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Acting U.S. Attorney General Questioned by House Democrats; Border Security Beefed Up around Eagle Pass, Texas; Feds Investigating Bezos' Claim against "National Enquirer"; Trump Misses Magnitsky Act Deadline in Khashoggi Murder Case; Troops in Syria Warn ISIS Isn't Finished Yet; Dutch Flower Exporters Warn against No Deal Brexit. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired February 9, 2019 - 04:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A contentious hearing: Democrats spar with President Trump's acting attorney general over the Mueller probe and his conversations with the president.

Virginia's lieutenant governor faces impeachment after a second woman comes forward, accusing him of sexual assault.

And President Trump will soon declare coalition forces have recaptured 100 percent of the territory once controlled by ISIS. But many coalition countries believe the war against ISIS is far from over.

These stories are all ahead here this hour. Welcome to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. Coming to you live from Atlanta, I'm Natalie Allen. And this is CNN NEWSROOM.


ALLEN: Thanks again for joining us.

The Trump administration's acting attorney general is being threatened with a subpoena, once again, after a contentious day of testimony over the Russian probe. Democrats say Matthew Whitaker failed to answer key questions about his oversight of the investigation. For more about it, here is CNN's Jessica Schneider.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This hearing highlighted the partisan divisions on Capitol Hill. Republicans calling it unwarranted while Democrats dug in.

Now after hours and hours of questioning, the committee chair, Jerrold Nadler, says he is still not satisfied and even not sure he believes all of Whitaker's testimony after several back and forth testy exchanges.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Acting attorney general Matt Whitaker making his first appearance before the House Judiciary Committee --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This hearing is pointless.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If this is the way we are going to go, then we'll have plenty of stunts. We're going to have plenty of theatrics. Bring your popcorn. I'm thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that's what this has become.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): -- and igniting a political firestorm.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: It's our understanding that at least one briefing occurred in December, before your decision not to recuse yourself on December 19, on Christmas Day. Is that correct?

MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: What's the basis for that question, sir?

NADLER: Yes or no.

WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman, I -- again, what is the basis for your question? You're saying that it is your understanding.


NADLER: I mean, I'm asking the questions. I only have five minutes. So please answer yes or no.

WHITAKER: No, Mr. Chairman, I'm going to -- you are asking me a question. It is your understanding. Can you tell me where you get the basis...


NADLER: No, I'm not going to tell you that. I don't have time to get into that.

SCHNEIDER: Whitaker at one point trying to cut the chairman off.

WHITAKER: I see that your five minutes is up. And so...


WHITAKER: I'm -- we -- we -- we -- I am -- I'm here voluntarily.

I -- we have agreed to five-minute rounds. And...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's a fine place to end the five-minute rule.

NADLER: The committee will end -- will come to a -- and I will point out that we didn't enforce the five-minute rule on Attorney -- acting Attorney General Whitaker. SCHNEIDER: Whitaker denied any conversations with the president or other White House officials about the special counsel's investigation, which Whitaker oversees, either before or after he took over the top spot at DOJ.

WHITAKER: At no time has the White House asked, nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel's investigation or any other investigation.

I'm sorry.

NADLER: It's a yes-or-no question. Have you communicated anything you learned in that briefing about the investigation to President Trump, yes or no?

WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman, as I said earlier today in my opening remarks, I do not intend today to talk about my private conversations with the president of the United States.

But to answer your question, I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel's investigation.

SCHNEIDER: Whitaker has come under fire for denouncing the Mueller investigation as a commentator before he joined the Justice Department, which Republicans quickly pointed out was not the reason for the hearing.

REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R), ARIZONA: It's nothing but character assassination, harassment of our witness.

SCHNEIDER: Whitaker, who said he has been fully briefed on the Mueller investigation, declined to specifically condemn the label witch-hunt used by the president to describe the Russia probe.

WHITAKER: I have not interfered with the special counsel's investigation.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: Are you overseeing a witch-hunt? You would stop a witch-hunt, wouldn't you?

WHITAKER: Congressman, it would be inappropriate for me to talk about an ongoing investigation.

