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Trump Campaign Officials Charged in Special Counsel Probe; Catalonia Crisis; Rohingya Crisis. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired October 31, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:07] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour --

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: The bombshell indictment of three former Trump campaign officials, and the President said to be seething.

VAUSE: Plus, facing charges of rebellion and sedition from Madrid, the Catalan leader bolts for Belgium.

SESAY: And babies murdered in front of their mothers, children raped, villages burned -- the horrific plight of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar.

VAUSE: Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. Good to have you with us. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

VAUSE: Well, the U.S. President apparently spent most of the day watching cable television and watching these charges play out, rather, and that has left him seething after the first charges from the special counsel Robert Mueller into the Russia investigation. All of that was made public on Monday.

SESAY: Well, first up, former Trump policy adviser George Papadopoulos, he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians including a discussion of any dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Next up, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, he's now under house arrest after being indicted on 12 charges; among those charges -- conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to launder money. Those charges, however, are separate from his work with the campaign.

VAUSE: Manafort's former deputy Rick Gates is also charged in the indictment. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

Jim Sciutto has the reaction now from the White House.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is the clearest evidence yet of Russian efforts to connect with the Trump campaign and campaign officials' interest in responding. Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pled guilty on October 5 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians tied to the Kremlin including one claiming to have, quote, "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.

The special counsel's office says that it's January 2017 interview of Papadopoulos was part of a then still open investigation into quote, "whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts to interfere in the election.

Papadopoulos who joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 was in repeated e-mail contact with Russians to set up a meeting first between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump, and later between Trump campaign officials and other Russians.

According to court documents, one foreign contact told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that he, quote, "learned that the Russians had obtained dirt on then-candidate Clinton. In May, Papadopoulos e-mailed a high- ranking Trump campaign official who CNN has learned is former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort that, quote, "Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite some time and had been reaching out to me to discuss".

Manafort then forwarded that e-mail to another campaign official who CNN has learned is Rick Gates stating, quote, "We need someone to communicate that DT is not dong these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal."

Today the White House said that Papadopoulos never acted in an official capacity.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He reached out and nothing happened beyond which I think shows one, his level of importance in the campaign; and two shows what little role he had within coordinating anything officially for the campaign.

SCIUTTO: But e-mails included in the court filing indicate that he did at times have campaign backing including one in which a campaign supervisor told Papadopoulos, quote, "I would encourage you to make the trip if it is feasible."

The White House is also seeking to distance itself from the indictment of Paul Manafort and his long-time associate and campaign deputy Rick Gates who were charged in relation to their business dealings as lobbyist for the Ukraine government.

The indictment alleges that received tens of millions of dollars for their work and to hide that income, laundered the money through quote, scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts.

Manafort's lawyer addressed the charges outside the federal courthouse.

KEVIN DOWNING, PAUL MANAFORT'S ATTORNEY: There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government. SCIUTTO: The charges cover activities prior to Trump's presidential

campaign, a point the President made on Twitter this morning saying, quote, "Sorry, but this is years ago before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. Bu why aren't crooked Hillary and the Dems the focus?"

That argument then echoed from the White House podium.

SANDERS: Look, today's announcement has nothing to do with President, has nothing to do with the President's campaign or campaign activity.

SCIUTTO: However Manafort and Gates are accused of lobbying U.S. lawmakers on behalf of that Ukrainian political party opposed to NATO and in support of the jailing of a political opponent of a Russian- backed Ukrainian politician both contrary to U.S. foreign policy interests.


[00:05:02] VAUSE: Ok. Our thanks to Jim Sciutto for that report.

Joining us now for more on this: CNN political commentators, Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican consultant John Thomas; also law professor Jessica Levinson; and in New Hampshire attorney and professor Seth Abramson. Thank you all for being with us.

SESAY: Welcome.

VAUSE: Actually no surprises for most that Paul Manafort was indicted on Monday but as CNN's Ana Navarro tweeted out shortly after all these news broke, "Damn y'all, Papadopoulos and Gates weren't even on my indictment bingo card."

Ok. So let's start with George Papadopoulos and Seth -- legally speaking, is he sitting at the heart of the allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign or is he an ambitious nobody who acted alone and got caught lying to the FBI?

