Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Mueller Probe Finished, Report Given to Attorney General; U.S.- Backed Troops Take Last Remaining ISIS-Controlled Territory; Zimbabwe Searches for Survivors; Trump's Golan Heights Decision May Impact Israeli Election. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired March 23, 2019 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[02:00:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The report is in. After two years, Robert Mueller delivers findings on the Russian election interference and now the battle over what will be made public.

Devastation in Southeastern Africa, entire towns and villages are flooded and battered by a cyclone.

And New Zealand mosque open to worshippers one week after the horrifying terror attack.

The stories coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, thanks for joining us. Coming to you live from CNN in Atlanta. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ALLEN: Our top stories: special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the election meddling is finished. His report is now in the hands of U.S. attorney general William Barr. It's been two years. There will be no more indictments from the Mueller team. But that does not include federal prosecutors in Virginia, Washington D.C., and New York or elsewhere.

And also remember according to the Justice Department rules, a sitting president cannot be indicted. Also, a Justice Department official says the Mueller report is comprehensive. And attorney general William Barr says he may give Congress what he calls the special counsel's principal conclusions as soon as this weekend. For more now here CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The question is how much detail is Barr going to be able to get into when he provides his own report to members of Congress?

This weekend is the first time he will be able to brief them on some of the principal conclusions of this report. How detailed will that be?

It's important to underscore that big headline that you just said, no more indictments.

And that's an important thing for the president after 675 days of this investigation, after an investigation that has frankly clouded his administration since the beginning of his presidency. The president can begin to probably breathe a little easier that the idea that his vindication is coming.

He knows that so far from the Mueller investigation, the public information that's been released by Robert Mueller, there has been nothing that comes close to what looks like in collusion or a conspiracy which has been the focus of this investigation.

The idea that there was somebody in the president's campaign who was colluding with the Russians. None of that has come forward in any of the public court documents and indictments that have been brought.

This has been a very comprehensive investigation. It's been a very fruitful investigation, 37 individuals and entities have been charged, including six Trump associates.

But the central question of Russian collusion has not so far been proved in any public document and so the question is, does that report that is now in the hands of Bill Barr, does it say anything about that, did they find any proof of that, that's the big question that remains unanswered at this point.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Well, so far from the White House, this reaction, two words: "We won." That's from an official who pointed out that there is no conspiracy or obstruction charges against the campaign. Mr. Trump spent Friday night with friends and family at his resort in Florida.

He was seen talking to Emmet Flood, the White House lawyer, responsible for the response to the investigation. Trump's lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, released a statement saying they were pleased that the special counsel delivered its report to the attorney general.

They added the attorney general will determine the next steps. Democrats on Capitol Hill are equally anxious to read the Mueller report. And they want you be able to read it, too. They're taking steps to ensure that it becomes public.

But will it?

More about that from CNN's Manu Raju.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Democrats on Capitol Hill are bracing for a fight and issuing a rather stern warning to the Justice Department saying they underlying evidence in the report that Bob Mueller has submitted to the attorney general must be delivered to Congress and must be delivered to the public. They say nothing short of that will suffice. Democrats are saying if

they don't get that information to Capitol Hill, if the public doesn't see this information, they will subpoena this. So this could be days and weeks and perhaps months of a very contentious battle between Democrats and the Justice Department.

And, of course, it's ultimately --

[02:05:00]

RAJU: -- up to Bill Barr, the attorney general, how much he plans to release. But he does not go far as Democrats would like. Expect that fight here to intensify in the days ahead.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, immediately after the news, that Bill Barr was reading this report, took to the mikes in New York and made very clear that everything is going to be released, including all the evidence that led Bob Mueller to decide who to prosecute and who not to prosecute.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Now that special counsel Mueller has submitted his report to the attorney general, it's imperative for Mr. Barr to make the full report public and provide its underlying documentation and findings to Congress. Attorney General Barr must not give President Trump, his lawyers or his staff any sneak preview of special counsel Mueller's findings or evidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Republicans so far have said they're happy this investigation is over. The Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said that he's happy that after a long time it's finally done. He's anxious to hear more about this, as other Republicans are, including Lindsey Graham, whose chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Those team members are expected to give briefed in the days ahead. Bill Barr made that pretty clear in his letter that he said as soon as this weekend perhaps the principal conclusions could be read out to the key chairmen and ranking members of the Judiciary Committees. Other leaders will probably be briefed as well.

