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Movie Academy Ousts Harvey Weinstein; Wildfires Force More Evacuations in California; ISIS Suffers Key Setbacks in Raqqa; Bannon Declares "War" on Republican Establishment. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired October 15, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:08] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hollywood elites have their say about Harvey Weinstein. He's been expelled from the powerful group that presents the Academy Awards.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Plus, the rising death toll and more evacuations. Is there any relief in sight for the thousands dealing with the wildfires in northern California?

ALLEN: And in the battle for Raqqa, U.S.-led coalition forces say they are eroding the ISIS stronghold in Syria.

VANIER: Thanks for joining us, everyone. Pleasure to have you with us. I'm Cyril Vanier.

ALLEN: And I'm Natalie Allen. It's 5:00 a.m. here on the U.S. East Coast. And as we'd like to say, it's primetime somewhere in the world.

From CNN Word Headquarters, NEWSROOM starts right now.


VANIER: Harvey Weinstein's fall from grace continues. The movie mogul has now been kicked out of the film industry's most elite group. That's the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, best known for hosting the Oscars. The Academy says the allegations against Weinstein caused him to lose the respect of his colleagues.

ALLEN: Weinstein has already been fired from his namesake company amid dozens of allegations of sexual misconduct for decades. He was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood and now, increasingly a pariah.

Our Brian Stelter takes a look at the Motion Picture Academy's decision and what it means to the industry as a whole.


BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Harvey Weinstein scandal has been profoundly embarrassing, not just for the Weinstein Company, but also for Hollywood writ large. So, on Saturday, we saw the representatives of the Hollywood elite make a bold statement, expelling Harvey Weinstein. Now, the Academy is made up of thousands of Hollywood workers, both stars, but also behind the scenes workers, producers, et cetera, et cetera.

And the board of governors, a group of 54 representatives of all of those different parts of the industry, met on Saturday to make this decision. The board includes huge household names like Steven Spielberg, Whoopi Goldberg, but also a lot of behind the scenes people, representing makeup artists, casting directors, producers, executives, et cetera.

The Academy's rules require a two-third vote of the board in order to expel Harvey Weinstein, something that's never done in association with a scandal like this before. And according to the Academy, there was well in excess of the two-thirds needed to make the decision.

Here is a portion of what the Academy said in a statement. It explained the decision by saying that this was meant to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.

That was striking to me because it essentially acknowledges there are very embarrassing episodes in Hollywood's past. The sexually predatory behavior that's alleged by Harvey Weinstein has also been something known in the history of Hollywood, this is something that dates back to the dawn of the movie age. But you can feel that the culture is changing in the United States, that sexual harassment and assault, that these kinds of allegations are being taken more seriously and the women who come forward to make them are being respected, being supported, in a way that wasn't even true 10 years ago.

So, the Academy trying to be on the right side of history at this point, and after this decision, hours later, we still haven't heard a word from Harvey Weinstein.

Brian Stelter, CNN, New York.


VANIER: Let's get an insider's perspective on this. With us now is Sandro Monetti. He's a journalist and a committee chair of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He's based in Los Angeles.

Is there any hypocrisy in today's decision, based just -- I ask the question based on the argument we've heard a lot over the last few days, that this was -- his behavior was an open secret in Hollywood, within the industry, and there must have been people not just within his company, but throughout the industry, that must have known about his behavior?

SANDRO MONETTI, BAFTA LOS ANGELES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Yes, of course. It was an open secret, but what other decision could they take? Imagine if they decided not to suspend Harvey Weinstein. I'm sure they would have been mass resignations from memberships, condemnation from women's rights groups, and they decided that the time was right. Yes, Hollywood has put up with this long enough. And the Academy, they sit in judgment of professional excellence.

They never sat before in judgment of professional behavior. But someone has got to take a stand. And it might as well be them who does it, because the casting coach has been around since the days of silent movies. It's time to throw it in the garbage and hopefully, this decision is the first step towards that long overdue step.

VANIER: It's interesting. I want to seize on something you just said. You said they never sat in judgment of behavior outside of the actual field -- professional field of cinema.

[05:05:01] But they have been faced with scandals before, if you think of Mel Gibson, think perhaps most famously, most notoriously of Roman Polanski in the '70s, who fled the U.S. to avoid legal consequences of a sex case involving a 13-year-old. Is this a sign of changing times?

