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GOP's Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) Disputes State Department Claiming Credit For Rescue; "The Wire" Actor Michael K. Williams Found Dead In New York City; Outlets Push Dubious Story On Dewormer Overdoses. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 07, 2021 - 07:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: -- overland route, marking the first Americans who have been -- who have been able to leave the country by land. This is according to the State Department.

But the role of the State Department and the Biden administration now being disputed by my next guest who says it was the work of him and a team of nonprofit-funded Americans that got an American woman and her three American children to safety, and that the State Department is now trying to step in and take credit.

Let's talk about this now with Republican Congressman Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma. He is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Sir, thanks for being with us this morning.

REP. MARKWAYNE MULLIN (R-OK) (via Skype): Thanks for having me on, and thanks for covering this story.

KEILAR: So, first things first here because I think there's going to be a lot of curiosity about who these folks are that came out over land -- the first people that we are aware who have done this. You've been working with a team of veterans and others. Tell us who these people are and tell us about their journey -- what it was like.

MULLIN: Well, we started this group about two weeks ago. Mariam and her three kids are from Amarillo, Texas. And we had got a request to see if we could help them in my -- in my office, along with the office of Ronny Jackson. And when we got that request I reached out to some friends of mine that were contractors and asked them if they still had people working in that area, which they did.

Once we contacted them they started putting an organization together working with the Sentinel Foundation. The Sentinel Foundation is a non-profit organization that is absolutely awesome. And they're non- political. They do this stuff all the time.

And it was our intentions of making no press statements at all about this. We were simply going to fly in and get Mariam and her kids and a couple of other AMCITS, which are American citizens, and leave.

But when we -- when we were trying to enter into Afghanistan things went really sideways. We started getting all types of pushback from the -- from the State Department. And so we found ourselves not being able to get her out through HKIA, which is the Kabul international airport. And even though we had her at the gate multiple times -- multiple times we was on the phone with the State Department over the last two weeks trying to get her out and they wouldn't even open the gate for us.

On the night of the 29th through the day of the 30th, we were trying over and over again. And actually, on the 28th, the 29th, and the 30th we were at gates on -- I was on the phone with the operations center trying to get Mariam and her kids out of Kabul.

And so, when the administration says that every American that wanted out could get out, that's an absolute lie because we're working with 27 AMCITS, American citizens, right now that I assure you all of them wanted out and we couldn't get them out.

When that failed --


MULLIN: Yes, go ahead.

KEILAR: No. I was going to say I do want to talk to you about that because obviously, you are aware you're facing a lot of criticism for efforts to enter the country and I want to talk about that.

But first, I want to ask you about this particular characterization of what happened by the U.S. State Department. Because you said you didn't necessarily want to be talking about this in the press. But here you are --

MULLIN: Absolutely not.

KEILAR: -- and you're taking issue -- you're taking very much issue with how the State Department is characterizing this. So I just want to get to the bottom of what you're taking issue with because the State Department said the U.S. --

MULLIN: They --

KEILAR: -- has facilitated the safe departure of four U.S. citizens by overland route from Afghanistan. Embassy staff was present upon arrival.

So just to be clear, are you saying that they actually did not facilitate the overland departure of these four, or are you saying that embassy staff were not present at the exit?

MULLIN: They got present on the second day. We traveled over 300 miles with Mariam -- not we personally -- not me. I was actually in the United States -- over 300 miles from Kabul up through this region. I'm going to leave where we -- where we actually brought her across out of it because we hopefully will get more people through.

But we had her there for 24 hours before the State Department was even aware she was there. They didn't show up until a few hours after we'd actually -- or before we got her across. And so for them to say they facilitated it is absolutely a lie.

We had to go through over 20 checkpoints, which at each one of those checkpoints you actually have to pay money to get through because of Taliban. On the day that -- the day that she was actually able to come across, she was actually told -- because I was on the phone with her at 3:00 central standard time in the morning -- and they said if you come back we will kill you. And so we were negotiating. We were negotiating back and forth.

The State Department was actually told at one time -- actually told the embassy in the country not to assist us in any way -- quote. That came from the ambassador. He said Washington D.C., Markwayne, said -- Rep. Mullin is what he called me -- he said I'm not to assist you in any way.

It wasn't until the second day that we almost had her out that the State Department came in. And when they came in they did come in to help -- I will give you that. But for them to take credit and say they negotiated with the Taliban -- our guys with the Sentinel Foundation literally walked across the bridge and was trying to negotiate with the Taliban -- not the State Department, our guys.


