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Trump Seething Over Special Counsel Appointment; Presidential Election Now Underway in Iran; Trump to Address Muslim Leaders in Saudi Arabia; Venezuela's Health Care System Failing. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired May 19, 2017 - 02:00   ET



[02:00:08] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.

Ahead this hour --


SESAY: Hello, and thank you for joining us. I'm Isha Sesay. This is NEWSROOM L.A.

Donald Trump flies out of Washington soon for his first overseas trip as president but he leaves behind an embattled White House, fending off the heat of multiple investigations.

Now special counsel has been thrown into the mix. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller will lead the federal probe into the campaign's possible connection with Russian officials. Facing reporters for the first time since that announcement, the president was fuming.

We get the latest from CNN Sara Murray.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Believe me, there's no collusion. Russia is fine.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump seething today over the news that a special counsel will oversee the FBI's Russia investigation, carefully insisting that he did not personally colluded with the Russians during the 2016 campaign.

TRUMP: Well, I respect the move but the entire thing has been a witch-hunt. There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero.

MURRAY: Many in Washington cheered the news former FBI Director Robert Mueller would serve as special counsel into the investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians. But the president stewed.

TRUMP: I think it divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things. MURRAY: Trump also sharply denying that he ever asked ousted James

Comey to back off on his investigation into retired General Flynn.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape, or form, to close or back down from the investigation into Mike Flynn? And also, as you look back --

TRUMP: No, no. Next question.

MURRAY: And the president dismissing the notion that any of his actions could warrant criminal charges or impeachment.

TRUMP: I think it's totally ridiculous. Everybody thinks so.

MURRAY: Trump's defiant tone on Thursday, a far drive cry from the measured statement the president released as soon as a special counsel was announced.

On Wednesday night, Trump simply wrote, "As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know, there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly."

But even as he decried the Russia probe as a witch-hunt today, Trump appeared eager to turn the focus back to his agenda.

TRUMP: There was no collusion, and everybody, even my enemies, have said there is no collusion. So we want to get back and keep on the track that we're on because the track we're on is record-setting.

MURRAY: The president using his appearance with the Colombian president to tout his upcoming foreign trip.

TRUMP: Tomorrow, as you know, I'm going to Saudi Arabia. I'm going to Israel. I'm going to Rome. And we have the G-7. We have a lot of great things going on.

MURRAY: And devoting part of his day for the hunt for a new FBI director, as former Lieberman Joe Lieberman emerges as a front-runner for the job.

TRUMP: We're very close to an FBI Director.


TRUMP: Soon.


TRUMP: He is.

MURRAY (on camera): Now that a special counsel has been named to oversee the Russia investigation, there's a sense among some of Trump's allies that the president could use a little more fire power to defend him. To that end, a circle of his advisers huddled in Washington on Thursday to discuss the possibility of having the president hire outside legal counsel.

Sara Murray, CNN, the White House.



SESAY: Another day, a lot to discuss. Joining us to discuss all of it is senior law enforcement contributor and former FBI supervisor, Steve Moore; former Los Angeles councilwoman, Wendy Greuel; and CNN political commentator and Trump supporter, John Phillips.

Welcome everyone. Let's get right to it.

Wendy, let me start with you.

You saw the statement that the White House put out on Wednesday. It was rather circumspect and rather measured. You saw it on the screens. By Thursday morning --



SESAY: -- the president was tweeting this. The first of two tweets, "This is the single greatest witch-hunt of a politician in American history." Followed up with a second tweet, "With all of the illegal acts that acts that took place in the Clinton campaign and Obama administration, there was never a special counsel appointed."

Then, of course, you heard his tone in the press conference with the Colombian president. What do you make of the way the White House is reacting to the appoint of Mueller.

[02:05:23] GREUEL: I think the first measured statement they made was because the staff probably said this is what you have to do. The tweet came from the president himself. And that seems to be a consistent type of action and activity, which is, staff recommend he become presidential and he goes tweeting and saying things that are contradictory. He tries to deflect and go to something else. And this is a serious This is a serious issue. This is a counsel that's been appointed. It's one thing that the Democrats and Republicans are not divided on this. They agree this was a good selection for the special counsel, that they think it's a good idea, and they're going to move forward on it. They're not divided on that issue.

