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States Throughout U.S. Launch Investigations into Predator Priests; Trump Administration Met with Rogue Military Officers on Plot to Overthrow Venezuela's President; Three Southern States Brace for Florence; Obama Speaks For Upcoming Election; Cohen To Stormy Daniels; Papadopoulos Gets 14 Days. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 8, 2018 - 17:00   ET



BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- there's always been a push and pull between those who want to go forward and those who want to look back, between those who want to divide and those who are seeking to bring people together, between those who promote a politics of hope and those who exploit politics of fear.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: The tone, even the former president's demeanor, not the former president we saw who was speaking just 24 hours ago in Illinois, unleashing pointed scathing attacks on President Trump. That Obama also breaking decades of precedent and presidential tradition, by not only mentioning his successor by name, but openly criticizing him.


OBAMA: It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He's just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been feigning for years. A fear, an anger that's rooted in our past but it's also born out of the enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief life times. We are Americans. We're supposed to stand up to bullies, not follow them. We're supposed to stand up to discrimination. And we're sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers.


HILL: Two days, two speeches, two different messages, two different Obamas. The one question, which of those is the one that Democrats need more heading into November?

Joining me now, CNN Political Commentator and Democratic Strategist Maria Cardona, CNN Political Commentator and "U.S. Today" columnist, Scott Jennings, who also served as special assistant to President George W. Bush.

Scott, the message former President Obama was putting out, even today, toned down as we saw, talking about Democrats being a place for independents, for Republicans. That message, reaching out to voters who were turned off by the extremes of either party. Is this the way he needs to go or is the fiery rhetoric going to be what brings people out, Scott?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, in a midterm election, typically, you're trying to maximize turnout among your base. Turnout in midterms is much, much lower than it is in presidential years.

So, I don't think there are going to be very many Republicans who are motivated to turn out and then pull the lever for Democrats. I don't think that's going to be a strategy that works.

Where former presidents are extremely helpful are on the fund-raising circuit. And if Obama is willing to get out there and do that for the Democratic Party, I'm sure he could pull in quite a lot of money for these campaigns.

But this message of bringing Republicans in to vote for Democrats, I find to be a fool's errand. They need to be rallying Democrats to turn out in as big a numbers as possible. And I would say that his presence on the campaign trail is going to be a reminder to Republicans about exactly what we're against.

So, I mean, there's no person, other than Pelosi, really, on the Democratic side who they're running against here. Obama may be the person now.

HILL: Well, (INAUDIBLE) Lindsey Graham, of course, is saying as much in a tweet yesterday after the speech. Noting the more President Barack Obama speaks about the good-old years of his presidency, the more likely President Trump is to get re-elected.

Maria, what do you make of that? There is -- there are plenty of Republicans saying, bring it on. Keep coming out. We want to hear from you.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, actually, I think Lindsey Graham portrays and betrays, I think, a little bit of fear, a little desperation on behalf of Republicans. I think they are worried that President Obama is going to get out there and really mobilize not just our base, but all of those decent Americans. Whether they're Democrats, whether they're dependents, whether they're Republicans who have not come out and voted before because perhaps they didn't think their vote counted.

What they are seeing now, from this commander chief, from the lack of efforts from the most corrupt administration we have had probably in our history is that America's future, America's civility, our very own democracy is on the line, and is on the ballot. And it's going to take all of us together to be able to bat down the bullying, the insults, the divisiveness, the uncivil way that this president has now said it's OK, to both his supporters and those who have actually had it in them before, to show their racism and to show their hatred.

[17:05:02] And I'm not saying that all Obama -- or all of Trump's supporters are racist. They are not. But there is absolutely a tinge of disgusting racism and white nationalism that this president speaks to and, frankly, urging. And that's what, not just President Obama, but all of the Democrats and independents and disaffected Republicans that he was talking to, that is what he was speaking to.

HILL: So, Maria, he was calling that out yesterday. And did not mince words yesterday. Where was all of that in the rhetoric today? The president talked about and -- didn't narrow in on any of those specifics. He wasn't specific. He didn't mention racism. He didn't mention immigration. He didn't talk about abortion rights, things that are divisive in this country. Things that could have people scared on his side of the aisle.