But Bob Mueller also could be called to testify on Capitol Hill. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that he wants Mueller to testify before his committee and Jerry Nadler may want to bring, the Judiciary Committee chairman, in Barr to testify before his committee.

What Mueller's report will do for House Democrats is essentially set the stage for months of further investigations, only seeing attacks from the White House, this is all part of the Democratic witch hunt.

But nevertheless, the news that this report is done, only the beginning of the fight here on Capitol Hill -- Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Joining us to talk more about this development, senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein. And former U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona, Dennis Burke.

Gentlemen, thank you for staying with us to talk about this. What happened on Friday after two years what happened on Friday.

So, Ron, no new indictments from the Mueller report. We don't know exactly what's in it, but is the shadow over President Trump lifted somewhat?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it certainly beats the alternative in terms of indictments. I'm sure they are breathing a sigh of relief. It's hard to say the shadow has been lifted until we know what's in the report.

Certainly things we know already in terms of Paul Manafort sharing polling information with his Ukrainian contact, Russian intelligence, the questions of Roger Stone's interactions with WikiLeaks raise lots of questions.

And he said I've never felt that the Trump presidency would be resolved through that legal process. It's ultimately going to be a political verdict by the country in 2020.

We'll have to see what's in it. Nothing yet has happened to change my basic opinion that it's ultimately going to be a political verdict to decide his fate.

ALLEN: Dennis, I'll ask you the same question. The White House said we won. But President Trump not normally silent about these things has been kind of quiet since this broke.

DENNIS BURKE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, there's a lot of legal proceedings still going to go on. Robert Mueller and his team handed off a considerable amount of manners to U.S. attorneys' offices in the Southern District of New York and Virginia and Washington, D.C. Those matters will continue on.

We already saw with the Michael Cohen matter that the Southern District of New York had an aspect of that case and the reason why he's going to prison is because of the Southern District of New York, not Robert Mueller.

So some commentators earlier today referred to it as "loose ends." It's much more than loose ends. These could really have an impact on the continuing operations of the administration as we go forward.

ALLEN: Mr. Barr has said he will maybe share some of the conclusions with Congress this weekend.

Ron, what about that?

How much of this report do you expect Congress will see? How much in the end will the American public see?

BROWNSTEIN: It really is, it's hard for me to imagine, given an overwhelming desire in the public, 75-80 percent of each party saying they want to see this report in the public. I can't imagine the administration ultimately wants to have a process fight for weeks about whether this should be made public.

I suspect that --

[02:10:00]

BROWNSTEIN: -- Congress will see an awful lot of it. I think it's more open how much the public ultimately will see. But I don't think this is a fight they really want to have, given the overwhelming public desire to have access to this report.

I do think, however, you may see it, depending on how critical it is, the White House and the administration lawyers being very aggressive claiming executive privilege and redacting some of it in the same way we've seen them be very aggressive claiming executive privilege in investigative requests from the House majority.

ALLEN: Dennis, does the fact that this report indicates no new indictments, what does that mean as far as Russia in the 2016 election?

Does that diminish those reports at all?

BURKE: We can see in the report a very damning narrative by Robert Mueller as to Russia's involvement in the election. He made a determination that did not rise to him seeking indictments that he could even see in the report that he thought the elements of crime were met.

But he didn't seek a reason to go forward because of the likelihood of it or because of his discretion to say I am providing this report to the administration, anticipating the Congress and the American public will read it.

But the fact that he did not seek any further indictments does not mean that this could be a very damning report for the administration and the White House.

ALLEN: And, Ron, what about the calls for impeachment, does this report diminish those calls?

Do you think we will hear from Robert Mueller himself?

BROWNSTEIN: First, I think the leadership of the Democratic Party has always been skeptical about the value of impeachment, because it is so unlikely that there will be 20 Republicans in the Senate that will ever vote to remove the president.

