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Gorsuch: Trump Comments on Judges "Demoralizing and Disheartening"; Trump Blasts Nordstrom After Dropping Ivanka's Clothing Line; Senate Confirms Jeff Sessions as Attorney General; Republican Leaders Rebuke Elizabeth Warren; Iran Fires Defensive Surface-to-Air Missile; Putin Critic Clings to Life with Mysterious Illness; Venezuelan Passports, Visas Stolen from Iraq Embassy; Town Mocks Kellyanne Conway's Massacre that Wasn't. Aired 2-3a ET
Aired February 9, 2017 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[02:00:30] ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome. I'm Isa Soares in London.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Vause, in Los Angeles.
Also, this hour, a special investigation, could Venezuelan passports be falling into the wrong hands.
SOARES: The U.S. President Donald Trump is lashing out at the U.S. judiciary over his temporary travel ban. Mr. Trump says even a bad high school student could understand why it is needed. But even the president's Supreme Court pick, Judge Neil Gorsuch, is pushing back. He called the comments "demoralizing and disheartening."
CNN's Pamela Brown has more.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump, for the first time, claiming he wanted to delay the implementing of the travel ban.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the reasons you probably heard we did it so quickly -- in fact, I said let's give a one month notice. The law enforcement people said to me, oh, you can't give a notice. If you give a notice that you're going to be tough in one month or one week from now -- I suggested a month and I said what about a week. They said, no, you can't do that because then people will pour in before the toughness goes in.
BROWN: An admission that could bolster the state's argument that the executive order banning people from seven majority Muslim countries for at least 90 days was hastily done. But Trump also sounded the alarm the halt on the ban is already
harming national security. Tweeting, quote, "Big increase in traffic to our country from certain areas while our people are far more vulnerable."
TRUMP: Believe me. I've learned a lot in the last two weeks. And terrorism is a far greater threat than the people of our country understand.
BROWN: Trump is also trying to pressure the very court that is right now deciding the fate of his ban.
TRUMP: I don't ever want to call a court biased, so I won't call it biased. And we haven't had a decision yet. But courts seem to be so political. If these judges wanted to, in my opinion, help the court in terms of respect for the court, they'd do what they should be doing. I mean, it's so sad.
BROWN: And he slammed his own Justice Department attorney who argued his case last night.
TRUMP: I listened to lawyers on both sides last night, and they were talking about things that had nothing to do with it.
BROWN: During Tuesday's court hearing, which the president called disgraceful, the three judges fired off questions at the administration's lawyer about the scope of presidential power.
UNIDENTIFIED JUDGE: Could the president simply say, in the order, we're not going to let my Muslims in in.
UNIDENTIFIED JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ATTORNEY: That's not what the order does here.
UNIDENTIFIED JUDGE: I know.
UNIDENTIFIED JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ATTORNEY: The order relies on --
UNIDENTIFIED JUDGE: I know.
UNIDENTIFIED JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ATTORNEY: I'm sorry, Your Honor.
UNIDENTIFIED JUDGE: Could he do that?
UNIDENTIFIED JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ATTORNEY: That's not what the order does.
UNIDENTIFIED JUDGE: Would anybody be able to challenge that?
UNIDENTIFIED JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ATTORNEY: That's not what the order does here.
BROWN: One of the judges also tried to poke holes in the state's argument that the ban discriminates against Muslims.
UNIDENTIFIED JUDGE: Do you infer that desire if the vast majority of Muslims are unaffected?
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: I mean, there are statements that we've quoted in our complaint that are rather shocking evidence of intent to discriminate against Muslims, given that we haven't even had discovery yet to find out what else might have been said in private. I mean, the public statements from the president and his top advisors reflecting that intent are strong evidence, certainly, at this pleading stage, to allow us to go forward on that claim.
BROWN (on camera): The ninth circuit court is expected to make a decision this week. And the world is watching, especially because of its appeal to the Supreme Court, and there is a four-split there. Whatever the ninth circuit court decides will stand at least for the time being.
Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.
VAUSE: Joining me now, Democratic strategist, Matthew Litmann; and Gina Loudon, Trump supporter and host of "America Trends with Gina Loudon."
Thank you for coming in, guys.
