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The E.U. is Refusing to Provide Help to Theresa May; a Guatemalan Girl Dies While in the Custody of U.S. Border Patrol; Donald Trump is Trying to Shift the Blame to Michael Cohen; a Diplomatic Dispute Between China, U.S. and Canada; Accused Russian Spy Maria Butina in Custody; Cherif Chekatt Shot Dead in a Christmas Market in France. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired December 14, 2018 - 02:00   ET

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


[02:00:01] GEORGE HOWELL, NEWSROOM ANCHOR, CNN: The European Union is refusing to throw a lifeline to the British Prime Minister, and Theresa May appeals for a Brexit breakthrough. Also a seven-year-old girl, Guatemalan girl dies while in the custody of the U.S. border patrol after reportedly not having food or water for several weeks.

And with his personal attorney headed to prison, the U.S. President is trying to shift the blame, saying he never told Michael Cohen to do anything wrong. We'll look into that. Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, we welcome our viewers all over the world. I'm George Howell. The CNN Newsroom starts right now.

Around the world, good day to you, a diplomatic dispute between China, the United States, and Canada is escalating, China, now saying that two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are both under investigation. They are reportedly being detained on suspicion of activities that endangered China's national security.

Experts are concerned this could be retaliation for the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. Canada arrested her earlier this month on behalf of the United States. Let's bring in CNN's Will Ripley following the details of this story live for us in Hong Kong this hour. Will, a pleasure to have you here with us. What more are you hearing this hour from Chinese officials or even Canadians authorities about the detention of these two men?

WILL RIPLEY, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, essentially what China is doing here, George, is they're challenging China's legal system, their judicial system, claiming that this arrest, which was requested by the United States, which Canada is compelled to, you know, comply with given an extradition treaty that exists between the two countries.

Well, China says the arrest is simply dirty politics. They think that Meng Wanzhou, the high profile tech executive, the daughter of the founder of Huawei and that company's Chief Financial Officer. They say that she is being used by the United States for leverage in this trade war. And they look at factors like the fact that she was arrested on the same day that Presidents Trump and Xi hammered out a temporary trade truce.

And the fact that President Trump jumped into the arena and said that he might intervene in the case of (Inaudible) better trade deal for the United States. Well, all of those things have led China to feel that Canada has no choice but to immediately release Meng and allow her to return back home to China. Canada has not done that.

They have released her on $7.5 million bail. But they're still holding her. And the extradition process is ongoing. That has outraged China. They have threatened grave consequences, a high price, a heavy price for Canada to pay for, you know, moving with this process in its judicial system. Of course, Canada, they are really caught in the middle here, because they have the two largest trading partners, the United States and China kind of tugging at them.

And this is not an arrest that they necessarily wanted. This isn't a case that they've been investigating, even though the U.S. says that Meng was evading Iran's sanctions over a period of number of years. So now, we have the question is China retaliating by taking these two Canadian citizens into custody. Certainly, the timing, George, has led many observers to believe that this is retaliation by China. And they're wondering what is going to happen next.

HOWELL: As China also questioned, Will, the timing of the arrest of Meng. But here's the question for the two Canadians. Give us a sense of their background.

RIPLEY: We have to wonder -- we know that these two, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor knew each other. But we don't know necessarily if these arrests are connected. That's something that we're working to try to get more information about, because they were taken into custody on the exact same day. But they do have different backgrounds.

Spavor is a businessman. He goes back and forth very frequently to North Korea. I've been on trips to North Korea in the same group as Spavor. He brings in potential investigators to the country. He brought Dennis Rodman to North Korea, where he met with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un. Kovrig works with the international crisis group. It's an NGO that specializes in conflict resolution.

And he's very well-connected in China, has a lot of high level political connections. But the fact that these men are both facing the same charge, activities that endangered the national security of China, and the fact that they're both Canadian makes a lot of people wonder if there's a connection, if these two cases are tied in some way, or if this is simply China again finding a way to retaliate against Canada as they have been known to do with other countries.