So the odds of an email of Vladimir Putin saying, hey, release it on Tuesday, has always been very remote and short of that, the prospect of removing him from office has also been remote.

So I think the leadership of the Democrats in the House are very dubious about it. The report is a big unknown as we are saying. It could be very damning, it could make it easier for him.

Either way they do not want to go down that road, they think it will allow Trump to portray himself as the victim and portray Democrats as trying to silence Trump voters. I think when we hear from Mueller it will depend on much of the report the administration itself first makes available.

ALLEN: We will talk about it again and as we said we may learn a little bit more from the report this weekend. Ron Brownstein and Dennis Burke, thank you for your insights. We appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

BURKE: Thank you.

ALLEN: Ahead here, tropical cyclone Idai left large parts of Mozambique and Zimbabwe devastated. We'll bring you the latest, coming up next.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:15:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ALLEN: And welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM.

We want to take you now to Mozambique where aid workers say the devastation there is much worse than they thought. More than a week after a cyclone slammed into southeastern Africa, they warned humanitarian needs will only increase in the coming weeks.

And that is an example right there of why, people are still stranded. Immediate concerns in the aftermath of the storm, more flooding, cholera, even starvation. Entire towns and villages are deluged. And disease outbreaks are already being reported.

Officials say the death toll is close to 300 but that is expected to go much higher. Rescue and relief operations are ongoing but the situation is chaotic, with survivors in remote places cut off by flooding and landslides.

And a search for survivors is also underway, enabling Zimbabwe's president to declare a state of emergency; that state also affected by the storm. A U.N. agency says that 200,000 people there are in need of food and medicine. For more we have CNN's Robyn Curnow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The storm struck in the night, the full force of a massive cyclone, shearing mud and rocks from a nearby mountain and burying parts of this village in Eastern Zimbabwe.

More than a week later, rescuers are searching for many residents who were asleep when disaster struck. Those who made it through the night are lucky to be alive but they were left with almost nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I want some shelter. I have none. I have no blankets, no pots. My plates, sofas were all destroyed.

CURNOW (voice-over): Zimbabwe's president Emmerson Mnangagwa has declared a state of emergency. Helicopters scour the area for survivors and remove bodies of the dead. The United Nations World Food Programme, which is coordinating food drops, says about 200,000 people are in urgent need of food and medicine.

And a doctor on the scene says the psychological trauma from the disaster is still unfolding.

THEMBA NYONI, DOCTOR: We may see dawns (ph) now but there are a lot of mental health issues that will arise from this. Some of them they have lost their whole family. Some have lost children.

CURNOW (voice-over): Officials say they are distributing rice and corn from the national food reserves and help is also expected from other African nations. Local Zimbabweans also helping each other, making donations and opening their homes for shelters.

JENNIFER FINN, VOLUNTEER: To be honest, it is what Zimbabweans do. As soon as any of our people in a crisis, we band together and we come to help wherever we can. It is what Zimbabweans are made of.

CURNOW (voice-over): -- Robyn Curnow, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: We'll continue to follow that and hope these people will get the help they need because so many are in need.

(WEATHER REPORT)

[02:20:00]

ALLEN: An elderly priest is recovering after he was stabbed while saying mass in Canada's largest church. Father Claude Grou was leading the televised morning service at Montreal's St. Joseph's Oratory when a man circled the altar and stabbed him.

Then they scuffled. The priest rose to his feet after churchgoers separated him from the attacker. Initially a witness didn't give the assailant a second thought.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADELE PLAMONDON, WITNESS: I thought he was going to kneel to say a prayer in front of the St. Joseph statue but he quickly came up the stairs, taking a big knife out of his side. And I saw, realized what his intentions were. So I ran out of the church, screaming to alert the security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: The 26-year-old suspect is to appear in court in the coming hours.

Confusion at the White House thanks to a mixup engineered by the U.S. president. Ahead, the perplexing tweet that caused a huge mess within the administration. The subject: North Korea.

Plus President Trump's call to recognize Israel's sovereignty of the Golan Heights is raising eyebrows. Ahead how that might impact the upcoming Israeli election.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ALLEN: Welcome back.

