Transcript

Zero Tolerance

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Summer 2016

MALE NEWSREADER:

There is a crowd of thousands at the hangar there. This—

MALE NEWSREADER:

The Trump rally just about to start—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

A rally for Donald Trump is about to start—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—one is live over the Trump rally—

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, Former Trump campaign manager:

You know, we’d be on the plane, and he’d say, "Is tonight the night for 'The Snake'?"

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—front-runner about to speak to a big crowd—

COREY LEWANDOWSKI:

And we’d have kind of an internal discussion, which would last about 10 seconds, and we’d either say "Yes" or "No." And he’d say, "Well, I’ll put it in the pocket, and if I want it, I’ll take it out."

DONALD TRUMP:

Now, has anyone ever heard—has anyone every heard "The Snake" that I read every once in a while? I can do it if you’d like. Should I do it or not? Should I? Ah.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI:

And he used that analogy very much for the issue of immigration.

DONALD TRUMP:

On her way to work one morning

Down the path along the lake

A tender-hearted woman saw a poor, half-frozen snake.

"Take me in, oh, tender woman

Take me in, for heaven’s sake

Take me in, oh, tender woman," sighed the broken snake.

She wrapped him up all cozy in a curvature of silk

And then laid him by the fireside with some honey and some milk.

Now she stroked his pretty skin, and then she kissed him and held him tight.

But instead of saying, "Thank you," that snake gave her a vicious bite.

"I saved you! I saved you! I saved you!" cried that woman.

"And you’ve bit me. Heavens why?

You know your bite is poisonous, and now I’m going to die."

COREY LEWANDOWSKI:

The woman’s answer was, "Well, why would you do this to me?" And he said, "Well, I’m a snake, right? And so you brought me into your home, and it’s hard to believe that you didn’t know what I was; I’m a professional killer, right? Just because you brought me in doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to ultimately revert back to my basic form."

DONALD TRUMP:

"Oh, shut up, silly woman," said the reptile with a grin.

"You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in."

DAN BALZ, The Washington Post:

He tapped into something in a very profound way that began to redefine the debate in the political year of 2016, and continues to redefine the politics of the country today.

NARRATOR:

How Donald Trump came to use resentment over immigration as a political weapon is a central defining aspect of his presidency.

NARRATOR:

At its heart, a plan by three unlikely outsiders to transform the Republican Party, make Trump president and introduce a harsh new approach to immigration: zero tolerance.

ANNOUNCER:

Tonight's program contains language that may not be suitable for all audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.

MALE NEWSREADER:

America, the country makes history again, doubling down on hope and Barack Obama—

NARRATOR:

The story begins in 2012.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Romney was the worst candidate.

NARRATOR:

The aftermath of Mitt Romney’s loss—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—lose this election by that much, especially when you look at the turnout—

NARRATOR:

—set off a soul-searching by the Republican establishment.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Well, some states, like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, were looking attractive in the closing days—

NARRATOR:

But for a small group of hard-right conservatives, the defeat was a call to arms.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

On what basis are you saying that? He got his clock cleaned.

NARRATOR:

Their unlikely headquarters was in this Capitol Hill townhouse.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The president of the United States has been reelected, Barack Obama—

MALE NEWSREADER:

President Obama is back in the White House.

KURT BARDELLA, Former spokesman, Breitbart:

The "Breitbart Embassy" is really nothing more than a rented townhouse, and that is the center of operations for the organization known as Breitbart.

NARRATOR:

The provocative hard-right website Breitbart: Steve Bannon—political gadfly, filmmaker and polemicist—was its leader.

STEVE BANNON, Former chairman, Breitbart:

We called this place "the Embassy" for the simple reason that we thought we were in an embassy in a foreign capital; that this was owned and run by the permanent political class.

NARRATOR:

Bannon pushed Breitbart into what was known as “smashmouth coverage” of Washington power politics.

STEVE BANNON:

I said, "Let’s attack the real enemy," and the real enemy's the Republican establishment. What we're going to do is just go after the House leadership; we're going to go after the Mitch McConnells; we're going to go after the donors. We're just going to go hard at kind of this Paul Ryan philosophy.

NARRATOR:

Bannon and Breitbart figured they had a wedge issue that could help them take down the Republican establishment: immigration.

ALEX MARLOW, Editor-in-chief, Breitbart:

We spent a lot more time talking to the public than we spent talking to the elite.

NARRATOR:

Breitbart’s incendiary message boards proved the point.

MALE VOICE [reading online comment]:

Illegals kill 12-plus people a day in this country.

MALE VOICE 2 [reading online comment]:

Torturous, murderous, rapists. This president calls them "Dreamers."

MALE VOICE 3 [reading online comment]:

Deport all of the illegal aliens.

ALEX MARLOW:

Immigration, to Republican voters, by a mile, it's the No. 1 issue, even ahead of tax cuts.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

For the first time in years, it looks like an immigration reform deal may actually be possible—

MALE NEWSREADER:

A possible deal on immigration reform is now very—

NARRATOR:

But the Republican establishment was going completely the other way on immigration.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Today, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a plan that could—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Now Republicans and Democrats set to announce a major compromise surrounding immigration.

NARRATOR:

They formed an alliance with Democrats to support immigration reform.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-Fla.:

[Speaking Spanish] For me, immigration is not a new issue. It is a politically new issue, but in my life, I know it firsthand.

NARRATOR:

Republican Marco Rubio took the lead as the face of bipartisan immigration reform.

CECILIA MUÑOZ, Former Obama adviser:

The political class was sure that immigration reform was going to be like falling off a log.

MARCO RUBIO:

[Speaking Spanish] My parents are immigrants. My grandparents were immigrants. My wife's family are immigrants. I live surrounded by immigrants.

CECILIA MUÑOZ:

Everybody understood that there was an opening, a political opening, because Republicans were ready to come to the conversation.

NARRATOR:

Even on Fox News, support for the softer immigration approach.

ANN COULTER, Author, "Adios, America":

There were very dark days. One hundred percent, Fox News was pedal to the metal to get this amnesty bill passed.

LOU DOBBS:

I want to give Rubio credit, because he’s talking intelligently about a rational—

MALE PROGRAM GUEST:

Absolutely.

