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Hundreds Dead at Egyptian Sufi Mosque; Zimbabwe's Mnangagwa Sworn In; Trump's Working Vacation; Flynn Lawyers Stop Communicating with Trump Team. Aired 12mn-12:30a ET

Aired November 25, 2017 - 00:00   ET

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


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Egypt reeling from the deadliest terror attack ever carried out on its soil. More than 200 people have been killed and this time Muslim worshippers were targeted.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we have two bulls wanting to fight, we have to know how to tame both.

VANIER (voice-over): And you'll meet this 70-year-old Jesuit priest, who convinced Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe to step down.

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VANIER (voice-over): Plus remember when Donald Trump was named "TIME" magazine's 2016 person of the year?

The U.S. president says "TIME" called again and this time he turned them down. But the magazine's telling a different story.

Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier, live from the CNN NEWSROOM here in Atlanta.

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VANIER: At least 235 people are dead after the deadliest terror attack in Egypt's history. Gunmen attacked a mosque in Northern Sinai attended by Sufi Muslims. So far there's been no claim of responsibility. Here's the latest with Ian Lee.

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IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The scene of a massacre in Egypt's Northern Sinai. Militants attacked a mosque as worshipers conducted their midday prayers.

Eyewitnesses described small explosives going off outside of the mosque. Gunmen then shot people fleeing then entered the mosque to kill those who remained leaving this carnage in their wake. The militants, even ambushed ambulances, on their way to the injured and dead. The death toll continues to rise in the country's deadliest terrorist attack. So far, no claim of responsibility, but it bares the hallmark of ISIS. Egypt's president addressed the nation promising swift retribution with brute force.

ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This act aimed to destroy our morale, our steadfastness, make us doubt our abilities. This cruel terrorist will strength our resolve, our strength and our will to stand up to and resist and battle against terrorism.

LEE: Egypt's military and Air Force launched an operation to hunt the culprits. President Trump, Sisi's close ally tweeted his condemnation saying, "Horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshippers in Egypt. The world cannot tolerate terrorism. We must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence."

Egyptian security forces have been battling ISIS for years. In 2015, an ISIS bomb downed Russian Metrojet 9268 flying from Egypt's Sharm El Sheikh Airport, killing 224 passengers and crew.

The terrorists frequently target Egypt's minority Christian community, killing dozens in an attack on two charges last April. The terror groups also target Egypt's security forces on a daily basis.

FAWAZ GERGES, CHAIR, MIDDLE EAST STUDIES AT THE LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: This is a strategic attack. It delivers multiple messages. It shows that the Egyptian government cannot protect its own population.

And also, it shows the ability of militants, whether you're talking about the Wilayat Sinai, which is an affiliate of ISIS, or other freelancers because you have multiple factions who subscribe to this insidious ideology who have been operating in Egypt in Northern Sinai and even in Alexandria and Cairo and other cities as well.

LEE: As the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria wind down, officials express concern that radical militancy in Egypt could get worse -- Ian Lee, CNN.

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VANIER: For several years, the Sinai region in Egypt has been a flash point for violence. With Islamist groups waging an insurgency that the government hasn't been able to quell.

In July, at least 23 soldiers were killed in car bomb attacks targeting Egyptian soldiers at a military checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula.

In January, seven Egyptian police officers and one civilian were killed in a bomb attack in the city of al-Arish.

And in October last year, armed terrorist attacked a security checkpoint using four-wheel drive vehicles. That was in the city of Deir al-Abed. A dozen military personnel were killed in that attack.

Let's talk about all of this with Mohammad Sabry, an Egyptian journalist and author of "Sinai: Egypt's Linchpin, Gaza's Lifeline and Israel's Nightmare."

Mohammad, good to have you with us. Recent terror attacks has mostly been against Christians or the military.

Why were Muslim worshippers targeted --

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VANIER: -- this time?

MOHAMMAD SABRY, JOURNALIST: Thank you very much for having me, Cyril. I think this is a new development but it's not surprising, unfortunately. ISIS in Sinai has been threatening and targeting Sufi clerics in the Sinai for over the past few years.

And this time they managed to step it up and declare a loud message, saying that even Muslim worshippers praying in a mosque on the holiest day on the Islamic calendar, Friday, are not going to be safe from our attacks.

And this is something that we have not seen before. That being said, unfortunately, it is not surprising; this is the number sixth or seventh time that we see ISIS in Sinai executing successfully an unprecedented attack.

