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ICE Arrests Atlanta Rapper, Says His "Public Persona Is False"; "Time" Reports Intel Officials Warn That Trump Ignores Intel Briefings; Trump Says We'll Go Back into Syria if ISIS Regains Strength; Trump, We're Going to Keep Watch on Iran VIA Iraq. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 4, 2019 - 15:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:30:00]

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- more, but a lot of people caught off guard by this, Brooke, incredible shock for somebody, you know, who was through to be, quote, unquote, one of the real ones. And may very well still be, but you know, yesterday is when we all found out. I think a lot of us found out that majority, that he is actually is British national. Subject of the crown and he's currently in federal custody -- Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Crazy shock to his fans. Nick, thank you very much.

VALENCIA: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Midwin Charles, a criminal defense attorney who is with me. And, OK, where to begin. If he's been in the U.S. for so many years and he overstayed his visa like 15 years ago, how can the man even get on a plane and travel anywhere without getting yanked?

MIDWIN CHARLES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Right, I'm surprised. I really am. As you said, he entered the country at about the age of 12 or 13 years old in 2005. Now I'm sure a lot of people are like, well is it he eligible for DACA? Is there a way he could sort of have adjusted his status? Which is probably what his parents should have done at that time. But he isn't eligible for DACA because DACA became law in 2012. And in order to be eligible, you had to have been here five years before. And it's too late for him. He's outside of that window.

And there's also the question as to whether or not he has a felony conviction -- a drug felony conviction from 2014. Now it's my understanding that one of his attorney has said that that conviction is being expunged. As you know if you have a felony conviction, that is automatic grounds for removal from the United States. So once those facts start to come into play, we'll know just a little bit more.

BALDWIN: Can you tell us more just also about these immigration stings and how ICE officials I guess look for certain people? Like he wasn't even the target it sounds like in the sting. CHARLES: Right. Right. Right. You know, is interesting, many of us

have seen news of ICE sort of hanging out at courthouses and at various different communities. So it'd be interesting to see why is it they were targeting the other person? And how is it that he even became or came on their radar. In other words, if he was just in the car, what is it that he said or did that made him suspicious that would make ICE want to arrest him or look into his background.

BALDWIN: Midwin Charles, we continue to dig. Thank you very much. Good to see you.

CHARLES: Good to see you too.

BALDWIN: After two years of silence, several senior intelligence officials are warning that President Trump displays quote, willful ignorance when it comes to his foreign policy briefings. They say it presents a serious national security risk. We'll talk to the reporter who broke the story wide open for "Time", next.

[15:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: President Trump continues to cast doubt on his intelligence community and now senior intelligence briefers are starting to speak out and warning of the dangers of the President dismissing their assessments. The already strained relationships spilled into public when U.S. intel chiefs gave foreign policy assessments on ISIS, Syria, Iran, that didn't exactly align with the view us of the President. And so Trump publicly blasted his intelligence leaders and he continues to double down on that criticism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS, FACE THE NATION: Did you read the report that they presented?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And did you -- there was some conversation you had because you went on Twitter and you called them naive and told them to go back to school.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think --

BRENNAN: What specifically was wrong about what they said?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think -- let me just say it wasn't so much a report. It was the questions and answers as the report was submitted and they were asked questions and answers. We've done an incredible job with Syria. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: So, let's go to Syria. CNN's senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is live in Eastern Syria for us. And Ben, you have been doing some reporting on the situation with ISIS in that region. What are the facts, what is the truth there on the ground?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well the situation at the moment, Brooke, is that there is a very small about one and a half square enclave left to the caliphate that once stretched from the outskirts of Baghdad to western Syria. And that military operations have been going on for months to try to eliminate that last bit altogether. Those operations seem to have come to a halt at the moment because there are so many civilians inside. That the worry is any massive last offensive would result in huge civilian casualties.

But even though we're talking about the elimination of this last bit of territory controlled by ISIS, the threat of ISIS continues in Syria, in Iraq. In fact, today, just north of here, there was a bomb that was planted by the side of the road to the main city north of here, Hajin. In this case, the bomber himself blew himself up and hurt nobody else.

But that really underscores the continuing threat ISIS poses beyond what we called the Islamic state, the caliphate.

