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ISIS Defeated In Raqqa Capital Of So-Called Caliphate; U.S.- Backed Forces Clearing Mines From City; Major Military Operations Declared Over In Raqqa; The Rise And Fall Of ISIS In Raqqa; Trump Takes Credit For City's Fall; Raqqa Liberated From ISIS Control; Xi Jinping Set To Become Most Powerful Leader Since Mao. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired October 18, 2017 - 01:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[01:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: You're now watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead this hour, ISIS is defeated in its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, and Donald Trump wants the credit.

VAUSE: Plus, Xi Jinping's power grab; China's president might be on the verge of becoming the most powerful leaders since Mao Zedong.

SESAY: And two of the biggest actresses in Hollywood talk about sexually abused they've suffered while they were just teenagers.

VAUSE: Hello, everybody! Glad to have you with us. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I am Isha Sesay. This is NEWSROOM L.A.

VAUSE: U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are moving toward the streets of Raqqa, looking for any remaining ISIS militants, weapons, and hidden explosives. Major military operations in the last key city of the so-called ISIS Caliphate have now ended.

SESAY: Well, assuming Democratic fighters proudly planted their flag in the squares in Raqqa, replacing the terror group's black flag of terror which has ruled there for the past three years. The sustained efforts -- Raqqa began in early June, and you can see just how much territory ISIS then-controlled. That territory diminished as the Kurdish and Syrian fighters advanced back by a coalition airstrike.

VAUSE: But even with ISIS ousted from Raqqa, the devastation is staggering. The city is now a charred wasteland as you can see in this exclusive drone video. Hundreds of its residents have been killed, and at least 300,000 have fled. Well, joining us now, Middle East Counterterrorism Expert, Lisa Daftari; and CNN's National Security Analyst, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon; and CNN Military Analyst, Ret. Lt. Col. Rick Francona. Gayle, first to you. Those images from Raqqa, this is just wasteland. You know, a spokesman for Inherent Resolve said the joint operation won the city (INAUDIBLE).

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. RYAN DILLON, SPOKESMAN, INHERENT RESOLVE: We must clear the remnants of all the explosives that they left in Raqqa throughout this battle. One of the SDF in the campaign, maybe a month ago said that the fight in Raqqa is more about a fight IEDs and explosives that it is against ISIS.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: OK. Essentially, you know, this place is just booby-trapped, like you could not believe. You know, to try and find these IEDs and the explosives is going to take a lot of time. But at the end of the day, this is the victory, just come with a very, very heavy cost.

GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: A very heavy cost. And I was there at the end of August -- on the frontlines in Raqqa. And what is striking about it is feels absolutely deserted and looks straight out of the science fiction film, because the devastation is complete, and it's thorough. And there are so many Syrian families who have been displacing from Raqqa.

We met -- when we there -- a woman who is eight months pregnant, walked down of Raqqa City facing ISIS outburst and attacks, and call the threat the coalition air attacks. And she, with thousands of others, are now laying in a camp -- and I mean, not too far from Raqqa, waiting to go home. And when you talk to people from Raqqa, what they say is we want to go back, and we want to start again.

VAUSE: And Lisa, this is what we forget: we forget about the fact that this is a city. Yes, it was after ISIS controlled, but there are hundreds of thousands of moms and dads and kids living there, living on some -- for months of none as long as --

LISA DAFTARI, MIDDLE EAST COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT: Even before that. I mean, you right. Before it was under ISIS-controlled, the vulnerability. The -- it's a war-torn country. Every inch of that country experiencing different yet the same type of crisis. And now, the bigger tonight is the fact that war is not over. Do they get to go back? What will happen? What's the future they're going to live?

VAUSE: If they're going to go back, too?

DAFTARI: Well, that -- right. And will have a continued vacuum creating another terror organization. Will ISIS comeback? No. Gayle, as you said, booby traps, they don't know where the next attack is coming from. So, they're still looking on eggshells, they still living with precarious life. That is yet to be determined.

VAUSE: Col. Francona, the montage as militants have been hitting through the Southeast; they're doing it dominantly. Just a few thousand militants were left behind to defend Raqqa, wants the assessment on how any answers are actually main in the region? Will there still be significant military operations to come?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Oh, yes, of course. You know, there are thousands left. It's just how effective it can be. You know, there are fighters from Raqqa that have made their way down to their resort. Their resort, and that area to the south- southeast of it; and the Euphrates Valley is where everybody is gathering. We believe that's where the final battle will that place, not just in Syria but there are what's left of ISIS in Iraq, who also end up in that area. And that will be the end of ISIS and the territorial enemy. But I think it's important that we remember that ISIS or Gumapi retreated by its loss of territory.

It will go on as a terrorization; this just been a change -- this message -- it's going to change his weapons, and, of course, it's going to change its, rip fruit. And they pop somewhere else to you graphically, but they will still have some presents when he interacts with Syria. And you we that primarily Iraq right now, where they're starting to recruit online for they -- what they know would the follow-on to the current situation.

[01:05:21] VAUSE: We do know that a little a (INAUDIBLE 05:22) move that there is a point of this Arab-Kurdish alliance in the fight to re-take Raqqa. This is always a most of the -- the happiest, most comfortable partnership yet. Now, the common enemy is essentially defeated. What happens to that alliance, and what happens to Raqqa?

