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U.S. Withdraws From Nuclear Treaty With Russia; U.S Prepares To Withdraw Thousands Of Troops From Afghanistan; Trump says, something is probably happening in Hong Kong but they don't need advice; Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) Maryland Says, I Scared Intruder Away With My Voice; Biden Surprised By Criticism Of Obama Policies In Debate; Rep. Will Hurd (R) Texas Not Running For Re-Election. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 2, 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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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

It has been quite a week and there is a lot of news this morning. New this morning, the U.S. pulling out of the decades' long nuclear treaty with Russia. Overnight, the U.S. formally withdrew from the 32-year- old intermediate-range missile treaty or the INF Treaty. Now, there is just one active treaty between the world's two greatest nuclear powers and that, by the way, expires, as Jim aptly points out, in 2021.

So Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Tweeting this morning that Russia bears sole responsibility for this. A senior official says the U.S. has already put in plans to test a missile that was, Jim, banned under the treaty.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It kept the peace in Europe for decades, that treaty.

Meantime, sources tell CNN the U.S. is preparing to draw back thousands of troops from the location of its longest war, Afghanistan, amid peace talks with the Taliban. Those troops could return home in the coming months. The President has said he wants it to happen before the election. Negotiations come in the wake of the deaths of two more U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan just this week. There they are, Private First Class Brandon Jay Kreischer and Specialist Michael Isaiah Nance. 15 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan this year when they're still at war.

But let's begin with the official U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty. CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr joins us now.

So, Barbara, what this brings forward is the redeployment of dangerous nuclear missiles in Europe?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is possible. The U.S. now beginning the very earliest stage of its own missile program to match what the Russians are doing by their deployment of battalions of intermediate-range missiles.

So what do we mean by intermediate? These are missiles the Russians have staged in their regions that could reach into Europe and in a conflict could target European cities, airports, infrastructure, military targets, civilian targets, anything that might make it difficult for Europe to defend itself, and perhaps even more importantly, make it difficult for the U.S. to defend and reinforce Europe, make it difficult for U.S. troops to get to those ports and airfields. This, of course, in the most dire of conflicts.

So the U.S. wants to match that. If the Russians are going to put missiles in Europe on the flank, on the eastern flank of Europe now that could possibly do it, the U.S. wants to have at least a program that is possible.

Now, today, the Secretary General of NATO is saying, you know, don't look for new missiles in Europe. NATO doesn't want an arms race. But the bottom line fact is the Russians are not backing off. They are keeping these missiles and it certainly does portend, perhaps, the new superpower confrontation. Jim, Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Only one remaining nuclear treaty between those powers, new start expires in 2021 sets up a remarkable sobering possibility of no nuclear treaties in a couple of years. Barbara Starr, thanks for following the story.

Now, to a major development in America's longest running war ever. CNN has learned that the U.S. is preparing for a dramatic troop reduction in Afghanistan, hoping to bring home thousands of service members in the coming months.

HARLOW: Kylie Atwood is in Washington. She has the details. We're learning a lot more about this troop reduction, but also about personnel, and I believe the biggest U.S. Embassy in the world.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's exactly right, Poppy. The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan is by far the largest embassy in the world. And as we are the first to report today, the Trump administration is in the midst of drawing down the personnel at that embassy with the goal of reducing the number of folks who are there by 50 percent by the end of September.

Now, there are still a number of checks and balances they need to go through with Congress to finish this. But they are well on their way towards that goal. And the State Department telling me that this is part of the Trump administration's effort to end the war in Afghanistan, but also adding that they are not carrying out these cuts in a haircut way.

[10:05:08]

It's not evenly cut across the board. They are really taking into consideration where they can make cuts and where they need to maintain a presence. They are not going to completely leave this embassy in Afghanistan.

But the other news today that we are learning is that as the U.S. goes into another round of talks with the Taliban, they are hoping that a deal will be reached and they'll be able to pave the way to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from approximately 14,000 to approximately 8,000 to 9,000. That's a significant reduction. And we always have known that Ambassador Khalilzad, who is leading these negotiations, has talked to the Taliban about reducing U.S. troops.

But what we are learning now is that there are some numbers that have been put on the board and U.S. officials have discussed those numbers with Afghan government officials as well.

HARLOW: Okay. Kylie Atwood, great reporting on the embassy stuff, very important. we appreciate it.

Let's talk big picture about these developments and bring in retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, along with Sam Vinograd, former Senior Adviser to the National Security Adviser under President Obama. Thank you both for being here. We need your expertise on this morning.

