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No Choices Left for President Trump; Brexit Vote Crushed in Parliament; Warsaw Summit Changed Course; U.S.-China Trade Talks Wrapping Up; Trump To Declare National Emergency For Border Wall; Former Acting FBI Chief McCabe Tells CBS Justice Officials Discussed Removing Trump From Office; Fake And Manipulated News Targets Election Campaign; Parkland Shooting Anniversary; Powerful Storms Drench California. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired February 15, 2019 - 03:00   ET


[03:00:00] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. president may take a controversial path to get funding for the border wall that he said Mexico will pay for, cutting out the Constitution and going around Congress, but both Democrats and Republicans have concerns.

An exclusive look at the brutal fight against ISIS, the push to root out the terror group from eastern Syria.

Also, ahead this hour, another Brexit setback for the British prime minister. Parliament refusing to reaffirm support for a strategy. How that could impact negotiations with Brussels.

Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers all around the world. I'm George Howell. The CNN Newsroom starts now.

Mexico wouldn't pay for it. Neither would the U.S. Congress. So now the U.S. president is likely to declare a national emergency to get the money that he wants for a border wall with Mexico.

President Trump is expected to sign a series of executive actions in the coming hours and make the emergency declaration so he can tap into about $6.6 billion for construction of this wall that he wants.

Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz explains how it could work.


REP. MATT GAETZ, (R) FLORIDA: I think that there are very different authorities that can utilize and I've been educated on them. Specifically, section 284 of title 10 does not require the declaration of a national emergency. It simply requires the designation of the U.S.-Mexico border a critical drug trafficking corridor which obviously it is.

And then the president can unlock between two and a half and a $3 billion to be able to do border wall construction. Additionally, there's about five -- well, 500 to 600 million in treasury forfeitures that the president has broad discretion to be able to use these for people who did not claim their tax -- their tax returns, their refunds. And so, he can use that money.

And there's also north of $3 billion in military construction money that the president can use. So, again, you can get pretty close to $8 billion without declaring a national emergency.


HOWELL: The budget compromise approved by Congress will avert another government shutdown. That's the good news. But members on both sides of the aisle are concerned about the president. Mr. Trump is setting since it's their job to appropriate money.

Democrats are expected to mount a legal challenge to it.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA: Well, it's hard to imagine a worse case for a national emergency than a problem that has been diminishing over the years that the intelligence heads didn't even recognize when they're outlining the threats to the country.

And most significantly, that the Congress has deliberated about, reached a resolution on in terms of what the Congress believes is appropriate border security. And the president didn't get what he wanted from the Congress and has decided that's some kind of emergency.

It was an emergency every time a president of the Unites States couldn't get what they want from Congress we will be in a constant state of emergency. So, it's the worst possible case and it will fail.

But I have to say this. What has had our democracy on such a shaky ground for the last two years has not just been the unconstitutional acts of the president but the fact that Congress has not been willing to stand up to him. That in particular, the president's party has not been willing to stand up to him.

And the fact that Mitch McConnell would warn him privately, but then do a complete 180 and publicly embrace this shows you just the kind of capitulation that is endangering the rule of law and our system of checks and balances.


HOWELL: let's talk more about this now with Linda Feldmann. Linda is the Washington bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor joining us this hour from Washington, D.C. Linda, again, thank you for your time.


HOWELL: The president is set to announce an executive order to fund the border wall which is expected to include a national emergency declaration. It is important though, to first hear from some of his own Republican colleagues who are urging caution on this. Let's listen.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) MAINE: I continue to believe that this is not what the National Emergency Act was intended to be used for. It was contemplated as a means for responding to a catastrophic event like an attack on our country or a major natural disaster.

[03:05:05] SEN. MIKE ROUNDS, (R) SOUTH DAKOTA: What about if somebody else thinks that climate change is the national emergency, and then what will they do and how far will they go?


HOWELL: So, Linda, the same Republicans, though may be put to the test if Congress chooses to contest this emergency declaration. So, the question here is, do you see Republicans going against their own president, the Republican president, Donald Trump or do you see them shifting positions to remain a politically aligned with him?

FELDMANN: I think we'll see the typical pattern with this president where you have some of his own colleagues in Congress uncomfortable with what he's doing, but ultimately falling in line.

You may see some peeling off and voting no, but at the end of the day they'll be with him because he is the president. He has the support of most Republicans and they don't want to -- most Republicans in Congress don't want to be seen is at odds with their own president.

