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Russia Investigation; Trump White House; Australia Terror Plot; Trump White House; Kenya Decides; Transgender Troops Serve Openly in Israel; Sicilians Taking a Stand against the Mafia.. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired August 5, 2017 - 05:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A CNN exclusive: new details from inside the FBI. We've learned agents were tracking the Russian spread of some fake news on Election Night.

Also ahead this hour: leaked transcripts of the president's private conversations with foreign leaders. And surprises making headlines in Mexico City.

And later, after days of raids and searches across Sydney, how Australian police were able to nab two suspects charged with planning a terrible terror plot.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Im George Howell. The CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: Around the world, good day to you. it's 5:00 am on the East Coast. The details just keep coming. We have new information we're following in the Russia investigation though, at the same time, the U.S. President is set to take a long break, keeping in mind Mr. Trump used to boast that he would be too busy to take long vacations.

But after six months on the job, the president left the White House Friday to spend the next 17 days at his golf resort in the U.S. State of New Jersey. Now here is what's brewing in the background.

"The New York Times" reports the office of special counsel Robert Mueller is seeking White House records on the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Though it's not a formal subpoena, "The Times" says it is the first known occasion that Mueller's team has gone after the White House documents.

"The Times" also reporting that Mueller's team is looking into whether Flynn was secretly paid by the Turkish government during the Trump campaign. Neither General Flynn nor his attorneys have responded to "The New York Times" report.

But there is this statement coming from the White House special counsel Ty Cobb that reads as follows, quote, The White House will not be discussing any specific communication with the special counsel out of respect for the special counsel and his process."

It goes on to say, "Beyond that, as I've stressed repeatedly, we will continue to fully cooperate with the special counsel," end quote.

Also today, this CNN exclusive on how Russian interference was being tracked on Election Day. We've learned that the FBI was actively tracking a disinformation campaign that very day at FBI headquarters and the primary suspect was Russian interference via fake news, as CNN's Pamela Brown reports.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We have learned that some FBI counterintelligence agents spent Election Day huddled in a war room, looking for fake news.

And what they could see was negative stories streaming in, posted online about Hillary Clinton, some having to do with her health that were fake stories generated from accounts with suspected Russian links. This is according to multiple sources our team has spoken with.

In fact, the FBI agents could see how the fake news was impacting the conversation online. Now the idea of monitoring for fake news was uncomfortable territory, somewhat new territory for the FBI.

But as one official told me, "We were right on the edge of constitutional legality because of First Amendment protections."

But this was something they believed they needed to do because it was important in better understanding how fake news played into this, what role it had and whether or not anyone in the Trump campaign, in the Trump world, worked with the Russians in this misinformation campaign.

Amid all of this, we learned there was constant coordination between the FBI as well as the Department of Homeland Security and DNI, holding conference calls every three hours with the team in the White House to discuss any possible problems.

But these conference calls were largely focused on the concern of whether the vote could be tampered with, whether the machines were tampered with by hackers. And while the FBI says that didn't happen, there was still this open question of whether the Russian disinformation campaign impacted the outcome of the election. And that is something we may never have the answer to -- Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Pamela, thank you for the reporting. There's a lot to talk about this day as seems to be the day every day.

And with us now to add some context this hour is Leslie Vinjamuri of SOAS University of London. It's great to have you with us to break all of this down, Leslie.


HOWELL: So we just touched based on these two headlines that are in the news today. Let's start with the first regarding Robert Mueller's team, now seeking documents with regards to national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

The question as to whether he was secretly paid by the Turkish government, what are the implications for Mr. Flynn and for this White House at large?

VINJAMURI: Well, of course the implications are very serious. But it come down to being able to first of all track that but also to be able to track whether or not the president himself was aware of this or whether the people around him were aware of this.

So there are lots of questions that need to be answered. And I think --


VINJAMURI: -- what we've seen again is that is we have so much information out there in public domain already about Russia's interference campaign, more coming out as you've just mentioned.

There are lots of clues and concerns about collusion. But it's very, very difficult to prove, to have that final sort of evidence that really demonstrates this thing. We can see that Mueller, through the use -- also there's been an announcement that there will be a new grand jury convened -- that there's a attempt now to drill down on financial connections, on this question of Flynn's relationship with Turkey.