Matt, the presidents have criticized judges before, especially when they disagreed on matters of law, but has there ever been a time when a president questioned the motives of a judge, especially before a ruling has been handed down?
[02:04:59] MATTHEW LITMANN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's a lot about this administration that's unprecedented already. Going after the judges, I don't think benefits Trump, especially when they're about to make this decision. I think what's really fascinating to people watching this administration for the first couple weeks is it just doesn't seem very competent. There's a lot of focus on obviously, this Muslim ban, which Trump said he would do, and he's now trying to do. There's also a lot of focus on how poorly it was rolled out. How other cabinet members and other parts of the administration knew nothing about it. They could have waited weeks or months before they did this. What I want to know from the Trump administration, they promised economic growth. They promised they were going to repeal and replace Obamacare. They're now spending all their time in court defending this. I don't think this is what Donald Trump was elected to do.
VAUSE: Do you have any concerns the president is stepping on the separation of powers. If this was president Hillary Clinton calling out judges, would you be outraged?
GINA LOUDON, PYSCHOLOGIST & HOST, AMERICA TRENDS WITH GINA LOUDON: I think the thing that we have to recognize is that middle America has been frustrated with a runway judiciary for a long, long time. So once again, those on the left are making the same mistake they made throughout the campaign, thinking that because I live in L.A. or I live in New York that I understand what people in middle America are thinking and I don't think we do, but I think the president does. The president understands that middle America really has a problem with unelected people serving long, long terms. Having no one to be accountable to, just running away, and this criticism doesn't just come from the right, by the way. Many on the left have criticized activist judges as well. So, again, I think that the majority of the American people agree with what's going on here, with the president on this issue, and those of us who talk about it a lot might be surrounded by people who think otherwise, and I understand that.
VAUSE: OK. Well, the president's nominee for the Supreme Court described the president's attacks on the judiciary as "disheartening and demoralizing." He made the comments to Senator Richard Blumenthal, who urged him to make a public statement. Listen to this
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D), CONNECTICUT: He was not committed. That's one reason why I remain deeply concerned about this nomination. This president's attacks on the judiciary goes to the core, absolutely, to a foundational principle of our constitutional system. And this judge needs to show that he is willing to stand up to the president and stop his bullying.
VAUSE: Gina, do you think Gorsuch should stand up to the president?
LOUDON: I think if this meeting happened the way it's been reported to have happened., which I'm not sure there's confirmation of that from Gorsuch, but if it did happen, it does demonstrate the precise independence that many in the Trump administration were saying this nominee had. I don't think see any reason why we should think that any nominee would be lock step with any particular president. We've seen nominees up and down throughout history disagree with the person that nominated them. So, this doesn't come as a big surprise for those of us who paid attention to history before.
LITMANN: Well, let me just say this. The Trump administration had confirmed that what the Senator reported in this meeting was actually true. I think the problem here is that Donald Trump -- we have three branches of government. Donald Trump is obviously trying to bully one of the branches of government. I don't think that's going to go too well. This isn't about activist judges at all. These are people hearing a case. This is about Donald Trump trying to bully people, which is what he's been trying to do in every aspect of his administration so far. He tried to do it to Nordstrom today. So, it's no surprise that he's trying to do it to the judiciary system as well.
VAUSE: Since you mentioned Nordstrom, let's look at what happened. Donald Trump was lashing out after the retail chain dropped his daughter's clothing line. He put out a tweet, "My daughter, Ivanka, has been treated unfairly by Nordstrom. She's a great person, always push to do the right thing. Terrible." White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, says this is what any dad would
do. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think this was less about his family business and an attack on his daughter. And for someone to take out his concern for his policies on a family member of his is not acceptable, and the president has every right as a father to stand up for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: The chief ethics officer for the Obama administration floated the idea of maybe a lawsuit. Matt, most believe this is not exactly a legal violation others believe. Do you think it may come with a lot of problems?
