blog banner
Zero Tolerance: Mark Krikorian Interview | FRONTLINE

Zero Tolerance: Mark Krikorian Interview | FRONTLINE

>>Let’s start it up in ’13, really 2013, ’14, after the “autopsy” is written. What’s going on with the sort of establishment Republicans in the post-Mitt Romney defeat?>>The Republican establishment never really changed its thinking on the immigration issue. It’s just that they grabbed the opportunity of Romney’s defeat as a chance to try to reassert control over the immigration message, as it were, because Romney had strayed somewhat from the Jeb-ite, Bush-ite path. He wasn’t really that hawkish on immigration. I mean, it’s easy to exaggerate, but clearly he understood that this was something that needed to be addressed. He may not have been the—you know, the right messenger for that. Or, in addition, I don’t know that he really understood the issue well enough and the arguments well enough to be a good vehicle for them. Nonetheless, he had used immigration to some effect in the campaign. Then when he lost, especially considering that a lot of people figured he was going to win—it was— it was actually surprising for people that he had lost— that the establishment folks in the Republican Party said: “Aha. See? You know, I told you so.” And they went—they wrote the autopsy, and they tried to, you know, push the agenda that had been stymied in 2005, ’06 and ’07, when Bush and [Sen. John] McCain and [Sen. Ted] Kennedy and the rest of them had all gotten together to try to do the same kind of thing: amnesty everybody, increase immigration, and promise that it wouldn’t happen again.>>What did you think of those—of those efforts, of that effort?>>I didn’t think very much of it, because they weren’t addressing the basic problem, political problem, which is that—which is a trust gap. Nobody in the public actually believed that the political class would actually have a renewed commitment to enforcing the law. And what that would mean is we would just end up 10 years down the road with another 10 million illegal aliens we had to amnesty. In other words, that’s always been the problem. It’s never really amnesty in this group of illegal immigrants. The problem is always, are we going to now have another group that we’re going to have to amnesty down the road, because the promises of enforcement are again abandoned? I mean, that’s—really the betrayal from the 1986 bargain still poisons immigration politics today, and it’s the reason the 2007 push collapsed. It’s—the reason that the Gang of Eight bill didn’t get through the House of Representatives, is that—is this basic lack of trust, because in 1986, we’d never done anything like this before, and the bargain, the grand bargain was we’re going to amnesty the people who are here and have been established, kind of clear the decks. Going forward, we promise we’re going to do better, and we’re not going to have this problem again. It was a lie. And I don’t mean it was a failure and, you know, things didn’t work out. It was pretty clearly a lie from the beginning on the part of the pro-legalization people, because just a few years after that ’86 deal was signed, something like three years, maybe three and a half years later, the National Council of La Raza came out with this report saying that the bargain needed to be undone; in other words, that the—now that everybody had been amnestied, the ban on hiring illegal immigrants in the future, which was the enforcement component of that bargain, had to be undone and had to be legal again, to hire illegal aliens. And Ted Kennedy and [Sen.] Orrin Hatch got together, with La Raza, to actually push that through. … This is the point I’ve been trying to make to these, even to the pro-amnesty people, is that we’ve got to have stuff like E-Verify up and running, in place and functioning, before we can then talk about amnestying the people who are here. And their resistance to that is the reason this issue just stagnates and staggers from one year to the next.>>… Let’s say it’s ’13, ’14, ’15, somewhere in there. One of the things we’re doing is we’re following the tracks of Steve Bannon, who we’ve spent a lot of time with, Steve Miller and Jeff Sessions and the sort of Breitbart world they were in for a while and the effect of that on both the [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor race and on and on and on, up through Trump. So let’s go—let’s go back to what their very first ideas were, which was they don’t like the idea of the autopsy. They didn’t like the idea of where it was coming. They didn’t like the bill in Congress, and they did what they could to shut it down. Did you know—you know those guys around the time they were starting to get up and running?>>I mean, Bannon, I never—I think I met him once. Not even then—it was years later. But the—but obviously, Stephen and Sen. Sessions we knew. And, I mean, the senator had been active in fighting the earlier amnesty push that McCain and Kennedy and the rest of them were trying to orchestrate. So yeah, I mean, we were—yes, I knew them.>>Can you give me a sense of who Sessions was at that time, to you guys, what—? How much value, what was he like, etc.?>>On any political issue, you’re going to have a lot of congressmen who agree with you. But there’s a difference between a congressman who agrees with you when a vote comes up and one that is actually a leader on the issue. And Sessions really was the only person at that time in the Senate who was a genuine leader on the immigration issue among the immigration hawks. In other words, there were other people in the Senate who were—who could be relied on to vote the right way when push came to shove. And, in fact, most Republican senators in 2013 voted against the Gang of Eight bill. … There’s a difference between voting the right way and then moving onto the next thing on the one hand, and actually being a leader who’s talking about it all the time. And Sessions was that person. There are, you know—and that’s true with any kind of issue. Whether it’s taxes or abortion or anything, there’s always going to be a few people who are the squeaky wheels, who basically are the leaders that other people look to. Sessions was the only person like that, really, in the Senate. And I don’t mean the—I mean, I mean no— I don’t mean to denigrate [Chuck] Grassley, for instance, who was good and has been important and instrumental in the issue. But Sessions was the one talking about it all the time, and devoting staff to developing expertise, and constantly doing outreach to other offices. Anytime something happens, you know, send out letters, send out press releases, all of that stuff. …>>How valuable was Steve Miller in that effort?