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Maduro Blocks Aid on Bridge from Colombia; Tusk: Special Place in Hell for No-Plan Brexiteers; Democrats Launch Probe of Trump's Finances and Russia; Sanders: This Has Nothing To Do With The President; Maduro Blocks Aid On Bridge To Venezuela; Democrats Launch Probe Of Trump's Finances And Russia. Aired 12m-1a ET

Aired February 7, 2019 - 00:00   ET

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


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JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Wherever you are around the world, great to have you with us. Hello, I'm John Vause and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Ahead this hour: the politics aid. With millions in need of humanitarian assistance, Venezuela's president barricades a border crossing to stop of convoy of trucks carrying U.S. aid.

Insults begin with less than 50 days until the Brexit deadline. Senior officials from the E.U. and U.K. are now trading insults and another day passes with no Brexit deal in place.

And prosecutors going rogue: the U.S. president facing a lot more than just a Russia investigation while House Democrats significantly expand the scope of their hearings and it is all just getting started.

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VAUSE: Its focal point in control of Venezuela is taking place on a bridge along the border with Colombia. Government troops loyal to president Nicolas Maduro are blocking the path for badly needed humanitarian assistance. Mr. Maduro said Venezuelans are not beggars. But Venezuelans are crossing another bridge, a pedestrian bridge, just kilometers to the south, loaded up with whatever they can afford and carry back. CNN's Isa Soares is there.

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ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm standing at the Simon Bolivar Bridge. It's the main pedestrian bridge between Colombia and Venezuela. As you can see behind me, there is Colombia and straight in front of me is Venezuela.

People have been making this journey every day. According to Migration Colombia, about 30,000 come in and out pretty much every day. They come in with pushchairs, with trolleys, their suitcases, full of money, money that's worth nothing because of hyperinflation.

And they come here to buy food, to buy toilet paper, flour, eggs.

(Speaking Spanish).

What did you buy?

(Speaking Spanish).

She didn't want to talk.

(Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

SOARES: Chicken, no mas?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

SOARES: (Speaking Spanish).

And flour. And flour, too. So some of the basic staples. And of course worth remembering once they get to the other side, they still have a long journey to go.

(Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

SOARES: "Just food, that's all I have," he says.

And when I ask everyone walking down this corridor back to Venezuela who they blame, so many have told me, time and time again, there's only one man and that is Nicolas Maduro, the man we've said in the last couple of days, has said this is not a humanitarian crisis, this is an economic crisis. We are not a country of beggars.

But look at these people. Just look around. People are in need of food -- eggs. So many people desperately trying to make ends meet. Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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VAUSE: Of all the images of political upheaval in Venezuela in recent weeks, none explains the essence of this crisis better than this.

The military, either acting on the orders of President Nicolas Maduro, all with his knowing approval, barricaded a key crossing point from neighboring Colombia, even though the Tiendas International Bridge was never officially open.

A convoy carrying U.S. aid was driving there on Wednesday, expected to arrive the following morning. Only now, a fuel tanker, two shipping containers and members of Venezuela's national guard are standing between millions of people and the supplies and food, medicine and basic supplies they desperately need.

Because if there's one fact of more than anything else behind Venezuela's political crisis, it's hunger and a government which is not only beyond capable of providing enough food for the most of its citizens but at time willfully exacerbating what was already a humanitarian crisis.

For more now, CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd joins us from New York.

So Sam, thank you for being with us.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: OK, so let's just have a reminder of the -- you know, the scale of the crisis. Nine out of 10 households in Venezuela say they don't have enough money to buy food.

In 2017, Venezuelans on average lost 11 kilograms or 24 pounds; 300,000 children are believed at risk of dying for malnutrition; 85 percent of all medications are in short supply. And that list just keeps going on and on and on.

Keep in mind, this country has the biggest oil reserves in the world. So a lot of effort goes into screwing up an economy that badly. It seems Maduro has two choices right now. Let this humanitarian assistance into the country and look weak and remind everyone who is to blame for the problems, don't let it in and people die.

