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Spain Begins to Impose Direct Rule on Catalonia; White House Not Commenting on Mueller Indictment; Mother Faces Prison for Sending Money to Radicalized Son; Border Wall Prototypes on Display in Southern California; Inside Russia's Most Controversial Film. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired October 29, 2017 - 03:00   ET



CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Catalonia's ousted president calls for a peaceful opposition as Madrid takes direct control of the region.

Also Washington braces for arrests, expected as soon as Monday, as part of the special counsel's investigation.

And how a mother's love for her jihadist son now has her facing a prison sentence.

Hi, everybody. Thank you for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier, live from the CNN NEWSROOM here in Atlanta.


VANIER: The Spanish and Catalan leaders are calling for calm amid heightened tensions in the country. A pro-unity demonstration is expected in Barcelona in a few hours as Spain's central government says Catalonia's bid for independence is over.

Madrid has imposed direct rule on the region and dismantled its parliament after it voted overwhelmingly for independence on Friday. Spain's deputy prime minister Carlos Puigdemont -- I beg your pardon -- Spain's deputy prime minister is now officially in charge, taking over from that man there, Catalonia's former president, Carles Puigdemont.

He is urging Catalans to use democratic opposition to advance their cause with new elections scheduled for December. CNN's Erin McLaughlin joins me now from Barcelona.

Erin, who's running Catalonia right now?

Is it the central government in Madrid or is it Carles Puigdemont?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the answer to that question, Cyril, very much who you ask. We're in a very surreal situation especially when you consider the now-dismissed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont still considers himself to be president. Yesterday he was Gerona, his hometown, a stronghold for pro- independents. He was surrounded by his supporters. He even addressed Catalans, calling on them to democratically oppose in a peaceful manner the emergency rule from Madrid, saying he's going to carry on building a new country in his words.

Meanwhile, you have a situation which Madrid is moving in to exert direct control over Catalonia yesterday, the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy appointing the deputy prime minister to oversee Catalonia. They're organizing elections.

The government spokesperson going so far as to invite Puigdemont to actually run in those election, which are scheduled for December 21st. They also took some extraordinary measures, sacking the head of the local police, the Mossos.

So really all eyes will be on tomorrow to see if Puigdemont actually shows up at the central government headquarters here in Barcelona and then how Madrid responds to that if he does.

VANIER: What about the Catalans that you're talking to in Barcelona?

How -- do they feel independent from Spain right now?

Or do they feel that it's been -- that independence has been taken away from them?

MCLAUGHLIN: It's one of those questions that again, it depends entirely who you ask. I was at a pro-independence party after that vote on Friday. Thousands of people flooded the square outside central government headquarters, singing, dancing, celebrating their victory in their words.

But the fact of the matter is, Catalonia is deeply divided on the subject of independence. There are people that are for independence but not exactly happy with the way Puigdemont has gone about declaring that independence.

And then there are also people who are opposed, who want to remain a part of Spain. Important to remember that the law that was passed declaring independence was actually passed by lawmakers that represent less than 50 percent of the electorate in Catalonia.

And today we're expected to see a pro-unity march through the streets of Barcelona. It'll be very interesting to see how many people turn up for that -- Cyril.

VANIER: Erin, what about the regional police force because of course, that's a very important part of this equation. Their boss has been sacked. So who are they answering to right now?

MCLAUGHLIN: Madrid has appointed his deputy as the head of the Mossos, The local police force, some 17,000 police in Catalonia. It's interesting because the Mossos are seen as being deeply divided on the topic of independence as well. And yesterday we saw a number of letters circulated internally within the police force. We managed to get a copy of those letters, urging the police to behave in an impartial manner, to continue to respect Catalan institutions, to continue to manage the demonstrations that are expected to be seen today and then over the course of the next months prior to those December 21st elections.

So today's demonstration, the --


MCLAUGHLIN: -- pro-unity rally will be seen as a key litmus test in terms of how the police respond to those demonstrations.

VANIER: All right, you'll be following that for us. You will be our eyes and ears and also Erin was mentioning something very important, happening tomorrow, happening Monday, does Carles Puigdemont show up for work or not?

All right. That's got to be on your radar. Thank you very much, Erin McLaughlin, live from Barcelona.

