Just hours after migrant families at the southern border were tear-gassed by U.S. authorities and tensions escalated between Russia and Ukraine, President Trump took to Twitter on Sunday night armed with harsh words. But his ire wasn’t directed at the caravan of thousands of Central Americans seeking asylum or at foreign leaders. Instead, the president was focused on a “60 Minutes” segment about family separations at the border, accusing “Fake 60 Minutes” of running a “phony story.”
The “60 Minutes” investigation into the Trump administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy, which aired Sunday evening, found that family separations had been going on for much longer than previously reported. Citing a 2017 “pilot program” that was rolled out months before then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s April announcement of the policy’s official implementation, the report concluded that “there may never be an accurate count of how many children were taken from their parents.”
The roughly 13-minute report appeared to leave Trump incensed, prompting the president to issue scathing back-to-back tweets in which he again erroneously claimed that his zero-tolerance policy is “the exact same” as President Barack Obama’s and attacked the “Fake Media.”
Trump’s immigration crackdown was met with broad backlash. The president abruptly halted separations in June, and that month a federal judge ordered the government to reunify thousands of children with their families.
“[60 Minutes] did a phony story about child separation when they know we had the exact same policy as the Obama Administration,” Trump tweeted. “In fact a picture of children in jails was used by other Fake Media to show how bad (cruel) we are, but it was in 2014 during [Obama] years.”
Trump was probably referencing a 2014 Associated Press photo of immigrant children sleeping in chain-link enclosures that was widely shared after his policy was made public. The “60 Minutes” segment did not use the 2014 picture but included images released by Customs and Border Protection in June of a facility in McAllen, Tex., that showed children being held in similar cagelike areas.
In a second tweet eight minutes later, Trump wrote that both Obama and President George W. Bush separated children from their parents “because that is the policy and law.”
“I tried to keep them together but the problem is, when you do that, vast numbers of additional people storm the Border,” he tweeted. “So with Obama seperation is fine, but with Trump it’s not. Fake 60 Minutes!”
Bill Owens, executive editor of “60 Minutes,” told The Washington Post in an email late Sunday that “we stand by our story” but declined further comment.
The investigation included a number of interviews with experts familiar with the country’s immigration system and detention facilities, as well as the account of a Honduran immigrant who was separated from his 3-year-old son. “60 Minutes” also obtained an uncensored copy of an order from the Department of Homeland Security that revealed that child separation had started “nine months earlier than the administration acknowledged.” The document stated that the policy was meant to deter immigrants, but data shows the number of entry attempts along the Mexico border has increased since March, The Post’s Philip Bump reported in June.
There were cases of family separation when Obama was president, but those involved children who were being trafficked or occurred if officials could not confirm that the adult was the child’s parent, The Post’s Seung Min Kim has reported. While the underlying laws were the same during the Obama administration, Obama “did not have the same ‘zero tolerance’ policy,” according to The Post’s Fact Checker database.
Other critics slammed the president for tweeting about “60 Minutes” instead of addressing the use of tear gas on migrants, some of them mothers and children, at the border between Tijuana and California or the tense standoff in the Black Sea between Russia and Ukraine.
On Sunday, a demonstration involving members of the Central American migrant caravan protesting the slow pace of U.S. asylum claims turned into chaos as hundreds stormed the border in an attempt to gain entry to the United States, The Post reported. In response, U.S. border officials fired tear gas into Mexico and closed the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the largest land border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana. A now-viral photo of a mother and her two young children, one of whom is still in diapers, running from tear gas has since sparked intense outcry.
Thousands of miles away in the Kerch Strait, Russian vessels opened fire on a Ukrainian fleet Sunday, injuring six sailors and seizing two of the ships, The Post reported. The conflict has resulted in Moscow closing an important water route and Ukraine’s president expressing support for installing martial law across the country for 60 days. Other foreign powers, including the European Union and Canada, have already called for “de-escalation.”
Some people, however, were just surprised that Trump hadn’t been watching Fox News.