SETH ABRAMSON, ATTORNEY: Well, he certainly is not a nobody. He was a top national security adviser for the Trump team for over seven months, made representations on behalf of the Trump campaign regarding Russia policy as late as September 30th of 2016.

And right now he is the witness closest to the question of collusion as multiple senators and many attorney analysts have noted, given the fact that he was authorized by top officials at the Trump campaign to deal with the Kremlin in setting up a meeting and possibly in securing Hillary Clinton e-mails that the Kremlin was indicating it had possession of.

SESAY: To get the Republican view, John Thomas -- to bring you in. I mean the White House is trying to play this off -- to John's point -- that he was nobody. He was a volunteer. He was unpaid. But, you know, again as Seth pointed out, he was a member of the team that was getting his e-mails responded to by top members of the campaign. JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure.

SESAY: You've worked on campaigns.

THOMAS: I run campaigns.

SESAY: You run campaign.

THOMAS: I have.

SESAY: Seems like a shaky defense --

THOMAS: I have a different perspective than the professor as you would imagine. But look, I run campaigns. This guy looks like nothing more than a campaign intern essentially. Two years ago he was a research associate, a research associate which is basically a paper fetcher at a local think tank in D.C.

This is a guy -- it shows you the state of affairs in the Trump campaign. They really didn't have a lot of high-ranking people and so they've got interns and volunteers doing things but it just seems -- seems to me like this is being way overblown. They peg Manafort on taxes, which does look like he broke the law there, but admitted that it's nothing to do with collusion.

I think, look, if the best they've got is an essentially unpaid volunteer then they don't really have a lot.

DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have to take issue with that real quick --

VAUSE: Before you do that, let's just go to an interview that Donald Trump did with the editorial board from the "Washington Post". For those playing along in the control room, it's element number 7.

This is back in 2016 I think in March. It was a lot of sort of talk about who was advising the President. Who were the people around him? And he decided to rattle off a few names. Listen to this?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: George Papadopoulos -- he's an oil and energy consultant. Excellent guy.


VAUSE: Ok. So he is an excellent guy.

THOMAS: Anybody who works for Trump until he fires them are excellent, the best, the biggest, the brightest. So I don't know if that really means anything.

SESAY: Dave.

JACOBSON: Look, last time I checked presidential candidates don't sit down and have intense policy discussion, strategy sessions with U.S. senators like Jeff Sessions who's now Attorney-General and folks like Carter Page who have the same title as Papadopoulos.

The reality is, look this guy was intimately involved in the Trump campaign. It's clear from the e-mail correspondence that we saw. It's clear that he felt that he had information that he knew to hide from the FBI which is why --


THOMAS: E-mail correspondence, Dave, said -- the e-mail correspondence said it's better for somebody like him at a low, low level to have these conversations. They admitted in an e-mail --

SESAY: Why were they even responding to him? I mean --

THOMAS: I mean as a chief strategist, occasionally I do e-mail with volunteers and low-level people.

SESAY: And tell them that, you know, kind of like give attention to what they're suggesting --

JACOBSON: It's not even that. They endorsed what he was talking about and doing.

SESAY: Yes. I mean --

JACOBSON: Like they put their stamp of approval on the e-mail correspondence.

VAUSE: And let me bring Jessica into this because this is like the -- you know, where the intersection of politics and law come into play.

SESAY: Absolutely.

VAUSE: So Jessica, from -- we know from a political sense they try to downplay the role that Papadopoulos played in the campaign. But then you also have this audio of Trump saying he is an excellent guy and we heard from Seth saying that he has continued to be a relevant player within the Trump administration for some time. So where does this all sit?

JESSICA LEVINSON, PROFESSOR AND ATTORNEY: I would ask us to take a step back and say if the Trump administration's best argument is well, he was a research intern two years ago and he was fairly low level, then that's not really a great argument.

And I think that the Papadopoulos guilty plea is actually really important here. And arguably, more important than the indictment of Manafort and Gates, because with respect Papadopoulos, what we have are allegations that go to the heart of this issue of whether the Trump administration or at that point the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government.

[00:09:59] And what we have here is Papadopoulos who, you know, whether or not he was low level or low, low level. Look, he was e- mailing high level campaign officials. They were responding to him and they were talking about strategy with him with respect to, you know, how to keep Donald Trump kind of out of this and how to make sure that it didn't send up any smoke signals.