But it's very -- absent that hard evidence, this is very difficult to prove. But, again, a lot will come down to what can be demonstrated with respect to the knowledge of the president and those around him had when he made the decision to appointment Flynn as national security adviser. So very difficult.

This is going to go on for a very long time and continue to be the thing that distracts and undermines the president, who takes this all very personally. And still to this day hasn't really gotten on board with the gravity and the importance of these investigations.

HOWELL: All right. So that's what's happening right now with regard to Mueller's investigation. But we're also getting some insight into what happened back then through this CNN exclusive reporting, back then on Election Night.

We've seen the images of celebration in Russia on Election Night when Mr. Trump was elected president along with the celebrations of millions of his supporters here in the United States.

But what was unseen that day, happening behind closed doors in FBI HQ, Leslie, agents were closely monitoring the online trends of what is described as a disinformation campaign.

Russia suspected to have been behind it in some form or fashion.

What are your thoughts?

What do you take from this?

VINJAMURI: Well, many people in Washington knew for a very long time that there was a very serious concern about Russia's attempts to meddle in the elections through a whole variety of strategies. Most of those we've known about for a little while because of the intelligence report that was released into the public domain in December.

Alongside a report that, of course, wasn't released because it's classified. The new information, I think, is another layer of that. But, again, it's very difficult. There are two things. There's very clear information to suggest that there were a variety of strategies and this is one more, that were used to try and influence the election.

It's very difficult to prove that those strategies had a direct impact on the effect. That's a whole other layer, not one that I think we're likely to get evidence on.

But, you know, the real question for the investigation has become what was the link of Trump and those people around him to that broader -- to that broader issue. But, of course, we need to move back to the broader issue and begin to.

And this is where there's a lot of hard work that needs to be done on how to respond to that, right? The investigation is one thing but the response, because this is going be the last time that we see this kind of interference attempted.

But we're so far away from having a public discussion about that, I'm sure that there are many people working on this. But it's gotten lost a bit in the haze of a number of different things, not least the very intense dysfunction that we've seen in the White House over the last 10 days.

HOWELL: You raise an important point there.

How can we ever know exactly what impact this had because on that it was clear that the big focus was on the voting booths, the machines that were used. But we now know that the FBI was also looking into these trends that were playing out on social media.

And the question, you know, what did these fake stories that were posted, what impact did those have on the minds of people as they went in to make their decisions?

Leslie, stay with us. We want to get your perspective on another story. I'll touch base with you in just a moment. But let's talk about this next topic, Mr. Trump's national security adviser. He's taking a lot of heat this week. Some fear that H.R. McMaster could White House official forced out of office. Mr. Trump is trying to end those rumors, though, by saying this.

"General McMaster and I are working very well together. He is a good man and a very pro-Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country," end quote, from the U.S. president.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has this report for us.



BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even by Washington political standards, it's an extraordinarily nasty media campaign against a three-star general, combining smear and speculation about the future of H.R. McMaster as national security adviser.

A staffer who worked for George W. Bush's National Security Council says it's unconscionable.

MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OFFICIAL: I think there is an extraordinary amount of backstabbing going on.

STARR: It's almost open warfare between McMaster and Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist, according to administration officials, all dating back to fired national security adviser Mike Flynn.

MICHAEL WARREN, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": There is this battle and I think it does come down to a difference in --


WARREN: -- opinion between McMaster and Bannon and the view I think that McMaster sort of clearing out Mike Flynn, you know, the former national security adviser, Mike Flynnites and that's a problem that Bannon allies see as sort of going directly to the heart of Trump's own agenda.

STARR: CNN has reported that McMaster had been at odds with President

Trump on some national security issues, such as more troops for Afghanistan and had been undercut by Bannon. But once retired General John Kelly arrived this week as chief of staff, he may have signaled his willingness to allow McMaster latitude to run the NSC. McMaster has fired five top NSC officials tied to Flynn, causing some fury.

Now, political media across the spectrum, especially on the right, including Breitbart, formerly run by Bannon, are running stories within hours of each other suggesting that McMaster could be pushed out.

And he's been under fire for taking the routine step of extending former NSC adviser Susan Rice's security clearance. Some conservatives accuse Rice of mishandling classified information involving Trump campaign associates. And now, fringe right-wing personality Mike Cernovich is soliciting tips on the national security adviser on, using imagery of McMaster being controlled by a puppet in a cartoon the Anti-Defamation League calls anti-Semitic.

