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Trump's Message to Alabama; California Wildfires; West Bank Clashes and Palestinian Protests; Brexit Negotiations; Russia Investigation; Concerns North Korea Could Disrupt Olympics. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired December 9, 2017 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. President makes it clear, he is backing the controversial Senate candidate Roy Moore.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Raging wildfires in Southern California force firefighters to work around the clock.

HOWELL (voice-over): And South Korea looks to host the Winter Olympics. There's no shortage of anxiety, though, over its northern neighbor.

ALLEN (voice-over): Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world coming to you live from snowy Atlanta, Georgia. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL (voice-over): Snow. There's snow here at CNN World Headquarters.

ALLEN (voice-over): I'm freaking out.

HOWELL (voice-over): I'm George Howell. NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: It is 4:00 am on the U.S. East Coast.

And the U.S. President Donald Trump on the campaign trail rallying to his party's majority to keep that majority in the Senate. In Pensacola, Florida, just across the border from Alabama, he endorsed the controversial Senate candidate Roy Moore on Friday. Several women have accused Moore of sexual misconduct.

ALLEN: Until recently, the White House has stayed away from the race. Now Donald Trump is all in. For more, our reporter Kaitlan Collins was at the rally.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Though the White House has said repeatedly that President Trump would not come to Alabama and campaign for Roy Moore ahead of that Senate election on Tuesday that is highly contested, he did the next best thing when he came to a campaign-style rally in Pensacola, Florida, and called it a ring of fill (ph) with Alabama resident to get out and vote for Roy Moore.

Not only did he endorse him in person, as he has done on Twitter, the president also hit at his Democratic opponent in that race, Doug Jones, claiming that he's weak on crime and that if he made it to Washington, he would be Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi's puppet.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't afford to have a liberal Democrat who is completely controlled by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. We can't do it.

His name is Jones and he's their total puppet and everybody knows it. He will never, ever vote for us. We need somebody in that Senate seat who will vote for our "Make America Great Again" agenda, which involves tough on crime, strong on borders, strong on immigration.

So get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do it. Do it. Do it.


COLLINS: Now though the White House has said that the president finds the allegations made against Roy Moore troubling and concerning and that if they're true, Roy Moore should step aside.

We heard from the president himself on some of those allegations during his rally. He brought up Beverly Nelson, the woman who says she was 16 years old when Roy Moore assaulted her and as part of her proof, she showed where he signed her yearbook.

The Moore campaign has said that it was a forgery and that that was not his signature. And when Nelson said on Friday that she had written the date and the location underneath his signature, the Moore campaign took that as an opportunity to say that she was laying and had admitted it was a forgery.

President Trump brought that up on the stage behind me here in Pensacola, mocking Beverly Nelson over that. So we heard from the president himself on what he thinks of that accuser. We know that sources have said that privately he doubts the women who've accused Roy Moore, comparing it to his own situation in the presidential election last year when he, too, was accused of sexual assault by multiple women.

So though this White House said that President Trump would not campaign for Roy Moore, he's essentially done the next best thing tonight when he said to get out and vote for Roy Moore.


HOWELL: Let's get some perspective now on this endorsement. We're bringing in now James Davis. James is the dean of the School of Economics and Political Science at the University of St. Galen in Munich.

It's good to have you with us here on the show at this hour. Let's talk about the location, first of all. Mr. Trump giving this endorsement of Roy Moore without Roy Moore at his side and decidedly not in the U.S. state of Alabama but close enough to send a message.

Your thoughts on his strategy here?

JAMES DAVIS, UNIVERSITY OF ST. GALEN: This is obviously trying to get two for the price of one. He doesn't want to campaign in Alabama, go against his pledge not to do so and yet he's doing that by way of the media.

It's also an attempt to rally his base in Florida, which is, of course, an important state for his re-election prospects in a few years. So this is a calculated political move. But I think it does suggest that the Republicans are nervous about Alabama.

I think if they were sure that Moore was ahead in the polls, they wouldn't be putting the president --


DAVIS: -- out on this limb. So it suggests to me that they're really trying to mobilize the base, get people out to the vote. This may, in fact, come down to be a question of turnout.

HOWELL: So the president making the argument here on the podium that this race comes down to party versus party, essentially telling voters to turn a blind eye to the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore or even his comments, suggesting somehow America was more united during slavery.

But for Republicans who may have issue with those thoughts, does this concept of us versus them, does it motivate them to back Mr. Moore?

