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Trump Taps Brad Pasqual to Run 2020 Reelection Campaign; Obama Caught on Audio Criticizing Trump; Trump Retweets Napolitano Quote on Hillary Clinton; Top U.S. North Korea Expert to Retire; U.N.: North Korea Providing Chemical Weapons to Syria; Exposing Brutal Trading Routes of Migrants Across Africa. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:31:29] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Trump is tapping his former campaign digital media director to run his 2020 reelection campaign. Brad Pasqual worked for the Trump Organization for 20 years, making Web sites and developing digital strategy for the family business. His first real experience working in politics was when he joined the Trump campaign back in 2015, and now he will he head up the reelection bid in 2020.

Let's bring in our panel to discuss. Joining us CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza, and CNN political analyst, Jackie Kucinich.

Chris, isn't it a little early to be announcing a reelection campaign?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, it is, although, we shouldn't be that surprised. Remember, Donald Trump formed a selection committee to raise money for a 2020 bid almost as soon as he got elected. He raised $32 million for his 2020 campaign in 2017 alone. So he has sort of been running almost since he first won. It is a little odd. That's early to start raising that amount of money. And it's certainly early to put a person in place. But I think Donald Trump always more comfortable as a candidate, at least in his first year, plus as president, a more natural fit as a candidate than as a president, so it makes some sense that he's moving in that space of going over there, because that's where he sort of really, I think, feels his oats.

BLITZER: Let me switch gears and get your thoughts, Jackie. The former President Barack Obama was caught on audio making some comments that were widely seen as critical of his successor, President Trump. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): One of the things I'm proud of in my administration was the fact that -- and I think these things are connected -- we didn't have a scandal that, you know, embarrassed us. We made mistakes, we would screw up, but there wasn't anything (INAUDUBLE) during those eight years. I know that seems like a low bar but -- (LAUGHTER)

-- during the presidency that's no small thing.


OBAMA: Generally speaking, you didn't hear about a lot of drama inside our White House.


BLITZER: And the impressions of the private speech he was delivering in Boston was, you're hearing a lot of that drama and talk of scandal now as opposed to during his eight years in the White House.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think when you're talking about the core staff, he's probably right. And especially when you talk about this White House. But broader in the administration, sure, there were scandals. There was the Benghazi scandal. And things Republicans bring up all the time -


KUCINICH: I'm losing the name of it at the moment.


CILLIZZA: The Eric Holder issue when he was attorney general related to the government.

KUCINICH: Precisely. There were scandals, there were issues. However, when you're talking about the core people, no, you didn't hear the same sniping. There wasn't the palace intrigue that you have with this administration daily.

CILLIZZA: It's a difference, too, I think, between a president in Barack Obama, who really valued -- remember, no drama Obama -- who really valued we're going to keep it inhouse. A reality star, Donald Trump. His whole life has been lived in public feuds and public sniping. That's who he is. They're just so different.

But I do think Obama deserves credit. There was not a huge-scale scandal along the lines of Monica Lewinsky or Iran-Contra. But we do have 13 Russians as well as a three people affiliated with Trump's campaign who have pled -- 13 Russians indicted, and three people in Trump's campaign plead guilty, and another campaign chairman that's been charged. This is in one year. I don't think Obama is wrong in drawing that contrast.

[13:35:39] BLITZER: He tweeted, the president this morning, quoting Judge Napolitano, an analyst on FOX. "He's got a very good point. Somebody in the Justice Department has a treasure trove of evidence of Mrs. Clinton's criminality at her own hands and through others that ought to be investigated. I fully agree with the president on that." That was Judge Napolitano tweeted -- said earlier on FOX. And the president quoted that and sent it out to his millions of followers. KUCINICH: Right. The president does, he likes to create -- it seems

like he likes to create drama within his own administration.


KUCINICH: He has gone after his own attorney general, like you pointed out. He fuels this, where Obama seemed to want to try to keep it in house. Were there scandals? Sure. But in terms of just kind of feeding it and really putting it out there, I mean, Tillerson, a whole host of white --


CILLIZZA: Name one in his cabinet --


CILLIZZA: Other than Secretary Mattis, every person has been in some kind of

KUCINICH: -- Steve Bannon. It's not going to compare with the commander-in-chief.


