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Coats to Speak Before Intel Committee; Sanctions on Venezuelan Oil Company; Officers Shot in Texas; Woman Claims Russian Agents Tried Silencing Her. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 29, 2019 - 09:30   ET



[09:32:48] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Just moments from now the nation's intelligence chiefs will testify on Capitol Hill. They are set to lay out the top threats to U.S. national security.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to hear from Senators Burr and Warner, the chair and vice chair of the committee, first. They'll deliver their opening statements. But we're already getting some really significant headlines from the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats.

Let's go to our Alex Marquardt. He joins us now.

Significant what he had to say, especially about ISIS in Syria.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, ISIS in Syria, North Korea, China, Russia, some of the more traditional threats, Jim and Poppy, but certainly sounding the alarm.

What we're expecting to hear from the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, in just a short time to the Senate Intelligence Committee, is really laying out where the IC, the Intelligence Committee, sees these various threats. And they -- he is expected to say right off the top that the threats to U.S. national security will continue to expand and diversify in the coming year.

Poppy, You're right, there are two things that jump out immediately when you look at these opening remarks, and there are some 40 pages long. The first we should note is the threat from ISIS, which, of course, has been in the news of late because of the president's announcement that he plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

And the section on ISIS is somewhat of a rebuke to the president because what it says is that ISIS continues to have thousands of fighters, not just in Iraq and Syria but around the world. He says that the assessment and Coats will say that they have some -- a number of networks around the world. ISIS still commands it. You can see there, thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria, maintains eight branches, more than a dozen networks and thousands of dispersed supporters around the world.

But the reason I say that it's somewhat of a rebuke to the president is because Coats is expected to say that with any reduction in counter terrorism pressure, so essentially pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq and Syria, they will be able to rebuild. They are expected to try to carry out attacks, not just in Iraq and Syria in the Middle East, but against the west and against the U.S.

Now, moving on to North Korea, which is -- and this section of the Coats statement is also somewhat of a rebuke to the president because Coats is expected to say that we continue to observe activity inconsistent with full denuclearization. North Korea retains its WMD capabilities and the intelligence community continues to assess that it is unlikely to give up all of its WMD stockpiles, delivery systems and production capabilities.

[09:35:22] Now, Coats will note that we have not seen any sort of nuclear testing, any sort of launch of weapons that are capable of carrying nuclear weapons and that, in fact, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has stated that they do have an intention to denuclearize.

Jim. Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Right. But we should be clear, that's not what the president has claimed. The president has claimed that the North Korean nuclear threat is over. Clearly here the intelligence community does not agree. It says it's unlikely to give up all of its WMD stockpile, delivery systems and production capabilities.

We should also note, and we -- you and I were just talking about this, the president tweeted just about a month ago, a little more than a month ago, remember this, we have defeated ISIS in Syria. My only reason for being there during the Trump presidency.

Well, now, the director of national intelligence, the nation's senior most intelligence official, will say, ISIS still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria and that the group will exploit any reduction in (INAUDIBLE) presence to strengthen its clandestine presence. That is quite a counter point to the president's claim.

HARLOW: Yes. It is. And do you know -- I mean this -- does this go through the White House first or -- no, right?

SCIUTTO: No, because the White House does not approve these reports.


SCIUTTO: It' the -- it's the intelligence committees job to present the most unvarnished view of the facts and the intelligence as they see it.


SCIUTTO: I'm sure the White House would like to soften this language.

HARLOW: Yes, but it's really important.

SCIUTTO: But that's not -- that's not what happens when senators of both parties, frankly, call them up on The Hill to say --

HARLOW: For this reason.

SCIUTTO: Give us your honest explanation, right?

HARLOW: Right. Exactly. So we're going to bring you that hearing live shortly.

SCIUTTO: You're going to hear those words.

Stay with us, please.


[09:41:15] HARLOW: This is a really significant development this morning in the situation in Venezuela and the U.S. involvement here. The White House has slapped billions of dollars of sanctions on Venezuela's state-owned oil company. They're trying to essentially starve Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of cash that allows him to hold on to power.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And you might not know it, but we buy a lot of Venezuelan oil.

HARLOW: A lot.

