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Trump "Very Happy" with New Mueller Findings that Implicate Him in Directing Payoffs; U.S. Lawmakers Release Comey Interview Transcript; Jared Kushner Advised MBS after Jamal Khashoggi Was Killed; Yellow Vest Protests in France; E.U. Departure Could Spike Cost of Sandwiches in U.K.; White House Chief of Staff John Kelly Leaving at Year's End; Workers Claim Trump Club Hired Undocumented Immigrants; Dire Consequences if Warming Exceeds Critical Threshold; Atlanta United Wins Title in Its Second Season. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired December 9, 2018 - 05:00   ET





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (from captions): Sir, did you direct Michael Cohen to commit any --

TRUMP: No. No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (from captions): -- violations of the law?



GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Denials and distractions, President Trump trying to create a narrative of his own. The clouds of the Russia investigation are getting thicker.

And lawmakers are releasing the transcripts from the former FBI director James Comey's latest hearing. What he told them in a tense closed door meeting.

And hundreds of protesters detained in France as security forces try to contain the anti-government rallies across that country.

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, the CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: 5:00 am on the U.S. East Coast.

Critics say the U.S. president is a master of deflection. So after bombshell court filings that seemingly implicate him in two felonies, it could be argued that the president did his best to distract and deny.

First up, his chief of staff, Mr. Trump announced on Saturday, that John Kelly will be stepping down from the post by the end of the year. Their relationship has steadily deteriorated over the last few months. Still, Mr. Trump says Kelly did a good job, is a great guy and thanked him for his service.


TRUMP: John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year, we'll be announcing who will be taking John's place. It might be on an interim basis. I'll be announcing that over the next day or two. But John will be leaving at the end of the year.

He's been with me almost two years now, as you know, between the two positions. So we're probably going to see him in a little while.


HOWELL: Even with the special counsel probe focused specifically on the West Wing, the president now faces an even bigger challenge trying to change the story. Those court filings allege that President Trump directed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to break campaign laws before the election.

The president denied that on Saturday and once again claimed there was no collusion with Russia.


TRUMP: On the Mueller situation, we are very happy with what we are reading because there was no collusion whatsoever. There never has been. The last thing I want is help from Russia on a campaign.

You should ask Hillary Clinton about Russia, because she financed the fake dossier, which I understand they tried to get some information and help from Russia.


HOWELL: My colleague, Ana Cabrera, spoke with former White House counsel Jack Quinn and Joseph Moreno, a former Justice Department prosecutor, for more perspective on Mr. Trump's reaction to the court filings.


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: So, Jack, Trump says he's happy with what he sees in these memos. You've advised a president.

If you were Trump's attorney would you be happy with what is in these filings?

JACK QUINN, CLINTON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I would be anything but happy. I think that the filings in both cases should make people in the White House and in the Trump league team exceedingly worried about what is coming next.

CABRERA: But, Joseph, is the president right when he says these documents don't prove collusion?

JOSEPH MORENO, PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Hi, Ana, well, first off, no. These documents don't prove or disprove collusion. It is perhaps a small sigh of relief on the president's defense side that they don't come out and outright lay it out there.

But I would think he is far from out of the weeds here. There is a reason that the president keeps going back to this notion of collusion or the lack thereof. Remember, half the law's in the courtroom; the other half is in the court of public opinion.

And the president is very much fighting in the court of public opinion and so he will keep that bar at collusion and say anything short of that just falls short. I think the president believes he can probably weather an obstruction case.

He believes he can weather a campaign finance case but he knows his support collapses both congressionally and in the American population if a collusion case is built against him.

So that's why he's going to keep pounding that drum. Now if that evidence does appear, he may have to pivot and we'll see where that goes.


HOWELL: There has been speculation that pivot may include firing special counsel Robert Mueller. But the fired FBI director, James Comey says that even if that does happen, it won't derail the investigations.

