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Interview with Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA); Venezuelans Flee To Neighboring Countries; Smollett Speaks Out over Attack. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 14, 2019 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Foreign Affairs Committee.

Good morning, congressman.


HARLOW: Thank you -- thank you for being here.

And as I understand it, you are a preliminary, at this point, yes on this --


HARLOW: On this vote to overt a government shutdown.

But, earlier this week, you said, I would put money on this one.

So, this morning, what's your over/under on if the White House backs this, if the president signs it?

CONNOLLY: You know, despite some blustering, I think the White House has no choice but to sign this bill or face, frankly, a revolt in the Republican ranks here in Congress. There's no --

HARLOW: A revolt? A revolt?

CONNOLLY: No appetite in the Congress.


CONNOLLY: Well, on the funding of the government, I don't think Republicans want another shutdown. It was disastrous for them and their brand. And it really hurt this president. They don't want to repeat that.

HARLOW: Let me ask you about what Democrats got and what you didn't get because DACA is not included in this deal at all.

CONNOLLY: That's right.

HARLOW: And last year, as you well know, Democrats offered $25 billion for a border barrier in exchange for permanent protection for the DACA population. Do you think at all, congressman, that Democrats missed an opportunity to get something done on DACA here?

CONNOLLY: No, because I don't -- I think -- I think that simply would have been a deal breaker with the Republicans and with the White House, sadly. The president actually created this problem by rescinding the executive order that protected dreamers. And while he professed to be sympathetic to their plight, he has done nothing to be helpful. On every deal we've presented to him, he's rejected.

HARLOW: I would just note that, as you know, some would counter that statement and say, look, the Obama administration chose to use an executive order, which can be reversed by the next president, instead of doing it through Congress. Of course there have been attempts many times on comprehensive immigration reform. I will --

CONNOLLY: Well, I would -- I would --

HARLOW: I -- yes.

CONNOLLY: I would say in response, Poppy, to that, Obama faced a Republican Congress that wouldn't pass that legislation. He had no choice if he was going to protect dreamers but to resort to an executive order. And, of course, I find it ironic that Republicans would criticize that given the multiplicity of executive orders this president, this Republican president, has been using to govern.

HARLOW: Both presidents have used them a lot.

Let's move on to this.

You have been vocal in your support for Minnesota congressman, the freshman Representative Ilhan Omar after the fallout over her anti- Semitic tweets. I know you don't agree with her statements, but here's what you said in her defense. She's a freshman. She's new here. She's young. I think she has learned a painful lesson.

But her first anti-Semitic trope dates back seven years, congressman, to 2012 when she said that Israel had hypnotized the world and she talked about the evil doings of Israel.

Is it --

CONNOLLY: Are you asking me a question?

HARLOW: I am. I guess you're saying she's young, you know, she's learning, that she's new, but she's a --

CONNOLLY: I'm not sure -- I'm not sure what it is you want --

HARLOW: She's a member of --

CONNOLLY: I don't know what -- what is it you want me --

HARLOW: So my question is -- I'd like to understand, she's a member of Congress and this isn't -- this isn't a new statement. This is a series of statements that is deeply offensive to many Jewish- Americans, many Americans, and I'm wondering if you're concerned how far back it goes?

CONNOLLY: I am. I am concerned that anyone with a history of anti- Semitism frankly needs to confront their own words and understand their impact. And, obviously, we also need to understand the mindset behind it. But I stand by what I said, she is young.


CONNOLLY: She is new. And she is now a member of Congress. She was, you know, a young citizen before that. That doesn't excuse those words, but it puts it in somewhat of a context.

I will say this, Poppy --


CONNOLLY: I don't understand why this is still a three or four-day story, but given all the other things we're dealing with, but since you ask --

HARLOW: Really? I mean she sits -- well, let me explain why, because she sits on the --

CONNOLLY: Well, since you -- since you -- I would -- I would -- if I -- no, if I could finish my statement.


CONNOLLY: If I could finish my statement.


CONNOLLY: So it's a four-day story because of the fascination with this. But the -- but she's apologized. She was condemned by Democratic leadership, her words. And she apologized unequivocally.

Meanwhile, we have the contrast on the Republican side of a president. Where does one even begin to talk about hateful speech with him? He's got MAGA rallies that, in may cases, are overtly anti-Semitic. We have remarks that were anti-Semitic code by the Republican leader here in the House. We have a 17-year history of Steve King and racist remarks and there was absolute silence on the Republican side of the aisle until recently.

HARLOW: So -- so if Steve King, congressman --

CONNOLLY: So why the double standard? Why the double standard between a young Muslim women and all of this other history?

HARLOW: I hear you. You should watch Jake Tapper's show from last night when he laid it all out there. And we're talking about that.

But because she is on the Foreign Affairs Committee with you and she's a fellow Democrat, I have a few questions for you on that.

