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Kushner Faces House Committee; Trump Plans to Kick Sessions; Religions in Unison for Peace; Justice for Freedom of the Press; Saying Goodbye to an Angel; Taliban's Arm Supplier; Protesters Cry Granted; More Sanctions Upcoming from Congress. Aired 3-4a ET
Aired July 25, 2017 - 03:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[03:00:00] MAX FOSTER, HOST, CNN: New reports the U.S. President Donald Trump is considering replacing his attorney general after Jeff Sessions' recusal from the Russia investigation.
Plus, a CNN global exclusive. Video obtained by CNN suggests the Russian government may be arming the Taliban.
And later, a critical test of press freedom in Turkey as more than a dozen journalists go on trial.
Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Max Foster in London. This is CNN Newsroom.
In the coming hours, we may find out more from U.S. President Donald Trump about the political fate of his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr. Trump is expected to take questions at a joint news conference with Lebanon's prime minister later today.
In a tweet on Monday, the president pointedly called Sessions 'beleaguered.' This as the Washington Post reports that Mr. Trump and his advisers are talking privately about possibly replacing Sessions. A Post reporter talked earlier to CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT ZAPOTOSKY, REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: We learned that President Trump and his aides have been discussing possibly removing Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, which maybe isn't a total surprise given what he told the New York Times last week. But interesting that it's maybe not just him venting and not thinking about what he's saying, but a calculated move and he's considering, you know, getting somebody else in there.
I think another important point here is that some people, again not the president himself, but some people in his orbit see this as a possible way to get rid of the special counsel, that this would maybe be one step along the line. It's kind of a circuitous path.
Jeff Sessions is recused from the special counsel investigation as it is. But, you know, if he goes, maybe there could be even more stuff happening at the Justice Department. (END VIDEO CLIP)
FOSTER: President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser also faces another busy day on Tuesday. He'll meet with a -- well, behind closed doors with the House intelligence committee on his contacts with Russia. He talked to Senate investigators on Monday.
As Manu Raju reports, he made a rare public statement.
JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: All of my actions were proper. Let me be very clear. I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.
MANU RAJU, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, tried today to put to rest mounting questions about his interactions with Russian officials that are now a key part of investigations into Russia meddling in the elections.
Kushner spent more than two hours behind closed doors with staff of the Senate intelligence committee and released an 11-page statement providing new insight into four meetings with Russians last year.
KUSHNER: The record and documents I have voluntarily provided will show that all of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign.
RAJU: Kushner revealed his role in a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Russians at the invitation of his brother-in-law, Donald Trump, Jr., a meeting now under investigation since Trump Junior was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign after being told the Russian government wanted his father to win the presidency.
While Kushner said, quote, "I did not read Trump Junior's e-mail exchange ahead of the meeting," he did acknowledge Trump Junior contacted him twice about it, and he dismissed the brief meeting as irrelevant with no discussion of campaign issues, saying he e-mailed his assistant 10 minutes after walking into the room, saying, quote, "can you please call me on my cell." Need excuse to get out of meeting.
Kushner also confirmed sitting down during the transition with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak along with Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who is also under scrutiny in the Russia probes. The men discussed whether a secure line of communication could be set up to transmit sensitive information between Washington and Moscow to discuss the war in Syria.
But he said the idea was tabled until after the inauguration. Kushner said in his statement he did not discuss easing Russia's sanctions in meetings with Kislyak and with the head of a Russian bank last December. But some members of the Senate intelligence committee, who did not participate in today's session, also want a chance to question him. You want to personally question him?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I want to be there. I have questions. We all have questions to ask.
RAJU: Yet some senators are holding their fire.
MARCO RUBIO, (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: We're going to read the transcripts first when they become available and we'll go from there. I think that's what you see most members say.
RAJU: At the White House, the president continued to focus on the Russia investigation. This time taking aim at his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, calling him beleaguered and questioning why he isn't looking into crooked Hillary's crimes and Russia relations.
[03:05:10] This after the Washington Post citing classified intelligence reported that Kislyak told his superiors he spoke with Sessions about campaign issues last year, something the attorney general continues to deny.
The president told the New York Times last week he would have picked a different attorney general if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
Today, Trump offered this reaction when asked if Sessions should resign.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, should Jeff Sessions resign?
RAJU: Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.
FOSTER: Joining me now is Brian Klass, he is a fellow in comparative politics of London School of Economics. You're quite a vocal critic, aren't you, of the Trump administration. Your concern being that you see democracy being undermined. How does Jared Kushner's story, the Sessions story play into that, do you think?
BRIAN KLASS, SENIOR FELLOW, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Well, you know, Trump tweeted over the weekend that he thought his attorney general should investigate his defeated election opponent, and this is one of so many incendiary tweets that we just gloss over it. This never happened in U.S. history to have a sitting president do that.
And then on top of that, we have the healthcare vote that is being done in the dead of night effectively where we don't know what the bill is that's being voted on today. And Trump continually is doing various things that undermine the democratic process. And so I'm very worried about in the broader sense, beyond the partisanship, that some of the basic mechanisms of democracy are being undermined in this process.
