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Evacuations of Americans and Afghans from Kabul Airport Continues Ahead of August 31 Deadline; Number of Evacuees from Afghanistan Decreasing; Two U.S. Congressmen Draw Criticism for Visiting Afghanistan During Withdrawal; Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) is Interviewed About the House Passed $3.5 Trillion Budget Resolution and the 1/6 Committee to Seek Phone Records of Some Congress Members. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 25, 2021 - 08:00   ET



JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Turn the page from Vietnam. Others didn't like the idea of groups of nonwestern immigrants resettling in America's heartland. But Robert Ray thought it was the right thing to do, quote, "I didn't think we could just sit here idly and say let those people die. We wouldn't want the rest of the world to say that about us if we were in the same situation," said Ray. "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you." That's the politics of the golden rule. We don't see it enough these days.

This is a jump ball moment when the character of our country is being tested real-time, and despite political pressures, some Republican governors are meeting that Robert Ray test, like Utah's Spencer Cox, who wrote President Biden a letter offering to accept Afghans, citing the fact that his state was first settled by refugees fleeing religious persecution.

And you can add to that list Arkansas's Asa Hutchinson, Maryland's Larry Hogan, Massachusetts' Charlie Baker, South Carolina's Henry McMaster, Oklahoma's Kevin Stitt and Iowa's Kim Reynolds. It's a reminder that America is a generous place, a nation of immigrants and refugees, something that nativists who try to divide us often forget. It's also worth remembering that final cable sent from the U.S. embassy in Saigon read, in part, those who fail to learn from history are forced to repeat it. There are plenty of lessons from Vietnam we have not evidently learned, but let's hope that our commitment to refugees who helped our country has not been forgotten and that we honor the wisdom of Iowa Governor Robert Ray when he said, don't tell me of your concerns for human rights. Show me. Don't tell me how Christian you are, show me.

And that's your Reality Check.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: John Avlon, thank you very much for that.

NEW DAY continues right now.

Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. It is Wednesday, August 25th. And we do begin with the stunning pace of evacuations from Afghanistan. The White House just announced that another 19,000 people were evacuated from Kabul in the past 24 hours, including 11,000 by the U.S. alone. It really is another stunning number and a true logistical achievement. But how much longer will it last now that President Biden has decided to withdraw all U.S. troops from the airport in Kabul just six days from now, or within the next six days?

One of the major questions is who exactly will be left behind, including how many Americans? It hasn't even been clear how many Americans have been in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Tony Blinken is expected to provide some clarity on that question in a few hours. And while the Biden administration says more than 82,000 people have been evacuated in the past 11 days, again, a stunning achievement, a senior administration official does tell CNN that a lot of deserving Afghans will be left behind.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Overnight, a source told CNN that the Taliban appears to be letting some people pass through checkpoints despite their claim that no more Afghan civilians will be allowed to leave the country. In small numbers is what we're hearing from our correspondent on the ground, though.

And this morning two U.S. congressmen are facing sharp criticism for making a surprise visit to Kabul to witness the evacuation effort for themselves, an evacuation effort that they have been pressing for for months. CNN's Sam Kiley joining us on the phone from the airport in Kabul. Sam, give us a sense of what's happening there on the ground.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the numbers are down. They are way down. This is partly a success of the evacuation. I'm not exactly sure of the figures, but it must be well over 80,000 by now. That includes at least 4,000 Americans, we understand. But -- excuse me. But at the same time, the Taliban have very successfully made good on their instruction that Afghans should be allowed to leave the country as of about midafternoon yesterday when they made this announcement. They said they would be blocking the road. They saw no reason for Afghans to be leaving. They saw every reason for them to stay, they said, and they wanted them to stay because, in their words, they would end up working as mere laborers in whatever country they settled in.

The truth of the matter is the Taliban are worried about a brain drain. But they are, apparently, letting small numbers through, and there are, of course, discrete missions going out to people who are in secret locations that have worked in the past very closely, especially with the United States, but not just the United States. The British and other countries have been running these secret missions to go out and pull quite small numbers into the airport, because the window for evacuations is closing. We're some six days away from that deadline August 31st.

Military planning is always to try and be ahead of the curve. They don't want to have any moment when ISIS came and particularly might try to strike a blow against the withdrawing American forces or the coalition forces who are also here. [08:05:07]

But originally 5,000 Americans here, some have already begun to leave. The British, who have 1,000 troops on the ground are not yet leaving with their troops, but they are beginning to wind down their operation. The camp called Camp Baron, which is one of the main access points for Afghans coming in. The conditions are appalling for people trying to get in. There are large queues there, and people are wading through sewage and are desperately waving the papers up at the marines guarding the airport perimeter, and British paratroopers guarding the entry points to their camps. It's been a very, very cruel scene for them.

