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Top General at U.S. Central Command Visits Northern Syria; Baghouz al-Fawqani Reduced to Rubble; Diplomatic Teams Prepare for Upcoming Trump-Kim Summit; Sixteen States Sue to Stop Trump's National Emergency; Property Owners Suing Trump over Wall; U.K. Wants Tougher Rules for Facebook; Trump Warns Military Against Backing Maduro; High- Level Corruption Allegations And Skyrocketing Inflation Send Country Spiraling Into Turmoil; Relative Calm For Now In Haiti After Days Of Protests; Haiti Vows Probe Of Alleged Corruption In Oil Program; Seven M.P.s Leave U.K. Labour To Start Independent Group. Aired 1-2a ET
Aired February 19, 2019 - 01:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[01:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: -- paved the way for the collapse of socialist regimes across the region and a stark warning for Venezuela's generals switch sides back the opposition or lose everything. After two weeks of protest demanding the president resign, the streets of Haiti's capital are relatively calm. But reasons for the raids are still there including corruption and skyrocketing food prices.
And in the U.K., several rebel -- seven rebel MPs resigned from Labour in protest of Brexit and anti-Semitism within their party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and there could be more resignations yet to come.
Hello everyone. I'm John Vause, great to have you with us wherever you are around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.
As Donald Trump sees it, the crisis in Venezuela is about much more than ending the regime of President Nicolas Maduro. It's about the beginning of the end with socialism once and for all in the Western Hemisphere. Speaking in Miami on Monday, the U.S. president called Maduro a Cuban puppet who prefers people starve rather than give them aid from the United States.
Trump also had a direct message for Venezuela's military leaders. Allow humanitarian aid across the border, end their support for Maduro, back opposition leader, and the self-declared president Juan Guaido.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you choose this path, you have the opportunity to help forge a safe and prosperous future for all of the people of Venezuela or you can choose the second path continuing to support Maduro. If you choose this path, you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit, and no way out. You will lose everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: Maduro says 300 tons of medical supplies from Russia will arrive on Wednesday. He says it was paid for by Venezuela and he described Donald Trump's Miami speech as being almost Nazi-like and once again accused the U.S. of ulterior motives to try and control Venezuela's huge reserves of oil and other natural resources.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICOLAS MADURO, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA: Today Donald Trump was in Miami with tired rhetoric questioning the right of our free country to adopt ideas of socialism, human, Christian, our socialism, almost with a Nazi speech to prohibit our ideology. Donald Trump wants to prohibit ideologies, the political diversity, and wants to impose the single thinking of the white supremacist at the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: For more on the U.S. President's speech, we head to New York this hour and CNN National Security Analyst Samantha Vinograd who served on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. OK, Sam, the President made it very clear, this coming Saturday will be decision day for the military and in particular the Venezuelan soldiers on the Colombian border.
Accept that offer of amnesty from Juan Guaido or face serious consequences. Here's a little more from the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: President Guaido does not seek retribution against you and neither do we but you must not follow Maduro's orders to block your humanitarian and you must not threaten any form of violence against peaceful protesters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: OK, I'm kind of mixed on this because it does seem like a smart move to put that out there so they know the rules of the road, the red lines. but by being so vocally supportive of the opposition on Juan Guaido. Does that sort of strengthen the resolve of the pro- Maduro factions and forces?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's -- that is one argument, John. But I think the fact that there are what, 50-plus countries now that have expressed support for Guaido weakens that line of argument a little bit. It is clear that the majority of free nations and frankly wealthy nations in the world our siding with Juan Guaido as the legitimate president in Venezuela.
And what the president I think did right today in this speech is really lay the groundwork for the next couple of days in the build-up to Saturday when there may be a massive confrontation between Maduro base, the security forces and members of the opposition by clearly laying out the choices for the military and security forces while sanctions are in place. And essentially they're getting less money from Maduro. He's able to
line their pockets less because of sanctions. The president is hopefully trying to lay out a way forward for the security forces so that on Saturday, when they're forced to make a choice between letting the opposition aid in and laying down their arms, they have a better frame of reference.
VAUSE: This sort of confrontation scheduled for Saturday, it's kind of -- obviously it's a man-made confrontation which is looming this coming weekend. You know, the aid which the U.S. has sent there, the food and the medical supplies sitting on the border, you know, that was not actually requested specifically by the international aid groups.
In fact, earlier this month, the United Nations had warned the U.S. about the risks of this strategy that follow a similar warning which been made earlier by the International Red Cross which was also reported. It was increasing its own operations independently within Venezuela.
So if this is to be that moment of truth in deciding Venezuela's future, does it matter that it's kind of totally stage-managed, almost made-for-T.V. moment?
VINOGRAD: Well, I don't completely agree that it's a made-for-T.V. moment. I work with a lot of the nonprofit's. You and I discussed a lot of humanitarian needs within Venezuela. It is clear that there are babies that are starving and in desperate need of pediatric care and many of these organizations have not been able to fully fund their emergency appeals for Venezuela.
Now, this bilateral assistance is a made-for-T.V. moment in the sense that Juan Guaido has decided that this Saturday is the day when there's going to be some kind of secret operation to bring this aid into the country. And if we have to take a step back and think about what the United States, what the president said is our ultimate goal in Venezuela.
