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American Detained In Russia, Accused Of Being A Spy; President Donald Trump Spent New Year's In The White House; President Trump Is Giving The Pentagon About Four Months To Pull Out Troops In Syria; Aired 9-9:30p ET

Aired January 1, 2019 - 09:00   ET



[09:00:19] POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: All right. Good morning, everyone. And a happy new year to you. If you are just waking up, happy 2019. I hope last night was festive. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim Sciutto has the well-deserve holiday off.

And we do begin with important breaking news this morning. We are learning right now a lot more about the American detained in Russia, accused of being a spy. Paul Whelan was arrested in Moscow on Friday.

Let's go to my colleague Marty Savidge. He has more on this man.

The story, look, we are learning more details. This is someone who had frequently traveled to Russia and whose family says he was there for a wedding. The Russian government says something else.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. They do indeed. The family had been very anxious because they say the last time they heard from Paul Whelan was around the 28th of December.

He lives here in Novi, Michigan here, in a suburb of Detroit. And he was a frequent traveler to go to Russia. He is a former marine, retired marine, I should say. And he works in corporate security for auto parts manufacturing. So he has gone to Russia several times for personal reason as well for work.

He was in Russia. He arrived on the 22nd to attend a wedding of a fellow marine. That wedding was supposed to happen as they say on the 28th. He didn't show up. And that's when everyone became worried because it was so unlike him. When he travels, he usually stays in close contact with his family, especially his parents.

And then they get the notification that he has been detained. They find that the reason for him being held by the Russians is absolutely preposterous. They are hoping that American officials will have a chance to actually talk to him. They have been gravely concern because they thought perhaps he might have suffered some kind of tragedy. It is still extremely serious for them but at least they know his whereabouts right now, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK, Martin Savidge there in Novi, Michigan where he is from. Again, this is a man that was born in Canada. The state department

refers to him as an American citizen. And again his family wants answers.

Before we get to his brother who will speak to us in just a moment in his first interview, let me go to Moscow. My colleague Matthew Chance is there.

So Matthew, walk us through what the Russian federation is saying at this point.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, they are not saying a great deal that has to be said. They just made this very sort of stiff announcement by the FSB, which is the main cantor espionage agency here in Russia. They are saying they had arrested a U.S. citizen on the 28th of December in the Russian capital, Moscow. And they said he was caught spying, but no other detail was given about what exactly he was said to have been doing when he was detained.

The Russian foreign ministry also said they formally notified U.S. authorities of the detention which was confirmed by the state department as well. But in terms of detail, very, very sparse information coming out about what this individual may have been concerned with.

It does come just a couple of weeks after Maria Butina who is a pro- gun lobbyist held in United States pleading guilty to conspiracy there and faces six months in prison after U.S. prosecutors say that she tried to infiltrate U.S. for conservative groups (INAUDIBLE) and the Republican Party to influence Americans. And there is some speculation that, you know, in the future there could be some sort of trade-off between these two individuals. But beyond that, there is no relationship between the Butina case and the Paul Whelan case as far as we are aware -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Matthew Chance, I know you are asking for more answers. Please let us know if you get them. Thank you very much for that reporting live from Moscow in this morning.

On the phone with me now is David Whelan. He is the twin brother of Paul. Paul Whelan again is the American detained on Friday in Russia on espionage charges. You see him there. The Russian government says he is a spy.

Let me bring in his brother, David - his twin brother, David.

This is your first interview, I should note. Thank you for taking the time on this New Year's morning to speak with us.

DAVID WHELAN, BROTHER OF AMERICAN DETAINED IN RUSSIA (on the phone): Thank you, Poppy. I appreciate the time.

HARLOW: Of course. What can you tell us first just about your brother as we look at his picture here? What do you want everyone to know? WHELAN: Well, it's funny because I think sometimes we don't think

about how we would describe our family members until we are in a situation like this. Paul is a very kind and generous person. I think he's well known for that. He is burglarious (ph) among friends, although maybe not comfortable in larger groups. He is loyal to a fault with his family and friends. He is just a very nice person.

HARLOW: Obviously there are a lot of answers that you want. So let's take through this slowly. Walk us through what you know at this point, what you have been told by the government, by the state department, perhaps anyone at the White House about your brother being taken into custody in Russia on these espionage charges. What have they said to you?

