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Kirsten Gillibrand Enters Presidential Race; ISIS Claims Responsibility for Bombing Killing U.S. Troops. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 16, 2019 - 16:30   ET



BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: People suddenly thrown to the ground, devastation in this commercial area, where U.S. troops had been on what the U.S. military called a routine patrol.

But CNN has learned from U.S. officials the troops had a civilian intelligence expert with them, hoping to collect information about security and adversaries in the area.

Two U.S. troops, along with that civilian intelligence expert and a contractor, were killed. Three service members were wounded.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan offering condolences.

PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Allow me to extend on behalf of the Department of Defense our thoughts and prayers to the families and team members of those killed and wounded during today's attack.

STARR: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who criticized President Trump's original announcement withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, worries it all may have encouraged adversaries.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: My concern about the statements made by President Trump is you would set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we're fighting. And, as they get bolder, the people we're trying to help are going -- going to get more uncertain.

STARR: The U.S. has not said who is responsible, although ISIS quickly claimed responsibility.

Shortly after the military acknowledged the attack, Vice President Mike Pence, making no mention of the dead troops, sticking to the White House talking point.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated.

STARR: Pence later issued a statement expressing condolences and clarifying there are still remnants of ISIS in Syria.

The military, for its part, has told the president ISIS is not defeated, pushing back against Trump's claim in recent weeks.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have won against ISIS. We have beaten them and we have beaten them badly.

STARR: But the consequences of the withdrawal now becoming more clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Losing territory does not end groups historically. It just means they have to shift strategy to a guerrilla-style campaign. And that is exactly what ISIS has now done.


STARR: And, tonight, two U.S. officials tell CNN there are no plans to change President Trump's withdrawal plan from Syria -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks so much.

CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is on the ground for us in Northern Syria right now.

Clarissa, you been to Syria more than a dozen times. You were down the street from where that blast happened just a few days ago. Are you surprised by the brazenness and the lethality of today's attack?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I would say I'm surprised, in the sense that Manbij was liberated back in September of 2016. So it's been quite some time since Kurdish-led forces took control of that town.

I'm surprised also, in the sense that there's a U.S. base just on the outskirts of the town. We also went and drove right by that, the U.S. flag flying there. There's a significant U.S. presence.

And I'm also surprised, given that we haven't seen anything on the scale of this in terms of an attack, a brazen attack like this on coalition forces. But I'm not surprised, because I can tell you, Jake, the city was very tense when we visited.

We have been hearing from Kurdish officials, both civilian and military, that there are ISIS sleeper cells throughout the country. Manbij is nowhere near the front lines, Jake, but it doesn't matter. There are still people sympathetic to ISIS working within their networks who are lurking in these towns, Jake.

TAPPER: And, obviously, we still don't know definitively who carried out this horrific attack. It could be ISIS. It could be another group. We don't know. ISIS has claimed responsibility, but provided no proof.

Still, Vice President Pence said ISIS had been defeated. What do the coalition partners you speak with on the ground in Syria think? Do they believe that ISIS has been defeated?

WARD: No, they don't believe that, Jake.

And I can tell you, because our crew was down on the front lines today, we saw for ourselves mortars being fired off, airstrikes being called in, entire towns that the SDF, the Kurdish-led forces, wanted to completely avoid, because they are so concerned about the plethora of ISIS sympathizers and ISIS sleeper cells that are still prevalent throughout vast tracts of the country.

ISIS is still a very real threat here. And the real concern that we're hearing over and over again on the ground, Jake, is that when U.S. troops withdraw, a power vacuum is created, and that only gives them more strength, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Clarissa Ward in Northern Syria, stay safe, and thank you.

Let's discuss this all with former CIA and FBI counterterrorism official Phil Mudd, as well as Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, a retired brigadier general, who served as assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs under President George W. Bush.

General, let me start with you.

What do you make of this attack? Obviously, there are going to be all sorts of individual players and groups that want the U.S. to be there, don't want the U.S. to be there. How do you interpret it?


BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR PLANS AND STRATEGY: Well, I think, first, we have got to wait to see what the intelligence says.

Was this ISIS? Obviously, they want to kill Americans. They want to kill anybody they can. Was this an organization that wanted to get the Americans out? Was this an organization that wanted to get -- keep the Americans in?

We don't know. But we have really got to explain to the American people why we lost two American soldiers and two other Americans today.

TAPPER: And, Phil, take a listen to President Trump. He often criticized President Obama for telegraphing military movements and maneuvers to our enemies ahead of time. Take a listen.


TRUMP: Well, one of the things I think you have noticed about me is, militarily, I don't like to say where I'm going and what I'm doing.

And I watched past administrations say, we will attack at such and such a day, at such and such an hour. I'm not saying I'm doing anything one way or the other.


TAPPER: But, obviously, he did by saying that he was going to bring U.S. troops home immediately. Do you think that possibly created a situation on the ground where

this attack -- obviously, the attack -- I just want to clear the attack is the responsibility and the fault of the terrorist groups. But does announcing such a military withdrawal create conditions in which attacks like this happen?


I do think there's a simpler way to understand this, assuming, as the general said, that we get intelligence that indicates that ISIS was responsible for this.

Look, going back three or four years, Jake, ISIS was on the ascendance, not only in Syria, but also in Iraq. They have been damaged mightily, especially geographically. They hold very little space anymore.

One thing you want to do if you're a terrorist group is to maintain relevance. And one way to do that, if you can't attack in a city, that is, conventionally, is suicide bombers. I think in some ways this is an indication of ISIS' weakness. They want to maintain relevance. One way to do that is to kill American soldiers with the cheapest thing for a terrorist group. That's a suicide bomber.

That said, one final comment. If you're going to whack President Obama for calling ISIS a J.V. team, you can't then stand up and say, when ISIS has a presence in places like Africa and Afghanistan, in addition to Syria and Iraq, that they're defeated.

The answer is, they're not. And it's not even close.

TAPPER: General, let me ask you, because, politically, there are going to be people who say, see -- like Lindsey Graham, see, this is why we shouldn't announce a withdrawal. This is why we shouldn't even withdraw, because the fight is still there. ISIS is still there.

There are also going to be millions of Americans who say, this is why the president is right. We shouldn't be there. Bring our boys home. Why are they even there to begin with?

KIMMITT: No, I think that's right.

And this was somewhat of a theoretical argument over the last couple of weeks, as people were debating, should we come, should we go, should we stay or should we go?

But the fact is, we just lost four Americans. And I think it's time to have a healthy debate. In my view, there are as many reasons to stay as there are to go. My major concern was that, by staying, we may be signing ourselves up for a 10-year mission.

TAPPER: And, Phil, the White House says there are no plans to reverse the plan for withdrawal.

What do you think the lesson of this attack is? And what do you think the U.S. should do? MUDD: There's a simple solution to -- or a simple question that any

American should ask. What's the likelihood that an American family will be damaged by ISIS operations in Syria? I think relatively low, compared to where we were three years ago.

So I think we ought to get out. But there is one question. And this is where I had had questions about the presidents' approach. Before you get out, you can't do it by tweet. You have conversations with people like the Iraqis and the Turks to say, how do we protect the people who are allied with us when we're in there?

And that's going to take months, not days.

TAPPER: Yes, and there are still a lot of Iraqis and Afghans who we promised we would protect who are not allowed to come into this country. And some of them have even been killed back in Iraq and Afghanistan for cooperating.

Phil Mudd and General Kimmitt, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.

Add another 2020 presidential candidate to the long list, another woman running for president too. At this rate, can Democrats afford to not nominate a female candidate?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead now.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York making it very clear she's ready to take on President Trump, as she enters the 2020 race.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: So, the person in the White House, so to President Trump has chosen to tear this country apart, against all racial lines, all religious lines, every division, every line you can find.

And that is what we have to fight against.


TAPPER: In her first campaign appearances today, Gillibrand also painted herself as a fighter for families and a champion for women.

But will that be enough to distinguish her in what will be a very crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates?

CNN's Athena Jones, who's covering the Gillibrand campaign, picks up our coverage from New York.


GILLIBRAND: I'm going to run for president of the United States.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York making it official, becoming the latest Democrat to enter the 2020 fray.

GILLIBRAND: Because, as a young mom, I will fight for your children as hard as I would fight for my own.

JONES: Gillibrand announced last night she was filing an exploratory committee on CBS' "Late Show," touting her record helping to pass legislation like the 9/11 health care bill and telling host Stephen Colbert what she would do as president on day one.

GILLIBRAND: Well, the first thing I would do is restore what's been lost, the integrity and the compassion of this country. I would bring people together to start getting things done.

JONES: Colbert's set has become a popular spot for Democratic candidates and potential candidates. No surprise, since the Trump- bashing comedian has been the highest-rated late-night host for two years running.


JONES: Gillibrand's announcement comes as her fellow Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio who is also weighing a run is preparing to embark on a listening tour of early primary States beginning later this month.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: I spent my entire Senate career fighting for the dignity of work. As you pointed out, we want to stay by a comfortable margin that Trump had won overwhelmingly.

JONES: Meanwhile, Julian Castro who served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama officially announced he's running over the weekend.

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am a candidate for president of the united states of America.

JONES: And made stops today in New Hampshire, the first in the nation primary state.

CASTRO: Here in New Hampshire, you all take your politics as seriously as we take our barbecue in Texas.

JONES: Another potential contender much buzzed about Texan Beto O'Rourke has slammed President Trump for what he sees as fear- mongering over immigration.

REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D), TEXAS: He has seized this emotional language very effectively, completely irresponsibly, not tethered to the truth.

JONES: But he raised eyebrows when despite having represented a border district for six years in Congress and making the issue front and center on his social media feeds, he could not outline clear proposals how to deal with thorny issues like immigrants who overstay their visas, telling the Washington Post, I don't know and adding it's something we should be debating. Arguing his lack of specifics showed he is being open-minded about solutions.


JONES: And back to Gillibrand for a moment. A source close to her told me the senator believes the lesson learned from the 2018 Midterms when dozens of women ran for political office and one is that women are the future of the Democratic Party and that Democrats need a woman to go against Trump. Gillibrand is heading to Iowa for several stops this weekend to begin making her case to voters in that very important state. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Athena Jones who was covering the Gillibrand campaign for CNN, thank you so much. So Senator Gillibrand made it clear today she plans to take on Trump and as one of her key focal points. Julian Castro also went after the president at a campaign event. How much do you think that that not being Trump, anti-Trump -- anti-Trump message should be the pitch?

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It shouldn't be the entire pitch, Jake. I mean, that's only going to get Democrats so far. You can't continue to just the anti-Trump. You got to be able to talk about the solutions and what actually you will do if you win. How you will govern, how you will look out for the American people. It's clear everybody got the memo. Democrats by and large are anti-Trump. No surprise there. So tell us what you're going to do.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And that's something they can all agree on. The challenge here is that I welcome more people to primaries I think that's a good and healthy process. But they're running against each other for a Democratic nomination. So they need to distinguish themselves. I don't think the identity politics is a winning case for Gillibrand or anyone really. It's about the issues. And I think we certainly have immigration. We have an income inequality. We have gay rights or some of these issues that some of these candidates are coming for.

They need to show the contrast. They have to show that they have a great personal story, they have a political ideology that connects, and the power to connect. Because at the end of the day, they had to take on Donald Trump and he's going to be a tough challenge.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And I think you know, it's kind of intellectually lazy at this point to label anything that has to do with womenhood or LGBTQIA or anything with black and brown people as identity politics. The only bucket of identity politics that have been acceptable over the last four years are folks who are targeting white blue-collar workers or white conservatives that support Donald Trump, or you know anyway, the alt-right as it's been called. So I think it's unfortunate for us to continue to marginalize those issues in that way. TAPPER: Well, let me ask you let me ask you a question. Kirsten

Gillibrand when she was a member the House representing the Albany area, she was much more conservative than she is now. She had an A rating from the NRA, she talked about sanctuary cities. You know, then she became the Senator of New York who became more progressive. How much would that -- how much should it damaged her? Are people not allowed to evolve and change?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. So she is the only person player to go from A rating from the NRA to resistance hero, right? But look, she is doing the straddle that both parties have to do which is you have to take care of the base and you do have to speak to a more middle America more conservative, more working- class and a lot of white voters that the Democrat Party lost in the last election.

She had more credibility doing that when she was more conservative but she has laid the groundwork for a long time. I will give her that. So it looks more like a genuine evolution than it does super expedient. And I think she also has -- she could be potentially sort of a #MeToo candidate because she's been very consistent on those issues and in the Democratic primary those fights could get a little ugly but that could be something that she could -- she could press some advantage on.

STEWART: Clearly her team made the calculation which I don't think it's a bad one when you're talking about the primary, is to go and being more moderate candidate to more far left for the race for the Democratic nomination. But have -- you know, make no mistake about it. Whoever once they do win their nomination, they're going to go more to the middle to take on --

[16:50:18] TURNER: I mean she did ask. I mean, at least I read that she asked Wall Street for permission first. I mean, she went to court some of her Wall Street folks. So you know --

TAPPER: But she does Wall Street. We should also point out.

TURNER: I understand but first go to the -- to the everyday people in the country before you go to Wall Street.

TAPPER: OK. Well, I want to point out --

HAM: Our lines are forming.

TAPPER: Well, that's fair enough. There is a historical nature of this. There will -- there will probably be five women candidates. We already have Gillibrand, Warren, and Kamala Harris as definitely running. And then you see Amy Klobuchar thinking seriously about it, Tulsi Gabbard has said she's definitely running. This is the first time in American history that more than one woman is running for the nomination of a party. Now we have potentially five.

RYE: Yes. And just to be clear, Kamala Harris has not formally announced.

TAPPER: Not yet.

RYE: But she --

TAPPER: We all expect that she will.

RYE: -- may be tiptoeing and hinting and there may be in an announcement on Dr. King's birthday.

TAPPER: She wrote -- she wrote a book. She wrote a book.

RYE: I mean, not everybody who writes books were --

TAPPER: OK. Let's take the leap of faith that she's going to run. Now, we have five women theoretically. That's big.

RYE: And potentially first black woman, the last black woman who ran for president and had a decent chance was up against a historic amount of misogyny and sexist. I'm thinking about Shirley Chisholm who has inspired so many of us. So Kamala Harris is --

TAPPER: I can't believe you're ignoring (INAUDIBLE).

RYE: I was -- I said -- I meant to said first. Maybe I didn't say first but I was thinking about what she was up against. It's the first black woman in that role seriously is significant.

TURNER: And she made it very clear that she wasn't -- you know, that she was proud of being a black American and proud of being a woman, but that she was running for the people and that's really a message of all the candidates.

HAM: She also has the greatest portrait in the Capitol.

RYE: Oh, no question.

TAPPER: Shirley Chisholm?

HAM: Yes.

TAPPER: Let's bring it back to 2020, away from 72.

STEWART: And I'll say this from the -- for the Democrats. The good thing is these are not just people that check the woman box and say I'm running for president. They're all each and every one of them are good and strong and solid candidates. I will acknowledge the Democrats have a strong bench, a lot of good qualified candidates. But at the end of the day, it will be a difficult challenge taking on Trump but we do have a lot of good --

TAPPER: Yes. This is a good -- I think the Republicans had impressive stable candidates last time around. I think the Democrats is going to have that next time around. Coming up next, how what's happening in the South Pole right now could leave the Brooklyn bridge theoretically underwater. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:55:00] TAPPER: Clashes during the confirmation hearing today for the President's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, first from protesters and from Democrats who challenge Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler support for erasing environmental regulations. Some of these moves specifically helping the coal industry where Wheeler once worked as the former coal lobbyist defended the EPA. Two new studies this week should serve as a warning to those at the agency and around the world.

CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Gray has the alarming report in our Earth Matter Series.


JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: A pair of dire new report show that right now the world has both the warmest oceans and the greatest loss of Antarctic ice ever measured. The 2018 record for ocean temperature breaking the one set just the year before continuing a dramatic and dangerous pattern of warming water temperatures according to international scientists. Also, University of California Irvine Researchers say Antarctica is losing 252 billion tons of ice per year, a huge jump from about 40 years ago where it lost 40 billion tons a year. Most of the increase occurring in just the last 20 years.

ERIC RIGNOT, SCIENTIST AND PROFESSOR, UC IRVINE: This is just the beginning. We know that the system will eventually lose more and more ice each time. So we see sort of a wake-up call.

GRAY: Scientist Eric Rignot helped author the report and says the most significant discovery is where the ice is melting. Ice lost has been well documented in west Antarctica, but now the east. Once thought to be less vulnerable to climate change is melting too.

RIGNOT: Imagine a big balloon of water above your house and you find a couple of leaks and some years later you realize it's not just a couple of leaks. There are leaks almost everywhere and at some point, that balloon is going to fall apart.

GRAY: The result could be catastrophic. Antarctic holds the majority of the world's most fresh water. If melted, the average sea level would rise more than 180 feet. Enough to drown the Brooklyn Bridge. To help save up more melt, Rignot says we must take significant steps to reduce our carbon footprint.

RIGNOT: As soon as possible to alleviate the worst case scenario. It can still be done.


GRAY: And with warmer ocean water comes more moisture in the atmosphere, meaning more rainfall within these hurricanes and trop cat systems. And Jake, we'll also going to see more intense wildfire seasons as well just as we have already seen there 2018.

TAPPER: Yes. It's happening right in front of our eyes. Jennifer Gray, thank you so much. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching.