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Former GOP Gov. William Weld (R) On Why He's Challenging President Trump; Extreme Amount Of Microplastics Found In Sargasso Sea; Pentagon Reports ISIS Regaining Strength In Iraq And Syria. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 20, 2019 - 07:30   ET



[07:30:56] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: While a record number of Democrats battle it out to be their party's presidential nominee, one Republican is staging a primary challenge hoping to unseat President Trump, and he has some choice words about his opponent.

Joining me now is William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts. Governor, thank you so much for being with us.

There's a new profile out --


BERMAN: -- in "The Washington Post Magazine" overnight, and you told the "Post", "When my obituary is written, this may be seen as the most important thing I've ever done." Why?

WELD: Well, I think the country is kind of at a tipping point and unless people stand up and are counted and plant a flag and say what the president is doing is unconscionable, we're headed down the wrong path and we may wake up in a year or two with our democratic institutions in turmoil.

I mean, this is a president who right off the bat says the free press is the enemy of the people. Well, that's right out of the playbook of every would-be dictator in history and I'm afraid that Mr. Trump has some of those inclinations himself.

BERMAN: You say you are afraid of what is happening. You say you want to stand up and be counted. But so far, it doesn't seem like many Republican voters are standing up with you.

Take New Hampshire where you staked a big part of your campaign -- the neighboring state to your north.

WELD: Right.

BERMAN: There's a New Hampshire poll out which says the president's at 86 percent and you're at seven percent.

So, if this is an important message why aren't more people joining you?

WELD: I think if you poll the Republican state committees in all 50 states you'll find the same thing as the Trump Organization, so Mr. Trump should have 100 percent support there.

I'm talking to all kinds of voters in New Hampshire and around the country -- unaffiliated and even Democrats who can cross over in 20 states and vote for someone in the Republican primary. And if you get a large electorate in those primaries the results are going to be quite different, and that's my aim here.

Frankly, with the president now losing to Joe Biden 50 to 38, and losing also to Sanders and Warren and Harris, I don't know why Republican voters should say well, let's get some more of that abuse that he heaps on us and the impossible positions he puts us in supporting his racism, et cetera. You know, why they would pull the lever for Mr. Trump. What's he bring them?

BERMAN: Are you trying to beat him for real or are you just trying to damage him politically?

WELD: Oh, no, I'm -- my aim is to win the New Hampshire primary and if that happens, I think all bets are off. That's never happened.

It's true that the five presidents running for reelection who had a primary challenge all lost or dropped out. They didn't lose the primary but they all lost for reelection, so history is not on Mr. Trump's side.

But I think this is doable based on what I hear on the ground in New Hampshire. I'm talking to many more voters than Mr. Trump is up there.

BERMAN: So you've also said, "I don't think it's a stretch to say that at some level, Mr. Trump is a sick man. And I don't mean physically, I mean in his head. There's lots of furies there. I wouldn't want his demons."

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by that -- his demons.

WELD: Well, I think Mr. Trump responds to a lot of fear and anger that's inside his head. I mean, in the last month or so he just has seemed to get less and less tethered to norms of -- norms of acceptable behavior.

His rant about Elijah Cummings crossed the border, I thought, from vindictiveness into outright cruelty.

And I think he's shown less control in the last four to six weeks, even than he had before.

So that's another thing that could happen is the voters -- sort of sober second judgment of the community -- could say at some point over time -- because six months is a long time in politics -- enough is enough. And I think the appropriate judgment of the American people is going to trend increasingly in that direction as we get closer and closer to February of 2020.

[07:35:11] BERMAN: Mark Sanford, former governor of South Carolina and also a congressman, is considering jumping into this primary race. He says, though, if he loses to Donald Trump he would still vote for President Trump in a general election against a Democrat.

Will you vote for the president against a Democrat in the general election?

WELD: No. You know, I'm a -- I'm a big admirer of Gov. Sanford -- I like him a lot -- but that's a major difference. Mark has said that he would vote for Trump against any Democrat.

I have said, and I mean it, that I would never support Donald Trump for President of the United States knowing what we now know.

I would not have said all this right after the election in 2016 because we didn't know how Mr. Trump would comport himself in office. But now we know that he comports himself as a small child who if he doesn't get his way or perceive that he's getting his way, he does the same thing every time. He throws a temper --

BERMAN: Would you vote for a Democrat?

