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Venezuelans Devastated by Food Shortages; Roger Stone Does Not Rule Out Cooperating with Mueller; FAA Pledges Safety as Shutdown Ends; U.S. Envoy: U.S., Taliban Agree to Framework of Peace Deal. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 28, 2019 - 09:30   ET


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- the black market, causing a shortage, causing people to sleep in their cars for three days and nights, just to get a full tank.

And now we've moved to the more important part of the crisis, and that's the food. Now, it's staggering to think that you don't know where your next meal is coming from. Possibly in a more rural area, maybe, but in an area with growing infrastructure from its rich past, people are literally going out there and spending 200 American dollars equivalent on a basket of groceries. And by next month, that will be worth double in the local currency.

It's an urgent problem, and it's self-fulfilling, because you know tomorrow is going to be more expensive. People charge tomorrow's prices today.

But eating out of trash not exactly a rare thing to see there. And also to people united, frankly, in a daily hunger, a daily, urgent need for food. One that puts all the political debate, frankly, to one side -- Kate.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR/CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Let me ask you this. The Trump administration is making a very public effort to remove Maduro. And I'm curious. Among the Venezuelans you met, were people asking for, hoping for American help?

WALSH: To some degree, although I think people are also cautious of how that looks internally and externally, too, given the U.S. history of intervention in Central and South America. People there are pretty much united in finding the current situation totally intolerable. That should be no surprise.

Frankly, what is startling is how the Maduro government is carrying on in this way and not allowing more international aid in to ease the crisis. It's a matter of pride, frankly, in recognition for their mismanagement of corruption has led them to this particular point.

The big question is where does the military stand in all this? And we saw some startling scenes, frankly. The rank-and-file would risk themselves at great length to talk to you about how they are suffering like ordinary Venezuelans. So are some of the junior officers, too. But when you go up the scale towards generals, towards the defense

minister, Vladimir Pedrina Lopez. We saw them on television the day after some of those protests last week in a bizarre parade. One after another of the regional commanders coming out with all their troops behind them, pledging allegiance to -- to Nicolas Maduro.

One government employee I spoke to said it looked like they were desperate, frankly, but there's no sign of cracks in the high level of command. And until that begins to happen, I think Nicolas Maduro is relatively safe unless we see a groundswell of fury out on the streets later this week -- Jim, Poppy.

SCIUTTO: This is what a country looks like when it collapses. Nick Paton Walsh, thanks very much.

SCIUTTO: Roger Stone mimicked Nixon's "V" for victory sign as he left a federal courthouse in Florida on Friday, vowing to fight the charges -- there it is -- and saying he would not testify against the president. But over the weekend, he shifted his tone a bit. What is he saying now?


[09:37:03] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

Roger Stone appears to be leaving the door open to cooperating with the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Moments ago, he was seen waving to cameras as he left his home there in Florida. He is out on bond after the FBI arrested him, you'll remember, on Friday morning.

SCIUTTO: Longtime Trump adviser faces charges of obstruction, witness tampering, five counts of lying to Congress. At first, both outside the courthouse and in several interviews, Stone said that he would not testify against the president. He said he would fight what he called false charges. But then over the weekend, his tone seemed to change.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Any chance you'll cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller if he asks?

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: You know, that's a question I would have to -- I'd have to determine after my attorneys have some discussion.

If there's wrongdoing by other people in the campaign that I know about, which I know of none, but if there is, I would certainly testify honestly.

I'd also testify honestly about any other matter, including any communications with the president. It's true that we spoke on the phone, but those communications are political in nature. They're benign, and there is -- there is certainly no conspiracy with Russia.

The president is right. There is no Russia collusion.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he's never --


SCIUTTO: Let's discuss this with Jack Quinn. He's a CNN legal analyst, former White House counsel in the Clinton administration.

So, Jack, there -- I mean, discounting here, because Roger Stone has not proven himself, shall we say, a trustworthy witness, at least in public in this investigation before.

But do you find something significant there, because missing was the bravado from Friday, saying, "I will never testify against this president"? He seemed to have been listening to his lawyers, perhaps, over the weekend.

JACK QUINN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, that may be the case, Jim and Poppy. I think -- let's remember that Paul Manafort turned out to be trying to work both sides of the street. Stone may be doing the same thing. He certainly wants to ensure that he behaves in a way that buys him a ticket to a pardon if he needs it.

At the same time, you know, he's doubtless not wanting to cut off all possibility of cooperating with the special counsel because, as we well know, Donald Trump is famous for many things, one of them being turning on his friends.

So, you know, I think Roger Stone is just sort of playing both sides of the street here. And, you know, by the way, it's not clear to me that Roger Stone has much to give.

