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BuzzFeed News: President Trump Directed His Attorney To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project; Trump Denies Pelosi Use Of Military Plane; British P.M. Tries For Plan B After Crushing Defeat; Britain's Prince Philip Involved In Car Cash; Pyongyang's Top Envoy Arrives In Washington; Macron Rolls Out Nationwide "Great Debates"; U.S.-Backed Syrian Forces Vow to Drive Out ISIS; Trump's Impulsive Behavior Has Pentagon on Edge; Possible Criminal Probe of Huawei; Deported Sex Coach Now Detained in Moscow. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired January 18, 2019 - 01:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:00:00] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: A bombshell report alleges the President directed his former fixer to lie to Congress. Action from the frontlines, an exclusive look at the battles raging in Syria as Kurdish fighters take on Isis. Also this hour, we arrived near the English countryside estate where 97-year-old Prince Philip is said to be doing fine after the car he was driving crashed and turned over.

Hello welcome to our viewers joining us from around the world, I'm Natalie Allen and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Our top story, Congressional Democrats say if it's true, it is the clearest example yet that U.S. President Donald Trump obstructed justice. BuzzFeed News reports Mr. Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. CNN has not independently verified the report but for more here's Sara Murray.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a wild story because you know if this is accurate and as you pointed out CNN has not independently confirmed it, it's an indication that the President was, in fact, trying to obstruct justice. Now, the way that BuzzFeed has put it, they cited two federal law enforcement officials to say that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to basically say the discussions about the Trump Tower Moscow project ended earlier than they did. So it wouldn't look like Donald Trump was trying to negotiate this project while he was the GOP nominee in 2016.

Now, the story also cites this line. It says the Special Counsel's office learned about Trump's directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company e-mails, text messages, in a case of other documents. And you can bet if the Special Counsel is planning on relying on this if this is true, they would have to have documents to back it up. Because everyone knows at this point that Michael Cohen is a witness with a lot of problems. He's a guy who has already pled guilty to lying before Congress, who's shown he's been willing to make things up to protect the President.

And so in this case you know, could certainly be making things up to protect himself if in fact this is somehow traced back to him. We don't have these documents that can corroborate these conversations at this point. What we do though have tonight is a comment from Rudy Giuliani to CNN and other outlets it says if you believe Cohen I can get you a good deal on the Brooklyn Bridge. And I think this is what we're going to see from the President's legal team essentially saying that Cohen is a liar and you can't believe anything.

ALLEN: Joining me now from Los Angeles Ron Brownstein, Senior Political Analyst for CNN and Senior Editor for The Atlantic, and from New York Josh Campbell, a CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and a former FBI Supervisory Special Agent. Thank you, gentlemen, for being with us. Ron, I'll begin with you.

With this explosive story by BuzzFeed, it's a federal crime to instruct someone to lie to Congress and that is what the story alleges that Mr. Trump instructed his lawyer Mr. Cohen. If true, how serious is this for the President?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Enormous. I mean, this has been incorporated into previous articles of impeaching, the idea of supporting witnesses to lie to Congress. And I think this would significantly change the calculus of Democratic leaders in the House. As you know, they have not been enthusiastic about going down the road of impeachment in part because that you not believe that there will ever be 20 Senate Republicans will vote to remove him from office.

But certainly, if this allegation as BuzzFeed reports it is borne out and ultimately this is what the Special Counsel alleges to Congress in his report, the pressure I think will be enormous on Congress to act -- on the House to act.

ALLEN: Josh, also to you, if true, would it indicate the President obstructed justice?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes. It certainly looks that way. And I'm with Ron and as you mentioned earlier, this is highly explosive. Because up to this point, we've seen a number of allegations of illegality and criminality by people that are in Donald Trump's orbit, right? We've seen Robert Mueller with his indictments basically taking a lot of people off the deck. But again, the question was what did the President do? What was his actual involvement?

And what's really striking is we saw just in the last day, the President's attorney Rudy Giuliani come out really take on this narrative of Russian collusion and saying well, we can't talk about what other people in the campaign may have done but we know that the President didn't do anything wrong. This is completely different. What these allegations are in this reporting is that the President of the United States directed his lawyer, his longtime fixer to lie to the legislative body that was in conducting an investigation which as you mentioned is a crime. It is a crime not only to lie to Congress is a crime to Suburban perjury and have someone else lie to Congress. Now, the question will be you mentioned earlier the some of the

statements that have c me out from members of Congress, how far will they take it. Is this something that they're willing to look at once Robert Mueller comes out with his report and say this rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor. Now we're going to remove the President from office, we'll have to wait and see. But highly explosive reporting tonight from BuzzFeed.