The White House said it has not called off recent sanctions related to North Korea, despite a tweet by President Trump suggesting they would. The tweet had caused confusion at the White House because it was unclear which sanctions the president was referring to.

Officials initially thought he was talking about sanctions announced on Thursday. But it turns out he likely confused those sanctions with the ones that had not even been announced yet.

When asked about the tweet, the White House press secretary said Mr. Trump doesn't think more sanctions are necessary, because, quote, "he likes North Korea's leader."

Meanwhile Donald Trump and Israel against the rest of the world on another subject. There's been a huge backlash against Mr. Trump's call to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The announcement comes just a few weeks before Israelis go to the polls. CNN's Oren Liebermann says how this could impact the election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The well-documented friendship between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just gone into overdrive.

Trump's image was already a part of Netanyahu's campaign strategy, plastered on high-rises in Tel Aviv. Now Trump himself has become part of the campaign. His recognition of Israel's sovereignty in the Golan Heights, long considered occupied territory, is a major political victory for Netanyahu, with less than three weeks to go until the elections.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: President Trump --

[02:25:00]

NETANYAHU: -- has just made history. I called him and thanked him on behalf of the people of Israel. He did it again.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Trump's recognition comes as Netanyahu is sliding in some election polls and the criminal probes against the Israeli leader dominate headlines. Still Trump claimed overturning more than 50 years of U.S. policy regarding the Golan Heights had nothing to do with helping Netanyahu win his election.

TRUMP: This is sovereignty, this is security, this is about regional security.

MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: It's not about Netanyahu's reelection?

TRUMP: No, I don't -- I wouldn't even know about that. I wouldn't even know about that. I have no idea. He was doing OK.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): President Trump is more popular in Israel than he is in the United States. His recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, his withdrawal from the Iran deal have made him a hero to many Israelis. The Golan Heights recognition coming on the Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates the role of Queen Esther in saving Jews, only adding to Trump's status.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for a such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace?

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: As a Christian, I certainly believe that's possible.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Then Netanyahu head to Washington in the coming days for the APAC policy conference and a White House meeting with Trump. As the election draws closer, the overseas trip looking more and more like a campaign stop. President Trump even using all this for his own political purposes.

TRUMP: The Democrats have very much proven to be anti-Israel, there's no question about that. And it's a disgrace. I don't know what's happened them but they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they're anti-Jewish.

LIEBERMANN: At least one thing has become clear since Trump saying he intends to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel and that's that he basically stands alone in this position. Very few if any other countries intend to follow suit. The European Union already said their position remains unchanged, that this is occupied territory, as condemnation is coming from the region and beyond.

That, of course, hasn't deterred Trump, who may give official recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel when Netanyahu is in Washington next week -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, in the Golan Heights.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ALLEN: We have breaking news out of Syria. We have been saying for weeks that ISIS had been defeated but it kept fighting. Well, this is the news: the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have just announced, they have indeed defeated ISIS and fully liberated the town of Baghouz.

Let's go to Ben Wedeman, who has been on the phone with us and he's in Syria, he's been covering this last battle with ISIS for weeks now.

Ben, what are you hearing about the end of this fight?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) confirming that the war against ISIS here in Syria has come to an end. He said that the Syrian Democratic Forces declared total elimination of this (INAUDIBLE) territory (INAUDIBLE).

(AUDIO GAP)

ALLEN: All right, we're losing contact with Ben. Let's give it a few more seconds to see if we can reestablish. Ben Wedeman has been there in Eastern Syria, coverage this last battle. Weeks ago, it is believed that these last ISIS fighters, clinging to a sliver of land in Eastern Syria in Baghouz, would be giving up.

But indeed they fought to the very end and would not give up. Let's see if we can get back with Ben Wedeman.

Ben, we lost you there but you can continue now, please.

WEDEMAN: Yes, what we know is (INAUDIBLE), a spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces, is that they have declared the (INAUDIBLE) of the so-called Islamic caliphate 100 percent territorial defeat of ISIS. Now this moment (INAUDIBLE) --

(AUDIO GAP)

ALLEN: All right. We are trying to desperately to stick with Ben Wedeman to bring us more about this news. We had been reporting earlier a few hours ago that the White House had declared that 100 percent it was over. Now we're getting confirmation from American- backed Syrian defense forces that that is indeed happening.