SCHNEIDER: And Whitaker giving no specific indication how much longer it will last.

WHITAKER: We haven't received the report. Bob Mueller is going to finish his investigation when he wants to finish his investigation.

SCHNEIDER: This isn't the end of the investigation. The chairman has a list of questions he wants answers to, including when he was briefed on the special counsel investigation and whether or not he had conversations with the president after the briefings. Nadler says he doesn't --

[04:05:00] SCHNEIDER: -- find Whitaker's insistence that he didn't have conversations with the president completely credible. Of course the chairman, Jerry Nadler, is once again threatening a subpoena, if it's necessary, to get those answers -- Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: Let's talk about what happened there on Capitol Hill with Natasha Lindstaedt. She's a professor of government at the University of Essex. She joins us from Cardiff, Wales.

Natasha, always good to see you. Thanks for giving us your time.


ALLEN: Well, I heard earlier someone say, well, Matthew Whitaker was basically snarky. He didn't want to be there. He was there but he said he couldn't talk about the ongoing investigations when it came to Mueller. He didn't give up much.

Did that surprise you?

LINDSTAEDT: No, it didn't surprise me. I think he's in a pretty difficult place. He doesn't want to lie to Congress, because, as we have seen in the past, some of Trump's associates have gotten into big trouble for lying to Congress.

He also wants to please the president to some extent because he's probably eyeing his future. So had to be very careful about what he said.

But a lot of things that he said, the Democrats didn't really like. They accused him of sort of filibustering or not really answering questions. And he was very cagey about one particular line of questioning, about his conversations with Trump, what was said.

Sometimes he did answer these questions and other times he said he couldn't answer these questions about the conversations.

ALLEN: Did he say anything that was revealing or open as far as the investigation and the search for truth that's underway with the investigation?

LINDSTAEDT: I think where he was at his most firm was on answering questions whether or not he was interfering with the investigation. And he tried to claim, I want to allay the fears of the American public that I have not been interfering with this investigation in any way.

He tried to clarify that he had not been leaking information about the story of Roger Stone's arrest. So he had some things he that was a little bit firmer on. But for the most part, the Democrats were getting very frustrated that he wasn't answering questions clearly enough. And that's why they feel they have to go forward possibly with more questioning.

ALLEN: He stood his ground, didn't he?

Was that important?

You mentioned President Trump, was that important regarding his allegiance to the president?

LINDSTAEDT: Well, based on what he has said in previous interviews, when he used to be a commentator, he doesn't really like this investigation. He's been a vocal critic of the investigation and he's been viewed as being very loyal to the president.

That's what Democrats think is why he was hired in the first place. He didn't really have any experience. But they were worried that he might be a political lackey and he didn't recuse himself, which is what they were also critical of, that he should have recused himself from this investigation based on his past feelings.

So on one level, you may say he probably has coinciding feelings about the investigation that Trump has. But he's also eyeing his political future and he needs to figure out a way not to alienate people that might be important to hiring him.

ALLEN: Certainly revealed the ongoing partisan division, did it not, in Washington?

It was called pointless by Republicans. And Whitaker basically wasn't having it from the time he sat down. Republicans called the questioning harassment.

Did they have a point?

Were, in some respect, Democrats in gotcha mode?

LINDSTAEDT: Well, the Republican -- the leading Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins was really, really frustrated with some of the line of questioning because he felt that sometimes it was going outside of what the questions were supposed to be focusing on, which was whether or not Whitaker was interfering in the investigation, what his conversations were with Trump.

And they felt that's what it really should have been kept down to. So, you know, similar to the investigation regarding the hearings involving Judge Kavanaugh, they were just getting pretty emotional about the fact that it was becoming a circus.

And you saw the emotion in Doug Collins' voice, he was just tired of the circus.

But the Democrats felt that there were grounds for suspicion of his hiring. And one of the representatives from New York asked him, why were you hired?

What has happened?

How did you get this job? There's also suspicion about the fact that he had interviewed for a position as a -- basically like a counsel to support the president in dealing with the investigation and him claiming that he never spoke about his feelings about the investigation.