CONNOLLY: Sure. [09:35:06] HARLOW: Given the inexperience that you cite as part of the

reason you think that she not only wrote this in 2012 but also wrote it's all about the Benjamins, talking about why Republicans have AIPAC support just, you know, a week ago. Do you think she should remain on the House Foreign Affairs Committee?

CONNOLLY: Well, she just got there. She hasn't had much opportunity yet to sort of learn the ropes. I think there's an opportunity for her to learn a lot and to start to maybe temper the views she came to Congress and this committee with. I don't know that this one outburst and that history you cite is enough to disqualify her from being on the Foreign Affairs Committee --


CONNOLLY: But it's certainly something to be watched and hopefully she can be mentored.

HARLOW: OK. So let me ask you about that, because it was less than a month ago when she was on the show with us when we asked her about those comments. And she said, quote, I don't know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish-Americans. That was on January 17th when she was a member of Congress already. Does that concern you?

CONNOLLY: Yes, it concerns me, but I think she's certainly learned her lesson since. She now does understand how those comments are not only offensive to Jewish-Americans but to all Americans. I'm not Jewish, but I will tell you, those remarks are very offensive to me, too.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes. I understand that.

And, finally, because you represent the state of Virginia, embattled Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was young, and not in politics when it's alleged that he took that photo of someone in blackface when he was -- it's alleged he was in the photo of someone in blackface and in a KKK hat. He apologized. You told Anderson Cooper earlier this month that despite that apology his ability to govern is non-existent. Is it a double standard then for him?

CONNOLLY: No, I don't think so.

HARLOW: You say he can't govern because of actions when he was young and not in politics versus you saying let's give Representative Omar a chance here?

CONNOLLY: I think that's really a false equivalency, Poppy. He's the chief executive of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The question for him is, can you govern after this kind of really maladroit management of a terrible incident, right? Who will campaign with you? Who will want to be seen with you? He's already had multiple public invitations rescinded by public universities and other institutions around the commonwealth as the governor because they don't want him there. And so I think he's -- his moral authority has collapsed. But I think they are very different cases and should be treated as such.

HARLOW: I hear you point, can he govern versus should he -- should she be given a chance.

We appreciate your time on these issues.

Congressman Connolly, thank you.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure, Poppy. Thank you.

HARLOW: Thanks.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The situation turning so desperate in Venezuela that people are forced to cross into neighboring countries just to get food and medicine. The latest on that crisis coming up.


[09:42:34] HARLOW: The president is set to deliver a speech next week on the political turmoil that is growing by the hour in Venezuela. The president has said all options are on the table, not ruling out, at this point, a military intervention there.

SCIUTTO: It is really just such a sad scene. Venezuelans hungry, desperate for help, crossing into neighboring countries, such as Colombia, for basic necessities, food, medicine. Some now vowing to bring help to those left behind.

Isa Soares, she has been on this story for days now. She's live in Colombia, just across the border from Venezuela.

Isa, I mean, we've seen you there on that bridge at the border as people crossing just to -- basically just to survive.

You know, tell us what the situation is like today. And is -- crucially, is any help getting into the country?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, until now, Jim, the humanitarian aid, that USA aid is still sitting idle in a warehouse roughly 20 minutes away from here waiting to be delivered because, of course, Maduro's forces have that bridge that's never been opened. It's blocked. And so people, as you can understand and you can probably imagine, are frustrated, they're weary, they're tired. More than 3 million have left Venezuela. A million or so have come into Colombia.

But just to give our viewers a sense of just how bad it is back in Venezuela, the minimum wage, Jim, is $5 U.S. With hyperinflation, $5 U.S. can't even buy you a packet of cheese. And so you can imagine why people and why emotions are running so high.


SOARES (voice over): Every step is a burden. A load they have to carry for miles on end. But even the weight of their cargo does little to hold their tongue.

And while the majority cross this border legally, some others take a less traveled road. And they all do it out of necessity.

SOARES (on camera): There's no food. Nothing. Nothing there, he's saying.

Coffee. Toothpaste. There's nothing in Venezuela. Only sadness. That's what she's telling me.

Yet 20 minutes away from here on (INAUDIBLE) Bridge is a warehouse packed full of humanitarian aid waiting to be delivered. Sure, it is just a drop in the ocean, but it's creating a wave of expectation on both sides of the border. And with that, desperation.

[09:45:09] SOARES (voice over): The frustration's evident in every corner of this border town. As Venezuelans line up for food, for money, and for any way out of this crisis.

SOARES (on camera): He's saying Colombia, but this -- this gentlemen here, he's collecting some money and he's going all the way to Peru. He's telling me, we don't want anything to do with Maduro.

