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Russia Investigation; Trump White House; Crisis in Venezuela; Kenya Decides; Transgender Troops Serve Openly in Israel. Aired 3- 3:30a ET

Aired August 5, 2017 - 03:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): While U.S. president Donald Trump is kickstarting a long vacation, special counsel Robert Mueller takes another step in the Russia investigation.

Venezuela's president is calling for even more crackdowns on protesters as the country's new assembly takes office.

And while the U.S. recently announced a move to ban transgender troops, the policy in Israel remains quite different.

It's all ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you so much for joining us. We're live in Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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ALLEN: Our top story: U.S. President Donald Trump is away from the White House for about two weeks on his first official vacation. But back in Washington, special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation marches on.

"The New York Times" reports his office has requested official documents from the White House. That could be a first. Investigators are asking for any records pertaining to former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

They're reportedly looking into whether the Turkish government secretly paid Flynn to lobby against an opponent of the Turkish president.

The U.S. Justice Department on Friday ramped up its efforts to stop an explosion of unauthorized leaks within its own administration. U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions said the number of federal investigations into leaks has tripled since Mr. Trump took office. He also had a chilling message for journalists.

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SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-ALA.), U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: One of the things we are doing is reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas. We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited. They cannot place lives at risk with impunity. We must balance the press' role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in the intelligence community, the armed forces and all law-abiding Americans.

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NATALIE ALLEN: Larry Sabato is director for the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. He joins us now via Skype.

Larry, as always, thank you for joining us.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Thank you, Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN: And as always, lots of politics to talk about here, following another week watching Washington.

According to "The New York Times" reporting just in the past few hours, the special counsel now, Robert Mueller, recently asked the White House for documents related to the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, "The Times" reporting that this is the first time Mueller has asked the White House to hand over records.

This comes after yesterday's news that Mueller has issued grand jury subpoenas over Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer last year. This investigation appears to be really gaining momentum.

Is it?

SABATO: Yes, I think it actually is. This is the first grand jury, of course. This is the one operating out of Alexandria, Virginia, as opposed to the new grand jury, which is in Washington.

But looking at "The New York Times" piece -- and it's certainly in depth; it has a lot of detail in it about what the FBI's looking into, it's pretty clear that General Flynn appears to be in a heap of trouble.

That's not the same as an indictment. We haven't had an indictment. They're still investigating. And even an indictment doesn't guarantee guilt by any means.

But it's obvious that General Flynn is in trouble because his finances and the kinds of people who were paying him, particularly from abroad or representing other countries, these things are all under scrutiny right now.

It's not good for him; he didn't register as a foreign agent. There's a connection to Turkey. But now it appears that the FBI is also looking at his relationships with agents of other countries. So this is a serious matter and General Flynn will probably end up regretting his service of a total of 24 days as national security adviser.

NATALIE ALLEN: Meantime the attorney general Jeff Sessions, who has been disparaged by his boss recently, is apparently working on cracking down on leaks. This administration is fixated on leaks and controlling the message, even going as far as to look at the independent news media and question whether anonymous sources, whether that's OK.

SABATO: Some leaks can be very damaging and they can't be supported, like for example President Trump's leak to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister in the Oval Office, which we all remember. That may have been the most damaging leak.

But leaks are not always a good thing. But I'm old enough to remember two leaks that were very positive and made a big difference:

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SABATO: -- the Pentagon Papers, which told us in 1971 how the American government had lied for years about what was really going on in the Vietnam War, very useful for the public.

And then of course, Deep Throat, during Watergate, Deep Throat's advice to Woodward and Bernstein helped them crack the Watergate case. And his number one piece of advice applies to the current scandal, follow the money. That's what Mueller is doing with respect to General Flynn.

And I'll bet before it's over, it's what he does with respect to President Trump.

NATALIE ALLEN: Larry Sabato, we appreciate it, as always. Thank you for joining us.

SABATO: Thank you, Natalie.

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NATALIE ALLEN: CNN has exclusively learned that the FBI was actively tracking an disinformation campaign on Election Day and the primary suspect, Russian interference via fake news. We get more from CNN's Pamela Brown.

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PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We have learned that some FBI counterintelligence agents spent Election Day huddled in a war room, looking for fake news.