So there are a lot of issues coming from both sides but, ultimately, we are probably going to see more questioning going forward.

ALLEN: Right. We will probably hear or maybe not hear, depending on what happens next from Matthew Whitaker. It was interesting to watch. As always, we appreciate your insights, Natasha Lindstaedt for us.


ALLEN: Thanks, Natasha.

LINDSTAEDT: Thank you.


ALLEN: Another story we are following, political chaos in the state of Virginia. Governor Ralph Northam is hanging on amid a racism scandal while the attorney general is embroiled in a different racial controversy.

Meantime, top Democrats, including some presidential candidates, are demanding Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax resign over sexual assault allegations. Ryan Nobles is on this one.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It seems in many ways the situation in Richmond, Virginia, is getting more complicated by the day. Already the governor and the attorney general under a cloud of scandal because of accusations of racist photos and appearing in blackface in the past.

Now the lieutenant governor who was already under fire from a sexual assault allegation is now facing accusations from a second accuser. That woman, Meredith Watson, says that Justin Fairfax raped her when they were both college students at Duke University back in 2000.

Watson even goes on to say that she believes that Fairfax targeted her because she was a previous rape victim. Watson's attorney supplying the media with emails that they say show that Watson has told people for many years about Fairfax raping her when they were in college.

in fact, one of those emails came as Fairfax was beginning his political career. A group of Duke alumni asked for donations from fellow alumni.

Watson responded to that email chain by saying, quote, "Justin raped me in college. And I don't want to hear anything about him. Please, please, please remove me from any future emails about him, please. Thank you." Now Fairfax is vehemently denying this claim by Watson. He says that

this is absolutely not true. And he also says that he plans not to resign.

Even though Fairfax says he doesn't want to resign, the calls for him to do so are coming from all corners of Virginia's government. A number of the state's congressional delegations saying it's time for him to go. The former governor, Terry McAuliffe, also saying he should go.

And to take it a step further, a Democratic delegate from Arlington, Virginia, Patrick Culp, says that he will file articles of impeachment against the lieutenant governor on Monday if he does not resign beforehand.

Of course, all of this comes as the state is still reeling from the controversies involving the governor, who, in his medical school yearbook, there was a racist photo that appeared under his name, and the attorney general who admitted that he appeared in blackface while in college as well.

The only update on those two stories is that the governor doesn't appear to be going anywhere. He told members of his cabinet in a meeting on Friday that he plans to serve out the balance of his term -- Ryan Nobles, CNN, Richmond, Virginia.


ALLEN: The clock is ticking for the U.S. government to hammer out a deal and keep the government funded and open. Republicans and Democrats are negotiating a key element of border security deal in hopes President Trump signs it before the February 15th deadline.

Sources tell CNN, the latest proposal includes $2 billion for a border barrier. That's less than the $5.7 billion Mr. Trump wants.

Meantime, we are closely watching the U.S. military Border Patrol agents and local authorities as they beef up their presence in Eagle Pass, Texas, the town that borders Mexico and some 1,800 migrants in Mexico are waiting to cross the U.S. border there to seek asylum.

Most of the caravan is from Central America and authorities want to prevent a mass rush into the United States. Our Martin Savidge is there.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I want to give you a bit of the lay of the land at Eagle Pass and show you where the concern is. These vehicles here are parked on what is actually a park and part of a golf course. They are facing into Mexico.

You have a combination of Customs and Border Protection as well as the Texas State Troopers here. There were a lot more of them earlier in the day. It's thinned out a little bit. And in the background, you can see one of the two bridges that are the

ports of entry that connect the United States and Mexico here, that pass over the Rio Grande River, which is essentially the border between these two countries.

Something else that's new today, though, is over on the other side of the border and you can see, perhaps clearly just one vehicle but there have been more. We believe those to be the Mexican federal police.

And they're a new addition today, apparently since the U.S. is showing a show of force on its side the border, the Mexican authorities now have decided they are going to do the same thing.

