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Manhunt Ends in Strasbourg; Earth's Life at Risk Each Day; Kid Dies in CBP's Custody; Butina Pleads Guilty. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired December 14, 2018 - 03:00   ET


[03:00:00] KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN HOST: The hunt for the man who opened fire to Christmas market in France is now over. How it all unfolded.

Plus, a Guatemalan child who cross to U.S. border has died while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

And deep below the COP 24 climate conference in Poland. Coal is king and people aren't so worried about climate change.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around th world. Kristie Lu Stout. This is CNN Newsroom.

Now it was a dramatic ending in the search for the gunman who carried out the shooting attack at a Christmas market in France. French prosecutors say police killed 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt after a two- day manhunt.

Officers spotted Chekatt in the Neudorf neighborhood in Strasbourg on Thursday. He opened fired in the officers when they try to question him. Police fired back killing. Chekatt was accused of killing three people and wounding 13 others in that Tuesday market attack.

Jim Bittermann joins us now live from Paris. And Jim, some 48 hours after he opened fire in that Christmas market, the suspect has now been shot dead. How did the manhunt end this way?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in fact, the police the police aren't saying exactly what happened at the very end. There are some rumors that in fact the people in the neighborhood who knew Chekatt this neighborhood where he was shot was in fact, the neighborhood he grew up in.

And so, he was fairly well-known because he was a petty criminal. He had been convicted 27 times in his 29 years of life for various kinds of what they call civil crimes here, that is to say, break-ins and robbery and that sort of thing.

So, he was known to some extent in the neighborhood, so someone may have turned him in and blown the whistle on him and saw him. But there were -- we do know that for sure they had helicopters surveillance with body detecting infrared cameras on it.

And also, they have a number of alerts yesterday afternoon in that neighborhood. So, they knew something knew he was still there or thought they suspected he was and then one of these three men patrol which is a specialized patrol for high risk neighborhoods spotted someone who resembled Chekatt going into a building and they wanted to control his identity, to look and to check his identity cards out.

And instead of cooperating he turned fire on the police and they fired back and killed him. So, it was a fairly dramatic end to 48 hours of real terror for the citizens of Strasbourg. Kristie?

STOUT: And again, the yellow vest protests have been underway for weeks now across France. Did those demonstrations or plans for additional ones complicate or get in the way the operation to find the shooter?

BITTERMANN: Well, in fact, the critics were saying that maybe they drew, the yellow vest drew some of the resources, the police resources away from the terrorism, the normal terrorism surveillance duties. The police deny that as does the interior minister.

And he (Technical difficulty) the fact that -- in fact, just a couple of days before the -- one of the rounds of the -- of the yellow vest movement protests, they busted a terrorist ring and it just indicate the fact that they were still on duty on terrorism watch as well as on the yellow vest movement watch.

The interior minister said on the radio this morning that in fact they still have plenty of police to take care of things in France and guard against terrorism as well as the vandalism we saw from the yellow vest movement. Kristie?

STOUT: Jim Bittermann, reporting live from Paris. Jim, thank you.

The European Union says it will not renegotiate the Brexit deal made with British Prime Minister Theresa May. That is the clear message to Mrs. May who was spending a second day in Brussels. She is hoping the E.U. will give her something she can take home to make the deal more appealing to her parliament where it faces deep opposition.

The 27 European leaders say that they're willing to offer clarifications on what has been agreed to but will not make any changes to the legally binding withdrawal agreement.

Nina Dos Santos joins me now live from London. Nina, is there any sign at all that she can secure a deal in Brussels that could transform her situation at home?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPPONDENT: It's not clear that Brussels would go for anything that she seems to put on the table and it's her chance, Kristie. She was part of a working dinner that took place yesterday evening in the Belgian capital.

[03:05:01] It's understood according to U.K. media reports that she spent one hour presenting her case to E.U. leaders and left them increasingly perplexed because according to some of these media reports would effectively, she put on the table they viewed was far too ambitious. This, she said, was the only type of agreement that she could try and

get to her parliament, essentially putting proposals on the table that would limit the legally binding nature of the Irish backstop or at least try to get some kind of reassurance of the E.U. that that backstop arrangement where it have to come into place to prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would only be in place for a limited time period.

The time period of one year, apparently, according to U.K. media reports was put on the table and that's alienated many E.U. leaders around the room. And in fact, Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council which convenes these head of state and government meetings in Brussels made it plain that the E.U. was not planning on doing any more negotiations after all of the work that gone into this 585-page document.

Here is what he to say. He sounds slightly exacerbated I must say after that meal.


