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Examining the Troop Withdrawal from Syria; Giuliani Under Investigation; Fox News Anchor Abruptly Leaves Network; Five Federal Courts Rule Against Trump Administration; Trump Campaign Still Hasn't Paid At Least Six Cities for Rally Bills; Syrian Defector Reveals Atrocities Committed by Assad. Aired 12-1p ET
Aired October 12, 2019 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again everyone and thank you so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
We begin with this breaking news. Desperate words coming from a Kurdish military leader on the U.S. Troop pullout in Syria saying quote, you have given up on us leaving us to be slaughtered. That sentiment in a document obtained exclusively by CNN detailing a fiery exchange between that Kurdish leader and a top U.S. diplomat where the Kurds vented their fury over the U.S. military plan announced by the president earlier in the week and the U.S. imploring it doesn't want the Kurds to turn to Russia.
Kurds in northern Syria had been fighting alongside the U.S. to defeat ISIS in the area and the U.S. remained to protect the Kurds. But the U.S. abruptly pulled its forces out of that area and that triggered a long expected offensive by Turkish forces who consider the Kurds a terror group.
Turkey launched air attacks and it's troops quickly began taking at least one border town in northern Syria. We have full coverage of this story. Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. Arwa Damon is along the border between Turkey and Syria. So Barbara, let me begin with you and this documents that you obtained and how it details the tense exchange between officials.
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You are leaving us to be slaughtered. Those are the words from General Muslim, the head of the Syrian Kurdish fighter force that the U.S. military had partnered with for so many years now in northern Syria to fight ISIS. It was furious comments from General Muslim because the U.S. now, you know, is not going to fight Turkey, a NATO ally, and is not going to fight with the SDF against Turkey. The U.S. claims continues to state this is only there to fight ISIS. So listen to some of what is in this U.S. government readout that we have obtained and General Muslim according to this says, to the state department official, quote, 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 in and protect us. You have sold us; this is immoral. General Muslim then goes on to say in addition, 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.
Now think of the implications here. One of the concerns the U.S. has, if General Muslim of course and it would be understandable as one can suppose, turns to Russia or the Assad regime and U.S. forces are still in those portions of Syria and it is the Russians or the Assad regime protecting the SDF in the skies, it may become very difficult from a security standpoint for any U.S. troops to remain in the region according to people we're talking to.
This is all in the future; nothing has been decided. The U.S. does not want the SDF to turn to Russia but right now as the Turkish advance continues, the SDF fighters are basically just trying to stay alive. Fred.
WHITFIELD: So Arwa, you're there along the Syrian-Turkey border. The Turkish defense ministry says they've taken control of their first major town in this incursion into northern Syria. What is Turkey's goal?
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well that town actually is beyond the bright lights behind us and we've been hearing mortar rounds and sporadic gunfire throughout the day although not too intensely it is worth noting. What Turkey says it wants to do is create a safe zone because from Turkey's perspective, that Syrian Kurdish fighting force is one in the same as the PKK which is the Kurdish separatist group that Turkey has been battling for decades.
The PKK actually up until 1998 used to be based in northern Syria or rather it had camps in northern Syria. It's leader was in northern Syria and back then Turkey was also threatening Damascus with an invasion except back then Hafez al-Assad, the current president's father had actually decided to evict the PKK's leader and shut down all of the camps.
From Turkey's perspective, the YPG which is an offshoot of the PKK is basically one in the same and therefore labels it as a terrorist organization. It's also worth noting though that the PKK is considered to be a terrorist organization by the USN and the E.U. Now because of all of this Turkey has been confounded since the beginning that the U.S. would even turn to the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish fighting force, as a key ally on the ground.
Now that being said, Turkey has been saying if it is not able to cooperate with the U.S. on this. If America does not do what Turkey wants, Turkey will go it alone and that is what we're seeing. They want to push into Syria some 18 miles along hundreds of miles of stretch of border and create this zone which is already displacing civilians, most of them Kurdish who live in those areas and Turkey is also saying that these areas can potentially be places where they will resettle some of the refugees they have in Turkey most of whom are Syrian Arabs. Many of whom are not from these areas so it's hard to see how some sort of demographic change is not going to be taking place. But the bottom line in all of this is that this is a conflict that is not likely to remain neatly contained just to this border region.
