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First Charges Filed in Mueller Investigation; Catalonia Government Dismissed after Declaring Independence; North Korea Tensions. Aired 0-0:30a ET

Aired October 28, 2017 - 00:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta, breaking news reported first on CNN. Sources are telling us that the first charges have been filed in the Russia investigation. You'll remember that this man, special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

The charges are still sealed so we don't know who's targeted and what the charge is. But it is a major development in the probe that has been hanging over the Trump White House almost since day one.

Joining me now, CNN's correspondent Pamela Brown.

Pam, what have you learned?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We have learned -- our team, myself, Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz -- that a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., has approved the first charges in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

We're told by the sources that the charges are still sealed under orders from a federal judge and that plans are being made for anyone charged to be taken into custody, possibly as soon as this coming Monday.

It's unclear what the charges are because, as I pointed out, the indictment is still under seal and it's not clear whether those under indictment have been notified. A spokesman for the special counsel's office declined to comment for this.

But as we've been reporting, Mueller was appointed in May to lead this investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and, under the regulations governing special counsel investigations, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who has oversight over the Russia investigation, will be made aware of any charges before they were taken before the grand jury.

On Friday we had a producer there, who saw a flurry of activity, including the veteran prosecutor, Andrew Weismann (ph), entering the courtroom at the D.C. federal court, where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the investigation.

So now we're learning that the first charges were filed. So this is certainly a big moment in this investigation that began more than a year ago and then Robert Mueller took over in May. And now we're seeing the first charges.

VANIER: And to bring charges like this, who would have had to approve them?

BROWN: It would have had to have been the deputy attorney general, who is now overseeing it because the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had recused himself. So under the regulations, what would happen is Robert Mueller would bring the information, the potential charges, to Rod Rosenstein; make the case, detail exactly why they believe these charges should be brought.

And so Rod Rosenstein would be apprised of what was going to happen before they went before the grand jury to get approval. Now if he thought that there were any big issues, he could put a stop to it. He could say, no, I think it's too premature or I don't think we should do this.

But it appears in this case that he was on board and everything was brought to the grand jury and the charges were approved.

VANIER: To be clear, at this stage, do you have any idea who the charges are against and what they are?

BROWN: So we have an idea of who the charges are against but as we mentioned, those who we believe the charges are against have not been notified. And normally how this works is there's a sealed indictment and then there's a couple-day process, where you get an arrest warrant and so forth. So it takes a couple of days before the attorney of the client is even notified.

Then what would happen at that point is the attorney would be told that their client needs to -- his or her client needs to turn himself or herself in within a certain timeframe.

So that is typically how this plays out, which is why we're being told we could see law enforcement activity related to these sealed indictments as early as perhaps Monday or Tuesday.

VANIER: So does that mean that that's also Monday or Tuesday, when we're likely to find out who's been charged and why?

BROWN: That is likely going to be when we find out. Robert Mueller and his team's M.O. from the very beginning has been to just keep quiet, keep things under wraps, don't talk to the media.

So really the first indication will be when the arrest is made and you know how that is going to be done. We don't know. So there could be a self-surrender, where the person charged or people charged turn themselves in. And if they choose not to turn themselves in, then you would see, you know, authorities going out to arrest them.

So you're right. That will likely be the first time that we find out.

VANIER: And the Russia investigation has been going on for more than a year now.

How significant is this for the investigation?

BROWN: It's incredibly significant. It's really a landmark because you know this is what we've been waiting for, to see if investigators will bring charges in this probe that even impacts the president to a degree because investigators have been looking at his potential involvement in obstruction of justice.

You him tweeting about it, calling it a witch hunt, a hoax, saying that it's a waste of taxpayer dollars. And so you know there has been pressure to an extent on Robert Mueller to show for the work that the team has been doing, not to say that that has been motivating him to bring these charges.

But there is a certain amount of pressure here because it does affect the business of the White House. And so it is extremely significant because these are the first charges in this high-profile case that began more than a year ago.

VANIER: Pamela Brown, CNN Justice correspondent, and your colleagues, thank you very much for your work. Thanks.

BROWN: Thank you.

VANIER: Let's bring in criminal defense attorney, Sara Azari, and political analyst, Michael Genovese, also president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University.

Sara, let's start with you. First of all your legal point of view on this.

SARA AZARI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, from a legal standpoint, this is a sealed indictment and until it's unsealed, we really don't have the answers in terms of what the charges are and who is being charged because, from the beginning of this investigation, as anxious as we are for answers, what we know is there's little that we know about this.

We don't know who's actually involved; we don't know what the charges are. So even though this is a huge step toward getting the answers that we're looking for and that these are the first charges that have been brought by a grand jury, we still don't really know for certain.