>>I think he was very valuable. I mean, in a sense, you might have to talk to Sessions about that, because he had other staff people who were important and involved in that. And there were other staff people, Grassley’s staff and others. But clearly, Miller was the most out-front person. He was communications director, so obviously he’s going to be out there publicly as well. But he was relentless in pointing out the flaws in the bill, you know, and taking the little cracks and, you know, sticking the screwdriver in and scraping away and trying to make it bigger and trying to make the differences sharper and trying to make— trying to bring into public view elements of the bill that frankly its sponsors didn’t want to talk about. For instance, the bill doubled immigration, doubled legal immigration, almost doubled guest-worker admissions. This is something that the sponsors of the bill never talked about. The compliant media never asked them about. They were not challenged about it in any way. And the immigration hawk organizations, whether it’s a think tank like mine or the activist groups like [NumbersUSA] and others, they could talk about it all they want, but only when one of the participants in that conflict, when one of the senators actually makes a big deal of it is it likely to get the kind of attention it needs. And that’s one of the things that Sessions was doing and that Miller was, you know, instrumental in the communications part of it.>>And the power of Breitbart just hammering away at it, hammering away?>>Yeah.>>Does that matter?>>I think it does matter, because it matters a lot that Breitbart constantly was talking about it, because how do you break through the white noise of public life to ordinary voters? Nixon once said something to one of his assistants, that, you know, the 100th time you have made the same point, and you’re completely sick of hearing yourself say it, is the first time someone else is hearing that. And that’s why it’s essential that somebody was hammering away at those issues publicly. And there wasn’t anybody other than Breitbart really doing it. Eventually other conservative media were attracted. National Review started going after it. I mean, it became—the bill really did become toxic among conservative media. But there had to be somebody all the time banging the drum on that. And, you know, it’s—remember who was the previous editor of The New York Times said, when there was some big story, they were going to flood the zone. That was his phrase: “Flood the zone.” What was his name? I forget the guy’s name.>>Howell Raines said it. >>Yeah, it was Raines who said that. Well, they flooded the zone. I mean, there’s a—that’s—that’s an essential thing to do if you’re going to get movement, especially on an issue like immigration, where all of the organized interest groups are on one side. If you are, you know, fighting over, I don’t know, carried interest, something, there is people with money who can buy time and buy attention on both sides of that debate. Or, you know, should you—should the Army buy this fighter or that fighter, or whatever it is? There’s always moneyed interests on both sides, and money is necessary to get your voice heard. There’s no moneyed interest on the side of tighter control and lower numbers. It literally does not exist. And so that makes something like Breitbart’s role in constantly banging the drum even more important than it would have been on any other issue.>>You know what’s interesting about this, as we look back on it, that [Rupert] Murdoch, [Roger] Ailes and Fox were on the Reince Priebus-autopsy side in these days. I mean, you’ve got—>>I mean, they weren’t super cheerleaders, if I remember, but they were clearly— they were not at all leading against the bill. And some of them, obviously, were clearly for it. I mean, [Sean] Hannity was, you know, I mean, he’ll kind of go whichever way the—you know, the establishment wind sometimes blows, you know what I mean? And so he was—and they were doing a good job with— by putting [Sen. Marco] Rubio out front. He was—you know, he’s a bright new face of tomorrow’s conservatism and all that sort of thing, and he pre-emptively tried to get—you know, to get people, to co-opt people so they wouldn’t be opposing the bill. And so I think that’s what you saw with Fox. In other words, I’m not—it’s not—I don’t think, you know, they got a memo and said, “OK, this is what we’re going to say.” But they, I think, did buy into the autopsy fairy tale. And the conservative voices pushing the Gang of Eight bill did a good job of, I think, of co-opting them.>>The way the story goes, the way Bannon tells the story, and I think the way Miller tells the story, or hopefully we’ll talk to Sessions about it, they sort of decide, and maybe you, too, that Eric Cantor is a reasonable target to, as a demonstration project, if nothing else, to the Republican establishment that there is a base out there that is not playing the game the way they think the game should be played.>>I mean, I wasn’t in on any of that stuff, really. I mean, I think I—I talked to [David] Brat like during the campaign as far as, you know, going over immigration issues, and he had questions. And I mean, he knew a good deal about it. But—so I wasn’t involved in the politics of it. My sense is that it was a combination of things. Cantor was already somewhat vulnerable because he hadn’t done a good job of keeping in touch, you know, with constituents. I mean, he had become kind of Washington’s representative to the district instead of the district’s representative to Washington. And that happens. And I’m not even— I’m not slamming the guy. But the point is, that was already there. And there was clearly a need to—you know, to get a scalp. And his was the scalp that came up. And it’s—I talked to some staff people on our side, in other words, who were completely hawkish on immigration. And they were a little wistful, because Cantor wasn’t the worst person you could imagine on the Republican Party on immigration. You know, he had actually— I mean, there were a lot worse people. On the other hand, number one, he’s in leadership. Number two, he already had this vulnerability, completely unrelated to politics, that did overlap this idea that the Republican elite was disconnected from its own public on the immigration issue, because he sort of had become kind of the lobbyist congressman in a sense, and so he, you know, he paid the price for it.