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Taliban Fighters Are Entering Afghan Capital; Surgeon General's Warning About COVID Misinformation; Dominion Voting Is Suing OANN And Newsmax; Taliban In Kabul As Afghan President Flees; Cushing Blow To Press Freedom In Poland; Gov. Cuomo Gives Exit Interview To NY Mag. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired August 15, 2021 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS, GREEK PRIME MINISTER: So I'm much more optimistic about the role that the U.S. can play, but we need, you know, all the big -- all the big players on board. The U.S., China, India, everyone needs to do their share.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: Prime Minister, pleasure to have you on.
MITSOTAKIS: Fareed, thank you very much.
ZAKARIA: Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: This just in: a bulletin from Kabul. Taliban fighters have entered the Afghan capital. This represents the collapse of the Afghan government, the end of American nation-building dreams and the beginning of a frightening new era for many Afghan civilians.
I'm Brian Stelter. This is RELIABLE SOURCES. It's 7:30 p.m. in Kabul. Darkness is falling on the Afghan capital. There is a rush now taking place and evacuation at the U.S. embassy.
A U.S. official just now telling CNN that a majority of the U.S. embassy staff are out of the diplomatic compound in Kabul. Some of them now at the airport, some are being taken off in airplanes out of the country. Others are staying at the airport for the time being.
Reporters in Kabul are reporting new developments basically every minute of every hour. There has been gunfire heard in the capital. There have been traffic jams in some parts of the city. Other parts of the city look like a ghost town, according to witnesses who are there.
As you know, withdrawal has turned into an evacuation in just the past few days. These are stunning developments that are unfolding, and we are trying to bring you all the details as we can minute by minute.
So let's begin by going to Clarissa Ward who is there in Kabul getting a sense of what is happening. Clarissa, can you tell us what you know about these Taliban fighters
that have entered the city?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've heard from the Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid. He basically said that originally the plan had been to hang back out the gates until there was an agreement. But because the government were deserting their posts, he said that Taliban fighters had been, essentially, forced to come into the capital to begin taking over responsibility for some of the ministries.
We can't see them from where we are, but we can certainly hear quite a lot of gunfire going on over the course of the last hour or two, particularly, I should say. Again, very difficult to know what exactly that gunfire is because you do hear a lot of it in Kabul. But certainly fair to say there's a lot more of it tonight than we are used to hearing. And certainly also fair to say that people here in the capital are utterly petrified and essentially have nowhere to look to now.
President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country. He has left. He is no longer the president of Afghanistan. That obviously leaves a pretty huge vacuum that one can only assume the Taliban is going to fill.
We heard a report from our colleague who was out on the streets earlier that Afghan security forces have taken off their uniforms, police as well that they're just wearing civilian clothing now. And so, there is a sense of real concern that things could get chaotic on the streets.
The Taliban has said that they won't allow that to happen. But given that all the prisoners in one prison were released earlier today, thousands of inmates now in the city, it's safe to assume that, you know, there is a huge specter of a possibility of some chaotic moments.
STELTER: And was he hear some of that firing right behind you as you're on. This sense of rumor of speculation, people not knowing what's going to happen and then these rumors fill the void. Is that what it's like for civilians that they don't know what's true, they don't know what's false?
WARD: It's so hard for ordinary people here because, yes, they don't have great channels of information. There is a lot of rumor, a lot of speculation --
STELTER: We may have just --
WARD: Something starts out -- oh, have you lost me? Am I still with you, Brian?
STELTER: You're back. Go right ahead. Sorry.
WARD: I'm back, okay.
So a lot of cases of people sort of playing telephone passing rumors around. And that leads to this sense of panic.
You had a run on the bank this morning. Security officers actually had to fire shots because people were just desperately trying to get in to take out all their money. Lines of thousands of people waiting outside the passport office blocks long. There was a crush of cars earlier trying to get to the airport. Frantic scenes there.
One American who was there to be evacuated telling me that there were actually shots fired because there was such chaos at the entrance to that airport, although I'm hearing now that it's relatively orderly now in terms of how those evacuations are going.
But really just giving you that sense, Brian, of the fog of war, if you will, when people don't know exactly what's going on.
A lot of people now just hunkering down. The streets were chaotic earlier, but now they are very quiet except for those gunshots.
STELTER: Do you have any freedom of movement there? Are you able to go, for example, from your location to the airport?
WARD: I think if we were going to the airport right now, that would be ill-advised because it's dark. But if you're going to the airport now you're probably not coming back. For the moment, we would like to continue to report here, and we've put outlines to the Taliban to that effect requesting that we be able to continue to do our jobs as journalists. There's no sense at the moment that Western journalists are being targeted.
I think the main people here in terms of journalists are Afghan journalists who are absolutely petrified, particularly women journalists. There are so many of them across the country, and they've been doing bold and incredible reporting for many years. And now, there is a very real fear that they might face retaliations for that or that certainly they won't be able to do their work anymore.
STELTER: And those Afghan journalists, television journalist, radio journalists, some of those stations have been taken off the air waves. Those stations were replaced by Taliban propaganda in the past few days.
