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U.S. Troops to Stay in South Korea as Trump Sets Up 2nd Summit with North Koran Leader; Democrats Prepare Week of Blockbuster Hearings into Trump; Race Front & Center for Democratic Presidential Candidates; Inmates Lived in Cold Cells Without Power During Deep Freeze. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 4, 2019 - 14:30   ET



[14:30:40] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Just in, the U.S. and South Korea have reached a preliminary agreement on the costs of keeping nearly 30,000 U.S. troops stationed on the peninsula. The president had suggested he would consider withdrawing troops, pressuring South Korea to contribute more to the financial costs of keeping them overseas.

So let's go to national security report, Kylie Atwood.

Kylie, the president will have a second summit with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un, this month. What more do you know about this deal with South Korea?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, State Department sources tell CNN that the U.S. and South Korea have finally come to an agreement over how much South Korea is willing to pay the U.S. to keep their forces in South Korea. We're told that the figure is nearly $1 billion. That's a far cry from what President Trump wanted. He wants South Koreans to start paying almost double what they had been paying in the past, which was around 800 million a year. I want to point out however this is a preliminary agreement. Essentially, President Trump could still nix it. We don't know if the president himself has signed off, but what we know is his negotiators have come to something they think is a fair agreement of where they're at and how they can move forward. However, the other factor here is that we are told this is a one-year agreement. In the past, these agreements have been for five years. That means, in a year from now, less than a year from now, actually, the U.S. and South Korea will have to sit down to the table again. It will give the U.S. some more negotiating room to get more money for keeping its U.S. forces in South Korea. But this agreement right now does ease the anxiety for U.S. officials that were worried that President Trump might use this as a negotiating tool, U.S. troops in South Korea, when he comes to the table with Kim Jong-Un for what is predicted to be a second summit between the two at the end of the month. That would be something that would be extremely, extremely hurtful to the U.S./South Korean alliance.

BALDWIN: Kylie Atwood, thank you very much. A cold, hard reality of a new Democratic majority in Congress, about

to hit home for President Trump this week after the president delivers his State of the Union speech tomorrow night. Democrats preparing for a week of blockbuster hearings, everything from presidential tax returns to the family separation policy at the southern border all in the spotlight.

Let's go CNN's Lauren Fox.

And give us a little preview, Lauren, of what to expect.

LAUREN FOX, CNN: This is week the president will see what that Democratic oversight looks like. Let me give you a rundown of what the president will see this week. There are two important subcommittee hearings. One in a Ways and Means Subcommittee, it will be over presidential tax returns. Specifically why the president needs to release them. How Democrats plan to write legislation in the future to require presidents to release them. That hearing, very important and something the president himself might be you know interested in learning a little more about.

There's also an Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing. That looking at the family separation on the southern border. Then two important hearings later in the week. One of them in the House Judiciary Committee. That's with Matthew Whittaker, the acting attorney general. Democrats have had tough words about he how he talked about the Mueller investigation. Watch for some fireworks in that hearing. Then behind closed doors, Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer and longtime fixer, is going to be coming before the House Intelligence Committee.

So a lot on the agenda this week. It's just a sampling of what to expect. There will be more cabinet secretaries summoned to Capitol Hill. They'll have to answer tough questions from Democrats. But this coming after the government shutdown and just days after the president's State of the Union, which is traditionally meant to unify the parties. So a lot to look forward to -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: A big week.

Lauren Fox, we know you'll be ready for it. Thank you very much on Capitol Hill.

[14:34:57] Coming up next, as we watch what happens with Virginia's governor, Ralph Northam, a look at the races in the 2020 campaign. Some of those considering a run have called the president a racist. But at least one African-American candidate hasn't quite gone that far. Let's talk about why.


BALDWIN: As the most diverse presidential field prepares to fight for the Democratic nomination, the issue of race is front and center. I'm not just talking about the candidates themselves. There's also how the current occupant of the White House, Donald Trump, has tackled the issue as a commander-in-chief. Here's what New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said during his campaign

launch this past Friday.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you believe that Donald Trump is a racist?

SEN. CORY BOOKER, (D), NEW JERSEY: I don't know the heart of anybody. I'll leave that to the Lord. I know there are a lot of people who profess the ideology of white supremacy who use his words.


BALDWIN: A couple of days later, one of his potential rivals, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, had a more definitive answer.


