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Zimbabwe Political Crisis; Jeff Sessions on Capitol Hill; Rohingya Flee Violence in Myanmar. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired November 15, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:16] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm John Vause.


We're following breaking news out of Zimbabwe and the political crisis there over who will succeed President Robert Mugabe after 37 years in office.

The military is denying a takeover; instead a military spokesman interrupted state TV declaring they are trying to pacify the situation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This situation in our country has moved to another level. Firstly, we wish to assure the nation that His Excellency, the president of the republic of Zimbabwe and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwean Defense Forces, Comrade R.G. Mugabe and his family are safe and sound and that their security is guaranteed.

We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.


VAUSE: The vice president was seen as a likely successor to 93-year- old Robert Mugabe but he was sacked last week and the military threatened to intervene. Many analysts believe President Mugabe is clearing the path for his wife, Grace, to succeed him.

SESAY: Well, our Farai Sevenzo is following this story for us from Nairobi, Kenya. Farai -- good to have you with us.

Ok. Let's just be very, very clear. And the military says this is not a coup; that they're trying to pacify the situation. They say President Mugabe and his family are safe. Their security is guaranteed. But who is in control of Zimbabwe on this Wednesday?

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: We have to say it is the military -- Isha. We have to say that Constantino Chiwenga, the head of the army, who gave two basically very forthright press conferences -- the first of which was not run by the local television, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, but they did repeat it this morning.

So that gives you an indication that the military are in control. They are being very careful with their words. They don't want to call it a coup. They want to say that Mr. Mugabe is still in control and that he is safe, to use their words.

But in any other words, in any other description this is a takeover by the military.

SESAY: All right. They say, to use the military's own description or explanation of what is taking place, that they are targeting criminals around the President who are causing economic and social suffering.

Who might they be responding to, if we have to go along with this line of logic or argument?

SEVENZO: Well, you know, let's just reel back a bit. Last week, they fired the Vice President, Emerson Mnangagwa, who had been at Mugabe's side for most of his working life. He was arrested, if you remember, in 1960 for political activism at his local university.

And at that stage, of course, Mrs. Mugabe hadn't yet been born. And the military's gripe is that Mrs. Mugabe has now taken over the functions of the state. She has seen a meteoric rise to power way back years ago when she fired the other vice president, Joice Mujuru, another war veteran, another stalwart of the liberation struggle and they're saying this (INAUDIBLE).

Now, to answer your question -- who are these criminals? There are two groups fighting for power in Zimbabwe, G-40 which is led by Grace Mugabe and her faction. She has various followers including Savior Kasukuwere, Ignatius Chombo the finance minister, and Jonathan Moyo former minister of information.

We do not know if these are the individuals the military is referring to but certainly they are seen, in the wider context of Zimbabwean political life as those very much behind Grace Mugabe.

SESAY: All right. The military making this move, seemingly sparked by the move to sack the vice president, how will this go over with the general populace there in Zimbabwe? How much support will the military have for taking this step?

SEVENZO: Look, this news is being greeted with a lot of jubilation, I must say, on social media in Zimbabwean circles. We've been up, the CNN team in (INAUDIBLE) and Nairobi has been following this story for the last four hours. And everything on social media is tense but people seem to be very jubilant over the fact that this is now coming to a head. Something will be sorted out.

Remember, President Mugabe is 92 years old. For the last two years no one has been quite able to tell whether he's in control of the country or whether his wife is. [00:04:54] And now, the economic implosion going on in the country with the uncertainty, this seems to be a move that may propel change rather than hold it back.

SESAY: Our Farai Sevenzo joining us there from Nairobi, Kenya. Farai -- thank you. I know you're going to stay with us on this this story. We're going to check back in with you in a little while. Thank you so much for the reporting.

VAUSE: Ok. Moving on now -- in a marathon hearing on Capitol Hill, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions insisted he did not lie to Congress about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

SESAY: During his confirmation hearings last year, Sessions denied having any communications with Russians after media reports Sessions acknowledged meeting with the then-Russian ambassador to the U.S.

