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Attempted Coup Underway In Venezuela; Top Democrats Will Meet With Donald Trump On Infrastructure As Tensions Build Over Ongoing Investigations; Joe Biden Opens Commanding Lead Over Democratic Field. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 30, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


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[10:00:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: I'm Jim Sciutto. We begin this hour with breaking news. Have a listen.

That is the sound of automatic gunfire on the streets of Caracas, Venezuela, an attempted coup under way right now in Venezuela. Live gunfire heard there at an Air Force base in the capital, Caracas. This morning, a spokesman for President Nicolas Maduro claimed the situation is under control. However, Juan Guaido, the opposition leader, says that he has members of the Venezuelan military in this video you see here backing him and calling for the people, his supporters, to take to the streets for the final phase of what he is calling Operation Liberty.

His supporters gathered at that Air Force base where those clashes began with forces still loyal to Maduro. Both Maduro and Guaido are claiming support of some of Venezuela's military. And keep in mind, the U.S. is expressing public support now for the people battling the government there. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the National Security Adviser, John Bolton, as well as the Vice President, Mike Pence, all saying, we are with you.

Joining me now is the journalist, Stefano Pozzebon, as well as CNN Senior International Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh.

First, to Stefano, you were on the ground there. Tell us what you're seeing this hour.

STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, we're seeing tense moments of tension between forces still loyal with Nicolas Maduro who are inside key military air base of like in the heart of Caracas, and several opposition protesters who with their faces masked, they especially (ph) are throwing cocktails of Molotov and rocks.

These military forces are still loyal to President Nicolas Maduro are firing back with rubber bullets and tear gas. The whole atmosphere here is in very very volatile, very, very tense, and with the smell of tear gas pervading all over the area. A few minutes ago, Jim, we're seeing a moment of how -- when live shots were fired on both sides of the confrontation because some members of the National Guard have effectively defected against Nicolas Maduro and have joined the side of the opposition. And they're saying that they are here to stay as long as needed, until Nicolas Maduro finally, one day, resigns, Jim.

SCIUTTO: This is a remarkable development here. Members of the military, as Stefano was saying there, who have defected, who are supporting the opposition leader and prepared to fight to show that support.

Now, before I let you go, Stefano, because I want you to be safe, have you witnessed any victims of the violence so far? Some of these images, they look like the middle of a firefight in a war zone. Have you seen anyone injured or killed in the gunfire?

POZZEBON: We haven't seen anyone in terms of the live ammunition. We're seeing around the scenes, for what is now a couple of hours and definitely a lot of people affected by the tear gas. Some people are struggling to breathe, people with tears in their eyes and a lot of people affected. Paramedics are treating those who are affected. We haven't seen anyone injured and we can see nobody has been injured by those intense live ammunition exchanges. But the situation here, Jim, remains very, very volatile.

SCIUTTO: Listen, my friend, take cover. When it's volatile, it's dangerous. Please stay safe.

[10:05:00]

We also have Nick Paton Walsh. He spent a lot of time on the ground there as well. Nick, as you know, this has been building for some time. Juan Guaido publicly openly opposing the government of Maduro, claiming to be the rightful leader here, but this is a step he now says he has members of the military loyalty here. He's calling for an armed coup in effect. Do we know what led to Guaido to call for that today?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Guaido movement has, at times, been kind of clumsy, unable to get its hands on the leaves of power. But other times, it's shown remarkable planning and deftness. And this is certainly one of those occasions, startling, really.

Many were wondering whether or not tomorrow is May the 1st protest across the nation would actually get that people on the streets. The international support for Juan Guaido were being there, they're being consistent, that they're being loud, but they hadn't really move the needle inside Venezuela. He was still a very popular figure on social media, very good at using Instagram and Twitter, but not necessarily getting much luck persuading those around Maduro, corrupt, as the U.S. accuses them of being, of changing their mind.

This morning, something staggering, I have to say, changed. Now, we've heard rumors, rumbling, that maybe something was coming on May the 1st that was unprecedented. But to see him stand there, he said, inside a military base, a filming took place in the early hours of the morning, hard to tell, flanked by dozens of men in Venezuela military uniform. They seem to be National Guard men, with armored vehicles behind them.