What do you know about the state of these newsrooms, these independent newsrooms in Afghanistan that are under threat now?
WARD: I would say most of them are pretty much hunkered down at the moment waiting to see what's going to happen. Some of these journalists and reporters know that they have a big X on their backs, that they are big targets because they have been so outspoken against the Taliban in the past.
And what the Taliban is trying to adopt this much more mature and pragmatic tone and saying that they're not going to hurt anybody, that they want things to be peaceful that, there will be no retaliation, there is also the reality on the ground that when you have a bunch of fighters roaming around, things can very quickly get out of control, and it can be extremely difficult from Doha or from Quetta to accurately and actively and keep charge of fighters who are roaming around on the ground drunk with power in a city of 6 million people. There's a huge capacity for things to go wrong.
Was this inevitable, Clarissa? I think the American people accepted this defeat a long time ago. And I hate saying that. I just -- that's my perception based on polling, based on all the experiences we have as reporters. They accepted that the U.S. lost in Afghanistan.
But now here we are Sunday talking about the Taliban actually entering the city taking control of security checkpoints in the Afghan capital. Was this inevitable?
WARD: I don't think anybody could've predicted this. I think it was inevitable that the war was going to be lost and that the Taliban would make huge gains and that Afghan forces would be facing some serious challenges.
But it was just three days ago, Brian, I was on air reporting that U.S. intelligence officials were saying the capital might be surrounded in 30 days. Fast forward three days, here we are, Taliban fighters are in the capital.
I mean, this has happened at such an exponential speed that no one I think really could've predicted. And I think there is a lot of resentment from Afghans who do feel that the U.S. withdrawal has been mishandled. It's not so much that they resent the fact that the U.S. left. There is a widespread acceptance of the fact that this war couldn't continue to be fought by the Americans for decades more.
But the chaos, the rapid speed of the withdrawal, a lot of people here feel has really contributed to the chaos that we're now seeing on the ground.
STELTER: I'm getting a lot of emails from viewers asking if you're safe. I know safe is a relative term right now. But they've noticed that you've changed locations or at least you're no longer -- you don't have the background behind you, the skyline of Kabul. How safe are you and your team right now?
WARD: Yeah, we moved our live shot location because our other location was quite high up. And so, potentially attracting a lot of attention with those lights. We're definitely being exceptionally cautious and trying to ride this thing out in a calm manner and reach out to all the people that we need to reach out to, to guarantee our safety.
And if it becomes apparent that we need to get out of here, we will certainly be doing that and looking out for all the Afghan people who are working with us and other journalists who don't have the luxury of just getting in an armored vehicle and booking it to the airport and evacuating on a military flight.
And that's something I think that many of us are really cognizant of. It's okay for us. We get to leave when we want to. We get to leave when the going gets tough.
But for so many Afghans, that's simply not an option. They are here, they have to stay, they have to live with the consequences of this next chapter.
STELTER: The Committee to Protect Journalists, for example, said, an entire generation of reporters will be lost if there is not more of an aggressive effort to evacuate them from the country.
Do you see signs that that's happening? Do we have a sense that, yes, the U.S. government is intervening, the U.S. government is intensifying its efforts to get people to safety?
WARD: So, I think the U.S. government is intensifying its efforts to get anyone out of the country who has worked with the U.S. military, who has worked with the U.S. embassy, who might be in the process of getting their SIV, basically like a pass that allows them to go to the U.S., but maybe they haven't finished their paperwork, they're trying desperately to expedite that.
They're trying to get out Afghans who don't have U.S. green cards or passports but who have been working at the embassy. And that's already a lot of people. That's arguably more than 10,000 people.
Then, perhaps, you might be looking at the next wave of, you know, journalists who were trained by U.S. NGOs or who have close relationships with the U.S. embassy or various different organizations on the ground. But for now, there is such a desperate rush to evacuate the immediate personnel from that embassy that I don't think anyone yet has really given a lot of thought to what the next phase of evacuations might be.
STELTER: And, to your point earlier, Clarissa, there's a fog of war effect right now. I guess I would say it's the fog of the end of war. But they're starting a whole new chapter right now in Kabul. It's this fog of war. There's a lot we don't know. There is a lot we're not seeing. We don't have a great vantage point all around the city or the surrounding region.
So, is that fair to say that, you know, we're going to be in this fog for a while?
WARD: I think that's fair to say, especially during this chapter where people are frightened to leave their homes, where the Taliban has really told people just don't leave, stay at home, everything will be fine, but there is a sense that everybody needs to be very cautious and that life is not going to return to normal tomorrow. The markets aren't going to be open tomorrow. People have been going and gathering water and foodstuffs and all those sort of provisions that they might need in order to hunker down for a few days.
So whenever you have a city of people who are basically hunkered down, it's really difficult to get substantive and accurate information. But we'll be trying to get it as much and as often as we can. And of course we'll be sharing it with our viewers on CNN.
STELTER: Clarissa, thank you very much. Don't go far.
To recap the break news in the last few minutes, a Taliban spokesman has confirmed that the fighters have entered Kabul. So we've heard about this for days, this possibility for the past few hours. Now in fact it has happened -- Taliban fighters in the Afghan capital.
