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Military Leader of Syrian Kurds Tells U.S. "You are Leaving Us to be Slaughtered"; Trump Distancing Himself from Rudy Giuliani; McAleenan Resigns as Acting Homeland Security Secretary; California Wildfire. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired October 12, 2019 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[11:00:34]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. And I want to welcome our viewers in the U.S. and around the world.

This breaking news just in to CNN.

CNN has exclusively obtained a document detailing a fiery exchange -- verbal exchange between Kurdish leaders and top U.S. brass where the Kurds vented their fury over the U.S. troop withdrawal in northern Syria. The U.S. in turn asked the Kurds not to turn to Russia. Shortly thereafter the U.S. moved its troops out of the way this week.

Turkey launched an offensive against Kurds in northern Syria. Turkey considers the Kurds a terrorist group but the same Kurdish fighters had been helping the U.S. battle ISIS in the area.

We've got full coverage of this story. Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. Arwa Damon is along the border between Turkey and Syria. And CNN military analyst Colonel Cedric Leighton also with us.

So Barbara -- let me begin with you on your exclusive reporting here. Tell us about these conversations, the documents that recognize the verbal sparring over what's at issue here.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: "You are leaving us to be slaughtered". That is the headline here -- Fredricka. General Mazloum, the head of the SDF, the Syrian fighters that the U.S. found so valuable to be allied with in the fight against ISIS now under attack by Turkish forces, a NATO ally.

The U.S. not willing to get in the middle of any of this and continue to support the Kurds. So on Thursday, there was a meeting between General Mazloum, the military leader of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and a top State Department official.

I just want to read you direct quotes. They are stunning, from an internal administration document that summarized the meeting. So first, General Mazloum says to the State Department official, "You have given up on us. You are leaving us to be slaughtered. You have nothing for us. You are not willing to protect the people, but you do not want another force to come and protect us. You have sold us. This is immoral."

General Mazloum goes on, he is furious. He says, and I quote further, "I need to know if you are capable of protecting my people, of stopping these bombs falling on us or not. I need to know because if you are not, I need to make a deal with Russia and the regime now and invite their planes to protect this region."

Bombs are falling on General Mazloum's people and he wants them protected. I want to tell you that I traveled to northern Syria earlier this year. I have met General Mazloum. He is one of the most articulate and passionate defenders of his people, of the Kurds in northern Syria.

And even as this is going on, for now at least Kurdish fighters are still guarding thousands of ISIS detainees in Syria, ISIS detainees that the U.S. does not want to see on the loose.

But these Kurdish fighters will not wait forever. They are going to fight. They are going to move north according to all accounts and fight to protect their towns, their villages, their families, fight to protect their people and ally themselves with the Assad regime or Russia if the U.S. will not help them -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: So Barbara -- what is the response coming from the Pentagon, from the Department of Defense that this kind of interaction, communication is now being aired out publicly?

STARR: Well, we had a lengthy briefing yesterday from the Defense Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They were very adamant that they want to see Turkey stop its military campaign, its air and artillery strikes against northern Syria. But they also are very clear that the U.S. is not going to get involved in this.

First thing, important to remember, Turkey is a NATO ally. There's just simply no way the U.S. is going to war against a NATO ally. They continue to say that they had to move those U.S. troops back from northern Syria because the Turks were coming in no matter what and they could not leave those troops at risk.

[11:04:51]

STARR: But I think one of the bottom line things to remember here is that President Trump continued to talk to the Turkish leader, President Erdogan of Turkey. And President Trump either didn't have the juice to convince the Turks not to do this or wasn't strong enough in saying how opposed the U.S. would be to it.

And so now these Kurdish allies on the ground are left to their own devices essentially. They will fight. The U.S. assessment is these are very good fighters. They will fight back against the Turks. We could see a guerrilla movement developing in northern Syria in the coming months. They are not going to fold and go away.