And Donald Trump is sitting around talking about, oh yes, one of the guys who advises me is this Papadopoulos guy. He's a great guy. So he is not just a summer intern. Let's accept that.

The other issue is -- which I think is really significant, he's been working with Robert Mueller for a number of months now providing information. And this is often the way these big federal investigations will go. It's exactly what we've seen, today.

There will be high-ranking officials who have been indicted based on allegations that are unrelated to the issue of coordination. So in that case, what we are trying to do is get more information from them.

Similarly, with respect to Papadopoulos, we also want to get more information. Here's a lower level campaign worker, but these are allegations that, again, go more to the heart of this issue of coordination.

SESAY: You know, Seth, the question has to be, you know, in the three months that he was cooperating with the FBI, with the special counsel that no one knew what he turned over, what he shared, and with that -- with that being the unknown whether the only course forward for someone like Manafort is basically to sing like a canary?

ABRAMSON: Well, the first thing you have to understand is that Donald Trump's national security advisory committee only had 12 members and George Papadopoulos was one of them. It was disbanded in July of 2016. And one of the only members who was carried forward was Papadopoulos and he's getting interviews with Russian media as late as I mentioned in September 2016.

The fact that as recently as yesterday he was a "proactive cooperator" quote-unquote for Bob Mueller suggests that Bob Mueller felt that Papadopoulos as recently as yesterday, possibly even today had access to top Trump aides and was useful to the Mueller probe in that respect. So to suggest he's a low level functionary doesn't really wash if he had that kind of access in the view of Bob Mueller as recently as yesterday.

VAUSE: The Democrats obviously see Papadopoulos, you know, cooperating and his admission of guilt and all that kind of stuff as a smoking gun when it comes to Russian collusion.

Listen to this.


SENATOR MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Papadopoulos is direct evidence that someone with the campaign was being contacted by Russians with information that they have lots of so-called dirt that included e- mails on Hillary Clinton.


VAUSE: Ok. Jessica, it sounds like the meeting in June of last year between Trump Jr. and Manafort and, you know, every Russian in New York at that time. But what does the law say here? Does it matter that Papadopoulos was not successful in getting the dirt? Is it a crime that he even tried, that there was this conspiracy or this attempt? And if that is a crime, then why was he charged with that particular crime?

LEVINSON: So attempt can be enough and there are different -- it's important to remember that we keep using the word collusion but that's actually a legal term that applies to anti-trust law.

So what we're looking at here is whether or not this coordination with the Russian government would fall into another legal bucket. For instance, does it violate an election law? And you -- election laws say that you cannot receive anything from a foreign national; that you can't receive a payment from a foreign national.

There are other statutes that play involving banking laws, computer hacking laws. In fact even an honest services statute that may be at issue here. So with respect to this issue, look, what we know is having a meeting itself is not impermissible. But if you think that you are attempting to get something of value for instance from a Russian national which would help in a campaign, then that's a problem under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act which is our federal election law.

And so, with respect to Papadopoulos, my guess is that this is what he agreed to plead to. And that, you know, as Seth Abramson said Robert Mueller clearly thinks that he has something that's useful here and that's why he's continuing to get information from him.

VAUSE: I'll just tell you, (INAUDIBLE) John about this because you know, it's said that there's now a chill through the White House because he may have been wearing -- Papadopoulos may have been wearing a wire for a number of months. He may have been forwarding e-mails. He may have been gathering evidence.

How does this now impact the White House and all those that work there from his day on?

THOMAS: Well, you don't know what you don' know. I think that's the scariest thing here. Truthfully f I'm Trump, I breathe a sigh of relief after today.

SESAY: Really.

THOMAS: They tried to bring down one of the biggest guys in the campaign. They got him on tax evasion. No collusion. So it looks to me -- and again I'm not a lawyer but it looks to me like I would have use my biggest bullet and they come up with nothing. They got a low -- we could disagree but they got a low-level aide.

[00:15:03] It doesn't mean that Mueller is not going to turn over every single desk in the process and if you're in the White House I mean you're going to be scared.

SESAY: And Seth, let me ask you that. Just to what John said, I mean is that what it means? The fact they went after Manafort and came up with this you know, money laundering, tax evasion and then got Papadopoulos on lying? Does that mean that Mueller basically has nothing which is what John's inferring and that's his biggest bullet that he's fired?