Whether McMaster stays on the job may depend on Kelly's influence on the president. One current administration official tells CNN Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis are pressing for West Wing stability.

ALLEN: I think General Kelly is going to protect H.R. McMaster, because I think this is part of what he's trying to do and that's guarantee that we have a cohesive, crisp decision making process and that's what the White House needs right now, because it's been a rough ride for the last six months.

STARR (voice-over): Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


HOWELL: And back with us now, Leslie Vinjamuri, live in our London bureau.

So we just heard the reporting there from Barbara Starr. And you get to see really this, as it was described, all-out war between the ideological end of Mr. Trump's cabinet with Steve Bannon on one side and H.R. McMaster, a person is more focused, seems to be, focus on just policy, the standard policy and moving forward in that regard.

Here is the question.

Will this pressure that's on Mr. Master, will it matter for his ability to do his job and to follow those standard procedures without it being politicized?

VINJAMURI: Well, you know, I think one question right now is in the next few days because this really has heated up incredibly quickly, will the president and his new chief of staff, John Kelly, will they really work very hard to try and contain this?

Because clearly what's happened is that, with the movement, the very significant movement amongst those in control in the White House over the last few days, there's now a concern as to who is actually going to have control the next level down.

So the controversy, the conflict between Steve Bannon and McMaster, this very different views of the world and ways of operating, has heated up. Because I think there's a concern on the part of Bannon that, of course, John Kelly will have a greater regard for McMaster, who is a very serious professional and has very different views, is not an ideologue, but has very different views on some really key issues that are going to come up, right?

The question of the Iran deal, which McMaster has supported and Bannon, of course, takes a very tough line on Iran. But there are a number of things that're going to come up, I think more fundamentally this will -- this recent transition may have made some of those, like Steve Bannon, insecure and wanting to fight for their turf.

So there is this claim that McMaster is trying to clear house on the National Security Council. But actually a number of the firings that have taken place have taken place for discrete and very concrete reasons. So I think it's unfair, as is a lot of what's coming from Breitbart and other right-wing outlets on the news media, this sort of smear campaign.

But I think we'll have to really watch over the next few days to see whether John Kelly and President Trump try to contain this or whether it ignites even further.

HOWELL: With John Kelly, we saw Anthony Scaramucci, the Mooch, leave the White House and, at the same time we're seeing word that Mr. Kelly will bring in a new stability there within the cabinet, within the white house.

And that question that you point out. What effect will Mr. Kelly have now as chief of staff?

Will it --


HOWELL: -- indeed, make a difference for Mr. McMaster?

VINJAMURI: Well, I think it will make a difference for McMaster. But so many people are looking now to John Kelly as somebody who has been leading Homeland Security for six months, he's known to not assert his own views but to be somebody who's very professional and very measured but one who takes the line of that person that he reports to, which, in this case, is the president and works hard to implement that person's mandate.

But there's a lot of hopes being pinned on one person right now, John Kelly, which seems -- undoubtedly this will make a difference. But whether it can actually make the entire difference when we've been trying to deal with the president, who has undermined pretty much everybody who has worked for him at different points in time, through a single tweet, when he has a disagreement or an impulse.

So it's not an easy role. This is certainly a good individual to be in that role. But I think it's perhaps a bit naive to think this is going to change the entire nature of the White House. And, of course, the problems in the U.S. government extend far beyond the White House. We have 400 people across the executive branch in very senior level positions that have not appointed.

So it's very difficult to operate the executive branch to implement anything on a daily basis. And this is being felt most particularly in the State Department and the national security outrevs (ph).

So it's a very difficult time and the problems aren't only in the White House but, John Kelly, I think, is a good appointment.

HOWELL: That's a lot to talk about here. I saw one of our commentators here on CNN describe it as "scandal fatigue." There's so many things coming through each day.

But, Leslie, it's always good to have you with us to keep up to speed and break down all these very important lines and nuances as we continue to cover these investigations. Thank you today for your perspective.

VINJAMURI: Thank you.

HOWELL: A story that we're following here in the United States, a nationwide manhunt for two murder suspects is now over. U.S. Marshals say that Wyndham Lathem and Andrew Warren are in police custody in the U.S. state of California. Latham is an associate professor at Northwestern University and Warren works for Oxford University.

