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Remembering the Fallen; Interview With New York Congressman Gregory Meeks. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 29, 2017 - 16:30   ET



REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: It just makes it very -- seems very curious and more than just a coincidence that you have had these -- kind of dialogue and conversation to try to specifically exclusion our intelligence individuals from hearing these conversations.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: More than a coincidence. What are you implying?

MEEKS: Well, I'm implying that, if you just start looking at the dots -- this is why I'm glad we have an independent counselor, an independent prosecutor that are now looking at the scenario to see if there are any connecting dots, because it just seems to me that Russia has been in the mainstream of all of the Trump administrators and Trump individuals within his campaign.

There seems to be some kind of connection, and Donald Trump does not want to show his income taxes to see whether or not there's been any money there. And it's clear that Kushner -- Mr. Kushner has also had some dealings and was trying to get some money from Russia.

So there's just a lot of things. It all just seems to -- the air seems to be all around Russia. Why? We need this independent prosecutor to go what it needs -- what he is doing, as well as an independent commission, so that we can figure out what's going on, because there's no question that the Russians have played a role in our elections, this past election.

SCIUTTO: I want to talk about another threat. There seems to be no shortage.

North Korea launching another ballistic missile last night, the 12th missile so far of the Trump presidency. In response, President Trump tweeted the following: North Korea has shown great disrespect for their neighbor China by shooting off yet another ballistic missile, but China is trying hard!"

The fact is, though, our research has shown that Chinese trade with North Korea has actually increased, increased this year. In your view, is China actually trying hard to curb the North Korean nuclear program?

MEEKS: No. And all evidence shows that, as you just indicated, that trade and -- China with North Korea is continuing. The conversations that the president is having with China seem to be

just on a friendly basis. And I'm again puzzled by the actions of the administration. It seems to me that with his philosophy of doing -- or dealing with countries on a bilateral basis, as opposed to a multilateral basis, is inquisitive, as well as his seeming to be dealing with individuals who do not share the same values that we have as members of the United States.

I look at how he handled on -- this recent trip, which I think was a failure, in Europe, how he handled our allies and really was critiquing them, and how he was praising many of those in Saudi Arabia and Egypt who do not share the same values that we have. And now here again, in China, he's talking good about China, but it's strictly much more important for us to unite all of the other countries around.

And I think that the Obama administration was moving in that direction. Many Democrats, I would agree, did not think of this or look at TPP, for example, as it was more than just a trade deal. It was putting us together in a multilateral way to combat China and its economy, so that they would then have to deal with us because we could affect their economy.

What we simply did was give China a free hand, and everyone can still trade with them. Their economy keeps moving, and China can then still use North Korea as a buffer.

SCIUTTO: Well, let me ask you, because you mentioned alliances. Of course, the president visited the NATO alliance, and tremendous disappointment expressed by U.S. allies, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the new French president.

Merkel said that Europe can no longer rely on the U.S. under President Trump. Are they right?

MEEKS: Yes, based upon the statements that the president has made.

Let's look at what happened. He refused to commit to Article 5, which is saying that, if one -- attacked, we will all be together against one of those nations that are attacked.

He has -- also has refused to acknowledge and look at the E.U. as a whole. He's not getting involved in the climate change. Look, we will see what happens, but he did not commit to staying with the climate change treaty.

So it seems all those things, all of those multilateral agreements -- he's talked bad about the WTO. All of the multilateral agreements that we have entered into, and which our allies in Europe and NATO have been so tied in, those are the things that he wants to get out of.

And so, therefore, if I was in Europe, I would be very concerned also. I'm headed there for a transatlantic legislative dialogue with other parliamentarians, and I know from my other travels there -- I'm the lead Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee on Europe -- they are all very concerned, and it's based upon words that the president has stated.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's interesting. A lot of that criticism seemed to be in private, but now it's coming out in public.


Congressman Gregory Meeks, thanks very much.

MEEKS: My pleasure.

SCIUTTO: A day to honor and remember the men and women who gave their lives fighting for our country. We're going to talk to former Special Operations Commander Admiral William McRaven about the troops who were lost under his command and why the current deployment schedule for special ops forces in particular cannot be sustained.



JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If you have ever known one of the fallen, you have known greatness. But it is hard to be content with their silence, for we miss them. The empty chair on the holiday, empty every day, the photograph that goes wherever you do, the picture fades, but the person in it does not.


