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White House Counsel Cooperating Extensively with Russia Probe; North and South Koreans Arrive at Border to Reunite; The Legacy of Kofi Annan; Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Scandal; FARC Children Learning to Live in Peace. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired August 19, 2018 - 03:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A key Trump White House official is said to be cooperating extensively with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Family divided long ago by the Korean War prepare for emotional reunions. We'll have a live report.

And the world remembers former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan.

Live from CNN Center, I'm Natalie Allen. Great to have you with us and this is CNN NEWSROOM.


ALLEN: The White House counsel is now said to be a central witness in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and cooperating extensively with the special counsel's office.

"The New York Times" reports Don McGahn has been cooperating with Mueller's team for the last nine months, even sitting down with investigators voluntarily for no less than 30 hours over at least three separate sessions.

President Trump insists he let McGahn do it. Ryan Nobles picks up the story from there.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump is reacting to the news that Don McGahn, the White House counsel, has sat down for a series of interviews with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, saying that it was his idea, that he had no problem with McGahn, doing so because he essentially has nothing to hide.

"The New York Times" reporting that McGahn spent more than 30 hours with the special counsel, revealing everything he knows about President Trump's role in their investigation and perhaps his attempts to obstruct justice, as they try and find out information as to whether or not the president's campaign was colluding with Russia during the 2016 campaign.

Make no mistake, there's a lot that Don McGahn knows about the last year and a half of the Trump administration. He was there during the leadup of the firing of FBI director James Comey, knows all about the president's comments and actions during that time.

He also knows about the president's obsession with putting loyalists in charge of the probe and of course he also knows about the president's at least thought processes related to perhaps firing the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

There was even a showdown between McGahn and the president, where he warned the president if he took that extraordinary action of firing Robert Mueller, that he was going to step down.

Now Don McGahn's attorney, William Burke, he is a personal attorney representing him, he put out a statement to CNN saying, quote, "President Trump through counsel declined to assert any privilege over McGahn's testimony. So Mr. McGahn answered the special counsel team's questions fulsomely and honestly as any person interviewed by federal investigators must."

And the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, also responding to this news, saying that McGahn was sanctioned to do it, that this was the legal team's idea and that the president had no problem with it because he, essentially, has nothing to hide.

And so both sides attempting to try and spin this to the benefit of their public relations plans.

But it's important to keep in mind, this story tells us more than anything that as much of the information that has come out about the Robert Mueller probe, there's still so much that we don't know about what Robert Mueller has uncovered -- Ryan Nobles, CNN, Berkeley Heights, New Jersey.


ALLEN: Joining us to talk more about it, Peter Matthews, political analyst, professor of political science at Cypress College.

And Troy Slaten, criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, both joining us via Skype from Los Angeles. Thanks for joining us.

Troy, according to "The New York Times" story, McGahn revealed everything he knows about the investigation. Here are the main topics from the report: Trump's mindset leading up to the Comey firing; the president's attacks on attorney general Jeff Sessions and any attempts to fire the special counsel.

Troy, help us understand the idea of White House counsel-turned- cooperating witness.

Does it sound like he helped or perhaps hurt the president?

TROY SLATEN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, because we weren't in there, in the questioning of the White House counsel by the special counsel, we don't know whether it helped or hurt.

But to say that this is unusual would be an understatement. For the White House counsel, that means the attorney for the President of the United States, to talk to somebody that is investigating the president, is highly unusual.

But the president waived not only any type of attorney-client privilege but also waived any claim of executive privilege.

ALLEN: And, Troy, so why did they do this?

One school of thought is McGahn sees himself as representing the office of the presidency and not the president himself. But he talked for 30 hours on three separate occasions. That sounds like a lot.

SLATEN: That does sound like a lot. And you know, there were -- I sat in on depositions myself that, you know, shouldn't have taken --


SLATEN: -- that long. Attorneys, especially when they're not in front of a jury, tend to ask a lot of questions. And it's possible that the special counsel investigators found out other information during the course of their investigation. And then they wanted to come back and talk to Don McGahn about it.

So Don McGahn looks at himself, like you said, as protecting the office of the presidency. It makes other observers worry that the president may have affected future administrations by giving up this claim of executive privilege and allowing the attorney for the White House to talk about private conversations that the White House counsel may have had with the president about things having to do with what the special counsel's investigating; namely, whether or not the president tried to obstruct the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the '16 election.