No comment. So far that's the only response we've gotten from the White House on a pivotal development in the Russia election meddling problem. A federal grand jury in Washington has approved the first charges in the investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Plans have also been made for anyone charged to be taken to custody as soon as Monday.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz helped break the story and talks about what comes next.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: The charges remain sealed and still no word on who is facing charges and what the charges are. We do hope that later today we may get some word on whether anyone has been asked to surrender.

All indications are that, at some point on Monday, the indictment will be unsealed and we'll learn what the charges are. Attorneys representing some of the people who are under investigation, that we have talked to so far, have not been asked to have their clients surrender.

For now, all this, still a mystery that will hopefully get answered sometime on Monday.


VANIER: The White House meanwhile has been trying to divert all the attention to a familiar target, Hillary Clinton. In fact, the White House says it's Clinton herself who colluded with the Russians.

All this despite the fact that the presidential election has been over for nearly a year. Boris Sanchez has the details.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The White House is not commenting on the latest news coming from Robert Mueller's probe into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

However, they are focusing a lot of their energy on a former political opponent of the president's, Hillary Clinton. Look at the tweets September sent out by Sarah Sanders on Saturday.

She writes, quote, "Clinton spokesman just said he's damn glad Clinton campaign colluded with Russia to spread disinformation about the president and influence election."

She goes on, "The evidence Clinton campaign, DNC and Russia colluded to influence the election is indisputable."

That "damn glad" reference in quotations, speaking about Brian Fallon, who said that he was happy that the Clinton campaign solicited the opposition research provided by Fusion GPS during the campaign; however, to call it collusion definitely goes a step further.

Beyond that, earlier this week, House Republicans announced they were launching an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the sale of a uranium mining company to Russia.

The president has alleged that the former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, got bribes from Russians in exchange for a favorable uranium deal.

And beyond that, CNN has learned that the White House has pressed staffers to work with the Department of Justice to lift a gag order on a former FBI informant, that has information on that sale in order for him to testify during the course of the investigation.

Beyond all of that, the president is also pushing the State Department to release e-mails that it still has pertaining to Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state.

So while the White House, you would imagine, would be on the defensive, as news that charges stemming from Robert Mueller's investigation are imminent, they're very much on the offensive on an opponent of the president that he defeated about 12 months ago -- Boris Sanchez, CNN, at the White House.


VANIER: For some perspective on all of this, we're joined by Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Larry, good to speak to you again.

First question, should the White House be worried about the charges that investigators are preparing?

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: They should be and they are. At least the people in Trump's orbit. I don't know if you could call Trump worried. I don't know that he worries in the way that most people do.

But certainly his staff is concerned; his lawyers are wary, because they understand what a special counsel can do.

VANIER: Are you surprised that the White House has been silent since we broke the news of those charges being filed?

SABATO: That's what Trump's lawyers finally convinced him to do. For a long time, he was firing off tweets, sometimes on an hourly basis. And it really wasn't helping his case. It was giving information to prosecutors. Now he's calmed down about it.

And so it doesn't surprise me in that sense.

VANIER: Yes, there has been not a single tweet about this from the president, I should say, over the last 3-4 hours. He's been on Twitter but just not about --


SABATO: Just not about this.

VANIER: This week Donald Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton actually colluded with the Russians. Let's read his tweet about that.

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


VANIER: -- "collusion with HC," Hillary Clinton.

Is there any merit to that claim by the president?

SABATO: Oh, absolutely. We need a thorough investigation of President Hillary Clinton -- oh, wait, she lost.


SABATO: This is the continuing --

VANIER: What are you telling us?

SABATO: -- it's the continuing campaign. Trump is still running against Hillary Clinton because it worked for him and because his base loves it. At Trump rallies, they still chant, "lock her up."

It's absurd in a historical sense; it works perfectly for Trump's base.

VANIER: But the actual substance of the argument that we did find out, for instance, this week that the Clinton campaign partly funded the Steele dossier, which contained damaging alleged information about the president, none of which has been verified. In other words, the Democrats paid for damaging information on candidate Trump that drew on Russian sources.

VANIER: Absolutely and you can criticize that if you like. You need to remember that the whole dossier began with Republican money. There were 16 Republicans running against Donald Trump and virtually the entire Republican establishment did not want him to be the nominee.

So Republican money started this investigation when Trump became essentially the nominee de facto in spring. Then the investigation gravitated to the Democrats, who would be opposing them in the fall.

This is done all the time. It's called opposition research.

