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One Year Since Taliban Seized Control of Kabul; Mounting Questions After Classified Docs Found at Mar-a-Lago; China Outraged Over U.S. Lawmakers' Visit to Taiwan; EU and 42 Countries on Russia to Leave Nuclear Plant; Iran Blames Rushdie and His Supporters for Attack. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 15, 2022 - 04:00   ET



CHRISTINA MACFARLANE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and all around the world. I'm Christina Macfarlane in for Max Foster here in London. Just ahead --


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Taliban wants to show it can governor, it's not just a fighting force. But that they can keep the lights on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one is above the law, Donald Trump is not above the law and Attorney General Garland is not above the law either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He may have tipped his hand that there is more here that could incriminate him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 60 percent of the European Union is under a drought warning after back to back months of no rainfall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're in the heart of it but you can see it's far from extinguished.


MACFARLANE: It's Monday, August 15th, 9:00 a.m. here in London, 4:00 a.m. in Washington, and 12:30 p.m. in Kabul. Where one year ago today the Taliban seized control of the Afghan capital. Human rights groups warned that millions of people have been living under dire conditions since the U.S. withdrew from the country.

Now CNN has obtained a copy of the scathing report on that withdrawal by Republicans on the House foreign affairs committee. It says the Biden administration did not accurately portray the events on the ground and failed to put an adequate plan in place. Republicans have relied on information from whistleblowers, people living in Kabul during the withdrawal, and fact finding trips to the region for the report since the Biden administration did not take part. The report describes inadequate numbers of U.S. personnel to handle crowds and part of the planning got underway only in June, just months ahead of the withdrawal. And it said, only a quarter of those evacuated were women and girls.

Well, over the past year, the Taliban have imposed severe restrictions, suppress the media, detained critics and left millions of people in Afghanistan in an economic crisis, struggling to get food and basic necessities. And despite saying women and girls would retain many of their freedoms, women's rights groups say they've been deprived of their livelihoods and identity. CNN's Clarissa Ward was on the ground when the Afghan government fell. She reported on the chaos that unfolded after America's abrupt departure.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Taliban have won. They have taken, you know, an incredible amount of territory in a very short time and recently we see them sweeping through major cities without even having to firing a single shot.

WARD: It's going to be very difficult for women who have enjoyed a certain type of life for the last 20 years to assimilate into this new surreal normal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot stay here because every day Joe Biden says we take this all the Afghan workers, they'll help us. We take them to America.

WARD: Have you applied? Have you tried to apply?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, of course.

WARD: It is still a really, really, really tough situation here.

WARD: This crush of desperate people and screaming children and women and babies. And, yeah, it's not often you really see desperation like that.


MACFARLANE: Well, CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward joins us now live from Kabul. Clarissa, thank you for being with us. You know, it seems Afghanistan's worst fears have come true since the withdrawal of the West a year ago. The Taliban have broken multiple pledges. What are you seeing now that you just didn't a year ago?

WARD (on camera): Well, Christina, today has been officially declared a national holiday to commemorate what the Taliban calls the liberation of Afghanistan by Afghan jihadis to essentially push out the American occupation. But I have to say that on the ground here in Kabul it doesn't really feel like a celebratory day. As you can see behind me it's quite gray, it's quite muted. The streets seem to be pretty normal today, but not a huge amount of activities or parades or things that you might expect the Taliban to try to put on a show as it were. [04:05:00]

I will say that the streets of Kabul are certainly quieter and safer than they were just over a year ago, and that is something that you've seen across the country. The U.N. says that roughly three times the number of civilians who were killed in the seven months in the runup to the Taliban takeover as opposed to the 10 months afterwards. So, it's definitely safer on the ground.

But as you mentioned, there are a huge number of major issues. The most pressing of which I would say for most people on the ground here is the economic privation. Because in part those funds that have been frozen by the U.S. and its allies have still remained frozen. And we actually spoke with the Taliban foreign ministry spokesman about this issue and primarily about the difficulty that the international community faces in unfreezing those funds in the wake of the fact that the leader of Al Qaeda was found -- or killed rather here in downtown Kabul in a villa just over two weeks ago despite explicit promises by the Taliban that Afghanistan would never again become a safe haven for terrorist groups. Take a listen to what he had to say.