DAVIS: Yes. I mean, unfortunately, we're in a period of partisan politics that really looks more like tribal politics than it does democratic politics. And this is an effort to mobilize the tribe.

But there are -- and as you suggested, George, they're trying to make this the question of party versus party. But it's important, Republican voices or voices of the Republican conscience of the past have suggested, this is about party versus country. This is about are we willing to sacrifice the democratic principles at the heart of our Constitution, the principles that are important for our communal life together, respect for each other, respect for women and men.

Is this what we're going to offer up at the altar of partisan politics?

People like Senator Flake are raising this question and I applaud him for doing it.

HOWELL: The questions of decency and rule of law are certainly the questions that many are wondering. Whether that plays factor in politics as it is presently, also important to mention this president has a long list of women who accuse him of sexual misconduct.

He even apologized during the campaign trail after this infamous tape came to light. Let's listen.


TRUMP: You can do anything.

BILLY BUSH, "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD": Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the (INAUDIBLE). Do anything.


HOWELL: So despite that tape, Mr. Trump did move on to win the presidency in light of that.

Do you believe that the president might have a soft spot here for Mr. Moore, maybe seeing him as an underdog at a similar position?

DAVIS: It's hard to understand the president's position on this question. I tend to think -- and, you know, I stress I'm not a psychologist. I can't get into his mind.

But I tend to think that he's convinced himself that these women that accused him mistook what he was doing, that he wasn't in any way threatening them or in any way acting inappropriately.

So I think he thinks that probably Mr. Moore is subject to the same kind of misunderstanding. This is an old-fashioned male view that really has no place in our society today.

We know that women that are on the streets, in our classrooms, in our office places have to be treated exactly like men. And when that line is crossed, the line has been crossed.

But I think the president is able, in his own mind, to create some ambiguity in these questions and thinks that probably poor Mr. Moore has been victimized by these women, the number of which continues to increase, who obviously see things quite differently.

HOWELL: So Roy Moore getting this high profile endorsement from the U.S. president, Donald Trump across the border there in Florida. But as far as Moore's opponent, the Democrat Doug Jones, why do you suspect, James, that we haven't seen the same high-profile Democrats?

Is there a concern somehow that that type of support could, in fact, have the opposite effect and rally Republicans around Moore?

DAVIS: Yes. I mean, I think the Democratic brand is not -- is not trading very highly in the Deep South. And so I think the effort here is to make sure that this is not about the Democratic Party but this is about the candidate, Mr. Jones.

And, you know, if you look at his resume, he looks like a serious fellow who certainly could represent his constituency as well. And so I think what Mr. Trump is trying to do is once again tag the opponent to -- of Mr. Moore with the Democratic label; raising the red flag of Nancy Pelosi, seen as a California liberal; raising the red flag of Chuck Schumer, seen as a New York liberal. This is an attempt to tarnish the Democratic candidate with that brand.

So I think the Democrats are doing the right thing. Behind the scenes, they're certainly trying to funnel money to this campaign. They're certainly trying to help with a get out the vote campaign. And as I suggested earlier, I think this may come down to which side is able to get its voters to the polling stations.

HOWELL: It is a tight race, James. We'll have to see how it plays out. James, thank you so much for being with us this hour, live from Munich.

DAVIS: Thank you, George.

HOWELL: Now on to Southern California. Thousands of firefighters are working nonstop to fight six different wildfires. They made some --


HOWELL: -- progress on Friday containing five of those fires. However, the largest fire, the Thomas Wildfire, it grew nearly 58,000 hectares, about 143,000 acres. At least one person has died from that fire.

ALLEN: Nearly 200,000 people have been forced to leave their homes since the fires erupted this week. Some have returned only to find their homes gone. Almost 14,000 in the area don't have power. We get more now from CNN's Sara Sidner in California.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: New information from fire officials on the Thomas Fire, the largest fire that's burning, which is three times now the size of Washington, D.C.

They are now saying that 87,000 people have been evacuated. That's almost half the total number of people that have been evacuated across Southern California because of these fires.

And here's why. This is just one home. But around us, there are within eyesight 20 homes that we can count that are burned to the ground. They look just like this, where basically the chimney is the only thing that is standing.

Here is another vista, a view from atop Ventura, this neighborhood devastated by this fired. Home after home after home, leveled to the ground and many of the folks who live in these homes, the homeowners don't even know what their homes look like yet because they have not been able to make it back after evacuating, some of them with just the clothes on their back or with just a small bag, for example, their prescriptions.