HOWELL: The headline, though, is depending upon the president's signature. Another government shutdown averted, but here's the question. What is the political cost for this president? He has been forced to accept the deal with far less money that he demanded for a border wall and even less that he could've gotten before the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

FELDMANN: Right. So, indeed, he got a lot less than he wanted and he is just cruising right over that and going for the national emergency.

Some people argue that he didn't have to declare a national emergency to get the -- to find government money that he can kind of move money around within his own government but that he wanted the drama of the national emergency and he really wants to send a signal to his supporters that he is fulfilling his number one campaign promise which was to build the wall.

HOWELL: And this really is, Linda, his last option, isn't it, to get the money that he wants that he needs to build this border wall that he said Mexico would pay for it initially.


HOWELL: Well, now it seems that he's finding another way. But in your estimation, is this being made out to be a crisis today for political reasons as opposed to two years ago. Some are calling it more of a campaign promise emergency. FELDMANN: Right. I mean, a lot of people point out that in fact, you know, the numbers of people trying to cross the border have gone down in recent years and that this really is sort of a fake crisis.

But I should also point out that just by declaring a national emergency and trying to move money around and really override the very core role of Congress in its power of the purse, he's going to face legal challenge and he may not end up getting the money.

This will -- there will be legal challenges all over the country as Democrats and opponents of the president try to deny him of his ability to grab federal money that hasn't been appropriated by Congress, so the battle has only just begun.

HOWELL: Linda, to your point, look, this is sure to be challenged by the courts as, you know, we figure out whether this passes or fails. But here's the question. Does that even matter, is this an out for this president to simply say, hey, I tried.

FELDMANN: Definitely. I mean, he is -- I mean, we've heard him say build that wall a million times and it's the number one chant at his rallies and now he can run for reelection and say I have done everything I can. And even if he is denied the wall he can go to his supporters and say look, the courts have thwarted me or Congress, you know, those Democrats have thwarted me.

So, he'll portray himself as a victim, but he's the one sticking up for a border wall trying to prevent undocumented immigrants from entering the United States.

HOWELL: Linda Feldmann joining us from Washington, D.C. Linda, again, thank you for your time.

Now to Syria where ISIS continues to lose ground in that nation, but it is putting up a brutal fight. The group is pushed -- that's pushing them out are believe that these are the last days of that terror groups self-styled caliphate.

Our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman he is following the story live in eastern Syria. And Ben, give us a better sense of what you're seeing there happening on the ground.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: George, it was a week ago that the operation, the final operation to crush ISIS in its last stronghold in eastern Syria is now a week old.

And nonetheless, despite constant airstrikes, despite ground operations that final day that moments when victory over ISIS as a geographical entity can be announced remains elusive.


[03:10:10] WEDEMAN: In its dying days ISIS fights for the bitter end. The small remote, otherwise unremarkable Syrian town of Baghouz Al- Fawqani on the banks of the Euphrates River where it is now finally cornered reside to a pinprick shadow of its former self. By a combination of Kurdish and Arab soldiers back by U.S., British and French special forces and unrelenting coalition airstrikes captured in this exclusive video shot by freelance cameraman Gabriel Chaim.

It has been hard going with repeated ISIS counterattacks using their usual tactics booby-traps, suicide car bombs, and human shields. And now, at the end, after years of war ISIS's foes have scores to settle.

Syrian Democratic Forces commander Haval Simko has fought ISIS known here as Daesh across northern Syria.

"Daesh is finished," he says, "We're avenging our martyrs." It's black banner now in his hands.

The battle like the bombing continues around the clock, these Arab tribal fighters preparing to take open ground on the edge of town.

The commander gives the final orders before they move out. An armored bulldozer designed to take the impact improvised explosive devices leads the way and the troops follow. Flares illuminate the skies over Baghouz, the sounds of battle echoing the distance. Final battle is in its final days.


WEDEMAN: And of course, they were now in something of a black hole as far as news from the front goes, the Syrian Democratic Forces are no longer allowing journalists up there. The best latest information we have is coming from the people who have fled that town who is all of them say the town is under constant bombardment.

And they are reporting a large number of civilian casualties as this battle goes on, perhaps approaching its final days. George?

HOWELL: Ben Wedeman on the ground in eastern Syria. Ben, thank you for the reporting. We'll keep in touch with you on this.

Now to Warsaw, Poland. The two-day summit on the Middle East seems to turn into an anti-Iran conference led by the United States. It was meant to focus on a range of issues facing that region, but instead, U.S. officials pushed for tougher action on Iran and pressured allies to withdraw from the nuclear agreement.