VANIER: Yes, but using foreign sources from countries that are not sympathetic to the United States, countries that you could consider enemies?

VANIER: Campaigns, at least as they're run American-style these days, will take their information where they can get it. If it's from foreign report sources, great; if it's from jail inmates in the United States, they'll do it.

Sometimes the best information doesn't come from saints, it comes from sinners.

VANIER: OK, OK, but my question is does that give credence to the president's argument that everybody's been looking hard at him and the White House for any evidence of collusion and that has been hanging like a cloud over his White House for the better part of the year?

And actually there is information to say that the Democrats were engaged, involved in the same kind of thing?

That's his argument.

SABATO: You can make that argument if you want. I would draw a distinction between seeking facts, information, whatever else may be available from foreign sources, so your campaign or allies can use it. That's very different than colluding with a foreign government to elect a particular candidate, to actually involve itself in the campaign, which is, very probably, I think, certainly, what the Russians did for Donald Trump.

VANIER: All right, Larry Sabato, good speak to you again. We'll see how it all plays out in the -- against whom, especially, those charges are filed. We will see that early next week.

SABATO: Thank you.

VANIER: Somalia's capital came under attack again, just two weeks after the deadliest car bombings in the country's modern history. At least 19 people were killed on Saturday in Mogadishu. Two car bombs went off near the presidential palace and gunmen then stormed a nearby hotel. Officials say a former lawmaker and at least one police officer are

among the dead. Terror group Al-Shabaab is claiming responsibility for this, even as Somalia is still mourning at least 277 people, killed in an attack two weeks ago.

Coming up on the show, sentenced to prison for sending money to her son, an ISIS Francis. We'll the mother's story after the break. Stay with us.





VANIER: Russia is now the top exporter of foreign fighters to ISIS in Iraq and Syria. That's according to a new report from the Washington- based Sufon (ph) group. Take a look at the numbers: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tunisia top the list and just behind them, France comes in at number five with just under 2,000 foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq.

CNN's Melissa Bell met with French parents of jihadist fighters and she sits down with a mother whose son died while fighting in Syria. She was sentenced to two years in prison because she had sent money to her son.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A few photographs are all that Nathalie Haddadi has left.


Nathalie Haddadi would never have believed that her son, Belabbas, whose innocent face stares back from the photos, would decide that his destiny was jihad. The first signs came after a trip to see his father in Algeria, then, with money sent to him by his mother, Nathalie, a holiday he claimed to be on in Malaysia.

A few months later, he called from the self-proclaimed caliphate of ISIS.

HADDADI: (Speaking French).

BELL (voice-over): Several weeks later, another phone call came, the one that every mother dreads.

HADDADI: (Speaking French).

BELL (voice-over): What followed for Nathalie was not a period of quiet mourning but a trial. In September, she was sentenced to two years in jail for having sent her son money while he was in Malaysia. Nathalie says her son was the victim of brainwashing and that she is

now the victim of a witch hunt by a state that is powerless to pursue the jihadists themselves.

In all, French authorities believe there are around 500 French citizens currently in ISIS territory, who are either jihadists or the children of jihadists, men, women and children whose numbers have fallen as they have fallen victim to the war but whose families are now facing prosecution in cases like Nathalie's.

Among those still in ISIS territory, Sylvie's daughter and three small grandchildren. She says her family has been abandoned by French authorities; help lines provided by the government have proven useless and no one seems prepared to help, she says. CNN reached out to the France's interior ministry but got no response.

SYLVIE, MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER: "I have more fear than hope but I try to keep faith nonetheless. Not helping them is sentencing them to death without a trial. It is true. And, yes, I'd give money, I'd give my life, yes, of course. It is the same for every mother.

"When we mothers think about it, we get panic attacks. So we push those thoughts away because it is unbearable. It is just unbearable."

BELL (voice-over): Back in Strasburg, Nathalie is waiting for the result of her appeal, alone. Her only support the informal networks that have been created with other mothers of jihadists. They are united, she says, in their grief and in their understanding of the strongest of bonds.

HADDADI: (Speaking French).

BELL (voice-over): -- Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.



VANIER: To Cuba now and those acoustic attacks on diplomats at the U.S. embassy there. The United States had wanted to keep the names of those affected private. But a TV program Thursday night Cuba named nine of, which it identified as diplomats.

It also denied targeting the Americans and said that no evidence exists that proves anything actually happened. In September, the U.S. State Department ordered all non-essential personnel and diplomats' families to leave Cuba.

