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Warren Listed Race as American Indian; Interview with Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI); Trump Touts Progress in Syria; Trump Announces North Korea Summit. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 6, 2019 - 09:30   ET

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


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[09:33:42] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

Senator Elizabeth Warren is expected to formally announce her 2020 bid in just two days, but she is facing another political crisis over her past self-identification as Native American. According to "The Washington Post," Warren filled out, quote, American Indian as her race. This on a registration card for the Texas state bar in 1986. It is the first document that appears to show Warren making the claim in her own handwriting.

CNN national political correspondent MJ Lee has more details.

And, MJ, we've seen this before. What's, I suppose, remarkable about this is seeing it in her handwriting here. What's her answer to all this?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And similarly the fact that she is not able to put this issue to rest, just another headline that has revived the entire Native American controversy. "The Washington Post" reporting last night on a Texas bar registration card from 1986 where she wrote the words "American Indian" to describe her race. This is around the time when she was working at the University of Texas Law. There you have it there, the visual.

Now, a Warren aide tells CNN that they are not disputing the authenticity of that form and they are not disputing the fact that this was, in fact, Elizabeth Warren's own handwriting, though I should note they are making the point that this was not a part of the bar application, but rather a form that she filled out after she was already admitted to the bar. Obviously a distinction that they are trying to make here.

[09:35:09] But it is politically so noteworthy because, as you said, Jim, it is the first example where we appear to see an explicit example of Warren describing herself as Native American as opposed to previous examples where it may not have necessarily been clear whether it was Warren or perhaps somebody else that filled out the forms.

Now, after this story, Elizabeth Warren is repeating her apology through a spokesperson. Let me just read what she had to say. She said in a statement to CNN, Senator Warren has said she is not a citizen of any tribe and only tribes determine tribal citizenship. She is sorry that she was not more mindful of this earlier in her career.

Now, all of this, of course, comes after the apology that Senator Warren made to Cherokee leaders last week. This had to do, of course, with the DNA test result that she released earlier.

Now, the timing of all of this is not good politically for Elizabeth Warren, given the fact that she is expected to formally announce her presidential campaign on Saturday.

Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, not good timing to say the least.

MJ Lee, we know you're going to stay on top of the story.

Democratic investigations on The Hill, they're heating up. And the president's message? Shut them down.

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[09:40:50] SCIUTTO: Right smack in the middle of a week of blockbuster hearings into the administration, the president made clear what he thinks about all these probes.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An economic miracle is taking place in the United States and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.

If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: A little rhyming there by the president.

Just today the House Intelligence Committee is voting on releasing Russia investigation transcripts. On Friday the president's former attorney, Michael Cohen, is testifying in a close-door hearing and Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, he will be facing lawmakers in a separate, very public hearing. Lots of questions for him.

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman David Cicilline. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. Very much involved in these investigations.

Thanks very much for joining us.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: My pleasure.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you about the president's comment there, because I -- because I'm sure you do not agree with him that these investigations are flawed or unnecessary. That said, I wonder if you're concerned that your constituents, do they say to you, listen, guys, don't get too in the weeds on the investigations. Bring something home to me. Work on infrastructure. Work on drug prices. Are you hearing any of that kind of implications?

CICILLINE: Well, I mean, what we're hearing is, you know, Democrats ran on a very specific agenda to drive down the cost of health care, particularly prescription drugs, to raise family incomes by investing and rebuilding the infrastructure in our country, the bold infrastructure (INAUDIBLE).

SCIUTTO: And the president mentioned infrastructure.

CICILLINE: And taking on the pervasive corruption in Washington and reducing the influence of money in our political system. We're going to deliver on those promises. We can do that and we should do that. At the same time, we have a responsibility to do our constitutionally required oversight. That requires investigations and hearings.

It was sort of shocking to hear the president of the United States use this moment in the State of the Union to deliver an address to the people of this country and to talk about, like, don't do investigations.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

CICILLINE: It was very peculiar. It is not going to dissuade Democrats from doing what we're required to do. Our Republican colleagues haven't done oversight for the last two years, so we have a lot of work to do. But we're going to do both things. The American people expect us to hold this administration accountable and they expect us to deliver on the urgent challenges facing their families.