There's a lot we don't know. But the more we find out, we're going to bring it to you live here on CNN.
More in just a moment.
STELTER: Back here on CNN, reporting on the fall of Kabul. That is what it appears to be as the Taliban has now entered the city. They are controlling some security checkpoints. They say the other troops, the Afghan troops have left, the Taliban now taking over in Kabul.
We have this from a U.S. official saying the majority of U.S. embassy staff are out of the diplomatic compound. That means they're either at the airport or on the way out of the country. We will continue to look for updates every minute here and bring you the very latest.
Moving to other stories now. The coronavirus crisis is, at its core, an information crisis. Big and little lies have dragged down the U.S. vaccination effort as "The New York Daily News" states on today's cover.
With so many unvaccinated getting sick, pushing some hospitals to a, quote, breaking point, it's clear that mis- and disinformation is causing unnecessary suffering.
So, let's check in on the state of the infomedic with U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, he joins me now.
Dr. Murthy, thank you for coming on the program.
DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, good to be with you, Brian.
STELTER: It's been several weeks since you issued a surgeon general warning about misinformation about what companies, platforms, governments can do. Have you sensed any improvements in the last few weeks since you issued your warning?
MURTHY: Well, Brian, we've certainly seen much more awareness around the risk and consequences of health misinformation. We see more engagement from some of the technology platforms and actually growing awareness and interest from the public and the steps that they can take to reduce the spread of misinformation, including by being more selective about what they share online. So that's all good news. But the challenging news is that we still
have a long way to go. We are still seeing misinformation spread like wildfire on social media sites in particular. We're still seeing many people in our communities, two-thirds of our unvaccinated individuals, in fact, who believe myths about COVID-19 vaccination or think those myths might be true. And so, we've got a lot of work to do, Brian.
STELTER: The Biden administration has been very critical of tech platforms. Perhaps less so -- definitely less so of right-wing television and radio.
Let me play a recent example of some of the kookiness. This was on One America News talking about the vaccine somehow making you magnetic. Obviously not true but let's watch it and hear your reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like this section. So, my arm --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, your arm's straight down right now. I see. It fell off but it still hung for a bit and the other one didn't. I keep an open mind about everything because I don't know. And I haven't had the shot. I'm not going to take the shot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: You hear the so-called anchor say he's not going to get the shot as if he somehow believes this magnet nonsense.
What do you hear when you watch or hear a clip like that?
MURTHY: Well, it reminds me that journalists and the media have an incredibly important role and responsibility in preventing the spread of misinformation. While we all have the right to make our own choices, we don't have the right to irresponsibly spread misinformation.
And, look, I believe in my conversations with media outlets that this doesn't have to be a partisan issue. I've had many conversations with folks across the political spectrum in terms of journalists who absolutely want to do the right thing in terms of getting accurate information out to the public. This doesn't have to be partisan.
But what we do need journalists and media organizations to look deeply at are their current practices. We need them, first of all, to make sure that they are putting forward credible sources when they do their interviews and when they push out coverage. We need them to make sure that they are providing context also, not just, for example, reporting on a side effect.
We're making sure people understand that that side effect might be incredibly rare and, in fact, much more rare than the consequences of actually getting ill. And we need them to provide context, especially. I know sometimes people can be taken in by headlines that are designed to grab attention, even though they may not necessarily be accurate entirely or may not give context. And we need to avoid that, we need to inform, not alarm, when it comes to our coverage.
And we've got to avoid what I think of is a false equivalency, putting an incredible source up against a source that is clearly not credible and saying we're just hearing two types of -- or points of view. That gives people I think the false impression that some of these myths and misinformation are believed by a large portion of people or by the scientific community. And that's absolutely not the case.
So, these are all places where I think the media can play and it has to play a really important role. I think a lot of journalists are trying to do that. I think all of us though need to do more. And we've got to take responsibility for the information that's conveyed on our airwaves.
STELTER: I agree the critiques about headlines, about false equivalency. Certainly, what we just saw from One America News, that's nonsense on the fringe, not in the mainstream.
But isn't the problem deeper than what you're addressing when you have people on TV talking crazy stuff about magnets?
MURTHY: Well, I think the problem of misinformation is a deep-seated problem because it's not just about misinformation, Brian, it's about disinformation, the willful spread of myths and falsehoods. That is dangerous and we know that that is amplified on social media and on traditional media.
STELTER: Doctor, have you reached out to One America News or Newsmax or these other fringe sources?
MURTHY: Well, certainly, we've reached out to many media organizations. I don't name the specific ones that we had private conversations with. But we have reached out to media organizations across the political spectrum. And, look, there are many more out there that we need to engage with and that more broadly need to hear from their consumers about the fact that this kind of, the coverage that is putting forward false information is simply not acceptable.
It's not just that it offends our sensibilities about what's true or not. The problem is that it creates a real risk to our health. Health misinformation harms people. It costs people their lives when they don't take actions that could otherwise protect them, especially from COVID-19.