>>And if you—if you—I mean, as we look at it, you’ve got Breitbart, as you say, pounding away at it, and you’ve got—you’ve got Cantor as a target. And they go through, Bannon and others, they go to Laura Ingraham; they go to Mark Levin. They start the radio, the right-wing radio guys, whatever they are, whatever you want to call them, [Rush] Limbaugh. They all decide, “We’re going to take this guy down.” And they do. >>Yep. Yep. And that was clearly, you know—I mean, I think there were two things, though, that killed the chances of getting that bill through. Obviously, Cantor was the dramatic single event. But also the border crisis really started getting attention then, the so-called unaccompanied minors, in big numbers. And I think those two things— because the unaccompanied-minors thing wasn’t just an event that happened on one day; it was a process. But it was something that actually had been building since Obama announced that DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] decree, because really, as soon as he announced it, that’s when the unaccompanied-minors thing started. People say: “No, of course not. They wouldn’t qualify for DACA.” It’s like, you know, obviously not. That’s not the point. The point is, the president had clearly sent a message: If you’re illegal and you come here as a child, eventually we’re going to give you a work permit and a Social Security number. That sparked that. By 2014, it got big enough that it really burst into the news. I even sent a team down to South Texas, a reporter who works for me, a Pulitzer Prize winner, actually. He sent Duke Cunningham to jail. Jerry Kammer is his name. But getting a Pulitzer doesn’t mean you keep your job in journalism anymore. So anyway, I sent him down with a cameraman and did a bunch of videos. He had lived in Mexico. He had been Arizona Republic’s Mexico correspondent for years, and so he speaks Spanish fluently. So he was at the McAllen bus station in 2014. I don’t remember exactly what date it was. It would have been before the election, because this stuff kind of built up, and then— and then the election kind of exploded it. But he related talking to a Guatemalan woman, who, with a friend of hers, came up. You know, they each had a kid or two. And, you know, they did the bogus asylum claim, and they were just delivered to the bus station, waiting for their bus. He was talking them up, and the woman said: “Well, yeah, back in Guatemala, we were watching CNN, and they said that if you bring a kid with you, they’ll let you go. And then somebody on the other side of town did it, and you know, we heard that it worked for them, and so we figured, what the heck? We’ll do it.” I’m only saying this because that kind of set the— that was almost the background rumble. And then Cantor’s defeat really sealed the deal that there was just no way the House was going to vote on that bill. …>>… How do you feel about Trump’s candidacy when you see it coming up and starting to become a potential reality?>>I mean, I wrote about that a lot on National Review. So it’s not a secret I was a [Sen. Ted] Cruz guy myself, although, you know, upon reflection, I don’t think Cruz could have won the election. I think Trump is the only guy who could have won that. But my take has always been, Trump is the symptom; he’s not the problem. You know, I wish Abraham Lincoln had been on the ballot, too, and I would have voted for Lincoln. But Lincoln wasn’t on the ballot. And what Trump did is essentially a kind of hostile takeover of a dysfunctional company called the Republican Party. They were not reflecting the real concerns of their voters, and so someone else came in and snapped their voters out from under them. And shame on all those other politicians running for office…and shame on all those other guys running for president, and their predecessors, for having allowed that to happen. … But as unappealing as a hostile takeover by, you know, a—by an outside fund is of a company, it usually happens for a reason, and it has to happen if the corporation is going to succeed. And in this sense, it had to happen if the Republican Party was going to succeed. So you know, as unappealing as Trump is, in a lot of ways— and I’ve said all kinds of rude things about the guy, and I don’t take any of them back— he, you know, he was necessary, and still is.>>So here’s the—here’s the—here’s the thing about immigration. This brings us to immigration and Trump, is— and Bannon and Miller and Sessions, who were all there at the center with him about immigration, they say they signed him up, or they signed up with him, however you want to think about it, because of immigration, and their recognition that, in the base, immigration was the number one issue. Talk to me a little bit about that: the base, immigration as the number one issue, and Trump and immigration.>>The politics, postwar politics had been left versus right. This is true in Europe and here. You know, high taxes or lower taxes, all this kind of stuff. Especially once the Soviet Union disappeared and globalization became a thing, politics is no longer really a matter of right and left; it’s become a matter of up and down, basically a patriotic public versus a postnational elite. And that realignment, that reshuffling is exactly what we’re seeing in Europe, and it’s what we are seeing here. Immigration is the issue that’s most salient in that— in that dispute over whether the nation or postnational priorities should take first— you know, should be a first concern. Trade obviously figures in there. But trade just doesn’t resonate with as many people in the same way. I mean, obviously, if you’re an autoworker or something, importing Japanese cars, that—that kind of thing, I’m not saying it’s nothing. And I’m not even saying it’s not important. I’m saying it doesn’t resonate with people in the same way. Immigration does. So my point is, immigration was the tip of the spear of that conflict between nations and globalism, rather than just a free-floating thing that people just kind of attached themselves to. And like I said, we’re seeing that in England; we’re seeing that in France and Italy and Hungary and a lot of places. And Trump saw that apparently, and took advantage of it. It’s not because he’s playing four-dimensional chess or any of that stuff. It’s because he does have—he does seem to have a pretty good gut instinct for what ordinary people are thinking about, because really, the guy is a blue-collar guy who just happens to have a lot of money, if you think about it. I mean, you know, that’s where you get the gold faucets and all that kind of stuff. I mean, that’s, you know, people who come from money don’t often have gold-plated bathroom fixtures, you know what I mean? He’s like a—he’s a—you know, I mean, his dad wasn’t a truck driver, but he’s kind of— because his dad had money, too. But he kind of has that aesthetic. But it’s not just an act, as far as I can tell. It’s actually who he is. And so he does have a better gut sense of what ordinary folks think. But also, his gut reaction to things is more consistent with the gut reactions of regular people. In other words, I’m not sure how much of it is Trump sitting in there and saying, “OK, now what is it that’s important to people, and let’s craft a message that’s going to—” It’s more like he’s reading the paper, and he’s saying, “What the hell is going on with this?,” just like the guy at the bar is watching CNN and saying, “What the hell is going on with this?” In other words, his reactions are similar to those that a lot of ordinary people have. And that’s, I think, one of his strengths, that he resonates with people, because he shares their— their worldview in a lot of ways.