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Three-Year-Old American Held Hostage By Hamas White House Claims; Al-Shifa Hospital Currently In Dire Situations; Jake Sullivan, Negotiations For Hostage Release Is Ongoing; U.S. Strikes Iran- Affiliated Targets In Eastern Syria Again; White House: Three-Year-Old American Among The Hundreds Of Hostages; Jim Acosta Interviews Aquilino Gonell; NYT: FBI Probing If Adams Cleared Red Tape For Turkish Consulate. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 12, 2023 - 17:00   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You were live in the "CNN Newsroom." I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. Good evening. We begin with breaking news. We just learned from the White House that one of the Americans being held hostage by Hamas is a three-year-old child. I repeat, a three-year-old child. The child's parents were killed in the October 7 attacks. More on that in just a moment.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, the health crisis is spiraling out of control at the hospitals there. Officials there say Al-Shifa, Gaza's biggest hospital, is in a catastrophic situation. Heavy fighting near the medical complex has left patients and staff trapped inside with no electricity and ambulances unable to collect the wounded. Some newborn babies had to be taken off incubators inside the hospital due to the power outages. Doctors say they expect to lose more infants each day as they face the risk of infections.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims the hospital is being used as a command center for Hamas, which authorities in Gaza deny. Netanyahu adding that Israeli forces are working to create, quote, "safe corridors for people to evacuate" and our Dana Bash asked Netanyahu about the possibility of a day's long pause to allow more humanitarian aid and evacuations and this is how the prime minister responded.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: That's not a pause. If you're talking about stopping the fighting, that's exactly what Hamas wants. Hamas wants an endless series of pauses that basically dissipate the battle against them.


ACOSTA: Let's go straight to CNN's Oren Liebermann in Tel Aviv for us. Oren, what more are you learning at this hour? OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems much of the

fighting today focused once again in northern Gaza, according to the IDF and according from what we're hearing in Gaza, on the Al-Shati refugee camp. That's a refugee camp in Gaza City or near Gaza City, just north of Shifa hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza, which is under tremendous strain and has had to shut down parts of the hospital and wards because it's run out of electricity, food, fuel, water, and that has made it such a difficult situation there, even far, far more challenging there.

The IDF says they've raided a number of -- dozens of buildings in the Al-Shati refugee camp as they go after Hamas targets. They also say they've raided the Gaza marina there. You can see from IDF statements and reports from Gaza over the last several days that they have encircled Gaza City and are moving in towards Shifa Hospital, which as you point out, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said is a hub for Hamas's command and control and certainly appears to be the direction in which the IDF is moving.

Meanwhile, to this point, the IDF says they have arrested 20 Hamas terrorists including some who took part in the October 7th terror attack and have used those or have brought those into Israel for interrogation and tried to use that information with the ongoing operation in Gaza. We have seen some video from the IDF and video from Gaza which shows the difficult situation there.

They say they've opened up, that is the IDF says they've opened up three humanitarian corridors earlier in the day through the afternoon and that's allowed at least the possibility of some evacuations from the Rantisi Hospital, Shifa Hospital and the Al-Nasser Hospital.

But given the situation on the streets, given the fighting, we have heard from people in Gaza that they're simply afraid to take those routes because of the fighting, because of the number of forces there in northern Gaza, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Oren Liebermann in Tel Aviv for us. Thank you very much. It's estimated there are still more than 200 hostages being held by Hamas, including several Americans. We just learned in the last several minutes that a three-year-old child is one of those American hostages that, according to the White House. Earlier this morning, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said negotiations for their release are ongoing.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We currently have nine Americans who are missing, one green cardholder who is missing. We don't know the status, whether they are alive or whether they have passed away, but we are looking to get the safe recovery of all of those individuals and we're staying in close touch with their families. In fact, I'll be meeting with the families of the American hostages this week.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: And CNN senior White House reporter Kevin Liptak joins us now from Delaware. Kevin, what more can you tell us? We're learning just at this hour that one of those American hostages is a three-year-old child.


I know there's very little detail about that, but just an awful situation. What more can you tell us?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yeah, and we learned this in a readout of a phone call that President Biden held with the Emir of Qatar. And you'll remember, the Qataris have played a critical role here in brokering some sort of hostage release with Hamas. And in that phone call, President Biden, the White House said, condemned the holding of hostages and, as you said, revealed for the first time that one of the American's held hostages is a three-year-old toddler whose parents were killed in the Hamas attacks (inaudible) on October 7th. And so certainly the negotiations, the talks to release hostages are still underway.