[09:05:13] WHELAN: We don't know very much. The government has been helpful. My family members have been in contact with people at the state department and at the embassy in Moscow. And we have heard that they have received an announcement from the Russian government that Paul had been detained. But they have not yet been able to have constant access with Paul. And I believe there is a 72 hour window, so we are sort of waiting for that to pass.

HARLOW: There is.

WHELAN: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

HARLOW: No, there is a 72-hour window so let's talk about that. You guys have been told, as I understand it, that there is a 72 hour window before the U.S. embassy and representatives can meet with Paul and check on his well-being, et cetera. That 72-hour window would have, one presumes, started on Friday. I know you guys have an anxiously awaiting that to pass. It seems like that window would be closed at this point.

WHELAN: Yes. So I'm not sure how the timing on that has tolled.

HARLOW: OK. So have you reached out to the White House and/or have you heard from the White House or the President?

WHELAN: No, not from the White House or the President. But we have reached out to congressional representatives for Michigan, which is where Paul and my family are based. And we look forward to when we finally have access to Paul, hearing about his condition and helping him to get a lawyer to take on these criminal charges and continue to try and work with the American government to have him released.

HARLOW: Tell me about what your brother does. We understand he was in security. He did security contract work and travelled to Russia a number of times.

WHELAN: Yes. Paul and I are chalk and cheese. And so I can describe it but I am a librarian describing corporate security and so I may not get it right.

HARLOW: Sure. WHELAN: My understanding is that he was -- he was responsible for

looking at the physical security of sites for his employer to make sure that things couldn't be stolen or broken into, to remove the opportunities for people to have access to things he shouldn't have access to.


WHELAN: But it wasn't cyber security. It wasn't body guard type of security. It was much more about the physical plant.

HARLOW: Who did he work for?

WHELAN: His current employer is Baird and Warner.

HARLOW: OK. When is the last time, David, that you did hear from him because you say that it is unusual that you wouldn't hear from him on the 28th, you know, Friday, the day he was supposed to attend the wedding. So when is the last time you did speak with him?

WHELAN: I don't speak to him very often. We often communicate over email and things. But he communicates much more regularly with my parents. So they were surprised not to see any photos from him. He had been particularly worried that they were on a winter staycation and some mischief might happen to them while he was out of the country. They are older and it is snowy in Michigan. And of course we have a family pet and he is concerned about the dog. So there are a number of things that he would have normally have been checking in to see how that that's appointment is done or (INAUDIBLE) broken hip. And it was that lack of communication that first tweet us know that something might be wrong. But it wasn't until Monday morning that we knew for sure he has been detained.

HARLOW: Is there anything that concerns you about his travels to Russia? Did you have any concerns ahead of this trip or any of his trips to Russia that he could be detained, that he could be arrested?

WHELAN: Not more than any other tourist traveling to many countries in the world. Paul is a former marine. He is former law enforcement. He does corporate security and he travels extensively. So I think as far as people who are aware of the risks of travel and being prepared to, you know, avoid whatever risks are possible, I think Paul is probably as best situated as anybody could be, even in a country like Russia.

HARLOW: There is no world in which you suspect that your brother in any way worked as a spy for the U.S. government. Is that correct?

WHELAN: That's correct.

HARLOW: Can you tell us a bit about his military service?

WHELAN: I only know what he told me. I know for sure he was in Iraq in the early 2000s and he did multiple tours in Iraq. Names like Al- Assad airbase, Anbar province, that's the sort of things that I heard about. And He wasn't terribly forthcoming with his military service, but I was aware of where he was.

HARLOW: He was born in Canada, correct, but is a U.S. citizen?


HARLOW: OK. What would you like to see from the representatives in Congress in Michigan that you and your family have spoken with from the state department and from the White House at this point and going forward this week?

[09:10:07] WHELAN: I think there's really just one goal, which is to get Paul back home from Russia. And I'm not sure if it's at a level where leaders of both countries have to work out a deal or whether it's congressional action that can leverage him loose, but that is our goal, that is our one goal, is to get Paul back home.

HARLOW: We know that the President has had an increasingly, I wouldn't say open dialogue with Vladimir Putin, but as you know he has met with the Russian President in Helsinki and consistently says better relations with Russia are desired. Are you hopeful that President Trump can do something, say something to bring your brother home soon?

WHELAN: Yes. I would be supportive of anybody who can help to get Paul to come home.

HARLOW: David Whelan, I'm so sorry you are facing this. Thank you for taking the time in speaking to us. Reach out any time with more information that you might have.

