Return to Transcripts main page


Admitted Terrorist Set to Walk Free in Days; April Jobs on Booming Economy Bad News for 2020 Democrat Candidates; Trump Administration Lays Out Case for Striking Down Obamacare; Working Mom's Facebook Post on Societal Pressure Goes Viral. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 3, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:31:48] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: An admitted al Qaeda terrorist, who was plotting a bomb attack on the New York City subway system, will soon walk out of prison a free name. It's a name you will remember, Najibullah Zazi, picked up in 2009 for planning what was then considered one of the most dangerous terrorist plots since 9/11. Prosecutors now say, after that, he had a complete change of heart, basically, turning on al Qaeda, turning on his friends, turning on even some of his own family to work with the government. Prosecutors say this, that, "He provided critical intelligence and unique insight regarding al Qaeda and its members." And now, the judge overseeing his case says he deserves a second chance.

Joining me right now, CNN national correspondent, Athena Jones.

Athena, we were talking about the break. So much to this, it is an extraordinary story that they detail in the court documents of how, what has all changed, they say, in his mind.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRSEPONDENT: Absolutely. And Zazi, in his own words, talking about his transformation. The judge called it a once unthinkable second chance that has now come his way.

As you said, 10 years ago, he was a would-be terrorist. He wanted to bomb the New York City subway system around the anniversary of 9/11. He was facing life in prison. Now he's getting 10 years on the three counts he pleaded guilty to in 2010. His lawyer said he could be released within days.

The reason is because of what prosecutors and this federal judge in Brooklyn called an extraordinary level of cooperation. He worked extensively with government investigators, meeting with them over 100 times, testifying in multiple trials, providing what prosecutors say, and you pointed out, is critical intelligence. He looked at photographs, helped in numerous ways. The judge called it unprecedented. Zazi himself said he tried to correct what he called "my horrific mistake" by cooperating with the government. He went over a transformation in his nine-plus years in jail. He said he got his GED and developed a new understanding of the Koran. He cites those for changing his perspective. BOLDUAN: He said he now knows the real meaning of Islam and how he was corrupted. It all started with an audio tape from Anwar al Awlaki that was actually sent to him. It's an amazing story.

JONES: Now he's completely disavowed all terrorist ideology. A full transformation.

BOLDUAN: Remarkable. Is he going to be in Witness Protection, I mean --


JONES: It seems likely. You read in the documents that he did this at great personal cost to himself. They talk about him breaking down on the stand and crying while he was testifying against a close friend, and this being a personal cost not only emotionally but to his safety

BOLDUAN: Yes, right.

JONES: -- with potential retaliation from al Qaeda. You're going to expect he'll have some kind of protection.

BOLDUAN: Athena, great to see you. Thank you so much. I'm fascinated by this. I know you are as well.

Joining me now, Paul Cruickshank, CNN terrorism analyst and editor-in- chief at the "CTC Sentinel."

The judge in the case said this is an unprecedented level of cooperation, when you see where this man began. This doesn't happen often, Paul. What do you make of this?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It doesn't happen often. It has happened in the past. We have actually seen another American al Qaeda recruit recently released from prison. He also provided very extensive cooperation. But this is a real redemption story. Zazi was responsible for the most serious terrorist plot on U.S. soil since 9/11. He and his cell were going to target multiple New York City subway lines, suicide bombings on a scale of the 2005 London bombings. He went over to the tribal areas of Pakistan where he met with senior members of al Qaeda's external attack planning apparatus. He got hands-on bomb making training in the tribal areas of Pakistan. So when he eventually started cooperating with authorities in the United States, he was literally able to draw them a map of the al Qaeda terrorist organization as it existed then in the tribal areas of Pakistan, an organization, which, at that point, was still extremely dangerous to U.S. interests. So no doubt, this could have contributed to saving lives.

[11:35:42] This is a very sort of stunning redemption story when it comes to Zazi. He does seem really genuinely contrite. He talks about how he was misled by distorted interpretations of Islam, notably Anwar al Awlaki, an American cleric who was based in Yemen --

(CROSSTALK) CRUICKSHANK: -- who was putting out a bunch of radical messages.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this. You study, you track, you study radicalization. This started with someone handing him an audiotape of Anwar al Awlaki. Is there something to learn from this? I'm kind of fascinated with the idea of, like, how -- what was it about either Najibullah Zazi or his radicalization or something that he goes to the dark side and now he's back. I mean, and also out there, what is the promise that he doesn't revert?