They were wanted in the stabbing death of cosmetologist Trenton Cornell-Duranleau. The 26-year-old was found dead in Latham's Chicago apartment on July 27th. Both suspects are now awaiting extradition to the U.S. state of Illinois.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM this hour, the latest on the alleged ISIS terror plots in Australia. How one of the accused may have been willing to kill his own brother.

Plus, an unusually deadly heat wave sweeps across Southern and Eastern Europe as a new study predicts dire climate problems for Europeans by the end of the century. Stay with us.





HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

The United States has taken a largely symbolic move to reassert the president's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord. The U.S. has now told the United Nations that it intends to get out.

Most other countries around the world have hailed that agreement and have all signed onto it. Still, the process to withdraw cannot start until at least 2019. The U.S. says that it will continue to cut greenhouse emissions, gas emissions, rather, and even take part in a climate conference that is set for November.

Now this comes as a new study is predicting some dire climate problems for Europe. Researchers estimate that two out of three people living in Europe will be affected by heat waves, coastal flooding and other weather-related disasters. That's largely due to global warming and climate change.

Scientists are also estimating that 99 percent of future weather- related deaths will be due to heat waves.


HOWELL: In the capital of the Philippines, a meeting of the association of Southeast Asian nations or ASEAN --


HOWELL: -- is under way. Foreign ministers are discussing regional security issues, terrorism and territorial disputes. They just issued a statement warning North Korea's recent missile tests threaten peace in the region and around world.

Controversial Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte met with diplomats just a short while ago and the U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson will arrive later, as will the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

In Australia, two suspects charged in a pair of shocking terror plots appeared in court on Friday. This after days of police raids and searches across Sydney. The accused appeared by video link and didn't enter pleas. Authorities say they had ISIS support and wanted to blow up an airliner. They're also accused of plotting to unleash poisonous gas.

Our Brian Todd has this report for us.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two terror plots in Australia connected to one another show ISIS' growing ambition to strike Western targets. Two men living in Sydney have been arrested for trying to bring down a passenger plane with an IED.

DEPUTY COMMISSIONER MICHAEL PHELAN, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE: This is one of the most sophisticated plots that has ever been attempted on Australian soil.

TODD: Australian officials say the plan was to place a bomb in checked luggage aboard an (INAUDIBLE) Airways plane. But the plotters, after getting to the airport, aborted the plan. Authorities aren't sure why. Police only got wind of the plan 11 days later.

What's new and frightening about this plot is that according to Australian officials, this was a do-it-yourself bomb. They say a senior ISIS commander sent part of the bomb assembled, along with other loose parts, including weapons grade explosives, from Turkey to his contacts in Sydney via air cargo.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: This is an IKEA model of terrorism. The fact that they were in touch directly to provide guidance with these plotters in Australia. The complex logistics of the plot. The supply of explosives. The imagination and ingenuity that went into it take ISIS into whole new ball game when it comes to international terrorism.

TODD: Officials say one of the suspects was going to plant the IED on his own brother, who was to be an unsuspecting mule in the attack. CRUICKSHANK: His plan was for his own brother to bring this device on board, not knowing what it was. The idea being that his brother would have been killed in this attack, sacrificed.

TODD: When the bomb plot didn't work, Australian officials say the alleged terrorists tried to make a device that would release a dangerous chemical in closed spaces, possibly public transportation facilities. The chemical, hydrogen sulfide, a toxic industrial substance that smells like rotten eggs. Hard to make, experts say and difficult to deploy as a weapon, but potentially deadly.

(On camera): What does it do to the body when you breathe it in?

PAUL WALKER, WMD EXPERT, GREEN CROSS INTERNATIONAL: It attacks the respiratory system and eventually the nervous system. In a very small amount, 20, 30, 40 parts per million, would kill you in a few minutes.

TODD (voice-over): Officials say there is no evidence the device was completed but a U.S. Homeland Security official tells CNN the Australia plots highlight the need to ramp up aviation security in America and not play whack-a-mole with each new threat.

(On camera): Terrorism experts say look for ISIS to continue these types of plots as the group loses territory on the battlefield. They say ISIS will continue to use IEDs and laptop bombs, chemicals and other weapons on Western targets. And they say ISIS will probably get better at evading security -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Brian Todd, thank you.

