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FBI Investigating 'Unprecedented' Number Of Threats Against Bureau In Wake Of Mar-A-Lago Search; CDC Loosens Recommendations For Some COVID-19; Do Lockdown Drills Help Or Hurt Our Kids; GOP Voters To Decide Tuesday On Whether To Oust Rep. Liz Cheney; Afghanistan One Year After U.S. Withdrawal. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired August 13, 2022 - 19:00   ET




ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: I'm Alex Marquardt in Washington in this evening for Pamela Brown. You are in the CNN Newsroom. Thank you so much for joining me.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security tonight warning that authorities and government personnel could be in danger as the newly unsealed Mar-a-Lago search warrant sparks, quote, unprecedented threats of violence.

Let's go straight to CNN's Donie O'Sullivan, who has been tracking so much of what has been said online. Donie, death threats have been out there, some general like social media posts, urging people to kill all feds. But there have also been very specific threats, and particularly aimed at the Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Florida judge who signed and then unsealed that search warrant. How concerned are federal officials about the, you know, this going from online threats to actual violence?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alex, well, sources told our colleague Josh Campbell that the FBI is investigating an unprecedented number of threats against his personnel, including some of its agents. And you can really see that playing out online since right after the news of that search of Mar-a-Lago broke on Monday.

I want to show you some of the kinds of messages that have been posted. You mentioned there's one called kill all Feds and others lock and load. Another person writes, I'm just going to say as Garland needs to be assassinated, simple as that. So we're seeing that rhetoric play out across the week.

We saw the judge that some believe -- that people believed was involved in signing the warrants. We saw the course website in Florida actually had to remove details about that judge because people were calling for him to be docs for his personal information to be posted online. So the websites, the course website, took down information about his staff removed it from the site because of course, undoubtedly, those people were probably also getting harassed. And then yesterday when that indict -- when the search warrant was eventually published, and media were reporting on it, there was an unredacted version that appeared on some right wing websites. And in that unredacted version, is the name of two specific FBI agents. And what we've been seeing online over the past 24 hours or so, as people calling for the docs (ph) of those individuals posting some of their details online as well, Alex.

MARQUARDT: And lots of horrific anti-semitic attacks being directed to that judge in Florida as well. And then Donie, there was a signed letter from Trump's legal team to the Justice Department that insisted that there was no more classified information that was left at Mar-a- Lago.

Now, we're told that was wrong, that investigators left that search with 11 sets of classified documents, some of them at some of the highest levels of classification. No one has been charged so far. But allies of the former president are still really clinging to some of those allegations of entrapment and that, you know, false evidence was planted there.

O'SULLIVAN: Yes, and look that is spreading like wildfire. We're seeing some Republican members of Congress calling too for the FBI to be defunded. And then of course, you know, a couple of years ago, the major platforms, a lot of Trump supporters were on Facebook and Twitter, after January 6, when Trump and many others got kicked off the platforms, many of their -- many of Trump supporters, other users began migrating to different platforms, more fringe alternative platforms.

Of course, we have seen Trump has set up his own social media platform. And those platforms have less rules generally, and they are moderated less. And that is, I think, contributes to how we are seeing so much more violent rhetoric because it is acceptable in some cases, in those spaces.

Now, I should mention that even through social which is the former president social media platform does appear to be removing a lot of posts that we can see a violent calls to rhetoric, and daxing (ph) FBI officials and things like that.

But there's still just, you know, back to the point that we made up the top and unprecedented number of threats. We're being told the FBI is investigating it, really you can see it online and unprecedented amount of violent rhetoric.


MARQUARDT: All right, Donie, we know that you will continue to track all of this. Donie O'Sullivan in Las Vegas. Thank you so much. Joining me with more perspective is CNN security analyst -- national security analyst, Carrie Cordero. Carrie, let's start where Donie left off there. When you see some of that vitriol online, and of course, the major question is, at what point does that move from the online world into the real world? And we've already seen an attack against the FBI field office in Cincinnati. How concerned are you? CARRIE CORDERO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I'm very concerned with the general environment of political violence. And this most recent event is just another trigger that seems to be inspiring more individuals. What we have in this country is we have an increase in domestic violent extremism. We have individuals who have frankly been radicalized according to a domestic ideology. And we have a political environment that in some circles, is encouraging violence, or at least giving it more space to breathe.

