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White House Declares ISIS Caliphate in Syria 100 Percent Defeated; House Democrats Accuse Jared Kushner of Using WhatsApp to Communicate with Foreign Officials and Ivanka Trump of Using Private E-mails; Rep. Gregory Meeks, (D) New York, Discusses Pompeo Suggesting God Sent Trump to Save Jews, Israel; Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Good or Bad for Democrats; Kamala Harris Reaches Out to Latino Voters. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 22, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The fighting is not over. If you were to look at the amount of territory, it is very small indeed, but the fighting goes on. What we heard from a spokesman of the Syrian Democratic Forces today is they believe there are still several hundred holdouts, including women, including children, who are being used as human shields. And they believe these last holdouts are not going to surrender peacefully, that they are going to fight to the death. And it appears that this may be the beginning of the final, final, final battle. I mean, I've been here for 49 days and we've heard, time and time again, predictions that it's about to end. I've lost count of how many times we've had to explain that President Trump may be saying that the caliphate is completely defeated, but what we are seeing with our eyes and hearing and, hopefully, being able to show on television is it isn't defeated yet. It is on the brink of defeat, but there's still fighting going, there's still forces with the Syrian Democratic Forces as well as American, French and British servicemen involved in this military effort. It is not over yet -- Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Why has it been so difficult? What are the challenges facing the forces that are taking on ISIS? Why have they not been able to clear ISIS out of a reportedly small area? But this is important that this is still going on.

WEDEMAN: We assume the Syrian Democratic Forces, and we assume the Americans, the British and the French, wildly underestimated the number of civilians who were inside. When I came here 49 days ago, we were being told there was a mere 1,500 civilians and 500 jihadi in a larger area, but it turned out there was 30,000 civilians, many of them women and children of ISIS jihadis as well as a thousand jihadis still inside. There have been military operations halted to allow those who wanted to leave to leave. That includes civilians, that includes jihadis, thousands of whom have surrendered. But there are still those holding out, holding out probably because of their desire to die, in their opinion, as martyrs. So it's a complicated operation. An effort has been made to avoid a civilian death toll that could run in the thousands if there were to be just an all-out assault to finally regain this territory.

Now, it's perfectly understandable that President Trump wants to come out and announce the final defeat of ISIS. I certainly would like to do it with veracity so I could go home after 49 days in this country. On this battlefield, I'm afraid is cannot be declared totally defeated -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Cannot be and we hear the fighting going on behind you.

Ben Wedeman, thank you so much for that report in eastern Syria.

The White House is facing questions about the president's daughter and son-in-law. In a letter to the administration, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner, has been using WhatsApp, a popular messaging application, to communicate with foreign leaders. He also says that Ivanka Trump, also a senior adviser, may be in violation of the Presidential Records Act with her use of private e-mails.

We have former U.S. attorney and CNN senior legal analyst the author of the new book, "Doing Justice," Preet Bharara, with us.

Preet, how serious is this that Jared Kushner was and maybe still is using WhatsApp to communicate with foreign leaders? What are the vulnerabilities?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's pretty serious depending on what the nature of the contacts were. The fact of it is serious, particularly, in light of these continuing questions that will be investigated as to why Jared Kushner seemingly, through the basis of nepotism, got a national security clearance of the highest level over the objection of career folks. There's a reason you have career assessments made of vulnerabilities and the trustworthiness granted nationals. It seems that repeatedly, over and over and over again, either because foreign officials decided they could exploit vulnerabilities in Jared Kushner's background and his financial entanglements and also the repeated nature of his mistakes, omissions in his security clearance documentation, I think it's a real problem, and I think we're going to see, as you pointed out a second ago, a real investigation in the House of Representatives.

[13:35:01] KEILAR: So this morning, talking about -- I want to pivot now to the Mueller report. The president seems to be prebuting it. He called this a hoax, a witch hunt and clearly trying to undermine the investigation and the institutions behind it. You talked about prosecutor's thoughts of crime, punishment and the rule of law. What is your argument and why did you think this book is needed right now as you talk about having faith in the justice system?

