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Bridge Collapse Kills More Than Two Dozen People; President Calls Former Aide A "Lowlife" And A "Dog"; Shifts In Pierson's Story On "N-Word' Tape; Police Seek Motive In Car Attack Outside Parliament. Aired 1-2a

Aired August 15, 2018 - 01:00   ET



[01:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour, rescue crews continue to search for survivors after the collapse of a major bridge on Italy's northern coast though the cause is still unknown. One government official says the disaster was not unexpected. How low can they go? Donald Trump compares his former senior aide to a dog as Omarosa Manigault-Newman continues to release secret recordings of White House staff. And outside London's Parliament, the new security measures which could have made a difference between life and death, after a car jumps on the sidewalk and slams into heavy metal barricades, no one was killed, the driver was arrested. Hello everybody, great to have you with us. I'm John Vause, you're watching NEWSROOM L.A.

Today is the morning have been declared for the 26 people killed off a major bridge collapsed in northern Italy. A large section of the Morandi Bridge crumbled during bad weather on Tuesday sending vehicles plunging to the ground. As crews continue to remove rubble and debris, there is the grim expectation more victims will be found. These are live images of the scene right now in Genoa, Italy, it's just one minute past 7:00 on a Wednesday morning. Of course, that search and rescue continues. This bridge was 50 years old it was undergoing maintenance at the time of the section collapsed.

Italy's prime minister says there are early signs which point to a structural failure. That is the scene there. Now you can see this group of the collapse of a bridge. It's a major bridge linking Italy and France. We have more details now from CNN's Hala Gorani.


HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: This is the moment the Morandi Bridge partially collapsed. The person recording the cell phone footage screams my god. Horror and disbelief heard through his voice. Aerial footage shows a major section just gone and a violent storm lashing down around the time of the collapse. About 30 vehicles were on this section of bridge including several heavy-duty trucks. Some are believed to have ended up in the river. Rescuers rushed to the scene, a scene that looked like the aftermath of an earthquake.

The fire service says some people were pulled alive out of vehicles, far too many though were not as lucky. One of our own reporters was only a few minutes away from crossing the bridge himself when it came down. Afterward, he captured this video on his mobile phone. Thankfully the bridge is still standing over what is a densely populated area avoiding railway tracks, shopping centers, and homes, a tragedy that could have been even worse.

Still, authorities say the death toll is expected to climb as rescuers comb desperately through the rubble.


VAUSE: Hala Gorani there with that report. And Hala also spoke to an engineering expert about what may have caused the bridge to collapse.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well it's too early to say why specifically this collapses. I mean, all this is a major disaster. I mean, this doesn't happen you know, thankfully very often at all. And for me as a bridge designer is the kind of nightmare scenario. You know, my heart goes out to all those people who are involved. But I mean, we can begin to speculate although it would be wrong sort of the points fingers already to things that could be going on but the bridge is 50 years old which means that it should be absolutely fine. If you looked after properly --

GORANI: I mean, you have bridges that are 100 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely so -- but of course, it's had a history. We know that it's had a certain amount of intervention. Went some maintenance intervention and we don't know what that was about, what kind of condition the bridge is in and we don't yet know what triggered this collapse but really one whole station of this very unusual bridge has collapsed.

GORANI: Why unusual, because this is a bridge, this is called a -- just so we get the proper term for it. It's a beamed bridge. The vertical elements where trestle is made up of two superimposed beams, right, so you have the trestle, the kind of --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Interesting. There's all sorts of ways we can describe this thing and it is unusual. It's kind of cable-stayed. It's got those concrete stays which tie the bridge decks of the towers. There's also as you say got this v-shaped support underneath and that's what makes it unusual. There are only two others like it that I know of in the world. One in Venezuela, the Lake Maracaibo Bridge also designed by the same guy and also this one in Libya which is also designed by the same guy.

So unusual, these days I don't think we do them quite like that but who knows. We're going to learn a lot of lessons over the coming weeks as to what went wrong here.

[01:05:05] GORANI: Of course, they're going to look into and spend a lot of time investigating why this happened but it's a concrete bridge, why does it just crumble like that? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, something went on it. Something went very

suddenly. It was obviously a catastrophic collapse. This bridge has steel in it. It's a concrete bridge, yes, but it has pre-stressing cables in it which is steel under very high tension. Who knows? Maybe one of those went, corrosion perhaps, something, you know we just don't know. There's been rumors of this storm --

GORANI: Right. I was going to ask you this question because can a storm bring a bridge down? I mean, we should all be very worried if --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, personally I find that hard too but a lot of you people have suggested that might be something to do with it. I suppose a lightning strike hit the tower. I'd say it's very unlikely. I mean, come on, the thing has been there for 50 years. It must have been hit by a lightning strikes before so I don't -- I don't really buy that. There's a possibility of something there but I said it would be speculation.