Of course, American officials have said that in order to get out all 200 hostages, more than 200, it would require a significant break in the fighting. And that fighting has been relentless, including around that hospital that Oren was discussing. The National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, was pressed today on that hospital, on the hostilities around that hospital. And he did say that it was within the Hamas playbook to use hospitals to house fighters, to store weapons, but he also issued a message of caution to Israel. Listen to what he said.


SULLIVAN: The bottom line for the United States is that we do not want to see firefights in a hospital. We do not want to see innocent patients who are sick or wounded be injured or killed in the crossfire. So, that is how we look at this issue, and that is how we are communicating with our Israeli counterparts.


LIPTAK: And so, in that interview, Dana Bash also pressed Sullivan on whether Israel was adhering to the rules of war. And he said he wouldn't be the judge or jury on that question. So certainly the U.S. still standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel, but also warning it to protect civilian lives.

Now, Jim, tomorrow, President Biden will meet at the White House with the President of Indonesia. That's the largest Muslim-majority nation. President Joko Widodo has just come from Saudi Arabia with a large meeting of Arab and Muslim leaders. He has called for a ceasefire, and so certainly this will be a point of discussion for the two men tomorrow at the White House, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Kevin Liptak for us. Thank you very much. And joining me now is senior advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Mark Regev. Mark, I wanted to start off with your reaction to this breaking news that a three-year-old American child is among the hostages. That is outrageous. That is sick that Hamas would take a three-year-old child hostage as well as all the other children that have been taken hostage in all of this. What can you tell us about the efforts to free this child and the others?

MARK REGEV, SENIOR ADVISER TO ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: So, at the moment Hamas is holding 239 hostages, of them some very elderly people over the age of 75, but also 32 children. Of the 32 children, the American three-year-old that you're talking about is not the youngest. There's a nine-month-old baby. And you say quite correctly, what sort of crazy sick people kidnap babies and infants? It really is disgusting.

ACOSTA: It's totally outrageous. And I just wonder what is going on in these negotiations that are taking place? What will it take, do you think, to get some hostages out? There's been talk of whether or not there could be a longer pause or a ceasefire. I know that's a delicate discussion. You're worried that if you have a ceasefire, that just helps Hamas reconstitute itself. It defeats the purposes of eradicating Hamas. But what, if anything, can be done to get these children out at the very least, the elderly out at the very least?

REGEV: So, we've expressed a readiness to facilitate the release of our hostages by offering a ceasefire. But Jim, to be frank, we've got to be understand what we're up against. I mean, we saw the sort of brutality that Hamas committed when it invaded Israel and butchered our people. We see that same brutality with the fact that they've taken these children, amongst others, hostage. They're not going to suddenly release people because they become boy scouts or humanitarians, Jim. They are brutal killers.

And we believe the only way to expedite their release is to beef up the pressure on Hamas, the military pressure. Make Hamas understand that it has no choice but to release these people. That's the way to do it, to make Hamas feel the pain. Now, there are these talks that the Qatar government is sort of involved in.


Qatar has a relationship with Hamas. Qatar is hosting the leadership of Hamas in their capital, Doha. And Hamas is telling the world, well, we have a relationship with these people, and that serves the interests of the West, because that gives us influence.

Now there's a lot of criticism of Qatar. I mean they've got a relationship with these Hamas terrorists. They wouldn't have a relationship with ISIS, I presume. They wouldn't have a relationship with al-Qaeda, I presume. Why with Hamas? But the Qatar government says, well, it's our -- we have influence. Okay, so it's time for Qatar to show it has positive influence, and let's see if it can facilitate the release of the hostages.

ACOSTA: And is there any information about the well-being of these children, of this three-year-old American hostage? I know the intelligence, the visibility into all of this is pretty opaque, but what if any information do you have on that? REGEV: So, I can't be too specific other than to say we know most of the hostages are alive and that we are holding Hamas accountable for their well-being. And while we want their release and they all have to be released immediately and unconditionally, pending that, it's time for the Red Cross to visit them. Of course, Hamas has refused Red Cross visits, which also shows us what Hamas is about.