BHARARA: Look, it is the nature of the job if you're a prosecutor or an investigator to get criticism from and pushback from those who you investigate. That happened to me many times. It happens to every investigator. Witch hunt is not a phrase that was invented by Donald Trump. It's been used by people who don't like the fact that some of their misconduct is being exposed and investigated and potentially prosecuted. The problem is, and one of the reasons I wrote the book, is we seem to be at a higher decibel level of that kind of attack than we ever have been before, and you have these statements by the presumably serious people who are close to the president saying things like there are alternative facts or truth is not truth. And sometimes you have to take a step back and talk about the ways in which you can have a fair system, what fairmindedness means, how you keep an open mind, how justice is done, how truth is discovered. So in the series during my time as a U.S. attorney talking about the ways in which you struggle with the ethical dilemmas and the legal issues, how maybe, by example, that can be done.

In the case of the president, like what I had to face, he has the largest microphone on earth. So for protective reasons, he uses that microphone, if you will, to attack the honor, integrity and motivations of people like Bob Mueller, who I think of as an American hero, that has more faith in the system than anything we've seen before that's in the ordinary course of doing prosecutions and investigations.

KEILAR: You were the chief of the Southern District of New York. We're awaiting word, of course, on the Mueller report if it's finished, if it's been sent to the attorney general. But what are you anticipating more, the Mueller report or what the Southern District is investigating?

BHARARA: I'm equally curious about both, I guess I have to say, and I think there's a question of timing with respect to both of those also. I think the most immediate thing is the Mueller report. I have heard the same rumors as you. As I sit here, I look at the clock, it's about 1:37 p.m. You and I both since last night have been hearing the rumors and the insinuations that we were going to have news that the Mueller report was delivered to the attorney general by noon today. Maybe that happened, we just don't know about it yet, but it's a waiting game and I think that's going to be the next fight. I don't know how long the Southern District is going to take to look at all the things it has been reportedly looking at, including the inauguration committee and some aspects of the Trump organization, but I think they're both interesting and important things to watch.

KEILAR: Preet Bharara, we appreciate you talking with us today.

BHARARA: Thank you. Absolutely. My pleasure.

KEILAR: Coming up, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says it's possible God sent President Trump to protect the Jewish people. This, as the president repeated his accusation that the Democratic Party is anti- Jewish. We'll have reaction next.


[13:42:57] KEILAR: President Trump doing the Lord's work. That is what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is saying in the wake of the president tweeting his new foreign policy position of recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could it be that President Trump right now has been raised for such a time as this, sort of like Queen Esther, to save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace? MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: As a Christian, I certainly believe

that's possible. To see the remarkable history of the faith in this place and the work our administration has done to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state remains, I'm confident that the Lord is at work here.


KEILAR: We have Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks with us. He's a senior member on both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Services Committee.

Sir, what's your reaction to Secretary Pompeo's comments?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS, (D), NEW YORK: Number one, it's almost laughable. President Trump is one to try to divide and, clearly, President Trump has just been trying to get involved and play politics in an election in Israel. So, you know, it's comical when you look at everything that this president does and his foreign policy in general.

KEILAR: Is it appropriate for the secretary to say that?

MEEKS: Absolutely not.

KEILAR: Why do you think that?

MEEKS: Look, I'm saying because -- look, here's what we get. The president is trying to divide -- if you listen to some of his statements regarding Israel and trying to turn it around as if Democrats and Republicans are against Israel, we know it's not true. It's a lie. When you look at Democrats and Republicans, by the way, stand strongly with Israel, when you look at iron dome and foreign defense and understanding that Israel has a right to defend itself, everybody is there. Do people have disagreements with President Netanyahu? Of course, they do. That's why there's a close election in Israel. Everybody is not agreeing with President Trump and the secretary of state regarding policies of Netanyahu. So to try and say that individuals should do what Mr. Netanyahu says and his policies, it's like Mr. Trump saying, I'm here to save America. I'm doing God's work and I'm the only one to do it. That's what he said. So --


[13:45:19] KEILAR: It does seem the president -- earlier today he continued with that accusation. He said the Democratic Party is anti- Jewish. There have been some prominent voices in your party that have raised questions about Israel. There are members, certainly, of your electorate who have raised questions about Israel as it relates to Palestine, and this is something that the president has seen the ability to drive a wedge in your party over. But when he says that, do you worry that this sticks when he says the Democrats are anti- Jewish?