CARDONA: Well, he had done it yesterday, so I think that it was pretty clear how he feels about all of that. Like you said, he did not mince words yesterday. And I think today what he was talking about -- and I loved it, by the way. I love these two sides. Because, frankly, you asked at the beginning which side, which Obama do Democrats need most? They -- we -- all of us, the country, not just Democrats, we need both. We need for people to remind us just what it is and how urgent it is that we are fighting for. We're fighting no less than the future of our country.

But we need to also hear that hope, that optimism that he is so good at underscoring and making people feel hopeful. And to understand that isn't up to him. This is not up to him. This is not up to anybody, except for all of us as we go out to the polls and vote for our future.

HILL: As we're looking at this, we do know that fear tends to motivate people more to get to the polls. As hopeful as everybody want to me -- may want to be with that message, it is often fear. And what you're hearing, frankly, from both the former president and the current president, saying it in different ways, is there is a fear here. That if you don't go with my party, you are going to be very unhappy come November.

Scott, who's the more effective messenger in peddling that fear and turning it into votes?

JENNINGS: Well, I think it depends on where you're campaigning. I mean, I don't think Barack Obama is going to be very effective in the big red rural states that have big-ticket Senate races. I mean, I doubt John Tester is going to want Barack Obama campaigning in Montana. I doubt you'll see him in Missouri or Indiana or West Virginia or North Dakota. I don't think any of those Democratic senators are going to want him.

On the other hand, Obama is probably got in a -- he is an effective messenger in the 25 House districts that Republicans represent, that Hillary Clinton carried in the 2016 election. But I don't think we should read too much into Barack Obama's magic here. The only person this guy was ever able to elect was himself. He oversaw the utter destruction of the Democratic Party. He left the DNC in shambles and turned it over to Hillary Clinton when she needed it most and it wasn't there for her. They lost a net 1,000 seats in state legislatures on Barack Obama's watch.

This guy is no magician. He was good for himself, but he destroyed his own party. And I don't know why Democratic strategists think rolling him out again is going to be any different this time around.

HILL: Maria, why is he the most effective voice in 2018?

CARDONA: Well, I wouldn't say he's the most effective voice. He is one of the very effective voices. Because what he does is, he -- Scott's right, he speaks to our base. He speaks to all those communities that, coincidentally, feel incredibly insulted and incredibly attacked and incredibly bullied by the current president of the United States.

He also speaks to the need for civic participation. He was right yesterday when he said, don't wait for a messiah. Don't wait for a savior. This is in your hands. And that, Erica, is the most important message, not just for Democrats, but for young people, for millennials, for disaffected Republicans, for those suburb Republican women who are disgusted that this is a president who is putting kids in cages and ripping them from the arms of their mothers.

And I do believe that they can come out and vote against the hapless and spineless Republicans who have decided to turn their back and have done nothing to stand up to the dishonesty and to the possibly criminal behavior of this president. And that's what you're going to see is going to be at stake come November.

HILL: Does Barack Obama -- you know, I asked -- I asked Maria about this. But, Scott, I'm curious of your take. How much he does or does not help Republicans, to Lindsey Graham's point. Do they want to see him out there?

JENNINGS: Well, he's going to -- he's going to rally Republicans. I would ask Maria. She's run campaigns. I've been in campaigns. Maria, if you were running the Democratic campaign, would you spend $1.00 on a piece of direct mail with Barack Obama's face going to a Republican household saying, hi, I'm Barack Obama. Come vote Democrat.

CARDONA: Absolutely not. No, no.

JENNINGS: You would not. You would absolutely not. This is the issue here.

CARDONA: No, and that's not what they're doing, Scott.

JENNINGS: These Democrats think that Barack Obama giving speeches to Republicans.

CARDONA: They're not doing that. JENNINGS: You all think Barack Obama preaching at Republicans is

going to cause Republicans to vote Democrat. Republicans will vote Republican.

CARDONA: No, you're missing the point, Scott.

JENNINGS: Republicans support the president. They support the party and you are absolutely fooling yourselves if you think he is a messenger for disaffected Republicans. It is not going to happen.