ABRAMSON: No. It doesn't mean that at all. I have to strongly disagree with what John said. In fact, the way investigations are conducted is you start with the charges -- sometimes low level charges that you know you can easily prove so that you can try to secure cooperation from the witness against higher-ups.

In the case of Papadopoulos, that's exactly what happened. In the case of Manafort, these are quite possibly not all the charges that could be brought against Paul Manafort. But they're sufficient given that Manafort is 68 years old and he's now looking at 10 to 15 years in federal prison to secure his the cooperation because you have a 68- year-old defendant possibly looking at the equivalence of a life sentence in prison.

So I'm sorry to the other guests but that's simply not how investigations are conducted. This is being done strategically by Bob Mueller.

VAUSE: If you believe the President, he is very good at hiring only the very, very best people. Listen to this.


TRUMP: I have to do agree with that. Of course, I should agree with that. But I think we have an extraordinary group of people tremendous amount of talent. We have just gotten really, really great people. I'm very proud of them.

These are no longer political appointments. These are talented people, smart people, where they have to be they're tough people.

Believe me, I have the best -- I have the best --

So I have the best people in the world.


VAUSE: Ok. Dave -- so we go from that to the reaction on Monday from the President which is hey, so what, you know. My campaign manager, he was an alleged international criminal before I hired him. No big deal.

JACOBSON: Well, and then there's two names that we're not even talking about yet. Jeff sessions who, of course, was on the foreign policy team for the Trump campaign who probably was on e-mail correspondence with Papadopoulos and Carter Page among others -- number one.

Number two --

VAUSE: General chaos? JACOBSON: Well, General Chaos -- Michael Flynn, right? I mean so I

think multiple shoes are going to be dropping here but the other thing that we are not even talking about is Gallup just put out a poll today that showed Donald Trump is at a historic of 33 percent approval rating. Barack Obama, JFK, Ronald Reagan -- a number of other presidents never hit such a historic low.

And the poll came out. It was a three-day poll that ended last night. And it doesn't even incorporate anything that happened today. So look, if you looking back at when Richard Nixon left office, he had a 25 percent approval rating. I think Donald Trump is going to continue to tick down and that spells real trouble for his presidency.

SESAY: You have 30 seconds. You're smirking.

THOMAS: Polls move. I don't know if I give that credibility --


THOMAS: No. But the reality is I mean Trump tells us everything is great, everything he touches is great. That's just who he is -- right?

VAUSE: Ok. We'll leave it at that.

SESAY: We will indeed.

VAUSE: Dave and John here on set.

SESAY: And Jessica and Seth -- we thank you.

VAUSE: Thanks everybody.

ABRAMSON: Thank you.

SESAY: Well, Jake Tapper hosts a CNN special report -- the Russia investigation. That's in about five hours from now at 9:00 a.m. in London, 5:00 p.m. if you are in Hong Kong.

VAUSE: We are not done with what has been an incredibly big story in the U.S. and across the world. Robert Mueller -- he isn't saying a lot about this investigation; in fact, nothing. But his former special assistant at the Department of Justice -- well he'll be giving us some insights in just a moment. I


SESAY: Well, the special counsel investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election is picking up steam -- a series of staggering developments on Monday that made the special counsel investigation all too real for a White House that has long described the effort as a hoax and the product of fake news.

But even with announcements of indictments against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his protege and Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates, not to mention word of the guilty plea by former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia, the White House is still down-playing all of it with the President and the spokesperson insisting there is no evidence of collusion.


SANDERS: Today's announcement has nothing to do with the President, has nothing to do with the President's campaign or campaign activity.

There's clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence to spread disinformation and smear the President to influence the election.


SESAY: Well, here with me to discuss all of this and what may come next is CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin. Michael is a former special counselor the Robert Mueller and also served as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Michael -- welcome.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Thank you for having me.

SESAY: So, Monday brought this series of bombshells -- the two indictments and, of course, word of the guilty plea by George Papadopoulos. When you look at these two major developments, which of them moves or better yet how much closer is Robert Mueller to proving that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia?

ZELDIN: Well, it's not clear that he's closer to proving collusion. But what these indictments and guilty pleas show us is sort of a roadmap of where he's proceeding and what he -- how he views his mandate.