Comey's comments came during a tense hearing with U.S. House lawmakers. Our Laura Jarrett reports on the just-released transcript of that hearing.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: In over six hours of testimony, the former FBI director went over familiar territory about the beginnings of the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying he bet his life the special counsel Robert Mueller is handling it the right way and suggesting you'd have to almost fire --


JARRETT (voice-over): -- everyone in the FBI and the Justice Department to derail the relevant investigations at this point.

But Comey also fact checked the president on this claim that he is somehow best friends with Robert Mueller saying, quote, "I have never hugged or kissed the man," and, quote, "I admire the heck out of the man but I don't know his phone number, I've never been to his house, I don't know his children's names." While Comey's testimony did not shed new light about his views on

whether the president obstructed justice in his firing last year, the testimony from another senior official at the FBI, former general counsel James Baker, described how those at the highest level of the FBI were seriously concerned about Comey's firing.

Finally, Comey was also asked to weigh in on Bill Barr, President Trump's pick for the next attorney general.

And he said he thinks very highly of him, joking that, quote, "I probably just damned him by saying he's a friend of mine. But I respect him and I think he's certainly fit to be attorney general" -- Laura Jarrett, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Laura, thank you.

We're also learning another senior Trump adviser, son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has reportedly taken on a behind-the-scenes role in damage control in the aftermath of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

This all according to "The New York Times," the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been getting private advice from Kushner on how to weather the storm of international outrage as gruesome details about the killing have come to light.

"The Times" says the two men are on a first-name basis. The Saudis deny the crown prince had any role in Khashoggi's death although the CIA believes he did.

Once again, here is my colleague, Ana Cabrera, were she spoke with one of the reporters who broke the story on Kushner.


MARK MAZZETTI, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Since Khashoggi's killing, we report that he's continued these messaging conversations with Mohammed bin Salman. Some of the advice he's given is unclear.

But it's our understanding that he has been advising him to settle some of his problems in the region, within the kingdom, avoiding mistakes that -- clearly, the killing of Khashoggi was more than a mistake -- but he sees MBS as someone who is the future and, I think, an important ally of the United States.


HOWELL: The reported one-on-one conversations and text messages between Kushner and the crown prince were in apparent disregard of White House protocols. Someone from the national security staff is supposed to be included in any communications with foreign heads of state.

The White House did not respond to CNN's request for comment but a spokesperson told "The New York Times" this. "Jared has always meticulously followed protocols and guidelines regarding the relationship with Mohammed bin Salman and all of the other foreign officials with whom he interacts," end quote.

They Saudis have offered varying and sometimes contradictory accounts of the killing of Khashoggi from the day he disappeared inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. They first denied that he was even missing, only later they admitted he was dead, supposedly killed by rogue operatives.

The White House and U.S. State Department say the U.S. has not reached a conclusion on this. But last month, the CIA assessed Khashoggi's murder, that it was personally ordered by the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Let's get some context and perspective on all of this with Inderjeet Parmar, a professor of international politics at City University of London, live for us in our London bureau this hour.

Inderjeet, thanks for your time today.


HOWELL: Let's start with this news that we're learning from "The New York Times," that Jared Kushner is privately advising the Saudi crown prince in how to weather the storm since Khashoggi's murder.

We know that Mr. Trump continues to back Mohammed bin Salman, despite what we've learned from U.S. intelligence agencies and the rebuke of lawmakers here in the U.S.

But again, we're seeing this bond between Mr. Trump's inner circle and the Saudis that seem to put business first over political norms.

PARMAR: Yes, I think we have known this has a pattern of behavior of various Trump officials and so on. But it does speak to a bigger picture which is the importance of the Saudis in regard to President Trump's Middle Eastern strategy.

I think this dipping beneath the norms of behavior and diplomatic protocol and so on, I think a part of that is trying to cement that relationship and in a way help the crown prince to manage the PR of what is so clearly now seeming to be his direct hand in the murder of a journalist, who was a columnist with "The Washington Post."

It seems to be that the CIA briefing by Gina Haspel showed very clearly the number of phone calls occurring at that very time between the prince and the consulate in Istanbul. So I think this is an attempt to try to manage that relationship and try not to do damage to that broader --


PARMAR: -- strategy in the Middle East.

(CROSSTALK) PARMAR: -- an important role for Saudis in the Iran nuclear agreement withdrawal.

HOWELL: Inderjeet, it is important to point out there are different narratives coming out of the United States. You have lawmakers who rebuke this. You have the U.S. president who continues to support Saudi Arabia.

But as news like this comes out from "The New York Times," what does that do to the image of the United States and around the world?

PARMAR: One of the key planks of America's global image from the very beginning, in its role as a superpower, was that it stood for a kind of moral authority, moral leadership. It stood for freedom, democracy, human rights. That is quite clear.

There's always challenges to that narrative but President Trump does not even actually give any kind of credence to that narrative. They suggest that the U.S. is basically a power which plays dirty power politics like any other power in world history, like an empire.

This has effectively undermined America's reputation and authority right across. That's why we can see even Republican loyalists, like Lindsey Graham (sic), saying quite clearly that this crown prince would be prosecuted in 30 minutes in any court of law.

So this has a big, damaging influence on American reputation and image.

HOWELL: Let's talk about the revolving door at the White House. Now we understand the chief of staff, John Kelly, on his way out. Mr. Trump and Kelly reportedly not even speaking to each other.

What impact will this have on the Trump White House?

PARMAR: This further shows us that there is, at the heart of the Trump administration, President Trump and his chaotic personality and style, his demand for total loyalty. Now General Kelly was the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He implemented a very large part of the anti-immigrant program on the southern border, which President Trump wanted.

Attorney general Jeff Sessions had done very similarly on the immigration front and on many other fronts as well.

But unless you're personally loyal to the president, willing to do whatever he wants, he's going to get rid of you. And I think this in the midterm elections showed that that is losing him credibility amongst suburban, affluent GOP voters.

And I think this is going to have a longer term damage electorally. It already has damaged him in the House elections and it will damage him even more going forward into 2020.

It damages that entire credibility of this White House to be able to run its own affairs in an efficient manner. HOWELL: Inderjeet Parmar, we appreciate your time and perspective, thank you.

PARMAR: Thank you.

HOWELL: More scenes of chaos in Paris on Saturday as Yellow Vest protesters and police face off in the street. We take a deeper look at the Yellow Vest movement -- still ahead.

Plus, the sandwich is said to have been invented by an Englishman. But Brexit is putting British sandwich lovers in a bit of a pickle. We'll explain. Stay with us.






HOWELL (voice-over): The sights and sounds of what we saw just a day ago, the fourth straight weekend of major protests across France, in Paris. And the Yellow Vest movement is still going strong. Much of that was quite evident on Saturday. More than 130,000 people marched in cities across the country, people demanding that the France president do something about economic inequality.

Security forces were surely on the ready, more than 89,000 of them were deployed across the country to contain any chaos. Even so, cars were burned, protesters clashed with police in cities, including Marseilles and Paris.

Let's go live to Paris. CNN's Melissa Bell is there.

Melissa, what a difference a day makes. Businesses there are now open in the Eighth Arondissement.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right; the boards are coming down off the windows on the Champs-Elysees. The calm has returned and with it that clearup operation not on the scale of what we saw last Sunday after the third Saturday of the movement.

This, the fourth Saturday that the Yellow Vests were out on the street did prove to be better contained by the authorities.

Different strategy on the part of the police, greater numbers out on the streets, they appear to have made a difference. And yet businesses are counting the cost of this and this is what is helping to put pressure on the government.

After four weeks of protests, we're hearing a few figures from the beginning of the week from France's economy minister, the restaurant business is down, businesses are down, hotels, as you would expect, are down, especially in Paris, but also the automobile sector has been hit nationally.

And we've heard that overall the retail sector, over $1 billion, down as a result of these several weeks of protest. And that really contributes to what is adding to the pressure for the government to help find some solutions to put an end to all this -- George.

HOWELL: The government was surely under pressure in how they responded to protesters, not to be heavy-handed but surely to enforce the law, to keep the peace.

What's the takeaway?

Did the police learn from lessons of the past weekend?

Were they effective?

BELL: I think this has been such an unusual movement in so many ways. These gatherings are not approved. They don't go thru the normal channels of a request to demonstrate and approval to demonstrate. They're not lead by a union with whom either the security authorities or the government could have negotiated.

They're fairly spontaneous. They've been nationwide. And beyond those four Saturdays there has been an ongoing movement in the wider country, where roads and toll booths have been blockaded, fuel depots as well. And that also has had an impact on the French economy.

So given that largely leaderless nature of this movement, its spontaneity, its violence, the fact that it appears also to be fairly widely supported by the broader French public, all of this is making it difficult for authorities. They had to adapt themselves each week to the changing circumstances and plans of actions by these protesters.

And for the government there's been the question of whom they should be speaking to, what they should be offering, what concessions might appeal or appease.

One of the difficulties as we look ahead to Emmanuel Macron's speech to the French nation tomorrow, he's going to address this directly, we believe make some announcements that may go some way to helping with the cost of living.

Specifically the question is, how will he appease such a diverse group of people?

HOWELL: Melissa Bell, live for us in Paris --


HOWELL: -- thank you for the reporting. We'll keep in touch with you.

Moving on now to the United Kingdom, it is coming down to like that show, "Deal or No Deal." The British prime minister Theresa May facing a key vote on Tuesday as she tries to get Parliament on board to approve her Brexit plan.

Ms. May spoke to "The Mail" on Sunday, trying to drum up support. She warned if her plan doesn't pass, the U.K. will be in uncharted waters. Let's go live to London. CNN's Hadas Gold following the story for us.

Hadas, is there a sense that now this is more about the scale of the defeat rather than whether Ms. May can actually get the votes?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: George, if you talk to Theresa May or people around her, they will say, no, they still think this deal could make it through and they're confident in it.

But we have had just in the past few days a few moments that probably are not helping her plan to get members of Parliament on board. Just yesterday, one of her cabinet secretaries, Amber Rudd, was the first cabinet secretary to admit that there could be a plan B. There could even be another referendum, that maybe they could do a different style of Brexit, sort of Norway plus.

A lot of hard Brexiteers would not be in favor because it would keep U.K. in the customs union and keep them in this economic area. But that's probably not what Theresa May wants to hear from one of her cabinet ministers ahead of this vote, which where she is pretty much trying to tell everybody that it is either this deal or chaos and uncertainty and all of the bad things that could happen with having either a hard Brexit or no Brexit at all.

On Saturday we had this report from the House of Commons, the committee on exiting the European Union, they pretty much blasted Theresa May's exit plan. They say it fails to offer sufficient clarity or certainty on the future of the United Kingdom.

They called on the government to release this immigration report ahead of the vote. Pretty much things don't seem to be going in Theresa May's way. However, things change here and tend to change quite quickly. There is still at least a day ahead of this vote. It's on Tuesday evening.

So there is a possibility a new amendment could be introduced that gives members of Parliament a little bit more of a say over parts of this deal.

That could still happen and maybe, maybe, that could help Theresa May get just enough of those votes over the lines so that she could get this deal.

HOWELL: Ms. May also trying to get fellow MPs on board by essentially saying if they don't go along with this, they could lose their position of power and could even see a change in leadership?