DAFTARI: All right. Again, that elephant in the room -- if they were on opposite sides, they were fighting that common enemy, and what happens to that when common enemy disappears, or for the moment at least disappears. Is now, the Assad forces have to decide what they're going to do with the Kurds. And the referendum that was pushed through last week or at least the initiative to -- for the Kurds to really push for the state, which they've been pushing for forever.

But to actually come to the point to say look at we've done for the world, we're the strongest forces on the ground, the U.S. needs us, the coalition needs, the Arabs need us to do their dirty work. And now that we have, look where we're at. I think it's going to be an interesting moment to see where do the Arabs stands in regards to the Kurds, and what that does for the future of the Kurdish people.

VAUSE: I mean, Gayle, this is a much wider question based on the view on Raqqa, but everything that the Kurdish Peshmerga, you know, the Kurdish government have done in this fight against ISIS, is it fair to say they're out?

LEMMON: When you would speak with the Syrian-Kurdish issue, which is different that Iraqi-Kurdish, right? But they would say, listen, you know, they didn't want Raqqa as a city, what they want is self- governance. And what you see on the ground in Northern Syria, in the places of Syria and Kurds -- and Syria and Arabs are now working together as part of this SDF coalition -- are these some local councils. (INAUDIBLE 06:53) people trying to get services going, trying to bring cities back to life.

We were in the mandate which was liberated a year ago, right? There is a city council that's up and running. Well, any of that left, right? What happens if the Syria regime comes in back with Russian air power to retake that? What will the Americans do? Because three words have never been answered he entire time we talked about the Syria conflict, which is: and then what?

VAUSE: Yes. LEMMON: What happens next?

VAUSE: Well, and to you Col. Francona, the Syrian government -- Raqqa is legal -- it is part of Syria. I mean, you can throw out, you know, the morals and (INAUDIBLE 07:28), but, you know, the Syrian government is also loyal to Bashar al-Assad. You know, do they have a right to go back in and try to take Raqqa?

FRANCONA: Yes, sure. And I think -- I think all we need to do is look at what's happening in Northern Iraq right now. There is president being set, and I'm sure it's lost, and Bashar lost and he's watching what the Iraqi government is doing. They're moving into areas that are technically not part of the Kurdish regional government, but that the Kurds have occupied since 2014.

And that was OK as long as the Iraqis needed them to stand on that territory and defend it from ISIS. But now that ISIS is gone, and I think that both of these experts have made some good points here about what happens next. And I think we're seeing it play out in Iraq, and I think Bashar al-Assad is looking at this and that's how he wants to play it out in Syria. I don't think the Kurds in Syria are going to get any consideration from the central government.

And Damascus, Bashar al-Assad wants it all -- he said that. And will he turn the Syria army on the Kurds? I don't know. But -- and the big question is: what would the Americans do? I think we're going to be asked to leave by both the Iraqis, and I think we're going to be forced out of Syria. I don't see a win here for the U.S.

VAUSE: Well, at least what happens if the U.S. if, you know, is forced to leave?

DAFTARI: We'll have to make that decision. What will see that the table mean for us? And what will that absence at the table for mean us? So, if to reduce -- and right now, I think the U.S. has provided and promised to continue to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrians and the nation-building phase, which will take decades. I mean, it's very juvenile to think that this is going to be something that we can decide overnight. I think it's more important to decide what that plan of action will be, and how it will behoove or not behoove U.S. assets to be involved in that discussion or not to be involved in that discussion.

VAUSE: Gayle, I'm wondering, could all of this, you know, voided this whole situation with ISIS when it swept into power back in 2014, if the Iraqis have agreed to a U.S. stabilization force of 10,000 troops remain behind in Iraq. Now, you can argue over the reasons for it, and why they -- it was a complete withdrawal. But if there was 10,000 U.S. or 15,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, would they've been able to stop ISIS and of this have been avoided?

LEMMON: The (INAUDIBLE 09:41) are bound in this right? Because you could start with that -- the status of forces agreement. And then, you could go to what some former Obama administration officials say, which is, what if we stopped ISIS before it started it? Or what if we actually were involved in that from the beginning, right? There is no question that there has been vacuum -- governance vacuums, political vacuums, that have allowed ISIS to be born and to surge.

The question now, though, is after all of this happens, if the Americans leave again if you have a fight, and a power vacuum then ensues, what is the next incarnation? You know, U.S Special Operations officials were very clear when we would speak to them -- is recently in the last two weeks that they wanted to stay in Northern Syria, in the sense that they saw this Northern Syrian Kurds and the Arabs that they're fighting with allies to counter Iraq. Which is something we haven't even talked about, right?

VAUSE: There's enough tonight.

LEMMON: Right, exactly. And so, the whole picture of it is very complicated, because do you leave if you're the United States? What do you leave if you're the United States and can you keep a war ended?

VAUSE: Well, Colonel, last word to you. Why do we -- why these mistakes are keep being repeated?

FRANCONA: Because we don't have a long-term plan. We even had a long-term plan. We react, we don't proact. And I think the question: and what next? When you ask people at Central Command, you know, at the joint task force, we say, OK, we know that ISIS is going to be defeated; everybody knows that. We know how it plays out. We don't have an exact idea of when, but we should be planning for what happens next.