VAUSE: Last month, Sessions denied knowing about any conversations between Trump campaign officials and Russians before the election and again after those news reports Sessions says he remembers a meeting last year in which campaign advisor George Papadopoulos said he could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. But Sessions doesn't remember specifics.

Some lawmakers, and by some we mean Democrats, were openly skeptical.


REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Let me ask you two simple questions since you have already answered it, you did have communications with the Russians last year, isn't that right?


LIEU: You did have communications with the Russians last year, isn't that right? Just yes or no.

SESSIONS: I had a meeting with the Russian ambassador, yes.

LIEU: That's exactly the opposite answer you gave under oath to the U.S. Senate. So again, either you're lying to the U.S. Senate or you're lying to the U.S. House of Representatives.

SESSIONS: Well, that's not fair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The time of the gentleman has expired. The witness can answer any further if he chooses to.

SESSIONS: I won't repeat it, Mr. Chairman, but I hope the Congressman knows, and I hope all of you know that my answer to that question, I did not meet with the Russians, was explicitly responding to the shocking suggestion that I as a surrogate was meeting on a continuing basis with Russian officials and the implication was to impact the campaign in some sort of nefarious way.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: A lot to talk about there and joining us here in Los Angeles is political analyst Michael Genovese and CNN legal analyst, Michael Zeldin is with us in San Francisco. Thanks to you both.

Michael Zeldin -- to start with you. Did Jeff Sessions make it's easier or harder for prosecutors to charge him with perjury?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think he's actually chargeable with perjury. I don't know that he made it easier or more difficult.

The nature of the questioning by Congressmen and the types of answers that people give in that setting really don't lend themselves to perjury or false statement prosecutions. They're not really specific enough questions to meet the legal standard of perjury.

What he did do was to convince Democrats that his memory is conveniently faulty when it doesn't suit him and specific when it does suit him.

What he did to Republicans is to reinforce the view that he's got honest failures of recollection and he's doing his darnedest to answer the questions fully and appropriately.

So it's the man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest, as Paul Simon sang in "The Boxer". You know, you go in with the point of view and you come out with the exact same point of view.

VAUSE: It's good to hear a Paul Simon reference.

SESAY: This early in the show, absolutely.

Michael Genovese to you, you heard what Michael Zeldin said there that basically this doesn't rise to a legal situation of perjury. But in the court of public opinion it does lead to this general impression once again of an administration that can't quite get its story straight on Russia.

MICHAEL GENOVESE, POLITICAL ANALYST: And since we're quoting great songwriters of all time --

SESAY: Sinatra.

GENOVESE: Bob Dylan said you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

VAUSE: Right.

GENOVESE: There's been an incredibly convenient migration of memory on this case. I don't remember, I don't remember, I don't remember. I didn't do it, I didn't do it, I didn't do it. More things are revealed and now, he says, I do remember but only remembers exculpatory information.

How bad does he think our BS meters are? This doesn't hold water.

VAUSE: Should we quote "Memories" from "Cats"?

Ok. Michael Zeldin -- back to you. After the hearing Democrat Congressman Ted Lieu who had that exchange between Jeff Sessions that we just heard, he tweeted this. "You can believe Jeff Sessions' testimony under oath before the U.S. Senate or you can believe Sessions' testimony under oath before the U.S. House. But you cannot believe both because they contradict each other."

So clearly there's politics in all of this but is it a simple binary choice, as Ted Lieu is making out?

ZELDIN: No. Not in my estimation and certainly not legally.

[00:09:53] If you go back to the Franken-Sessions exchange in the senate, Al Franken was reading a report that CNN had just published indicating that there was ongoing and regular communications between the Trump campaign and Russia.

He asked a question of Sessions like, if this were true, what would you do about it? And Sessions answered by saying, well, I don't know anything about this. I certainly didn't have those sort of conversations.

And then you fast forward to today and he asked, did you have any meetings with Russians? And he said yes, I met with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, in my office.

Sessions' answer to Franken is in the context of ongoing communications between the Russians and the Trump campaigns according to Sessions. And so it's not binary because he thought that he was answering the question of an ongoing communication sort of strategy between the campaign and Russians whereas in the House, he was asked about one specific meeting.