DONALD TUSK, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COUNCIL: The European Council reconfirms its conclusion of the 25th of November 2018 in which it endorses the withdrawal agreements and approve the political declaration.

The union transfer this this agreement and intends to proceed with its certification. It is not open for renegotiation.


DOS SANTOS: And we heard similar words of frustration coming from the head of the European Commission, the executive arm of the E.U. is Jean-Claude Juncker saying, effectively to the U.K. and Mrs. May, this is your problem. This is not our problem now so you have to come up with solutions that we can work with.

STOUT: Yes. The E.U. in no mood to renegotiate. We'll see just what kind of assurances they're willing to give to Theresa May. Where things stand now is the possibility of a no deal Brexit getting stronger?

DOS SANTOS: I'm glad you ask that because it depends who you speak to. The E.U. very, very tellingly, according to media reports actually has stepped up its preparations for a new deal Brexit. We've had people like the Irish Taoiseach, the Irish prime minister making very clear over the last few days that he's been talking with the E.U. about stepping up those no deal preparations.

And in fact, if you take a look at the draft -- the draft words that came out of this summit as reported by the U.K. media versus the final text that came out in terms of the sort of commitments that they agree to after to after the summit. The language is very telling.

It seems as though in one point they had originally agreed to provide the U.K. with reassurance. And that is resolutely crossed out, and instead in the same paragraph they have committed to stepping up their no deal Brexit preparation.

So, the E.U. very much turning the screws on the U.K. here. Saying, well, if we -- this is all you have to offer, we're not going to go for it. We will step on no deal preparations.

I should point out though, this is where domestically this vote of confidence in the British prime minister comes in a very interesting point. Because it is likely for the moment at least have deemed the hard Brexit voices within her own cabinet and also with her own party.

Largely because now that she's triumphed in that no confidence vote, although more than a third of her M.P.s were against her in it, it does mean that the chorus of hard Brexit voices has been slightly dimmed here just a little bit. Kristie?

STOUT: You know, it's just mindboggling. The hurdles that lie ahead at the British prime minister. Nina Dos Santos, reporting live from 10 Downing Street, thank you.

Now a diplomatic dispute between China, the U.S. and Canada is escalating. China now says, two Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrik are under investigation. They're reportedly being detained on suspicion of activities that endanger China's national security.

Experts warned this could be retaliation for the arrest of the Huawei's CFO Meng Wanzhou. Now Canada arrested her earlier this month on behalf of the U.S.

Let's bring in Will Ripley. He's been following the story here in Hong Kong. Will, China has confirmed it has detained these two Canadian citizens and accused them of serious crimes.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Activities that endanger the national security of China, Kristie, which is, yes, a very serious charges. It could mean a lot of different things and we don't have much clarity yet from China about the arrest of these two Canadians on the same day facing the same charge. One a former diplomat, the other a businessman who travels back and forth from North Korea.

Do they know each other? Is there a connection to this case? Those are questions that we are still asking right now trying to not saying explicitly that this is retaliation against Canada for their compliance with the U.S. request to arrest Meng Wanzhou. China demanding her release, Canada has released her on bail, but they are continuing on with their judicial process.

China is essentially challenging whether the arrest is even legitimate. They say this is political gamesmanship on the part of the U.S., dirty politics if you will, as the both sides try to hammer out a truce permanent and to the trade war.

[03:10:08] This obviously really complicating matters with China saying that Meng Wanzhou a major name in that country, you know, and the CFO of a company that's a pillar of the Chinese economy they believe that this is a humiliating situation that Canada must resolve. But Canada clearly not releasing her and not letting her go back to China and you have to wonder what happens next here.

STOUT: Yes. China watchers and analysts have been telling us here at CNN that this was retribution. That this was a political act retribution for what happened with Huawei, the CFO. If that's the case, why is China going after Canadians and not Americans?

RIPLEY: Well, it seems that China is trying to use their considerable leverage. I mean, the U.S. and China are Canada's two largest trading partners. And at the moment Meng Wanzhou is in Canadian custody. She will go before Canadian judge who will decide if she should be extradited to the United States to face charges of invading Iran sanctions which could put her in a U.S. prison for up to 30 years if convicted.

At the moment, Canada is the country that would have the power to send Meng Wanzhou home which may explain why China is basically putting Canada in their crosshairs right now. But of course, American firms operating in China also have to be keeping a very close eye on this and wondering if their own employees could face retribution.

STOUT: Will Ripley reporting, thank you so much, Will.

Now a wave of apparently hoax e-mails threats, rattled nerves but little else. Still the buildings were evacuated and searched as a precaution. Now these e-mail threats that were received across the U.S. Canada, New Zealand and Australia mainly by universities, courthouses and newspapers. The mail demanded a ransom be paid in bit coin or there would be violence. None has been reported.