For weeks we've seen ISIS fighters abandoning the fight, we've seen ISIS wives being collected and their children with them and leaving --

[02:30:00]

ALLEN: -- this sliver of land. But there were holdouts. And they weren't giving up. Just last week Ben was telling us that there were still ISIS flags flying over Baghouz. Ben was telling us that clearly some ISIS fighters would fight to the death.

Let's try again with Ben Wedeman.

Ben, we're hanging in there with you.

Can you talk about what is next here right here in Baghouz, with this over?

WEDEMAN: (INAUDIBLE). There is still gunfire at the inside edge of this encampment, this ISIS made its last stand. But this announcement does indicate that it's (INAUDIBLE) Democratic forces that the battle is over.

(INAUDIBLE) cleanup but it does appear the battle is over. I can hear coalition aircraft overhead. They've been shelling overhead quite intensely for the last four or five hours. But we are in that place we've never been before, the edge of the encampment where ISIS was staying as its last stand. So it does appear that the battle is indeed over -- Natalie.

ALLEN: So you've been on the edge of this battle for weeks now. So you're moving into Baghouz to see what's left?

WEDEMAN: That is correct. Right now I'm looking at a mix of shelters (INAUDIBLE) ISIS fighters and their families in which they had (INAUDIBLE). There's also buildings around any of them have been hit, the airstrikes and there's been a lot of damage.

But there's no people, there's no bodies around. (INAUDIBLE) there are some of the Syrian Democratic Forces in the (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE) jihadis as well as their families were hiding out in those tunnels and caves.

ALLEN: So you're not seeing anyone there?

Do we know who is fighting at the end?

How many were there, where they had gone?

EDELMAN: Well, we understood from the Syrian Democratic forces yesterday, we were told there were still hundred of jihadis and their families still here. Now we had them (INAUDIBLE). It's not clear (INAUDIBLE) the pattern (INAUDIBLE) or have (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE) were killed in the airstrikes.

ALLEN: What's the big picture here, Ben?

After so long, this very last hold by ISIS has now come crumbling down.

WEDEMAN: (INAUDIBLE) well over four years (INAUDIBLE) stretched from the outskirts of Baghdad to the (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE) they would cut off the road to the airport, that they would attack the Iraqi capital itself. There was talk among diplomats there about plans for evacuation of the capital itself (INAUDIBLE).

(INAUDIBLE) is no more. But beyond that ISIS will still remain (INAUDIBLE).

ALLEN: Ben, I apologize if I repeat a question because we still have a rough connection with you. There's been a question over and over, as ISIS gives up and --

[02:35:00]

ALLEN: -- as ISIS fighters are caught.

What happens to the next, where they're being held and what countries are involved?

Can you talk about that?

WEDEMAN: ISIS fighters (INAUDIBLE) are put in prison (INAUDIBLE) it's not clear what (INAUDIBLE) going to take. And we know that certain countries, the United Kingdom, (INAUDIBLE) they don't want them back. And there are countries that are (INAUDIBLE)

The problem is that (INAUDIBLE) leaves thousands of the (INAUDIBLE). In this part of Syria, officials have made it clear they do not have the resources. They do not have the facilities to hold these people in perpetuity and that they want the country where they come from to (INAUDIBLE) and to put on trial.

The problem (INAUDIBLE) in Europe and North America, (INAUDIBLE) are required. And there are no witnesses available to go (INAUDIBLE). It's a very complicated legal situation that has yet to be resolved.

ALLEN: I believe you had a report also in the past couple of weeks of the camps that you were just talking about, that being run by the Kurds, is that correct?

And there's even a breakdown in language. There are many, many challenges with this situation now that the fighting is over.

WEDEMAN: Yes, because not only are there jihadis but there are families. They come from all over the world. Many of them have been sent -- there's two camps here in northeastern Syria, one called Roj and one called al-Hol. Al-Hol now it has more 70,000 people there. Not all of them are affiliated with ISIS.

