Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

WAPO: Trump Organization fires at Least 18 Undocumented Workers; U.S. Weapons Fall into Wrong Hands in Yemen with Devastating Results; Lawmakers Renew Efforts to End American Military Support for Saudi-Led Coalition in Yemen; Medical School: More "Troubling" Pics in Recent Yearbooks; Turnover in Trump's Cabinet in One Photograph. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 5, 2019 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:00] ANIBAL ROMERO, ATTORNEY FOR VICTORIA MORALES: Yes. We have met with state investigators. I have sat down with the FBI. She is willing to continue to cooperate with authorities.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Does she have proof?

ROMERO: She has proof. She has the documents. She has her testimony. And this is what's important here. Victoria Morales is not the only person who says that this happened. We have Sandra Diaz. She also said that this was part of the environment there, that workers came in, documents were provided by people from inside. And at this point, I am now representing 25 workers in four different cities in the United States. And what these workers are telling me is that, during the season -- the golf season in the northeast apparently ends in November. And what they were telling me is that each club, half of the staff at each club was undocumented.

BALDWIN: So this is what the club is denying, those allegations. They say the former employees provided their own false paperwork. In a statement to CNN, Trump Organization would institute, quote, "E- Verify at all applicable properties and will continue to take swift and appropriate action where necessary."

You say she has proof not only in her false papers but the process of how she obtained her false papers?

ROMERO: She has explained to authorities how this occurred. She will continue to cooperate.

With regards to that statement, I want to say one thing. If this was one or two employees in a major cooperation, maybe you would think, maybe a couple of them were able to get false documents, but we are talking about a golf club with 100 employees, no more, and apparently half of them were undocumented, each club. Now we see that there are five clubs, so now we see a pattern and practice here. And that is why we are calling for a federal -- complete and thorough investigation of federal authorities. This is a criminal conspiracy.

BALDWIN: Anibal Romero, thank you very much.

ROMERO: Thank you. BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up next, the bombshell CNN investigation that's getting attention on Capitol Hill and around the world today. We exposed how weapons sent to war zones end up in the wrong hands. And now a new call to end U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:36:18] BALDWIN: The United Nations calls the war in Yemen the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Thousands killed and millions displaced after four years of fighting after Houthi rebels, supported by Iran, and a Saudi-led coalition backed by the United States. And a big part of the U.S. support? Weapons. Everything from assault rifles and missiles to armored vehicles.

And now CNN has exclusively learned that some of those weapons sold directly to the Saudis and to the UAE, the United Arab Emirates, are now in the hands of terrorists linked to al Qaeda and others.

Senior international correspondent, Nima Elbagir, offers up this up- close look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The influx of weaponry is prolonging the conflict.

On our way back from the front line, we spot what we've come in search of.

(on camera): It's absolutely incredible. We're driving past and it's like a grave yard of American military hardware. And this is not under the control of coalition forces. This is in the command of militias.

(voice-over): Which is expressly forbidden by the arms sales agreement with the U.S.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And that stunning report was front and center today during a Capitol Hill hearing where the head of the U.S. Central Command was questioned about these developments and what the Defense Department plans to do next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. ARMY CENTRAL COMMAND: We have not authorized Saudi Arabia or the Emirates to retransfer any of this equipment to other parties on the ground in Yemen.

I think we have to look more closely at the allegations in this particular situation to find out what happened. As we've seen in Iraq in the past, where we saw our partners overrun, we have seen American equipment provided to them, lost in the course of a fight, end up in the hands of our adversaries out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And you heard General Votel there mention how U.S. enemies have gained control of American-made weapons in previous wars. And that's just one reason that Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, says it is time for the U.S. to end its involvement in Yemen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY, (D), CONNECTICUT: It's infuriating but, frankly not surprising. It's why many of us have been advocating for years for the United States to get out of this civil war inside Yemen. Our support for the Saudis has been allowing them to intentionally kill civilians. And now we find out fairly definitively that the weapons we've been given the Saudis are ending up in very conservative, very radical Sunni militias that may end up using those weapons against the United States and our allies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: CNN's Nima Elbagir is with me live from London. And with me her in Washington, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Welcome to both of you.

Nima, extraordinary stuff.

The Defense Department says it is aware of our reporting. They're digging deeper into the claims. What's the response from the Saudis and the UAE to this?