The humanitarian assistance piece for this president is secondary. The primary purpose is to reduce remove Maduro from power because according to the president, he is a socialist threat. And setting up this confrontation on Saturday is really setting up the military and security forces to have to make a choice between sticking with Maduro and/or laying down their arms in backing the opposition.
So we do have to look at this February 23rd delivery of assistance through that lens of the United States trying to unseat Maduro.
VAUSE: And with that sort of mind, we're hearing you know, from a number of senior officials within the White House you know, specifically that this regime change has a lot to do always being driven mostly by oil. Here's John Bolton, the National Security Adviser quoted by Time Magazine. They're doing a piece on him. But he says this. The article says this.
"Perhaps most brazenly, Bolton appeared in an interview on Fox Business and disclosed that the U.S. government was in talks with American corporations on how to capitalize on Venezuela's oil reserves which are proven to be the world's largest." "It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest and produce the oil capability in Venezuela." Bolton was quoted as saying.
You know, Trump apparently been talking of invading Venezuela few years controlling the oil reserves. He said, that's where the oil is. That's where we need to go. You know, so this sort of plays into this flashpoint which has been created on Saturday. I know it's not entirely man-made but -- and with that backdrop, you have Juan Guaido appearing by video link at what essentially is a campaign-style rally by the U.S. president.
VINOGRAD: Yes, and these comments by Ambassador Bolton are ridiculous. But unfortunately, they track with previous comments by President Trump about what we should have done with Iraq's' oil reserves right? So it is not inconsistent with what the president has said himself about what we want to do with foreign countries where we have -- where we have control over.
But the real question is -- and it actually raises a real question of what will happen after Maduro leaves. The United States has said that we want to unseat Maduro. Juan Guaido is the interim president but President Trump doesn't really have a record of investing in stabilization efforts on the ground in countries where we have the military presence like Syria or Iraq so who is going to work with Juan Guaido and interim government if and when Maduro is pushed out of power. It doesn't look like it's going to be the United States.
And based upon how we've acted elsewhere around the world, we're going to be asking others to fill our shoes in that regard.
VAUSE: Well, he also uses speech as an all-out attack on socialism. Again, here's the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The twilight hour' of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere and frankly in many, many places around the world. The days of socialism and communists are numbered not only in Venezuela but in Nicaragua and in Cuba as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: And for sure, you know, those countries are struggling but almost 30 countries identify democratic socialists around the world. Here's a comparison between the United States and three European countries, the Netherlands France and Denmark, all democratic socialist countries. In terms of national debt, the U.S. we're number one, 107 percent of GDP, really France is close almost 99 percent but the others are you know, way lower than that. Unemployment an easy win to France.
France has always had high numbers. If you look at the other two the U.S., the Netherlands, and then also Denmark you know, the other three I should say, you know, they're all in the same ballpark. Homicide rate per 100,000, no contest U.S. has a lot on that. And just in sheer numbers, the U.S. count, their homicides in the thousands, the others don't. All three democratic socialist countries, they live longer.
You know it's not exactly what the president instead of making out his speech, his socialist hellholes where they have you know, governments provided health care, subsidized tertiary education and the numbers are you know by large much better for many of these countries so you know, what was the purpose of calling out socialism as this sort of system of tyranny if you like.
VINOGRAD: Well, John, the president has certain trigger words that he uses to really energize his base. You just have to look at his Twitter feed and it's witch-hunt, it's rigged, it's crooked Hillary and now we're going to have to add socialism to that list because when he uses these kinds of words, his base gets energized and he hopes I think that he'll get more support.
But let's keep in mind, the U.S. intelligence community just issued a worldwide threat assessment about the most strategic threats facing our country. Guess what didn't make it in there, socialism. It was not as if the Intel chief said, oh watch out. Maduro is trying to export his socialism to the United States.
President Trump is worried about the far left of the Democratic Party and what may be very socialist agendas that are part of 2020 presidential candidates agendas. That's why he's bringing up socialism in this context and in that way he kind of and very inappropriately mixed trying to unseat an illegitimate ruler with trying to campaign for 2020.
[01:10:42] VAUSE: And I think if I'm not mistaken the Venezuela speech finish with his campaign tune they you know, played in 2016, not very subtle.
VINOGRAD: It did. Not subtle at all.
VAUSE: Good to see you. Thank you.
VAUSE: Haiti's government remains in crisis mode. For almost two weeks now, protesters have been out in force accusing the country's leadership of corruption and demanding they resign. With the average wage just over three dollars a day, the price of everyday living has soared. A liter of petrol costs 80 cents or almost 80 cents a liter or almost $3.00 a gallon. Even for the few who have cash food and water are hard to find.
All this in what's already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. And amid all the chaos five Americans are among a small group charged with illegal possession of firearms after they were arrested on Sunday. Officials are yet to formally release their names. For more now, here's CNN's Miguel Marquez reporting from Port- Au-Prince. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is real intrigue across the nation of Haiti right now over these eight arrests, five of them Americans, a Russian, a Serb and a Haitian local. The police chief telling us that they were arrested when their cars were spotted by police because they were suspicious. The suspicion, they didn't have license plates on them. They had taken the license plates off their cars. When they -- when they first started to talk to them, they were evasive and didn't cooperate. That's when they started to search the cars.