LITMANN: The problems are his family has been trying to enrich itself while Donald Trump is president. His wife is suing saying that -- somebody who said bad things about her saying she lost the opportunity to make a lot of money while Donald Trump is president. Donald Trump is mad because this may have hurt Ivanka's chance to make a lot of money while he's family. And he has his buddies on Wall Street who are so thrilled as he repeals all these Dodd-Frank and consumer protection regulations. These are his friends on Wall Street. He says they can't loans, so he's trying to enrich his family and buddies. Where's the 4percent economic growth he promised? Where are the jobs for the people in Michigan that he promised? I think his focus is in the wrong place.
[02:10:37] VAUSE: Gina, even Ari Fleisher, who was a spokesman for the Bush administration, tweeted this, "This is something a father would say. It's not a type of thing the president of the United States should say."
Do you agree that the president did cross a line here?
LOUDON: You don't revoke your father card or free-speech card when you take the office of president. But I will say that I do think that he's going to be out there being Donald Trump, and the people who voted for him knew that he was going to be out there being Donald Trump. Here's the thing. He doesn't need money. Ivanka doesn't need money.
It's good to hear those on the left, who were completely unconcerned about the money and the lifestyle that Chelsea Clinton was gaining through the Clinton Foundation, finally concerned about people profiting from public office. The Clintons, in their own words, were broke when she was there, and so how it is they came to be billionaires with her being secretary of state, is something I'm glad people are starting to ask.
And also, going back to Matthew's question of the things President Trump could be doing, I think it's impressive the things he did before he was elected in terms of bringing jobs to America. And today, Intel committed $7 billion in new jobs. That's 3,000 new high-tech jobs here in America. That's going to pay great dividends.
LITMANN: Let me just --
LOUDON: I think he has --
LITMANN: Let me say this as somebody who worked in the tech business for a while. A company doesn't make a decision in two months to do something like intel is doing. That's something they've been planning for a long time. Number two --
LOUDON: That's what he said.
LITMANN: Excuse me for one second. Barack Obama, when he was president, we created 15 million jobs. I'm glad there are 3,000 new jobs in Arizona. I'd like to see Donald Trump get up to the numbers Barack Obama had.
VAUSE: OK. And with that, we'll call it time.
VAUSE: Gina and Matt, appreciate you being with us.
SOARES: Interesting discussion there.
The U.S. Senate has voted to confirm Jeff Sessions as the next attorney general. Only one Democrat crossed party lines to vote for Sessions. Debate over his nomination has been contentious. Republican leaders rebuked Democrat Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday as she tried to read a 30-year-old letter from Martin Luther King's widow opposing Sessions for a federal judgeship.
Iwan Morgan is a professor of U.S. studies and the head of U.S. Programs at the Institute of the Americas at University College London.
Jeff Sessions has been approved, it was highly contentious and a bruising confirmation battle, 52-47. I think it's fair to say he's one of the most divisive cabinet picks.
IWAN MORGAN, PROFESSOR, U.S. STUDIES & DIRECTOR, U.S. PROGRAMS, INSTITUTE OF THE AMERICAS, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON: Yes. Certainly, and he's not the only one, but he stands out even against the others. I think what's particularly interesting about Jeff Sessions is that when he was Senator for Alabama, two of the key Trump aides worked for him, Steve Miller and Rick Dearborn, and Dearborn was the executive chair of the transition team. So, you can see Sessions being part of a network that is headed by Steve Bannon. So, yes, I think that Sessions will have a very strong role to play in the Trump administration in that regard.
SOARES: How do you think, what should we expect from him? He's taking a position, a Justice Department that's changed so much in the last 19 days.
MORGAN: Well, yes. Certainly, in comparison to the Obama Justice Department, you're going to see a 180-degree turn. I think there have been very, very strong rulings with regard to immigration, particularly undocumented workers. I think there will be retrenchment on women's rights, and if we judge him on his previous record, on civil rights in general.
Of course, he was one of the inspiration for Mr. Trump's, apparently anti-immigration policies.
On civil rights, we mentioned Elizabeth Warren, Democrat, she was voted down in silence when she tried the read the letter, but it didn't stop her. Afterwards she took to Twitter. This is what she had to say. We'll bring the tweets out. "If Jeff Sessions turned a blind eye while Donald Trump violates the Constitution or breaks the law, he'll hear from all of us." She said, "If Jeff Sessions makes an attempt to bring his racism, sexism, and bigotry into the Justice Department, he'll hear from all of us, and you better believe every Senator who voted to put Jeff Sessions' radical hatred into the Justice Department will hear from us all, too." And took to Facebook and she posted a video that's been viewed 10 million times.
