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Biden May Send Afghan Evacuees Back If They Don't Pass Vetting; China Releases Email Allegedly From Missing Tennis Star; Retired Admiral Behind Bin Laden Raid Pens New Children's Book. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired November 18, 2021 - 07:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And why an alleged message from China's most popular tennis star saying that she is fine and not missing has people thinking the exact opposite.


KEILAR: All right, we have some new CNN reporting. The Biden administration is considering sending some evacuees at a U.S. military base in Kosovo back to Afghanistan if they cannot clear the intense vetting process.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is joining us now. Kylie, this is a fascinating report. Tell us about this.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a complicated situation, Brianna, right? These are Afghans who were -- who left Afghanistan as part of the U.S. evacuation from the country. They are now at a U.S. military base in Kosovo.


And what's complicated about this group of about 200 Afghans -- family members and the like -- is that they haven't been able to yet pass the U.S. security vetting system, right, to get into the United States with tens of thousands of other Afghans who have already gotten here.

Now, this doesn't mean that they could never come to the United States because we're told by a senior administration official that this doesn't mean that all of them have been deemed unsuitable for entry. What it means is that there is still some security vetting that needs to go through a process. And it's not going to take a few hours or a few days; this could take months.

So, the U.S. military has this agreement with Kosovo -- with Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, which is a U.S. military base -- to keep them there for now while the U.S. tries to figure out what they're going to do with those who could potentially not pass this security vetting process that they're going through.

So, the national security spokesperson said this demonstrates that the process is working, right? The fact that these folks have been flagged and not let into the United States demonstrates that they have a process underway that's going well.

But this is complicated because if they do try and send them back to Afghanistan, which is one of the few options that they have on the table right now, that is fraught with legal complications because international law prohibits refugees from being forcibly sent back to a country. It also prohibits sending anyone back to a place where they could be tortured. So, there'd have to be some sort of agreement with the Taliban and, of course, human rights activists, say -- you can't trust anything that the Taliban is going to agree to. So, this is a complicated situation.

Now, the State Department is saying that they're confident that these Afghans are going to be sent to the United States or to other third countries. But as folks watch what is going on here, there are real concerns that they could be at this camp in Kosovo for the long term. We have an agreement with the country for a year. They're worried it could extend beyond that.

And one thing I just want to note is that for these Afghans who are there, they don't know exactly what's holding them up, and so for a lot of them it's really personal. They aren't telling their family members they're there because they don't want to be deemed terrorists just for having to go through this additional security screening.



KEILAR: It may demonstrate that the vetting process is working. It also demonstrates the after-effect of a rushed evacuation. We're seeing that as well.

Kylie, thank you for the report.


BERMAN: A new development in the case of missing Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai who has not been seen publicly in weeks since she alleged on social media that a former vice premier of China had sexually assaulted her.

Now, Chinese state media has released an email that is alleging is from Peng. It says, "The allegation of sexual assault is not true. I'm not missing nor am I unsafe. I've just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me."

Joining me now is CNN international correspondent Kristie Lu Stout, and ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe, who knows Peng Shuai personally.

Kristie, I want to start with you first. Just tell me the latest on this case, including the details around this, I guess, alleged email.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes. This alleged email has been described as being bizarre, creepy, and even, frankly, disturbing.

You have CGTN, which is the English language Chinese state-run media outlet, posting on Twitter, which is not available inside Mainland China, a screengrab of an email allegedly from Peng Shuai. And in it, she says everything is fine. And then she backtracks. She recants her sexual assault allegation that was made against this very powerful man, Zhang Gaoli, the former vice premier of China.

And that has prompted a number of people and organizations to step forward and say we don't believe this. You have the WTA casting serious doubt on the veracity of this email. And also, a number of human rights organizations, including China Human Rights Defenders, saying that this should not be taken at face value and that the burden of proof should be on the Chinese government to provide verifiable evidence that Peng Shuai is safe and hasn't been detained.

And let me just quickly mention that we did monitor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefing that took place earlier today. We did ask the question about Peng Shuai and her case and they said, basically, no comment. This is not a diplomatic issue, they said.

BERMAN: So, Patrick, you know her. You played --


BERMAN: -- with her. Just -- what's your human response to everything that's going on here?

MCENROE: What's going on and is she OK.


MCENROE: And that's what the tennis world is all wondering and extremely concerned about it. You heard from Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic, who is playing in Italy in the year-end championships.

The year-end championships for the women just concluded last night in Mexico. This event was supposed to be in China. It got canceled there because of COVID.


So, there are a lot of layers to this story but the biggest question is where is Peng? Is she OK?

BERMAN: I mean, you would think with all the contacts she has and all the people she knows that someone would have heard something if she is. She might have reached out or responded to something.

There's another side of this, too, which is the tennis side -- the sports organization side. You were a former USTA official here.

MCENROE: Right. BERMAN: The WTA -- the World Tennis Association (sic) -- put out a strong statement to this alleged email. It read, "I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her. Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government. The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe."

That's a strong --


BERMAN: -- statement from a sports organization against a very powerful country.

