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HALA GORANI TONIGHT
Weapons Made In America Are Lost In War Zone; U.S. General Defends Supporting Saudi-Led Coalition; Following The Trail Of U.S. Weaponry Inside Yemen; Hours Away From Trump's State Of The Union Address; Trump To Deliver State Of The Union To Divided Congress; Prosecutors Subpoena Trump Inaugural Committee Docs; War On ISIS Leaves Communities In Rubble; U.S. General: ISIS Now Controls Only 50 Square Kilometers; U.K.: ISIS Hostage John Cantlie Believed To Still Be Alive. Aired: 2-3p ET
Aired February 5, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, ANCHOR, CNN: Hello and welcome, everyone. I'm Hala Gorani. Tonight U.S. lawmakers are renewing efforts to pass a War Powers Resolution
through Congress in an attempt to end American military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. As the U.S. government grapples with its
entanglement in Yemen Civil War, CNN's Nima Elbagir has been following the trail of U.S. weapons and weaponry, and the devastation that these weapons
have left behind.
After CNN presented its findings, a U.S. defense official told CNN exclusively that an investigation into violations of U.S. arms agreements
by coalition partners is ongoing. We will have reaction to this CNN exclusive from a U.S. Senator live on this program in just about 90
First though, a quick reminder of Nima's exclusive report made in America lost in Yemen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIMA ELBAGIR, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: It's absolutely incredible. We're driving past and it's like a graveyard of American
military hardware and this is not under the control of coalition forces. This is in the command of militias, which is expressly forbidden by the arm
sales agreement with the US.
On the outside of these mine-resistant armored vehicles, MRAPs, there are even stickers proudly proclaiming them as property of Alwiyat al Amalqa, a
militia allied to the coalition.
We zero in on the serial numbers, tracing them back to U.S. manufacturer, Navistar, the largest provider of armored vehicles for the U.S. Army.
We're told to stop filming, but we are able to find another vehicle. This one even has the export sticker from Beaumont, Texas to Abu Dhabi in the
United Arab Emirates.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: The U.S. weapons manufacturer, Navistar, didn't respond to our request for comment. We'll bring your Nima's full report in just a few
moment, but first I want to get reaction from a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy joins me now
from Washington. And we're seen all over the world, Senator, what is your reaction to Nima's reporting here not only that U.S. weaponry has just
accidentally fallen into the wrong hands but that it is possible that it was willingly distributed to some of these very extremist militia groups
CHRIS MURPHY, U.S. SENATE DEMOCRAT: Well, I'm thankful to Nima for her reporting and for the risk that she took to get this story because
apparently the United States military did not know that our coalition partners were openly and purposefully transferring very complicated lethal
military equipment to dangerous partners, militias in the region who ultimately don't have the security of the United States first and foremost.
Unfortunately, this is predictable. When we send lethal weapons into chaotic war zones, they very often end up in the hands of those that they
weren't first intended for. Just recently inside Syria, we're training a whole bunch of rebels, we gave them a bunch of very expensive weapons, and
they ended up in the hands of the Sunni extremist groups that we were supposed to be training them to fight.
So this happens over and over again. At some point, I hope we learn our lesson.
GORANI: But how do you propose that happen? I mean I know you're proposing resolutions on Capitol Hill of War Powers Resolution to try to
limit the extent of U.S. support to the Saudi coalition, and its military involvement in Yemen.
MURPHY: Well, there are two things you can do. I certainly support passing a War Powers Resolution. I think we will do that in the House, in
the Senate in the next couple weeks that would actually pull the United States fully out of this Civil War inside Yemen. But you can also be more
surgical, you can temporarily halt arm sales to Saudi Arabia until we get a full accounting of what happened to these weapons.
I would hope that the administration itself would take that step this week until they understand the full story. Frankly, our military shouldn't be
relying on CNN reporting to tell them that these trucks and these anti tank missiles are being sent to some really radical, very extreme militias on
the ground inside Yemen.
GORANI: Well, as you know your Republican colleagues on the Hill and the President himself have said this is an important business relationship.
These arm sales to Saudi Arabia and that if the U.S. didn't sell the arms to Saudi then other countries would, potentially China. Your colleague,
your Republican colleague, Jim Inhofe said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM INHOFE, U.S. SENATE REPUBLICAN: I am concerned that disengaging our partners in Yemen will undermine Israel, bolster Iran and increase human
In your assessment, what are the costs of disengagement from our partners in Yemen?
JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Certainly, they have citizen with very significant humanitarian disaster in Yemen. But I do
believe the party from our partners there removes the leverage that we have to continue to influence them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: How do you react to that? That was General Joseph Votel who is the Commander of United States Central Command. How do you react to that
rationale that you lose the leverage if you stop arm sales to Saudi?