VINOGRAD: That's exactly right. And the problem as well is Maduro isn't just afraid of looking weak. In his mind, allowing this assistance would be a win for the opposition because, remember, the U.S. assistance that's on its way to the Venezuelan border is coming in because the United States pledged funding --

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VINOGRAD: -- for the legitimate government of Venezuela under the interim president recently a few days ago.

And so, if this aid is allowed in, that will be something that the opposition directly coordinated with the government of the United States that really sidelined Maduro. Maduro doesn't want to give opposition any more legitimacy. Of course, he's also saying that foreign aid is commensurate with foreign intervention, which is just ridiculous.

The stuff coming into Venezuela are basic necessities so that people don't die, so that the babies can eat. We're talking about diapers and medicine, again, basic necessities. But Maduro does not want to risk giving the opposition any kind of victory in terms of providing for the Venezuelan people because that would make very clear that he's been unable to do so.

VAUSE: Yes, the self-declared interim president Juan Guaido has said, you know, the opposition will do everything it can to get this assistance into the country. This is what he said.

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JUAN GUAIDO, OPPOSITION LEADER, VENEZUELA (through translator): We know the containers are traversing the border bridge crossing. We know the tanks are there on the border. And what we are saying is that it is an absurd reaction by a regime which is not interested in its citizens and that we are going to do everything we can so that some of this aid gets in.

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VAUSE: So if Maduro stands firm, he won't allow the trucks to pass, then it all comes down to the military. And you know, the generals, they may getting fat and rich through kickbacks and corruption, but if you look at the rank and file, the guys on the bridge with the guns, they're going hungry, their families are going hungry and they're the ones Guaido is directly appealing to.

VINOGRAD: Exactly. And that's why, to use a bad pun, this may be a bridge too far by Maduro. The generals, as you mentioned, are getting their pockets line currently because Maduro has still had access to oil revenues through PDVSA sales around the world. As you and I have discussed before, John, those oil sales have been sanctioned, at least 40 percent or so that went to the United States.

So Maduro's cash cow, from which he paid the generals, is drying up so we see those payments start to decrease. And the folks that are at the border right now, at this checkpoint on the Venezuelan-Colombia border, perhaps the soldiers that will be sent to the Brazilian- Venezuelan border, they probably have family members that are desperate for food, desperate for medicine and desperate for basic care.

So the real question is whether Maduro has made a strategic miscalculation by not figuring out some way to let this humanitarian assistance in perhaps through a third party or something of that nature and whether the military will start to make a recalculation and say, this man is conducting crimes against humanity.

He's letting people starve because he cares about himself and he doesn't care about us.

VAUSE: Well, as far as the food aid within the country, many Venezuelans have a special I.D. card, which entitles them to food subsidies. But, before last year's elections, Venezuelans we're told to present these cards at stations run by Mr. Maduro's governing party at polling places so that party organizers can see who has voted and who has not. Everyone who has this card must vote.

Mr. Maduro has said the campaign rallies directly linking government handouts to voting. I give and you give. That was part of a report from "The New York Times."

And you know, this strategy is seen as a deliberate attempt to buy votes at the time.

So, you know, if humanitarian assistance gets into the country is that seen in a way as a direct threat to his control on power?

VINOGRAD: It certainly does because again, this would be something that the opposition would have called for him, would have coordinated with the United States. And perhaps, countries like Canada and Germany that have also pledged new assistance.

But at this point, the United States is pursuing a policy in coordination with 38 or so, other countries, under which, we are trying to expose the choice that Maduro is presenting to the Venezuelan people, which is stick with me and starve, or support the opposition. While concurrently trying to offer the military and security officials that are still sticking with Maduro in off-ramp.

It's no accident that earlier today, the U.S. National Security Advisor tweeted out again that the United States will consider a sanctions off-ramp for military and security officials that defect. To try to entice these military and security officials to switch their allegiances.

