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Vladimir Putin's Secret Army; Sanders Attacks "The Post"; Immigration Crackdown in Mississippi. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 13, 2019 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A guard soon comes up to us.

Is the church only for Wagner I ask.

I don't know for whom he says.

For the people who were in Syria, I press him?

I don't know, I'm telling you, he says, I'm just guarding here.

He begins to get suspicious of our question and we decide to leave.


WARD: Yes.

WARD (on camera): They didn't let us inside, which is not surprising because in that compound is the only tangible, visible proof that Wagner is real.

WARD (voice over): No surprise perhaps, that the monument is funded by a Prigozhin owned company. It was five years ago in Crimea that mysterious unidentified fighters dubbed "little green men" helped Moscow rest (ph) the province from Ukraine, even as the Kremlin fanned ignorance.

It was a success and Moscow's use of mercenary forces has since grown. Analysts say none of this could happen without Putin's approval.

WARD (on camera): Do you think that part of the mission of Wagner is to help Russia restore its role to become a major global super power again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (through translator): Yes, 100 percent. This is the top priority for Wagner.

WARD: And so it's trying to be a rival to America?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russia is trying to suppress the U.S. in every way possible using legal and illegal means. It's trying to smash it, get the better of it somehow. What will come of it? As a result, nothing good I think. WARD (voice over): But for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Wagner is

still a worthwhile gamble, an expendable fighting force with no accountability.


WARD: CNN has tried to reach out to Yevgeny Prigozhin through his lawyers. We did not receive any response.

We also, of course, wanted to contact Wagner, but because the group doesn't officially exist, it doesn't have an address or a phone number or a website.

And, finally, Poppy, we also tried to reach out to the Russian ministry of defense. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, we did not get any response there either.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Not surprising at all. That is remarkable reporting, Clarissa. Literally going there trying to get in, as you always do.

A few questions for you.

We heard him say that he was -- a mercenary, essentially in it for the money but is that all that was motivating him, because it just seemed from your interview like his heart wasn't in it. He didn't necessarily agree with the mission.

WARD: Well, so Oleg (ph) actually said that his primary incentive for doing this was because he had seen, you know, ISIS videos and he wanted to help the regime of Bashar al Assad get rid of ISIS. of course we all understand that the real narrative in Syria is much more complex than that. But he claims that that that was his primary motive for wanting to go, though he concedes also that money played a huge part in it, too.

HARLOW: Right.

WARD: And I think some of his disillusionment with Wagner was the fact that because it's in -- not a legal entity, because it's technically illegal in Russia, they're not given the same level of support --

HARLOW: Right.

WARD: Or respect or, you know, sort of infrastructure that you would be if you worked for a company that is, in fact, a proper, legal entity. And I -- he felt very much that he wanted to see this whole thing, these mercenary groups, legalized and made public and therefore given some kind of credibility.

HARLOW: Clearly your reporting got under the skin of the Kremlin. Russia is now accusing you of being a spy and they have gone as far as to follow you, film you in Africa?

WARD: Well, yes. So this is interesting and not something I've experienced many times

before. But basically Yevgeny Prigozhin, in addition to owning -- or, you know, being lined to these mercenary groups, he's also linked to a Russian news site, they call themselves, but really they're a propaganda machine. They released a 15-minute clip, Poppy, about me and my team for our report that we did, the second part in the series in the Central African Republic.

In this clip they are in my hotel room at one point --

HARLOW: Oh, wow.

WARD: After we left a man walking around the hotel room saying where I was sitting, saying that I had offered him $100 to say bad things about the Russians. There were a number of shots of us as a team in our hotel lobby and at the airport that have clearly been filmed surreptitiously by somebody watching us and following us. Accusations that we're spies, that we were bribing people.

You know, and on the one hand it's deeply sinister and frankly scary stuff.


WARD: But, on the other hand, you think to yourself, OK, you know, what this reporting clearly did hit a nerve and we clearly are talking about a topic that Russia would rather we were not talking about. And it's an important one, Poppy, because specifically with regards to the Central African Republic, three Russian journalists were actually ambushed and murdered there one year ago. They were there to talk about the same story of what the Russian mercenaries are up to. And, of course, we'll have that second part for you tomorrow.

[09:35:03] HARLOW: Oh, I can't wait to see that. Clearly they don't know you because you will not be deterred.

Clarissa, great reporting. Thank you very much.

OK, so this is surprising. Senator Bernie Sanders is making an accusation similar to one that the president has made against "The Washington Post." Sanders claims it's biased due to its owner, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. "The Post" hitting back hard. All of that is next.


HARLOW: All right, this morning, "The Washington Post" is pushing back at criticism from Senator Bernie Sanders. The 2020 Democratic hopeful blasted "The Post's" coverage of his campaign and he argues that it is biased because it is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bazos.

[09:40:04] Listen to Sanders in New Hampshire yesterday.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anybody here know how much Amazon paid in taxes last year?

