Return to Transcripts main page


Recent Sanctions on North Korea; Rudy Giuliani Preventing Trump from Sitting Down with the Special Counsel; A Chaotic Year in Washington; Saudi Arabia Denouncing the U.S. Senate; Theresa May Set to Speak Out Against the Second Brexit Referendum; Protests in Budapest Over Immigration; 3-Year-Old Indian Girl Attack In Alleged Rape; Storm Making Landfall On East Coast Of India; First Transgender Contestant Fails To Make Top 20. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired December 17, 2018 - 02:00   ET


[02:00:01] GEORGE HOWELL, NEWSROOM ANCHOR, CNN: A warning from Pyongyang after getting hit with new sanctions. North Korea says the U.S. needs to be more careful if it expects the two nations to get along. Plus, over my dead body, that's the ultimatum the U.S. President's attorney is giving when it comes to Mr. Trump sitting down with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Also ahead this hour, right wing protesters take over Brussels as a violent demonstration erupts over the U.N.'s migration pact. Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. We want to welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I am George Howell. The CNN Newsroom starts right now, 2:00 a.m. on the U.S. east coast.

New sanctions on North Korea have prompted a sharp response, putting the relationship between the two countries into question. Pyongyang saying the sanctions could block the path to denuclearization and warn that the two sides could return to quote, exchanges of fire. The U.N. sanctions -- the U.S. sanctions rather were placed on three North Korean officials for alleged human rights abuses.

Let's get the latest live in Hong Kong. CNN's Will Ripley following the details of the story, and Will, tell us how serious are these sanctions against North Korea?

WILL RIPLEY, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: These new sanctions in and of themselves not particularly significant in terms of their impact. But they are very symbolic, and that the United States is naming three men who are very close to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. I have seen them standing on stage besides him at events in North Korea. They run his State Security Department, his Organization and Guidance Department, and his Department of Propaganda and Agitation -- the department -- by the way, his own sister Kim Yo-jong also works for.

Now, she's not named here, no member of the Kim family is named. And that is likely deliberate on the part of the United States. Because if they took it to the next level and actually named Kim or a member of his family, that could take, you know, what is outrage, anger on the part of the North Koreans a reaction you might expect and really amp it up to the next level.

But the sanctions issue overall, sanctions that are in place over the North Korea's nuclear program, and the issue of human rights, which North Korea calls nonexistent despite reports from the United Nations of thousands of people in imprisoned in labor camps and no freedom of choice or freedom of speech or freedom to express ones political views if they differ from the sole ideological statement of the Worker's Party of North Korea.

The fact that these sanctions exist and the fact that the U.S. is continuing to add and enforce them is highly discouraging to the North Koreans, it could actually be the red line for them that derail the denuclearization process. I think they thought that if things went well, if there is friendly rapport between their leader and the U.S. President Donald Trump, that North Korea would get some economic relief at this point.

And they haven't gotten that. Of course, the U.S. thought North Korea would start getting rid of its nuclear weapons by now or at least being transparent about what they posses and that hasn't happened either. So both sides continue to have very different expectations here. I want to read you what the North Koreans said over the weekend about the sanctions.

Specifically, it says quote, added sanctions pressure will block the path to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula forever, a result desired by no one. And that could actually be true. This is an unprecedented opportunity where you have the U.S. President, North Korean leader. They have sat down face-to-face.

They might try to have a second summit possibly. But the sanctions issue could be the deal breaker on the North Korean side.

HOWELL: Will, to that point. It seems that the path to denuclearization goes through these leaders, goes through the U.S. President Donald Trump, to the leader of South Korea, of course, and also to the North Korean leader. The question here, could North Korea be turned off by these sanctions with the meeting with the South Korean President, and also with the possible meeting with President Trump.

RIPLEY: I think we have seen clear evidence of North Korea's frustration and frankly reluctance to move forward with further conversations until they get a clear picture of what's going to happen in terms of the sanctions issue. And by the way, a formal treaty, a peace treaty ending the Korean War, and neither of those things have happened, there was supposed to be a meeting this month, according to South Korea's President Moon Jae-In, between Moon and Kim Jong-Un in Seoul.

