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Deadly Amtrak Derailment In Washington State; France Takes Action To Help Migrants After CNN Report; New Austrian Coalition Includes Far-Right Party. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired December 19, 2017 - 01:00   ET


[01:00:00] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour, deadly crash, a high-speed train hits a curve and jumps off the track with some cars plunging onto a busy interstate in Washington State.

New Russia strategy. The president unveils a new foreign policy that is tougher on Moscow, and acknowledges election meddling, at least on paper.

And extra-terrestrials among us? The secret U.S. government effort to hunt for UFOs exposed.

Hello and thank you for joining us. I'm Isha Sesay. This is NEWSROOM L.A.

Well U.S. Federal investigators want to know what caused the Amtrak train filled with passengers to fly off the tracks in a Washington State. It happened Monday as a train was rounding a curve on an overpass. Some of the train's cars plunged onto the busy highway below, terrifying drivers. At least three people were killed, more than 100 others suffered injuries. The latest now in the from CNN's Rene Marsh.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amtrak 501. Emergency, emergency, emergency, we are on the ground. Need EMS ASAP.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Dramatic audio moments after Amtrak's 501 left the tracks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were coming around the corner to take the bridge over I-5 there, right not in Squally and we went on the ground.

MARSH: The 14-car train jumped the tracks and plummeted over an overpass and onto Interstate-5 during morning rush hour near Olympia, Washington.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still figuring that out. We got cars everywhere and down onto the highway.

MARSH: The police confirmed multiple deaths and injuries on the high- speed train, which was on its inaugural run between Seattle and Portland. Amtrak officials tell CNN there were 78 passengers aboard along with five crew. More than 70 people were rushed to local hospitals. Witnesses describe the scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We felt a little bit of a jolt. And then, at a certain point, the -- we hear crumpling of the train car, and we were catapulted into the seats in front of us.

MARSH: Amtrak's CEO tells CNN positive train control, a technology designed to slow down a train that's going too fast was not activated on the tracks at the time of the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board is lodging a full investigation tonight, dispatching a team of 20 investigators to the scene.

BELLA DINH-ZARR, NTSB: This was called an inaugural run of this service. But we want to check and make sure what that exactly means, and find out more information about that specifically

MARSH: An NTSB official tells CNN the investigation will focus on recovering the train's data recorders to determine the train's speed. They'll examine the tracks and signals, and conduct extensive interviews with the crew and passengers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We went down an embankment. We had to kick out the window, the emergency window.

MARSH: The last major Amtrak crash was just two-and-half-years ago in Philadelphia, when Amtrak-181 from Washington, D.C. to New York City derailed, killing eight and sending more than 200 others to the hospital. In that crash, the train's data recorder revealed it was traveling at 106 miles per hour around a sharp curve that had a speed limit of 50.

Well, speed will definitely be a focus of this investigation. The maximum speed allowed along that route is 79 miles per hour, but the speed limit around the curve is likely much slower. So, investigator will have to pin down whether this train was going too fast. Of course, the experience of the crew controlling the train will also be of interest. Investigators will be looking into whether they were familiar with this new route. Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


SESAY: Well John Hide is a Former Engineer for BNSF Railway, he lives just 10 minutes from the crash site, and he joins us now on the phone from Washington State. John, thank you for joining. What does it say to you that that train derailed as it came out of a curve?

JOHN HYDE, FORMER ENGINEER FOR BNSF RAILWAY: Well, as it was actually going into the curve Isha, it looks -- you know, the area that he's coming from, he is coming from a 79-mile-an-hour track down into a 30- mile an hour curve. And you know, just by looking at it, there's so much more information is yet to be known. But, it looks he did not -- the engine did not negotiate that curve, and the rest of the train began to follow and it broke up and then that's the result that we ended up with. I don't know if it was excessive speed, if it was bad track, it's really hard to tell at this point. But it's -- you know, it's another reminder that we need a safety net out there and that's positive train control.

SESAY: OK. Well, it's my understanding, at least from a CNN reporter, that this train did have the technology, Positive Train Control -- this is a technology that automatically slows down and eventually stops the train if it senses that it's going too fast but that it was not activated. When you hear that, you think what?

HYDE: Well, it's frustrating. Obviously a brand-new -- I think an $8 million locomotive. Apparently, they have the system in place on track, but -- and in the area, but they didn't have the locomotive equipped properly. It's frustrating. I don't know what their reasoning would be, and there may be some very good reasoning for it. But, you know, this has been an ongoing problem for over 25 years -- they've been trying to implement this Positive Train Control, and they just can't seem to get it done; they keep getting more extensions. You know, really, at some point, this has to be in Congress's lap, it just does.

SESAY: Do you have any concerns about the state of the tracks themselves? As you made the point, there's a lot still to be uncovered here. But we talked about speed -- that's obviously being looked at -- what about the tracks themselves?

