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Mattis Makes Unscheduled Trip to Baghdad; Iraq Launches New Offensive to Take Mosul; U.K. Parliament Debates Trump's Visit; "Not My President" Protests on Presidents Day. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 20, 2017 - 11:30   ET

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


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[11:33:05] Ana CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Defense Secretary James Mattis making an unscheduled trip to Baghdad this morning to meet with U.S. soldiers fighting against ISIS. He broke ranks with President Trump, saying this is not about the U.S. taking Iraq's oil.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: All of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along and I'm sure we will continue to do so in the future. We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining me now.

Barbara, other than assuring Iraqis we're not taking their oil, what is the goal of this trip?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Secretary Mattis very blunt-spoken, clearly sending the message he's not about to change his views. The statement about not taking the oil is significant because the Iraqis were very concerned that Mr. Trump had continued to talk about all of that. Of course, Iraq is a U.S. ally. We don't go into the countries of our allies and take their natural resources. A very unsound policy, to say the least. So that really was very important for him to send that message to the Iraqis.

He's also there looking at the situation on the ground, looking at the fight to retake Mosul, looking at the general pace of the fight to accelerate the war against is. The Pentagon owes the White House some proposals by the end of the month on how to do that acceleration. So this has been an opportunity format I'd say to get on the ground, maybe not look at everything he wants to look at, but to talk to the top commanders face-to-face and come back to Washington and makes some of those recommendations to the White House.

CABRERA: All right. We also learned Iraq launched a new offensive to regain control of western Mosul from ISIS. This happened over the weekend, backed up by U.S. air strikes. What can you tell us about this operation?

[11:35:00] STARR: This was very much expected, and something that the Iraqis wanted to get out there, to let it be known that their troops were leading this fight to retake western Mosul, backed up by U.S. air strikes. U.S. Special Operations forces increasingly on the ground in and around Mosul, advising and assisting those Iraqi forces. So make no mistake, it's very dangerous business. As they move into western Mosul, we know they expect to encounter suicide attacks, car bombs, snipers, all of it. So it will be very dangerous business. But the Iraqis really on the ground leading the fight. They hope to get Mosul back perhaps within weeks -- Ana?

CABRERA: Barbara Starr, thank you.

Here now to discuss further, Colonel Cedric Leighton, a retired Air Force colonel, and former deputy director for training at the National Security Agency.

Colonel, back to that comment on Iraqi oil, Trump has had a lot to say about this in the past. Let's play a few clips.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we got out, we should have taken the oil. I'll never forget, some of the pundits, most of them, don't have the brains they were born with. They said, they're talking about a sovereign country, Iraq. Crooked as hell.

We're trying to retake Mosul for a second time because we essentially gave it up. So now we're going in. Did we give them enough advance notice? Four months is enough time, right?

So we should have kept the oil. But, OK, maybe we'll have another chance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: That last clip was from January 21st. So Trump doubling down on taking Iraqi oil. Meantime, Secretary Mattis comes out and directly contradicts that. Does Mattis have the last word on this, do you think?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I sure hope so, Ana. The reason I hope so is because it just makes sense to allow an ally, in this case Iraq, to keep its oil, which is absolutely not only a sovereign nation but it is also a nation that is helping us fight is. And they're frankly on the front lines of that. The other part of that, Ana, is this. The oil is something that we basically always allow people to keep their natural resources. So the Kurdish elements of Iraq have their oil. The other elements of Iraq, the Arabic portions of Iraq, they have some oil as well. It is in our interests for a stable Iraq to make sure that they are allowed to keep the oil and that they can use that oil to further develop their country.

CABRERA: We also heard Trump's repeated critique of making some military strategy public, the U.S. and Iraqi military just announced they are launching a new offensive to retake Mosul. Is there danger in giving the enemy a heads-up? LEIGHTON: There certainly is. That's why every time there is a

planning operation, you have to look at what was the most beneficial for your forces. So in this case, the decision was made to make sure that the civilians in Mosul understand that they are going to be subject to an invasion. So the first phase of that invasion that took over the eastern part of the city of Mosul, there were a lot of announcements saying we're coming in, stay in your Houses, you know, make sure that you understand what the Iraqi forces are doing and here are the procedures in case you encounter them so you don't get shot by them. The same type of thing is happening now that they're moving into the western part of the city of Mosul. And that is very critical, because you want that population to be on your side. And if they are not on your side, you at least want them not to shoot at you. You have to weigh that versus an intelligence or tactical advantage you might get by keeping it all secret.

CABRERA: I also want to have you weigh in on the leading candidate to fill this NSA post that was left open by Michael Flynn's resignation. A lot of guys talked about do have a military background. Who do you think should be the right fit for the Trump administration?

LEIGHTON: I think Donald Trump is looking at a military person to go in there. Now of course there's John Bolton, who is a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., very conservative voice on national security issues. He could certainly do that job, no question about it.

The other part of that is, two of the people that are being considered, you have General Robert Caslen and Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, they're both active-duty military officers. They'll have less of a choice in whether or not they get to say no to President Trump's potential offer to them. They will have to basically salute smartly, as the saying goes, and take the job.

CABRERA: Is there one that you think rises to the top?

