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Death Toll from Genoa Bridge Collapse Rises to 39; Critics Slam Vatican's Silence on Sex Abuse Report; Trump Revokes Security Clearance of Former CIA Director; Judge Deciding Fate of Accused Killers of Kim Jong-nam; At least 48 Killed in Kabul Suicide Bombing; Trump's Enemies List; Omarosa versus Trump; Predator Priests; Italy's Bridge Nightmare. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired August 16, 2018 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour: Richard Nixon tried to hide his enemies list. On Wednesday Donald Trump's was announced publicly as he moves against some of his most vocal critics.

Grief turns to anger in Italy while investigators continue to search for a reason for why a major bridge collapsed.

Plus for months, they were separated, taken away at the U.S. border. But now a reunion, thanks to the infamous lawyer for a porn star suing the president.

Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm John Vause. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.


VAUSE: In a move that has all the hallmarks of attacks on his critics, Donald Trump has revoked the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan and has warned others could be next. This is uncharted territory and, according to Brennan, he found out while watching television.


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I was called by a friend and associate when Sarah Huckabee Sanders was giving that statement. So I had no knowledge of it beforehand. No one contacted me. I have not heard anything from any government official since then nor before then.


VAUSE: Not only was Brennan surprised. CNN has learned the CIA was caught off guard and the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, was not consulted. CNN's Kaitlan Collins begins our coverage from the White House.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The White House tonight changing the subject, announcing President Trump has revoked former CIA director John Brennan's security clearance in a highly unusual move.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'd like to begin by reading a statement by the president. I have decided to revoke the security clearance of John Brennan, former director of the CIA.

COLLINS (voice-over): Sarah Sanders claiming Brennan leveraged his position as he criticized the Trump administration.

SANDERS: Mr. Brennan has leveraged his status as a former high ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the Internet and television about this administration.

COLLINS (voice-over): But the White House was unable to cite any evidence Mr. Brennan misused his intelligence access or monetized his proximity to it.

Asked if this is tied directly to his criticism of Trump, Sarah Sanders said this:

SANDERS: Not at all. The president has a constitutional responsibility to protect classified information and who has access to it.

COLLINS (voice-over): Brennan responding to the White House bombshell today.

BRENNAN: If security clearances are now going to become a political tool in the hands of individuals such as Mr. Trump that, I think, will send a very, very chilling message to individuals in the government currently, former officials who still hold their clearances as well as the future generation of intelligence and national security professionals.

COLLINS (voice-over): Yet the White House is also reviewing clearances for nine other Democratic officials who criticized the president, including...

SANDERS: James Clapper, James Comey, Michael Hayden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and Bruce Ohr.

COLLINS (voice-over): One name not on that list, former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russian officials. Yet, the president never revoked his clearance. Asked why he is not on that list, the White House deflecting today.

SANDERS: Again, certainly, we would look at those if we deemed it necessary and we'll keep you posted if that list gets updated. COLLINS (voice-over): The president's statement on clearances, dated July 26th, nearly three weeks ago. But it was just announced today as the White House struggles to defend itself from a crisis of its own making, the fallout from former staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman's tell-all book.

The president remaining behind closed doors today as he lashed out at the special counsel on Twitter, calling the investigation "a rigged Russian witch hunt with no credibility."

That, as his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, argues the facts are up to them.

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: The eye the beholder.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: No, facts are not in the eye of the beholder. You're always welcome here to argue the case.

COLLINS: John Brennan saying today he does believe this is retaliation in direct response to his criticism of the president. Now the White House hasn't given a clear deadline for when the president will decide whether or not he's going to revoke the clearances of those other officials that are on their target list.

So we will be waiting to see the timing of those. But of course this all comes as we have not seen the president in the last two --


COLLINS: -- days, with no public events on his schedule Tuesday or Wednesday. We will be waiting to see what he does on Thursday -- Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.


VAUSE: To many, this decision to revoke security clearances of former government officials is nothing less than a blatant attempt to silence some of the most critical voices of this administration.

Former CIA director John Brennan went further in a tweet, warning it was part of a broader effort to suppress free speech and punish critics. Mostly the outrage seems to be coming from Democrats like Senator Mark Warner.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VA., BUDGET COMMITTEE: It appears obvious to me this is a White House that feels under siege because of the president's former campaign manager's trial and obviously some of the issues with his former staffer, Omarosa.