They found automatic weapons. Those are illegal here. That's the reason they are being held right now. They found handguns, satellite phones, drones, what some Haitians refer to as weapons of war they found on these individuals but it is not clear who they are, who they were working for and what they are doing here or were doing here.
The police chief is saying that there is now an investigation into those very questions trying to figure it out. They are being held until they are possibly charged in the next couple of days. The protests that we saw over nine days have gone calm at the moment. There's a bit of a tenuous calm across the capital and the country right now.
Lots of rumors, lots of speculation about future protests if the president doesn't step down, but so far he has been defiant and the Prime Minister has stepped up to say he has a plan to placate protesters and hopefully get Haiti back on to a better track that is to cut his own staff or his own budget by 30 percent to raise the minimum wage and to end perks for government workers.
He's encouraging the entire government to get behind those changes and also implements similar changes themselves. We will see if that is enough. One day at a time here in Haiti. Miguel Marquez CNN, Port- Au-Prince, Haiti.
VAUSE: Haiti's overall security situation seems to be mixed. Shops and businesses are starting to reopen. Government employees are returning to work. But on Monday schools remain closed and more anti- government demonstrations have been planned for the coming week.
(INAUDIBLE) were joined by Jacqueline Charles, the Caribbean Correspondent with the Miami Herald. Jacqueline, thanks so much for taking the time. I'm going to -- at this point is it possible to know if the relative quiet of the past couple of days is the sign that the protesters may have run out of steam or is this the eye of the storm and there's much more -- much worse to come?
JACQUELINE CHARLES, CARIBBEAN CORRESPONDENT, MIAMI HERALD: Well, interesting enough. I just spoke to a group of young people and they told me that in fact more is to come. Now, will they be able to gather the momentum that they have in recent days? We don't yet know. VAUSE: You know, at this point, you know, the protesters are being
driven by the anger this which is felt over the billions of dollars which have gone missing from an oil subsidy scheme which was set up by Venezuela. But that scandal it's been public knowledge years. So was there any one particular event, a trigger for this you know, the latest round of demonstrations which began you know, by most accounts about a week and a half ago?
[01:14:35] CHARLES: Well, Petrocaribe has been around but I think you know people didn't really understand what it was or didn't understand the repercussions of it. So in the last couple of years, what we've seen is that the avocation on the street has been started to talk about Petrocaribe. When they can't get health care they say you know what it's because of Petrocaribe. When they can't get a decent education, it's because of Petrocaribe.
So they have now started to associate the lack of social services or social programs or basically the misery in the country with the fact that money that should have gone into social programs never arrived. And you also have young people that are saying, "You know what, we can't leave, we're not going to leave. This is the country that we have to be in and we want a different kind of country."
So, that's really been the momentum behind the corruption allegations. And then you saw it colliding into what the traditional politicians say, it's time for the president to go. And you add to that the economic situation because today this country is in a dire economic situation.
VAUSE: You know, over the weekend the prime minister promised there would be a thorough investigation to try and find money, and those who took it. But Haiti Senate has already carried out its own investigation, produced a report a couple of years ago. Why do another?
CHARLES: Well, you know, the prime minister, you know, introduced several financial measures but some will say that it was not a real economic plan because there are serious problems today.
If you think about it, the inflation rate is 15 percent. That means that Haitians purchasing power has gone down. As one young man told me yesterday, somebody will have to work three days in order to afford cooking oil and rice. Because the minimum wage today is the quota of $6.12 U.S.
So, imagine having to work three days just to afford cooking and oil and rice. And so, again, I mean, if the focus has been on the president and somewhat on the prime minister. But when you talk to people on the street, they tell you the whole system is rotten.
They have no confidence even in their lawmakers because these guys have enjoyed perks. They get to rent -- you know, second homes. They get to ride around in rental cars. I mean, this is a country that is poor. Its budget is only $2 billion. And at the end of the day, so much of it is going to either pay the debt that they owe countries like Venezuela or to take care of politicians. VAUSE: Yes, you know, Haiti was devastated by an earthquake back in 2010, and there was a hurricane in 2016, which brought misery on top of misery. $2 billion which is how much they're talking its gone missing in this fund? That would go a long way to fixing a lot of problems in Haiti.
CHARLES: Well, yes. $2 billion, yes. It would go and it hasn't gone. I mean, the reality is almost 10 years after the earthquake, we still have people living in tent cities. Actually, living underneath the original tarps that they were given days after the quake.
You know, new housing has not been -- has been built. Some of the houses that were built, but the construction was shoddy. You drive around downtown Port-au-Prince. And you either see government building that's missing or you see half constructed.
And yet, you hear base on the recent audit that the government auditors did, the contracts were written things for sign, money was staled out but the population is saying, "Where is the money? Where is the Petrocaribe money?"
VAUSE: Yes, it's a -- it's an old story sadly for Haiti. One which I say, maybe this is a moment of generational change when things will actually, you know, make a difference.
CHARLES: Well, that's what the young people are saying.