Now policies across these four countries are investigating.

Israel's army has arrested 40 people after launching a manhunt in the city of Ramallah. Officials were searching for a gunman they say fatally show two Israeli soldiers at a bus stop in the West Bank Thursday. The shooting also wounded a third soldier and a civilian. Israel says those arrested in the overnight raids were involved in terror activities.

Now it may seem ironic, but an international conference on global warming is taking place right now in the heart of coal country in Poland.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's why it's startling this far below the earth to see how divorced this world is from the global challenge above COP 24.


STOUT: Can delegates from hundreds of countries agree to make the hard decisions necessary to curb global warming. We got the details next in a live report.

[03:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) STOUT: Welcome back. And let's turn now to those crucial climate talks that are taking place in Poland. Many scientists agree if the temperature rises more than 1.5 Celsius then it could produce disastrous environmental results.

Delegates from nearly 200 countries at the COP 24 summit are trying to negotiate a plan to limit global warming and move the Paris agreement forward. But reports say disputes over finances and other issues have been a major sticking point.

Nick Paton Walsh is at the summit. He joins us now. And Nick, the COP 24 summit is at a critical moment. What's in store today?

WALSH: Yes. I'm on paper it was supposed to finish today. We were supposed to be seeing that sort of critical climax of negotiations here. What's at stake is what's known as the rule book really.

You have the sort of volition of the Paris agreements of 2015, where countries said they wanted to reduce emissions. Now you have to work out how you are going to measure that, who is going to be accountable, to what standard, what level of transparency, who is going to pay for what.

The important points are lot of rushing around. They are now of hotels we saw yesterday by delegations as they rush to see a draft text, it seems very drafted at this stage and a number of paradoxes too. We've seen the United States here come to dispute some of the science, along with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and also promote fossil fuels.

Many bizarre paradoxes here. The biggest of which being the summit itself is being held in the heart of coal country, in coal country itself, Poland.


WALSH: There's a glimmer of hope of climate change on the planet. It's not down here. A thousand meters mining underground. Women seen as bad luck and everyone greets each other with God bless you.

It's why it's startling this far below the earth to see how divorced this world is from the global challenge above COP 24.

This coal helps make steel even for cleaner technologies so nobody feels change is coming soon.

"Global warming is overrated," he says. "It's based on political motives to lower the coal use. Poland has the mother lode of coal." It does indeed. Black gold is at the core of life and prestige here. Mining hasn't lost any of its sparkle.

In this tiny block of flats coal is haul, in the damp they keep themselves warm. The real constant in this former miner's life. But it's also what they wear and how they wash and even in where they worship. This is once a mining community but now the men in overalls are here to fix gas supplies and former teachers, no change can't be stopped. "We care about the environment," she says, "but it's regrettable our

families won't have jobs. The coal stoves are going away," another adds. I even use gas now. "We were teaching children three children how to separate (Inaudible) and what to do with it."

A paradox too then for a summit about how the world will measure emission reductions. Technicalities that are both easy to dismiss but also vital to insure a drop to save our planet.

A lot of this is about presentation about convincing people of the trillions of dollars they've got to spend to prevent catastrophe. But there is something also utterly vital missing. And that's a message of international consensus.

The summit thrown by a refusal to work on a key scientific report last weekend led by Russia. You have space here but few people. And the United States who were listed as here on the floor map but aren't.

People keep coming to you asking where is American. OK.

They're joined by Kuwait who shares a space around this engine with Saudi Arabia who mark their office like this.

No one inside. This is the Saudi room, yes?


WALSH: But a joke isn't funny anymore, not with 12 years to avoid global disaster.


WALSH: The U.S. instead, found itself chanted down by protesters at it promoted fossil fuel use. It's a different world here, to Barack Obama's former climate change envoy Todd Stern.

[03:19:59] There's been a certain amount of tracking the vegs (Ph) at a more political level as well. And having the U.S. not engaged in that instrumental way and not engage in that senior political way from the president, you know, down to -- you know, really to my level. That's -- that makes it more difficult here.

Worse thing you can do is look at IPCC report say, my God, look where are we? And put your, you know, put a pillow over your head and say I can't think about this and let's just go see walls.

WALSH: But even if there is success here it is outside these walls, in daily lives globally that the great change has come.


WALSH: There is something startling, Kristie, really about how undisputable what has to be done here, is there is no doubt about the science the world is going to see catastrophic change in 12 years say scientists unless it acts finitely and quickly to reduce emissions. But still, the conversations continue here today. But the degree of

urgency and the clock ticking, not only on the summit but the world. Kristie?