CILLIZZA: I mean, there's -- we only have an hour-long show.

KUCINICH: It comes from the top. That's the sort of chaos that comes from the top.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

A surprising announcement. Another top U.S. diplomat calling it quits, and this one is America's top representative, top expert, over at the State Department on North Korea.

Plus, why Chief of Staff John Kelly is reportedly growing increasingly frustrated with Ivanka Trump's role in the White House. We have details.


[13:41:17] BLITZER: In an unexpected announcement, one of the nation's top career diplomats is calling it quits. Joseph Yun is a key figure in charge of North Korea policy at the State Department. He will be retiring at the end of the week. His departure comes at a time when the prospect of U.S. talks with Pyongyang looked like a possibility.

Let's discuss this and more. I'm joined by CNN's global affairs analyst, Tony Blinken, the former deputy secretary of state, former deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration.

What's your reaction to the decision as career expert on North Korea retiring?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN ANALYST: Wolf, this is a bad loss at a bad time.


BLINKEN: I know Joe Yun, worked with him very closely over the years. The most experienced North Korea hand we have in the government. Spent more time with the North Koreans than anyone else, knows the issues, consummate professional. This whole issue is about to heat up again. We had this Olympic pause. It looked like things were calming down but that was a lull. That's over. It will heat up. And at that very moment, we're missing our top diplomat. We still don't have an ambassador to South Korea. We're about to have a change in our military commander, with General Brooks rotating out. He's one of our most experienced military leaders. So there is a little bit of a "Home Alone" feeling right now.

BLITZER: This diplomat, this career diplomat, not the only one. There's been a whole lot of career diplomats at the State diplomats deciding it's time to leave.

BLINKEN: Yes. This is what we've seen, unfortunately, tragically, we've been hollowing out the department at the most senior levels, but also at the mid-career level, folks who, in 10 years, would be getting those senior jobs. It's a real problem.

BLITZER: What do you think of the president's decision to have Ivanka Trump, his daughter and adviser, lead the U.S. delegation to the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics games in South Korea?

BLINKEN: I think the administration wants to put the best possible face forward, and she can actually, I think, be effective at doing that. The larger issue is this. I think there is a lot of confusion about what the North Korea policy really is. On the one hand, the administration has done a very good job actually exerting meaningful pressure, economic pressure. I think that's one of the reasons you see North Korea making these overtures, trying to get into some kind of talks with the South Koreans and even with us. They want to relieve that pressure. On the other hand, a lot of this bellicose rhetoric is very confusing to people. It's pushed President Moon, of South Korea, to grasp at any engagement with North Korea because he's afraid some kind of military conflict will be initiated, and it devastates South Korea.

BLITZER: You've seen our reporting, CNN's reporting, now a secret U.N. investigation showing that North Korea is providing chemical weapons to Syria. And we've seen Syria over these years, but very recently outside of Damascus, use some of these chlorine gas attacks to kill a lot of civilians.

BLINKEN: No illusions. North Korea will sell anything to anyone to make a buck and to be able to fund its nuclear and missile programs. And the fact that it's in a relationship, which it's been in for decades, with Syria, with one of the most heinous regimes on the planet, is not a surprise. I saw the report. It seems to track this relationship up through January 2017. It may still be ongoing. It's something that, in particular, Russia and China need to help crack down on. BLITZER: North Korea did provide Syria with a nuclear reactor

capability that the Israelis, I think back in 2007, went and bombed and destroyed. Was that North Korean assistance to the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad?

BLINKEN: I think there was certainly some assistance there, but there's been assistance military to military going back, as I said, decades. But right now, especially when we see these horrific ongoing attacks in Syria using chemical weapons, we have to crack down everywhere, and Russia and China in particular can crack down more on North Korea.

[13:44:56] BLITZER: Tony Blinken, thanks so much. Tony Blinken joining us.

Up next, there is a brand-new video surfacing of Sergeant La David Johnson, taken just days before an ambush in Niger that killed him and three other U.S. soldiers.