[17:10:10] CARDONA: You're missing the point. He's a messenger for our base. But what I do think is that his message can resonate again. And I have spoken to these women for these Republic -- for these suburban Republican women who are nothing less than disgusted with the president of the United States, Scott. There is no other way to put it.

And you are seeing it in poll after poll after poll. This president has the lowest approval numbers. He is losing Republican women in droves. In the last poll, the last "Fox News" poll, he was even losing white men. I mean, this is a president that is in a debacle. Every single day, he gets bad news, you know, on the left and right. And the only thing he can do is continue to dig his own hole.

And what this president -- what President Obama is doing is putting the tools in the hands of Americans to ensure that they understand that this is in our hands to change. And it starts in November by changing the hands of the Senate and the members of the House of Representatives, who are the one whose are supposed to be putting a check on this president, not giving him a blank check.

HILL: So, question for you. Barack Obama does not have a great history, though, of something for candidates. And we don't have to look any further than 2016 and Hillary Clinton. Is it really different in 2018? And, if so, what changed?

CARDONA: Well, I do think it's different. And I do think it's different because the lesson of 2016, and this is what Barack Obama was getting to yesterday, is that there were way too many people who stayed home, way too many people in our base, way too many people who, perhaps, thought Hillary had it in the bag. And this is why Donald Trump was elected.

And what he is saying -- and, again, we are not treating him as the be all and end all. It's fantastic that he's out there speaking and I want him to continue. But we need everybody out there. Our candidates, Erica, are the stars of this midterm election. They are more diverse than ever before and they are speaking to the issues that voters care about.

HILL: Maria Cardona, Scott Jennings, always appreciate your insight. Thank you.

CARDONA: Thank you, Erica.

JENNINGS: Thanks, Erica. HILL: The burning question at the White House and, frankly, around

Washington, who wrote that scathing "New York Times" op-ed about President Trump? New details today about the president's obsession with finding the author and the list of suspects.

Plus, after being convicted of lying to the FBI, George Papadopoulos breaks his silence in an exclusive CNN interview, next.



HILL: People close to the president say that he is obsessed. That's their word. Obsessed with finding out who wrote that opinion piece in "The New York Times" this week. Whomever is behind it, that person is described as a senior official in the administration. And there's no more mysterious whodunit this weekend than that author's identity.

Nearly 30 people, all senior officials, have publicly declared, it wasn't me. Even the vice president came out to deny it. President Trump telling supporters, aboard Air Force One, he has a good idea of where the person works.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think Jeff Sessions should be investigating who the author of the op-ed piece was?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think so because I think it's national security. I would say Jeff should be investigating the author of that piece. Because I really believe it is national security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And is there action that should be taken against "The New York Times"?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to see. I am looking into that right now.


HILL: CNN's Ryan Nobles is at the White House today. Ryan, I just want to point out a tweet from our colleague, Ana Navarro, who writes, the vice president had to put out a statement saying he was not the author of an op-ed about the president of the United States behaving like a mentally unstable toddler. In her words, this is not normal.

How are things feelings in that building behind you this weekend? Business as usual? Normal?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Erica, it's actually been relatively quiet at the White House this weekend, which that is abnormal for this administration. But we know that the president is stewing inside, angrily trying to figure out exactly who is the author of this op-ed. We're told that the White House has a sense that they've got it narrowed down to a small number of individuals who they think are or maybe could be responsible.

Now, we don't know who those individuals are, but we may have gotten some clue into their thinking, based on this interview that Kellyanne Conway did with Christiane Amanpour. Take a listen.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT: I'm not interested in the investigation. Those who are investigating, great. I really hope they find the person. I believe the person who suss himself or herself out, though, because that's usually what happens. People brag to the wrong person. They brag that they did this or they did that because they -- I assume part of this -- isn't the goal here not what the op-ed portends the goal is, Christiane. Isn't the goal here really to try to sew chaos and get us all suspicious of each other?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is that what's happening? Are you all getting suspicious of each other?

CONWAY: No, that isn't what happened.