SCIUTTO: The sanctions would block $7 billion from going to Maduro's regime. Instead, Venezuela's self-declared president, Juan Guaido, says that the money will be used to bring relief to the Venezuelan people. And they need it.


JUAN GUAIDO, SELF-DECLARED INTERIM PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): First, this is part of protecting Venezuela's assets. For a very long time, Maduro's regime stole this money, an estimated $4 billion, which is four times Venezuela's GDP in losses. This will protect assets so they can be used towards Venezuelan's citizens.


SCIUTTO: Joining us now, Geoff Ramsey. He's the assistant director for Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Thanks so much for taking the time.

Geoff, just to -- one simple question, is -- does this overt U.S. support for the opposition candidate here, does that actually help or could it hurt the opposition to Maduro, giving the impression, right, of the U.S. kind of orchestrating all of this?

GEOFF RAMSEY, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FO VENEZUELA, WASHINGTON OFFICE ON LATIN AMERICA: Well, I think that's exactly the risk. You know, I think the more that this is framed as the United States versus Maduro, I think that really helps the narrative that Maduro is pushing, that he's the victim of some kind of imperialist plot. And ultimately, in a scenario in which any transition is going to be impossible without peeling off some key figures within Maduro's ruling coalition, I don't think that helps things very much.

HARLOW: To talk about the impact on the average Venezuelan, let me read you one line from reporting from one of our reporters on the ground last week in Venezuela said, in a Caracas supermarket, a modest basket of water, nuts, cheese, ham and fruit cost $200, even though monthly wages are less than $10. That gives everyone a sense of the out of control inflation and the desperation that the Venezuelan people are feeling.

Do U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil help them at all?

RAMSEY: Well, I think the new sanctions announced by the U.S. yesterday, I think they're a huge gamble. I think the U.S. is really putting everything on the table here, and we know for certain that this is going to have an impact on the Venezuelan people who are already struggling with a deep economic crisis.

What we don't know is whether this will for sure lead to some kind of restoration of democracy.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: On -- you have sort of a super power conflict going on here as well.


SCIUTTO: The Russian government supporting Maduro. The U.S. supporting and pushing for a replace to Maduro, this opposition leader. Is there a potential here for a -- an escalation between the U.S. and Russia and sort of a proxy battle in Venezuela that could be dangerous?

RAMSEY: Well, you know, I think that it's definitely true that Venezuela is certainly part of some broader, geopolitical play. But, you know, I think ultimately Russia and China, their ultimate stake in all of this is oil. And I think the truth is that oil brush (ph) in Venezuela has been falling in recent years. And I think as soon as the oil stops flowing, their support is likely to be a lot less solid.

HARLOW: What should we remember from history? What has history taught us about U.S. military intervention in Latin America and South America and what we should take from that as we look at the fact that the White House has not taken military intervention in Venezuela off the table?

RAMSEY: Yes, well, you know, I think U.S. military intervention in Latin America and in sort of unstable authoritarian regimes doesn't have a particularly successful track record. You know, I think that a lot of people are thinking that this is going to be something like Panama or Granada, but I think there's a real risk of Venezuela turning into Libya or Iraq if this were to devolve into some kind of military intervention. And, fortunately (ph), I don't think that is a policy priority right now.

[09:45:30] HARLOW: And we've seen what the push and the removal of dictators in those two countries resulted in long-term.

Geoff Ramsey, really important analysis. Thanks very much.

SCIUTTO: Those are -- those are quite some comparisons there to imagine a Libya or Iraq. And right on America's doorstep, right?

HARLOW: Right. It makes me think of Bolton, the Libya model, right?


HARLOW: We think -- all right, Geoff, thank you.

A drug bust turns violent in Houston. Into a gun battle, really. Four police officers shot. Two suspects dead. We have the latest report, next.


[09:50:25] SCIUTTO: Right now four Houston police officers, four of them, recovering after being shot while serving a search warrant last night.

HARLOW: The undercover officers were responding to a drug raid that quickly turned into a gun battle.

Let's go to our colleague, Ed Lavandera, who joins us in Houston with the latest.