MCENROE: Full credit and kudos to Steve Simon for stepping up to the plate in the way that he's done, not only with the initial statement questioning where she is. We need more information. We need a thorough investigation. But then, to shortly thereafter receiving this supposed email from Peng, which no one buys that this actually came from or did come. I have heard it did come from her email account --


MCENROE: -- but that doesn't mean anything.

They are trying -- the WTA -- to find Peng. To communicate with her via phone or preferably they prefer to do it on video which, of course, in today's world should be very simple, right? And that none of that has happened.

Then there are the economic ramifications, potentially, of this for tennis --

BERMAN: Well, that's what was interesting --

MCENROE: -- which are huge.

BERMAN: -- because the NBA, of course --


BERMAN: -- got all timid with China.


BERMAN: This is not timid, what the WTA is doing.

MCENROE: Well, that's why you've got to give them credit. And this is, I would argue, way more important for tennis economically and financially because there's so many big events that have occurred in China. The women's championships is supposed to continue there for the foreseeable future. The men have some big events there as well.

So, there are a lot of ramifications here moving forward for tennis. That, to me, is why this is even a bigger statement from Steve Simon to take this stand. It's a morally correct stand to take.

And when is it going to be enough is enough when it comes to what's going on with some of these issues that are happening in China? And they're just saying hey, we don't -- we don't -- as you heard from your reporter in Hong Kong, this isn't even a story to them. Well, it's a story for us and for the rest of the world.

BERMAN: If people speak up, they can make it a story --


BERMAN: -- for them.

Patrick McEnroe, thank you for coming in.

MCENROE: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: And Kristie Lu Stout, appreciate your reporting on this.

So, just in, a big announcement from Disney. The new rules regarding children and vaccines on their cruises.

KEILAR: And we do have some new CNN reporting on how a groundswell of frustration among parents with schools is influencing the ballot box.



BERMAN: So, Disney Cruises just announced that by January 13th all passengers will have to be vaccinated against COVID, and that includes everyone five years old and up. So, everyone five years old and older will need to be vaccinated to go on Disney cruises. And children younger than five must show proof of a negative COVID test before departure.

Passengers can complete the testing requirements online.

KEILAR: We have some new CNN reporting on the political battle over education and the growing voice of parents who are angry and frustrated over the impact of the pandemic on their kids.

CNN's Gabe Cohen is joining us live with more on this. This is -- I mean, look, so many parents are just very frustrated and we're seeing a lot of this play out at the local level.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we definitely are, Brianna. We're starting to hear that message more and more.

You know, the exit polls in Virginia -- they showed that education was a huge issue to voters when they elected Glenn Youngkin governor this month, and now we're seeing this in other states. And it's really not just these polarizing politicized issues like critical race theory. There's also a larger frustration that a lot of parents are feeling with their school system that organizers are now trying to tap into.


COHEN (on camera): Do you think a movement is growing here?


COHEN (voice-over): Watching from her Pennsylvania home, Clarice Schillinger wasn't surprised when Glenn Youngkin, riding parents' fears and frustrations with schools, won the Virginia governor's race.

SCHILLINGER: I hope that the race in Virginia really woke a lot of people up and said OK, there is a groundswell of parents.

COHEN (voice-over): Tense school board meetings show the political divides playing out in public schools right now, from critical race theory to mask and vaccine mandates. But beyond the weekly fireworks and beyond Virginia, there's a common thread tying many parents together -- the feeling they've been ignored.

A "USA Today" poll found 55 percent of parents say their kids fell behind because of virtual learning, and some of them blame the districts, teachers' unions, and politicians. Tens of thousands are in Facebook groups focused on keeping schools open.

In Pennsylvania, Schillinger harnessed those frustrations this past election. The suburban mom, a Republican, helped run a political action committee that pumped close to $700,000, mostly from a Republican venture capitalist, into statewide school board elections -- all on one issue, keeping schools open.

SCHILLINGER: We gave the parents a voice to run and try to win.

COHEN (voice-over): They supported more than 200 candidates across Pennsylvania, nearly two-thirds Republican, and they say many won.

COHEN (on camera): How many parents have you heard from on this?

SCHILLINGER: Tens of thousands across the state.

COHEN (voice-over): Kerry Corrigan is one of them. She's on the verge of removing her sons from their public school in the Philadelphia suburbs.

KERRY CORRIGAN, CONSIDERING MOVING HER SONS FROM PUBLIC SCHOOL: If it closes down again that's going to be the last straw.


COHEN (voice-over): She's opposed to school mask and vaccine mandates but she says her main focus is keeping classrooms open.

CORRIGAN: The children are still trying to make up for last year.

COHEN (voice-over): We also met Bethe Suarez.

BETHE SUAREZ, MOTHER OF SIX: I felt like I -- my voice didn't matter. COHEN (voice-over): This formerly homeless mother of six in Harrisburg says she can't afford to work outside her home.

SUAREZ: Because I need to be here with my children.

COHEN (voice-over): She supported virtual learning but quickly faced problems getting her kids online and getting the help they needed. Now, one daughter can't keep up in class and another doesn't feel challenged. So, Suarez moved her from public school to an online program.

