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Saudis Confirm Death of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi; Scenes of Desperation, Chaos at Guatemalan Border Gate; The Impact of Khashoggi's Reporting; Trump Defends Politician's Assault on Journalist; More Delays in Afghanistan Vote; U.S. Charges Russian for Meddling; European and Japanese Space Agencies Launch BepiColombo. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired October 20, 2018 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): After 17 days, Saudi state TV finally confirms what the world already expected, "The Washington Post" contributor Jamal Khashoggi is dead.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Another top story we're following, dramatic pictures from Mexico as thousands of migrants make their way north. President Trump warned of an assault by criminal elements.

HOWELL (voice-over): And in Afghanistan, voters go to the polls, though so many people are running for seats in parliament, the ballot paper looks like a newspaper.

Where do you start?

ALLEN (voice-over): And, of course, they are voting under threat of violence by the Taliban. We'll talk about how it is going there.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL (voice-over): And I'm George Howell. From CNN World Headquarters, NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: 4:00 am on the East Coast. After weeks of denials, Saudi Arabia now admits what has long been suspected. "The Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi died when inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd.

ALLEN: According to Saudi media, so this is the government of Saudi Arabia, he died after getting into an argument and fist fight with more than 1 dozen Saudi officials. Here is how the news broke on state TV.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The investigation showed that primary discussions was inside the consulate of the Saudi Arabia; was not carried out in the proper way which led to arguments and hand to hand fight with the officials and Jamal Khashoggi which exacerbated the situation that led to his death.


HOWELL: And the White House was quick to embrace the Saudi narrative. When asked whether he found the explanation to be credible, the president had this to say.


TRUMP: I do. I mean, it is again early. We haven't finished our review or investigation. But I think it is a very important first step and it happened sooner than people thought it would happen.


HOWELL: That from the White House. And now to the region. CNN has correspondents following all aspects of this story. From Saudi Arabia, Sam Kiley, live in Riyadh and our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, in Istanbul, where the investigation in Turkey continues.

Sam, starting with you. Tell us more about the Saudi explanation that Khashoggi is dead due to a fist fight and actions that the government has taken.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, George, this was an announcement made on Saudi state TV at about 1:00 in the morning local time. But it laid out a narrative that we had been led to believe was likely, which was that the crown prince, the chief executive effectively of this nation, was uninformed as to this operation but that the Saudis have admitted that Saudi officials did kill "The Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Turkish consulate on October 2nd.

As you say there, the official statement suggested that it was the result of a fist fight and that it was an accident. Nonetheless, 18 people have been detained here in Saudi Arabia.

And at least another five very senior officials, very close to the royal court, among them the Saud Qatani (ph), chief media adviser to the crown prince himself, they have been relieved of their positions. Most of the others are very senior members of the intelligence and security services.

There is no particular explanation as to why they have been removed from their positions at the moment but the implication is that, if they didn't know about this operation, they should have done from their Saudi perspective.

And this is a remark that was part of the statement made on state TV. And I think it is very telling. Let's have a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The public prosecution confirms that they will continue investigating and interrogating those responsible who are 18 persons of Saudi nationality.


KILEY: Now they say that they will continue the investigations and indeed the royal court has set a one month deadline --


KILEY: -- for a full report on these deliberations. But what is not going to be investigated is the role of the crown prince, in whose hands almost all power in this country has already been concentrated, George.

In fact, what King Salman's royal court statement said is that he will now be presiding over another the set of investigations into a complete reform of the intelligence services here.

A cynic might say, well, part of their reforms would be to look at how it was possible that this sort of mission could be conducted off the books without somebody in a very high level knowing about it.

The other more cynical investigation might be as to how it was possible and seems likely that the Turks were able to bug the consulate so effectively in Istanbul.

HOWELL: That is the Saudi explanation. One question not answered from Saudi Arabia, where is Khashoggi's body. That question remains unanswered. Sam Kiley live for us in Riyadh. Thank you.

Let's cross now to Nic Robertson.

We've seen that surveillance video provided through Turkish authorities showing some individuals who may have been connected to this.

Is there any indication that any of these people are among the 18 Saudi nationals that Saudi Arabia has detained?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Saudi Arabia hasn't released the details of the vast majority of those people. They removed two very close officials to the crown prince, three deputy heads of intelligence along with them.

But the other people of those 18 that are detained, other than those five, it is not clear. That leaves 13 not clear who they are. Sam is very clear in his reporting there. There are a vast number of questions that the Saudis haven't answered.

Of course the biggest one is what happened to Jamal Khashoggi's body. The reason that we are left with so much ambiguity and we actually are left to draw the conclusions and inferences from what the Saudi statement has said is because they aren't being clear.

I think one of the interesting takeaways has been in all of this and this does seem to strike a note with the Turkish president as well, one of the statements said that they had formed a joint sort of working group with Turkish authorities, that the Saudis had sent a delegation here on the 6th of October, four days after Jamal Khashoggi disappeared.

Yet it took another nine days on top of that before Turkish officials' investigators were allowed to get into the consulate. And the consulate had been painted over inside. And it was reference to that President Erdogan seemed to show displeasure that few days after Khashoggi's disappearance that the consul general allowed journalists in, opened cupboards, showed them around a few routes inside. That seems to be rankling with the Turkish president.

HOWELL: Nic, and I'd also like to get your thoughts on the high officials relieved of duties. Specifically General Ahmed al-Asiri (ph). You've interviewed him before. He held a prominent role, especially with the war in Yemen.

How significant is it that he has taken the fall here?

ROBERTSON: Well, I think if we say taken the fall, that kind of implies that he has offered himself up for this and there is no indication of that. We haven't heard from him directly.

He is a senior official, the deputy head of the intelligence, very close to Mohammed bin Salman. He wasn't -- he previously had been a two star general inside the air defense corps.

But in his position as intelligence, he didn't have the title of general. I met him first discussing the war in Yemen.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): General Ahmed Asiri's (ph) path to power came through TV, defending Saudi interests.

ROBERTSON: Does the coalition use cluster munitions?

BRIG. GEN. AHMED ASIRI, SAUDI COALITION SPOKESMAN: We don't use cluster bomb in Sanaa.

ROBERTSON: The coalition is not using cluster bombs in Sanaa?


ROBERTSON: Are you using cluster munitions elsewhere in Yemen?

ASIRI: No. Let me...

ROBERTSON: Not at all, no cluster munitions?

I'm trying to be clear. ASIRI: I'll comment to you.

ROBERTSON: But I just want to be precise, because...

ASIRI: I will answer the question precisely.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): For several years, the coalition spokesman for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. He had huge international and Saudi exposure and became a local celebrity in Saudi Arabia.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): His fame, coupled to his robust defense of Saudi interests, earned him the attention of architect of that war, all powerful defense minister, Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS.

A general in Saudi's air defense corps, Asiri got a second star and, according to a source, sought close ties to Mohammed bin Salman during the young royal's rapid rise to crown prince.

It paid off, Asiri was plucked out of the military and made deputy intelligence chief in 2017. According to the source, he took over after the previous incumbent retired following a botched so-called rendition of a suspect from China.

A serious ambition had carried him into MBS' orbit and he had become a vital cog in the machine ensuring the crown prince's grip on power and was believed by several sources to have put together the team involved in "The Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance.

In 2016, in an interview with CNN, he described his experience planning military operations.

ASIRI: When you make the plan for an operation, you start by having a situation that goes well (ph). But this situation will indeed be changing. There is a lot of things getting in and the change or adapt your plan.


ROBERTSON: So the investigational commission that crown prince Mohammed bin Salman will now head will be to look into the role of people like Asiri, to talk into the role of the intelligence group as a whole.

But it does seem to all those people that follow the wheels of power, if you will, that Asiri was just a loyalist and like one of the others who have been removed. It is very unlikely to have done anything that he would have believed would have been outside the bounds of what crown prince Mohammed bin Salman wanted. That is how the country has been run.

So I think that his removal is going to raise a lot of questions.

HOWELL: A lot of questions for sure coming from this explanation. Nic Robertson, thank you for the insight and reporting. ALLEN: U.S. lawmakers have serious doubts about the latest Saudi story about Khashoggi's death. Republican senator Lindsey Graham tweeted this, "To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement."

Top Democrats are also speaking out. Senator Richard Blumenthal says there needs to be a new investigation.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONN.: The Saudis very clearly seem to be buying time and buying cover. But this action raises more questions than it answers. And there is no way that the world will wait for about 30 days for a Saudi investigation to be done. There has to be an international investigation.