STELTER: Let's listen to one unvaccinated man who told CNN's Donie O'Sullivan his reasons for avoiding the shot. Here's what he said the other day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN REPORTER: Have you been vaccinated?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
O'SULLIVAN: Why not?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not going to.
O'SULLIVAN: Any particular reason?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God gave us natural immunities to everything. Why would you want to interfere?
O'SULLIVAN: You're an older man than I am. You're probably in what the government would say is the risk category.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, who come up with that?
O'SULLIVAN: The scientists and the doctors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who told them to say that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: What would you say to him, Doctor?
MURTHY: Well, first, what I would say is that, first I wouldn't say anything. I would listen. I would try to understand what his concerns are, what he's heard about natural immunity compared to vaccine- related immunity.
And then I'd try to talk to him about what we have understood actually from the studies about natural immunity. We are seeing more and more data that tells us that while you get some protection from natural infection, it's not nearly as strong as what you get from the vaccine, especially with the delta variant, which is the hardiest and most contagious variant we've seen to date. We need all the protection that we can get. That's why the vaccines are so effective.
STELTER: But I also hear that man saying he doesn't trust anybody. He thinks that doctors and scientists are being told what to say. It's this profound loss of social trust that obviously predates the pandemic. And I wonder if you -- at the end of the night -- you say, there's only so much we can do to win back people's trust.
MURTHY: Well, it's a really important point because this is about trust. And you can repair trust overnight or in one conversation. And so sometimes, the conversations we have may not seem to move the needle at all, even if we are armed with the facts and with the science.
And that's why the messenger matters in addition to the message. This effort to protect our country against COVID-19 by getting people vaccinated, this has to be a people-powered effort that we build all across America. This is not just about what the government can do. This is not just about what hospitals can do.
It's about the choice we make to pick up the phone, call our family and friends, to ask them if they've been vaccinated.
[11:25:05] Hear them out if they haven't been, but then help them get the facts and get a place where they can get vaccinated which they can easily now find at vaccines.gov.
STELTER: Right. Clearly, the Biden administration is trying to get through the unvaccinated. But what about the majority of Americans who did the right thing and got their shots? Are you worried about losing their trust?
MURTHY: Well, I do think that for those who have been vaccinated, number one, not only did they make the right decision but their decision is being validated every day. When you look at the numbers about deaths and hospitalizations going up, the vast, vast majority of those deaths and hospitalizations are taking place among those who are unvaccinated.
What I do worry about, Brian, is fatigue. I do think that many of those who did make that right decision to get vaccinated are thinking, gosh, I did the right thing, but here we are still in the middle of this pandemic 18 months later. And that's a really tough reality.
And I sympathize really with folks out there, especially parents who are trying to keep their kids safe at the same time as managing this new pandemic. I think what I -- I think it's important for them to also recognize is that we get through this pandemic when a critical majority of us get vaccinated, and we haven't hit that critical number yet.
STELTER: Now from vaccine nonsense to election fraud noise, because there are connections between the two. I was scrolling through Facebook last night, scrolling through posts from friends and family when I saw a relative posting about Mike Lindell, promoting that so- called cyber symposium from the other day.
It reminded me that almost everyone experiences the big lie on a personal level. You know, these are friends, these are family members that have been caught up by this craziness. When it comes to Lindell, his latest fantasy unraveled live in front of South Dakota this week.
The danger, of course, lies in the power that he has and the power that these big lies actually hold -- fact-checkers and experts try to chip away at it, but it still draws tons of attention on right wing airwaves. There are all these different variations of voter fraud nonsense that continue to get ample airtime all across pro-Trump media.
Maybe that's why Dominion Voting Systems keeps filing lawsuits. We saw Dominion pushing forward with legal battles this week, suing One America News and Newsmax, as well as the former CEO of overstock.com, Patrick Byrne. Dominion is claiming that all of these entities defamed the company last winter when Trump promoted the fraud claims.
Also in the past week, a federal judge cleared the way for Dominion's defamation suits against Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and the aforementioned Mike Lindell. That's notable. That means these cases are moving forward even though Lindell and Powell tried to get them dismissed.
So, here we are more than six months after the big lie took formation, and these battles are being waged in the courts against Lindell and Fox and Newsmax and others.
So let's talk about the implications here for the right-wing outlets that are being sued.
Stephen Shackelford is a lawyer for Dominion. He's a partner at Susman Godfrey LLP.
Thank you for coming on the program again and giving us an update on the status of these cases.
Because (ph) you have a lot of complaints you've filed, is this the first time now with Lindell and Rudy that you've actually passed a motion to dismiss, and now you can enter the discovery phase?
STEPHEN SHACKELFORD, ATTORNEY FOR DOMINION VOTING SYSTEMS: Thanks for having me, Brian.
Yes, those are the first set of cases that have passed the motion to dismiss. And we will be getting into discovery. I will say even though there's a pending motion to dismiss filed by Fox in the Delaware case against Fox, we have started discovery there as well.
STELTER: So, will any of this be in public -- will there be transparency so we can hear your depositions?
SHACKLEFORD: Typically, depositions are not public, Brian.
