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Deadly Niger Ambush Turns into Political Maelstrom; Trump White House; Spain Crisis; Raqqa Liberated; Iraqi-Kurdish Tensions; Niger Investigation; North Korea Nuclear Fears; Russia Investigation; Puerto Rico Crisis; Harry Potter Exhibit. Aired 5-6a ET
Aired October 21, 2017 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. president's chief of staff got his facts wrong. But the White House is standing behind John Kelly. Criticism over a Democratic congresswoman.
Also is Madrid about to strip Catalonia's separatist movement of its powers?
A cabinet meeting is underway right now in the Spanish capital.
And there are new clashes between Kurdish forces and Iraqi troops but there's also a hint at peace talks.
Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.
HOWELL: 5:00 am on the U.S. East Coast.
It's been an a week of deflections, distractions and outright fights in Washington, D.C. It all began with questions about a deadly ambush in Niger, an attack that killed four U.S. soldiers. And there are many serious questions surrounding what happened there.
It ended in a dizzying circus of political he said/she said and several false statements by the White House chief of staff. Our Jessica Schneider has this report for us today.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The White House today standing by erroneous claims made by Chief of Staff General John Kelly during a rare press briefing Thursday.
KELLY: A congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that, and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building. SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Kelly criticizing Congresswoman Frederica Wilson for this speech in 2015 at the dedication of a brand-new FBI field office in Miami. He said she was grand standing at a solemn event naming the new building for two FBI agents killed in a firefight with bank robbers.
KELLY: Now, she took care of her constituents because she got the money and she just called up President Obama and on that phone call he gave the money, the $20 million to build the building and we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it, even for someone that is that empty a barrel.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): But Kelly got crucial facts wrong in his very public and biting critique. Congresswoman Wilson never talked about funding. Instead, she touted her role ensuring the building was named for fallen FBI agents, Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, and pushing the bill through Congress in short order.
REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: The FBI wants to name this gorgeous edifice at the same time in four weeks. Everyone said that's impossible. And I said, excuse my friends, oh, hell no. We're going to get this done."
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Wilson in nearly 10 minutes of remarks didn't focus only on her achievements as Kelly implied, but also honored the fallen agents.
WILSON: It speaks to the respect that our Congress has for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the men and women who put their lives on the line every single day.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): And made sure they were acknowledged and applauded.
WILSON: So that we can applaud you. We are proud of you. We are proud of your courage. Thank you.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Despite the video of the speech, the White House is digging in, defending Kelly's comments.
SANDERS: General Kelly said he was stunned that Representative Wilson made comments at a building dedication honoring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress, including lobbying former President Obama on legislation.
As General Kelly pointed out, if you're able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes all about yourself, you're an empty barrel. If you don't understand that reference I'll put it in a little more simply, as we say in the South, all hat, no cattle.
SCHNEIDER: General Kelly also got two other details wrong, saying the FBI agents were killed in a firefight with drug traffickers when they were actually bank robbers. And he called one of the agents by the wrong last name saying "Duke" instead of "Dove."
Regardless, Sarah Sanders said getting into a debate over what the chief of staff said was, quote, "highly inappropriate" because he is a retired four-star Marine general -- Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.
HOWELL: Jessica, thank you.
And as to the press room exchange that Jessica was just referring to, here's what was said between Sarah Sanders and CBS correspondent Chip Reid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHIP REID, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Could he come out here talk to us about this at some point --
SANDERS: I think he addressed that pretty thoroughly yesterday.
REID: -- he was wrong yesterday in talking about getting the money. The money --
SANDERS: If you want to go after General Kelly, that's up to you. But I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that is something highly inappropriate.
HOWELL: Sarah Sanders has since written the following statement to CNN, and it reads as follows, "Of course, everyone can be questioned. But after witnessing General Kelly's heartfelt and somber account, we shall all be able to agree that impugning his credibility on how to best honor fallen heroes is not appropriate."
Mr. Trump also saying this in an interview on FOX Business. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He was so offended. Because he was in the room when I made the call and so were other people. And the call was a very nice call. He was so offended that a woman would be -- that somebody would be listening to that call, he was -- he actually couldn't believe it.