WELD: -- tantrum.

BERMAN: Would you vote for a Democrat if that were the other option?

WELD: You know, I don't know what I would do. I might -- I might sit it out, but that's down the road. I would not be supporting Donald Trump for another term as president. I'll leave it at that.

BERMAN: And again, there are a lot of people who look at you and look at your career and say you are not representative of the current Republican Party anymore. How do you respond to that?

WELD: Well, that's -- I think it's Mr. Trump who is the Republican in name only.

He's not an economic conservative. You know, I cut taxes 21 times but I also cut spending.

I care about the environment. Historically, the Republican Party cared about the environment. I'm not going to deny that it would be a bad thing if the polar ice cap melted because that would -- that would have a huge rearranging of all of our seacoasts.

I don't know why Mr. Trump is blinking reality, saying oh, that's all -- that's all a hoax. I mean, it's scientific fact that if we keep going up two degrees every year, by the time we get to 2040-2050, that polar ice cap is gone, and that's a fact.

BERMAN: Former governor William Weld, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

WELD: Thank you, John. BERMAN: Alisyn.


He is British royalty of a different kind. Why Elton John is defending Prince Harry and Meghan Markle after their visit to France.


[07:41:37] CAMEROTA: A remote body of water in the North Atlantic is on the brink of devastation. The Sargasso Sea is a natural habitat for many species of turtles and fish, yet it's fragile ecosystem faces a serious threat from a problem we are all guilty of.

BERMAN: CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon has this story -- Arwa.


And, you know, I thought I knew about plastic pollution but it wasn't until we got out there into the water that I began to really understand just how serious and dangerous it is. And it's not just dangerous to the wildlife but to us as well.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see more there.

DAMON (voice-over): It is humbling to be out in the deep blue, hundreds of miles from land.

We're in the Sargasso Sea, named after Sargasso, a free-floating seaweed dubbed the Atlantic Golden Rainforest. Under the cloud-like mats there is an unexpected array of biodiversity. But along with our awe is also the shocking realization of what we are doing to it.

DAMON (on camera): In one little chunk. Look at all that.

DAMON (voice-over): There are also tinier pieces, hard to see, but everywhere.

DAMON (on camera): You find little pieces like this throughout. I have to say I was quite struck by the pieces that you actually can see and how much of it is located down there.

DAMON (voice-over): Each time we got into the water we found countless plastic pieces, all different shapes and sizes.

Most plastic is not dumped directly into the ocean. Much of what you see has been discarded on land, traveling thousands of miles and breaking up along the way.

The Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic is the world's only body of water without shores. It's defined by the currents of the North Atlantic gyre -- currents that also carry with them our plastic filth, making it one of the five ocean garbage patches. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think this one is a good one to do first.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow, there's a piece of plastic in that.


DAMON (voice-over): Alexandra Guilick and Nerine Constant are marine biologists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, these are bite marks like animals taking bites.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really? Out of the plastic?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, you can tell these are fish because they are little half circles.

DAMON (voice-over): The Sargasso provides a habitat for baby turtles and fish, shrimp, plus hundreds of other marine organisms. In the oceans, degrading plastic becomes even more poisonous as it binds with other manmade chemical pollutants. All that toxicity ends up in the digestive systems of marine life and travels up the food chain, all the way to our dinner plates.

Onboard the Esperanza, Amanda Trall (ph) collects water samples, part of a Greenpeace study into microplastics in this remote body of water and its broader campaign for a global oceans treaty.

[07:45:02] DAMON (on camera): You can see quite a bit of plastic already just when it's in here. Has this been fairly common in most of the samples that have been coming up?

CELIA OJEDA, MARINE BIOLOGIST: Yes. In most of the samples there have been something white. There was Sargasso in the sample. We have seen a lot of plastics because I think -- because they get entangled in the Sargasso.

DAMON (voice-over): The initial results of this study are alarming. In its samples, Greenpeace found similar or greater concentrations of microplastic to what they found in the notorious Great Pacific Garbage Patch last year.

OJEDA: We need to change our water consumption -- our water patterns -- the way we rule the planet, the way we do things.

DAMON (on camera): You have a son.


DAMON (on camera): When you see the way things are now are you worried about his future?

OJEDA: Yes, I am, a lot -- because I think what -- with this and with climate change, what are we leaving them? It's insane.