FOSTER: It's interesting hearing from Jared Kushner, wasn't it? Lots of people fascinated because they haven't heard his voice before. He's key to that administration. Our web site pointing out there was an interesting admission in there that there were contacts with Russian- linked -- people linked with authorities in Russia whether or not they represent the Russian government in any ways is a separate thing.
But now the debate being about whether or not they colluded. How did you take that speech yesterday? What does it actually mean?
KLASS: Well, first off, this is a major shift from the last 13 months, right? The last 13 months where we had no contact with Russians. This is all fake news. Now it's clear there was contact, so it's now shifted to we did not collude. Well, you know, part of this is that the smoking gun for the intent to collude was that e-mail that Don Junior, Trump's own son, released.
And Kushner says in a statement yesterday, I didn't know what the meeting was about. The subject line of the e-mail couldn't have been more clear. It said Russia-Clinton, private and confidential. And beyond that, for us to believe after 13 months of shifty denials and lies, to give him just the benefit of the doubt and believe that when, in fact, this is a meeting that happens one month before the republican convention, five months before the election, a point at which time is your most valuable asset in a campaign.
You don't go to that meeting with your campaign chairman, the president's son-in-law, and the president's son unless you believe it's a very important meeting. So there's no way that he was just passing by and happened to come into this meeting with a Russian lawyer who happened to represent the Russian spy agency, also an accused hacker and a suspected money launderer, promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, and we're supposed to believe that's completely innocuous that nothing came to it.
FOSTER: But ultimately, the reason the story became interesting was you know, the question of whether or not there was collusion. So he is actually getting to the heart of the matter, saying there's no evidence that there was collusion. So the things that you're talking about are noise around the core issue. There isn't the concern there yet.
KLASS: Well, I wouldn't agree with that completely because the intent to collude may itself be a crime. This is something that's being investigated by Bob Mueller, and it is clear that there was at least intent to collude on the part of Don Junior, who is part of Trump's campaign, right? He said when he was offered dirt on Hillary Clinton from a foreign adversary, linked now we know to the spy agency.
FOSTER: Opposition research that he argues.
KLASS: Well, it's opposition research from the Kremlin. It's very, very different. It's basically linked to a foreign government, and that may be a crime under U.S. election law, campaign finance law. So, you know, this is very much an ongoing investigation. Kushner is trying to clear himself by distancing himself from Donald Trump, Jr.
FOSTER: Which is interesting in itself, isn't it?
FOSTER: So it's not just splits in the White House, but potentially splits in the family as well.
KLASS: Well, this is one of the reasons why nepotism is probably a poor idea in politics because now you have a situation where Trump cannot really distance himself from either of them that without a family feud, but his son-in-law is effectively throwing his Trump's son under the bus.
FOSTER: Is that fair, though, because isn't he just saying I didn't see these e-mails, and he wouldn't necessarily expect his brother to deliver e-mail sort of confirmation of this meeting. This is his brother-in-law.
KLASS: Well, I mean, I think there's a lot of benefit of the doubt you have to give because Kushner has repeatedly had to amend his security clearance form. He's had to amend his financial disclosure form, he tried to throw his secretary under the bus and said she sent the form prematurely but then he didn't correct it for months.
[03:09:55] Beyond that he lied and said I had no contact with Russians for months. Then now, OK, I did, but I didn't collude. And now we're supposed to give him the benefit of the doubt that the subject line of the e-mail that says Clinton-Russia private and confidential. He had no clue what that meant.
FOSTER: Is it lying, or is it inexperience, though? He hasn't got any experience in this type of work. So he may not have lied. It might not have been intentional. He might just not across the detail but you have to, you know, deliver on this sort of story.
KLASS: First off, I don't think you need experience to read a subject line in an e-mail. But secondly this does underscore the fact we don't grade presidents on a curve. If he doesn't have the experience to know not to turn down a meeting with a foreign government that may be promising espionage-related materials on an adversary who is also an American, that person should not be in the White House.
FOSTER: But a Washington insider would know that opposition research doesn't traditionally involve officials in other government or representatives of other countries, but he wouldn't have known that. That's the point. This was during the campaign.
KLASS: Well, potentially. But that doesn't -- just the fact that he doesn't -- isn't aware of campaign finance law doesn't excuse him from breaking it, right? We don't actually grade presidents as I said, on a curve. We think about did their campaign collude? Did it violate the law? If he wasn't aware of the law, that doesn't mean that there's an excuse.
I mean, you can't say that a bank robber didn't know that it was illegal to rob a bank because he'd never done it before. I mean, these analogies, I think at every turn we're trying to give the benefit of the doubt to people at the highest echelons of government who at all times in history have been held to a higher standard.
Now we're asking to hold our public officials to a lower standard the way they'd expect simply because they're inexperienced. It's not an excuse.