STOUT: There is no doubt about the science. But as you point out, so many bizarre paradoxes at this climate change summit taking place in the heart of coal country. High tension there as well as you brought up the images in your report at the protests. Just how fraught are these talks?

WALSH: Well, it's obviously an incredibly difficult task to get 1 to 200 nation states to agree simultaneously to a complicated technical document the outlines how they would transparently explain how they are fundamentally changing the nature of daily life in each of their countries. That's what is required to meet this emission goals by 2030.

We saw a text circulated last night. It was certainly a draft text. It appeared in certain areas to have different options, potentially for the direction they may choose. And then subsequently most of delegations were called back. Essentially, they'll have to feel like they have some say in what the actual outcome is.

We may see more of the (Inaudible) text later on today and then you have the broader question of exactly how quickly can they get everyone do agree to it. And then once that is done if that is an easier task, then perhaps some fear it may be here do they act on it, do we actually see a real change or people are looking for wiggle room. Kristie?

STOUT: Some of us will reach that critical stage. Nick Paton Walsh reporting live. Thank you.

Now a young Guatemalan girl died while in the custody of U.S. border protection. The 7-year-old and her father were detained last week in New Mexico for illegally crossing into the U.S. She was in custody for eight hours when it was found she had an extremely high fever and was flown to a hospital.

The Washington Post reports that she had no food or water for days. But border patrol says that is typically provided to migrants in custody and agents took every possible step to save the child's life.

Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro and other politician say that they are devastated by the report and they were asking for an investigation into the circumstances that led to her death earlier.

Earlier, my colleague George Howell spoke with Peter Simonson, he's the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. Take a listen.


PETER SIMONSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACLU NEW MEXICO: This is yet another tragedy in this administration's war on poor immigrant families. And like the tragedies that we've seen before. This one also falls a child. It's an unspeakable tragedy to try and imagine what that young girl must have suffered through before she ultimately perished. It just bears the imagination.

You know, we're going to do everything we can as an organization to get to the bottom of it, call upon authorities to conduct a full and transparent investigation. But you know, we're facing huge challenges these days, and the realm of immigration and this is just one symptom of it.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN HOST: The ACLU is quoted in that report again by the Post that reportedly blaming lack of accountability and a culture of cruelty within CBP's culture for the girl's death. And they're demanding more transparency given that. Again, it took a week for this to come to light. Do you see the need for serios reforms here?

SIMONSON: We have long needed reforms of the border patrol and CBP generally. This is an agency that is the largest armed force in U.S. territory, short of only the military. It operates with virtual impunity. It does not count with the same kinds of accountability mechanism that you see in many of our municipal police these days.

It refused to use and implement to use the body worn cameras. Its use of force policies and policies for systematically investigating use of force incidents are deficient. It doesn't have any sort of a civilian oversight apparatus.

So, for a very long time we've known that this is an agency that suffered from a lack of accountability. Under this administration's reign it's only gotten that much worse.

[03:25:03] HOWELL: A lot of questions here for sure. Customs and Border Protection is expressing condolence to the family of this seven-year-old girl, saying that agents took every possible step to save her life. CBP says it routinely provides food and water, but clearly, in this case something fell short, something didn't happen while she was in their custody for several hours.

SIMONSON: Yes. And you know, there's a lot that we don't know right now. And so, I'm a little hesitant to sort of leap to conclusions. But I do have to say that, you know, we've heard any number of reports about the sort-term custody facilities that border patrol uses.

Concrete cells that are cold, that people are denied food and water for long periods of time and denied medical care. There are very harsh conditions oftentimes. And to hold a child in those conditions it just makes no sense.


STOUT: A heartbreaking development. That was Peter Simonson, the executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico.

Now a woman that few had ever heard of months ago has made a big flash news in U.S. courtroom on Thursday centered on Russian espionage. The apparently gun-loving 30-year-old Russian admitted to crimes that may have an impact long after her guilty plea. Sara Murray has the details.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Russian national Maria Butina admitting she conspired to act as an illegal foreign agent as she pleaded guilty in D.C. federal court today.


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


MURRAY: Wearing a green prison jumpsuit and a tattered undershirt beneath it. Butina spoke clearly with a Russian accent as she entered her plea. Butina admitted she acted at the direction of a Russian official who CNN has identified as former Russian banker Aleksandr Torshin while attending American university and failed to notify the U.S. government.

As she cooperates with investigators Butina is providing information about how her boyfriend Republican operative Paul Erickson aided her activities in the U.S. and telling investigators about her contacts with Russians.