VAUSE: And with them on, the U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo, he tweeted out, "The Venezuelan people desperately need humanitarian aid. The U.S. and other countries are trying to help, but Venezuela's military under Maduro's orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tank with, with trucks and shipping tankers. The Maduro regime must let the aid reach the starving people."

I just wonder, is there a danger here if the U.S. pushes too hard, if this sort of becomes hugely politicized, you know, the humanitarian assistance and the aid groups which distributed end up being politicized as well?

And they are trying desperately to avoid that.

VINOGRAD: There's certainly a danger of that, but the aid groups that I work with, the IRC, you know, seven others are not political by nature. And they have been active in Venezuela, in Colombia, in Brazil and in other neighboring countries for some time. So they are conducting business as usual.

The question here is whether the bilateral foreign assistance from USAID, Canada, Germany and others will be allowed to reach its source.

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VINOGRAD: And I really want to stress here, there is a possibility of setting up a humanitarian corridor, we've done that in places even like Syria, where Russia and France work together to get humanitarian assistance at one point into Eastern Gouda.

So, there are ways to do this working with the other side. In this case, Russia, Maduro and perhaps, China, to try to just get humanitarian assistance into alleviate the suffering. Maduro does not want to do that. And so far and we'll see where this goes is not under pressure from his patrons to change his tune on this.

VAUSE: OK, Sam. Thank you, we'll leave it there.

VINOGRAD: Thanks.

VAUSE: Great to have you with us. We appreciate it. Thank you.

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VAUSE: And Nicolas Maduro has responded to the U.S. national security advisors. John Bolton offered sanctions relief to senior military officers who backed the opposition leader, Juan Guaido. Here's what Mr. Maduro said.

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NICOLAS MADURO, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): Is John Bolton Venezuela's military chief?

That's why we're going to tell John Bolton what the thinking, doctrine, and strength, of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces are.

Listen well, John Bolton, here is the response of the armed forces to your so-called coup makers. Let's say our slogan loudly. Loyal always, traitors never, so it could be heard in Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: And Mr. Maduro also put his support behind the 12-nation talks in Venezuela, scheduled for the coming day in Uruguay.

With the pressure on a Brexit deadline and no exit deal in place, it seems the cracks are beginning to show. European Council president vented his frustrations on Wednesday, saying there's a special place in hell for Brexiteers who do not have a plan for leaving the E.U.

And to make the point, it was no slip of the tongue, Donald Tusk then tweeted those comments, all of which should make for an uncomfortable meeting with the British prime minister in the coming hours. CNN's Bianca Nobilo reports now from London.

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BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was no love lost between the E.U. and Brexiteers today as European Council president Donald Tusk had some harsh words for Brexiteers without a plan at a press conference in Brussels, which he held with Irish leader, Leo Varadkar.

DONALD TUSK, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COUNCIL: By the way, I've been wondering, what a special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it safely. Thank you.

NOBILO: Varad's microphone was still on when he could be heard warning Tusk, "They will give you trouble in the British press for that."

And he wasn't wrong. Downing Street responded by asking if Tusk thought that language was helpful. The DUP, Theresa May's government partners; their leader, Arlene Foster responded by saying that Tusk's words were deliberately provocative and disrespectful.

One of their members of Parliament even going so far as to call Tusk "devilish, you're a maniac." And all this is happening as there are less than two months to go until Brexit day. And the talks are still deadlocked.

Theresa May is due to meet with Donald Tusk Thursday in an attempt to open up the withdrawal agreement once again and secure changes on the Irish backstop -- Bianca Nobilo, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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VAUSE: CNN European affairs commentator Dominic Thomas joins us now from Los Angeles.

And, Dominic, it's good to see you. OK, so naturally the Brexiteers couldn't let this go. That included Mr. Brexit himself, Nigel Farage, who tweeted out, "After Brexit, we will be free of unelected arrogant bullies like you and run our own country. Sounds more like heaven to me."

