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Top U.S General in Afghanistan Stepping Down amid Troop Withdrawal; Texas GOP Pushing Legislative Voting Bill at Special Session; FBI Rules Out Threat to MLB All-Star Game after Weapons Found in Hotel. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 12, 2021 - 10:30   ET

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


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[10:30:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Another major development in the war in Afghanistan. The top general there announcing he's stepping down today marking a major milestone in America's longest war.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well that move comes as the U.S. withdraws the final remaining troops from the country.

CNN's Barbara Starr, she's at the Pentagon. CNN's Anna Coren is on the ground in Kabul.

Barbara, at the Pentagon, I was meeting with some folk this weekend with a lot of experience in Afghanistan. They described to really me in catastrophic terms what that country looks like after this withdrawal. And I just wonder, the folks you speak to in the Pentagon, do they share that view? We know President Biden made this decision over the objection of the senior military commanders.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think there is a good deal of concern about the way ahead now in Afghanistan.

There will, in fact, be about 650 U.S. troops remaining there, mainly for security. But, indeed, General Miller, as expected, stepping down, it is all being turned over to other personnel for this very narrow mission in the country, which is basically enough security to keep the embassy open, keep the airport open and, in fact, some additional air defense capability has now been put at the airport to protect against rockets and mortars, but a lot of concern.

Publicly, the language is diplomacy, trying to get the Taliban back to the peace table, trying to make the Taliban convinced that that is the way to go. But the reality on the ground, of course, is the Taliban are on a military march. They are taking provincial centers, district centers and a lot of concern about what they may do next.

And that is going to be the big worry. Will the Afghan government be able to maintain control over the country? And if they cannot, what then will happen? Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Barbara, thank you. And, Anna, exactly to Barbara's point, I mean, all of the evidence shows that the rapid advance and success the Taliban is having on the ground makes it nearly certain that they will gain control, does it not? I mean, what are you actually seeing there play out?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There're grave concerns that this country is on the brink of collapse. There is no denying that. Will the Taliban move in in the next six months? It is definitely not set in stone. But what they are doing, as Barbara said, this military march across the country, particularly in the north, is extremely alarming.

You know, this spin that their political delegation in Doha is saying, we've evolved. We're not the organization that we were 20 years ago. It is just not true. I mean, we have seen video surface in the last few days of a massacre that took place in Farah Province in the north of the country, where there was a fight between Afghan commanders, these are U.S.-trained Afghan commandos, and the Taliban.

The commandos have called in air support, much needed air support, which the Americans, once upon ago -- not so long ago provided, that air support did not come and these Afghan commandos surrendered to the Taliban, they walk out with their arms in the air and the Taliban shoots them cold.

It is horrific. The images are absolutely horrific. The Taliban who we've reached out to claim that this is a fabrication, this is government propaganda, that this did not happen. However, we have verified it. We've spoken to five eyewitnesses from that village who say this took place on this date. We've spoken to the Minister of Defense, we've spoken to the Red Cross, its members retrieved the bodies of the commandos.

So you were talking about war crimes being committed here in Afghanistan. Well, U.S. troops are still in country. I mean, it does not bode well for what is ahead for this country.

HARLOW: And, Barbara Starr, to you, if we could in the control room pull up the map that was up while Anna was speaking, because it is so telling. The parts of Afghanistan that are that are in gray, Barbara, are now Taliban-controlled. This is as of last week from the Long War Journal, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The red is contested and the white, very small regions there, is government- controlled.

Barbara, can you speak to what you're hearing from leaders at the Pentagon about how much this advancement has taken place just since the announcement that the U.S. would be pulling out just in the last few months?

STARR: I think a good deal of concern, perhaps though not a big surprise. They know the Taliban are expert at this. They move through these rural areas where there is very little government control, no real central government authority. And they are able to exploit that. They've been doing that for 20 years and they're still doing it.

HARLOW: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, Anna Coren on the ground in Kabul, thank you both so much.

And we'll be right back.

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SCIUTTO: Well, the Texas GOP, like many GOP-run legislatures around the country, moving quickly to pass restrictive new voting laws in Texas during a special session called by the governor. Sunday, Republican lawmakers advanced out of committee two bills, they would add new criminal penalties for voting law violations, they would give new powers to partisan poll watchers who show up there as you're going in to cast your vote and restrictions voting by mail and ban drive- through and 24-hour voting.

Texas is one of many GOP-led state legislatures passing new voting restrictions despite, which I remind everyone, no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

CNN Political Director David Chalian is here with me. Okay, so let's talk about this Texas law for a moment. It did take out two of the most controversial parts of the original proposal. One, to limit Sunday voting, which is key in African-American communities, Souls to the Polls, but also a thing that is really worrisome, the idea that judges could overturn results even without evidence of fraud. So what remains, what does it do?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. I mean, you just ticked through some of the them but it ends that 24-hour voting, it ends the drive-through voting.