VAUSE: Before and after images show the scale of this disaster, it also gives a sense of the size of the section which eventually came crashing down. The area below all of this is actually densely populated. There are homes as well as businesses directly underneath and many buildings there had people had to be evacuated. Well, up the bridge is just over a kilometer long at its tallest point, it's 100 meters high. And we should note the search and rescue is expected to continue now for several days.

In what looks to be a race to the bottom, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to lash out at a former aide who's with the tell-all book. His latest tweet about Omarosa Manigault-Newman has drawn widespread criticism even some outrage. Here it is. "When you give a crazed crying lowlife a break and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn't work out. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog." The former White House aide claims there's a tape of Mr. Trump saying the n-word when he was the host of the reality T.V. show The Apprentice and despite the President's repeated denials, the White House Press Secretary could not guarantee the tape does not exist. Instead, Sarah Sanders said Donald Trump's insults are not racist.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This has absolutely nothing to do with race and everything to do with the President calling out someone's lack of integrity. The idea that you would only point a few of the things that the President has said negative about people that are minorities, the fact is the President is an equal-opportunity person that calls things like he sees it. He always fights fire with fire and he certainly doesn't hold back on doing that across the board.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Joining us now CNN's Legal Analyst Areva Martin, former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, and Gina Loudon who we've gotten in a very long time, a Trump supporter coming to us all the way from West Palm Beach in Florida. It is good to see you, Gina. Welcome back.

GINA LOUDON, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Good to be with you, John.

VAUSE: Thank you. OK, Wendy let's just start with that tweet. When the President is trying to defend himself against accusations that he used the worst of worse racial slur, it doesn't seem to help his case a whole lot when he compares an African-American woman to a dog.

WENDY GREUEL, FORMER COUNCILWOMAN, LOS ANGELES: No, and when the defense is oh he says this to all kinds of people. That's not a defense of President United States who should be above all of that. And in fact, you know, we hear this consistently from him. Some of the demeaning and disgusting things he says whether it be about African-Americans or Latinos in ways he describes them, this is just a pattern and practice that really is demeaning to not only the presidency but to all the people who are rightly offended by this kind of behavior.

VAUSE: You know, you mention that Donald Trump has used the dog insult before. Here are a few examples.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm standing at the debate, I'm watching Marco sweating like a dog on my right.

The last election should have been won except Romney choked like a dog. He choked.


VAUSE: You know, Gina, we kind of went back and looked at this and it seems that every time the dog insults been used was during the campaign which helped him get elected. This is the first time he's used it as President. I'm just wondering, is there ever a point for you when this President will go too far, what would you consider to be an incident in which the President may have crossed line?

LOUDON: Well, I think if his policies has start to reflect what his accusers say he is, that would be something that would go too far and would cross the line. I think most people are you know, they're looking at their lives right now. They're looking at you know, can I send my kids to college, can I make my house payment, am I in a better place than I was a couple of years ago, is unemployment in our country at record lows even across the lines for all minorities, is this President an equal opportunity counter-puncher? I'm just not sure that's the issue that is resonating at least currently with people because the President's popularity is actually doing pretty well in comparison as you know to other presidents at the same juncture of their presidency. [01:10:13] VAUSE: OK, so Ariva, what we -- you know, we hear this a

lot from people who do support the President saying look, you know, this is just the guy they voted for him that's got elected. But look at the economy, everything is great. But if you look at the tweet and we've heard a lot in the past about tweets being official White House statements, so it kind of speaks for itself in a way right?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so the official White House statement is the President of the United States calling an African- American woman a dog and I get offended when people say -- you know, people in this country are concerned about jobs and education and they're going about their lives. Words matter.

And if you're an African-American person, we can't go about our lives when we are constantly being demeaned by the President of the United States because it's not just what he says it's what his followers latch onto and they give meaning to those words and we know the history of the derogatory word that is being debated on these tapes and when the President calls Omarosa a dog, when he talks about LeBron James, when he talks about Don Lemon, when he talks about Maxine Waters, it's really difficult for us to tell our kids, our African- American kids that they are valued in this country and that they're -- that they're being of their very presence matters in this country.

So I can't go about my life and my job without worrying about how my child is going to be treated and how they're going to grow up in a country when the President demeans after the African-American women.

VAUSE: We'll get you, Gina, because Gina, the White House news briefing on Tuesday, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked a very direct question about the President and the N-word. Here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you stand at the podium and guarantee the American people will never hear Donald Trump utter the N-word on a recording on any context.

SANDERS: I can't guarantee anything but I can tell you that the President addressed this question directly. I can tell you that I've never heard it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just to be clear, you can't guarantee it.

