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Trump Rallies in Mississippi; Charities Warn U.S.; Lawmakers Question Response to Khashoggi's Murder. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired November 26, 2018 - 09:30   ET



[09:31:25] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump heading to Mississippi today for two rallies tonight, fighting to make sure the Republican senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith, keeps her seat in tomorrow's runoff election. She has faced quite a bit of backlash for her comments about a public hanging, seeming to defend the state's confederate past. Her opponent, Mike Espy, is vying to become the first African-American senator in that state since 1870. But will Hyde-Smith's controversies help him turn this traditionally red seat blue?

With us now is political reporter for "Mississippi Today," Adam Ganucheau.

Thanks for being with us again, Adam. We appreciate it.

I thought it was interesting when you heard Bill Crystal, a conservative, not a Trump supporter but a conservative yesterday who said on CNN, look, Republicans should be really worried about this. "Politico" is reporting that Republicans are holding their breath. Are they in this state? And is the president enough to help Cindy Hyde- Smith hold this seat?

ADAM GANUCHEAU, POLITICAL REPORTER, "MISSISSIPPI TODAY": Yes, I think so, certainly. You know this race has tightened up, especially in the last couple of weeks since, like you said, these videos have been released. President Trump, of course, he came to Mississippi about a month ago, actually, to stump for Hyde-Smith, which even then was seen as sort of a surprise here in the state.

Republicans are clearly sort of nervous about this. This is sort of unprecedented, at least in terms of a Democrat challenging a Republican, an incumbent, an effectively incumbent Republican for Senate.

HARLOW: Right.

GANUCHEAU: So, you know, it's interesting that Trump's coming and certainly that's what we're all watching down here today.

HARLOW: I mean even the latest political ad from her team was not her. It's President Trump. I mean clearly they've made the calculation that this is really going to help them. Some new reporting that CNN has over the weekend on Hyde-Smith. We

know that from our reporting she introduced legislation, a resolution, back in 2007 praising a confederate soldier for, quote, defending his homeland. We've got new reporting from the "Jackson Free Press" that she attended a segregationist high school and sent her daughter to a similar one as well. You've got 38 percent of the electorate there that is African-American.

Are these, you know, new tidbits of information coming out, are they enough to take the seat away from her?

GANUCHEAU: Well, you know, I think it's important to say that in Mississippi, you know, these -- this confederate stuff, you know, the legislation that she's introduced, her attending what they call segregation academies, which are essentially, you know, private schools set up in the '70s to avoid integration, I mean this is some -- this is sort of part of the daily life in Mississippi here. That's not to take away from sort of the importance of pointing these things out, you know, when a Senate candidate is running, of course.

But, you know, for Mississippians, the folks who are going to the polls tomorrow to actually cast votes, this is sort of par for the course. So, you know, it is a big deal, of course. I think it's gotten a lot of the national attention. And certainly that's added to the national intrigue of this race. And I think certainly that all adds to why the president feels it necessary to come to Mississippi and sort of help in this close race.

But, you know, like I said, I think, for the majority of Mississippians, I'm not sure how much that's going to resonate tomorrow when the polls open.

HARLOW: It's an important point. You're there covering it locally and it's people in Mississippi that get to vote, not people around the country.

Quickly, what will it say if Republicans manage to lose the Senate seat in Alabama and Mississippi in the same year?

GANUCHEAU: Yes, you know, that Alabama race, of course, a lot of people have drawn parallels to the race here in Mississippi. It's hard not to. You know, we had this sort of late national intrigue come into the state in both of these races. You had Republican candidates who, you know, were seen as sort of these controversial, you know, interesting past, you know, type situations. And two Democrats that really have sort of this statewide appeal that we're able to reach a lot of voters, and potentially some crossover voters from the Republican side.

[09:35:14] HARLOW: Right.

GANUCHEAU: You know, like I said, the parallels are there and we'll see sort of, you know, how it plays out. I think -- I think certainly the Mike Espy campaign here in Mississippi has utilized that playbook from Alabama in a lot of ways. They've shared a lot of the same political operatives from that Doug Jones race back in December of 2017. So we'll see how it plays out.

HARLOW: Adam, appreciate it. Good luck. I know you'll be up late tonight. Thanks so much.

GANUCHEAU: Thanks so much, Poppy.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Millions are now on the brink of starving to death because of the war in Yemen. This according to international aid groups. Now those charities are begging the U.S. to step in and stop the war. We're going to discuss, next.


[09:39:56] HARLOW: So, this morning, five international charities are pleading with the United States to end its military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Leaders of the group's, in a rare joint statement, warn that 14 million people are at risk of starvation and starving to death if conditions on the ground do not change immediately. Look at these images, starving children. Incredibly difficult to see, but important.

