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Trump Under Fire For Inviting Taliban To U.S. Near 9/11 Anniversary; Taliban Threatens After Canceled Talks; Evacuees From Bahamas Actually Told To Get Off A Ferry Headed To The U.S. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired September 9, 2019 - 14:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Erica Hill, in for Brooke Baldwin. President Trump is set to leave for a campaign event in North Carolina just moments from now and that means we may hear him speak publicly for the first time about his cancellation of a meeting that would have brought Taliban leaders to U.S. soil at Camp David.

The point of that was to mark a peace agreement in Afghanistan, a plan sparking bipartisan outrage -- the Camp David part of that plan -- and not just any Republican is upset at the idea.

Top members of the President's staff say the visit would have been a bad move. And of course, they couldn't ignore the timing on the anniversary week of 9/11, the event of course that triggered the U.S. entering Afghanistan 18 years ago.

It was the President who revealed a meeting was in the works when he also revealed it was off via tweet saying he called it off after a Taliban car bomb in Kabul killed 12 including this American soldier, a 34-year-old paratrooper from Puerto Rico.

CNN White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Caitlin Collins is in North Carolina, getting ready for the President there. Kaitlan, so give us the details. These were just any staff members for the President -- the Vice President Mike Pence, National Security adviser John Bolton, neither want to see the Taliban at Camp David.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's not just from the outside of the White House, he is facing backlash over this decision, the idea that they were potentially considering and planning on holding the leaders, hosting the leaders of the Taliban at Camp David, you're seeing pushback from people like Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, several other Republicans as well.

But some of that resistance was also coming from inside the White House, including from the Vice President Mike Pence, who advised the President that he didn't think it was a good idea to host them on U.S. soil at Camp David on the week of the 9/11 anniversary. The National Security adviser John Bolton also pushed back on the venue location. But we should note that as a lot of this planning for this last minute meeting was going on, Pence was out of the country and so was John Bolton because they were overseas. Pence was sent to Poland and set up after the President canceled his trip. And the National Security adviser was also not in Washington as these discussions were going on.

Of course, the President announced that they've scrapped them. But it was the President himself who was pushing not only for the meeting to be at Camp David, but for the meeting to happen at all.

And our sources are telling us that came after a meeting that the President had with his National Security team in August, when he was unhappy with the status of the peace talks and how far along they were. And he thought that if he got in a room with the leaders of the Taliban, came face-to-face with them that he would be able to employ those dealmaker-in-chief qualities that he says he has and be able to get some last minute concessions from them.

Of course, that is not ultimately happening right now, because that meeting was called-off which the President says it was because of the death of a U.S. service member. And right now, the President says those talks are not on the table. But behind the scenes, sources are telling us that they're already discussing the potential of dates for another meeting to happen.

HILL: We will be looking for more on that. Kaitlan, thank you. As Kaitlan reported, the President wanted the Taliban at Camp David because he wanted the optics of sealing a landmark peace agreement. As Kaitlan said, his dealmaker-in-chief tendencies.

That of course would have happened at one of the nation's most presidential settings. In fact, the history of milestone events at Camp David goes back more than seven decades. For more on that let's bring in CNN Politics Reporter and Editor-at-Large, Chris Cillizza. So Chris, we know one of the President's favorite political figures also visited Camp David.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Right. So here -- let's start here. I've got a lot of facts. I'm going to try to pack them all in, okay. This is FDR and Winston Churchill, May 1943.

Roosevelt actually started Camp David. It wasn't called that at the time, he called it Shangri-La. Dwight Eisenhower wanted to shut it down, decided not to and named it after his grandson and his grandfather, both named David, so hence Camp David. But this is sort of your first famous moment.

Let's keep going because there was a lot of history made here. Okay, Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter in the middle. This is 1978 as you can see here. This was the -- they signed a peace accord and came to be known as the Camp David Accords. It was preliminary steps to an Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement and then released. But maybe the landmark moment that came out of a Camp David meeting.