[14:40:09] SEN. SHERROD BROWN, (D), OHIO: I think this country hasn't dealt well with the issues of race. We have a president who's a racist. Who we have --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Let me pause you there. You believe in his heart he's a racist?

BROWN: Oh, I don't know what in his heart means. I know he built his political career knowing what he was doing on questioning the legitimacy and the birthplace of the president of the United States.


BALDWIN: David Swerdlick is an assistant editor for the "Washington Post" and a CNN political commentator.

So welcome back, David. Good to see you.


BALDWIN: Let me set this up. So Cory Booker's rollout, it was about unity and love, and he has this reputation for being optimistic. And while you know he has railed against some of the Trump administration's policies in Senate hearings that we've all watched, he's hedged when asked directly if he thinks the president is a racist.

Do you think, David, that he was trying to stay on brand, for a lack of a better phrase, or was he trying to walk fine line knowing he cannot alienate voters he needs for the nomination?

SWERDLICK: Sure. I think he is walking a fine line. And you're right. That being said, I think it's reasonable for someone like himself to take the position -- I happen to take the position myself -- that when you're looking at someone's words and deeds, it's fair to say I don't know what is in their heart. I don't know what malice lies or doesn't like within their heart. I can only evaluate what they do or say.


SWERDLICK: Yes, go ahead.

BALDWIN: Could -- but could any hedging, as he's running to be president, could it hurt him come 2020? Where so much of their base is outraged by the president's words and behavior?

SWERDLICK: That's why it's a fine line, Brooke. It's a good question. On the one hand, in a Democratic primary, where you have someone like Senator Brown saying in no uncertain terms that he thinks the president is a racist, that it might seem like Senator Booker is hedging. I would only say here, there's no one's false, just the way it is. It's sometimes easier for someone to play against type or do a "Nixon goes to China" in that situation. For a baby boomer white man to say this other baby boomer white man is a racist, sometimes it's easier for a Gen X black man to say it, even though they're both U.S. Senators. In the same way that it might earlier for me as a man to call something that the president does out as sexist because I'm not a woman. Obviously, women can take that position.


SWERDLICK: And I think that's the line that we're on here.

BALDWIN: I want to go back to last year during the fiery battle for governor of Florida. Andrew Gillum had this exchange with his Republican rival, Ron DeSantis.


ANDREW GILLUM, (D), FORMER FLORIDA GUBANATORIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. DeSantis has spoken. He's got Neo-Nazis helping him out in the state. He has spoken at racist conferences.

I'm not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I'm simply saying the racists believe he's a racist.


BALDWIN: Is there a risk for black candidates who are that vocal about racism?

SWERDLICK: I think, again, the way that the mayor handled that was skillful in that case. I think DeSantis will have to answer to voters for some of the statements he's made, for some of the other things said about members of his team or campaign. I think the Florida Republican secretary of state just resigned for a blackface photo. Not sure if he was appointed by the governor or elected. That being said, I think, yes, this is a fine line for black candidates in a presidential race certainly. And I think they'll have to face this in a way that's slightly different than president, then-Senator Obama did in 2008. Remember Senator Obama gave a speech called "A More Perfect Union" in 2008 to explain his views on race, to address his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright. It was well received on both sides of the aisle and propelled his candidacy. Not sure any of the African-American candidates or any of the candidates on the Democratic side will have to do that, do that in this cycle. But I do think race and how we deal with it is different now because President Trump is someone who makes racist statements because of the Black Lives Matters movement and because now we're looking at black candidates and saying, you're not going to be the first anymore, you don't get credit for being the first African-American. You get credit for what you do and what you say and how you address issues near and dear to the black community.

BALDWIN: And of course, all these candidates are being asked about this controversy out of Virginia. We'll have so much more on that, to resign or not. He wants more time.

David Swerdlick, thank you. Good to see you.

SWERDLICK: Thanks, Brooke.

[14:45:02] BALDWIN: Horrifying scenes. Inmates banging on windows trying to warn people they were in freezing-cold cells in this jail without power during a deep freeze. We'll talk to one of the people who spoke up and got help.

Plus, ICE arrests a rapper in a sting operation which breaks his public persona as being from Atlanta.


BALDWIN: The power is back on and heat is restored inside a New York detention facility, but the investigation is only beginning into why hundreds of prisoners were left in the dark in freezing cold temperatures for at least a week.