MONETTI: Well, yes, Bill Cosby is also a member of the Academy. But until this decision, the only person ever publicly expelled by the Academy was actor Carmine Caridi in 2004 for the offense of piracy of his "for your consideration" screener DVDs. So, it's not only been about breaking --

VANIER: Not the same league.

MONETTI: Not the same league. Before, it's about breaking the rules of the Academy. And it's actually very difficult when you look at the bylaws to get expelled from the Academy. You need over two-thirds of the board of governors to make that decision. There's 54 members of the board of governors. They met on the seventh floor of the Academy office in Beverly Hills. And my understanding is far more than two- thirds were in favor of kicking out Harvey Weinstein.

And so, yes, finally, they have decided to take a moral stand rather than just a professional one and draw a line in the sand and I think all of this -- that knew this was an open secret are saying about time. Harvey wants a second chance. No, they told him, go away, and don't come back.

VANIER: Sandro, thank you for coming on the show.

MONETTI: Thank you.

ALLEN: Kim Masters is editor at large for "The Hollywood Reporter". She says even with the academy's groundbreaking decision to kick Weinstein out, it will take more work than that to change things in Hollywood.


KIM MASTERS, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: I think we're in a moment now where things will change to a degree for a while. I'm not sure we're looking at permanent change.

The problem we have is that Hollywood power is still concentrated very much in the hands of white men. And the statistics barely budge. There are very few women who get great roles from the studios in front of the camera, few behind the camera, few in the executive suites.

I think there is one studio now, FOX, that's headed by a woman and even she has a male boss. So, women are underrepresented. The power is completely out of balance.

I -- we just saw the head of Amazon studios suspended late last week because a woman came forward and talked about some harassment, but if somebody is truly on their game, this has always been true in Hollywood, it's very hard to take them down. Harvey had been a bit off his game in recent years, his company had struggled a bit. He hadn't quite had the same golden touch. He was vulnerable and I don't think that's an accident that this happened now.


ALLEN: Weinstein for his part has denied through his representative that any nonconsensual sex took place, but he is in rehab.

VANIER: Let's talk about the wildfires now raging through Northern California. California's governor is calling those blazes, one of the worst tragedies his state has ever faced. Thirty-nine people have died since the flames erupted last week near California's famed wine country. And on Saturday, several thousand more people had to leave their homes because of a new inferno.

ALLEN: Well, firefighters continue to work around the clock and the weather might finally be shifting in their favor.

CNN's Miguel Marquez has more about what they have been up against.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After a very long hard week of trying to get ahold of this fire, this may be the last of it. The winds have really come down and three fires here in Sonoma have come together. And you can see fire crews from the air and the ground are working this thing very hard. They have been doing it for the last eight or 10 hours, just pouring bucket after bucket of water on these fires.

This is up over Ledson Winery on Highway 12 in Sonoma, just right down in the middle of the valley. And this is the sort of stuff they have been doing all day, moving into the hot spots, like you have here, and then dumping those 300 gallon buckets of water on the fire, trying to keep it from spreading anymore.

If the wind cooperates, which they think it may from now forward, they believe they can get a hold of these fires. And there goes that helicopter dumping that 300 gallons of water.

If you look further south, you see can there's yet another fire down there, that's close to the town of Sonoma. This is what firefighters are dealing with, these very big plumes, these very big fires, dotted throughout this absolutely gorgeous area of California. But now, the weather seems to be cooperating. The winds have come down. It is still warm, but it's not hot, that humidity is also very, very low. But there is rain in the forecast.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Sonoma County, California.


VANIER: And first responders have been working nonstop for almost a week and they're just exhausted by now. When they need to rest, they can nap in tents right here at the Sonoma County fair grounds.

[05:10:00] The volunteers are also giving them free massages and chiropractic treatments.

ALLEN: Yes, people have been pitching in to help neighbor and help firefighters and just a disaster.


ALLEN: Absolutely, Derek. And as you were saying, even though they're going to get rain, it's not going to be that soon.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We have to be patient. We have to wait until Thursday to Friday to see any real rainfall across northern and central California. But we'll take what we can get, right?

Hey, listen, there's still 16 million residents that are under a red flag warning. Remember, that's the National Weather Service's distinction for a high fire danger. But we're starting to shed those away as Sunday morning progresses here locally.

Across northern and central portions, Sierra Nevada mountain range, the coastal range, just outside of San Francisco, that expires at 8:00 a.m. this morning. Let's go south, near Los Angeles. This is Ventura, Santa Monica, and the greater L.A. region.