GOLD: Right, and that is sort of funny. You might thing, OK, change of power, no big deal. That's not nearly as bad as Brexit. For a lot of these members and for some people, they fear a Labour leader like Jeremy Corbyn in power almost more than they fear Theresa May's Brexit deal. So that's sort of the situation she's trying to present to them and

that's why she said yesterday to "The Mail" on Sunday, she said, listen, if you don't vote for this deal, there will be chaos. There's probably going to be another leadership vote, another election and then you might get Jeremy Corbyn.

So would you rather have Jeremy Corbyn or my deal?

HOWELL: Hadas Gold, live for us in London, thank you for the reporting.

GOLD: Thanks.

HOWELL: Brexit is really giving the British something to chew on, the likely rising cost of sandwiches. CNN's Erin McLaughlin is digging into that story from London.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, sir.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Britain sandwich lovers, 4 billion sandwiches a year, an industry that wakes up every morning with fresh sandwiches ready to go, now an alarm is ringing. Sandwich shop owners coming to grips with a new reality: the cost of the future Brexit.

GEORGE PILOTO, BONNE BOUCHE: Everything is going to be taxed and, at the end of the day, we are going to pay for that. We're going to make less profit. Customers are going to pay more for a sandwich and that is no good for all of us, you know.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Uncertainty now rattling both the sandwich industry and perhaps a way of life. Sandwich lovers may, for the first time, begin thinking the unthinkable.

JIM WINSHIP, BRITISH SANDWICH ASSOCIATION. We're used to in this country having very fresh products at hand. So products like lettuce don't have a long shelf life. And it doesn't take very much for them to be messed up by being delayed at ports and things.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Wholesalers, the lifeline that brings fresh products into the U.K., are facing their own season of discontent.

CHRIS HUTCHINSON, NEW SPITALFIELDS MARKET VENDOR: This certainly won't be as easy as it is now. There will be barriers, there will be borders, there will be extra paperwork. There's possibly going to be extra costs.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Britain imports 80 percent of its tomatoes when they're out of season, mostly from Spain and the Netherlands, arriving in record time. Lettuce, 40 percent imported from the E.U., mostly from Spain, delivered fresh daily. Britain produces almost enough English Cheddar cheese for its needs at 80 percent. Most imports coming from the E.U. because of low tariffs creating a

booming business for cheese lovers like Patricia Michelson.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Her store, La Fromagerie, boasting 283 varieties of cheese. After Brexit, cheese from the E.U. could become exotic and very expensive. Now she wrestles --


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): -- with her passion and the need to be pragmatic.

MICHELSON: You know, I love everything I'm bringing in and I love everything I get from England, too. If I have to cut it down a bit, I'll have to cut it down a bit.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Anxiety among retailers mirrors the political debate full of division. A family-run business depending on British ingredients for four generations since are worried about a Brexit storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It won't really affect us, Brexit, at all. It's just not something we're worried about.

MCLAUGHLIN: But as expected, with British resolve, there's no appetite for too much fuss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll do what I have to do to keep on having my sandwich, that's for sure.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): There are those who are in fighting mode when it comes to defending the Brexit sandwich.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think our British farmers will rise to the occasion. Our European friends will still want to trade with us, we'll still get our tomatoes from Italy and Spain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The French, the Dutch and the Spanish aren't going to want their stuff sitting on the docks on the other side for too long, either. So they'll still keep sending it and we still will still keep having sandwiches.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): In the face of so much uncertainty, British spirit is resolute. It's keep calm and enjoy your sandwich -- Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.


HOWELL: The U.S. president is looking for chief of staff number three. Details ahead.

Plus a Trump golf club is under scrutiny after two women were hired there. What they're telling CNN. Stay with us.





HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here, I'm George Howell with the headlines that we're following for you.


HOWELL: Now to the revolving door at the Trump White House that keeps on spinning with another vacancy coming at the end of the year. The U.S. president announced his chief of staff, John Kelly, will be leaving his post. General Kelly has been the White House chief of staff since July 2017. He was previously President Trump's secretary of Homeland Security.