CNN's Atika Shubert is following the story in Warsaw. And Atika, with all regards to the Middle East and Iran this is clearly another touch point where Europe for the most part is taking a different path than the United States.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, taking a different path, you know, a different path and being scolded for it. The U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, you know, had the centerpiece speech in the two-day conference yesterday, and while he praised countries like Israel for standing by it on its Iran policy, he basically called out that European nations for trying to skirt U.S. sanctions. Specifically, this is what's called here the special purpose vehicle

which basically allows European companies to continue to trade with Iran bypassing U.S. banking systems. And he made very clear in his speech that this is something that the U.S. did not approve of, and really pressured European allies to fall in line with Iran's policy.

But you know, of all of the different allegations that were there Germany and France did not have their foreign ministers there. And in fact, the head of the E.U. foreign policy, Federica Mogherini also was not at the conference.

They did send high-level representatives, but it was clear that they were making a statement that the E.U. differs from the U.S. specifically on Iran policy. And it also explains why this particular conference in the Middle East was actually held in Poland.

When I spoke to Poland's foreign ministry, he said Poland was trying to act as a bridge builder between the E.U., the differences in the E.U. and the U.S. But in this case, it's not clear if there were any bridges being built, George.

HOWELL: Interesting in the backdrop of Poland certainly shifting to the right. So that is an interesting, you know, bit of context to talk about with Poland.

[03:14:56] Atika, so Mr. Pence is set to attend the Munich security conference next. Can we expect the same tough message on Iran there?

SHUBERT: I think we can definitely expect the same tough message but it may go beyond Iran. I mean, the Munich security conference of course, is now famous for tackling a whole range of global security issues. And so, I think we can also expect Venezuela, for example, to be a part of the discussion there.

But I think what's really going to define the conference is the fact -- is quite similar here is that the vice president is going to push this U.S. first agenda pressuring allies to fall into line with its unilateral policies, while the E.U. countries, in particular are saying, listen, we need to stick to our rules-based international order.

When you sign an agreement, you stick to it, that we need to follow WTO trade rules when you still need -- we need NATO. All of this sort of multilateral institutions that Europe is trying to strengthen and standby in the face of the Trump administration criticizing and withdrawing from a number of these things.

So, I think that's where the real topic is going to be and it will be interesting to see what Vice President Pence has to say when he speaks there later.

HOWELL: Atika Shubert live for us in Warsaw. Thank you for the report, Atika.

Britain's break up with the E.U. is not going so well, you could say. The British prime minister suffers another humiliating defeat in parliament. How this would affect her talk with E.U. leaders.

Plus, it's crunch time in the trade talks between China and the United States. We take you live to Hong Kong for the latest on deal or do deal. Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes to the right, 258. The nos to the left, 303.



HOWELL: U.K. lawmakers they are cheering after they voted down a symbolic motion to support the British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan. A group of hardline Brexiteers from the prime minister's own party dealt her the setback by abstaining because they want to keep the no deal option on the table.

Ms. May's opponents say it is time for her to admit she needs a better strategy.


JEREMY CORBYN, LEADER, LABOUR PARTY: Tonight's vote shows there is no majority to the prime minister's course of action indeed, and we brought. Yet again, her government has been defeated.

[03:20:00] The government cannot keep on ignoring parliaments or plowing on towards the 29th March without a coherent plan. She cannot keep on just running down the clock and hoping that something will turn up that will save her day and save her face.


HOWELL: Jeremy Corbyn there. But the question, did the vote change anything for the E.U. for leaders there.

CNN's European affairs commentator Dominic Thomas says not really. I spoke with him earlier.


DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: I don't think that much of that outcome of the vote was a great surprise to the European Union. They are aware of the situation and of what's happening in London.

And what's remarkable is that at the end of the month of January, a number of amendments were voted on in the House of Commons. Two of them the first the Brady bill was essentially to give the mandate to Theresa May to go back to Brussels and to try and reopen negotiations on the withdrawal agreement to address the lingering issue of the Irish backstop.

The other amendment was Felman (ph) amendment which she ignores at the time, essentially was to vote to take the no deal option off the table. And so, the motion yesterday essentially was to call those two into one and also, to kind of check the polls on the state of Brexit negotiations.

Theresa May has been to Brussels, she has been unable to reopen the withdrawal agreement. And the European Union does not want to make concessions over that potential border with Northern Ireland.