VAUSE: Well, yes. Good luck to them, and good luck to you, Jacqueline. Thank you so much.
CHARLES: Thank you.
VAUSE: Well it's the pressure of a looming Brexit deadline hits critical. It's Labour which seems to be the first to crack. Seven rebel M.P.s quit the party in protest. And they might just be the first of many.
Well, the biggest split within Britain's Labour Party in almost 40 years when we come back.
[01:20:47] VAUSE: Seven lawmakers from Britain's opposition Labour Party have dramatically quit. Denouncing what they call a betrayal on Brexit and a wave of anti-Semitism within the party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS LESLIE, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, UNITED KINGDOM: British politics is now well and truly broken. The evidence of Labour's betrayal on Europe is now visible for all to see.
LUCIANA BERGER, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, UNITED KINGDOM: I cannot remain in a part of party that I have today come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally anti-Semitic. CHUKA UMUNNA, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, UNITED KINGDOM: The last few years have shown the established parties are simply not up to this challenge. They can't be the change because they have become the problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: They don't plan on forming a party and they'll sit as independents. Their defection is the biggest split within the Labour Party since 1981 when four senior members quit and formed the Social Democratic Party. And comes with the Brexit deadline just over a month away.
Joining me now from Los Angeles is U.K. journalist, Josh Boswell. OK, Jonas, it's been a while, say good to see you.
JOSH BOSWELL, INVESTIGATIVE NEWS REPORTER, THE SUNDAY TIMES: Good to see you too, John.
VAUSE: OK, seven Labour M.P.'s, just a fraction of the 650 total M.P.s in the House of Common. But, you know, a lot of reporting suggests more resignations are coming and not just from Labour. Five Conservative M.P.'s are reported to be on the verge of quitting. And joining this new centrist group that would bring them up to a total of 12.
You know, which will give them an edge over Northern Ireland's DUP and their 10 M.P.'s who are keeping the Tories in power right now. So, in the current political climate of discontent, could these first resignations just be the beginning of a massive upheaval in British politics?
BOSWELL: It's quite possible, yes. And you know, you've got some firm numbers there. But also you've got to remember, there's 41 Labour M.P.'s who have just voted against Jeremy Corbyn, and they disobeyed him and his party line, and voted for a Brexit delay last week. It was a symbolic vote but the symbolism there is that they're willing to go against Jeremy Corbyn.
And I think this new group of seven will be going after those M.P.'s, as well as, as some of the more European friendly M.P.s in the Conservative Party. So, we could see a large number defecting potentially.
VAUSE: Yes, and you know, the rebels lay out their reasons for leaving Labour on their web page. And this line, one line it really struck me. It reads, "Today, a visceral hatred of other people, views, and opinions are commonplace in and around the Labour Party."
It seems to be a clear reference to the anti-Semitism which has been -- you know, seen in the Labour Party in recent years. Pretty much since Corbyn took over as leader.
So, you know, this was a party which was once a political home for a very long time for Britain's Jews. It was seen as leading the fight against racism and bigotry. BOSWELL: That's correct. And there have been some really quite shocking examples of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. And I think there is a feeling among many Labour M.P.'s that Jeremy Corbyn has either at least failed to handle it, or at worst, has kind of let it disseminate throughout the party.
So, you know, Luciana Berger for example, one of these seven M.P.'s to split off from the Labour Party. And she had to get police protection because of all the death threats that she was getting.
Other M.P.s who have criticized Jeremy Corbyn in the past. Labour M.P.'s have received anti-Semitic abuse on Twitter and other platforms. And so, there is a real problem, and there is also a sense that Jeremy Corbyn has not done enough to tackle it. And we could see other M.P.'s potentially splitting off for the same reason. Jewish M.P.'s for example. Though there was a meeting of labour parliamentarians after this split was announced.
And there was one Jewish M.P. who was in tears about what she said was -- you know, anti-Semitism endemic in the Labour Party.
VAUSE: Yes. So, with that in mind, here's part of a tweet from the chairman of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis. He tweeted in part, "Labour has become the Jeremy Corbyn Party. Failing to take action on everything from tackling anti-Jewish racism to keeping our country safe."
I mean, I guess the question, is it all on Corbyn here or other factors driving, you know, what is a pre-unsavory change within the Labour Party.
BOSWELL: Yes. I think that you can't lay all of the blame at Corbyn's door. But there is a failure there to stop it. He is the leader and he should be taking control of this process.
Now, there have been investigations and there was an inquiry into anti-Semitism in the party. But it didn't seem to root out. And the source of a lot of this stuff seems to come from the new younger wing of the party that's come in and given a lot of support to Jeremy Corbyn. There, one of the major reasons why he has such a strong grip on the party, why he's the leader.
And this group momentum they often called, there's also other factions too, and a one of the main sources of this really quite rabid support for Jeremy Corbyn. But also which goes overboard into anti-Semitism in some areas in some cases.
