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Russians Charged with U.S. Election Meddling; Florida School Shooting; Oxfam Denies Cover-up; South Africa's Ramaphosa Ushers in New Era; PyeongChang Olympics 2018; "Three Billboards" Inspires Grenfell Tower Protest. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired February 17, 2018 - 03:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): With the announcement of a new indictment, the U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller just made it impossible for the President of the United States to keep calling the Russia probe a total hoax.

And a former intelligence chief predicts another shoe to drop.

Plus new details about the Parkland, Florida, shooter and how the FBI didn't act on a tip before 17 lives were lost.

And Oxfam's alleged sex crimes scandal. CNN travels to Haiti to investigate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no, no.


HOWELL: Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: Around the world, good day to you.

The Russia probe that the President of the United States has repeatedly dismissed as a hoax has now resulted in a very real set of federal indictments against 13 Russian operatives.

The charges filed by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, unveiled on Friday, they paint a vivid and detailed picture of Russian individuals with a great deal of financial backing, going to great lengths to damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton, at the same time trying to boost the fortunes of Donald Trump.

President Trump had nothing to say about the attack on U.S. democracy, instead tweeting about himself. "Russia started their anti-U.S. campaign in 2014, long before I

announced I would run for president. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong. No collusion."

We get more now from CNN's Karen Caipha (ph) on this story.


KAREN CAIPHA (PH), CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A grand jury has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election with activity beginning as early as 2014.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States, with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.


CAIPHA (PH): A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman has called the indictments "absurd." The announcement was made by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

Attorney general Jeff Sessions, a former Trump campaign adviser, recused himself from the Russia investigation last year. But the charges are the result of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign including any connections between Russia and the Trump campaign. Rosenstein said the allegations do not point to any Americans as willing participants.

ROSENSTEIN: The nature of the scheme was that the defendants took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists.

CAIPHA (PH): The indictment alleges the Russians posed as American citizens, operated social media accounts aimed at U.S. audiences and set up rallies around the U.S., including in election battlegrounds like Florida.

They allegedly manipulated information about a number of candidates but by mid-2016 supported Trump and disparaged Hillary Clinton.

The president has long dismissed talk of Russian interference in the election as a hoax.

In a statement issued by the White House Friday, he said, "It's time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations and farfetched theories, which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors like Russia and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions."

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOWELL: Karen Caipha (ph) there reporting there for us.

Karen, thank you.

The former director of the U.S. National Intelligence, James Clapper, spoke with my colleague, Anderson Cooper, about the indictments. Clapper's biggest worry here: the Trump administration, he says, is doing nothing to stop Russian interference in U.S. politics. Listen.


GEN. JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The singular indifference to this is really a peril to the country. And to me, that transcends, whether there was collusion or not, all that, that is significant, sure; if that is proven to be the case.

But what's a greater danger to the country is the lack of response to this. We haven't punished the Russians, we don't have a whole-of- government approach to defending ourselves against further such attacks. And the Russians are going to keep coming at us.

As we've often said, Bob Mueller and his team know a lot more about all this than is out there that we know. And I think there's much more to come. I didn't see any announcement about closing down the investigation after this indictment.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Yes. So no more talk about over by Thanksgiving, over by New Year's that's going to go on. Director Clapper, thank you. Appreciate it.


HOWELL: As for Russia, that nation has repeatedly denied that it meddled in the U.S. election and it's not changing its tune after these U.S. indictments.


HOWELL: CNN's Fred Pleitgen has more now on the Kremlin's response from Moscow.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Russian reaction was very swift to the new indictments by special counsel Robert Mueller. It came both from the Russian government but also from one of those who's on the list of the indictments.

Now the person who commented is actually one of the most important people on that list of indictments. His name is Yevgeny Prigozhin and he's the head of a big empire that was also -- or of which the Internet Research Agency was also a part.

The Internet Research Agency of course is what many people call the troll factory and what the indictment says was responsible for a lot of these activities that were going on around the election in 2016. Now Mr. Prigozhin, he came out with a statement saying, and I quote,

"Americans are very impressionable people. They see what they want to see. I have great respect for them. I'm not at all upset that I'm on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them see one."

So he's saying that he's not really particularly concerned about being on this list of indictments. He's, of course, very close to the Kremlin and very close to Vladimir Putin.

Some of the other reactions that came out have been from the Russian government, in the form of the government spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova. She was quite harsh on the U.S.