NOBLES: And Kellyanne Conway went on to tell Christiane that she believes, likes the president, that it's someone from the national security apparatus. And also, that they don't believe this person actually works inside the White House. Now, that doesn't really narrow down the field all that much, Erica. There are thousands of people that fit that description. And we don't really know if the White House has any evidence that leads them to believe that this is the direction that they're going. We know the president is putting on the pressure. As you said, he is considering asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions who's outright asked him to launch an investigation. At this point, the Department of Justice has not commented on whether that's something they plan to do -- Erica.

HILL: And no word on whether anything is moving in that direction. Ryan, appreciate it. Thank you.

NOBLES: Thank you.

HILL: The president's former fixer, Michael Cohen, wants his hush money back from porn star Stormy Daniels. He wants all $130,000, and he wants it now.

[17:20:02] Cohen, in fact, wants to rip up his original pre-election deal with Daniels, and he wants it voided permanently. He wants to rescind the agreement. Remember, he had paid Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her silence over her claims of an alleged affair with Trump years ago. Well, her attorney, Michael Avenatti, says Cohen's move is just an attempt to keep him from deposing President Trump.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY: It's pretty transparent, at least at first blush to me. What they're trying to do is they don't want me to get a chance to depose Michael Cohen and Donald Trump. And this is a hail Mary to try to avoid that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the chance Cohen gets his money back?

AVENATTI: Well, I mean, ultimately, if the agreement is rescinded, then the chance is 100 percent. He gets his $130,000 back. There's no question.


HILL: The White House has said President Trump denied any alleged affair with Stormy Daniels.

Fourteen days, that is the prison sentence for former Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos. The crime, lying to FBI investigators about his contacts with Russian operatives before the 2016 election. The president, in response, tweeting, 14 days for $28 million, $2 million a day, no collusion, a great day for America.

Just before his sentencing, Papadopoulos sat down with CNN's Jake Tapper. Talked about how he handled the Russian's operatives offer of dirt on

Hillary Clinton.


GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: So, I sat down and I looked at the candidates -- I looked at candidate Trump directly in his eyes and said, I can do this for you, if it's in your interest and if it's in the campaign's interest. And the collective energy in the loom room -- of course there were some dissenters. And -- but the collective energy in the room seemed to be interested.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, "STATE OF THE UNION": The collective energy. Was Donald Trump interested?

PAPADOPOULOS: Well, he gave me sort of a nod. He wasn't committed either way. But -- so, it was -- I took it as he was thinking.

TAPPER: Senator Jeff Sessions was there, too, --


TAPPER: -- at the table. What was his response?

PAPADOPOULOS: My recollection was that the senator was actually enthusiastic about a meeting between the candidate and President Putin.


HILL: Michael Zeldin, former special assistance to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department, is with us now. So, Michael, first things first here. When we look at this, 14 days in prison for Papadopoulos. I mean, what does that tell us about what he may have told investigators? Because this is for lying. Fourteen days for lying.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right. And, remember, the special counsel wanted a longer sentence. They didn't believe that Papadopoulos gave them all the type of information they were hoping to get from him. But the judge felt that Papadopoulos, who was at the time 28 years old, was remorseful. And that he understood the mistake he made and that 14 days was adequate.

Now, listen, anyone who's ever been to a federal prison will not poopoo the notion of spending 14 days behind bars. It's a serious place to spend any amount of time. So, he's got 14 days in jail. A year's probation. Two hundred hours of community service. A$9,500 fine. You know, for a 28-year-old kid who made a mistake because he was, you know, sort of, enamored of the bright lights on a candidate who thought this was a witch hunt, probably fair enough.

HILL: So, you say it's fair enough. But, listen, we've already seen a reaction. We saw the reaction from the president and others who are saying, look, he's only getting 14 days. I mean, clearly, he didn't have anything good, if the sentence is that light. And Mueller's team was asking for far more. Is that -- I mean, can you make that connection?

ZELDIN: Well, I suppose you can say, if Mueller wanted more time, he felt that Papadopoulos didn't give them all that they thought he could give. And the big question was, and remains, did Papadopoulos tell the campaign about his contacts with operatives who claimed to have information about the Hillary Clinton e-mails? He says he doesn't remember that. I think that's the $64,000 question that's still outstanding.