But tens of thousands of them are. They're kept in a separate part of the camp. It's essentially an interment camp. They're not free to leave. They're (INAUDIBLE) and because they come over from all over the world, they have problems with communication, (INAUDIBLE) that many of the minds (ph) of the jihadis are still faithful to the ideology of ISIS and know that they are essentially reestablishing the social order of the so-called Islamic caliphate in these camps.

(INAUDIBLE) underscores yet again the challenge (INAUDIBLE) these thousands of people. (INAUDIBLE). The authorities (INAUDIBLE) don't yet have the (INAUDIBLE).

ALLEN: All right, Ben, we're going to keep working with you on this phone line. We really appreciate you hanging in there with us. We know you're on your way in to Baghouz.

Again, the breaking news we learned just a little over 10 minutes ago, it has finally happened. The ISIS caliphate is over here. It's finished. The fighting has come to an end.

Earlier Ben took a look at what comes next after the defeat of ISIS. Here is his report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Terror, mass murder, genocide, slavery: in its brief and bloody life, the so-called Islamic State carried out atrocities that stretched around the globe. Its victims, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. From Syria and Iraq to attacks that were either masterminded or inspired in France, Belgium, Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt, Britain, the United States and elsewhere, it left a trail of death and destruction in its wake.

What made ISIS unique was its maniacal penchant for publicity. In murder, there was no shame. Its unrestrained brutality a weapon to terrify its foes and attract followers from near and far.

It boasted its barbarity with high-production value videos, the beheadings of American journalist James Foley and others, the burning alive in a cage of Jordanian air force pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh --

[02:40:00]

WEDEMAN (voice-over): -- the murder of more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers in the Speicher camp outside Tikrit.

It took equally perverse pleasure and pride in the wanton destruction of archeological treasures and religion shrines. Its persecution of minorities who fell under its sway, Yazidis, Christians and others, knew no bounds.

Anyone or anything that didn't conform with its twisted vision was killed, destroyed or obliterated. And at the head of this monstrosity was Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, who declared himself khalifa or caliph in July 2014.

At its peak, ISIS controlled an area the size of Britain, stretching from Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad, with 10 million people under its rule. Its ambitions, boundless.

Baghdadi promised his followers, "You will conquer Rome and own the world."

It was, however, not to be. Within three years, ISIS was driven from Mosul and its de facto capital, Raqqah. The war against the group left both cities in ruins, killed thousands of civilians and drove millions from their homes.

ISIS as a territorial entity in Iraq and Syria no longer exists. But as an idea, the Islamic State is far from vanquished.

Among those who surrendered we heard vows that ISIS would someday return with a vengeance, many of the men and the women and children still carry with them ISIS' poisonous ideology, now tinged with bitterness and resentment for their final humiliating surrender.

And beyond this small corner of Eastern Syria, groups pledging allegiance to ISIS still-controlled territory in Egypt, Sinai Peninsula, Libya, Nigeria, Afghanistan, the Philippines and elsewhere and its message still drives so-called lone wolves to carry out terror attacks. But the caliphate, the Islamic State, as a refuge for madmen and murderers, is no more -- for now -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Eastern Syria.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Well, the world can certainly take it for now, that ISIS in Syria has been defeated but Ben's report there illustrating, quite clearly, the terror reign that this group has put on the world for so many years. We'll continue our breaking news coverage right after this.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:45:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ALLEN: Again, breaking news, we've been talking about for weeks, that the end was near for ISIS, fighting on the last sliver of land in Syria and it has indeed happened. We have just gotten a tweet from the Syrian Democratic Forces that indeed it is over and ISIS in Eastern Syria has finally been defeated.

I believe we have some video a flag flying over what we presume is the last area where ISIS was defeated, Baghouz; Syrian Democratic Forces were the ones who took them down, saying they have fully liberated the town of Baghouz, the caliphate's last stronghold.

Trump just spoke about the defeat of ISIS. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Here's ISIS right now, if you look, so there is ISIS. And that's what we have right now as of last night. You guys can have the map. Congratulations. (INAUDIBLE). I think it's about time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: It's indeed come to an end; of course, the caliphate and the ideology has not. Ben Wedeman has been reporting on it for sometime. Also our correspondent Jomana Karadsheh is now on the phone, she is in Irbil, Iraq.