CRUICKSHANK: I think there's a very simple answer. He saw himself as a soldier of God. He believed -- he came to believe that the United States was at war with Islam, and he was persuaded that he needed to fight back. He even believed, not only that he would attain paradise by doing that, but he would avoid eternal damnation by doing that. What changed for him? Well, he came to understand that is not the message of Islam, not the message in the Koran. In fact, the message is the exact opposite of that. That's what changed for him. And that's why all of this useful intelligence came into the United States which, no doubt, has saved lives.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating story.

Great to see you, Paul. Thank you.

Coming up for us, historic jobs numbers. High marks on the economy. That is great news for the president. That's great news for the economy. What does it mean, though, for his 2020 challengers? I'm going to discuss that with John Kasich, next.


[11:42:10] BOLDUAN: Strong news on the U.S. economy this morning. Not just strong, historic. The unemployment rate is now the lowest it's been in nearly half a century. And the economy added 263,000 jobs in April. And it should be no surprise, in a recent CNN poll, 56 percent of Americans are approving of the way the president is handling the economy. So is this good news about the economy and good news for the president bad news for Democrats that are hoping to take him on in 2020?

Joining me now, John Kasich, former Republican governor of Ohio, presidential candidate, and CNN political commentator.

Governor, I'm very aware you are no fan of President Trump and the way he operates. But when you see job numbers like this, today, does he deserve credit?

JOHN KASICH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Of course he does. You know, I saw one of your previous guests saying, well, you know, they get too much credit when things are good and they don't take the blame. Of course, that's the way it works. But, yes, when you're creating jobs and the economy is strong, of course, you're going to get credit. The question is, though, when you take a look at the polls and you look at the surveys, it's really interesting to note that every one of these top-level Democrats is beating Donald Trump in a head-to-head by as much as 10 points or more. So for some reason, people are giving him credit for the economy, but at the same time, there's a lot of other issues swirling around where he doesn't score well. Frankly, if he all he talked about was the economy -- I mean, if I was a Trump adviser, I would say just talk about the economy, but he gets into all these other subjects and ne doesn't connect with people. Like right now, they're trying to figure out how to kill Obamacare, which means, without a replacement, you lose 20 million jobs. So --


KASICH: He deserves credit.

BOLDUAN: And actually, you bring up something really fascinating. People who are much smarter than I, this morning, made a really good point, just like you are making. His overall -- he's got 56 percent approval on the economy. His overall approval is sitting at 43 percent, below 50 percent. And I think we can all agree that with the economy going gangbusters, you would think his approval rating would be much higher than that. Do you think it is that he's just not talking about it enough? Because he's really good -- I mean, it's not like he's short on liking to brag.

KASICH: Well, I think there's a number of things going on here. First of all, there's a sense that I have a job today, but will I have one tomorrow. That's an issue I think Democrat candidates have to talk about. Because there's a sense of job insecurity. Things may be good today, but what about tomorrow? And then there's the rise of the gig economy, where people are kind of on their own out there. They're driving Uber, Lyft, or whatever, walking dogs or whatever, but they're not protected. They don't have health insurance. There's concern about that. There's concern because technology may wipe out a whole heck of a lot of the jobs that people are in now. People in the financial services industry, people who drive. You know, number-one industry in America is driving. But when autonomous vehicles come about, what happens to them? These are things companies need to think about and things people think about.

[11:45:20] But in the short term, hey, the unemployment is lower, jobs are up, give the guy credit. Give him credit where it's due.

BOLDUAN: I hear you.

KASICH: However, people are also saying, I don't like a lot of the way he does things. And we can talk about the fact that he's got 43 percent approval in your poll. That's a heck of a lot of disapproval. If I had those numbers and I was running for re-election, I would be concerned.

BOLDUAN: So OK, it's the economy, stupid. Do you think if this is what we're looking at in terms of the economy right ahead of the election, do you think it's re-election guaranteed or do you really think there's something different going on?

KASICH: No, no. Look, I mean, why do you think the Trump people and Donald Trump himself are attacking Joe Biden? They're very nervous about the fact that Biden is talking about a value system in America, what leadership at the presidential level is all about. And you know, he's

BOLDUAN: Yes, his opening argument wasn't about the economy or any issue like that.

