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Reporting Indicates FBI Opened Investigation into President Trump's Ties to Russia after Firing of James Comey; Government Shutdown Continues over Border Wall Funding; Government Shutdown Possibly Affecting FDA Food Safety Inspections; Congressman Steve King Criticized for Comments on White Nationalism; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Criticizes Former President Obama while in Egypt; Sheriff in Texas County Says Border Wall Not Needed. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired January 12, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: -- after her mother had a mental health crisis. The child is OK and now with her father.
And before we go, be sure to tune in tonight for a CNN original film, "RBG," learn about the life and career of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That's tonight, 8:00 eastern, only on CNN.
All right, there's more. Thanks so much for sticking with us. Thanks for joining us this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
A stunning new report from "The New York Times" reveals that after President Trump fired former FBI director James Comey back in May of 2017, the FBI started investigating if President Trump was secretly working on behalf of Russia against American interests. A source tells "The Times" there were two specific instances that helped spark this counter-intelligence probe, both where the president tied Comey's firing to the Russia investigation. Here's one of those moments.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing, with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: And the second instance, a draft letter the president intended to send to Comey listing the reasons that he was firing him. But his lawyer successfully blocked Trump from sending it, according to "The Times." The White House is calling this bombshell report absurd, and it sparked an angry tirade from the president via Twitter this morning.
CNN's Erica Orden joins me right now. So what more can you tell us about the investigation and its status?
ERICA ORDEN, CNN REPORTER: So this is actually one probe that has two different elements. The first is the obstruction of justice criminal inquiry, and the second is what you described, which is a counterintelligence investigation into whether Donald Trump was unwittingly or knowingly working on behalf of Russia.
And so "The New York Times" reported that the counterintelligence inquiry had been taken over days after it was opened by Robert Mueller's team and his prosecutors. It's not clear what the current status of that inquiry is, but it's possible that in coming weeks and months, when we see the Mueller report, that there may be some information that was -- some information that was learned from that inquiry, or maybe some conclusions about the inquiry in the written report.
WHITFIELD: All right, Erica Orden, thank you so much.
ORDEN: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Let's talk more about how the White House and the president are pushing back on the report and the investigation. CNN White House correspondent Boris Sanchez joining us live now. So via Twitter and otherwise, what is the president saying?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Fred. You noted earlier that Press Secretary Sarah Sanders put out a statement calling this reporting in "The New York Times" absurd. President Trump launched into a Twitter tirade this morning, sending out a barrage of tweets attacking current and former workers in his intelligence community.
The president making several unverified or outright false claims in many of these tweet, writing about the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, suggesting that Robert Mueller is trying to protect James Comey, and making the case that no one has been tougher on Russia, when in fact, you can make the argument that no one has been friendlier to Russia than President Trump.
Let's not forget just one day after he fired James Comey, the president hosted some Russian officials here at the White House, and he told them that now he fired Comey, the pressure would be off him. He also apparently gave them some classified information about American intelligence sources overseas.
We also should note that press conference we saw in Helsinki where President Trump stood side by side with Vladimir Putin and failed to confront him over the issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. And notably also, even as the president tries to discredit the Mueller investigation, we learned just this week that attorneys for Paul Manafort revealed that the former Trump campaign chairman had served sensitive internal polling data with a person believed to be an operative for Russian intelligence in the middle of the 2016 campaign.
So there's still a lot of questions out there to be answered about the issue of collusion. Nonetheless, the president isn't just tweeting about this. He is also fighting a PR battle when it comes to the government shutdown, now a record for the longest continuous shutdown in American history. The president tweeting about that earlier as well, Fred. WHITFIELD: Yes, 22 days and counting. Boris Sanchez, thank you very
Joining me right now to talk further about this report now, former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Shan Wu, and former FBI assistant director and CNN senior law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes. Good to see both of you. So Shan, in your view, how significant is this with that the FBI started these two different investigations before it became a special counsel investigation?