CROWD: Nothing.

SANDERS: See, and I talk about that all of the time and then I wonder why "The Washington Post," which is owned by Jeff Bazos, who owns Amazon, doesn't write particularly good articles about me. I don't know why.


HARLOW: He failed to provide any evidence of that. Those past comments along those lines were echoed by his campaign and prompted this reply by Marty Baron, the executive editor for "The Washington Post." Quote, Senator Sanders is a member of a large club of politicians -- of every ideology -- who complain about their coverage. Contrary to the conspiracy theory that the senator seems to favor, Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as your reporters and editors can attest.

Kirsten Powers is here, columnist for "USA Today," and Brittany Shepherd, national politics reporter for "Yahoo News."

Good morning, guys.


HARLOW: I was a little surprised, Kirsten, to hear Sanders say it himself, but it's not new to see his campaign really taking on the media without provide any evidence of bias. Just listen to his campaign manager, Faiz Shakir. He was on "RELIABLE SOURCES" with Brian Stelter just a few weeks ago.


FAIZ SHAKIR, BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: In about, you know, a minute or so or two minutes or so you're going to cut to commercial breaks and you're going to see some pharmaceutical ads, you're going to see a lot of ads that are -- that are basically paying your bills and the bills of -- of this -- the entire media enterprise. And what that ends up doing is incentivizing you and others to make sure that you're asking the questions and driving the conversations in certain areas and not in certain areas.


HARLOW: So, Kirsten, Brian followed up and asked for evidence. He didn't provide any. But this seems like a really dangerous line, continued accusations against the media with no basis in fact or evidence provided.

POWERS: Yes, I think it's perfectly imbalanced to complain about your coverage, right, if you think, you know, and this is -- this is what every single campaign does. I mean even Barack Obama's campaign complained about their coverage, right?

HARLOW: Sure. POWERS: So it's not -- this is -- people often think when they're running for president that they are the only person who doesn't like their coverage. And that's -- that's just not true. This -- moving into these kind of conspiracy theories about why is what's different. And I think in the climate that we're in right now with the president of the United States who has really gone after all media that hasn't fallen completely in line with him and really is offering full throated support. Pretty much everybody else has been attacked, you know, as fake news and not trustworthy.

And so I think what the Sanders campaign is doing is falling into -- it's using that same playbook, frankly.


POWERS: And it would be problematic even without Donald Trump. But considering the culture that we're in where the media is under such constant attack, I think that you should be very careful about the accusations you make and you better be able to back them up.

HARLOW: You know, Brittany, it's important to note, "The Washington Post" has done really critical reporting about Amazon, too.

BRITTANY SHEPHERD, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, "YAHOO NEWS": Absolutely. And, you know, I really want to underscore something that Kirsten said, something that you said, too, Poppy, is that Bernie Sanders and his campaign have not really put forth any facts or evidence when they're pressed about what "The Washington Post" is doing. And I do think that there's a concern, and especially a concern as we're gearing up in this primary, that Bernie Sanders is going to be compared to Donald Trump again, again, and again. That's not a comparison he wants. He wants to hear Elizabeth Warren's name. he wants to hear more aggressive parts of his party, like AOC. And when you're going against such a standard like "The Washington Post," which has come out and said from Marty Baron himself that you are perpetuating a conspiracy that sounds just like the president of the United States calling "The Washington Post" Amazon's "Washington Post," you get into very sticky campaign territory.

HARLOW: You know -- OK, so, I just wonder, Kirsten, if you think that this is going to be picked up by other Democratic 2020 contenders. The Biden camp is not happy with, you know, the media covering the multiple gaffes and misstatements that he's made over the past few weeks.

Listen to Tim Ryan, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, also a presidential candidate, and his read. Let me tell you what he said. He said, this is such an important election, we've got to all be our best. We can't make mistakes because the right wing noise machine, they take something like that, they put up a false equivalency, make him and Trump sound like they're the same.

Symone Sanders, who is a senior strategist for Biden, said on this network yesterday, this is a press narrative, not a voter narrative, saying basically the media focuses on this, the voters don't care. What's your read? POWERS: I mean that's a fine thing to say if that's what the Biden

campaign believes. And like I said, I don't think that's out of bounds. I don't think it's out of bounds to -- to say that you don't think you're getting fair coverage and, you know, and to detail why you think you aren't getting fair coverage. You know, I don't agree with what Symone said. I think the fact that you have a president that's the age of Joe Biden, who seems to be mixing things up and not getting things right, it does raise a question of, you know, is this guy going to be ready to go up against Trump. That's a fair thing.

[09:45:05] I don't expect the campaign to agree with me on that. And so it's fine for them to push back.

I think what's problematic is he's -- this -- these accusations that have no basis in fact. Like the idea that somehow people at CNN are asking questions or behaving in a certain way because of the ads that are playing while they're on-air, which, as we all know, we don't know what ads are coming on when we're on-air.