But, all in all, the judge credited that he was trying to be forthcoming and that the sentence of 14 days was appropriate. Remember, you put this against the attorney who got 30 days, that was a mature adult who was, as an attorney, lying. And this was a kid who made a mistake. And so, you know, my view of this, having been both a defense attorney and prosecutor is, fair enough. Let the kid move on with his life.

HILL: The president, once again on Friday, raising concerns about what he seems to think could be a perjury trap, in his words, if he were to sit down with Mueller. The president apparently so concerned that he may not be able to tell the truth. Although, listen, if you lie and you get 14 days, maybe there's nothing to worry about. I don't know.

But, in all seriousness, as we look at this, do you think that an interview is, sort of, dead in the water, at this point?

ZELDIN: I don't think so. I believe that the real lawyers, working on behalf of the president, and that does not include Rudy Giuliani, are trying to work out an agreement, with Mueller which will start with written questions on collusion. And then, they'll see what happens with that.

[17:25:13] With respect to the obstruction questions. I think they are still trying to figure out a way to have that first be done in writing, and then determine whether or not oral questions are required. So, I think this is still a work in progress. I think we'll see more progress on it this coming week because it seems like the issue has been joined. And the Raskins and Flood, the real lawyers, are working closely with Quarles and Mueller to figure out what deal is doable.

HILL: Well, we'll be watching for that deal. Look, I want to get your take on something else. The government admitting now that it was wrong in claiming that the accused Russian spy, Maria Butina, had actually offered to trade sex for political access. Federal prosecutors saying they misunderstood some text messages there between Butina and her boyfriend. House significant is that error?

ZELDIN: Well, from her reputation standpoint, it's very significant. And I'm glad the government said, I'm sorry. We made a mistake. And that's not what she did. From the legal case of whether or not she did what she's accused of, I think that the sex aspect of it is not as significant.

HILL: Does it hurt at all, public opinion, when it comes to this? Because so much of what we're seeing in all of these cases, right. For many people, it's boiling down to public opinion, especially for things that we know nothing about. Like, for example, the investigation with the special counsel. So, how damaging is this headline, if at all?

ZELDIN: Well, I don't think it's all that damaging, in that the -- you know, sort of, the heart of this matter is her relationship with the National Rifle Association and the potential funneling of money into the NRA, an then into the Trump campaign. And I don't think, therefore, the did she trade sex for favors allegation is really all that germane to that more overarching support of NRA money and the Trump campaign and foreign nationals.

HILL: Michael Zeldin, always good to talk to you. Thank you.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

HILL: And you can catch Jake Tapper's full interview, with former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here, only on CNN.

In an unprecedented move, the New York attorney general opening an abuse investigation into every catholic archdiocese in the state. Sounds like a great headline. Is it too little too late? Up next, we will hear from a survivor. Stay with us. You're live in the CNN newsroom.


[17:32:11] HILL: Last month's stunning grand jury report out of Pennsylvania which detailed decades of sexual abuse by hundreds of predator priests that was covered up for decades. Keep in mind, this wasn't the first report of its kind to come out of the state. We saw reports out of the Philadelphia archdiocese. What's different this time around? It would seem the outrage may have

lit a fire. The New York attorney general this week issuing civil subpoenas for all diocese in the state as part of the civil investigation into how parts of the church reviewed and potentially covered up allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

CNN reached out to the attorneys general to all 50 states, each office, to see if investigations have been launched. Here is what we can tell you. In Texas, calls for thorough investigations even if it includes, quote, "the highest level in the church. In the state of Ohio, the diocese of Youngstown will publish the names of priests removed for sex abuse offenses. In Oklahoma, the diocese of Oklahoma City plans to review the files of every priest who has served since 1960. In Iowa, they're monitoring other A.G.s, looking at their options. Those are just a few of the highlights.

Joining me to talk about it, someone impacted by this, Shaun Dougherty, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a priest in Pennsylvania. He's been fighting to end the statute of limitations for all childhood investigations.

He joins me now.

When you see that, that's only a partial list. We were in touch earlier this week when we got word about New York. We got word about New Jersey. What does that mean when you see the steps certain states are taking?