[01:25:41] VAUSE: Yes. OK, so, you know, looming over all of this, of course, is the Brexit deadline, you know, which is literally just weeks away. I think, Theresa May now wants to start all over again on -- you know, on this really complicated arrangement for Ireland. It's the -- it's a backstop deal which is -- you know, a series of -- you know, events or agreements which would prevent a hard border forming between Ireland and Northern Ireland since you get the U.K. post- Brexit will meet the E.U. It always seems to be a pole without a solution. And when you're even the highest-ranking E.U. officials, Jean-Claude Juncker. He told a German daily newspaper that he could not rule out an extension of the deadline. Saying, "That to my mind would be an irony of history. Yet I cannot rule it out. Any decision to ask for more time lies with the U.K. If such a request were to be made, no one in Europe would oppose it."
You know, even though Theresa May says the Brexit deadline will not shift, it has -- they're going to make meet it, whatever. You know, an extension seems to be where all of this is heading right now.
BOSWELL: That's correct. The way that the parliamentary mathematics works out, it's looking like it's going to be that. Theresa May's strategy seems to be to run down the clock until she can present parliament with a stark choice. It's my deal or a long delay.
And she's hoping that parliament will then just squeeze by and rally enough behind her to get her deal passed. But it's looking increasingly like she doesn't have that support. We look at the vote last week where she suffered a quite humiliating defeat.
It looks like we may be having a delay so that -- so that these problems can still be worked out because the Brexit backstop this problem at the border in Northern Ireland. And Ireland is seemingly intractable at the moment. They need more time.
VAUSE: It's been like Theresa May came out and saw her shadow. And now, we have six more weeks of this Brexit back and forth, at least, to come. Josh, thank you. Good to see you.
BOSWELL: Thank you.
VAUSE: Still to come here at CNN, exclusive with the head of the U.S. Central Command on a surprise visit to Syria. General Joseph Votel talks about ISIS and the possibility of keeping troops in Syria.
And the U.S. and North Korea may be ready for a big step towards normalizing diplomatic relations as final preparations of aid for a second time.
[01:30:13] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for staying with us.
I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.
Donald Trump is urging Venezuela's military leaders to abandon President Nicolas Maduro and support the opposition leader Juan Guaido. He told a crowd in Miami Maduro is a Cuban puppet who would rather see his people starve than accept U.S. humanitarian assistance.
Following (ph) two weeks of violent anti-government protests, the Haitian government says it's arrested eight people, five of them Americans. These images show them at a Port-au-Prince police station. Local authorities say they may be charged with illegal possession of firearms.
Britain's opposition leader Labour's Jeremy Corbyn is facing a mutiny within his party. Seven Labour MPs have quit in protest of his handling of Brexit. And also for the rise of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party under his leadership.
The rebels say they are united by a desire for a second referendum on Britain's decision to leave the European Union.
Well now, to the war in Syria. A double attack with and IED and a car bomb has killed at least 16 people in rebel-held Idlib. The White Helmets volunteer rescue group says 82 others were injured.
This follows the reported artillery shelling of civilian areas in Idlib which killed 18 people the last few days. No word on who's responsible for the attacks. Idlib is the last major enclave for Syrian opposition rebels.
Despite the ongoing violence in Syria, the top U.S. commander for the region says U.S. forces will not be sticking around. General Joseph Votel made an announcement -- an unannounced visit, I should say, to northern Syria to see the U.S. troops. He was also met with the head of the Kurdish-led forces who are U.S. allies; allies at least for now.
Barbara Starr has been traveling with General Votel and has this CNN exclusive.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Security was tight here in northern Syria when General Joseph Votel arrived on site for meetings with his Syrian counterpart, General Maslum (ph), 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.
GENERAL JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: At this point I think they could certainly inspire and, you know, perhaps you know, provide, you know, some guidance in terms of that. I think we have to take it very, very seriously.
They have 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 (voice over): General Maslum put forth a proposal in their meetings for up to 1,500 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 said he would be willing to see weapons continue to flow to them. But if they join 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.
VAUSE: ISIS fighters continue to cling to a small piece of real estate in Syria, almost completely surrounded by U.S.-backed forces.
We have more now from CNN's Ben Wedeman reporting from the front lines in eastern Syria.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): All right. We are now very well inside Baghouz al Fawqani -- far more inside the town than we have been so far. And what we are seeing is that the situation compared to the last time we were here is dramatically different.
There's very little in the way of gunfire. We do hear coalition aircraft character overhead but by and large it's fairly quiet but the destruction is massive. There is not a house that is not in some way destroyed or damaged.
Now, we are hearing a little bit of gunfire in the distance, but nothing compared to what we have seen in the past.
Now, what's interesting is we were able to go down the main road in to the town. We passed an area where those trees are over there in the distance. That's where there is a road which we saw just 11 days ago, cars and motorcycles driving up and down and those were people who were still living in the area controlled by ISIS.
[01:34:59] At this point, the area under ISIS' control is small. It's being described as somewhere between 600 and 700 meters by 600 and 700 meters just a tented area, perhaps a thousand people in there. Some ISIS fighters, many civilians, some of them family members, others of them are hostages that they have brought with them. Perhaps to use as bargaining cards. Others civilians simply used as human shields.
Now, officials with the Syrian Democratic Forces have been sort of vague as far as a timeline for when this operation might come to an end. They say within the few coming days, but we have already been down a few coming days. But nonetheless, it does appear that the ferocity of the battle is dramatically less.