SESAY: John, anyone who's wondering whether the president was going to change his tone, they got their answer judging by the tweets and what he had to say in the press conference. How can the president say he respects and welcomes the appointment of the special counsel and then turn around and call it a witch-hunt?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have one criticism of what the president said. I would be far more belligerent than he was. We have another day and another outrage du jour. We have no proof of collusion. Though, Maxine Waters the intellectual leader of the Democratic Party came out on MSNBC and say, we know there's collusion because Putin came up with "lock her up" and "Crooked Hillary." Still waiting to if he came up with the catch phrase, "Pizza, pizza" for Maxine Waters. There's no proof. There's lots of allegations. Lots investigations. Mike Morell, the former head of the CIA said, there's no fire, no smoke, but we have grown men on TV asking like hysterical drama queens. If I were Trump, I would move right along with my agenda, and I would ignore them and I would turn the TV off.

SESAY: Wendy, why don't you respond? You can do it for me.

GREUEL: You can look at the last week, from the firing of Comey and saying, no, it was, you know, the Rosenstein who said, you know, afterwards, he wasn't the reason for him being fired. Trump said I actually wanted to fire him, but went back and forth. There's Flynn who clearly was being paid by the Turkish government. Sally Yates saying he was potentially a threat and could have been -- impacted how they operated. There's so many stories that you can't say it was nothing, that there's nothing out there. Every Republican that has come up and stated in the last 24 hours has said this is the right thing to do and Mueller is the right one to do it.

SESAY: What do you think about the fact the Republicans aren't echoing your statement. They're saying it's a great thing to have him on board. Let the facts take us where they will, and at the end of the day, everyone can have faith in the process. Why would you be belligerent where there's not to go to hide and you trust the process?

PHILLIPS: This was a fight I knew we would have, because the Democratic establishment opposed Donald Trump when he ran. The republican establishment opposed Trump when he ran. The media opposed Trump when he ran. The bureaucracy or deep state opposed Donald Trump. And they're leaking information in order to damage him every day because they can't accept the fact that he beat Hillary Clinton and they're trying to sabotage him and his presidency. If I were him, I'd build the wall, renegotiate the trade deals, get us out of foreign wars, and move along with the agenda --


SESAY: None of this is due to actions taken by the president. I just want to be clear on that. As far as you're concerned this situation -

PHILLIPS: There's no collusion.

SESAY: No, I'm not saying collusion. That has yet to be proven. But none of the situations have gave rise to all this smoke, if you will, and leading people to question the campaign. You're saying there's been nothing done by the president or those in his circle to lead people to have suspicions?

PHILLIPS: I think there's no collusion, I think there's a media and bureaucracy generated controversy we're dealing with.

SESAY: Let's bring in Steve Moore.

Steve Moore, the White House blindsided by the appointment of Robert Mueller. We're told there are discussions whether he shouldn't seek outside counsel to be by his side through this special counsel investigation. I guess the question is, do you think this president is going to cooperate with Robert Mueller.

STEVE MOORE, SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT CONTRIBUTOR: I think the smartest thing he could do is cooperate with Robert Mueller. If he is an innocent plan man, as he claims -- and I'm not disputing that -- then cooperate with any investigation that would prove that. I think this the smartest thing, and the thing that helps him the most, given what's out there, is to accept graciously the special prosecutor and say, I'm going to accept his findings. Imagine he puts an FBI director in, then the FBI comes out and clears him, who's going to accept that? This way, when he is cleared, if what he said is true, then the people on both sides can't help but accept the results. If he's guilty, well, then they'll find it.

[02:10:33] SESAY: Again, the facts will take us where they will.

Wendy, the president angrily responded to this issue, the special counsel. He also said something that has been notable that people are trying to decode. Take a listen to the president talking for his part in all of this.


TRUMP: I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch- hunt. There's no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero. I think it divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things. So I can tell you that we want to bring this great country of ours together.


SESAY: "There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero." Is the president throwing his team under the bus there?

GREUEL: I think if I'm one of his team members I'm starting to think need a lawyer to protect myself going forward. You heard all day today a lot of people react to that. Dershowitz, saying you have to lawyer up, all of you, to protect yourselves, because this president has historically, in the last several months, been willing to say, my staff was wrong, they did it incorrectly, I didn't really say that, even though there are tapes of him saying it on TV just the month before. I think they should be worried. This is a time where, as I said earlier, he still to be honest and trustworthy about what he has done, what he has said. And the American people will be able to decide. Particularly, this special prosecute and counsel is going to have the authority to look at all of that and take all of the facts about what's been said.

SESAY: John, what's your interpretation for what the president said there.

