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Trump Speaks Out on Syria Exit Decision; Chaos in Virginia Politics; Trump Furious Over Democrats' Probe of Finances. Aired 3- 3:30p ET
Aired February 6, 2019 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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FABIANA ROSALES GUAIDO, WIFE OF JUAN GUAIDO (through translator): I think that fear is free. And, as a human being, we have moments of weakness, or when one feels that something bad can happen.
Last week, I felt not fear, but more of a frustration because of what could have happened to my daughter in the situation we found ourselves in, with FAES coming to my home.
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SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, the FAES, the Special Forces, they have been sporadically perhaps, in the view of the opposition, Brooke, trying to intimidate Mr. Guaido.
But, equally, Mr. Maduro's playing it fairly carefully here, offering talks about -- talks, if you like, with the opposition, but rejecting outright the opposition's demand for presidential elections.
And it is that refusal to revisit the elections has meant that many in the international community, particularly European nations and the United States, have come in behind and are now recognizing Mr. Guaido as the official interim president here in Venezuela -- Brooke.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Sam Kiley, thank you very much, live in Venezuela for us this afternoon.
Let's continue on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.
A furious President Trump responding moments ago to Democrats expanding investigations into his finances. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff announcing today that his committee would investigate the president's finances beyond Russia is how they put it.
Here's the president?
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's just a political hack who's trying to build a name for himself. And I think that's fine, because that's what they do. But there would be no reason to do that. No other politician has to go through that. It's called presidential harassment.
And it's unfortunate and it really does hurt our country.
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BALDWIN: Chairman Schiff saying today the House Intel Committee is not only prepared to investigate Russia's actions during the 2016 election, but also whether President Trump's financial interests are driving his actions.
It is also our most detailed look yet at how far Democrats actually plan to go even after special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has concluded.
Sara Murray is on this for us today. She's our CNN political correspondent.
And so, obviously, this is significant. And Adam Schiff says he wants to find out if even foreign actors have leverage over the president, which could be driving him to make some of the decisions he does. What do you know?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. It is significant.
And it's a little bit of change in posture from Democrats, who at first were keen to let Mueller do his investigation and see what the special counsel turned up. Well, now they're in power, they have formed their committees, and Adam Schiff says, we're going to get right down to it, we're going to expand beyond the Russia investigation, with the help of other committees, and look at the idea that may be President Trump's business interest drove some of the decisions that he made.
They're looking into whether there was any leverage over the president or his family members by Russia or the Saudis or any other nation. And, Brooke, I think this is an indication that the president's legal headaches are going to extend far beyond the Mueller probe.
He's gone out of his way to, of course, call that one a witch-hunt. But these are the kinds of investigations that could stretch on much longer, Brooke.
BALDWIN: What about Michael Cohen? We know he was supposed to testify later this week. It was public. Then it became private. And now it's like a no-go. So what happened?
MURRAY: Michael Cohen bringing the drama yet again. He was supposed to be in front of the House Intelligence Committee. It was supposed to be on Friday. Now, it is apparently going to be delayed until February 28.
Here is what Adam Schiff had to say about that.
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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: We look forward to his testimony on February 28. And Mr. Cohen has been fully cooperative with us, and we hope and expect that will continue. But we felt it was in the investigation's interest that we postpone to that date.
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MURRAY: Now, Cohen was also supposed to testify publicly in front of the House Oversight Committee. That got postponed, no updates on where that stands.
Remember, Brooke, Michael Cohen is going to jail. So if he's going to do this stuff, he's got to do it soon, or it's not going to happen at all.
BALDWIN: Sara Murray, thank you very much for that.
Now to another update in the now multiple scandals embroiling Virginia's top officials. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is being accused of sexual assault. He wholeheartedly denies these allegations, but his accuser has just come out with a new detailed account of the incident.