LOU DOBBS:

—effective, humane—

FEMALE PROGRAM GUEST:

Yes.

LOU DOBBS:

—response to the issue.

MARCO RUBIO:

We're going to work with our colleagues to get something responsible done that's fair but also responsible.

BILL O’REILLY:

I like your program; I think it's fair. So I want you and President Obama to get on the phone and get this thing so it doesn't turn into a bloody mess.

MARCO RUBIO:

Maybe we could come on the show together.

BILL O’REILLY:

Absolutely, and you got—

CHARLIE SYKES, Author, "How the Right Lost Its Mind":

And even people like Sean Hannity went on the air and said, "We need to rethink our position on immigration. I was wrong to take such a hard line on immigration."

SEAN HANNITY:

You create a pathway for those people that are here, you don’t say you've got to go home. And that is an—a position that I’ve evolved on.

NARRATOR:

Hannity even invited a well-known reality TV star onto his show.

DONALD TRUMP:

I think it's getting very tough to win as a Republican. Look, they've lost on immigration. They're going to have to do something on immigration, because, you know, our country is a different place than it was 50 years ago. So we’ll see what happens.

NARRATOR:

In the face of all that—

MALE NEWSREADER:

The politics swirling around the possibility of immigration reform—

NARRATOR:

—Steve Bannon and Breitbart found themselves in the political wilderness.

MALE NEWSREADER:

More Republicans are now changing their stand on undocumented immigrants—

NARRATOR:

Bannon decided to fight back.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Now House Republicans will try and craft a path forward—

NARRATOR:

He invited two of his closest allies to the embassy for a war council.

STEVE BANNON:

Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions and myself had a dinner in this very room.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, Co-author, "Border Wars":

Bannon ordered from Dean & DeLuca, steaks, and they drank a lot, and they ate a lot, and they talked long into the evening.

MICHAEL SHEAR, Co-author, "Border Wars":

And the three of them, these are sort of—at that time, especially—people on the fringe of what you would consider the sort of Republican Party.

JONATHAN BLITZER, The New Yorker:

I mean, Jeff Sessions, when he was in the Senate, was always on the outer fringes of the Republican Party, never even entirely taken seriously, even by the hard-liners within the Republican Party—

ALEX MARLOW:

The Sessions shop was the leaders, the intellectual backbone of the immigration fight. It came from Jeff Sessions' office; it came from Sen. Sessions himself, and Miller at his right hand.

NARRATOR:

Twenty-seven-year-old Stephen Miller was Sessions' communications director.

ROBERT COSTA, The Washington Post:

You had a vocal press secretary in his 20s for a back-bench senator from Alabama—as far from power as you could get in Washington at that time.

NARRATOR:

The three outsiders shared a belief America was threatened by the flow of immigrants into the country. They were determined to do something about it.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS:

They were very ambitious and felt like if they could get the message right that this might all fall into place.

NARRATOR:

That night in 2013 at the Breitbart Embassy, they talked about how to politicize immigration.

STEVE BANNON:

The one and two issues will be immigration and trade, and that will be focused on workers, right? And we’re going to remake the Republican Party.

NARRATOR:

Miller would handle the details of their grand design, a policy behind the politics: Fortress America.

ROBERT COSTA:

The world according to Miller would be a world of walls. Miller is a restrictionist; he wants to have restricted entry for legal immigration as well as illegal immigration.

NARRATOR:

But in order to make it happen, they would first have to stop immigration reform and take down the GOP establishment.

MICHAEL SHEAR:

If you were sitting there that night, the audaciousness of what they were plotting was astonishing, and you wouldn’t have given them much chance of success.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The Senate passed sweeping immigration reform in an historic—

MALE NEWSREADER:

The bill by the Gang of Eight passed today—

NARRATOR:

As the bipartisan bill passed the Senate and headed to the House, the insurgents had to act.

ALEX MARLOW:

Miller knew how Washington worked and understands the way levers get pulled in Washington and how to push an agenda through that was an anti-establishment-type agenda.

NARRATOR:

Miller had an outlet: Bannon’s Breitbart. It was a formidable alliance.

MALE VOICE [reading Breitbart headlines]:

Sessions: Immigration bill will "hammer" Americans.

Sessions comes out swinging against secretive House immigration push.

Sessions: Breitbart doing "great work" getting truth out about immigration bill.

MARK KRIKORIAN, Conservative immigration activist:

They flooded the zone. I mean, there’s a—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.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Will immigration reform finally happen?

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

For the first time in years—

NARRATOR:

With immigration front and center, the insurgents planned a show of force in the upcoming midterm elections.

JOSHUA GREEN, Author, "Devil's Bargain":

What they decided they need to do was to find an example of someone they could take down in the Republican establishment. And when they looked around, the guy that they thought was most vulnerable was Eric Cantor, the House majority leader.

NARRATOR:

Majority Leader Cantor, one of the most powerful members of the Republican establishment, was being challenged in his primary by an unknown college professor.

DAVE BRAT:

My name is Dave Brat, and I’m a lifelong Republican and conservative.

NARRATOR:

Polls showed Brat more than 30 points behind Cantor. But Bannon saw opportunity.

STEVE BANNON:

I—he definitely knew it was coming. I—that was also happened to be my home district, but I could feel it. I knew that a guy like Brat could—they were very weak.

DAVE BRAT:

I will fight to stop amnesty for illegal immigrants and—

NARRATOR:

Following Bannon’s lead, Brat would use immigration against Cantor.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Cantor, can you believe this guy? Can you believe Ryan? They want amnesty?

NARRATOR:

Breitbart swung behind Brat—hard.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Eric Cantor, he’s all in for amnesty—

NARRATOR:

They set the agenda for right-wing radio—

MALE NEWSREADER:

You’re a coward, Eric Cantor! You only—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Eric Cantor, who wants amnesty; Paul Ryan, who I called a phony from the get-go—

SAM NUNBERG, Former Trump political adviser:

Anything that became talking points on conservative radio were coming from Stephen and put on Breitbart. And you had a transformation where conservative radio hosts weren’t clicking on Drudge Report on what to say; they were clicking on Breitbart.