HYDE: It would be so -- you know, obviously, I have no information -- the NTSB is on the site. And it's obviously a miserable night out here in the northwest, and I feel for those guys out there doing, and I certainly want to send my thoughts and prayers to all the people that were affected by this. But, you know, the track, that's going to have to be determined. There's no way of looking at it. There's been nothing that I've heard, nothing to indicate that there was anything out of the normal.

Obviously, you know, that particular bridge, I think, has been there for close to 100 years. And bridges finally get to a point where they don't settle. But the track on both sides of them does, and sometimes that can cause a problem with low spots and not saying that that happened here, but we get a lot of moisture out here.


HYDE: And you just never know. It's something that needs to be watched very vigilantly. And I have no idea what the inspection policy was on this particular line. Obviously, with it being the inaugural line, that's pretty frustrating I'm sure for all parties involved, but it is what it is.

SESAY: You mean, you make the point about this being the inaugural run on this line. What about the driver -- the driver himself? I mean, I know there was something like -- there were number of actual staff that were actually on the train. A number of people that actually were involved and worked with the railway company, they were actually on this ride. Typically speaking, on an inaugural ride like this, and inaugural journey, how much training or what would have been the process in terms of whoever was going to be at the controls, having at least I'd imagine tested the run, practiced it? I mean, what is the level of training, what is the expectation for the person in control of the situation of a train going out for the first time?

HYDE: Yes. You know, Amtrak, I interact with Amtrak employees, especially in this area quite regularly. And they're some of the best, they're very professional, they're very well trained. They have a pretty good training program. I don't know the specifics on this particular route, and, you know, that's something that obviously NTSB is going to look into. So, again, I think there's so many questions yet to be answered. But, you know, this particular area, coming from 79 down to 30, is a challenge. And it's something that you don't run across -- I've had the exact same circumstance when I was an engineer for Amtrak.

It's a challenge. It's something that everybody out there is capable of doing. But it is one of the areas where you're coming from a rapid speed, down to a very slow speed -- and it's not that common out there that dramatic. And so, you know, it may be a lack of judgment. It may be improperly marked. There's all these things that need to be determined. And you know we'll find out a lot of answers tomorrow morning. I'm sure the NTSB will review the event recorders. But, you know, again it's very tough and I don't want to point any finger out at anybody out there yet until we get some answers.

SESAY: Just very quickly before I let you go, John, are you pretty confident that investigators will get to the bottom of this, and will conclusively be able to say what caused this crash?

HYDE: The NTSB is one of the best investigative organizations in the world. They really know their stuff. They will take this thing apart, piece by piece. It may take them eight months, it may take them six months, it may take even a year. And you'll get answers along the way. But yes, no, there is nobody better. And those men and women will get us the answers.

SESAY: John Hyde joining us from Washington State. We appreciate you joining us on this evening. Thank you. All right. And our thoughts and prayers go out to all those attacked by this terrible crash.

[01:10:11] We're going to talk politics now, and U.S. President Trump outlined this national security strategy Monday. But his foreign policy message was mixed. He called out Russia and China as challenges but avoided any mention of meddling in U.S. elections. Jeff Zeleny has out report.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America's coming back, and American is coming back strong.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump, laying out his national security blueprint today, offering up broader look at a strategic worldview.

TRUMP: We also face rival power -- Russia and China -- that seek to challenge American influence values and wealth. We will attempt to build a great partnership with those and other countries, but in a manner, that always protects our national interests.

ZELENY: But the preside di not specifically call out Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, even though it is directly mentioned in the formal national security strategy released by the White House that says: "Today, actors such as Russia are using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies." Instead, he pointed out a friendlier relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin who he's talked to twice in the last four days.

TRUMP: I received a call from President Putin of Russia, thanking our country for the intelligence that our CIA was able to provide them concerning a major terrorist attack planned in St. Petersburg where many people, perhaps in the thousands, could have been killed.

ZELENY: He outlined a strategy with these four pillars, defending the homeland: American prosperity, advancing American influence, peace through strength.

TRUMP: We know that American success is not a foregone conclusion. It must be earned, and it must be won. Our rivals are tough. They're tenacious and committed to the long-term, but so are we.

ZELENY: The president's remarks at the Ronald Reagan building only blocks from the White House were part campaign valedictory and part forward-looking strategy. Today, he blasted the work of presidents who have come before him, taking aim at policies of the Obama and Bush administration.

TRUMP: American citizens, as usual, have been left to bear the cost and to pick up the tab.

ZELENY: Now, even as President Trump criticized previous administrations for their handling of North Korea and Iraq, he also talked significantly about his own campaign promises, a bit of domestic campaigning as well talking about what he called the biggest tax cut coming into force this week. He hopes to sign that bill into law before heading to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida retreat, for a Christmas vacation. Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.