Fairfax and really the state as a whole has been waiting to see if he would replace Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, as he's deciding whether to step down in the wake of his own scandal, admitting to wearing blackface decades ago.
And if that's not enough in one state, all in one week here, the third top government official, Attorney General Mark Herring, is also now admitting that he to dressed in blackface for a party when he was 19 years old.
CNN's Ryan Nobles is in Richmond for us.
And so you now have this accuser's statement. What is it that she's alleging?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brooke.
And we have been waiting on this for a couple of days, because, as you will remember, the way this story played out was that a right-wing blog, in fact, the same blog that produced the initial photo of Ralph Northam from his medical school yearbook, had basically put out this accusation without any kind of substance to back it up.
And the attorney general -- I'm sorry -- the lieutenant governor in the middle of the night had put out a statement defending himself, saying that the accusations were not true.
Now, as a result, we have been waiting to hear from the accuser herself. And we finally did that today in a lengthy statement where she goes into specificity about what she believes happened between the two of them during the 2004 Democratic National Convention, when they were both there working for Democratic candidates.
And this is what Vanessa Tyson, who is the name of the accuser, says in a statement. She said -- quote -- "What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault. As I cried and gagged, Mr. Fairfax forced me to perform oral sex on him. I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual. To be very clear, I did not want to engage in oral sex with Mr. Fairfax, and I never gave him any form of consent. After the assault, I suffered from both deep humiliation and shame."
And the context of what she's saying here, Brooke, is very important, because what we know is that the lieutenant governor has been very forceful in his denial on this. He doesn't deny that it happened. But he's been insistent that it was consensual.
And he's even gone as far in private closed-door meetings with Virginia Democratic leaders to go into expletive rants on the attack about this accuser and her supporter, saying that she's just out to bring him down and that he has done nothing wrong.
Now, we did catch up with the lieutenant governor today as he was leaving after presiding over the Senate session. He did not comment on this latest revelation. But, Brooke, you have got three scandals here rocking the Commonwealth of Virginia, and we're not exactly sure how this is going to turn out for these three individuals.
BALDWIN: Let me -- let me ask you now about scandal number three, Ryan, because now this is about the state's attorney general. So this would be number three in line if Northam resigns, and if...
BALDWIN: What's he now admitting to about his past?
NOBLES: Well, I have to tell you, Brooke, when we first got a tip about this particular leg of this story yesterday, we just thought there was -- it was impossible that it could possibly be true.
But it turned out to just be that. The attorney general, Mark Herring, admitting meeting today that he did dress in blackface as part of a costume party when he was in college at the University of Virginia at the age of 19.
And we know that the attorney general held an emergency meeting with the Legislative Black Caucus today to admit that he had done this. So far, the Legislative Black Caucus has not responded to that meeting or how they plan to act.
But keep in mind, Brooke, when the first picture came out of the governor, Ralph Northam, the lieutenant -- the Legislative Black Caucus was among the first to ask the governor to resign. Virtually every elected leader in Virginia, Republican and Democrat, asked for the governor to step down.
Now we're in a situation where it's not exactly the same. You can't compare apples to apples here, but at least a similar scandal involving the attorney general. And, so far, no one will talk to us about it. The Legislative Black Caucus doesn't have a statement.
And the attorney general just released a statement apologizing for his role in all of this. And so we don't know how this all will play out.
But, Brooke, if I can just kind of put on my analyst at here for a second, covering Virginia politics for as long as I have...
BALDWIN: Please. Please.
NOBLES: ... it seems to me -- and everybody's asking who's fourth in line -- that would be the speaker of the House -- it's unlikely the speaker of the House will ever become governor, because it's unlikely that these three men will all just step down from their office all at the same time.
But my assessment of this is, we already know that the governor has kind of dug in his heels, saying that he's not going to resign.
NOBLES: I think the fact that you have got three scandals in such a short period of time, it makes it very likely that these three men may all stay in office the balance of their term. But we shouldn't predict anything, because we don't know what could happen over the next 24 to 48 hours.