And are we going to get as (INAUDIBLE 11:19), and are we going to get a seat at the table? I don't know. If you ask the Syrians, they say no. The problem with the power vacuum -- I'm not sure there's going to be a power vacuum because the Russians and the Iranians are perfectly willing to fill that vacuum so that they can edge the United States out. I think it will be difficult for us to demand a seat at the table.

VAUSE: OK. It's a big victory, we don't want to disguise that type of gloss over the fact that this is a very big defeat for ISIS. But with that, comes a whole a lot of unanswered questions, and whole a lot of uncertainty. And, of course, you know, we've been here. We beat that with (INAUDIBLE 11:54). Gayle, Lisa, and Rick thank you all for being with us. Most appreciated.

SESAY: Well, ISIS has lost the crown jewel of its so-called Caliphate. Michael Holmes looks back on Raqqa's last two years under a reign of terror.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Raqqa once symbolizes the center of cowering for ISIS. Now, Syrian and Kurdish flags fly over the city replacing the black flag of terror that ruled there for the past three years. Raqqa became the last major city of ISIS's so-called Caliphate to fall. And the type of terror captured major cities in Iraq and Syria, controlling thousands of square miles from the Mediterranean Coast to South of Baghdad. Once part of al-Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS eventually split -- become one of

the most feared and brutal terror groups in the world. It savagely executed its enemies; beheaded western hostages, other captives burned alive or thrown from buildings. Civilians who'd failed to follow ISIS's extreme ways were cruelly punished or executed in Raqqa's Public Square. The terror group enslaved thousands of women and children, turning many of them into sex slaves.

ISIS attacked ancient artifact and destroyed religious symbols -- both Christian and Muslim -- in its perverted campaign of propaganda. In one of its defining moments, the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, boldly declared a Caliphate at the grand mosque of Mosul in 2014. Within months, an international coalition of countries including the U.S. and other allies launched airstrikes on ISIS territory. The campaign took its tool; ISIS's grip began to unravel, Iraqi forces eventually took back Tikrit, Ramadi, and Fallujah.

Earlier this year, Syrian troops backed by Russian jets recaptured the historic city of Palmira. Mosul, and now Raqqa, would also fall to U.S.-backed forces -- both scenes of pitched and lengthy battles. Michael Holmes, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Well, U.S. President Donald Trump is taking credit for the ISIS defeat. He talked with Radio Host, Chris Plante, about his impact on the military.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I totally changed rules of engagement. I totally changed our military. I totally changed the attitudes of the military, and they have done a fantastic job. ISIS is now giving up. They're giving up. They're raising their hands. They're walking off. Nobody has ever seen that before.

CHRIS PLANTE, RADIO HOST: Why didn't that happen before?

TRUMP: Because you didn't have Trump as your president. I mean, it was -- it was a big difference. I mean, there's a big, big difference if you look at the military now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: Well, joining us now here in L.A., our Political Commentator and Radio Host Mo'Kelly, and California Republican National Committeeman, Shawn Steele. Gentlemen, welcome. Mo, to start with you. The president says these massive setbacks for ISIS, let's face it in Raqqa, the credit belongs to him. Is he right? Are you willing to give him all the credit?

[01:15:08] MO'KELLY, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND RADIO HOST: Well, I guess to the victim go the spoils and the sense that he is the sitting president. But I think it would be an exaggeration to say that he deserves all the credit because many of the moves that were already in place, in terms of how the military was moving forward. Now, I will give him credit that he made a boost some of the

engagement policies, which might have quickened it. But at the same time, I'm more bothered by a president who is more concerned with his -- looking at everything from the dimensional lens of I did this, I get the credit, and then he wants to blame others for his shortcomings.

But this is not about ISIS giving up their Caliphate, we're supposed to be eradicating ISIS. It's more than just the military aspect of it, it's about the ideology. Because we can still be attacked tomorrow; someone taking a van and drive it up on the sidewalk. The president has yet to really deal with that aspect of it.

SESAY: And Shawn, what about that point that president is, in effect -- I'm paraphrasing Mo's sentiment here -- taking a victory lap when, yes, ISIS is being ousted out of Raqqa, but we're still unclear as to what this administration's strategy is for Syria.

SHAWN STEEL, CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEEMAN: It's not a good idea to take a victory lap at that part of the world for any reason. And actually, I agree with Mo. I think the president has to make some important decision to decentralize a decision-making, so it's all under just at the hands of one person -- that was the mistake last time. And I think Trump is listening to the military, and military, starting with the chief of staff, lost his own son in that part of the world. Military men understand the brutality and the sacrifice of war.

So, Trump, despite the fact that he's kind of loud New Yorker, it's a blessing to very good and smart people, and there's no question. I have friends in the military that really like this president because the president really likes them. And so, that seems to be working, it is an ideological war -- it's an ideological war that needs to be fought, but not just by the American government, by all of us, by the academy, by just normal citizens.

