Mayor Faulconer’s White House Meeting
KPBS Roundtable / June 21, 2019
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer meets with President Donald Trump at the White House, the origins of migrant caravans in Honduras, and the first week of testimony in the murder trial for a San Diego based Navy SEAL.
Speaker 1: 00:01 One on one in the Oval Office. San Diego's mayor urges president Trump to protect cross border business for thousands of asylum seekers. The journey to the u s starts in Honduras. Why so many are choosing to leave their home country? Plus, was it murder or mutiny? Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher goes on trial and surprise testimony adds a new twist to the case. I'm mark Sauer. The KPBS roundtables starts now.
Speaker 1: 00:38 Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS round table today. Michael Smollins, columnist with the San Diego Union Tribune reporter Maya Shree Krishna and of Voice of San Diego and Tony Perry, former San Diego Bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Well, it was a surprise invitation for San Diego. Mayor Kevin Faulconer come into the Oval Office and chat with President Trump. They talked about several important topics according to a White House press release, but in immigration and the humanitarian crisis at the southern border, or we're not among them. And Michael, a start with wine was San Diego's mayor in Washington. Who did he plan to meet with?
Speaker 2: 01:15 Well, there were a couple things going on. There was the, a a conference of the board of Trade Alliance, which is what you would expect a group of businesses, governments and academics that want to facilitate cross border commerce both at the southern and northern border. So He's been part of that for some time. He also had meetings with a White House administration staff, members of the inner governmental affairs staff to talk about trade, but also a fix of the border sewage problem that we've had that's been going on for generations. Uh, and he also had meetings with members of Congress lined up for those issues as well. So how did that meeting with Trump come above? Well, according to them, there he was meeting with Trump staff on the intergovernmental relations folks and word came through that the president wanted to meet him. So after the meeting he went over to the Oval Office and uh, had a, an interesting 19 minutes it seems like with the mayor. So it wasn't a very long time in a lot happened
Speaker 1: 02:07 in a photo op and a lot up and well, what, what were some of the topics that Faulkner and Trump talking about them?
Speaker 2: 02:12 Well, it sort of depends on who is talking, so we'll get to that in a minute. Yeah, I did the interview, the mirror, uh, before a lot of things changed in the public perception, but he emphasize those issues. He knew time was short and you want to talk about trade and particularly a urge the ratification a of the US Mexico Canada agreement, which would replace an Nafta. And of course that's the administrations, uh, packed. Uh, they're pushing to habits. So he really emphasized that. He also talked about just the importance of his view. I mean, he's a free trader of free trade, uh, and how tariffs really can hurt San Diego. But he thought in his view to give the president some on the ground examples of what really happens here and how that works might be helpful. Uh, but also he really stressed the need for federal funding for border solutions on this whole Tiwan sewage spills. As you know, it goes into the Tijuana River valley and out to the the ocean and closes a beach. It's on long imperial beach.
Speaker 1: 03:07 And we constantly talk about that a lot on the show. It's been a crowd now for many years
Speaker 2: 03:11 as we know that the, the, the, the president went on TV and,
Speaker 1: 03:15 well, let's tell us different, yeah, let's get into that. So he talked with his favorite cable TV pal, Sean Hannity or the president. It did after he had met with Mayor Faulkner. And here's what Trump claimed. The mayor told him in that meeting,
Speaker 3: 03:27 we just finished San Diego as you know, San Diego in California. They're so happy that mayor was just up in my office, a great guy. And he stay, he came up to thank me for having done the wall because it's made such a difference. You said, it's like day and night. He said people are flowing across and now nobody can come in.
Speaker 4: 03:46 Yeah.
Speaker 1: 03:46 Well good to know that San Diego's in California glade to clear that up for us. Um, but Michael Faulkner through spokesman Craig Gustafson, our old pal from the ut days said the president might not have been entirely truthful about what they actually talk to.
