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Facebook Sued Over Privacy Violations; Shutdown Fight; Federal Reserve Ignores Trump Warnings, Raises Interest Rates; President Trump Claims War Against ISIS Over. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 19, 2018 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The war against ISIS is over. That is according to President Trump, who is planning a full and rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.

In a tweet just this morning, the president and commander in chief declared: "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency."

So this move affects some 2,000 troops in Syria who have been training local forces to fight the terrorist group. And while the president may be declaring victory, some of his fellow Republicans are saying the exact opposite.

CNN has learned that Vice President Mike Pence has gotten an earful as this closed-door lunch that's just been going on.

In front of the cameras, you have Republican Senator Lindsey Graham saying this:


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: When Obama withdrew from Iraq, he did so again against military advice. We made a clear record of what that advice was, and the consequences of General Obama's decision.

We need to do the same thing for the Trump administration. It's my belief that this was made against sound military advice. But let's establish a record. And I don't think General Trump is going to be any better than General Obama.

I have not found one person, national security-wise, who believes it's a good idea to remove the 2,200 troops, which was a small footprint, that was a bulwark against Iran expansion and insurance policy against the rise of ISIS.

Maybe he proves to be right. I don't think he will be any more right than Obama was. And I know this. If Obama had made this decision, Republicans would be all over him. QUESTION: How did the vice president take that criticism?

GRAHAM: He was very respectful. I think the vice president sees the world in many ways like I do. He's loyal to the president.

The president made campaign promises. I don't think anybody ever -- I don't remember hearing, I will withdraw from Syria if I need to stay there to defeat ISIS. I heard we will defeat ISIS.

People always celebrate when troops come home. That's a good thing. But you can't celebrate false security.


BALDWIN: Let's discuss.

I have with me CNN military analyst retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He is former U.S. Army commanding general Europe and the 7th Army. And CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon, who has done extensive reporting on the war in Syria, who's in Washington for us today.

So, great to have both of you all on.

And, General, if I may just begin with you. Just two weeks ago, the chairman of Joint Chiefs, General Dunford, said this about what it would take to defeat ISIS in Syria.


GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: I will give you some idea of the order magnitude of the work to be done. We estimate, for example, about 35,000 to 40,000 local forces have to be trained and equipped in order to provide stability.

We're probably somewhere along the line of 20 percent through the training of those forces. With regard to stabilization, we still have a long way to go. And so I would be reluctant to affix a time.


BALDWIN: So, General Hertling, do you even think that top military brass is on board with this? Do you even think our American forces over there had any clue this would be happening?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I don't believe they did, Brooke, and it's because I have talked to several of them this morning, several of my friends who are in the area and have been conducting operations there.

This was quite a unilateral announcement by the president this morning. I think it caught many people off-guard. You just quoted General Dunford. I think General Mattis -- or -- I'm sorry -- Secretary Mattis was also surprised by this, as well as General Votel in Central Command, General Thomas in Special Operations Command, as well as all of our allies. So this is more than just a wake-up-and-tweet moment. This is really

affecting not only our strategy in the region, which is not that strong in the first place, but it certainly contributes to the strategies of others successfully being accomplished, like Russia, around Turkey and the Syrian government.

So, yes, this was a surprise. And I think it's unfortunate, because, as Senator Graham also pointed out, the key principals in the U.S. government didn't know about this. You could quote General Dunford, but Brett McGurk, who's the envoy to the region, was just talking about how we needed to have forces there for several years just two days ago.

BALDWIN: How do you think, Arwa -- that's U.S. military responding.


We're hearing U.S. allies in the region were blindsided, that this was a total surprise. How do you think this is playing out in the region there?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the key players in the region certainly are still reeling from this and trying to see exactly how that's going to affect them individually, but also how it's going to play into the broader Syrian battlefield.

By removing the U.S. presence there, you do remove a force that was to a certain degree of buffer against Iranian influence, a buffer against Russian influence, but also one that was actively preventing ISIS by backing these forces on the ground from moving into the security vacuums that had been created.

And let's not forget that there still is fairly heavy and intense fighting happening in some small pockets. Even though they are small, it is still significant, such as along the Euphrates River Valley along the border with Iraq.

And then, of course, you have the issue of history and the risk of history repeating itself. This most certainly would not be the first time that the U.S. has had declared an ISIS-like entity -- remember, before, they were the Islamic State of Iraq. Before that, we had al Qaeda in Iraq.

