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First Charges Filed in Mueller Investigation; Catalonia Government Dismissed after Declaring Independence; Niger Investigation; Kenya Election. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired October 28, 2017 - 03:00   ET




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

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hi, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta and we've got breaking news out of Washington today, first reported right here on CNN.

A major step forward in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. Our Evan Perez has the details.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: A federal grand jury in Washington approved the first charges in the investigation led by Robert Mueller. We're told by sources that the charges are still sealed under orders from a federal judge. And plans are being made for anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday.

It's unclear what the charges are and, at this point, it's not clear whether those under indictment have even been notified. A spokesman for the special counsel's office declined to comment.

Mueller was appointed in May to lead the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections and, under the regulations governing the special counsel investigations, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who has the oversight of the Russia investigation, would have been made aware of any charges before they were taken before the grand jury.

On Friday, top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weisman (ph), were seen entering the courtroom at the D.C. federal court, where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the Russia investigation.

After more than a year of investigation first began by the FBI, this is a big moment all involved have been waiting for -- Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 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 --


VANIER: -- 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.

And the Mueller investigation is one of several trying to get to the bottom of Russian election meddling. The U.S. Senate is also looking into this and on Friday the Senate Intelligence Committee heard from former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. That's according to a CNN source familiar with this investigation.

Page had told the Senate earlier this year that he had brief interactions with a Russian official several years ago. "The Washington Post" is reporting that Page gathered intelligence for Moscow, an accusation that he denies.

The White House has been sticking to a familiar script on this investigation for a while now. "Fake news, waste of time, waste of money," and so on. But they've added a new wrinkle recently: blame Hillary Clinton. Here's the White House press secretary.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Congress has spent a great deal of time on this, a better part of a year. All of your news organizations have actually spent probably a lot of money on this as well, which we would consider probably a pretty big waste.

I think that our position hasn't changed since day one and I think we're seeing now that if there was any collusion with Russia, it was between the DNC and the Clintons and certainly not our campaign.


VANIER: So that was the president's press secretary. But President Trump himself took to Twitter to push for transparency on the issue.

The president tweeted, "After many months of costly looking that there was no collusion between Russia and Trump."

He adds that the collusion was with Hillary Clinton. He's referring to reports that the Clinton campaign helped fund research that led to the so-called Russian dossier of material on then candidate Trump. The president also wants a probe into the sale of the uranium one mining company to the Russians during the Obama administration.

Democrats say it has more to do with distraction than disclosure.

Speaking of disclosure, President Trump says he's releasing all the files relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He tweets that all the files will be released in the interest of full disclosure and to put to rest any conspiracy theories.

However, the release was actually ordered by the 1992 JFK Act. About 300 files were to remain classified but the president says he wants to release them all except for the names of people who are still living.

Spain's prosecutor general is preparing to charge the Catalan president and his government with rebellion. Many Catalans are waking up to an uncertain future on Saturday. This after partying hard on Friday, when the wealthy Spanish region declared independence. Lawmakers there called Catalonia a sovereign state.

But the central government in Madrid immediately imposed direct rule. It dissolved Catalonia's parliament, fired its president and called new elections in December.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy blamed separatist leaders for this crisis.


MARIANO RAJOY, SPANISH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Yesterday the general alatat (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: Catalonia's independence declaration is being all but ignored around the world. European Council president Donald Tusk tweeted for E.U., "Nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favors force of arguments, not argument of force."

And the United States is also supporting Madrid. The State Department says this, "Catalonia is an integral part of Spain and the United States supports the Spanish government's constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united."

Scotland now with its own independence movement stopped short of supporting an independent Catalonia. The Scottish external affairs secretary wrote, "We understand and --


VANIER: -- respect the position of the Catalan government. While Spain has the right to oppose independence, the people of Catalonia must have the ability to determine their own future."

CNN's Erin McLaughlin joins me now from Barcelona.

Erin, Catalonia has gone nuclear, declaring independence and now Madrid has responded in kind, as was predictable. It's really hard to see a resolution to this crisis.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Cyril. Catalonia has been plunged into a state of total uncertainty. I just want to show you something. I'm here outside the Catalan central government headquarters. And as you can see, the building just over that way, the Catalan flag still flies alongside the Spanish flag.

Things here are really in flux. Last night, this square was flooded with people partying. I It was essentially a massive celebration of Catalan independence. People here were dancing; they were singing. There was fireworks, some telling me that they waited their whole lives for this moment.

Meanwhile, in Madrid, there was heartbreak. The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy saying he's not going to let the Catalan leadership kidnap Catalonia.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): For these people, victory, the dreams of their fathers and grandfathers now realized. To them, they now live in the independent republic of Catalonia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am beyond excited. I am speechless.

MCLAUGHLIN: This is what it looks like to see history in the making.

On Friday, Catalonia's parliament made the huge decision to vote to secede from Spain. But swiftly after, Madrid moved in, declaring emergency rule over the region.

RAJOY (through translator): Dissolve the Catalan parliament December 21st and there will be regional elections.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Spain's prime minister also sacked the Catalan government, Spain's state prosecutor said rebellion charges will be pressed against the Catalan leader. The U.S. says it supports the Spanish government's constitutional measure to keep Spain strong and united.

The E.U., U.K., France and Germany have all said they don't recognize an independent Catalonia. Catalonia's leader has urged his people to stay strong and stick together. But Madrid isn't backing down without a big fight.