Kelly was a four-star Marine general who commanded the U.S. Southern Command before joining the Trump administration. During his time at the White House, he saw his fair share of controversy, as our Ryan Nobles looks back at his tenure.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Kelly, the former Marine Corps general, was expected to bring a military style scene of order to the White House.

Kelly quickly reined in access to the president, trying to control who could call Trump directly and played a big role in staffing, as evidence of his quick disposal of former communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, something Scaramucci is still sore over, as evidence from this interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, TRUMP INAUGURAL COMMITTEE: He has hurt the president and so -- and he has hissy fits.

NOBLES (voice-over): But within weeks, Kelly was forced to confront a series of controversial moves by President Trump that left the White House reeling. In the wake of the racially charged riots in Charlottesville, Kelly was photographed in the background of Trump Tower, looking dour as Trump spoke.

TRUMP: I think there's blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it and you don't have any doubt about it, either.

NOBLES (voice-over): Kelly had urged the president to offer a more forceful condemnation of the white supremacists involved. But Trump did not take the advice.

The relationship really started to unravel during the public relations disaster surrounding former staff secretary Rob Porter. Porter was accused of abuse by two ex-wives. Kelly initially defended him. The president personally blamed his chief of staff for the fallout. Despite the hiccups, the president repeatedly sang Kelly's praises on Twitter and pushed back on reports that he was unhappy with his work.

TRUMP: He is doing a great job. He'll be here, in my opinion, for the entire seven remaining years.

NOBLES (voice-over): Behind the scenes, it was a different story. In Bob Woodward's book, "Fear," the veteran journalist quotes Kelly as describing Trump as a, quote, " idiot," and also said, "We're in Crazytown. I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I've ever had."

Kelly later called that, quote, "BS," and Trump said publicly he believed him.

Their public pronouncements aside, the tension inside the West Wing was obvious. Kelly recently got into a heated shouting match with national security adviser John Bolton and now that it may be finally the end of his tenure, Kelly and the president are no longer speaking.

For Kelly, leaving this job may actually come as a welcome relief.

GEN. JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of Homeland Security. But I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess.


NOBLES (voice-over): Ryan Nobles, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Ryan, thank you.

President Trump opened his campaign on the issue of immigration, touting a zero tolerance policy against illegal immigration since day one. He says that defending America's borders from undocumented migrants is one of his top priorities.

But a story first reported by "The New York Times" suggest that managers at a Trump golf club --


HOWELL: -- knowingly hired undocumented immigrants. Two women came forward this week saying they worked there as housekeepers despite being undocumented at the time. CNN's Polo Sandoval spoke with them and here's what they told him.



POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sandra Diaz and Victorina Morales are the first to speak out publicly about their experience working at a Donald Trump golf resort as undocumented women.

As first reported by "The New York Times" Thursday, both were hired as housekeepers at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Morales says she was hired in 2013. Diaz says she worked there from 2010 through 2013. And has since become a legal permanent resident of the U.S.

Both claim managers employed by the Trump Organization knowingly hired them as undocumented workers. Diaz tells me her decision to go public was made in part because of what she calls a high level of hypocrisy.

"The president launches such hardline immigration rhetoric," says Diaz.

Yet his organization is doing the complete opposite. Morales, Diaz's former colleague, says she has additional reasons for speaking out. The undocumented Guatemalan alleges she was subjected to demeaning verbal assaults by her superior.

After Trump became president, the housekeeping manager became more aggressive towards the employees, recalls Morales. She describes being threatened with deportation repeatedly.

There are also allegations of illegal hiring practices. Diaz claims managers at the property went as far as to arrange for fraudulent documents to keep them employed.

Morales tells me she was taken to an off-site location after being hired away from the club. She says it was there that she was provided with a bogus Social Security card and identification.

The woman's attorney, Anibal Romero, says they are prepared to provide proof to authorities if an investigation to the Trump Organization's hiring practices is launched.