This coastal area does have a red flag warning that's going to persist through the course of the day on Sunday. That's because winds continue to remain offshore, and that down sloping component to the wind dries out the air and also allows for temperatures to skyrocket as well. That's why we have our critical fire danger for the day today. But notice across northern and central California, that has been removed. Thank goodness, right?

What's at play here? Well, we got the high pressure that's in control of the weather. So, that's allowing for a calming of the winds across California, at least in the northern and central parts. But also the relative humidity started to nudge back up, ever so slightly.

The chance of rain, however, not until Thursday and Friday as I mentioned before. But this is also what we like to see. Check that out -- no real wind concerns going forward, there simply aren't any weather systems in the vicinity.

Let's switch gears, talk about the tropics because this is our other big story in the CNN Weather Center. Hurricane Ophelia. The latest 5:00 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center has notched this down, just a few kilometers per hour, weakening it somewhat to a category 2, but still a powerful storm system. It's finalizing this transition to extra tropical or post-tropical cyclone.

But that's some of the minutia details that meteorologists use, some of the wording we use to say it is moving over colder waters, losing its characteristics of a tropical storm. And but it's still going to pack quite a punch as it reaches Ireland, as well as the United Kingdom.

Let's time this out. We can't forget about the Iberian Peninsula. Over the next hours, the coast of Portugal, extreme northwestern sections of Spain, you will have tropical storm force winds as we head into the overnight period and early Monday morning. That's where we look towards the southern coastal areas of Ireland, southwestern Wales and into England for tropical storm force winds.

But then that picks up. Conditions deteriorate and hurricane force sustained winds expected across the coastal areas of Ireland, look at Scotland, as well as basically all of the United Kingdom before the system exits by Tuesday morning.

And this is such a fast-moving storm system that flooding isn't really a major concern, the rainfall will really be confined to the offshore areas, maybe 75 millimeters across coastal areas of Ireland, but that's about it. The threats here though, disruptions in travel, some structural damage, and power outages as well, as downed power lines certainly a possibility.

ALLEN: Something to watch. All right. Derek, thank you.

VAN DAM: All right.

ALLEN: Coming up here, ISIS may be close to losing its de facto capital. We'll have the latest on the fight for Raqqah in a live report ahead.

VANIER: Plus, U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico struggling three weeks after Hurricane Maria. CNN discovered some residents are even turning to a hazardous waste site for water.


[05:16:18] VANIER: In Syria, ISIS appears close to losing its de facto capital Raqqah.

ALLEN: Syrian defense forces say now, 90 percent of the city has been liberated, and there are reports ISIS fighters are surrendering.

For the latest, our Jomana Karadsheh joins us from Amman, Jordan.

This has got to be welcome news, certainly especially for the citizens of Raqqah, Jomana.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Of course it is, Natalie. But the fighting is not over. The latest that we're hearing from activists who are in the area is that fighting is still ongoing in those areas, several neighborhoods remain under the control of ISIS militants. And there have been a lot of questions, Natalie, about that evacuation

deal that we heard announced by the coalition, the U.S.-led coalition that distanced itself from that evacuation deal, saying that it was brokered by the local council in Raqqah and tribal leaders in an arrangement between them and ISIS militants for the evacuation of civilians and local ISIS militants.

Now, what we are hearing from the Syrian Democratic Forces, that umbrella group that is primarily made up of Kurdish militias and some Arab militias, they are saying that they have just launched what they are describing as a new phase to recapture those several neighborhoods that are left under ISIS control, they say those are the ISIS militants who have refused to surrender.

And according to the statement that we received a short time ago that was posted by the SDF, they say that this new phase is aimed at recapturing those neighborhoods where those ISIS militants, foreign and local, who refused to surrender, remain, and they say that that evacuation deal that it had been completed, they say that civilians have been -- the remaining civilians had been evacuated. Of course, we cannot verify that ourselves if there are any civilians left in that city. It's very hard to tell at this point.

And they say that 275 ISIS militants and their family members have surrendered. Of course, we need to wait and see, but it would seem at this point, Natalie, yes, the battle might be nearing an end at some point, but the fighting is really not over. The U.S.-led coalition in their statements on Saturday refusing to put a timeline on how long they think that fighting is going to take -- go on for.

We're talking about some really hard core fighters who remain holed up in these areas and they're expected to fight until the death.

ALLEN: Goodness. As you talk, we're seeing video of Raqqah and certainly it has been a vicious fight, just from looking at the video.