ELBAGIR: The Saudi-led coalition didn't respond to our request for comment. Let me read to you what we got from a senior UAE official. He said they "deny in no uncertain terms that we're in violation of the arms sales agreement in any manner." They said, "The Giants brigade is a part of Yemeni forces and that the equipment was, therefore, in the collective possession of the coalition because Yemeni forces are under the supervision of the coalition."

But you heard General Votel there, Brooke, in no uncertain terms saying that that's not the case, that they have not been given authorization to transfer weapons to any of the parties under their supervision in Yemen.

BALDWIN: And, Colonel, also then listening to Senator Murphy on our air last hour, he's been critical of the U.S. involvement in some time. He wants out. He wants out immediately.

But this is what General Votel said today about what the consequence of that would be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[14:40:15] VOTEL: Certainly, it is a very significant humanitarian disaster in Yemen. But I do believe departing from our partners there removes the leverage that we have to continue to influence them, which we think we have used in a positive manner, and I think it further endangers American in the region.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Further endangers American in the region. Would you agree?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: In part, I do agree, because here's the problem. It's obviously awful that these weapons have gotten into the wrong hands. And it's very clear from Nima's report that this is exactly what is happened. It's not the first time this has happened but it's the most recent, and it's one of the worst situations of this type. But if you're not there, if you can't put your thumb on the people that are supposedly taking care of your interests, you're going to lose leverage, you're going to not be able to get things done the way you want things done, and you're also going to open the door to Iranian involvement. This is the real problem we have to deal with at this point.

BALDWIN: Nima, to you on CENTCOM, they say weapons have been obtained by U.S. enemies because U.S. partners have been -- his words -- "overrun." Does that align with what you saw, your own reporting?

ELBAGIR: No. No, these were weapons that were distributed by U.S. allies. And they're not denying it. That is the real concern of many of the U.S. military sources that we're speaking to. This is not something that the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia are denying and that's what makes this so worrying that they are flouting the end user agreement violations and claiming that those end-user agreement violations are not what they are under international law, not just when it comes to the U.S.'s arm sales agreement. And that is really concerning, to the colonel's point, about what happens when you lose leverage. How much leverage do you have if your allies are disregarding the law of your country?

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

Congress is trying once again to pass a war power's resolution that would end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Colonel, how do you think this report could shape the debate?

LEIGHTON: I think this report will have a profound influence on that. And the leverage is one of those really sticky issues. And Nima's point is very well taken. They're not following the rules. We are there, we're providing them with weapons, we're providing them with intelligence support, targeting support, and they're not doing what we're asking them to do and what our law requires them to do. And that is a real problem. So they'll be consequences for both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. And I think they won't be good consequences.

What could happen as a result of this is that, in essence, Yemen could eventually end up being part of the Iranian orbit. That would be very bad for Saudi Arabia, possibly bad for our interests as well. But the problem is, if you're going to fight a war, you'll have to do it on moral grounds as much as you possibly can, and that is something that these countries have violated.

BALDWIN: Colonel, thank you.

LEIGHTON: You bet.

BALDWIN: Good to see you, sir.

Nima, bravo. Keep digging. Thank you very much.

ELBAGIR; Thank you.

BALDWIN: Still ahead here on CNN, this picture says it all. The incredible turnover in President Trump's cabinet all in this one photograph. We'll talk about last year's State of the Union and see who is left standing.

Plus, a racist picture in one of their old yearbooks involving the now-embattled governor of Virginia. Now this medical school not only delivering a message to the black community but admitting there are more troubling pictures in recent yearbooks. We have that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:48:21] BALDWIN: Eastern Virginia Medical School, under fire for printing a racist photo in a 1984 yearbook, speaking out that the photo is on the personal page of Virginia sitting Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, shows two men, one in black face and the other dressed as a clansman. The governor is under mounting pressure to resign. And the school has hired a former states attorney general to conduct an independent review.

The school's president has just held a press conference where he apologized to the African-American community.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. RICHARD V. HOMAN, PRESIDENT, EASTERN VIRGINIA MEDICAL SCHOOL: We are acutely hurt by the events that occurred, but it does not compare to the feelings of outrage and pain for our minority and African- American community here at EVMS, Virginia, and around the nation. The emotional wounds they endure are enormous. I want to express my sincere apologies, particularly to the African-American communities who are most injured from the pictures of the yearbooks and those pictures which have been circulated in the press over the last few days. I'm so sorry for the pain that has been inflicted upon you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's go to CNN's Sara Sidner. She's live there in Norfolk.