Actually, he said to me, sir, this is not acceptable. This is really not -- and he knew I -- I was so nice. Look, I've called many people and I would think that every one of them appreciated it. I was very surprised to see this, to be honest with you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: To talk about it this hour, of course, let's bring in a friend of the show, Inderjeet Parmar, professor of international politics at City University, live for us in our London bureau at this hour.
It's good to have you with us, Inderjeet.
INDERJEET PARMAR, CITY UNIVERSITY LONDON: Thank you.
HOWELL: In defense of General Kelly, the White House press secretary suggested to a reporter that it is simply inappropriate to question a four-star general. In a statement, though, she did seem to walk back that comment.
But let's not lose focus here. The question was raised about General Kelly's facts; those facts were wrong. Still, the White House take no responsibility on what was said.
PARMAR: Yes. Well, I think to some extent, General John Kelly was appointed to try to change the tone of the communications between President Trump and the White House generally towards the media and the public.
And what it seems to be, that, rather than restoring some kind of order, he seems to have become, in fact, tainted by that very sort of a thing that was a problem in the first place.
But I think it speaks to a broader question as well and a broader development, which I think has been in American politics for some time and that is that the so-called realities as spoken from the White House and other sort of -- other politics in Washington, appear to have lost any grip on reality.
We're living in a (INAUDIBLE) of post-truth politics. You can pretty much say whatever you like and then you can deny it or whack on some of it or even not even bother trying to correct the mistakes you've made.
And I think this is one of the problems that people have, the electorate, the people generally have with politics. And President Trump was elected to try to change that but it seems to me that he's just made it much, much worse.
HOWELL: Inderjeet, but that's why we're here. The facts do matter. We keep up with those pesky facts. They don't just go away. We stay on top of that.
But here's the question: how does this affect General Kelly's credibility?
He's always been seen, as you point out, as a military mind, as a person to bring a sense of order to the White House.
Is that credibility now tainted by politics?
PARMAR: I think there's two things, one is, of course, the fact that he's a retired four-star Marine general and so on and was brought into the White House to try to curb the kind of levels of communication with all kinds of unorthodox individuals with President Trump. You know, he sacked a number of people, Gorka, Bannon is gone,
Scaramucci is gone and so on. He has done that to some extent but on the other hand he was Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. And in that regard, he worked very closely with Steve Bannon on illegal immigration, increasing the powers of immigration and customs enforcement agents, reducing the -- making much more difficult for people to illegally migrate into the United States.
That is to say, he shared the agenda about so-called illegal immigrants and the whole rhetoric around it with President Trump. And he seems to be that in the speech he made, with regard to the fallen soldier and the discussion on the phone and then the congresswoman's speech with the FBI, it seems to be that he's now adopted a very similar style to that of President Trump himself.
So he hasn't really restored order; he's become part of the disorder.
HOWELL: Let's talk a bit about the former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Shifting now, Mr. Bannon on the road, promising a war against established Republicans. And he was on stage in California at a GOP convention. We saw him sharpen his focus. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP CHIEF STRATEGIST: There has not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush's.
BANNON: The rise of China started with the Clintons and Bush when they had this great theory that you let them into the World Trade Organization and give them most favored nations that they're going to become a liberal democracy as they get bigger and they're going to become more free market capitalists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: Important --
HOWELL: -- context here, important to point out that former president George W. Bush was in the news recently, making statements as many perceive as veiled swipes against the Trump administration though not mentioning President Trump by name.
Still here, as we see Steve Bannon on the road here, will attacking former presidents like Bush be an attractive sell to establishment Republicans beyond Trump's base?
Or is this a losing strategy, Inderjeet?
PARMAR: I think right now today, and where we are with President Trump in the White House and the whole alienation of the GOP electorate with the leadership of the Republican Party, I think this is probably the best thing that Bannon, from their perspective, could do.
They're looking forward to the midterm elections in one year's time. And I think what they want to do, they want to strengthen the Trump wing of the party or build a massive new wing of the party with the threat, possibly, in the air of a split in the party.
So attacking George W. Bush is really a swipe at many of the things that he did, which is decrease the legitimacy of the Republicans overall, the Iraq war in particular. And I think therefore when you look at the electorate as it stands, I think Bannon is basically saying the establishment of the Republicans have such low credibility -- nobody believes them, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and others -- they have very little credibility.