MALE NEWSREADER:

There’s a story on Breitbart: "Republican National Committee declares war on—"

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

What are Republicans getting out of Eric Cantor being House majority leader? I’m not sure.

DAVE BRAT:

With that I want to pass the baton to Sen. Jeff Sessions—

NARRATOR:

The insurgents rolled out their big guns for Brat: Sessions.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-Ala.:

—that’s worthy of Patrick Henry—

NARRATOR:

—and Steve Miller’s ally—

LAURA INGRAHAM:

—if Eric Cantor is reelected, heaven forbid—

NARRATOR:

Talk radio celebrity Laura Ingraham.

LAURA INGRAHAM:

—I believe there’s a good chance we’ll have amnesty by the end of the year. People are—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Eric Cantor is definitely in trouble in his district—

MALE NEWSREADER:

If Dave Brat here can get a big turnout, he’s going to—he’s going to make a difference, right?

NARRATOR:

They’d thrown everything they could at Cantor—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Dave Brat for Congress, Eric Cantor’s district, let’s send a real message—

NARRATOR:

—and on election night, the Republican establishment was in for a shock.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

History-making upset. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost in a Republican primary—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

This is a seismic shift—

NARRATOR:

Cantor was defeated.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—that took all of the establishment figures—

STEVE BANNON:

And we took them down. We took down Cantor with Dave Brat. We took down—the first time in the history of the republic that a sitting majority leader had ever been beaten.

MALE NEWSREADER:

It is a stunning upset.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

All of them were broadsided by this victory of Dave Brat’s in the 7th District—

SEBASTIAN GORKA, Former editor, Breitbart:

[Laughs] I think—what is the phrase that Steve Bannon always uses? "The hobbits revolted." You know, the hobbits woke up in the Shire.

MALE NEWSREADER:

People want a new Republican Party with fresh faces and vigorous leadership—

NARRATOR:

Republicans got the message: The bipartisan immigration bill was dead.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ, D-Ill., 1993-2019:

I knew that night when I heard. I was talking to my Republican—they were basically, "There's no reason for us to talk anymore. This is not going anywhere."

MALE NEWSREADER:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat is the end of immigration reform.

KEN CUCCINELLI, Former Virginia attorney general:

Dave Brat proved this issue moves votes. In terms of Republicans getting off the then-popular immigration bills, it was no question it was a turning point on the immigration issue.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The GOP infighting is escalating.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Not only does Brat’s victory confirm that—

NARRATOR:

Two of the insurgents’ seemingly impossible goals had been accomplished: Cantor was out, and so was the immigration bill.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Any hope of an immigration reform bill is dead.

NARRATOR:

Now they would concentrate on finding a candidate for the presidency of the United States.

MALE NEWSREADER:

It's been a legislative priority for decades, and yet action on immigration—

NARRATOR:

Bannon had been looking for years.

STEVE BANNON:

We had Palin in '08 and hoped that she'd run in '12.

SARAH PALIN:

Well, I’m not a member of the permanent political establishment—

STEVE BANNON:

You know, she just—it just didn't work out.

LOU DOBBS:

That is not our destiny. It's—

STEVE BANNON:

I actually worked with Lou Dobbs and tried to get Lou Dobbs to run in '12 as a populist.

JEFF SESSIONS:

—that on the previous policies, if they were—

STEVE BANNON:

I actually tried to talk Sessions into doing it. And Sessions goes—and he turns to me and goes, "It's not me; I'm not going to do it," he says, "but our guy will come along. We'll find our guy."

And that guy a couple of years later turned out to be Donald Trump.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The House majority leader has lost to his primary challenger—

NARRATOR:

In Manhattan, Donald Trump had watched the Cantor defeat. Now he believed immigration as an issue was a dragon slayer.

MALE VOICE [reading Breitbart article]:

Trump said he thinks Cantor’s "amazing" loss can be traced to his stance on immigration policy.

NARRATOR:

While Bannon and Breitbart educated Trump from the outside, Trump adviser Sam Nunberg worked from the inside.

JOSHUA GREEN:

Nunberg had realized that this issue of immigration has real salience with Republican voters. The problem they had was, they couldn’t get Trump to stay on topic. Famously short attention span. And so Sam Nunberg came up with this idea, essentially a mnemonic device to keep Trump focused on the issue of immigration.

SAM NUNBERG:

So I said, "Well, why don’t we say you’re going to build a wall, because it’s bigger. You’re going to build a wall, and we'll make—and you’ll get Mexico to pay for it."

NARRATOR:

Trump took it on the road, testing out different versions of the line.

January 24, 2105

Des Moines, Iowa

DONALD TRUMP:

We have to build a fence. And it's got to be a beauty. Who can build better than Trump? I build. It's what I do.

SAM NUNBERG:

He said it in Iowa that day, and the crowd went nuts. You can watch it. The crowd went nuts.

February 27, 2015

CPAC

DONALD TRUMP:

If I run, I will tell you—the king of building buildings, the king of building walls, nobody can build them like Trump. That I can promise you. I can promise you that.

SAM NUNBERG:

He said to me, "You know what? I’m talking about immigration. I feel it. Sam, this is a movement. This is a movement. They get it. They get it."

June 16, 2015

Trump Tower

NARRATOR:

He had found his issue, and now Donald Trump had an announcement to make.

STEVE BANNON:

The key moment is coming down the escalator, and I’m sitting there watching. We have five people up at Trump Tower; we have Boyle leading an entire team; we've got wall-to-wall coverage.

DONALD TRUMP:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you; they’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they‘re bringing those problems with us.

STEVE BANNON:

When he starts doing the over-the-top stuff, and I go—I said, "You watch. They’re going to bite hard, and they’re going to bite hard and blow this up."

DONALD TRUMP:

They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

STEVE BANNON:

Oh my God. I said, "This is"—I said, "He’s just buried every—they’re going to go nuts. CNN is literally going to broadcast 24 hours a day."

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump’s comment about Mexican immigrants has created controversy nationwide—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Donald Trump’s comments have triggered outrage—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Trump not backing down from his controversial, some say racist, language—

ANN COULTER:

I was waiting for Trump to take it back and say, "Oh, no, no, I didn’t mean that Mexico’s sending rapists; they’re sending Rhodes scholars; they’re so much better than we are." And damned if he never took it back! So I had to say, "OK, I’m for—I’m for this guy."

