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Protests and Torture in Sudan Result in Deaths of At Least Eight Over the Weekend; Interview With Former Rep. John Delaney, 2020 Presidential Candidate. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 8, 2019 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm curious, how do you then respond as a Republican, to some of the president's positions on this?

For instance, you saw him say twice in the last few days, "Our country is full." That's not a statement for illegal immigration. I mean, that's quite a hardline policy. And I'm sure you served alongside some of the 72,000 non-residents who served in the U.S. military.

REP. DON BACON (R-NE): Well, you --

SCIUTTO: Non-citizens, I should say.


BACON: -- the (INAUDIBLE). We have 19 of us. Ten Democrats, 10 Republicans. We rate pretty high on the Bipartisan Index, the Lugar Index. We want to work together. We've committed not to campaign against each other. We've pledged to have civility. So I think this is the basis of how Congress needs to work at a larger level. So we want to grow this.

And when it comes to the president talking about the country as full, you know, he does support -- or has supported -- more legal immigration. He's come on record for H-1 and H-2s, and he's for a compromise for DACA.

I like to think that his statement, when he says it's full, he's referring to the 900,000 that we're on pace to have this year, of illegal immigrants being interdicted at the border. And I think we -- he needs to articulate it more clearly. But that is a problem. We can't ignore that that's not an issue.

Even Jeh Johnson, the secretary of the Homeland Security for President Obama --


BACON: -- says this is a crisis. He says it's four times higher than what he would have looked at for it to become a crisis. I mean, it's already four times over what he would consider it, as a crisis. And so I think we have to acknowledge that it is.

Like, right now, Congress is unwilling -- they don't want to give the president a victory or a defeat. It's all about the president. Let's make this about the country. We've got a problem to solve.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Don Bacon, I agree. You're doing God's work there with this coalition, and I wish you and your Republican and Democratic colleagues luck.

BACON: Thank you, Sir.

SCIUTTO: Poppy, back (ph) --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. We're turning next to Sudan and what's happening there. Because it has been a deadly weekend for protestors in Sudan, fighting to oust the country's embattled president who's been there for three decades. This is amid rising prices and food shortages.

Our Nima Elbagir gives us a firsthand look at the dangers of what is going on right now in Sudan.


[10:36:49] SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN. A lot of news this morning. President Trump officially announcing this morning that the U.S. will now designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization. It's a significant move, an unprecedented one by the Trump administration. it will be the first time that the U.S. has ever named a part of another government -- and that's how this group serves -- as a foreign terrorist organization. Lots of penalties tied to that.

HARLOW: Yes. It's a really big deal now. Congress will have seven days to review this. We'll keep an eye on it.

In the meantime, eight people are dead this morning, following huge pro-democracy demonstrations over the weekend in Sudan. Protestors marched through the streets of Sudan's capital, Khartoum, demanding regime change. Their protests in part met by brutal force.

Despite the crackdown, the U.S. is continuing to talk about normalizing relations with Sudan's embattled president. Our colleague, correspondent Nima Elbagir and her crew took personal risk -- great personal risk -- to bring us this story.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is my hometown, Khartoum, for months now in the grip of pro- democracy process, much of it brutally hidden from the world by Sudan's government. And yet people here are still risking everything for change, even as the United States works to restore diplomatic relations with Sudan's government.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep filming. Keep filming.

TEXT: Sudan: A day in the life of an uprising ELBAGIR (voice-over): Khartoum, Sudan's capital. As I was growing up here, the government's grip on its people was all-encompassing. But a rise in the cost of living in recent years has triggered protests against one of the world's longest-serving dictators, President Omar al-Bashir.

The Sudanese government doesn't want the world to know what's happening. Any journalist caught reporting on the demonstrations risks life imprisonment and the death penalty. In the crowd, I try to stand back and film with secret cameras and smartphones, and hope that I'm not spotted.

ELBAGIR: Smell the tear gas that they've been releasing on other demonstrations a little bit further away. So people here are starting to get tense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're coming. They're coming.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Some of the demonstrators start shouting that National Security agents are on their way, operatives infamous for their brutality. We have to leave.

A family agrees to hide us in what people here call a safe house, but really is just someone's home.

ELBAGIR: Their National Security agents have arrived. They've broken up the demonstration. They're going from house to house. We've been brought into the safe house. We don't know how long we're going to have to wait here. They're trying to figure out how to get us out of here. People are starting to come in. We have to go inside.


ELBAGIR: I just saw their cars driving past. They're going from door to door, trying to figure out who was out in the demonstrations.

[10:40:02] ELBAGIR (voice-over): That sound you hear? Tear gas cannons. We're trapped. Hours pass. We can only watch and listen through a gap in the window.

Just next door to us, security agents are slapping and kicking a protestor as they drag him out. The neighbor's son. In the end, we leave our equipment behind and take the risk to run.

We got lucky. But so many others didn't. CNN gathered detailed testimony from former detainees held in Sudanese government facilities. Of the over 3,000 people who have been arrested since the demonstrations began, almost all say they've been abused. One of them agrees to speak to us.