And so what's happening is individuals are being moved from just saying words to the individual in Cincinnati, who was at the FBI office, to January 6 itself, where we saw individuals take a political ideology, a political grievance, and transfer it into violence, where people got killed. So we've already seen this in recent history. And this seems to be a new moment where it is researching.

MARQUARDT: That is exactly why it's so scary. We have seen this movie before. Let's talk about this search at Mar-a-Lago. We now have more details, not all details, but we have more details about the 11 types of documents, or 11, you know, 11 boxes of various levels of classification that were removed from Mar-a-Lago, somewhere or what are called TSSCI, which is one of the highest levels of classification. What more did you learn from this unsealing of the warrant?

CORDERO: So from the warrant and the return on the warrant, I think what was most surprising to me was the volume was that there were documents, multiple documents, boxes of documents that contain both top secret, secret and confidential categories of information. So it wasn't just one document, wasn't just a couple that got mixed in.

And so what that indicates to me is that this could not have been an accident. This had to have been a deliberate event that took place where these classified documents were deliberately removed from Washington and deliberately placed at Mar-a-Lago and stored there. And we know that the Justice Department repeatedly According to reports, asked for these documents back and the former president refused to return them.

MARQUARDT: So that letter from the Trump team to DOJ in June saying we don't have any more classified material. Do you think that was intentionally misleading or an accident?

CORDERO: I don't know whether the individual who sent that letter had personal knowledge of what the actual scenario was. So we don't -- I think that's a factual question that we don't know the answer to. But I do think it indicates that there are more individuals besides just the former president who potentially have legal exposure here.

So for example, lying to federal agents is a violation, 18 USC 1001, falsifying documents or lying to federal agents. So that type of activity indicates that there potentially are other individuals, not just the former president who were involved in mishandling this classified information.

MARQUARDT: In terms of the legal jeopardy that people could be in this warrant lists three statutes that they were looking for evidence for including the Espionage Act. So how likely do you think it is that someone ends up getting charged here, including the former president.

CORDERO: I think it's possible, obviously, charging a former president would be extraordinary. So I don't believe the Justice Department would take that lightly. I don't think they would have executed this search lightly. They are going to really be careful in terms of proceeding down that path in terms of what it would mean for the country and the politics of the country and the national fabric that keeps us together.

However, individuals, former intelligence community professionals, former contractors, former senior leaders, have been charged criminally with mishandling classified information. And that can range from examples like the former CIA director of retired General David Petraeus, who pled guilty to one count of a misdemeanor of mishandling information, two charges against former intelligence community employees who have been prosecuted and served years in prison.

So there's a real range, but certainly the mishandling at this volume of classified information is something that people are charged and sometimes go to jail for.

MARQUARDT: So many questions left about what these documents were in why they were taken down there. Carrie Cordero, thank you so much for your time.

CORDERO: Thanks.

MARQUARDT: All right, well, when Donald Trump himself broke the news about the search at Mar-a-Lago that took place on Monday, and it didn't take long for the right way media ecosystem to erupt in outrage most notably on Fox, one of the former president's favorite outlets of course. Take a listen.



LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: But when we get power back, it's time to hold everyone accountable. The military leadership, the civilian leadership, the civil service, those in Congress who have abused their power, all of them have to be held accountable, all of them.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: A dark day for our Republic, the Department of Justice, the rule of law, what looks to be potentially a shocking overreach. We'll find out in due time that will have serious ramifications, potentially for many, many years to come.

Biden's politically charged, we've already chronicled all this. DOJ is now being used as a weapon against Biden's top political rival. That's the former president of the United States of America, Donald Trump.

JUDGE JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: You do not, you do not break into a house of a guy that you've been working with for nine months that you have to admit has been cooperating with you for presidential records. No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They wouldn't be surprised also, if they planted bugs. I mean, they did bug the campaign, they fraudulently doctored evidence to get a warrant to wiretap the campaign. I'd sweep that whole estate with a bug sweeper.

REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): Under Garland's watch, the DOJ resembles the Gestapo more than a justice seeking agency and he must be impeached.