And most importantly, to one of his sides, a key opposition leader, his predecessor, really, at the opposition movement, who was supposed to be under house arrest, under government custody, in fact, freed. Nobody quite knows how. He said he got assistance. Freed and then allowed to stand next to him as he made his proclamation of the need for operation freedom to come to an end. That was something completely new. That suggested organization and a public show of defiance by the military inside Venezuela the scale of which we hadn't really seen before, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Listen, and with an uncertain outcome at this point, we're going to stay on top of this. Nick Paton Walsh, please don't go far.

The reaction here in the U.S. has been very public, and very uniform. Vice president Mike Pence Tweeting to the people of Venezuela, we are with you. National Security Adviser John Bolton, he's going to brief the President on the attempted coup. He has also publicly come out in support for this coup, in effect, against the government, as has the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Let's speak to national security reporter Kylie Atwood.

Kylie, I don't think we can underemphasize that the U.S., as an armed coup is under way here, is expressing public support for the armed coup attempters here. What is behind that U.S. policy decision and do we know if the U.S. is providing any support to Guaido on the ground?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right, Jim. We have seen the swift to support from the Trump administration this morning, immediately as these reports came out that Guaido was engaging in a military-backed coup. We heard from Vice President, as you referenced. He tweeted just moments ago, I want to read that Tweet to you. To Juan Guaido, the national assembly and all the freedom loving people of Venezuela who are taking to the streets today, in Operation Libertad, Estamos Con Ustedes. We are with you. America will stand with you until freedom and democracy are restored.

We also got a Tweet this morning from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a similar sentiment to him. I want to read that as well. Saying, today, Interim President Juan Guaido announced start of Operation Libertad. The U.S. government fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy. Democracy cannot be defeated.

We also heard from National Security Adviser John Bolton this morning encouraging the National Assembly to -- sorry, the National Army to stand with the National Assembly, basically saying that these military leaders need to get on the side of Guaido and stop backing Maduro.

Now, the U.S. has been pushing for this for a while, but they've been doing it with sanctions. Just last week, we saw the U.S. sanction the Venezuelan Foreign Minister. That was the latest in a number of sanctions. But I also want to point out that this is a policy in the U.S. that has been backed largely by Senator Marco Rubio.

And if you watch his Twitter feed today, it's much like our own feed that we're getting here, Jim. It is a live account of what's happening on the ground. He is pulling on what he is seeing, the reports that he is seeing, and he's encouraging the National Army to say this is a day, he said, when they can right history in the hours and days ahead, really encouraging them to carry on with this coup.

SCIUTTO: The U.S. publicly supported an attempted armed coup under way in Venezuela.

[10:10:03]

Kylie Atwood, thanks very much.

Joining us now is Geoff Ramsey. He's Assistant Director for Venezuela for the Washington Office on Latin America. And, Geoff, put into context for us the significance of U.S. support for this armed coup here. I suppose it's one thing to support an opposition leader, Juan Guaido, as the U.S. has done very publicly to this point, but now, there's gunfire on the streets of Caracas, military on military here. The military split, apparently. What is the U.S. end game here?

GEOFF RAMSEY, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR VENEZUELA - WASHINGTON: Yeah, well, you know, I think first it's important to clarify that the (INAUDIBLE) has so far been really heavy on optics (ph) and very light on substance. Yes, it's (INAUDIBLE) that we've seen yet another group of low-level, low-ranking Venezuelan military figures come out in support of Juan Guaido, but as has been the case for the last few months, the generals, the higher ups in the armed forces, remain with Maduro. And so I don't think this is really changing the equation.

So far, as the reporter on the ground made clear, no reports of injuries or even necessarily continued gunfire between both camps. I mean, this really is now of a gathering of more civilians. It looks like it's increasingly becoming what we have been seeing for the last three months, a large gathering of Venezuelan people calling for Maduro's ouster and not really developing into any kind of internal conflict.