All of them had been declared defeated, and all of them managed to reemerge and come back even stronger than before.

BALDWIN: So to hear the president say defeated, I hear you on learning the lessons of history and how dangerous that may or may not be.

Also part of this, General, to you on the role of Turkey, really, to General Hertling and then Arwa as well -- Turkey, the Syrian neighbor to the north, there's some speculation around the timing of the president's decision because he was just on the phone this week with the leader of Turkey, President Erdogan.

What do we know about that call, General -- or, General, to you first -- and might even be a factor?

HERTLING: I'm certain it was a factor, Brooke.

The president has proven himself to be a transactional leader. He looks for short-term wins. He more than likely got it in his call to President Erdogan. What it connected to, you could probably name a series of things. Could be information regarding the death of Khashoggi?

Could it be the fact that, on Sunday and then again yesterday, there was an announcement made that we had just made inroads in selling $3.5 billion worth of air defense equipment in a Patriot missile package to Turkey? Could that be a part of it?

He seems to be very enlightened and happy about the fact any time we can make arm sales to another government. And other governments will quickly say, hey, we will buy this equipment if you do this or that. And I'm sure that was part of the negotiation with Turkey, because governments around the world know how to get to our president.

It's all about the transactional agreement, not the transformational approach of, how do you make organizations better, how do you go for the long term?

BALDWIN: So, what does this even look like, Arwa? Is this a get those forces out, like, flip a switch? Are some remaining to train local forces? What does this even look like in some 100 days?

DAMON: I mean, we don't really know. What it sounds like is flip a switch, although, of course, anyone who's ever dealt with the military and the military itself will tell you that you don't just flip a switch and withdraw your forces.

No matter what orders come down, there is a process and procedure to all of this. What sort of future training mission there may be, we don't really know. What's going to happen to all of the air assets that the U.S. is providing for the forces that it does back in Syria? That, we don't know.

On the issue of Turkey, another key sticking point for Turkey, of course, was America's backing for the Syrian Kurds, which Turkey views as being part of the PKK, the Kurdish separatist group that Turkey views as being a terrorist organization that it has been fighting for decades.

Turkey certainly did want to see the U.S. withdraw some of their support for those Kurds, withdraw from locations and force the Kurds to withdraw from locations that Turkey had been threatening to push into, such as Manbij.

Whether or not Turkey would have gone so far as to push the U.S. to withdraw completely, that seems like very risky demand for the Turks to have made, given that if there is any sort of vacuum, that vacuum also directly affects their border.

So unless they have a plan in place to continue to secure these areas, it would potentially be vulnerable for a reemergence of ISIS or for new battle lines to unfold. We really don't know.

I mean, Syria just gets messier every single time we talk about it. And, of course, it all comes at the expense of the civilian population.

HERTLING: You know, Brooke, if I can add too, we're talking -- Arwa is rightfully talking about what will happen to the Kurds. They have just conducted an operation in a place called Hajin.

We have trainers in a place in Southern Syria called al (INAUDIBLE) that the Russians have asked us to get out of. Here's the other interesting piece. We are not only doing these kind of operations, but we're also leading many allied nations in this part of the world.

There are allied special operations working with us. To wake up and find out that the president hasn't addressed our members of Congress in terms of this action, you can bet he hasn't addressed the national leaders of some of the allied nations that we're dealing with in this area, too.


So again, it's just -- it's throwing more chaos into an already very complex situation.

BALDWIN: Got it. General, thank you very much. And, Arwa, thank you.

Now to our breaking financial news. Excuse me. The financial -- the Federal Reserve ignored President Trump's repeated requests and went ahead and raised a key interest rate. So, moments ago, the Fed chair, Jerome Powell, Trump -- excuse me -- I blame it on the end of the year. I don't know. We're all getting sick.

Jay Powell, a Trump appointee, was asked about the pressure coming from the president. Here is how he responded:


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN NOMINEE: Political considerations have -- play no role whatsoever in our discussions or decisions about monetary policy. We're always going to be focused on the mission that Congress has given us.

We have the tools to carry it about. We have the independence, which we think is essential to be able to do our jobs in a nonpolitical way. And we are -- we at the Fed are absolutely committed to that mission, and nothing will deter us from doing what we think is the right thing to do.


BALDWIN: And we're going to talk about it after a break.



BALDWIN: Welcome back.