[14:50:10] That is the sound of inmates banging on their cell windows from last Friday trying to let people know on the outside that they were freezing. Prison officials say the cause was a fire in an electrical room. Family members and angry protestors clashed with prison guards when they were trying to rush the building Sunday.

Now New York's governor wants to Justice Department to look into reports of civil rights violations.

Here's what we have from the DOJ coming in to CNN. "In the coming days, the department will work with the Bureau of Prisons to examine what happened and to ensure the facility has the power, heat and backup system in place to prevent the problem from reoccurring.

Tina Luongo, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, is with me now.

Thank you for coming in. You were there two separate weekends. You've been talking to family

members. Before we get to the history of this facility, you were there. What are you hearing? How bad was it?

TINA LUONGO, ATTORNEY, LEGAL AID SOCIETY: The banging you heard of SOS, that was almost a constant sound for three days. Then you had the advocates and family members on the streets screaming up and we were all screaming to let people know that they were being heard that we weren't going to let that go away. The family members that were there were hanging signs, children holding up signs to let their parents and their loved ones know that, that they were being heard. Because from the perspective and the reports we were hearing of when the lawyers from the federal defenders were finally allowed to go in, they were in pitch-black ice-cold cells, not having any information.

So when we talk about the lights going out, we're not only talking about literally, but figuratively. There was zero information being provided to the people who were outside waiting to hear from loved ones.


LUONGO: The warden, not a peep. There was no report. In fact, one report was that the warden had left in the middle of the crisis. So this was the person in charge of making sure that things were going right and that they had left the facility.

BALDWIN: Is this a horrendous, but one-off kind of problem that this jail has had?

LUONGO: No, the Prisoners' Rights Project, the Legal Aid Society, in consultation with the federal defenders and the law firm the federal defenders is working now, knew about complaints about heat issues as early as January 22nd. And we sent a letter, of course, unanswered by both the warden and the Bureau of Prisons as to the conditions we were hearing already a couple of weeks before the fire had happened. But let's be clear. What happens, the conditions in both MDC in Brooklyn and MCC, which is in Manhattan, plus other jails and prisons, those conditions of heat, no access to water, lock downs, no access to information, those are common things we hear a lot.

BALDWIN: Could you, as you were there, it's haunting hearing the clanging, but could you hear screams? Could you make out words, anything --

LUONGO: Yesterday, when there were people allowed to come out of cells, people starting to hear some things but, otherwise, it was just that silent SOS clanging on the windows from inside.

BALDWIN: There's a lawsuit now that's been filed in federal court to restore constitutional rights to these inmates. As we said, they have the heat on. I know you guys fully support this. What does justice look like you here?

LUONGO: Justice looks like the warden losing his job. Justice looks like a plan that makes sure this doesn't happen again. And frankly, justice, when we talk about jail and prison conditions, we have to talk about mass incarceration. We have to talk about de- incarcerating. You know, the fact is that, as haunting as those sounds were, at least the people, loved ones and advocates on the street heard. But in many facilities, Rikers, Upstate New York, in immigration detention centers that are behind hurricane barbed-wire fences, away from people, you don't hear that tapping and those SOS's go unheard. The fact that the community came out and refused to leave and that elected officials got in to see what was going on, that's what changed this, and that's the systemic change that has to happen going forward.

BALDWIN: Tina Luongo, thank you very much.

LUONGO: Thanks for covering this.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up next, will ISIS reemerge if the U.S. pulls out of Syria? President Trump reveals what happens if the terror group bounces back. How realistic is his strategy? CNN is on the ground in Syria. We'll have a live report coming up.

Also, breaking news. A federal jury in Brooklyn is deliberating the fate of alleged Mexico cartel boss, "El Chapo." Stand by for that.

[14:55:04] You're watching CNN.


BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Nothing says you're innocent like first admitting you're guilty then saying maybe I'm not guilty, then saying, no, I'm definitely not guilty but I did do it just another time you guys didn't know about. That's the bizarre path that Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, of Virginia, walked this weekend after this photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook showing two mean, one in blackface and the other in a KKK robe and hood, surfaced on Friday, sparking outrage, anger and calls for him to resign.

[15:00:02] Now at first, Governor Northam said that he was one of the men and now he says he wasn't.