There are potential consequences to it that we're aware of such as the reemergence of ISIS and then there are plenty of consequences that we are not yet aware of at this stage Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right, Barbara Starr, Arwa Damon, thank you. I want to bring in General James "Spider" Marks. He's a former U.S. Army commanding general and a CNN military analyst. Good to see you.
JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Hi Fred.
WHITFIELD: So help us understand this potential opening for Russia. The U.S. saying in that document according to Barbara Starr's reporting, the U.S. saying you don't want to turn to Russia. The Kurds are saying, we may have to invite them. How has this created an opening and what does it mean if Russia now gets involved by helping these Syrian Kurds?
MARKS: Well bear in mind Russia is already involved in that they've had a presence in Syria. They've had a military presence in the Mideast for the longest time.
WHITFIELD: But now there's military leader is saying, you know, we're going to have to turn to - we're going to have to ask them to get involved...
WHITFIELD: ... with perhaps an air assault; air support.
MARKS: Yes, very precisely in support of the Kurdish operation vis-a- vis what Turkey is doing right now. What that really means is this is a confluence of interest that should not be surprising at all. I mean to put it in the vernacular, like any port in the storm, the Kurds need support. Turkey is now conducting a really very aggressive comapaign that's not very precise in nature. They're indiscriminant in terms of how they engage along this quote, buffer zone they'd like to create. And if the United States is not going to be there to help them in this effort and you know of course the United States has got a challenge, because they're NATO partner, their NATO ally with whom they have a mutual defense agreement is Turkey.
MARKS: So the Kurds - attacking the Turks, the United States has an obligation to get involved in support of Turkey's operation so Russia steps in and says we can help you out. Also this might have something to do with the fact, increasingly Russia has influence over what Erdogan is trying to achieve in Turkey. You've seen a burgeoning relationship between Puton and Erdogan as well as Rouhani and Erdogan and Putin. So you got this... WHITFIELD: And what do you see is Turkey trying to achieve in Syria?
MARKS: As indicated, Turkey wants try to create this buffer zone but again let's be frank. International bodies create and agree to what buffer zones look like. This is an annexation by Turkey of territory that belongs to Syria albeit Syria has an immense amount of ungoverned space because Assad is completely autocratic, corrupt, is not really in control of much beyond what he has in Damascus. But Turkey is sitting there drawing lines saying, we're going to take it. So what is dissimilar between what Turkey is doing and I don't want to draw a false narrative, but what Turkey is doing now is not dissimilar to what Russia did in 2014 in Crimea. They're just taking it and they're declaring it theirs.
WHITFIELD: And what's your reaction to this document that reveals this very tenuous desperate conversation between this Kurdish military leader and someone representing the U.S.?
MARKS: Very difficult to not have a personal face engaged in what we're seeing behind those words. In other words, the Kurds have been doing some amazing work for the United States subjective to be present in Syria which started with the reduction and the defeat of the ISIS caliphate which has occurred to a degree. I would not say they're defeated. Ideologically ISIS still has vibrancy and can expand again.
MARKS: Can be as...
WHITFIELD: Some believe this might be a new opening to expand.
MARKS: Can be a reemergence. Yes.
WHITFIELD: All right. Spider Marks. Always good to hear from you. Thank you so much.
MARKS: Fred, thank you.
WHITFIELD: The President of the United States personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani now under federal investigation for his work in Ukraine on behalf of President Trump. Why it's the latest in the list of stunning setbacks for Trump's growing impeachment battle and television anchor Shep Smith announces he is leaving "Fox News" catching everyone around him off guard including his team, the president and viewers.
WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. A dizzying week in Washington as the cloud of impeachment hangs over this White House. There are new questions around President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. The "New York Times" now reporting that the former New York mayor is now under a federal investigation according to the paper's sources. This follows the arrest of two of Giuliani's clients on charges of siphoning foreign money into U.S. elections. And then Friday, this was President Trump when asked about whether Rudy Giuliani is still his personal attorney. (BEGIN VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) still your personal attorney?
