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Wild Chase After Haiti's President's Assassination; New Book on Trump White House; Fire Kills At Least 70 at Iraqi Hospital. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired July 13, 2021 - 09:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We are following new developments surrounding the assassination of Haiti's president. CNN has learned several of the men involved, believed to be involved in the assassination, apparently previously worked as informants for U.S. law enforcement, including one who worked with the DEA.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it's significant because video from the night of the assassination shows unidentified men shouting "DEA," "this is a DEA operation" outside the president's home just before. The agency says none of the attackers, though, to be clear, were operating on its behalf in this assassination.

CNN's Matt Rivers is in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Matt, I mean, you got pretty incredible access here to walk through exactly how this attack unfolded, but also how the authorities caught them. Walk us through it all.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we had one key source here in Haiti, Jim and Poppy, who has a lot of knowledge over exactly what happened in the 36 hours after this assassination took place. Within that 36-hour time period, a group of 26 C Colombian alleged mercenaries, two Hattian Americans, the majority of them were either declared dead or were detained.

And let's pick up our investigation with what happened after the convoy carrying that group left the presidential residence.


RIVERS (voice over): As the convoy traveled down Kenskof (ph) Road, a roadblock was ready. Heavily armed security forces would not let them pass without a fight. Arriving and seeing they couldn't go any further, the convoy stops, part of which you can see here.

Our source says the suspects jumped out and saw this building across the road. They raced toward it, immediately taking the stairs to the second floor.

RIVERS (on camera): It's in this building that these alleged mercenaries will begin defending themselves. But at the same moment they're coming in here, according to our source, Haitian security forces are making a crucial decision. They know that these alleged attackers have limited food, water, ammunition and no power. So they essentially decide to wait them out.

RIVERS (voice over): About 12 hours later, after baking in 90-plus degree Haitian heat, authorities throw tear gas in front of the building. It's enough to force negotiations and the Colombians inside eventually send out four people, including this man, one of two Haitian-Americans whom authorities have detained. He's joined by the other Haitian-American and two Haitian hostages, a pair of police officers who were at the president's house.

RIVERS (on camera): According to our source, at some point during the negotiations, a group of the Colombians still here come out of this building and start heading up this hill on the backside of the building. And eventually they make their way to a seemingly strange destination.

RIVERS (voice over): Just about 100 meters up the hill from the building lies the Taiwan embassy. Our source thinks the Colombians went there because it wasn't an easy place for police to enter, given its diplomatic immunity.

RIVERS (on camera): In order to get all the way here to the embassy, though, they had to walk through a pretty residential neighborhood. And according to our source, someone tipped off authorities that this group of heavily-armed men was here. When they arrived at the embassy, they found a largely empty building except for two security guards whom they tied up.

RIVERS (voice over): Security forces quickly surrounded the embassy, and then turned their attention back to the building below where they believed a few suspects remained. It was time to go in.

A small assault team went in on the ground floor and were met with fierce fire, that you can hear, from the handful of Colombians that were still inside. The hour-long fire fight scattered window, scared concrete ceilings and walls, and, in the end, the government says at least three Colombians died in the fighting.

The next day, with Taiwan's permission, authorities went into the embassy. Our source says authorities checked CCTV cameras and found nearly a dozen Colombians in room who ended up giving up without more fighting. Nearly a half dozen still haven't been found.


RIVERS: Now, Jim and Poppy, we've been talking over the last few days, of course, about one of the things that people are asking here in Haiti is, well, how was this convoy able to leave the presidential residence so easily. The source that we were talking to says that the reason why those convoys -- that convoy was allowed to leave is because at the time security forces didn't know that the president had been killed. They thought that the president might have just been kidnapped, and so they had to wait until they could confirm that he was assassinated.


That is why they set up the trap further down the road to catch these guys. But according to our source, initially they didn't go in because they didn't know whether the president was dead or alive.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. What a remarkable chain of events. Amazing it could happen at all.

Matt Rivers in Port-au-Prince, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss what this means, CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary at the DHS.

Juliette, good to have you.


SCIUTTO: I mean the fact that this kind of operation can happen, leave a president dead there, they can run through neighborhoods, take refuge in the Taiwanese embassy there. What does this say about stability in Haiti, and is that a threat to U.S. national security?

KAYYEM: Yes, looking at it through the lens of U.S. national security is key. I know there's humanitarian reasons to get more involved than what Biden -- President Biden has promised so far.