You have learned that there are even more racist photos in recent yearbooks from the same med school.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So here's what we found. We have been looking through the yearbooks here at the EVMS library, which is just behind me, right near where the president talked about what happened. And the fact that he said that, in 2013, someone came to him, showed him a photo in the yearbook, he was upset by it. And he said, at that point, he decided no more yearbooks for the medical staff at EVMS, that they are done with doing that because he's appalled at the picture's he's seen recently from the 1984 yearbook and appalled at the picture that came out in the 2013 yearbook.

[14:50:23] The picture we found in the 2013 yearbook showed someone who had dressed up as a Confederate soldier with a Confederate flag behind their picture.

Now we should talk a little bit about exactly how these pictures get into the yearbook. I lot of questions about that. We have just spoken to a staff member from 1984, who was also a student here, who was on the yearbook staff. He was a layout person. He helped put things in place. And he said here's how he remembers the staff of the yearbook getting the pictures. We were sent the pictures or they were dropped off in a sealed envelope by the students themselves. Many of the pictures the students asked for them back because they were precious. They didn't have more than one. They had all sorts of things like their family members, grandparents sometimes, sometimes their children. Depending on the student, they would send in a group of pictures to the yearbook staff to be put on their personal page. I asked him this question, is it possible that someone may have switched up the pictures or someone did this on purpose, and he responded -- here's what he told us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. WILLIAM ELWOOD, FORMER EVMS YEARBOOK STAFF MEMBER: That is certainly possible, but the people, myself and the people I worked with, we took great pains to try and make sure that everything that the student submitted was kept together and to try and prevent the wrong pictures from going -- or the pictures from going on someone else's page. But it is possible that that could have happened, but it's a low probability.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: So you heard there from Dr. William Elwood. He spoke at length to us. He said some of the stuff was done back then. No one on the yearbook staff flagged it. He wasn't sure if there was a faculty member involved.

The president also answered a question about whether the faculty knew about this and he said he couldn't remember and each year was different. This particular student said, look, I know that the editor looked over every single one of these pictures and nobody thought anything of. That was the scene.

Now fast-forward to 2013, and we've discovered another picture of a Confederate soldier put in garb into the yearbook in 2013. Those are the pictures that the medical school president is likely referring to. He decided he was just going to stop this now.

He apologized not only to the community, African-American community, but also to the students who he said were greatly hurt by this. He says a lot more needs to be done. And there's an independent investigation being done -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: And the governor is still the governor until further notice.

Sara Sidner, thank you very much, in Norfolk, Virginia.

SIDNER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, federal prosecutors in New York putting a spotlight on President Trump's inauguration and following the money trail. Were crimes committed, including conspiracy?

And a two-year CNN investigation now raising questions about the death of James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. Why nearly a dozen people are calling for an investigation into his death.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:57:52] BALDWIN: What a difference a year makes. When President Trump delivers his State of the Union tonight, not only will he look out into a room that will have decidedly more Democrats, but behind him, speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, of course, on the dais looking over his shoulder. And with the historic turnover of the president's own cabinet, there will be several new faces leading the president down the aisle tonight.

CNN's Zachary Wolf is with us now.

And, Zack, more on this one photo. I know it's up on CNN.com for everyone to see, like the incredible year that was, and now all these people are gone.

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL DIRECTOR: That's right. We were getting ready for State of the Union this year and we were looking at the photos from last year and it just struck us that eight members of the president's cabinet, these are people who will sit front and center. One will probably skip and be the so-called designated survivor. But the rest of his team will be there to support him in the front row.

And the turnover since last year has been remarkable. There's John Kelly, maybe his top staffer for a long time, is left. And this is one of the themes. You see people going from inside of the cabinet to new jobs. OMB director, Mick Mulvaney, is right there. He's moved over to that chief-of-staff job. Nikki Haley was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. They've taken that job out of the cabinet. They're waiting for Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, who has been nominated. But she wouldn't go anywhere theoretically because they have essentially demoted that job. You've had couple of people leave because of scandals or internal investigations. Those include EPA Director Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, the Interior secretary. Both of them have had deputies nominated but not confirmed yet. A lot of this cabinet is still empty. At least those two for sure.

And then another thing that I want to point out, there's been a lot of turnover in his national security staff. You have both his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who was replaced by Mike Pompeo, the CIA director. James Mattis has had a deputy, Patrick Shanahan, nominated to replace him. It's a remarkable turnover.

In fact, some researchers at Brookings suggested that it's been about 65 percent of the president's cabinet, his turnover at least one time. And that is more than George W. Bush, the last Republican president, had in eight years, 65 percent.

[15:00:00]