And I think the truth is, Jim, that just by keeping the pressure up on Hamas, we will get our people out. We want them all out, the Americans, the Israelis, all the other nationalities, they all should be released immediately.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you about the Al-Shifa hospital that we've been discussing this weekend. You said Hamas is using a network of tunnels under the Al-Shifa hospital. Have you had any success in infiltrating this section of that massive tunnel network to get some sense as to what is going on with respect to those tunnels and I guess the security of that hospital?

REGEV: So, the story of the tunnels is no secret. I think everyone in Gaza City knows about Hamas's subterranean terror infrastructure. It's no secret. It's well known that people don't go on the record to talk about it. That's because they fear Hamas's violent retribution. And we know it's there. We know under the Shifa Hospital there's a command and control for their terror military machine.

And from that command and control, there's a network of underground tunnels leading to bunkers, to arms depots, to missile launch sites, to all parts of their war machine. We know this for a fact. And Hamas is not accidentally placed their military machine under a hospital. They've deliberately done so to shield their war machine from -- with human shields. And the hospital is to shield their military machine.

That is of course a war crime. That is forbidden under international law. We are being as surgical as we can. We will destroy Hamas's military structure while doing our utmost to safeguard the patients in the hospital. We've already bought fuel to the hospital to make sure they've got enough fuel to run their generators so the hospital can continue to function. But I have to tell you, Hamas has refused the hospital staff to take the fuel that the IDF left for them.

ACOSTA: And today the head of a hospital in southern Gaza said more than a dozen people died after an airstrike hit a residential building there. That was just south of an area that the Israeli military had told civilians to evacuate to, according to our information. What about that? What about the safety of these hospitals? Obviously, the civilian population in Gaza, they're worried about their babies and their babies being able to live through all of this and this war obviously is making that exceedingly difficult. What about protecting the hospitals?

REGEV: So, we are. We're making a maximum effort to protect the hospitals, and that's why we allowed fuel to go to the Shifa Hospital. That's why we've offered to evacuate all the patients, and those that need evacuating in ambulances, we're ready to facilitate that as well. But Hamas is not allowing that to happen, and Hamas is using the hospital system in Gaza as part of its military machine.

But Jim, do you have any illusions? We saw the sort of grotesque violence these Hamas killers are capable of when they invaded Israel and slaughtered our people, raped, murdered, burnt people alive. We saw all that. And now we see what they're doing. Now they hold the babies of Gaza as human shields for their war machine. We're making every effort to safeguard those children. It's Hamas that wants them to die on the altar of its extreme and crazy ideology.


ACOSTA: Is there any way to go into these hospitals and rescue the kids?

REGEV: I think it's obviously difficult, but we're trying to be as surgical as we can be in a difficult combat situation. Ultimately, we've got our ground forces there, boots on the ground, and they can be as surgical as is humanly possible. And we're trying to, once again, we're trying to safeguard the civilians, we're trying to protect the civilians as we attack and destroy Hamas.

You should know, Jim, that since we've opened up a humanitarian corridor there in the Gaza city, tens of thousands of people have left. That's in addition to the hundreds of thousands who previously left. But up until now, Hamas has been preventing civilians from leaving the combat zone. Once again, Hamas wants civilians to protect its -- shield its military machine. And this is the thing that has to be said, I think, Jim.

In normal countries like Israel and Canada and the United States and so on, the job of the military is to protect civilians. Hamas inverts that. Hamas says, we use civilians to protect our military machine. It's disgusting. It has to be condemned.

ACOSTA: All right, Ambassador Mark Regev, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.

REGEV: Thanks for having me, Jim.

ACOSTA: Coming up next, I'll be joined by a doctor who has staff working in hospitals in Gaza. He'll tell us what they are seeing on the ground.

Plus, President Biden is set to meet this week with China's President Xi Jinping. We'll lay out the stakes amid this frosty relationship between the two countries. That's next.



ACOSTA: We're continuing to follow the situation at Gaza's largest hospital as fighting rages nearby. The IDF alleges Hamas is operating a command center underneath the facility, a claim CNN is not able to verify. Take a listen to what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to say about what Israel is doing to minimize civilian casualties there. Here's what he said.


NETANYAHU: We've called to evacuate all the patients from that hospital and in fact, a hundred or so have already been evacuated. I've called for field hospitals. The French president has sent a floating hospital ship. I've asked the Emirates to send a field hospital. They have. And other countries have done the same. I expect the U.N. to build this. There's no reason why we just can't take the patients out of there.