Was this a bad move for the Republicans to try to silence here? Surely, they increased her platform.
[02:15:51] MORGAN: I think that's true. There's a case that McConnell, the Senate majority leader, committed a tactical error. Now everybody has heard about the letter that Elizabeth Warren wanted to read out. Had they just let it go, it might have been another day in the Senate, but she's been given a platform. What it does is legitimates the people who don't like Trump anyway, whether it wins people who supported Trump is another matter.
SOARES: I want to bring attention to Lindsey Graham. He had this to say in terms of her intentions in reading the letter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA (voice-over): The bottom line is it was long overdue with her. I mean, she is clearly running for the nomination in 2020. The Democratic Party is being pushed really hard by the most extreme voices in their community. And they just don't know how to handle it. If they empower her, then I think the Democratic Party is going to lose its way with the vast majority of the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: Is this Elizabeth Warren eyeing 2020?
MORGAN: Quite possibly so. She would be a frontrunner now. I would have to say, if somebody asked me who was going to be the Democratic candidate in 2020, I wouldn't put my money on anybody. It's an open race. The Democrats are in something of disarray at the moment. Certainly, Elizabeth Warren could pick up the mantle of Bernie Sanders, but whether she has sufficient support broadly in the country is another matter.
Perhaps it was the opening shot in the 2020 campaign. But I think the Democrats needed some boost. Their morale is very low at the moment. They expected to win the presidency, and also win the Senate, so I think anything that gives them a way of hitting at Trump is good for them.
SOARES: And Republicans handed it to them on a plate by silencing her.
SOARES: Iwan Morgan, always great to have you with us. Thank you very much.
VAUSE: Well, Isa, we'll take a break. When we come back, a CNN investigation reveals Venezuelan passports and visas allegedly stolen from the embassy in Iraq. A year-long investigation later this hour.
SOARES: And later, the U.S. list of foreign terror organizations could be growing. A powerful Iranian group could be single out. Why it could destabilize the region. We'll have the stories for you on CNN NEWSROOM.
[02:22:13] VAUSE: Iran fired a defensive surface-to-air missile. U.S. officials say it was not covered by a U.N. ban on nuclear capable ballistic missiles but was likely connected to Iran's 10-day celebration of its 1979 revolution. This launch comes less than a week after the U.S. imposed new sanctions on Iran after a ballistic missile test last month.
SOARES: The White House could take further action against Tehran. It's considering labeling the Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard as well as the Muslim Brotherhood as foreign terrorist organizations. But a source says the move is on hold as the Trump administration weighs the potential risks. The U.S. has already placed sanctions on groups connected to the Revolutionary Guard for that ballistic missile test last week.
Let's get more this. CNN intelligence and security analyst, Robert Baer, joins us from Los Angeles.
Bob, very good to see you. As we heard some of the groups linked to the Revolutionary Guards are under sanctions for the U.S. So many are seeing this as potentially symbolic. Nevertheless, it could have destabilizing effects in the region, could it not?
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE & SECURITY ANALYST: Well, exactly. What we have to look at is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard in Iran is a state within a state. They control a lot of the policy. They control the Iraqi militias. There's not much you can do about them, and you simply look at the map, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard essentially controls the government in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq and the militias that are fighting alongside of us, and there's only so much pressure this White House can put on the Iranians. You can add a couple sanctions, but it's purely symbolic. Dislodging them, bringing them down in Iran is impossible short of a full-out war.
SOARES: What we have seen, Bob, I think it's fair to say in the last 18 days of this presidency is the relationship between the U.S. And Iran has deteriorated. At least the war of words has escalated.
I want to just bring our viewers' attention to some of the tweets we've seen. President Trump says, "Iran is playing with fire. They don't appreciate how kind President Obama was to them. Not me."
We also heard from Iran. He said, "We appreciate Trump because he largely did the job for us in revealing the true face of America." He goes onto say in another tweet -- if we can bring it up -- "Now Trump, with actions like handcuffing a five-year-old kid, shows what the truth of the U.S. is and what American human rights means." This obviously relating, as you can see the hash tag, Muslim ban.
