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Official: U.S. May Move Tanks, Troops into Eastern Syria; Rep. Katie Hill Admits to Inappropriate Relationship with Campaign Worker but Denies Relationship with Congressional Staffer; Ex-Boeing Pilot Complained of Management Pressure on 737 MAX. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired October 24, 2019 - 13:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: As U.S. forces withdraw from Syria, a defense official tells CNN there's a plan to send battle tanks, heavy weapons and troops into eastern Syria. The mission would be to protect U.S. troops already on the ground in and around the Kurdish oil fields.

Here's the tricky part. The tanks would be aimed at protecting against other countries with tanks on the ground, Russia, Syria, possibly Turkey.

Plus, a new CNN poll shows about three-quarters of the country are worried about the situation with Syria, with 43 percent of those interviewed very concerned, and 32 percent somewhat concerned.

And that's not all. As the U.S. withdraws from northern Syria, 69 percent believe it is likely ISIS is going to reemerge.

CNN senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is in Irbil, Iraq, near the Syrian border.


We're having a problem with his signal but we're going to try get that back up to reestablish that signa.

We're going to roll a report that Nick Paton Walsh has and then we'll try to talk to him on the back end. This is his report.



NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The gruesome videos keep coming. But not just a normal brutality of war, something uglier, more radical.

(SHOUTING) PATON WALSH: Scenes of the Syrian rebels Turkey is backing, abusing here the corpse of dead Syrian Kurdish female and male fighters, Tuesday, near Tablia (ph).


PATON WALSH: Rebel leaders said they have arrested and would punish the fighters behind this.


PATON WALSH: A U.S. official has said these fighters backed by Turkey are mostly extremists from ISIS and al-Qaeda. And from the start they were accused of savagery.

This is the widely circulated video of the murder of Kurdish activist, Avid Halla (ph), a bodyguard beaten before execution. We found the vehicle heavily shot up, and just scattered on the highway.

(on camera): Startling acts of violence like this have made many reassess exactly who Turkey is using to try and execute its goals here in north eastern Syria.

(voice-over): An autopsy report that CNN can't independently verify says the widely traveled activists was drag by her hair and beaten with a blunt object on her head before being shot to death.

Some of the videos, rebels have posted of themselves, have support to the theory that Turkey was in such a hurry to build militia to fight for them, it did not bet out extremists. It may now be liable for war crimes.

JAMES JEFFREY, U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY FOR SYRIA: We have seen several incidents, which we consider war crimes.

MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I've seen the report as well. We're trying to monitor. They are horrible. And if it's accurate, and I assume that they're accurate, they would be war crimes, as best as I know, the law on land warfare's.

So, I think all those need to be followed up on. I think those responsible should be held accountable. In many cases, it would be the government of Turkey, should be held accountable for this, because we cannot allow those things to happen.

PATON WALSH: Turkey and the rebels has rejected many accusations and often post media of "our life has returned to normal" under their control. But some of the behavior here, though, posted on the rebels owned telegram channels is not distant to ISIS's old videos.

Turkey has loyal rebel forces in Idlib Province, which Western intelligence has said is now infiltrated by al-Qaeda. But it is unclear which units of rebels, Turkey is using.

Will these men stop when Turkey tells them to? Will Turkey tell them to? And what sort of society would they build? Will it have a place for or reject ISIS.


KEILAR: I want to bring in Nick Paton Walsh from nearby Iraq.

I want your reaction, Nick, to a tweet that President Trump put out. He said, "I really enjoyed my conversation with General Mazloum Abdi. He appreciates what we have done, and I appreciate what the Kurds have done. Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the oil region."

Just break that down for us because that seems like an absurd suggestion.

PATON WALSH: Yes, the whole oil issue here is a complete distraction. It has nothing to do with this particular conflict. It is not a source of strategic revenue or hydrocarbon security for the United States. We're talking about a miniscule amount of oil. So it's not the reason to keep troops there.

Some analysts suggest that maybe one way to convince President Trump that he needs to retain a presence in that country is to hark back to the '80s and say, maybe you need to look after the oil, Mr. President.

But what it does provide is the capacity for a U.S. presence to still be in a sort of sub-eastern area where they used to be to continue the right against ISIS and possibly make sure those oil fields don't, if ISIS suddenly got control of the territory again, fall into their hands and let them get revenue. That's a long-distance shot, not much money we're talking about.

That tweet perhaps suggests that the Syria Kurds should move down south to an area they're not normally from, potentially putting them in conflict with the Sunni Syrian Arabs who normally live in that part of town and kind of become guarantors for the oil fields around there.