There is a deeper implication. The U.S. military always tries to fight with its allies with local forces on the ground. The U.S. military doesn't fight alone. And this is being watched around the world and it is being watched that the U.S. military under political direction had to turn its back -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Barbara Starr -- we'll check back with you from the Pentagon. Thank you.

Arwa Damon is along the Syrian-Turkey border. Arwa -- you know the Turkish defense ministry says they have taken control of their first major city in its incursion into northern Syria. As this Kurdish city falls, what are you hearing from Kurds, from people on the ground about what's unfolding here?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, ever since this offensive began, and that town that Turkey is saying that it controls is actually just in the distance there. We can see it from our vantage point here in Turkey.

But this entire offensive from its first day forced hundreds of thousands of civilians living on the Syrian side of the border deeper into Syrian territory because they are terrified as the Turkish forces advances, this bombardment continues. They don't know where to go and they don't know if they'll be able to come back home.

Now, from Turkey's perspective, the Syrian Kurdish fighting force on the other side of this border, the YPG, is a terrorist organization. And that is because it is an offshoot of the separatist group, the PKK, that has been battling the Kurdish state for decades. And the PKK is not just designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, it's also designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and by the E.U.

So from the beginning, Turkey has been confounded as to why its NATO ally, America, would essentially ally itself with its arch enemy inside Syria. And Turkey, from the beginning of that allegiance, has been warning the U.S. Turkey has been wanting and asking the U.S. for this safe zone. They had actually begun, both countries had begun joint patrols along these areas as part of an agreement.

But Turkey ran out of patience, at least that's what the government says, and they decided to go this alone. And no matter what happens, they're not going to back down and the consequences have been devastating. The consequences for civilians inside Syria have been devastating. And the consequences for the civilian population along this border, which further to the east incidentally is members of Turkey's Kurdish ethnic minority.

So you have relatives on both sides of this border who are coming under fire. They are also extraordinarily worried. And it's very unlikely that this conflict is going to remain neatly contained to just this border region.

WHITFIELD: Arwa Damon on the Turkey-Syrian border. Thank you so much.

I also want to bring in now former State Department negotiator Aaron David Miller and deputy director for training at the NSA Cedric Leighton. Good to see you both.

So Cedric Leighton -- you first. You know, the U.S. you know asked the Kurds not to turn to Russia in that area. You heard from that document being revealed based on Barbara Starr's reporting. What options are available right now?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, they're certainly limited -- Fredricka. And it's a real shame because we had an excellent relationship with the YPG, the forces that Arwa mentioned in her reporting. And this kind of relationship is very hard to achieve.

The Kurds really see no way out. They've had a historic relationship with Russia that in some ways goes back almost 200 years. So there's no way that they're going to forget that relationship. It's remarkable actually that the United States was able to have the kinds of relations that we did have and the kind of success that we had against ISIS.

But that's all being thrown away and, quite frankly, the Kurdish general was quite right to be as adamant as he was about the U.S. and what we're doing to them.

WHITFIELD: So, Cedric -- help people understand what is the objective of Turkey's incursion now in northern Syria as a result of U.S. troops being pulled out of that area who were working alongside helping the Kurds?

[11:10:05]

WHITFIELD: I mean it's a complicated question, but it's also a basic one because I think people are getting lost in how the U.S. military move has now given a green light for this kind of Turkey incursion. And what is the goal of Turkey -- what was the motivation to do this?

LEIGHTON: Well, basically Fredricka -- what the Turks see is a vacuum developing there. They thought the United States wasn't really doing enough to keep the Kurdish forces in check in terms of providing security for their southeastern and southern border. So the Turks feel very much at risk from the Kurdish forces and they have their own Kurdish problem to deal with but they also see the possibility of terrorist actions being mounted against Turkey from Syria.

Now, a lot of that is not based on current fact. There is some historical precedent for it. But what you're dealing with is a country that says is trying to protect itself. So they're going to establish a buffer zone. Right now, they say it's an 18-mile deep buffer zone that goes into northern Syria and they're going to protect that area and also resettle Kurdish and other refugees in that area.

