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Migrant Caravan Marching North Through Mexico; Today: Bolton Kicks Off Talks with Russia over Nuclear Treaty; Kushner: Will "Determin which Facts are Credible". Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 22, 2018 - 10:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: -- stop people from leaving. CNN's Bill Weir is live with there in Tapachula with the latest. Tell us what you're seeing there, Bill, because you know how it's being portrayed here. What do you see mixing among those people heading north?

BILL WEIR, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the thing, Jim. You know from the drone shot, it looks like this massive desensitized humanity. It's easy to become desensitized to that but as you wade through the crowd here you find so many touching human stories. So we're in the town center and people enjoying maybe a last half hour of rest. Word is they're going to start walking again in about half an hour. They spent the night sleeping out here. The luxurious setups are tents, but most people just have, you know, a blanket, maybe a tarp of some sort. And I wanted to really get to understand sort of the tenacity of these people. Because remember, they have anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 miles to go yet, Jim, before they reach the U.S. border.

And so what kind of grit, what kind of desperation would motivate such a thing, and we met one mother dangling from a bridge on the Guatemala/Mexican border, and her story speaks volumes about why these people are doing this.


WEIR (voice-over): After 24 hours stuck on a bridge between nations, the caravan finds another way. Most go back to the Guatemala side and pay a few pesos for an inner tube ride, while others pry a hole in the fence and jump.

While the stress of it all is too much for the sick and the weak, a few of the strongest managed to scavenge a ladder and rope and come back to help others down. Including a mother named Rosalin.

The migrants on the back of the Suchiate gasp and cheer as she's lowered to the raft.

Yes we can. After a splash of relief from the heat and thirst, she looks up anxiously for her babies. A 5-year-old daughter named Candy, a 3-year-old son named Carlitos. It's stunning to see him here because the day before, I spotted him playing inside the Mexican gate. The little boy was fascinated by the riot gear and helmets and one member of the Federales displayed touching humanity amid all the chaos.

I assumed his family was among the lucky few allowed through for processing, but they were actually separated from Candy in the tear gas panic, so Rosalin went back to find her and another way north.

WEIR (on camera): What made you decide to climb onto that ladder?

ROSALIN GUILLERMO, PART OF MIGRANT CARAVAN (through translator): To complete the dream that I have.

WEIR (voice-over): This bridge, this river, they can't stop me, she says. I am an all-terrain woman.

WEIR (on camera): But there are people who see what just happened and would say, you're using your child as a shield to break the law.

GUILLIERMO: I don't think we're abusing the kids, she says. We can't leave them at home. They have to eat. I want them to study, have a good future. I do this for my kids. I ask you with all my heart wouldn't your mother do the same for you?

WEIR: Do you know that President Trump is threatening to use soldiers to keep you out, and he has even separated families. He's taken children like these away from their mothers? You know this?

WEIR (voice-over): She knows, but she says we have faith in God. He has the final word.

In town, they are met with cheers from fellow travelers and a bit of Mexican hospitality. There is shelter here, advice from human rights workers and precious nourishment for the kids. She borrows a phone to call her mom. They're OK. She tells her and they're not turning back.

They will rest here for the night, waiting for the caravan's strength in numbers and are back on the road at dawn. From here, it is a 2500 mile walk to America.


WEIR: And so much of that walk is fueled by the kindness of strangers. Mexico has their own immigration problem, but we have seen folks handing out bread or soup out of the trunk of a car, clothing donations here as well, but one little sample of so many thousands of stories like those. Some fleeing violence, some just seeking what they think is their American dream, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Bill Weir, it's good to have you there. You only know by being on the ground. Any minute now, another story we're following, National Security Adviser John Bolton will be meeting with Russian officials in Moscow. Will he double down on the president's vow this weekend to pull out of a major nuclear arms treaty? We're going to discuss that next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:39:41] SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN. The first public comments on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by Jared Kushner, of course, adviser to the president and the president's son-in-law, this at a CNN event just moments ago. Have a listen.


JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: We're more in the fact-finding phase, and we're obviously getting as many facts as we can from the different places.

[10:40:02] And then we'll determine which facts are credible and then after that, the president and the Secretary of State will make a determination as to what we deem to be credible and what actions we think we should take.