ANIBAL ROMERO, ATTORNEY FOR DIAZ AND MORALEZ: Absolutely, we have documentary evidence. We have the testimony of workers. We have the fraudulent documents. All of this could be provided to federal authorities and/or state authorities. Both of my clients are willing to cooperate with federal and state authorities.

SANDOVAL: In response to the claims, Trump Organization's spokeswoman, Amanda Miller, said in the statement, "We have tens of thousands of employees across our properties and have very strict hiring practices.

"If any employee submitted false documentation in an attempt to circumvent the law, they will be terminated immediately."

No public criminal or civil actions have been filed against the Trump Organization regarding the allegations from Morales, Diaz and two other women mentioned by "The New York Times."

Morales and Diaz tell CNN they do not believe Donald Trump was actually aware of the alleged illegal hiring practices. They even have fond memories of their early years working at the Trump property. "I was very proud to say that I work there," says Diaz -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.


HOWELL: Polo, thank you.

Millions of people across the southern part of the United States are bracing for a major winter storm. It's already battered parts of Texas. Look at that heavy snow and rain and more damage is expected. The forecast is ahead.





HOWELL: Welcome back.

A powerful winter storm is creating dangerous conditions for millions of people in parts of the southern Central United States.



HOWELL: 1.5 degrees: if the Earth's temperature rises any more than that, the global results could be disastrous. Nations are coming together in Poland, working to keep the warming under 2 degrees. But experts warn that may not be enough. At 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels, the effects of climate change grow more rapidly.


HOWELL: CNN is exploring the consequences of past inaction and what will come next if warming doesn't stop at that critical threshold.

One natural wonder of the world has already been damaged. Scientists in Australia are trying new techniques to try to save the Great Barrier Reef. Our Ivan Watson takes us there.



That is how a veteran marine biologist describes the annual event, when the coral on the Great Barrier Reef begins to spawn.

PETER HARRISON, SOUTHERN CROSS UNIVERSITY: The coral spawning is always magical and it was great to see all these egg-sperm bundles coming off these corals. WATSON (voice-over): This year, scientists are on the scene, scooping coral spawn. It is an experimental effort to save this natural wonder of the world from the ravages of climate change, a pilot breeding project aimed at increasing the fertility of coral.

HARRISON: The baby corals are going into big floating lava pools on the reef system. So it is really exciting that we can go from these ideas, capturing coral spawn at small scale and starting to scale it up to much larger areas, many more pools and literally millions of larvae being developed on the reef.

WATSON (voice-over): Off the coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is a sprawling marine habitat that is larger than Italy.

But it is in trouble; in the summer of 2016, vast amounts of coral suddenly started bleaching, turning bone white.

DAVID WACHENFIELD, GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK AUTHORITY: What we saw in 2016 and 2017, the marine heat waves that led to coral bleaching and the death of coral was like nothing we have ever seen before.

WATSON (voice-over): Scientists estimate the record warm temperatures killed more than half of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef in just two years.

CNN traveled to Australia last June, to look at a government effort to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into projects to help save one of the country's largest tourist attractions. With temperatures milder in early 2018, there were signs of recovery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But we do see little ones coming --



WATSON: At the tips of some of the dead coral, these little spots of color, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And they will grow again, as long they don't bleach again.

WATSON (voice-over): But with the Australian summer fast approaching, meteorologists are issuing ominous warnings. A heat wave in the nearby state of Queensland has already contributed to raging bush fires.

With the climate's warming trend continuing, scientists have revised their previous target. They now say it is crucial to keep temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels instead of 2 degrees in order to avoid looming planetary disaster. Scientists fear marine heat waves will likely follow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we think about forecasting the weather for the Great Barrier Reef, the climate of the entire planet and the Great Barrier Reef has already changed and it is still changing.

And so it is getting harder for scientists to be confident about predictions of the future. We are entering into uncharted territory. Almost every year is warmer than usual. And, in fact, that is becoming the new norm.