Four officers shot in this, Ed. What happened?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, about a dozen of these officers were responding to a drug investigation in southeast Houston when they approached this house. And Houston police say as soon as they tried to enter the home where there were two men inside, that gunshots erupted immediately. The officers exchanged gunfire with the people inside the house. Houston Police say that the two suspects inside were shot and killed.

But outside, five of those officers were wounded. One officer, who was wounded in the shoulder, has already been treated and released. He left the hospital last night.

Of the four that are still in the hospital behind me, two of them -- of those officers are still in critical condition. And the leader -- one of the leading officers in that group, we're told, is a 54-year- old veteran of the Houston Police Department who has been shot several times in other investigations. So Houston Police very concerned about the wellbeing of especially those two officers that remain in critical condition here, Poppy and Jim.

And we're hoping here in the next couple of hours that we'll receive another briefing from Houston Police to get an update on their condition. But emotions running high here in Houston as many people here concerned for the wellbeing of these officers who are still being treated in the hospital and have been since last night.

Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: That's quite a toll in one evening.

Ed Lavandera, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, a CNN exclusive. The so-called sex coach mixed up in collusion allegations between Russia and President Trump speaking out on CNN. Why she says that Russian agents told her to keep quiet. It could be key. That's coming up, next.


[09:56:36] HARLOW: A self-proclaimed sex coach, yes, who once claimed to have evidence of a connection between President Trump and Russia, now says she has been told to stay quiet.

SCIUTTO: She said she heard conversations about this from Putin allies and even took recordings.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Well, she spent a year in a Thai prison, is now fighting to stay out of a Russian one after being deported back to Moscow. That is where she spoke exclusively with CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance.

Matthew, quite an allegation to make, particularly in Russia. Tell us what you heard.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is. And she knows very well that she has found herself or put herself in the center of this geopolitical storm. And in a country like Russia, where people who are a thorn in the side of the authorities can be -- you know, can meet with violence, let's say, she understands she's in a very precarious situation.

Despite that, though, she did agree to sit down with us, try and get her side of the story across. It's the first interview she's done since she was released from Thai and Russian custody.

But, you know, for understandable reasons, I mean she's been through such a lot, 11 months in a Thai jail. She was arrested as soon as she set foot back in Russia as well and put in a Russian prison for a week. Inside that Russian prison, she was given a very stark warning she told me about what she could and couldn't say. Take a listen.


ANASTASIA: I had some talks when I was in jail, in Russian jail, and they explain me very clear, what I should do, what I should say, and what shouldn't I say. Something like that.

CHANCE: Who explained that to you?

ANASTASIA: Russian -- Russian agents.

CHANCE: What did they say to you?

ANASTASIA: They said to me don't touch Oleg Deripaska any more.


CHANCE: Yes, don't touch Oleg Deripaska, that Russian oligarch who's been in the news so much, close to the Kremlin. The person that she pictured herself essentially, you know, holidaying with, vacationing with on his yacht off the coast of Norway in 2016. Those pictures were used as evidence by opposition figures in Russia that this was the sort of rendezvous that connected Russia, the Kremlin, with members of the Trump campaign team.

And so it was a -- you know, it has been an immensely kind of controversial expose that she's been at the center of.


SCIUTTO: She must face or be concerned about a real threat to be inside Russia. We know how Russia has treated -- whether you want to call them dissidents or people who countered the party line, both inside Russia but even outside Russia. But to be there now facing a court sentence, I mean this is a genuine risk.

CHANCE: Yes, I think it is. And, as I say, she's -- she's very much aware of that. And I said to her, do you regret, you know, sort of making these allegations, these claims that you had evidence, 16 hours of audio tape, she said, of Oleg Deripaska talking about U.S./Russia relations and other things. And she said, look, you know, she shouldn't have said it in the first place. She accepts that. But having already said it, she says the fact that she's got such media publicity has essentially saved her life. And she -- she wasn't joking about that.

HARLOW: That is -- that's a really interesting point because, Matthew, I was wondering, why is she sitting down with you? Yes, you're a strong reporter, but that's a tough interview to get. And I think she -- you're saying she -- the more public she is, she thinks it protects her more. It's really, really interesting. Matthew, thank you for that reporting.