Sammy Wilson, one lawmaker with DUP, which is the minority party from Northern Ireland, which you know, basically props up Theresa May's ruling coalition, issued a statement, which was actually almost as highly critical of the president of the E.U. Council.

He wrote in part, " All he will succeed in doing is stiffening the resistance of those who have exercised their choice to be clear of Tusk and his trident-wielding cabal."

You know, the schoolyard name-calling to one side, is that actually a fair point that essentially comments like the ones made by Tusks you know, the special place in hell, just made the Brexit supporters even more determined to leave, more determined to ensure there is no delay, no extension to Article 50.

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't think the Brexiteers need any other motivation. They wake up every single day, particularly when you mentioned people like Farage thinking about nothing else but Brexit. This is their lifelong struggle and there's nothing else for them to think about.

Now, of course, such comments can provide them with the sort of additional oxygen to kind of go out to their base and trying to sort of rile them up and mobilize them and so on.

And -- but I think that at the end of the day, it's really for them more interesting to be demonizing the European Union which helps to kind of shield them from the sort of scrutiny of their inadequacies in actually preparing for the very thing that Donald Tusk addressed which was having no plan sketched out for what Brexit would actually look like.

And then it's important to understand what Donald Tusk's position is because there's a lot of projection here coming from the response of the -- of the Brexiteers is that they ultimately are the --

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THOMAS: -- ones who have been tormenting the European Union for the past 40 years with the threats, demands and the concessions that they are -- they have been asking for.

And Donald Tusk is here defending an organization and institution and is concerned about serious questions such as peace in Northern Ireland and so on and the integrity of this particular organization. And you can see where his frustration comes from in terms of that -- in terms of that response.

VAUSE: OK. So we have the British Prime Minister with nothing to show for her trip to Belfast and she's hoping for similar success as she heads to Brussels for a meeting with E.U. officials. Obviously, she's having trouble on all of that. But listen to what the President of the European Council Jean-Claude Juncker said.

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JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COUNCIL: We cannot accept the idea which is circulated around that the withdrawal agreement could be reopened and as the backstop is part of the withdrawal. Agreement we cannot reopen the discussion on the backstop.

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VAUSE: That took me -- you know, that really -- you know, I was quite surprised there because you know, the backstop you know, as being part of the oval agreement will not be reopened, will not be renegotiated. Given the complexities of all of this, given what's involved, the stakes here, that does seem to be a particularly harsh line that they're taking.

THOMAS: Well, you have to understand where that harsh line comes from. So yes, she was in Belfast today. She's going to the European Union and after that she'll be going to meet with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland. Both the E.U. 27 and the Republic of Ireland part of it of course absolutely unambiguously against this.

Their number one concern is actually not Brexit. Their number one concern is the Good Friday Agreement. It is the integrity of the European Union, Customs Union and single market. And if there's anything about the backstop that is necessary is the question of insurance.

When do you take insurance?

You take insurance against risk and you take insurance in a situation where there is no trust.

It is very difficult for the European Union to trust Theresa May as an interlocutor. They don't know how long she's going to be in office and they want to make sure that, no matter what happens with Brexit, if indeed it does happen, that there are insurance policies in place that protect not only the European Union but the broader question of peace within the borders of the European Union.

And at this particular moment in time we're talking about the island of Ireland and the implications of that.

And so you can understand why it is that changing that particular insurance policy opens them up to all kinds of vulnerabilities. And there's no reason for them to take that particular risk, particularly when it's on the other side of the Channel, where there's been such a lack of consensus over what Brexit looks like.

VAUSE: Yes. With that in mind, there's an opinion piece in the foreign policy magazine laying the blame for all this follows mess on the prime minister and the British government for essentially believing you know, they thought they could cause a much stronger opponent. The headlines are a doozy. Theresa May is negotiating like Yasser Arafat.

A piece goes on to read that, you know, "The late Palestinian leader was legendary for forsaking promising opportunities, caving to extremists, and failing to appreciate the challenges of negotiating against a stronger opponent. Britain's prime minister has perfected his diplomatic style."

You know, looking back at everything that has happened, is that a fair description?

THOMAS: Well, for the last two and a half years she's been negotiating with the European Union with very little consultation back at home in the Houses of Parliament. And everyone along the way has been saying to her that's the wrong way around to be doing this.

She spent two and a half years doing this, brought the withdrawal agreement back to Parliament, suffered a historic defeat, then returned to Parliament with a whole set of votes around different amendments.

One of them is which was to go back with an amendment to the European Union asking to them to open the withdrawal agreement which all along the European Union had said that this was a red line. So if you sort of stack up all of that evidence, it's quite easy to go along with that.

Now, having said all of that, at the end of the day if Theresa May is able to deliver a Brexit in whatever shape or form it is, one could argue that the history books may look back on this with a slightly different perspective.

And when today Jeremy Corbyn provided her with the list of six binding agreements, changes and so on that could be made to this including a customs union, he has -- and talking about Brexit has moved much closer to her and much closer to center which is where the deal lies if the deal is going to be made.

VAUSE: OK. It was also -- very quickly, we're out of time, Dominic, but you know, Theresa May said if she couldn't present parliament with a new Brexit fresh deal by the middle of the next week, then the vote which was scheduled for February 14th, Valentine's Day, that would most likely be delayed. It looks like it will be delayed until later at the end of the month.

But Dominic, thanks for being with us. Good to see you, mate. Thank you.

THOMAS: Thanks, John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Next up on CNN NEWSROOM. Rule number one in congressional right club: never make a threat you can't make good on. A day after the president threatened Democrats, they called his bluff, bigly.

Plus another sexual abuse crisis for the climate change.

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VAUSE: -- Pope Francis confirms nuns have been victims of predator priests.

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VAUSE: Two years after they began, the investigations into the U.S. president are now just getting started. With Democrats controlling the lower house of Congress, the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, announced a wide-ranging investigation into, in his own words, "credible allegations of leverage by the Russians or the Saudis or anyone else."

Now in the State of the Union address, Donald Trump warned Democrats against what he called "ridiculous partisan investigations." He also called for a new era, a spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation.

And with that in mind, he went directly after Adam Schiff.

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TRUMP: He is just a political hack who's trying to build a name for himself. And I think that's fine because that's what they do. But there would be no reason to do that. No other politician has to go through that. It is called presidential harassment. And it's unfortunate. And it really does hurt our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Legal analyst Michael Genovese joins us now from Los Angeles.

Hi, Michael. OK. So you know, Donald Trump calls him a political hack, others call him Mr. Chairman. And Adam Schiff made clear this investigation is going way beyond Russia. Here's a little more from the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CALIF.), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We will also be announcing the parameters of our investigation which go beyond Russia. But in some, in some will allow us to investigate any credible allegation that financial interests or other interests are driving decision-making of the president or anyone in the administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: You know, Michael, Trump calls it presidential harassment. Others call it congressional oversight.

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as they say in the military, incoming. This President's got a lot of incoming now. He had to worry about Mueller was still the biggest threat. And also the Southern District of New York.

Now there's a new element. Now the Democrats control the committees, both Nadler and Schiff are going to be doing investigations that the president was protected from when the Republicans controlled the Congress.

What we're going to see is that they're going to start going into his finances very deeply and quite publicly. And so the president has been acting like he's guilty. Let's see if he's got anything to hide. They're going to follow the money, the old Watergate adage, follow the money.

Where does it lead?

Does it lead to Russia?

Does it lead to Russian oligarchs?

The president has been very vocal about --

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GENOVESE: -- this is a bridge too far. And so I think he's quite concerned and he goes on the attack but I think he's running scared.

