On Saturday's Velshi show, MSNBC host Ali Velshi declared that Donald Trump administration officials who pushed for the zero tolerance policy for illegal border crossers should have it "haunt" them for the "rest of their lives" because of the children who were separated from their parents.
As usual, it was not mentioned that these parents had endangered their children by taking them across deserts or rivers, and that it would not have been legally allowed to hold the children in detention with their parents as they were awaiting prosecution.
Velshi and NBC News correspondent Jacob Soboroff also repeated debunked claims that then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen lied about separating families, which Soboroff has repeatedly claimed in the past.
Setting up the segment with Soboroff as he sells a new crusading book titled , the MSNBC host lamented: "There's been a lot wrong with the last four years, but the separation of migrant children from their parents will go down as one of the administration's most appalling actions."
He then cited new reporting about a meeting from several years ago in which several Trump administration officials discussed the possibility of a zero tolerance pollicy and took a vote by show of hands. In line with the typical habits of journalists on MSNBC and other networks, Velshi never made clear that those migrants who had their children removed form them were those who had crossed the border illegally -- not sthose who legally went to ports of entry.
Velshi misleadingly recalled that Nielsen "says there was never a policy to separate children crossing the border" as he cited an interview she recently gave to SALT Talks on July 21. Then came a clip of Nielsen from that interview:
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: So, with the families, the truth is there was not a policy to separate families. (editing jump) Such a policy was requested of me. It was requested of General Kelly as well when he was Secretary, and we both dismissed it out of hand. There was no direction to separate families who legally entered.
The MSNBC host did not pick up on the fact that, in the clip he used, the former Homeland Security Secretary specified that families who "legally" entered the country were typically not separated -- a point she elaborated on over her next few sentences that were not included in the soundbite used by MSNBC.
Velshi brought aboard Soboroff, noted his new book on the subject -- Separated: An American Tragedy -- and began by hinting that Nielsen was lying: "And, basically, the premise for your book disappears if what the administration is saying is true, that this kind of just happened. Luck of the draw everybody got separated, Jacob?"
After repeating some of his recent claims that the treatment of illegal immigrant children had fit the definition of "torture," Soboroff also wrongly suggested that Nielsen lied about child separations, which he has also claimed in the past.
Here's Soboroff: "Kirstjen Nielsen signed the policy which she still denies to this day was a policy. It's a feat of verbal gymnastics if you ask me."
NewsBusters has previously documented that Nielsen did, in fact, inform reporters that illegal border crossers would be separated from their children while those who went legally to ports of entry would typically not be separated.
Toward the end of the segment, as the NBC correspondent recalled that some of the families that were separated still feel trauma from the experience, with some receiving therapy, he predicted: "It's something they will grapple with for the rest of their lives."
Velshi then wished ill upon administration officials who enacted the zero tolerance policy: "May it haunt those who made that decision for the rest of their lives."
Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Saturday, August 22, Velshi show on MSNBC, followed by a transcript from part of Nielsen's interview from SALT Talks:
9:49 a.m. Eastern
ALI VELSHI: There's been a lot wrong with the last four years, but the separation of migrant children from their parents will go down as one of the administration's most appalling actions. New reporting from NBC's Julia Ainsley and Jacob Soboroff reveals the shocking details, and it reports on its genesis. Sources paint a twisted picture of a White House meeting, saying that in 2018 senior Trump advisors held a hand vote to decide whether or not they wanted to separate migrant children from their parents,
White House policy advisor Stephen Miller notably led the vote in a meeting that included then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Miller told those assembled that, quote, "if we don't enforce this, it's the end of our country as we know it."
Kirstjen Nielsen -- the Secretary of Homeland Security -- voted against the policy, saying that the agency didn't have enough resources to separate children and return them to their parents in a timely manner. The White House and HHS deny that this vote ever took place. Nielsen says there was never a policy to separate children crossing the border. Listen to what she said in July.
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN (from a July 21 interview with SALT): So, with the families, the truth is there was not a policy to separate families. (editing jump) Such a policy was requested of me. It was requested of General Kelly as well when he was Secretary, and we both dismissed it out of hand. There was no direction to separate familes who legally entered.
