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Commander Visit Syria And Tells Allies that US Troops Are Leaving; Growing Rift Between United States and EU Allies on Display at Munich Conference; Merkel Rejects Trump's Claim That German Cars Pose A Security Threat; Trump Fan Raises Question About Dan Coats' Future; North Carolina Woman Says I Falsified Ballots at GOP Operative's Request; Britain Accuses Facebook of Being Digital Gangsters. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 18, 2019 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Stopping in Syria today to deliver the news in person to the allied commander that U.S. troops are indeed leaving Syria, CNN spoke with General Joseph Votel in a network exclusive as he traveled amid heavy security. General Votel met with a top commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces to make it clear that U.S. troops are indeed coming home following President Trump's decision to withdraw. Just last week General Votel told CNN he disagreed with the President's decision to pull out of Syria but the general is adamant that he will follow orders from his commander- in-chief. CNN's Barbara Starr has this exclusive report.

BARBARA STARR, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Security was tight in northern Syria when General Joseph Votel arrived on site for meeting with his Syrian counterpart, General Mazloum, the commander of the Syrian Democratic forces, the troops that the U.S. has been backing in the fight to oust ISIS from this country. But General Votel made clear in an exclusive interview with CNN that he still believes ISIS is a threat and a threat directly to the United States.


GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER OF UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND, MIDDLE EAST: At this point I think they could certainly inspire and, you know, perhaps provide some guidance in terms of that. I think we have to take it very, very seriously. They've demonstrated the ability to do this in the past, so we should expect that they will attempt to maybe do that in the future.


STARR: General Mazloum put forth a proposal in their meetings for up to 1500 coalition, including U.S. troops to remain in Syria to help the SDF. General Votel making no promises, saying that the U.S. was looking at how it could continue to help the SDF but making it absolutely clear that U.S. ground forces, more than 2,000 of them, will be coming out of this country, that that withdrawal is going to take place and that is going to put the SDF in a very difficult position. Many people believe it will now have to join forces with the Assad regime and that could end U.S. help for the SDF. As long as they continue to fight ISIS, General Votel says he would be willing to see weapons continue to flow to them, but if they joined with the regime, the U.S. does not do business with the regime and that relationship with the SDF will stop. Barbara Starr, CNN, in northern Syria.

BALDWIN: Barbara, thank you very much.

Coming up next, what may be a new low point in the President's relationship with longtime allies. See how he was rebuked at a European conference and how it all played out in a very awkward moment of silence while Vice President Mike Pence was on stage.


BALDWIN: As President Trump declared a national emergency over fortifying U.S. borders, a critical relationship with our allies overseas may be deteriorating. The Munich conference report concluded that, quote, U.S. efforts would be far more credible if President Trump and his administration did not display an irritating enthusiasm for strongmen across the globe, and the disdain for the international institutions, the agreements have pitted the U.S. against major allies in recent years. So, this growing rift between the U.S. and allies on display several times during the conference as vice President Mike Pence was standing up there of course representing the Trump administration and I want to play this clip and pay special attention to the notable silence when Pence drops the President's name.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I especially want to invite all of you to thank Senator Lindsey Graham for leading this delegation. [applause] and to them and to all of you I bring greetings, from a great champion of freedom and a strong national defense, who has worked with these members of Congress to strengthen America's military might and to strengthen the leadership of the free world, I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.


BALDWIN: A little awkward. CNN Analyst David Sanger is with us. He is a national security correspondent with "The New York Times." My goodness, that moment and you wrote about the moment in Warsaw prior to Munich, how would you characterize this? Is this a total reshuffling of the world order playing out right before our eyes?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It sure felt like that. I was in Munich during that speech and the silence was just deafening. All the more remarkable, Brooke, because there were more than 50 members of Congress who went over to the Munich Security Conference, roughly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans and we didn't even hear the clapping from Republicans which was sort of the shock from this. I think he was a bit shocked. You know, it was the second sort of embarrassing moment for vice President pence. He had been in Warsaw the day -- two days before for that conference about Iran that gathered all the Arab leaders, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the Europeans.