So what they want to do is they want to keep their country as secure as possible. And they feel that they can do that by going 18 miles deep into northern Syria.

WHITFIELD: Aaron David Miller -- to hear Barbara Starr recite in this document that the Syrian Kurdish leader says you have given up on us, leaving us to be slaughtered. What do you see has happened here?

AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT NEGOTIATOR: You know, I think the Kurds misread the American commitment. We've been betraying the Kurds and allowing our own national interests to trump theirs, no pun intended, over the decades.

And I think this relationship between the U.S. and the Kurds was always a transactional one. We didn't have the heft, the leverage, the will frankly or the skill on the ground it seems to me to sustain this relationship over time. And it was only a matter of time.

You have a very risk averse president, Donald Trump, eager to fulfill a campaign commitment, eager to allow his own personal sensibilities and his own politics to override the American national interests. It was only a matter of time before this transactional relationship between the U.S. and the SDF and other affiliate Kurdish groups gave way to a more important relationship with the Turks.

We find ourselves now, Fred -- in a situation in which the real power broker here is not the United States. Erdogan, Assad, the Iranians and I think the Kurds -- I suspect Barbara Starr's reporting suggests this -- will be looking toward Moscow, toward Putin, who's the only actor in this very sad and horrific drama, that frankly maintains leverage and relationship with all of the key parties. And I think that's where this is going.

WHITFIELD: That's huge. And then what has this done to the U.S. standing, trust amongst allies, particularly because of what is unfolding here?

MILLER: Well, you know, it's interesting. I have a slightly different and more heretical (ph) take on this. I think that when American allies look at U.S. behavior, their first and foremost inclination is to judge their relationship with the United States not in terms of, oh, we're next because the U.S. has thrown the Kurds under the bus. But to look at their own personal circumstances and their own relationships with the United States.

They may play on the fact that we betrayed the Kurds, therefore, we need to buck up our relationships with our allies, but it's hard for me to accept the notion that Taiwan, South Korea, the Israelis or frankly even the Saudis now see this as a sort of gloom-and-doom scenario which suggests that they're next.

I mean I understand that we are perceived to be withdrawing from a critically-important part of the world. But we've been betraying the Kurds -- Fred, for decades. I think that's already to some degree baked into the cake of both the Israelis, the Saudis and our other allies.

WHITFIELD: And again, here's a portion of that document that Barbara Starr is reporting on -- this from a Syrian Kurd leader saying "You have given up on us. You are leaving us to be slaughtered."

This is a conversation between this leader and U.S. brass, military brass. "You have nothing for us. You are not willing to protect the people but you do not want another force to come and protect us. You have sold us. This is immoral."

[11:14:53]

WHITFIELD: And Colonel Leighton, final thought from you. Has this now created a new opening or an opening for a resurgence or reorganization of ISIS?

LEIGHTON: I think it has. It all depends on what the Russians do at this point. Aaron is absolutely right. The Russians are the key player here now. Everybody has relationships with them.

So what the Russians do in this regard, can they clamp down on ISIS or are they going to have to do something else that's perhaps not looked at right now in order to in essence demilitarize that area. And demilitarization is a long way off if it ever happens in this part of the world.

WHITFIELD: All right. Colonel Cedric Leighton, Aaron David Miller -- thank you, gentlemen. Appreciate that.

We'll have so much more on this breaking news.

Also straight ahead, in a stunning move, President Trump attempts tries to distance himself from his personal attorney after Rudy Giuliani becomes the face of Trump's Ukraine scandal in an effort to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

Well, you didn't hear the sound but the President says, "Yes, Rudy Giuliani has been my attorney." What does that mean?

This as Giuliani reportedly becomes the subject of a federal criminal investigation himself now into whether his Ukraine dealings were an attempt to influence the 2020 election.

We are live next.

[11:16:24]

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WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

Right now the White House is on full-blown damage control following several key losses during a tumultuous week in Washington.