[02:04:51] It would have been the first time a North Korea leader traveled to the South Korean capital. But a source told me last week the chances of that actually happening now are close to zero. There are a lot of reasons for that, some logistical. But others I think -- it speaks to the fact that it's unclear if Kim really wants to rush ahead with this process right now. And then that raises questions if the second summit between and Trump

and Kim will happen in January or February, as the United States has said it would. I know that there was a situation within the last couple of weeks where the U.S. side was trying to call the North Korean side. Sources said 10 or 20 phone calls and the North Koreans never answered.

So at this point, their really aren't conversations happening. And without conversations, you can't make plans for a summit. And without a summit, you can't make any progress on denuclearization.

HOWELL: Will Ripley live for us in Hong Kong. Will, thank you for the reporting. We'll keep in touch with you. A chaotic year in Washington, winding down now with a tweet storm by the U.S. President, Donald Trump lashing out at multiple targets on Sunday, the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, his investigation, Democrats, and of course, the media, and of course, his former fixer, Michael Cohen, the man seen here.

Mr. Trump angrily called his one-time personal attorney a rat for cooperating with prosecutors. And he got some backup from his current attorney, as our Boris Sanchez reports.


BORIS SANCHEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Rudy Giuliani, the President's attorney in clean-up mode after the President's former attorney, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison on Friday, and some disparaging comments about the President over the weekend. Giuliani trying to put some distance between Cohen and the White House, suggesting that he could not be believed, aiming to discredit him, suggesting for example that those hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal alleging affairs with the President were not campaign contributions.

Keep in mind, that what -- some of the charges that Michael Cohen pled guilty to in the Southern District of New York were related to were those hush money payments, campaign finance violations that he made to those women. Further, Giuliani suggests that the only way to believe Cohen's claims are to take his word for it. That's simply not the case.

The Southern District of New York has presented corroborating evidence to suggest that Michael Cohen is telling the truth. We also know that AMI, the company that owns the National Inquirer, which helped to bury those negative stories about the President, has corroborated what Cohen has said as well. So there is what Rudy Giuliani is saying and then there is what's actually happened in court.

Now, one thing that's clear is that we haven't possibly heard the last from Michael Cohen. Representative Elijah Cummings, the incoming Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told Jake Tapper over the weekend on State of the Union, that he would like to see Michael Cohen testify before Congress yet again. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D) U.S. HOUSE DEMOCRAT: I am hoping that Mr. Cohen will come before the Congress where he can tell the American public exactly what he has been saying to Mueller and others without interfering with the Mueller investigation. I think the American people just voted for transparency and integrity in our hearings.

They want to hear from him. And I certainly would like to see him come in the month of January to -- before Congress. And so the people's representatives will have an opportunity to ask him questions.


SANCHEZ: The other question that's out there, following the reporting from CNN last week, that Robert Mueller was still interested in securing an interview with President Trump and having him answer questions in person, despite those written answers to questions from the Special Counsel that were submitted last month, is whether the President would actually sit down for an interview. Rudy Giuliani was asked about that on Sunday, and he sort of joked about it. Listen to this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Good luck. Good luck. After what they did to Flynn, the way they trapped him into perjury and no sentence for him, 14 days for Papadopoulos. I did better on traffic violations than they did with Papadopoulos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So when you good luck...



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are a joke. Over my dead body, but, you know, I could be dead.


SANCHEZ: In a separate interview, Giuliani struck a bit more of a serious tone, saying that he wouldn't comment on that CNN reporting. Though, he did say that there is an agreement out there between the President's attorneys and the Special Counsel that allows for more time and discussion over whether the President will answer more questions that may come from the Special Counsel. Boris Sanchez, CNN, at the White House.

HOWELL: Boris, thank you very much. Now, let's bring in Scott Lucas to talk more about this. Scott, a Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham in England, also the Founder and Editor of EA World View, via Skype this hour with us in Birmingham, England, a pleasure, Scott, always a pleasure to have you.


HOWELL: We have heard from Mr. Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani speaking about whether the President should sit down with an interview with Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. Giuliani now saying over his dead body in one interview on Fox News, you'll remember the President has said before he would be open to sitting down.

Though, he worries about the possibility of being setup in a trap. So is this possibility a door that has been effectively shut from your view.

[02:10:09] LUCAS: Well, certainly, the White House are going to man the barricades. And let's be honest here. It's because they fear that in a face-to-face encounter where you can't statements, Donald Trump could leave himself open to perjury. On the side, I think Robert Mueller's team see this as the final point where they want to bring everything together, lay it out before the President.