But here actually on the airport, things are going very well. The evacuations are going apace. And, frankly, they may start to run out of evacuees at this point, which, of course, is in horrific contrast to the huge numbers of people who were in danger of being left behind, Brianna.

BERMAN: Sam, it's John Berman here. It seems like what you're saying is even though the official deadline is August 31st, perhaps we shouldn't be thinking about this in terms of six days, that really, the numbers of people being able to leave will dwindle to perhaps nothing in the next one, two or even three days at this point.

KILEY: Yes, I think that's a certainty given that the Taliban has blocked access to people getting in. It's extremely difficult to get into the airport. And so that is inevitable that the numbers will start to fall off. They have already fallen off. In a sense, this is to the logistical advantage of the withdrawing forces, because it means that they can focus on that very delicate military operation. But that is certainly not what the operation's focus is. The focus is still very much on making sure that people can get out of this country if they feel that they're in danger, particularly those that have worked closely with coalition troops, but also people of civil society who feel that their pro democratic views are going to bring them into immediate conflict with the Taliban, which, meanwhile, is promising to take a much liberal view, to take a much more moderate view, to be more inclusive, even promised that women could be educated right up through to tertiary education.

But there is absolutely no faith in that among a vast number of the Afghan intelligentsia, and they have been trying to get out. How many remain is unclear because it isn't possible to assess the numbers that are hiding in their homes now that they've been told, don't even try to get down the airport road by the Taliban themselves.

KEILAR: Sam, look, we can't overstate how big an airlift this has been. But as you said, the numbers are down, they are way down, so it appears the door here is closing for folks to get out. And there will be many left behind. That is becoming very, very apparent. Sam Kiley, thank you.

BERMAN: All right, joining us now is CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, former FBI senior intelligence adviser and former CIA counterterrorism official. Phil, these next six days, what is that going to look like on the ground in Afghanistan?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, I think there is a hope, given what we've just heard, that the numbers will dwindle, which means the final days are less eventful than we might have thought just a week ago. But I tell you, there is a scenario that I would worry about that I think we have to plan for. Let's put two pieces together.

A bunch of trigger-happy young Taliban guys outside the airport in the waning days, and remember, it is really hot there right now, in the waning days watching their fellow citizens leave and being extremely frustrated by the departure of people who don't want to be part of what the Taliban thinks is a new Afghanistan. You have that on one side, trigger-happy Taliban people at the airport.

On the other side, and I hope we don't see this with the dwindling numbers. You could see -- you could anticipate or plan for thousands of people who think, like we saw in the initial days, this is their last chance.

I guess what I'm saying, John, is I worry there will be a siege here in late summer of the airport by people who think they will miss an aircraft and a bunch of Taliban guys who have been sitting out there for a week or two get ticked off. I hope we don't see it, but that's what I'd worry about.

KEILAR: There's already people, no doubt Americans, who have not been able to get into Kabul, right. And so for that they are trapped outside the city.

MUDD: Yes.

KEILAR: There is also this question of, I know the goal of the U.S. government is to get all Americans and green card holders out. But it seems, Sam Kiley said it is inevitable that some are left behind. Do you think that's true?

MUDD: Yes, absolutely. So, the follow-on question comes about, and we saw this at the beginning of this episode. You have got to plan for eventualities and for the unknown. The unknown is how do you get people out if the Taliban rejects them at the airport? Is there a way to get them out on commercial aircraft? Is there a way to accept visa holders in places like India and places like the Middle East who miss out on military aircraft, but somehow figure out a way to say, I've got business in India, I've got to leave now.


I think the next question will be, if you're sitting in government, is there a way to help the people who helped us without getting them out on a C-17? I don't know the answer to that because the answer to that lies in Taliban hands. Will they allow these people to take commercial flights out? And how is the U.S. government going to negotiate with the Taliban to get more people out after the deadline?

BERMAN: Look, in Taliban hands says it all, doesn't it? Phil, I do want to get your take on something else we learned

overnight, which is two members of congress, Seth Moulton and Peter Meijer, made this unannounced trip to Afghanistan to assess the situation on the ground. They're two veterans who say they want to go on a fact-finding mission. It's been sharply criticized by people in the administration who called it everything from unhelpful to basically outrageous. I wonder what your view of it is.

MUDD: Reprehensible. Sharply criticized is too polite. Look, the president of the United States who is responsible first and foremost for American national security said the situation is so dangerous that the U.S. military can't stay on, that we have to withdraw U.S. military. So two members of Congress, without the support of their leadership, decide that they're going to bypass Disneyland and take an Instagram trip to Afghanistan because they want some eye candy for a bunch of constituents.

