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Casino Mogul Resigns as Republican Finance Chair; Kabul Bombing Comes a Week after Hotel Attack; Police Raid Kremlin Critic's Office; Michigan Special Prosecutor Investigates MSU; Some State Department Employees Say They Face Retribution; Paris on Flood Alert as Seine Rises; Grammys #NotSoWhite This Year; Teen is Youngest to Row Atlantic Solo. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired January 28, 2018 - 05:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Steve Wynn quits his job on the Republican National Committee. The casino mogul faces multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Plus, the Taliban deal another deadly blow in Kabul. We'll bring you the very latest on Saturday's ambulance bomb attack.

ALLEN (voice-over): And making history: we'll talk with the youngest man ever to row solo across the Atlantic and that is his celebration.


HOWELL (voice-over): Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN (voice-over): I'm Natalie Allen. NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: Around the world, good day to you, 5:00 am on the U.S. East Coast.

He is a casino mogul in Las Vegas, a political ally of the U.S. president but now Steve Wynn is out as the main fundraiser for the Republican National Committee.

Faced with multiple sexual misconduct allegations Wynn resigned as the finance chair.

ALLEN: Dozens of his employees told "The Wall Street Journal" about a pattern of misconduct going back decades.

Wynn denies all of the allegations. But he has still resigned from the position that Mr. Trump handpicked for him. CNN's Boris Sanchez has more from the White House. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: On background, a White House official tells CNN that President Trump supported the resignation of Steve Wynn from the Republican National Committee.

There was some question as to how the White House would approach this situation, considering some inconsistencies in the past when responding to sexual assault allegations.

You'll recall, in just the past two months, the White House simultaneously demanded the resignation of former Senator Al Franken while backing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, two men that were both accused of sexual misconduct.

President Trump is actually supposed to see Steve Wynn last weekend at a fundraiser in Mar-a-lago. The president couldn't attend the fundraiser because of the government shutdown.

But Wynn took the stage and gave a speech in which he defended the president and his agenda. Here's some more of what Steve Wynn said Saturday night at Mar-a-lago.


STEVE WYNN, WYNN RESORTS: And then all of a sudden, once again in American history, an unlikely person became president, perhaps the most unlikely of all since Abe Lincoln. Donald John Trump became 45th President of the United States, to the chagrin, to the hysterical chagrin, of the other side. He was their worst nightmare.


SANCHEZ: Though in 2016, President Trump called Steve Wynn "a great friend," the two men have historically had some rocky moments. They were competing hotel and casino tycoons who've known each other for 34 years.

Ultimately, with President Trump handpicking Wynn to be the finance chairman for the RNC and now, on Saturday, again, a White House official telling CNN that the president backs his resignation, in part, to limit any kind of political damage that could hit the RNC or the White House -- Boris Sanchez, CNN, at the White House.


ALLEN: Leslie Vinjamuri joins us now from London. She is an associate professor of international relations at SOAS University of London and a familiar face here at NEWSROOM.

Hi, Leslie, thanks for joining us.


ALLEN: Let's begin with Steve Wynn, a titan in business from Vegas, D.C., now out as leader, picked by Donald Trump, in the Republican National Committee.

How does this look?

LESLIE VINJAMURI, SOAS UNIVERSITY OF LONDON: Well, it clearly doesn't look good for the Republican Party. It doesn't look good for the president to have had somebody who became so close to him, wasn't always a supporter but became so close to him, was on his inaugural committee, gave a lot of money to the Republicans, to the campaign, to the president.

And, of course, the good story here is that he has resigned, having apparently spoken to the president. So there was a decision to let him go. But we haven't heard a statement and the optics are bad.

There are calls, of course; there's a question mark about, you know, whether money should be given back. That same demand was made by the Republicans, remember, because Harvey Weinstein had given a lot of money to the Democrats.

