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President Donald Trump Attacked Jay-Z on Twitter; Democrats Will Try to Protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from Being Fired by President Trump; Trump To Deliver First State Of The Union Address; National Day Of Mourning In Afghanistan After Bombing Kills At Least 103 People; U.S. Commander Says No Plans To Pull Out Of Syria. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired January 28, 2018 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:12] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

President Trump is in Washington this Sunday preparing for a major milestone in his presidency, delivering his first state of the union address that happens in just two days and immigration is expected to be at the forefront as the President sells his controversial plan.

Let's get straight to CNN's Boris Sanchez live for us at the White House.

So Boris, what is likely the theme of the speech?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Fred. Yes, the theme of President Trump's speech on Tuesday is building a safer, stronger and prouder America. White house officials tells CNN this is an optimistic speech one in which the President is going to try to appeal to people that are outside of his base. He is going to do that by touting his success on the economy citing a booming stock market and dwindling unemployment figures and then he is going to shift and talk about the future, specifically infrastructure. He is said to ask Congress for a billion dollars in infrastructure funding. And then he is going to talk about national security, as well as trade.

But really the most critical part of this speech comes at a crucial time in the debate over immigration. The President is set to sell his vision of immigration reform, in exchange for providing a pathway for citizenship to some two million undocumented immigrants. The President will z for $25 billion to fund a border wall. And he is also going to ask for changes to be made to legal migration as well.

His plan is one that's drawn the ire of both Democrats and Republicans. Frankly, it doesn't have overwhelming support in Congress. But the White House is trying to push back on that. The director of legislative affairs Marc Short was on the Sunday morning talk shows today telling lawmakers they should get behind the President and follow his lead. Here's more from Marc Short.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in unchartered territory. We are into the real questions of fundamentals for our democracy. Are we still going to be a country where rule of law pervades and that no one, even the President is above the law?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: That is obviously, the wrong sound bite, Fred. That was Mark Warner.

But Marc Short was on the Sunday morning talk shows, as I said, not only trying to sell the President's immigration plan but really selling this speech as a way for the President to reach across the aisle and reach people that frankly may not naturally support him.

All of this, though, we should note as always with President Trump, Fred, is what's on paper. That's is going to be what's in the teleprompter.

White House official told CNN the President will speak from the heart, often that means him going off script, going off the cuff and talking about things that ultimately distract from the agenda, whether it be topics pertaining to the Russian investigation, potentially the resignation of Steve Wynn, former finance chair of the RNC. I believe we have that sound bite now from Marc Short if we can play that, Fred.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS DIRECTOR: Congress will always have a reason to do something later as opposed to fixing the problem today. This President is trying to fix a problem that's perplexing our country for decades. This was often a very rational compromise to get it done. This was borne out of many conversations with Democrats alike and Republicans to get to this point. It is actually help us get it done and protect us. We don't have this problem several years from now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: So, of course, the question for Tuesday and the President's first official state of the union address, Fred, will we see teleprompter Trump or will we see something else?

WHITFIELD: All right. We shall see two days away.

And Boris Sanchez, thank you so much.

So as the President prepares for his state of the union address in just two days his attention is also focused on rapper Jay-Z and comments the music mogul made last night on Van Jones' new show. Last night it premiered here on CNN.

Trump tweeting this morning, somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies black unemployment has just been reported to be at the lowest rate ever recorded.

So, what was, if that set off the President? We'll take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VAN JONES, CNN HOST, THE VAN JONES SHOW: He is somebody who is now saying look, I'm growing -- I'm dropping black unemployment. Black people are doing well under my administration. Does he have a point that maybe the Democrats have been give us just good lip service but no jobs. Maybe he is going say terrible things but put money in our pockets. Does that make him a good leader?

SHAWN JAY-Z CARTER, RAPPER: No, because it is about money at the end of the day. Money doesn't equate to like happiness. You are missing the whole point. You treat people like human beings. And then, you know, that's the main point. You can treat someone like -- it goes back to the whole thing. Treat me really bad and pay me well. It is not going to lead to happiness. It is going to lead like, to you know, again same thing. Everyone is going to be sick.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[14:05:16] WHITFIELD: All right. Van Jones was on "RELIABLE SOURCES" earlier today and talked about the interview and the President's tweet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: It's sad because we actually literally were discussing the black unemployment rate. And I gave -- continuing a lot of trends have been going on anyway, black unemployment is pretty good. Should he get credit for it? And then Jay-Z said something that you don't hear from billionaires.