VAUSE: We don't just have the congressional Democrats looking into Russia and Saudi Arabia and everything else. The Democrats will begin to try and get their hands on Donald Trump's tax returns. There's a subcommittee looking in the administration's bending of the

rules during the recent shutdown. There's an investigation into what happened to the millions of dollars raised during the inauguration, unaccounted for at the moment.

And you know, the House has voted to send Robert Mueller, the Russia investigation, and about taking transcripts of testimony from witnesses which have been called in their Russia investigation.

And it seems that out of everything, the most, sort of immediate threat could come from that last one, that testimony. Because we look at how the testimony has been used in the past by Robert Mueller when there's discrepancies.

You know, those individuals have been charged with lying and that's when they fold and that's when they turn over a whole bunch of evidence.

GENOVESE: Well, what a difference an election makes and the Democrats running the House not only changes the arithmetic. It changes the things that we're going to be looking at.

The things that were protected and hidden and that were going to remain under the rock are not going to be exposed. The tax returns obviously.

And they're going to look into all of his finances especially through the campaign where he had said or his advocates had said, well, he wasn't looking into Russia. He wasn't talking to the Russians and then they keep changing their story and every couple of weeks it was well more and more and more.

This is also a classic example now that they're going to turn over the manuscripts and the testimony, what the Republicans have been worried about and complaining about, the perjury trap. It opens the door.

Mueller knows a lot. Now he's going to be able to compare notes and to see again if their stories don't jive.

VAUSE: Here's the president on Tuesday night, as a reminder. Part of his address, the State of the Union.

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TRUMP: An economic miracle is taking place in the United States. And the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: And you know, just because it is an easy comparison does not make it a valid one. Here was President Nixon delivering the State of the Union in 1974.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end. One year of Watergate is enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Speaker Nancy Pelosi described Trump's remarks as a threat and should not have been, you know, from the floor of Congress. Even Nixon did not go that far.

GENOVESE: Well, you can see parallels but we don't want to make too much of that. No president likes to be investigated. The more you investigate, you more you're likely to find something and the more you're likely to have a perjury trap.

But I think in the case of President Trump he's been so well protected by the Republicans in Congress that they've been enablers. Now, he's got attack dogs after him. They're not going to be lap dogs to him.

And so I think, you know, the Nancy Pelosi-Trump back-and-forth last night was indicative of just, I mean the loudest moments of last night's State of the Union was the silence about the state of the Democrats in control of the House, the new political equation and Nancy Pelosi.

Donald Trump didn't even give her the courtesy of letting her introduce him as is the norm. And so he really is anti-Pelosi. He likes her as a target. But he's grown to be afraid of her. She's bested him twice and I think he's really afraid of her right now.

VAUSE: And she's the mother of five children, so she's used to dealing with tantrums, someone pointed out to me.

You alluded to this, Donald Trump, he did say, any investigation unrelated to Russia and it would be going too far. And here he is talking to "The New York Times."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances unrelated to Russia.

Is that a red line?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?

TRUMP: I would say yes. I would say yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: He said, you know, that's a red line. So right now though, there seems to be this small army of prosecutors who have gone rogue.

Was Donald Trump in a position back in 2017 where he could have closed this all down or knowing what we know now, is this flurry of investigation, was it inevitable regardless of what the president did or didn't do at the time because he certainly can't closed everything down now?

GENOVESE: Had he done next to nothing, he would have closed it down. If he has things to hide, then you need to do the cover up, because it could be very damaging.

If you follow the money, this could be devastating, it would be explosive for the president, if he's in hock to Russian oligarchs after he's been denying that they dealt with Russia at all, if he owes X amount of money when he's been saying what a great businessman he is.

All kinds of things could undermine him, either in terms of his reputation or his legal status. Remember now you've got Mueller, the Southern District of New York, the number of committees in the House after him.

So he's going to get incoming from a lot of places and he's just not ready for it.