This has been such a difficult time for them and for the firefighters, who are working double and triple shifts, trying to knock this fire back and it's still only 10 percent contained at this point.

I do need to mention how many firefighters are battling this blaze, which is still raging in the hills. About 3,500 fire personnel, 21 helicopters that you have been seeing, of course, dumping water and trying to stop these blazes.

I must say that when you watch the work they do, they are amazingly accurate with dumping that water. But the flames just too strong and they keep on rolling.



HOWELL: Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, more violence after President Trump's Jerusalem announcement. We have a --


HOWELL: -- live report from the region, ahead.

ALLEN: Also a breakthrough in the Brexit talks clears the way for the next round of negotiations. However, there's a long road ahead and we'll break it down for you.





ALLEN: The U.S.' recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital is certainly being felt throughout the Middle East. Foreign ministers from the Arab League are set to meeting in the coming hours after another day of rage by Palestinians. They clashed with Israeli forces in Jerusalem and the West Bank Friday.

HOWELL: At least four Palestinians are also reportedly killed in Gaza. Officials report three of the deaths were due to Israeli airstrikes. Israel says its aircraft targeted Hamas after projectiles were fired at Israeli territory.

ALLEN: The U.S. President announced the change in Jerusalem policy on Wednesday. It's been slammed by much of the international community including U.S. allies. Here is what diplomats said at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Friday.


MATTHEW RYCROFT, BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: We therefore disagree with the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and unilaterally to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel --


RYCROFT: -- before a final status agreement. These decisions are unhelpful to the prospects for peace in the region.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're worried about the new fact that the new position announced by the United States on Jerusalem risks further complicating situation in Palestinian-Israeli relations and in the region as a whole.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. decision to reward Israeli's impunity undermines and essentially this qualifies its leadership role to seek peace in the region.


ALLEN: CNN's Ian Lee is covering this story for us. He has the latest from Jerusalem.

Ian, there's fallout on the streets, across the region and within the halls of government. This is a story that is not going away anytime soon.

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Natalie, and later today, we're expecting another round of protests here in Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank.

This anger is just continuing to be played out on the streets. We're covered these clashes day in and day out. And they continue, as you see Palestinian protesters going up against the Israeli military.

Yesterday we saw a number of people killed, four people killed in Gaza. The Israeli military says their aircraft targeted two weapons manufacturing plants, a warehouse, as well as a training facility. And we have seen a number of rockets fired from Gaza.

Now the Israeli military says it doesn't matter who fires the rockets in Gaza; they hold Hamas responsible because they say Hamas runs the Gaza Strip. But this is just the tensions that we're seeing continue past the announcement, these three days of rage. And it doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Right. And certainly there have been protests against Donald Trump. This was his move as a part of the U.S. government.

And is there a disappointment that there's not more dialogue or input from Mr. Trump or any sort of diplomatic initiative to go with this decision by Mr. Trump?

LEE: For the Palestinians, it was pretty clear. They were not going to negotiate with the United States. At least this is what they say after the decision was made. They say the Americans have to take a back seat, that they showed their true colors, that they've always sided with the United States.

And we heard this from Palestinian official after Palestinian official. It seems very difficult now to find any way to revive any sort of peace process.

You know, there is anger toward the United States, toward Israel. The one thing also that was interesting was hearing the anger toward other Arab leaders on the streets because they say, yes, you can come out with your strong words against the United States but we want to see action.

If you really want to show solidarity with us and condemn the United States, then we want to see action.

And so for the Palestinians, a lot of them, when you talk to them, they feel like they're on their own when it comes to their protests or protest movement. They say even their leaders haven't shown as much initiative of direction as they would like. And that's why we continue to see these street protests really driving the narrative.

But right now, we are in uncharted waters. The United States made this unilateral move, despite its key allies in the regions as well as European allies saying, don't do this. The United States made this move. So now we're just seeing the repercussions of it -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And as you say, more protests expected. Ian Lee, following it for us from Jerusalem. Thank you, Ian.

HOWELL: Now on to Brexit. After months of stalled talks, there is now a breakthrough in those negotiations.

ALLEN: Erin McLaughlin looks back at how hard it's been just to get to this point and the tough road ahead.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After nearly nine months of punishing negotiations, a breakthrough, something to make Theresa May smile. And the all-clear from the European Commission.

JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: The commission has just formally decided to recommend to the European Council that sufficient progress has now been made on the strict terms of the divorce.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): It's a deal many feared might never be done, especially after what happened in Brussels earlier in the week.

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Some differences do remain, which require further negotiation.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): May was forced to go home empty-handed after texts aimed at settling what happens to the Northern Ireland border leaked to the press. Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which holds the key to her government majority, nixed the agreement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will not accept in any form of regulatory divergence.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): It took four more days of intense phone calls between --


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): -- Belfast, Dublin, London and Brussels. Then in the small hours of Friday morning, just enough progress, paving the way for a press conference, unveiling a deal on the breakup, the issues that matter most to the E.U.

The financial settlement, rights for E.U. citizens in the U.K. and vice versa and Northern Ireland. In the 15-page joint report outlining the agreement, the U.K. has made plenty of concessions on those issues, including on money, committing to a formula to pay the E.U. tens of billions of euros and a role for the European Court of Justice to be able to weigh in on what happens to E.U. citizens.

A red line for hard-line Brexiteers who wanted to leave the E.U. to avoid the European courts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole thing's a humiliation.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): But what's seen in Brussels as a diplomatic victory for Theresa May, is also likely to be bittersweet.

DONALD TUSK, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COUNCIL: We all know that breaking up is hard. But breaking up and (INAUDIBLE) relation is much harder.

MCLAUGHLIN: Friday's deal still needs to be approved here at the European Council in Brussels, something that seems likely. Then the focus shifts to the potential transition, something that the U.K. desperately wants to maintain the status quo for two years after Brexit to give British business more time to adjust. E.U. officials already warning that that, too, will come at a high price -- Erin McLaughlin, CNN, Brussels.


ALLEN: New revelations in the Russia investigation, Hope Hicks becomes the latest White House official to have their contacts with Russia scrutinized.

HOWELL: Plus, the White House calls him "just a coffee boy" but George Papadopoulos' fiancee says that's not true. You'll hear what she has to say -- ahead.

NEWSROOM is live from Atlanta, Georgia, this hour, simulcast on CNN USA here in that States, CNN International worldwide. Stay with us.





ALLEN: And welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.


HOWELL: We are getting another piece of the puzzle with regard to the Russia investigation that's hanging over the White House.

ALLEN: A report says Russian operatives repeatedly tried to establish contact with another close aide to President Trump after his win. CNN's Jessica Schneider has our story.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've learned that senior FBI officials met with Hope Hicks earlier this year, all to warn her about several introductory emails that she received after the election from Russian government email addresses.

FBI agents, they met with Hope Hicks twice inside the Situation Room at the White House at the beginning of this year. They told her that those emails were not what they seemed and that they may have actually been part of a Russian intelligence operation.

So all of that, according to reporting from "The New York Times," but this was a very specific warning and it shows that law enforcement was alarmed that the Russians were still trying to establish contact with the Trump team after the election.

Reportedly Hope Hicks disclosed her meetings with the FBI to White House counsel Don McGann and we do know that Hope Hicks also met with the special counsel Robert Mueller's team Thursday and Friday as part of their ongoing Russia probe.

Prosecutors for the special counsel are also releasing new details in the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates case. They say that so far they've amassed 400,000 documents in their case and that includes financial records and emails and they've labeled about 2,000 of those documents as "hot," meaning that they could be particularly relevant.

So the government also saying that they 36 electronic devices they seized from Paul Manafort's home. Investigators have also, in this case, issued 15 search warrants. And interestingly in the court filings on Friday, the government referenced that Manafort and Gates have given deposition testimony in another matter.

The prosecutors aren't saying exactly what that means. But this case is moving full steam ahead. The next status hearing for Paul Manafort and Rick Gates is on Monday.


ALLEN: The White House, of course, is trying to distance itself from people like Manafort and Gates, including another key figure in this investigation, foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. HOWELL: Papadopoulos was described as "just a coffee boy" on the campaign but his fiancee says that couldn't be further from the truth. She spoke to CNN's Pamela Brown in this interview.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We are hearing for the first time George Papadopoulos' side of the story through his fiancee. She wanted to share things that Papadopoulos himself has not spoken publicly about on the advice of his lawyers as he awaits sentencing for lying to the FBI in the Russia probe.