SANDERS: Look, I haven't been in every single room.


VAUSE: So Gina, you know, there's a lot of ducking and weaving there from Sarah Sanders. Why couldn't she just give a direct answer saying no?

LOUDON: Well, I think she had addressed the question several times over and kept saying that she was referring to the President's comment on that. But I also want to respond to your other guest who said you know, as a mother it would concern her. I think we have to keep in mind -- it doesn't make it OK -- but I think we have to keep in mind that there were also five I believe is the number of white men that the President used the same term dog about so I don't think it had anything to do with race.

But I also am the mother of a minority. I adopted a minority child who happens to have Down Syndrome so I encounter bigotry in my life every single day and I just want to assure her and anybody else listening that I would never support a president that would ever --I would never support a president that I believed would ever do any harm to my own child. So I think that's important to note. And I respect her opinion, I just wanted to give mine.

VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE) Areva's name when we introduced her bur Areva meet Gina.


VAUSE: I'm just looking back at a response, Wendy, from Sarah Sanders not be able to get that direct answer but you know, can't she guarantee that the -- this tape with the President using the n-word does not exist? And Gina said she addressed it but she didn't kind of address it. You know, she kind of ducked and weaved and dodged.

GREUEL: She did not. A common answer is his remarks or his statement speaks for itself or he you know responded directly when she does not want to be the person answering that question, and she did the same today in this instance. And I think in responding to Gina too, you know, what the President of the United States is doing is sending to the world and to all of our kids that it is OK to call someone a dog whether you are minority or you are some other race or ethnicity. And that is the wrong message about how you should treat others.

And so I think that Sarah Sanders had a hard time defending someone who potentially had used the n-word and she did not want to be on record saying I know that he didn't.

VAUSE: Right. I mean he's a break down for the Washington Post of the President's tweets basically insulting someone's intelligence. Overwhelmingly the target of these tweets, the insult have been directed at Black people. You know, so Areva, if you're presenting this evidence in a court of law, what would this go to in terms of establishing a pattern of behavior and a character if you like?

MARTIN: Well, not only would we -- would I as a lawyer present the tweets that he's directed at African-Americans, John, I would also present his history. Let's look at the evidence. Let's look at you know the discriminatory practices that he and his father engaged in as a related to rental properties and housing in New York. Let's look at the battle he waged against the five African American young men who were cleared of criminal conduct in New York and even after the DNA cleared them he continued to wage a battle against them. Let's look at the ways that he has treated African Americans throughout his professional life, is business life, and this campaign and I think when you look at all of that in its totality, there is but one conclusion which is Donald Trump is a racist. And that's very difficult for people to understand and with all due respect to Gina, you know, it sounds a lot like white privilege. Because if you don't walk in the shoes of an African-American person, you couldn't possibly understand how demeaning and demoralizing it is for him to call a black woman, a dog.

[01:15:32] VAUSE: Right. (INAUDIBLE) Gina's response to that. Gina?

LOUDON: Well, my response again is that -- you know, as the adoptive mother of a minority child with a special need of Down syndrome that is quite profound, I do -- you know, at least to some degree, I'm not saying that I understand what it's like to be you. But I, at least, understand what bigotry is and what it feels like to be a target of it.

I also think, though, you have to take into consideration for example that the president's actions in terms of prison reform, in terms of -- in terms of the lowest black unemployment in history. In terms of the fact that he gave this woman, Omarosa, was the topic of our conversation right now, multiple chances to be a success.

I would think that it would be hard to make the argument that he's just a patent racist knowing that. So, is it -- is it complicated and can we have a conversation about it? Yes. But I think, to jump to conclusions especially in a racially divisive environment that we're in right now. I'm just -- I would rather see us talk about this looking at both sides, looking at the good and bad if we want to --

VAUSE: OK. That's what you'll hear, Gina. OK. Let's get back to Monday night because the Trump -- former Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson, go haven't seen from her for a long time. She initially denied on Fox, there was even a conversation which took place about the existence of this recording with the President as host of The Apprentice using the n-word. She is on Fox Monday night.


KATRINA PIERSON, FORMER NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON, TRUMP 2016 CAMPAIGN: That did not happen. It sounds like she's writing a script for a movie. You know, I've already been out there talking about this. That is absolutely not true.


VAUSE: But then, Omarosa appears on CBS, Tuesday morning. Cue the tape.


PIERSON: I'm trying to find out, at least, what content it was used in to help us maybe try to figure out a way to spin it.


PATTON: He goes, "How do you think I should handle it?" And I told him exactly what you just said, Omarosa, which is well, it depends on what scenario you are talking about. And he said, "Well, why don't you just go ahead and put it to bed."


PIERSON: He said? He said it? No, he said it. He's embarrassed by it.


