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Venezuela's Self-Declared President Says Maduro Forces Tried to Enter Home of His Wife's Family; Senate Voting to Rebut Trump on Syria, Afghanistan; Last Remnants of ISIS Make Final Stand in Syria; 12 Deaths Now Linked to Brutal Weather; One of America's Richest Families Comes Under Scrutiny. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired January 31, 2019 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Breaking news now out of Venezuela as part of the escalating standoff gripping this country the self-declared acting President Juan Guaido is accusing dictator Nicolas Maduro's forces of trying to intimidate him by targeting his wife's family. This news coming just hours after the European Parliament formally recognize Guaido as the interim President of Venezuela. And just in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour today, Guaido has a message for American.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Guaido, I wonder whether you can in English give a message to the American people about your goals for Venezuela? What would you like the American people to know about what is happening there?

JUAN GUAIDO, VENEZUELA SELF-DECLARED ACTING PRESIDENT: I want to talk to the American people to help us to recover our democracy, our liberty and I know maybe Venezuela people in your country, you know, what good people we are and we want to reconstruction our country, our liberty.


BALDWIN: CNN senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh is live in Bogota. And Nick, what is Guaido alleging happened today?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well he's saying that while he was giving a speech at University, some police special forces appear to have enter his home where his daughter and his daughter's grandmother were. Now we don't have pictures of that alleged intrusion and it's being denied by Venezuelan police. But it has still sparked a very fierce reaction from a senior U.S. administration official. Saying that there would be people being held to account for this kind of intimidation. Senator Marco Rubio has also been equally outspoken. And as well we heard from another U.S. official that they believe and had been hearing reports of potentially plane loads of gold being flown to Russia, unconfirmed. All the same, this this U.S. official saying this might be the last-minute looting of the Maduro government of the country's wealth. I've got a reality check really to give you here. A lot of this is

not particularly confirmed information but it's about the drumbeat we're hearing repeatedly from the Trump administration that they believe the Maduro government is in its last days.

Now we have key protests on Saturday that the opposition have called. But there is still an enormous gulf between the sort of pace of change, as its being telegraphed by the Trump administration, and frankly what appears to be happening inside Venezuela itself. But we have no real indication as yet that the Maduro government is losing control of the country.

[15:35:00] It's a big task for Juan Guaido ahead to show he can take the money that's been frozen in Venezuela state bank accounts by the U.S. and put it into action inside the country. But really, the most urgent pressing thing is not just geopolitical standoff but it's getting food on the table of ordinary Venezuelans. We'll have to see if this weekend's protest changes that -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: You know all about the need for food, the humanitarian crisis having been in Venezuela just over this past weekend. And Nick Paton Walsh, appreciate all of your reporting for us. Thank you.

Moments ago, the family of "Empire" star Jussie Smollett released a statement about the alleged attack against him. We will share their words next.


[15:40:00] BALDWIN: Right now on Capitol Hill the Republican led Senate is on its way to passing a measure that is highly critical of President Trump's push to withdraw troops from both Syria and Afghanistan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell authored the measure and forced a vote on it today. He says the measure would, quote, recognize the dangers of a precipitous withdraw from either conflict.

Now to a CNN exclusive, footage of ISIS fighters with nothing to lose making a bloody last stand in eastern Syria. We are going to play this for you. But I just want to warn you, some of the videos is fairly graphic, disturbing. Our CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, reports.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're planning their next move in the final showdown with the last remnants of ISIS. Commander Habib Simko (ph), of the Syrian Democratic Forces, is leading his men on a night operation. Their progress lit by flares into the last stronghold of what was the so- called Islamic state. Now reduced to a remote and ever-shrinking sliver of land along the Euphrates River in eastern Syria.

At first light, coalition aircraft begin to bomb. As troops venture into the town of Sousa, or what's left of it. With the help of artillery and airplanes, we were able to take control

of this place, the soldier tells cameraman, Gabriel Chaim, who shot this exclusive video for CNN. The soldier vows within ten-day, God willing, finish.

It may take longer than that, ISIS isn't giving ground easily. They counter-attacked. Heavy machine gunfire didn't stop them. The troops had to retreat. By day's end, reinforcements arrived and they were back on the offensive, not however, without cost.

The next day starts with a mortar bombardment. The adjacent town of Mayadin, the objective. On the edge of town, a soldier carries a baby. The family follows. But the soldiers are wary. These last villages are full of ISIS's most hard-core supporters. Everyone is treated with suspicion. They ordered the young men to take off their shirts to show they're not concealing weapons or explosives. This family's next destination, one of many camps out in the desert, filling up with tens of thousands who have fled the fighting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Civilians want to escape to safety, says this soldier. But ISIS threatens them with their weapons to go back so the coalition airplanes won't hit them.

WEDEMAN: Those who defied ISIS paid the ultimate price. Under these blankets, the soldiers say are eight children and two women, killed while trying to escape. The images too gruesome to show.

The ISIS fighters did escape. Leaving behind weapons and ammunition. Yet the battle rages on. ISIS's last stand, its last battle, its last bastion, will go down in a torrent of fire, and blood.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.


BALDWIN: Ben, thank you so much for that.

Still ahead here, the deep freeze across this country now responsible for at least 12 deaths. Millions are just stuck in their homes in those without a place to stay are in critical danger. We'll speak live with one of the people working to save lives on the streets of Chicago.


BALDWIN: Just in to CNN. We are now hearing publicly for the first time from the family of "Empire" star, Jussie Smollett. Now they just released a statement about the reported attack on him in Chicago. I'll read just part of it for you.

They say, we want to be clear, this was a racial and homophobic hate crime, Jussie has told the police everything from the very beginning. His story has never changed and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice. Jussie is a warrior whose light cannot be dimmed. We want people to understand these targeted hate crimes are happening to our sisters, brothers and our gender nonconforming siblings, many who reside within the intersection of multiple identities on a monthly, weekly and sometimes even daily basis all across our country. We, as a family, will continue to work for love, equity and justice until it reigns supreme in our nation and all over the world.

Subzero temperatures absurdly, bitter windchills. The American deep freeze is now to blame for deaths of at least 12 people. In some states people are going without power and heat. Of course, the most vulnerable of these, the homeless. In Chicago, one good Samaritan picked up the hotel tab for 70 homeless people who had to be cleared from an encampment after the propane tanks they were using to keep warm were confiscated because of the safety risk.

[15:50:04] One of the people involved in that is Doug Schenkelberg, the executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. So, Doug, such a pleasure to have you on. Good on you for all the things you do. Can you just tell me more as it is bitter, bitter cold in Chicago, how are you helping these folks?

DOUG SCHENKELBERG, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CHICAGO COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS: So what we're doing -- and thanks so much for having us on -- we're really making sure that the information is getting out to folks in need. We work with a lot of folks who are experiencing homelessness throughout the city of Chicago. And we want to make sure that they're aware of the types of resources put in place. And the city of Chicago has done a good job of stepping up its resources by opening up warming shelters, putting out additional shelter beds, providing warming buses in places where people who are in encampments are residing. So we're really trying to respond to the emergency in- kind. So we're just trying to make sure that everyone who needs a place to stay is aware of what their options are and can get to someplace where they can be safe.

BALDWIN: And so, the story about this good Samaritan putting 70 members of the homeless population up in a hotel on the city's south side. Has this individual come forward yet?

SCHENKELBERG: No. We are not aware of who this person is. They, like a lot of other wonderful people have stepped up in this time of emergency to really kind of make sure that people are OK and those folks who are being put up are really grateful, as is everybody who is working on this issue.

BALDWIN: We are grateful. I know those who you're helping are extraordinarily grateful for all that you're doing to make sure they stay warm through these frigid, frigid times. Doug Schenkelberg, thank you so much for coming on.


BALDWIN: Thank you.

Just in, President Trump speaking from the oval office, reading a letter from President Xi amid trade talks, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [15:55:00] BALDWIN: All right, I want to show you this map here. And when you see it, all the state there is in red have experienced significant increase in deaths from opioid overdoses. This is from 2016 to 2017. There is a lot of suffering brought on by this epidemic. And so many people blame the over prescribed drug OxyContin for fielding the crisis.

So that brings us to this legal battle under way right now in the state of Massachusetts where a lawsuit claims that one of the country's richest families, the Sackler's and the company they own, Purdue Pharma, aggressively marketed OxyContin, deceiving doctors and patients in order to profit, profit from the opioid crisis.

But here's the thing, the legal battle under way right now is to keep the details of the lawsuit out of the public domain. Miguel Marquez is our CNN national correspondent who's on this. And so, this lawsuit has brought a lot of attention to the Sackler family. What do we know about them and the company's practices?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a small piece of a very large case right now. The Sackler family owns Purdue Pharma. It has an estimated worth of $13 billion, says Forbes. Purdue Pharma is the maker of the opioid, OxyContin. Addiction to the prescription painkiller and other opioids has ravaged communities across the country. In 2017 there were more than 47,000 opioid linked drug fatalities in the U.S., Says the CDC.

Members of the Sackler family were paid more than $4 billion between 2008 and 2016 from Purdue Pharma says, "The Wall Street Journal." The other piece of the story that "The Journal" whose reporters saw unredacted documents in this case, as sales of OxyContin slumped, Purdue Pharma looked for new ways to make money. Among the possibilities in this document, says "The Wall Street Journal," Purdue Pharma was branching out -- wanted to branch out into opioid addiction treatment. This is, of course, as the company was under fire nationwide for its contribution to the opioid crisis.

The lawsuit names eight members of the Sackler family, as well as the company and the current and former executives of the company. The Sackler family did not respond to "The Wall Street Journal".

But Purdue did. Saying, by taking out of context snippets from tens of millions of documents and grossly destroying their meaning, the complaint filed by the Massachusetts Attorney General is riddled with demonstrably inaccurate allegations.

The state of Massachusetts wants the unredacted documents released. Purdue is fighting it. And Massachusetts appellate court could decide as early as tomorrow on all of this.

BALDWIN: And this isn't the first time the company has been sued?

MARQUEZ: No, this is part of a massive lawsuit. Some 36 states and more than 1500 cities and counties around country have sued Purdue Pharma, says "The Wall Street Journal". One multistate federal suit in 2007, settled for $600 million as part of a plea deal. Purdue was accused of misleading and defrauding physicians and consumers with regard to how addictive OxyContin is. Members of the Sackler family were not named in that suit. And the Sackler certainly made their fortune from Purdue Pharma which started in the 1950s. But it wasn't until the 1990s there was production and marketing about OxyContin that the family made billions. The family is known for its philanthropy as well, putting its name on museums and galleries worldwide. So a giant case. One small step in it. But by tomorrow we should have, perhaps, a little more clarity.

BALDWIN: OK, we'll follow up. Miguel, thank you very much for that.

Also just in, officials in Arizona are announcing the largest ever seizure of the drug Fentanyl, more than 250 pounds of the drug. Here are the pictures for yourself. It was discovered inside an 18-wheeler full of produce, coming across a commercial border crossing in Nogales, Arizona. Experts say this is the largest seizure ever of this kind of drug at any point of entry. So, there you have it.

Also the Republican-led Senate that just pass the measure I mentioned a bit ago. A measure that's highly critical of President Trump's push to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan. So an update there.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts now.