(CNSNews.com) – A Donald Trump campaign spokeswoman sparred with a CNN anchor Monday over the process for vetting Syrian refugees, and when the journalist cited a fact-checking website’s assessment of the process the spokeswoman retorted, “We’re not going to base national security off PolitiFact, or even the United Nations.”
CNN’s Brianna Keilar questioned Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson about how the presumptive Republican candidate would like to change the existing process used to vet refugees ahead of resettlement in the U.S.
In doing so, Keilar paraphrased an excerpt from a recent PolitiFact article, which examined Trump’s claim that there was “no system to vet” refugees from the Middle East, and determined it to be false.
The PolitiFact article outlined a process that begins with referral by the U.N. refugee agency and includes vetting and interviews by U.S. agencies including the Department of Homeland Security. It said the entire process “typically takes one to two years or longer.”
(The State Department says it takes an average of 18-24 months, and earlier this year officials said the processing time was being speeded up to three months in the case of Syrian refugees.)
Keilar ended her summary of the vetting process by saying, “this is according to PolitiFact.”
“You’re saying there’s no vetting process,” she said. “I just read the vetting process. How does he [Trump] want to change it?”
“Here’s the thing,” Pierson said. “We’re not going to base national security off PolitiFact, or even the United Nations.”
“We’re going to listen to our intelligence agencies like the CIA and the FBI who says those [vetting procedures] are worthless. Because many of these people don’t show up in these systems, simply because they are not on, on anyone’s – on anyone’s record. There is no way to vet these people now and that’s the problem.”
“Just because there’s some arbitrary system in place at the United Nations,” Pierson added, “that doesn’t mean that the United States has the ability to find out who these people are and why they’re coming.”
Keilar interjected, noting that the process she described involves federal agencies, even though “it may start at the U.N.”
Pierson repeated her argument, saying the U.S. agencies themselves say the vetting process does not work because the people being vetted are not on the radar.
Later, Pierson posted on her Twitter feed: “I’ll take my vetting advice from the CIA and FBI Director Comey over Politifact, United Nations & CNN.”
She included a link to a video clip in which FBI Director James Comey during an Oct. 2015 House Homeland Security Committee hearing spoke about the difficulties in checking backgrounds of Syrian refugees.
“We can only query against that which we have collected,” he told the panel. “And so if someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interests reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home but we’re not going to – there’ll be nothing to show up, because we have no record of that person.”
“You can only query what you’ve collected,” he said.
Comey added that in the case of refugees from Iraq, the U.S. has more on its databases because of a decade of U.S. involvement there.
“This [Syria] is a different situation,” he said.
The administration plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. during fiscal year 2016, and to date more than 4,900 have arrived.