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Former U.S. Ambassador to Greenland Rufus Gifford Discusses Trump's Snub of Danish P.M. over Sale of Greenland, Trump Saying He'd Welcome Russia Back into G-8; Sanders Facing Criticism for Gun Safety Record; Massive Camp in Syria Infiltrated by ISIS to Recruit Members; 27 Arrested for Violent Threats Since Mass Shootings. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired August 21, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: As you mentioned, you know firsthand how strong of an ally Denmark has been to the United States. This might not jeopardize hundreds of decades of work together, but what does it do in the short term?

RUFUS GIFFORD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO DENMARK: Kate, I think -- listen, Danes, Europeans more broadly, obviously, Donald Trump is remarkably unpopular in this part of the world.

But I'll speak for Denmark here. They may not love Donald Trump, and they may not love his politics, but they do love the United States of America.

And we're going to have a lot of fixing to do once this chapter of American history is over. We're going to have to go back and try to earn some of the trust back that we have lost during this chapter of American history. And all of us, it's going to be incumbent on all of us as Americans, to understand that.

But ultimately, these alliances have survived world wars. They are stronger than any individual administration. Lord knows, Europeans have had their rocky history. They understand that. So we will get through it. I trust that. And this is a hiccup.

But you know, let's call it out for what it is. This just -- this chaotic version of diplomacy and foreign policy just feels un-American to me. American foreign policy has been dictated by a level of consistency that's been nonpartisan, whether you are Republican or Democrat.

And this chaotic approach to foreign policy, foreign policy by Twitter, turning your back on some of our best allies, it just feels un-American. We have to turn the page of this chapter of American history.

BOLDUAN: I actually was just going to ask you in light of this what your assessment was of how the president does conduct diplomacy. Unusual, of course. Do you see it in any way at all effective?

GIFFORD: So, I do not, Kate. I'll tell you why. So in the last 12 hours or whatever it is since we learned he canceled the trip -- and I am in Copenhagen, ironically, coincidentally, on vacation -- and the response from the Danes is something I find very, very troubling.

It used to be that our allies, like Denmark, held us to a very high standard. The idea that a president of the United States would cancel something as significant to them as a state visit would be very, very insulting. It is insulting to Danes. It is.

But this is almost what I'm most afraid of. They treat it with a kind of collective shrug, an eye roll to a certain extent. That this is Trump being Trump, that they somehow expected it, that this kind of behavior is normalized somehow. And that's what scares me.

So to answer your question, no, I don't find it effective. In fact, I think, as an American, and as someone who's proudly represented this relationship, I find it very, very troubling and not effective.

BOLDUAN: Can I -- can I ask you quickly, at the same time that the president is clashing with the Danish prime minister, he's also embracing Russia again. Saying from the Oval Office that he would like to invite Russia back into the G-8 and putting it on Obama, saying that Obama was outsmarted by Putin. And if someone proposed that Russia be asked back into the G-8, he says, "I would certainly be disposed to it."

The president wants to allow -- wanting to allow that, just your reaction to it?

GIFFORD: This is my reaction, Kate. I welcome the day that he talks about the Vladimir -- that he talks about Mette Frederiksen, the prime minister of Denmark, or Angela Merkel or Theresa May, former prime minister of the U.K., the same way that he talks about Vladimir Putin.

It just seems to me that this wouldn't have happened, that the last 24 hours in relation to Denmark, would not have happened had the person on the other side of the negotiating table been Vladimir Putin.

BOLDUAN: Ambassador Gifford, thank you for your time.

GIFFORD: Thank you, Kate.

[11:34:14] BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, as former Vice President Joe Biden slams President Trump for caving to the NRA on background checks, one of Biden's closest rivals, Senator Bernie Sanders, is facing tough criticism for his own record on gun safety. That's next.


BOLDUAN: President Trump is backing away from his multiple statements supporting stronger background checks in the wake of the mass killings in Texas and Ohio.

Joe Biden, though, is definitely not backing away from attacking the president on that very point, writing this on Twitter: "Once again, President Trump has folded to the NRA and broken his promise to pursue the most modest of gun safety policies."

Meanwhile, one of Biden's Democratic rivals, Senator Bernie Sanders, is facing questions over his gun safety record.

Here's CNN's Drew Griffin.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It was one tweet following a horrific weekend of violence that caught Fred Guttenberg's attention and disdain. Guttenberg lost his 14-year- old daughter, Jamie, in the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.

He heard Bernie Sanders reaction to the El Paso shooting, talking about the loss of life, the fear Americans live with, the call for stricter gun laws and also this.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): And I think all over the world people are looking at the United States and wondering, what is going on, what is the mental health situation in America where time after time after time we're seeing indescribable horrors?

[11:40:08] GRIFFIN (on camera): You wrote, "Shame on you. This is a gun issue. To use the gun lobby talking points on this only discredits you as a presidential option."

What did you mean?