VELSHI: NBC News correspondent Jacob Soboroff joins me from Los Angeles. He is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Separated; Inside an American Tragedy. And, basically, the premise for your book disappears if what the administration is saying is true, that this kind of just happened. Luck of the draw everybody got separated, Jacob?
JACOB SOBOROFF: That's not how it happened at all, Ali, and, I mean, first of all, let's talk about why this is important -- you brought it up in your introduction. We're talking about what Physicians for Human Rights -- the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization -- called a systematic campaign of torture. "Torture" was the word they used. They said it met the United Nations definition of torture -- over 5,400 children ultimately. The American Academy of Pediatrics says what the American government did was government-sanctioned child abuse.
And now we know -- I did not know this at the time that I reported out in my book -- and there are many, many details that I had never heard before when I wrote the book -- that this meeting took place at this key point right before Kirstjen Nielsen signed the policy which she still denies to this day was a policy. It's a feat of verbal gymnastics if you ask me.
Adam Serwer wrote a very famous column for The Atlantic saying, "The cruelty is the point," and there is no other way to look at this or understand the motivations of officials in the Trump administration without that as the underlying motivation, and then, in the book, there are countless examples of what can only be described as cruelty as a motivator.
VELSHI: And when you talk about cruelty and you talk about the term "torture" that was used, think about the things that happened: isolation; deprivation of contact with others; deprivation of sleep; control over noise, of light, of when they could sleep; control over temperature -- all of the things that we actually know that you use to torture people.
SOBOROFF: I'll give you one other example, Ali. The U.S. government right now is on the hook responsible paying for the medical welfare -- basically therapy sessions for families that were separated by the U.S. government. And so many of them are terrified, only a tiny fraction have exercised their right to get this critical, valuable medical resource.
And Juan and Jose -- the father and son that I write about in my book, Separated: Inside an American Tragedy -- said to me when I was down on the border reporting for us -- when President Trump was in Yuma maybe just a month and a half ago -- they said, "if you see" -- Juan said this to me, I swear to God -- "If you see President Trump, ask him for me, 'Why did he separate all of us from each other? And why did they traumatize us psychologically?'"
It's something they will grapple with for the rest of their lives. An official that was involved in the reunifications told me it was the greatest human rights catastrophe of his lifetime working domestically in the U.S. government.
VELSHI: May it haunt those who made that decision for the rest of their lives. Jacob, thank you for your excellent reporting.
July 21, 2020
Kirstjen Nielsen interview:
So, with the families, the truth is, there was no policy to separate, and let me walk this through, but let me tell you why that's really personally important to me. I was -- such a policy was requested of me. It was requested of General Kelly as well when he was Secretary, and we both dismissed it out of hand. There was no direction to separate families who legally entered the United States.
What happened is, the Attorney General is seeing an increase in lawbreaking -- which it is against the law to enter the United States between ports of entry-- a law that Congress has continued to uphold. As he saw that law -- the increases of that law being broken, he decided to increase the law enforcement of that law. And so he put out a policy of zero tolerance, meaning that the prosecutions should be done to anybody who chose to break that law -- in this case, entering the United States illegally.
So the rest of us were in discussions about how do we do that? It requires a tremendous amount of resources, given the numbers at that time of those entering illegally. And the truth of it is, if someone came in illegally with a child, as that adult went to a prosecutorial setting, we don't send children to jail in the United States. In most places, there are only limited circumstances for that, but there is no way to do that within the immigration setting.
So what happens is, after a certain period of time, if the adult does not come back from prosecution, the child is sent to the Department of Health and Human Services. And, again, that's by law -- that's not a choice. And so the family separations resulted from the fact that a law was broken, an adult was being prosecuted, and the children, as a result, had to go into a different setting, and the family was thereby separated.
The reason that it's important for me personally that it not be called a policy is because there are still those today who advocate for a policy of family separation, What that would look like is, any family that was encountered anywhere in the United States or at a legal port of entry would be separated by virtue of the fact that they presented as a family unit. That is not a policy that has been adopted in the United States, and one that I will continue in any way that I can as a civilian citizen now to be against. I just think that's entirely and completely wrong.