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Trump White House; North Korea Tensions; Japan Decides Abe; Battle against ISIS; ; Madrid & Barcelona Accuse Each Other Of Coup D'etat; Fox Renewed O'Reilly's Contract After $32M Settlement. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired October 23, 2017 - 02:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. President Donald Trump heads to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, seeking support for tax reform. But he'll face-to-face with members of his own party, who he has previously attacked. It's a fair question to ask whether he'll get the legislative support he needs for a win.

Plus, Japan's Shinzo Abe is going to be the country's longest serving modern prime minister. This thanks to a landslide victory in snap elections.

And the political crisis in Catalonia. But some people are happy the way things are. We visit one Catalonian town that wants to stay part of Spain.

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


HOWELL: It's 2:00 am on the U.S. East Coast. It is going to be a big week ahead for the U.S. president. He is set to have lunch with top Senate Republicans on Tuesday. The main topic at hand: tax reform.

This will be a prime opportunity for President Trump to push his tax plan. But he is even hoping to get the approved legislation on his desk by late next month. There could, though, be some awkward, perhaps even tense moments at that gathering on Tuesday.

President Trump will come face-to-face with some of the lawmakers that he has attacked during his months in office, senators like John McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake.

The president looking to mend fences on one hand, while the other hand steadily on Twitter, tweeting a text, continuing his spat with a Democratic congresswoman. But now she is fighting back on Twitter as well. CNN's Boris Sanchez has this report for us.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On Sunday, the president continued his feud with Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of South Florida, saying that she is the gift that keeps on giving and saying that, because of her, voters would vote Republican.

This comes after the representative was on a Sunday morning talk show, comparing the situation in Niger to Benghazi, saying that it was Donald Trump's Benghazi. This fighting between the representative and the president not likely to go away any time soon, as Congresswoman Wilson has now demanded an apology from White House chief of staff John Kelly, after he compared her to "an empty barrel."

We've yet to receive any comment from the White House over the recent remarks going back and forth between the president and the representative.

However, the president did make some more remarks on that on FOX News over the weekend. Here he is, talking about his combative style and how he feels that defending himself from any kind of criticism helps to get things done. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even your supporters say he's got fantastic policies. We want to see this through. But the bickering and the feuding actually gets in the way. Obviously the feuding with Senator Corker. I think there is a personal thing going on between you and Senator McCain.

Do you worry that this bickering and feuding gets in the way of your agenda?

TRUMP: No. Sometimes it helps, to be honest with you. So we'll see what happens in the end. But I think actually sometimes it helps. Sometimes it gets people to do what they're supposed to be doing.


SANCHEZ: During that interview, the president also discussed something that the White House is fully focused on this week, which is tax reform. President Trump penning an op-ed in "USA Today," in which he said that it was time to re-ignite the middle class miracle and pushing for not only a tax reform but tax cuts that benefit the middle class.

On Sunday, the president also held a phone call with members of the House Republican Party, in which House Speaker Paul Ryan said that he wanted to get the Senate's budget passed before the end of the week.

This according to a Republican source that was briefed on the call. He said that President Trump and Vice President Pence were both on the call. The president saying that this is something he wanted to get done immediately, telling the Republican members of the House that they were on the verge of doing something very, very historic. The president also heads to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with

Republican senators to discuss tax reform, many of whom he has contentious relationships with, open feuds if you will, including Senators John McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake. You can bet that their interactions will be closely watched on Tuesday -- Boris Sanchez, CNN at the White House.


HOWELL: Boris, thank you.

President Trump needs top Republican Mitch McConnell's help to get a tax reform bill through the Senate. And it looks like he has that. While the president has scolded the Senate majority leader in the past for failing to repeal and replace ObamaCare, McConnell is shrugging all of that off and insisting that he and Mr. Trump --


HOWELL: -- share a common agenda.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I don't think President Trump has been given nearly enough credit for the other things he is doing to get the country growing again and that is changing the people on these boards and commissions that have such a pervasive impact on growth in this country.

We're going to score a big legislative accomplishment here in tax reform in the very near future.


HOWELL: Let's break all of this down now with our two guests, Ben Ferguson and Ellis Henican, Ben a featured speaker at the 2004 Republican National Convention and also host of a daily and weekly radio show here in the United States and a CNN political contributor.