MARQUARDT: Comparing the FBI to Nazis, CNN media analyst David Zurawik joins me now. He's a former media critic for the Baltimore Sun. David, I think what was most stunning when watching the right wing media ecosystems reaction to all this was, they came out of the gate immediately pouncing on this and decrying it. They didn't wait for any kind of answers or explanation. What stood out to you?

DAVID ZURAWIK, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: That was part of it. That was part of it, how fast it broke, how fast they came out of the gate, how uniform, how unified they were in their response, and how vitriolic and violent and unrestrained they were in that response.

You know, I think what I saw from this, and you know, that's a great, by the way, clips of what happens with Fox because Fox is so important to it. It's the big club. It's the one with 3 million viewers at night, that can really send out a message. And you have Jesse Watters, for example, a host out there saying they've declared war on us. Game on. That's the kind of rhetoric that's a call to arms. It's a literal call to arms.

And we saw on January 6, what a tweet like from President Trump, like former President Trump, like it's going to be wild how that can send people in the streets. That's the thing I think should really worry us is, you know, I was looking -- I was comparing what Trump's a medium machine looked like in 2016 when he first ran, compared to today. And the thing that really stands out is these different layers he has. He has Fox News, which is the big one. And then he has podcasters like Steve Bannon, then he has these websites, these online sites like Gateway Pundit, all of them with these militant aggressive messages in the immediate wake of that.

And we saw again, how fast the words of violent, violent words how fast they can be translated to action by this mega cadre. It's kind of a cadre. I think a military term makes sense. Now, these are folks willing to go out there in the streets and act violently with the little encouragement from Trump and some of the media voices. We can't take out. The one thing we can't take out is how much the media plays a role in legitimatizing violent behavior. And you saw that on Fox with that excellent series of clips.

MARQUARDT: What about the evolution? I mean, you on Monday, in the immediate aftermath of this search there were howls of we need more answers. We need more of an explanation. We need to hear from DOJ and the FBI. And then Attorney General Merrick Garland came out with an explanation the warrant was unsealed. But it seems like they're never going to be satisfied. The reaction, the outrage just keeps evolving.

ZURAWIK: Absolutely. And that's what it is. It's a pure visceral response. So it's not good listen to reason. You know, Merrick Garland is a very reasonable rational person. That's not speaking to this crowd. This is really a visceral response to this and people like Bannon and people like Judge Jeanine and those just stoke it. That's what's so upsetting to me.

You know, I can't understand how some of these people especially on Fox News, who you think they must know better, can encourage, say things that can be in interpreted as encouraging people of violence and you have this, I don't want to -- I'm not I'm not saying it's okay what they do but there are a vulnerable population, their population that can be exploited.


Trump has shirt and certainly shown that. So you think you would operate with restraint if you were in the media, you would be careful about your words. It's the opposite. Fox in flames, it's inflammatory rhetoric. And you know what, think back to all the stories we've had in the past few weeks saying, Oh, the Trump, Trump and the Murdochs are breaking apart, Foxes and so all in with him anymore. Oh, and the Wall Street Journal. And the New York Posts, the other big Murdoch properties.


ZURAWIK: They denounced Trump after the last 1/6 committee hearing, but they were all in his corner this week. And they were denouncing Merrick Garland and saying, you overreach. This is what frightens me that Fox, he still has this machine. He still has this messaging machine. And we know he's good in media. And it was on display and we should be -- we really need to learn from this. Because this could be --

MARQUARDT: Yes. They should know better. They should know that their words have an impact. And this is potentially playing with fire. David Zurawik, thank you so much, sir. We got to leave it there. Appreciate your time.

ZURAWIK: Thank you. Thank you.

MARQUARDT: All right, well, coming up this hour how the CDC is loosening COVID restrictions and how that impacts kids who are returning to school. Also coming up, debating the pros and cons of lockdown drills in schools and whether they really save lives.

And it's been a year since the U.S. and NATO allies pulled out of Afghanistan. I'll be speaking with an Afghan interpreter who actually helped U.S. forces secure the Kabul airport. We'll be asking what his life is like, now that he's here with his family in the United States. You're in the CNN Newsroom. We'll be right back.



