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A.G. Nominee Says Mueller Should Be Allowed to Finish Probe; FBI Debates Whether Trump Followed Russia's Direction; Past Stance on LGBTQ Haunts Tulsi Gabbard after Announcing Presidential Run; Tulsi Gabbard Criticized for Assad Meeting; Turkey Responds to Trump Tweet Vowing to "Economically Devastate" if Kurds Are Attacked; Trump Not Paying Attention to Steve King Racial Comments & McCarthy Vows Action; Massive Teacher Strike in Los Angeles. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 14, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And I know that Barr has sent a letter to Senator Feinstein trying to explain that multi-page letter he sent about obstruction of justice. I think what the Democrats want to know is will he redact large parts of the Mueller report? In this, he says, "I can assure you that where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law."

Well, what are those judgments going to be? We know the White House is probably going to say some of these conversations are privileged and the judgment should be that the public should not be able to see it. And the question is, will he agree?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: So if it's public, but it's marked up and redacted, it's still public, but there's a lot missing.

Watching this moment of the president this morning as he left for New Orleans, Eliana, and he had to answer a question from this reporter about this report over the weekend that the FBI had opened an investigation into whether he was a Russian asset, among a range of possibilities. How extraordinary was it that the president has to stand there and say, I don't work for Russia?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Clearly, an extraordinary moment. I think two things to note. First of all, this feeds into the president's preexisting belief that there's a deep state that was out to get him that didn't want him to win this election during the 2016 campaign. We've heard the president already say things like that. Second, it's very clear that this was opened by the FBI before Mueller was appointed. This is an investigation that Bob Mueller took over when he was appointed special counsel after Comey was fired, and something that he will clearly be looking into.

I think what the Democrats want to hear from Bill Barr are firm commitments about how he will handle the Mueller report. Bill Barr doesn't know -- none of us know what's going to be in that Mueller report, and it's going to be difficult to extract concrete, 100 percent firm commitments from him because none of us know what's going to be in that report. So I think that will be a sticking point in the hearings going forward. BORGER: It's kind of like asking a Supreme Court justice who comes up

for Congress --


BORGER: -- how are you going to rule on an imaginary case that comes up to you? Or Roe v. Wade, that's precedent, right? You just don't know in the end how they're going to rule. And I think that's kind of where you are with Barr.

KEILAR: Let's talk about Tulsi Gabbard. She is running for president, Democratic Congresswoman from Hawaii. She announced on Van Jones' show on CNN. People are surprised to learn she has these past stances on LGBTQ that are coming back to haunt her. Her father was an anti-gay activist. He promoted conversion therapy, which is considered unethical by the mental health community and is banned in many states. She actually worked with him and she supported these views when she was a young person, when she was running for the state legislature.

And in 2004, she said this about same-sex marriage. Quote, "As Democrats, we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists."

She apologized for this, Eliana, back in 2012, when she was running for Congress. But now everything is coming back up, of course, as it always does with any candidate. Is this going to be disqualifying for her for Democratic voters, do you think?

JOHNSON: I don't think it's going to be disqualifying, but I absolutely think she's going to have to reckon with these remarks. Gabbard is only 37 years old, and she was the youngest member ever elected to the state assembly in Hawaii. As a result, the comments that she made were when she was 21 years old. I think that may make it slightly easier for her to shove this aside depending how she deals with this. But 2004 wasn't that long ago.

I think that will make it a little bit trickier. But this isn't the only thing Gabbard will have to reckon with. She is very hawkish when it comes to terrorism, though she's generally anti-interventionist. So there are two issues where she is going to swim against the mainstream of the Democratic Party. And I think it will be a tough row to hoe. Again, she's only 37 years old, and generally, you know, not all that experienced in politics, so I think it will be a challenging run for her.

KEILAR: She went, in 2017, Gloria -- this is going to be another issue -- to visit with Bashar al Assad in Syria. This trip has already come back to bite her. When she takes on President Trump over his coziness with dictators, people will say, hello, you went to Syria to meet with a dictator.

BORGER: And she was criticized by Democrats at the time.

KEILAR: She did apologize. BORGER: She did, but how many apologies can you make for bad

judgment? She was criticized. Democrats continue to criticize her. She didn't do it with anybody's permission. And I think meeting with a brutal dictator like Assad, particularly given current affairs right now, particularly given a president who, as you point out, has been criticized for cozying up to dictators. I think she will not only be criticized within the Democratic Party, but I think it makes her a less effective candidate. She can't position herself against Trump about meeting with dictators when, in fact, she's done it herself. So, you know, I think she has -- she's going to have some problems.

[13:35:18] KEILAR: She's inoculated him on that one.

BORGER: Right.

KEILAR: Gloria Borger, Eliana Johnson, thank you, guys.


KEILAR: President Trump threatening a NATO ally, saying the U.S. will devastate Turkey's economy if they kill the Kurds in Syria. We are there. CNN is there. We're talking to them.

Plus, the House Republican leader meeting with Congressman Steve King about racist remarks that he made. Hear how the president just responded to this firestorm.


[13:40:18] KEILAR: Turkey is firing back at President Trump today after he sent out a threatening tweet vowing to economically devastate the NATO ally if they attack Kurds in Syria after a U.S. withdrawal. The Turkish minister saying, quote, "Strategic partners or allies don't communicate on Twitter or any other social media platform."

The U.S. partnered with the Kurds in this fight against ISIS in Syria, but Turkey considers the Kurds a terrorist organization.

CNN Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is in Syria for us.

Clarissa, how have the Kurds been reacting to the U.S. planning to bring troops out?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think there's been a lot of confusion, Brianna, as people here try to get their head around what this means, when the U.S. is leaving, how the U.S. is leaving, what they're leaving behind, what they're willing to guarantee their Kurdish allies on the ground, who are the ones that have been fighting and dying on the front lines in the battle with ISIS. People who we've spoken to here were definitely pleased when President Trump tweeted early or overnight that President Erdogan would face economic devastation if Turkey tries to attack the Kurds.

But they still have a lot of concerns. And there are more guarantees they would like to see from the U.S. Take a look. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


WARD (voice-over): In Kobani, the graves of Kurdish fighters are still fresh. And 27-year-old Mahmoud Rasoul (ph) was killed less than two weeks ago in an ISIS ambush near the town of Deir ez-Zor.

"Get up, get up, my son, I beg you," his mother, Meshma (ph), weeps.

These are the people left behind to mourn. Now they are bracing for the moment they will be left behind again as the U.S. begins to withdraw its forces from Syria.

"They got what they wanted. They used the Kurds to get rid of ISIS, and now they're leaving us," Meshma (ph) says. "America was supposed to have our back."

(on camera): Almost every family in this town has lost someone in this war. And the very real fear here now is that when the Americans leave, there will be war here once again.

(voice-over): Just across the border is Turkey, which views the Syrian Kurds as terrorists. To the West is the brutal regime of Bashar al Assad and its Russian and Iranian backers.

Kurdish military commander, Shandar Farweesh (ph), tells us the Americans provided the Kurds with a buffer. In return, the Kurds took the fight to ISIS.

"After all those years that we fought terrorism together," he says, "it's their minimum duty to help guarantee our security."

He takes us to the town of Arima, where the intricate patchwork of different powers can be seen close up.


WARD (on camera): So the regime and the Russians are just over there.


WARD: And the Turks are over there.



WARD (voice-over): We drive closer to the joint Russian regime base, but it's too dangerous to stop.

Less than five minutes away, the Americans are still flying their flag, but it won't be there for long. U.S. military hardware is already beginning to move out.

No one knows what comes next for the Kurds.

On the road back to Kobani, we happened upon a funeral.


WARD: Two Kurdish security officers killed by a roadside bomb, a reminder of the daily dangers faced here.


WARD: After an exhausting battle against ISIS, the Kurds may now have to defend themselves against more powerful enemies alone.


WARD: Many people now think that the Kurds will essentially be forced to make some kind of a deal with the regime of Bashar al Assad and with its sponsors in the form of Iran and Russia.

You may remember, Brianna, just a few months ago, national security adviser, John Bolton, saying Russia is not leaving until Iran leaves. Now Mike Pompeo conceding that that was an ambitious plan to try to get Iran out of the picture in Syria. And with the U.S. leaving, you can be sure that Iran will maximize on that opportunity -- Brianna?

[13:45:04] KEILAR: Will the U.S. be able to enforce safe zones, Clarissa?

WARD: Well, this is a question that everybody is asking themselves. Because the president included in his tweeted this idea of some kind of a 20-mile safe zone right along the border. People here want to know who would be in charge of that border. Who would be essentially patrolling and monitoring what goes on in that safe zone?

They're hoping this would amount to a de facto no fly zone of sorts that would guarantee protection from Turkish authorities. But given that President Erdogan has already come out and says he also supports the safe zone, I think it's a safe assumption that this will not be any kind of no-fly zone and that Turkey will probably have some kind of role in implementing it. But so far, we don't have any details on what the president meant by that -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Clarissa Ward, in Syria, thank you.

Will the Republican congressman who made racist remarks be punished? Steve King meeting his top Republican, the top Republican in the House. Hear what's happening there.

Plus, more on the extraordinary news that the president of the United States had to deny that he's a Russian agent, as we learn about an FBI investigation and a report that President Trump concealed details of his talks with Vladimir Putin.


[13:50:52] KEILAR: President Trump made a stunning claim to reporters today, saying he hasn't been paying attention to the growing controversy swirling around Republican Congressman Steve King and his comments about white nationalism.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I haven't been following it. I really haven't been.


KEILAR: Well, Congressman King is scheduled to meet with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy today. McCarthy vowing, quote, "action will be taken," over King's comments.

In remarks to "The New York Times," King questioned why white nationalism and white supremacy are considered offensive.

We have CNN Politics Congressional Reporter, Lauren Fox, with us to talk about this.

It's almost unfathomable that this hasn't really registered for the president, but when Republican leaders are looking at possible sanctions or taking King to task, what are they thinking?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: We'll know more tonight after the meeting with Leader McCarthy. But one of the options they have is that they can take away key committee assignments. That's the bread and butter for members of Congress. That's how they get money back to their districts, pass legislation they believe in.

That is a key way that McCarthy could rebuke Steve King. And that's what folks in the Congressional Black Caucus have called for. But there are also other options. They could censure him on the floor of the House. Many view that as a very political move. It means that somebody has to sit in the well of the House of Representatives and listen as they are read what they've done wrong basically.

It's a very embarrassing situation. It has happened more than 20 times in the history of Congress, but it's still rare. So those are a couple of options at leadership's disposal. But there are Republicans and Democrats who are opposed to what Steve King has said. Both sides coming out strongly against it. And I think that shows you where his comments fall. Because it's not very often that Pelosi and McCarthy agree on something.

KEILAR: And the committee, Steve King does stand to be in a good position here, right? When it comes to a committee assignment?

FOX: Right. He is on key committees, including Judiciary, which is the place where, you know, he stands to have a ranking member job on the subcommittee. So that is a key powerful place that he could be. Obviously, it would be bad for him if it was taken away from him.

KEILAR: Lauren Fox, thanks so much. Great report. Will Democrats subpoena the interpreter inside the president's

mysterious chat with Vladimir Putin? We'll ask one of the lawmakers making that decision, next.

Plus, in a bizarre appearance on FOX, the president singles out a private citizen, then praises the "National Enquirer," a tabloid which has flipped on him. We're going to break down that interview.


[13:58:10] KEILAR: California's largest utility company has announced it will file for bankruptcy. Pacific Gas & Electric faces billions of dollars in claims over the deadliest fire in state history, the Camp Fire. It was believed this fire was started when a PG&E powerline came into contact with nearby trees. That fire killed 86 people and destroyed 14,000 homes. Shares plunged nearly 50 percent on that bankruptcy announcement.

A mass walkout in Los Angeles, 32,000 teachers are on strike. And that leaves 2,400 substitutes to fill in. And 600,000 kids are required to be at school. What does this equal? One very big mess.

CNN Correspondent, Stephanie Elam, is there.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Behind me, at this high school here in Los Angeles, this is just some of the 32,000 teachers and their supporters who have turned out to strike today. They are protesting, among other things, the fact they want a pay raise. They've been working since July 2017 without a contract. They've been negotiating with the school district, LAUSD, and that broke down on Friday. And so now they're out here. Also wanting to see that class sizes are reduced and kept smaller. They want nurses at the schools here as well. These are all some of the things that they're looking for.

On the other side, LAUSD says while they right now do have a surplus in their budget, they know in a couple of years they will run out of that money. And if they were to meet these demands at this point, they say it would just speed up that process.

There has been an impasse and now teachers are at the point where they're saying they have to be out here. They have to be striking to really get people to focus on what their concerns are.


[13:59:56] KEILAR: Stephanie Elam, thank you for that report.

And that's it for me.

"NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.