And what I find really interesting about this is that there's an arrest plan that, on Monday, either people will be turning themselves in or the law enforcement is going to arrest them.

To me, that signifies that there is a source very high up within law enforcement that has provided this information because, in terms of the indictment, judges, court clerks and sometimes the U.S. attorney's office, certainly the deputy attorney general and the attorney general's office, are aware of what those charges are and who is involved.

But in terms of the arrest plan and when and how and who is going to be arrested, that is something strictly within law enforcement's discretion and knowledge. And so it's interesting that --


VANIER: Sara, Sara, you're saying CNN has good sources. We'll take that.


VANIER: But also tell me, why are the charges sealed?

Is that common?

AZARI: The charges are a lot of times sealed because of the sensitive information here. Clearly we're dealing with national security. We're dealing with potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. We're dealing with claims of obstruction of justice by President Trump, who may have impeded the investigation.

Foreign involvement by Manafort and -- it escapes me right now. But we're dealing with these very sensitive issues that involve national security. So I think that it's not surprising that the indictment is sealed at least until these individuals are going to turn themselves in or be arrested.

VANIER: How much information do the investigators need to file a charge?

I'm just wondering what the legal standard is here because we have to remind our audience, just because you charge somebody doesn't mean, in the end, that person is going to be found guilty, that --


VANIER: -- the conviction.

AZARI: Of course. And when you go before a grand jury and provide subpoenaed documents and testimony, you're trying to show the grand jury there was probable cause that a crime was committed. There was a violation of the United States code.

And that the particular individuals committed this crime. That's all you need to file the charges or get these individuals indicted. But to prove them guilty, that's a different story. It's beyond a reasonable doubt; that has to be proven to a jury for these individuals to actually be found guilty of those charges.

VANIER: One more on the legal side of things. We have some explaining to do for our international audience, the legal process here won't be familiar with everyone. It wasn't with me.

Why did a grand jury have to approve the charges?

What does the grand jury do here?

AZARI: Well, the grand jury -- so the attorney general's office has basically just given its stamp of approval that these charges could be brought to a grand jury for indictment. And a grand jury is the equivalent of what we also know as a preliminary hearing, where a court -- or in this case a grand jury -- decides that there's enough evidence, there's enough probable cause to bring these charges and proceed to trial.

It does not mean that the person's guilty. It just means that the charges can actually be filed. If the grand jury doesn't find probable cause that a crime was committed and these individuals committed the crime, then obviously there is no indictment.

Here we know -- and this is why this is such a huge development today -- is that the grand jury does believe that there are certain individuals that were guilty of offenses here, possibly collusion or obstruction of justice and crimes of that sort that we -- you know, we know this investigation has been about.

So it is huge step and I think that a grand jury indictment is pretty serious. You know it doesn't implicate guilt necessarily but it definitely is a huge step toward prosecuting an individual.

VANIER: All right. Let's look at this also from the political point of view now. Let bring in Michael Genovese.

This cloud has been hanging over the Trump White House for -- ever since Mr. Trump has been elected.

What's your take on this?

MICHAEL GENOVESE, LEGAL ANALYST: Well, just your typical Friday night, isn't it?

Kudos to CNN for breaking this. But U.S. versus question mark. And that's the key. And Sara did a great job of describing the legal elements of it. One more element that I think we need to introduce is that, in normal cases, it would go from the outside in. They would go for the small fish first.

There really aren't small fish in this. They're starting at the middle and near the top. The question is, which of the significant players --


VANIER: Just to be clear, when you say starting with small fish, you mean you charge somebody who is, you think, lower down the ladder in the hopes that they will cooperate with you and help you get somebody who is higher up the ladder?

GENOVESE: Right. Then you work your way up the food chain as close to the top as you can get. But in this case, we're starting really towards the top, not with the White House necessarily, but with Manafort, with Donald Jr., with Flynn. And so those are big fish.


VANIER: And we have no idea if they are the targets of these charges.

GENOVESE: That's correct, we don't, although logic would tell you those are the ones who are in the most legal hot water right now and you probably expect one of them to be indicted. But they haven't got the big enchilada. But that's what you go for, as you try to get people to turn, to turn over evidence, to basically squeal on upper level people.

VANIER: How do you think the White House is looking at this news?

As you suggest, their lawyers must be telling them, well, the investigators are going after the big enchilada, as you call it?

GENOVESE: Well, they're worried about which shoe is going to drop next. And will there be an avalanche?

The president has been tweeting and commenting in public about, there's nothing here. There's no there there. Well, this is the first step in the there. And the question is, how much more is there?

And so the White House, I think you can expect the president to start tweeting over the weekend. He tends to tweet the most during the weekends.

VANIER: We can bring up one of those tweets, in fact. I want them to bring it up. Let's read it.