MURPHY: Well, let's just be honest about what's happened inside Yemen. Our presence has elongated the Civil War which has ended up strengthening
al Qaeda and ISIS, which are the enemy that we are supposed to be combating in that region. Now, through your reporting we learned that we are
actually transferring U.S. weapons to militias that are allied with elements of al Qaeda.
And so if this is really about U.S. National Security then continuing this participation in the Yemen is just aiding and abetting the groups that
actually want to hit the United States.
GORANI: But I think for some, it's just simpler than that. It's about business. It's about signing billion dollar contracts. It's also about
not letting other countries get that business, these Saudi arms sales. How do you react to that?
MURPHY: Yes, but it's difficult to control what happens to weapons when they go into a chaotic space like Yemen. And so we can put all of the
upfront conditions we want on a transfer of arms to Saudi Arabia, but over and over again, they have violated the terms of our alliance. They are
using U.S. munitions right now to deliberately bomb civilian targets inside Yemen; wedding schools, water treatment facilities.
So we've had all of the notice we need that the Saudis do not honor the conditions of our military alliance and that's why we should suspend the
arm sales and pull ourselves out of this military coalition.
GORANI: Lastly, this effort to pass a resolution. You need, I mean, in order to override a presidential veto, as you know two thirds of majority.
Presumably you won't get that, what's the point of the effort then?
MURPHY: Well, we have this debate in December, it was part of the leverage that was used to force the two sides to the negotiating table. They got a
sort of partial ceasefire around who date it not coincidental to the exact moment that we were debating pulling out of the military coalition in the
United States Senate.
So I don't know whether the President will sign it. He probably won't. I don't think we'll get a veto-approved majority. But every time that we
take steps to pull ourselves out of the military coalition, it prompts the Saudis and the Yemeni government to be more serious about negotiations to
end this conflict and that is in everyone's interest.
GORANI: All right, Senator Chris Murphy, thank you so much for joining us on CNN International.
GORANI: We appreciate it. All right, now let's bring you Nima's piece from inside Yemen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELBAGIR: Shells of millions of dollars' worth of abandoned American armored vehicles litter the road. Welcome to Yemen where weaponry made in
America is sold, stolen, and abandoned, and making its way into the wrong hands.
We're here to follow the trail of those weapons and the chaos they've left behind. Our journey starts at the Hodeidah frontlines where a ceasefire
was recently signed. Climbing up a defensive berm for a better look, the Houthi position, we're told, is only around 200 to 300 meters away.
There's movement there on the horizon. Did you hear that? Scotty, get down. There, another shot. That's coming from over there.
They want to take us to the actual position. They want to show us the ceasefire violations. Okay, all right.
So there, they're now firing on us. You can hear it. I can hear some - I can hear a mortar that's incoming. It's getting heavier and we're told we
have to leave. Even as we're driving away, even now, you can hear that. It's getting much, much heavier.
The influx of weaponry is prolonging the conflict. On our way back from the frontline we spot what we've come in search of.
It's absolutely incredible. We're driving past and it's like a graveyard of American military hardware and this is not under the control of
coalition forces. This is in the command of militias.
Which is expressly forbidden by the arms sales agreement with the U.S.
On the outside of these mine-resistant armored vehicles, MRAPs, there are even stickers proudly proclaiming them as property of Alwiyat al Amalqa, a
militia allied to the coalition. We zero in on the serial numbers, tracing them back to U.S. manufacturer, Navistar, the largest provider of armored
vehicles for the U.S. Army.
We're told to stop filming but we are able to find another vehicle. This one even has the export sticker from Beaumont, Texas to Abu Dhabi in the
United Arab Emirates.
As we arrive back in town we pass yet another militia-held MRAP. Everywhere we look, it seems, it's made in the U.S.A. Yemen is split
between warring factions. U.S.-backed and Saudi-led in the countries south; Iranian-backed Houthi militias in the north. We can't cross the
frontlines to go north. But the MRAPs have, captured by Iran's allies, the Houthis.
To the backdrop of chants of "Death to America" this U.S. MRAP was broadcast on a Houthi-backed channel with Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the
deputy leader sitting behind the wheel. CNN was able to obtain the serial number from one of the Houthi-held MRAPs and verify that it was part of
$2.5 billion 2014 U.S. sale to the UAE, a coalition partner.
So why does it matter? Because these very MRAPs and others like them have already, we're told, fallen into the hands of Iranian intelligence.