How has the travel ban and the sanctions enacted by the Trump administration contributed to this deterioration of the relationship?
[02:25:05] BAER: It's contributed a lot. I mean, because, remember the Islamic Revolutionary Guard is the supreme leader. He appoints the commanders and generals. An attack on the IRQC is an attack on them. And don't forget this administration, and in particular, the national security advisor Flynn, Mattis and the president and Bannon are against Iran. Mattis hates Iran because when he was in Iraq, the Iranians were supplying EFPS, shaped devices killing American soldiers. And Flynn went to the point of saying the Iranians were behind the attack in Benghazi. There's no evidence of it. But the Iranians are worried. And even, in Iran, people are worried about the war with the Iranians. We're worried about an escalation in the gulf, that we could accidentally turn it into a war.
SOARES: Absolutely. You were talking about the anti-Iran mood emerging in Washington. Surely, I would guess sanctioning the Iranian Revolutionary Guards could potentially backfire. Won't this further empower hardliners in Iran and feed into the more extremist narrative in the region?
BAER: I think absolutely. I think a lot of people in the Revolutionary Guard are old school. They remember Lebanon. They were involved in blowing up the Marines. They believe this regime has made too many concessions to Washington, and that, ultimately, they're going to have to fight the United States in order to maintain their independence. This is a hard-core group of people.
SOARES: Bob, always great to get your insight. Thanks very much. Very good to see you this morning.
Time for a quick break. "State of America" with Kate Bolduan is coming up for our viewers in Asia.
VAUSE: And for everyone else, still to come here, an outspoken critic of the Kremlin is suddenly struck down by a mysterious illness. He is now clinging to life in a Moscow hospital.
[02:30:18] VAUSE: Welcome back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause, live in Los Angeles.
SOARES: I'm Isa Soares, live in London.
The headlines for you this hour --
SOARES: And doctors still don't know exactly why another well-known critic of Mr. Putin became gravely ill while visiting Moscow. It's not the first time it's happened to him. But this time, doctors say he has little chance of surviving.
The latest from CNN's Ivan Watson in Moscow.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In a hospital in Moscow, an outspoken critic of the Kremlin fights for his life. Vladimir Kara-Murza's wife, Evgenia, says her husband fell sick with sudden and mysterious organ failure last week.
WATSON (on camera): What is your husband's official diagnose right now in.
EVGENIA KARA-MURZA, WIFE OF VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA: An acute intoxication by an unidentified substance.
WATSON: What do you think that means?
WATSON (voice-over): CNN can't independently confirm this claim, but powerful supporters in Washington are speaking out. This is the second time in two years Kara-Murza man has suddenly gotten sick.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA: Many suspected he was poisoned to intimidate him or worse. That's why last week's news signaled another shadowy strike against a brilliant voice who has defied the tyranny of Putin's Russia. WATSON: "Pure nonsense" says a Kremlin spokesman, denying any links
between the government and the Kara-Murza's illness.
CNN's Matthew Chance spoke with Kara-Murza last year. The 35-year-old walking with a cane due to severe nerve damage from his first illness, which he blamed on the government.
VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA, KREMLIN CRITIC SICKENED BY MYSTERIOUS ILLNESS: It's a dangerous location to oppose Mr. Putin's regime. It's a dangerous location to be in opposition in Russia today. Again, these are the risks we know, and these are the risks we accept.
WATSON: At the time, the Chechnyan strongman and close ally of the Kremlin, Ramazan Paderov (ph), published this video on his Instagram account showing Kara-Murza in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle. Kara- Murza could have stayed at his adopted home in the U.S. state of Virginia, where he's lived for years with his wife and three children, but he came back to Russia last month to promote a documentary about the assassination of his friend, Boris Nimsoff (ph), an opposition leader who was shot dead in the shadow of the Kremlin in 2015.
WATSON (on camera): Were you worried about your husband on this visit to Russia?
KARA-MURZA: I was terrified, not only on this visit. Every time he leaves the house to go on one of his trips, I'm terrified.
WATSON (voice-over): Evgenia says the doctors are giving her husband a 5 percent chance of survival.