PHILLIPS: There's no collusion. And I guess you can't be 100 percent sure because there could be some rogue employee doing something on their own. But I talked to people on all sides of the campaign, people who hate one another and like to tattle on one another, and you find out what each side is up to. And the one thing all of them agree on and all of them have agreed on from the moment I started talking to them until today, is that there was zero collusion with the Russian government at all. I firmly believe this is a conspiracy theory.

SESAY: Through, the investigation will figure that out. But what was he saying when he said I only speak for myself. Was that a public attempt to distance himself?

PHILLIPS: Again, there could be some rogue employee. If I were him, I would cooperate fully with the investigation because I don't think there's any collusion at all.

SESAY: Steve, how did you read that? Is this a foreshadowing of how the president will approach this special counsel?

MOORE: I have no idea. But I don't think it would be wise for him to separate himself in any way, shape, or form, from any of his campaign staffers, any of his current staffers, because one thing that the FBI does -- and, by the way, the investigators for the special prosecutor are going to be FBI agents, and they're good at finding people down the line who want to save their career and are willing to roll over on other people. If he's innocent, cooperate. If he's guilty, he better cooperate. And don't alienate the staffers below you because it will come back to bite you.

SESAY: John, I want to play some sound also from the press conference in which the president is again changing his story about why he fired James Comey. Take a listen.


TRUMP: Director Comey was very unpopular with most people. I actually thought when I made that decision, and I also got a very, very strong recommendation as you know from the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.


SESAY: Here he is again pining it on Rosenstein after he said in that interview with NBC and Lester Holt that the Russia thing was on his mind he was going to do it before the memo. Why back and forth?

PHILLIPS: Why did I go to Hawaii on vacation?

SESAY: I don't know. You tell me.

PHILLIPS: Was it the Mai Tais? Was it the fantastic pools? It's a variety of reasons. James Comey was circling the drain and was going to go regardless if Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton was elected president. Trump said he had a variety of reasons long ago to support his theory that Comey should be fired. I think it was any number of factors.



[02:15:00] GREUEL: Rosenstein told the Senators today that the decision had already been made by the president of the United States before he wrote the memo. It was in fact to just allow him to have some information that he could use, but he already made that decision beforehand. So you can't have it both ways. And I think that's what the public is frustrated, they don't know which side is which, who's telling the truth. When you are president of the United States, your credibility is critically important. When you're ready to go tomorrow on your first foreign visit, first trip for that eight to 10 days, the credibility of the president means a lot when you're meeting with those foreign leaders.

PHILLIPS: If Hillary Clinton was president, would you want Comey to be fired?

GREUEL: No, I didn't think Comey should be fired if Hillary --

PHILLIPS: Many Hillary supporters believed he should be fired, including Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.


SESAY: John, it doesn't matter. I think you - and this is the point, that you could have wanted Comey to be fired because of the way he handled the Hillary Clinton situation and still have questions about how it went down. I don't think those two are --


PHILLIPS: James Comey had the life span of an ice cube in August.

SESAY: We're moving on to Steve Moore.

Steve Moore, I want to bring up some reporting that's in "The New York Times," where this piece is detailing the discomfort James Comey felt at his interactions, shall we say, with the administration. And this is reporting that is backed up by our own Pamela Brown who, on Wednesday, broke the story that Comey had concerns, so much so, in his interactions with the president, that he would rehearse with aides what he would say before going into meetings.

Let me read some of "The New York Times" piece to you. It says, "President Trump called the FBI Director James Comey a couple weeks after he took office and asked him when federal authorities were going to put out word that Mr. Trump was not personally under investigation, according to two people briefed on the call." It goes on to say, "Mr. Comey has spoken privately of his concerns the contracts from Mr. Trump and his aides were inappropriate and how he felt compelled to resist them."

Your reaction to that, the fact that the president called him weeks after taking office? And put that in context for the normal procedures of interaction between a president and an FBI boss. MOORE: It's there's not normal procedures. It changes with every

president. If you look at Louie Freeh's book, he turned in his White House badge so he would have proof of signing in and signing out of the White House, so he could prove when he was there and when he wasn't there. Mueller had a much better relationship. But Comey obviously didn't. And the things that were being said, obviously concerned Comey, and while they may not rise to a criminal charge, they were certainly beyond what you would expect with interaction with the FBI. The average agent is scared to put a political candidate's sign on their lawn for fear of being branded as a political statement. So it's very, very much in the FBI's nature and Comey's nature, in particular, to be very cautious. And I'm sure he documented everything like you've never seen before.

