Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's Asia Trip; Russia Investigation; Battle against ISIS; Netflix Cuts Ties with Kevin Spacey; Crisis in Puerto Rico. Aired 3- 3:30a ET

Aired November 4, 2017 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Even as the Russia investigation heats up in the U.S., President Trump travels to Asia for his longest overseas trip yet.

Plus the caliphate crumbles: ISIS forces lose their last significant stronghold in Iraq.

And weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, many remain without power, despite officials touting their successes.

Thanks for joining us, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier, live from the CNN NEWSROOM here in Atlanta.


VANIER: U.S. President Donald Trump is currently spending the night in the U.S. state of Hawaii. He and his wife arrived Friday afternoon. Later they'll fly to Tokyo for the first leg of an extended trip to the Pacific Rim.

It will be Mr. Trump's first trip to that region as U.S. president and the longest foreign trip yet of his administration. On Friday, Mr. Trump and the first lady Melania Trump paid respects to the falling troops at the U.S.S. Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor.

The president attended a social function hosted by the U.S. Pacific Command. All told, President Trump will be away from the White House and his domestic problems for almost two weeks. We get the latest from CNN's Ryan Nobles in Honolulu, Hawaii.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The longest trip of the Donald Trump administration is now underway and the president's trip to the Asia Pacific region, the longest trip by any President of the United States since the George H.W. Bush administration.

And the president, en route to Hawaii, the first leg of this trip, was busy on his Twitter feed, talking about Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton; also talked about Bowe Bergdahl, the Army soldier who deserted his post, who escaped jail time.

The president did tweet once about his trip but he hasn't talked a lot about this trip in the weeks leading up to the event. This despite the fact that it will be vital to his administration and their goals, particularly as it relates to North Korea and the growing tensions with the Kim Jong-un administration.

The president will meet with leaders from South Korea, Vietnam, China, Japan, all who play an important role as it relates to dealing with North Korea.

In Hawaii, the president had a busy schedule as well. He met with the leaders of the Pacific Command; he got a briefing from them and also he toured the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor, meeting with veterans there, the president appearing especially moved by that particular event.

The president will be wheels up from Hawaii first thing in the morning en route to the first of his Asian destinations and that is Tokyo. In all, it will be a 12-day, trip ending in the Philippines next week -- Ryan Nobles, CNN, Honolulu.


VANIER: Here's a closer look at Mr. Trump's trip. He arrives in Japan on Sunday, visiting U.S. troops. And the next day he will meet Japanese emperor Akihito. Then it's off to South Korea, to meet President Moon Jae-in; worth noting, he will skip the DMZ, the demilitarized zone border between South and North Korea.

In China, the U.S. president will visit the Forbidden City with President Xi Jinping then he heads to Vietnam for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit and the final stop is in Manila for meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Josh Rogin joins us now. He's a columnist for "The Washington Post" and a CNN political analyst.

Josh, so North Korea is going to be obviously one of the most watched issues here. Everything Mr. Trump says on North Korea is going to be scrutinized.

Does he have anything up his sleeve?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there are no big deliverables planned on the North Korea issue. Trump will give a speech to the national assembly in Seoul. He'll be meeting with the South Korean president.

He'll be meeting with Chinese and Japanese presidents but there's no announcements to be made. There's no progress to be documented. Basically, what we have here is a situation, where Trump is going to reinforce the U.S. message of pressure and no negotiations. And then hopefully America's allies will concur.

Of course, what the South Koreans and Japanese and Chinese are worried about is Trump may go off script, say something provocative that could provoke response and that could create a risk for confrontation with the North Koreans.

VANIER: His national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, has said that Mr. Trump will not dilute his rhetoric during the trip. He doesn't do that.

ROGIN: Well, that's right. You know, the best case scenario is that everyone factors in the fact Trump uses this kind of belligerent rhetoric and it doesn't rattle them too much. I think there are steps being taken to make sure that doesn't happen.

For example, Trump won't visit the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea because it was seen as too risk, a little too provocative, maybe a little bit too dangerous. Also he's going to be focusing on a lot of other stuff on this trip, trade --


ROGIN: -- the South Korean free trade agreement, Chinese trade practices, the U.S. relationship with Asia more broadly, what they call their Indo-Pacific strategy.

VANIER: Hold on. Let me interrupt you there. Tell me about the region more broadly. We know that Barack Obama had a strategy for Asia or at least he professed to have a strategy for Asia.

We know he wanted to tie East Asian countries more closely to the U.S. with a trade deal.

We know Mr. Trump disagrees at least in part with that vision because he got rid of the TPP, that trade deal.

Do we know if and what Mr. Trump's vision for Asia is?

