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Colin Powell Dies Of COVID Complications; Gang Kidnaps Missionaries; Ex-U.K. Spy Speaks Out; China Tested Missile In August. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired October 18, 2021 - 09:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Half past the hour now as we continue with our breaking news this morning, General Colin Powell has died at the age of 84 due to complications from COVID-19.

Powell, of course, was a trailblazer, as so many of our guests have reflected on this morning. He was a public servant. He was a patriot. And his kindness really knew no bounds.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We're hearing deep emotions from many who served with him and under him. His family described him this way in a statement which confirmed his death this morning, we have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American. The Powell family says the general was fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Joining us now to discuss just how rare this is, Dr. Carlos del Rio, the executive associate dean at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Dr. del Rio, good to have you here.

I should just note this statistic, you know better than me, one out of every 26,000 fully vaccinated people have died of COVID-19. Doing the math here, that is 0.004 percent. Explain how rare this is, but also what folks should take from this.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT GRADY: Well, Jim, I think, first of all, I'm incredibly saddened by the loss of Colin Powell, such an American hero. He contributed to so many things and I personally think that one of his most important contributions is that very people -- very few people talk about is how he helped develop a program that we call PEPFAR that got anti-retroviral theory to people in Africa. And that was one of the things that I really -- you know, and he thought how -- why this was important.

You know, in our country right now, we have about 170,000 -- 178 million people who have been vaccinated. We have had, you know, over 700,000 deaths. Since the vaccines became available, we've had in our country about 200,000 deaths. And only about 7,000 deaths have occurred among fully vaccinated individuals. And of those, 89 percent are individuals over the age of 65.

So, you know, the chance of dying from COVID when you're fully vaccinated are approximately 11 times lower than if you're not vaccinated. And it's very clear to me that vaccines save lives. And if we have -- the people that have died since the vaccines became available, especially during the delta wave, had they been vaccinated, we would have prevented about 110,000 deaths in our country.

HILL: You know, it's so important to put that in perspective. I also like that you brought up PEPFAR. And also, I think we should point out, his own prostate cancer in 2003, which he was public about, and also talked about his approach, that he was really very proactive in terms of his screenings, and talking about that. That sent an important message as well, Dr. del Rio.

DEL RIO: Oh, absolutely. I think, you know, again, when a public figure, when a respected individual like him, when an African-American man comes out and is so transparent about health issues, gets vaccinated, et cetera, I want to use this opportunity to encourage everybody.

We have lower vaccination rates in African-Americans, especially African-American men, and I want to use the passing of Colin Powell as an opportunity to say, please, get vaccinated. We still have a chance to defeat this virus and it will be really important. The more people we get vaccinated, the better we would be.

SCIUTTO: And remember, folks, if you're watching at home, that number, as Dr. del Rio mentioned there, unvaccinated people, 11 times -- 11 times more likely to die than vaccinated people. It's protection. It's great protection. It's not 100 percent protection. That's a sad fact of vaccines. But it's remarkable protection.

Dr. Carlos del Rio, thanks so much for joining us.

DEL RIO: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Right now another major story we're following this morning, 17 missionaries, 16 Americans and one Canadian, including children, are being held hostage in Haiti after a violent criminal gang kidnapped them over the weekend.

A source inside Haitian security forces tells CNN that the so-called 400 Mawozo Gang is believed to be responsible. Haitian officials are communicating with the State Department but a senior U.S. official familiar with the situation says that neither the FBI nor the State Department currently knows the location of the victims.

HILL: All of this comes as one human rights group notes that there has been a nearly 300 percent increase in kidnappings since July. The majority of these victims are Haitian citizens.


Joining us now for a little more perspective on this is Harold Isaac, he's a journalist on the ground in Port-au-Prince.

Good to have you with us this morning.

Talk to us about that if you could. This is getting a lot of attention. These were foreign missionaries, obviously. But this is the reality for many people in Haiti on a daily basis. You know, accounts I've read, people literally being grabbed off the streets.