FOSTER: OK, Brian, as always, thank you very much for joining us.
CNN will have coverage of President Trump's news conference with Lebanon's prime minister at the White House. Later on Tuesday, the two leaders will take questions from reporters at 3 p.m. Eastern Time, 8 p.m. in London.
Now the Taliban in Pakistan are claiming responsibility for suicide bombing killing dozens of people in Lahore. Video shows the moment of the explosion which happened at a vegetable market at the entrance to a city landmark on Monday. Officials say 26 people were killed and 54 were wounded.
The militant group said they were targeting police. And in Afghanistan, the Taliban say they're behind a car bombing that killed 29 people. At least 40 others were wounded in the suicide attack in Kabul on Monday.
The Taliban say they were targeting a bus carrying Afghan intelligence staff but a government official says all the victims are civilians. U.S. President Donald Trump is considering sending more troops to Afghanistan as the Taliban show no signs of slowing their activity.
Meanwhile, exclusive video obtained by CNN suggests the Afghanistan Taliban is getting help from Russia that appears Moscow is supplying the militant group with improved weaponry. Russia has previously denied these claims.
Our Nick Paton Walsh has more.
NICK PATON WALSH, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Decades of war in Afghanistan mean enemies have turned friends and back again. But one new devastating alliance risks redrawing the map here. The Russians once fought the Taliban here then cordoned Mujahideen. The loss brought down the Soviet empire.
But now Moscow may actually be arming their own enemies Taliban according to American and Afghan officials, bolstered by exclusive images obtained by CNN.
This, as a breakaway Taliban group in the west with what they say are Russian government supplied weapons they've seized from a mainstream Taliban group they defeated.
"These were given to the fighters of Mullah Haibatulla by the Russians and by Iran," he says. "The Russians giving them these weapons to fight ISIS in Afghanistan but they're using them against us too. We captured six of them with these guns when they attacked. And these weapons too," the Taliban fighter in the mosque claims were supplied free by the neighboring Tajikistan by the Russians.
"These pistols have been brought to us recently," he says. "They're made in Russia and they're very good stuff."
Small arms experts told us there's nothing here tying the guns to the Russian state. They aren't new or rare. Various markings missing or scratched off even if this Chinese-made scope is readily available online. But the American commander here was outspoken on the Russian threat.
JOHN NICHOLSON, COMMANDER; RESOLUTE SUPPORT MISSION AFGHANISTAN: But arming belligerents or legitimizing belligerents who perpetuate attacks like we saw two days ago in Mashori Sharif is not the best way forward to a peaceful reconciliation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not refuting that they're sending weapons?
NICHOLSON: No, I'm not refuting that.
WALSH: Afghan officials expect Russian deliveries for at least two months.
SEDIQ SEDIQQI, DIRECTOR AFGHAN GOVERNMENT MEDIA AND INFORMATION CENTER: The Russians have said that they are, you know, they maintain contact with the Taliban, but we have lots of other reports from people that they are arming the Taliban.
WALSH: There's no smoke without fire, is there?
SEDIQQI: Absolutely. We believe that there's no smoke without fire.
WALSH: these pictures aren't incontrovertible proof that Russians and they did this will try to hide their tracks in Afghanistan, war-town as it is, the truth is often masked behind countless agendas. But these pictures will spar questions as to the true extent of Moscow's involvement here.
WALSH: Russia said claims they're arming the Taliban are quote, "utterly false and made to cover-up for American failure. They talk to Taliban they say purely to promote peace talks.
[03:15:02] And they denied to you that they are arming the Taliban.
SEDIQQI: Absolutely. They have denied that. The issue of contact with the Taliban by the Russians, that was something that really concerned us as well. So, no contacts would be made with non-state groups.
WALSH: Another new agenda, another new fuel to Afghanistan's endless fire.
Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Kabul, Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOSTER: Now after violent protests in Jerusalem, Israel is removing the metal detectors that set off a diplomatic crisis with Jordan. We'll take you live to Jerusalem next.
Plus, the legal battle is over. The parents of terminally ill Charlie Gard say they will let him go. Coming up, the heartbreaking words from Charlie's father to his baby boy.
FOSTER: Well, prayer is a form of protest in Jerusalem. Many there refuse to go through new Israeli security measures and instead prayed outside one of Jerusalem's holiest sites. But now Israeli crews have begun dismantling the metal detectors of the entrances to Temple Mount or the Noble Sanctuary.
Installation of those detectors set off violent clashes and a diplomatic crisis with Jordan, which administers the holy site. Israel plans to install a different kind of inspection technology, it says.
Our Ian Lee joins us now from Jerusalem. Do you think this is going to be enough to calm the tensions there?
IAN LEE, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: We'll see, Max. This move was made late last night, so we're waiting to see what today will bring. But they did take down those metal detectors.
Also just walking over behind me where those metal detectors were, where these security cameras were, we couldn't see the security cameras either. Now we're told this decision taken late last night by Israel's Security Council, they said that it was a unanimous decision for Israel's security, but that they're going to install these smart technologies, these smart cameras.