President Trump has a much higher approval rating. And among Republican voters anywhere between 79 percent to 90 percent still approve of him. So I think they're probably on the best political train they could possibly be.
And I think attacking that establishment is probably the best strategy for them at the moment. And I think a lot can happen in 12 months. But at the moment, I think they feel they're on the offensive. They believe they're going to win it.
I think in 2018, in November, we will see the results of that strategy. At the moment it looks like a positive strategy for them. But a lot can happen in 12 months.
HOWELL: We'll soon see the results of Steve Bannon on the road again attacking establishment Republicans. Inderjeet Parmar, thank you so much for taking time with us to give insight, We'll stay in touch with you.
PARMAR: Thank you.
HOWELL: Moving on now to Spain, that government is now moving to end the Catalonia secession crisis. The prime minister of the nation, Mariano Rajoy, is holding an emergency cabinet meeting.
Madrid is expected to establish central rule and to force new regional elections. CNN correspondent Erin McLaughlin following the story live in Barcelona this morning.
Erin, what can we expect to hear from the prime minister today?
ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, George, well, we are expecting a response to the Catalan government's referendum held earlier in the month that was deemed illegal by Spain's constitutional court, the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, still leaving open the possibility that the regional parliament could make a formal declaration of independence.
So in order to restore legality as Madrid puts it, they're having an emergency cabinet meeting underway now to go over a range of measures to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which would allow them to exert emergency powers over the region.
Measures could include everything from snap elections to taking control of government buildings. We're going to have to see what comes out of this cabinet meeting. We're expecting prime minister Mariano Rajoy to have a press conference out of it.
This is extremely sensitive, the situation is people here in Barcelona are extremely apprehensive, whatever he decides. He does run the risk of public backlash out of all of this. I was talking to people earlier today on the streets of Barcelona, who tell me they're blaming both sides for mishandling the situation. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): This is not a good situation. First, they need to talk and understand what is really happening here. Applying Article 155 without asking us, without knowing what is really happening here, they have to sit down with Puigdemont and know what is really happening, to listen to us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For me, the 155, it's like, let me say what I want. Let me do what I want. So 155 is like -- I don't know, return to the Francos' years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
I don't think it's right to apply 155. But I don't think there's any interruption either. I think this is a blow to democracy. They should have done this with a legal option. They have changed things in parliament in order to declaration independence. They have changed Catalan law in order to do this. This is not legal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They haven't done it the --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): -- right way but the government hasn't done it right, either.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLAUGHLIN: Now whatever is decided, out of this cabinet meeting, will then have to go to the Senate for approval. Worth noting, though, that Rajoy's party does have a majority within the Senate. So whatever is decided today is expected to pass -- George.
HOWELL: Erin, is there a concern that this could backfire if the prime minister does indeed take this action?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think that is a concern, George. This is an extremely sensitive topic here in Catalonia. Whatever is decided, he does risk a public backlash in the form of hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets in protest. The potential is there. So he's going to have to be very careful with what he chooses to do,
what measures he chooses to implement. Worth noting that later today, we are expecting a protest here in Barcelona, protesting the jailing of two Catalan leaders for sedition, another highly controversial topics here in this region -- George.
HOWELL: Erin McLaughlin, live for us in Barcelona, thank you for reporting. We'll stay in touch with you.
Still ahead on NEWSROOM, they fought for years to rid their country of ISIS. Why the Kurds are now under attack in Northern Iraq. Stay with us.
HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.
U.S.-backed fighters in Syria are celebrating a major victory over ISIS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL (voice-over): That's the scene there in Raqqa, Syria, on Friday, as the city was declared totally liberated. Syrian Democratic Forces danced at the stadium where ISIS fighters made their last stand just a few days ago.
Raqqa was the de facto ISIS capital for more than three years. The terror group isn't finished in Iraq and Syria but its grip is crumbling. Take a look at the map. It shows the territory held back in 2014 compared to what it now holds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: The battle for Raqqa was raged for many months. ISIS used explosives and snipers to slow down that offensive and we now have extraordinary footage, a look at some of that fighting. CNN has exclusive helmet cam footage from a filmmaker who --
HOWELL: -- was embedded with anti-ISIS troops. Our Phil Black has this report.