All right, so before the break, we were talking about the Fed raising interest rates for the fourth time this year.

So I have with me "Washington Post" columnist and CNN political commentator Catherine Rampell.

Welcome to you.

So, we now know that they're going to raise the rates 2.5 percent. The markets, they have been going back and forth, now down about 300 points right now reacting to this.

What does this mean for the economy? What does this mean for people with credit card debt, that kind of thing?


So this was widely expected that they were going to raise rates today. They had signaled it for a very long time, despite the fact that Trump clearly very vocally did not want them to. So I think this is not a surprise.

What was a little more interesting, what we didn't know as much about was what the Fed says is going to happen next year. And they actually downgraded their expectations for growth next year. They said, growth is going to be a little bit slower than they had said, that they had forecast a couple of months ago.

And, accordingly, they also said that they're probably not going to raise rates as much next year. So I guess Trump may be happy about that, although the reason behind the fewer expected rate hikes has to do with the fact that the economy may have more weakness in it.

And we have seen some signs of that from the stock market, right? The stock market has been sort of whipsawing back and forth. The stock market is not the economy, so I want to be clear about that. But it does give us some -- you know, some tea leaves to read, at the very least, about...

BALDWIN: What are you reading?

RAMPELL: So, for example, the things that the market has been freaked out about have to do with the trade war, the trade war with China, I should say trade wars, plural, since we have them on multiple fronts at this point.

And if you look at what economists are worried about, it is also the trade war with China. There was this recent "Wall Street Journal" survey in which about half of economists who were surveyed said that the single biggest threat to the U.S. economy next year was, in fact, the U.S.-China trade war, especially, of course, if tariffs go up more. That very same survey also found that a majority of economists were

expecting a recession by 2020. So that's one example. There are other things going on. There's been some weakness in the housing market. The health care sector has also been sort of dealing with this great uncertainty as a result of Obamacare potentially being struck down.

BALDWIN: Sure. Sure.

RAMPELL: So, there are number of risks that are out there in the economy that we should be certainly keeping an eye on.

This expansion is now about to become the longest expansion on record, so, statistically speaking, like, we are sort of overdue for a recession. But at the moment, the Fed just says growth is slowing. They're not forecasting...


BALDWIN: Here's what we have specifically, just to put a button on what you're saying.


BALDWIN: Jerome Powell says, political considerations have -- quote -- "played no role," a la, the president inserting himself and tweeting about this and the Fed's decisions -- quote -- "Nothing will deter us from doing what we think is the right thing to do."

So, Catherine Rampell, thank you.

RAMPELL: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Lawmakers up on Capitol Hill, they are racing to try and prevent a partial government shutdown on Friday. But a short-term spending bill to keep the government running could dash President Trump's hopes of money for a border wall.

Just over a week ago, the president was refusing to budge.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am proud to shut down the government for border security.

I will take the mantle. I will be the to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down it didn't work. I will take the mantle of shutting down.


BALDWIN: But this is what White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway just said this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: This is all breaking news, in other words, what the Congress is going to put before him, a short- term C.R. a C.R. that goes through to February 8, keeps the government up and running.

But that doesn't mean the president is backing down from a central promise, not a campaign promise, a promise as president of the United States and our commander in chief, to keep us safe.


BALDWIN: CNN correspondent Ryan Nobles is following the developments for us on Capitol Hill.

And so, as far as the C.R. is concerned, the short-term spending bill, what's the likelihood that happens?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, I think we are as reasonably confident as you can be before a vote is cast that they're going to avert the shutdown in some way, shape or form.

Senate leaders said just a few minutes ago that they plan on voting on this continuing resolution sometime this afternoon. Leaders on the House side have expressed support for it as well.

And even Vice President Pence told Senate leaders in a closed-door luncheon about an hour ago that the president would sign this clean C.R. to keep the government open until February 8.


So, we think it's going to get done, Brooke, but you never know until the votes are cast. But it's important to point out, as you clearly stated, this doesn't include a lot of these things that the president was hoping for a win.

At one point, it appeared as though he was going to use this for leverage to get funding for that border wall. That doesn't appear to be part of the game plan for President Trump right now. They seem not willing at least to go to that point to shut down a significant portion of the government in exchange for getting that funding, at least not at this point -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: So if they go with the C.R., that means they would take it back up at the top of the year. That would then be when the Democrats are majority in the House. What then would that mean for his big border wall?