SESAY: All right. I want to stick with the military and specifically John McCain. Because the president feud with the Arizona senator ticks up, shall we say, on Tuesday after the (INAUDIBLE 17:12) oblique attack on the president while he -- while he accepted the liberty medal in Philadelphia on Monday. I just want to remind our viewers of some of what John McCain said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: -- some half-baked spurious nationalism, cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solving problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: And this is how President Trump responded when the words were put to him as he was interviewed on a radio show on Tuesday. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: People have to be careful because, at some point, I fight

back. You know, I'm being very nice. I've been very, very nice. But at some point, I fight back and it won't be pretty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: And Mo'Kelly, Senator McCain, as you know, is battling brain cancer. He's a man who fought for this country, he's a man who was tortured for this country. And President Trump is warning that he may launch an attack on him and it won't be pretty.

KELLY: I wish this president could be above petulant and petty. But that's not who he is. I wish this president could just miss the opportunity to engage with Senator John McCain on something which should ideological, not personal. But this president takes everything personally. Even though John McCain did not mention him, but it makes the oblique reference. It's OK for the president not to engage on a personal level. And ultimately, John McCain is the hero. His record speaks for itself. Why is the president can't let this pass?

SESAY: Shawn Steel, presidents are criticized all the time. I mean, it's part -- you're in that position, people take jabs obliquely, directly, it happens. But this president time and time again that he just can't, well, handle it in a way.

STEEL: No, no. He handles it very effectively. And sometimes a lot of people regret getting that counterpunch. McCain's complicated. No question. Sex years POW, and the sovereign that the went through. But he's also shown that he's been politics a long, long time. Has touched by scandal early in his career. He's selfish, and a lot of consideration that he's -- I'm afraid he's becoming a very bitter person at he this stage of his life, and it's not a good way for him to go. I wish that he was a little more conciliatory but he was bitterly against Trump. Trump seems the share of the same feeling. What we're seeing is do all the gentlemen liking him doesn't very well. And I don't think it's his ego or one of them.

SESAY: All right. I want to turn our attention now to those four U.S. soldiers who were killed in an ambush in Niger. President Trump, as you know is silent about it for 12 days before he made some comment about it -- in Monday's news conference. Tuesday, the president finally spoke to grieving family members, Democratic Congresswoman, Frederica Wilson, tells us what President Trump said to the widows of Sergeant La David Johnson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[01:20:57] REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: Well, basically, he said -- well, I guess he knew what he signed up for. But I guess it still hurts. There's no reason for the president to be so insensitive. Not only did the family of this soldier, but the impervious rhetoric -- you know, it's disrespectful to the family of every soldier that has paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: Mo'Kelly, what is your reaction to those comments by Frederica Wilson of what she says the president said.

KELLY: I will take her at her word since we're not hearing it (INAUDIBLE 20:36), and I'm hearing the audio, but it's consistent with who we know this president to be, to be impolitic, to be, to be -- I don't want to use the word crass, but very unsure as far as finding the right words to write sentiment for the right moment. Unfortunately, this president made it political when he made it about, I've called these soldiers' families where the previous president had not. And then, we've taken the way from the real issue, the deaths of these fallen heroes.

SESAY: Shawn Steel, your reaction? And if the president said what Frederica Wilson said, and I mean, it's a big -- it's a big thing to say, you know. Again, we take her at her word between the congresswoman, but if he did say that, should he apologize?

STEEL: I'm not taking her at her word. She's a Democrat. Congresswoman just seemed that there's a real chip on her shoulder. I don't even know if the president was aware that she was listening on that conversation.

SESAY: Yes, that's what she thinks.

STEEL: It does, because she's (INAUDIBLE 21:31). She's (INAUDIBLE 21:32).

SESAY: What does that have to do?

STEEL: Well, it was a conversation that -- it was a conversation that the press was supposed to have with the grieving mother, instead it turned out to be a political stunt. Trump calls every single Golden Star family, and he takes this stuff very seriously. Haven't talked to them in 12 days, well, the mass probation, we had a mass killing in Las Vegas; Trump was everywhere when it comes to these situations. That's why people in America feel that we have a president that's actually listening to the poor, the press, and the working people.

SESAY: And does he tell every one of those victims if they're -- or the military that they know what they signed up for?

STEEL: Well, we actually don't even know what he actually said, because we don't have a transcript, we don't have the voice, and we have -- we have an interpretation from an invader congresswoman.

KELLY: But we do know that this president does find time to do which is important to him, including tweet, including lash out at his political enemies be it, Bob Corker or John McCain. So, it's not an issue of time, it's an issue of priorities.

STEEL: But he also has a priority with talking to families that are hurting.

SESAY: We've got to go, but Shawn Steel, yes or no answer -- and that's what I'm giving you. If he did say it, should he apologize? Yes, no answer.

STEEL: No, of course not, because he didn't say it.

SESAY: OK. We're going to leave it there.

(LAUGHTER)

SESAY: Sometimes he just can't get the answer. Shawn Steel and Mo'Kelly, always a pleasure. Thank you, gentlemen.

KELLY: Thank you, Isha.

VAUSE: Nice try. OK. Still to come here. So, China's President, Xi Jinping, be on the verge of a power grab, it is next on NEWSROOM L.A.

SESAY: Plus, almost a month after a Hurricane Maria, U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are still desperate for food water and medical care.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:25:05] SESAY: Hello, everyone. China is on the threshold of perhaps one of the biggest political moment in its modern history. The Communist Party convened a few hours ago for its 19th Congress.