ABDUL QAHAR BALKHI, Afghans Foreign Ministry spokesperson: We've made it very clear that the government of Afghanistan was unaware of the arrival or presence of Mr. al-Zawahiri in Kabul. So far, we've been able to establish as a matter of fact that Mr. al-Zawahiri was indeed present in Kabul?

WARD: Isn't that almost more frightening though? The idea that you're claiming potentially the leader of Al Qaeda was here in the center of the city and you didn't even know about it.

BALKHI: Again, we contend that notion that you were even present here. But even if he was these type of incidents happen everywhere in the world.

WARD: But they really don't. I mean, how can the U.S. possibly trust the Taliban leadership though, to stay true to its promise that it will not allow sanctuary to be granted to terrorist groups.

BALKHI: If we look at the Doha Agreement, the articles that define the commitments of the government of Afghanistan, all of them have been fulfilled. And if we look at the commitments that the United States of America has made, sadly, they have not fulfilled a single article. But we're hopeful and we continue to urge the United States to adhere to that agreement.


WARD (on camera): So, you can see it's a strident position, a brazen position that the Taliban is taking on this issue. Of course, the U.S. would say that it's the Taliban that have acted in contravention of that Doha Agreement that sort of paved the way for the Taliban being reintegrated and ultimately taking power here in Afghanistan. But as long as you see these real conflicts on issues such as women's

education, repression of minorities and also, of course, security issues like the harboring of a well-known terrorist like Ayman al- Zawahiri, it is going to complicate the process of unfreezing those funds.

And that, Christina, is really the most pressing and dire need here on the ground in Afghanistan. Nearly half the population, according to the U.N. is hungry. People are begging all over the streets. That's not something new. Afghanistan is no stranger to poverty, but you are definitely seeing a marked increase in the sort of scale and intensity of the situation and the suffering of the people. Prices of fuel, of flour, of cooking oil have more than doubled. There's food in the market stalls but the vast majority of Afghans simply can't afford it.

MACFARLANE: Yes, it's a humanitarian crisis really that has difficult to watch. Clarissa Ward it is so good to have you there on this one- year anniversary. Thank you for your reporting.

Well, now to Washington where Democrats in Congress want to know how much damage was done to national security after the FBI found Donald Trump was keeping classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home. The Republican lawmakers are also seeking more information about the search. CNN's Jessica Schneider has the details.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Former President Trump now claiming the documents that were taken from Mar-a-Lago are protected by executive privilege and attorney-client privilege. But the reality here is they still aren't his documents to keep. Under the Presidential Records Act they do belong to the National Archives .

Plus, given that 11 sets of these documents have various levels of classified designations, including top secret, Democrats are now demanding that the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, conduct an immediate review of the materials because of the national security implications of what was found at Mar-a-Lago and concerns it could cause grave damage if that information fell into the wrong hands.


And on the flip side, Republicans are demanding more details. Some say they want to see the affidavit that laid out the basis for that search warrant. It is highly unlikely though that that affidavit would be unsealed because of the delicate information and sources that investigators likely disclosed in that affidavit.

And these calls for action, they come all while the questions loom, what comes next for the former president. The warrant said that FBI agents were looking for possible violations of sections of the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice, and the criminal handling of government records.

Trump has defended his actions over the weekend saying that he declassified all the material while he was in office. But you know, we still haven't seen any documentation or proof of that. And notably none of those three criminal statutes actually require that information be classified, only there was an intent to injure the interests of the United States or destroy or conceal a document that would interfere with an ongoing investigation.

Jessica Schneider, CNN Washington.


MACFARLANE: Well, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee wants Attorney General Merrick Garland to testify before the panel. In an interview with CNN's Brianna Keilar, he says he's not convinced that what the FBI seized was sensitive enough to pose a national security threat.


REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): Attorney General Garland needs to provide these materials. You have bipartisan calls to do that. Put the materials in a room. Let us see them. And then we can tell you what our answer is and what our discernment is of whether or not this is a true national security threat or whether or not this is an abuse of discretion by Attorney General Garland.

BRIANNA KEILAR, ANCHOR: Do you take home documents marked special access?


KEILAR: And yet you're casting doubt on whether or not -- sorry. Go on.

