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First Charges Filed in Mueller Investigation; Catalonia Government Dismissed after Declaring Independence; Niger Investigation; Kenya Election; U.S. Navy Rescues Women after Months at Sea. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired October 28, 2017 - 02:00   ET




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

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Thanks for joining us, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta and we begin with breaking news on CNN.

Sources tell us that the first charges have been filed in the Russia investigation. You'll remember this man, special counsel Robert Mueller, is investigating Russian meddling the 2016 U.S. election. The charges are sealed so we don't know who's targeted and what the charges actually are yet.

But preparations have been made to take anyone charged into custody as early as Monday. Taken all together, it's a major development in a probe that has been hanging over the Trump White House almost since day one. Joining me now is CNN's Justice 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 --


BROWN: -- 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 --


VANIER: -- 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.

Spain's political crisis has boiled over into a contest of wills. On Friday the Catalonia region declared independence, calling itself an independent and sovereign state. But the central government in Madrid immediately imposed direct rule, dissolved Catalonia's parliament, fired its president and called regional elections in December.

Prime minister Mariano Rajoy blamed separatist leaders for the crisis. Internationally the independence declaration has little support. The U.S., Germany, Britain, France, say they do not recognize Catalonia as a country.

But that didn't deter delirious pro-independence crowds in Barcelona. Erin McLaughlin was there.


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: With us now is Dominic Thomas, chairman of the Department of French and Francophone studies at the University California Los Angeles.

Dominic, we've reached now a stage from which there is no backing down. Catalonia went nuclear, declared independence and Madrid responded in kind.

DOMINIC THOMAS, CHAIR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF FRENCH & FRANCOPHONE STUDIES, UCLA, CALIFORNIA: Yes, absolutely remarkable because Thursday of course the day ended and the Catalonians had made no development. And then we woke up this morning and declaration of independence was made or rather the suspended declaration was made.

And less than an hour later, Prime Minister Rajoy got essentially what he wanted from the senate in Madrid to allow him to trigger Article 155 and put the region of Catalonia into receivership.

VANIER: So now Madrid says it is going to handle all the functions of the regional government in Catalonia. So it's going to handle the administration of Catalonia. It has revoked and dismissed the president and the government.

There is going to be a lawsuit against them for rebellion. They risk up to 30 years in jail. There's a big potential for this getting nasty, even nastier than it has already.

THOMAS: Right. And I think that's why strategically the declaration of independence from the Catalonian leadership ended up happening because I think that their position now vis-a-vis Madrid is rather than simply having conducted an illegal or unconstitutional referendum.

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 --


THOMAS: -- 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 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: New elections have been called for December.

Could that help solve the crisis?

THOMAS: These new elections are incredibly problematic. I think that that is why the parliament in Catalonia yesterday did not use that as an opportunity to bring them back into a legal framework because I think the outcomes are highly unpredictable.

At best, the leaders of the independence movement did not have a majority. But the longer this goes on, the more there is sympathy for their particular cause. And this is their only path to do this.

Let's not forget that this is a democratically elected parliament. So to suspend that parliament, to call for elections is, of course, an opportunity for Prime Minister Rajoy to get the outcome he deserves through what he sees as a democratic process.

But it is a democratic process that will always be infused with deep psychological wounding of the independence movement in this region that is, therefore, unlikely to go away rapidly.

VANIER: Dominic Thomas, thank you for joining us on the show. Thanks.

THOMAS: Thank you.

VANIER: Still to come on CNN NEWSROOM after the break, outnumbered and outgunned. We're learning new details about the U.S. and Nigerien tops who were caught in a deadly ambush. Stay with us.




VANIER: Welcome back.

In a few days U.S. president Donald Trump will embark on a trip to East Asia. Among the stops, South Korea. Defense secretary James Mattis is already there. He visited the demilitarized zone on Friday and just wrapped up a series of meetings with South Korean officials. In a news conference, Mattis 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 --


MATTIS: -- 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: We are now getting a clearer picture of what happened in Niger when dozens of ISIS linked militants ambushed a convoy of U.S. and Nigerien soldiers. Sources tell CNN that the U.S. team appeared outmanned and outgunned. A Nigerien soldier gave CNN other details. Arwa Damon reports.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Multiple sources briefed on the investigation have been telling CNN that the convoy split into two when some of the soldiers attempted to dismount, to launch a counter attack to try to flank the assailants. The two teams then eventually at some point ended up losing communication with one another.