SCIUTTO: The empty chair.

Welcome back. That was Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who joined President Trump in remembering the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery Today.


After the ceremony, the president visited the graves of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the final resting place -- you see it there -- of a certain Marine, First Lieutenant Robert Kelly, the son of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

On this Memorial Day, we and I know many of you are doing the same, taking a moment to honor our many, many fallen soldiers and service members.

Earlier, Jake spoke with the former head of U.S. Special Operations Command, retired Admiral William McRaven, about what this somber day means to a veteran like him.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Admiral McRaven, thank you so much for being here, and, more importantly, thank you for your nearly four decades of service to this nation.

ADM. WILLIAM MCRAVEN (RET.) FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS: Well, thanks, Jake. Good to be with you today.

TAPPER: So, you have lost a lot of brave Americans who served under your command. I know, on Memorial Day, you're thinking about them and their families.

Is there any specific person or incident that you think of when you think of Memorial Day?

MCRAVEN: Well, you know, unfortunately, Jake, in my time after 9/11 in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we did lose a lot of soldiers, well over 400 of them.

And I tend to think more of the mass casualties, the ones we had with Extortion 17, Turbine 33. These were two helicopters that crashed, Turbine 33, during Operation Red Wing in 2005, and Extortion 17 on August 6 in 2011.

And we lost a lot of great soldiers, Army aviators and Navy SEALs, and some of our Afghan counterparts. But you also remember the great guys like Mike Murphy, Michael Monsoor, Robbie Miller, soldiers and sailors that gave their all and were recipients of the Medal of Honor.

And then, frankly, you have those very personal moments where you remember some troops like John Marcum and Jason Freiwald that died on the operating table. You never forget those.

And so, to me, Memorial Day is really about remembering the incredible sacrifice of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and civilians that have fought in all of our wars, and taking just that extra minute to say a little prayer for their families, for those that were their friends, so that we never forget the service and the sacrifice of these incredible men and women.

TAPPER: Last year, special ops forces were deployed in more than 130 countries. We have seen many sad deaths of special ops in Somalia and Yemen an Afghanistan.

Earlier this month Army General Raymond Thomas, the commander of U.S. special ops, said special operations are -- quote -- "not the ultimate solution to every problem" -- unquote. He also said the rate of deployment is -- quote -- "unsustainable."

Do you agree?

MCRAVEN: You know, I do agree, and nobody is in a better position to understand that than Tony Thomas, who has probably spent more time in combat than almost any other single officer we have in special operations.

So he understands the strains of combat and deployments, not only the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, but on the families that have to stay back. So, I'm in complete agreement with Tony's assessment on two points.

One, special operations are not the solution to every problem. We're not going to stop the North Koreans from coming south. We're not going to be able to keep the Straits of Hormuz open. We have a unique niche that I think we do incredibly well.

And special operations, certainly in this fight, are a terrific force to use. But I think we have to be careful how much and how often we use them and recognize the strain on the force.

TAPPER: If you were advising President Trump, what would you suggest he would do when it comes to defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria?

MCRAVEN: Well, I actually think he's on a pretty good path right now, and I need to credit both President Obama and President Trump.

You know, this really started, this being kind of the surge in special operations forces and additional ground forces into Iraq and into Syria, you know, probably last year around this time. So President Obama kind of started this, and President Trump has continued it.

And I think it is a good strategy.

TAPPER: This is a question that might be kind of silly to you, but I think there are a lot of Americans who look at North Korea and wonder, hey, why can't we just send a bunch of Navy SEALs or Delta Force into North Korea, go in, capture or kill Kim Jong-un, problem solved?

I know it's not that's easy, but tell us why.

MCRAVEN: Well, it's absolutely not that easy.

You know, first, I'm not sure it's about Kim Jong-un. You know, while certainly, you know, you have a madman at the helm of North Korea, and the hard part about this, of course, is, you know, he is a guy that you can't understand what moves he will make as you make the next chess moves.

He's not a rational actor. So when we look at our dealings with a Putin or with Iran, we understand that they are rational actors. Kim Jong-un is not a rational actor. So, the steps we take, we don't know what the second- and third-order effects of those steps will be.

