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Weekend Protests in Hong Kong; Trump Comments on Deal with China; Afghan's Recent Suicide Bombings; NASA Tracks Melting Glaciers. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 19, 2019 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is a serious irritant to see these people who are, in a sense, Chinese, like the rest of the 1.4 billion, coming out, week after week.

Now, what was significant about this protest was that it was peaceful. Not only Sunday, but also Saturday there were protests. There were no arrests, according to Hong Kong police, no tear gas was fired. And it was thought that after the events at the airport that somehow there would be a certain amount of disillusionment among sort of the great mass of those who passively support the protest movement. But what we saw was this huge number of people. The numbers are up to debate. But the pictures really speak for themselves. A huge number of people in Hong Kong are demanding change and they are waiting for the government here to respond.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And the government that is paranoid of that kind of change, the Beijing government.

Ben Wedeman, great to have you on the ground.

Joining me now to discuss further, Toluse Olorunnipa, he's White House reporter for "The Washington Post," and Elaina Plott, White House correspondent for "The Atlantic."

Good to have you both on.

Listen to the president, if I can, on the Hong Kong protests here because he seems to connect them to the trade negotiations. Have a listen and, Elaina, I want to get your response.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it would be very hard to deal if they do violence. I mean if it's another Tiananmen Square, it's -- I think it's a very hard thing to do if there's violence.


SCIUTTO: It's not the first time the president has tied an issue of pro-democracy protesters, human rights to the ongoing trailed negotiations.

And, Elaina, I wonder, why is the president linking an issue of human rights, making it appear as something of a bargaining chip here?

ELAINA PLOTT, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean that's the biggest question of all, Jim. It's impossible for me to know precisely what's going through the president's head, but, you know, my sources in and outside the White House say it just -- it doesn't really click with this president.

What this means for the future of democracy in the eastern hemisphere rite large these protests going on in Hong Kong, and at this moment he is so laser focused on 2020. He has said from the beginning that it will be easy to make a deal with China. This, of course, contradicting himself in his rally in Manchester, which I was at the other day when he said, I never said it would be easy. It's going to be hard to make a deal with China.

But he has a lot riding on this. And tariffs, along with immigration, are the two issues that he feels more strongly about. And at this moment, questions about human rights and democracy pale in comparison to him feeling like he can claim this victory with regard to trade ahead of the election.

SCIUTTO: And that seems to be a broader policy approach, too, if you look at a country like Saudi Arabia, et cetera, human rights certainly not at the top of the list.

Toluse, President Trump has presented himself as a possible mediator between Xi Jinping of China, the Chinese president, and the protesters. He tweeted, it would bring an enlightened and happy ending to the Hong Kong protests. It's not clear what he's basing that on because there's no indication that China has reached out to him as a mediator in this.

Who is advising the president on China, on these issues? Is there anyone he's listening to on this or just going with his gut?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there is a lot of the president going with his gut and the rest of his administration trying to follow suit. But the people advising him are interesting in part because you have the normal national security people who you would expect to be advising him but you also have trade and economic people advising him about these protests, which you would not expect them to be linked. As Elaina said earlier, the president is seeing those two things as hand in hand. So he has muted some of his criticism of China in the past because he wants to get a trade deal with them. He hasn't been as hard on them over the way they've cracked down on these protest.

Yesterday he shifted his language a little bit saying that he didn't think a trade deal would be possible if China used violence. But the president is listening to advisers who do have some of those traditional pro-democracy American views, who want him to speak up on behalf of the protesters. But he's also listening to people on his economic team who are saying, you do not want to start a new fight, a new front in this war with China by talking about protesters and human rights when we need to fix this trade deal situation and think about your 2020 prospect.

So the president has political advisers. He has economic -- his economic team, as well as his national security team. And that's why you've seen him bouncing back and forth because so many different people are in his ear telling him different things.

SCIUTTO: Two domestic issues. And, Toluse, you mentioned, of course, 2020, which is very much at the top of the president's mind here. There was a Fox News poll that showed the president losing to several of the Democratic frontrunners. As he often does, the president then lashes out at the information. Here's him attacking Fox News following that poll there.

[09:35:03] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not happy with Fox. I'm certainly happy -- I think Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs and I think Tucker Carlson and Laura and Jesse Watters, and Jeannine. We have a lot of great people. Even Greg Gutfeld, he wasn't good to me two years ago. Now he sees all I've done. He said, would you rather have a great president or a nice guy? I don't know, I think I'm a nice guy. But nobody's done in two and a half years what I've done. And I say that a lot and very few people can challenge it.