HARLOW: Exactly.

POWERS: And it's -- and so it's -- so you need to be able to -- to -- if you're going to make that accusation, you better be able to offer some proof, otherwise you are acting just like Donald Trump. I'm sorry.

HARLOW: But -- but -- but hasn't it been beneficial to Donald Trump in some groups, Brittany? Meaning, is there a -- is there a political price to pay among voters if the Sanders camp keeps making unsubstantiated allegations like this?

SHEPHERD: Absolutely, especially with young voters and swing voters. And I want to touch a little bit on what Joe Biden's camp is saying because I think it's similar with what we're seeing with Bernie Sanders is that, sure, that there's a media narrative and a voter narrative. I think that's valid. But the voter narrative is definitely not solidified. And even though in the polling we're seeing that Bernie Sanders is among the top three or top four, Joe Biden is usually the frontrunner in all national polls, they have a duty in to their base to get -- not only solidify the support they have but to get new voters.

So young voters about to make up 10 percent of the electorate in 2020. The young voters are across the board not necessarily gunning for any of the top contenders. So Bernie Sanders, if he wants to risk losing those young people, he should really be aware of what he's saying in regards to fake news media coverage.

HARLOW: OK, thank you, ladies. So much more I wanted to get to. We'll get to it with you both next time.

Thanks for being here. Appreciate it.

And a programming note for you, our special report, "The Age of Amazon," premieres this Friday night. I sit down for an extensive interview with Don Graham, the former publisher of "The Washington Post," who sold it to Bazos and I asked him about claims just like the one Bernie Sanders made against the paper. We also spend hours with Amazon's top executives reporting over the last six months. You can see that special report this Friday, 9:00 Eastern.


[09:51:38] HARLOW: This morning a family is still searching for answers. You will remember this heart wrenching video after those Mississippi immigration raids. An 11-year-old girl desperate to see her father.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need my dad with me. My dad didn't do nothing. He's not a criminal. Governments, please put your heart, let my parent be free.


HARLOW: At least 300 of those almost 700 people detained have been released, not, though, Magdalena's father. And on Sunday Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said this to our Jake Tapper.


MARK MORGAN, ACTING COMMISSIONER, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: So I understand that the girl is upset and I get that, but her father committed a crime. And just so the American people know also, is that girl, her mother was home and she was reunited with her mother within a few hours that night.


HARLOW: Did you hear that "committed a crime" part? Now a spokesman for ICE tells CNN that Andres Gomez Horez (ph), the little girl's dad, has no prior criminal convictions. His family still has no idea where he is or if he will be deported.

So let's go to Jackson Mississippi. Our Dianne Gallagher is there.

And, Dianne, I know you spent time with the family and I'd like to know what they said to you. And I would note, look, it's possible Mark Morgan was talking about an illegal crossing into the U.S. as a crime. It is a crime. But did he mean -- it sounded like he said there was, you know, another criminal record here.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and, Poppy, look, it could be very well that he was talking about workplace crimes in the act of working unauthorized in this country as well. But, look, according to his wife, Juana (ph), the mother of their four children, who is frightened, she is confused, she doesn't know how to get in touch with him. She's not spoken to her husband since he left for work that day. She just wants them to know that he is not violent, he simply came here a little more than ten years ago to work. He has been a provider for their family, the only provider for their family, and she doesn't know what she's going to do without him here.

In fact, she told me that even though all four of her children, including Magdalena, who is 11 and the oldest, are U.S. citizens. That if he gets deported, she may have no choice but to take those U.S. citizen children back to Guatemala, where not only have they never seen before, but they don't want to go. Magdalena was doing her -- her homework, her math homework, when I was there with her mother and she told me (INAUDIBLE) said that she hadn't slept since they took her dad, Poppy. Her mother says she hasn't slept. They're waiting for a phone call desperately. If a phone number calls them and they don't know it, she assumes maybe it's him. And it's this sad desperation of waiting for them.

Also the fact that her daughter went viral has honestly been one of the worst things for them. It has put a face on what happened here in Mississippi, but they've received a lot of intrusive and, to be honest, downright creepy requests and suggestions. People calling and asking if they can adopt Magdalena from what is a very loving family. She doesn't need new parents, she just isn't able to find her dad. And they just -- they really are kind of an emblem or an example of what so many are going through. Magdalena said so many of her classmates had their parents detained and a lot of them, just like her, don't have a parent back yet.

[09:55:04] HARLOW: Look, and the other question becomes, Dianne, is the Trump administration going to go after these companies that they raided? Are they going to prosecute? Because that is not the record that we've seen from the Trump administration against the employers of these undocumented immigrants.

Thank you very much for the reporting. I'm sorry we have to leave it there, but I appreciate you bringing us that from the family.

Dianne, thank you so much.

We do have new questions surrounding the suicide of Jeffrey Epstein. One of the guards assigned to watch him was a substitute, not even part of the regular guard force.