TRUMP: Well, I don't know. I haven't spoken to Rudy. I spoke with him yesterday briefly. He's a very good attorney and he has been my attorney.
WHITFIELD: And there's even more turnover within the White House. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan is resigning his post making him the fourth to do since President Trump took office. And it comes as the administration loses key court battles on everything from immigration policies to the release of President Trump's tax returns. A lot to get to. Let's bring in CNN's Sarah Westwood at the White House. So Sarah, I understand the president is golfing however Giuliani has been one of the president's biggest and most loyal supporters. Any word from the White House on where that relationship stands today?
SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Fred, we're getting mixed messages today about the status of the relationship between President Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani as you just heard. Yesterday the president was sort of evasive when asked whether Giuliani was still representing him. He appeared to be trying to put some distance between himself and his embattled lawyer.
But today Trump is defending Giuliani as a good attorney and a good man on twitter. Here is what President Trump wrote just moments ago. So now they're after the legendary crime buster and greatest mayor in the history of New York City, Rudy Giuliani. And he goes on to say, he may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes but he's also a great guy and wonderful lawyer; such a one-sided witch hunt going on in U.S.A. Deep state shameful.
Trump's defense comes as the "New York Times" is reporting that Giuliani is under investigation for a potential violation of foreign lobbying laws. Now that's related to his efforts to dig up dirt on Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. She testified on Capitol Hill yesterday and that was an apparent effort by Giuliani to have her recalled from Kiev which did happen. Now Giuliani told the "Times" that what he did in Ukraine was on behalf of President Trump, not on behalf of Ukrainian officials so he's arguing that it wasn't any violation of foreign lobbying laws but this is just pulling the president's lawyer deeper and deeper into controversy as all of this is at the center of House impeachment proceedings.
Sources tell CNN that privately Trump is also expressing doubts about Giuliani's ability to keep representing him particularly after those two associates of Giuliani's were arrested on Wednesday. A person close to the legal team, Fred, tells CNN that while Giuliani will continue to be the president's attorney, he's no longer going to be working on any issues that touch on Ukraine.
WHITFIELD: All right, Sarah Westwood at the White House. Thanks so much. All right, I want to bring in CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Renato Mariotti and associate editor and columnist for "Real Clear Politics," A. B. Stoddard. Good to have you both.
Let's tackle the Rudy Giuliani end of all of this, Renato. He has been acting almost as a shadow diplomat for the president while simultaneously being his personal attorney. Giuliani is saying out loud, trying to dig up dirt on Joe Biden from Ukraine. How much trouble is he in, really?
RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's always trouble when you are the subject of a federal criminal investigation. Anyone who says otherwise is fooling themselves. Very serious situation when the feds are looking at you. Giuliani has every reason to be concerned, but Fred, this is a very unusual situation in which Giuliani's defense is that he was acting at the direction of the President of the United States.
Essentially his defense is I wasn't acting on my own here. These things that I'm doing that appear to be illegal, the president was telling me to do it so it's OK.
WHITFIELD: Except that because he's not a federal employee, he has to have a license in which to do this and he does not have that license. So that is an avenue in which these prosecutors are going to be going after him, right?
MARIOTTI: Absolutely. I think what his defense is going to be - I agree with you. I think what his defense is going to be is like, well the president told me to do this and I thought it was OK. And it's the sort of thing that could potentially appeal to a jury but it puts him and Trump in a very unusual situation, right? He's effectively pointing the finger at Trump in a sense saying Trump approve this and that would require him to reveal his conversations with Trump which would destroy privilege. Ordinarily he would have to have a duty of loyalty and confidentiality to Trump as a lawyer to him.
So Trump and Giuliani are in very unusual situation. They both need a pretty expansive legal team to deal with this. It is a - I mean Giuliani really needs to stay off the media, stay off of twitter and spend a lot of time huddled with some attorneys.
WHITFIELD: So A.B. this isn't just a big problem for Giuliani. I mean how significant of a problem do you see this now for the president?