The plea agreement reveals Erickson's involvement in Butina's ploy was more extensive than previously known. Butina kicked off her plan around March of 2015. Working closely with Erickson on a plot called the diplomacy project.

According to her plea, Butina's plot to build relationships with politically influential Americans and advance Russian interests included attending National Rifle Association meetings and organizing a Russian delegation to attend the 2017 national prayer breakfast in D.C.

According to the plea, she proposed getting hundred and $125,000 from a Russian billionaire to attend conferences and arrange other meetings. At one 2015 political event she asked Donald Trump about his views on Russia.


MARIA BUTINA, RUSSIAN SPY: If you would be elected as the president what will be your foreign politics, especially in relationships with my country.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK?


MURRAY: That same year she invited an NRA delegation to Moscow to build closer ties. Afterward she sent Torshin a message saying "we should let them express their gratitude now. We will put pressure on them quietly later." Butina also attended the NRA's 2015 annual meeting. Meeting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Soon after, he announced his bid for president with Butina in the audience.

At the 2016 NRA meeting, Butina and Erickson tried to lay the groundwork for a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Their efforts fell short. Erickson's role in aiding Butina has been a focus of the investigation, but so far, he is not been charged with any crimes.

Now the Russian government had previously claimed that Butina was being tortured while she was in custody. So, there is a vibrant back and forth about the state of her mental health in court today. At one point, her lawyer said she is doing well mentally and even though she's in solitary confinement she is allowed out for a couple of hours in the night and also now allowed visits with a Russian orthodox minister.

Back to you, guys.

STOUT: Sara Murray there. Now Donald Trump says he didn't direct former attorney Michael Cohen to break the law but the president may have been more involved that he's living on.

Ahead, details on a secret meeting that may have violated campaign laws.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Kristie Lu Stout. Let us give you an update on our top stories this hour. French police have shot and killed 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt, the gunman in Tuesday's Christmas market attack that left at least three people dead and more than a dozen wounded. Police say Chekatt open fire on officers on Thursday as they approach to question him, then he returned fire killing him.

China says two Canadians are now under investigation. Beijing says, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are both suspected of endangering China's national security. This comes after Canada arrested a Chinese (inaudible) executive on behalf of the U.S. China's move could be political retribution.

The European Union is telling Britain's Prime Minister that there's no chance of renegotiating the Brexit deal. Theresa May is in Brussels seeking reassurances on some aspects of the deal that are very unpopular in the U.K. parliament. She was forced to cancel a vote on Tuesday that she would likely have lost.

Our CNN is learning that U.S. President Donald Trump attended a 2015 meeting related to hush money payment. The U.S. President was joined by his former attorney Michael Cohen, but denies he directed his long time fixer to break the law. Jim Acosta has more from the White House.


confirmed President Trump attended an August 2015 meeting where the then candidate along with his former attorney, Michael Cohen and the publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker discussed ways to downplay stories about the GOP contender's relationships with women that could damage the campaign. Still earlier in a day, the president maintained he wasn't aware of any kind of financial arrangement he had made with the tabloid.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have to go check. I don't think anyone paid any money to that tabloid. OK. I don't think we made a payment of that tabloid. I was asking the question, I don't think we made a payment.

ACOSTA: In that interview with Fox, the president claimed federal prosecutors in New York were out to embarrass him. By forcing Cohen to admit he paid hush money to a porn star and a Playboy playmate, to cover up Mr. Trump affairs just before the 2016 election.

TRUMP: Because what he did was all unrelated to me, except for the two campaign finance charges that are not criminal and should not be on there. They put that on to embarrassed me. They put those two charges on to embarrass me. They are not criminal charges.

ACOSTA: But that's not true. As the payments, Cohen said, Mr. Trump directed in the make were found to be crimes, even the parent company, The National Enquirer did in the case, that it was also part of the hush money scheme. The President seems to have an answer for all of that as well, insisting it was Cohen's job not to break the law.

TRUMP: Let me tell, I never directed him to do anything wrong. Whatever he did, he did on his own. He is a lawyer. A lawyer who represents a client is supposed to do the right thing. That's why you pay them a lot of money.

ACOSTA: Yet even as the president said he relied on Cohen to stay out of hot water, he mocked his former fixer's legal skills.

TRUMP: He did very low-level work, he did more public relations than he did in the law, but he did -- you see him on television, he was OK on television.

ACOSTA: The president tends to downplay the roles of his former aides who find themselves in legal jeopardy. Consider what he tweeted about his now convicted foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos. Few people knew the young, low-level volunteer named George, who was already proven to be a liar.

[03:35:02] And don't forget how the president referred to his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, now a convicted felon.