Still ahead this hour, why a phone call nearly seven months ago between these two men is generating fresh headlines in the Mexican press. We'll have a report from Mexico City. CNN is live from Atlanta, Georgia, this hour on both our networks here in the United States and around the world. CNN NEWSROOM pushing on right after the break. Stay with us.



GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's 5:32 am here in Atlanta, Georgia; half past the hour as well in Istanbul, Turkey, and to all points in between, You're watching CNN NEWSROOM worldwide this hour. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you.


HOWELL: The Kremlin has called the allegations that it colluded with the Trump campaign "absurd." For more of Russia's reaction on these latest accusations, our Oren Liebermann is live in the Russian capital this hour.

Oren, good to have you. There is new reporting from CNN about how the FBI was tracking online activity. That's been described as a disinformation with Russia suspected to have been behind it in some form or fashion. All of this happening at a time when both countries agree their relationship has hit, quote, "a very dangerous low."

What's the reaction there?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you pointed out, the Kremlin has called the reports of the Russia investigation and the latest on that investigation from the U.S. quote, "absurd and groundless."

They have adamantly and repeatedly denied any involvement in election meddling and that's been their position and that will continue to be their position.

The timing of CNN's latest reporting is what's very interesting here, because it comes at a time when U.S. and Russia officials say the relationship between the two countries is at its worst, not only in years but perhaps even in decades.

It was secretary of state Rex Tillerson who said the relationship is at its worst since the Cold War. So certainly the --


LIEBERMANN: -- latest reporting isn't going to help things. Now Tillerson is the one who is kind of trapped in the middle here. As the secretary of state, trying to improve relations when they are so bad.

And he, as it seems, has pretty good relations with his Russian counterpart. That's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. And the two of them will meet in the Philippines tomorrow. In fact, Tillerson just took off from Hawaii on his way to that meeting in the Philippines.

But there's little it seems he can do at this point because relations are so bad, especially with President Trump signing the latest sanctions bill and imposing more sanctions or tightening sanctions, I should say, on Russia. That comes also as the European Union puts in more Russian sanctions because of Russia's actions in Crimea, in Ukraine.

So relations are bad, they're getting worse and even with this Tillerson meeting coming up it seems there's not much that can be done to reverse this downward trend in relations. So that's where things stand now. It will certainly be interesting to see with what comes out of that Tillerson meeting with Sergey Lavrov the Russian foreign minister, and even if the statements are nice, even if the two get along, it simply doesn't seem, George, like there's much that can be done to reverse the trend of where the relations are going at this point.

HOWELL: OK, it's clear that the optics are bad at this point, the relations between these two nations. But at the same time, these two very important leaders will be speaking to each other at this conference.

What topics could they talk about?

Where could there be some discussion, possibly some consensus, between these two nations, that still work together?

But clearly at the surface relations are bad.

LIEBERMANN: And that's an interesting question because you're right, as you point out, the U.S. and Russia still cooperate on -- in a number of different areas. One of those is North Korea.

When Lavrov and Tillerson spoke over the phone late last week, they talked about North Korea because that's one of the few areas that these two countries see eye-to-eye.

But there other areas of cooperation when it comes to some cooperation on Syria, cooperation on space and the two space agencies work very much hand-in-hand here.

But of course, there's a lot more disagreement. And we saw that in sort of a continued Russian reaction to the sanctions. In fact, the deputy prime minister of Russia is in Tehran today, meeting with Iran to talk about ramping up Russian and Iranian cooperation on technology and, most notably, on military, Russia considering from a readout from the Russian Sputnik news agency giving more Russian aid to Iran's military.

So that, of course, can be seen as a further response to U.S. sanctions and it will further exacerbate relations between the two. But you're absolutely right to point out that Lavrov and Tillerson will try to stress the areas where these two countries get along, even if all of the areas where they don't get along is moving in the wrong direction or in a worsening direction at this point -- George.

HOWELL: Oren Liebermann, live for us in Moscow, Oren, thank you for the reporting and we'll, of course, stay in touch with you as this meeting is set to happen.

The U.S. Justice Department said on Friday that it may go after journalists. The free press, as it tries to stop an explosion of unauthorized leaks within the administration. U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions said that the number of federal investigations into leaks has tripled since Mr. Trump took office.