[02:05:02] When they're unhappy with the country's government, they go after businesses in the country. Think of what happened with South Korea when China put a -- essentially a blanket ban on group tours going into the country, drastically hurting that country's economy also. You know taking steps against a major South Korean retail chain that was operating in China.

We have to watch and see what happens next here. Right now it is Canada and China's cross hairs, but could American companies operating in the country be targeted. There have been calls on social media to boycott everything from McDonald's and KFC, to Apple products. And of course, Apple relies on China for a significant portion of its business. So there's the business side of things.

But also questions about will Americans operating in China also be targeted here if indeed this is retaliation. Again, China not confirming that, but we have to look at the timing as being highly suspicious in this case, George.

HOWELL: Will Ripley on the details for us live in Hong Kong. Will, thank you. Now to France, the gunman who carried out the shooting attack at a Christmas market is dead. French prosecutors say the police killed 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt. After a two day manhunt, officers spotted Chekatt in Strasbourg. On Thursday, he opened fire on the officers when they tried to question him.

Police said they fired back, killing him. Chekatt was accused of killing 3 people and wounding 13 others in that Tuesday market. Let's go live to Paris. Our Jim Bittermann is following the story. And Jim, what is the latest that you could tell us about how police eventually tracked him down.

JIM BITTERMANN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: George, in fact, it has been a great matter of relief here that Chekatt has been found, and tracked down and killed, because for at least 48 hours, people were really nervous, especially over in Strasbourg about the idea that he was still on the streets, still armed, and still very dangerous.

But yesterday afternoon, a number of people came forward and told police that they had seen somebody that resembled Chekatt. This is after the police released a photo of him in the neighborhood where he grew up. And police locked down that neighborhood several times during the afternoon yesterday. And then in the evening, the police patrol, specialized patrol -- specializes in neighborhoods that are high risk was going to down the street.

They saw someone who looked like Chekatt. They said hello, and instead of saying hello back, he apparently, according to the reports, he turned around and fired at the police. And the police fired back and killed him. So he is now off the streets. But the question is who -- is there anybody that sort of hid him during this 48-hour period when he was on the loose, and why he would -- why he proceeded to this act.

He was very well known to police. That's another part of this investigation, which will continue, how it was that they managed to not perceive the fact that he was going to go into action on Tuesday night, what exactly the conditions were. He had been convicted 27 times in his very short life, 29 years old and 27 convictions for various minor crimes. But this was the first time there was any kind of relation made to terrorism, George.

HOWELL: Jim, the other question you talk about, people being relieved that he was tracked down. But you raised the questions were people are helping him. Is there a concern that there could be more people that, you know, could be caught up into this? BITTERMANN: Well, exactly. And in fact, they're still holding five

members of his family and friends of his just to see if they have in any way inspired him or had helped hide him during this 48-hour period. He's known to have a brother that some people say is even more radical in terms of Islamic fundamentalism. And he was -- and so it is kind of questions that are being raised now about who helped him and whether there was any other act being planned.

That market, the Strasbourg Christmas market is one of the most famous in Europe and one of the oldest, and has been threatened in the past. Over the years, since 2015, particularly, there have been threats almost every year around Christmas times against the market, and nothing has ever materialized. But this time, of course, 3 people are dead and 13 injured after Chekatt went in there into action, George.

HOWELL: Jim Bittermann, live for us in Paris. Jim, thank you. Legally binding, not open for negotiation. The European Union is standing firm on the issue of Brexit, that message being made very clear that the British Prime Minister Theresa May. She is spending a second day in Brussels trying to salvage the Brexit deal that most of her parliament members oppose.