... three days later

BILL MAHER:

Ann, which Republican candidate has the best chance of winning the general election?

ANN COULTER:

Of the declared ones right now, Donald Trump! [Laughter]

NARRATOR:

Bannon had his candidate, one who understood the politics of immigration.

STEVE BANNON:

I said, "This is our guy. He’s a very imperfect instrument, but he’s an armor-piercing shell."

I tell the guys, "He’s going to go through this thing like a scythe through grass."

NARRATOR:

The insurgents would throw their weight behind the candidate. Bannon would push the Trump message from Breitbart.

And they gave him something else: an essential endorsement from a sitting United States senator.

DONALD TRUMP:

And I want to just introduce you to him for a second: Sen. Jeff Sessions.

KEN CUCCINELLI:

Certainly, if you’re an unconventional outsider candidate like Donald Trump, you actually do want some people who are part of the system—

JEFF SESSIONS:

Wow. What a crowd this is!

KEN CUCCINELLI:

—to validate your legitimacy. And that was Jeff Sessions' most important role in the success of President Trump.

JEFF SESSIONS:

At this time in Americans' history, we need to make America great again!

NARRATOR:

Also stepping out for Trump, another one of the insurgents.

ANNOUNCER:

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the senior policy adviser for Mr. Trump, Mr. Steve Miller.

STEPHEN MILLER:

How’s everybody doing tonight?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS:

He was the one who would get up there before Trump came in to speak and sort of rile up the crowd.

STEPHEN MILLER:

Donald J. Trump is going to secure the border, and he’s going to build that wall.

JULIA IOFFE, GQ Magazine:

He would have this magic effect on the crowd. And the crowd is loving it, and I was like, "Who is that guy?" And they said, "Oh, that’s Stephen Miller; that’s the one who brings the crazy."

STEPHEN MILLER:

Are you ready to vote for a policy that puts Americans first? And are you ready, are you ready, Texas, to vote for Donald J. Trump!

NARRATOR:

Miller got close to Trump—

DONALD TRUMP:

We will build a great wall along the southern border—

NARRATOR:

—jotting ideas—

DONALD TRUMP:

Who’s going to pay for the wall?

NARRATOR:

—keeping track of the musings—

DONALD TRUMP:

Anyone who illegally crosses the border will be detained—

NARRATOR:

—stoking the anger—

DONALD TRUMP:

—going to drive the cars over the illegals!

NARRATOR:

—writing the fragments that became the speeches.

DONALD TRUMP:

Zero tolerance for criminal aliens. Zero, zero.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The polls were brutal for Donald Trump.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Clinton leading in every single national poll that came out.

NARRATOR:

But by mid-August, the campaign was in trouble.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—shows that Clinton now has a double-digit lead over Trump, 46—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Nationally he’s down by large margins in swing states—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Trump is down in national polls.

NARRATOR:

Then Bannon got a call from the candidate.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Breaking news this morning: Donald Trump is changing his campaign’s leader—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—installing firebrand conservative Breitbart news boss Stephen Bannon as chief executive—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

He has a brand new campaign CEO, which is a new position—

NARRATOR:

Now all three insurgents were at the epicenter, with direct access to a candidate who would use their immigration message as a political weapon.

CLIFF SIMS, Former Trump aide:

I remember riding on the campaign plane with Sessions, Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, and they suddenly had this vessel in Donald Trump, and they were giddy. I mean, they were really excited. Like, "This is our moment. This is our historical moment."

November 8, 2016

MALE NEWSREADER:

The decision desk has called Pennsylvania for Donald Trump.

NARRATOR:

And on election night, it all paid off.

MALE NEWSREADER:

This means that Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States.

JOSHUA GREEN:

Trump’s victory after having run on this anti-immigrant message had precisely the effect that Bannon and Sessions had hoped for three years earlier, when they first sat in the Breitbart Embassy: It elevated immigration to the forefront of the Republican Party.

NARRATOR:

Fox News had also received the message. Now they were all in with Trump on immigration.

SEAN HANNITY:

Want to know what this election was about? Look at America’s open borders; they’re a mess, and they’re not secure.

BILL O’REILLY:

A weak federal government has allowed immigration in America to become a national scandal.

LAURA INGRAHAM:

—and he’s going to move very quickly on the immigration priorities that helped get him elected.

ROBERT COSTA, "Washington Week":

Fox News saw that the Republican Party had been changed by Donald Trump. Immigration was the issue, and so Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity and others would hammer that night in, night out.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear—

NARRATOR:

Steve Bannon was put at the top of the food chain as Trump’s chief strategist; Stephen Miller, senior adviser to the president; and Jeff Sessions was given one of the most powerful jobs in the Cabinet: attorney general.

McKAY COPPINS, The Atlantic:

All of a sudden, they’re three of the most powerful people in the country.

NARRATOR:

On the wall in his war room at the West Wing, Bannon created an immigration action plan.

STEVE BANNON:

I said, all we have to do is flood the zone. Every day we hit them with three things, bang, bang, bang. These guys will never be able to recover. But we’ve got to start with muzzle velocity.

NARRATOR:

The "muzzle velocity": a series of harsh executive orders commanding the government to build a wall; to detain; to deport; to prosecute.

JULIA IOFFE:

This was Miller’s tactic. You know, while you still have all that political wind at your back after winning an election, just, you know, hit 'em big, hit 'em hard.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—an opportunity for him to meet with his secretary of defense, James Mattis, and lay out the—

NARRATOR:

Immediately, Trump caused outrage, delivering part of what Bannon called their “shock-and-awe approach.”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

"Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States." It’s big stuff!

NARRATOR:

It was known as the “travel ban,” blocking entry to people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

MALE NEWSREADER:

A scene of outrage at JFK Airport in New York, where—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Protests all across the country, reaction from around the world.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Now protests, outrage and backlash from—

McKAY COPPINS:

And immediately, chaos ensues. There are protesters at the airports. People are getting detained left and right.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Seattle police actually dispersed some crowds with pepper spray—

NARRATOR:

Watching the chaos on television, Republican Congressman Charlie Dent called White House staffer Ben Howard.