If I were Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy, I would see this a chance for bipartisanship. Both those guys on their committees out. Done. And by the way, ask them for the two seats they took out, for all their concerns about refugees, what happens to the two refugees who didn't get those seats? What do you tell them? Last thing I'd say, evidently from what I've read, what of the brilliant insights they've gotten is that the slow start meant that we could get fewer people out than we would have gotten out if we started fast. John, I can do oversight from Memphis and give you that. Reprehensible. They ought to go from their committees.

KEILAR: Phil, I do just want to add, because we have heard about that very question that you raise. And look, I think there's more questions to follow about it, but Moulton and Meijer say that they were actually on a plane where there were empty seats and that they were in crew seats, begging the question of how many empty seats are there, as well. Obviously, lots of questions about this trip. We have now heard the speaker say members of Congress should not be going to Afghanistan. She's been very clear on that.

Phil Mudd, thank you so much. Really appreciate seeing you this morning.

MUDD: Thanks a lot.

I want to talk now with a former employee of the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan, Mohammad, who we are protecting his identity because he is currently struggling to get his wife and his five children out of Afghanistan and he doesn't want his identity to have any negative effect on them.

Mohammad, thank you so much for being with us. I know you worked for the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan five years. You and your family moved to Philadelphia a couple years ago in 2019. And as you saw, before we knew Afghanistan would fall so quickly, your family -- you and your family took a last trip, really, to visit your family in July. Tell us now, you left before your wife and your five children with the expectation they'd be able to follow you safely. What is their status right now? MOHAMMAD, FAMILY TRAPPED IN AFGHANISTAN: Yes, thank you so much.

Thank you for inviting me to the station. I really appreciate it. And I'm here to express my thoughts and my experience and representing thousands of Afghans that they left behind, and they have the same situation as my family has.

So that's true. I went in July to see my parents, and I thought this would be the last chance to see them. And I didn't know what will happen. So basically, as I am working for resettlement, I had some promises that I had to be back earlier because of all refugees coming to U.S. And my family, they suggested that they will stay a little bit longer, and that was the reason I just let them to have opportunity to meet their parents as well. But unfortunately, after I came back, I didn't have a chance to bring them in, and that is the situation now.

KEILAR: They were supposed to come back in September, and obviously Kabul fell much, much earlier than you thought, that it would create a problem for them traveling. How old are your kids? And also, I do want to play some video that your family sent from outside the Kabul airport. Tell us, how old of your five kids? And what is the status right now? Are you getting any help?

MOHAMMAD: Yes, they are starting from my oldest daughter 13, 11, nine and, in rank, seven, and my little kid is four-and-a-half.


So I received -- because I was one of those victims that I fill out an application trying to help my family to bring them back after the country collapsed. So I received the notification from them that said I have to immediately go to the airport. And I sent my family -- because I was not there along with my brother to support them to get to the airport.

But unfortunately so my eldest daughter is 13 years old and she hasn't seen any gunshot in the past. I know there were some problems existed in the country, bomb blast and stuff like that that we cannot hide it. But she was grown basically in peace and she witnessed people, they were shot by guns.

I just say that it would be safe to come back home and they should stay home and they should no longer try that, which I can call it a matter of life and death. So they are still in there. I try all my network, but I could not succeed them to bring them back.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And that said, you've tried to work through your network. You worked at the embassy. And have you just hit a complete dead end? Are you holding out any hope that they will be able to maybe get through an alternate route to the airport with some sort of assurance of safety at this point?

MOHAMMAD: With the situation with the current situation that is existed inside and outside the airport, I am sure that the other embassies like German folks, like Canadian folks, Australian folks or the other folks that my Afghan colleagues, they used to work with them, they have kept their promises and they tried their best to save those innocent lives of people that they used to work shoulder by shoulder with them.

But unfortunately, I'm sorry to say that, but there is mismanagement at the airport. So, I know the process was so slow at the beginning that it took me almost like three years to come to the U.S. but for some folks it took like four years. I know a friend, it took almost nine years to come. He was a single to apply, and now he has three children and recently he made it to come.

So with the situation existed now, unfortunately, and with the deadline, I am sure that most of the people, even if they have green cards like my family that they have, they will left behind, and that is something that the U.S. say they will keep their promise, but it didn't happen.

KEILAR: Well, look, Mohammad, we know the door is closing and it's closing fast. It is not completely shut. Your five children age 4 1/2 to 13 and your wife belong in Philadelphia with you. We'll continue to follow your story to see what the U.S. is doing to help get them out of Afghanistan. Thank you so much for joining us.

MOHAMMAD: Thank you so much. And I hope that, I hope that I can pass some message through CNN to the management that at least they can have some alternatives. I know there are bases that they can use like the American University of Afghanistan, compounds, they have helicopters.