>>… So when you—it just is a great setup for a territory we’re trying to understand. When you look at something like DACA in September, when Sessions steps up and maybe forces his hand, or maybe he asks Sessions to do it, but do you know about that? How does Sessions—how does that get started?>>Yeah, I actually didn’t know what happened. I’d been banging that drum since inauguration.>>So why did Sessions step out and say, “This is it; I can’t support it; we’ve got to— we’ve got to do something about DACA”?>>Because they’d gone for what, eight months, after having said he’s going to end DACA on day one, they didn’t. It was day 200. I mean, from my perspective, better late than never. But they were—you know, they weren’t going to do it if they weren’t pushed into it. That was my sense.>>But what were they waiting for? … Months go by. People like you are sitting out there, who were expecting something on Monday. It’s now five, six, seven months. Are you raising a ruckus, kicking up some dust, reaching out to people and saying, “What’s going on?” >>I mean, I was making something of a ruckus in— you know, in print, I mean, because I kept banging away at it. But, you know, I had—I mean, given the fact that I wasn’t a big—had not—given the fact that I had not been a big Trump fan, it’s not as though I was picking up the phone or texting Stephen Miller. So like I said, I was doing my complaining in public, which maybe isn’t the best way of doing things, but that’s kind of the way I do it. >>Let me ask you this, because you, Mark, you were— you said earlier that you thought Sessions was incredibly valuable as a leader in the Senate on the immigration issue. He then is attorney general of the United States of America. And even if he has recused himself in March, and even if maybe he’s on the outs personally with the president of the United States, he has an office; he has a staff, and Miller—Miller, too. And back and forth, they’re very close. Do you have any indication that they were working on getting things ready, like DACA and other things, with attorneys general, and our U.S. attorneys and others from there?>>I have no idea. I really don’t. I mean, I’m afraid to— I just don’t know what was going on there. And quite honestly, you know, I would be—I have never— I would love to find out how much—you know, how did Miller’s relationship with Sessions change once Sessions became Trump’s punching bag. I don’t know. But, you know, Sessions is gone, and Miller is still there. So my point is, once that whole recusal thing happened, and the president soured on Sessions, I’m not—I mean, I don’t—I don’t know for a fact how—how well Miller and Sessions then continued to work together. …>>Well, there’s a little bit of light that can shine on it because of the Sept. 5 announcement by Sessions that DACA is next. And it makes sense, if you think about it. Let’s say there’s a grievance from Sessions. Let’s say there’s a little bit of revenge moment here. He’s at least trying to box the president in, or maybe he’s a friend of the president’s and he wants to help him fulfill a campaign promise. Something like that is going on. >>Yeah, presumably. Now Sessions, you know, is still loyal to the president’s agenda, and he’s not—like he, for instance, is not going to be writing a kiss-and-tell book. He’s not that kind of guy, you know what I mean? So that I’m not sure revenge would have been an issue. I’m thinking it’s more that he was trying to, you know— it’s more that he was trying to move things along by declaring that his legal opinion as attorney general is that the DACA decree was unlawful. And so it’s like, OK, well, then what? How can you keep continuing—how can you keep doing it if your attorney general has just said it’s unlawful? I would love—I really don’t know whether that came as a surprise to the White House or not. It might have, for all I know. But I don’t know. I don’t know.>>… Were you happy that Sessions, Sessions the guy you’ve talked about earlier in this interview, was the attorney general, independent of recusal, because he’s there on your issue?>>Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, he was—I was— I remember after the election, I asked him, I said, “So, you know, do you want—you’re going to be DHS [Department of Homeland Security] secretary?” And he said, “No, no,” he said. Attorney general is what I would, you know, like.” And that’s actually more appropriate for him. He was attorney general of Alabama. I mean, that’s the right job. DHS secretary is a very different kind of job from attorney general. But no, absolutely. I mean, he was the ideal person in that job. And I don’t mean to denigrate [William] Barr. He seems to have done a pretty good job. But no, Sessions, from my perspective—but he also, you know, does other things other than immigration. But yeah, absolutely, from our perspective. What it meant was that he would make sure he had staff that were focusing on this issue all the time. It’s a similar thing as in Congress. In other words, on any issue, you need a leader, whether it’s, you know, a lawmaker who’s banging the drum on the issue, but even in an administrative department, if the guy at the top is focused on X issue, he’s going to have staff working on it; they’re going to be checking with their subordinates— OK, where did this go? How has it been moving?—where if it’s something that’s not as high priority, you kind of can let the bureaucrats go at their own speed, and it’s not necessarily going to move change in the same way. So it’s—it was very important that Sessions was attorney general and that he brought in people, staffpeople, who shared his, you know, his goals on immigration.