[01:05:21] ALLEN: Yes. Let's emphasize one part of this reporting that we heard from Sara Murray. The Special Counsel's Office learned about Mr. Trump's directive for Cohen allegedly to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization. And internal company e-mails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. So this isn't just coming from Mr. Cohen it seems. To you, Ron, how significant would that be?

BROWNSTEIN: I think you see the most important part of the reporting because it reminds me of the language in the sentencing document from the Southern District of New York when they -- when Michael Cohen was sentenced for his role in the hush money things. And it was the language was again the same that they had verified the existence of this conspiracy, these payments, the involvement of the National Enquirer presented and then Mr. Cohn confirmed it.

Yet, they went out of their way to indicate that he was not the sole or the original source for their conclusion and in fact again the BuzzFeed reporting is accurate, they are again making that point to Sara Murray's important point from earlier, they are not hanging this fundamentally on the credibility of Michael Cohen but instead using him in effect as a corroborating witness for a documentary evidence that at least this report alleges they have collected.

CAMPBELL: Yes, and I would just add to that, that you know, these text messages, e-mails, are going to be so key because if you look at what we're dealing with here, at the end of the day, you have two people that lie. You have Michael Cohen who was admitted to lying, you have the President of the United States which pains me to say this but he lies multiple times you know, daily.

And so if it's just that he said he said, well, the President told me to do this, no he didn't, it's all going to come back to that corroborating information. Where are the receipts? What do these e- mails and text messages say? Does it say you know, the boss told me to do X, Y, and Z? Do we see actual further indication that the President was even more involved in directing this? It's all going to come down to that otherwise it's just that he said he said.

ALLEN: Right. And Mr. Trump also has stated explicitly to the American people he had no dealing with Russia, wasn't doing any business with Russia, and now this. It even implies that Cohen was reporting to Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. on possible developments with the Russia project. So it's going deeper and deeper and what's next perhaps for President Trump here, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I mean, you're -- you know, all of this is against the backdrop of the government shutdown which is really just the first skirmish between the President and a Democratic controlled House. We've seen four polls in the last but roughly week with his approval rating back under 40 percent. Significant majorities of the country blaming him for the shutdown, and yet Republicans being willing to kind of walk down this plank with him in Congress.

And then as you've noted earlier as well, Rudy Giuliani yesterday moving the goal posts on collusion saying well, maybe if somebody did collude, it wasn't the President colluding with the Russians in 2016. So from a variety of fronts, the legal front, the political front, more pressure. And I think what we've seen from the -- from the President is that when he's under more pressure, his own behavior becomes more extreme.

So I think we are -- we are headed for a period in which he will face more challenges and he will create more challenges for the stability of the American political system.

ALLEN: Ron Brownstein, Josh Campbell, we appreciate your insights. Thank you.

CAMPBELL: Thanks.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

ALLEN: And we're getting more reaction to this story reported by BuzzFeed. Former Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted this a short time ago. If true and proof must be examined, Congress must begin impeachment proceedings and Barr must refer at a minimum the relevant portions of material discovered by Mueller. This is the potential inflection point. William Barr, of course, the nominee for Attorney General.

Now we turn to with the U.S. government shutdown battle between Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi which one White House adviser describes as King Kong vs. Godzilla. The U.S. President fired the latest shot refusing to let Pelosi and a congressional delegation use a military plane for a trip to visit American troops in Afghanistan. For more about it here's CNN's, Abby Phillip.

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ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump's feud with congressional Democrats over the government shutdown taking a dramatic turn. Late today, the White House issued this new letter responding to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi s request that Trump postpone his State of the Union address because she claimed federal workers weren't getting paid and thus it could be a security issue.

Now, the White House using that same excuse citing the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay in order to pull authorization for Pelosi's planned congressional trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan just hours before she planned to leave, calling the official trip that includes a stop in a war zone a public relations event even though Trump also traveled to Iraq early in the shutdown. The letter coming after more than a day of silence from the White House in response to Pelosi. [01:10:31] REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: That's why

I said to the President, let's -- if you don't open up government, if that doesn't happen, let's discuss a mutually agreeable date, September -- January -- the date of the State of the Union it's not a sacred date. It's not constitutionally required.

PHILLIP: Trump and congressional Democrats locking horns for the 27th straight day trapped in a cycle of stalemate over the government shutdown.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While many Democrats in the House and Senate would like to make a deal, Speaker Pelosi will not let them negotiate.

PELOSI: What negotiation table have we not at? The last one we went to I think was a set up where the President pounded as he gave himself leverage to leave the room.

PHILLIP: Behind-the-scenes, the President's frustration is growing according to the New York Times. Trump telling aides we are getting crushed in news coverage of the shutdown the paper reported. Why can't we get a deal, he asked aides, as Democrats turn up the heat.