What we do know from a Nigerien soldier, who was within the unit that was first on the scene, is that, when he arrived, he found the surviving Nigerien and American troops back to back, trying to set up a defensive position.

When he spoke to Nigeriens that were on the ground, they described how the assailants initially attacked them in eight vehicles and then they had another secondary wave of assailants, arriving on motorcycles.

We know from various U.S. sources that they assailants used small arms fire, heavy machine guns, RPGs and mortars in what most certainly has all indications of being a very sophisticated and complex attack.

This Nigerien soldier that we have been talking to also said, that when he arrived on scene, he noticed that some of the vegetation was still smoldering. Villagers later telling them that it was the attackers that set portions of the landscape on fire as they tried to create a smokescreen, which then allowed them to flee.

Now this particular Nigerien soldier was quite surprised that the Americans would be heading out into this particular zone in such a light convoy. By that he means that they were undermanned and underequipped for the threat that the Nigeriens face in this territory on a fairly regular basis.

They do come under frequent attack. This is an area where this particular Nigerien soldier and others that have knowledge of the landscape have said that the threat and especially in the last two years has shifted from one of banditry to one of being much more of a terrorist nature.

There are a lot of questions being raised right now along the lines of, why is it that the U.S. thought that the threat level was sufficiently low, that they could move forward in the way that they did?

Why is it that they had no overhead cover, not even observing them and perhaps, more crucially, how does the U.S. address this situation moving forward? Arwa Damon, CNN, Niamey.


VANIER: After months stranded in the ocean, a miraculous rescue. After the break, you'll hear what it took for two women to survive. Stay with us.




VANIER: In Kenya, the controversial presidential election is underway this hour in two constituencies. Earlier voting took place across the country. That was on Thursday. 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. This election is a rerun of the disputed vote in August, which the nation's supreme court tossed out over irregularities.


The independent election commission says only a third of registered voters have cast a ballot so far. Kenya's opposition leader, Raila Odinga, thinks that number is even lower. He spoke exclusively to CNN earlier.


RAILA ODINGA, KENYAN OPPOSITION LEADER: This is just a sham because it basically removed the lid off the can for what Mr. Kenyatta has been claiming, because hardly 5 percent of the people turned up to vote yesterday. They're now trying to doctor the figures through increases.

According to (INAUDIBLE), which were used to biometrically (ph) identify the voters, only 3.5 million people participated in the voting yesterday. That is just about 20 percent of the total regions of the voters.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What Mr. Odinga is saying is absolutely laughable. He is not chair of the electoral commission. He's not a member of the electoral commission. He has no way of knowing what exactly has happened until the electoral commission says so.


VANIER: The two sides still at an impasse. It's not clear when final results will be tallied since authorities have indefinitely postponed voting in counties where opposition support remains high due to the risk of more violence.

Two U.S. women are safe and sound tonight after a frightening ordeal. They planned to sail from Hawaii to Tahiti but bad weather damaged their boat. Zain Asher has the details of their rescue.


ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A U.S. Navy vessel is met with air kisses and wagging tails, a joyful greeting from two American women and their dogs after being stranded at sea for five months.

The U.S.S. Ashland found the women this week about 1,400 kilometers off the coast of Japan. It was an odyssey that began this spring, when they left Hawaii and planned to sail to Tahiti.

But the trip was anything but smooth sailing. Bad weather damaged the ship's engine, the rigging on their mast broke and they drifted well off course.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We made some modifications in order to proceed but we could not go more than about 4-5 knots. So we had limited capability to maneuver.

ASHER (voice-over): With little power to navigate, the women sent distress calls every day but they were too far out for anyone to hear them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was very depressing and it was very hopeless but it's the only thing you can do. So you do what you can with what you have. You have no other choice.

ASHER (voice-over): Luckily, what they did have was a well-stocked boat with a water purifier and a year's supply of rice, oatmeal and pasta. Still, the rescue couldn't have come sooner, as hopes were fading, along with the condition of their boat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We probably had less than 24 hours before our boat sank.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was incredibly emotional. And it was so satisfying to know the men and women that serve our country would come and assist us.


VANIER: Zain Asher reporting there.

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