[15:40:00] In the middle of his speech to this assembled group, he managed somehow or another to slip in a paragraph attacking the British, French and Germans for not renouncing the Iran nuclear deal in the middle of his speech to this assembled group, he managed somehow or another to slip in a paragraph attacking the British, French and Germans for not renouncing the Iran nuclear deal which they've been trying to save and turned the entire headlines of this from everybody gathering against Iran to the vice President attacks its oldest allies.

BALDWIN: So, you point out what happened there in Warsaw. We pointed out the moment in Munich. There was another moment where you were there where Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, called out the Trump administration on several occasions. I'll play this clip and watch the reaction from Ivanka Trump who was in the room.


ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translator): Apparently, the American Secretary of Trade says German cars are a threat to America's national security. We're proud of our automotive industry and I think we can be proud of our cars. They are built in the United States of America. South Carolina is one of the largest -- it's actually the largest BMW plant, not in Bavaria, South Carolina is supplying China. When these cars, because they're built in South Carolina, are not becoming less threatening rather than the ones built in Bavaria, supposed to be a threat to the national security of America, it's a bit of a shock to us.


BALDWIN: So, she's calling out the Trump administration. What is the danger? Even going back to the shade that the vice President tried throwing on several of our good European friends. What is -- long game this for me. What is the Danger with all of this?

SANGER: Sure, Brooke, first of all, this was chancellor Merkel sort of unleashed. Now it's pretty clear that she's going to be out of office in two years, at which point she will have served 15 or 16 years in office. I have never seen her as fiery as she was in that discussion at the Munich Security Conference.

BALDWIN: Oh wow.

SANGER: She handed it right back to them on cars which, as she said, they're making in South Carolina. She was immediately followed by Pence, so what's the big difference here? I've been going to this for a few years, more years than I'd like to admit, Brooke, and I would say two years ago the view was, well, President Trump is coming but it won't be as bad as it sounded on the campaign. Last year H.R. McMaster was there in his last year -- last days, and General Mattis or Defense Secretary Mattis, his last days as defense secretary, and they sort of let out a fairly normal we want to build up with the allies, we want to work with the allies speeches that led people to say, well, don't worry the adults in the room will take care of this. This year they basically said we're finished with this, we're just going to wait out the next two years. But there was no effort to try to sort of make amends with the Trump administration.

BALDWIN: But as someone who has seen the arc through the years in covering this, how worrisome, how Dangerous is the direction in which we're all going?

SANGER: It's Dangerous because we've forgotten who our closest allies coming out of world war ii were, and it was notable that Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State Pompeo, ended up holding that Iran conference in Warsaw, a new member of NATO, an increasingly authoritarian democracy, if that doesn't sound too jarring, and one that is not invested in the Iran deal. He could not have held that conference in London, in Paris, or in berlin. That really begins to tell you that you're seeing a sharp split. Now, the question is could things go back to normal four years from now, two years from now, six years from now, whatever? Maybe. But my sense of this is things never quite go back to where they were.

BALDWIN: Sure, sure. As we sit and marinate on that I want to ask you briefly about Asia. As the President is planning his second summit with Kim Jong-un, a close friend of the President's, Chris Ruddy just made news. He visited the President over the weekend at Mar-A-Lago and said this.


CHRIS RUDDY, FRIEND OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm hearing from sources around the White House general disappointment with the President with Director Coats. There's a feeling that maybe there needs to be a change of leadership in that position coming up.

[14:15:00] CHRISTINE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: So, did you talk to him about it? Do you think he'll dismiss Director Coats?

RUDDY: Well, I don't know what his plan is. He doesn't tell me who he's going to dismiss or not. I have talked to various people, not him, that are very close in the White House with the security position the President is taking.


BALDWIN: So, the President's Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, was at the worldwide threats hearing and concluded that North Korea was unlikely to give up its nuclear arsenal. Just a little bit of context, David.

We remember Dan Coats was on stage and that's when he found out Putin was getting an invite to the White House and we heard from Trump on Coats' reaction there, but what do you make of this potential change in leadership and what happens with regard to North Korea if DNI Coats goes?