>>OK. So let’s go back to DACA now, because we’re watching this president we talked about, who—is he? Isn’t he? Is he squishy? Is he not? Is he really there? Is he really not? It was stopped up on the first week. Now here we are, seven months later, and it’s going to happen. It has to happen. And Sessions, his attorney general, even though they’re not best friends anymore, has made it happen. And suddenly, the television news, the other things are filled with … “Dreamers.”>>Sure. Well, that was going to happen. I mean, just to go back to Trump, his take on the issue. Again, I think Trump’s reaction to the DACA issue is consistent with a lot of regular people’s take on it, because DACA is popular for a reason. I mean, it’s an illegal act by Obama. But the idea that kids who grew up here, who were illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay is something that, I mean, I’m for, too. You know what I mean? So my point here is that Trump’s gut reaction to that is similar to most people’s gut reaction. It’s like, yeah, OK. Now, DACA and the DREAM Act that it grew from take that impulse and then try to push the envelope in a bunch of ways. The idea that someone who came here at 15 years old and spends five years here is now somehow psychologically and emotionally already an American and can never go back is laughable, whereas someone who came at 18 months old or 5 years old, spent his whole life here, went to school here and all that stuff, there’s a stronger case to make for that. … But my point is that in—you know, if you are over the breakfast table, flipping through the newspaper with your orange juice, and you see here’s some kid who’s been here since he was 4 months old and doesn’t know any English—doesn’t know any Spanish, and, you know, is doing well in school, and has his heart set on joining the Marine Corps so he can hunt down and kill America’s enemies when he gets out of school, it’s like yeah, yeah, of course we should let that guy stay, you know what I mean? And that’s kind of Trump’s reaction. So my point is, the ambivalence that we saw in the administration is actually understandable. The problem is that Trump himself, I think, didn’t think through how to take that instinctive gut reaction, but—but mold it in such a way that the policy outcome would be something that you had promised. In other words, yes, these are terrific kids, or whatever it is that he said during the campaign when he met with some of them. But, you know, we’re going to stop renewals as of six months from—you know, in six months, we’re going to stop processing renewals to give Congress time to fix this, because we really want to fix it, and they’re terrific kids and all this stuff. The point is, there’s a way to have reconciled his perfectly natural and widely shared gut sense that, you know, kids who grow up here should be allowed to stay with the things that he’d been saying during the campaign. It’s just that it didn’t happen.>>You know, it’s so rare in American democracy that—or especially if you cover, as we have, White Houses over the decades, to actually get a moment that we all get to watch, where this particularly ambivalent president is trying to do a deal. So he invites the cameras in. [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein is there. [Rep. Kevin] McCarthy is there. They’re all there. In the corner is Stephen Miller, like oh, my God, it’s that—>>Well, even McCarthy started to freak out.>>Exactly. Tell me what you thought when you watched that happen.>>I mean, I wasn’t pleased, but I can’t say I was surprised, because, you know, Trump doesn’t have any policy grounding. It’s all kind of gut reaction. And you know, he wants to—wants to be popular in the room that he’s in, with the people that he’s sitting with, whenever it is, whoever is there. And so, you know, he is the kind of guy who, at least rhetorically, is—is going to be prone to just giving away the store, which is why even McCarthy, who’s kind of a squish on all of these things, immediately piped up during that meeting— I remember that quite distinctly on TV, saying, “Well, Mr. President, I think what you mean is…”— something like that. I forget exactly what happened. But even McCarthy had to rein him in. Now, that having been said, he could say anything he wants in a meeting, and then everybody leaves, and then, you know, his staff says, “Well, you know, Mr. President, what that really means is, if we did this—,” and then they would just, you know, back away from it maybe. So it’s not like I was too worried about it, because you can give away the store at a meeting on TV and then just walk it back, which the president has done all kinds of times on all kinds of issues. >>But this is one that’s near and dear to your heart.>>Yeah, yeah, no, no, I agree. But my point is, it didn’t particularly surprise me. I mean, yes, it was—it was disconcerting. And I did kind of have my head in my hands. But I’ve had that a lot in listening to the President… And that was just one more instance of that kind of thing. >>… In fact, in the 48 hours from when he says to Dianne Feinstein, “Go write it up, and I’ll—you know, we’ll talk,” in that 48 hours, Fox, which has by now moved over and is harsh on this issue, beats him around the head and shoulders a little bit. Certainly, Miller is all over it. By the time [Sens. Dick] Durbin and Lindsey Graham call him in the morning, at 11:00, and say, “We got it,” and he says, “Come on over, fellows,” what they walk into, of course, is [Sen. Tom] Cotton, [Sen. David] Purdue, Miller has built the room up, fed the statistics to the president, and he’s gone to school on this, I gather.>>… I think it was a learning experience even for the other side, that just because the president agrees with you and nods your head and says, you know, sort of whispers sweet nothings into your ear at this meeting, does not mean—there’s no—there’s no kind of commitment. And you know, in a sense, that probably shouldn’t have been surprising to them, but it was— it was good that they learned that. And—and this idea that—I mean, this—you see this a lot. You used to see this a lot anyway, that, you know, Miller is sort of pulling the strings and the puppet master and that sort of, you know, Trump is this dummy that— that Miller is manipulating, it’s just—it’s laughable. It just strikes me as absurd. And when people say [Jared] Kushner is doing the same thing, it’s absurd.>>But why does that—?>>Because a guy like Trump is not going to have some 30-year-old telling him what to think. Yes, he does rely on staff, whether it’s Stephen or it’s Jared, for, you know, assistance and input and information. But the idea that they’re going to be pulling his strings, that it’s President Kushner or President Miller or something, it’s just—it’s—it just is laughable. I mean, the guy has—Trump is much too big an ego and much too strong a personality to be pushed around on stuff like that. I just—I just never believed that stuff.