PHIL BLACK, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is one man's intimate revealing view of the battle for Raqqa. Resilient filmmaker, Gabriel Chaim followed Kurdish fighters for almost two months as they fought to take a strategically important hospital complex in the city's west.
He shared the same risks (INAUDIBLE) his company and friendship and (INAUDIBLE) reflected most. Chaim left his helmet cam rolling through it all as these fighters, part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fought to dislodge ISIS from its self-declared capital.
Chaim had previously spent months with Iraqi soldiers as they cleared ISIS from Mosul speaking from Syria, he explained why the battle for Raqqa was different.
GABRIEL CHAIM, PHOTOJOURNALIST (voice-over): It was like really heavy classes going on like street by street, corner by corner, urban classes, but here no.
BLACK: He says the biggest challenge was the extraordinary number of improvised explosive devices left behind by ISIS before they retreated. The tracks we usually said (inaudible) so the fighters learn to enter buildings higher up by blasting holes in external walls and crawling perilously across narrow makeshift ridges. The other challenge he says was snipers firing through the hospital's tall building.
CHAIM (voice-over): Those guys, they know how to fight very well. They know how to shoot very well.
BLACK: Chaim says the best answer to sniper fire was airpower.
While Chaim recorded events on the ground, he also used a drone to capture the battle from above. Those images show a largely empty city. The people gone. Their homes ripped open or flattened by war. ISIS no longer rules here. But once again, they've left behind a city scarred by their occupation and by the campaign to remove them -- Phil Black, CNN.
HOWELL: Phil, thank you for the report.
The Kurdish regional government says it is welcoming a U.S. call for talks and a cease-fire with Baghdad in disputed areas. Early Friday, Iraqi government forces clashed with Kurdish fighters in a small town just north of Kirkuk.
That seals their command of what had been Kurdish territory for the past three years. There's been deep tension between the central government in Baghdad and the semi-autonomous region in Northern Iraq. The Kurds voted in September for an independent state.
Our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman was there during the fighting on Friday. He's live for us in Irbil, Iraq and, Ben, if you could explain to our viewers what you saw and what you witnessed.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, George, this happened in a town of Altunkubri (ph), which is about halfway between Kirkuk and this, the city of Irbil. This is a town where Iraqi forces moved in early in the morning
yesterday. And what we saw was some of the most intense clashes between Iraqi forces and the Kurds in quite some time.
Now we understand the guns have gone silent. But there's deep bitterness between the two sides.
WEDEMAN (voice-over): Weapons once fired at ISIS, now fired at an ally turned enemy. Early Friday, Iraqi troops, including Iranian armed-Shia paramilitaries entered the town of (inaudible), north of Kirkuk pushing Kurdish forces ever further back.
This is the most serious outbreak of fighting yet between the two sides and does not bode well for a country that after three and a half years of bitter combat has come close to defeating ISIS.
This is the beginning of a war between Kurdistan and Baghdad, says Peshmerga Commander Goran Izz El-Dean (ph). We won't allow them to take our land.
Sporadic mortar and artillery fire echoes in the distance. As the days were on, more Kurdish forces (inaudible). According to an old adage, the Kurds have no friends but the mountains, their traditional refuge.
Today with United States officially neutral in this conflict, there is a sense among these fighters that indeed only the mountains are their friends. We were one hand with the Americans says (inaudible), but unfortunately, unfortunately, unfortunately, today the Americans have sold us to the Shia --
WEDEMAN (voice-over): -- and the Iranians.
The new American president once adored by the Kurds now the object of their anger. We celebrated for Trump says Aram (ph), but Trump betrayed us.
After ISIS stormed across Iraq in the summer of 2014, the U.S. made defeat of the terror group its top priority and it worked. But in victory, there is little to savor.
(on camera): A year ago, Iraqi and Kurdish forces were fighting side- by- side with the support of the U.S.-led international coalition to drive ISIS out of Mosul. Today that grand alliance is collapsing.
(voice-over): And collapsing with it perhaps Iraq itself.
WEDEMAN: Now both Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government have passed messages back and forth, suggesting that they both want to open a dialogue. However, we understand that, for instance, Baghdad is demanding that central government have control over Kurdistan's borders and airports.
And, of course, the borders are one of the major sources of income for the Kurdish regional government, after oil, of course. And so that's something of a nonstarter.