MARQUARDT: And a sign of just how much has changed since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC is now making a major shift and easing its COVID guidelines. The agency is saying that the country can move away from restrictive measures like quarantines after exposure, COVID screening and even social distancing. This focus will now move to reducing severe illness from COVID. CNN's Nadia Romero is following these changes for us.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alex, the CDC loosening some of the restrictions we've seen in place since the early days of the pandemic and that includes guidelines for schools. Let's take a look.

The first one being cohorting and schools, it's now OK for different classrooms to mix. So that's a change from the previous guidelines that want kids to stay in isolated classrooms. Also that test to stay policy, no more, school children exposed to the coronavirus no longer need to take regular tests and test negative to stay in the classroom, that coming from the CDC.

We spoke with a medical analyst and asked him why he believes that the new guidelines from the CDC came out. And here was his response.


DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think the CDC has given up on trying to prevent transmission of this virus across the country and they're focusing now on trying to reduce the amount of disruption to American society. We have about as much COVID circulating in this country as we ever had. And when I see the CDC sort of tell people don't worry about social distancing anymore. To me, it's like they've thrown their hands up in the air.


ROMERO: Now these new guidelines came out just days ago. So we reached out to the Atlanta public schools district because they have about 52,000 students within the district. And this was their response when asked if they were going to be changing any policies due to the CDC is new guidelines. Atlanta Public Schools is currently reviewing the newly released CDC guidance for K through 12 schools.

In addition, we are awaiting updated guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health. And when revising health protocols for our school district, we consider recommendations from CDC Georgia Department of Health and monitor the impact of COVID-19 on our school district.

So it sounds like that school district says that they are still reviewing their policies and waiting for guidance from the state's health department.

Now the National Education Association's president released a statement about these new CDC guidelines and how it will impact schools saying that just because the CDC guidelines have changed doesn't mean that COVID-19 is gone, encouraging and urging educators and students to still take those precautions to protect themselves against the virus. Alex.

MARQUARDT: Some very significant changes there. Our thanks to Nadia Romero.

Now, as kids returned to school, many are going to be taking part in something that has become disturbingly normal for their young ages. Lockdown drills, do they help? Or do they hurt children? I'll be discussing that with a pair of experts. That's coming up next.



MARQUARDT: As hundreds of thousands of children prepare to go back to school all across the country, the specter of the Uvalde massacre is course hanging in the air for many parents and teachers across the United States.

Now, along with adjusting to new classrooms, new books and new seating charts, children going to school may also have to take part in a custom that has become really a sad commentary on our culture lockdown drills.

But in an op-ed for The Washington Post, my next guests voiced support for these drills, saying quote, the critics are wrong. School lockdown drills can help save lives.

Joining me now to discuss this are the authors of that piece. Jaclyn Schildkraut, a professor at State University of New York at Oswego and Amanda Nickerson, a school psychology professor and the director of the Alberti Center for Bullying, Abuse Prevention at the University of Buffalo. Thank you both for joining me this evening.

This is such an important topic. I want to go to you first, Jaclyn, you've got a book coming out that says when done right, that lockdown drills lead to a number of positive outcomes. Can you quickly just explain for our audience the difference between a lockdown drill and an active shooter drill?

JACLYN SCHILDKRAUT, WASHINGTON POST CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. And thank you for having us. A lockdown drill is a drill that's practice for any danger that's inside of a building that certainly can include an active shooter or school shooter, but it doesn't necessarily have to. But when we look at active shooter drills, they were designed specifically for one situation, and one situation only, and that's an active attacker in the building.

MARQUARDT: And Amanda, from what I understand critics say that lockdown drills can be traumatizing for students. So, is your main argument that the benefits outweigh the costs?


AMANDA NICKERSON, SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGY PROFESSOR: They are, and I think that there's confusion about lockdown drills versus some of these other kinds of drills.

As Jaclyn said, lockdown drills can be for a variety of different dangerous situations and we teach people to lock the door, turn off the lights, get out of sight. And so it's not using sensorial techniques. It's not teaching people to fight back or having a lot of traumatizing kinds of stimuli.