So take Manafort and Gates first. Those guys were indicted for running a ten-year money laundering, tax evasion, failure to disclose their work for Ukraine indictment. That stuff is sort of collateral to the collusion indictment but it tells you that Mueller believes that people's financial activities if they violate the law, even if they're not core collusion sort of cases are going to be prosecutable by him.

So that means anyone who's in the Trump real estate or financial orbit whether it be his personal lawyer Cohen or his son-in-law Kushner or Michael Flynn through the Flynn intel group -- all of those people are now fair game.

The second thing is this Papadopoulos plea. Papadopoulos is a name that I don't believe any of us had heard of or if we had heard of it we'd have remembered it. He was a fringe player. Yet he's charged with being dishonest with the FBI, with respect to his communications with people around Russia.

And so what Mueller is telling us in that is that is nobody is too small for me to indict and charge with criminal activity if I think they have information that's relevant to the broad collusion investigation or if just flat-out they lied to the FBI which he won't countenance.

And so everybody, no matter who they are has to think, oh my goodness, what if he comes to interview me or is he has interviewed me what did I say? Because they may have made the same mistake that Papadopoulos did which was to make a misstatement about the nature of his communications which got him a five-year felony. So this sends shock waves through the entire ecosystem I think.

SESAY: Yes. No doubt. I mean is 12-count, 31-page indictment document that was unsealed Monday -- what will the details of indictment say to you about I guess, the methodology of this investigation that Mueller is conducting and the strength of his case against these two men, Manafort and Gates?

[00:24:54] ZELDIN: Well, so taking the second question first, the case against them is very strong. This is a very well-documented indictment which shows over a long period of time how these guys were receiving large sums of money from foreign officials in Ukraine and were not disclosing them on their taxes as they were required to and were spending the money through shell companies and other offshore investment vehicles that were designed to be nontransparent.

So Mueller has taken a very dim view using foreign moneys to enrich yourself even if that money is not relevant to -- directly relevant to the collusion inquiry.

But what it also tells us is that Mueller may be looking at these sort of collateral prosecution to gain leverage on people who he thinks may know more than they're telling and this is the mechanism by which he's going to obtain cooperation.

SESAY: Well, the President responding unsurprisingly on Twitter when news of the indictments emerged. Let me share with our viewers what he said. "Sorry, this is years ago before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. Why aren't crooked Hillary and the Dems the focus?"

Following up with another tweet in which he said "Also there is no collusion."

So Michael -- the President trying to downplay it; his press secretary doing the same from the White House podium. But where dos all of this leave the President's, you know, well-worn assertion that by now it's commonly agreed that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia?

ZELDIN: So I think the expression that describes it best is wishing doesn't make it so. He may wish that this is the way it is, that there's common understanding or that it is not evidence of possible collusion. But it's just not factually borne out.

So I think we see from this is that Mueller's got a broad mandate which he is exercising fully and he is operating with all deliberate speed so I think that we have a lot more to see in the coming months.

SESAY: Could be a lot of people having sleepless nights in Washington, D.C. --

ZELDIN: Absolutely.

SESAY: -- and maybe even around the world tonight.

Michael Zeldin -- appreciate it. Thank you so much.

ZELDIN: My pleasure.

VAUSE: This investigation is going to take a very long time.

ZELDIN: A very long time. So you should get your pipe and slippers.

VAUSE: I'll get you popcorn.

Ok. We'll move on, take a break.

After sparking a political crisis, the ousted Catalan president has reportedly left Spain and could be seeking political asylum. Details in a moment.


[00:30:04] SESAY: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: And I'm John Vause. The headlines this hour.


VAUSE: The man who sparked Spain's biggest political crisis in decades could be seeking political asylum in Belgium. Spanish authorities plan to prosecute the Catalan president on charges of rebellion and sedition but Carles Puigdemont has reportedly traveled to Belgium, where he now has an asylum ware (ph) and could start a separatist government in exile.

SESAY: If convicted, Puigdemont and 19 other Catalan politicians could face up to 30 years in prison over their declaration of Catalan independence from Spain. Meanwhile, the central government is now directly ruling Catalonia and has called for regional elections in December.

VAUSE: European affairs commentator Dominic Thomas joins us now. He's chair of the department of French and Francophone studies at The University of California here in Los Angeles.