So these tensions, as I said, the guns have gone silent. There's no fighting at this moment. But they really have reached an impasse.
The Americans have said that they would be willing to act as an intermediary between the two sides but, at the moment, the situation is tense and there doesn't seem to be any way out of this mess for now -- George.
HOWELL: Ben Wedeman, live for us in Irbil, following the story. Ben, thank you.
Still ahead here, we're learning new details about that deadly ambush of U.S. soldiers in Niger. Just ahead, why the FBI is heading to Africa in order to investigate.
HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. It is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.
HOWELL: In the meantime, the pressure is mounting for U.S. officials to explain how one soldier was found so far away from his team after an ambush in Niger. He was one of the four soldiers killed when militants attacked them more than two weeks ago. CNN's Barbara Starr has this record for us.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sergeant La David Johnson was found nearly a mile away from the central scene of the ambush, according to four administration officials familiar with the early assessment. They all caution this is the early picture and the investigation continues.
The Pentagon is still looking at the exact circumstances of how he became separated from his unit. The entire team led by Green Beret has been interviewed, officials say, about when they last saw Johnson.
The U.S. team had stopped in a town on the Niger-Mali border so the Nigerians they were working with could pick up supplies, including food and water. And then they met with village elders. Investigators believe the ambush may have begun when the U.S. soldiers were back in their vehicles, possibly even driving.
As those killed are --
STARR: -- laid to rest, Defense Secretary James Mattis on Capitol Hill briefed Senator John McCain one day after McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, threatened subpoenas if the Pentagon doesn't start telling Congress what it knows.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I felt that we are getting sufficient amount of information and we are clearing a lot of that up now.
STARR (voice-over): Mattis refusing to publicly comment why the FBI is now involved in gathering intelligence on the suspected ISIS militants that ambushed the U.S. forces.
TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: The FBI would have jurisdiction to investigate and bring back the perpetrators to the U.S. if it can be done.
STARR (voice-over): The pressure is mounting for a public explanation. What did happen to Sergeant Johnson?
WILSON: He was abandoned for two days, for 48 hours. Why? Why didn't they pick him up and put him on their shoulders like they did the other fallen comrades? And put him on a helicopter and take him to safety. He could have still been alive.
STARR (voice-over): But Mattis is fiercely adamant that troops on the ground did everything they could.
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Having seen some of the news reports, the U.S. military does not leave its troops behind and I would just ask you not question the actions of the troops who were caught in the firefight and question whether or not they did everything they could in order to bring everyone out at once.
STARR (voice-over): And taking pains to point out all troops face risks. (INAUDIBLE), pushing back hard.
LT. GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE JR., DIRECTOR, JOINT STAFF: You know categorically that from the moment of contact no one is left behind, either U.S., our partner in Nigerian forces or French forces were on the ground accurately searching for the soldier.
STARR: In the first 48 hours when Johnson was still missing, CNN was one of the news organizations that agreed not to report an active search was underway for him because no news organization that is responsible would interfere with an active operation if it was even possible a soldier was still alive out there -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.
HOWELL: Barbara, thank you.
In just a few hours, Sergeant La David Johnson will be laid to rest in South Florida. Florida's governor has ordered flags to be lowered on Saturday in his honor.
U.S. lawmakers have spoken to several Russians as they focus on the 2016 meeting that took place at Trump Tower in New York. Our Manu Raju has more on the investigation on whether there was collusion between the president presidential campaign and Moscow.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We're now learning that several of these Russians have, in fact, met with the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is the first time that we are now learning that those Russians who did attend that June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr., with Paul Manafort, with Jared Kushner have, in fact, discussed what happened there with people on Capitol Hill investigating the potential of any collusion that occurred with the Russians and Trump associates.
Now this is significant in several ways. One, this is a big part of what investigators are trying to determine, whether or not there was any inappropriate contact with Trump associates and Russian officials.
And also it's a new sign that Trump Jr. himself may soon come to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Richard Burr, the Intelligence Committee chairman, confirming that several Russians did, in fact, meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee but also saying that they do want to sequence this so they can talk to everybody who was in the room first before bringing in Donald Trump Jr.
We don't know exactly which of these Russians did, in fact, meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee. Burr would not comment on that. Neither would other Senate Intelligence Committee officials. But we do know that there were four Russians in that meeting, including the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian American lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, as well as a Russian translator and a person who is tied to a Russian oligarch.