I'll also say that we have to be able to work with our allies. And Saudi Arabia has been, I think, a very strong ally in terms of pushing back against Iran's aggression, which is funding a lot of terror in the region, whether it's the Houthis in Yemen or it is Hezbollah or Hamas, we have a lot of terrorism in the region, the Middle East is a rough place. It's been a rough place for a very long time. And we have to be able to pursue our strategic objectives but we also have to deal with obviously what seems to be a terrible situation.


SCIUTTO: Well, there you have it. Jared Kushner, adviser to the president, close friend of the Saudi crown prince, both reserving judgment there, but it seemingly offering an off-ramp based on the strength of the U.S./Saudi relationship.

Abby Phillip is at the White House. Would you say that Jared Kushner's words there, Abby, crystallize the administration's position in that they're still reserving judgment and that at the end, the alliance will come out on top?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Very much so, Jim. It's actually striking the degree to which what you heard from Jared a few minutes ago was almost exactly what you hear from President Trump virtually every time he's asked about this. He talks about how serious this issue is, but also emphasizing how important the U.S./Saudi relationship is, and how they want to reserve judgment until more information comes out.

Now, it's important to note that that answer was in response to a question specifically about the discrepancies in the story given by the Saudis and how many people here in Washington, including many people from the president's own party, say that it does not hold water. Kushner declined to talk about that at all, saying that they were still waiting for the fact-finding mission to play out. But it's really telling that the administration continues to hold back on any kind of criticism, emphasizes this joint relationship with Saudi Arabia. And Kushner was also asked about the idea that maybe his friendship with MBS, because they're both of similar ages, he was asked whether he was viewed in the United States as some kind of prince, and MBS viewed as a prince over there, contributed to this. And he said I just don't want to answer these critics. He finds those allegations completely ridiculous. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Abby Phillip at the White House thanks very much.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton in Russia for high-staked face-to-face talks over a key nuclear arms treaty. What this all means for the U.S., for Russia, for Europe. That's next.


[10:47:16] SCIUTTO: In just minutes, President Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton will meet with the Russian foreign minister in Moscow. This comes just days after the president made the surprise announcement that he will pull out of a decades-old nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

So what is this treaty? It's known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces or INF Treaty, was signed 31 years ago, 1987 by President Reagan, President Mikhail Gorbachev. It forces both countries to eliminate ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles and what's the intermediate range, 300 miles to 3,400 miles.

This was a big deal at the time. Why? Because it was of principal paramount importance to European allies, there were fears of an arms race in Europe and the threat from Russia at the time Soviet intermediate-range missiles to U.S. allies. It was seen as a watershed moment during the Cold War for the U.S. and Russia to sign the agreement.

So, where are we 31 years later? Why would the U.S. want to leave this agreement now? Well, the Trump administration says that Russia has already violated the treaty by deploying tactical nuclear weapons in and around Europe as well as a new category of cruise missile.

The Kremlin, of course, denies that it has ever violated the treaty. But let's be clear. It's not just the Trump administration who is accusing Russia of violations. The Obama administration did so in 2014, NATO as well. So the U.S. has been pushing Russia on this for some time, calling them out for these missiles, these weapons, which again, all these years later are making U.S. allies in Europe very nervous, and fears of an arms race in Europe.

Who else is not covered by the treaty? China is not covered. In those 30 years. China has become a lot more powerful economically and militarily. And U.S. officials including officials of the Obama administration before them believe that this puts the U.S. at a disadvantage because China doesn't face any constraints. They can develop intermediate-range nuclear missiles in the Pacific and does not allow the U.S. the chance to develop new weapons to catch up. So that's where we are now. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, they're split on whether to scrap the deal or not. Listen to what Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said on Sunday's "State of the Union" about is the U.S. prepared for the fallout?


SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN), FOREIGN RELATIONS CHAIRMAN: I hope we're not moving down the path to undo much of the nuclear arms control treaties that we put in place. But look, there's no question Russia's violating. And if we're going to get out of it, I hope we at least are in a place research and development wise where we too have developed some mechanisms. Otherwise, they're going to move ahead of us quickly.

[10:50:00] There are those in the defense world that feel like because China is not a part of this, that they're developing systems that are going to move beyond where we are. So I understand there are some tensions here.


