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U.S. Marines Return to Afghanistan; Interview With Texas Congressman Will Hurd. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 24, 2017 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The national lead now.

Welcome back to THE LEAD.

A gruesome discovery in San Antonio, Texas, where the death toll is now 10 and might go even higher. Authorities say they found dozens of undocumented immigrants over the weekend stuffed inside a sweltering tractor-trailer parked outside a Wal-Mart.

Eight of the individuals inside were already dead. Two more died later at the hospital.

Survivors as young as 15 years old are being treated for severe dehydration and for heatstroke, heatstrokes that could cause irreversible brain damage, doctors say.

Today, the driver of the truck, James Bradley Jr., was charged with knowingly transporting undocumented immigrants. He told investigators the trailer had been sold and he was just transporting it from Iowa to Texas. He says he did not know what was inside.

One of those rescued from the trailer told authorities he had left his home in Mexico to come to San Antonio, Texas, where he was supposed to be paid $5,500.

Authorities are trying to find out just who is behind this horrific crime.

Sadly, of course, human trafficking is a multifaceted and growing epidemic that extends way beyond Texas. In some cases, undocumented immigrants who are willingly smuggled into this country become victims of human traffickers, who then force them into prostitution or sweat shot work or other kinds of modern-day slavery, often to pay off their smuggling debts.

Just last week, authorities discovered what could be a massive human trafficking ring that allegedly connects at least three different states. Officials say businesses that any one of us might drive by on any given day can serve as fronts for such crime rings, holding young women from East Asia against their will in this case and forcing them into prostitution.

The new attorney general of Missouri, Republican Josh Hawley, told us in April he was beginning a new campaign to combat human trafficking in his state. And he just launched his first big raid to stop it.


TAPPER (voice-over): Missouri authorities are still for several massage parlor operators who are at large after their businesses were closed down for suspected sex trafficking.

This massage parlor in Springfield, Missouri, is one of 13 businesses that state troopers hit simultaneously on Thursday following months of investigation. It's part of a crackdown initiated by state Attorney General Josh Hawley.

Authorities say each of the sites are part of suspected trafficking crime rings in three other states, with victims from as far as China and East Asia. Inside, evidence the workers were living huddled together in the parlor.

JOSH HAWLEY, MISSOURI ATTORNEY GENERAL: Potential evidence here of illegal prostitution activities.

TAPPER: This is where they lived, cooked, slept. The baggage tags on their suitcases indicate at least one possible victim arrived from overseas just one day earlier.

HAWLEY: You walk through and see these places where these women have been kept, where they've been forced to live, where they have been forced into slavery. That's what this is.

TAPPER: These businesses often hide in plain sight on busy streets or in strip malls. Dozens believed to be victims have been taken by law enforcement to undisclosed safe houses around the city.

Emily Russell of Missouri's Human Trafficking Task Force says many of the victims initially were scared, but now say they're feeling safe.

EMILY RUSSELL, MISSOURI HUMAN TRAFFICKING TASK FORCE: We have interpreters and even a place where they can feel at home. It's very cozy and not threatening, like a police office might be.

TAPPER: Since Missouri's first anti-trafficking task force meeting in April, Hawley's office has brought together several law enforcement agencies along with nonprofits and victims protections groups to tackle the issue.


In the U.S., it's estimated that as many as 60,000 people may be victims of human trafficking. Many are underage and forced into prostitution.

And it can take place anywhere, even here in the heartland of America.

HAWLEY: We're going after traffickers full throttle and that's what I promised to do. I said that, if you come to Missouri, we will find you out, we will shut you down and we will prosecute you. And that's what we're doing. TAPPER: A warning for human traffickers and a wakeup call for anyone

who says this doesn't happen where they live.


TAPPER: And joining me now is Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas. He serves on House Intelligence Committee and is a former CIA officer. He's also from San Antonio and represents a good chunk of the city.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

What is the latest in the investigation into these 10 human trafficking deaths over the weekend?

REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: Well, the investigation is ongoing.

And I think this is an example of how terrible these human smugglers are and the need to focus intelligence resources against these kingpin human smugglers that are bringing people back and forth.

The loss of any life is terrible. And for this to have happened in this sickening way is unconscionable. But we have got to make sure we get border security right. We have to fix our broken immigration system, so this type of stuff doesn't happen again.

TAPPER: And we know that one of the -- in addition to horrific incidents like this, often, individuals who are part of these human trafficking rings who come into the United States sometimes end up forced into prostitution or sweat shops or other forms of modern-day slavery.

HURD: That's correct, Jake.