Ellis Henican, a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper columnist and a TV news pundit, also the author of numerous books.

Gentlemen, it's good to have you both here to talk about this. Let's talk about tax reform, a very important issue. It was a big campaign promise of the president.

Ellis, starting with you here, how difficult do you think it will be for Republicans to push this through, along with the president, for a legislative win?

ELLIS HENICAN, METRO PAPERS: Well, it's make or break. They certainly have a tremendous incentive to try and get this done. They're all in the desire page. That's not a problem.

But then you get down to the details and mad tax reform is mighty complicated. When you take something away from one pile to give it to another, you end up making then both angry. So it's going to be a tough fight. But they do have an incentive to make it work.

HOWELL: Ben, do you agree?

Ben Ferguson, Republican commentator: I do. Look, I think this is going to be a tough battle anytime you're doing something to change the tax code. But I also think there is very much an appetite for it in this country.

The question is, can politicians actually be bipartisan and have a real conversation about this and actually look at getting things done for the American people?

If you look at the polls, the average American thinks there does need to be some refining of the tax code. Everybody almost agrees there's needs to be a simplification of the tax code.

And so lower taxes, adding on that as well, and helping with small business owners with some of the tax breaks that they would receive, this should be something that should be able to get done in Congress.

Again, you're talking about Congress. And most Americans also say they suck at their jobs.

Who knows if they can actually pull it off or not?

HOWELL: So the president will need members of his own party to push this through. Many of the people he has publicly attacked, people like Senator Mitch McConnell, who was asked whether those attacks could hurt President Trump's efforts on this. Let's listen here. We can talk about it on the other side.


DANA BASH, CNN SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You've been on the receiving end of several of those attacks.

Do they help you get legislation through the Senate, sir?

MCCONNELL: Look, I'm not particularly concerned about all of this. What we're interested in is achieving an agenda for the American people. And the president's agenda and our agenda are one and the same.

We're thrilled to have somebody in the White House who supports what this House and Senate Republican majority has been wanting to have an opportunity to do for a long time.


HOWELL: So, Ben, the president has said these attacks are actually useful in getting things done.


And do you agree with that? FERGUSON: Look, I think when President Trump was playing nice with Congress, he wasn't getting anything out of them for the first several months. So I don't think that a tweet is going to disrupt legislation.

If it does, then the question is, the senator and the congressman that is making it personal and not doing what's in the best interest of the constituents, are they going to be held accountable by their constituents?

I think it's always more helpful have a consensus. But the reality is when Donald Trump played nice, how many things did he get accomplished with Congress?

Congress has got to get their act together. It doesn't matter if it's Republicans or Democrats. Congress is a dysfunctional body right now. It's got to be fixed.

And I don't think the president tweeting about them or being blunt about certain members of Congress is hurting him at all because, when he was BFF with them, they weren't getting anything done for him anyway.

HOWELL: Ben, you say when President Trump played nice, I'm trying to remember exactly what that was --


HOWELL: Ellis, I've got to ask you, OK, so Ben points it out, these personal --

HENICAN: I'm scratching my head.


HOWELL: Will it undermine the president's ability to get things done?

HENICAN: Well, yes, of course. Listen, if I want to achieve something, insulting you is by and large not a really good way to get it going. But there is one other thing in play here. The question is -- and I think this applies to the Congress as well as the president.

Can they restrain their impulses under this label of tax reform to really just give a whole bunch of goodies to the people at the top of the economic ladder?

If we were really talking about helping middle class people, there is going to be democratic support for that. But if under that label what you're really trying to do is just cut the taxes of the super rich and leave the middle class where they are, boy, you're going get a lot of opposition every step of the way.

HOWELL: President Trump attacked the congresswoman, Frederica Wilson, before a funeral. Many people have been following this. Here is the tweet from President Trump, branding her as "Wacky Wilson" --


HOWELL: -- essentially saying that she is the gift that keeps on giving.

Then she responded, saying that Niger is his Benghazi.

Ellis, first to you.

Will this stick?

HENICAN: Well, listen, I think this particular feud is going to pass. I mean, she is not a crucial national figure. I think one of the fallouts that may well be permanent here is that the president really has lost his four-star character witness.

Part of the collateral here it is really did undermine the credibility of General Kelly, the White House chief of staff. And that could really be lasting damage here.