I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN -- reporting from inside Baghouz al-Fawqani.
VAUSE: Well, the groundwork is being laid ahead of a second summit between the U.S. President and North Korean leader. Preliminary talks are expected to be held in Hanoi, Vietnam this week. Both sides are said to be working on a joint statement to be signed by the two leaders at the end of next week's summit.
Sources tell CNN the U.S. and North Korea also considering exchanging liaison officers which would be a step towards building formal diplomatic relations.
Will Ripley joins us live from Hong Kong. Will actually broke the story on Monday morning.
So Will, you know, we have been down this road before with the U.S. and North Koreans. They talked about it in the 90s and then it kind of never eventuated. The North Koreans reneged.
And again now there's actually even talk, you know, for people -- you followed (ph) it up in your reporting -- that maybe the North Koreans aren't so keen on it, you know, that they may have cold feet here.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the sense I always got and I should say it was Michelle Kosinski who -- her source has actually initially told her about the liaison offices.
But this is something that diplomats have been talking to me about for quite some time. The fact that we are now learning it has been seriously considered on the part of the U.S. and North Korea, it is a significant possible development because liaison offices, we know, and you know well, John -- they eventually often lead to embassies. Hanoi 1995, Beijing 1979 before those embassies opened, they had liaison offices in Beijing and Hanoi.
And the possible plan would be to eventually put liaison officers in Pyongyang and Washington with American staff with language training in the North Korean Capitol for the first time ever.
Will that actually happen? It is certainly one of the things that we are told are being discussed ahead of the summit in Hanoi but it is not clear yet if the two sides will agree to it.
On the U.S. side there certainly is some skepticism, some questions about whether North Korea has actually done anything to deserve that step which would significantly increase the livelihood of normalized diplomatic relations between the U.S. and North Korea.
But you also have the mindset that even if North Korea isn't taking steps right now to get rid of their nuclear weapons they have said repeatedly they need to build trust with the United States.
And there are few better ways to build trust than to have an office where you can have direct conversations and resolve thorny issues in a much more efficient and effective manner than diplomatic back channels and trips back and forth to the respective countries -- John. VAUSE: On another issue there was an interview over the weekend on
CBS "60 Minutes". And we heard from the former acting director of the FBI Andrew McCabe recounting an extraordinary moment with President Trump who disputed U.S. intelligence reports when it came to North Korea's nuclear capability.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, FBI: Essentially, the President said he did not believe that the North Koreans had the capability to hit us here with ballistic missiles in the United States. And he did not believe that because President Putin had told him they did not.
Intelligence officials in the briefing responded that that was not consistent with any of the intelligence our government possesses. To which the President replied, I don't care, I believe Putin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: You know, to me, what strikes me is that it's such an extraordinary moment. And I'm wondering what the reaction in the region especially with allies, South Korea and Japan, the allies who depend on the U.S. for the nuclear umbrella for the protection against countries like North Korea and Russia. But then you have the U.S. president believing what the Russian president says.
RIPLEY: Well and there are also -- there are a lot of questions about whether Russia has been completely honest about its own missile launches and the capability of the weapons that it's developing.
Look, it obviously is stunning to those who look at the satellite imagery, who look at the intelligence, who listen to the accounts from people, who've left North Korea and to say that all of that is less credible than the words of the authoritarian president of Russia.
But President Trump puts a tremendous amount of value on the gut feeling that he gets in face to face sit downs with leaders. And he loves strong men. He gets along -- he got along great with Kim Jong- un, was envious of the fact that Kim is surrounded by people who obey his every command without question.
[01:40:04] President Trump even said that he wished his staff were more like that. So it's not necessarily surprising to people here in the region that President Trump did not believe the intelligence or the fact that North Korea launched a missile that was tracked on radar.
Now that said, does that North Korean missile actually have the capability to accurately target a specific location and survive reentry -- there is a lot of debate about whether North Korea has actually gotten their missile program over that final hurdle.
And I am not sure that U.S. intelligence necessarily believes that they have but they certainly have been able to show a dramatic and rapid improvement and it would be only a matter of time and North Korea would perfect that technology, have their missile testing and nuclear testing going on at the pace that it was prior to this detente that began, you know, with the suspension of testing at the end of 2017 and of course the Olympics in early 2018.
VAUSE: Will -- thank you. Yes, it's just incredible.
What was Tokyo and Seoul thinking when they heard that. I would like to have been a fly on the wall.
Ok Will -- thank you.
When we come back -- Happy Presidents Day, Mr. Trump. On a public holiday to honor America's leaders 16 states sue the Trump administration over his emergency declaration. We'll have more on the backlash to that in a moment.
VAUSE: And let the legal battles begin. Sixteen U.S. states are taking the Trump organization to court to stop the President from using emergency powers to build his border wall with Mexico.
The lawsuit will ultimately be a constitutional battle between the right of Congress to control spending and the authority a President has to declare a national emergency.
More now from CNN's Kaitlan Collins.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): President Trump in Florida today where backlash over his decision to declare a national emergency has followed him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Immigrants are welcome here.