What that exactly means, we're unsure. But they say those will be put in place instead of these metal detectors. We're hearing, though, that later today there will be a meeting with Islamic leaders here in Jerusalem to determine what they believe the next step will be.
But what this appears to be, Max, is that the United States was able to come to some sort of agreement or some sort of conclusion with the Israelis, with the Jordanians, and we'll see if the Palestinians will agree to this, Max.
FOSTER: In terms of the tension with Jordan, that's a potential area of concern, isn't it, because they had to work through that process to get to this point with the metal detectors.
LEE: That's right. This is area behind me known as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims, the Temple Mount to Jews. It is administered by the Jordanian religious endowment, known as the Waqf. But this has taken on a larger political symbol, Max.
[03:20:02] There are not only Palestinian Muslims and Muslims who are angry about what's going on, but also Palestinian Christians, and we met one recently.
LEE: There's nothing remarkable about this street in Jerusalem. Bicycles, cars, and trucks rumble by. But something remarkable happened here last Friday. While Muslims gathered to pray in protest, among them, a man with a crucifix and bible in hand.
NIDAL ABOUD, PALESTINIAN: (through translator): The idea came to me when I saw an old man sitting on a chair outside Lions Gate crying because the occupation prevented him from praying inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
LEE: Twenty-four-year-old Nidal Aboud says he wouldn't want metal detectors in front of his church, so why would he want them in front of the mosque? He tells me all three religions must learn to live side by side.
ABOUD (through translator): Judaism is Christianity's origin. We share one book. We all pray to one God. If I deny that Judaism exists, it questions my own beliefs.
LEE: And even as a Christian Palestinian, he views Al-Aqsa as the face of Jerusalem. He tells me the greatest symphony you'll ever hear is the mosque's call to prayer and the ringing of church bells.
What were you reading in the bible during the prayers?
ABOUD (through translator): When they started the prayer, saying Allahu Akhbar, I opened the bible spontaneously and the sentence was, if God is with you, then who is against you, which is Jesus' message of love to us all.
LEE: A hopeful message at a time of deadly division.
LEE: Max, the real test of what is going to happen here is not really coming from the political leaders. It's going to come from the people themselves. We've seen spontaneous protests, people coming out believing that what they're doing, taking it upon themselves, saying that Israel is overreaching here and that's what's been drawing people out.
So, we'll be waiting to see if just the average person, the average Muslim, and as we've seen some Christians who have been joining them, if they're going to continue these protests or if these new measures by the Israeli security cabinet is going to appease them, Max.
FOSTER: OK. Ian Lee, thank you.
Violence erupted in the Venezuelan capital on Monday as crowds gathered to honor a 17-year-old activist killed there last month. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters. Opposition leaders have called for a two day strike this week against President Nicolas Maduro's plan to rewrite the nation's Constitution. The Venezuelan president is also being slammed by the artist behind
this season's hottest song.
Despacito singer Luis Fonsi is blasting Mr. Maduro for using an altered version of his song to promote that controversial referendum. Fonsi says his song should not be used propaganda that quote, "manipulates the will of the people crying out for liberty."
Tens and thousands of protesters in Poland got what they wanted. President Andrzej Duda's surprise veto of legislation that would have put the country's Supreme Court under the ruling party's control.
Muhammad Lila has details on that view from Warsaw.
MUHAMMAD LILA, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: What a difference 24 hours makes. Protesters have been gathering here for weeks outside Poland's presidential palace to voice their concern about proposed legislation that would allow the country's ruling party to replace all of the country's Supreme Court judges with candidates that they themselves have handpicked.
That law was passed through both houses of parliament here. The only thing stopping it was that veto from the president himself. Well, today the protesters got what they were asking for. In a surprise announcement made by Poland's President, Andrzej Duda this is what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDRZEJ DUDA, PRESIDENT OF POLAND: I have decided that they will return this law back to the parliament, so I will veto the law on the Supreme Court and also another law about the national council of the judiciary because I said that the judges cannot be elected to the national council of judiciary by ordinary majority of the vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LILA: Now, when this legislation was first proposed, it met with widespread criticism not only from senior E.U. officials but also from the U.S. State Department and of course from tens of thousands of protesters themselves, who came out onto the streets. Their perspective was that this new legislation would give unprecedented power to the ruling party. The law and justice party.
[03:25:00] And it would curtail their democratic rights, effectively moving Poland back very close to where it was when it was under an authoritarian regime during communist rule more than 30 years ago.
Well now that the president has vetoed the legislation, it goes back to the parliament. The parliament can amend the legislation, they can rewrite the legislation or they can effectively throw it out altogether.
Now if they choose to amend the legislation once again it would go to the president for his approval. And what would happen then? It's a real possibility that protesters won't support that legislation, and they will come out to the streets once again if not in the weeks, then perhaps in the months to come.
Muhammad Lila, Warsaw.