Nima Elbagir is with us now. She's our senior international correspondent who has covered the crisis in Yemen extensively.

Nima, this is a rare report and it points a finger directly at the United States and says that the U.S. is, quote, deepening and prolonging this crisis.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it speaks, Poppy, to the pretty extraordinary circumstances that those within the humanitarian community have found themselves in Yemen. It has now been three years into this conflict and 35,000 children killed later and yet there does not seem to be a strong message coming out of the U.S. administration.

I want to read you a little bit of this statement. The United States, the statement says, is one of the most generous donors of humanitarian assistance in Yemen, but these contributions pale in comparison to the harm cause by U.S. military support and diplomatic cover to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab states. If it does not cease its military support of the Saudi UAE coalition, the United States too will bear responsibility for what may be the largest famine in decades.

And, Poppy, they are comparing it far beyond to what we saw in Somalia in 2011 where hundreds of thousands of people died. And it's not just these humanitarian agencies that are speaking out. Others, the head of the World Food Program, who came out of Yemen recently, said we're tired of warning that there is going to be a catastrophe. He said, Poppy, we are already there. This is already a catastrophe.

HARLOW: And one we will keep covering, day in and day out right here.

Nima, thank you for all the work you do on this. We appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Let's discuss now with David Miliband. He is the CEO of the International Rescue Committee, one of five people to sign that letter asking the U.S. to charge -- to change course in Yemen. I should also note, of course, he's the former U.K. foreign secretary.

Mr. Miliband, thanks for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So first I want to ask you a question, just because of you and your organization's experience on the ground in Yemen. For folks at home here in the U.S. today, who only see periodic images of the suffering there, describe, in your terms, what you have seen, what the IRC has documented there.

MILIBAND: Thanks very much.

I was in Yemen in September. There are 800 staff working with and for the International Rescue Committee there. And, frankly, the country is in meltdown. We are operating both in the north of the country, where the rebels are in control, and in the south, where the deposed government are. And I can visualize the health centers where mothers are bringing literally starving children to get some form of relief.

I can visualize the port which should be delivering not just humanitarian aid but commercial traffic. And it's -- there's a chokehold on that port because of the war. I can see in the eyes of the IRC workers who had to evacuate from Hadada (ph), the front line of the fighting. The fear but also the sense that their country is being lost. That statistic, 14 million people at risk of starvation, is a figure from the United Nations. The World Food Program have confirmed this.

And so we have a man-made catastrophe here. This is not a natural disaster that we just have to put up with. It's the product of three and a half years of war, 18,000 bombing raids and a failed strategy.

SCIUTTO: Mr. Miliband, of course, the U.S. backs Saudi Arabia's military activity there, supplies many of the weapons, including weapons that have -- that have been used against civilians and, of course, diplomatically backs Saudi Arabia. Is it your view that the U.S. is complicit in this manmade humanitarian disaster you describe there?

MILIBAND: Well, the U.S. is certainly supportive of the military strategy. And it's a failed military strategy. You don't just have to take my word from that. Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Mattis both called for a ceasefire 25 days ago.

Now, our organizations have been calling for a ceasefire for much longer. But there was an admission from the highest levels of U.S. government that this is a failed war strategy. They've called for a ceasefire but there has been no follow-through. And we're now in a situation where there's defiance of the investigations of the United Nations, who found war crimes, defiance of the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. secretary of state, who have called for a ceasefire, defiance also of the fact that far from being won, this war is actually only of benefit to al Qaeda and ISIS, who are thriving amidst the chaos. And so you have the perfect cocktail here of a manmade disaster that has humanitarian toll and political toll, too. And today at the United Nations -- sorry.

SCIUTTO: No, I just want to ask you this. So you have Mattis and others saying the war is a failed strategy. But is it correct to say that Saudi leaders truly take their signals from the top, from the president himself? Because if you look, and I know your opinion on the U.S. handling of the Khashoggi murder, but it's relevant here in that President Trump has not held Saudi leaders responsible for that and has yet to make a strong, public push against this war. Without Trump himself intervening, is it really Trump that Saudi leaders are going to listen to and not the Mattises of the world or not the -- not your committee?

[09:45:28] MILIBAND: You're absolutely right that the president of the United States has power in his words far beyond any member of his administration or anybody else. There is a common link between the Khashoggi murder and what's happening in Yemen and that is the notion that there is impunity for actions around the world, impunity in the killing of one person, but also impunity in the potential starvation of 14 million people.

And we do have one piece of evidence. President Trump did speak once last December about the Yemen crisis and it did bring a bit of a pause in Saudi activity. There's no question in my mind, both from a humanitarian point of view and from a diplomatic point of view, that the president has it in his power to call time on this failed strategy. We're not asking him to end the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. We're asking him to use the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia to call time on this failed strategy.