And so, the vote yesterday showed that on the one hand her position of wanting to go to the European Union to talk about the threat of a no deal was essentially taken off the table.

And the other argument which is that she's has the support of the House was undermined by the far-right Brexiteers who didn't so much vote against the motion yesterday but abstained on it, and essentially sent a strong message that they do not support a current negotiating strategy.

HOWELL: But clearly, she needed that support, Dominic. But look, so the clock is ticking down, we show the clock just a moment ago. Time is of the essence for sure with this deal or no deal.

But Dominic, let's say that there is no deal, what are your thoughts to those who say no deal is better than the current deal that's on the table?

THOMAS: What we saw in the early discussions that took place in parliament is that the government has a report that talks about the consequences of a no deal. And they've been very reluctant to release that information into the public realm because they obviously know that the findings of that report find to the devastating consequences of an unnegotiated deal.

The European Union is aware of this as well and would like to avoid this. And ultimately, the power is in their hands because it will be up to then in the end to decide whether or not they provide the U.K. with an extension or whether or not they simply let Brexit go about its own -- its own way.

We all know that the impact of a no deal would be devastating on both sides of the channel on planning after two and a half years and walking away with nothing would not be a favorable option.

However, the prime minister seems to be completely stuck and paralyze in terms of her negotiations with Brussels. And what we're seeing is the internal divisions within her party are ever more glaring that in order to satisfy the far-right branch she needs to go for a kind of hard Brexit which is not meet with consent of the rest of the parliament.

And yet, by moving to the center, by moving to the kind of deal the European Union are interested in that even the leader of the opposition has been proposing around the notion of the customs union means fracturing her party. And she's trying to avoid that particular process happening as well.

That we're starting to see an increasing sort of attacks taking place across party lines blaming the Labour Party as the Labour Party is blaming the conservatives for the paralysis on this.

And one cannot help but think that all of this will eventually culminate in either some kind of second referendum or even a general election. And you already see some posturing around this potential outcome.


HOWELL: Dominic Thomas there. Thank you.

Now, to the trade tensions and talks between the United States and China, the word we're hearing from the U.S. Secretary of Treasury, Steve Mnuchin is the latest round of trade talks were, quote, "productive."

This was the second and final day of these high-level talks in Beijing, only two weeks left now to reach a trade deal. And if they fail, U.S. tariffs on some Chinese imports jumped to 25 percent.

President Trump says that he might let the March 1st deadline slip a bit if it looks like a deal is near.

Our Ivan Watson following the story live in Hong Kong. And Ivan, we are now getting some new insight from the U.S. secretary of treasury about what's happening. What more are you learning?

[03:24:53] IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, Steve Mnuchin he just put out a tweet in the last hour or so, showing a family photo, so to speak, of the gathered Chinese and American negotiators and a very simple caption. Productive meetings with China's Vice Premier Lie He, and the U.S. trade representative, Ambassador Lighthizer.

So, that's the first sign we've gotten from these two days of talks. Not many details there. One thing we heard from the White House from the White House economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, was that the Chinese leader Xi Jinping was expected to meet face-to-face with the American delegation. We do not know whether or not that meeting took place.

And the deadline here the ticking clock is whether or not both sides can come to an agreement before the White House's deadline of March 1st where it has threatened in the past that if a deal is not reached that the U.S. government will dramatically increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports to the U.S., thus, dramatically exacerbating the trade war between the world's two largest economies.

HOWELL: And Ivan, let's talk about this from the Chinese perspective because that economy has been slowing. This is important for China.

WATSON: It is. It is. And China has been giving some goodwill gestures to the U.S. in earlier rounds of discussions. For example, announcing the purchases of large amounts of soybeans, American soybeans, or temporarily lifting a tariff on the import of American automobiles, which arguably is not a huge export market for the U.S.

But there are also signs of frustration as well. You pointed out China's slowing economy. The Global Times newspaper, a Chinese state newspaper, which often has a rather nationalist tinge to it, someone harshly criticize the U.S. position in an editorial yesterday, saying that the U.S. simply won't accept the fact that China is a growing economy, and accusing the U.S. leadership of using these trade talks as a way to try to hold China back.

HOWELL: Ivan Watson on the story, live for us in Hong Kong. Thank you, Ivan.

A new attempt of the Trump White House in the days right after the president fired the former FBI director James Comey. The explosive new allegations and who's making them.