ALLEN: House Democrat Gerry Connelly is from Virginia, where Khashoggi lived. He says that the Saudi investigation stinks of a coverup.


REP. GERRY CONNELLY (D), VIRGINIA: It is amazing that it took two weeks of lying and subterfuge for the Saudi government to finally admit, well, yes, he died and he died at their hands and in our consulate. Now they are engaged in a coverup to protect the crown prince.


ALLEN: Let's talk more about it with Steven Erlanger, chief diplomatic correspondent for "The New York Times." He joins us from Brussels.

We appreciate you being with us. Five people have been relieved of duty, three close to the crown prince, this death reportedly the result of a fist fight. The Saudi press agency statement reads in part, on the dismissals, "These corrective measures are enough to stop this grave mistake from happening in the future."

What do you make of that statement and their story?

STEVEN ERLANGER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think that their story is quite unbelievable. I don't think anyone outside Saudi Arabia believes it. I don't even think President Trump believes it.

He is trying to be careful because Saudi Arabia is very important to him and his campaign against Iran and oil and so on.

But this is nonsense. I mean, it is clearly nonsense. My guess is that Mohammed bin Salman wanted Khashoggi brought to Saudi Arabia against his will and arrested and this was a rendition that went wrong, much as Nic Robertson has reported that General Asiri had succeeded a general who tried a rendition in China that went wrong. [04:15:00]

ERLANGER: This was clumsy, it was badly done. The Saudis should just come forward and say what happened.

But the risk is that Mohammed bin Salman himself would be replaced by the king, which has happened before. And it is not just this problem. He is very unpopular with the rest of the royal family. And the war in Yemen, which is his war, it is a humanitarian disaster. And everybody knows that, too.

So Saudi Arabia's reputation is sinking. His capture of the Lebanese prime minister in a very bizarre arrest. The prince has been very eccentric. And there is a question of whether all of this is preparatory for the king replacing him or certainly reining him in. That is still left to be seen.

ALLEN: Meantime, President Trump has been advised by his son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, to stand with the crown prince. Donald Trump tweeted, "I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia."

First of all, is that true and what is the complication that this president then would stand with this crown prince during this time?

ERLANGER: Well, I don't know if he has financial interests. Certainly Saudis have invested in Trump. In fact, they have stayed in huge numbers at his hotel in Washington while he's been president. So he has in some fashion benefited from the Saudi investment.

The Saudis have really tried to make a friend of Trump from the beginning, vice versa. Trump has at least sided with the Saudis and the Sunnis and Benjamin Netanyahu against Iran and the Shia and against Qatar. It has created all kinds of problems.

So I think Trump just sees his Middle East plans in trouble because Saudi Arabia is in trouble. And I actually think that he is right to be careful. He is right to play it more deftly than he has been known to do with others.

And I think what happens in Saudi itself will define what Mr. Trump does. I don't think that he wants to tip the scale. But if Mohammed bin Salman falls because of this, I think that Trump will obviously want to deal with whatever comes next as best as he can.

So being careful is not a terrible thing. We'll see if Congress starts issuing sanctions, (INAUDIBLE) with arms sales. There are all kinds of issues still to come. But let's remember, the murder of Khashoggi, which is clearly what happened, is a terrible thing. The war in Yemen is a terrible thing.

There is a disruptive force now in the Middle East. And right now it is (INAUDIBLE) bin Salman.

ALLEN: All right. We appreciate your insights as always, Steven Erlanger out of Brussels for us, thanks so much.

ERLANGER: Thanks, Natalie.

HOWELL: Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, another long night in Guatemala. Thousands of migrants waiting for a chance to cross into Mexico, waiting on that bridge. And for some, ultimately trying to get to the United States but (INAUDIBLE) warm welcome (INAUDIBLE).

ALLEN: Also ahead here, some Afghans will have to wait even longer to vote for parliament. We'll tell you what is behind the new delay. Already such a tragedy with the Taliban threatening so many people voting. But there is more to the story. We'll have that for you.






ALLEN: At this moment thousands of migrants are caught in Guatemala, waiting to cross the border into Mexico.