ALLEN: I want to ask you, Peter, do you agree with Troy, that this is unusual, uncharacteristic?

PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: It certainly is, 30 hours over a nine-month period?

This is an inside person. The White House counsel knew a lot of things that were going on.

Furthermore, I think there was a time when the White House counsel, Don McGahn, felt that the president might have been setting him up for a fall, to take the blame for any obstruction of justice.

Don't forget there's an -- intent is really important. Mr. Mueller has to establish intent in terms of corrupt practice. Collusion is not a crime but corrupt collaboration is very much -- conspiracy is very much a crime.

That's where the intent has to be established. So with McGahn speaking about detailed information of various incidents that relate to this, Mr. Mueller could have established intent, possibly.

ALLEN: So in part, do you think this was a move to say, with McGahn cooperating, with Trump's blessing, there's nothing to show here, there's nothing to reveal here?

MATTHEWS: Well, I think what happened was, at the beginning, the president said, let's just cooperate and that way we'll get over with it quickly. That's when he thought would happen but it didn't.

Mr. Mueller kept going on and on in terms of interviews. And it turned out differently than what the president expected. I think McGahn was able to talk a lot more than he otherwise would have more recently.

So this was not intended but something has happened here and I think it's very interesting to see what will come out of this in the end.

ALLEN: Mr. Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, indicated the fact that McGahn's cooperation came out, was publicized by "The New York Times," perhaps a move by special counsel to encourage the president to do the same.

What do you think?

MATTHEWS: That would be quite interesting and wishful thinking. Hopefully, he will do the same. I'm not sure anyone can encourage Trump to do anything if he doesn't want to do it. We'll wait and see what he will do.

But, yes, I think encouraging Mr. McGahn to talk, I think McGahn seeing he needs -- he has to be honest and straightforward -- and he was -- for 30 hours of testimony. Something here I think substantive could come out of this, very much so.

ALLEN: I heard analysis earlier on CNN that, back in the days of President Nixon, that he was seen as shrewd and could perhaps represent himself well.

However, this current president, President Trump, is known for mistruths and not even being honest with his own legal team. One lawyer at least quit over that.

So, Troy, what do you think as far as, will this White House get to a point that it would allow or encourage this president to speak?

Or is it best to maintain -- mum's the best when it comes to Donald Trump?

SLATEN: I think that's really anyone's guess, Natalie. There's no saying what will eventually happen with regard to the president testifying.

But it's important to note that the president's lawyers that he brought in, now, his personal lawyers, not the White House counsel's office, but his own personal lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb, both suggested to the president that he waive his claims of privilege to allow the White House counsel to cooperate fully with the special counsel.

So it was the president's own lawyers that said, we should take this open-book, transparent approach; they've given millions of pages of documents to the special counsel, told the special counsel that the White House's own lawyer is free to talk to you about anything that you want to ask him about.

That's pretty much being an open book. And whether or not it's going to come to bite the president in the behind later on, that's anyone's guess.

ALLEN: We'll have to leave it there. It will be an interesting week, though. Perhaps we'll have the Manafort verdict; the president may feel things closing in. And, of course, there are the Omarosa tapes. Much more to speak about next time, thank you both, Troy Slaten and Peter Matthews. Thank you so much, gentlemen.

A select --


ALLEN: -- few South Koreans are preparing for what will likely be an emotional few days; 89 people are registering to cross into North Korea on Monday for a brief reunion with their loved ones.

Thousands of families were separated by the Korean War and have not seen their relatives, if you can believe this, in nearly 70 years. Paula Hancocks joins us now from South Korea.

You've covered these reunions before, Paula. There are so many families who were separated by this war. But very few are fortunate enough to be granted a reunion.

What can you tell us about the upcoming one?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Over the past couple of hours there have been these families arriving here, ready for Monday morning, 8:00 am. They will be getting on the buses, driving north and crossing the DMZ and going to see family members they have not seen in decades.

There were countless families torn apart by the Korean War in the 1950s. And there have been a handful of families and these reunions that have managed to reunify these families back together. For these families, 89, they are considered the lucky ones; 57,000 people had applied to be part of this first round of reunions.

Certainly it is a drop in the ocean of the people that want to see their loved ones again, that actually are. And it is a race against time, because the majority of those within this round are 80 years and above. More than 20 percent of them are in their 90s.

And also just one tragic example of how time is running out for many people. There were supposed to be four more families that were involved in this. But in the past couple of days, they had to drop out due to health reasons, which would have been excruciating for them to have got so close and then have to pull out.

It really is an eye-opener to show just how time is running out for many of these families. As the Red Cross says, the push is to have as many of these reunions as quickly as possible to try and reunify some of these families.

ALLEN: So wonderful.

How long do they get to visit, Paula?

Once the visit is over, is there any chance that they can maintain any contact?

HANCOCKS: Of course, that's the bittersweet part. It's only three days long. They haven't see their family members for close to 70 years and then they have three days. It's highly choreographed, highly organized. There's just certain hours of each day that they will be allowed to sit down with their loved one.

Then, of course, they have to get on the bus, they have to come back across the DMZ into South Korea, knowing that it's more than likely the last time they will see them. Technically, they're not supposed to exchange phone numbers or addresses.

But we have known that in the past this does sometimes happen. Obviously, there is this desire to stay in touch.

I spoke to the head of the Red Cross as well and he said that he's working with his North Korean counterparts to try and push for more communication afterwards. He doesn't want just three days to be the end of it. He really wants to make sure that it can go on longer than that -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Wouldn't that be wonderful?

All right. Paula Hancocks will be covering these reunions for us. Thank you so much, Paula.

Rescue crews are in India, struggling to reach thousands of people trapped in the worst flooding in nearly a century in the southern state of Kerala. At least 345 people have died since the monsoon season began back in May. Those still trapped are now running out of food and drinking water.

These new pictures taken by CNN show a completely flooded community. The unprecedented rains have led to landslides and displaced hundreds of thousands, who are now staying in relief camps.

India's prime minister promises to deploy more soldiers and helicopters to rescue people. Narendra Modi toured the devastated region Saturday. He's pledging at least $71 million in assistance. His government estimates the floods have caused at least $2.7 billion in damages so far.

Let's talk about this with Pankaj Anand, the director of humanitarian response for Oxfam India via Skype from Delhi. Thank you for talking with us. First, let's talk about the scale of

this. We know that 300,000 people are in shelters and 1,500 camps.

Is there room enough?

Do they have enough food and water and medicine for the people there?

PANKAJ ANAND, OXFAM: Natalie, as you know, 1 million people are affected. As you rightly said, nearly one-third of them are living in camps in very difficult situations.

The biggest problem at the moment is clean drinking water, toilets. And there's a real fear of water-borne diseases. The access to dry rations, temporary shelters for people, these are the pressing --


ANAND: -- challenges for us.

ALLEN: I understand. Let's talk about the people who are stranded. Many people are cut off by floods and can only be reached by boat or helicopter.

Is there an estimate on the number of people who are still stranded and need rescue?

ANAND: We have no exact figure about how many people are stranded. But we know that numbers will run into thousands. So at the moment, rescue and relief are two big priorities.

ALLEN: Do they have enough helicopters?

Are there enough boats to try and find these people?

ANAND: The government of India has pressed boats and helicopters into service. But a lot of people are saying that they're still not enough.

ALLEN: I was reading, Kerala is a lovely area with beautiful beaches. But now some 10,000 kilometers of roads are damaged; even the airport in Kochi is closed.

How much of Kerala is submerged and how long might it take for this area to recover?

ANAND: Practically the entire state is submerged; of the 14 districts, 13 are very badly affected. The latest figures that I have is that 16,000 kilometers of roads are submerged.

If you take into account all roads in the state, rural roads and minor roads, the amount, the kilometers of roads that is submerged runs into 83,000 kilometers.

ALLEN: It's just tremendous. Yes, the worst flooding in a century and we can certainly tell from those pictures. We wish you the best. We know you have a lot of work ahead to help the situation. Thank you, Pankaj Anand with Oxfam India, thank you so much.

ANAND: Thank you, Natalie.


ALLEN: More than 1 dozen fans of the singing groups Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees were injured in Oklahoma when a powerful storm tore into an outdoor concert venue.

Staff began getting fans to safety after lightning was spotted nearby but not everyone listened. Witnesses say heavy rains and 120- kilometer winds knocked over structures by the entrance, threatening hundreds of people waiting in line. At least 14 were taken away by ambulances.


ALLEN: A beacon of peace has died. Nobel Peace Prize winner Kofi Annan's service to the U.N. was enormous. We look back at his life -- coming next.

Also children forced to fight in Colombia's civil war are learning now what it's like to live without conflict. CNN's Freedom Project goes to a place that's helping fill the void for children who have only known war.




ALLEN: Former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan is being remembered as a global statesman, a gentle man, who fought for a more peaceful world and sometimes fell tragically short of that goal. Annan died Saturday after a short illness. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was 80 years old. CNN's Richard Roth looks back at his legacy.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: To the end, Kofi Annan was a stubborn optimist. He served two terms as U.N. secretary- general, 10 years in all. He was first the U.N. director of peacekeeping, culminating a long run inside the U.N. system.

He then, as secretary-general, tried to reinvigorate the organization, redefining it, getting it involved even in social issues, such as AIDS and poverty, which the U.N. had traditionally avoided.

He always talked against world countries using military force, thinking that diplomacy could carry the day. And some accused him of being involved in not doing enough to prevent a potential genocide, which did occur in Rwanda, and the Balkan Wars from spreading.

Later in his second term, he got linked negatively in the oil-for-food scandal because his son worked for a company which won a lucrative contract.

Annan in 2001 did win the Nobel Peace Prize, as did the organization. Annan was widely praised for his humanity, his touch with people. And even opponents felt when he walked into a room that he might be able to solve this problem, where no one else had.

Kofi Annan will be remembered probably along with Dag Hammarskjold, as two of the most successful United Nations secretaries-general in history -- Richard Roth, New York.


ALLEN: Annan was 80 years old. He is survived by his wife and three children. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Days after a bridge collapse in Northern Italy, rescue teams are still searching for bodies buried in the rubble. One victim died in the hospital Saturday, raising the number of dead to 40.

The company that operated the collapsed bridge in Genoa, Italy, is vowing to rebuild it as soon as possible. But that is little reassurance to the families who lost loved ones and to people who say government negligence caused the disaster.

In just a few hours, Pope Francis is set to give his Sunday angeles prayer. The question on many people's minds, whether he will address the escalating clergy sex abuse crisis.


ALLEN: The Vatican broke its silence on the abuse and cover-ups in the United States, calling what is going on in this country "criminal and morally reprehensible." The pope has yet to respond.

A half-century of armed conflict by the FARC rebel group in Colombia is over and now children who were kidnapped or recruited by the militants to fight are learning to build their lives in peace.

The CNN Freedom Project, dedicated to ending modern-day slavery, visited a shelter that's helping them do just that. Here's Jacqueline Hurtado with the story.

JACQUELINE HURTADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): High above Colombia's capital city of Bogota sits Benposta, a shelter for children, victims of armed conflict.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The boys and girls who are right here were often recruited. They escaped usually because they were injured in combat. When they left the hospital, they reached out to us in order to get here.

HURTADO (voice-over): Benposta is home to over 160 children. Some are orphaned. Others sent there for their own safety. Many have seen or experienced things no child ever should.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We also see sexual violence. It can be related to the armed conflict or not. The poverty, that means that a lot of children go into the mines or are exploited in other forms of child labor.

The fact that many of the children that come here actually explain that what they did to me is fine, I can live with that but I can't get over what they made me do to others.

HURTADO (voice-over): In July 2018, FARC members were allowed to become legislators in congress as part of a promise made by the government to end half a century of rebel fighting.

But while FARC agreed to lay down their arms, other guerilla fighters continue their war in the jungles. That's why Benposta continues to operate, to provide safety and structure to children who have known only violence and fear.

That includes Monica, now 18. She's had the chance to get an education in a safe, nurturing environment.

MONICA, FARC CHILD (through translator): Where I'm from, sadly, I didn't study. I started working at 11 years old. But since I got here, I've been pursuing my dream. I want to be an actress and I want to see myself on all the TVs.

HURTADO (voice-over): Ready to move on from her past by focusing on her future, full of optimism and free of war -- Jacqueline Hurtado, CNN.


ALLEN: That is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. Our top stories right after this.