ACOSTA: Let's bring in Dr. Zaher Sahloul. He's president of MedGlobal. His team is on the ground at multiple hospitals in Gaza, including Al- Shifa. Doctor, we appreciate your time very much. What was your reaction to what the prime minister said just a few moments ago, and what is your sense of the situation at the Al-Shifa hospital? What are you hearing from your people on the ground there?

ZAHER SAHLOUL, MEDGLOBAL PRESIDENT: Thank you, Jim, for having me. What we are hearing from our people on the ground, and last time we were able to communicate with them was about 36 hours ago, that the situation is grave in Al-Shifa Hospital and other hospitals in northern of Gaza. That dead bodies are piling up in the hospitals, that electricity is in a great shortage, and that patients who are in the ICU, in the intensive care unit, are dying because of lack of electricity.

That there is 37 newborn babies in the incubators that are threatened to die because of lack of electricity. And there is shortage of food and water and medical supplies, that patients are undergoing surgery without anesthesia, and that they are piling up also injured patients in the floors of the emergency room and the OR because there is lack of space in the hospital.

And this is the largest hospital complex in Gaza. I've been in that complex multiple times and so are many of my colleagues who went to Gaza in medical missions. And it's an amazing hospital despite of the shortage and despite of the limitation that right now under a lot of stress. I would love to have a safe way to evacuate the patients and the medical staff, but our medical staff last time they communicated, they had said it's impossible because there are shooting and fighting around the hospital. The hospital is under siege and they don't feel safe to leave the hospital.

ACOSTA: So, you're saying at this point, from what you are hearing from your people there at the hospital, it is not possible to evacuate?

SAHLOUL: That's what we heard. Last time we were able to communicate with them because several people who tried to leave the hospital were shot at, some of them died and they were not able to even retrieve the bodies. So, they were shooting at them --

ACOSTA: Do you know who were shooting at them? I'm sorry, go ahead. SAHLOUL: They were shooting at them. We communicated with IDF to see

if the humanitarian pause can be secured so people can leave the hospital safely. And we were told that one side of the hospital is safe, but our staff told us that there is no place that is safe around the hospital and they cannot leave.

ACOSTA: And so, when people try to leave, you're saying that they're being shot at. Do you know who is doing the shooting?

SAHLOUL: No one knows. As you may imagine, it's a war situation, but people are dying when they're trying to leave the hospital. That's why our medical staff were not able to leave. And what I'm concerned about more is the patients, the many patients. We were talking about 2,900 patients in the hospitals between patients who are critically ill, about 150, children on ventilators, and severely injured patients who need to be evacuated.

There is no other place to evacuate them in Southern Gaza. There is not enough ambulances to evacuate them and there is not enough medics who can accompany them during the evacuation to make sure that they stay alive during the transportation.

ACOSTA: And as you probably are aware, doctor, the IDF has made this claim that underneath the Shifa Hospital, Hamas is operating a command center of some sort, some operations in what has been described as a network of tunnels in that area that's linked with other tunnels in and around Gaza. What is your sense of that from talking to your people there? Are they aware of this? Do they know that Hamas is operating under the hospital? What can you tell us?


SHALOUL: I've been in Gaza four times and I've been in the Shifa hospital multiple times and so are about 35 doctors and nurses from my organization, volunteer doctors, quite diverse who've been over the past four years. We went to every section in the hospital, to the operating rooms, to the emergency room, to the outpatient clinic, to the dialysis unit. We did training and there were no spaces in the hospital complex that were suspicious or that they were blocked or they were military activities.

I'm talking about above the ground. What is under the ground, no one knows. I mean, in Chicago, we have tunnels under the ground that no one know about them. But in the hospital, itself, there is nothing suspicious. And that's the testimony of many doctors who've been in Gaza many times.

ACOSTA: All right, Dr. Zaher Sahloul, thank you very much for your time. Please keep us posted if your teams are able to evacuate, if your people they're able to evacuate. We'd like to get an update if that's possible. But in the meantime, doctor, thank you.

SAHLOUL: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: Still ahead, why White House aides are reviewing the highly anticipated meeting between President Biden and Xi Jinping as progress even before it started. That's next.



ACOSTA: Breaking news now, CNN is learning the U.S. has conducted new airstrikes in Syria. CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us now. Oren, I know this is just breaking in the last couple of moments, but what can you tell us?

LIEBERMANN: We just heard from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a statement who said the U.S. has struck several targets in Eastern Syria. This after we've seen continued rocket and drone attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.