HOWELL: Take a look at the scene earlier on this bridge. Men, women and children packed on the bridge. Many say they are escaping violence, hoping to reach the United States.

ALLEN: President Trump warns that he will send the military to the border if this caravan of people gets through. He says these are, quote, "bad people, some hardened criminals."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What evidence do you have that these are hardened criminals?

TRUMP: Oh, please. Please. Don't be a baby, OK?

Take a look. Just take a look.


HOWELL: "Don't be a baby, take a look."

Well, let's take a look there beyond the bridge and directly there on, you see family, children, mothers crying. It hasn't been a very easy journey for the migrants. Our Bill Weir was on the bridge taking a look. Here is the story.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At high noon, the bridge over the border is empty. But then a crowd of thousands overwhelms a small contingent of Guatemalan police and sprints north.

No, it is closed. It's closed.

The first try to form an orderly line, but it lasts only seconds as thousands more pour across, all with a mixture of exuberance, frustration and determination.

The surge of the crowd has managed to shove those padlocked gates open. But waiting on the other side of hundreds of Mexican federales in riot gear. They manage to hold back the human tide with the help a single teargas canister.

WEIR: After a half hour of chaos, the crowd calms itself, even turning on the few troublemakers in the crowd, convincing them to climb back down off the fence. But some can't take the heat and the crowd, so they --


WEIR: -- jump into the river.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our message is we're not criminals. We are coming, we're here because we want to work. We need a job. We need a better life. That's why we're here.

WEIR: You understand President Trump is going to use pictures of thousands of people surging to the gates against you. He is going to point that to people and say it is scary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is just politics. We respect he is the president, the president of the United States. And with all due respect, we are not criminals.

WEIR: Donald Trump is the anti-Christ, this man says. If he doesn't repent, he is going to hell. We're not criminals, we are workers and fighters.

Eventually Mexico opens to the caravan, but only a trickle are let through, women and children first, including Marta Torres who tells me her husband was murdered by Honduran drug gangs. After walking for a week, her three other kids are still across the river.

Do you want to go to the United States? Have you heard that President Trump doesn't want more people coming and he's even separated families that try to come? What should we do now then, she says, breaking down. There's no way you can go back home. I don't want my kids in the middle of crime. I don't want to have the lives of my children further destroyed.

Mexico has taken the rare step on calling on the United Nations to help sort this crisis. But this standoff makes clear that for most folks, there is no turning back -- Bill Weir, CNN, Mexico.


HOWELL: Still ahead, much more on the life and career of Jamal Khashoggi and the many competing interests now at stake in the investigation around his death. ALLEN: Also ahead here, a Russian woman is charged with trying to manipulate the U.S. midterm elections. Why there may be more to it than just this. We'll have that as well.





ALLEN (voice-over): Welcome back. This is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL (voice-over): And I'm George Howell with the headlines.



ALLEN: Alive, the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, wasn't afraid to ask hard questions. Even when doing so put his life at risk and sent him into exile.

HOWELL: His reporting exposed corruption and secrets in the Saudi kingdom. CNN's Nic Robertson explores Khashoggi's life work.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Jamal Khashoggi, a leading Saudi journalist and former government adviser, came from humble roots, getting his first boost studying journalism at Indiana State University, benefiting like many of his generation from a Saudi government grant for U.S. education.

Returning home, he reported for Saudi and regional newspapers. His first major break came in the late 1980s, an overseas assignment to a war zone, Afghanistan. At the time Saudi intelligence services were working with the CIA to oust the Soviets.

A source close to Khashoggi says he got to know many of the young Saudi jihadists flocking to the fight, including Osama bin Laden. He had connections and caught the attention of the then Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki al Faisal.

The pair became close, despite Khashoggi's sometimes critical reporting. Following Al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks, Khashoggi dared to ask the question few other Saudis would.

Why did 15 of our young men attack America in so brutal a way?

In 2002, the Saudi authorities battled Al Qaeda on their own streets. His knowledge of the terror group led to a job advising Prince Turki, which made him useful as the country struggled to contain the chaos of an insurgent movement at home. In 2003, when Turki became ambassador to the U.K., then D.C. two years later, Khashoggi followed him. Eventually he returned to reporting. His criticism of the kingdom's conservative clerics would cost him his job. Khashoggi supported reform and modernization in the kingdom but opposed the methods used by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in stifling criticism.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI, JOURNALIST: I received a phone call ordering me to go silent. With no court decree, with just someone from the royal court, an official from the royal court, who was close to the leadership and ordered me to be silent. That offended me.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): He left Saudi and his family to begin a new life in America writing for "The Washington Post." (INAUDIBLE) about what he saw going on at home.