If we do not have Trump sitting down with Mueller face-to-face, then I think it is a question when the Mueller proceeds anyway to lay out the full extent of what they have across the number of fronts. I think that might be in the spring. It could be a bit later. But let's be clear here. That impending investigation is reducing Donald Trump to a cross between Jimmy Cagney, you dirty rats, and King Leer, with Rudy Giuliani playing the court jester.

We're not just talking about one investigation here, George. Please remember that Michael Cohen and the link of Donald Trump to criminal activity -- prosecutors did not come over Russia. It came over the payoffs to women. New York State is investigating the Trump organization. It was reported in the last week that the Trump inaugural committee is under investigation.

When you talk about Russia, it's not just the political investigation now. It's the investigation that is linked back to Trump's business with the claim of the pursuit of the Trump Tower in Moscow. So when it is multiple investigations, it's much harder for Trump to get control of the narrative back. And I think this is just going to spiral down and down until like I say within the next six months. We have the final act.

HOWELL: Let's speak more about Rudy Giuliani. We heard him drop a bombshell about the Trump Tower Moscow project, admitting now that the talks could have continued until shortly before the U.S. presidential election. How does this play into the President's poll numbers? Let's bring those into view to show our viewers in the U.S. and around the world what we're seeing at this point.

The President's poll numbers at this point, 43 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove, how does that play in to that?

LUCAS: Well, those numbers have been pretty much the same, George, since early this year. Because I think (Inaudible) one is I think people can't comprehend the scope of what is happening. And two, because even though Rudy Giuliani -- don't rule this out, when he makes statement like the Trump Tower talks could have gone until November 2016, he might not be admitting something.

He might just be confused. But that confusion, not only from Giuliani but from Trump, from the White House, sometimes deliberate, sometimes unintentional, means that people don't actually know where we are. So if you are with Trump, you shrug your shoulders and say we are still with him. If you are against Trump, you still are against him, but you just keep wondering when we we're finally to get clarity.

HOWELL: So all politicians, Scott, can say one thing at one time, pivot politically for reasons or evolve later. But there is a difference from simply bending the truth or lying. And you can't deny that this President has been caught telling a tale or two, or more than 6,000 tales since taking office, according to the Washington Post reporting.

What do you make of these latest poll numbers it, the NBC News, Wall Street Journal poll, if we can bring that up in to view, showing many Americans believe the President is not telling the truth about the Russia investigation?

LUCAS: Well, (Inaudible) George. Let's be clear. Donald Trump lies. I mean I'm not going to use false statements, distortion. I'm going to tell you Donald Trump lies. Unless (Inaudible) poll numbers now is that a higher percentage of Americans now believe that Donald Trump is lying, for example, about the Russia investigation than actually oppose Donald Trump. That means that some people who still amongst that 43 percent that back him, are effectively saying if you didn't know we think Donald Trump is lying.

We're going to stand by him. Now, there may be multiple reasons for that. I won't go in to that now. But what it means is that's what makes the task of Robert Mueller even harder. That even putting out the truth, the reality in evidence, evidence from witnesses, evidence from computer files, evidence from documents, even presenting that truth may not be enough to swing the Trump supporter who says you know what, if he lied a few times, hey, so what.

HOWELL: Some Americans are against the lies and some are OK with it. We'll just have to, of course, see what is in store for the next year. Scott Lucas, live for us in Birmingham, England. Thank you for your time.

LUCAS: Thank you, George.

HOWELL: Now to Saudi Arabia. Denouncing the U.S. Senate, after lawmakers voted to end U.S. military support for the war in Yemen, they also voted to condemn the Saudi Crown Prince in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That move from the Senate also a rebuke of the U.S. President who continues to support the Saudi kingdom.

[02:14:58] Saudi Arabia's Foreign Affairs Ministry issued this statement. I'll read it here. The recent position of the United States Senate, which has been built on baseless allegations and accusations, includes blatant in its internal affairs and the role of the Kingdom at the regional and international level. In a few hours time, the British Prime Minister will bring her latest Brexit argument to parliament, coming up the growing push for a second referendum.

Also, squaring off over immigration in Brussels, thousands of demonstrators clash with police, stay with us.


HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN Newsroom. I'm George Howell. The British Prime Minister is set to speak out against the second Brexit referendum on Monday in the House of Commons. It comes as Theresa May is slamming one of her predecessors over his support and comments of a second vote. Ms. May accusing Tony Blair of undermining her negotiations on the divorce deal from the E.U. by advocating for a second vote.