And you have been covering the story for some time.

What does this mean that it has come to this, ISIS is no more in Eastern Syria?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, this has been expected now for weeks, this is the end of the caliphate as a territorial entity. And this has been going on for the past few years, to push ISIS out of territory that it once controlled. It controlled areas all the way that stretched through Iraq and Syria,

all the way up to the Turkish border and now basically you have this one battle that has been going on for weeks, to push ISIS out of that last enclave. It was a very tough battle.

But no one is under the illusion that this will be the end of ISIS, as we have heard from U.S. officials. ISIS has still found followers and fighters and they have pretty much gone underground in recent months and weeks.

This is what experts have been warning, while, yes, ISIS as a group that has territory is over, now comes the challenge of fighting ISIS as an insurgent group that will be carrying out as we will see taken place in Iraq in recent months.

ALLEN: What is the thought there in the region, you have travel to different countries there that have had to suffer through ISIS, what is the thought now that they have cleared out of the territory?

And how they stay on top of the underground as you say?

They haven't underground as you say the, women who became ISIS brides still support the ideology.

KARADSHEH: Well, this is the biggest and toughest challenge. I've just returned from Northern Syria, where I was for the past couple of weeks. We visited the camps you have been talking about, where the family members as ISIS fighters are being kept, women and children of the so-called caliphate that come from about 50 different countries.

It was surreal, walking through these camps, meeting people from all across the world, talking about people from Europe, from Germany, from Ireland, we met people from North Africa. It is just incredible to see how many people joined the so-called caliphate.

And we spoke to SDF officials and the Kurdish force in Northern Syria and they are very concerned about what will happen next. When you leave the camps, the way they are right now, you are going to see a breeding ground and they are worried for another generation, the potential it has.

And they are really concerned, if these countries that are part of the international coalition that took part in this fight, that backed the SDF, if they do not live to their responsibility, if they are not able to deal with the radicalization, the women and --

[02:50:00]

KARADSHEH: -- children that will have been indoctrinated over the past few years, there could be a very big challenge and threat, not just for Syria but the international community and the world.

ALLEN: There is a threat for sure but for now we are continuing to talk to you and we continuing to see this live video there, it is 8:50 in the morning in Baghouz. Syrian defense forces standing triumphantly with a giant yellow flag waving that has replaced that dark and menacing ISIS flag that the world was subjected to for all these years.

So this is a sight to stand and celebrate at this turning point.

Again, back to the uglier side of this, the ideology, has that been eroded?

What about the financial support?

They were getting money from so many places, they were getting money because they had taken over certain key aspects of the Syrian region and in Iraq. And that helped them steal and continue on and be weaponized.

What do we know about the support they still get monetarily?

KARADSHEH: When this fight with ISIS began in 2014, when the U.S. government put forward their plan for battling ISIS they did look at these issues in different ways. But this is not just a military fight, that remains the case.

It is not just about fighting on the battlefield, it is about fighting ideology and eradicating other sources of financing. I think the point that we heard from U.S. officials is that this is not something that the U.S. can do alone; it is going to have to be an international cooperation. Different countries have a part to play in all of this.

And I think when it comes to finances, they were able to cut a lot of finances to the group. But when it comes to the ideology it is a very tough battle. A lot of people will tell you there has not been much of a lot of success when it comes to that, ISIS ideology is very much alive still and they are still able to gather a lot of support.

We will wait to see what happens but no longer the situation remains the same in Iraq and Syria unless real changes are made on the ground when it comes to things like rebuilding in the area that was devastated by the war, dealing with internally displaced people, refugees in the camps.

Unless that happens, these will always be used by ISIS as a rallying call, making the point that people are oppressed, their lives have been shattered and they will use this. They will uses to recruit more people and we have seen this in the past, this perverted ISIS ideology really thrive in these areas.

So there's still a tough battle ahead but as you mentioned, today is a day of celebration, especially those for Syrian Democratic Forces, who have really sacrificed so much to get to this day.