There are new signs that President Trump's relationship with personal attorney Rudy Giuliani may be souring. The President now seeming to distance himself following revelations about Giuliani's dealings in Ukraine to dig up dirt on Trump's political rival, Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Rudy Giuliani still your personal attorney.

DONALD TRUMP,PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know. I haven't spoken to Rudy. I spoke to him yesterday briefly. He's a very good attorney and he has been my attorney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Meanwhile, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich, testifying to Congress that she blames Giuliani for her removal last April. In a copy of her opening statement, which was obtained by the "New York Times" and "Washington Post", Yovanovich told lawmakers that President Trump wanted her removed based on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives -- I'm quoting her.

The "New York Times" also reports that Giuliani is now facing a criminal federal investigation himself. This after the arrests this week of two Ukrainians who were Giuliani's clients. They face charges of trying to funnel foreign money into U.S. elections.

President Trump remaining defiant last night in Louisiana blasting the House's ongoing impeachment inquiry and using profanity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The radical Democrats' policies are crazy. their politicians are corrupt. Their candidates are terrible. And they know they can't win an election day so they're pursuing an illegal, invalid and unconstitutional (EXPLETIVE DELETED) impeachment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's tackle all of this right now.

CNN legal analyst Michael Gerhardt and CNN White House producer Kevin Liptak. Good to see you both.

So Michael -- you first.

You know, this "New York Times" report that Giuliani is now under a federal investigation. I mean two of his clients already arrested for allegedly attempting to channel foreign money into the U.S. election. How serious is this now for Giuliani?

MICHAEL GERHARDT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's actually quite serious for Giuliani. He's got people very close to him indicted and arrested.

He's also, as you just mentioned, now being investigated. And that's got to be a very serious investigation. And at some point the questions are going to be asked that Howard Baker asked during Watergate of the President and that is what did he know and when did he know it in regards to Giuliani.

WHITFIELD: So I wonder, Michael -- I mean this is the Justice Department. These are federal prosecutors. And we understand that earlier in the week the White House got a heads up that there was going to be an arrest of these, you know, two associates of Giuliani. So would the White House have gotten a heads up or do they know that there is this investigation of the President's personal attorney? GERHARDT: I would hope the White House did not get any prior notice

of this. The Justice Department, which is usually quite professional, you know, famously quite professional and not partisan. This is not about Democrats or Republicans, it's about the rule of law.

And at this point the question just becomes what did Giuliani know and what's he done? He's been out operating according to the preferences and orders of the President. That's what Giuliani has said. Is that true? If so, that's a problem for the President.

WHITFIELD: Yes. So Kevin -- you know, Giuliani was the attorney, you know, for the President, trying to navigate through in the midst of this Mueller investigation. And now the President just listening to his statement yesterday, I mean saying I haven't spoken to him. He is a good attorney. He has been my attorney, yes, sure.

I mean what do we make of that? Is this the beginning of the end of that team?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE PRODUCER: Well, it's hard to say at this point. And the President has just tweeted about Rudy Giuliani this morning. He says now they're after the legendary crime buster and greatest mayor in the history of New York City, Rudy Giuliani.

He may seem a little, and this is Trump here, he may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes but he is also a great guy and wonderful lawyer.

Obviously the southern district of New York doesn't investigate people for being rough around the edges and people close to the President say he is beginning to express some doubts about Giuliani and his continued ability to defend him in all of this.

The President has shown some precedent for distancing himself with lawyers who get in trouble before. Remember Michael Cohen, as soon as he became -- came under some legal scrutiny for those payments to women who alleged to affairs with Trump, Trump was very quick to put some space between himself and Michael Cohen.

People close to the President tell me that with Giuliani it's a little more complicated. Trump has a much more emotional relationship with him. He's known him for the better part of 30 years. They kind of came up together in 80s and 90s New York. So I think Trump cutting Giuliani loose is still far away off.