HAROLD ISAAC, JOURNALIST: Well -- well, thanks for having me, Jim and Erica.

Indeed, it is a very -- a very preoccupying situation right now with the 16 Americans and one Canadian national that have been kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gangs. But this reality, as you stated, has been true for a lot of locals in Haiti for at least the past two years where gangs have grown more brazen over this time and have started to be more daring into their actions and kidnapping people for ransom more regularly than before.

SCIUTTO: Harold, this, of course, follows a few months ago the brutal assassination of the president as his own security forces stood by. You've also had an earthquake there. One can easily have a perception of lawlessness on the streets of Haiti today. Is that -- is that accurate?

ISAAC: Well, for a certain part of the metropolitan area, this is absolutely true. And as it is right now, Haiti is facing a serious increase in gang activities to the point that now there is what they call a federation of gangs called the G9 that operates across the metropolitan area and is creating a substantial challenge for the legitimate security forces in Haiti to try and keep the space secured and safe.

HILL: You talk about that legitimate challenge. I mean are they more in control at this point?

ISAAC: Well, it's been an ongoing struggle and -- which has also led to the mass migration movements that we're seeing in the past months here in Haiti and now in the U.S. But clearly the police is struggling right now to control the situation and to gain back its legitimate positioning in some of the part of the metropolitan area of Port-au- Prince at the very least.

And yesterday the prime minister, for instance, wanted to lay wreaths for the first ruler of Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and couldn't because of gang activity and had to flee the area under gunshots. So this kind of shows you the challenge that the security forces in Haiti and the government have to face vis-a-vis the gangs who are setting their own rules in good parts of the Capital.

SCIUTTO: Harold, what is the future for these 17 -- 16 Americans and one Canadian missionaries who have now been kidnapped? Do these games typically -- gangs typically seek ransom? Are their lives in danger? Tell us -- tell us what we know based on past practices from gangs like this. ISAAC: Well, the (INAUDIBLE) Mawozo, or 400 Mawozo Gangs as it's

called, is known for having done these kind of daring kidnapping, such as French nationals that they've -- they had kidnapped a few months back. And they were missionaries as well. And they had eventually been released after, you know, negotiations that lasted a few days and weeks.

Not sure if we're looking at the same scenario in that case because it's higher profile. "The Miami Herald," for instance, reported that the FBI is already on the ground. But Haitian authorities have been rather silent so far. No words from the police. No words from the government about the current crisis. And it's unclear when there will be an update. So, as of now, we're not clear or not fully aware of what -- how their well-being is for the moment.


HILL: We'll continue to follow it closely.

Harold Isaac, appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you.

The ex-British spy behind the dossier about former President Trump and Russia speaking out on camera for the first time. Why he says he's still confident that the Russians have dirt on Trump. That's next.



HILL: The former British spy behind an unverified dossier that claimed Russian officials held compromising information on former President Trump is defending his work. Christopher Steele's report became one of the most controversial aspects as the FBI's investigation into Trump and Russia and also led to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. In an interview with ABC News, Steele says he stands by his work even though some of his claims have never been proven.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Most of the world first heard your name about five years ago but you stayed silent up until now. Why speak out now?

CHRISTOPHER STEELE: I think there are several reasons. I think the first and most important is the problems we identified back in 2016 haven't gone away and arguably have actually got worse and I thought it was important to come and set the record straight.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of your main collectors, he spoke to the inspector general, said that especially the kompromat was word of mouth and hearsay, conversations with friends over beers, it was just talk.


STEELE: If you have a confidential source, and that confidential source is blow or is uncovered, the confidential source would often take fright and try and downplay and underestimate what they've said and done. And I think that's probably what happened here.


STEELE: I think anybody that's named in this contact, particularly if they're Russian has every reason to be afraid.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you stand by the dossier?

STEELE: I stand by the work we did, the sources that we had, and the professionalism which we applied to it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And today do you still believe that that tape exists?

STEELE: I think it probably does but I wouldn't put 100 percent certainty on it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So how do you explain if that tape does indeed exist, it hasn't been released.