So, you know, it's not about the money. It is about the respect. And so we had a very powerful moment there. Apparently, Trump missed the whole point and actually walked right back into the trp. So that was trending globally of, you know, Jay-Z's response.

So look. If is great PR for the show but it is bad for the country when you have a President who want to lecture an African-American rapper, African-American pundit about African-American issues with bad facts and no information about the show.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Let's put on the screen the chart. The source where you were describing, the gradually declining unemployment rate. This includes whites and blacks. Let me see if we can put up another chart first just with the African- American unemployment rate. We can show it from 2011 all the way to 2017. Let me see if we can put that other chart on screen.

Because it's a gradual steady decline. Here it is at a record low but it has been declining for six or seven years. And I think that raises this question of how much credit to give President Trump given that it was Obama's policies that led to that gradual decline.

JONES: Look, I am happy to give President Trump credit for not screwing it up. I mean he could have come in and then stop that -- reversed that trend. He could have come in and done terrible thing. He didn't. So there was a bull market under Obama. He kept that going, maybe solving it. Unemployment was coming down. He kept that going. Great.

But you are not listening to the voices of the black community. You say that's not enough to make up for s-hole countries. That's not enough to make up for insulting black football players saying, you know, all dark communities are terrible.

Like just because we are making incremental progress, continuing incremental progress that doesn't give the right to be disrespectful and that's what Jay-Z was trying to say.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk more about President Trump targeting Jay-Z and the President's upcoming state of the union speech.

Joining me now right now is CNN political analyst Amy Parnes and Nathan Gonzalez and Cornell Brooks who is a CNN contributor and former president and CEO of NAACP.

Thanks to all of you. Good to see you.

All right. So, Cornell, you first. Let's start with, you know, the President feeling compelled to tweet, you know, calling out, you know, Jay-Z's interview last night. Why does the President feel like this is a sore spot, that it is important to him to try to take credit for the lowest, you know, rate of unemployment among blacks when there was already a downward trend and that this seems to be an issue that he feels he needs to address in this manner?

CORNELL BROOKS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: So, let me make two points. One economic, the other moral. With respect to the economic point, it seems that this President suffers from a kind of Presidential insecurity relative to his predecessor namely President Obama. He misses no occasion to brag in comparison, in contrast to the preceding administration. But the reality is the President wants to take credit, principally for not undoing what President Obama did.

The African-American unemployment rate has been declining for some time. And this President, namely President Trump, cannot point to any particular policy for which he deserves credit for the record low unemployment rate with respect to African-Americans, point one.

Point two, the moral point here is the fact that the unemployment rate is low meaning more people have jobs does not mean more people suffer from memory loss. They are not going to forget the serial disrespect that this President has extended to African-Americans, to Latinos, to immigrants, to women.

This President manages to offense because he engages in racial condescension. Rather than lecturing Jay-Z with respect to the African-American unemployment rate, we know what it is. That is surely a good thing. But this President can take the occasion, take this opportunity to do something about the people who are not even counted in the unemployment rate, namely those people who are behind bars. We have 2.3 million people behind bars in this country who are not

counted at all. We have all manner of legal measures to keep them out of the workforce once they leave prison. This President can tell his attorney general to do something about that and take credit for it. He does not and has not.

[14:10:09] WHITFIELD: And how might the President, perhaps, take an opportunity during the state of the union address to, perhaps, either make promise to addressing the disparity of, you know, black unemployment levels to white unemployment levels. You know there's an onward or has been a pattern of decline. How do you suggest that the President might be able to make a promise that perhaps he would be able to take credit to something that would speak to uplifting the lives of people of color?

BROOKS: Absolutely. This President could direct his attorney general to pursue a set of policies that ensure people are not maxed out in terms of sentences that they receive, addressing the sentencing disparities in this country, that we don't use low level drug offenses to literally throw away people for an eternity here on this earth. This President could direct his attorney general to invest and push forward programs that ensure that people able to leave prison and pursue work. He could do that.