KARA-MURZA: The Russian government and President Putin are responsible for what happened to my husband two years ago, and now, one way or another. The climate in our country is such that opposition figures can be intimidated, threatened, thrown in jail, shot, and poisoned.
SOARES: Ivan joins us now.
Ivan, I believe he remains in gave condition, but can you give us an update on how he's doing, and explain why the international spotlight on this case.
WATSON: Well, the Evgenia Kara-Murza, the wife that we heard from, she says that this week doctors revived her husband from the medically induced coma. He is still unable to speak. He has a tracheotomy, she says, and has only been able to communicate through blinking. Two blinks for yes, one for no. And she says he is unable to even remember his children right now. So, this is a man who is still very, very ill. And very much his recovery is still up in the air.
Now, again, this is alleged. These are allegations that perhaps he was poisoned. We cannot independently confirm that. Mr. Kara-Murza, after his first incident, he tried to open a criminal investigation with the authorities here in Russia, and his wife says that that never led anywhere.
So, in this case, she says she has collected samples, blood samples, tissue samples, and she has sent them to laboratories in France and Israel to try to get to the bottom of this mysterious and very sudden illness -- Isa?
[02:35:38] SOARES: Ivan Watson for us there, live from Moscow. Good to see you, Ivan.
VAUSE: Isa, a short break. Are Venezuelan passports falling into the wrong hands? A year-long CNN investigation in just a moment.
VAUSE: Welcome back. As we wait for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to weigh in on whether to lift the block on President Trump's executive order banning travel from seven majority Muslim countries, we have a startling year-long joint investigation we did in partnership with CNN Espanol. Our investigation has undiscover the alleged selling of passports under the eyes of one country that is not part of the ban. But there's also alleged connections to Iraq and Syria, two countries, which are part of the ban.
The allegations center around Venezuela's embassy in Baghdad. Why does that matter? Because Venezuelan passports can be used without needing a visa to enter more than 130 countries, including 26 in the European Union.
There's also this, the U.S. has condemned Venezuela for years as a hot bed of corruption and human rights violations. And the allegations that passports got into the hands of people who shouldn't be getting them, well, the U.S. has known about that, too.
Here's senior investigator correspondent, Drew Griffin, with "Passports in the Shadows."
[02:40:26] DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There is good reason this Venezuelan strolling the streets of Toledo, Spain, instead of Caracas, Venezuela.
GRIFFIN: Misael Lopez is frightened, because he says he told the truth about Venezuela, possible terrorists, and corruption that will have him forever looking over his shoulder.
MISAEL LOPEZ, FORMER VENEZUELAN EMBASSY LEGAL ADVISOR & WHISTLEBLOWER ON STOLEN VENEZUELAN PASSPORTS & VISAS: I'm concerned about my safety and my family's safety. Everywhere I go or where they are. GRIFFIN: If what this former official for the Venezuelan government
in Iraq says is true, criminals and potential terrorists could be freely moving about the world undetected with authentic Venezuelan passports that were sold at a profit to anyone who was buying, passports good to enter more than 130 countries, without a visa, not including the United States.
Lopez was the legal adviser for the Venezuelan embassy in Baghdad, starting in July 2013. A former police officer and an attorney, he provided CNN with documents that he says show an employee at the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq sold passports and visas for a profit.
And, a CNN investigation found serious irregularities in Venezuelan passports and visas.
On his first day in Baghdad, Lopez says Venezuela's ambassador, Jonathan Velasco, entrusted him with a very special envelope.
LOPEZ: Full of visas and passports. He told me, "Get this, this is one million U.S. dollar." I thought it was like a joke. And he told me, "No, here people pay a lot of money to get a visa or passport to leave this country."
GRIFFIN (on camera): You said you thought it was a joke.
LOPEZ: Of course. The first moment, yeah. That's his meaning, but, OK, I take it like that. It was the first day, so.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): But about a month later, Lopez learned the ambassador's joke foreshadowed a frightening discovery. Lopez says an Iraqi employee of the embassy, seen here in a video he recorded, told him Venezuela's passports and visas were being sold. She had made thousands of dollars. Cash. And Lopez could, too.