VAUSE: Xi Jinping stands unchallenged as he prepares for his second five-year term as president, his authority, and within the party, possibly on a pile with the founder of modern China, Mao Zedong. Well, Matt Rivers joins us now live from Beijing. Matt, the Congress is underway. President Xi has been talking for a long time with his work report. What's the headline?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he talked for right around three and a half hours. It was a bit of doozy of the speech, but really, he touched on a number of different things that we've seen other Communist Party leaders talk about in these -- every five-year speech. He talked about achievements in economic growth, environmental improvements, military buildup, diplomatic successes abroad -- and that's the kind of thing that we've heard before.

But really, the theme of this speech was talking about Xi Jinping's desire to have the Communist Party control -- have total control, absolute control over all aspects of society. And because Xi Jinping is himself in charge of China's Communist Party -- well, you can look at that as to said that Xi Jinping is talking about how he has absolute control and his party has absolute control over society, that's what he's tried to improve upon over the last five years. And I think it's safe to say that that's exactly what he's going to continue to try and do -- consolidate his power, his party's power, moving forwards over the next five years.

VAUSE: Matt, thank you. Matt Rivers, live in Beijing. Clayton Dube is the Director of the U.S.-China Institute here at the University of Southern California. Clayton's with us in the studio right now. OK. This is all about Xi; is this a coronation?

CLAYTON DUBE, DIRECTOR, U.S.-CHINA INSTITUTE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: It's a confirmation. It's a confirmation that his power is complete. VAUSE: OK. What does that actually mean? Because once he gets his

absolute power, what does he do with that?

DUBE: Well, he's been consolidating this for the five-year run into this. And so, he now has complete control over the party, he has complete control over the army, he has asserted greater control in education, on the Internet, also in the economy. He's much more involved than any of his predecessors going back to Mao.

VAUSE: Yes, that's why we say he's looking to be this sort of ultimate ruler because he -- because in the past like Hu Jintao didn't have the military (INAUDIBLE 27:24). OK. You know, economic reform is always as this precursor of many of the catalyst to political reforms (INAUDIBLE 27:32). I know you believe it, but that's what people said. But, we're now seeing China move in the other direction. There is authoritarian, strongman rule.

DUBE: Well, at the same that they're using much more of (INAUDIBLE 27:43), they're using the word democracy -- socialist democracy even more. And this is really quite striking because the contrast is so dramatic, the party's absolute control. So, you're looking at 40 people who are going to choose the next seven or nine people who will govern China. And Xi Jinping has already determined which of these 40 vets to make that decision.

VAUSE: Now, this is interesting -- who's the compromise guy? You know, he walked in there with that smile on his face, and he looked nervous but he's sort of, for the last five years he got -- initially, he was just nobody. So, the last five years, he's put everybody in a place where he wants them to be, and that's why he's such a good decision-maker.

DUBE: That's correct. And he's removed people who don't want to be potential candidates. Most recently, removing the communist or a secretary of Chung Ching, and replacing it with one of his favorites from his time in (INAUDIBLE 28:38).

VAUSE: And came (INAUDIBLE 28:39) when the party was in crisis with conflicts and, you know, corruption. John Pomfret, who is the former Beijing Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, he obviously ignored Xi Jinping at your time. This is part of what he wrote: "Xi has positioned himself as the defender of Stalin's legacy. Central to Stalin's teaching is the idea that the creation of enemies is essential for sustaining the rule of a revolutionary party. Since taking power in 2012, Xi has found new enemies everywhere. It means that in Xi's eyes, the West, and particularly the United States, remains a necessary opponent. Without an America intent on overturning China's one-party state, the Communist party loses its reason for being."

So, essentially having, you know, the best-case scenario is that you're looking at this continued, you know, adversarial situation between the United States and China at best or even worse.

DUBE: Well, the rivalry has been going full speed for quite some time. And under Xi Jinping, you see China martial all of its resources. So, when he talks about national rejuvenation, first on that list is a strong China; A China that can say no -- not just to the United States but to anyone.

VAUSE: And that's why they want to play well (INAUDIBLE 29:45), and that's why you see this (INAUDIBLE 29:47) in the South China Sea. And we are in for a really interesting party.

DUBE: I believe so, yes.

VAUSE: Clayton, I wish we had more time, but thanks to you.

DUBE: Good to see you.

[01:29:58] SESAY: Quick break here. Four U.S. soldiers are dead after an ambush in Niger, leaving many to ask how no one saw it coming? More from the Pentagon, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:30:00] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm Isha Sesay.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Vause. We'll check the headlines now.

ISIS has lost its self-declaim capital in Syria. The U.S.-back Syrian Democratic Forces say they have retaken the city of Raqqah and major military operations are now over. They are clearing the city of ISIS' sleeper cells as well as mines and explosives.

SESAY: The biggest political event in China is underway right now. The week-long communist party Congress held just twice a decade will grant President Xi Jin Ping a second five year term effectively consolidating his power. His popularity is so great, it is now rising than the nation's founder Chairman Mao Zedong.

VAUSE: A federal judge in Hawaii blocked the third version of President Trump's travel ban one day before it was to take effect. The judge said it's planning to discriminate based on nationality.

