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Russian-Backed Mercenaries Tighten Grip On Central African Republic; Detained Father Of Crying Girl Contacts Family; CNN Reality Check: The Endangered Republican Deficit Hawk. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 14, 2019 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: If he did that, that would make him an A because he's an A Senate candidate, former governor against an endangered Republican incumbent in Cory Gardner. He would be a very viable candidate there.

So, I mention him. He's obviously continued to struggle in the presidential race. But that Senate race possibility is very interesting.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That is very interesting.

CILLIZZA: How was that?

CAMEROTA: You finished strong, Cillizza -- strong.




CILLIZZA: Oh, yes.

BERMAN: A gutter --

CILLIZZA: I was -- I was on vacation last week. I got -- I got nothing but grades.

CAMEROTA: So was I --


CAMEROTA: -- but we were not together.

BERMAN: Allegedly.


BERMAN: All right, Chris. Thank you very much.

BERMAN: So, the elusive military force backed by members of the Russian government. CNN's exclusive journey into Africa, exposing Putin's private army. That's coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:35:12] CAMEROTA: Now, more of CNN's exclusive reporting on Russia's sweeping influence campaign in countries around the world. This morning, we focus on Kremlin-backed militants who are tightening their grip in one African nation.

CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is live in London with more of her phenomenal reporting. What do you have this morning, Clarissa?


So, one year ago, almost exactly, three Russian journalists traveled to the Central African Republic to do a story about the growing Russian mercenary presence there. They were ambushed and murdered.

And we decided to go and visit the Central African Republican to look at what happened to them. But more broadly speaking, to look at Russia's ambitious drive into Africa.

And while the Russians were initially quite welcoming of us, as our reporting got deeper, we experienced a campaign of harassment and being followed. Take a look.


WARD (voice-over): This is boot camp for recruits to a new army in the war-torn Central African Republic. The troops are being taught in Russian. Weapons are Russian, too.

It's taken months to get access to this camp. Officially, this is a U.N.-approved training mission, but the Russian instructors won't talk to us or even be identified because they're not actually soldiers; they're mercenaries.

Sponsored by a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin, they are the sharp end of an ambitious drive into Africa, stoking fears in Washington of Russian expansionism.

Valery Zakharov is the man in charge here. A former military intelligence officer, he is now the security adviser to the Central African Republic's president.

VALERY ZAKHAROV, SECURITY ADVISER TO CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC PRESIDENT FAUSTIN-ARCHANGE TOUADERA (through translator): Russia is returning to Africa. We were already present in many countries during the time of the Soviet Union and Russia is coming back to the same position. We still have connections and we are trying to reestablish them.

WARD (voice-over): That's not the only reason they're here. The Central African Republic is rich in natural resources -- gold and diamonds -- and the Russians want them.

We are on our way to one of seven sites where a Russian company has been given exploration rights.

WARD (on camera): One of the challenges of trying to nail down exactly what the Russians are doing here is that once you get outside the capital, this is still a very dangerous and chaotic country. And just last year, three Russian journalists were actually ambushed and killed while working on a story about Russian mercenaries.

WARD (voice-over): The drive is bruising and long, along rutted tracks to a tiny village of straw huts. And then, we have to cross a river in this hand-pulled ferry.

Local teenager Rodriguez agrees to show us where the Russians have been active. It's another bumpy ride through the bush. The last part of the journey is on foot.

We asked the workers if they have seen any Russians.


WARD (on camera): So, he's saying that earlier this year, there were a lot of Russians here looking for diamonds.

WARD (voice-over): Rodriguez says the Russians now employ hundreds of workers on artisanal mines, like this, across the area.

In the pit, a group of teenagers pan through the sand in the search for a precious fragment. Whatever they find, they say, must be handed over to the Russian's agent.

WARD (on camera): So it's interesting. These guys are saying that the Russians who visited this spot actually came from the training camp at Berengo that we visited. It's pretty clear they're doing more than just training troops here.

WARD (voice-over): CNN has learned that the mining exploration rights have been given to a company called Lobaye Invest. Lobaye is part of a sprawling business empire owned by this man, Yevgeny Prigozhin. An oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he has been sanctioned by the U.S. for meddling in the 2016 election.

And a CNN investigation based on hundreds of documents has established that Prigozhin's companies are also providing the mercenary muscle. He is believed to be the man behind Wagner, Russia's most notorious private military contractor.

On our return to town from the mines, we notice we are being followed. We try to approach but the car drives off.

[07:40:02] We catch a glimpse of four white males. All but one hide their faces from our camera. There is no license plate. Police later confirmed to us that they are Russians.

Near our hotel, we spot the vehicle again. We try to get closer but the men drive off.

WARD (on camera): So, we're back at our hotel now but a little bit shaken up because that car full of Russians has been following us for quite some time. We don't know why. We don't know what they want.

WARD (voice-over): Mindful of the murder of the journalists last year, we leave town the next day.