SUAREZ: They dropped the ball in not being able to provide them with what they needed to brighten their future -- to secure their future.

COHEN (voice-over): This past election, Suarez supported Democratic school board candidates that vowed to keep classrooms open, as did a local PAC run by Pastor Earl Harris.

School frustrations aren't just a suburbs issue.

PASTOR EARL HARRIS, FOUNDER, BLACK WALL: Absolutely. It's a human issue.

COHEN (voice-over): Harrisburg is predominantly African-American and even before COVID, 26 percent of families lived below the poverty line.

HARRIS: So, they make the choice to keep their children safe and they stay home. They lose their jobs. It was a sense of abandonment.

COHEN (voice-over): It's not clear the role education will play in next year's midterm elections in a state like Pennsylvania. A poll from Axios shows three-quarters of American parents believe local schools have done a good job balancing health and safety with other priorities. But organizers from Virginia to Pennsylvania and beyond are already trying to weave this common thread --

SUAREZ: I felt ignored.

COHEN (voice-over): -- into a political pattern.

HARRIS: The biggest frustration is being invisible.


COHEN: Now, I also spoke with the head of the National Parents Union. She's a longtime Democratic organizer. And she says they are hearing from thousands of these angry parents from all backgrounds -- again, not about critical race theory but about these crises that they say their kids are now dealing with that connect back to decisions that were made by school systems and by leadership during the pandemic.

She says special interests were prioritized over these parents, and that candidates need to start communicating -- speaking more to these moms and dads -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Gabe, it's a great report. Thank you so much for going to Harrisburg for it.


KEILAR: Coming up, a shock to the courtroom as the man who shot unarmed Black man Ahmaud Arbery takes the stand. Why he said he had to do it.

BERMAN: And a new warning about an uptick in hospitalizations among those who are fully vaccinated but have not yet received boosters.



BERMAN: Throughout his long and decorated military career, Adm. William McRaven was responsible for many covert operations, including overseeing the raid that led to Osama bin Laden's death. So, what's next? You got it -- children's book author.

His newly-released book "Make Your Bed with Skipper the Seal" is an adaptation of his "New York Times" number-one bestselling book "Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...and Maybe the World."

And joining me now is retired U.S. Navy four-star admiral and former commander of U.S. Special Operations Central Command, William McRaven. So nice to see you.


BERMAN: It's so nice to check out your new children's book here.


BERMAN: I mean, who knew --

MCRAVEN: Who knew?

BERMAN: -- all your years in training set you up for this.

You have a, what -- a 5-month-old grandson?

MCRAVEN: A 5-week-old.

BERMAN: Five-week-old grandson --


BERMAN: -- right now. So, how much of this was for him?

MCRAVEN: Well, actually, more of it was about my kids. So, I have three kids that are grown adults now. And when I was a young parent, I read to them. I really enjoyed reading to them, as we were talking before the news. You know, just -- you have this remarkable sense of connection with your children. You have an opportunity to kind of teach them values as you're reading to them.

And so, I was thinking about my three kids but my first reading was to William Thomas McRaven, my grandson.

BERMAN: How did he respond?

MCRAVEN: Well, at five weeks old he just kind of stared at me, which was OK.

BERMAN: Look, the book -- your bestselling book "Make Your Bed" was based off of a speech and that, in and of itself, was a terrific lesson for kids. You know, you almost don't even need the illustrations to give that lesson for kids. But there's so many other great lessons in here, including how to deal with bullies.


BERMAN: Skipper the Seal -- and I like all the -- obviously, you know, pans (ph) to navy-speak there -- but stands up to a bully who is a shark.


BERMAN: What's the lesson?

MCRAVEN: Well, the lesson is I think even at a young age kids need to understand that they're going to deal with bullies. They're going to deal with bullies on the playground. They're going to deal with bullies in the schoolyard. They've got to learn to address and the parents need to help them through this.

And, of course, much like the book "Make Your Bed" where I talk about swimming with the sharks, I kind of kidify it here in the book to teach them this value.

And, of course, there's also values about respect and how to smile when things don't go well. And how to be a good teammate. So, I think all those values are important and incorporated into the book.

BERMAN: You obviously had such a storied military career and such a big impact in so many aspects of U.S. history over the last 20 years. But it's possible, and you notice this, that one of your biggest impacts might be with the message that you're sending with the make the bed idea.

MCRAVEN: Yes. You know, at one point in time I told an interviewer I thought in my life when I did the bin Laden raid that destiny had kind of led me to that point to do the bin Laden raid.

And then I realized later on that the bin Laden raid allowed me to do the commencement speech at the University of Texas in Austin in 2014 and that speech ended up being seen by 100 million people. And I have taken great satisfaction and great pride in the fact that people write me every week to say how much they enjoyed it and how that kind of affected their lives.

BERMAN: It has a huge impact. I mean, people talk about it inside their families, which I can tell you from personal experience.

The lesson about bullies -- let's go back to that because it has real- world implications not just for kids.


BERMAN: Let's talk about China.


BERMAN: You know, John Hyten, vice chair of Central Command -- or of -- vice chief of staff of the Army said the other day that --