SESAY: This version banned residents from eight countries from entering the U.S. The White House court of ruling dangerously flawed. Now the U.S. defense department is launching an internal investigation into a deadly ambush on American soldiers in Niger.

We get details now from our Pentagon Reporter Barbara Starr.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 25-year-old Sgt. La David Johnson came home to Florida to his widow and two young children, a third is on the way. His body had been left on the battlefield for 48 hours.

Now two weeks later, A U.S. official tell CNN it is still not clear exactly how Johnson died. Now a team of experts is looking at everything about the ISIS attack that killed four U.S. soldiers and the confusion that surrounds the incident.

Starting with how the 12-man Green Beret lead team went into a village in unarmored trucks and no intelligence said they were walking into an ambush by 50 heavily armed ISIS fighters.

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JACK FLEED, U.S. SENATE DEMOCRAT: There are questions about intelligence. Were we aware of the capabilities and the intent of the ISIS forces?

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STARR: Defense Secretary James Mattis says intelligence is often not perfect.

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JAMES MATTIS, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: If you want to guarantee in my line of work, go buy a general electric toaster. You know, we do the best we can with the Intel.

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STARR: The team had been in the area before, hoping train local forces. This time, the Americans were attacked with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a hard fig. This was a -- this was a very tough fight.

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STARR: Still, no answers why Sgt. Johnson was left behind when the helicopters came in.

At first they thought he might be alive. Navy Seals scrambled for a rescue mission. But 48 hours later, local Nigerian troops found him dead. No one can yet say if he was alive for a short period of time.

The incident already raising the potential prospect of a Benghazi-like investigation when Congress look at that attack on an American diplomatic compound in Libya that resulted in four U.S. deaths.

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[01:35:30] MILES ROUNDS, U.S. SENATE REPUBLICAN: In the Benghazi incident, you had a case of war. There was clear testimony. There was information coming out saying there were hours and hours of activity going on. We don't have the facts on this yet. If similar facts were to be determined in this particular case, you may very well see the same type of a demand for a review.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STARR: Still, the Pentagon is talking about the good news.

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LT. GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE, U.S. JOINT STAFF DIRECTOR: I would say that what was actually very positive about it was the fact that they were able to have closer support overhead, about 30 minutes after first contact which is pretty impressive.

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STARR: The reality, those aircraft did not have the authority to bomb ISIS fighters, leaving the Americans in a fire fight for 30 minutes with no help and a struggle to get the wounded and dead evacuated.

STARR (on-camera): Defense Secretary James Mattis making it clear he wants to find out what happened and what steps need to be taken to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

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SESAY: Well, as American public awaits more details on the circumstances that led to the tragic deaths of four U.S. soldiers.

President Trump finds himself at the center of a political storm following comments he made in the White House rose garden on Monday. He was asked why he hadn't called the loved ones of the fallen soldiers and this was his response.

Take a listen.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've written them personal letters. They have been sent or they're going out tonight, but they were written during the weekend. I will at some point during the period of time called the parents and the families because I have done that traditionally. And for me, that's by far the toughest.

So the traditional way if you look at President Obama and other presidents, and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls, a lot of them didn't make calls.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, joining me now from Atlanta to discuss the fallout from those remarks and how President Trump appears to be doubling down on what he said is Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling.

General Hertling, always good to have you with us.

You've called President Trump's comments on contacting the families of fallen troops shameful.

How shocked were you to hear those words in what seemed to be a jab at President Obama and his other predecessors?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Isha, the interesting part about the commentary, his initial comments at the very beginning of the tape that you just played were fine.

He has written letters to the parents. He's going to call them, period. And that's where he should have left it in my view. But then when he started comparing himself to other presidents and what they do or do not do, that's when it became a little bit shameful.

SESAY: Yes. And the fact is that we've heard from, you know, many people who serve in the Obama administration that that is simply not true. That President Obama was there at Dover to receive the remains of fallen soldiers. He had events at the White House. He went to Walter Reed, the veterans hospital for the wounded.

I mean, the point has been made that what President Trump said was fundamentally untrue. The White House put out a statement on Tuesday.

Let me read it to you because to many it seem like they were pausing words. But let me read what the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.

She said, "The president wasn't criticizing predecessors, but stating a fact. When American heroes make the ultimate sacrifice, presidents pay their respects. Sometimes they call. Sometimes they send a letter. Other times, they have the opportunity to meet family members in person. This president like his predecessors has done each of these. Individuals claiming former presidents such as their bosses called each family of the fallen are mistaken."

I mean, what do you make of the White House's defense there. I mean, is there any way you can look at what was said as anything other than a criticism of former presidents?

HERTLING: I think the White House statement was absolutely correct. Each president does in fact has shown their condolences in different ways. Either meeting the remains at Dover, sending responses via mail, calling the families. I'm sure every single president has used each of those techniques. But that's not what the president said in the Rose Garden.

What he said was criticizing a predecessor, and it was specifically President Obama which seems to be a trend.

Now I'm not trying to defend President Obama or any other president. I also as a military man served to defend the constitution, but it's just from the standpoint of being not the president, but the commander-in-chief and gaining the trust with the soldiers, sailors, airman and marines under the president's charge. That's what the challenge is.