SESAY: Well joining us here in L.A.: CNN Political Commentators, Democratic Strategist, Dave Jacobson; and Republican Consultant, John Thomas; and CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins from us Hong Kong. Kristie, to you first, obviously, this was a speech that made several mentions to China and framed China as challenges that are basically out there trying to challenge the U.S.'s dominance and stealing secrets and all of the rest of it. Have we had any reaction from Beijing? What has been the general response where you are?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely we have had reaction, Isha, since we last talked less than an hour ago. We have received reaction from the Chinese embassy in the United States. A statement was issued in Chinese and we have translated a few key quotes for you, let's bring it up for you. This is the response from Chinese officials at the Chinese embassy in

the U.S. to the Trump's security plan: "China and the United States see each other and how to define the bilateral relations influence not only the interest of the people of both countries, but also the welfare of the international community. It goes on to say, cooperation between China and the U.S. will result in a win/win outcome. The confrontation will only lead to mutual losses. The U.S. should adapt to and accept China's development."

Now, that is the Chinese embassy's reaction to Trump's new national security plan, which clearly labels China along with Russia as a major power that is a threat, that is a threat to American interests overseas in multiple areas -- military, political, economic. And this is a hawkish report that comes in stark contrast to the scenes we saw just a month ago in Beijing -- that warm cordial meeting between the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, seeming to showcase this close personal bond that they had.

But since then, we've seen the hardening of this China tone that Donald Trump has, that recalls that anti-China rhetoric that he used on the campaign trail. Keep in mind, it was at the APEC summit shortly after that visit when Donald Trump said that he will call out anyone who conducts chronic trade abuses. Now, we mentioned how the Chinese embassy in the United States is responding.

We also heard today from China Daily, the state-run newspapers, saying that it was concerned about this plan. It said that there is still room wiggle room for the two countries to work together, especially in areas of common concern like the North Korean nuclear impasse. But it also said that it expects "exacerbated frictions over trade".

Now, we are awaiting official response from Beijing, the ministry of foreign affairs, to the Trump security plan. And we're also waiting actual policy on the Americans side, because this is tough talk. This a strategic plan. What actions are -- is the Trump administration going to take next? That's what we're waiting for.

[01:15:33] SESAY: Yes. I think that's the key point. He knows what's the difference here between saying and doing. Kristie Lu Stout there in Hong Kong. We appreciate it, Kristi, thank you. Turning now to David and John here in the studio with me. I mean, John, to you first, I mean, that is the question that, you know, policy analysts always put, you know, on this document. You know it's not just about the Trump administration. The question is: what is the correlation between what is said and actual policy that comes out of an administration? I mean, how close is that in this case?

JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, in his speech, I think Trump did make a couple of good points which tie into his statements about China and Russia being threats, is that to be truly strong as a country on a national security front. You have to have a strong economy. And so, if countries like China are manipulating currency or undermining us that that is a direct threat to us.

So, one thing we know about Trump is just like we look at what he did recently in Israel is a lot of presidents have said they would do things in Israel, and Trump actually did it. So, I think we're going to get some meaningful action out of the Trump administration. He didn't go into specifics in this talk, but I don't think it's just going to be rhetoric, Isha. I mean, Trump just doesn't say things. He's been following through on those actions.

SESAY: Yes. Dave, to you, it has been observed and it's been commented on greatly that the president's tone in delivering the speech was very kind of upbeat, campaign style, which is in stark contrast to the document itself, which has kind of, kind of, a Cold War-esque depiction of the threats, you know, to the United States interests posed by the likes of Russia and China. And this is what The New York about that discord, if you will, between the president's tone and the document.

Let's put out what The New York Times said. The paper said this: "The disconnect between the president's speech and analysis in his administration's document attests to the broader challenges national security advisers have faced as they struggled to develop an intellectual framework and encompasses Mr. Trump's unpredictable, domestically-driven, and Twitter-fueled approach to foreign policy." Have they got a point? Do you agree?

DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes. I mean, he's divorced from the document that the White House put out today, and I think the fact is the president is conflicted. On the one hand, you've got this document that's very sharp and blunt when it comes to our adversaries, particularly with Russia and China.

SESAY: And bleak almost.

JACOBSON: Yes, for sure. But then, at the same time, he's going out there talking about, like, you know, partnerships, and his phone call with Vladimir Putin this weekend, and how they've got this great relationship. And let's remember, like, Donald Trump has never, not once publicly said something negative or criticized the dictator that is Vladimir Putin and Russia. And so, I think that's the juxtaposition, is you've got this White House and this massive bureaucracy with the national security entities putting out this document. And then, you have the president, on the flipside, saying something entirely different.

SESAY: And John, what about that point? I mean, basically, the document references Russia using tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies, is respectably what it says. But the president doesn't come out and directly reference the 2016 interference.

THOMAS: Yes, yes. It was -- it was fascinating when he said that line. I think it just speaks to the fact that the national security apparatus in the White House understands the real threats that face the country. And the president is more busy being a -- I come, you know, on the campaign side, having campaign rhetoric. But I think right now, it's hard for us to rush to judgment until we actually see what -- what meaningful things he's going to do. So, it's not -- it's not a surprise to me, it just like his Twitter feed often times is different than the policy direction that he ends up going.