A.B. STODDARD, COLUMNIST: Right well there are so many sort of spider web connections if you look at the two men that were arrested that were trying to help fire the U.S. Ambassador Yovanovitch who testified yesterday in damming testimony about a campaign to smear her and basically get her fired for false - under false pretense that Rudy Giuliani has admitted he played a role and the president is playing dumb on this but the president has said he asked the Chinese to look into the Bidens.
Michael Pillsbury, a top Chinese advisor to the president as we told the "Financial Times" he got information on Hunter Biden from the Chinese. [12:20:00]
We have a server where there are other conversations that the Congress might end up getting access to...
WHITFIELD: And he said it was a perfect call and there was the transcript where it spells out the curiosities of ...
STODDARD: There are so many different avenues of potential peril for the president and if this U.S. attorney's office is looking into more than just a FARA regulation, the lobbying law that is under question now with Rudy Giuliani and they're actually looking into campaign finance violations. These two soviet-born men arrested on Wednesday night. They were accused of funneling Russian money into the Trump campaign. There could be a whole breadth of problems that Rudy Giuliani has gotten into at the behest of Trump that will really end up ensnaring President Trump in much more trouble than it seems right
WHITFIELD: Yes, and Renato just an aside, this is a very - you know attorney's office, the federal office in which Rudy Giuliani has his own history of leadership back in the 80s and now that same body is investigating the former mayor. That is striking. So really quick let's touch on this. Yovanovich and her testimony. You brought it up where she said there was this concerted effort to remove her and she said in her opening testimony to Congress she says quote, I met with the deputy secretary of state who informed me of the curtailment of my term. He said that the president had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me and that the department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2019.
Yovanovich said her removal came from unfounded and false claims. So A.B. the White House didn't want her to speak. The state department didn't want her, Pompeo, to speak but she did it anyway. How damming is this kind of testimony from her?
STODDARD: Well I mean I think it's -- it not only backs up what Rudy Giuliani has been saying which is that he had a role with these other two people who were arrested in trying to bring her down and get her bounced from her job but it really obviously begs to question what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has known and been involved with Rudy Giuliani's capers around the world on behalf of the president and with what is - what was an intimidation campaign to get her fired. So I think until and unless we know who broad this is, it's hard to know how damaging this will be within the administration. I think there are more players here than just the president and Rudy Giuliani and these two guys who got arrested on Wednesday. So I think that's really there lies the peril for the president.
WHITFIELD: And quickly, Renato, does her testimony make it that much more difficult for the White House or anybody to kind of stonewall or refuse to comply with subpoenas? MARIOTTI: yes, because the state department told her not to comply. She is nonetheless doing the right thing by complying with a lawful subpoena. It could encourage other employees to do the same thing.
WHITFIELD: All right, Renato Mariotti, A.B. Stoddard, good to see you both. Thank you.
MARIOTTI: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead, what is behind this stunning departure of "Fox News" anchor Shep Smith and California declares emergency as new and destructive wildfires erupt. The latest on the battle to contain them.
WHITFIELD: Okay, it stunned colleagues, shocked staff, and surprised viewers. At the end of his show, Chief "Fox News" anchor, Shepard Smith announced that he is leaving the network.
SHEPARD SMITH, "FOX NEWS" ANCHOR: This is my last newscast here. Thank you for watching today and over the decades as I travelled to many of your communities and anchored this program, "Studio B" and "Fox Report" plus endless marathon hours of "Breaking News." It has been an honor and my pleasure. 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.
WHITFIELD: CNN Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter is here. Wow Brian, this was something else. I mean his demeanor was so calm and calculated but it really just caused reverberations in all corners. What is behind this? What happened?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: In the words of one Fox staffer who just spoke with me, this was a bombshell. People were blown away when he signed off; nobody saw this coming. In the words of another producer there, it is heartbreaking for news staffers who want to see real news, fact checking and real reporting on Fox's air waves. Many of the other hours of the day are all about pro Trump talking points. Shep Smith was an island in the middle of that but now he's gone. Here's how is 4 p.m colleague Neil Cavuto reacted. You can tell just how shocked he was.