BALDWIN: Yes, all in one week, all of these top positions in the state of Virginia. My goodness, Ryan Nobles, thank you so much for your expertise. We will be in close contact with you, of course, there in Richmond.
Meantime, right now, the president is set to speak on the issue that cost him his defense secretary, that led to a rare rebuke from the Senate. And that has allies like Turkey and France worried and confused. I'm talking about his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
President Trump will speak to the 79-member Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. And he is speaking on the day of the funeral for Scott Wirtz, one of the four Americans killed in a bombing in Syria that ISIS claimed responsibility for last month.
Let's listen in.
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TRUMP: ... enabled our partners on the ground and directly confronted ISIS' wicked ideology.
And we're doing that today, except in even greater numbers. As a result, as I noted in my State of the Union address yesterday, the United States military, our coalition partners and the Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated virtually all of the territory previously held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
[15:10:07] It should be formally announced, sometime probably next week, that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate. But I want to wait for the official word. I don't want to say it too early.
Over the past two years, we have retaken more than 20,000 square miles of land. We have secured one battlefield, and we have had victory after victory after victory and retaken both Mosul and Raqqa.
We have eliminated more than 60 mile -- high-value ISIS leaders, so we have a -- if you look at the ISIS leaders, of the 60 top, we have eliminated almost every one of them. Now, they reform, we know that, but they are having a hard time reforming, and I wouldn't say it's a great job to have because of us.
It's not exactly -- hopefully, will not be a sought-after occupation.
More than 100 other top ISIS officials have been eliminated, and tens of thousands of ISIS fighters are gone. They're gone. Together, we have freed more than five million civilians from the grip of these bloodthirsty killers.
And you know the killers they are. You see it. And we used to see it to an extent we couldn't believe, where our people and our friends and our allies, in many cases people whose parents I have gotten to know, had to wear the orange uniform prior to you know what. We don't want to see those scenes anymore.
Thanks to the Global Coalition, including all of you here today, and to our other partners, the ISIS caliphate has been decimated. Nobody thought it was possible to do it this quickly. Three weeks ago, I was in Iraq, and I was talking to some of our great generals, and I gave them the absolute go-ahead. I said, go at it.
How long will it take once you get started? He said, sir, one week. I said, where did that come from, one week? And he meant it. And it's about a week since they really got going, and they will be informing us very soon officially that it's 100 percent.
ISIS can no longer claim widespread ownership over local governments in Syria and Iraq. Now, you're always going to have people. They will be around. They're sick. They're demented. But you're going to have them, no matter how well we do militarily.
You can't do better than we have done military -- tarily -- but you will have people that will be around. And we will search them out, and you will search them out, and we will find them. And, hopefully, they won't be around very long.
They can no longer extract natural resources, because they no longer control the land or the area. They can no longer tax the citizens in that area, because they no longer have that area, or steal ancient artifacts, or destroy ancient artifacts, as they have been doing.
They have really been set back. We're working very hard on the Internet. For a period of time, they used the Internet better than we did. They used the Internet brilliantly. But now it's not so brilliant. And now the people on the Internet that used to look up to them and say how wonderful and brilliant they are not thinking of them as being so brilliant, because they have been decimated.
They can no longer control schools to impose their vicious ideology on young children. Critically, ISIS also now lacks a significant territorial base from which to launch terrorist attacks against other countries, recruit foreign fighters, and spread havoc across the region.
Their land is gone. It's a big factor. Their land is gone.
This afternoon, I want to applaud the outstanding men and women of the United States military, incredible people, for their remarkable skill and precision throughout this entire campaign.
Now, as countries in the region and across our coalition step up their commitments, and we continue to destroy the remnants -- that's all they have, remnants. But remnants can be very dangerous. Have to remember that. A remnant can be very dangerous.