JACOBSON: Oh, last week we were talking about -- last week were talking about the fact that, like, the presidential morning briefings have been manipulated in a way to, like, take out some of the Russian taints essentially, right? And so, like, it begs the question of, like, like, maybe the president doesn't necessarily agree with what the White House put out today in terms of the document.

SESAY: I mean, that was indeed the Washington Post reporting that they were tailoring the presidential daily briefing to the president's likes and dislikes.

THOMAS: Yes. But this speech, Isha, was no different than what I would've expected out of a heritage -- conservative Heritage Foundation or anything.

SESAY: That's true. But what I do want to want to pick up on is the point you made. You said that, you know, we have to wait and see what the president does in terms of policy prescriptions for Russia. Well, one thing we can say is that the sanctions that Congress passed, the president has not actually put them into practice. He hasn't -- he hasn't enacted them. So, there's one actual real-world example, and he hasn't followed through. So, why do we suspect that there might be something else lurking behind, that he may suddenly pull out to kind of support in document when it comes to Russia?

[01:20:23] THOMAS: It's a fair point. I mean, I just know Russia has been a strange animal. But I think so -- we'll see what happens there. In terms of China, he's been consistent in calling them a currency manipulator and other things.

SESAY: But we did see him lauding the warmth of the relationship with Xi Jinping, and that is notable.

THOMAS: You're right. And it seems like, in a way he wants to have good relations, but let's let the actions speak most clearly here. I think that's been my biggest take away from the presidency: don't pay attention to the Twitter feed, let's see what he's actually signing into law and what he's actually doing as commander in chief.

SESAY: I want to put this up. And this is in the document itself, and this goes to the heart of his engagement with Russia -- and even China in a way. And according to the document, it says the NSS says, "The United States must rethink policies based on the assumption that engagement with rivals and the inclusion in international institutions and global commerce would turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners. For the most part, this premise turned out false." And I think that goes to the heart of dealing with Russia. And the president seems to be working this theory of -- if I draw Vladimir Putin closer, then he will no longer be an adversary, and he'll actually be good for the United States. And this document specifically says that premise is false.

THOMAS: You're right. I mean, we look at Hillary Clinton with their reset button. George Bush looked into Putin's eyes and thought, you know, he could see into his soul that he was a good person. A lot of presidents thought this in the past. It will be interesting to see if the national security apparatus of the country is in a different position than Trump. I mean, Trump read the words. So, you would think that he does believe it.

SESAY: Dave, I'm going to ask you to respond to that. He read the words, and he, therefore, according to John Thomas's logic.

JACOBSON: But he wasn't tough on Russia. Like, at the end of the day, like, his words conflicted with what the document actually said. And the reality is, like, Donald Trump knows it. Like, Russia is a very radio active issue for him any way you look at it. And it begs the question, like, why isn't he getting tougher on Russia? Vladimir Putin, I got news for you, John, he's not looking out for the United States.

THOMAS: Of course.

JACOBSON: Bottom line, he's looking out for Russia and his interest, right? He's up for election soon, right? Like he's -- he wants to get re-elected with this massive -- not that there's elections in Russian, real elections I should say. But at the end of the day, he's looking out for himself, he's not looking Donald Trump or the American people.

SESAY: All right. Gentlemen, there we must leave it. See how John is very quiet there? John is like...

THOMAS: Couldn't disagree more.


SESAY: All right. Dave Jacobson and John Thomas, always appreciate it gentlemen, thank you. Thank you. And to our Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong, thank you also.

We're going to take a very quick break. Next, on NEWSROOM L.A., CNN's exclusive video of the slave auction shocked the world. Now, outrage turning into action. How one country is stepping up to help.


[01:25:17] SESAY: France is leading the effort to help African migrants after CNN's exclusive report on slavery in Libya. It was this video of a human auction that sparked global outrage. CNN's Nima Elbagir witnessed migrant men being sold for as little at $400. Now, France has organized safe passage flights with dozens of pre-screen migrants. They were moved from Libya to Niger and are now being flown to Paris. 25 of them just arrived in the last hour. Also, the international organization for migration plans to repatriate 15,000 migrants from Libya by the end of this month. CNN's Melissa Bell joins us now from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. So, Melissa, as we saying, the plane landed a short time ago, what kind of welcome did these migrants receive?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, for now, it's pretty quiet time of day here at the airport. We just watched them brought to a separate room, in which, Isha, they're being given breakfast and a talk also about what to expect. So, 55 refugees in all are expected this week. This group that arrived this morning, these 25, are not just refugees but also evacuees.

These are the ones that were extricate, taken out of Libya, exfiltrated from Libya by the OIM, by the UNHCR, and that are now being resettled in France. So, even now, they're being given a talk about what they can about where they're being taken. They're being given a hot breakfast. You can imagine that as evacuees from Libya, what this group of refugees has seen is almost beyond description.