HOWELL: Ben, your thoughts here?


FERGUSON: I got to disagree with that. You have a congresswoman here that took the worst news in the worst moments of a widow's life and turned into it politics by saying she wanted to, quote, "cuss out the president."

And also said a day later I'm now a household name. It tells you a lot about her and her character. I think the president had a right and duty to respond. I think General Kelly also had a right and duty to respond.

Ultimately, I hope this goes away very quickly because it shouldn't be about this congresswoman. It should be about -- or the president.

It should be about the four soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I hate that this congresswoman decided to call the press and to say I wanted to cuss the president out because no one is going to remember this soldier and what he did for this country. They're going to remember the controversy around a phone call that took place.

It also is sad that you had another four-star family that felt obligated to share a private conversation they had with the president, to let the American people know how compassionate he was when he called them to talk about their loved one being killed in action.

None of this should have happened. A Gold Star family should never be put in a position where they have to share that private conversation with the world, to defend a man that called them.

The congresswoman should never use someone dying on the battlefield for political gain. I really just hope this all goes away quickly and we get back to the point where we honor the soldiers. HOWELL: I think that point very important. Pointing out the fact here, four U.S. soldiers died. That is the big topic at hand and there are certainly many questions to look into beyond that.

Ben Ferguson, Ellis Henican, we appreciate you both. Thank you for your time.

Still ahead, in Japan, Prime Minister Abe has all but officially secured his third term in office. Later, what he had to say about a call that he had with the U.S. president, Donald Trump.

Plus, ISIS is defeated in Raqqah, Syria. But it remains a threat in Northern Syria. Why Deir ez-Zor could be one of the last strongholds ahead. NEWSROOM right back after the break.





HOWELL: The U.S. Secretary of Defense is in Asia to discuss the growing tensions with North Korea. James Mattis kicked off his week- long trip in the Philippines. That's where he is meeting with his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Speaking with reporters earlier, Mattis emphasized diplomacy as a way to de-escalate the crisis.


GEN. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We'll be talking about how we reinforce the diplomatic efforts to resolve this campaign, to try to return a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

And also how we're going to maintain peace by keeping our military alert while our diplomats, Japanese, South Korean and U.S., work with all the nations to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.


HOWELL: Mattis' trip comes just a few weeks before the U.S. president's first trip to Asia. And President Trump prepares for that. As he does, he discussed North Korea and its nuclear program in an interview with FOX News on Sunday. Mr. Trump praised China for stepping up and boasted that the U.S. is prepared for anything.


TRUMP: They have been helping us. They're closing off their banking systems to North Korea. They have cut the oil way down; look, 93 percent of the things going into North Korea come through China.

China is big stuff. I believe he's got -- he's got the power to do something very significant with respect to North Korea. We'll see what happens. Now with that being said, we're prepared for anything. We are so prepared like you wouldn't believe.


HOWELL: Now to Japan. That nation's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is declaring a resounding victory in Sunday's snap general election. He spoke by phone to the U.S. president to reaffirm their commitment to put pressure on North Korea.

Let's go live to Tokyo; journalist Kaori Enjoji is there.

Let's talk about the message that he had to the people who reelected him, Kaori.

What were the key points that he had to say in his message?

KAORI ENJOJI, JOURNALIST: George, well, I think the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, in addressing the nation formally earlier on today, his big message was continuity, continuity because the prime minister here has been in office already for five years.

And this big win in the national polls on Sunday suggest that he could be in office for as long as up to 2021. That's nearly -- that's nine years in office. That has never happened before in the post-war period in Japanese history.

So that continuity is the message that he wants to reinforce. I think all in all, he is still not a very popular prime minister here in Japan. But the fact that he has won so resoundingly in this national poll suggests that maybe the public was really looking for continuity at a time of increased tensions in the area -- George.

HOWELL: As we mentioned, the prime minister spoke by phone with the U.S. president, speaking specifically about North Korea.

What can you tell us about the nature of that call?

ENJOJI: Well, this was a 30-minute telephone call. And the two leaders, Trump and Abe, have spoken so many times, far more than the number of times the prime minister has spoken with the previous --


ENJOJI: -- U.S. president, Mr. Barack Obama.

And yes, Trump is visiting in region from early November. And the two discussed North Korea first and foremost. And the prime minister in his news conference said that they will discuss the North Korean situation thoroughly when they meet in Japan.