LOPEZ: It's good money. You can make lot of money with that. They pay $10,000 U.S. for a visa. Then I got really, really mad. And I told her, "How could you think I going to be selling visas or passport."
GRIFFIN (on camera): And who was the person that was supposedly going to get the document?
LOPEZ: An Arab guy.
GRIFFIN: With no connections to Venezuela?
LOPEZ: No, no connection at all.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It was only the beginning. Over the next several months, he says he was approached again and again by the same employee, asking him to participate in the scheme. Lopez says she even once offered to sell visas to an entire group of Syrians and give him a cut.
LOPEZ: She told me, "I have 13 Syrians who want to pay $10,000 U.S. each for a visa." GRIFFIN (on camera): $130,000.
LOPEZ: I suspect that might be terrorists. That's why I reject, of course, immediately.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Lopez decided to investigate further. He searched the Iraqi employee's desk and took these pictures of what he found. The embassy's official stamp, used to authenticate visas, still wet with ink, along with sheets of paper printed with the Venezuelan government seal. She was an interpreter, wasn't authorized to have any of these items. He eventually fired the employee.
Lopez didn't have any other documents that would confirm the allegations.
(on camera): You think Venezuela is offering free travel passes to potential terrorists?
LOPEZ: I have found link three things, laundering money, trafficking drugs and terrorism.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): And it was this document, he says, he found inside the embassy that alarmed him most. It is a list of 21 Arabic names and corresponding Venezuelan passport numbers. Curiously, many of the passport numbers are consecutive. Same with the official government I.D. numbers, which are like Social Security numbers.
A Venezuelan immigration official tells CNN, these passports are valid and match the names. We checked with a Venezuelan database and found, for example, Atif (ph) has identity of Jose. That's the case for 20 of the 21 I.D. numbers registered to other people, people with Hispanic names, not the Arabic names listed on the passports.
[02:45:26] (on camera): So these are fake people with real passports?
LOPEZ: No, it's not fake people. It's different people.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Lopez says he even found this man, who has an Iraqi national I.D., but who has a Venezuelan passport that says he was born in Venezuela.
LOPEZ: So this guy, it's like he has two mothers, and he was born in two places.
GRIFFIN: Lopez documented everything, including details of the offering of money to issue money to 13 Syrians, and sent an official report to the Venezuelan ambassador, Jonathan Velasco.
(on camera): And there's no doubt in your mind that the ambassador knew this was happening.
LOPEZ: How could he, being there for so long, couldn't notice that.
GRIFFIN: And you presented that information to him, and he did nothing? LOPEZ: Sometimes, he used to say, Caracas do not need to know
anything about that.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Lopez says the ambassador threatened his job, so he took his allegations all the way to the foreign minister of Venezuela, reporting his suspicion of the fraudulent issuing of visas, birth certificates and Venezuelan documents. He said he heard nothing.
Finally, frustrated and fearing the implications, Lopez contacted the FBI at the U.S. embassy in Madrid. A law enforcement source tells CNN an FBI official did meet with Lopez at this restaurant across the street from the embassy and sent his information to Washington. The FBI told us it could not discuss anything about what happened next.
By the end of 2015, Lopez was removed from his position by the Venezuelan government.
For months, we repeatedly tried to get comments from the Venezuelan government.
UNIDENTIFIEDM MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
GRIFFIN: In Caracas, the government threatened CNN and Espanol's crew for expulsion for just asking about the passport and visa allegations. At a press event, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez ignored our question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
GRIFFIN: Months later, during the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Rodriguez ignored us again.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
GRIFFIN: Until finally, we tracked down the foreign minister on the sidewalk outside the U.N.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
GRIFFIN: As she walked into the U.N., Rodriguez refused to answer any more questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there anything you'd like to say?
(voice-over): And Ambassador Velasco, in an e-mail to CNN, wrote that he "has nothing to hide or fear, and the embassy, don't never and ever sell foreign nationalities."
As for the former employee in Iraq, who Lopez says was selling passports, she did not respond to our calls or e-mails.
Misael Lopez says he knows what he saw.
He lost his job and even his country. He's under official police investigation for revealing confidential matters or secrets. But he says he could not stay silent.