This is an attempt to distract the American public from those items that this White House faces on a daily basis. I guess, to me, this had an eerie memory of an enemies list.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: An enemies list was first revealed during the Watergate hearings into the Nixon administration. While comparisons between Presidents Trump and Nixon are nothing new, keep in mind what Senator Warner just said and now listen to this clip from a PBS documentary about Richard Nixon.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): A sense of being under siege pervaded the White House, fueled by the leaks, the constant anti-war demonstrations and intensifying criticism in the press. In this atmosphere of us versus them, Colson's office began an ever-expanding list of Nixon's critics, the enemies list.


VAUSE: So just replace the words "anti-war demonstrations" with "Robert Mueller investigation" or "Paul Manafort trial" and here we are, Trump-Nixon.

Joining us here now in Los Angeles, actually in the studio with us, CNN contributor and former ethics czar for the Obama administration, Norman Eisen.

It's good to see you. Thank you for coming in.

NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: John, thanks for having me.

VAUSE: Sometimes I feel this comparison between Trump and Nixon is overdone and not entirely accurate. But in this case it seems to be a mirror image.

EISEN: It is, John. And having worked in the White House, in good days and bad ones, it is a pressure cooker. And the test of the character, the caliber of a president is how they respond to those pressures.

And like Nixon, Trump is displaying his worst, most vindictive and I think self-destructive side in compiling these enemies list. The striking thing is that Nixon at least had the decency and the shame to try to hide his enemies list. Trump is broadcasting it. So it signals his shamelessness. And that is different.

VAUSE: OK. A spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence -- and we should note, the DNI was not consulted during this entire process -- told CNN, "The president has the ultimate authority to decide who holds a security clearance."

In other words, no comment. But that statement in and of itself is accurate.

But does that mean there is no legal recourse?

Is there no check on this presidential authority?

EISEN: There is a check on everything the president does in the United States. It is our Constitution. And in the Webster v. Doe case, acknowledging that a president has extremely broad latitude in security clearance determinations, the court did hold that there may be some situations where there is a constitutional violation and the court has the power to review that.

John, in the United States, no person is above the law. Our most fundamental law is the Constitution. In this case, because it looks like the president was punishing John Brennan for his speech, of course, that runs into the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech.


EISEN: It's a terribly high bar. The problem is not the underlying constitutional issue, which I think is a pretty clear one. It is getting to it. It is the power of a court to review a presidential decision. That's what the line of cases that include Webster v. Doe established. So it is a tough bar.

VAUSE: I think you know pretty much everyone who has been named has been called out, the other nine names along with Brennan, who have been warned, because they all worked for President Obama, right?

You know, what is interesting though is that a name not on the list is President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He lied to Michael Pence.

He's now helping Robert Mueller with the Russia investigation. We don't know if he still has his security clearance and we still don't know -- his absence from the list seems to be that this administration isn't even trying to hide --


VAUSE: -- the fact that this is political.

EISEN: Well, Trump is shocking in these crimes of omission, John. It is not just what he chooses to say to the people he chooses to attack and vilify. But it is what he doesn't say. Our country -- I'll take the most outrageous example. Our country was attacked by Russia. Our elections were attacked.

There is no doubt about it. And yet, he's constantly calling it a witch hunt and attacking Bob Mueller, the FBI and the DOJ. He never seems to have anything negative to say about Mr. Putin. So yes, I think that the omissions of this president are as damning as the commissions.

VAUSE: It is interesting because you mentioned the Mueller investigation. On another related topic here, after the former FBI director, James Comey, had that conversation with the president, the president asked Comey allegedly to go easy on the national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Comey did what any law enforcement official would do. He went or witnesses about those conversations basically to corroborate what was said. He shared the details with the lisa (ph) group at the FBI, including the deputy director, Andrew McCabe; chief of staff, Jim Rybicki; general counsel, James Baker; Lisa Page, who was chief counsel to the deputy director. All of them cooperating witnesses and all of them -- what, by coincidence? -- have left the FBI. Either they have been fired or they've been forced out.