The other thing he could do company do is direct his department of justice to take seriously and address seriously discrimination in the job market, which is real. It's not that people of color want to work less or want to earn less, it's that they feel it's real, deep profound discrimination in the marketplace. This President could do that and if he did that could take credit and zephyr credit.

WHITFIELD: So now, Amy, we are two days away from the state of the union address and the President is expected to, you know, roll out more on immigration, something that is important and comes close to home for white people, black people, brown people, especially in light of what the President has already said about immigration. How does he change the dialogue, or dictate a dialogue that will be uplifting for all the people that I just mentioned?

AMY PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he wants to sort of build upon the Switzerland speech that was, you know, more optimistic in tone and wants to kind of continue in that way. But I think he has a lot of work to do.

The speeches coming a couple of weeks after these remarks where he disparaged a lot of people and a lot of folks that I've spoken to, minorities in particular are not pleased with him right now. So I think the White House can try to, you know, state of the union is a chance for him to kind of lay out his policy and message. And if he takes the right pitch I think he can kind of extend a hand and that's, I think, what he's looking to do when he's talking about building bipartisan effort, so. But we will see if he can remain on script and not go off message. That seems to be a problem for him at times.

WHITFIELD: And so, Nathan, you know, this President clearly likes to be liked. He wants to be liked. And he wants to send messaging to his base. But how in the state of the union might he broaden some appeal by going beyond his base especially when he is talking about immigration.

NATHAN GONZALES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it is going to be tough. I think any time we come in to a state of the union, we are often asking this President or any President how they are going to unify the country and what they are going to do.

And frankly, I'm not sure that the country wants to be unified. I mean, I'm not sure that people who support the President want anything to do with people who oppose the President or people who are opposing the President want to be even in the same room with people who like President Trump.

And so, I'm wondered in some ways asking him to do the impossible. But if he can strike a certain tone and reach out to those independents and convince them, you know, that he has the most reasonable way on immigration or maybe he has leading the country in leading the economy in a better direction, if he can convince them, then that starts to make a difference when we are talking about November election.

And on immigration on Tuesday I think everyone is looking for a road map because we can forget that we are facing another government funding deadline and this immigration piece is the most -- is the piece that's going to be critical and seeing if we are going to head to another shutdown.

WHITFIELD: So immigration, you know, will be a major focus in this speech. And we know that so much of what the President has proposed thus far has really sparked a lot of outrage from some on the right and left. Yet some lawmakers do think that they can find some common ground. Here is Senator Lindsey Graham today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You don't need $25 billion for a wall. You need wall systems. You need roads. You need redundancy. You need to fix old fencing. So we are not going to build a 1900-mile wall but $25 billion can be spent wisely. We are not going to see a government shutdown. The one good thing came from this mess last week is we are now focused on immigration. I think without the dust up, we wouldn't have a commitment to move forward on February 8th.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[14:15:15] WHITFIELD: So Amy, will something to be done by February 8th or is there going to be the need for another, you know, kick the can down the road type of proposal?

PARNES: I think anything can happen. I mean, you heard Mitch McConnell a week ago say they have until March to actually do something about this. So it remains to be seen if they actually will. But I think they are more serious about this particularly because it's 2018. They need Hispanics on their side for the mid-term elections. They need them in 2012, the Republican Party does.

So I think you are going to sort of try to see the kind of work on this. And I think that Trump has kind of evolved a little bit and moved his position even though he doesn't want to admit it. He doesn't really, you know, he has backed away a little bit from the wall and it is more interested I think in, you know, a broader immigration spending, any kind of bill that, you know, sort of broadens it a bit from beyond the wall.

WHITFIELD: Though he is still promoting the wall, you know. We are talking about the $25 billion which is, you know, less than the $40 billion he keeps making reference to years ago.

So Cornell, the White House says that the President will be much more of a unifier in his speech, that it's going be much more optimistic. Can it be at this juncture?

BROOKS: I would like to believe it can be. Simply because I believe more in the capacity of Americans to draw together than the ability of this President to draw them together.

But here's what we know. When the President has referred to immigrants and American citizens in the most divisive and derisive term and he was demeaned so many, the state of the union address is an occasion for him to bring people together. But that means he has to let go of bad behavior. He cannot tweet one thing in the morning and say something in the evening. Because when you offer 1.8 million dreamers a path to citizenship on one hand and then you speak about building a $25 billion wall of xenophobia on the other hand, this kind of schizophrenia is not good for the country. You have to put forth a message that brings people together based on sound policy and you have to be consistent which means you can't say one thing at the podium and another thing when you are tweeting.

WHITFIELD: All right. We will leave it right there for now.

Cornell, thanks so much. Amy, Nathan thanks to you as well. We will see you coming up again.

All right. Coming up, a renewed interest to protect special counsel Robert Mueller after it came to light that the President wanted to fire him last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It certainly wouldn't hurt to put that extra safeguard in place given the latest stories.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: The idea of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are proposing to shield Mueller from the President. Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:22:27] WHITFIELD: All right. Sources tell CNN Democrats will try to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by President Trump. The news follows reports that the President attempted to fire Mueller last June. The Democratic congressional aide said Democrats will seek to attach protections for Muller to the upcoming spending negotiations. Speaking today, both Republicans and Democrats seem open to the idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It probably wouldn't hurt for us to pass one of those bills. There are some constitutional issues with those bills. But it certainly wouldn't hurt to put that extra safeguard in place given the latest stories. But, again, I have faith in the deputy attorney general that he is going to do what he told me he would do.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: There's a process they have to go through. Mr. Rosenstein would be the first person that I would think if there's some movement in that direction, whether they go first. And I think that would give us time to move and act if we need to. I hope it doesn't come to that, I really do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: I'm joined again by Amy Parnes and Nathan Gonzalez. Welcome back.

Amy, you first. Republican senator Tom Tillis and Democratic senator Chris Coons sponsored a bill that would have allowed the special counsel to challenge his firing to a special panel bypassing the President all together. What do you think?

PARNES: Well, I think, you know, based on what we are hearing, based on the last few days, I think these protections kind of need to be in place. I think a lot of Democrats are looking for that. I wouldn't be surprised if Republicans kind of sought to put an end to this and say yes let's do this. So I think there's a good likelihood of it happening.

WHITFIELD: And, Nathan, a separate bipartisan bill by Senator Cory Booker and Lindsey Graham would require the attorney general to get approval to fire the special counsel from a three judge panel. Is there a greater chance of that passing?

GONZALES: Well, any time you mention the word bipartisan I start to get skeptical. So let's start with that.

But I think, you know, the conversation right now is what can Congress do shield Mueller. But in a way I think Mueller and the investigation shields Congress from having to do something. And what I mean is some Republicans are, you know, natural are the President's loyalists, you know, see him as corrupt and want him over. But if Mueller is not going to investigate them someone or something else is. And right now that he is there that kind of takes pressure off Congress to do to have that investigative -- to do that investigative work. If the President fires him, throws him out I don't think Congress and Republicans can get away with there being no investigation. [14:25:06] WHITFIELD: And Amy, the Democrats were already looking to

get DACA into the government spending negotiations. And now this additional like Mueller protections. It might be a little too much at one time?

PARNES: It might be. I mean, anything is too much when it comes to DACA.

But I think, you know, Democrats right now are feeling, I think, OK that Republicans have kind of said that they are willing to move along on this and I think they need to do something about this as we discussed in the last segment because of everything that's on the line, I mean, the midterm election. So I think, yes - and I'm hearing more from Republicans who would be on board with this. So I don't see it as a problem. But anything can happen these days.

WHITFIELD: Yes, these days. You are right.

And Nathan, the stop gap, you know, spending measure, you know, to fund the government up at February 8th. That is right around the corner. Not a whole lot of time to work out a deal. But might, I guess, there might be another threat of yet another government shutdown or are you hopeful?

GONZALES: I think we are probably headed for a similar situation.

You know, looking back, I think the time when the two parties used to agree is when both parties were kind of hand-in-hand looking over a cliff and saying if we don't do something now we are all going over.

But right now in Washington the two parties don't even agree on where the cliff is, and if a cliff exists. And I think some of them look back look the government shutdown for three days and we're all still here and everyone is functioning, so some of the threat of a shutdown, I think, is taken off the table and I think that that's where there isn't an incentive to give in or compromise until after the normal deadline.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nathan Gonzales, Amy Parnes, thanks so much to both of you. Appreciate it.

GONZALES: Thank you.

PARNES: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. So immigration is expected to be one of the major themes of this week's state of the union address. So could this be an opportunity to lay out exactly where the White House stands as lawmakers prepare to take up the fate of dreamers?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:31:32]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back. In just two days, President Trump delivers his first state of the union address and once again he's breaking with tradition and not rolling out any new initiatives ahead of the speech.

But a senior administration official tells CNN the president will highlight his recent immigration proposal, his trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, which is yet to be released, trade and national security.

Joining me to discuss all of this, CNN political commentator, Bryan Lanza, who is the former deputy communications director for the Trump campaign. Good to see you. All right. Why doesn't the president pitch any new proposals ahead of the speech, getting that momentum going?

BRYAN LANZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think the momentum already exists and I think we're looking at a president and why he does things differently is he sort of looks at it from a true negotiation standpoint. As part of the negotiation process going forward, you don't put your markers out there first.

You want to put the priorities of the American people first and then you sort of have to deal with the partisan issues that sort encompass everything in D.C. But I think it's the smart approach is the approach he took during the tax reform plan, and I think that proved to be successful. We are going to see a replication of that exact same model.

WHITFIELD: And then we understand afterwards Trump does not plan to take his state of the union message or messages on the road, which typically a president might do. Again, this is back to just being unconventional?

LANZA: Well, I think you have previous presidents who had to sort of re-engage their audiences and re-engage the American voters after big specific policy speeches. This president is a very active high energy president who is constantly engaged with the American people. So, I think there is just the distinction. You can't amplify more than what he's amplified everything right now.

WHITFIELD: The White House said the president's remarks in Davos, Switzerland were a prelude to Tuesday's speech. So, take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: After years of stagnation, the United States is once again experiencing strong economic growth. The stock market is smashing one record after another and has added more than $7 trillion in new wealth since my election. Consumer confidence, business confidence and manufacturing confidence are the highest they have been in many decades. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Certainly, there will be more of that in his state of the union speech as opposed to, you know, looking to the future, laying out some new vision.

LANZA: YOU KNOW, I think he's obviously going to take a lap as well he should. Most consequential year of an American president in my modern time and he will lay the ground work of the American people. This is what we've done, we have more to go, that's why we'll focus on infrastructure and immigration and trade and national security.

I think he looks at the first box that he checked as jobs and the economy and his record speaks for itself. The president always said he was a closer and if you look at the last year, he closed very strong.

WHITFIELD: He does like to pat himself on the back publicly --

LANZA: Confidence breeds winners and success, thinking success encourages more success. That's why you see the economy doing what it's doing the president is our ultimate cheerleader for our economy. That in itself becomes its own self-fulfilling prophecy. We are moving in that direction.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, but he has not necessarily been the unifier that people hope are in a president. Do you believe in some manner his speech will be unifying or have an optimistic message of bringing people together?

LANZA: You know, the president is going to speak from the heart and any time he speaks from the heart and the people get to see --

[14:35:11] WHITFIELD: Yes, but unifying. Will there be a unifying moment?

LANZA: I think immigration is a unifying moment. You see the vast population who supports some type of DACA reform along with a border wall.

WHITFIELD: Unifying in immigration, that has been anything but --

LANZA: You have to be unifying. You can say we got to stop it's too difficult, let's move way. I think that's a distinction with this president than the typical politician. The minute it gets hard, they don't want to do anything anymore.

This president has made a commitment to the children of DACA and a commitment to the American people and he's there actively engaged in this. The only way anything passes with DACA, it has to unify both sides.

If you look at the policies, he put out last week, where you have both sides of the left extreme and the right extreme all worked up about it, it tells he actually did find a unifying road here with DACA and it's just a shame that you have the Democratic leadership specifically Schumer that doesn't even want to engage any more.