So that's why I say, as a law question, it doesn't really lay up as perjury. It's not binary. But again, you bring to it what you want to hear. And some people will say Sessions knew exactly what Franken was asking and he's being sort of cute by one-half. And others will say, you know, no, he was answering it in the context that he believes it was related to ongoing communications.

SESAY: Michael Genovese -- it was remarkable to hear him say, Jeff Sessions that is, over and over again -- I don't recall, I don't recall, I don't recall, which really was the headline from this entire gathering.

Can you ever remember a time when you've seen someone under oath say "I don't recall" that many times without invoking executive privilege or some kind of other constitutional protection?

GENOVESE: Well, the Attorney General doesn't want to go as far as executive privilege. That's kind of the end game. You hold that in reserve until you really need it.

He's trying to convince people that his memory is so bad about so many important things that happened so many times that he must believe that we're too stupid to figure out that how dumb can he be? He's not dumb. He's smart as a whip.

And I can't believe his memory is this bad. The sheer volume of reporting on connections between Trump folks and Russians is just so overwhelming and it gets bigger and bigger every day. It's just hard to believe that he doesn't recall.

VAUSE: You would also think he would prepare for this hearing knowing that the Russian question would come up.

SESAY: Absolutely.

VAUSE: It was clear on Tuesday that Republican lawmakers are pushing Sessions to appoint some kind of special investigator, special counsel into this uranium deal where Russia bought 20 percent of the U.S. uranium when Clinton was secretary of state at the time. This has been an ongoing issue for the right wing media in this country.

But there was this incredible moment on Fox News and it came from Shepard Smith.


SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS HOST: Even so the accusation is predicated on the charge that Secretary Clinton approved the sale. She did not. A committee of nine evaluated the sale. The President approved the sale. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and others had to offer permits and none of the uranium was exported for use by the U.S. to Russia. That is Uranium One.


VAUSE: Michael Zeldin -- I think Shepard Smith pretty much broke it down fairly succinctly. But apart from that and apart from the fact there is no there, there -- it's a pretty high standard for the appointment of a special counsel. And I think that's the point Sessions actually tried to make.

ZELDIN: Yes. I think that was Sessions' shining moment, when it was clear that the White House and some of the Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee were really pressing him to essentially give in to the President's desire that there be an investigation, a special counsel investigation of Hillary Clinton probably just to deflect from Mueller's investigation and Sessions said not unless there's evidence to support it.

And in fact of course under the special counsel rules there is no need for a special counsel, even if there was a there, there. And I think Shepard Smith has it exactly right. There is no there, there.

But even taking a worst case scenario, that there was some there, there then the Justice Department in the ordinary course can investigate that. There is no need for and in fact the special counsel rules wouldn't even authorize the appointment of a special counsel.

So this is a lot of politics and it relates to the President's desire to intervene in Justice Department affairs with respect to specific matters. And that is what is at the heart of the obstruction investigation that Mueller has got under way. And the President is not helping himself by continuously trying to inject politics into this.

But may I say one other thing which is in respect to the question of I don't know and does that rise to the level of legal jeopardy?

[00:14:58] In the Watergate case Halderman -- one of the President Nixon advisors -- was I believe indicted for saying, I don't remember, I don't remember, I don't remember when in fact there were clear tapes that prove that he did know exactly that.

So you can get yourself into a legal, you know, sort of crosshairs of a prosecutor if they believe that you're asserting that I don't remember disingenuously to avoid answering a question.

VAUSE: All right. Michael -- we're almost out of time. But I just want to get to Roy Moore because this is an issue which the Republican Party continues to struggle with.

What to do with Roy Moore. He's the Senate candidate for Alabama to replace Jeff Sessions. He has made it perfectly clear despite accusations that he, you know, essentially sexually assaulted young women as young as 14 -- he's not getting out of the race. He kept that going just a few hours ago.


JUDGE ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I'm now facing allegations. I mean that's all the press wants to talk about. But I want to talk about the issues. I want to talk about where this country is going and if we don't come back to God we're not going anywhere.


VAUSE: Michael Genovese -- this now seems to be more about politics than any kind of legality here as far as the Republican Party is concerned because it seems they don't have a lot of options here in forcing Roy Moore out of the race and he's got plenty of support in Alabama.