SCIUTTO: What is the significance of the fact that the U.S. is on one side of this battle and Russia on the other? Russia, of course, backing the government of Nicolas Maduro. They have landed nuclear capable bombers in Venezuela, that they have sent uniformed troops to Venezuela. How much of a dangerous flash point is it between the U.S. and Russia?

RAMSEY: Well, I think precisely because Russia has troop presence on the ground, the U.S. is keenly aware of that, and they're very much looking to avoid any combat, external military intervention. This is why the policy of the U.S. government for the last several months has been to stir divisions between the Venezuelan military and encourage some kind of internal uprising.

And so far, they have failed in a meaningful scale. I don't think that today was going to change the equation. But what I am hopeful is that today is going to scare both sides, both the government and opposition, into realizing that the military-led foundation could be a violent, bloody, and destabilizing. And I actually believe we are much more likely to see some kind of negotiated solution come out of this.

SCIUTTO: Well, we will watch it very closely. We should note that the President, at least, has been very public about discussing military options for Venezuela. Listen, it's a story, and you can see these are live pictures there, a group of demonstrators fleeing. They have been there for some time. We're not sure what is leading to this. There have been prior sounds of automatic gunfire. Certainly, and you can still see some of the clouds of the tear gas there as well, the possibility of security forces moving in against these protesters here. We're going to continue to stay on top of the story. Geoff Ramsey, thanks very much for helping walk us through it.

In just minutes, Senator Chuck Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi will meet with the President over infrastructure, but could another I word, investigations, steal the spotlight?

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[10:15:00]

SCIUTTO: A high-stakes meeting at the White House begins just moments from now. Some of the top -- some of the same top democrats digging into President Trump's money and administration are now looking to work with him, if they can, to fix failing roads and bridges.

Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill. So, Phil, what chances do they have to find common ground here in the midst of this battle over investigations?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think the big question is can they compartmentalize. When they say, they, I mean both house democrats and the White House. When you talk to house democratic leaders, they have made clear that when it comes to legislating on issues like infrastructure or the price of pharmaceuticals, that they are willing to work with the White House if there is common ground from the side of the White House obviously in keeping on a separate track with their investigations.

I think this is a really big test. When you look at the structure of this meeting, there were no congressional republicans invited. It's not just Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. It's all of their committee chairs plus some other top leadership as well. When we talk to democrats here, they took that as a sign that perhaps this would be a serious meeting.

And on the issue itself, Jim, you know as well, as anybody, infrastructure is always this idea that could get a bipartisanship agreement that never actually comes to fruition. This is something that the President has talked to Nancy Pelosi about in private over the phone. He has talked to the Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Richard Neal, who happens to be asking for the President's taxes about as well. So there's some hope that this might be the start of something, there's some hope that this might be the issue that if there's any bipartisan agreement they can actually get to. But the reality remains what democrats want on this, particularly the size of the package, more than a trillion dollars, how they would pay for that package, some type of increase in taxes, those are going to be difficult to reconcile, so we'll just have to see how this goes.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching. A chance for fireworks always. Phil Mattingly thanks very much.

CNN Contributor, Bianna Golodryga, joins me now. So remember the last time they got together. And Trump has said in the past, I can work with Chuck.

[10:20:00]

He knows him from New York, et cetera. But last time, they got into an open battle in the Oval Office. Now, you've got democrats investigating what's going to happen. Is there any potential?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the last time led to the government shutdown, right? It was just a few weeks prior to that. On the one hand, you hear reports constantly if there's one person the President really respects among democrats, that's Nancy Pelosi. She has been adamant about wanting to compartmentalize and to focus on getting stuff done. She's getting internal pressure from her own party constituents about following forward on impeachment. She's saying we're not there yet. She wants to focus on infrastructure. The question is will the President be able to focus on just that as opposed to venting about what else is happening.

SCIUTTO: So if Nancy and Chuck may be able to compartmentalize, can the President compartmentalize and say, yes, let's set aside the investigations and work on something policy-related here?

GOLODRYGA: Perhaps. But then, as Phil mentioned, there's the dollar sign that's attached to this too. And they are nowhere near even meeting in the middle. You've got democrats saying they're looking at $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion deal. The President in his most recent budget proposal said maybe $200 billion for infrastructure, the rest from a public/private partnership. And the democrats aren't going to say yes.