Let's move to Iraq, Jomana. Two allies in the war against ISIS there might be headed to a conflict of their own. What's that about?

KARADSHEH: Well, it's a very volatile and very tense situation, Natalie. As you recall, that Kurdistan regional government held a referendum on independence last month, despite so much opposition from the international community and from the central government in Baghdad. They went ahead with that, that really raised tensions and also after that, they refused to annul the results of that referendum as they were asked to do by the central government in Baghdad.

And there have been some punitive measures that have been put in place by the government in Baghdad to isolate that region of northern Iraq. But at the same time, we're seeing tensions building when it comes to the forces on the ground. You've got the Kurdish Peshmerga on one hand and on the other hand, you've got Iraqi forces and that includes those paramilitary forces that are backed by Iran and also Iraqi forces, especially in disputed areas like the oil rich city of Kirkuk.

[05:20:07] And we have seen some really conflicting reports over the last several days, Natalie, coming from the Kurdistan regional government. On Thursday into Friday, late at night, they announced that they had received information that there was an attack that is going to take place by the Iraqi forces on Kirkuk to recapture the city that was denied by the Iraqi government by the joint operations command of the Iraqi military.

So, we've had these conflicting reports again, re-emerging last night, more reports coming from the KRG of another attack, some sort of a deadline that was given to them by Iraqi forces, but we have seen denials in the past.

No matter what the situation is on the ground, Natalie, this is a very dangerous situation and there is always been the concern that as the battle against ISIS winds down, that you would see these forces end up in some sort of a conflict. One little incident could spark an all- out conflict. That has been a concern for a very long time. But what we are hearing is that senior Kurdish leadership are meeting today in the Kurdistan region to try and de-escalate the tensions.

ALLEN: Hope they can achieve that. Jomana Karadsheh for us there in Amman, thank you.

VANIER: A landmark general election is under way in Austria, that may push the country much further to the right than it has been in many years. The outcome could send shockwaves across Europe. Anti- immigrant sentiment allowed the far right Freedom Party and the center right people's party to make significant gains.

And the charismatic Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz is widely anticipated to become the next chancellor. He would also be the youngest national leader in Austria's history.

Atika Shubert joins us live from Vienna where polling stations have opened.

Atika, it is hard to overstate just how young and how surprising that is, how young the foreign minister is. He's 31. How did he achieve this level of success in Austrian politics at this age?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's 31, and he seems very young, but, remember, he's been in Austrian politics for a while now. You know, we're at the polling stations here and we have seen people trickling in. And he's revamped of the party, and he's taken, you know, what was really a pasty, old fashioned conservative party and completely revamped it.

And we had a chance to speak to his campaign manager yesterday and she explained why the party made these changes. Take a listen.


ELISABETH KOESLINGER, AUSTRIA IV OVP: We felt that the people lost their trust, especially in us, and we really tried hard with Sebastian Kurz as our leading candidate, to get the trust back from the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHUBERT: So, it's not just that he's a young fresh face, but it is also that they changed the party colors from black to turquoise, and they fielded a list of independent candidates. They totally structurally changed the party and they reached out to voter and said tell us what's important to you. And perhaps most importantly, what he's done is he's switched the party from being very conservative, center right, a little further to the right, and that seems to have worked, gaining him a lot of support.

But, of course, the ultimate test will be today in the polls.

VANIER: All right. We'll see what happens. You'll be tracking the results for us.

Atika Shubert reporting live from Vienna, the Austrian capital -- thank you very much.

ALLEN: U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are struggling to survive a humanitarian crisis now, 48 people are confirmed dead after hurricane Maria devastated the island three weeks ago.

VANIER: And now, following a CNN report, a top U.S. congressman is asking federal officials to investigate the potentially toxic drinking water in Puerto Rico.

Our Ed Lavandera has more on this.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some Puerto Ricans are so desperate to find water here on the island that they have started tapping into wells on what is described as a superfund site. This is an official designation issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. Superfund sites exist all over the country. They are considered some of the most toxic sites and ground areas in the United States.

Here in Puerto Rico alone, there is 18 of these designated superfund sites. The focus is just on one of them, near -- in the town of -- around the town of Dorado, Puerto Rico, which is just west of San Juan, the capital here of this island.

We were with an EPA team as they were taking water samples. And as I mentioned a few days ago, reports started emerging that people were lining up at some of these wells getting drinking water or water that was being used for cleaning or other purposes in their homes, in the toilet system and that sort of thing.