NEIL CAVUTO, FOX HOST: Woah. I'm Neil Cavuto, and like you, I'm a little stunned and a little heartbroken. I don't know what to say, Shepard Smith, as I said just a few days ago on this very network, a decent human being, a heart as big as Texas. I didn't say Texas at the time, maybe just lower Manhattan. Wow.
(END VIDEO) STELTER: You can see it right there on Cavuto's face this kind of
thing never happens, a TV anchor walking away in the middle of a $15 million a year contract. That just goes to show he'd had enough. He had had enough of the pro-Trump propaganda elsewhere on the network. He had enough of the tensions with the primetime host. You know Tucker Carlson and others have been criticizing him recently. That's why he decided to walk away.
WHITFIELD: That was a really pronounced exchange wasn't it between he and Tucker Carlson perhaps a breaking point?
STELTER: I think that's the right way to put it, a breaking point. There have been a lot of other issues. There were an accumulation of issues over many months but then at the end of last month as the legal situation for President Trump has been getting worse and worse, Shep interviewed Judge Andrew Napolitano, a great legal analyst on "Fox" who said the president is in legal jeopardy. He very well could have incriminate himself and could be facing criminal charges as a result of what's going on with the Ukraine scandal.
So, Napolitano says that Shep is on the air with him, Carlson responds to that, one of Carlson's guests was critical of it, and there's really been this kind of civil war going on between the news side and the opinion side.
Now I think the news side is trying its best to get the information out while the opinion side up now has been spinning for Trump. We know that Trump loves those pro-Trump talk shows, he loves watching his friends on Fox, but that's why it's so important to have people like Shep Smith on the air trying to deliver a reality check and a fact check. And that's why for a lot of staffers at Fox they feel this is a real loss not just for Fox but in a way for the country because now there's one less voice, one fewer voice on Fox trying to get the news out.
WHITFIELD: Fascinating. All right, Brian Stelter, thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right, President Trump meantime, taking a series of legal blows including one decision that might indicate that Trump's stonewalling days could be coming to an end.
[12:35:21] WHITFIELD: Five federal courts issuing blows to President Donald Trump, Friday, rounding at a challenging week for Trump who remains consumed by an impeachment crisis that is clouding his presidency.
Here is CNN's Ariane de Vogue.
ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: There were big losses for the Trump administration in courts on Friday. The first, a powerful appeals court based in D.C. ruled that President Trump's accounting firm had to turn over eight years of financial records to a House committee. That's a big defeat for the president who's been fighting on several fronts to keep his financial records out of the public eye. Now the ball is in the court of the president. He can appeal that decision to a larger panel of judges on the appeals court or go directly to the Supreme Court.
And on issues related to immigration, three courts blocked the administration's so-called public charge rule. It was set to go into effect next week. Under the rule, immigrants who might rely on public assistance like food stamps would have a harder time obtaining legal status like a green card. Two of the judges issued a nationwide injunction, blocking the rule across the country.
Finally, on another immigration-related subject, a different federal judge in Texas held the national emergency declaration the president issued to build the border wall was unlawful. The ruling will block funding for now but it's likely to be appealed. Several big losses on a Friday for President Trump.
Ariane de Vogue, CNN, Washington.
WHITFIELD: And President Trump profanity-laced is ratcheting up his campaign rallies as the 2020 election heats up. He's got millions of dollars in his campaign war chest, so why is there a trail of unpaid bills in many American cities.
[12:41:09] WHITFIELD: As President Trump rallies voters for his 2020 campaign, at least six American cities say they are being short- changed and have not yet been reimbursed for law enforcement costs required for the president's rallies. Since June, those cities have not had invoices paid by the campaign totaling more than $672,000.
Let's bring in CNN law enforcement analyst and former Secret Service agent Jonathan Wackrow. Good to see you, Jonathan. So --
JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It's nice to see you.
WHITFIELD: -- you spent years coordinating security for the president --
WHITFIELD: -- who usually foots the bill for security measures. Tell us the break down of the shared cost for the host city.