[02:19:54] But Blair says that it isn't irresponsible or insulting to look for an alternative way forward. Theresa May's chief of staff was forced to deny that he was planning for a second referendum. That report again came from the Sunday Times. It says some of the Prime Minister's senior allies are getting ready for a second vote.

Let's bring in Steven Erlanger to talk about this. Steven, the Chief Diplomatic Correspondent for the New York Times in Europe, live this hour from Brussels, Belgium, Steven, a pleasure.


HOWELL: Look. There has been this growing chorus of people just getting a bit louder about this possibility of a second referendum all brought to ahead by Theresa May's predecessor Tony Blair, who went to Brussels to suggest that a second referendum is more likely now. Theresa May accusing Blair of undermining the negotiations. What do you make of this idea, though, of the second referendum? Does it seem that she has the political capital to stop it?

ERLANGER: Well, she's certainly trying to. I mean her whole strategy is my or no deal, my way or the highway. And the problem is there is no majority in parliament for her deal. Unfortunately, there is no majority in parliament for any deal. But there does seem to be a majority in parliament not to crash out of the European Union on March 29. So some people like Blair, and it could happen, would want parliament to take over control of the process and vote despite the government's desires for a second referendum.

Now, there are lots of reasons why that would be complicated (Inaudible) require delay. What kind of questions would you ask? Would it be fair? Who would get to vote, etcetera, etcetera? But if parliament can't decide, the whole idea of punting it back to the people to let them decide again is getting more traction. But it is not what Mrs. May want.

HOWELL: Steven, we were talking about this in the Newsroom just the different options around Brexit. And the question here, as we get closer to March, and the day the U.K. exits the E.U. Is this a matter of Theresa May effectively running down the clock? The closer we get to that date, does it put more pressure on MPs to either make their peace with the deal or be responsible for possibly leading to a hard Brexit with no deal.

ERLANGER: Well, that seems to be her strategy. I mean this has been terribly mismanaged. I have to say. But at this point, her argument is, you know, it's a very complicated deal. I have done my best with the red lines that I have had. It's not going to get any better. So either -- you know, let's accept it and work on what really matters. It's true, is negotiating a future relationship with the E.U. over the next 20 months.

Because after all, even after March 29th, nothing will change for 20 months, there is a stand still deal. So to some degree, her strategy is a bit like Muhammad Ali's rope-a-dome, which is you lie back against the ropes and protect yourself and let people exhaust themselves by swinging at you, but you don't all down. That's Theresa May.

HOWELL: I don't mean to laugh. Rope-a-dope, I never heard that analogy brought into Brexit. But I guess it makes sense here.


ERLANGER: It makes sense. Sure.

HOWELL: I would like to ask you about Jeremy Corbyn, seeming to stay out of the fray lately, but feeling the pressure to back a vote of no confidence or even putting a second referendum back to the people for a vote.

ERLANGER: Well, Jeremy Corbyn's in this strange position, because he's actually a Brexiter. He didn't campaign much more (Inaudible). His whole desire is to pull down the government. It's a very weak government. It's a government completely divided amongst itself. That's what you're hearing. You have every cabinet minister moving now to maneuver to succeed Theresa May, who has already promised to step down before the next election.

And then you have Jeremy Corbyn, who is very popular with the young, but doesn't have enough support to really yet win an election. He should be, but the labor opposition given the mess in the (Inaudible) party should be way ahead, and it isn't. So he's being pushed to ask for a vote of no confidence. The problem is it's unlikely that he would win it, because the (Inaudible) don't want a new election.

And if there is a new election, he may not win that either. So he's a bit stuck. He's trying to say no to everything to undermine the government. And at the same time, I think in his heart of hearts, he knows the timing isn't right for the Labour Party.

HOWELL: Steven Erlanger, always a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time and perspective.

ERLANGER: Thanks, George.

[02:24:58] HOWELL: The issue of migration, it remains a controversial issue across Europe. And in Brussels, it resulted in major protests that played out on Sunday. Demonstrators, both for and against the United Nation's migrant's pact, got into running street battles with police. Atika Shubert has this report.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Violent demonstrations erupted in the streets of Brussels on Sunday, as thousands of far right protesters and counter-protesters chanted, waved flags, and ran from teargas sprayed by police. The demonstrations quickly devolved into chaos when police detained 90 demonstrators after they attempt to storm the European Commission Building.