[02:10:06] At this point, it appears she will leave empty-handed. E.U. leaders on Thursday showed some sympathy for Theresa May, this again one day after she survived the confidence vote triggered by her own party. The 27 European leaders said they were willing to offer clarifications on what they've already agreed to, but they insisted renegotiation not an option.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TUSK, EUROPEANN COUNCIL PRESIDENT: The European Council reconfirms (Inaudible) November 2018 (Inaudible) there was an agreement and a political declaration. The Union stands by this agreement and it plans to proceed (Inaudible). This is not open for renegotiation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: So the Brexit confusion continues. Our Erin McLaughlin has this report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, British Prime Minister Theresa May had hoped to convince the E.U. 27 to commit to a package of reassurances to help her get this Brexit deal over the line in Westminster. Instead, she offered little in the form of clarity, saying that she hopes the U.K. and the E.U. will work together to break this impasse, saying that she's trustworthy.

Arguing quote, over the last two years, I hope I have shown you can trust me to do what is right, not always what is easy, however difficult that might be for me politically. But the message from the E.U. 27 in response, the onus is on the U.K. to figure out how to fix it. JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: If we go into

negotiations on the future relationship, we need to have a well constructed proposal and cogent ideas from by British partners and friends, and then we'll look at that. I do find it uncomfortable that there's a question perhaps in the U.K. that it is for the E.U. to propose solutions.

It is the U.K. leaving the E.U. And I would've thought it would be up to the British government to tell us exactly what they want.

MCLAUGHLIN: So where does this leave Theresa May, in yet another precarious position. She returns to London with very little to show for her latest Brexit summit. Erin McLaughlin, CNN, Brussels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: All right, Erin, thank you. The U.S. President says he didn't direct his former attorney to break the law. But President Trump may have been more involved than he's letting on. Details ahead on a secret meeting that may have violated campaign law. Plus, (Inaudible) Russian spy admits in U.S. court that she's guilty. We'll tell you what she did (Inaudible).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:15:00] Welcome back to CNN Newsroom. I'm George Howell. The U.S. President's inaugural committee is being investigated for possible financial abuses. A source telling CNN that federal prosecutors are investigating whether the committee misspent some of the donations it raised for the inauguration. The committee denies any wrongdoing and says it's unaware of any investigation.

This story again first reported by the Wall Street Journal. On Thursday, one of its reporters told CNN the investigation also looking into whether donors gave money to gain access to the administration. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we've reported is that the investigation is still in its in early stages, but some people have been asked why (Inaudible) donations but about the committee's (Inaudible). Obviously, there was a huge amount of money involved here, more than it's ever been recorded in inaugural funds. And there have been questions swirling around this committee and how it spent its money and sort of outside costs involved for months now.

And this just shows that some, you know, some of the material that was received in the Cohen raids, in the Michael Cohen raids earlier this year could play a role in other investigations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: CNN also learning that President Trump attended a 2015 meeting related to hush money payments. According to court filings, his former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen was also at that meeting. They allegedly discussed a plan to protect Mr. Trump from damaging news stories. On Thursday, the President spoke about his long time attorney for the first time since his sentencing.

Our Jeff Zeleny reports Mr. Trump tried to distance himself from Michael Cohen's actions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. DONALD TRUMP (R), UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Let me tell you. I never directed him to do anything wrong.

JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: President Trump speaking out today against his longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, saying the charges that led to Cohen's three year prison sentence were intended to embarrass the President.

TRUMP: Because what he did was all unrelated to me, except for the campaign finance charges that are not criminal and shouldn't have been on there. They put that on to embarrass me. They put those two charges on to embarrass me.

ZELENY: But the President's views spilled out in a flurry of tweets and an interview with Fox News is at odds with the facts. He insisted that the campaign finance charges against Cohen relating to the hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougall were not criminal.

TRUMP: Michael Cohen pled guilty to something that's not even a crime.

ZELENY: But that's not true. The charges are criminal. And part of the reason Cohen received a prison sentence of three years, along with tax evasion, bank fraud, and lying to Congress. The President increasingly isolated as friends turn on him, including National Inquirer Publisher David Pecker, who accepted immunity from federal prosecutors about the hush money payments, but the President also trying to muddy the waters on that front.