The U.S. has conducted strikes in the past, one about a week ago and one several weeks before that. But because of the continued strikes, because of the repeated attacks that the U.S. blames on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated groups, the U.S. took the decision to act again.

In this case, Austin said the U.S. targeted a safe haven as well as a training facility used by these groups in Eastern Syria. He also says, and I'll quote this part, "The president has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. personnel and he directed today's actions to make clear that the United States will defend itself, its personnel, and its interests."

Worth noting that since October 17th, the U.S. has had -- has come under fire at its facilities in Iraq and Syria approximately 46 times and that has resulted in minor injuries and traumatic brain injuries to approximately 56 U.S. service members there. That was part of the thinking that there needed to be more action to try to deter and prevent these sorts of attacks from happening.

Again, the U.S. has tried to separate the conflict in Gaza that I've been covering from Tel Aviv from the rest of the region. Unfortunately for the U.S., other groups here simply haven't seen it that way and have very much linked the conflicts together, seeing it as a way to punish the United States for what's happening in Gaza. That's at least one of the reasons we're seeing these continued attacks.

The U.S. has tried to make these precision defense strikes to deter groups from continuing to attack U.S. forces, but at least so far, we have seen those attacks continue, Jim.

ACOSTA: Yeah, and Oren, forgive me, but I'm just curious. Do we know exactly who is launching these attacks on these U.S. military members in Syria, in these areas where these Iran-affiliated targets are being hit? Who is doing the attacks?

LIEBERMANN: The U.S. has broadly accused Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of being behind these and then Iranian-affiliated Shiite groups, Shiite militias, of carrying out these attacks.

We have seen a few instances in which individual groups have taken responsibility, but I don't know that we've seen every single one of these attacks claimed by a different -- by one group or another.

Broadly speaking, in writ large, the U.S. holds Iran responsible for this. But instead of trying to sort of start a bigger conflict with Iran, it tries to send that message through these affiliated groups to take them out, to strike their facilities, and make sure that Iran gets that message. That, of course, is also why there has been such a buildup of U.S. forces in the region, naval forces and more. That's a message of deterrence to Iran's regime.

ACOSTA: All right, very good. Oren Liebermann, thanks very much for that important information. We appreciate it. Joining us with perspective, former U.S. Defense Secretary Bill Cohen. Mr. Secretary, great to have you on as always. Your reaction to this breaking news? We just heard it from Oren Liebermann a few moments ago. The U.S. striking these Iranian-affiliated targets in Eastern Syria again. They're trying to send Iran a message.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I think the Biden administration has no alternative but to attack these sites. I believe that Iran's hand is behind most of the events taking place, certainly in Gaza, but also in Syria and elsewhere.

Notice that the Iranian head of state is meeting with the Saudis at this particular point, and the Saudis have an opportunity to tell the Iranians to back off what they're doing because it could cause a conflagration in the region. If Iran continues to order these strikes and the United States responds, you're now stepping up a ladder of potential escalation into a full-scale conflagration.

So, I think Iran has to be careful on what they're doing. I think the Saudis should send that message rather than welcoming the Iranians into the kingdom.

ACOSTA: And Mr. Secretary, the other piece of breaking news that we're following this afternoon, we're learning from the White House that a three-year-old American, just three years old, is among the hundreds of hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza.


We were talking with Mark Regev, who's an advisor to Netanyahu at the top of this hour. He was saying that this three-year-old American child is one of around 30 or so children being held by Hamas.

What is your sense of that when you hear that kind of information coming out of the White House, a three-year-old child? I mean, it just -- it speaks to the level of brutality by Hamas.

COHEN: It does show just how merciless Hamas is. They have no concern for human life. In fact, the Israelis are more or less carrying out their mission on Hamas's terms. Hamas doesn't care how many Palestinians are killed. In fact, they feel the more you kill, the stronger we are.

And this is one thing the Israelis have to be concerned about, that they might be winning the battle on the ground or from the air but lose the war, and the war in the sense of establishing positive relationships with all of the other countries in the region so that Israel, once this is over, can say, we're living in an area where we have peace and stability and the support of the Arab people in the Gulf states and also the Palestinians.

That gets back to what's the end state, what's the end game. I think you have to start at the end, then work yourself back, saying, what are our objectives? Get our hostages back, get Hamas dismantled. But then what? One state solution means there's perpetual warfare in the region. Two state means you have a chance for peace. That's what the Israelis and the West and the rest have to strive for.