REP. CHARLIE DENT, R-Pa., 2005-18:

I said, "Ben, you know, was this thing run by the Department of Defense?" And he said, "Well, no."

"How about State?" "No, no."

"Homeland Security?" "Well, sort of."

"Justice?" And I said, "Well, who did this?" He said, "Miller."

And I said, "Well, who the hell is Miller?" I didn’t know who Stephen Miller was at that moment.

I said, "Who’s Miller?" And he said, "Well, I don’t want to get into it."

NARRATOR:

At the White House, they knew who Stephen Miller was, and a faction there wanted to keep him as far away from the president as possible.

KURT BARDELLA:

You had the Bannon-Miller-Sessions faction, and then you had the Gary Cohns, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Reince Priebus and others.

STEVE BANNON, Former Trump chief strategist:

We had the two camps start to develop: the more establishment camp, and more the kind of disrupters, populist, nationalist camp. And then everything eventually became a knife fight shortly thereafter.

NARRATOR:

After the travel-ban backlash, Bannon’s stack of harsh executive orders was put on hold. His opponents in the West Wing were gaining ground with the president.

ANN COULTER:

Why he surrounded himself by people actively opposed to his agenda—why he did that, who knows? Who knows? He has surrounded himself with people who disagree with him. Why did he hire his kids? Could be narcissism—"They love me for me!" Who knows?

MALE NEWSREADER:

You’re supposed to really push hard the first 100 days. What is going on? What are they waiting for?

MALE NEWSREADER:

The things you elected Trump to do don’t seem to be happening.

NARRATOR:

Bannon and Miller wanted to make sure a tough stance on immigration stayed on the agenda. They would look up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Department of Justice, where Jeff Sessions was the boss.

JONATHAN BLITZER:

Jeff Sessions is the nerve center of the Trump administration's anti-immigration agenda. And Sessions wastes no time once he takes over at DOJ, pretty systematically retooling the asylum system.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS:

He’s working on sanctuary cities; he’s trying to figure out a way to starve cities of funding. And he’s also working on what are basically the beginnings of the zero tolerance policy.

NARRATOR:

The insurgents placed dozens of allies throughout the government, many of them Sessions' former Senate staffers.

CARRIE JOHNSON, NPR:

Jeff Sessions and the people he hired to work with him inside the Justice Department knew how to work that system. They worked it early and often, and they used their power over immigration in ways we have not seen for a generation or more.

NARRATOR:

They began checking off the boxes.

JONATHAN BLITZER:

What Sessions is doing simultaneously is he is starting to pull all of the relevant levers to make sure that there are no impediments to mass deportation.

NARRATOR:

But Jeff Sessions had a big problem.

MALE NEWSREADER:

This is an NBC News Special Report. Here’s Lester Holt.

LESTER HOLT:

Good afternoon from New York. We’re coming on the air to bring you a news conference from Attorney General Jeff Sessions—

NARRATOR:

The Russia investigation, run by his own Justice Department, was encircling the Trump White House and the president himself.

JEFF SESSIONS:

I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States. Thank you all. Take care.

CLIFF SIMS:

We’re watching TV on Air Force One, and the president was very upset, because he felt like he was being abandoned. And Trump is very angry, very frustrated. And Jeff Sessions' and Donald Trump’s relationship was never the same after that.

NARRATOR:

It wasn’t long before Trump confronted Sessions at the White House.

MATT APUZZO, The New York Times:

President Trump just berates Jeff Sessions. Sessions is humiliated; I mean, he’s told people it was one of the low points of his professional career. I mean, he’s just completely dressed down.

NARRATOR:

The grand design was in peril; Sessions was preparing to resign. Steve Bannon reacted.

STEVE BANNON:

I said, "You were there from the beginning." I said, "You rode shotgun with me the entire time." He goes, "Yep."

I said, "Is there any doubt in your mind that this was divine providence that put us here, right? That this just didn’t happen, that this—something’s worked here, because he’s a very imperfect instrument, but we’re here." I said, "And you're never going to quit?" He says, "I will never quit."

I go, "No matter how bad it gets?" He goes, "I’ll never quit."

NARRATOR:

Sessions returned to the Justice Department to redouble his efforts on immigration.

ANN COULTER:

It was the only place, pretty much, that anything was being done on Trump’s promises. So it was really fun to watch Trump humiliating Sessions every day on Twitter, the one guy keeping your promises. [Laughs]

MALE NEWSREADER:

Trump has continued to rage against Sessions for his decision—

WOLF BLITZER:

President Trump today lashing out on Twitter once again against Attorney General Jeff Sessions—

NARRATOR:

At the DOJ, Sessions was quietly laying the groundwork for a big move. He wanted to roll back an Obama-era policy known as DACA—protections for undocumented immigrants who had come to America as children.

JEH JOHNSON, Former DHS secretary:

DACA is a recognition and a realization that when somebody comes here as a child, they're brought here not of their own choice, and we should recognize and acknowledge that and be compassionate toward those people.

NARRATOR:

They were called “Dreamers,” but to Sessions and his allies, DACA was an amnesty that sent the wrong message.

ANN COULTER:

One amnesty begets another amnesty; it begets more and more illegal—you are creating a magnet for more and more illegal aliens to pour in, as every country that's ever tried an amnesty has discovered and never done it again.

NARRATOR:

Miller and Bannon needed the president to agree to end DACA. But at his first press conference, they realized they had a problem.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Thank you very much.

LISA DESJARDINS:

The DACA program for immigration. What is your plan? Do you plan to continue that program or to end it?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We're going to show great heart. DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it's one of the most difficult subjects I have, because you have these incredible kids. You know, I love these kids; I love kids. I have kids and grandkids.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS:

It became clear that he was really waffling on DACA. And Bannon was getting really worried that this was actually becoming a problem; that Trump was not moving quickly to end it, and he was actually seeming to be reluctant to do it at all.

NARRATOR:

Bannon swung into action. He reached out to a rising star from the hard right, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

KRIS KOBACH, Former Kansas secretary of state:

Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller wanted to see movement on the DACA issue, wanted to see it rescinded.

MICHAEL SHEAR:

Bannon says to him, "You’ve got to have a way that we can kind of force this issue on DACA."