[14:05:06] SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's really quite a historical piece of news reporting. First of all, these types of things, as Tom well knows, are usually shrouded in secrecy, so the mere fact that we're hearing about a counterintelligence investigation is a big piece of breaking news.
But the fact that the focus of it arose from the president himself is really quite amazing. It raises very, very difficult situations for the FBI leadership at the time, for the Justice Department leadership, because under this theory we have heard a lot about recently, the unitary executive, the president is completely in charge of the executive branch. He can shut down things. He can fire people at will. His theory which he espouses, he can't be charged criminally. So what do you do in that situation where the concern is you have to investigate him?
Typically, he needs to be briefed about very important things. How did the intelligence people do the briefing when he himself might be the subject of it? So it's very, very troubling and enormously significant.
WHITFIELD: And Tom, to Shan's point, usually investigations like this are shrouded in secrecy, so why now? Why, you know, would this kind of information be revealed a year and a half after the fact?
TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I don't know, Fred. I've read that "New York Times" piece very closely, several times, and I'm trying to figure out what was the basis of it. Who were the agents that were investigating --
WHITFIELD: What was the basis of the investigations, or what's the basis of revealing it publicly?
FUENTES: Well, the revealing publicly. It seems like any chance they get their hands on something, it's going to come out. So I don't think there's going to be any discretion on the part of "The New York Times" or other news organizations to hold back with information like this. They're going to go out with it.
But what I'm getting at is, who was conducting this investigation? We don't know. Who oversaw the investigation? We don't know. And what was the basis of it? What are -- some of the things that we've heard are pretty flimsy excuses to actually start this sensitive of a case. And normally, in a case this sensitive, the review and the management of it would go all the way to the top. So the top echelon of FBI management, and who was that top echelon manager? McCabe. So you have Comey, McCabe --
WHITFIELD: Because it could be the deputy FBI director who --
FUENTES: Well, McCabe became the acting director the second Comey was fired. This is in the immediate aftermath of the firing and preceding the initiation of the Mueller investigation. So the question there is, was this politically motivated or part of their bias? Now, the Horowitz, inspector general investigation that we heard the results of several months ago, had said that there was bias on the part of several senior executives of the FBI, including Strzok, who would be running this counterintelligence case, but it didn't have any effect on the work that they did. Well, if they open a sensitive case without the adequate justification to do it, that would be an example of where their bias did affect the activities the FBI in how a case was initiated and conducted.
WHITFIELD: It's interesting, we had a former White House counsel, Jack Quinn, who was on earlier, who said given all of these threads, all of these incidents, accounts, it would be absurd for the FBI not to launch investigations based on these things, Shan. Would you agree with that?
WU: Absolutely. I have to disagree with Tom there. Just as we don't know those answers, I don't think we can speculate that the motivation might be political. I think it's important to remember that the Mueller probe really has its origins in a counterintelligence investigation, not necessarily into the president -- maybe they did at the time, we didn't know about it, but looking at Russian interference. And from that arises these various criminal investigations.
I think it would be completely malpractice on the part of the federal employees at the FBI and at the Justice Department, given what we know now in hindsight, if they had even an inkling of that, they had to open a counterintelligence investigation. And if there's concern that the president of the United States was being compromised, they certainly have to look at.
And I think that in the absence of anything to the contrary, we have to assume that normal channels were followed, although, I have to say, I'm very sympathetic to the FBI leadership when the director has just been unceremoniously fired by Twitter. They could have been in a very alarmed state, trying to figure out what do we do here. And I think this is a great example of how the institutions are so important, that even in a crisis like that, very unprecedented, the career employees try and follow the process. And I think we can assume that they did. And I think it kind of dove tails into the fact that federal employees are being so disrespected at the moment by this president, those people are the bedrock of how our institutions work, and we depend upon them for our democracy.