CILLIZZA: Okay, next one, Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestinian Authority, obviously Prime Minister of Israel and Bill Clinton. This was an attempt -- July, 2000, as you can see by this date, it's helpful -- this was an attempt, I think, to do something similar to what Carter had done back in the late 70s. Unfortunately, for Bill Clinton, nothing came of this between the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis. But again, a moment in which Bill Clinton was trying to submit his legacy.

Okay, you know, this guy. That's Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush, September 2003. Bush hosts Putin at Camp David. Obviously, anytime Russia and the United States are together as we saw them in a certainly a different light in Helsinki last year, but this was another big moment.

And I think we have one more if I'm not mistaken from Barack Obama. Yes. Okay. So there's been a lot of back and forth over where the G8 next year will be hosted in America. Donald Trump floating Mar-a- Lago. Well, Barack Obama in 2012 chose to have it at Camp David. Right?

It is seen as that place where history can be made. You can understand why someone like Donald Trump, who as Kaitlan pointed out, very much focused on dealmaking, and I'll add, very much focused on writing his own legacy, would want to put it in a place like this and meet with the Taliban if he could find a way toward peace.

He likes to look big. He likes backdrops. He understands drama. Camp David is the place where a lot of history gets made, Erica and I think that's why at least in his own mind, it was a good idea. Back to you.

HILL: Chris Cillizza, always appreciate it, my friend. Thank you.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

HILL: Well, in terms of how the other parties involved are responding, here is a response from the Islamic Emirate with the Taliban is now calling itself -- in a statement, I am reading, quote, "Now, as President of the United States has announced suspension of negotiations with the Islamic Emirate, this will harm America more than anyone else. It will damage its reputation, unmask its anti- peace policy to the world. Even more, increases loss of life and treasure, and present its political interactions as erratic."

CNN Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward has reported extensively, of course, on the Taliban. She joins us now from London. So Clarissa, when you hear that response, just put into context for us, how much damage has been done by the President calling off these talks, and in such a public way?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In terms of like the peace process itself, it remains to be seen. It certainly feels at this moment in time, like those talks have been derailed and no one yet knows how you try to get the train back on the track and continue with those talks, and there are plenty of people I should add, Erica, who will say that, you know, the President made the right decision. There were a lot of criticisms, not just with the Camp David element

that's already been discussed, but with the whole nature of the agreement, the lack of any guarantees of the security of women, women's rights, of the Afghan government not being given a seat at the table.

But notwithstanding that, I think what's interesting about the Taliban statement that you just read out other than the fact that they're now saying this is going to cost the U.S. in blood and treasure, and they're also saying it makes the U.S. look bad.

But what they don't do, interestingly, is to completely close the door on the possibility of continuing those negotiations. They're sort of leaving that possibility open. But the question becomes, how do you get back to the negotiating table, when it's clear that one side and presumably in this instance, it would have to be the Taliban will have to do some kind of a major climb down for all parties to be comfortable with going back to the negotiating table?

At this stage, the Taliban is not showing that it has any incentive to do something that the U.S. would like to see it do such as implement a nationwide ceasefire, while these talks continue -- Erica.

HILL: Well, and in terms of that, I mean, you were pointing out all the things that weren't in the deal, right. But it's also been looked at not necessarily as a peace agreement, but from what we know of it, more of a negotiated withdrawal. What specifically would that have entailed? How much do we know?

WARD: So I think that's your characterization of it is exactly right. It's wrong really to classify it as a peace agreement. What this was, was a kind of two-pronged agreement. And in the first part, the deal between the U.S. and the Taliban, there were only two real main facets to the deal. And they were that the U.S. would agree to withdraw its forces, and that the Taliban would agree to ensure that Afghanistan does not once again become a safe haven for terrorists.

Then, in conjunction with that, there would also be agreement that there will be a second sort of prong to this and that second prong would be intra-Afghan dialogue.

The Afghan government sitting down with the Taliban discussing a peace fire and working out the actual nuts and bolts of a peace agreement, but there are plenty of critics who said this deal was really flawed from the beginning, Erica, and there was a strong sense that the Trump administration was really trying to railroad it through as quickly as possible, without taking into consideration the possibility that the Taliban might say what they need to say, in order to get the U.S. to sign this deal and withdraw and then do what they want on the ground, potentially, you know, looking at restarting of the Civil War.


WARD: They're potentially trying to use their power from the Afghan government going back on some of their, you know, legit claims to support more women's rights.

And so there were a lot of concerns from different parties, at the same time. I think there is also a school of thought that says, "Hold on a second, 18 years of war; 2,400 U.S. servicemen dead; trillions of dollars spent, the U.S. is clearly not winning this fight. Victory does not appear to be an option. So how do you find an exit ramp?" And that exit ramp is never probably going to look pretty and it's always going to entail compromise.

But a lot of people felt in this instance, that there were just too many compromises and too many opportunities for things too quickly to regress to the sort of scenario that we saw before 9/11.

HILL: Clarissa Ward, always appreciate your insight. Thank you. We are keeping a close watch on the White House. At this moment, President Trump, of course set to depart from North Carolina any minute. He is headed there for a special election that could also be seen as a major 2020 test.

Plus after surviving unspeakable tragedy in the Bahamas, some hurricane evacuees were actually told to get off a ferry headed to the U.S., now there are calls for an investigation.

In a CNN exclusive, why the U.S. conducted a secret mission to extract a top Russian spy.



HILL: Hurricane Dorian survivors in the Bahamas today as you know just trying to get to safer ground. Dozens of them who boarded a ferry headed for South Florida on Sunday, were unexpectedly told to get off that boat if they did not have visas.


VOICE ON LOUDSPEAKER: ... let you come in to the USA, so you won't have a problem. So please, all passengers that don't have U.S. visas, please proceed to disembark.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HILL: That ferry announcement was recorded and posted online by CNN's Miami affiliate WSVN.

Now, the acting Port Director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said, no one from the U.S. government ordered people off the ferry.


STEPHEN SILVESTRI, ACTING PORT DIRECTOR, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: If those folks did stay on the boat, and arrived, we would have processed them, vetted them and worked within our laws and protocols, and done what we -- you know, what we had to do to facilitate them. I think it was, you know, decision -- a business decision by Balearia

to remove them. They were not ordered off the boat by any government entity -- U.S. government entity.


HILL: So then what happened? Well, CNN has made several attempts to reach the ferry operator. We have not received a response. According to the website for Customs and Border Protection, visas are not required for Bahamian citizens flying into the U.S. if they meet certain criteria.

When it comes to the situation on the ground, we can tell you that as of today, the death toll stands at 45. The U.S. is working with several groups assisting this humanitarian crisis. One of the folks working to help is India Hicks. She is a longtime resident of the Bahamas, trying to help get aid to the island.

I know you've been helping out on Abaco Island, you've been posting some pictures that will stop your heart, and I have to say I'm shocked to see some smiles among them from folks there. Just first put into perspective for us what you've seen, what you've experienced so far.

INDIA HICKS, LIVES IN THE BAHAMAS, WORKING TO GET AIDE TO SURVIVORS (via Skype): Well, here, certainly in the communities of Spanish Wells Eleuthera -- North Eleuthera, it has been unbelievable. The group that came together to help some of the evacuees, I think that there was the Bahamas Methodist Habitat and New Providence Community Center, the two leading guys from that who said, we need to be doing more, and they gathered together a small flotilla of boats that were able to go down from our community here in to Abaco before any of the search and rescue teams, before any of the disaster relief agencies arrived there.

We were able to actually rescue over 600 of the evacuees from there, bring them up to North Eleuthera, where we were able to rehabilitate them, get them the medical assistance that they needed, and help them start to set up new lives.

It was an amazing, amazing effort from a very small community who just wanted to be doing more.

HILL: And people just coming together to help their neighbors as it were. You mentioned you were there before officials. Based on what you've seen, how do you think the official response has been and what you've heard from it? Because we've also heard from some of our reporters in the on the ground that they were there and they were looking for officials in the early days and it was hard to find where the response was.

HICKS: You know, I wouldn't like to comment on how the Bahamian government has handled this. What I would like to say is we're living in a country that has had a massive crisis and disaster fall on them and no one is ever fully prepared for that.