Plus, misinformation plague -- plagues Nigeria's presidential race. We'll have a live report from Lagos on what's being done to fight the problem.

Stay with us.


HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers all over the world. You are watching CNN Newsroom live from Atlanta, Georgia. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for this hour.

The U.S. President Donald Trump plans to declare a national emergency to pay for the border wall he wants with Mexico. The White House official says at a few hours, the president likely sign a budget compromise with far less funding than he wanted for the wall, then he will likely use executive action to pull an extra $6.6 billion from other projects to do it.

The U.K. Parliament deals another humiliating blow to the British Prime Minister. Lawmakers defeated a symbolic motion that would have reaffirmed their support for Theresa May's Brexit strategy. The group of hardline of Brexiteers from her own party ensured the loss by abstaining from the vote.

Dubai's International Airport is working to get back on schedule. This after drone activity was discovered near a runway. It forced authorities to delayed many flights, a spokesperson says the stoppage lasted about 30 minutes. Dubai is one of the world's busiest airports serving 88 million passengers a year.

The former acting director of the FBI confirms Justice Department officials talked openly about removing the U.S. President Donald Trump from office back in 2017. That's just one of the bombshells in Andrew McCabe's interview with the U.S. television network CBS.

Senior White House Correspondent, Pamela Brown has details for you.


time former acting FBI Director, Andrew McCabe, the man who took over after President Trump fired James Comey talking publicly about his former boss, the president.

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: I was speaking to the man who had just run for the presidency and that he and won the election for the presidency and who might have done so with the aid of the government of Russia, our most formidable adversary on the world stage and that was something that troubled me greatly.

BROWN: McCabe telling CBS, he opened an obstruction probe into the president the day after Comey's firing. As a way to maintain the ongoing investigations into Russian meddling of the 2016 election.

MCCABE: I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.

BROWN: CBS Anchor, Scott Pelley, reporting McCabe also confirmed in clips not yet released that there were serious discussions among senior justice officials about invoking the 25th amendment to remove the president from office.

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: There were meetings at the Justice Department in which it was discuss whether the vice president and the majority of the cabinet could be brought together to remove the president of the United States under the 25th amendment.

BROWN: The New York Times reporting that McCabe wrote in a memo to Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, had look into the 25th amendment issue and determined he would need a quote, majority or eight of the 15 cabinet officials. The Justice Department plan McCabe's assertions in a statement today as inaccurate.

The response reading as the Deputy Attorney General previously has stated based on his personal dealings with the president. There is no basis to invoke the 25th amendment, nor was Rosenstein in a position to consider invoking the 25th amendment. Rosenstein has long denied he thinks there is a basis to remove the president from office, but has yet to deny those discussions ever occur.

Vice President Mike Pence reacting today telling MSNBC --

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've never heard of it. I never heard any discussion of the 25th amendment and frankly I find any suggestion of it to be absurd.

BROWN: It's worth noting that Andrew McCabe does have some credibility issues. He was found to be lying to investigators as part of an internal DOJ probe and he is now under investigation by the D.C. U.S. attorney's office for that same manner. McCabe has denied that he ever lied to investigators and it is also worth noting that he did take contemporaneous notes documenting many of the interactions that he talks about in his book. Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Pamela, thank you. Now to Nigeria, where people are voting for their next president on Saturday. Two of the top candidates, the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and the people's Democratic Party candidate, Atiku Abubakar, this will be Buhari's 5fifth run for the presidency and Abubakar is fourth. The key issues are the economy, fighting corruption and security issues.

[03:34:58] Let's bring in CNN's Stephanie Busari for the story for us from Legos. And Stephanie, so we talked about some of the things at play in this election and it seems that the information that people are taking in about this candidate's misinformation is quite a problem.

STEPHANIE BUSARI, CNN PRODUCER: Yes, George. One of the key issue of this election has been fake news particularly on social media. I spoke to one campaigner in Legos, who has been watching hard to separate fact from fiction for the voters. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Massive hole of smuggled weapons.

BUSARI: This is a CNN report making news ahead of Nigeria's 2019 election. But listen closely to the original air date.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- for elections in 2011.

BUSARI: Eight years after it's aired, this clip was found new life from WhatsApp, shared and re-shared by Nigerians who thinks it's the current reports. Old news that think of a new life on social media and a campaign dominated by fake news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fake news in this elections season has been on steroids, you know, we saw loads and loads of claims on Facebook, lots on Twitter, and perhaps really more annoying if you lack (inaudible) seems to be working around the clock.