FRED GUTTENBERG, DAUGHTER DIED IN PARKLAND SHOOTING: Blaming gun violence on the mentally ill, I have a problem with. And I do agree we, as a country, need to deal with a broken mental health system. But when we have gun violence, we need to be really specific. There's only one factor in gun violence that matters, and it's access to guns.

GRIFFIN (voice over): Guttenberg was immediately attacked on Twitter by Sanders supporters, who said he'd taken the line out of context. He disagrees.

Unlike the other top-tier candidates in the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders has sided with the gun lobby on two crucial laws. In the 1990s, Sanders voted against the Brady bill five different times. The legislation that finally passed and allowed for instant background checks Sanders voted against.

And in 2005, Sanders sided with the NRA and voted for a bill protecting gun manufacturers from being sued by victims of gun violence, like Fred Guttenberg. He's now calling for its repeal.

In his 2016 presidential race, Sanders passed votes on gun legislation became an issue.

ANDERSON COOPER, MODERATOR: Secretary Clinton, is Bernie Sanders tough enough on guns?


SANDERS: When they're a threat to others or themselves --

GRIFFIN: Which, at the time, Sanders denied in an interview with CNN.

SANDERS: So, I do not accept the fact that I have been weak on this issue. In fact, I've been strong on this issue. I can get beyond the noise and all of these arguments of people shouting at each other and come up with real, constructive gun control legislation, which most significantly gets guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.

GRIFFIN: Guttenberg says he appreciates Bernie Sanders has now evolved on the guns issue but says Sanders legacy has become a personal issue in his own fight for gun legislation.

GUTTENBERG: You could say I've changed my mind. You could say I've evolved. But your votes and what you've done are still there. I'm thankful that he has evolved, but he has to answer for it.

GRIFFIN: Sanders did vote for instant background checks, voted to ban certain semi-automatic weapons and voted to eliminate the loophole of no background checks in private gun sales. And on the campaign trail, recently, he's been urging the Senate to pass what he calls common- sense gun safety legislation.

SANDERS: Assault weapons are military-style weapon designed for one thing, and that is to kill as many people as --

GRIFFIN: Even so, Professor Robert Spitzer, who has studied the intersection of guns and politics in the U.S. for decades, says Sanders' past votes could be a political problem as the Democratic Party moves even further left.

ROBERT SPITZER, PROFESSOR & POLITICAL SCIENCE CHAIR, SUNY CORTLAND: It kind of stands out as something of an anomaly and many people are puzzled by the fact that the most liberal member of the Senate, this one Democratic socialist, takes the position that seems at odds with liberalism in America.

DON LEMON, MODERATOR: Senator Bernie Sanders.


GRIFFIN: During last month's CNN debate, Sanders tried to diffuse the issue by proclaiming the NRA has given him a lifetime D-minus rating. Spitzer says, after yet another series of mass shootings, that may not be low enough.


GRIFFIN: Kate, Sanders' campaign sent a statement saying, as president, Sanders would take immediate action to reduce gun violence, including repealing that law that protects gun manufacturers, the law Bernie Sanders helped pass.

Fred Guttenberg says he's looking for a candidate that doesn't have to explain why he ever voted with the NRA -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Important piece. Good look, Drew. Thank you so much.

[11:43:56] Coming up, late last year, President Trump declared the ISIS caliphate defeated. Now after a new Pentagon report that ISIS is resurging, there are new fears that a massive refugee camp in Syria could become a new ISIS stronghold.


BOLDUAN: Following the new report from the Pentagon that ISIS is resurging in Syria, there are new questions about what the United States will do about a massive refugee camp in the northeast of that country of Syria, where ISIS is now taking root. It is home to some 70,000 people, 70,000 people in that refugee camp. That's about the population of Wilmington, Delaware.

Now the Pentagon watchdog says members of ISIS are inside the camp trying to recruit, trying to radicalize these civilians who have been caught in an endless war.

Here's how "Washington Post" columnist, Josh Rogin, put it in a piece about it: "The Islamic State is recruiting from the camp, smuggling fighters in and out and using it to plan attacks in other parts of Syria, officials told me. If it's not already effectively caliphate 2.0, it soon will be."

So what now?

Joining me now is Mouaz Moustafa. He's the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an NGO that helps fund humanitarian efforts for refugees in Syria.

[11:50:08] Mouaz, thank you so much for being here.

This camp we're talking about it something you've been worried about for quite a while. What are you hearing from there?

MOUAZ MOUSTAFA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SYRIAN EMERGENCY TASK FORCE: Sure. This refugee camp encompasses a lot of the people that were under the control of ISIS in that final push by the coalition to defeat the physical caliphate.

But since the inception of the camp, this camp is well, well over capacity in terms of how many people it's hosting. And it is only guarded by a few dozen Kurdish SDF fighters that are providing at best minimal security.