[00:30:00] MICHAEL GENOVESE, POLITICAL ANALYST: His White House is not staffed for it yet. They are understaffed, they're unprepared. They can really take some big hits that could be avoided.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes. Well, the first White House briefing of 2019 picked up where the few briefings from last year left off with the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, lying to reporters on Wednesday, it was about the Russia investigation and the indictment of a number of associates once close to the President. This is what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY, UNITED STATES: The things with people like Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, literally have nothing to do with the President. That doesn't have anything to do with the President or the First Lady. None of these things have anything to do with the President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: That's actually a mash-up of her saying previously, but she did say it again on Wednesday. One example, she said the case of Roger Stone. You know, Stone is charged about lying about his contacts with the Trump campaign, which is directly related to the President. You know, it was Trump's campaign.

Manafort has a bit of giving polling day to (INAUDIBLE) believed he -- you know -- connected to Putin and Russian intelligence, again, directly linked to Donald Trump. You know, Sarah Sanders can say what she wants, but it doesn't change reality.

GENOVESE: But you also have to understand she has the hardest job in the world, defending the indefensible. She went so far as to say in public, well, you know, God wanted Donald trump to be elected president. When you have to rely on the deity for your support, you're in political trouble here at home.

VAUSE: Hey, Michael, we're out of time. We'll leave it there. Thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

GENOVESE: Great to see you, John.

VAUSE: We'll take a short break. You're watching CNN, back in a moment.

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VAUSE: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour. Venezuela's government is blocking a key bridge where badly needed humanitarian aid was supposed to be delivered from Colombia. Embattled President Nicolas Maduro says his people are not beggars.

The opposition leader and self-declared interim president, Juan Guaido, is urging the military to allow the aid through and into the country.

The President of the European Council says there is a special place in hell for those who promoted Brexit without a plan for leaving. Donald Tusk's comments come a few hours before the British Prime Minister Theresa May meets with E.U. leaders to try and renegotiate parts of that deal, including the Irish backstop. The E.U. said it will not reopen negotiations.

And Donald Trump lashing out over a new House Intelligence Committee investigation into his financial instance and whether or any foreign country actually has leverage over him. The President called the Committee's Chairman, Adam Schiff, a political hack. And says the investigation is presidential harassment.

But now in Pyongyang, where the U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea has arrived to try and finalize critical details for a second nuclear summit, but before Steve Biegun and his North Korean counterparts can actually agree on what should be on the agenda. They need to figure out where President Trump and Kim Jong-un will actually meet.

[00:35:02] CNN's Paula Hancocks live this hour, from Seoul. So, we were, sort of, under the impression that there was an agreement, that it was going to take place in Vietnam, but maybe it's not quite so set in stone.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we know it will be on Vietnam that the U.S. President has announced that. We were under the understanding from two U.S. sources, one senior administration official.

That it was going to be in the coastal city of Da Nang. Now, that hasn't been announced at this point, which suggests there's some negotiations still going on behind the scenes. The sources say it at the time that the plans weren't finalized, so potentially, North Korea would like it somewhere else. You have the capital Hanoi, for example, which has a North Korean embassy. But at this point, we assume that Steve Biegun, that the U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea is still in Pyongyang. We're making that assumption because no one seen him back here, to Seoul. The U.S. has really been very tight-lipped about this particular meeting.

The North Koreans haven't mentioned it at all. Because this is the final negotiations before the summit, presumably, this is where they will hammer out exactly where it is. The State Department also saying that this meeting is about trying to make sure that they can push things forward from Singapore.

Because everybody including the South Korean presidential spokesman is saying that from this summit, they would like something more concrete and more tangible steps towards denuclearization. John?

VAUSE: Yes, those details, always a problem. Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks live for us, in Seoul.

The Catholic Church, facing yet another crisis, for the first time, Pope Francis has acknowledged that nuns are being sexually abused by priests and bishops. Many Catholics say it's been happening for decades and it is way passed time for the church to do something. CNN's Delia Gallagher has our report.