The plan from the French point of view is that by offering them the possibility of applying for asylum, and in this case, being given asylum even before leaving countries like Niger and Chad through this resettlement policy. You're going to prevent migrants from undertaking that terrible crossing across the Sahara into Libya, and then across the Mediterranean. We spoke earlier to the head of the UNHCR in France and asked him about what he hoped this policy might achieve.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Resettlement provides an opportunity for those who would otherwise not arrive in safe countries such as in Europe. So, arriving here is certainly a solution for many of refugees in who have went out in Niger or in Chad, and who have been evacuated from very difficult situation in Libya. So, it is the solution for many refugees. And we also hope that many other countries will follow the example France is setting with this resettlement here.


BELL: Now this resettlement policy, Isha, which essentially means that people from one country heading to another can apply for asylum in a third country had been being applied by the European Union to refugees from Syria, and places like Turkey and in Jordan. It's simply now been extended to by the French to countries like Niger and Chad to be able to help those huge amounts of sub-Saharan Africans still aiming to head to Europe, despite everything that we've heard about the horror of Libya and the crossings of the Sahara and Mediterranean. Isha.

SESAY: Yes, indeed. Melissa, you mentioned they were being given breakfast, they were in the separate room. Where do they go from the airport? And what support did they receive to integrate into French life?

BELL: Well, to a very different country than what they've been through over the course of the last few years with a different kind of reception, I mean, really these are the lucky ones. We're talking about a very small group of people who are to be given what other migrants can only dream of. So, they'll be taken on buses from here after their breakfast to (INAUDIBLE) in Eastern France and kept in a convent the first four months, where they'll be given things like help with learning French, essential tools to help them recover from what they've been through. Because, again, we're talking about people whose asylum request has now been accepted.

These are people, therefore, who are believed to be in danger, who are fleeing war, who've been through the horror are of Libya, who've, in many cases, been on the road for many years. And they're now going to be given the sort of psychological help, which perhaps for first and foremost, they're going to need before they can adapt to an ordinary life. They'll be given help them with their French, with their educational needs, help also in applying for their jobs, and then making their way through the French system to try and find permanent housing, some sort of job and education for children. What was striking about watching them walk pass, Isha, is how many children were in the group

SESAY: Indeed, and that was my -- that was going to be my question to you next, whether we know the breakdown of the group: women, children or school age, young males. What do we know of the demographic breakdown?

[01:29:50] BELL: A lot of women in the group. And of the 55, 25 arrived this morning, but in all 55, will be arriving here in Paris this week between yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and they are the ones who are heading to assess within that group. Half of them, Isha, are children. And you can imagine that for that very small group of children, a (INAUDIBLE) in the ocean, really, when you consider the amounts of people trying to reach the shores of Europe in the most extraordinary journeys of which we glimpsed only a small part of the horror partly with the reporting from CNN, just a few weeks ago and what was going in Libya. This very small group of children, can you imagine, Isha, the difference they're being given in terms of their life chances compared to the many tens of thousands who remain, of course, not just in Libya or in Niger or in Chad but at risk.

SESAY: Yes, no doubt. It's difficult to even contemplate what others that are still in Libya are going through. Melissa Bell, thanks for the great reporting, appreciate it.

Quick break here next on NEWSROOM L.A. Three months after Puerto Rico was battered by Hurricane Maria, thousands are still in urgent need of help. We will take you back to the Irelands for an update.


SESAY: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour: U.S. President Trump extended his populist campaign message to his national security specialist speech. He highlighted U.S. economic growth and called Russia and China rival powers for challenging America's influence and wealth. One thing he didn't mention, accusation that Russia was involved in election meddling.

Investigators will try to determine the speed or other factors caused Monday's deadly derailment of an Amtrak passenger train. Three people were killed and more than 100 suffered injuries when 13 of the trans 14 cars jumped the track in Washington State. The train was traveling a new route. Many of the cars fell off an overpass onto a busy highway. France has arranged a safe passage flight for (INAUDIBLE) migrants from Niger. The Paris followed the CNN's exclusive reporting on African migrants being sold into slavery in Libya. The International Organization for Migration says it's trying to (INAUDIBLE) 15,000 African migrants out of Libya by the end of the month.

Now, U.S. House Republicans have proposed an $81 billion aid package for areas affected by natural disasters this year which would include Puerto Rico. The measure will like to be attached to a government funding bill. Meanwhile, the aid group, Refugees International says survivors of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico are still in urgent need of help, three months after the storm hit. The group says bottled water, food, and medical services are available. But thousands still do not have adequate housing and electricity. And Puerto Rico's Governor has ordered a review of deaths related to the Hurricane Maria.