GENOVESE: That's right. And it's a divide between the sort of modern wing of the Republican Party and the medieval wing. I teach a course in ethics and there's a really good way to try to sort of disentangle these political and ethical questions. And here's how you do it.

It's a simple formula. Imagine if you will, that you don't know who the person is being accused, you don't know his party, you know nothing but the facts. And if you would just go to the facts divorced of partisanship and tribalism which interferes with our judgments -- if you just go to the facts then that's how you make the judgment.

And I think in this case the judgment is pretty clear on Roy Moore.

VAUSE: You idealist.

GENOVESE: Thank you. I appreciate that.

SESAY: You too, Michael.

GENOVESE: I resemble that remark.

VAUSE: Two Michaels -- absolutely. Thank you so much.

ZELDIN: And he quotes Bob -- an idealist who quotes Bob Dylan. You can't have a better combination.

VAUSE: Exactly. Ok. Good stuff. Thanks -- guys.

SESAY: Thank you. Thank you very much.

All right. We're going to take a very quick break.

And the United States diplomat is in Myanmar as the country faces more pressure to end what the U.N. calls ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.

VAUSE: And an exclusive look at the dangerous journey the Rohingya are trying to -- taking rather -- to escape the violence there. What awaits them on the other side on the river? That's next on NEWSROOM L.A.


SESAY: Welcome back, everyone.

Let's update you on our breaking news.

Zimbabwe's military is denying carrying out a coup amid a political crisis over who will succeed the president after 37 years in office. The military spokesman says they want to prevent violent conflict and that 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe is safe.

VAUSE: The military though is backing the vice president but Mugabe fired him last week. Many analysts believe the President is clearing the path for his wife, Grace, to succeed him.

[00:20:03] SESAY: All right. Away from the situation in Zimbabwe for a moment now.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Myanmar to address the humanitarian crisis that's driving the Rohingya out of the country.

VAUSE: He arrived in the capital about an hour ago. This will be just a short visit. He's expected to meet with leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi who faces intense pressure to end the violence against the Muslim minority.

SESAY: He's expected to hold a news conference in the coming hour. Secretary Tillerson will also meet with the head of Myanmar's military. Secretary Tillerson's visit to Myanmar follows his meeting with Suu

Kyi at the ASEAN summit on Tuesday. U.S. President Donald Trump also addressed the country's humanitarian crisis. It was the first and only time he mentioned it during his Asia trip.

VAUSE: Mr. Trump did say more 600,000 have fled their homes after attacks by vigilantes and security forces. That number is widely agreed to. Most of that violence has happened in Myanmar's Rakhine State.

CNN's Clarissa Ward has the story now on just one part of a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh. Here's her exclusive report.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At first light you can see them dotted along the coastal road -- homeless, stateless, huddled in the cool dawn. They are known as the most persecuted minority in the world.

The distance they have come is not far but the journey is long. For many, it begins on this river; that's Myanmar on the other side. Everyday hundreds of Rohingya Muslims try to cross it to safety.

So we can see now coming towards the shore -- one, two, three, four, five, six different rafts, all of them have at least 20 to 30 people on them. Crudely made of plastic and bamboo and laden with whatever belongings could be salvaged.

They're not welcome on this shore. The coast guard waves them further on. So we wade out to talk to them.

How are you? How many hours have you been on the boat? Since early in the morning? Do you know how to swim? No one does yet the raft is full of children.

"Of course we are worried. Look she has two babies", this woman tells us. "The kids were practically slipping off the raft."

The U.N. says that scores of Rohingya have died making this crossing but that hasn't stopped them from trying.

We can't follow them any further. So they drift on down the river unsure of what awaits them. Their best hope is that they end up in one of these camps that aid workers have called a massive slum in the jungle.

Bangladesh is struggling to cope -- another 200,000 refugees are expected in the coming weeks. For the Rohingya, life here is a constant battle. Good living is hard to come by. These are refugees with no refuge.

As dusk approaches we happened upon a group who made it to shore. They tell us they crossed at 2:00 a.m. to use the cover of night.

Where will you go from here? "We will go wherever they will take us," she says. "But whatever happens we won't go back."