And what they could see was negative stories streaming in, posted online about Hillary Clinton, some having to do with her health that were fake stories generated from accounts with suspected Russian links. This is according to multiple sources our team has spoken with.

In fact, the FBI agents could see how the fake news was impacting the conversation online. Now the idea of monitoring for fake news was uncomfortable territory, somewhat new territory for the FBI.

But as one official told me, "We were right on the edge of constitutional legality because of First Amendment protections."

But this was something they believed they needed to do because it was important in better understanding how fake news played into this, what role it had and whether or not anyone in the Trump campaign, in the Trump world, worked with the Russians in this misinformation campaign.

Amid all of this, we learned there was constant coordination between the FBI as well as the Department of Homeland Security and DNI, holding conference calls every three hours with the team in the White House to discuss any possible problems.

But these conference calls were largely focused on the concern of whether the vote could be tampered with, whether the machines were tampered with by hackers.

And while the FBI says that didn't happen, there was still this open question of whether the Russian disinformation campaign impacted the outcome of the election. And that is something we may never have the answer to -- Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.

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NATALIE ALLEN: Two of the most recent leaks were also among the most shocking, transcripts in "The Washington Post" of private phone conversations last January between President Trump and other world leaders. Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull downplayed having his conversations made public. He said he has warm relations with Mr. Trump.

But the transcript of the president's conversation with Mexico's president, Enrique Pena Nieto, is making headlines there. Our Patrick Oppmann is in Mexico City.

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PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mexicans have been riveted by the release of transcripts to "The Washington Post" of a conversation that took place between their president, Enrique Pena Nieto, and U.S. president Donald Trump that is casting doubt on who will pay for the wall that Trump wants to build between the two countries.

This conversation that took place in January was supposed to be a private conversation and, in the conversation, Trump begins initially trying to flatter the Mexican president, saying that he's eloquent and speaks better English than Trump.

And then he begins to bully him, saying that is Pena Nieto doesn't agree to pay for the wall, he will impose tariffs on Mexican products going to the U.S. and essentially cause damage to the Mexican economy.

Trump also says at one point that he might send soldiers into Mexico if Pena Nieto can't get the drug war under control. And this has been bit of a bombshell in Mexico, to read these transcripts of what was supposed to be a private conversation.

Many here say that Pena Nieto held firm and told Donald Trump again and again that he would not pay for the wall. Others said that he should have pushed back harder, that much of what Trump said about Mexico and his comments to Pena Nieto were insulting and undignified.

Still, though, these two men, at the end of the conversation, were unable to come to an agreement, at least in January, of who would pay for this wall. They finally said that they would leave the political problem, as Donald Trump called it, that the wall presents by not talking about it anymore, at least in public.

That strategy, if there was a strategy, has backfired, because everybody in Mexico is talking about this now. It is once again very much in the public eye, the wall that Donald Trump wants to build between these two countries and who is going to pay for it -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Mexico City.

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NATALIE ALLEN: A new resolution being circulated at the U.N. Security Council proposes tougher sanctions on North Korea. If adopted, it would ban four major --

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NATALIE ALLEN: -- exports from that country. One diplomat says Pyongyang could lose up to $1 billion. All of this after North Korea tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles recently. A vote on the proposal could come as early as Saturday.

Members of Venezuela's new and controversial assembly took office on Friday with the power to rewrite the constitution. That has backers of President Nicolas Maduro celebrating but his critics are furious. They fear the new legislature will hand him sweeping powers and further erode Venezuela's flagging democracy.

Anti-Maduro protesters clashed again with police on Friday as the president signaled authorities should crack down even more on citizens protesting.

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NICOLAS MADURO, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): Let's speak clearly to the country. If we had had a prosecutor's office that took action and acted courageously according to justice, all of these violent opposition demonstrators and criminals would have been captured, punished and imprisoned. And we would have had peace a long time ago.

NATALIE ALLEN: Our Leyla Santiago has more from Caracas.

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LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Venezuela's constituent assembly was sworn in on Friday and already it is vowing to take action quickly. Its more than 500 members vowed to defend the country's sovereignty, while supporters celebrated what they see as a victory on the streets. Officials actually brought back the portrait of two men that are

considered heroes in this movement, Hugo Chavez and Simon Bolivar.