NARRATOR:

The idea was to box Trump in; Kobach would use 10 conservative state attorneys general.

STEVE BANNON:

What Kobach and the attorney generals wanted to do was to get this up at the right level. And I think that’s why the Texas AG took the lead, wrote a very powerful letter.

NARRATOR:

The letter was a threat: legal action against the Trump administration if they didn’t stop DACA.

KRIS KOBACH:

And so I think that was an important piece of the puzzle, or an important shift in the landscape that helped move the administration.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

All right, well, a major deadline for the Trump Justice Department looming early next month—

MALE NEWSREADER:

That is when Texas and nine other states plan to sue the administration if the president doesn't—

NARRATOR:

The letter worked; Trump relented. Sessions delivered the news.

JEFF SESSIONS:

Good morning. I’m here today to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, "PBS NewsHour":

Jeff Sessions makes it pretty clear they will, in fact, be moving to possibly deport thousands of people who were brought to this country as young children and who know no other home but America.

JEFF SESSIONS:

Thank you very much.

MALE NEWSREADER:

It’s a pretty devastating blow to about 800,000 Dreamers—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Protests erupting nationwide after the Trump administration—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—major change in immigration policy announced today—

McKAY COPPINS:

And immediately it’s like a bomb goes off in Washington.

PROTESTERS:

Immigrants are welcome here!

NEWS REPORTERS:

What the president called a case of heart now sparking emotional protests all over the country—

MALE DACA RECIPIENT:

—can’t go back home. They can’t send me—go back home, because this is my home.

MALE NEWSREADER:

As the community prayed over them, some broke down in tears. They were all DACA recipients, now filled with a mixture—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Protesters storming major cities all across the country, outraged—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—decision impacting nearly 800,000 people brought to the—

NARRATOR:

As the negative coverage hammered the president, he made a political calculation: He backed off.

MALE VOICE [reading Trump tweet]:

Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!

NARRATOR:

To the insurgents, it seemed like they had lost the president.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Yet another bombshell.

NARRATOR:

Their enemies were on the rise.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Mr. Trump’s controversial chief strategist forced out after a short and stormy chapter—

NARRATOR:

After seven months, Steve Bannon was out.

MALE NEWSREADER:

How does Trump think he can get rid of Bannon? Wasn’t Bannon the guy that got Trump elected?

SEBASTIAN GORKA, Former Trump adviser:

Over time, more and more "Bushies" arrived, so more and more people who were from the swamp, who had long resumes and were plugged into positions of import and significance.

In part and parcel, it’s the reason for why I left the White House; it may be the reason for why Steve left the White House when he did.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

President Trump holding a critical meeting today with lawmakers—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Meetings over at the White House today a bicameral—

NARRATOR:

With the insurgents weakened, Trump improvised. They watched what they considered a mind- boggling event: Congressional leaders, including Democrats, were invited to make a deal that could protect the Dreamers.

January 9, 2018

SEN. DICK DURBIN, D-Ill.:

Here we are in the Cabinet Room, and I come in and I notice, to my surprise, that my nameplate is right next to the president of the United States, to his right. I was not a close friend of this president.

NARRATOR:

The president shocked the entire room when he allowed the cameras to stay for the meeting.

DICK DURBIN:

So now we have the press giving live coverage for this meeting—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I think we’re going to come up with an answer—I hope we’re going to come up with an answer for DACA, and then we go further than that later on down the road. Dick, perhaps you’d like to say a few words?

DICK DURBIN:

There is a sense of urgency that's felt by many of us when it comes to this issue. A thousand a day will lose DACA protection; 900 of them are members of the U.S. military; 20,000 of them are schoolteachers. Lives are hanging in the balance of our getting the job done.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I agree with that, Dick. I very much agree with that.

DICK DURBIN:

And the president is referring to me as "Dick" all the time. And I’m thinking, you know, I guess I’m his friend at this point.

NARRATOR:

On television, the president said he wanted to make a deal, have an agreement to save DACA.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

When this group comes back, hopefully with an agreement—this group and others, from the Senate, from the House, comes back with an agreement, I’m signing it. I mean, I will be signing it.

ROBERT COSTA:

Sen. Feinstein almost can’t believe it. Every Democrat sitting on the edge of their seat in that room wondering, is the president about to break from his own party and cut a deal?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-Calif.:

—but I’d like to ask the question: What about a clean DACA bill now, with a commitment that we go into a comprehensive immigration reform procedure?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I have no problem—I think that’s basically what Dick is saying. We’re going to come out with DACA, we’re going to do DACA; and then we can start immediately on the phase 2, which would be comprehensive—

DIANNE FEINSTEIN:

Would you be agreeable to that?

DONALD TRUMP:

Yeah, I would like—I would like to do it.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS:

He starts to actually get way beyond where certainly Stephen Miller, but a lot of his advisers are, on the substance of what the deal would look like.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I’ll take the heat. I don’t care; I don’t care. I’ll take all the heat you want to give me, and I’ll take the heat off both the Democrats and the Republicans. My whole life has been heat. I like heat, in a certain way.

MARK KRIKORIAN:

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.

He is the kind of guy who, at least rhetorically, 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.

REP. KEVIN McCARTHY, R-Calif.:

Mr. President, you need to be clear, though. I think what Sen. Feinstein is asking here—when we talk about just DACA, we don’t want to be back here two years later. You have to have security, as the secretary would tell you.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

But I think that’s what she’s saying. I think that's—

KEVIN McCARTHY:

No, no, I think she’s saying something different. I think she's—

NARRATOR:

To immigration hard-liners, it was a reminder that the president could not be trusted.

ANN COULTER:

It seems, I think, perfectly apparent to me, and anyone else who observes this president [Laughs], he’s impulsive; he says things off the top of his head. He bears the impression of—like a couch, bears the impression of the last person who sat on him. It’s just, whoever gave him the last piece of advice, he goes out and says it.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I think I really agree with Dick; I think it’ll happen.

FEMALE STAFFER:

All right, thank you all.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I hope we gave you enough material.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

In an unusual move, cameras were rolling for nearly an hour on Tuesday—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The president actually seemed open to comprehensive immigration reform—

NARRATOR:

Just two days later, Sens. Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham were ready to deliver the deal Trump asked for.

