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Service Members Killed in Syria; Pelosi Asks to Move State of the Union; Impact of Shutdown at Airports; Impact of Shutdown on the Coast Guard; Impact of Shutdown on Tax Returns; Negative Economic Impact Grows. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 16, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much and thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today. Have a great afternoon. Don't go anywhere, Brianna Keilar continues our coverage right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, horror in Syria. American service members killed in a bombing in the first attack since the president announced U.S. troops are pulling out of Syria.

The economic strain of the shutdown spreading coast to coast and the president tells his supporters prepare for the long haul.

Plus, as two western democracy suffer political chaos, Vladimir Putin is smiling and Moscow today supporting President Trump amid suspicions of being a Russian asset.

And as another Democratic woman enters the presidential race, mounting pressure on Bernie Sanders to stay out.

Up first, U.S. service members are among several people killed in a horrific bomb explosion in Syria. And I do want to warn you that the video we are about to show you is graphic. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack in the Syrian city of Manbij, and surveillance video caught the very moment of the explosion.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that at least eight people were killed. The U.S.-led coalition has not said how many of the dead are American service members. An ISIS affiliated agency says that a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest carried out this attack.

I want to bring in chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward. She is in northern Syria. We also have our CNN military analyst, Major General James "Spider" Marks in New York with us.

Clarissa, to you first. Tell us the latest here on the casualties and this claims of responsibility by ISIS.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, Turkish President Recep Erdogan is saying that at least 20 people were killed in this attack. We can't confirm that. We've been making calls all night here. But as you can imagine, there's a state of real confusion and chaos and sadness because of the scale of this attack.

Now, we were in the town of Manbij just three days ago. We were walking along right by that restaurant where you saw that incredibly powerful blast take place. It's on a bustling street. It's next to the sukh (ph), or the old market. And there is, Brianna, a U.S. base just on the outskirts of town. We drove past that base. The United States flag is flying above that base, although it is not clear whether the servicemen who were killed in the blast were, in fact, affiliated with the men of that base.

The town of Manbij was liberated from ISIS in September of 2016, but I think really what this illustrates is that even after you liberate these towns in Syria, and we have seen Kurdish-led forces doing just that --

KEILAR: All right, I'm going to bring General Marks in as we try to re-establish Clarissa's signal there.

This video is awful, general, as you see, but it's also interesting to talk big picture here because CNN is reporting that President Trump was warned that ISIS is not defeated when he visited Iraq over the holidays. Senator Lindsay Graham says the president's withdrawal announcement may have emboldened ISIS. Listen to what he said just a short time ago.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: My concern about the statements made by President Trump is that you have set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we're fighting. You make people we're trying to help wonder about us. And as they get bolder, the people we're trying to help are going to get more uncertain. I saw this in Iraq. And I'm now seeing it in Syria.


KEILAR: And he's so somber as he says that. What did you make of those comment, general?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, there's an alternative view. I think Senator Graham is correct, that's one potential motivation is to announce the departure of U.S. troops, and that emboldens our enemies. The alternative view, however, and I seem -- I think it seems rather odd that our enemies would execute an attack like that now because that might alter the outcome. It's not inconceivable that the president and the Department of Defense might come back, the national security apparatus and the right decision might be, let's not depart now. We haven't accomplished the task. And we've seen it play out in horrendous living color, like we just saw in the town of Manbij. It's to our advantage to stay the course, reconsider this decision.

Now, I'm not optimistic that that will be the outcome. But if I was on the side of either ISIS or our other enemies, and bear in mind, Syria is just this entire mess in this mix of Assad's forces and then what you see in terms of ISIS, the Russian presence, you certainly -- you know, the wildcard, sadly, is our NATO ally, Turkey. I don't know what the clear attribution is right now. We'll come to the conclusion. But I would think that our enemies might lay low and remain quite while the United States makes this exit and then they would start to act up. It always is more difficult to come back in afterwards.

[13:05:28] KEILAR: That is a very good point.

In a speech at the State Department today, the vice president said, quote, the caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated. That is something --


KEILAR: That sort of is what President Trump initially said, but that's -- but that's not the case.

MARKS: Yes, the juxtaposition of those words and this image is very hard to reconcile. You can't -- you can't square that at all.

Look, the caliphate -- the ISIS caliphate has been reduced and it's in a couple of pockets in Syria, but violent extremism exists in multiple forms online. Recruitment takes place. It's vitriolic. It's ever present. And I'm not saying when it's ever going to go away. It's intergenerational. And so you can see incidents like this occurring. So the argument could be, we don't need to be there. It's a total mess. Pull the United States out. Or if we want to try to affect conditions on the ground, we have to be present. We have to be able to have partners that can rely on us, that trust us, listen to our word and can buy into what we are trying to achieve collectively with their help.

KEILAR: All right, General Marks, thank you so much.

And thank you so much to Clarissa Ward, who's been doing tremendous reporting there from Syria for us.

And now to the government shutdown. Day 26. And in the latest twist, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to move the day of the State of the Union Address. She wrote in a letter to President Trump, sadly, given the security concerns and unless the government reopens this week, I suggest we work together to determine another suitable date after the government has re-opened for the address, or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union Address in writing to the Congress on January 29th.

Speaking with reporters, the speaker also made another suggestion to the president.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: This is a housekeeping matter in the Congress of the United States so that we can honor the responsibility of the invitation we extended to the president. He can make it from the Oval Office. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Political grandstanding or is this really justified concern? I pose this question to CNN political commentator and host of CNN's "Smerconish," Michael Smerconish.

And I ask that, Michael, because just the visual if you actually were to have the president go through with this, an Oval Office address or submitting it in writing, that would be extraordinarily and defining. I don't think anyone would pay attention necessarily to what was in the State of the Union.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'll do you one better, he doesn't need to stay relegated to the Oval Office. The Constitution requires him to brief the Congress. And, Brianna, you know the history. Thomas Jefferson delivered it in writing. And for 110-plus years it was then in writing and then shifted back to a presentation to the Congress.

What stops the president of the United States from going to Michigan, or Ohio, or Pennsylvania? You get the theme. Delivering a speech saying this is the state of the union, delivering a written version as well to the Congress and seeking to one up Nancy Pelosi.

You were very careful to read that letter precisely. She didn't disinvite him. I know that some have mischaracterized it as him having been disinvited. But, instead, it is brinksmanship, it's gamesmanship relative to the shutdown. But he loves being the disruptor in chief. And I'm sure at the White House right now they're thinking, what's our next move?

KEILAR: She could disinvite him, though, right, I mean if she wanted to.

SMERCONISH: It's her house. I mean, you know, it's really -- it's really laying down the gauntlet of sorts and reminding him very early in this second half of this first term, you know, who's boss at least in the House of Representatives. So she was laying down a marker in that regard. But I think it's all about trying to bring pressure to bear on him relative to the government shutdown.

I'll tell you one thing I don't think it is. I don't think it's an effort to deny him that moment in the sun because, candidly, he hasn't used it that well. When he had the eight or nine-minute address to the nation carried by all the networks, he was thoroughly unconvincing. I said at the time he should have gone Ross Perot. He should have had charts and graphs and satellite images, and he should have laid out on a map exactly where he says we're vulnerable and made this an evidentiary conversation. He didn't do it then, and I doubt he would do it on January 29, but he might do something now purely for partisan, for political gain by removing it from Washington.

[13:10:09] KEILAR: I've never seen that and I've never seen a State of the Union with charts and graphs. That would be a new one, as well.

When you see the speaker raising the specter of him not coming for his State of the Union while the government is shut down, do you think that that's anything that might backfire on Democrats?

SMERCONISH: Only to the extent that I've referenced that he uses it as a political weapon, but I think it's Speaker Pelosi -- and I'm sure the Democratic base, and I'm sure that her caucus is thrilled by that kind of a show of force. I mean that's exactly what her party has been clamoring for somebody, anybody to emerge who's got the, you know, the guts and the ability to take him on. So I don't see a down side for her. But I do see the president perhaps trying to now use it to his advantage.

KEILAR: All right, Michael Smerconish, thank you for being with us. And you can catch Michael's show --

SMERCONISH: Brianna -- Brianna --


SMERCONISH: Remember -- remember, every moment we talk about the wall, we're not talking about the Mueller probe. And I think that's what's really going on here.

KEILAR: That is a good point indeed.

Your show, sir, and we can catch this, let's bring up that beautiful picture of Michael Smerconish again, Saturdays at 9:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

From coast to coast we see the signs of the shutdown getting worse, and there's no sign of it getting better any time soon. Just a few examples. Tens of thousands of people who work for the IRS, the Coast Guard and the TSA are going to work without pay. Subsidies and loans for farmers and ranchers who are already suffering losses because of the trade war the president has going on with China, they're in limbo. And, today, warnings that economic growth could stall. That is the big warning today.

The shutdown is also causing security concerns. And we begin with Ed Lavandera at the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, at airports across the country we are seeing the effects of this government shutdown really take its toll. A shortage of TSA agents at airports like Washington, Miami, Atlanta, Terminal B of George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston has been shutdown since Sunday afternoon because of the TSA agent shortage. And the executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association says that air travel today is less safe than it was a month ago. And they say that the government shutdown is putting a strain on the air travel system. These are troubling warnings coming from air officials across the country.


KEILAR: Now, the shutdown impact also extends to men and women who protect our waterways. We have Rosa Flores. She's on Miami Beach.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, instead of getting their paychecks yesterday, the U.S. Coast Guard got notice that for the first time in history service members are not being paid. Nearly 42,000 U.S. Coast Guard personnel are active-duty military. They have DOD IDs and e-mails, but their paychecks come from DHS and not the Department of Defense. So their families and these service members are having to rely on the charity of others to make ends meet.


KEILAR: All right, Rosa.

And the tax filing season, it begins in less than two weeks. Did you know that? Well, Jessica Dean sure does. She's here to answer this question for us, will Americans get the tax refunds on time?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a big question. The answer is, yes, Brianna, but there's a stipulation because what it means is the IRS is recalling 36,000 of its workers who are currently furloughed. So they're going to be coming back to work, working without pay in order to get these tax refunds back on time.

I talked to one woman who works for the IRS. She doesn't think she's going to be recalled. She's selling her belongings on FaceBook Marketplace trying to make fast cash. She also is looking for a second job in the interim. She calls this a slap in the face.

KEILAR: All right. So many -- we've heard that from so many people.

Jessica Dean, thank you. And thanks to everyone there.

Now, the impact of this nearly month-long shutdown, it's extending much farther than the unpaid federal workers. And we've mentioned it on this program before. You've got the impact on federal contractors and others who depend on government workers. We're talking millions of people.

We have Jim Tankersley, h's an economics writer for "The New York Times," to discuss this.

You wrote a great piece today and the president, as you know, and you talk about this, Jim, he often touts the strong economy, but this shutdown is having an effect on the economy. Tell us about it.

JIM TANKERSLEY, TAX AND ECONOMICS REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Absolutely. I mean last year was very likely the strongest year of growth that the U.S. economy has had since the end of the recession. The president loves to talk about it. But his own Council of Economic Advisers has doubled its projections for how much the shutdown is costing America in growth every week to the point where now, if you add it up for the first four weeks of the shutdown, by the White House's own numbers, we're looking at about a half a percentage point off of growth for the first quarter, which is -- that's real money and that's real activity in the economy. And the longer the shutdown persists, then the more damage we'll see.

[13:15:03] KEILAR: So what is the trickle down? Because you say half a percentage point. And we do know that that is significant. But what is -- what is the average American feel from that?

TANKERSLEY: Well that's -- what that is, is that's -- that's government workers and contractors not spending money that they otherwise would have. They're not making a house payment or they're not going out to eat at a restaurant or buying a new car. And if you're someone who has a business that depends upon those workers or those contractors, you might be in danger of going under if you don't see sustained business for a month or so. Those ripple effects then start to widen. If you -- if you're a business that depends on that other business, on and on and on.

And that's before we get to the knock-on effects of like air travel being disrupted. Think of how many business people across the country are flying every day to do business to the point that sort of America's economic wheels are no locker turning the way that they're supposed to because of the shutdown. That could impact activities even more.

KEILAR: Jim, thanks so much. Jim Tankersley with a great piece today that you should definitely check out.

The president's nominee for attorney general distancing himself from comments that he made over a disputed conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton.

Plus, as another Democratic woman joining the race for president, mounting pressure on Bernie Sanders to avoid it.

And a surreal moment in time. Moscow defending the U.S. president against what it calls attacks trying to undermine him. Hear how the Kremlin responded to suspicions that President Trump could be a Russian asset.


[13:20:55] KEILAR: The Senate Judiciary Committee is convening for day two of hearings on the nomination of William Barr for attorney general. And Barr, it's important to point out, isn't actually there himself, but some testimony that he gave Tuesday, that he gave yesterday, is raising some concerns. And this has to do with the Uranium One deal, which was the acquisition of a uranium mining company by a Russian state-owned energy company. The deal was approved by the State Department when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

And this is where the conspiracies begin. Conservatives have alleged that it's corruption. It's a pay to play in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. But there's no evidence to prove that. The Clinton Foundation donor in question didn't stand to make money on the deal at the time that it was made and the Secretary Clinton did not directly go through this -- she didn't direct the approval process, I should say. And this has been widely dismissed by fact checkers as a conspiracy theory.

So here's where Barr comes into play on this. Back in 2017, "The New York Times" reported that Barr had said there was more of a basis for investigating the Uranium One deal than possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. And this is important because Barr's comments suggest that not only does he think an unfounded conspiracy theory is more serious than potential collusion, but it raises question about whether as attorney general me might be willing to investigate the president's rivals, which is something that Trump has repeatedly called for and it's something that he even attacked the former AG, Jeff Sessions, for not doing.

Barr was asked about that "New York Times" report yesterday and he suggested that the paper took him out of context.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: The point I was trying to make there was that whatever the standard is for launching the investigation, it should be dealt with even handedly. Whatever the trigger is should be applied to all.

I have no knowledge of the Uranium One. I didn't particularly think that was necessarily something that should be pursued aggressively.


KEILAR: Now, after that testimony, "New York Times" reporter Peter Baker released the e-mail that he got from Barr back in 2017. And this is exactly what Barr sent him in response to what appears to be an inquiry about the president calling for an investigation of Clinton. This is word for word. It said, there is nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation. Although an investigation shouldn't be launched just because a president wants it, the ultimate question is whether the matter warrants investigation, and I have long believed that the predicate for investigating the uranium deal, as well as the foundation, that's the Clinton Foundation, is far stronger than any basis for investigating so-called collusion. Likewise, the basis for investigating various national security activities carried out during the election as Senator Grassley has been attempting to do. To an extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility.

George Terwilliger knows Barr very well. He's a former deputy attorney general and acting attorney general.

And you just -- you know Barr very well, so it's very important to have you here and talk to you about this.

Help us understand this because he says he was taken out of context, but when you do read the e-mail that he sent to Peter Baker, it does seem that he was taken out of context.

GEORGE TERWILLIGER, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL AND ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes. Well, thank you for having me. I appreciate the opportunity to talk.

Let me make clear, I'm talking for myself, not for Bill.

KEILAR: Sure. That's right.

TERWILLIGER: As well as I -- as I might know him.

That comment and the e-mail, in fact, to me is typical Bill Barr. It's the careful lawyer at work. He's parsing what's the -- first of all, what's the standard? What's the predicate for an investigation? And then based on publicly available information he's comparing the facts of one matter to another matter and saying, in his judgment, he thinks there's more of a predicate for x than there is for y.

I wouldn't read anything into that in terms of his willingness to take direction, to undertake politically motivated investigations. In fact, as I'm sure you did, if you listened to Bill yesterday, I think he made it very clear that nobody's going to tell him what to do when he's running the Justice Department.

[13:25:07] KEILAR: If it doesn't speak to his willingness to say investigate the Clintons or launch into some investigation of President Trump's enemies, does it -- does it speak to his judgment there because when I think of the information that was publicly available at the time, the Uranium One deal had been dismissed as a conspiracy. It -- there are many, many questions about it. And then the question of potential collusion was not settled, still is not settled, but we are seeing things revealed to us even recently that very much hint at collusion with the Trump campaign and Russia.

TERWILLIGER: Well, you packed a lot into your question, Brianna, and --

KEILAR: Well, you said -- I'm just saying, the facts show that one, you know, just with that's publically available, the facts show the Uranium One deal is a conspiracy theory and the other one is certainly not settled.

TERWILLIGER: Well, I think they both could qualify as conspiracy theory. One is being investigated and we're apparently seeing more information about it. The other one hasn't been investigated. I don't know what you mean by the Uranium One deal was dismissed, but I don't --

KEILAR: By fact checkers. So -- but you think he'll -- you think the collusion investigation --

TERWILLIGER: Yes, I don't know.

KEILAR: So do you think the Mueller investigation is a -- looking into a conspiracy theory then?

TERWILLIGER: Well, I mean certainly they're looking -- collusion. The term collusion necessarily --

KEILAR: I don't mean a theory of conspiracy --


KEILAR: I'm talking about a -- just to be clear, a conspiracy theory, a wild, hair brained idea about something that happened that didn't, that's unfounded, but -- TERWILLIGER: So you're using it pejoratively. OK. I was using it legally.

KEILAR: I'm using it -- OK, I'm using -- not a theory of a conspiracy, right?


KEILAR: A conspiracy theory.

TERWILLIGER: I think -- look, I don't know anything about the Mueller investigation and what the facts of the Mueller investigation have shown up, so I'm not going to comment on what it is or what it isn't other than it's ongoing. But --

KEILAR: They've shown his campaign chairman was giving information to Russian oligarchs tied to the Kremlin.

TERWILLIGER: I think what's relevant about the subject matter of Mr. Barr being confirmed to be attorney general is that he has made it very, very clear that he will administer the Justice Department, including the cases that come before it when -- assuming he is confirmed and he's there, he will -- he will make that administration in an even-handed manner based on the facts and whatever the law that's relevant happens to be.

Now, there are judgment calls that need to be made and people, of course, will always disagree with judgments. Or some people usually do. So I separate that from having a commitment to administer the department in an even-handed matter -- manner, rather, that is consistent with the facts -- with the and the law. And I don't think after listening to him yesterday and looking at his record over 30 years, including when he was attorney general before, there can be any doubt about that.

KEILAR: He was asked about the Mueller report and whether he would, upon receiving it, make it public. The question is, what kind of redactions are there going to be? Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, she brought that up today. She pretty much said that her vote is going to come down on how Barr decides to listen to this -- or how he decides to handle this. Let's listen.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: His answers on providing a report to Congress at the end of the special counsel's investigation were confusing. When I first asked him about the report, he said he would make it available. However, it seemed to me that as the day progressed, he referenced writing his own report and treating the Mueller report as confidential.

I am hopeful that that report will be made public and my vote depends on that, Mr. Chairman.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Because there's this argument that is made that if it isn't completely out there and available, that people will look at what is missing, what the redacted from it, what the AG might redact from it and say, this is not the whole story and they might not feel that they can then take that report to the bank. How important is it that he leans on the side of transparency here?

TERWILLIGER: I think it's very important and I think he made very clear yesterday that that was exactly where he was leaning.

I think what Senator Feinstein is talking about is Bill was referencing two parts of the regulation. One that says the special counsel's initial writing will be confidential, and then the opportunity that the regulation presents for the attorney general to make a more fulsome report publicly. And I really think what -- what Mr. Barr was saying and they --

KEILAR: The attorney general's report would be more fulsome?

[13:29:57] TERWILLIGER: It could be. It's up to him what he wants to put in there. And, as you see, he committed very forcefully to as much transparency as the law would allow.