Dependent on the mercy of a world that has so far shown them none.

Clarissa Ward, CNN -- on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.,


SESAY: Well, Matthew Smith joins us now. He's the co-founder and CEO of the non-profit organization Fortify Rights. Matthew -- thank you for joining us once again.

According to a new report put out by your organization along with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, there's mounting evidence of genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Tell us what did this year-long investigation uncover?

MATTHEW SMITH, FORTIFY RIGHTS: Well, we uncovered grave crimes against the Rohingya population. We're talking about mass killings, massacres. We were documenting cases in which soldiers slit throats, threw infant children into fires, in some cases, entire groups of residents of Rohingya villages were corralled, told that they would be safe, told not to flee and then they were massacred.

And in the process, huge numbers of refugees have, of course, been pouring across the border into Bangladesh.

SESAY: Matthew -- how does this report alter our prior understanding of what's been taking place, of what's been happening to these people? You and I have talked about this in recent weeks. How does this report change our understanding?

SMITH: Well, what this report does is provide more detail and more evidence and more analysis of the crimes that have been taking place.

As we discussed before, we've been concerned about the crime of genocide for some time. The indications were clear for many, many months, leading up to the recent wave of violence.

And also, this is a population that has been -- that has faced severe human rights violations for decades. So what this report today does is try to help clarify the nature of the crimes and the gravity of the crimes that are being perpetrated.

SESAY: So Matthew -- how do we get from this point of mounting evidence of genocide to the actual determination that this actually is genocide and have it labelled as such?

SMITH: Well, Isha -- I think the most important thing right now is for urgent action. Governments need to urgently act to apply pressure on the Myanmar authorities to end these attacks against the civilian population. But also, there needs to be a serious move toward accountability.

So regardless of how the crimes are categorized, really what we need to see right now is urgent action. SESAY: I want to put to you something that Queen Rania of Jordan

said, after she visited Cox's Bazar back in October. She raised the point that could it be that because the victims of this violence are Muslims that the world is turning a blind eye or the world doesn't see them as victims?

How do you see it? I know that you described what is happening as a global moral failure. Is this because these people are Muslims? How much does that play into things?

SMITH: Well, for the Rohingya population, this is a population of people, these communities we've been working with for years not only in Myanmar but also in Thailand and also in Malaysia and in other countries, certainly Bangladesh -- they're facing serious human rights violations in every country, whether it's a Buddhist country, Muslim country or otherwise.

So I think to a certain extent, many Rohingya do feel that their faith has a lot to do with why the international community has failed to adequately defend their human rights and end these killings from taking place. But I think it is important to note that this is a population that everywhere they go, they're facing human rights violations and it needs to stop.

Southeastern Asian nations need to step up. The international community has failed the Rohingya people.

SESAY: Yes. The U.S. Secretary of State Secretary Tillerson is in Myanmar right now, as you well know. I mean for you, by what standard will you judge whether or not his meeting and message was successful, if you will?

SMITH: Well, there is -- we're certainly not expecting a silver bullet solution to this. The people of Myanmar have a lot of work to do to reverse this situation. We do hope that Secretary Tillerson is very clear that human rights violations of this nature, atrocity crimes will not be tolerated.

And it's very important that Secretary Tillerson talks to General Min Aung Hlaing about the prospects of accountability for atrocity crimes. There is complete impunity in Myanmar. And until that impunity stops, until perpetrators are held accountable, we're afraid that we are going to see more killings and more violence and more abuses against the Rohingya and other populations.

SESAY: Yes. Matthew Smith -- thank you for joining us again. We'll keep the conversation going and keep the world -- keep the world focused on this story as they should be.

Matthew Smith from Fortify Rights -- thank you so much.

SMITH: Thank you so much -- Isha.

VAUSE: Ok. We'll change gears.

Celebrations across Australia after the country give the green light to legalize marriage equality. After the break, details of what comes next.




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome back, everybody. Welcome to the CNN NEWSROOM. Live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And I'm Isha Sesay. Updating our top story for you now.

The military in Zimbabwe is denying taking over the country. Instead the military spokesman who interrupted state TV said they're targeting those who are causing social and economic problems and that President Robert Mugabe is safe.