EISEN: Well, John, there is no doubt that it is targeting of the corroborating witnesses. Trump is going as far as he can. You have the feeling almost of a cornered -- a man who is desperately trying to find a way to lash out. And he has chipped away one after the other.

Now some of them were involved in conduct that has been found to be highly questionable by independent reviewers, the inspector general. But many of them are among the finest public servants our country has had.

As it happens, Jim Baker now sits down the hall from me at Brookings. He is a magnificent patriot, a wonderful expert and an upstanding individual.

And I think it is a shame the way the president has done it. And John, what's worse, these individuals, like Mr. Baker, are the front line of defense at the FBI. They're the most talented, experienced, dedicated people. Jim is a counter intelligence expert.

To take them away from our nation's defense and to smear them gratuitously is a disservice to the president's oath to protect our country.

VAUSE: Yes. And protect the Constitution as well. Norm, as always, it is so good to see you. Thank you very much.

EISEN: John, so nice to be able to do it in person for a change.

VAUSE: Very good.

EISEN: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, for more joining us now political analyst Michael Genovese and criminal defense attorney David Katz, who is also an assistant U.S. attorney for Los Angeles.

So good to have you both with us. OK. We should make this point. John Brennan has been a very strident, one of many strident critics of President Trump. Here is a sample of the stuff he's been saying.


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think Donald Trump has badly sullied the reputation of the office of the presidency with his invective, with his constant disregard, I think, for human decency.

That's why I use the term that this is nothing short of treasonous because it is a betrayal of the nation. He is giving aid and comfort to the enemy.



BRENNAN: I am at a loss of words to describe just how outrageous his words, his statements, his behavior has been.



BRENNAN: He lacks Integrity. He's dishonest. He's mean-spirited.


VAUSE: OK, David, to you, from what we heard here, it is harsh. It is an opinion.

But do those comments rise to the standard of unfounded and outrageous allegations?

Even if they did, were any laws broken here?

Is there anything wrong with what he's done?

DAVID KATZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, they weren't unfounded. They weren't outrageous. He didn't do anything wrong. He has a right to speak out. He has a First Amendment right to speak out and not be interfered with or obstructed by the government.

On top of that, he certainly has the right to say things which have not used government secrets. No one has accused him of having used government secrets, of having breached somehow his confidences that he had from the time he was in the government.

I can't breach my confidences from the time I was in the government. I had a security clearance. I had a defense contractor case. I can't tell you details about that. But I have a right to be on your show and express my opinion and be on anyplace I want to.

And he has that same right. And this just seems like political retaliation in violation of the First Amendment and probably in violation of due process because no one seems to have cleared this decision --


KATZ: -- within the government.

VAUSE: OK. Well, the statement from the president, the official statement revoking Brennan's security clearance, was dated July 26th, three weeks ago. The explanation for the delay, President Trump claimed in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal," he was prepared to take the security clearance action against former CIA director John Brennan last week but said it was too hectic.

Last week Donald Trump was on a working vacation at his golf club in New Jersey. So, Michael, others have made the point here that this issue, you know, this revoking security clearances, it is an evergreen for this administration. They rolled it out three weeks ago when there was some bad headlines and they're just rolling it out again as a distraction from the Omarosa scandal and from the Paul Manafort trial.

So to you, which seems likely?

The working vacation was too hectic or there was a lot of bad news this week?

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the White House retracted that statement with the July date and reissued it under today's date. And so they were caught in a mistake. This was clearly an effort to upstage the Omarosa headlines, that were ugly and harsh and calling a woman a dog.

Really, you want to get it off the front pages and so this was clearly intentional. And it was effective because that's exactly what we're talking about right now.

VAUSE: David, is this a bit like the old story from the days of the Berlin Wall, where the man rides his bike across the border and has a bag of sand on the back. And every morning the guards search the bag of sand, looking for contraband.

And eventually they find nothing. But the guy is actually smuggling bicycles. And no one is actually paying attention to what's really going on here.

KATZ: Well, this does seem like distraction. The Omarosa headlines were bad. It was kind of tabloid TV. But he got down in the gutter and he was sniping with her. To call her a dog is never a good idea. That is not presidential by anyone's stretch.