But we have remnants of ISIS. We look forward to giving our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome back home. Rest assured we will do what it takes to defeat every ounce and every last person within the ISIS madness, to defend our people from radical Islamic terrorism.
I commend the 30 other nations...
BALDWIN: All right, President Trump there at the State Department speaking about Syria.
So, let's go to Syria, to our CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, who's been listening along.
And, Ben, we have heard this from the president before, but it's always just noteworthy, the fact that he repeats this 100 percent, next week, 100 percent of the caliphate will be -- paraphrasing -- obliterated.
Can you fact-check that for me?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, they are reduced to this tiny sliver of land along the Euphrates River, not far from here. They're completely surrounded.
And what we saw, there are American troops in the area, on the ground. There are coalition aircraft overhead conducting airstrikes. It's really only a matter of time before this, the last significant pocket of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, is about to fall.
However, having said that, it's important to keep in mind that we heard General Joseph Votel, the commander, the head of Central Command, saying that he believes there's anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 ISIS fighters still in Syria. What we have seen is that many of them have been able to escape from Raqqa, from elsewhere, mixed in with the local population, some of them going to remote areas of Syria. This is a vast country, where there are many places to hide. We have seen, for instance, in the last six months more than 100 assassinations of people involved in the anti-ISIS coalition on the ground in local government as a result of attacks from ISIS.
So keep in mind that ISIS started as a terrorist insurgency in Iraq. It enjoyed this brief period from around 2013 until now ruling over a territory as a quasi-pseudo state. But they can just as easily go back being a terrorist insurgency wreaking havoc.
And the worry is that, if U.S. troops are pulled out too early, too precipitously, that there will be a power vacuum -- vacuum -- into which ISIS can yet move again.
So, speaking with the commanders on the ground here in Eastern Syria, they warn time and time again the battle against ISIS is not over when the last pocket they control is taken. The battle against ISIS could go on for a very long time, and that battle could be prolonged in the absence of U.S. troops, U.S. airpower, and other coalition forces.
So there's not going to be any victory parades here in Syria when ISIS is defeated. People are bracing for the possibility of a wave of terror once ISIS loses its final ground -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: Ben Wedeman, thank you, in Syria.
I want to analyze much of what we just heard from Ben and what we have been hearing from the president.
I have CNN global affairs analyst Max Boot. He's a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. And Hagar Chemali once served as spokeswoman for the U.S. Mission at the U.N.
So, Hagar, I want to start with you.
Just to Ben's point about that the power vacuum and, yes, the reduction in the caliphate, which is a -- which is obviously a massive step and a positive step in the right direction, but I also remember talking to Clarissa Ward, one of our other -- our chief international correspondent in Syria, in recent weeks, who was saying, the problem is ideology, right?
You may physically kill off some of these ISIS soldiers, but it's like, if you have this mentality in the hearts and minds of so many villagers across this country, and how -- how do you battle with that?
HAGAR CHEMALI, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, U.S. MISSION TO UNITED NATIONS: Right.
I mean, that's kind of the age-old question, right? We're going to be probably debating that answer -- or the question -- the answer to that question for years to come.
When it comes to this issue, the problem I think that the administration is not focusing on is that they're being a bit narrow- minded. I mean, they're trying to say that, all right, the coalition has regained a lot of territory that ISIS controlled.
And, to be fair, a lot of the territory was regained. That is very significant, because a lot of their funding and revenue came directly from that territory, whether it was through extortion or antiquities or oil smuggling and such. So I don't want to undermine what the coalition has achieved.
But to just say that, OK, that's it, now we can leave, it negates every single objective we have in that area, which we have outlined time and again, even including under this administration, which includes the pushback against Iran and its influence in the region, counterterrorism efforts, having internally displaced persons and refugees successfully be able to return and migrate back, the protection of Israel, preventing a spillover into our friendly countries.