SHAUN DOUGHERTY, SURVIVOR OF SEXUAL ABUSE BY A PRIEST: It's magnificent. This is pushing the envelope further. Here in New York the legislation has had the opportunity for decades to pass the child victim's act. It's not been going anywhere in the Republican-held Senate. Leader Flanagan refuses to bring it to the floor. It will pass overwhelmingly. The attorney general is going to give us more reason and give us excuse after excuse after excuse as to why this legislation shouldn't be delayed any longer.

HILL: What's the real holdup? Is it a lobby of some sort? Is it the Catholic Church in the state of New York, talking about New York or Pennsylvania? Where you grew up you're fighting for the law to be passed. Where is the resistance coming from?

DOUGHERTY: From lobbying efforts. The Catholic Conference of Bishops is spending incredible dollars -- there are lobby firms in Pennsylvania and Harrisburg at the base of the capitol steps, you can walk ten seconds down the street and you'll be at a number of lobbying firms that have full access to our Senate majority leadership. We are after millions of dollars being spent all over the country to block legislation. But now thanks to social media, thanks to the report and the hard work of Attorney General Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania and his team, we now are finding out this isn't an isolated incident in some third-world country. This is in every diocese in every state in our country, right in our back yards.

[17:35:28] HILL: When did that realization first hit you, that this is everywhere? DOUGHERTY: Honestly, freshman year of high school. My abuse stopped

in seventh grade. Nothing happened to me in eighth grade. I knew I wasn't abused in high school. I knew, I was like these guys are everywhere.

HILL: Because you saw behavior that reminded you of what you had endured in a different school at a different age?

DOUGHERTY: Absolutely, absolutely.

HILL: How much were you able to talk about it before there was more in the headlines?

DOUGHERTY: I didn't talk about it. I buried it. I ran away from it. I took whatever I could take to self-medicate to make it go away. Now we don't have to do that. Now we get to come on CNN and talk to you and explain what really happens to us and why it is so important that our legislators come to the realization that this is happening everywhere, and they need to step up and protect the most vulnerable members of their districts instead of constantly covering up and kicking this can down the road.

HILL: A number of your fellow survivors with whom I've spoken have said specifically passing these laws, to get rid of the statute of limitations for childhood sex abuse, to open this two-year window which is what they're hoping to do in Pennsylvania, this is the justice they want to see. They're very clear to point out this justice is not about money and it's not about a check. It's about having the opportunity to follow through. Do you think that message has been lost prior? I'm hearing it consistently. It's amazing that hadn't gotten through.

DOUGHERTY: The spin by the lobby groups and the politicians has always been to blame the victim, we're money hungry, we want our justice, we want to be millionaires. It has never been about the money. We mentioned on break before there are still 30 names redacted. We don't know whose neighborhoods they're in.

HILL: You're talking about the grand jury reports --


DOUGHERTY: In Pennsylvania.

HILL: Yes. DOUGHERTY: Those are active members right now working where? We have no idea. Kids are unprotected. My case in point, Pennsylvania, if you're a legislator and you only cater to special interests and you lose touch with your electorate -- we're in election season in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania is not a red state or a blue state. We have elected Republican presidents and democratic presidents, the same with governors. And Pennsylvanians do not take lightly to people coming into their homes, eating their food, accepting their money and raping their children or their children's friends. And we look less likely on our political legislators who protect monsters like that instead of reading the reports that we have and come to the common-sense realization that enough is enough. HILL: And that protecting children is not a partisan issue.

Shaun, appreciate you joining us. Thanks.

DOUGHERTY: Thank you for having me.

HILL: A day after cease-fire talks between Russia, Iran and Turkey collapsed, human rights groups say Russia carried out airstrikes in Idlib Province killing four. What is the United States doing to stop the looming offensive?

[17:38:48] Plus, surprising new revelation that U.S. officials worked with Venezuelan military officers planning to overthrow their president. We have those details ahead.


[17:44:34] HILL: A race against time after new airstrikes in Syria. Volunteers trying to rescue civilians in Idlib Province. It is the last remaining rebel stronghold. Stunning images from the bombing site. What you see here, a woman's hand, if you look closely, emerging from the rubble. Crews working frantically to save her, uncovering layer after layer of the bombed house that trapped her. We are told the woman has been rescued. The strikes coming a day after Russia, Turkey and Iran failed to agree on a cease-fire there. Syrian Civil Defense says Russian aircraft targeted the area.