"It's now commonly agreed after many months of costly looking that there was no collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with H.C." -- Hillary Clinton.


VANIER: I presume that's what you're referring to?

GENOVESE: Right, and that was before this news came out. And the president's been trying to give us that new, shiny object that we'll all focus on and draw attention away from his own potential problems.

But the Mueller indictment, as it's coming about, really focuses the attention. It has a way of making people focus on not Hillary Clinton and her potential problems but on the president.


VANIER: But this latest development in the investigation does remind us way too early to draw any conclusions one way or another. As you said, the U.S. versus question mark. We still don't even know who is being charged.

GENOVESE: That's right and it's going to be a long process.

VANIER: Sara Azari, Michael Genovese, thank you very much both of you for joining us.

GENOVESE: Thank you.

VANIER: Still to come on CNN NEWSROOM, unprecedented measures in Spain. Catalonia finally declared independence but the central government says it won't last long. Stay with us.




VANIER: Let's look at what's been happening in Spain. Now the country's political crisis has boiled over. On Friday, Catalonia declared independence. It declared itself an independent and sovereign state.

The central government in Madrid reacted immediately, imposing direct rule over the region, dissolving Catalonia's parliament, firing its president and calling for new elections. Prime minister Mariano Rajoy says these measures will recover control of Catalonia.


MARIANO RAJOY, SPANISH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Yesterday the general halatat (ph) president had a chance to return to legality and call elections. That is what the great majority of the people in Catalonia were asking for. He did not want to do this. So the government of Spain will take the measure to recover legality.


VANIER: Pro-independence crowds gathered outside the Catalan parliament after it declared independence. Erin McLaughlin was in Barcelona with them.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you can see here outside Catalan's central government headquarters, there is a massive party right now. Young and old people from all over Catalonia, gathering here to celebrate their victory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am beyond excited. I am speechless. I can't have words of what we -- what the people here won and what the people here expected. This is something we wanted for years, for ages, something we wanted. My grandfather wanted, my father wanted and I can -- I don't words for the meaning of all this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're waiting for you, the world, to recognize us like a country. And we can bring great to the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know how long this is going to be. But, today, we are a republic.

MCLAUGHLIN: The people here obviously ecstatic. Many believe they now live in the independent republic of Catalonia, which presents an unprecedented problem for Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy.

How will he exert control?

Many fear the answer to that question lies in the streets of Catalonia -- Erin McLaughlin, CNN, Barcelona.


VANIER: And earlier I spoke to Dominic Thomas, the chair of UCLA's Department of French and Francophone Studies. And I asked him how Catalonia might respond toward Madrid suspending their autonomy.


DOMINIC THOMAS, CHAIR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF FRENCH & FRANCOPHONE STUDIES, UCLA, CALIFORNIA: The actual declaration itself of the desire to create a republic now positions them vis-a-vis Madrid as a group of people, whose powers and a vote that they see as being legitimate, is going to be stripped of their particular functions.

And this builds the narrative that Madrid is overreaching and that the people in Catalonia, at least those that support independence, are somehow the victims of this government in Madrid.

VANIER: How do you see this going forward?

How do you this moving forward?

THOMAS: The one interesting thing which strategically the Senate, the power that did not extend -- and there was a lot of confusion over this and a lot of the local media networks felt threatened -- was that the senate did not agree to give Prime Minister Rajoy the opportunity of taking control of local media outlets.

So I think that there's an awareness of how this is going to potentially play out in the region . It's very unlikely that the separatists and independents are going to collaborate. The police chief has been removed from office.

People are now being pursued by the legal system and so on. So therefore they have nothing to lose. I believe the tensions will escalate and we will start to see this weekend as Madrid begins to take over the region.

VANIER: Is there any avenue for this to deescalate?

THOMAS: The tension are just going up. The divisions in the area. There is no longer any opportunity of being neutral on this particular question. You're either with Madrid or you're with the independence movement in Catalonia.

I think it's a tremendous shame that the European Union did not find a way earlier on to intervene in this. But there are many reasons why it did not. And the way in which the initial referendum was stopped, and interfered with by the police forces, of course, helped build this particular narrative.

And the prime minister had a responsibility earlier on as the leader of Spain of trying to push more for discussions with the people in --


THOMAS: -- Catalonia and to take away some of the wind behind Carles Puigdemont's sails.

The more this has gone on for, the more international attention has been devoted to this. And at the end of the day, the more support for the independents has become apparent.


VANIER: Moving on to Niger, we're getting a clearer picture of what happened in that country when a convoy of U.S. and Nigerien soldiers was ambushed earlier this month. Sources tell CNN the U.S. Team split up when they came under fire in an effort to counterattack.