COLLINS: the President and his allies are gearing up for a fight after he granted himself the authority to use billions from the Military Construction Budget to bypass Congress and fund his wall -- a move that is expected to face multiple legal challenges.
XAVIER BECERRA, CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: We should be filing sometime today. It's kind of awkward to say that on Presidents' Day we are suing the President of United States, but sometimes that's what you have to do.
COLLINS: after critics seized on this remark from the President as proof it's not a real emergency.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't need to do this but I would rather do it much faster.
COLLINS: His aides insisted it is. [01:45:01] STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: What
the President was saying is, is that like past presidents he could choose to ignore this crisis, choose to ignore this emergency as other have but that's not what he's going to do.
COLLINS: But the White House isn't just facing legal challenges. Democrats are preparing a joint revolution to repeal the national emergency and hoping skeptical Republicans will join on.
Now, whether we have enough for an override and veto, that's a different story. But frankly I think there's enough people in the Senate who are concerned that what he is doing is robbing from the military and the DOD to go build this wall.
COLLINS: Despite those threats, the President's chief immigration adviser said he won't back down.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: He will veto?
MILLER: He's going to protect his national emergency declaration guaranteed.
COLLINS: Republicans have been split over the emergency with many worried about the precedent it could set while others are making clear they fully back Trump even if the diversion of funds means jeopardizing projects such as the construction of a middle school in Kentucky.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I would say it's better for the middle schoolkids in Kentucky to have a secure border. We'll get them the school they need, but right now, we've got a national emergency on our hands.
COLLINS: The emergency declaration triggering protests across the nation this Presidents' Day.
(on camera): Now the White House knew when they declared a national emergency that this was going to likely turn in to a long, drawn out battle. They knew there were going to be lawsuits but now they are waiting to see how many there are going to and what they're going to argue. Whether or not this is an abuse of power on President Trump's part, or he is simply declaring something an emergency that's not an emergency.
That's what they're waiting for but they say they are prepared for those lawsuits.
Kaitlan Collins, CNN, traveling with the President in Miami.
VAUSE: Well, it seems few have stronger objections to a wall on the border than those who will lose their land so it can be built.
So now add to a long laundry list of legal challenges -- disgruntled, angry and outraged property owners on the southern border. Here's CNN's Gary Tuchman.
NAIDA ALVAREZ: I have never seen anybody here cross.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): You've -- never in 40 years?
ALVAREZ: Not at all.
TUCHMAN: Zero people?
TUCHMAN (voice over): Naida Alvarez has lived on this land along the Rio Grande in Texas since she was in second grade. But even though she says she's never seen anyone crossing it on to her land, it didn't stop government officials from approaching her a few months ago.
ALVAREZ: They said they wanted to build the wall.
TUCHMAN (on camera): On your property?
ALVAREZ: On my property.
TUCHMAN (voice over): And Alvarez has now received three letters from U.S. Customs and Border Protection asking permission to survey her property which she has said no to. But it's all leading to the government offering her a price for her eight acres. And if she turns it down declaring eminent domain and taking it away from her for a so- called fair market value.
ALVAREZ: The Army Corps of Engineer people came over and they said based on the map the wall is going to be right here.
TUCHMAN (on camera): Reporter: so this is about one, two,, four, five, six, six yards maybe about 20 feet from your house.
TUCHMAN: And they want to build a maintenance road in front of the wall.
ALVAREZ: Yes, they didn't mention the maintenance road.
TUCHMAN: But that's what you heard about.
ALVAREZ: I heard about the maintenance road.
TUCHMAN: so your home would not be able to survive a border wall.
TUCHMAN (voice over): Alvarez is one of the plaintiffs in a private lawsuit against the President that has been filed by the Public Citizen Consumer Group.
She says she's despondent. On top of losing the house she lived in since she was a child her mother who lives on the property in a separate home is receiving hospice care for advanced cancer.
ALVAREZ: I feel infuriated. I'm mad, I feel frustrated because all this is out of my hands.
TUCHMAN (on camera): Naida Alvarez plans on continuing to speak out. In addition to volunteering to be a plaintiff in the lawsuit she's shouting from the roof top. She painted this message hoping President Trump on a recent visit would flyover. He didn't but the message remains.
FRED CAVAZOS, LAND OWNER: This is our house. We were raised here.
TUCHMAN (voice over): Fred Cavazos (ph) and his family also own land on the Rio Grande.
CAVAZOS: You still hungry?
TUCHMAN: To make a living they sell cattle and rent out parts of their 70 acres, mostly for people with RVs and mobile homes.
Cavazos who has been in a wheelchair since suffering an illness two decades ago says his family earns just enough to make ends meet.
(voice over): What they've said to you is the wall, the barrier, whatever you want to call it will be built right here on top of this levee.
TUCHMAN: And the Rio Grande is about a third of a mile a quarter mile down the road here.
TUCHMAN: So this is all your land back here.
TUCHMAN: This is where you rent out all your properties. And all these people who rent your properties would be behind the wall.
TUCHMAN: A no man's land.
CAVAZOS: No man's land. Right.