[01:40:00] HERTLING: So again, what I said before, when the president first started his statement, he was absolutely correct. Saying, hey, I'm going to write or I have written. It's about to be posted. I may contact them later. It's when he took the next step of actually disrespecting previous holders of his office where he really kind of hindered the trust in the institution and used it for political purposes. That's what I think concerns many that are wearing the uniform.

SESAY: Well, General Hertling, President Trump took yet another step on Tuesday by saying when asked about his comments in the rose garden, the issue of President Obama calling or not calling by saying ask General Kelly whether he received a call from Obama when his son died in Afghanistan.

Some have called this again another attempt to politicize the death of fallen soldiers and particularly office chief of staff General Kelly.

Former defense secretary Leon Panetta said the comments demean the office of the presidency.

Do you agree?

HERTLING: I do, and it was distasteful. Again, it is, again, bringing up the subject of what a predecessor did or didn't do. Now, you know, you can debate back and forth whether a call was made, whether a visit was paid, whether a family was invited to a ceremony or whatever, but again, it's not about previous presidents. It's about what this president is doing as the current commander in chief.

So I think taking it one step further and actually bringing his chief of staff's pain and suffering in losing that son, their family's son was really an unfortunate reach by President and in my view should not have been done.

SESAY: General Hertling, we appreciate you candor and for joining us this evening. Thank you so much.

HERTLING: Thank you, Isha.

VAUSE: OK. We'll take a short break.

When we comeback, the filmmaker Harvey Weinstein continues his epic fall into disgrace as more stars speak out on the sexual harassment they have endured over the years in Harvey.

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SESAY: Disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has been stripped of another role.

First, he was fired from the film company that bears his name. Now he's off its board of directors.

VAUSE: A source says he resigned during a board meeting on Tuesday. His move just the latest of Weinstein's investigations by the "The New York Times" and the "New Yorker" due to his years of alleged sexual abuse towards women.

Rebecca Sun joins us now. She's a senior reporter with "The Hollywood Reporter."

Good to see you. Thanks for coming in.

REBECCA SUN, SENIOR REPORTER, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Thanks.

VAUSE: There's also a major pause. The company is closing down at that capital injection earlier this week. It just didn't work out. They basically -- they just thought that it can no longer continue.

[01:45:00] Weinstein' brother Bob who is a partner -- apparently, he wanted to keep the doors open to the studio, but who would want to work for him given that this place is so tainted in sexual scandal. And there's also that possibility that, you know, if you did go work there as an actor, as a writer or whatever, or producer, you know, the profits of your labor could enrich Harvey Weinstein?

SUN: Right. Harvey Weinstein still owns about 20 percent of the company and it's unclear whether or not they can compel him to sell that.

So it's true. This entity exist in any sort of -- in its form that, yes, he could still be lining his pockets.

I mean, a lot of -- in Hollywood right now, a lot of actors and other talent have told their representatives like don't bring me Weinstein company projects.

And, in fact, you know, a lot of those deals, you know, his name has been taken off of all the television projects. You know, he had two shows at Amazon. They are no longer going to move forward with Weinstein so it's a tainted brand.

VAUSE: Hollywood is such a -- it revolves around money, OK? Can money fix this? Or is there no amount of money in the world that can save this company?

SUN: The only way I can see this being salvaged is a lot of money and a lot of time. Right now no amount of money can fix this.

VAUSE: And a lot of changes.

SUN: Yes.

VAUSE: OK. This story to snowball way beyond Harvey Weinstein.

Actress Jennifer Lawrence, she has spoken out about her own degrading experiences that she went through during her early days as an actress.

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JENNIFER LAWRENCE, ACTRESS: During the time, a female producer had me do a nude lineup with five women who were much, much better than me. We all stood side by side, covering our privates and after that degrading and humiliating line up, the female producer told me I should use naked photos of myself as inspiration for my diet.

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VAUSE: She went on to tell "Elle" magazine that when she went to complain to one of the film's producers -- this is the, quote, "He responded by telling me he didn't know why everyone thought I was so fat. He thought I was perfectly f-able."

The actress recalled that she felt trapped due to her relative lack of power, quote, "I let myself be treated a certain way because I felt like I had to for my career."

You know, Reese Witherspoon also has talked about being assaulted when she was 16 years of age.

And the question when does this hit bottom? You know, when do we hit everything and when we can move on?

SUN: Well, I mean, I think we're all afraid of that answer. But there's -- this has been going on for time and memorial, right? And so the only way that you can move on is by -- not really by examining the past but by making actual systemic changes to prevent it from going forward.

And I think that that's what people are starting to try to do now and it starts with -- it starts with naming these issues. It starts with naming the people and to just speaking about it.

VAUSE: How does Hollywood change that power inequality? Because there is such high reward if you go successful.

And these guys, who run these studios, and they are mostly men, and they use that power and, you know, especially against young women as, you know, Jennifer Lawrence said. She felt trapped. She had to do it for her career.

How do you change that relationship?

SUN: I mean, this is kind of an academic answer, but one is you really have to promote inclusion in those executive ranks, right? And so even though it's not always only men who are perpetrators, statistically if you have more women with green light power -- you know, in positions where they can actually make decisions and they can affect whether or not people get jobs, that will help to cut that down greatly.

You just need to sort of infuse more gender parody on all sides of this pipeline.