FOSTER: Now, we will let our son go. Heart-wrenching words from the mother of terminally ill Charlie Gard. They've given up the legal battle to bring their baby boy to the U.S. for experimental treatment. New testing shows it's just too late.
Erin McLaughlin has more from London.
ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Charlie Gard's parents have made the emotional decision to let their baby go. This after a full body MRI scan analyzed by independent experts showed that Charlie's muscles have atrophied to such an extent that the experimental treatment the parents were hoping for would ultimately be futile. Charlie Gard's father, Chris, made an emotional statement outside the court, saying good-bye to his baby boy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS GARD, CHARLIE GARD'S FATHER: To Charlie, we say mommy and daddy, we love you so much. We always have, and we always will. And we are so sorry that we couldn't save you. Sweet dreams, baby. Sleep tight. We love you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Charlie's parents are still extremely angry with the hospital treating Charlie as well as with the court system. Justice Francis, the judge presiding over this case for his part paid tribute to the parents saying no parent could have done more for their child.
He also was extremely critical of what he characterized to be outside interference, which included, quote, "The absurd notion which has appeared in recent days that Charlie has been a prisoner of the National Health Service or that the National Health Service has the power to decide Charlie's fate. This is the antithesis of the truth. In this country, children have rights independent of their parents."
And it has been the court system three separate occasions taking the decision that this experimental treatment would be futile for Charlie Gard. Now in light of this new full-body MRI scan, the parents are in agreement, and they are now working with the hospital to decide Charlie's end of life care.
Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.
FOSTER: Next on CNN Newsroom, it's being called a trial for press freedom itself. The case that could prove to be a litmus test for journalists in Turkey.
[03:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) FOSTER: Welcome back. I'm Max Foster in London. Let's update you on our top stories then this hour.
The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. President, Donald Trump and his advisers are privately discussing replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions as the attorney general. And in a tweet on Monday, Mr. Trump called Sessions beleaguered. The president is furious at Sessions for recusing himself in the Russia investigation.
The manhunt is underway in Switzerland after five people were wounded in a chainsaw rampage. Authorities have identified the suspect as a 51-year-old Swiss national with no fixed address who lives in a forest. Police believe the attack, which began in an insurance office in Northern Switzerland is not linked to terrorism.
A truck driver has been charged after 10 immigrants died in a traffic of human trafficking case in Texas. Dozens of people, many from Mexico, were crammed into a sweltering truck found in San Antonio. The driver told authorities he didn't know what he was transporting, but officials say he didn't call for help even after seeing at least one person dead inside.
To Turkey now, which is facing what's being called a major test of press freedom. Seventeen journalists and staff from one of Turkey's last remaining opposition newspapers are on trial charged with terror- related offenses after last year's failed coup.
Activists and protesters say the case is politically motivated. Since the coup attempt, Turkey has heavily restricted the media. The Turkish journalists association says the government has shut down about 150 major outlets and jailed an estimated 160 journalists. The group reporters without borders ranks Turkey 155 out of 180 on the world press freedom index.
Ben Wedeman is in Istanbul with the very latest. What are they accused of, Ben?
BEN WEDEMAN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes, Max, just right now, 10.30 in the morning Istanbul time, the second day of this trial is about to begin. Now, these 17, they're journalists, staff members, writers, lawyers, and executives at Cumhuriyet, which is Turkey's oldest newspaper founded in 1924.
They are accused of links with the Fethullah Gulen network, which of course is the network accused by the Turkish government of being behind the July 15th, 2016 failed coup against the government here. And in addition to that, of having links with the banned PKK, the Turkish -- the Kurdish Workers Party.
Now what's interesting, of course, is that among those 17 charged is Ahmed Sheik. He is a journalist who actually wrote a book warning about the dangers of the Gulen network back before in 2013 when Erdogan was an ally of Gulen. But now of course he's been accused among other things of having links with that organization.
So not only are Turkish journalists concerned about the narrowing of press freedoms here, but also international press organizations who are here attending the trial, and they are also concerned that this is just one more step along the road of narrowing press freedoms here in Turkey. Max?
FOSTER: These are some of the last remaining opposition voices, right, mainstream media in Turkey?
WEDEMAN: Yes. Certainly Cumhuriyet is the most prominent of them. Traditionally it's sort of a nationalist, secular newspaper. In recent years, it's become more of a liberal, less nationalist, somewhat more sympathetic, for instance, to the Kurdish cause. And perhaps that's one of the main reasons why the government is targeting this newspaper.
But as you mentioned before, more than 150 media outlets have been shuttered over the last few years. Turkey really is, compared to what it was a few years ago, when it was by Midwestern standards quite a vibrant, had quite a vibrant media. Now the situation is becoming ominously dark for journalists in this country, Max.
FOSTER: Is there concern about the independence of the court?
WEDEMAN: Well, we were speaking to journalists, Turkish journalists who are attending this trial as well as international observers. They feel that given the flimsy nature of the accusations against these journalists, that perhaps they're hoping in this case that the judges will rule on the side of common sense and realize that the government simply doesn't have a case.