TUCHMAN (voice over): Cavazos he says their livelihood would be ruined if the barrier goes up because who wants to vacation behind a border wall. He says his grandmother used to tell him to never sell the property, that it will always provide for them. CAVAZOS: My dad, you know, fought for this property. During the
World War II he was a tank commander under General Patton. He spent four years during the whole war. Went through hell for him. And I wonder right now what he would say about them trying to do this.
[01:50:07] TUCHMAN: Fred Cavazos says he will do all he can to try to keep his lands. The same with Naida Alvarez.
ALVAREZ: I'm going to fight it all. Wait even if I have to tie myself up to that big mesquite tree in the front but I'm not giving up my land without a fight.
TUCHMAN: Both Naida and Fred say they've been told construction could begin soon on their property but that is very unlikely. Lawsuits from private land owners could be a big headache for President Donald Trump in his effort to build a physical barrier here in Texas.
And there is precedents for that. 2006 when President George W. Bush sign the Secure Fence Act which authorized hundreds of miles of border wall, what happened back then was hundreds of Texas residents who lived on the border filed suit and some of those suits are still in court to this very day almost 13 years later.
This is Gary Tuchman, CNN -- in McAllen Texas.
VAUSE: Another senior official within the Trump administration could become a career casualty for telling the truth. A close ally of President Trump has suggested the Director of National Intelligence may soon be fired.
During a Senate hearing last month, Dan Coats said the current intelligence assessment is that North Korea was unlikely to give up its ballistic missile program, or its plans for nuclear weapon. The President also for some reason, without any evidence it seems believes otherwise.
Trump is also lashing out at the former acting director of the FBI. In an interview with CBS Andrew McCabe said some within the most senior ranks of the Justice Department were so concerned about the President they talked about invoking the 25th amendment to remove him from office and the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein suggested wearing a wire to record the President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCABE: A discussion of the 25th amendment was simply Rod raised the issue and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other cabinet officials might support such an effort.
The deputy attorney general offered to wear a wire into the White House. He said I never get searched. Now he was not joking, he was absolutely serious. And in fact he brought it up in the next meeting we had.
(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: The President called McCabe disgraced and said his story is deranged. Then he accused the two officials of planning a very illegal act and getting caught. He went onto claim this was the illegal and treasonous insurance poll in full action."
McCabe and Rosenstein though has different recollections of the same conversation but they definitely agree they did not act on anything.
Even so the President apparently taking his cue from a conservative ally on Fox News quoted him in a tweet. "This was an illegal coup attempt on the President of the United States"
With Trump under scores -- true.
Ahead on CNN NEWSROOM British lawmakers label Facebook a digital gangster. We'll tell you why and what they plan to do in a moment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: British lawmakers have taken a break from their all-consuming, never-ending, self-inflicted Brexit crisis to take on the social media giant Facebook, the company they say is acting like digital gangsters for ignoring users privacy and stifling in competition in a quest for social media domination.
HADAS GOLD has details from London.
HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Facebook acts like a digital gangster -- that's according to a scathing new report from a U.K. parliamentary committee. The more than 100-page report comes after an 18-month investigation into fake news and disinformation by the U.K. digital culture, media and sport committee.
[01:55:04] And Facebook bears the brunt of the report with the committee alleging that Facebook is intentionally and knowingly violating data and competition laws.
The committee said that after dozens of hearings, interviews and viewing internal Facebook e-mails they found the site is willing to override its users privacy settings in order to transfer data to app developers. The chair of the committee, Damien Collins spoke to CNN about why they think Facebook should be held to account.
DAMIEN COLLINS, U.K. DIGITAL CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT COMMITTEE: We refer to Facebook as digital gangsters because we believe that it's not a question just of mistakes being made on the platform. But they're fully aware of these as a company -- a web of issues around the way in which they gather user data and share that with other developers I think often without the users really understanding that's what's going on.
The aggressive position they take against other developers that worked with the platform including making decisions that can lead to those businesses closing. And I think they are persistent failure to deal effectively with harmful content.
GOLD: In response to the report, Facebook denied it had breached data protection or competition laws and said that it supports effective privacy legislation and is also open to meaningful regulation.
While Facebook was a major focus of this report the committee also made several recommendations to how the government should better hold social media and technology companies to account.
Among those recommendations are that social media platforms should be subject to a compulsory code of ethics that an independent U.K. regulator should monitor tech companies and be able to launch legal proceedings against them.
They'll see the U.K. regulators should investigate whether Facebook has been involved in anticompetitive practices.
This report is just one of several that are coming out of the United Kingdom. Part of a growing call to regulate technology companies.
This week the U.K. Digital and Culture secretary will actually be in California to meet with technology executives. The question now is what if any laws will change. Hadas Gold, CNN -- London.
VAUSE: We'll close this hour with images that closed World War II. George Mendoza, the U.S. sailor who's believed to be the man kissing a woman in this photo guide on Sunday. He was 95 years old. He was 22 in 1945 when Japan surrendered.
Mendoza later said everyone was celebrating in New York's Times Square, quote, "drinking and raising hell" in his words. The team knows he's saved troops during the war. Grab one for a kiss. She actually wasn't a nurse, she was a dental assistant. Mendoza was also on a date with another woman who would be his future wife.
Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I am John Vause. Please stay with us though. The news continues next with Rosemary Church after a break.
You are watching CNN. .
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