And, Sam, let me just begin with you, because when you were in the Obama administration, you guys were assessing and addressing the fact that Russia was violating the INF then. But the calculation of the Obama administration was not to pull out. So talk to us about what those conversations were like and why that decision was made versus this move by the Trump administration.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Poppy, that's exactly right. Russia's non-compliance with the INF Treaty is nothing new. We've had detailed intelligence on their abuse of this international agreement among others for years.

What we've seen is the Trump Administration make a cost/benefit calculation that it is better to violate the agreement and to begin testing and potentially deploying missiles that would allow us not to lose some kind of competitive edge to Russia, as they've been violating this agreement.

My issue is not really just with the withdrawal from the treaty itself, which NATO had supported, but rather with the fact that we have no realistic way to negotiate a new agreement. We've withdrawn and it is unrealistic to think that we will be able to negotiate a new agreement that would limit the deployment and development of these missiles.

And what we're seeing is the nuking of the non-proliferation architecture across the world. President Trump is presiding over arms getting out of control rather than arms control agreements, whether it comes to Russia, North Korea or even Iran.

SCIUTTO: Yes, he is the aspiration of three-party talks between the U.S., Russia and China to reduce those weapons. The question is how can he realistically get there. Admiral John Kirby, let's talk about Afghanistan, America's longest war. Negotiating a peace agreement with the Taliban, which, of course, were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops there, thousands of Afghan civilians and security forces and the President laying out an election influence timeline, it seems, to have those troops out by 2020. Is it smart to negotiate with the Taliban? Can you make a deal with them? And is that a smart timeline to follow?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think we have no choice but to negotiate with the Taliban, and we did this in the Obama administration too. I mean, in order to find a peaceful end to this war, you've got to sit down with the Taliban.

The difference is, Jim, that they're making very little effort to include the Afghan government. Now, the President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah have supported these talks between the U.S. and Taliban but they need to be a party to this as well sooner than later. It looks like they're relatively supportive of this troop drawdown. But you cannot trust the Taliban just at face value.

And so what worries me about this agreement is that we are conceding, we are agreeing to pull troops out without anything tangible and credible coming from the Taliban in return right now.

Now, we have to keep it in perspective. We're going down to 8,000 to 9,000 troops, which is about what President Obama left in Afghanistan when he left office.

HARLOW: Sam, what's your read this morning? I do think it's interesting too because we heard a number of the democratic candidates when they were asked this on the debate stage, including Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has served, saying that he would pull out, you know, completely within a year.

VINOGRAD: Yes. It was one rare area of agreement on the debate stage the other night . And to Admiral Kirby's point, we negotiated with the Taliban under President Obama. But there was one key difference. We relied on intelligence under the Obama administration to ascertain whether parties to negotiations could be trusted, whether they could be taken at their world. And that intelligence really drove the interactions that we had with rival parties or negotiating powers.

What we've learned under this administration is that the President really operates based more on political or personal needs rather than what the intelligence shows.

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I think it should be a goal for all of us to withdraw U.S. troops down to a more reasonable level and to draw down embassy personnel. We have separate reporting that the State Department is reviewing how many personnel are stationed overseas that are in the embassy in Afghanistan, the largest in the world. I served in Iraq at the height of the war when we had such a large presence on the ground. And so my question is, really, what intelligence is driving these reviews, whether it be on the troop withdraws or on diplomatic personnel.

SCIUTTO: Yes, is it intelligence or is it politics.

I want to ask you a final question. Admiral Kirby, as you're aware, there have been continuing protests in Hong Kong. Millions of people taking part in these protests for democracy, for more of a right to choose their leaders, concerned about Chinese influence there.

So the President was asked about this, really remarkable comments from a sitting U.S. President. I want you to have a listen to them and then get your reaction.

KIRBY: Sure.

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DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: -- is probably happening with Hong Kong, because when you look at, you know, what's going on, they've had riots for a long period of time and I don't know what China's attitude is. Somebody said that at some point, they're going to want to stop that. But that's between Hong Kong and that's between China, because Hong Kong is a part of China. They'll have to deal with that themselves. They don't need advice.

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SCIUTTO: In fact, they're not riots. Riots are words that the Chinese government have used. They've been largely peaceful protests. Did the President just invite China to crack down on those protests?

KIRBY: He certainly didn't do anything to disincentivize them from taking action and potentially even more forceful, even militaristic action in Hong Kong.

I mean, what we needed the Commander-in-Chief to say right there is that we stand up for democratic principles. We understand the rights of these citizens to protest and what they're after. And we would ask China to use diplomacy and to use measured methods of trying to find a peaceful solution here. You need a president that's going to stand up for basic civic and human rights even he's not being bombastic about it.

That what he just said there was basically just giving them carte blanche to do what they want and they know the United States isn't going to intervene in any way.