STEELE: Well, it hasn't needed to be released.


STEELE: Because I think the Russians felt they got pretty good value out of Donald Trump when he was president of the U.S.


HILL: Joining us now, former federal prosecutor and CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates.

Laura, I'm curious, you know, he said the reason he's speaking out now is, I felt it was important to come and set the record straight. Do you think he did that?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, I don't think he did. I think in many respects what he's trying to do is dig his heels in. And I don't know if it's obstinance or actual belief that what was contained in this dossier is 100 percent accurate.

Remember, Erica, there are a number of things that the Mueller report pointed out, for example, Michael Cohen traveling to Prague. They could not substantiate that. There's other instances, of course, the kompromat, a word that many Americans learn after hearing about the Steele dossier and the idea of compromising material.

And, of course, remember, there was a scathing inspector general report with respect to the FBI's use and reliance of the Steele dossier on the dossier in trying to get the FIDA warrants against Carter Page.

This contained so many salacious details that I think politically may have been advantageous to those trying to go against former President Trump. But also because it contained information that could be actually substantiated, we're left with this very interesting dynamic here of how much to believe, which aspect of it was sufficiently corroborated and ultimately we know its place in history now.

HILL: Is he credible?

COATES: You know, that is something that I think is a determination that has to be made by looking at a combination of things. On the one hand, we are talking about those sources that were able to be corroborated. Certainly his conveyance of the material should be credited.

But for those aspects where it's unclear and he has yet to really truly give the full explanation or the full process by how he gathered information, the credibility of his sources, that really remains to be seen. But, ultimately, it comes down to the notion of what the FBI, our own intelligence, what the Mueller team was able to substantiate or not.

And for those things where he's saying, you know what, it remains to be seen and maybe one day it will be needed, that's not sufficient when you've taken such a hit as we know our American intelligence agencies have, because of sloppy either conveyance of material, uncorroborated information. It really behooves him to really, if he's going to set the record straight, he's got to be very clear about what he actually knew and what he inferred.

HILL: You're saying, if he's going to set the record straight, he actually has to set the record straight.

COATES: Correct.

HILL: You know one of the -- one of the other points, Laura, when we look at, you know, Michael Cohen, right, and so this -- that he went to Prague, he claims he went to Prague in 2016 to meet with a Russian official, which, you know, Cohen has said didn't happen and he has admitted to other things that did happen, right, that perhaps were, you know, initially wouldn't.

I mean he says -- so Steele rationalized that he might be lying by saying that, you know, it would still be very self-incriminating to a very great degree for Michael Cohen to admit it. I mean at this point, based on everything we've seen, everything that Michael Cohen has now said and done in the last few years, I'm not sure how you square that either.

COATES: I don't think you really can. And, again, I -- maybe it's the prosecutor in me. I am naturally skeptical of other people. I don't particularly trust. My eyebrow rises up a lot more than it's actually believing people about things.

But I've got to tell you, in the world of wanting to disclose everything that could make you look bad, Michael Cohen has done a pretty sufficient job. I mean he's also been incarcerated. He's now, of course, been released. He's written his book.

He's been very forthright and candid to a degree. I never know everything he may or may not know. But the idea that he's withholding something back that actually has not been corroborated is really suspicious to me, and I can't put a lot of weight into that.

However, we also know that when it comes to Russia in particular, I'm certain that there is information to -- about a number of individuals that they could release and do time if they saw fit and not necessarily we know about it. But, on the other hand, that's speculation at best and that's not the substance of an intelligence report or an intelligence briefing or what you should use to actually get a FISA warrants.


You actually have to have something substantial and corroborated in order to be believed.

HILL: Yes. Hey, I'm with you. And, by the way, I like that prosecutorial eye that you put on things. I appreciate it. Thank you, my friend.

COATES: It's the eyebrows, Erica. It's got to get a turn and give this prosecutor side eye.

HILL: It's eyebrow. So it's the eyebrow.


HILL: I like it. I am here for your side eye.