KHADIJAH AL DOWEIHI, TORTURE VICTIM (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): They were all masked, armed and holding batons (ph). As soon as we stepped out, we were beaten with batons (ph). One man slapped me on the left side of my face. It became numb. Then he struck me with the butt of his gun in my back. It's not even an official center. It was one of those ghost houses. TEXT: Ghost houses: "The worst two days of my life"

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Ghost houses. Torture houses which the government says don't exist. We went to try and find one.

For all of us who grew up under Bashir's dictatorship, ghost houses conjures up immediately the horrors this government is accused of: torture, sexual assault, brutal beatings.

Right in the center of Khartoum, we find a heavy military and intelligence presence. On your left, a screened-off square, a holding pen. Activists picked up in the city center tell us they're beaten here and sorted according to their alleged crime. We can't linger. Everywhere, there is a high level of security.

From here, activists say they're moved on to any one of the ghost houses scattered around town. Using descriptions given to us by eyewitnesses and activists formerly held there, we're able to pinpoint one using aerial images, just south of the Blue Nile in Garden City. Keeping watch over this green building, we witness National Security pickups and what appear to be detainees.

Worse, though, is in store. Many of the detainees we interviewed described being tortured just across the river, here, in what's known as Al Talaja, the refrigerator. Its very name inspires terror. And yet one woman agreed to speak to us.

WIFAQ AHMED ABDULLAH, TORTURE VICTIM (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): They detained us in an abandoned building. Because we were so severely beaten, we went numb. I couldn't feel my legs and arms. The place was so cold, it felt like there were knives piercing our bodies. I only spent two days there, but they were the worst two days of my life.

TEXT: Coming in from the cold

ELBAGIR (voice-over): So why, in spite of all this, is President Trump's administration in talks to restore relations with Sudan?

This is the brutal aftermath of the terror attacks on the USS Cole and the U.S. embassies in East Africa. For years, families of victims have been seeking compensation from Sudan's government, who they believe was complicit. CNN has learned that a key requirement for talks between Sudan and the U.S. is that Sudan enter into good faith negotiations regarding compensation for victims' families.

In a statement, the U.S. State Department does not deny that talks are continuing with Sudan, or that this is ultimately about the terror claims. But says, "Relations will improve only if the Sudanese government takes steps related to human rights."

The Sudanese have shown no signs of doing so. And yet talks to improve relations continue.


HARLOW: Just remarkable. Our senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir is here with me.

The risk that you take, that you put yourself in and your crew for this, is astonishing. But so important, so we can actually see. As you note, any journalist -- that would be you -- caught reporting on this can be imprisoned and faces the death penalty.

You went. You saw. This is less than a week after Algeria's president has stepped down because of mass protests. Are we at the beginning of what you think may be a North African Spring of sorts?

ELBAGIR: There definitely feels like there's something in the air, absolutely, when you're there. And Sudan -- the president (ph) of Sudan predated Algeria, which is why this issue over the U.S.' silence is so important.

Because when the U.S. is silent, it sends a message about a certain willingness to tolerate the circumstances on the ground. When the U.S. speaks, of course, that also sends a message to those within the ruling clique (ph) that perhaps the U.S. would deal better with another government.

We have had nothing so far from the United States. Britain has spoken out. The European Union has spoken out. But the secretary of state Mike Pompeo has been silent.

[10:45:09] HARLOW: Why?

ELBAGIR: Clearly our understanding is that there are key U.S. interests at play here. For the Trump administration to be able to deliver finally some kind of justice, some kind of compensation for the families of the victims of those terror --

HARLOW: Right.

ELBAGIR: -- atrocities would be huge. But at what cost?

HARLOW: What is it like for you? You were born in Khartoum. Your parents still live there. What is it like for you personally to watch your country going through this, at the hands of an authoritarian president who's been in power for three decades? And to report on the protests that may mean the end of that presidency.

ELBAGIR: It's tough. Because as a journalist, of course, you know, every story is as important. But at the same time the reality is, I just spoke to my mother before I came on-set, and I could hear the catch in her voice because they're detonating tear gas canisters just down the road from our house.

But my mother and every single other person I speak to, every day in Sudan, is so amazingly hopeful for the first time. And I think that's why it matters, what the U.S. does and doesn't do matter. And the theory is that America First has become "America only." And countries like Sudan are feeling the consequence.

HARLOW: Nima, amazing reporting. Thank you very much to you and your team. Quick break. We'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: According to President Obama, Democrats are at risk of destroying their party's chances in the race for 2020. He is warning progressives, too much rigidity among them could lead to, quote, "a circular firing squad." No small words there, Poppy.

HARLOW: No. I mean, made a lot of headlines. He was speaking at that town hall over the weekend in Berlin. One of the Democratic candidates for president joins us now, John Delaney, former Congressman from Maryland.

Good to have you, sir. Thanks for being here.


HARLOW: So let's talk about that.


HARLOW: You heard (ph) what the president -- I think everyone has heard the former president -- because he chooses his words carefully.

DELANEY: He does.

HARLOW: He knew exactly what he was saying --

DELANEY: He does.

