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Interview with Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA); Otto Warmbier's Parents Speak Out after Trump Says He Believes Kim; Fareed Zakaria Digs into MbS on "SAUDI ARABIA, KINGDOM OF SECRETS". Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 1, 2019 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Although, we did speak to one of the soldiers who was there when they were coming out of the town today, supposedly the last civilians, and he told us that, in fact, the so-called families of ISIS martyrs insist on staying inside that last enclave and perhaps dying there -- Brooke?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Ben Wedeman, thank you very much, in Syria, to you and your crew. Stay safe. We appreciate all the work you're doing.

In the meantime, the president of the United States says he believed Kim Jong-Un, that he did not know about the treatment and eventual death of a 22-year-old American, and now Otto Warmbier's parents are firing back. Fareed Zakaria is joining me next. He calls this breathtaking.

Plus, Michael Cohen not only implicating the president in several crimes but pointing fingers at his children and inner circle. I'll speak to one Democrat who may be called to testify, next.


[14:34:55] BALDWIN: "A 10-course meal," that is how Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly described the impact of Michael Cohen's Capitol Hill appearance this week, noting how he set the stage for multiple new investigations of the Trump White House. Even before Cohen's testimony, no aspect of Trump world had escaped the scrutiny of House Democrats. Here's a list. There's a lot there. Some of these investigations that have already been launched, from the Trump Hotel meeting to climate change. With the news that the president forced his staff to give his son-in-law this top-secret security clearance, there may be yet another hearing to add.

Listen to what Congressman Connolly told CNN's Manu Raju just a second ago.


REP. GERRY CONNOLLY, (D), VIRGINIA: After many, many denials by the president himself and the White House, we now learn, well, actually the president did intervene.

I'd like to see the Kelly memorandum so we get a full picture of what was he told, why was he told it, and what were his reservations that led him to memorialize this action in the form of a confidential memo.


CONNOLLY: I would love to see Mr. Kelly come before our committee to talk about this issue.


BALDWIN: Let's start there on that point. I have with me Congressman Mark DeSaulnier. He's also a member of the House Oversight.

Congressman DeSaulnier, thank you so much for coming on.

REP. MARK DESAULNIER, (D), CALIFORNIA: My pleasure. Thanks for asking.

BALDWIN: Do you agree with your colleague? Do you want John Kelly to appear before the committee?

DESAULNIER: From what I've read this morning, yes. But we have a great chairman, Elijah Cummings, so I trust Elijah completely, but we have a lot of things on our plate as was mentioned.

BALDWIN: Today, after announcing this probe into White House security clearance processes in January, you mentioned your committee chairman, Elijah Cummings, sent this new letter asking the White House to comply with requests for documents and for witnesses based upon this major piece in the "New York Times" today. And so he said it is his final time requesting, quote/unquote, "voluntary cooperation." Congressman, if the Trump administration doesn't respond to you guys, would you be willing to subpoena the president's son-in-law?

DESAULNIER: Of course. I think this is a period where the White House is testing us. This is new to them, having the Democrats in charge thanks to the American voters, but this is the way we are supposed to act as an independent, equal branch of government. This is a testing period, excuse me. We have to stand up to that test.

BALDWIN: We're now not just talking about how this involves the president, his son-in-law, but also his daughter, Ivanka Trump, because, in the "Washington Post" today, they report that Ivanka Trump is the one who pressured her dad to approve her husband's security clearance. But just a couple weeks ago, when she was on ABC, she said that there was no influence from her father and that he had zero to do with the clearance for her husband. Do you think those clearances, temporarily, Congressman, should be revoked?

DESAULNIER: Yes, they should, until we get to the bottom of it. This is extremely important. One of the things we learned from the Cohen hearing, one line he mentioned in his opening statement that particularly stuck with me was the culture of lying within the Trump inner circle. I think this is the norm. This is becoming clearer and clearer. So we have to get to the truth.

BALDWIN: The culture of lying is the norm. You mentioned the Cohen hearings, let's go back there from the hours

you sat and the questions you asked, what did you consider an indisputable crime?

DESAULNIER: I was particularly taken -- if a modern-day Rip Van Winkle had come into that hearing room and didn't know who was involved, they would think we were talking about an organized crime syndicate. There was so much, as you mentioned earlier in your statement and as Gerry said. I was particular taken with on what he lied to Congress in the first place and what he's going to jail for in regard to the relationship with Russia and the Trump Tower. And this was all taking place at the same time that the Russians were trying to influence the election to get him elected. It certainly looks very, very bad.