CNN has confirmed a secret meeting between the Trump administration and rogue Venezuelan military officers took place. That meeting to discuss a plot to overthrow the Venezuelan president. Last month, President Trump said the U.S. was considering a military option to address the political and economic crisis in the country. Apparently it went further than that.

CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, has more.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Erica, CNN has confirmed that U.S. officials have met secretly with Venezuelan military officers plotting a que against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. That's according to a current and a former U.S. official, both who spoke with CNN. American officials met with renegade Venezuelan military officers abroad several times over the last year after they had made contact with the U.S. But sources told us that Washington ultimately decided against supporting the coup, didn't provide those officers with any support, and the plans for the coup ultimately fell apart. Now, those discussions between the U.S. and Venezuelan military officers about that coup first reported on Saturday by the "New York Times."

The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. But we know the Maduro government has been convinced and concerned for some time that the U.S. was behind a coup plot against the president. President Trump has previously discussed the possibility of military option in Venezuela. He was asked about the possibility of military intervention in response to the mounting crisis there. The president said that's something the U.S. could, quote, "certainly could pursue."

Taking military action against Venezuela would be a dramatic escalation. So far, the U.S. has solely kept their actions to diplomatic and sanctions-focused measures to respond to the political and economic crisis rolling Venezuela. CNN previously reported in August of last year President Trump even asked several advisers about the possibility of invading Venezuela. Ultimately, those talks went nowhere, but the crisis in Venezuela certainly continues -- Erica?


HILL: All right, Elise, thank you.

The White House declining to comment on the meeting between U.S. officials and Venezuelan military officers. It did release a statement saying, "U.S. policy preference for a peaceful, orderly return to democracy in Venezuela remains unchanged. A lasting solution to Venezuela's worsening crisis can only arrive following restoration of governance by democratic practices, the rule of law and respect of fundamental human rights and freedoms."

Tropical Storm Florence expected to strengthen into a hurricane as soon as Monday. It is headed toward the east coast. The big question, when, where, will it hit? We have the latest forecast ahead live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[17:52:27] HILL: Three states are now bracing for Florence's fury. The tropical storm gaining strength in the Atlantic. It is expected to become a major hurricane next week. The governors of Virginia, North and South Carolina ALL declaring states of emergency in their states to get things in place. This is the view of Florence from space. This coming to us from the international space station. Forecast models show the storm could be dangerously close to the U.S. by late Thursday.

Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera joins us now from the CNN Weather Center with the latest.

Beyond Virginia and the Carolinas, who else should be paying close attention to Florence?

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Erica, I think anyone from north Florida to Virginia at this point here. That's a wide stretch and we're going to narrow that down. This is a latest advisory on Florence. It is under the threshold for a hurricane, 70-mile-an-hour winds. It's still a good 1500 miles-plus away from the east coast. We have plenty of time to watch it. That 70, 71-mile-an-hour wind came from the hurricane hunters. They have been flying through Florence. Take that 71 and multiply it by two, that's what we're thinking this thing will eventually be. That would be a category 4.

Look at what happens here. Explosive development. Tropical storm today, tonight it will be a hurricane heading into Monday. By then, a major hurricane of cat 3. And unfortunately, this just continues to go up. 140, 145, 140. And there it is towards the end of the forecast period, now by Thursday, it will be very close to the U.S. mainland as a massive category 4 hurricane. That has not happened, at least a 4 hasn't touched land since andrew in 1992.

Here's the cluster. This is why we had good agreement, then towards the end the models diverge. Still North Florida, South Carolina, perhaps North Carolina. Honing in on that, the Euro and American model. Still a discrepancy there, through the weekend and heading into the next few days. Still five days away, but a potential strike from a cat 4 is in the cards for the U.S. next week.

HILL: All right. Ivan Cabrera with the latest on that for us. We'll continue to check back. Thank you.

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Stunning and breaking news at the U.S. Open in the finals for Serena Williams. You don't want to go anywhere. We're going live to Flushing Meadows for more. Stay with us.