[03:34:59] But at the same time, it's important to keep in mind that the judiciary is under some pressure from the political leadership of this country to find these journalists guilty.
So the trial goes on until Thursday. We don't know when the verdict -- it's not clear when the verdict will come out, but that will probably indicate where the judiciary will come down on this issue. Max.
FOSTER: Ben Wedeman in Istanbul, thank you very much.
U.S. President Trump is said to be looking over a sanctions bill under consideration in Congress. It would impose penalties on Russia, North Korea, and Iran. It's expected to pass the U.S. House vote on Tuesday after easily passing in the Senate.
The bill punishes Russia for the 2014 annexation of Crimea as well as interfering with the U.S. election. Europe is furious over the possibility of new sanctions. Many central and eastern European countries rely on natural gas from Russia.
Clare Sebastian joins us now from Moscow. So what sort of reaction are we getting from Russia?
CLARE SEBASTIAN, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: A very unequivocal reaction, Max. The Kremlin telling us there yesterday that they see this as extremely negative view -- extremely negatively. They call it counterproductive and harmful not only to them but to other countries, particularly those that it has trade relationships with.
An apparent reference there to the E.U. and their position on this E.U. for its part has been rather alarmed by the prospect that the U.S. could act unilaterally when for the past three years the two have been coordinating quite closely on sanctions on Russia.
But as for what the Kremlin might do about this, nothing yet, they say. They say it would be counterproductive to act before they've seen the final version of the bill, before it's been passed and signed into law. But they didn't miss an opportunity to point out the sense of disarray in Washington.
The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peshkov said that he's seen what he called certain corrections in the administration's position on this, and they were going to wait patiently, he said, to see how they finalize that position.
But make no mistake, Max, there's been a lot of talk of retaliation recently here in Moscow for sanctions, not just this new round of sanctions but previous rounds. So I think it's fair to say that Russia is in no mood to take this one on the chin.
FOSTER: OK. Obviously a lot of focus still on that meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and this Russian lawyer. Obviously Jared Kushner was having to speak to that as well yesterday. We'll hear a little bit more about that today, I'm sure, as well.
Some of that has since focused, hasn't it, n the Magnitsky Act, this act which is, you know, a very controversial deal where you are.
SEBASTIAN: Absolutely. The Magnitsky Act was a round of sanctions that the U.S. imposed on individuals in Russia in 2012, all linked to the death of a whistleblowing lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in police custody in 2009.
Now, it's really hard to overestimate, Max, just how controversial this topic is in Russia and how much they would like to see it go away really. But no one knows that more so than the man who picked up where Magnitsky left off essentially. His lawyer, you know, the lawyer for his family has been fighting his cause ever since and says he will continue to do so, Max, at any cost. Take a look.
SEBASTIAN: Nikolai Gorokhov says he's lucky to be alive. In March, the Moscow lawyer fell from his four story apartment, sustaining serious head injuries.
SEBASTIAN: Russian media at the time reported it as an accident, that he fell while trying to winch a bathtub up to his balcony. Gorokhov says he had lifted much heavier things safely.
Is it possible it could have been an accident?
SEBASTIAN: To understand that set of circumstances, you have to go back a decade. In 2007, Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for an investment firm, Hermitage Capital uncovered a $230 million tax fraud that he claimed involved officials in the Russian government.
SEBASTIAN: Magnitsky was arrested in 2008, and a year later he died at this Moscow prison while awaiting trial. His family says he was denied medical care and a Russian presidential human rights commission found he had been tortured. The Russian government, though, says he died of heart failure.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The bill is passed.
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SEBASTIAN: The U.S. Congress introduced the Magnitsky Act, which slapped sanctions on suspected Russian human rights abusers. Just two weeks later, Russia banned American adoptions of Russian children.
In Moscow, Gorokhov took up the case. The day after his fall he was due in court with new evidence that he says, proved government officials were behind the fraud.
[03:39:59] He finally made it to court in May. His appeal was rejected.
SEBASTIAN: Are you worried for your safety, or for your family's safety?
SEBASTIAN: At the time of his fall, Gorokhov was also a witness in a now settle the New York lawsuit alleging some of that Russian tax fraud money had been used to buy New York property.
He had provided these documents to American prosecutors. Ninety files in total. According to a court filing, those prosecutors were worried individuals in Russia could attempt to threaten or harm him. Still, in a case that's become a thorn in the Kremlin's side, Gorokhov remains undeterred.
(END VIDEOTAPE) SEBASTIAN: Max, a rather emotional Nikolai Gorokhov there. Plenty of stake in this case. But for his part he says that he's actually glad the issue has come back into the spotlight in the U.S. He says that shows that even if there is no justice for Sergei Magnitsky in Russia, then perhaps there will be justice for him outside of Russia.
FOSTER: Clare in Moscow, thank you.
Now the future is grim for many of the girls in one community in Cambodia, but an aid group is teaming up with police to make a difference there. The battle against child trafficking just ahead.