BALDWIN: Do you think there's enough evidence to subpoena the president's tax returns?

DESAULNIER: Yes. We should have them. The foundation itself -- we never got to a lot of the questions that I wanted to ask about the foundation and gifts to the foundation that he ran through -- through the foundation.

BALDWIN: I hear you on all these. Yes, yes, yes.

What about this big question, because another split reaction in your party is to whether or not Cohen's testimony from Wednesday actually really creeks that door even further open for impeachment. Where do you stand?

DESAULNIER: I think we've just got to focus here. There's a lot of ways, easy ways to get distracted. I think, again, Chairman Cummings is right on. We've got to follow the facts to the truth. Part of impeachment is showing the American public that it's actually something we should do. And since there's so many American who still doubt that, we just get control, we just get control of the House, and we got control of the oversight functions. There's so much there. But I think we need to get obviously to the truth. And we'll follow the facts to the truth and we have to do it in a way that the American public sees what's happening and trusts us that we're not being overly partisan.

[14:40:17] BALDWIN: Last question, I was reading this morning, you were in college, Congressman, during Watergate, is that correct?


BALDWIN: So as you were, you know, sitting there in the thick of this hearing and one of the ones asking the questions, I understand you were harkening back to your college days and actually watching the Watergate hearings on television. What were you thinking? What were you feeling? What were the similarities for you?

DESAULNIER: Other than the difficulty admitting my age, what I was thinking is just for me personally being 10 feet away from the president's personal attorney, thinking of John Dean. But then the scope of things here are much more serious than that. Just the WikiLeaks is more than Nixon ever got a hold of. I think the seriousness of this situation for the country is actually much more to be concerned about than Watergate.

BALDWIN: Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, thank you very much, sir.

DESAULNIER: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: You've got it.

We just talked briefly about Ivanka Trump. Ivanka Trump and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in this war of words this week over the living wage. Hear how the feud just escalated again.

Plus, what now. The president walks away from his summit with Kim Jong-Un with no deal. How is the North Korean dictator going to react? Fareed Zakaria is with me, next.


[14:46:07] BALDWIN: President Trump is facing intense backlash after siding with North Korea's dictator and not holding Kim Jong-Un responsible for the mistreatment of 22-year-old American student, Otto Warmbier, and now Otto's parents are calling out the president in a stinging rebuke.

Just to remind you, Otto Warmbier was held prisoner in North Korea for more than a year where his family believes he was tortured into a vegetative state and then was returned back home to them in 2017 and died shortly thereafter.

So this is what President Trump said after his meeting with Kim this week.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't believe that he would have allowed that to happen. It just wasn't to his advantage to allow that to happen.

He felt very badly. He knew the case very well but knew it later.

He tells me he didn't know about it and I will take him at his word.


BALDWIN: I will take him at his word, he says. And now the Warmbier family has released a statement. Let me read every word of it to you: "We have been respectful during the summit process, now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son, Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that."

Fareed Zakaria is the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS" here on CNN.

And I had Mr. And Mrs. Warmbier sitting at the set after their son had passed and they said essentially the same thing, how could Kim Jong-Un not at all be aware and to hear the president say that? What did you make of their statement?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS": The Warmbier statement is he will consequent it's also their right, the president is wrong. We didn't show but he also went on to say it's a big country, how can he know everything that's going on. It's a profound misunderstanding of North Korea. North Korea is a police state, it is the most repressive police state in the world without any question. When I was at "Newsweek" several years ago, we did a "worst countries of the world" survey. Number one was North Korea. There's simply no country like it and the idea that an American who was taken prisoner, this would be something --


BALDWIN: They wouldn't be aware of?

ZAKARIA: The leader wouldn't be aware of or monitoring is unimaginable. Also why would you say something like, I trust -- I take his word for it. Ronald Reagan used to say trust but verify even about the details of arms control agreements with dictatorial regimes. Here you have a president saying, Vladimir Putin tells me he didn't interfere with our elections. I trust him. Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince, tells me, I didn't order the execution of Jamal Khashoggi, I trust him. Kim Jong-Un tells me, I didn't have anything to do with Otto Warmbier, I trust him. Why? There's something puzzling about this desire to trust people whose regimes are built on lies and repression.