But back in the capital, Bangui, Russia's growing influence is impossible to escape -- on the streets, even on the airwaves. Radio Lengo Songo features African music and lessons in Russian, which is no surprise perhaps that it is funded by Prigozhin company, Lobaye Invest.

The manager tells us the station wants to deepen cooperation between the two nations. And in a country where education and entertainment are in short supply, it seems that plenty of people are listening.

American officials say they are greatly concerned by Russia's actions here and that they undermine security. But with the U.S. shrinking its footprint across Africa and with minimal official Kremlin involvement, Putin has little to lose.

WARD (on camera): For Russia, this is a straightforward bargain. They provide the weapons and the training and in return, they get access to the country's natural resources. And in the process, hope to reassert themselves as a major player in this region.

WARD (voice-over): It's a campaign for hearts and mind and hard power, and Russia is moving quickly to get a step ahead of its rivals.


WARD: CNN has tried repeatedly to get a comment from Yevgeny Prigozhin through his company, Concord Catering, but our requests have gone unanswered.

But we should say that previously, Prigozhin has strongly linked -- has strongly denied any links to Wagner and the Russian government, and also denies any links to any of these mercenary groups, John and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: So, Clarissa, did you ever figure out who those guys in the car were?

WARD: Well, we did. You noticed there was one man who was facing us and we were able to capture his image on camera. And speaking to the dossier center here in London, which is run by an exiled Russian tycoon, we were able to identify him.

We're not going to give his name. Suffice it to say that he is a young translator with a company owned by -- you guessed it -- Prigozhin.

Prigozhin, of course, is also the man behind the media organization that put out that 15-minute propaganda video against us.

So this was very clearly a coordinated attempt to discredit and intimidate us.

BERMAN: Which only goes to show, Clarissa, as you said yesterday, you're onto something here -- very important.

Clarissa Ward, terrific reporting. Thank you so much.

WARD: Thank you.


OK, meanwhile, a child's tearful plea and now, a glimmer of hope. What we've learned about the whereabouts of her father. He was taken away in an immigration crackdown raid a week ago. We have a live update for you, next.


[07:47:49] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAGDALENA GOMEZ GREGORIA, FATHER DETAINED BY ICE: I need my dad. My dad didn't do nothing. He's not a criminal.


CAMEROTA: We have an update now for you on this girl's emotional viral plea for her father. He has been tracked down and spoken, finally, with his family after last week's massive immigration crackdown. That one was in Mississippi.

CNN national correspondent Dianne Gallagher spoke to his wife. She is live in Jackson, Mississippi with the update for us. What have you learned, Dianne?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes -- and, Alisyn, think about it. It's been one week since those ICE raids of those seven different work sites.

They hadn't spoken to their father in six days and that phone call only came a few hours after CNN posted it and talked about the fact that they still couldn't find Magdalena's father -- that 11-year-old's tearful pleas that went viral around the world.

Well, they still couldn't locate him. Online, it said that he was in Louisiana. But when his wife, Juana, who is also undocumented, started trying to look for him they couldn't find out what specific place he was in.

Eventually, ICE got to us. ICE got to the family and said look, we found him -- he is in Mississippi. And soon after, they received a phone call.

But look, this process -- we got a glimpse of what it is like to try and find somebody if you are a family member, once they have sort of disappeared into this system -- this immigration system right now.

When she spoke with her husband, the first thing he asked about, of course, was his four children, who are all U.S. citizens who are home with his wife. He then told his wife that they had to get him a lawyer. He thought he was going to appear before a judge on Friday or Saturday.

Now, John, it's important to point out that here, right now, in Mississippi, the concern is what about those employers? You have those 680 people who were detained. More than half of them still remain detained right now. What about the people who hired them -- the owners, the managers of the plant?

We've been checking inside the federal courthouse here for additional documents. And the acting director of ICE issued a statement yesterday evening, essentially saying look, it's still an open criminal investigation. Anyone who committed a crime, including those employers, will be prosecuted.

[07:50:01] BERMAN: Will be -- will be. Meanwhile, all those workers --

GALLAGHER: They haven't yet.

BERMAN: -- who have been separated from their families right now.

Dianne Gallagher, thank you very much for being with us. I appreciate it.

So, what happens when the fiscal hawks in Congress turn into fiscal hermit crabs? With trillions added to the national debt, where is the usual outcry from conservatives? What sound does a hermit crab make?

A CNN reality check is next.


CAMEROTA: I insist -- you do it.

BERMAN: It just says "anchor".

CAMEROTA: I know, and I insist.

BERMAN: All right, all right.

CAMEROTA: It's such a good one. I'm gifting this one to you.

BERMAN: So, remember all of those Republican deficit hawks -- how they screamed over the national debt? "We're bankrupting our children," they said. Now, with stunning new numbers out from the Treasury Department, those Republican voices are eerily silent.

[07:55:01] CAMEROTA: Like hermit crabs.

BERMAN: Like hermit crabs.