When you look at their nuclear program -- and, again, open source, you know, they have between 15 and 20 nuclear weapons. They are trying to miniaturize those and weaponize those, so they can put them on an ICBM. Most of that work is done underground and very difficult to get, too deep and hardly - and hard buried targets underground. You're talking a long ways inland. They have an integrated air defense so the idea that somehow we could send a small special operations group into you know, either take out KJU or take out their nuclear program is only the thing of bad movies.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: A lot of - I don't know about bad movies, but I - but I take your point. A lot of Americans heard your name for the first time after the Bin Laden raid. A lot of Americans heard you speak for the first time after your commencement address at the University of Texas in 2014 which went viral. Let's play a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCRAVEN: If you make your bed every morning, will you have accomplished the first task of the day, and it will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter.


SCIUTTO: You write in your book about how a simple task like making your bed can lead someone down a path of changing their lives and possibly changing the world. Tell us more about that.

MCRAVEN: Well, you know, I think that this is a lesson we all learned as young adults when our parents tell us to make - to make our beds, but the fact of the matter is when you get into the military, you begin to understand why that is important. And as I mentioned in the speech, and as I talk about in the book, you know, when I went to SEAL training, the SEAL instructors, that was the first thing we had to do at the beginning of the day. And there were two lessons from that. One is it was the first task of the day and if you did the first task right and led you to the next task and next task and next task, and if you had pride in that first task, then again, that would kind of carry you through the day. The other piece of this, of course, was that little thing do matter and the SEAL instructors made sure that we as SEAL trainees understood that if they gave you an order to make your bed, you had you to make it exactly right. So, again, the bed analogy, and it's not that you know, you have to make your bed to be a good person, but I have found in those times when I struggled in Iraq and Afghanistan that getting up every morning, making my bed, taking a little pride in making the bed and doing it right really did give me some motivation for rest of the day.

SCIUTTO: A good lesson for us all. Admiral William McRaven, thank you so much for your time and service and I'm wishing you and your family a peaceful and meaningful Memorial Day.

MCRAVEN: Thank you, Jake.

SCIUTTO: Well, it could happen any day. The Secretary of Homeland Security now says that he wants to expand the laptop ban and not just on flights coming into the United States. Please stay with us.


[16:50:00] SCIUTTO: We're back with the "WORLD LEAD" now. British counterterrorism official tells CNN that investigators are no longer confident that the U.K. concert bomber trained with ISIS in Syria. The attacker's brother had told authorities they were both members of ISIS. Manchester police are still pursuing leads. Today they released a new surveillance camera image taken before the attack. It shows the bomber Salman Abedi with a blue suitcase, different from the bag he carried during the bombing. Police are asking people to report if they have seen this suitcase, as you see it there. They say they have no reason to believe it contains anything dangerous. Now to our conflict of interest watch. This month the Trump International Hotel in Washington hosted a conference for a business group that aims to improve relations between the U.S. and Turkey. It is just one example of the complicated entanglement involving Mr. Trump's business empire and his Presidency. As the Trump organization says the money it receives from foreign governments is just too hard for it to track. CNN's Cristina Alesci filed this report.


CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: An annual meeting on U.S.- Turkey relations. Most years, a standard event, but not this year because this year it was at the Trump International Hotel in D.C., ground zero for President Trump's conflicts of interest.

EKIM ALPTEKIN, TURKEY-U.S. BUSINESS COUNCIL CHAIRMAN: Frankly most people involved in the decision making didn't expect him to win the election, but we like the hotel.

ALESCI: Ekim Alptekin Heads the Business Council in Turkey. If his name sounds familiar, it's because he's the guy who paid Mike Flynn, Trump's fired National Security Adviser, to work on Turkish interests.

Did the money that you paid Flynn, did that come from a foreign government?

ALPTEKIN: Absolutely not. It was my personal money. It came from my personal accounts.

ALESCI: Alptekin says the Turkish government didn't pay Flynn, and he says the government didn't fund this conference at the Trump hotel either. It was planned before Trump became President, but the contract was signed after.

ALPTEKIN: We pay for all our activities, through sponsorships and membership fees so there's zero money from the government coming in.

ALESCI: But ethics experts aren't so sure.

NOAH BOOKBINDER, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: It looks to us like several of the sponsors of the event are government-owned and government-controlled entities. We haven't seen the flow of money.