So yes, so when done right, we would argue that the benefits outweigh the risks.

MARQUARDT: So what more do you believe, Jaclyn, that schools need to do for people to really understand the most important components of a lockdown drill, something that they can implement simply, and that will stay with them if they only get this education once, for example.

SCHILDKRAUT: So it's really important to have a solid plan and also to involve training. I think one thing that's a misconception that goes around schools these days is that the drills themselves are the training and drills are an opportunity to practice a skill set, but it is important to teach them what the skill set is.

So as Amanda said, we teach a protocol that has very specific steps. All of our students are trained at the same time as faculty and staff. And then when we come in, and we do the drills with them, we get an opportunity for them to practice those steps, and for us to give them feedback about what they're doing well, and the things that they may be need to work on.

MARQUARDT: But Amanda, you're talking about schools all across the country, you have all different kinds of schools, whether they be you know, public schools, private schools -- the approaches to these kinds of drills are going to vary widely because of a different -- all different kinds of factors.

So how are parents going to be knowing if their children's school is doing them in the right way?

NICKERSON: Yes, great point. We would really encourage parents to find out from the schools, what's the protocol that they're using? Are they using a standard lockdown protocol? Or are they using more of an options based approach where they may be teaching kids to run and fight and hide and fight.

We'd also want to see are the schools announcing this as a drill? You know, we've heard of situations where it has gone wrong, where people don't understand that it's a drill. So, it should be clearly announced.

As Jackie said, we also want to make sure that they've received training in what to do, and that the adults are modeling a calm response.

Finally, there should be debriefing or discussion after the drill takes place to give an opportunity for the students to ask questions that they have, and for teachers and staff to recognize if there is anybody that has been upset in any way and can then see a counselor or get the support that they may need.

MARQUARDT: Jackie, what do you think it says about our current culture, current society that you both believe that this is so essential for kids all across the country?

SCHILDKRAUT: You know, certainly prevention should absolutely be the goal. And I think Amanda and I are both in agreement on that. You know, we obviously don't want these events to be happening in our schools, but the reality is that they are.

I come from a community, I grew up in the Parkland area, and we had a shooting and unfortunately, we live in a society where it is better to have the tools and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

And so I think from our perspective, the important thing is how can we do it in a way that is not trauma inducing, that we are empowering students, creating a culture of preparedness, and really giving them tangible resources that they can use even outside of the four walls of the school building.

MARQUARDT: Amanda, you wrote, in part in your op-ed: "We have found that both students and staff feel more prepared to respond to emergencies where lockdowns would be used. Students also expressed less fear of harm and perceived risk of victimization and even less anxiety after conducting a drill." How do you measure that these young students feel less anxiety?

NICKERSON: Sure, so we actually for that particular study used a validated measure of state anxiety, so that is something that can change rather than trait-like kind of anxiety.

So it involved asking them three questions about if they were worried, tense, or upset, and then those were the anxiety present questions and then for the anxiety absent or wellbeing questions that was asking how calm, relaxed, or content they were.

So in administering that a week prior to doing a drill at baseline, and then administering it after doing the drill, we were a bit surprised actually.


NICKERSON: We thought that there might not be any change, but we actually found less anxiety right after the drill and more wellbeing, although we should note that these kids were reporting pretty low anxiety and high wellbeing at both time points.

MARQUARDT: That's really interesting. We only have a few seconds left. Jackie, I just want to ask you quickly, how do you feel about teachers being armed?

SCHILDKRAUT: You know, certainly that's a decision that districts are struggling with. I think the reality is we just simply don't have the data available, anecdotally or otherwise to be able to suggest that that would do what it is intended to do, which would be to bring an active shooter situation to an end more quickly. MARQUARDT: All right, well, thank you both for coming on the show this

evening. It is a fascinating op-ed in "The Washington Post." Jaclyn Schildkraut and Amanda Nickerson, thank you for your time.

NICKERSON: Thank you for having us.


MARQUARDT: Well, in just three days' time voters in Wyoming are going to be deciding about Congresswoman Liz Cheney's political fate. Will her anti-Trump stance cost her, her seat? CNN's Jeff Zeleny will join me live from Jackson, Wyoming. That's next.