SCIUTTO: Let's discuss now with Steve Hall, CNN national security analyst, longtime CIA chief of Russia operations. Steve thanks for taking the time there. So you know the history of this. 30 years ago, this was a big deal. This helped keep the peace, not just in Europe but in the world. Today, Trump has said Russia's violating. NATO says the Obama administration said several years ago, is the president right to leave?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first, Jim, I mean this is indeed, you know, a big deal in the sense that we're talking about nuclear weapons and when you're talking about the treaties that govern those things. It's also true I think that reasonable people can disagree on how to move forward on this. My assessment is that if you look at the facts, it is indeed the case that the Russians are violating this treaty. Then all you have to ask after that is, OK, if we know that the Russians are violating this treaty, and by the way, of course, as you indicated the Russians will deny this. They'll ask for proof because they always do. And of course, the United States and our allies get this information largely from secret intelligence which we'll not be willing to disclose to them. But then you simply have to ask, if the Russians are cheating on this deal, then what is in the best interest of the United States?

And I am skeptical that not leaving the treaty, in other words, trying to stay in it and trying to bring the Russians into accordance with the treaty, remember these are the Russians -- are the people who you know, who recently annexed a neighboring country in total ignorance of international law. These are people who do, you know, suicide -- or assassination operations overseas. So the idea that these are the kind of people who are going to say, oh, OK, good point. We do need to come back into that treaty, I'm not sure that's going to work.

SCIUTTO: But the world without treaties, even with nasty regimes in governments is a scary place. We saw that. You don't have to look back too far and you see a lot of examples of that today. What's the path forward, then? Is it negotiating a new one? Is it trying to sit down at the table with not just Russia but China to address these missiles?

HALL: I think the China piece, although it might not be directly technically linked in terms of weapons that we could - you know, that might -- that we might be able to deploy against the Chinese, not covered under the INF. That's a technical matter which needs to be looked at.

I'm not for saying that we need a world without treaties. What we need is a world with where our potential enemies understand that there are rules that they have to obey, or they will pay a stiff price. Right now, the Russians have paid no price for violating this treaty. And so, the question is what are we going to do to make sure they understand it?

Again, I don't think a new treaty is necessarily going to make the Russians understand that. They have to understand, geez, we have done something that's caused a very strong reaction from the United States. That might not be in our interests. And so, we need to recalibrate. We also need to bring in our European allies which of course this administration has made it perhaps a little more difficult to do that. But an allied position is much better than a unilateral U.S. position.

And of course, the U.S. pulled out of another nuclear treaty with Iran while its allies stayed in.

Steve Hall thanks very much.

HALL: Sure.

We're going to stay on the story, and we'll be right back.


[10:58:04] SCIUTTO: The Trump administration is considering rolling back protections for transgender people. According to "The New York Times," the Department of Health and Human Services is pushing an effort to define gender as being determined only at birth. The move would effectively define transgender out of existence, at least under federal law. CNN politics reporter Lauren Fox has more on this. So, I mean, pretty sweeping proposal here.

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Right. And advocates are arguing that this would be a major setback for transgender individuals in the United States. That their rights would be significantly rolled back, and protections that they had gotten during the Obama administration would be changed dramatically in the United States.

Now, the Trump administration is looking to redefine gender as, quote, a person's status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.

Now, we should say HHS, according to "The New York Times," is looking to potentially unveil this proposal before the end of the year to the Department of Justice. But advocates are already stepping up their fight against this proposal. We heard from the human rights campaign president. He said -- Chad Griffin said, quote, "Setting a destructive precedent, the Trump/Pence administration intends to erase LGBTQ people from civil rights protections and eviscerate enforcement of non-discrimination laws.

Now, we asked HHS about this proposal, and the official spokeswoman said that they would not comment on what is happening, allegedly, behind the scenes. They don't comment on leaked documents. But Roger Severino, the head of the office of civil rights at HHS said that HHS was following a court order blocking anything related to gender at this point. So that's where we stand on this.

SCIUTTO: So a proposal, but at least it's being considered at this point, may not look forward. Lauren Fox thanks very much.

Thanks to you for joining me today. I'm Jim Sciutto. "At This Hour" starts right now.