BUSARI: Lala Denwaze (ph) is a journalist and part of Cross Check Nigeria, group of Nigerian media houses (ph) that have joined forces to fight fake news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's some handles, you know, on Twitter, some pages are also in Facebook that is just really, really notorious.

BUSARI: What did the post says on (inaudible)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The moment one of them post out a story, the same story replicated in like three or four other pages.

BUSARI: Pop star turned politician Bankole Wellington, popularly really known as Banky W. says he's outside of political campaign was nearly derail by fake report.

BANKOLE WELLINGTON, NIGERIAN POLITICIAN: Completely false. No proof, just a random tweet, and in 10 minutes, they had almost 1000 retweets. The people are saying, yes, I knew he was caught. Nobody is looking for proof, nobody is -- its not about what's true anymore.

BUSARI: And the major parties on (inaudible) from fake news he was. Late last year, President Buhari was forced to deny he had been cloned after reports claim he had died from a recent illness.


BUSARI: Even the U.S. president, who helped push the fake news fate into popularity, has found himself caught in Nigeria's election spin, when a group posted an image of Trump holding opposition leader Abubakar Atiku's picture appearing to endorse him. It was later debunked by Crosscheck Nigeria.

In statements to CNN, Twitter says it has updated its fake account policies and has been working with electoral commission to make reporting problem accounts easier. Facebook says it is always monitoring and taking action against fake accounts and it continues to invest heavily in people and technology to prevent abuse, but recognizes it can always do more.

Now, as Africa's largest democracy heads to the polls, Nigerians hold their breath and hope the true voice of the voters wins out.


BUSARI: So there you have it, the company may have been dominated by fake news, but one keeping that Nigerians are hoping is that the elections will be free and fair. Voting starts on Saturday at 8:00 a.m. Local Time and that we will be there to bring you all the live update, George.

HOWELL: Stephanie, it is so important to point out though the timestamp on news and many people sometimes don't look at that. But a story that was published back in 2010 versus something right now that date is so key and this was a really good report to get an understanding of how that's playing out. Stephanie Busari, thank you again for the report.

Still ahead here on CNN Newsroom. Several Saudi Arabian men accused of criminal charges in the U.S. had essentially banished. Where are they? Are they evading justice? More on that mystery ahead.


HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN Newsroom, I'm George Howell. We are following numerous cases of Saudi Arabia men essentially vanishing from the United States after getting into trouble with the law here. Somehow, they've been able to secure safe passage back to their home country and to escape justice in the U.S. Our Alex Marquardt has this report for you.


ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah was speeding, driving recklessly along the Portland Oregon Street, police say when he struck 15-year-old Fallon Smart who was crossing. Smart was killed, the 20-year-old Noorah, a citizen of Saudi Arabia studying at a nearby community college allegedly took off in his black SUV. He was arrested, charged with elevated manslaughter and forced to give up his passport.

The student got out on $100,000 bail, reportedly paid for by the Saudi government as was his legal team. Then, two weeks before his trial, he disappeared, according to the Oregonian newspaper, he's tracking monitor had been sliced off and thrown away. Law enforcement officials telling the paper, they believe Noorah got another passport and left the U.S., possibly on a private plane, all paid for by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which told the paper last July that Noorah was back in the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we have is an apparent pattern in Oregon and possibly other parts of the country where Saudi defendants in the U.S. facing serious criminal charges have managed to flee the U.S. likely with the help of the Saudi government in many of these cases.

MARQUARDT: Noorah's 2016 hit-and-run case is far from the only want, a total of 17 across the eight states and Canada were identified by the Oregonian Saudi men facing serious charges and then vanishing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of them have disappeared, a handful of them have been confirmed to be back in Saudi Arabia, the precise whereabouts of many of the defendants, even the ones who are supposedly back in Saudi Arabia is unknown.

MARQUARDT: The earliest case is from 1988, when Abdul Rhakman Ali (ph) caused a car crash that left the 79-year-old woman dead. Days before his trial, the Saudi Embassy paid his $25,000 bail, he left jail with the Saudi military officer and was never seen in the U.S. again.

The alleged crimes are wide ranging, rape and sexual assault, vehicular manslaughter, child pornography among others. In a statement to CNN, the Saudi Embassy said that the notion that the Saudi government actively help citizens of a justice after they been implicated in legal wrongdoing in the U.S. is not true.