SESAY: Wendy, to that point that Steve was making that he documented, there are memos, CNN has spoken to sources who said Comey made notes, this could all come down to a case of "he said, he said."

GREUEL: Well, I think, again, when you kind of start connecting the dots, and that you're going to be interviewing -- and we'll see. They're subpoenaing Mike Flynn to see him coming in to the Senate and others. You're going to start to see a pattern, I believe. That's why having a special counsel is going to allow them to be able to connect those dots, where today people are concerned about where it might be. I think it's very clear there's a lot of things, statements that have been made publicly that will help in that investigation.

SESAY: John, what do you make of "The New York Times" report?

PHILLIPS: I want to read the memo. It's not classified. There's no reason why we can't do it. I also want to know why there's discrepancies between what's allegedly in this memo and what Comey said while he was testifying before the Senate and what Andrew McCabe, the acting director --


SESAY: -- answering my question, Wendy.

GREUEL: No, again, the special counsel, that's why you want someone who's going to come in and look at all of that in a way that is not -- he's not tainted by someone who had a relationship with the Russian government or someone appointed by the president of the United States. This is somebody who's coming in, well-respected by both sides of the aisle.

SESAY: 20 seconds --


PHILLIPS: If the memo exists, he perjured himself. I want to know which one is true. If the memo doesn't exist or let's square up with what he said when Marco Rubio asked him if the White House or if entities ever tried to interfere with the investigation.

[02:20:07] SESAY: Those are legitimate questions, ones I'm sure we'll get answers to in the days ahead.


SESAY: Our thanks to all our guests.

Next on NEWSROOM L.A., it's presidential election day in Iran. Voters are deciding whether to keep the modern incumbent or to elect a leader who could take a harder line against the West. More on that coming up.


SESAY: Iranians are heading to the polls to elect their president. There are five contenders. Incumbent Hassan Rouhani is a moderate and seeking a second term. His chief rival, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric and a harsh critic of the West.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins us now from Tehran.

Fredrik, give us some sense of the turnout and the mood really there as people head to the polls.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESOPNDENT: Hi, Isha. Turnout seems pretty high. I'm actually right in a polling station in northern Tehran. This is the women's section, because, obviously, there's a separation between men and women. If we walk over here, you can see what happens is, first, the woman who come here, the men also, the process is the same, they register first, then they get a card and they fill it out in a different room to make sure the ballot is secret, and then they put it into these two boxes that you see in front of you. The reason there's two boxes is with this presidential election, there's also a municipal election that's going on. That's actually one of the reasons why folks expect the turnout to be so high at these elections because it's two elections in one. Over here, you can see it's pretty much the same process over here at the men's section.

You were asking about turnout. It seems to us the turnout is high. It's still early hours here. The voting hast been going on for about two and a half hours. There is a very long line outside this polling station with people waiting, some of them waiting for several hours to get in. It really seems as though the folks here see for themselves or believe that this election is a very important one. That's what we've seen in the run-up to this election where there's been fierce and very tough campaigning going on by both the moderates and the conservatives -- Isha?

SESAY: Fred, as we know, Hassan Rouhani's competitor is a conservative, Ibrahim Raisi. Give us a sense of why Iranians are flirting with the thought of ousting a moderate and possibly electing a conservative?

PLEITGEN: In one word, Isha, it is the economy. One of the things that you have here in this election is you have two candidates whose economic policies or economic ideas really are very, very far apart. We know in this country the religious supreme leader is the top entity. He decides everything in the end.

[02:25:02] But economic policy is actually something the president can set. What Rouhani says is, we got us to a nuclear agreement and we believe there will be big economic growth in the next couple of years. It's not happening as quickly as many would hope for. Right now, the economy is quite stagnant, except for the oil sector. The rival says, we want to get tougher on America. We want to grow the economy on our own. They call it self-efficiency. That's what people believe, that the promise of quick work, maybe government work, that's something that could be for them. But the people who support the moderates are saying we do need foreign investment and we need to open up more, especially economically, to other countries to make sure companies invest in this country and try and get the job markets going. But of course, get technology transfer going to this country to make sure the many people highly educated also find jobs to meet their skill sets.

One of the things about this election is the economic policies of the two main candidates, Hassan Rouhani and of Ebrahim Raisi, really are diametrically opposed to one another. That's also one of the reasons, Isha, why so many people are going to turn out and why the two camps believe this election is so very important in setting a policy for this country for the next four years to come -- Isha?