The country is mired in a political dispute over who will succeed the 93-year-old president after 37 years in office.

VAUSE: Australians have voted overwhelmingly in favor of same sex marriage.

SESAY: (INAUDIBLE) supporters across the country cheered following the announcement.



SESAY (voice-over): At least 61 percent of Australians voted in favor of allowing marriage equality in a national postal survey. Farmers (ph) could begin the process of legalizing those marriages within weeks. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is calling on lawmakers to get on with it.

VAUSE: And among those celebrating this historic moment, Australia's greatest Olympian, swimmer Ian Thorpe, who came out just a few years ago. He tweeted, thank you, Australia, #yes.

SESAY: And American comedian Ellen DeGeneres tweeted, it's a g'day. Way to, Australia, #marriageequality.

VAUSE: G'day, Australia.

Annelise Nielsen (ph) with Sky News Australia joins us now from Melbourne.

El, it's good to see you. As parliament now begins this process of legalizing same sex marriage, is it a done deal right now or is there one last play for those lawmakers who are opposed to marriage equality?

Can they try and stop, maybe water down whatever law is passed? ANNELISE NIELSEN (PH), SKY NEWS AUSTRALIA: It's absolutely not a done deal at all. I think that comes with the fact it was a postal survey and not a referendum which is what the government was originally hoping for. There has been a bill introduced into parliament here in Australia into the senate just a short time ago which would see this become law.

We saw even earlier this week one senator introduced a bill which would have changed the marriage act to include a definition which would allow same sex marriage (INAUDIBLE) it also had a lot of protection for what he said would be people who were conscientiously opposing to same-sex marriage. It's to protect against the type of thing I think we've seen lot in the United States, in particular about bakers who don't want to bake wedding cakes for same sex couples.

That hasn't gone over very well in the electorate in Australia and what we have seen is just this very strong result today with 61 percent. It doesn't sound like a strong majority. But when you take that to be the number of people who are eligible to vote, indeed, it is quite a strong majority and it's exactly what the campaign really was hoping for today.

VAUSE: And a majority in every state and territory as well, which is significant. Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is seen as a key backer in all of this. He has supported marriage equality a long time. But he now has to get this legislation through parliament without the support of his coalition government.

Are there political consequences for him?

NIELSEN: Absolutely. I think the fact we have this postal survey shows he really didn't --


NIELSEN: -- have the numbers and the discipline in his party to get it done in the first place. The point of this survey was to placate a lot of members in his party, in particular the really conservative branch, really pushing the no message.

But what you can't forget is there's also this conservative party -- this conservative group within the Labour Party in Australia. Many of the opponents against the same sex marriage law changes do come from the Labour Party. In fact, what we've seen with the results today is its many working class suburbs that traditionally labor have been the ones that voted no in this survey.

VAUSE: You mentioned the nonbinding postal survey. Here's how comedian John Oliver from "Last Week Tonight" summed it up.


JOHN OLIVER, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT": Polls already exist, showing around two-thirds of Australians support it. So parliament could simply pass it into law. But instead, they are inexplicably holding a non-legally binding voluntarily postal vote at a public cost of $120 million, which is the weirdest waste of Australian money since every Baz Luhrmann movie ever made.


VAUSE: Given the huge cost of this, $120 million, and the results so overwhelmingly in favor, are questions being asked now about why that money was spent in the first place?

NIELSEN: Absolutely. To correct John Oliver there, it was $122 million that they're telling us about. There's any chance that it could have cost a lot more. It has gone over like a lead balloon, particularly with younger voters.

What will be quite interesting when we do eventually have a election, is we have all these younger voters now, who had to update their enrollment to participate in this postal ballot. Voting is compulsory in Australia. But if you don't vote, the fine is often something like $20 or $60.

So many young people, it just falls by the wayside if they're not quite passionate. But it really has gotten a lot of young people quite passionate about it. We're at a time in particular with young people, there's a lot of issues with housing affordability in Australia. So to see the government spend this huge amount of money on what is essentially a nationwide opinion poll has gone over quite badly.