KASICH: Right. I think there's a lot of people who look towards a president and have certain expectations. There are some people out there that he needs to go over there and break all the glass and all the china, but there's a lot of people who don't want that. They want more normalcy and they want the president to be a role model for their kids. I think they're believing they're not seeing that. And to some degree, voters are kind of baked in, in terms of their opinion of Donald Trump. And it's going to take a huge thing to get people to change their basic feelings about him.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you about Obamacare, as you mentioned, because a big part of the 2018 midterm that led to big wins for Democrats was the threat to Obamacare. I mean, I remember when I was out there, that is what Democrats who were voting against Donald Trump, that's why. It was the threat to Obamacare that the president, and they said Republicans, posed. Republicans and the president, they tried to argue during that campaign that they would protect the most popular provisions like pre-existing conditions. But now we have learned that that is not what the administration is arguing right now in federal court. They're now arguing the entire law should be struck down. And they made their first full argument in that way this week. Is there any other way to see that other than hypocrisy in terms of Obamacare?

KASICH: Well, Kate, people want to keep their health care. OK. And when somebody says we're going to take 20 million people off the rolls, that puts fear into everybody. It wasn't just Democrats who were concerned in the midterm. It was suburban women.


KASICH: Now, the Democrat proposal, which is Medicare-for-All, is, I think, it's just wacky. OK. What it means, what the details are. Look, most of the people in this country are either covered through private health insurance, like you are at CNN, or they're covered by Medicaid and Medicare. And people are not going to lose their private insurance to go to some other plan that, frankly, abolishes private health insurance. The Democrats have to be very careful. They won by opposing something. I'm not quite sure what they're saying. Although some of the candidates, I think Klobuchar, some others, maybe Hickenlooper, are talking about changes to Obamacare because it needs to be changed, but you don't throw out the whole system. When you do that, you make people very nervous. What the Republicans are doing, they're losing on health care. That's why the Senators are freaking out about the fact that Trump is saying he wants to go back into Obamacare. But Democrats have to be careful about what they propose. Because remember, the country is basically center right and center left. If you get way out there on the extremes, that's a loser.

BOLDUAN: You might win a primary, but then what does it mean for a general?

Great to see you, governor. KASICH: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Thanks for coming in.

KASICH: Always a pleasure, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

KASICH: I was shorter today in my answers. Give me credit.

BOLDUAN: I didn't even know what to do. I was waiting. I didn't even have enough questions for us today. This is crazy. All right, next time.

See you later.

KASICH: All right.

[11:49:09] BOLDUAN: Coming up, a working mom sits down and sounds off, gets some stuff off her chest on Facebook. She didn't expect that she would be speaking to tens of thousands of people. The woman who took on society's expectations and why it went viral. She joins me next.


BOLDUAN: In many parts of the world, the everyday facts of menstruation is still considered taboo and this has a big impact on what girls and young women can achieve. This week's "CNN Hero" struggled with this very thing growing in Ethiopia and now she's designed a solution and is changing her country's culture.


UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: In Ethiopia, most women and girls do not have access to sanitary pads. Many girls stay at home during their period. They are scared and ashamed. Half of the population is dealing with this issue, but no one is willing to talk about it.

I knew that I have to make a product that helped these women and girls to get on with their lives.


All I want is to have all girls to have dignity, period.


BOLDUAN: To see more about how this week's "CNN Hero" is empowering women or to nominate your own "CNN Hero," go to right now.

A working mom with three kids from Massachusetts has gone viral. Why? Well, she took on society's expectations of working moms, and she took it on head on. In a 1,000-word Facebook post, entitled, "Society to Working Moms," it clearly resonated. It has been shared 70,000 times, and I think it's only going to continue.

Let me read just some of the highlights that I picked up: "Lose that baby weight. Get back in shape as quickly and as gracefully as possible. Make sure to get eight hours of sleep a night so you can work,, work out and care for your family. But also, get up at 5:00 a.m. to work out unless you want to do it after your kids go to bed when you also need to clean to clean the house and get life ready for the next day and, you know, sleep. Also, ensure the kids are learning to swim, play an instrument, read, ride a bike, be a good human, eat vegetables, wear sunscreen, drink enough water, say please and thank you. And don't forget they need to dress at their favorite book character on Monday and wear something yellow on Thursday. Oh, it's totally your call, but most parents come in on their birthday and read to the entire class. And don't forget the kids need healthy meals that require meal planning, grocery shopping and meal prep on the weekend. But also hang out with your kids on the weekend." She ends up saying, "Remember, these are the good times."