So this is caught up in partisan politics over sexual allegations on either side. But nonetheless the optics of having had somebody so senior in the RNC be subject to these sorts of allegations and not having come under better scrutiny and investigation earlier on in the process, raises a lot of question marks. Nonetheless, you know, he has now resigned.

ALLEN: All right. And of course, he denies accusations. But his company is now investigating them.

Let's move on to the first State of the Union that we will see Donald Trump give this week. He will pitch his controversial immigration plan during his speech Tuesday night. It proposes giving 1.8 million undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship in exchange for --


ALLEN: -- $25 billion for his long promised border wall and a number of strict immigration reforms.

Can you give us a bit of the details?

VINJAMURI: Yes. So this is a big -- this is a significant move, the offer to give not only those who are former -- formally -- or who have DREAMer status but those who could have asked for it. That's how we get to 19.8 number.

But the linkage, of course, is what's going to cause problems in terms of getting broad acceptance by this from the Democrats. And the question of linking it to what the White House is referring to as chain migration.

So if those DREAMers become -- get formal status, what happens to their family members, especially their adult children and, of course, their parents?

And by tying this in, by linking this in and by saying that there's going to be a cutdown on those family members, it makes it very difficult for the Democrats to then see this as an important -- as a compromise that they can accept.

And, of course, the funding for the border wall and the measures for increased border security are deeply controversial. The Senate is now trying to work to put forward a bipartisan plan that would be more palatable.

But you know, we're running up against that February 8th deadline, where there's got to be some movement on immigration in order to get movement on spending to keep the government open.

The State of the Union, now we saw the president in Davos. He's already acknowledged this deal. He's made it clear, he said in Davos, that he's going to take a hard line on chain migration. I'm sure he'll say it again in the State of the Union.

And we're being set up here, I think, for a very tough battle that is far from over on this question of immigration.

And remember, you know, only a few weeks back, there were those very difficult -- very difficult language used in the broader context of the discussion of migration from Africa and from Haiti. And so this is a -- the politics surrounding the entire question of immigration reform have just become deeply contentious.

ALLEN: How is he going to get the conservatives, who don't like it, how will he bring them in?

VINJAMURI: Well, I think, you know, the key question here is whether there will be a proposal that emerges across the aisles from the Senate. And the president has indicated that, if Congress can agree something, then he would sign it.

But, he's, at the same time, taking a very hard line. And the fact that the shutdown was so short, that he managed to move forward without any agreement on immigration, has, I think, empowered the president.

And he's clearly coming under pressure from his -- from some of his key advisers and intends to drive a very hard bargain on immigration and border security. So we'll see what comes out of the Senate independently.

ALLEN: We'll be watching that speech on Tuesday. Leslie Vinjamuri, thank you.

VINJAMURI: Thank you.

HOWELL: And coming up Tuesday in the U.S., Donald Trump will address Congress and the American people in his first State of the Union address.

ALLEN: You can see it right here. Coverage begins 8:00 pm Tuesday in New York, that's 9:00 am Wednesday morning in Hong Kong. HOWELL: All right, now on to Afghanistan. That nation declared Sunday a national day of mourning after a brutal bombing that took place in the nation's capital. Flags have been flown at half-staff across the country. Authorities now say the Saturday attack killed at least 103 people and wounded more than 230 others.

ALLEN: And this is how it happened. A driver was able to get through a checkpoint and detonate explosives packed into an ambulance, pretending to be an ambulance driver. A spokesman for the Taliban says the group is responsible for it.

HOWELL: And it is the nature of that attack, an ambulance with explosives, getting past a checkpoint. I spoke with journalist Bilal Sarwary in Kabul about that, how authorities are dealing with it and with the uptick in attacks.


BILAL SARWARY, JOURNALIST: Afghan counterterrorism officials are saying that's exactly what they want to find out. But what is clear, the attacker was in an ambulance, he had said he had a patient when he was stopped at the second checkpoint. That's when he detonated his explosives.

A day after that attack, today, Kabul is a city with a broken heart and with a broken soul. I was able to go out in the city. I really didn't see the same hustle and bustle, the traffic jams, the life, although Kabul is quite chaotic as a city.