PELOSI: That the economists, even the President's own people are saying that GDP will not grow as long as this shutdown is there.

PHILLIP: But sources tell CNN that White House aides are still unsure of how to proceed and are weighing alternatives to a traditional State of the Union including a campaign-style rally or another speech in the Oval Office. One Trump advisor telling CNN that some around the President expect that Pelosi will fold and allow Trump to deliver his speech in the House. The source describing the battle between Trump and Pelosi as King Kong vs. Godzilla.

Meanwhile, in response to a lot of criticism the White House had been getting, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced that a delegation of senior Trump women administration officials will no longer be travelling to Davos, Switzerland for an economic convention. Three cabinet-level officials were scheduled to go to this convention. All three under a Secret Service protection and much of the Secret Service is not being paid, but that trip has narrow been called off. Abby Phillip, CNN the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: We cross now to London. For the first time, British Prime Minister Theresa May holding cross-party talks with opposition leaders about Brexit and specifically now a Plan B since Plan A went away for her. It comes after her proposed deal suffered a crushing defeat in Parliament this week and after she narrowly survived a no-confidence vote. So far, the new talks do not include Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

He called Mrs. Mays offer nothing more than a political stunt and says he won't come to the table until the Prime Minister rules out a No Deal Brexit. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEREMY CORBYN, LEADER, LABOUR PARTY: To get a deal that can command a majority in parliament, Theresa May has to ditch the red lines and get serious about proposals for the future.

Quite clearly if no agreement has been reached within time that it could be implemented by the end of March, then obviously the issue of extending the exit date of extending article 50 does come into play and indications are that may well be the case coming up after April.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Lawmakers will debate the next steps and vote on the new plan January 29. We've been seeing, of course, the Brexit drama play out in Westminster but what do people around the country think about the chaos? Phil Black is asking people in one town who eagerly voted to leave the E.U. what they think now.

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PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A Brexit referendum night, Sunderland was the city that first signaled Brexit is coming. The local result here was the first big shock of the count with 61 percent of voters backing the leave campaign. This was once a major shipbuilding port. Coal mines are important here too, but that's all in the past.

It's modern history like much of Northeast England has been defined by struggle and deprivation. People here will tell you they voted for Brexit for many of the same reasons you hear around the country, self- determination or control of immigration policy. But there is also an overwhelming sense of disillusionment with British politicians.

The belief this city and its people have often been forgotten by and even hurt by those making policy decisions in London. So people here say they voted for Brexit because politicians had stopped listening to them. And the lack of progress and delivering bricks it has only fueled that frustration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[01:15:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a disaster, you should've had it done, should be finished generally. With disgrace, disgrace, they're arguing amongst us all, instead of getting it done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think, to should all get-together, Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems, the all -- the party all get together put their views across and ask both they want and what Brexit should be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the people to allow Theresa May to do her job. Really, yes.

BLACK: So, you think, Theresa May should be allowed to get on with it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. BLACK: Theresa May can't get her deal through. What should she do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know, I don't think anybody knows. Politicians don't know, do they? And all were fighting, we look -- we must look ridiculous all over the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When (INAUDIBLE) public trans world behaving most people will turn around and see, it doesn't matter which, where to vote because they're just going to do whatever they're going to do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACK: The biggest employer here now is Nissan, the Japanese carmaker. Its massive production plant supply chain and logistics. It's all built around the easy movement of parts from Europe and finish cars to Europe.

Ever since the referendum, there has been concern about its future. Concern this city still has a lot to lose in the event of a messy chaotic Brexit. Phil Black, CNN, Sunderland, North East England.

ALLEN: News now about a member of the royal family, Buckingham Palace, says Prince Philip was in a car crash Thursday. Police say he was not injured, he walked away from that right there. That's his Land Rover tipped over. But the driver and passenger in the other car were treated for injuries at a nearby hospital.

Palace officials say, the 97-year-old Duke of Edinburgh was driving that car when it happened. Anna Stewart is in Sandringham for us. She's live there. That's where the Queen and Duke have been since Christmas. What do we know about how this crash happened? I know you're there at the scene. Certainly, Prince Philip is a very lucky 97-year-old man.

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: I know. And if you look at the photos, the videos of this car accident, it was very serious. You can see that the car that Prince Philip was driving was actually overturned on its side. That Land Rover, which is a very heavy vehicle. Miraculous that he's unscathed. As you said, the passengers in the other car, two women. They were taken to hospital, they were treated for minor injuries only. So, really, thank goodness that this all ended well.

Now, what happened? So this was just before 3:00 in the afternoon yesterday. As you said, just outside the Sandringham estate, which is in Norfolk where the Queen spends her Christmas. And I think from what you see behind me is a very busy main road.