KHASHOGGI: Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, enjoys a great support from the Saudi republic and he is seen as the savior by young Saudis and by me and other Saudis. So he doesn't need this environment of intimidation, of cracking down on dissent.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Days before he disappeared, he told an interviewer that he didn't think he'd ever be allowed to return to Saudi Arabia. Friends say he knew the risks of angering the Saudi establishment.

Khashoggi went to the consulate in Istanbul to get papers so he could marry his Turkish fiancee. He had been apprehensive about the visit.

What happened here, Tuesday, October 2nd, remains a mystery though it is now clear it was Khashoggi's last day alive. One of the few critics of the Saudi inner circle --



ROBERTSON (voice-over): -- with a public profile in the West is gone. And the consequences of his death for the crown prince, for reform in the kingdom and for the region at large are only just beginning to be felt.


HOWELL: Nic Robertson there.

And now to talk more about this, we have Natasha Lindstaedt, a professor of government at the University of Essex in England.

Thank you so much for your time today. Look, there are a lot of key players involved in this clearly. Let's start with what we're hearing out of Saudi Arabia, that Khashoggi died the result of a fist fight. The U.S. president says that is credible, believes it is credible. The narrative though certainly begs many more questions. Your thoughts. NATASHA LINDSTAEDT, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX: Well, I think what the Saudi government is asking us to do is believe things that completely defy logic. We're supposed to believe that crown prince Salman has an elite inner circle and members of the security apparatus that have almost gone rogue, that have gone on their own to commit this act.

And that is very difficult to believe, given what happened last year when the crown prince had basically purged anyone that was going to be viewed as disloyal to him. We know he has complete control over his elite inner circle. They are incredibly loyal to him.

And then we're also supposed to believe that this death resulted from a fist fight?

I mean all of it sounds completely implausible.

HOWELL: And the one remaining question, where is Khashoggi's body?

The explanation provided from Saudi Arabia does not answer that very basic fundamental question.

Let's talk about Turkey now. Turkish president there, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, really in the driver's seat, with this investigation playing out in his nation. And every new revelation putting new pressure on the Saudi explanation, on the Saudi crown prince and even on the U.S. president.

LINDSTAEDT: Right. And with Erdogan, the president of Turkey, he is a master of creating opportunities out of a crisis here. And he sees this as a great opportunity to really shape the narrative here and also distract from his own problems that are going on in Turkey.

He has been very aggressive in providing the world with intelligence about what has been going on, almost on a daily basis. And this has really pressured the Saudis. In the beginning, Saudi Arabia was saying that he probably left on his own. And now they have actually had to admit on TV that he indeed was murdered.

HOWELL: Now to the U.S. president. Mr. Trump again seems to accept the Saudi narrative.

Is this the off-ramp that allows the president to continue on with business ties as he has indicated that he hopes to do?

LINDSTAEDT: President Trump signaled a while ago that he would accept the Saudi narrative. He almost seems to be a spokesperson for the Saudi regime. And a lot of this has to do with the history of U.S.- Saudi relations since the 1930s. The U.S. considers Saudi Arabia still to be a major strategic partner in the Middle East.

But also if we look at Trump, Trump has very close relationships with the Saudis, not just in terms of personal relationships but he thinks they are very important to his own financial interests. He bragged about this several years ago. And he really wants the story to go away. If he can just say yes, we believe this narrative and let's move on. HOWELL: We'll see whether lawmakers -- they continue to put pressure on the U.S. president even though he does seem to accept what is coming out of Saudi Arabia. Natasha, thank you for your time and perspective.

ALLEN: Keep in mind the context here. The disappearance and now confirmed death of a journalist. President Trump praised a U.S. congressman who body slammed a journalist.


TRUMP: Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of -- a great guy, tough cookie.


ALLEN: On Friday, Mr. Trump was asked about his remarks the night before praising Montana Republican Greg Gianforte.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you regret bringing up last night at your rally the assault on a reporter by a congressman?