WACKROW: Absolutely. Well, listen, Fred, this was the number one cost that -- question that I received any time I was coordinating security for the president was, who's going to pay for it. Listen, at the end of the day, unfortunately, there's no legal obligation for any candidate or even, you know, the president's campaign to pay or reimburse for social security costs. I mean, that's clearly outlined. The Federal Election Commission has stated that there's no requirement to back pay. In this case that we're talking about, the Secret Service is the coordinating entity around all of the presidential travel and all of the presidential security. They are the ones that are making the request to the municipalities around, you know, additional security costs and the reason being is that the Secret Service can't undertake their security mission by themselves. They need to work with law enforcement partners whether it's in Minneapolis or throughout the country on executing on their security plans.
So, the request is reasonable that came in from Minneapolis this week but unfortunately, there's no pathway for repayment.
WHITFIELD: So customarily, Secret Service is going to do its detail but then in any city, they're going to have their, you know, municipal police or law enforcement to help supplement, help reinforce. And customarily, does the White House or an election campaign reimburse, pay for the city?
WACKROW: No, they don't. You know, there's no legal obligation, there is a responsibility that, you know, should be barred by any campaign because they are putting a significant burden on local law enforcement in the city as a whole. I mean, just take a look at local law enforcement, the impact is twofold. Its operational impact and its financial.
Operationally, they're asking for hundreds -- especially in the case of the president, they're asking for a hundreds of, you know, law enforcement officers to partake in a security plan whether that's patrol officers or special services such as, you know, marine, aviation, or SWAT teams to get involved in the security plan. All that does is draw away from their core responsibility of maintaining civil order and suppressing the criminal element in any city. So that's a significant --
WHITFIELD: So, I also hear you then say that it's the city's discretion about whether to be a host if it feels like it's not going to be able to afford what it may cost them, then they could say no, you're not welcome here.
WACKROW: You can say that you're not welcome, but at the end of the day this is about protecting the office of the presidency, let's look beyond who the individual is. There's a greater duty here that the Secret Service is executing on with their law enforcement partners. We know that there's an operational cost, we know that there's, you know, a financial burden, but at the end of the day we have to protect the office of the presidency the same way that we protect any other, you know, candidate that's running. You know, you want to protect the democratic process and that's why we set up these structures.
WHITFIELD: But in terms of the bill paying, it just might be on you, the city. Because of that effort, there shouldn't be a necessary expectation, I'm hearing from you that they would pay for.
WACKROW: That is correct. Now, I mean, I think that this is definitely with the threat environment that we're facing today, Fred, I definitely think that this is something Congress should take up and look for a pathway to fund different campaigns including the president's on funding.
[12:45:10] WHITFIELD: All right Jonathan Wackrow, thank so much.
WACKROW: Thanks a lot, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead, a former military photographer who risked everything to expose the atrocities committed against his people in Syria. He's calling on Congress now to act.
But first, we want to introduce you to one of our CNN heroes. We all have our bucket lists and this week's CNN hero is helping senior citizens to embark on those exciting adventures. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reality of living in isolation is out there and it's real, and that's really one of the driving forces for us to keep going, for us to take those people out of isolation and make an example of them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I look at it like much more than a hot air balloon ride. There is a sense of accomplishment. A story that they get to take back to their community. It lifts their spirits.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: And that it is. For the full story go to cnn.heroes.com, and we'll be right back.
[12:50:11] WHITFIELD: Disgraceful, unnerving to its core, and betrayal. That is the Republican reaction to the president's surprise decision and order to remove U.S. troops from a key section in Northern Syria, essentially abandoning the Kurdish allies who have fought for years on the ground there to help defeat ISIS. Despite the criticism, the president is defending his decision this way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we've been to Syria for a long time, and it was supposed to be a very short hit, and -- hit on ISIS but it didn't work out that way. They never left and they're been there for many, many years. And we are -- we were down to very few soldiers in Syria, we had in the region that you're talking about, 50 soldiers and they've been already moved out but we'll see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Now, if anyone needs a reminder of what's really at stake here, one man has been sounding the alarm for years. A Syrian war defector risking all to expose the atrocities of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime. He just returned to Washington again, to beg for action as what's being described as the mother of all sanction bills sits and sits.