VAUSE: OK. So, then, Pierson comes up with a different story here. In other version, saying that essentially, a conversation is out of context, she was actually refuting a claim made in Omarosa's tell-all book that they had been told by the conservative pollster Frank Luntz that there was a recording of the president using the n-word.

But then again, just a few hours ago, version number three right here on Katrina Pierson on CNN.


PIERSON: She really was a dog with a bone when it came to this tape.


PIERSON: She was dooming and gluey. This is really important because this is the context of what we're talking about right now.


PIERSON: It got to the point where we had a campaign to run so what you hear in that tape which is not the tape she's been referencing is me placating to her which I did a number of times because she would not let this tape go.


VAUSE: OK, Wendy, in 24 hours, Pierson stories gone for the conversation never happened. Two, "Well, it did but it's taken out context to be edgy (INAUDIBLE). But the president did say it, but I said that to placate a disgruntled work colleague who was annoying me."

I mean, you know, admitting that the president used the racial slurs, one way to change the conversation? How about hey let's grab a copy until he got something out, it's another way. But more importantly, when someone is continually changing the story, it says a lot.

GREUEL: It says a lot, and just to suggest that, that conversation, which was not just to -- you know, 10-second conversation was to placate her by admitting that the President of United States had used the n-word is ludicrous.

And I think that she is just trying to get out of a situation where she clearly have lied.

VAUSE: They go fake tied up. And very quickly, Areva, from a legal point of view, is Omarosa hear exposed in any way from the recordings to the non-disclosure agreements were we looking at.

MARTIN: I don't think with respect to the recordings, possibly, she's going to be enjoined from continuing to talk about things that she learned or recorded during the time she worked on the Trump campaign to the extent any non-disclosure agreement is going to be applicable.

It would just be for that time period where she was a private citizen not working as a public employee in the White House serving the American people.

VAUSE: 20 seconds to you, Gina, because I know I like to give you the last word. Is this a lesson for the president that maybe the counter punching and the nasty comments should come to an end?

[01:20:00] LOUDON: I think the president is going to remain a counter puncher if I were to predict. But I think that he almost has to because I think that a lot of times he feels anyway. Like that he is not portrayed accurately in media.


LOUDON: So, he wants to make sure that his side is heard, so.

VAUSE: Well, thank you for coming on and trying to -- you know, put the president's case forward. We appreciate that Gina. Thank you, it's been a while. It's good to see you. Also, Wendy and Areva.

MARTIN: Areva, the president of special needs network and a mother of a special needs child.

VAUSE: Here we go. OK. There you guys to get together and -- you know, and said some time to get (INAUDIBLE). OK.

All right. We'll take a short break. When we come back, cars weaponized and a terror attack it happened again, this time outside the British Parliament. You scream urges though are in place, and this time no one was killed. But have police don't up trying to stop this type of attack once and for all.

And concern over a possible new flashpoint this time here Israel's border as the Syrian Civil War winds down.


VAUSE: London police are calling it a terror incident an attack outside British Parliament, Tuesday, using a car as a weapon. During morning rush hour, the car ride down pedestrians before crashing into the gates of the House of the parliament. The driver was arrested. Police say he is not cooperating. He's a British citizen, they say, who is originally from another country. Overnight, three properties were searched in the English Midlands as investigators search for a motive.


NEIL BASU: Given that this appears to be a deliberate act, the method and this being an iconic site, we are treating it as a terrorist incident and the investigation is being led by officers from the Counter Terrorism Command.


VAUSE: CNN intelligence and security analyst and former CIA operative Bob Baer, is with us now from Telluride in Colorado. Bob, thanks for taking the time. If you go back 18 months ago, same place, similar attack though, four people would kill van. This time, just two or three people were injured. Which -- is that a success for law enforcement or is it a failure for intelligence because the driver of the car got that close to Parliament in the first place?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, John, you can protect the inner perimeter with bollards and HESCO barriers. And it's -- Parliament is very safe at this point. It's the people walking around it that are vulnerable. And the rest of London, by the way. There's nothing you can do to protect a city like London from people who are in a car and intend to murder people.

You know, if this person had been in another part of the city and headed for a -- like Oxford Street, and ran down the street, ramp people down, there would have been a lot of casualties.

[01:25:15] VAUSE: Because what's interesting is that -- you know, the House of Lords, the House of Commons is on summer recess. You know, the lawmakers and their staff are not there. It was at a -- you know, a smart decision if you like by the guy who's driving the car because what -- the security is more laps or was that just a stupid decision because it kind of diminishes the value of the target?

BAER: Exactly, John. It's probably a lone wolf, somebody that got inspired the last couple weeks, upset about Syria. I would imagine or another part of Yemen uses. We don't know at this point where there whatever there is a conflict. And you know, it is iconic, the British Parliament.

