Last Friday in Calexico, California, President Trump said publicly that the country is "full," and "we can't handle any more" migration. But when the cameras were off, Trump told border agents to simply not let migrants into the country, no matter what the law says, CNN reported Monday, citing two people who witnessed the events. Tell the migrants and asylum seekers "we don't have the capacity," the sources paraphrased Trump saying. "If judges give you trouble, say, 'Sorry, judge, I can't do it. We don't have the room.'" The border agents got a second opinion, CNN reports:
After the president left the room, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving them that direction and if they did what the president said they would take on personal liability. You have to follow the law, they were told. [CNN]
Trump is now embarking on what one senior administration official called a "near-systematic purge" of DHS leadership. On CNN Monday evening, Jake Tapper noted that Trump has said similar things on camera before, and conservative commentator Bill Kristol said Congress needs to find these witnesses and tease out whether Trump was seriously ordering government officials to break the law.
"At the end of the day," a senior administration official told CNN, "the president refuses to understand that the Department of Homeland Security is constrained by the laws." Jonathan Chait argues at New York that it's not that Trump doesn't understand this, he just doesn't care. "One reason Trump has abandoned his pretext of simply following the law is that the immigration crisis is not related to breaking immigration laws," he writes. "The surge at the border is migrants seeking asylum. They are not sneaking in, but presenting themselves at crossing points legally."