[01:35:00] Right now, the official death toll stands at 64. But last month, we told you about a CNN investigation which revealed the number could be much higher. And this Wednesday marks three months since the storm hit Puerto Rico. CNN's Bill Weir spent weeks on the ground there. And he went back to get an update on the recovery. Here's what he found.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When we first met Diana and Miguel in the hills of Aguas Buenas, they had just made it through the worst storm of their lives. But the fight for survival was just beginning. The Vietnam vet had just a few doses of insulin spoiling in a powerless fridge. When they went back a month later, the transmission tower that nearly crushed them inside their home was back up.

Wow, that's a good sign. Look at that, they got it back up. How are you?

Folks at the V.A. had seen our story and sent help. Miguel was resting and Diana's spirits were high. "I'm going to keep fighting," she said, and then pointed up. They put a flag on top of the tower. But just before Thanksgiving, her hope turned to grief and she wept over the flag atop Miguel's coffin. The aftermath was just too much for him. But will he be counted as a victim of Hurricane Maria? After reporting by CNN and others, sparked an official review, the fatality number could jump from 63 to over a thousand. But that is just one horrible puzzle to solve here.

How the hell did you get this contract? White Fish, the tiny company promised $300 million to help fix the grid was fired just weeks into the job. The head of the island's power authority quits amid the scandal. And now as the Army Corps of Engineers struggles through the jungle terrain, a third of the island remains in the dark. About 20,000 blue roof tarps have been installed. But another 50,000 are waiting. But Puerto Rico is just one of dozens of disaster zones from the Caribbean to California, nearly 5 million Americans have filed for federal aid in the last few months. And among those begging for help is the guy in charge of helping. BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: I

haven't been here six months yet. And what I hope to do is inform, you know, Americans about how complex this mission is. It might be a time to sit back and say, are we in charge of too much?

WEIR: After career as an emergency manager in Georgia and Alabama, Brock Long was tapped by President Trump right before one of the most destructive summers in American history. But he's been there long enough to say that FEMA is broke, and the system is broken. Many of his 19,000 personnel have worked such long hours, they've hit a pay cap and will have to give back over time.

What does that do for morale? Are there people who are essentially working for free?

LONG: We got to -- we got to fix that problem. And I've been very vocal, you know, within Congress. I mean, you know, yes, it impacts morale. We cannot do this alone. Any time FEMA is the first, you know, the first responder and the primary responder like we were in Puerto Rico, it's never an ideal situation. But I do believe, you know, for example, with Puerto Rico, that we kept that island from complete and total collapse.

WEIR: You think so?

LONG: I do.

WEIR: But things are so dire there now. 10 percent of the island has evacuated to Florida. Stephanie and Victoria are among the quarter million Puerto Ricans who fled so far. They're grateful to Miami's St. Thomas University for taking them in. But they're worried about an entire future influx.

Do you feel like Americans on that island? Do you feel like second class Americans?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like we felt -- we feel we aren't a priority, you know? We aren't being taken the care we deserved to be taken on the island.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we need the help. We are really needing the help.

WEIR: So, when President Trump goes to Puerto Rico, for example, and throws paper towels to the storm survivors, what sort of message does that send? And how do you grade it based on that?

LONG: You know what, President Trump has been incredibly -- you know, supportive of our emergency management. At one point, we were having day-to-day conversations with the White House and he is highly involved. He calls me directly. He's very engaged. His message to me is, help people. And expedite the processes to do so. People are excited and asking, hey, what about me back here? He picks it up, he throws it. And the media captured it and can spin that story any way they want but I was in the room. He generally cares about the people in Puerto Rico, about the people in California. About the -- about the Americans in Texas and Florida as well.


SESAY: Our thanks to Bill Weir for that report. Well, Korean pop star Kim Jong-hyun is being remembered for his love for music. The 27-year-old lead singer of the boy SHINee died, Monday, in a suspected suicide. He reportedly sent his sister text messages, reading, "Please, let me go. Tell me I did well." Two weeks ago, he told a friend to post a message on social media, if he disappeared, it read in part, "I'm broken from inside. The blues slowly ate at me has finally swallowed me whole. I couldn't overcome."

[01:40:15] A quick break here. Austria's new coalition government is sworn in, while demonstrators protests outside. Where the Vienna is headed with the far-right party in the ruling coalition.

Plus, the Trump administration uses its veto power for the first time at the United Nations. What prompted the rare move, we'll explain next.


SESAY: Well, Austria is now the only Western European country to have a far-right party in government. The new coalition was sworn in as protesters outside carried signs reading, "Don't let Nazis govern." CNN's Chris Burns is in Berlin.


CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thousands of protesters outside as the new Austrian government was sworn in. Sebastian Kurz, at 31-year- old, head of the People's Party, the Conservative Party in Austria was sworn in as the chancellor, his vice-chancellor is Heinz-Christian Strache who's head of the Freedom Party. That is the far-right party that had been in a coalition earlier in 2000 when it was headed by Jorg Haider, the far-right leader back then. The government has said that they will have a rather moderate platform. They released a 180- page platform that talked about cutting taxes, cutting spending, reducing immigration, but not cutting off the borders. It does seem rather moderate, but the ministers are rather telling.