TRUMP: No, no. Not at all. It is a different world, a different league, a different world. No, he is just a great guy.


ALLEN: The president went on to say there is nothing to be embarrassed about. This again centered around an assault during Gianforte's election campaign. That was in May 2017 and there was audio that captured the whole thing.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) did the same thing.

Get the hell out of here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and you just broke my glasses.



ALLEN: He went on to plead guilty to misdemeanor assault in June of last year after he was convicted of body slamming Ben Jacobs. That was the reporter for "The Guardian." And Gianforte also won the election after that.

HOWELL: After three years, some Afghans will have to wait even longer to vote for parliament.

ALLEN: We'll have the latest on what's behind the delay.




HOWELL: Polls have finally opened in the Afghan parliament election but not everyone is getting to cast a ballot. Thousands are unable to vote because some polling stations haven't opened and others simply don't have supplies. Some voters have given up and gone home.

ALLEN: The election was delayed for three years because of security concerns and voters in Kandahar province have to wait another week because this man you are seeing, this powerful police chief, was shot and killed Thursday.

The Taliban claimed responsibility. Let's talk about these issues with Ali Lassabi (ph) from the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Thanks so much for joining us. First, they have the threat of the Taliban intimidating and threatening people that would vote and now there seems to be some serious technical issues. That has to be a disappointment.

What can you tell us?

ALI LASSABI (PH), JOURNALIST: So that is really the issue right now is the logistical issues. There have been definite security issues, for instance, in the northern province of Kunduz. There have been reports of rocket attacks, reports of one polling center being ransacked by the Taliban in Kabul and there are rocket attacks.

But the real issue right now are these logistical matters, where people are showing up to voting centers and election commission workers aren't there, election team observers aren't there. The biometric machines aren't working. And they are essentially turned away.

We're also seeing a major problem for the Kochi (ph) population, the nomad population of the country, that live across the different provinces of the country, who are being told that --


LASSABI (PH): -- their ballot boxes are not yet set up because they are given specific ballots based on their IDs that list specifically their candidates because their candidates can run all over the country, they are not just running for a single province. So it is proving to be a major issue for people.

ALLEN: And let's talk about that, the fact that this election was postponed for three years with security issues. We've had more women voting -- excuse me, running for office than ever before in Afghanistan. So many young people that we have interviewed said they want to go and vote, they want changes for their country.

What is being stymied here, what is being prevented because of these unfortunate issues today?

LASSABI (PH): This is exactly what is being prevented, the change. I went to go vote today but I was probably one of the lucky ones. And I've been talking to at least five or six young candidates throughout this campaign process.

And what they are all saying is that the current parliament is a mafia network, it is corrupt, it is fraudulent. They are out for their own money and their own interests and they aren't really listening to the people.

And that is the changes that they were hoping to bring. So this is what is being stymied, is the chance for people to feel like they have two representatives in their parliament.

ALLEN: It has to be such a disappointment. We'll continue to follow it and see if things turn around. Ali Lassabi (ph), thank you so much, we appreciate it.

HOWELL: Now to allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. political system. The Justice Department has charged a Russian woman with trying to influence voters in the upcoming midterm elections.

ALLEN: This has been a fear, that there would still be some intrusion. Investigators say she was part of an online propaganda effort aimed at inflaming public opinion and sowing discord. CNN's Sara Murray has more about it.


SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight the Justice Department charging a Russian woman with conspiracy for trying to manipulate voters in the 2018 midterms. As it cracks down on election meddling beyond special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Elena Kushanova (ph) of St. Petersburg, Russia, allegedly managed the financing for social media troll agency that sent out these ads and memes to fan division between racial minority groups, political radicals and disaffected voters.

Soon after the Justice Department announced the charge against her, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, Department of Justice, FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned the American public of continuing efforts from countries like Russia to divide America along political lines.

The coordinated show of strength against election interference coming just weeks before the November midterms. The agencies called out Russia, China and Iran for ongoing efforts to manipulate voters in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections and warned Americans that foreign actors use social media to amplify divisive issues, spread disinformation and sponsor content through English language media, including RTE and Sputnik (ph).

There is no evidence the interference efforts have impacted voting infrastructure to prevent voting, change vote counts or disrupt our ability to tally votes in the midterm elections, according to the joint statement.