MARQUARDT: Just a few days from now voters in Wyoming will be deciding whether Congresswoman Liz Cheney will get to keep her job. She is one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump after the January 6 insurrection. She is of course the Vice Chair of the January 6 Committee investigating the insurrection.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live in beautiful Jackson, Wyoming.

Jeff, the polling does not look good for Cheney. Is this a done deal? Or does she still have a chance?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN U.S. CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, there are a few days of course until the primary on Tuesday, a beautiful Jackson and a rainy Jackson actually right now, but Liz Cheney is trying to weather the storms that are facing her largely because of President Donald Trump -- former President Donald Trump.

Of course, he has come out endorsing her opponent, Harriet Hageman. She is a longtime lawyer here in Wyoming. She's run for Governor before. She is well known in her own right. So, we've spent some time over the last several days talking to voters if they're voting for Hageman or against Cheney, listen to what Scott Vetter from Carpenter, Wyoming told us.


SCOTT VETTER, WYOMING VOTER: When you dive into the work that she's done, it's just been stellar. And you know, we really appreciate what she did. And, you know, we rewarded her with our vote.

ZELENY: Was it more for her or more vote against Liz Cheney?

VETTER: No, it was for her. You know, we voted for Liz Cheney, you know when she ran and I think it was just, Harriet was a little closer to what we were doing.


ZELENY: So in the final days of this race, Alex, it is kind of interesting. It's one of the most high profile congressional races in the country, but really, there is not a lot of campaigning going on. Liz Cheney, not campaigning publicly.

Her staff says simply, it's not safe for her to do so. There are a lot of threats against her.

So their only really hope, here in the final days, are getting Democrats and Independents to switch parties, which they can do here in Wyoming and vote for her on Tuesday. The question is, mathematically is that even possible in a Republican rich state like Wyoming?

Former President Trump carried this state in 2020 by 70 percent of the vote. That is the biggest margin of any state in the entire country. So those are the odds facing Liz Cheney, no question.

And as the rain comes down here even more in beautiful Jackson, as you said, a few more days until this primary on Tuesday, but one thing is clear, Liz Cheney goes forward with her role in the January 6 Commission. She is in her congressional seat at least until the second of January -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: One of the most fascinating and high profile races this primary season. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much for braving the elements. Get dry, my friend. Appreciate it.

All right, you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

This month marks one year since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghans came here to the United States for safety. We will be speaking with one of them, Mohammad Iqbal Selanee was a former interpreter for US troops. He will be joining me live to share what he has been through since coming to the United States. Stay with us.



MARQUARDT: This Monday marks one year since the Taliban took over all of Afghanistan. It culminated with the US military withdrawal two weeks later and marked the end of a war that lasted 20 years.

Now the chaos of that deadly withdrawal really came fast and furious. Gunfire erupting all across Kabul as the Taliban moved in. And one year later, the United Nations is reporting nearly half of Afghanistan is in an acute state of hunger, with 90 percent of residents living below the poverty line partly because of the food crisis, inflation, as well as sanctions against the Taliban. Women and girls still kept out of schools and the workplace.

Meanwhile, thousands of Afghans were forced to flee, many of them relocating here to the United States, including Mohammad Iqbal Selanee, who was an interpreter for US troops for more than seven years.

Now, a year ago, we were there at Washington Dulles International Airport when Mohammad and his family arrived to start a new life. Take a listen.


MARQUARDT: As Afghan families arrived in Washington, DC this past week, carrying the few things they could as they fled the Taliban, Josh Rodriguez was waiting eagerly for a glimpse of an old friend.

JOSH RODRIGUEZ, WORKED WITH MOHAMMAD IQBAL SELANEE: We're waiting for Iqbal and his family. He has his wife and kids

MARQUARDT: Rodriguez worked with Mohammad Iqbal Selanee in Afghanistan, where he was an interpreter for US forces.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that in the back your family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I have my family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. Hi, everybody.

MARQUARDT: Iqbal worked closely alongside American troops for seven years before becoming a Commando in an elite unit.

As the Taliban swept across Afghanistan this month, Iqbal was in the fight as a Commander in Kandahar. They had to retreat and Iqbal and his men made their way to Kabul Airport onto an evacuation flight with their families to Qatar where we first spoke with him.