Speaker 2: 04:00 Well, he was more emphatic. He said the mayor did not say that exactly. Um, uh, you know, so there I talked with or communicated with White House communications staff. There's no transcript of this, so we don't really know what was said. But the release you mentioned that put up by the White House, they talked about, they gave a summary of what was discussed and it was basically the points at the, the merit talked about trade, the u s m c a agreement and the board of sewage, uh, aspect of it. You, I would have to think that if the wall came up and if the mayor said anything like that, what the president said, he said that would have been reflected. It's such a hot button key issue. So, you know, you could call this a, he said, she said, but it just, it seems a very out of character for the mayor who's been critical of the expanded, right.
Speaker 1: 04:44 Wrote an op Ed in your paper before Trump came here to look and we've got another lie in that statement frankly, but uh, by the president, which was the wall he's taking credit for, we go back to 1994 and operation gatekeeper. We've had a wall here for a long time. A couple of walls along before I about recently was approved before this event
Speaker 4: 05:02 and replacements and got the military down and didn't really do much except some wire. I'm not surprised. I mean the Washington Post is pointed out what more than 10,000 lies and prevarications and distortions by the president of United States. But what about Faulkner? Is there, is he immune to the idea that sometimes there's a moral imperative that takes precedence over sewage and tariffs, etc. I mean, what's going on at the border on the children, et Cetera? Yeah,
Speaker 2: 05:31 stressing because I had asked him in just the night before, I mean, you think that this meeting was peculiar time with the night before Trump tweeted out that we're going to be deporting millions of, of unauthorized immigrants next week. And then the, the, after the meeting he went on a two is a reelection campaign kickoff where you talked about immigration and the way he usually does. And so I asked them or did, did you discuss immigration or particularly the fact that he's going to, he's threatening to deport millions of people and that has been, uh, an issue with the mayor because he hasn't outnet opposed enforcement measures, but he said some extreme measures really are disruptive to the community and cause a lot of severe dislocations. He just said sort of blindly, it didn't come up. He sort of viewed that 19 minutes was or whatever time he had was going to be pretty short and you want to emphasize those key issues.
Speaker 1: 06:19 Well that's a good segue for us. We have a little sound, uh, with the mayor here. KPBS caught up with them this week and talking about exactly what you're talking about. Let's hear that
Speaker 5: 06:27 fuck with them for 19 minutes. Why didn't you bring up the issue of immigration and particularly being the mayor of San Diego with the large, we really had the opportunity to focus a a brief time on us MCA and how important trade is here in San Diego and the 100,000 jobs that are at stake. And so it was an opportunity for me to speak directly, obviously with the president, some of his team about how important cross border trade is and why we absolutely have to keep this going. Um, know terrorists in the wrong way to go. Free Trade is works for San Diego. We know how to do it, we know how to compete. And so for me to be able to talk about that directly, this is an important time for us. We have to get USM CA, uh, through the United States House of Representatives and the Senate. Um, it's the right thing to do for San Diego. It's the right thing to do for our country. A lot of jobs at stake.
Speaker 4: 07:15 Well, I wonder if he didn't answer the question. Did. He leaned in and said, don't take Peter Navarro at, at his word, because Peter, former San Diego, then mayor, mayoral candidate, professor, et Cetera, et Cetera, is as far as we can tell the man on tariff send such and he's got the president's ear. I wonder if Kevin said, don't, don't always listen to him. There's a different viewpoint on the [inaudible].
Speaker 1: 07:38 Well, certain didn't want to touch that hot button immigration issues.
Speaker 2: 07:41 True. And, and he's been taking heat for that. Uh, you know, I think that the reality of it is like he's, he, he's the only Republican mayor of a big US city. He differs with the president on a lot of issues and that's been reflected in the national press. Um, is he going to spend that time to, to beat his head against a wall, so to speak, on immigration where he know where Trump's coming from or try to make headway on other issues that he's concerned about? He did. I mean, I don't know if confront, but you mentioned terrorists and Peter Navarro. I mean, the, the mayor has been outspoken against tariffs and the ones that are enacted. And are being proposed by the president and he felt it was important to stress why free trade really works here in his view. Uh, because obviously the president, it has a different view of that.