And I'm usually in El Paso as well, so I represent San Antonio and El Paso. This is something that law enforcement and a number of folks within the private sector are trying to stop in and around the El Paso region. So, this is a problem.

And a lot of times, when we think about border security, we only -- we think about in between our ports of entry, but we need to be focusing on our ports of entry. We still don't know whether these folks came in on this truck or something similar through a port or whether it was in between, but this is -- this shows the difficulty that Border Patrol has when they're trying to keep us safe.

TAPPER: In addition to greater security at the border, what more needs to happen?

HURD: Well, we got to address the root cause in some of these countries.

Think about why would a parent put their son, their 15-year-old son or daughter and go through such a harrowing journey? We have got to address those root causes. We also have to address a broken immigration system. It's 2017. We should be able to have an immigration system that is

based on market demands. And if you streamline the process to get a legal visa, rather than an illegal one, you would see a lot of this kind of behavior change dramatically.

TAPPER: I want to ask you a couple questions about the Russia investigation, if that's OK.

HURD: Sure.

TAPPER: The White House's new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, told me yesterday that President Trump continues to question whether it was, in fact, Russia that interfered with the election last year, despite the fact that every top intelligence chief gave their assurance in the last week.

I want you to take a listen to three of them speaking at the Aspen Security Forum.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am confident that the Russians meddled in this election, as is the entire intelligence community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no descent, and I have stated that publicly, and stated it to the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No doubt at all, and I stand behind the intelligence, intelligence community assessment that we produced in January.


TAPPER: That was obviously the CIA director, the director of national intelligence and the director of the National Security Agency.

Does the president's unwillingness to accept their conclusion trouble you at all?

HURD: Well, look, it's very clear that the Russians attempted to influence our election.

And I think what the White House is concerned with, whether that invalidates the election. We know the Russians didn't manipulate any of the vote-tallying machines.

But we have to get to a point where we can start talking about how we defend against this in the future.

And it's not just going to be the Russians. We know other countries that are trying to influence our way of life and erode trust in our institutions. And we should be talking about how do we stop this in the future, and some of these other conversations are just distractions.

TAPPER: Scaramucci said to me yesterday that the reason the president seems to resist this is he thinks -- or at least he suggested that he is concerned about people trying to use this to delegitimize his election.

That seems, to a lot of intelligence experts, to be really an irrelevant concern, given the fact that Russia did this and will do it again.

How do you convince the president to take this as seriously as the intelligence chiefs and you do?

HURD: It's a good question. And I think you are going to have to ask the White House that one.

But this really is a major problem. And I wish there was more conversations going around, being had on, what is our counter-covert influence strategy? Covert influence is an element of covert action.


And you shouldn't have an intelligence organization being -- respond to covert action in our own country. So we need to have a broader strategy that talks about a government piece, but also a civil society piece as well.

That's where we should be going to make sure that we have a strategy in place between the -- before the 2018 elections.

TAPPER: All right, Republican Congressman Will Hurd, Republican of Texas, thanks so much, sir. Appreciate it.

HURD: Thank you.

TAPPER: They have left, and now they have come back to one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

We go on the front lines as U.S. Marines return to a battle they had already fought in what is now America's longest war.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Just in to CNN, two pieces of news from Capitol Hill.

As Republicans prepare for a health care vote tomorrow, they need every vote. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas just told reporters that Senator John McCain, who, of course, is ill back in Arizona is -- quote -- "trying to get approval for his travel arrangements to return to Washington tomorrow so he can vote." And while Jared Kushner talked to Senate investigators today, we've just learned those investigators will have to wait longer than expected to talk to Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort. Senator Diane Feinstein tells CNN, interviews for the Senate Judiciary Committee were originally scheduled for Wednesday, but now Feinstein says she doubts that it will happen this week. My panel is here to dive in. Let's start with Jeff Sessions, though,

because it's such a curious story. The President called Attorney General Sessions beleaguered this morning in a tweet. Sara Murray is reporting that Sessions was at the White House today where he had a meeting with the White House Counsel. The new Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci wouldn't answer when he was asked if the President wants Sessions to resign, saying only the two needs to sit down and determine what the future of the relationship looks like, according to Sara Murray. He was one of the Sessions' first supporters. I'll start with you Jen, I mean, the first sitting U.S. Senator to support Donald Trump and he is being - I mean, it's everything but you know, pushed off the plank.

