care who`s already been placed in a home is just 8 months old.


BURKE: So, we`re talking about hundreds of babies, toddlers, and very young children who are not going to be reunited with their parents anytime soon.

MADDOW: Garance Burke, national investigative reporter for the "Associated Press", I really appreciate your time tonight. Congratulations on this really important work. Thank you.

BURKE: Thank you.

MADDOW: Thanks.

All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: In Philadelphia, they used shoes to make their point. Protesters brought hundreds of pairs of tiny little shoes to Rittenhouse Square, representing the kids taken away from their parents by the Trump administration at the border.

In Boston today, people sang. Protesters flocked to the steps of the Massachusetts statehouse, protesting.

In Portland, they lit candles. Hundreds of protesters outside the ICE office in Portland for three straight nights now. They`ve set up tents and food. They say they have no intention of packing up anytime soon.

There`s been this kind of visceral, emotional overflow all over the country in response to the Trump administration taking kids away from their parents and refusing to give them back. And for a lot of these people, the people, you know, bringing shoes to parks and singing songs and lighting candles, this is new. These aren`t necessarily your -- these aren`t necessarily the people you`re always seeing protesting everything, right?

I think we`re seeing, as these protests spread and get creative, this is people who are at their wit`s end and are doing whatever they can to try to help put these families back together. Tonight, I should tell you, there was a bunch of protesters outside of one of Trump`s hotels here in New York City as well.

One of the people who has turned out to be an unexpected but outspoken critic of this new policy is someone who himself was criticized for the way deportations were handled in his agency under president Obama, where he served as homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson.

Jeh Johnson used to be the guy in charge of immigration issues for the Obama administration. And he is in an interesting spot right now. It`s an unwritten rule of high-level public servants that you don`t trash your successor on the way out the door. You don`t criticize the choices they make in your old job.

In this case, though, Mr. Johnson`s successor, the person who has his job now at the Department of Homeland Security is Kirstjen Nielsen, who has been on a very rocky journey with this policy and the truth about this policy since it was first put in place. It`s been a tough full days in terms of her handling of this issue.

Over the weekend, she publicly insisted there was no policy of separating kids from their parents, period. She actually said that, period. Then the very next day, on Monday, she said, it`s up to Congress to change this policy that she had just denied existed.

And then today, there she was, standing in the Oval Office next to the president while he changed the policy that she said never existed in the first place, the one that she denied could even be changed this way at all. As a former high-ranking public servant, as the guy who used to be in charge of keeping this kind of thing straight, what do you do when you see the person who took over your old job is handling this issue not just this way in terms of policy, but this way in terms of talking about it.

It`s a difficult position for somebody like Jeh Johnson to be in. But he`s joining us next here tonight for the interview.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Joining us tonight here live in studio for the interview is Jeh Johnson, who was secretary of homeland security under President Obama.

Mr. Johnson, thank you for joining us. It`s nice to see you.


MADDOW: I -- you are a small "C" conservative person and --


MADDOW: A small "C" conservative person. I don`t think of you as ideologically, anything.

But I know you as a reserved and cautious lawyer. I hope you don`t mind me saying. I did not know that I should expect you to express public opposition to what`s been happening on the border. I didn`t know if you would think that you would be constrained, essentially, by the fact that you held the Department of Homeland Security job before and you didn`t want to criticize your successors. But yet, you`ve been very vocal and public about your feelings about this.

Tell me about that decision.

JOHNSON: You`re right, I left office believing that it would be appropriate and best not to criticize the work of my former department or my successor. The job is difficult enough without your predecessor criticizing you, as well. There are enough people around to do that anyway.

About a year ago, I decided -- and this was shortly after John Kelly had floated the idea, that if our government and my former department begins to separate children from their parents, that is something I cannot stay silent about. And so, you`re right, the last several days, I`ve been fairly vocal about it and concerned.

And one of the things that I have expressed is that this type of change in enforcement policy may have a short-term effect on apprehensions in our southern border. The longer term impact, it always reverts to form. It always reverts to normal, so long as the underlying conditions in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador persist.

And it`s human nature to want to flee a burning building. So as long as the poverty and violence in those three countries persist, we`re going to continue to knock our heads against the wall and deal with this problem, over and over again. And that`s what we need to really address here.

MADDOW: The Obama administration, including during your them your, faced criticism from immigrant rights advocates and from others about the pace of deportations, about the overall approach to border security and when -- in particular, when there was that spike of people coming from Central America, about detaining families together.


MADDOW: What were the lessons learned there?

JOHNSON: Well, good question. I was surprised, frankly, to find out, of 34,000 immigration detention beds in 2014, we only had 95 capable of holding family units. And so, we expanded that capability pretty significantly. And frankly, I made a big deal about it.

We did a number of things in the summer of 2014, including highlighting the fact that we were expanding our detention capability. It was not catch and release. We worked with the government of Mexico to help them secure their southern border. We encouraged them to do that. They pledged to do that. And we highlighted the dangers of the journey.

So, by July 2014, the crisis was pretty much over. I`ll never forget, I was always asking the border patrol specifically, are we doing this right? Is there anything else we should be doing?