[11:55:30] Joining me right now is the working mom behind this viral post, Sarah Buckley Friedberg.

Sarah, thanks so much for being here.


BOLDUAN: Thank you.

It resonated with me and it resonated with a lot of people. Why did you decide to speak out? What was the, I don't know, the last straw for you?

FRIEDBERG: You know, it wasn't planned. I wasn't sitting down to, you know, write this post that everyone would, hopefully, you know, resonate with. I had kind of a tough day, and I had all of these things which I think many working moms do running through my head that I was trying to keep going and I sort of kind of just vented about it on my Facebook page.

BOLDUAN: Why do you think it resonated with so many people? You weren't planning to go viral. No one I guess really does plan to go viral. But why do you think it resonated?

FRIEDBERG: I think so many people who are trying to keep it all together, keep the kids together, keep their job together have sort of that similar running list, and it's always in the back of your mind. And you always, you know, you might be at school our might be at work, but you're thinking, oh, you know, we have that birthday party coming up, and we've got to cancel the piano lesson or all of these things. And I think just that sort of situation really resonated with a lot of other people who are in a similar place right now.

BOLDUAN: And as with -- and I will say, when I was reading it, it is also -- it's not -- you're not taking -- you're not speaking out against dads. You're not speaking against moms who stay at home. You're not speaking out against anybody who makes a different decision or has a different circumstance. You were just speaking out for yourself, but as with anything if you speak out publicly on an issue you get some pushback. People were saying, like, this is all about choices. You decided to have three kids. You decided to work outside of the home. I mean, what do you say to that?

FRIEDBERG: I mean, again, yes, it wasn't specifically about, you know, my husband or my job or my choices. We did make choices and we love those choices. Even when you make choices that you love, you're allowed to have days that are hard. And I think anyone who has any number of kids or even no kids and has a high-powered career and there are days that are hard. You're allowed to have hard days. It doesn't mean you're complaining about the life and you don't like the life choices that you made. I think women should be able to have children and a career and we need to figure out a way to make that work better.

BOLDUAN: And just cut each other a little bit of slack once in a while.

If taking on the world and crushing society's expectations, which I know was the ultimate goal -- kidding. What are you hoping that people are getting from this post, and I would say this important conversation that's been sparked from it?

FRIEDBERG: Yes. I mean, think, first, just having the conversation that it is hard and we're not all getting it done every day. We have to prioritize. Some things aren't getting done. Some things aren't getting done great, but to hear that other people are doing the same thing, that not everyone is doing perfectly. I feel like let's everyone know you're doing OK. It's fine that your kid forgot to wear yellow on Wednesday. You know, what maybe you donated money instead of showing up to big food for the teacher appreciation. You're still helping out. We can't get it all done. And just having more working moms talk about those items so we all know, you know, it's not always the shiny Pinterest-worthy things we tend to post for the outside world to see. You know, hey, it's tough sometimes, and we should talk about that more.

BOLDUAN: It's messy but it's still good. I'll leave everybody with the time line of your piece: "I don't know but, but I'm ready to lean out. Thanks for coming to my TED talk."

I think you actually had a great TED talk.

Sarah, great to meet you. Thanks for come on.

FRIEDBERG: Thanks so much. Thanks for having me on.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. Thanks for being real. Making me feel a little bit better about my mess when I've got my mess rolling around. Appreciate it.

There's also this. And this is an important story and a follow-up that we wanted to tell you about. The family of a Chinese student is now responding to claims that they paid $6.5 million -- I read that correctly -- to the man at the center of that massive college admissions scandal to get their daughter into Stanford. The mother claims that the money was a donation to help others, not buy her daughter's admission. They say that she was seeking college advisory services from William Singer, the guy at the center of this, because they were not familiar with the admissions processes for college in the United States. Interestingly enough, the family have not been charged but 50 people have been charged, remember, in the scandal, including Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. A fascinating update of a story we'll continue to cover.

Thank you guys so much for joining me this week.

[12:00:06] "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.