So obviously, Afghanistan continues to lose not only with lives but also there are economic losses. And people are actually quite scared to come out and just do their daily day-to-day business.

At this stage, sources within the health ministry are saying that a number of those people wounded, some of them are in critical conditions. We know some of the victims have lost their body parts, like arms and legs.


SARWARY: And some family members are even still trying to find out what happened to their loved ones.

And there's a lot of criticism that why the Afghan government still does not have a hotline, given the fact that these attacks are happening now, unfortunately, on a more regular basis.

I spoke to the family of 29-year-old Jafar (ph), a young man who had finished school and he wanted to take admission in university. So he's among those killed. Obviously, there are a lot of heartbreaks.

And Afghanistan just continues to really have these heartbreaks which are becoming, unfortunately, the new normal and this is a city of at least 7 million people. So people are actually really asking for some sense of responsibility and security from the government. HOWELL: Bilal, this attack happening on Chicken Street, near an area that's known for shopping, people coming together, government buildings there. But let's put this into context, because, just a week ago, Bilal, we saw another attack at the Intercontinental Hotel there.

Is there a sense among people that the Taliban is picking up the pace here?

And what are people saying about that?

SARWARY: Well, we've definitely seen a very clear shift in strategy, both on the part of Taliban and the Islamic State in terms of moving the fighting from the provinces and rural areas into the cities.

We have to remember, the American military, other international forces, Afghan special forces, are really going after mid- and high- level Taliban as well as Islamic State leadership.

So they've lost their commanders and fighters. And I think they want to strike inside cities to create a climate of fear but to also really send a message that we can actually hit you in some of the most secure locations.

Where the attack took place, this used to be the old interior ministry and it's not very far from the Swedish embassy, from the European Union, from the Indonesian embassy and from the country's high peace council.

I think what the people of Afghanistan are demanding is that officials responsible for the security of Kabul be held responsible, that this culture of impunity must end. And remember, this is almost becoming like a disease, these security and intelligence breaches, which really also respects international diplomats and aid workers from doing their work effectively because now they are forced to work from behind glass walls.

And this attack also comes after the big truck bomb that Afghanistan's capital had in 2017. So we already see the impact of that truck bomb attack, whether it's investors not wanting to invest or international aid organizations that really cannot operate in a safe environment.


HOWELL: And that was journalist Bilal Sarwary, speaking with me last hour from Kabul, Afghanistan.

ALLEN: As we mentioned, the bombing comes just a week after a deadly hotel siege in Kabul. The Taliban also claiming responsibility for that. But what might be behind a high-profile attack, our colleague, Cyril Vanier, spoke earlier with CNN's military analyst Lt. Col. Rick Francona.


LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Much of it is retaliation for the increased coalition airstrikes that are being conducted throughout the country. Normally in the winter, we see a lull in activity because it's a very difficult terrain to conduct military operation.

So what's we're seeing this year is a much higher operations tempo. The United States has just deployed A-10 aircraft, which are excellent ground attack aircraft, to beef up that air-to-ground capability. And they're going to try to take the fight to the Taliban.

These aircraft were supposed to go to the Middle East to fight ISIS but, given the success in Iraq and Syria, now they've moved it there. And of course this follows President Trump's stated goals of increasing the operations against the Taliban.


HOWELL: Again that was CNN military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona speaking earlier with our colleague, Cyril Vanier.

ALLEN: Russia's presidential election isn't until March but police raids are now underway as protests are about to begin. We'll go live to Moscow after the break.

HOWELL: Plus massive floods in Paris. But relief might finally be in sight. The forecast just ahead.





ALLEN: A bombing in Colombia shows the country still faces major security challenges, even after ending its long civil war. At least five police officers were killed Saturday in a city in the north. An attacker threw a bomb at a police station as he rode by on a motorcycle.

HOWELL: Police arrested and charged the suspect; they believe criminal groups are retaliating. The government is going after new gangs that now control the drug trafficking in Colombia.

ALLEN: We're also following a political crisis in Honduras. The country's president was sworn in for a second term after a disputed election. Outside his inauguration Saturday, protesters clashed with police in the streets.

HOWELL: The opposition accuses president Juan Orlando Hernandez of manipulating election results. The president, though, denies the allegations and is calling for unity. The U.S. has recognized Mr. Hernandez as the winner.

ALLEN: As anti-corruption protesters get ready to take to the streets of Moscow, the man behind the demonstration gets a visit from Russian police. Officers raided the offices of Alexei Navalny, a prominent critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Navalny tells CNN he called for the protest and election boycott not only because he was barred from running but what he calls rampant corruption in the Putin regime. In an exclusive interview with our Matthew Chance, he talks about why he believes he was barred from running for president.


ALEXEI NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): He is scared of all real competition. We see in these elections that he only allowed those to run who do not even resist, do not even do any campaigning.

When they saw that we are actually fighting for people's votes, they got scared. The famous Putin's ratings, all these 86 percent, 70 percent, all of that the sociologists and political analysts love to talk about, they exist in only one scenario: when Putin places the candidates he controls.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But that issue of polling numbers, I think, is important, because, as you say, Vladimir Putin is polling more than 80 percent popularity in this country, if you believe the opinion polls. But you're polling just 2 percent.

How much of a political threat does your movement really pose to this Kremlin juggernaut?

NAVALNY (through translator): Look, I stood for election just once in my life. In 2012, I participated in the Moscow mayor elections. And everyone was showing the polls when I had 2 percent. And without money or any media support, I got almost 30 percent.

Same thing goes for the presidential elections. Putin doesn't have an 80 percent rating. He has an 80 percent rating when compared to other candidates whom he has let run.


HOWELL: Let's go live to Moscow. Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen following the story on both Navalny and the protests.

Fred, just the another day we heard from Navalny, that exclusive interview with our colleague, Matthew Chance, and Navalny essentially saying that he knows the risks, that he won't be silenced and now there's news of this raid.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there certainly is the raid. It is shaping up to be quite an interesting day today here, George. We're going to see how big the --


PLEITGEN: -- turnout is going to be, especially here in Moscow, which is usually the largest venue for these protests that Navalny tends to organize. One of the things that's happened is that raid has happened.

But on the flip side of that, George, what the police haven't been able to do is actually shut down a YouTube feed that Navalny supporters have been running since the early morning hours. The police apparently is trying to stop that.

And they've been giving live updates of some of these protests as they've been happening. The other thing that's been going on is that on this YouTube feed, Navalny himself also spoke. He was interviewed there by the host. He says he's currently holed up somewhere, with police surrounding his location.

It's unclear where exactly that is or whether he's going to be able to make it to one of the venues, presumably the one here in Moscow. So certainly is going to be interesting to see if he's going to actually make it to the protests, if he might be detained before making it.

Certainly when that raid happened earlier this morning, there were Navalny staffers who were detained in that -- George.

HOWELL: OK, so this YouTube feed you talk about, certainly important to Navalny and his supporters because, again, it's about getting the word out to these protesters.

The question to you, Fred, how large are the protests expected to be?

How widespread across the country is turnout?

PLEITGEN: Yes, it's a very good question and it certainly is a pivotal question, as well, because Navalny in many respects needs a large turnout to stay relevant in the discussion here in Russia.

As we've noted he's been barred from running in the upcoming election. So really protests like this and everything outside of the electoral process, that's the way he gets his message out and keeps the pressure on the authorities.

But what we're seeing so far is that some protests have already taken place in the eastern parts of Russia. This is a very large country with a lot of time zones. Some of those protests fairly small. But some also happening in some very detrimental conditions. Some at -40 below zero degrees centigrade in some of the places in the north of the country.

So there has been turnout so far.

What the big question is going to be is what is it going to be in Moscow, in St. Petersburg?

Those certainly are the very, very large venues -- George.

HOWELL: Fred Pleitgen on the story live in Moscow. Fred, thanks for the reporting. The overflowing River Seine in Paris has engulfed roads and walkways after days of heavy rain and, here's the thing, the water level, it's still rising.

ALLEN: The river should peak in the coming hours at nearly 6 meters or about 20 feet. Our Jim Bittermann has more on how this is impacting Paris.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: "Stabilize" is the word everybody's using this morning, because the situation is headed toward stabilization, the river levels are still rising and there was some rain overnight. But the Seine here in Paris is expected to peak sometime during the day today or overnight tonight, at about a little less than the levels of the flood of 2016.

But there are big differences between this flood and that flood and one is that December was a very rainy month and the month of January, according to some people, was the second wettest in almost the century.

And because that, because of that, the reservoir is around Paris, which can have a buffering effect on the floodwaters, in fact, are now full. And if there`s any further rain, it has no place else to go but here.

But now, as a precaution, officials in Paris have evacuated some the low-lying apartments, basement apartments and especially on the west side of Paris and they have taken works of art out of some of the museums, out of the basements of some museums. They have as well closed down a gallery in the Louvre here behind me.

In terms of damages, there`s no way to estimate it exactly right now.

But officials are saying, a former security official for Paris, for example, said that he expected it to be in the hundreds of millions of euros, especially when one considers that the river traffic is a major transport hub for Paris, the river traffic has been cut off now for days as well as they won`t be able to determine exactly the extent of damage because they have to wait until the flood waters go down.

That could be weeks and it can do a proper inspection of the underground railroads, the footings of the bridges and other things that are presently submerged -- Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.




ALLEN: The U.S. State Department is in charge of American diplomacy abroad but it may need those diplomatic skills within its own ranks.

Problems within the department? We'll have a report coming up.

Plus a reckoning in the U.S. State of Michigan. Investigators there dig in to the university that employed and enabled convicted sexual abuser Larry Nassar for nearly two decades.





HOWELL: Coast to coast across the United States and live around the world this hour you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. Here are our top stories.


ALLEN: Now to a CNN exclusive. Some employees at the U.S. State Department say they're being punished for their previous work with the Obama administration.

HOWELL: Many are in jobs that the Trump administration wants to shut down and now some employees say they've hired attorneys. Elise Labott looks into it.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Top Democratic lawmakers are now calling on the State Department's watchdog to take what they call an immediate review of personnel practices there, after a growing number of employees told CNN they are being politically targeted and put in career purgatory for their work under the last administration.

Representatives Eliot Engel and Elijah Cummings, ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to the State Department's inspector general Friday, citing CNN's report on the issue. Now several officials tell CNN they have retained attorneys after

repeatedly trying unsuccessfully to raise concerns about being assigned to Freedom of Information Act requests. The congressman letter cites, quote, "credible allegations that the State Department has required high level career civil servants with distinguished records serving administrations of both parties to move to performing tasks outside their area of substantive expertise."

"At the very least," the congressmen charge, "this is a waste of taxpayer dollars. At worst it may constitute impermissible abuse and retaliation."

Now secretary of state Rex Tillerson has made clearing a backlog of FOIA requests a priority. He's reassigned staff throughout the building to help as part of what he calls a FOIA surge.

Now many of those assigned include senior employees who used to be detailed to other agencies or offices created by President Obama as policy priorities, which the Trump administration does not support.

Now the State Department denies political retribution is involved. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert says it's an all-hands-on-deck effort.

In a statement to CNN Nauert says, quote, "It may not be a glamorous job but it's an important one. People are asked to serve there because there's a need. It is without regard to politics."

And many of these employees are saying, we're happy to help but they want to be given substantive work on these issues, like handling classified information or dealing with foreign governments named in the documents.

They want to know why they are being asked to do the most menial of the tasks. They ask how could they be negotiating with foreign governments or advising the national security adviser, even the president on national security matters a few months ago; now they're being asked to do data entry and Google searches alongside interns and civil service employees 10 grades below them.

Now several officials concede this may not be entirely about politics.


LABOTT: They say it could also be ad hoc and what they call simple mismanagement. But it all contributes to a widespread morale problem at the State Department that lawmakers are demanding be looked at.


HOWELL: Elise Labott, thank you so much for that report.

Now to the growing fallout over the sexual assault of young gymnasts here in the United States. Officials in the U.S. state of Michigan are opening up about an investigation into Michigan State University. That's where convicted sexual abuser Larry Nassar practiced sports medicine for nearly two decades.

ALLEN: Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman tweeted her approval of the investigation and urged U.S. Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee to open up their own inquiry. Jean Casarez has more about Michigan's investigation.


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is now official: Michigan State University is being investigated by the attorney general's office here in Michigan. Bill Schuette, attorney general for the state, said that he didn't want to make it public until all of the young women had come forward with their victim impact statements.

But so much had happened in the last week, he believed that it was appropriate. He would not say whether it was an actual criminal investigation but they are bringing someone in from the outside.

His name is Bill Forsyth, a former prosecutor for 42 years. His title in this investigation: independent special prosecutor. Also he said that this was priority one for this investigation.

And he also had some words for the Michigan State University board of trustees, that last week issued a statement, saying, we think the attorney general's office should investigate our university.

Here's what he replied back to them.


BILL SCHUETTE, MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't need advice from the board of trustees at MSU about how to conduct an investigation. Frankly, they should be the last ones to be providing advice, given their conduct throughout this entire episode. Their conduct throughout this entire episode speaks for itself.


CASAREZ: The special prosecutor said that they will be looking for facts, which can possibly lead to potential evidence. And the big question in his mind is that how could Larry Nassar have been able to sexually assault girls associated with Michigan State University for over two decades? Jean Casarez, East Lansing, Michigan, CNN.


ALLEN: Coming up here, the #MeToo movement will share the stage at the Grammy Awards ceremony Sunday night. Megastar Jay Z shares his thoughts about that with our own Van Jones -- coming up.





HOWELL: If the nominations for the Best Album Grammy Awards this Sunday are any indication, we could be looking at a sea change toward diversity in the music industry. For the first time since 1999, there are no white male solo artists nominated for Best Album.

ALLEN: And hip-hop is dominating. Rappers Jay Z and Kendrick Lamar locked up eight and seven nods respectively. For fans and artists, that's a welcome change after years of criticism that women and minorities have been snubbed at the Grammys.

HOWELL: Members of the music industry are also planning to wear white roses to support the #MeToo movement. And the fight for women's rights has a friend in rapper Jay Z. He spoke with Van Jones on the first episode of the new CNN show, "THE VAN JONES SHOW," and described how critical the fight has become. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VAN JONES, CNN HOST: In this #MeToo moment, in this #TimesUp moment, does that give you hope for your daughters?

How do you make sense of this new rise of women's voices?

SHAWN "JAY Z" CARTER, RAPPER: It has to happen. This movement and everything that's going on and this, what we're finding out, it's like everything else. It's like racism, like everything -- it existed the whole time.

And we just -- it's almost like we normalized it. The normalization of the things we have to do to survive, like for women to go to work, knowing that this sort of abuse was happening every day. It's happening every day because you can look.

And logically you'll say, why would you stay there?

What's the alternative?

What's the alternative?

You have to survive in America. And in order to survive, you have to normalize it. So this has been going on. So for it to get uncovered and the world to correct itself, this is what has to happen.


ALLEN: Again, the Grammys will be having #MeToo on their mind, yet another awards show that will.

Joining us to talk about the awards, Chris Richards is the pop music critic for "The Washington Post." He joins me via Skype from Washington.

Hi, Chris. Thanks for joining us.


ALLEN: Well, as we mentioned, first time since 1999, no white male solo artists nominated for the Best Album.