In an audio interview with a member of a secret Houthi unit, the preventative security force, CNN was told some U.S. military technology has
already been transferred to Iran.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iranian intelligence are assessing U.S. military technology very closely. There isn't a single American weapon that they
don't try to find out its details, what it's made of, how it works.
ELBAGIR: Advanced improvised explosive devices with Iranian components are now mass-produced by Houthi forces on a scale only previously achieved by
ISIS. And the U.S.' first line offense against IEDs, the MRAP, has been compromised.
The Houthi leadership denied to CNN the existence of the preventative security forces. CNN has also reached out to Iran for comment but received
no response. Regardless, at the very least, these high- profile captures of American hardware make them safer and harder to fight.
Our next stop is the mountain city of Taiz where we're told an al Qaeda- linked militia is in possession of American weaponry. In these images obtained by CNN, you see the Abu Abbas militia, founded by an al Qaeda
funder, Abu Abbas, currently on the U.S. terror list proudly patrolling the streets of Taiz in U.S. MRAPs.
If that wasn't unsettling enough, Taiz, we learned, is also awash with weaponry. Arms markets are illegal in Yemen, but that hasn't stopped them
Using undercover cameras, we are able to film arms sellers hidden amid women's clothing shops. He doesn't today, but we're told we can put in a
special order for an American assault rifle. Sellers like these are driving a black market for high-tech American weapons, sustaining the
conflict and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
CNN was told by coalition sources that a deadlier U.S. weapons system, the TOW missile, was airdropped in 2015 by Saudi Arabia to Yemeni fighters. An
airdrop that was proudly proclaimed across Saudi-backed media channels.
So where were they used and by whom? We try to find out.
Here, yes. Can you hear me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I'm trying to lose the other guys so ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Okay, that will do.
ELBAGIR: Okay. We've been told that we can't go ahead with the interviews that we had preplanned. This local government is under the aegis of the
coalition and they are completely blocking any of our access or any of our ability to do any work.
The intimidation continued throughout that day and into the night. Ultimately, we're chased out of town. But we still want to find out what
happened to the TOWs.
So we asked the U.S. Department of Defense whether they knew what happened to the U.S. anti-tank missiles. They say that despite Saudi TV coverage,
they weren't even aware of the claim that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia used TOW anti-tank missiles in Yemen in October 2015.
After CNN presented its findings to the DOD, it says it has now launched an investigation. The Saudi-led coalition has not responded to calls for
comment. But a senior UAE official denied to CNN that they were in violation of the arms sales agreement saying, "The Giants Brigade are part
of Yemeni forces that fight the Houthis on the ground and are under our direct supervision."
The U.S. DOD statement to CNN added, "They did not authorize any transfer of MRAPs or any military hardware from Saudi Arabia or the UAE to third
So far, we've focused on the weapons fueling the war here, but the seemingly endless conflict they sustain has also sparked a manmade
catastrophe. Just a short distance from the frontlines, the human toll comes into full view.
This is Vashaed and she is so malnourished that she can't actually walk. Her mother has to carry her everywhere. There are 200 cases of
malnutrition like Vashaed just in this one village.
The local clinic had to shut down, so when word that the doctor is here gets around, parents come out into the street to meet her.
Roula is 14 months old but looks far smaller. After the doctor finishes her checkup, her father takes us deeper into the village to meet other
This is Rehab. She's two years old and she is so severely malnourished that her chest has begun to cave in. But, incredibly, this is actually
Rehab after she started getting better. The doctor said that they've been able to get her to keep some of the nutrition in and they're actually
That hope, though, depends on peace and what we've seen here doesn't give much hope of a lasting one.
How easy it is to get your hands on high-tech U.S. weapons. How a swamp of uneasy alliances has led to sensitive U.S. weaponry ending up in both
Iranian and al Qaeda-linked hands. How America's allies are making Americans less safe.
Wherever and with whomever the weapons end up, the war goes on and ultimately, it's the people here who, as ever, bear the brunt.
Nima Elbagir, CNN, Hodeida province.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: And CNN did reach out to Navistar, the U.S. weapons manufacturer mentioned in that piece and they didn't respond to our request for comment
and says, "We were just discussing with Senator Chris Murphy, these U.S. arms sales are legally processed and sanctioned by the U.S. government."
Now, we are just hours away from President Donald Trump's annual State of the Union address, his first after Democrats took control over the House.
The White House says he'll reach out to Democrats with an optimistic tone. Not everyone is so hopeful. However, there is that battle over his border
wall and it is far from over. We could see some quite contentious moments.
It's a safe bet Mr. Trump will not be commenting though on a sweeping new subpoena from U.S. prosecutors in New York. They are demanding financial
documents from his inaugural committee as they investigate possible crimes including conspiracy against the U.S., wire fraud and money laundering.