They also agreed to another round of golf diplomacy. They will be playing a round when the prime minister and Donald Trump meet here in Japan.

And he said that he wants to reaffirm his commitment to the alliance and to dealing with North Korea at a time of increasing tensions and also stating that he wants to encourage more dialogue with China and Russia to try and diffuse tensions in this area.

HOWELL: And you described this, Kaori, as a game changer for the prime minister politically. Explain how he comes out of this effectively with more power to make changes.

ENJOJI: Yes. I think he is very much emboldened by this result. The party and the coalition has had it before. But this is going to be the last opportunity that the prime minister has to really go forward full steam with his dream.

And that dream has been to change the constitution, particularly as it relates to the armed forces here in Japan. He wants to legitimize their presence, possibly give them a bigger role. In order to do that, he needs to revise the constitution; two-thirds majority is the prerequisite to put that proposal in motion.

He also needs to call a national referendum. So the actual result may be years ahead. But I think it gives him a lot more tailwind to push this through.

But at the same time, I think he is very aware that any kind of military buildup by Japan would not go down well with the trading partners here, particularly South Korea and China, two countries that he really needs to cooperate closely with, now more than ever in terms of North Korea.

But I think in terms of the constitutional reform, he has been emboldened by this latest result.

HOWELL: Kaori Enjoji, thank you so much, live for us in Tokyo.

With the battles near ISIS nearing an end in Syria and Iraq, the U.S. secretary of state says it's now time for Iranian-backed militias to disband in Iraq. Rex Tillerson spoke at a joint meeting of the leaders of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Washington has expressed concern that Iran could take advantage of gains against ISIS to expand its own influence.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Certainly Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against daish and ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home.

Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control of areas that had been overtaken by ISIS and daish that have now been liberated, allow the Iraqi people to rebuild their lives with the help of their neighbors.


HOWELL: Rebuilding after ISIS is also a major concern in Raqqa, Syria. Much of that city, as you see here, it remains in ruins and the Russian military says the United States is to blame. Defense ministry spokesmen says Sunday that the U.S.-led bombing had

erased the city. State media say he compared Raqqa to the World War II bombing of Dresden, Germany. And he criticized civilian casualties in the Syrian city.

That Russian official also compared U.S. operations in Raqqa to Moscow's campaign near the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. He said it took Russian and Syrian forces less time to free the former ISIS stronghold but it doesn't appear that the area is completely liberated.

ISIS remains a threat that there and both Russian-backed and U.S. troops shared the battlefield. For more now, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has the story.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: This may be where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is hiding but probably wishes he wasn't. Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes pound ISIS' remnants in the city of Deir ez-Zor but they aren't alone in the skies or on the ground here.

Banking hard and keeping out of the Russians' way are U.S. jets, assisting these U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters to take the nearby countryside from ISIS just the day before. ISIS and collapsing, leaving in their wake an almost Cold War standoff.

WALSH: ISIS may be holding out in a pocket of a town of Deir ez-Zor behind me, over there, surrounded by the Syrian regime but they've been kicked out, too, of this area by American-backed Kurdish SDF forces.

Now they've advanced to this river here, which puts them literally meters away from the Syrian regime, who are backed by Russian airpower. We're told, in fact, these Kurdish American-backed forces have held face-to-face meetings with Russian military officials to be sure they don't clash around here.

[02:25:00] Now, in the end game against ISIS, Moscow and Washington's forces, literally meters away from each other.

WALSH (voice-over): The Kurds are so relaxed with their new neighbors that fishing is this afternoon's task -- with hand grenades.

Five years in and Syria is ground to dust. And this is what they're still fighting over. It's unclear who is left inside Deir ez-Zor. But those who fled, estimated recently at 10,000 a day, dot the skyline. They try to filter them but last week a suicide bomber struck.

And yesterday they found 30 ISIS fighters. They're followed around by the horror of what they fled but also by suspicion.

The simple question, are the last to flee the most loyal to ISIS or just the least fortunate? "We saw everything in my village," she says. "Airstrikes, children and elderly dying. My relative Just last week. The children couldn't stop crying from fear. I could only stand there. What could I do? I don't know if our home is still standing or even who is bombing us."

Yusuf (ph) is 10 and doesn't have any superhero powers here, just dust and bad dreams.