MEEKS: Again, I think that he is conflating what the facts are. I don't believe that Democrats -- in fact, I know they are not anti- Israel. They may be anti some of the policies of Netanyahu. I'm a firm believer in a two-state solution. Netanyahu seems to be moving away from that. That does not make me anti-Israel. So there's a lot of individuals within Israel. They are not with Mr. Netanyahu, because if they were, then there would not be a close election. So the fact they're not with Mr. Netanyahu and the policies that he wants to go forward with, those in Israel on the other side does not make them anti-Israel. And so it's a misnomer of what he's trying to say, just like there's a lot of Americans that are anti the policies of Donald Trump. That does not make them anti-American.

KEILAR: The president certainly has been very supportive of Netanyahu. And after he tweeted this recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, he said he didn't know about the election. Let's listen.


DOANLD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wouldn't even know about that. I wouldn't even know about that. I have no idea. I hear he's doing OK. I don't know if he's doing great right now, but I hear he's doing OK. But I would imagine the other side, whoever is against him, is also in favor of what I just did. Every president has said, do that. I'm the one that gets it done.


KEILAR: Do you think President Trump really didn't know about the Israeli election?

MEEKS: Absolutely not. He knew. He would tell you on the other side that he gets a national security advisory every morning. I'm sure if he gets the news, he probably doesn't read it himself, but I'm sure he has someone that comes in to read it to him, like I read to my grandchild in the mornings, to let him know what's going on. He doesn't read, we understand that, and he doesn't do any research or work himself. But I would assume that someone from the national security office will come and advise him on matters that's taking place around the world. So there's no way, there's no rational individual that would believe he did not know that there was an election going on in Israel and it was a very close election for his friend, Netanyahu.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman, thank you so much. Congressman Gregory Meeks joining us from New York.

And the Dow is taking a big dip right now as investigators are looking at a looking at a leading indicator of a looming recession.

Also, she's on the cover of "Time" and wonders, quote, "Why so many grown men are obsessed with her." Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez good or bad for Democrats? We'll assess that.


[13:53:07] KEILAR: She has been in office less than three months, but Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has certainly made her presence known. She is on the cover of "Time" this week. But is this rise good or bad for the Democratic Party?

We have national political reporter, Maeve Reston, joining us.

Does this hurt or help the party that she's getting all of this attention?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I think if you look at her rise, she has given a real fresh face, a powerful woman vibe to the Democratic Party. But at the same time, obviously, her views are so far to the left of where many Americans are. Particularly centrists, Independents, all of those critical voters that the 2020 candidates will have to win over if they want to take back the White House. So she is in a district that I think it is 29 points Democratic leaning. And so she has caused this sort of little two step that the candidates have to do on the campaign trail where a lot of them will say that they are supportive of her ideas in concept, whether it is tax cut, the Green New Deal, initiatives on climate change, but also giving themselves a little bit of wiggle room so they can pivot back to the middle. So it is a double-edged sword for the party. But the Republican Party needs a villain and she is now that instead of Nancy Pelosi and so clearly that is the rolled she stepped into. And she is relishing it.

KEILAR: No one said, as goes Queens, goes the country.

RESTON: Right.

KEILAR: But you wrote a piece for CNN Politics about this effort by Senator Kamala Harris to reach out to Latino voters. What are some of the things that she's doing and is it working?

[13:55:03] RESTON: We are seeing it work to some extent. If you look at our most recent poll, Kamala Harris tripled her support among voters and particularly minorities. Her path to the White House as she and her strategists see it is by winning women and African- American voters and minority voters. And she is doing outreach in these communities all over the country particularly in states like Nevada, which has a huge Hispanic population. Making the case that she's been at the forefront of these immigration issues, whether for DREAMers or TPS or the policy of family separations. She is making the case that she is the candidate that will advocate for Latinos. And she has a lot of competition out there as we see Beto on the trail speaking in Spanish. We'll see what happens, but they are trying to reach the voters by going to them where they are at, in restaurants, bringing community headsets at rallies, for example, for Spanish speakers. It's a really interesting initiative. And we'll have to see how it goes for here -- Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Maeve Reston, thank you so much.

RESTON: Thank you.

KEILAR: And next, the president's new and confusing closing argument against Robert Mueller.