It sounds like the president is trying to suggest a solution where everyone wins, where the Kurds get oil, where the U.S. gets to protect the oil and, therefore, the Kurds. It's often very hard to keep track of where this policy is going.

It all first came up in a slightly mystical comment he made in the White House. He talked about how they secured the oil. No one quite knew what he meant.

But it is troubling to see the damage to lives on the ground, the damage geopolitically to U.S. standing in the region, for U.S. politicians. Extraordinary gains for traditional adversaries of the United States have made during these two weeks.

And then then the confusing position American troops are simply in now. Tanks on their way to support poorly defended couple of hundred down in the south. And the rest being asked to continue their mission in ISIS with Iraq where the Iraqi government says they're just passing through on their way out.

What a fortnight it's been -- Brianna?


KEILAR: Indeed.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much for that report.

California Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill is now at the center of a House ethics investigation. We have details on allegations of an improper relationship with a congressional staffer.



KEILAR: California Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill is at the center of a widening scandal. In a letter to her constituents, Hill admitted having an inappropriate relationship with a campaign staffer. The admission comes shortly after the House Ethics Committee announced they were investigating Hill for a separate alleged relationship.

CNN national correspondent, Kyung Lah, has been following the developments on this story.

Kyung, take us through the allegation and also her admission.

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's talk about this as two different things because it gets a little confusing. We're talking about two different relationships.

The first is the allegation of an inappropriate relationship with a congressional staffer. That's where the ethics probe comes in. That is something that Representative Hill denies. She denies it out front.

The other is the admission by Representative Hill that she had an inappropriate relationship with a campaign worker. That's an entirely different thing. And it is something that she has admitted in a letter that she sent to her supporters.

In part, this is what Hill writes to her supporters. She writes, quote, "I became involved in a relationship with someone on my campaign. I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment. For that I apologize."

Now, the conservative blog that posted all of these allegations also happened to post an explicit photo. And Representative Hill addressed that in that letter to her supporters, continuing that, "Distributing intimate photos with the intent to publish them is a crime and the perpetrator should be punished to the full extent of the law."

There she may be referencing California's revenge port law, Brianna. And that is a law in place that doesn't allow the publishing of intimate photos of someone because that is a crime. Two different issues, one, the ethics probe looking at the

congressional staff. That is something that Hill has denied. And the other is with the campaign worker, which she has admitted to.

KEILAR: Kyung Lah, thank you so much.

We have a stunning new development in Boeing 737 MAX investigation. There are reports of a former pilot revealing he felt pressure from his company to make sure the planes would not require expensive pilot training.



KEILAR: There could be more bad news for Boeing. The "Wall Street Journal" reports a former senior pilot for the company complained years ago he felt pressure from management to make sure the 737 MAX planes would not require expensive pilot training, which raises the question about what Boeing knew and when before two of its 737 MAX passenger planes crashed less than six months apart.

CNN's Rene Marsh is with us on the story.

And we're learning, Rene, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee wrote a letter to the FAA on Wednesday expressing disappointment in its response to all of this. Tell us about this.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes, as far as the letter goes, they're saying, look, we've been asking you for information about training for your aviation inspectors, and you haven't been forthcoming.

This is rooted in an office of special counsel investigation that essentially determined that when the FAA arrived before lawmakers to testify, they may not have been totally truthful. They may have been misleading about the sort of training their aviation inspectors have as it relates to determining what sort of training pilots would need to fly this plane.

That's a totally separate issue than this former Boeing pilot, who is now apparently saying that he felt pressure from management at Boeing to make sure that the development of the 737 MAX did not require very expensive pilot training.

This is a key issue, because we know in both of those two deadly crashes involving the MAX, the pilots weren't that familiar with this automated system that we all know as MCAS. And it's because Boeing told regulators during the development of the plane pilots wouldn't really encounter it that much so they didn't need to know that much about it.

This former pilot's concerns first came to light last week as well, publicly, when we got ahold -- CNN got ahold of these internal messages he was trading with another employee saying he had concerns about how this automated system was working. He, himself, was having trouble controlling the plane in the flight simulator.

This is something certainly the Department of Justice, which is probing the Boeing and whether they misled regulators and in probing the certification and design of this plane, this is something they're definitely going to look at as well.

KEILAR: Such an important report.

Rene, thank you.

There's a wildfire in California that just started last night but has grown to more than 10,000 acres already. The Kincade Fire is burning about 80 miles north of San Francisco in Sonoma County. And fire officials say that none of it is contained. The wildfire is being fueled there by gusting winds and dry conditions. And so far, 1,700 people have been forced to leave their homes.


KEILAR: A border wall in Colorado? That's the plan according to President Trump. Ahead, the Colorado governor responds live.