"When I would hear the shelling," he says, "I would hide in the ground. The hardest part about living in the desert is we're not at home."

The stream is endless, like the bombing they flee and this war, which keeps finding new chapters and adversaries around them -- Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, near Deir ez-Zor, Syria.


HOWELL: We're following the political crisis in Spain. Not everyone in Catalonia wants independence from the nation. Next, the residents who favor giving up the region's autonomy.

Live around the world, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.


[02:30:26] HOWELL: Welcome back to viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, it's good to have you with us. I'm George Howell, with the headlines we're following for you.

This hour, the U.S. President Donald Trump goes to Capitol Hill on Tuesday looking for support for his tax reform plan but there could be some awkward moments among the senators that he'll face, three who he's partially criticized in recent past. John McCain, Bob Corker, and Jeff Flake who he will need support from.

The U.S. Secretary of Defense is meeting with his Japanese counterpart in the Philippines. James Mattis is on a week-long trip to the region to talk with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. They're expected to discuss North Korea and the nuclear crisis.

The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, is thanking voters for giving him a resounding victory in Sunday's snap election. He spoke at a press conference last hour, earlier Sunday. The U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Mr. Abe in a phone call and the two agreed to step up the pressure on North Korea.

Now to Spain's political crisis, both sides, Madrid and Barcelona are denying carrying out a coup d'etat. Catalan leaders are rejecting any direct rule from Madrid, they say that the region won the right to be independent through an unofficial referendum. Madrid want's to suspend Catalonia's autonomy until new elections are held. And now, in a new interview with the BBC, the Spanish Foreign Minister is defending the government's plan. Listen.


ALFONSO DASTIS, SPANISH PRIME MINISTER: We are going to establish the authorities who are going to rule, you know, the day to day affairs of Catalonia according, as I said, from -- to the Catalan laws and norms. I hope everyone will disregard whatever instructions they will be planning to give because they will not have, you know, the legal authority to do that.


HOWELL: In the meantime, not everyone in Catalonia opposes direct rule from Madrid. Our Erin McLaughlin met some people in the region who think remaining part of Spain is the best option.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nestled between the foothills of the Catalan mountains and a motorway North of Barcelona, Badia del Valles, a working-class Catalan town and the stronghold for Spain. Residents here are adamant, they don't want independence. At a local church, prayers that things stay the way they are and Catalonia remains a part of Spain. Some here say with the Spanish Prime Minister's new emergency measures to sack the Catalan government and call elections within six months, their prayers have been answered.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They're not going to take our autonomy from us. They will just take those who are not capable away. And in six months, they'll fix them, the sooner the better.

MCLAUGHLIN: For many here, enemy number one, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, chief architect of the push for independence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): More assumes would think it's true because we were fine.

MCLAUGHLIN: Badia del Valles was founded in the 1975, a few months before fascist dictator General Francisco Franco died. Spain developed it as social project meant to be home to the area's migrant workforce. People moved here hoping for a better life. Now, many fear it could all fall apart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The most important thing for me is security, a good economy, to live like we did before. Now everything is falling apart.

MCLAUGHLIN: But not everyone here feels this way. Even in the most pro-Spain town of Catalonia, there are those who say they feel Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has crossed the line.

MCLAUGHLIN: Marcos Real owned a cafe off the main square. He's outraged at the way Rajoy's handling things. After the crackdown on the October 1st referendum, he closed his business to protest the violence. He tells me Catalans was humiliated.

MCLAUGHLIN: How do you feel about Prime Minister Rajoy moving to take direct control of Catalonia? MARCOS (through translator): If I can, I'll vote. And if they don't

allow me to vote, I'll do it by force as they did it on October the 1st. This is a Democratic system, and what President Rajoy is doing is skipping the law. So, this is fascist state as it was 35 years ago.

MCLAUGHLIN: So much emotion in this tiny town. Residents worry they have a lot to lose. Erin McLaughlin, CNN, Badia del Valles.

