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Human Rights Crisis Unfolding In China; Beyond The Call Of Duty: Police In Texas Step Up For Fallen Officer's Family; Bipartisan Backlash To Trump's Syria Withdrawal Decision. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired October 11, 2019 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's a technical question but one that has become important in the Mueller investigation and even now, and it has to do with the idea of research and whether opposition research and knowledge has value, correct?

Can you explain to me why that's a complicated issue? And if you're willing to tell me, what your feeling is about it? That'd be great, too.

WEINTRAUB: Well, again, the law is pretty clear that it is illegal to solicit, accept or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. So the question of what is a thing of value has come up before.

And it doesn't have to be something that is tangible. Obviously, money is a thing of value. A tangible thing that you can buy in a store is a thing of value.

But the Commission has also looked at other instances of less tangible things -- opposition research, voter lists, mailing lists, contact lists -- all sorts of information that campaigns generally pay for or that individuals or groups spend money in order to produce or acquire. And they're all things of value.

BERMAN: Is asking a foreign country -- if a foreign country investigates a political opponent, does that have value?

WEINTRAUB: I don't think I'm going to answer that one.

BERMAN: I thought I'd try.

I will note that Republican Congressman Rodney Davis, of Illinois, has not been happy with the statements you've been making on Twitter or in interviews, including with CNN. He has asked the Federal Election Commission inspector general to investigate you and what you said.

Among other things, he says, "This investigation is not about silencing anyone. It's about protecting the dignity and respect the Commission has worked towards since its inception."

What's your response to Congressman Davis?

WEINTRAUB: Well, I think it's exactly about trying to silence me and this trick has been tried before. A couple of years ago, a front group that was funded by the Koch brothers filed pretty much the same complaint with our Office of Inspector General. And our Office of Inspector General completely cleared me and said there is nothing wrong with a public official speaking to the public.

As an election commissioner, everything that concerns the integrity of our elections is something that I am concerned about and that I speak to the public about. It's part of my job.

BERMAN: Ellen Weintraub, thank you for coming on and helping us understand some of these archaeon election issues and why they really, truly matter to this country and the future of our elections. Appreciate you being with us.

WEINTRAUB: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.


Many of the leading 2020 candidates, including the president, have one thing in common -- how their age is factoring in their campaigns.



BERMAN: So this morning, we're getting a new look at a human rights crisis unfolding in China. New video reveals how hundreds of thousands of Muslims are being detained and sent to deradicalization camps in the far western region. That's what China calls them.

CNN's Matt Rivers went there looking for answers.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hundreds of men cuffed and blindfolded on the ground, heads down, armed guards standing above them in this shocking drone video. The U.S. government believes this video, posted online anonymously last month, was shot in Xinjiang, China.

CNN can't independently confirm its authenticity but activists say it's a disturbing example of an ongoing unparalleled human rights crisis in the world today.

Xinjiang is the Western Chinese region where the government has detained hundreds of thousands of Muslim ethnic minorities over the past several years. They're thrown into a massive network of detention camps where allegations of torture inside abound.

The Chinese government doesn't want you to see these camps, as we saw firsthand on a trip to Xinjiang this year.

RIVERS (on camera): Ma'am, can you tell me what that is? Is this something that you don't want us to see?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why you are here? Tell me. Why you are here? Why you are here?

RIVERS (on camera): We're here to film what we believe is a camp.

RIVERS (voice-over): Activists say be detaining people en masse, China is trying to eradicate Muslim ethnic minority culture. But, Beijing says the camps are merely vocational training centers designed to eliminate religious extremism.

Officials say anyone can freely travel to Xinjiang to see what the government is doing for themselves. When we went that simply wasn't true. Our welcome gift was a government tail.

RIVERS (on camera): We've already been followed by three or four guys, including one of them who I've seen follow us from the second we got out of the baggage area.

RIVERS (voice-over): That would be this man. He and at least a dozen others followed us every single hour of our 6-day trip, never more than 20 feet away -- in the car, in the train station, in the hotel, in the room next to mine.