Now, these were some things, Jim, that were put into place because of coronavirus, right? The pandemic changed the way that voting officials across the country allowed people to vote.

[10:45:01]

But by now making a law, even though, as you noted, the voting went smoothly, there was no fraud, there is no evidence of -- but now as the pandemic finds itself in a different place, this law just plainly will make it harder to vote than it was in the last time voters went to the polls in Texas.

SCIUTTO: Okay. Does it make it particularly harder or discourage or throw up roadblocks for Democrats versus Republicans? You do have a sort of contrarian point of view that this might be self-destructive for Republicans, but let's be frank. This is politics. It's no accident that these are GOP-run legislatures putting in these restrictions.

CHALIAN: You don't get voting bills that aren't crafted in some way for the majority party in a legislature. It is crafting it in some way for their political advantage. That is just the nature of what we do in this country. And so Democrats will say, yes, there is evidence by taking out 24-hour voting, by taking out drive-through voting, you are disproportionally affecting Democratic voters.

I think the next election, when these things are in place, and this indeed becomes law, will be the actual test for that. But you have the folks -- the Republicans are saying this is all about election integrity. This is to make our election safe. As you noted, that is trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist. It is a solution for a problem that isn't there. Democrats are saying, no, what you're doing here is actually making it harder for people to vote and specifically for Democrats to vote.

SCIUTTO: Now, some of these changes though are more transparently, deliberately -- I mean, for instance, if you look at voting drop boxes, like to limit Harris County, Texas, to one voting drop box --

CHALIAN: Houston area.

SCIUTTO: -- just around Houston, 5 billion people, one voting drop box, based on this idea of one per county, some counties there have a few ten thousands of voters, this has million, and that is a blue dot in a red state, I mean --

CHALIAN: There is no doubt, this is a pure political power and it is why it has become such an animating issue for the left right now. I mean, it is -- you're going to see the issue of voter rights, in addition to all sort of the voter protection efforts that the Democratic Party will stand up in the midterm elections, you're going to see it as an issue that actually animates the base of the Democratic Party.

And that's why when Joe Biden talks tomorrow in Philadelphia, watch for the response. They are stuck with the map in the Senate, they don't have the votes to pass a federal bill right now, but this is going to be an issue that the Democrats are going to take to the country in next year's election.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, again, contrarian point of view, I have spoken with folks who worked on a Democratic campaigns, one of them said to me, (INAUDIBLE), said, listen, I know voters are going to vote, right? They're going to find a way. And sometimes if you throw up roadblocks, it becomes a motivating issue. We won't know until the next election. But is that something that's considered --

CHALIAN: That is precisely what I'm saying, yes. And, listen, we've seen the issue of voting has animated both sides sometimes, but this, I think, we saw in the run-up to 2020 and what Donald Trump was sort of laying the groundwork for the big lie. And now what we're seeing in the battle, this is going to be a huge motivator for Democrats in these next elections.

SCIUTTO: David Chalian, it is always a pleasure to have you on.

CHALIAN: Great to see you.

SCIUTTO: Thank you very much. Poppy?

HARLOW: Coming up, why police say an alert that a hotel made in Denver may have prevented a serious crime ahead of the all-star game, what they found in that hotel room.

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HARLOW: Welcome back. This morning, the FBI is saying it has no reason to believe the four people arrested at a hotel in Denver on Friday night with more than a dozen weapons and a thousand rounds of ammunition had a connection to a mass terror plot.

SCIUTTO: Early reports indicated that, at first, authorities feared a Las Vegas style shooting during the MLB all-star game, the deadliest shooting the country has seen.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus, she's been following the story. So, Adrienne, why in God's name did these people have a dozen weapons then?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know what, that is the big question at this hour. There are more questions than answers. I can tell you that Denver Police did not rule out a mass shooting plot. Police in Denver told our CNN-affiliate KMGH they found 16 long guns, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition and body armor. The chief of police told us four people have been arrested primarily for felon in possession of a weapon.

Now, the FBI did tell us that they have no reason to believe this incident was connected to terrorism or a threat directed at the all- star game, that downtown hotel in Denver is just a short distance from where the all-star game will take place. The four are expected to appear in court later today.

Meanwhile, some might be wondering what led authorities to this hotel room, where the hotel rooms in question, there was an observant member of the hotel staff who saw something and said something. And we saw something like that happen here in Chicago last week. There was a member of a hotel staff at the W Hotel, which was directly across Navy Pier here in Chicago. That person alerted authorities and a man was arrested. He also had guns in his hotel room.

So, lots of questions that hour. We hope to learn more once those four appear in court later today.

[10:55:03]

Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: It's the same thing we heard to prevent international terror attacks. Remember that, see something, say something, now for the possibility of domestic terror. Adrienne Broaddus, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thanks, Adrienne. And thanks to all of you being with us this Monday. We'll see you right back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts after a quick break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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