SCIUTTO: So, Elaina, does the president, does the Trump campaign 2020 have numbers that contradict not only Fox News polling but other news organization's polling that show the president trailing his Democratic -- or at least most of the Democratic frontrunners?

PLOTT: I have no sources on the campaign right now, Jim, who tell me that they have internal polling that shows the president is, in fact, leading these challenges. You'll remember, I think it was a month or two ago that the campaign actually ended up firing an outside adviser with regard to polling because their own numbers leaked that showed, indeed, he was trailing figures like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Beto O'Rourke.

So it goes back to your point. It's -- the problem is often the messenger. It's never, you know, it's never in consideration that perhaps the president actually is polling below these people in any objective measure.

But I want to point out, too, in that clip you just showed, Jim, you'll notice that the president said "we" when he was referring to Fox News.


PLOTT: She said we have great people like Judge Jeannine and Sean Hannity. And I think that's what you will see trickle down message- wise to his supporters as well. Like I said, I was just in Manchester for this rally and it really is incredible the extent to which this president can speak directly to his supporters. So if he turns on Fox News, they will as well, because they also see it as part of a collective "we."

SCIUTTO: Right. And, well, as he often does, he cites people who agree with him. And the folks who agree with him are correct. Folks who do not somehow are wrong.

Toluse, before we go, the president confirmed that his administration has raised with Denmark the possibility of buying Greenland. He called it a large real estate deal. The Danish prime minister insists Greenland is not for sale and calls the idea absurd. Is there an actual serious pursuit of this in the White House?

OLORUNNIPA: It's a serious pursuit because the president made it a serious pursuit because he floated the idea that he wanted to buy Greenland. And apparently Greenland is not for sale, so I don't know how the U.S. would go about buying it. But if you listen to what the president said yesterday, he talked about how the U.S. had protected Denmark, and how we had been such a great ally. So, for that reason, you know, they should go ahead and put Greenland up for sale. And he also said that Greenland was costing Denmark a lot of money.

This is shaping up to potentially be a diplomatic row with the president going over to Demark later this summer. They do not want to sell Greenland and they are taking a little bit of offense at the idea that the president has been saying that he has protected -- the U.S. has protected Denmark and so Greenland should be for sale for that reason.

SCIUTTO: Right. Well, imagine if an ally of ours said we're buying Hawaii and you should sell it to us. Just a comparison.

Toluse Olorunnipa, Elaina Plott, thanks very much.

PLOTT: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: A suicide attack at a wedding over the weekend. Another six bombs set off today in Afghanistan. All of it is happening as President Trump considers pulling U.S. forces out of the country.

Next, how the U.S. could approach a peace plan with the Taliban, which itself has carried out countless attacks on U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians.


[09:43:04] SCIUTTO: This morning, as Afghanistan celebrates its independence, six bombs, six, exploded across the city of Jalalabad, injuring at least 17 people. That violence followed just a horrible suicide bombing at a wedding over the weekend. In that attack, 63 people died, many more wounded, 200.

It's all happening as President Trump considers pulling U.S. forces out of the country and is engaging in peace talks with a Taliban, a group itself responsible for many terror attacks. Joining me now to discuss this, retired Lieutenant General Mark

Hertling. He's CNN military analyst, as well as former commanding general of the Europe -- in Europe, the Seventh Army, also commander of forces in Iraq.

General, it's always good to have you on the program.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good to be with you, Jim. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: So as you know better than me, the Taliban itself responsible for attacks that killed hundreds of American soldiers in Afghanistan, thousands of Afghan civilians. The president confirmed the U.S. is negotiating, talking to the Taliban. Should the U.S. be negotiating with the Taliban in Afghanistan to cede some control of the country to this group?

HERTLING: Well, certainly the Taliban, first of all, Jim, as you know, is negotiating from a position of strength. They have not been eradicated. They have not been put down. The Afghan government is not in a position to negotiate from that same position of strength.

The Taliban has supported terrorist activity in the past, either overtly or covertly. I think what you're seeing in terms of the bombing, and as someone who's been in combat where a majority of these kind of devices have gone off, both suicides and improvised devices, you know they are never coincidental. They are meant to deliver a message, to deliver a purpose. And on Afghan Independence Day, it certainly is sending a message that the organization that we're conducting negotiations with had -- does not have control, or maybe they do, of terrorists that are continuing to assault the people of Afghanistan.

[09:45:04] SCIUTTO: Yes, and we're looking at pictures now of this attack on a wedding ceremony. It's one of the few ways in Kabul people can kind of enjoy themselves. Just a devastating attack.

The president has indicated that he wants to have at least a significant withdrawal from Afghanistan by the 2020 election, tying a military move to a political cycle here in the U.S., which is something the president and other Republicans criticized President Obama, past presidents for.