You know, it's hard to tell what goes through these people's heads. It's just lucky that they didn't run people down in Oxford Street.

VAUSE: So, I said with that in mind, is essentially the main difference here between why -- you know, four people died eight months ago and no one died here. It's just simply because of those new security measures which they put in place outside Parliament.

That this -- is there anything else which we know about, which -- you know, resulted in -- you know, one being killed? BAER: No, I think it's just a matter of luck at this point. You know, he was heading for Parliament, probably, very excited. You know, we're looking at the insight. Let's say this is the Islamic state, it's falling apart very quickly. It's not organized in Europe. Counterterrorism groups have pretty much closed to down at this point.

So, it's these lone wolves, you can't predict. I mean, you know, in a city like that in a vehicle. You know, it's the ultimate smart bomb.

VAUSE: You know, we're talking about these lone wolf attacks because what's happened and what we've known in the last six months. Back in March, the government said this, 500 or more than five hundred live counterterrorism investigations. Now, they're saying that number specifically is 675.

Do you put that because there's just -- you know, this job is based mostly because there's just what these lone wolves out there, all these actually proper -- you know cells which are playing carryout -- you know, some kind of mass attack?

BAER: I don't think they're proper cells at this point. Look, you can -- you can run these guys down. Going after the metadata, algorithms, communications with other sites, we're getting so sophisticated that an organized attack, it is pretty much virtually impossible.

It's not to say there's not a lot of people out there, or something like 30,000 Islamic State fighters between Syria and Iraq that are still active but actually organizing an attack in Europe, they're getting shut down very quickly.

VAUSE: OK, so that then gets to the next question and -- you know, can anybody answer this? So what does the next attack look like? What's the next tactic? Is there's a move away from cars because they're maybe not as successful as they were, what do they move to?

BAER: Oh, I think they're going to stick with cars. You can't buy explosives in Britain, you can't buy weapons. There's always the possibility of knife attacks. I think, if -- you know, the conflicts continue in the Middle East, at some point, we're going to see a very successful in their terms attack on civilians, in London or any part of Britain.

Again, I mean, you just can't protect the city from a car, it's impossible.

VAUSE: Yes. Especially a city like London which is so busy and so crowded. It's impossible, yes, I guess. That's the sad fact. Bob, thank you.

VAUSE: Bob Baer, he's in Telluride.

BAER: Thanks.

VAUSE: I shall break. When we come back, Is Syria's Civil War comes to an end? Israel has growing concerns about one area recently taken by Syrian forces and it's looking to Russia for help.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

The search and rescue is expected to last for days in Genoa Italy where a major section of a highway bridge collapsed on Tuesday. At least 26 people have been killed. Police say strong thunderstorms were partly to blame for the collapse. The bridge was opened in 1968 and was also under going maintenance at the time.

British police are trying to determine why a man drove a car into pedestrians before crashing into the barriers outside Parliament in London. The driver has been arrested but police say he's not cooperating. There's been a search of three addresses in central England. One official says the suspect is a British citizen who originally came from another country.

The White House is defending Donald Trump's comments about former aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman saying he was just voicing frustration. Donald Trump called her a crazed, crying low life and a dog in a tweet on Tuesday. Omarosa has criticized her former boss since her recent firing and has released secret recordings of conversations she had with the President and other senior aides.

Syria's seven-year civil war appears to be winding down but there are fears a new conflict could erupt in an area recently reclaimed by Syrian government forces. Israel is concerned that Iran might establish a presence in Golan Heights, the buffer at its border.

As Fred Pleitgen reports the Israelis are now looking to the Russians to try and keep Iran away.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This valley could be vital in the next phase of the Syrian conflict, Quneitra at the foot of the Golan Heights -- the buffer zone between Israel and Syria.

On a Russian organized visit, Colonel Viktor Zaitsev shows me the area the Syrian military with Russian help recently retook.

COL. VIKTOR ZAITSEV, DEPUTY COMMANDER, RUSSIAN FORCES IN SYRIA (through translator): On the right you can see the demilitarized zone. And further down is the Israeli border. Behind us is the bravo line. Further along there is the post of the Russian military police which serves as the guarantor of peace in the Province of Quneitra.

PLEITGEN: The U.N. observer mission abandoned its posts here when rebels took over the area in 2014. Now Russia says it wants to bring the observers back also to mitigate Israel's anxiety over Iran's possible presence. (on camera): Ousting rebels from this area was a huge achievement for the forces of Bashar al Assad and their Russian backers. But it's also led to huge concerns among the Israelis. They fear Iran could gain a foothold here.

(voice over): Israel has expanded its cross-border airstrikes on Iranian positions in Syria and says it wants Russia to keep Iran away from its borders.