Those same images the opposition removed last year when it took office. This movement is a movement that some chose to pay respect. But what it really did was make clear that they are now completely in power.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).

SANTIAGO: This woman tells us that she did not live in a dictatorship, despite what more than 40 countries may claim. This, she says, is about peace.

But it wasn't long before peace turned to violence. As the opposition marched on the street, members of the national police shot tear gas, rubber bullets and that went right down the street toward the opposition, on a street that was filled with graffiti calling for liberty.

Protesters tell us they are tired, they are frustrated and call the installation of the new assembly a power grab. Its priority right now: to rewrite the constitution and even extend Maduro's power.

And so the opposition says the struggle is not over and they're hoping that these protests and the pressure from the international community will be enough to bring change and a peace, something that everyone in this country so desperately desires -- Leyla Santiago, CNN, Caracas.

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NATALIE ALLEN: Conservatives are targeting President Trump's top security adviser. Coming up here, we will explain why they are outraged at H.R. McMaster.

Also as Kenya's presidential election approaches, helicopters are reaching rural areas to get to know the people. And that is causing a dangerous problem. We'll tell you about that in a moment.

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NATALIE ALLEN: Typhoon Noru is taking aim at Japan.

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NATALIE ALLEN: The United States has made a largely symbolic move to reassert President Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal. Only two other countries other than the United States don't support the agreement. Every other country on the planet does. And now the U.S. has formally told the United Nations it is getting out. Major conservative media outlets went after President Trump's national

security adviser this week after his disputes over policy became public. Some fear H.R. McMaster could be the latest White House official forced out.

Mr. Trump is trying to end those rumors, saying, "General McMaster and I are working very well together. He is a good man and very pro- Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country."

For more on this, here's CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

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BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even by Washington political standards, it's an extraordinarily nasty media campaign against a three-star general, combining smear and speculation about the future of H.R. McMaster as national security adviser.

A staffer who worked for George W. Bush's National Security Council says it's unconscionable.

MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OFFICIAL: I think there is an extraordinary amount of backstabbing going on.

STARR: It's almost open warfare between McMaster and Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist, according to administration officials, all dating back to fired national security adviser Mike Flynn.

MICHAEL WARREN, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": There is this battle and I think it does come down to a difference in opinion between McMaster and Bannon and the view I think that McMaster sort of clearing out Mike Flynn, you know, the former national security adviser, Mike Flynnites and that's a problem that Bannon allies see as sort of going directly to the heart of Trump's own agenda.

STARR: CNN has reported that McMaster had been at odds with President

Trump on some national security issues, such as more troops for Afghanistan and had been undercut by Bannon. But once retired General John Kelly arrived this week as chief of staff, he may have signaled his willingness to allow McMaster latitude to run the NSC. McMaster has fired five top NSC officials tied to Flynn, causing some fury.

Now, political --

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STARR (voice-over): -- media across the spectrum, especially on the right, including Breitbart, formerly run by Bannon, are running stories within hours of each other suggesting that McMaster could be pushed out.

And he's been under fire for taking the routine step of extending former NSC adviser Susan Rice's security clearance. Some conservatives accuse Rice of mishandling classified information involving Trump campaign associates.

And now, fringe right-wing personality Mike Cernovich is soliciting tips on the national security adviser on mcmasterleaks.com, using imagery of McMaster being controlled by a puppet in a cartoon the Anti-Defamation League calls anti-Semitic.

Whether McMaster stays on the job may depend on Kelly's influence on the president. One current administration official tells CNN Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis are pressing for West Wing stability.

ALLEN: I think General Kelly is going to protect H.R. McMaster, because I think this is part of what he's trying to do and that's guarantee that we have a cohesive, crisp decision making process and that's what the White House needs right now, because it's been a rough ride for the last six months.

STARR (voice-over): Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

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NATALIE ALLEN: Paul Kagame appears to be headed for a third term as Rwanda's president. Preliminary results from the country's election show the incumbent has more than 98 percent of votes counted so far; 7 million people cast ballots, including more than 44,000 Rwandans living outside the East African nation. Final results will be out around August 12th.

