Trump's making the migrant caravan a political issue. Here are the facts.
His tweets come just weeks ahead of the 2018 midterm elections and he has emphasized immigration as a key issue, without evidence accusing Democrats of pushing for overrun borders in what appears to be a naked fear campaign aimed at turning out his supporters. Immigration was a key issue in the 2016 presidential race.
Crowds of migrants, estimated to be in the thousands on Monday, resumed their long journey north on Sunday into Mexico as part of a migrant caravan originating in Central America.
Currently migrants are at the Central Park Miguel Hidalgo in the center of Tapachula. Organizers plan for them to begin moving north, reaching the northern city of Huixtla, which is about 20 miles north, and resting there.
The President, in his tweets, also made several questionable claims concerning immigration and the caravan. Among them: that "unknown Middle Easterners" are "mixed" in with the caravan, that he would be cutting off foreign aid over the caravan, and that Mexican authorities failed to stop migrants from coming into Mexico.
Asked later Monday about his assertion about "unknown Middle Easterners" in the caravan, Trump said: "Unfortunately, they have a lot of everybody in that group."
"We've gotta stop them at the border and, unfortunately, you look at the countries, they have not done their job," he said. "They have not done their job. Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador -- they're paid a lot of money, every year we give them foreign aid and they did nothing for us, nothing."
Here's what we know:
Are there "unknown Middle Easterners" "mixed" into the migrant caravan?
Trump tweeted "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed" into the migrant caravan moving toward the United States. He called this a "national emergy" (sic).
It's unclear what "unknown Middle Easterners" Trump appears to be referring to in his tweet, since there have been no reports, in the press or publicly from intelligence agencies, to suggest there are "Middle Easterners" embedded in the caravan.
A senior counterterrorism official told CNN's Jessica Schneider that "while we acknowledge there are vulnerabilities at both our northern and southern border, we do not see any evidence that ISIS or other Sunni terrorist groups are trying to infiltrate the southern US border."
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday afternoon that the administration "absolutely" has evidence of Middle Easterners in the caravan, "and we know this is a continuing problem."
However, she did not provide the specific evidence supporting that claim.
During a White House conference call with surrogates regarding the caravan, a Homeland Security official said the administration is looking into a claim from Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales that his country has been able to capture around 100 terrorists. However, the official did not offer any evidence of the Middle Eastern people who Trump claims are hiding among migrants in the caravan.
"We are looking into that claim from the President Morales on the numbers," Jonathan Hoffman, the DHS official, said. "It is not unusual to see people from Middle Eastern countries or other areas of the world pop up and attempt to cross our borders."
Earlier this month, Morales claimed foreign individuals linked to terrorism were captured in the country during his administration, which began in January 2016.
"We have arrested almost 100 people highly linked to terrorist groups, specifically ISIS. We have not only detained them in our territory, they have also been deported to their countries of origin. All of you here have information to that effect," Morales said during a Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America event attended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
There's no direct link or correlation between Morales' statement and Trump's assertion about the caravan on Twitter.
The Department of Homeland Security also did not provide any evidence to bolster the President's claim about "unknown Middle Easterns" in the caravan when asked for it by CNN on Monday.
A department official told CNN that in fiscal year 2018, Customs and Border Protection "apprehended 17,256 criminals, 1,019 gang members, and 3,028 special interest aliens from countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria and Somalia. Additionally, (Customs and Border Protection) prevented 10 known or suspected terrorists from traveling to or entering the United States every day in fiscal year 2017."
The Department of Homeland Security did not specify any Middle Eastern countries.
Pressed about the President's assertion that there are "unknown Middle Easterners" mixed in with the caravan, a State Department spokesperson said they understand there are several nationalities in the caravan and referred us to Department of Homeland Security for more information.
Will the administration cut off foreign aid? Can they?
Trump tweeted that because "Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S.," the United States "will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them."
It's unclear where the administration will propose to make the cuts the President appears to be talking about, and CNN has reached out to the White House and the DHS for further information.
However, the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act prohibits the President from withholding -- or impounding -- money appropriated by Congress.