TRUMP: Let me just tell you. I don't think, and I have to go check. I don't think they even paid any money to that tabloid, OK? I don't think we made a payment to that tabloid.

ZELENY: Though it appears to be true, Trump didn't pay American Media Inc. Federal prosecutors say Trump directed the company to pay McDougall to keep her from telling her story about an alleged affair during the 2016 campaign. The President had kinder words for another one-time friend, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, fired by Trump, and now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe. While Trump said Flynn didn't lie...

TRUMP: I have a feeling that maybe he didn't. He's a tougher kind of a guy than Cohen. But they took a general that they said didn't lie, and they convinced him he did lie, and he made some kind of a deal.

ZELENY: That's precisely what Flynn pleaded guilty to, lying to the FBI, and is now awaiting sentencing. Now, that sentencing that's scheduled for next week, that too is a criminal charge. But the Special Counsel's office had recommended that Michael Flynn receive no prison time in exchange for his quote, substantial assistance in the Russia investigation.

No word exactly what that is. That's one of the many questions hanging over this here at the White House, likely to be revealed next week. Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Let's now bring in Shan Wu to talk more about this. Shan, a CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor joining us this hour from Washington, D.C. Shan, thank you.

SHAN WU, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Nice to be here.

HOWELL: Let's tart with what we've learned about this investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for possible financial abuses related to the more than $100 million in donations raised for Mr. Trump's inauguration. What does it mean now for the Trump White House?

[02:19:59] WU: Well, it means a further gathering of storm clouds for them. It has been kind of nonstop this week. And I think adding that to the Michael Cohen plea and the evidence that's come out of that, it really just puts it even more under siege. We don't know that much about this investigation yet. But we know obviously that it's going to involve further interviews, possibly subpoenas of people who worked on the campaign and people who probably currently in the administration.

So it is a very troubling development for President Trump. And it really adds an enormous amount of pressure to a White House that is already completely under siege and frankly way over its head in terms of their ability to respond.

HOWELL: Let's touch on that point. Again, according to the Wall Street Journal, prosecutors looking into whether the committee accepted donations from individuals looking to gain influence, or to gain access in the new administration. Again, how significant is this for people who maybe connected? Does it broaden the net and now, you know, put other people in the situation to face some pretty serious questions.

WU: It broadens that very significantly. And one of the difficulties for anyone being interviewed in this situation is obviously the prosecutors already have the information. They know what the conversations were. They're hearing it from one side. So you have people being interviewed who really -- they might legitimately not remember very well.

But what they can legitimately depend upon is that the prosecutors already know what the correct answers are. So all these people who are going to be interviewed are easily for false statements, as they don't come clean and don't tell the truth. They all need to be very careful about this situation. And, you know, overall, it sadly adds to this terrible atmosphere going to with the Trump administration of corruption.

Frankly, it just seems as though everywhere you turn, there is a problem that's developed where people are not playing by the rules. They all think that they're the smartest person in the room. And now when you add this type of pay to play to access, it is very disturbing. And we don't know where it's going to lead.

HOWELL: And you talk about the President's curious relationship with the truth. Let's focus in on that. Mr. Trump, despite what he said in the past, we know that he was in the room during an August 2015 meeting with his former attorney Michael Cohen and David Pecker. David, the head of that company that own the National Inquirer about hush money payments, Mr. Trump insisting no crime was committed here, even questioning whether a payment was made during an interview on Fox News.

But prosecutors say it is a felony criminal matter. Again, the President is implicated. It comes down to that question, what did he know, when did he know it, and why not just tell it straight?

WU: Yeah. He is all over the place on this. And I mean I would say that he's violating rule number one in white collar criminal defense, which is to keep your mouth shut unless you have good reason to speak and has been carefully vetted. Every time he talks, he creates more problems for himself. And as we all remember, his original take on these types of silence payments was that he had no idea. They never happened.

That it had moved to talking to Cohen, now it's moved to if Michael Cohen gave me advice, it was bad advice. I relied upon him. So it's gone almost like 360 degrees at this point. I have long expected him to make this argument that it was on advice of counsel that he did this, quite a few legal analysts have been waiting for him to make that argument.

It's interesting. His legal team has not really come out very hard on that, because it is a terrible argument to make. It is obviously not in the (Inaudible) situation. Cohen is going to contradict that. Probably, the AMI publisher is going to contradict that. And who knows who else is going to contradict that.

So it is a terrible attempt to say that oh, it is not me who is involved but it is my lawyer who is at fault. That's just not going to fly.

HOWELL: All right. Shan Wu, again, thank you for your time today.

WU: All right. You're welcome. Good to be here.

HOWELL: And another case is under close scrutiny. This one involves an accused spy who says that she was working in the United States on behalf of the Russian government. CNN's Jessica Schneider has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Alleged Russian spy, Maria Butina, admits she conspired to act as an illegal foreign agent, saying she was under the direction of Russian official Aleksandr Torshin who recently resigned from the Central Bank of Russia. Butina was succinct, guilty she told the judge, while she stood at the courtroom podium wearing her green jumpsuit, with her signature long red hair braided down her back.

A.J. KRAMER, FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER FOR DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: She was satisfied with her lawyers that made the decision voluntarily.

SCHNEIDER: The 30-year-old once portrayed herself as simply a graduate student in Washington, D.C. who had founded a gun rights group in Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My story is simple. My father is a hunter. I was born in Siberia.

[02:24:53] SCHNEIDER: Prosecutors say Butina says conspiracy kicked off in 2015 when she drafted a proposal for Torshin and others, titled Description of the Diplomacy Project. It detailed Butina's plot to infiltrate the Republican Party, specifically through the National Rifle Association, which she viewed as having influence over the GOP.

The plea agreement reveals that Butina allegedly worked more extensively than previously known with American conservative activist Paul Erickson, who she describes as her boyfriend. The two looking lovingly at each other in this video released by Erickson's attorney, but prosecutors say Erickson allegedly gave Butina information about prominent U.S. political figures and insight into the 2016 Presidential election.

As part of her ploy, Butina proposed getting $125,000 from a Russian billionaire to fund the meetings and conferences she attended, where she hobnobbed with Republican political figures. At one event, Butina even asked then candidate Donald Trump a question in 2015.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you would be elected as the President, what will be your foreign political (Inaudible) in relationship with my country?

TRUMP: I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK?

SCHNEIDER: In April 2015, Butina attended the National Rifle Association Convention, where she met with current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who shortly thereafter announced his short-lived Presidential run. Butina also invited NRA members to Moscow, where they met with high level Russian officials in December 2015.

And after the trip, told Torshin we should let them express their gratitude now. We will put pressure on them quietly later. And as recently as 2017, Butina worked for Torshin to get a Russian delegation together to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. She shared the list of attendees with Erickson and told him the group was coming to establish a back channel of communication. The Russian Foreign Ministry says Butina only pleaded guilty to

survive. But in court, Maria Butina said her mind was absolutely clear, despite the Russian government claiming that she was tortured by the U.S. And while her lawyers had previously said that her solitary confinement was having negative effects on her psychologically, they now say Butina's mental state has improved since she's been allowed to leave her cell at night for activities like church and meeting a Russian orthodox minister.

She is facing up to five years in prison, and she'll remain in that jail cell through her sentencing date. That's on February 12th. Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Jessica, thank you. Still ahead here on Newsroom, a tragic end for a young seven-year-old migrant girl who traveled for days with her father from Guatemala to reach the United States. We'll have the details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:30:00] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. Thank you for being with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following or you this hour. The European Union is telling the British Prime Minister there is no chance of renegotiating Brexit. Theresa May is in Brussels seeking reassurances on some aspects of the deal, a deal that's very unpopular in the U.K. Parliament. She was forced to cancel a vote on Tuesday that she would have likely lost.

Now, to France, police shot and killed the gunman in the Tuesday's Christmas market attack. Twenty nine-year-old Cherif Chekatt left at least three people dead and more than a dozen people wounded. Police say that Chekatt opened fire on officers Thursday as they approached him to question him then he -- they returned fire killing him. In Yemen, a ceasefire in the Rebel-held port City of Hodeidah is marked by a handshake that you see right there.

It will open up humanitarian corridors so that people could move to safe areas. The agreement also establishes prisoner exchanges. The port city is seen as a lifeline for the rest of the war torn country. The two sides though continue to negotiate. Now, to the story of a young girl from Guatemala who died while in the custody of U.S. Border Protection. The seven-year-old and her father, they were detained last week in New Mexico for illegally crossing into the United States.

She was in custody for eight hours when it was found that she had an extremely high fever and was then flown to hospital. The Washington Post reports she had no food or water for several days. But border patrol says that food and water is typically provided to migrants in custody and agents took every possible step to save the child's life. Let's talk more about this now with David Leopold. David, the chair of immigration law at Ulmer & Berne.

Also, the former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association joining via Skype this hour in Cleveland, Ohio. David, thanks for your time.

DAVID LEOPOLD, CHAIR, IMMIGRATION LAW, ULMER & BERNE: Thank you, George. Good to be here.

HOWELL: So we know Customs and Border Protection is reportedly expressing condolences to the family of the seven-year-old girl saying that agents took every possible step to save her life, but her death again putting this agency that has been scrutinized for how it treats migrants right back in the spotlight.

LEOPOLD: Yes. And it should be in the spotlight, but not for this horrific death of a child. Look, this is an agency that needs to be transparent. It needs to be in the spotlight because this is one more child, one more seven-year-old, too many, that has died a week ago in CBP custody and it's atrocious. This child should have been given medical care.

HOWELL: Again, CNN has confirmed the seven-year-old Guatemalan girl died in CBP custody and according to the Washington Post, she had a body temperature of 105 degrees and reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days. There are report says initial diagnosis by physicians was that the girl later died at the hospital of dehydration and shock after she was taken into custody. Agents say that they routinely provide food and water.

But is this a case where again it could be argued they didn't do enough?

LEOPOLD: Well, clearly they didn't do enough because the child sat in custody in CBP custody and was not given -- not -- was not properly hydrated. She was not properly taken care of and then she went into arrest. We need to find out what happened here. And more importantly, we need to stop the cruelty, the treatment of immigrants like animals, worse than animals. You wouldn't do that to a dog or to an animal. And that comes from the top, George, that comes from the president.

That comes from the Oval Office. That's the Trump administration. This culture of cruelty against immigrants in this country and folks coming into borders had to stop.

HOWELL: That's what we're hearing from the ACLU. Their assessment of what happened blaming lack of accountability and as you describe it a culture of cruelty within CBP for the girl's death and the demanding more transparency given that it took a week for this to come to life. Also, the need for serious reforms to prevent future deaths. Your thoughts on that.

LEOPOLD: Well, America is about a safe haven. America is about humanity. We do not treat people this way at least up until the Trump administration. We treat children with care especially seven-year-old child who is just come in from days crossing. The first thing they should have done was made sure that child was hydrated. Yes, we need to know what happened. And beyond this, the Customs and Border Protection station where this happened in New Mexico. The Trump administration needs to answer and the Trump administration

needs to reform the way that it's treating the cruelty with which treating immigrants today in this country.

HOWELL: Now, also, this raises the question about how CBP is able to adequately accommodate families that they arrest.

[02:35:04] We're seeing more and more families crossing the border from Mexico into the United States and court rulings limit their ability to keep families with children in detention. CBP's commissioner even testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the holding cells are incompatible with the new realities of parents with children that they're facing.

LEOPOLD: As well, they should be. It should be compatible with holding families because this is America. We are not a country that holds families in detention. And this is not -- this is not the right way to go. We have alternative forms of detention. If they're worried about a family that may have cross without documents and they want to make sure that that family is accountable and comes back to an immigration judge, we have alternative forms of detention.

Ankle bracelets and other things like that which allow these people to remain at large -- a fraction of the taxpayer dollars and they're effective. They come back -- in the mid-90s in terms of success rate of people coming back to immigration hearings after they have been apprehended. There's no need at taxpayer expense and that great dangers that we can see tonight from children, two children. So we need to get real.

We need to get back to a sense of humanity in this country with respect with the way we treat immigrants.

HOWELL: Now, that system that you're talking about, the president disparages as cash and release. But again, we're seeing a case here where the family was held. This girl was in custody and the seven- year-old died in custody. David Leopold, thank you again for taking time with us.

LEOPOLD: My pleasure. Thank you, George.

HOWELL: Up next here on CNN, space tourism may be a giant leap closer as a new supersonic plane reaches some incredible new heights. We'll tell you about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWELL: That is the roar of rocket engines that launched billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, a giant leap forward of this quest to take tourists into space. The craft soared more than 50 miles or 80 kilometers above the Earth's surface in yet another test flight. Virgin's supersonic plane, the VSS Unity touched the outer limits of Earth's atmosphere on Thursday and a milestone move from the Mohave Desert.

[02:40:04] This is the first time the passenger plane has reached the edge of space. Branson told CNN he plans to be Virgin Galactic's first passenger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER, VIRGIN GROUP: Now, I obviously would love to -- love to prove our critics wrong and I'm reasonably confident that before Christmas we will do so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you and your family still planning to be the first commercial passengers of Virgin Galactic?

BRANSON: I will definitely be the first. My daughter is pregnant and (INAUDIBLE) depends when we go up. I suspect my wife would like me to go first and then have the children to follow. But we'll have a family negotiation to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: And it wasn't just the flight that was impressive. On the way home, the Unity traveled at two and a half times the speed of sound for landing on a runway. It's amazing. Now, there is an open job at the White House. The question here, do you want this job? President Donald Trump is looking for a new Chief of Staff, but the president is having trouble finding takers. Our Jeanne Moos has this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As the list of finalists to replace John Kelly shrinks.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Five people and really good ones.

MOOS: The jokes expand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Trump found out yesterday that his second pick Colonel Sanders isn't available.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So many Americans don't want this job. Trump might have to let a Mexican do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If anyone here wants to be President Trump's Chief of Staff, just raise your hand and the job yours.

MOOS: Sure there's been volunteers. Former baseball slugger Jose Canseco pitched himself for the job in a tweet, but probably won't get it after telling little buddy the president worried about you looking more like a twinkie every day. I will buff you up daily workouts. British commentator Piers Morgan also applied promising that if the president is doing something dumb, he would tell him.

PIERS MORGAN, JOURNALIST: And if you continue to do it, you're an idiot. Don't do it.

MOOS: Given the tone of the coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He can't even get people on the D list.

MOOS: No wonder the president is described as super pissed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently he cross his arm so hard that they went all the way around.

MOOS: He's been getting lots of unsolicited advice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, he should try me harmony.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have one word for him, Anderson, Craigslist.

MOOS: But the president says.

TRUMP: We have a lot of people that want the job, Chief of Staff.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MOOS: Whoa. Discrimination, why limit it to people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Obama's official photographer suggested bowe the dog, he's smart, doesn't leak in the Oval, has never talked to a Russian. And a New Yorker cartoon recommended the Central Park Mandarin duck noting his approval ratings are through the roof. We did find one eager applicant using the Twitter name no one. No one says I want to be Trump's White House Chief of Staff. That takes guts considering what has happened to the previous chiefs hired by the magician in the White House. Jeanne Moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Abracadabra.

MOOS: New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: It's a tough job but somebody has got to do it. And thank you for being with us with CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN center in Atlanta. "WORLD SPORT" starts after the break. And my colleague Kristie Lu Stout is in Hong Kong with more news at the top of the hour. You're watching CNN, the world's news leader.

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[02:45:00] (WORLD SPORT)