Speaker 1: 08:24 I wanted to bring up before we leave this segment, climate change and other issues with Faulkner strong strongly differs with Trump president. It's a climate change denier. He director of the EPA just this week, front page of the New York Times today to ease restriction the coal burning power plants. Faulkner runs a big coastal city aggressive plan to limit carbon emissions. Didn't confront Trump on this excess excess.
Speaker 2: 08:44 Okay, look, I, you know, I feel like I'm defending the mayor to a great degree here. You've got maybe 20 minutes with the president. How many other issues didn't even bring up that we could, we could do that. And again, that's an issue that the president is so far in the different direction. Are you, you're going to make a statement, is that the point of the mirror? I mean, he has said that his job is to, you know, represent San Diego's interest. Those are San Diego's interest. But he felt that he could make headway on those particular issues. Is that right or wrong? I don't know, but it's certainly in a political sense. I think it's understandable that you're not going to waste time on something where you're just not going to get anywhere.
Speaker 4: 09:18 I don't ever see Kevin as a good candidate for a profile in courage, a chapter in a book, but it does seem that there are some times which you have to set aside issues and say human beings. Here we're talking human beings, children right on our doorstep, and it's your policy. The uh, the terror, they tried to blame Obama for that policy. The tariffs and a, and the sewage. Those are probably being dealt at a lower level, but the immigration and the hardcore issue that comes right from Donald Trump's mouth and our mayor had a chance to say something.
Speaker 1: 09:55 All right, well, we'll get off the mayor here, but we'll stay with immigration. We're going to move onto our next topic. Violent crackdowns by a corrupt government. Starvation wages, rampant, rampant gang violence. These are among the conditions in Honduras causing many thousands to trek. To our southern border with hope of a decent life, refugees and caravans from that trouble country plus neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador of cross Mexico in recent years to plead their cases. Most are detained and sent back. But my, you went to a Honduras to see conditions for yourself there a this month though. Start with that trip. How did that come about? What was the purpose?
Speaker 6: 10:28 Well, so as everyone's heard, you know, there were these large caravans of mainly Hondurans that ended up in Tijuana last year, um, thousands of thousands of Hondurans and, and my immigration coverage. I was constantly talking to people at the border and I decided that, you know, I wanted to go to the country and see for myself why so many people are leaving because I'm so when we look at numbers at the border of Guatemala and are coming at the largest raw numbers, but the highest rate of migration is actually from Honduras. And so that means that there are more people proportionally leaving the country then in Guatemala. And that's pretty significant. Yeah.
Speaker 1: 11:02 Yeah. And one of your dispatches, you featured in the man, the Denilson. If I'm pronouncing it correctly, tell us about him, your experience and how you met them and caught up with them again after he'd been sent back.
Speaker 6: 11:13 So he traveled with the caravan that ended up into Hana in November, uh, to come here and I met him there, uh, at a shelter and he crossed about a month later and ended up in detention and we lost touch. Um, but one of his friends who I had also met at the time was deported pretty quickly back and he reached out to me via Facebook and when I figured out that I was going to be able to go to Honduras, we connected and it turned out that Denison was going to be deported around the same time that I was going to be there. So he was actually deported the day before I arrived there. Um, and we met back up so he could kind of talk to me about his experience over the past five months since I had last seen him.
Speaker 1: 11:51 And what's the plan to do now? He's made this long, dangerous journey here. He got deported back. And in the, is this, is this typical, would you say have a lot of people you've interviewed who've done the same thing?
Speaker 6: 12:01 I mean, when I was there it was, you know, we see deportation numbers, but it was really startling because Justin San Pedro Sula so that's one city. They are also planned to do parties that come to Tegucigalpa, which is the capital, but you know, twice a week there were planes of hundreds of people deported in just to that city from the u s and then on top of that there were planes and buses nearly every day of the week coming in from Mexico. So there are thousands of people being returned to this country every single week.