And to my right, there's a junction coming off the estate. So, appears that the accident happened here. And actually might just step out slightly outside, you can see some of the debris to the side. Lots of shattered glass, and plastic. A wing mirror, in fact, that has a Land Rover serial number appearing as it would be from Prince Philip's car. Plenty of debris.

The emergency services were very quick to respond here. The car itself was obviously towed away. Now, this has raised lots of concerns about Prince Phillip. Whether he should have been driving at the age of 97. Although, I would say that we have it confirmed from the palace that he does have a valid driving license. It's renewed every three years as it should be under the British law.

There are lots of concerns about his health, he wasn't actually seen here at Sandringham over Christmas when the whole royal family goes to church. There were concerns then, he's not been seen much in public, to be honest since he retired in 2017.

There are many questions as to whether he'll be able to make his granddaughter's wedding, earlier in the year. Princess usually he did. But the palace told us at the time that's very much a wait-and- see sort of process, see how he feels on the day.

ALLEN: It's really amazing, and we're glad he's in good health and we're also very happy that no one in the other car was seriously injured. Anna Stewart there for us. Thank you.

North Korea's top envoy is back in Washington as President Trump rolls out missile defense plan and the Pentagon says, North Korea really is a threat to the United States. We'll have that story coming up.

Also, the French president tries to counteract yellow vest protests by launching what he calls the Great Debate.

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[01:21:56] ALLEN: Well, the last time North Korea's top negotiator was in Washington, he hand-delivered a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to President Trump. Less than two weeks after that, the two met in Singapore.

Now, Kim Yong-chol is back in Washington, and he may have another letter for President Trump. But it comes as the U.S. rolls out a new missile defense strategy and the Pentagon says North Korea remains a threat to the United States. For more about this, here's Paula Hancocks in Seoul.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: North Korea's top negotiator Kim Yong-chol is in Washington, D.C. right now. He was seen leaving Dallas International Airport with the U.S. Special Representative to North Korea, Steve Biegun.

Now, Kim Yong-chol will have meetings on Friday. He's expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Potentially, the U.S. President Donald Trump, as well.

We don't know for sure. But he did last time, last year when he came. He met with Mr. Trump. And he came with the -- a rather oversized envelope carrying a message, a letter from the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. This time, as well, he will be delivering a message from the North Korean leader. The intention of this clearly from the North Korean side to try and break this stalemate in the denuclearization talks. And try and push towards that second summit between Kim Jong- un and President Trump. Now the date and location still being speculated on Hanoi, Vietnam appears to be the front-runner at this point. Bangkok has not been ruled out. And so, certainly, we could be hearing an announcement on that very soon.

But the timing of Kim Yong-chol's visit is also interesting because it comes just hours after Trump rolled out a missile defense strategy. And this missile defense review at the Pentagon explicitly states that North Korea is an extraordinary threat to the United States.

Now, this is consistent with what U.S. military and intelligence assessments have been stating all along. It is not, however, consistent with what the U.S. president has been saying all along.

He has explicitly said that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat. He said this back in June after that summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore. He touched down in the U.S. and he tweeted that just landed a long trip but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.

Now, potentially this could be about timing. It could be about strategy with North Korea, we simply don't know. We also heard from the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, and he said that the U.S. is still waiting on concrete steps from North Korea to denuclearize. Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.

ALLEN: As France readies itself for the 10th consecutive week of yellow vest protests, President Emmanuel Macron is rolling out a new strategy, talking and listening. And he's calling it, the Great Debate. Our Jim Bittermann has more from France.

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[01:24:50] JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For a few hours, the pleasant little Normandy Count of Bourgtheroulde was the political flashpoint of France. It was here that French President Macron in an attempt to defuse months of sometimes violent street protests chose to launch what he's calling the Great Debate. An extraordinary nationwide exercise in direct democracy that will continue from now until March 15th.

To kick it off, the president met with 600 mayors who spent two hours telling him about the grievances and complaints of their fellow citizens. Centuries before the launch of the great debate, town halls have maintained a grievance box where citizens can write down their complaints.

Since the yellow vest movement began, thousands of gripes have been collected. Chief among them seems to be the decline in purchasing power. But they range from the inequality of the tax system to the speed limits on rural roads.

In Bourgtheroulde, about a hundred of the town's 3,800 people have taken time to complain. The mayor says local citizens are most concerned about taxes and mobility. The lack of public transportation for example on the expense of maintaining a car. He's not sure how much residents will take part in the great debate. But he'll organize meetings anyway.

At a local florist shop, the owner who has lost time and money because of the yellow vest protest thinks that great debate will help ease the crisis.

CEDRIC DESHAYES, FLORIST, BOURGTHEROULDE (through translator): You have to take matters in hand. Dialogue with people, get close to them and try to find a way to unblock things because if it goes on like this, then we're heading for chaos.