U.S. President Donald Trump has long talked about border wall between the United States and Mexico. Now prototypes for that wall are on display near the border in Southern California. CNN's Miguel Marquez went there.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump said he wanted a big, fat, beautiful wall. These are his 30' x 30' options.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of these eight contestants could soon stretch 2,000 miles across the border. There's a chance that one of them gets selected. Eight of them get selected or a mix of their characteristics get selected for construction. MARQUEZ (voice-over): They sit like giant tombstones just east of San Diego in the no-man's land right on the U.S.-Mexico border. The president has consistently said a wall will be built along the entire border.

MARQUEZ: He says 2,000 miles of border wall. You say --


MARQUEZ: -- we'll put it up where we need to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, there was testimony out there already. There was testimony by the former chief of Homeland Security, which was General Kelly, in which he in testimony said that you won't see a wall from sea to shining sea.

We will put the wall where it makes sense.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Customs and Border Patrol deferring to the same John Kelly, who is now the president's chief of staff. The cost for just these test walls: $20 million. Building any one of them across the entire 2,000-mile border could cost more than $20 billion.

MARQUEZ: Beyond this, whether the $20 billion to build the entire wall comes, that's for another day?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So right now our focus is to complete the process of the construction of prototypes.

MARQUEZ: So the prototypes or the contestants for the president's big, beautiful wall, they're done. But it's going to take another month for the cement to dry and for the walls to settle before they can be tested.

And then they'll go at them, seeing whether they can be scaled, climbed, dug under or breached.

You will test these walls to their maximum?


MARQUEZ (voice-over): On the Mexican side of the border, building of the prototypes met with disbelief.

MARQUEZ: So when you see these, what do they represent to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, for our country, we think it's an insult.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Victor Clark Alsado (ph), a Mexican citizen who teaches border issues at San Diego State University, says a 30-foot wall would deter migrants -- but not everything.

MARQUEZ: Will a 30-foot wall 2,000 miles long stop drugs coming into the U.S.?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, drugs enter to the U.S. in different ways, through port of entries, through sea, by land.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): And tunnels, lots of them.

MARQUEZ: If we could take a picture of the land, of the ground underneath us, what would it look like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got a lot of tunnels obviously. And probably at this moment somebody is building a tunnel.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): At least some of these walls come with tunnel deterrence, too. Big, beautiful walls above and below ground -- Miguel Marquez, CNN, Tijuana, Mexico and Otay Mesa, California.


VANIER: A tropical storm threatens the U.S. East Coast and a typhoon is menacing parts of Asia.



VANIER: In Russia, some topics are so taboo that to touch them is an insult to some religious groups. A new film featuring the last czar and his lovelife is stirring up passions but not necessarily in a good way. Our Robyn Curnow has more.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's an outcry in Russia over the release of a controversial film. Groups of religious protesters stand outside movie theaters, holding crucifixes and religious icons.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): This movie will bring our country to decay more and more and our families will die because of this movie. And, tomorrow, we will wake up in a very different country.

CURNOW (voice-over): "Matilda" portrays a premarital affair between the future czar and a prima ballerina. Nicholas was the last emperor to rule Russia. He and his family were brutally murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

Threats and even several arson attacks have preceded the movie's debut. Molotov cocktails were thrown into the movie director's office and, in another incident, under his lawyer's car.

Several actors in "Matilda" have received death threats and missed the premiere.

ALEXEI UCHITEL, DIRECTOR OF "MATILDA" (through translator): They all loved our movie absolutely, sincerely. Just gave it their hearts and souls, but were afraid to come here, which I think is a great shame.

CURNOW: Most of the blowback has come from Russian Orthodox Christians, who canonized Nicholas in 2000. They consider the salacious aspects of the film offensive and antireligious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The czar and his family are the saints celebrated by the holy (INAUDIBLE) and they should be treated with care and respect.

This film treats the czar with disrespect. It is insulting.

CURNOW: The Russian Orthodox Church wields a great amount of power in a country home to many Orthodox Christians. The church is thought to have deep ties to the government and its influence in Russia is widespread.

The movie has been banned from several theaters and those playing it have heightened their security. But even if the controversy escalates, there are those who see the film as a work of art.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The film is excellent. The film is beautiful. The film is about history. Our history. About great history.


VANIER: Our Robyn Curnow reporting there.

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