LEIGHTON: If I were to advise the president on this, I would say General McMaster is certainly one of the greatest minds in the U.S. Army today. He's not only written a book but he was basically the leading force in the last and greatest tank battle since World War II. That was against Iraq. He understands the terrain. He understands the terrain. He understands both Iraq and Afghanistan. He's also considered a thought leader in Army circles and in military circles in general. So I think he would be an excellent choice. And I think also Ambassador Bolton, you know, would be somebody that could certainly make the engines run on time. But I think if President Trump is looking for a military person, he's probably looking at General McMaster at this point.

[11:40:30] CABRERA: Colonel, we appreciate your insight. Thank you.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Ana.

CABRERA: A popular tradition across the pond forcing lawmakers to debate a visit from President Trump. Could the U.K. cancel on the commander-in-chief? We'll head live to London. Here at home, thousands across the country are planning to gather for

what they're calling "Not My President" protests. What the demonstrators hope to accomplish.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:45:17] UNIDENTIFIED U.K. PARLIAMENT MEMBER: We are greatly concerned about the actions that he's taken. Extraordinary actions, blundering into conflicts around the planet that needed delicate handling, that needed the microsurgery of decisions taken in the past by states men. But he went in and he's caused problems every particular area in which he's become involved in, the China Sea, in Ukraine, and in Israel/Palestine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: This is all part of the debate that's under way right now in British parliament over President Trump's upcoming state visit to the U.K. The date has not been set but the invitation was extended by the British prime minister on behalf of the queen.

Let's take you live to parliament. The debate was triggered after a petition to prevent Trump from receiving a state invitation garnered over a million signatures.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins me.

What have we heard there?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some fiery debates have gone on inside parliament, both sides trading barbs in the parliament. Outside you have this big protest going on with people saying they want a state visit by President Trump to not take place. It's really interesting, when you speak to the protesters who have come out here, really the issue that drives most of them is the new U.S. immigration policy, the executive order, the travel ban, even though that's been shot down by several courts. Also of course, wanting to build that wall with Mexico. That's something people here say they don't want the British government to be associated with as that debate is going on right here in parliament.

What people here are saying is they don't mind President Trump coming to this country. What they don't want is a state visit which obviously entails a lot of things, for instance a horse and carriage drive through central London and dinner with the queen. That's one of the things on the official petition, they say it would put the queen in a bad position if there was an official state visit -- Ana?

CABRERA: I understand there could be hours of debate, but they aren't going to take a vote. What's the end game, then?

PLEITGEN: That's exactly right, it's more a debate for the sake of debate than anything else. Certainly, it's not going to happen that this state visit is not going to take place. The British government has come south and said, look, we believe long term relations with the United States are more important than the protests taking place at this point in time, than the fact that President Trump is obviously not very popular with a lot of people here in this country. There won't even be a vote on whether or not there should be an official state visit. That is going to take place, the British government has said, although we don't know the date that that will happen. Just having this debate is something important to a lot of people in this country -- Ana?

CABRERA: President Trump is for now the first U.S. president to receive an invitation for a state visit his first year in office. How unprecedented is this invitation?

PLEITGEN: It's extremely unprecedented. If you look at President Obama, it took more than 700 days for him to get this official invitation to come to London. President George Bush, over 400 days to get this official invitation. That's one of the things that has led to some criticism here in this country, people have said, look, why don't we wait and see what President Trump does before this official invitation, this very important invitation, of course entailing also a visit and a dinner with the queen herself. So that's something that has led to criticism. And it is certainly something where people say it's pretty unprecedented for a U.S. president to get an invitation like that so early after taking office. Remember, it was just a couple of weeks after he had been sworn into office that Theresa May traveled to the U.S., met with Donald Trump, President Trump, and extended that invitation.

[11:49:25] CABRERA: All right, all very interesting.

Fred Pleitgen, thank you for that.

The "Not My President" protests here at home, thousands are expected to demonstrate against President Trump in cities across the United States. We're live at the scene of one of those protests, this one in New York City. Stay with us.

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CABRERA: Welcome back. Today is, of course, Presidents Day, and thousands are expected to observe the holiday by taking to the streets in cities across the country to protest the current president. The rallies dubbed "Not My Presidents Day" are all to bring attention to what organizers call, quote, "the unamerican policies of the current White House."

Brynn Gingras joins us from New York's Columbus Circle.

Brynn, looks like there's quite a turnout there. Tell us more.

[11:54:37] BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We already got a turnout. We have opposing views, kind of having a heated debate right in front of us. I don't want you to fall. These people right in front of us are Trump supporters. Just across the way you can see the bigger signs. Those are people who are anti-Trump, and there's been a lot of conversation between the two of them as this protest really is just getting started.

I really want to show you what is across the way from Columbus Circle. If you follow me, this is actually the rally that was scheduled for today. Sorry. We're making a little bit of a walk here. 14,000 people are expected to come to this rally. This is where it's supposed to happen. Even though it's sort of overflowing into Columbus Circle here in New York.

I want you to see the barricades that police set up for the Not My President rally. 14,000 people expected to come here, and they've already started filling down the street. You can see it's all blocked off right here in front of Trump international tower. Police telling us it's unclear how many people will actually come because when the woman's march happened, they had enormous numbers, and they are expecting the same -- Ana?

CABRERA: Brynn Gingras, thanks so both you and your photographer weaving through the crowds there to give us a better look close to the scene.

President Trump calls the media the enemy of the American people, and now top Republicans are pushing back, saying that's how dictators get started. Details ahead.

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[12:00:13] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to "Inside Politics."