Russia -- an ally of Iran in the Syrian war said it is conducting joint patrols with the Syrian police in the demilitarized zone.

LT. GENERAL SERGEY KURALENKO, RUSSIAN MILITARY (through translator): Currently our plan is -- and we are already implementing it is to set up checkpoints of the Russian military police along the Bravo line and I stress that in the demilitarized zone itself there are no Russian checkpoints. But in total, we have four checkpoints operating.

PLEITGEN: The Syrian army with Russian support swept through most of southern Syria about a month ago. Now that the anti-Assad rebels have been ousted, the danger of a larger Israeli-Iranian confrontation here looms.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN -- Quneitra, Syria.


VAUSE: Well, the man who wants to be the next governor of the U.S. state of Georgia is accused of failing to secure the state's voting system. A federal lawsuit accuses Brian Kemp of allowing the personal information of millions of voters to be exposed online. He calls the claim fake news.

More details now from CNN's Drew Griffin.


[01:35:03] DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Right around the same time Russians were trying to penetrate state voting systems in the summer of 2016, cyber security expert and part-time hacker Logan Lamb decided to check out how Georgia's centralized voter system was holding up. What he found was an open window.

LOGAN LAMB, CYBER SECURITY EXPERT: There were documents with Election Day supervisor passwords. There was a voter registration database with 6.3 million records of all of Georgia's voters.

GRIFFIN: Including full names, dates of birth, even driver's license and partial social security numbers -- all wide open to anyone snooping around. And now we know during this same time Russians were snooping around.

According to the Justice Department's special counsel investigation, that included snooping around Web sites of certain counties in Georgia to identify vulnerabilities. Lamb didn't know about the Russians but he did know having voting records so easily accessible was a problem, so he e-mailed and then he called Georgia's Center for Election Systems run out of this house on the campus of Kennesaw State University to warn them. Six months later all that Georgia voter data was still unprotected.

(on camera): All the passwords, everything was still available to anybody who wanted it.

LAMB: Right, yes.

GRIFFIN: What does that tell you about the secure election of the state of Georgia?

LAMB: Georgia's election systems, they should not be trusted.

GRIFFIN (voice over): Eventually Kennesaw State closed the security loophole and notified the state. A lawsuit was filed challenging the security of the Georgia's elections.

Then shockingly evidence of what took place vanished. IT workers at Kennesaw State University wiped the election system's computer hard drives clean, deleting any potential evidence of tampering.

BRIAN KEMP, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: I blow up government spending.

GRIFFIN: The person in charge of Georgia's elections is Georgia's Secretary of State Brian Kemp. He is the Trump-styled Republican now running for governor and the voting mess under his watch has turned into a mild campaign issue.

Kemp's office says the secretary of state had no idea Georgia's voter information system was so vulnerable to attack until months after Logan Lamb's warning. Kemp blamed Kennesaw State's Center for Election Systems for the entire debacle, ended the state's long- running contract with the center and shut it down.

On Facebook he called the actions of the election center employees "reckless, inexcusable and showing undeniable ineptitude". And then he hired the director of the center to work with him at the secretary of state's office.

And to assure everyone all this didn't mean anything he posted "Georgia's elections are safe and our systems remain secure."

(on camera): How can he possibly say that?

MARILYN MARKS, COALITION FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE: He cannot possibly say that with a straight face.

GRIFFIN (voice over): Marilyn Marks -- a self-funded advocate for improving election integrity is part of a group that has sued Georgia. She says the state's system is easily penetrable and if the system fails, if it's hacked or infected with malware there would be no way for Georgia to double-check the votes. In part she wants a paper ballot back up for the upcoming mid-term elections. The state says no.

MARKS: When told that, hey, you've been exposed to bad guys. You've been exposed to viruses. You've been exposed to every known bad thing that can happen to an election system -- they just say, ok, next election.

GRIFFIN: And that pretty much sums up what Georgia's secretary of state Brian Kemp is saying. "We'll take care of this in 2020," after he becomes Georgia's next governor.

(on camera): The Georgia secretary of state's office says it's just too late to switch to another system of voting before the next election saying it would lead to voter confusion and possibly suppress the vote. And in Trump-like style Brian Kemp is blaming the press for over-hyping Georgia's voting problems, saying any report like the one you just saw is fake news.

Drew Griffin, CNN -- Washington.


VAUSE: Next up on NEWSROOM L.A. a new sex scandal hits the Catholic Church with an old allegation of a cover up. Hundreds of priests accused of abusing more than a thousands boys and girls.


VAUSE: Tributes are coming in from around the world for the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin. The 76-year-old is said to be gravely-ill and now in home hospice care.