[11:25:08]

WHITFIELD: So in the midst of all this, House Democrats, you know, are continuing to push the impeachment inquiry. They held a conference call last night and this week House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, you know, saying more witnesses and subpoenas may be coming and warning that the White House, you know, needs to play ball. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, Michael -- that really is serving as like a warning. I mean standing in the way of subpoenas, of documents or people means abuse of power -- that case of abuse of power only gets further bolstered.

GERHARDT: Yes. And there's no question that whatever the recent obstruction is in terms of sharing information, allowing witnesses to appear before the House, there's all the other failures of the President to comply with subpoenas and ordering aides not to comply with subpoenas.

Again, this is not about partisanship. The real question for the House is simply whether or not it should investigate. That's all Adam Schiff and his committee are trying to do. That's well -- that's completely consistent with the constitution.

WHITFIELD: Michael Gerhardt, Kevin Liptak -- thanks so much. We'll be talking again.

All right. Still ahead, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine says she was pushed out over, I'm quoting now, "unfounded and false claims", end quote. But Republicans on Capitol Hill still are not convinced. Why they are claiming a lack of transparency -- next.

[11:26:47]

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WHITFIELD: Her opening statement alone was scathing, but instead of focusing on former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich and the contents of her deposition to Congress, GOP lawmakers are now trying to accuse Democrats of operating in secrecy in their impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Republicans are also claiming Democrats lack transparency, even though it was the White House that tried to block Yovanovich from testifying in the first place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: How about the Democrats provide the Republicans and the President the same exact rights that they would demand if everything was reversed? You talk about an impeachment of the President of the United States, and everything is going to happen behind closed doors, offering no protection whatsoever, no transparency, no accountability, no due process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now, Melanie Zanona, congressional reporter for Politico and David Swerdlick, assistant editor for the "Washington Post" and CNN political commentator. Good to see you both.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hi -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. So Melanie -- you first.

There was this defense of the perfect call at first from many Republicans and now it's an issue of transparency. What does this signal to you within the GOP?

MELANIE ZANONA, POLITICO: I think this signals to me that Republicans are far more comfortable talking about process and procedure concerns than they are talking about the substance of the allegations against the President.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are some Republicans who genuinely do have some transparency concerns. They want some of these transcripts that were done behind closed doors to be released. I talked to some Republicans who said that they feel like there are some nuggets in there that could potentially help the President. So they do want to see some of stuff released.

But at the end of the day what you're not really hearing from Republicans is them forcefully defending the President and his communications with Ukraine. In fact Jim Jordan, one of the staunchest allies on Capitol Hill of the President couldn't even answer the question whether he thought it was appropriate for the President to ask China to investigate Biden.

So I think they're just far more comfortable focusing on process than anything else.

WHITFIELD: So David -- you know, what do you make of Yovanovich's opening statement? A printed version of her statement was distributed to the "New York Times" and "Washington Post", your newspaper. And in it she says -- I'm quoting now -- "there was a concerted campaign," end quote, to end her tenure. How damning is that?

SWERDLICK: Good morning -- Fred.

I think it's potentially very damning in part because she defied the State Department and the White House by going to testify, which is the behavior of someone who wants to tell the story rather than someone who wants to conceal the story and potentially because in addition to being removed earlier this year, her name comes up in that July 25th call between President Trump and President Zelensky.

And I think between now and whenever we get to a potential impeachment vote, the Democrats in the House are going to try and connect the dots between what happened with ambassador Yovanovich and with what happened between President Trump and President Zelensky and this issue over the Bidens and Ukraine.

WHITFIELD: Ok. Let's talk about President Trump, his relationship with Fox News now too. You know, it seems to have gone pretty sour this week. The President generally could reliably turn to it to help him with his jargon, with his agenda. This week now, the President attacking the network on Twitter over its new polling which shows a majority of Americans are now in support of impeaching him. And the President claims, you know, from the day I announced I was running for president, I have never had a good Fox News poll.

And now he is also taking shots at former, now former Fox anchor Shepard Smith, who abruptly announced his departure yesterday, suggesting, the President now suggesting that Smith's exit from the network is due to bad ratings.