And CNN's Kate Bolduan was there, and I do want to warn you, the images that you're about to see are graphic and disturbing.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): We can't tell you his name, it's too dangerous to show his face. He won't even allow his voice to be recorded as he speaks through his translator. But we can show you these.
Almost 55,000 photos he risked his life to bring out of Syria, some of which have never been publicly until now. And he's risking his life again to plead with Congress to act.
(on camera) How are you feeling in this moment being back in Washington again?
"CAESAR", SYRIAN MILITARY POLICE DEFECTOR (through translator): My feeling being here is a feeling of a bit of disappointment and at the same time frustration because after everything that I've done in order to expose what the regime has done, we have yet to see any real action.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): His code-name is "Caesar". He was a military photographer in Damascus when the civil war began in 2011. He says he immediately realized what he was then documenting were not accidental deaths but torture.
"CAESAR" (through translator): For example, many of the bodies had their eyes gouged out. Most of these bodies had very deep cuts. Most of them were emaciated, starved for many, many months, and also marks all over their bodies from head to toe. And I would see their jaws and teeth broken.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): Instead of defecting right after the war broke out, "Caesar" says he decided to stay for two and a half years to bear witness, collect evidence, and to expose what really was happening in his country. Where any sign of sympathy for the dead could be interpreted as betrayal of the regime.
"CAESAR" (through translator): I would work for hours taking photographs, loading the photographs, and I would have to hide my emotions. I would have to pray that a tear does not come down my face because if they saw one tear, if they saw one expression on my face that showed sympathy, then I would be killed as would my family.
BOLDUAN (on camera): How did you do that?
"CAESAR" (through translator): I don't know.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): In 2013, he finally fled and brought with him what the FBI confirmed as authentic and the State Department's ambassador for war crimes described a stronger evidence than what existed against the Nazis. The Syrian Government has denied responsibility and called the photos fake. "Caesar" made his first trip to Capitol Hill in 2014, testifying before Congress undercover in the exact same disguise he used for our interview.
"CAESAR" (through translator): You know, I honestly thought that if I could have the courage to go for the years that I did, doing the work that I did endangering my life every single day, that once I came out and showed the world what I had, that the entire conscience of the world would move.
BOLDUAN (on camera): And then that didn't?
"CAESAR" (through translator): Five whole years the world did not move.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll never forget what he showed us.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): The sanctions bill sparked by "Caesar's" testimony and photographs has passed the House three times with bipartisan support but has yet to make it to the Senate floor.
"CAESAR" (through translator): So what I am pleading is for the American people to please save the Syrian people, save these people that do not deserve the hellish nightmare that they're living in.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): One of the lawmakers "Caesar" made his case to this time, Senator Lindsey Graham. Not only is he a long-time critic of Bashar al-Assad, Graham also has had the ear of President Trump and he revealed to CNN that he's introducing a resolution to declare Assad a war criminal.
[12:55:03] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): To the people in Syria, we're not turning our back on you. I wish we could do better. The administration needs to do more quite frankly. We don't have a coherent strategy in Syria, and I am committed 100 percent to not letting Assad get away with it and standing behind people like "Caesar", and I'm going to make my colleagues in the Senate vote.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): Until then, the bill sits on Senator Mitch McConnell's desk and leave "Caesar" right back where he began, putting his life on the line to try and convince the world to care and once and for all not look away.
(on camera) We're in the Holocaust Museum, and after the Holocaust, the world said never again. And I'm really struck by seeing the atrocities coming out of Syria and the fact that the world is not saying that.
"CAESAR" (through translator): You're right. How many more children must be killed? How many more men must be tortured to death? How many more women must be raped until you mean it when you say never again?
WHITFIELD: And that was CNN's Kate Bolduan reporting.
The president's personal attorney, meantime, Rudy Giuliani, now telling CNN that he is not aware that he is under federal investigation for his work in Ukraine. What the president is saying about all of this as well, next.
WHITFIELD: Hello again everyone, and thank you so much for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.