[14:10:00] WHITFIELD: And Tom, this is based on mostly very public behavior by the president. This wasn't -- or I guess what is cited in "The New York Times," these were not things that were just kind of clandestine operations or alleged clandestine operations, but this is out in the public, nearly self-inflicted, that the president's behavior or actions would precipitate from the NBC interview, saying, fired him because of the Russia thing, to being on the campaign trail and saying Russia, if you're listening, hack these emails. Shouldn't those things be really alarming?
FUENTES: Fred, I will go to that e-mail question first. When Trump said that during the debates, Hillary Clinton's server had been closed since she was secretary of state. There was no request for the Russians to hack into a system which no longer existed. It was a request that Russia, if you have her 30,000 e-mail, turn them over. You'll recall that Comey during Congressional testimony, had said that that private server system that Hillary Clinton had was less secure than Google or some of the public Gmail systems out there. And the FBI and all of the senior executives at the time were assuming that China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea had access to her server, and had the information. So for Trump --
WHITFIELD: There are a lot of coincidences for Trump and people in his orbit to mention Russia or have alleged activity with Russia. Isn't that what raised the flag for the FBI, your former colleagues?
FUENTES: I don't know, to be honest. But it's been all this time, and you know, where is the result of that? But again, often Trump will say something, gets himself in trouble, he is his own worst enemy when it comes to this, and during that debate where he said that about Russia, produce those e-mails, he made a comment in one sentence that he should have taken about four or five to explain, that it's clear that foreign intelligence services had easy access to hack into her system, and assuming they did, and assuming they still have those e- mails, now bring them, produce them, make them available.
So I think that part of this is just him, that now it's been implied that he was asking Russia to hack into a system. That system was closed for several years at the time he made that comment.
WHITFIELD: Shan, last word.
WU: The fact remains that those systems were hacked into in terms of not only that system, the DNC system, so obviously there is heavy predicate for this investigation to be opened. I think, Tom, the would be well served had you written his talking points for him. But that's not what he said. And I think based, again --
FUENTES: No, I agree. I agree. It was a mistake.
WU: And I agree, he is his worst enemy. Really, based on the kinds of things he was saying, and the timing of what happened, I just don't see that the leadership that justice or the FBI had any choice but to look into this.
WHITFIELD: Follow up. Shan Wu, Tom Fuentes, good to see you both. Thank you.
WU: Thanks, Fred.
FUENTES: Thank you. WHITFIELD: Still ahead, we're in the midst of the longest partial
government shutdown in U.S. history, and that's having an impact on people charged with protecting the food that we eat. How is the FDA trying to overcome these challenges?
And later, Republican Congressman Steve King facing backlash over his comments of white nationalism. Now other members of his own party are condemning his stance. So what they're saying, next.
[14:17:33] WHITFIELD: The partial federal government shutdown is now the longest ever, with no end in sight, now 22 days. The sticking points for the Democrats and the president remains the same, funding for a border wall. Stuck in the middle of this are 800,000 federal employees working without pay or furloughed. Congress isn't expected to reconvene until next Monday. The president is demanding Congress include funding for a border wall in any shutdown deal, and he says declaring a national emergency is not off the table to get the $5 billion down payment that he wants. It's a move Democrats have vowed to fight in court. The shutdown has already forced many federal agencies to cut back on operations, including food inspections.
CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich joins us now from New York. So Vanessa, how has the FDA been impacted? And consumers, too?
VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. I have spoken to multiple FDA employees who say they're quite worried for the American public. These are people that work in laboratories across the United States that are testing our food and drug, making sure they're safe for us to consume. But when you don't have 40 percent of the FDA employed right now, who is doing it?
When we go to the grocery store, Fred, we assume that what we are buying is safe. But according to FDA employees I've spoken to, that may not be the case.
But I do want to put people at ease a little bit, and tell you about what the FDA is currently doing with the staff that it has. So the things that are being inspected right now are recalls. Also, any outbreaks or food of very high risk is being inspected. Any manufacturers that have a history of violations, those individuals and manufacturers are being inspected. Also, anything coming into the country, foreign imports, there are people on the job to make sure that those products are safe.