JEN PSAKI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes. All of these pieces together sound a lot like a well- orchestrated plan to push him out off the plank. And what Scaramucci or The Mooch - I just wanted to say that - what he said today was really striking because if somebody text you and it's a boyfriend saying we need to have a conversation about our relationship, that's never a good sign. And it's certainly not a good sign if the Communications Director at the White House is saying that about a member of the cabinet, especially one who's been so loyal to the President. So, I would say we don't know what's going to happen, but they're setting it up like his days are numbered in some capacity and we'll see what happens.

TAPPER: And Bill, I don't want to be too conspiratorial, but it was interesting timing on Friday evening when the Washington Post reported about this intercept from 2016 wherein the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak claimed he had had discussions about campaign related events with then Senator Sessions which of course he had claimed under oath did not happen.

BILL KRISTOL, THE WEEKLY STANDARD EDITOR AT LARGE: Right. Donald Trump was furious with Sessions recused himself apparently. I think that that's very revealing. I mean, Donald Trump wanted an Attorney General who would protect him from this investigation. He's - Trump has explicitly said that if he had known that Sessions is going to recuse himself, he would have - he wouldn't have appointed him. For what is - the only thing he has recused himself from really is the Russia investigation, right? So Trump cares a lot about the Russian investigation. I think Sessions let him down. I think Jen's image of Trump and Session getting together to discuss their relationship is really somewhat head-exploding thought. The two of them in the Oval talking about can they work it out, you know -

TAPPER: Do you think it not nice a break-up?

KRISTOL: - their feelings, right, do we have a future?

PSAKI: It's not typical for an Attorney General to spend hours at the White House unless there's a big criminal justice reform push going, or something that would be clearly under his purview. So that's sort of a flag as well, as Sara Murray reported, and it raises a lot of questions about what on earth they were talking about. TAPPER: And it's also (INAUDIBLE) because if someone floated to Mike Allen at Axios the idea of Rudy Giuliani replacing him, a White House official told me that that's not the case, but Rudy was caught by a CNN reporter at the airport, and he said he thought what Sessions did was - in terms of recusing himself was perfectly in keeping with Justice Department guidelines.

KRISTOL: Yes, if he hadn't, he would have been - he would not have been following the guidelines he was given by the Ethics Officer at the Justice Department. How would that - how would that have looked? But - what happens if Sessions quits or gets fired? I guess Rod Rosenstein becomes the acting Attorney General -

TAPPER: Trump hates him, too.

KRISTOL: Trump hates him, tries to appoint someone, but who can he appoint? I don't think he can - he cannot get confirmed a Trump loyalist, a partisan Republican at this point. He almost has to appoint someone like a Rod Rosenstein or a Robert Mueller, not that he would appoint either personally but - so I think, Sessions leaving is - replaces someone, who whatever Trump's problems with him, is a Trump loyalist, a partisan Republican in Republican Senators, someone who agrees with Donald Trump on a lot of issues, will be replaced by someone who is more of a career law enforcement guy. So I can't believe it's - this does not seem to be a case where Trump is acting in his own interest.

TAPPER: Jared Kushner met with Senate Investigators today and in a statement, he painted a picture of himself being a newbie in a very chaotic situation. He wrote, "My experience was is business, not politics. It was typical for me to receive 200 or more e-mails a day during the campaign. I did not have the time to read every one." That was a reference to the one that's said something like Clinton- Russia - you know, to secret meeting or something, almost, that's not a direct quote. But this is a guy - I mean, I don't know that a campaign is more hectic than the White House, especially when you have the portfolio that Jared Kushner does, Mideast peace, et cetera.

PSAKI: Well, what's completely perplexing about all of this, well, there's a lot, but one of the big questions is why didn't he ask why all these Russians wanted to meet with him? Why wasn't that a question he posed to anybody who would have had knowledge of their intentions? And that's just not something that's answered at any point in time. What the context of that was, which was very striking from the long - the long statement was that he completely threw his brother in law under the bus. And I'm sure his lawyer told him to do that and it was probably a smart thing, but he clearly articulated who he knew nothing about the meeting, didn't know the subject, was surprised when he heard what came up. So that was pretty striking, maybe makes for an awkward Thanksgiving, we'll see. But you know, this is - it's hard to believe that he's as naive as he says he is. And I think people are having a hard time really swallowing that.

[16:50:35] TAPPER: Also, we just getting this word in, by the way, Bill, that Scaramucci has said that the White House briefings will be back on camera so Mr. Scaramucci has also enacted. So he already has acted some change. But, go back - let's go back to -

KRISTOL: So they could announce Jeff Sessions' resignation to spend more time with his family tomorrow. I see that.

TAPPER: Perhaps.