DAMON (voice-over): Being out this far from land, you can't help but be struck by how interconnected our world is and how destructive we are being to marine ecosystems. And with that, also to ourselves.


DAMON: And, Alisyn, the solution, according to conservationists and scientists that we have been speaking to is not just with recycling. Only nine percent of plastic produced has ever actually been recycled.

What they say needs to happen is that it needs to be dealt with at the source, and that means that we really need to be pushing companies, corporations, and countries to stop producing single-use plastic because as you can see in that report, it really does affect all of us, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Oh my gosh, it's so depressing seeing it, Arwa -- really.

Now, all of us obviously can do our own little part of not using plastic utensils and not using baggies or just cutting back. I mean, it's gotten to the point when we see your report we have to do something.

Thank you so much for opening our eyes to what's happening there in the Sargasso Sea.

OK. Meanwhile, Elton John is coming to the defense of the royal family following a visit to his home in France. The music legend is telling the press to leave the Duke and Duchess of Sussex alone.

CNN international correspondent Melissa Bell is live in Paris with the latest. So what happened, Melissa?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this comes in the wake of yet another round of British tabloid criticism of Meghan and Harry in the wake of their summer holiday which involved, according to the British press, too many trips on jets for a couple that put the fight against climate change at the forefront of their agenda -- of their work.

And in the wake of that criticism, what we've seen is Elton John really lashing out on Twitter and speaking directly to the very close relationship he'd had, you'll remember, with Harry's mother, Princess Diana.

Anyone old enough to remember it -- could remember, Alisyn, can see him at the piano singing "Candle in the Wind" at her funeral. It was to her memory that he referred in a tweet really protecting Meghan and Harry and directly linking the sort of media intrusion that they are victims of to the one that ultimately led, partly, to the death of Princess Diana.

BERMAN: All right, Melissa. Melissa Bell for us in Paris. Thank you very much for that.

Obviously, the British press has been very tough on the Duke and Duchess.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And, of course, they should let -- I mean, we've seen this horror story before and how it ends when you are hounded by the press.

BERMAN: I will say in this case, though, it's about policy discussions they've been having and how they're living their life.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but I'm -- I mean, sometimes, there are also reports of them trying to be around them. And I think that they've done a good job of shielding their son, thus far, from all of that.

BERMAN: All right. This might be the video of the morning and by that, I mean nothing else matters, right? If alligators can climb fences then nothing else matters.

This is in Jacksonville, Florida outside a naval air station. And that alligator just climbing the fence -- simply climbing the fence.

Why is the fence even there if alligators can climb over it? That's what I ask you.

This military base made the point that they have a lot of alligators on the base and that their defense is don't seem to matter to the alligators at all. They don't respect their security measures.

A lot of people on Twitter have been weighing in, noting at the Kennedy Space Center -- I don't know if this is true -- the fences are built in a way that they angle out so the alligators can't climb over them.


BERMAN: Apparently, there are some people aware of the fact that alligators can climb fences.

CAMEROTA: OK. Then I'm glad we've solved this problem because you and I have been petrified that there are alligators coming into Hudson Yards right now because if they can climb a fence, they can ride an elevator --

BERMAN: That's true.

CAMEROTA: -- all right? I mean, that's what I've learned from this --

BERMAN: I don't know how they hit the button.

CAMEROTA: -- and an escalator.

BERMAN: How they hit the button?

CAMEROTA: No, that's -- just like that. That one was going up like this on its hind legs and standing. So, I guess they're much better at these things than we knew previously.

BERMAN: All right.

[07:50:00] On a much more serious note, President Trump proudly declared ISIS 100 percent defeated, but a recent suicide bombing raising concerns about the terror group's resurgence. We'll discuss, next.


BERMAN: ISIS claimed responsibility for a horrifying attack at a wedding in Afghanistan that killed 63 people over the weekend.

A recent Pentagon report described an increasingly insurgent Islamic State on the rise in parts of the Middle East. This, despite President Trump repeatedly boasting that the group has been defeated.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, and senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh.

And, Barbara, you covered this Pentagon report extensively here. We're not talking about the caliphate -- the territorial occupancy of ISIS at this point. We're talking about their power, their reach, and their influence. And there is concern in this report that it's increasing.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, I think the key word is what you just said -- influence.

Look, if you go to a map and you go back in time, ISIS held a good deal of territory across Iraq and into Syria. There has been a very substantial U.S.-backed effort, of course, to push and successfully push ISIS out of that physical caliphate, as the administration calls it, so that is gone.