How did that happen?

What do you make of it?

RICHARDS: Well, I think it's a big opportunity for the recording academy to kind of change their approach towards rap music. If we look back at the history of Album of the Year, which is seen as the most prestigious Grammy in the lot, only one rap album has ever won it in the history of the Grammys.

But having three nominees from the rap genre in that Album of the Year category this year, it's a huge chance for the Grammys to kind of correct what I'd say are decades of mistakes. ALLEN: We're looking at video of who will sit where while you talk. It's interesting. Rihanna there, she will be performing. Yes, hip- hop, as well, could also be a winner. And a Spanish song may win Best Song or Record of the Year.

What kind of breakthrough would that signal?

RICHARDS: I think it would be great. I mean, obviously, the Grammys historically have, I think, reflected the problems that we have in society in terms of gender, in terms of race, in terms of which voices get elevated. So I think the wider diversity of these categories, the better.

And the song we're talking about is "Despacito," the inescapable hit of the summertime. I think it has a great chance and I'm rooting for it.

ALLEN: What female stars are up for a big award?

RICHARDS: Not too many. In the Album of the Year category you have Lorde with "Melodrama." She's one of the non-hip-hop nominees and actually might actually be a favorite in this category because, if the three rap artists who are nominated -- Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z and Childish Gambino -- end up splitting theathip-hop vote, there's a pretty good chance that Lorde could pop up with that Grammy in her pocket at the end of the night.

ALLEN: What about new artists?

RICHARDS: The new artists' field, you have Elise zacaro, a great pop singer; khalid, not to be confused with dj khaled, R&B leaning kind of singer. You have bullet uzevert. He's my favorite for the category, he's a sort of outsize personality rapper who I think is fantastic and deserves to win this one.


RICHARDS: Julia Michaels, a creative songwriter and this is the R&B singer. So a little more diversity in terms of gender and genre in that category. But little ezert, he's my favorite for that award.

ALLEN: As we said, there will also be, you know, support for the #MeToo movement.

And what do you expect from James Corden?

Music is this thing, isn't it?

He's the host of the show.

RICHARDS: Yes, yes, it should be interesting. Everybody knows about his carpool karaoke sketches and he really has an affection for music that's huge. In terms of #MeToo, a lot of stars have said they'll be wearing a white rose on the red carpet, sort of to mark their solidarity with the movement. But in terms of what shape it's going to take during the telecast

itself, I think we have to tune in and see. I have heard that Kesha will be performing a song that sort of reflects her struggles with alleged abuse within the industry. That will be interesting to look out for.

But in terms of what else we can expect, we have to turn on our televisions and check it out.

ALLEN: We'll be watching. Chris Richards, thanks so much for joining us, Chris.

RICHARDS: So glad to be here.

HOWELL: Still ahead this hour, take a look at this video. This young man holding burning flares on a tiny boat.

Why is he doing that?

Well, it's because he is celebrating setting a world record. You'll hear from him and his extraordinary story.





ALLEN: More evidence that climate change is real and it's rapidly changing the face of the Earth. 2017 was the third warmest year on record. The six hottest years have all been since 2010.

HOWELL: And some of the most dramatic evidence can be found on Antarctica. That's where sea ice is vanishing at alarming rates. Scientists say about 400,000 square kilometers disappeared last year. That's 154,000 square miles; 10.6 million square kilometers or 4 million square miles of sea ice remain on Antarctica. It's the lowest amount ever recorded there.

ALLEN: Well, there's another world record to tell you about. It involves 19-year-old Oliver Crane, who took a year off before college to row across the Atlantic Ocean all by himself. He left the Canary Islands in mid-December and arrived in the Caribbean just hours ago. I spoke with him soon after he set foot on the island of Antigua.


ALLEN: Oliver Crane joins us now.

Congratulations, you just rowed across the Atlantic Ocean by yourself and set a world record.