A source says close friends and family including singer Stevie Wonder visited the singing legend on Tuesday. And social media flooded with well-wishes and prayers from big names like Bill Clinton, Mariah Carey and Rod Stewart. Many fans are also sharing their own memories as well.

Over 300 predator priests have been accused of sexually abusing more than a thousand children and the Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania is accused of a cover up.


JOSH SHAPIRO, PENNSYLVANIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: These petitioners and for a time some of the diocese sought to prevent the entire report from ever seeing the light of day. In effect they wanted to cover up the cover up.

They sought to do the same thing that senior church leaders in the diocese we investigated have done for decades -- bury the sexual abuse by priests upon children and cover it up forever.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: All of this was revealed in internal documents from the diocese. The majority of the priests named in the report have died but two have been criminally charged including one who has pleaded guilty. The grand jury report covers decades of abuse and says the real number of child victims could be in the thousands.

Joining me now for more on this Father Edward Beck. Father Beck -- nice to have you with us. I want to point out that, you know, you're not here to be a spokesperson for the Vatican. You're here as CNN's religion commentator.

So with that in mind when you look at what is essentially, you know, a long, disturbing list of abuse including rape and molestation much of it covered up by officials in the church, you know, are there fears now that, you know, these problem is still obviously continuing but possibly far greater than anyone has realized before.

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: John -- it's an horrific report and it saddens me and I feel for the victims and the families and all of those affected by it.

One thing it does not do however, is lead me to believe that this problem is not being addressed or has not gotten better. I just want to -- and this isn't apologia or not making any excuses but this is 70 years we're talking about of reporting. And most of these cases cannot even be properly prosecuted because they're so old or the people are dead.

And since 2002 they Church has had in place a reporting requirement that was not in place before these cases. So none of these cases really or there are two who are new cases since 2002; they are old cases that now we have information about who the victims were, who the perpetrators were, who the bishops were who did not report them.

But I wouldn't let the report say that the problem is as bad as it was or hasn't gotten better. I don't think that would be an accurate assessment.

[01:44:59] VAUSE: Let's just look at internal documents here. It says about half a million of these documents which have been looked at by the court and what the investigators are saying is that the grand jury (INAUDIBLE) avoiding scandal over and over and over again which, you know, again, goes to that culture of a cover up.

At least that's what they believe that's what the church is looking at. And that is something which the church has been struggling with for a very long time.

BECK: Yes, certainly. And I think that that was bad choice on the part certainly because when reporting was not required the pastoral responsibility would have been to require it anyway. Of course you look at the victim's first and the concerns of the victims first, not your institution.

And so certainly bishops, on the advice of legal counsel I think made egregious errors in trying to protect the institution and not cause scandal. And I think that we're now seeing the repercussions of all of those bad choices; and I would call them simple choices.

But once again, I think since 2002 I don't think you find that to be the case. I think you find mandatory reporting now. Remember out of the 300 priests accused in this report, only two are being prosecuted. And that is two who were turned in by their diocese.

So these were not first and foremost apprehended by law officials but they were turned in by the church and that's why they're being prosecuted all in accord with the Dallas Charter since 2002.


BECK: So I think again, that just puts it into a certain context -- not to apologize, not to whitewash but to say that we're looking at 70 years --


BECK: -- of bad management that has gotten better since 2002 but still is not perfect.

VAUSE: Ok. And, you know, a good point to make and obviously you have a lot of hope that this was, you know -- will be the last of it but sadly probably not at this point.

Father Beck -- thank you so much. Appreciate it.

In New York a federal judge has denied a motion by lawyers for Harvey Weinstein to dismiss a sex trafficking case. British actress Kadian Noble l is suing the disgraced Hollywood executive claiming she was sexually assaulted in a French hotel four years ago. Noble's court documents say Weinstein promised her a film roll with the intention of coercing her to take part in a sex act. Weinstein's legal team denies the allegation and plan to appeal the court's ruling.

Well, to his supporters, the U.S. President just tells it like it is and that's what they like. But are the President's derogatory and downright nasty comments having a corrosive effect on the country. A conversation with CNN's presidential historian Douglas Brinkley is next.


VAUSE: In the year and 206 days of the chaotic Trump administration so far there has been one constant -- Donald Trump's ability to shock and outrage and to set a new low, it seems, in presidential behavior.

[01:50:05] On Monday critics and commentators declared a new low after the President snubbed Senator John McCain, refusing to say his name while signing a bill specifically named after McCain to honor his service. It was subtle by Trumpian standards but still disrespectful and mean.

Then came Tuesday and that tweet comparing former White House aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman, an African-American woman, to a dog. Not the first time this President has used dehumanizing language to describe minorities.

Whether it's calling African countries s-holes; or references to female journalists and bleeding; whether his belittling, demeaning or bullying this President's tone, language and abuse is unparalleled in U.S. history.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She is a low IQ individual -- Maxine Waters.

