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Withdrawing Troops from Syria; General Motors Begins Layoffs; Making Mueller Report Public; Manafort Hearing; Deliberations in Drug Lord Case. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 4, 2019 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Could regain strength if troops do leave the country. His solution, if that happens, send them back in.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll come back if we have to. We have very fast airplanes. We have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly. And I'm not leaving.

And, frankly, we're hitting the caliphate from Iraq and as we slowly withdraw from Syria.


SCIUTTO: You'll remember in December the president announced his plan to withdraw American forces. He said that ISIS was defeated in Syria, sparking criticism, including from several Republicans and, of course the resignation of then Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

Retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, with a lot of experience in the region, he joins me now.

Colonel, thanks very much for taking the time.


SCIUTTO: So first point here. So the president's saying, we'll have troops in Iraq. They can swoop in if ISIS were to return in Syria. Explain, in military terms, the difference of having U.S. troops on the front lines in Syria in the fight against ISIS versus a couple hundred miles away in Iraq.

LEIGHTON: Well, a couple hundred miles means sometimes the difference between life and death, Jim. And what you're looking at here is a delayed response time.

The other thing that you're looking at also is the lack of eyes on target. Yes, you have drones, you have satellites, you have other means of finding out what's going on in Syria, but it doesn't really match the type of situational awareness that you get if you have actual people on the ground. You have to have people that interact with the local population, that understand what's going on within the local population, with all of the forces that are arrayed against you in order to actually have an effective policy against a group like ISIS.

SCIUTTO: The president, over the weekend, said that his administration has done, quote, an incredible job in Syria against ISIS. Have a listen to his comments.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I took over Syria, it was infested with ISIS. It was all over the place. And now you have very little ISIS and you have the caliphate almost knocked out.

We will be announcing in the not-too-distant future 100 percent of the caliphate, which is the area, the land, the area, 100. We're at 99 percent right now. We'll be at 100. When I took it over, it was a disaster.


SCIUTTO: Now, he is right that the U.S. and their partners on the ground have regained the vast majority of ISIS territory, but I wonder if this risks a lesson unlearned from ISIS in Iraq because, of course, President Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq and that gave a window, it gave opportunity for ISIS to return there and, of course, the U.S. had to return. Do you -- are you concerned that that same mistake is repeated here?

LEIGHTON: I think it's very possible that the same mistake could be repeated because when President Obama left Iraq, that really opened up the vacuum. And, you know, just like nature abhors a vacuum, geopolitics is also a situation where if you're not there, somebody else is going to take your place. So when it comes to Syria and withdrawing our troops from Syria, we really run the risk of actually going in and really negating all the gains that we've made during this period.

You know, and to the president's comment that they were the ones -- his administration were the ones to actually do this, that's not exactly accurate. They continued policies that were started in the Obama administration. Obama took a while to learn what was going on and had made some mistakes along the way. But the tide was beginning to turn before the election in 2016.


The president sparked some controversy this weekend talking about U.S. troops based in Iraq, saying that the reason he wants to keep troops there is to keep an eye on Iran. Now, that, of course, caused some problems with our Iraqi partners because there's great sensitivity there among the Iraqi leadership as to what U.S. forces will be up to.

Can you explain that to folks so they understand why that might cause problems?

LEIGHTON: Yes, because Iraq is actually trying to balance itself between Iran and the United States. There's a lot of Iranian influence in Iraq. We watched that when I was over in the Middle East in 2003. We watched the Iranian cells spring up as the U.S. invaded Iraq. The same exact thing that is -- that went on there is going on now. The Iranians are exercising a great deal of influence. They control some elements of the militias that are active in Iraq. They control parts of the Iraqi government. So the Iranians are, obviously, not happy that Americans would want to stay in Iraq. We are going to stay in Iraq. But the problem that you have with the president's assertion is that there are other places where we can watch Iran. Those places include Qatar and the United Arab Emirates where we already have bases.

SCIUTTO: Colonel Cedric Leighton, thanks very much.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Jim. Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Listen, if you can, to this next story now.

[09:35:00] It has been four months and two days since the disappearance and murder, the brutal murder, of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But this morning, so many issues remain unresolved. "The Washington Post" columnist was allegedly killed and dismembered October 2nd by Saudi agents. Turkish President Erdogan today renewing his call for a full investigation and slamming the U.S. for its continued silence on the case.

This even after the CIA concluded that the Saudi crown prince personally ordered Khashoggi's killing. President Trump has signaled the U.S. will not take strong action against Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Khashoggi's former employee, "The Washington Post," released this ad during last night's Super Bowl. It was moving.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We exercise our rights, when we soar to our greatest heights, when we mourn and pray.


SCIUTTO: The spot also honored Khashoggi and other journalists who have been missing or killed. It highlights the dangerous work they have done. And it's a story we're going to continue to follow here at CNN.

Well, General Motors will axe 4,000 white collar jobs today. The first round of a series of significant layoffs. How many workers total are expects to lose their jobs with the automaker? We're going to tell you.

And we'll be right back.


[09:40:38] SCIUTTO: Some tough news now.

Today, layoffs start for 4,000 employees of General Motors. The company announced the cuts in November, along with plans to close four plants in the U.S. and a fifth in Canada. The layoffs come as the president's set to tout the economy and manufacturing in his State of the Union Address.

Joining me now, CNN business correspondent Alison Kosik.

And when these were first announced, the president certainly was not happy with it, attacked General Motors.


SCIUTTO: But what's behind it?

KOSIK: Yes. I mean, so you look at what's happening just today, 4,000 involuntary workers will be losing their jobs. So that's going to be harsh. But that's only a fraction of those at General Motors who are going to be losing their jobs. Anywhere from 10,000 to 18,000 when all is said and done will no longer have jobs.

And you look at the confluence of factors that's behind all of these job losses. Well, first of all, you make a good point, last year, in November, the announcement was made that these layoffs would happen. But just four months before that, General Motors warned that those steel tariffs imposed by President Trump were going to lead to fewer jobs in North America.

Well, today, on this day before the State of the Union, when the actual layoffs are happening, yes, you've got the backdrop of the State of the Union. During a time when President Trump is expected to applaud the manufacturing sector which, by the way, is growing stronger, more jobs. But it is ironic when you see tens of thousands of jobs in America's -- one of America's biggest automakers. All these people losing their jobs. And then, of course, four -- you know, four plants in the U.S., one in Canada, shutting down. The discontinuation of six models of vehicles.

So when you look at it sort of as a whole, you look at what is behind this restructuring. I think a lot has to do with changing tastes, changing technology, changing times. You're seeing General Motors trying to change with the times and move toward electric vehicles, possibly starting a ride hailing service. It doesn't want to get left behind, although already other car companies have moved toward electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles. And so you're trying to see a company that's trying to keep up at this point with competition.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, some of these are structural changes, right, that are happening over the course of many years.

KOSIK: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Just very quickly, are a lot of these folks getting buyouts or are they just cut loose without any support whatsoever?

KOSIK: According to GM, a lot of -- a lot of those who are being laid off are getting -- are getting those buyouts. So it is easing the pain of losing -- of losing jobs. You know, you just hope that new plants open that will be making these electric vehicles. SCIUTTO: Well, and it's just still alarming changes for those


KOSIK: It is.

SCIUTTO: Alison Kosik, thanks very much.

KOSIK: Sure.

SCIUTTO: Will the American people be allowed to see Robert Mueller's final report on the Russia investigation and Russian ties to the Trump campaign? President Trump will not commit to it. Neither will his nominee for attorney general. Cause for concern? Seems like it is. We're going to discuss.


[09:47:45] SCIUTTO: Just moments from now, prosecutors and attorneys for Paul Manafort go before a federal judge to argue whether the Trump campaign chairman, former chairman, broke his plea agreement by lying repeatedly to the special counsel. Manafort is accused of, quote, intentionally providing false information to federal investigators, including information about contacts with the Trump administration and interactions with a former business associate with suspected ties to Russian intelligence.

Meanwhile, in an interview with CBS' "Face the Nation," President Trump would not commit to allow the results of Robert Mueller's probe to be made public. Listen to what he said.


MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS ANCHOR, "FACE THE NATION": Would you make the Mueller report public because you say there's nothing in there? Congress can subpoena it anyway, though.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's totally up to the attorney general. Totally up to the attorney general.

BRENNAN: But what do you want them to do?

TRUMP: Even the Mueller report said it had nothing to do with the campaign. When you look at some of the people and the events, it had nothing to do --

BRENNAN: You wouldn't have a problem if it became public?

TRUMP: Excuse me. Excuse me. That's up to the attorney general. I don't know. It depends. I have no idea what it's going to say.


SCIUTTO: Let's discuss now with Kim Wehle. She's former federal prosecutor and former associate independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation.

Thanks very much for joining us this morning.


SCIUTTO: So those comments there, because the president leaving the door open to that report not being made public, putting it off on the attorney general. Of course, the attorney general, we took note, did not commit to releasing the report as well, at least the nominee, that is Bill Barr. How significant is that and does that mean it's possible this is going to be a fight to see whether the public sees the results of the investigation?

WEHLE: Well, I think it is going to be a fight because the terms of the regulation itself actually don't provide for making this report public. I think that's something that is a bit misunderstood. There's two -- two reports, as Mr. Barr testified to. The first would be from Mueller to the attorney general. And that's governed by traditional confidentiality rules at DOJ, which includes decisions about whether or not to prosecute. And that is generally not made public. The second would be a report that could be made public if there's a conflict between the attorney general and Mr. Mueller about a decision. And I think that's unlikely that there's been a conflict. That is, Mr. Mueller wants to do something. The attorney general says no.

That being said, there's going to be tremendous public pressure through Congress to release report number one. And Congress, at any point, could pass legislation mandating that that report be made public, as was the case in the Whitewater investigation. There was legislation. It does not -- no longer exist, or Congress could subpoena that document and make it public.

[09:50:16] So -- so, I mean, Mr. Trump is right about the fact that I don't really think it comes down to his particular call in this instance, but there will be pressure to make it public.


Although he has skin in the game. And you might imagine that he does have an opinion as to whether he wants to see it out there.

I do want to ask you about -- about Paul Manafort. So this is -- this is an essential battle here because he went into an agreement with the special prosecutor. The special counsel says that he broke that plea agreement repeatedly. What does the government have to show today?

WEHLE: The government has to show essentially that it in good faith is backing out of its side of the plea agreement. This is different from adding new charges for perjury. There were seven counts in an indictment that went down to two with this cooperation agreement. The government could go back to the original indictment or it could add additional charges. So far that hasn't happened.

So the government basically has to show it has a reason to basically come out of its side of the deal and in that instance then it wouldn't necessarily ask for a downward departure for cooperation. Essentially saying, listen, this guy is not playing ball the way he said he was. we're -- we want to be able to basically pull our levels of power. It's kind of a contract dispute, breaking the contract on the government's side.

SCIUTTO: OK. So let's talk about the results here because when Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, went into this cooperation agreement, the big questions were, OK, what is he going to say, what is he going to provide, and will any of this lead back to the president? If this agreement's been broken and they're in court now arguing over it, does that mean that the prospect of cooperation from someone who's certainly a key witness in this investigation, that that prospect is gone?

WEHLE: Well, it looks like there has been some cooperation. His lawyers claim that he just misremembered things or was confused. At this point I think this witness is probably not that helpful to the government one way or the other and - because he's been inconsistent in his statements. The bigger question, the constitutional question is, whether some of the conversations between or at least attempts at communication between Mr. Manafort and the White House has to do with a pardon. And, of course, the dangling pardon is something I think that is always going to be a pressure point for witnesses that could otherwise potentially give testimony that's inconsistent with the president's best interest.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And the president certainly hasn't taken that off the table in his public comments and you wonder if there's a reason behind that.

Kim Wehle, thanks very much.

WEHLE: My pleasure.

SCIUTTO: El Chapo is set to learn his fate. Jury deliberations are expected to begin today. We're going to give you a live update in really this fascinating trial. That's next.


[09:57:03] SCIUTTO: Jury deliberations expected to begin today in the trial of the man once called the most powerful drug trafficker in the world. Joaquin El Chapo Guzman is accused of pocketing billions of dollars a year while ordering the torture and murder of rivals to his Sinaloa drug cartel.

Polo Sandoval, he's been following the case, and he joins me now.

Polo, what do we expect to happen here?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly highly watched and highly anticipated here, Jim. It's essentially judgment day now for Joaquin Guzman, known, as you mentioned, as El Chapo here. Both sides wrapped up their case last week and now the judge essentially reading these instructions to the jury of seven women and five men in the federal courthouse behind me here in Brooklyn, specifically a set of guidelines that they are to follow as they consider this on slot of evidence that's been presented to them the last 11 weeks of testimony.

They have heard from a parade of witnesses, former cartel associates of Guzman who took the stand, at least 11 of them, testifying. They either worked for or with the cartel king himself. And painting a picture of Guzman as the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, responsible for the smuggling of billions upon billions of dollars of narcotics.

And we have also seen graphic turns in the testimony here of some of his former associates have described in great, graphic detail exactly how Guzman would either order the killing or even be involved in the killing of some of his associates.

We should, of course, remind viewers, this is not a murder trial. This is a federal drug conspiracy case. So these jurors will have to stick to these guidelines that are provided by the judge here in the next -- in the next hour or two.

Now, the big question here, how long will they deliberate for? That's really hard to tell. But when you consider the totality of the evidence, Jim, it's hard to say whether or not they will actually go beyond this week. A quick reminder, though, these -- all the charges. El Chapo himself pleaded not guilty to these allegations. However, he faces up to life in prison should he be found guilty by this jury.


SCIUTTO: I mean this has been just an incredible trial to watch. I know you've been following it closely. What have been a couple of the most surprising moments so far?

SANDOVAL: It really depends on what specific day you're asking about, Jim, because every day seemed to take a different, dramatic turn. Specifically I do recall when Alex Cifuentes, a former member of the Sinaloa Cartel, testified that El Chapo even bribed former President Enrique Pena Nieto, providing $100 million bribe to the former president. That's an allegation that later President Nieto's office called false, defamatory and just downright absurd.

And then, of course, one of the last witnesses to testify was one of the former body guards of Guzman and he testified in graphic detail how Guzman was directly involved in the murders of at least three cartel rivals.

So, again, this is all testimony that will be considered by the jury, but they will specifically have to look at the involvement that El Chapo Guzman had when it comes to the Sinaloa Cartel.

SCIUTTO: And a lot of horrible abuse to women, as well.

[10:00:01] Polo Sandoval, we know you're going to stay on top of it. Thanks very much.