SCIUTTO: Your reaction in a statement last night to the State of the Union speech. You said, the president's speech was long, self- absorbed, divorce from reality. It was short on details, long on hypocrisy. The American people deserve better.

He did, however, call for compromise. We noted, because I was fact checking the speech last night, that he left many of his more egregious lies -- for instance about terrorists coming across the border -- he didn't repeat those.

Are you willing to at least give him a chance to deliver on (INAUDIBLE)?

CICILLINE: Look, I think the challenge we face is, it's very hard to take the president seriously when he talks about unity. I mean here's a president who has behaved and spoken in such divisive ways that it's hard to take him seriously. He says I want to, you know unite the country. I don't think he's capable of doing that as a result of the last two years.

But I think what was really striking is, you know, he talked about protecting pre-existing conditions. And my Republican colleagues cheered him.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

CICILLINE: Yet the president put forth Trumpcare that took away coverage for pre-existing conditions. All the Republicans voted for it. If the president's serious about that, this morning he should call on the Republican attorneys general who are litigating and try to take away pre-existing condition coverage and tell them to stop that lawsuit. He should direct his Department of Justice to reverse their position and defend coverage for pre-existing conditions. Show us that he really means it.

So that kind of hypocrisy, I think, was hard to take and it's hard to take the president seriously. But, look, we're committed to getting things done for the American people on that agenda I just described. If the president's serious about driving down healthcare costs, we're going to give him a bill to do it, to drive down the cost of prescription drugs. If he's serious about a bold infrastructure plan, we're going to give him a bill to do that. And if he's serious about taking on the corruption in Washington, which he didn't mention last night, but we think is a really important party (ph), we're going to pass HR-1 to do that and the president should sign it.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about the thing that's going to precede all of that discussion. That's keeping the government open on February 15th and coming to an agreement on whether there will be money for the president's border, barrier wall, fence, et cetera. You have these 17 Democrats and Republicans working on this. You have a vision inside that conference. Does it look like Democrats are going to give money for a barrier on the boarder?

[09:45:03] CICILLINE: I think what you're going to see is the conference committee do what appropriators do, come to an agreement. Democrats have always supported border security. We think it's important to use taxpayer money in a wise way that actually achieves the objectives so there will be rebuilding the infrastructure at the ports of entry where most of the drugs come into this country, making sure we're building 2,000 border patrol positions which are unfilled. Why? Because we can't retain folks because of the quality of infrastructure at these facilities. Making sure we're using satellites and drones. And I'm sure it will include some fencing, some barrier, maybe a repair to some existing wall. There already is 700 miles of wall.

So I think it will be a combination that will actually achieves the objective. I hope the president will sort of stays out of the way and let the appropriators do their work. I think if he does, they'll reach an agreement that will keep the government open.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, though, because you know that a lot of folks in the Democratic caucus, both up on The Hill, but also Democratic voters, they don't see the necessity for the wall. What are Republicans offering in return? And if you give money, a couple billion dollars, whatever the figure is for the wall, will your constituents say, well, you caved to the president here and didn't get anything back?

CICILLINE: No, I think -- you know, look, it's a -- it's a myth to think that Democratic voters or Democratic members of Congress don't support border security. We do. And we always understood that that meant making investments in securing the boarder.

SCIUTTO: But you could have that, could you not, and say demand permanent protection for dreamers?

CICILLINE: Look, I think we are going to have a comprehensive immigration bill and we're going to protect dreamers and we're going to do that. It -- I don't think it's appropriate to do it in the context of this negotiation. This is about one specific issue, securing the borders for a limited purpose, we have a limited period of time to do it before February 15th. But there is no question Democrats are going to move forward on fixing our broken immigration system, taking care of our dreamers, taking care of those with temporary protective status. And we don't need to be given anything to agree to secure our borders. We've always believed that. We just think we should do it in a way that makes sense and that actually works and not to respond to the president's campaign pledge of this big, huge wall from sea to shining sea, you know, $70 billion, a thousand miles. Oh, and, by the way, Mexico's going to pay for it.