NOBLES: Well, there's no doubt that this process becomes increasingly more difficult for President Trump once Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker of the House and the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.

But you already see how the White House is pivoting to a certain degree when it comes to funding for the border wall. And it seems more and more likely that if they find this funding, it won't come in some form of direct congressional authorization.

In other words, the White House is going to try and get creative with their budgeting tactics and try and find that money elsewhere. Could it come in the form of a line item in a budget that is just for broad border security, and then the Department of Homeland Security uses that to pay for a border wall?

Or do they find money from other departments, ask Cabinet secretaries to find funding in their budgets that is to some degree fungible and turn that into funding for the border wall? That's difficult, Brooke. That's not an easy process.

But that seems to be one of the only few options that this White House has left if President Trump's going to make good on this promise to his supporters to build a physical wall along the southern border.

BALDWIN: Got it. Ryan, thank you very much on Capitol Hill.

Coming up next: Facebook is now facing a lawsuit from the D.C. attorney general for sharing your information with third parties. We have details on that and the new report that Facebook was also sharing users' private messages with other tech companies.

Hear how they're responding.



BALDWIN: More fallout from Facebook today.

The D.C. attorney general has just filed a lawsuit against them over the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. The lawsuit alleges Facebook failed to protect users' data during the 2016 election and allowed third-party applications to manipulate -- to manipulate it -- easy for me to say -- for its political purposes.

So, this all comes on the heels of a searing "New York Times" report that reveals Facebook offered big tech companies your personal information without asking you first. Internal Facebook documents obtained by "The Times" revealed, in some cases, your private messages were shared.

CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter is with me now.

So, starting with "The Times"' reporting, what exactly was shared and how is Facebook responding to this?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this was kind of like a secret front door that was there.

Facebook propped it open for years, allowing all these technology companies, as you mentioned, Spotify and Netflix and Microsoft and Amazon and others, to peer through that front door if they wanted. Now, a lot of these companies -- you see them on screen here -- they

say, hey, we didn't actually use this feature. Netflix says, we weren't looking at your private messages.

But the point is that Facebook enabled that access, allowed it as a possibility. And that is creepy. For all these tech companies, sometimes, it's about passing the creepy test. Does that seem creepy? Well, yes, it obviously seems creepy to be able to access private messages of users, when you're not even at Facebook, if you're at some other company.

So what does Facebook say? They say this was a part of a partner program. All of our partners made Facebook better. They made the Web better by making it more feature -- more user-friendly.

But I think this is another example of Facebook's worst year ever, a year full of privacy scandals and revelations about how, in some cases, users are not just helped out, they're abused by these technologies and tools.

Here's a part of the company's statement acknowledging they need to improve in some ways.

They say, look, companies, partners, they "don't get to ignore people's privacy settings. But we have got work to do to regain people's trust." They say: "Partnerships are an area of focus this year. And, as we have said, we are winding down that integration partnership that was built to help people across Facebook."

So, in other words, they say that front door, the front door is closed now. But I think there's this broader issue, Brooke, about what else is Facebook doing that we might not even know about? It's a black box.

BALDWIN: They say the front door is closed. What can people do who are -- have all their Facebook accounts and rely on Facebook? What can they do to protect themselves?

STELTER: Other than deleting Facebook, which I know some people say they're doing, but is maybe unrealistic for a lot of folks watching, you can do a privacy checkup, you can log on to Facebook or Instagram or WhatsApp. They own all of them.

Do a checkup, make sure that you don't -- you haven't left any lights on by accident, left any doors open by accident. But the reality is, I think people are largely at the whims of these giant technology companies.

And that's why this attorney general suit in D.C. today is interesting. Washington, kind of in general, regulators in general, they have been asleep about this for several years, but they are waking up now.

A number of Democratic lawmakers spoke out against -- when "The New York Times" story came out last night, a number of Democratic congressman said, this is really troubling. We need to do more. So there's definitely a sense of regulation in the air, a sense of

possible oversight in the air, because, frankly, Brooke, "The New York Times" is not enough in terms of oversight. CNN is not enough in terms of oversight. We actually need to see the government ensure people's privacy, in the same way they do in lots of other industries.



STELTER: And technology can't be -- can't be the exception to the rule.


Brian Stelter, thank you very much for that.

STELTER: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Next: A former Green Beret who admitted to killing a suspected Taliban bomb-maker is now charged with murder and facing death.

President Trump says he may intervene in the case.