Xinjiang is on lockdown so video like this, smuggled to the outside world, is rare and crucial evidence. Western intelligence sources say the video shows Muslim minorities being transferred between detention facilities by train.

Omerbeck Bikali watched the video and says he went through something very similar. I feel so said, he says. That used to be me. I can't forget that. It's criminal.

Bikali says he was held in a Chinese camp for months in 2017, though he was transferred by car and says he was bound and blindfolded the same way.

IMERBEK BIKALI, FORMER DETAINEE (through translator): I think the reason they want to torture us firstly, to make us physically weak so that you cannot resist.

RIVERS (voice-over): Beijing did not respond to questions about Bikali's claims. The government in Xinjiang said, in part, it's, quote, "...crackdown on crimes has never been linked to ethnicities or religions. Transporting inmates belongs to normal judicial activities."

CNN cannot confirm why the men are being held, and criminal prisoners in China are regularly transported wearing blindfolds.


But this drone video does not exist in a vacuum. It's just a part of more corroboration, including firsthand accounts and what we've seen on the ground for ourselves, that shows China is persecuting people in Xinjiang simply because they are Muslim.

Matt Rivers, CNN.


CAMEROTA: Our thanks to Matt. What terrific reporting there.

So now to this. The border city of Mission, Texas remembering the officer, husband, and father affectionately known as Speedy. He was the first Mission police officer killed in the line of duty in more than 40 years. Now, the department is going beyond the call of duty for his family.

CNN's Ed Lavandera explains.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even in the predominantly Latino border town of Mission, Texas, people had a hard time pronouncing Cpl. Jose Espericueta's name. Instead, he was just known as Speedy.

ROBERTA "BOBBIE" ESPERICUETA, WIFE OF JOSE ESPERICUETA: He was always the first one out there.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): So it wasn't a surprise Speedy was one of the first to arrive when Mission police were called to the scene, this past June, of a man pulling a gun on his own mother. Speedy was on the phone with his wife when the call came.

ESPERICUETA: I heard a radio call in the background so he told me, babe, I got to go. And I said OK, babe, take care.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Those were the last words the high school sweethearts shared. Fifteen minutes later, a friend told Bobbie to race to the hospital. Speedy was shot in a foot chase with the suspect.

ESPERICUETA: And I cried my lungs out and I just didn't want to believe it. I didn't -- I did not want to believe it.

But the doctor did come out and say that he had passed. And I was just in shock. I was -- I couldn't -- I just couldn't deal with it at the time. I was in complete shock.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Officer Javier Lara was one of Speedy's best friends. A week before the shooting they shared haunting text messages -- a pact that if anything happened, they would take care of each other's families.

TEXT: Bro, if something ever happens to one of us we have to make sure we take care of each other's families.

Bro, I promise I'll be there for you all families, but you all have to promise me the same.

I know -- we need to make a pact.

You guys better take care of my little boy and little girl.

JAVIER LARA, MISSION POLICE OFFICER: It's heartbreaking because it's something that you make as a promise as a friend -- as best friends -- and you're always going to hold your word to it but it just -- you know, now, we're fulfilling it.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Officer Lara and others have stepped up for their buddy, Speedy, taking care of his wife and their two children, Brianna and Joaquin.

They recruited dozens of officers to make sure Joaquin didn't walk into the first day of seventh grade alone, a moment so powerful that it left many officers in tears.

They drove Brianna to college and helped her move into her dorm room.

They filled the stands of a middle school stadium to cheer Joaquin on in his first football game where he wore the number 50 in honor of his father's badge number, 350.

And they named a street after him.

ESPERICUETA: I mean, it's literally a family in blue. They've been there with us through everything. They've tried to normalize our life as much as possible.

LAVANDERA (on camera): You guys excited about the game?

ESPERICUETA: Yes, super excited.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Speedy and his family were supposed to celebrate his birthday together at a recent Dallas Cowboys game. It was his favorite team. But it was his brothers in blue who brought the family, instead.