BALDWIN: We can -- the obvious question is, why he continues to do that and we just can't begin to crawl into the mind of this president.

On another note, though, with regard to his second summit with Kim in Hanoi and the fact that he did walk away from a deal, which was an awful deal, what Kim was willing to give up. And so do you think that that could be somehow perhaps progress in a way of getting something substantive that Kim realizes, oh, I really do need to bring something substantive to the table if there's a next one?

ZAKARIA: Trump did the right thing. A bad deal is worse than no deal. Why did we get to this place? Because Trump seemed too eager to get a deal. He had signaled for months that he wanted this, he wanted the Nobel Prize. They had scheduled a signing ceremony. All of which, of course, tells Kim I have leverage because this guy really wants the deal. This is, you know, negotiations 101. Trump made a mistake. This was a fairly big mistake, but the fact that he walked away, yes, it probably sends a signal to Kim. But the real thing that needs to happen here is, this needs to be worked out patiently over months by lower-level officials. Trump needs to understand what we're talking about here is a 70-year-old program and the North Koreans have been at it for 60 or 70 years. They have 100 nuclear missiles, dozens of rockets, miles and miles of underground tunnels, facilities that we know we don't know. All of that -- somebody has to go through that painstaking and say here's what you have to do with this and here's what you have to do with that and that's where the agreement comes. The summit between the two leaders should be the final capstone of the process, not the foundation stone.

[14:50:55] BALDWIN: You mentioned MbS a second ago, Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who the CIA says ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. You did this whole deep dive with your team on Saudi Arabia for the special report "SAUDI ARABIA, KINGDOM OF SECRETS." Can you tell me about it?

ZAKARIA: Sure. We decided this was one of those -- the strangest alliances in the world because the United States government and the Saudi Arabia government are very close allies in many ways. It is after Israel the closest relationship the United States has in the Middle East, intelligence sharing, military cooperation and this personal bond between Trump and his son-in-law and the king and his son the crown prince.


ZAKARIA: But the two societies could not be more different. I mean the United States is the most open society in the world where religious freedom is enshrined in the first of the Bill of Rights. Saudi Arabia is one of the most closed societies in the world essentially, a theocracy. You cannot build a church, you cannot build a synagogue, you cannot practice any other religion but Islam. Women are still effectively the property of men. There are these things called guardianship laws. You look at these two societies and think, how did they become friends and what is the nature of this alliance. We start with that and then go into the Trump/MbS relationship, 9/11, which everyone has to remember --


ZAKARIA: -- the 19 hijackers were Saudis. Osama bin Laden was Saudi. When ISIS was looking for textbooks before it could write its own to have students read in the caliphate they used Saudi Arabia government textbooks. That's the extraordinary paradox of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.

BALDWIN: Mohammad Atta's daughter, Osama bin Laden's, one of his sons -- we'll get there later, a $1 million bounty on his head.


BALDWIN: Scary times.

Fareed Zakaria, it is fascinating.

Let me tell our viewers to find this, CNN special report, "THE STORY OF SAUDI ARABIA, A KINGDOM OF SECRETS," that is Sunday night at 8:00 eastern only here on CNN.

Fareed, my thanks.

Now to new CNN reporting just in. More than a thousand TSA workers still owed back pay from the government shutdown.

Plus, the U.S. announced a $1 million reward on information for Osama bin Laden's son, who he said to be taken over al Qaeda.


[14:58:43] BALDWIN: We first did this back in August of 2017 when the news cycle was so overwhelming we needed a list to keep track of the headlines and our sanity. Even though the pace hasn't let up since, it seems like a good time to bring back the scroll.

Alan, roll it.

In the month of February, a fixer comes clean, a trickster gets silenced, a summit sequel worse than the first, Klobuchar's in, so is Sanders, a Texan still on his road trip. The Green New Deal gets its zing, and the State of the Union with a clap back.





BALDWIN: We keep going. Trade war talks spark more talks. Power crisis ongoing in Venezuela, Indian/Pakistan, tensions rise, a U.N. pick who on climate change believes both sides, an American president believing yet another dictator, and the temp gets defensive.


MATT WHITAKER, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up and so --



BALDWIN: The nominee gets placed. A singer's charged, so is a pat, ditto for a TV actor accused of faking his own attack. A massacre plot foiled, a shutdown averted, an emergency declared, states then sue, fraud and a Carolina redo.