SHACKELFORD: But there will be court filings I'm sure that will be coming out as the cases move along. And I'm sure there will be excerpts of depositions attached to court filings and the like.
In our courts, both federal courts such as in Washington and state courts such as in Delaware have a strong presumption in favor of public access to those sorts of proceedings.
STELTER: What about this week's new suits against Newsmax and One America News? I notice, you know, OAN, as it's called gave Lindell a lot of airtime, airing parts of his symposium. They are still all in on Lindell's fantasy. Is that why Dominion is suing now?
SHACKELFORD: Well, so Dominion has continued from the beginning to look at -- to take an evidence-based look at all the participants in these campaigns -- in the campaign of lies against Dominion. And we are bringing suits when we're ready.
OANN, as you point out, continues to this day to give a platform to people like Mike Lindell despite knowing and recklessly disregarding the truth about his lies and about how false everything he is saying about Dominion is. So, we're bringing these lawsuits when they're ready and we continue to look at other potential targets. [11:30:05]
STELTER: Does that include the former President? Because there's been speculation ever since last winter that Dominion would sue Donald Trump but so far you have not.
SHACKELFORD: Well, we haven't ruled anybody out and we're continuing to look at everyone who participated in this campaign. I will say that while the President did participate in this campaign, the news organizations that we sued, they were -- they tried to say they were just reporting on the President.
But as you can see from our complaints, they were not reporting on the President, they were coming up with their own lies putting on unreliable sources that they knew would tell these lies about Dominion and they were doing that to court President Trump and to court President Trump's viewers. It was out of a profit motive they were doing that as we explained in our complaints.
STELTER: Here on screen, all the faces and names of outlets and people that are being sued by Dominion. Here's what Newsmax said in response to this week's lawsuit. In his coverage of the election, Newsmax simply reported on allegations made by well-known public figures, including the President, his advisors, members of Congress. Dominion's action is a clear attempt to squelch such reporting and undermine a free press. Why do you -- why is Newsmax wrong?
SHACKELFORD: It's completely wrong. It's wrong as a factual matter. Newsmax went well beyond any just reporting on what the President might have been saying or what his advisors might have been saying. If you look at our complaint, we explained in detail how Newsmax's own anchors endorsed the lies they kept putting on their air, including saying things like, the truth is finally told, and falsely claiming that they had done their own investigations that corroborated these lies they were putting on their air. So, it's just factually not true that Newsmax, or Fox or any of these outlets, we have sued, were simply reporting on the news.
Brian, there maybe -- there is a line between responsible reporting and defamation but all of these news organizations blew far past that line in November and December into the present day. You can't even see the line from where they are now.
STELTER: If any of the defendants were to propose a settlement, would Dominion be open to considering one, or is demanding committed to taking these cases to trial no matter what?
SHACKELFORD: These cases are about accountability so I'm not going to talk about legal strategy but I can tell you, we all look forward to holding all of these defendants accountable including getting through the discovery process into a trial against all of them.
STELTER: And you're not rolling out Trump, you're not rolling out anybody else. So, you're really trying to right these wrongs, even you know, the better part of a year after it started. Is this how it's going to be from now on? We're going to have all these crazy lies out in the world about different stories, and the only thing company can do is sue?
SHACKELFORD: Well, we can't control what other people do. But as you pointed out earlier, this is a problem that is getting worse, not better. Including for Dominion -- for Dominion's customers, for election officials across the country. So, we certainly hope that by holding these entities and potentially other entities in the future, and these people accountable, we can do something about it. But the best we can do is resort to the legal system, and rely on it to hold them accountable.
STELTER: What I see is a really clear connection between the vaccine disinformation that I was talking about 10 minutes ago where, oh, Leigh Ann on there talking about magnets, and then this version disinformation, which is continuing on the airwaves to this day. So, it's a sad through line that people are being deceived. The same people, the same viewers are being deceived on multiple fronts. Thank you very much for being here on the program today.
SHACKELFORD: Thanks for having me, Brian.
STELTER: Back to our breaking news. Now, the Taliban in Kabul as the President of Afghanistan flees the country. That's the banner headline on cnn.com right now. We're going to go back live to Kabul in just a moment.
STELTER: Back now to the latest on Afghanistan. This assault by the Taliban taking over virtually the entire country at a speed that nobody seemed to expect. Let's get back to Kabul and CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. Clarissa, anything new you're seeing on the streets there in the last few minutes?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Things are getting very, very quiet on the streets, Brian, and that may be because the Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid actually announced that people should stay in their homes. He urged everyone not to go out saying that that would only contribute to a sense of chaos, that the Taliban is trying to keep this as peaceful as possible.
And as far as we can hear people are certainly adhering to that advice, staying at home, staying hunkered down. We've moved our LIVE SHOT position, as you can probably see yet again, inside now because there was quite a lot of gunfire outside and we didn't want to draw attention to ourselves. But people for the moment are bracing themselves for the worse what tomorrow will bring, what the future will look like?