But what's not being inspected is items like seafood, bakery products, soft cheeses, unpasteurized juices, vegetables, and infant formula. So when you look at that list, Fred, those are a lot of items that we consume every day, a lot of Americans do.
The commissioner of the FDA said that he realizes that it is not business as usual at the FDA. And what he's hoping to do is bring back about 10 percent of those inspectors who would be looking at those items that are currently not being looked at. So these are items that are now being considered higher risk. [14:20:10] And Fred, the commissioner told us that he realizes he is
kind of in a tough spot right now, right. He's asking people to come back to work, not get paid, when they could be filing for unemployment or looking for a part-time job, so he realizes it's a big ask. And we'll have to see next week if he can bring those people back into the office. Fred?
WHITFIELD: All right, Vanessa Yurkevich, thank you so much, underscoring how many people are being impacted, well beyond the 800,000 federal workers.
With me now is John Thomas, a GOP consultant and CNN commentator, and Tiffany Cross, co-founder and managing editor of "The Beat D.C.," a political platform highlighting diverse politicians and policies that impact communities of color. Great to see both of you.
JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Great to be here, Fred.
WHITFIELD: So the president tweeted not long ago, "We have a massive humanitarian crisis at the southern border. We will be out for a long time unless the Democrats come back from their vacations and get back to work. I am in the White House ready to sign." So Tiffany, you first. The president is making it sound like he is willing to give in or give up something, and that he has been at the negotiating table, and everyone has kind of turned down his request for making adjustments. Is that the case?
TIFFANY CROSS, CO-FOUNDER AND MANAGING EDITOR, "THE BEAT D.C.": It's not like this president has made a habit of lying to the American people before, so why shouldn't we believe him, right? Listen, this is ridiculous. And I think we have to challenge ourselves in the media in how we report this. So we can't good-people-on-both-sides this debate. The Republicans can easily bring a bill to the floor to put people back to work. Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats just passed a spending bill on Friday that would end the shutdown. It's Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who will not bring the debate to the floor. And why? Because they fear this president. They are allowing this president to run rough-house throughout Congress and bypass core democratic principles designed to create checks and balances in government.
This is ridiculous. Yesterday, I went to some restaurants, chef Jose Andre is feeding furloughed workers. And I talked to people. And just like Vanessa reported, the dangers that are happening at the FDA, I talked to a woman who prosecutes child sex crimes for the Department of Justice. Her department is impacted. So all while trying to appease a campaign promise, this president is putting the American people in danger at every level. I know there's a lot of people right now hash-tagging surviving R. Kelly. We need to hashtag surviving Donald Trump, because I'm not so sure the American people will be able to survive a shutdown like this for too much longer.
WHITFIELD: So John, it is the longest shutdown in U.S. history. And the president, he's almost boasting, as if he is proud of this. He says that he would be proud to shut the government down. He'll take the mantle, et cetera. But why is this something to be proud of? How does this help him?
JOHN THOMAS: Well, first of all, it's not just appeasing a campaign promise. This was fundamentally what Trump ran on, which was border security. And border security is not just --
WHITFIELD: But he also ran on Mexico paying for it. He ran on Mexico paying for it. And now he's asking lawmakers to come up with a plan so that taxpayers are paying for it. So how is this beneficial to this president?
THOMAS: Well, look, it's not the first time a full campaign promise has not been met, but he has to get the meat of the promise, which is building that wall. And he's willing to do anything to get it done. But I think in reality what is going to happen is the president was trying his hardest to work to negotiate with Nancy and Chuck. I don't think they want to do that. I think we're going to see on Monday that the president is going to declare a state of emergency, because that's his only option. I think he's going to also say he's going to use seized drug funds to build that wall. It's what he has to do, Fredricka, not just politically, because his base, quite frankly, will skewer him, but for the safety and security of our country, that's what he has to do. All of our hearts break --
WHITFIELD: But he's going to have to sell and establish that there is a crisis.
THOMAS: He will.
WHITFIELD: That the safety of this nation -- how is he going to do that?
THOMAS: Well, I think you just look at all of the crimes that have occurred because of illegal immigrants. It's almost every week you hear of an illegal immigrant hurting a police officer, or somebody else. It is a serious crime. No doubt --
WHITFIELD: What about the crimes being committed by American citizens who didn't -- who are not undocumented, et cetera.
WHITFIELD: So where's the outrage of that?
THOMAS: I'm sorry, I didn't hear you, Fred?
WHITFIELD: I said there are also crimes committed by people who don't fit in that category. Where's the outrage of that? It just seems like it's disproportionate to be able to make that kind of argument.
THOMAS: Well, and it's not just crimes. There's also economic damage that it hurts Americans by undercutting the labor supply. There's a whole myriad of reasons for border security. There's sex trafficking across the borders. Look, I think the president can make a strong case. And like he said, it will probably get appealed and kicked up the court chain and may go all the way to the Supreme Court. But --
[14:25:11] WHITFIELD: So that's more money spent. So then, Tiffany --
THOMAS: OK, just hold on --
WHITFIELD: What workers want to hear is, when is the government going to be up and running again? What consumers want to hear is, when will my food be inspected again? When will things be normalized in that vein? And why can't this wall conversation happen while government is open?
CROSS: Well, I think the government will be up and running again when the Senate Republicans find a spine and stand up to this president. And I just want to say something about what John said about drugs. This is not the president that is concerned about crime happening in America. He's not concerned about drugs. He nominated a congressman who completely bypassed opioid legislation and was basically a pawn for big pharma.
THOMAS: Oh, come on, Tiffany. He is concerned about drugs.
CROSS: Oh, come on, are you kidding, John? You come on. But John, listen, let me finish my point. This is part of the problem. When you have people come on the air and perpetuate these types of lies. You have legislators who are challenging this president, everybody from Senator Bob Menendez who chaired the foreign relation committee, to Congresswoman Judy Chu, she chairs the Asian-American caucus on the Hill, saying you guys are putting out false information. We want to seep the receipts. And this information has yet to produce that.
So John, when you say things like that, you introduced things to people, a base, who I say has no intellectual curiosity to challenge these mistruths, to challenge these lies that we hear, and that is very dangerous. And then you have some media outlets, particularly this week we saw a lot of print outlets, who tried to good-people-on- both-sides this argument who were more concerned about offending Trump supporters than they were about instituting truth into a conversation.
We have to be honest why this shutdown is happening. There is no crisis at the border. As we have seen with our own eyes, Jim Acosta has been there with his own eyes, residents are saying there is no crisis here. Yet you're saying something opposite to that despite all evidence to the contrary. How can you say that? That's just not true. These things are not true.
THOMAS: First of all, first of all, Tiffany, there's plenty of evidence. But Fred, let's put the costs of this wall, let's put, hold on --
CROSS: What is your evidence? Produce your evidence.
THOMAS: Tiffany, can I speak.
WHITFIELD: The president said he went to McAllen, Texas, as his backdrop of saying that, and that just seemed to be a misfire. So how will he make the case?
THOMAS: Hold on. Let's put the cost of this wall into perspective. The national budget is, what, $4.4 billion -- $4.4 trillion. The cost of this wall of what Trump is asking for is a little over $5 billion. That is equivalent of a family makes $45,000 or $44,000 a year with their kids asking for a $50 door lock to keep the door secure. Let's put this in perspective. It is not that much money to secure the borders, to help people who are being damaged economically, to stop the sex traffickers, to slow down the drug trade.
CROSS: A wall will not secure this border. A wall will not secure this border. All subject matter experts say that's not true.
THOMAS: Yes. It works everywhere else.
WHITFIELD: How much money is it costing Americans that the government is shut down in this matter and for how long?
THOMAS: Sure, and when --
WHITFIELD: Why that's calculated --
THOMAS: You're right, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: -- that's going to be eyebrow raising and it should be getting the attention of a whole lot of people who seem to be cavalier about it.
THOMAS: That's why I think he is going to declare that national emergency on Monday. I think he is going to reopen the government, and he's going to take the next steps there. Because Nancy and Chuck will not come to the table with him to help him get that $50 front door lock.
WHITFIELD: Interesting. All right, we'll leave it there for now. We will pick up this conversation at another time. John Thomas, Tiffany Cross, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
THOMAS: Thanks, guys.
CROSS: Thanks, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Still ahead, Republican Congressman Steve King now facing backlash from both sides of the aisle after questioning why the term "white nationalism" is offensive. Next, how the party's lone African- American senator is reacting.
[14:33:18] WHITFIELD: Iowa Congressman Steve King back in hot water over recent comments questioning whether white supremacist language is considered offensive. King made those comments in a recent interview with "The New York Times," but Senator Tim Scott, the GOP's only black senator, countered in a "Washington Post" op-ed. He writes, "King's comments are not conservative views, but separate views that should be ridiculed at every turn possible."
CNN national correspondent Kristen Holmes joins us right now. So Kristen, Congressman King has since pushed back against being labeled a white nationalist?
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred. Congressman King taking to the House floor, denying that he was a white nationalist or supremacist, but only after he received this major blowback from members of his own party. You mentioned of course Senator Scott's blistering op-ed. We also heard from Iowa Senator Joanie Ernst. We heard from Jeb Bush, as well as House Republican leadership, all denouncing these comments. Take a listen to how Steve King explained his rhetoric.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE KING, (R) IOWA: "The New York Times" is suggesting that I am an advocate for white nationalism and white supremacy. I want to make one thing abundantly clear. I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define. Further, I condemn anyone that supports this evil and bigoted ideology, which saw in its ultimate expression the systematic murder of 6 million Jewish lives. It's true that like the founding fathers I am an advocate for western civilization's values, and that I profoundly believe that America is the greatest tangible expression of these ideals the world has ever seen. Under any fair political definition, I am simply an American nationalist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[14:35:07] HOLMES: So here is what you didn't hear in that. You didn't hear him denying that he said those remarks. You also didn't hear him apologizing for it.
And it should be noted that Representative King has a long history of using while nationalist and deeply anti-immigrant rhetoric. Just to give you some examples here, at one point he tweeted that we can't restore our civilization with someone else's babies. He's called diversity a weakness. And he's endorsed while nationalist candidates running for office from around the world, most recently for mayor of Toronto. That cost him some key endorsements, some key support from national companies like Purina and Land O'Lakes.
But here's the thing. He continued then to get reelected, which is probably why when asked by reporters, Representative King said he wasn't really worried about the blowback that he was facing right now from members of his own party. He wasn't worried that it was going to affect his reelection in 2020.
And when it comes to Republicans, we are hearing them, of course, denouncing this rhetoric. But one thing that they stopped short of, and this is most of the lawmakers we talked to, any kind of punishment for Representative King. They were asked about it, and they kind of stopped, they either went back to saying that of course, his rhetoric was horrible, saying they didn't know if he should be punished. Now, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, has said that she would leave the door open to some kind of punishment for Representative King, but right now it is really unclear what happens next. Fred?
WHITFIELD: Kristen Holmes, thank you so much. President Trump, a promise to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, now we're
seeing some of the first steps in that process. This as the Middle East gets mixed messages from the White House. More, straight ahead.
[14:40:56] WHITFIELD: After weeks of confusion, it appears the Pentagon is moving forward with President Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria. According to the Pentagon, the military already started taking ground equipment out of Syria this week. Both National Security Adviser John Bolton and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been in the Middle East, trying to reassure allies over that plan.
While Bolton was snubbed by the Turkish president for a meeting, Pompeo did meet with the Turkish foreign minister. The two were seen trying to work out a deal for Kurds in Syria, which is a very serious sticking point for the U.S. Pompeo also has a few more countries to visit on this trip, including a stop in Saudi Arabia.
Joining me right now, Jamie Rubin, former U.S. assistant secretary of state under President Clinton and a contributing editor at "Politico." Good to see you.
JAMIE RUBIN, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Nice to be with you.
WHITFIELD: So even though some equipment is being moved out of the country, is it clear at this time what kind of timeline there is, in your view, of a U.S. troop pullout of Syria?
RUBIN: No, I don't think it is clear to anyone involved, even the military, as to exactly what the timeline is. I think what has happened is that the president has reversed course from a policy that existed, where the secretary of state and the national security adviser assured our allies and friends in the region, including the Kurds on the ground, that we were staying for a long period of time in an effort to get Iran out of Syria. That seemed to make sense with President Trump's anti-Iran policy, and everyone thought that's where we were.
Now he's basically saying we are going to get out as soon as we can I think it would probably be the best way to state it. And it depends on what happens with ISIS on the ground. It depends on what agreements the secretary of state can make with our Turkish allies. But it is a pretty serious blow to the friends of the United Nations in the region because, frankly, President Trump had seemed to move forward on Syria with steps that president Obama was not prepared to do, that is bombing Assad and keeping forces in place to try to make sure he didn't stay in power indefinitely. And now that encouraging difference, something that I supported, has been unfortunately weakened.
WHITFIELD: So you say a serious blow to U.S. allies in the region as a result of this. How will the U.S. feel that? It has to be more than just a refusing to meet with, or coming face to face with, but in what other ways might rattling allies impact the U.S.?
RUBIN: Well, basically, what that means is that the countries in the region will increasingly not be able to rely on the United States as a guarantor, as a leader in the region, and they will unfortunately begin to turn more towards Russia, turn more towards China. So for example, there are negotiations going on about what's going to happen in Syria. Those negotiations occur between Turkey, between Russia, and between Iran. And those are the countries that seem to have the most influence on the developments in the region. Russia, which previously was not in the Middle East at all and was considered irrelevant, is now seen as a far more important broker for developments in the region. So that's an example of how loss of confidence from this kind of decision.
WHITFIELD: So just recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Egypt, and no one really can forget what was said and what that moment was like when President Obama addressed Egyptians in Cairo. But when Mike Pompeo went there, he directly criticized the president, President Obama, and what he said, and his Middle East policy.
[14:45:09] Have a listen to what Mike Pompeo said, and his comments are also followed by "The New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman, who made no bones about how he viewed all of that. But listen to both of these men.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: He told you that radical Islamist terrorism does not stem from an ideology. He told you that 9/11 led my country to abandon its ideals, particularly in the Middle East. He told you that the United States and the Muslim world need, quote, a new beginning, end of quote. The results of these misjudgments have been dire.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN, "NEW YORK TIMES" COLUMNIST: You think your job as secretary of state is to go to the Arab world, dump on, piss on the previous president while you're there, and proclaim that you figured it all out because you figured out that the really right U.S. policy is to support every Arab tyrant who has in jail thousands of not Islamic radicals but young democracy advocating people, particularly in a country like Egypt, if you think that is the most brilliant policy, and that we're not going to pay for that down the road, then you're a complete idiot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So then, Jamie, under what circumstances does a U.S. cabinet member go overseas and criticize a U.S. president, past or present?
RUBIN: It doesn't hasn't very often. It's really not, at least previously, the last decade, things have changed a little bit, but prior to that, when I certainly served in office, we considered it just a flat no-no to use a foreign platform as a way to pursue partisan politics. And what's particularly troubling about this is I believe that a
strong American role in the world is a good thing. I believe it's a good thing when America leads, And particularly in the Middle East. And what I found the most troubling about Secretary Pompeo's comments was that he played into this idea that everything that happens bad in the Middle East is America's fault. Essentially, he was blaming America for the problems in Iraq, for the problems in Syria, for the problems in Iran. and those aren't America's problems. Maybe President Obama's policies weren't perfect, and I certainly didn't agree with all of them. But they weren't the reason why the Middle East is going through this difficult, chaotic period. It's more a function of our adversaries, Iran, and Russia, that have caused the Middle East to be such a disaster.
And for the secretary of state to misidentify the problem, diagnose the problem as an American president is what we used to call the blame America first crowd, and that used to be a charge Republicans made against Democrats. And I think it's fair to say that on this trip in this way, in this speech, Secretary Pompeo joins the blame America first crowd, and that's not normally the role of the secretary of state.
WHITFIELD: All right, Jamie Rubin, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.
RUBIN: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.
[14:52:48] WHITFIELD: President Trump is demanding Democrats come back to Washington to end a stalemate over border wall funding. But as CNN's Gary Tuchman reports, a local sheriff tasked with protecting parts of the southern border in Texas, says he doesn't want a wall.
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GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Keith Hughes is a border county sheriff in remote Terrell County, Texas, where illegal immigration apprehensions have substantially increased over the last year.
How big of a problem do you think illegal immigration is?
KEITH HUGHES, TERRELL COUNTY SHERIFF: I think it's going to devastate our country one of these days if we don't do something about it, if it hasn't already.
TUCHMAN: No county on America's southern border gave Donald Trump a bigger win on Election Day than Terrell County. Sheriff Hughes voted for him.
HUGHES: I support him 100 percent. I think he is doing a great job myself.
But the president during his Oval Office speech says professionals want and need a wall. Do you want and need a wall in your county?
HUGHES: No, sir, we do not, either one. Do not want one. Do not need one.
TUCHMAN: That's because he says they already have one, a natural one, the Rio Grande, which separates the U.S. and Mexico.
This stop sign, there may be no more mandatory stop sign in the world, because if you don't stop here, it's about a 300 foot drop to the Rio Grande, which means it's 300 feet up.
The sheriff and others here call these cliffs "God's wall," which lines the river throughout most of Terrell County. That's why the sheriff has also thought the concept of a continuous border wall made little sense. Other parts of the counties border, though, are level as the Rio Grande runs through heavy brush.
In a flat area like this where it's easier to cross the river, different than where we were before, and you have this money, would you use any of it for a wall, or would you take all the money and use it for more people more technology?
HUGHES: I wouldn't use it for a wall. I would use all the money for technology and people. That money could be better spent on those situations instead of a wall.
TUCHMAN: Sheriff Hughes says every dime received should be spent on law enforcement and technology. Terrell County has a small population, but it's about 2,400 square miles. The sheriff only has four deputies, and there are very few border patrol agents. Most of the time, it's only cows observing migrants swimming across the Rio Grande.
[14:55:03] HUGHES: The hell with the wall for right now. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. If it's not, it's not. But we need to quit dwelling on the wall and deal with what we're dealing with right now.
TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Terrell County, Texas.
WHITFIELD: Thanks so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. See you again tomorrow. The news continues right after this.
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JOSH BLUE, COMEDIAN: There is no better feeling in the world than making a roomful of strangers laugh, and being heard. And as a disabled person, I feel like a lot of times, we don't get to be heard. I'm a comedian that happens to have cerebral palsy.
I do have some CDs and DVDs and t-shirts. And I also have some handicap placards.
BLUE: The way that my body works, people are always going to stare at me. I was like, well, then I might as well give them something to stare at.
Why can't Spiderman have cerebral palsy?
BLUE: The thing about my comedy and my life is that I'm so comfortable with my disability, that you don't have a right to be uncomfortable.
You leave my show with a different perspective of disability. I've done over probably 2,000 shows all over the world.
Do you have some type of brain injury? I was like, does it show?
BLUE: Standup is my first love. I would really love to help bring disability into the limelight and keep breaking down the stereotypes of what disability is.