You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

Look at my African-American over here, look at him.

Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired.


VAUSE: But here's the question. Does it matter? Does character count? Does the abusive tone, the bigotry, the misogyny, the racism -- does it all trickle down.

CNN's presidential historian Douglas Brinkley is with us now from Austin, Texas. Douglas -- we seem to talk about this fairly often. But it's good to see you.


VAUSE: Ok. Well, other presidents have been known to use bad language to fly off the handle. Nixon was famous for that but, you know, that was in private. Publicly at least, they seem to maintain a sense of dignity, of being above the fray.

Does it matter that this president seems to want to get into the gutter and mix it up.

BRINKLEY: Well, we are in a -- we have a problem in the United States. In many ways President Trump's an existential threat to civility in the country. Every day, he hits a new low moment, trying to create disharmony, disunite the country.

You know, I have to pull back as a presidential historian and ask myself have we had other presidents say since the civil war of the 1860 when slavery was abolished -- have other presidents been this bigoted. No, the trophy goes to Donald Trump.

He has a long and checkered career with racism, not just against African-Americans but Mexican-Americans, people of color around the world.

And you rightfully mentioned that he demeaned John McCain's and the big day of his -- the defense bill with McCain's name on it. He wouldn't even mention his name. This was a great Vietnam War hero akin to somebody like John Glen, the Mercury astronaut or Audie Murphy during World War II.

And you know, the reason McCain hates Trump is that he wouldn't endorse him was because Donald Trump wants to cut a full page ad in the "New York Daily News" falsely accusing African-American men of rape in Central Park.

So the history of bigotry with Donald Trump is long and hard. And we'll have to see whether in the midterm elections, people -- now that they really see those are his true color, not just stunts -- reject him and at least get a balance of power by getting Democrats in control of Congress.

VAUSE: You know, in some recent polling it shows an overwhelming number of Americans believe it important for their president to be civil. Clearly that is not going to happen with this president. But I'm wondering, is there a contagion here. Does the President's behavior impact the character of the nation both collectively and individually?

BRINKLEY: Well, you know, the United States can be brash. I mean we have Las Vegas as a symbol. And Donald Trump owns casinos and, you know, a lot of bling and neon signs and the like.

We've never really had that experiment in the White House. Donald Trump calls himself a business man but he never had to answer to a corporate board, really. He's been his own boss running a family business -- more of a mobster kind of figure. But the idea was that he's not politically correct and he shoots from the hip and that would be refreshing.

But I think Trump fatigue setting in. What seemed at one point to be just astoundingly bizarre is now just becoming repetition. And you're seeing that people, you know, where some Republicans slowly, very slowly -- history is going to mark how slow Republicans are to distance themselves from Donald Trump, recognize that this is a president that may not be fit for command.

VAUSE: You know, James Madison wrote back in one of the federalist papers "Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm." You know, clearly Donald Trump is in another category altogether.

But I'm wondering, you know, beyond the sort of the back and forth of verbal knife fight, you know, like Omarosa is there a corrosive effect when he continually goes after institutions like the intelligence community, like FBI, like the judiciary, like the media.

[01:55:09] BRINKLEY: There's no question about it. He's damaging the United States right now. He was on world display in Helsinki when he praised Putin and their intelligence service while dissing our own CIA, FBI and law enforcement.

This is a president that there's no bottom to. It just keeps going. Why though? Why?

We're seeing in history -- I mean that we have somebody with a dictatorial bent. The word narcissism has probably been used in the United States since the rise of Trump more than any other.

But the question is, is this a mirror of ourselves. Is this what America's begun. I think not. I think in the end Donald Trump will be seen as a weird aberration. Even at this juncture with the economy doing very well in America he only has about a 42 percent approval rating.

And when it comes to the Mueller investigation he's down into the 30s meaning two-thirds of the people want Mueller to do his job and Donald Trump to testify before Mueller and, you know, give a deposition.

So, you know, I tell people around the world don't give up on hope on the United States. We've had a string of great president. Think about people like FDR and Harry Truman and Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Obama -- and we've hit a bad apple here and people are trying to make sense of it all.

Part of it is for lack of people engaged in democratic process, not enough people voting. People just sick of politics; they don't like Democrats or Republicans. So in order for democracy to work the public has to be engaged more. And we'll see if this is a historic midterm in terms of turn out coming up this November.

VAUSE: Yes. It is truly an interesting and a bizarre time to be in the U.S. in the worst politics and everything that's happening.

Douglas -- as always, thank you. Good to see you.

BRINKLEY: Hey, thank you.

VAUSE: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. The news continues here on CNN after a short break.


[02:00:09] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Search and rescue efforts are ongoing after a major bridge collapse.