VAUSE: Annelise, we're out of time. So thank you so much. Before you go, though, (INAUDIBLE) map. This is the countries which have actually approved marriage equality around the world. Australia is still not there yet, still in the company of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Russia.

So when this legislation gets through, welcome to the 21st century. Thanks for being with us, Annelise.

NIELSEN: We might be there by Christmas.

VAUSE: Good luck.

SESAY: All right. Quick break here. If you're going to get accused of shoplifting in a foreign country, it helps to have friends in high places, how three college basketball players are now back home after the U.S. president intervened.




SESAY: Hello, everyone. Welcome back.

Recapping our top story out of Zimbabwe, the military there is denying carrying out a coup amid uncertainty over who will succeed President Robert Mugabe after 37 years in office.


SESAY: The military spokesman says the 93-year-old president is safe.

VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE) is backing the vice president, who Mr. Mugabe fired last week. Many analysts believe the president is trying to clear the way for his wife, Grace, to take over the country.

Three basketball players from UCLA are back home from China but it seems only because of intervention from the U.S. president. The college freshmen, LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, were arrested last week on suspicion of shoplifting.

SESAY: Mr. Trump said he asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to help resolve the situation while he was in Beijing and that appears to have done the trick because their plane landed in Los Angeles a few hours ago.

VAUSE: Andrew Stevens, live with us now from Beijing.

Andrew, still not entirely clear how all this was resolved. There was a statement from pac12 (ph) commissioner Larry Scott, he specifically mentions Donald Trump.

"We want to thank the president, the White House and the U.S. State Department for their efforts toward resolution."

So what else is known about how these three students avoided jail time?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: Not much at this stage, John. Larry Scott going on to say that the issue had been resolved to the satisfaction of the Chinese authorities but he didn't say what the action resolution was. He said those comments in a news release. So he wasn't actually questioned about that.

All we know at this stage is that Donald Trump did intervene. He brought it up with President Xi Jinping during that two-day trip to China. Listen to what Donald Trump had to say on his way back from his Asian trip to reporters on Air Force One.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The basketball players, by the way, I know a lot of people are asking, I will tell you what I heard about it. Two days ago, I had a great conversation with President Xi. What they did was unfortunate. You're talking about very long prison sentences. They do not play games.

He was terrific and they're working on it right now hopefully everything will work out.


STEVENS: Donald Trump did say that President Xi was very helpful in also resolving that case. We don't know exactly what the Chinese leader told Donald Trump when he brought that up. We have a quote from "The Washington Post," quoting an unnamed U.S. official, saying that the president Xi told Donald Trump that the case would be handled fairly and expeditiously.

But we don't know whether these three actually, in the end, did face charges. They were arrested on suspicion of the shoplifting of sunglasses in a Louis Vuitton store. We know that they were detained in the hotel while the Chinese went about the legal process. We don't know whether those charges became apparent and whether they have actually paid any fines or whether they have paid any compensation.

So there's a lot of questions here to be resolved. It's difficult to get to the bottom of this without hearing from the three of them and we certainly haven't heard from them yet, even though they di land to a fairly big media scrum in the U.S. just a few hours ago.

VAUSE: And they will be met holding a news conference in the next 24 hours.

Andrew, it does seem incredibly rare for this high level intervention from a U.S. president for three U.S. citizens who are accused of shoplifting.

Was it simply a case there, right place, right time, Donald Trump just happened to be in China when all this happened?

STEVENS: Difficult to second guess what Donald Trump world have done, had this been brought to his attention while he was in the U.S. But certainly it's not common for a U.S. leader to bring up individual cases. But they usually do it for of prisoners of conscience, political prisoners, human rights issues, not, as you point out, for a case which involves fairly common shoplifting.

But Donald Trump did bring this up, as we know. He's been very keen to let the world know his involvement with it and, since his involvement with it, those three have been released and come home. So in Donald Trump's view, perhaps this was another of his successes here in Asia.

VAUSE: Yes, he intervened on behalf of three college students but yet has to do anything about 600,000 Rohingya Muslims who are fleeing a country in the face of widespread ethnic cleansing.

Andrew, thank you.

SESAY: Indeed.

On that note, thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. "WORLD SPORT" is up next. You're watching CNN.