But our -- we have two key interests here. First, Americans, it appears, were involved with the assassination of a presidential -- of a president.


KAYYEM: Regardless of his politics, regardless if he was, you know, worthy of it, we -- we don't' -- you know, that is a strong criminal offense.

The other is that the Colombian recruitment by DEA agents or DEA agents recruiting Colombians and the potential involvement of a Florida-based security company violates a lot -- violates U.S. laws. And so the DEA is going to have to do a scrub in terms of who they had, what were they paying them, were they still on the payroll.

There is some reporting from CNN that one of the informants actually called the DEA during this couple-day period. So we need to figure out what involvement the U.S. had in terms of -- not knowledge, but in terms of just who this guy was.

SCIUTTO: I mean, a lot of people work as informants. Good and bad people, right?

KAYYEM: Yes. Right. Exactly. SCIUTTO: What's the significance of the fact that they were informants

for the DEA. What kind of folks, for instance, might be in that category?

KAYYEM: Right, so not good people. Let's just make that clear. Most informants from the Colombian drug trade will be bad people, but they are less bad than worse people. And so what we want to find out from these informants was, what were they delivering to -- what kind of information were they delivering to the DEA that may actually expose who funded this group.

Here's the amazing thing about our reporting is, they go in, they assassinate a president and his wife. They have no exit strategy, presumably, to get out of the country? You know, they didn't think they would be followed.

And so the fact that they all stayed together strikes me as very, very novice. You would not keep 20-plus people together. And so someone funded them. Someone may not have cared if they got out. They may have been true mercenaries that were put up by a larger scheme, and that may be what we can get from these informants or what the DEA may have.

SCIUTTO: Right. So right now, beyond the fact that you could have such a brazen assassination, I mean that speaks to the instability in the country.


SCIUTTO: But you now have competing, you know, governments, in effect, in Haiti. Multiple people claiming to lead.

KAYYEM: Right.

SCIUTTO: Is instability there a sufficient national security interest to the U.S. to prompt, in your view, intervention?

KAYYEM: No. I mean, in my mind, and I don't think that the United States should do that, at least not militarily. I thought it was telling that the Biden administration sent down the FBI and DHS. Those represent either the investigation, or in DHS's for reasons our immigration. We should worry about a mass migration if there's political instability. We've seen that before from Haiti. It's dangerous to Haitians. And it is obviously something that we don't want at our maritime borders.

I will remind you, I was involved with the Haiti earthquake response. We did not see a mass migration on that, and that was because we sent about 20,000 U.S. troops to stabilize water and food supply.

We're not seeing that yet in Haiti. I think the sort of provision still exists. And so we need to let the Haitians be Haitians, be Haiti, that they have to decide their future.

Look, south of this border, the graveyards are filled with people who -- you know, people who -- let's just say the graveyards are filled with America's sense of its good intentions. So we need to be careful of military involvement.


Juliette Kayyem, we'll continue to watch the situation there closely.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Thanks very much.

KAYYEM: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: As the White House prepares to address an ongoing assault on voting rights in this country, we are getting a better understanding of the origins of former President Trump's big lie. And, oy, it started early.

HARLOW: It did. A new book from reporters at "The Washington Post" gives us a fascinating look, a troubling look inside the election night at the White House. The title, "I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year," by Carl Leonnig and Philip Rucker.

Let's talk about it with political commentator Charlie Dent, former Republican Congressman and currently the executive director of the Aspen Institute Congressional Program.

Congressman, it's good to have you.

Let me read you and our viewers part of this book, the excerpts out this morning.

So here is one. It's full screen three if we can pull it up in the control room.

After a while, Rudy Giuliani started to cause a commotion. He was telling other guests that he had come up with a strategy for Trump and was trying to get into the president's private quarters to tell him about it.


Some people thought Giuliani may have been drinking too much and suggested to Stepien that he go to the former New York mayor. Well, just say we won, Giuliani told them. Same thing in Pennsylvania. Just say we won Pennsylvania, Giuliani said. Giuliani's grand plan was to just say Trump won state after state based on nothing. Stepien, Miller and Meadows thought his argument was both incoherent and irresponsible.