One Washington lobbyist has already pleaded guilty to funneling a Ukrainian oligarchy money to the inaugural committee through Cypriot bank account.
Let's talk about all of this with White House Correspondent, Abby Phillip, and Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez. And Abby, based on his
tweets and his sound bites and from interviews over the last few days, it's safe to assume that the President will be bringing up the wall tonight in
his State of the Union address.
ABBY PHILLIP, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: I think that's right, Hala. It's safe to assume that the wall will be a really big part of this speech
not just because of these ongoing negotiations over whether Congress will give him money to build it, but because border security has become such a
central part of his presidency.
Several of the guests who are in the First Lady's box tonight will be a related to that very issue. The President is not backing down from this
idea that it's about an invasion coming into the country. He's linked border security to crime and to economic prosperity here in the United
States. But the White House has been insisting that what they're going to do is try to strike a bipartisan tone.
They're going to talk about the potential to do infrastructure reform, talk about the fact that in the last year, the White House has worked with
Democrats on criminal justice reform. The problem is the President has already started the day by criticizing his Democratic counterpart in the
Senate, Chuck Schumer. And so there's not a real sense that bipartisanship is really going to be long for this world even if President Trump does
mention it tonight in his speech.
GORANI: And Evan yet another investigation, this one at the state level looking into the inaugural committee and how it raised money tell us more.
EVAN PEREZ, SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Hala, one of the things that we - in the last couple of years we've been looking at this,
the Mueller investigation, and that we expect is going to come to a close in the coming weeks. But here is this investigation by the federal
prosecutors in Manhattan and this is the one that behind the scenes, inside Trump world, is the one that they are worried about.
This is an investigation that is focused right now on the inaugural committee and if you look at all of the things they're looking for, it's a
very broad request for information, and it looks at whether or not they were donors, especially foreign donors and people who are donating in other
people's names. Those are the two big points that were being included in this subpoena.
There's only one name that's listed and that is a donor by the name of Imaad Zuberi. But there you can see from the list of things that they're
asking for, they're asking for thousands of pages of documents. And this is an investigation again that's just getting started out of the
prosecutor's office there in Manhattan, and it has the potential to really cause damage to the president, to his organization, to his family members,
so keep an eye on that.
GORANI: All right, Evan Perez and Abby Phillip, thanks very much to both of you. A lot more to come this evening, including this.
ISIS backed into a corner of Syria. We'll show you what's left behind. We are alive in Syria after the break.
The U.S. General in charge of military operations in the Middle East says he was not consulted about President Trump's plan to withdraw troops in
Syria, which is quite remarkable. General Joseph Votel testified it today that the fight against ISIS is not over, even though the terrorist group
has been pushed back into about 50 square kilometers of territory.
But as ISIS retreats, the civilians who fled the fighting are returning home to find the cities they left behind completely decimated and to be
quite blunt, absolutely nowhere to live or to build a life. Ben Wedeman reports.
BEN WEDEMAN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: This is not the happiest of homecomings.
The town of Hajin near the Euphrates River in Eastern Syria was the scene of intense coalition bombing, followed by house-to-house combat between
ISIS and U.S.-backed predominantly Kurdish forces. It's a repetition of the same scenario that has played out from Mosul to Raqqa and now here,
ISIS' last stand.
To save towns and cities from the extremists, they must be destroyed.
Zahara returned with her family two days ago and sells snacks to make some money. "Only stones are left," she tells me. Her little daughter far too
young to comprehend what has happened.
Some of the residents of this town, which was liberated from ISIS in December have begun to return, but to return to what? Most of the
buildings are either severely damaged or utterly destroyed. So the best they can do at this point is just retrieve their belongings and then leave
Khais returned last week to find his house in ruins and no way to support a family here.
"Life was hard under ISIS," he says, "but it's still hard, harder still with this destruction."
There's no sign that any government or other authority has begun to clear the rubble and restore a semblance of normal life.
"We want to make Hajin like it was in the days of the regime," says Saad. "There was a hospital and a roundabout and those buildings, all destroyed
because of ISIS."
This war has been pursued with a single-minded focus on defeating the enemy, with scant attention to what happens the day after victory is
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Well, after that great Ben Wedeman joins us now live from Eastern Syria. A word on these civilians, where do they go when they have nowhere
to live? What happens to them?
WEDEMAN: Well, the civilians who are fleeing from this last ISIS enclave are basically being taken into custody by the Syrian Democratic Forces
where they're being screened. At the screening, they're also present members of the U.S. Special Forces who are looking for any people on the
wanted list and eventually they'll be moved on to another camp further north from here which is already suffering from severe overcrowding.