When they downed the military chopper, it was the first time in Egypt's history. When they bombed the capital's security director, it was first time in its history. And this time it's the deadliest attack in Egypt's modern history.

And parallel to that, we see the reaction and the words of the president, also very unsurprising and repeated, as he came out after various attacks before, pledging the same reactions and the same brute force in the fight against terrorism.

VANIER: Mohammed, you are comparing this attack to previous ISIS attacks but there's been no claim of responsibility yet here.

For you, is it a certainty that ISIS is behind this?

SABRY: Oh, it bears all the fingerprints of ISIS. We definitely have various factions committing terrorist attacks in Egypt at the moment. But this is definitely -- this is definitely an attack that seems to come after many threats that were made by ISIS in Sinai against the Sufi clerics.

And we have to also understand that this specific mosque is run by Sufi clerics, who come from the Sawaka (ph) clan that is known for being a rival against ISIS, that is known for picking up arms against ISIS.

And again, the Sufi community in the Sinai is succeeding in what the military in the Egyptian state wouldn't be able to accomplish, which is an ideological and a religious fight against ISIS.

The Sufi community has been able to magnet hundreds of youth (ph) away from ISIS' ranks and away from joining ISIS.

VANIER: Now ISIS is on the back foot in Syria and Iraq, where it tried to establish a caliphate. It has lost the ground that it held, almost all of it.

Do you think there are going to be more attacks in other countries by ISIS affiliates, as they have lost ground in Iraq and Syria?

SABRY: I believe that the (INAUDIBLE) in all the other countries such as (INAUDIBLE), such as Libya and even Western Africa, I believe all of those branches or so-called (INAUDIBLE) have existed long before ISIS.

And they will continue to exist long after ISIS falls in Syria and Iraq. And the situation in Egypt has been mainly wiped out. And this is why it was not taking a front-page headline basically on the news. And it became a headline when they pledged allegiance to ISIS.

But (INAUDIBLE) has again executed unprecedented attacks in 2012 and 2013 long they pledged allegiance to ISIS. And I believe they will continue to find their logistics. They will continue to force out their weaponry and their (INAUDIBLE) long after ISIS is gone.

VANIER: Mohammad Sabry, joining us from Istanbul, thank you very much.

SABRY: Thank you.

VANIER: Now President Trump made a big promise to Turkey's president Friday in the ongoing Syrian war. According to Turkey's foreign minister, Mr. Trump said the U.S. would immediately stop arming the YPG. That's the Kurdish militia fighting ISIS alongside U.S.-backed Syrian rebels.

Back in May, far from scaling down support for the YPG, President Trump had approved a plan to supply them with weapons. The White House says there are no impending plans to stop selling arms. Turkey has long condemned the YPG because of its ties to a Kurdish group responsible for terror attacks within Turkey.

After nearly 40 years of oppressive rule, Zimbabweans are hoping for change from their new leader. During his inauguration, President Emmerson Mnangagwa laid out his vision for his country.

Despite serving as Robert Mugabe's right-hand man for most of his career, Mr. Mnangagwa is now trying to distance himself from his predecessor.

EMMERSON MNANGAGWA, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF ZIMBABWE: In the new democratic Zimbabwe, we ask those who have punished us in the past to reconsider their economic and political sanctions against us. (INAUDIBLE) misunderstandings may have (INAUDIBLE) may have --

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MNANGAGWA: subsisted (sic) in the past, let this make way for a new beginning.

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VANIER: When there's a military takeover, as there was in Zimbabwe, it's not often that you get to find out what happened behind the scenes, the moments that really shaped history. CNN's David McKenzie was able to do just that. He sat down with a priest who mediated between the generals and Robert Mugabe. Those conversations, combined with military pressure, ultimately paved the way for Mugabe to resign.

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DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With each passing day, the calls grew louder, the pressure on Mugabe mounted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you hear two bulls wanting to fight, you have to know how to tame both.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): And this priest persisted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did I feel the pressure?

I'm a tough nut.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): As a mediator between Mugabe and he military, it was up to Father Mukonori (ph) to make sure the guns on the streets stayed silent. And the only sounds that the former president heard were the cries of his people and the reasoned voice of a long-time confidant.

MCKENZIE: What did those crowds mean to former president Mugabe?

What did he say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He saw that they spoke.

MCKENZIE: And he listened to them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are the results?

You see the results. That's a sign that he listened.