You know, I worked under President Reagan. He was very effective. He was also controversial. He didn't engage in this kind of rhetoric.

VAUSE: He was a many who always wore a jacket in the Oval Office.

The president may be trying to distract attention from these issues but in particular the Russia investigation, which continues on. But his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, seems to be doing his best to keep that in the spotlight.

He told Bloomberg (INAUDIBLE) down now on Robert Mueller's investigation, quote, "If he doesn't get it done in the next two or three weeks, we will just unload on him like a ton of bricks. Write the damn report so we can see it and rebut it."

Michael, that sounds like a threat. And maybe a little more than just another shot in this ongoing media war that Giuliani is having with Robert Mueller.

GENOVESE: It is a threat and I think the target was very clear and the reason was very clear. It also leads you to think that maybe there is a firing in the not too distant future. But for a long time we thought Rudy was just out of his mind, saying ridiculous things. But I think there is method to Rudy's madness.

And that is because, while he is an attorney and he is the president's attorney -- and this is an important legal question -- I think Rudy really thinks the president, probably on the law, is going to be in a weak position.

And therefore, it's going to take -- precedence is not the law but politics because a report that Mueller issues will go to the assistant attorney general and then it will go to Congress.

That means that he has to head off any kind of discussion of impeachment. So I think what's happened in the last week or two, politics has trumped the law where Rudy is concerned. And he's trying to shift attention away from the legal issues and more toward politics.

VAUSE: David, you were an assistant U.S. attorney. Rudy Giuliani was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District in New York.

Has he forgotten everything about the law at this point?

KATZ: Well, his defense is -- I used the word "unhinged" before it became the title of that book. But it's sort of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I have been on both sides. Now that I'm a criminal defense attorney -- and I have won some cases but I've won them by careful preparation, by really knowing what I'm doing in the case.

This flailing your arms and threatening and we're going to unload, this is like a lot of people talk and then you say look at the evidence. Look at what the government actually has against you. And I agree with the professor, that when you look at the evidence, what thin ice Giuliani is standing on.

If he fights the subpoena, I thought he would lose. I thought he might get some delay -- not that great, actually, because there are very strict time limits. But he'll get some delay.

What will that achieve?

He'll probably be past the election and maybe with a Democratic House.

VAUSE: OK. (INAUDIBLE) Omarosa because the reviews are in for her tell-all book, titled, "Unhinged," about the White House. "Entertainment Weekly" writes, "It is the 'Fire and Fury' sequel you never wanted."

"That is the logical next step in our collective, steep, seemingly endless descent toward disgrace."

From "The Week," "The biggest problem is 'Unhinged' is not that it's ultimately a shaggy dog story or that it's full of bad writing and atrociously edited but simply that it is not convincing."


VAUSE: Despite all that, Michael, it is still number two on Amazon and that is a problem for the White House.

GENOVESE: That's why you take away Brennan's security clearance away today so that we talk about that. But this was just an ugly incident, calling a woman a dog. It was the president governing from the gutter. He wants to take us there as well.

There's an old saying; in a democracy, you get the government you deserve.

I think we must deserve better than this because this has gotten really ugly and personal. The president's often small and petty. But in this, it seems like Omarosa is beating him at his own game. I think that is --


VAUSE: -- strangely silent over the last 24 hours after that dog tweet.

GENOVESE: Licking his wounds perhaps.

VAUSE: Also, David, Omarosa continues on this book tour. She keeps saying outrageous, unfounded things, like the president wants to start a race war.

Are there any legal options for this White House to stop her from saying this kind of stuff?

KATZ: She's got some tapes that back up a lot of her allegation. She's got a tape of her in the Situation Room, which is mind-boggling, that General Kelly would not have better security measures than that, than to prevent this woman from taping the Situation Room of the United States.

When people get their arms around that, you say this is unbelievable. He's actually filed a lawsuit. I believe his campaign did against her, today or yesterday, wanting $10 million in damages.


VAUSE: -- arbitration but that just seems like a very long road. And that's mostly about the recordings, not about what she's saying on the tour.

KATZ: Well, I think what they're saying is that she violated the nondisclosure agreement. They want that to go to arbitration because there is an adhesion clause in the contract, like when you go online -- you go to the parking lot, the contract says you have to go to arbitration.

