Tom Bossert: "Gripping Imagery And Terrible Optics" Of Immigrant Detention Were Probably Avoidable


George Stephanopoulos asks Trump friend Tom Bossert if the media debacle regarding illegal immigrant detention was avoidable:


STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure it's one of those weeks where you wish you were in the White House to help out or you're glad you're not in it. But it has been a tough week. And the dean of American political reporters, Dan Balz of The Washington Post, called it "a trifecta of ineptitude, a policy hash, a political debacle, and the most dramatic personal step-down of the Trump presidency."

I guess my question is, was it avoidable?

BOSSERT: Well, I'm glad to be here to try to explain it, because this week has been just gripping imagery and terrible optics for the administration. So part of this was avoidable. The attorney general's requirement, his memo for zero tolerance said that his U.S. attorneys, where practicable, and almost from the outset -- although it's an understandable and righteous decision to take to prosecute any illegal entrant into the country, almost from the outset we didn't have the capacity to detain these parents and children, together or separately.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, but that's the question I want to ask about, because separating families has been contemplated, you know, for some time. We have chief of staff John Kelly, back when he was homeland security secretary, in March 2017, here's what he said.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: If you get some young kids who are coming into -- manage to sneak into the United States with their parents, are Department of Homeland Security personnel going to separate the children from their moms and dads?

JOHN KELLY, THEN-HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Yes, I am considering it in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network. I am considering exactly that.


STEPHANOPOULOS: So that's over a year ago.

BOSSERT: Yes. And, in fact, what he decided was not to do that. In fact, that's part of the confusion and messaging this week and a real failure not to go out and clarify that. The decision to...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Wait, if he decided not to do it then how did it happen?

BOSSERT: The decision to separate children and parents at that time was being considered as a sole deterrent. That was something they ultimately decided not to do it, and instead the attorney general decided to prosecute all illegal entrants, those with children, those without children, and tried to do it in a more uniform fashion, but that caught up in the net...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Wait, but once you do that it's inevitable that you are going to have separation.

BOSSERT: So, where we ran into our second problem this week, this executive order the president put out to try to fix this problem is going to run headlong into the 9th Circuit judge that decided in 2015 that even detaining with parents is inhumane. She called President Obama's policy of detaining children and parents together inhumane. There is no way this executive order survives first contact, because her view of President Trump will be harsher.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's dig into that. That circuit court decision back in 2015 said 20
days is the longest you keep any child. The president's order says, no, keep the families together while
you're going through this whole process. And you're certain, pretty certain, that the judge is going to strike this down?

BOSSERT: Well, if she maintains the same decisionmaking theory that she maintained in2015, there's no way, unless she completely changes her philosophy, that this one stands up to her scrutiny.

So, she didn't just say 21 days, she said release the parents and the children. It's inhumane to keep them together, and release them with all due haste. She later interpreted all due haste because it wasn't clear, as three weeks and 21 days. But that's the outside. She would like them released sooner.

So, really, the reality of the president's messaging this week that was spot on is that this country has no choice under current law as interpreted by a judge but to catch and release.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, then what happens next if this is struck down?

BOSSERT: This is why some of these liberal decisions, though borne out of compassion, legislative decisions from the bench, are absolutely short-sighted and intellectually inconsistent. I hope the judge realizes that, because she's put us in a position where she put a greenlight to anybody from South and Central America to come here and bring a kid. And now, she said, release them once they get here.

So, we have either got catch and release or congressional action, or continued blame game. And I'm seeing lot of blame.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Aren't there other options, though? I know that the GAO did a study of using GPS ankle bracelets on those detained who were detained at the border, and they showed in the study that 95 percent of the people who had those ankle bracelets actually did come back for their hearings.

BOSSERT: Yeah, I think there's some misnomer and disagreement on the facts for the ankle bracelets. And one of your later guests will probably talk to you wisely about case management that we can put in place, although you're going to see the same political fight, because last five congresses that have refused to provide money for the facilities necessary to handle the capacity have done so because they don't want us to catch and detain, they want us, by depriving the executive branch of money, to catch and relase.

So, the bracelets sometimes work, sometimes don't.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This said 95 percent.

BOSSERT: but less than 60 percent of all those release have had returned. The number of 60 percent seems to include some that have been in custody, so that number can't be relied upon. It's less than 60. And a lot of those, over a period of years, not just that study, have had bracelets and refused
to disappear.

So, you have to chase them down, and then the difference between whether you chase them, whether they appear on their own volition, whether you had to catch them and so forth, all materializes in different numbers.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You spent a lot of time in this White House. How do you explain, you know, that for weeks we're hearing from the president and other administration officials, no, an executive order is not possible. Then, turns around on a dime, issues an executive order. It appears that while they're writing the executive order the rest of the administration doesn't know even know how to enforce it.

BOSSERT: Yeah, so there's an understandable confusion that came from that. The president saw the same thing the rest of us saw, and wanted to try to fix it from what I can tell from the outside. But the problem with his executive order is, it's in direct contradiction to the standing order and ruling from the judge in 2015.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Wouldn't his counsel tell him that?

BOSSERT: Well, so those that say he had the authority and should have done it from day one and demogogue wit hthe pen, you know, Chuck Schumer, how dare he? He's been one of the people that's put off comprehensive solutions to this for years so he can run on this as a political wedge issue.

I had a little respect for that demogoguery.

But the president went out and tried to tell people the law and the orders and so forth prevented him from detaining these people and they said, no, you can fix this with a stroke of a pen. My guess, that stroke of a pen does not survive three weeks before this court overrules it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you mentioned Chuck Schumer. The Democrats say they are the ones who have been going for a comprehensive immigration solution. What we saw from the president this week, it's a waste of time to pursue it.

BOSSERT: Yeah, his view at this point is that each of these negotiations have so many poison pills. They're up their fighting over e-verify and fighting over how many agricultural workers we need to allow in. Look, the big picture here is very few politicians on both sides of the aisle have ever been willing to answer the hard questions of the quantity, quality and type of person that we're willing to allow into this country year above the million legal immigrants that we allow in every year, should we let in 100,000, 500,000, no one wants to answer that hard question. They want to have compassion, but the compassion and the shortsighted decisions have long-term negative consequences.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It sounds like a week from now we're not going to be any closer to a solution to this crisis.

BOSSERT: Yeah, I wish the attorney general hadn't invoked the bible. I think it's time for us to pray for all the people suffering in the situation -- the kids, the parents, the law enforcement officials, their families. And it's time for us to put a little bit of money and a lot more time of focus for the American viewers into the second part of this president’s immigration strategy.

And that is to put real, sustainable, buildable money into the institutional reforms in those three northern triangle countries -- Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras -- that they need to prevent this plague from coming into American.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Boy, it sound like the president last night, when he was talking to Mike Huckabee, was questioning whether we should be sending aid to Honduras.

BOSSERT: Yes, I hope he doesn’t -- I hope he doesn’t go down that path. I think you’re going to see Mike Pence go down and reinforce this president’s standing western hemisphere policy. Democratic, peaceable countries in this western hemisphere are in the best interest of all of our common security.

And I think you’re going to see Secretary Pompeo go down shortly after Vice President Pence -- just my supposition here -- and I think they’re going to reinforce that policy. Because we have to balance closing the border to unmitigated entrance with addressing the root cause problem, otherwise we’re treating the symptom and not the disease.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Tom Bossert, thanks very much.

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