SCIUTTO: Right, that's the big difference there, is it cash or is it some sort of -- something that they would portray as sort of a handout to businesses, right, as opposed to a government-backed plan.

Let me ask you this, because the politics for democrats here are difficult, because on the one hand, yes, they need to show something more than just we investigated the President, having just won over control of the House. On the other hand, I'm sure there are parts of their base that do not want them to work with the President at all. How do they balance -- which wins out?

GOLODRYGA: Well, especially when the President is stonewalling, right? When their tactic is playing to his base, and that's always been playing to, and that is I'm not going to give in anymore, I'm not going to cooperate. This is all a witch hunt. I participated and cooperated, as far as he says with the Mueller investigation. So you have democrats saying we have no other choice. We're trying to do our constitutional duty. The President is not allowing that to happen.

However, you have Nancy Pelosi also hearing from other democrats, more moderate democrats, saying our constituents aren't talking about the Mueller report, they are not talking about the President's taxes. They're talking about healthcare, they're talking about getting food on the table.

SCIUTTO: And CNN has a new poll today, and we found that, and, again, listening to issues like climate change, gun control, well above the issue of impeachment, for example.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, he made a point about infrastructure, which I thought was telling. He said, we're talking about an infrastructure bill of construction for generations to come in the future and we can't solve the current disaster bill, which is something that needs to be funded right now. I mean, a much lower hanging fruit can't get that through for a whole host of reasons. Is this a bridge too far?

GOLODRYGA: Well, I mean, you talked about Puerto Rico, right? We still can't get disaster funding for there. You have millions of Americans constantly crying that they need help for infrastructure, for bridges, for airports and what have you. This has been a longstanding issue that, as Phil said, at least on paper, has bipartisan support, but there's a lot of personal animus there. And we'll see if the two can put their differences aside and work together for a common good.

SCIUTTO: We will see. It will be a moment to watch in a few moments in the Oval Office. Bianna Golodryga, thanks very much.

When we come back, brand-new CNN polling on the democratic presidential race, it is Joe Biden. And if you look hard enough, everybody else well behind him.

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[10:25:00]

SCIUTTO: Officially declaring his candidacy was apparently a boon to Joe Biden's presidential ambitions. He was leading the democratic field already. But now, look at these numbers. Less than a week after formerly entering a crowded race, the former Vice President draws more than twice the support of his nearest opponent, Bernie Sanders, who, in turn, draws roughly twice the support of a group of candidates essentially tied for third, and most of them there, as you could see, in single digits.

And if anybody wondered whether Biden would embrace the legacy of the president he served or downplay it, wonder no more. The former V.P. used Barack Obama's speech praising Biden in 2017 to narrate a brand new campaign ad.

Let's go to CNN Political Director David Chalian now. David, just really remarkable numbers for Joe Biden. He was already leading. Now, he's leading by a long shot, and, really, among all groups, democrats, independents, non-white voters as well.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, across the board. You're absolutely right. And this is the Biden bump, as you said. This is our first national poll taken entirely after Biden got into the race.

Let's look at the movement from last month to this month. You were showing those numbers that 39 percent, he was at 28 percent last month, Jim, a jump of 11 points there. The only other candidate to make that kind of movement was Pete Buttigieg, who went from 1 percent to 7 percent, but Sanders went down a little bit, O'Rourke and Harris down from double digits to single digits. So, clearly, Biden does have a commanding lead at the moment.

This is a snapshot, I say that because look at this. Nearly two thirds of the democratic electorate says they still might change their mind in this poll. Only 36 percent say they definitely support the candidate they're with now. Even a majority of Biden supporters say they might change their mind.

And I also want to show you something we found here in terms of asking people, okay, you told us who you want to support. Who do you want to hear more about? I find this so interesting, Jim.

[10:30:00]

23 percent say they want to hear more about Kamala Harris. She leads in this question. 20 percent about Elizabeth Warren, 19, Biden, Buttigieg, Booker and O'Rourke round at that top six.