She said, and I quote, "13 people intervened in the elections in the U.S.?! Thirteen against billion dollar budgets of special services? Against intelligence and counter intelligence? Against the latest developments and technologies? Absurd? Yes," she said.

So some clearly, very forceful reaction. Now this does show that the Russians do take these indictments very seriously just because we see how fast their reactions is very late even, on a Friday night. But they also show that they are very, very angry that this has now transpired -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Moscow.


HOWELL: Fred, thank you.

Now to the U.S. state of Florida and CNN's exclusive reporting. We're learning more about the man who confessed to killing 17 people in cold blood in a Broward County high school.

It comes from a closed Instagram group that Nikolas Cruz belonged to. In it, photos of Cruz illustrate his obsession with guns and obsession with violence. And among hundreds of racist comments, he talks about hating Jews, hating immigrants and blacks and using the N word.

He writes about killing Mexicans, keeping black people in chains and cutting their necks and shooting gays in the back of the head.

In the meantime, Cruz plans to plead guilty to the school shootings to avoid the death penalty. This, according to his attorney, could happen in court on Monday.

And now a troubling word about an apparent FBI foul-up. The agency let crucial information that might have helped to avert the tragedy slip through its fingers. Our Drew Griffin reports.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight a startling admission from the nation's top law enforcement agency. Just six weeks ago, a tipster called the FBI tip line and warned them about the possible school shooter.

The caller provided information, the FBI statement reads, about the shooter's gun ownership desire to kill people, erratic behavior, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.

What did the FBI do? Apparently nothing. In the statement released hours ago, the FBI admits it did not follow protocol. The tip never made it to the Miami Field Office, never made it to the agents who could have possibly followed up.

ROBERT LASKY, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, MIAMI DIVISION: On behalf of myself and over 1,000 employees of the Miami Field Office, we truly regret any additional pain that this has caused.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The attorney general now demanding an investigation. It is just one more warning sign missed on the path the confessed killer was taking that led him to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this past Wednesday. Newly obtained records by CNN show the Broward County sheriff's office was called to the shooter's home more than 30 times since 2010.

In 2016, during one of those calls, an incident report shows deputies and mental health professionals wrote the suspect suffers from mental illness, was seeing a therapist and according to the report, he has mentioned in the past that he would like to purchase a firearm. Despite reports from his mother that he was cutting his arm, a therapist on the scene deemed him to be no threat to anyone or himself at the present time.

Fellow students tell CNN the shooter was strange, constantly acting up in school, getting in fights and eventually expelled. Joshua Charo says he and others felt the danger had passed.

(on camera) You thought he would never come back to the school?

JOSHUA CHARO, JUNIOR, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: I think no one knew he would come back to the school.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Charo, 16 --


GRIFFIN (voice-over): -- years old, spent a year in ROTC class with the shooter. A student he says that was quiet except when it came to talking about guns.

CHARO: He always liked to talk about guns. He was always asking people what kind of guns were better, if they knew which model worked best for certain hunting activities.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Did he ever talk about hunting?

CHARO: Oh, yes, a lot. He talked about hunting a lot. That and guns were usually the only two things he would talk about when we ever spoke.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Charo says he lost touch with the shooter. Then out of the blue, a message.

CHARO: He requested to follow me on his new Instagram before everything happened, like two or three weeks ago.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): That shooter's Instagram account, like his social media postings, in hindsight, all additional possible warnings. Now in the wake of the mass shooting, police, the FBI, school officials and students wonder what could have been done -- in Parkland, Florida, Drew Griffin, CNN.


HOWELL: Drew, thank you.

HOWELL: In the aftermath of what happened, the U.S. president is now in Florida. Before heading to his resort at Mar-a-lago he visited a hospital. He spoke with two of the wounded there and tweeted these pictures, one of them with a thumbs-up, smiling there with one of the victims and medical personnel.

Also saying in a tweet,, quote, "Our entire nation with one heavy heart continues to pray for the victims and their families in Parkland, Florida. From teachers to law enforcement, first responders and medical professionals who responded so bravely in the face of danger, we thank you for your courage."

Keeping in mind the president, though, did not speak about changes in gun laws.

It is a heartbreaking time for survivors and families and, indeed, the United States. The first funerals were held on Friday and more are expected to follow. The grief and the anger from what happened, it is palpable. Vigils and protests were held outside the headquarters of the National Rifle Association, which opposes stricter gun laws.

The crowd chanting, "Enough."