But the two groups eventually lost communication. The patrol was described as outmanned and outgunned by dozens of ISIS linked fighters. In the subsequent gun battle, four U.S. soldiers were killed and two wounded. Their Nigerien interpreter and four Nigerien soldiers were also killed in the battle.

In Kenya, the controversial presidential election is underway this hour in two constituencies. Earlier voting took place across the country on Thursday but there was only 33 percent turnout. The opposition considers this election a sham and many boycotted the polls on Thursday.

In some places there were deadly clashes between police and protesters. Remember this election is a rerun of the disputed vote in August, which the nation's supreme court tossed out over irregularities.

It's not clear when final results will be tallied since authorities have indefinitely postponed voting in counties where opposition support remains high. This due to the risk of more violence.

We're going to take a short break. But when we come back, the Pentagon chief is in South Korea with a strong message for the North about what will happen if Pyongyang does the unthinkable.




VANIER: Next week at this time Donald Trump will be on a trip that includes stops in Japan, Vietnam and China. It will also include South Korea. Defense secretary James Mattis is already there. He visited the demilitarized zone on Friday and just wrapped a series of meetings with South Korean officials.

Mattis reiterated that the U.S. stands side by side with South Korea and he had a blunt message for Pyongyang.


GEN. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Any use of nuclear weapons by the North will be met with a massive military response, effective and overwhelming. Due to North Korea's aggressive and destabilizing actions, we have taken defensive steps as a alliance, steps such as deploying the highly effective THAAD anti-missile system to the ROK.


VANIER: With nuclear tensions on the Korean Peninsula as high as they've been in decades, North Korea has a message for Mr. Trump ahead of his trip to the region. CNN's Will Ripley is in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang.



WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Asia prepares for President Trump's landmark visit, North Korea has been uncharacteristically quiet. No missile launches in a month and a half. No nuclear test, at least not yet; only North Korea's promise to send a clear message after Trump's menacing speech at the U.N. last month when he threatened to totally destroy North Korea.

At the time North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un vowed to tame the U.S. president with fire. (INAUDIBLE) is chief engineer of a baby food factory, trying to maintain production levels despite U.N. sanctions over North Korea's nuclear program. But he says the nukes are here to stay.

"President Trump knows nothing --


RIPLEY (voice-over): -- "about the Korean nation," he says. "Now he is asking us to give up our nuclear weapons. Ask anyone on the street and they will say he is a lunatic."

His words echo North Korean propaganda. Anti-Trump posters are all over Pyongyang. U.S. and North Korean officials say diplomacy has broken down as the rhetoric has revved up. Pushing two nuclear powers further down a dangerous path. Both sides not ruling out talks altogether, but their positions couldn't be farther apart.

On a visit Friday to the demilitarized zone dividing north and South Korea, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said America's goal is not war. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

RIPLEY: But for a nuclear free Korean peninsula. With Pyongyang closer than ever to achieving what it considers a nuclear balance of power with the U.S., giving up nukes is a nonstarter.

But, you know, there are a lot of people around the world who think that by accumulating nuclear weapons your country is putting itself at risk of total destruction.

PAK SON OK, PYONGYANG RESIDENT: (Speaking foreign language).

RIPLEY: "They have the wrong information," says Pak Son OK, "tell them to come to my country and see for themselves."

Do you have hope that someday your leader Kim Jong-Un could meet the U.S. president Donald Trump?

PAK SON OK: (Speaking foreign language).

RIPLEY: "No, not at all," she says, "that meeting cannot happen. It will not happen because our marshal promised to deal with that deranged lunatic with fire."

Ominous words slowly simmering ever since as Trump's visit to the region looms, many wonder if the situation is about to boil over -- Will Ripley, CNN, Pyongyang, North Korea.


VANIER: Meanwhile, when it comes to U.S. diplomacy, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says she's not interested in taking Rex Tillerson's secretary of state job. Those comments com as Nikki Haley wraps up a three-nation tour of Africa. She tells CNN that she's happy at the U.N. and wouldn't take the secretary of state job, adding that wants to be where she is most effective.

Haley is also speaking out on extremism spreading across Africa in the wake of the deadly attack that killed four U.S. soldiers in Niger. She talked to CNN about stopping extremism before it starts.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Yes, it's so important that everybody not just talk about the Middle East and how we have to be careful of the Middle East. You see the actions that the administration has taken in the Middle East is all because we want to deal with the situation there so we don't have to deal with it in the United States.

It is the same thing for Africa. We have to deal with the situation here on the ground so that we're not dealing with it in the United States. What you have to look at is these African countries and all countries, if they take care of their people, if they respect the voices of their people, then you get true democracy. If they don't listen to the voices of their people, conflict will

erupt, extremism will happen, and the United States will have to deal with it. This is all about making sure we don't get to that point.


VANIER: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment. Stay with us.