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DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Pope Francis returning from a three-day visit to United Arab Emirates on Tuesday evening, on the papal plane, responding to journalists' questions, acknowledged for the first time that there is a problem of the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops. Here's a little bit of what the Pope had to say in response to a journalist's question.

POPE FRANCIS (through translator): I think it is still taking place because it is not as though the moment you become aware of something and it goes away. But it continues. And we've been working on this for some time.

GALLAGHER: And Pope Francis also mentioned that there was an order of nuns in France, in 2013, which Pope Benedict the 16th dissolved for what Francis characterized as sexual slavery. And the Vatican on Wednesday morning, clarifying that Pope Francis was referring to manipulation. That is the psychological and sexual abuse of nuns in a vulnerable position.

And what is interesting about this is that it is the Vatican's own magazine which raised the issue last week, in an article, saying the Vatican should not close its eyes to the question of sexual abuse of nuns on the part of priests, also because it often results in pregnancies, abortion, and in children, who are not recognized by their priest fathers.

And all of this comes just a few weeks shy of a global meeting that's going to be held at the end of February, at the Vatican, on sex abuse. And that's a meeting for which the Vatican has tried to downplay expectations. But with this latest acknowledgement by Pope Francis that there is a problem of sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Vatican to do that.

Delia Gallagher, CNN, Rome.

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VAUSE: Next up on CNN NEWSROOM, if it sounds like you've heard this before, it's because you have. We just lived through one of the hottest years on record and scientists say, expect only worse to come.

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VAUSE: A body has been recovered from the wreckage of a plane, carrying football star Emiliano Sala. The human remains found during the search for the missing aircraft, but officials have not said if they are Sala's or his pilot.

Sala, a (INAUDIBLE) Cardiff City was traveling to the U.K., January 21st, when the single engine Piper Malibu disappeared from radar over the English Channel. Bad weather had delayed recovery efforts.

Well, scientists say last year was the fourth hottest on record and it's only going to get hotter. Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri is with us with more on this. And, you know, we keep hearing this over and over and over again.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: That's the trend. That's the theme, you know. Just about once a month, it seems like, a study come out, John. And this particular one, they came out on Wednesday, in fact, the most significant of the studies.

The official NASA, the official Noah study here, put together, looking at the global average temperatures and yet again, 2018 comes in, in the top five warmest years on record. And guess what, the previous warmest years on record, all five previous warmest years on record, happening from 2014 through 2018.

So, the perspective, pretty incredible to see this trend continue, again, in recent years, but Michael, if you're going to advance the animation here, we'll kind of show you how the study broke everything down because Arctic sea ice, once again, among the lowest we've seen on record, as well, across both the Arctic and Antarctic.

And here's the picture, 2016, warmest year on record, 2015, second warmest by a slight margin, 2017, third warmest by a slight margin, 2018, fourth warmest by a slight margin. You kind of get the trend and the theme here, when it comes to these.

But, the sea ice, a reduction, also pretty extensive across both the Arctic and Antarctic over the past 12 months, globally speaking, of course, and when you look at the breakdown of all of this in the 1980s, we have about 2.5 million square kilometers of sea ice that was roughly the size of Mexico and all of Central America in 2018, what was left of it, 0.13 million square kilometers which is roughly the size of Nicaragua.

So, again, kind of puts it in perspective that 95 percent reduction in the coverage of sea ice. And the global average temperature since 1880, the average has been about one degree Celsius above the 1880 average.

And, of course, the Paris agreement said 1.5 is the max threshold you want to stay at. And John, 14, 1 billion-dollar disasters in the United States, 42, 1 billion-dollar disasters or greater, globally, as well, among the highest we've ever observed as well. John?

VAUSE: This is getting worse, Pedram, thank you.

JAVAHERI: It's been worse. Yes, thank you.

VAUSE: And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. "WORLD SPORT" starts after the break.

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