>>Then—then, Mark, he says, “shithole.”>>Yeah, well, he probably said that all kinds of times. It wasn’t that he said “shithole”; it’s that—it’s that, you know, Durbin or whoever it was immediately ran to the media and said, “Oh, my God, the president said a bad word.” You know, that was, again, the kind of thing a guy in a bar watching TV over a beer would say. And that’s who Trump is. He’s just a guy with a lot of money who’s sitting in a bar, watching TV over a beer. And so, you know, he was just speaking normally, and Durbin, you know, realized this was an opportunity to sort of get one over on the president. And I think, I mean, in a sense, it was almost—in a sense, it was the president’s naiveté, I think, that led to that problem. It’s not as though he or anyone else hasn’t basically either said or thought the same kind of thing. But it’s that he didn’t—I don’t think he appreciated that Durbin is not his friend. …>>Let’s talk about “zero tolerance.” Happens a little later now. Once again, it’s Attorney General Sessions to the rescue in some ways, pushes it forward. Once again, there’s coverage of the crying babies and the little children. Once again, it has an effect on the president of the United States. What are you thinking when you’re watching and you’re part of, in some ways, the aspiration, at least, of zero tolerance? >>I think the administration— the administration’s failure there was the same as with the travel ban, is that they didn’t do the preparation, the public preparation that was necessary in order to try to limit the outcry. In other words, the point to the zero tolerance, what zero tolerance means, is that if you cross illegally, that’s a federal crime, and they’re going to try you for it, because most of the time, people who cross illegally are not tried. They’re dealt with not criminally but civilly, because you can deal with it either way. Under Bush, there had actually been initiatives called Operation Streamline, where in certain portions of the border they prosecuted everybody for illegal entry. And it was—you know, it was a kind of experimental thing. They tried it in areas that had less traffic just to see how it worked, because U.S. attorneys generally couldn’t care less about most immigration offenses, certainly this kind of thing. But what they did is they, you know, they— they got organized. They said: “Look, we’re going to bring 10, 20 people in at a time. There’s no question that they’re guilty, because they’re here. I mean, if they’re—literally, if their feet are in the United States, they’ve committed the crime. There’s nothing to prove.” And they would bring a whole bunch of them in at a time. They’d all plead guilty. They’d be given time served or five days or something. The point was not to put them in jail; it was to get the criminal conviction, send the message, “This is serious,” and then you’d deport them, so if they do return, and you make clear to them: “If you return, you’re going to real jail. You’re not going to be in a—you’re going to prison. You’re not going to be in a jail with a couple of other illegal aliens for four days. You’re going to be, you know, bunking with somebody with tattoos all over his face.” And most of these guys are just ordinary schmos. They’re not criminals. They don’t want to spend any more quality time with an MS-13 head chopper than anybody else does. That was the point to it. And so what the—and under Obama, they pretty much stopped it, obviously. So that point was to essentially re-establish Operation Streamline, so that if you cross the border illegally, you’re going to be prosecuted. What happened with the family separation thing is that people were bringing kids, because the kids were their passport into the United States under our ridiculous loophole-ridden policies. So the Marshals Service doesn’t take the kids into custody when the parents are tried. And so when they take the parents into custody for the trial, the kids magically, legally speaking, are now unaccompanied minors. That’s what happened, and it seems to me that— and it’s easy to second-guess. I’m not necessarily blaming anybody, but there’s a certain Monday-morning quarterbacking here. But the way to have approached that would have been to come up with an arrangement for ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to maintain custody of those people rather than pass them to the Marshals Service. I mean, the Marshals Service would take them to court, but they wouldn’t serve their five days or whatever it is. They wouldn’t legally be separated from the kids. They would still be in ICE custody. They’d be separated for a couple hours to go to the courtroom and come back. They would serve their five days in ICE custody, and then ICE would already have them for the deportation, and they’d be sent home. …>>So in terms of DACA and in terms of separation or zero tolerance, over those eight or nine months, fall of ’17 and spring of ’18 into the early summer, from your perspective, how do they do? What is the net effect of your quest and crusade as a result of what this White House did?>>… The answer is, you know, I don’t think you can— I mean, I don’t think it’s appropriate even to judge success or failure in that kind of relatively short time period. I mean, I’m not sure if—I’m not sure if the net effect of the Trump administration on immigration policy in the end is going to be positive or negative. I mean, that’s actually kind of an open question from my perspective. But it’s a question we can’t answer until the administration is completed, and then we look at it in retrospect. …>>Let’s talk a little bit about the politics now of it as well. Let’s go to last summer. It’s—midterms are coming. What’s being raised in political terms from the White House is, we’ve got to get immigration out there in front. It’s the—if the Democrats are—if we all automatically are going to lose some seats, but the Democrats— if we’re going to stop the Democrats, immigration is our issue. We’ve got to say there’s caravans coming; we’ve got to use the [murdered student] Mollie Tibbetts story; we’ve got to put the military on location. We’ve got to do what we can do to make it look like a crisis. Did you agree with the politics of it? >>I mean, it was a crisis. I don’t do politics, so, I mean, I don’t— as far as elections and stuff, I don’t know, but it was a real crisis. And, you know, using the military