The uprising dubbed March Against Marrakesh was organized in response to Belgium support, but the U.N. Global Compact on Migration, after Belgium Prime Minister, Charles Michel, expressed confidence in the Compact at a U.N. conference in Marrakesh last week.

CHARLES MICHEL, BELGIAN PRIME MINISTER: We need European cooperation. We need international cooperation. We need to have courage. We need to have responsibility. This moment is important because it's a step forward.

SHUBERT: The Compact has drawn global criticism from these far right groups who fear an increase in European migration as a result.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Europe is dead because of the politics, because of the European Union, and this commission building that signed this compact contract for the immigration. That means that the European people will be dead in our home. So no -- we want our home back.

SHUBERT: And in some, it has aggravated a deep-seeded hatred towards ethic groups.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want all the (Inaudible) black (Inaudible) out of this country, all Arabs (Inaudible) all Islam out.

SHUBERT: As these far right groups see restricting migration as a means to preserve their way of life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not only for Marrakesh. It's also for the people. We need to work until we are 67 years old. It's not normal. And they turn the money for the immigrants who will not serve our country.

SHUBERT: Atika Shubert, CNN, Berlin.


HOWELL: Protests also breaking out in Hungary's capital. Take a look. That's the scene in Budapest, thousands of people taking to the streets there, a fourth straight night on Sunday, some clashing with riot police who fired tear gas. The demonstrators are angry over what they call a Slave Law, a Slave Law they say which would let employers ask workers to do 400 hours of overtime a year, up from 250.

From enemies to friend, to friends to enemies, President Trump keeps changing his story on Michael Cohen, and we track the history of their confusing stormy relationship. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:31:18] HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you. This hour, North Korea says new sanctions imposed by the United States could block the path to denuclearization. The U.S. Treasury sanctioned three senior North Korean officials last week for alleged human rights abuses.

Pyongyang warned the measures could return both sides to, "Exchange of fire." The Saudi foreign ministry says it rejects the U.S. Senate's position on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Senate condemned Saudi crown prince Thursday for the killing. It also voted to end military support for the Saudi-led ware in Yemen. In the Northern Japanese City of Sapporo, an explosion near a pub injured at least 42 people. You see the scene there. Also, one person critical.

People living nearby say they smelled gas after that explosion. The cause of the blast is still unknown and the case remains under investigation. The Washington Post has obtained a draft of a report that's been prepared for the U.S. Senate about Russia's interference in the 2016 election. It describes it as the most sweeping analysis yet of Russia's disinformation campaign. The report studied millions of social media posts provided by technology firms and here's what it found, that Russia used every major social media platform to help elect Mr. Trump.

That's all Moscow's messaging was intended to benefit the Republican Party and that on Facebook alone Russia -- Russia's campaign reached 126 million people. Washington Post Reporter Craig Timberg worked on that report and he discussed it earlier with my colleague Brian Stelter and Ana Cabrera.


CRAIG TIMBERG, WASHINGTON POST REPORTER: This in many ways is the report we've been waiting for. It's sweeping. It's comprehensive. It uses the fullest data set we've seen yet from the companies who turned over lots of information to the government that they didn't turnover to anybody else. And so, this is a -- this is -- it doesn't exactly tell us things we didn't suspect or haven't heard. But it puts it altogether in a new way and it's very comprehensive and compelling.

I feel like they kind of reverse engineered the entire Russian disinformation campaign in this one report.


HOWELL: The very issue of election meddling by Russia it is just one dark cloud hanging over the U.S. president but for his jailed associates, it is a very different story. The case then points his former attorney Michael Cohen. CNN's Brian Todd has a look at Mr. Trump's shifting account of his one-time fixer.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump's hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal may once have seemed embarrassing personally. But now, they may threaten to harm him legally. Experts say that maybe why the president's story keeps changing going from I didn't know to it's not my fault, to it's not illegal. In a new interview with ABC, Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen says Trump absolutely directed him to make the payments to Daniels and McDougal and did it with a specific purpose in mind winning the presidency.

MICHAEL COHEN, Attorney: He was very concerned about how this would affect the election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To help his campaign?

COHEN: To help him and the campaign.

TODD: That expert say would be a violation of campaign finance law which may be why the president is blaming his lawyer for bad advice tweeting Thursday morning, I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. But that argument hardly lasted half a day because hours after tweeting that Trump told Fox News Cohen barely did legal work for him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was his title of fixer --



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you need him --


TRUMP: He did more public relations than he did law.