Representatives from each of those camps did not return our phone calls or would not comment. But clearly this is a key area of focus going forward. The question is, does it move them any closer to that notion of possibly collusion, possible coordination with the Trump campaign officials and the Russians? It's something that Donald Trump Jr. said there's nothing there in this meeting and investigators themselves are trying to figure that out -- Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.
HOWELL: Manu, thank you for the reporting.
North Korea is adding another line to a long war of words with the United States. Pyongyang's latest proclamation on its nuclear arsenal, we'll have it. Stay with us. (MUSIC PLAYING)
HOWELL: North Korea says it won't give up its nuclear arsenal under any circumstances. And while that's nothing new, the way they're seeing it now is raising some serious concerns. Here's Brian Todd with that.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kim Jong-un appears to be so confident in North Korea's nuclear weapons program that one of his diplomats is brashly declaring he's never giving those weapons up.
CHOE SON HUI, NORTH KOREAN DIPLOMAT: DPRK's nuclear weapon is nonnegotiable, unless the U.S. is prepared to coexist with a nuclear DPRK.
TODD: The ramp up rhetoric comes just a few hours after the president's national security adviser said this about his boss' position.
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He's not going to accept this regime, threatening the United States with a nuclear weapon. He won't accept it.
TODD: Former ambassador Joe DeTrani is one of few American diplomats to ever negotiate with North Korea. He says despite the war of word, conflict is not inevitable.
AMB. JOSEPH DETRANI, FORMER SPECIAL ENVOY TO NORTH KOREA: If North Korea's major issue is security concerns and the major issue is the so-called hostile policy we have towards North Korea, we're prepared to talk about their security concerns. But we are not walking away from insisting that they eventually will have to give up their nuclear weapons. TODD: But the U.S. is now concerned about another weapon in Kim's
arsenal. Cyber warfare.
MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: They have a robust capability. It is cheap.
TODD: Kim Jong-un is believed to have an army of more than 6,000 hackers. Most of them from North Korea's top intelligence agency. North Korean hackers are believed to have cyber heisted $81 million from the central bank of Bangladesh last year. Analysts say most of the money they steal pays for Kim's weapons programs.
The concern now is that North Korea could expand its list of targets from money to American missiles. JAMES LEWIS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: If there's missile defenses or command and control or military operations that are vulnerable, they will be able to get in and they will look to disrupt them, cause confusion, turn things off.
TODD (on camera): But America is counterattacking in cyberspace. Current and former U.S. military officials have said the U.S. has a program to disrupt north Korean missiles with cyber attacks -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.
HOWELL: Brian, thanks.
Coming up, Ireland and the United Kingdom are bracing for strong winds and very heavy rains. The latest on the new storm headed that way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL (voice-over): These pictures from Sydney, Australia, where thousands of people are out supporting same-sex marriage. Australians are currently voting in a postal survey that could lead to its legalization. The final results are expected next month.
Puerto Rico now has more than 21 percent of its power restored and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says they're not stopping until the entire island has electricity again. Puerto Rico's governor has pledged to have power back almost totally restored by mid-December.
But the Army Corps said that timeline is tight. Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico's aging power grid that also left thousands of residents without clean water, without medicine or other critical supplies.
It is so bad, in fact, in Puerto Rico, that hospitals, they're forced to treat patients in the dark. Residents are sweltering without air conditioning. And food warms in uncooled refrigerators. And many people who can't go to their homes are camped out in shelters, like classrooms, another reason that students can't go back to school. Our Polo Sandoval has this report.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This schoolyard should be bustling with activity at the height of the fall semester. Not today. Not since Hurricane Maria threatened and later devastated Puerto Rico. Like the island's other 1,100 public schools, the doors to this high school have been closed since September 18th. Today, the only signs of life are on the other end of the campus.
Room 204 serves as Margarita Fuentes' temporary home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).
SANDOVAL: This 52-year-old grandmother of 11 tells me, from one moment to another, she lost her house and everything in it.
Her grandson, Ezekiel (ph), led us up the mountainside to show us what's left of the family's homes. There isn't much else you can do these days. Like most of the students on this island, a return to class may provide a welcome escape from reality.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).