TRUMP: You know, Paul Manafort work for me for a very short period of time.

ACOSTA: But the president is defending his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was asking for no prison time in his legal saga.

TRUMP: They took a general that they said didn't lie and they convince him he did lie and he make some kind of deal, and now they are recommending no time.

ACOSTA: But that is not exactly true. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his contacts with the Russians during the transition period in late 2016. Yet the president repeated that claimed later in the day.

TRUMP: Well, the FBI said Michael Flynn, a general and a great person. They said he did not lie. And Mueller said, well maybe he did and now they are all having a big dispute.

ACOSTA: The president was spreading other falsehoods away from the Russian investigation, claiming once again that Mexico will somehow pay for a border wall. Tweeting, I often stated one way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the wall. This has never changed. Our new deal with Mexico and Canada is so much better than the old very costly and anti-USA NAFTA deal. Just by the money we save, Mexico is paying for the wall. Democrats are saying hold on.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: What money is he talking about that is going to go pay for the wall? It just isn't it just doesn't measure up.

ACOSTA: The president also claimed that that he is making progress in a search for new White House chief of staff, telling reporters that he is down to five candidates. Source closed to the White House tell CNN, the outgoing Chief of Staff, John Kelly is confiding the friends he is relieve to be leaving that post. Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


LU STOUT: The material sees from the Michael Cohen probe reportedly led to yet another investigation, a source told CNN, that Donald Trump's inaugural committee is now being investigated for possible financial abuses. Federal prosecutors are looking to whether the committee misspent some of the donations it raised for the 2017 inauguration. The story was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Thursday. One of its supporters told CNN that the investigation is also looking to whether donors give money to gain access to the administration.


REBECCA DAVIS O'BRIEN, REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: It is an early stage of investigation into Trump's inaugural fund and what we understand is that they are asking some questions about the source of record $107 million that the committee raised and what was done with that money. There had been question circling for months now about what, you know, the sort of -- a murky spending in that of that record amount of money. So, you try to get to the bottom of that.

ANDERSON COOPER, BREAKING NEWS SHOW HOST: And is the idea that, I mean that this is about pay to play - my understanding, I mean, this is about pay to play, about access, about essentially people giving money in order to get access, is that correct?

DAVIS O'BRIEN: Well, I think that is where you see it. You know, that this is not just a stunning from the Michael Cohen investigation, but also touches on aspect of Special Counsel Investigation. We don't know what exactly what crimes - if any committed and what would be charge, but I think part of this is certainly looking at what these donors gave them, what they expected, or what they received, but is also partly about what happened with the inaugural committee expenditures and you know what exactly where they paying $103 million for.


LU STOUT: The committee denied any wrongdoing in a statement on Thursday, read in part, "The committee is not aware of any pending investigations and is not been contacted by any prosecutors. These are funds raised from private individuals and were then spent in accordance with the law and the expectations of the donors."

You are watching CNN newsroom and coming up next, a handshake and the cease-fire. What a milestone in Yemen is only a glimmer of light in a very dark crisis and U.S. Senate deal has turn rebut to Saudi Arabia over the killing of a Washington Post journalist and puts pressure on the U.S. president.


LU STOUT: A major milestone in the war in Yemen. A ceasefire in the rebel held port city of Hodeida. It came in a form a handshake between Yemen's internationally recognized government supported by Saudi Arabia and the Iranian backed Houthi rebels, but the war is not over. Neither is the suffering of the Yemeni people. Our Nima Elbagir has more and warning. Her report includes disturbing images.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is absolutely appalling 60,000 believed to have died just since January 2016 in Yemen three year long civil war. 24 million people believed to be an urgent humanitarian need and the U.N. says now that it will need four billion dollars to meet those needs, but finally, perhaps a glimmer of hope. The warring parties, the rivals in Yemen civil war shaking hands and the foreign minister representing the Saudi backed Yemeni government telling us this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There will be a security committees establish by the government and the rebels with the president himself, a U.N. team of military experts. They will overlook the (inaudible) itself, withdrawals from the city. We expected during the next four days, we will see the Houthis leaving the seaports of Hodeida. And in the next 14 days we will see them withdrawing from the city, our forces also will reallocate outside of the scars of the city.

EASTON: But what does that mean in practical terms? Will life on the ground change and change quickly enough to help those people who needed the most. The short answer is no. The withdrawal from Hodeida and other key ports asking to take over two weeks, there has been an agreement over humanitarian core to allow for the movement of civilians to safe areas, but that doesn't really have a timeline. What they have achieved is incredibly symbolic and incredibly important, but for the people in the ground. Will it come soon enough? So many of those were speaking to us saying no, that they have suffered so much, their fear is that they will continue to suffer.

There is hope though in the agreement to at least talk some more. The talks are expected to be picked up. Negotiations are expected to be picked up at the end of January and that at least allows for that to be an escalation, a moment of respite, the warring parties agree that negotiation is the only way forward and an acknowledgment that there can only be a peaceful political solution to the realities on the ground in Yemen.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.


LU STOUT: And in Washington Thursday, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudi led war in Yemen. It is expected to die in the House. Senator Bernie Sanders is one of the bill sponsors.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I), VERMONT: I want to thank all of the senators who in a very bipartisan way have come together to say that the United States will no longer participate in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen which has caused the worst humanitarian crisis on earth, with 85,000 children already starving to death.


[03:45:12] LU STOUT: The Senate also passed a resolution condemning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


SEN BOB CORKER, (R) TENNESSEE: Unanimously United States senate has said that Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That is a strong statement. I think it speaks to the values that we hold dear. The rest of this resolution does. I'm glad the Senate is speaking with one voice unanimously towards this end.


LU STOUT: And that was pressure on U.S. President Donald Trump, who has supported Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince, if the measure passes the House. It then goes to the president. If he gets it all on the other side was Congresses on the bill or side with the Saudis and veto it. You are watching CNN Newsroom. Still to come, it was a secret kept for decades, about how the Titanic was really found and what the crew was actually searching for. And a milestone reach high above the earth on Thursday, leaving flights to outer space for all, but you are going to have to pay for a leg room? That is next.


LU STOUT: Welcome back. Now it turns out when the remains of the Titanic were found in the bottom of the ocean in 1985. It was all part of a classified U.S. military mission to recover two sunken nuclear submarines. The secret made hidden for decades and now the oceanographer who found the Titanic is spilling the details to CNN's Erica Hill.


ROBERT BALLARD, PART OF TEAM THAT DISCOVERED TITANIC SHIPWRECK: We knew where the subs were, what they wanted me to do was to go back and not have the Russians follow me, because we were interested in the nuclear weapons that were on the Scorpion and also what was the nuclear reactors doing to the environment. So they did not want the world to know that and so I had to have a cover story.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And so did this throw them off? Because, it is great, the Titanic, but that is not really what we want.

BALLARD: Well, I had press aboard, the left totally oblivious to what I was doing at the time and also to other people on the ship that was not in the room, when I was down in the Scorpion.

HILL: Which is amazing, so you found the Scorpion, you found the submarines and then you only have 12 days left to find the Titanic.

BALLARD: Yes, I have embedded in my team Naval intelligence officers and one who had reported directly to my boss, Admiral Ron Filman (ph), who said, do my job first and then this (inaudible) or next deal will say, when you are done and when he said I was done, I have very little time left. But I have learned a lot from mapping the Scorpion, then they told me how to find the Titanic.

HILL: So were you confident of that was enough time?



LU STOUT: And I remember when that discovery was announced to the world. The Titanic, it sank back in 1912, killing more than 1500 people. The story about the top-secret recovery is now on display at the National Geographic Museum in Washington.

The real possibility of space tourism got a boost high above the surface of the earth, a rocket powered plane sword to the edge of the atmosphere in Thursday during a successful test flight. [03:50:00] That's more than 50 miles or 80 kilometers, might be just a

matter of time now before anyone can travel to the outer limits. Now here is CNN's innovation in space reporter, Rachel Crane.


RACHEL CRANE, CNN INNOVATION IN SPACE: A truly historic day for Virgin Galactic and Sir Richard Branson, their space vehicles just went faster and higher than ever before. It traveled in nearly three times speed of sound and even cross the U.S. boundary of space when it went 51.4 miles above Earth. The test pilots that were flying the vehicle were even awarded commercial astronaut wings by the FAA. Now I had the chance to speak with Sir Richard a little while after Unity, their spaceship touchdown. Take a listen to what he had to say.

Richard, first of all, congratulations to you and your team. I mean, this has been 14 years in the making and now you finally done it. How do you feel right now?

RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER VIRGIN GALACTIC: Completely accelerated, massive mixed emotions as the spaceship was going up. Tears of relief, tears of joy, but now or everybody here has got the biggest smile on their faces ever. You know after 14 hard years of trials and tribulations trying to get to space are finally there. This really will open a whole new era of space travel.

CRANE: You say tears of relief, what do you mean by that?

BRANSON: Well, I mean, the test pilots are testing a spaceship. They are doing these test flights to make sure that if anything is going to go wrong is going to go wrong when they are on board and not when people are important of future months to come.

CRANE: So what next, I mean, how soon will you be strapping in to that spaceship, to become Virgin Galactic First Commercial passenger. I know that you and your family. Even are planning to be those first commercial passengers.

BRANSON: My guess would be roughly six months from now. Now that we actually to be into space and we tested the craft to its ultimate, it will be able to examine it make beautiful alterations, go up again, then go up again and I look forward to going up and maybe five or six months time.

CRANE: I know you were looking for to proving your critics wrong. I mean the people who said that you never make it to space. What to say to them now that you pulled this off today, Richard.

BRANSON: I always think what the critics. The best way of proving critics wrong is to prove them wrong. You know, I don't blame them for wondering whether it would ever happen, it did take 14 years and it all but satisfying now that it has finally happen. And I actually already had a couple critics send me lovely notes, just saying, thanks for proving us wrong.

CRANE: Everyone love to pick you and Jeff Bezos against each other in this race to commercial spaceflight and you said many times it's not a race, but real talk, I mean, has today put you guys in first place?

BRANSON: Really we had a good day today and overseas safety is paramount as a guide, it just happens to put people into space before anybody, any other commercial space company. So, Jeff will create the most fantastic spaceship company. He will be a formidable rival. Maybe we will be working together in the years to come.

CRANE: But right now, you guys have a little bit of a head start you say?

BRANSON: We have a little bit, we have the first Commercial spaceship going into space with astronauts on board, that has ever happened in history and so it is a momentous day.

CRANE: That's right, you heard him, Sir Richard Branson thinks that he himself will be floating in space and about just five to six months. Now of course, several more tests are needed to be done before then. But soon thereafter, 600 customers who have spent $250,000 a ticket should be on their way to a ride of a lifetime.


LU STOUT: Incredible, Rachel Crane there. Now as 2018 comes to an end. Japan has chosen the symbol meaning disaster as its congee of the year. The public has been voting on an annual congee since the 1990s and disaster had 21,000 votes out of about 200,000. That is because Japan has been quite a year for them, you know, it endured several deadly natural disasters, floods, killing nearly 200 people in July and later that month, more than 60 people died in that sweltering heat wave and don't forget typhoon Jebi. Jebi, hit the island with winds of 160 kilometers an hour, the strongest storm that hit Japan in more than two decades.

Now, a cyclone is headed right now to Australia and could pound the outback with some rain.

[03:55:02] Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera joins us now from the World Weather Center with more. Ivan, good to see you. It has been awhile. What can you tell us about the cyclone?

IVAN CABRERA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good to see you and in fact it's been a while since we've been talking about this. In person you would normally think of the worst of the weather associated with the cyclone is near the side. Well, not in this case, because we've got a lot of things going on here and I will explain it a second here as far as what we had with flooding. 148 kilometer per hour wind, where is it? Well, right now it is in the center of the Gulf of Carpentaria. It will eventually move to the southeast and set of interesting history as typical to what cyclone crosses part if the world.

Steering currents are all over the place here, so sometimes they swirl around. But this one is eventually is going to head to the south and east, but I want you to notice the cloud cover that extends well out from its center, south and eastern of Queens and even down to Victoria, where we will receive some of the worst rains we had in quite a long time. So what's happened basically is this tropical moisture has fired up

and enhances boundary here and another low (inaudible) to the south. And that is where we been seen people getting rescued from cars and flooding to many homes and many businesses as well, hundreds of kilometers away from where the center of our storm is. Now here's the other issue. The storm is going to ahead where it is already been raining very heavily. So it is only going to make things worse as far as the flooding potential here. And I think we have to watch that very closely as we head to the weekend. Now, once it does go inland, it is not going to be a potent cyclone, would be the equivalent of a typhoon, of the Western Pacific. It will be more like a tropical storms, so wind will come down quickly to about 80 kilometer per hour winds and then continue to do that as it pushes to the south and east, but notice it's track, it is going to take the same track, where we will grab the worst of rain, so this is what were thinking here on the movement.

Watch the clock on your Saturday and then heading into Sunday and is just a hug the Queensland coast and even had a little further south, which its moisture and so by the time all said and done, Kristie, we are talking about the potential, once again here, for anywhere from 50 to 100 millimeters. That is a lot of rain in areas that haven't seen much a long time and in fact with the last couple of days we've had areas of pickup upwards of 100 millimeters of rainfall. So a huge deal, all from a couple systems here that are now interacting with each other to make for quite a mess for our good friends down south. Kristie

LU STOUT: Yes. This storm is a dangerous rainmaker. Ivan, thank you so much and thank you for your company. I'm Kristie Lu Stout, the news continues next with Hannah Vaughan Jones in London. You are watching CNN.