It shows you there is a kind of standoff going on here. It's because of the immigrant caravan. That caravan is said to be 1,800-2,000 people, Central Americans, mostly, who are being housed in a warehouse --


SAVIDGE: -- or factory-like facility just across the border in Mexico. The concern is there could be a rush across the bridges there. They are fortifying them, they're adding concertina wire, they are also adding complexes, containers to try to slow or prevent any kind of mass rush of a crowd coming across.

There's other security measures that are being implemented as well. However, there's also a sense coming that there's greater cooperation with Mexican authorities, certainly between the two communities but also on a higher level.

And whether that's because there's been a new administration installed in Mexico, no one will clearly say. They will only say that Mexico is controlling this caravan much more than they have any other recent ones.

It could be a reason why there is at least some hope that this will be resolved peacefully. It's just going to take a lot of time -- Martin Savidge, CNN, Eagle Pass, Texas.


ALLEN: The "National Enquirer's" immunity deal could be in jeopardy. The latest on the explosive allegations of blackmail and extortion as new questions emerge about the tabloid's possible ties with Saudi Arabia.

What's that about?

We'll explore it.

Also Venezuela's opposition warns the military against rejecting aid for the country. But the president maintains help isn't needed. We'll have the latest from Venezuela.




ALLEN: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' explosive allegations against the "National Enquirer" could spell big trouble for the magazine far beyond the Bezos affair. And there are more questions about the magazine's alleged ties to Saudi Arabia. Our Brian Todd reports.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Inquiring minds may be in legal trouble. CNN has learned federal prosecutors in New York are reviewing claims the "National Enquirer" attempted to extort and blackmail Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder and CEO of Amazon and owner of "The Washington Post."

Bezos accused the "Enquirer," its parent company, American Media, and its CEO, David Pecker, of trying to blackmail him, saying the tabloid would not publish salacious and embarrassing pictures of Bezos and this woman, Lauren Sanchez, with whom Bezos had an affair but only if Bezos would agree to stop investigating the tabloid.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: This story is about people at the pinnacle of very different professions. The richest man in the world, the White House, the most powerful man in the world and the most vulgar and awful and powerful in its own way tabloid in the world.

TODD (voice-over): The sordid saga began back in January, when the "National Enquirer" published text messages between Bezos and Sanchez. Bezos did not deny having an affair and shortly before the story broke announced he was divorcing his wife.

At the same time, Bezos hired investigators to find out how the "Enquirer" got the texts. Representatives of Bezos told news organizations he thought the leak of the text was politically motivated. Revealing that, Bezos says, led to these: letters and emails from American Media's lawyers, threatening to release the compromising photos if Bezos didn't publicly say that AMI's coverage of the Bezos scandal wasn't politically motivated and call off his investigators.

Instead, Bezos went public, saying he would rather expose the tabloid's tactics.

But why?

JIM RUTENBERG, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": What we have learned if anything about the "National Enquirer" and David Pecker over the last year is that they will attack the enemies of their friends and that they might expect something in return. TODD (voice-over): In a lengthy blog post, Bezos suggests just that, pointing to the AMI chief, David Pecker's relationship with President Trump as well as stories about Pecker cultivating ties with Saudi Arabia.

RUTENBERG: We know there's a history of David Pecker and AMI looking for opportunities with Saudi Arabia, looking for investment from Saudi Arabia, looking for acquisitions in Saudi Arabia, a way into that market.

TODD (voice-over): The Saudis have been the focus of "The Post's" unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, a hit the CIA believes was ordered by the Saudi crown prince, which the Saudis deny.

Bezos appeared to question why AMI published a 97-page glossy magazine last year, praising Saudi Arabia.

RUTENBERG: What AMI said at the time, what American Media said at the time was people are fascinated by royals. This is Saudi royalty. This is an exciting time in Saudi Arabia.

TODD (voice-over): Bezos also seems to suggest AMI could have gone after him to please President Trump. The president has long complained "The Post's" coverage is unfair. Trump's ties with David Pecker go back to the 1990s and Pecker helped cover up an alleged affair with a former "Playboy" model.