There is no transitional government announced. So, President Ashraf Ghani basically left without really putting thing anything in place in terms of his successor. The Taliban says they will now begin assuming responsibility for key ministries. And only tomorrow I guess what we really get a sense of what that is going to look like, what fall in Kabul will look like with the Taliban in full control, Brian. STELTER: Clarissa, thank you. While you were speaking, we have some brand-new reporting from the Pentagon. Barbara Starr and Oren Liebermann reporting that the U.S. military is considering the possibility of sending additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan. This is coming from two sources, one a Defense Official and a U.S. official familiar with the discussions. Both the officials caution to that no decision has been made.
They said General Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command arrived in the Persian Gulf region earlier today to directly oversee the situation in Afghanistan. According to the defense official, this person declined to publicly name his location but seems Mackenzie is not in Afghanistan currently.
So, the news there from the Pentagon, there are discussions about whether 5000 troops is enough or whether the U.S. is going to need to send in more military assets to assist in the evacuation of the caught -- the embassy in Kabul.
STELTER: Turning now to the Host of GPS, Fareed Zakaria. Fareed, when we started the weekend, we did not expect to be covering the fall of Kabul. Now that fighters are in this city, what do you think American viewers and viewers around the world should know about what happens next?
ZAKARIA: Well, first, it's important to recognize, this is one of the greatest military defeat collapses that I -- that I think, you know, exists in history. The fall of the Afghan army, the fall of Afghanistan, the fall of Kabul has happened at a speed that was really stunning. And for the most part, the Afghan army and police have supposedly 300 to 350,000 strong, with extraordinarily sophisticated weaponry provided by the United States, $83 billion, spent over 20 years just all melted away.
By contrast, you know, one has to say the South Vietnamese Army fought pretty hard in 1973-74-75, took two or three years for that military to get defeated. This is a -- this is extraordinary and to tell it out, you know, it begs the question, what was the scale of the intelligence failure in the United States, the U.S. military?
How much will we deluding ourselves about the capacity of Afghan forces, about their capabilities, if, you know, without the -- really the kind of psychological protection of the Americans, they just collapse because the United States had, by and large, quit the field several years ago -- a couple of years earlier?
I think that is probably the single -- you know, this is something that we should be spending a lot of time trying to understand because as I say, this may be one of the fastest military collapses in history.
STELTER: But does this collapse suggest that the U.S. should have pulled out 10 or 15 years ago, that this would have happened all along? ZAKARIA: Well, it does suggest that what we had been -- we have been thinking to ourselves that we were building up this Afghan force that was going to be able to keep this country together and that that may have been an illusion. I mean, in a sense, if you look back, ever since the end of the surge, remember, there are 130,000 coalition forces in Afghanistan, and in Obama's first couple of years of military asked for more troops, he gave them.
Ever since the end of that, the Taliban simply kept steadily slowly advancing. They controlled, by 2016, 2017, 35 percent of the country or so, at 40 percent. And so, we were never able to really defeat the Taliban. And, you know, the question is, can a foreign force without a -- what would have -- what is seen as a legitimate local partner, ally, government that has deep legitimacy, can it impose its will on the people?
Just seems very tough and yes, I mean, in a sense, what you're asking Brian is, did we -- had we really lost the war a long time ago, and will we just deluding ourselves, and we can do that because we have enormous airpower and counter-strike capacity, and missiles and drones? But we were never able to really defeat the Taliban.
STELTER: And for years, this was the forgotten war. People talked about -- people in the U.S. talked about Afghanistan like it was the Forgotten War. And I feel like now there are all these viewers turning on the TV and suddenly, it's everywhere, that Afghanistan is the lead story all of a sudden, and they're wondering what happened? We -- you know, they believe this was over a long time ago, and now -- and now we are reckoning with the consequences.
Hey, Fareed, let me bring in Susan Glasser as well. CNN Global Affairs Analyst and Writer for The New Yorker.
Susan, let's compare Afghanistan to Texas, it's roughly the same size. So, in the past few days, we've seen El Paso, and Abilene, and San Angelo, and Galveston, and Dallas, all fall to the Taliban in this analogy. And now what we're seeing in the last couple of hours is the capital, Austin in this analogy, although Kabul has 4 million people, so it's a much bigger city.
So, aside the Texas is Afghanistan, we are seeing the Taliban takeover essentially the entire space, the entire terrain, is this one of those news stories that are surprising, but not shocking? Meaning, this was going to happen but it's still shocking to see how quickly it's happening, Susan?
SUSAN GLASSER, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, I think you're right, Brian. There is a grim inevitability to this.
GLASSER: Once President Biden announced his decision in April that he was going to withdraw, the speed, perhaps, as Fareed said, I think the collapse of the Afghan army in such a short amount of time.
You know, literally in a matter of days, every major city in the country has fallen. You know, I would type in my column on Thursday, and first came the news that Herat, the biggest city in the west of Afghanistan had fallen, boom, before it was done and published, Kandahar had fallen. Kabul, which, by the way, both President Biden and Tony Blinken assured Americans in their public statements as recently as a few weeks ago that you weren't going to see some kind of hasty, dramatic American withdrawal over the course of a weekend, that's exactly what has happened.