CAMEROTA: John Avlon has our reality check. Are we right, John?


All right. So, over one year ago, we started "Reality Check" on "NEW DAY". The very first topic we hit was GOP hypocrisy on the deficit. You remember, 10 years after the Tea Party mobilized protesters

against the intergenerational theft of deficit and debt? Well, it seems their new slogan should be "Deficits don't matter unless a Democrat is president" because the U.S. deficit is exploding during an economic expansion due to tax cuts and spending hikes under President Trump. It's getting worse.

But during the debate over the Trump tax cut, we were told this over and over again.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY: The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth.


AVLON: Not so much. In fact, the deficit grew 27 percent in the first 10 months of this fiscal year to an astounding $866.8 billion. That's according to Trump's own Treasury Department.

And that's not all. We're now on track to exceed a $1 trillion deficit -- not by 2022, as originally predicted by the Congressional Budget Office, but in less than two months from now, with federal spending hitting a record $3.7 trillion.

Now, fiscal conservatives on Capitol Hill had this response. (cricket sound)

Now keep in mind, all this is happening during a record-breaking economic expansion, now in its 122nd month -- roughly, three-quarters of it under President Obama and one-quarter under President Trump. And that's why these deficits are so troubling. They shouldn't be growing at this stage of an economic expansion.

But, wait, you say. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told us last summer that the deficit is coming down and it's coming down rapidly. Well, that wasn't true then and it's even worse now.

Kudlow, a classic fiscal conservative, now says the record $22 trillion national debt is not a huge problem at all -- (INAUDIBLE).

So I guess we can forget that Trump promised he'd eliminate the debt in eight years because he's actually increased it 12 percent, so far. But in fairness, he always did call himself the king of debt.

King Trump knows that reelection hopes depend on keeping the economy humming until after the election. And so, President Trump's repeatedly patted himself on the back for the stock market's rise.

But our friends at CNN Business did some number-crunching to put this record in perspective. Now, in his presidency, to date -- 645 trading days, to be precise -- Trump has seen the stock market rise 29 percent, which is pretty impressive.

But that lags way behind the stock market growth under President Obama by this point in his presidency, at 46 percent. Bush 41 has him beat at 36 percent. And, Trump's tie with Bill Clinton has done better than Regan and W.

But the stock market is the least of our worries. It's the merciless budget math that doesn't add up, with deficits exploding due to a giddy combination of tax cuts and spending hikes passed along partisan lines without any sense of long-term consequences.

It brings to mind something Larry Kudlow once said.


LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: We're getting another goofy deficit, blow the hole wide open, stupid, short-term plan which frankly, nobody -- I don't even think anybody believes this stuff anymore, outside of the White House.


AVLON: And that's your reality check.

BERMAN: Nobody?

AVLON: Nobody.

BERMAN: Nobody -- Larry Kudlow.

CAMEROTA: Man -- boy, am I glad the Fox News Channel isn't still on the air to see this deficit.

AVLON: (Laughing).


CAMEROTA: They would be so upset. They would be so livid like they were with Obama. I'm glad they're not still around.

BERMAN: And the Tea Party activists, too.


CAMEROTA: Yes, right.

AVLON: A big sigh of relief going on.

CAMEROTA: Great point.

BERMAN: All right, John.

CAMEROTA: All right, thank you.

The NFL is partnering with Jay-Z's entertainment company, Roc Nation, to enhance the league's live game experiences and to boost the league's social justice efforts.

Andy Scholes can explain all of this in the "Bleacher Report". Hi, Andy.


You know, the NFL has taken a lot of heat over the past few years over how they handled the whole Colin Kaepernick situation. By partnering with Jay-Z and his company, Roc Nation, the league is taking a big step in bridging the gap that's been created.

Now, Jay-Z has been a big supporter of Kaepernick and reportedly turned down performing at Super Bowl LII. But now, Jay-Z is embracing the opportunity to partner with the NFL.

As a part of this new multi-year agreement, Jay-Z's Roc Nation is going to advise on the selection of artists for major performances like the Super Bowl. Jay-Z also going to help with the NFL's "Inspire Change" program. It's a new NFL initiative that partners with players to fight social injustice.

In a statement, Jay-Z said, "With its global reach, the National Football League has the platform and opportunity to insure change across the country. Roc Nation has shown that entertainment and enacting change are not mutually exclusive ideas. Instead, we unify them."

Roger Goodell says the league looks forward to making a difference in communities, together with Jay-Z, adding, "Roc Nation is one of the most globally influential and impactful organizations in entertainment. The NFL and Roc Nation share a vision of inspiring meaningful social change across our country."

And with Kaepernick remaining unsigned, there was kind of mixed reactions to this new partnership on social media, guys. But, Jay-Z told "The Washington Post" that it's better to take on these issues head-on than stay at home and do nothing.

BERMAN: Andy Scholes, thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Andy.

BERMAN: And thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM WITH MAX FOSTER".