His fiancee, an Italian national, who says she, too, was interviewed by the FBI in the Russia investigation, strongly refutes claims by the White House and campaign officials that Papadopoulos was nothing more than "a coffee boy."

BROWN: What have you seen, what have you read that doesn't square with the George Papadopoulos you know?

SIMONA MANGIANTE, GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS' FIANCEE: George Papadopoulos is everything but a coffee boy.

BROWN (voice-over): Simona Mangiante says despite what the White House says about her fiance, George Papadopoulos --




BROWN (voice-over): -- he was not a low-level volunteer in the Trump campaign or a rogue agent who acted without approval.

MANGIANTE: He was a foreign policy adviser for the campaign. He helped also editing Trump's speech on foreign policy. He attended many events and entertained contacts with high level officials of different countries.

He was actively giving his input and insights on -- in terms of strategies and, of course, he was in contact with high-level officials and got approved for any initiative.

BROWN (voice-over): In March of 2016, President Trump named him as a top foreign policy adviser.

TRUMP: George Papadopoulos, he's an oil and energy consultant, excellent guy.

BROWN (voice-over): Later, Papadopoulos met with the president and now attorney general Jeff Sessions, where Papadopoulos allegedly proposed setting up a meeting between Trump and Putin.

Sessions claims he nixed the idea. But when news broke about his cooperation with the special counsel, President Trump slammed Papadopoulos in a tweet.

BROWN: "A young, low level volunteer who has already proven to be a liar."

What was your reaction when you saw that tweet?

MANGIANTE: He's the same person who called him excellent guy, so I agree with that.

BROWN (voice-over): Mangiante says her fiance interacted with campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Steve Bannon, Paul Manafort and other top campaign officials, including Michael Glasner (ph), Sam Clovis and Rick Dearborn.

And she says during the transition, former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Most have denied, downplayed or said they didn't recall their interactions with him.

BROWN: You say that he was consistently in touch with these high- level campaign officials.


BROWN: What was his interaction with Michael Flynn?

MANGIANTE: He was in contact with Michael Flynn and he worked with Michael Flynn during the transition and he was actively contributing to the foreign policy strategies for the campaign. And he didn't take any initiative on his own without campaign approval.

BROWN (voice-over): Court documents show Papadopoulos e-mailed campaign officials in March 2016 about setting up a meeting in Moscow "between us, the Trump campaign and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump."

A campaign supervisor, now identified as Sam Clovis, responded, quote, "Great work," and later wrote, "I would encourage you to make the trip if it is feasible."

In a separate e-mail, a campaign official now identified as Paul Manafort wrote, "It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal."

Mangiante tells CNN that Papadopoulos even did an interview in the fall of 2016 with Russian news agency Interfax. And she says the campaign's deputy communications director, Brian Lanza (ph), who is now a CNN contributor, signed off on it. Lanza declined to comment.

BROWN: So the campaign approved him doing the only interview, as far as you know, with Russian Interfax.

MANGIANTE: Yes, yes.

BROWN: Signed off by the campaign?

MANGIANTE: Yes. BROWN: Was Russia a big focus for him, too?

Like did he have a lot of contacts there?

MANGIANTE: My understanding of his contribution to the campaign, Russia was really secondary and he really did big work with Egyptians, Israel --

BROWN (voice-over): She points to his role as a foreign policy panelist at the Republican National Convention.

And a meeting with Israeli settlers around Inauguration Day, seen here in video obtained by "The Jerusalem Post."

And while she says Papadopoulos communicated with Bannon, Dearborn and Flynn later in the campaign, he never discussed Russia with them.

BROWN: Why do you think the White House was so quick to come out and call him a coffee boy or a low-level volunteer?

MANGIANTE: I think they wanted to disassociate from the first person who decided to actually cooperate with the government. I suppose this can be quite threatening for some people.

BROWN (voice-over): Mangiante says she was interviewed by the FBI in October and that a key focus was on London-based professor Joseph Mifsud, suspected of being a link between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of discussion.

BROWN (voice-over): Mifsud allegedly told Papadopoulos during the campaign that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton: thousands of e-mails. Mangiante says she met Papadopoulos in September 2016 through LinkedIn because she was working at the London Center of International Law Practice, where he had worked earlier in the year.

When they met, Mifsud was running the center.

MANGIANTE: I suppose that the FBI was interested in knowing my connection with Mifsud and which makes perfectly sense. It's quite a strange coincidence that we both worked for the same person.

BROWN (voice-over): She says despite that coincidence, she told the FBI she's not a Russian spy.

MANGIANTE: They asked me if I speak Russian, if I know Russian people. I think people got wild on Twitter about me being a spy, thinking I was the Russian Putin --


MANGIANTE: -- that was like a bit of fantasies and everything.

BROWN (voice-over): Mangiante says, despite everything they've been through, she continues to stand by her fiance and his willingness to work with investigators.

MANGIANTE: I'm very proud of it, of this choice to cooperate with the right side of the history.

BROWN: Mangiante says that Papadopoulos didn't intentionally mislead the FBI. She believes he might have gotten confused about the dates of when he met with Professor Mifsud but says he has taken responsibility for it.

And Mangiante says she hopes President Trump will pardon her fiance because she says he has been loyal to him. The White House did not provide a comment for this story -- Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: All right, Pamela, thank you.

Also in Washington, a third member of Congress is resigning over a sex scandal. Representative Trent Franks announced he is quitting immediately. This after one woman says that he approached her to be a surrogate for his child in exchange for $5 million.

ALLEN: The offer reportedly made his staffers uncomfortable. Now a House Ethics Committee is looking into the situation. In addition to Franks, Representative John Conyers and Senator Al Franken both announced they are stepping down amid sex scandals.

HOWELL: Still ahead, towering smoke and fast-moving flames.

ALLEN: People in Southern California are feeling the ferocious heat from six wildfires tearing through their neighborhoods. We'll have more about it.




ALLEN: Firefighters are tirelessly battling six wildfires in Southern California. They made progress Friday, enough that officials lifted some of the evacuation orders that forced nearly 200,000 people out of their homes. But as people return, they're finding rubble and scorched earth.

Joining us now is Kiley Viramontes. She is joining us via Skype from Sylmar, California.


ALLEN: She is an evacuee and fire survivor and as incredible as this is to believe, she and her husband are also survivors of the recent Las Vegas massacre.

Kiley, you've been through so much. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. KILEY VIRAMONTES, FIRE EVACUEE, SYLMAR, CALIFORNIA: Of course. Thank you for having me.

ALLEN: How are you holding up right now?

And how were you first alerted to the fire in your neighborhood?

VIRAMONTES: Well, it was about 4:30 in the morning and I heard pounding at my door. And my husband and I were upstairs and I woke him up and I said, oh, my gosh, someone is at the door. And I didn't know what was happening.

And we ran downstairs and, immediately, we just smelled the smoke and we opened up the door and we saw it was just flames everywhere.

ALLEN: Did you just have to run out of the house immediately then?

Did you have any time to grab any belongings or did you just bolt?

VIRAMONTES: Yes, we did have some time. The flames were behind our neighbor's house. So had about 10-15 minutes and I just grabbed as much as I could. I just grabbed pictures, paperwork, anything sentimental. I grabbed stuff from my recent wedding. We just threw it in a bag and just ran.

ALLEN: You're a newlywed.

Did you get your wedding photos?

VIRAMONTES: I got my wedding photos.

ALLEN: Yes, that's so good. I understand you went to your relatives' house and you almost had to evacuate their house but you didn't.

Is there any news at this point on your house and your neighborhood?

VIRAMONTES: Sure. So we were allowed back into our neighborhood, which is great news. We don't have any fire damage here at my particular home. But down the road, six houses burned down, which is so sad and I feel so terrible for everyone.

Our house is just really affected by all the wind damage. Our back yard fence is completely gone, our landscaping is destroyed. But I have a home. So I'm very thankful for that.

ALLEN: Absolutely.

What were you thinking or were you thinking anything when you and your husband realized the flames were very close to your house and you were having to get out and get away?

What was going through your mind?

VIRAMONTES: I was just in survival mode. I had tunnel vision. I was like, grab this, I'm going to take care of this. You grab that, get the dog, get the cars and go. It's amazing. You never understand how you're going to react to a situation until you're actually in it and you just immediately go into survival mode.

ALLEN: Understand. So as we mentioned, you escaped the wildfire and you just escaped the Las Vegas massacre. You have been through enough, you and your husband, so much in your young marriage. It's just unreal.

Tell us about what you went through there in Las Vegas. You were at the concert.

What did you experience trying to escape that horror?

VIRAMONTES: That is just -- it's -- it was such a horrific experience. We were very close to the stage and we were probably about 10 feet away from where people were getting hit.