ALLEN: Right. You know, I've been watching your photos you have been posting on Instagram as you traveled in Syria and on the way there, it is amazing the contrast. You have some pastoral, beautiful photographs of animals grazing and then up against the site of this fighting and ISIS.

I want to ask you about that. We are going to try to get some of your photos up. But going to these camps and seeing these wives, they came from all over the world to join ISIS, to bear their children, was that odd or difficult to stand there and converse with these women?

It sounds like it would be quite creepy, for lack of a better term.

KARADSHEH: It was very surreal, Natalie, I must say. There are a number of camps where these women and children are being kept, there are Rose Camp, where you have some of the more high-profile ISIS brides, like the British born Shamima Begum or American (INAUDIBLE).

And we had access to that camp in our last couple of days in Syria and it was very difficult to get access to the camps, we see the SDF are really trying to heighten access to the camp because they're quite overwhelmed with the number of people inside the camp that they --

[02:55:00]

KARADSHEH: -- don't want to be dealing with the media teams also inside the camp.

So when we visited these camps, we were not allowed to speak with anyone there but we also visited a whole camp, the Camp of Dust and, it has been reported in recent weeks there are more than 100 children, mostly infants, have died on their way to their camp or on arrival to the camp. This is where tens of thousands of people have arrived, most of them women and children from that battle in Baghouz in recent weeks.

And that camp is really at breaking point. Aid organizations have been warning there are very little aid that is reaching this camp. They are really struggling because it is really over capacity at this point. They have one section that is fenced off. They called it the section of immigrants, as they describe them. These are the foreign women of ISIS and their children. And they are separated by a fenced barrier that separates them from the rest of the population of the camp, the majority there. It is tens of thousands of displaced Syrians and Iraqi refugees.

You can imagine what a strange setup that is, you're separating the two populations, when you have the Iraqis and Syrians who blame these women in ISIS, who are destroying their lives. Once you walk into that section with the foreign women, it is really quite surreal.

Some of them are the true believers, quite defiant, still saying that ISIS will be back. And then you also have these others, describing themselves as innocent victims, who fell for ISIS' propaganda and they knew nothing about the terror group until they actually got to Syria and now they regret it and they want to go back home, hoping their country will take them back.

But at this point we are hearing from the SDF that so far there are no positive signs that any of their countries are going to take them back.

ALLEN: Right, that is something that has made the headlines in many countries in the world; they just don't know what to do with them and they don't want to welcome back some women that could be radicalized by ISIS. We will continue to cover that element of this story. Jomana

Karadsheh, we will talk to again.

We will now go back to Ben, who has arrived in Baghouz.

Ben, we are looking at the Syrian Democratic Forces enjoying this moment and this giant yellow flag has replaced that eerie, horrific ISIS flag that was continuing to fly there just until a few days ago.

WEDEMAN: Yes, that's right. We are in the encampment over which we were watching for weeks, bombardments, airstrikes, mortar strikes, artillery strikes into this area. And it really is a wasteland.

There are wrecked motorcycles, cars and trucks and you see the remnants of tents that people were living in and inside most of the tents, people had built trenches, dug trenches to get some sort of protection.

So for me, this is quite an experience because we have been watching from a distance as this bombardment was taken place. But now certainly to be in it is somewhat surreal. But this is a historic day and we did hear from a spokesman from the Syrian Democratic Forces that ISIS, the so-called caliphate, has been eliminated.

And certainly it was a rough, long war against ISIS, going back at least five years. So, yes, for the Syrian Democratic Forces and for the U.S.-backed international coalition against ISIS, this is a significant day. It was a long and difficult struggle.

But it is significant and it is quite an experience actually seeing all of this around me -- Natalie.

ALLEN: We're coming up at the top of the hour so we know viewers will be joining us, thinking they're starting a newscast.

But if you are just joining us we are continuing to follow this breaking news, quite a moment in the story of the world against ISIS. Just about 30 minutes ago, the official word came down from U.S.- backed forces, announcing that they have defeated ISIS in Eastern Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces have fully liberated the town of Baghouz, the caliphate's last stronghold.