LT. COL. MOHAMMAD IQBAL SELANEE, FORMER INTERPRETER FOR US TROOPS: I don't know where they're taking us next. To be honest, sir, we have no idea what's happening next day, you know?


MARQUARDT: Joining me now former interpreter for the US military and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Afghan Special Forces, Mohammad Iqbal Selanee.


MARQUARDT: Mohammad, thank you so much for being here with me today. I should note that we called you Iqbal in that piece because that's what you were called by Josh Rodriguez who you worked with.

But you and your family left your country and one of the most dramatic ways that anyone can imagine. How has it been for you, for your wife, for your five children and little brothers settling into this new country that you've never been to before?

SELANEE: Thank you, Alex for inviting me. It is such a pleasure to be here.

Like, as you mentioned, it was an unexpected journey, very hard, full of lots of pain, something we never even -- never thought about at all. And leaving all of a sudden, unfortunately, from family, you can't even get time to see them or say goodbye, and leaving away which you have no, finally, awareness of your final destination.

So the journey was very hard, not only just for me and my family, for all those Afghans who were getting evacuated by the US forces, because we didn't know where we were going to end up.

So after all, hard times and hard feelings, finally, when we were led to America and got the family a little bit settled, but very affected a lot on the kids and the women, because they were completely new and unfamiliar with the whole life, which we were going to start up.

So it was hard and tough journey. But unfortunately, we had to make it to the condition which we were facing, and the situation, so it was very hard.

MARQUARDT: Are you happy here? You must miss home?

SELANEE: Yes, absolutely. In the beginning, we were having a lot of concerns. So as a new life or to the new culture, a new country, but as time going by, we get familiar and we get to know the area, the culture of the country.

So slowly, you get our gist and you get settled here. So now we are more thankful that we got end up here, and now living a safe and peace life with our families.

MARQUARDT: I'm sure you're very -- you're following the news very closely in Afghanistan. When you see how the Taliban are running things, how so many people across Afghanistan are suffering financially and then in terms of their health, and then how women and girls are being treated, how do you feel seeing now the state of your country?

SELANEE: Well, it's always a pain in my heart, every time when I see, it makes me cry. The situation and the condition that our nation is going through. All the two decades or 20 years that we struggled hard for peace and prosperity and freedom, unfortunately, it got left in the middle.

And now, they are suffering a lot, not only economical issues, their health issues, their life, their freedom, all have been taken away from them.

Three things which are very important in life is food, work, and freedom, which they are facing and fighting with it every day. You may have seen many cases and many incidents that happened. People sell their kids, people went out and did suicide because of hunger and not having anything to do.

So it's hard. It's feeling me very sad, very unfortunate, but it is what it is. We hope it gets better.

MARQUARDT: You were a member of one of the most elite forces in the Afghan Army. You helped US forces to secure the airport in Kabul during the withdrawal. I'm sure you've thought about that withdrawal so much. Both Presidents Trump and Biden, as you know, wanted to leave

Afghanistan. But when you think about it, what do you wish had been different -- what do you wish had been done differently?

SELANEE: Well, I can say a lot of things. But is it too late now, but we all are -- the security forces of Afghanistan had at least some confidence and hopes that the withdrawal is going to happen, the transactions were going to happen, we were assured about that. But we didn't know it is going to end up this way.

So we were assured that even if all we had to take the responsibility and lead our country and the government and so for our nation, which we had been doing from last few years, but we were still assured that the international community especially the US forces will remain, some elements in Central Kabul or in the central airport which are in the basin of Afghanistan, which will assist us with just, generally assistance.


SELANEE: It could be not the way it happened, but it happened the way we were not expecting it. And I wish we could do this the right way. But all the forces were ready to take the responsibility. But there was some time needed for them until they could stand on their own feet.

We were close where we could completely do the transactions and take everything on our own shoulders, but I think they were still a little time required for that.

MARQUARDT: Right. Well, Mohammad, we know that this anniversary will be emotional. We are thankful that you are here and thank you so much for taking the time.

All the best to you and your family. Mohammad Iqbal Selanee, thank you very much.

We'll be right back.