And when President Donald Trump was asked about this Russian hacking, he simply said that it had nothing to do with his campaign -- Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: The U.S. midterm election is just 2.5 weeks away now. You can tune into see a major event leading up to the vote, the Florida governor's debate. It will be moderated by our own Jake Tapper. That is Sunday night in the United States, Monday morning in Asia and Europe.

HOWELL: And in the United States a lot of people played the lottery. And someone in the U.S. may be the lucky person to win $1 billion. It is a lot of money for sure. The Mega Millions lottery drew its winning numbers just a short time ago.

ALLEN: And we're waiting it see if there is a winner or winners for the second largest payout in U.S. history. But here is the buzz kill. A significant chunk of the winnings will go straight to federal taxes, which would seem to be affordable if you'd won $1 billion. You'll be all right, whoever won, if there is.

Back to our reality, it took nearly $2 billion to get a mission to Mercury off the ground. You're probably thinking Mercury?

What do we need to know about the planet?

HOWELL: That it is hot?

ALLEN: We'll have that story next.






ALLEN: When was the last time you paused and reflected on the planet Mercury?

I can say I don't think I have.

HOWELL: It's been a while.

(LAUGHTER) ALLEN: The twin spacecrafts have just begun on a seven year mission there. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

HOWELL (voice-over): A rocket carrying the two orbiters blasted off a short time ago from a European spaceport in French Guiana. Mercury is considered the solar system's least understood planet. And scientists hope the European-Japanese mission will help to unravel some of the mysteries about the solar system's origin.


HOWELL: This mission not quite as straightforward as you might think. Getting to the solar system's innermost planet is complicated. You can't just aim at Mercury and go. There is more to it than that.

ALLEN: No kidding. The route is full of twists and turns and the spacecraft has to accomplish some of its tasks on its own. Here is Robyn Curnow to explain.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): BepiColombo has a long journey ahead, 8 million kilometers, to be exact. This spacecraft is headed to Mercury, the planet closest to the sun. To travel that far, scientists expect that it will take seven years to get there and it won't be easy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flying around Mercury is one of the most challenging space flight endeavors that has ever been taken. We will have a very long cruise stage to get there. We have to mix different techniques to actually slow down the spacecraft as it falls towards the sun.

CURNOW (voice-over): The spacecraft is especially designed to withstand the sun's high temperatures as well as its gravitational pull. BepiColombo has to circle the Earth once, Venus twice and Mercury itself --


CURNOW (voice-over): -- six times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first hours, the spacecraft has to become autonomous. It means it has to deploy solar panels, get energy on from the sun and leave on its own without the batteries. And we take over control and we slowly configure it for the very long cruise stage that we need to reach Mercury.

CURNOW (voice-over): This joint venture between the European and Japanese space agencies doesn't come cheap.

The cost? $1.8 billion. But as one of the solar system's least explored planets, the flight's director says the knowledge they hope to gain is priceless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By understanding this environment, this planet as well, our scientists hope that they can actually interpret better how our solar system is formed and also other planets have evolved.

CURNOW (voice-over): When BepiColombo finally arrives in the year 2025, it will place two probes around the planet, these probes will roam Mercury for a year before sending their findings back to Earth.

Only two previous missions carried out by NASA have ever reached the planet. Scientists hope that in the years to come some of the mysteries of Mercury will finally be solved -- Robyn Curnow, CNN.


ALLEN: Not such an easy flight to tell you about from California. An ordinary drive down a highway turned into an extraordinary show for people on Friday.

HOWELL: Would you get freaked out if you saw this?

OK, so a small airplane had an emergency landing, amazingly landed on the interstate there. No one was hurt when it touched ground and officials say a student pilot was flying the plane when there was some kind of an engine failure.

ALLEN: The family that recorded this was taking their 4-year old and 1-year old to the dentist. Going to the dentist will likely not be their biggest fear from now on. We had to delete the parents' cursing, which one can understand, considering the plane landed in front their car.

Their 4-year-old said, "Watch out for that airplane."

HOWELL: I'm sure a lot more was said in that car. But you know what, you can understand when you see a plane coming down the highway.

ALLEN: I would curse.

HOWELL: I think I would, too.

ALLEN: All right. We're back in just a couple minutes.

HOWELL: Stay with us.