Catalonia has been part of Spain for three centuries and, to this day, is an integral part of its social fabric and economy.

The question now: What happens next?


MCLAUGHLIN: And that is the key question. Yesterday, I was speaking to the leader of the pro-independence party here in Barcelona and he was telling me that they're focusing now on building legislation for the republic of Catalonia, creating the constitution of the republic of Catalonia.

And meanwhile, Madrid focusing on taking back control. But really the question becomes, how is Madrid going to go about doing that -- Cyril.

VANIER: Since you were speaking yesterday and you were with those people who were partying after the Catalan declaration of independence yesterday, did you manage to get a sense of how forcefully people are -- in Catalonia are willing to resist the pressure by Madrid?

Because, after all, Madrid's getting rid of the political elite, the president, the parliament, they're getting rid of the chief of police. They're saying that they're not going to administer Catalonia.

Are Catalans going to stand for this?

MCLAUGHLIN: It's interesting; I was talking to people here yesterday and they are adamant that they will resist, that they believe they have formed an independent Catalonia at this point.

But they're going to resist peacefully. And we've heard that from the Catalan leadership as well. Urging for peaceful, this to be a peaceful process. But we're going to have to see how it plays out. We all remember the scenes during that referendum on October 1st, deemed illegal by the Spanish constitutional court, one that Spanish national police moved in to try to crack down on that referendum.

We all remember the scenes of violence there. And that is in the back of the minds of people here, that this could potentially turn violent. But for now, both sides urging a peaceful resolution to this crisis.

VANIER: All right, we'll have to monitor that closely. You'll be our eyes and ears on the ground. Erin McLaughlin, thank you very much.

Earlier I spoke to Dominic Thomas, the chair of UCLA's Department of French and Francophone Studies and I asked how Catalonia might respond to Madrid's 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 --


THOMAS: -- 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 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. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: That was Dominic Thomas there, the chair of UCLA's Department of French and Francophone Studies.

Still to come on CNN NEWSROOM, outnumbered and outgunned. We're learning new details about the U.S. and Nigerien troops who were caught in a deadly ambush. We'll be live in Niger.

Plus a state of uncertainty in Kenya as the opposition calls Thursday's presidential election a sham. Stay with us.




VANIER: Welcome back.

The U.S. Secretary of Defense has some blunt words for North Korea. James Mattis is currently in South Korea ahead of President Trump's trip to the region, which begins next weekend. Mattis has been meeting with military officials there, including a trip to the DMZ, the demilitarized zone.

In a news conference, he said that the United States will never accept a nuclear North Korea. He had this warning 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: Mattis also reiterated that Washington would prefer to use diplomacy to resolve the tensions with North Korea.

We are learning more about the convoy of U.S. and Nigerien soldiers ambushed earlier this month when nine lives were lost. Sources tell CNN that the U.S. team split up when they came under fire in an effort to counterattack. Let's bring in our David McKenzie. He joins us live from Niamey, the capital of Niger.

David, what have you been learning as you have been looking into the circumstances of this ambush?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Cyril. U.S. officials saying that when that convoy split up of a relatively small group of American and Nigerien soldiers, after they came under attack from a far superior force in terms of numbers, of this militant group, that they were trying to mount some kind of counterattack. Several of the American soldiers, according to U.S. officials, got out of their vehicles to try and flank the militant group during that firefight.

Crucially a group of U.S. soldiers were separated from the rest of the forces and lost contact with each other, though not with home base. Now in the initial hours of that firefight at first, it was believed that four U.S. soldiers were missing in action according to a White House official.

The Defense Department scrambled assets from both the U.S. and from Sicily to try and get to the scene if there was going to be a rescue effort. Tragically, of course, four American soldiers were killed in that action, one found more than 48 hours later, Sgt. La David Johnson, and five Nigerien counterparts.

So there are still questions about this ambush but those details are slowly coming out, what exactly happened -- Cyril.

VANIER: David, look, we're used to hearing about ISIS operating in Iraq, Syria and other parts, Libya as well. A little less so in West Africa. Tell us more about the terror groups that are operating in the region where you are.

MCKENZIE: I think that's partly because the amount of territory that ISIS took in the Middle East really captured the world's attention and the seriousness of that terror threat to Iraq and Syria and beyond.

Here it's been a different scenario. And these groups that we've been talking about over the past few days should be seen as loosely connected to ISIS or Al Qaeda. A lot of them are relatively small bands of militants, according to sources I've spoken in the region around 100 at the max.

But they do pose a threat, both to regional forces and in those particularly dicey border regions between Niger and Mali, in this case, just a few hours from where I'm standing.

One thing that continues to pose a question to me is that there have been 46 attacks, according to the U.N. since February of 2016 in that region on the border.

So the question is why was it deemed a relatively unthreatening mission to those soldiers when they went in there, what seems to be likely armed? Cyril.

VANIER: And that border zone has been dangerous for a number of years now. David McKenzie reporting live from Niamey, thank you very much.

In Kenya now, the controversial presidential election is underway this hour in two constituencies. Earlier voting took place across the country on Thursday. The opposition considers that 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 voting 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 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 --


ODINGA: -- has happened until the electoral commission says so.


VANIER: As you can hear there, the two sides, that of the current sitting president, Mr. Kenyatta, and the opposition leader, Mr. Odinga, still at an impasse. And 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.

A strong storm is lashing parts of Europe.


VANIER: And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment. So do stay with us for that.