[02:35:04] HOWELL: A senior U.S. lawmaker is urging President Trump to go after Russia for its threat. Oppose the trip -- the threat that it poses, rather, to U.S. elections. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told NBC's "Meet the Press," that the action was needed on Moscow because it was, quote, coming -- they were coming after us, he said. He added that the White House had a blind spot on Russia and he couldn't figure out why. In the meantime, CNN has learned of yet another Russian-connected effort to exploit racial divisions of the United States. This one, in a highly unusual twist. It turns out these operatives posed as African-American advocacy groups and hired unwitting African-Americans to further the cause. CNN Senior Investigative Correspondent, Drew Griffin, has this report.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: In January of this year, well, after the Presidential election, New York martial arts instructor Omowale Adewale says he was contacted by a group called "Black Fist", saying it would pay him to hold free self-defense classes for members of the black community.

Did you ever think this was weird?

OMOWALE ADEWALE, SELF-DEFENSE TRAINING INSTRUCTOR: Yes. A lot of times I thought it was -- I thought it was weird.

GRIFFIN: Weird, but the money was good. $320 a month paid direct through PayPal and Google Wallet to teach just four classes, and Black Fist would promote it. What was also weird, no one from Black Fist ever showed up to meet him. His only communication was in text and faraway-sounding phone calls from this man named Taylor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Hello, Walli, this is Taylor. I wanted to confirm the self-defense lessons that we've talked about last time.

GRIFFIN: The digital trail suggests the contact on the phone was part of a Russian propaganda arm seeking to stoke racial tensions and disrupt the U.S. political system. CNN has confirmed the social media accounts connected to Black Fist are among the pages Facebook identified as coming from Russians according to source familiar with the matter. Links to those accounts appear on the Black Fist Web site and Black Fist which portrayed itself as an activist group seeking to empower Black Americans was likely developed inside the Russian troll factory in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

They convinced you. ADEWALE: Very easily. Very, very easily. Some of the things were, you know, sketchy, but at the end of the day, it's still fitness, we're just -- we're just -- it was just training. We're just training people.

GRIFFIN: Look at what Black Fist said about its self-defense classes, they are by black, for black, and let them know that black power matters. Adewale's contact also wanted these videos and photos of blacks learning self-defense. Adewale wasn't the only one, personal trainers and classes promoted in other cities, Los Angeles, Lansing, Michigan, according to Eventbrite and other pages, where classes were being publicized, there were dozens.

In Tampa, Florida, amateur boxer Chuck "Jetton" Jefferson says Black Fist found him through Instagram, offered to pay him $100 a class like Adewale through PayPal. He confirms it was the same voice on the other end of the phone call, the same demand for videos to prove classes took place. And though the entire setup sounded odd, he's having a hard time understanding why Russians were behind it.

CHUCK JEFFERSON, MARTIAL ARTS AND BOXING INSTRUCTOR: So, I mean, when you have somebody that's going to pay you to do something you love, I mean, it's hard to see it like a -- like a negative thing. It's hard to see it in that light. But I mean, like I said, it was weird, it was different.

GRIFFIN: The Russian magazine RBC first identified Black Fist as well as dozens of other Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts designed to look and act like real Americans. The propaganda troll factory operating out of this building in Saint Petersburg employs hundreds of people running fake Facebook accounts, Twitter accounts, Instagram and Tumblr accounts, designed to look and act like real Americans, spewing out messages aimed at sowing discord among the American electorate.

ANDREY ZAKHAROV, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, RBK: Before, I think it was a part of that -- or their attempt to create a wide range of societies which look like real ones to establish all of this and to support all of these tensions.

GRIFFIN: According to journalist Andrey Zakharov, at its height, the troll factory had a reach of more than 70 million per week.


HOWELL: Drew Griffin there on the story. Coming up, another sexual harassment claim against former Fox News Host, Bill O'Reilly. What one of his former colleagues thinks about that situation, that's ahead.


[02:43:00] HOWELL: New allegations against former Fox News Anchor, Bill O'Reilly. A former Fox News colleague threatened to sue him for sexual misconduct. So, he reportedly paid her a whopping $32 million. The New York Times detailed the allegations in this expose. O'Reilly settled new harassment claim, then Fox renewed his contract. O'Reilly claims the report smears and lies.

Former Fox News Anchor, Gretchen Carlson, summed up the entire situation, as quote, horrifying and outrageous. CNN's Brian Stelter has this look into it.


BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Hey there. Yes, this is a story about money and power involving Bill O'Reilly and a long time legal analyst of Fox News named Lis Wiehl. She was a regular on O'Reilly's program, "The O'Reilly Factor," until the end of last year. And that's where the story gets really complicated. So, in January of this year, Lis Wiehl went to O'Reilly and threatened a sexual harassment lawsuit.