TURNER: And, quite frankly, I have been in the Oval Office with the president. I'd be very surprised if he has actual documents that rise to the level of an immediate national security threat.


MACFARLANE: And as the Republicans demand more information and defend Trump one CNN analyst weighs in about the former president's latest explanation on the documents found in his home.


NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The president's statement today about the attorney/client and executive privilege documents to me that's a hint that what might have been collected relates not just to these alleged document crimes but to the other investigations of obstruction of an official proceeding in Congress and of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Those are the kind of documents that the January 6th committee has been fighting with the former president about. So, we'll see but he may have tipped his hand that there is more here that could incriminate him.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MACFARLANE: More ahead on this developing story next hour on CNN's "EARLY START."

Now a bipartisan delegation of U.S. lawmakers are in Taiwan on an unannounced two-day visit sparking renewed outrage and military war games from China. The five-member group led by Democratic Senator Ed Markey says the trip is meant to reaffirm U.S. support for Taiwan. The visit comes on the heels of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taipei. Which also angered Beijing and triggered Chinese military exercises near Taiwan.

China says it conducted military drills again on Monday in response to the American delegation visit. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins me now live from Hong Kong. Kristie, as I've been saying, this unannounced visit just two weeks after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit. What response have we actually heard from China on this, if any?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christina, the Chinese military today is connecting fresh military drills in response to the latest U.S. Congressional visit. On Monday, the Eastern Theatre Command of the Chinese military made the announcement on its official Weibo account saying it's conducting fresh patrols and military exercises in the waters and airspace around Taiwan. Shi Yi, he is a senior colonel with the Eastern Theater Command posted this on Weibo -- we have it for you, let's bring it up.

He said this, quote: The exercises are a solemn response to political plays by the U.S. and Taiwan that are undermining the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait -- unquote.

Another delegation of U.S. Congressional lawmakers are in Taiwan. This is what spurred this new round of military drills by China. This is an unannounced two-day visit led by the U.S. Senator Ed Markey. Part of a larger tour of the Indo Pacific region and it comes less than two weeks after the U.S. House Speaker made that controversial visit to Taiwan which really drew the ire of China.

We know that today this Congressional delegation, they have been able to meet with the President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen in a meeting earlier today. They also met with other elected officials, business leaders to discuss mainly two things.


Expanding economic cooperation between Taiwan and the United States, especially furthering investment in semiconductors and also to find ways to reduce the tension on the Taiwan Strait.

They also met with the foreign minister of Taiwan. We have a tweet that was just sent out in the last half hour or so by Taiwan's ministry of foreign affairs.

In which he writes this, quote: Full of thanks for the bipartisan U.S. Congressional delegation led by Senator Markey for their visit. Authoritarian China can't dictate how Taiwan makes friends, when support stays and shines like a beacon of freedom -- signoff JW. Which is proof that this was a tweet signed off by the minister of

foreign affairs of Taiwan. Back to you, Christina.

MACFARLANE: All right seems certainly no doubt as another provocation. Our Kristie Lu Stout there in Hong Kong, thank you.

All right, still to come, celebrated author Salman Rushdie is still in hospital after he was attacked last week. We'll have the latest on his condition in a live report next.

Plus, award-winning actress Anne Heche has been taken off life support more than a week after a devastating car crash. We look back on her life and career later this hour.



MACFARLANE: There are grave warnings in Ukraine about the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe as fighting continues near Europe's largest nuclear power plant. 42 countries along with the European Union are now calling on Russia to withdraw its troops from the Zaporizhzhia plant. It comes after days of repeated shelling around the facility raised fears of a potential meltdown. Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the attacks.

And to the south, Ukraine says an underground resistant group blew up a railway bridge near the Russian health city of Melitopol. An Ukrainian official say Russian troops use the bridge to transport weapons and other equipment from occupied Crimea.

For more let's go to our CNN David McKenzie who is live for us in Kyiv. And David, now with multiple EU countries calling for Russia to withdraw, how urgent is the danger becoming at the plant?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the danger, Christina, is ongoing, constant and certainly very urgent. Over the last 72 hours there have been strikes by Russian forces across the river from region of that power plant. To Ukrainian positions there've been rocket and artillery strikes from that region into the nearby city. These have been strikes into the industrial town, according to Ukrainian officials, again, right in the vicinity of that nuclear power plant. So, this danger is certainly not going away.