So, a great deal of concern about just how much exposure some residents here might have had to this water and there is now testing being done on these water wells to determine if, at all, this water is, indeed toxic.

[05:25:03] Just because the superfund site is around there and that there are toxic chemicals in the ground, EPA officials say it doesn't necessarily mean those chemicals have reached the water there. But nonetheless, over the course of this next week, they will be testing this water to determine whether or not these wells should be turned off or controlled in some sort of way.

We have seen long lines of people getting into these water wells, using them either for drinking, some people have told us, or as I mentioned, cleaning purposes around their homes, just kind of goes to show you just how desperate the situation for many people still remains here in Puerto Rico when it comes to water.

EPA officials say they are really more concerned about long-term exposure to this water that it would require residents to be drinking this water for long periods of time, months, if not years, for them to see the effects of that -- of those toxic chemicals in that water. But nonetheless, it is still very much a dangerous situation and they are trying to spread the word out there. In the meantime, this really does just show how desperate the situation is for many people and EPA officials are urging these residents to stay away from these water wells around the town of Dorado, Puerto Rico, until these test results come back.

So, that work will continue and we're told that it will take at least the better part of this week for a full understanding of exactly what is in that water.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


VANIER: Well, one of President Donald Trump's former advisers is back out on the war path.

Coming up, who Steve Bannon is attacking as he addresses conservative voters in Washington?

Stay with us.


ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen.

VANIER: And I'm Cyril Vanier.

Let's look at your headlines this hour.

ALLEN: The American Motion Picture Academy is telling Harvey Weinstein so long and good luck. They have expelled him after allegations of rape, sexual assault and harassment. The Academy says it is a clear statement that Hollywood will not tolerate willful ignorance and shameful complicity in predatory behavior.

VANIER: Several thousand more people have been forced to leave their homes in Northern California because of a new wildfire. Wind driven infernos began tearing through the area last Sunday, that's almost a week ago now. So far, they killed at least 39 people and destroyed nearly 6,000 buildings. ALLEN: ISIS may be close to losing its de facto capital in Syria.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces say 90 percent of Raqqah has been liberated from the terror group. There are reports some ISIS members have surrendered and others are trying to get out.

VANIER: In Washington, when right-wing firebrand Steve Bannon was dismissed from his post in the Trump administration in August, he vowed to go to war.

ALLEN: On Saturday, he gave a conservative audience a taste of what he has in mind.

CNN's Ryan Nobles has our report.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He was once one of President Donald Trump's closest advisers and one of the chief architects of his campaign. And on Saturday, Steve Bannon was in Washington, speaking to the Values Voters Summit.

And he talked a lot about undoing the establishment grip on Washington. He even went after a prominent Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, evoking Shakespeare in his conversation about taking McConnell down.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Up on Capitol Hill, because I've been getting calls, it is like before the Ides of March, right? The only question is, and this is just an analogy or metaphor, whatever you want to call it, they're just looking to find out who is going to be Brutus to your Julius Caesar. Yes, Mitch, the donors, the donors are not happy. They all left you. We cut your oxygen off, Mitch.

Money is not courageous, but money is smart, OK? And right now money is sitting there saying, hey, I see these folks, they're worked up, they're mad and they're mad for a reason.

NOBLES: Now, even though Steve Bannon and some supporters of President Trump may not like Mitch McConnell, he is still very important if the president hopes to get anything done. And the president is still working on trying to repair his relationship with some Republicans in the Senate.

On Saturday, he was at his golf course in northern Virginia and he was accompanied by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham has taken opportunities to criticize the president when appropriate, but has also attempted to find ways to work with him. One area where they're continuing to hope to find some common ground is on health care.

This after the president announced he was ending subsidies to insurance companies to help keep premiums down for low income Americans. That could be one of the many important challenges that the president faces over the next several outside groups run by Steve Bannon and others that once worked in this White House, it's clear that that job is not going to be easy.

Ryan Nobles, CNN, at the White House.


ALLEN: Let's talk more now about Steve Bannon's speech. Brian Klaas teaches comparative politics at the London School of Economics. He joins us from our London bureau.

Hi, Brian. Thank you for talking with us.


ALLEN: Steve Bannon is alive and well and ready to take on the Republican establishment, those that have not fallen in love -- line or love -- with Mr. Trump. He will also bring in anti-establishment candidates in the Republican Senate primary.