ROGIN: We do. When Trump gets to Vietnam, he'll give a major speech on the site of the APEC conference, which will lay out his vision for America's role in the region. They call it an Indo-Pacific strategy. They're trying to define the chess board for U.S.-China and regional relations for the next few years.

Now it's not fully fleshed out. We don't know all of the details. But basically what it's going to set is a broad vision for Donald Trump's advocacy, for things like freedom of navigation, open markets, the rule of law, what we could consider traditional American policies when it comes to East Asia.

VANIER: What's the difference -- because this Indo-Asia is really the buzzword right now in policy circles and think tank circles.

ROGIN: That's right.

VANIER: What's the difference between that and what Mr. President Trump's predecessor did?

ROGIN: First of all, it's going to be defined on interest rather than values. So by tying in India, Australia, Japan into this framework, the frame will be, this is a system that can manage the rise of Asia better than the Chinese alternative.

It won't be focused on human rights. It won't be focused on democracy promotion per se but it will sort of try to say to the countries of Asia and the countries of ASEAN especially that American interests and their interests are aligned.

Of course questions will be raised by the fact the Trump administration pulled out of TPP, doesn't seem to have a lot of progress to announce on its economic agenda and the overall American attention to the region is under question. Those are all legitimate questions.

But this is the beginning of an attempt by the Trump administration to formalize their vision of the Obama pivot and this is basically what it's going to look like.

VANIER: When you analyze this from the U.S. perspective, this trip, this entire 12-day trip, is, if not overshadowed at least rivaled, I should say, by the Russia investigation.

Does that even matter from the Asian perspective, though?

ROGIN: It sends the message that American politics and the American government are dysfunctional and the constant drip, drip, drip of Russia news also distracts the president in particular but also his senior staff from dealing with the things they're supposed to deal with while they're on this trip in Asia.

So it's not good. It doesn't put Trump in the best position. The best case scenario is that he will take this opportunity of being abroad in Asia for 12 days to shift his attention away from the Russia scandal and away from other domestic politics.

If he can do that, if he can stay on task, sort of avoid whatever Russian news will come out over the next two weeks and really focus on the task at hand, which is reasserting America's presence and even leadership in Asia, then it will be a successful trip.

If he can't do that and if he gets sucked into the constant Russia story, even while he's halfway across the world, then the trip will be a failure.

VANIER: All right, Josh Rogin, thank you for joining us. Thanks.

ROGIN: Anytime.

VANIER: Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi donned a military uniform on Friday to address Chinese soldiers serving in Djibouti. In a video chat, he asked them to promote peace while increasing their readiness for war.

Djibouti is home to China's first overseas base, officially described as a logistics facility by Beijing. The African country is also home to French, American and Japanese bases. And India has been wary of the naval base since its opening in August, as well as China's growing presence around the Indian ocean.

Another Donald Trump campaign official has changed his story about meeting Russian officials. Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the campaign, tells CNN that he met with Russia's deputy prime minister during a 2016 trip to Moscow.

He described that trip as encounter as more of a hello than anything formal. However, earlier on Friday, Page denied to CNN's Jake Tapper any meetings with officials.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: So, when you were in Russia for this -- for an academic reason -- is that right?



Did anyone ever approach you who may have thought you were with the Trump campaign in any way to try to get to the Trump campaign to try to communicate with them?

PAGE: No direct -- no requests for anything. You know, some people may have known, but it was nothing, yes.

TAPPER: Did anybody ever say to you anything about, hey, you know, here in Russia, we have some stuff that might help you?

PAGE: Absolutely not, no, not in that sense. No.

TAPPER: And when you got back from your trip to Russia, which was just academic in nature, you say, what did you tell people on the --


TAPPER: -- Trump team about your trip?

PAGE: I just mentioned that there was in general from people on the street and the things you would hear in the media enthusiasm for the possibility of a little bit of a warming in U.S.-Russia relations.

And so there was a little bit of a sense of optimism, after having 70 years of history of challenges between our two countries. That was my biggest takeaway, frankly, Jake.


VANIER: And more former Trump campaign officials are dropping details about links between the Trump campaign and Russia. Jessica Schneider has these details.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Tonight the President remains defiant amid mounting evidence that he knew about his campaign adviser's connections to Russia.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no collusion, there was no nothing.

SCHNEIDER: In February of this year he pleaded total ignorance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?

TRUMP: Well, I told you, General Flynn obviously, was dealing. So that's one person, but he was dealing as he should have been.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: During the election?

TRUMP: No. Nobody that I know of. Nobody that I know of.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're not aware of any contacts during the course of the election?

TRUMP: Look, look, look -- how many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does. Now, Manafort has totally denied it.

SCHNEIDER: Tonight, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates remain under house arrest. The indictment against them was unsealed Monday for money laundering and failing to register as foreign agents. Manafort and Gates have pleaded not guilty to the charges, which stem from their work as lobbyists for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party and was not explicitly related to their work during the campaign.