[02:35:03] TODD: But back in April, the president had a different view of Cohen on Air Force One when he denied ever knowing about the Stormy Daniels payment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No, no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did Michael Cohen make this if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael.

TODD: In August, his story changed again. When Trump was asked by, yes, another Fox News anchor if he knew about the payments.

TRUMP: Later on, I knew, later on. But you have to have understand, it's like what he did, and they weren't taken out of campaign finance.

TODD: Experts say that argument may not hold water especially because the president according to a source was at a meeting in August of 2015 discussing hush money payments with Cohen and David Pecker, the CEO of the National Enquirer's parent company.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does it give him an out to say that I knew about it later?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it doesn't give him an out. They knew about it later. Once he knew about it he was party to the violation.

TODD: Another shift in the story comes from Trump's legal adviser Rudy Giuliani. On May 2nd, Giuliani told Fox that Cohen who had taken out a personal home equity line to pay for Stormy Daniels silence was paid back by Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reimbursement comment, is that an admission that Trump knew about the payments earlier?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's an admission that he knew about it earlier. Why would Trump be reimbursing if he don't know about the payments?

GIULIANI: It's going to turn out --

TODD: In that same interview, Giuliani suggested that paying Cohen back meant Trump hadn't violated campaign finance laws.

GIULIANI: That money was not campaign money. Sorry. I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. So they funnel that through a law firm. Funnel through a law firm and the president repaid it.

TODD: Experts say the repayment of Cohen which prosecutors now say came in the form of fake retainer payments to him by the Trump Organization still means there were probably campaign finance violations and may have violated other laws too. That maybe why Trump suggested another version of the story on Thursday when he denied paying back media conglomerate AMI, that parent company of the National Enquirer for its role in hush money payments to McDougal.

TRUMP: I don't think they even paid any money to that tabloid. OK? I don't think we made a payment to that tabloid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By not paying them back, you have a straight out corporate contribution to the campaign.

TODD: In fact, it may make it worse all of which experts say begs the question, are all these shifting stories taken as a whole a crime?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They support the idea that he has committed crimes whether it is the knowing and willful violation because he's trying hide it showing he knows there's something wrong here and it also can be an element of obstruction of justice if he's trying to influence other witnesses, if he's trying to influence the jury with lies.


TODD: But experts caution that there's also the possibility that all these shifting stories in totality may not prove obstruction of justice simply because we don't know everything that Trump and his legal team have told the prosecutors. And they say that Trump and his team could make the case that the president was confuse about the law, confuse about what obstruction really means even though he's always have lawyers to tell him that. Brian Todd, CNN Washington.

HOWELL: Brian, thank you for the report. It seems the president's new pick for White House Chief of Staff can't keep his story straight either specifically on whether he actually likes the U.S. president. Here's what Mick Mulvaney said just a couple of years ago. This video obtained by The Daily Beast. Listen.


MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: Yes, I am supporting Donald Trump. I'm doing so as enthusiastically as I can given the fact that he's a terrible human being. But the choice on the other side is just as bad.


HOWELL: Mulvaney currently heads up the Office of Management and Budget. A spokeswoman for that office released this statement that provides some context. This is old news, it says. These comments were made in 2016 when he was a congressman and had yet to meet the president. It's a move drawing condemnation from around the world. China ordering the arrest of 100 Christians. We'll have the very latest on the developments from Beijing.


[02:42:22] HOWELL: A prominent pastor is calling China's moves against Christians a wicked, unlawful action. Wang Yi is one of 100 Christians who were taken into custody last week. Western governments and civil rights advocates are condemning Beijing for its mass arrests of a religious community. It's just the latest move in China's step- up crackdown on independent religious practice. CNN's Steven Jiang is following the story, our senior producer there in Beijing.

And, Steven, tell us more about what compelled the Chinese government to crack down on thsee Christians.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, George, particularly this very prominent pastor Wang Yi because he's unusually vocal and blunt critic of the government. Unlike many of his peers, Pastor Wang is known to give very fiery and really passionate sermons to his more than 500 followers in this Early Rain Covenant Church in the Southwestern Chinese City of Chengdu. He never shies away from politically sensitive topics. He really speaks against what he perceives as social ills and wrong-headed government policies criticizing even this country's increasingly powerful leader Xi Jingping.