[07:55:16] But the issue now is the rise of ISIS' influence. This is an underground organization, essentially, from the Middle East through Sinai into Afghanistan -- tens of thousands of fighters and they are very much able to carry out these attacks in the areas where they are. And their influence -- their ability to organize and carry out insurgent attacks may be, in fact, growing.

The real lesson for the president, perhaps, and for the administration is insurgencies and violent ideology do not end on a battlefield. This is something that could take decades to deal with, John.

BERMAN: And as you can see by that graphic, they have people, they have money, and they have institutions, still, inside their control.

And, Nick Paton Walsh, "The New York Times" has a report out this morning. It talks about the influence that ISIS is having inside refugee camps inside Syria, still. This is something that you've predicted, frankly, that when the United States pulled back from Syria, that ISIS might be allowed to flourish.

What do you see happening?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, you never really dealt with the reason why ISIS had support in the first place. They weren't communism (ph). They weren't an idea from a book that suddenly popped out of nowhere.

This was the radical extremist, brutal, nasty manifestation of large amounts of Muslins -- Sunni Muslims who are the majority in Syria and the minority in Iraq -- finding themselves, frankly, oppressed and brutalized over years in Syria's civil war and under a Shia-majority government in Iraq.

Now, they found many different ways of violently reacting to that but ISIS was the most violent manifestation. ISIS were defeated but you can't kill your way out of an insurgency, which really is what ISIS was kind of, let's say, a nasty branding of.

Now, the problem, of course, you face now is that those underlying causes are still there. Those Sunnis still feel very disenfranchised and now they're kind of rump (ph) extreme in supporters in a huge camp called Al Hol in Northern Syria.

And in terms of its fighters, well, there are foreigners in their midst, too -- 2,000 or so held in makeshift and sometimes permanent prisons. Nobody's dealing with that. Nobody's working out where they're going to go to school, where they're going to live, how they're going to be fed, even.

And so those people are getting more and more extreme as the Syrian Kurds, who were the real backbone of the U.S.-led fight against ISIS and lost many lives, are kind of being not left to their own devices but certainly, not being given the support they hoped would come from fighting the fight against ISIS.

They're left in a squabble now with Russian-backed Syrian regime on one side and a Turkey pressuring them on the other.

And of course, the U.S. military -- they're kind of hamstrung with a cap on how many people they're supposed to have in that area. It can't do everything it wants to. It doesn't want to be there forever, anyway.

But the real question is how do they go to phase two after military -- after, frankly, all the killing and the bombing?

There was an Obama administration plan to come in to rebuild. Trump kind of got his hands on that. It didn't work out.

He hoped the Gulf States would pay. They didn't really get in the mix, either and it began to fall apart.

And it seems like the U.S. kind of got bored of it thinking the fight was over. Well, it will come back, frankly, unless these thousands of people have somebody looking out for their interests. That's where it began, that's where it will come back from again -- John.

BERMAN: To that point that Nick was just making there, Barbara, what's your sense of where this ranks as a priority for the Pentagon and also the White House, and those two might not always be the same thing?

STARR: Well, they're probably not in this case.

You know, look, of course, we're headed into the 2020 presidential election and U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Syria.

President Trump, of course, very publicly not wanting to be in what people refer to as these forever wars. He had made a point that as president, he would bring the troops home.

Military advisers -- top senior generals are convincing him, apparently, not so fast. Not yet ready to fully draw down in any of those places.

So this is now going to be a very interesting challenge for Democratic candidates as well. Can they say they will bring the troops home? If you have this underlying instability, if you have terrorist cells flourishing, and with the possible capability of being able to stage attacks against the United States --

WALSH: There'll (INAUDIBLE) one more.

STARR: -- are you going to make the bet that you're going to bring them all home?

BERMAN: All right. Barbara Starr, Nick Paton Walsh, thank you very much for being with us this morning. I do appreciate it.

And thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" is next.

For our U.S. viewers, a new CNN poll on the 2020 race, and we have some important breaking news from South America. NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden, commanding lead in this race, nationally.

BERMAN: No other candidate has made any meaningful gains.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is can he actually win over people who don't already support him as the field gets narrower?

JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF JOE BIDEN: Think about your candidate, his or her electability, and who's going to win this race.