For one thing, we know that he has puffed up his involvement in the campaign, puffed up his involvement with WikiLeaks. When he's telling the truth, it's hard to tell. When he's lying, it's hard to tell. So I'm not sure how good a witness he is.

But, obviously, if he helps to complete the necklace that links Russia and the campaign, then he has value.

[09:40:11] And that, by the way, you know, people on the Trump side like to say, you know, this doesn't prove a conspiracy or collusion, but none of the filings that the special counsel has made were meant to prove the whole case. This is a piece of it. And Mueller has been rigorous, and he has never been demonstrated to have made an error in the factual statements he makes in these charges.

So, you know, I think he's building a case. And, clearly, from this indictment, including as we've discussed in the past, the now famous paragraph 12, indicating that there was clearly linkage between Stone, WikiLeaks, the campaign, he's really drawing the line between the Trump campaign and Russia.

SCIUTTO: Paragraph 12 was the point in there where it talked about a senior Trump campaign official who was directed by someone else. The question, of course, being, was that person someone even more senior in a small campaign --

QUINN: Or the candidate or somebody with authority to speak for the candidate, as for example, a family member might be.

HARLOW: There's an interesting take, Jack, and I wonder what you think. It's an op-ed this morning in "The Times" by Julian Sanchez, an intelligence expert at Cato who says, look, because, you know, Roger Stone is so unreliable as a witness, this may be a play by Mueller's team, especially the early-morning FBI raid, to get to his devices.

And if he used, for example, WhatsApp, an encrypted platform, they'd need a pass key for that; and the charges levied could help them get that pass key.

Do you buy that? What do you make of that, that his devices may be, actually, a lot more helpful to the Mueller team than his testimony?

QUINN: Well, I agree with that to the extent that his devices don't lie. They are what they are. So they're more reliable than he is himself.

Having said that, let's remember that Stone has known that the bull's eye is on him for quite some time. So he had to know that this raid would be coming any time now. So there was ample time, I think, for him to destroy evidence. You know, but remarkably enough, a lot of these guys just don't do the obvious smart thing.

The devices are, no doubt, important. They're really key. They may have a lot of material. But he well may have, at the same time, destroyed incriminating evidence or at least attempted to do so.

A lot of these people, by the way, don't realize how adept our law enforcement community is at recovering things they try to destroy.


HARLOW: Jack Quinn, we'll be watching. We appreciate you being here. Thanks so much.

SCIUTTO: Devices don't lie.

HARLOW: Right. There's the quote of the morning for you.

All right. So hundreds of thousands of the federal workers, thank goodness, back on the job today. But they face a potential additional government shutdown in just three weeks, less than three weeks if lawmakers can't make a deal. Next, we're going to talk to the head of the Air-Traffic Controllers Union.


[09:47:34] SCIUTTO: This morning, relief. Thousands of federal workers across the country back to work following the longest shutdown in American history. But the major question is, for how long in the end?

HARLOW: That's right. Just moments ago, CNN obtained a statement from the FAA continuing its pledge for safety. Let me read you part of it.

"Over the coming days and weeks, the agency will assess immediate post shutdown needs, prioritize those needs and deploy the appropriate resources to address them."

With us now to discuss, once again, Trish Gilbert, executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Thank you for joining us once again. And let me just begin on the safety issue, OK, because you told us last week -- Friday morning, you were concerned air-traffic controllers at this point, given all the sick-outs, et cetera, weren't fit for duty; the system was too strained, that it was dangerous.

Is flying now as safe as it was pre-shutdown?

TRISH GILBERT, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOCIATION: Well, we have a lot of work to do to put the pieces all back together. We have to identify, you know, what contractors were let go as the agency indicated in their statement. Prioritize getting back to normal. Hiring needs to start again. Training needs to start again. Our processes, our safety processes need to get fully deployed again. All of that needs to occur.

What we can't have is this stop and start kind of scenario. We cannot -- we cannot live with another government shutdown in just a couple of weeks.

SCIUTTO: So let me ask you how you felt after the relief on Friday to talk over the weekend that the president's saying, "Listen, another shutdown is on the table." I wonder how worried you are that you face this crisis again in a couple of weeks' time.

GILBERT: Well, I mean, this is the situation. We weren't crying wolf. We were saying, "Uncle, uncle. Enough is enough." We cannot have that again.

But once we did open the government on Friday, you could feel the collective breathing of the workforce, because now they can at least -- even though they haven't been paid yet, they at least know that they're going to be paid at some point in time.

But what's scaring them now and still distracting them is, is there going to be another shutdown in just a short time? And they can't -- we can't have them distracted and distressed like that.

HARLOW: On that point, I mean, you speak to them, right? You represent so many of them in the union.


HARLOW: What do they say? Do they share the president's concern? I think he said to "The Wall Street Journal," less than 50/50 chance there's a deal here that he would agree to. Do they think there's going to be another shutdown in three weeks? GILBERT: They're preparing for it. They're preparing for it. And,

unfortunately, we are a 30-year low of air-traffic controllers in our system, with 20 percent of them eligible to retire, 40 percent in the New York area alone. I think you will see them go ahead and retire if it looks like we're going to go into another shutdown on February 15.

SCIUTTO: That's concerning.

GILBERT: And you saw --

SCIUTTO: Please go ahead. Finish.

GILBERT: And you saw what happened on Friday with just -- that was a handful of controllers absent in one of our facilities in Leesburg, Virginia. That wasn't a lot of absences. So you talk 40 percent in New York and 20 percent nationwide that just won't stay around for this -- this game again, being ponds. They won't. They'll leave.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Folks want stability in their jobs.

HARLOW: They deserve it, right?

SCIUTTO: I imagine -- it was during our air on Friday that was happening. That seemed to be the thing that ended the shutdown when the airports started to close. A lot of the concern during the weeks of the shutdown had been folks just can't pay their bills. I understand the back pay doesn't come immediately.

So how quickly are your members getting the relief they need to pay the mortgage, to pay -- you know, just to have money to go to the grocery? How quickly does that come back?

GILBERT: Well, we expect some -- some infusion of funds to the workforce for the work that they've done. And certainly, those that have been sent home and left at home when they wanted to go to work, that is coming.

But at least now they know that it's not going to be months and years. They don't have to sell -- sell things, their homes. They can actually make plans to send their children to college. They can maybe plan that trip that they've since cancelled, possibly, because of the shutdown. It's just that uncertainty of when and how long you can survive with nothing coming in, with no revenue?

So that relief is there. So, you know, they are able to focus. But this uncertainty just a couple of weeks ahead of us is not good for the workforce. They need to focus on the job that they do. They need to be perfect 100 percent of the time to make sure the system is safe.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's a short -- sounds like a short bit of relief, not the long-term relief they're looking for.

Well, Trish, it's good to have you going. Let's keep up the conversation. Because I know some -- we're going to have to continue to monitor, unfortunately.

GILBERT: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: New signs that America's longest war could be close to ending. The U.S. and the Taliban near a possible deal for peace.


[09:56:42] HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. This morning, new promising signs of a peace plan in America's longest war.

SCIUTTO: This would be truly remarkable. U.S. officials say that the Taliban has agreed in principle to a peace framework that could eventually bring the war in Afghanistan to an end.

Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon with details. And Barbara, of course, the Taliban responsible for countless deaths of U.S. soldiers, Afghan civilians. What is changing here now? And tell us what the hopes are.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are hopes indeed. The U.S. envoy has been talking to Taliban representatives and is reporting back that there is some progress, not a final deal. There's some -- some framework ideas being discussed.

And central to this would be the Taliban's promise that they would not again let Afghanistan become a platform or a safe haven, if you will, for international terrorism.

The real question is, if you do have an agreement, what are some of the key parameters? Would there be direct discussions with the Afghan government. Would the Taliban make promises to the Afghan government to respect its authority and not try again to rise to power in some of the rural areas of Afghanistan, where it already has considerable influence?

And what would happen with the U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan? There is discussion within the U.S. about whether it is time to establish some policy that would get you towards withdrawing about half of the troops, 7,000 or so American troops from Afghanistan. Is it time yet to do that?

Afghan security remains very fragile. So one of the things they don't want to do is risk Afghan security even further, but this is, officials say, the closest they've come in a long time to really getting progress in ending that longest war.

HARLOW: OK. Please keep us posted on that and also, Barbara, a really important story that you're reporting this morning in terms of suicides among Marines and members of the Navy at a ten-year high. Is that correct?

STARR: It's really devastating news to report, but the Marines are now publicly, very openly saying that they have reached a ten-year peak in deaths by suicide in the Marine Corps.

Let's just show you the numbers, but they are, of course -- each one is one too many. Fifty-seven active-duty Marines, 18 Marines in the Reserves, death by suicide in 2018. That's 75 Marines.

And just this morning, the Navy acknowledging that they had 68 active duty personnel dying by suicide in 2018, a ten-year peak for them, as well. We are pursuing getting the numbers from the Air Force and the Army.

Emphasizing these are more than numbers. In fact, when we were reporting out this story, one of the Marine Corps officers really made a plea. He said, "Don't make them just numbers. All of these are people. All of these are absolutely something that the Marines, the Navy, the U.S. military remains deeply concerned about," looking for ways to emphasize suicide prevention and that, if people need help, they need to reach out for it.

Back to you guys.

HARLOW: Really important reporting.