[15:40:00] It is a serious dangerous large-scale insurgency that continues to threaten lives not only of people, here, but also, we saw earlier in January, the four Americans killed in Manbij. So they're a threat in Syria, they're a threat in Iraq. It continues to be a threat there. In addition to the fact that we have to look beyond Syria and Iraq to places like Libya, Afghanistan, the Philippines, other parts of north Africa, where groups affiliated or who pledged allegiance to ISIS continue to operate quite openly. Quite brazenly. So yes, in the one corner of Syria, ISIS as a territorial thing, is about to be eliminated, but ISIS as an idea, as a threat, is very much present and very much a danger still -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Ben Wedeman with the perspective. We're going to keep that top of mind as we continue on. Thank you, sir.

With me, John Walcott, he a foreign policy and national security correspondent for "Time". And he just wrote this extraordinary piece for "Time", where he spoke with a number of high-level intel officials. So John, thank you so much for joining me. Welcome.

JOHN WALCOTT, FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, TIME: It's a pleasure, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So you say that senior intelligence briefers are breaking two years of silence to warn that this President is endangering American security, what they say is willful ignorance. Can you explain what they me exactly what they mean by that?

WALCOTT: Well I think you saw a good example of that earlier in the interview with Margaret Brennan on Sunday. Which is that when he's briefed on something that doesn't square with his policy views or his personal views, he simply rejected it. And goes his own way. And we've heard that time and time again. On Iran, Syria's a good example. I mean, Ben Wedeman is making a point the intelligence officials make, which is that the threat of ISIS is not measured in real estate terms. It's a global threat and they're inspiring other people. And that's not the kind of thing that the President wants to hear.

BALDWIN: Give us --

WALCOTT: So he doesn't hear it.

BALDWIN: Give us other examples. Because you pepper your piece with notes on everything from Nepal to Bhutan to his note about a beach to North Korea. Can you just for people who haven't read this, give me examples.

WALCOTT: I'm sorry everybody hasn't read it.

BALDWIN: They will after they hear you.

WALCOTT: Good point. Well there are a combination of things. The first one is the President's ignorance. And that goes to the point about thinking that Nepal and Bhutan -- which incident incidentally, he also mispronounced as nipple and button -- while part of India, which they're not.

BALDWIN: Wait, seriously, that's what he said?

WALCOTT: Seriously. Second is a back of curiosity about the world, which is different from other Presidents. There are other Presidents who come into office, President Obama's one, with not a lot of appearance in foreign affairs. But this President has very little curiosity. So when he was briefed on the little Indian Ocean et al of Diego Garcia, which is the home to a very important military installation, in preparation for a meeting with Prime Minister May of Great Britain, he only had two questions. The first was are the people there nice, the second, are the beaches good? That prompted one of the people familiar with the briefing to say that he was acting more like a real estate developer than like a President concerned about the security implications.

BALDWIN: So this is this President and you write that for now, intelligence briefers are heartened by what we all listen to. You know, the intel chiefs over on Capitol Hill laying out the facts, but despite Trump's ire -- I mean what are the consequences if these intelligence officials, with whom you been speaking incompetence, actually stop laying out the facts for this President. Which is something you pose at the very end.

WALCOTT: Well there are two dangers, I think. The first one is that he will make decisions based not on real information, but on his own instincts, which are not always good. Two things that concern people in that connection are that he wants a deal with North Korea so badly that at his Summit that's upcoming with Kim Jong-un, he may agree to a bad deal that looks good on paper but that really has no enforcement mechanism. The second immediate concern is a trade deal with China and what might

happen in another summit with Xi Jinping where -- as one official put it just this morning to me -- that maybe billions for soybeans, but not a cent for cybersecurity. That he'll want a deal that looks good in numbers.

[15:45:00] But the real underlying concern is what might happen if the nation is suddenly hit with a real national security crisis out of the blue. Cyberattack on a financial network. Cyberattack on the electric grid. How will the President respond? Will he stop and listen and think about that response first or would again he simply act on instinct?

BALDWIN: It's a point Tony Blinken made in "The New York Times" piece last week. We're going to talk to him around the corner. I'm going to ask him about all of your points. John Walcott, I can hear everyone clicking on time.com right now to read every single word of yours. Thank you so much. It's really great having you on. Nipple and button, huh?

WALCOTT: Nipple and button.

BALDWIN: OK. Thank you.

WALCOTT: Thanks.

BALDWIN: The pressure is mounting Virginia governor, Ralph Northam, to resign after his flubbed apology for a racist yearbook photo that he now says he's not in. So what we're learning about a meeting he held today with his cabinet.