ESPERICUETA: We get to honor and share it with my husband in spirit. I know he's here. I've had like so many signs it's unbelievable. I'm just very thankful -- very thankful.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The Dallas Cowboys might be known as America's team, but these officers are Speedy's team.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Mission, Texas.


CAMEROTA: All right.

Well, now to this story. The crisis in northern Syria escalating overnight after President Trump pulled out U.S. troops.

One Army veteran says President Trump has betrayed American troops around the world. We speak with him, next.



CAMEROTA: As of this morning, nearly 300 people have been killed and tens of thousands have fled their homes since Turkey began its military offensive in northern Syria. President Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of that region sparked bipartisan criticism, including from current soldiers and veterans.

Joining us now is Paul Reckhoff. He's a U.S. Army veteran and host of "Angry Americans" podcast. Paul, great to have you here.

Let me just read your tweet about all of this. This is what you sent out earlier this week.

"Trump has not just betrayed the Kurds, he's betrayed the American troops standing beside them. His word is America's words is their word. Nobody can trust America right now, including American troops."

You're angry about this decision. Is that fair to say?

PAUL RECKHOFF, U.S. ARMY VETERAN, FOUNDER, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA, HOST, "ANGRY AMERICANS" PODCAST: Absolutely. I think if you're not angry you're not paying attention. And this is a good reason to be angry, it's a good reason to be frustrated, it's a good reason to be disappointed.

But think about our Special Forces troops who 48 hours ago were standing next to their Kurdish allies. They're fighting in combat. They're in a trench fight. It's war.

And then they get word from higher that they've got to go and they leave their friends stranded on the battlefield pretty much to die -- to be slaughtered -- to be steamrolled by the Kurds.

They can't trust us. The Kurds can't trust us and that sends a message to our allies in Afghanistan and all around the world. American troops everywhere are jeopardized if our allies can't trust us and if the president literally pulls the policy rug out from under them.

CAMEROTA: Do you understand why the president made this decision?


RECKHOFF: No, I don't think anybody does. That's why he's getting slammed by Republicans, Democrats, and everybody in between. It's short-sided, it's hasty, and it's really going to reverberate not just in Syria but around the world.

Who is going to stand up right now and stand next to an American troop and put their butt on the line, their life on the line, their family on the line if tomorrow they're gone? If you were in a fistfight and someone's next to you and they leave you hanging, it's terrible. It's a betrayal and it cuts to the very core of whether or not you can trust your allies. And that's why it's so damaging.

CAMEROTA: Last night, the president had a rally in Minneapolis and he, I think, tried to explain his feelings on this. He basically said mission accomplished. So listen to this moment.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't have any soldiers there because we left -- we won -- we left. Take a victory, United States. We left -- take a victory, take a victory. Bring our troops back home.


CAMEROTA: Are you not taking a victory?

RECKHOFF: No. Does anybody feel victorious right now?

I mean, this is not a reality show. You're going to post images that show that no one's won. This is combat and it's evolving, and there are no victors here in this kind of a war. He can say whatever he wants and try to spin it, but this is not a reality show and our troops are caught in the middle.

He also said there no Kurds at Normandy. He knows as much about Normandy as he does about Vietnam.

He's just completely out of touch with the reality of what's happening on our ground. And again, our troops are caught in the middle of the politics. He does it again and again, politicizing our troops, and this is just another example.

CAMEROTA: I mean, he's basically saying that the troops want to come home and that people don't want -- Americans don't like endless wars. Is that valid?

RECKHOFF: Yes, that's valid, but this doesn't mean that everything's going to be peaceful tomorrow because we pulled 200 people out of Syria.

And it's important to note, even if the numbers are small, they're strategic forces. These are people who can call on air strikes -- they're forced multipliers.

These are Green Berets. Two hundred of our Green Berets are better than thousands of many of other troops, so the numbers can be misleading.