O'Reilly settled out of court. He agreed to pay her $32 million. A few weeks later, Fox News renewed his contract for an incredible $25 million a year. Now, the next part of the story you've probably already heard about. It's when Bill O'Reilly was fired by Fox News in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal. This happened in April, after The New York Times reported on other secret settlements that O'Reilly had raised with accusers. There was an advertiser boycott, and by the end of April, O'Reilly was out of a job.

But now, he's been mounting a comeback. He's been trying to find another T.V. channel that will hire him. And that's why this new New York Times story landed with such a thud. According to The New York Times, Lis Wiehl was alleging harassments and a nonconsensual sexual relationship with O'Reilly. We don't know exactly what she says happened because she is now sworn the secrecy. But The New York Times obtained details of the settlement and published them over the weekend.

[02:44:59] Now, O'Reilly says he's never mistreated anyone. He says this is bogus and he is vowing to respond on Monday. But The New York Times story was a shock to the T.V. world. I spoke of former Fox News Anchor, Gretchen Carlson, who, of course, sued Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News last year. She received a $20-million settlement herself. She told me she was shocked to read this new New York Times story about O'Reilly. She was also disturbed that Fox brought him back on the air last month with Sean Hannity. Here's what she said.

GRETCHEN CARLSON, FORMER FOX NEWS CHANNEL ANCHOR: Brian, I think it's horrifying and outrageous that any company after dismissing somebody for allegations such as that would not only re-sign a contract but allow that person to come back on the air. It's outrageous and it's one of the reasons that I want to make sure that I chronicled so many other women's stories in my book, because now, we are on a movement, we are on a movement to speak up and be heard, and there's no turning back for women in the workplace. Why should women have the American Dream taken away from them? We work just as hard as anyone else. And it's time that it stops.

STELTER: Gretchen Carlson said she is really inspired by all the women that have come forward against Harvey Weinstein. And as a result of the Weinstein scandal, coming forward against other men who have harassed them in the workplace. But this Bill O'Reilly story is a reminder about the power of ratings, the power of million-dollar contracts. Fox renewed O'Reilly's contract and wanted him to stay on the air until it was impossible for him to remain. The idea that he had this $32-million settlement was just the cost price of doing business for Fox News. Now, it's been exposed by the sunlight and it has embarrassed both Fox and O'Reilly. But it's created this educational moment about how money and power work in relationship to sexual harassment charges. Brian Stelter, CNN, New York.


HOWELL: Brian, thanks. Still ahead, Puerto Rico is struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria. Most of that island still doesn't have power. And now, they're facing yet another challenge. We'll tell you about it, ahead.


IVAN CABRERA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm CNN Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera checking in now with your WEATHER WATCH here across the United States. If you're going to be traveling, big cold front across the eastern part of the states. In fact, this feature has been bringing severe weather and even tornadoes, reported tornadoes yesterday across the plains and into the southeast. What's happening here is we're dividing two seasons. We have very warm temperatures to the east and on the back side of that front, a significant plummet of temperatures the next couple days as cold air begins to pull in from north to south.

The area of low pressure is still headed onto the north and east, so kind of cloudy and rainy starts at the (INAUDIBLE) across side New England and through the 95 corridor. This rain will get out of the way and then make way for the cold air that will be pushing in rather quickly here as temperatures begin to fall.

[02:50:00] There are the thunderstorms in Atlanta. Big hub there, may find some delays early on with the heavy rainfall and wind. And then back behind, it will begin to cool off, pretty quiet in San Francisco down towards Southern California, high temperatures. We'll see low 20s once again for Monday, then there's the dip, as temperatures come back into the mid and upper teens. And in fact, these are the high temperatures into the evening will drop even more so through the afternoons. Across Central America, partly cloudy with afternoon thunderstorms in the 20s.


HOWELL: We're receiving new aerial footage from the damage in Puerto Rico. It's been more than a month now since Hurricane Maria tore through that island, and a sense of normalcy is slow to return for millions of residents there. Only about 20 percent of the island has power at this point while 73 percent has access to clean water. And now, Puerto Ricans are facing yet another challenge. Garbage and debris have built up on the streets there. CNN's Polo Sandoval has this report.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This ruckus is music to Charlie Dominguez's ears.


SANDOVAL: He's literally been counting the days waiting for cleanup crews to reach his town Toa Baja, Puerto Rico.

DOMINGUEZ: Counting the calendar, I've been checking every days -- 34 days.

SANDOVAL: All over this U.S. territory, piles of debris sit soaked sidewalks weeks after Maria. For 76-year-old Louie Acosta, this rodent-infested, mosquito breeding ground, a reminder of both the pieces of home that were lost and all that needs to be addressed before his community can rebuild.

LOUIE ACOSTA, TOA BAJA RESIDENT: Ugh, just looking at it, I get sick.

SANDOVAL: Seeing his and the rest of the neighbors' belongings rotten in the sun is taking a toll.

ACOSTA: In a month, you see you're surrounded by trash so it's not easy to see that.

SANDOVAL: Though the trash is being trucked away, another health crisis could be looming.

JUAN ROSARIO, LOCAL ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: We were in a huge mess before Maria. And now, the mess really a -- really a crisis.

SANDOVAL: Juan Rosario known all over the island as a prominent environmental activist, worries there is little to no room left in Puerto Rico's landfills from Maria's debris.

A year before Maria, Puerto Rican government agreed to close 12 of the island's 29 landfills because they were beyond capacity based on EPA findings. The problem goes beyond where to put Maria's mess. It's also what's in it. For years, the EPA has been concerned about dangerous substances from the island's landfills seeping into the soil, potentially contaminating groundwater.

ROSARIO: This is a disaster. And this is a disaster in the -- in the making in the sense that we are going to pay for this, not necessarily now but after.

SANDOVAL: Rosario worries more pollutants could be coming in a rush to clean up his island. Polo Sandoval, CNN, Toa Baja, Puerto Rico.


HOWELL: Polo, thank you, at the cleanup there. At least that continues. And Puerto Rico will have calm weather, that's good news as it struggles to recover. But the U.S. east coast is in for a chill. Our meteorologist Ivan Cabrera is here with more on that -- Ivan?

CABRERA: In for a chill, but first, we've got to get to the rain. Now, George, it's good to see you. And it's going to be a few days before we get rid of the system, which by the way, has already produced in the last few days six tornadoes across the plains, 24 hail reports and also 76 reports of wind in excess of 60 miles an hour.

Here is the storm system now. This is the area. We're going to focus in from Nashville down in Montgomery into the Panhandle of Florida. All of this will continue pushing east. I stopped it there. Look at that. The morning commute, my goodness, that's going to be a mess for the Atlanta Metro there with torrential rain. It usually is pretty bad even when it's dry.

There comes the storm as they push a little further to the east. I don't think we're going to have severe weather in Georgia, but primarily, from Virginias through the Carolinas, we could be looking at some nasty winds. Again, in excess of 60 miles an hour, perhaps even some rotating thunderstorms that would be isolated tornadoes, and a whole lot of rain, buckets full here because this is going to be a two-day event. So, for the northeast, it's going to be a slow-moving system. So, that's why we have some heavy rain on the way for (INAUDIBLE) it will actually clear out across the southeast a little bit earlier.

So, that cool air will begin to push in through places like Atlanta, Charlotte, and down towards Jacksonville. But in the northeast, let's take a look at the forecast as we check in over the next few days. We're going to have -- and in fact, a couple of days here of very heavy rainfall across portions of New York, we could be seeing anywhere from two to as much as four inches in the next few days, heading into Tuesday and Wednesday. It does clear up by Thursday.

[02:55:10] We do get much cooler as we head into the latter part of the weekend. And Atlanta will actually get much cooler through Tuesday with temperatures there dropping into the 40s. So, checking your seven-day forecast will take you right through the next weekend. Never too late, so I'll look forward to that, but there you see the rainfall coming up in the next couple of days. And again, it could be heavy at times, it could even have some flooding potential there.

In Atlanta, it will be a one-day event, thankfully, heavy rain for you and then the cool down beginning on Tuesday. And by the way, one of the coldest air masses we've seen so far at this season, so get ready for some 30s. And the burbs will be into 40s right into the metro, followed by some milder temperatures end of the weekend next weekend, George.

HOWELL: A rainy night in Georgia when we step outside, Ivan, thank you so much. And thank you for being with us for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. The news continues right here on CNN after the break.