FOSTER: Four years ago, CNN traveled to Cambodia to report on the battle against child sex trafficking. That fight isn't over, but gains are being made.
Alexandra Field reports on the race that are making a difference in Phnom Penh.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: This is the fight to rescue women and girls, children in Cambodia's capital city Phnom Penh.
ERIC MELDRUM, DIRECTOR OF INVESTIGATIONS, AGAPE INTERNATIONAL MISSIONS: There is brothel their front is a coffee, selling coffee. So they have customers downstairs and they're waiting on girls to take them upstairs.
FIELD: Eric Meldrum was working with AIM, an anti-human trafficking organization that works alongside police to track down criminals. He's part of the coffee shop operation.
It was clear to you that there were children inside there?
MELDRUM: Yes, we knew there were children there because this was an investigation that had been ongoing for around three months.
[03:44:58] FIELD: Three suspects, all charged with trafficking- related offenses, are taken into custody. Two girls, minors, and six women are found working inside. They're taken to a police station where AIM will offer to provide help to all of them.
You've done this before. What's it like when you go in there and meet these girls?
DON BREWSTER, FOUNDER, AGAPE INTERNATIONAL MISSIONS: I know right now, they're more afraid than anything else. It takes time.
FIELD: Time is something Don Brewster has to give. He founded AIM in 2005 and has been fighting child sex trafficking in Cambodia ever since. To date, Brewster says AIM has rescued more than 700 people. Most of his efforts are focused in a small community of Svay Pak, just outside Phnom Penh. BREWSTER: When we first got here, so you how these businesses we
walking by. Literally had girls out front, and I mean, little girls out front dressed up, dressed sexy if you can think of a little girl as sexy.
FIELD: You've spent years fighting it now. How much has changed here?
BREWSTER: We would -- we would say when we came, it was like 100 percent. And you know, if you were a girl born here, you were going to be trafficked. And we would say today it's significantly below 50 percent.
FIELD: In annual U.S. State Department report on human trafficking shows that Cambodia continuously fails to meet minimum standards for prevention. But the same report points to a clear sign of progress, an increase in the rate of prosecutions of traffickers.
MELDRUM: The police are doing a good job. We've got very, very good cooperation.
FIELD: The rate of child sex trafficking in brothels has dropped from 30 percent to about 2 percent since 2002 according to the ministry of the interior. In the last three years, Meldrum says he's helped rescue 130 girls, minors, in more than 50 different raids.
MELDRUM: This is still a poor country, and people are still looking to get money. Unfortunately, with the lack of education, lack of jobs, the sex industry is one of the, is one of the routes.
FIELD: The eight taken from the coffee shop raid has a choice now. AIM will take custody of the two minors giving them treatments, schooling, and care, and AIM will offer the other six women help, housing, jobs. An offer all six accept.
BREWSTER: I don't know how to explain it, but there's such a -- there's a joy, and there's like a -- it brings out like a new home and a hope.
FIELD: Alexandra Field, CNN, Phnom Penh.
FOSTER: Tomorrow the CNN Freedom Project will introduce you to the brick kiln workers whose work is powering Cambodia's booming economy but at what cost?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FIELD: It all starts here in the factories largely outside the capital Phnom Penh where life looks very different.
"I hope that the brick kiln owner will close this kiln when they run out of the clay so I can get rid of the debt and stop working here."
FIELD: Conditions are tough. Toilets are rare. So is running water. Entire families live right here the at the factories. The work is seasonal, and most of the meager wages these workers earn at the kilns, they tell us they have to return.
FOSTER: Well, Cambodia's government tells CNN there is no debt bondage in the kilns, but others disagree. Find out for yourself tomorrow on CNN.
[03:50:00] FOSTER: Devastating damage in north central China after a rainstorm triggered heavy flooding. An underground market in Yulin City was one of the worst hit areas. Waters reached close to three meters high drowning every shop in the market.
Another part of Asia that is about to be inundated by heavy rain is Vietnam. Thanks to tropical storm Sanka.
Meteorologist Allison Chinchar joins us with the details. Allison.
ALLISON CHINCHAR, METEOROLOGIST, CNN: That's right. It's actually quite an active Pacific in terms of the tropics. We've got potentially four systems that we're keeping an eye on. Three names and this other one that has the potential to be named in the short term. But right now we focus in on tropical storm Sanka.
Again, has technically made landfall over Vietnam. The good news is it's expected to weaken very quickly. Right now winds about 85 kilometers per hour, but once it really hits that land, it's going to lose a lot of its momentum and strength. So within 24 hours, it's really not expected to be much of a storm other than just a remnant low.
With that said, it will still have the potential to drop significant amounts of rain. We're talking widespread, 50 to 100 millimeters of rain, but there will be some pockets, especially in some of those heavier downpours and thunderstorms that could drop say, as much as 200 millimeters of rain.