BITTERMAN: But a few miles away at a traffic circle that has been occupied since the beginning of the yellow vest movement, factory worker, Olvier Bruneau, says he's not participating in any debates. Macron, he says has shown contempt for the movement.

OLVIER BRUNEAU, PROTESTER, YELLOW VEST (through translator): He does exactly what he intends to do without taking into account the complaints he already has, and without even looking at them.

BITTERMANN: That kind of resentment is more visible here in rural France where the feeling is that people are second-class citizens. Professor and author Denis Lacorre, says Macron's emphasis on modernizing France has left many here feeling like they've been left behind.

DENIS LACORRE, PROFESSOR AND AUTHOR (through translator): So it created a resentment. A kind of president who favored wealth, the rich, the American ways of doing things, particularly from Silicon Valley and forgot the lower-middle-class.

BITTERMANN: The president's grand experiment and direct democracy is meant to address that sense of exclusion, but much depends on what conclusions are drawn at the end of it.

President Macron, says every kind of question can be raised during the Great Debate. But there remains a great deal of skepticism about the process. Skepticism about whether or not it's just a delaying tactic by the government to weigh out the protests. Or, whether the government will really respond to the kind of issues that are raised. Jim Bittermann, CNN, Bourgtheroulde, France.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: And still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: These roads are still dangerous. Especially, early in the morning because there are ISIS sleeper cells in the area. They come out overnight and they plant roadside bombs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: U.S. allies say they will keep pushing ISIS out of Syria one town at a time. CNN's Clarissa Ward takes you to the frontlines. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:30:35] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Atlanta.

I'm Natalie Allen.

Here are our top stories this hour.

BuzzFeed News reports Donald Trump directed his long-time attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. CNN has not corroborated the report which comes from two sources familiar with the investigation according to BuzzFeed. Democrats say if true, it's clearly obstruction of justice.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will not be leading a congressional delegation to visit American forces in Afghanistan as planned. President Trump refused to let them use a military plane citing the government shutdown. On Wednesday Pelosi asked Trump to delay his State of the Union address to Congress.

North Korea's top envoy has arrived in Washington now. King Yong-chol is expected to meet with the U.S. Secretary of State and possibly U.S. President Trump. Among the topics -- a second summit between Mr. Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

In Colombia, officials say a car bomb outside of police academy killed has killed at least 11 people and wounded dozens more. A high ranking official tells CNN the blast appeared to be a suicide attack. Colombia's President has condemned the incident as terrorism.

That's all we know about it right now. We'll continue to work that story.

The U.S. says ISIS carried out a suicide attack in Syria that killed four Americans including two U.S. service members. Three other U.S. service members were wounded. It shows apparently that ISIS is still lethal despite President Trump's recent claim it had been defeated. Fourteen people died in the explosion. A U.S. Official tells CNN, the suicide bomber belonged to an ISIS sleeper cell.

In the aftermath of that attack Syrian fighters backed by the U.S. vowed to step up their military operations against the remaining ISIS strongholds.

CNN's Clarissa Ward made the dangerous journey to the front line.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The battle against ISIS is still raging as the U.S. allied Syrian Democratic Forces known as the SDF push in on the last sliver of territory under the militants' control.

Here the fighters prepare to move into the village of Shafa (ph). Flares turned the dark night into day. Coalition aircraft circle overhead, riding (ph) crushing air power.

By daylight they push further in. "This is where ISIS ends," SDF commander Simko Shakaki (ph) tells his men.

Moments later, panic breaks out. ISIS launched a counter attack. The SDF fire back and Shafa is quickly liberated.

We traveled down to the frontline as they approach the next village. Our escorts insist on taking an armored vehicle, even liberated territory is far from secure.

(on camera): These roads are still dangerous, especially early in the morning because there are ISIS sleeper cells in the area, they come out overnight and they plant roadside bombs.

(voice over): We stopped at a house that the SDF took from ISIS just days earlier. Mortars are fired up at militant positions. Commander Shakaki takes us up on to the roof to show us the front line.

(on camera): So the next village over, Sousa, is where the front line is now. And they're hoping that they'll be able to liberate that by tomorrow.

(voice over): American forces provide assistance from just a few hundred yards away. The commander warns the battle is not over.

"The pressure we had militarily is ending", he says. "But the fundamental war is eradicating the ideology of ISIS."

That will be a much tougher fight to win as support for ISIS still lingers here. On the way back we passed through another recently liberated area.

[01:35:02] (on camera): This is what is left now of the town of Hajin (ph). You can see it's basically been completely obliterated. And to many of the people who were living in areas like this and others, this is what liberation looks like -- miles and miles of rubble.