This is of course comes on the heels of the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi fueling this reputation of a Saudi Arabia acting with utter impunity. Now Ron Wyden, who is the senior senator from Oregon were five of those reported cases took place. He has reacted furiously, saying it is unacceptable and he has demanded answers from the State Department which has not responded to him or to us here at CNN. Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Alex, thank you. Across the United States, people have been paying tribute to the victims of the deadliest high school shooting in the country with a wide array of events.

[03:45:07] Thursday marked the first anniversary of the Parkland Florida massacre. That massacre that claimed 17 innocent lives that you see there. Since the tragedy, many of the young survivors and their family members have become activists, demanding stricter gun control laws in the U.S. They're also trying to recover from the horror of the experience that day. Here's one victim's take about the traumatic events.


EMMA GONZALEZ, SHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: A lot of people either don't know about or forget about the trauma of gun violence and that it doesn't only resurface on the anniversary of the event. Every day I feel the same. Every day my friend feels the same. Every day it feels like the shootings is happening again or happened yesterday or will happen tomorrow. The people who are affected by every day gun violence are impacted just like the Douglas Trinity has been and it's important to remember that.

People affected by every day gun violence have to walk the street corner where their best friend, their brothers, their mothers, their nephew, where they themselves were shot and they are expected just like we are to go to school to totter along like a good little student, get good grades and help take care the family and life goes on and on, as if we all have been just lost and one dying, and put in the grave.

The trauma once inflicted doesn't leave, and most certainly can be treated, but it doesn't go away and don't (ph). For me, and most of my friends, we fight our trauma by fighting against gun violence and the system that perpetrates it.


HOWELL: Emma Gonzalez there who suffered certainly from just a hellish day in that -- that high school now has become an activist and has been speaking out since the Parkland shooting, 26 states in Washington D.C. had passed varying gun-control measures. But as my colleague Cyril Vanier reports, some activists, they say it's not enough.


CYRIL VANIER, CNN SHOW HOST: This is as good as starting point as any. This is less than a year ago, March 2018. Hundreds of thousands of people in Washington rallying behind the survivors of the Parkland shooting, demanding stricter gun control and for a brief moment they seemed to have the president's ear.

TRUMP: I can tell you, Curtis, they are into doing background checks as they would be thinking about maybe two weeks ago. We are going to get a strong background check, we are going to work or getting the age up to 21 instead of 18. We are getting rid of the bump stocks and we are going to be focusing very strongly on mental health.

VANIER: But those turned out to be empty promises. The whole thing, background checks, gun purchasing age, Congress didn't act on any of these. The Trump administration did do one thing, banned this, bump stocks. Those turned semiautomatic rifles into machine guns and that makes mass shootings even deadlier.

Now you see where the urgency was really felt was at the state level. From California to Georgia and of course, Florida, where the shooting took place, more than half the states in the U.S. took some sort of action. In total, some 70 control laws, gun-control laws were passed, the National Rifle Association even says it was the first time in six years. The states tighten restrictions on guns more than they loosened them.

What kind of restrictions are we talking about here? Well, it depends where you are in the U.S. Restrictions for instance on domestic abusers. Red flag laws that allow authorities to remove gun from somebody who may present a danger either to themselves or to others. A stricter background checks as well. Age requirement, it just depends where you are in the U.S. it's piecemeal.

And the private sector got involved as well, Dick's Sporting Goods here stopped selling assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. They were the first brand to get in on the act. Walmart then raise the age limit to buy guns to 21. So did Kroeger and several other brands. And I will leave you with this. You see the polling shows that a majority of Americans want stricter gun control laws. The number for instance, that's 57 percent, according to Pew Research Center.

With that number doesn't show you is the partisan split and that is key. Democrats overwhelmingly support tightening gun controls while Republican by enlarge do not. And that in Congress is a recipe for gridlock. Back to you.


HOWELL: Cyril Vanier, thank you. Still ahead the U.S. state of California gets bombarded with heavy rain and flooding, destroying homes as they are outrooted and sending mudslides a week ago. More on the storms ahead.


HOWELL: Flash floods, mudslides and damaging winds had plague the U.S. state of California this weekend. There is more to come. Our meteorologist Derek Van Dam is following it all in the International Weather Center, Derek?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It has been a difficult week in California, to the least, George, some incredible video coming out of that area as well. What you're watching behind me, is heroic effort by some of the Cal firefighters taking this helicopter plucking two individuals from a flash flood that took place below.