WHELAN: Thanks very much, Poppy.

HARLOW: Of course.

All right. We will stay on that. Again, the first interview that the brother of the detained American in Russia has done. We will bring you more information as we have it.

Ahead for us, day 11 and counting of the shutdown. The President says he has no choice continuing the government shutdown as House Democrats come up with a plan of their own that they will vote on this week. We will give you the latest.

And a new twist to the administration's plan to withdraw troops from Syria, more time. "The New York Times" this morning is reporting the President has given the Pentagon four months to pull out 2,000 members of our military there. We will have the latest on that.

Plus, U.S. markets say good-bye to the wild trends and volatility of 2018 or do they? What do they expect? Ahead.


[09:16:01] HARLOW: Eleven days into the government shutdown, the President spent New Year's in the White House. He is now tweeting out his best wishes for the quote haters. He is also telling everyone to quote "calm down and enjoy the ride in the coming year."

The President sent a dozen, more than a dozen other tweets on New Year's Eve saying that he is waiting for Democrats to come to him to work out a deal.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Boris Sanchez live at the White House this morning.

Look, the President canceled his vacation plans. He did this interview with FOX News last night saying I'm ready. Where are the Democrats? Let's make a deal. But they are on - I mean, it is not enough to see different pages this morning, OK. Where do things stand on day 11 of the shutdown?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, Poppy. Both sides are still very far apart. No breakthrough anywhere on the horizon. President Trump has not been as active today on twitter as he was yesterday when he sent out a flurry of tweets as you noted. Though he did wish the nation a happy 2019 even to haters and the media.

The President is demanding that lawmakers return to Capitol Hill immediately to iron out a deal to reopen the federal government. That obviously is not happening. Democrats, though, according to sources are going to vote on Thursday on a bipartisan package of six bills that would reopen the government until February. That package contains $1.3 billion for border security. No funding for the President's long promised border wall. So it is unlikely that he is going to sign off on it. It is largely a symbolic move to show that Democrats are willing to reopen the federal government.

The President has doubled down on this idea that the United States needs a concrete barrier in some parts of the border between United States and the Mexico. Yesterday in that interview with FOX News, he called it 100 percent foolproof. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spend Christmas in the White House. I spent New Year's Eve now in the White House. And, you know, I'm here. I'm ready to go. It is very important. A lot of people are looking to get their paycheck. And so I'm ready to go any time they want. No, we are not giving up. We have to border security. And the wall is a big part of border security, the biggest part.


SANCHEZ: Poppy, the President also chafed at this idea that the wall is old-fashioned. He said a wall is not old-fashioned. You look at a wheel. A wheel is old-fashioned, but it's been around for a long time, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, that part shocked me as well.

Boris, Happy New Year, my friend. Thanks so much. SANCHEZ: Same to you.

HARLOW: Karoun Demirjian, our CNN political analyst is with me as well as Margaret Talev. Good morning. Happy New Year. Hope you have your resolutions. I so thank you for waking up early to be with me this morning, ladies.



HARLOW: Karoun, let me begin with you. So the Democrats know that any sort of deal, right, funding bill with just $1.3 billion for border security and nothing for a quote-unquote "wall" is going to fly. Mark Meadows who talks to the President a lot, calls it a nonstarter.

Walk me through the Dems' strategy here and if it has a chance of backfiring. If they go out and say we want to work with the President. We want to compromise but then, you know, vote on something, to pass something that they know he won't sign, how does that play out?

DEMIRJIAN: What the Democrats are trying to do is basically split the issue right now so that they can continue to basically get most of the furloughed workers back to work, get the rest of the government that hasn't been shut down up that isn't the department of homeland security, that aren't the border issues up and running through the end of the fiscal year and then have this stopgap measure that will give them some time to negotiate. That gives some time to negotiate where the customs and border patrol officials are still getting paid, right. This TSA members are still getting paid. And so you don't have this absolute freeze and potential future crisis because of the way the federal workers are kind of stuck in the middle as they try to sort out these issues.

If that works, if the President is willing to sign off on that approximately month to open up this conversation and negotiate, then you could be all the way back at square one. And remember, a year ago we were talking about $25 billion for the wall in exchange for the DACA program. I don't think you are going to see Democrats in general being willing to give Trump more money for nothing in exchange, also address immigration issues that have been there for over a decade unsolved.