And now Attorney General Jeff Sessions is also coming under increasing fire for answers he gave at several congressional hearings over the past year.

SENATOR AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: You don't believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians? Is that what you're saying?

JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I did not and I'm not aware of anyone else that did. And I don't believe it happened.

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think it's not that he has a problem with the truth. , I think it's easier to say that he's perjured himself at least three times.

TRUMP: A bit of background --

SCHNEIDER: The accusations from Democrat come after revelations from former campaign foreign policy advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. Carter Page telling CNN that he told congressional investigators he mentioned to Sessions a trip he planned to take to Russia at the height of the campaign. And in a march 2016 meeting, where Papadopoulos sat in between then-candidate Trump and Jeff Sessions, court documents show Papadopoulos told the group he had connections that could arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.

Campaign adviser J.D. Gordon sitting next to Papadopoulos, tells CNN Donald Trump heard him out, but then senator sessions, who was a top campaign surrogate, shot down the idea of a meeting with Putin, a source tells CNN.

SESSIONS: The next president will have a strategy in keeping with American traditions.

SCHNEIDER: This is video of Papadopoulos speaking at an event unrelated to the campaign in 2016. President Trump has downplayed his role, calling him a low level volunteer and a liar. But Papadopoulos' disclosures to the FBI as part of his guilty plea for lying about his contacts with Russians during the campaign are already affecting the administration.

And we've learned that the start of the trial and the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates case won't happen until May 7th, 2018, at the earliest because of the judge's schedule. Prosecutors say it will take at least three weeks for them to lay out their case. That means the case will push into the summer, keeping Russia in the spotlight as the midterm congressional races heat up -- Jessica Schneider, CNN -- Washington.


VANIER: In Iraq and Syria now, authorities are claiming significant victories against ISIS, saying two remaining strongholds have been liberated, the town Qaim in Iraq and the city of Deir ez-Zor in Syria. That effectively squeezes the terror group at the border between the two countries. CNN's Fred Pleitgen flew to Deir ez-Zor with Russian forces when the battle was in full swing back in September.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The Syrian army's final major push into one of ISIS' last strongholds in Syria. Pro-Assad forces now say they've taken all of Deir ez-Zor City in the southeast of the country, a major victory in the quest to destroy the terror group. Units of our armed forces in cooperation with allied forces completed their duties in reestablishing security and stability to Deir ez-Zor City completely, the spokesman for Syria's Army says.

We flew to Deir ez-Zor with the Russian military, which backs the Syrian Army when the battle there was raging in September. (on camera): Even though the Syrian and Russian Army (inaudible) support to ISIS back, there's still are a lot of ISIS fighters here in this area. Taking the helicopter is the safest place to get to Deir ez- Zor.

Deir ez-Zor was one of ISIS' most important strongholds right in Syria's oil and agricultural heartland.

[03:15:00] PLEITGEN (voice-over): -- ISIS' apparent demise in Syria recently leading Vladimir Putin to praise both Russia's and Iran's role in backing Bashar al-Assad.

Thanks to our joint efforts with Iran and also by Turkey, the situation regarding the fight against terrorism in the territory of Syria is developing in a very positive way, Putin said at a meeting with Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani.

Russian and Syrian forces are not the only ones beating ISIS back, U.S. allied fighters have also been rounding the terror group from large chunks of the so-called caliphate it once occupied including Mosul and ISIS' self- declared capital of Raqqa where the U.S.-led coalition is now trying to restore a civilian administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as what happens in Raqqa after ISIS has been cleared and Raqqa is liberated, the Raqqa Civil Council is already established and they are already eager to begin work, to restore essential services.

PLEITGEN: Like in so many places in Iraq and Syria, ISIS wreaked havoc on Deir ez-Zor's population, besieging a Syrian government enclave in the city for around three years.

Now that the group has been defeated here, both Russian and U.S.- backed groups believed they're in the final stages of crushing the group and ousting its remaining fighters from almost all of Syria -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, London.


VANIER: Still to come on the show, why a Spanish judge has issued an arrest warrant for ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four of his associates.

Plus, why some of Puerto Rico's towns are still entirely in the dark long after the hurricanes left. Stay with us.




VANIER: Welcome back.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called the sentencing of Bowe Bergdahl a complete and total disgrace. On Friday, a military judge ruled that Bergdahl would not face prison time for deserting his U.S. Army post in Afghanistan in 2009. He will be dishonorably discharged, he will have his rank reduced and pay a fine.