Laura, appreciate it, as always. Thank you.


SCIUTTO: Don't believe what you saw, says China. The nation denies reports it launched a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile. What China claims it really was and what the U.S. believes it was, next.



SCIUTTO: This morning, the Chinese government is denying a report in "The Financial Times" that it tested a nuclear-capable, hypersonic missile in August. "The FT" says the missile circled the globe before speeding towards its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught U.S. intelligence completely by surprise.

When asked about the report this morning, the Chinese ministry spokesman claimed it was only a, quote, routine spacecraft experiment. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told me the following, quote, we will not comment about the specifics of these reports.

We have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities China continues to pursue, capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond. That is one reason why we hold China as our number one pacing challenge.

Joining me now to discuss, Taylor Fravel, he's director of the security studies program at MIT.

Mr. Fravel, thanks so much this morning.

As you know, countries such as North Korea, Iran, when they test new missile capabilities, many of which go into space, right, as they arc down back towards earth, they will claim this is just about space exploration, but not credibly. Your response to China's explanation here.


Well, the response is curious because the organization that launched this particular missile typically does announce its space launches on its social media platform. And the reason why this caught the attention of many individuals is that this particular launch was not -- not announced. It was the 78th (ph) launch.

And so that suggests that China clearly did not want to publicize whatever was being launched atop this particular space vehicle. And that I think raises questions about the explanation that the minister of foreign affairs provided.

SCIUTTO: If the alternate explanation here, and, frankly, I'm told that the U.S. military is taking this very seriously, that this was a new capability, not only hypersonic, but in terms of the direction it was launched, it would be launched in such a way that could go around America's missile defenses here, what is the significance of this? Does this undermine America's nuclear deterrent in effect?

FRAVEL: So it's significant for two reasons. China tested both what's known as an orbital bombardment system by which the weapon can be placed into space and then (INAUDIBLE) orbit for a period of time before spiking its target. And this allows it to significantly increase its range.

It also allows it to change the direction by which the warhead travels. And so, in this case, as you know, right, rather than flying over the North Pole, which would be the case with a warhead launched atop a ballistic missile, this particular kind of orbital bombardment system could go over to the South Pole and thus evade U.S. missile defense systems.

China also tested a hypersonic fly (ph) vehicle which one could sort of launch in the direction of a ballistic missile defense system. But the -- sort of the characteristics of this fly (ph) vehicles, their ability to maneuver, allows them also to evade those defenses.

And so what China has done is basically demonstrated an effort or a capability to be able to circumnavigate U.S. missile defenses. And China's had long-standing concerns about U.S. missile defenses because of the relatively small size of its arsenal.

As of last summer, the Department of Defense attests that China's nuclear warhead stockpile was in the low 200s, compared with what was just announced by the Biden administration of a nuclear stockpile of more than 3,700 weapons.

And so with much -- with a much smaller stockpile of warheads, China's been sort of worried about the strength of its deterrent. Those worries have sort of intensified as U.S./China relations continue to deteriorate. So China's trying to find ways to make its nuclear weapons survivable and thus to deter the United States from considering nuclear weapons against China.

SCIUTTO: What then is the U.S. response here from a strategic perspective, right, because the U.S. nuclear deterrent is based in large part on overwhelming force, in effect. In other words, that countries such as China would not consider attacking the U.S. with nuclear weapons because the response would be so great.

Does this then lead, just as a math problem here, the U.S. to have to make -- make more bombs, right, in effect, to overwhelm? I mean is that -- is it a step towards escalation, an arms race?

FRAVEL: I think it's a step towards an incipient arms race. But, again, because the size of the Chinese arsenal is so much smaller, even with this capability, if it were eventually fielded, China would still need to build a much sort of larger inventory of missiles to be able to attack the United States. And although they're certainly accessed to at least double the size of their nuclear warhead stockpile or perhaps triple it, it will still be a fraction of those of the United States.


And from that sense, deterrence should still hold.

I think what China is trying to do is to signal to the United States that