PSAKI: For his confidence. The President's confidence -

KRISTOL: The President's full confidence in the Attorney General tomorrow before he gets fired.

TAPPER: What do you make of Kushner's testimony today, what we heard of his explanation?

KRISTOL: I mean, of course, we just don't know yet about what's going to be confirmed and not how partial and limited it is. I'm struck by the December meeting, the one reported a while ago that, in which Kushner confirms basically with the Russian Ambassador, where the Russian Ambassador says we really want to solve the Syria problem terrible humanitarian crisis but we have Generals who want to speak to you on secure communications and Kushner's own account, I guess he says, well, maybe we could do that and the Russian, we don't have it here at the Trump Tower, maybe we could do that at the Russian embassy. That's so bizarre. I mean, it is as if he's never heard that, Russia is really not a great ally of ours. You know, Russia, there's - they kind of meddled in the election. He treats Russia as if it's just U.K. or something.

TAPPER: Bill and Jen, thanks so much, great stuff, appreciate it. U.S. Marines are now returning to same sites in Afghanistan with some of the worst fightings in America's longest war. CNN is on the front lines. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. A deadly car bombing in Afghanistan is our "WORLD LEAD" today. At least 29 people, including women and children, have been killed after the explosion in West Kabul. The Taliban has claimed responsibility. This comes as we're seeing an uptick in violence in Afghanistan with no signs of the Taliban weakening there. President Trump is considering sending more troops to the country. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports for us from the front lines in Kabul, Afghanistan.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here we are again, but it's been going on so long, these guys have left and then come back. Afghanistan's Helmand and America's Marines, when does it end? A year ago, the Taliban were at the gates of this key city Lashkar Gah. Now it's not good, but it's better because the marines, even though there is only 300 of them, have brought huge fire power with them. Afghan troops just now retook one district, the marines not on the front but advising on basin stead and congratulating them indoors. But nothing lasts rather here except maybe the war and the triumph soon fades. A rocket just hit, landing about20 meters from us outside. A total of three indiscriminate, an eight-year-old boy wounded in the attack. President Trump is now weighing his first move in a war, but to men like Colonel Reid, whose birthday is September 11, is absolutely nothing new. He was last here seven years ago but then with thousands of Marines, so fewer now.

MATTHEW REID, TASK FORCE SOUTHWEST DEPUTY COMMANDER: We were around 300. Those are the troops that ran the chow hall.

WALSH: Now they have to do it all over again.

REID: It's discouraging. I mean, a lot of blood in the ground.

WALSH: Do you feel an extra sense of heaviness when you try to take it on again?

REID: There is a definite feeling of a sense of obligation to get this right because of those that have gone before us for sure.

WALSH: How many friends are you losing?

REID: I don't think I've ever bothered to count. Too many between here and Iraq.

WALSH: Some Marines (INAUDIBLE) near the front where you can just make out the Taliban's white flag.

REID: This is all Taliban country, all of it. So there's Taliban that comes through here on a daily basis.

WALSH: But the Marines aren't meant to fight them, the Afghans are. And they aren't as many here as they're supposed to be. Listen to how these 45 Marines almost double what's meant to be a 500 strong Afghan unit here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's only about 200 that are assigned right now.

WALSH: By assigned, you mean that actually exist?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That actually exist.

WALSH: So before they have 500, but now they have two.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. Of those 200, there's about 100 of them that aren't even here.

WALSH: Some on operations or on patrol, 50 to 100 Afghans actually here. This Marine unit pulls back after a week.

WALSH: The Marines are leaving but this is only supposed to be a short mission. They come, they go, they come back again, each time hoping the Afghan Security Forces they leave behind them will be able to do their job, to hold the Taliban back. The question is with only 300 here, Marines this time a lot has changed.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WALSH: Now, Jake, what really are the options for President Trump if we do get an announcement out of the White House? It appears to be delayed and delayed. Well, we've seen the Obama administration try a troop surge, that failed to some degree. We know the government have wanted to try to talk to the Taliban. That seems unlikely given the insurgencies making gains right now and it seems more extreme than ever. They certainly can't leave, they've tried that and now have come back to keep the country together. So probably, we're going to see more of the same moving forward to most Special Forces, more trainers to assist Afghans Security Service plus that bring to a place where Afghanistan will they seek peace in the years potentially in our lifetime? A very complicated question where no one knows the answer to right away. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh in Kabul for us. Thank you for that great report. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or you can tweet the show @theleadcnn. That's it for THE LEAD I'm Jake Tapper. You can see me again tonight at 7:00 p.m., I'll be in for Erin Burnett again on "OUTFRONT." I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."