TOOBIN: David Pecker not only has a long friendship with President Trump, he has put his money where his mouth is. He paid off Karen McDougal to maintain her silence.

TODD (voice-over): But since then, David Pecker was granted immunity by prosecutors in New York and agreed to provide them information on those hush money deals. CNN has learned that deal could be in jeopardy if prosecutors find Pecker of AMI broke the law in their dealings with Bezos, they could lose their immunity in the hush money cases.

TODD: AMI put out a statement saying it believes it acted lawfully in reporting the Bezos story but said its board is going to investigate Bezos' claims. AMI rejects any assertion that its reporting was instigated or influenced by any outside forces, political or otherwise.

A spokesman at the White House says he doubts if President Trump is even aware of all the Bezos reporting and asked if his government ever tried to get AMI to put out negative stories about Jeff Bezos, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said, quote, "As far as I no, flat out no" -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: And here's another link to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. president has ignored a legal deadline to tell Congress whether he thinks the Saudi crown prince ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Under what is called the --


ALLEN: -- Magnitsky Act. He had 120 days to determine whether the Saudi crown prince was responsible and whether to impose sanctions. The White House says the president has discretion not to act on committee requests.

But members of Congress say he's violating the law and are pushing for action. Republican senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump supporter, says there will be strong bipartisan effort to impose more sanctions on Saudi Arabia. Mr. Trump previously has not agreed with the CIA conclusion the Saudi crown prince ordered the killing.

Venezuela's dueling leaders are involved in another political standoff, this time over aid meant to help people across the country.

American relief items are stockpiled in neighboring Colombia. They are not moving. Venezuela's president says his country doesn't need the help. The opposition leader says he will try to deliver aid to Venezuelans as early as next week. He's also warning the military against stopping the delivery.


JUAN GUAIDO, INTERIM PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): We have spoken clearly to the armed forces. It is now a humanitarian issue to prohibit the aid, which I insist it is destined to save lives in this first stage. It could be considered a crime against humanity.


ALLEN: The head of the Red Cross says he is working with both sides, meaning Guaido and Mr. Maduro, to distribute the aid.

In just a matter of days, President Trump is set to declare the end of the ISIS caliphate -- but not everyone agrees it's over.

Plus, we will take you to the front lines in Syria where that final battle for ISIS territory is taking place. Stay with us. Much more ahead.





ALLEN: Welcome back to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world, this is CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Natalie Allen. Here are the top stories.


ALLEN: The U.S. president says he expects to announce next week that coalition forces have recaptured 100 percent of the territory once controlled by ISIS. He did not address concerns the terror group continue to fight covertly and could eventually regroup.


TRUMP: The United States military, our coalition partners and the Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated virtually all the territory previously held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It should be formally announced sometime, probably next week, that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate.


ALLEN: German chancellor Angela Merkel is contradicting Mr. Trump. She says while ISIS fighters are being pushed out of their last remaining territory, they are becoming a dangerous asymmetrical warfare force.

The amount of territory ISIS controls has shrunk dramatically in the past few years. President Trump says he wants to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo says a troop drawdown is not the end of America's fight against the terror group.

It is clear on Syria's front line the battle against ISIS as a territorial entity is coming to and end but as CNN's Ben Wedeman reports from the region, the war on ISIS is far from over.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fighters are loading up for the final battle against what's left of the so-called Islamic State, now holed up in a tiny corner of land in eastern Syria. With coalition air support, the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces have driven ISIS out of all but a sliver of territory along the Euphrates River.

It's easy to see plenty of movement inside the besieged enclave just a half-mile away, as gunfire echoes across no man's land.

The active fighting stopped a while ago, these soldiers say.

Incoming or outgoing, I ask?


"Outgoing," he responds. He was, however, mistaken.

WEDEMAN: So the soldiers here have told us it's been quiet for the last at least week or so. But, just a moment the soldier was telling me that there was an incoming round landing right over there. So quiet, I guess in this instance, is a relative term.

Adnan Afrin is commanding the anti-ISIS forces at the front and warns against assuming the war is almost over.