MCKENZIE: Did it break him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It moved him. It moved him in this sense that he realized they are speaking to say, this is enough.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): The negotiations were long.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes in a day, we'd go to three different places.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): But they were always civil. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was not a fight. It was a discussion.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): The generals even saluting the man they look to overthrow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a few weeks from now...

MCKENZIE (voice-over): It was during this address that the world thought Mugabe was ready to go. The resignation letter was already drafted. But before sending, Mugabe asked for just a few more weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listening of a 93-year old is not the same as listening of a 25-year old.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Adversity, says the priest, the cries were heard and a new president of Zimbabwe took the stage. Stripped of his office, Mugabe still wishes there was a more systematic transfer of power, says Father Mukonori.

He said he is available to Emmerson. He is available. He's at his disposal. He does not vanish from life, he is not dead. But he's vanished from limelight.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): A man who ruled with an iron fist, perhaps not willing to completely let go -- David McKenzie, CNN, Harare.

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VANIER: You can learn more about the rapidly changing situation in Zimbabwe on our website. That's cnn.com.

Coming up after the break, the U.S. president's working vacation. His packed schedule par for the course. Stay with us.

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VANIER: It's a holiday weekend here in the United States. President Trump is at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida for a working vacation. On his mind, the attack in Egypt, immigration, taxes and golf. Here's CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: President Trump hitting the links today with two of the biggest names in golf, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson. The White House rarely confirms when the president is golfing, but he made the announcement himself on Twitter, saying he would be "heading over to Trump National Golf Club, Jupiter, to play golf quickly."

He departed after more than four hours at the course. His visit marking the 80th day he's spent at one of his golf properties since taking office and his 100th day at a Trump-branded property. Many Americans and more than a few presidents play golf. It's only notable because of what Mr. Trump repeatedly said before winning the presidency.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I win, I may never see my -- I may never see these pieces again because I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to go play golf, believe me.

ZELENY: The president also talking by phone today with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the conflict in Syria. The Turkish foreign minister said Mr. Trump pledged to stop arming a Kurdish militia, the YPG, that the government considers a terrorist organization.

The president also condemning the attack today in Egypt killing more than 230 people and wounding more than 100 others in the deadliest terror strike on Egyptian soil.

He called the president of Egypt to discuss the attack, which he also seized upon to push his immigration agenda, tweeting: "We have to get tougher and smarter than ever before and we will. Need the wall, need the ban. God bless the people of Egypt."

The president is also turning his attention to the tax plan up for a vote next week in the Senate. He offered a preview during a Thanksgiving Day call from Mar-a-Lago with American service members around the world.

TRUMP: Now we're working on tax cuts. Big, fat, beautiful tax cuts. And hopefully we will get that and then you're going to really see things happen.

ZELENY: The president is set to meet with congressional leaders at the White House and attend a weekly lunch of Senate Republicans on Tuesday. The Senate Republicans still don't have the votes to pass the sweeping tax overhaul amid the concerns of the bill's effects on the deficit.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congress is talking about tax cuts that will add trillions to our national debt and hurt our economy.

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ZELENY: Senator Ron Johnson has announced his opposition, with Senator Susan Collins, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Lisa Murkowski all voicing concerns. Senator Rand Paul will likely support the plan with Senator John McCain as a wild card.

As America marked Black Friday, the president's campaign joined in on the annual day-after-Thanksgiving shopping rush with Trump merchandise marked down 30 percent.

In the president's phone call with Egyptian President Sisi, on the heels of his call with Turkish President Erdogan, talking about terror in Syria, both on the heels of a call earlier this week with Russian president Vladimir Putin also about Syria. This working vacation for the president continues throughout the weekend. He heads back to Washington on Sunday -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.

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VANIER: President Trump also took time out of his schedule to apparently turn down an offer to be "TIME" magazine's Person of the Year again.

He tweeted, "'TIME' magazine called to say that I was probably going to be named Man/Person of the Year like last year but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks, anyway."

But "TIME" magazine later tweeted, saying the president is incorrect about how the magazine chooses the person of the year. "TIME's" chief content officer later said the president's tweet didn't have, quote, "a speck of truth." "TIME's" Person of the Year, by the way, will be announced on December 6th.

Peter Matthews is a political analyst, professor of political science at Cypress College and I asked him earlier why would the president even tweet this in the first place?

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PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: It seems to me that Mr. Trump wanted to make it known that some important source, such as "TIME" magazine, really wanted him on the cover or whatever, to be interviewed. That's something that gives him a great sense of importance. He's done this in past as well in different ways.

So it's quite interesting and probably very instructive of how he operates quite often.