Shocking, but not surprising and now very consequential given the insurrection. CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, Poppy. When lying is

normalized, sadly it started at the top with President Trump. I mean these kinds of things are going to occur. And the consequence, of course, is that now our fellow citizens can't agree on facts and the casualty is the truth. But when leaders lie or enable lying, this is the kind of thing that happens.

And it's truly tragic that we are having these conversations that, you know, our country is so divided. Our democratic process is being undermined -- is undermined. The election, by many of our citizens, is considered to be illegitimate. It was not. But it's because leaders are lying about it. And here's just more proof of that based on that transcript from the book.

SCIUTTO: There's another story in here about Trump's own campaign manager trying to explain to him that, yes, early in-person voting counts will likely favor him, but that mail-in voting, which was counted later, would likely, in many states, swing the results to Joe Biden. But President Trump either not wanting to hear that, not believing it or just wanted to create his own reality, of course, went on to claim that all those mail-in votes were fake.

I mean the trouble is these moments of crazy now own the party, right, as you say. The majority of Republicans believe the election was stolen. To run for office now as a Republican, it seems that you have to accept the big lie, right? You've seen a handful of Republicans challenge that, Cheney, Kinzinger and others, but most of the party is not. I mean is there any way to turn this around for the party or does the party equal the big lie at this point?

DENT: Well, what has to happen right now is that there needs to be more support for the Cheneys, the Kinzingers, the Uptons and the Peter Meyers (ph) of the world, the Mitt Romneys and others who are pushing back very hard. That's -- it's incumbent upon those of us who are Republican who -- who don't buy into this madness. We have to push back.

And, Jim, you just mentioned, too, about how we knew on election night that Trump might be ahead. I'm sitting here in Philadelphia. President Biden will be here later today. That's exactly what we saw here by a 3-1 margin, Democrats voted by mail. And those votes weren't counted till later.

So, of course, you know, those votes were going to come -- skew heavily Democrat. And they did. And it changed the outcome.

This -- we knew this going into the election. It was predictable. And the fact that some folks -- the former president in particular, can't accept this is absolutely mind blowing. I mean he's -- he's been in a snit now for -- since election day because Republicans did extremely well in the election, except for him. He's the one who lost. He was rejected, not other Republicans. And it's because of his inability to deal with this defeat that this country has been turned upside down.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, with enormous effects for our democracy, right, in terms of confidence in it. DENT: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Charlie Dent, we always appreciate you speaking the truth. Thanks for coming on.

DENT: Thank you. Thank you so much, Jim. Thank you, Poppy.


SCIUTTO: Ahead this hour, tragedy inside a COVID ICU unit at a hospital in Iraq. Look at those pictures there. Dozens killed. We're going to have the latest, next.



HARLOW: Horrific news out of Iraq this morning. Health officials say at least 70 people there are dead, dozens more injured following an explosion and a fire inside of an ICU that was treating COVID-19 patients.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Just one tragedy after another.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh joins us now.

Do we know what caused this explosion? Is it possible the death toll rises?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, it was a massive fire according to local health officials that started late on Monday night at this hospital in Nasiriya (ph), the city to the south of Baghdad. And the hospital was packed at that time with COVID-19 patients and their family members. Iraq is going through its third and worst wave of the pandemic so far.

Now what caused it, the prime minister has ordered a high level investigation into the incident. But according to local health officials, they believe it was an explosion of an oxygen tank that started this fire. And according to the interior ministry, they say that the fire started at this makeshift isolation area where they have these caravans, about 20 caravans that are made from highly flammable material, they say, that caught fire and the fire just spread.

Now the Iraqi prime minister has suspended local health officials, the hospital directors and others pending this investigation. The Iraqi president and others blaming this on corruption and mismanagement.

But Iraqis have heard this all before. This is not an isolated incident. The tragedy here is that a very similar incident, almost identical, happened in Baghdad less than three months ago, where more than 80 people were killed in that hospital fire.

[09:55:05] So you can imagine how angry and fed up Iraqis are right now. They are fed up with the excuses they are hearing from their officials. What they really want, they say right now, is accountability and assurances that this will not happen again. Tragedy after tragedy and it is the Iraqi people who always pay the price.

Jim. Poppy.


HARLOW: To believe almost the exact same thing happened three months ago.


Jomana Karadsheh for us reporting.

Thank you very much.

Well, voting rights in focus this morning in Washington, D.C., as Texas Democrats plead on the ground there with U.S. senators to protect voting rights across the country. Martin Luther King III weighs in next.