"ISIS isn't finished yet," he tells me. "It's still in this area. It's still fighting. It still has sleeper cells in the areas we've liberated."

ISIS was at its height, one of its supporter's favorite slogans was the Islamic State remaining --


WEDEMAN (voice-over): -- and expanding. That, now seems like a very long time ago.

WEDEMAN: As the Islamic State collapses, they are leaving behind their spare change, so to speak. This, a five dirham coin, now, not worth anything.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Worthless, like the debris of their utopian delusion -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Bahulz (ph), Eastern Syria.


ALLEN: Let's talk more about what is and isn't going on with ISIS with Fawaz Gerges. He joins me from London. He's the chair of contemporary Middle East studies at the London School of Economics.

Always good to have you on, we appreciate it. Thank you. Let's begin with the mixed messages from the Trump administration, the president saying ISIS will be defeated in days. The secretary of state saying the U.S. has more work ahead.

Which is it?

What do you make of the messages?

FAWAZ GERGES, DIR. MIDDLE EAST CENTER, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: It's very confusing. It's very confusing not only for all of us, who know a bit about ISIS but even for the American public.

Remember, if there's one particular audience that President Trump cares about, it is really the domestic audience, his base. He will say whatever it takes to satisfy the political base. This is what matters to him.

What we know is that the physical, territorial state is almost dismantled, almost. They are still fighting in Syria. I would argue that ISIS already shifted into the second phase, which is insurgency.

Few Americans know that ISIS now has been able to carry out multiple attacks in Iraq. In fact, we have already a low intensity insurgency in Iraq.

In Syria, American generals and many of us who know a bit about ISIS believe there are thousands of active combatters (sic), ISIS combatters (sic) even though the physical territorial state has been dismantled. Sleeping cells, many small units, guerilla warfare. So in fact I would argue that is the next phase, the next phase of the fight against ISIS, is as difficult as the dismantling of the physical caliphate. And one of the lessons we have learned over the few years about ISIS,

it is dynamic, it's adaptive, it will most likely go underground and bide its time and basically recover in the next three years, unless the real fight, which is not military, basically both in Iraq and Syria and Libya and Yemen, really takes place.

ALLEN: Absolutely. We know that they have spread to Africa and are working there to train more people in Northern Africa.

The question is for us, how do you fight that?

How does the world continue to keep a watch and try to dismantle these sleeper cells and these small units?

GERGES: You know, let me be direct. I mean, I think the military aspect of the fight against ISIS is very crucial. Now that the physical state is dismantled in Iraq and Syria, in fact, what we need is really nonmilitary means to hammer a deadly nail in the coffin of ISIS.

What I really mean, you need to help devastate the societies in Iraq and Syria and other places, recover, reconcile, rebuild. And my take on it is that President Trump does not really have the will or the vision or the ability to really appreciate what it takes to basically defeat ISIS.

In fact, it takes investment, strategic investment. It takes diplomatic investment. The United States, along with other powers, must help devastate the societies in Iraq and Syria and Libya and Yemen, not only end the conflict but in the post-war reconstruction.

This is really -- it's a long strategic vision for a devastated region but President Trump was all humility. He doesn't care about the post war reconstruction. All he cares about is to tell his own political base at home, we have won. We have defeated ISIS.

ISIS is not defeated. It's degraded. And there's a huge difference between defeated and degraded. In fact, let me say this one, I hope the president does not declare victory because, if he does, this might really come to haunt him in a similar way to the "mission accomplished" statement by his predecessor, President George W. Bush when he declared the mission was accomplished --


GERGES: -- immediately after the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq. We know what happened between 2003 and 2007 or '08. So the fight, the battle against ISIS goes on. This is what the president and his advisers must realize, not the military means but also the social, political and diplomatic aspects of this particular fight.

ALLEN: Right. You always pointed that out when you come on the program; just because you can't physically see pockets of ISIS in Syria, that does not mean they have gone away. As you say, defeated but not degraded. The question for you is, the Secretary of Defense of the United

States, highly regarded, Mattis quit over Mr. Trump's decision to pull out of Syria.