SCIUTTO: That's -- I lived there for five years. I know a lot of people taking part in those protests. They are not rioters. Samantha Vinograd, Rear Admiral John Kirby, always good to have you on.

Still to come, several democratic candidates back on the campaign trail. The criticism many of them leveled at the Obama administration has, not surprisingly, caught the eye of President Trump. HARLOW: That's right. And China threatening to retaliate after the President announces a new round of tariffs, and these could hit consumers the hardest. This essentially means all goods from China to this country will now be taxed.

And democrats on the Hill vowing to derail the President's pick to become the Director of National Intelligence, this as questions mount about his resume and experience.

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HARLOW: All right, this just into CNN. Congressman Elijah Cummings says he scared off an intruder who tried to break into his Baltimore home. Let me read you part of the statement where Cummings says, his security team went off Saturday morning and he yelled at the person trying to get into his home. That scared the person away before they were able to access the residence. Of course, Elijah Cummings, a long time serving Congress member, Head of the House Oversight Committee. He then called the police.

I should note this happened, this break-in, before President Trump spent days attacking Cummings and his Baltimore district. After news of the break-in this morning, the President wrote on Twitter, quote, really bad news, the Baltimore house of Elijah Cummings was robbed. Too bad, exclamation point.

SCIUTTO: I don't know that that Tweet was dripping with sincerity. To another story we're following, Joe Biden says that he's surprised at all the criticism his 2020 foes had for the Obama presidency during the presidential debates, and President Trump in his Ohio rally last night seemed to agree. Have a listen.

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TRUMP: I was watching the so-called debate last night and I also watched the night before. That was long, long television. And the democrats spent more time attacking Barack Obama than they did attacking me, practically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Joining us now, CNN's Rebecca Buck. CNN has reporting that President Obama himself was not pleased by the criticism of some of the democrats. What are you learning?

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, that's right, Jim. As you know, Obama has been trying to stay out of this primary as much as possible, keeping quiet and not making any endorsements, even with his former Vice President in the race.

But privately, Obama, our CNN colleagues are reporting, is expressing exasperation and how far left the party is moving on some policy issues and, of course, breaking with some of the things he did when he was president. Now, of course primaries are all about the legacy of the last president, where the party is moving and it's no secret that the Democratic Party right now has been moving far to the left policy-wise relative to the Obama administration.

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And it is for many of these candidates a balancing act, because Joe Biden, of course, is running essentially as a third term of President Obama.

But a lot of these other democratic candidates look at 2016 when Hillary Clinton was running as a third Obama term and lost to President Trump and they see this as more of a balancing act. How can they embrace President Obama, who remains very popular personally among many democrats, while also charting a new course forward for the party, taking a more progressive direction? And that's what we've seen from many of the other candidates, Jim.

HARLOW: Rebecca Buck, that's true. Thank you very much.

Let's talk about this with Tiffany Cross, co-Founder and Managing Editor of the Beat D.C., and Seung Min Kim, White House Reporter for The Washington Post. Good morning, ladies.

Tiffany, let me begin with you. Let's listen to Joe Biden on this.

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JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I must tell you, I was a little surprised at how much incoming was about Barack, about the President. I mean, I'm proud of having served with him. I'm proud of the job he did. I don't think there's anything he has to apologize for and I think, you know, it kind of surprised me the degree of the criticism.

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HARLOW: So, Tiffany, he says it surprised him. I just wonder if you understand the calculus by so many democrats on stage to go after such a popular former president.

TIFFANY CROSS, CO-FOUNDER AND MANAGING EDITOR, BEAT D.C.: Well, I mean, again, we're taking Donald Trump's word and not argue that Donald Trump has spent more time criticizing Barack Obama than he has learning how to govern.

HARLOW: No, no, no. I'm not taking Donald Trump's word. I watched the debate. I saw them, you know?

CROSS: Fair enough, yes. I'm just saying that sometimes Donald Trump has the tendency to push the news line instead of the actual policy that people are targeting, and I think that's, you know, bigger part of the discussion. And part of that is the two buckets that people were criticizing was the Obama administration's stance on immigration, as well as his signature legislation, the ACA, the Obamacare. So I think the challenge here, honestly, Poppy, is that you have these two factions of voters and there are a lot of younger voters. And so for those of us who might be a little older, we knew what a huge feat it was to get the ACA passed. We knew what a huge accomplishment it was to even get Barack Obama elected.

But then when you have people who were nine and ten years old at the time Obama came in office and they witnessed some of these things that the Obama administration accomplished, that's their floor, not their ceiling.