Take a listen, however, to the parting words of Shepard Smith on his last broadcast on Fox News last night.

[11:34:59]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHEPARD SMITH, FORMER FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Even in our currently polarized nation, it's my hope that the facts will win the day, that the truth will always matter, that journalism and journalists will thrive.

I'm Shepard Smith, Fox News -- New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, David -- while the focus is on Shepard Smith, you know, the President sees the network really operating in his favor. But does this departure, does that kind of messaging perhaps signal even to the President that things are changing?

SWERDLICK: Yes, Fred, indeed. I mean first of all, I don't think Shep Smith is sweating the President's tweets. Our colleague, Brian Stelter, reported that he's leaving a $15 million a year contract. He might have more net worth than President Trump, frankly.

But in this situation, he is sending a message that the straight news people at Fox are having this tension with the primetime opinion folks at Fox, and that this is a moment where someone like him who has a sterling journalistic reputation, perhaps doesn't want to be associated with what increasingly people see as Fox as a propaganda arm of the White House.

It's one thing to have a point of view. It's one thing to have opinions. But Fox increasingly is seen as a network that is enthralled to the President.

WHITFIELD: Melanie, does it also symbolize a confluence of defeats for the President in a very short amount of time, namely really in the last 24 to 48 hours, maybe even make it 72?

ZANONA: Right. It's been a string of negative headlines for the President. The walls are closing in, according to Democrats who sat for this deposition yesterday with the ambassador, former ambassador. And on top of that, there's also some really big defeats in the court system. He had a couple of really big losses there related to his tax returns and related to wall funding.

(CROSSTALKING)

WHITFIELD: Right. Meaning the appellate court now says that Congress can have access to that eight years of his tax returns. And then in another court separately, his use of the national emergency is unconstitutional. He using that as justification to use money to build the wall.

ZANONA: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: We're going to talk about those cases a little bit later on. But yes, there are a lot of things that undermine his plan.

Melanie Zanona, David Swerdlick -- thank you so much. Appreciate it.

SWERDLICK: Thanks, Fred.

ZANONA: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, President Trump looking for a new Secretary of Homeland Security, again. He'll be looking for his fifth now Homeland Security Secretary. And this just after six months that this man was on the job in an interim role. What is at stake for U.S. national security? Next.

[11:37:37]

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WHITFIELD: There's a new vacancy in the President's administration. Kevin McAleenan, the acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security submitted his resignation on Friday. A source familiar with McAleenan's thinking tells CNN that the acting secretary felt he had accomplished all he could given the political realities of today, specifically the unlikelihood that any legislative deal on immigration will happen in an election year.

He is the fourth person now to serve in that post since the Trump presidency began. In comparison over the last two presidencies, six people have served as Homeland Security Secretary.

I want to bring in CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. Juliette -- good to see you.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Good to see you.

WHITFIELD: So previously you served as President Obama's assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security. What does this new resignation do to this agency and department?

KAYYEM: So two things are going on. One is obviously with almost everyone in the top eight to ten leadership positions an acting position, it's just a difficult -- it's difficult to be in the agency. I talked to my former colleagues. There's sort of a sense that everything is sort of tenuous, that they have no cache or no ability to push policy either on the Hill or of course with the White House with people like Stephen Miller pushing the agency in a certain direction.

That gets to the second point. People think that the Department of Homeland Security under Donald Trump is only about the border. It is not. It is an all hazards agency to look at all the risks to the United States -- cybersecurity, pandemics, of course natural disasters, terrorism, and then immigration and border controls.

It has had, under Donald Trump, a singular focus on border enforcement only, just border enforcement. That will continue under whoever is the next leader simply because that's what Donald Trump wants, that's what Stephen Miller wants, and we are entering election season. And you can bet that this White House will use the tools of the Department of Homeland Security to basically, you know, galvanize their base in an anti-immigrant stance.