can be theatrical, but there’s actually a practical purpose to it. I mean, those guys do in fact free up Border Patrol agents to do what they’re supposed to be doing, although now even the Border Patrol agents are just welcome wagon at this point. But so there’s a—there’s an actual practical policy reason to use National Guard or military on the border. It’s just that I think the president’s gut reaction, again, is very similar to regular people: Let’s send the Army down there. It’s just that then, when you find out actually what— how that works, they’re not patrolling the border, shooting people who are coming across; they’re driving buses and helping the Border Patrol. It’s a support role, but it’s—it’s an important support role. Mollie Tibbetts likewise. I mean, you can overplay that, I think. You know, it’s like: “Oh, my God, an illegal alien killed an American girl. Terrible.” And that’s—obviously, it was terrible. But there are policy consequences to it. I mean, I wrote about it at the time. It wasn’t quite as bad as [murder victim] Kate Steinle, because this wasn’t a sanctuary issue and all the rest of it. But the guy had succeeded in working here for years and using fake information and, you know, had a driver’s license and all the rest of it, and gotten away with it. So that’s, you know, that tells us something about the weaknesses in our immigration system. Again, can you overplay that? Sure. You can overplay anything. And did they? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t have—I can’t— I don’t know that they overplayed that. But it’s a real thing. And as far as at the border, it really is a crisis. I mean, to this day, there is not a single Democratic elected official who is willing to say, “Well, you know, maybe 100,000 people showing up at the border and saying, you know, ‘I want to claim asylum,’ and then, you know, they get to stay for the rest of their lives because ICE is never going to look for them,” that that’s somehow a problem. There isn’t a single one who’s saying that. Former Democratic officials are saying it. [Sen.] Claire McCaskell has made that point. She’s no longer in office. Jeh Johnson, DHS secretary, former DHS secretary under Obama, who, you know, he’s an Obama guy, but he’s a serious guy, he’s been willing to come out and say this is a crisis. To this day, no Democratic elected official has been willing to say that. But my point is, it was a crisis then, and it was pretty clearly a crisis. And it was smaller, and we could have headed off a lot of the problems we’re dealing with now, had we not. So these are real things. It’s not as though the administration shouldn’t have been talking about this stuff. These were real problems. >>… Tell me what you think happened with the shutdown. >>I mean, again, understand this is not— no little birdie gave me updates from inside the White House.>>But you’re looking from a perspective of a certain issue. And the impact of it?>>Yeah. I mean, the impact was—was bad for the president, because when you draw a line in the sand, and then somebody crosses it and you draw another line in the sand, it’s essentially what Obama was doing with the red line in Syria. People just don’t believe you anymore. And the president, you know, could sign one bad funding bill, and did, but then said, “I’m never going to sign one of these again.” Then he did. You know what I mean? So if you’re going to have a government shutdown, you need to have an exit strategy. You know, it’s the same as Vietnam. You need to know how you’re going to get out of this thing before you get into it. And the problem is, they didn’t have an exit strategy. And at some point, they were going to have to reopen the government, because the Democrats weren’t going to deal. I mean, if they thought that, they were mistaken, because there was no way the Democrats were going to give the president anything he wanted, because, you know, partly he’s the loudest voice on the issue, so he’s going to end up getting the blame regardless. But, you know, the media works for the Democrats. And I’m not being facile about this or— but I mean, you know, yes, they do. And so there was no way to develop a narrative where the Democrats were to blame for the government shutdown. It just—it wasn’t going to fly. I’m not saying it’s not true. Of course it actually was true, but it wasn’t— that was not the storyline that was ever going to work out. So the point is, they were going to have to back down, and when you back down, you end up, you know, looking weak. And that’s what happened. It’s similar to this—the idea that the president was toying with of shutting the border crossings down on Mexico. This was what, a couple months ago they were talking about this. You’re going to have—if you do that, you’re going to have to reopen the border at some point. I mean, the car plants will all start closing. You know, it’s not—but if you—if you close the border for one day, and you say, “We’re shutting everything down for 24 hours to send a message,” well, you’ve created an exit strategy, because when the 24 hours is up, you open it up again, and you get to say: “See? See? See how difficult that was? You don’t want me to do that again, do you?” That’s why I think the—the government shutdown was a defeat for the president, because they had no exit strategy, and they were going to end up losing. There was no way they—it seems to me there was no way they couldn’t lose, in which case—I mean, I don’t— you know, look, I’m not a legislative strategist; I’m not sure there was any good result that could have come out of that. But clearly the result wasn’t good for the president. It showed him as weak. And he’s—you know, he said, “I’m never going to sign another one of these again.” And then he did. >>… So then he has a real crisis. Now, if there wasn’t—if it wasn’t a real crisis— you say it was a crisis. >>It was a crisis then, but it’s a bigger crisis now, absolutely.>>Right. How big?>>Our border, as we’re— well, you guys do your editing however you want. But as we’re talking here in June, our border is ceasing to exist. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. If—I mean, even The New York Times actually had a great quote last week, that the Border Patrol is no longer even able to have any control over the number or character of people who are entering the United States. I mean, it’s that serious. We no longer have border control. And, you know, this is not—I’m not hyperventilating. This isn’t—I’m not out there giving stump speeches. I’m saying that we no longer have a border in any meaningful sense. We have a show border that doesn’t, cannot, We’re now seeing 100,000 people a month. It’s growing. It may go down a little in the summer, but that’s— that would just be a little blip. The numbers are continuing to go up, and it’s not just Central America. Central America is just the closest place. We’re starting to see people from Africa in significant numbers. They have been coming anyway, but now they’re doing it in the same strategy the smugglers have used for Central Americans, where you have 100, 200, 300 people just show up. Essentially makes any patrolling of the border impossible during that whole shift, because you’ve got to get everybody blankets and burritos and stuff, and take somebody to the hospital. And so the Border Patrol just becomes a welcome wagon. It’s going to spread. We’re going to have planeloads of people from Pakistan and Indonesia and everyplace else. We’ve already got Romanian Gypsies coming over the Canadian border. I’ve actually seen some of them. Again, they’re bringing a kid, because the word has gotten out: If you have a minor with you, you are— you’re let into the United States. You get a work permit, because we parole them. And if you lose your asylum claim, no one will ever look for you. So it’s essentially a permanent residence in the United States, is what it amounts to. That means we don’t have a border. I mean, this really is serious. And it’s going to get worse. And I don’t think the Democrats appreciate what a danger it is for them. I think they are kind of enjoying it. It’s schadenfreude for them. “Ha ha. Orange stupid man said he was going to be tough on immigration, and now there’s more people than ever sneaking across the border. And it’s not a crisis, but it’s Trump’s fault anyway.” But the president is, I think, doing a reasonably good job of showing that he’s actually trying everything he can. That’s what this tariff threat is about, too, is look, we’re running out of options. We’re going to, you know, have this tariff on Mexican goods until Mexico—unless Mexico starts cooperating more than it is already. I’m skeptical that that’s going to work. But as a—as a step in showing voters that you’re doing everything you can, but ultimately, unless Congress plugs these loopholes, you can’t fix this. I think it’s actually an important step. And the danger to Democrats is, next November, if this is still bad, they’re in trouble. I mean, this is, you know, they’re— they are essentially filling the Angela Merkel role from, you know, Europe in 2015, inviting in a million-plus people from abroad. Obviously, it’s different, because the president’s the president. In other words, the sort of the person in charge of the government is not the one doing this. But Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House, and [Chuck] Schumer has a veto over anything that goes through the Senate because of the filibuster. They’re the ones that are stopping this. The previous Congress, yes, should have done a better job on this. But they actually did have legislation that included some of these fixes that the White House wants. The legislation failed in the Senate. It almost passed in the House. The reason it didn’t, really, is because of [then-Speaker of the House] Paul Ryan, who was a Republican, but an anti-Trump Republican. I think there’s a real danger here that some Democrats who are not in office are starting to see that this can blow up in their faces, because if the public gets the sense that the Democrats are the reason we can’t get control over the situation at the border, they’re going to get a two-by-four to the side of the head. So in some sense, I don’t think the White House is operating on a “worse is better” strategy. I think they really are trying to do whatever they can think of to try to stem this. But it could actually work out to their advantage in the sense that this gets so bad, and obviously whoever the Democrats nominate is going to be even less likely to get control over what’s going on at the border. And so, you know, I think it’s going to rebound to Trump’s benefit. >>… And does it feel to you like the administration has an organized, coherent approach? I mean, with all of the shakeup at DHS, what’s your take on where they are now and their approach to the situation?>>I’m not sure they know what to do. You know, they’re—they’re—this whole shakeup is, you know, it’s kind of like, you know, it is sort of The Apprentice, you know. It’s you’re not performing, so you’re fired, and we’ll bring in somebody else. The problem is, as you’re taping this, there are no confirmed officials in charge—in charge of any immigration bureau, not the head of DHS, not CBP [Customs and Border Protection], not ICE, not USCIS [Citizenship and Immigration Services], not even PRM within the State Department, the Population, Refugees, and Migration Bureau. The only one that has—the only bureau that deals with immigration that has a confirmed director is Consular Affairs in the State Department, and there obviously, immigration is only part of what they do. So I’m not sure the administration has a strategy on this. I hope they do. It doesn’t seem like it.

  • This interview was conducted with FRONTLINE during the making of our documentary “Zero Tolerance.” Watch the full film, here:

  • I’m glad you guys posted the full interview. I’m stunned that taxpayer funded “non-bias” news organization ran the “Zero Tolerance” episode, but actually I’m not stunned at all because they are all bias against conservatives. Why don’t you guys have a conservative or two producing it so our public funded news organization isn’t an arm of the DNC? Thx

  • 15:10 I don't recall the intervie saying breitbart pounder away at it! I recall the interviewer suggesting britebart .
    Am I wrong or is this media fake news tactics
    E verify and finish the wall ASAP

  • i’ve watched 4 of these Zero Tolerance videos now. The Ann Coulter one was amazing… she has no allegiance to anyone and I watched both Brannon videos which were a real GeoPolitical eye opening history lesson. I am going to watch them all. Good job Frontline.

  • As much as I appreciate all these extended interviews and how FAIRLY all these conservatives are treated in them, it's really disgusting how the actual "program" follows the usual liberal bias. These great interviews were edited and twisted to subtly frame the conservatives as a bunch of nuts, thereby implying that the liberals are all sane and correct in their viewpoints. It's really disappointing how PBS refuses to show the truth that liberals have Zero Tolerance for anyone who doesn't walk their line.
    (I will be posting this comment at every interview)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *