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School Tied to Viral Rally Video Closed Due to Security Concerns; NYT: Putin Ally May Benefit from Trump Administration's Sanctions Deal; Seth Jones Says Pompeo Wrong, ISIS Not Defeated Though Caliphate Lost Most Territory It Controlled. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired January 22, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:33:04] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The Kentucky school attended by the students involved in the encounter with a Native American elder, that video stirred outrage on social media. That school is closed today after saying that it received threats.

CNN national correspondent, Sara Sidner, has been following this story from the beginning.

Sara, what kind of threats are we talking about here?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The school hasn't said exactly what kind of threats. We have heard from the students. We've heard from Nick Sandmann, the student at the center of the viral video. In a statement, he said he and his family had been receiving threats. We heard from another student who says he was not there at the actual incident but that he attends a school and that someone had said that a bunch of students, they hoped, would put them all inside the school and burn the school down. Things like that we are hearing from the students.

And we are hearing from the school saying just, for safety purposes, they have gotten the authorities involved and they want to make sure that they have a secure setting for the students and teachers to come and go forward with the work of being a student and teacher. So they are being very clear that they want to make sure they have a safety apparatus that is set up -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Overnight, there's still more to this story. Sara, overnight, we learned Twitter suspended the account that helped ignite this controversy. What are you learning about that account?

SIDNER: It's interesting. Great reporting from Daniel Sullivan (ph), who tends to look at the social media issues here. One of the accounts is @2020Fights. So the way it was framed by the account -- which turned out to be an account that Twitter said this doesn't look right. It is someone else's picture that doesn't match the person's name. They have a high rate of tweeting out things. They have inconsistent political messages. Their just seemed like there's something wrong with the account. And they put out video that only showed a very small portion of what happened that day and framed it in a political sense, talking about the hat-wearing kids versus an elder Native American. That is the one that went viral. There were many other videos that were out there from other accounts but that particular account is in question.

[11:35:15] But I think this tells us a story, too, about America, the media, social media. This tells us something more. It's not just that the account is there. It's the way it was framed. People believed every minute of what they were seeing without the context. That happens all the time on social media. All the time you see these viral videos and then you come to find out that something is different. It's not exactly how it is framed. I think it is a lesson for everyone, for all of us. Everyone is reacting see viscerally to this particular photo, to this particular incident, this particular video without asking any questions.

BOLDUAN: And every day, with your reporting since this has started, Sara, I thought exactly that, that there's a lesson here for everybody in how this has played out and the more that we've learned about what really happened that day.

Thank you.


BOLDUAN: It's great to see you. Thanks so much.

Coming up for us, the Trump administration moved to lift sanctions on a powerful Russian oligarch tied to Vladimir Putin. Now we are learning there's a lot more to this story. That's next.


[11:40:53] BOLDUAN: There's an important update on the sanctions the Trump administration just lifted from the business empire of a Russian oligarch. The "New York Times" is reporting that the supposedly painful concessions agreed to by Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, in order to get the sanctions lifted from his companies may not have been as severe as first stated. They could actually benefit the powerful Russian businessman.

Remember, this started in April of 2018 when the administration slapped sanctions on Russian companies in retaliation for interference in the 2016 election. Last month, the Treasury Department announced they were willing to remove sanctions against Deripaska's business empire saying that he is giving up his ownership of the companies and he is backing good behavior essentially. Now, a new document has surfaced that could offer a different take on what was done in exchange for getting that deal.

Here with me now, the reporter behind the story, from the "New York Times," Ken Vogel.

It's good to see you, Ken. Thank you for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Thanks.

What did you learn from the document that you were able to view? It has not been made public.

VOGEL: That's right. So we were able to determine that in exchange for giving shares -- the goal here for Treasury was to get Oleg Deripaska at less than 50 percent ownership of this main holding company that owns this big aluminum company that is important to the world economy. Treasury said the sanctions on the companies were hurting the world economy by disrupting the global aluminum markets. They said they would be willing to lift the sanctions on the companies providing he got under 50 percent ownership of the main company and also sacrificed control of the company. We learned that, as part of some of the restructuring that he did to get under 50 percent, he gave a bunch of shares to a foundation that he controls. He gave a bunch of shares to a Russian bank very close to the Kremlin, DBT banks, which is also under sanctions. In exchange for the share that he gave to the bank, they forgave loans that he had taken out that were being held over him, that were potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He both gets some personal benefit from this in the form of loan forgiveness, or at least loan settlement, and also retains at least some ownership. If you add up the amount of ownership that he has, it is still over -- he and his allies, including his family and this foundation -- are still over 50 percent owners of these companies, begging the question really how much he had to sacrifice to get the sanctions lifted.

BOLDUAN: Yes. In response to reporting and the details laid out, the Treasury Department gave you a statement defending the statement. I'll read it for our viewers: "Deripaska's control over these entities is severed by this de-listing. And he can no longer use them to carry out elicit activities on behalf of the Kremlin."

But from what you are learning, is that true?

VOGEL: I mean, they are making these claims that are technical. And these agreements are highly technical.


VOGEL: If you talk to sanctions experts who work with the Office of Foreign Asset Control within the Treasury, which is the agency, the sub agency that handles the sanctions, they will say, this is a very complicated deal and does inflict some harm on Oleg Deripaska. He is significantly worse off than before the sanctions. They admit he is better off having the sanctions lifted against his company, even as he himself remains under sanction.

Interesting to note, this is why it has attracted so much attention. He remains a peripheral figure --


VOGEL: -- in the Mueller investigation because of his work with Paul Manafort.

BOLDUAN: That is exactly right.

You are right that in this document -- you write that basically it offers up -- what is laid out in the document offers up two scenarios of what happened. Either the Treasury knew that they were letting Deripaska off easy or they we're played or out negotiated. Since your reporting came out, are you getting a clear sense of which of the options it is?

VOGEL: Not really. OFAC, the Office of Foreign Asset Control, is renowned as a black box. It is very difficult to get visibility into this. This set of negotiations we got a little more visibility because some of the firms that were representing Deripaska's companies registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. This is a tool that Mueller is using to prosecute some of Manafort and some of the Trump associates who had long been doing this type of foreign lobbying for either Russian oligarchs or Russian-aligned oligarchs in Ukraine. So we had a little bit more visibility into it, but not a ton.

[11:45:28] I would add a third possibility. And that is that Treasury may have painted itself into a corner by leveling these sanctions or announcing the sanctions against these companies, potentially, without a full understanding of how the sanctions would affect the global aluminum market. And as a result, some of these companies in the U.S. or in U.S.-allied countries that subsequently complained, hey, what are you doing with the sanctions, they're really hurting us. And that was an argument that really seemed to resonate in the Treasury Department and the Trump administration more broadly with this focus on bringing jobs and winning in the global market place. These sanctions were seen as potentially hurting U.S. standing and that of U.S. companies in the global market place.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. We'd know none of it without your great reporting. So thanks for brining it, Ken. I really appreciate it.

VOGEL: Yes. A pleasure, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touting the defeat of ISIS in Syria. He did that just today, even though ISIS claimed responsibility for two new attacks in Syria in recent weeks. What is the strategy there? What is the strategy with the president announcing a withdrawal from Syria? What does it mean for U.S. troops?


[11:51:06] BOLDUAN: The Trump administration is once again touting the defeat of ISIS, this time coming from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just this morning.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: It should not go unnoticed that we've also defeated the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq alongside more than six dozen nations in the global coalition to defeat ISIS. There's a lot more work to do.


BOLDUAN: That is very much what the president said also just last month in his announcement to withdraw all troops in Syria. But there's now been two attacks since then, since that announcement on American announcement, on American-led patrols in Syria. And ISIS has claimed responsibility. Raising serious questions about the president's declaration of victory.

On this very issue, the former special presidential envoy, the man who was, until last month, in charge of the U.S. fight against ISIS, he has speaking out. Brett McGurk resigned last month over the president's withdrawal from Syria. He told CNN the administration has no plan for what comes next.


BRETT MCGURK, FORMER SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY, GLOBAL COALITION TO COUNTER ISIL: ISIS is not defeated. This mission is not over. We don't have a plan for what's coming. It's one thing to say, look, we should leave Syria, let's think of a plan. It's another thing to announce we're leaving Syria and try to think of the plan later. That's what's going on now. And I think it's increasing the risk to our forces on the ground.


BOLDUAN: ISIS is not defeated says Brett McGurk.

Joining me now is Seth Jones. He's a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He also authored the center's recent study on jihadist militants and their strength, their levels in the region.

Thanks for coming in, Seth.


BOLDUAN: So Mike Pompeo says the U.S. has defeated the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq. That's what he said. From everything you studied, is he right?

JONES: I do think you have to parse his words a little bit. He said that we've defeated the ISIS caliphate, and technically, that caliphate no longer controls a lot of territory. But if you take a step back, ISIS, as Brett McGurk just noted, has not been defeated. It continues to operate high-tempo attacks and continues to target American soldiers in the region. So ISIS is not defeated, even though the caliphate has lost most of the territory it once controlled.

BOLDUAN: Your report came out in November, and your report says that the largest numbers of jihadist fighters were in Syria followed by Afghanistan. You also have numbers in the neighborhood of 20,000 to 25,000 fighters on both sides of the border that are Islamic State or Islamic State supporters. From everything that you have studied, when the president says the reason we're bringing the troops home from Syria is ISIS has been defeated, and he doesn't caveat it with the caliphate, what do you think?

JONES: I think it's just a political statement. I think every single terrorism expert who has looked at this issue can categorically say that ISIS has not been defeated, nor, for that matter, has al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has a major presence in Syria as well. It's not just the ISIS component of it. The U.S. is now walking away, which has the largest al Qaeda presence anywhere in the world, in Syria. So two major jihadist groups, one which was involved in the 9/11 attack, as the U.S. walks away.

BOLDUAN: Before the president's announcement about Syria last month, I spoke with U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. He told me this, "Before coming here" -- he's talking about Afghanistan -- "I spent a lot of time fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. I don't want to replay that movie here," is what John Bass told me. And it really stuck with me. He's talking about Afghanistan, but with this move in Syria as we're seeing, is that movie about to replay there?

JONES: I think it is about to replay there. One interesting question is, how much the Russians -- which the Russians now are the major power in Syria and they've been able to, with the Syrian government's help, been able to take over west in Syria. Will the Russians move into the east now and try to retake territory that ISIS once controlled?

[11:55:05] BOLDUAN: Seth, I appreciate you coming on. Really appreciate your report. We actually have numbers, facts and figures when we have these political discussions. It's really important. Thank you.

JONES: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the Supreme Court weighing on four major cases, four major issues this morning, touching on everything from DACA to immigration to gun rights. The moves and what they mean they mean for you, ahead.