SESAY: Fred, we talked about the economy and the power the president has in terms of charting the course of economic policy, but what about when it comes to engagement with the West? Should Rouhani be ousted and Raisi win the presidency, does he have the power to change the course of engagement with the West?

PLEITGEN: It could, to a certain extent. One of the things supporters of Raisi were saying, and Hassan Rouhani was also attacked on this point as well in the presidential debate in Iran, and they're saying Rouhani was especially too soft on America. One of the things the conservatives say is, look, we have a nuclear agreement, we negotiated with the United States with some other powers as well, we gave up large parts of our nuclear program, what did we get in return? Where's the economic benefit that was promised. So every time the Trump administration speaks very tough on Iran or say something negative towards Iran or slaps new sanctions on Iran, what you have is Hassan Rouhani being attacked by the conservatives. And they, for their part, are saying, look, we want counter sanctions. We want to get tougher on America. We want to be more assertive. It one of the things that plays a role in this election, but really plays a role in that larger issue of the economy, which really is the most fundamental one and very much the one that is going to decide this vote and also decide whether or not this could go to a second runoff round or whether it will be decided in the first round -- Isha>

SESAY: Fascinating.

Fredrik Pleitgen joining us from Tehran. Appreciate it. Fredrik, thank you.

Time for a quick break here. President Trump is stepping out of the office. His trip abroad could be the reset the White House needs, or it could worsen problems he already has. We'll discuss, next.


[02:30:25] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

The headlines this hour --


SESAY: He's surrounded by controversy in Washington but President Trump is getting set for his first trip abroad. He has a full cast of world leaders, starting in Riyadh, meeting with the Saudi king and crown prince, along with the Gulf Corporation Council, then it's on to Israel and the West Bank with talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, after that, Europe, a meeting with the pope and summits with the G-7 and NATO.

Mr. Trump hopes this tour can serve of something as a reset. But his problems at home could follow him overseas. Still, he's ever the optimist. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tomorrow, as you know, we're going to Saudi Arabia, going to Israel, going to Rome. And we have the G-7. We have a lot of great things going on. So I hate to see anything that divides. I'm fine with whatever people want to do, but we have to get back to running this country really, really well. We've made tremendous progress in the last 100 and some odd days, tremendous progress.


SESAY: CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is in Riyadh ahead of the president's visit.

Nic, good to see you.

President Trump, as we all know, made a number of controversial remarks during the campaign about Islam. Will those past statements present challenges during his trip to Saudi Arabia and his meetings with Muslim leaders?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Not if you believe what we're seeing in the newspapers here, you look at the American and Saudi flags lining the streets and the picture of the king and President Trump lining the street on the billboards. This is one of the popular newspapers here. This is a picture of the king here. To the side, you see a statement that says, "History begins to be written now." What the Saudis are saying is this is a historic visit, this is the beginning of a new relationship between the West and the Arab and Muslim nations. They see President Trump as somebody different than President Obama, someone that could potentially bring peace to the Palestinians and Israelis. They say he'll be courageous. They see him as somebody, as well, who can help stick up for them on Iran. If we reflect on what the Secretary of Defense James Mattis said when he was here a month ago, that the United States wants to help reinforce Saudi Arabia's resistance to Iran's mischief. The Saudi foreign minister yesterday said Iran needs to be made to be a normal country that respects international laws. The king, the Saudis, the leadership at least, looking for President Trump to be very strong and uphold what he said on the campaign trail about Iran, if you will.

But that issue of the travel ban affecting Muslim nations, what he said about Muslims on the campaign trail, that all seems to be lost and forgotten. The Saudis are really going out on a limb here. It's not just the GCC leaders coming here. As many as 35 different Arab, Muslim and regional leaders will be here. The Saudis are putting a lot on the line here for President Trump's visit, bringing in a lot of their friends and allies to stand with them with the message that, you know, potentially, we think that you can help us, let's work together. That's their message.

SESAY: OK. That's their message. The president, President Trump, is set to deliver a major speech about Islam, the speech, CNN has learned, is being drafted by Trump advisor, Steven Miller, who's known for pedaling Islamophobic views. What message is President Trump expected to deliver while there?