SCIUTTO: Well, you know he'll declare victory, right, even if he gets (INAUDIBLE).

CICILLINE: Look, the president is going to mischaracterize --

SCIUTTO: $50 for the wall.

CICILLINE: Right, mischaracterize the results of the negotiations. What I think is most important is we prevent the president from shutting the government down. My guest last night was Jamie Green (ph). He was an air traffic controller from Rhode Island. Her husband is one as well. She has two young children. They went for a month without an income. We can't allow the president to do that to people again.

SCIUTTO: Congressman David Cicilline, thanks very much, as always.

CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: The president praising his accomplishments during the State of the Union Address, from the fight against ISIS to his upcoming summit, another one, with Kim Jong-un. We're going to break it all down. That's coming right up.

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[09:52:07] SCIUTTO: The president sets the date, three weeks from today, round two of face to face talks with North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

Plus, after weeks of facing backlash for his call to withdraw troops from Syria without warning, the president touting the fight against ISIS there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria. Just two years ago. Today we have liberated virtually all of the territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty monsters.

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SCIUTTO: The president notably did not repeat his claim, debunked claim, that ISIS has been defeated.

Joining me now is CNN international correspondent Will Ripley and senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman.

Ben, I want to begin with you. you are on the ground in Syria. The real concern has been, you pull those U.S. troops out, you leave U.S. allies in the ground -- on the ground in the lurch and that fight against ISIS, threatened. What are you seeing on the ground there?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we're seeing, Jim, is that in one tiny enclave here in eastern Syria, with about 2,000 people inside according to commanders here, about 500 ISIS fighters, 1,500 people, some of them relatives of those ISIS fighters, family members, others simply local inhabitants. That is what is left of the territorial entity, the state which we called Islamic. And it does appear it is on the brink of extinction. At some point in the coming days or weeks, anti-ISIS fighters will go in and finish that last bit of the Islamic State off.

However, the problem is, and as we heard General Joseph Votel yesterday, the commander -- the U.S. Central Commander is that there are anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 ISIS fighters in Syria alone. What is happening is that, yes, the state -- the Islamic state is about to go extinct, but the idea behind it is still very much alive and well. It's simply morphed into an insurgency, which is what it was before the Islamic State was declared by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in July of 2016.

So we were speaking with one commander of the Syrian democratic forces here. He says, yes, on the one hand this is the final battle against ISIS as a fighting force, but the problem of sleeper cells in the liberated areas of Syria and Iraq is still a very real and present danger.

Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, U.S. Central Command commander said on The Hill, 20,000 to 30,000 ISIS fighters still in Iraq and Syria.

[09:55:02] Ben Wedeman on the ground in Syria.

To Will Ripley now.

The other national security priority for this administration certainly North Korea. We have another summit. You and I were both at the last summit last summer. What are the expectations for this second face to face meeting? There still have been no steps by the administration's own standard of complete, irreversible and verifiable by North Korea to curtail its nuclear program.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And there's this new U.S. Security Council report that North Korea's nuclear program not only is fully intact, but they are bolstering it and they're moving their missiles and nuclear warheads around to protect them against a potential strike by the United States. That on top of the fact that this U.N. report alleges that North Korea is brazenly violating international sanctions, which means the money is flowing in much more easily now to fund that nuclear program.

Will President Trump get tough with Kim Jong-un? You have to ask that question given the glowing words that he uses to describe the North Korean leader, that he for much of 2017 was aggressively kind of trolling on Twitter and now they're exchanging these letters.

As for the summit itself, three weeks from today either in Hanoi or Da Nang is what we're being told. Da Nang would make sense for the U.S. because APEC was there in 2017. President Trump was there. They already did a security sweep. Kim Jong-un would like it in Hanoi, where the North Koreans have an embassy, Jim. We'll have to see what happens.

SCIUTTO: Will Ripley there in Hong Kong. Ben Wedeman in Syria. Thanks to both of you. And if anybody ever tells you CNN doesn't go to the scene of the story to find the facts, don't believe them. We were just doing it there, as always.

The Democratic field for 2020 keeps growing. And by the end of the month, two more names could be joining that list.

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