But one other point, Jim. You raised the issue of the baby, nine- months old, not to mention the three-year-old. You also raised the issue we have to be concerned about the killing of Palestinian children because that sends a message that counteracts our sympathy, our empathy, and our outrage. And so, we have to be concerned about that. And the Israelis, to their credit, are saying, we're doing everything we can.

We need to have more humanitarian pathways. We need to announce that. We need to show the world what we're doing. Otherwise, the world will only see that the Israelis are killing innocent people and that works against them. And there's one other thing.


COHEN: There was a great warrior back to the 12th century, Saladin, and he said, avoid bloodshed because blood never sleeps. And that's the danger we have here where we kill so many innocent people. They will become the Hamas leaders or some subsection of that in the future, and that's not to Israel's benefit.

ACOSTA: Right, it's that age-old question. We heard it after 9/11. Are we killing more terrorists than we're creating? Are we creating more terrorists than we're killing?

Let me ask you this, Mr. Secretary, because all of this is coming as the president has this very key meeting with China's Xi Jinping. There's a lot already on the president's plate, but the White House has made this point of saying that they want a better relationship with Xi, with China. But there are a lot of obstacles in the way. What's your sense of it?

COHEN: I think it's really important that they're meeting. This has been going on behind the scenes. We had the foreign ministry here, Chinese foreign minister most recently. I had a chance to meet with him as well. Obviously, they want a better trade relationship. They don't like the fact we've got a very high fence and a small window of what we can ship to them. So, they want a bigger window, smaller fence.

But my concern is they need, President Xi needs to tell his minister of defense, you should start meeting with Secretary Austin. The fact that they're flying aircraft within 10 feet of ours who are surveilling the region, it potentially could cause a collision which would set everything back.

So, I would say that the president should ask and will ask, Mr. President, please, let's have a meeting between our secretaries and ministers of defense because that could spread very quickly into a confrontation, and we don't want that and you shouldn't want it.

So, we'll talk trade, let's talk about military stability, military to military combinations and conferences, and pick up the phone, have the minister pick up the phone.

ACOSTA: Always helps to pick up the phone. All right, Secretary Cohen, thanks so much. We appreciate it. Good to talk to you, sir.

COHEN: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Thank you.


ACOSTA: Former President Donald Trump is again suggesting he would weaponize the Department of Justice against his political enemies if re-elected, a clear sign the former president wants to ignore the rule of law. One of the officers who defended the Capitol on January 6th, he'll join me to talk about this, next.




UNKNOWN (voice-over): You better tie the knot (ph).

ACOSTA: That was body camera video taken by January 6 -- on January 6 by former U.S. Capitol Police Officer Sergeant Aquilino Gonell. He later described the west entrance to the Capitol where he was assigned as a --quote -- "medieval battleground." After the riot, Gonell's physical and mental injuries ultimately forced him to step down.

Since then, he has channeled his experience into a new memoir. It's called "American Shield: The Immigrant Sergeant Who Defended Democracy," and Sergeant Aquilino Gonell joins us now. Sergeant Gonell, great to see you. Thanks so much for your service. Congratulations on the book.


ACOSTA: It's good to see you. One of the rioters involved in that clip we just played a few moments ago, former Trump State Department appointee Federico Klein, was recently sentenced to nearly six years in prison. I think I have that right. You're one of the officers. You said he assaulted you that day. What did you think of that sentence? Was that enough? What were your thoughts on that?

GONELL: Thanks for having me. And just one quick clarification. That video was part of the Metropolitan Police --


GONELL: -- cameras.

ACOSTA: Very good (ph).

GONELL: Regarding the individual, Mr. Klein, I'm glad that he received the sentence that he did. I was expecting a little more but, however, it is some type of justice.


He went through a system and that's what the judge found that he was culpable of. He did attack me, you know, and I'm just glad that he went through a system and got what he deserved.

ACOSTA: And you wrote this book. You wanted to share your experience. We talked to one of your colleagues, Harry Dunn, about this, talked to Mike Fannon lots of times as well. What do you want to say in your story?

GONELL: My story is -- I just wanted to convey what happened to me. I know after I testified, a lot of people were making up stuff about me, people who never came and talked to me about it. So, I was trying to give my experience on my own accord based on what happened not only on January 6th but everything that I had done for this country throughout my life. I do speak about in-depth in every single chapter.