Speaker 1: 12:31 Yeah. And so that these, these stories over and over and over again, they've, they've made the trek and, and the numbers are, are, are difficult. We were talking before the show about the writer's a story today, but the vast majority of these folks don't get their asylum claims granted and they are going back to these triangle countries, right? Yeah. What is that, Michael?
Speaker 2: 12:49 Just the arduous trip. The expense of the trip and then to get deported back, uh, or even to a different city. Can you describe it? What's the frustration? Must be, but just because it's such a desperate situation that they're leaving and after all that to be back at square one, I, you know, I'm sure some people say, oh, they should know better, but nonetheless, it's a human thing and it's gotta be just horrible.
Speaker 6: 13:10 Yeah. It was, it was crazy. One day I actually went to when the plane landed and I kind of accompanied a group of, of people who came off and they, a lot of them went to the bus station and they just, um, they get, uh, uh, paid bus ticket, which they're supposed to use to go back to their town or to go wherever they need to in a lot of them just got back on a bus back to the other, not border. Keep trying. Yeah. And I think that really speaks to the desperation. And I literally heard from people that, you know, we feel like we're going to die in our country so we might as well die trying to have another opera.
Speaker 4: 13:40 Yes. Are the problems, poverty, corruption, criminality, so endemic there that there's not a thing we can do on this side of the border to, to rectify.
Speaker 1: 13:53 Finally, what's your, what's your impression of conditions? Exactly right. Of a that could be improved and maybe keep folks there and, and start to thrive in their own homes.
Speaker 6: 14:01 So, you know, poverty and violence for the two reasons that people cited the most when I was talking about why people leave. And one of the things that was really clear was the underlying, those were issues of vast corruption in the country. So, you know, there's very little money being spent on education or health care, um, even some of the money that's being spent for security, um, to kind of deal with some of the violence or, um, trust in police. Because a lot of times, you know, impunity is really high there. So if someone you know, is murdered, it's very unlikely that that's going to be investigated. If you report to the police and you may even face retaliation for it. And so I think that until those underlying problems and corruption are co are solved, it's very, very difficult to solve those things even just through foreign aid because you can send the money, but you don't actually know that that's getting to the people to fix the education system or something like that.
Speaker 4: 14:55 That is the u s stop sending aid as the president of United States has threatened. Will that work? Or just boomerang?
Speaker 6: 15:03 I mean, I think that was, I think that would also make things worse because it would just further destabilize the country. Um, even though not all of that money is getting to where it should, I mean if you are taking out that quantity of money from a country that is that dire, it also leaves like a big vacuum.
Speaker 4: 15:19 Since that, this, this thing that we hear that uh, many of them are being told here, take a kid and you arrive at the border with a kid you can get in the country. Even if you don't know the kid and he's not a relative. Did you sense any of that? That there's kind of a take a kid, a syndrome?
Speaker 6: 15:36 There's definitely a lot of rumors, you know, um, and there's businesses, you know, of quiet days who are trying to respond to what the US is doing to get people there. It's a business for them and there's a lot of rumors among people about what they need to do or what they can do to get there. Um, that child thing definitely did come up. Uh, there are some people, especially people out in the rural areas who seem to not fully understand that at this point that if you travel with the child that is not your own, you will be separated and it's not going to work out that way. Um, you know, but a lot of people are also traveling with their families just because they're done that desperate at this point. Everybody leaves. Yeah. I mean there's like a Max mass exodus from, from that country. Yes.
Speaker 4: 16:19 So what's your, you're sort of suggesting is it's exaggerated on this side of the border that there's a random kid syndrome down there?
Speaker 6: 16:27 I think it happens. Um, but I don't think it's the only thing. I think it happens in certain places with people who take classes, but when we're talking about like the caravans for example, people are taking those so that they don't have to use cloud days. They're used, they're taking those because they're cheaper and they can still travel safely. You know, if they travel in numbers and they've saved up their money to take buses and things like that situation. Um, I mean, I like to, if we continue to seeing these numbers of people, you know, it's good to understand what's happening there.