Sessions said that his agency is reviewing the circumstances under which journalists can be subpoenaed. Rather, the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, was asked whether reporters should feel threatened. Here is what he had to say.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I have not seen what Jeff said about this. Leaks are a bad thing. Leaks are concerning because leaks can often compromise national security. But that's the problem of the leaker, not the journalist.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOWELL: Two of the most recent leaks were also among the most

shocking. First, the transcripts of "The Washington Post" private phone conversations last January between President Trump and other world leaders. The Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, downplayed having his conversation make public. He said that he has, quote, "warm relations" with Mr. Trump.

But the transcript of Mr. Trump's conversation with the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, that's making headlines there for sure. Our Patrick Oppmann has this report from Mexico City.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mexicans have been riveted by the release of transcripts to "The Washington Post" of a conversation that took place between their president, Enrique Pena Nieto, and U.S. president Donald Trump that is casting doubt on who will pay for the wall that Trump wants to build between the two countries.

This conversation that took place in January was supposed to be a private conversation and, in the conversation, Trump begins initially trying to flatter the Mexican president, saying that he's eloquent and speaks better English than Trump. And then he begins to bully him, saying that is Pena Nieto doesn't agree to pay for the wall, he will impose tariffs on Mexican products going to the U.S. and essentially cause damage to the Mexican economy.

Trump also says at one point that he might send soldiers into Mexico if Pena Nieto can't get the drug war under control. And this has been bit of a bombshell in Mexico, to read these transcripts of what was supposed to be --


OPPMANN: -- a private conversation.

Many here say that Pena Nieto held firm and told Donald Trump again and again that he would not pay for the wall. Others said that he should have pushed back harder, that much of what Trump said about Mexico and his comments to Pena Nieto were insulting and undignified.

Still, though, these two men, at the end of the conversation, were unable to come to an agreement, at least in January, of who would pay for this wall. They finally said that they would leave the political problem, as Donald Trump called it, that the wall presents by not talking about it anymore, at least in public.

That strategy, if there was a strategy, has backfired, because everybody in Mexico is talking about this now. It is once again very much in the public eye, the wall that Donald Trump wants to build between these two countries and who is going to pay for it -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Mexico City.


HOWELL: Patrick, thank you so much for that report. The White House says that President Trump has just had a call with another world leader. He repeatedly spoke with the French president Emmanuel Macron on Friday. The two talked about issues, including Venezuela, North Korea and Ukraine.

They also spoke about more cooperation in Iraq and Syria and of a political solution in Libya.

Still ahead, how Kenya's presidential candidates are drafting voters on the ground. Well, they're using helicopter to do it. It's an interesting story. Stay with us.




HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

In Rwanda, Paul Kagame has grabbed the commanding lead in --


HOWELL: -- the nation's presidential election. Preliminary results show that he has received more than 98 percent of the votes so far. About 7 million people there were registered to cast ballots in the election. Mr. Kagame has held the top office now for 17 years and appears to be in line for a third term.

He's credited for modernizing Rwanda but his presidency has been plagued with allegations of violence and of repression.

In the meantime, Kenya's presidential election next Tuesday is up in the air, literally. Some candidates have taken to the sky to get their message out, as you'll see in this story. But authorities warn voters not to get too close to this style of campaigning as our Farai Sevenzo reports for us.


FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Politicians are hoping to pull in a crowd in this Kenyan nation. A helicopter may just be the thing.

At this opposition campaign rally in the middle of Kenya's Masai country, people can't decide which helicopter to run to as yet another chopper makes a landing, kicking up dust and drawing people in.

They're used for efficiency in this vast country and, of course, flair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not something normal here, so we're very happy to see them coming here.

SEVENZO: Kenya's 2017 general election is approaching the final stretch. And the race is tense. Helicopter after helicopter carrying politicians across the political divide lift off into the Nairobi skies.

There are more helicopters right now in this country than at any time in Kenya's history.

And why is that?

Because campaigning by chopper has become all the rage in this Kenyan election.

Politicians pay an average of $3,000 an hour to rent one.

(INAUDIBLE) lawmakers land in constituencies where the people whose votes they covet earn half of that in an entire year.

And the presence of so many choppers has produced a worrying trend. They're calling it the James Bond effect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The James Bond is a figure of speech, the individuals who decides that he wants a free ride in a helicopter and they think that it will be fun.