SCIUTTO: If he doesn't call time, is the U.S. complicit in the suffering there?

MILIBAND: Yes, of course, because all of the members of the United Nations Security Council are sitting on their hands at the moment, or rather more particularly the five permanent members. There was a draft circulated by the U.K. last week. They are the so-called pen holder at the U.N. on the Yemen file, but it's still doing the rounds. We know daily that people's lives are being lost. We also know that daily the political situation there is becoming worse with radicalization and fragmentation. That's why we have this incredible sense of urgency at the extraordinary danger of the situation in Yemen today.

SCIUTTO: David Miliband thanks very much for taking the time.

MILIBAND: Thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: And we will be right back.


[09:51:28] SCIUTTO: Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff tells CNN that President Trump is being dishonest with the American people about the brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi and what the Saudi prince did and did not know about it.

HARLOW: Both Democrats and Republican lawmakers are very concerned about the president's inaction. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah going as far as to say that the president is, quote, siding with the Saudis. Fellow Republican Senator Susan Collins calls it a grave mistake for the president to ignore the CIA's assessment.

With us now is CNN national security commentator, former Republican chair of the House Intel Committee Mike Rogers.

Good morning, sir, and thank you for being here.

The words from Republican lawmakers have changed dramatically in the past few days, over the weekend, since the president's assessment came out.

Words are one thing. Action is another. What is your assessment of the Republican appetite to tie the president's hands here if need be?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, you see a little bit of that bubbling over. And I think as more information comes out and the information available from the CIA assessment expands into the broader membership of the House and the Senate, you'll see, I think, an increased appetite. And I think the real challenge for the president is going to be it may, in fact, big strategic relationships that you have. And that's why I think it's a serous mistake for the president and the White House and the National Security Council to kind of try to stick their head in the sand on this issue.


ROGERS: And when I say that I mean arms sales, it means military assistance in places like Yemen to Saudi Arabia and other relationships that the U.S., both defense and intelligence services have in Saudi Arabia.

SCIUTTO: I wonder if, in your view, and you, of course, were chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. You dealt with issues of intelligence all the time. If it's more than just a mistake, but it puts U.S. national security at risk here because this has become a habit for this president, he ignores intelligence that he doesn't like. Russian interference in the 2016 election, evidence that North Korea is continuing nuclear and missile activity despite those ongoing negotiations and now here, a high confidence assessment from the CIA that the crown prince is behind this.

Does that put America in danger when the commander in chief ignores the intelligence, ignores the facts?

ROGERS: I do think it certainly jeopardizes relationships we have across the Middle East, including very special relationships with the Saudi Arabian government, their defense and intelligence services. That certainly is going to get frayed in this process no matter what.

And, again, here's where I think the president -- I get that the president's probably getting these briefings and they're saying, hey, we have to try to balance this strategic relationship with what was clearly a murderous act of a reporter by the crown prince, and I think that the president is just not doing a great job of trying to balance those two issues.

The administration's going to need to go back and start putting pressure on the Saudi government about trying to get some accountability on what happened. And if that means that the crown prince has to, you know, step aside or do something. And when you heard really solid Saudi Arabia backers like Senator Lindsey Graham say, hey, MBS has got to go, that's pretty significant.


ROGERS: I mean that's really significant.


ROGERS: And so I think that pressure is only going to get worse.

HARLOW: That's a good point about Lindsey Graham, right, saying we're not going to give an autocratic leader a pass.


HARLOW: You've seen so many of these intelligence reports. The president seems to think they're up to interpretation. Are they?

ROGERS: By the time they come to an assessment, and normally -- and certainly when I was chairman I did this, we would have -- you know, can you have dissenting opinions in these assessments. And that's OK. I mean everything -- nothing is as clear as you always want it to be.

[09:55:06] But I will tell you that by the time they make an assessment, it is pretty well vetted by people who are experts in this field and they can lay out the case as why they came to this conclusion. Every once in a while you might be able to say I disagree with their conclusion. But when they came out as strong on this particular issue, I just would disagree with the president on this. If they feel that strongly, it's based on electronic interceptions, source information and whatever forensic information the Turks are sharing, that's probably a pretty good conclusion.

SCIUTTO: Yes, the president described them as feelings of the CIA, but I imagine --



SCIUTTO: They don't often express feelings in intelligence assessments.

Mike Rogers --

ROGERS: That happens at the bar at the end of the night. That doesn't happen during the day when they're working.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. Exactly.

Mike Rogers, thanks very much.

One of the world's busiest border crossings is back open this morning hours after border agents used tear gas to stop hundreds of migrants from illegally crossing into the United States. Among them, women and children.


[10:00:02] HARLOW: All right. Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. It is Monday.

This morning the busiest of the southwest