But those calls from the EU and all those other countries appear to be falling on deaf ears at this point. We've heard very little from the Russian side on this issue for several days despite the calls for an inspection team from the IAEA to get in there and try and see what exactly is going on.

And these murky accusations from one side to the other as to who's exactly responsible for it. Time and again, of course, the Ukrainians have said ultimately who's responsible, the Russian invading force which took over that site in March. In the last 24 hours alone, Christina, over this lengthy frontline from the northeast to the east to the south, there's been bombardment according to Ukrainian officials from the Russian side.

But their repeated attempts to make significant gains particularly in the east around Donetsk appear to have been pushed back because of fierce resistance from the Ukrainian military there.

Another significant development I must say, is that over the past few days it appears Ukrainian forces using longer range artillery have managed to destroy most if not all of the supply bridges in the southern part of this conflict. Now that could mean that Russian forces in the south around Kherson have potentially been or could be largely cut off.

This is a moment that I think a lot of people have been anticipating to see whether this leads to a possible counter offensive from the Ukrainians in that part of the war. But I have to say, since I've been here in Ukraine, the sense you get that is this is a grinding conflict with little or no significant gains from either side. And as that conflict grinds on, you know, the loss of soldiers and civilians is quite devastating as the days tick by -- Christine.

MACFARLANE: All right David McKenzie there live for us in Kyiv, thank you, David.

Now Salman Rushdie's agent says the writer is on the road to recovery but adds that he remains in the Pennsylvania hospital where he was taken after he was attack in New York. Rushdie's family say his condition remains critical. According to officials Rushdie was stabbed multiple times with wounds in his neck and stomach. The 24-year-old suspect have pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and other charges and has had his bail refused.

So, let's bring in our Salma Abdelaziz who's following the story. And Salma, obviously an enormous outpouring of support internationally but as perhaps we expected a different response from Iran.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Absolutely. And all eyes have been on Tehran since this attack on Rushdie. Because of course, it was in the 1989 that Ayatollah -- Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran issued that fatwa -- a ruling that essentially said it was OK to killed Rushdie, that he should be killed because of his blasphemous writing, because of "Satanic Verses". And now we are hearing from Iran's Foreign Ministry, from their spokesperson. So, I want you to take a listen to what he has to say.


NASSER KAHAANI, SPOKESPERSON, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY (through translator): Regarding the attack on Salman Rushdie, we do not consider anyone, other than himself, and his supporters wort of blame and even condemnation. Slogans like freedom of speech do not justify offending Islamic principles and religious sanctities.


ABDELAZIZ: Now in that statement the spokesperson goes on to deny any connection to this attacker, to Hadi Matar, this 24-year-old suspect who is in custody now.


But you did hear very clearly there Iran standing by that idea that Rushdie is to blame for his own attack, that he is at fault because he caused such deep offense to the Muslim world. And it's really telling that this is happening more than three decades since that fatwa, and still this idea is so pervasive, so deep.

And you have to remember at the time just how seismic of an event it was in 1989. Something that really divided the world between people who believed the Muslim world, who supported the Muslim world and thinking that this was so insulting, the writing of Rushdie, that it needed to be confronted, that he could be attacked. There were demonstrations around the world, people killed in these protests both for and against Rushdie. One of his translators was killed and it divided that community with the other community. Those who support freedom of speech, those who believe that an author's work should be about questioning authority. And those are the people right now who I think feel afraid, feel worried about continuing that all important work.

MACFARLANE: Yes, freedom of speech, of course, at the core of this. Salma, thank you very much.

All right, voters in a Republican strong hold will cast their ballots on Tuesday. The Wyoming primary could decide the political fate of the anti-Trump Congresswoman Liz Cheney and the former president is backing her challenger.

Plus, U.S. futures react for a big week to the economy as retailers plan to reveal how they did in July.


MACFARLANE: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Christina Macfarlane. If you're just joining us, let me bring you up to date with our top stories this hour.

U.S. House Republican lawmakers are expected to release a report revealing failures by the Biden administration handling of the pullout from Afghanistan. The report includes interviews from whistleblowers and people in Kabul. The Biden administration did not however, participate in the report.