But she'll fight that vigorously. And I do not see a judge ordering her to pay any substantial sum of money. This is to try to silence her. VAUSE: So essentially they don't have a lot of options here legally, which is why he's trying to bludgeon her from the tweets and going after her credibility, I guess. OK. David and Michael, come back next hour because there is a lot more to get to. Thanks, guys.

Turkey is hitting the U.S. with new tariffs on cars, alcohol and tobacco while, at the same time, saying it doesn't want a trade war. This is all part of an ongoing political fight over an American pastor under house arrest in Turkey. The U.S. is demanding his release and earlier this week imposed punitive tariffs. The U.S. vice president has also tweeted a warning.

"Pastor American Brunson is an innocent man held in Turkey and justice demands that he be released. Turkey would do well not to test President Trump's resolve to see Americans who are wrongfully imprisoned in foreign lands returned home to the United States."

Turkey's foreign minister says while he wants to find a solution, he will not give into threats.


TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Despite everything, we are ready to talk about everything as two equal partners, to solve existing problems. I speak openly. But on one condition. There will be no threatening language, no dictating.


VAUSE: A lawyer for Pastor Brunson says their latest request for a release has been denied by a court. Brunson is facing espionage charges stemming from a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This dispute has triggered a currency crisis for Turkey. But Qatar has now stepped in with a promise to invest $15 billion U.S.

Well, it is sweeping in scope and horrific in accusations but it is being met with a stony silence at the very top. A Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of clergy sexual abuse of children and cover-ups by priests and bishops within the Catholic Church.

So far, the Vatican has not responded to the report and that silence is not sitting well with many Catholics in the U.S.


JIM VANSICKLE, CLERGY ABUSE SURVIVOR: I think the Vatican and the pope should be ashamed of themselves. As a Catholic, I always was taught that we're all fallible. We're all going to commit sin. We were born with sin and that our job is to lay that sin at the feet of Jesus and ask for forgiveness. And the church is not doing that for themselves.


VAUSE: The report spans seven decades and accuses more than 300 priests in Pennsylvania of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children in six of the state's eight Catholic dioceses. It says the top church officials were involved in a systematic cover-up. The grand jury's words are damning. "Priests were raping little boys and girls and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing, they hid it all."

Some victims now are speaking out about the abuse they suffered and its enduring impact it's had on their lives.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were taught the priests and the nuns are God.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just things like the word God makes me think of him and I just...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're being groomed to get --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- used to a grown man's hands, you know, on you regularly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So he would always have his hands on me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you have the priests touching you every day, you know, that's a hard memory to have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was very unaffectionate. I couldn't show any affection with my wife.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had no desire to have children, none, because of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My children, I couldn't hold or hug.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't feel comfortable at all. I still don't feel comfortable now in relationships.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No kids for me.


VAUSE: Only two priests are facing charges; under a Pennsylvania state law, the statute of limitations on most of the other cases has now run out, which means criminal charges cannot be filed.

When we come back, Italy is mourning the dozens killed in a Genoa bridge collapse. Now the focus is turning to the company charged with maintaining the bridge.



(MUSIC PLAYING) VAUSE: Italy has declared a one-year state of emergency for Genoa following the deadly bridge collapse. Crews are skill scouring through the rubble but hopes of finding any more survivors are now fading. At least 39 people are dead, including three children.

It's not clear yet how a large section of the Morandi Bridge actually collapsed but the government says the company in charge of maintaining it will have its permit revoked. The company said it met its obligation and its work was in line with top international standards. Ian Lee has more now on the collapse and the reaction from one of the survivors.


IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fifty years ago, the Morandi Bridge was celebrated as revolutionary, state-of-the-art, meant to solve Italy's traffic problems. Now a mangled mess, this bridge will be remembered for one of the deadliest accidents in the country's modern history.

Rescuers still scour the carnage for survivors. Hope fades by the hour. Davida Capello (ph), a firefighter and former soccer player, is a survivor. He was on the road when it disappeared.

DAVIDA CAPELLO, BRIDGE COLLAPSE SURVIVOR (through translator): I found myself going down in my car. I thought that it would be the end, that I was going to die. Then my car stopped. The car hit concrete and it got stuck.