So, is Steve Bannon still a powerful force here?

KLAAS: He's relevant, certainly. He will make a big headache for the Republicans. But we need to remember who Steve Bannon is. He has boasted that his media platform "Breitbart" is the platform for the alt-right, which includes neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Klansmen marching through Charlottesville months ago.

So, he's given a platform to people in the Republican Party now but have abhorrent views that stand against American values. Now, he's going to make a headache for the more mainstream part of the Republican Party, the Mitch McConnells of the world and it may make him more likely the Democrats control parts of Congress because taking on vulnerable Republicans will make it easier for Democrats to pick up seats and taking on safe seats for the Republicans, people like Mitch McConnell if they face a primary challenge, that will be money diverted to defend what would have been safe seats from his primary challenge from Bannon.

So, it's going to be a huge headache for the Republican Party going forward and it's a reckoning that is coming because there are actually two parties within that party. There is the authoritarian populist wing of the party and there is the establishment mainstream wing of the party. And Bannon is very much going against the establishment mainstream.

[05:35:03] ALLEN: Right. You talk about his alignment with the alt- right. Where could his mission lead as far as what this Republican Party could look like?

KLAAS: Well, very indicative example of this was in the Alabama primary, where you had Luther Strange, who was supported by Trump, and more of the establishment Republicans against Roy Moore, Roy Moore has said some abhorrent things in the past, he was basically banned from the bench for not respecting rule of law and respecting separation of church and state. He said that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress. So, you know, that was who Bannon backed. Now, Roy Moore won. So,

there is an obvious potency to the fact that the Bannon wing of the party is alive, it exists, and especially in deep red states, it can win.

But I think we also need to have an obligation to speak out, but some of these things are against their values. The idea that a religion test should be imposed on whether members of Congress can serve is antithetical to everything the United States is supposed to stand for.

And I don't think this should be a partisan issue. It should be something where that aspect is unacceptable in American politics. So, the more that Bannon guides the direction of the Republican Party, the more that this Republican Party will lose its way and potentially some of its majorities because these views while potent in certain pockets of the U.S. are not the mainstream of what most Americans believe.

ALLEN: Right, and keeping in mind the low approval rates of this president. Where does this lead the Democrats with Steve Bannon taking his charge on the other side?

KLAAS: Well, it's a gift to them in two ways. First off, we have to remember that Trump promised to sign 10 major bills in his first 100 days as president. We're approaching the 300th day with Republicans controlling the House, the Senate and the presidency, and no major bills have been signed. So, as Bannon attacks people like McConnell, it makes it more difficult to do deals, which is something that Trump cannot run on, right? Or the Republicans in the Senate and the House right now, they don't have a lot of accomplishments to show for the two years in office so far that they may have, right?

Then, on the actual electoral side of things, he's going to make it easier for Democrats to pick up seats like Dean Heller in Nevada, who's a very vulnerable Republican senator, who may well face a primary challenge and Bannon specifically said that he's risking that. So, that threat carries with it this gravitas of Bannon in that part of the party, but it also may make it much easier for Democrats to win seats where they may have had a harder time otherwise.

ALLEN: All right. We'll be watching. Brian Klaas for us in London as always -- thank you, Brian. We appreciate your thoughts.

KLAAS: Thank you.

ALLEN: And CNN NEWSROOM will be right back.


[05:40:47] ALLEN: Last hour, we brought you the first part of a powerful story, CNN investigation, uncovering what appears to be the trafficking of children in Uganda, biological parents there are convinced their children will return after being educated.

VANIER: Instead of that, their kids are sold to adoptive families who think they're orphans.

Here is Randi Kaye with part two of the CNN investigation "kids for sale."


ADAM DAVIS, ADOPTED A CHILD FROM UGANDA: We unwittingly placed an order for a child. The only trauma this poor kid ever experienced was because we essentially placed an order for a child. She was home and happy with her mother and her family until we --


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Selected her, Jessica and Adam Davis say, because they were willing to pay thousands of dollars to adopt Namata from Uganda.

They say they were told by their adoption agency that Mata had been orphaned, only to find out later that wasn't the case at all. Mata wasn't an orphan, she and her family were duped. They believed she was pulled from her home and placed in an orphanage, after the adoption agency had found the American couple buyers, in a sense, with money to adopt a child.