And I would encourage my folks to bring forward ideas. Separating families is not something that I and the Obama administration were willing to do. But in the summer of 2015, a very senior border patrol chief told me, this family detention model we currently have is not sustainable, because what we`re doing is simply filling up the small capability we have, holding it as long as we can, and the large majority of them were still being released on some kind of conditions.

And so, we kind of reframed the model so that more people would see it, but for shorter stays. And then we got the court ruling in the Flores case, which everyone is talking about now, which really did make it difficult to hold on to families. But we had a very low number in 2015. By 2016, it began to creep up again. 2017, when President Trump got into office with his rhetoric, it went down.

And now, we`re seeing it revert to the normal patterns of 40,000 to 50,000 a month. And so, the real lesson to be learned here is you`ve got to address the underlying conditions in Central America. Otherwise, the problem is going to --


MADDOW: The new policy that president Trump set into motion today with this executive into motion today with his executive order -- we`re going to take a quick break but I want to ask you whether you think he`s created a new crisis or something viable, and I have one other totally unrelated matter that I`m desperate to ask you. Can you stay with me?


MADDOW: All right. How`s that for a tease? We`ll be right back with Jeh Johnson.


MADDOW: Joining us once again is Jeh Johnson who was secretary of homeland security during the Obama administration.

Thank you again for staying with us.

President Trump signed an executive order today that has one stated component and one non-stated component, both of which seem to be equally important. The unstated component is they are not planning on giving the kids back who have already been taken away. There does not seem to be any procedure in place to reuniting families and they`re not planning on implementing the policy on kids that have taken. That means there`s -- in my mind, there`s still a crisis about this, 2,300 kids who are out there without their parents.

JOHNSON: As well as the 11,000 in HHS shelters and the 30,000 or 40,000 migrants coming into the country a month now, yes.

MADDOW: The stated part of his policy today is there will now be -- they will abandon the separation -- further separation of families but they will continue with their zero tolerance policy, they will continue prosecuting everybody and now their plan is lock up families together.

From what I understand is there are three family detention facilities in the United States, two in Texas, one in Pennsylvania.

JOHNSON: Correct.

MADDOW: In total, they`ve got about 3,000 beds and they`re basically full.


MADDOW: So, where are those people going to go?

JOHNSON: Excellent question. If you read the executive order, it contemplates expanding that capability through DOD facilities. But it all depends upon the approval of the judge in Los Angeles that has limited DHS to basically 21 days on average stay for these facilities.

MADDOW: Holding kids, yes.

JOHNSON: And so, if you read the executive order carefully, it says DOJ shall apply to this judge for release from the terms of settlement from 20 years ago. And so, it very much hinges on that.

MADDOW: I have an unrelated matter that I have to talk to you about.


MADDOW: I have about 90 seconds to talk to you about this. You appear in James Comey`s book in a weird way and I have not asked you about this --


MADDOW: -- since this came out.

But James Comey says that before he headed in to talk to President Trump, he got a call from you that alarmed him. Before he ended up talking to President Trump about the Steele dossier allegations, during the transition.


MADDOW: I received a call from Jeh Johnson who had been a friend since we are federal prosecutors in Manhattan in the `80s. He`d been in the Oval Office that morning for the briefing. I had no idea if he was calling at President Obama`s suggestion or if the two even spoke about the matter. But he gave voice to how I viewed the Oval Office eyebrow raised from the president.

Jim, he quotes you as saying, I`m worried about this plan for you to privately brief the president-elect, he said. Me too, I replied. Have you ever met Donald Trump? he asked. No.

Jim, please be careful. Be very careful, this may not go well at all. I thank Jeh for the concern and the call. This was not making me feel better.

What was that about? Are you able to say what that was about?

JOHNSON: Well, I don`t normally talk about private conversations with my friend, but since Jim put it in the book, that which is stated is accurate. Jim and I were both acutely aware of the history of FBI during the Hoover period. And I was concerned that when he went in for the very first time to talk to Mr. Trump about this very awkward, sensitive dossier, I said to Jim, there`s a fine distinction between, hey, just telling you, Mr. President, so you know, versus just telling you so you know and don`t mess with me.

This was a time when the president-elect was attacking the intelligence community and I was concerned that the president-elect was going to hear the latter interpretation and not the former. And --

MADDOW: And he would think he was getting threatened by the FBI.

JOHNSON: I was concerned he might perceive that coming from the FBI director. And from subsequent statements, it seems to be that`s exactly how he interpreted it.

MADDOW: Jeh Johnson, thank you for clarifying that. I`m sorry I inserted that in an unrelated interview. But I know I had to ask you. Thank you, sir.

JOHNSON: No problem.

MADDOW: It`s good to have you here.

JOHNSON: Good to see you again.

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: One last warm little giblet of news to leave with you tonight. "Bloomberg" now reports that President Trump is going to meet Putin next month when he visits Europe. Until now, this meeting had been rumored. But now, according to "Bloomberg", it is on.

The meeting will reportedly occur either before the NATO summit in Brussels in July 11th or after Trump`s trip to Great Britain, July 13th. President Trump famously met with Mr. Putin last summer in Hamburg, Germany, at the G-20 Summit. Maybe this time they`ll talk about how Trump is lobbying to get Putin back in the G-7 or maybe they`ll talk about any of the other ideas that they have in common. But apparently, the deal is on.

That`s does it for me tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.



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