And the rest of the population is in limbo. You have about 10,000 multinationals -- people who are not Syrian or Iraqi -- that came and joined ISIS. Most of the camp is women and children. The vast majority of the camp are children under 12 years old.

But you've got the visuals, the ISIS women who have come and joined that are really abusing the rest of the population of the camp, including about 30,000 Syrian that's are internally displace that had happened to be under ISIS control as the liberation of that area has been.

So it is a humanitarian crisis and a national crisis at the same time.

BOLDUAN: I spoke to the former defense secretary, Leon Panetta, and asked him about this. Here's what he said.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: If we simply withdraw our forces and pretend that ISIS and the remnants of al Qaeda are now longer a threat, make no mistake about it, it is an open invitation to terrorists to establish the kind of base from which they can conduct attacks against the United States. We can't let that happen again.


BOLDUAN: So, Mouza, it's a real threat to the United States, what's going on there. But it also means it is a real threat to the Syrian people. What is your greatest fear, what's playing out there at the moment?

MOUSTAFA: Absolutely. First of all, my greatest fear is the children, 50,000 at least under the age of 12 that are very vulnerable to ISIS propaganda and are very vulnerable to radicalization if they're left unrehabilitated.

I think it is really important that we repatriate as many people as we can from that camp. And we need to pressure the Europeans as well to take pack their citizens that have joined ISIS. The United States has taken back about 21 or so people. And that needs to happen.

But if we continue to be unclear about the strategy in Syria --


MOUSTAFA: -- and at any point, we just pull out, the president decides to, that will keep our allies from being as committed to the fight and that will allow ISIS to resurge and using --


MOUSTAFA: -- both the Syrian people and hurting our interests as well.

BOLDUAN: And there's another crisis unfolding there, this time in Idlib, the northwest of the country. There are estimates that three million civilians, including a million children there, that have been there trying to escape the Assad regime. Your organization has been running a school, a kindergarten, and a women's center for few years to try to help, and it was just attacked. What are you hearing?

MOUSTAFA: It is truly heartbreaking. It's been devastating. We've been watching from helplessly trying to keep people. Our key staff, all of our staff, our teachers, our kids are in basements awaiting the bombardments to slow down. Assad backed, back by Iran and the Russian air force are slaughtering

civilians. They are targeting hospitals and schools, including our school and our women's center, supported by amazing Americans across the United States.

We lost a young kid named Ahmed, who is only eight years old. Another young girl, Linda, who we're just used to seeing her pictures, full of joy. We saw that joy robbed from her eyes as she was injured when she was playing with her friend.

And it is very real. They are just like our kids here in the United States. And there must be a call to the end of this incriminate shelling of civilians by Russian and the Assad regime in the province. It is truly a humanitarian atrocity that has the potential of doubling the refugees in Europe and becoming a national security issue as well.

BOLDUAN: It is not someone else's problem. It is everyone's problem. These children are children just like our children.

Mouaz, thank you for your work.

MOUSTAFA: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you for your work.

MOUSTAFA: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

[11:54:19] BOLDUAN: Coming up, since the horrific shootings in Dayton and El Paso just over two weeks ago, at least 27 people have been arrested over threats to commit mass attacks. The threatening details ahead.


BOLDUAN: Law enforcement are on high alert, it seems, in the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. CNN has learned at least 27 people have been arrested since then for making threats to commit mass attacks.

CNN's Rosa Flores is following this from Florida.

Rosa, what are you hearing?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, we've been following and tracking all of these cases across the country. Some of them have been here in Florida. We've been following these cases. A lot of them are very similar. They start with an anonymous tip and police officers follow leads and then, lo and behold, there is an arrest.

There are two cases here in this county, in Volusia County. Two arrests this past Friday.

In one case, a 25-year-old was arrested at a Winn-Dixie parking lot after his ex-girlfriend went to police because she received text messages that she thought were threatening. One of them that, quote, "A good 100 kills would be nice." Law enforcement reacted. He was arrested and he is being held without bond. It is unclear if that man has an attorney at this point in time.

On the same day, a 15-year-old was also arrested. He posted a threat on a gaming platform. Part of that that that he vowed to, quote, "Bring my father's M-15 to school to kill seven people at a minimum."

He was arrested and his arrest was caught on body camera video.

Take a listen to the exchange between officers and his mother.


UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER OF ARRESTED TEENAGER: He's a little boy! He didn't do anything wrong. He's still a little boy. And he's not one of the crazy people out there doing stuff.


UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER OF ARRESTED TEENAGER: Yes, but he shouldn't be treated as though he's a terrorist or something because he made a silly statement on a stupid video game.


FLORES: Now, we know very little about that case because he is a juvenile.

But here's what the superintendent had to say: "If and when he's released, we would have a threat assessment meeting before he's allowed back in school."

Kate, real consequences for these threats that we're seeing online -- Kate?

[11:59:59] BOLDUAN: Rosa, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. From Florida for us.

And thank you all so much for joining me today.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.