How are you feeling right now? OLIVER CRANE, YOUNGEST PERSON TO ROW SOLO ACROSS THE ATLANTIC OCEAN: It's hard to describe. I feel amazing, sort of really overwhelmed, just being surrounded by people and on land. I can barely walk.

ALLEN: I can imagine. We've got video of you coming in. I think you're using your flares to celebrate --


ALLEN: -- as you came in there.

How long were you at sea, Oliver?

How many miles did you row?

And how long did this take?

CRANE: So I was at sea for 44 days. And I think I rowed about 2,700 miles.

ALLEN: My goodness.

What was the hardest part about it?

You certainly were physically capable and trained for this.

Was it the physical aspects or the mental?

CRANE: Definitely the mental. Just, you know, being out there, by myself, it was really hard, you know, to keep a smile on my face, especially when things got tough.

Like after I capsized for the third time, I had a really rough time with it, just getting back on the oars and rowing again was really hard, knowing that, you know, it could happen at any point and I was just completely by myself.

ALLEN: That had to be kind of scary, I would think.

What about -- tell people about -- where did you sleep?

What did you eat?

CRANE: So I slept in a small cabin on my boat, a watertight cabin, in case I capsized. And I ate freeze-dried food. So not much of it, because I had trouble, you know, just eating out there in the environment and, you know, my body went through a really tough sort of transition.

ALLEN: What was your motivation to do this?

I know that you've rowed for many years and that you've mentioned your mother, who is an ultra-endurance athlete, was part of your inspiration.

CRANE: Yes. You know, my parents sort of always inspired me to test my limits and push my body and mind to the breaking point. But I also, you know, wanted to have a positive impact on the world in some way, which is why, as a part of this row, I've been raising awareness and money for ocean conservation.

ALLEN: And how was the experience being out there on the ocean?

When you weren't having to work so hard or weren't dealing with the challenges, did you have some moments to yourself, thinking, this is just a beautiful thing where you were and what you were experiencing?

CRANE: Yes, definitely. I had some of the happiest moments in my life out there. One of my favorite Christmases of all time, you know, just lying out under the stars or seeing the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises and knowing that, you know, all those moments were just mine to keep forever and you know, completely, you know, everlasting memories.

ALLEN: Was it wanting to set the world record?

Wanting just to, you know, as you said, push yourself to the limits here?

What was the most important thing for you in this challenge?

CRANE: The most important thing was actually just keeping a smile on my face, you know, and being able to laugh at myself. I made it my goal not to reach Antigua, you know, not to get the record --


CRANE: -- but just, no matter what happened, I was going to always be able to laugh at myself, no matter, you know, what mistakes I made or, you know, if bad stuff happened.

I was just always going to be positive. And I'm, you know, happy that I accomplished that.

ALLEN: What advice would you give to people that want to try to do something like this?

CRANE: Don't think about it. Just go out and do it. You know, don't hesitate, don't listen to anyone who says you can't or it isn't possible. Just go out and start. You know, you just got to start and you'll get there.

ALLEN: What's next for you?

I know that you have already summitted Kilimanjaro and now this.

Pray tell, are you thinking of doing something else or are you focusing on college?

CRANE: Right now, I'm just thinking about having a decent meal.

ALLEN: A hot meal. CRANE: We'll see. You know, I don't ever want to stop trying new things and challenging myself. So I'm sure there will be something coming.

ALLEN: All right. Well, you can just enjoy this moment, think about that later. You're in the record books, Oliver Crane, congratulations on an amazing accomplishment. And enjoy that nice, hot meal.

CRANE: Thank you so much.


ALLEN: Hopefully, he's sound asleep in a nice bed after sleeping in that rowboat for 44 days. My goodness. Good for him.

HOWELL: Inspiring.

ALLEN: Yes. You and I can get out there and work out today.

HOWELL: Let's do it.

ALLEN: Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: I'm George Howell. For our viewers in the United States, "NEW DAY" is next. For our viewers around the world, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is ahead. Thanks for being with us.

ALLEN: See you later.