And those troops want to be there. You're hearing reports from inside that this is their job, they take pride in it. They want to see the job through and they want to stand by our allies. They want to make sure that we are respecting and we can be trusted.

CAMEROTA: When you hear that almost 300 people have been killed this week since this began -- Turkey, of course, calls them terrorists. We see them, I believe -- I mean, who knows who has been killed yet. Maybe it's people in ISIS who are released from detention centers. But it's also, as you say, the allies that we were fighting next to.

What do you think when you hear the number already?

RECKHOFF: It will be a few hundred more by the time we finish this hour, I mean, and it cascades throughout the region. This is not just a victory for the Turks. It's also a victory for the Iranians, it's a victory for the Russians, it's a victory for ISIS.

Our enemies are celebrating. They keep celebrating all these hasty, haphazard moves that Trump executes and it's really putting us in a bad spot. It's going to get worse.

Even the violence in Iraq is cascading. So the entire region is engulfed in trauma. And when you pull one piece out it's like a giant Jenga set. They all could fall down and that's what we're seeing right now.

CAMEROTA: Former National Security adviser H.R. McMaster talked about this very thing yesterday. He said that this is a victory for Vladimir Putin and the Assad regime. And then he also went on to try to explain why he thinks the president made this decision.

So listen to H.R. McMaster.


H.R. MCMASTER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What's unfortunate, I think, about the decision is I think a lot of people who may have been talking to the president, the president himself, may not have focused maybe on the importance of that force in connection with defeating the terrorist organization. But also, having the influence necessary to ultimately help end this catastrophe across the greater Middle East.


CAMEROTA: How could -- and what he's saying is the president must not be focused on the priorities here. How does that make sense?

RECKHOFF: It doesn't make sense. I'm not going to try to get inside Donald Trump's head. That's a dangerous game.

But, McMaster has been inside the White House. So many of these retired generals have been inside the White House and we need them to speak out now and to put their stars on the shelf and speak out as citizens.

And we need to hear from Gen. Mattis, especially. He was inside. He's been very quiet. And now is the time for him to put his country first above the politics and tell the American people and the troops what they need to know.

CAMEROTA: Very quickly, have you spoken to any of the troops who were fighting with the SDF -- Kurdish forces there, still in the region?

RECKHOFF: Yes. I'm in regular touch with people across the -- across the region and across the world and they're concerned. It's just a constant back-and-forth. They don't know what to expect.

I mean, you can't trust the leadership out of Washington. It puts them on even shakier ground when they continue to be in combat for a decade and a half.

CAMEROTA: Paul Reckhoff, thank you. We really appreciate always getting your perspective here on NEW DAY.

RECKHOFF: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much for being here.

RECKHOFF: Appreciate it -- any time.


BERMAN: That was a great discussion -- all right.

So one of the things we like to say is this is not your grandfather's election. But it turns out this time, it is.

John Avlon has a well-seasoned reality check -- John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Welcome to "THAT '70'S SHOW" -- election 2020 edition.

America's always been considered a young and hungry country, but for the first time, our political stage is being dominated by candidates in their 70s.

President Trump is 73, the oldest first-term president ever. Joe Biden is 76, Reagan's age in his second term. Bernie Sanders is 78 and just had a heart attack on the campaign trail, while Elizabeth Warren is the spring chicken of the top tier coming in at a cool 70.


Of course, when it comes to the presidency, age is not a disqualifier. We want experience in our leaders. Some stability would be nice, as well.

And they say that age -- with age comes wisdom but also a few miles off the fastball. Jimmy Carter even said that he couldn't have done the job if he was 80.

Consider this -- when Eisenhower was elected he seemed ancient, but he was just 62. JFK, who succeeded Ike, was a generation younger at 43. And since then, we've had two presidents in their 40s, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. In fact, the average age of all presidential nominees since Kennedy is 58. It's 53 for Democrats and 63 for Republicans.