SOARES (voice over): It seems he's not alone. They're celebrating the fall of Maduro's regime. Premature. After all, he's standing his ground with his military still preventing the aid from entering the country. But they're heeding the call of Juan Guaido.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We will move the humanitarian aid. Of course, we will move it. And we will move it, even if we have to carry it through unofficial paths.

SOARES: Who has been rallying his troops, calling on the people to volunteer and carry the aid across the border on the 23rd of February.

SOARES (on camera): Are you going to help on the 23rd?

As you can see here, everyone -- as you can see here, everyone here is prepared to risk their lives to carry that humanitarian aid across the border.

SOARES (voice over): And they're counting on the army, the rank and file, who, too, are living on the edge, to walk, as well as stand beside them.


SOARES: And that chant that you're hearing at the end of our report is directed at the rank and file. They're hoping they will move out of their way if come the 23rd they can't deliver the aid. And they're trying to (INAUDIBLE) something that happened, Jim and Poppy, back in 2016, the border then between Venezuela and Colombia was closed. And a group of women, dressed in white, desperate to come into Colombia to buy aid, to buy medicines, actually were able to come in. The police let them in. So they're trying to try to have a message direct to the rank and file hoping that if it comes to this, if Maduro doesn't budge, hoping that they will stand out of their way.

Jim. Poppy. HARLOW: Isa, incredible reporting that you've done throughout. Thank you for that.

SCIUTTO: How good is it to have people like Isa Soares --

HARLOW: Amazing.

SCIUTTO: Sam Kiley on the ground there inside what is an enormously important story and a sad one.

HARLOW: And one we will stay on. We promise you that.

Ahead for us, kicked, punched, insulted with racial and homophobic slurs. That is what "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett says he suffered during a recent attack in Chicago. And this morning he is speaking out about it for the first time.


[09:52:10] HARLOW: "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett speaking out for the first time saying he's angry and frustrated after an alleged attack that he says was fueled by racism and homophobia. Look, he says this horrific attack happened to him last month while he was walking home early in the morning in downtown Chicago.

SCIUTTO: The details of his account are just disturbing. This morning, Smollett told "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts that he believes two men seen in the surveillance footage on the right-hand side of your screen there in shadow, he believes they're the ones who did it.

Here is CNN correspondent Ryan Young with more.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy and Jim, the actor talking for the first time, Jussie Smollett, detailing that night and the fact that he went to a Walgreens first to get something to eat, then made his way over to the subway after that Walgreens was closed. He said he was on the way back to his apartment when someone started yelling out to him. He didn't respond at first. When he turned around to respond to the words that were being yelled at him, that's when the attack happened. And he said at first he was fighting back against one attacker when a second person joined in. That attacker was kicking him in the back.

These details are new. In fact, he thought the fight was going to be captured on surveillance cameras that were above where the attack happened, but that camera was pointing north and not in the direction of where the attack happened.

But he was very emotional, very upset about all the questions about this attack. He even emphasized the fact that he fought back and he wants people to know that he fought hard to make sure they weren't able to overtake him.

Listen to some of his words and how passionate he is about what happened to him.



ROBIN ROBERTS, HOST, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": What is it that has you so angry? Is it the attackers? Is it --

SMOLLETT: It's the attackers. But it's also the attacks. It's like, you know, at first it was a thing of like, listen, if I tell the truth, then that's it because it's the truth. Then it became a think of like, oh, how can you doubt that? Like how do you -- how do you not believe that? It's the truth. And then it became a thing of like, oh, it's not necessarily that you don't believe that this is the truth, you don't even want to see the truth.


YOUNG: Jim and Poppy, one of the things that stood out about this interview was the raw emotion from the actor in terms of him describing that night and talking about the fact that he gave over those police -- the phone records to police. He said the reason why he didn't give the phone over is because he was worried about all his personal information getting out and so that's the reason why he didn't give all the records at this time. But he says he'll work with them.

Looking at those two images, the persons of interest, he believes those are the two men that attacked him. He hopes they are caught.

SCIUTTO: We hope so too.

[09:54:53] Still ahead this hour, the president firing back after stunning revelations from fired acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe about why he ordered investigations into President Trump's campaign and Russia. New details coming up.


HARLOW: Mark it three months today, my friend Jim's new book, "The Shadow War: Inside Russia and China's Secret Operation to Defeat America" comes out. It reveals the U.S. is under attack in an entirely new kind of warfare extending from cyberspace to outer space, from Ukraine, the South China Sea, the North Pole. And, my friend, you went there. You went to all of these places to do this reporting over years. And this book, congrats, brings it all together.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

Yes, listen, I spent a lot of time in these places, often for CNN, Ukraine, South China Sea, covering certainly Russia's interference in the election. And what you discover very quickly is these things are not isolated. They're part of a strategy that, frankly, Russia and China are very public about. They want to overcome, surpass America, undermine the west.

[10:00:05] And one of the most alarming things here is that this was happening without American officials, U.S. officials really being aware of it or