New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said Monday that his office has reached out to the Government Accountability Office to ensure that the President does not violated the act.
"Fortunately, Congress -- not the President -- has the power of the purse, and my colleagues and I will not stand idly by as this Administration ignores congressional intent," Engel said in a statement.
Trump has made the threat of cuts to foreign aid going to Latin American countries over migrant caravans several times over the last year.
Under the Trump administration, and with the approval of the Republican-controlled Congress, there have already been significant cuts to foreign aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras -- the three countries he mentioned Monday -- and the administration plans to continue making cuts in fiscal year 2019.
Were authorities from Mexico unable to stop the migrant caravan from heading into the US?
Trump tweeted Monday that "Mexico's Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States."
There are some 7,500 people marching north as part of a migrant caravan through Mexico, caravan organizer Dennis Omar Contreras told CNN. He said the organizers did a count of participants Monday morning.
He said the migrants will leave Mexico's Tapachula for the town of Huixtla, which is located more than 20 miles northwest of their Monday morning location.
While Mexican authorities said before the caravan's arrival that anyone who entered the country "in an irregular manner" could be subject to apprehension and deportation, many migrants from the caravan appear to have circumvented authorities.
CNN crews witnessed migrants jumping off a bridge at the Mexico-Guatemala border and riding rafts to reach Mexican soil.
Mexican authorities say more than 1,000 Central American migrants officially applied for refugee status in Mexico over the past three days.
It's unclear how authorities will respond to the thousands of other migrants who are marching north.
Will the President declare a national emergency over the caravan?
It's unclear exactly what executive action, if any, the President will take following his tweet saying that he has "alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National (emergency)."
Previous administrations have ordered troops to the US southern border, and Trump issued a similar memorandum earlier this year ordering National Guard troops to be deployed to the US-Mexico border. The memo came around the same time another, smaller migrant caravan was moving toward the US through Central America.
Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Davis, a spokesman for the Defense Department, told CNN that "beyond the National Guard soldiers currently supporting the Department of Homeland Security on our southern border, in a Title 32, U.S. Code, section 502(f) duty status under the command and control of the respective State Governors, the Department of Defense has not been tasked to provide additional support at this time."
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Customs and Border Protection, referred questions about the national emergency to the White House, which did not answer to several questions for comment.
Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and the former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, told CNN that the President's use of the term national emergency, and his potential subsequent declaration, is "a subjective judgment."
"It is certainly true that the numbers that have been reported in this group are larger than anything that we've seen before this from these countries concentrated in one group," she said.
However, she added that the reaction is "disproportionate to what's happening."
"I'm not saying it's not a genuine problem, but it's not like this is organized insurrection, in the way that its been characterized," she added.
CNN's Catherine Shoichet, Sarah Westwood, Ryan Browne, Jennifer Hansler, Geneva Sands, Dakin Andone, Patrick Oppmann, Natalie Gallón, Kevin Liptak and Jessica Schneider contributed to this report.
6 key takeaways from CNN's CITIZEN conference
Below, a rolling list of takeaways from the day -- in the order they happened. (You can watch the entire conference live online here.)
1. Kushner calls Donald Trump a "black swan"
President Donald Trump's son-in-law has a unique perspective on the man he also calls "boss." (Kushner is married to Ivanka Trump and serves as an adviser to the president.) Which is why when Kushner speaks about Trump -- and he doesn't do so often -- you need to pay attention.
Asked about Trump and the possibility that the coming 2018 midterm elections could be very bad for Republicans, Kushner told CNN's Van Jones: "He's a black swan. He's been a black swan all his life."
Which is a VERY interesting way to think about Trump. Black swan theory, for those who don't know it, is the idea -- first described by scholar and essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb -- that there are high-profile, extreme outliers that defy all known wisdom and expectations and, in their wake, reshape what can and should be expected.
Here's Taleb's own explanation -- from an excerpt of his 2007 book -- of what makes a black swan moment:
"First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable."