[14:20:10] HICKS: But what I am seeing is that there is so much love for the

Bahamas, and so much love for the Bahamian people, that people are really now coming together and trying to do exactly what I witnessed here, helping locally as much as they possibly can. It was really, really heartwarming.

HILL: And as I mentioned, you posted a number of images on your Instagram account, and I just want to bring up some of those pictures. I know you noted to what people had grabbed, what was left for them to grab really struck you?

HICKS: Yes. It really did. It was extraordinary. In fact, one of my children, my 22-year-old was actually able to get onto one of the boats, and he went down to Abaco and brought some of the teams back. So it was a wonderful -- a wonderful moment for me to be standing on the dock and seeing him bring those people back.

And of course, what we took off them from the boat was so small. We have many hands there helping with the luggage. And in fact, there was no luggage. What people grabbed in moments of panic is very surprising. There's one little guy who came up and he was just holding this gigantic box of Cheerios.

That was all he had been carrying for the whole time. And he was not going to let go of it. That would -- that had become his security blanket. And it was wet and all stuck together and we kept offering him something else. But no, he was going to hold on to that.

It is amazing to see some of the stories. You know, we have people who arrived with no ID whatsoever. No identification. But we were very, very keen to keep families together. And we were also trying to help as many as possible who had animals coming off as well.

The indomitable human spirit was very much alive and the incredible effort that we saw handled locally here. But there were some devastating stories; really, really awful stories of what this hurricane has done and the devastation that we've seen.

We did have two wonderful women come at the end of one of the first days where we really weren't as prepared. By the end of second or third days, we were very prepared, we knew what we were expecting and how to help. But these two women came off and they had their cats with them. They had no luggage at all. And they had a bottle of rum and a packet of cigarettes and they said that's all they were going to need.

So it was wonderful in moments of great sadness to see this. But it's been heart wrenching. And my work is that this is an ongoing effort that we need to be thinking about. This isn't just the here and now. Of course, those 600 people, my God, we made a difference. But this is going to take years and we have to keep asking ourselves, how can we help rebuild these people's lives in the years to come?

HILL: You're right. It is so important to continue to get the word out and to remind people. India Hicks, we appreciate you for taking the time. Thank you for everything that you're doing. And for folks at home who do want to help of course, just log on to for a number of ways you can help those in need. India, thank you again.

Just ahead, a CNN exclusive. The U.S. secretly extracting a top spy from inside Russia. It happened in 2017. What we're just learning now about that secret mission.

And breaking news on that upsized cargo ship off the Georgia Coast. The Coast Guard making contact with crew members trapped on board who are still alive.



HILL: Turning now to a CNN exclusive, Jim Sciutto joining us with new reporting on a highly secretive intelligence operation by the U.S., so walk us through what you learned here because this is fascinating.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: This is significant. Multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge tell me that in a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017, the U.S. successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest level covert sources inside the Russian government.

Their knowledge of this Russian covert source's existence was highly restricted within the U.S. government. According to one source, there was no equal alternative inside the Russian government providing both insight and information on the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

A person directly involved in the discussion said that the removal of the Russian was driven in part by concerns that President Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence, which could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.

Now, the decision to carry out this extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. That intelligence concerning ISIS and Syria had been provided by Israel.

The disclosure to the Russians by the President, though not about the Russian spy specifically, did prompt intelligence officials to renew discussions about the potential risk of exposure, this according to the source who was directly involved in the matter.

At the time, then C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo told other senior Trump administration officials that too much information was coming out regarding this asset.

HILL: So this happened after that May 2017 Oval Office meeting with President Trump, but it wasn't actually the first time that there was some concern about this asset?

SCIUTTO: No. And this context is important because it went over months. At the end of the Obama administration, U.S. Intelligence officials had already expressed concerns about the safety of this spy and other Russian assets given the length of their cooperation with the U.S. -- this according to a former senior Intelligence official.

Those concerns grew in early 2017 after the U.S. Intelligence Community released its public report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which said Putin himself ordered the operation. The Intelligence Community also shared a classified version of the report with the incoming Trump administration, which included highly protected details on the sources behind that Intelligence.