Dominic, good to see you. OK. There's no mass civil unrest. The police chief went quietly into the night, replaced by one handpicked by the (INAUDIBLE) by the government in Madrid.

For most Catalans, it seems it's business as usual and the leader of the independence movement, well, he's on the run, it seems, in Brussels quite possibly, maybe seeking asylum.

Could this process of imposing direct rule gone any smoother for Madrid?



THOMAS: -- I still believe that some unrest could be coming. I very much hope it does not. I think people were exhausted and relieved in a way that some kind of break happened in this, even though, of course, for the separatists, it was not what they had expected.

So the transition thus far has been relatively peaceful.

Of course the great development is the fact that it seems that their leader has left the country and gone to Belgium. This is what the news anyway is telling us thus far. And that is an indication as how to serious the separatists see the Spanish government's commitment to ending this process, forcing these elections and taking over the region, including imposing these very serious criminal charges on the leaders.

VAUSE: How did they get this so wrong, the Catalan leaders?

THOMAS: I'm not sure it's just the Catalan leaders that got it so wrong. I think the Spanish government also got it wrong by letting it escalate to this particular level and not getting into talks.

One could argue that Carles Puigdemont is still playing chess because what he's done now by going to Belgium, of all places, which is a country where the coalition government has the NVA, the Flanders separatists group, essentially, as part of that government, that has been really his only outspoken friend thus far in Europe, has the potential to continue the narrative and to broaden it to something larger than just Catalonia by enlisting other separatist leaders.

VAUSE: Meanwhile, back in Catalonia, the politicians there as you say they all seem to be on board with Madrid's demand for snap elections in December. And that does bring some uncertainty to the equation.

THOMAS: Right.

VAUSE: And essentially when Catalans go to vote, the underlying reasons that sparked the crisis in the first place, well, they still will not be resolved.

THOMAS: They won't be, no, I think many people then on both sides have learned a lot through this particular process. Many people in Catalonia that did not vote on the referendum, because the saw no reason to -- it wasn't a legal, a constitutional referendum -- have learned that exiting means exiting the European Union and they've seen the consequences on local businesses and the potential risks to the area economically. And so will be eager to go the polls but I think that the separatists will be concerned as to the extent to which what they believe were previously democratic elections held back in '14 and '15, that this particular process will not be as transparent or that there's a possibility that some of these separatists will not even be able to participate in these elections if they continue to be pursued for legal matters by Madrid.

VAUSE: Very quickly, there's an opinion out there that the only way to resolve this is with a legal referendum backed by Madrid.

Is that true and is that ever going to happen?

THOMAS: Well, it might be one step better than having regional elections to the extent that they would feel the regional elections were sort of rigged. But that --


THOMAS: -- would be so incredibly hypocritical because this crisis escalated precisely because Madrid dug its heels in and said, under no circumstances -- and the king backed them up -- and the European Union, that's not the way Rajoy wants to go.

VAUSE: OK, Dominic, always good to have you. Thank you.

SESAY: Well, a quick break here and then, more than half a million Rohingya refugees escaping violence in Myanmar, only to face more horror across the border. How aid workers tried to help and one victim's heartbreaking story.




SESAY: Aid workers are struggle to help Rohingya Muslims who fled escalating violence in Myanmar.

VAUSE: More than 500, 000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh with accounts of brutal killings and rape at the hands of Myanmar soldiers. Doctors without Borders said the refugees are encamped without clean water. There's a lack of shelter and there's no sanitation.

VAUSE: And they expect more refugees, an estimated 11,000 arrived on October 9th alone. At a recent conference in Geneva, the president of Medecins sans Frontieres National called them, "the walking dead, haunted by atrocities committed against them."

Jeffrey Gettleman is "The New York Times" South Asia bureau chief. He joins us now from New Delhi, India.

Jeffrey, thank you so much for being with us. You recently made a reporting trip to Bangladesh, where you spent time interviewing some of the Rohingya refugees who fled the violence in Myanmar. You met a young woman called Rajuma (ph).

Can you share with our viewers what she told you about what had happened to her?

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, I can. And this is pretty upsetting. It was one of the more horrendous interviews I've ever done in my career.

Rajuma (ph) was a woman who saw government soldiers coming into her village and burning down houses. She was hiding in her house with her family and was surrounded by these troops that were just looting and burning all around her.