You know, he made some commitments about a border wall, the president came back and made additional commitments about increasing the number of DACA kids. Now Schumer walks way. I think it's sad to the people of DACA who had this high expectation that Democratic Party would prioritize them and then they say no we don't want to give Trump any victory --

WHITFIELD: Or by trying to unify those on immigration by making some of these newer promises the president has reiterated that perhaps it comes at the risk of alienating him with some of his base?

LANZA: You know, I think the base has a confidence in the president that he's going address immigration in a strong way. It's been something that's been ignored, at least we feel it's been ignored for about 40 years.

We feel that the president is going to prioritize that. I think that's a distinction. Previous Republican presidents the Republican voters didn't have a lot of confidence that they were starting off with good ground and their hearts were in a good place in finding a fix.

They had more corporate interest ties that prevented them from doing the appropriate fix. I think when they see the president then they see his consistent message on this issue for a number of years now.

We are not talking this is something new. He's been talking about this for a very long time. I think they know where he stands and have confidence in him, but they are going to give him latitude to negotiate something because they also want some type of fix with DACA.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it right there. Brian Lanza, thanks so much. Good to see you.

All right. Of course, CNN will have complete live coverage of the president's first state of the union this Tuesday. It all kicks off in Washington at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. And we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:41:53]

WHITFIELD: A powerful moment right there, the Eiffel Tower in Paris going dark last night to honor victims of that devastating bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan. Today is also a national day of mourning in Afghanistan where that massive bomb killed at least 103 people and wounded hundreds more. Officials say a driver was able to get through a checkpoint and detonate explosives packed into an ambulance. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.

I want to bring in Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. He is a CNN military analyst and a former U.S. military attache in Syria. All right. Let me read for you first part of a statement from President Trump after the attack. And it's saying in part, "The United States is committed to a secure Afghanistan that is free from terrorists who would target Americans, our allies, and anyone who does not share their wicked ideology. Now all countries should take decisive action against the Taliban and the terrorist infrastructure that supports them."

And after years of, you know, U.S. military intervention and more than $800 billion spent by the U.S., it's clear preventing a Taliban, you know, attack, just isn't possible. So, the president has said that he wants to send more troops back to Afghanistan. Is that an answer?

LT. COLONEL RICK FRANCONA (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, that's his answer. I'm not sure it's going to be any different than what we've been doing. What changed over the years? I mean, for a while we were showing some successes in Afghanistan and in turn and that was the pivot the withdrawal of American combat forces.

When we changed the mission from combat to advise and assist going into a training mode that's when we lost real control of the situation. The Afghan Army for all the money and training that we spent on it is just incompetent and it's riddled with corruption, desertion.

On paper it looks good. In reality it's awful. So, here we are going into our 17th year of operations and we're no better off than we were right after 2000.

WHITFIELD: So, the other key component of the Trump strategy to let military leaders on the ground in Afghanistan have more autonomy in their decision-making. Might that work?

FRANCONA: Well, it depends. What we're talking about right now is changing the strategy and pushing combat advisers down the battalion level. Right now, they are staying at the higher headquarters. We're going to move them out to the field, get them out with the Afghan units.

But if you send advisers and all they do is advise that really doesn't help. What we need is a fire power. You need more air power which we're doing. We've added more (inaudible) to the mix over there and we've maintained a good ops tempo over the winter.

Normally, in the winter, we see a lull in the amount of activity. That hasn't happened this year. That's what's driving these Taliban operations. They are retaliating against the president, against the United States, for this increased operations tempo.

WHITFIELD: Making some very deadly statements. So, I want to shift now to Syria, a place where you spent a great deal of time. Right now, U.S. forces are in Syria and supporting Kurdish forces which has upset Turkey.

[14:45:13] Here's an exchange that CNN had with the head of U.S. Central Command.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're hearing from the Turkish government continuously saying they are asking the United States to withdraw. Is that something you're looking to do? Is that a scenario you see happening?

GENERAL JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND: Right now, it's not something that we're looking into.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, might this escalate to more U.S. troops being put on the ground in Syria?

FRANCONA: At some point we're going to come to a showdown with the Turks. Now, if you look at the operations that are ongoing right now, it's in that northwestern corner. There are no U.S. forces in that area.

It's when the Turks move to the eastern side of the little enclave in Syria, when they go towards the Euphrates River. That's where American forces are. This town called (inaudible), there are U.S. force present there and that's what General Votel was referring to.