The name of that adoption agency, European Adoption Consultants, headquartered in Ohio. It's the same adoption agency that Stacey and Shawn Wells used. They adopted a young girl named Viola. Now, both families believe the girls were part of a wider money-making scheme to sell Ugandan children to American families. Both the Davises and the Wells reunited the girls with their families in Uganda.

(on camera): Was it hard to leave her?

STACEY WELLS, ADOPTED A CHILD FROM UGANDA: Was. It was very hard. And I realize at that moment, she still felt like my daughter. She still does. I knew where she was supposed to be -- she was meant to be.

KAYE (voice-over): And both families say all of the heartache and outrage lies squarely at the feet of the European Adoption Consultants or EAC, which CNN has learned is now under investigation by both the State Department and the FBI.

But was EAC part of a scheme to traffic children for profit or perhaps were they simply unaware of what was going on in Uganda? And the questions for the agency don't end there.

(on camera): How could Jessica Davis and Stacey Wells have ended up with children who may never have actually been orphaned? That's what we wanted to know and it led us here to Lake Dallas, Texas.

Behind these gates lives the head of the EAC's African adoption program. But getting her to answer our questions was a challenge.

I'm trying to find Debra Parris.

(voice-over): Debra Parris is her name. After trying to reach her by phone numerous times, we followed her for more than an hour by car, hoping to get answers for these families. (on camera): Debra --


KAYE: Hi. I'm sorry. I'm Randi Kaye with CNN. We spoke to some women who adopted children from Uganda and they said that they were lied to. I know you ran the program for European Adoption Consultants.

PARRIS: No, I did not. There was four people.

KAYE: You were involved in the program for --

PARRIS: I'm not.

KAYE (voice-over): Both Jessica and Stacey say Debra Parris was their main point of contact. The one who called them and told them what turned out to be false stories about the girls' family history. Both describe Parris as aggressive on the phone, demanding an answer right away as to whether or not they take the child.

Debra Parris denied having anything to do with the adoptions of children seemingly orphaned for profit.

(on camera): The women in Uganda, the mothers say that they never meant for their children to be adopted.

PARRIS: I didn't.

KAYE: You help to organize these adoptions. Can you answer that question? Were they lied to?

PARRIS: I did not organize these adoptions.

KAYE (voice-over): Despite her pushback about her role, Debra Parris refers to herself in this e-mail to a reporter as the director of Africa program for EAC.

[05:45:00] (on camera): You were the head of the Ugandan adoption program for --

PARRIS: Was not. Margaret Cole was.

KAYE (voice-over): Margaret Cole is the owner of European Adoption Consultants. This is her making a pitch for orphans in Panama.

MARGARET COLE, OWNER, EUROPEAN ADOPTION CONSULTANTS: They need food. They need some medicine.

KAYE: Cole started European Adoption Consultants back in 1991. Since then, the agency has handled inter-country adoptions in more than a dozen countries, including Uganda, Bulgaria, Honduras, and Haiti. It's based in Strongsville, Ohio, which is where we hoped to find Margaret Cole, so we could ask her some questions too.

Six different addresses and no luck. Calls to various phone numbers also a dead end. This home of hers was raided by the FBI back in February, and so were the adoption agency's offices, investigators left with boxes of evidence.

In 2016, the State Department determined that EAC has exhibited a pattern of serious willful or grossly negligent failure to comply with standards for international adoptions. As a result it debarred the adoption agency ordering it to cease all adoption services for three years. Among the key findings: EAC failed to engage in practices to prevent the sale, abduction, exploitation or trafficking of children.

It said the failure to provide adequate supervision contributed to the many of the violations described above. Also that EAC failed safety procedures that prevent solicitation of bribes and fraudulently obtaining birth parents consent.

The State Department determined EAC offered consideration to birth parents to induce them to release their children for adoption.

WELLS: They are getting the orphans because there's a dollar sign.

KAYE: The U.S. State Department also found that EAC failed to take the proper steps to make sure birth parents consented to the termination of their parental rights in accordance with applicable laws.

(on camera): Were these mothers lied to?

PARRIS: No. Absolutely not.

KAYE: These women say that they've ended up buying a child instead of adopting a child.

(voice-over): The lawyer who processed the adoptions for EAC at God's Mercy Orphanage is this woman, Dorah Mirembe. We spoke with her by phone and she denied any wrongdoing by God's Mercy.