The Sentinel Foundation, who is nonpolitical whatsoever -- they don't even want to be in the picture -- they wanted -- they do this all over the country -- or all over the world. They were taking on the negotiations.

But when I seen the State Department come out and take credit for this, it is absolutely a lie. It is a --

KEILAR: They were there -- they -- so it sounds like what you're saying is they didn't -- it was the group you're involved with that shepherd -- shepherded this woman and her three kids through the overland route. The State Department --

MULLIN: Absolutely.

KEILAR: -- obviously did come in at the end and they helped get this person through this border passing.

But I want to ask you because -- I mean, there's a lot of conflict in the way this story is being told, obviously --


KEILAR: -- and you're facing a lot of criticism from the Biden administration because you tried to get into Afghanistan multiple times. They allege that you threatened embassy staff in Tajikistan.

MULLIN: Not true.

KEILAR: Can you tell us about your -- OK, you say it's not true. Tell us about that. They say that you were trying to bring a large amount of cash in with this group of people that you were with. What do you say to that? Were you trying to do that? And tell us about

your response to them saying that you threatened the ambassador.

MULLIN: Well, first of all, the ambassador and I in Tajikistan get along and it was his group that really tried to help us as much as they could. It wasn't -- that's a mis-narrative. Him and I actually spoke about this yesterday and he actually apologized about it. And his guys were the ones that were actually there trying to volunteer their time and help towards the end of this -- not going up to it.

As far as the large sum of cash, anybody that's worked in that region knows they don't take credit cards. And as I said, you've got to go through 20 checkpoints -- over 20 checkpoints before you could even get to the area we were at. And at each one of those checkpoints they will charge you between $500 to $4,000 per person. They don't take credit cards, they only take cash.

And so, if we're going to get more people out, we have to continue to -- we have to continue to fund the operation, and you can only do that through cash.

And CNN -- you guys have been there before. You guys understand how this works. You know that they -- that you have to have cash on you to be able to operate in those parts of the region. And any other organization that's ever worked there knows that.

KEILAR: But --

MULLIN: And so, it was really a mis-narrative that they -- that the State Department tried to spin. And now they're trying to go out there and take credit for the four AMCITS.

The fact of the matter is I wouldn't even have been there if the Biden administration would have done their job in the first place. I didn't look for a reason to go. I didn't even want to go. But how do you say no when we have Americans that are there wanting to get out, and then you have our own government -- the President Biden up there and Sec. Blinken out there saying that every American that wants out can get out (ph).

KEILAR: You know -- I want to ask you because you know there's -- there is this tension, as I said, between members of Congress. You were trying to get in a day after two other congressmen tried to get in -- Seth Moulton and Peter Meijer. And that was seen very much by the Biden administration as kind of a showboating visit.

Do you -- I mean, do you understand why there was a reticence when it came to you're on a -- you're trying to get in by air and they feel that that's creating a problem in the evacuations.

MULLIN: We had -- we had filed our paperwork days prior to Seth trying to go in. And I don't know Seth's motives. I'm not saying one way or the next with him.

I know for us, we wasn't doing any publicity whatsoever with it. We filed all the proper paperwork with -- and got our PPR. We got our military call sign to be able to land and filed our humanitarian FAA flight plan.

And so, we were -- we were trying to stay away from this. I was going in with my team. My team are tier one operators. We wasn't taking any resources whatsoever away from them. We are flying on our own dime and we are going to fly them back out on our own plane. So there was no resources whatsoever for that to happen.

At the end of the day, the State Department and the president started playing politics with it. And in the long run, it probably worked out better for them not going to land us at that time. Because what's happened now is we started a whole ground operation to be able to start getting people that the administration left behind -- because they left them behind.

And so now we're working all around the region. And because they didn't let us land, this is what we had to do, which is fine. We started working all around the region running what we call ratlines (ph), getting Americans and SIVs out of the country that this administration, as I said, left behind and are now lying about it, saying that anyone that wanted out could have got out.

That -- it is -- it literally breaks my heart. There's multiple organizations -- we're not the only organization in there working -- that's in there working as hard as we can -- and most of them are veterans -- to get Americans out. To keep our promise that we don't leave any American behind. Because this president broke his promise about that.

KEILAR: Congressman Markwayne Mullin -- look, this is a story that's going to continue. There's a lot of tension. We can see that obviously, your characterization is very different from what we're hearing from the State Department. And there are still Americans in Afghanistan. So we'll keep following this story.


MULLIN: Absolutely.

KEILAR: Congressman, thank you.

MULLIN: Thank you for having me on.