He said he has no tensions right now to pull those up. That's where the escalation will come and where you will have Turkish forces right up against American forces. They are on the western side of the Euphrates River. The Turks want us out of that area.

They see eventually they are going to go all the way to the Iraqi border to set up a security zone. They are setting this up for a show down. What we don't need, Fred, is a confrontation between two NATO allies when you still got ISIS left to defeat.

WHITFIELD: Well, it seems like a tenuous relationship for sure right now because it wasn't that long ago that Turkey was one of the closest allies of the U.S. in that part of the world. The U.S. base in Turkey was a key location for launching attacks on ISIS.

It was very important strategic location for U.S. forces. I remember being there for a long time during the start of the second war in Iraq. But then, you know, a real shift in the Turkish government along with some U.S. military decisions seems to have led to a real cooling of relations.

So, what is the potential of it ever, I guess, strengthening again, or being more hopeful?

FRANCONA: You know, this too shall pass and at some point, in the future, this will all go away. Right now, we have to address the tactical situation on the ground. We have to go after ISIS and keep doing that.

When the Turks saw ISIS has pretty much been pushed out of Syria, out of Turkey now they want to re-establish their supremacy in the area and they are very concerned about the Kurds because the Kurds were the most effective force on the ground against ISIS and the Kurds want repayment for what they did for the United States.

And they are hoping that the United States will try and engineer some sort of autonomy. I don't think it will happen, but the Turks are adamant and dead set against it and that's where the confrontation will come is because of the Kurds.

WHITFIELD: All right. Very tenuous still. All right. Lt. Colonel Rick Francona, always good to see you. Thank you so much. And we'll be right back.

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[14:52:35]

WHITFIELD: All right. One Republican senator raised a lot of eyebrows this week by suggesting that there is evidence of a secret society within the FBI. It turns out it seems that he misunderstood a joke. But secret societies among U.S. leaders is no secret, and that's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion."

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JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): There is no secret society within the FBI that we know about, but America's leaders do have a long history with very secret, very exclusive clubs. Both Bushes, for example, were tapped for Yale's cryptic and scary-sounding Skull and Bones.

CARTOON MALE CHARACTER: It's so secret we can't talk about it.

TAPPER: Other notable Bonesmen include former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who refused to give up even the tiniest of secret morsels. At Harvard, President Teddy Roosevelt was a member of the secretive, all-male, Pork Club.

So exclusive another president, his distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was rejected from membership. But President John F. Kennedy, no stranger to secrets himself, condemned secret societies.

CARTOON MALE CHARACTER: We are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, secret oaths and secret proceedings.

TAPPER: Though we should point out he was also a member of an exclusive club while at Harvard. It seems the American tradition of joining secret societies dates back to the very beginning. George Washington himself was a member of the Order of Free Masons. As for President Trump, who knows if he's part of a secret society? He certainly has secrets.

CARTOON TRUMP CHARACTER: I have to tell you a little secret. I shouldn't say it or half of you will leave the room. Should I say it?

TAPPER: The first rule of secret societies, Mr. President, you don't talk about secret societies.

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WHITFIELD: All right, and no secrecy here. We have so much more straight ahead in the newsroom. But first, here's this week's "Turning Points."

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My favorite things about playing are just making people feel good. It's incredible because I always think back to Katrina. I was about seven or eight years old, and suddenly my parents turn on the news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wind is coming from this direction in New Orleans breached that levy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said we had to evacuate. I cried so much. I couldn't bear being in another school not knowing if my home would be there when I got back. Definitely traumatic, anxious, sad.

[14:55:05] We were evacuated for a couple months. My parents went back first. We wanted to make sure our house was still there. We still had to wait until the power was back on. One of the people we evacuated with was Sam Williams, a trombone player from New Orleans.

When I got back, I kept telling my parents, I want to play trombone. I was given his high school Trumpet and immediately I was able to play it. Currently, I'm studying at Berkeley College of Music. I've been able to travel to Japan, Cuba, play at the Grammys, Carnegie Hall.

Music can turn a tragedy into something that's beautiful because it can touch so many people, and I think everyone can relate to it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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