I touched myself to see whether I was still in one piece as it was a massive shock. I then called the firemen straightaway and they were the ones who helped me first. Then I managed to get out of my car. I was helped out of my car by the rescue teams.

LEE: Davida's car is still in that mound of twisted steel and concrete. Alongside the wreckage is the neighborhood of San Pederina (ph). We spoke with a family who lives literally underneath that bridge in the shadow of danger.

LEE (voice-over): They are part of hundreds of residents evacuated to a nearby shelter. They are relieved but angry.


GAVINO DELOGU, LIVES NEAR COLLAPSED BRIDGE (through translator): For years and years, we spoke about disappointment about the bridge and the structure. As time went by, chunks of the bridge fell down. It was a tragedy we anticipated.

LEE: Genoa's mayor confirmed to CNN the bridge needed repairs and said, the national government had contracted the work out to Autostrade d'Italia, a privately owned company. They say maintenance work was underway.

But it's too late, the tragedy, residents predicted, happened, for the whole world to see, Ian Lee, CNN, Genoa, Italy. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Two innocent women duped or were they recruited by North Korea as assassins. When we come back, we'll have more on the hearing for two women accused of murdering the half-brother of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause, with the headlines this hour. Catholics in the U.S. are urging Pope Francis to respond to a damning new report of clergy sex abuse.

(INAUDIBLE) grand jury details more than 300 cases, more than 1,000 child victims over seven decades. Bishops are accused of a cover-up, but now, though, the Vatican has remained silent.

U.S. President Donald Trump has revoked the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan. The White House claimed Brennan made a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations. Brennan calls it a political move and a chilling message to intelligence and national security officials.

The hopes of finding survivors, after Tuesday's bridge collapse in Genoa, Italy, are now fading. At least 39 people are dead, including three children. The government managed to revoke the permit for the company in-charged with maintaining the bridge. A company's executive said there was constant monitoring and no indication of potential danger.

A judge in Malaysia is deciding the fate of two women accused of murdering the half-brother of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Live now to Ivan Watson, following all the developments from Hong Kong. So, I guess, Ivan, we're going to hear from the court on one pretty big question, were they pawns duped by North Korean agents into murder or were they actually recruited by North Korea as assassins?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the judge is speaking, now, John. He's actually been speaking for some 2- 1/2 hours, we're told by a reporter in that courtroom. And this is, of course, all has to do with that brazen daylight assassination in Kuala Lumpur's international airport, where the half-brother of North Korea's leader was assassinated, poisoned with a banned substance, a V.X. nerve agent.

[00:35:06] So we have heard from the prosecution, it wrapped up its case in June, basically, accusing two women, an Indonesian woman named Siti Aisyah, and a Vietnamese woman named Doan Thi Huong, of carrying out the assassination.

Four North Koreans have also been charged. But they all conveniently flew out of Malaysia within hours of the attack taking place. The defense has argued that the prosecution and the investigators did really shoddy work and they've also argued that the two women were pawns that they thought that they were basically auditioning for some, kind of, reality T.V. prank show. The judge, as he's been speaking, has not come to a complete conclusion yet. He has had some criticism for the prosecution, questioning why not any eye witnesses to the attack have been brought out and saying why have you basically just used security camera footage as your evidence of the actual attack?

But also questioning the behavior of the two women saying that the activities that they were behaving in were not funny and didn't amount to pranks in his eyes, and that their behavior, immediately after they believed to have smeared substance on the face of the victims, was highly suspect.

And so we're still waiting to find out, is it possible that the two women could be acquitted or as some Malaysian legal experts have argued, is it more likely that the judge will allow this trial to go forward and that we might hear in the weeks and months ahead, testimony, from the two suspects themselves? John.

VAUSE: Just very quickly, Ivan, even if there is a ruling that there is not enough evidence for this to move forward, that does not actually mean these women will walk free immediately.

WATSON: No. I mean, there is likely to be more legalese. And there is one scenario that's been proposed that the women could be possibly detained if they are acquitted for overstaying their visas in Malaysia, during their long incarceration there while awaiting this trial, John.