And the United Nations just a few days ago said that almost 30 children had died, many of them from the cold, Hala.
GORANI: And a quick question here on John Cantlie. Many of our viewers are familiar with the name. He's the British hostage, high profile ISIS
hostage, and the British government has said that they believe he's still alive and in ISIS captivity, but there's really only a few dozen square
kilometers left of ISIS' territory in Syria. And if he were alive and in Syria, that's where he'd be, right?
WEDEMAN: Not necessarily because, of course, if you look at the ISIS leadership there are many who believe that, for instance, Abu Bakr Al-
Baghdadi, Hala, has fled to the Hamrin Mountains of Iraq. So it's not all together clear where John Cantlie is but it's important to underscore that
hostage - it's not if he's a hostage at this point because he appeared in a variety of propaganda videos for ISIS.
The last time he was seen was in Mosul in December of 2016 and since then really his whereabouts are unknown. He could, of course, be in this last
enclave in the Eastern Syria, but he could be in many other possible places in Syria and in Iraq where ISIS doesn't necessarily maintain a territorial
expanse that it rules over. But they are very much active as an insurgency in both of these countries in large expanses of them, so it's not all
together clear where John Cantlie is or really if he's even alive, Hala.
GORANI: All right, well, certainly his family is - when hearing those words from - the U.K. Government is hoping for the best possible outcome.
Thanks very much, Ben Wedeman, live in Syria with that reporting on ISIS being really pushed back into its last corner. Territorially, as Ben was
saying not doing too well, but in terms of their ability to cause havoc through an ongoing insurgency, that is far from over unfortunately for
Syrians and Iraqis.
Still to come tonight, Liam Neeson fame for his role in Taken as the ultimate revenge seeker is under fire for jaw dropping revenge story of his
own. We'll be right back.
[14:30:00] HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: -- is under fire for jaw- dropping revenge story of his own. We'll be right back.
GORANI: Returning now to the waiting game in Washington, President Donald Trump will give his highly anticipated State of the Union Address in just a
From now, you'll have to stay up all night, though, in London, or Europe if you'd like to watch it. Unlike last year's speech, this one will be before
a divided Congress. The Democrats, of course, won back the House of Representatives. That means Mr. Trump's rival, Nancy Pelosi, will be one
of two lawmakers sitting right behind him looking over his shoulder as he talks about everything from the economy to that bitter fight over his
promised border wall.
Let's get some analysis and context now from our senior political analyst, David Gergen who served as advisor to four American presidents.
David, first of all, what difference will it make to have a divided Congress for the president and Nancy Pelosi sitting right behind him, as we
said, looking over his shoulder?
DAVID GERGEN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It makes an enormous difference. The president comes into his speech tonight at the weakest moment of his
presidency. Not only his power and House shifted to the Democratic Party, but he's got a very worthy adversary in Nancy Pelosi who has outmaneuvered
him on a couple of occasions to his embarrassment.
But beyond that, even though the economy is churning along in a very nice way, we have low unemployment in the United States, four percent, the
president remains pretty unpopular. He's in the mid-30s, maybe a little higher on his approval ratings, which is not good.
He's got the Democrats running the House. The Republican Party is beginning to split off from him. They're no longer as afraid of him as
they once were. Events have not been moving in his direction. And, frankly, he's in a bit of a corner, and some would say self-created on
where he goes from here on this so-called wall.
GORANI: Yes. And I think it's safe to assume that based on everything he's tweeted and said over the last several days that he might, in fact,
even make that a central part of his State of the Union, this wall that he promised to supporters during the campaign.
GERGEN: Yes. Well, that's exactly right. And he's basically left there two options for him now. One is either close down the government again,
which would be a terrible mistake and has badly hurt the Republican Party, his own party when he first did it.
Or the alternative is to declare this so-called, quote, "national emergency" and use the powers of the presidency to and effect from the
point of view of many scholars to take back from the Congress the power of the purse, which is central to our constitutional system. So those are not
good alternatives. And, so far, there's no -- there's apparent third choice.
[14:35:07] GORANI: And I don't know if you can tell me, David, if it's always been this way. But it seems like it's becoming more and more --
there's more and more of a theater production aspect of the State of the Union Addresses because the president and the first lady will bring guests
that they want to score political points with. You have a family, for instance, that was a victim of violence from undocumented migrants.
You have Democrats, and here's, by the way, a selection of guests on our -- on our screen here. Joshua Trump is a kid who was bullied in school
because of his surname and that kind of thing.
And then you have the Democrats, as well, bringing guests. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is inviting the lady who accosted the Jeff Flake in the
elevator imploring him to not confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Has it always been this way?
GERGEN: No. Polarization has come to the -- to the, you know, upper floor of the chambers, not just the floor itself, but now the balconies are
The idea of inviting guests actually goes back to President Reagan when a - - when a commercial aircraft crashed into the Potomac River, killing lots and lots of people aboard. It was a sad moment.
And President Reagan brought to the -- to the balcony a fellow who had rescued many, many people from that freezing water and saluted him. Lenny
Skutnik, I think his name was.
And since then, presidents have brought -- have filled one piece of the balcony. This is the first time I can remember when almost everybody is
bringing somebody to make a political point.
GORANI: Yes. Do they have the room for it?
GERGEN: well, I know -- there's a lot of chatter. But we don't have much else to talk about, so we're talking about for the time being that we
actually get a speech.
But it does seem it takes -- I don't know, there was a quality about the State of the Union which had once a majesty to it. It was something -- it
was sort of rare and that people looked forward to. Presidents took it very seriously as a way to layout their vision of where the country should
go in the next 12 months.
And now, I think it's lost some of its glamour and, frankly, some of its seriousness.
GORANI: Yes. Well, Donald Trump certainly has changed the presidency.
GERGEN: He has indeed.
GORANI: David Gergen, thank you so much. Always great talking to you.
GERGEN: Thank you, Hala.
GORANI: And we will replay the State of the Union and the Democratic response at 7:00 a.m. London time, 3:00 p.m. Hong Kong, if you do not wish
to stay up.
Now to a shocking revelation and an admission of shame, actor Liam Neeson is facing a barrage of criticism after he revealed that he once contemplate
-- contemplated racist revenge. Neeson told British newspaper, The Independent that many years ago, he took to the streets with a heavy stick
for a weapon after a loved one had been raped.
The loved one told him that she had been raped by a black man. So he said he went out on to the streets to black neighborhoods, as I said armed with
a weapon, hoping a black man would provoke him so that he could do that person harm. Listen to a portion of the interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIAM NEESON, ACTOR: I asked, did she know who he was? No. What color were they? She said it was a black person. I've gone up and down areas
with a cosh hoping I'd be approached by somebody. I'm ashamed to say that, and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some black (BLEEP) would come out of
a pub and have a go at me about something so that I could kill him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: It's still kind of jaw-dropping to hear it. Our senior entertainment writer Lisa Respers France joins us with more. And also, the
journalist who conducted the interview, Clemence Michallon. She conducted the interview with Neeson for The Independent.
Clemence, let me start with you. What question did you ask him that prompted this response?
CLEMENCE MICHALLON, JOURNALIST, THE INDEPENDENT: So, it happened during a press junket for Liam Neeson's new movie. And in this movie, he plays a
snowplow driver whose son gets killed by a drug gang and his character, instead of doing what most people would do, which is do the internal work
of grieving, embarks on a string of revenge killings.
So my question was why? Why does his character do that? And that's when Liam Neeson shared the story we just heard.
GORANI: And what -- Clemence, because he was joined by his co-star. This is a junket. So in other words, this is when movie stars promote their
films and then they sort of give five minutes, five, 10 minutes to journalists one after the other. What was the reaction in the room when he
told this story?
[14:40:04] MICHALLON: Yes, I mean, there was definitely -- it was very calm, right? You've heard on the audio, you can tell when you listen to
the tape that it wasn't a throwaway remark that he did. That you get the feeling that he told it very consciously as if he had decided to sort of
unload the story.
And when I say calm, I mean because there was shock, right? He was speaking and you can't help but being shocked when you hear those comments.
And he says it himself, he's ashamed. And he said it was awful, that what he thought at the time.
So, obviously, you could feel that in the room. I mean, actually, and if you read the piece, his co-star said holy expletive, and I think a lot of
people have agreed with that reaction.
GORANI: Lisa, he spoke to Good Morning America on ABC, the American network to say he's not a racist, but then recounted the story again. I
want our viewers to listen to how he tried to explain his comment on American television.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEESON: I'm not racist. This was nearly 40 years ago.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you have the same reaction if your friend had said it was a white man? Would you wanted to go out and kill?
NEESON: Oh, definitely. If she had said an Irish or Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian, I know it would have had the same effect. I was trying to show
honor to my -- stand up for my dear friend.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Lisa, is this convincing anyone?
LISA RESPERS FRANCE, CNN SENIOR ENTERTAINMENT WRITER: I don't think so. Robin Roberts did a great job of holding his feet to the fire. She said,
look, you asked about race. You immediately went to race. You didn't say was he big or was he small? Was he tall or was he short? And that's the
And he's spinning it now that he's hoping that people now have a conversation about racism and about bigotry based on his remarks. But I
can tell you, based on that what I've seen, people are not buying it at all.