There were originally trapped in the vehicle that got washed downstream, they have to climb to the top of the car, car washed out beneath and you can see the water rushing there. And they were able to take these two to safety fortunately, but this is just one of many video elements that we've seen her at CNN since the start of the week, because the rain there has been incessant and you can see why on our water vapor, satellite imagery, here's Hawaii. Here's the West Coast of the U.S., this is Mexico and noticed the strain of moisture in cloud cover. You really don't need to be a meteorologist to see it. There it is, that is a lot of moisture and that is just screening in, all of our cloud cover and all of our precipitation.

And guess what, it's really not going very far over the next two days, because we have more rain, more snow and more wind in the forecast. Literally rainfall totals, I mean we are topping 300 millimeters in some locations. No wonder we have seen, mudslides, debris flows and swift high water rescues like the video you saw just a moment ago.

Here's one image coming out of the -- just north of San Francisco region. We had 50 houses that were actually evacuated due to mudslides, some of them taken right off of their foundation. One woman was lucky enough, she actually started to feel her house slide from underneath her. And she basically slid down the hill with her house. I mean, this is just astounding harrowing moments, fortunately she was OK and she live to tell her story.

But the flood threat is still emanate across this area, now flash flood warnings on ongoing across Arizona. I mentioned Mexico, get a load of these wind gust associated with the storm system moving through topping 200, almost 220 kilometers per hour, by the way that is equivalent to the winds that you would experience in the category four Atlantic hurricane. That kind of puts it into perspective, right?

Still a windy day expected, wind advisories from Sacramento Valley, right in the Southern California. Look at the snowfall totals, good news is, were building up the snowpack as we head into the early months of spring and into summer. It was starting to melt that snow pack that helps fill our reservoirs, and our dams and gives us our fresh water for the season as well.

Look at the winter weather advisory and warnings on going over the West, I'm going to end on a good note here. Aside from the tragedy that all this rain and snow has brought, it's also brought some silver lining as well, George, and that is some drought relief. Three years ago to the date, we are at 95 percent drought across the entire city of California. Right now, we stand at 10 percent and it continues to improve. Back to you.

HOWELL: That is indeed good news. Derek, I remember talking with you about that drought. The images in California were more than concerning so it is good to see that that rain on the way.

VAN DAM: Right.

HOWELL: So, if you're a fan of diet soda. Some bad news to pass along to you. According to a new study. Here it is breaking two or more a day of any artificially sweetened beverage increases your risk of clot-based strokes and heart attacks, but also can cause early deaths in women over 50 years old. The risks were highest in women with no history of heart disease or diabetes and women who are obese or African-American. [03:55:00] The study was done by the American Heart and American

Stroke Association's.

According to the U.S. president's doctor he is in quote, very good health overall. But surely, little more exercise wouldn't hurt. The Washington Post reports he is digging deep into his own pockets for a new golf simulator inside the White House. Our Jeanne Moos, explains.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For the golfer-in-chief, in need of an at-home simulation, how about a little simulation. President Trump installed a room size golf simulator at the White House, says the Washington Post. So what do you get for about 50,000 bucks?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feel the realism, play favorites such as Cobble Beach and St. Andrews in your custom-built enclosure.

MOOS: You can improve your swing, measure your ball's speed, your shot distance.

TRUMP: Those hands could hit a golf ball 285 yards.

MOOS: Yes, well, in a simulator. It will fly only a few yards. But before critics clog (ph) the president over the head over this, consider.

The Post says, President Trump paid for the simulator out of his own pocket. He actually upgraded an existing less sophisticated simulator that President Obama had installed. Back in the 50's, President Eisenhower had a putting green built on the South lawn that subsequent presidents used. President Obama and Bill Murray practice putting in a glass in the Oval Office. While President Nixon held an ashtray for Bob Hope to aim at. Nixon even had a bowling alley built in the White House. You can't pin that on Trump.

The golf simulator inspired Stephen Colbert to tweet, sorry Mar-a- Lago, but you should have known the president would cheat on you too. Commented someone else, he's probably installing his own McDonald's branch in their next. Imagine a White House room carpeted with turf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just need that killer ultimately.

MOOS: White potter around the White House when you can actually pot in your man cave. When you here this noise, emanating from the White House late at night, you'll know whose still up. Jeanne Moos, CNN --

TRUMP: Because I'm going to be working for you, I'm not going to have time to go play golf.

MOOS: New York.


HOWELL: There it is. Thanks for being with us. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. My colleague Max Foster has CNN Newsroom next, live from London. Thank you for being with us. Have a great day.