(voice over): Many here fear that buried in the destruction, the seeds are being sowed for another war.

Clarissa Ward, CNN -- Shafa, Syria.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: President Trump's surprise decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and many other impulsive actions has senior Pentagon leaders on edge. They tell CNN they fear the President is using U.S. troops for partisan purposes. So when Mr. Trump's speech Thursday at the Pentagon turned political, it was greeted with awkward silence.

Here's CNN's Barbara Starr.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON PRODUCER: President Trump initially greeted by applause at the Pentagon.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's really nice. Thank you.

STARR: Then suddenly.

TRUMP: We need security at our southern border.

STARR: A sharp partisan attack from the Commander-in-Chief on border security.

TRUMP: While many Democrats in the House and Senate would like to make a deal, Speaker Pelosi will not let them negotiate. The party has been hijacked by the open borders fringe within the party.

STARR: And the room went silent.

TRUMP: The radical left becoming the radical Democrats.

STARR: And it stayed that way.

Donald Trump is fueling the unprecedented uncertainty and anxiety inside the Pentagon. More than a dozen personnel tell CNN they worry he has politicized the institution and that his impulsive decision- making pose risks.

One senior military officer told CNN, "The amount of time we have to spend making sure our statements and what we say is apolitical is astronomically higher than ever before."

The military cannot publicly criticize a president. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wants to make sure however Americans know troops fight for the entire country.

GENERAL JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We do have a very strong nonpartisan, apolitical ethos in the U.S. military. And I view one of my more important responsibilities as the chairman as being the steward of that ethos.

STARR: Some troops privately expressed skepticism about the intent of the border feeling they were sent there to fulfill a campaign promise.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think President Trump plays a significant role because he doesn't really make the distinction between a political campaign and governing.

STARR: In Iraq troops brought in hats with the campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again" for the President to sign. Commanders said it was okay since the hats were personal items.

A red MAGA hat showed up during the Pentagon speech today thought it wasn't clear if a military or civilian person was holding it. In holiday phone calls to troops, Trump complained about political issues talking to one Coast Guard officer --

TRUMP: How are they feeling about trade because, you know, trade for me is a very subject all over? We've been taken advantage of for many, many years.

STARR: The impact of quick decisions like announcing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria in a White House video is what has caused national security concerns at the Pentagon.

TRUMP: They're coming back and they're coming back now. We won.

STARR: That suicide bomb attack in northern Syria that the U.S. now does believe ISIS carried out is raising some questions. The President said U.S. troops were leaving, ISIS attacked. Did ISIS see vulnerability and decide to make its move?

Barbara Starr, CNN -- the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: A new watchdog report suggests the U.S. lost track of how many migrant children were separated from their families last year. The report says the total number could be thousands more than what the government has acknowledged.

For more here's CNN's Nick Valencia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The report is stunning. The HHS office of the inspector general found that the Trump administration has no idea how many children were separated from their parents or guardians but what is clear is that it's potentially thousands more than the number that was previously reported of 2,737.

A part of this report indicates that the reason they don't know how many children were separated was that there wasn't a proper data collection system in place.

Not only did we learn that headline but also that more children are being held for a longer period of time in U.S. custody than the public is aware. And if you remember, it was last summer that a federal judge ruled that there must be a unification -- reunification deadline.

[01:39:57] CNN previously reported that children were still being separated after that deadline passed. But what we learned on Thursday from this OIG report is that there was a total of at least 118 children that were separated they say mostly because of a criminal history with a parent or guardian.

Now this report was part of a two-week fact-finding mission of collection and data, where this inspector visited a total of 45 sites.

And here is what HHS is saying in response to the OIG report. "The effort undertaken by HHS was complex, fast moving and resource sensitive. OIG's report provides a window into the herculean work of the HHS career staff to rapidly identify children in ORR care who had been separated from their parents and reunify them. Right now we don't know, as I mention, how many children were separated. OIG says they're working on another report and we will potentially learn more at a later date.

Nick Valencia, CNN -- Atlanta, Georgia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: The Health and Human Services Department says officials have accounted for all the children who were separated and suggest the watchdog report provides not evidence that authorities lost track of some children.

A criminal investigation could be in the works for Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Coming up here, U.S. prosecutors made strong accusations against the cell phone maker. We'll have a live report from Beijing.

Also a young woman, a model claims to have inside information about Russian election meddling. She's now deported to Moscow and was quickly detained.

We'll have her story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: A potentially major development to tell you about in the U.S. trade war with China. U.S. prosecutors may be working on a criminal investigation into Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

The "Wall Street Journal" is reporting investigators are looking into whether Huawei stole trade secrets from U.S. business partners. And that could complicate efforts to resolve the trade war, of course.