Speaker 1: 16:53 Few seconds left in this segment, we were into a national debate, of course, presidential year. A lot of candidates any likely have any meaningful national debate in this election year about what might be done regionally to really make a difference in these triangle countries. Okay.
Speaker 6: 17:07 We'll see. I mean, not even every candidate has put out, you know, immigration reforms or anything like that. I think Julian Castro has, um, and maybe one other Democratic candidates
Speaker 1: 17:18 if you give them. And there's almost two days. Yeah.
Speaker 6: 17:20 Yeah. And considering it's such a big issue for Donald Trump. But um, you know, we'll see whether it turns into any,
Speaker 1: 17:27 well, no. The closest thing to watch in this very complicated, tragic issue, well we are going to move on if a navy medic is to be believed it wasn't Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher who killed an isis fighter while being treated, interact for a leg wound. It was the medic himself, the mom show exploded on prosecutors this week and go Gallagher's closely watched trial for war crimes. In addition to murder charges, the seal leaders also accused of firing indiscriminately. It's civilians and intimidating potential witnesses against him and witnesses. Fellow Navy Seals said under oath, they fear retaliation for coming forward. Now, Tony, you've covered a military murder trials here. How unusual is it to see these navy seals be the key witnesses against?
Speaker 4: 18:06 It's unusual, but it's not unprecedented. Uh, early on in the a war against, uh, the Iraqis, a raccoon leadership, there were upward of 10, uh, seals from corn auto investigated for crimes, much similar to those that are alleged here, abusing prisoners, intimidating people. And indeed, uh, there was a death involved of one prisoner and there was a court marshal of one, one of the, one of the seals that lieutenant, uh, he was found innocent by the way. So it's happened, but the seals tend to be, well not tend to be, are extraordinarily secretive. Uh, you're a reporter, you can call up the army, Navy, Marine Corps and say, Hey, I want to come and see what you're doing. And you go through some hoops and suddenly you're there taking notes on what the 19 year olds are doing and what the lieutenants are doing, not so the seals, they are very, very secretive.
Speaker 4: 18:58 So we only occasionally get a glimpse into what they're really like. Now what's what we're getting a glimpse of here. And the Gallagher case is probably not what they're always like. It's probably the aberrational, but we are seeing it unvarnished, uh, disputes between groups of seals. Some that thought Gallagher was great, some who thought he was a maniac and they had to do something. And then of course a testimony by seals. And we'll have more testimony by seals against him. So unusual. And as Steve, uh, Walsh's story pointed out, uh, that was a blockbuster of a piece of evidence where that a medic said, I saw him stab him once. Now he had said when he was interviewed by the investigators two or three times, but he's winnowed it down to, I saw him stabbing once and uh, but that wasn't the fatal wound. I wasn't dead. I pinched off the uh, uh, the breathing tube now as
Speaker 1: 19:56 again happened or how in the world are sort of our prosecutors surprised by this testimony?
Speaker 4: 20:00 Well, as Steve Wells points out, the prosecutors were irate, well this a seal had been given immunity. What if he's not given immunity and he gets on the stand and he says Fifth Amendment, you get nothing. So here prosecution got, yes, I saw him stab in the neck, a defenseless teenager basically. We don't know exactly who he was cause there were no name, no autopsy or anything, which is kind of typical of these cases. It is. That was another course. So you get back, but then you get this other, and of course the prosecutors will do their best to say that he's a liar and that he's lying. Now this medic on the jury, seven members of the jury, five marines, two sailors, now they're all going to have a view of what it's really like in a combat.
Speaker 2: 20:50 So there's six of them I think are combat veterans specifically.