HARLOW: -- when he said "circular firing squad." We're shooting at ourselves --

DELANEY: Uh-huh.

HARLOW: -- as a party. That's what President Obama says. Is he right about your party?

DELANEY: He's a hundred percent right. I mean, the party has adopted this kind -- many in the party have adopted this kind of ideological purity test, which is, A, not how you get things done, right? I'm a pragmatic idealist.

We should want to get big things done, but we should show the American people how we're going to make it happen. And some of these proposals, they sound really good but they're actually not good policy. So I think Obama is spot-on.


HARLOW: But what about (ph) -- I hear what you're saying about the affordability, or lack thereof, of a Green New Deal or Medicare for all. But then you know that the biggest proponents of those -- some running for president like Senator Bernie Sanders --


HARLOW: -- proponents will say, "You have to be aspirational," right?

DELANEY: Mm-hmm.

HARLOW: You have to be aspirational. Do you feel that you, and being a moderate and a centrist on this within your party, is really where your party is right now?

DELANEY: Well, I do. I think that's where most voters are, right? I mean, I've done over 350 events in Iowa and New Hampshire, and I've spoken to a lot of voters. And what Democratic primary voters are looking for, is someone who can win and get things done.

And aspirational, look, I want to deal with climate change in a big way. I want to pass a carbon tax. I want to increase the Department of Energy research budget fivefold. I want to introduce negative emissions technologies, which are things that we actually need to take carbon out of the atmosphere.

These are very aspirational goals, right? We have to have aspirational goals but we actually have to pursue good policy, too. Medicare for all, I just fundamentally think that bill, as crafted in the Senate, is not smart health care policy. It's not that it's -- I don't want to create universal health care. I do. That's just not the best way to do it.


SCIUTTO: Congressman, I don't want to get too deep into identity politics, but you've heard this criticism as we lead to 2020, as to what is the candidate that Democratic voters are hungering for in this cycle. And is it -- in the barest (ph) terms, is it a white guy? Or do they want more diversity in that ticket, going forward? What's your answer when you hear that?

DELANEY: Well, I think the Democratic primary voters are going to nominate someone who they think is the best leader. And I think they'll define the best leader as someone who can beat Trump, someone who will restore a sense of kind of decency and a moral compass to the office of the presidency, and someone who can actually show them how we can actually make progress on some of these things.

I think increasingly, this primary will become about the politics of progress. Because we've been talking about so many of these things for so long. And I think how we make them happen is actually going to become increasingly important --


DELANEY: -- to the primary voters this cycle.

SCIUTTO: And, Poppy, it's a fair point --

HARLOW: Yes. SCIUTTO: -- because you and I talk about this in the polling, right?

That that "beat Trump" quality is the one that's consistently at the top --


SCIUTTO: -- of the list, beyond what's talked about in sort of -- you know, among the political chattering classes.

DELANEY: And you need a moderate to do it.

HARLOW: So speaking of another relatively moderate, when you look at where the party is right now --


HARLOW: -- some -- former Vice President Joe Biden, he's (ph) shown a willingness to work with Republicans, et cetera. I'm interested in how you think he has handled the controversy over actions that women -- multiple women -- have said made them feel uncomfortable.

And then sort of in jest, making a bit of a joke --


HARLOW: -- when he got on-stage at a recent event, saying, you know, "I asked permission to hug so-and-so."

DELANEY: Yes. I think -- listen, I don't want to be --

HARLOW: Is it enough? Should there be direct apologies for action?

DELANEY: Listen, I think that the vice president's statements were actually very good, what -- that he first came out with. You know, I can't speak to whether he's handled the situation perfectly or not, or whether making a joke about it was the right idea.

HARLOW: Well, would you do it?

DELANEY: I would probably not make a joke about it.


DELANEY: But I thought his statements, when he initially kind of acknowledged this and he put out a statement, I thought that statement was pretty well done. But if he was asking my opinion -- which he's not -- I wouldn't tell him to make jokes about it.

[10:55:08] HARLOW: Got it -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Just very quickly before you go, it's a tough one. How do you break through? It's a crowded field. You're not at the top of anybody's list right now.

DELANEY: Right. SCIUTTO: But you got -- you got supreme qualifications. How are you

going to break through with the message you have in what is already a very competitive race?

DELANEY: So I think it's a long race, right? As we know, the caucuses aren't happening for 10 more months. I've got a huge operation on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire. I think I got the biggest operation on the ground. I've got eight offices already open in Iowa.

And we're going to kind of do it the old-fashioned way. Talking to voters in those early states. I think the next several months is going to be about the party kind of talking about a whole bunch of things, as more and more candidates get in the race.

But my bet is, by the end of the summer to the fall, the primary voters are going to start narrowing the field down based on who's running a real campaign on the ground in those states, who's talking about how we can bring this country together and beat Donald Trump.

And that's how I'm going to break through.


SCIUTTO: John (ph) Delaney (ph), let's keep up the conversation. I'm sure we'll be talking to you again.

Well, the shake-up at the Department of Homeland Security may not be finished. More officials could be --

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- soon on their way out. CNN has its own reporting on this. Please stay with us.