For example, when Mr. Xi oversaw the removal of presidential term limits early this year basically paving the way for him to rule the country indefinitely. Pastor Wang spoke against that. So that definitely didn't sit well with the government. As you mentioned, after his arrest his supporters posted several I guess writings examples online including one that basically in which he foresaw his upcoming arrest. But he says he's prepared to face whatever the government is going to throw at him and he also says his followers are really continuing to engage in civil disobedience, George.

HOWELL: We're talking about Christians in this case Muslims also have been in question here. Tell us more about the larger issues, Steven, about religious crackdown across China?

JIANG: That's right. This is really the latest example that very disturbing broader trend of the government's increasingly harsh crackdown on all religions especially Christianity and Islam. The two religions the authorities here deem most prong to foreign influences. Now, under President Xi Jinping, he's really I think increasingly considered these religions part of the western plot against China. That's why he is -- even since he took power, you see a lot more evidence of this kind of crackdown including for example the demolition of long-time churches or the forcible removal of hundreds if not thousands of crosses atop of church structures.

[02:45:00] And early this year, the authorities also banned the online sale of the bible. All these are really part of this larger story where the government is trying to crackdown on any organization with organizational capacity to potentially challenge the Communist Party's monopoly on power.

And just to give you a bit of context, the government here is atheist, and they only recognize five religions. And followers of these religions have to really practice and worship in government sanctioned places only. And this church of Pastor Wang is not part of that government sanctioned system. That's why the government considers his religion illegal and the followers have been practicing their religion illegally. George?

HOWELL: Steven Jiang, live for us in Beijing. Thank you again for the report.

Now to India, a 3-year-old girl presently in the hospital after she was allegedly raped. A man has been arrested. It happened Sunday in Delhi. And this exactly six years after a student was gang-raped on a bus in the Indian capital. Our New Delhi Bureau Chief Nikhil Kumar is following the story live for us. And Nikhil, what more can you tell us on this case?

NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN INTERNATIONAL NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: Well, George, the details are still only just coming through the allegation, and the allegation has been made by -- had we've been told by the Delhi Commission for Women, the chief of that statutory body which is responsible for ensuring women's safety in the Indian capital.

She alleges that this 3-year-old was brutally raped by a man in a suburb of Delhi yesterday, Sunday. Which as you say was the sixth anniversary of the brutal gang rape and eventual death of this paramedical student, a case that brought as thousands onto the streets in India and turned the spotlight on the problem of sexual violence in this country.

On that anniversaries, when this attack is alleged to have taken place, I should make -- I should make clear though that the police are still investigating the case. They've arrested the man accused of this attack, but they haven't yet confirmed that this is a case of rape.

They are waiting for medical reports to come through before moving forward in the investigation. The police tell us that the girl in hospital that she is stable. But taking a step back because of -- you know, because of the brutal nature of the allegations. And, of course because of the timing, the anniversary of the 2012 gang rape. It's once again turned attention on the problem of sexual violence in India, and in the national capital, New Delhi, where I am. George?

HOWELL: And Nikhil, that leads me to my second question here. We talked about the anniversary of what happened in 2012, but is there a sense that authorities are doing enough, cracking down, and sending a strong message against these types of attacks?

KUMAR: So George, if you speak to activists, lawyers who work in this area, they will point out that in the aftermath of that 2012 case, there were wide-ranging reforms to the legal structure that governs sexual violence in this country. It included things such as broadening the definition of what counts as rape, and this was done to make it easier for authorities to prosecute cases.

And so, they welcome all of that. They welcome the legal reforms, they welcome many of the policy changes. Not all, but they welcome many of the policy changes that have taken place in subsequent years. What they keep pointing out, again and again, because this is not the first story. This is one in a series of stories that we've heard ever since about brutal attacks on young girls and women.

They point out that whereas policy changes have been forthcoming, and whereas many of them have been very positive. The enforcement of those laws has lagged behind. And this is true not just sort of in the countryside and remote parts of the country, but this is true in major cities such as New Delhi. And that's where the problem is. That unless enforcement is fixed, the problem won't go away. George?

HOWELL: So, the enforcement, you say, lagged behind. But again, the messages are being sent out clearly not loud enough. Nikhil Kumar, live for us at New Delhi. Thank you. We'll continue to follow the story and stay in touch with you.

A tropical cyclone is quickly gaining strength and making landfall on the east coast of India right now. We have an update from the International Weather Center as NEWSROOM pushes ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:51:32] PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: It's time to talk weather. I'm meteorologist Pedram Javaheri, CNN "WEATHER WATCH". And pretty quiet pattern across much of North America.

Exceptions around the Northwestern United States, and also we're on the northeastern U.S. far to the northern portion of the Northeastern U.S. here into Northern New England.

Disturbance exiting on into the Canadian Maritimes back behind it some residual snow showers in all of this exits back offshore. Again, some of the heaviest accumulations on into Northern areas of the State of Maine, and to the northeast of that region. About 20 to 30 centimeters what is slated to fall over the next that 24 so hours.

But in Montreal snow showers into the morning hour's highs around zero. Winnipeg, six below, remains dry, while in Chicago highs around three degrees, also remaining dry. Certainly, beginning to feel like the holiday season if it already hasn't for quite some time across this region.

And over the next couple of days, we get a shot of cooler air, quick shot of warmer air from the south. And then, once again, we introduce the official start of winter there come Friday afternoon into early next week in particular with a significant bout of colder air.

You kind of see that up and down trend in New York City, highs only at six after a quick rebound up to 13 earlier on Friday there. 26 degrees in Nassau to the Bahamas, while Guatemala City middle 20s. Cartagena, coming in around 32 degrees, and will remain dry across much of this region. And a little farther towards the south. (INAUDIBLE) 29, Brasilia comes in at 29, and La Paz, highs around 12.


HOWELL: Welcome back. You are looking at Tropical Cyclone Phethai. And it's gaining strength and slamming the coast of India at this hour. It is ugly and it's moving in. The region will get a good soaking well into Tuesday. Let's bring in our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri, tracking it all in the international weather center. Pedram.

JAVAHERI: Yes, George this is a tail end of the season typically from April through December. We see tropical cyclones impact the east coast of India, of course, late season storm coming in across this region. And some of the scenes out of Chennai here, seeing the brunt of this storm system as it moves just ashore in the past couple of hours.

And, of course, powerful winds, powerful storm surge, and waves to go with it as well. And people still getting on with their daily lives. But certainly, not something you'd recommend sitting there on the coast as the storm comes ashore. But this particular storm has that weekend, moving ashore at this hour. Making landfall, officially 85 kilometer per hour winds. So, again, the winds not a significant player but this was a far weaker much more disorganized system as it was approaching land. It's intensified a little bit and then made landfall in the last couple of hours across the State of Andhra Pradesh.

And to the north, Visakhapatnam, that's the area of concern right there. Population about 2 million people, seeing the brunt of the storm right now with some powerful winds. And also, of course, the wet weather to go with it as well.

And our meteorologist weather producer Mike and I looked into this, and went back into the early 1990's. And, in fact, now we're exceeding what is average for this time of year for tropical cyclones in the North Indian Ocean but this number itself, number 14 is the 14th storm of this season, which means it's the most active season since 1998.

Just going right above average, very quiet in recent years across the area with tropical systems. But, the wet weather pushes off the East Coast and works its way eventually towards Kolkata, where heavy rainfall is expected, again going in towards the middle of this week.

Go from heavy rainfall, all the way to heavy snowfall that's across the Balkans in eastern areas of Europe. And look at this footage out of Romania. Significant snows, the most impressive event of the season across these region bringing down a tremendous amount of snowfall. And with it, some very powerful winds as well here.

We had gusts reported up to 100 kilometers per hour. So, you bet disruptions widespread across this region. And we expect the snow showers to begin to really push through again over the next few hours here before conditions that taper off.

But you notice Eastern Europe, around Bucharest, points just to the south. That's where some additional heavy snows could come down. Just west of Istanbul, also getting in some snow there over the next couple of days. So, very cold air to go with the system at least through the next 24 so hours. George?

[02:55:44] HOWELL: Pedram, thank you. We'll continue to track this within.

JAVAHERI: Thanks for having me. Yes.

HOWELL: And finally, a new Miss Universe has been crowned. Catriona Gray, claimed the title beating contestants from 93 other countries. The 24-year-old won the crown, Monday in Thailand.

Ahead of -- ahead of the final, much attention was on Miss Spain. Angela Ponce, the first transgender contestant in the competition's history. But she failed to make the top 20.

Thank you for being with us for this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN center in Atlanta. More news right after the break. Stay with us.