And you know, it's a little frustrating, right, because you hear this sort of endless blame game, you know, is it Biden's fault? Is it Trump's fault? There's enough blame to go around.
What I'm shocked by, is there's not enough discussion about what's going to happen now, what's happening to the security and safety of those who are on the ground who helped the Americans, why was there no plan to evacuate the thousands, literally thousands of Afghan interpreters who helped the US military over time?
It just seems like there are two different debates. One, about the policy and the withdrawal decision. But then to the question of the execution of it, which, you know, appears to do an extraordinary debacle.
STELTER: Well, my concern is, is all these keyboard warriors out there on social media, who've never been in Afghanistan, who think they know what to do. And I fear, Susan, that people start beating the war drums carelessly in a moment like this as if more troops and more assets is the only way to go after we've just seen what 20 years of those assets might do.
I just -- I wanted to have a cautionary note because I think there's an instinct, there's a conventional wisdom in some quarters of the media to always think more and more and more, more war, more war, and I think we need to push back at times on that.
GLASSER: Well, Brian, I think you're seeing the conflation of two different issues. One is the question of securing the evacuation right now. This has happened so quickly. The Biden administration announced just a couple of days ago, they had to send in several thousand U.S. troops to secure the departure of the U.S. embassy and American citizens. That doesn't mean that those troops are staying.
I think that's the other discussion is when you're hearing talk right now from the Pentagon and your reporters at CNN that you might need to send in thousands more troops, that's not to occupy Afghanistan, that would be presumably to secure a safe evacuation. Right now, where's the diplomacy for the thousands of Afghans who have flooded into the Capitol, who are terrified for their lives?
Where's the international diplomacy? Where's U.S. leadership? On the question of negotiating a safe corridor out of Afghanistan, with the new Taliban regime, I mean, that's the part that seems absent while we have this self-flagellating debate over whether it was Trump's fault or Biden's fault.
STELTER: Susan, thank you very much. Fareed, thank you. Let's stay with international news. Now, as we monitor the breaking news out of Kabul, we are going to stay on it, we're going to stay live every hour of the day with more on what's going on in Afghanistan.
But I want to turn to Europe and what may be a crushing blow to a free press in Poland. Thousands of citizens took to the streets protesting legislation that could limit free press in the country but the right- wing government is pushing forward.
The Lower House of the Polish Parliament passed the bill this week that would restrict countries from outside the EU to purchase and own media outlets in Poland. The U.S., the EU are slamming this as an infringement on press freedom because the bill seems to target one channel in particular. You can see here the U.S. Secretary of State says the U.S. is deeply troubled by the potential law.
So, here's what's going on here. One of the few remaining independent TV channels in Poland is called TVN 24. It's a news network doing pioneering journalism, it's owned by the U.S. company, Discovery, which now plans to take legal action trying to protect its channel because it says this proposed law would violate an international treaty. The Polish government's yet to respond to the company's potential legal action.
But here's the context for what's going on. Discovery is one of the biggest media companies in the -- in the U.S. and in the world. It is currently seeking to merge with CNN's parent company, Warner media so, this time next year, Discovery and Warner media likely to be together.
But to the point in Poland, there is a clear effort on the part of the right-wing government in Poland to clamp down on the media and to cast out foreigners, or outsiders, or anybody who has a different opinion from the government that happens to be in charge right now. It's a trend we're seeing in other countries as well. You've heard about Hungary, and now Viktor Orban's government pushed out independent media in Hungary, and it now seems that Poland is following the Hungary playbook.
Let's talk about this with David Leavy. He is Discovery's Chief Corporate Operating Officer, and he's with me now. David, what's the current status of TVN 24? It's still on the air trying to do its work every day, right?
DAVID LEAVY, CHIEF CORPORATE OFFICER, DISCOVERY INCORPORATED: Yes, and you know, it's a great setup and they're courageous journalists going in every single day to report the news, to investigate the news, and communicate that to their audiences.
And we did take a very extraordinary action last week or began to notification under a U.S. bilateral treaty that was signed by first President bush in 1990 that guarantees U.S. companies and U.S. investments with non-discriminatory protections. We've seen nothing over the last several years other than intimidation, harassment, arbitrary threatening of our journalists, denying of access --
LEAVY: -- So, we did we -- yes, so we felt we had to take a step and I appreciate you fitting us in today as a big breaking news day but Polish democracy and the free and open media in that key Eastern European country has to be on our to-do list here. So, we felt like we had to take action to defend our journalists, to protect U.S. economic business interests, and hopefully try to bring back Poland from that far-right lurch that you were talking about.
STELTER: Right, because they -- on this program, we're covering this autocratic turn in numerous countries where the press is under threat, and you see in Poland, this is moving in that direction. But this bill has not become law yet so, I hear you saying there's still time to try to avoid this. Now, the response from these lawmakers is they're trying to make sure China, or Russia, or other meddling governments can't come in and own a TV news channel. Why is that excuse a bunch of bull?