SEVENZO: One James Bond chopper grabber told CNN that he hung onto the chopper because others had been given something and he had missed out. Kenya's civil aviation authority noticed the number of these stunts rising and made a public service announcement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shall not accept to see ever again a James Bond. If you see something that looks dangerous, please, inform us.

SEVENZO: One by one, the metal birds lift off, leaving the voters bemused. As they wave the politicians away, beneath the departing choppers there is no sign of James Bond -- for now -- Farai Sevenzo, CNN, Nairobi.


HOWELL: I think a little better to wave from the ground than to grab that chopper.

Moving on now to Venezuela, backers of the president of the nation, Nicolas Maduro are celebrating this day now that the country's new constituent assembly took office on Friday with the power to now rewrite that nation's constitution.

Maduro's critics fear the assembly will further erode democracy.


HOWELL (voice-over): The sights and sounds there of anti-Maduro protests clashing again with police on Friday. Venezuelan security forces threw tear gas at some of the demonstrators. This as the president signaled authorities should crack down even more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NICOLAS MADURO, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): Let's speak clearly to the country. If we had had a prosecutor's office that took action and acted courageously according to justice, all of these violent opposition demonstrators and criminals would have been captured, punished and imprisoned. And we would have had peace a long time ago.


HOWELL: Opponents of the assembly boycotted last Sunday's election and there have been allegations of voter fraud. The United States has hit President Maduro personally with sanctions after the controversial vote there.

Up next, taking a stand against the Mafia. Why many Sicilians say that their days of paying for protection are over.





HOWELL: In Sicily, many people there living with the mafia are now taking a stand against the mob. Our Nina dos Santos has this report.


NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR: For more than a century, the Cosa Nostra has held sway over Palermo's streets, demanding a share of trade and absolute loyalty.

But 25 years since some of the Mafia's most violent episodes, Sicilians are fighting back, refusing to pay the pizza (ph) or protection money upon which the marks whole business model was originally built.

Backing those taking a stand is Idio Pizzo (ph) or goodbye to the racket.

DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Italian).

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): The grassroots movement providing legal, moral and social support.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The idea came in about 2004, when a few of us wanted to open a bar and we thought to ourselves, what do we do if they come and ask for protection money?

Change is difficult because the Mafia has been in this city for 150 years. But we are seeing a cultural shift. For the first time extortion is being discussed openly.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): With over 1,000 firms signed up, Idio Pizzo's (ph) community is growing, thanks in part to million-dollar donation from the E.U.

DOS SANTOS: Less than a generation ago refusing to pay protection money could be a death sentence for a business. Those shops that wouldn't comply faced being taught their owners were sometimes threatened or even worse.


DOS SANTOS (voice-over): But today, such defiance actually seems to be rewarding. Shopkeepers say that sales are up and visits from the Mafia are down. And while authorities reckon that the Cosa Nostra has diversified into drugs and money laundering, the fall in income from racketeering is a problem for the world's most famous crime syndicate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Cosa Nostra members who are aware --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- of the possibility that one of their big things can report to the police keeps them away.

Five Italians, Cosa Nostra, came up with an only judicial or law enforcement agency's level. It must involve all the population.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): In the village of Kakamov (ph), 40 kilometers from Sicily's capital, is a man who knows the Mafia well.

Giorgio Schumacher (ph) says his cousin was gunned down by the mob when he ran for mayor. When he set up his own bar, they soon made their demands.

GIORGIO SCHUMACHER (PH), CAFE OWNER (through translator): They pretend to be your friend. First, they borrow money. Then they borrow the car. Then they try and get you to buy stolen goods from them.

They try to trap you. They try to compromise you.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Schumacher (ph) refused to pay and called in the cops. But that nearly cost him his livelihood. Locals shunned him, fearing mob revenge, until Idio Pizzo (ph) came to the rescue.

SCHUMACHER (PH) (through translator): They got their friends to come from Palermo to my bar every weekend. So every Friday and Saturday, I got busier.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Thirteen years later, Schumacher (ph) has a thriving pastry company, selling all over Italy. Like a growing number of Sicilians ,he's found the best protection from the Mafia today is joining the ranks of those who refuse to pay -- Nina dos Santos, CNN, Palermo, Italy.


HOWELL: Thank you and thank you for being with us. I'm George Howell from the CNN Center in Atlanta. For viewers in the United States, "NEW DAY" is next. For viewers around the world, thank you for watching CNN, the world's news leader.