And someone that I have worked with the U.S. embassy, I know that they have resources and this is the time to show. This is the time that they have to push. This is the time that they have to keep the history of America alive. This is the time they show their loyalty as we show to the troops, as we help them during their mission in Afghanistan.

And I hope that they can use those resources and they can save, not the life of my family, but the life of all those thousands and thousands of people that they are waiting outside the airport to be supported and to be safely evacuated.

Thank you again for having me and I really appreciate it.

KEILAR: Mohammad, thank you.

And coming up, the volunteers now working to welcome and process Afghan refugees are arriving in the United States.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, just released, new data on the Johnson & Johnson booster shot. What it could mean for people who get it.

And a deal reached with moderate Democrats to push the Biden agenda forward. We're going to speak to the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus.



KEILAR: President Biden's key domestic economic policy proposal is one step closer to becoming reality this morning. The House passed a sweeping $3.5 trillion budget resolution and set a vote for a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill at the end of next month.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are a step closer to truly investing in the American people, position our economy for long- term growth and building an America that outcompetes the rest of the world. I also want to thank every Democrat in the House who worked so hard the past few weeks to reach an agreement, and who supported the process through differences, strong points of view. They are always welcome. What is important is that we came together to advance our agenda.


KEILAR: Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Pete Aguilar of California. He is the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus and a member of the select committee that is investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Sir, thank you so much for being with us. I mean, the story of what we saw play out in the house was fighting between Democrats. This was an intra-party fight that was going on. I just wonder, having come to a resolution at this point in time, there are still many hurdles ahead.

How sure are you that this isn't going to continue to be, you know, an issue ahead in the House and the Senate?


REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Well, the House Democratic Caucus is a broad mosaic of opinions and thoughts and lived experiences. We bring that with us as we legislate, and we are committed to doing that, to building back better for the people. We're united behind that agenda.

Occasionally, there will be differences of opinion. There's nothing wrong with that. And as we develop the legislation, as our committee chairs are tasked with developing the Build Back Better agenda, they will take into thought and into consideration all of those opinions and ideas and we will craft a bill that fits the needs of the American public.

KEILAR: The price tag is tough for some Democrats to swallow. John Berman, my co-anchor, just spoke with one of your colleagues from New Jersey, who points out that his constituents has suffered a lot on the cap of state and local taxes, right? That SALT tax provision in the last tax bill that was passed by President Trump has hit them very hard. And so they may not be on board with this price tag.

Do you think this is going to get -- I mean, how much smaller do you think this is going to get? It could be considerable.

AGUILAR: Well, that SALT provision, that state and local tax provision, actually adds to the total number.

So, you know, we will work through those details. But whether it's providing tax relief to families with children through the child tax credit, or additional resources for pre-K or community college, all of those we're going to have to analyze and judge and our committee chairs will be tasked and the budget resolution that we passed gives them instructions and so they will work with the committees.

And, by the way, their committees are representative members from all over the country with a wide range of these opinions, and we will craft an agenda that will get a vote on the House floor that will meet the needs of the public.

KEILAR: I do want to ask you, since obviously you are working on the January 6th issue and the investigation there on the select committee. There are sources telling CNN this week that the committee is planning to seek phone records of part of its probe. This includes members of Congress, which is really an extraordinary step that the committee will be taking.

Are these going to be communications specifically between members of Congress and former President Trump?

AGUILAR: I'll let the chairman speak for the committee's next steps. We have a work plan. Our guidance comes from the House resolution that was passed. We have --


KEILAR: Can I just ask you, though, what else -- what else would it be if you're taking the extraordinary step of getting communications from Congress? I mean, what else would it be?

AGUILAR: Well, we're working off of our work plan. And when we have something to share and we have something that goes out, the chairman will speak for the committee.

I understand that a lot of folks are interested in this topic and I hope that they share our concern that we need to get to the truth of what happened January 6. And that means we need to understand the federal agency's response, we need to understand law enforcement agency's response, we need to understand what the president was doing that day. We have been very clear about that.

My colleague, Representative Liz Cheney, has indicated we should know what happened to the president or what he was watching and doing the entire day. Those are the things that we're interested in and those will help shed a light on the events, not just that happened on January 6, but led up to it.

And keep in mind. This was an attack on our democracy. This was an assault on not just those Capitol police officers that we heard from, but also on our democratic norms and a peaceful transfer of power which is a hallmark of our democratic system.

KEILAR: Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

AGUILAR: Thank you.

KEILAR: Up next, a doctor gives us his plan to safely bring kids back to school full time.

BERMAN: And hear what former President Trump said to get booed at his own rally.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDEN: I recommend take the vaccines.