KEILAR: This morning, Hollywood shocked -- and really, the country shocked by the death of Michael K. Williams, best known for his work on "THE WIRE" where he played an iconic role. What police are saying as we hear from fellow actors who knew him well.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And just one week to go in California's recall election. Caitlyn Jenner, one of the best-known challengers, will join us live on NEW DAY with what her plans would be as governor.




SCIUTTO: God, he was so good.

Tributes are pouring in for five-time Emmy nominee Michael K. Williams, who portrayed -- well, the iconic role of Omar Little in HBO's "THE WIRE" and many other movie roles as well. He was found dead yesterday afternoon in his apartment in New York from a possible drug overdose.


Joining us now are two people who knew Michael on and off-screen -- his co-stars from "THE WIRE," Andre Royo and Sonja Sohn. Thanks so much to both of you. I know these -- there are going to be some tough hours and days for you going forward.

The link between Williams' pain, his past -- previous drug use, and his performances -- you could see it throughout his career, right? You could see it coming across the screen both in movies and series.

And I wonder if you could share with us what it was like working with him. How he brought that to life. I'll go with you first, Andre.

ANDRE ROYO, ACTOR, "THE WIRE": Working with Mike -- he was always appreciative of the opportunity. For him, it was always about the opportunity. He knew that a lot of people didn't get this opportunity to have a chance to shine bright and delve into his craft and share his craft.

And for him, it just spoke to how he was as a person. He wanted to make sure that he showed people that he can shine bright and be a good actor and also a good person, and take this opportunity and help other people.


ROYO: So, for him, it was always about the opportunity to help.

KEILAR: I see you nodding there, Sonja.

SONJA SOHN, ACTRESS, "THE WIRE" (via Skype): Yes. You know, Michael took his role in this business very seriously. He understood it to be a mission and a purpose. A path that God chose for him.

He utilized this art form for something so much greater than his own benefit. This arena was a place where he could take the brutality that might sometimes be bestowed upon him and alchemize that into something through his craft that brought beauty and healing to other folks.

I just want to offer something from our brother Wendell Pierce. He reminded me that Michael portrayed two very iconic characters in -- for us, the African American television -- and that is Omar and Chalky White. And we really do believe that there are very few actors, if any, who could have brought the level of humanity that he did to those characters. And the only way that I believe he could have done that was to really inject his own spirit into that.

And yes, he utilized his art form for something just so much greater than his own benefit.

And we won't look at LGBTQ folks in the same way again. He -- there is no one that has brought light and awareness and nuance to perspectives to the LGBTQ image. And yes, we're just -- we're going to miss him dearly -- yes.

SCIUTTO: He had enormous advocacy off-screen as well, right, using his fame to draw attention to issues. Criminal justice reform was a big one --

SOHN: Yes, absolutely.

SCIUTTO: -- a big one for him.

And "The New York Times" quotes a childhood friend of his, Darrel Wilds, who called him a profit of the projects in his advocacy. And I wonder if that resonates with either of you.

ROYO: Yes. I mean, it resonates with me because I met Michael in '97 in Brooklyn. And he always -- he always spoke of how excited he was to get a chance to maybe with this new platform as far as acting is concerned, that he would be able to show a path for his brothers and sisters out there in Brooklyn that they can have a way out and have a way to be heard and be seen through the arts or through speaking out and stepping on -- stepping in front to speak about political issues and not to be afraid. Not to be afraid to step in front and speak on it.


With (INAUDIBLE) a lot of people wouldn't have -- would have shied away from being in front of the camera, but not him. He just saw it as a badge of courage that the scar (ph) didn't stop him. And I think he knew that him being -- every time he was in front of the camera or anytime he would have had an opportunity to speak that he was not speaking just to himself, he was speaking to a lot of people behind him that didn't get a chance to speak or don't have a chance to be heard.

So he took that very seriously and hopefully, we'll continue to remember him for that and know that he definitely wore it as a badge of courage that he was speaking with so many people.

KEILAR: Andre and --

SOHN: Michael really understood --

KEILAR: Yes, sorry -- go on.

SOHN: -- the value of -- I'm sorry.

KEILAR: No. Go on, Sonja. SOHN: Yes. Michael really understood the value of showing up in these places. Michael came from the projects. He came from the hood and he went through certain experiences. He lived certain experiences that never let him forget the pain of coming from those places and he understood that it was -- that he was put in this position of power. And he held it with such humility and such grace but always understood that he had to physically be in front of the people that he was representing -- that he was trying to lift up. That he was trying to inspire.