Speaker 4: 20:52 Exactly. And it only takes two thirds by the way, for conviction. Uh, they're gonna they'll vote once and that is it. None of this two and three votes like civilians, no hung juries. You do one vote. If you've got enough for a conviction, it's a conviction. If not, uh, we move on. We have a lot more to go. The accusations as you noted that, um, uh, chief Gallagher, we shooting indiscriminately as a sniper and hit maybe a young girl and an old man with a white beard. We're going to hear about that. I think will also here again, this is a different, this isn't a downtown San Diego. Yeah. Talk about that a little bit, I think. I presume that we may hear, well, who really knows this? Who were those people who got hit? And then of course they're gonna have to throw their hands up and said, well, we really don't know.
Speaker 4: 21:43 Welcome to the difficulty of, of investigating one of these things and bringing it to trial. And then somebody may say, well, what were the rules of engagement? And we all know who've been in a war zones that sometimes people you don't think are dangerous are dangerous, and that can be young women and that can be old men. Did they, did Gallagher think that these two might be dangerous or not? That depends on whether he actually testifies and says, yeah, I shot him button. Here's why. We're going to learn a lot about what it was like.
Speaker 2: 22:13 Chris, this was Thursday was a bad day for the prosecution. They get blind sighted, but this isn't the first problem they've had. They've had no issues. I mean, is how are they handling the case? It seems like there's been a few things that just like have blown up on them.
Speaker 4: 22:29 Well, I said that, uh, this was unusual but not unprecedented. I'll tell you what was unprecedented. That stuff about putting a little glip into a document given to the defense because they could. Then the prosecution could frank figure out who were they sharing these documents? Were they giving it to those dreadful people in the press or not? That's another oddity of the system. Things that on a federal court downtown we could go and get right there in the file and we'd look at it and write our little stories. You can't get those documents so they have to be leaked to you. Very difficult. Their system looks like a civilian system. It is not.
Speaker 2: 23:07 Also I pre prelims you're not sharing testimony pretrial that would shed light on on a lot of these issues.
Speaker 4: 23:13 You should. There can be prelims. There can be what they call an article 32 I don't believe there was in this case. Now don't forget over every of thing is the commander in chief and he has already made noises about looking to pardon some military personnel, convicted of what we call a work crimes. He's out there. And one of his former attorneys, by the way, is, is part of the case and is helping, uh, helping the defense. So Trump's former attorney Thompson, if there is a conviction, and I'm not sure there's going to be the president of the United States acting as commander in chief could pardon? It can pardon a chief Gallagher immediately. So we've got a long way to go here. And if there is a conviction, we haven't even longer way to go.
Speaker 1: 23:58 Yeah. Well, I didn't want to play a bite here from Gallagher's attorney Tim, uh, Parla Tori, I think his name is, and here's, here's theory on the whole case and the defense,
Speaker 5: 24:08 the whole theme of our opening, the theme of our case, you know, that this is not a murder is a mutiny. This is a group of young, disgruntled sailors that didn't like being told that they were cowards. And so they decided to conspire to take down the chain. They made up a story. And that's why we're here.
Speaker 1: 24:24 That's young, disgruntled sailors. That's not our image of seal.
Speaker 4: 24:27 No, it is not. It is however, a fairly standard defense, uh, piece of a strategy on this yet this defense seems to be based on two things which are classic and used all the time. One A, those people making these accusations, they're just disgruntled, the failures and they're just mad at the real fighters that they were tough. And then too, there was a lousy investigation. Uh, those are classic. They were used, I referenced a case, a against 10 seals that that came to one being sent to court Marshall, that was the defense there. And he was, um, that lieutenant was found innocent even though a seal and a CIA operative claimed to have seen him do things, but yet the six on the jury, all seals in that case found him innocent. Why? We don't know. Because part of, again, part of the system by culture is that the jury members never speak publicly and they certainly don't talk to the hounds of the press.
Speaker 1: 25:27 Well, we're out of time, but we're going to watch that. I'm going to go on for a couple more weeks. We'll see what happens in that trial. Fascinating case. And that does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guest, Michael Small ends of the San Diego Union Tribune, Maya Shree Krishna, and a voice of San Diego and Tony Perry farmers, San Diego Bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, and a reminder, all of the stories we discussed today available on our website, kpbs.org I'm mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today and join us again next week.