But if the President decides that, no, he is not willing to work with the Democrats to buy that period of time, then you could just basically see a freeze for the next several weeks. I mean, they fundamentally do not agree on what the middle ground is, even though they are not that far apart from it financially. But it is about more than the dollars. It is just about staking out and negotiating position for the next two years and beyond. And about this basically being, you know, in miniature an argument about the same giant immigration issues that we have been seeing parties slug it out over for a well over ten years. [09:20:40] HARLOW: And by the way, Margaret, what royally complicates

this is politics, as it does everything. And that is a fact that, you know, we have a Democrat exploring, you know, the 2020 nomination and being a candidate, and that is Elizabeth Warren. Many more will jump in the ring this week and in the weeks to come. Politics complicates all of this, right? Not, you know, giving money for the wall at all plays well for Democrats.

Here is how Terry McAuliffe, the former Virginia governor and very likely candidate for 2020 said about it.


TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: The Democrats should not give an inch on this. Donald Trump owns this. He has been in the White House. He has been isolated. He is too emotional. He is too unstable.


HARLOW: Is that a winning card for Democrats, the Democrats not giving an inch on this, which means no wall funding?

TALEV: Well, this is sort of the kabuki dance that always happens whenever there is usually in the lead-up to a shut down now. We are in shutdown mode. But the Senate Republicans sort of push back that this is a nonstarter. I actually think it is definitionally (ph) is a starter. This is exactly the starting gambit you would expect an incoming Democratic House majority to pursue, which is we can take a vote. We have got a plan. Here is our plan. If you want to reject it, fine. Then you are the ones who have rejected it. So I think is going to the starting position.

And for Democrats, they don't want anything that, you know, supports President Trump's pledge of a concrete wall, but certainly they have expressed an openness towards border security and also in light of the tragic deaths of these two children whose families were attempting to bring them across the border, there is going to be -- there is now a reexamination of the procedures for taking care of, you know, people and children in the government's care once they are in U.S. custody.


TALEV: So I think, you know, look, this is going to play out in terms of a normal debate process. But 2020 absolutely is a backdrop for everything. It is the backdrop for President Trump's negotiating positions on, you know, whether he is living up to his wall promise to his base and it is, you know, the backdrop of Democratic positions as a potentially very crowded field all seems to show that the sort of the Democratic brand of compassion or overhaul of immigration policy. All of these various issues that are going to come into play.

HARLOW: Thank you both. I wanted to talk about Elizabeth Warren, but we are out of time. We will have time for that down the road. Thank you both very much. Have a good New Year's Day. A new report says President Trump wants troops out of Syria within

four months. That's actually a little bit more time than what he initially said. That's according to "The New York Times." Is it enough time to get them out safely and also to ensure stability? We are going to talk about what this all means next.


[09:28:01] HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

President Trump is giving the Pentagon about four months now. That is what "The New York Times" is reporting to withdraw the nearly 2,000 American military personnel currently stationed in Syria.

According to the Times report that sites an administration official, the President told the head of U.S. forces fighting ISIS his timetable while he was in Iraq last week. President Trump defended this move and his plan for Syria on FOX News in an interview last night. Listen to this.


TRUMP: And you know, I never said that I'm going to rush out. We are going to get out. We are getting out of Syria. We are going bringing our young, great troops home after so many years, you know. We were supposed to be in Syria for three to four months. And that was four or five years ago. And it is time. Isis was all over the place when I took over. It was a total mess in Syria. We have almost eradicated all of them. We think all of them will be gone by the time we get out.


HARLOW: All right. Let's discuss with major general James Spider Marks, our military analyst. Good morning and Happy New Year.


HARLOW: Thank you for being here, especially on such an important issue.

MARKS: Sure.

HARLOW: Look. The language the President used when making this announcement on Syria, you know, about two weeks ago was rapid. And then last night on FOX News he said I never said I'm going to rush out. You know, words are one thing. What happens is another, right? And you say that this is now deliberate versus hasty.

MARKS: Correct. And I think what we are seeing now is what is taking place really should have taken place in advance of the President's decision.

Look, he made a very impetuous decision and he made it emphatically and he made it clear we are going to leave Syria. But all of the process necessary for that decision is now taking place. And it is kind of upside down a little bit.

There is a lot of work that needs to take place with our partners and allies. There is operational space that we have to account for. And also there are the steps that are necessary to ensure that at a very tactical level the hand off is taking place in a very, very deliberate way.