VANIER: It also reminds us that Mr. Trump has turned down interview requests with mainstream media, any major media but FOX, since May, since -- that was just days before the Mueller investigation began.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

VANIER: Is that a factor here as far as you're concerned?

MATTHEWS: I think so. I think to some extent he doesn't want to face media that could be very critical or analytical of what actually doing. He'd rather be on a friendly network like FOX that would praise him and, you know --

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MATTHEWS: -- embellish what he's doing rather than coming out and critically analyzing it, as CNN and MSNBC and other stations do.

So maybe that's why he's stayed away since May. Very interesting.

VANIER: All right. Let's look at what we learned this week, that former national security adviser Michael Flynn's lawyers have stopped talking to Donald Trump's lawyers, indicating that Michael Flynn may now be cooperating with the Russia investigation or at least in talks for potentially cooperating with the Russia investigation.

Should the White House be afraid of this?

MATTHEWS: I think that there's no guarantee that he will cooperate against Mr. Trump but there's a good chance that he will because, otherwise, why would they actually cut off the communications with the Trump lawyers?

I think there could be something here and, if that's the case, it's very problematic for the Trump side because Flynn, of all people, would know a lot of about what happened in the campaign. He would know what kind of activity or contacts that were with Russia, from not just himself but other people as well and perhaps maybe even, you know, what the president did and said at certain times.

More than anyone else, this is very, very important. I think that this development is instructive of what could be happening.

VANIER: He's thought to have the most criminal exposure, he and his son. In fact, he has said to people around him that he was worried about what might happen to his son.

MATTHEWS: Yes, Michael Flynn Jr. Yes.

VANIER: So obviously there's an incentive for him to come clean and to try and reduce his criminal exposure as far as the Russia investigation is concerned and share everything he knows or might know.

MATTHEWS: Absolutely because when your son is involved, it's your family, your most immediate family and you've got a double responsibility to yourself and your son. And that, from the Flynn perspective, to do as much as they can or he can to avoid any real prosecution after indictment.

So it looks from the outside -- and we can't really exactly know what's going on from the inside yet -- but it looks from the outside that General Flynn is really trying his best to save his son and himself.

And it's possible he'll have to tell everything he knows to Mr. Mueller, especially, Mr. Mueller has actually agreed to that. So it'll be very interesting to follow this up and see what happens.

VANIER: OK. And CNN is also learning on Friday that the State Department, run by the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, does not want to send very high-level representatives to the global entrepreneurship summit that's going to be held in India. Apparently the reason, this is what our sources are telling us, is

that Ivanka Trump is going to be there and they essentially don't want to give too much support to Ivanka Trump because Rex Tillerson is frustrated with her.

MATTHEWS: Well, certainly the whole idea of having your own children, in the administration at such high levels, as Donald Trump has done, is quite problematic. Not to mention the idea of nepotism but also how qualified is Ivanka Trump or Jared Kushner in terms of really shaping foreign policy?

So very important question. I'm sure Mr. Tillerson is very concerned about that as well and perhaps that's why the State Department has decided that, to not give credibility or a lot of that type of -- shoring up support for Ivanka being there.

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VANIER: Look, is there any question as to who's running U.S. diplomacy?

MATTHEWS: Well, of course there is a question because, officially, the secretary of state is supposed to be in charge of the whole thing and has to have the full confidence of the president, which is really important to other leaders in the world, will actually believe the secretary of state when he makes comments and make pledges or certain policy. They will believe him if he has the confidence of the president.

But this president has undermined Secretary of State Tillerson several times; for example, when Secretary of State Tillerson said that we have open channels toward North Korea, that we in fact are working on a diplomatic solution. A diplomatic solution is very important, he said.

And the same day practically, President Trump went out and said, Rex Tillerson is a good man but he's wasting his time negotiating. That completely undermines him. So there's a real problem here as to who is really running the show with U.S. foreign policy.

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VANIER: Peter Matthews there, speaking to us from Los Angeles.

We have developing news out of Pakistan, where authorities are trying to break up an Islamabad protest that's been going on for more than two weeks. That's according to CNN affiliate GOTV there.

About 2,000 protesters have been demanding the resignation of Pakistan's law and justice minister. They are supporters of the hardline Islamic party and say that the minister is undercutting blasphemy laws.

Stay with us. We'll see you on the back of this break.

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VANIER: Thank you very much for watching CNN NEWSROOM. We'll be back with the headlines in just moment. Stay with us for that.