But whatever metric you look at we're fielding the oldest crop of top- tier candidates ever. I know we've got an aging population but this is ridiculous. And at times, it seems like we're still living through a replay of 1970s-era political dramas.

We've got a president who loves Nixon so much that he's gone from stealing his slogans to spurring his own impeachment inquiry, conceivably on the same grounds -- obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress.

Even Trump's current defense boils down to something Nixon once said. Quote, "When the president does it that means that it is not illegal."

Now, your 2020 Democrats were all adults during the Watergate hearing. Even Joe Biden was in the Senate.

But the 70s replay Democrats should worry about is the '72 election when liberal Sen. George McGovern captured the nomination by riding a populist wave. And it felt really good until it crashed into the reality of the American electorate and Nixon won 49 states.

There's always a danger the Democrats play to their base and end up reinforcing reflects of Republican attacks on things like campus radicals, liberal elites, and of course, socialism. If that worked on a war veteran from South Dakota, like George McGovern, how do you think it will work on an actual Democratic socialist or a former Harvard professor?

Now, it's true, the Democratic field includes millennials like Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard. Gen X-ers like Cory Booker, Beto O'Rourke, Andrew Yang, Julian Castro, and Kamala Harris. But right now, none of them are cracking the top three. They're not even winning over young voters.

A Harvard IOP study from earlier this year found the youngest favored the oldest, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, which I guess is evidence that identity politics has its limits.

Look, the baby boomers came in promising endless progress and the Age of Aquarius, but it winded up elevating Gordon Gekko to the presidency while giving us decadence, debt, and decline.

Whatever the age, we need vigor in the presidency. We need people who won't be triggered by half-century-old arguments and instead, understand the obligation to reunite the nation.

So, please, after this, let's agree it's time to turn off "THAT '70'S SHOW."

And that's your reality check.

BERMAN: When you mentioned Age of Aquarius, I was hoping that you break into songs from "Hair." AVLON: That I would break into song?

BERMAN: Yes, yes.

AVLON: I debated it and decided it would be better for the viewers if I didn't indulge that show tune just now.

BERMAN: "Once upon a lookin'-for-Bernie" was my favorite song from "Hair" -- just saying.

CAMEROTA: That is great.

John, thank you very much.

And thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM WITH MAX FOSTER" is next.

For our U.S. viewers, breaking news. There are wildfires sweeping across the Los Angeles area at this hour. NEW DAY continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Friday, October 11th. It's 8:00 in the East.

There is a lot of news we need to get to this morning. But first, the breaking news.

An explosion of wildfires in Southern California threatening lives and homes. There are winds there gusting over 60 miles per hour fanning these flames, forcing mandatory evacuations north of Los Angeles. We are now told 100,000 people are affected by these fires and thousands have been ordered to evacuate.

CAMEROTA: Many people, as you can imagine, were asleep when these fires were ignited overnight. More than 4,600 acres have burned so far and dozens of homes have already been destroyed or at least burned.

The fires are spreading so quickly that two major freeways remain shut at this area -- I mean, at this hour. And you can imagine, John, what that means for the Los Angeles area.

So, I mean, it's just -- we're just watch them exponentially grow. They started as a 60-acre brush fire.

BERMAN: Our Nick Watt has been standing by all morning there. We can't get his signal out right now because the conditions are, frankly, so brutal. We are working to get a live report from the ground.

But many dozens of homes have now been destroyed. Nick saw one burn down right in front of him. And as you can see, these are live pictures of the fires burning.

We will bring you updates throughout the morning.

CAMEROTA: It just does not look like they are anywhere close to getting it contained yet. Obviously, this happened overnight. So we'll check back with him as soon as we get his signal functioning in these conditions.

BERMAN: All right.

Meantime, there are major new developments in the impeachment inquiry. Two men close to Rudy Giuliani have been arrested. Not just any men, either. These are central players in Giuliani's far-flung scheme to get foreigners to dig up dirt on foreign vice president Joe Biden.

The two men were charged -- indicted for illegally funneling foreign money into donations for Republican campaigns.