And so they're looking at this like, yes, let's go hard or go home, let's push further. And they don't mind criticizing the Obama administration for where they started because there is not so much that they did bad work but they're saying there's room to grow. There's a further space for us to grow.

And I don't think that's necessarily bad. This is a healthy generational shift that's happening within the party. It's not a bad thing to debate this policy and I don't think it's a personal attack on the President by any means.

SCIUTTO: But you hear a lot of democrats, I speak to them, they're nervous about this. They say we lost in 2016, we move further left, we're going to lose again. And, Seung Min, it's been interesting to watch because some of the candidates who took part in those debates and took part in that criticism, Booker, Harris, Gillibrand, Castro, they've been walking back some of that criticism. And I wonder how deep the concerns are within the party that this may please the left part of the base but not win an election?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that is certainly a deep concern and I think that is concern that is a concern that's going to persist even as just -- even as the primary season goes on, because some of the positions that some of the candidates are taking on issues, such as immigration and healthcare, are -- republicans are eagerly seizing on that already by saying, look, most of the country does not support decriminalizing border crossings, most of the country do not support a single payer government-run healthcare system. So it's really going to be a balancing task for the rest of the democratic candidates in the field to appeal to the court of the party, but to also a general electorate.

And I would add, Tiffany pointed out the two biggest areas where the Obama legacy was scrutinized over the debate on immigration and healthcare. But I would actually also point out trade as well because it was not as well noticed, but former Vice President Biden actually distanced himself from the trans-Pacific partnership during the second night of the debates, saying, I would not re-enter that deal until it was renegotiated. And that reminded me how Hillary Clinton had to -- she had called the TPP the gold standard of trade deals. And in her primary with Bernie Sanders, she had to disavow it as well.

HARLOW: I remember that like it was yesterday. It's a good point.

Guys, I would like to turn the page and talk about Will Hurd, the only African-American republican in the House, will not seek re-election, Tiffany. To put it in context, let's listen to what he told our Christiane Amanpour just two weeks ago.

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REP. WILL HURD (D-TX): I'm the only black republican in the House of Representatives. I go into communities that most republicans don't show up in order to take a conservative message.

If the Republican Party in Texas doesn't start looking like Texas, there won't be a Republican Party in Texas.

I'm the face of the future Republican Party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Is he? And what does his decision not to run again tell us?

CROSS: Well, look, this is a hugely important district to both parties. It's a swing district. Of course, he represents the longest stretch of the border between U.S. and Mexico. He has been an opponent of the President's border wall. But I would argue that I don't know how tough a loss this is. You know, I know he's championing his own diversity, but I would quote Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and say, I don't know if black faces are as important as black voices.

And the truth of the matter is Congressman Hurd voted with Donald Trump 96 percent all the time. He was one of the people who blocked the house efforts to get Trump's tax returns. He's extremely pro- life. He's -- or shouldn't say -- he's anti-choice, I should say. So he does fall in line with the Republican Party.

If you remember in last cycle, he was running against Gina Ortiz Jones and the election was so close that it wasn't called on election night. And so there was a little delay in even declaring victory. And Gina Ortiz Jones actually came to the freshman orientation. She was determined to be there.

So I think he saw the writing on the wall. This has consistently been a swing district and I think it got harder for him to defend some of the President's rhetoric, even though he voted with the President most of the time.

SCIUTTO: Seung Min, he's not the only republican retiring early. You even have people with senior positions in the party, the woman in charge of recruiting for the next election. Are republicans worried that 2020 is not going to be a good year for them in the House?

KIM: Exactly. I mean, largely, republicans were going on offense because there are 31 districts, 31 House Democrats who have won seats or hold districts that were won by Trump in 2016. So republicans have been a little bit on the offensive there in targeting those districts. But you also have to protect the districts, these swing districts that you currently hold. And Will Hurd's border district, it's what we call an R+1 district, it is the swingiest of swing districts. And it really was a gut punch to republicans who especially are kind of weighing low and trying to ride out the Trump phase of the Republican Party and hoping that the Republican Party can once again be an open tent -- or strive to be an open tent party.

But I have to tell you, it was really striking. I was watching the President's rally last night. And at the same time, Congressman Hurd's retirement announcement comes in. And to see someone dichotomy of someone who once espoused the potential future of the party and seeing the President who really is driving home the base strategy on immigration, on culture issues, on socialism and seeing which part of the Republican Party is winning at this moment is very clear and very obvious.

SCIUTTO: That's an interesting contrast. No question, Seung Min. Seung Min, Tiffany, great to have you both on this morning.

Jobs are up, unemployment is low, fears are rising though of the economic consequences here at home of an escalating trade war with China.

Next, how long can the markets maintain their record highs if these tariffs continue. The market is already nervous about this.

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