The Freedom Party has the foreign minister, the defense minister, and the interior minister. The interior minister used to be a speechwriter for Jorg Haider. Haider had been lauding Adolf Hitler's employment policies. Where is this government going to go? Well, Mr. Kurz is going to be going on to Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday to visit and meet with E.U. officials. He's going to be reassuring them that he is a pro-European. He did get some voice of support from the European Council, President Donald Tusk who warmly welcomed him. On the other side of the European Commission, Vice President (INAUDIBLE) saying he will keep a watchful eye. Chris Burns, CNN, Berlin.


SESAY: Well, for more on this, Dominic Thomas joins us from Austin, Texas. He's the chair of the Department of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA. Dominic, always good to see you. How should we read the allocation, the distribution of cabinet portfolios in Sebastian Kurz's new government?

[01:44:52] DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Well, Isha, these are very, very important positions. And what it really looks like is a sort of a sharing of governance here, a real kind of partnership between these two political parties. What's really interesting, though, is the way in which the foreign office has been given over to the far-right party that the -- that Sebastian Kurz, the chancellor, has held onto the European portfolio within that particular framework which show the -- this far-right party and was, at best, a Euro-skeptic party has had to tone down its positions. But Sebastian Kurz is well-aware of the fact that Austrians are overwhelmingly in favor of the European Union. And last thing he does is want to rustle Brussels over these particular issues. And so, he's going to hold on to that particular aspect of it.

SESAY: So, as we talk about Brussels and Sebastian Kurz will be having meetings with the European lawmakers and officials, I mean, what will be the concerns he will need to lay to rest for them to be at peace if you will with what has happened in Austria?

THOMAS: Well, Austria also -- and this is sort of, you know, highly- further symbolic of this election is that from July to December of 2018, Austria will assume -- and the presidency of the council at the -- at the European Union. And so, so many of the policies on which Sebastian Kurz ran and the far-right party with whom he is in coalition, are going to essentially and be shaping policy at the E.U. or certainly trying to shape it during that particular period. With this particular election, and it's given further legitimacy to some of these far-right political parties, so that sort of nativist agendas. And the European Union as we know has been struggling with this for the last year with elections in the Netherlands, France, and in Germany, where these kinds of questions around, immigration and so on are so key. And yet again, as with the Austrian election, we saw an election shaped by the question of identity and immigration and the question of Islam in Europe. And these issues are a great concern to Brussels.

SESAY: Yes. And, you know, back home in Austria, obviously, there were concerns also, you know, from the President that, you know, what we might see here is, you know, Austria turning away from immigration and inclusion, and he wanted to see some checks and balances put in place to keep this government in line, if you will. Can this government be kept in line?

THOMAS: Well, it's interesting, really, when you look at -- I mean, this is really -- it's a relatively small country, less than 9 million people. And it's a very prosperous country that does not have the immigration questions and issues that other bigger European countries like France and like Germany have been tackling over the recent years. And this particular election was so much shaped by questions of xenophobia and so on, and particularly, the ways in which, you know, Austrians following on from the Germans have been trying to deal with the question of the migrants' crises. And it's clear that Sebastian Kurz understood that by taking his center-right party further to the right, towards this sort of far-right political party that he was going to be able to galvanize the electorate around these questions of fear and so on. And that really is of tremendous concern is where this political party goes from this moment on, because there's very little room for it to go even further to the right.

SESAY: Yes. We shall be watching it very closely. I do believe that at 31 years, he's the youngest head of government in the world.

THOMAS: Right, at 31 years old, Emmanuel Macron just last weekend celebrated his ripe old age of 40. Well, it's also interesting to see how these young leaders are coming along with some quite different views and perspectives on how Europe should be heading.

SESAY: A 31-year-old head of government. What have we been doing with our lives, Dominic Thomas?

THOMAS: I don't know.

SESAY: I appreciate the insight, my friend, thank you so much.

THOMAS: See you soon. Thank you, Isha.

SESAY: See you soon. Now, a defined U.S. is shrugging off international criticism of the Trump administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution, condemning the move. And CNN's Oren Liebermann reports the resolution could now go to the full U.N. general assembly.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After exercising its veto power for the first time, the Trump administration torpedoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that tried to nullify the White House recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel. The resolution introduced by Egypt didn't mention Trump or the U.S. by name but its intent was clear to declare null and void any unilateral changes to the status of Jerusalem. That was only supposed to be decided in final-status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

The 14 other members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution. The Palestinians blasted the U.S., seeing it as further proof that the U.S. was no longer an honest broker in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the U.S. veto would further isolate the Americans in the international community.

[01:50:02] Now, the Palestinians will turn to the U.N. General Assembly where the U.S. doesn't have a veto power. The general assembly has already passed resolutions critical of Israel this year. The resolution there doesn't have the same weight as a Security Council resolution but it would still be a very public rebuke of U.S. foreign policy. The Israelis celebrated the veto. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to social media moments after the vote to thank Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley. Israeli officials were never really concerned about the vote, as they were certain the U.S. would cast its veto. Even if the resolution didn't pass, it goes to show that the U.S. stands alone with its foreign policy in some cases, a mantle Nikki Haley was proud to wear. Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.


SESAY: Now, Matthew Peterson, remember that name, will not be the next U.S. district court judge. President Donald Trump nominated him for the post, but when he went before the Senate to be confirmed, things went downhill quickly.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Have you ever tried a jury trial?




KENNEDY: Criminal?




KENNEDY: State or federal court?

PETERSON: I have not.


SESAY: Oh, dear. That was Republican Senator John Kennedy who made it clear he believed Peterson was unqualified for the job.


KENNEDY: You can't just walk into a federal courthouse for the very first time and say, here I am, I think I want to be a judge. It just doesn't work that way, especially not the D.C. Circuit.


SESAY: Well, Kennedy says he brought his concerns to President Trump last week and urged him to withdraw Peterson's nomination. But today, Peterson did it himself. In a letter to the President, Peterson said he had hoped his, quote, "nearly two decades of public service would carry more weight than my worst two minutes on television." Well, safe to say that it doesn't.

Well, the eldest son of former Republican U.S. Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin is facing charged over violent confrontation with his father. According to court records, Track Palin beat up his father in a dispute about a truck. Todd Palin suffered injuries to his face and head. Track was charged with first-degree burglary, fourth-degree assault, and fourth-degree criminal mischief. Sarah Palin says his son was freaking out and was on some type of medication.

A quick break here. A U.S. military program to investigate UFOs wasn't a waste of taxpayer's money or national security priority. It depends on who you ask. A report from planet earth, next.


SESAY: Are we alone in the universe? Believers of extra-terrestrial life are over the moon that the U.S. government secretly investigated possible UFOs. Skeptics are criticizing the mysterious military project as a waste of time and taxpayers' money. And now, the man behind the program is defending it. Our Brian Todd has more from Washington.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Commander David Fravor still can't explain what he says he saw that day. November 2004, the Navy fighter pilot was on a training mission west of San Diego when he was ordered to check out something in the water not far away. On a clear day, over a smooth ocean, he saw the object waves breaking over it and says he saw something hovering above it.

[01:54:58] CMDR. DAVID FRAVOR (RET.), FORMER U.S. NAVY FIGHTER PILOT: It's randomly moving north, south, east, west, just random, you know, just stop and going the other direction like you could do with a helicopter but a little bit more abrupt. It looks like a 40-foot long tick tack with no wings.

TODD: Fravor says he and his four-man team tracked the object for several months until it just disappeared. CNN has learned the Pentagon had a secretive program to research UFOs like the one Fravor spotted. The project was called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, run by an official named Luis Elizondo.

LUIS ELIZONDO, FORMER DIRECTOR, PENTAGON UFO RESEARCH PROGRAM: I think this is a national security imperative. We have clear things that we do not understand how they work, operating in areas that we can't control.

TODD: A defense official told CNN, the program cost at least $22 million over five years before it was shut down in 2012. According to the New York Times and POLITICO which first reported this story, tens of millions of dollars for the project were pushed through by former Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid. Those publications say a lot of the money for the Pentagon UFO program went to a company called Bigelow Aerospace, run by longtime friend of Reid's, Robert Bigelow, a big believer in UFos. Public records show Bigelow contributed about $20,000 to Reid and his political action committee.

RYAN ALEXANDER, TAXPAYER FOR COMMON SENSE: That that campaign contributor got research contracts from this program that just is a bad picture. It doesn't look good for anybody. There's -- it's hard to imagine that something that came about that way and profited somebody who pushed for the program was a good use of taxpayer money.

TODD: A Pentagon spokesman, in fact, told CNN the program was shuttered because there were, "Other higher priority issues that merited funding."

ALEXANDER: It's definitely crazy to spend $22 million to research UFOs. Pilots are always going to see things that they can't identify and we should probably look into them, but to identify them as UFOs, to target UFOs to research, that is not the priority we have as a national security matter right now.

TODD: But pilots like Fravor who says he saw something see merits in the program.

FRAVOR: Look, it is real because I think it's real because I saw it. And what if there's more of these, and what if we do nothing?

TODD: Senator Reid responded to CNN saying he's, quote, proud of the program, and that its groundbreaking studies speak for themselves. Reid says it's silly and counterproductive to politicize the serious questions raised by the work of the UFO program. The head of that Aerospace firm, Robert Bigelow did not respond to CNN's multiple requests for comment. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


SESAY: I feel like it's just fine to say E.T. phone home. But anyway, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay, I'll be back with more news right after this.