VAUSE: OK. Not just women who are speaking out. Actor James Van Der Beek, he tweeted few days ago. "I've had my ass grabbed by older, powerful men, I've had them corner me in inappropriate sexual conversations when I was much younger."

Actor and former football player Terry Cruz, "My wife and I were at a Hollywood function last year and a high level Hollywood executive came over to me and groped my privates."

Would you see more men coming out and speaking of their experiences?

SUN: Perhaps. You know, I hope so. I certainly think that every time a man speaks out, especially somebody high profile like Terry Cruz or James Van Der Beek that does. As with the women, it just gives you a little bit more courage to say, you know what, it's OK for me to face this and I'll get support.

It's very, very hard. There is a stigma especially for --

(CROSSTALK)

VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE)

SUN: It is.

VAUSE: OK.

Former "Fox News" anchor Gretchen Carlson, she's credited with paving the way for so many women to come forward. She took on her former boss Roger Ailes over at "Fox News" and won. She sees this as a positive moment.

This is what she said to Jake Tapper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRETCHEN CARLSON, FORMER "FOX NEWS" ANCHOR: This is pervasive. It's across every single profession from waitresses to Wall Street bankers. It's everywhere. But guess what, I actually am optimistic based on the Harvey Weinstein story. Allegations are horrific, but look at where we've come in just 15 months since my story broke. I actually believe this is the tipping point.

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[01:50:00] VAUSE: Yes. Is it a tipping point, do you agree?

SUN: You know, I -- I'm a little bit hearten by the fact. It was not just, you know, a week after Harvey Weinstein, we have -- Amazon Studios had Roy Price. You know, a woman who is a producer came forward and said he sexually harassed me and he was out today. Today, you know, he resigned from his position.

And so, you are seeing that this is happening with greater frequency. The sheer volume of women and men who are coming out to speak about this makes it more of a priority. And so it's a greater shift than we've ever seen before. I'll put it that way.

VAUSE: OK. We'll see where it will go. But, yes, something has to change.

Thank you.

SUN: Thanks.

SESAY: We'll take a quick break.

When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, we met Deana. She was holding on to the last vile of insulin for her husband Miguel who was a Vietnam veteran. Next, CNN goes back to check on them.

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SESAY: Well, the stories we're hearing from Puerto Rico showed just how desperate people are for aide. Here's one example.

These two men say clean water is so hard to find they have no choice but to drink water they know could be toxic.

VAUSE: Almost a month after Hurricane Maria, Bill Weir went back to check on those who are just struggling to get by every day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Immediately after Maria what remained of this hilltop community in Aguas Buenas took our breath away.

A fallen transmission power laid on top of a shattered home. In the house next door, we found Deana desperately trying to preserve the last vial of insulin for her husband Miguel, a bed ridden Vietnam veteran.

A month later, we are back, bracing for the worst, but hoping for the best.

(on-camera): Wow, that is a good sign. Look at that, they've got it back up.

(voice-over): It's the work of local lineman to make a point, showing me their Facebook page to prove that they are just as good as those contractors from the mainland.

How long before power will run through these lines?

"It depends on the weather," he says. They have two more of these giants to salvage.

And what were you praying for just now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Praying to god give help from all the group.

WEIR: You need all of the help you can get. Let's see if Deana and Miguel are home.

(on-camera): Deana, Hola? Coma estes? You remember me? How are you? Good to see you.

(voice-over): She tells me Miguel is resting inside alive and well. After seeing our story, the veteran's administration sent a nurse up the mountain with plenty of medicine. (on-camera): What about the future now? What do you think about next week, next month, next year?

"I'm going to keep fighting. I'm going to stay in Puerto Rico. I'm not going to leave," she says and then points up. They put a flag on top of the tower, they are just one example of Puerto Rico rising. But they are just one family in a township of around 30,000.

[01:50:00] (on-camera): What is your biggest frustration today? What do you need more than anything else?

Blue tarps, the mayor tells me. I received 300. I need 1000. It's been raining a lot and people don't have roofs.

What do you think of President Trump saying Puerto Ricans aren't distributing the food fast enough?

Because some of the towns did not distribute the food well there's a perception this is an island-wide problem he says, but that is not the case here.

There are 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico, which means 78 mayors with different skills and methods.

In the southern town of Petias, the Secretary of State was outraged to find a dumpster full of spoiled food and unused fresh water, a mistake this mayor is determined not to repeat. But even though his teams have visited over 8,000 homes still have 2,000 to go. And if this one is any indication, they can't get there fast enough.

Anita sits on a bed, soaked with rain water, the smell of mold thick in every room.

Do you have any idea how many people are in these kind of conditions?

"This is not rare" he says, "We encounter these cases."

This touched me deep in my heart, today we're going to start helping her now, and we're going to move her to a more secure location.

"We are so greatful that God sent you here," Anita's sister-in-law tells the mayor. "You see the conditions here. Please excuse me mayor. The quickest help possible, please. She needs it."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Gosh. There's still so many stories like that in what almost a month on.

SESAY: Yes.

VAUSE: Some things are getting better. Clearly, it's not fast enough.

SESAY: Not fast enough.

Thanks to Bill Weir for that.

VAUSE: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. Join us on Twitter at CNNNEWSROOMLA for highlights and clips from our shows. We will be back with more news after this.

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