(on camera): She also insisted children are not being trafficked in Uganda through orphanages and that neither she nor EAC ever traffic children. She also said that the biological mothers of Mata and Violah did know their daughters were being adopted and taken to America. All of that despite the Ugandan government telling us that it shut down God's Mercy Orphanage because it was illegally processing guardianship orders and trafficking children, and the Ugandan courts finding that Mata's mother had been lied to.

(voice-over): What's unclear is how widespread the alleged trafficking scheme may be. CNN's investigation found it doesn't end with Violah and Mata. Violah's mother still missing two other daughters who were adopted or sold off to American families.

And remarkably, those families are aware they have children that never should have been orphaned, Keren Riley told us. She's an advocate for Ugandan children, who runs a group called Reunite Uganda.

KEREN RILEY, REUNITE: Both families are aware of the truth. They haven't responded back to me. But they can -- they appear to be continuing to live their lives and let the children believe what they've been told and some of which is not true at all.

KAYE: The Davises still speak to Namata via Skype. She is back in school and enjoying her new baby sister. The Wells have kept in touch with Violah, too. The two girls are now close friends in their village and have blossomed since returning home.

Meanwhile, both Jessica Davis and Stacey Wells have been interviewed by the FBI, which declined to talk about the investigation with CNN.

J. DAVIS: Birth mothers, the most vulnerable birth mothers on the planet are being taken advantage of in this way so that people can profit from adoption.

KAYE (on camera): Jessica and Adam Davis figure they spent about $65,000 adopting Mata, only to bring her back to Uganda. That includes adoption fees and all of their trips. And Stacey Wells told me she and her husband spent their life savings adopting Violah.

As of now, neither family expects to get any of their money back. Also, I should note that no charges have been filed against Margaret Cole, Deborah Parris or European Adoption Consultants. The lawyer in Uganda who handled these adoptions also has not been charged.

And also, it is possible that the adoption agency was simply negligent here, unaware based on a lack of background checks that the children it was getting from Uganda were being trafficked. In other words, it could be that EAC is a victim of this apparent trafficking scheme, too.

[05:50:01] We would have the answer to that question if the owner of EAC, Margaret Cole, would respond to our requests for comment. In the meantime, the investigation is ongoing.

Back to you.


VANIER: Jessica Davis also writes more about their family's ordeal and her fight for reform in international adoption. Read her story at

We'll be back with more CNN NEWSROOM after the break.


VANIER: Welcome back. So, Russian President Vladimir Putin likes to project this tough guy persona, often like hunting or fishing, bare- chested.

ALLEN: But maybe a little puppy can soften him up a little bit?

Here's CNN's Amara Walker.


AMARA WALKER, CNN CORREESPONDENT (voice-over): When planning to negotiate with the Russian president, ordinary tactics might not work on the notoriously fierce leader. But if you bring a puppy, Vladimir Putin's heart might just melt.

The Turkmen leader gifted Putin a top breed pup during their meeting Wednesday. Both men seemed all smiles while Putin held the belated birthday present and posed for a photo-op.

[05:55:02] If you know Putin, you know this was a smart move.

The Russian alpha dog has a history of mixing politics with pooches, whether it's the Japanese Prime Minister for a summit in Sochi or the former Italian prime minister for talks on energy cooperation, or in a meeting with Tony Blair outside Moscow, or having the former U.S. president wait and he greets the family pup or even racquetball with the Russian prime minister.

You can't hang with Putin if you don't like his dogs. He made that abundantly clear in a 2007 press conference with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel who has a reported fear of dogs was photographed looking distinctly uncomfortable with Putin's Labrador and Putin distinctly seem to not care.

While the Russian president maybe a former KGB agent with a reputation as a tough guy, he's often revealed his softer side in a long and sometimes illustrious relationship with the animal kingdom. Shaking hands with the walrus, throwing treats to dolphins at the zoo, feeding baby elk at a Russian National Park are among his most cuddly photo- ops.

And that's him in 2012 leading a flock of Siberian light crane to safety in hang glider. Putin help the endangered birds prepare for migration and what was dubbed the, quote, "flight of hope".

He is also the proud owner of the tiger who he received on his 56th birthday and has personally helped oversee the care of endangered tigers in Siberia.

Before you get all choked up, don't forget Putin is a hunter and a man's man who rides shirtless to the Russian countryside.

Amara Walker, CNN.


ALLEN: I'm still confused about the man after that story.

Thanks for watching. I'm Natalie Allen.

VANIER: I'm Cyril Vanier.

For our U.S. viewers, "NEW DAY" is up next. For everyone else, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up.

Stay with CNN.