Is that the right way to discuss a withdrawal with a U.S. political calendar in mind?

HERTLING: Jim, I'll tell you, I'm confused by all of this because you would have thought we would have learned a lesson by now. President Obama made the mistake of an unconditional withdrawal of forces from Iraq and it caused instability in that country. Whenever you don't tie a withdrawal to some type of conditions-based activity, you're going to be asking for trouble. It's just difficult to say, hey, we're going to go from -- and the rumors are out there. We don't know if it's 14,000 troops that are currently there to 9,000, to 8,000 to zero. But you also have to consider, and I bring this up a lot, that there are 14,000 U.S. forces there. There are also about 17,000 forces from NATO and other alliance countries that are there. And certainly if the U.S. withdraws, you're probably going to see those alliance forces withdraw very quickly soon after.

That will be the Afghan government in a lurch. They will become bystanders as the Taliban continues to increase their strength and their power throughout the country, which is what they've been doing for the last several months, several years. So where you say, hey, we've spent 19 years in the country, shouldn't we get out? And there will certainly be some people saying that. At the same time, will we be willing to leave the Afghanistan government in the lurch without any support against the kinds of terror they're seeing there and that they've seen even before we entered the country in 2001.

SCIUTTO: Yes, people -- people there are scared. I talked to them. They don't like the Taliban's view of the future. Who will hold sway?

General Mark Hertling, always good to have you on. Thanks very much.

HERTLING: Great to be with you. Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: A grim milestone on the earth's largest island. Coming up, a CNN team follows NASA scientists as they explore the ever shrinking glaciers of Greenland. Why it matters to you.


[09:51:55] SCIUTTO: Right now, NASA scientists are on the world's largest island, Greenland, tracking melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Greenland is about to break the record for melting ice.

CNN senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, he went there. He got a first-hand look at what NASA is doing there, what it means for the rest of the planet. It's daunting. Make sure to watch this.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Take off from a tiny air field in south Greenland. NASA embarking on its mission to map how warmer ocean water is melting arctic ice. Chief scientist Josh Willis shows me the probes they're launching all around Greenland. It's like dropping thermometers into the sea.

JOSH WILLIS, LEAD SCIENTIST, NASA'S OCEANS MELTING GREENLAND (OMG): They go out of the plane right through this tube right here. They fall down to the ocean and then they separate into two parts. A part falls all the way down to the sea floor, so it gives us a profile from the surface to the bottom, on the shelf.

PLEITGEN: We've reached today's drop zone, this massive Helheim Glacier. What you're seeing from our cockpit camera is not even the glacier itself, it's just the ice it's lost in the past days, and this goes on for miles.

PLEITGEN (on camera): It is absolutely awe-inspiring to see the size of this glacier, to see how much ice is coming off that glacier, that's obviously then going to flow into the world's oceans. It is one of the largest glaciers in Greenland. The amount of activity is just absolutely overwhelming.

PLEITGEN (voice over): But the scientists spot an ice-free zone right at the mouth of the glacier. It's pretty unusual. With great precision, they have to drop a probe right in that pond.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one, drop, drop, drop.


I see water.

PLEITGEN: Bull's eye.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they're in the drag (ph). Perfect.





PLEITGEN: But the readouts they get are troubling, warm water along the entire depth of the glacier, more than 2,000 feet below the surface.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That means warm waters now are able to be in direct contact with the ice over its entire face, supercharging the melting.

PLEITGEN: And it's not just this glacier. The ice melt has been supercharged in all of Greenland recently.

PLEITGEN (on camera): This year is on pace to set a record for ice melt here in the arctic. And the NASA scientists are finding out that it's not just hotter air, but also warmer ocean water that's causing a lot of the attrition that's making these glaciers lose so much ice.

PLEITGEN (voice over): And while it may look majestic, the ice melt is also dangerous. These billions of tons of ice are causing sea levels to rise. The scientists from NASA's Ocean's Melting Greenland Project saying all of us need to pitch in to try and slow down global warming or face the consequences.

WILLIS: There's enough ice in Greenland to raise sea levels by 7.5 meters. So it's an enormous volume of ice. That's about 25 feet. And that would be devastating to coast lines all around the planet.

[09:55:12] PLEITGEN: The changes to our planet's environment can already clearly be seen here in Greenland, a remote arctic paradise whose warming climate will affect us all.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Kulusuk, Greenland.


SCIUTTO: Enough ice to raise sea levels by 25 feet. Imagine the effects of that.

President Trump says there is no recession in sight. Some top voices on the economy don't agree. Some numbers don't either. That's just ahead.