SANDOVAL: He says the first thing he'll do when he gets back to class is hug his friends. He doesn't know when that will be. As long as displaced families like his are using schools as shelters, classes can't resume.
The Department of Education announced Friday that some schools on the island would reopen on Tuesday. But the teachers at this school say that won't happen here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).
SANDOVAL (voice-over): "We have a lot of work to do," says Roxanna Miranda (ph), a drama teacher, anxious to welcome her high schoolers back to class.
While there's optimism, there's no real timeline for when the students will walk down the halls again. Even if displaced families are resettled, there are still plenty of obstacles.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).
SANDOVAL (voice-over): Classrooms are in disrepair.
SANDOVAL (voice-over): Roads are nearly impassable because of the mudslides and there's still no running water in town, leaving families to struggle to survive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).
SANDOVAL (voice-over): Margarita (ph) says she is staying strong and wants to see her grandchildren back in a classroom, just not this one -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, Corozal, Puerto Rico.
HOWELL: Polo, thank you. The five former living U.S. presidents are all coming together in a rare effort, as private citizens, to throw a benefit concert. Their goal: to raise money for recovery efforts in the United States and its territories that have been hit hard by Hurricane Harvey, by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.
The concert will be held on Saturday and it will be streamed live on oneamericaappeal.org.
The United Kingdom and Ireland are bracing for another storm system which could bring high winds and also flooding. In the meantime, a super typhoon will make landfall in Japan the next few days.
HOWELL: In London, there is a new exhibition that's celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first Harry potter book. It features some rare memorabilia along with some historic artifacts referenced in the popular series. Our Robyn Kriel has the story for us.
ROBYN KRIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Boy Who Lived, Voldemort and Quidditch began 20 years ago when J.K. Rowling enthralled the world with the release of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
On the two-decade anniversary, the British Library has conjured to life Rowling's magical world in a new exhibition.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This exhibition obviously will draw on a lot of things that the great fans of Harry Potter will know and love; things like bezoar stones won't need any explanation; mandrake roots or the Philosopher's Stone.
KRIEL (voice-over): Visitors can mix potions, study divination or look into the swirling depths of the crystal ball, brought to life by Google Arts and Culture. But perhaps the biggest selling point, a rare chance to view J.K. Rowling's own drafts and sketches for the first time ever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) early sketches of someone who (INAUDIBLE) Harry Potter stories. I think it's fascinating to actually see how the author views her own characters, alongside which we have some of her notes, for example, her plans for writing the fifth book in the series, "The Order of the Phoenix (sic)."
KRIEL (voice-over): The scratched-out, scrawled pages are a window into Rowling's mind as she began writing some of the best-selling books of all time. But the offerings aren't limited to Potter fanatics. Regular muggles can also revel in a treasure trove of wizardry artifacts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For those of you who aren't a big fan of Harry Potter, might not even have read the --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- books, you still, I think, get a lot of this exhibition because it does explore ideas relating to early magic, to early science and belief.
KRIEL (voice-over): An 800 B.C. caldron retrieved from the River Thames, medieval illustrations of witches, Chinese oracle bones thousands of years old or a 15th century tombstone of Nicolas Flamel, a posthumously reputed alchemist, who supposedly discovered immortality.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So one of my favorite items has to be this, the Ripley Scroll, which is just under six meters long, full of really strange, unusual alchemical imagery, telling you how to make the Philosopher's Stone. And people were working on this for centuries to try and create what is the elixir of eternal life.
KRIEL (voice-over): Perhaps it's no accident the British Library is a short walk from King's Cross Station, where wizards and witches can hop off at Platform 9-3/4 -- Robyn Kriel, CNN.
HOWELL: We end this hour with a black Labrador that's been given her walking papers after flunking a test to work for the CIA.
Lulu was in a canine bomb sniffing course but the spy agency said that she, quote, "wasn't interested in detecting explosive odors."
Anyone who's been turfed out of a job might identify with the CIA's goodbye tweet. It said this, "We'll miss Lulu but this was the right decision for her. We wish her all of the best in her new life."
Lulu's been adopted by her handler and she's now out chasing rabbits and squirrels.
Thanks for being with us on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. For our viewers in the United States, "NEW DAY" is next. For other viewers around the world, I'll be back with your world headlines in a moment.