Plus, a CNN exclusive coming up. Our own Nima Elbagir goes undercover once again and exposes the truth about the brutal trading routes of migrants across Africa. You'll want to see this. Stay with us.


[13:49:50] BLITZER: Now to a CNN exclusive that exposes the truth about the brutal trading routes of migrants across Africa. It all started when CNN went undercover in an auction of migrants in Libya last year. Our senior international correspondent, Nima Elbagir, and her team unearthed the horrifying reality.

Here is a look back at that report.



NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Big strong boys for farm work, he says, $400, $700, $700, $800. The numbers roll in. These men are sold for 1200 Libyan pounds, $400 apiece.


BLITZER: Those images truly shocked the world. But did anything change?

Nima and her team pose as migrants wanting to be smuggled to Europe. Here now is her exclusive report.


ELBAGIR (voice-over): Tonight, Abeke (ph) is working out of a local hotel that doubles as a brothel. Inside the brothel, we're told to wait. We don't know what we're waiting for. Utterly unprepared but, all of a sudden, we're on the move. Our journey to Europe is under way.


ELBAGIR: We move to the local bus depot where we are told we'll put on a bus heading north. But first, Abeke (ph) wants to know if I have everything I need.


ELBAGIR (on camera): So we can't travel without the contraception?

ELBAGIR: As part of --


ELBAGIR: Part of the journey.


ELBAGIR: Because the women are abused?


ELBAGIR: What happens?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's why you have -- it's not a guarantee. Sometimes we have to meet one of the men, like, say somebody says, I would like to assist you. Don't kneel. You don't know what that means.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Taking me aside, Abeke (ph), repeats again, "condoms, don't struggle if you're raped, and ultimately, trust in God."

With that, we board the overnight bus to the north. The door's locked behind us. From here begins the journey into the unknown, a journey that promises a litany of horrors, rape, trafficking, slavery.


BLITZER: In response to CNN's investigation, the Edo state attorney general tells CNN, quote, "We are actively involved in investigations and have commenced several prosecutions. We will actively investigate and prosecute any trafficker. Trafficking in Edo is neither solely about economic issues nor underdevelopment but has deep cultural roots that must be exposed, examined and pulled out."

Nima Elbagir is joining us right now from New York.

Nima, truly an extraordinary report. I know we're just touching it, but what struck you most about this most recent experience you endured?

ELBAGIR: What it is this time, Wolf, is how coordinated they were. The sense we had before was perhaps the rape, the abuse, this was a byproduct of vulnerable women being trafficked, being smuggled by criminal gangs. What we realized this time is that the rape and the exploitation and the abuse, this is part of the trafficker's business model. So when you see him there, making sure that I have condoms, they're not for my protection. They are for the protection of the customers, the people that I'm going to be handed over to or would have been handed over to, if had I been one of these vulnerable women. That's where you begin to realize when we talk about smugglers and we prescribe almost an agency to these young women, actually, these women are being trafficked. They're being lured by this dream of Europe and then they are exploited in the most horrendous way possible.

BLITZER: And, Nima, as far as you know, the auctioning of these human beings in Libya that you exposed, you showed the whole world, you just won a Polk Award for outstanding international journalism. Is it continuing?

ELBAGIR: It is. It is. In fact, if anything, the militias who benefit from this horrific trade are stronger than ever. It felt at the time, because there was such an outcry, such a real emotional longing for something to be done, that had translated into action. Unfortunately, it hadn't. The situation on the ground in Libya, the smuggling that works in West and East Africa, are still as active as ever they were.

[13:55:08] BLITZER: You and your courageous team are doing amazing work --

ELBAGIR: Thank you.

BLITZER: -- for all of our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

Thanks once again for doing what you're doing. Nima Elbagir.

By the way, you can see Nima's entire exclusive report later tonight on "A.C. 360," 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Nima, thank you once again.

ELBAGIR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Moments from now, the White House is getting ready to hold its day briefing as the president backs away, apparently, from one of his own proposals on guns. And as one of the people closest to him appears before Congress in the Russia investigation. Stand by. We'll have live coverage.


[14:00:11] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Brianna Keilar.

The president, who made a name for himself as --