When the gunshots first went off, we laid down because we didn't realize where it was coming from. And then we just decided to make a run for it. And we were running and running and people just were dropping -- sorry, makes me emotional --

ALLEN: I understand, no, sure, I understand.

VIRAMONTES: -- they were dropping, yes, dropping all around us and we're running, just not knowing if we're going to get a bullet in the back or not. And we climbed the fence and we ran about two miles and just the same thing, went into survival mode.

ALLEN: So I can see weeks after, this is still, you know, a horror to you. Now you have this to deal with as well.

How are you and your husband going to cope with all of this?

VIRAMONTES: It's something that has definitely made us stronger. It's been a lot of trauma but I feel -- even though I've had a lot of hardship recently, I feel very lucky because I've survived everything.

And I just have the mindset where you just have to keep living your life. You can't live in fear. So we're just trying to be positive about everything. Like we're alive, we have a home, so just keep moving forward.

ALLEN: I sure hope you're getting a lot of support as well. And you have each other and you have your dog, so, yes, all of that. It's time to count your blessings, for sure, isn't it?

Kiley, we thank you so much --


ALLEN: -- for talking with us and we hope you get back in your home and back on with your life. Kiley Viramontes, thanks so much, Kiley.

VIRAMONTES: Thank you.

ALLEN: Can you believe that?

They escaped the fires, they escaped that massacre in Las Vegas and hopefully it's more smooth sailing for that young couple.

HOWELL: Absolutely. After all she's been through, absolutely.

Still ahead, the countdown is on in South Korea.

ALLEN: But there are challenges on the horizon for the Winter Olympic Games. We'll have that for you as we push on here.






HOWELL: Welcome back to NEWSROOM.

A senior United Nations diplomat is wrapping up a rare trip to North Korea. Jeffrey Feltman was in that country for five days and met with North Korean officials there.

ALLEN: State media there blamed what they called nuclear blackmail by the United States for rising tensions but also said North Korea wants to ease those tensions. No word yet from the U.N. on what was discussed. The last time a senior U.N. official visited North Korea was in 2010.

Meanwhile, in South Korea, the countdown is on. We are only weeks away from the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games.

HOWELL: Even though the games are being held in South Korea, the North still looms large on the horizon for many. But the South says don't worry, everything is going to be OK. Our Paula Hancocks has more on that story.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the Olympic torch makes its way around South Korea, problems are mounting for these Winter Games.

THOMAS BACH, IOC CHAIRMAN: The Russian Olympic Committee is suspended with immediate effect.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): One of the world's major winter sports powers is out. The IOC banning Russia for systematic manipulation of anti- doping rules.

And there's another major country wavering. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley was asked by FOX News if U.S. attendance was set in stone.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: There's an open question. I have not heard anything about that. But I do know that, in the talks that we have, whether it's Jerusalem, whether it's North Korea, it's always about how do we protect the U.S. citizens in the area?

HANCOCKS (voice-over): Clarification from the --


HANCOCKS (voice-over): -- White House later in the day, press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeting, "The U.S. looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea."

For South Korea, there is no plan B. Officials say North Korea, just 50 miles or 80 kilometers away from PyeongChang, these were the preparations transforming the area outside the stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held.

For South Korea, there is no plan B. Officials say North Korea, just 50 miles or 80 kilometers away from PyeongChang, does not pose a risk, referring to previous sporting events they have successfully held, including the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988.

These were the final preparations in PyeongChang a few weeks ago, transforming the area outside the stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held.

Park Seung-hei is the site manager.

"Personally, I don't think you need to worry," he tells me. "No one around here is talking about North Korea."

Ham Young-man has sold jewelry in the area for 40 years. He also dismisses security concerns.

"The slogan for the games is the peace Olympics. I believe tensions will ease and people from many countries will take part."

Confident voices in the region that stands to lose the most if visitors stay away.

Two months out and lagging ticket sales enjoyed a boost from 100-day events and the torch relay. Fifty-four percent is being sold as of November, slightly better than the Winter Games in Sochi four years ago.

But organizers now have to contend not only with tourists put off by North Korea, but the likely loss of many Russian spectators if there's no national team to cheer on -- Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


ALLEN: Looking forward to the Olympics. A little break from the news. Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell. NEWSROOM is back after the break. We leave you, though, with these images of a rare sight in Atlanta, hey, not like South Korea but we've got snow, too. We'll be right back after the break.