For more about it, CNN's Steven Jiang is live this hour in Beijing. Hello to you -- Steven. Certainly explosive charges against the company there.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: That's right -- Natalie. , a complicating factor for sure and not the only one because in the past 24 hours actually, we're seeing a number of moves against Huawei actually from around the world.

Really spelling further potential trouble for this giant Chinese tech firm and triggering very strong responses from the Beijiing government.

[01:45:01] Now, in the U.S., in addition to that potential criminal investigation you just mentioned, we are seeing moves in the Congress. Members from both parties are now proposing to ban the sale of U.S. chips and other components to Huawei and actually other Chinese telecom firms that have violated U.S. sanctions.

That could deal a very devastating blow to Huawei because like many other companies they still rely quite on core technology from the U.S. Also in Congress, members from both parties are warning of the potential danger of using Huawei's solar technology because it could potentially, in their words, paralyze or compromise the entire U.S. power grid.

Now all these remarks have really prompted very strong reactions here in Beijing with a foreign ministry spokeswoman on Thursday calling these assertions to be based on hysteria saying they really reflected the arrogant and paranoid mind-set of certain U.S. politicians.

But it's not just here in China we're seeing these developments. Outside of the U.S. -- in Germany for example, the authorities there are now reportedly planning to block the use of Huawei equipment in that country's 5G network. That, of course, is an area the company has been working aggressively to dominate.

And also in the U.K., we are seeing reports about Oxford University announcing the suspension of acceptance of Huawei funding in that school's research projects and partnerships because of rising public concern over Huawei.

So all these moves, Natalie, in a way have really only reinforced the notion I have been increasingly hearing from officials and members of the public here, that is, there is a concerted coordinated effort in the West led by the U.S. to crack down on Huawei out of geopolitical considerations.

These officials and people I talk to here say these are not based on factual assessments. Now what is going to happen next, I think it is potentially we're going to see an escalation in how the Chinese government responds to these moves and developments? Because so far the response has been mostly verbal -- a war of words if you will.

But we are seeing -- we're hearing more Chinese officials warning of potential repercussions. Could it be targeting, for example, western tech companies out of China? We're going to see -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Certainly a story with global implications. Steven Jiang for us there in Beijing. Thanks so much.

One of the more curious figures in the ongoing Russia investigation is a young woman claiming to have proof of Kremlin interference in the U.S. election. On Thursday, she was deported from Thailand to Russia and promptly taken into custody as soon as her plane touched down in Moscow.

CNN's Brian Todd picks it up from there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Self-proclaimed seductress and sex coach from Belarus who claims to have inside knowledge of Russia's attempts to meddle in America's elections tells CNN that she's been detained by the Kremlin.

Anastasia Vashukevich says she was rounded up as soon as she landed in Moscow after being deported from a jail in Thailand.

KEITH DARDEN, PROFESSOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: She is probably being interrogated and in particular, they're probably interested in where she has this information that she claims to have. And they'll probably keep her in cold storage until she produces it.

TODD: Vashukevich's bizarre tale began last year when she was arrested and jailed in Thailand on prostitution charges. At the time she told CNN she believed she was being held on Moscow's orders. In a bid for U.S. asylum, she said that she had previously witnessed meetings between a prominent Russian oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin and at least three Americans whom she refused to name.

ANASTASIA VASHUKEVICH, BELARUSIAN SEX COACH (through translator): I'm ready to give you all the missing puzzle pieces, support them with videos and audios.

TODD: But so far Vashukevich has produced no recordings or photos of Americans meetings with the oligarchs to CNN or other news outlets. And there has been no indication in court filings from the special counsel that she has talked to U.S. investigators.

FBI agents tried to meet with Vashukevich in the Thai prison last year but were not allowed to, according to a senior Thai official.

GARRETT GRAFF, AUTHOR, "THE THREAT MATRIX": It is really impossible to know whether this was a real key source or someone desperate to get out of a Thai jail and avoid deportation back to Belarus.

TODD: Vashukevich's claims might normally have been laughed off if she hadn't produced these photos of her with the oligarch in question -- Oleg Deripaska. They're seen embracing on his yacht. She says they had an affair, something he denies.

Vashukevich also released this video of Deripaska, apparently on his yacht talking to Russia's deputy prime minister about the state of U.S.-Russian relations. All of which makes her story more intriguing. That's because Deripaska, closely tied to the Russian president is the same billionaire who paid former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort millions for lobbying.

[01:50:02] And the "Washington Post" says Manafort once offered Deripaska briefings on the state of the Trump campaign. Manafort and Deripaska deny any briefings took place. And Deripaska denies being involved in election meddling.

OLEG DERIPASKA, RUSSIAN OLIGARCH: Get lost please. Thank you.