WATSON (voice-over): That is why Professor Peter Harrison's breeding project targets heat resistant coral.

HARRISON: These corals that have survived the last two bleaching events we know are heat tolerant. And, therefore, they are the ones that we really need to be kept on the spawn farm, because they will provide larvae that gives us a fighting chance to try and overcome the problems of increasing sea temperatures and mass bleaching beds.

WATSON (voice-over): It's an ambitious effort to save a marine habitat. But given the scale of the challenge, for now, it's just a drop in the ocean -- Ivan Watson, CNN.


HOWELL: Ivan, thank you.

A pretty cool thing happened just steps away from the CNN Center. The long wait is over for Atlanta sports fans.


HOWELL (voice-over): The excitement there for the first time in more than two decades, they get to celebrate a championship victory. We'll recap the MLS title game. Stay with us.







HOWELL: All of that excitement just steps away from the CNN Center here in Atlanta. There was a game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium that everyone was watching here. Atlanta United capturing its first-ever MLS Cup, beating the Portland Timbers and ending the city of Atlanta's 23-year title drought.


PATRICK SNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In 1998, the Chicago Fire won the MLS cup in their very first season. Atlanta United have now done it in just their second season. Here in the home team's locker room, one very big party is just getting started. MICHAEL PARKHURST, ATLANTA UNITED CAPTAIN: It's incredible. I mean, what a night here tonight. You can't say enough about it. I mean, the support that we get is incredible. It's such an awesome place to play. The facility, the staff, the fans, you know, everything is just top-notch.

And hopefully it's taken MLS to the next level because it's good for the league and we're enjoying it.

CHRIS MCCANN, ATLANTA UNITED MIDFIELDER: I think when you leave England, the home of football, you think you're not quite sure what you'll step into. But when you come over here and you see that a closing argument (ph) is set up and you see the fans in the crowd, weekly (ph) you're going to get, you knew it was going to be something special.

We were unfortunate last year to get knocked out quite early but it's worked out well and been it's an incredible journey. And you know, hopefully it's the first of many more to come.

JEFF LARENTOWICZ, ATLANTA UNITED MIDFIELDER: Miguel has --- he's has done so much for us. He gets us out of so much trouble. He puts the other team on their heels and Josef is the guy that finishes it off. You saw tonight, it was kind of a half chance. He dribbles around the goalkeeper and finishes it off.

They've done that over and over and over for two years and this is the --


LARENTOWICZ: -- culmination of all of that.

BRAD GUZAN, ATLANTA UNITED GOALKEEPER: Yes, this is up there high (ph). It's not every day you get to win a title or a championship. So to be a part of this, it's truly special.

SNELL: These are the celebrations and what a sendoff for Tata Martino, the club's head coach. He's confirmed he's leaving the club at the end of the current season and you can see why they are celebrating for huge. This is also the city's first championship since 1995 -- in a very happy home dressing room, I'm Patrick Snell.


HOWELL: That's something Atlanta surely needed after that Super Bowl that -- let's just say it didn't happen.

It was a major week of headlines coming out of the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and as you'd expect, the comedy sketch show, "Saturday Night Live," here in the U.S. jumped on it with a big assist from Robert De Niro.


ALEX MOFFAT, COMEDIAN, "ERIC TRUMP": There's something in my closet. MIKEY DAY, COMEDIAN, "DONALD TRUMP JR.": Yes, bud, that's just the cheap steel Dad uses to build his towers. They just groaned in the wind.

Look, buddy, nothing in the closet.

"ERIC": Mr. Mueller, people say you're the worst thing to ever happen to my dad.

ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR, "ROBERT MUELLER": No, Eric. Getting elected president was the worst thing that ever happened to your dad.


HOWELL: "Saturday Night Live" there.

Thank you so much for being with us for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. For our viewers in the United States, "NEW DAY" is next. For our viewers around the world, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is ahead. Thank you for watching CNN, the world's news leader.