LEAVY: Yes, I mean, it's just, you know, I can't speak to the threat that the Polish government feels it's under but I think it is a little bit defies logic to think that the Chinese or the Iranians are going to come in and buy U.S. or Polish media assets. This is so self- defeating for Poland. That's a great country, a young educated populace, a vibrant media ecosystem prior to the new government, a key ally to the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so I think they're putting their own narrow political interests ahead of their constituents.
This will cost Polish jobs, this will cost U.S. investment, this will weaken Polish security so we can, the transatlantic Alliance. And I think if you're J.P Morgan or Goldman Sachs, you're Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, you are Google or Microsoft, I think you have a really tough time investing in Poland right now because if a government is that they're trying to do with us can expropriate or nationalize forces to divest of an asset, it really does undermine the business confidence in a stable business environment in Poland. So, I think is nothing but a disaster for the Polish people if this bill goes through.
STELTER: David, thank you for explaining it and we will continue to stay on top of this.
LEAVY: Thanks, Brian.
STELTER: When we come back, more "RELIABLE SOURCES" in just a moment.
STELTER: Back with more breaking news out at Kabul. We are getting updates every few minutes and I bring them to you just as soon as we can. See then, it's Kylie Atwood now reporting the American flag at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has been taken down. She says this marks a final step in the evacuation of the embassy. She's setting a source familiar with the situation, we don't have pictures to show you out of Kabul now, it is nightfall, we cannot see what's happening at the embassy but Kylie says the withdrawal of embassy personnel is happening "incredibly rapidly today" and the process is now expected to conclude by this evening, she says, minus the small number of diplomats who will stay at the Kabul airport for now. The U.S. flag down from the embassy in Kabul.
We're bouncing back and forth between the breaking news in Afghanistan and our usual "RELIABLE SOURCES" program. Let me bring you a few media stories that are coming up that you should know about. Beginning with what might be New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's apology tour. The soon- to-be former Governor gave his first interview since his resignation to New York Magazine on Friday. They see the front cover they're showing people removing his framed likeness, taking it off the wall.
Let's talk about Cuomo and more with Lachlin Cartwright editor-at- large for The Daily Beast. So, Governor Cuomo getting ready to leave, giving interviews, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo back on TV tomorrow after a pre-planned vacation. Lachlin, do you think Chris Cuomo should talk about this situation? Because the rule for a while has been he doesn't talk about his brother on TV.
LACHLAN CARTWRIGHT, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE DAILY BEAST: Brian, he absolutely has to. The show is called Cuomo primetime. It's on in primetime. It's a key time slot, 9:00 p.m. It slowly goes on at 3:00 a.m. The viewers expect him to talk about it. He's been off the air and before that he was radio silent about this issue. It is the biggest political scandal of the year. If he doesn't go on air tomorrow night and talk about it, it becomes a bigger story not just for him, but for CNN.
STELTER: All right. Well, we will see tomorrow night as you said, in primetime. From one 9:00 p.m. host to the next, you broke the news this week that Rachel Maddow might be leaving MSNBC. You said she's seriously thinking about leaving. Why?
CARTWRIGHT: Yes. My colleague Maxwell Tani and I broke this story. Let's be clear, this isn't about the money for her, this is about a change in lifestyle, a more balanced lifestyle. She's had talks about starting her own thing that would involve podcasts and streaming and potentially newsletters and as you know, as you were chasing this story, she's dead -- she's dead serious. This is not -- this wasn't a plant from her representatives.
In fact, I think they would have -- would have preferred if we didn't write about it. And this was -- this isn't a bargaining chip or a negotiating tactic, she is deadly serious about potentially leaving. And that has NBC Universal scrambling, the talks have become very heated, I'm told and they are going to have to throw a bucket load of cash at her and make some concessions on her workload if they need -- if they want to keep her. And they have to keep Brian because they have no succession planning, and without her, it will be diabolical for MSNBC.
STELTER: She is the temple's hour MSNBC. I was chasing the story and my sense is the same as yours. This was not an intentional leak by her side to try to get more money, this is something she's really thinking about and we will see if she does it. All right, your others group for the busiest week was about Jeopardy, you called it before anybody else.
Mike Richards and Mayim Bialik both becoming the hosts. But Mike Richards is the daytime host so he's now the main host of Jeopardy. This seems like it's going to be a controversy for a while. People are not happy about this.
CARTWRIGHT: Look, you know, I think some of this controversy that seems to be playing out on social media. You've got to remember the Jeopardy audience is not you know, scrolling through Twitter all day and I think while these choices, some people are a little bit upset right now about them. By the time this show comes out for the 38th season, people will be pretty happy with sitting down and watching Mike hosting Jeopardy every night.
STELTER: So, you're betting on the long-term, right? That yes, it's always fractious at the beginning, but then over the long-term, it works out.
CARTWRIGHT: A 100 percent. And I -- look, I think that bankable choices by Sony, you know, and I think that the show was -- many people made this point, the show was the star.
STELTER: Right, that is true. Lachlin, thank you for all the latest on these stories, sign up for our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES Newsletter. There's a lot of news in the media world, we couldn't get to today due to all the breaking news, we've gotten the Newsletter for you at Reliablesources.com. CNN's live coverage continues now.