LOPEZ: You cannot be cop and a thief at the same time. I decide to be a cop and do the right thing.
VAUSE: Drew Griffin joins us from Atlanta.
Drew, did the Venezuelan government investigate any of these claims?
GRIFFIN: John, what they investigated was Misael Lopez, and why he actually came forward with these. As far as we know, there has been no official investigation into the detailed allegations that he brought, first, to the Iraqi ambassador and then to the foreign minister. So, the answer is no.
VAUSE: The implication is terrorists could buy these passports and then travel to other countries. They could do it legally. They would not be on a witch list. But it seems they could not get in the United States. Why is that?
GRIFFIN: Well, the United States requires a visa, so an extra level of security from anybody traveling with a Venezuelan passport. But the real fear here, especially in Europe, is these Venezuelan passports are good in 130 countries, and it allows easy access and easy mode. That's exactly what we have talked to about many government officials across the world, and especial in Interpol Europe, they're concerned about this. It does pose a bit of a risk.
[02:50:24] VAUSE: It's not just this former embassy official linking the alleged passport fraud to possible terrorists. The United States government has been looking at and talking about this for years as well, right?
GRIFFIN: That's right. And we have got our hands on some of the investigative material, which we will disclose in part two. But, John, when you look at the totality of the evidence we've uncovered, it appears this could reach to the very highest level of Venezuelan government officials -- John?
VAUSE: Drew, as always, thank you for being with us. Much appreciated.
SOARES: A fascinating investigation.
Next, right here on CNN, remembering the Bowling Green Massacre. Oh, wait a minute. That didn't happen. But the city is marking the event anyway. We'll bring you that story next.
SOARES: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. The small Kentucky city of Bowling Green wasn't well known until last
week. A comment from Donald Trump counsellor, Kellyanne Conway, pushed it into the public eye. And now the residents are mocking a terrorist massacre that wasn't.
Martin Savidge reports.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Overnight, the Bowling Green Massacre became the biggest thing to never happen here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was in my class and we were reading Hamlet and the sirens were going off. We had to evacuate the building. And I've never looked at Hamlet the same way again
SAVIDGE: The running joke, the whole town seems to be in on it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Seriously, glad you're here with me after all the massacre talk.
SAVIDGE: They held a candlelight vigil on the square with signs reading "Never Remember" and "We are Bowling Green."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I survived.
SAVIDGE: A Bowling Green local production company made a parody video.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I barely survived the Bowling Green Massacre.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I survived. What was it?
SAVIDGE: A massacre mockumentary.
SAVIDGE: The massacre has some laughing all the way to the bank. Connie Collins (ph) started a button business in her home. She cranks them out with sayings like "I survived the B.G. massacre." The portion of her profits go to the ACLU.
Even the mayor seems to be in on the joke.
BRUCE WILKERSON: MAYOR OF BOWLING GREEN, KENTUCKY: Did you get your Bowling Green Massacre T-shirt yet?
SAVIDGE: Laughter also seems to be the best recipe.
(on camera): So what are we making?
JOSH PULLEY (ph), OWNER, HOME CAFE & MARKETPLACE: We're making the Bowling Green Massacre pizza.
02:55:06] SAVIDGE (voice-over): At the Home Cafe and Marketplace, owner, Josh Pulley (ph), and his wife, came up with the ingredients of grilled chicken, mozzarella, and mac and cheese.
(on camera): There's no method to this? There's not anything to represent a massacre?
PULLEY (ph): Oh, No. It's just a fun pizza.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): It quickly became the best-selling pizza in the restaurant's history. A toasted cheesy monument to a tragedy that wasn't.
(on camera): I dedicate this to the memory of those who were never lost in the Bowling Green Massacre. Hmmm.
SOARES: I'm sure that tastes really good.
That was Martin Savidge reporting from Bowling Green, Kentucky.
I'm sure one person isn't laughing, John, and that's probably Kellyanne Conway.
VAUSE: I think it's a little too soon to be mocking this. We should at least wait for the massacre to happen.
SOARES: Pay our respects. Absolutely.
Thank you very much for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Isa Soares, in London.
VAUSE: I'm John Vause, in Los Angeles.
Next, the news continues with Rosemary Church and Max Foster.