So, again, very heavy rain still expected. A little bit further out to the east we are keeping an eye on this potential system just to the east of Philippines. It has a medium chance of development in the short term.
Now, again, the high risk zone would be this red area. So you can kind of see most of it would skirt along the northern portion of the Philippines, the Luzon Island, and then eventually up towards perhaps Taiwan or even portions of eastern China. This is where some of that varies just a little bit, not knowing exactly what track it will take.
But certainly something we'll be keeping a close eye on, especially in terms of heavy rainfall over the coming days. Another area that has already had plenty of heavy rainfall is Central Europe. Berlin still picking up a lot of rain from some flooding issues over the weekend. Now we're going to be adding more rain back into the mix.
But one area that would actually like to see rain is going to be Italy. They desperately need to have some rain, especially around the Rome area. They've been experiencing a drought which in some areas has been for about two years now. Eighty percent below average for rainfall across Italy.
Now, again, Rome has been facing water rationing. Take a look at this video. They've had to turn off some of the very famous tourist destinations, the fountains that are there, not just in the city of Rome but also around the Vatican City as well as shutting off some of those fountains. Again, they're doing it as a preservation mode, just to kind of save and salvage some of that very necessary water.
Sixty percent of the farmland around Italy has been under threat, and it's estimated that the agricultural losses, Max, have been around 2 billion euros. So again, we're not expecting that much rain in Italy, but I think at this point they'll pretty much take anything.
FOSTER: Allison, thank you very much, indeed.
Well, rain and water we're talking about elsewhere, as well. There's been a new discovery deep inside the moon. And that is water, a substantial amount of that according to Brown University scientists. A satellite images will be examined. Scientist discovered volcanic ash and rocks contained water trapped in glass beads across the moon's surface.
And that means, scientist say, the bulk of the moon's interior is probably wet. The color there as you see on your screen is very significant water content. The yellow and red areas are the richest in water content. The amount of volcanic material containing water means it could eventually be extracted on future missions. Could that mean life? We're wondering.
Now, it's not easy being green. Just ask the world's most famous muppet. After almost three decades of voicing Kermit the Frog, puppeteers Steve Whitmire has been replaced. Whitmire says he was devastated when Disney fired him without any warning. But according to Disney, the move was a long time coming.
CNN's Michael Holmes sat down with the man once behind the puppet, the muppet puppet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, here's (Inaudible)
MICHAEL HOLMES, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: He's the frog who needs no introduction. For decades, Kermit has ruled the puppet world, the lead muppet born from the imagination of the legendary Jim Henson more than 60 years ago. Henson so loved Kermit that he did the voice and the movements himself until his death in 1990.
Then and for the next 27 years, this man, Steve Whitmire, became the voice and personality of Kermit. When he got the call, he was both thrilled and terrified.
STEVE WHITMIRE, PUPPETEER: It was really scary, and obviously an incredible honor.
HOLMES: The muppets, with Kermit at the helm, are a multi-million dollar business, but Kermit became Whitmire's life. He felt he was Kermit.
WHITMIRE: To try to step into a character, you know, Jim had done Kermit for 35 years, and to try to step into that character was just an awesome responsibility.
[03:55:02] HOLMES: But Whitmire's dream job ended as a nightmare last year when he was told he was being recast, in essence fired from being Kermit.
WHITMIRE: It was absolute shock. It was exactly the same feeling as the moment I was told Jim had died. It was the worst thing that could happen to this character. It's not the worst thing that could happen to me although it's pretty bad.
HOLMES: The muppet studio owned by Disney said the firing was a long time coming, releasing a statement which says, quote, "The role of Kermit the Frog is an iconic one that is beloved by fans, and we take our responsibility to protect the integrity of that character very seriously. We raised concerns about Steve's repeated unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years, and he consistently failed to address the feedback. The decision to part ways was a difficult one which was made in consultation with the Henson family and has their full support."
There were allegations too from the children of Jim Henson. A son said Whitmire made outrageous demands. A daughter said his performance strayed from what her father envisioned. Whitmire says he could refute all the allegations but chose not to in detail.
WHITMIRE: Most of these things have no basis in truth, and I don't want to get into a war of words with the Henson's when the real issue here is between Disney and I.
HOLMES: Do you accept any of the criticism? Do you think, wow, I could have done things differently? I could have listened more now for yourself?
WHITMIRE: I don't think so. If anything had been framed to me as your career is on the line over any particular event, then I would have paid attention.
HOLMES: Whitmire has been replaced by fellow muppets performer Matt Vogel. For Whitmire acceptance of reality but he says the little green frog will always be part of him.
WHITMIRE: I think there are people who will notice. I think Disney knows that the vast majority of people probably won't. I think if it jumps around on the screen and it's green and it says the right catch phrases, unfortunately people are going to see this kermit.
HOLMES: How kermit might evolve as that character beloved by children and adults yet to be seen, but a new chapter underway. Michael Holmes, CNN, Atlanta.
FOSTER: Thanks for joining us. I'm Max Foster in London. Back with more right after this short break.
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