There's little question that Trump's 2016 election fits that description. There were ZERO indicators -- national polling, swing state polling, fundraising, ad spending, message, get out the vote -- in the run-up to the 2016 vote that suggested Trump would beat Clinton. Then he did. And in the past several years, the political world has worked to re-orient itself to explain how -- of course! -- Trump was always going to win.
The question is whether Trump as a black swan carries over to elections where he is not on the ballot. Or even any election other than 2016. Kushner believes that 2018 could be another black swan. We'll know in 15 days.
2. How Nancy Pelosi wants to use subpoena power
Pelosi has been VERY guarded about talking in anything but VERY broad terms about what Democrats might do if they retake the House majority. Which is why it was super interesting that when CNN's Dana Bash asked Pelosi about how Democrats might use subpoena power if they are in the majority come 2019, Pelosi said this:
"Subpoena power is interesting, to use it or not to use it. It's a great arrow to have in your quiver in terms of negotiating on other subjects."
So, Pelosi views the ability to subpoena members of the Trump administration to appear before various House committees as, essentially, a bargaining chip to, in her words, bring people to the negotiating table.
Which is intriguing. Because it suggests that Pelosi may not want to necessarily subpoena everyone and their brother in the Trump administration -- and she has said she is skeptical about impeaching Trump -- but rather use the ability to do so if necessary as a way to get what she wants or, at least, some of what she wants.
The question then becomes, how do Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration react to Pelosi's don't-make-me-use-this threat on subpoena power? Do they play ball -- especially considering that a Democratic House majority could make their lives very uncomfortable and gum up the works for the next few years? Or do they call Pelosi's bluff and see how far she is willing to push on subpoenas?
3. Pelosi believes she will be the next speaker if Democrats win the House
Pelosi was confident when asked whether she felt good about leading the Democratic caucus if her side retakes the majority. "It is up to them to make that decision, but I feel pretty comfortable where I am," she said of her Democratic colleagues.
She should feel good. While Pelosi has lost increasing levels of support within the Democratic caucus every two years, the truth of the matter is that there's no one who can beat her -- or, if we are being honest, come close. Both Steny Hoyer (Maryland) and Jim Clyburn (South Carolina), the two men directly below California's Pelosi on the leadership ladder, can't beat her. And there is no one on the younger end of the caucus -- where most of the discontent with Pelosi resides -- who can seriously challenge her.
The only scenario by which Pelosi could lose her top spot is if Democrats came up short in 15 days and remained in the minority. But under that scenario, Pelosi might not want to stick around anyway.
4. Count Rahm in the don't-talk-about-impeachment crowd
Outgoing Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel dismissed the idea of Democrats running on a promise to impeach President Trump, insisting that to do so would be "basically leading with your chin."
Emanuel insisted that in order to win -- both in 2018 and 2020 -- his party needs an affirmative message that goes beyond simply saying that Democrats will get rid of Trump (or try) if they retake the House and/or Senate.
Emanuel's skepticism about leading with impeachment puts him on the side of Pelosi, who both on Monday and more generally suggested that Democrats need to pick their spots "strategically" as it relates to Trump.
His view on the impeachment issue will do little to endear Emanuel to liberals, who are already deeply skeptical of him following his term as the chairman of the Democrats' campaign arm last decade. Emanuel may not care. He is not running for a third term in 2019 and made a Sherman-esque declaration about running for president in 2020; "I can tell you with 100% certainty, I have no interest," he said. "I did eight years in the Oval Office and I have no interest in returning to the White House."
5. Jeff Flake kind of admits thoughtfulness is dead
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R) is in his final days in Congress, forced into retirement -- at least in part -- by a disastrous dip in his poll numbers occasioned by his frequent Trump critiques.
And while he tried to put a brave face on the current state of politics, he just didn't sound terribly optimistic about the future. As Flake put it to CNN's Jake Tapper:
"Take, for example, on the Kavanaugh thing -- but it can be on just about any issue --- there is no currency, there's no market for trying to be thoughtful on something like this. To actually go in a hearing with Dr. Ford and Brett Kavanaugh and say, I'm gonna actually see what comes out in this hearing instead of announcing before what you're gonna do."
Flake's broader point is clear: There's zero political currency in being thoughtful. Or undecided. Or persuadable based on the facts presented to you. The best way to succeed, according to Flake, is to simply agree with Trump on everything or disagree with him on everything. There's no room in the middle anymore.
What's even more depressing? He's 100% correct.
6. Ty Cobb isn't singing from the Trump songbook anymore
Cobb, once part of the legal team tasked with dealing with special counsel Robert Mueller on behalf of the President, doesn't believe his old boss is right about the nature of the Mueller investigation.
"I don't think it's a witch hunt," Cobb told CNN's Gloria Borger. (Cobb left Trump's legal team in May.) Cobb's opposition to Trump's ramped-up attacks on Mueller, whom he called "an American hero" at Monday's event, was one of the main reasons he stepped aside this spring. "Ty was uncomfortable with the Mueller tweets," a source familiar with the departure told CNN. "He was not going to be "part of a mud-slinging campaign."
Cobb was replaced as the public face of Trump's legal team by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has taken a -- how to say this -- more aggressive tack as it relates to Mueller.
Of course, neither Cobb, nor Giuliani nor Trump know a) what Mueller has in his probe into Russia interference in the 2016 election and b) when Mueller will tell the world what he has learned.
Paul to Saudi foreign minister: 'It takes a lot of damn gall' to lecture the US
"Yesterday the Saudi foreign minister chose to lecture me on television about the Khashoggi murder," Paul said on a conference call with reporters. "He said my opinion was based on emotion and speculation and that we should presume innocence for the crown prince. My response to him is that it takes a lot of damn gall for Saudi Arabia, with a dictatorship with 3,000 political prisoners held without trial, to lecture the US on the presumption of innocence."
Al-Jubeir told Fox News on Sunday there is, "the presumption of innocence until proven guilty," and that the US Congress should, "wait until they have the facts," on Khashoggi's murder before making a judgment.
Responding to criticism from Paul specifically, al-Jubeir said, "I find it very surprising that somebody 6,000 miles away can be certain about an event that happened 6,000 miles away with no access to information or intelligence. So, this is a judgment call on the part of Senator Paul. This is not based in fact, it's just based on emotions and based on speculation."
Paul said he has discussed his concerns about arms sales to Saudi Arabia with President Donald Trump and said they should not be considered a "jobs program," an apparent reference to Trump who has said jobs and billions of dollars would be at stake should the US terminate the sales.
"I believe our military arms are developed with taxpayer dollars and are inextricably linked with our national security," Paul said.
Paul said he wants to try to block future arms sales to Saudi Arabia but doesn't think sanctions will be effective. He said it's unlikely he could attach language to punish Saudi Arabia to a year-end spending bill.
"The best way to block this is through a privileged motion," Paul said, citing, the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, which "allows one senator to block arms sales."
"We have worked with (Connecticut Democratic Sen.) Chris Murphy twice to have votes," he said. "The first time we got 20-something votes. Last time we got I think 44 votes. So, I think if we could get another vote I think we could block them. But as you know, in the Senate, most times you're blocked from having a vote."
He opposed sanctions because it's a "way of pretending to do something" and that he doesn't think they will "have any effect on Saudi behavior."
"One sanction that might work would be the sanctioning of the crown prince and I think all the people advocating for sanctions won't go that far," Paul said.
He said he opposes ending trade or cutting off diplomatic sanctions with Saudi Arabia but doesn't want to "aid and abet them in the war in Yemen."
On whether he still thinks the crown prince is responsible for Khashoggi's death, Paul said "There will be no accounting."
"The Saudi's need to be called out on this," Paul said. "We've been too quiet because people have glossed over the human rights violations in Saudi Arabia in order to get some monetary benefit from oil trade or arms trade. ... Nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without the crown prince's approval so think it's laughable and credible to think he was not involved in this."
Paul also said it was a mistake from Trump to drop out a nuclear treaty with Russia and that he should appoint negotiators to work out differences with Russia.