DICK DURBIN:

It included a future for DACA and Dreamers. It also included money for his wall. I mean, it really was what he had asked for.

NARRATOR:

Durbin let the White House know.

DICK DURBIN:

Within minutes, the president calls back. "What can I do for you, senator?" "Well, Sen. Graham and I have a bill." He said, "Good."

NARRATOR:

The president said he wanted to meet with the two senators that day.

DICK DURBIN:

I found that incredible; I couldn’t believe I could ever get in to see a president in short order like that.

NARRATOR:

Miller had to move quickly.

MICHAEL SHEAR:

One of Miller’s talents was spinning the president up. He was constantly handing him, you know, statistics and numbers and papers and links to Breitbart, links to Fox News clips.

NARRATOR:

Miller’s allies in the right-wing media sounded the alarm.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—does not include a wall, a real wall, not a see-through wall—

ANN COULTER:

No, they’re all giggling that he’s getting rolled—

NARRATOR:

Talk radio turned up the volume.

MALE NEWSREADER:

This is the only thing that Donald Trump could do to possibly derail himself.

MALE NEWSREADER:

This is the end of the road for the Republican Party.

McKAY COPPINS:

All the right-wing media figures who championed Trump are losing their minds, because all of a sudden, everything Trump said during the campaign seems like it’s up for debate; that he’s willing to trade all of his campaign promises away as bartering chips.

ANN COULTER:

He shouldn’t talk about immigration unless Stephen Miller is there to follow up on it—

NARRATOR:

Sens. Durbin and Graham arrived at the White House with their deal in hand.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS:

And while they’re waiting in the West Wing lobby, all of a sudden the doors open, and other people start coming in.

Tom Cotton—very, very conservative. He has said publicly that, you know, the DREAM Act is a nonstarter.

David Perdue, same thing; he walks through the door.

Then there’s Bob Goodlatte, who’s the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

And then Stephen Miller walks in, and before they know it, they’re all in the Oval Office, all together.

McKAY COPPINS:

It’s really Miller who makes sure that the room is filled with immigration hard-liners.

KEN CUCCINELLI, Director, DHS Immigration Services:

They’re there to represent a position that they feel strongly about, which is, frankly, much closer to President’s Trump’s position.

DICK DURBIN:

Well, things went south in a hurry. Almost from his first word, you could tell that the president that I spoke to two hours before, and the one two days before, who had invited us to come by, had changed dramatically, and now he was opposed to every part of it.

And that’s when a lot of the profanities started flying.

ROBERT COSTA:

And the president was already in an unhappy mood because he kept reviewing all this migrant data from Miller, and he just erupts; he erupts. It’s gone from a chummy chat with the senators on camera; it’s gone from cordial rapport with Sen. Feinstein to vulgarity in front of Sen. Durbin and others.

NARRATOR:

The vulgarity stunned the room.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS:

He essentially says, "Why do we want all these people from shithole countries?," at which point, everyone kind of stops.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

He doesn't want people from Haiti or from Africa, countries that he refers to as "shithole countries." He says he wants people from Norway.

And it’s impossible to ignore that the people he’s talking about as undesirable are people of color and black people.

DICK DURBIN:

It is jaw-dropping as he went through this long litany of grievances he had against immigrants in this country, particularly those from what he referred to as "shithole countries."

McKAY COPPINS:

And all the while, Stephen Miller, once again, standing at the perimeter of the room, listening to that comment, and he knows that it’s mission accomplished; he’d done what he wanted to do.

NARRATOR:

The immigration hard-liners had won. There would be no DACA deal. The fate of the Dreamers would be in the hands of the courts.

MALE NEWSREADER:

A week ago, Central Americans crossed from Guatemala into Mexico—

MALE NEWSREADER:

Eleven hundred Central American immigrants continue making their way to the U.S.-Mexico border. President Trump—

NARRATOR:

Now, in the spring of 2018, from the Justice Department, Sessions and Miller would raise the ante; it was time to crack down on the border.

JEH JOHNSON:

They wanted to send a deterrent message through a very dramatic way in the hope that they would scare these people off and have them stay in Central America.

NARRATOR:

Sessions released this tough directive, using the words "zero tolerance."

KRIS KOBACH:

So Jeff Sessions is using the authority that was retained in the attorney general’s office, and he recognizes he’s got a lot of levers that he can pull; he’s got a lot of tools that he can use.

NARRATOR:

Everyone who crosses the border would be prosecuted, even families with children.

JEFF SESSIONS:

If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you. And that child may be separated from you as required by law.

NARRATOR:

It became known as “family separation.” Like the travel ban and DACA, family separation quickly turned into a crisis as the images were released.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

Young children are pulled from the arms of their mothers. It ushers in a part of America and a history of America that people are going to look at for years to come as the defining moments of the Trump presidency.

LEÓN RODRÍGUEZ, Former DHS official:

Children were separated from the adults with whom they arrived, and there wasn’t meticulous association of those children with those adults.

ProPublica recording

June 2018

CHILD 1:

[Speaking Spanish] Daddy! Daddy!

CHILD 2:

[Speaking Spanish] Mommy! [Crying]

MALE BORDER PATROL AGENT:

[Speaking Spanish] Well, we have an orchestra here, right? What we’re missing is a conductor.

MALE SPEAKER:

[Speaking Spanish] Don’t cry!

LUIS GUTIÉRREZ:

Here’s the thing that I think broke America’s heart. They didn’t know what they were doing! They weren’t even keeping tabs on where these children and who their parents or where their parents were at! That’s what they did.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

All it’s doing is showcasing unbelievable cruelty—

MALE NEWSREADER:

The trauma of separating a child—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Let’s talk about it.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—who doesn’t know what’s going on—

NARRATOR:

But Stephen Miller insisted it was all part of the grand design.

McKAY COPPINS:

When I talked to Miller, he said that he believes anytime the country is focused on immigration, the president is winning. So when you’re at the border, getting footage of crying children being ripped from the arms of their mothers, that would seem to most people like a bad development for the president. To Stephen Miller, he thinks that this is just drawing the attention once again to the issue that we care about most, and he sees that as a win.

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

Where are the children? Where are the children?