VAUSE: OK, Ivan, thank you, senior international correspondent, and Watson for us there, in Hong Kong. Appreciate it.

There's more violence to report from Afghanistan, a day after at least 30 soldiers and policemen were killed in the North of the country. A suicide bombing in Kabul, on Wednesday, targeted a school. At least 48 people were killed, 67 others wounded, so far, no claim of responsibility.

The Taliban actually denied involvement. The bomber detonated explosives as young Shiite men and women were studying for college entrance exams.

VAUSE: Coming up here, a mother and child reunion after President Trump's zero tolerance policy forced them apart.


[00:40:00] VAUSE: Well, for three months they were apart, mother and son, separated at the U.S. border. The Trump administration calls it zero tolerance, but one lawyer, a lawyer who was a constant thorn in the side of the U.S. president on another issue altogether, actually, intervened. We got details now from Sara Sidner, Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, the day started for the Ortiz family with tears of sorrow in a Houston court, but it ended in Guatemala City, with tears of joy. A mother and her son's first embrace after being separated for 81 days by U.S. immigration officials, 9-year-old Anthony Ortiz's biggest concern when he sees his mom, wiping her tearing away.

SIDNER: What did your son say to you and what did you say to him when you saw him after all this time?

ELSA ORTIZ ENRIQUEZ, MOTHER (through translator): I started crying for joy, but he kept telling me not to cry. Mom, don't cry, because he doesn't like to see me cry.

SIDNER: They were separated by immigration officials in May, when they crossed over the U.S.-Mexico border, illegally, fleeing Guatemala, the family running straight into the realities of a new Trump administration policy, to separate children from families as a deterrent to the undocumented.

Anthony, was one of at least, 380 children, HHS said last week, was still in U.S. custody with a parent who had been deported. The Ortiz's day did not begin with joy. It began with Anthony walking into immigration court, a hearing that ended in his tears.

A judge ordered he could go home, but that could take up to 60 more days. But Anthony had something others in his predicament didn't, a private attorney, the same man who represents porn star, Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, FAMILY ATTORNEY: This is an absolute outrage. If the President and Mr. Miller and the rest of his cronies, truly want people to come here, illegally, returned to their country as quickly as possible, then why did the government attorney repeatedly, upstairs, refuse to agree to what we asked for, namely to take this young boy home to his mother, today.


SIDNER: Avenatti had petitioned the court to allow him to take temporary custody of Anthony and take him home to his mother in Guatemala, immediately, all at Avenatti's expense. The government attorney refused Avenatti's request.

But less than eight hours after that hearing, with cameras surrounding him, HHS officials handed Anthony over to Avenatti and his co-counsel, Ricardo de Anda, with that, Ortiz was taking his first flight ever, a 3-1/2 hour flight from Houston to Guatemala.

All of this as Michael Avenatti has floated his interest in a potential 2020 presidential bid, leading to critics wondering if this was his foray into one of the hottest political battles going.

SIDNER: What do you say to critics who say this is a publicity stunt? How do you respond to that?

AVENATTI: Well, first of all, I don't know any critic that's saying it's a publicity stunt. This isn't a publicity stunt. I've been representing dozens of mothers and children for weeks now, traveling around the country, doing good work, having kids reunited with their parents. I mean, my record speaks for itself.

SIDNER: The Ortiz family didn't care one way or the other. For them, this was a miraculous turn of events that left the family whole again.

ORTIZ (through translator): Thanks to God. I have him here now. And thanks to Mr. Avenatti who has been so good to me since the beginning.

SIDNER: And Michael Avenatti said he was just happy to help. And as far as critics, he says he hadn't even begun thinking about potentially running for the presidency, until long after he began this case. John?

VAUSE: Sara, thank you, Sara Sidner for that. A very quick update, we're hearing from that court in Malaysia that these two women, the only two defendants who were standing trial for the murder of the brother of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader. They actually must put a defense forward.

So, it appears that this trial will be moving forward. These women now must put evidence. And, of course, we'll have a lot more details on this. CNN's Ivan Watson is coming to show. We'll check in with Ivan, later in the next hour.

You've been watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause. For now, "WORLD SPORT" is up next.



VAUSE: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour --