WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden blamed the Trump administration for ongoing problems at the U.S.-Mexico border, citing its failure to cooperate and share critical information during the presidential transition period.
In an exclusive interview that aired Friday with "TODAY" show co-anchor Craig Melvin, Biden said his administration inherited “one god-awful mess at the border” from former President Donald Trump. He said it’s the result of “the failure to have a real transition — cooperation from the last administration, like every other administration has done.”
After the November election, Biden said that he had dispatched his transition team to meet with the officials leading the major departments across the government.
“The two departments that didn’t give us access to virtually anything were the immigration and the Defense Department,” said Biden, who added that his team didn’t know until he was sworn into office that Trump had fired many people from those departments and they were “understaffed considerably.”
Biden declined to call the border situation a crisis. He also acknowledged that his administration has struggled to reunite the children and families who had been separated under Trump policies.
“We don't know yet where those kids are,” he said. “We're trying like hell to figure out what happened. What happened to that child when he got separated? Where’d they go? Where are they?”
In fact, pro-bono lawyers and Biden’s task force to reunify families have struggled to locate some of the parents who were separated, not their children. But those lawyers say many parents are in Central America and ready to be reunited once the Biden administration makes good on its promise to bring them back to the United States to be with their children.
During the wide-ranging interview, conducted Thursday at the White House, Biden was also asked about comments on race made by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, in the official Republican response to the president's first address to Congress on Wednesday. Scott, the lone Black Republican senator, said he'd experienced "the pain of discrimination," but urged viewers to "hear me clearly: America is not a racist country."
Biden was asked if he disagreed.
"No, I don't think the American people are racist. But I think after 400 years, African Americans have been left in a position where they're so far behind the eight ball in terms of education, health, in terms of opportunity," Biden said. "I don't think America's racist, but I think the overhang from all of the Jim Crow and before that slavery have had a cost and we have to deal with it."
Melvin also asked Biden if he was briefed about the search warrants executed at Rudy Giuliani’s apartment and office and found out about it when the news broke.
“I give you my word, I was not,” Biden said.
“I made a pledge,” Biden continued. “I would not interfere in any way — order or try to stop any investigation the Justice Department had underway. I learned about that last night when the rest of the world learned about it.”
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Asked if he’s been briefed about any other investigation, Biden said, “No, and I’m not asking to be briefed — that's the Justice Department's independent judgment.”
Biden said that the Trump administration “politicized the Justice Department so badly, so many of them quit, so many left.”
“That's not the role of the president to say who should be prosecuted, when they should be prosecuted, who should not be prosecuted. That’s not the role of the president. The Justice Department is the people’s lawyer, not the president’s lawyer.”
Biden’s remarks came a day after FBI agents executed search warrants at Giuliani's Manhattan apartment and his office to seize electronic devices. The searches signaled that prosecutors are continuing their investigation into Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who went on to become Trump's personal attorney.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden, who joined the conversation toward the end, were also asked about one of their German shepherds, Major, who has had a few incidents at the White House.
“He is such a sweet, lovable dog. He really is,” the first lady said.
She also shared that they were adopting a female cat, and said that part of Major’s training with the Secret Service involved bringing him into a shelter with cats.