When she tried to run away, she was quickly captured and she told the story of how troops then marched her down to the riverbank in her village, separated the men from the women and then methodically raped all the women and killed just about all the men.

But the worst thing she told me, which was just like almost too much to -- for me to even bear absorbing, let alone for her to have to endure it was she had a small baby in her arms.

And she said that these soldiers grabbed her baby son and threw him into a fire, right in front of her. And he was screaming her name as he burned to death.

SESAY: It's...

GETTLEMAN: I know. It's like absolutely heartbreaking.

SESAY: I read the piece and it's hard to even continue, having read it. You need to sit for a minute --


SESAY: -- and just imagine that poor woman, what the ordeal was like. And where she is today, you wrote a couple of pieces for "The New York Times," in which you shared the horror of Rajuma's (ph) story and the scope of the violence that the Rohingya have experienced in Rakhine State.

And you wrote this, which struck me, you said, "Much of the violence was flamboyantly brutal, intimate and personal, the kind that is detonated by a long, bitter history of ethnic hatred."

You explain in the piece the roots of the hatred, that it can be traced all the way back to World War II.

But can you help our viewers understand what has kept that hatred alive today, that people would have a woman held down, gang-raped and take her baby and throw the baby in the fire?

GETTLEMAN: I know. It's a really important question to ask. And I felt very helpless working on this story because there are these people in such great need and who have suffered so much. And there was like nothing I could do to help her. The Rohingya story goes back decades. And the Rohingya were always a

separate, isolated group of Muslim people inside a majority Buddhist country. Over the years, the government of Burma has isolated these people farther and farther and taken away their rights to citizenship, their rights to marry, made it difficult for them to sign up for schools or get jobs.

And in recent years, as Burma has gone through a lot of political transition, these Rohingya people have been vilified and demonized and dehumanized. And so there is this buildup of hatred toward these people, who are very poor, very cut off, many people like Rajuma (ph), who I spoke to, had never been to school.

Here we are in 2017 and you have this large population of totally uneducated people, that's had very little contact with the outside world. And then in August, there was an attack by a Rohingya militant group, that was fighting for what they saw as the rights and dignity of these people.

And the government used that as an excuse to just wipe out hundreds of Rohingya villages. And they just seemed so intensely furious at these people that they were doing these things.

SESAY: You know, you talk about this intention of wiping them out. I spoke to Matthew Smith from Fortify Rights last week and he said the same thing. He wrote a piece for "Time" magazine, and he said that state security services in Myanmar seem intent on wiping out these people.

And he basically said that we should be viewing what's happening through the lens of genocide. You were there in the camps in Bangladesh.

Can you tell us about the state of the Rohingya community now?

What's left of their sense of self after this?

GETTLEMAN: You know, it's like more than most of us could even imagine. Another issue with the Rohingya is nobody wants them. So you now have more than 500,000 Rohingya stuck in Bangladesh, right on the border, right outside of Burma.

And Bangladesh does not want them staying there. They're negotiating behind the scenes to push these people back into Burma.

At the same time, Burma's saying, these are not our people. They're not ethnic Burmese. They're invaders or immigrants, illegally. So you have this huge community, stuck in these muddy camps , packed into these really squalid conditions and nobody wants them. And that's hampering any efforts, that's hampering the diplomatic efforts to kind of broker a -- some type of peace deal or stability.

And so many people are walking around with these really heavy stories of trauma. And there's no psychotherapist there. There's like nobody to help them and that's why as like a journalist being on the front line absorbing it, it's just really, really hard to feel good about the work I'm doing when just you know these people are in such great need and there's nothing I can do.

SESAY: Yes. Well, I feel exactly the same way as you, Jeffrey, and so we keep telling the story here on NEWSROOM L.A. and hoping that it ignites some global mass outrage.

Jeffrey Gettleman, you're a tremendous journalist. Thank you so much for sharing the story of Rajuma (ph) and please come back. There's much more to discuss about what is happening there in Bangladesh. Thank you.

GETTLEMAN: I appreciate it. Thank you.

VAUSE: Yes. There's so much going on, too, that people tend to overlook --


VAUSE: -- stories which --

SESAY: Absolutely.

VAUSE: -- clearly have a lot of importance as well.


Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Stay with us. "WORLD SPORT" is up next and then we will be back with another hour of news from all around the world. You're watching CNN.