Obviously, trying to maintain our friendship and protection with the Kurds, who were integral in the fight against ISIS -- I mean, there are so many objectives that are being undermined in one fell swoop, that they're just not addressing that issue.
BALDWIN: But, Max -- and, again, to Ben's point, he's going against so much of the intelligence he's been getting from these top officials.
But the line last night in the State of the Union where the president said, great nations do not fight endless wars -- and it was a huge applause line, including from Speaker Pelosi herself -- and I'm just wondering what Americans think -- hear that, don't you think that they would agree with him?
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Sure. It's a good applause line, but I was noticing that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were sitting there stone-faced.
They were not applauding, because they understand that what President Trump is doing is not in American national security interests, and, in fact, he is doing it against the advice of his generals, when he bothers to seek the advice of his generals at all.
I mean, we learned yesterday from General Joe Votel, the commander of CENTCOM, testifying before Congress, he said that President Trump didn't even bother asking his opinion before deciding to withdraw these troops from Syria.
And if he had asked his opinion, I suspect that General Votel would have said pretty much what Secretary Jim Mattis, before resigning in protest, that this is a very bad idea. This is going to allow -- as we have been hearing, this is going to allow ISIS to get back off the mat, just as the U.S. intelligence community has warned they could regenerate their capacity. And the other element of this that we're not talking about is, last
night, once again, President Trump was trashing Iran, and rightly so, saying that they were a very bad country. But what he neglects to mention is that, by pulling the U.S. troops out of Syria, we are essentially giving up one-third of Syria that was controlled by those troops and our Kurdish allies.
We are giving it up to Bashar Assad, who is a proxy of Iran. So, in essence, we are basically allowing Iran to expand its power in Syria. That is the consequence of what President Trump is doing. And I think, if that's explained to people, they will understand this is not really in our interest.
That's why you had a bipartisan majority in the Senate pass a resolution of disapproval against this rapid pullout.
BALDWIN: Right, Republican senators, at that, of course.
Max and Hagar, thank you two so much on the president and here on Syria.
Coming up, investigating beyond Russia -- the head of the House Intelligence Committee revealing he plans to dig into President Trump's financial interests and find out if that has any influence over any of the decisions he's been making.
Also, 2020, of course, heating up. We have a couple new CNN polls that are out new today with pretty stunning results. The current Democratic front-runner is someone who hasn't even decided if he wants to run for president. So we will talk about this guy right there on your screen.
Also, a stunning remark by the pope today. He admits some priests and even bishops abused nuns -- nuns.
We will be right back.
BALDWIN: President Trump responding moments ago to Democrats expanding investigations into his finances.
You have the House Intelligence chairman, Adam Schiff, announcing today that his committee would investigate the president's finances beyond Russia. It is also our most detailed look yet at how far Democrats plan to go, even after special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has concluded.
So, Max Boot is back with us. Joining us also is our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, there in Washington.
So, Gloria, let me start with you. It's significant. And it's also -- this is Trump's whole red line,
right, his finances.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: His family, his finances, his red.
And I think that Adam Schiff believes that this is oversight. The question that I have is that the Southern District of New York seems to be doing a lot of the same stuff, as we have been reporting all week. And so I think that the Intelligence Committee has to be pretty careful not to intrude on what the Southern District is doing, because they have been talking to people from the Trump Organization as well.
BALDWIN: We have a tweet. Let me throw this on the screen.
Max, this is for you.
BALDWIN: This is what Schiff just tweeted, responding to the president's reaction, right?
This is reacting to the reaction. He says: "I can understand why the idea of meaningful oversight terrifies the president. Several of his close associates are going to jail. Others await trial. And criminal investigations continue. We're going to do our job and won't be distracted or intimidated by threats or attacks."
Max, what do you think of that?
BOOT: Well, I think it's...
BALDWIN: New world order in Washington.
BOOT: Yes, I mean, I think this is -- this is the new order of things post-midterm election.
BOOT: And Donald Trump has not adjusted to it.