And in Florida yet another vigil, one of many, as the grieving continues. My colleague, Don Lemon, spoke with some of the students there. Listen.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: You guys had the opportunity because the president was there. If you had the opportunity to meet with him, what would you say to him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I were able to meet with the president, I would just let him know that you can never take the bullets out of the gun. In this situation, the shooter is going to do anything they can to carry out their goals and we can't take the bullets out of his gun. We can just put on the vest.

And that vest has to be metal detectors in schools, if it has to be that. If it has to be giving guns to security officers. Just we can't stop these people from thinking but we can make it harder for them to act. And we can make it impossible for them touch us.

LEMON: What do you say, Joey? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the only thing that I'd be willing to say.

JOEY: I think I would tell him it's not about mental illness. I mean, obviously that is a big factor because no person in their right mind can go and just shoot up a school like this.

But I think that we really need to have better background checks. This kid was diagnosed with autism I believe at age 11. This kid really should not have been able to acquire a gun legally or at all.

So I just think I would tell him, yes, it is somewhat about mental illness, I guess, but, in reality, it is more about the gun.


HOWELL: The students said that they've known the gunman for years and, in their words, they believe he always wanted to hurt others.

The British charity Oxfam says that it is reviewing the agency's practices after several members were accused of using prostitutes while they were deployed in Haiti. The aid group denies that it tried to cover up the behavior, which allegedly occurred after Haiti's 2010 earthquake. My colleague, Cyril Vanier, reports.


CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Barbed wire, tall walls: this compound is like many others in Port-au-Prince. Yet this is one of the villas at the center of the Oxfam prostitution scandal.

The security guard is edgy. No cameras allowed.


VANIER (voice-over): This apartment complex was rented by British aid agency Oxfam back in 2010 at the height of the earthquake relief effort. And Oxfam confirmed to CNN it is one of two locations in Port-au-Prince where their staff brought prostitutes.

We spoke to neighboring store owners who were here at the time. Some of the vendors, like Joel Charles (ph), knew NGOs like Oxfam were staying in the --


VANIER (voice-over): -- area. But Joel (ph) says he was surprised to hear of the allegations.

The man of the center of it all left the country seven years ago. Roland Van Hauwermeiren, a Belgian national. He ran Oxfam's operations in Haiti during the earthquake. In an internal investigation, he admitted bringing prostitutes to his personal villa but those details were not made public at the time.

He was forced to resign in 2011. "The Times" newspaper in London first reported the allegations and CNN has been unable to reach Roland Van Hauwermeiren for comment. On Thursday, he spoke to Flemish media and hit out at what he calls "exaggerations."

ROLAND VAN HAUWERMEIREN, FORMER OXFAM HAITI OPERATIONS DIRECTOR (through translator): I don't feel good about the people who, of course, are told by perhaps less professional journalists that Oxfam is an instrument that keeps sex orgies with the money from good civilians. That is really not true.

VANIER (voice-over): Back in Haiti, authorities are launching their own investigation to find out exactly what happened. The foreign minister tells me he hopes it will lead to arrests and ultimately prosecution.

Prosecuted where?

ANTONIO RODRIGUE, HAITIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): A Haitian court, a Haitian court because the alleged actions were committed in Haiti and it involves Haitian women. So definitely a Haitian court.

VANIER (voice-over): Mr. Rodrigue also says Oxfam is not currently in danger of being expelled from the country.

At a public park in Port-au-Prince, emotions are mixed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): From what I'm hearing about the NGOs, exploiting the vulnerabilities of the youth, they are poor and living miserably. And if things don't change, it will always be the same.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's something that's not good for the country.

VANIER (voice-over): Exploitation is a word we heard a lot here, after a string of scandals involving NGOs in recent years, Haitians feel let down by aid groups.

RODRIGUE (through translator): These people who came to help, they profited from the misery, the vulnerability, its abuse, its exploitation. What happened is horrible.

VANIER (voice-over): Cyril Vanier, CNN, Port-au-Prince.


HOWELL: Cyril, thank you so much.

Now to South Africa. That nation's new president is denouncing the type of corruption and scandal that haunted his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.

In his debut state of the nation speech on Friday, Cyril Ramaphosa says he hopes to close the country's deep divisions and to usher in what he calls a new dawn. Our David McKenzie has more now from Cape Town.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The state of the nation here in South Africa is always an event of pomp and circumstance but far more significant this year with Cyril Ramaphosa, the new president, giving an address, harkening back to Nelson Mandela, calling for ethical leadership in South Africa and taking the issue of graft and allegations of corruption head-on.

CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, ANC PRESIDENT: We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity, that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard- earned savings of ordinary people.

MCKENZIE: Ramaphosa went into specifics, saying the leadership of the national prosecuting authority needs to be improved. Just this week there have been moves on several individuals that are implicated in corruption allegations.

He briefly mentioned Jacob Zuma, the former president, to jeers, a man who is also possibly going to face prosecution. But Ramaphosa mostly dealt with the future in South Africa, calling for a new dawn -- David McKenzie, CNN, Cape Town.


HOWELL: David, thank you.

Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, an earthquake in Mexico shakes buildings and rattles nerves. We'll have the very latest of this powerful earthquake as NEWSROOM pushes on.




HOWELL: Fair to say there was a great deal of panic in Mexico City on Friday as a major 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked the southeastern part of that nation. Many people ran from shaking buildings to the relatively safe streets there, the open streets. Fortunately, authorities say that no deaths have been reported from this earthquake.


HOWELL: Shock and awe now at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. A great deal of excitement around these games. Japan wins its first gold medal of the games in the men's figure skating after Yuzuru Hanyu's nearly perfect performance.

And the Czech Republic's Ester Ledecka made a run of her life to capture the gold in the women's SuperG ski race.

Let's bring in CNN's Christina Macfarlane, live in PyeongChang, South Korea, with the highlights.

Good to have you.

CHRISTINA MACFARLANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks very much, George. It's been a big day here. And I'll tell you, when Yuzuru Hanyu wins, a whole nation rejoices. And it was incredible to see a largely Japanese crowd in floods of tears in the ice arena following his skate earlier today.

After putting in a record-breaking performance in the short program on Friday there were big questions as to whether Hanyu's fitness could hold out for the free skate today because he's still recovering from a long-term injury.

In the end, he did just enough, skating on the edge of his endurance, at the end getting down on one knee and patting the ice as stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh bears rained down from the crowd.

Just to explain, Hanyu is a huge fan of the fluffy bear and it is his lucky mascot. He is swamped by them every time he competes.


MACFARLANE: Also in action was America's Nathan Chen who said he wanted to redeem himself after a poor skate in the short program that saw him finish 17th, a pretty dismal performance. And today he did just that, making history with six quad jumps. That's four rotations in the air. Signing off these games by actually winning the free skate today but overall finishing fifth. If nothing else, showing exactly what he's capable of at 18 years of age.

Meanwhile, here in the mountain cluster, there was high drama in the women's SuperG. America's speed queen Lindsey Vonn in action for the first time after so much buildup. She's been speaking a lot about racing for her late grandfather. He passed away last year.

But sadly, after a strong and fast start she made a serious mistake toward the end of the race, which brought her to a dead stop. Instead it was a rank outsider, Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic, who -- get this -- competes not only in skiing but in snowboarding. She's the only athlete to do that here at the games. It was a real extraordinary experience to watch it -- George.

HOWELL: All right, Christina, thank you so much. We'll stay in touch with you because great stories certainly coming out of these Winter Olympic Games. A lot to hear. Thank you.

London activists are borrowing from an Oscar-nominated film. They want to make sure that the deaths of 71 people in the massive Grenfell Tower fire don't fade from the minds of officials.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think those billboards is very fair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We wanted really not only the country and international community to actually not forget that Grenfell is still a live issue and there's lots of stuff which hasn't been resolved.

But we also wanted to put some pressure on the authorities to say, come on now, come on now. What's happening?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We also felt that over the last couple of months there's been inaction on what they're doing and we wanted to kind of force something, to say, look, we're still watching you. We haven't gone away. And we know the establishment kind of has a history of kind of pushing that away, hoping that it would drop off. And we just didn't want that to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seems to me the local police department is too busy eating Krispy Kremes to solve actual crimes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I think the most powerful line in the film for us was that. If you keep it in the public domain, the better chances you have of getting something done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We also have younger people who actually reference the experience through films. So actually referencing a film that people actually understood the power of the film, people could connect and reconnect with an issue that actually sometimes people get a little bit of compassion fatigue and makes people realize that actually everything hasn't been resolved in Grenfell.


HOWELL: Keeping the memory of what happened there front and center. Thank you for being with us here for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. "INSIDE AFRICA" is up next. But first, your world headlines after the break.