WHITFIELD: One has to wonder what the real motivation for McAleenan really was for resigning now, because it was less than a week ago that he received this very chilly reception, you know, at Georgetown University's Law School. He was about to speak, but then you'll see what happens.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN MCALEENAN, FORMER ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Good morning, everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand up and fight back.

MCALEENAN: Thank you for the kind introduction -- Andrew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand up, fight back.

MCALEENAN: And for your commitment to dialogue and conversation on a controversial, large scale immigration --

CROWD: Stand up, fight back.

MCALEENAN: Ok. Thank you. Have a good day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And then he was out. A lot of people there who were really talking about the way children are being handled -- you know, processed, detained along the southern border. So is that an indicator of the kind of frustration perhaps, the incoming that he was getting that perhaps he reached a point of I'm out?

KAYYEM: Yes. I mean I think, look, Kevin is -- you know, Kevin is conservative but he had a very good reputation going in, a lawyer. Not someone sort of tied to the sort of Trump sort of cruelty at the border.

[11:45:04]

KAYYEM: And I think what he realized and we certainly saw this in a "Washington Post" interview he did about two weeks ago that his capacity to at least stop a lot of the harms going on from the White House was limited. He had lost control of the agencies, including Customs and Border Protection as well as ICE.

He could not win against the sort of focus by Stephen Miller and I should say just Donald Trump. He is the President, Donald Trump, in terms of immigration.

So he's looking at it like either I get out now, I quit now, or I'm going to be tagged with a lot of the worse stuff that is coming down the pike. It is hard to believe it will get worse at the department.

WHITFIELD: All right. Juliette Kayyem -- thank you. Always appreciate your expertise and insight.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:49:46]

WHITFIELD: Welcome back.

Firefighters in southern California are scrambling to get a fast moving out of control wildfire contained. The Saddle Ridge fire has forced 100,000 people from their homes. Those evacuations are affecting neighborhoods in northern Los Angeles. So far 31 homes are gone and more than 7,500 acres burned.

CNN correspondent Natasha Chen is tracking this latest fire taking place now in Granada Hills, California -- Natasha.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Fred -- we have one of those homes you described just behind us here. We've been seeing fire crews working on this, putting out hot spots this morning.

But then as the sun came up we also noticed that there is also damage to a second home right behind it. So there is rubble right behind right there where that second house also burned.

We are seeing homes like this in the middle of neighborhoods where other houses are ok, but you can see up at the mountain top at the top of the ridge there, that black area where the flames came over. So it was a really close call.

Now this spot where we're standing, they did not shut off the power in advance as the heavy winds were coming unlike some other parts of California where we heard about PG&E and Southern California Edison pre-emptively shutting off power to prevent wildfires. And now certain neighbors in these areas of the Saddle Ridge fire are

asking why the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power did not do the same thing. So that is something that officials here will be looking into. They're also still investigating the cause of this fire.

Fredricka -- back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Natasha -- thank you so much. We'll check back with you throughout the afternoon.

And we will be right back.

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[11:55:04]

WHITFIELD: Welcome back.

Sharp words from former senate majority leader Harry Reid who was slamming Senator Lindsey Graham. Reid telling our David Axelrod, Graham is trying to shield President Trump from impeachment to bolster his own reelection chances.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, CNN HOST: Lindsey Graham was someone you worked closely with across the aisle and you you've said nice things about him in the past. He's become a very staunch supporter of the President.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I just told you I have zero problems with this phone call.

To impeach any president over a phone call like this would be insane.

HARRY REID, FORMER NEVADA DEMOCRATIC SENATOR: It is amazing what happened to him when John McCain died. He suddenly was no longer a John McCain Republican, he became a South Carolina want to get reelected Republican. And he is a tote and fetch guy for the President.

It is so -- I had admiration for him. I'm so disappointed in what has happened to him. His whole personality has changed since John passed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: See more of that interview with Harry Reid when he joins David Axelrod for "THE AXE FILES" tonight, 7:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

[11:56:22]

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