SANGER: At the worldwide threat hearing there was no effort to try to sugar coat their conclusions. You mentioned the one on North Korea. Director Coats also said that he believed that Iran had been complying with the nuclear accord before and after the President withdrew from it and he also said that he believed that ISIS still had about 12 battalions after the President of course had said that he completely defeated and that was the reason that we could leave Syria. So those are the three touchstone issues, but Director Coats has been a very quiet, sort of stabilizing force, but I think he's been unwilling to politicize the intelligence. He is not giving the President necessarily what the President wants to hear. Not the first director to have run up against a President. This happened in past administrations as well. But in this case, we've been hearing this sort of drum beat for a while. Director Coats has outlasted almost everybody except Mike Pompeo, right? So, if he goes, Mr. Pompeo is going to be the only original member of the national security team. And I suspect he probably is about ready to go.

BALDWIN: How about that. David Sanger, thank you for all of this and of course for your depth of expertise over your years of covering these conferences. We'll see you back up here in New York. Thank you very much.

A major development on the undecided Congressional race in North Carolina's ninth district where there have been all these allegations of voter fraud. What a key witness just admitted doing.


BALDWIN: Breaking news in North Carolina now where the congressional race in the ninth district has been under investigation since election day. We have just learned new details of shocking testimony from a woman admitted she falsified ballots. Diane has the scoop. It sounds like she is admitting to this and she got paid.

DIANE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This was pretty shocking for a lot of us. So many people have been saying they didn't do this because we had nothing do with this. When this hearing began today the North Carolina State Board of Elections, the executive director said they would lay out the evidence of what they called a coordinated, and substantially resourced absentee ballot seat. The very first witness they call a woman named Lisa Britt.

She says that she was paid by political operative who was working for a consulting firm that was being paid by the Republican candidate. And she says this man, the political operative, McCray Dallas, who also used to be her step father would pay her between 150, maybe $175 to go and collect absentee ballots and bring them in. It is illegal in North Carolina. She said they would collect these unsealed absentee ballots and if some of the races were left blank, they would fill them in. In her words, they always fill them in for the Republican. She also kind of detailed Dallas's, his plan, he worked to disguise the fact that they were illegally collecting these absentee ballots.

She said they only mailed in nine or ten at a time from a post office closest to where they were. They had used the same color ink as the person who voted when they signed the ballot. Most importantly is she claimed that the candidate, Mark Harris, didn't know anything about this. She thinks at least. She also says that the operative told her to plead the fifth and say she did nothing wrong and told the others to do the same as recently as this past Thursday before the hearing.

BALDWIN: So stunning. I have so many questions. We'll look for all of your reporting here. Thank you so much for that. Minutes from now President Trump is expected to deliver a speech in Miami about his policy on Venezuela as a political and humanitarian crisis unfolds. Standing by for that. You're watching CNN.


BALDWIN: British lawmakers think Facebook is nothing more than a bunch of digital gangsters. Parliament just released a scathing report that accuses the social media giant of intentionally and knowingly violating their privacy and competition laws and calls out Mark Zuckerberg for showing contempt by not appearing before Parliament.

With me now Donie O'Sullivan, CNN Business Reporter, has more on these allegations. It is a pleasure to have you on. What does Facebook have to say about this?

[16:00:00] DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: The central claim that's made by this committee is that Facebook broke privacy and competition laws. And they are basing that on a trove of secret emails that they have managed to get their hands on where they see Zuckerberg and other senior executives talking about how maybe to make it not so clear that, you know, how to set your privacy settings and sort of skirt around what users know about what they are sharing with the company.

What these lawmakers are essentially saying is that the era of self- regulation should come to an end, that is time to properly regulate Facebook, Google and all the Silicon Valley platforms. They can no longer be trusted to regulate themselves.

BALDWIN: Digital gangsters is pretty strong from these MPs over in England. We'll look for the fallout. Good to have you on. Come back.

All right. That does it for me here on this Monday afternoon on this President's day. Thank you for being here. A reminder of a big event tonight on CNN 10 PM Eastern, Senator Amy Klobuchar in the hot seat taking questions from folks in New Hampshire. The whole thing is moderated by Don Lemon.

Please tune in for that. That is it for me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Let's go to Washington. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.