MALE NEWSREADER:

Anger over the Trump administration's policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the border—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Now Democratic lawmakers are voicing their anger over the family separations.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The growing outrage over families being separated at the border—

NARRATOR:

The controversy quickly consumed Washington.

MALE PROTEST ORGANIZER:

Hey there, everyone! We’re heading towards the Department of Justice—

MALE NEWSREADER:

The White House faces a growing backlash of anger over the separation—

NARRATOR:

For weeks, the president and the White House were under assault.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The White House is struggling to explain and defend the practice—

NARRATOR:

Miller wanted to stay the course.

The president’s own family were strongly on the other side.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Every day. Yesterday, 70 kids; today, 70 kids; tomorrow, 70 kids—

NARRATOR:

Once again, Trump capitulated.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I’m signing an executive order I consider to be a very important executive order. It’s about keeping families together.

Ivanka feels very strongly; my wife feels very strongly about it; I feel very strongly about it. I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it. We don’t like to see families separated. This takes care of the problem. Thank you very much.

FEMALE REPORTER:

Why did they—

MALE NEWSREADER:

I’m very disappointed in President Donald Trump—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

I think he’s not getting the best advice on this. It’s very disturbing.

NARRATOR:

The insurgents had again lost control of what Bannon had called the “imperfect instrument.”

MALE NEWSREADER:

But Trump signs an executive order, and for the 10 minutes it’s going to survive—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—U.S. attorney general is stepping down, apparently at the request of President Trump—

NARRATOR:

A few months later, Jeff Sessions was finally out.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Jeff Sessions, the attorney general of the United States, has submitted his letter of resignation.

NARRATOR:

Stephen Miller would be the only one of the original insurgents still on the inside.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—the day finally came where Trump said, "Enough is enough." We are told despite the—

JULIA IOFFE:

Sessions didn't survive, and Bannon didn’t survive, but Miller, who is the ultimate survivor, has managed to outlast pretty much everyone.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The ramifications are many.

JOSHUA GREEN:

Miller is a talented bureaucratic infighter. Miller understood that in order to survive and have influence with Donald Trump, you need to consistently display a fanatical degree of loyalty. And Miller has always been willing to do that, publicly and privately.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—record number of migrant families have arrived at the southern border in recent months—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—144,000; that is the highest total in one month—

NARRATOR:

The president had signaled he was scaling back zero tolerance, but there was an unintended consequence: The number of migrants increased.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—of migrant families surged after the Trump administration ended—

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS:

The ending of the policy has a pretty pronounced effect on the numbers of people showing up. The word gets back to Central America that zero tolerance is not really zero tolerance anymore; that if you come with a child, in fact you will not be separated from that child.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Right now, another caravan of migrants is heading for the U.S.

NARRATOR:

On Fox, they called the caravans an “invasion.”

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

It’s not a caravan; it’s an invasion. We have every right to be able to protect our borders—

SEAN HANNITY:

And at this hour tonight—

JONATHAN BLITZER:

You know, what happens with the president and the caravans is he sees footage of them on Fox News and starts to fulminate against them, and it becomes to him this image of a border being overrun.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—more than 103,000 people were apprehended at the southern border last month. That includes a record—

ROBERT COSTA:

The president grows angrier and angrier by the week as he continues to hear new numbers, new data about what’s happening at the border. He can fly into fits of rage. Miller doesn’t discourage this at all.

NARRATOR:

For Miller, the crisis was an opportunity.

It was election season—the 2018 midterms—and Trump was in campaign mode.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

So the president’s going all out for the next few days, hosting 10 more rallies across the nation focusing on illegal immigration—

NARRATOR:

Miller knew what would fire up the crowds.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We want our country to be a sanctuary for law-abiding Americans, not criminal aliens.

We’re not playing games, because you look at what’s marching up, that’s an invasion; that’s an invasion—

JONATHAN BLITZER:

The president uses that to drum up his election push for the midterms and calls that election "the election of the caravan."

CROWD [chanting]:

Build the wall! Build the wall! Build the wall!

NARRATOR:

It was also the beginning of Trump’s own reelection campaign.

ROBERT COSTA:

The closer we get to 2020, the more this president and his advisers are saying, "Immigration is our fire; that’s the fire we put in our torch to try to win 2020."

CROWD [chanting]:

Build the wall! Build the wall! Build the wall!

NARRATOR:

Determined not to lose his base, Trump was firmly back on the side of the insurgents.

Now Miller would call the shots.

KEN CUCCINELLI:

Stephen Miller is the point person at the president’s side on the immigration issue. He is a driving force, and he has an awful lot of knowledge that he brings to bear at the president’s right hand.

NARRATOR:

Miller pushed controversial executive actions—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—Trump administration is announcing a new regulation that will allow migrant families—

NARRATOR:

Cutting back on refugees—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—Trump administration changing the rules for migrants hoping to claim asylum in the United States.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—the Trump administration's new plans to detain migrants—

NARRATOR:

Building the wall—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—Trump to divert billions from the Pentagon, from the military, to build his border wall—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—targets hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants—

NARRATOR:

Slashing legal immigration—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—Trump administration issuing a regulation that would deny green cards for legal immigrants—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—non-white immigrants are not welcome in Donald Trump's America—

NARRATOR:

Initiating raids across the country—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

This as thousands of people nationwide are bracing now for ICE raids. President Trump’s order to begin—

MALE NEWSREADER:

The sweeps are expected to target about 2,000 people—

NARRATOR:

And igniting a firestorm.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—kids might be left parentless in the process makes it all the more disturbing.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Officials called it the biggest worksite immigration enforcement operation—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Trump could close down our southern border—

NARRATOR:

It had been six years since that dinner at the Breitbart Embassy.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

He talks about an "invasion"—

NARRATOR:

Zero tolerance had won the day.

STEVE BANNON:

From the dinner we had, we’ve brought border security up to the forefront.

Right now we actually are engaged as a nation, and I think in 2020, it’s even going to be more of a centerpiece in the national debate, as it should be.

NARRATOR:

For Sessions, Bannon, Miller, it was all part of the grand design.

STEVE BANNON:

We are now debating all the topics on Donald Trump’s turf, OK? That—in January 2013, that looked like a pipe dream. Today that’s the reality.

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November 12, 2019