And, Clemence, what was it like after the interview was over? Was there a moment that you sensed where maybe he thought, ugh, I shouldn't have told
that story, or not? Or was it just kind of a natural wrap and he moved on to the next journalist?
MICHALLON: You can hear actually on the table. He says, I've never said it to anyone, and now I'm saying it to a journalist, God forbid. You can
tell there's a moment where he seems to be sort of stunned that he's saying it.
My recorder was only table. He actually had pulled it closer to him at the beginning of the interview so that, you know, when we were doing other
questions so that I would be able to hear his answers properly.
Our reaction was, obviously, we wanted to approach the story in the most sensible manner. We had follow-up questions. This interview happened
during a press junket. As you know they tend to wrap up quickly. So we had a lot of other questions we wanted to ask. We reached out to his team,
but that request was denied.
GORANI: OK. And, Lisa, how much -- will it harm his career, and if so, how much? I mean, could this be a career ending thing for an actor like
Liam Neeson? Or will his fans be forgiving and say, look, at least, he was honest about it. He realizes that it was a shameful thing to do and think
at the time?
FRANCE: I think we're so polarized right now that it's going to be really hard for people to find forgiveness for this. Because it's one thing to
think it. But then to say it out loud and to -- as she was explaining from the interview, it seemed like it was a calculated story that he wanted to
And perhaps he was trying to make a point about revenge and things like that. But to use race to make that point, it just -- it really is unsavory
and it was hurtful. It was really hurtful to a lot of people. I've seen a lot of fans who have been tweeting and going on social media --
GORANI: To African-Americans, what has been the reaction specifically from African-Americans?
France: African-Americans -- I mean, the African-Americans I've seen, I'm not trying to speak for all African-Americans, of course. But the ones
I've seen, my friends that I've had a conversation about how hurtful it is because we enjoy his work. But in this day and age, you can't really
separate the artist from the art when something like this happens, because it's extremely painful.
And right now like to be so tone deaf, especially what's going on in this country with race and to make remarks like that. And even if you end it by
saying I was shocked at myself and I was horrified that I thought these things, you still thought those things. And you saw fit to share it and
that in and of itself feels like privilege.
GORANI: Lisa Respers France, thanks very much. Clemence Michallon of The Independent, thanks for joining us as well from New York.
To talk more about this interview, people have been talking about it online certainly, and in office newsrooms as we have here at CNN. It's a big
[14:45:58] Still to come tonight, Canada's largest cryptocurrency exchange is locked out of millions of dollars and customers may lose all of that
money, all because the late CEO was the only one who knew the password.
GORANI: A fire, a terrible fire in an apartment building in Paris killed 10 people. And police are saying that it may have been started
maliciously. Firefighters managed to rescue about three dozen others from the flames.
But take a look at this dramatic video. Firefighters climbed to the top of the eight-story building where some residents had fled to the roof. Dozens
of people had to climb down the ladders to escape. Police arrested one of the building's residents on the scene. Officials say the suspect has a
history of some psychological problems.
The clock is ticking for Theresa May. She has just 52 days to somehow come up with a Brexit deal that will keep everyone or at least some people happy
and that's quite a big problem.
Today, she walked right into the epicenter of that problem. She's in Northern Ireland trying to work out what to do about the Irish border.
Remember, this is the issue that caused lawmakers to roundly defeat her original deal. There's a lot of worry about what will happen after March
29th. And May says she understands that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINSTER: I know that the prospect of change in the backstop and reopening the withdrawal agreement, creates real anxieties
here in Northern Ireland and in Ireland because it is here that the consequences of whatever is agreed will most be felt.
I recognize, too, that the majority of voters in Northern Ireland voted to remain, and that many will feel that once again, decisions taken in
Westminster are having a profound, and in many cases, unwanted impact in Northern Ireland and Ireland.
So I'm determined to work towards a solution that can command broader support from across the community in Northern Ireland.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: The death of a Canadian entrepreneur has left a huge stash of digital currency locked away from the people who own it. Gerald Cotten was
the CEO of Quadriga, Canada's largest exchange for cryptocurrencies.
The company says it can't access any of the user's money because only the CEO knew the password. Now, thousands of customers may have lost
everything. Samuel Burke is here with me.
So only the owner or the head of this company had the password, no one else? They can't unlock it?
SAMUEL BURKE, CNN BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: There are these things called cold wallets where you take bitcoin and you move them
offline. That way, no hackers can get to them.
But in this case, nobody else can get to the money either. Now, on the one hand, this is a terrible tragedy. You have this young tech entrepreneur
dead at the age of 30 from the result of Crohn's disease.
But it seems as though, according to the affidavit from his widow, he was the only one who knew the password. And apparently, he did all his work
from his laptop and his home computer. That's really where all of the company was.
[14:50:02] But some of this or most of it was taken offline. So the only way to get in to these cryptocurrencies would be with his password or the
hotkey, which his widow doesn't know. So this $145 million in bitcoin is just locked off offline somewhere. I mean some of us stressed with a $20
Amazon card. This is a whole other level.
GORANI: But I wonder -- I mean, there are ways to figure out passwords. Right?
BURKE: There are ways. And you can bring in very expensive equipment. You and I have talked about government surveilling their citizens using
some of this equipment.
Right now, this company is in bankruptcy court. Essentially, they're trying to block their creditors on being able to go after them at this
moment in Nova Scotia.
Sometimes, you can get a password it's incredibly hard. You and I covered the case of the FBI trying to get into the phone of the San Bernardino
attacker. It can be done. It's not always a slam dunk.
GORANI: So where -- so these people whose money is locked away, is it a write-off for them? I mean, will they ever see that money again?
BURKE: There is huge likelihood here, Hala, that they will never see their money again. And this just exposes how difficult the world can be -- the
world of bitcoin can be with a lack of regulation.
On the one hand, we've reported on millions of dollars' worth of bitcoin being stolen, and so you want people to take more security measures. Well,
this is the opposite of that, somebody has taken security measures far too extreme, when only one person knows the password and that person is no
longer with us.
Also, always good to remind people of where bitcoin has gone. I mean, this is a currency that was worth -- one bitcoin is worth $20,000 last year.
Now, we have a currency that's worth about $3,420 per bitcoin. So this could have been hundreds of millions of more if the currency hadn't
crashed. That's no solace for the people who have lost their hundreds of millions right now.
GORANI: All right. Samuel Burke, thanks very much. Remarkable story.
More to come, including it's the year of the pig and millions are celebrating the year of the pig. We'll bring you the best pictures after
GORANI: We'll take a trip to any big city in the gulf, and you will see the huge skyscrapers.
But in Doha, some are trying to redefine urban development. Take a look.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For decades across the Middle East, breakneck development has resulted in a skyline dominated by high-rises. Vast steel
and glass structures with a race to build the tallest, the biggest, and the boldest.
But in the tiny state of Qatar, they are rethinking and redefining urban development.
FATIMA FAWZY, DESIGN MANAGER, MSHEIREB PROPERTIES: I always dreamt to change the architecture practice in Qatar, and as a single architect, you
can't do this by yourself. And here we are, my wish and my dream came true.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Msheireb Downtown is one of the largest regeneration projects in the world. And one of the single biggest construction projects
in the Middle East. The site is vast, covering 75 acres, the size of 43 football pitches.
[14:55:00] FAWZY: We are Al Kahraba Street. The alignment of the street is the way it used to be since 1960s. When you look at the street itself,
you could see how the building can make a shade to the pedestrians. This is a demand of today, but it's also the way it used to be.
The alignment of the street is North-South, which speaking the breathing of the wind coming all the way from the north to south. So it cools the
place, it cools the people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More than 100 buildings have been constructed on this five and a half billion dollar project. Each building embracing customs
and traditions from the past.
CLARK WILLIAMS, MARKETING DIRECTOR, MSHEIREB PROPERTIES: We have museums. We have three major hotels. We have a school. And we also have a shopping
area, a galleria. All the city streets will have their own retail and food and beverage. So as you walk through the city, you will have all aspects
of a pure mixed-use development.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cars and delivery trucks have been driven six floors underground, creating one of the world's largest interconnected car parks
with 10,000 parking spaces and miles and miles of service delivery tunnels. High above, thousands of solar panels help power this smart city.
WILLIAMS: It's the smartest and most sustainable city district in the world. Seventy-five percent of our hot water generated here is solar
panels and we're capturing all the condensation from the air conditioning units so you can use it for your drinking water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The development is already redefining Qatar's approach to architecture. And its embrace of Arab heritage and design.
FAWZY: With Msheireb, you have a living example of modern, beautiful architectures, something rooted in the past. It's going to change how
people look at architectures in Qatar.
GORANI: Well, before we go, the team here would like to wish everyone a happy Lunar New Year. Today, marks the official beginning of the year of
the pig. People around the world are celebrating, but the biggest parties are in Asia.
In China, people are estimated to make more than three billion trips home to be with family for the Spring Festival. And that makes the Lunar New
Year the largest human migration event on the planet every year. So, happy year of the pig.
Thanks for watching tonight. I'm Hala Gorani. A lot more ahead on CNN. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is coming your way.