TODD: Last year in Thailand Vashukevich posted on social media she feared she would die in a Russian prison if she were sent back to Moscow. Now that's exactly where she is.

Could her life be in danger?

DARDEN: Of course, if she really collected lots of compromising material about Oleg Deripaska, he's a very dangerous man to be dealing with. And she could very easily lose her life.

TODD: We reached out to Russian officials in Moscow and here at their embassy in Washington to ask why Anastasia Vashukevich has been detained and exactly what she's being questioned about. Russian officials will only say she's being detained as part of a prostitution inquiry.

We've also asked the Kremlin to respond to her claims that she would die in a Russian prison if she was deported. They have not responded to that.

Brian Todd, CNN -- Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: We'll have more news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: More than 100 million people in the United States are in the path of a major winter storm this weekend, something our Derek Van Dam is watching very closely to see who is affected. Hi there -- Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi -- Natalie.

Yes, that's right. Winter weather has caused havoc over much of the U.S. particularly the western parts of the country where in New Mexico, this is the Taos Ski Valley Resort that had an avalanche that occurred on Thursday that buried several skiers, two of which were injured, one of which had to be airlifted to the nearest hospital.

Very rare event for this area. The last time they had an avalanche was back in 1996. But the good news is that the system has actually moved on considerably and it's now pressing a little bit further east.

But what is impressive is the amount of avalanches that have occurred in Utah for instance. You can see this 30-foot pileup of snowfall that closed one of the canyon roads -- one of the major overpasses there throughout that region in Provo.

Now, this is the accumulated energy from the storm system. But look at how it explodes over the next 12 hours or so across the central U.S. We've got a full-fledged winter storm taking shape and the exact track is going to be very crucial in terms of how much snow or how much non-snow we get along the East Coast, the major East Coast cities.

That and the details still needed to be ironed out. But we have a little curtain raiser taking place right now. A brief little snowstorm bringing us one to two inches of snow this morning for places like D.C., New York, Philadelphia.

But over 100 million Americans have some sort of winter weather advisory watch or warning ongoing thanks to the prospect of this major storm that is set to impact the region by Saturday evening into the day on Sunday. So timing -- New York City, we start with Saturday night, snowfall for you. But look at how it transitions to a rain-snow mix, maybe some sleet and ice as well. And on the back side, we get cold air to transition back to snow.

And then maybe on the back side of that system we get enough cold air to transition it right back to snow. So kind of a messy situation but the bottom line is we have plenty of snow, the potential for plenty of ice and a lot of travel delays to say the least across the East Coast. So better check your flights if you're flying down to New York this weekend.

Back to you.

ALLEN: I was. I'll check now. Derek.

VAN DAM: I know you go there a lot. So this is a heads-up to you too.

[01:55:00] ALLEN: Thank you.

All right. To retweet or not retweet -- that was a dilemma this week for U.S. Democrats after rapper Cardi B posted a profanity-laced video blasting the ongoing government shutdown.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has more on the Democrats' agonizing decision.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rapper Cardi B likes to rap about money. When she went on Instagram to talk about money and the shutdown.

CARDI B, RAPPER: This is crazy. And I really feel bad for these people that got to go (EXPLETIVE DELETED) to work, to not get (EXPLETIVE DELETED) paid.

MOOS: Her rant laced with all those swear words went viral.

CARDI B: This is (EXPLETIVE DELETED) crazy. Like our country is in a hellhole right now. All (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

MOOS: It left Democrats in a dilemma. They like her message. They really like that she has almost 40 million followers but all those curse words --

CARDI B: (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

MOOS: -- so were senators trying to decide whether or not to retweet the Cardi B video, wrote Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii. "OMG, I had the same argument with myself 30 minutes ago", responded Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy.

Schatz suggested they both retweeted. Murphy answered DHYB -- don't hold your breath. Then Senator Chuck Schumer jumped in. "Guys I'm still holding my breath -- are you going to retweet Cardi B or not?" "Final answer we decided not to do it -- wouldn't be senatorial."

The exchange prompted someone to suggest you guys need to take Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's social media class.

Yes, the 29-year-old congressional newbie tweeted "Class was in session". ABC reported she offered fellow Democrats nuggets like "if you don't know what a meme is, don't post the meme".

One fellow congressman joked "The below pic is called a selfie".

As for worrying about not being senatorial, not every congress woman is congressional -- and certainly not every president is presidential.

TRUMP: We'll beat the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them.

MOOS: But bleeping Cardi B is as rhythmic as a cardiac monitor.

CARDI B: But this is (EXPLETIVE DELETED) really (EXPLETIVE DELETED) serious, bro.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN --

CARDI B: Our country --

MOOS: -- New York.

CARDI B: -- is in a hellhole right now. (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM now -- you don't have to beat me out.

George Howell is next right after this. Thanks for watching.

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