The question is, who is he listening to now?

Who is around this president that will, you know, get him to respond in a way that is constructive in taking this next action that is needed?

GERGES: It's not just General Mattis who fundamentally disagreed with President Trump. Most of the president's generals have made it publicly, they have said it publicly that the fight goes on, that ISIS is not defeated.

The second phase is very complex. The insurgency, the counter insurgency phase, the postwar reconstruction. This president was all humility. He doesn't care about facts. In fact, he has mastered the art of falsehood and he does not listen to anyone. He does not care about nuances. He does not care about distinctions.

Again, what he cares about is his political base, a now political base. He tries to tell his political face, President Barack Obama failed to defeat ISIS; I did it.

ISIS is not defeated. American generals, everyone in the civilian, basically, community, myself included. I have written a book on ISIS history two years ago. I know that not only ISIS is not defeated, you have between 30,000 and 40,000 Al Qaeda affiliates still in Syria.

American generals estimate there are about 50,000 ISIS in Iraq, not to mention the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, Yemen, Africa and other places. We have to show humility and say, yes, the military aspect of the fight is very important but we need to make strategic investment.

In the postwar reconstruction, in terms of healing, reconciliation, rebuilding the devastated societies and giving people hope because ISIS and Al Qaeda, basically, they are nourished in conflict zone. They are social parasites.

Unless we pull out the rug from under their feet in Syria and Iraq and other places, they most likely, sadly and tragically, they will basically adapt and resurface under a new name and a new brand and a new identity in the next year or so.

ALLEN: Right. The ideology is there. Fawaz Gerges, we always appreciate your expertise. Thank you so much for coming on.

GERGES: Thank you.

ALLEN: Brexit threatens to make it harder for Britons to get goods from the E.U. So much so it could leave Britain asking where have all the flowers gone? That's next.





ALLEN: In the United Kingdom, high profile Brexiteer Nigel Farage is backing a new political party registered this week. The fiery former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party says the new bloc is called the Brexit party and he would stand as candidate for European parliamentary elections in May if Brexit is not delivered by then.

There are just 48 days until Britain is set to leave the E.U. With no deal in place, there is concern the price of imported goods in the U.K. could jump dramatically and there are worries outside the U.K. as well. Exporters in the Netherlands are the latest to warn Brexit could have a devastating effect on their trade. Here is Simon Cullen in London.


SIMON CULLEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the largest flower distribution center in the world. Every day the fresh blooms are carefully sorted, packed and inspected before being shipped around the globe from this bulky warehouse near Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. The Dutch flower industry is a multidollar export earner and a crucial supply hub for British florists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We buy our stock in London and we transport it to England, then we sell it.

CULLEN: Put into British wholesalers about 80 percent of the fresh flowers sold in the U.K. are shipped in from the Netherlands. Under the existing arrangements, the trucks pass unhindered through the ports, ensuring the flowers arrive here quickly. But if the U.K. and E.U. cannot resolve their messy divorce, goods like these could be subjected to tariffs and delays at the border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to wait today to get the flowers into the country, then it will definitely affect the freshness of flowers.

CULLEN: For an industry that relies on a quick turnaround of goods, any shock to the supply chain will cause difficulties.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can order from Holland up until 4 o'clock in the evening and it's here first thing in the morning. And then we process it and deliver it. But obviously that's not going to happen.

CULLEN: Exporters in the Netherlands are already game planning what might happen under a different Brexit scenarios. But until there's a deal, there's no way of knowing exactly what will happen at the ports and what the costs will be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is still very much uncertainty that we need to cope with and so that's giving bad feeling at the moment.

CULLEN: For those whose livelihoods rely on the flower trade, the road ahead could prove to be a bumpy lane -- Simon Cullen, CNN, London.


ALLEN: Another big snowstorm is hitting the state of Washington this week in the U.S. Up next, why the governor says this one could be the worst in years. Derek will be here with the forecast.








ALLEN: Our top stories are up right after this. Please stay with us.