[15:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TRUMP: They want to be able to watch Iran. And all I want do is be able to watch. We're going to keep watching, and we're going to keep seeing. And if there's trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: President Trump there telling CBS News that he wants to keep troops in Iraq in part to watch Iran. So with me now, CNN global affairs analyst, Tony Blinken, who was once the Deputy Secretary of State and Deputy National Security Advisor under President Obama. Tony Blinken, always a treat to have you on. Good to have you back. You know, and so he says with regard to, you know, troops in Iraq to watch Iran. What's he talking about?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, unfortunately what the President said is I think a \mistake in that, yes, we want to keep troops in Iraq principally to make sure that there's not a resurgence of ISIS or Daesh. Do we also want to keep an eye on Iran? Yes. But to say that in the way that the President did is probably the worst way to get the Iraqis to actually support us keeping some kind of presence in Iraq. The last thing that Iraqis want is for Iraq to become some kind of battleground in a proxy war with Iran. Or a launching ground for some kind of attack on Iran. So this is just going to galvanize Iraqi politicians to say, we don't want Americans to stay in Iraq. We need them there actually keep an eye on ISIS. And if we want to keep an eye on Iran, great, but don't say it. That was a mistake.

BALDWIN: So in this context and broadening it out -- you were just listening to go my conversation with John Walcott over at "Time" magazine. Who had this incredible piece and all this amazing sourcing to senior intelligence briefers, who basically I'm going to say -- basically saying Trump is almost like unbriefable and how he doesn't listen to these briefings. And you wrote this opinion piece for "The New York Times" last week and you talked a lot about how he doesn't have this administration, no people, no process, no policy. The Trump administration is not prepared for a foreign policy crisis. Which is precisely what this point was just a moment ago. Can you explain your point?

BLINKEN: Yes. Well first of all John's piece is amazing. It really is a kind of flashing red light everyone should take a look at. But what I was getting at is a related point. We actually haven't had a foreign policy crisis yet. There've been lots of challenges, lots of problems, but no big incoming crisis that really challenges us and challenges the administration. In my take is that this is the least prepared administration in my memory at least, to be able to deal with a real crisis. Precisely because they don't have the right people in place to give the president good advice and to tell him when he is headed in the wrong direction. They don't have a process to actually bring everyone around the same table to debate the options, to challenge each other's assumptions. And they never come up with a policy that everyone in the administration follows and that our allies know and adversaries can look at too. And in the absence of those three things, if something really bad happens I fear very much that we'll be flailing about. And if the President is not listening to anyone, anyway, relying on his instincts which are at best questionable.

BALDWIN: If, for example then, if Trump pulls troops out of Syria and there is a resurgence of ISIS -- which is precisely what his intelligence chiefs have been telling him all oi long -- and then you know, that happens and he says, OK, whoa, whoa, whoa, let's bring the troops back in. What does that tell you about this President, about his rational?

BLINKEN: Well what we know about the decision to pull the 2000 special forces out of area is that apparently it happened with no process. There was in a meeting. They didn't debate it. They didn't look at what the effects might be. And then the process kind of scrambled to catch up after the President spontaneously announced it. That's not a good way to do business.

Look, I'm sympathetic to the President's instincts in terms of wanting to not have some of these wars go on forever. But there's a big difference between having say 100,000 troops in Afghanistan forever, and have 2,000 forces in Syria, small effective, leveraging about 60,000 other indigenous forces to keep a foot on the throat of ISIS to make sure it doesn't come back. The problem is if we leave and they come back it's going to be a lot harder to go back in. And who knows what will happen in the interim to make the threat even worse. Preventing something with a modest investment is a lot better than having to react to a crisis that happens if we leave.

BALDWIN: Yes. You talk to anyone in the military you can't just flip it off and flip it back on again.

BLINKEN: That's right.

[15:55:00] BALDWIN: Tony Blinken, a pleasure. Thank you so much.

BLINKEN: Thanks Brooke, good to be with you.

BALDWIN: Just in, a source revealing to CNN what happened during a closed-door cabinet meeting this morning with Virginia governor Ralph Northam and why the embattled governor is hesitant to resign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Just into CNN, President Trump has nominated his replacement for former interior secretary, Ryan Zinke. The President just tweeted he is selecting current acting interior secretary, David Bernhardt, as his choice. Bernhardt has faced criticisms for potential conflicts of interest. Zinke resigned late last year amid multiple ethics investigations into his department.

I'm Brooke Baldwin, Thanks for starting your workweek with me here on CNN. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.