Bergdahl was held captive by the Taliban for five years and released in a controversial prisoner exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees. On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump had called Bergdahl a traitor and said he should be shot. A Belgian prosecutor said he's studying an arrest warrant for dismissed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont. A Spanish judge issued the warrant after Puigdemont failed to attend a court hearing in Madrid on Thursday.

He's currently in Belgium and says that he's going to cooperate with the judiciary there. Puigdemont is charged with sedition, rebellion, misuse of funds, among other things. Spain dissolved Catalonia's parliament after regional lawmakers voted to declare independence.

The streaming video service Netflix is stepping --


VANIER: -- back from its flagship show, "House of Cards," for now and tossing out other projects involving Kevin Spacey. His star is just crashing after nearly a week of sexual harassment allegations.

Netflix is cancelling the release of the movie, "Gore," which Spacey acts in and produced; however Netflix appeared to leave open the possibility of broadcasting "House of Cards," providing Spacey was not involved in it. The company that produces the political satire says it has suspended Spacey as it investigates allegations against him.

Let's go to Puerto Rico, where, for many, there's still no light at the end of a very long tunnel. It's been more than six weeks since Hurricane Maria tore through the island and entire towns are still without power. This, despite the governor's office touting restoration figures. CNN's Leyla Santiago has the latest from San Juan.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What you can't see across the street, people, life without power.

SANTIAGO: This is the only light that he has. And you can see that it's a little light from like a Christmas tree, it looks like. And it's powered from a car battery, which I know it's difficult to see so I'll actually light it with my cell phone.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Six weeks after Hurricane Maria, Luis Rivera (ph) now sleeps next to the open window in his home to get through those long hot nights with no power. He is one of many. Satellite images show the island before Maria, after and now.

Not much has changed and Puerto Rico's power authority claims there's no way of knowing how many people like Rivera are in the dark.

So we called each municipality, that's 78 of them. We couldn't reach most. Communication still not reliable. But of those reached, the overwhelming majority say most people do not have power. Nearly a third say the entire town is in the dark. And yet the power authority and the governor's office insist they are on track.

When it comes to power restoration, they say they're at 37 percent on the island. But that's the percentage of power generation. How much power is being produced, not how much is actually making it to homes and businesses. A big difference when you ask one of the unions at Puerto Rico's power authority.

EVANS CASTRO, PRESIDENT, UEPI UNION: (Speaking foreign language).

SANTIAGO: He said he can technically have no one with power but still have 100 percent generation. That's why he thinks the numbers are questionable.

We noticed government officials changed how they report the numbers on power, initially using the percentage of clients with power, something they denied until we reminded them of this tweet by the governor's mansion, retweeted by the power authority listing clients with service two weeks after Maria.

The governor's office said it was a mistake. The tweet was deleted shortly after CNN asked about it.

When we first approached the governor's office and (INAUDIBLE), we were told by both that they have always reported generation, not clients.

FERNANDO PADILLA, DIRECTOR, PROJECT MANAGEMENT OFFICE, PREPA: I'm not sure on the facts. But (INAUDIBLE) what I can state is when we started restoring critical loads, it's more you can identify better who are the clients. That's as much -- as I can say. It was during a very limited period of time.

SANTIAGO: Since the power authority says those numbers are no longer available, we asked their workers. Their estimate: about 5 percent of customers may have service, not nearly as high as the percentage of generation. And Rivera worries a bad situation may be getting worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

SANTIAGO: He believes that because the contract was canceled this is only going to take longer. Puerto Rico has now announced it plans to cancel a controversial contract with a company hired to help bring back the island's power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

SANTIAGO: He has no idea it would last this long. As he sees it, politics may now be another reason he and countless Puerto Ricans may not be getting power anytime soon -- Leyla Santiago, CNN, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


VANIER: And add to this the fact that the mayor of San Juan says the lack of power has contributed to Puerto Rico's death toll. Carmen Yulin-Cruz said at least 500 people have died from the hurricane; however, the government's official count stands at 54.

Yulin Cruz told CNN that victims have been excluded because the cause of death wasn't properly recorded.


CARMEN YULIN-CRUZ, MAYOR, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: What we do know for sure is that people have been catalogued as dying out of natural deaths when they were, for example, hooked to a respirator; there is no power. The small generator that they have gives up --


YULIN-CRUZ: -- and then, of course, they die of natural causes.

But they are related to the lack of electricity. I know of hospitals that have had people that died when they were on intensive care because the generators are not made to run for six, seven weeks at a time.

And what we cannot understand is what is the point, right, of saying that these deaths are not related to the hurricane?

They didn't occur the day of the hurricane, September 20th, but it certainly unfolds as the aftermath of the hurricane's continuing to take its toll.


VANIER: And now Puerto Rico's power grid was in need of repair even before September's hurricanes shut it down completely.

Typhoon Damrey has made landfall in Vietnam.


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