ROBERTSON: General McMaster, his national security advisor, said this is going to be a respectful message. The message, however, is that the leaders, the Muslim and Arab leaders, need to push a more moderate view, a peaceful impression of Islam. Now, of course, they all believe that they do. So this is going to need to be a very balanced and nuanced message. One of the principle reasons for that is Saudi Arabia is home to Islam's two holiest sites, Mecca, Medina. The king is the custodian of those sites. Islam has no pope. But, if you will, the authority and the respect for Islam's traditions are sort of held in a way with the king here. So when President Trump comes and delivers a message coming out of the mouth of someone who was so Islamophobic last year, on a message that could be easily misinterpreted, you'll understand this needs to be very, very nuanced. It's not to damage trust and faith of the king who's putting himself in by standing so close and aligning himself in advance with President Trump.

SESAY: It is a visit that is fraught with peril, some would say.

CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, joining us there from Riyadh. Nic, always appreciate it. Thank you.

Still to come, fierce protests hit the streets of Caracas again. Venezuela is in crisis and demonstrators say they won't back down. And shortages of food and medicine force Venezuelans to make desperate choices. We'll take you into the country's failing health care system.


SESAY: Brazil's president is vowing to fight on despite the ongoing corruption scandal. Reports say the top Brazilian court is investigating Michel Temer after a major newspaper accused him of paying a jailed politician hush money. Mr. Temer defiantly denies that.


MICHEL TEMER, BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): I won't resign. I repeat, I won't resign. I know what I did and I know my actions were right. I demand a full and quick investigation to clear up the situation for the Brazilian people.


[02:39:48] SESAY: The latest allegations are hitting Brazil's stock market. It has plunged more than 10 percent at the open, wiping out almost all of its gains this year.

There are more violent protests in Venezuela as opposition groups face off with President Nicholas Maduro and his supporters. The National Guard used tear gas and water cannon against protesters in Caracas on Thursday. The country is struggling with a deep economic crisis and the opposition are accusing Mr. Maduro of creating a dictatorship. They want him to step down.

The Trump White House says it will intervene against, quote, "bad actors" if things don't improve in Venezuela soon. A senior official didn't provide specifics but emphasized the U.S. would not tolerate the situation. Mr. Trump put the situation in bleak terms.


TRUMP: It's been unbelievably poorly run for a long period of time. And hopefully, that will change and they can use those assets for the good and to take care of their people. Right now, what's happening is really a disgrace to humanity.


SESAY: Venezuela is a country on the brink of collapse, torn apart by violent protests as opposition leaders face off with President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters. The government is cracking down and intimidating journalists, even taking CNN's sister network, CNN Espanol, off the air.

We went in under cover, and much of our filming was done covertly to avoid the risk of being arrested.

A warning, this story contains graphic video.

Here's our Nick Paton Walsh. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pain is never worse than when it's needless.


PATON WALSH: Dianne is 14. Elsewhere, she probably would have kept her leg. But in Venezuela, vital medicine for chemotherapy is short, so where the odds the bone tumor in her leg wouldn't spread.


"Just a little cold water," the doctor says.


PATON WALSH: "Careful," she cries.

It was removed yesterday, but as often happens with amputations, strangely, she can still feel it.

"It feels strange," she says, "because I feel a leg that isn't there. It's gone."

(on camera): Does it make you feel angry as a doctor that a procedure like this is necessary when you could prevent it if you had the right medicine?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: Yes. There is that for us.

PATON WALSH (voice-over): This is a society crumbling from inside where a government, who tried to control everything, from wages to health care to food prices, now seems to control nothing. Where the body of a murder victim lies in the streets of Valencia, now a common curiosity rather than a scandal.


PATON WALSH: Doctors sneak us into a public hospital to show why diseases for this once oil-rich nation thought were vanquished decades ago are coming back. Wounded protesters making do with water bottles to drain gunfire wounds.

"The medicines were brought by my family members," he says, "in fact, they brought the water to bathe me, everything."

The doctors, who once enjoyed modern sanitary conditions, are now themselves at risk of infection, they say. And patients die from waiting.

"When there was looting last week," the doctor says, "11 died here. The wounded arrived at 9:00 and they can't get medicine. They would be treated for some 12 hours later. People die here from gunshot wounds because we can't treat them."

Patients wait for hours for the universal free health care the social government once promised, yet now, its mismanagement means it cannot pay for. Instead, they seek to conceal the embarrassment, even firing the health minister after revealing child mortality and malaria figures.

So now, there is silence rather than an end to the suffering.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Valencia.


SESAY: Venezuela's government has repeatedly said its problems has been exaggerated by a hostile foreign media and that the drop in oil prices and actions of opposition-friendly tycoons have contributed to their problems.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

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[03:00:10] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. president looks ahead to his first trip abroad, leaving behind him --