ACOSTA: Well, one of the things that, and you and I were just talking about this during the commercial break, that has come up in recent weeks is we have seen former President Donald Trump, who obviously is very much responsible for what took place on January 6, describing the people who are in jail, serving prison sentences and so on for what they did on the 6th as -- quote -- "hostages." What did you think of that?

GONELL: Well, to me, that's so ridiculous because based on his interpretation of calling -- clarification -- I mean -- sorry -- and calling them hostages, he's telling me and all the officers who responded that day that we were the bad guys, we were the captors.

If I remember correctly, and my memory served me well, we were the one defending the Capitol regardless who was -- regardless who we were protecting and no matter what party they belong to or ideology. We just simply did our job.

And, you know, going back to Mr. Klein, he was a military person and yet he still went and took up arms and part of the violence. I was -- I am a veteran myself. I'm a former military. I decided to defend the Capitol, not attack it.

And those people last week, there was another one that he was claiming about using his PTSD as a reason why he did or being susceptible to the cause for violence by Donald Trump and whatnot, I had the same symptoms but that didn't convert me to attack the Capitol. That didn't force me or convince me to remove myself and let all those people go through.

ACOSTA: Right.

GONELL: So, I don't know. People are just using excuse. I think that former president calling them hostages is a disservice and a disgrace for our sacrifice.

ACOSTA: And just the other day, he was saying that he might use the Department of Justice, weaponize the Department of Justice to go after his political opponents if he's put back in the White House. Let's listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They've done indictments in order to win an election. They call it weaponization. And the people aren't going to stand for it. But yeah, they have done something that allows the next party.

I mean, if somebody -- if I happen to be president and I see somebody who's doing well and beating me very badly, I say, go down and indict them. Mostly, that would be -- you know, they would be out of business. They'd be out. They'd be out of the election.


ACOSTA: Sergeant Gonell, what goes through your mind when you see Trump as the frontrunner of the Republican Party for the republican nomination going into next year's election, saying things like that? Does it surprise you? Does it shock you? Are you outraged that he might get back in?

GONELL: As I discussed in my book, I mean, it doesn't surprise me, what he says. What surprised me is the cowardness from the Republicans that support him because they are the party that claim that they support law enforcement officers.

If you don't want to be indicted, you don't want to be persecuted, then don't commit a crime, don't commit a felony like this guy had done in the past. He has shown no signs of learning anything but continue doing the behavior because he has the full support of the GOP followers and elected officials.

They could have put them away after January 6th. However, they decided that it was more beneficial for them to remain in power, to go back and resuscitate his political career. It's incomprehensible. I think, again, if they don't want to be persecuted, if they don't want an indictment, then stop committing crimes.

ACOSTA: All right, Sergeant Gonell, thank you very much for your time. And on this Veterans Day weekend, thank you for your service. We appreciate it.


GONELL: Thank you, Jim. ACOSTA: Thanks a lot. And we'll be right back -- back in a moment. We'll be right back.


ACOSTA: New details surfacing today after the FBI seized the cell phones of New York City Mayor Eric Adams as part of an investigation into campaign fundraising. CNN's Polo Sandoval is following this for us. Polo, what's the latest?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Jim, did New York City Mayor Eric Adams press his fellow New York City officials to essentially sign off on the occupancy of a Manhattan skyscraper that happens to house the Turkish consulate?

That is really just the latest in a growing list of questions surrounding this case, especially after this "New York Times" reporting with that outlet citing three unnamed sources saying that the FBI is now looking into the possibility that Mayor Adams may have essentially pressured FDNY officials to clear some red tape so that they could sign off on that building despite previous safety issues. So, that is certainly an important question there, according to "The New York Times" reporting.


The Adams campaign spokesperson for their part responding to that reporting, telling CNN that it certainly would not have been unusual, the way they put it, that it was fairly routine for Adams as Borough president, which is a seat that he actually held at the time since this reportedly happened just before he was elected, that he would routinely contact city officials about issues from his constituents, and again repeated what we heard, Jim, from the campaign a couple of days ago, that he has not been accused of any wrongdoing and that he continues to cooperate with federal authorities in this investigation. Jim?

ACOSTA: All right. That story seems to be developing. Our Polo Sandoval, thank you very much, outside City Hall in New York City. We appreciate it.

Coming up, breaking news, the White House says that one of the hundreds of hostages being held by Hamas is a three-year-old American. The very latest on that, next.