He knew that he could not stay in Hollywood. That's why he lived in Brooklyn. That's why he'd always make sure he came back to Baltimore -- the people who held him down when it -- when he was in his darkest days before folks out here really knew him.

He was loyal. He was loyal and he was -- he was just the biggest heart that folks -- that you just couldn't -- you just -- you just -- he was nothing like the characters he played in some way, OK. That's all I'm saying.

KEILAR: Yes. I mean, he was -- he was iconic.

SOHN: He was kind.

KEILAR: He was iconic in front of the camera, iconic behind the camera. I think that will be his legacy. And he is gone way too soon.

And, Andre and Sonja --

SOHN: Yes.

KEILAR: -- I want to thank you both --


KEILAR: -- for being with us.

SCIUTTO: -- for sure.

SOHN: OK, thank you so much.

ROYO: Thank you for having me.

SOHN: Yes.

KEILAR: Ivermectin is a drug that is commonly used to treat worms in livestock -- sometimes, people. It is not a drug used to treat COVID- 19. So why are prominent voices pushing that treatment and confusing people in the process?

SCIUTTO: And it's not the first time.

Also, a remarkable story of survival. A 3-year-old boy found safe -- there he is -- after spending days alone in the woods. It's a remarkable survival story.



KEILAR: Ivermectin may be the unproven COVID "it" drug for the conservative media at the moment, but the CDC and FDA say do not use it to treat coronavirus. Ivermectin is often used to deworm livestock. And the CDC says it's behind a spike in calls to human poison control centers.

But a story that went viral the other day about Oklahoma hospitals and Ivermectin led to another round of disinformation here.

Let's talk with CNN's Daniel Dale to fact-check this. This is an important one. What's the deal?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: It's important. So, Brianna, the story that went viral was pretty bad and at the very least, significantly exaggerated. And then, some of the criticism of this very flawed story was also itself flawed. In other words, this was a pretty comprehensive mess.

So let's walk through it step-by-step.

Last week, an Oklahoma T.V. station ran a web headline saying patients overdosing on Ivermectin backing up rural Oklahoma hospitals, ambulances. And the story claimed that a local doctor had said that people taking Ivermectin were causing emergency room and ambulance backups. It also suggested that Ivermectin was the reason. This doctor said even gunshot victims were having a hard time finding a hospital spot.

This story was then basically copied with little to no additional research by some bigger-name national and international outlets, notably including "Rolling Stone" magazine. And it was promoted by some big-name media figures on the left on Twitter, notably including MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.

But, Brianna, the story had a major flaw. Contrary to the strong suggestion of this story, there is no evidence that Ivermectin was the key cause or even a primary cause of hospital backups in Oklahoma.

And if you go through the doctor's quotes in the clips the local station released, there's no evidence even that the doctor claimed that himself. So far, all I can tell is that the doctor said Ivermectin misuse was one of the reasons local hospitals are congested.

So, the local news story was flawed. Then, as a result, the aggregated national stories were flawed and the tweets were flawed. So this is another cautionary media fail tale. One interview -- one story shouldn't be sufficient to make dramatic claims like this. Media outlets need to do a lot more corroborating research.

But also, I need to add that some of the critics of this story also jumped to conclusions. After one of the hospital systems this doctor works with issued a statement saying they hadn't seen anyone come in with Ivermectin complications, this statement was treated by some on the right as definitive proof that the whole story was completely made up -- even that the doctor was a big liar. I saw some people started leaving him terrible online reviews.

Again, though, it's really unclear the doctor said anything truly false. And secondly, these aggressive critics didn't pay any attention to the fact that the doctor is affiliated with more than one Oklahoma hospital.

On Monday, a different hospital he works with said in a statement that they had seen a quote "handful" of patients with Ivermectin complications. And they said these patients were adding to the existing pandemic problem of hospital congestion. That hospital told me last night they had zero beds available at the time.

So I think the broader lesson here is, as usual, do not, please, jump to immediate conclusions based on little kernels of information, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. Look, it's a cautionary tale on how something that isn't true gets amplified.

The truth, though, when it comes to this Ivermectin is don't take it. Don't be taking it. It doesn't work for COVID. And look, even a few people who have taken it -- they end up in the hospital. Those are beds that aren't available for others.

DALE: Absolutely. The FDA has basically begged people in quite dramatic language online to avoid taking this for COVID-19.

KEILAR: Yes. Daniel, thank you so much, as always.

DALE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, with infections from COVID-19 surging across the country and ICU beds in dangerously short supply, some healthcare workers have been thrust into the unenviable position of deciding who gets a bed and who does not.