Meantime Kenya's presidential election next Tuesday is up in the air -- and literally. Some candidates have taken to the sky via helicopter to get their message out but authorities warn it could be dangerous for overly enthusiastic voters. Farai Sevenzo has our story.

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FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Politicians are hoping to pull in a crowd in this Kenyan nation. A helicopter may just be the thing.

At this opposition campaign rally in the middle of Kenya's Masai country, people can't decide which helicopter to run to as yet another chopper makes a landing, kicking up dust and drawing people in.

They're used for efficiency in this vast country and, of course, flair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not something normal here, so we're very happy to see them coming here.

SEVENZO: Kenya's 2017 general election is approaching the final stretch. And the race is tense. Helicopter after helicopter carrying politicians across the political divide lift off into the Nairobi skies.

There are more helicopters right now in this country than at any time in Kenya's history.

And why is that?

Because campaigning by chopper has become all the rage in this Kenyan election.

Politicians pay an average of $3,000 an hour to rent one.

(INAUDIBLE) lawmakers land in constituencies where the people whose votes they covet earn half of that in an entire year.

And the presence of so many choppers has produced a worrying trend. They're calling it the James Bond effect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The James Bond is a figure of speech, the individuals who decides that he wants a free ride in a helicopter and they think that it will be fun.

SEVENZO: One James Bond chopper grabber told CNN that he hung onto the chopper because others had been given something and he had missed out. Kenya's civil aviation authority noticed the number of these stunts rising and made a public service announcement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shall not accept to see ever again a James Bond. If you see something that looks dangerous, please, inform us.

SEVENZO: One by one, the metal birds lift off, leaving the voters bemused. As they wave the politicians away, beneath the departing choppers there is no sign of James Bond -- for now -- Farai Sevenzo, CNN, Nairobi.

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NATALIE ALLEN: New developments in the ongoing criminal investigation involving the Israeli prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu's former chief of staff has agreed to testify against him and plead guilty in a separate case. As a result he'll avoid jail time.

Mr. Netanyahu is tied to two investigations involving allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He dismissed the developments on Friday.

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BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): Oh, yes, we can't do without the inevitable scandal of the week. So I want to tell you, the citizens of Israel, I disregard the background noises and continue working for you.

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NATALIE ALLEN: President Trump recently announced --

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NATALIE ALLEN: -- that transgender troops will be banned from the U.S. military. It is quite different from some other countries, including Israel, where transgender soldiers serve openly. Ian Lee has our report from Jerusalem.

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IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Micha Yehudi is happy today. But a couple years ago he had hit rock bottom.

MICHA YEHUDI, ISRAELI SOLDIER: I never told anyone before. I've really told myself I was terrified.

LEE: Back then, Yehudi was a female army captain and didn't feel right in her skin. So she went to her commanding officer and said she wanted to transition to a man.

YEHUDI: I cried during that interview from the moment the reaction came out of his mouth and he said, OK. And that was it.

LEE: Yehudi credits Israel's army for helping him make the transition. Today he marches for transgender rights at Jerusalem's gay pride parade. Israel says roughly 60 transgender soldiers serve openly in the country's military.

In the United States the future of transgender soldiers could change. It started with a tweet from President Donald Trump, ordering a ban on trans soldiers in the U.S. military. That message left thousands of U.S. military personnel in limbo.

Yehudi thought said any notion transgender people aren't up to the task.

YEHUDI: If I'm not tough, then I don't know what I am. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't tough enough. I wouldn't be alive.

LEE: Israel also grapples with equality. Gay couples still can't marry and religious conservatives view the community as an abomination.

Shira Banki was murdered two years ago at this gay pride parade by an ultra-Orthodox extremist. And while the LGBTQ community fights for their rights in society, in the Israeli army they've been accepted.

As for President Trump, Yehudi urges him to get it know trans soldiers.

YEHUDI: They're no different from anyone else, they just want to -- they just love their country like I love mine.

LEE: A country where soldiers can march to the beat of their own drum -- Ian Lee, CNN, Jerusalem.

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NATALIE ALLEN: And that is CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks so much for watching. I'm Natalie Allen. And our top stories are right after this.