ALESCI: Alptekin's group falls under the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey which is indeed linked to the Turkish government. Why does that matter? Because critics say payments from foreign governments to Trump's companies violate the constitution specifically the Emoluments Clause. That's why the Trump organization made this pledge back in January.

SHERI DILLON, TRUMP ORGANIZATION ATTORNEY: President-Elect Trump has decided and we are announcing today that he is going to voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotels to the United States Treasury. ALESCI: Four months later, Trump org now says it's not practical to fully deliver on its promise. In fact, the company will not track individual hotel guests or foreign government money that flows through an outside group.

BOOKBINDER: They're deciding who qualifies, they're deciding what's to profit, they're essentially saying trust us we've got this.

ALESCI: The Trump organization says, quote, "We take these matters seriously and are fully committed to complying with all of our legal and ethical obligations." As for next year's U.S.-Turkey relations conference, it will be at the Trump hotel again and Alptekin denied it has anything to do with getting the President's attention.

ALPTEKIN: I personally think it's preposterous to think that you can curry favor by staying in this hotel.

ALESCI: Cristina Alesci, CNN, New York.


SCIUTTO: Great reporting by Cristina Alesci there. More in the "NATIONAL LEAD" today, the Secretary of Homeland Security says that terrorists are, "Obsessed with the idea of bringing down a U.S. passenger jet" and as a result, the U.S. may soon expand the ban on large electronic devices in airplane cabins to all international flights, either entering or leaving the U.S. CNN's Aviation Correspondent Rene Marsh has been following the story for CNN.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Sophisticated threats towards commercial aviation is fueling new proposes restrictions on what electronics passengers can take into cabin of aircraft. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says terror groups are obsessed with blowing up commercial passenger planes and preferably a U.S. carrier bound for the United States.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS CHANNEL HOST: Are you going to ban laptops from the cabin on all international flights, both into and out of the U.S.?


MARSH: Kelly first told CNN on Friday why he thinks expanding the laptop ban is necessary.

Some of the stakeholders who you've met with say that you've hinted that this ban could even happen right here on U.S. soil. Is that true or did they misread you?

KELLY: They didn't misread me. I would tell you that the threats against passenger aviation worldwide are constant.

MARSH: A U.S.-based band would restrict electronics larger than a cell phone in a cabin. Those include iPad, e-readers, and laptops. It would be the most extreme step taken to protect aviation from a terror attack since September 11th. This weekend Kelly said chilling intelligence is pushing him to expand the ban.

KELLY: There's a real threat. There's numerous threats against aviation. That's really the thing that they are obsessed with.

MARSH: The laptop ban is currently in place at ten airports in eight Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and northern Africa. All electronics larger than a cell phone have to be in checked luggage on those flights. In the meantime, another new security measure is now in place at ten U.S. airports. Electronics larger than a cell phone must be taken out of carry-on luggage to be screened separately. Kelly says that, too, will likely expand nationwide.

KELLY: The TSA people that are looking out those bags can't see exactly what's in the bag so now, because they're stuffed so full.

MARSH: While Kelly makes clear, more new restrictions and new screening measures are on the way, he's less clear on when those would happen.


MARSH: All right. Well, despite the dire warnings from Secretary Kelly deliberations on the expansion of the ban has spanned on for several weeks. One U.S. official tells me that the lengthy deliberation is partly due to Kelly's desire to consider the full impact of the ban. The airline industry says it helps drive some $1.5 trillion in economic activity. So the question is, how will this ban or could this ban impact all of that? He's weighing all of that and, of course, the sciences behind having all those batteries in the cargo hold.

SCIUTTO: It would be a remarkable step. No question, Rene Marsh, thanks very much.

The "SPORTS LEAD" now. The last time Tiger Woods was involved in an accident with his car on a national holiday his entire legendary career and marriage was derailed. And today Tiger Woods spent part of his Memorial Day in jail after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in Jupiter Florida near his home around 3:00 a.m. Eastern time. Police aren't releasing any other details about the arrest. It is not clear whether Woods tested positive for alcohol or drugs. He was released without posting bonds. Woods has been plagued with injuries in recent years and has had trouble staying on the course. His most recent operation on his back was a little more than a month ago. And that is it for THE LEAD, I'm Jim Sciutto in today for Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer, he is as always, and again on this Memorial Day in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now, secret communications.